Respectful Insolence

Mercola sells the delusion of homeopathy

It’s a really tough competition, but if I had to choose the most ridiculous form of quackery out there, I’d have to choose homeopathy. Although it’s common for so-called “alternative” medicines to be so utterly implausible from a scientific standpoint that it is not unreasonable, barring very compelling positive evidence, to provisionally reject them as impossible, homeopathy goes one further than most forms of alt-med. In fact, it goes many further than nearly any form of alt-med. First, it combines the principle of “like cures like,” a principle based far more on ancient concepts of sympathetic magic than on any science, with the concept of “proving,” in which whatever a bunch of healthy people who imbibe a homeopathic remedy feel and visualize tells what the remedy supposedly does and then write it down for the homeopath to supposedly figure out for what this new remedy is good for. This was taken to a hilarious extreme by one homeopath who did a “proving” of homeopathic plutonium.

But even that’s not enough.

Homeopaths then claim that they make their remedies more potent through a combination of serial dilutions sufficient to guarantee that most homeopathic remedies are highly unlikely to contain a single molecule of the active substance, between each of which the remedy must be “succussed,” or vigorously shaken. Whenever it is pointed out that diluting a substance doesn’t make it stronger and that there is no biochemical or physiological mechanism to make a remedy stronger as it is diluted into nonexistence, homeopaths will condescendingly and piously tell you that it is the succussation that imbues the magical homeopathic remedy with its curative powers. Of course, even if that were true (which it’s not), there’s no biochemical or physiological mechanism to make a remedy even work if there is not a single molecule left. Not to be deterred, homeopaths postulate that water has a “memory” of the substance it has been in contact with and that that memory can somehow be transmitted through the remedy for a curative effect. Of course, no homeopath has ever been able to explain to me why vigorously succussed water like Niagra Falls doesn’t retain a memory of every little bit of poo that it’s ever been in contact with, thus rendering it hopelessly contaminated.

The reason I bring this up is because, just by what its adherents say alone, it’s clear that homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All, The One Quackery To Find Them, The One Quackery To Bring Them All And In The Darkness Bind Them. In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

Sorry about that. I do so love J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

In any case, in my book, any practitioner who takes believes that homeopathy is anything more than water and that any effects observed due to it are anything more than placebo has wandered so far from the realm of science-based medicine that it’s hard to imagine a way to bring them back–which brings us to Joe Mercola. Dr. Mercola maintains one of the largest repositories of woo on the web at Mercola.com. If there’s any doubt that, his attempts to look like a reasonable guy notwithstanding, that Mercola promotes quackery should be dispelled by an article that appeared on his website by Amy L. Lansky, PhD, entitled Could This ‘Forbidden Medicine’ Eliminate the Need for Drugs? The brief answer is no. The longer answer follows.

Lansky starts by whining that skeptics are so very, very mean to her favorite woo:

Perhaps the most derided of alternative medicines is my own favorite – homeopathy. Over the past few years, detractors have focused their efforts in the United Kingdom and have succeeded in crippling homeopathic hospitals and clinics funded by the National Health Service, as well as the practices of many homeopaths.

A few well-placed editorials in prominent newspapers have done the trick, despite the fact that Prince Charles and the rest of the royal family are ardent supporters of homeopathy.

Well whoop-de-doo! that’s one of the most pathetic appeals to authority I’ve ever heard. Prince Charles is a moron when it comes to medicine, and he’s supported all manner of quackery over the course of his life, including homeopathy. It never occurs to Lansky that the reason that homeopathy is “derided” might be due to some very good reasons, namely that it’s one of the most outrageously ridiculous forms of pseudoscience that there is.

What really appears to get Lansky’s goat is this, however:

It now seems that some of these folks are taking their show on the road. Two key UK players, Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst have published a commentary in the November 2009 issue of the American Journal of Medicine [1] in which they state, “a belief in homeopathy exceeds the tolerance of an open mind. We should start from the premise that homeopathy cannot work and that positive evidence reflects publication bias or design flaws until proved otherwise.”

Not surprisingly, their commentary also reflects a complete ignorance of homeopathy and the range of studies that support its effectiveness. For example, their article incorrectly uses the term “potentation” instead of “potentization” for the method used to create homeopathic remedies (more on this later). The authors also insist on citing a single negative meta-analysis study that has already been shown to be methodologically flawed [2], while ignoring many positive studies in respected publications, including two other meta-analyses that showed positive results [3–8].

Actually, I think that Ernst and Baum make some excellent points in their editorial. I’ve said it many times. It’s good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out. To accept homeopathy, your mind would have to be so open that your brains not only oozes out of your skull, but reconstitutes itself and runs away screaming at the assault on its neurons by the sheer stupidity of the concepts of homeopathy, leaving nothing but the brainstem to keep the body still breathing and to maintain autonomic function. Or, as Baum and Ernst put it, “Should we keep an open mind about astrology, perpetual motion, alchemy, alien abduction, and sightings of Elvis Presley? No, and we are happy to confess that our minds have closed down on homeopathy in the same way.”

I also happen to know what meta-analysis to which Lansky is referring. Shang et al has been a thorn in the side of homeopaths, who are still whining about it nearly five years later. Indeed, that evidence- and science-challenged homeopath, Dana Ullman, has shown up on this blog multiple times trying to blast this study on multiple occasions. Basically, Shang et al showed that the larger and higher the quality of study of homeopathy, the more likely the study was to show that the effects of homeopathy are not distinguishable from that of a placebo. It’s not a perfect study, but it’s basically solid and is entirely consistent with the effects of homeopathy being consistent with placebo effects. This result is very much like what is found for acupuncture, where better blinding, larger studies, and more vigorous trial design lead to results in which acupuncture is indistinguishable from sham, or placebo, acupuncture. Moreover, Ernst and Baum didn’t just cite one meta-analysis or systemic review of homeopathy; they cited three such reviews, among them one written by Ernst himself.

Lansky then goes on to repeat some of the hoary old “explanations” for how homeopathy works. True, she doesn’t go as hilariously far into the woo of homeopathy as, for example, Lionel Milgrom, Charlene Werner, or John Benneth. In fact, she just regurgitates praise for Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homeopathy, following up with the Law of Similars (sympathetic magic again), and fallacious examples, such as Ritalin, which does not support the principles of homeopathy any more than the analogy to vaccines of which homeopaths are so fond does. Ritalin works through a biochemical mechanism that we can understand. No appeal to magic or “memory of water” is needed. She then cites “studies” by cranks like Rustum Roy, who published one of the most incompetent scientific studies ever in support of homeopathy, with the ethanol used in the study being clearly and obviously contaminated on the basis of its UV spectrum alone, and Jacques Benveniste, whose studies were similarly flawed and had been revealed to be nonsense by James Randi himself, who with the other two observers who examined Benveniste’s work, published an editorial in Nature about the affair.

What made me laugh the most when I read this article, though, was Lansky’s claim that big pharma is afraid of homeopathy. Actually, it was the reason that big pharma is allegedly afraid of homeopathy that made me laugh:

What if an expensive drug could be potentized to create billions of effective doses at essentially no cost? It would destroy big pharma entirely. Medicines that cost essentially nothing? Nontoxic ultradiluted medicines that cause fewer side effects? How could the coffers of big pharma be sustained? Forget about the Law of Similars. It’s potentization – the process of creating effective ultradilutions – that big pharma is scared of! No wonder Baum and Ernst got the word “potentization” wrong. This one word is the small stone that could take Goliath down.

Yup! As I pointed out early on, homeopaths always point to the succussion and potentization of their remedies as being absolutely essential for their magical woo to work. She then goes on to proclaim benefits of homeopathy for poor countries. I’ve written about this before, for instance when homeopaths have done some questionable things while studying homeopathic remedies in Nicaragua or claimed to be able to treat AIDS in Africa, as well as other infectious diseases. If anything, homeopathy doesn’t benefit poor nations. It treats the poor with quackery and allows homeopaths from rich, white nations to exploit residents of poor, darker-skinned nations.

Clearly, Lansky is a true believer. Indeed, she has even written a book called Impossible Cure: The Promise of Homeopaths. Apparently this is a big deal among homeopaths. The book is a commonly used textbook to teach homeopathy in homeopathic schools and has been translated into several languages. She’s also into many other forms of woo, including chiropractic, network chiropractic, tai chi, qi gong, hands-on healing (e.g. Reiki), acupuncture. Truly, this is crank magnetism in action.

It’s also interesting how she “discovered” homeopathy:

Back in the early 1990s, my husband Steve Rubin and I were both computer researchers in Silicon Valley and followed our doctors’ instructions obediently, loading our kids up with every recommended vaccine on schedule. Our allopathic trance began to break in 1994 when our 3-year-old son Max began to show signs of autism.

I first read about homeopathy in the January 1995 issue of Mothering Magazine, which contained an article about the successful homeopathic treatment of ADD and other children’s behavioral problems [16]. Steve and I decided to give it a try and found a practitioner in our area. Within a week we began to see small and subtle improvement in Max – improvement that became a slow and steady trend. After two years of treatment, he was testing normally and was released from eligibility for special education benefits.

Of course. It’s autism. It always seems to come back to autism. The condition attracts more woo, from anti-vaccine nonsense to biomedical quackery, than just about any condition I can think of. Once more, we need to remember that autism is a condition of developmental delay, not developmental stasis, and that as many as 19% of children can lose their diagnosis by age 7. Given that homeopathy is water, it’s almost a sure thing that Lansky’s son was one of those children.

Lansky complains ad nauseam about us mean and nasty skeptics who, according to her, are “out to get” homeopathy because it supposedly poses a threat to “allopathic medicine.” While it’s true that we are very skeptical of homeopathy, the reasons are purely based on science, namely the lack of science behind homepathy and the lack of scientific evidence that it works. In addition, homepathy is about as pure a pseudoscience as there is. For it to be true, huge swaths of well-established physics, chemistry, and biochemistry would have to be wrong–not just wrong, but grossly wrong. I’d even be willing to believe that’s a possibility if anyone could produce very clear and compelling evidence that (1) homepathic remedies are distinguishable from the water used to dilute them and (Rustum Roy’s studies don’t count, given how crappy they are) and (2) they produce an effect that is easily distinguishable from a placebo. Time and time again, studies have failed to find such an effect. Lansky can cherry pick all the studies she wants, but the weight of the evidence comes to a clear result: Homeopathic effects are placebo effects.

200 years ago, homeopathy was not as ridiculously unreasonable as it is today. Back then, the germ theory of disease had not been postulated, and the dominant ideas regarding disease involved imbalances of the four humors. Back then, it was also not uncommon for “allopathic medicine” to involve bleeding, purging using toxic metals like antimony, and a variety of other nasty, toxic interventions. Homeopathy appeared to do better because doing nothing was actually better than the “allopathic medicine” of the time. Unfortunately for homeopaths like Lansky, in the 200 years since Samuel Hahnemann postulated his Law of Similars, medicine advanced, thanks to science. it now has highly effective therapies for a wide variety of diseases. Homeopathy, on the other hand, remains stuck in the 19th century clinging to a prescientific concept of how the human body works and how disease develops. Oliver Wendell Holmes was right to refer to homeopathy as a delusion back in 1842. Sadly, the delusion lives on nearly 160 years later, and Joe Mercola is trying his best to spread it.

Comments

  1. #1 Jojo
    December 23, 2009

    Forget about the Law of Similars. It’s potentization – the process of creating effective ultradilutions – that big pharma is scared of!

    Even if ultradilution worked, most pharmaceuticals would fail to pass the “proving” for the Law of Similars. It’s interesting that she’s perfectly willing to just toss out one of the basic premises of homeopathy so it fits into her Big Pharma conspiracy theory. It seems to me that by corrupting the Law of Similars, she’s doing more harm to homeopathy than “allopathic” medicine is.

    Scratch that, the previous sentence is only valid if the people that use homeopathic dilutions are rational enough to expect consistency in the theories behind their treatments. We know they are not.

  2. #2 Todd W.
    December 23, 2009

    Let me get this straight. Big PharmaTM is scared of homeopathy because ultra-dilute solutions are really cheap to produce. Meaning that Big Pharma’sTM production costs would plummet, leading to enormous profits. And this scares them. Ummm…okay.

  3. #3 T. Bruce McNeely
    December 23, 2009

    Our allopathic trance began to break in 1994 when our 3-year-old son Max began to show signs of autism.

    Given that autism is a clinical diagnosis, a child with “signs of autism” is not necessarily autistic. I wonder why she doesn’t say that Max was diagnosed with autism?

    Oh well, what better way to treat a non-existent condition than with a non-existent substance?

  4. #4 Kemist
    December 23, 2009

    [Prof. Farnsworth voice]Miiiiilllgroooommmm ![/Prof. Farnsworth voice]

    Rustum Roy, who published one of the most incompetent scientific studies ever in support of homeopathy, with the ethanol used in the study being clearly and obviously contaminated on the basis of its UV spectrum alone

    Oh yes, I remember participating in that thread, to comment on his Raman spectrometry, and also in another one to comment on another of his papers using calorimetry – that paper was published in PNAS or JACS, and I don’t know how the hell it ended up there containing so much crap. These were fun chemistry threads.

    Isn’t it revealing that those two clowns always resort to analytical chemistry techniques which are best known for their extra sensitivity to contamination, so much that it generally takes some time for chemists to be able to carry them out properly ? And that they always prefer to publish them in non-expert journals, as in, “I’ll send it there, so there’ll be less risk that an actual Raman spectrometrist reviews my paper” ?

    On behalf of all chemists, I’m very sorry for Roy and Milgrom, people.

  5. #5 Daniel J. Andrews
    December 23, 2009

    Heh-heh. Just did some checking on the cost of homeopathic remedies and came across this gem of a quote from here.
    hubpages.com/hub/Uses-of-Homeopathic-Medicine

    Cost of Homeopathic medicine compared to Pharmaceutical medicine: Homeopathic medicine is significantly cheaper than pharmaceuticals, and most remedies cost between $2 and $10. Some doctors provide remedies without charge. Homeopaths rarely use lab tests, which reduces the cost of treatment further. In general, homeopathy is much more economical than conventional medicine.

    Emphasis added.

    What could you possibly test in the lab? “Yep, its water alright”.

    As for cost, I see the costs for consulting a homeopath range from $50 to $130 an hour. Unless you can later pick up remedies straight from the shelf you’re going to be spending more money, not less money, even if the water worked.

  6. #6 Dangerous Bacon
    December 23, 2009

    “She’s also into many other forms of woo, including chiropractic, network chiropractic, tai chi, qi gong, hands-on healing (e.g. Reiki), acupuncture.”

    This is the same thing that baffles me about alt med cancer cures (hundreds of which are touted by true believers). If one remedy (in this case, homeopathy) is so terrific, why do we need oodles of additional therapies?

    But of course that’s how placebos work. One may seem to temporarily improve a chronic condition, but then reality sets in and you have to move on to the next type of placebo. If you’re lucky, by the time you become totally disillusioned with the various forms of placebo, you can go back into an “allopathic trance” and use something that’s actually proven to work – if your condition hasn’t progressed beyond the point that evil Pharma and its minions can help you.

  7. #7 Denice Walter
    December 23, 2009

    “It always seems to come back to autism. The condition attracts more woo…”.I do however,have a tiny bit of optimism to sweeten my generally cynical outlook: if you know anything about the history of psychology you’ll recall that hypotheses about the causes of SMI(especially schizophrenia)have evolved greatly over the last several decades-in the ’70’s people like Laing were promoting the “double bind” communications idea- interestingly enough,SBM has shown genetic markers, biochemical and developmental differences, etc. Perhaps as more data comes in,we’ll hopefully go the same way with autism, towards reality (of course, there will always be a few people who dispute SBM- as a few people today still deny the existence of SMI itself or believe it can be “cured” with B vitamins)

  8. #8 MikeMa
    December 23, 2009

    I agree with Daniel J. Andrews when he compares the effective costs of homeopathic remedies to allopathic ones. My ex was deeply into this woo and I was obliged to pay for it and observe the (lack of) results over time. The consultations are upwards of $200 a visit in my area and the note taking alone would drive a sane person insane.
    The ex dragged our daughter to this charlatan as well. At least the daughter is a little more skeptical and has rejected the silliness. The costs included the consults, ‘specially crafted’ pills, special diets, special vitamins, and, if I remember correctly, deionzed water. This crap adds up.

  9. #9 Todd W.
    December 23, 2009

    @MikeMa

    This crap adds up.

    To which the homeopath would reply: “But can you really put a price on life?”

  10. #10 Chris
    December 23, 2009

    T. Bruce McNeely:

    Given that autism is a clinical diagnosis, a child with “signs of autism” is not necessarily autistic. I wonder why she doesn’t say that Max was diagnosed with autism?

    Because he was never diagnosed. He may actually been exhibiting some delayed language, or even normal three-year old behavior (like lining up toys) that made her think he was autistic.

    Also, just like Gary Goldman (PhD in computer science, editor of Medical Veritas, who writes against the varicella vaccine) and Andrew Cutler (PhD in chemical engineering, who started by finding ways to rid the body of mercury from dental fillings, to now having the “Autism-Mercury” Yahoo group), her PhD has nothing to do with medicine or biology.

  11. #11 PL
    December 23, 2009

    I’ve never understood how Big Pharma is making Evil profits while the local homeopath is, what, doing it out of the goodness of their hearts? There’s one very popular homeopath in my town who charges something like $150 an hour for a consult. Plus the costs of the various remedies she’s going to sell you, of course. And from what I can tell, she wants you to come in a whole bunch of times when you start seeing her, like at twice a week while she helps ‘work out a treatment plan’. Yeah, no profit being made there at all.

    Also I’ve never understood how people can believe that the people who manufacture the homeopathic remedies are bothering with all that dilution stuff. I mean, there’s no way to test the sugar pills to make sure they bothered to even drip the ‘remedy’ on there, so why not just skip that step, save yourself some time? It’s not like anyone will ever be able to tell.

  12. #12 The Other Ian
    December 23, 2009

    What if an expensive drug could be potentized to create billions of effective doses at essentially no cost? It would destroy big pharma entirely. Medicines that cost essentially nothing? Nontoxic ultradiluted medicines that cause fewer side effects? How could the coffers of big pharma be sustained?

    In other words, she’s not just ignorant of science, but also of patent law and of the development costs and market forces that are what actually drive drug costs.

  13. #13 T.Bruce McNeely
    December 23, 2009

    Chris:
    Just to expand on my comment, I made it in part because of my own history and personality. However, this is simply who I am. I was actually evaluated by an expert psychologist for Asperger’s at the request of a third party. She said that I definitely did not have Asperger’s, but had certain traits that are more pronounced under stress.
    Incidentally, I am up to date on my immunizations – coincidence?

  14. #14 Jim
    December 23, 2009

    On the lining up of toys thing, a particularly woo-friendly nursery worker expressed grave concern that our son, who was two at the time, spent so much time lining up cards in a perfect row and was concerned that it was autism. We nodded and smiled, but I can see more worry-prone parents falling down the rabbit hole on that basis.

  15. #15 ebohlman
    December 23, 2009

    What if an expensive drug could be potentized to create billions of effective doses at essentially no cost?

    Every description I’ve ever read of “potentization” suggests that it’s an extremely labor-intensive process. I don’t see how you get “essentially no cost” unless you reinstitute a certain peculiar institution.

    BTW, I’m in favor of requiring insurers, private or governmental, to cover homeopathic treatment as long as the payments are themselves homeopathic (full disclosure: I’m currently involved in the development of a penny shaker).

  16. #16 redrabbitslife
    December 23, 2009

    Maybe we should have some fun: I can design a multicenter double-blind placebo-controlled homeopathy trial locally. I can probably talk a few of the local nuts, oops I mean naturopaths, into it.

    It would be great. Imagine the ethics committee meetings.

    One of the manufacturers of homeopathic remedies would be able to fund it, and it needn’t be terribly expensive.

  17. #17 James Sweet
    December 23, 2009

    I continue to be stunned by the naive (or disingenuous?) contention that if there were a virtually free product that could be mass produced and sold with a big markup, that Big Evil Multinational Corporations wouldn’t be interested. Ummmm……?!?!?

  18. #18 Anonymous Coward
    December 23, 2009

    @5 “Homeopaths rarely use lab tests, which reduces the cost of treatment further.”

    That’s because diagnostic lab tests require a physician’s request in most states. They can’t order lab tests.

  19. #19 Karl withakay
    December 23, 2009

    “What if an expensive drug could be potentized to create billions of effective doses at essentially no cost?”

    According to the homeopathic law of similars, wouldn’t such a preparation actually cause the symptoms and problems the parent medication prevents, alleviates, or cures? Maybe homeopathy can only alleviate/cure symptoms and not cause them?

    Presumably, such a homeopathic preparation would not have the same beneficial properties of the parent medication, as there is no like curing like involved there. (The medicine alleviates condition X; a homeopathic preparation is supposed to have an effect in opposition to that of the parent substance, not a more powerful version of the effect of the parent substance.)

    Maybe the homeopathicized medication would alleviate the side effects associated with the original medication. Perhaps all side effects of actual medicine can be alleviated by adding a homeopathic preparation of the medicine to itself. :)

  20. #20 Kemist
    December 23, 2009

    @18

    meh.

    I’m just wondering wtf they would do with lab test results anyway. It’s not like they have an actual conception of biochemistry. Their theory of disease is based on vitalism. What in FSM do alkaline phosphatase or TSH levels even mean to people who think they can cure you based on how they felt and what they dream when they “prove” their equivalent of the compendium of pharmaceuticals ?

  21. #21 The Other Ian
    December 23, 2009

    Every description I’ve ever read of “potentization” suggests that it’s an extremely labor-intensive process. I don’t see how you get “essentially no cost” unless you reinstitute a certain peculiar institution.

    Labor-intensive, but not complicated. I’m sure it could be automated easily enough. In fact, I anxiously await the day that somebody tries just that, the mass-produced remedies are found to be ineffective, and the homeopaths quickly add to their claims that the succussion must be performed by an actual, living person.

  22. #22 J Dubb
    December 23, 2009

    OT, but I gotta bring attention to this article in our local free newspaper (Cleveland, OH area). They have a column called “Enhanced Interrogation” where they interview someone. The title of the column is really ironic, because in the one I read, they presented a totally credulous, uncritical review of a local anti-vaxxer osteopath (Dr. Sherry Tenpenny). To make matters worse, most of the comments are on her side.

  23. #24 Monado, FCD
    December 23, 2009

    I made the dilution point to a friend who goes to a homeopath or perhaps a naturopath: if dilution makes something more potent, why haven’t we all breathed ourselves to death when air pollution was reduced in the ’70s or poisoned ourselves when water pollution improved? His answer, I think, got to the heart of these quacks’ appeal: they listen to you. They take a long, detailed history, they pay attention, they indulge every emotion and notion as long as it doesn’t include standard medicine: “Gee, I tried some of that aspirin stuff and my headache went away!”

    I suggest an indirect solution that might cut down on their appeal quite a lot. Regular medical clinics need an adjunct nurse-practitioner who can see patients who feel out of sorts, listen to their symptoms, take notes, measure blood pressure, and suggest some sensible and non-medical remedies such as more physical activity, more rest, properly darkened bedrooms, more fibre & water, etc. Any symptoms that need a differential diagnosis to eliminate actual disease could be bumped up to the doctor for further consultation. The doctors could employ these adjuncts with the increased throughput of patients with actual diseases and the nurse would provide an early warning of medical problems. Our current insurance system expects a doctor to schedule six visits an hour, that is, to diagnose & treat a patient in ten minutes. Most schedule fewer, earning less than the insurance projects; but still, a patient who goes on about a variety of symptoms delays everyone else behind them. I’ve had doctors suddenly break into a round of questions about what I’m eating, which I presume lets them tack a “nutrition consultation” onto their bill and pays for the time I take coming to the point about the real problem.

    An assistant who provides “health checkpoint” or “wellness clinic” services could help doctors be more effective and reduce demand for medical quacks. As such, they should properly be funded by insurance, too.

  24. #25 Scott
    December 23, 2009

    Also I’ve never understood how people can believe that the people who manufacture the homeopathic remedies are bothering with all that dilution stuff. I mean, there’s no way to test the sugar pills to make sure they bothered to even drip the ‘remedy’ on there, so why not just skip that step, save yourself some time? It’s not like anyone will ever be able to tell.

    I suspect some of them do. The others are either the most gifted actors in history, or genuine True Believers.

  25. #26 Dave Ruddell
    December 23, 2009

    His answer, I think, got to the heart of these quacks’ appeal: they listen to you.

    Oh yeah, that’s a huge part. I remember when the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors used to run TV ads, they really emphasized how they took the time to “really listen” to their patients. Have there ever been any studies done that compare the effectiveness of, say, an ND to a psychotherapist? I often wonder if that’s essentially what a lot of people get from woo practitioners; someone who will listen to their problems sympathetically and then say “I can help you. It’s going to be okay.”

  26. #27 Will TS
    December 23, 2009

    “What if an expensive drug could be potentized to create billions of effective doses at essentially no cost?”

    Now I know how I’m going to become a billionaire. Starting today, I’m selling homeopathic cocaine. Super-strong cocaine, virtually no production costs, unlimited profit potential, and it’s all completely legal because there’s no cocaine in it, just the memory of cocaine. Call me. I’ll hook you up.

  27. #28 The Other Ian
    December 23, 2009
    Also I’ve never understood how people can believe that the people who manufacture the homeopathic remedies are bothering with all that dilution stuff. I mean, there’s no way to test the sugar pills to make sure they bothered to even drip the ‘remedy’ on there, so why not just skip that step, save yourself some time? It’s not like anyone will ever be able to tell.

    I suspect some of them do. The others are either the most gifted actors in history, or genuine True Believers.

    Also from a legal standpoint, promising to sell remedies that are made according to the homeopathic method, but actually selling remedies that are just untreated water straight out of the tap, would be fraud…I think. So the operation would at least need to be able to stand up to casual inspection (if they’re at all subject to those) and accusations by disgruntled employees.

  28. #29 Pareidolius
    December 23, 2009

    Hey, homeopathy is the real thing . . .
    http://hellsnewsstand.blogspot.com/2009/12/its-real-thing.html

  29. #30 Joe
    December 23, 2009

    @ Kemist #4,

    I co-authored an article in “Homeopathy” in which we observed that Nostrum Roy’s reference, UV-VIS spectrum for ethanol was probably denatured alcohol (SDA 23A). Can you cite criticism, for us, on the Raman spectra (which I didn’t know enough about, beyond it complementing IR) and the calorimetry publications?

    Kemist writes “On behalf of all chemists, I’m very sorry for Roy and Milgrom, people.” I don’t know about Milgrom (except that he is delusional). However, Roy wrote a pioneering paper ca. 50 years ago and, since then, he has felt free to insult other scientists on any occasion that suits him. For example, when the Reagan administration started cutting money or basic research, and scientists complained- Roy called us “welfare queens in white coats” as if he did not rely on federal money …

  30. #31 FreeSpeaker
    December 23, 2009

    J Dubb: Thanks for th elink. Here is my comment: When I read comments such as thesed, ones that support Dr. PluggedNickel (that is all her ideas are worth, if that) and promote every cockamamie conspiracy theory, I conclude that this country is in serious trouble, as the educational system has failed to teach critical thinking skills.

  31. #32 Mojo
    December 23, 2009

    @Orac:

    To accept homeopathy, your mind would have to be so open that…

    Hell no! To accept homoeopathy, your mind would have to be entirely closed to all the opposing evidence.

  32. #33 Mark P
    December 23, 2009

    There may have been a time when big commercial interests could close off cheaper alternatives. But surely people can no longer use that argument.

    While Big Pharma would have an interest in stopping dirt cheap medicine, some other competitor would come along and steal the game from them. We’ve seen Google sneak up and do this with the web, taking out a closed shop, and their lead product is free.

    Can the true believers honestly think that the reach of the big multi-nationals would have stopped the Soviet Union from developing homeopathy, if it worked? The Reds would have totally revelled in sticking it to the West with that sort of development.

    Yet virtually every country in the world is rapidly trying to establish fully “Westernised” medicine, even if they have every reason to want their traditional ones to work. And when they try the opposite, like South Africa with AIDS, the result is a disaster.

  33. #34 Gil
    December 23, 2009

    I s’pose it’s no longer surprising why long-lived people of yesteryears attributed their longevity to avoiding medicines and hospitals.

  34. #35 Dangerous Bacon
    December 23, 2009

    Aged people of today are still making that claim.

    Of course, what skews the sample a bit is that people who died because they avoided physicians and hospitals aren’t available for newspaper interviews.

  35. #36 tsuken
    December 23, 2009

    Todd W at #2 – beautiful comment. Oh how I did lol. :-D

    However Will TS at #27 just beat you out for the bestest comment, as he has a plan! ;-)

    I’ve given up understanding homeopathy adherents. If, presented with the science, they can’t shift from their position, I just can’t see the point in trying, as they’re obviously never going to change

  36. #37 jolly
    December 23, 2009

    I just got my seasonal and H1N1 flu shots today but I don’t know why I bothered. Someone with the flu must have pissed which eventually would have diluted and evaporated back into the water I drink. It must be so strong by now, I had better cut back on my water intake.

  37. #38 Jon H
    December 23, 2009

    “I continue to be stunned by the naive (or disingenuous?) contention that if there were a virtually free product that could be mass produced and sold with a big markup, that Big Evil Multinational Corporations wouldn’t be interested. Ummmm……?!?!?”

    Right – corporations already do exactly that, in their cosmetics and beauty products subsidiaries.

  38. #39 Corina Becker
    December 24, 2009

    It always seems to come back to autism. The condition attracts more woo, from anti-vaccine nonsense to biomedical quackery, than just about any condition I can think of.

    As one of your friendly neighbourhood autistic adults, I have to say this:

    “Dear woo practitioners,

    PLEASE STOP HIJACKING MY NEUROLOGICAL WIRING TO SELL YOUR SCAM PRODUCTS!!

    Thank you.”

    I really… have nothing else to say except to agree about Autism being a delay, that we do grow up, and that homeopathy is quack.

    Also, I made a t-shirt. “I reject your conspiracy theory and replace it with FACTS!” would anyone like to see?

  39. #40 muteKi
    December 24, 2009

    @Dave #26:

    Certainly a good point. I think the fact that for a lot of people, a visit to a naturopath is a very low-stress and relaxing experience, probably very different from how they view doctors with their cold stethoscopes and sharp needles. If they’ve got symptoms that are related to stress (which, I’d say, is VERY HEAVILY related with most of the ailments that most “natural cures” claim to treat, like back pain, fatigue, and digestive issues), a low-stress encounter is going to help that, which is why these placebos work so well for them.

    I think the fact that the whole movement is tied to a sort of Thoreau-like desire to get back to a simpler time with nature also highlights the fact that it’s largely an issue of stress of quite well.

  40. #41 T. Bruce McNeely
    December 24, 2009

    Now I know how I’m going to become a billionaire. Starting today, I’m selling homeopathic cocaine. Super-strong cocaine, virtually no production costs, unlimited profit potential, and it’s all completely legal because there’s no cocaine in it, just the memory of cocaine. Call me. I’ll hook you up.

    There’s just one problem with this plan – a homeopathic drug in its undiluted form is supposed to produce the symptoms of the condition being treated. Homeopathic dilutions reduce the symptomatic effect to nothing (as well as the drug, ha!) and then, by some mysterious process, become a treatment for the condition.

    So, if cocaine were diluted homeopathically, it would be a homeopathic treatment for acute mania.

  41. #42 Kemist
    December 24, 2009

    @Joe

    That is the one : Rao, M. L., Roy, R., Bell, I. R & Hoover, R. (2007) The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy. Homeopathy 96, 175-182.

    There was a bizarre Raman spectra in it and the discussion accompanying it was disturbing:

    We note that at very low signal levels, instrument noise coupled with artificial computer generated sensitivity can produce data that are not reliable. Hence we operate the instruments in the sensitivity ranges in which we sacrifice some precision for reproducibility.

    It is highly disturbing because Raman spectra, due of their sensitivity to contamination, must be interpreted with care, and are normally submitted to computer treatment for this purpose. The authors are not using the computer treatment, and are using the instrument outside of its known range of sensitivity. That is akin to tinkering with the machine until they find noise which support their hypothesis. No sane reviewer with expertise in Raman spectrometry, or even in plain UV-Vis spectrometry, would have let this mess pass the reviewing process.

    If you present a new analytical technique, or a modification of one, then you must also present a validation of it. There was no trace of this process in that paper, or even of any understanding of what the Raman spectra was actually observing, apart from noise.

    The calorimetry paper must have been Milgrom’s (I don’t have it with me here, but I can try to look it up.).

    I don’t know Roy’s reputation as a person (maybe I’m too young or perhaps it’s because I live in Canada).

    Unfortunately, he’s not the only bright person to be turned into a jerk by early success. The former big boss of my institute, which I count myself very lucky I never worked with, used to send most of his grad students into depressions.

  42. #43 symball
    December 24, 2009

    It never occurs to Lansky that the reason that homeopathy is “derided” might be due to some very good reasons, namely that it’s one of the most outrageously ridiculous forms of pseudoscience that there is.

    Or perhaps it hasn’t occurred to Lansky that many of the subjects of her royal highness the queen, have actually heard what her idiot son has to say on many matters and feel that if he endorses it that it is definitely not a good thing. He is the best advert for republicanism this country has seen since Charles the first.

    Interestingly it looks like his mum has also realised this and is secrectly (or not so secretly) planning to have the crown skip a generation to make William king when she dies.

  43. #44 piker
    December 24, 2009

    Instead of endlessly ridiculing those who actually appear to thrive on it – since it gives the appearance of legitimacy to what has now moved from the fraudulent to the clearly criminal – why not advocate a movement en masse to have the practice criminalized?

  44. #45 David N. Brown
    December 24, 2009

    “diluting a substance doesn’t make it stronger”
    Actually, it can, under certain circumstances and up to a point. Exposure to large doses can desensitize the body, and it is reasonale that exposure to smaller doses can reverse the process. This gives homeopathy a core of plausibility, which has long sinve been obscured by extreme applications.

  45. #46 woofighter
    December 24, 2009

    @45 – Can you give a specific example of that? What drug or medication are you referring to when you say
    “Exposure to large doses can desensitize the body, and it is reasonale that exposure to smaller doses can reverse the process.”
    ?

  46. #47 T. Bruce McNeely
    December 25, 2009

    woofighter:

    He might be talking about narcotics, where a regular user builds up tolerance and requires higher and higher doses to get high. These doses can be in the range that would kill a non-user. Using smaller doses would reduce tolerance – in other words reversing the process. So, in a way, diluting the drug does make it stronger (to the individual).

  47. #48 Joe
    December 25, 2009

    @ 42 Kemist,

    Thanks. I co-authored the response M. Kerr et al doi:10.1016/j.homp.2007.10.004, available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com which may be behind a paywall now. I wished I knew/remembered more about Raman. Your comment reinforces what I thought. Have you seen the picture of that set-up? They did not have a proper spectrometer.

    I particularly like the quote “… we operate the instruments in the sensitivity ranges in which we sacrifice some precision for reproducibility.” As if “precision” was not synonymous with “reproducibility”.

  48. #49 woofighter
    December 25, 2009

    T. Bruce McNeely – reducing the dose of a narcotic may lead to reduced tolerance but does NOT make the drug stronger, even for that individual. Ask anyone hooked on vicodin if their pain relief improved as their doctor decreased their dose. You could argue that getting off the narcs now would make them effective pain killers for you in the future, but that does nothing to make homeopathy make the least bit of sense.

  49. #50 David N. Brown
    December 31, 2009

    woofighter,
    I have heard the issue of desensitization raised as a concern with regard to vitamin “megadoses”. Another phenomenon I have heard of that may be related is elevated insulin levels in some diabetics. And, as Mr. McNeely says, narcotics are a definitive case. Interesting comment on effectiveness vs. tolerance. I think the important thing to recognize is that the role of dosage is a complex issue.

  50. #51 Frederich
    January 7, 2010

    Hello,

    I must add that I had a digestive disease that was unresponsive to prescription medicines for over 12 years. It became increasingly worse and I was desperate enough to seek the help of a homeopath. Three months later there were no symptoms and 2.5 years later this is no sign of disease.

    Sometimes you don’t need to see a biochemical process as in rx drugs to see a cure – the body’s mysteries run deep.

    Frederich

  51. #52 Dr. Nancy Malik
    February 10, 2010

    Real is Homeopathy. Homeopathy for Everyone

  52. #53 Antaeus Feldspar
    February 10, 2010

    Sometimes you don’t need to see a biochemical process as in rx drugs to see a cure – the body’s mysteries run deep.

    In order to “see a cure” – that is, in order to draw a cause-and-effect relationship and say “yes, this one particular thing that I did is what cured the disorder” – you need something more than anecdotes.

    To hold up an anecdote of a medical condition going away and call it a “cure” is like asking a single voter what he thinks the leaders should do and trumpeting that as “a mandate from the people.”

  53. #54 just watching
    March 24, 2010

    And the point you are trying to make with this diatribe is……? All I got out of it is you don’t like homeopathy or Joe Mercola.

  54. #55 Chris
    March 24, 2010

    Well, homeopathy is literally nothing. It is just sugar pills or water, and Mercola is a quack. So take your pick.

  55. #56 Susan
    August 8, 2010

    I’ve been taking homeopathic remedies for 14 years under the guidance of various homeopaths. I can assure anyone reading that the effects are not placebo. There is the concept of one’s “constitutional” remedy. When I take mine in 200th potency, my blood glucose will drop significantly within 10 minutes. Recently 250 to 190. I did not placebo it down and I can repeat this and get similar results.

    For those who are quick to condemn homeopathy as just sugar in water, why not do the following experiment and report back your experience. Buy in any store selling homeopathic remedies, Sulphur 30C. Take 10 pills daily for 5 days.

    Seems the critics of homeopathy become mute when challenged to actually try it.

  56. #57 Kitto
    August 8, 2010

    @56 – a nice example of the “Proof by Anecdote” logical fallacy there. Well done.

  57. #58 Dr. Nancy Malik
    August 16, 2010

    Real is scientific homeopathy. It cures even when Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails. Nano doses of evidence-based modern homeopathy medicine brings big results for everyone

  58. #59 Chris
    August 16, 2010

    Ah, so if it isn’t Nancy Malik the clueless spam bot!

  59. #60 Dr. Nancy Malik
    May 21, 2011

    Evidence of homeopathy is undeniably positive and consistent. It’s a human evidence of experience, gathered from a real-world observation in a real-world setting (not in an ideal artificial laboratory) giving real-world solutions.

  60. #61 Chris
    May 21, 2011

    Hello, Nancy Malik, the Necromancer Spam Bot!

  61. #62 Stacee Shoemake
    October 17, 2011

    Babaganoosh here and this was such a treat, boost out another one asap

  62. #63 lilady
    October 17, 2011

    @ Chris: But, but, but…Dr. Necromancer has got a bachelors degree in homeopathy and surgery:

    “Dr. Nancy Malik is having extensive education, specialized degree and training. She is Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) (a regular full-time 5.5 years of medical degree course recognised by Central Council of Homoeopathy, Deptt. of AYUSH, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India) from prestigious ‘Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital’, Chandigarh in Jan 2003. She has attended many Continuing Medical Education programmes and seminars.”

    Hmmm, I’m a bit confused here by whatever “is” is. Also, how is “homeopathic surgery” performed?

  63. #64 Anton P. Nym
    October 17, 2011

    Also, how is “homeopathic surgery” performed?

    By gently rubbing the skin over the afflicted area with a bowling ball?

    — Steve

  64. #65 TBruce
    October 17, 2011

    Also, how is “homeopathic surgery” performed?

    With very tiny knives?

  65. #66 Mohan
    December 18, 2011

    While I do not profess to know anything about Homeopathic medicine, my approach to it is – if there is sufficient consensus and belief by people who have studied it, then there obviously is some truth in it. I mean that is also the basis of why we follow our spiritual leaders in religion – we trust in the study done by such spiritual leaders and follow them – while there has never been a “scientific proof” of God. Personally I feel, like in religion, where opposite principles of belief create resistance in accepting other beliefs, I feel the animosity of purveyors of allopathic medicine towards other systems like Homeopathic, Ayurvedic (Indian herbal), Naturopathic, etc., is essentially due to the fact that a majority of these depend on the body to take care of itself by helping the body shore up its own defenses as compared to the usual approach of allopathy which looks at ways to mount a direct attack on the cause (germs, viruses, etc.). Yet, if we consider the Allopathic medicine there is hardly a single proven medicine against any viral infection. If any success has been achieved at all by allopathic in the Viral field it is by some of the vaccinations which essentially use the same principle as the other branches of medicine do – to shore up the body’s own defense system by introducing a “weaker form” of the virus. All the progress that Allopathic medicine has done is actually in the surgical processes. However it cannot actually lay claim to any of those successes. A majority of them have depended on other fields like IT, material science, chemistry, etc., to provide those successes. Given the right approval methods by governments, any of the other systems could have achieved those successes using these technologies. After all surgery was practised by all other purveyor methods also, in the past (search and read “Sushruta Samhita” dating back to 800 BC in Ayurvedic medicine). Now let us look at the germicidals, etc. where Allopathic medicine claims great successes. In truth however most forms of treatment were naturally available against a host of these problems before hand and all that Allopathy has been doing is lay claim to these medicines as their own inventions. For example Quinine was the first pharmaceutical drug against malaria (and still used in many countries). However it happened to be native medicine for the Peruvian Natives for centuries and probably millenia. The real progress that Allopathy has made over the other systems is that they organised themselves as a rigourous system as compared to the other forms of medicinal practice. This rigourous system allowed them to form networks and power bases over some centuries and finally become the only recognised form in many countries. Thus they have developed a strangle hold on a process that seems more interested in monetary success based on economic principles than on allowing true medical success on Hippocrates principles, (which would need that all forms of treatment be pursued with an open mind as long as the chances of a cure are possible).

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