Homeopathy risks being subsumed by modern medicine, argues a historian of science. Not only does this means that homeopathy's heroes have become mere footnotes in history, but it could limit homeopathy's potential to contribute to the treatment of today's pressing medical problems, she says.
Lyn Brierley-Jones, a historian of medicine at the University of Durham, will present her thesis at the annual meeting of the British Society for the History of Science in Leicester on Saturday 4 July.
Her paper will seek to reveal homeopathy's forgotten heroes, from the 18th century German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who founded the field, to London-based practitioner James Compton Burnett, who came up with a cure for tuberculosis in 1880.
As a result of the contributions of such figures, homeopathy became prominent, particularly in the US. There, by the end of the 19th century homeopaths had their own medical schools, societies, journals, libraries, hospitals and dispensaries, regularly publishing statistics showing the superiority of their practice over mainstream medicine.
Ironically, however, the translation of key homeopathic ideas into mainstream medicine had the effect of undermining the profession, says Brierley-Jones. "By the 1920s, homeopathy had gone into decline, a state from which it has only recently started to recover."
There are significant benefits of keeping homeopathy separate from mainstream medicine, she argues. "It has the potential to create new remedies and to solve many contemporary problems in medicine, such as the individualisation of drugs, reducing their side-effects and managing chronic illness," says Brierley-Jones. "Any future integration of homeopathy into mainstream medicine should be carefully managed to ensure homeopathy's survival."