Respectful Insolence

When homeopaths fight back

I love it when my fans notice me.

After all, of what use is my having taken so many hours over so many years laying down on a nearly daily basis if my words don’t have an impact? Surely I couldn’t be so egotistical that I’d do it anyway even if my readership was what it was when I first started out and had not increased to the point where I’m the (alleged) force that I’ve become in the medical and skeptical blogosphere, would I?

Wait, on second thought, don’t answer that.

In any case, back in the day I’d write my best snarky skeptical deconstruction of some bit of pseudoscience or another and the target wouldn’t notice, namely because my traffic was so low that the blogger didn’t notice the incoming traffic and Google didn’t pick me up on searches, at least not on the first couple of pages of any search results. As the blog got bigger, though, that happened less and less. In fact, I can pretty much count on most targets of a heapin’ helpin’ of my special brand of Insolence, Respectful or not-so-Respectful, to notice. Most of the time this is a good thing. After all, why wouldn’t I want purveyors of pseudoscience to have a bit of science-based criticism? More importantly, the responses are amusing. On rare occasions they even teach me something.

This is not one of those times.

Way back in March, I took note of a particularly egregious bit of quackademic medicine published in the International Journal of Oncology. True, the IJO is not a top-tier, or even a second-tier, journal, but it is peer-reviewed and in general I never thought of it as a journal that sucked; that is, at least, until March. In contrast to the mediocre journal, the research group that published this study came from one of the two most respected cancer centers in the U.S., namely the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Published by Frankel et al and Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells, the study brought down the righteous wrath (or at least mockery) of Dr. Rachel Dunlop and, of course, yours truly. That’s because this was a study of homeopathy and breast cancer. That’s right, homeopathy and breast cancer. As Dr. Rachie and I pointed out, the study was riddled with methodological flaws that rendered its conclusions completely unsupported. In fact, the study didn’t show what its authors think it showed; in reality what it showed is that alcohol can be toxic to breast cancer cells in solution as certain chemotherapeutic drugs. Well, that, and random noise. Quackademic medicine doesn’t get much quackier than that, and this was right at M.D. Anderson, what should be the heart of science-based medicine in the world of oncology. Meanwhile, homeopaths trumpeted that homepathy killed breast cancer cells and was “non-toxic.”

In the process of applying the clue-by-four of science to the infiltration of quackademic medicine into the hallowed halls of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Rachie and I appear to have ticked off a writer at a homeopathy website. The writer, Patricia Maché, decided that she would defend homeopathy and try to refute both Dr. Rachie and yours truly. Her editorial, appearing in the September 2010 issue of “online journal of homeopathy” Interhomeopathy, the “international homeopathic Internet journal,” is entitled The never-ending story of Placebo. It’s virtually a textbook case in the logical fallacies, bad arguments, magical thinking, and pseudoscience that homeopaths routinely use ot justify their woo, so much so that I just couldn’t resist having a little fun providing a bit of my own editorializing. I mean, really. How on earth could I resist?

If there’s one reason I was really, really irritated by Frankel et al, is because I knew it would be seized upon by homeopaths because (1) it comes from M.D. Anderson and (2) because it I knew they would point to it as “evidence” that there must be more than placebo effects to homeopathic remedies because allegedly this study “proved” that there were real effects in cell culture due to these remedies when it did no such thing. True to form, Maché goes right for both. But first she has to repeat the same old canards about homeopathy:

There is an increasing pressure on homeopaths to prove that the working of homeopathy is not simply a placebo effect, as is so often asserted by its sceptics. For those who repeatedly witness the rapid, gentle, and lasting effects of adequate homeopathic treatment, especially on those not prone to the effects of placebo (babies, animals, comatose, and … sceptics), there is little need to prove its effectiveness, though there always remains a healthy curiosity towards its working mechanism.

Translation: We don’t need no steekin’ science to tell us that homeopathy works. We believe it because of testimonials and our own misleading personal experience, full of confirmation and observation of regression to the mean. I will give Maché props for having a bit of a sense of humor with that crack about the comatose and skeptics. Of course, reading Maché’s prose would render most skeptics comatose, so full of pseudoscience and logical fallacies is it, but give her her little joke for the moment. Never mind that homeopathy works just as well on babies, animals, and the comatose just as well as it works on skeptics or anyone else; i.e., not at all. It is, after all, water.

After invoking a study on piglets (which I may have to look up), Maché decides to invoke the dreaded breast cancer homeopathy study that Dr. Rachie and I so thoroughly deconstructed and then complain about how mean we awful skeptics were:

The study was met with enthusiasm by the homeopathic community and, unsurprisingly, with derision by the section of the scientific community, which calls itself ‘the sceptics’. Citing a consistent lack of statistics, which is a valid point,* Dr Rachie in her ‘Sceptics’ book of Pooh-Pooh’, (yes, that is its real name!) proceeds to dismiss the whole study and indirectly calls for the heads of the International Journal of Oncology‘s review panel for having allowed this ‘tripe’ to be published.

I find it rather amusing that Maché admits that Dr. Rachie had a vaild point in criticizing the lack of statistics in the paper. Note the asterisk, though. Apparently Maché actually contacted Dr. Frankel, who responded:

The protocol followed the same research protocol done for initial investigation of any chemotherapeutic drug as practiced in any leading cancer research institute, prior to animal studies and clinical trials … The statistical analysis was done on each set of experiments; due to lack of space in the journal we could not have elaborated on all the details, but the results were significant and easily noticeable…

How lame. As Dr. Rachie and I both pointed out, the statistical analysis (or, more properly, the lack thereof) was completely below the minimal standards expected for a paper like this. Let’s put it this way. Both Dr. Rachie and I are researchers. I’m a cancer researcher. I’ve done cell culture studies similar to the studies reported in Frankel et al. I’ve even grown several of the same cell lines that Frankel et al used, in particular MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells, the latter of which are one of the main cell culture models we use in my lab right now. Let me just assure you that I would never, ever publish studies using these cells without proper statistical analysis. Perhaps the most hilarious part of Dr. Frankel’s response was his claim that they didn’t “elaborate on all the details” because of lack of space. That excuse is a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys. The lack of statistics went far beyond skimping on the description of how statistical analyses were done. We’re talking no statistical analysis here. This isn’t just a quibble, either. “Easily noticeable” just doesn’t cut it in scientific studies, particularly in studies this poorly designed. Dr. Rachie was correct to castigate the editors and peer reviewers of IJO for letting this paper pass peer review.

Of most interest to me, Maché didn’t like one thing I said in particular:

Another sceptic, writing under the pen name of Orac, expectedly adds ‘water’ to Dr Rachie’s mill, in a similar tone. There is, however, an interesting sentence in his diatribe: “It tests a remedy so highly implausible as to be safely considered, for all practical intents and purposes, impossible barring some truly extraordinary evidence coming to light, evidence sufficient to overthrow long-established science in multiple disciplines.” (my emphasis)

Five centuries ago, uncannily similar words were addressed by Luther to Copernicus, who had presented his heliocentric theory: “this fool who wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy.” Isn’t it ironic to find the sceptics caught in the unenviable position of the Church of those times, which relentlessly persecuted anyone who dared oppose its authority and threaten its power, and systematically used brutal repression in lieu of scientific argumentation. Thankfully, times have changed and the flames of the stakes have been replaced by fiery words; Edzard Ernst does not shy away from using the word ‘heretics’ to qualify homeopaths! (see Jan’s column)

Ah, yes. The old accusation of “your science is just another religion” or that “you’re dogmatic and repressing homeopathy,” or, as I like to call it, “Help, help, I’m being repressed!” I also find it amusing that Maché considers the criticism of two skeptics–that’s right, two skeptics–to be the equivalent of being “relentlessly persecuted” and “brutal repression.” Let’s not forget that the Church imprisoned and killed heretics. Now, metaphorically, apparently we’re burning those poor homeopaths at the stake with “fiery words.” What wimps! All Dr. Rachie and I did was to send a few well-aimed barbs the way of Frenkel et al and the IJO. Science is not for the faint of heart. One of the great things about science is that you have to be able to defend your work, as it will be tested and attacked. Unlike what Maché apparently thinks, this is actually a good thing. By being subjected to a “Darwinian” selection through constant testing, scientific ideas either survive or they do not. Frankel et al‘s ideas, clearly, are too fragile to withstand legitimate criticism, and Maché feels the need to jump in and defend it.

As for the claim that we are using “brutal repression” in lieu of science, all I can say is: Project much? After all, homepathy is far more like religion than science. No evidence will sway its adherents. No amount of demonstration of its inherent magical thinking, akin to sympathetic magic and the law of contagion, sways its believers. Homeopathy remains water, no matter how much homeopaths try to claim otherwise or that water has a magical mystical memory that, as Tim Minchin so famously put it, remembers the good bits but forgets all the poo that’s been in it. In any case, both Dr. Rachie and I did a ridiculously detailed scientific review of the paper. Maché cherry picked a couple of criticisms that she thought she could deflect with some handwaving and ignored the copious other substantive scientific criticisms of this misbegotten excuse for a study, a study so bad that I wouldn’t even excuse an undergraduate student who presented experiments and data like this to me.

Finally, let’s get back to Maché’s disdain for my statement, some version of which or other I almost inevitably use whenever the topic of homeopathy comes up, that homeopathy is so highly implausible from a basic science standpoint as to be safely considered, for all practical intents and purposes, impossible, barring some extraordinary evidence coming to light, evidence sufficient to overthrow long-established science in multiple disciplines.” Maché seems to think that’s a statement of dogma, but in reality it is a simple statement of science. Homeopathy is just that improbable. However, even though homeopathy is that improbable, note that I said only for all practical purposes it can be safely considered impossible. That is simply my way of putting the burden of proof where it belongs: On the homeopaths making the incredible claims.

Look at it this way. If homoepaths could produce compelling evidence of the efficacy of homeopathy, then science would be forced to reconsider the huge swaths of evidence that undergird the statement that homeopathy is so incredibly improbable as to be in essence impossible. If, for example, a homeopathic remedy, prepared as homeopaths say it should be prepared, could cure 10 patients in a row with stage IV pancreatic cancer, that would be evidence so compelling that even I would say we should take a look. If homepaths could show that they can reliably differentiate between homeopathic remedies and placebos when blinded to which is which, even I would say we should take a look. If homeopaths could provide compelling evidence for the princple of “like cures like,” which under current science is nothing more than prescientific sympathetic magic, evne I would say that we should take a look and possibly even reconsider.

No homeopath has ever produced such evidence. Instead, they tell us we are too close-minded for expecting a level of evidence that is at least on the same planet, as far as quantity and quality are concerned, as the mountains of evidence supporting the physics, chemistry, and biology that show that homeopathy is impossible.

Is it too much to ask for some evidence on that level? I don’t think so.

But apparently Maché does, as she winds up her screed with a classic ploy of pseudoscience, namely incorrectly shifting the burden of proof to the skeptics, rather than to the homeopathic scientists (and, believe me, any science in the study Maché cites is homeopathic to the point where all science has been diluted away) producing such crappy studies:

Would not it be another pleasant change, however, if instead of ‘pooh-poohing’ works that do not follow the established creed, the sceptics took up the real challenge to answer Dr Frenkel’s research on the scientific ground to which it belongs and reproduce his experiment in their own labs, to either confirm or oppose his findings. Alternatively, they could make the experiment to come to homeopathic practices, observe for a week or a month, and collect the data which they will be able to use to, again, confirm or oppose that which homeopaths experience every working day. Then, and only then, will we have a truly scientific dialogue, where both partners come to the table with facts and figures, with truth as ultimate aim.

Uh, no, Maché. You are the one challenging well-established science. It’s up to you to bring the science to the table if you think you can. Real scientists have better things to do than to chase down the liquid equivalent of fairy dust that homeopaths peddle and try to prove a negative. In fact, I’ll go one further. For there to be a “truly scientific dialogue,” there have to be scientists who have valid science to come to the table. Currently, only one side has the science now, and, I’m sorry Ms. Maché, but it isn’t the homeopaths. All homeopaths have is water, sympathetic magic, and the law of contagion.

Ms. Maché concludes by invoking what I like to call the Galileo Gambit, likening homeopaths to–who else?–Galileo. She even goes so far to ask, “Is it not the desired aim of true science to be forever overthrowing itself?”

Not exactly.

While science is continually changing, it’s far more common for science to build on what has come before. New science tends to replace incomplete understanding with more complete understanding, not complete misunderstanding with understanding. Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity didn’t invalidate Newton’s Laws of Motion. Rather, it showed that Newton’s Laws were incomplete at velocities close to the speed of light and could not account for the behavior of matter at such velocities. However, at velocities much lower than the speed of light (which is where we all live), Newton’s laws describe motion with a high degree of accuracy. Thus, Einstein’s theory described motion more completely, reducing Newton’s laws to a special case at lower velocities. Any new theory to replace Einstein’s theory will no doubt do the same, leaving Einstein’s theory as a special case of the new theory.

It’s hard to imagine a theory that would make homeopathy a plausible modality. Perhaps such a theory exists. It’s incredibly unlikely, but not completely impossible. However, because such a theory is so incredibly implausible based on what we currently know about physics and chemistry, if Maché’s homeopaths think that that paradigm is wrong, then it is up to them to prove it through science.

It has been repeated so many times that perhaps it’s become a cliche, but whenever a woo-meister invokes Galileo, I have to retort that to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough to claim persecution at the hands of unsympathetic science. You must also be right.

Show me you’re right, homeopaths, using science. Whining about “persecution” does not impress me.

Comments

  1. #1 Pablo
    August 31, 2010

    There is an increasing pressure on homeopaths to prove that the working of homeopathy is not simply a placebo effect

    What the hell? You mean they actually have to show that homeopathy does something for real, and the supposed remedies are more than just water?

    Well isn’t that just the devil of it all…?

  2. #2 Kausik Datta
    August 31, 2010

    Orac, just for shits and giggles, you should really look at the link to Ian Brook’s Nature Network blogpost I sent you a few weeks back. It garnered >200 comments, and in the comment section the peddlers of pseudoscience were out in force, in form of the ubiquitous DUllman, an incoherent crank named John Benneth and – what they obviously considered a coup de grâce – a Nobel Laureate Physicist from Cambridge, Brian Josephson. As you can imagine, all the classical canards about homeopathy were flung about, the Shang study denounced, and “water memory” praised – defended by Josephson as the ultimate Argument from Authority. There was liberal dropping of the names of Benveniste, Montagnier, Rustom Roy, as well as hints to Josephson’s “Cambridge colleagues”, who all apparently belong to his crony circle and agree upon properties of ultra-diluted… water, claiming superior knowledge from Materials Sciences. What was funny to watch was how the pro-pseudoscience trio studiously avoided answering real questions about the ‘science’ (more precisely, the lack thereof) behind the alleged effects of homeopathy. Undoubtedly, very soon DUllman would descend on this thread too, and then it begins all over again. Oy vay!

  3. #3 MosesZD
    August 31, 2010

    You know, when ever I took a math or science class I had to SHOW MY WORK. That’s all, really, that’s being asked of homeopathy. Show your work. Prove your magic water works.

    As for her ludicrous understanding of science community. It’s a brutal place. And while most scientists are decent people, there are people in science go out of their way to destroy the careers of others over differences in theories. In the end though, even if it takes time, science self-corrects because what science (as a profession) wants, more than anything, is to correctly understand and predict the operation of the universe and it’s component parts.

  4. #4 Sean Ellis
    August 31, 2010

    Since you mention the homeopathy-in-piglets study, I took a look at it when it was first touted around as a proof of homeopathy. My take on it can be found at http://moteprime.org/article.php?id=39 .

    There are some initial problems with the study, but I was unable to find a single killer blow that knocks it out completely. Since writing the article, I think that fast transmission of E. Coli between pigs in the same litter effectively decrases the sample size by removing the independence of each individual infection, but I haven’t yet allocated sufficient time to grind through the maths.

  5. #5 Tracy W
    August 31, 2010

    I once came across an interesting comment about the difference between electromagnetic field theory and psychic abilities, such as telepathy or clairvoyance. Electromagnetic fields were discovered by Ørsted in 1821. From this discovery an amazing range of new applications have been developed, not predictable ahead of time, such as radios and cellphones. Meanwhile, psychic abilities have been studied since the 19th century, but we’re still arguing over whether they exist or not. Where are the surprising new applications? That there aren’t any, after 100 years of scientific research, is a decent argument that what they’re studying doesn’t exist, especially given the obvious usefulness of psychic powers.

    If homeopathy is true, then the laws of chemistry must be vastly different to what we now think, or indeed thought in the 19th century. Homoepathy was first proposed in 1796, before electromagnetic fields. All we have is an argument that in the very subjective field of human health, there might be something going on, after 200 years of study and development. Where are the stunning new applications from these different rules of chemistry?

  6. #6 MikeMa
    August 31, 2010

    Homeopathy works. You just have to set the goals correctly.

    If the goal is income for the practitioner, then success is possible, even likely in the US. If the goal is positive, repeatable, and sustainable health outcomes, not so much.

    Actually being able to point to an observable mechanism by which homeopathic systems operate would help too. Magic, water memory, human energy vibrations – all signs that your product is a sham.

  7. #7 Chris
    August 31, 2010

    Get ready for the Green Medicine Revolution!!!

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-malerba/what-is-the-green-medicin_1_b_690443.html

    *face palm

  8. #8 Adam_Y
    August 31, 2010

    Homeopathy is just that improbable.

    Technically, homeopathy is impossible not improbable. It would be in violation of the law of mass action if it worked.

  9. #9 Jud
    August 31, 2010

    Orac writes:

    It has been repeated so many times that perhaps it’s become a cliche, but whenever a woo-meister invokes Galileo, I have to retort that to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough to claim persecution at the hands of unsympathetic science. You must also be right.

    Ah, there is only one best retort to the Galileo Gambit, from the late lamented Carl Sagan -

    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Galileo – but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

  10. #10 Vicki
    August 31, 2010

    I have a thought for all the reverse-the-burden homeopaths: if they can actually prove their stuff works, there’s a million dollars waiting from the Randi Foundation. Let them put up a million on the other side of the bet, if they want people to spend time on yet another refutation. Same conditions as Randi: the skeptic proposes the protocol, and they then work out details together.

  11. #11 trrll
    August 31, 2010

    No space for statistics? That is the most ridiculous excuse I’ve ever heard–so absurd that I can hardly see it as other than dishonest. To begin with, standard statistical methods are well known, so they don’t require much explanation–at most a few lines in methods, and just a few numbers and p values scattered through the manuscript. Maybe the equivalent of a short paragraph, at most. And while the article itself is behind a paywall, the International Journal of Oncology is not one of those high-profile journals with tight page limits, like Science or Nature. In fact, the Instructions to Authors list no length limits for any part of the manuscript other than the abstract.

  12. #12 Karl withakay
    August 31, 2010

    From the pig study:
    “Homeopathic remedies have significant benefits since there are no residues in animal products, nor does homeopathy generates resistant micro-organisms.”

    (No support was provided for this assertion.)

    Apparently not only must the laws of chemistry and physics be re-written, but so must evolutionary theory be re-written. If it kills microorganisms, you would expect those microorganisms to be able to develop at least a limited resistance or tolerance to it.

  13. #13 Mu
    August 31, 2010

    If the illustrious Dr. Frankel has all the statistical analysis done, why not publish it as supplemental material? I mean, there’s this newfangled (compared to homeopathy) thing called the world wide web, it’s easy now to make additional material available at no cost to everyone.

  14. #14 Scott
    August 31, 2010

    Technically, homeopathy is impossible not improbable. It would be in violation of the law of mass action if it worked.

    And the law of mass action could, in principle, be incorrect or incomplete. Hence improbable not impossible. “Impossible” cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

  15. #15 Sastra
    August 31, 2010

    Five centuries ago, uncannily similar words were addressed by Luther to Copernicus, who had presented his heliocentric theory: “this fool who wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy.” Isn’t it ironic to find the sceptics caught in the unenviable position of the Church of those times, which relentlessly persecuted anyone who dared oppose its authority and threaten its power, and systematically used brutal repression in lieu of scientific argumentation. Thankfully, times have changed and the flames of the stakes have been replaced by fiery words…

    Times have indeed changed, in that homeopaths are now in something akin to the unenviable position of trying to reverse the entire science of astronomy as it is currently held: e.g. the earth goes around the sun. I suppose that, in theory, it is technically possible to imagine evidence which could convince the reasonable person that the entire Copernican Theory was all an elaborate hoax, perpetrated perhaps by aliens with mind-control abilities, and the sun really goes round the earth instead — but there would have to be a pretty elaborate and unlikely set of new data. The explanation would sound like a combination of science fiction, magic, and spirituality.

    Sorta like homeopathy.

    They’re modern day Galileos arguing against the orthodox establishment — only this time they’re arguing against the old day Galileo. Make the analogy fit.

  16. #16 Dan Weber
    August 31, 2010

    nor does homeopathy generates resistant micro-organisms

    I just had a brilliant (in my mind) idea. Start a panic about homeopathic-resistant pathogens!

    I don’t quite know how to profit from it, but I’ll leave that to the biz-dev folks.

  17. #17 Travis
    August 31, 2010

    Mu, I had the same thought when I saw that excuse about the statistical analysis. I know some people who are currently editing a paper for publication and they have a gigantic supplemental material section where they have shifted many of the things that will not fit in the paper. Certainly it can be hard to get a paper down to size but in this day and age, with online access to journals, there really is no excuse for leaving out basic statistical analysis. How hard is it to throw in a sentence saying the details are in the supplemental material?

  18. #18 tonylurker
    August 31, 2010

    I just had a brilliant (in my mind) idea. Start a panic about homeopathic-resistant pathogens!

    I don’t quite know how to profit from it, but I’ll leave that to the biz-dev folks.

    Easy, just explain that all of the old homeopathic remedies are now less effective. Luckily you have developed new ones to replace them with, which you will be happy to sell.

  19. #19 T. Bruce McNeely
    August 31, 2010

    Certainly it can be hard to get a paper down to size but in this day and age, with online access to journals, there really is no excuse for leaving out basic statistical analysis.

    Aren’t electrons a non-renewable resource?

  20. #20 MikeMa
    August 31, 2010

    @T. Bruce McNeely,

    On creating electrons from SLAC:

    Shower (also called Electromagnetic Cascade Shower)
    can create photons by interacting with a medium. In a similar way, photons can create electrons and their antiparticles, positrons, by interacting with a medium. So, imagine a very high-energy electron, of the sort used at SLAC, impinging on some material. The electron can set photons into motion and these photons can, in turn, set electrons and positrons into motion, and this process can continue to repeat. One high-energy electron can set thousands of particles into motion. Albert Einstein’s famous relation governing the equivalence of matter and energy (E = mc²) governs this process — namely, matter (electrons and positrons) can be creased from pure energy and vice versa. The particle creation process only stops when the energy runs out.

    Cool, eh? Cheers!

  21. #21 Dan Weber
    August 31, 2010

    Aren’t electrons a non-renewable resource?

    But Edison’s greatest achievement came in 1879 when he invented the electric company. Edison’s design was a brilliant adaptation of the simple electrical circuit: The electric company sends electricity through a wire to a customer, then immediately gets the electricity back through another wire, then (this is the brilliant part) sends it right back to the customer again.

    This means that an electric company can sell the customer the same batch of electricity thousands of times a day a never get caught, since very few customers take the time to examine their electricity closely. In fact, the last year any new electricity was generated in the United States was 1937; the electric companies have been merely re-selling it ever since, which is why they have so much free time to apply for rate increases.

    –Dave Barry

  22. #22 esattezza
    August 31, 2010

    I work across the street from them… this makes me a sad panda.

  23. #23 Prometheus
    August 31, 2010

    This statement caught my eye:

    “…nor does homeopathy generates [sic] resistant micro-organisms.”

    Now, if homeopathy negatively affects the growth and replication of bacteria, that would be a selective pressure on them that would lead to the selection of resistant organisms over time. We have seen this in response to not only antibiotics but also to disinfectants and cleansers.

    The only exceptions are those disinfecting agents and processes that are so reactive and so powerful that all living (or non-living, i.e. viruses) organisms are destroyed (e.g. extreme temperature, concentrated chlorine bleach, etc.). And you can’t use those compounds on human tissue (or take them internally) without causing serious injury or death.

    So, if homeopathic remedies don’t result in the selection of resistant organisms, that is one more indication that they don’t work at all!

    Bottom line – if a remedy works, it has effects. If one of those effects is to kill or suppress bacteria, it will select for bacteria that have evolved a resistance to that effect. There are bacteria that are resistant to anibiotics, chlorhexidine, crude oil, high temperatures (up to 120 deg C) and even high levels of gamma radiation (over 7,000 Gy) – what reason can there be for a lack of resistance to water, even if that water has a “memory”?

    Prometheus

  24. #24 Tezcatlipoca
    August 31, 2010

    re 18

    We also know that homeopathy uses that dangerous compound di-hydrogen monoxide! DHMO. Harmless, my butt.

    http://www.dhmo.org/

  25. #25 MikeMa
    August 31, 2010

    Prometheus: Good point. A fanciful idea – The water memory, when enabled by the magic homeopathic potions, depresses the selective pressure of the organisms it effects. That is, the water memory increase results in a evolutionary memory decrease. Neat, simple, wrong but fun!

  26. #26 David Latimer
    August 31, 2010

    Homeopathy is as popular as it is because it was able to slip into the chasm of mistrust left by a profit-motivated medical establishment. When so much research is tainted by companies motivated more by dollars than people’s health, people clamour for honest advise and, unfortunately, end up in the arms of an equally profit-motivated but nicer sounding homeopathic community.

  27. #27 Dangerous Bacon
    August 31, 2010

    “When homeopaths fight back”:

    Do they slap you very, very, very lightly?

  28. #28 Jud
    August 31, 2010

    @21 – OK, this is getting a bit off-topic, but I thought you might like to know about a real life version of Barry’s sell-’em-the-same-stuff-over-and-over joke.

    In federal court in Oklahoma in the ’80s, there was a case involving a natural gas baron named, IIRC, Bobby Hefner. There was a long list of allegations, and one of them involved the fact that a Hefner company had drilled a gas well that went off course (by accident, said the company) and wound up tapping into the gas storage reservoir of Oklahoma Natural Gas, the state public gas utility. Hefner’s company sold the gas to ONG, which put it in the reservoir, from where it was pumped out by Hefner’s company and sold to ONG….

  29. #29 ababa
    August 31, 2010

    One has to wonder if homeopathy is so potent, then why don’t you hear of cases of mis-diagnosis or giving the wrong remedy to someone and causing damage. If like cures like then a remedy should do some damage if there is not a corresponding material in the body.

    Of course their answer is that Homeopathy has no side effects. If there are no side effects, then how can there be desired effects when the desired effect is not what is actually desired? Does it somehow know what you are using it for and only do that and nothing else?

  30. #30 The Gregarious Misanthrope
    August 31, 2010

    @ababa

    Because the water remembers what it’s supposed to do. Neat, no? It’s apparently better at remembering instructions than my 6 year old.

  31. #31 IHC Jay
    August 31, 2010

    I wouldn’t mind homeopathy actually working, it would save our lab a ton of money on concentrated antibodies that we use. If I could just use tap water to get the stains that I wanted it’d be so much easier. Of course then it’d be hard to distinguish which antibodies were staining…

  32. #32 Mandrellian
    August 31, 2010

    @ 27 by Dangerous Bacon

    —–
    “When homeopaths fight back”:

    Do they slap you very, very, very lightly?
    —–

    Pfft. That’s “hands-on” Western allopathic combat philosophy for you. Always having to “be there” and actually “make contact” with the opponent.

    No, what they did was stand a couple of blocks away and poke the air lightly – poor Orac’s lucky to be alive.

  33. #33 Matthew Cline
    August 31, 2010

    “…nor does homeopathy generates [sic] resistant micro-organisms.”

    If, as is claimed by many homeopaths, homeopathic remedies “stimulate the immune system”, then it wouldn’t generate resistant germs.

    @ababa:

    One has to wonder if homeopathy is so potent, then why don’t you hear of cases of mis-diagnosis or giving the wrong remedy to someone and causing damage. If like cures like then a remedy should do some damage if there is not a corresponding material in the body.

    Okay, the following is paraphrased from memory of things I read months and years ago, so can’t vouch for it being entirely accurate, but:

    According to (some) homeopaths, the reason that mis-diagnosis or the wrong remedy doesn’t do anything is because the the remedy isn’t acting upon the body, but the body and remedy are acting in concert. When a remedy is introduced into the body, the body looks at the remedy to see if it’s exactly the remedy that’s needed. If it is, the body uses it; if it isn’t, the body ignores it, and nothing happens.

    Now keep in mind that there’s lots of disagreement among various homeopaths, so some homeopaths do acknowledge that the wrong remedies can cause bad effects, while others might say that the wrong remedies cause no effects but for a different reason than the one outlined above.

  34. #34 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    August 31, 2010

    No, what they did was stand a couple of blocks away and poke the air lightly

    Isn’t that Reiki?

  35. #35 Mandrellian
    August 31, 2010

    @34 by Mepistopheles O’Brien

    —–

    “No, what they did was stand a couple of blocks away and poke the air lightly”

    Isn’t that Reiki?

    —–

    Homeoreiki-fu.

  36. #36 Kitto
    August 31, 2010

    @27

    “When homeopaths fight back”

    Do they slap you very, very, very lightly?

    Fetch…. the comfy chair!

  37. #37 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    August 31, 2010

    I think I have it now—The Universal Crank Theory…or at least as close to it as GUTs are to a ToE!

    Homeopaths are at least implicitly germ-theory denialists. They don’t seem to make an issue of it, but I don’t see how any other inference is possible. Now Germ-theory denialists and HIV/AIDS denialists all have in common a theory that disease is caused by a disturbance in some magical Field of Virtue™, caused either by your unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, or in the case of HIV denialists, the nasty, immoral things you’ve been doing. Microorganisms and viruses that we unenlightened heathens think cause disease, are just feeding on the decay created by the impurity of our essences.

    Homeopaths seem to think of all those “atoms” and “molecules” that Western Science™ emphasizes so much in the same way—as irrelevant intruders that can be ignored as they dilute the virtue of their nostrums until they occupy the roomy, virtuous realm of space in between all those nasty “atoms” and “molecules”.

    Obviously, this makes homeopathy a classical theory. They apparently think matter and its interactions are continuous and infinitely divisible. I would suggest starting a war to the death between them and the quantum-woo peddlers, if I thought for a moment that they knew what the word “quantum” meant, and weren’t just using it as a synonym for “magical effluvium”.

  38. #38 bluedevilRA
    August 31, 2010

    I always enjoy the crank theory of science/medicine. Hoist up isolated studies, fly that good and high as your standard and then wave it in the face of the mainstream scientists.

    It reminds me of Richard Dawkins responding to Young Earth (YE) Creationists. He said that to prove dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago rather than 65+ million years ago, you would need lots of dating methods all pointing to a similar time period. Liberty University has a museum of YE dinosaurs fossils, which they claim are carbon-dated to 6,000 years old. Using a single (probably flawed, in this case) dating method to overturn mountains of research? It is absolutely absurd.

    This is exactly how homeopaths, acupuncturists, chiropractors, etc operate. Imagine if we did that with one drug trials…taking a single first-in-human study and extrapolating from that.

  39. #39 Calli Arcale
    August 31, 2010

    Prometheus @ 23:

    Bottom line – if a remedy works, it has effects. If one of those effects is to kill or suppress bacteria, it will select for bacteria that have evolved a resistance to that effect. There are bacteria that are resistant to anibiotics, chlorhexidine, crude oil, high temperatures (up to 120 deg C) and even high levels of gamma radiation (over 7,000 Gy) – what reason can there be for a lack of resistance to water, even if that water has a “memory”?

    Of course, this argument (while true) will not persuade a traditional homeopath. (It may persuade the dilletante homeopath, who doesn’t really think a lot about what homeopathy really is and possibly represents a significant percentage of practicing homeopaths.) If the homeopath is really following Hahnemann, than the homeopath is almost certainly a germ theory denialist. This is why they do not believe a homeopathic remedy can trigger antibiotic resistance — they don’t act on the bacteria at all, because tha bacteria are a red herring. It’s not the bacteria making you sick; it’s an imbalance in your body’s vibrations, which can be treated by exposing the body to appropriately potentized vibrations of inverse function (more or less). So homeopathic remedies aren’t meant to kill bacteria at all, but rather to fix the problem that is making your body such a happy breeding ground for bacteria.

    Of course, less clear is why they even regard antibiotic resistance as a problem (or even real), if the bacteria aren’t causing illness….

  40. #40 Mojo
    August 31, 2010

    @Matthew Cline:

    When a remedy is introduced into the body, the body looks at the remedy to see if it’s exactly the remedy that’s needed. If it is, the body uses it; if it isn’t, the body ignores it, and nothing happens.

    Unless, of course, a “proving” is being conducted. Then the body somehow knows that the remedy is supposed to produce symptoms.

  41. #41 G.Shelley
    August 31, 2010

    The other problem with the Copernicus/Gallileo analogy is that the prevailing view wasn’t based on hundreds of years of scientific evidence and thousands of experiments or observations. It was pretty much just that people felt the world should work that way. As someone else mentioned above, homeopathy in this case is more akin to the pre-scientific view of the universe

  42. #42 Matthew Cline
    August 31, 2010

    @Mojo:

    Unless, of course, a “proving” is being conducted. Then the body somehow knows that the remedy is supposed to produce symptoms.

    Wait, I thought provings were done with undiluted, unsuccussed material?

  43. #43 Matthew Cline
    August 31, 2010

    @Calli Arcale:

    Of course, this argument (while true) will not persuade a traditional homeopath. (It may persuade the dilletante homeopath, who doesn’t really think a lot about what homeopathy really is and possibly represents a significant percentage of practicing homeopaths.)

    Even among professional homeopaths there’s lots of disagreement. Some hold that homeopathy can be used as a preventative, others hold that it can only be used to treat existing symptoms. Some support vaccination, others don’t.

  44. #44 A. Noyd
    August 31, 2010

    Calli Arcale (#39)

    If the homeopath is really following Hahnemann, than the homeopath is almost certainly a germ theory denialist.

    At least that’s some semblance of consistency. I really don’t get the people (my mother included) who turn to homeopathy for some things and SBM for the rest.

  45. #45 Mandos
    September 1, 2010

    A proving of, apparently, plutonium. Very poetic.

  46. #46 MetaEd
    September 1, 2010

    “When homeopaths fight back”: Do they slap you very, very, very lightly?

    Of course not. They slap themselves very, very lightly.

  47. #47 natural cynic
    September 1, 2010

    You silly people. The simple answer for the development of resistant bugs to homeopathic medicines is to simply do two or three more dilutions, thereby increasing the potency.

    And when homeopathic apologists attack, I was thinking more of the little fish in The Fish Slapping Dance. Bring out the halibut, Orac.

  48. #48 sophia8
    September 1, 2010

    TracyW@5: That’s what I’ve always argued about psychic powers – they’re so incredibly useful for survival that, by now, evolution would have ensured that every human would be born with some.
    Even if psychic powers aren’t dependent on genes and just pop up randomly in the human population, where are the real-life examples of it? To take a single example, why did nobody manage to teleport themselves out of the Twin Towers on 9/11?

  49. #49 John
    September 1, 2010

    On the question of the lack of negative/side effects, it makes you wonder why homeopaths don’t simply prescribe a daily dose of every homeopathic remedy to all people. After all, if the body is able to simply take strength from the “right” remedy, and not suffer from the “wrong” one, then what could be better than a pill that has every remedy in it.

    In fact, a light has just gone on in my head here. I’m going to research what homeopaths actually claim on the lack of adverse effects, parse it suitably, and then market a homeopathic panacea.

  50. #50 Andreas Johansson
    September 1, 2010

    David Latimer:

    Homeopathy is as popular as it is because it was able to slip into the chasm of mistrust left by a profit-motivated medical establishment. When so much research is tainted by companies motivated more by dollars than people’s health, people clamour for honest advise and, unfortunately, end up in the arms of an equally profit-motivated but nicer sounding homeopathic community.

    Given the choice between someone who sounds nice but incoherent and someone who sounds cold but coherent, I’ll go with the later; I can hardly be alone in this. So why don’t quacks try harder to sound like they knew what they’re talking about? It can’t be all that hard to fool the medically uneducated like myself …

  51. #51 Andrew
    September 1, 2010

    John@48: I’ve seen it claimed here that long-term usage causes diminished effects. So you couldn’t have everyone take it every day.

    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Galileo – but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

    I think it’s important to remember that they didn’t laugh at Columbus “when he said the world was round”. They would have laughed (if indeed they did laugh) because he thought* that the Earth was smaller than it was and therefore he could reasonably sail to Japan by going West. He was wrong, but luckily America was in the way so his expedition didn’t just keep going West until they all starved.

    *Contrary to existing evidence

  52. #52 Pablo
    September 1, 2010

    That’s what I’ve always argued about psychic powers – they’re so incredibly useful for survival that, by now, evolution would have ensured that every human would be born with some.

    Well, given the apparent nature of the supposed psychic abilities in the world, not necessarily. I mean, does it really impart an evolutionary advantage to know that you will find true love in the next two years, that your husband WILL find a job, he just needs to keep pitching it, and, sad to say, the most recent celebrity’s marriage is not going to last through the coming year?

    Because for some reason, that seems to be the usefulness of psychic predictions.

    As for REAL “predicting the future,” that has been developed, not evolutionarily, but through science. I have always said, if psychics had a smidgeon of the ability to predict the future as weatherpeople do, they would remarkable. Yet, pyschics get praised, and weather forecasters are made fun of.

    (currently, it is beautiful and sunny outside. Yet, the weather forecast predicts a 40% chance of rain this afternoon. It might, it might not, but 3000 years ago, what would have been said about someone who predicted rain 12 hours from now?

  53. #53 MikeMa
    September 1, 2010

    @Pablo,
    Depending on where the prediction took place and the prevailing religion, they could be burned at the stake, drowned or deified. So many irrational choices.

  54. #54 jay.sweet
    September 1, 2010

    those not prone to the effects of placebo (babies, animals, comatose, and … sceptics)

    Except that the placebo effect works very powerfully on babies, animals, and skeptics (I will refrain from repeating once again in detail my favorite anecdote about how my wife’s body language caused one of our dogs to exhibit signs of extreme distress, which vanished as soon as she left the room). And in terms of studies of efficacy — in which the placebo effect also applies to the people making the measurements — it works pretty damn well on the comatose too.

  55. #55 Andreas Johansson
    September 1, 2010

    Depending on where the prediction took place and the prevailing religion, they could be burned at the stake, drowned or deified. So many irrational choices.

    Or dismissed as masters of the obvious.

    (Today’s weather’s gone from brilliantly sunny to rain to sunny to gloomily overcast. Anyone particularly surprised by this has clearly been living under a rock for the past week or so.)

  56. #56 Seb30
    September 1, 2010

    @ 54 Jay Sweet

    Except that the placebo effect works very powerfully on babies, animals, and skeptics

    Exactly. Whenever I read someone claiming that animals are immune from placebo effects, I wonder if this person ever had a dog. Or a baby, in this case.
    I believe it’s quite established that dogs expect us to take care of them (and also babies, cats, rodents…). They wouldn’t show up at dinnertime (or cry or whatever) if they didn’t. Or maybe it’s just us projecting this feeling into them.
    Ever had your dog coming sitting next to you so you can remove bark chips he managed to get into his eyes? Mine did. I know it’s n=1, but I’ll have a hard time being convinced my dog doesn’t consider me as a healer. At any rate, I am convinced I can make him feeling better.
    If there is expectation of care, of going better, there is room for placebo effect, either in the dog/baby or in the care provider.

    It could also be that people making this claim don’t understand what is a placebo effect. Or, despite being all for Mother Nature, they don’t believe that animals have awareness.

    And as for skeptics being immune to placebo. Um. Only modesty stops me from providing personal embarassing stories.

  57. #57 Pablo
    September 1, 2010

    Or dismissed as masters of the obvious.

    Andreas – absolutely bloody not

    What is “obvious” about rain in the evening when a) it hasn’t rained in more than a week, and b) there isn’t a cloud in the sky?

    This is the point: You call it obvious, but only because you are used to reasonably accurate weather forecasts. You can actually see the radar that shows that there is rain 100 miles away and it is moving our direction. That’s because the science has been developed to allow us to do that.

    3000 years ago, that would be unheard of. There wasn’t anyway to know it was raining 100 miles away in time to tell others it was coming. Shoot, the rain that is coming this afternoon? Was predicted days ago!

    Science has an ability to predict the future with far more accuracy than any psychic ever dreamed of doing.

  58. #58 Andreas Johansson
    September 1, 2010

    I rarely see weather forecasts. What’s obvious to me, and would have been even more obvious to people 3000 years ago when houses were flimsier, is that summer weather around here is prone to sudden shifts, and that a sunny week is no guarantee it won’t rain tonight.

    Your example would, here, have been impressive if you’d put it a day earlier, saying the sunny spell almost certainly won’t end that day, rather than that it with 40% probability will end the next day.

  59. #59 Colin Day
    September 1, 2010

    @Kitto
    #36

    @27

    “When homeopaths fight back”

    Do they slap you very, very, very lightly?

    Fetch…. the comfy chair!

    Nobody expects the Homeopathic Inquisition!

  60. #60 warhelmet
    September 1, 2010

    Given that homeopathy supposedly works on animals and plants, and supposedly doesn’t cause any problems if the wrong remedy is given…

    1) How can homeopathy be used against internal parasites, pests, etc.?
    2) Why don’t homeopathic remedies cause bacterial or fungal overgrowth in some cases?
    3) Can homeopathy be used against parasitic cancers like Devil facial tumour disease?

  61. #61 Chris
    September 2, 2010

    Came across this article through Japan Probe.

    “The Science Council of Japan advises the central government on promoting scientific research in Japan, and represents the Japanese scientific community. At the press conference, Kanazawa stressed the need to prevent homeopathy from spreading through Japanese medicine as it has in the West.”
    http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/national/archive/news/2010/08/25/20100825p2a00m0na004000c.html

    http://www.japanprobe.com/2010/08/26/homeopathic-treatment-leads-to-infants-death/#respond

  62. #62 Patsyb
    September 3, 2010

    Re. Homeopathy-in-piglets study – the ‘n’ should not have been the number of piglets, it’s the number of litters. E. coli is a highly contagious disease, so a piglet in a litter with another with coliform diarrhea is at much higher risk of developing disease than one in a litter without disease. Also the risk of developing coliform diarrhoea is a sow effect as sow immunity plays a major role in its development, so all the way down the line it is a study of sows not piglets. Clear and obvious abuse of statistics – especially clear as they don’t even discuss the number of affected litters.

  63. #63 ScepticsBane
    September 4, 2010

    Some Background on Anti-Homeopathists …

    What’s Behind Ben Goldacre?

    http://www.whale.to/vaccine/behind_ben_goldacre.html

    Alternative medicine council ousts critic

    26th August 2010 – Prof. David Colquhoun sacked from the CNHC Conduct & Competence Committee!

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=413175

    http://www.cnhc.org.uk/pages/index.cfm?page_id=65

    Edzard Ernst Exposed
    He admits no qualifications in homeopathy during interview
    http://www.hmc21.org/edzard-ernst/4543212059

  64. #64 chris
    September 6, 2010

    #63
    Scopie’s Law! Fail.

  65. #65 Calli Arcale
    September 7, 2010

    ScepticsBane — I notice you have not provided any sort of evidence in favor of homeopathy. Was that intended to be in any way persuasive?

  66. #66 Antaeus Feldspar
    September 7, 2010

    ScepticsBane, you apparently believe whatever it is that John Scudamore’s “whale.to” has to say about Ben Goldacre is true.

    Does this mean that you also believe that the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is true, despite it being known early in the 20th century that the whole thing was plagiarized from a 19th century political pamphlet aimed at Napoleon III?

    Since Scudamore presents them both as true, it’s not immediately apparent why you would accept one as true and not the other. So please do tell us, do you believe that The Protocols are true?

  67. #67 Chris
    September 7, 2010

    Or that a satanic ley line burned Scudamore’s bum?

    As I said to the exact same comment placed elsewhere, SkepticsBane is more of a laughing stock than a “bane.”

  68. #68 objective confirmation, not opinion
    September 7, 2010

    Orac, I’m unsure if you are you up to date on the science since the 1970s concerning the placebo argument? Many still uphold your belief that “Said treatment doesn’t work, since it’s just water.” This statement has been unequivocally shown to be untrue.

    Dr. Rustum Roy (RIP), in the video at 22:55 of Penn State University, presented experiments done since the 1970s by himself and others in various US university labs that show that the structure of water can easily be changed for extended periods of time. With that change of structure comes a change of functional properties. The experiments have been repeated many times over the years, including one that showed that the structure of homeopathic waters had been altered. The placebo argument has been debunked for quite some time. You can reference papers by Vezzoli, Dachille, and Roy on “experimental thermodynamics” = many liquids, esp. covalent ones, have been proven since the 1970s, to have many different stable phases (structures).

    You can also watch a video of him presenting this evidence here: http://mediasite.uchc.edu/Mediasite41/Viewer/?peid=407916ea-6301-4ede-b04f-c3650e4073a7#

    Dr. Rustum Roy speaks at 22:55.

    With this evidence, the argument that homeopathic waters are simply water has been refuted and thus the argument permanently relegated to the realms of unverified speculation and necromancy.

  69. #69 Orac
    September 7, 2010

    You cited Rustum Roy’s work as evidence for homeopathy?

    Heh.

    Heh heh.

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

    I’m sorry, I just can’t help it. You’re so funny, I can’t stop laughing.

  70. #70 Chris
    September 7, 2010

    Yeah, he/she seems to think the three year old debate is some kind of proof. Or something.

  71. #71 objective confirmation, not opinion
    September 7, 2010

    let me put 1 + 1 together for you…

    your argument = homeopathic medicine is just diluted water, i.e., water is inert.

    rustum roy’s labwork (oft repeated and is easily reproducible with a predictable outcome, i.e., verified by the scientific method) = water is not inert.

    final survey (at least in the realms of scientific inquiry and not in your comical world of ignoring evidence) = your placebo argument is refuted.

    let me also clarify something that you assumed: i did not say it was proof of homeopathy’s efficacy. it shows that water is always inert. if you’re able to objectively grasp this point and understand that one of your arguments is thus false, then perhaps the discussion can continue.

  72. #72 Chris
    September 7, 2010

    On what planet is water “inert”?

  73. #73 objective confirmation, not opinion
    September 7, 2010

    correction: water is NOT always inert.

  74. #74 objective confirmation, not opinion
    September 7, 2010

    chris, thanks and pardon me for the incorrect usage…

    i should have said that “water’s properties can change.”

  75. #75 Calli Arcale
    September 8, 2010

    I’m aware water’s physical phase can change, and of course it can change in other ways; however, I’m not aware of any way in which it can hold a memory of a substance, and thus far, the evidence provided remains unconvincing to me. I’m also not certain how if water can do it, why does that validate the use of other diluents (e.g. alcohol) or the practice of evaporating the water on a sugar substrate to produce a remedy in pill form? I’ve never really been clear on how the chemistry is supposed to transfer.

    objective confirmation:

    Orac, I’m unsure if you are you up to date on the science since the 1970s concerning the placebo argument? Many still uphold your belief that “Said treatment doesn’t work, since it’s just water.” This statement has been unequivocally shown to be untrue.

    Actually, that’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying that “said treatment has not been demonstrated to work, which is unsurprising because it is just water.” There is a crucial distinction there. He isn’t dismissing it purely based on its implausibility. He’s also dismissing it based on lack of evidence of effect.

    I have seen studies purporting to show a positive effect for homeopathy, but I have not found any to be convincing. Most show a subtle effect, at best, and do not adequately control for other variables. Many homeopaths use special pleading to claim it is impossible to test their therapy; this seems awfully convenient for them, as it means no one can tell if it’s bogus. It’s also not true — complicated, individualized treatments can certainly be tested. It just takes work, and oddly, not many homeopathic researchers seem inclined to that. Most homeopathic studies are never followed up on, even the ones that appear positive. Just about the only one I’ve seen replicated was Benveniste’s famous work with bacteria, and the replications yielded disappointing results.

  76. #76 Militant Agnostic
    September 8, 2010

    Chris @67

    You keep bringing up these Satanic ley lines.

    Being unfamiliar with Scudamore’s full opus of whackaloonity, I am wondering if you have a reference or some context for this. I have work to do and I fear that investigating this via Google may render me mentally unfit for any task requiring even a modicum of cognition.

  77. #77 objective confirmation, not opinion
    September 8, 2010

    homeopathic treatment is individualized, this is to say that ten people could have arthritis and that each of them could walk out with a different remedy because homeopathy does not select a drug according to disease name. homeopathy is prescribed according to a patient’s individual expression of a disease, i.e., one person’s arthritic symptoms is different from another’s. for example, patient A may have there symptoms worse at night and better daytime, while another patient’s arthritis is aggravated in the day and is better at night. patient A’s arthritis may also be worse on motion and better rest while patient B’s arthritis is better motion and worse rest. we may also see better cold applications vs. worse cold applications. these individual differences guide a homeopath to select a remedy and not just indiscriminately give an “arthritis drug” to all patients.

    thus with individualization of symptoms in mind, a standard double-blind trial, which prescribes one drug only, divests a homeopath of their ability to prescribe whichever remedy from their pharmacy that best fits an individual picture of symptoms of an arthritis patient. double-blind trials, in essence, don’t allow homeopaths to prescribe based on their principles of prescribing. thus, a double-blind trial where one remedy is given to a sample of patients may not be the correct remedy for any of the patients. to measure homeopathy this way is to evaluate apples by the characteristics and measures of oranges.

    regardless of this fact, there have been many homeopathic clinical trials performed that showed homeopathy was better than a placebo. i believe many were referenced in an early post by another person.

    to have a double-blind clinical trial where a homeopath could prescribe according to homeopathic prescribing methods with the full pharmacy at their disposal while another sample of people received placebos…would be a fair test of homeopathy’s efficacy.

  78. #78 Antaeus Feldspar
    September 8, 2010

    MA, I’ll let Chris answer about the ley lines, but I think perhaps even funnier is Scudamore’s page on dolphins: http://whale.to/b/dolphins_h.html

    Even just the title of one of the linked articles, “Lines of Force Around Our Flying Dolphin,” is enough to give me some much-needed giggles.

  79. #79 Chris
    September 8, 2010

    Militant Agnostic, your wish is my command (it used to be on the Rational Wiki page on Scopie’s Law, but that changed). It is on this page:
    http://www.whale.to/b/cbblack.html … which he edited (see the broken page on one of the early paragraphs).

    Unfortunately Google Groups has excised the Usenet group that he posted his warning on ley lines. Fortunately it is all saved on my own (and it is a sign of honor) whale.to page. Oh, enjoy!

  80. #80 Chris
    September 8, 2010

    Woo Hoo! I found the thread! Usenet used to be fun. Emphasis on the past tense.

  81. #81 Chris
    September 8, 2010

    (I found the Usenet thread, but the link is being held by random blog software)

  82. #82 Militant Agnostic
    September 8, 2010

    Antaeus Feldspar @78
    Did Scudamore read Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and believe it was a non-fiction book?

  83. #83 adelady
    September 8, 2010

    Individualised prescribing, objective c.n.o?

    I can assure you that good practitioners of SBM do the same. For my arthritis and assorted complicating conditions and ailments, my endocrinologist and rheumatologist were not terribly helpful. But an anaesthetist specialising in rehab for all manner of joint, muscle and other chronic pain conditions was absolutely fantastic. Funnily enough, he took all of those individual issues into account.

    I’m not sure from reading your comment. Were you suggesting that such a double blind trial of homeopathy would use qualified homeopathy practitioners prescribing – on the basis you describe – to groups of patients without the practitioners knowing whether the phials of liquids supplied to patients contained plain water or preparations?

    I thought this had been done? Or just not to your satisfaction.

  84. #84 Militant Agnostic
    September 8, 2010

    Thanks Chris – I also now realize why your style resembles that of someone who used to post here often under a toxic nym :)

  85. #85 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @ocno

    Actually, a randomized, double-blind trial of homeopathy could be done. Just make your inclusion/exclusion criteria really strict so that the symptoms of all subjects are as close as possible (i.e., only those with arthritis that is worse during the day than night and better at rest than at motion).

    To suggest that a double-blind RCT cannot be done is just copping out and using special pleading.

  86. #86 Calli Arcale
    September 8, 2010

    Sometimes I wonder if homoepaths and other alt-med proponents who say it can’t be studied simply can’t come to terms with the fact that science is *hard work*. Certainly grade-school science doesn’t make it look hard; I think a lot of people never get to the point of learning that science isn’t just memorizing a bunch of facts and doing cool stuff like producing hydrogen by electrolysis and then lighting it on fire. It’s certainly not a field for people with a thin skin or a lot of pride, because it will chew you up and spit you out.

  87. #87 objective confirmation, not opinion
    September 8, 2010

    Todd W., I wish it were as simple as that. But as is usually the case, such a homeopathic trial would more than likely be dismissed because the 1.5-hr consultation time (avg. length of a consultation) required before prescribing would be seen as an extra variable that could influence the subjects in addition to remedies given.

    Homeopathy doesn’t follow western principles of a 5-min. diagnosis and immediate drug protocol for the diagnosis. Perhaps you can understand why this is a conundrum and not a cop out? More than likely, as is the general attitude of this blog and the majority of its posters, such a reality will not be entertained by you and instead be cast off as another failed attempt to cover up for homeopathy. For a scientific blog, objectivity seems here to be ruled by opinion, vitriol, and emotion.

  88. #88 objective confirmation, not opinion
    September 8, 2010

    re: “Sometimes I wonder if homoepaths and other alt-med proponents who say it can’t be studied simply can’t come to terms with the fact that science is *hard work*.”

    is this the hard work to which you’re referring? a drug’s efficacy is approved by the FDA, a government regulatory body that is largely funded by the very industry that it is supposed to be regulating, that is big pharma itself.

    or perhaps the hard work of another manipulation called “medical ghost writing?” yes, pharmaceutical companies authoring their own reports on yet-to-be approved drugs that they then have doctors sign off on for a bursary of cash. if you’re unfamiliar…here’s an article from the NY Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/health/25ghost.html. or perhaps you prefer some articles from pubmed on the topic:

    -Ghostwriting: The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing That Just Got Bigger
    -How ghost-writing threatens the credibility of medical knowledge and medical journals
    -Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry?
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pmc.Pmc_LimitsTab.LimitsOff=true&db=pmc&cmd=search&term=ghost%20writing

  89. #89 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @ocno

    But as is usually the case, such a homeopathic trial would more than likely be dismissed because the 1.5-hr consultation time (avg. length of a consultation) required before prescribing would be seen as an extra variable that could influence the subjects in addition to remedies given.

    Homeopathy doesn’t follow western principles of a 5-min. diagnosis and immediate drug protocol for the diagnosis. Perhaps you can understand why this is a conundrum and not a cop out? More than likely, as is the general attitude of this blog and the majority of its posters, such a reality will not be entertained by you and instead be cast off as another failed attempt to cover up for homeopathy.

    How prescient of you. Yes, it is another failed attempt to cover up for homeopathy.

    You see, although I am not, myself, a scientist, I am a member of an institutional review board. IRBs review research protocols to ensure the protection of research subjects. If there’s something I learned in my IRB work (which is volunteer, by the way…no financial influences here), it is that the research environment can be quite well-controlled to account for such things like a 1.5-hour consultation. It would be written into the study protocol. All subjects, regardless of which treatment they are randomized to receive, would get the consultation.

    Hell, there are studies that I’ve reviewed that have 2-4 hour screening visits, followed by multiple subsequent visits.

    So, we would have very stringent inclusion/exclusion criteria to ensure that all subjects have, as close as possible, the same symptoms. All subjects receive a 1.5-hour consultation (probably as part of the screening process to ensure subjects meet the inclusion/exclusion criteria). Subjects would then be randomized to receive either the homeopathic solution or a placebo. The homeopathy practitioner interviewing and producing the diagnoses/solutions would not be the one administering the solutions, so that they are blinded to what treatment the subjects receive. The subjects would also not be aware whether they were receiving the true solution prepared by the homeopath or a placebo. Furthermore, the individual(s) doing the data analysis would also be unaware who received which solution. Only after the last subject was administered a solution and the last data was collected and analyzed would the blind be broken.

    So, yeah, homeopathy can be studied under randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled conditions. Any other excuses to offer as to why it couldn’t?

  90. #90 Chris
    September 8, 2010

    Homeopathy doesn’t follow western principles of a 5-min. diagnosis and immediate drug protocol for the diagnosis. Perhaps you can understand why this is a conundrum and not a cop out?

    Well aren’t you the little Energizer Bunny of Special Pleading?

  91. #91 Raging Bee
    September 8, 2010

    Homeopathy doesn’t follow western principles of a 5-min. diagnosis and immediate drug protocol for the diagnosis.

    That’s not a “Western principle,” moron. The only five-minute “diagnosis” you’ll ever see is the kind where a doctor takes only five minutes to refer you to a specialist — or an ER. Like, if you go to your regular GP with chest pains and numbness in your arms, he’ll take less than five minutes to call an ambulance to get you to a hospital. (The folks at the hospital, of course, will take more than five minutes to treat your heart attack once you get there.)

    Perhaps you can understand why this is a conundrum and not a cop out?

    It’s a cop-out because all you’re doing is making excuses to avoid having to prove anything; and refusing to offer an alternative method of verifying whether homeopathy really works.

  92. #92 squirrelelite
    September 8, 2010

    @ocnu,

    I’ll give your comments a little bit more serious consideration when you provide some “objective confirmation” that you can reliably and repeatably distinguish between a homeopathically diluted (greater than 12C) prepartion of anything and plain distilled water.

    The last I heard, the JREF still has a little award available for that, too.

    On the ghostwriting issue, I second Todd W’s comment at SBM today:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=6743#more-6743

    Ghostwriting is marketing, plain and simple. If companies engage in such, then they should face the same types of penalties for other inappropriate, misleading or outright fraudulent marketing, from fines to removal of approval of the product.

  93. #93 Calli Arcale
    September 8, 2010

    objective confirmation:

    re: “Sometimes I wonder if homoepaths and other alt-med proponents who say it can’t be studied simply can’t come to terms with the fact that science is *hard work*.”

    is this the hard work to which you’re referring? a drug’s efficacy is approved by the FDA, a government regulatory body that is largely funded by the very industry that it is supposed to be regulating, that is big pharma itself.

    No, I’m not talking about marketing and lobbying and other political crap. I’m talking about SCIENCE. However, if you think regulatory approval is all it takes to prove a drug (and yes, homeopathic remedies all have regulatory approval), then you really do not have the foggiest idea what I’m talking about. Regulatory approval is nice, and certainly necessary for legal marketing of the drug to the general public. But it’s not proof of anything.

    Proof comes in many forms. To prove that a drug is effective, you need to do science. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a homeopathic preparation of occilinococcum or 75 mg of Zantac. The same principles apply. You can ask, through science, lots of different questions to explore a particular treatment modality. The most rigorous studies to date have all explored specific aspects of homeopathy. I am not aware of any rigorous studies looking at the whole ball of wax, but just because nobody’s bothered to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

    I like Todd’s idea. All patients undergo the 1.5 hour consultation with a homeopath and are prescribed remedies. Half (randomly assigned, with everybody blinded) get the actual remedies they were prescribed, while the other half get inert equivalents. Continue this for a few months, while periodically evaluating the patients to see if the study group gets better while the control group does not.

    Yes, it’s hard work, but it could certainly be done.

  94. #94 Todd W.
    September 13, 2010

    Treatment of acute childhood diarrhea with homeopathic medicine: a randomized clinical trial in Nicaragua.
    Jacobs J, Jimenez LM, Gloyd SS, Gale JL, Crothers D.

    Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle.

    OBJECTIVE. Acute diarrhea is the leading cause of pediatric morbidity and mortality worldwide. Oral rehydration treatment can prevent death from dehydration, but does not reduce the duration of individual episodes. Homeopathic treatment for acute diarrhea is used in many parts of the world. This study was performed to determine whether homeopathy is useful in the treatment of acute childhood diarrhea. METHODOLOGY. A randomized double-blind clinical trial comparing homeopathic medicine with placebo in the treatment of acute childhood diarrhea was conducted in Leon, Nicaragua, in July 1991. Eighty-one children aged 6 months to 5 years of age were included in the study. An individualized homeopathic medicine was prescribed for each child and daily follow-up was performed for 5 days. Standard treatment with oral rehydration treatment was also given. RESULTS. The treatment group had a statistically significant (P < .05) decrease in duration of diarrhea, defined as the number of days until there were less than three unformed stools daily for 2 consecutive days. There was also a significant difference (P < .05) in the number of stools per day between the two groups after 72 hours of treatment. CONCLUSIONS. The statistically significant decrease in the duration of diarrhea in the treatment group suggests that homeopathic treatment might be useful in acute childhood diarrhea. Further study of this treatment deserves consideration.
    *******************************
    Homeopathy Proven Successful for ADHD
    Randall Neustaedter OMD

    The number of children put on drugs for attention problems is staggering, and school authorities pressure parents to use dangerous stimulant medications and antidepressants to keep children behaving in specific desirable patterns in the classroom. The approach of holistic pediatrics offers an effective management system for attention problems (so-called ADD and ADHD). An important component of this system includes the prescription of constitutional homeopathic medicines according the principles of classical homeopathy.

    Clinical Study Design

    Now a carefully controlled clinical trial has shown that homeopathy does significantly improve attention. This study was published in the July 27, 2005 online edition of the European Journal of Pediatrics. The study, conducted in Switzerland, followed 62 children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). All children were carefully diagnosed with a number of screening instruments to verify the diagnosis of ADHD, excluding other diagnoses. The study involved three phases. First the children were treated with a constitutional homeopathic medicine individualized to their case. Only the children who improved by at least 50 percent on an ADHD rating scale were included in the second phase of the study, a crossover trial with a placebo group. Following that crossover phase, the children were then treated again with their homeopathic medicine in an open label phase.

    The primary device for measuring improvement was the Conners Global Index (CGI), a 10-item rating scale containing the most important ADHD symptoms (temper outbursts, excitability, impulsivity, overactivity, crying often, inattentive, fidgeting, disturbing other children, easily frustrated, failure to finish things, quickly changing moods). Rating: 0= never, 1= occasionally, 2= often, 3= very often. Therefore the higher the score the more prominent and severe the symptoms. Other assessment instruments included standardized achievement and intelligence tests.

    The medicines used included Calc-carb (15), Sulphur (8), Chamomilla (5), Lycopodium (5), Silica (5), Hepar-sulph (4), Nux-vom (4), China (3), Ignatia (3), and Mercurius (3). Each of the following were used in one case only: Capsicum, Causticum, Hyoscyamus, Phosphorus, Phosphoric-acid, Sepia, and Staphysagria. Each was used on a daily bases in the Q3 to Q42 potency (LM). No other treatment of any kind was permitted during the course of the study.

    The progress under homeopathic treatment was assessed with the parents only at intervals of 4 weeks. After an unlimited period of observation, children eligible for the crossover phase of the trial were randomly assigned to either receive the appropriate homeopathic medicine or a placebo in a blinded trial. During the second period of the crossover phase, the groups were switched. Following the crossover phase, the children were then treated with their homeopathic medicine in an open label phase of the trial.

    Study Results

    Results showed that children did not improve while taking placebo, but continued to improve while taking the homeopathic medicine during the blinded phase of the trial and in the post-crossover phase. The median Conners rating for ADHD symptoms dropped from 19 at the start of treatment to a median of 8 within 6 weeks after the crossover phase of the trial. During the blinded trial the children receiving placebo had a high CGI rating of 12 compared to the homeopathic group with a rating of 9. After all children were returned to their homeopathic medicine, both groups returned to the low symptom level they had achieved before the crossover phase (median of 8).

    The authors formed a definitive conclusion from this study. "The results of this trial point to the effectiveness of homeopathy in the treatment of ADHD."
    **************************8
    Br Homeopath J. 2001 Oct;90(4):180-2.

    Comment in: Br Homeopath J. 2001 Oct;90(4):178-9.

    Homeopathy in acute otitis media in children

    Frei H, Thurneysen A.

    Spezialarzt FMH fur Kinder and Jugendliche, FA Homoopathie SVHA, Laupen, Switzerland. dr.heiner.frei@swissonline.ch

    The conventional antibiotic treatment of acute otitis media (AOM) faces a number of problems, including antibiotic resistance. Homeopathy has been shown to be capable of treating AOM successfully. As AOM has a high rate of spontaneous resolution, a trial to prove any treatment-effect has to demonstrate very fast resolution of symptoms. The purpose of this study was to find out how many children with AOM are relieved of pain within 12 h after the beginning of homeopathic treatment, making additional measures unnecessary. Two hundred and thirty children with AOM received a first individualized homeopathic medicine in the paediatric office. If pain-reduction was not sufficient after 6 h, a second (different) homeopathic medicine was given. After a further 6 h, children who had not reached pain control were started on antibiotics. Pain control was achieved in 39% of the patients after 6 h, another 33% after 12 h. This resolution rate is 2.4 times faster than in placebo controls. There were no complications observed in the study group, and compared to conventional treatment the approach was 14% cheaper.

  95. #95 Todd W.
    September 13, 2010

    Why, it looks like someone has decided to sock-puppet using my name.

  96. #96 Chris
    September 13, 2010

    That should be a bannable offense.

  97. #97 squirrelelite
    September 13, 2010

    Looks like the same comment was posted on How Does Homeopathy Work:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/02/how_does_homeopathy_work.php#comment-2794949

    The pseudonym matches the post just before on More Legal Thuggery…

    Looks like our friend Person X or MMPT has moved on.

    I think I remember orac or someone else writing about that Nicaraguan diabetes study. It seems like the average shortening of duration from the homeopathic treatment was half a day or less, which hardly seems even measurable, much less significant.

  98. #98 Chris
    September 13, 2010

    anyone read Tim Bolen’s latest article “Is Terry Polevoy the Information Source for Doctor ‘ s Data?…” http://www.bolenreport.com/feature_articles/Doctor's-Data-v-Barrett/Terry-polevoy-working-with-doctor's-data.htm

    what do you think?

  99. #99 Chris
    September 15, 2010

    I try to maintain my sanity by not reading Patrick Timothy Bolen. I believe this sums him up quite nicely: Tim O’Ranter

    … and I still think that any sockpuppet using the name of a person he/she disagrees with should be banned.

  100. #100 Guy Chapman
    March 9, 2012

    I have asked a large number of homeopaths now to provide two simple things that would at last place the debate on a scientific footing, rather than the medical equivalent of evolution v creationism, as it is now.

    These are: a robust general proof of the “law of similars” and a robust general proof of potentisation or the “law of infinitesimals”. Since these are the fundamental tenets of homeopathy it seems reasonable to demand that they be formally proved at the outset.

    Of course I took my cue here from previous skeptics, stretching back to Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1842. So I make it 170 years since this proof was first demanded in clearly articulated terms, during which time the world of homeopathy has produced precisely nothing.

    I am sure if people are well read they will be able to find even earlier examples of demands to prove the base premises. And I am sure that however well-read you are, you won’t be able to find the required proof.

    Homeopathy is and always has been a religion not a science or a form of medicine.

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