A long tussle concerning the validity of Homeopathy between the world`s most famous homeopath and probably the world`s most well known `quackbuster` appears to have come to head in December 2008 after 5 years of to-ing and fro-ing. On the one side is Homeopath George Vithoulkas, whose International Academy for Classical Homeopathy is based on the island of Alonissos in Greece. On the other is American magician and skeptic, James Randi who heads what he calls The James Randi Educational Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Vithoulkas and Randi are equally passionate in their diametrically opposed views and an easy meeting of minds was never very likely.
For several years James Randi has had one million dollars on offer to anyone that can demonstrate paranormal or supernatural powers or events. Understandably he has very strict criteria and rules to the challenge, and to date nobody has passed even the preliminary stages of the application process. Various psychics, astrologers, clairvoyants and dowsers have applied over the years. Also listed as failed applicants on his website are practitioners of arts that could redefine the meaning of the word esoteric, such as, `paranormal urination` and `internet sex dowsing` and someone called a `metal visionary`.
Like all members of the skeptic fraternity, Randi is anti alternative medicine. He considers homeopathy to be bogus and classes it as supernatural because homeopaths use remedies diluted beyond Avogadro`s constant. These remedies therefore should not, according to conventional science, have any biological effect. Randi has been involved in a few attempts at debunking homeopathy over the years, and is one of it`s fiercest critics.
A group of homeopaths led by the renowned Greek homeopath George Vithoulkas began the process of attempting to win Randi`s one million dollars in 2003. Vithoulkas was largely responsible for the resurgence of interest in classical homeopathy in the 1970s and 1980s . He had been upset by what he considered to be badly constructed experiments previously carried out in the hope of demonstrating the validity of Homeopathy. One of these failed experiments, involving James Randi, was broadcast on BBC television in 2003. It was one of the main impetuses behind Vithoulkas` decision to devote his 40 years of Homeopathic experience to putting the record straight.
A team of skeptics was set up to represent Randi. This team, and the group of homeopaths led by George Vithoulkas, started conducting preparatory work to the trial in 2003. A protocol was devised by a group of international scientists and the experiment was to take place in a hospital in Athens. The experiment involved homeopaths, under Vithoulkas` supervision, prescribing individualized remedies to a number of patients in a double blind fashion with half of the patients receiving placebo, and the other half a real remedy.
All seemed to be going well when in August 2006, Vithoulkas received a signed agreement from Randi in which he stated that he was satisfied with the suggested protocol. He also waived the need for a preliminary test - the part of the process that had foiled every applicant up to that point. However Randi then delayed the start of the experiment owing to health problems and lack of sufficient funding. Apparently Randi was asked by Vithoulkas to assign a representative in his absence while funding was being sought but Randi refused to do so. He also told the homeopaths that he needed 6 months to recuperate from his unspecified health problems.
This 6 month period, according to Vithoulkas, was critical. It coincided with the appointment of a new Mayor of Athens who installed a new chairman of the scientific committee and a new president of the hospital that was to be used for the experiment. Vithoulkas claims that Randi knew of theses impending changes and was looking for a way of getting out of the challenge. It certainly was the most rigorous and well organized attempt to win the one million dollars that had ever been attempted. The Homeopaths believe that Randi got cold feet for this reason.
After a further 2 years of negotiating with the new authorities, the Homeopaths finally got the go ahead in Athens and started putting the final touches to the arrangements. In September 2008, a two day meeting was held in Greece between two of Randi`s representatives, plus Dr. Menachem Oberbaum, principal investigator of the experiment, and George Vithoulkas.
After this meeting the homeopaths thought everything was ready to go ahead but they were in for a rude surprise. In October 2008, one month after the meeting, they received the following communication from Randi:
"Forget all previous correspondence exchanged on the subject. What appears here is the current status. First, we require that George Vithoulkas submit a regular, properly-filled-out application and submit it just as we require everyone to do. After that has been received, we`ll go ahead as with any regular applicant - with the arrangements, including the requirement for the preliminary stage".
This new turn of events understandably infuriated Vithoulkas after his 5 years of toil. To make matters worse, Randi, according to Vithoulkas, claimed on his website (www.randi.org) that the homeopaths had withdrawn from the experiment. This accusation is strenuously denied by Vithoulkas.
It seems that all is not lost however (apart, maybe from $1,000,000). The experiment may still go ahead with the participation of skeptics Alec Gindis and Hrasko Gabor who were originally representing Randi. They apparently wish to see through to the end what has been a long drawn out process. Vithoulkas is also keen to persevere as he believes strongly that the right type of experiment can prove to the critics that Homeopathic remedies do have a biological effect.
Watch this space.
A complete account of the story can be found on George Vithoulkas` website www.vithoulkas.com