A National symposium on the Science Behind Homeopathy was organised at Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, Kolkata on 20th February. This was a joint effort by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Education (CIRE), National Council for Science Museums (NCSM), Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM), West Bengal Academy of Science and Technology (WAST) and Central Council for Research in Homeopathy (CCRH), Ministry of AYUSH.
The initiative for this innovative symposium came from the physicist Prof (Dr.) Papiya S. Nandy M.Sc.(Cal), M.A.(Univ. Calif.), Ph.D.(Kent State), F.A.Sc.T, of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Education (CIRE) and the Hon. Director of Jagadish Bose National Science Talent Search, Kolkata.
Dilemma in science
Science is a discipline that gives importance to rational thinking. In rational discussions, different points of view might emerge and have their own good as well bad aspects. At times, both the sides could be right in their own way even if they hold opposite view points. Rational discussion is the one that doesn’t exaggerate in dealing with the other side and encourages enquiry that goes behind these two divergent views to discover the more rational one. Observation of sequential events paves the way for the formulation of questions in science. Based on the information, scientists prepare a hypothesis and then put it through a series of tests to see whether the results are reproducible. Wherever the results are reproducible, the hypothesis may get validation or would undergo more rigorous testing for acceptance or rejection. This process gets repeated again and again based on the prevailing knowledge. Thus science is a journey from the known to unknown and is never static. That was how yesteryears science has become redundant and new ideas gained more acceptability. A true scientist never rejects an observation unless he himself undertakes an effort to understand the phenomenon.
Homoeopathy, a protected system, neglected by science
There have been questions about the rationality of homeopathy as a science ever since it was introduced by Dr Hahnemann in 1810. This occurred even though homeopathy has been contributing wellness to millions of patients across the world. Many believe the curative effects of homeopathy to be due to placebo. History gives irrefutable evidence on prevention of pan endemic cholera, scarlet fever, plague etc with homeopathic preventive medicines. Homeopathy has also been widely used in veterinary practice, and also in agriculture where it affects plant growth. One cannot attribute the effects of homeopathic medicines in prevention of disease and the clinical results on animals and plants to the realm of placebo. Several stalwarts like Dr M L Sarkar and Dr C Herring who stepped in as critiques to find fault with homeopathy became the greatest advocates of this system. Yet even after 200 years of its successful existence, questions are being asked on the plausibility of homeopathy as a therapeutic system.
Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, in many aspects, was ahead of his time. He postulated nine basic tenets that form the medical system of homeopathy. These are:
➢ Similia Similibus Curentur
➢ Drug dynamisation
➢ Single remedy
➢ Drug proving
➢ Minimum dose
➢ Vital principles
➢ Chronic disease
Out of these, the principle of individualization is getting wider acceptability in other medical systems as Personal Medicine or Theranostics. Similarly, Drug Proving is a part of the modern clinical trials and is now known as Homeopathic Pathogenetic Trial (HPT). The principle of Simlia was known even to ancient medical wisdom from Greece and India. Knowledge of human genomics helps us better understand of the concept of the single remedy. The theory of chronic diseases and miasms are interlinked and have a sound theoretical footing especially on lifestyle and non communicable diseases. The minimum dose or appropriate dose is a cornerstone for the safety of medicine. The vital force was a known concept in chemistry till 1790, which Hahnemann adapted in homeopathy with a different connotation called Life Force in the later editions of Organon and is the basis of all vitalistic therapies. As such there is no controversy on eight out of the nine principles of homeopathy laid down by Dr. Hahnemann.
Thus, the only concept that the material science is not able to comprehend in homeopathy is that of Drug dynamisation, wherein the homeopathic medicines are prepared in ultra high dilutions with succussion/ trituration, commonly called potentisation. Homeopaths believe that the higher the potency, the better its therapeutic effects. Material science vehemently opposes this principle, mainly because of the limitations, restricting the theoretical plausibility of any original medicinal substance beyond the 12 C potency. Homeopaths use medicines in 30 C, 200 C and well beyond this. Hence there is a situation of divergent views on the science of homeopathy and the physical laws of science. Rationally, both sides may be right in their own wisdom, even though they are of opposite points of view. The number of protagonists of material science is greater than the protagonists who believe in drug dynamisation. At the moment, rational thinking in physics leans towards the antagonists of drug dynamisation. Therefore, there is a situation where homeopathy is facing repeated, concerted criticism. There are some who consider the concepts of homeopathy more as a religion than a refined science. This sect knowingly or unknowingly did not encourage any impartial investigation into the science of drug dynamisation. This could also be due to the limited knowledge in science. Thus, homeopathy remained a protected system and got neglected by the mainstream science.
Emerging trends in science
India is emerging as one of the leaders in Complementary Alternate Medicine (CAM) and is promoting a pluralistic health care delivery system. Homeopathy is an important component of this mission. The practice of homeopathy has great impact on human life. As such, there is a need to have a balanced investigation of the claims by its supporters and counter claims by its detractors to bring out the truth about the science behind Homeopathy. With such a background, this symposium had a much greater relevance. It is possibly the first time a symposium was organised on such a subject by institutions of excellence who investigated this science from various aspects. Their credentials prove the same.
CIRE is a nonprofit organisation with a vision to foster interdisciplinary research and bridge the cultural divide between the arts and sciences, between lay persons and academicians. People from different disciplines of science and the humanities in India and abroad are their members. CIRE facilitates interdisciplinary research in frontier areas of science such as Nano-technology, Material science, Nano–medicine, Molecular Biology, Virology, Condensed matter, Physics, Geology and so on. CIRE encourages all work that leads towards pursuit of science. There are some students working on experiments and others on theory. While some are post doctoral students, others are working towards their PhDs. CIRE also encourages its members to write books on interdisciplinary topics.
NCSM is an autonomous society under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, and administers 25 science centers/ museums/ planetariums across the country. Apart from these, NCSM strives to communicate science and educate the masses through demonstrations, lectures, training etc.
WAST, 4, Raja S. C. Mullick Road, Jadavpur Road, Kolkata, is a registered society that has the objective of promoting and applying science and technology, and striving to promote cooperation and excellence in scientific seminars, conferences, workshops etc. WAST coordinates activities of various agencies and institutions engaged in research and development.
BITM was established by the efforts of the late Dr. B C Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal and Shri G.D Birla, and it organizes science demonstrations and lectures. The Museum was opened for the public in 1959. With its various galleries and multifarious activities and satellite centers, it has become a place where science is demonstrated through animated and interactive models.
The effort of the Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, the apex research body to organize this seminar on Science Behind Homeopathy is very appropriate at a time when the beneficial effects of homeopathy are attributed to a mere placebo effect. It is quite interesting to see that the organizers had invited Dr Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, the Indian born American and British Structural biologist, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 and gave a controversial interview in the Times on 7th January, 2016 for this symposium. His response to this invitation was:
“Dear Prof Nandy,
I am sorry I am not available at short notice to come to India given my duties and various commitments here. Moreover, I would not say that more scientists agree that the effect of homeopathy is due to the placebo effect, which is stronger than most people realize. How the brain can have such remarkable effects due to the power of suggestion is certainly a very interesting topic but that would be a different area.
Yours sincerely VK”
The inaugural session was attended by Dr R K Manchanda, Director General, CCRH, Dr G S Rautela, Director General, NCSM, Dr D J Chatopadhyay, President WAST, Prof Utpal De, President CIRE and Sk. E Islam, Director, BITM. Prof Papiya Nandy welcomed the distinguished speakers, guests and delegates to this unique symposium which dealt with the issues related to Science and issues related to Homeopathy. The symposium was mainly intended to explore the science and practice of Homeopathy in terms of the latest research findings. The topics covered were the current research on science and practice of Homeopathy, physics and chemistry of Homeopathy and Homeopathy as an alternative medical system in agriculture and veterinary practice. It was decided that a public debate was necessary.