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Randi on World Homeopathy Awareness Week

World Homeopathy Awareness Week is fast coming to an end, unfortunately. And what would any sort of “homeopathy awareness” be without a commentary from James Randi?

I share with Randi his desire that people be aware of the true nature of homeopathy on this, the last day of World Homeopathy Awareness Week.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

20 replies on “Randi on World Homeopathy Awareness Week”

The Amazing Randi missed one useful epithet in his takedown of homeopathy, viz “bogus”.

I hear you can even use that word in the UK now!

I watched this, opened up the newspaper, flipped to the comics, and what do I see? Dilbert is celibrating WHAW too. Made my morning.

I hear you can even use that word in the UK now!

And we have our very own Homeopathy Awareness Week, in June, in which to use it.

Was Randi going through chemo last year? I remember hearing a few interviews with him on SGU and thinking he sounded a little out of it. I attributed it to old age, but now it’s clear that he’s still coherent and as sharp as ever. It must have been the chemo; the same thing happened to my mom and she was only 45.

I’m with Greg Laden. There is so little to be aware of scientifically, it is a wonder they schedule so much time.

I suspect there is evidence enough to suggest that it’s a mistake to toss acupuncture into a sentence listing other therapies as if they are all in the same category as homeopathy.

I suspect there is evidence enough to suggest that it’s a mistake to toss acupuncture into a sentence listing other therapies as if they are all in the same category as homeopathy.

You would suspect wrong – when acupuncture studies are conducted with proper sham acupuncture controls they show that the effects of acupuncture are merely placebo effects. A search of this blog or the Neuroligica blog or the Science Based Medicine blog will give several examples of such studies as well as show how the researchers torture the data and misrepresent the results to attempt to show a positive effect. This is of course amplified by the credulous news media.

Neil Craig writes:

But you don’t share his recognition that catastrophic global warming is a fraud.

Respecting someone does not mean uncritically agreeing with every one of their opinions.

Jack Park,

To reinforce what Militant Agnostic states, when the fake acupuncture (the placebo) does better than standard acupuncture and better than the super duper personalized holistic acupuncture, some people feel the need to try to figure out what it is about the placebo that makes it as powerful as this ancient treatment.

That is the biased approach. When the placebo does better than the treatment, we need to ask whether the study was large enough and well enough controlled to be valid.

There are plenty of other studies of acupuncture that show that the treatment is nothing but a placebo – an elaborate performance art placebo with needles, but still just a placebo.

It does not matter if the treatment is a drug being developed by a drug company or acupuncture, the conclusion is simple. This is a non-treatment. This is a fraud. This is a bogus treatment.

This is just a more expensive, but less effective, placebo.

It is self-destructive to waste time on this garbage.

I am convinced that homeopathy and acupuncture are nothing more than placebos. The unfortunate fact is that a huge fraction of the human population is unwilling or unable to understand science, the scientific method, the subtleties of weighing evidence. For effects that are unpredictable, such as who gets sick, who recovers, it’s especially difficult for the layman to understand the scientific basis for the mainstream treatment of disease.

Ultimately, most scientifically untrained people (and even scientifically trained people who are trained in other fields) are in the position of needing to trust the experts. And how, if you are not capable of interpreting the evidence and scientific arguments yourself, can you tell who is an expert who is a quack?

The great thing about homeopathy is that it only takes a tiny amount of understanding of chemistry, together with some simple application of reasoning, in order to see that the claims cannot possibly be true. Unfortunately, it’s easy to misuse this recipe of “a little knowledge, plus a little common sense” to reach egregiously incorrect conclusions: that evolution is impossible, that relativity theory is contradictory, that global warming is a hoax, that government spending cannot possibly accelerate the end of a recession. Yes, the arguments against these things are all flawed, but they look like commons sense to many people. How is it possible to make the 40% or so of the population with no training in science less vulnerable to bad arguments? Or is it possible?

@ Daryl McCullogh:I’ve been recently contemplating something similar:often,when we try to present the science -data,studies,trends- we totally *lose* them,*and* many woo-providers are now pooh-poohing “scientism”(sic),the “religion of science”,the “cult of the expert”,”dictators destroying freedoms”,”elitism”, and similar poppy-cock.Perhaps we need to create a prelude,a first step,a way to woo them(pardon my usage)to even *listen* to the science(and us),purely as an introduction *before* we present information that they might otherwise automatically,summarily reject.I’ve been trying to develop a list of queries to get the woo-entranced to question the source of their misinformation.(I know,I know,it’s like trying to get a tea-partier to question Fox News.)Maybe it would be better not to imagine our task as a debate but as education,counseling,providing resources and assistance.I might ask,for example:”How can, say, a *nutritionist* question the entire field of medecine and even expand the critique beyond into fields like economics?Isn’t there *specialisation*?” Orac has asked (paraphrase):”How can such a BigPharma conspiracy be maintained? It involves too many people and institutions,too much ‘tainted’research,etc.?”

Maybe it would be better not to imagine our task as a debate but as education,counseling,providing resources and assistance

Could be viewed as condescending.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with treating people like adults with an expectation that they aren’t clueless idiots. If they are the ones claiming that science and medicine are wrong, shouldn’t they be expected to know something about science and medicine?

@ Pablo :I guess you could say that;maybe so,however,I’m trying to get them to *see* what we see and understand a little,and yes, they may *not* have had the same background that has led us to where we are,which you can’t collapse into the time a conversation takes.There used to be information (in the ’60’s,’70’s?) that *explained* how advertising worked: educating consumers and potential victims- something like that.

however,I’m trying to get them to *see* what we see and understand a little,and yes, they may *not* have had the same background that has led us to where we are

If that’s true, it can come out during discussion, and at that point, sure, go into educate mode. But as I said, to start there, and to assume they hold their position because they “don’t have the same background that has led us to where we are” is sounding awfully condescending.

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