Respectful Insolence

From The Daily Mail:

British holidaymakers are putting their lives at risk by relying on homeopathy to protect them against malaria, doctors have warned.

The medical experts condemned the practice of prescribing pills and potions made from tree bark, swamp water and rotting plants as ‘outrageous quackery’ and ‘dangerous nonsense’.

Their warning follows an undercover investigation which found that alternative medicine clinics readily sell travellers homeopathic protection against malaria, despite clear Government advice that there is no evidence such treatments work.

It also comes after a study published in the Lancet suggested that the benefits of homeopathy are all in the imagination, with alternative remedies performing no better than dummy pills in clinical trials.

Homeopathy, which has won the backing of Prince Charles, claims to prevent diseases such as malaria by using dilute forms of herbs and minerals that in higher concentrations could produce the symptoms of the condition.

In the investigation, scientists and researchers who pretended to be about to embark an African holiday, contacted a variety of homeopaths around the country. These include one recommended by high street pharmacist Superdrug.

Worryingly, all of the homeopaths recommended they take alternative remedies over conventional anti-malaria pills.

Among the remedies, which ranged in price from £3.75 to £75, were Malaria officinalis (CORR) tablets. Also known as Malaria nosode, they are made from African swamp water, rotting plants and mosquito eggs and larvae.

The homeopaths also recommended China officinalis or China sulph, which is made from tree bark which contains quinine, and Natrum Mur – or salt tablets.

One practitioner said the homeopathic medicines fill a ‘malaria-shaped hole’ in the body that would usually be targeted by mosquitos.

A “malaria-shaped hole”? Here’s how a homeopathic pharmacy justifies this quackery:

Helios Homeopathic Pharmacy said that many travellers turn to homeopathy because they are concerned about the side-effects of traditional drugs.

The spokesman added: ‘We give advice on traditional homeopathic remedies which have been used by people for many decades in their attempt to avoid conventional treatment for malaria.

‘We would also advise customers to take further preventative steps such as using a reliable insect repellant and wearing suitable clothing.’

Yeah, the side effects of conventional anti-malaria drugs are much worse than actually getting malaria. Not.

Notice the same old appeal to popularity and common practice without a bit of evidence that homeopathy can help to prevent malaria. And because people believe in homeopathy, they leave themselves wide open to be infected with malaria.

Comments

  1. #1 Lucas McCarty
    July 14, 2006

    I really don’t get the Daily Mail anymore. I mean I of course pay for it and read it, but I don’t know where they’re coming from. It is often filled with adverts for quackery and columnist Melanie Philips never stops going on about how evil scientists are.

    In the very same print today, the front page read “AUTISM RATE HIGHER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT” and reported on a study by Dr Paul Shattock which showed absolutely no criticism as it quoted him propagating his possible theories about a supposed rise in Autism(diet and ‘enviromental factors’).

  2. #2 wheatdogg
    July 14, 2006

    When we stayed in South Africa, we just bought our malaria meds at the local pharmacy. They were the same pharma as available in the US, but were much cheaper and could be obtained without a prescription. Aside from their being pretty damn bitter on the tongue, I would be a lot more comfortable taking them than concoctions made of rotting vegetation and ground up mozies. Yech. Sounds like the witches’ brew from Macbeth.

    At the insistence of a friend, I tried a homeopathic remedy for my allergies. It worked … not at all. Rexall’s generic allergy pills did the trick, and for less money.

  3. #3 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 14, 2006

    Pfft.

    Actually, would a regular daily dose of Gin and Tonics be effective at all against Malaria still, or is the level of Quinine used for flavoring too low to have any anti-malarial effects?

    Regardless, it would certainly be more effective than this nonsense.

  4. #4 Lord Runolfr
    July 14, 2006

    Among the remedies, which ranged in price from £3.75 to £75, were Malaria officinalis (CORR) tablets. Also known as Malaria nosode, they are made from African swamp water, rotting plants and mosquito eggs and larvae.

    If they’re talking about real homeopathic remedies, then that statement is misleading. Real homeopathic remedies aren’t made of anything but water once they’ve finished diluting them a few billion times.

  5. #5 Steve
    July 14, 2006

    To my enduring shame we have homeopathic hospitals in the NHS. If i didn’t have principles i could be make soo much money.

  6. #6 TheProbe
    July 14, 2006

    I had malaria in my early 20′s in Vietnam, and I would only wish it on someone selling mosquito puree….

  7. #7 Prometheus
    July 15, 2006

    Left Wing Fox – the quinine in tonic water is no longer effective against malaria – it has evolved to become resistant. Pity – gin and tonics were a much more pleasant way to prevent malaria than the current crop of medications.

    One point that keeps getting overlooked is that the reason homeopathic medications have no side effects is that they have no effects at all! They are either water or sugar pills – in real medical research, they would be called placebos. So, unless you drown in the water (or are allergic to the lactose in some of the pills), you will experience no effect from homeopathic “medications” whatsoever.

    Personally, I am all in favor of allowing adults who have not been adjudicated as incompetent to manage their own affairs to take these homeopathic malaria preventatives. When they come back with malaria, they will be a powerful cautionary tale to their friends, relatives and neighbours.

    Malaria is a much more serious matter than a “cold” or hay fever. Anyone who takes such a risk deserves the lesson they will receive.

    Prometheus.

  8. #8 BilZ0r
    July 15, 2006

    What I don’t understand is how come homeopathic advertising doesn’t break fair trading laws. The clinical trial meta-analysis evidence is almost uniform in its conclusion that homeopathy doesn’t work.

  9. #9 James
    July 15, 2006

    In many countries (including the US) a number of alternative “medicines” can classify themselves as “supplements”, thus avoiding a test for efficacy. Say what you will about alties’ grasp of science, they sure know politics.

  10. #10 The Ridger
    July 15, 2006

    Yeah, there’s nothing like reading a long glowing product description and then hitting this:

    These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

    If you read that far, why would you buy the product? What IS it intended for, you would have to wonder (I would thing, anyway). Making its seller wealthy seems to be the only intention…

    But unfortunately many, many people either never read that far or don’t think once they have.

  11. #11 Marcia
    July 15, 2006

    The homeopath interview.
    (I love YouTube.)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1UJ_qGZ24k&eurl=

  12. #12 stewart
    July 15, 2006

    Homeopathic remedies should have side effects if they are placebos. Look at the list of symptoms reported in the Compendium of Pharmaceutical and Specialties (Canada), Physician’s Desk Reference (US), or whatever your local pharmacopeia is. Check the proporton of folks in the placebo group reporting specific symptoms for each fo the drugs – 10-15% for headaches, etc. Some people drop out of placebo studies due to side effects.

  13. #13 Courtney Bane
    July 15, 2006

    @Prometheus:

    According to this article at the Straight Dope, there was never enough quninine in tonic water to be effective against malaria.

    “Tonic water was never intended as a cure or preventive for malaria, but malaria is the reason the quinine is in there. Quinine has a bitter taste. To make the stuff palatable when used as an antidote for fevers, legend has it, British colonials in India mixed quinine with gin and lemon or lime. Over time they learned to love the godawful stuff.”

  14. #14 Sailorman
    July 15, 2006

    I think this is the key:

    “The spokesman added: ‘We give advice on traditional homeopathic remedies which have been used by people for many decades in their attempt to avoid conventional treatment for malaria.

    Note: ATTEMPT. As in “I attempted to use swamp gas to cure my maria, but it didn’t work”. Does he know how many people used to die because the trditional remedies failed?

  15. #15 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 15, 2006

    Thanks all.

    Did a little look into it. Apparently Chloroquine resistance is becoming quite prevalent, but traditional Quinine is still effective in most parts of the world.

    And yeah, looking at the math, that’s 2-4 litres of tonic water an hour to reach the level of anti-malarial treatments. If the malaria dosne’t kill you, and you are drinking it without the Gin (shudder) that amount of high fructose corn syrup will probably do you in.

  16. #16 Lucas McCarty
    July 16, 2006

    Stewart, the thing is that even if you are taking any medicine that does the job there is STILL a placebo effect at work because you believe you are taking medicine.

    So that would mean Homeopathy, where you believe you are taking medicine, would according to the information you references, show side-effects originating from placebo. So you’re not really finding a distinction between Homeopathy and placebo effects, unless there is evidence that Homeopathy actually stops placebo effects from happening.

  17. #17 pat
    July 18, 2006

    I wonder if Orac would call science-based medicine quackery if he found some rotten apples within it. I don’t think so. Unfortunately he is under the spell of faulty logic. “I have found quacks in homeopathy therefore homeopathy-based medicine is quackery!”. I have met and rejected many science-based doctors as quacks but to my benefit I choose not to reject all of science-based medicine out of hand because of those few crooks. Fortunatly for most of us, as we age and learn, we quickly realize that the truth always seems to be quietly hidding between the extremes. (QUIZ: what should you do when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard spot? You should consider neither!) I wonder if QuackWatch has had the courage to list some famous cock-ups iniatrogenic medicine? I have yet to find any. Last time I checked they were still quacking along with an ambarrassingly obvious bias. Perhaps they think that this: http://www.iatrogenic.org/ or this: http://www.newmediaexplorer.org/sepp2003/10/29/medical_system_is_leading_cause_of_death_and_injury_in_us.htm is normal …. Collateral damage maybe? Acceptable casualties in the “War on Desease”? Are we loosing sight of the battleground?

    And besides, science-based medicine always conducts studies using placebos for a very simple reason: the placebo effect is well recognized and is widely accepted as a real event eventhough no one can accurately describe it in any “scientific” manner. Indeed science may never unravel the mysteries surrounding the placebo effect Perhaps because of its inherent bias against the notion of “holistic” healing? Who knows? But I believe an honest scientist would agree with the following statement: “the theory of “holistic” healing is scientifically plausible” -because he would also have to agree that science hasen’t disproved the theory either. Had they done so there would be no suspected placebo effect. Therefore, even though the science behind homeopathy has yet to be fully investigated, one can expect some sort of placebo effect resulting in peoples’ belief in homeopathy”. How knows, perhaps there really is some usefulness for homeopathy as a treatment for disease. Even Orac can’t confidently claim homeopathy has NO useful application because that has yet to be scientifically investigated, right?

    I don’t consider “lampooning” to be a form of investigation. Eh, Marcia? Don’t let comedy fool you! (I’m going to have to ponder that last sentence! lol )

    One more thing. This from Orac also:

    “Notice the same old appeal to popularity and common practice without a bit of evidence that homeopathy can help to prevent malaria. And because people believe in homeopathy, they leave themselves wide open to be infected with malaria”.

    Firstly, to what degree is homeopathy “popular” and where is it considered “common practice”? This argument doesn’t fly. Secondly, I find it strange how this same argument is used here as an appeal to reason but then is lamented as a quack-trap for the feeble minded on another, sometimes-related topic.

    Consider this example from an imaginary “HIV-dissident”:

    “Notice the same old appeal to popularity and common practice without a bit of evidence that HIV drugs can offset the symptoms of Aids. And because people believe in the Science, they leave themselves wide open to toxic poisoning”.

    To win one must bring up robust logic. To kick the critical minds into gear perhaps I can suggest an article titled: “One more reason why iatrogenic medicine is not harmless”.

  18. #18 HCN
    July 18, 2006

    Pat, do you have a clue as to what homeopathy is? It is not like herbal medicine where there are actual ingredients.

    When a homeopathic remedy is made up, it is diluted to the point where there are NO molecules of the “Like cures Like” substance. For instance, in Natrum Mar one part of salt is mixed in with 100 parts of water. It is then shaken… then one part of THAT mixture is added to another 100 parts of water, and shaken again. This is done several times (at least 10 and upwards), where the “remedy” is supposed to get more powerful each time it is diluted.

    The pills are created by putting a drop of the liquid remedy onto a lactose pill. Or some homeopaths have stated that setting the bottle of sugar pills NEXT to the super diluted remedy will transfer the “healing” power to the pills.

    From http://www.skepdic.com/homeo.html …”Benveniste even claimed that a homeopathic solutions biological activity could be digitally recorded, stored on a hard drive, sent over the Internet, and trsnferred to wather at the receiving end.”

    On what planet is this stuff supposed to cause any affect on the human body?

    There is a fellow who is taking the course on how to be a homeopath. He is discribing his courses and the literature on his blog: http://www.badhomeopath.com/

  19. #19 Orac
    July 18, 2006

    I wonder if Orac would call science-based medicine quackery if he found some rotten apples within it. I don’t think so.

    Wrong again.

  20. #20 pat
    July 19, 2006

    Orac, Your link brought me here: http://oracknows.blogspot.com/2005/08/avoiding-scientific-delusions.html. From this though, it appears that you indeed enter debate with a bias (i.e. “Alties”). I understand though what you are attempting to do. I side with you when it comes to having concern about false healers and the need to be vigilant against quackery. Your concern is evident, hence your blog

    I venture nonetheless that a little bias is acting like a blinder to your critical eye.

    On this thread http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/07/choosing_quackery_over_evidencebased_med.php you say:

    “So show us the evidence. I see lots of claims, but not even intriguing anecdotal evidence to suggest that it might work. I’m tired of argument by assertion. Try argument by evidence for a change.
    You know what we in conventional medicine call alternative medicine that’s been shown to work scientifically in clinical trials, Phil?
    Medicine.
    “We’re more than happy to add it to our armamentarium, but you have to show us the evidence that it works. And don’t tell me there aren’t any resources. Over $120 million a year is spent to fund the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH, and not a single alternative therapy has been definitively shown to be effective, and the negative trials that failed to find a therapeutic effect are brushed off, leading to more money being spent to study the same old quackery”.

    Here again you spill your bias all over your argument. I won’t argue with the first part. It is indeed difficult to go with anecdotal evidence especially when one has no personal anecdotal evidence for comparison.
    In the next part you say:
    “You know what we in conventional medicine call alternative medicine that’s been shown to work scientifically in clinical trials, Phil?
    Medicine”.
    The first biased item: “…we in conventional medicine…” Then the “them” item: “…call alternative medicine that’s been…”. Double damned in the same sentence I’d say. Are you as critical as you think?
    Then comes the killer, namely what you are actually being heard saying:
    “We” appear to have evidence that some alternative medicines have been proven to work scientifically and have been added to “our” armamentarium. When alternative medicines become scientifically proven to work, “we” gladly take them into the “arsenal” and call it medicine (our own?), but in the meantime “they” are quacks”.
    Then the roadside bomb about the cash-drain:
    “Over $120 million a year is spent to fund the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH, and not a single alternative therapy has been definitively shown to be effective”
    What is the big deal with 120 million a year? science takes time! I’ll take as an example this:
    HIV, 20some years, over 100-and what? 30? 50? BILLION spent, still no mechanism that doesn’t leave science dumbstruck at every new turn, still no cure, and the kicker: treatments that at times very closely insults the hippocratic oath, so close you could split a hair

    Such are things; science is slow.

    Here. Lets consider this possibility:

    “We’re more than happy to add it to our armamentarium, but you have to show us the evidence that it works. And don’t tell me there aren’t any resources. Over $120 billion has been spent to fund the War on AIDS at the NIH (and God-knows where else), and not a single conventional therapy has been definitively shown to be effective, and the negative trials that failed to find a therapeutic effect are brushed off, leading to more money being spent to study the same old quackery”.

    HCN,
    I know at least that much about homeopathy but not much more. Thank you for the quick-tour.
    Then you ask me:
    “On what planet is this stuff supposed to cause any affect on the human body?”
    I’m afraid I do not know on which planet this stuff is supposed to cause any affect on the human body. Although there is “anecdotal” evidence that on this Terra Incognita some patients swear by it.

  21. #21 HCN
    July 19, 2006

    Pat said “I’m afraid I do not know on which planet this stuff is supposed to cause any affect on the human body. Although there is “anecdotal” evidence that on this Terra Incognita some patients swear by it.”

    Good, then you understand that it really does not work.

    Even though there are anecdotes that claim it has an effect, remember “the plural of anecdote is not data”. While many people many THINK that the homeopathic remedies work it is usually for SELF-LIMITING conditions. These are things that would get better with time (things like allergic reactions, minor viral illnesses or sunburn).

    In other words… NOT a major infection like MALARIA!!!!

  22. #22 pat
    July 19, 2006

    HCN,
    I happen to agree and would not necessarily choose homeopathy for myself was I to fight off a malaria infection.

    Still you’re guilty of lazy logic:

    “Good, then you understand that it really does not work”
    ….Because…?
    ….”the plural of anecdote is not data”?

    There’s a leap in logic here I think:

    -There is no data, therefore it does not work, or
    -There is only anecdotal evidence, therefore it does not work

    Both of these statements are false.

    “While many people many THINK that the homeopathic remedies work it is usually for SELF-LIMITING conditions. These are things that would get better with time (things like allergic reactions, minor viral illnesses or sunburn”.

    Coricidin D, TheraFlu, TheraFlu Daytime, Nyquil, Dayquil, Sudafed etc. Are these not meant to treat self-limiting conditions? The “arsenal” is full of bullets for self-limiting conditions. Can these conventional-medicine based remedies be considered quackery? They all only alleviate symptoms after all and all come with a list of side-efects, A.K.A. “symptoms” themselves . Are these side-effects considered acceptable by doctors? Reasonable? considering they are self-limiting conditions?
    Acyclovir, Zovirax for herpes? Never did a thing for me. I was Mr. Perma Blister until I tried that quacky ozone therapy with minor adjustments to my diet. Now I’m Pat again and I don’t have to take that One-pill-a-day-for-the-rest-of-my-life remedy offered by the convention. I take nothing now. But thats all anecdotal and useless to the unfortunate “evidence-based” junkie.
    I don’t know what else to say. Dare to keep your eyes open and your thoughts clear from logic-distorting biases?

    Another anecdote from my mother and sister. Both travelled to Kenya armed with conventional prophylactic malaria medicines. Within a week of arrival they checked into the local hospital in Mombassa with physical complainst they somehow feared was the work of malaria. The local doc took a look at them and after a brief reflection asked “Are you both from Switzerland?”
    Bewildered, my mother asked how he knew. The doc said that many of his Swiss patients came with the same complaints. He said it was the malaria medication used in Switzerland. So upon this revelation they both stopped their meds, got better, enjoyed the rest of their stay and never caught malaria. My point? None. I did how ever find it amusing that he was able to diagnose both my mother and sister as being Swiss.

  23. #24 Jack
    July 25, 2006

    Pat clearly has little understanding of the scientific method or process, and seems keen to point out flaws in others logic while making plenty of her own (meanwhile showing misunderstanding of facts as well as their inter-relations).

    “There’s a leap in logic here I think:

    -There is no data, therefore it does not work, or
    -There is only anecdotal evidence, therefore it does not work

    Both of these statements are false.”

    Welcome to science, Pat. Nothing can be disproved (logically), so what you do is get as much evidence as you can that is likely to disprove your theory. There more evidence you have which fails to topple your theory, the more confidence you can have in it.

    The theory under test is that homoeopathy has no effect beyond placebo. A great number of people have tried to find evidence to the contrary. There is none. Leading us to the conclusion…

    It wouldn’t stand in a court of law, let alone a laboratory.

    Keep up the good work, everyone.

  24. #25 pat
    July 27, 2006

    Sorry Jack, but I had to attack the poor logic on which this entire thread is based. If you want to make your point about something (homeopathy in this case) you got to speak clearly. Someone is trying to associate homeopathy with “not harmless” when in fact it is peoples choices that are “not harmless”. Forget the candy.

    “Pat clearly has little understanding of the scientific method or process, and seems keen to point out flaws in others logic while making plenty of her own (meanwhile showing misunderstanding of facts as well as their inter-relations)”.
    - can you elaborate for my benefit; without explanation it sounds like a hit and run.

    “Welcome to science, Pat. Nothing can be disproved (logically), so what you do is get as much evidence as you can that is likely to disprove your theory. There more evidence you have which fails to topple your theory, the more confidence you can have in it”
    -Again, thank you for the quick-tour, you know at least as much as I do.

  25. #26 Jack
    July 27, 2006

    Part 1.

    The homeopathic spokesman:
    “We give advice on traditional homeopathic remedies which have been used by people for many decades in their attempt to avoid conventional treatment for malaria.”

    Orac: “Notice the same old appeal to popularity and common practice without a bit of evidence that homeopathy can help to prevent malaria.”

    Pat: “Firstly, to what degree is homeopathy “popular” and where is it considered “common practice”? This argument doesn’t fly. Secondly, I find it strange how this same argument is used here as an appeal to reason but then is lamented as a quack-trap for the feeble minded on another, sometimes-related topic.”

    Orac did not state that it was popular or common practice, but correctly notes that these claims are made implicitly by the spokesman.

    Part 2.

    Pat: “But I believe an honest scientist would agree with the following statement: ‘the theory of “holistic” healing is scientifically plausible’ -because he would also have to agree that science hasen’t disproved the theory either.

    Science also hasn’t disproved the teapot orbiting the sun, not that the world was created last Thusrsday.

    How much money would you spend on trying to disprove homoeopathy before you give up? Seriously, give me a number.

    The difference between scientific views on placebo and homoeopathy is that:
    a) Placebo can be repeated in a laboratory by school children.
    b) Nobody has demonstrated any effect of homoeopathy in a serious trial. Ever.

    Just because there isn’t an explanation for one well known phenomenon (placebo) does not add weight to your argument that an unexplained non-phenomenon could have some truth.

    Hope that helps.

  26. #27 pat
    July 28, 2006

    I poke fun at Oracs reasoning because I’ve heard that one before. If you read the rest of my post, you’ll see that I give an example of it. In other words Orac makes similar arguments when defending his views.

    “How much money would you spend on trying to disprove homoeopathy before you give up? Seriously, give me a number.”

    150 billion ballpark figure. What the heck do I know. Science is capable of much worse.

    “The difference between scientific views on placebo and homoeopathy is that:
    a) Placebo can be repeated in a laboratory by school children.
    b) Nobody has demonstrated any effect of homoeopathy in a serious trial. Ever
    Just because there isn’t an explanation for one well known phenomenon (placebo) does not add weight to your argument that an unexplained non-phenomenon could have some truth.”

    “Lack of evidence does not equate with lack of existance” was and remains my point.
    I don’t believe myself in homeopathy but Oracs arguments against it are ridiculous. “Homeopathy not harmless” is a misleading joke.
    Take my example of HIV/AIDS. We have yet to demonstrate causation so all we have are 100’000+ research articles making that assumption. Orac is indeed insulted at the waste of money with “altie” medicine yet seems perfectly content with the waste of money on the HIV/AIDS riddle because he believes dogmatically in it. In other words I think he’s not making sense. All I’m saying is he needs to revise his logic so that his position actually makes sense.Thats all. As he stands it appears to me that he is in contradiction with himself.
    Thank you for the links.

  27. #28 Dr Suggest
    July 30, 2006

    http://homeocare.blogspot.com/ is a very interesting blog
    for information about homeopathic system of medicines, sources, mode of administration of medicines, preservation of medicine, homeopathic treatment, etc. I hope this blog will help you to know much about homeopathy.

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