What a week for alt-med smackdowns

By Phil Plait | June 16, 2009 8:02 am

Well, antiscience is taking major body blows the past week or so, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to see. It started with Newsweek taking down the quackery promoted by Oprah Winfrey, and has taken off from there:

1) Reader’s Digest jumped on the anti-Oprah ride… and when the milquetoast middle-of-the-road offend no one RD takes you on, it’s time to rethink your very existence.

2) Deepak Chopra — who couldn’t find reality with both hands, a compass and, evidently, the aid of centuries of scientific advancement — ran to Oprah’s defense, and, as usual, mangled more logic in one essay than can be humanly possible without the aid of quantum healing. Massimo Pigliucci magnificently takes him down, as did JREF’s Jeff Wagg at the Swift blog.

3) The Australian government has ruled that Arnica Montana, a homeopathy company, falsely advertised the efficacy of its product — which, in the case of homeopathy is everything they advertise — and they had to post a humiliating retraction. I weep non-diluted tears for them. Dr. Rachie has more info. Also, Steve Novella has written a lengthy and complete destruction of homeopathy on his NeuroLogica blog. If you are a homeopathic believer and feel you must spout your undiluted nonsense in the comments below, read his essay first, because if you make any of the claims he debunks I will allow everyone free reign to mock you. Because that’s better than allowing babies to die due to homeopathy.

4) Simon Singh is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association because he wrote about their "bogus" claims. BCA vice-president Richard Brown then posted a flailing essay titled In Defence of Chiropractic in New Scientist magazine, a piece laden to the hilt with astonishingly poorly thought-out logic. Apgaylard thoroughy dismantles the claims from Brown, leaving the emperor looking a little naked out there.

This kind of antiscience antireality antihealth garbage will always be with us, but I can hope to help amplify the chorus of voices being raised against them. It’s important, as I have been hammering home for months. They will never rest as long as people credulously accept their claims, so we need to make sure as many people as possible examine their claims as critically as possible.

Comments (143)

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  1. Tuesday Share for June 23, 2009 « Di Mortui Sunt | June 23, 2009
  1. AnnaAnastasia

    And then there’s The Onion: http://bit.ly/CulJ5

  2. Benner

    http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/vaccine_rejectors_put_kids_at_risk

    The Onion hits the nail on the head. Todays “American Voices”.

  3. Who hoo! Great news! I am sure that I can use a lot of this news in the http://factsnotfantasy.com news blog for tonight. Thanks for keeping us informed!

  4. That is quite the Woo-Tard hit list, it is frustrating though that so many still buy into this garbage.

  5. RoyMcM

    “alternative medicine” that works is called “medicine”

  6. Even The Onion has something today! America’s Voices react to Vaccine Rejectors Put Kids At Risk.

  7. Jason Goertzen

    In the vein of anti-nonsenses stuff in the news, this was on the Onion’s homepage today:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/vaccine_rejectors_put_kids_at_risk

    It’s hilarious, as is often the case for the Onion. :)

  8. You forgot the “batten down the hatches” email from McTimoney Chiropractic to all members. Or was that a bit before this week? I don’t know, I’ve lost track there’s so much happening.

  9. Michelle

    Oh by the way, we’re all gonna die.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/5540634/Phoenix-crop-circle-may-predict-end-of-the-world.html

    My headline would’ve been “Dudes make REALLY cool picture in grass, owner refuses to mow lawn.”

  10. dhtroy

    All this information is making my head hurt. After reading my D-I-Y Herbal Remedies, what I need is to take some Silk Weed Grass pills and have a glass of Swamp Lilly Water. Then take a few Brown Bat Pills and smoke a dried ant … No. Wait. Wrong page. That’s for putting a hex on a co-worker …

    Looks like a just need some Aspirin.

    :P

  11. Oy! Did you read Arnica’s response to TGA? The mind boggles.

  12. Timothy from Boulder

    Unfortunately the Arnica Montana owner, Kate Diamantopoulo (RGN SCM HV MCH RS HOM AHA AROH) — yes, she lists herself with those honorifics — has posted her response to the complaint in which she defends the effecacy of homeopathy, laments that homeopathy is “used as a whipping boy by the orthodox drug industry to distract from their own problems”, and agrees grudgingly to uphold the ruling until Australia is properly educated and empowered.

    It’s never easy, is it?

  13. Bernard

    I found the following article on The Onion pretty funny regarding the antivax movement…

    http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/vaccine_rejectors_put_kids_at_risk

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    (Almost) undiluted success!

    Who hoo!

    Good, good, but now let’s try for a “Woo, who?!”

  15. Shouldn’t homeopathic commenters limit themselves to one pro-homeopathic comment per post, so that as more people make comments refuting their claim, their comment/claim becomes more powerful?

  16. Rob

    @ Timothy from Boulder — Yes, that lady got to post her response on the site, but it is nowhere near the size of the retraction, I think we would make some good progress if we could plaster that warning on all of the silly pseudoscience websites, have a disclaimer at the beginning of every asinine psychic/medium appearance on TV, and put a warning sticker on the front of the Bible. This world needs to come out of the dark ages sooner or later and we need to do the best with every little victory we can get.

  17. rob

    the previous comment was homeopathic. it’s single “.” is equivalent to all the wisdom contained in the library of congress.

  18. Jeff

    Sorry to give you the bad news, but the United States at least: numbers of students graduating in the sciences and engineering are dropping over last 30 years. When I was in physics grad school, 2/3 of class was from China and that was 30 years ago. Is it any wonder that anti-science is growing.

    In other words, people can no longer distinguish cartoons from real scientific principles. When is that last time in history this reminds you of? maybe the Pleistocene epoch?

    And since I’m so popular around here (HaHaHaHaHa) because I don’t worship sacred cows, I feel if NASA had wanted to turn around the anti-science, it should have built a moon base in 1970. That would have been a continuing source of inspiration for young people the world over to specialize in science. Well, they blew it back then.

    When I was young, I joint taught an honors course on the future , co taught between a scientist and a social scientist colleague. He warned the students, technology doesn’t mean advancement, it means tools. So don’t be so sure fired that technology will advance a society. Maybe someday all computer keyboards will be used for is hitting game over the head again like Fred Flintstone did to feed the village.

  19. Rob

    @other rob — You are actually giving homeopaths too much credit there — they quite often claim medicines to be effective far beyond the dilution ratio of a single period to the Library of Congress. That being said, that was a brilliant post.

  20. Buzz Parsec

    #9, that would be consistent with homeopathy, but inconsistent with an important rule of acquistion # 302, ” when selling something of dubious value, always make dozens of disjoint, unrelated and inconsistent claims at the same time. Then if someone picks one or two for detailed refutation, you can always say, but what about the dozens of other claims? Can’t refute those now, can you?” (A real Ferengi would have phrased this much more parsimoniously.)
    Consistency is not mentioned in any rule, except as something to be avoided.

  21. Calli Arcale

    No One Of Consequence — while the joke about dilution to make something stronger is a classic, it’s a little bit unrepresentative. Homeopathy is roundly ridiculed — but most people are actually mocking a strawman. What they don’t realize is that real homeopathy is even loonier than that. The “active ingredients” are supposed to be things that evoke the same symptoms as the disease. By diluting them into absurdity via a very special method of shaking, their effect is inverted. Supposedly. This is actually stupider than the idea of water having a memory, frankly.

    Meanwhile, the supposedly-homeopathic Zicam (which isn’t homeopathic; it does in fact contain zinc; they just use the word to fool people into think it’s harmless) has been smacked down *again* for the fact that the remedy can damage people’s sense of smell. Their defense? “Nobody’s successfully sued us yet,” which would actually be true even if they settled out of court on every single case. Not evidence. Just “nobody’s won a lawsuit against us”.

    Arrogant bastards.

    FDA says Zicam nasal spray can cause loss of smell

  22. John

    Phil, “real world” medicine is where it’s at.

    In real-world medicine we make a diagnosis, look to science for a possible remedy, try it out and observe the results.

    The efficacy of any remedy is based on individual response though, and that’s where some of what you say becomes irrelevant, because if the doctor and patient agree to try an alternative therapy, presumably because the conventional treatments fail, and it effects a positive outcome, the doctor and patient should agree to stick with that remedy.

    No double-blind, peer reviewed statistical assessment, just directly observed cause and effect. It’s why we prescribed citrus fruit to cure scurvy hundreds of years before linus pauling discovered vitamin c.

    I’ve personally had to resort to at least one alternative therapy, and personal experience isn’t anecdotal in medicine, it’s vital for effective treatment.

    Lastly, and most importantly – If I were to take your advice about alternative medicines and resume conventional therapy and something went wrong, what do you think would happen?

    Consider your legal position, and the fact that you don’t appear to have a medical advice disclaimer…..which you should add before someone works out that you’re ripe for litigation.

  23. Josh K

    Don’t forget, the FDA just issued a warning to users of Zicam that some of their products can cause damage to your sense of smell. Their stock just plummeted.

  24. Kurt_eh

    Got this in an email today, and thought it was worth a post:

    THE LAWS OF ULTIMATE REALITY
    (much snipping of off-topic laws)

    Law of Logical Argument
    Anything is possible if you don’t know what you are talking about.

  25. John

    Of course we non-homeopathers are smug because the FDA thoroughly protects us, and the drug companies would NEVER release a drug that was harmful, amirite?

  26. nowoo

    More alt-med smackdown from the past week:

    “$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found
    Big, government-funded studies show most work no better than placebos”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31190909/

  27. Brian M

    I am constantly explaining to my beloved high-school educated wife (this sounds bad but she’s really a wonderful person) why homeopathy is crap. Well, she went and order some of that “Frank’s Homeopathic Joint Care” or some such crap — it’s formulated for dogs with hip problems. I was annoyed but she said, try it the worst that will happen is that it won’t work. So I did. Damn. The stuff works. And it’s a dog so I can’t rationalize it away as a placebo affect. Help me out, people. My assumption is that it’s not REALLY homeopathic — there must be something else in there. I just don’t know what it is.

  28. jen

    Have you seen The Onion’s “American Voices” bit on vaccine rejectors?

    http://tinyurl.com/mg8w6u

  29. Tony

    I’m sorry, call me a quitter, but I have given up on most of these people who believe in this crap. Most people simply will not listen to reason. Their defense is, “You don’t know.”

    My response usually is, “You’re right, I do not know about homeopathy, but I do know 3 aspirin will take my headache away, so I’ll take the aspirin.”

    All I feel I can do is educate my children.

  30. Mike

    Wow! Loved the Arnica Montana retraction. Wish the US government had balls like that.

  31. John

    @Tony.

    Focusing on the positive effects of conventional treatment and giving up trying to prove a negative is actually a very rational response.

  32. Mike

    @Brian M: I have a similar confusion. While waiting in line to pick up real, honest-to-goodness drugs, I read the label of a dermetological product sold in the pharmacy of the University of Wisconsin Hospital (a place you would think would insist on the scientific method). The label used the term “homeopathic” in the product description. It leads me to believe that the term has morphed to include things other than what I understand it to mean (i.e. “diluted to the point so as to contain not one molecule of the proported active ingredient”). Anybody know anything about this?

  33. Kate Diamantopoulo (RGN SCM HV MCH RS HOM AHA AROH)?

    For the less informed, allow me to translate:

    RGN – Rips off Gullible Nice people.

    SCM – Just an abbreviation of SCaM. She is made of Scam.

    HV – Horrible Vogon. Yes, i know that is redundant, but look at me. I use both bogus and chiropractic in my name. I embrace redundant.

    MCH – Mangles Children’s Heads.

    RS – Really Slimey.

    HOM – Hand Over the Money, or I shoot.

    AHA – The AHA (American Heart Association) has noty been able to find one anywhere in her body.

    AROH – Amazingly Resistant to Openness and Honesty.

    Help me celebrate Homeopathy Week!

  34. Sam

    Though it doesn’t have anything to do with homeopathy, I thought this was hilarious:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/vaccine_rejectors_put_kids_at_risk

    The quote from Scott Sacks sums up the whole antivax movement.

  35. I know what you mean about the “Reader’s Digest”, but still, we old fogies remember how, for decades, it was at the head of the anti-tobacco fight (and in the name of legitimate science, too, not old-time “puritan” prejudice).

  36. Tony

    @John
    You are right John, but I think where I lose most people is when I say “homeopathic crap” so then they start ignoring me when I start to discuss the proven, conventional methods, like just taking aspirin. That must come off as negative to them.

  37. Take that Rob # 11 (Although I am envious of your astute choice of 11 for your comment).

    The above is all of the knowledge in the universe represented homeopathically.

    Either that or it is just an empty message.

    Since this is on the topic of homeopathy, that might give us a clue as to what is really in the message. I’ll give you a hint. My hands are not tired from typing a lot of information and succussing it. ;-)

  38. I know Jack of Kent’s been mentioned on this blog before, but it strikes me that his legal interpretation of the wonderful, hilarious and deeply deeply frightened letter from the MCA about chiropractic advertising and websites, and its implications in the Singh case, might be of interest. You can read the discussion here: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/06/quacklash-causes-and-effects.html

    I love this war. It’s nerds v. clowns, and we the nerds are winning!

  39. John # 16,

    I’ve personally had to resort to at least one alternative therapy, and personal experience isn’t anecdotal in medicine, it’s vital for effective treatment.

    You do not get to exclude medicine from science.

    Your medical advice is as useless as the rest of your post. Linus Pauling did not discover vitamin C.

    Your medical advice is typical of unicorn medicine believers.

  40. John #16 again,

    Lastly, and most importantly – If I were to take your advice about alternative medicines and resume conventional therapy and something went wrong, what do you think would happen?

    You would need to give more information than that when dealing with real medicine. As long as you are just playing with yourself, you can get away with all sorts of nonsense claims. In real medicine, there is that nasty reality to deal with.

    Just what are you being treated for?

    What are you taking?

    What allergies do you have?

    What symptoms?

    How has your appetite been?

    What are your vital signs?

    Et cetera.

    These are things that would be addressed by real medicine. Scam artists do not need to worry about complete or accurate assessment or physical exams.

  41. @Rogue Medic

    I tried succussing my post, but it just ended up requiring the purchase of a new computer. (sigh)

  42. sophia8

    @John (&@Mike & @Brian) : You can find so-called homeopathic remedies that contain real ingredients. Homeopathy and herbalism are often confused, plus canny supplement and altmed businesses know that anything labelled “homeopathic” is likely to sell.
    Check the label; homeopathic stuff always has a dilution measure on it – 6X, 10X, 30X etc. And if it lists any ingredients besides alcohol (liquids) or pill material, it ain’t homoepathic. ESPECIALLY check the label to see if the stuff is made overseas – ‘herbal’ medicines from China and India have been found to contain actual active pharmaceutical drugs, as well as heavy metals and other contaminants.

  43. MBD

    Perhaps my post here is off base, but where in science is there the room for the negative, close minded behavior shown here. Regardless of what your stance is on the issue, or how right you think you are (and this applies to all sides), there is no reason lambaste and berate those that think differently.

    It is both impolite, and unscientific (and Mr. Plait it is equally, if not more so, to encourage it…”free reign to mock you”).

  44. John

    @Rogue Medic,

    I’m not excluding medicine from science, or the other way around. We should endeavour to have as much overlap between the two as possible, then there won’t BE any alternative medicine…..

    Unfortunately, science is incomplete, and for the purposes of practicing medicine, if a patient responds positively or negatively to a treatment, then that response cannot be ignored. This trumps anything that existing research tells us.

    I wasn’t offering medical advice in my post, I was describing how rational real world practice determines treatment – on an individual basis, otherwise we wouldn’t need doctors.

    Linus pauling was an advocate of high consumtion of the vitamin, casimir funk discovered it. Sorry the error upset you so much.

    “You would need to give more information than that when dealing with real medicine.”

    PRECISELY!! That’s why it’s dangerous for Phil to be giving out advice without a medical disclaimer. Glad you got that one…..

  45. Pineyman

    I liked the duck liver treatment for the flu reference at JREF. I guess the French are the most flu resistant, no?

  46. Technolinguist

    Chiropractic medicine reminds me of that old axiom, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Hammer == spinal adjustment.

  47. Brian M

    SOphia8 – hey you’re right, I’d forgotten about the all-critical dilutions. Couldn’t say what the real ingrediants are in this stuff — but if I wind up poisoning my dog I’m gonna be looking for someone to hurt.

  48. Kent

    You know, I really do like Phil’s blog. It is very useful for staying up to date when it comes to anything Astronomy. I, however, am getting really tired of all the “anti-vax this, anti-science that” that goes on in this blog. It is so polarizing, I rarely recommend this website to anyone I know. Regardless of what I agree/disagree with, I don’t want to send them to someone who uses a reasonable size of their blog space to rant about Jenny McCarthy when the original intent was to educate someone about astronomy. It’s a shame. I’m not sure how many other people are out there like me but I know that it makes one of the things I love a little harder to tell someone about. I know that it would be impossible to ask Phil to change his blog but, I just wanted to vent a bit. (For the record, I am for vaccines.)

  49. @Brian M (19) and Mike (23)

    There are a couple things that could be going on:

    1) There might actually be an active ingredient in it, despite being labeled “Homeopathic”. As sophia8 said, manufacturers sometimes slap “Homeopathic” on the labeling even though it is not a homeopathic preparation. If this is the case, then there is more likely to be a real effect.

    2) You and your wife may be noticing something that you discounted before. Sort of a placebo-by-proxy effect. You are aware of the change in treatment, and so you may pick up on things that you ignored before, or you may ignore things that you picked up on before, simply because you may, to some degree, expect a change. A way to test this would be to set up a study where the experimenter (preferably someone other than you or your wife) is unaware of the treatment being provided. The “real” treatment would be used for a period of time, and a “sham” treatment would be used for the same length of time. You could alternate for a while (e.g., 2-3 weeks “real”, then 2-3 weeks “sham”, then real, sham, etc.). At the end of the study period, you figure out if there was any difference between the two treatments, and, if so, how much. Then, and only then, would you unblind it and find out which treatment was which. Make sure to have some sort of standardized method of recording stuff, clear definitions, and try to keep interactions consistent.

    3) You have changed overall treatment of the animal. Whereas you used to not do anything, you are now doing something. This change, in and of itself, could have an effect. A way to test this would be to so something like above, but add in a third arm of “no treatment”. So, you’d have segment A (“real” treatment), segment B (“sham” treatment) and then segment C (no treatment). Again, you’d need to keep things consistent.

    [Edited to add] 4) The condition went into remission or was self-limiting. It just happened to coincide with administration of the treatment.

    Since an animal cannot voice their physical state, it’s up to the observer to try to figure out what’s wrong. Unfortunately, we have a horrible tendency to anthropomorphize animals, and attribute feelings or states to them that may not really be there.

  50. TheBlackCat

    Unfortunately, science is incomplete, and for the purposes of practicing medicine, if a patient responds positively or negatively to a treatment, then that response cannot be ignored. This trumps anything that existing research tells us.

    You first have to establish that the patient actually responded to the treatment, and that the response and treatment didn’t just coincide in time. You have to closely monitor the progress of the disorder and compare symptoms before and after long-term. You also need to make sure it wasn’t just the act of giving something, which requires monitoring for a return to the previous state. It isn’t just a matter of “I felt better after this treatment, therefore I should stick with it”. You need to make sure it isn’t just part of a normal upswing or downswing of symptoms, and that the symptoms don’t return to levels shortly after the treatment.

    Also, that only applies to treatments that are confirmed to be safe, or at least safer than the problem and safer than effective conventional treatments. This, unfortunately, is often not the case, particularly with herbal supplements. I don’t use them even if there is a chance they could be effective because I consider the risk too great compared to the slight chance it may be effective.

    And it’s a dog so I can’t rationalize it away as a placebo affect. Help me out, people. My assumption is that it’s not REALLY homeopathic — there must be something else in there. I just don’t know what it is.

    You gave the dog something, the dog knows you gave it something. That could easily lead to a change in its behavior. Or it may lie about being homeopathic. But animals are quite able to succumb to the placebo effect. The very act of giving them something, handling them, or otherwise providing attention can trigger a response in the animal.

  51. @Kent

    Simple solution: ignore the posts that have nothing to do with astronomy. There are tags at the bottom of every post, and the titles usually indicate what the post is about.

  52. Tom C

    BTW, the Reader’s Digest article has a ‘Must Read’ voting button at the bottom. To borrow from Pharyngula, why don’t we ‘BA’ the vote and get the anti-Oprah article to the top of the list?

  53. Molly

    @Kent Sadly, I’m with you. I am pro-vaccination, pro-science, pro-reason, and most importantly pro-humility. Some of the people here are starting to sound just as crazy as the people they claim to be SO much better and smarter than. It’s sad.

  54. TheBlackCat

    Regardless of what I agree/disagree with, I don’t want to send them to someone who uses a reasonable size of their blog space to rant about Jenny McCarthy when the original intent was to educate someone about astronomy.

    You obviously no nothing about Phil or this blog. The BadAstronomy website was originally made for the express purpose of combating anti-science, as the name suggests. This blog was an outgrowth of that effort. Originally combating anti-science was all there was on the site, the general astronomy news and information was a much later addition. He even wrote a book on the subject by the same name.

    So please don’t presume to lecture someone else about what their “original intent” was for a website or blog when you obviously have no clue about its history not to mention its real intent.

    If you want to see a blog intended to be solely about astronomy, check out The Universe Today (it’s the first hit when you google that phrase). But that was never the purpose of this blog, and there was never a point in the history of Bad Astronomy where the website or blog was solely or even predominately about astronomy news (if you average over a reasonable period of time). It was always intended and always acted as an anti-anti-science website with some other stuff thrown in that Phil likes, including astronomy, science fiction, and various other miscellaneous subjects.

  55. Steeev

    Zicam was labeled as “Homeopathic” (according to CNN), yet was pulled from the shelves because the zinc was bad for your sense of smell. Apparently “homeopathic” can’t be used as a synonym for “contains nothing harmful.” More likely it means “not a medicine so it doesn’t need FDA approval.” I would suggest such approval be required for safety reasons, if not for efficacy. Then the FDA should mandate generic equivalents for homeopathic remedies.

    There must be a bundle to be made from little bottles of distilled water sold as genereopathic cures.

  56. John

    @theBlackCat

    Agreed – The less room for uncertainty the better.

    Although I don’t share your reservation about herbal remedies, some of which are just edible plants. Recently licensed pharamceuticals are much more risky, but I guess that’s an assessment we should all make individually, no?

  57. brainintact

    John #16 said: “No double-blind, peer reviewed statistical assessment, just directly observed cause and effect. It’s why we prescribed citrus fruit to cure scurvy hundreds of years before linus pauling discovered vitamin c.”

    Funny you should mention that. I just read in Ernst and Singh’s book Trick or Treatment about the history of the scientific method, and they talk about the discovery of citrus to treat and cure scurvy. There were all kinds of “treatments” used at the time, all based on simple observation, like you say, and each with their fair share of educated and professional defenders – horrible treatments including blood letting and mercury paste and burying the patient neck high in sand. Hundreds of thousands of sailors suffered and died until Dr. Lind came along mid-nineteenth century and conducted what is known as “the first controlled clinical trial” and discovered that citrus worked while the other treatments failed. Face it; we humans are easily deluded and we are capable of holding fast to erroneous beliefs. Homeopathy refuses to die even though the RCT evidence to support it is just not there.

    And Brian #19 says: “And it’s a dog so I can’t rationalize it away as a placebo affect. Help me out, people. My assumption is that it’s not REALLY homeopathic”

    The placebo effect might work on a dog, I don’t know; maybe if the dog is conditioned to expect to feel better after receiving medication. But certainly humans owners are subject to the placebo effect. There was nothing in the remedy, if the owner of the company is telling the truth that it was diluted past the point of having anything in it, so rather than believe the most dubious of possible reasons for seeing improvement, consider the more plausible possibilities, e.g. you imagined improvement but the dog still suffers; natural fluctuation in symptom made it seem that the homeopathic treatment worked because that was the last thing you tried; previous medication finally kicked in; the dog’s symptoms cleared up on their own, coincidental to the homeopathic treatment; the medication was laced with other ingredients that actually do work; the non-active ingredients, if any, worked, etc.

    Wahoo! about all the recent reports fighting back against all the woo and fraud. You rock Australia!

  58. TheBlackCat

    “just edible plants”? Is that supposed to reassure me? Rather than go on my whole spiel again, I will just copy and paste a comment I made in a previous thread. Hopefully it will make you rethink your “just edible plants” position:

    I can list some other natural extracts: botulin, tetrodotoxin, ricin, strychnine, curare, some of the most powerful poison known to man. Actually, if you look at lists of known powerful poisons, most come from nature. So is quinine, the main antimalaria drug. So is cocaine and opium. If it was all extracted and then injected a cigar has enough nicotine to kill an adult human. Alkaloids, a large class of drugs and poisons, come primarily from plants. Poison ivy is all-natural. If you look at a list of neurotoxins you will find they come primarily for poisonous invertebrates, snakes, and other organisms that feed by killing their prey quickly.

    The mistake here is to think that natural means good. It doesn’t. Except for fruits and nectar, for the most parts plants do not like to be eaten (forgive the anthropomorphization). So many have evolved elaborate defenses. Some make themselves hard, other make themselves hard to digest or chew (like grass, which has a lot of silica), others have elaborate weapons like spines or thorns. Many, on the other hand, have developed elaborate chemical defenses. They produce cocktails of chemicals that are harmless to themselves but taste bad and/or are toxic to animals that feed on them. These chemicals work as defenses because they have a biological effect, a bad one, on organisms that normally eat the plants. At the same time animals that eat plants are evolving ways to cope with the chemicals, forcing the plants to evolve even more sophisticated and powerful cocktails.

    However, because these chemicals have a biological effect, occasionally, just be shear luck, a few of those chemicals can have a beneficial biological effect in humans. Sometimes it is because the negative effect in large doses can be beneficial in smaller dosages. Other times it is because humans have biochemical differences from the animals that normally feed on the plant. It is also conceivable that humans are able to break down the chemical, and the breakdown products have effects different from the original chemical (I am not aware of such a case, though). Whatever the reason, these plants are not trying to help us. They are trying to hurt us and screwed up or are trying to hurt something else and we got lucky.

    Ultimately the chemicals in plants are little different than the drugs we use. They are chemicals with some sort of effect on the human body, and affect that depends a great deal on the dosage as well as the organism. The big differences are twofold: one, drugs are purified and have a known dosage, while plant extracts have an unknown dosage and an unknown collection of other chemicals (which may or may not also have an effect and may or may not alter the effect of the “active” ingredient). Second, drugs were developed (generally) to help, while plant extracts were developed to annoy, hurt, or kill.

    Nature is not your friend, a place full of pretty flowers and cute fuzzy animals. It is a vicious, cutthroat place where organisms do anything and everything they can to survive, including hurting or killing anything that gets in their way. Poisons are particularly effective means of defense for plants. Animals can pluck out spines, strip away or burrow underneath thorns, and evolve harder beaks and/or teeth to get through hard shells. But an animal can’t avoid poisons if it is part of the stuff the animal wants to eat. So they have become very popular. That is usually bad for us, but occasionally it has proven useful.

  59. rob

    @ big rob (i.e. Rob)

    wikipedia says the library of congress has about 20 terabytes of info (based on ~1MB per book etc)

    so you are right! 1 byte out of 20 terabytes is about 1 in 10^-14, which is definitely not as dilute as some homepathic “remedies” that are on the market.

    i need to go and buy a new keyboard now. succussing it to generate “.” has left it in poor condition.

  60. Michigan Gardener

    What’s wrong with Phil writing about the topics he likes to write about? Sheesh it’s HIS blog people!

  61. JT

    @Brian_M

    First, I don’t know if animals are vulnerable to the placebo effect or not, but that’s beside the point since the dog isn’t the one reporting that he’s getting better. You are reporting your observation that the dog is getting better. That certainly leaves the possibility of conformation bias open.

    Second, some chronic conditions tend to flare up every so often and then subside for a while. If that’s the case here, then it’s to be expected that after one of those flare ups he would get better. If that’s when you treated him, then it would naturally seem as though the medicine had an effect even if it did nothing.

    Lastly, as you said, even though the medicine is labeled as homeopathic, it’s quite possible that it really isn’t.

  62. Brian M

    Thanks for all of the input. Of course, it’s impossible to be totally objective but I would say “placebo by proxy” is unlikely with my dog. The dog couldn’t get up the stairs before. Now it can. Pretty cut and dried. Regarding the dog reacting to the mere act of getting treatment. Possible, I suppose, but this stuff is sold as a spray, you put a predetermined number of spritzes in the dog’s drinking water. That’s it. So it’s not like the dog is getting lot’s more attention than it usually does. And this is a hundred pound dog who’s eleven and a half years old. Hip displasia isn’t going away by itself at this stage.
    I’m guessing this is one of those “let’s call it homeopathic so people will buy it” things and that there are probably herbal or some other efficacious ingredients.

  63. brainintact

    re: my post #45 above: Oops, now that I read farther in the book (Trick or Treatment), I see that it took another 33 years for Lind’s research to be picked up and replicated and used for scurvy.

  64. Kent

    BLACK CAT: “You obviously no nothing about Phil or this blog. The BadAstronomy website was originally made for the express purpose of combating anti-science, as the name suggests. This blog was an outgrowth of that effort. Originally combating anti-science was all there was on the site, the general astronomy news and information was a much later addition. He even wrote a book on the subject by the same name.

    So please don’t presume to lecture someone else about what their “original intent” was for a website or blog when you obviously have no clue about its history not to mention its real intent.

    If you want to see a blog intended to be solely about astronomy, check out The Universe Today (it’s the first hit when you google that phrase). But that was never the purpose of this blog, and there was never a point in the history of Bad Astronomy where the website or blog was solely or even predominately about astronomy news (if you average over a reasonable period of time). It was always intended and always acted as an anti-anti-science website with some other stuff thrown in that Phil likes, including astronomy, science fiction, and various other miscellaneous subjects.”

    I am not lecturing anyone, thank you. I don’t appreciate the attitude that is soaking your post. While trying to sound intelligent, you also sound a bit “uppity” and there’s really no need for that. I’m not trying to make Phil write about something else. I’m all for him having his own blog where he talks about whatever. I ignore and pick through all the “non-space stuff” like everyone here. My point when I said the comment about “original intent” was MY original intent. I wasn’t stating the original intent of Phil’s blog. “My original intent was to drive someone to this website for astronomy education; not rants about Jenny M. etc….” I’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years now and it seems that it’s been straying more and more from the astronomy and into fighting/shooting down nonsense. I understand the two overlap and there are many shades of grey but I just get frustrated. I’m not ticked,I’m not going to blow up the next time I see something like it, and I’m not trying to get Phil to write what I him want to write, (@ Michigan Gardener). I’m just venting and was wanting to know if anyone else had noticed. (Thanks, Molly!)

  65. rob

    @27 Rogue Medic:

    curses! your minimalist comment under-did my comppact summary of everything!
    next time i won’t turn it to “11”, i’ll turn it to “42” !

  66. Brian

    @Brian M:

    Yes, the placebo effect has been documented in dogs. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true. Ben Goldacre mentions it in his book Bad Science. The placebo effect can be powerful and counterintuitive, particularly when it comes to pain management. It’s also possible that the spray really had absolutely nothing to do with it, and some other bit of attention from you folks had an effect. Maybe your wife’s expectation that the spray would help caused her to encourage your dog’s exertion. Maybe your dog was going through a bad phase and got into a habit of not even attempting the stairs. There are all kinds of cues you might have been subconsciously giving the dog.

    My parents had a dog once who suffered a prolonged illness, lasting much longer than the vet predicted it would. She would just sit in her doggy bed and occasionally whine. When they took her back to the vet, he couldn’t find anything wrong with her, and suggested that perhaps the dog had simply gotten into a habit. Apparently it’s not uncommon. So that evening my parents tried ignoring her while she was in her doggy bed. A few hours later she had returned to normal.

    I’m not saying that that’s definitely the case with you, but the pathways through which placebos can act are many and torturous.

  67. Mike

    “I’m guessing this is one of those “let’s call it homeopathic so people will buy it” things”

    That’s my guess too. And isn’t that hilariously ironic (or profoundly depressing, take your pick). “Let’s label it ‘snake oil’ so people will buy it!”

  68. @John #32,
    I’m not excluding medicine from science, or the other way around. We should endeavour to have as much overlap between the two as possible, then there won’t BE any alternative medicine…..

    True.

    Unfortunately, science is incomplete,

    Yes and no.

    It is unfortunate that we do not know everything, but we never will. Using that as an excuse to look for answers in alternative medicine is illogical. Alternative medicine has been repeatedly studied and found to be nothing more than placebo effect.

    If you think that a treatment that is no better than a placebo is the answer, then we disagree.

    Alternative medicine can claim to have all of the answers, but anyone can do that. Alternative medicine cannot support that claim.

    and for the purposes of practicing medicine, if a patient responds positively or negatively to a treatment, then that response cannot be ignored. This trumps anything that existing research tells us.

    No. We do need to pay attention to a change in the presentation of the patient, but we should not jump to the conclusion, that just because the patient received something, that something caused whatever happened afterward. Many patients get better on their own with no treatment. Just because something was given just before the patients got better on their own, that does not mean that the something caused the patients to get better.

    Without science to support the treatment, there is no logical justification for claiming this is anything other than a coincidence.

    I wasn’t offering medical advice in my post, I was describing how rational real world practice determines treatment – on an individual basis, otherwise we wouldn’t need doctors.
    Linus pauling was an advocate of high consumtion of the vitamin, casimir funk discovered it. Sorry the error upset you so much.

    You seem to be encouraging people to take poisons of unknown strength for indications with no basis in science. I am just pointing out the many errors you make in your dangerous medical advice.

    “You would need to give more information than that when dealing with real medicine.”
    PRECISELY!! That’s why it’s dangerous for Phil to be giving out advice without a medical disclaimer. Glad you got that one…..

    He is giving scientific advice. These are not medicines, just poisons. You do not need a medical license to discourage people from taking baseless treatments.

    Herbal remedies have no quality control. They may be what you are told they are. They may be a much weaker version of what you are told they are. They may be a much stronger version of what you are told they are. They maybe a mixture of what you are told they are and something else. They may not have any of what you are told they are in them.

    It is just as good an idea to go to the local drug dealer to buy drugs that somebody grabbed from their mother’s medicine cabinet. You do not know what you are getting.

    If herbal remedies have any active ingredient, it is important to know what the dose is. Leaves, cloves, pinches, and other I don’t know doses are dangerous if there is any active ingredient.

    Unicorn medicine is not scientific. The apparent result is not capable of being reproduced, so you have no reason to believe that what the voodoo doctor said this did for the earlier patient actually happened, or if it will happen for you.

    As long as you have an illness that is completely responsive to placebo, you may be OK, but you never really know what is in the stuff they give you.

  69. Michigan Gardener

    Kent, you’re commenting on Phil’s blog because you’re frustrated that he’s straying more and more from astronomy into fighting/shooting down nonsense. You say you’re venting and wanting to know if anyone else had noticed. Have you considered that what Phil is doing is pretty much exactly what you’re doing? He’s frustrated at the fact that belief in nonsense is KILLING people (and causing all sorts of other less serious harm as well) and he’s venting and wanting to see if anyone else has noticed. Only there are differences between his venting and yours: He’s venting about people dying for ridiculous reasons, while you’re venting because an astronomer writes too much (for your taste) about topics other than astronomy; he’s trying to educate people so the senseless suffering and deaths don’t have to happen anymore, and he’s inspiring others to take up this important cause. How many lives are you trying to save with your complaint about Phil straying too often from the topic of astronomy?

    Exactly why is it reasonable for you to vent about your frustrations regarding reading material, but it’s apparently NOT reasonable for Phil to vent about people dying for ridiculous reasons? And why is it reasonable for you to do your venting on Phil’s blog, while it’s apparently unreasonable for Phil to do his venting on his own blog?

    I guess you just think that your frustration about reading material is more important that Phil’s frustration about people dying.

  70. What do you want for nothing? We will never eradicate idiocy…but it will eventually eradicate us. If you think rubbing gingko juice on your anus with your right hand will cure your halitosis, do it…just don’t breath on me or shake my hand. If your dog can’t move, it’s time to pull out the .410 and a shovel. If you want science to cure you, get good insurance. If you want god to cure you, pray. Besides, tomorrow is never guaranteed so who cares about these homeopathic idiots? It’s the idiots in congress and the white house we really need to worry about. Thanks for all of your opinions…and don’t forget to point your dagger of goblin slaying towards Stonehenge on the summer solstice at midnight this week…it wards off illness and makes this entire topic moot.

  71. rob # 53 (not 42),

    @27 Rogue Medic:
    curses! your minimalist comment under-did my comppact summary of everything!
    next time i won’t turn it to “11″, i’ll turn it to “42″ !

    I am ready for you. I know where my towel is. :-)

    Funny that the best that alternative medicine can hope for is, Mostly Harmless.

  72. @Michigan Gardener # 57,

    Very well put.

    I think we should take up a collection to give what’s his name back his money. Satisfaction guaranteed or double your money back, or something like that.

  73. John

    @rogue medic

    “Alternative medicine has been repeatedly studied and found to be nothing more than placebo effect”

    No, some of it has. I think you’re radically underestimating the scope of alternative medicine. there’s a huge amount that hasn’t been studied. Medical practices of entire cultures that have survived thousands of years of trial and error and have yet to be studied. It is vast. Research is ongoing, and fortunately will continue, for a very long time.

    Oh btw, if you ever get indigestion, get some mint tea inside you after meals. Lovely remedy, helps regulate stomach acid. Thanks to that little tip I can avoid having to choose between incredible pain and a cocktail of proton-pump inhibitors and antacids.

  74. Patimus

    Reeaawwr! BlackCat fight! :>

    Everybody’s wrong if you want to nit pick. We can’t all word everything as eloquently as we would like, so how about giving people a break and quit trying to dissect everything.

    “no nothing”- you obviously missed 3rd grade spelling when we discussed no vs. know.
    “I have two go too the store to. I no they have know free stuff.”

    Sorry…

  75. Molly

    @Kent I’m still with you. Michigan Gardener’s post seems to imply that because you are not trying to save people (through commenting on a blog??) that you are killing people?? The logic is hard to follow to say the least.

    I’m not going to comment again, but I just want you to know that I don’t think what you said is out of line or disrespectful or hateful in the way it seems to have been interpreted.

    It is interesting for me to note the elitism that seems to permeate many the comments to Phil’s posts. Phil and many of the people who comment on this blog are doing great work, Todd W. for example has an amazing site. However, until other commenters realize how unproductive condescension really is, they will continue to struggle in getting their message through.

  76. Jason

    Why do people insist on telling everyone else that they’re changing the channel?

  77. UK readers please think about signing an anti-quackery petition – http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/anti-quackery/ – which aims to do just what @Rob talks about – a warning/disclaimer on all alternative medicine (well, a milder form perhaps than he suggests!) – explained in a little more detail in my blog – http://janederbyshire.blogspot.com/

  78. Old Geezer

    Wow! All you guys are really flummoxed by the dog! Maybe it’s placebo-by-proxy! Maybe it’s divine intervention! Maybe the dog is just trying to please you!

    Here’s an explanation that’s missing: Maybe the stuff actually works! Too unscientific for you?

  79. John

    @Old Geezer

    Judging the case by its merits, id say keep giving the stuff to the dog.

    As far as medical science goes, widespread recommendation should only be given if it proves effective in repeated trials.

    If the projected cost of said research is less than the potential profit, expect to see a fully licensed extract being touted by glaxo sometime in the next couple of years.

    That’s how conventional medicine sometimes works, it’s arbiters are money men, not scientists or quacks.

  80. Shameless promotion! If you want updates on alternative medicine that have been described as “puerile and sarcastic”, then you could do worse than to join Twitter and follow OfQuack, the UK Government Approved Quackery Watchdog.

  81. Michigan Gardener

    Well I see that Molly is a hit-and run-commenter (can’t take disagreement Molly?). I’ll respond to her comment anyway.

    Molly, I did not say that Kent was trying to kill people. Since Molly has indicated that she won’t reply, can someone (Kent, maybe?) point out where I said that Kent is trying to kill people? I’m am not currently trying to save any lives by writing this reply–that doesn’t mean I’m trying to kill anyone. When I clean my house, I’m not trying to save lives, but I’m also not attempting murder either. When I watch a movie, I’m not trying to save lives, but I’m also not trying to kill people. Not being in the process of attempting to save lives does not equal trying to commit murder. What I was saying is that Phil is trying to save lives by educating people, and all that Kent is doing is complaining about reading material. Saving lives is more important than the quality of one’s reading material. Phil is entitled to write about topics that he thinks could save lives, and Kent is entitled to complain about his reading material. What I was pointing out is that Kent doesn’t like Phil’s complaints about people dying, but Kent himself has no problem with complaints about reading material (obviously, since he submitted such a complaint himself).

    In other words, I was summing up Ken’s comment in this way: It’s okay to complain about reading material, but it’s NOT okay to complain about people needlessly dying.

    And yes, I’m here complaining about Kent’s and Molly’s comments, which is probably rather useless and stupid, but at least I’m not saying, “Hey Phil, I want to complain about Kent and Molly, because I think my complaints should be heard, but I don’t want to read about your frustration that people are needlessly dying. It annoys me.”

    By the way, Kent and Molly, what kind of people ARE YOU, that you find it annoying/frustrating/sad/whatever that Phil is trying to save lives? Why aren’t you THANKING him?

    Speaking of which…

    Phil, the number of lives you save, the amount of suffering you relieve/prevent probably can’t be quantified. Someday maybe someone who subscribes to woo will stumble across something you write and you will plant the seeds of reason in that person; perhaps it’s happened already. Maybe you will contribute to someone giving up their dangerous nonsensical beliefs. Maybe that person will then help educate others. Somewhere down the line a life will be saved–possibly even my own. I am not immune to measles (even though I’ve been vaccinated), and if I am exposed, I could die. I am deeply grateful to you.

    I love astronomy and I absolutely LOVE reading Phil’s posts on astronomy topics. Sometimes I don’t want to read the anti-woo stuff because it’s depressing that so many people believe in that crap, and so many people are suffering and dying because of those beliefs. I just want to read about black holes or the sun and forget that suffering exists. But then I come here find that instead of a brand-spanking new post about astronomy waiting for me, there’s yet another article about people dying. But I don’t complain or wish that Phil would stop writing about woo. I silently thank him for taking on the cause. Does it inconvenience me when I want to read about space and instead there’s only “woo” articles? Yes. But it’s a NECESSARY inconvenience, just like seat belts, eating my veggies, going to the doctor, etc. I am not angry or frustrated with Phil for writing about those topics, I am grateful to him for it! I am angry at the people who stubbornly refuse to give up those dangerous beliefs, and the people who encourage those nonsensical beliefs. Those are the people who are endangering lives, and as long as they exist, I will applaud Phil for fighting them.

    I am more than willing to give up the convenience and joy of ALL ASTRONOMY ALL THE TIME on this blog if it means lives might be saved. I give whatever money I can (which isn’t much) to causes I support, I volunteer when I can, and I educate people when I can. If I can make THOSE sacrifices, then what’s so hard about sacrificing a few minutes that I wished to have spent reading about astronomy? If Phil decided to quit blogging and travel the world educating people about the dangers of nonsense beliefs, I would miss his blog but I would support him 100%.

    Saving lives is more important than getting your wish for fun reading material.

    Rant over!

  82. Diko

    You tear down alternative medicine and claim it costs lives, but fail to acknowledge the fact that adverse drug reactions in hospital claim many lives each year.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9555760?dopt=Abstract

    Alternative medicine occasionally becomes mainstream when the studies show positive results.

    Do we consider food as an alternative medicine?

  83. Al

    The posts I miss when I gotta go to work… I’m glad Phil, RD and others are promoting science and real medicine. It makes me want to re-read Robert Park’s book ‘Voodoo Science’.

  84. I tripped over walking down the street yesterday and did serious damage to my right ankle and less but annoying damage to my left knee. I am applying a 30C preparation of concrete, and as it was raining at the time and the path was damp I am also using some 20X rain water. I should be cured real soon now.

  85. Scott K

    Hey Phil, here’s another–Zicam is homeopathic and could damage your sense of smell! http://wtop.com/?nid=106&sid=1697647

  86. Richard

    How about we get “Mythbusters” to work on pseudo-pharma “remedies.” They can perform a double-blind test of Dr. Snakeoil’s homeopathic spray on real dogs and see whether or not it works. Then finally we can end this quibble once and for all.

    Yeah, right. Once they bust that homeopathic remedy myth, you know believers will come out in droves saying that the crew did not use a “holistic” approach, or other nonsense.

    Yeah, it seems you gotta believe in homeopathy in order for it to work.

    True story (anecdotal evidence alert), one time at work I had a near-debilitating headache. Unfortunately, no real pain relievers work on them, so I had to suffer. A co-worker then offered a homeopathic pill. She said to put it under my tongue and let it dissolve. She was so sure that it would work.

    “What the hell,” I thought, so I tried it and did exactly like I was told. I waited for the pill to take effect.

    My headache did not go away one bit. (Well, not until it subsided on its own accord, later on that day.) She asked if it was working, yet. I said, “No, it still hurts.” She was surprised and told me it was supposed to work. I think her confidence in homeopathic remedies might have been shaken a little. I don’t know for sure, though.

    The only thing I know is that it didn’t work for me.

    Oh, and also real trials of homeopathy don’t seem to point to positive results, instead it shows a placebo affect, if anything.

    And real pain relievers don’t help my headaches.

  87. Calli Arcale

    John:

    “Alternative medicine has been repeatedly studied and found to be nothing more than placebo effect”

    No, some of it has. I think you’re radically underestimating the scope of alternative medicine. there’s a huge amount that hasn’t been studied. Medical practices of entire cultures that have survived thousands of years of trial and error and have yet to be studied. It is vast. Research is ongoing, and fortunately will continue, for a very long time.

    Oh btw, if you ever get indigestion, get some mint tea inside you after meals. Lovely remedy, helps regulate stomach acid. Thanks to that little tip I can avoid having to choose between incredible pain and a cocktail of proton-pump inhibitors and antacids.

    I love mint tea. (I assume you mean mint-flavored tea? Or do you mean an infusion of mint? There’s a difference. I tend to think that if the word “tea” is present, some Thea cameliensis is present.) Does diddly-squat for my GERD. (Well, that’s not entirely true. Being acidic, it aggravates it if I don’t also take antacids.) Prilosec, on the other hand, is heaven. I finally don’t have to eat a handful of Tums before lying down.

    You are correct that the vast majority of alternative medicine has not been properly studied. Some of it is “traditional” medicine, practiced for thousands of years. Most of it is much younger, though often presented under the mantle of tradition. (Acupuncture is a great example. It’s really less than two centuries old.) Very few of the practitioners are really interested in knowing why it works, how to refine it, or even quantifiying its effectiveness at all. Consequently, it is extremely inconsistent, and practices are never discarded even if they don’t work or if someone is harmed.

    The argument from antiquity is a peculiar one, and I do not understand it. “People have been doing this for thousands of years without questioning it, therefore it is good!” People practiced bloodletting for an awful long time too. It was abandoned because it was scientifically studied and found to be both harmful and ineffective (since its underlying premise, balancing the humors, was revealed to be completely false). Yet people thought it worked. There are cannibalistic tribes which believe that killing and eating witches will resolve illnesses in the community, and they’ve thought that for generations. Just because a lot of people agree about something does not mean that they are right. Nor does it justify selling something as “this will definitely work” when in fact the practitioner doesn’t know a damn thing about it besides having learned how to administer the particular therapy.

    I don’t limit my skepticism to so-called “traditional” medicine. Lots of “conventional” therapies are used in ways not supported by evidence, because people are a) desperate, b) naive, or c) both and there are plenty of folks out there ready to separate them from their money. Consider the FDA-approved therapy called chelation. Performed by licensed physicians using FDA-approved drugs, it has nevertheless caused suffering, pain, and even death in autistic children who had zero chance of benefitting from it. Or Lupron. Approved to treat precocious puberty, the Geiers are using it offlabel to “treat” autism. It works in a way; because it’s effectively a form of chemical castration, it does make the children more docile. But it’s profoundly wrong.

    Most alternative therapies that have been studied have been found to be completely without merit. Why, then, is it considered appropriate to hawk the untested ones (and even the disproven ones!) to the general public as if the sellers actually can prove the stuff works?

  88. PJE

    Bedtime for me..I’ll try to read links and comments tomorrow.

    I’m sure that *everyone* will be waiting in anticipation :)

    Pete

    (It occurs to me that sometimes I post at work or home and have different names, I’ll try to change my work , which is Peter Eldergill I think)

  89. Autumn

    As was easily predictable, not one of the pro-homeopathy commenters here has actually read Steve Novella’s piece. Not one pro-homeopathy commenter has offered any sort of explaination of any of Novella’s main points.
    None of them did on Steve’s blog either.

  90. Christopher Adams

    @ Old Geezer (comment 86) – Gee, I hope you’re not the guy who calls himself Old Geezer on RPG.Net.

  91. Mark Hansen

    Late in but;
    Molly and Kent, I’ve asked others before and never had a response. Why don’t people like you post in the threads that are about astronomy? If you like the astronomy threads, post there. If you don’t like other threads, then don’t post or don’t visit. Just don’t whine about what is on a person’s blog. It’s the blogger’s blog, after all.

  92. Michael Kingsford Gray

    At the end of the Readers’ Digest article, there is hyperlink to vote for the Oprah/McCarthy/etc slap-down article as a ‘must read’.
    I clicked on it.
    I recommend that others think about doing so as well.

  93. Diko

    I think belief plays a big part in all treatments.

  94. Nigel Depledge

    Jeff (22) said:

    I feel if NASA had wanted to turn around the anti-science, it should have built a moon base in 1970.

    They could have done it, but the plug was pulled on manned lunar exploration. A lot of people didn’t want to pay for it, and the Nixon administration exploited that to repeatedly cut NASA’s funding.

    Why else do you think that you’ve never heard of Apollo 20? ‘Cos it was planned and some of the hardware was built.

    Besides, what does NASA have to do with medical science?

  95. Nigel Depledge

    Calli Arcale (25) said:

    The “active ingredients” are supposed to be things that evoke the same symptoms as the disease. By diluting them into absurdity via a very special method of shaking, their effect is inverted. Supposedly. This is actually stupider than the idea of water having a memory, frankly.

    Yes, I’ve heard this too. It harks back to the “doctrine of signatures” that was the (alleged) foundation of thaumaturgy.

  96. Nigel Depledge

    John (26) nicely illustrates a common misconseption about the nature of evidence in medical science…

    John said:

    The efficacy of any remedy is based on individual response though,

    Yes, which is why clinical trials to demonstrate efficacy are required to demonstrate sufficient statistical power.

    and that’s where some of what you say becomes irrelevant, because if the doctor and patient agree to try an alternative therapy, presumably because the conventional treatments fail, and it effects a positive outcome, the doctor and patient should agree to stick with that remedy.

    I daresay this is an option in many healthcare systems. Often, a placebo and a bit of TLC is all that is required to make a person feel better.

    No double-blind, peer reviewed statistical assessment, just directly observed cause and effect.

    This is where you are wrong.

    Let’s imagine patient X has tried the conventional treatment for condition Y and found no improvement. X suggests to their doc trying something alternative (treatment Z), doc agrees its may be worth a shot, and X feels better within a few days of trying Z.

    What is our evidence? X tried Z, and then felt better (symptoms of Y reduced, whatever).

    How can we know that Z caused the observed change?

    The answer is that we cannot know.

    This is the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy (“after this, therefore because of this”). Just because two events occurred one after the other in a relatively short span of time does not prove that the first event caused the second.

    Here’s the key point:
    Without an experimental control, you have not demonstrated anything.

    It’s why we prescribed citrus fruit to cure scurvy hundreds of years before linus pauling discovered vitamin c.

    Actually, if you go and look into it, you will find that the prevention of scurvy in the Royal Navy was a side effect.

    I’ve personally had to resort to at least one alternative therapy, and personal experience isn’t anecdotal in medicine, it’s vital for effective treatment.

    You are wrong. Any account that does not include an experimental control is a mere anecdote.

    Lastly, and most importantly – If I were to take your advice about alternative medicines and resume conventional therapy and something went wrong, what do you think would happen?

    You will find that Phil repeats the advice of any healthcare professional who cares about whether their patients are being conned or not. Perhaps 60 or so years ago, real doctors would prescribe a placebo if they could not treat the condition presented. In many cases, it helped the patient to some extent, because of the placebo effect. Now this practice is seen as unethical among professional doctors, but it is exactly what most alternative therapies do.

    According to the current evidence, homeopathy is no better than a placebo (but it is an effective placebo). Chiropractic has some demonstrated benefits for back and joint problems but not for anything else. Reiki, crystal healing and other stuff like that has no real evidence backing it up at all.

    Where customers of alternative “medicine” have been satisfied, there are several possible reasons, of which the most common are the placebo effect and regression to the mean (meaning that we always tend to seek treatment when our symptoms are at their worst, so if we did nothing we would get better anyway; however, improvements are always attributed to whatever treatment was given).

  97. Nigel Depledge

    John (29) said:

    Of course we non-homeopathers are smug because the FDA thoroughly protects us, and the drug companies would NEVER release a drug that was harmful, amirite?

    Ah, the double-standards argument again.

    Just because some drugs companies have behaved unethically (e.g. by repeating clinical trials until they get one with a positive result, then only publishing that positive result), that’s no excuse for alternative treatments to be equally unethical. Why should we not demand that alternative treatments be supported by evidence in the same way that we demand normal medicines be supported by evidence?

  98. @Diko

    You tear down alternative medicine and claim it costs lives, but fail to acknowledge the fact that adverse drug reactions in hospital claim many lives each year.

    Why should he acknowledge something that is already known, and which no one denies? See, the difference is that with the majority of alt-med treatments, the practitioner claims that there is no harm that can come from it, that there are no adverse reactions. With real medicine, not a single person claims that the treatments are without risk of some adverse reaction or death. Further, while alt-med practitioners often claim that their treatments are 100% effective, the same 100% efficacy claim is seldom, if ever, claimed for real treatments. Because of this, and because real treatments are already looked at pretty intensively by a lot of people, there is no real need to focus on it. By contrast, there is very little scrutiny, by comparison, of alt-med.

    Oh, and while the study you picked says that ADRs are an important factor to consider (and I agree), what the abstract does not say is what the conditions were of the patients. Why were they in the hospital? What were their conditions? What drugs were they taking? When looking at ADRs, it is important to also consider the risk-benefit ratios of the drugs. If the patients had very serious conditions, they may have been more willing to take riskier drugs. For example, if I’ve got a disease that will almost assuredly kill me, and there is a drug that has a chance of healing me but also has a non-negligible risk of death, I would probably be willing to try it.

    Alternative medicine occasionally becomes mainstream when the studies show positive results.

    True. And that’s all we’re asking for: that alt-med practices be subjected to rigorous study to show whether or not they are effective, and just what risks are involved. If they fail the studies, being ineffective or having too great a risk, then discard them. If they actually succeed, then bring them into mainstream medicine. This is the point that alt-med providers don’t get. When something like homeopathy or reiki are shown to be void of efficacy beyond placebo, practitioners make excuses for why they failed, rather than accepting reality and moving on to treatments that actually work.

    Do we consider food as an alternative medicine?

    Not generally, no. Some food items, like herbs, can have medicinal properties, but until they are subjected to randomized, blinded studies of sufficient size, no one should be making claims that they can cure, treat or prevent a disease.

  99. Blind Hog

    Hey! I found an acorn!

  100. @Calli Arcale,

    People are using Lupron to treat Autism? Wow. My first encounter with Lupron was years back when my grandfather had Prostrate Cancer. Lupron was relatively new on the market but my grandfather’s doctors insisted on operating on his arm (where the cancer spread) instead. (We think they were more interested in his insurance money than his health.)

    My next encounter with it was when my wife was looking for relief from her endometreosis symptoms. Lupron was suggested as a possible treatment. I was immediately skeptical since I knew it was meant for advanced prostrate cancer. Apparently, though, it works by artificially putting the woman into menopause for a short period of time. It’s such a nasty drug, though, that women can only stay on it for a very short period of time and has a lot of bad side effects (some of which can last long after the person goes off the drug).

    So hearing that people are giving their kids Lupron made me do a double-take. Sure enough from Wikipedia:

    “A 2005 paper suggested it as a treatment for autism, the hypothetical method of action being the now defunct theory that autism is caused by mercury, with the additional assumption that mercury binds irreversibly to testosterone and therefore leuprolide can help cure autism by lowering the testosterone level and thereby the mercury level. However, used on children or adolescents it could cause disastrous and irreversible damage to sexual functioning, and there is no scientifically valid or reliable research to show its effectiveness in treating autism. Mark Geier, the proponent of the hypothesis, has frequently been barred from testifying in vaccine-autism related cases on the grounds of not being sufficiently expert in that particular issue.”

    Really scary!

  101. Nigel Depledge

    Brian M (31) said:

    The stuff works. And it’s a dog so I can’t rationalize it away as a placebo affect. Help me out, people. My assumption is that it’s not REALLY homeopathic — there must be something else in there. I just don’t know what it is.

    Possibilities are two:

    Either (A) the placebo effect is activated (e.g. is dog getting more fuss and TLC than usual?) despite the dog not knowing what the treatment is supposed to do, or (B) regression to the mean (i.e. the dog was getting better or on the verge of getting better anyway, but incrementally, and after applying the treatment you and your wife are just noticing the improvement).

    What is really, really unlikely is that the treatment is having some active biological effect.

    OK, having just read some other comments, I realise it may be mislabelled and not actually be homeopathic after all.

  102. Nigel Depledge

    Sophia8 (49) said:

    Check the label; homeopathic stuff always has a dilution measure on it – 6X, 10X, 30X etc.

    Yes, but even 30x is not a homeopathic dilution.

    What you need to look for are terms like 30C, 60C etc.

    The C represents a 100-fold (102x) dilution. The number represents the number of times they have successively performed that dilution. Thus, 2C would be a 104x dilution, 3C a 106x and so on. 30C is a 1060x dilution, 60C is a 10120x dilution.

    By way of comparison, Avogadro’s number (L) is 6.023×1023. That’s the number of atoms in a mole of an element, or the number of molecules in a mole of a compound. A mole is defined by relating L to the commonest isotope of carbon, carbon-12. 12 grams of pure carbon-12 represent a mole of carbon and contain L carbon atoms.

    Most substances will not dissolve in water much above 10 moles per litre (and some a lot less than that). Table salt (NaCl) has a molecular weight of 58.44 grams per mole, so to have even the tiniest amount of it left after a 1060x dilution would require that you start with 9.7 x1031 tonnes per litre. The mass of the Earth is in the vicinity of 1024 kg, IIRC, and it’s a bit larger than a litre.

    When they get to 1M, things are different, as 1M is (I think) a 102000x dilution (i.e. 1000 100-fold dilutions performed in series). This is the really powerful stuff, allegedly!

    Oh, and I forgot the concussion. You have to concuss the mixture for every dilution. That’s what activates it.

  103. Mike

    What’s “concussion”?

  104. JimB

    Mike,
    I think thats the special magical shaking you have to do.

    You can’t just pick it up and shake it, that would be so ummm “normal”. So you grasp the container and lift it so far off the surface and then slam it down again.

  105. @Nigel Depledge

    I think you mean “succuss”?

  106. Mike

    Of course. How could I be so dim? Since there aren’t any actual, you know, molecules, in the final solution, you must have to leave behind molecular vibrations. Or something.

    Now I get it!

  107. sophia8

    By coincidence, here’s a news report about a “homeopathic” remedy containing an active pharmacological ingredient – a steroid, no less. How’s that for hypocrisy?

  108. Kent

    WOW. You miss a lot when you get off the computer and sleep. lol

    @ Michigan Gardener: Let me first start off by saying that I’M NOT TELLING PHIL WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT! I know that it is HIS blog and he can talk about anything he wants to. I am thankful for people like Phil who stand up for whatever they believe in. I would much rather follow him than someone who doesn’t have an opinion on anything. I’ve never once said it wasn’t reasonable to vent for what he believes in. I never once said he SHOULDN’T vent for what he believes in. Where are you getting this crap? I have been completely cordial in my opinion and I respect yours but I won’t put up with someone accusing me of trying to persecute Phil for his beliefs. I have already said that I agree with Phil on certain issues while disagreeing with others. I have nothing to gain here by coming on and venting. Phil isn’t going to stop doing what he is doing and that is fine! I was merely “typing” my opinion. And stop with the “how many lives are you saving by venting about him writing too much about other topics?” This is not semantics. You’re basically saying that I do not care about people dying. You know nothing about me. That is absolutely ridiculous and you know it. You seriously need to get off the “high-horse” you’re on and actually calm down about the “importance” of what I’m saying. I’m thankful that you do all you do for humanity, Michigan. I really am. I just wish you wouldn’t jump from me posting an opinion (educated…maybe not as intelligent as others but still educated!) about certain material covered to me not caring about people dying. It really is a rather large leap to assume that I do not stand against people dying from what I have posted. I don’t even think that Big Cat remotely came close to that thought when I originally posted and he was the main one to respond to me in disagreement. Give me a break.

    Sigh…

    @Molly: I appreciate your support! I didn’t neccessarily expect anyone to come to my defense seeing as how anyone who comments on public forums with an opinion that is different from that of the blogger/majority of posters gets flamed. I just wanted to show my point of view. For all we know, Phil actually likes reading what his posters say, even when they may not agree/like his style.

  109. don

    John #26:
    “It’s why we prescribed citrus fruit to cure scurvy hundreds of years before linus pauling discovered vitamin c.
    and after this ridiculous statement was corrected:
    “Linus pauling was an advocate of high consumtion of the vitamin, casimir funk discovered it. Sorry the error upset you so much. “

    John, I don’t think the error “upset” anyone. In fact, I was quite amused.

    The point of the responses you got is that you demonstrated how clearly unacquainted with the facts you are. It wasn’t just a simple error.

    Saying Linus Pauling discovered Vitamin C shows that up until the moment you were corrected here, you had probably never done 3 seconds of research on the history of vitamin C. And you supposedly “treat” people.

    Worse, you were under the impression that Vitamin C was used as a treatment for scurvy for hundreds of years only as a word-of-mouth natural and intuitive activity. Uh, further review says that people died of scurvy for thousands of years without realizing the remedy was a simply fresh sources of plants and fruits which contain vitamin C.

    It was only AFTER James Lind in the 18th century conducted the first scientific controlled experiments on the efficacy of citrus fruits in preventing scurvy, did the world start catching on. The world didn’t simply use the remedy until science caught on.

    You are a very very good example of what is wrong with the Woo Crowd.

  110. @John # 81,

    @rogue medic
    “Alternative medicine has been repeatedly studied and found to be nothing more than placebo effect”
    No, some of it has.

    Until the rest has been studied, the only logical thing to do is to ignore it.

    What are they waiting for?

    If it worked, there should be some evidence to support it.

    While it is possible that some form of alternative medicine will be shown to be effective, there is no good reason for it not to have been studied if it actually works. None.

    I think you’re radically underestimating the scope of alternative medicine.

    The scope is overwhelming, which is a depressing indication that there are so many people who do not understand science.

    there’s a huge amount that hasn’t been studied. Medical practices of entire cultures that have survived thousands of years of trial and error and have yet to be studied.

    There may be something that comes out of cultures that have not been exchanging information with scientists. There may be something that has not been studied in the medicine of these cultures. Outside of that very limited example, expecting that there will be any successful treatments is just wishful thinking and blind optimism, and I do mean blind.

    It is vast. Research is ongoing, and fortunately will continue, for a very long time.

    And when they find something that works, that will be the tine to pay attention to that specific treatment. In the mean time, these are a waste of time and a waste of lives, since people die due to delay in receiving real medicine that may have been effective if the person had received real treatment earlier.

    Look at the kid with cancer, who ran away from a treatment that is 90+% effective. Amazing stupidity. Then there are those, who have encouraged this kind of behavior. Alternative medicine does kill. Let’s hope that the interruptions in the treatment of this child have not delayed treatment too long.

  111. @90. Diko,

    You tear down alternative medicine and claim it costs lives, but fail to acknowledge the fact that adverse drug reactions in hospital claim many lives each year.

    Who is denying that there are adverse reactions to medicines?

    Read the label for any medicine. It includes information on all of these. There are people who die from adverse reactions to medicines, but the number who die is much smaller than the number who benefit. The FDA does track all medication reactions, not just fatal reactions. If a drug is considered to present a greater risk, than the demonstrated benefit, the FDA has several choices of action.

    The FDA may issue an alert about the drug. This discourages people from using the drug in a certain way. It encourages more education. It may cause many organizations to stop using that drug, if there is an alternative that is considered safer. There may be many patients, for whom there is no acceptable alternative.

    The FDA may issue a Black Box warning. This is the most serious action, short of a full recall. There are considered to be significant dangers in the use of these medicines, but still acceptable uses. There are some, where the adverse effects appear to be entirely attributable to misuse by the person administering the drug.

    The FDA may order a recall of the medication. The drug is considered to be too much of a risk, with no groups of patients who might still receive more benefit than harm.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9555760?dopt=Abstract

    This is an important study. There are some important limitations on the findings. The most important one is that this was only looking at hospitalized patients.

    If you are not hospitalized, your risk is significantly different from what is represented in the study. The risk of death attributable to adverse drug reaction is 1 in 300 hospitalized patients. Hospitalized patients are sicker. The cause of death may not be clear, but is considered to be strongly associated with the medication. These are important considerations for doctors to consider with hospitalized patients.

    If you are not hospitalized, the risks are different.

    As a patient, it is a good idea to read as much as you can on the medication. There may be things you do not tell your doctor, that you think have nothing to do with the medicine, but are important. Drinking grapefruit juice is one example. Many medications are metabolized by cytochrome P450. Grapefruit juice interferes with the breakdown of these medications. The link is to a Wikipedia article on the topic. Who thinks to mention grapefruit juice? Unfortunately, many doctors may not mention this either.

    Alternative medicine occasionally becomes mainstream when the studies show positive results.

    That is true. We should not anticipate too many more cases of this happening, since alternative treatments have been thoroughly studied.

    Do we consider food as an alternative medicine?

    A healthy diet is something that conventional medicine does recommend. Doctors should do more to encourage healthy eating habits. There are alternative diets, discouraged by conventional medicine, that should be considered as part of alternative medicine.

  112. @101. Diko,

    I think belief plays a big part in all treatments.

    Yes, the placebo effect does play a role in many treatments, but probably not anywhere near all treatments.

    For example, an unconscious patient is not likely to even be aware of any treatments being received. There are studies that show that unconscious people may hear what is going on around them, but many unconscious people are also sedated with amnesia inducing (ordinary side effect of benzodiazepines, not necessarily a goal of treatment) medications, so that may be difficult to determine.

  113. @107. Blind Hog,

    Hey! I found an acorn!

    Aren’t you supposed to be looking for truffles?

  114. Michigan Gardener

    Kent, in your first comment you complained because you’re frustrated that Phil writes too much about non-astronomy, woo-debunking topics. Then in your most recent reply, you completely backtrack by saying that it’s completely reasonable for Phil to vent and he’s going to keep doing what he’s doing and that’s fine, and that you even agree with him on certain topics. So why did you even bother complaining in the first place?

    Wow you are really ticked off at me but you are the one who came to someone else’s blog and complained that you’re frustrated that he’s writing about topics that may save lives. If that’s not what you meant to say, that’s great. But your anger at me is misdirected. YOU are the one who said that you’re frustrated that Phil is writing about these life-saving topics. YOU said it. If you didn’t like the response, than perhaps you should have clarified what you meant, instead of lashing out at someone for pointing out how selfish and uncaring your first post sounded.

  115. @117. don,

    Very well written.

  116. Kent

    Michigan, I never back-tracked at all. I posted my opinion and that has not changed. “I’m frustrated that lately, especially, there has been so much more non-astronomy/anti-this, anti-that being brought up that I can’t direct someone to the website for an astronomy lesson unless they sift through all that.” I’m not bashing him for it. I didn’t think it would get him to change, nor did I do it to get him to change. I can be frustrated all I want and I can voice that all I want. I just wanted to see if it was just me or if others felt the same. I never claimed to be trying to change him or his posts. As for your comment about “saving lives” as you seem to be sooooo hung up on it; astronomy saves lives. If we are going to get into a semantics arguement, why would that be any different if I felt he was devoting too much time to other “life-saving” issues instead of my favorite “life-saving” issue, astronomy? (See why it is silly to argue semantics?) I also never “lashed out” at anyone. I did get my feathers ruffled when you posted some stuff about what I said that was clearly an attack. I didn’t attack Phil. In fact, I applaud him. I applaud you to a certain extent. Stand up for what you believe in. Just don’t twist things around and try to make others look stupid. I feel as though I have been as clear as possible with my points. You’ve questioned some and I’ve clarified them for a 3rd time. Molly got my point. And I’m assuming Big Cat got my point. Why are you still insisting that I’m not being clear? What else can I say?

  117. Mark Hansen

    Kent (124)
    You could answer my question (post 99) about why people like you don’t post in astronomy threads.

  118. @Kent

    You can still send people here for astronomy stuff. Just tell them to search for “astronomy” or click on the appropriate tag under a post to view all posts in that category.

  119. A Journalist

    I’m surprised you have yet to jump on the Zicam train, Phil. The FDA posted a warning about the homeopathic “remedy” this week…

  120. Michigan Gardener

    Kent, you obviously don’t get the point and we’re just talking past each other. You refuse to take responsibility for the fact that you said, in your original comment, that you are frustrated that Phil writes about debunking dangerous beliefs. I responded to THAT statement. NOW you choose to add all this stuff about “semantics”, and that you are just as interested in saving lives. You DIDN’T say in your original comment that you are frustrated that he is writing too often about certain life-saving topics (woo debunking) but not enough about another life-saving topic (astronomy). If you had said that, or even IMPLIED that, then I never would have commented to you at all. The way your first comment read, you were complaining about Phil spending so much time trying to save lives because you’d rather that he spent more time writing about astronomy. Can’t you see why that pissed me off? Can’t you understand that AT ALL?

    Let me put it this way–Let’s say you wrote a blog that primarily focused on cooking, and your neighbor was outside beating his kids and you caught it on video and called the cops, and the cops did nothing because the neighbor was a fellow cop. You see these kids get beat all the time and you have proof and no one will do anything about it, and I imagine you’d be outraged, right? At least I hope so. Then you decide to use the power of the internet to try and save those kids, getting the public involved. Your cooking blog has thousands of readers and you know you can reach a big audience there, so you start posting about the injustice those kids suffer. Then I write a comment saying, “Kent, I like the stuff about cooking and I don’t think kids should get beat but I’m frustrated that you are writing about child abuse instead of coming up with new recipes.” Wouldn’t you think I’m being rather petty?

    I just can’t be any more clear about how I read your first post–that I read it exactly the same as in the analogy I used. Maybe that’s not what you meant, but you’re blaming me for thinking that’s what you meant, and you refuse to take responsibility for not being entirely clear.

    Oh, and as for your statement that I am “sooooo hung up on” saving lives–well, yes I am, and I am quite proud of it. I didn’t realize that being “hung up” on saving lives is something someone should be mocked for.

  121. Gonzo

    @Jeff #21: You have to keep in mind that NASA’s agenda and budget is largely controlled by out of touch (and too often anti-science) politicians.

  122. Gonzo

    I’m also very happy to be considered an elitist by anyone who rubs gingko sauce on their anus.

  123. Nigel Depledge

    Todd W said:

    I think you mean “succuss”?

    Yeah, I was being facetious for comedic effect, but it doesn’t seem to have worked.

  124. Nigel Depledge

    MBD (50) said:

    Regardless of what your stance is on the issue, or how right you think you are (and this applies to all sides), there is no reason lambaste and berate those that think differently.

    It is both impolite, and unscientific (and Mr. Plait it is equally, if not more so, to encourage it…”free reign to mock you”).

    This illustrates two things that you seem either to not know or to be ignoring:

    (1) that anyone who uses an argument in a scientific debate that has been shown to be false deserves mockery if they don’t abandon it after having that pointed out (if you go back and read what Phil wrote, he linked to a specific set of points that were debunked, and suggested that anyone using those debunked arguments should be mocked).

    (2) genuine scientific debates get passionate, and can easily become vitriolic and even scornful. So, although we all may prefer for the debate to remain polite and civil, you are wrong in saying that lambasting and berating have no place in a scientific debate.

    There is a third point that is perhaps less relevant to your comment, but at least equally important. In science, an opinion founded on ignorance has almost no value at all. If you wish to debate on a scientific topic, you insult the other participants if you don’t do your best to become informed about the topic first.

  125. Nigel Depledge

    John (51) said:

    Unfortunately, science is incomplete, and for the purposes of practicing medicine, if a patient responds positively or negatively to a treatment, then that response cannot be ignored. This trumps anything that existing research tells us.

    You seem to be attributing overly simplistic interpretations to what existing medical research tells us. One of the clearest things in any study is that people differ from one another.

    Obviously, if a patient reacts badly to one treatment, then the physician should change the treatment or change the dose. But whatever they turn to should be supported by some actual evidence that it is likely to work.

  126. arto7

    Is New Scientist a purveyor of woo? Stumbled across their 13 things that do not make sense ( http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18524911.600-13-things-that-do-not-make-sense.html?page=2 ) Number 4 is a claimed result from homeopathy based on a study at Belfast university – although the article acknowledges that no homeopathic remedy has been shown to work in a “large randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial.”

  127. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Another recent alt-med smackdown discovered: “Vaccinating Children May Be Effective At Helping Control Spread Of Influenza” [Medical News Today].

    In essence, for some diseases (close-contact diseases) it makes sense to target children vaccination. Bad news for anti-vaxx pro-disease scammers:

    “The researchers argue that targeting children for vaccination would not only help protect those at greatest risk of exposure to the virus, but would also offer protection to unvaccinated adults. This so-called “herd immunity” effect would mean that significantly less vaccine would be necessary to help control the spread of the virus than if it were offered to everyone.

    “Given that children are generally at particular risk from the disease, we believe that vaccination programmes for the young can be justified,” says Dr House. “Although not sufficient to prevent a pandemic in themselves, such steps may support other control measures such as social distancing, antiviral drugs or quarantine.”

    The current study focuses on household transmissions. In the event of a disease outbreak, other modes of transmission are also likely, such as at work or on public transport. However, data for these modes is harder to come by.

    “We think it is unlikely that including these other contexts in our model will change the conclusion regarding vaccinating children,” says Dr House. “In every city studied, households are seen to play a key role in the transmission of close-contact diseases like influenza.””

  128. @art07

    Apparently New Scientist was unaware of the follow-up testing done through the JREF on the Horizon program on BBC, in which the researchers were unable to replicate Ennis’ findings (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2002/homeopathytrans.shtml).

    It’s odd that they’re reporting on a study that is 4 years old.

  129. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ arto7:

    Yes, they are, as Phil is probably very aware of, since JRF has debunked this particular claim.

    The Wikipedia article on Madeleine Ennis tells me that New Scientist published this piece March 19 2005. Apparently they haven’t seen fit to read earlier publications, or later publish a retraction. The Wikipedia references goes to ABC Catalyst, which describes how James Randi debunked Ennis through the Million Dollar Challenge already 2003 in the program Horizon:

    […]

    NARRATOR: But as more codes are read out the true result becomes clear: the Cs and Ds are completely mixed up. The results are just what you’d expect by chance. A statistical analysis confirms it. The homeopathic water hasn’t had any effect.

    PROF. MARTIN BLAND: There’s absolutely no evidence at all to say that there is any difference between the solution that started off as pure water and the solution that started off with the histamine.

    JOHN ENDERBY: What this has convinced me is that water does not have a memory.

    NARRATOR: So Horizon hasn’t won the million dollars. It’s another triumph for James Randi. His reputation and his money are safe, but even he admits this may not be the final word.

    JAMES RANDI: Further investigation needs to be done. This may sound a little strange coming from me, but if there is any possibility that there’s a reality here I want to know about it, all of humanity wants to know about it.

    NARRATOR: Homeopathy is back where it started without any credible scientific explanation.

    […]

    That article also gives the lie to New Woo Scientist as Ennis was apparently never “the scourge of homeopathy”:

    […]

    Then Professor Madeleine Ennis attended a conference in which a French researcher claimed to be able to show that water had a memory. Ennis was unimpressed – so the researcher challenged her to try the experiment for herself. When she did so, she was astonished to find that her results agreed. Although many researchers now offered proof that the effects of homeopathy can be measured, none have yet applied for James Randi’s million dollar prize. For the first time in the program’s history, Horizon decided to conduct their own scientific experiment.

    […]

    Of course, the homeopaths weren’t impressed:

    The furor over the BBC Horizon program that bombed on homeopathy back in November, continues apace. As previously discussed, Horizon’s experts tried to replicate the experiments of Dr. Jacques Benveniste, the results of which had been accepted and celebrated by the homeopathic community as validation of their claims. Horizon’s results were quite negative, and that has provoked much criticism among the believers and proponents, as well as some rather sour comments from Benveniste. He now calls me a “fascist of science” and branded the program an “establishment plot” to sabotage his own work and that of Madeleine Ennis, the pharmacist from Belfast.

    The BBC has been issuing reports and responses, as I have. To quote from their present web page:

    Dr. [Peter] Fisher, the medical director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital [and homeopathist to Queen Elizabeth], does not believe that the Horizon programme will dent his patients’ belief in the method. It is the one thing on which he and Mr. Randi agree. Mr. Randi said that homeopaths would quickly assimilate any disappointment at the resoundingly negative result. “They all recover from facts,” he said. “Reality is not something that bothers these people for very long.”

    He never seriously thought that he’d have to part with his $1 million — and thinks it unlikely he ever will. “I am a magician, not a scientist. I try to see through people who are deceiving or who are self-deceiving. That is not difficult. We as conjurers know one thing above all, we don’t have to fool the people; they fool themselves and they do it very effectively. People — patients and doctors — who not only want to believe, but need to believe it works, will ignore all contrary evidence,” Mr. Randi said. “You might as well try to talk the Pope out of being Catholic.”

    And it goes on and on. I can’t wait for someone to come up with the funding for another such test, one in which Peter Fisher, Madelaine Ennis, and Benveniste himself will participate. But then, I was always a dreamer… [From “Commentary, January 3, 2003″, James Randi.]

    Wikipedia’s “Water memory” article provides further background:

    Third-party attempts at replication of the Benveniste experiment have failed to produce positive results that could be independently replicated. In 1993, Nature published a paper describing a number of follow-up experiments that failed to find a similar effect,[21] and an independent study published in Experientia in 1992 showed no effect.[22] An international team led by Professor Madeleine Ennis of Queen’s University of Belfast claimed in 1999 to have replicated the Benveniste results.[23] Randi then forwarded the $1 million challenge to the BBC Horizon program to prove the “water memory” theory following Ennis’ experimental procedure. In response, experiments were conducted with the Vice-President of the Royal Society, Professor John Enderby, overseeing the proceedings. The challenge ended with no memory effect observed by the Horizon team.[24] For a piece on homeopathy, the ABC program 20/20 also attempted, unsuccessfully, to reproduce Ennis’s results.[25]

    Research published in 2005 on hydrogen bond network dynamics in water showed that “liquid water essentially loses the memory of persistent correlations in its structure” within fifty millionths of a nanosecond.[6] [Italics removed.]

  130. Cairnos

    @ Brian M re Dog spray medicine

    I can’t belive this didn’t leap immediately to mind and it’s now probably too late but just because my seventh form chem teacher would hunt me down and look disappointed at me if I didn’t suggest it, try this”

    Spray a squirt onto a white plate. The solution (if actually hmeopathic rather than herbal Pharmaceutical) should be either water or alcohol so make the following observations:

    Is it entirely clear?

    Does it smell entirely of either nothing (water) or pure alcohol? (anyone got any suggestions for how to describe the scent of pure alcohol? The closest I can come up with is is ‘kinda like slightly fruity but not quite)

    Now let it evaporate and heat the plate.

    Has the sample turned brown (or any other colour for that matter? If so there was definately something other than alcohol/water and perhaps a molecule or so of the active ingredient.

    This still leaves lots of other options but will quickly eliminate a whole bundle of possibilities

  131. @Cairnos

    Nice idea. Unfortunately, there may be a number of “inactive” ingredients in it, as well, that would be left behind by evaporation.

  132. Diko

    Rogue Medic

    “A healthy diet is something that conventional medicine does recommend. Doctors should do more to encourage healthy eating habits. There are alternative diets, discouraged by conventional medicine, that should be considered as part of alternative medicine.”

    Unfortunately doctors aren’t educated (very little) in nutrition at medical school. They then recommend the food pyramid.

  133. Patricia

    Hi, I know it’s been a couple of days since this post, but I wanted to draw attention to FDA vs. homeopathy, sort of, where the FDA has warned that homeopathic “medications” from Zicam can cause users to lose their sense of smell:
    http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/16/zicam.fda.warning/index.html

  134. Jefferson

    Here’s an interesting study about the antipathogenic properties of Manuka Honey, as published in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases:
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/7607jn7q1817018p/fulltext.html

    This could be an interesting alternative to antibiotics, more so since it would appear bacteria can not develop a resistance to honey, as is often the case with antibiotics. And I bet you it can be produced and sold at a fraction of the price of regular antibiotics.

    Jefferson

  135. @Jefferson

    Interesting study. I don’t think it would be quite as cheap or easy to produce as you might think. As long as it is dependent on being created by bees, there is a risk for hive-death to have a significant impact on the supply. If it can be synthesized, then that risk is not a factor, but you have other production costs associated with it. It’s like anything that is derived from natural sources.

    A promising alternative for those who are not allergic. It’ll be nice to see where the research leads.

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