It figures.

I don’t know if it’s confirmation bias or not, but it seems that every time I go away on a trip, some juicy bit of blog fodder pops up. So, right here, right now, while I’m at the AACR meeting soaking up the latest and greatest in cancer science, inevitably someone posts something that normally would provoke–nay, demand–an Orac-ian deconstruction full of the usual Insolence. So what is it this time?

Dana Ullman.

Yes, everybody’s favorite homeopath for whom no science is too settled to twist and homeopathy and homeopathic “thinking” are in fact responsible for much of medical science, including vaccines, is at it again, and he’s at it at–where else?–that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post. He’s doing better this time at being topical, though. The last time around, when he tried to capitalize on Oscar nomination and then victory for Best Picture of The King’s Speech, he was months late. This time around, he’s a bit more topical in Homeopathy For Radiation Poisoning, in which he (among other inanities) tries to convince you that the entire basis of radiation therapy for cancer is homeopathic. I kid you not. Behold:

A homeopath by the name of Emil Grubbe, M.D. (1875-1960) was the first person to use radiation to treat a person with cancer (Dearborn, 2005).

In January 1896, Grubbe was a student at the Hahnemann Medical College (of Chicago, a famous homeopathic medical school). He gave radiation treatment to Mrs. Rose Lee, a woman with breast cancer.

Grubbe got the idea of using radiation as a treatment for Lee’s breast cancer from Reuben Ludlam, M.D., a professor at the homeopathic medical school. Ludlam knew that Grubbe had previously experimented with X-ray as a diagnostic procedure so much that he developed blisters and tumors on his hand and neck as a result of overexposure to this new technology.

Because one of the basic premises of homeopathic medicine is that small doses of a treatment can help to heal those symptoms that large doses are known to cause, Ludlam suggested to Grubbe that radiation may be a treatment for conditions such as tumors because it also causes them.

This incident is but one more example from history in which an insight from a homeopathic perspective has provided an important breakthrough in medical treatment.

First off, even if this were true, it would be more of an example of the proverbial stopped watch having the right time twice a day, except for homeopathy it would be more like being right twice a century. Even if it were right about something like this, it would also be a massive case of being right for the wrong reason. The reason radiation therapy works for cancer is because it damages DNA, and rapidly proliferating cells (like cancer cells) are in generally more sensitive to DNA damage than quiescent, non-proliferating cells. Consequently, cancer tends to be more sensitive to radiation than surrounding normal tissue. Second, back in 1896 scientists didn’t know any of this. All they knew is that radiation burned. Hypotheses popular around that time for the cause of cancer were chronic irritation (Rudolph Virchow) and trauma.

But what about the rest of Ullman’s claims about Grubbe? Here’s a more sober history of the man:

It was not uncommon for youngsters of 15 or 16 years of age to enter medical school in those days, but Grubbe’s formal education was so limited that he could not obtain admission to any of the not overly selective 15 or more medical schools then existing in Chicago. He enrolled, therefore, in Northern Indiana Normal School at Valparaiso and by hard work as a night watchman he was able to complete his formal premedical education and entered Hahnemann Medical College of Chicago in 1895. His talent for scientific study and teaching led to his appointment as an instructor in physics and chemistry at the medical college while he was also an undergraduate student. At that time, Roentgen’s discovery in November of 1895 so impressed young Grubbe that he obtained a vacuum discharge tube and began his mutilation and disfigurement.

He conducted an investigation of the fluoroscopic capabilities of the “‘new ray” and, along with Edison and many other pioneers, some of the original investigations into the applications of the roentgen ray. It was at this time that he began to suffer from radiation-dermatitis of the hands and neck. The relationship of these lesions to radiation was clear to him, and at the suggestion of one of his colleagues he began to experiment with the use of this apparatus in the treatment of carcinoma. Success was almost instantaneous. In February of 1896, he founded the first radiation therapy facility in Chicago, at South Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago.

All of this was accomplished before he graduated from medical school in 1898. He remained a member of the faculty and occupied the professorial chair in electrotherapeutics and radiography until 1919.

So, basically, Grubbe was a curious, brilliant man who practiced according to the standards of the time. As for Hahnemann Medical College, it wasn’t so outside the mainstream as homeopathy is today:

In addition to these “regular” medical colleges, several institutions trained practitioners in alternative medical practices. The most popular alternative, especially among well-educated segments of society, was homeopathy. Homeopathic theory held that drugs should be tested to determine their effects, that a drug which causes specific symptoms in a well person is the drug which should be used to cure those same symptoms in an unwell person (like cures like), and that a drug’s potency is enhanced by a series of dilutions (the law of infinitesimals). The Hahnemann Medical College opened in 1860 and became coeducational in 1871. Except for the emphasis upon homeopathic therapeutics, instruction resembled that in Chicago’s “regular” medical schools.

Oddly enough, Grubbe had to have his hand amputated due to complications and burns suffered from radiation, which hardly sounds homeopathic to me. Of course, any time any conventional medicine can cause the problem it treats, Ullman is quick to jump on it as evidence that the homeopathic principle of “like cures like” is generally true and that homeopathy informed how modern science-based medicine is practiced.

I don’t have time to undertake the rest of Ullman’s article; so I’m going to do something that (I hope) is better than another lame open thread. I’m going to leave the deconstruction of the rest of Ullman’s paean to homeopathy as a treatment for radiation poisoning to you, the reader. Do me proud. Analyze his claims and the “evidence” that Ullman presents. And don’t cheat. Try to do it without consulting the work of other skeptical bloggers who very well might, fired up by Ullman’s nonsense, have had a go at his latest HuffPo excretion. Above all, have fun, as I hope to. I’m off to spend a day learning about some real science about cancer. It’ll cleanse the palate after a dose of Dana Ullman’s homeopathic blather.

Comments

  1. #1 augustine
    April 6, 2011

    But I guess you don’t care; his conclusion agrees with your prejudices which proves he’s right?

    I guess you don’t agree with Gilbert Welch, either, do you champ.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/22/AR2005102200042.html

    “Flu Death Risk Often Exaggerated; So Is Benefit of Vaccine”

    Someone hellbent on ideology would. Psuedo skeptics take note.

    “The Outcomes Group is a small, close-knit group of physician researchers and fellows from a variety of clinical disciplines. Although we were each trained in the conventional clinical culture, we share a common concern about the excesses of American medicine. We question the assumption that patients always stand to gain from having more health care. We are concerned about advertising and other messages that exaggerate the benefit of health care and minimize the harm (or ignore it entirely). And we are troubled by the increasing enthusiasm for seeking diagnoses in the well and initiating interventions for those identified as “sick”.”

  2. #2 augustine
    April 6, 2011

    So, is all medicine overdone? If your arm got cut off, would you mind if doctors didn’t fix you up because since heart surgeries were overdone, so must wound closure?

    It’s the ol’ dangling carrot gambit! If you disagree with one part of medicine then we’ll withold all parts from you until you accept all of it! Just get the damn vaccine, folks!

    It has it’s common dogmatic themes. Sometimes the author will invoke something about being a luddite and eschewing anything technological because one questions modern medicine.

  3. #3 Gray Falcon
    April 6, 2011

    It’s the ol’ dangling carrot gambit! If you disagree with one part of medicine then we’ll withold all parts from you until you accept all of it! Just get the damn vaccine, folks!

    Why not? If you’re going to argue that one piece of medicine is bad based on a statement about a completely unrelated item, then why can’t you extend the argument to all medicine? Or all science?

  4. #4 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 6, 2011

    The Analyst,
    I think you point out an interesting subtlety in the discussion. In reality, every treatment needs to be evaluated in the context of what it claims to treat. The notion that a particular treatment works (or does not work) does not necessarily prove (or disprove) an entire system and vice versa.

    Statements that a particular substance does (or does not) work because it’s naturopathic/homeopathic/herbal doesn’t really mean much. The substance either can be proved to treat a condition or not; if it does, it works. Now, if that substance follows the rules of a particular system of medicine, it might give credence to that system. However, if someone were to declare aspirin as a homeopathic remedy, I would not expect it to suddenly stop working on headaches.

    Often in the case of homeopathy it’s pretty obvious it shouldn’t work – at dilutions of around “12C” and higher it becomes increasingly unlikely that there is any active ingredient in any dose that someone might reasonably consume. Thus by what’s known of chemistry, physics, biology, etc. anytime someone claims that 200C duck liver is any kind of treatment for influenza, then the claim is absurd and needs substantial evidence if it is to be proved. So often people use a shortcut, tarring other substances that claim to be homeopathic with a rather broad brush.

  5. #5 augustine
    April 6, 2011

    gary falcon

    Why not? If you’re going to argue that one piece of medicine is bad based on a statement about a completely unrelated item, then why can’t you extend the argument to all medicine? Or all science?

    Yeh, why not?

    So you think All parts of conventional status quo medicine are hands off? It’s all correct based on principle?

    Do you even understand the principle that medicine is base on?

  6. #6 Gray Falcon
    April 6, 2011

    So you think All parts of conventional status quo medicine are hands off? It’s all correct based on principle?

    No, I’m just pointing out how blatantly stupid it is to paint medicine with such a broad brush. You quite literally argued that since cardiac surgery is overused, so must vaccination.

    Do you even understand the principle that medicine is base on?

    Which principles are you talking about? Please explain in simple terms.

  7. #7 adelady
    April 7, 2011

    analyst. The problem with Traumeel (which I’ve never before heard of) is not that it is a homeopathic preparation that seems to work for some people.

    The problem is that the ‘homeopathic’ constituents are far outweighed by traditional herbal substances – and I include alcohol there because a lot of traditional and/ or herbal preparations were effective mostly, or entirely, because of the alcohol content.

    If you want to talk about homeopathy, stick to homeopathy. If you want to talk herbal as against preparations derived by isolating active ingredients from traditional herbs, do that. But you can’t conflate the homeopathy and herbal treatments.

    Rubbing a traditional preparation of willow bark onto a sore joint is different both from taking a refined aspirin tablet *and* from drops of some homeopathic dilution or other of willow bark.

  8. #8 Narad
    April 7, 2011

    It’s the ol’ dangling carrot gambit! If you disagree with one part of medicine then we’ll withold all parts from you until you accept all of it!

    Again with the psychosexual tells.

  9. #9 Composer99
    April 7, 2011

    ugh troll:

    You are not going to make your off-topic case with off-topic references to non-refereed articles in magazines or newspapers.

    Kindly use the search function to find recent on-topic blog posts and then cite peer-reviewed sources to support your position(s).

  10. #10 One Queer Fish
    April 7, 2011

    EH!!LINKS PLEASE??
    ANYONE??

  11. #11 Chris
    April 7, 2011

    OQF, here is an appropriate link for you. Put it to good use.

  12. #12 T. Bruce McNeely
    April 7, 2011

    One huge omission from the Washington Post article (@201) – flu vaccination in the younger population may not save many lives in that population, but it will reduce the risk of spread to the unvaccinated vulnerable population. That’s why immunization programs for health care workers are an essential part of any infection prevention program in hospitals.
    This article is a piece of slanted writing.

  13. #13 augustine
    April 7, 2011

    Brucy

    That’s why immunization programs for health care workers are an essential part of any infection prevention program in hospitals.

    http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab005187.html

    “There are no accurate data on rates of laboratory-proven influenza in healthcare workers.”

    “We conclude that there is no evidence that only vaccinating healthcare workers prevents laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia, and death from pneumonia in elderly residents in long-term care facilities.”

  14. #14 augustine
    April 7, 2011

    Brucy Pucy

    One huge omission from the Washington Post article (@201) – flu vaccination in the younger population may not save many lives in that population, but it will reduce the risk of spread to the unvaccinated vulnerable population.

    This will burn you up too, Pucy. You’re living in science based medicine world where you fabricate things in your mind the way you think they should work out.

    http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab001269.html

    “Authors of this review assessed all trials that compared vaccinated people with unvaccinated people. The combined results of these trials showed that under ideal conditions Vaccine use did not affect the number of people hospitalised or working days lost but caused one case of Guillian-Barré syndrome (a major neurological condition leading to paralysis) for every one million vaccinations. Fifteen of the 36 trials were funded by vaccine companies and four had no funding declaration. Our results may be an optimistic estimate because company-sponsored influenza vaccines trials tend to produce results favorable to their products and some of the evidence comes from trials carried out in ideal viral circulation and matching conditions and because the harms evidence base is limited..”

  15. #15 LW
    April 7, 2011

    “We conclude that there is no evidence that only vaccinating healthcare workers prevents laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia, and death from pneumonia in elderly residents in long-term care facilities.” (Emphasis added)

    True, there are other vectors that can bring it in. You’d need to vaccinate them too to really protect the vulnerable. Thank you for bringing that to our attention.

  16. #16 augustine
    April 7, 2011

    LW

    True, there are other vectors that can bring it in. You’d need to vaccinate them too to really protect the vulnerable.

    I like how you refer to people as “vectors”. Just another number in the scheme of microbe eradication. In public health people are just numbers and threats. They’re not human in Technology Based Medicine (formerly called “science” based medicine).

  17. #17 Gray Falcon
    April 7, 2011

    I like how you refer to people as “vectors”. Just another number in the scheme of microbe eradication. In public health people are just numbers and threats. They’re not human in Technology Based Medicine (formerly called “science” based medicine).

    Typical augustine. Rather than respond to the legitimate argument, he chose to take self-righteously pick at a minor detail. Also, I wonder if he’s familiar with the expression “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Here’s one thread where you chose to back up allegations of playing “mind games” with people with a fictional scenario:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/04/the_annals_of_im_not_anti-vaccine_part_6.php#comment-3588379

  18. #18 lilady
    April 7, 2011

    Augie is cherry-picking again from the Cochrane Article. The Cochrane article concludes with the statement:

    “Other Interventions such as hand washing, masks, early detection of influenza with nasal swabs, antivirals, quarantine, restricting visitors and asking health care workers not to attend work might protect individuals over 60 in long term care facilities and high quality randomized trials testing combinations of these interventions are needed”

    Um, Augie, these interventions have proven to be effective to contain outbreaks of seasonal and pandemic influenza in long term care facilities. See MMWR January 29, 2010:

    “Outbreaks of 2009 Pandemic Influenza A (H1N1) Among Long Term Care Facility Residents.”

    Busted, again.

  19. #19 Lawrence
    April 7, 2011

    Once again, boring troll is boring – seriously, got to up the crazy around here & you’re not it.

  20. #20 herr doktor bimler
    April 7, 2011

    Like Thomas Kuhn said, they DON’T change their views. They die out and their view’s die out with them.

    Again, a citation would be nice; this sounds made up.

  21. #21 David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E.
    April 8, 2011

    “OQF, work on your reading comprehension.”

    Need work on expressive writing but that’ll never happen either. OQF/AWOL is resistant to learning. Self-imflicted stupidity has no cure … no legal one, anyways.

    “I tried to read the comments from OQF, but Google Translate does not offer a “Word Salad -> English” feature.”

    That’s because it needs to be Bollocks -> English. I’m not sure that facility’s there yet, either.

    Phoenix woman…. you’re brilliant! Five internetses to you.

  22. #22 Krebiozen
    April 8, 2011

    I believe that Augustine is referring to (“mangling” might be a more accurate term) Thomas Kuhn’s book, ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, which was published nearly 50 years ago.

    I have read this book, and in essence it argues that science develops in jumps, and when there is a major change in scientific understanding (Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to refer to such a change), older scientists who have been worked with the old paradigm all their lives are often unable to get their heads around the new understanding, whereas younger scientists take to the new ideas like a duck to water. Kuhn also pointed out that we tend to see what we believe, which may bias our observations as well as our conclusions.

    This is about major shifts in understanding, like germ theory, Mendelian genetics, evolution and General Relativity. Even if Kuhn was right (and there are those who argue that he was not), I don’t see how this has any relevance to whether homeopathy works or not. Clinical trials are designed to eliminate as far as possible the sort of biases Kuhn pointed out.

    Kuhn’s work on paradigm shifts has been horribly abused by those who have either not read his books, or who have failed to understand them.

  23. #23 herr doktor bimler
    April 8, 2011

    Oh yes, I know Kuhn, but I don’t remember him saying much about old scientists being hidebound and inflexible and unable to change their minds. It was in fact Max Planck:

    An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning.

    I’m keen on correct attributions.

  24. #24 lilady
    April 9, 2011

    @ Herr Doktor Bimler: Don’t expect a reply from Little Augie. I love how you kept asking him for citation and correct attribution.

    Busted, again!

  25. #25 Krebiozen
    April 11, 2011

    Herr Doktor Bimler – I was so sure that quote was from ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ that I had to get hold of a copy to check. That is indeed where I read it, but it was Kuhn quoting Planck, and disagreeing with him.

    Kuhn thought that most scientists do accept new paradigms, “though some scientists, particularly the older and more experienced ones, may resist indefinitely, most of them can be reached in one way or another”.

    It’s strange how the memory plays tricks – thanks for the correction!

  26. #26 herr doktor bimler
    April 11, 2011

    Thanks, Krebiozen.
    It’s not just random pedantry to insist on the correct source. I have a theory that before arguing with someone on a big issue, it’s worth checking that both sides are able to admit errors and willing to correct them on small issues.

  27. #27 Gray Falcon
    April 11, 2011

    Closer to topic: Homeopathy was a new paradigm a hundred-ish years ago, and managed to lose mainstream acceptance between then and now. Why is that, I wonder?

  28. #28 Radiation Herbs
    April 17, 2011

    Homeopathy “lost interest” because the pharmaceuticals knew it was a threat (it is safe, it does not harm healthy tissue, it is inexpensive, and it works), exactly what would really hurt their bottom line. Always remember to “try it for yourself” and see if it works for you before you judge anything.

  29. #29 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 17, 2011

    Radiation Herbs,
    Can you point to evidence that homeopathy works? What’s the quality of that evidence? Would it be sufficient to prove effectiveness for non-homeopathic remedies?

  30. #30 Chris
    April 17, 2011

    The stupidity that is evident in “Radiation Herbs” spamming caused great laughter as it was discussed in the SGU live podcast from NECSS 2011. Enjoy.

  31. #31 tresmal
    April 17, 2011

    it is safe,…

    True.

    …it does not harm healthy tissue,…

    Also true.

    …it is inexpensive,

    It has the highest markup of any medicine out there.

    …and it works

    Exactly as well as any other inert substance pushed with conviction on a trusting patient.

  32. #32 Narad
    April 17, 2011

    Always remember to “try it for yourself” and see if it works for you before you judge anything.

    I seem to recall that Dick Alpert broke his leg using just this advice to see if he could fly, from a second-story window.

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