Respectful Insolence

Regular readers know that I’ve long been disturbed by the increasing infiltration of non-evidence-based “alternative” medical therapies into academic medical centers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). I’ve come across another example of how much this has occurred. This time around, it’s come in the form of a “debate” being held at 2 PM on Thursday, October 25 at the University of Connecticut Health Center entitled Homeopathy: Quackery Or A Key To The Future of Medicine? It’s being touted thusly:

On October 25, 2007, the University of Connecticut Health Center will be hosting a historic debate on homeopathy. This event will mark the first time that a major U.S. medical school has examined this subject in this depth. It also marks the first time that the clinical, historical and basic science data has been examined simultaneously. We invite you and your colleagues to watch.

And:

Homeopathy is used by tens of millions of people around the world. On October 25, you are invited to watch a debate between six internationally renowned experts (Iris Bell, M.D., Ph.D., Rustum Roy Ph.D., Andre Saine N.D., Donald Marcus M.D., Steven Novella M.D., and Naduv Davidovitch M.D., Ph.D.) as they examine the basic science as well as the clinical and epidemiological evidence around this 200 year old system of medicine. Is homeopathy pure quackery as some contend or perhaps the future of medicine?

I certainly hope that homeopathy isn’t the future of medicine. Indeed, I find this debate to be yet another symptom of just how deeply woo has infiltrated academic medicine. Not surprisingly, this “debate” is being advertised far and wide by homeopaths.

While I admire salute Steve Novella for no doubt answering the call of the organizers of this event and being willing to step on the same stage, along with Donald Marcus, to go toe-to-toe homeopaths like Iris Bell, Andre Saine, not to mention water über-woomeister Rustum Roy, I hope they’re ready for the sheer number of logical fallacies, cherry-picked studies, and examples of science twisted beyond recognition that are likely to be thrown at them during the two hours that they’re on the stage. As much as I understand the impetus that sometimes makes scientists agree to them, I’ve said before that in general, like Phil Plait, Eugenie Scott, P. Z. Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss, I consider such debates between pseudoscientists and scientists to be usually a bad idea, even though I realize that, all reservations taken into account, it’s sometimes very difficult to abstain from them.

As someone who detests seeing pseudoscientific quackery like homeopathy go unanswered and with enough pride to be stung by criticism of “cowardice” over refusals to debate, over time I’ve come to the conclusion that such staged events inherently favor the pseudoscientist so much that it’s rarely worth it to try to overcome this. Indeed, it wasn’t too long ago that an HIV/AIDS denialist going by the name of Casey Cohen tried to entice first Nick Bennett and then, failing with Nick, to tempt me into a “debate” with prominent HIV/AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore, whose child had died of AIDS and who had commissioned fellow denier Dr. Mohammed Al-Bayati to produce a fallacy-filled report to argue otherwise. Early this year, mercury militia cheerleader and disingenuous parrot of antivaccination misinformation David Kirby debated Arthur Allen However, a long time ago, when I first cut my teeth debunking the lies of Holocaust deniers, I learned that cranks view the purpose of such debates very differently than we as scientists and skeptics do. Later, as I branched out into applying skepticism and critical thinking to creationist claims and the claims of alternative medicine, I realized that this was a principle that applies to pretty much all cranks.

The fact is, pseudoscientists, pseudohistorians, and cranks desperately want to debate accepted experts in the field in which they apply their crankery. The reason is simple. While, knowingly (or, more commonly, unknowingly) they crap on science and the scientific method, at the same time they desperately crave its validation. They desperately want to be seen as “one of the boys,” whose ideas are taken seriously by scientists, and such “debates” usually give them exactly what they want. Indeed, debates on college campuses (or, in the case of homeopaths, in academic medical centers) are not viewed as a means of getting at the truth, but rather as a means of P.R. Putting the pseudoscientist on the same stage as a legitimate scientist elevates the pseudoscientist unduly and mistakenly gives the impression to lay people that there is a genuine scientific controversy to be debated when the only controversy being debated is, in fact, ideological. This is because getting a scientist to agree to a debate allows them to portray their pseudoscience as being on equal footing with accepted science, or at least in the same ballpark. Thus, simply being seen on the same stage on an equal footing with a respected scientist, is a victory for the pseudoscientist. Regardless of what actually happens in the debate, it is a virtual certainty that the crank and the supporters of crankery will trumpet it as a “victory” or, at the very minimum, as a “validation” that science is beginning to take them seriously. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what the mercury militia did almost before the light from the last PowerPoint slide of the David Kirby-Arthur Allen debate faded away. Yes, I know Steve Novella is good. I don’t know how good Donald Marcus is in a debate format. I do know that homeopaths will declare victory just as fast as the mercury militia did after the Kirby-Allen debate, namely just as soon as the last photon from the last slide fades away from the screen at the Low Learning Center at the University of Connecticut. And, no matter how much the skeptical side of the forum wipes the floor with the homeopathy supporters, they’ll be right.

The other reason that debates with pseudoscientists are usually not a good idea is that the debate format (two participants) or the forum format (multiple participants) provides a huge advantage to the pseudoscientist. The reason is simple. While true scientific debates between scientists can sometimes be illuminating, pseudoscientists aren’t bound by evidence or an accurate representation of the state of science. This means that they can emphasize rhetoric and debating tactics over substance. As Lenny Flank put it so accurately when discussing debates between creationists and evolution supporters:

…the usual format for such debates, a forty-five minute presentation by each side, followed by a half-hour rebuttal, will shackle the debater’s hands. The subject of biological evolution is so huge and so complex that people spend their whole professional lives investigating just tiny portions of it. It is simply impossible to give an adequate overview of such a complex subject in the space of a forty-five minute presentation, particularly when one understands the often abysmal level of science education among the audience. The creationists, on the other hand, are helped greatly by these time limits. Since they have no scientific model of their own to present, they will spend all of their time in what is known affectionately as the “Gish Gallop”, in which they skip around from topic to topic spewing out an unceasing blizzard of baloney and unsupported assertions about evolutionary theory, leaving the poor evolutionist to attempt to catch up and correct them all. It is an impossible task. As Scott points out, “The evolutionist debater is never going to be able to counter all of the misinformation that a creationist can put out in a lengthy debate format.” (Scott, “Debates and the Globetrotters“, undated) Whenever the scientist presents a valid piece of scientific data, the creationist need simply answer with, “That’s not true.” It is then incumbent upon the scientist to spend twenty minutes explaining why it is true. Meanwhile, the scientist’s basic message will not be getting out; the creationist’s will.

The same is true of debating homeopaths. That is not to say that it’s impossible to counter these attacks, but it is exceedingly difficult. Homeopaths will quote “studies,” most (but not all) published in woo-friendly journals, such ones claiming to show that homeopathy is useful against infectious diarrhea in children or that it helps critically ill patients come off of the ventilator faster and survive longer. It’s impossible to be familiar with them all, and it takes a long time to explain why each one is flawed, and each time one is debunked another will appear. As Eugenie Scott puts it, “The creationist has made a simple declarative sentence, and you have to deal with not an easily-grasped factual error, but a logical error and a methodological error, which will take you far longer to explain.” With Rustum Roy up there doing his hand-waving about the “memory of water,” the defenders of evidence-based medicine had better be well-prepared to explain why the science that he uses to support his claims that water has memory through which homeopathy can “work” does not in fact support homeopathy at all.

One aspect that would give me hope that this debate/forum won’t turn out like so many debates with pseudoscientists before, with the skeptical side winning on science and logic but appearing to lose otherwise, would be if a true devotee of evidence-based medicine were in charge of setting the format and the topics. Debates with pseudoscientists allow skeptics the best chance when they are designed to focus like laser beams on key claims of the pseudoscientists, thus putting them on the defense. In the case of creationism, examples would include common creationist canards that evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics or that the gaps in the fossil record somehow disprove evolution. In the case of homeopathy, good examples might include the Law of Similars, which is the very basis of homeopathy and is based more on sympathetic magic than science, or the claim that water can retain memory of something that it has come in contact with. Rustum Roy will make this difficult, given that he can throw around more “quantum-y” pseudoscientific B.S. about water than anyone other than Lionel Milgrom, but this claim can be deconstructed, if done in a forceful and focused fashion that doesn’t let the homeopaths obfuscate with irrelevant observations.

In the end, I can’t really blame Steve Novella, Donald Marcus, or other skeptics for agreeing to engage in such debates. Steve, at least, has certainly done way more to advance skepticism and scientific medicine than I have, and Donald Marcus has spoken out against pseudoscience at NCCAM. As someone who shares their passion for science and its application to medicine to develop the most effective evidence-based medicine, I can fully understand the dilemma that an invitation to participate in this forum probably presented. I don’t know how I would have reacted. (Given the level of traffic that my blog gets and my notoriety in the medical blogosphere, it’s arguable that one of the advantages of anonymity is that I don’t get invitations to such forums. Not that it’s hard to find out who I really am–heck, fellow academic physicians could just e-mail and ask me, and I’d probably tell them–but it’s an extra step and no one knows me by my real name anyway.) After all, such offers put skeptics in a quandary, and pseudoscientists know it. If the skeptic refuses, one of two things will happen: either the organizers will be forced to find a skeptic who may not be as skilled or the skeptical side may go unrepresented. In the setting of an academic medical center, the hateful thought of letting woo like homeopathy to go unchallenged in what should be a bastion of evidence-based medicine, might be enough even to sucker me into saying yes.

The bottom line is that the question of whether it is ever a good idea or does any good to debate pseudoscientists in a public forum such as the debate at the University of Connecticut leaves me conflicted. I’ve struggled with the question over the years, and at times have come to different conclusions about the wisdom of being roped into such events. For now, although others may disagree with me, as a rule of thumb, I conclude that being a skeptic taking part in such debates probably does more harm than good to the skeptical cause in most cases.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    October 23, 2007

    To debate, or not, is a thorny issue for many of us. There are people on the extremes, I don’t know how they decide.

    I turns out that a court trial may be the best venue (as in the Dover trial). In that setting, evasive answers are not permitted, so the pseudoscientists can be pinned down.

  2. #2 Faithful Reader
    October 23, 2007

    Scuse me, this is seriously OT, but I can’t find an Orac email and I’m in a hurry. Interesting article about GB Shaw as an anti-vaxer, and H Rider Haggard as pro at http://newcriterion.com:81/archives/26/10/the-cure-for-bernard-shaw/

  3. #3 xpsilikatzoy
    October 23, 2007

    I disagree about not debating with pseudoscientists. In Greece, by ignoring them we ended up with numerous television shows promoting every stupid pseudoscience you can imagine, while homeopathy for most patients is accepted and never challenged by anyone. If one tries to be sceptic about it, he is called old-fashioned or that he is not open minded. Scientists have to debate or simple people will end up accepting hilarious stuff risking their lives.
    (sorry for my bad English)

  4. #4 wolfwalker
    October 23, 2007

    I think debates with pseudoscientists are justifiable until the pseudo’s demonstrate they aren’t interested in a fair and honest debate on the merits of the issue. After that, if any scientist wants to accept such a debate challenge, on his (or her) own head be it.

    The only tactic I can see that even might give any success can be summarized in two words: “Prove it.” That is, the scientist doesn’t waste his/her time giving the conventional side. He just starts out with something like “Conventional medicine has two hundred years of evidence — verifiable, repeatable evidence — to prove that its methods work and yours don’t. What evidence do you have to the contrary?” And thereafter, each time the pseudo makes a claim, the scientist repeats the same demand: “Prove it.”

  5. #5 blf
    October 23, 2007

    Don’t forget the audience in a debate. An audience packed with firm believers in the dark side can make it quite hard for light and reason. Not necessarily by doing anything blatantly disruptive (albeit that cannot be ruled out), but by not providing positive feedback (e.g., loudly applauding only the evil ones), by minor disruptions (e.g., extra talking or coughing whilst the good guys are speaking), and probably other tricks. “Negative vibes.”

    So be sure to recruit. As PZ said, in reference to a “lecture” rather than a debate on IDiotism:

    The key is simple: recruit. Get the information out. Don’t let them come in and babble unopposed or with an audience imported from the local fundie churches — get informed people there, and the creationists will crumple easily.
    Notice that this isn’t about suppressing their information (or even expelling them) — it’s shining the light of open public criticism on their shenanigans.

    Of course the debaters themselves must be well-prepared. With the science of course, but also with replies to the tricks the evil ones have been known to use. And practice technique and presentation (the “framing”?).

  6. #6 David B.
    October 23, 2007

    I have complex thoughts on this issue as well. I think, often, homeopathy spurs scientific inquiry into a matter – and that’s good.

    On the matter of the forum/debate I really believe the moderator is at fault if a scientific debate/dialog is allowed to devolve into the Jerry Springer Show. The moderator must editorialize when necessary. I know most academics and scientist find this abhorrent, but the moderators function is to keep the information presented as apples to apples as possible while ensuring, as time goes by, that each “side” has an opportunity to put forth their ideas. OF COURSE, this means scientists have to come to the table prepared to truthfully discuss observational/anecdotal evidence without immediate discounting it as inferior.

    It take two to tango…

    http://www.theskinofmyteeth.com

    David B.

  7. #7 radar pangaean
    October 23, 2007

    I summarize my view on debating that type of people as follows:

    “You cannot reason a person out of a position which they did not originally reach through reason”.

    A debate is supposed to follow certain minimum rules for evidence and honest discourse. It is no more possible to have a real debate with someone who isn’t interested in fact-based reasoning than it is to attempt to play a game of football against an opponent who thinks it’s Ok to bring loaded guns to the playing field.

  8. #8 Marc Cell Biologist
    October 23, 2007

    Dear Orac,
    your article probably sounds very intelligent and well thought-out to those not well versed in the scientific method; but I would expect a more balanced presentation from a person like yourself, who apparently IS well versed in the scientific method.

    Is the creation of new species via the evolutionary process a testable hypothesis? Does an adequate fossil record exist to be cited as even ANECDOTAL support for creation of new species via the evolutionary process a testable hypothesis? The answer to both of these questions is clearly “no,” as has been repeatedly stated by leading evolutionary biologists of today and previous years.

    Anyone both intellectually honest and well versed in the scientific should be willing to admit, in my opinion, that creationism and the theory of evolution are each plausible explanations that exist for the diversity of species that exist today. Which one a person chooses to believe will thus be based on personal and subjective considerations, i.e. the implications for one’s faith and lifestyle on believing the creationist model.

    Please think through the issue a little more, before you bash creationism next time.

  9. #9 spartanrider
    October 23, 2007

    I see no advantage in debating crackpots.It reminds me of getting into an argument with a mentally ill person.There is no way to win an argument with the mentally ill.If some loon behind a podium starts rambling about the memory of water I see no reason to argue with him.If some fellow in the audience thinks this makes sense,then there is a failure in the science education of our nation.Or maybe it is just loons of a feather hang together.The salesman of this crap are not stupid,but their customers are idiots.I hate people that try to run con games and frauds on me.I prefer the armed robber who has the courage of his convictions.So far in this life I am 0-3 against armed robbers.I have never lost against a con man.Once I see the con coming I knock them down immediately.I don’t like people who take advantage of the ignorant.It is the moral equivalent of strong arming the blind,the cripple,or stealing candy from a baby.We each do things in different ways.Some may want to engage these con men in a dialog,that’s one way.I believe they are criminal con men and I’m punching their lights out.

  10. #10 Steven Novella
    October 23, 2007

    Orac,

    Thanks for covering this issue. I agree that debating pseudoscientists is a lose-lose proposition. You lose if you refuse to debate them, and if you debate them. I use several criteria to try to separate the two losses:
    1 – Is the pseudoscience obscure? If so, forget it. If it is already prominent, then the loss of not debating is greater.
    2 – Is there a structured format? Court rooms are the best, but debates can be structured to level the playing field a bit (but I agree the pseudoscientists always have the advantage).
    3- The flip side of 2 is – is the event rigged from the beginning? In other words, is it a staged event to serve a specific purpose for the pseudoscientsts (other than just having the debate) If so, forget it.
    4 – Can you use the debate to serve your own purposes?

    This is the one that tipped the balance for me, but we’ll see how that works out. I will remain silent on the debate until after it is over, then expect to read about it in my blog and hear about it on my podcast.

  11. #11 Karl Schwartz
    October 23, 2007

    The debate will only be useful (will change open minds) if the moderator can *require* each side to specifically address the points or questions made by the other. Or at the very least, acknowledge when they do not have a credible answer.

  12. #12 marcia
    October 23, 2007

    Since we are “confirmation bias” beings, I don’t think they can convince people in a short debate. Novella will spend many minutes on his show doing a terrific job (as Orac does here) of explaining study flaws. Will they allow that during the debate? Will Novella have access to their studies before the debate? Or will he merely say, “I’d have to see the study to make an accurate comment.” This just won’t work.

    If I already believe or want to believe that say, someone can speak to my deeased father, then I’ll notice when he or she says things which appear correct and forget how often that person says things which are simply incorrect. Homeopathy believers will simply listen more intently to proponents.

    As one recent study showed (and I’m sure it’s been mentioned here):

    “…emotionally biased reasoning leads to the “stamping in” or reinforcement of a defensive belief, associating the participant’s “revisionist” account of the data with positive emotion or relief and elimination of distress. The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data.”
    http://amnap.blogspot.com/2007/04/confirmation-bias.html

    The good news is, I have complete trust that Novella will destroy the proponents, it will be available on youtube for years, and I can then email it to my curious friends before they spend money on a homeopath.

  13. #13 mark
    October 23, 2007

    Rather than taking turns speaking at a podium, why not challenge each debator with a bit of chicken pox or something, and each can demonstrate the efficacy of their positions?

  14. #14 Janet, Molecular geneticist
    October 23, 2007

    Marc Cell Biologist states that the creation of a new species via evolution is not a testable hypothesis. You’d think that a cell biologist would know better.

    New species are evolving right before our eyes – but our eyes can’t resolve them without the aid of a microscope.

    Bacteria, Archaea and viruses are evolving into new species at a dizzying rate – just ask the people developing antibiotics and antiviral drugs.

    As for the fossil record, this is an ancient “creationist” canard. The fossil record gives plenty of evidence for evolution.

    The “theory” that consistently fails to offer any testable hypotheses is “creationism” (AKA “intelligent design”). Any questions posed to “creationism” are answered, “Because God did it that way.” Not a very scientific answer.

    If it makes you happier to believe that God put all the different species on Earth as they are today, I have no intention of raining on your parade. Believe what you like.

    Marc isn’t the first self-declared “scientist” I’ve heard claiming that “creationism” can compare in any way with evolution as a model of reality in the biological sciences. There are plenty of otherwise sane and reasonable people who cannot think around their own religious convictions.

    It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    It’s also nothing to be proud of.

  15. #15 SLC
    October 23, 2007

    The only way for a scientist to win a debate against whackjobs like, for instance, Michael Behe, is for the scientist to spend many hours in preparation by reading everything the whackjob has written. This is what Ken Miller did prior to a debate with Prof. Behe. By doing so, he was prepared to knock down every argument that Prof. Behe presented. Unfortunately, most scientists don’t have the time or inclination to engage in such preparation and consequently they lose. Therefore, my advice would be don’t do it unless one is prepared to put in the preparation time.

  16. #16 Justin Moretti
    October 23, 2007

    I think these idiots need to be engaged. If they aren’t, we hand them the battlefield – it means that nobody is prepared to contradict their bullshit, and it continues to spread like the viral meme it is.

    The mistake I think the scientists make is that they are too reactive. So long as we are reactive, in the debate forum, we are dancing to their tune. You don’t need to engage in debate; you need to get up there and present your side of the story, truthfully but simply, yet not condescendingly, in a manner that even the dumbest idiot who follows Britney Spears’ fate in tabloid magazines can understand. You’re not playing chess with these idiots; you’re playing cards. You need to throw down your hand, and let each member of the audience decide whether yours or theirs is the more valid.

    Only the best scientists, or the most meticulously prepared and with the best public speaking ability, can engage the whackjobs in a reactive debate – that much is true. If one is not going to go against the whackjobs head to head, then one must load the audience with people who will ask the difficult questions, but not to engage them at all is a mistake.

  17. #17 Sastra
    October 23, 2007

    Sometimes the best strategy is not to debate them on the specifics (and go into details on why each point or study they bring up is flawed), but to stick to the meta-issue in a meta-debate: the scientific method vs. subjective evaluations. Because that’s what it comes down to.

    Is peer-review and competition among educated experts more likely — or less likely — to weed out error and make new discoveries than direct appeals to an ignorant general public? Are anecdotes more reliable than carefully controlled studies? Is it in the best interests of scientists to band together to prevent progress, and does it make sense to claim there are conspiracies of scientists who do this? How many years must their pseudoscience fail to impress people who work in the field before it makes sense to assume that it doesn’t really work? Time frame?

  18. #18 Marcus Ranum
    October 23, 2007

    Debate them. If for no other reason than that it’s more moral than pulling the wings off flies, and it’s more fun.

  19. #19 Marcus Ranum
    October 23, 2007

    Rather than taking turns speaking at a podium, why not challenge each debator with a bit of chicken pox or something, and each can demonstrate the efficacy of their positions?

    Walk out and drink 100 times the recommended dose of a homeopathic sleep aid. Then offer your opponent 100 hits of Ambien.

  20. #20 Romeopathy
    October 23, 2007

    Homeopathy simply means diluting a substance in water beyond the point where one would expect an effect. The fact that there is an effect has been determined scientifically in many studies.

    One of which is listed below.

    Like many other area of science, the mechanism has yet to be illucidated, thus providing more work and job security for scientists of the future. Does water have a memory? That is a good question.

    Would you question whether your hard disk has a magnetic memory? I think not. Water molecules also have magnetic properties, and magnetic memory for water molecules is not such a far fetched idea after all.

    Histamine dilutions modulate basophil activation.

    Inflamm Res. 2004 May;53(5):181-8. Epub 2004 Apr 21.

    Belon P, Cumps J, Ennis M, Mannaioni PF, Roberfroid M, Sainte-Laudy J, Wiegant FA.Boiron, 20 rue de la Libération, 69110 Sainte-Foy-Les-Lyon, France.

    BACKGROUND: In order to demonstrate that high dilutions of histamine are able to inhibit basophil activation in a reproducible fashion, several techniques were used in different research laboratories. OBJECTIVE: The aim of the study was to investigate the action of histamine dilutions on basophil activation. METHODS: Basophil activation was assessed by alcian blue staining, measurement of histamine release and CD63 expression. Study 1 used a blinded multi-centre approach in 4 centres. Study 2, related to the confirmation of the multi-centre study by flow cytometry, was performed independently in 3 laboratories. Study 3 examined the histamine release (one laboratory) and the activity of H(2) receptor antagonists and structural analogues (two laboratories). RESULTS: High dilutions of histamine (10(-30)-10(-38) M) influence the activation of human basophils measured by alcian blue staining. The degree of inhibition depends on the initial level of anti-IgE induced stimulation, with the greatest inhibitory effects seen at lower levels of stimulation. This multicentre study was confirmed in the three laboratories by using flow cytometry and in one laboratory by histamine release. Inhibition of CD63 expression by histamine high dilutions was reversed by cimetidine (effect observed in two laboratories) and not by ranitidine (one laboratory). Histidine tested in parallel with histamine showed no activity on this model. CONCLUSIONS: In 3 different types of experiment, it has been shown that high dilutions of histamine may indeed exert an effect on basophil activity. This activity observed by staining basophils with alcian blue was confirmed by flow cytometry. Inhibition by histamine was reversed by anti-H2 and was not observed with histidine these results being in favour of the specificity of this effect We are however unable to explain our findings and are reporting them to encourage others to investigate this phenomenon.
    PMID: 15105967 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  21. #21 evodevorepo
    October 23, 2007

    Dear Janet, Molecular Geneticist,

    If it makes you happier to believe that God put all the different species on Earth as they are today, I have no intention of raining on your parade. Believe what you like.

    The creation vs. evolution debate can go on forever because both sides are looking at different facets of the same universe, both equally valid from their own distinct viewpoints.

    This is the same debate between science and religion. Science asks the question of “how”, and religion asks the question of “why”? The answers are quite different, although equally valid in terms of answering the questions asked.

    The usual criticism of the religious viewpoint is that it is not science. Of course, religion is not science.

    One common mistake is to consider scientific knowledge to be the only valid form of knowledge. This is an error. In reality, scientific knowledge is a quite limited form of knowledge. For example, how does one have knowledge of how to hit a basball with a baseball bat? One learns how to do it, and then just does it. There are no scientific hypothses and no expermental proofs. Much of life is like that, with activities and forms of knowledge which are not science.

    Those scientists who have no room for God, the Creator of the forms they are currently studying are missing the most important question, the “why” question. Science ony asks “how”, but not “why”.

    Some will criticize science for this, but that is how science works. Science only be like that. It is up to us as individuals to ask the “why”. When the “why” question is asked, then it becomes obvious that there is a creator of the universe. This is perfectly compatible with honest science, which asks the “how” question.

    This is no real argument nor a real debate, it is only a miscommunication caused by seeing the same universe from two very different viewpoints.

  22. #22 Orac
    October 23, 2007

    One of which is listed below.

    Oh, goody, I think I’ve seen that study before.

    I could point out that the dilution tested above is nowhere near a 100C homeopathic dilution. You have lots of orders of magnitude to go!

    Sadly, I do not have access to this particular publication. If you want to try to convince me, perhaps you’d be so kind as to send me a PDF of the article, so that I can examine the methodology in detail. My e-mail address is oracknows@gmail.com.

    Of course, these articles are like Whac-A-Mole; there are always dubious articles that seem to show an effect. And, of course, given that statistical significance is determined at 0.05, that means 1 in 20 of even perfectly designed studies will appear to show an effect just by random chance alone. Allow poor design to creep in, and the number will be much higher.

    As for your claim that “the fact that there is an effect has been determined scientifically in many studies,” that’s a dubious one to say the least. Generally, poorly designed studies tend to show these effects, but the better designed the study the smaller the effect, with the best designed studies showing no effect at all.

  23. #23 HCN
    October 24, 2007

    About the paper “Histamine dilutions modulate basophil activation”

    Yawn… I remember when it was discussed to death:
    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=36008 … one comment “their failure to show a dose-response curve of any sort is a formal objection to its validity.”

    More discussion on the same with typical homeopathic focus:
    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=39968

  24. #24 daedalus2u
    October 24, 2007

    The science can be figured out any time. What I am worried about are the environmental effects of dumping homeopathic preparations into the ocean. As they are diluted by the ocean, they just get more powerful.

    Toxic waste, even radioactive waste gets weaker as it is diluted. Homeopathic materials get stronger. A few drops of a 20x in the ocean turn the whole ocean into a more powerful 40x or 50x.

    Can homeopathic preparations even be destroyed? A hazardous waste incinerator with 10 ‘9’s destructive efficiency simply turns a 30x into the more powerful 40x.

    I think there should be a complete ban on homeopathic preparations until they can prove methods for destruction and clean-up in the event of an environmental spill.

  25. #25 obscurifer
    October 24, 2007

    One common mistake is to consider scientific knowledge to be the only valid form of knowledge. This is an error. In reality, scientific knowledge is a quite limited form of knowledge. For example, how does one have knowledge of how to hit a basball with a baseball bat? One learns how to do it, and then just does it. There are no scientific hypothses and no expermental proofs. Much of life is like that, with activities and forms of knowledge which are not science.

    So a knowledge of geometry and Newtonian laws could never help a baseball player improve his or her swing? Wow.

  26. #26 Orac
    October 24, 2007

    So a knowledge of geometry and Newtonian laws could never help a baseball player improve his or her swing? Wow.

    Heh.

    I was thinking the same thing. It’s not as if there aren’t reams of scientific studies examining the physics of baseball. Favorite questions include how curveballs “curve,” how to hit for power.

    This knowledge of the physics of baseball is often used by the best hitters. They will look at tapes of themselves at the plate and try to correct their swing based on this science, experience, and knowledge of their own bodies. Physics is indeed incorporated into baseball training; it’s just not always explicit.

  27. #27 McDuff
    October 24, 2007

    Science ony asks “how”, but not “why”.

    So why isn’t “because of selection” or “because of gravity” an answer to a “why” question? It seems like it’s a meaningless distinction without a difference, to me, put forth by religious types to try and reclaim the last shreds of relevance for their tired out superstitious creeds. Saying religion answers “why” questions only indicates you’re the kind of person who has a real problem with the prospect of not being the super-specialest person in the whole wide universe and needs validation from your imaginary friend to cotton wrap the difficult nature of reality for you.

    Science doesn’t address moral or ethical questions directly, although it can inform them, but this does not mean that “religion” is the only avenue that can do that. Indeed, before I would even let anyone from a religion comment on “morality” I would have them first answer two big “why! questions: “Why, given the mindboggling multiplicity of religions out there, should I believe that yours has the right answers over all the others?” and “Why would any hypothetical God apparently devote much of his energy to creating the impression that it is either non-existent or a complete bastard?”

    Religious types can have their fairy stories, that’s their right, but they also have a right to get schooled when they try and bring their credulity into the realm of science and start saying “the fossil record doesn’t support evolution!”

  28. #28 Oldfart
    October 25, 2007

    daedalus2u – you have come up with an ingenious solution (heh). Have the EPA declare all homeopathic solutions as being too dangerous to dump into the waste water supply and require them all to be cast into the sun for the ultimate destruction. The subsequent costs will drive homeopaths out of existence. This is a simple matter of using the claims of homeopathic “science” against them. And a fitting demise.

    As for debating with the homeopaths and other true believers – I see your point Orac – but, as a part of the great unwashed, who will defend me from the depredations of the “true believers” if you and your kind do not? In every debate you may sow the seeds of disbelief in those whose minds are not made up and who are genetically capable of adapting to reality. As for the rest, they aren’t gonna change anyway. If you disprove and discredit homeopathy completely, they will find something else because they need it. Save the ones you can……….forget the rest.

  29. #29 Ed Morris
    October 25, 2007

    My wife is still alive after four years of using diet and herbs. The premise was a simple one, treat pain with what when your dead broke! Two weeks ago a couple of drugs for a bladder infection tossed her into the Hospital after they shut down her kedneys and caused sever bleeding of the bladder. My mind is to spun to try and spell hemohrage right now, I barely know my own name. The biggest twist here is the Doc’s want to know how she made it this far with no Medical care.
    I didn’t even know of homeopathy four years ago and in my opinion most of them are a bunch of re-encarnated dope smoking flower sniffing hippies.
    Yes, we used herbs and diet, but also started learning what not to eat. As an EMT all I could do at the time was think about the chain of infection and reverse it for cancer, need a pthogen, sufficient quantity, host must be suceptable, pathogen needs a way in.
    It was all there, already in the body. Sites like JBC Online, Bloodline, Bloodjournal,Medline, Bio-oncology, Dr. Dukes Phytochemical Database.

    I didn’t use Homeopathy at all, I used what I could find in all out despiration to just try and control her pain. Everything started reversing itself. Four years later back in the hhospital all blood work still says active cancer but no further metastasis. We’re dead broke, nothing left but our clothes on our backs. CT scans say no further metastasis. All is the same aas four years exept no pain, can urinate normal, bowel movements are normal, liver spots are gone. If she can just survive now the stay she may make another four years. She was diagnosed terminal four years ago with out a time frame as to when she would dye. The Doc that diagnosed her was the second opinion.
    Now they want to know why she’s not dead. Now they say its not cancer but blood work says other wise. I do not say she is still here due to Homeopathy, I say she is here because of the lab rats at jbc, medline etc.
    Four years with out allopathic care and now they give 100% for hospice, now after being 36 years old I have to ask my mother for money to buy myself pants because this cancer has destroyed all money coming in and work history because of this disease.
    How many people have lost their jobs because of a fammily member with something like this is what should be discussed. Not my weed is better than your drug, and in some ways I think the weed is, but if I need a tooth pulled give me the cocain derived synthetic over cayenne pepper any day. I looked at Biooncology just yesterday, it would seem that their trying to come up with a drug that does what Turmeric can do. 40% of all drugs in the USA still come from plants, what happened to us as a Nation? We wont even consider what the other has to say, when doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same result and nothing different comes of it? This is insanity.
    Next time if there is one I’ll wait untill I can spell my own name before I try and post in here.
    Turmeric contains a VEGF inhibitor, great for trying to prevent angiogenesis.

  30. #30 Joe
    October 29, 2007

    Steven Novella has posted a summary of the debate
    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php?p=41
    That is part 2, there is a link to part 1. There is, or will be, a podcast of his.

    Also, the video of the first hour of debate should be here
    http://mediasite.uchc.edu/Mediasite41/Viewer/Viewers/Viewer240TR.aspx?mode=Default&peid=407916ea-6301-4ede-b04f-c3650e4073a7&pid=cb4535b1-6610-4f6f-9c47-89f4114476ec&playerType=WM64Lite

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.