Terra Sigillata

The complicity of revered academic institutions in the promotion of pseudoscience today takes another step forward.

The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP), known formerly as the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (PCP&S), will bestow an honorary Doctor(ate) of Science on John A Borneman, III, to celebrate their Founders’ Day.

From the university press release:

Borneman has spent his lifetime committed to the development and regulation of homeopathic medicine within the United States. He is the third of four generations of “John Bornemans” to attend the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Upon graduation, Borneman joined the firm of John A. Borneman and Sons, Homeopathic Pharmacists, begun by his grandfather in 1907. In 1980, Borneman was a founding director of the newly incorporated Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia Convention of the United States (HPCUS), and in 1983, he was elected the second president of the organization. In the course of his 25 years as president, his leadership evolved HPCUS into a respected international body of scientists and experts consulted by governments world-wide as the leader in homeopathic regulation. His work has led to the wide availability of standardized, high-quality medications to the general public. In Aug. 2008, Borneman assumed the role of HPCUS chairman of the board, where he continues to be a gentle guiding force in a rapidly growing industry. He continues to lecture on homeopathy to both pharmacy and physician assistant students at University of the Sciences, and maintains a practice in community pharmacy and patient care at Treatment Options Pharmacy in King of Prussia, Pa.

Here is a brief primer on homeopathy and you can go to my post here to learn the oft-misunderstood difference between dose-response-based herbal medicines and homeopathic remedies:

Homeopathy is a fraudulent representation of pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences that continues to exist in the United States due solely to political, not scientific, reasons. Indeed, homeopathic remedies are defined as drugs in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [21 U.S.C. 321] Section 201(g)(1) as a result of the 1938 actions of U.S. Senator Royal Copeland (D-NY), a noted homeopath of his time. But scientifically, homeopathic remedies are nothing more than highly-purified water misrepresented as medicine based upon an archaic practice that is diametrically opposed to all pharmacological principles. The mental gymnastics required to teach chemistry, pharmacology, and therapeutics while also embracing homeopathy are beyond the skills of anyone trained in the scientific method.


The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy was the first US institution dedicated to the profession, founded in 1821 in the city’s Carpenters’ Hall. The school counts among its graduates the founders and namesakes of the country’s foremost pharmaceutical companies such as Dr Eli Lilly (1907) and his father Josiah K Lilly (1882), Gerald F Rorer (1931), William R Warner (1856), Robert L McNeil, Jr, (1938) and his grandfather Robert McNeil (1876), John Wyeth (1854), Silias M Burroughs (1877), and Sir Henry S Wellcome (1874).

Among my contemporaries (yes, I was a PCP&S undergrad), the college has graduated one of the top ten most highly-cited authors in the biomedical sciences, Dr Kenneth A Kinzler (1983), a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins, as well as our own guest blogger last Friday, Dr Michael Wolfe (1984), Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. On the business side, another highly-successful graduate (1986) was Mary A Parenti, PharmD, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Medical Education Systems – when she sold her company, she donated over a million dollars to the university to establish a plaza in her parent’s name, providing a beautiful urban oasis for students and faculty to gather at this otherwise urban, landlocked campus.

At the time Parenti earned her degrees, the school had a total of 19,000 graduates since 1821.

So, today, on Founders’ Day no less, this revered institution that gave rise to a high concentration of pharmaceutical leaders, researchers, and pharmacy professionals, will give an honorary science degree to an individual whose business has been the promotion and sales of the most unscientific of pseudoscience remedies among the spectrum of alternative medicine.

A more detailed analysis, my letter of protest, and response from the university president can be found in these two posts at Science-Based Medicine:

Historic College of Pharmacy to Honor Homeopathy Leader

University of the Sciences in Philadelphia Justification for Scientific Honor of Homeopathic Leader, John A. Borneman, III

A very weak and disappointing response
from the president of USP Student Government Association can be found in the comment thread of the second post.

Comments

  1. #1 James Pannozzi
    February 19, 2009

    “The complicity of revered academic institutions in the promotion of pseudoscience today takes another step forward today.”

    The WHAT…??? PROMOTION OF PSEUDOSCIENCE???

    Excuse me but have you NOT bothered to even look up some research, for example Ennis’ experiments? AND their recent and continued confirmation by other researchers indicating high dilution solutions CAN have biological effects?

    Do you not know this, pretend you don’t know it or do you disregard it because it violates your personal “common” sense???

  2. #2 PalMD
    February 19, 2009

    Eww…you attracted JP…

  3. #3 Isis
    February 19, 2009

    I realize this was a serious post and I can understand your protest, but I first read his name as “Bonerman.”

  4. #4 sleeper-service
    February 19, 2009

    Mr Pannozzi,
    I think you’ll find that homeopathy doesn’t violate anyone’s ‘common sense’. It does, however, contradict scientific evidence to the point where it can be regarded only as effective as a placebo.

    I come here to science-blogs for scientific information and discussion, not hearsay and anecdote.

    Keep up the good work Pharmboy.

  5. #5 mdiehl
    February 19, 2009

    Ugly as it may be, this would not be the first academic institution to award an honorary degree to someone not academically qualified for such. Did the gentleman in question by any chance make a contribution to the college?

  6. #6 James Pannozzi
    February 19, 2009

    “Homeopathy is a fraudulent representation of pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences that continues to exist in the United States due solely to political, not scientific, reasons.”

    A FRAUDULENT representation?? By whom? Abe, do you REALLY want
    to assert that MD’s and other health professional Homeopathic practitioners, and FULLY qualified researchers, like Dr. Iris Bell MD, PhD, are engaged in willfull and purposeful FRAUD?

    And you state:
    “But scientifically, homeopathic remedies are nothing more than highly-purified water misrepresented as medicine…”

    Abel, I’m certain you, of all people, are aware of the science’s complete inability, at our current level of sohpistication, to explain exactly what “highly purified water” is and… you again impugn the researchers, practitioners and originators of Homeopathy by using the word “misrepresentation”, as though it were all a “conspiracy” to fool people. Do you see the significance of my objection – you have, by making these emotional assertions cloaked in the name of science, actually weakened the position of science and technology – our only means of validating or disproving Homeopathy.

    You are, I believe, a fully rational scientifically minded person.
    So, do you REALLY want to make the assertion of FRAUD applied
    to EVERYONE involved in Homeopathy??

    Aside to sleeper-service – a recent Journal of Epidemiology article exposes and trashes an article that appeared in Lancet in 2005 which has been widely touted as “demonstrating” or “proving” that Homeopathy was no better than placebo. Simply type the words Homeopathy and placebo in google and you will promptly be led to sites explaining the detials and citing the article.

    Again, it is science and the patient work of cooperating and coordinating researchers that will in time prove or disprove the efficacy of Homeopathy. No opinion, innuendo, wild claims of fraud or hysterical shouts of “pseduoscience”, no matter how firmly believed, will be of any use in finding the answer. Only science.

    The danger of Abel’s position, and I understand fully his outrage, is that there is an implicit assumption of omniscience in it which subsumes that Abel somehow knows ALL laws of nature and pharmacology including undiscovered ones, can see into the minds of EVERY homeopathic researcher and practitioner and can somehow identify the intent to commit fraud and misrepresentation in many or all of them.
    I find THAT unscientific, a leap of faith far beyond the wildest Homeopathic theory and totally unacceptable.

  7. #7 ken adler
    February 20, 2009

    When you rant and show no links, I think the people here can safely ignore you.

    I typed in homeopathy and placebo and it told me homeopathy is no better than a placebo.

    Also the only thing I can find on Dr. Iris Bell is a lovely article about her dog and that she practices homeopathy in Arizona. Can you show me some links to her clinical trials in her work in homeopathy?

    Just type links. nothing more

  8. #8 James Pannozzi
    February 20, 2009

    @Ken Adler

    Where are YOUR links. When you show no links I think people here can safely ignore you.

  9. #9 Mojo
    February 20, 2009

    Also the only thing I can find on Dr. Iris Bell is a lovely article about her dog and that she practices homeopathy in Arizona. Can you show me some links to her clinical trials in her work in homeopathy?

    The work of hers in connection with homoeopathy I’m familiar with is in association with Rustum Roy and is to do with “water memory”. Their most recent published work on this that I’m aware of was in the special “Water Memory” issue of Homeopathy in 2007 (Rao, M. L., Roy, R., Bell, I. R. & Hoover, R. (2007) The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy. Homeopathy 96, 175-182) attracted a response that was published in the January 2008 issue of Homeopathy. There’s some comment on it, and the authors’ response, here.

  10. #10 Abel Pharmboy
    February 20, 2009

    Mr Pannozzi, if you are new to blog commenting, please understand that writing in CAPS is the online equivalent of yelling. I see that you favor the use of “hysteria” and “hysterical” here and in your Amazon book reviews to describe those of us seeking scientific evidence for homeopathic claims.

    I’m open to well-designed biological studies to investigate homeopathic remedies but the hysteria I see is from homeopathic advocates who argue from anecdote and deny the need to test hypotheses under controlled circumstances.

    Second, is that you appear to conflate low-concentration effects (Ed Calabrese calls this hormesis) with true homeopathy where compounds are diluted in water so as to no longer be present in the final “remedy.”

    So, do you REALLY want to make the assertion of FRAUD applied
    to EVERYONE involved in Homeopathy??

    Yes.

  11. #11 Joe
    February 20, 2009

    Mr. Pannozzi,

    The rational alternative to homeopaths being characterized as frauds is that they are fools. A really good fraud is difficult to distinguish from a fool. An ignoramus can be quite earnest in his own delusions and, therefore, hard to despise on a personal basis. However, that does not mitigate the problem- ignorance, as they say, is no excuse under the law.

  12. #12 Joe
    February 20, 2009

    @Mojo,

    Thanks for that citation to hawk-handsaw, I had not seen it. Abel is right, I am often intemperate. As a coauthor to the note rebutting the article coauthored by Bell, I was restrained by the others. I wanted to say that the person who obtained the UV-Vis spectra was thoroughly incompetent. They offered a wide range of spectra obtained from repeat samples of the same source. Modern instruments (since 1960) do not vary so widely when used on samples of the same origin.

    What did they do wrong? I can only offer an educated guess. For starters, their “standard” alcohol was some contaminated junk they found on a shelf (to my eye, it looks like it is a contaminated solvent designated SDA-23A). Also, I suspect they used multiple sample chambers (cuvettes) and/or multiple instruments to obtain spectra intended for direct comparisons. This is unacceptable unless they are strictly calibrated, which they were not. Also, one must not eat cheeseburgers while handling samples and cuvettes. Duh.

  13. #13 Mojo
    February 20, 2009

    James Pannozzi wrote:

    Aside to sleeper-service – a recent Journal of Epidemiology article exposes and trashes an article that appeared in Lancet in 2005 which has been widely touted as “demonstrating” or “proving” that Homeopathy was no better than placebo.

    While you didn’t actually identify the article, or manage to correctly name the journal it was published in, it looks as if you’re referring to Ludtke R and Rutten AL: The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 2008 Dec;61(12):1197-204.

    There’s an interesting comment on this article here, which suggests that far from “exposing and trashing” the Shang et al paper, it actually reinforces its conclusions.

    There was also a companion piece to the Ludke/Rutten paper, which was touted in the same press release: Rutten ALB and Stolper CF. The 2005 meta-analysis of homeopathy: the importance of post-publication data. Homeopathy 2008; 97: 169-177. There’s a comment on this paper here, which has apparently now also been accepted for publication in Homeopathy.

    See also:
    http://hawk-handsaw.blogspot.com/2008/11/science-by-press-release-epic-fail.html

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=242

  14. #14 Joe
    March 1, 2009

    Look at this, from an associate prof. of pharmacology at Penn State http://live.psu.edu/story/37417 “The whole basis of homeopathy is counterintuitive to everything pharmacologists have learned about drug actions. I won’t say that I buy into it 100 percent, but I won’t say that I think it’s quackery either.”

  15. #15 Mojo
    March 1, 2009

    What with that and Rustum Roy

  16. #16 Anurag Kalia
    June 2, 2010

    Hey, I’m no blogger, I don’t comment and I won’t provide any link. But I stumbled upon this article and couldn’t resist to comment (I never comment on any site).

    I had a friend. She was 16 at that time.

    She had this disease of what doctors simplified to us people as a problem in intestine where it gets cramped and all. Her stomach suddenly started paining anytime. Every allopathic practitioner told her to have an operation and still they couldn’t guarantee her complete cure. Then they tried a homeopathic doctor referred to them by someone.

    He managed to give what u people here call “highly diluted water”. She, according to conventional doctors, was cured ‘miraculously’. But she was cured, perfectly I mean, and never contracted the same problem again.

    Many people here would say she was made to think it was cured and that it was merely placebo. But, to me – and of course her – homeopathy managed to cure her and this according to us proves homeopathy is successful.

    I had an uncle who had kidney stones and he was treated with homeopathy. The stones disappeared, alas! I can’t think of it as a placebo effect. And I would like to urge people to broaden their horizons.

    Numerous people here in India have been cured of cancer using yoga. But many people here discounted it as stories. It is easy not to believe anything but if a certain medicinal branch is able to treat a patient, it is for real.

  17. #17 Anurag Kalia
    June 2, 2010

    Hey, I’m no blogger, I don’t comment and I won’t provide any link. But I stumbled upon this article and couldn’t resist to comment (I never comment on any site).

    I had a friend. She was 16 at that time.

    She had this disease of what doctors simplified to us people as a problem in intestine where it gets cramped and all. Her stomach suddenly started paining anytime. Every allopathic practitioner told her to have an operation and still they couldn’t guarantee her complete cure. Then they tried a homeopathic doctor referred to them by someone.

    He managed to give what u people here call “highly diluted water”. She, according to conventional doctors, was cured ‘miraculously’. But she was cured, perfectly I mean, and never contracted the same problem again.

    Many people here would say she was made to think it was cured and that it was merely placebo. But, to me – and of course her – homeopathy managed to cure her and this according to us proves homeopathy is successful.

    I had an uncle who had kidney stones and he was treated with homeopathy. The stones disappeared, alas! I can’t think of it as a placebo effect. And I would like to urge people to broaden their horizons.

    Numerous people here in India have been cured of cancer using yoga. But many people here discounted it as stories. It is easy not to believe anything but if a certain medicinal branch is able to treat a patient, it is for real.

    I’m just saying if something is able to treat us accept it, and try to find how. Please don’t say the effects were hypothetical. It is biased and bias as we have read in our books is clearly not science.

    - A commoner who has been treated by homeopathy MULTIPLE times

    PSST : my caps don’t mean to yell. the writer here if can’t prove that JP has got it all wrong, then just don’t try to gain sympathy by these little things coz science is least bothered by caps