Pharyngula

Dear Jezebel

There’s a reason I promote atheism and skepticism coupled with feminism, and it’s not because I’m trying to foist a feminist ideology on skepticism. It’s because skepticism drives me to consider discrimination and injustice as wrong, not just in an abstract moral sense, but unjustifiable and invalid. If I am in any sense a feminist, it is because I am a skeptic, not vice versa. And I think the best way to achieve equality for women, and for minorities of all kinds, is to view the world rationally, empirically, and as objectively as possible. It’s the people who try to justify everything with their biases and gut feelings and falsified opinions that have gotten us in our current mess.

So it really pains me to see the website Jezebel take a big step backwards and publish a ghastly gullible bit of fluff that endorses nonsense, titled “Worth It: A Homeopathic Pain Reliever That Actually Works“.

Sorry, but it doesn’t.

The author thinks it does, but mild pain can be a highly subjective phenomenon, and a little delusion goes a long way in persuading someone to ignore a sensation. The stuff she was playing with is called Arnica, and it’s based on an herbal remedy that’s supposed to have pain-relieving qualities, similar to aspirin. homeopathic arnica has been tested in double-blind, controlled studies, and as you might guess, when the patient doesn’t have the preconception that the little pill will cure their pain, it doesn’t cure the pain. It’s indistinguishable from placebo.

These pills contain 30c arnica, lactose, and sucrose. 30c is the dilution: the arnica is diluted to one part in 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This is the equivalent of 1ml of arnica dispersed into a cube 100 light years on a side. There ain’t no arnica in it. It’s a sugar pill.

The author also plugs arnica gel, which is not homeopathic, but it is a bit vague about the concentration; it’s a 7% solution of I-don’t-know-what. This could do something. Arnica contains thymol, which is fungicidal and antibiotic. It’s effect on pain has been tested in double-blind, controlled studies, with ambiguous results: one study finds a weak analgesic effect, but recommends it be used together with aspirin (which had a stronger effect). Another study found that arnica actually increased pain. This isn’t too surprising, either: “arnica” is a plant, the active agent, whatever it is, hasn’t been identified or purified, so what people are getting is a variable assortment of complex molecules in variable concentrations.

Maybe it actually works. I wouldn’t be surprised — after all, willow bark extracts were also found to alleviate pain. But science tracked down the active ingredient in that willow bark, acetylsalicylic acid, and have been able to work with the pure agent and also analyze the mechanism of action. Arnica? Who knows. Why people are willing to slather on a mystery mix of miscellaneous plant toxins, but get all squeamish at the idea of pharmaceutical chemicals, is a total mystery to me.

But that doesn’t matter. What we’ve got here is one author credulously and enthusiastically peddling a homeopathic nostrum on the basis of subjective personal anecdotes. An n of 1, no controls, no blind experiments, just one person pushing boxes of sugar pills at $8.29 each. And on top of all that, read the comments: lots of people are pushing back and explaining that homeopathy can’t work (excellent!), and others are complaining about “nasty comments” and “rude comments” and getting huffy that skeptics would have the effrontery to expect better analysis.

How do you like this excuse?

Oh for heaven sake. This is not Science, it’s Cassie telling us it works for her. I don’t care if homeopathy is a quack if it works for people and they are happy about it. It’s ain’t that easy making placebo these days. She’s not telling you to cure cancer with homeopathy (and even id she did – you know better don’t do it!) she’s telling us that this gel and pills work for her pain. It’s just popular advice .

Feminism is best served by embracing reality, by thinking critically, and advancing rational arguments. This sloppy Newage shit-slurry of ingenuous gullibility is pure poison to the cause.

Now that’s rudeness. There’s nothing even close in the comments there.

(via Templeton Koala’s blog)

(Also on FtB)