Jimmy Wales on Homeopathy – A Mistake

I wasn’t quite awake when I heard the news that Jimmy Wales, founder of the essential Wikipedia, had come out against homeopathy. I glanced quickly at the headlines, and before I’d read the article a single strong thought presented itself.

This is a bad thing.

It goes without saying that I’m not fan of homeopathy. I believe it should have died out with the four humors some centuries ago. And so, I should be wildly enthusiastic that any celebrity, even one who’s only known to the Internet community, comes out against it.

But Jimmy Wales started Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is very important. It’s at least half of my brain. Find me without my computer or phone, and you’ve found me without the ability to tell you the capital of Botswana or how may eggs the average yellowhammer lays (a little bit of bread and no cheese.)

And if I didn’t know what homeopathy was, Wikipedia could make quite an impression on me.

The idea behind Wikipedia is simple: it’s a crowd-sourced encyclopedia. Anything and everything of note ends up in there, with articles written and edited by the community. There are arguments and disagreements, but what we end up with is more or less an accurate picture of whatever the topic is. When compared against Britannica, Wikipedia was found to be about as accurate.

Because it’s crowd-sourced, it seems to me that the any policy coming from Wikipedia and its founders should be neutral. Wikipedia isn’t about putting its own ideas on the information; it’s about the information approaching the truth through the work of the community.

And that’s where, to my relief, I found the error in my thinking.

Wikipedia won’t let just anything appear. It must be referenced in some way, and the ideas with the strongest support are the ones that become the core of any article. The ones with the strongest support are also the ones based in reality, and if an idea isn’t based in reality, it’s actually AGAINST Wikipedia’s primary purpose—the dissemination of information far and wide.

Because of this, it stands to reason that “Wikipedia” would be against “Homeopathy.” As well as all other forms of false medicine and paranormal straying. Yes, I’m going to say it: Wikipedia is a skeptical endeavor. It’s attempting to examine the evidence, and letting the best explanation serve as the provisional conclusion. And like skepticism, it’s always changeable if new evidence comes along.

The evidence for homeopathy is… not strong. Therefore, Wikipedia is against it, and I can’t fault Wikipedia’s founder for following what is written by others in the publication that he started. Oh, and here’s what it has to say about homeopathy:

There is an overall absence of sound statistical evidence of therapeutic efficacy, which is consistent with the lack of any biologically plausible pharmacological agent or mechanism.

and

…scientists have long regarded homeopathy as a sham.

So, my own head finally on straight, I can say “Hooray” for Jimmy Wales coming out against a practice that bilks the public out of much-needed healthcare funding at best, and kills people at its worst. He’s managed to do the right thing while staying true to the principles of Wikipedia.

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the fabulous Susan Gerbic one more time. She’s one of the many people who make sure that Wikipedia stays as reality-based as possible. You can follow her endeavors here.

About Jeff Wagg

Jeff Wagg is curator of the College of Curiosity (http://www.collegeofcuriosity.com). Always looking to expand his understanding, Jeff seeks out unusual things, places and people. He lives in Chicago.
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15 Responses to Jimmy Wales on Homeopathy – A Mistake

  1. JJ says:

    WP:MEDRS is the skeptic’s best friend. It is, unfortunately, not applied evenly across all medical topics on Wikipedia.

  2. It’s heartening to think that when multiple people are bent to the task of creating an agreed upon “truth” that skepticism is the net result. It’s an interesting thought. If EVERYONE is defining, say, Christianity, it has to be defined as “belief in…” rather than “knowledge of” if you know what I mean.

  3. Chris H says:

    That’s a BS argument. Wikipedia should be correct not neutral. Should they be neutral on murder? Some say killing people for fun is unacceptable, other’s say it’s a great game, so let’s say that it can be a great game but you should be aware of the significant down sides? Homeopathy is selling water to morons. There isn’t a neutral ground in that,

  4. sgerbic says:

    Awesome Jeff! Thank you for the mention and for your thoughts. A couple days ago I wrote a blog about Wales’s comments.

    Here it is for those interested….

    http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.com/2013/01/homeopathy-open-letter-to-jimmy-wales.html

  5. louisemclean says:

    The title of your article says ‘Jimmy Wales on Homeopathy – A Mistake’ but your conclusion is the opposite. Very misleading.
    The fact is there is alot more to homeopathy than Jimmy Wales or any of your skeptics understand. The true facts are rarely explained. It takes a minimum of 4 years to learn and really about 10 to be proficient.
    When experts on homeopathy tried to correct the mistakes in the Homeopathy entry on Wikipedia, their corrections were repeatedly changed back to the original errors.
    My opinion is that 70% of the time Wikipedia is accurate and informative but on certain subjects that affect corporate interests, it can be peppered with disinformation.

    • Could you give an example of a specific fact about homeopathy that cannot be understood in less than 4 years?

      • mud says:

        Pure and Applied Fallacy generation is a really tough subject Brian.

        Waste disposal must be a doozy as well.. Can you imagine what its like to denature all that active secessed water without bringing the state regulators down on your head..

        As homeopathy has it, its even more dangerous than Plute!!

        And again to a homeopathy supporter, why isnt the arch allopathy (acupuncture) denied and decried by every homeopathic “researcher” and practitioner?

    • jeffwagg says:

      The mistake was mine.

  6. gwen says:

    Louisemclean, can you give an explanation on the biologic and physical plausibility of homeopathy. Do you know what Avogadro’s constant is (6.0221415 × 1023 mol-1)?Do you understand what it represents? Have you ever taken a chemistry course?

  7. Throughout history the “experts”have been wrong on most important issues. Dr. Semmelweis was laughed at by the medical establishment for telling doctors to wash their hands before surgery. Also ridiculed were Pasteur, Lister, Koch,(germs) Galvani (electrical properties of living things) Watson and Crick (DNA) and the list goes on. The same dynamic occurs now with homeopathy. All over the world board certified medical doctors practice this medical art. In England 43% of physicians refer patients to homeopaths. In France, doctors take an additional 4 year course to qualify for homeopathy. In Germany, the Netherlands and other countries homeopathic treatment is covered by the national health care system.
    This link will provide controlled studies on the the effectiveness of homeoathy:
    http://hpathy.com/scientific-research/research-in-homoeopathy/

    Either you wish to be a permanent skeptic or you must be open to new information.

    • This is a common piece of rhetoric, and it’s completely fallacious. All new ideas in science are first doubted, tested, and if validated they eventually become part of our standard model. You say they were “ridiculed” and though that may sometimes happen, it does not fairly characterize the process by which other researchers check and replicate new work.

      The vast majority of crazy new ideas never survive that process, because they are wrong. Homeopathy has offered nothing new in over a century of having been fully discredited. Witchcraft, four basic bodily humors, beads and rattles, the list goes on and on.

      If homeopathy ever earns potential validity, it will be on its own merits, not of the histories of unrelated but sound discoveries.

    • Andy says:

      And of course the standard response is “they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.

  8. mud says:

    To date I have never seen scientific research in any homeopathic field. I have seen a lot of failed testing.

    Furthermore, quoting something from a website without checking it is hardly the way to conduct an argument.

    Maybe a real homeopath can enlighten us to any real science conducted into this field.

  9. gwen says:

    Tim Minchin hit the right note when he questioned why water couldn’t remember all of the poo it has had in it.

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