Respectful Insolence

Homeopaths swing and miss yet again…

Homeopathy amuses me. Homeopaths amuse me as well, which is why I’m resurrecting this post. It was originally published elsewhere a few years ago and somehow never crossposted here. So if it seems a bit dated, fear not; Orac hasn’t fired up his Tarial cells and managed to go back in time. Now, I realize that lately, due to my work schedule, I’ve had a tendency to crosspost too much between this blog and my other less “insolent” blogging locale. I know that and plan to try to do much less of it in 2013.

But it’s not 2013, and I’m still sort of on vacation.

Besides, I have a very good reason to resurrect and repurpose this post with a new introduction now, and that’s because Dr. Joe Schwarcz participated in a debate with a homeopath entitled Homeopathy: Mere Placebo or Great Medicine?:

I happened to be on vacation at the time, and upon returning things were really crazy; so somehow I never got around to mentioning or promoting it. I hope Dr. Joe will consider this as an example of “better late than never.” Be that as it may, not surprisingly, Dr. Joe came out clearly on top, but that didn’t stop the homeopaths, who were apparently none too happy with him, so much so that they followed up with numerous complaints and attacks, all of them as baseless and ungrounded in science as homeopathy itself. In fact, one of our favorite homeopathic punching bags (metaphorically, of course) even showed up in the comments. Yes, Dana Ullman once again tried to refute Dr. Joe’s arguments and, once again, he came out of it looking like a fool.

All of this reminded me why homeopathy and homeopaths both amuse and appall me. The amusement comes from just how utterly ridiculous the concepts behind homeopathy are. Think about it. It is nothing but pure magical thinking. Indeed, at the very core of homeopathy is a concept that can only be considered to be magic. In homeopathy, the main principles are that “like heals like” and that dilution increases potency. Thus, in homeopathy, to cure an illness, you pick something that causes symptoms similar to those of that illness and then dilute it from 20C to 30C, where each “C” represents a 1:100 dilution. Given that such levels of dilution exceed Avagaddro’s number by many orders of magnitude, even if any sort of active medicine was used, there is no active ingredient left after a series of homeopathic dilutions. Indeed, this was known as far back as the mid-1800′s. Of course, this doesn’t stop homeopaths, who argue that water somehow retains the “essence” of whatever homeopathic remedy it has been in contact with, and that’s how homeopathy “works.” Add to that the mystical need to “succuss” (vigorously shake) the homeopathic remedy at each dilution (I’ve been told by homeopaths, with all seriousness, that if each dilution isn’t properly succussed then the homeopathic remedy will not attain its potency), and it’s magic all the way down, just as creationism has been described as “turtles all the way down.” Even more amusing are the contortions of science and logic that are used by otherwise intelligent people to make arguments for homeopathy. For example, just read some of Lionel Milgrom‘s inappropriate invocations of quantum theory at the macroscopic level for some of the most amazing woo you’ve ever seen, or Rustum Roy‘s claims for the “memory of water.” Indeed, if you want to find out just how scientifically bankrupt everything about homepathy is, Dr. Kimball Atwood provided an excellent primer with his five part series on homeopathy.

At the same time, homeopathy and homeopaths appall me. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is how anyone claiming to have a rational or scientific viewpoint can fall so far as to twist science brutally to justify magic. Worse, homepaths and physicians sucked into belief into the sorcery that his homeopathy are driven by their belief to carry out unethical clinical trials in Third World countries, even on children. Meanwhile, time, resources, and precious cash are wasted chasing after pixie dust by our own government through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). So while I laugh at the antics of homeopaths going on and on about the “memory of water” or quantum gyroscopic models” in order to justify homeopathy as anything more than an elaborate placebo, I’m crying a little inside as I watch.

The Lancet, meta-analysis, and homeopathy

If there’s one thing that homepaths hate–I mean really, really, really hate–it’s a meta-analysis of high quality homeopathy trials published by Professor Matthias Egger in the Department of Social and Preventative Medicine at the University of Berne in Switzerland, entitled Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Indeed, Dr. Joe cited this study (henceforth referred to as Shang et al) in his debate, and a major part of what Dana Ullman tried to do was to attack the study—unsuccessfully. It all harkened back to another time that Dana Ullman tried to attack Shang et al, which led to this post that I’m spiffing up and updating now.

What Shang et al did in their study was very simple and very obvious. They applied the methods of meta-analysis to trials of homeopathy and allopathy. (I really hate that they used the term “allopathy” to distinguish scientific medicine from homeopathy, although I can understand why they might have chosen to do that for simple convenience’s sake. Still, it grates.) In any case, they did a comprehensive literature search for placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy and then randomly selected trials of allopathy matched for disorder and therapeutic outcome. Criteria used for both were controlled trials with a randomized parallel design and a placebo control with sufficient data presented in the published report to allow the calculation of an odds ratio. These studies were assessed for quality using measures of internal validity, including: randomization, blinding or masking, and data analysis by intention to treat or other. Standard measures of how good the randomization and blinding techniques used in each study are. To boil down the results, the lower the quality of the trial and the smaller the numbers, the more likely a trial of homeopathy was to report an odds ratio less than one (the lower the number the more “positive”–i.e., therapeutic–the effect). The higher the quality of the study and the greater the number of subjects, the closer to 1.0 its odds ratio tended to be. The same was true for trials of allopathy as well, not surprisingly. However, analysis of the highest quality trials showed a range of odds ratios with a 95% confidence interval that overlapped 1.0, which means that there was no statistically significant difference between them and 1.0; i.e., there was not detectable effect. For the very highest quality trials of allopathy, however, there was still an odds ratio less than 1.0 whose confidence level did not include 1.0. The authors concluded:

We acknowledge that to prove a negative is impossible, but we have shown that the effects seen in placebocontrolled trials of homoeopathy are compatible with the placebo hypothesis. By contrast, with identical methods, we found that the benefits of conventional medicine are unlikely to be explained by unspecific effects.

The problems with meta-analysis notwithstanding, as an exercise in literature analysis, Shang et al was a beautiful demonstration that whatever effects due to homeopathy “detected” in clinical trials are nonspecific and not detectably different from placebo effects, exactly as one would anticipate based on the basic science showing that homeopathy cannot work unless huge swaths of our current understanding of physics and chemistry are seriously in error. After all, homeopathic dilutions greater than 12C or so are indistinguishable from water. It’s thus not surprising that homeopaths have been attacking Shang et al beginning the moment it was first published. Indeed, they’ve attacked Dr. Egger as biased and even tried to twist the results to claiming that homepathy research is higher quality than allopathy research. Shang et al may not be perfect, but it’s pretty compelling evidence strongly suggesting that homeopathy is no better than placebo, and the interpretation that, just because more of homeopathy studies identified in the study were of higher quality does not mean that homeopathic research is in general of higher quality than scientific medical research.

Shang et al “blown out of the water”?

Recently, a certain well-known homeopath who’s appeared not only on this blog to defend homeopathy but on numerous blogs has reappeared. His name is Dana Ullman, and he’s recently reappeared on this blog to comment in a post that was several months old and happened to be about homeopathy trials in Third World countries. Indeed, I sometimes think that periodically Mr. Ullman gets bored and decides to start doing blog searches on homeopathy, the better to harass bloggers who criticize his favored form of pseudoscience. No doubt he will appear here as a result of this post, mainly because he’s lately been crowing about another study that he believes to show that Shang et al has been “blown out of the water,” as he puts it.

That’s actually a rather funny metaphor coming from a homeopath, given that homeopathy is nothing more than water. Suffice it to say that our poor overwrought Mr. Ullman is becoming a bit overheated, as is his wont. The guy could really use some propranolol to settle his heartrate down a bit. In any case, the study to which he refers, entitled The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials and coming from a clearly pro-homeopathy source, Dr. Rutten of the Association of Dutch Homeopathic Physicians. One notes that Rutten is very pro-homeopathy. More importantly, he is a member of a group of homeopaths who tried to introduce the concept of “plausibility bias,” in which scientists tend to be biased towards mechanisms that have at least a modicum of plausibility to them (very much unlike homeopathy). Of course, my response to Dr. Rutten and his colleagues is, “You say that as though it were a bad thing!” I promptly renamed “plausibility bias” as “reality bias,” which is far more accurate, given that homeopathy is far more akin to sympathetic magic than it is to science-based medicine.

Suffice it to say that, as always, Mr. Ullman is reading far more into the study than it, in fact, actually says.

The first thing that anyone who’s ever read or done a meta-analysis will already know is that the title of this study by Lüdtke and Rutten is about as close to a “Well, duh!” title as there is. Of course, the conclusions of a meta-analysis depend on the choice of trials used for the analyzed set. That’s exactly the reason why the criteria for choosing trials to include in a meta-analysis are so important and need to be stringently decided upon prospectively, before the study is done. If they aren’t, then investigators can cherry pick studies as they see fit.. That’s also exactly why the critieria need to be designed to include the highest quality studies possible. In fact, I’d be shocked if a reanalysis of a meta-analysis didn’t conclude that the results are influenced by the choice of studies. That being said, the results of Lüdtke and Rutten do not in any way invalidate Shang et al.

One thing that’s very clear reading Lüdtke and Rutten is that this study was clearly done to try to refute or invalidate Shang et al. It’s so obvious. Indeed, no one reanalyzes the data from a study unless they think the original conclusions from it were wrong. No one. There’s no motivation otherwise. Otherwise, why bother to go through all the work necessary? Indeed, Lüdtke and Rutten show this right from the beginning:

Shang’s analysis has been criticized to be prone to selection bias, especially when the set of 21 high quality trials was reduced to those eight trials with large patient numbers. In a letter to the Lancet, Fisher et al. posed the question: ‘‘to what extend the meta-analysis results depend on how the threshold for ‘large’ studies was defined [3]. The present article addresses this question. We aim to investigate how Shang’s results would have changed if other thresholds had been applied. Moreover, we extend our analyses to other meaningful subsets of the 21 high quality trials to investigate other sources of heterogeneity, an approach that is generally recommended to be a valuable tool for meta-analyses.

Again, this is a “Well, duh!” observation, but it’s interesting to see what Lüdtke and Rutten did with their analysis, because it more or less reinforces Shang et al‘s conclusions, even though Lüdtke and Rutten try very hard not to admit it. What Lüdtke and Rutten did was to take the 21 high quality homeopathy studies analyzed by Shang et al. First off, they took the odds ratios from the studies and did a funnel plot of odds ratio versus standard error, which is, of course, dependent on trial size. The funnel plot showed an assymetry, which was mainly due to three trials, two of which showed high treatment effects and one of which was more consistent with placebo effect. In any case, however, for the eight highest quality trials, no assymetry was found.

What will likely be harped on by homeopaths is that for all 21 of the “high quality” homeopathy trials, the pooled odds ratio from random effect meta-analysis was 0.76 (confidence interval 0.59-0.99. p=0.039). This is completely underwhelming, of course. Even if real, it would likely represent a clinically irrelevant result. What makes me think it’s not clinically relevant is what Lüdtke and Rutten do next. Specifically, they start with the two largest high quality studies of homeopathy and then serially add studies, from those with the highest numbers of patients to those with the lowest. At each stage they calculated the pooled odds ratio. At two studies, the odds ratio remained at very close to 1.0. After 14 trials, the odds ratio became and remained “significantly” less than 1.0 (except when 17 studies were added). The graph:

0

However, when the authors used meta-regression, a different form of analysis, it didn’t matter how many studies were included. The confidence interval always spanned 1.0, meaning a result indistinguishable statistically from an odds ratio of 1.0:

0a

In other words, if a random effect meta-analysis is used, one can torture marginally significant odds ratios out of the data; if a meta-regression is used, one can’t even manage that! In other words, this study actually shows tht it doesn’t really matter too much which high quality studies are involved, other than that adding lower quality studies to higher quality studies starts to skew the results to seemingly positive values.

Exactly as one who knows anything about meta-analysis would predict.

The amazing thing about Lüdtke and Rutten’s study, though, is just how much handwaving is involved to try to make this result sound like a near-refutation of Shang et al. For example, they start their discussion out thusly:

In our study, we performed a large number of meta-analyses and meta-regressions in 21 high quality trials comparing homeopathic medicines with placebo. In general, the overall ORs did not vary substantially according to which subset was analyzed, but P-values did.

That is, in essence, what was found, and the entire discussion is nothing more than an attempt to handwave, obfuscate, and try to convince readers that there is some problem with Shang et al that render its conclusions much less convincing than they in fact are. Indeed, I fear very much for them. They’ll get carpal tunnel syndrome with all that handwaving. We’re talking cherry picking subset analysis until they can find a subset that shows an “effect.” More amusingly, though, even after doing all of that, this is the best they can come up with:

Our results do neither prove that homeopathic medicines are superior to placebo nor do they prove the opposite. This, of course, was never our intention, this article was only about how the overall resultsdand the conclusions drawn from themdchange depending on which subset of homeopathic trials is analyzed. As heterogeneity between trials makes the results of a meta-analysis less reliable, it occurs that Shang’s conclusions are not so definite as they have been reported and discussed.

I find this particularly amusing, given that Shang et al bent over backwards not to oversell their results or to make more of them than they show. For example, this is what they said about their results:

We emphasise that our study, and the trials we examined, exclusively addressed the narrow question of whether homoeopathic remedies have specific effects. Context effects can influence the effects of interventions, and the relationship between patient and carer might be an important pathway mediating such effects.28,29 Practitioners of homoeopathy can form powerful alliances with their patients, because patients and carers commonly share strong beliefs about the treatment’s effectiveness, and other cultural beliefs, which might be both empowering and restorative.30 For some people, therefore, homoeopathy could be another tool that complements conventional medicine, whereas others might see it as purposeful and antiscientific deception of patients, which has no place in modern health care. Clearly, rather than doing further placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy, future research efforts should focus on the nature of context effects and on the place of homoeopathy in health-care systems.

This is nothing more than a long way of saying that homeopathy is a placebo. However, all the qualifications, discussions of “alliances with patients, and reference to cultural beliefs represent an excellent way to say that homeopathy is a placebo nicely rather than in the combative way that I (not to mention Dr. Atwood) like to affect. One thing I can say for sure, though, is that whatever it is that Lüdtke and Rutten conclude in their study (and, quite frankly, as I read their paper I couldn’t help but think at many points that it’s not always entirely clear just what the heck they are trying to show), it is not that Shang et al is invalid, nor is it evidence that homeopathy works.

Indeed, the very title is misleading in that what the study really does is nothing more than to reinforce the results of Shang et al, looking at them in a different way. Indeed, the whole conclusion of Lüdtke and Rutten seems to be that Shang et al isn’t as hot as everyone thinks, except that they exaggerate how hot everyone thought Shang et al was in order to make that point. That’s about all they could do, after all, as they were about as successful at shooting down Shang et al through reanalysis of the original data as DeSoto and Hitlan were when they “reanalyzed” the dataset used by Ip et al to show no correlation between the presence of autism and elevated hair and blood mercury levels and then got in a bit of a blog fight over it. Again, whenever one investigator “reanalyzes” the dataset of another investigator, they virtually always have an axe to grind. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile for them to do such reanalyses or that they won’t find serious deficiencies from time to time, but you should always remember that the investigators doing the reanalysis wouldn’t bother to do it if they didn’t disagree with the conclusions and weren’t looking for chinks in the armor to blast open so that they can prove the study’s conclusions wrong. In this, Lüdtke and Rutten failed.

The inadvertent usefulness of homeopathy trials to science-based medicine

Viewing the big picture, I suppose I can say that there is one useful function that trials of homeopathy serve, and that is to illuminate the deficiencies of evidence-based medicine and how our clinical trial system works. Again, the reason is that homeopathy is nothing more than water and thus an entirely inert placebo treatment. Consequently, any positive effects reported for or any positive correlations attributed to homeopathy must be the result of chance, bias, or fraud. Personally, I’m an optimist and as such tend to believe that fraud is uncommon, which leaves chance or bias. Given the known publication bias in which positive studies are more likely to be published and, if published, more likely to be published in better journals, I feel quite safe in attributing the vast majority of “positive” homeopathy trials either to bias or random chance. After all, under the best circumstances, at least 5% of even the best designed clinical trials of a placebo like homeopathy will be seemingly “positive” by random chance alone. But it’s worse than that Dr. John Ioannidis’ groundbreaking research tells us is that the number of false positive trials is considerably higher than 5%. Indeed, lower the prior probability that a trial will show a positive result, the greater the odds of a false positive trial become. That’s the real significance of Ioannidis’ work. Indeed, a commenter on Hawk/Handsaw put described very well how homeopathy studies illuminate the weaknesses of clinical trial design, only not in the way that homeopaths tell us:

…I see all the homeopathy trials as making up a kind of “model organism” for studying the way science and scientific publishing works. Given that homeopathic remedies are known to be completely inert, any positive conclusions or even suggestions of positive conclusions that homeopathy researchers come up with must be either chance findings, mistakes, or fraud.

So homeopathy lets us look at how a community of researchers can generate a body of published papers and even meta-analyze and re-meta-analyze them in great detail, in the absence of any actual phenomenon at all. It’s a bit like growing bacteria in a petri dish in which you know there is nothing but agar.

The rather sad conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s very easy for intelligent, thoughtful scientists to see signals in random noise. I fear that an awful lot of published work in sensible fields of medicine and biology is probably just that as well. Homeopathy proves that it can happen. (the problem is that we don’t know what’s nonsense and what’s not within any given field.) It’s a warning to scientists everywhere.

Indeed it is, and it applies to meta-analysis just as much as any study, given that meta-analysis pools such stucies. It’s also one more reason why we here at Science-Based Medicine emphasize science rather than just evidence. Moreover, failure to take into account prior probability based on science is exactly what we find lacking in the current paradigm of evidence-based medicine. We do not just include trials of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) in this critique, either. However, trials of homeopathy are about as perfect an example as we can imagine to drive home just how easy it is to produce false positives in clinical trials when empiric evidence is valued more than the totality of scientific evidence. There may be other examples of CAM modalities that have specific effects above and beyond that of a placebo (herbal remedies for example, given that they are drugs). There may be. But to an incredibly high degree of certainty, homeopathy is not among them. Homeopathic remedies are, after all, nothing but water, and their efficacy only exists in the minds of homeopaths, who are, whether they realize it or not, masters of magical thinking, or users of homeopathy, who are experiencing the placebo effect first hand. Studies of homeopathy demonstrate why, in the evidence-based medicine paradigm, there will always be seemingly positive studies to which homeopaths can point, even though homeopathic remedies are water.

REFERENCES:

1. A SHANG, K HUWILERMUNTENER, L NARTEY, P JUNI, S DORIG, J STERNE, D PEWSNER, M EGGER (2005). Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 366(9487), 726-732.

2. R LUDTKE, A RUTTEN (2008). The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials (2008). J. Clin. Epidemiol. 61(12): 1197-1204.

Comments

  1. #1 Denice Walter
    December 31, 2012

    OT: but is homeopathic reality testing un-disturbed by neo-cortical functioning by libertarian woo-meisters who pack heat EVER TRULY OT @ RI?

    I should think not.

    Today @ Natural News, Mikey presents his predictions for the new year and beyond:

    global debt collapse, martial law, shortages of ammo, food shortages, false flag attacks, crackdowns on preppers, world government, radical weather, solar flares, nuclear meltdowns, attacks on internet truth tellers and the Rise of the (( shudder)) Resistance amongst other horrors.

    I guess he’s been talking to Gerald Celente.

  2. #2 Narad
    December 31, 2012

    Indeed, I sometimes think that periodically Mr. Ullman gets bored and decides to start doing blog searches on homeopathy

    I suspect it has more to do with a gnawing realization of personal irrelevance. Dana recently tried to pass off his 2007 Lincoln piece as shiny and new yet again, at HuffPo.

  3. #3 Chris
    Neither here nor there...
    December 31, 2012

    I don’t have time to sit through almost two hours of that video, but can someone tell me if Saine brought up his “research” that claimed homeopathy worked better than conventional therapy for rabies? This is what he claimed when he was part of a homeopathy debate with Dr. Novella: My Day with the Homeopaths – Part II:

    He even claims that homeopathy can cure rabies with 100% success. Rabies is almost 100% fatal, even with modern treatment, so this is quite an astounding claim. An audience member helpfully suggested that we can test this claim on animals that contract rabies, since they are just put to death in any case. I pointed out that if Dr. Saine’s claims are even remotely true it is amazing that such a simple study has not been done in the last two centuries, that we have been sitting on a cure for such a deadly disease all this time and yet homeopaths have never been able to silence critics with a controlled experiments.

    Because if he did, that does bring a fairly simple animal test. Just take three groups of mice, with one group pre-vaccinated for rabies. Then infect all three with rabies and treat one of the unvaccinated groups with homeopathy, and do nothing for the remaining group. See what happens.

  4. #4 herr doktor bimler
    December 31, 2012

    other cultural beliefs, which might be both empowering and restorative.

    So how long do you have to keep practicing a fraud before it becomes a “cultural belief” and therefore deserving of respect? Asking for a friend.

  5. #5 Pareidolius
    Baconville
    December 31, 2012

    I’m glad you reposted this.

    I watched the whole video while making breakfast, and the thing that struck me amid the wafting bacon vapors was the very fact that this argument persists after 200 years is one of the most damning pieces of evidence against it. Not what we’re arguing, but how we’re arguing.

    That SBM has constantly grown and changed over the years (as it has methodically torn down and refashioned itself as new evidence became available), while homeopathy has stood stock still in its magical dogma is a massive red flag. That the modern homeopaths have had to resort to ever more extreme torture of quantum physics in order to justify why their medicine “works” does not bode well for them. It reminds me of the chronic Lyme advocates whose borellia grows ever more chimeric, disobeying the laws of biology and physics to explain the very real suffering of their community. It’s also similar to the torture of statistics and common sense employed by HIV denialists to prove their broken theory and explain away the terrible body count in their wake. Saine had to keep pointing to the work of a handful of poor quality studies from biased outliers (and their fanciful quantum claptrap) and ignore the vast preponderance of work that proves that homeopathy can’t work as advertised.

    He (along with Ullman, Benneth, et. al), is so very emblematic of the defenders of Hahnemann. The brave maverick (fill in appropriate field here) battling Teh Big FarmahLizards and the mean, mean snowman melters of science. I was actually hoping to be challenged and made a bit uncomfortable by having to employ the skills I’ve learned here over the years. Guess I’ll just keep waiting.

  6. #6 LW
    December 31, 2012

    @Chris:

    Just take three groups of mice, with one group pre-vaccinated for rabies. Then infect all three with rabies and treat one of the unvaccinated groups with homeopathy, and do nothing for the remaining group. See what happens.

    Sadly, that won’t work. Homeopathy has to be individualized to the patient and, since mice are unable to answer questions about their dreams and emotions, the homeopath can’t give them the right treatment. Now if you set up a proper trial where you infected human beings with rabies, homeopaths would certainly be able to prove their case. But you allopaths just refuse to set up a proper trial, so it’s your fault they can’t prove it.

    Of course, I’m not quite sure how the homeopathic nostrums in the pharmacy work, nor how pets can be successfully treated with homeopathy, but I am sure there will be an excuse. There always is.

  7. #7 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    December 31, 2012

    After watching this, I’m more confused than ever. Homeopathy, we’re told, requires individual treatment and success is highly dependent on the skill of the prescribing homeopath, but there seems to be no problem with:
    - over the counter homeopathic “remedies”
    - homeopathic treatments for plants
    - veterinary homeopathy

  8. #8 Vasha
    December 31, 2012

    @Chris, such a trial would be unethical. Rabies is horrible, wouldn’t do that to a mouse.

    The rather sad conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s very easy for intelligent, thoughtful scientists to see signals in random noise. I fear that an awful lot of published work in sensible fields of medicine and biology is probably just that as well.

    Remember the dead salmon study.

  9. #9 Chris
    Neither here nor there...
    December 31, 2012

    Vasha, okay, fair point. But it is also a test that would have been done during the past century before ethical rules would have noted if an animal test was important enough to injure animals. Which is what Dr. Novella said in the quote I provided.

  10. #10 Chris
    Neither here nor there...
    December 31, 2012

    Also, Vasha, that salmon was not alive before the MRI. I suspect it was bought at fish monger already dead. First it says:

    It is not known if the salmon was
    male or female, but given the post-mortem state of the
    subject this was not thought to be a critical variable.

    And one image of the fish shows several missing organs, since it had been cleaned. As I recall from when I fished in high school I only removed the guts and left the brain intact, though I usually removed the head.

  11. #11 Vasha
    December 31, 2012

    Er, there wasn’t a connection between the two paragraphs of my comment. Sorry if you wasted time trying to find one.

  12. #12 Chris
    Neither here nor there...
    December 31, 2012

    Well, it was an amusing and slightly baffling diversion.

  13. #13 Jeff
    OH -
    January 1, 2013

    My theory on the efficacy of homeopathy: it is probably slightly more effective than the old cure all for most ailments, blood-letting. Occasionally the patient, despite all odds, managed to survive, and in some cases (hemochromatosis for example) improved. Those cases are of course trumpeted and elevated, while the countless failures are easily forgotten about. A common example from my life is that when the bus is on time, nothing is noted or said by me or others, and the one time in eight that the bus is several minutes late, I complain that the buses are always late. Maybe this is a simplistic and ignorant application of Occams Razor, but homeopathy seems well suited to such an answer.

  14. #14 Mikeb
    January 1, 2013

    I couldn’t sleep so I watched the whole video.

    I used to think homeopaths were silly, pathetic little quacks.

    Now I actually hate them.

    At the end the homeopath said something incredibly bold: He stated something on the order of conventional medicine was merely “palliative” whereas homeopathy treated the whole patient and actually “cured” them; homeopathy would not only cure something but would make it less likely for the problem to recur. Homeopathy would win the day.

    Dr Schwarzc was much too kind to that motherfucker.

  15. #15 Mark McAndrew
    United Kingdom
    January 1, 2013

    These people are mainly deluded – but occasionally just plain lying scum.

    Peter Chappell, founder of Society of Homeopaths, owns several BS-filled websites including one where he claims to have cured AIDS with his own magic water (ie. follow that advice and you die): http://www.healingdownloads.com/docs/peter-chappell-websites-terms-and-conditions.pdf

    Don’t bother arguing with them. Just fight them.

  16. #16 Dangerous Bacon
    January 1, 2013

    I was watching an episode of “WWII In Color” on the Military Channel last night (spoiler alert – the Allies won) and they were running a commercial for a product called “Tag Away”, which is touted as a super-duper skin tag remover. And it’s homeopathic!!!

    What confuses me though is the website promoting Tag Away has a FAQ section in which they advise calling Poison Control if their product is ingested.

    ht_p://www.trytagaway.com/faqs/

    Is this not clear proof of the dangers of homeopathy? Or more evidence of the hazards of dihydrogen monoxide? Someone help me out here.

  17. #17 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    January 1, 2013

    I find the paper at http://www.nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org/files/Chikramaneetal2012LangmuirNPAsymptoticConcentration.pdf interesting. Basically it claims that there actually is active substance in homeopathic remedies, even at 30C and 200C dilutions. The reason is that the way homeopathic remedies are made creates bubbles; the active ingredient is more concentrated in the bubbles than in the solution as a whole; and when you pour out 99% of the solution to start the next dilution, the bubbles stick to the wall of the container and carry most of the active substance on to the next dilution. Thus the effective dilution is much lower than the C number would have you believe.

    For reasons that are unclear to me, they chose to use gold nanoparticles for their test rather than something actually soluble.

  18. #18 Narad
    January 1, 2013

    The reason is that the way homeopathic remedies are made creates bubbles; the active ingredient is more concentrated in the bubbles than in the solution as a whole; and when you pour out 99% of the solution to start the next dilution, the bubbles stick to the wall of the container and carry most of the active substance on to the next dilution.

    Ah, but Hahnemannian dilutions require a new container at each step.

  19. #19 Krebiozen
    January 1, 2013

    Dangerous Bacon,

    Is this not clear proof of the dangers of homeopathy?

    No, it’s clear evidence that the people marketing ‘Tag Away’ don’t know what “homeopathic” means. The active ingredient is essential oil of Thuja occidentalis, which is also alleged to get rid of warts (in ‘Warts No More’ for example – such imaginative names). Homeopathic thuja 6C is also used for warts, which would appear to fly in the face of the principles (such as they are) of homeopathy.

  20. #20 Chemmomo
    Enjoying the New Year
    January 1, 2013

    Re Tag Away – we’ve been bombarded with these ads too. I used the opportunity to tell my kids (who are in elementary school) that was one way they could tell that a product was a waste of money: if it has the word “homeopathic” anywhere on it.

    Sometimes I wonder if we as humans have some sort of need for magical thinking in our lives. As science explains more and more phenomena and fewer people continue believing in mainstream religion, are we shifting that need into these fantastical modes of “medicine” (homeopathy, the Secret, etc)?

    I personally prefer my fantasy where I know it’s fiction. And yes I did spend a good chunk of yesterday watching the Dr Who marathon and I will be taking the one kid who read the book over break to see the Hobbit tomorrow.

  21. #21 Mojo
    January 1, 2013

    @Narad

    Ah, but Hahnemannian dilutions require a new container at each step.

    There is also the Korsakov method, typically used in the manufacture of high dilution remedies, which repeatedly empties and refills a single container, assuming that 1% of the contents remains behind each time.

    The earlier paper by Chikramane et al. on the same topic described a Hahnemannian dilution method used by a manufacturer they visited, and speculated that the particles get trapped in a layer of nanobubbles at the surface, with this layer being removed and used for the next dilution.

  22. #22 Narad
    January 1, 2013

    The earlier paper by Chikramane et al. on the same topic described a Hahnemannian dilution method used by a manufacturer they visited, and speculated that the particles get trapped in a layer of nanobubbles at the surface, with this layer being removed and used for the next dilution.

    Yup, instantly annihilating the “Law of Infinitesimals.”

  23. #23 Militant Agnostic
    Where it is always better with cows around
    January 1, 2013

    Sounds more like nanobabble to me.

  24. #24 Shay
    January 1, 2013

    Nanobubbles. I’ve got to figure out a way to work that word into a conversation, somehow.

  25. #25 Narad
    January 1, 2013

    Nanobubbles. I’ve got to figure out a way to work that word into a conversation, somehow.

    Something something “off with your monolayer” something.

  26. #26 Marie
    January 1, 2013

    @Chemomo

    Regarding your statement, ” As science explains more and more phenomena and fewer people continue believing in mainstream religion, are we shifting that need into these fantastical modes of “medicine” (homeopathy, the Secret, etc)?”

    I have noticed this: Friends who think they as SO DIFFERENT from their religious parents who might believe in some thing like the healing property of Lourdes (or whatever). They will mock their parents & yet in the same breath say, “oh we went to Sonoma and those rocks just have such healing vibrations”. Oh really? Healing vibes?? Magical energy??

  27. #27 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    January 1, 2013

    Shay – as a pickup line, “take off your monolayer and show me your nanobubbles” has mixed results.

  28. #28 Militant Agnostic
    Where it is always better with cows around
    January 2, 2013

    @MOB – what is your sample size?

  29. #29 Shay
    Where there are cows (and cow-tipping)
    January 2, 2013

    @MOB

    I can see where it might be open to misinterpretation.

  30. #30 Shay
    January 2, 2013

    @Militant Agnostic

    You mean size really is important?

    (Ok, I’m going to bed before I get into trouble).

  31. #31 herr doktor bimler
    January 2, 2013

    What’s all this about nannybubbles?
    I did not come to RI expecting Mary Poppins porn.

  32. #32 herr doktor bimler
    January 2, 2013

    The earlier paper by Chikramane et al. on the same topic described a Hahnemannian dilution method used by a manufacturer they visited, and speculated that the particles get trapped in a layer of nanobubbles at the surface, with this layer being removed and used for the next dilution.

    Ah. So the explanation for the purely counterfactual efficacity of homeopathic remedies is that the underlying theory is completely wrong and the dilution technique for producing them doesn’t work. OK.

  33. #33 Narad
    January 2, 2013

    I did not come to RI expecting Mary Poppins porn.

    A likely story.

  34. #34 novalox
    January 2, 2013

    Wonder how long until d.ullman will show up here making some inane statement.

  35. #35 jeffrey
    OH-
    January 2, 2013

    Homeopathy works, here is the proof : one time I had the flu, started taking homeopathic pills, and three weeks later, I recovered. SERIOUSLY, it works about as well as HCA, dr. oz’s new miracle cure for fat. I took that crap 10 years ago, and noticed that it worked better if I stuck to a rigid exercise and nutrition program.Oddly enough, when I went back to a pizza and cola diet, HCA quit working. Weird, huh.

  36. #36 merdeister
    Germany
    January 5, 2013

    I just left the following comment on youtube, perhaps u are interessted to (if u don’t know it anyway):

    Mr Saine critisesed the Shang Paper for including studys were Homeopathy isn’t used properly. But when it comes to proving the evectiveness he relys on a study were Homeopathy isn’t used properly either. First there is the question how u take a History of a unconscious person? Without a proper history u can’t find the right remedy. Why did everyone get the 200C potency? A Homeopath will say that every potency of the same remedy has it’s specific properties. Why did the patients get conventionel Treatment aswell when homeopaths will tell u that only surpresses symptoms. So u cannot prescribe the right homeopathic remedy cause you can’t see all the symptoms.
    So u have to use homeopathy properly to disprove it but u can use any Homeopathy to prove it?

  37. #37 DT35
    January 6, 2013

    Cookie, please.

  38. [...] Homeopaths swing and miss yet again… (scienceblogs.com) [...]

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