Mar 25 2013

Debating Homeopathy Part I

Six years ago I was asked to participate in a group debate over the legitimacy of homeopathy at the University of CT (there were six speakers, three on each side). This year I was asked to participate in another homeopathy debate at UCONN, but this time one-on-one with Andre Saine ND from the Canadian Academy of Homeopathy taking the pro-homeopathy side. (I will provide a link when the video is posted online.)

While the basic facts of homeopathy have not changed in the past six years, the details and some of the specific arguments of the homeopaths have evolved, so it was good to get updated on what they are saying today. In this post I will discuss some overall patterns in the logic used to defend homeopathy and then discuss the debate over plausibility. In tomorrow’s post I will then discuss the clinical evidence, with some final overall analysis.

Believers and Skeptics

As with the last debate, the audience this time was packed with homeopaths and homeopathy proponents. When I was introduced as the president of the New England Skeptical Society, in fact, laughter erupted from the audience. But that’s alright – I like a challenge. It did not surprise me that the audience, and my opponent, were unfamiliar with basic skeptical principles. Andre, in fact, used the word “skeptic” as a pejorative throughout his presentation.

The difference in our two positions, in fact, can be summarized as follows: Andre Saine accepts a very low standard of scientific evidence (at least with homeopathy, but probably generally given that he is a naturopath), whereas I, skeptics, and the scientific community generally require a more rigorous standard.

The basic pattern of Andre’s talk was to quote from one of my articles on homeopathy declaring some negative statement about homeopathy, and then to counter that statement with a reference to scientific evidence. The problem is, his references were to low-grade preliminary evidence, and never to solid reproducible evidence.

That is one functional difference between skeptics and believers – the threshold at which they consider scientific evidence to be credible and compelling (there are many reasons behind that difference, but that is the end result).

I was asked what level of evidence I would find convincing, and that’s an easy question to answer because skeptics spend a great deal of time exploring that very question. In fact, I have discussed this in the context of many things, not just homeopathy.

For any scientific claim (regardless of plausibility) scientific evidence is considered well-established when it simultaneously (that’s critical) fulfills the following four criteria:

1- Methodologically rigorous, properly blinded, and sufficiently powered studies that adequately define and control for the variables of interest (confirmed by surviving peer-review and post-publication analysis).

2- Positive results that are statistically significant.

3- A reasonable signal to noise ratio (clinically significant for medical studies, or generally well within our ability to confidently detect).

4- Independently reproducible. No matter who repeats the experiment, the effect is reliably detected.

This pattern of compelling evidence does not exist for ESP, acupuncture, any form of energy medicine, cold fusion or free energy claims, nor homeopathy. You may get one or two of those things, but never all four together. You do hear many excuses (special pleading) for why such evidence does not exist, but never the evidence itself.

The reason for this is simple – when you set the threshold any lower, you end up prematurely accepting claims that turn out not to be true.

Plausibility

The less plausible, the more outrageous and unconventional a scientific claim, the more nitpicky and uncompromising we should be in applying the standards above. This follows a Bayesian logic – you are not beginning with a blank slate, as if we have no prior knowledge, but rather are starting with existing well-established science and then extending that knowledge further.

To clarify – if a new claim seems implausible it does not mean that it is a-priori not true. It simply means that the threshold of evidence required to conclude that it is probably true is higher.

Scottish philosopher David Hume sort of captured this idea over two centuries ago when he wrote:

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.

I like to think of it this way: The evidence for any new claim that contradicts prior established scientific conclusions must be at least as robust as the prior evidence it would overturn. You can also ask the question – what is more likely, that the relevant scientific facts are wrong, or that the new claim is wrong?

What is more likely, that much of what we think we know about physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, and medicine is wrong, or that the claims of homeopathy are wrong? I think this is an easy one.

Ultramolecular Aqueous Dilutions

When researchers are trying to publish papers on topics that are highly controversial they often invent new terminology to evade the stink of pseudoscience. Cold fusion was therefore renamed low energy nuclear reactions by proponents. Similarly extreme homeopathic dilutions, those that are diluted beyond the point that any original ingredients are likely to remain, have been dubbed “ultramolecular aqueous dilutions,” or UMDs.

Such dilutions present a huge problem for homeopathy – how can a treatment have any biological effect if there is no active ingredient, if you simply have solvent with all the ingredients diluted out? The short answer is – you can’t. Hahnemann, who invented homeopathy two centuries ago, thought that his process was transferring the “essence” of the treatment into the water. Homeopathy remains a vitalistic energy-medicine pseudoscience.

In order to give plausible deniability to homeopaths on this point, however, there have been several attempts to demonstrate that homeopathic water is different from regular water. That the water itself can retain the memory of what was diluted in it.

Saine referenced a 2003 study that claims to demonstrate that homeopathic water has different thermoluminescent properties than non-homeopathic water.  The experimenters actually took heavy water (deuterium water) and then froze it at very low temperatures, exposed it to radiation, and then measured the thermoluminescence as it melted. That sounds like a homeopathic remedy, right?

Essentially the researchers were anomaly hunting, with an experimental setup that has many possible variables and unknown effects. Let’s apply my list of criteria above to this study – while it had statistically significant results, it was not blinded, and it is not clear that the researcher isolated the variable of interest (homeopathy). Further, attempts to replicate the study were negative.

No so-called “water memory” experiment has come anywhere near being established science, yet Saine thinks this is enough to settle the question.

Next Saine went to a new strategy (using somewhat of a kettle defense). He cited a recent paper that claims that even ultramolecular dilutions retain measurable amounts of original substance. Harriet Hall at Science-Based Medicine has already done an excellent job of destroying this claim. This small study was not blinded and not even controlled – no control group. And of course, it has never been replicated.

Saine believes that he has rescued plausibility for homeopathy by citing the few preliminary, small, unblinded, often uncontrolled, and unreplicated studies that show some water anomalies. His threshold for finding evidence compelling is not even in the same universe as the mainstream scientific community.

Keep in mind also that even if the above claims for water memory or nanoparticles were true (which they probably aren’t), that is still many steps removed from demonstrating plausibility for homeopathic remedies.

Such water anomalies would have to transfer their properties to sugar pills when the homeopathic solutions are placed on the sucrose tablet, and survive when the water evaporates. They would have to remain intact over time on the shelf, when consumed, digested, absorbed, and then transported in the blood to whatever their target tissue is, and then have a biological effect. Each of these steps represent a massive barrier to the plausibility of homeopathy, and are completely unscathed by these unreliable preliminary studies.

Also, we are just talking about the high dilutions of homeopathy. Unfortunately such debates rarely get to an equally implausible aspect of homeopathy – the remedies themselves. There is no reason to suspect that any particular starting substance for a homeopathic remedy, even if given in a measurable amount, would have the claimed effects. The substances are chosen for fanciful magical reasons that make homeopathy more akin to witchcraft than medicine.

The reasoning is mostly based on sympathetic magic, that like cures like, but often even more bizarre than that. The patient’s personality type is often taken into consideration, and the totality of their symptoms in a fashion that is pure fantasy. Some starting ingredients, like osillococcinum, don’t even exist.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss the clinical evidence for homeopathy and some concluding thoughts.

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46 responses so far

46 Responses to “Debating Homeopathy Part I”

  1. daijiyobuon 25 Mar 2013 at 9:46 am

    I notice that ND Saine has a Youtube channel with the debate he did in December with Joe Schwarcz. I haven’t listened to it yet.

    The description for “Debate about Homeopathy: Mere Placebo or Great Medicine?” states:

    “the Canadian Academy of Homeopathy has initiated a fund raising campaign of $1.9 million in order to pursue four projects essential to the future of homeopathy.”

    Homeopathy has a future? I’m not sure what those projects are, but I can suggest one:

    find a way to make the universe much larger than it is so that homeopathy’s dilutions don’t seem so absurd.

    -r.c.

  2. locutusbrgon 25 Mar 2013 at 10:24 am

    Ultramolecular Aqueous Dilutions

    Hmm
    That sounds like a LOT of a 322.039 kelvin mix of 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.039% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases with 1% water vapor. ;)

  3. PharmD28on 25 Mar 2013 at 10:45 am

    The thought of masses laughing at your introduction, or of any “skeptic” on the subject of homeopathy…..just makes me shake my head. Not surprising though.

    I wonder with such hardcore believers, how often they later will lose their faith in homeopathy?

  4. ConspicuousCarlon 25 Mar 2013 at 1:22 pm

    If the concept of extraordinary claims, in Hume’s preceding form, is to be mentioned, then this is a perfect time to bring up my favorite incident on this concept as it relates to a myth told about Thomas Jefferson. It also involves David Hume in a way.

    I think it was Gorski who pointed us to a questionable list of supposed examples of “experts being wrong” (as an invitation to debunk them), within which it is claimed that Jefferson dismissed meteorites by saying “it was easier to believe that two Yankee Professors could lie than to admit that stones could fall from heaven”.

    In fact, on the subject of rocks falling from heaven in 1808, Jefferson first advised against the discovering professors’ presenting it directly to the legislature. He then offered this:

    We certainly are not to deny whatever we cannot account for. A thousand phenomena present themselves daily which we cannot explain, but where facts are suggested, bearing no analogy with the laws of nature as yet known to us, their verity needs proofs proportioned to their difficulty. A cautious mind will weigh well the opposition of the phenomenon to everything hitherto observed, the strength of the testimony by which it is supported, and the errors and misconceptions to which even our senses are liable. It may be very difficult to explain how the stone you possess came into the position in which it was found. But is it easier to explain how it got into the clouds from whence it is supposed to have fallen? The actual fact however is the thing to be established, and this I hope will be done by those whose situations and qualifications enable them to do it. I salute you with respect.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=g2Pjb1hhFg4C&pg=PA440

    That string of text has everything. We don’t deny things just because we can’t explain them. But when the unexplainable does happen, we need proportional evidence. In searching for that evidence, we should be careful to avoid fooling ourselves with misconceptions. In my favorite part, he suggests that explaining a mechanism to precede the supposedly miraculous event might be easier than explaining the seemingly miraculous event itself. And of course he recommends that such investigation be done by scientists, not politicians.

    That apparently didn’t go over well with everyone, particularly a son of one of the professors named Benjamin Silliman who 66 years later summarized Jefferson’s position with the “lies” myth–essentially just the standard moronic “you callin me a liar?” response to an intelligent person getting skeptical.

    But here’s the best part… Silliman claimed that the mythical stubborn Jefferson quote was a paraphrasing of David Hume! So this Silliman character failed to understand both Jefferson and Hume, and takes rationalism as an accusation of lying.
    http://www.monticello.org/site/blog-and-community/posts/who-liar-now

  5. DavidCTon 25 Mar 2013 at 4:42 pm

    I was asked to give a short (10 min) presentation on homeopathy to my local CFI group. Due to the limited time I decided to spend most of my time simply describing how a 200CK preparation of oscillococcinum is made. I found this approach managed to get the point across and avoids countering the claims of pseudoscience. It would probably be less effective against true believers where ridicule is more appropriate than reason.

  6. KenHon 25 Mar 2013 at 7:41 pm

    I’m would like to hear a naturopath explain why they haven’t invented a homeopathic birth control pill?

  7. ConspicuousCarlon 25 Mar 2013 at 8:13 pm

    They have, but it only works for homeopathic sex.

  8. madmidgitzon 25 Mar 2013 at 8:53 pm

    this post is great , my mother denies being a believer and says she has a open mind, the good part is that she does have a open mind , open for arguments in both directions.
    this post doesnt attack,is very well written, and fairly easy to understand for a person not well versed in science lingo.
    i am hoping that this can help persuade my mother that both “sides” do not have equal footing and that evidence and not “oh so my friend has an asymptomatic disorder and went to a homeopath a few weeks later it cleared right up,must have been the homeopathy” is what you should base medical care on

    people are dumb, family members included
    just because they are kin doesn’t make them better than other stupid people

    may he touch you with his noodly appendage
    praise the FSM

  9. Nitpickingon 25 Mar 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I hope you’re going to give a talk on “how to debate the pseudos” at NECSS. I say that because while giving a talk on another topic (errors in the history of science) at LunaCon, I suddenly found myself in a debate with antivaxxers in the audience who blame vaccines for their son’s autism.

    I just disengaged, suggesting that the topic was too important to try to cover in a short aside from another presentation, but I’d love to learn better tactics.

  10. Ceepson 25 Mar 2013 at 11:44 pm

    When is the debate, and is it open to the public? I could blend in as a Uconn student, I live nearby, and would love to go.

  11. ferrousbuelleron 26 Mar 2013 at 1:49 am

    I watched the Saine/Schwarcz debate on YouTube a few months ago. I thought Joe Schwarcz did a fantastic job of pointing out how ludicrous a concept homeopathy is without coming across as smug or condescending.

    However, Saine still “won” according to the majority of the audience. There were probably a lot of true believers in the crowd whose perspectives were unlikely to change regardless of how the debate went, but the fact remains that Saine definitely “outplayed” Schwarcz. He always seemed to have a paper to point to for any of his implausible claims, and Schwarcz neglected to pounce on the fact that those papers appeared to be spurious results published in junk journals.

    It seems Dr. Novella didn’t make the same mistake. I’m eager to see this video :)

  12. avarmaavarmaon 26 Mar 2013 at 2:03 am

    I’m all for debate. I defended two advanced theses (One Physics, one EE) – and anyone who has defended a thesis knows only too well the rigors of debating.

    However, while I can withstand any level of criticism from my audience ( panel of professors) , I only ask one thing of them – that they actually have some experience in the field prior to attacking my thesis. A first year biology student – asking me about the validity of quantum mechanics applied to neural networks – will not count.

    Similarly , I ask each and every one of you a simple, honest question. Have any of you actually TRIED a homeopathic cure for any ailment? Has a loved one close to you tried it?

    If the answer to those questions is NO, all your intellectual reasoning should be stuffed up the same smelly end that it is coming out from. It is like a frog who has never stepped out of a well ( but read up on the world outside), trying to describe why something in the outside world should or should not work.

    PS – I was a skeptic until I saw it cure near and dear ones of ailments that western science threw up it’s hands for. I could sit and intellectualize why it should never have worked in the first place – or be thankful that there is such a thing – and that I owe someone’s life to it.

  13. eiskrystalon 26 Mar 2013 at 5:30 am

    They have decided that it works, and are looking for proof, any proof. They are working backwards. That seems to be their reason for accepting low standards. All this does is make me think that they really don’t care about the betterment of medicine and humanity.

    If they did they would realise that you need to be able to prove something works in the general population before handing it out to specific people and hoping for the best. You would try to “improve” on the homeopathy that existed and you would have things in place to prevent fraud. We don’t see any of that engagement and it’s a big red warning sign.

  14. BillyJoe7on 26 Mar 2013 at 8:02 am

    avarmaarvarmar,

    “Have any of you actually TRIED a homeopathic cure for any ailment?”

    My reason for not “trying” a homoeopathic “cure” is as follows…
    Zero pausibility.
    Zero clinical evidence of clinically significant effects from replicated, blinded, controlled, clinical trials.

    Same reason I won’t “try” noni juice, Laetrile, colloidal silver, etc etc etc

    “I was a sceptic…”

    Meaning that you are not a sceptic now. Well, congratulations, you got something correct. No sceptic would promote uncontrolled, underpowered, unblinded clinical trials to test claims of efficacy.

  15. Ori Vandewalleon 26 Mar 2013 at 8:39 am

    avarmaavarma:

    You’re of the belief that oncologists should undergo radiation and chemotherapy before claiming to know anything about the subject?

  16. The Other John Mcon 26 Mar 2013 at 11:25 am

    # KenH “I’m would like to hear a naturopath explain why they haven’t invented a homeopathic birth control pill?”

    # ConspicuousCarl “They have, but it only works for homeopathic sex.”

    LOL!!! I almost peed myself there. My guess is homeopathic sex would be methodologically sloppy, lacking power and adequate control. Plus failure to have positive results which are significant. Could also be noisy, and be unable to be reproduced. It’s the peer-review problem that is the real tricky issue with this.

  17. shalliton 26 Mar 2013 at 12:32 pm

    @avarmaavarma:

    If homeopathy has such amazing curative powers, then surely it could also have the power to cause diseases, or poison people, or exacerbate existing conditions, right? Or does it somehow have the magical power to only do good?

    If you agree it could have negative effects, then surely one should investigate those possible negative effects carefully. Surely there must be somewhere in the literature some examples of those negative effects?

    No? Then you’ve found a medical treatment that never has any negative effects! Congratulations on this miraculous discovery.

    But a more plausible interpretation is that it has no effects at all.

  18. ChrisHon 26 Mar 2013 at 12:59 pm

    avarmaavarma, back when Hahnemann was creating his “laws” of homeopathy out of thin air, he claimed it cured certain “miasmas.” Two of those miasmas were syphilis and gonorrhea. Do tell if you have evidence that some homeopathic treatment works better for either of those real bacterial infections than antibiotics.

    Also, thinking back to the homeopathy debate from six years ago, I still wonder if Saine has come up with any real evidence to his claim that homeopathy works better than conventional treatment for rabies. Do you know, avarmaavarma?

  19. RickKon 26 Mar 2013 at 8:29 pm

    avarmaavarma, please describe in detail how someone’s life was saved by a homeopathic remedy. Please list the ailment, the specific remedy, how it was used, and whether any other medical treatments were involved. You’re making an extraordinary claim on a skeptical website, so please do us the courtesy of providing enough information about your claim so that we can properly assess it.

  20. ConspicuousCarlon 27 Mar 2013 at 3:55 am

    avarmaavarma,

    You seem wise. Perhaps you can help me with a burning question which I am unable to answer with my limited intellect.

    Can a fish ride a bicycle? I am not a fish myself, nor have I ever been in love with a fish, so obviously I have no idea whether or not a sturgeon would be any good at riding a Huffy. With your enlightened vision and connection to the universe, I was hoping that maybe you were a sturgeon in a previous life and would have the personal experience which is absolutely necessary to comment on this mystery.

  21. Murmuron 27 Mar 2013 at 9:27 am

    @avarmaavarma, this is not actually a debate, this is looking at the science and the data. They all point towards a null hypothesis. Your anecdotes show nothing as you have no way of proving that it was actually homeopathy that fixed these people.

    Just because someone gets better when they drink the snake oil, it does not mean that the snake oil is the cause of the wellness. Perhaps something else changed at the same time.

    My brother was arguing with me on facebook last week, he said that aspartame made him have headaches and not sleep well. He would drink two or three diet cokes every afternoon and since he has stopped his late night headaches are gone and he is sleeping much better. Was this because of the removal of aspartame from his diet? Or was it that the drinking of water instead and the removal of 3 cokes worth of caffiene helped?

    Similarly, did anything at all change in the living circumstances of these near and dear to you? Has every other factor in their life been accounted for in order for you to say that something that has no medical plausible reason for working and that has never been proven to work in any properly controlled study actually does work?

  22. avarmaavarmaon 27 Mar 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Just as I thought. None of you have actually ever tried, felt the need to try or have someone close to you who has tried it for something that wasn’t helped by western medicine.

    Yet – you all have strong, confirmed beliefs about its efficacy ( or lack thereof).

    Well done – you are all brilliant scientists – intellectuals of the highest order.

  23. ccbowerson 27 Mar 2013 at 11:57 pm

    avarmaavarma-

    You are overvaluing personal experience, which really tells us nothing with regards to homeopathy. You mention Western medicine, which is a meaningless distiction… the important distiction here is whether there is plausibility and evidence for homeopathy, and there is not. `Beliefs` are not needed separate from what the evidence shows to realize homeopathy is not a worthwhile area for the treatment of anything. You on the otherhand do need belief, with no evidence or plausibility on your side.

    BillyJoe7-

    nybgrus wanted me to contact you, since he may be in your neck of the woods… is at least in the same country. He isn@t sure how close – I have his contact info- how can I get it to you?

  24. BillyJoe7on 27 Mar 2013 at 11:58 pm

    “Well done – you are all brilliant scientists – intellectuals of the highest order”

    Thank you. :)

    But you are welcome to join us.
    I know it’s hard, but it’s worth the effort.
    Just learn how to conduct a proper clinical trial that will actually tell you something useful as opposed to experimenting on yourself which tells you close to nothing.

  25. ccbowerson 27 Mar 2013 at 11:59 pm

    Pardon any wacky typos, I will be using a Japanese keyboard and I]m not used to the slight differences

  26. ccbowerson 28 Mar 2013 at 12:00 am

    BJ7 – I guess you posted just after my message to you above, in case you don:t see it

  27. starikon 28 Mar 2013 at 12:28 am

    I’ve tried homeopathy. For herpes. It hasn’t done a thing.

    I had a family member who tried homeopathy for back pain. They got cancer and died two years later.

    Homeopathy cures herpes buts gives it right back to you the next day. It also gives you cancer. Don’t try it.

  28. avarmaavarmaon 28 Mar 2013 at 12:36 am

    I wouldn’t dream of touching your intellectual circles ( I am happy with my measly publications and scientific companions thus far).
    By all means, keep waiting for your clinical trials – your great intellect wouldn’t demand anything less. My limited brain doesnt need as much convincing -’it would rather get relief from suffering ( years of acid reflux, years of tendinitis – with limited success with traditional meds)than wait for clinical trials to convince me.

    Hypothetical question : your wife ( or someone close to u) – has a serious condition – doctors have thrown up their hands – given her a few months tops. Homeopath ( who also btw spends upto 5 years in med school) says he has something that might work – gives you a 50-50 chance.

    Do you take him up on it – or talk your wife out of it ( pseudo science, load of crap, lack of clinical trials)?

    PS 1) I don’t wish any of,that on you,,,goes without saying
    PS 2) Are you even aware of the current level of collabaration between US hospitals and Indian homeopaths on cancer research?

    Not that I like referring to Internet links as any kind of supporting argument, but here is one from a cancer journal

    http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/92/19/1558.full

    So anyway, am curious to hear your answer.

  29. starikon 28 Mar 2013 at 12:45 am

    Don’t listen to what Avarmar is saying. No amount of non-specific anecdotal evidence from the greatest minds on the planet will convince me. I’ve had LOVED ONES who have had bad things happen to them in the time AFTER they took a homeopathic remedy. Homeopathy kills. I know from experience.

  30. rezistnzisfutlon 28 Mar 2013 at 1:44 am

    Simple fact is, if homeopathy, or any other CAM, really worked, especially if it were as pervasively effective as proponents claim, it would pass double-blinded, well-controlled studies no problem. Even if it did not work all the time, there would be positive results nonetheless. The thing is, homeopathic proponents have no good explanation as to why their “remedies” have no effect beyond placebo in well-designed studies. Just heavy on the excuses, hand-waving, and oftentimes, conspiracy theories.

    Why believe something that has no evidence for working? Why simply take the word of people, especially when their story directly contradicts everything we know already? There are charlatans, schemers, and grifters all over the place. The only real protection against them is skepticism and scientific inquiry.

    Bottom line: if homeopathy truly worked, it would be medicine, not “alternative medicine”, and it would have positive results in studies.

  31. Murmuron 28 Mar 2013 at 6:18 am

    @avarmaavarma

    You have not answered a single question I posed to you. I am also not going to state my involvement in CAM previously as doing so is irellevant to this conversation.

    We have waited for the clinical trials and they have shown us that Homeopathy does not work. You seem to miss the whole point of the article above and would rather shout about your anecdote and call us all incompetent for allegedly never having used CAM. Just think about what you are saying there, honestly and intellectually. Am I only to believe things that happen to me personally? Are you that arrogant that you think your experience is the only one that matters and your perception of the universe is what defines reality? I am a statistician, should I disavow all other non statisticians the ability to look at numbers and studies?

    I looked at your link, the article is dated October 2000 and it seems this was something done in the 90s and there has been no further evidence. The one positive result was from a cohort of 11 people and does not look to be in any way controlled or even homeopathy specific. Even if Homeopathy did work for cancer do you not think that it would be in wide circulation and used by all Oncologists by now? Homeopathy is not by any means a new modality and has not changed in over a hundred years. If cancer could be cured, why are the CAM doctors holding out on us and not releasing the cure to the general public?

    All we can say is that it appears that something in their treatment MAY have had an effect. Even then random chance alone could account for it.

    The same goes for your anecdote, something made that person close to you better, but the evidence shows that it was not Homeopathy that had an effect, because in cases where all other factors have been controlled for it has had no effect.

    I would urge you to read up on the Placebo effect too:

    http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/placebo-effect
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=placebo-effect-a-cure-in-the-mind

    It is a powerful thing. It is interesting too that the first article also notes that when evaluating the Placebo Effect we have to account for the timing of unrelated events on someone, just natural self healing that happens sometimes, patient reporting issues and how they report symptoms. Like my example with my brother and aspartame above, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was the removal of that from his diet that relieved his symptoms without even considering other options, of which one of them might even be the placebo effect. I feel you are doing exactly the same thing.

  32. BillyJoe7on 28 Mar 2013 at 8:24 am

    ccbowers,

    Hmmm…this is a bit awkward. Not that I don’t trust you or nybgrus, because I certainly do, but for many reasons, I have chosen to remain anonymous on the Internet for nearly two decades now and I’m not sure I want to change that (last year, a poster called Jeremiah, a particularly nasty piece of work, tried for two weeks to identify me and thankfully failed to do so).

    In any case, if I remember correctly, nybgrus is in far north Queensland. I live down south in Mooroolbark, Victoria (no secret), about two thousand kilometres away and, from tomorrow morning, I’m on a short Easter break to Sandy Point which is about as far south as you can get on the mainland.
    But please pass on my best wishes. We’ve all missed him around here.

    https://maps.google.com.au/maps?t=m&om=1&q=Sandy+Point,+Victoria,+Australia
    (Zoom out for perspective)

  33. BillyJoe7on 28 Mar 2013 at 9:02 am

    avarmaarvarmar,

    “I wouldn’t dream of touching your intellectual circles ( I am happy with my measly publications and scientific companions thus far).”

    Yes, sorry, it’s hard to do things right, isn’t it? What can I say? But so satisfying. Really, give it a go, you might surprise yourself.

    “By all means, keep waiting for your clinical trials – your great intellect wouldn’t demand anything less.”

    Nor should yours. In any case, no need to wait. The trials have been done and the verdict is in. Homoeopathy does not work.

    “My limited brain doesnt need as much convincing -’it would rather get relief from suffering ( years of acid reflux, years of tendinitis – with limited success with traditional meds)than wait for clinical trials to convince me.”

    In the past, you would have used bloodletting to relieve your symptoms, I’m sure. Why, everyone believed it worked! Imagine that! Everyone believed that removing blood from a sick person relieved all manner of ills!

    “Hypothetical question : your wife ( or someone close to u) – has a serious condition – doctors have thrown up their hands – given her a few months tops. Homeopath ( who also btw spends upto 5 years in med school) says he has something that might work – gives you a 50-50 chance.”

    First of all, this is an extemely unlikely scenario. Doctors don’t just “throw up their hands”. If there is no cure, there is always something that can be done, even if just symptom relief. There are also not many situations where a patient Is given at most three months to live (acute leukaemia is perhaps an exception). And a homoeopath who gives such a patient a 1/2 chance of cure deserves no respect whatsoever. He has to know he is lying. Either that or he is so self deluded, he is not worth the time of day.

    “Do you take him up on it – or talk your wife out of it ( pseudo science, load of crap, lack of clinical trials)?”

    So, no, I don’t give him the time of day.
    There are much more dignified ways to die than in the arms of a charlatan.

  34. Ori Vandewalleon 28 Mar 2013 at 10:48 am

    avarmaavarma:

    “Hypothetical question : your wife ( or someone close to u) – has a serious condition – doctors have thrown up their hands – given her a few months tops. Homeopath ( who also btw spends upto 5 years in med school) says he has something that might work – gives you a 50-50 chance.

    Do you take him up on it – or talk your wife out of it ( pseudo science, load of crap, lack of clinical trials)?”

    I’d wonder what data the homeopath was using to arrive at 50/50 odds.

    Another hypothetical: avarmaavarma, you have just been diagnosed with a severe and incurable form of ass cancer. The homeopaths have thrown their hands up in defeat because there’s no natural substance that mimics the effects of ass cancer. However, I happen to know a certified assologist who studied assology for years in the forested glaciers of Antarctica. The assologist claims to be able to cure ass cancer by subjecting sugar pills to hours and hours of South Park and then delivering the pills as a suppository. Many of my friends have tried this treatment and they say it improved the quality of their asses tremendously. The assologist gives you a 14.7% chance of survival, which is low, but better than the 0% chance given to you by traditional homeopaths. Do you take it?

  35. ccbowerson 28 Mar 2013 at 11:27 am

    BJ7-

    I was just passing along a message. He was just wondering if you were anywhere near Brisbane, and if you were he was looking to possibly have a beer. I get the internet anonymity thing, I have the same policy myself (more or less). For the record, he gave me his contact info if you needed, but it appears that it is unnecessary. I will pass along the message.

    Truth is I’m out of the (my) country as well, which is why I cannot go to NECSS, and my internet access is spotty despite being in Japan at the moment. I feel like I am missing out on this blog when I can only check it every couple of days

  36. Steven Novellaon 28 Mar 2013 at 11:47 am

    avarmaavarma- What you are essentially saying is that anecdotal experience should trump careful scientific experiments. This is dangerous nonsense, and you are trying to present this as the intellectual high ground.

    Personal experience is quirky and deceptive. Carefully controlled observation gives us useful data. Such data unequivocally shows two things:
    - Homeopathy highly probably cannot work
    - Homeopathy in fact does not work.

  37. RickKon 28 Mar 2013 at 12:18 pm

    avarmaavarma

    Why can’t you just relate the details of your anecdotal experience?

    You MUST realize that humanity has a long history of firm belief in falsehoods. Every single person who attributed illness or cures to the direct effects of witchcraft or prayer was wrong – every single one of them. And they were every bit as convinced as you.

    From snake oil salesmen to baseball players with “lucky socks” to predicting stock market movements based on the Super Bowl, we see people get cause and effect wrong many times every single day.

    So instead of insulting us, why don’t you apply a little intellectual honesty and just describe the circumstances: the illness, the treatments, the specific homeopathic intervention, etc. Then we can ALL work together to determine if your conclusion is the most likely explanation, or if there might be another way to view the incident.

    In other words, let’s stop slinging mud and just seek the truth. What can be wrong with that?

  38. BillyJoe7on 28 Mar 2013 at 3:37 pm

    ccbowers,

    Thanks for passing along the message.
    Perhaps an anonymous beer could work :)
    But two problems: Google tells me that Brisbane is 1873 km from Sandy Point and, believe it or not, I HATE BEER! Perhaps he could have a XXXX (popular brand of Queensland beer) and I could have a Johnny Walker (Christopher Hitchens’ favourite brew). How about a virtual drink at 10 pm tonight – I’ll pour myself a Johnny Walker on the beach at Sandy Point while picturing him skulling a XXXX in a pub in Brisbane. Pass it along.

  39. ConspicuousCarlon 30 Mar 2013 at 8:28 pm

    avarmaavarma on 28 Mar 2013 at 12:36 am

    Hypothetical question : your wife ( or someone close to u) – has a serious condition – doctors have thrown up their hands – given her a few months tops. Homeopath ( who also btw spends upto 5 years in med school) says he has something that might work – gives you a 50-50 chance.

    Do you take him up on it – or talk your wife out of it ( pseudo science, load of crap, lack of clinical trials)?

    If I were so ignorant as to believe that homeopathy has a 50/50 chance, I probably would. What’s the point of this question? That you can lie to desperate people and get them to waste money on nonsense? I don’t think anyone here would disagree with that.

    Not that I like referring to Internet links as any kind of supporting argument, but here is one from a cancer journal

    http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/92/19/1558.full

    So anyway, am curious to hear your answer.

    Great googlie mooglies! Did anyone actually look at the pathetic article offered here?

    The short story is, the National Cancer Institute tells quacks “send us your best handful of cases”. And the best result from that cherry-picking invitation is an observational study in which patients got to CHOOSE whether they wanted chemo therapy or coffee enemas.

  40. ConspicuousCarlon 30 Mar 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I’m on a short Easter break to Sandy Point

    OMG WOMBATS! Have you picked one up? Are their bellies squishy? They sure look like they should have squishy bellies.

  41. ConspicuousCarlon 30 Mar 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I hope “belly” doesn’t actually mean “turd” or something else in Australia.

  42. BillyJoe7on 30 Mar 2013 at 9:36 pm

    CC,

    You know Sandy Point?

    Indeed, we see much wildlife including wombats, koalas, and echidnas on the property itself, and seagulls, storks, and swans on the foreshore. At night, bats catch insects in front of the windows. In the early morning, if you walk down to the actual sandy point, you can occasionally see seals basking on the sand and and sharks swimming in the shallows. There are also the occasional unwelcome visitor like March Flies and Sandflies on the dunes and stingers in the water.
    No kangaroos, though. For that you have to swim a couple of hundred meters across to Wilson’s Promontory or travel 70km around Corner Inlet by car.

  43. BillyJoe7on 30 Mar 2013 at 9:38 pm

    “In other words, let’s stop slinging mud and just seek the truth. What can be wrong with that?”

    It’s hurts.

  44. ConspicuousCarlon 31 Mar 2013 at 12:56 am

    Billy Joe7:

    I don’t actually know about Sandy Point, I just happen to know where all of my favorite animals live and it sounded like you were in wombat territory. The wombat is definitely near the top of my animal list. The first time I saw a wombat I was amazed that there was a real animal so awesomely plump and fuzzy.

    You also have a few tree kangaroos way up north of you, but my favorite tree kangaroo (Goodfellow’s, which is the red and yellow one) is all the way up in New Guinea. Goodfellow kangaroos also have some good plump fuzziness, especially the ears. Check out the echo chambers on these guys:
    http://ozwildlifestudio.com/wp-content/uploads/Goodfellows-Tree-Kangaroo.jpg
    http://www.zoo.org.au/sites/default/files/styles/zv_carousel_large/public/goodfellows-tree-kangaroo-animal-profile-web620.jpg

    I did forget about the bats until you mentioned them. You get those cool spectacled fox bats with the dog-like heads. We have bats in Texas, but only ugly ones.

  45. BillyJoe7on 31 Mar 2013 at 4:36 am

    CC,

    I haven’t seen any tree kangaroos (at least not up in the trees!), but there are lots of black rock wallabies in the Dandenong Ranges just 6km from where I live in Mooroolbark, and occasionally you can see a couple of Big Reds in the foothills. I go there every Sunday morning for a run (except this week, being Easter) and you’re almost guaranteed to see one if you start out at first light (though I do cover about 20km/12miles). Lyre birds are rarer and I’ve seen only three in ten years, two of them a fortnight apart the year before last. On the other hand, yellow crested cockatoos are very common and you nearly always see a flock of two – along one particular part of the track you can’t fail to hear them screeching 50 meters above in the treetops as soon as you enter their territory.

    The bats we have at Sandy Point are small enough to cradle in your hand when their wings are pulled into their sides. I’m pretty sure they’re called bent-wing bats.

  46. Cornelioidon 29 Jun 2014 at 7:16 am

    I thought it had been a while, so i dug around for a link to the video. Here it is, for anyone still looking!

    http://mediasite.uchc.edu/mediasite41/Play/f45177db9279460797ffe70714a3f5611d

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