Respectful Insolence

It may be Thanksgiving weekend here in the States, and fellow ScienceBloggers PZ and Ed may be getting sniping at each other over Larry Moran‘s rather intemperate comments. (Can’t we all just get along, guys, at least for the holidays anyway?). Worse, this kerfluffle is threatening to suck in other fellow ScienceBloggers Mike Dunford, John Wilkins, John Lynch, and Chad Orzel, as well.

You know, this whole thing reminds me a lot of political and religious arguments that used to break out among my family sometimes during holiday gatherings. Let’s hope the results of this one, like the results of the ones my family used to engage in at times, don’t linger beyond the holidays.

Fortunately for purposes of a diversion from this unpleasantness (although unfortunately for critical thinking and science), woo is eternal. Woo marches on. Woo never goes away. (Well, maybe around the Christmas holidays it might not appear; I do have a life, you know. Well, sort of, anyway. And there’s always woo reruns to be had, now that Your Friday Dose of Woo has been going on for a few months now.) And it is Friday, whether it’s a holiday or not. So, perhaps I can provide a little respite from the blog drama that seems to have engulfed ScienceBlogs and lighten things up a bit. It’s time for a bit of woo. Come on. You know you want it. And the arguing over “appeasement” versus “practicality” will still be there when you’re done. Maybe you’ll be in a better mood to participate with a decreased the level of acrimony, having seen a bit of pseudoscience that we can all make fun of.

So, this week, let’s have a little chemistry woo combined with water woo combined with colloidal silver woo. It’s a product called BIONAID:

BIONAID concentrate is produced through a unique patent pending process, which permanently bonds one atom of silver with a multitude of oxygen atoms. This covalently bonded silver mineral concentrate is then mixed with your distilled water to produce a BIONAID and water-blend for drinking. The covalently bonded silver mineral concentrate (although mistakenly compared to colloidal silver) is NOT a colloidal silver product.

A “Colloidal” consists of individual particles within the range of 0.004 to 0.015 microns in diameter. The Bionic covalently bonded mineral particle is comprised of individual atoms of silver with up to a million covalently bonded oxygen atoms. The size of the Bionic molecule is much smaller than 0.004 microns which does not fall within the classification of a colloid.

Gee, that sounds perfectly clear. Tell me more!

A “Colloidal” consists of individual particles within the range of 0.004 to 0.015 microns in diameter. The Bionic covalently bonded mineral particle is comprised of individual atoms of silver with up to a million covalently bonded oxygen atoms. The size of the Bionic molecule is much smaller than 0.004 microns which does not fall within the classification of a colloid.

A million “covalently” bonded oxygen atoms bonded to individual atoms of silver? Covalently bonded? Wait a minute. Yes, the chemists out there are probably cringing and getting ready to throw things at their computer screens, but I humbly ask them to hold off a minute. For those who are not chemists, some explanation will be in order, but I ask for patience. Because there’s more woo to look at before I can explain why it’s woo. I ask the chemists and scientists in the audience to restrain themselves (really, I mean it) when you read this:

BIONAID is H2O, which is two Hydrogen Atoms sharing electrons with One Oxygen Atom. The Bionic Reactor Strips Hydrogen Atoms which contain 1 Proton and 1 Electron from the Oxygen Atom making a positively charged Oxygen Ion +2 (It wants two electrons) Simultaneously Supercharged Negative Silver Ions which have 47 protons and millions of electrons are created by the reactor ( 1M to 2M). Up to a million or so Oxygen Atoms immediately bond to each silver Ion by grabbing two of the millions of electrons from the silver Ion and sharing them with the silver ion as well as with other oxygen molecules already attached to the silver Ion.

Really, guys. Restrain yourself! I mean it. I understand, because my undergraduate degree was in chemistry before I went to medical school. I mean, after all, this stuff is science! Really. Just ask them.

So, let’s have a bit of fun here. To understand why the above is a big, steaming, stinking pile of BS, you need to understand what a covalent bond is. In a covalent bond, atoms share one or more electrons. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what the makers of BIONAID seem to be claiming is that their “generator” (whatever that is) somehow strips hydrogen atoms from the oxygen in water, then strips the electrons from those hydrogen atoms, and then finally somehow makes them available to the silver ions, so that each silver ion can somehow bond “millions” of oxygen atoms.

Or am I somehow missing something here?

Nope. It looks like I’m reading these clowns right, and it’s even worse than I thought:

As millions of positively charged oxygen atoms bond to the negatively charged silver Ion the charge of the overall molecule becomes positive due to the ratio of positively charged protons in the nucleus of the oxygen atoms being greater than the number of electrons being shared amongst the other oxygen molecules and silver Ion.

Ugh. Never mind that the steric considerations alone would prevent “millions” of oxygen atoms from ever binding to a single silver atom. Never mind that it’s impossible to add that many electrons to silver atoms to permit the covalent bonding of “millions” of oxygen atoms. I’ll give you just one example. Silver oxide (a.k.a. “silver rust”), for instance, has a formula of Ag2O, or two silver atoms bound to one oxygen molecule, or basically a half an oxygen per silver atom and appears to include a mixture of covalent and ionic bonding. Don’t you think that, if a single silver atom could bond millions of oxygen atoms, that it would have done so in nature somehow? Or at least that we’d find an example of a silver atom covalently binding to, say, five or ten oxygen atoms, you know, a more modest number? Or perhaps you need this handy-dandy magical device to allow such a bonding to occur.

But an even better example of woo is what they sellers claim that this super special silver can do for you:

The molecule therefore at any chance will continue to attract negatively charged electrons found in hostile organisms. Bad, gram-negative Bacteria, Viruses, Molds etc. have one electron (-1) in their molecular makeup. They are therefore attracted to the “Bionic” molecule and die once they contact the Bionic molecule because the Bionic molecule steals the electron from it changing its polarity and killing it in the process. As electrons are collected full oxygen atoms are released from the Bionic molecule and the positive charge of the molecule is maintained. These molecules are permanently suspended in water and are not toxic to the body. Unlike a standard silver Ion, which is missing one electron and will try to collect one electron before it is inert and no longer affective in killing bacteria or other harmful organisms the Bionic molecule can continue to attract millions of bad organisms and continue to kill them. Burk Hale, Inc.’s BIONAID can treat malaria-infested ponds or other water supplies that are undrinkable and turn them into safe sources of water for millions who are currently drinking infected waters.

It is the significant amount of oxygen atoms covalently bonded to the silver atom that makes this process uniquely safe and effective in all laboratory tests done thus far, and should not be compared with simple ionized silver particle or pharmaceutical solutions. Mild silver protein solutions must have extremely high parts-per-million to have remotely similar effects and may only be obtained by a prescription.

Wow. Funny, but they seem to have neglected to mention to me when I took all those basic science courses in microbiology that “bad, gram-negative Bacteria, Viruses, Molds etc. have one electron (-1) in their molecular makeup” and “the Bionic molecule steals the electron from it changing its polarity and killing it in the process.”

If only I had known. I mean, think of it. A cure for all infectious disease, be it caused by viruses or bacteria. I could even manage a cure for AIDS here. And, of course, this stuff redefines “bioactivity”:

Bioactivity is rated as the amount of the positive charge held by a particle (molecule) which is the result of the presence of a greater number of protons than electrons in that molecule. The “best” form of a Colloidal Silver molecule has 15 more protons than electrons giving it a plus 15 rating, i.e., it can destroy fifteen bacteria/viruses etc. before loosing its bioactive properties.

Example: If you had two petri dishes that both contained 1,000,000 bacteria-in one you place the best Colloidal Silver particle and the other you placed one of the Bion particles. If the solution allowed the bioactive molecule to come into contact with each bacteria the Colloidal Silver would kill fifteen bacteria leaving 999,985 bacteria living. The Bion Molecule would kill ALL one million bacteria completely sterilizing the dish.

All one million?

I stand in awe at the woo. For one thing, one million bacteria is not that many. It just isn’t. You and I have untold millions upon millions of bacteria living on our skin and in our mouths, and literally billions of bacteria living in our colons. Of course, somehow medical school and all the reading I’ve done since never imparted to me the amazing knowledge that viruses and pathogenic bacteria possessed an extra electron that could be targeted by savvy woo-meisters for therapeutic effect. This is a claim that I’ve heard before. I suspect it’s a misunderstanding or distortion of the structure of the cell membrane of gram negative bacteria, which have proteins and compounds like LPS (which tends to impart a negative charge). In addition, it is true that most antimicrobial polypeptides have a positive charge, which is attracted to the negative charge of a typical bacterial cell membrane, and, indeed, raising the ionic strength of the surrounding medium will decrease the effectiveness of most such antibiotics because the charges are shielded from each other more.

It does not follow from any of this that you can somehow make silver bind millions of oxygen atoms and become toxic to bacteria simply by running a charge through it. Of course, we do use colloidal silver as an antibiotic. For example, Silvadene (a combination of silver and sulfa compounds) is used in the treatment of burn wounds. It’s a pretty effective topical antibiotic. If you’ve ever dealt with burn patients (as I have), you know this You also know that Silvadene and other creams like it are bacteriostatic (i.e., they inhibit growth but don’t kill) and don’t kill viruses. You also would know that it is the sulfonamide that is bound to the silver that is the active agent in such compounds, not the silver itself. Silver ions can also be used as an antimicrobial agent, but not in the way this woo claims. For example, there silver sulfonamide compounds are used to coat intravascular catheters and lower the rate of catheter infection.

But I can’t stand it anymore. But I can’t help myself. I have to go through this to the end:

BIONAID is designed to help you feel and generally perform better than ever before. The Bionic molecules have been proven to assist the body in a variety of beneficial and remarkable ways including the removal of toxins built up in your system. While clinical and laboratory results from UCLA virology labs and Genesis West-Providence (data available to registered inquirers) proves the efficacy of the molecule in this product, we are not making or implying any medical claims; nor that this product does any specific thing other than assist the body with the proper trace elements so that the body may become an undesirable host for unhealthy intruders.

This information is closer to a nutritional supplement, even though it is simply water and the Bionic molecule (the cream also has other ingredients). This is not about a drug. This product does not “cure” anything. Your body does the “curing” when it is provided the nutritional elements that it needs to naturally do what it does best.

We are convinced that our product does a superb job in meeting certain nutritional needs of the human body. And clinical tests over a 15 year period in major universities, labs and on human subjects worldwide verify our product’s efficacy. It Soars!

The only thing soaring here is the level of woo.

Ah, yes, of course this ” removes “toxins,” too! Why didn’t I see that one coming? But, remember, they’re not making any “medical” claims for this woo. Of course not. The FDA might come after them. Oh, no. This is a “nutritional supplement.” Although how it can be considered a nutritional supplement is beyond me, given that the body’s need for silver is quite small indeed. In fact, chronically overdosing on silver, colloidal or other, can cause a condition known as argyria, in which silver deposition results in a slate gray complexion. Argyria is not pretty. Fortunately, BIONAID probably won’t cause argyria because the amount of silver in the compound appears to be too low. But it certainly won’t do all the other stuff claimed for it, either.

Of course, no water woo would be complete without this:

BIONAID is a world class nutritional breakthrough. There are steps being taken with the latest research in quantum physics to improve upon this breakthrough. Research is revealing that water may have its own holographic memory, and with methods like “HADO”, which appears to indicate that “information” may be put into water, as discussed in the book, “Messages In The Water”, by Dr. Emoto, and the “Virtual Photon Laser”, by Dan Nelson is a new and exciting field of endeavor in the “structured water” research community that compliments their findings.

Ack! Misuse of quantum mechanics and a citation of Dr. Emoto (of H2Oooom fame). Woo spawning more woo!

And how much will this woo set you back if you want to indulge in it? Glad you asked! It’s a mere $20 a bottle or $432 a case. And if you want the super-duper BIONAID cream, it’s only $20 for a 2 oz. jar and $30 for a 4 oz. jar.

What a bargain.

My work here is done. We return you now to our regularly scheduled blog war, now in progress. Enjoy.

Comments

  1. #1 Rod Argent
    November 24, 2006

    They may be talking about clusters of silver(II)oxide (AgO, Ag2O2) which is found in electrochemically prepared silver solutions and might contain millions of molecules per cluster.

  2. #2 Orac
    November 24, 2006

    Possibly, but that’s not what they said. They said millions of oxygen molecules covalently bond to a silver atom:

    The Bionic covalently bonded mineral particle is comprised of individual atoms of silver with up to a million covalently bonded oxygen atoms.

    And:

    Up to a million or so Oxygen Atoms immediately bond to each silver Ion by grabbing two of the millions of electrons from the silver Ion and sharing them with the silver ion as well as with other oxygen molecules already attached to the silver Ion.

  3. #3 Anuminous
    November 24, 2006

    So if having positively charged ions in your system is going to make you REALLY healthy, how about getting these guys to swallow a gel cap or two full of Fr+ ions? After all, each one will kill off one harmful agent (since all harmful agents are apparently negatively charged), so dose calculation should be real easy, right? it might be expensive, but I think we could guarantee dramatic results!

  4. #4 Hyperion
    November 24, 2006

    No, clearly the answer is to bathe in ionized hydrogen plasma. What could be more effective at killed all those negatively-charged “toxins” than millions of free protons?

    And the best part is that it is completely true that bathing in ionized hydrogen plasma will kill any and all bacteria and viruses in your body…

    Just ignore the burning sensation until you…I mean it…vanishes.

  5. #5 Nes
    November 24, 2006

    This is so bad that even my jaw dropped when they mentioned the million oxygen atoms in the first quote; and I’ve only had high school chemistry!

    Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but in a covalent bond an atom can only share electrons in its outer shell (valence electrons, or something like that), yes? Well, with thanks to wikipedia for refreshing my memory on how many electrons can be in an shell (2n^2), I think I can guess how many electrons they’d have to jam on an atom of silver to have enough free ones to share with a million atoms of oxygen. Also, if I remember correctly, oxygen would want 2 electrons from the silver, so there would have to be at least 2 million available…

    So… We’d have to be out at the 1000th (2 * (1000^2) = 2,000,000) shell to have enough electrons available for the oxygen. But wait! The sharing isn’t one way; the silver would want to have the oxygen’s electrons too, which means that we have to be in a shell with 4 million spots for electrons available (but only actually has 2 million in it). This would put us at the 1414th shell (if you don’t mind being a few hundred shy of a million oxygen atoms). Keep in mind that all the previous 1413 shells have to be full to get to this shell. A quick computer program to do the adding for me gives me an answer of 1,884,765,038 electrons required after adding in the 2 million for the outer shell.

    Oh, just read about bonds where only one atom gives the electrons, so I think we can squeeze by at the 1000th shell. Assuming my math is right, that would still be 667,667,000 electrons.

    Regardless, I think even at the 1000th shell the electrons would probably be so loosely connected to the silver, that an oxygen would be more likely to just nab one and run off with it than form a bond…

    Please feel free to correct this, as it’s all from my memory of high school level chemistry, and might not be accurate! The point was just to demonstrate how clearly absurd this is.

  6. #6 Nes
    November 24, 2006

    The more I think about it, the more I think I’m wrong about the silver wanting (specifically) 2 electrons from the oxygen, so please feel free to ignore that paragraph.

  7. #7 natural cynic
    November 24, 2006

    And no words about this gem:

    BIONAID can treat malaria-infested ponds or other water supplies that are undrinkable and turn them into safe sources of water for millions who are currently drinking infected waters

    Maybe it just cleans out the digestive tracts of those mosquitos and … oh nevermind.

  8. #8 Infophile
    November 25, 2006

    BIONAID is designed to help you feel and generally perform better than ever before. The Bionic molecules have been proven to assist the body in a variety of beneficial and remarkable ways including the removal of toxins built up in your system. While clinical and laboratory results from UCLA virology labs and Genesis West-Providence (data available to registered inquirers) proves the efficacy of the molecule in this product, we are not making or implying any medical claims; nor that this product does any specific thing other than assist the body with the proper trace elements so that the body may become an undesirable host for unhealthy intruders.

    So, they’re saying it’s been proven to work, but they’re not claiming it works. Odd, that. Reminds me of one of my professors often said: “The most common fallacy is the fallacy of lying.”

  9. #9 Tina
    November 27, 2006

    I think I’m starting to catch the Stupid, better leave before it’s too late!

  10. #10 luna_the_cat
    November 27, 2006

    Bad, gram-negative Bacteria, Viruses, Molds etc. have one electron (-1) in their molecular makeup. They are therefore attracted to the “Bionic” molecule and die once they contact the Bionic molecule because the Bionic molecule steals the electron from it changing its polarity and killing it in the process.

    Be glad that you cannot hear the thin, high screech which I find myself emitting as I read this…

    Inquiring minds want to know: are they genuinely this stupid, or do they just assume everyone else is? I’m voting former, myself. This level of …words fail me here… can only come from genuinely not understanding any of the basic concepts. If someone knew better and just tried to make stuff up, it couldn’t be this silly.

    How do you read this without your brains dribbling out your ears?

  11. #11 luna_the_cat
    November 27, 2006

    Oh. My. Lord.

    I had to go see for myself, and what you quote is not all they’re claiming:

    “BIONAID’s primary particle, the Bionic molecule, has been tested world-wide.

    UCLA Virology Laboratories, California; HIV/AIDS culture testing
    Genesis West-Providia; Cancer patient testing
    Texas A&M Universities; Mechanical properties testing
    Brazil/World Health Organization; HIV/AIDS/PATHOGENS patient testing
    Southwest Laboratories, Texas, Scientific properties testing
    Belsar Laboratories. London; HIV/AIDS patient testing
    Creighton University. Nebraska; PATHOGEN testing
    Florida University; PATHOGEN study/testing”

    I…wha…? HOW? This?! …Somehow I don’t think so, mate.

  12. #12 luna_the_cat
    November 27, 2006

    It just gets better…or worse, depending on your point of view. And Look! He endorses chelation!

    http://www.rangeguide.net/products.htm

  13. #13 Robert
    January 10, 2008

    Why not look at the bottom line rather than attack possible theoretical deficiencies in the promoter’s explanations? I am neutral, since I know nothing about this product except what I’ve seen here and at a seller’s site.

    This is a quote from that site:

    (http://www.twentyfirstcenturyproducts.com/bionresearch.htm)

    RESEARCH / CLINICAL STUDIES

    *
    INSTITUTO GENESIS WEST-PROVIDA
    April 1996
    A female age 37 with Breast Cancer. Target cells decreased in number during the study. This parasitic condition not only decreased after the first dose, but eventually disappeared. (Download Report)
    *
    ATLAS CONSULTANTS INC., LAS VEGAS
    March 10, 2003
    E. Coli – killed. (Password Required) .
    *
    UCLA VIROLOGY DEPARTMENT
    January 23, 1995
    In this experiment, PHA-stimulated PBLs infected with HIV _1 JRCSF were treated with Bion Water (CVM3) . On day 4, culture was microscopically observed, cells all looked healthy indicating a positive dose response. On day 7, all HIV had been killed, even at the lowest concentration. (View Report)
    *
    CREIGHTON UNIVERSITY
    July 21, 1988
    P. Aeruginosa and Staphylococcus Aureus – killed.
    (Download Report)
    *
    DR. GEORGE CARR
    August 26, 1999
    All clients who have returned for testing are still HIV negative.

  14. #14 Robert
    January 10, 2008

    The same kind of “debunking” has been done for the famous aqua detox craze. I reserve judgment on such things because I don’t believe knowledge of science makes me omniscient. All the “debunking” on the aqua detox was based on speculations involving basic, and I might add, superficial science. The only assessment I’ve been able to find so far on the subject that actually had a research protocol and concrete results underlying it is found at the following link:

    http://www.aquadetox-int.com/research.html

  15. #15 Robert
    January 10, 2008

    Addendum to previous comments:

    I am researching the aqua detox phenomenon because my wife has a history of problems with yeast ever since a huge attack after an antibiotic regimen. She is reporting great results from aqua detox. She intends to spend more on it, and I want to ensure it’s not just money down the proverbial drain.

    As a person with a strong, very broad, interdisciplinary scientific background, to be truly objective in doing any such research I’ve learned I need to admit to myself that science evolves and historically has reversed position on a very large number of very important issues, many involving health. We need to go into any research knowing that science, despite its many successes, still doesn’t know very much of what there is to be known.

    Science consequently has no right to be arrogant, as none of us do either. I’ve seen too many things debunked in cases for which I have unarguably clear personal knowledge of their very substantial value.

  16. #16 Orac
    January 10, 2008

    Spare me the “arrogant,” “science doesn’t know everything,” and “appeals to other ways of knowing” tropes. I’ve heard them so many times before, and they’re no more convincing now than they were the first time I heard them. Personally, I think it’s far more arrogant of woos who clearly know little or nothing about the science involved to make claims about how hundreds of years of well-established science must be wrong because, you know, they just know that their favored woo “works,” even though for it to work all that science would have to be overturned. Also, anecdotes are not scientific data.

    As for the Aqua Detox, I’ve written before about a very similar product. The water changes color whether there are feet in there or not. It’s nothing more than a scam, just like the Kinoki foot patches.

  17. #17 Robert
    January 10, 2008

    Orac, I know about the water changing color no matter what. If you know anything about science, you know that this alone says virtually nothing. I’m not saying aqua detox works. I simply don’t know either that it does or doesn’t and I frankly have no idea why it should. Having said that, there are many things in nature that work while we remain ignorant as to why. All I’m doing is putting in a word for caution and objectivity.

    The study I provided a link for goes to the nitty-gritty of before-and-after tests of a scientific nature. I know nothing of the integrity of the researcher and I doubt his research has been replicated. I only know the study claims to reveal positive results. I have seen no similar research indicating the opposite, and pretending we already know the answer without bothering to wait for or do a separate rigorous study with good experimental design is not good science.

    By the way, it is not very scientific to assume, and certainly not to assume someone you don’t know is scientifically ignorant because he argues for suspended judgment when there is little scientific evidence either way. It IS scientific to hypothesize, even when based on elementary science, so do as much of that as you like, but please refrain from pretending it’s conclusive.

    Maybe it feels good to parade our superior scientific knowledge and “common-sense” reasoning abilities and how they save us from the folly of the gullible masses. A lot of modern medicine has been doing that for a very long time, but suddenly some old folk remedies are making a scientific comeback because we’ve finally begun to figure out how some of them work and some of our modern stuff is too expensive or doesn’t work any more because our narrow-minded, “magic bullet” science has generated resistant bacteria.

    Yes, after all, most of society today lives in a world of magic for all practical purposes, since they have no clue about how any of the conveniences they use every day works. It is indeed stupid to use the arguments you mention to justify stupid things, but did I do that? Do you assume I’m not neutral about the issues discussed just because I counsel caution and objectivity? Is that such a sin? I thought it was part of the scientific mandate for good experimental design.

    If you don’t like that, quit pretending you know anything about science, since that is its very backbone and should form the foundation for any arguments for which you wish to apply science as a justification. Anthing else is just vitriolic, useless, mindless rhetoric, which is just the thing you pretend to despise, or is this just “infotainment”? I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, but the tone and patently unscientific attitude implied by your reply has only edged up the doubt a bit. Maybe you’re just hosting a club of mutual back-slappers dedicated to the derision of others’ ignorance? You tell me. I hope your reply ups the benefit side of giving you the benefit of the doubt, that is if you bother to respond.

  18. #18 Orac
    January 10, 2008

    Orac, I know about the water changing color no matter what. If you know anything about science, you know that this alone says virtually nothing.

    Au contraire. Remember, the purveyors of this woo claim that the change in water color is due to the elimination of unnamed “toxins.” We can thus say with a high level of confidence that these purveyors of woo are full of crap when they make that claim.

    By the way, it is not very scientific to assume, and certainly not to assume someone you don’t know is scientifically ignorant because he argues for suspended judgment when there is little scientific evidence either way.

    Spare me the wounded self-righteous whining. You wanted to argue science about something as unscientific as the detox footbath. When you start defending pseudoscience around here so vociferously, label science as “arrogant,” and start appealing to other ways of knowing, don’t be surprised when you are not granted the respect that you apparently think you deserve.

    It is when his claim that there is “little evidence either way” is wrong. There’s such a thing as prior plausibility. There is no mechanism that is even remotely scientifically plausible to suggest that Aquadetox should work or how it would work. That is the minimal prior requirement for any medical claim for such a device. It’s the same as homeopathy. On the basis of physics and chemistry alone it is so implausible that it would require very compelling evidence that it does something therapeutic in humans at least as compelling as the hundreds of years of physics, chemistry, and biology that tell us how unlikely it is to work. In other words, there is a lot of evidence that this thing won’t work on the basis of physical principles alone and no clinical evidence that it (1) removes toxins (a highly dubious claim, given that the toxins aren’t named and that we don’t remove toxins through our feet; we use our kidneys, lungs, and liver) or (2) causes a clinical effect greater than placebo. Anyone who claims this thing works does not understand physiology.

    Basically, by making quotes that show you’re so open-minded that your brain is in grave danger of falling out, you show that you do not understand how science works or why the detox bath doesn’t work. I’m merely pointing that out. Someone who parrots pseudoscientific claims on this blog should not be surprised when I become a bit annoyed with his foolishness. As for someone like you lecturing me about what is and is not science, quite frankly, I can only laugh.

  19. #19 Robert
    January 11, 2008

    Orac quoting me in an earlier post:
    “Orac, I know about the water changing color no matter what. If you know anything about science, you know that this alone says virtually nothing.”

    Orac’s reply:
    “Au contraire. Remember, the purveyors of this woo claim that the change in water color is due to the elimination of unnamed “toxins.” We can thus say with a high level of confidence that these purveyors of woo are full of crap when they make that claim.”

    Based on what assumption? So your saying because we have an explanation for what happens without feet in the basin constitutes scientific proof that nothing else happens happens with feet in the basin?…or you FEEL in your scientifically intuitive gut that at the very least the idea that anything else is going on is implausible? What kind of reasoning supports that? That’s a clear, in-your-face logical fallacy. I’ve seen the difference myself. I just don’t have any strong evidence beyond the one study I dug up after a long search that the difference means anything good is happening.

    The difference between you and me on that point is I don’t assume it doesn’t do anything extra or good because high school science fails to provide a clear understanding of why it should. So I’m defending nothing except scientific objectivity and clear, explicit reasoning. So why the vitriolic air of disgust, unless you are indeed hosting an infotainment, FOX News type, mutual back-slapping society?

    Oh, I’m beginning to get it now! If it’s unconventional, alternative, or worse, smacks of anything new-agey, we automatically brand it right out of the gate as preposterous. We support our a priori conclusion with high school science, which then operates de facto as our canonical scripture. OK! I had no idea this was a religious discussion.

    Well, I have no problem admitting that much of what I see on the Internet promoting these alternative healing approaches is pseudo-scientific gobble-de-gook. But good reasoning doesn’t even use that to discredit a claim. I’ve worked in the industrial sector and witnessed technically limited sales reps do the same thing with perfectly wonderful high-tech hardware. It made me cringe, but that wasn’t any indictment of the value of the hardware.

    All I’m saying is that I suspend judgment on such matters until I have some solid reason to do otherwise, and I recommend the same attitude to others. I have not at any point “defended” any of these technologies. I have merely stated that if we suspect something amiss, we need to give solid, objective reasons for our doubts, or at least for the implausibility of what we’re critiquing.

    You seem to have what equates to a religious bias against anything you can’t easily explain and that also appears to be out of the scientific or medical mainstream. To anyone with half an ounce of real information processing ability, you are standing naked and revealed, pal. For example,

    Orac:
    “Spare me the wounded self-righteous whining. You wanted to argue science about something as unscientific as the detox footbath.”

    Where is the wounded self-righteous whining in my comments? Your rebuttals have been rationally baseless and predicated on preconceived notions of what YOU consider plausible without providing any foundation for your thinking. You merely state that the detox foot bath is “unscientific” without accompanying this with any rationale for your categorization. What makes it unscientific?

    There are lots of things in nature that work wonderfully well and we still have no idea why. I look for results. If a bunch of people whose sanity I trust keep telling me something works, I won’t necessarily wait for a controlled, double-blind experiment to substantiate it. Most of what we do that works even today is not verified by such studies. If we waited for that before we did anything, our society would collapse, not to mention what would have happened to societies before the dawn of science. Science itself is not arrogant, and I never said it was, so please refrain from distorting my words. However, some of those who profess to apply science to their way of dealing with reality are indeed arrogant. Your tone tells me you belong to that party.

    All who have the same baseless bias will naturally agree with you. It then becomes a shouting contest with no real substance whatsoever. I guess you think that “scientific” means whatever seems scientific in your intuitive gut to you and your like-minded friends? The history of science is rife with your kind getting trumped by someone who could think way outside your self-imposed, apparently quite arrogant little box.

  20. #20 Robert
    January 11, 2008

    By the way, your indictment of homeopathy also reveals your deep prejudice. Some conventional MDs routinely recommend homeopathic doses of poison ivy to allergic patients with excellent results in re-establishing immunity. The so-called “scientific” prejudice against this kind of practice has actually endangered the professional lives of MDs in some states. This is the real pseudo-science.

    The problem with such truly pseudo-scientific bias is that it thinks pretty much exclusively in terms of local, immediate mechanisms it can easily grasp. Nature doesn’t work that way. The rationale for homeopathy is simple. Vulnerability to physical problems in bodily function are frequently a matter of poorly integrated function in some area. In other words, some physiological part is not communicating well with some other part.

    Introducing microscopic doses into the body of something that in larger doses would reproduce the same symptoms essentially re-establishes communication within the body by telling the body what’s wrong with it and what it needs to do to fix it. It is medicine that is not so much substance-based as intelligence-based. That this is beyond the ken of some people is their problem and not homeopathy’s. That the molecularly small amounts of diluted original substance that apparently produce these effects seem small beyond reason is not actually beyond reason. We know from quantum physics that matter can retain quantum memories of substances that are not even any longer present.

    Are you aware that John D. Rockefeller was a key force behind the elimination of homeopathy and herbal medicine in general in this country? The best of traditional European and Native American herbal medicine had combined to form a relatively effective approach for the time. Rockefeller and his cohorts put their money behind “heroic medicine” because in their view the “masses” don’t appreciate or adopt preventative approaches anyway. “Heroic medicine” makes headlines, and so it’s a much better financial investment. Meanwhile, he kept his own homeopathic doctor to the end of his life. Don’t get me wrong, “heroic medicine” has it’s value. What is now called integrative medicine recognizes the value of both.

    I am 64 years old and I can count the number of times I’ve had to use antibiotics in my entire life on my fingers with room to spare. I don’t use aspirin or its substitutes either. I am not one of those who happens to be lucky and never gets sick, but I’ve had some lousy experiences with conventional medicine and I have done quite well with some alternative approaches, including herbs, homeopathy, and acupuncture.

    I predict your possibly insurmountable prejudice is going to jump on this to claim that I have now really revealed myself for the idiotic dingbat that I am in your eyes and gloat in triumph. So be it. In the meantime, I get to use homeopathy, etc. to improve the comfort of my lifestyle and you don’t.

  21. #21 Orac
    January 12, 2008

    By the way, your indictment of homeopathy also reveals your deep prejudice. Some conventional MDs routinely recommend homeopathic doses of poison ivy to allergic patients with excellent results in re-establishing immunity. The so-called “scientific” prejudice against this kind of practice has actually endangered the professional lives of MDs in some states. This is the real pseudo-science.

    No, homeopathy is real pseudoscience. In fact, it’s way more pseudoscientific than the detox footbath that you’ve been defending. If you can’t see why homeopathy is such a load of BS, scientifically speaking, you may be beyond my ability to persuade. Your approval of homeopathy does, however, explain much in terms of your susceptibility to other forms of quackery, such as detox footbaths.

    I suggest this series of articles about homeopathy. He’s only written two, but he’s promising more, and it will show why homeopathy is not only so scientifically implausible that it would require evidence of such extraordinary undeniable nature to support it, an argument he will develop in future installments:

    Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future – Part I
    Homeopathy and Evidence-Based Medicine: Back to the Future – Part II

  22. #22 Freddy the Pig
    January 12, 2008

    Robert – what Orac neglected poit out regarding homeopathy is that the doses in homeopathy are not microscopic, they are non-existant, less than a molecule per oceanic volume of water. Homepathy is in no way comparable to desensitiztion using tiny amounts of an allergen or venom.

  23. #23 khan
    January 12, 2008

    That the molecularly small amounts of diluted original substance that apparently produce these effects seem small beyond reason is not actually beyond reason. We know from quantum physics that matter can retain quantum memories of substances that are not even any longer present.

    Take that, Orac: all of your materialistic thinking is swept away by his invocation of St Quantum.
    (Is there a Godwin’s Law equivalent for quantum mechanics?)

    Are you aware that John D. Rockefeller was a key force behind the elimination of homeopathy and herbal medicine in general in this country?

    Are we talking Trilateralists, Bilderburger, Illuminati…?
    (It’s hard to keep the nefarious groups straight; especially concerning Rockefellers.)

  24. #24 Robster, FCD
    January 12, 2008

    Robert, If we can tell it is BS with our high school science knowledge, do we even need to apply our college or doctoral skills?

  25. #25 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    From Orac:

    “…so scientifically implausible [homeopathy] that it would require evidence of such extraordinary undeniable nature to support it…

    Here is the crux of the matter. I have a problem with using plausibility as a device for eliminating a priori any objective investigation of an issue, or at least requiring superhuman efforts to overcome the hurdle that implausibility should allegedly impose. Copernicus and Galileo are examples of people victimized by this. It implies that anyone who comes up with anything that violates a perspective the acceptance of which is virtually universal among those in a given field is automatically wrong.

    Einstein’s concepts of space and time, even in Special Relativity, are so radical that his work is still rejected by a few maverick scientists who remain afflicted by this mindset despite the success of his theories. He was very fortunate in that his were the only cogent explanations of phenomena that had already been observed. Also most of his fellow scientists, at least those of high rank, were very advanced theoreticians whose own previous successes in the field depended on their very open-minded thinking and who were already smashing existing paradigms, even if not quite so radically.

    By the way, I read both the articles you provided links for, Orac. I quote the following brief excerpt:

    “Later it was discovered that quinine, an ingredient of Cinchona bark, has a specific anti-malarial effect. The mechanism of action has been elucidated, and it has nothing to do with “like cures like,” vitalism, “dynamism,” or any other process proposed by Hahnemann or his followers. Nor does it have to do with host defenses, even those that are real. Thus the very foundation of homeopathy has been definitively disproved.”

    So Orac, let’s propose the theory that corks float because they are structured from material from which a field emanates that repels water so strongly in only a lateral direction that it has no choice but to remain on the surface. We both know this is false, although not terribly far from the truth in terms of what happens indirectly because of the field of gravitation. It constitutes what might seem to the scientifically naive as a reasonable explanation, despite its absurdity from the perspective of the scientifically knowledgeable.

    The logic in the statement from Kimball Atwood quoted above would mandate that we conclude that corks don’t float. This is an obvious, in-your-face, logical fallacy by a person who claims to be providing scientific reasons that show the implausiblity of what is the logical equivalent of floating corks in our example.

    The comments I’ve been getting here are also full of logically unsupported declarations of a priori implausibility, presumably based on some kind of gut feel for what constitutes a scientific basis? If this is not the case, I would like to know where this a priori condemnation as “implausible” is coming from. I don’t buy that a lack of appreciation for the mechanics of some phenomenon eliminates the possibility that the phenomenon is real. Richard Feynman showed that time flows backwards in antimatter. Try that one on for plausibility!

    My bottom line is this:
    You have to get beyond high school science to appreciate both the power and the limits of current scientific understanding. We are in a situation that in principle is essentially no different from those of Copernicus or Galileo. This doesn’t mean that we should become gullible and accept whatever garbage comes our way. I have never proposed that here.

    I still suspend judgment on the things I’ve mentioned. I just don’t eliminate them out of hand using implausibility as a justification. I look for research that looks like it might have been well conceived in terms of experimental design and that tests the bottom line of whether it works. “Why” can come later, just as it did for Einstein after the Michelson-Morley experiment. We were lucky to have Einstein or we might still be scratching our heads. Life is not as simple and narrow as some of us apparently want to make it.

    I’m going to tell you a personal story that you may have trouble believing because it blows your paradigm to shreds. I had acute appendicitis in 1984. I still have my appendix. When I signed out of the hospital without surgery at 10pm on a Saturday, the infuriated doctor told me I would be dead by Monday morning. My white blood cells were double the normal count and you couldn’t touch my sore side. The chiropractor who met me at his office upon leaving the hospital used his license to incorporate understandings from many different alternative approaches, including acupuncture meridians, homeopathy, etc. There are some chiropractors who do this to extend their practice way beyond what we normally associate with chiropractic.

    If you think homeopathy is way out there, you would be blown away by the “hocus pocus” this guy used on me. By Monday morning my blood cell count was flat normal, the test authorized by the angry doctor who had said I would be dead by then. When my chiropractor requested another blood test the following Thursday as a precautionary follow-up, the same formerly angry doctor said, “Well it was alright Monday. Why do you need another one?”

    Which health practitioner do you think I have the most confidence in? How much do you think I care how well I understand what my chiropractor did or how scientifically plausible it was? I continued seeing him and his colleagues in the same clinic for many years for various reasons. This was the most dramatic of my experiences with them, but they did wonders from my various health problems time and time again.

  26. #26 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    Robster, the simple point is you CAN’T tell from high school science. It’s way too limited. And most doctors are anything but scientists. In general they’re a bunch of glorified body technicians with a lot of rote knowledge and little understanding of the big picture. I can’t remember whether it was Richard Feynman or Edward Teller who stated that he had been around the world and talked to physicists at the world’s leading universities and almost NONE had any depth of understanding in his view. I think it was Feynman. And so it goes with everything else.

    I’ve personally dealt with a lot of engineers, and 99% are cook book engineers that have to have done nuts and bolts A, B, and C yesterday for a closely related project or they don’t know what to do. The exceptions were the Russian engineers who were fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were generalists. The electrical engineers could do mechanical engineering and vice versa. They didn’t have our luxurious infrastructure so they had to be highly resourceful. They had trouble getting work, though, because American managers thought they had to have done nuts and bolts A, B, and C yesterday. The Russians were so much better than the engineers most managers hired it was ridiculous, no matter what they did yesterday.

    They had depth. Try getting some depth. It wears well and looks good on you.

  27. #27 khan
    January 12, 2008
  28. #28 HCN
    January 12, 2008

    Some reading material for Robert:
    http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Browse/BrowseStdPage/0,,265287_2_Title_text_PS0,00.html

    When you are done, please tell me how many sodium and chlorine atoms are in one cubic centimeter of Nat Mur 30C .

  29. #29 Harriet Hall
    January 12, 2008

    Robert, can we assume you haven’t ruled out the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny either? I can provide personal accounts of receiving gifts from both.

    Is there anything you reject? And if so, what criteria do you use for rejecting it?

  30. #30 Robster, FCD
    January 12, 2008

    Robert, I ask you to renounce your name, as you make me and other sensible and skeptical people named Robert, look bad. (Just kidding)

    Smartassery behind us (OK, never true with me), you don’t need more than a high school science education to know that homeopathy is complete and utter BS, no matter how many Galileo gambits you play. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWE1tH93G9U

    Feynman (a personal hero of mine) would smack you verbally about the head for your silliness. He would ask you to explain how homeopathy works, and once you get to water remembering vibrations, he would start laughing. He would ask for a demonstration that it works, and point out that you have only an anecdote, not evidence, and that the scientific literature is full of evidence that homeopathy is nothing more than expensive placebo.

    Furthermore, he would suggest that you are an unlikely survivor of a typically deadly condition, and that you got lucky. Your chiropractor (who believes that all human maladies are due to misalignments of the spine, and that the germ theory of disease is a lie) did nothing more with his acupuncture needles and backrubs than reduce the inflammation of your wallet.

    You got better on your own, and beyond being very lucky, that is all.

    You do have one minor point with your cork analogy. If something works and the reasoning behind it is specious, that doesn’t keep it from working. However, in this case, you have mistaken a cork for a stone. When it is demonstrated to you that the stone has sunk, you continue to claim that it is floating quite nicely.

  31. #31 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    I just ran across a reference to an article in Inflammation Research, a professional journal that costs over $US2,000 to subscribe to. However, the full article is available for $25 through another site, at which you can read the abstract for no charge:

    http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Aktion=ShowAbstract&ArtikelNr=75885&Ausgabe=229868&ProduktNr=224242

    My father use to say, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” We’ll see how right he was about some of you here in this case.

  32. #32 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    Robster, if you had been in my position, you would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your assessment of my outcome as “luck” is completely bogus. You can’t have gone through what I did and not know that. I could feel the relief at every step the chiropractor took and the beliefs you ascribe to him are also utterly false.

    Not all chiropractors are equal by a long shot. One of those in the same clinic, the one who owned it, advised me generally not to see chiropractors because most of them don’t know what they’re doing. This was not a marketing ploy. He knew he had nothing to worry about there. He was just letting me know that just because he and his team could do what they did was not a good rationale for trusting most practitioners of chiropractic.

    On pathogens, if germs were the whole story, everybody would have the same reaction to the same microbial pathogens. We all know that’s not true (I hope), and that the human body has amazing defense mechanisms that fail to work sometimes in some people. The question is why.

    The whole issue between the polar extremes of thinking on this matter is how much is conditioned by the microbial environment and how much by the health and vitality of the physiological environment. Conventional medicine tends to put way too much emphasis on the former as if the latter were not amenable to change or improvement or susceptible to methods that improve it in terms of the overall integrity of its function. I know Chinese doctors in this country who are amazed at the superficiality of the thinking among typical medical practitioners in the U.S.

    So you have taken the only route out available to you and that is to discount my experience as null. This conveniently ignores, of course, the information I provided concerning many other less dramatic experiences across many years with the same clinic and the improbability of sustained self-deception in someone with my level of knowledge and intelligence. (I respectfully request that you avoid any temptation to denigrate that because I entertain ideas that fail to fit your world view.)

    I know you want to hang onto your belief system no matter what, but I’m sorry, you’re just dead wrong. I have no defense against stubborn refusal to deal with simple facts that are deemed a priori by you to be implausible. As I’ve implied earlier, I find the whole concept of implausibility as an absolute criterion to be fatally flawed. It is responsible for some of the most serious errors in the history of science. It automatically assigns to everyone the right to reject evidence that implies anything outside their current belief system. This is by definition counter-evolutionary.

    Implausibility is useful only in the weighing of which hypotheses we’re going to test first. It should NEVER be used to eliminate further investigation into something for which there is even the slightest evidence of value in terms of results.

    I refer you to my last post and the link to the abstract it provides with a certain curiosity concerning what rhetorical device you will use this time in order to “save” your cherished world view.

  33. #33 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    Harriet Hall, I reject what I find doesn’t work. I use my intelligence, experience and judgment based on it to decide what I bother to investigate. If my wife reports very substantial results from something I don’t understand, I don’t decide a priori that it’s implausible because I don’t have a handle on the mechanism involved.

    What I DON’T do is automatically and reflexively reject someone else’s experience as self-deception or a fluke because it doesn’t fit my belief system. I consider self-deception and flukes to be possible and in some cases even likely, but I don’t use implausibility to reject anything out of hand if there is a plausibly large quantity of human witness to its effectiveness.

    I’ve already addressed the issue of what I consider productive and counterproductive use of implausibility in my last post. This has little if anything to do with Tooth Fairies, etc., and I would appreciate a little more appreciative response to my manner and the coherence of my comments rather than a reflexive response based on my violations of your cherished belief system.

  34. #34 HCN
    January 12, 2008

    That professional journal is the German version of “Research in Complementary Medicine”, NOT “Inflammation Research.” Do you really think that is a first rate journal?

    Did you check for the replication of those studies? Well, it was attempted:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16036166

    Where it was concluded “We were not able to confirm the previously reported large effects of homeopathic histamine dilutions on basophil function of the examined donor. Seemingly, minor variables of the experimental set up can lead to significant differences of the results if not properly controlled.”

    I would highly suggest that you read Dr. Hall’s review of this very good book:
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=4

    Then check out that book from the library. It should give you a good grounding on how to find and interpret medical studies.

    You also said “I just ran across a reference to an article in Inflammation Research, a professional journal that costs over $US2,000 to subscribe to. However, the full article is available for $25…”

    Your local library may be able to get a copy of the paper for you if they subscribe to Karger. Though, truthfully it is more probable for your library to subscribe to something else. Considering the journal, I doubt it would be worth even the trouble to contact the library.

  35. #35 khan
    January 12, 2008

    Are you using implausibility to reject The Tooth Fairy?

  36. #36 HCN
    January 12, 2008

    Hey, wait a minute!

    I am the tooth fairy!

    You can’t prove that I am not, so there.

  37. #37 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    Let’s all remember the proposition that the world was not the center of the universe used to be considered by virtually everyone to be implausible. To think Galileo suffered merely because of religion is a narrow view. That’s a happenstance. The fundamental reason was that he violated the general world view of his time. Plausibility or lack of it are for selecting hypotheses and not for use as an absolute criterion for rejection despite evidence to the contrary.

  38. #38 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    HCN, that abstract was published in Inflammation Research and the article made available through this Website. I found it by going to Inflammation Research first, and since I didn’t feel like shelling out $2,000+ to access even an abstract, I used the information I garnered to search for the article elsewhere and it came up at that link.

    On the replicability, so far I have only the information you’ve provided.

  39. #39 Robert
    January 12, 2008

    HCN, do you really think the Tooth Fairy is an honest comparison? Intellectually integrity is an important component of scientific method. If the Tooth Fairy grabbed me and kissed me, I would first need to know how to define who the Tooth Fairy is even before I could draw any inferences from the incident in the first place. Secondly, if I had a foolproof method of certifying her authenticity, if indeed it turned out to be her, I would not reject her existence because she didn’t fit my preconceived ideas of what is real and what is not. I think the probability of such a case is much more improbable than the evolution of human life on the moon, however.

  40. #40 HCN
    January 12, 2008

    From the website you posted, a straight cut and paste:
    Original Article · Originalarbeit

    Sensitive Flow Cytometric Method to Test Basophil Activation Influenced by Homeopathic Histamine Dilutions
    I. Lorenza, E.M. Schneiderb, P. Stolza, A. Bracka, J. Strubea

    aForschungsinstitut KWALIS gGmbH, Dipperz;
    bSektion Experimentelle Anaesthesiologie, Universitätsklinikum Ulm

    Forschende Komplementärmedizin und Klassische Naturheilkunde / Research in Complementary and Classical Natural Medicine 2003;10:316-324 (DOI: 10.1159/000075885)

    ……………………

    I also found it PubMed. You found the abstract in an Inflamation journal because it may have been refered to as a study, one that was NEVER replicated. You needed to really go into the PubMed index and check it there.

    I did not bring up the Tooth Fairy, Harriet Hall did. But you have absolutely no way to determine I am not the tooth fairy. Also, what make you think the tooth fairy is female?

    You wrote: “Intellectually integrity is an important component of scientific method.”

    Yeah, sure, ya betcha. But people are always telling us to ignore the research on drugs made by “Big Pharma”, why should we believe the research in homeopathy done by homeopaths?

    Really, do me a favor, show me you know some basic chemistry/algebra and tell me how many sodium and chlorine atoms are in one cubic centimeter of Nat Mur 30C — here is a “recipe” for the stuff you may use for reference:
    http://groups.google.com/group/misc.health.alternative/msg/8e13fd1b374ce84b

    If you cannot, then go and look at the list of books I posted from Penguin Books and work on finding out to get the answer. In the mean time go to you local library at the first chance and check out the book by R. Barker Bausell and read it for comprehension.

  41. #41 DuWayne
    January 12, 2008

    At 64, you are probably really uninterested in serious life change, but I’ll shoot.

    I too, suffer from a near pathological credulity. Due to the way my brain works, I really, really, want to believe things that people tell me. at least if I like them. I also really, really want to believe the worse about “the man.” My distrust of the establishment is almost inherent.

    So I compensate. I look at what the best evidence available has to say about an issue. Not what a lot of anecdotes have to say, but what actual, replicated experimentation has to say. When it is something that I just don’t understand, rather than assuming that I know better than the folks who do understand it, I keep my ignorance on the issue, to myself. Either taking the word of people who know better than I, or not forming an opinion.

    All you have done here, is jump into a post that is more than a year old, spouting off ignorant b.s. about something you obviously know little to nothing about, namely the scientific method. You claim that everyone else on this thread is being arrogant, when most of them are actual scientists. You sir, are the one being arrogant. My six year old (at least six in eight days) has a far stronger grasp of the methodology of science, than do you. In part, because my partner and I wish to ensure that he develops serious critical thinking skills and doesn’t just take people and advertisers at their word.

    You talk big about reserving judgment. This is a great idea but not so much when in so doing, you ignore the actual evidence.

    You also piss me off with your inane notion of accepting CAM bs, over actual evidence based medicine. Perpetuating the absurd dichotomy that somehow there is more than one kind of medicine. There really isn’t. If it is medicine, then it is medicine. If it does not, then it isn’t. I am one who has a very active interest in seeing the same burden of proof forced upon CAM, as is forced upon EBM, before it is called EBM. I want to see that which falls under the heading of CAM, to subsequently either eliminated because it fails, or accepted as EBM, because it’s efficacy has been proven.

    People like yourself (me too, as I have been there), get in the way of that, by giving it a pass because you think it works. Well, let me tell you, wishful thinking is a very powerful thing. Whether it’s because (like me) you haven’t access to EBM, so desperately want it to work, or like you, have had a bad experience with EBM and desperately want the “alternative” to work.

    Personally, I spent three years taking a regimen of alty meds that were supposed to help with my bipolar and ADHD. ANd they had an effect, mostly because some of the herbal components were pretty powerful narcotics. Then the doctor I grew up with called and asked if he could see me (at my parents request, I hadn’t set foot out of my apartment in two weeks). We had a long discussion and he gave me some drugs to get me off the narcotic plants. He then got me on some OTCs that were inexpensive and suggested I also use caffeine to help compensate for the ADHD. While he and I both felt that actual pharmaceuticals would be far better, we also knew that I didn’t have any longterm access to them.

    It was (and occasionally still is) a struggle, but by getting on track with drugs that actually had evidence for their efficacy, I got back into the world of functioning, contributing adults. After having spent years existing at the very fringes of society, I actually became gainfully employed. Now I own my own business and just had my second child. In a sense, the regimen I went on then was alty, but only in the sense that it was no longer cutting edge. It didn’t make things as nice as they are now, but they got me out of the very marginal life that I was living.

  42. #42 Robster, FCD
    January 13, 2008

    Robert,

    Robster, if you had been in my position, you would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your assessment of my outcome as “luck” is completely bogus. You can’t have gone through what I did and not know that. I could feel the relief at every step the chiropractor took and the beliefs you ascribe to him are also utterly false.

    I don’t need to have been in your position to know that homeopathy and chiropracty had nothing to do with your recovery.

    Rather, you were in the process of recovery while the placebo treatment was occurring.

    You suggest that we are ruling out your beliefs because they don’t make sense based on current scientific knowledge. Rather, this is a sign that we should be skeptical, and upon further examination, accept, reject or withhold judgment.

    In the case of homeopathy, it is an expensive placebo, with no evidence that it works. In fact, it is little more than sympathetic magic.

    As to chiropracty, I like Orac’s phrase… What was it, physical therapists with delusions of grandeur? Again, no evidence that it works, and it is based on a systemic denial of solidly backed scientific theories.

    Acupuncture? More magic with no evidence that putting a needle at point A is more effective than point B.

    It will take more that repeated appeals to Galileo to prove your point. Galileo was correct not because he had an open mind, but because the evidence was on his side.

    On pathogens, if germs were the whole story, everybody would have the same reaction to the same microbial pathogens. We all know that’s not true (I hope), and that the human body has amazing defense mechanisms that fail to work sometimes in some people. The question is why.

    And these are questions addressed within medical science, especially pathology. You appeal to ignorance here. Simply because a phenomenon is not fully understood is no reason to invoke your pet concept, especially when there is no evidence to support it in the first place.

  43. #43 Harriet Hall
    January 13, 2008

    Robert, you said “I reject what I find doesn’t work. I use my intelligence, experience and judgment based on it to decide what I bother to investigate. If my wife reports very substantial results from something I don’t understand, I don’t decide a priori that it’s implausible because I don’t have a handle on the mechanism involved.”

    How do you “find” that something doesn’t work? Do you think your personal ability to find that something doesn’t work exceeds the ability of the scientific method to find out if something doesn’t work?

    My question about the Tooth Fairy was very serious. I’m trying to understand how your decision-making process works. If you have decided that the Tooth Fairy is not real, how did you decide that? If your wife reported to you that the Tooth Fairy had left money under her pillow, would you “not decide a priori that it’s implausible because you don’t have a handle on the mechanism involved?” Which is more implausible: that the Tooth Fairy exists or that your wife is mistaken? Extending the argument to medical treatments, is it more like that homeopathy users have deceived themselves by well-known psychological phenomena or that the laws of physics are wrong?

  44. #44 Robert
    January 13, 2008

    Well, your understanding of what constitutes the laws of physics is perhaps a bit simplistic. Do you understand any of the implications of wave-particle duality, quantum memory, quantum field theory? Hardly anyone these days does, including scientists in fields other than field theoretical physics.

    All particles in the universe are generated by waves propagating within one of four basic fields: electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear, and gravitational. Most people still think, even in the 21st century, that fields only affect particles, failing to recognize they actually generate them.

    Naive concepts of the universe as being divided into separate little packages of matter affecting each other more or less classically via attraction, repulsion, and energy transfer are woefully inadequate. They represent an old 19th-century paradigm that too many still base their belief systems on, even though it was already disintegrating in the early 20th century.

    In other words, there is nothing in the laws of physics that makes homeopathy implausible. Medical practitioners generally don’t know much beyond chemistry or classical mechanics and electricity, if that. That’s totally inadequate, and Avogadro’s law is high school science that is not even close to comprehensive enough to eliminate homeopathy as implausible in today’s scientific world.

    Take a look at this article to get some idea of how radically perspectives and the concomitant possibilities implicit in them shift at the level of atomic and subatomic magnitudes: http://www.physorg.com/news2227.html

    You people are stuck in a paradigm that is no longer serviceable and remain clueless regarding the obsolescence of your perspectives. The Tooth Fairy analogy is worthless here despite your persistence in thinking things are still really that simple. You tell intelligent, scientifically informed people with significant professional experience in objective observation and testing that their own experience is meaningless because they’re self-deceived by “well-known psychological phenomena”. And this all because their thinking doesn’t fit your outmoded scientific paradigm. You people have a lot of nerve.

    All this is what I mean by arrogance. YOU haven’t seen it for yourself and probably wouldn’t want to believe it if you had. As a case in point, decades ago I saw a Candid Camera episode (hidden cameras recording people in staged situations that provoked entertaining responses). The show set up an alleged information room at the Montreal Expo. They put the floor on the ceiling complete with furniture and an acrobat sitting upside down in an armchair smoking a “pipe” that used dry ice to generate “smoke” that moved downwards. Chandeliers were hanging up from the floor.

    They placed a sign on the door advertising themselves as an information center. Guess what! They got NO, that is ZERO useful footage out of this. Many people came by and opened the door, but then just turned around and left without a word to anyone. The show’s host said it was obvious to them that everyone who opened the door immediately went into denial about what they had seen. THAT psychological phenomenon is AT LEAST as common as the reverse. That is, denying something that is obviously true is no less common than actively assigning truth value to something that is obviously false.

    So what is wrong with being open to possibilities as long as you’re not just being gullible? Yes, it’s possible I could make a few mistakes and spend time researching more things that have no value. However, I bet that in the long run YOU will reject more things that are highly valuable. So I simply suggest that you consider for a nanosecond or two, if you can tolerate it for that length of time, the possibility that YOU may be victims of some “well-known psychological phenomena”. Pointing fingers at others for your own weakness is another “well-known psychological phenomena” called projection.

  45. #45 Robert
    January 13, 2008

    Brief question:

    I’m curious to know how many here really believe that I was willing to risk my life on a baseless belief in a chiropractor’s ability to save my appendix and I won the bet by pure luck. You better believe I had a very solid basis for the trust I put in that guy. If you really believe yourselves on this one, you are indeed really stuck in dogma and the arrogance it generates for you!

  46. #46 Joe
    January 13, 2008

    Robert,

    I taught introductory QM in University. I find your approach breathtakingly simplistic (not just “a bit simplistic,” as you said of us). My erstwhile colleague, Frank Pilar, wrote a text on the subject (1968) that is still in use. (Sorry, I don’t remember the title; but how many “Frank Pilars” do you think published books on the subject in 1968?) Maybe you should get a copy and study it.

    I believe Richard Feynman wrote that anyone who thinks they understand QM is confused. I don’t understand QM; but that does not mean I can accept any nonsense claimed in its name. I think the tooth-fairy is more likely responsible for you claims.

  47. #47 Robster, FCD
    January 13, 2008

    Robert,

    You have to offer evidence that homeopathy works, not just belief. Your experience is an anecdote, albeit a particularly rare one, but it does not require anything beyond placebo and a profoundly lucky recovery that coincided with your sham treatment.

    I would suggest that your arrogance in dismissing Avogadro’s number as high school science is far more offensive than our requiring evidence. Perhaps you have diluted your skepticism to the point that it becomes credulity. Heh.

    If there is nothing left, not even a single molecule, of the original substance, how can it be a cure for a poisoning by (or similar to) the original substance?

    Unless you are discussing dehydration (dilute salt water 30C), homeopathic treatments have no chemical, biological or physical reason that would make them work. Yes, physical.

    While quantum physics does include some concepts that are seemingly at odds with classical physics, claiming that it validates your beliefs because nobody really understands it is nothing more than yet another appeal to ignorance.

    If water had memory, and this was a profound concept within quantum physics, it would be an easy thing to test, and homeopathy trials wouldn’t fail to beat the placebo. It would be a revolutionary concept, opening massive avenues of research. Alas, it is little more than a nineteenth century pipe dream, cast aside by serious medical researchers as las century’s bloodletting.

    Perhaps the best question left unanswered by homeopathy is why does water not remember all the other things once diluted in it. A bit of fish poo here, some cholera there, and don’t forget the arsenic from deep aquifers. A glass of nice clean tapwater should be a cure all on it’s own, and at a bargain price, with no need for a trip to the snake oil shop.

    But it isn’t. It’s a scam. I don’t expect you to believe me, or anyone else, as you have invested quite a bit of yourself in your worldview, but you are alive in spite of your choice to avoid evidence based medicine, not because of.

  48. #48 Robert
    January 13, 2008

    Joe and FDC:

    I do not claim that I or anyone else has any understanding of how quantum mechanics might justify believing in the efficacy of homeopathy. What I have stated is that speculations concerning implausibility based on Avogadro’s law do not include a sufficiently comprehensive range of possible mechanisms to definitively conclude implausibility. I have said nothing simplistic or naive about quantum mechanics. I’ve simply used it to illustrate that superficial human observation of macro-phenomena is not applicable nor is the narrow understanding implied in application of simple laws such as Avogadro’s.

    You both and others here seem to think they “KNOW” that homeopathy just can’t and doesn’t work. Well, I personally know better, but not from my appendicitis experience. The approaches that were used in the case of my appendix did not include homeopathy, or if they did, only very marginally so. I think there was none involved if I remember correctly. However, I’ve had extensive experience with it in other contexts as well is with other healing modalities you would like dismiss as utterly implausible.

    You folks even think acupuncture is just as much hooey as homeopathy. So all of Chinese medicine is all a bunch of hooey because it lies outside the domain of your understanding? This denies that countless people have undergone major surgery without anesthesia using acupuncture to eliminate any sensation of pain and that’s only one narrow example. These things are well documented. You people are just really stuck in your religious dogma if you can’t accept something so well established.

    Credentials in quantum mechanics do not impress me. I’ve talked to physicists and engineers who have professionally taught and applied quantum principles who were no more than rote regurgitators of information. Feynman, I believe it was, said virtually all the university physicists he’d ever met around the world fell in this category. So I would appreciate it if you would back of on that theme.

    My whole point in these comments is just to counsel against the use of too narrowly applicable scientific principles in an attempt to justify implausibility as an excuse for not even bothering to find out for yourselves whether something actually works. The idea that apparent scientific implausibility justifies requiring overwhelming evidence before accepting tha something works is abominable. The same criteria should apply to any experimental evidence, no matter how plausible or implausible the evidence might seem. OK, you should double check to make sure there were no human errors or strange flukes, but if it works, it works. If you’re a scientist, your job after that is to see whether you can find out why rather than to stubbornly resist the evidence because it violates the tenets of your particular scientific religion.

  49. #49 Robster, FCD
    January 13, 2008

    Evidence, Robert. That is what we need. If homeopathy could be demonstrated to work (it hasn’t), then we would need to adapt, adopt and improve our understanding of chemistry and physics.

    But homeopathy doesn’t work, so the question is moot. As is commonly quoted here, the plural of anecdote is not evidence.

    You folks even think acupuncture is just as much hooey as homeopathy.

    Yes. Acupuncture is based around a concept no more advanced than the four humours. Chi, an immeasurable force, was conceived to be carried through the body in hollow, air filled vessels. You see, dissection was illegal, punishable by death, in ancient China, so aspiring adepts of early medicine had no way of learning about how the body worked, and were stuck with a placebo based modality. I suggest that you peruse this page at the skeptic’s dictionary. Actually, there are quite a few articles there that are quite good, and many deal with alternative medicine.

    By poking pins and needles into specific points, sometimes people would get better, but only because they would have gotten better with any placebo treatment.

    So all of Chinese medicine is all a bunch of hooey because it lies outside the domain of your understanding?

    No. But because there is scarce evidence that it works better than placebo, and placement of the needles themselves does not affect treatment, as long as you hit a nerve rich area. Yes, there are some treatments where it does seem to have an effect (limited pain control, but needle placement is of questionable importance), but there are physiological reasons for this well within the knowledge base of evidence based medicine, including stimulating opioid release.

    Furthermore, despite what you may have heard, when major surgery is required in China, and acupuncture is used, it is always accompanied by modern anesthesia. The understood risk of a muscle spasm or patient movement wins out over magical thinking in the OR. If there are verifiable and reproducible studies claiming the opposite, please provide them.

    The Chinese Medical Association has made their position fairly clear. Of the 46 journals hosted by the CMA, none focuses on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), but instead on modern evidence based medicine. Yes, there are some TCM papers, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

    Credentials in quantum mechanics do not impress me. If you’re a scientist, your job after that is to see whether you can find out why rather than to stubbornly resist the evidence because it violates the tenets of your particular scientific religion.

    [sigh] We are not the ones resisting evidence. We are pointing that your side is utterly and completely without evidence. Belief in the absence of evidence is faith, hence, you are the religious one in this discussion. Project much?

  50. #50 Harriet Hall
    January 13, 2008

    Robert,
    You never did say whether you thought the Tooth Fairy was implausible enough to reject out of hand. If you suspect that even the laws of physics may be inadequate, why couldn’t there be a Tooth Fairy? No one can prove that NONE of the reported Tooth Fairy money came from a Tooth Fairy. And if you do reject her, you haven’t made it clear to me what criteria you would use.

  51. #51 Freddy the Pig
    January 13, 2008

    Robster – at least one recent study using retracting needles for the sham acupuncture control group suggests that the needles don’t have to even penetrate the skin. Presumably the ritual alone causes the perceived benifit.

    “Credentials in quantum mechanics do not impress me.” – that one leaves me dumbfounded. The arrogance of ignorance.

  52. #52 Bronze Dog
    January 14, 2008

    I love it when woos invoke QM in the presence of someone who actually knows something about it.

    “Have you studied Quantum Mechanics? It proves everything I say!”

    “I have a degree in it. It says no such thing.”

    “I don’t care what you learned when you studied Quantum Mechanics for years!”

  53. #53 Robert
    January 16, 2008

    Well, you all again fail to here what I actually said about my purpose of introducing quantum mechanics. I didn’t attempt to prove anything works with it. If you think I did, go back ans show me where!

    I DID say that things don’t behave in the simplistic way invoking Avagadro’s law assumes they do at the atomic and subatomic levels, so YOUR quoting of Avogadro’s law IS an example of trying to prove YOUR points with insufficient information. I’m saying you don’t know as much as you think you do, and so youa are using your world view to eliminate possibilities out of hand, that is “a priori”.

    I suppose you all know what time series analysis is. If a person unfamiliar with modern technology were to turn on a light switch and witness the lights turning on right at that instant will likely think that there is a cause and effect relationship. However, we all probably have at one time or other switched something on and hear a loud noise coincide with it. You probably had the usual tendency to respond reflexively as if your action had something to do with the loud noise. Even so, very quickly we probably suspected mere coincidence, since we had no reason to believe that there should have been any cause-and-effect relationship.

    However, if our technologically naive operator of the light switch witnessed that the lights turned off precisely when he reversed the position of the switch, he most likely and rightly became very sure that this was no coincidence. This is the essence of what time series analysis is all about.

    So my point is this. I have had at times some fairly serious problems with my health. Some of them were not addressed by conventional practitioners, even to the point of my total disgust. I have for decades used alternative means to deal with such problems, and they have had repeated success, with the appendicitis incident being only the most dramatic. (Within two hours of beginning work on me, my side was no longer sore and I had no fever.) These approaches include homeopathy, acupuncture, and chiropractic combined with knowledge that goes well beyond chiropractic. Most if not all of you here would discount all of these approaches as useless placebos.

    The problem is that you have to assume that I am almost neurotically self-deluded, despite repeated experience of success during many decades, soem fo them again rather dramatic, since none of them could have possibly been of any value in your exalted judgment. Well, let me just say this final word:

    If the placebo effect is really so darn powerful, then you people are logically forced to believe in the mind-body connection to the point of religious adoration despite a world view that likely rejects that notion out of hand along with the others. So you’ve got a bit of a conundrum there. Maybe you should just forget about most drugs under most circumstances and start using placebos.

  54. #54 Robert
    January 16, 2008

    “Here” should be “hear” in the first sentence.

  55. #55 Shiritai
    January 16, 2008

    Robert,

    However, if our technologically naive operator of the light switch witnessed that the lights turned off precisely when he reversed the position of the switch, he most likely and rightly became very sure that this was no coincidence. This is the essence of what time series analysis is all about.

    However, your health experiences have many factors at play, some known and some unknown. That, combined with the small sample size, makes it pretty much impossible for your experiences in this matter to prove anything. For example, if the light bulb was also attached to a timer that would periodically turn the light on and off, then you would need even more tests to be able to determine whether the switch has an effect. With increased factors that affect an outcome, an increased sample size is needed to overcome the statistical “noise”. That’s one reason why anecdotes often aren’t useful.

  56. #56 Robert
    January 16, 2008

    “For example, if the light bulb was also attached to a timer that would periodically turn the light on and off, then you would need even more tests to be able to determine whether the switch has an effect. With increased factors that affect an outcome, an increased sample size is needed to overcome the statistical “noise”. That’s one reason why anecdotes often aren’t useful.” – Shiritai

    The whole point is the precise synchrony in time. How likely do you think it is that the lights are going to go on PRECISELY coincident with moving the switch to one position and then again off PRECISELY at the moment of returning it to its original position. If you took very many times to become convinced of the association, this would not indicate complimentary things about your powers of induction. The probability of even two causally unrelated coincidences with this precision in timing is extremely low. That’s what statistical time series analysis is all about. It introduces the time factor, which is ignored only at great cost to validity.

    If what you are saying had so much importance civilization would come to a screeching halt, as I’ve pointed out before. Ask yourself how many practices currently routine in conventional medicine in this country have incontravertible evidence from multiple replications of double blind studies to substantiate their validity. There are tons of things that are just accepted from time immemorial and anyone who denies this is not being honest with him/herself.

    Most of what we do every day in our lives is not substantiated this way, but that does not detract from their practical value just because we can say their acceptance is based on anecdotal evidence. That argument can be used ad absurdum. Before the 20th century, practically all our practices in every field of endeavor were based on anecdotal evidence. Their penchant for cruelty notwithstanding, amazing Roman construction and military technologies among other fields were all based on anecdotal evidence. It’s called human experience. It is not worthless, as some here would have it. You have to have your head stuffed into a pretty small barrel to think it is.

    For example, do you think Galvani had to apply electrical stimulus to thousands of frog legs, record their jumping, then run statistical analysis to calculate a confidence level, then wait for a bunch of other investigators to replicate his study? No. You know that’s absurd. Others just tried it, it worked, and it became accepted. You call my experience and that of many others anecdotal on the basis of nothing more solid than my calling Galvani’s and a lot of others’ great discoveries anecdotal. The whole Chinese civilization is not self-deluded. Neither are those of other cultures whose folk medicine actually has some significant degree of value.

    For conventional medicine in this country to dismiss all of this as Tooth Fairy fantasies is indeed arrogant. I’m simply saying I have more reason to reject the Tooth Fairy’s existence as implausible and not worthy of investigation than I do for rejecting that there could be some subtle difference in material substrates for something that used to be present, especially if there was a procedure that was more than simple presence followed by absence. If there is a mechanism by which this is possible, I can’t explain it. But I don’t pretend to have strong a priori for rejecting it out of hand as possible, especially in light of so many using it.

    I personally am aware of Argentine medical doctors, fully licensed and some of them top notch, comparable with the best in the profession here in the U.S., who routinely include homeopathy in their practice. They swear by its value. There are no laws against this in Argentina as there are here. Don’t just buy what the AMA and the medical schools say. For eons the medical schools in this country discounted nutrition as an important factor in human health and left their graduates totally ignorant of the subject. How smart was that? Look at the crap people eat today and witness the results. Of course, that’s just anecdotal, isn’t it? Oop, so sorry!

  57. #57 Shiritai
    January 17, 2008

    Robert,

    This post by Steve Novella is essentially what I was trying to say, and it’s both more comprehensive and better written than what I left. Hopefully this makes it clearer.

    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php?p=45

  58. #58 Robert
    January 17, 2008

    So take a look at the following, Shiritai:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&uid=9553836&cmd=showdetailview&indexed=google

    This abstract makes all my essential points.

  59. #59 Robert
    January 17, 2008

    I also quote the following from
    http://www.garynull.com/documents/articlesfromorgs/homeopathy_scientific_research.htm

    In 1991, three professors of medicine from the Netherlands, none of them homeopaths, performed a meta-analysis of 25 years of clinical studies using homeopathic medicines and published their results in the British Medical Journal.4 This meta-analysis covered 107 controlled trials, of which 81 showed that homeopathic medicines were effective, 24 showed they were ineffective, and 2 were inconclusive.

    The professors concluded, “The amount of positive results came as a surprise to us.” Specifically, they found that:
    –13 of 19 trials showed successful treatment of respiratory infections,
    –6 of 7 trials showed positive results in treating other infections,
    –5 of 7 trials showed improvement in diseases of the digestive system,
    –5 of 5 showed successful treatment of hay fever,
    –5 of 7 showed faster recovery after abdominal surgery,
    –4 of 6 promoted healing in treating rheumatological disease,
    –18 of 20 showed benefit in addressing pain or trauma,
    –8 of 10 showed positive results in relieving mental or psychological
    problems, and
    –13 of 15 showed benefit from miscellaneous diagnoses.

    Despite the high percentage of studies that provided evidence of success with homeopathic medicine, most of these studies were flawed in some way or another. Still, the researchers found 22 high-caliber studies, 15 of which showed that homeopathic medicines were effective. Of further interest, they found that 11 of the best 15 studies showed efficacy of these natural medicines, suggesting that the better designed and performed the studies were, the higher the likelihood that the medicines were found to be effective. Although people unfamiliar with research may be surprised to learn that most of the studies on homeopathy were flawed in one significant way or another,5 research in conventional medicine during the past 25 years has had a similar percentage of flawed studies.

    With this knowledge, the researchers of the meta-analysis on homeopathy concluded, “The evidence presented in this review would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain indications.”

  60. #60 Robert
    January 17, 2008

    Try this one, too:

    http://annals.highwire.org/cgi/content/abstract/135/7/507

    For some, seeing is believing, but some cannot see before they believe or at least suspend judgment. To pretend we’re so scientific as to be immune to this is disingenuous.

  61. #61 khan
    January 18, 2008

    Of further interest, they found that 11 of the best 15 studies showed efficacy of these natural medicines

    Distilled water is a natural medicine?

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