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The architects of a “disinformation campaign” against homeopathy are revealed

He’s ba-ack.

Has it really only been two weeks? A mere two weeks since everybody’s favorite advocate of The One Quackery to Rule Them All promised the woo-friendly readers of the “health” section of that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post that he would “provide further specific evidence of the unscientific attitude and actions from those individuals and organizations who are leading the campaign against homeopathy.” Like pretty much every skeptic who’s made any sort of name for himself, no matter how minor, in having fun taking down the pseudoscientific nonsense known as homeopathy, I fervently hoped that I would make the list of the two prominent skeptics whom Ullman blames more than anyone else for a “disinformation campaign against homeopathy.” Of course, given that homeopathy is based on disinformation mixed with magical thinking (sympathetic magical thinking, to be precise), one would think that Ullman would try to dilute the disinformation (with succussion between each step, of course) and use it as a remedy. In any case, skeptics everywhere waited with bated breath to find out who would receive the honor of being named an enemy of homeopathy by the ultimate woo-meister homeopath himself. (And even homeopaths don’t come woo-ier than Ullman.)

They need wait no more. Yesterday, the answer was revealed in a post on HuffPo entitled Disinformation on Homeopathy: Two Leading Sources:

Two of the leading antagonists to homeopathy are James Randi (U.S.) and Tracey Brown (UK). This short article is not meant to be exhaustive on the disinformation campaign against homeopathy, but providing profiles of these leading antagonists to homeopathy will hopefully shed light on the nature of their information and how trustworthy they may or may not be.

Losing out to Randi is, obviously, not a disgrace at all. Randi is, after all, Randi, an icon of the skeptical movement whose contributions to skepticism and critical thinking are legion. In contrast, I had no idea who Tracey Brown is when I read this. It turns out that I should have, given that Brown is the managing director of the U.K. science advocacy group Sense About Science. As you may recall, Sense About Science has been relentless about countering pseudoscience in the U.K. and is known for its campaign to Keep Libel Laws Out of Science. No wonder Ullman would dislike Brown so!

Before he starts, Ullman tries to assure us that he’s not launching ad hominem attacks:

Please know that this review and critique of Mr. Randi and Ms. Brown is not an ad hominem attack on these two individuals. I have a great amount of respect for Mr. Randi as an entertainer and magician, and Ms. Brown is a highly-competent public relations professional. They may also be quite lovely people too, but whether they are nice or lovely or entertaining or competent is not the point of this article. Instead, this article reviews their actions, their priorities and the organizations that they have represented, all of which are reasonable and appropriate areas for critique and are not personal attacks on who they are.

Not surprisingly, much of what follows, in addition to the usual misinformation and pseudoscience that Ullman likes to promote, consists of ad hominem attacks. For example:

James Randi is not just a homeopathic and alternative medicine skeptic, he is also a climate change denier (Randi.org).

And:

If James Randi had serious concerns about fraud and deception in medicine and science, one would think that he would not be silent on the rampant chicanery considerable fraud regularly committed by conventional medical and “scientific” researchers and by Big Pharma companies. However, Randi is a great magician, and he is clearly a recognized expert at misdirection.

The advantage of Randi’s climate change position is that he stands with and by Big Oil and Big Corp. To quote the church lady, “How convenient.”

So, let’s see. Ullman’s claim that he’s not launching ad hominem attacks is followed by portraying Randi as being a pharma shill who also stands with “Big Oil” and “Big Corp.” Does any of this have anything to do with Randi’s criticisms of homeopathy? No, it does not. Even if all of this were true (and it is not), it would be irrelevant to the scientific and skeptical arguments made against homeopathy. Ullman’s simply trying to poison the well with ad hominem attacks, his denials that that’s what he’s doing notwithstanding.

I’ve criticized Randi myself for the huge mistake he made in falling for the talking points of anthropogenic global warming denialists. However, from my perspective, Randi’s mistake was primarily one of omission. He basically wrote an opinion without having studied the issue, and it showed. It showed badly. However, just because Randi made a mistake about AGW doesn’t mean he’s mistaken about all science. He knows homeopathy cold and has demonstrated it again and again. Yet, instead of addressing Randi’s arguments about homeopathy, Ullman spends most of his time whining about the Million Dollar Challenge and bringing up unrelated topics, like AGW, finishing up with a truly vile and despicable cheap shot at Randi based on his personal life that puts the lie to Ullman’s pre-emptive denial that he’s engaging in ad hominems.

Ullman’s even worse when it comes to Tracey Brown, whose past connections to the Communist Party he gleefully recounts, later referring to her as a pharma shill. Truly, I must say that I’ve never seen an ad hominem calling a person, in essence, a Commie pinko and a corporate shill at the same time! Either inconsistency doesn’t bother Ullman, or he’s so eager to attack Brown that he seemingly can’t make up his mind whether she’s a Commie or a Capitalist flack defending corporate interests.

All of this was then followed by this strange attack:

In 2010, SAS and a collaborating organization, the Merseyside Skeptics Society, gained significant media attention by promoting demonstrations that ridiculed homeopathy by asserting that “there is nothing in homeopathic medicine.” Although the Merseyside Skeptics Society is also called “Skeptics at the Pub,” one would think that the media would easily recognize the low level of discourse that would emerge from a group with this name, but not when professional public relations people are pulling some strings.

Come on, now. This is just silly. Skeptics in the Pub meetups are nothing more than informal ways for skeptics to get together and talk skepticism. I’ve been to several such meetups myself, both locally and in other cities when I’m traveling. Notice how he denigrates the Merseyside Skeptics not because they made bad arguments against homeopathy. He can’t. So instead he basically does the equivalent of mocking the Merseyside Skeptics because they hold Skeptics in the Pub meetings.

Ullman’s blatant ad hominems aside, though, does he offer any substantive arguments in support of homeopathy or refuting criticisms of homeopathy? What do you think? Of course he doesn’t. He can’t. Instead, he lays down howlers like this:

The demonstrators each imbibed an entire bottle of a homeopathic medicine to “prove” that there is nothing in it and, strangely enough, to show that they could not commit suicide by ingesting it. It is a tad ironic that these demonstrators equated the ability to commit suicide with a drug as a way to prove that it provides therapeutic action! And these demonstrations were further shown to be “unclear on the concept” of homeopathy, because ingesting a whole bottle of a homeopathic medicine would not prove or disprove anything. At best, it may be akin to using a nail instead of a needle to attempt to disprove acupuncture (clearly, this is garbage in, garbage out thinking).

Actually, it’s Ullman who’s “unclear on the concept,” particularly given his most inapt analogy. After all, if homeopathic remedies have any action whatsoever, then it should be possible to increase the dose to the point of causing toxicity. If, no matter how much homoepathic remedy you take, nothing happens, then that’s an incredibly strong indication that there really is nothing there. Of course, basic physics and chemistry are more than enough to demonstrate that in homepathic dilutions above around 12C or so, it’s incredibly unlikely that there’s a single molecule of the active compound.

In addition, Ullman complains about how the British documentary series Horizon recruited James Randi to investigate Jacques Benveniste’s infamous experiments on homeopathy and to try to replicate the experiments of Madeleine Ennis. These experiments have been held up by homeopaths as “evidence” for the memory of water, but in reality what other scientists and the producers of Horizon, along with James Randi’s help, demonstrated is that Benveniste’s and Ennis’ experiments were fatally flawed and could not be replicated. The details are presented in this transcript of the show. One notes that it is very different from the description that Ullman provides. Particularly ironic is this statement:

When Professor Ennis was ultimately sent the protocol, she was shocked at what she received. This protocol was not her experiment (Ennis, 2004). In fact, it was clearly a study that was a set-up to disprove homeopathy.

Well, not exactly. Science and scientific experiments are designed primarily to falsify, not to prove, hypotheses. That’s where Ullman gets it wrong. He wants an experiment to “prove” homeopathy. That’s not science. Trying to falsify the key concepts behind homeopathy is. If homeopathy can stand up to such hypothesis testing, then that’s an indication that the hypotheses that represent the central concepts of homeopathy might have some validity. They didn’t.

Ullman is also very unhappy about the British House of Commons report on homeopathy last year. I wrote about this report when it came out; it was very good for a governmental report. To discredit it, he relies on, of course, more ad hominems. He attacks Evan Harris, the MP who was a driving force behind the report and points out that he was defeated in his next election “by a 20-something-year-old candidate who had no previous political experience,” implying that it was the report on homeopathy that led to his defeat, a highly unlikely proposition. If anything, the report on homeopathy didn’t have as much of an effect on government policy as it deserved to.

Not surprisingly, in the end, Ullman concludes his post with a rather prolonged and equally pathetic rant against medical “fundamentalism,” which is pure irony, given that it is homeopaths who are the most fundamentalist of all. They never deviate from their pseudoscience, no matter how much evidence shows it to be nothing more than magical thinking sprinkled with a dash of pseudoscience. He even concludes with a typical crank prediction that his pseudoscience will triumph:

Thomas Kuhn, the great physicist and philosopher of science and author of the seminal “Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” asserted that “paradigm shifts” seem only outrageous or revolutionary to those people who have invested themselves in the old paradigm… but to all others, the paradigm shift is a natural evolutionary development to virtually everyone else. The deniers of homeopathy are simply “too invested” personally and professionally in the old medical and scientific paradigm, while the rest of us consider the maturation of medicine and science as long overdue.

It has been said that dinosaurs tend to yell and scream the loudest before their fall… and it seems that we are all witnessing evolution at work.

It is not a coincidence that you could find almost exactly the same text on a creationist blog, on a quack blog (well, actually, it already is), or on the blog of an anthropogenic global warming denialist. All cranks believe that someday they’ll be vindicated by science. It’s very rare that they’re right, and in the case of Dana Ullman the odds of his being right about homeopathy being vindicated are equivalent to the odds of finding a single molecule of the original homeopathic remedy in a 100C dilution.

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]

158 replies on “The architects of a “disinformation campaign” against homeopathy are revealed”

I think of homeopathy as the lynch pin of woo. A lot rides on it.

If folks buy this idea, they’ll be likely to buy a whole lot more of spurious nonsense sold by charlatans, so it is defended at all costs. It exemplifies the life energy-vibration-resonance theme they so love.

On a lighter note ( if anything can be lighter than the insubstantial):

The idiots I survey have become involved in the People’s Protests anti-GMO, anti-nuclear energy, anti-Wall St ( see NaturalNews; ProgressiveRadioNetwork). Dana will work that too I suspect.

The Kuhn quote makes perfect sense if you replace denier with promoter. Medicine has moved on since Hahnemann, starting with germ theory and taking off from there. Just some folks are too vested in their 18th century paradigms to get the message.

If the mind is a biological organ rather than a window onto reality, there should be truths that are literally inconceivable, and limits to how well we can ever grasp the discoveries of science.

My belief in the advances of modern medicine is not a simple truth. Despite decades of scientific research, the reality is that there is no objectively “best” care for most ailments.

I do not believe in homeopathy, but I do respect those with different beliefs. So do NOT be too upset about losing out to Randi!

There there Orac, perhaps you will make DUllman’s next list. Your disappointment is palpable; go to a pub and knock one back with some fellow sceptics in DUllman’s honour and all will be right again.

Great article, to bad juvenile language and attitudes slip in and out of your otherwise objective perspective.

Giving Ullman the benefit of the doubt, he seems to share along with many cranks & denialists the inability to understand what an ad hominem argument is and what makes it a logical fallacy.

The fact that he, David-Barton-like, lies about not employing ad hominem arguments right after insisting he isn’t about to use them, makes me, for one, less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

It is quite quite remarkable that you are actually defending the basophil research created and conducted by Wayne Turnbull! The reason that I consider you and your ilk to be “medical fundamentalists” and “deniers” is that you take out the electron microscope to any minor problem in a study’s design or implementation when the study has a positive result, but then, you go deaf-dumb-blind to “junk science” studies that show a negative result.

I have never yet read a single criticism of the BBC’s (or 20/20’s) study from a “skeptic”, despite the fact that many skeptics have read Professor Ennis’ critique of that study (which clearly verified how junky it was).

Please continue in your deaf/dumb/blindness because it simply verifies that unscientific attitudes behind your platitudes.

Then, when you actually wrote that Randi “know homeopathy cold,” you’ve simply proven how little you and he knows about homeopathy. How embarrassing for you both.

If folks buy this idea [homeopathy], they’ll be likely to buy a whole lot more of spurious nonsense sold by charlatans, so it is defended at all costs.

QFT. Anybody who paid attention in high school chemistry should be able to figure out that homeopathy is nonsense–all you need to remember is the order of magnitude of Avogadro’s number, a fact which nobody is openly disputing. Debunking many other forms of woo involve some combination of knowing facts which woo-pushers are deliberately trying to obscure or having some familiarity with medical science. For instance, take the vaccines-cause-autism crowd. We know this idea is false because, for example, autism rates did not decline after the putative causal agent thimoserol was removed from vaccines. But this is not something taught in high schools; on the contrary, this would be a superficially plausible idea (at least to a layman) were it not for the medical studies showing that this hypothesis is false (the one counterexample that I know of being the fraudulent, since-retracted Wakefield study). The anti-vax crowd have been trying to drown out this inconvenient fact.

Before he starts, Ullman tries to assure us that he’s not launching ad hominem attacks:

…by launching an ad hominem attack.

Ullman’s even worse when it comes to Tracey Brown, whose past connections to the Communist Party he gleefully recounts, later referring to her as a pharma shill,

A Pinko Commie LibrulTM who’s also a shill for Big BiznissTM??? That’s a new one! But he also loses crank points for not calling her a Kenyan Anti-colonialist MuslinTM conspiring with Obama to impose Sharia law on good god-fearin’ Murrcans.

“A Pinko Commie Librul who’s also a shill for Big Bizniss???

I thought that was a specialty of The Joos.

Ullman: ” I have a great amount of respect for Mr. Randi as an entertainer and magician, and Ms. Brown is a highly-competent public relations professional.”

See, this could explain why Orac didn’t make the Homeopathic Enemies List. Ullman is trying to suggest that big-time debunkers of homeopathy are out of their depth when they criticize his woo. It’d be harder to do this with Orac, Edzard Ernst or any number of scientists who’ve derided homeopathic nonsense.

Bottom line: it’s pretty embarassing that an “entertainer and magician” and “public relations professional” have a sound grasp of science when Dana Ullman MPH is so sorely lacking.

“After all, if homeopathic remedies have any action whatsoever, then it should be possible to increase the dose to the point of causing toxicity.”

If homeopathic theory were true, wouldn’t it be possible to dilute a solution to the point of toxicity? Does a homeopath ever say, don’t dilute past a certain point, it’s bad? That would be an interesting challenge to a homeopath: make a solution so dilute it produces a negative effect.

There are, what – five, six different explanations from homeopaths for how it “works”, right? Water memory, silica, vibrations, quantums, doctrine of signatures, a couple of others, all disagreeing. Doesn’t that mean that most of the disinformation is coming from the homeopaths themselves?

Thomas Kuhn, the great physicist
The what?
I know he had a Ph.D in physics, but he shifted to history (and always considered himself a historian) before he did anything with it.

It has been said that dinosaurs tend to yell and scream the loudest before their fall…
By whom?

@ Moopheus:

According to homeopaths, only beneficial effects can ever be produced. If a remedy would normally produce an effect (e.g. lowering body temperature to treat a fever) and that would be detrimental (e.g. using it for hypothermia because one of the other 500 symptoms that remedy treats is shivering) then it just doesn’t happen.

Magic indeed.

There seems to an impression that I’m a climate-change denier. Anyone who reads BOTH the posts I wrote on the subject will see that I only doubted that present means of evaluating such world-wide and aged data was possible with enough accuracy to say that the climate change was anything but a transient phenomenon, but I also firmly stated that I was not speaking from any stance of expertise. I received two sorts of response to my first SWIFT article, one from those who applauded my denial of AGW, and one from an equal number who congratulated me for accepting it…!

The tests of homeopathy that we – Sir John Maddox of Nature Magazine, Walter Stewart from the US National Institutes of Health, and I – did at the Benveniste Lab at Clamart, France, were double-blinded and totally negative. Those were tests that I designed, a simple yes-or-no on whether the homeopathic community could tell – BY ANY MEANS – the difference between plain water and homeopathically-prepared water. They could not, and Ullman has chosen to ignore those…

Why?

James Randi.

Ullman has either never taken a critical thinking class or thinks that his readers have never taken a critical thinking class and won’t understand what an ad hominem attack is. Most woo followers have never taken basic chem, freshman human physiology, or microbiolgy. They don’t have a fundamental understanding of the basic sciences and have no critical thinking skills. I’ve talked with women with stage 3 breast cancer that have refused all treatment except for surgery and spend thousands of dollars on bogus remedies, and think that they can arm themselves with the school of google and know just as much as their oncologists. I have actually been told this by someone who has never taken a freshman life science class. Most of them are taking homeopathy remedies.

Ullman and his ilk are very dangerous people. I don’t know how they can live with themselves.

@ Moopheus and Beamup,
I have seen several claims by homeopaths that there are high potency (i.e. highly diluted) remedies that would make even a hardened skeptic very ill. Andy Lewis has taken them up on this and has taken not only an overdose of homeopathic remedies, but a continued course of homeopathic sugar pills of which he he was told:

The lachesis is supposed to be particularly nasty. It is made from a snake venom (Bushmaster) and is supposed to induce horrific symptoms. Previous provers have reported paralysis of the arms and lots of pain. But because my pills do not actually contain any snake venom, I feel pretty confident I will be OK.

http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2010/01/1023-my-personal-homeopathic-overdose.html

Mr. Randi:

They could not, and Ullman has chosen to ignore those…

Why?

Because he is an idiot.

Plus he makes his money selling his books, and he can’t let facts get in the way of a paycheck.

There seems to an impression that I’m a climate-change denier. Anyone who reads BOTH the posts I wrote on the subject will see that I only doubted that present means of evaluating such world-wide and aged data was possible with enough accuracy to say that the climate change was anything but a transient phenomenon, but I also firmly stated that was not speaking from any stance of expertise. I received two sorts of response to my first SWIFT article, one from those who applauded my denial of AGW, and one from an equal number who congratulated me for accepting it…!

The tests of homeopathy that we – Sir John Maddox of Nature Magazine, Walter Stewart from the US National Institutes of Health, and I – did at the Benveniste Lab at Clamart, France, were double-blinded and totally negative. Those were tests that I designed, a simple yes-or-no on whether the homeopathic community could tell the difference between plain water and homeopathically-prepared water. They could not, and Ullman has chosen to ignore those…

Why?

James Randi.

@ Krebiozen:

Just goes to show that homeopaths can’t even agree on how their magic is supposed to work. Much like Ken’s point on mechanism, but about effects instead.

Then, when you actually wrote that Randi “know homeopathy cold,” you’ve simply proven how little you and he knows about homeopathy. How embarrassing for you both.

I can’t speak for Randi, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. By the way, Randi showed up in the comments here. A great honor for me, and an opportunity for you to try to use something other than ad hominems as arguments. Try actually addressing the substance.

@ Eric Lund:

I have found that along with the cargo cult science, our woo-meisters are usually also selling the cult of personality- their own. Their own promptings may assuage the doubts of the more sceptical amongst their followers .

Whether it is a real doctor like Weil or an untrained alt med proselytiser like Adams, he usually will present himself as a paragon of virtue, “ahead of the curve” ( Oh how I hate that expression!), a revolutionary, somehow brighter and more insightful than thousands of professionals and scientists, a role model to be emulated. Some recruit folks for their projects and communities ( e.g. Ecuador). Or instruct about how corrupt medicine, corporations, or government are.

The ones I follow have brancched out into other fields beyond health : psychology, economics, and politics. As a person with formal education in the first two, I often find their pronouncements hilarious. Doesn’t mean that they can’t harm people. ( e.g. counselling/financial advice)

After all, if homeopathic remedies have any action whatsoever, then it should be possible to increase the dose to the point of causing toxicity.

I’ve seen the claim that homeopathy works by providing information to the body, which the body then uses to heal itself, and increasing the dose is along the lines of increasing the volume at which the same information is provided. So just like if someone giving directions to you by shouting at the top of their lungs isn’t going to result in you getting lost, increasing the dose isn’t going to make the body heal itself wrong.

“ahead of the curve” ( Oh how I hate that expression!)

In my experience, if you’re “ahead of the curve”, you end up in the ditch.

BTW, Ullman should be ashamed of himself for that wretched article.

#17, Black-cat, October 4, 2011 4:52 PM,

Mostly depends on the woo to preferred currency exchange rate, donҀ™t it?

Ullman,

Despite your bizarre notice at the start of the article, your whole premise is a exercise in poisoning the well.

Why does it matter who is promoting the anti-homeopathic, pro-science views? James Randi and the Merseyside Skeptics Society could be Satan and his agents for all I care. The source of the argument is utterly irrelevant consideration.

Scientific claims about reality rise and fall on their respective evidence, not on their source. This is something homeopaths don’t seem to quite understand yet.

I’ve seen the claim that homeopathy works by providing information to the body, which the body then uses to heal itself, and increasing the dose is along the lines of increasing the volume at which the same information is provided. So just like if someone giving directions to you by shouting at the top of their lungs isn’t going to result in you getting lost, increasing the dose isn’t going to make the body heal itself wrong.

And in this conception, what would different potencies represent? More detailed instructions in the frequency rather than amplitude domain? Sweet Jesus, WHAT IF THE DIRECTIONS ARE WRONG? (There are “prescription-only” homeopathic nostrums, yes?)

The reason that I consider you and your ilk to be “medical fundamentalists” and “deniers” is that you take out the electron microscope to any minor problem in a study’s design or implementation when the study has a positive result, but then, you go deaf-dumb-blind to “junk science” studies that show a negative result.

It would be difficult to better demonstrate sniveling about burden of proof within a scientific context.

I think Ullman has hit a new low…even for him, with this smear campaign against Mr. Randi. Fortunately, many of the comments directed at him at the Ho-Po site have called him out on his tactics…and his homeopathy “cures”.

When is the Ho-Po going to show some integrity and stop giving these snake oil salesman a forum and a marketplace to sell their books and their magic potions, lotions, pills and treatments to gullible people?

Yes, Mr. Ullman, Randi has your number and you are just a low life sleazy practitioner of the dark art of homeopathy. I hope you are enjoying all the negative feedback that your latest article at the Ho-Po has generated…I know I am.

It seems to be hard to argue coherently with anyone who understands the philosophy of Homeopathy, but I think that may be part of the problem in that many people who go to them have no knowledge of basic biology so are unable at first glance to detect the obvious fraud being perpetrated by homeopathic practitioners.

BTW wow….. J.R. posted here. Been a fan ever since he came to Australia and got the most hostile interview ever televised, by a man called Don Lane. Don Lane was a fan of a British kook called Dorris Stokes who claimed to talk to the dead and he went feral on James. James earned my admiration for his cool under fire and has been an inspiration to me ever since. If any of you can track down that interview its well worth a watch.

A true skeptic is a true skeptic. To be a true skeptic means that you need to view both sides of an argument, unfortunately when it comes to AGW all logic seems to get thrown out of the window. Now an intelligent person can sort through the dross on both sides of the argument and get to the nitty gritty on the valid opposing views. IMHO this is exactly what James has done on AGW. The issue has however ceased to become a scientific argument and is now a political one, which is why I think the logic has been removed.

If I never see an AGW debate used in this forum again I will be a happy man as this will prove to be a true skeptic forum. Mind you I have my doubts πŸ˜‰

Feel free to prove my doubts unfounded.

@Dana Ullman

Then, when you actually wrote that Randi “know homeopathy cold,” you’ve simply proven how little you and he knows about homeopathy. How embarrassing for you both.

Ullman, Randi’s expertise lies in understanding and exposing how people get fooled. It’s true that he doesn’t specialize in how homeopaths’ marks get fooled, nor in the homeopaths’ techniques Ҁ” those are just minor details.

Since the essence, if not the whole, of homeopathy is fooling the marks, Randi probably is more of an expert in homeopathy than you or (nearly) any homeopath you can come up with.

@Dana Ullman

I doubt you’ll actually post again, and even if you do, I doubt you’ll really answer my question/challenge, but if you think that there is some good, scientific evidence out there that vindicates homeopathy, go ahead and share it here. Give us a link to a journal article that shows a homeopathic remedy working significantly better than placebo.

deluded [email protected]

Well, I’d hate also to turn this into another AGW back-and-forth, but I wanted to respond quickly to this:

The issue has however ceased to become a scientific argument and is now a political one, which is why I think the logic has been removed.

This is most unfortunately true in the public sphere, but among scientists with expertise in the issue, it’s not the case. The denialist PR campaign would like you to think that there is a substantial number of serious experts out there who disagree, but there simply isn’t.

Dana Ullman, meet Lorenzo Romano Amedeo Carlo Avogadro di Quaregna e di Cerreto.( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amedeo_Avogadro) The Count, a noted physicist and mathematician in his day, is the fellow responsible for Avogadro’s law, and the eponymous constant, Avogadro’s number. His work, while not directly relating to Homeopathy, does have considerable impact on it. To Wit: beyond a dilution of the level of Avogadro’s constant, no portion of active principle can still be present within said substance. Thus, no possible portion, not even a molecule, of substance other than water can be in a homeopathic dilution of the generally “approved” level of 30c. Now, given that there can never be a negative amount of substance, it can be fairly demonstrated that homeopathic remedies are nothing but water, or sugar pills. No doubt you will fall back on your ever-favorite claim that I simply do not understand homeopathy — but any such claim would be plainly false.
And in any case, even if I knew nothing of Homeopathy, you sir are the one making the claim, and it is you who must substantiate the claim. So, provide us with some evidence. Go on, we’ll wait. Credible double-blind, peer reviewed studies only, please.

[email protected]

You asked:

When is the Ho-Po going to show some integrity and stop giving these snake oil salesman a forum and a marketplace to sell their books and their magic potions, lotions, pills and treatments to gullible people?

I expect that’s a rhetorical question; the real answer is probably “Whenever it stops generating enough clicks to be worthwhile”, or, in other words, “probably never”.

HP’s regular science articles, which I follow closely when they touch on my own field, are generally pretty clueless also. There’s usually a commenter who asks “When is HP going to get a science section?”, to which I usually reply something like “Be careful what you wish for.”

If homeopathic theory were true, wouldn’t it be possible to dilute a solution to the point of toxicity? Does a homeopath ever say, don’t dilute past a certain point, it’s bad?

If I recall correctly, Samuel Hahnemann thought that remedies could be successed (shaken) to the point where they’d be too powerful. I think his concern was that taking a vial of liquid remedy miles on horseback would shake it up too much and make it too strong.

Thanks for this, Orac. I can never be bothered to read Dullman’s articles on Huffpo and it’s much funnier reading your responses anyway. His reasoning that ‘Tracey is a commie pinko Big Pharma shill therefore whatever she says against homeopathy is disinformation’ is on a par with his argument that homeopathy must work because Her Majesty the Queen and a bunch celebrities use it.

The man’s a buffoon.

Question for Ullman: Since you actually sell homeopathic remedies, doesn’t that make your own statements about them suspect, at least according to your standards?

Just use what Jenny McCarthy has told you to use… Google “How Does Homeopathy Work?” and click on the top response. Let hilarity ensue.

After all, if homeopathic remedies have any action whatsoever, then it should be possible to increase the dose to the point of causing toxicity.

I believe this is exactly backward, and that Dana has a good point in that skeptics don’t understand how homeopathy works. So instead of skeptics taking a whole bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills, they should take one sleeping pill, dissolve it in water, dilute it a large number of times (don’t forget to tap/bump it each dilution), and then ingest a single drop. Then we’ll see skeptics keeling over into comas and death. πŸ˜‰

@ Matthew Cline

So just like if someone giving directions to you by shouting at the top of their lungs isn’t going to result in you getting lost,

Err, actually…
I have a strong desire to run away whenever someone is yelling in my general direction. That may not help me getting the right directions (assuming they are yelling the right directions).
I believe a proper term for this would be sensory overload.

“@Dana Ullman

I doubt you’ll actually post again”

The pattern so far has been for him to scoot in, drop a turd pearl of stereotypical woo silliness, and then duck out as fast as possible to avoid any evidence-based contamination of his thought processes.

@Daniel J. Andrews

I believe this is exactly backward, and that Dana has a good point in that skeptics don’t understand how homeopathy works. So instead of skeptics taking a whole bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills, they should take one sleeping pill, dissolve it in water, dilute it a large number of times (don’t forget to tap/bump it each dilution), and then ingest a single drop. Then we’ll see skeptics keeling over into comas and death. πŸ˜‰

No, no, you got it backwards. It’s not allopathy! They should start not with sleeping pill, but with coffee. Dilute it to C100 and then Bamf! One drop and you keel over snoring. Two drops, and you never wake up… :3

@ Daniel J. Andrews:

I believe this is exactly backward, and that Dana has a good point in that skeptics don’t understand how homeopathy works. So instead of skeptics taking a whole bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills, they should take one sleeping pill, dissolve it in water, dilute it a large number of times (don’t forget to tap/bump it each dilution), and then ingest a single drop. Then we’ll see skeptics keeling over into comas and death. πŸ˜‰

That’s still not correct. The idea in homeopathy is that like cures like; if a substance would cause an ailment at a high dose, then the same substance (or a different substance with the same effect) at homeopathic doses will cure the ailment. The lower the dose, the more powerful the cure.

Using your example, taking a homeopathic dose of a sleeping pill will cause you to wake up. If you wanted to cause a drowsy effect, you would need homeopathic doses of caffeine. It’s impossible to create a coma with homeopathic doses of caffeine, or to create convulsions with homeopathic doses of a sleeping pill, because homeopathy always cures, and a cure can never be bad. And remember, we’re talking cures here, not poisons like the medical establishment and big pharma dish out. Or something.

And remember: allopathic medicine is bad, because it only treats the symptoms and never deals with the real issues that are causing the symptoms. Exactly like homeopathy. So if anyone is against allopathic medicine for that reason, they should also be against homeopathic medicine.

@3. That’s not what it means to respect a belief.

When Catholics gather in a church and say they’re consuming the body and blood of Christ, that’s a respectable, private, symbolic ritual. They don’t think it’s real; they’re just putting on a show for their deity. (I don’t like the idea of a deity that expects a lie as worship, but someone who argues the same way as I do from another point of view could just as well say that my form of worship is a lie. Since reality isn’t involved, there’s no point in arguing. That’s what respect is about.)

Homeopaths are not being symbolic. They’re claiming their ritual makes something real, selling it as real medicine, and running brainwashing campaigns to silence everyone who points out how Orwellian they are. That’s not respectable.

He attacks Evan Harris, the MP who was a driving force behind the report and points out that he was defeated in his next election “by a 20-something-year-old candidate who had no previous political experience,” implying that it was the report on homeopathy that led to his defeat, a highly unlikely proposition. If anything, the report on homeopathy didn’t have as much of an effect on government policy as it deserved to.

Dr Harris lost his seat partly as a result of gerrymandering, but also partly as a result of a vigorous (not to mention vicious) hate campaign waged against him by religious organisations, pseudo-scientists, and the usual anti-science crowds. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that homeopaths and other woo-meisters in the constituency were handing out the leaflets (although I’m not aware of them producing any themselves), and/or telling their clients that they should vote against him. So sadly it might have had some effect. Not as much as the anti-abortionists, tabloid readers and others, but still some.

(Links are to people commenting on the hate campaign, as the campaign itself had no website that I know of.)

When Catholics gather in a church and say they’re consuming the body and blood of Christ, that’s a respectable, private, symbolic ritual. They don’t think it’s real; they’re just putting on a show for their deity.

I could understand why someone might believe that’s what Catholics believe, and some Catholics may privately believe that, but it’s not an accurate representation of actual Catholic belief. Catholics believe that consecration transmutes the substance of Communion wafers and wine into the body and blood of Christ, while the “accidentals” (basically, all the physical aspects of the wafers and wine) are unchanged.

Some may point out that this is a completely unfalsifiable assertion, and it is, but as Collin points out, it’s really between Catholics and their God. It’s quite different from homeopathy, whose proponents keep claiming that it should be awarded all the status of a science despite it never being able to meet the tests of a science.

@chris (#33?) — Hell if I know. I hope it’s a joke, but let’s face it — Poe’s Law. As absurd as that petition is, I guarantee there is at least one crackpot out there who believes the claims.

As it stands, it’s… mind-numbingly stupid.

I read through this commentary and then Ullman’s original article, and the two are little related: even is one correctly faults Ullman for ad hominems, Orac fails to address specific points that Ullman brings up. It appears that the bulk of this commentary is itself an ad hominem (prior disrespect of the writer leading to evasion of his most salient arguments and references to specific studies) and scientific uncharitability (regarding the arguments of the other side in the worst light rather than the best).

More specifically:
“[Ullman:] In fact, it was clearly a study that was a set-up to disprove homeopathy.
[Orac:] Well, not exactly. Science and scientific experiments are designed primarily to falsify, not to prove, hypotheses.”

Ullman is probably not referring to the philosophy-of-science issue of whether experiments are meant to prove or falsify the subject matter (and the Popperian theory of falsification is regardless not the final word on science: for instance, there is not simple experiment that could be set up to falsify conventional medicine — it would require a massive array of different experiments backed by theoretical arguments — yet this doesn’t make conventional medicine unscientific). Rather, from the context Ullman is clearly referring to the study’s being set up intentionally to disprove homeopathy by altering or eliminating aspects of the experiment that were originally introduced to maximize the likelihood of a positive result (reading him thus doesn’t even require charitability, just honesty).

I believe that skeptics have got themselves so convinced that homeopathy cannot be real due to the simplistic argument that the dilutions contain no original substance (surely there are better arguments against homeopathy! — ones that do not rest on ignoring novel, accumulating experimental and theoretical research published in high-level conventional science journals about clathrates, stable water clusters, etc. (this material is easy to source by searching for original research articles using these keywords), that suggests that it is not absurd that — though not-at-all yet clear whether — there might just be a reasonable physical basis for homeopathy) that interlocutors sympathetic to homeopathy, and even conventional researchers who perform experiments that may be interpreted as having anything to do with homeopathy, are rejected a priori (what may be termed the “meta-ad-hominem argument against homeopathy”). As neither Orac or Randi manage an article without ad hominems (and I personally read them charitably by ignoring those in favour of assessing the meat of their arguments), I would suggest that cherry picking an opponent’s article for ad hominems, then uncharitably misinterpreting other points, while finally ignoring the strong ones that cannot so easily be rebutted, doesn’t advance the dialogue — in the unlikely case they are genuinely interested in one (voila: a double ad hominem to seal it off!!).

@David – your understanding of falsification is flawed, ‘conventional medicine’ is not an applicable subject for falsification, but individual treatments and elements within it are falsifiable and have been tested against that standard.

You are right about what Ulmann was referring to, however he was wrong, the experiment was not altered and no aspects of it was eliminated, it was merely a scientific attempt at falsification of the hypothesis that was successful. The hypothesis was falsified.

“I believe that skeptics…”

This is also an incorrect statement. There is no unified group called “skeptics” who all have the same reasons for their beliefs. Some skeptics do not believe homeopathy works because they are up to date on the evidence that shows it doesn’t work. Others because they understand the science of why it shouldn’t work, and know that there is not enough convincing evidence that it does work to overthrow our understanding of science. Others simply take the word of scientists who should know what they are talking about. Still others don’t believe because they believe in some other treatment, say Reiki or others, and there is no room for both treatments in their worldview. And as you say, some of them are caught up in their understanding of dilution and have not looked into it further.

Thing is, this isn’t relevant. It’s like when people say “Religious people only believe because they’re weak minded” or “Atheists only don’t believe because they want to do selfish things forbidden by religion/they are moral perverts” – Yes, these things are true for some subsection of the population named, you’re already failing by failing to indicated which subsection and just generalising but most of all the motivations of those who accept the truth is irrelevant to whether it’s true or not

It’s just a way of poisoning the well, or sociologically engaging someone’s arguments by showing that “they” are have the wrong reasons or the wrong motivations for their beliefs and therefore are wrong, as if this had any logical validity at all.

I believe that skeptics have got themselves so convinced that homeopathy cannot be real due to the simplistic argument that the dilutions contain no original substance (surely there are better arguments against homeopathy!

Actually, the fact that homeopathic dilutions don’t contain any remaining remedy is a pretty damned strong argument against homeopathy.

Actually, the fact that homeopathic dilutions don’t contain any remaining remedy is a pretty damned strong argument against homeopathy.

Next thing these skeptics tell me is that this cup full of water I’m drinking doesn’t contain any apple joice in it. Such negativity, if Jesus could turn it into wine then homeopaths can ensure its apple juice.

Incidentally, how long does one keep their mind open waiting for the implausible to become definitve proof (or at least something resembling reality)? Because if david is willing to demonstrate such openness then perhaps I can sell him my paper explaining how the superstring theory explains the vibration coefficient of the Dihydrogen Monoxide molecules in vitro? I have no use for the nobel Prise, so I’ll let him have it for 50 bucks and a coffee enema.

The reason that I consider you and your ilk to be “medical fundamentalists” and “deniers” is that you take out the electron microscope to any minor problem in a study’s design or implementation when the study has a positive result, but then, you go deaf-dumb-blind to “junk science” studies that show a negative result.

@Dana Ullman – My my, that’s a whole shovel full of emotion-fueled drivel. There was definitely a shaky finger being pointed at the screen after the post button was clicked.

I wonder if he even realizes that an EM and the supporting computer equipment is not something one can easily “take out to any minor problem.” Perhaps he is thinking of a homeoelectronic microscope, which gets smaller and more effecient to transport every time one uses it.

Usual argument:

But but but… the water has *memory*: it remembers the vibration of the diluted substance and re-resonates at that exact frequency transforming the water into a healing vibration that will fix the out-of-tune symptomatology.

People have memory. Computers have memory. Even some high quality synthetic materials used in sporting clothes have memory. Water does not have memory. Argument over.

@Collin – your understanding of Catholics is flawed.

“When Catholics gather in a church and say they’re consuming the body and blood of Christ, that’s a respectable, private, symbolic ritual. They don’t think it’s real; they’re just putting on a show for their deity.

That’s not true. It’s a respectable, private, non-symbolic ritual. They do think it’s real, but not a physical or detectable change, instead a spiritual one (‘substance’ actually in the Platonic manner, but spiritual is a close enough analogy)

(I don’t like the idea of a deity that expects a lie as worship

Neither do Catholics. Your ignorance of their beliefs has lead you into disliking “a fact” about their beliefs that is not true.

@Jarred C:

That’s still not correct. The idea in homeopathy is that like cures like; if a substance would cause an ailment at a high dose, then the same substance (or a different substance with the same effect) at homeopathic doses will cure the ailment.

Not quite: the basic “like cures like” principle of homoeopathy is that a patient exhibiting particular symptoms can be cured by a remedy that causes similar symptoms in a healthy person. Look at some reports of “provings” on the internet – you’ll find that they are carried out using the diluted remedies (as recommended by the prophet Hahnemann in the Organon). The diluted remedy itself is what is supposed to cause the symptoms.

@Orac:

Actually, the fact that homeopathic dilutions don’t contain any remaining remedy is a pretty damned strong argument against homeopathy.

But not as strong an argument as the fact that the effects vanish in the best quality trials. See, for example, Linde K, Melchart D. Randomized controlled trials of individualized homeopathy: a state-of-the-art review. J Altern Complement Med. 1998 Winter;4(4):371-88:

“In the 19 placebo-controlled trials providing sufficient data for meta-analysis, individualized homeopathy was significantly more effective than placebo (pooled rate ratio 1.62, 95% confidence interval 1.17 to 2.23), but when the analysis was restricted to the methodologically best trials no significant effect was seen.”

@Ender: (1) I actually happen to agree with you, that’s why I specifically said that to falsify conventional medicine as a whole would require a huge array of trials (and if that were done then in principle it can certainly be subject to falsification, at least in the sense that if, say, all individual medical treatments were falsified then the whole of medicine at its state at that time would de facto have been falsified): the same then applies to homeopathy! In other words: If conventional medicine (as opposed to individual treatments therein) is not applicable for falsification, then why is homeopathy treated to “definitive” televised investigations or trials?
(2) When I said “skeptics” I was referring to the likes of Orac and Randi, not generalizing at large. Please read my commentary charitably as I do others’, otherwise you risk producing such effete retorts also in future.

@Orac: My point is that the argument that there is no substance in homeopathic remedies is good but not decisive as you frequently present it to be (rhetorically, I understand, but you do not allow Ullman the right of rhetoric!), given contrary evidence even from research outside of the field of homeopathy.

@Mojo: Classic cherry picking, and of an older and smaller meta-analysis at that. I won’t indulge you with quotes from other meta-analyses that tried but failed to eliminate significance even under worst-case scenario subgroup analyses, as those surely must be false.

“… but the greatest of these is charity.”

I think it’s also an important point that the claims of homeopathy, like a lot of pseudosciences, seemingly work best where the symptons are most subjective (both on the part of the patient and the prescriber)) and where the placebo effect is strongest. Rabies is a pretty objective condition, and you either get the treatment or you die (with I believe two exceptions in medical history). Of course, thousands of treatments must have been tried over the centuries, but apparently with no placebo effect. This is one reason why I think you don’t hear as much much about homeopathic or acupuncture treatment for that sort of disease.

The tragic part arises where pseudoscience is applied in cases where non-subjective illnesses occur, especially when the pseudoscience is used instead of, rather than in addition to, evidenced-based medicine.

to falsify conventional medicine as a whole would require a huge array of trials (and if that were done then in principle it can certainly be subject to falsification

I think you once again misunderstood what it means to be falsifiable. A field in and of itself, save for extreme and unlikely discoveries, is not falsifiable. Medicine is a collection of individual theories which are falsifiable in the event an observation makes such theories untenable. Moreover, medical theories often rely on theories in other fields such as biology, physics, chemistry, etc. Falsifying a theory about the basic principles of chemistry, however improbable, would have devastating effect on a wide range of medical theories (i.e. we are not carbon based life forms. You appear to be attributing some sort of unifying theory to the field of medicine when it is simply not so.

Homeopathy, on the other hand, presents us with several basic hypothesis (I’m being generous here) and can be easily falsified since it promotes a universal way to cure any malady, real or imagined. Except many previous controlled studies have been discredited by its proponents by modifying their claims as to how it works rendering it unfalsifiable and non-scientific. To the extent Homeopathy was presented as a testable hypothesis, it has been tried many times and found wanting, despite its proposed mechanism’s implausibility in contravening fundamental principles of chemistry, biology and physics.

Why else has the medical field made such drastic improvements in slightly over a century, while homeopathy’s basic principle remained virtually unchanged in 150 years?

My point is that the argument that there is no substance in homeopathic remedies is good but not decisive as you frequently present it to be

Orac went to great length many times in describing the problems associated with homeopathy as anything other than a discredited and implausible hypothesis. A careful reading of his posts indicates that Avogadro’s number is only one of homeopathy’s many failings. It has no explanatory power as to why like substances should cure like, why hitting something against a surface alters the remedy in some drastic manner, how it accounts for the perceived ability of water to remember a particular substance, but forget millions of other substances it came into contact with during its earthly existence, etc. In addition, the evidence is simply not there, and to the extent proponents of homeopathy rely on anecdotal evidence, it rarely extends past curing self limiting conditions. In fact, there are no verifiable instances of it ever curing anything severe, despite claims that it can cure anything.

(rhetorically, I understand, but you do not allow Ullman the right of rhetoric!), given contrary evidence even from research outside of the field of homeopathy.

Ullman only has rhetoric. He ignores direct questions, cites studies which say something completely different than what he claims (I’m not even talking about finer points, explicit language) and when called out upon these major flaws accuses the other side of conspiring against him with corporate interests (while conveniently ignoring that homeopathy has become big business). While this does not in itself discredit homeopathy, it does discredit Ullman. Incidentally, care to cite the research outside the field of homeopathy supporting it? You can’t use anything that starts with “Q”.

Mojo,

Not quite: the basic “like cures like” principle of homoeopathy is that a patient exhibiting particular symptoms can be cured by a remedy that causes similar symptoms in a healthy person. Look at some reports of “provings” on the internet – you’ll find that they are carried out using the diluted remedies (as recommended by the prophet Hahnemann in the Organon). The diluted remedy itself is what is supposed to cause the symptoms.

Ahh.. ok, so the homeopathic dose is supposed to cause the symptom. Reading on the ‘net reveals this (paraphrased):
In a healthy person, the substance used in the remedy will cause the symptoms we’re looking to cure. In an unhealthy person, these symptoms will instead energize the vital force of the body. In doing so, the vital force is able to expel the natural disease (or dis-ease?). When the dosing stops, the vital force returns to it’s normal state.

It’s much more difficult to wrap my brain around this, compared to how I originally thought it worked.

The reason that I consider you and your ilk to be “medical fundamentalists” and “deniers” is that you take out the electron microscope to any minor problem in a study’s design or implementation when the study has a positive result, but then, you go deaf-dumb-blind to “junk science” studies that show a negative result.

Subtracting the emotive language, what Dana Ullman is actually complaining about is that the burden of proof is being placed on the side making the extraordinary claim, and extraordinary proof is being required. Does he really not realize that that is the way it works??

Look at that CERN experiment where the results seem to indicate they have particles travelling faster than the speed of light. Are the scientists saying, “hey, we got this result that totally overturns physics as we know it, so you just better accept with no hesitation that we have overturned physics”? No, they’re saying “Hey, everybody out there – please double-check our work, figure out if this is some sort of experimental error, because we’ve got to be absolutely sure there’s no easy explanation before we draw this amazing game-changing conclusion from it!”

Why else has the medical field made such drastic improvements in slightly over a century, while homeopathy’s basic principle remained virtually unchanged in 150 years?

I’ve seen similar questions before. I’ve seen answers to such a question; answer which have been said genuinely and as a troll. The answers are something similar to this: “Because the medical field is wrong, and constantly has to fix it’s ‘wrongness.’ It’s always wrong, which is why it’s always fixing things. It will continue to be wrong, and it will continue to have to “fix” things, only to be wrong about that, and fox those. While _____ (fill in the blank) has never changed because it’s been correct since the beginning.

There’s a really good post on this exact line of thinking on the fark forums (not mine).

http://www.fark.com/comments/6555276/71673482#c71673482

Link goes directly to the comment in the thread. Link is Safe For Work (SFW).

@Jared: I meant it as a rhetorical question. Years of lurking around scienceblogs and holocaust denier blogs have taught me that adherents of a faith-like conviction will often simply explain the reality in a way that conforms with their position. I can jokingly come up with a crazy explanation for almost anything, imagine if one is truly dedicated to the cause and armed with a handy post hoc rationalization?

But don’t say universe doesn’t have a sense of humor. My Wife’s mother and sister are crazy homeopaths. Do you know how long it takes to throw out all those sugar pills they hid around our apartment in case the cat gets sick? Fortunately they know better by now then peddle this stuff to me.

This is one reason why I think you don’t hear as much much about homeopathic or acupuncture treatment for [rabies].

A similar question sometimes occurs to me.

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