Researchers at the University for Continuing Education Krems, Karl Landsteiner Private University and the Medical University of Vienna have found a worrying lack of scientific and ethical standards in the field of research on homeopathy. As a result, questions are being raised about the efficacy of homeopathic treatments.
The analysis of the evidence for homeopathy in a recent study suggests that research in this area is at high risk of bias and that the actual effects of homeopathic remedies may therefore be significantly overestimated. Reason for this is the questionable scientific practice applied in research on homeopathy.
Scientists of Cochrane Austria at the University for Continuing Education Krems, the Karl Landsteiner Private University and the Medical University of Vienna have evaluated the results and found that 38 percent of the studies on homeopathy that were registered since 2002 were not subsequently published. At the same time, 53 percent of the studies on this topic were not officially registered. In a quarter of the registered studies on homeopathy, the main objective was changed in the subsequent publication. In addition, the studies that were not registered resulted in greater therapeutic effects than the registered studies.
The high proportion of homeopathy studies that have not been registered, or have been registered only afterwards, is indicative of the fact that their publication tends to be dependent on the results. In science, this is referred to as reporting bias, or distorting effects on the study situation.
Study author Prof Gerald Gartlehner says about the questionable evidence for homeopathy: "These results reveal that the scientific standards in homeopathy research are alarmingly poor. The assumption can be made that many studies were not published because they did not achieve the intended result. Widely published homeopathy studies probably report only the attractive findings and therefore lead to a biased picture of the efficacy of homeopathy."
Registration and publication provide the basis of credible evidence
Public databases such as ClinicalTrials.gov (USA) and ClinicalTrialsRegister.eu (EU) have been established to counteract the phenomenon of reporting bias. Research work can be registered there in advance. Since 2008, scientists have been obliged in terms of ethics to register their studies in advance and to publish their results. Nevertheless, the percentage of studies results that are not published is still high - and not only in studies concerning homeopathy. However, the results of the current study on evidence in homeopathy clearly indicate that there is a questionable lack of scientific and ethical standards in this field.
At odds with current scientific concepts
Almost 200 years ago, the principles of homeopathy were developed. It is considered a holistic and comparable alternative to modern medicine in many developed countries, although its fundamentals are largely at odds with physical and medical principles and a long-standing debate about its efficacy continues.