Just how stupid do homeopaths think we are?

I realize that I've said it many times before, but it bears repeating. Homeopathy is the perfect quackery. The reason that homeopathy is so perfect as a form of quackery is because it is quite literally nothing. On second thought, I suppose that it's not exactly nothing. It is, after all, water or whatever other diluent that homeopaths use (usually ethanol). However, thanks to some basic laws of physics and chemistry and a little thing known as Avagadro's number, any homeopathic dilution greater than 12C (twelve serial 100-fold dilutions) is incredibly unlikely to contain even a single molecule of starting compound. That unlikeliness reaches truly astonishing levels as we reach the common homeopathic dilution of 30C, which is the equivalent of a 1060-fold dilution. Given that that little thing known as Avagadro's number, which describes how many molecules of a compound are in a mole, is only approximately 6 x 1023, a 30C dilution is on the order of 1036- to 1037-fold higher than Avagadro's number. Even assuming that a homeopath started with a mole of remedy before diluting (unlikely, given the high molecular weight of most of the organic compounds that can serve as homeopathic remedies), the odds that a single molecule could remain behind after the serial dilution and succussion process is infinitesimal. Appropriately enough, the "law" in homeopathy that states that diluting a remedy will make it stronger is the law of infinitesimals.

It is also the reason that homeopathy is nothing.

Homeopaths have known these facts for many decades. Anyone who is any sort of a scientist or has an understanding of science, when confronted with these simple, well-established physical laws, might—just might—start to rethink his belief in something that is so utterly implausible from a scientific standpoint. Indeed, homeopathy is about as close to impossible as anything I can imagine, because for it to "work" multiple well-established laws of physics and chemistry would have to be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. Yet, as Richard Dawkins famously put it, undeterred, homeopaths bravely paddle up the river of pseudoscience and invent explanations to "explain" how homeopathy could work, the most famous of which is the so-called "memory of water," in which the water in the homeopathic remedy remembers all the good bits meant to heal but, as Tim Minchin so famously put it, somehow forgets all the poo that's been in it. Homeopathy is truly magical thinking, which is why I love to use it as an illustrative example of quackery. Not only is it magical thinking, but because it is nothing but water, it's a very useful educational example for placebo effects and the general types of fallacious arguments quacks and pseudoscientists make. Apparently it's time for another one.

Not too long ago, I wrote about the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), specifically how until fairly recently it would fund studies of the ridiculously implausible treatment modality that is homeopathy. I even looked at a couple of these studies to see if they had yielded anything of value. Not surprisingly, they did not, other than some unbelievably awful papers published mostly in bottom-feeding alt-med journals. The principal investigator (PI) of the grants in question, it turns out, is a woman named Iris Bell, who, it further turns out, is faculty at the University of Arizona, home to that godfather of "integrating" quackery into real medicine (i.e., "integrative medicine"), Andrew Weil. Now, it just so happens that I've found a "review" article on homeopathy written by this very same person, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine a little more than a month ago and entitled A model for homeopathic remedy effects: low dose nanoparticles, allostatic cross-adaptation, and time-dependent sensitization in a complex adaptive system. Truly, this is an apologetic for homeopathy that could have been written by Dana Ullman or Lionel Milgrom, and it's appearing in what is turning into one of the foremost journals of quackademic medicine.

The central thesis of the paper, which I've discussed in detail in the context of analyzing another paper making the same claim, is the concept that homeopathy works through "nanoparticles." Of course, like so many things that quacks appropriate for themselves, like quantum theory and epigenetics, nanoparticles are a real phenomenon with many therapeutic promises. Unfortunately, the versions of nanoparticles described by Bell are related to real nanoparticles as scientists currently understand them only by coincidence. So, as you will soon see, what we have here is an NIH-funded investigator (funded through NCCAM) teaming up with Mary Koithan to write a mass of pseudoscience defending homeopathy and proposing a mechanism by which it might work. Think on that a moment as I delve into the actual paper. In fact, even though this paper is open-source (which means that you can read the entire thing for yourself), I think I'll nonetheless lay down the abstract, because it is truly a thing of quackademic beauty:

This paper proposes a novel model for homeopathic remedy action on living systems. Research indicates that homeopathic remedies (a) contain measurable source and silica nanoparticles heterogeneously dispersed in colloidal solution; (b) act by modulating biological function of the allostatic stress response network (c) evoke biphasic actions on living systems via organism-dependent adaptive and endogenously amplified effects; (d) improve systemic resilience.

The proposed active components of homeopathic remedies are nanoparticles of source substance in water-based colloidal solution, not bulk-form drugs. Nanoparticles have unique biological and physico-chemical properties, including increased catalytic reactivity, protein and DNA adsorption, bioavailability, dose-sparing, electromagnetic, and quantum effects different from bulk-form materials. Trituration and/or liquid succussions during classical remedy preparation create “top-down” nanostructures. Plants can biosynthesize remedytemplated silica nanostructures. Nanoparticles stimulate hormesis, a beneficial low-dose adaptive response. Homeopathic remedies prescribed in low doses spaced intermittently over time act as biological signals that stimulate the organism’s allostatic biological stress response network, evoking nonlinear modulatory, self-organizing change. Potential mechanisms include time-dependent sensitization (TDS), a type of adaptive plasticity/metaplasticity involving progressive amplification of host responses, which reverse direction and oscillate at physiological limits. To mobilize hormesis and TDS, the remedy must be appraised as a salient, but low level, novel threat, stressor, or homeostatic disruption for the whole organism. Silica nanoparticles adsorb remedy source and amplify effects. Properly-timed remedy dosing elicits disease-primed compensatory reversal in direction of maladaptive dynamics of the allostatic network, thus promoting resilience and recovery from disease.

Homeopathic remedies are proposed as source nanoparticles that mobilize hormesis and time-dependent sensitization via non-pharmacological effects on specific biological adaptive and amplification mechanisms. The nanoparticle nature of remedies would distinguish them from conventional bulk drugs in structure, morphology, and functional properties. Outcomes would depend upon the ability of the organism to respond to the remedy as a novel stressor or heterotypic biological threat, initiating reversals of cumulative, cross-adapted biological maladaptations underlying disease in the allostatic stress response network. Systemic resilience would improve. This model provides a foundation for theory-driven research on the role of nanomaterials in living systems, mechanisms of homeopathic remedy actions and translational uses in nanomedicine.

Ah, I do so love me some good technobabble, and the above is some of the best, as I said before, on par with Lionel Milgrom's quantum homeopathy or his visualization of quantum entanglement at a macroscopic level between practitioner, remedy, and patient. (Never mind that quantum entanglement doesn't work that way. Never let reality or science get in the way of brilliant-sounding science-y blather that impresses the rubes.)

Let's deconstruct a bit, shall we? First, Bell is saying that "research indicates" that there are measurable source and silica nanoparticles in homeopathic remedies. Hmmmm. I wonder where silica nanoparticles could come from, if in fact they have actually been detected in homeopathic remedies. It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that most homeopathic dilutions are made in glass vials, could it? Perish the thought! In any case, if you delve into the introduction, which says essentially the same thing as the abstract, only longer and with a lot of nonsensical references, you'll find that one of the references that purports to claim that there are "nanoparticles" in homeopathic remedies is the very same paper that our very own Harriet discussed. personally, even though the paper is two years old, I can't resist taking a crack at it myself, because it is such an incredible joke that it has to be seen.

The article to which I'm referring was an article by Prashant Satish Chikramane and his colleagues at Department of Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, India. Entitled Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective. Basically, the investigators...well, this post is already going to be fairly long; so let's just cut to my previous analysis of this particular woo-tastic bit of pseudoscientific nonsense masquerading as a scientific study and leave it at that. It's hard to believe that it's been two years. It's less difficult to believe that homeopaths didn't adequately control for contaminants and in essence labeled those contaminants as "evidence" that homeopathy works!

Be that as it may, I must give Iris Bell credit. She is imaginative. Of course, although imagination is a good thing in science, there is a difference between imagination and just making stuff up, and Bell's review article definitely falls into the latter category. Given that she is a homeopath, this is perhaps not surprising. What helped me get through her article was to view it as a work of fiction, in which the wildest flight of fancy wins, particularly if one can put a nice homeopathic science-y sounding sheen on it, which Bell does with aplomb. What you need to know to understand why homeopaths have latched on to nanoparticles is that (1) even homeopaths know that physics and chemistry as we understand them render homeopathy physically impossible and (2) they need to change the game if they are to put a chink in the dam of science holding back their river of woo. In other words, having conceded that those nasty reductionist scientists are right when they point out that homeopathy is water and cannot work they way homeopaths claim, homeopaths need to reclaim plausibility, no matter how much they have to abuse other sciences to do it.

For example, after pointing out that under "conventional" science homeopathy is impossible, Bell then opines:

These points are seemingly valid, if the underlying assumptions are valid – i.e., that homeopathic medicines are ordinary, dissolved and diluted bulk-form chemical drugs in true solution that could only act pharmacologically [47] with linear dose–response relationships. However, the trituration and succussion procedures in classical homeopathic remedy preparation may actually be crude manual methods that generate “top down” nanoparticles of source material. Nanoparticles range in size from 1 nanometer (nm) on a side up to 1000 nm or more, though much nanoscience research focuses on special acquired properties of small nanoparticles below 100 nm [48]. Trituration with mortar and pestle is a manual method for mechanical grinding or milling, similar to ball milling used in modern nanotechnology [49,50]. Like modern nanotechnology methods of microfluidization [51,52], sonication [53,54], and vortexing [55], manual succussions introduce intense turbulence, particle collisions, and shear forces into solution that break off smaller and smaller particles of remedy source material as well as silica from the walls of the glass containers or vials [1]. The combined impact of these mechanical nanosizing procedures [54] would be to modify the properties of the remedy [26,30,32], generating remedy source nanoparticles [2,3], as well as silica crystals and amorphous nanoparticles [3,4,32].

Got that? According to Bell, all that grinding and succussion generates nanoparticles, and these nanoparticles do things. All sorts of things. Magical things. Like homeopathy things. They can even emit electrical signals! Oh, wait. The paper Bell cites to justify that claim is the infamous paper by Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier, who, unfortunately, appears to have fallen prey to the Nobel Disease and become a crank. Indeed, that particular paper was roundly criticized (including, of course, by me) for its poor methodology and conclusions not supported by its data, and these days Montagnier is subjecting autistic children to long term antibiotic treatment and appearing at quack conferences like Autism One, along with women who think that giving autistic children bleach enemas is a good way to treat autism. In other words, as sad as it makes me to say it, Montagnier is no longer a good scientist, and I wouldn't trust anything he publishes these days any more than I trust what Dana Ullman publishes—or, for that matter, Iris Bell.

Let's take a look at the four parts of Bell's model. Here's the first part:

Homeopathic remedies are highly reactive source and/or remedy-modified silica (or polymer) nanoparticles, not bulk-form drugs [2,3];

This is utter nonsense, as I explained when I discussed one of the papers used to support this assertion. These "nanoparticles" are almost certainly nothing more than contaminants and show no real evidence of being "highly-reactive" or "remedy-modified." More importantly, they show no evidence of actually doing anything therapeutic.

Next up:

Remedy nanoparticles stimulate a complex adaptive response in the organism that begins in the allostatic stress response network, with cascading indirect consequences over time across the entire self-organizing organism. The homeopathic simillimum (clinically optimal) remedy nanoparticles [16] serve as low level, but highly salient novel stressors, i.e., specific biological signals for the overall organism [9];

Boiled down to its essence, this says something along the lines of: Like, the human body is really complicated, you know? And these nanoparticles do something just as complicated, you know? It's so complicated that we don't know what it is and can't prove that it happens. But it sure is fun to speculate!

Then we have:

The adaptive plasticity processes that underlie the direction and magnitude of remedy effects on living systems involve nonlinear physiological phenomena such as hormesis, cross-adaptation, time-dependent sensitization and cross-sensitization/oscillation. As a low intensity stressor, remedy nanoparticles stimulate changes in the opposite direction to those of the higher intensity stressors that fostered the original development of disease [16,97,98]. The disease-related maladaptations prime the system [10,39]. Then the correct remedy in low dose elicits reversal of direction of the maladapted responses.

Did I say that the human body was complicated? I'll say it again. It's really, really complicated, and these homeopathic nanoparticles do things even more complicated than what I said before. For example, they don't even do normal dose-response curves; they're more powerful at lower doses, just like Hahnemann said! And they oscillate. Or something. Disease maladaptations (nice word, eh?) get the system ready for these wondrous particles, which can then reverse the maladaptation. All of this is a bit odd, though, given that homeopathy is explicitly designed to treat symptoms, not the underlying cause. After all, the very principle of "like cures like" is based on symptoms, not biology.

None of which stops Bell from writing:

The adaptive changes that the remedy evokes ultimately strengthen systemic resilience. The successfully treated individual can resist and rebound from subsequent challenges from higher intensity homeostatic disruptors of the organism as a complex network, at global and local levels of organizational scale [22].

Damn, I wish I could write word salad this tasty. As I read this passage, I started to wonder whether I was the victim of a Sokal-style hoax here or whether Bell wrote her paper the way that David Bowie used to like to write songs: By cutting up newspaper and magazine articles and randomly splicing the words back together. In this case, it seems as though Bell cut up a bunch of nanoparticle papers and some homeopathy literature and then threw them together to produce much of this paper.

Here's what I mean. This whole paper sounds very impressive, but when you analyze individual passages you quickly realize that it means nothing. It's a whole lot of blatant speculation. Now, blatant speculation in science is not necessarily a bad thing, but only when it is at least somewhat plausible and, more importantly, when its limitations are clearly acknowledged. None of this applies here. Bell claims that homeopathic remedies are an example of hormesis, which is ridiculous. She goes on at length about the phenomenon of cross-adaptation, in which widely different stressors can affect the same intermediary pathway, blithely asserting that homeopathic remedies work through cross-sensitization without presenting any convincing evidence that this is so. She does the same thing for other phenomenon, in which homeopathic remedies apparently exhibit metaplasticity and time-dependent sensitization, which Bell uses as a rationale for why "pulsing" homeopathic remedies is a good idea, concluding that these remedies somehow "strengthen systemic resilience," whatever that means. It sounds all too much like the generic quack claim of being able to "boost the immune system."

Perhaps the most hilarious part of the entire article is Table 1: Parallels between homeopathic and modern scientific research literatures. Examples include comparisons of the "homeopathic literature" and real science, with the real science being tortured into agreeing with the homeopathic literature. For instance, one of items states that disease is the "dynamic mistunement" of the living system (i.e., life force). In the real scientific literature, according to Bell, disease is "the current manifestation of failure to adapt or compensate for allostatic overload from convergence of biological, chemical, physical, and psychological stressors on the nonlinear adaptive stress response network, which is embedded within the larger complex network of the overall organism." I get it! they're totally the same! Hahnemann apparently foresaw scientific developments over two hundred years into the future!

I'll conclude with this comparison. From the homeopathic literature:

Higher potencies (more dilution and succussion steps) have longer lasting effects on living systems [243] (succussion involves intense mechanical shaking of the solution by pounding the glass container against a hard elastic surface).

Now from the real scientific literature:

Succussion, like modern microfluidization techniques [51], introduces cycles of fluid acceleration and turbulence with repeated changes in the direction of flow, producing the potential for particle collision and shear forces to break off smaller and smaller particles. These procedures, while different from each other and from sonication as a technique for agitating solutions and producing nanoparticles, share the ability to create nanobubbles and shear forces. Nanoparticle research suggests that there are nonlinear relationships between the number of microfluidization cycles or sonication time and variations in the sizes, morphologies, and physico-chemical properties of the “same” bulk-form material substance [52,53,244].

Again, can't you see how they're totally the same? No? Neither can I.

In the end, it's depressing in the extreme to realize that Iris Bell is not only a homeopath, but she's faculty at the University of Arizona and has been an NCCAM-funded researcher. In fact, she still is an NIH-funded researcher. She currently is still the PI on a training grant held by the University of Arizona to teach woo to medical trainees. It's your tax dollars at work, and Iris Bell, mistress of homeopathy, is just the woman to put them to work funding the teaching of quackery.

Note: Even Orac needs some downtime over the weekend just completed a rare winter vacation right. So if this post looks a bit “familiar,” oh, well. It should probably be the last one for a while.


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No Data = nothing

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

Succussion, like modern microfluidization techniques [51], introduces cycles of fluid acceleration and turbulence with repeated changes in the direction of flow, producing the potential for particle collision and shear forces to break off smaller and smaller particles.

Basic rule of fluid dynamics: the flow velocity of the fluid with respect to a solid boundary must go to zero at the boundary. (This is a consequence of the fact that fluids have a finite viscosity, and the term in the relevant equation requires us to introduce this as a boundary condition.) Sure, there are irregularities at the molecular scale, but for turbulence to be able to do anything at that scale, it has to cascade to that scale, and I don't think that is what happens--eddy dissipation scales are typically orders of magnitude larger. Even if it did, I have a special offer for anyone who believes that it would do so in a precisely reproducible fashion: a bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

So, if homeopathy is just a "crude" way to generate these nanoparticles, wouldn't the logical thing be to propose a more sophisticted way of generating them? Concentrate them? Study their properties? Identify the ideal dose, size, etc.? But then, you'd basically have one of those horrible "allopathic" medicines. (Not that I think that any of this claptrap is real)

Oh, BKsea, but then they'd have to admit that they're not *already* at the pinnacle of their art, that they don't *already* know exactly what they're doing. Humility doesn't come easily.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

@BKsea: it wouldn't work anyway. See the quantum homeopathy post: "If homeopathic effects are the result of nonlocal correlations, by definition, they cannot be distilled out as causal signals, like in drug therapy. Attempts at strict and direct replication, are doomed to failure"

(So, like, if belladonna works for my asthma today, then I may as well do strychnine tomorrow and plutonium the day after, because replicating the effect is doomed to failure.)

How stupid? marg to the judith power is how stupid. A Sokal style "hoax" is tempting and should be publishable in one of these woo-(pseudo)science venues. Quotes were around hoax, above, because to some degree there was no hoax in that Sokal paper. As Sokal has pointed out, all the cited references were real and he sent it with a presumption there would be peer review. The editors of that journal had ample opportunity to properly review the paper: Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, published in Social Text vol 46/47, pp 217-252 (1996). It has been previously suggested in the RI forum that a similar paper for woo-pseudoscience should work quite well. A pseudo-science generator similar to the online post-modern generator might be fun for a very brief while.

"A pseudo-science generator similar to the online post-modern generator might be fun for a very brief while."

That Sarah Palin quote generator from the 2008 presidential campaign was one of the best things ever put on the internet.

By taylormattd (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

I'm kind of curious about Bell & Koithan arrived at this one:

The main clinical outcome [of homeopathic remedies] is (D) improvement in systemic resilience to future environmental stressors and recovery back to normal healthy homeostatic functioning [23].

Their reference is this, which has nothing at all to do with homeopathic "clinical outcomes" that I can discern. Bell has published with Pincus before (and the one I looked at is a doozy), but this appears to be a case of simply making a claim and hoping that nobody will have the patience to check whether its alleged support actually justifies it.

B&K also have an odd notion of what "parallels" are. The following two items are presented side-by-side to illustrate how science is finally catching up to homeopathy:

Homeopathic Literature
In an intact person, patterning of remedy responses sometimes includes transient worsening (aggravations) and, when clinically successful, follows Hering’s Law of Cure
(center of gravity of disease moves from top to bottom of organism; from more important to less important organs; and in reverse order of occurrence in time) [238]

Relevant Modern Scientific Literature
Central nervous system pathways are a major hub for regulating the allostatic stress response network of the body, interacting with hubs of the immune, endocrine, and autonomic nervous system to generate the overall global and local patterns of responses across the organism to any type of environmental stressor [6,134].

The glue in the main text for these? "The pattern of clinical response usually begins in the brain because of its central role in interpreting and coordinating physiological responses of the body to perceived environmental threats and stressors.'' See? The brain is at the top of the body, so it makes perfect sense. Too bad that has nothing to do with Hering's "law."

and the one I looked at is a doozy

Indeed. When SBM exponents ask what benefits the customers of homeopathy receive in exchange for their money, apparently this is imposing an inappropriate paradigm:

Biomedical efficacy studies assume a simple direct mechanistic cause-effect relationship between a specific intervention and a specific bodily outcome, an assumption less relevant to WS-CAM outcomes.

What they are receiving is "improvement in systemic resilience to future environmental stressors", which has the useful feature of having no objective correlates outside the promises of the homeopath.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

The companion paper is pretty good as well. When wondering why I was seeing a blurry phase-space attractor plot in Figure 1, I went to the Losada original from which the figures were lifted, where the following prose tidbit is offered up:

An interesting observation that highlights the usefulness of fluid dynamics concepts to describe human interaction arises from the fact that Lorenz chose the Rayleigh number as a critical control parameter in his model. This number represents the ratio of buoyancy to viscosity in fluids. A salient characteristic of my observations of teams at the Capture Lab was that high performance teams operated in a buoyant atmosphere created by the expansive emotional space in which they interacted and that allowed them to easily connect with one another. Low performance teams
could be characterized as being stuck in a viscous atmosphere highly resistant to flow, created by the restrictive emotional space in which they operated and which made very difficult for them to connect with one another; hence, their nexi [sic] were much lower than the nexi for high performance teams.

Csíkszentmihályi on line 2.

Colloidal "solution". I guess in word salad (where the dressing may well be colloidal), the right word isn't important.
If you were to start with a true solution and wanted a nanoparticle dispersion, you would actually have to cause agglomeration of solute with yer bible spankin'.

"(center of gravity of disease moves from top to bottom of organism; from more important to less important organs; and in reverse order of occurrence in time)"
Oh lordy. I wonder if any of them will run across moving melt zone purification processes. It's use for silicon - which "used to be" ... silica!!

the ratio of buoyancy to viscosity in fluids[...] high performance teams operated in a buoyant atmosphere

This is either charmingly metaphorical or florid psychosis.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

from top to bottom of organism; from more important to less important organs

That's interesting. It's a spiritual, rather than physiological, view of the human body. Organs' importance is not-so-coincidentally rated so that the brain - siege of our noble thoughts - is on top, and our intestines (gross organs full of sh**) and genitals (symbolic source of our animal, debased instincts) are at the bottom. I wonder if Hering's law put the feet at the same level as the hands, or if they are mercilessly put at the bottom of the list.

The concept of importance is puzzling me. I would agree that I would put my brain as more important than any of my other organs, but then I would be hard-pressed to make a list of my other organs by order of importance. As I am privileged of having reasonably well-functioning organs, I quite appreciate all of them. Any organ failure has annoying consequences.

By Heliantus (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

This is either charmingly metaphorical or florid psychosis.

"It is well known that Fourier discovered the coefficients that bear his name while working in problems of heat conduction. Models in fluid dynamics seem to offer a befitting template for the complexity of human interaction. They certainly appear to be more generative than those based on the physics of solids, which have prevailed in the social sciences for so long."

I appear to have missed this development in the social sciences. I will leave experimental design invoking the Seebeck effect to increase sales in your capable hands.

It’s a spiritual, rather than physiological, view of the human body.

In addition to the vertical arrangement, Hering invokes some sort of vitalistic LIFO data structure, so that homeopathic "treatment" of the current condition will cause the previous one in line to no longer be "suppressed." This is of course the wrong Incredible String Band album to reference.

Wonder how long until dullman shows his ignorant face here...

His utter death of science knowledge at least is entertaining, in a "can't keep my eyes off a train-wreck" type of way.

Geez, how do you folks read this stuff? It easily matches the sections of post-modern incoherence quoted and debunked in the excellent bookFashionable Nonsense - by A. Sokal & J. Bricmont (1999). I certainly appreciate your fortitude.


Wonder how long until dullllman shows his ignorant face here…

He drove by the previous (Friday's) post.

When reading the labels of suspiciously effective treatments touted as "homeopathic", note that the allegedly "inert" ingredients are often where the real action is.

Nelsons 'Homeopathic' Acne Gel actually works as an acne treatment, not because of the 30x-succussed "active" ingredients, but because of the "inert" goodies like tea tree oil: http://www.nelsonsnaturalworld.com/en-us/us/our-brands/nelsons-pure-cle…

By Phoenix Woman (not verified) on 18 Dec 2012 #permalink

Phoenix Woman,

One "homeopathic" product I've seen was a sunscreen that claimed to contain distinctly non-homeopathic amounts of zinc oxide... (I swore I'd written about this, but can't find it on my blog.)

How does one counter the claim that homeapathy was better at treating yellow fever epidemics than traditional medicine? Will probably have this argument at xmas dinner and want to be prepared.



It's hidden in the blog post: homeopathy is nothing but water. There are no active ingredients, therefore it couldn't have healed anything. If water could treat fever, I'm sure we wouldn't need antibiotics, amongst other things...

How does one counter the claim that homeapathy was better at treating yellow fever epidemics than traditional medicine?
You could ask if there's any evidence for that claim. As far as I can see, it rests on one book by a homeopath in 1853 claiming that homeopathy kept more people alive than the alternatives during a recent epidemic (in his clinical experience); and by a Report from a Commission of Homeopaths from 1868 or thereabouts, claiming that in the opinion of the entire panel, they had been more successful in keeping their patients alive than their non-homeopathic rivals.

I'm finding it hard to see anything to counter.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 19 Dec 2012 #permalink

There is also the do-or-die question why Dana Ullman can't reverse male pattern baldness and instead is sporting a soul patch and man-blouses.

How does one counter the claim that homeapathy was better at treating yellow fever epidemics than traditional medicine?

There is also the possibility that in the mid-1800s when this claim originated, the traditional treatment for yellow fever was some combination of bleeding and arsenic, so "doing nothing" was indeed the less murderous approach.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 19 Dec 2012 #permalink


‘so “doing nothing” was indeed the less murderous approach.’

From what I've read that's a fairly common observation about medical options of that day.

My favorite example of cognitive bias, Benjamin Rush, treated yellow fever with radical blood-letting, sometimes relieving the patient of half the blood in their body during the course of a day, and drugs that induced vomiting and diarrhea, which included calomel (mercurous chloride). I am sure that homeopathy, which consisted of nothing but boiled water, resulted in fewer deaths. Thanks to clinical trials we know that modern medicine is more effective than both Rush's treatments and homeopathy.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 20 Dec 2012 #permalink

Thanks all, for the responses. Would it be fair to say that this was before medicine was science based?


Yes, that would be a fair assessment.

@ Susan, from the above and what I've read about 19th century medicine, the choice of treatment was likely to be between savage quackery and gentle quackery.

Savage quackery involved bloodletting, based on a spurious theory of humours plus the misinterpreted observation that after bloodletting feverish patients became calmer. They were certainly calm (often to the point of coma), because loss of blood made them weak.

Gentle quackery involved giving the patient boiled water, based on the spurious theory of homeopathy. It did the patient no additional harm, and might marginally have contributed to improving the condition of those whose immune systems were putting up a good fight by rehydrating them slightly.

Tough times. However, scroll forward 150 years and the savage quackery has disappeared, except in those areas of 'CAM' which involve bleeding, blistering and scarification - proving that no idea is so bad or so thoroughly debunked that some quack somewhere won't go on trying to make money from it.

The gentle quackery is still around, but now the choice is between doing stuff that works and can actually be shown to work (science-based medicine), and doing nothing.

In the 1920's there was a cartoon in the humorous British magazine Punch which showed a man being hit by a truck.

The caption went something along the lines of "In a major step forward for the acceptance of astrology as a science everyone in England born under the sign of Aries was run over by an egg truck yesterday".

One of my greatest fears is that silica, soda, quartz or some other ingredient of glass proves to be a panacea and proves that homeoquackery is valid. (well OK, it's not really that much of a fear).

If that woman is making some claim for silica particles has she never heard of the polywater debacle?

I say that if they're going to claim medical benefits, they should submit to FDA-supervised clinical trials.

By Heckelphone (not verified) on 26 Dec 2012 #permalink

Oh I thought this site was for science, actually I'm wrong because this site is look at this site genuine and science:


But ScienceBlogs (s) is a pseudo-skeptic site. Orca's criticism is anything but that, funny. I had not seen so many ad-hominem fallacies in one place .... oh wait ... if the other inputs of the author. The funny thing is when the idiot Orac says homeopathy "have nothing to do with the hormesis!" When 4D low dilutions as if they have to look pretty and provided there is material traces.

How are the seudoescepticos idiots?

"The homoepatía is nothing" --- Error, dilutions as 4D or 2 D still contain active ingredient.

"Homeopathy is implausible according to laws of science" ... Orac idiot, tell us what all those laws that contradict homeopathy is that homeopathy contradicts Snell's law and the law of gravity!

Orac cites the idiot TIm Michin, being this an ad-verecundiam. Orac says the idiot has discurtido HarrietHall Chickramane paper, although the idiot does not know that technology used and does not understand it!
Orac says the idioa do "analysis" rather not understand the difference between analysis and spurious complaint.
Orac the firm idioa Montaigner work was "severely criticized", although he puts links Orac charlatan of pseudo skeptics

Orac Guardare this ticket. to compare them in five or ten years. At that time I can paste and distribute your notes to laugh at the pseudo skeptic movement. Begin to recommend this post to my university to have a good dose of Orac-joke. Scienceblog (s) Duhh ... is pathetic to have wanted to look like another blog seriously, it's a shame the seudoescépticos have started their second, third, fourth?? fifth? battle against homeopathy since 1988 .... Now vieen a Center for Inquiry, a Sense About Science, a Nature Blogs (with the hand of Tracey Brown and the infamous John Rayden nefarious prize Maddox), a Edzard Ernst and systematic reviews of poor quality (oh, wait that guy is making propaganda to Sense About Science!), and a series of legal actions and policies in Spain, USA, UK, Australia against homeopathy ... Oh my god we have to God and pseudo skeptics Randi striving in the hunt for quacks!

Denounce the pseudo skepticism and skeptical Guerrillas!
Do not let Nature be absorbed by Sense About Science!

Denounce the pseudo skepticism and skeptical Guerrillas!
Do not let Nature be absorbed by Sense About Science!

Denounce the pseudo skepticism and skeptical Guerrillas!
Do not let Nature be absorbed by Sense About Science!

Denounce the pseudo skepticism and skeptical Guerrillas!
Do not let Nature be absorbed by Sense About Science!

Denounce the pseudo skepticism and skeptical Guerrillas!
Do not let Nature be absorbed by Sense About Science!

Denounce the pseudo skepticism and skeptical Guerrillas!
Do not let Nature be absorbed by Sense About Science!

Denounce the pseudo skepticism and skeptical Guerrillas!
Do not let Nature be absorbed by Sense About Science!

Skepticism "scientific" kills science. Skepticism "scientific" is not science and the scientific method. Do not be fooled, science does not belong to James Randi delayed, or the pseudo scientist Richard Dawkins. Scientific skepticism (or pseudo skepticism) is a religious cult and the irrational.

Soon, the pseudo skeptics text generator !!

Oh I thought this site was for science, actually I’m wrong because this site is look at this site genuine and science:


But ScienceBlogs (s) is a pseudo-skeptic site. ...

I will be honest, I cannot answer many of Magufo's criticisms, for the simple reason that I cannot puzzle out what he's trying to say. The following is just one example:

The funny thing is when the idiot Orac says homeopathy “have nothing to do with the hormesis!” When 4D low dilutions as if they have to look pretty and provided there is material traces.

I keep thinking that if I look at that sentence just one more time, it might make sense this time. It never does.

However, from the arguments of Magufo's that I do understand, I see the same error again and again: failing to apply the principle of charity. This means that when you argue, you argue against the most reasonable interpretation of what your opponent says. To find a very unreasonable way to interpret your opponent's argument and argue against that is to argue poorly; it means that instead of meeting your opponent's challenge, you ducked around it.

“Homeopathy is implausible according to laws of science” … Orac idiot, tell us what all those laws that contradict homeopathy is that homeopathy contradicts Snell’s law and the law of gravity!

Here we have an excellent example of failure to apply the principle of charity. The most reasonable interpretation of Orac's statement “Homeopathy is implausible according to laws of science” is “Homeopathy is implausible according to some of the laws of science.” Magufo chooses the utterly unlikely interpretation “Homeopathy is implausible according to each and every one of the laws of science, individually” and then pretends he is winning a great victory by finding two laws of science that don't have any relation to homeopathy's mechanism of purported operation.

“The homoepatía is nothing” — Error, dilutions as 4D or 2 D still contain active ingredient.

That's true, but it does not mean anything for homeopathy. A true believer in homeopathic remedies would view it as a bad thing that a 2D or 4D dilution still contains active ingredient - according to homeopathy, the active ingredient should be something that causes the symptoms you want to cure! If you choose an active ingredient that lowers blood pressure, and homeopathically dilute it, that should (according to the principles of homeopathy) turn it into something that raises blood pressure! If you administer that diluted active ingredient that lowers blood pressure, and it brings about lowered blood pressure, it may not be "nothing" but it definitely isn't a functioning homeopathic remedy, which alleviates symptoms similar to what the pre-dilution active ingredient causes.

Orac cites the idiot TIm Michin, being this an ad-verecundiam.

Another failure of the principle of charity. No reasonable person would read the single sentence where Orac mentions Tim Minchin and interpret it as Orac saying "Tim Minchin believes homeopathy is nonsense, and the fact that he believes it is my proof that it is nonsense." There is no argumentum ad verecundiam where Magufo claims to see one; there is only Orac bringing up a very good argument about homeopathic dilutions - why do homeopaths think such dilutions would only affect the "active ingredients" that the homeopaths are interested in from the original solution? - and correctly attributing the very pithy phrasing of the argument to the one who phrased it that way, Tim Minchin. Once again, Magufo is avoiding Orac's actual argument by inventing a new, weak argument and pretending Orac wrote the weak one. Magufo's sound and fury is knocking down nothing except straw men.

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 07 Jan 2013 #permalink

Magufo chooses the utterly unlikely interpretation “Homeopathy is implausible according to each and every one of the laws of science, individually” and then pretends he is winning a great victory by finding two laws of science that don’t have any relation to homeopathy’s mechanism of purported operation.

But fails in the exercise. Homeopathy invents a form of energy that increases with decreasing mass and thus breaks general relativity. So goes gravity. Similarly, Snell's law is Fermat's principle is Hamilton's principle. Poof.