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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back to Basics: Homeopathy


I've touched on the idea of homeopathy several times in the past, but I thought it might be a good idea to go through a quick description of what it is and why it doesn't work.

What is it?

Homeopathy is an alternative theraputic modality. It was invented by a man named Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century, when mainstream medical technology still included things like leeches, bloodletting and trepanning. Hygiene hadn't been invented yet, and imbalances in the Four Humours were thought to be the cause of disease.

At that time, a patient undergoing medical treatment was more likely to die from secondary infections and and side effects from treatment than to recover, so Hahnemann created what he believed to be a gentler alternative: Homeopathy.

Homeopathy is based on two main principles: Similia Similubus Curentur and Dilution. Let's look at each of those separately.

Like Cures Like

Similia Similubus Curentur (or Like Cures Like) is based on a "fight fire with fire" approach to handling disease. An idea not all that dissimilar to the use of vaccinations in modern medicine, but in a much more primitive form. It's primitive because Homeopathy employs this approach reactively and at a symptomatic level, rather than pre-emptively dealing with the cause.

The process begins with a "Proving", in which a healthy patient is given a dose of a particular substance, and is observed to see what symptoms it induces. Once the symptoms have been documented, that substance is then used to treat sick patients who demonstrate that same cluster of symptoms.

For example: caffeine would inhibit the ability to sleep in a healthy patient. So the Homeopath will treat an insomniac (who is already unable to sleep) with caffeine. Or the Homeopath might treat a patient suffering from a fever with chilli, and so on.

On the surface this seems counter intuitive. And that's exactly what it is. There is simply no known mechanism through which this might work. It's simply a ridiculous idea, and Homeopaths would need to present some pretty extraordinary evidence to prove that it works. The problem is that that evidence simply isn't forthcoming.

Dilution

Somehow, Hahnemann got into his head a very strange idea: that the more you dilute a substance, the more potent it becomes. 

When we talk about dilutions in the context of Homeopathy, we're not talking about dissolving a teaspoon of sugar in a glass of water. That wouldn't be potent enough! We're talking about dilutions so great that we need superscripts to be able to write the numbers!

For instance, it's not uncommon for us to see Homeopathic remedies available at 200C. This is Homeopathic code for a dilution of 1 part active ingredient to 10^400 parts of water. (10^400 is a number with a 1 in the front and 400 zeroes behind it. I'm not going to type all that out. As far as I know, that number doesn't have a name.)

The problem comes in with a well-understood concept in both chemistry and physics called Avagadro's Constant. Avagadro's Constant tells us that once you get to a solution of 1:10^23 , you only have one molecule of the active ingredient left in the mixture.

So as soon as you get to a solution of 1:10^24, you have a one in ten chance of there being a single molecule in the mixture. 1:10^25 takes that to one in a hundred, and so on. Once you get to 1:10^400, the chances of there being even a single molecule of the active ingredient in the preparation are far too small to even consider.

So what are they selling? Pure water? Yup. Sometimes they'll dilute the substance in something other than water: alcohol or sugar pills, perhaps. But then they're simply selling pure alcohol or just plain sugar pills. In other words, Homeopathic preparations are nothing more than a placebo.

Homeopaths claim that during the dilution process, if they shake the mixture just right, the properties of the active ingredient are somehow passed into the water, through some sort of magical "water memory". If that's true, then surely the water would still hold the properties of every other substance it's ever come into contact with, wouldn't it? All the water we currently drink could just as easily be considered Homeopathic Dinosaur Urine or Homeopathic Primordial Soup. 

But Why do People Still Buy It?

This is a very good question. One that could just as easily be asked about any number of other fake medicinal preparations. The answer seems to be a little complicated.

It appears to be as a result of a cluster of known bugs in the human brain:
  • The placebo effect: since we often can't tell the difference between a sham intervention and real medicine, we sometimes feel better after taking a placebo.
  • Mistaken causality: the human brain is an extremely sophisticated pattern-recognition engine. It's far too easy for us to assume a causal link between two unrelated instances - the idea that A came before B, therefore A caused B.
  • Anecdotal evidence: hearing the stories of other people who felt better after taking Homeopathic remedies, we'll tend to believe them, and then confirmation bias comes into play - remembering the stories and experiences that confirm our beliefs, and ignoring or explaining away the ones that don't.
What's the Harm?

Another good question: if people feel better after taking a placebo, why not just let them take it to make themselves feel better?

In general I would agree with that. The problem comes in when people turn to Homeopathic remedies first, and don't seek proper medical care that could save their lives. There is a growing list of such such instances over at whatstheharm.net.


37 comments:

  1. Excellent post.

    The problem is that people dont know this. It is often assumed that homeopathic remedies are made from herbs, or from the ingredients mentioned on the bottle.

    What an incredible scam. Selling little bottles of water after studying for years to qualify. The profit margin must be immense.

    And what exactly do homeopaths study for years? And why is it that they are called "doctor".

    A first class global con, surviving, as they do on ignorance.

    Well done for your efforts to combat this ignorance.

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  2. They really shouldn't be allowed to advertise their goods alongside real medicine. I feel like suing someone for that useless eye drops I bought.

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  3. That's a good and sticky point too. There have been ongoing battles for years in places like the US and UK against homeopaths and other quacks making false claims on their advertising.

    To a large extent, the quacks have resorted to meaningless statements like "promotes wellness" and "boosts immune system", but they often still try their luck.

    Unfortunately it's up to us to catch them when they make obviously fake claims, and report them to bodies like ASASA... which could be a full-time job in itself. And an unrewarding one at that... complaints like that have been raised against the various Glomail and Verimark products for years - when a case succeeds they simply put a different brand name on the box and the whole thing starts again from scratch.

    Like an endless game of whack-a-mole.

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  4. It is always interesting when people bring up the idea of hoeopathy only being due to a placebo effect. Well all i can say is us homeopatha must have a much better quality of placebo than the conventional practioners. How is it that many people come to homoeopathy after doing the rounds of most other treatments, psychological as well as medical, then they meet with the very nice homoeopath and suddenly things start to improve? Mmmmm the last i met was a woman who brought her 23 month old. Never slept properly from birth. Been to every sleep clinic and psychologist she could be referred to, and then one remedy, her child starts to sleep. Of course this is only anecdotal evidence and not permitted , but it an example to both the woman and myself of how ridiculous your arguments sound.

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  5. "Well all i [sic] can say is us homeopatha [sic] must have a much better quality of placebo than the conventional practioners [sic]."

    What physical property differentiates a homeopathic preparation from a placebo?

    "Been [sic] to every sleep clinic and psychologist she could be referred to, and then one remedy, her child starts to sleep."

    Assuming that this anecdote is accurate, how do you know that you are not conflating coincidence with causality? The Ad Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy is a powerful illusion, and needs some pretty solid evidence to be overruled.

    Perhaps if you provided some information on how the Homeopathic remedy cured the child, you would win a Nobel Prize for overturning one of the fundamental notions that underpins modern physics and chemistry.

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  6. Perhaps it was the alcohol in the homeopathic remedy that put the child to sleep.
    unless the child was thirsty, and just needed a drink of homeopathic water.

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  7. What physical property differentiates a homeopathic preparation from a placebo?

    I, nor anyonew else, has an answer to that one YET. Not to say that it won't come with time. So as a comparison, as you are obviously better informed than I, what physical properties differentiate a magnetized bar of metal with one that isn't magnetised?

    Perhaps it was the alcohol in the homeopathic remedy that put the child to sleep.
    unless the child was thirsty, and just needed a drink of homeopathic water.

    If it were then the effect would not be permanent one.

    Assuming that this anecdote is accurate, how do you know that you are not conflating coincidence with causality? The Ad Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy is a powerful illusion, and needs some pretty solid evidence to be overruled.

    Because I look atr all the other interventions which have had no effect and hey presto on the day it gets it's remedy changes occur. Of course there is a possibility it is due to something else. But when it was examined and all the relevant questions were asked about any other things that were changed such as different pyjamas, or a different brand of milk, or was it the change in the story book? Or maybe it was transit of venus through the third house?

    There is always the possibility of it being something other than the remedy. But when all things are taken into account what else could it be? My understanding of placebo is that it is unlikely to bring about permanent changes and generally situations revert back to their original condition.

    So get off your one universe high horse and accept that there is more that goes on than can be fully or even partially explained.

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  8. "I, nor anyonew else, has an answer to that one YET. Not to say that it won't come with time."

    It's been two centuries so far. How much more time should we wait?

    "So as a comparison, as you are obviously better informed than I, what physical properties differentiate a magnetized bar of metal with one that isn't magnetised?"

    Well, for starters the bar in question would be made of mostly iron. Secondly the magnetised bar would have most, if not all, of it's Iron atoms aligned in the same direction. This would be determined by testing the strength of the magnetic field - through valid, repeatable, empirical testing.

    "If it were then the effect would not be permanent one."

    And? Is a homeopathic cure permanent? How?

    "Because I look atr [sic] all the other interventions which have had no effect and hey presto on the day it gets it's remedy changes occur. Of course there is a possibility it is due to something else. But when it was examined and all the relevant questions were asked about any other things that were changed such as different pyjamas, or a different brand of milk, or was it the change in the story book? Or maybe it was
    transit of venus [sic] through the third house?

    There is always the possibility of it being something other than the remedy. But when all things are taken into account what else could it be?"

    Well yes, what else could it be? Could it be that the child simply grew out of it? Could it be that the child's mother told the child she was giving it some sort of special medicine that was going to fix it? There are a million possible reasons why the symptoms stopped around the time the treatment was administered, the least of which is that the treatment itself had any effect.

    "My understanding of placebo is that it is unlikely to bring about permanent changes and generally situations revert back to their original condition."

    No. With placebo the effects are entirely psychological, as appears to be the case with Homeopathy. The effects, such as they are, will persist as long as the patient continues to believe that they persist.

    "So get off your one universe high horse and accept that there is more that goes on than can be fully or even partially explained."

    I do accept that. I accept a great many wonderful and exciting mysteries about the universe. But Homeopathy is not one of them. This question has already been answered. It's time to devote our scientific resources to studying and developing real treatments that actually work, as opposed to magical potions and other make-believe sorcery.

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  9. I do accept that. I accept a great many wonderful and exciting mysteries about the universe. But Homeopathy is not one of them. This question has already been answered. It's time to devote our scientific resources to studying and developing real treatments that actually work, as opposed to magical potions and other make-believe sorcery.

    Where?

    Well yes, what else could it be? Could it be that the child simply grew out of it? Could it be that the child's mother told the child she was giving it some sort of special medicine that was going to fix it? There are a million possible reasons why the symptoms stopped around the time the treatment was administered, the least of which is that the treatment itself had any effect.

    Clutching at straws aren't you?

    No. With placebo the effects are entirely psychological, as appears to be the case with Homeopathy. The effects, such as they are, will persist as long as the patient continues to believe that they persist.

    So as i said "the changes will tend to revert back".

    Again a straw to be clutched!!

    You should get over it. People have treatment and things change in a way which is predicatable.

    Ever heard of:
    - return of old symptoms
    - Symptoms moving from the internal to the external.
    - Symptoms travelling from the cirumference to the periphery and from the top down?

    I doubt it because these things are only seen by homoeopaths working correctly. They can be predicted and are observable. Conventional science doesn't understand these things simply because it doersn't know how to lookj at them. How is that?
    Baecuse it views everything of the person as separate entities. Why else would every part have its own speciality. No idea of the relationship that exists between all the parts.

    It's been two centuries so far. How much more time should we wait?

    Tell me do we yet understand gravity, magnetism, the relationbship between energy and matter? No we don't and how long has science been looking at these things.

    Human beings are far more subtle than anyone can understand. We don't yet know how people interact with their environment. To believe that we are only a collection of cells which interact through biolchemical reactions is a very limited perspective. Tell me one idea that comes closde to explain why thingns grow inrto the shape that they do. And talking of genes will merely show an absence of the ability to take in a broad view. Why do genes switch on and off at certain times and have an awareness of their space-time relationship with the rest of themselves?

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  10. Okay, wow... this is just getting more and more insane.

    "People have treatment and things change in a way which is predicatable [sic]."

    Well that's encouraging. If that is true, you should have no trouble at all convincing the medical establishment, the Nobel Prize Committee and James Randi that Homeopathy really is a legitimate medical modality. How is it possible that this fact has eluded them for so long?

    Of course we agree that a predictable response is something like "Action A leads predictably to Consequence B". For example, if I were to take a sleeping pill, it would make me sleepy.

    However, this does not appear to be the case with Homeopathic interventions. On one occasion I took no less than 48 homeopathic sleeping pills in one day, and the effect? Nothing. Would you still consider that predictable?

    In case you doubt the authenticity of my anecdote, it was recorded for posterity on YouTube. You can find it here. In case you suggest that mine was an isolated case (a reasonable suggestion) I encourage you to Google for the lectures of James Randi, who performs the exact same stunt on a regular basis.

    The fact is that Homeopathic interventions simply do not produce reliable, repeatable or predictable results. If you are perceiving them as such, then either you have succeeded where all other Homeopaths have failed (and therefore are in line for the Nobel Prize) or you are wrong.

    "Ever heard of:
    - return of old symptoms
    - Symptoms moving from the internal to the external.
    - Symptoms travelling [sic] from the cirumference to the periphery and from the top down?"

    No I haven't heard of those things. Care to explain?

    "Tell me do we yet understand gravity, magnetism, the relationbship [sic] between energy and matter? No we don't and how long has science been looking at these things."

    Actually we understand those things pretty well. See A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking. It appears that your knowledge of science is several decades out of date.

    That's not to say that we understand everything about those things, we but we do know a lot.

    How much do Homeopaths know about the mechanisms behind their modality?

    "Human beings are far more subtle than anyone can understand. We don't yet know how people interact with their environment. To believe that we are only a collection of cells which interact through biolchemical [sic] reactions is a very limited perspective."

    Then clearly you lack an understanding of just how complex those interactions actually are. You are revealing your own ignorance now. See The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins.

    "Tell me one idea that comes closde [sic] to explain [sic] why thingns [sic] grow inrto [sic] the shape that they do. And talking of genes will merely show an absence of the ability to take in a broad view. Why do genes switch on and off at certain times and have an awareness of their space-time relationship with the rest of themselves?"

    Once again you demonstrate your ignorance of the complexity of biological evolution, development and genetics. You clearly have a lot of reading to do.

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  11. Yawn! Sounds like all homeopaths drink the homeopathic remedy for gullibility whilst learning how to shake water just right.
    I don't know why you are even indulging this person who is posting all this bull crap anonymously. .

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  12. Actually we understand those things pretty well. See A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking. It appears that your knowledge of science is several decades out of date.

    That's not to say that we understand everything about those things, we but we do know a lot.

    So we don't understand everything then. What is a lot? A lot could be very little because if you don't know everything then you don't know what you don't know!!!!

    Then clearly you lack an understanding of just how complex those interactions actually are. You are revealing your own ignorance now. See The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins.


    I am aware of the complexities, none of what you have put forward has offered an explanation of what takes place. Why do things grow into what they do and what is it that controls growth relative to space and time. If you can provide an answer that gives detailed account of the mechanisms involved and how they work you will i am sure get yourself a nobel prize. Again subtlety. How does the biochemical version of events account for consciousnes? It doesn't and it cannot. If it were so clear there would not be greater minds than mine and possibly yours debating the issue.

    How much do Homeopaths know about the mechanisms behind their modality?

    We do not and anyone who says they do is talking bollocks. All we know is that you give a person a stimulus and there is a response. If it is the correct stimulus then there is an expected response, within certain parameters.
    This is where
    - the return of previously conventioally treated symptoms.
    - the movement of symptoms from the internal to the external and from the top down come in.


    They are observations that can be made when a correct prescription is made.

    So how does gravity work then?

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  13. "So we don't understand everything then. What is a lot? A lot could be very little because if you don't know everything then you don't know what you don't know!!!!"

    The Argumentum ad Ignorantum doesn't carry a lot of weight around here. We know enough to be able to make reliable, extremely precise predictions about the behaviours of those phenomena. The same cannot be said of Homeopathy.

    "I am aware of the complexities, none of what you have put forward has offered an explanation of what takes place."

    Seriously? Have you read the Selfish Gene or the Blind Watchmaker? Even A Brief History of Almost Everything by Bill Bryson would give you a decent layperson's understanding of how these processes work. I'm not going to reproduce the entire text of some of the most important scientific works of our time in the comment section of my blog for your edification. You are simply going to have to go out and read those books for yourself.

    "We do not and anyone who says they do is talking bollocks."

    So we agree, then, that there is simply no plausible mechanism through which Homeopathy might work.

    Since study after study have shown that Homeopathy performs no better than placebo in double-blind, controlled trials, we don't have a verifiable phenomenon either.

    So what does that give us? Absolutely nothing. Homeopathy is bunk, pure and simple.

    Unless you possess some knowledge that is somehow hidden from all of mainstream science, you are simply wrong.

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  14. Congratulations, you've taken some chemistry. Have you taken any physics, specifically quantum physics?

    Please don't say "it doesn't work because I don't understand how it could work." You don't understand specifically why/how gravity works, either. No one does. Yes, we have equations to describe it gathered from observation...but we also have those same observations from homeopathy.

    Being a skeptic is a good thing. Hollering that you're right, right, right and others are wrong, wrong, wrong from the mountaintops despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary (look for it; it's there) is simply being closed minded.

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  15. Congratulations, you've taken some chemistry. Have you taken any physics, specifically quantum physics?

    Why? How does Quantum Theory explain Homeopathy?

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  16. I didn't say that it explained it. I implied that it allowed the possibility that it could be true.

    That possibility, of course, is wholly insufficient to say that it IS true. There are other pieces of data, anecdotal and not, to address that portion of the discussion and to support that homeopathy serves as powerful medicine when properly utilized.

    You are too quick to say, "NO." I suspect that you have come to judgment with insufficient information.

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  17. I didn't say that it explained it. I implied that it allowed the possibility that it could be true.

    That possibility, of course, is wholly insufficient to say that it IS true.


    Quite right. Anything could be true... I could be the reincarnated Elvis Presley. That doesn't mean it's true.

    There are other pieces of data, anecdotal and not, to address that portion of the discussion and to support that homeopathy serves as powerful medicine when properly utilized.

    Really? Where?

    You are too quick to say, "NO." I suspect that you have come to judgment with insufficient information.

    In situations like this, the default scientific position is always "NO" - also known as the Null Hypothesis. If someone wishes to challenge the Null Hypothesis, the burden of proof is on them to show that the Null Hypothesis is false in that case.

    I'm curious what other information you know of that I haven't yet taken into account. Care to point me in that direction?

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  18. Such a big topic....

    Okay, first: profit motive. I'm addressing this first because, with any "con," there is a motive and that motive in a commercial endeavor is typically profit.

    I won't go into how expensive ongoing allopathic (traditional "western" medicine) can be and usually is. Most everyone knows that already.

    What I would like to say is how eye-bulgingly cheap homeopathic medicine is. I heard of a man being cured (not treated in an ongoing sense, but *cured*) of Alzheimer's with, quite literally, about 1 cent's worth of medicine. One penny. (See Amy Lansky's "Impossible Cure.")

    If you're truly brave (or, possibly, foolhardy), you can skip the doctor's visit entirely and treat yourself. An average tube of medicine runs from $5 to $15 and can last a very, very long time. (And, for the one-penny guy, he got much, much less than a full tube. But, okay after further consideration of the math, it may have been as much as 10 cents. But I doubt it.)

    Okay, I can almost see you squirming in your chair thinking, "what a gullible idiot this lady is." Seriously, I can almost see it. :)

    Anyway, the flip side is how profitable a "good" traditional drug can be.

    So, what gets the promotional money? At least in the US, we are flooded -- *flooded* -- with ads for prescription medications.

    Restless legs? Allergies? Can't sleep? Social phobia? Can't get the little buddy in your pants to want to play? Have *we* got a pill for you!

    What's my point? This: it's harder to dig up stories on homeopathy working. No one is buying Super Bowl ad time for it. No one is stopping by doctor's office with samples (and free clocks, pens, notepads, etc.) and leaving behind brochures for patients. There's no room for that for such inexpensive, non-patented (and therefore non-exclusive) stuff.

    What's more, there are lies, damned lies and the interpretation of drug trials. People are reluctant to seem gullible. People have allegiances to established organizations. People don't want to go against the established understanding. So, most studies supporting homeopathy that are submitted to mainstream journals are refused publication.

    So, you have to dig a bit. There are many books out there. I've just started my most recent book (Amy Lansky's), so I'm hesitant to recommend it yet, but I will anyway. You commented to someone earlier that they needed to go read several books on the subject. I will suggest something similar: start out with Amy Lansky's book.

    I think that's about all I should probably say on the subject. There is astonishing evidence out there. It can be found. Anecdotes about a man who was blind for 15 years (after an accident) and was made right in less than a day by one dose high-potency dose of Arnica...or any other anecdotes I could offer...aren't going to convince you.

    So, dare to explore. Dare to set aside entirely what you think *must* be right and truly give it an open-minded evaluation.

    And, sorry about the bit of a rambler of a post. It's lunch time here and I'm too hungry to patch everything up until it's perfect.

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  19. Oxygen is even cheaper than homeopathy. In fact, it is free. So it must be super-duper effective!

    The fact that people are charging ANYTHING for homeopathy is a damn crime.

    How about this anecdotal evidence: I used some homeopathy eyedrops and IT DID NOT WORK.

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  20. Oxygen is even cheaper than homeopathy. In fact, it is free. So it must be super-duper effective!

    --Snotty,--

    The fact that people are charging ANYTHING for homeopathy is a damn crime.

    --uninformed,--

    How about this anecdotal evidence: I used some homeopathy eyedrops and IT DID NOT WORK.

    --and irrelevant.--

    A trifecta of the pointless post. Good show.

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  21. @Jackie

    Hokaay... coming onto my blog and being rude to my wife isn't the way to get your points listened to. Let's keep to the issues, shall we?

    Okay, first: profit motive.

    This is a red herring. Comparing the relative price, profitability and market penetration of medicine and Homeopathy doesn't tell us anything about which, if either, works.

    What I would like to say is how eye-bulgingly cheap homeopathic medicine is.

    Maybe this is true where you live, but not where I live.

    I think that's about all I should probably say on the subject. There is astonishing evidence out there. It can be found. Anecdotes about a man...

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: The plural of 'anecdote' is 'anecdotes', not 'data'. Why is it that your anecdotes are superior to Hide's? Who chooses which anecdotes are the important ones?

    Thank you for recommending that book... I'll look into it and see if it contains any actual data.

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  22. I only felt as if I were responding in kind. My post was intended to convey my understanding of the subject and to explore it. Her post seemed designed to ridicule.

    On to your question, "Why is it that your anecdotes are superior to Hide's? Who chooses which anecdotes are the important ones?"

    My anecdotes are superior for one reason (ha, I bet you didn't see that one coming): they are based on a deeper understanding of the subject.

    First, I will say that I tend to lean strongly towards "classical homeopathy." This type of homeopathy uses one remedy at a time with very, very few exceptions. Your wife probably bought a combination remedy. Those work sometimes; sometimes they don't. They're not true homeopathy; they're more of an allopathic/homeopathic hybrid.

    Thus, my examples reflect the results of a trained homeopath treating a patient in a classical fashion. The eyedrops were an example (a failed one) of a non-homeopathically-trained individual using a non-homeopathic product (regardless of what it says on the label) in a non-homeopathic way.

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  23. The changing of goal-posts hasn't escaped my notice here... there are a number of points I've raised that haven't yet been addressed. But we'll soldier on anyway...

    The eyedrops were an example... of a non-homeopathically-trained individual using a non-homeopathic product... in a non-homeopathic way.

    So this brings me back to my essential point: what is the difference between the two? How do you tell the difference between a real Homeopathic product and a bogus one?

    Literally: if I had two unmarked vials, one containing a real Homeopathic preparation and the other containing a bogus one, how would you know which one was which?

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  24. Apparently, I've missed some of your questions. You didn't specify which ones, but I'll do my best to fill in what may have been missing.

    I would like to add, though, that it's not like I'm getting paid to do this. :)

    (Oh, great. I can see it now. Someone has just decided that I am, in fact, getting paid to do this. {sigh.})

    Your post:

    ++
    So this brings me back to my essential point: what is the difference between the two? How do you tell the difference between a real Homeopathic product and a bogus one?

    Literally: if I had two unmarked vials, one containing a real Homeopathic preparation and the other containing a bogus one, how would you know which one was which?
    ++

    This is two separate questions. If you're asking about fraud (I say it's "X" when I sell it but it's really "Y"), then right you are. You have (at this stage of science) absolutely no way to differentiate. Kind of sticks in the craw, doesn't it? I know it sticks in mine, as I'm not a trusting person by nature. So, you protect yourself by ordering from a reputable firm. That is the best you can do.

    If you're speaking separate from fraud, and asking "what is 'real' homeopathy?" then the answer is "one properly prepared remedy at a time, prescribed homeopathically."

    To define: properly prepared = diluted and succussed (shaken) according to the correct standards.

    Prescribed homeopathically = one medicine, ideally, covers everything.

    So, remember that rash, anxiety, indigestion, hair loss, restless leg (or whatever symptoms) patient? There are around 2,000 potential remedies to choose among. The homeopath looks at darned near everything about the patient and prescribes one medicine for the entire patient. Sometimes that medicine that was prescribed for a headache can get rid of a rash, too. Or any other of a number of apparently unrelated conditions.

    Next, profit motive. My point there was to answer the question of "why are studies so hard to find?"

    Finally, anecdotes. If I said "I can put the sun out with my thoughts" (see...you're not the only Star Trek fan)...and then I did it right then and there, would you write that off as a worthless anecdote? Or are some occurrence, combined with a prediction that they are about to occur, so out of the ordinary that they are worth extra consideration?

    Were there more questions?

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  25. I take it back (sort of). I think we've gotten to the crux of the matter here... My other questions were peripheral. Although I'd like to pursue them further, I want to focus on this one for a bit:

    You have (at this stage of science) absolutely no way to differentiate.

    So then how do you know that one works while the other doesn't?

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  26. I said: You have (at this stage of science) absolutely no way to differentiate.

    You said: So then how do you know that one works while the other doesn't?

    I'm not sure that I understand the question.

    Answer 1: You can't tell if a remedy is mislabeled, whether on purpose or by accident. The science just isn't there yet.

    Answer 2: If you assume that you aren't being defrauded and that your remedies are what they are purported to be (highly diluted preparations of, say, arsenic), then...if they work, you have your anecdotal evidence.

    You might have to explain what you mean by "how do you know that one works while the other doesn't?".

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  27. Okay let me restate the question to try and eliminate off-point inferences.

    How would you tell the difference between a Homeopathic preparation and something that isn't a Homeopathic preparation (like pure distilled water, for example)?

    You conceded that no scientific instrument can distinguish between the two, because the two are chemically identical.

    You alluded to the answer I was looking for later on: you try it on a patient.

    Would you agree that the following would be a good test?

    1. Find a number of patients who present the same cluster of symptoms.

    2. You randomise the patients into two groups: one who will receive Preparation A and another who will receive Preparation B.

    3. You administer the treatment and measure which group obtains better results on average.

    Does that sound reasonable?

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  28. Yes, that is (+/-) the traditional way to conduct a double-blind experiment (if a simplified explanation of it).

    Second point, I would have to check on the details, but my understanding is that, while you can't necessarily tell the difference between potentized substance A and potentized substance B, with sufficiently powerful lab equipment, you can tell the difference between potentized substance X (i.e., some potentized substance) and a sugar pill. But, no, your average consumer has no way to tell fraud from genuine article.

    Finally, I've been answering your questions. What about mine: aren't some anecdotes powerful enough that they demand more respect than a simple brush-off of "well, that's just anecdotal"? (And, no, that's not to say that there aren't also double-blind studies available that support homeopathy. There are.)

    ReplyDelete
  29. ...you can't necessarily tell the difference between potentized substance A and potentized substance B, with sufficiently powerful lab equipment, you can tell the difference between potentized substance X (i.e., some potentized substance) and a sugar pill.

    Nope. You can't tell the difference because there is no difference. Homeopathic preparations are chemically identical to placebo, and every single properly controlled randomized double-blind clinical trial ever conducted has shown a negative result.

    In other words there is no phenomenon and no mechanism - Homeopathy is make-believe.

    You keep going on about fraud, but you dance around the fact that Homeopathy itself is fraud!

    [A]ren't some anecdotes powerful enough that they demand more respect than a simple brush-off of "well, that's just anecdotal"?

    Nope. Anecdotes are anecdotes. The most an anecdote can tell you is that Person X said Y. It doesn't tell you anything about the reality of the situation. Person X could all too easily be mistaken or lying - especially people who regard themselves as "experts". Anecdotes are not data.

    And, no, that's not to say that there aren't also double-blind studies available that support homeopathy. There are.

    Wrong again. Every single properly controlled randomized double-blind clinical trial ever conducted has shown a negative result for Homeopathy. The few trials that have shown a positive result have all been discredited as being either of poor quality or plain fraud. Anyone who has told you otherwise was lying.

    How do I know this? Because nobody has ever won a Nobel Prize for either medicine or physics for research into Homeopathy. If Homeopathy works, it flies in the face of everything we know about the universe, and would require us to rewrite countless science books - an exciting prospect that any researcher would jump at if there was anything to it. But there isn't. Homeopathy is make-believe. You can't win a Nobel Prize for make-believe.

    If you really believe that there is something to Homeopathy, I suggest you stop wasting your time debating with me. Publish your "evidence" in a reputable medical journal... I'm sure Science, Nature, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or the New England Journal of Medicine would be overjoyed to see it.

    ReplyDelete
  30. It's not my job to convince you. You've done insufficient research -- just enough to support your a priori belief. I understand your hostility to the idea. That was my first response, too.

    As an aside, I caught a snippet of your "suicide" attempt via homeopathic sleeping pills. If you knew anything about homeopathy other than that it's very dilute medicine, you would know that anyone with the most rudimentary understanding would NOT expect an "overdose" to do you any harm. In fact, if I knew that it was truly a homeopathic product (vs. a chemical-level product), I'd take a whole bottle at once quite willingly (although taking *any* medication you don't need is foolish).

    Why is this whole-bottle phenomenon so? Because homeopathy is more like a set of instructions to your body. You can make one photocopy or a million. It doesn't make the instructions any different. Two bottles, four bottles, only the sugar rush would be problematic. It's all only "one dose" if taken at the same time.

    I will note, as an aside, that there are certain circumstances in which taking a homeopathic product is dangerous. One is the obvious "failure to seek more appropriate care." If you have a broken leg poking through your skin, you need someone who is qualified to put hands on you to put that bone back into place.

    The other is a fairly rare circumstance in which some deadly pathogen has been walled off within the body and a remedy might free it to wreak its havoc.

    I'm not bringing this to any formal body because I am not nearly so filled with hubris as to think I am the one most qualified to do so. My doctorate is in a different area. I will leave the full time work to the homeopathic professionals.

    I have never been a fan of the expression "everyone's entitled to their opinion." For example, I am not entitled to an opinion on the different methods to do a heart transplant. I'm not a cardiac surgeon. Nor am I entitled to an opinion on who's better, 50 Cent or Eminem.

    Honestly, you know almost nothing about homeopathy. You've decided it's crap, you rail against it, you stage experiments that -- very ironically -- *illustrate* that you know almost nothing about the subject.

    You know very nearly nothing about the topic and yet you've decided. That is the very definition of bad science.

    We do agree on one thing, however. I am wasting my time. I had hoped that would not be the case. At least some people who write a blog such as yours are willing to say, "hmm, maybe..." and go learn more. You, apparently, are not. Honestly, I don't know what possessed me to bother in the first place.

    Well, lesson learned. At least by one of us.

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  31. That's an impressive straw man you made there. You went to great lengths to misrepresent my position so that you wouldn't have to deal with it. And instead dismiss out of hand an imaginary argument I never made.

    What you have yet to do, however, is produce any evidence to support your claim.

    Don't beat yourself up though. You can't produce something that doesn't exist.

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  32. My curiosity prompted me to check one final time. My disbelief at your response, in turn, prompted me to write. I suppose I'll have to amend my earlier comment to "lesson learned...almost."

    First, as to the "straw man." Don't blame me for your poorly conceived experiment. You designed your own straw man; I merely commented on what was presented! As for the "great lengths," I can assure you that they consisted of less than 2 minutes of watching your "suicide attempt" followed by my rebuttal.

    My failure, if any, was in failing to watch the entirety of your experiment. On the other hand, if I went to a doctor and he clearly thought it was 1861 and he was Lincoln, he and I wouldn't make it to the "examination" phase of the appointment. I might be unlucky...and he might decide that the flower pot was a rectal thermometer.

    That which starts out as seriously misguided rarely morphs into something significantly better.

    For the same reason, I saw no reason to watch your experiment further. But, to the extent that I didn't, I will admit that I don't know if your experiment at some point dramatically shifted into something informed and worthwhile.

    Next, you claim I have produced no evidence. You asked for evidence earlier and I provided a reference to a book. Amy Lansky's. Remember? You even thanked me for the reference, so there's no use pretending you didn't see it.

    She devoted a chapter to "Science and Skepticism." In it, inter alia, she cites a meta-analysis in which homeopathy results, aggregated over 89 non-bias-chosen studies, averaged 2.45 times better than placebo results.

    You asked for evidence and I provided you with directions to evidence. Do they not sell books in South Africa?

    In medieval times, the approach to belief was often, "I believe it; thus, it is so." You have perverted this into what you apparently consider to be the modern-day equivalent: "I do not believe it, as I do not understand how it could be; thus, it is not so."

    You clearly fancy yourself an intellectual and yet, in your zeal to promote your belief, you have lost your intellectual honesty. I do not care if you believe me or not, but I am disappointed that you could not (or would not) have an honest give-and-take discussion.

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  33. First of all, I have not been discussing my YouTube demonstration here. I never claimed that it was in any way definitive or even scientific - it was a demonstration only. The fact that is happens to be a testable, repeatable demonstration lends it credibility, but no one study can ever be considered conclusive - it is little more than anecdotal evidence.

    Secondly I reserve judgement on Lansky's work until I have read it. I'm not about to change my opinion based on what may or may not be contained in some book penned by a Computer Scientist (not a physicist, chemist or medical doctor).

    The fact that she cites a study that was later discredited by its own authors doesn't fill me with much hope.

    Thirdly, you're continuing to build straw men of my arguments here. Is your position so weak that it can't be defended against the arguments I'm actually making, as opposed to the imaginary ones you're making up (e.g. "I do not believe it, as I do not understand how it could be; thus, it is not so.")?

    I've asked you to provide one of two things:

    1. Statistical evidence that an effect exists.

    or

    2. A plausible mechanism through which an effect might be created.

    Neither of these have been forthcoming. All I have seen is hand-waving dismissals, special-pleadings and arguments from ignorance... all textbook logical fallacies.

    It seems that it is you who are ideologically bound to an irrational belief in the non-existent, and are trying to make me out to be somehow unreasonable. Fortunately I have all of modern science supporting my position, what is supporting yours?

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  34. I'm clearly not "ideologically bound," as supported by the fact (as I stated earlier) that my initial position was the same as your current one: that people who sold homeopathic remedies as medicines should be ashamed of themselves for duping an unsuspecting public.

    I got more evidence. I changed my opinion on the subject as a result of this new evidence. How much more "unbound" can a person get?

    As to the rest of it, I've provided you with a direction of inquiry that might be of interest to you, although I seriously doubt it. If it is of interest, fine. If not, fine.

    I'm not going to grind up the evidence I'm aware of into pablum for a piece-by-piece analysis in blog-comment section. Why? I initially posted on a lark. I am not a professional homeopath and I have no stake in whether you or any other stranger believes as I do. I treat myself and those of my family members who are interested. I have far, far better things to be doing...despite that I seem to keep posting.

    I must need another trip to the bookstore or something. Or maybe it's those tax returns that need to be done. Isn't it amazing how clean the house gets and how those long-overdue e-mails get sent when it comes time to do the taxes?

    Cheerio.

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  35. Teehee. Score is:

    01 10
    Crazy homeopathy supporter 0

    ReplyDelete
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