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Homeopathy: is it Science?

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Group discussion
Topic: Solutions & other mixtures

The scientific journal Nature recently published an article warning universities not to offer 'science' degrees in homeopathy and accusing several alternative therapies of being gobbledygook.

In this activity, students analyse information about homeopathy to decide whether it is based on scientific theory. They then choose the best arguments for and against homeopathy to decide whether they would use it, and whether it should be freely available to all.

Special thanks to teacher and upd8 user Amanda Stevens who suggested this activity.

14-16 How Science Works:
Data, evidence, theories and explanations
1b How interpretation of data, using creative thought, provides evidence to test ideas and develop theories.

Published: 7th November 2007
Reviews & Comments: 5

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Learning objectives

Students will learn that scientific theories:
• are based on evidence from experiments or observations
• were thought up creatively by scientists to explain patterns in data
• correctly predict future observations or experimental results
• may be corrected or rejected if scientists find new evidence that doesn't fit in with the theory

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

GCSE specifications
Edexcel Additional C2
7.6 Describe how ideas, such as the effectiveness of homeopathic medicine, are difficult for scientists to accept when they conflict with established theories.

AQA – Core
How science works
10.7 Using data to draw conclusions

21st Century Science – core
Ideas about science
3 Developing explanations

Running the activity

Display page 1. Ask whether they think homeopathy – and other alternative therapies – are gobbledygook. Do they know people who have benefited from them?

Display page 2, which gives the tasks. There are separate tasks for foundation and higher level students.

Page 3 lists some characteristics of scientific theories. Foundation students can use this list to help them with task 1 (choosing 3 cards from pages 4 and 5 to show that homeopathy is not a scientific theory). Higher students choose one card to place in either the yes or no box for each characteristic. There is no one 'right answer' here, but the following is a possible solution:
• Row 1 – card 1 (no)
• Row 2 – card 2 (yes)
• Row 3 – card 6 (no)
• Row 4 – card 3 (no)
• Row 5 – card 5 (yes, but only one piece of data)
• Row 6 – card 7 (no)
• Row 7 – card 4 (no)
• Row 8 – card 8 (no)
• Row 9 – card 3 (no – idea not based on data (see card 11))

Foundation and higher students then select – from all the cards – the 3 best arguments for and against using homeopathy. Students then decide whether they, as individuals, would use homeopathy. You could then get students to write sentences to support their decision (as suggested for foundation students on page 2) or to debate the statement Homeopathic treatment should be freely available to all who want it (as suggested for higher students on page 2).

Finally, ask students to stand on a continuum line, with 'agree' at one side of the classroom and 'disagree' at the other side for the following statement: I would use homeopathic treatments. Ask a few students to justify their decisions, and allow other students to change positions if they wish after hearing particularly convincing arguments. Repeat with one more statement: Homeopathy is based on scientific theory.

1. You might need to explain the word placebo (a medicine or procedure prescribed for the psychological benefit to the patient rather than for any physiological effect (Oxford Dictionary of English 2006))
2. The cards on pages 4 and 5 are the same shape as the boxes on page 3, so can be stuck to page 3 if reduced in size appropriately.
3. Possible extension – look at dilution/dosage effects on mineral salts on plant growth. Placebo effects on plants are non-existent, so it should be possible to put 'potentization' to the test!]

News links

Sense about science
Clear and succint criticism of homeopathy
Society of homeopaths
Description of homeopathy
Homeopathy site
An example of homeopathy's use in the treatment of Autism
The Guardian
Report of the article in Nature - 'science' degrees in homeopathy are teaching gobbledygook
Quack Watch
Criticism of homeopathy

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Homeopathy: is it Science? review

Jun 8th, 2010

5 Star

I think my students will love it very much, especially the movies. Thanks!

Reviewer: Caleb LO

Santa 2025

Dec 7th, 2008

5 Star

I used this with a mixed ability year 7 class (and they enjoyed it greatly). I am about to use it with another yr 7 class that includes some students with low reading ages. To enable all of the students to access the activity, I have created data cards for each of the planets along with instructions to sort the cards so that the less able students can carry out the activity and put their findings onto a worksheet, before writing their email to Santa.

Reviewer: Maggie Ward

Homeopathy is it science?

Jun 7th, 2008

4 Star

Quite a useful resource for the science part of the tutorial programme - adaptable for diffenet groups

Reviewer: Jackie Ellender


Nov 25th, 2007

5 Star

will be using this in conjunction with article by ben goldacre's article from the guardian 16th nov. this can be downloaded from guardian website. he repudiates jeanette winterson's views in a measured way and his stance is very much based on HSW. ties in well with this activity.

Reviewer: margaret jordan

Homeopathy: is it Science? review

Nov 8th, 2007

5 Star

This was excellent. The students (and I) really got into it, and it presents some aspects of HSW which it is difficult to do in standard practicals.

Reviewer: Fred Hampson

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