Nassim Taleb defends homeopathy

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If you take his advice and opinion and dilute it 1000x then it starts to make sense. :slight_smile:


There is something to the idea that placebos have their place in medicine to ease the concerns of people with “more money than sense” as Mitchell & Webb put it, but one problem is that although theoretically “homeopathic medicines” would be basically just water, many sold actually contain serious quantities of things that are actively bad for you – like quantities of zinc way over the daily limit.


We might still have Steve Jobs if he didn’t fall for woo woo cures.



The problem with homeopathy is actually that western / pharmaceutical / science-based medicine sucks at many things that afflict people. Anything from headaches to allergies to sleeping disorders to skin problems - western medicine at best can recommend some “medicine” but it cannot look at the whole person, its living environments (maybe they are toxic, maybe the diet is wrong etc…) This is something that alternative medicine excels in.

If the standard for-profit medical disciplines were any better at those corner cases much less people would be forced to use homeopathy and similar “faith”-based medical procedures.

And while I agree that is important to warn people about the implications of using homeopathy I strongly disagree with the direction western medicine is taking: more pills, more “canonical” illnesses, more machines - and less and less healing. Health is not just some chemical and / or physical balance that needs restoring every once in a while. Health is dependent on mind and body (like anything to do with humans). When trying to restore health, healing as a science-based art form is required and not the often inhuman procedures of Western medical science.

I’ve read three of Taleb’s books, suckered in each time by an enticing premise that was never backed up with anything close to scientific rigor. If you’re expecting Taleb to base his views on evidence you may be disappointed the next time he tweets.

  1. Homeopathy is very much “for-profit”
  2. No one is “forced” to use ineffective homeopathic treatments
  3. The primary difference is that while real doctors will say, “There’s nothing we can do about that,” homeopaths will lie

ETA: Profit motive in medicine is a fucking scourge, but con men are not the solution.


Did you hear about the homeopath who forgot to take his medication?

Died of an overdose!



Walking back the original article, I find that it does not reference a book, article, or interview by Taleb, but only a few (probably spur of the moment) tweets. So I’m not inclined to rush to judgment here.

It is important to differentiate between (a) “people should have the right to purchase and consume homeopathic products” and (b) “homeopathy actually cures diseases”.

I would not headline an article as a “defense of homeopathy” unless (b) was clearly being argued.

There we go, FTFY.

I’m not sure I agree. I think there’s a small benefit to the placebo effect, as long as it’s not being used to, say, try to cure your cancer instead of trying established medicine first, à la Steve Jobs.

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  1. I agree, that homeopathy is for profit. I did not want to imply otherwise (which is why I wrote “standard for-profit disciplines”.)
  2. If you are ill and your doctor says: “Sorry can’t help” then that sure is some kind of forcing
  3. If you have never met someone who claims to have had health benefits from an homeopathic treatment you have been living a life very different from mine.

And to call homeopathic practitioners con men is quite an insult. At least were I come from they have to pass pretty rigorous exams to be allowed to practice their healing. Not sure about the US, though.
If you want to go down that road there are likely as many con men among the medical doctors (prescribing you medicine that harms your health but lines their pockets) as among alternative medicine practitioners…

That’s a bit of a redundant tautology.


There sure are. As I said, profit motive in health care is a scourge.

You’re right there too. I shouldn’t say that homeopathic practitioners are con men, the majority of them probably believe what they are selling. That doesn’t mean there is a good reason to believe any of it. I could create some pretty rigorous exams to become a Humbabellist but that doesn’t mean the term would signify expertise in anything other than passing those exams. If I then started to sell health products to people through these Humbabellists based on that certification, then maybe they wouldn’t be con men, but I sure as hell would be.


I see what you are saying. My thought is that “Taleb defends homeopathy” is a headline that’s easily misread.

If I argue that homeopathic products should be available for purchase by the public (which I do) I do not think that makes me a “defender of homeopathy”.

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people with real medical problems (e.g. cancer) substitute placebos for effective therapies.
There are plenty of real medical problems (whatever that means) for which placebos are an effective treatment. There are also problems which placebos cannot treat. But that's not an argument against placebos, just against using the wrong treatment.
people who take homeopathic remedies for difficult-to-diagnose or imaginary ailments waste public/insurance money [...] and are apt to overmedicate with both homeopathic and real medicines
I mean, this is true, but what do you propose to do about it? Give them a stern talk about how they're stupid and/or crazy, and should stop believing they need so much medical attention? If any medical practitioner is causing patients to believe that they need medical treatment when they don't, then that's a problem. But if someone is already convinced they do, it could be due to any number of issues - some of which are better treated with a placebo than a rationality lecture.

In fact from a harm reduction standpoint, denying people placebo treatment which they’re convinced they desperately need could drive them to the black market which will likely be less safe and much more expensive - for example the horrifying cancer-cure charlatans who operate in third world countries to avoid lawsuits and criminal charges.

Homeopathic placebos are often ridiculously expensive, but that’s an argument for selling them at close to cost to undermine the predatory people who currently produce them, or to simply make laws capping the cost of placebo-based treatment.


Really the only defendable aspect of homeopathy. Some theories even exist that Hahnemann invented homeopathy to save people from the damaging medicine of his time, well knowing that it had no other effect.

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Yes, I agree.

Like I tried to say earlier: health is not a rational thing and cannot be achieved with science alone. This view is actually pretty excepted when it comes to psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. I personally think it is just the science-like back story of homeopathy that creates so much opposition. If its back story would be more of a fairy tale people would probably be less angry with it.
Fundamentally homeopathy is a form psychotherapy. And about as harmful and helpful as many of those.

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That can’t stand because not all doctors over-prescribe or mis-prescribe whereas all homeopaths sell cures that have no effect beyond that of a sugar pill.

Unless the homeopath does these things:

  1. Advises that the active ingredients can’t be found in the product in most cases
  2. Advises that the effect is purely placebo, and explains what that means
  3. Advises that there are precisely zero studies that demonstrate their remedies do any of the things they claim, beyond the aforementioned placebo effect.
  4. Does not claim to be able to cure or remedy a specific affliction such as cancer.

then the homeopath is doing the individual a grave disservice for profit.

Because most homeopathic medicine is sold in stores without an attendant homeopath present to make these advisements, and the packaging violates much of the above, the largest portion of people using homeopathic products are being cheated, for profit.

I was in the drug store yesterday picking up a bit of eye lubricant for pink eye my kid gave my partner. I didn’t go for a remedy because there’s no need. But I did see that right beside the Polysporin Pink Eye remedy, a product that can be demonstrated as effective, was, for $1 less, a homeopathic remedy that was covered in text that made absolute claims of being able to cure pink eye,

apparently by putting some water that once knew water that once knew water that once knew water that once knew water that once knew water that once had some belladona in it.

(edit - If anyone wonders why belladona, I’d guess first because people recognize the word without meaning, relate it to “nature”, King Arthur’s Court & Mysticism, and/or because it contains atropine, a chemical agent used in ophthalmology as a muscle relaxant. Except that the water contains no trace of belladona, is thus atropine-free and what teh fuck good is dilating your pupil as a treatment for pink-eye? None. A flashlight would be the home-remedy for pink-eye if it did anything.)


Placebo effect is real. The problem with alternative medicine is that by popular media/lack of scrutiny, all alternative medicine is lumped together into one big pile. We know that chiropractic care saves medicare money by getting people alternatives to traditional care for back pain. It of course does not save money if a surgery needs to occur. However, for pain management, chiro is just as effective, and cheaper than traditional pain management. But chiropractic is indeed lumped in with all the rest of alternative medicine.

There are:


…types of medicine.

Allopathic is the traditional style of western medicine. Allo meaning opposite, so when you have a pain, you take an anti-pain medicine. When you have a tumor, you “go against” the tumor and remove it.

Which is rather fitting because allopathic medicine stands in contrast, and most times in contention, with all the rest. Chiro is osteopathic. Naturopathic is herbs and natural remedies. Homeopathy is this junk science of stuff diluted in water. And yet there it is, alongside the others.

Clouding the water, so to speak, is the placebo effect. In 1955, Beecher found 1/3 of patients measurably responding to placebos. It’s real, and demonstrable, varying in strength with what is at stake. ALL forms of medicine are subject to the placebo effect. This makes it very hard for a non-technical person to understand.

And so, allopathic and alternative medicine alike have factions that capitalize on the unawareness of the mechanism for healing. Homeopaths do it with water. Naturopaths do it with tinctures. Osteopaths do it with spinal manipulation. Allopaths do it with medicine they only suspect might be working.

As much as we’d like to portray that we are medically advanced, we are still barely out of the dark ages.