Your Friday Dose of Woo: Homeopathy gets needled

I realize that there are two huge target-rich articles out there that my readers have been clamoring for me to comment on. First, there’s a particularly silly and simplistic article by Nicholas Kristof about how it’s supposedly the “toxins” causing autism (an article in which he apparently doesn’t realize that Current Opinions in Pediatrics is not really a peer-reviewed journal but rather publishes review articles by invitation), and then there’s a fawning TIME Magazine article bout Jenny McCarthy. When two such–shall we say?–target-rich articles appear on the same day, I’d be falling all over myself to go after one or the other of them–or even both when I’m not too busy.

Not this time.

Quite frankly, thanks to my near continuous blogging about Andy Wakefield last week, I’ve entered one of those phases where I’m burned out on the whole anti-vaccine movement. I’m taking a break. (Ya gotta give me that sometimes.) If I don’t take a break from time to time from blogging about the anti-vaccine movement, my neurons don’t have time to recover from the all-out assault of toxic stupid emanating from the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Generation Rescue. So you’ll have to forgive me; you’re on your own for the two articles above, at least for now.

But fear not! I’m sure that sometime soon someone at Age of Autism or some other anti-vaccine activists will do or say something despicable or stupid enough that it warrants a heapin’ helpin’ of Orac’s special brand of not-so-Respectful Insolence. In fact, to speed my brain along in healing from the damage of delving into so much toxic stupid, I think I may have just the thing. Obviously, the blistering, blithering stupid to which I have been willingly subjecting my cerebral cortex is a form of toxin, and clearly I need detoxification. Either that, or I need my flow of qi realigned to relieve the blockages caused by it. Besides, I haven’t done Your Friday Dose of Woo in a while, and it’s about time.

So what would I need to help my cerebral cortex heal “naturally” from the effects of bathing in etheric stupid for so long? Well, certainly acupuncture might be able to help, right? What better unblock my qi and let it flush the woo away than sticking needles in my skin for no apparent reason and with no anatomical or physiologic basis for it to work?

Unfortunately, the stupid that emanates from antivaccine activists is too strong, even for acupuncture. If I’m going to heal myself of the damage without resorting to nasty, evil, pharmaceuticals, I’ll need more than just that. Fortunately, I think I’ve found just the thing. It’s something that combines the woo that is acupuncture with an even more potent woo, something that, when combined with acupuncture, produces woo synergy so strong that there’s nothing it can’t do. What would be that second woo? It’s one that I’ve called from time to time The One Woo To Rule Them All, the purest expression of human ability to believe complete and utter nonesense. That’s right. I’m talking about homeopathy, the art of diluting remedies into nonexistence, producing a placebo effect, and calling it medicine. And what do we get when we combine acupuncture and homeopathy?

Why homeopuncture, of course:

Homeopuncture is a new treatment strategy slowly coming into vogue in integrative medical clinics around the world which combines two alternative medical therapies, Acupuncture and Homeopathy into one. Each of these age old therapies predate conventional medicine by a long shot and are used around the world to treat everything from the most simple to the most complex health challenges. Both also have growing bodies of research proving their effectiveness in treating a large variety of illnesses, acute as well as chronic.

Oh, goody. Two crappy woos that taste even crappier together. In any case, I can’t resist channeling on of my favorite quotes and bending it to my own nefarious purposes. “Research.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. I suppose “research” supports homeopathy and acupuncture if you define “research” as small, poorly controlled and designed studies, often without adequate controls confounded by placebo effects. If, however, you define “research” as a broad body of investigation starting from first principles in basic science and leading to large, well-designed, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials, then homeopathy fails. From first principles, it has as close to zero plausibility as a modality can have, and for homeopathy to “work,” huge swaths of our current knowledge of chemistry, physics, biochemistry, and biology would have to be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. This includes science that has been well established for over 100 years. In the absence of hugely compelling evidence that homeopathy works, there is no reason to assume from first principles that homeopathy can work. Indeed, as clinical trials of homeopathy grow larger and better controlled, the “effects” attributable to homeopathy are diluted (sorry, couldn’t resist) to being indistinguishable from placebo effects.

In any case, homeopuncture sounds fantastically woo-ey, doesn’t it? I’m sure you’re thinking: But why on earth should we think this will work? Oh, ye of little faith! Learn ye about Homeosiniatry:

Homeopaths Weihe (of German descent) and Goehrum discovered that when certain diseases were cured by a homeopathic remedy, a point in the body that grew tender with pressure was relieved. During his research, Weihe was able to locate approximately 197 points. He also linked these points with particular homeopathic remedies which were prescribed for a specific disorder. He was able to use the points to confirm the correct remedy to prescribe when in doubt. This was known as Homeosiniatry. Strangely enough, these tender points are also described in TCM as Alarm points and As-shi points. Alarm points represent organs in the body. If there is a disorder in the organ’s related energy channel, the respective alarm point will become tender.

Of course it will. Or perhaps it’s one massive exercise in confirmation bias. But where does homeopuncture come into play? It’s simple:

Subsequently, a famous French author and acupuncturist, Roger de la Fuye (French Homeopath and Acupuncturist) researched and concluded that homeopathy can be used with acupuncture to treat patients. He was also able to utilize the points to confirm if the remedy was the proper one.

Considering the effectiveness of each therapy, it is fair to say that combining these two therapies could be very fruitful.

It’s too bad my French is so rusty, because it looks to me as though there’s some mighty fine woo on de la Fuye’s website. Unfortunately, it would take me too long to figure out in adequate detail. (That’s what I get for neglecting my French, I guess; like any second language, use it or lose it, as they say.) In any case, there’s little doubt that combining homeopathy and acupuncture could be very fruitful–for the homeopath/acupuncturist’s wallet, of course. From a scientific and medical standpoint, not so much. But how does it work?

Apparently acupuncture needles become a method of delivering homeopathic remedies:

We can define it as the puncture of acupuncture points after dipping the needle in a specific homeopathic remedy. We can also describe Homeopuncture as a methodology by which the specific homeopathic remedy is placed directly in the tissue by first dipping an acupuncture needle in the (liquid) remedy and then puncturing at the specific acupuncture points.

Wow! Homeopuncture looks as though it’s nothing more than a way to mainline homeopathic remedies. Well, not quite, as no major veins are involved. At least, that is what we hope. But it is in essence the same as a subcutaneous injection. But I thought that the more dilute a homeopathic remedy was, the stronger it becomes. I also wonder what Samuel Hahnemann would have thought of this. After all, he never said anything about administering his magical succussed potions in any other way besides oral that I can recall. He may have discussed topical use of water (i.e., homeopathic remedies), but I don’t recall. I also don’t recall ever hearing about injecting homeopathic remedies. It rather seems to go against everything homeopathy stands for.

Another issue I’d wonder about is infection. Most acupuncturists who have been tainted by Western medicine will sterilize their needles, although, as Mark Crislip likes to point out, they often negate any benefit of that by not bothering to use sterile gloves or to decontaminate the skin with some sort of disinfectant before inserting the needles. Since homeopathic remedies aren’t prepared under sterile conditions, one wonders if the infection rate would be higher using homeopuncture. Of course, if the diluent used in the homeopathic remedies is alcohol, one could equally imagine that dipping the needles in such a remedy might acually lower the infection rate. Come to think of it, that would be the only utility of this approach of combining the One Woo To Rule Them All that I can think of. Maybe a little flame after that and the needles would be sterile. Yes, I can see that that might be useful.

This version of the document describing homeopuncture describes three case reports. These include two cases of psoriasis and a case of what sounds like vitiligo. One notes that none of these case reports actually desecribes the outcome of the treatment. Maybe the outcome was homeopathic; i.e., diluted to the point of being undetectable. Whatever the reason, these cases are hardly a ringing endorsement of the efficacy of homeopuncture, although that doesn’t stop the woo-meisters from stating:

The two streams of healing have been brought together not just to satisfy some researchers’ whims, but to enable practitioners to do justice to patients. Some individuals might have the skills to cure patients quickly with just one form of treatment, but for others combining the therapies can help them to improve the quality of the healing.


Personally, when it comes to “streams” of thought like acupuncture and homeopathy, my tendency is to channel Dr. Egon Spengler and warn against crossing the streams. Suffice it to say that it would be…bad.

You know, I feel better already. In fact, by Monday I might even be ready to jump back into the fray. Maybe I’ll even have some fun with the latest round of “vaccine manufacturers = tobacco companies” nonsense pouring out of the anti-vaccine movement in the wake of the PLoS decision not to publish any research funded by tobacco companies.

Or not. Too much depends on what sort of pseudoscience is unleashed on the unsuspecting world between now and then.