Given that this is the last weekday before the end of 2011 and this quite probably will be my last post of the year (that is, unless something so compelling pops up over the weekend that it tempts me more than I can resist), I wondered what would be a good topic. Then, readers started sending me a link to the perfect topic, and I agreed that it represents a loose end that I should try to take care of before the year is up. So take care of it I will.
Right before Christmas, a homeopath named Judith Acosta, who bills herself as a “licensed psychotherapist, classical homeopath, and crisis counselor in private practice,” wrote a post entitled A Personal Case for Classical Homeopathy: Part I, which I duly deconstructed. The post appeared on–where else?–that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post, a.k.a. Huffpo. It took her less than a week, and yesterday Acosta posted the second part of her incursion into pure woo, entitled, appropriately enough, A Personal Case for Classical Homeopathy: Part II. In part I, Acosta used her own personal anecdote of how she thought classical homeopathy had cured her of troublesome ovarian cysts that doctors supposedly couldn’t do anything about. it took a hell of a long time, and her symptoms waxed and waned, but eventually they got better, almost certainly with no help from the magic water whose praises she sang. As I pointed out, she got better on her own, but her homeopath took credit for it, at every exacerbation calling the exacerbation evidence that his magic water was working.
Convenient, isn’t it?
In any case, part II picks up where part I left off, but first Acosta has to justify her belief in homeopathy by first admitting that she knows it sounds crazy:
After the debate with my last articles on this topic, I find I couldn’t agree with the critics more. Homeopathy is strange and sounds magical. When I try to explain it to people — despite years of study and personal/professional experience — I wind up sounding like my worst woo-woo nightmare, stumbling over words like “energy,” “resonance” and “organism.”
As I stumble, my husband patiently awaits my sound byte, still anxiously hoping I can give him a way to explain what I do to save him from sounding just as ridiculous.
Acosta’s poor husband. He married a psychotherapist, someone with a perfectly respectable profession, who later turned into a homeopath. He must be a good man, sticking with her and trying to understand even though, based on what Acosta says, he seems puzzled by and disapproving of the whole thing. As well he should be, given that homeopathy is pure quackery and most homeopathic remedies are diluted to nonexistence, leaving just water. Acosta tries to explain using, as quackery apologists often do, not with science, but with metaphor. The first metaphor she tries is a musical metaphor, because her husband is a musician:
“In homeopathy, you can think of both the human being (or any living creature for that matter) and the remedy as pieces of music. A person comes in for treatment and the disease or pathology is presenting as a song, out of tune with the rest of the person when in a healthy state. We look for a remedy that most closely matches the totality of that pathology’s song. When we give it to the patient, the remedy cancels the disease. A song for a song. Like cures like.”
Eyebrow is lowered. I am momentarily reprieved. “Is it phase cancellation?”
“I’m not sure because it’s not an opposing frequency, it’s a similar one. But maybe the amplitudes are opposing.”
Eyebrow is raised. I realize that I’m back to where I started.
Given that her metaphor is woo-filled nonsense, that’s not surprising. Pathology is a song, and homeopaths are trying to match the totality of the pathology’s song? Seriously? Wouldn’t it be better to understand the pathology on a scientific basis and use that understanding to design therapies to correct (or at least alleviate) the pathology? Not in a homeopath’s world! After all, there is no scientific evidence to support the concept of “like cures like” as a general principle in medicine, any more than science supports the concept that diluting a remedy somehow makes it stronger, the latter principle violating multiple laws of chemistry and physics.
Having failed in her first metaphor, Acosta begins a second, followed by the “individualization” gambit that is so frequently used as an excuse for the failure of various alternative medicines to demonstrate efficacy in randomized, controlled clinical trials. Here’s the metaphor:
See yourself as a being of a million small crystals, each one with a frequency. When you become ill, some of those crystals change frequency and begin to vibrate or sing out of tune. When we choose a remedy, we choose it to best match those crystals that have fallen out of tune. When delivered, it shatters those sick crystals, leaving only the healthy ones behind.
Admittedly, it is a metaphor, and as such, still leaves a great deal unexplained. I can understand the frustration of allopaths and critics with the obvious absence of hard, linear facts that are repeatable regardless of the person or place. Compared to current pharmaceutical philosophy, making scientific “sense” of homeopathy is like trying to play ordinary billiards in a quantum pool hall.
Wow. I must admit, it sure sounds impressive. It is, of course, a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys. Crystals? Why not look at living organisms as what they are, a collection of cells and chemicals? As for the bit about choosing a remedy to “best match those cyrstals that have fallen out of tune,” I had a hard time not laughing out loud when I read that. As it is, I did chuckle a bit. How do homeopaths figure out which “crystals” fall out of tune? By asking a bunch of questions? How do they figure out what homeopathic remedy will work to destroy those out of tune crystals? They use a principle based on a prescientific understanding of how the human body functions, the pathology of disease, and how medicines work.
Yet, despite homeopathy being based on sympathetic magic combined with a prescientific understanding of human physiology, Acosta has the unbridled chutzpah to portray homeopathy as being so very, very advanced compared to “allopathic” medicine. “Allopathic” medicine is all Newtonian, don’t you know? And homeopathy is quantum! Somehow, I suspect that Acosta has little understanding of what, exactly, quantum theory even actually says. Like Deepak Chopra, to Acosta “quantum” means whatever she wants it to mean, as long as it can sound as though it justifies homeopathy. But she “understands” the frustration of scientists and “allopaths”! We’re so far behind her and her homeopathy that it’s not surprising that we can’t understand! She really appears to believe that, too. She also appears to believe the whole “individualization” schtick:
The problem is that homeopathy is aimed at treating the individual with a single remedy, chosen specifically for him or her. It is not for treating masses of people with the same pill. Twenty people could have the “same” flu, but each one would need a different remedy (not necessarily Oscillococcinum) and be rightly cured because each one would manifest illness in a way that is utterly unique to him-/herself. We always treat the person, not the disease. As such it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to replicate homeopathic treatment the way pharmaceutical companies try to do in drug trials.
Whenever I see a homeopath (or any promoter of alternative medicine) make a statement like that, it’s hard not to suspect that what is really going on is that the homeopath is “making it up as he goes along.” Strike that. It’s more than suspecting. Homepaths are making it up as they go along, as are most alternative medicine practitioners. the reason I say that is that there is no science to guide them, no commonly agreed upon guidelines, only this cult of extreme “individualization.” the result is that any homeopath can treat any patient any way he wants, and it’s all good. Nothing is incorrect, and nothing is correct. Whatever a homeopath wants goes. The best part (to the homepath) is that it’s the perfect excuse to explain why, in the best designed clinical trials, homeopathic remedies do not have an effect any greater than placebo effects. Randomized clinical trials are too rigid! Their woo can’t be studied by RCTs!
Or at least so homeopaths say.
Acosta finishes with another anecdote. This time, it’s not her but rather her dog. This is another favorite ploy of alt-med aficionados, in which they claim that animals aren’t subject to placebo effects. This is not exactly true Animals, such as dogs, can be exquisitely sensitive to their owner’s or handlers’ behavior and manner. Dogs, especially, are sensitive to what their owners want and expect and behave accordingly; they also respond very favorably to attention and loving care. In this case, Acosta claims that a homeopathic bee venom concoction resulted in the inflammation in her dog’s eye disappearing within minutes. Even potent medicines that really work (like steroids) do not work that quickly. Within hours, maybe, but not within minutes. A far more likely explanation is a bit of misdiagnosis with confirmation bias.
What we’re left with here is nothing more than another, even less convincing, anecdote, all gussied up with verbiage about “vibrations,” “crystals,” and “individualization.” There’s no science, no objective evidence, nothing but stories.
And stories alone do not constitute convincing evidence in medicine.