Respectful Insolence

A homeopathic counterattack

Homeopaths are funny.

Really, that’s the best description of them that I can think of right now. And I don’t mean “funny ha-ha,” either. An example of this popped up over the weekend in an attack on Dr. Joe Schwarcz of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. “Dr. Joe,” as he likes to be called, is a chemist and a skeptic, with his own radio show on Montreal’s CJAD every Sunday afternoon (which, by the way, I’ve appeared on a couple of times over the last three or four years). He’s been deconstructing pseudoscience and alternative medicine claims for a lot longer than I have; so he knows what he’s doing. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him at TAM and hanging out with him a couple of years ago in Montreal.

Dr. Joe is quite good at pointing out the utter absurdity of homeopathy, but in actuality he isn’t quite as—shall we say?—insolent about it as I am. He has a weekly news column in the Montreal Gazette Not that this stopped homeopaths from taking extreme offense to his activities. In fact, over three weeks in April and May, Dr. Joe published a series of three articles, A whole lot of sugar helps this pill go down, Less is more: Homeopathy relies on extreme dilution, and Homeopathic remedies safe – but not risk free. In these three articles, Dr. Joe took care of some common tropes about homeopathy and in general demonstrated just how much of a load of pseudoscience, talking about the silliness of “provings” and how homeopathy is not an umbrella term for “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) practices, pointing out the even sillier claims of homeopaths that extreme dilutions to the point where it’s highly unlikely that even a single molecule of the original remedy remains somehow makes the remedy stronger, and that “like cures like.” It was all fairly straightforward and, among scientists, uncontroversial. Homeopathy is pure quackery, but every so often we still need to be reminded of it. In particular, since “homeopathic” seems to have become in common parlance synonymous with “natural,” it’s always a good thing to remind people from time to time what homepathy really is and why it’s such utter pseudoscience.

Apparently, Ginette Beaulieu, President of the Syndicat professionnel des homeopathes du Quebec, was not pleased. So displeased was she, in fact, that she wrote a long letter to Dr. Schwarcz. Dr. Schwarcz’s reply was, in fact, more than adequate. In it, he skillfully dismantled Beaulieu’s bad arguments, bad history, and bad science. However, upon reading Beaulieu’s letter, I couldn’t help but apply a little bit of my not-so-Respectful Insolence to it myself, just as, apparently, Michael Edmonds couldn’t. Nothing wrong with that, I say. There’s plenty there for all of us skeptics! In fact, I ask myself when I see letters like this: How come no one ever sends me letters like this? Oh, I get the occasional e-mail castigating me for some post or other, but nothing like this! I guess I’m just not as cool as Dr. Joe.

Michael notes something that leapt out at me immediately. The letter is addressed to “Mr.” Schwarcz. This, even though Dr. Schwarcz is a full professor of chemistry. I’ve seen this ploy before among defenders of quackery. They intentionally refuse to use the title of “Dr.” as a not-so-subtle dig at their target. Even though I’m a surgeon, I’ve had, for example, antivaccinationists referring to me as “Mr.” on many occasions, and, no, they weren’t from the UK, where surgeons are referred to as “Mr.” Not that it would have mattered anyway, given that I also have a PhD; even in the UK I could be called “Dr.” It’s a childish, annoying little ploy, and when I see it it amuses me more than anything else because it signals to me sheer obviousness. In fact, these days I’m almost disappointed when a supporter of CAM or other pseudoscience actually uses my title.

Be that as it may, the letter is amusing and instructive on multiple levels. The introduction itself could serve as a lesson on logical fallacies and, well, pure whininess and not-so-veiled threats. For instance, in the introductory letter, Beaulieu states:

We will also notify McGill University and The Gazette of this situation, so that they take whatever measure they deem useful.

We will also notify the various international bodies, which represent homeopathy worldwide, of your articles.

Ignorance leads to prejudice, and prejudice is mankind’s worse enemy. We expect from you more rigorous and accurate information.

I’m sure Dr. Joe is shaking in his boots…with laughter! Personally, if I were the editor of The Gazette or a dean or the chair of the chemistry department at McGill, the only measure I’d deem useful enough to do in response to this letter would be to give Dr. Joe a hearty congratulation, along with a high five. I would, of course, instruct Beaulieu that it is not prejudice to point out that homeopathy is magical thinking, that its major precepts have no basis in science, and that its effects are indistinguishable from placebo. It is, rather, an accurate assessment of homeopathy based on multiple sciences, including physics, chemistry, physiology, biochemistry, and, of course, medicine. None of this stops Beaulieu from accusing Dr. Joe of being “biased” and “prejudiced” and of “disgracing the scientific community as well as your own university.”

So what are Beaulieu’s list of the “errors” that Dr. Joe has supposedly committed? I was expecting the usual list of “misunderstandings” that homeopaths accuse scientists and skeptics of, such as citing various seemingly “positive” studies of homeopathy and various bits of cherry picked evidence beloved of homeopaths. Dana Ullman, you might recall, is very good at that. Instead, Beaulieu spends an entire page citing “historical errors” before ever getting to “scientific errors.” The one that most stood out to me stood out because I hadn’t heard it before, namely the claim that homeopathy was not discovered by Samuel Hahnemann but rather goes back to ancient Greece. Don’t get me wrong. I knew that the idea that “like cures like” dates back to Hippocrates. So what? Beaulieu is making the classic appeal to antiquity, but, even if she were correct that Hahnemann didn’t invent homeopathy and that homeopathy predated him by two thousand years, her argument would still be a complete non sequitur. Just because something’s old doesn’t mean it’s correct. The most commonly used example is that bloodletting is very old indeed. So is the concept that ghosts exist. The antiquity of both of these ideas does not imply either that bloodletting is an effective treatment for many diseases or that ghosts do, in fact, exist. Yes, the concepts of sympathetic magic are very old, and, as I’ve pointed out, the concepts behind homeopathy resemble, more than anything else, those of sympathetic magic, including the law of similars and the law of contagion. That doesn’t mean sympathetic magic in the form of homeopathy “works.”

Even so, as Dr. Joe pointed out in his response, Beaulieu is wrong by any stretch of the imagination. Particularly amusing is Beaulieu taking Dr. Joe to task for saying that homeopathy was first developed in the 19th century. Her rationale? Hahnemann started experimenting in 1796. This is a quibble, given that Hahnemann didn’t coin the term “homeopathy” until 1807, when he published his essay Indications of the Homeopathic Employment of Medicines in Ordinary Practice. Personally, I’m not big on quibbling over a few years. It’s also fairly inconsequential to me how Hahnemann came up with his claims for homeopathy. Beaulieu wastes a lot of verbiage trying to correct Dr. Joe on these issues; it’s completely irrelevant to whether homeopathy is quackery or not, whether it works or not, or whether Dr. Joe was wrong about the evidence or not. What is relevant is the science, and here Beaulieu trots out the usual suspects, such as nanoparticles (which I’ve addressed before). She also points to the works of Dr. Luc Montagnier, which I’ve also addressed before, pointing out what utter nonsense and pseudoscience his work has become. I tell ya, there should be a name for this particular logical fallacy, which is clearly a subset of an appeal to authority. Argumentum ad Nobelium, perhaps? Of course, Beaulieu uses some more conventional logical fallaices, such as an appeal to popularity combined with a straw man:

But beyond this, how does Mr. Schwarcz explain the cures of infants, young children, pets, and herds of cattle? Had he taken the time to secure the facts, he would have discovered that number of large cattle owners in Europe and elsewhere have turned to homeopathy because it is safer, faster, and economical to do so. These are not people easily misled. They go only by results, both clinical and economical. Many specialized veterinarians have turned to homeopathy for the same reaons.

The number of practitioners of homeopathy around the world is in the hundreds of thousands, including around a hundred thousand medical doctors. Does Mr. Schwarcz believe they are all delusional, or could we consider, by the sheer number, that he is probably mistaken?

Wow. If only one more logical fallacy could have been forced in there, Beaulieau could have had the trifecta in one brief paragraph! A nice fat straw man (the claim that we say all homeopaths are delusional) plus argumentum ad populum. Of course, one can’t help but note that she provides no evidence for—oh, you know—any actual cures of infants, young children, pets, and herds of cattle. So maybe we do have a trifecta if you count argument by assertion to be a logical fallacy.

Be that as it may, we also have an appeal to ignorance:

As far as understanding how it all works, we admit that the action inside the body is not completely understood yet. But we are sure that Mr. Schwarcz is aware of the fact that this is true of a great number of allopathic remedies (conventional drugs) and nobody seems to mind a bit!

Once again, plausibility does not mean “knowing the mechanism of action.” (And I even wrote that one less than a month ago!) Yes, we have a plausibility bias in science, and that’s a good thing. In fact, that’s why I prefer to call it a reality bias.

The rest of the letter is basically a greatest hits of bogus and dubious arguments for homeopathy, such as the claim (without evidence) that homepathy produces permanent cures (whereas placebo effects are transient). Then there’s the claim that metaanalyses support the use of homeopathy, which is not true if you look at the totality of the evidence. You can, of course, find seemingly positive meta-analyses, but the preponderance of evidence is that the clinical effects of homeopathy are placebo effects. And, here’s news for Beaulieu: The recent Swiss Report on homeopathy does not indicate that the Swiss government supports homeopathy, as both Zeno and Andy Lewis explain. (Damn. I should have blogged that report when it first came out, but it appeared at a bad time.)

Perhaps the scariest assertion that Beaulieu makes is that homeopathy is effective for epidemics. She claims that it worked against cholera in the 19th century (not true), that it kept at bay many epidemic diseases, such as typhoid fever, measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, and “many others.” Never mind that there is no evidence to support such a claim, and that relying on homeopathy instead of vaccines and medicine to fight these diseases would result in thousands of deaths. None o fthat stops her from pointing out:

Today a colleague of ours from the UK is working intensely in Africa on developing a protocol of treatment for AIDS. He recently spoke at an international conference held in Washington, D.C. in which he showed very encouraging results.

She couldn’t be referring to Jeremy Sherr, could she? I hope not. And is she referring to this poorly designed, inconclusive, and utterly useless study by Sherr? Probably. So what we have is a homeopath referring to another homeopath bringing his quackery for AIDS to Africa and doing poorly designed clinical studies that don’t show what homeopaths think they show. She then cites a study from Cuba that allegedly shows that homeopathy is effective against Leptospirosis. It ain’t.

In the end, I have to tip my hat to Dr. Joe. I tend to judge to some extent the efficacy of someone’s deconstruction of pseudoscience by the response it gets, and Dr. Joe got a doozy. Too bad the response was just as easy to deconstruct as homeopathy itself. Ms. Beaulieau really needs to learn some science. Certainly what’s on her website as “evidence” for homeopathy doesn’t qualify as convincing evidence.

Comments

  1. #1 Mojo
    June 4, 2012

    Further comments on the Swiss report:

    Ernst, E: A critique of the Swiss report Homeopathy in Healthcare Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies. doi: 10.1111/j.2042-7166.2012.01160.x

    Shaw, D M: The Swiss report on homeopathy: a case study of research misconduct Swiss Med Wkly. 2012;142:w13594

  2. #2 Narad
    June 4, 2012

    I knew that the principle of “like cures like” dates back to Hippocrates.

    The “similarity principle” is not what Hippocrates meant by “By similar things…” as cited in the link. (I’m too tired to look up the actual passages at the moment.) As I recall how this goes, the advice as far as similarity is concerned is not much different from humors; the idea is to identify the category of the ailment, and then get away from the cause. I remain convinced that the only sensible angle for homeopathy to drag Hippocrates into this mess is mandrake, and that depth-charges the law of infinitesimals.

  3. #3 ChrisP
    June 4, 2012

    The piece in Hippocrates writing goes “Another principle is the following: a disease arises because of similars, and, by being treated with similars, patients recover from such diseases.” Depending on the translation.

    However, this is immediately after a section where Hippocrates states that opposites can cure.

    Hippocrates finishes this section of his book with the somewhat unhelpful advice “And if this were so in all cases, the principle would be established, that sometimes conditions can be treated by things opposite to those from which they arose, and sometimes by things like to those from which they arose.”

    This is rather less supportive of their ideas than the Hippocrates-quoting homeopaths realise.

  4. #4 Mojo
    June 4, 2012

    Another important point about hippocrates is that while he was a great figure in the history and philosophy of medicine, because of the time that he lived he didn’t actually know much about how the body works. The 18th century medicine that Hahnemann derided as “allopathy” was still largely based on the work of Hippocrates and Galen, and its ineffectiveness was the main reason that homoeopathy could look like a valid alternative.

  5. #5 Mojo
    June 4, 2012

    Anyway, the claims that various proponents of homoeopathy have posted on the web that homoeopathy was discovered by “Hypocrites” (Google it if you don’t believe me) are much more amusing.

  6. #6 FilipinoMDstudent
    June 4, 2012

    “A homeopathic counterattack”

    Ah, but being whiny while failing to provide evidence doesn’t really count as a “counterattack” now, does it? I am truly fascinated at how people could possibly believe in homeopathy. In my med school, we were already given one lecture on TCM and it was presented as a reliable system of diagnosis and treatment. Almost everyone in my class accepted it without any skepticism. I wonder how long it will take before homeopathy invades Philippine medical schools? I can only hope I graduate before that happens.

  7. #7 naturocrit
    June 4, 2012

    Regarding “less is more”:

    How about homeopathy as a form of first aid, recently authored by New York State naturopath Les Moore:

    http://www.democratandchronicle.com/article/20120508/LIVING01/305080032/Les-Moore-Homeopathy-and-first-aid

  8. #8 Zan
    June 4, 2012

    I don’t know if it is the case, but in France (and probably also in Quebec), you refer to a professor by calling him/her Monsieur/Madame. Usually we don’t say Professor Schwarz, but Mr Schwarz. We use Dr for medical doctors and/or PhDs.

  9. #9 herr doktor bimler
    Why this is hell, nor am I out of it
    June 4, 2012

    number of large cattle owners in Europe and elsewhere have turned to homeopathy because it is safer, faster, and economical to do so. These are not people easily misled.

    Farm-boy here. Rest assured that dairy farmers are as gullible and susceptible to superstition as anyone else. Note too that “large cattle owners in Europe” are kept viable only by huge agricultural subsidies, which does not bode well for their market performance.

  10. #10 herr doktor bimler
    June 4, 2012

    homeopathy was not discovered by Samuel Hahnemann but rather goes back to ancient Greece.

    It could be based on the principles of Stone-age Shamanism but I still would not be inspired to automatically give it credence.

  11. #11 Mojo
    June 4, 2012

    @FilipinoMDstudent

    Ah, but being whiny while failing to provide evidence doesn’t really count as a “counterattack” now, does it?

    In the absence of any decent evidence it’s the best they can do.

  12. #12 Eric Lund
    June 4, 2012

    Zan @0814: But most professors in the US and Canada, and for that matter science professors in France (at least the ones I know), have the Ph.D., so it is appropriate to call a professor “Dr. Schwarcz”. It is reasonable to call a professor “Mr. Schwarcz” if you encounter him in a non-academic context (where you may not know or care about his Ph.D.), but Ms. (Dr.?) Beaulieu is definitely criticizing Dr. Schwarcz in an academic context.

    Duly noted that homeopaths in Quebec have their own professional association (I’m not sure I’m translating “syndicat” correctly).

  13. #13 Mu
    June 4, 2012

    Well, it’s a homeopathic counterattack. It has been diluted to the point where the non-believer can’t distinguish it from a puff of hot air.

  14. #14 JGC
    June 4, 2012

    Wouldn’t a homepathic counterattack take the form of mildly agreeing with everything your opponent said?

  15. #15 DrBollocks
    June 4, 2012

    A homeopathic counterattack is “like being savaged by a dead sheep”. (The quote should be recognisable to readers who remember British politics in the 1970′s).

  16. #16 Denice Walter
    June 4, 2012

    Torrents of rain pour from the pale pearl grey sky which stretches unvariegated from horizon to horizon to horizon and would be beautiful indeed if only I were not feeling too morose to appreciate its subtle lovliness.**

    Oh, pardon me but it’s been raining. I sometimes wonder whether atmospheric events or the unrelenting flow of woo make me feel worse- at least I can do something about woo.

    I must admit that I feel very awful about Prof Montagnier and his crossing over to the dark side***: to make things even worse, the HIV/AIDS denialists, anti-vaxxers and more generic woo-meisters have all claimed him as one of their own. This brings me to an interesting phenomenon : alt med evangelists deride orthodox education and appointments as the very work of the devil BUT when someone with reasonably decent degrees and credentials agrees with them they suddenly change course and laud the previously suspect cv…consistency is obviously not the hobgoblin of very small minds.

    ** the concept may be stolen but the words & images are all mine.
    *** I always have problems with that phrase- in reality, *they’re* the dark side but we’ve have been called that so often- I almost get confused.

  17. #17 Denice Walter
    June 4, 2012

    @ herr doktor bimler:

    As a farm boy, you might appreciate recent explorations of natural farming/ dairy/ poultry being subject to political tyranny- or suchlike- courtesy of Mike Adams @ Natural News.

  18. #18 Green Eagle
    Charleston, SC
    June 4, 2012

    Hippocrates is a major historical figure in the history of medicine, but quoting him as an authority is a little like saying “a majority of witch doctors agree…”

  19. #19 Roadstergal
    June 4, 2012

    Wouldn’t a homepathic counterattack take the form of mildly agreeing with everything your opponent said?

    Great, now they’ll start appealing to the historical success of damning with faint praise to prove the validity of homeopathy.

  20. #20 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    June 4, 2012

    Ugh. Homeopathy. I remember looking for some kid’s allergy medicine for my son and someone suggested a homeopathic allergy medicine. I replied with, “I have sugar and tap water at home. Why should I pay 9.99 for it here?”

  21. #21 DLC
    June 4, 2012

    isn’t it bad enough we have companies selling homeopathic crap over the counter in pharmacies and grocery stores ?
    I think I’ll create a line of Jello shots and label them as supplements for improving the mood, heightening libido, and having a headache in the morning. At least that would be relatively honest.

  22. #22 Marry Me, Mindy
    June 4, 2012

    “I have sugar and tap water at home. Why should I pay 9.99 for it here?”

    I guess I don’t know enough about homeopathy, but what does sugar have to do with it? I thought it was take a substrate and then start diluting, diluting, diluting.

  23. #23 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    June 4, 2012

    Marry Me, Mindy

    The major portion of a homeopathic pill is sugar, generally lactose.

  24. #24 Lawrence
    June 4, 2012

    @MMM – don’t forget, you have to hit the solution against a Bible a few times too, right?

  25. #25 Narad
    June 4, 2012

    The piece in Hippocrates writing goes “Another principle is the following: a disease arises because of similars, and, by being treated with similars, patients recover from such diseases.”

    Thanks. This is Places in Man 42. Now I’m of half a mind to go peruse the Craik.

  26. #26 Swivels
    June 4, 2012

    @Eric Lund – I’m a McGill grad, and everyone referred to profs there as Dr. ________. Mind you, I’m an anglo from another province, as were most of my friends, but I don’t recall ever hearing a prof being called Mr./Ms.

    And yes, you’re translating syndicat correctly. It can also mean a union, but in this context I would translate it as a professional association.

  27. #27 Marry Me, Mindy
    June 4, 2012

    MOB – so how does that work? Do they make a solid mixture or something? And then dilutE with more sugar?

    Or is it crystalized? How does lactose have the memory of …v. What? I don’t get it.

  28. #28 JGC
    June 4, 2012

    They dilute out the supposed ‘similar’ ingredient 100C or so–way past the point where statistically there can be any molecules of it present in that final dilution–then place a drop of the dilution on a sugar pill and let it dry.

    Apparently the water not only magically ‘remembers’ the ingredient, but magically teaches the sugar pill to magically remember it as well. Magically.

  29. #29 Composer99
    http://composer99.blogspot.com
    June 4, 2012

    C’mon people, all we need to do is to be open-minded about whether such foundational science as conservation of matter & energy will be disproven someday.

    Therefore, homeopathy!

    Amirite?

  30. #30 dreamer
    June 4, 2012

    OT to this post, my friend pulled this study out to prove to me that electroacupuncture works. Has Orac directed this study yet? It’s from Georgetown, mentioned on this blog for its quackademic woo.
    http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/010112.htm
    My friend believes his chiropractor cures horses from stress with acupuncture …

  31. #31 brian
    June 4, 2012

    I thought that the concept of a homeopathic pill was so bizarre that, well, I googled it. The second hit as something like this:

    “Astronaut survives overdose of homeopathic sleeping pills.”

    http://www.thelocal.se/34796/20110707/

  32. #32 Denice Walter
    June 4, 2012

    @ Composer99:

    Yes, I have been informed that both the strong and weak forces are merely propaganda from the scientific establishment which is deeply in need of the much ballyhooed paradigm shift- it’s on the way.

  33. #33 Zan
    June 4, 2012

    @Eric Lund /Swivel
    Most full professors have a PhD in France as well (it is required now), but you usually refer to them with “Monsieur Dupont”, even in the most formal academic context.
    I’m not saying that the choice of Mr. in the letter in question was innocent, but when I read it, as a Frenchman, it did not strike me as inappropriate.

  34. #34 Marry Me, Mindy
    June 4, 2012

    JGC – oh come on! There’s no honking way anyone could be stupid enough to really believe that, can they*v

    Isn’t this much better explained that most people don’t have the foggiest clue about what homeopathy really entails?

    I know most people think homeopathy means naturopathy. If they actually were aware of the claims of homeopathy, most people would scoff as much as anyone.

    A drop of highly diluted stuff, allowed to dry? What a joke. Jebus, you can’t even invoke “water memory” to justify that!

  35. #35 Candy
    June 4, 2012

    I saw homeopathic yeast infection pills at Walgreen’s, right in with the packages of Monistat 1 etc. Lemme just say, if I bought homeopathic medicine for a yeast infection, when it inevitably failed to work, I might be somewhat intemperate in my responses to the staff.

    Why can’t we have laws disallowing the sale of homeopathic products right along side real medicine, at least in drug stores? At the very least, the magical remedies should be in their own section.

  36. #36 meg
    June 4, 2012

    @herr doktor bimler

    We have a client that promotes alternative veterinary medicine. Obviously, I can’t give out details, but I’m sure a google search would result in plenty of hits. My boss thought it was a cool idea – I commented that it was just as well his wife took care of their cats.

    Personally, my grey cockatiel has spent the last week in animal hospital for something that made him very ill – the vets haven’t pinned it down, but think that it’s something he ate. So how the hell would giving him more of what made him (even diluted) make him better? Especially as he would have had it in a small dose? Sorry, but the antibiotics and calcinate(?) did the job, and he’s now home cause as much drama in our household as ever. I’ll take that over ‘experimenting’ with his life any day.

  37. #37 rw23
    June 4, 2012

    @Candy, 6.16pm:

    At the very least, the magical remedies should be in their own section.

    I suggest they be moved to a hidden underground chamber, only accessible to people capable of casting a teleport spell.

  38. #38 ChrisP
    June 4, 2012

    Marry Me, Mindy

    Homeopathy is that ridiculous. Most people on the street actually think homeopathy is a form of herbal medicine. For some strange reason most homeopaths are not very keen on disabusing the general public of that notion. They have a tendency to promote homeopathy as herbal medicine plus magic.

  39. #39 Krebiozen
    June 4, 2012

    At this point I will mention the somewhat out-of-date website of The British Veterinary Voodoo Society which is devoted to opposing homeopathy in veterinary medicine. It’s worth a browse, if only for the case reports and the letters.

  40. #40 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    June 4, 2012

    I suggest they be moved to a hidden underground chamber, only accessible to people capable of casting a teleport spell.

    Ooo, better yet, how about a divining rod?

  41. #41 bad poet
    June 4, 2012

    Homeopathy: a journey to the center of the believer’s mind. There couldn’t be less in it.

  42. #42 Candy
    June 4, 2012

    I suggest they be moved to a hidden underground chamber, only accessible to people capable of casting a teleport spell.

    Ooo, better yet, how about a divining rod?

    I like both of these ideas very much. I wonder if Walgreen’s has a suggestions box?

  43. #43 David N. Brown
    June 4, 2012

    “So what we have is a homeopath referring to another homeopath bringing his quackery for AIDS to Africa and doing poorly designed clinical studies that don’t show what homeopaths think they show.”

    I’d call this reckless endangerment at best.

    David N. Brown

    Mesa, Arizona

  44. #44 David N. Brown
    June 4, 2012

    @Candy,
    “At the very least, the magical remedies should be in their own section.”
    Good idea. Such a section could also include relics of Catholic saints, native American totems, voodoo dolls, etc, etc. Or would the priests, shamans and witch doctors complain?

    David N. Brown
    Mesa, Arizona

  45. #45 Marry Me, Mindy
    June 4, 2012

    ChrisP – that’s exactly it. I really think that if people actually knew what homeopathy was, many fewer would take it seriously.

  46. #46 herr doktor bimler
    June 4, 2012

    “At the very least, the magical remedies should be in their own section.” Good idea. Such a section could also include relics of Catholic saints,

    The ability of the homeopathic ‘nano-particles’ to survive progressive dilution makes a lot more sense when you realise that they are merely governed by the same physical principles that produce the Miraculous Multiplication of relics.

  47. #47 MikeMa
    June 4, 2012

    I am on a business trip to a town in NW India where many of the ubiquitous traffic circles have statues and enchanting artwork in them. However, Samuel Hahnemann is in one on my way to work every day. My only solace to this ignorance is that he often has a bird perched on his head.

  48. #48 Dangerous Bacon
    June 4, 2012

    “Herds of cattle”? Now that’s mooving testimony.

    Orac: “Personally, if I were the editor of The Gazette or a dean or the chair of the chemistry department at McGill, the only measure I’d deem useful enough to do in response to this letter would be to give Dr. Joe a hearty congratulation, along with a high five.”

    Or a pay raise.

  49. #49 Antonio
    June 4, 2012

    For my son’s next B-day party (he is 4 years) I will hire a homeopathic practitioner instead of a magician (or clown).
    “….ok kids, then I dilute this even one more time….and voilá….I cure diseases….”
    All the kids will go “hahahahaha……clap, clap”
    Well, actually maybe I wont

  50. #50 borealys
    June 4, 2012

    Another McGill grad chiming in… certainly all of my professors were “Dr. So-and-So.” But then, McGill is an English university, with as much or maybe more in common with English universities elsewhere in the country than with the French universities just up the street. Any UQAM or U Montreal grads around who could shed some light on the question of how a professor with a PhD is addressed in the French system? Is this, in fact, as petty and rude as it looks?

    And yes, a syndicat could be a professional association or a union. It’s not, though, to be confused with a professional order — it’s orders, not associations, that are recognized with official status by the government and have the authority to enforce protection of titles and scopes of practice. There’s no order of homeopaths here, I’m glad to say. Of course, we do have an “Ordre des acupuncteurs” and an “Ordre des chiropracticiens” … sigh.

  51. #51 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    June 4, 2012

    Marry Me Mindy – it gets even stranger, because apparently sometimes alcohol has memory too (alcohol is used for some things that aren’t water soluble). And as has been pointed out, pills have a drop of the solution (i.e. solvent) when they’re made. I’d like to be able to say that the water (or alcohol) stays there as water of crystallization, but I don’t recall that lactose traps water in its crystal structure.

    If you want to improve your memory, nothing beats a little pure grain alcohol. Wait…?

  52. #52 Autistic Lurker
    June 4, 2012

    @McGill Grads, I’ve been to a french university even tought now, I’m in an english one and when I started, I didn’t knew better so I called them Mr. so and so but now, I make sure to call them Dr but they didn’t mind the Mr. so and so.

    A.L.

  53. #53 RTContracting
    June 5, 2012

    It is funny that the SPHQ would quibble that

    “Homeopathy was never invented by Samuel Hahnemann, but rather goes back to ancient Greece.”

    Especially when their own web site says (my translation):

    In 1796 Hahnemann discovered the principles of a totally new form of medicine; homeopathy was born.

    http://www.sphq.org/pdf/homeopathie_homeopathes_celebres_hahnemann.pdf

  54. #54 RTContracting
    June 5, 2012

    The SPHQ web site also links to a few “scientific” studies on their web site. There are really only a few links to peer-reviewed studies, but in there is this gem:

    http://www.sphq.org/doc_etudes/homeopathy_menopausal_symptoms_a_review_of_evidence.pdf

    Which concludes:

    None of the randomised controlled trials (RCTs performed to date have reported a statisticall significant effect for the use of homeopathi remedies in the treatment of menopausal symptoms.

  55. #55 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    June 5, 2012

    I know my professors in the US wanted to be called ‘Professor X” (None of them were bald, though.) Out here where I am now, we’re on a first-name basis, which drives me batshit. There’s no formality between professor and student. If you call them “Professor” or “Doctor” they give you a funny look and say, “Call me Jon/whatever”.

  56. #56 Michael Edmonds
    June 5, 2012

    Thanks for spreading the word re Dr Joe’s exploits with the homeopathic organisation. The flaws and arrogance in their letter makes it one of the most phenomenally stupid things I have read in a long while

  57. #57 Beamup
    June 5, 2012

    @ Darwy:

    In my experience (US physics) undergrads are expected to use “Professor X.” Maybe even first- or second-year grad students. But once research begins, a first-name basis is completely standard.

  58. #58 Mojo
    June 5, 2012

    @Mephistopheles O’Brien

    I’d like to be able to say that the water (or alcohol) stays there as water of crystallization, but I don’t recall that lactose traps water in its crystal structure.

    Even if there is water of crystallization present, any structure it has will be the result of the lactose molecules it is in a lattice with, not anything that used to be dissolved in it.

  59. #59 Mojo
    June 5, 2012

    @JGC

    Apparently the water not only magically ‘remembers’ the ingredient, but magically teaches the sugar pill to magically remember it as well. Magically.

    Not only that, but if you take one of the magic sugar pills and put it in a bottle with a load of sugar pills that are not yet magic, it can magically tell them about it and make them magic as well.

    Homoeopaths call this “grafting”.

  60. #60 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    June 5, 2012

    @Mojo,

    Are you the same Mojo who has been challenging “Iqbal” on the Quackometer homeopathy thread? If so, you have way more patience than I do. I admire your persistence in the face of such ignorance.

    I’m glad Iqbal hasn’t discovered this thread yet!

  61. #61 Katherine
    North Carolina, United States
    June 5, 2012

    Wait, I think she DID manage the logical fallacy trifecta:

    “The number of practitioners of homeopathy around the world is in the hundreds of thousands, including around a hundred thousand medical doctors.”

    Isn’t that reference to “a hundred thousand medical doctors” an appeal to authority? I’m a long-time lurker and first time poster, so I wanted to say thanks for the great blog!

  62. #62 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    June 5, 2012

    @Beamup

    I was shocked that the grade school kids out here call their teachers by their first names. I get a twitch each time I hear it.

  63. #63 Denice Walter
    June 5, 2012

    @ Mojo:

    Is there any end to this magic? Do the pills also affect whatsoever they’ve touched like the bottle et al?
    It’s breattakingly hilarious!

  64. #64 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    June 5, 2012

    Denice,
    Check out something called “programmed water”. It’s an extension of the homeo principle, but not only does water have memory, it can also READ! The quack selling this stuff puts a label on a vial of water that the water then “reads” and knows what kind of problem to treat.

  65. #65 Mojo
    June 5, 2012

    Check out something called “programmed water”. It’s an extension of the homeo principle, but not only does water have memory, it can also READ! The quack selling this stuff puts a label on a vial of water that the water then “reads” and knows what kind of problem to treat.

    That’s also known as a “paper remedy”. It doesn’t actually need to be a label on a vial – just writing it on a piece of paper and putting it under a glass of water will transfer the magic from the paper to the water.

  66. #66 JGC
    June 5, 2012

    So what exactly are the claims for programmed water? Are there any limits to it’s efficacy?

    I propose a test–program the water to cure canide poisoning, then invite the people producing and selling it to step up and drink potassium cyanide dissolved in their ‘miracle’ cure.

    They should be just fine, right? I mean, they told the water what to do…

  67. #67 Denice Walter
    June 5, 2012

    @ Marc Stephens Is Insane:

    I actually met a water and crystal programmer a few weeks ago in a very woo-drenched locale- she sold crystal necklaces and programmed them and the water ( also for sale) to engender love, luck, money and health. She was herself in a motorised wheelchair and of course, having extremely good manners, I didn’t ask the obvious question.
    But she did tell me that she learned from trade from native peoples or suchlike. I forget which native peoples they were.

  68. #68 Katherine Lorraine
    June 5, 2012

    Orac, this actually is an incredibly savage counterattack! See, it’s so light and fluffy because all the savageness and truth has been diluted to the point of non-existance!

    That counterattack, man… I might start being a homeopath since it so clearly elucidated me on the matter. Homeopathy is right, science is wrong, Big Foot DOES exist!! (/snark)

  69. #69 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    June 5, 2012

    JGC,

    You’ll probably regret this, as it will take a long time to wash the stupid from your eyes, but here’s a website for one Nancy Alcorn, a programmed water purveyor in Glendora, California.

    It’s all about vibrational medicine, don’t cha know. But this woman is deep into the woo-doo-doo. There’s a video posted where she discusses Rife machines, her blog mentions indigo children, UFOs, reprogramming DNA with frequencies, energy healing, etc.

    From her website:

    About Programmed Water

    I use a very powerful form of Energy Medicine called Body Talk™ as the structure or framework of my elixirs. Body Talk™ is extremely sophisticated and complex in its ability to work with the body and its many systems. A formula is created from the Body Talk™ protocol by my guides which is then printed and taped to the bottles so that the water can read it. After about six days, the elixir is ready to be set with vodka. The vodka acts as a preservative, fixing and protecting the energy frequency that has been placed into the bottle.

    Besides the Body Talk™, I use gem stones, aromatherapy, flower essences, color, movement and Sacred Geometry. I am also experimenting with Rife Frequencies and hertz. I do not use a frequency generator or sound but simply write it down and tape it to the bottle so the water can read it. That is sufficient for the vibrational frequency to be programmed into the water.

    Her blog: http://www.programmedwater.com/

    These “elixirs” have names like “energy support”, “peaceful embrace”, “divine cornucopia” and ‘physical enhancement”.

    And what’s in, let’s say, “energy support”? Here are the ingredients:

    Energy Support
    Ingredients: Water, Vodka. (4 Fluid Oz.)
    Infused with the energetic signature of Sacred Geometry, Body Talk™, the color Blue and the essential oils of rose rugosa, spruce, blue tansy, rosewood, frankincense, helichrysum, ledum, fennel, rosemary, geranium and Roman chamomile

    All this for only $34 per 4 oz. bottle!

    Here’s the sales pitch site for the programmed water, but be prepared to laugh. The “research” tab is a hoot:

    http://globalwellnessnaturally.com/

  70. #70 Katherine Lorraine
    June 5, 2012

    @Marc Stephens:

    I’m going to patent a method of transferring energy into water by speaking to it with magic words. I’ll record a thirty second loop of my “magic technique” and wrap it up into a half hour recording. I’ll sell the recording for 5 bucks to anyone who wants to fill their water with magical recharging energies. I’ll be a billionaire!

  71. #71 Roadstergal
    June 5, 2012

    The ancient native American practice of writing remedies on paper with ink? Eee-yup.

    I suppose the materials would have been around if she had learned the art from ‘native’ Chinese, or some such.

  72. #72 Prometheus
    Mt. Olympus
    June 5, 2012

    Denice Walter recalls:

    “She was herself in a motorised wheelchair and of course, having extremely good manners, I didn’t ask the obvious question.”

    Sadly, I have the same inhibitions – when Deepak Chopra was signing books at a local bookstore event, I found myself unable to ask him if he found his lecture schedule too grueling to practise his “quantum” anti-aging techniques. Compared to the photo on his book jackets, he appears to have aged significantly.

    “But she did tell me that she learned from trade from native peoples or suchlike. I forget which native peoples they were.”

    There’s such delightful amiguity in the term “native peoples”. My sister (with blonde hair and blue eyes) once asserted in class that she was a “Native American”, since she was born in the US – and had a birth certificate to prove it.

    More to the point, the people anthropologists refer to as “aboriginal peoples” (i.e. people descended from pre-historic inhabitants of the region) typically relied on “magical” remedies (i.e. ineffective rituals) and so had high rates of disease and low life expectancy. Modern people who utilise these remedies in place of modern medicine are likely to experience similar results.

    Prometheus

  73. #73 Prometheus
    Mt. Olympus
    June 5, 2012

    One final irrelevant comment about “native peoples”. There are – technically – no truly “native” Americans, since all of the humans residing in the Americas originated somewhere else (the best data indicate Africa) and emigrated to the Americas.

    A better term might be the “First Peoples”, a term I heard in an anthropology seminar. The “First Peoples” are those who descended from pedestrian immigrants (i.e. those who walked to the Americas over the Bering land bridge). The rest – whose ancestors came here by boat or aeroplane – are the immigrant peoples of the Americas.

    Prometheus

  74. #74 Denice Walter
    June 5, 2012

    Prometheus:\

    I figured that she had mobility problems, ran a business in a high rent area and created some attractive necklaces, so who am I to interfere?

    I think she implied more than one type of native peoples- I caught a little Ayurvedic lingo.

    -btw- we’re all from AFRICA- I once invoked the wrath of a person who believed otherwise and did not appreciate some ultra-white fair-haired woman telling him so- he stomped off as well he should have: he had no real answer to the SB evidence.

  75. #75 JGC
    June 5, 2012

    I often regret the fact that I have a pretty robust set of ethical principles firmly engrained…there’s a lot of money to be made if one doesn’t. Programmed water? Tip of the iceberg.

  76. #76 Katherine Lorraine
    June 5, 2012

    @JGC:

    Yea, I know. My little patent idea there, could be worth a mine. I’d just have to find some gullible fool to tote it onto and that’d be that.

    Unfortunately, those gosh-darned ethical principles. I try hard not to be dishonest, so I can’t go about bilking people with snake oil.

    Darn.

  77. #77 RTContracting
    June 5, 2012

    Zan / Eric Lund / Swivels / Borealys / Darwy:

    I did some undergrad in a francophone university in Quebec. Even first-year undergrads were on a first name basis with their profs.

    So, I don’t know what the appropriate formal designation should be for a PhD in Quebec. I don’t think anyone does because it doesn’t seem to ever get used…

    I think that Mme Beaulieu is not trying to insult. She is just ignorant of English customs (and science).

  78. #78 Denice Walter
    June 5, 2012

    @ JGC:
    @ Katherine Lorraine:

    We’re all ethics-bound. I recall a family member telling me that just because I could talk others into doing what I wanted didn’t mean I necessarily *should*..I was about 6, I think.

    Unfortunately, those whom I survey never received ( or to be fair, never followed) that advice. Ironically, they are the same prevaricators who spew on endlessly about the ‘corruption” of SBM, pharma ‘crimes’ and governmental plans to steal citizens’ rights… while they sell over-priced, uneccessary supplements and unrealistic promises.

  79. #79 Jenora Feuer
    Still should be working...
    June 5, 2012

    My grandfather was actually treated with bloodletting for some time. Then again, haemochromatosis (Iron overload) is one of the few remaining conditions for which bloodletting is actually a scientifically-based treatment.

  80. #80 Darmon Richter
    United Kingdom
    June 6, 2012

    Alright, so here’s my two cents…

    I grew up on a farm, and our local vet at the time was just beginning to dabble with homeopathy. In addition to providing us with his usual services, every once in a while he would recommend a homeopathic remedy for the treatment of cattle or sheep. The results were staggering, across a wide range of afflictions.

    As a result of that, and in the face of the looming Foot & Mouth disaster, my parents left farming in favour of practicing homeopathy themselves. Again, as I was growing up I saw many cases of homeopathic treatment that seemed to defy any other explanation, other than that the prescription had been successful.

    I am a person of a very scientific mind, and a medical practitioner. As a result, I would never consider trying to offer my own first-hand experiences in lieu of a scientifically provable argument. I can’t give you lab results, or statistics to back up what I’m saying, and so I’m not trying to convince anyone here that homeopathy definitely works. I would consider it a waste of both my time and yours to list examples of times I have seen success from it; suffice to say, that I feel confident it works when practised properly.

    A note for the record – I feel it is important to point out that I have not and never would advise anyone to take homeopathic remedies instead of a more conventional medical treatment. I know that this happens from time to time, often with disastrous results, and that when it does it tends to show homeopathy in a bad light. Such incompetence is rather similar to a surgeon forgetting where your pancreas is though, and is in no way relevant to an evaluation of the efficacy of homeopathic treatment.

    The beauty of science is that it admits to not knowing everything yet – it is a series of best-guesses, as someone-or-other once said. Many modern scientific principles would have appeared closer to magic than to medicine in the past, and so it is impossible to say now that homeopathy *cannot* work – only that it cannot be supported by current scientific theory and understanding. Whether or not it seems likely to work is a subjective opinion based upon this singular fact.

    I know that the majority of those deeply entrenched in the scientific paradigm detest comments like this, but I feel it is important to keep an open mind… and even when practising cold, hard science, to leave a little space for the unexpected. It is my belief that any one of you, if you had seen what I had seen, would share my opinions.

    There is no way for me to convey those experiences to you in any meaningful form though, and as I have no intention of trying to build an argument based on anecdotes, I would simply suggest that people keep an open mind, and remember the difference between ‘impossible’ and ‘unexplainable’. At the end of the day, you can’t be 100% sure that a thorough damning and subsequent rejection of homeopathic treatment is not robbing people of a potential cure for their afflictions. I myself, would never want to gamble when other peoples’ health is concerned.

  81. #81 Prometheus
    Mt. Olympus
    June 6, 2012

    Darmon Richter asserts:

    “At the end of the day, you can’t be 100% sure that a thorough damning and subsequent rejection of homeopathic treatment is not robbing people of a potential cure for their afflictions.”

    Very true – we can never be “100% sure” of many things, especially in biology/medicine. However, we can be 95% sure, 99% sure and – occasionally – 99.99+% sure. Placebo-controlled tests of homeopathy (there’s a nice tautology for someone to unravel) have reliably shown that we can be 95 – 99.99% sure that homeopathy is indistinguishable from placebo.

    In other words, there’s nothing about “like cures like”, infinitesimal dilution or even the succussion that makes a homeopathic “remedy” measurably different from tap water, pure ethanol or an un-altered sugar pill.

    So, we can’t be “100% sure”, but we can be 99.99% sure that homeopathy is pure wishful thinking.

    ” I myself, would never want to gamble when other peoples’ health is concerned.”

    And yet, Mr. Richter does “gamble when other people’s health is concerned”, by his own admission. He’s gambling that his observations of several positive results from homeopathy that “seemed to defy any other explanation” are more valid than methodical observation and testing which – as mentioned above – indicate that the “cures” ascribed to homeopathy are due to random chance.

    I also note that Mr. Richter “hedges” his bet by asserting that he “never would advise anyone to take homeopathic remedies instead of a more conventional medical treatment”. This is prudent, since the available data indicate that homeopathic treatments are not effective for any disorder (the only possible exception being the use of larger amounts of aqueous homeopathic remedy in the treatment of dehydration).

    Mr. Richter completes the homeopathic trifecta with the following:

    “…I would simply suggest that people keep an open mind, and remember the difference between ‘impossible’ and ‘unexplainable’.”

    Mr. Richter, in time-honoured “alternative” medicine fashion, implores that we willingly suspend disbelief and accept his anecdotes as being superior to any and all data to the contrary. Why should we keep an “open mind” (i.e. believe what he and other apologists for homeopathy claim despite the preponderance of data showing the opposite) when his mind is absolutely closed to the possibility that he might be wrong?

    He then confuses “unexplainable” with “not shown” or “disproven”. If homeopathy had been shown to work, then we would be in the situation he imagines – where we have a result that cannot be explained by the known properties of the Universe. However, whenever homeopathy is properly tested, it is no better than unadulterated water, ethanol or sugar. As a result, we have no results in need of explaining, thus, nothing “unexplainable” and no need to remind us that the inexplicable is not “impossible”.

    As other commentors have remarked, it is indeed a sad fact – for my bank account – that I have this rigid and inflexible need to not knowingly exploit the gulliblity of my fellow man. If I were freed of this compulsion, I too could become a successful homeopath.

    Prometheus

  82. #82 JGC
    June 6, 2012

    The beauty of science is that it admits to not knowing everything yet

    There’s a huge difference between “not knowing everything yet” and “not knowing anything yet”, however, and there are two things science does know right now:

    1) For homepathy to work as described not only would everything we know about chemistry, biology, molecules, solutions, etc., have to be wrong it would have to be spectacularly wrong

    and

    2) Homeopathic remedies when tested in well designed trials of sufficient scale to generate statistically meanignful results have never been found to perform any better than do placebo controls

  83. #83 anandine
    June 6, 2012

    They intentionally refuse to use the title of “Dr.” as a not-so-subtle dig at their target.

    My recollection of Harvard 40 years ago is that we addressed people as dean or mister but not professor or doctor. St. John’s College in Annapolis Maryland has tutors, who are called mister or miss.

  84. #84 herr doktor bimler
    June 6, 2012

    in the face of the looming Foot & Mouth disaster, my parents left farming in favour of practicing homeopathy themselves

    So being a quack and exploiting farmers is more lucrative than actual farming? No surprises there.

  85. #85 peebs
    June 6, 2012

    Actually, Herr Doctor, in providing his location he’s just dropped his parents right in the shit.

    It’s absolutely against the law over her to prescribe any medication (however ineffective) unless qualified as a vet.

    The law is much more stringent because humans have free will and a choice.

    Our potential dinners do not.

  86. #86 Narad
    June 6, 2012

    I am a person of a very scientific mind, and a medical practitioner.

    What kind? Because it would totally suck if you’re Damon Richter, hypnotist.

  87. #87 Narad
    June 6, 2012

    ^ “Darmon,” sorry about the typo.

  88. #88 ChrisP
    June 6, 2012

    Hi Darmon Richter, you seem to have got the operation of science backwards. While the beauty of science may be that it does not know everything, one of the beauties is that it is easy to determine that ideas are wrong. Homeopathy has been repeatedly shown to be wrong. It doesn’t work, it can’t work, there is no plausible reason why it should work.

    And Darmon, I think you are being a bit over-enthusiastic about your expertise in medicine. When I search the GMC list of registered doctors in the UK, which you can find here:

    http://www.gmc-uk.org/doctors/register/LRMP.asp

    you did not appear? Why would that be? Are you telling us a porky and you are not Darmon Richter, medical practitioner, but instead are Darmon Richter, freelance writer, musician, hypnotist and confirmed bohemian?

  89. #89 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    June 6, 2012

    ChrisP,

    Don’t forget “Darmon Richter, part-time prophet”

    https://twitter.com/#!/DarmonRichter

  90. #90 ChrisP
    June 6, 2012

    Part-time prophet huh? That would explain why he failed to predict somone would check his claim on the GMC Register.

    If you are going to be a prophet, you need to be a full-time one.

  91. #91 Adrian W.
    June 7, 2012

    I must admit, I love comments that begin “I’m a scientifically-minded person, but…”, then go on to display total ignorance of how science actually works.

  92. #92 Roadstergal
    June 7, 2012

    In addition to providing us with his usual services, every once in a while he would recommend a homeopathic remedy for the treatment of cattle or sheep. The results were staggering, across a wide range of afflictions.

    If cattle or sheep are staggering, they’re generally not well.

  93. #93 Kat Zand
    New York, New York
    June 21, 2012

    Homeopathy is not going away anytime soon. In certain circles, the use of it is growing. I just read a recent article talking about its use in zoos now.

    Zoos Increasingly Turning To Alternative Healing Methods
    http://petslady.com/articles/zoos_increasingly_turning_alternative_healing_methods_56790

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