16 October 2007

Filthy, rotten lies

Homeopathy is the silliest altie school ever.

Oh sure, some of you will say, what about reiki, therapeutic touch and some of the other wacko stuff out there?

Those ones are built around what is really only a couple of dodgy concepts. Most of which, even hardened woos can’t bring themselves to accept.

But homeopathy? Well…

*deep sigh*

…I’m going to come out with it now. Homeopathy is simply a deeply convoluted web of lies, and Homeopaths have got to be some of the least-principled woo merchants running around. It’s completely unrealistic, and the excuses that homeopaths come out with to avoid contradicting themselves are just iffy concepts piled upon many others. I refuse to believe that by piling all these ad hoc hypotheses upon each other, nothing registers anywhere in the pea-sized brains of homeopathetiques as being bogus and silly, eventually.

Reiki and therapeutic touch come out looking positively angelic, by comparison. If still equally ludicrous.

The next host of Skeptics’ Circle is The Quackometer. The owner of this blog, Andy "Le Canard Noir" Lewis has been ordered to take down a post that homeopaths found offensive.

Orac has posted the text of that post here. I may even seek permission from Lewis to reproduce it on this blog myself. Yes, folks, the Streisand Effect appears to be in full swing, here.

Myself, I’m going to use this blog post to have a good laugh at homeopathy.

Homeopathy basically works on this principle espoused by it’s inventor, Samuel Hahnemann, that like cures like.”

So what you do, if you’re suffering from anything is to take something that causes the same symptoms. In what could be the grossest over-simplification ever, homeopaths liken this to how vaccines work.

Let’s just ignore that last sentence completely, because vaccines are nothing like how homeopaths say their remedies work. I’ll illustrate with an example.

Imagine that you have cholera. You’re shitting fountains of poo. And you’re a homeopathy fan.

You drag your sorry arse off to the homeopath to get treatment, because the thought of visiting a doctor is somehow wrong to you. So what does he prescribe for you?

Because homeopathy works on the basis that like cures like, our homeopath in this instance might prescribe a laxative.

That’s right. You’re in danger of dehydrating to death, so the stupid quack decides to ensure that your death is a speedy one by prescribing something that will actually hasten your demise.

Most people would do a double take at this glaring stupidity. Obviously, so did homeopaths, because the very thought that curing withdrawal symptoms for recovering alcoholics with a hearty dose of strychnine must have been a bit on the incredulous side.

So Hahnemann then decided that dilute solutions were enough.

But for some completely unfathomable reason, he postulated that the more you dilute something, the stronger it becomes. Soon enough, incredibly "strong" solutions were created to the point where the presence of even a single molecule of the substance in question becomes extremely unlikely to the point of improbable.

The ad hoc hypothesising that went on here is simply breathtaking:

  • Water became a medium that developed a "memory" of the substance dissolved in it.
  • The shaking of the solution energised the (non-existent) ingredient.
  • Serial dilutions increased the active potency of the ingredient, but decreased side-effects such as death.

And so on and so forth.

And here's the kicker - no viable evidence for the efficacy of homeopathic remedies has been found. We would need controlled double-blind tests to be done, and so far, nothing.

Yet, on the basis of this glaring lack of evidence, homeopathic remedies continue to be sold.

Yes, folks. "Sold". Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar business. It can certainly afford the testing.

On top of that, you have these half-wits suppressing dissent by petitioning The Quackometer's hosting facilities to take down the offending post. A post, I might add that pointed out the sheer immorality and lunacy of peddling homeopathic remedies for malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB in Kenya.

This is a DISGRACE!!!

The point that I want to make is that homeopathy is built on so many ad-hoc hypotheses, risible inconsistencies and surly non-cooperation on the subject of testing that it is time that it was recognised for what it is: A horribly-constructed web of lies.

It's time for homeopaths to be put out of business.

16 comments:

morisetn said...

Ooo! Pet topic of someone we both know. Let's see if he comments!

I'll admit that said person had to clarify me on the water-memory theory of homeopathy. I'd confused homeopathy with naturopathy.

I wanted to point out that although homeopathy is classified as a modality of naturopathic medicine, naturopathy has value. Throw out the bath water, keep the human.

Naturopathy is a body of medicinal and herbal knowledge that can have value. Value as a route for modern medicine to explore new forms treatments.

I am not proposing that I'm going to avoid a corneal transplant by sticking ginger to my forehead. I am suggesting that we all see some value in coating our chests in methylated eucaplytic yumminess and I would argue that it's better to do that then to take cold/flu tablets. Turmeric is an antiseptic. Ginger calms my tummy.

Another focus of some naturopathic medicine is that one should treat the person as a whole and not the symptoms or the illness. This idea has merit. The popularity of the woo-quackery has had a side benefit in. Modern scientific medicinal doctors now ask about "stress", encourage people to meditate or take up a relaxing hobby, or prescribe St. John's vitamins as a first course of antidepressants.

Dikkii said...

G'day morisetn.

Yes, it will be interesting if he comments, because if memory serves me correctly he's about as skeptical about these things as I am.

You wrote:

I wanted to point out that although homeopathy is classified as a modality of naturopathic medicine, naturopathy has value. Throw out the bath water, keep the human.

Naturopathy appears to be used as a broad umbrella term that isn't terribly meaningful. I used to associate it with herbalism, which is quite a long way removed from homeopathy for this reason - quite a lot of "active" (har har) ingredients in homeopathic remedies are NOT plant extracts.

But it tends to be used to encompass a broad range of therapies. Which brings me to the next point (I'll come back to your value comment in a sec).

You then wrote:

Naturopathy is a body of medicinal and herbal knowledge that can have value. Value as a route for modern medicine to explore new forms treatments.

This could possibly be true for each particular treatment. But it could also be false for any of those particular treatments.

The only way to be sure is to conduct detailed studies where we can examine the potential benefits of a particular treatment as well as the potential side-effects, reactions with other medication, allergic reactions.

The ethically correct position is that treatments that don't go through such a process SHOULD NOT be recommended to patients, because we don't know what we might be subjecting them to.

I am not proposing that I'm going to avoid a corneal transplant by sticking ginger to my forehead. I am suggesting that we all see some value in coating our chests in methylated eucaplytic yumminess and I would argue that it's better to do that then to take cold/flu tablets. Turmeric is an antiseptic. Ginger calms my tummy.

Turmeric is an antiseptic. But so is tea tree oil. So is witch hazel. And so too is hydrogen peroxide.

All of which, we know because a vast body of study has been done that shows this.

However, let's compare this to echinacea, where the jury is still out. We know that cold/flu tablets work on colds and flu symptoms. We still don't know this about echinacea.

Echinacea still gets prescribed by herbalists everywhere, and this is simply unethical. Testimonial evidence isn't.

Another focus of some naturopathic medicine is that one should treat the person as a whole and not the symptoms or the illness. This idea has merit.

Morisetn, I'm a little surprised at you.

The suggestion that one is treating the person rather than the symptoms/illness is normally used as special pleading to avoid rigorous testing for altie remedies. It's something that a well constructed series of studies can control for. It's also a meaningless non-sequitur - it implies that medical doctors do not do this, which as we know is not correct.

In addition, it's a false dilemma: Should we treat the symptoms/illness or the patient as a whole? Why not treat both at the same time, if appropriate?

No doctor is EVER going to make this call.

Yes, the idea has merit. But it is not an exclusive idea to naturopathy, nor altie practitioners generally. What it is, is a colossal attack on doctors.

Modern scientific medicinal doctors now ask about "stress", encourage people to meditate or take up a relaxing hobby, or prescribe St. John's vitamins as a first course of antidepressants.

St John's wort, I assume that you mean.

Yes. But the reason is still because the hard work has been done through rigorous studies.

The suggestion that doctors never considered stress, meditation and relaxation, though is not quite correct.

And don't forget, for every St John's wort, there is an echinacea. The best we have on echinacea is a bizarre study that shows that when combined with vitamin C, this works better on cold and flu symptoms better than a placebo.

Funnily enough, though, we already know this about vitamin C on it's own. Herbalists have to put in a lot harder work than this - this is simply laziness.

What we need to remember, and this is a lesson for all herbal remedy fans, is this: Aspirin started out as an extract from willow bark. Penicillin started out as an extract of mould.

Medicine is, and always has been open to testing herbal remedies.

Herbalists, however, think that they can get away without doing the hard work, and then scream, "Told you so!" if something is tested scientifically, found to work and is then recommended by doctors.

This is both opportunistic, lazy and appalling behaviour.

Dikkii said...

Whoops, forgot to mention two things:

1. Ponder this if you will. We know that St John's wort has some effect on depression. But we don't know how much is bad for you. Nor do we know the long-term effects of taking it. Nor if the effects wear off after an extended period of taking it. Nor if it's addictive. Nor if it reacts with other medication. Would you still feel comfortable taking it for depression without seeing a doctor?

2. Your comment is the first time in a long time I have read the word "modalities" used in everyday English. This rang alarm bells with me, because the only other times I've seen it used recently were in Nigerian scam emails.

Ah. Scam-baiting. It takes me back. One of the most dangerous and addictive internet pastimes you can partake in. Not recommended, but a hell of a lot of fun.

taj said...

yup, I have a special relationship with homoeopathy as some people rather close to me are convinced that it once saved my life when I was an infant, when "allopathic" doctors had more or less given up. It drives me batty.

I will confess, however, to some annoyance with the way western medicine deals with traditional herbal medicines. Things like turmeric have a bit of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the number of effects they have on the human body. This makes it hard for western drug tests to isolate the specific effects that they are more attuned to searching for when testing new drugs, and even harder to market for specific purposes. The fact that turmeric/curcumin are only now beginning to be taken seriously even though it's been considered an almost magical herb for thousands of years in India is a testament to that. Neem is another good Indian example.

It's getting a bit better though, despite herbal medicine's unfortunate association with new age nonsense.

taj said...

By the way, I'd like to point out a small omission in your post: Turmeric is _also_ an antiseptic. The full range of its effects are still undergoing research.

morisetn said...

Dikkii,

Despite your response, I want to point out that we don't really disagree that much.
1) I'm in favour of rigorous testing on any medical treatment: herbal or otherwise.
2) When possible, double blind is the way to go for experimental testing.
3) I'm in favour of more legislation and making many herbal remedies more difficult to obtain by the general public. In Canada, I need a note to get my iron pills. I should need a note to get St John's Wort.
(Aside: Please accept the following correction. Several studies have shown that St John's Wort increases the risk of organ transplant rejection. St. John's Wort also has drug interaction problems with metformin. I know because I have to know. I also know because my doctor and I discussed it.)

Points where I disagree.
Ethics: please consider that 1) aspirin has been known to increase mortality risks in many patients 2) aspirin has been shown in low doses to help patients with a risk of heart disease, so much so that a study as to whether it was truly effective, was deemed unethical because they were placing those patients who took the placebo at risk. Holy conundrums Dikkii! Looks like you can't just cover that topic in a simple blog entry.

Echinacea:
Did I say Echinacea? Echinacea is still being researched. A 2006 study published in Medline seems to indicate some benefits for treatment of upper respiratory tract infections. For every study in favour, there's one against. Should it be studied, damn straight. Why is it being studied? Well, there's been a resurgence of interest in traditional medicine and Echinacea was long used by the North American Plain's aboriginals as a medicinal device. That is and was my point. Let's not lose/discount traditional knowledge until we've really studied it.

"Morisetn, I'm a little surprised at you.":
Meh. Treating the entire person as a whole is not an OLD form of scientific medicine. It's relatively recent. The link between diet and diabetes, only goes back to the 1970s. The link between stress and heart attacks, the 1980s. I'm not sure what you found surprising, I just meant that treating a person AND their symptoms is important and that this is now being examined by the scientific community is essential and important. A lot of this movement was indirectly a result of geographical distribution of disease studies by the WHO.

Modalities:
That modalities rang alarm bells shows that you can't studying psychology, education, linguistics, science, medicine, law or sociology. I also couldn't think of a better term for the various practices which often fall under the heading of naturopathy. Many of which I consider to be quackery but that's for another day.

Herbs and modern scientific medicine
Yes, science has always been interested in researching herbs. Did you notice that our long term herbal use were primarily European in origin? The 1960s saw a renewed interest in some Amazonian herbs but it wasn't until the last 30 or so years that medicine started investigating traditional North American, Ayurvedic et al herbal remedies.


One last note: I am a huge proponent of scientific investigation and the scientific process. It's what and how I study in cognitive systems.

morisetn said...

"can't studying -> aren't studying"

Dikkii said...

Whoa! In depth discussion!

I'll start with you, Taj.

The fact that turmeric/curcumin are only now beginning to be taken seriously even though it's been considered an almost magical herb for thousands of years in India is a testament to that.

Let's replace the words "turmeric/cucumin", "herb" and "India" with "acupuncture", "cure" and "China" in that last sentence for a moment.

Notice the problem?

I'm not denying that turmeric appears to offer lots of stuff, however, it's important that we recognise that I use the word "appears" here, because until the research is completed, we simply don't know for certain.

Testimonial evidence isn't. (except in a court of law)

Things like turmeric have a bit of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the number of effects they have on the human body. This makes it hard for western drug tests to isolate the specific effects that they are more attuned to searching for when testing new drugs, and even harder to market for specific purposes.

Going to disagree with this.

A properly constructed study can and does control for all these possibilities. A properly constructed series of studies goes after each of these in turn.

And your use of the word "western" appears to head in a slightly toxic direction.

Turmeric is _also_ an antiseptic.

Agree, but we were discussing the antiseptic properties, specifically.

I'll have to comment again to look into morisetn's lengthy comment

Dikkii said...

Alright. Now on to you, morisetn.

(Aside: Please accept the following correction. Several studies have shown that St John's Wort increases the risk of organ transplant rejection. St. John's Wort also has drug interaction problems with metformin. I know because I have to know. I also know because my doctor and I discussed it.)

Correction accepted.

But notice that we found all this out through properly controlled studies, and not via "word-of-mouth".

On to ethics. Where you apparently disagree:

1) aspirin has been known to increase mortality risks in many patients

We're not in disagreement here. Again, notice that it was properly controlled studies where this was found to be the case.

Imagine if those studies weren't done and we happily dispensed aspirin oblivious to this information?

This is what happens with most herbal remedies.

2) aspirin has been shown in low doses to help patients with a risk of heart disease, so much so that a study as to whether it was truly effective, was deemed unethical because they were placing those patients who took the placebo at risk.

I'm going to accuse you of equivocating on the ethics being discussed.

These are my reasons:

I'm bagging the ethics of practitioners who dispense without the required research being completed, first.

I haven't touched the ethics of continuing a study which poses an ethical question if it's continued. Nor do I plan to - it's a bit of a red herring, and could possibly be considered cherry-picking.

Hell, if you want to, you can find the whole concept of double-blind, placebo-controlled study unethical if you give it a bit of thought. It just happens to be unequivocally less unethical than serving untrialled stuff up to paying punters.

Did I say Echinacea?

No, but it's just as random as turmeric and St John's wort.

A 2006 study published in Medline seems to indicate some benefits for treatment of upper respiratory tract infections.

...and this study was replicated in another study that made into the New England Journal of Medicine that didn't report any such findings.

A study, buy the way, that was done to address the shortcomings of the first one.

Let's not lose/discount traditional knowledge until we've really studied it.

Well I agree with this point. But I disagree with your use of the word "knowledge" where "lore" should be used.

Treating the entire person as a whole is not an OLD form of scientific medicine. It's relatively recent.

Not really correct. The "know your patient" principle goes back as far as the nineteenth century.

Hell, the Declaration of Geneva (which replaces most of the Hippocratic Oath) discusses looking at everything in the context of the overall welfare of the patient:

The health and life of my patient will be my first
consideration


This dates from 1948.

The link between diet and diabetes, only goes back to the 1970s. The link between stress and heart attacks, the 1980s.

Maybe, but the link between diet and quite a lot of other stuff goes back way, way further than that. The links between stress and other stuff also.

Cherry-picking arbitrary illnesses doesn't help me understand your position.

A lot of this movement was indirectly a result of geographical distribution of disease studies by the WHO.

The Declaration of Geneva pre-dates WHO.

Modalities

Sorry, I still have to laugh when I see this word. Could you use "sub-genres" or something instead?

Yes, science has always been interested in researching herbs. Did you notice that our long term herbal use were primarily European in origin? The 1960s saw a renewed interest in some Amazonian herbs but it wasn't until the last 30 or so years that medicine started investigating traditional North American, Ayurvedic et al herbal remedies.

And this is a good thing, I'm not saying that it's not.

I just don't agree with recommending it to punters, let alone charging for it until we can actually make justified claims about it, is all.

Herbalism needs to take more accountability. Doctors don't recommend substances based on testimonial evidence, they recommend based on hard scientific data.

Herbalists should do the same.

taj said...

You are trying so hard to Fight The Woo and Bring the Light of Reason that you are failing to notice when we are in agreement. You don't have to convince me.

And your use of the word "western" appears to head in a slightly toxic direction.

Tedious. Look for a list of the 50 largest pharma companies in the world. That is what I mean by Western.

I am stating that there _is_ historically a lack of serious effort put into testing various herbal medicines that, yes, are eastern in origin. And I put forth the theory that lack of patentability of drugs based on these is one reason for this. And not from lack of trying, too - there have been attempts to patent everything from neem and turmeric to Indian wheat and rice. This is actually a major foreign policy sticking point between the US, Europe and India right now.

taj said...

Here is a revelant site that is enraging, entertaining and informative in equal parts:
The Captain Hook Awards

morisetn said...

Dikkii

If you don't fix that last.fm box I'm going to have to boycot your otherwise excellent blog. It scares the poop out of me! Plus, at work, it means that I can't just innocently check to see if you've replied. Leave the player there, just turn the auto-play off!

Dikkii said...

By the way Taj, that Captain Hook awards thingy looks interesting.

I've never really read up on biopiracy, but I will be checking it out.

Dikkii said...

Taj:

You are trying so hard to Fight The Woo and Bring the Light of Reason that you are failing to notice when we are in agreement. You don't have to convince me.

I know, but I worry that my readers could get the wrong idea.

Tedious. Look for a list of the 50 largest pharma companies in the world. That is what I mean by Western.

Well that's alright, then. My apologies for misinterpreting it.

Bronze Dog's point doesn't relate to that, it's more about excuses that woos use to avoid testing.

This is despite the irony that some historic refinements of the scientific method came from China, of all places.

Morisetn:

Leave the player there, just turn the auto-play off!

Awwww. I'll have to leave it until later in the day.

I really liked that Autoplay feature, too.

Dikkii said...

I'm actually kinda curious about how this post was about homeopathy but so far the comments thread has really been about herbalism.

taj said...

What is there to discuss about homeopathy? :) Everyone who reads DD knows it blows.