Homeopathy was quackery in 1796, it was quackery in 1988, and it will still be quackery in 2096

This is a post about homeopathic quackery. But I repeat myself.

Those of you who’ve been readers here for a while have no doubt encountered Dana Ullman. He’s been popping up from time to time as a topic of this blog for many years now, almost to the very beginning, when he began spewing the most unbelievably silly and pseudoscientific defenses of homeopathy. Darwin had his bulldog in the form of a man named Thomas Huxley. Unfortunately, Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, has his very own pit bull 200 years later in the form of Dana Ullman. That is not a compliment, nor is it meant to imply that there’s any equivalence whatsoever between Thomas Huxley and Dana Ullman other than that Ullman is quite the tenacious defender of someone else’s work. Of course, he’s devoted his life to defending quackery, where Huxley defended science.

When last we left Mr. Ullman, he was defending yet another attempt to make homeopathy sound scientific by adding the word “DNA” to it and calling it “homeovitality.” Previous to that, we’ve seen Ullman make a fool of himself advocating “respecting the body’s intelligence,” homeopathy to treat radiation poisoning (in the wake of Fukushima, naturally), not to mention for the idea that homeopathy is actually real medicine. Meanwhile, he claims there is a “disinformation campaign” against homeopathy run by skeptics, particularly James Randi, who, I’m sure, would be flattered that homeopaths view him as such a force against them. Personally, I like to think of it as an “information campaign,” because that’s what it is.

Homeopathy, of course, rests on two principles. First, there is the idea that “like cures like,” which states that to relieve a symptom you should use a substance that causes the symptom in healthy people. The second idea behind homeopathy is that dilution makes the remedy stronger. Well, actually, serial dilution—but only with vigorous shaking between each dilution step, referred to as “succussion.” Absent succussion between each dilution step, the homeopathic remedy will never be “potentized.” In any case, a typical dilution is 30C, which means 30 serial 100-fold dilutions, which, when you figure it out, comes to a final dilution of 1 in 1060. Avogadro’s number, of course, is on the order of 1023, meaning that it’s incredibly unlikely that even a single molecule of the original remedy is left behind, absent, of course, carryover contamination from the serial dilutions. Homeopathy, by many well-established laws of physics and chemistry, is impossible, and there is no convincing evidence, when viewed critically, that homeopathy produces effects greater than placebo.

Of course, if there’s one characteristic of the crank, it’s what I like to call the “I’ll show you!” phenomenon, or, as I’ve sometimes called it, the “vindication of all kooks” principle. Basically, it’s the delusion from which nearly all cranks suffer besides their other delusions, that one day their quackery or pseudoscience will be vindicated. On that day, their enemies will be forced to admit that they were right all along and abase themselves in embarrassment and atonement. On that day, the crankery, whatever it is, becomes mainstream science that everyone appreciates. We see this delusion in antivaccinationists. We see it in Burzynski supporters.

And we see it in homeopathy apologists like Dana Ullman, who has penned what is undoubtedly one of the most epic fantasies of quack vindication I’ve ever seen. I’ll give Dana credit for an imaginative fantasy—or his hubris, not so much. Basically, this is apparently a speech he gave in 1988 at the National Center for Homeopathy’s Annual Conference. It was published—of course!—in that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post, a.k.a. HuffPo in a post entitled, Homeopathy and the Future of Medicine: A Report from the Future. In it, Ullman imagines himself as Captain Dana T. Kirk (I kid you not—OK, there goes any credit for imagination) reporting on the date of the 300th anniversary of Samuel Hahnemann’s discovery of homeopathy and the 200th anniversary of the reestablishment of Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital in San Francisco. In other words, the “future” to which Ullman refers is the year 2096.

Basically, it’s an orgy of self-congratulation for homeopaths.

Ullman begins by lamenting the renaming of the hospital and the removal of homeopathy in the 1970s. Normally, this would be a good thing, at least to reason- and science-based people. Not to Ullman, who clearly views it as a horrible thing that he thought would be redressed eight years after he gave the speech. Sadly (for Ullman), contrary to his fantasy, this never happened. The Marshall Hale Hospital (which is what the Hahnemann Hospital was renamed to) is now part of the California Pacific Medical Center. No homeopathy there. Apparently sometime after 1988…well, I’ll let Dana tell it:

The power of the mind to heal…and to cause illness too…was finally recognized. And from the integration of what was then segmented medical fields of neurology, psychiatry, and internal medicine grew the beginnings of “psychoneuroimmunology.”

You might be wondering: How does this lead to a resurgence of homeopathy, even if it were to happen sometime in the next 82 years? Hang on. It’s coming:

This research area and therapeutic approach recognized the inherent connection between psyche and soma. What is so obvious to us now in 2096 was obfuscated in much of the 20th century due to the then popular Newtonian mechanistic, reductionist thinking. Though this approach to science certainly has its place by helping us to understand how the parts of the whole work, it too often ignored the integrity of the whole, thereby decreasing the precision that the scientific method deserves.

That’s right! Damn that Newtonian, reductionistic thinking that keeps medicine from embracing the woo that Ullman “knows” to be the One True Medicine. Obviously, one must embrace the quantum. Or something. Ullman doesn’t really explain. He rarely does. On the other hand, he can’t help but spin a yarn of homeopathic redemption. Never mind what that means. I’m not even sure myself. Probably something about how persecution makes homeopathy stronger. Actually, that’s exactly it, because, you see, those horrible, nasty skeptics and practitioners of science-based medicine did their damnedest to crush homeopathy, but in Ullman’s homeopathic fantasy world they couldn’t. Ullman prefaces the “redemption phase” of his story with—of course!—a rant against conventional science-based medicine, under the subtitle of “The Age of Iatrogenic Medicine,” as opposed, I suppose, to the age of magic.

Apparently AIDS had an effect, too, leading people to question conventional medicine. If Ullman had the slightest lick of sense about him, he would have deleted this part of his post. Back in 1988, AIDS was still a scourge, although medications were becoming available that could actually arrest the progression of HIV to AIDS. Of course, if there’s any example of a disease that truly demonstrates the power of science-based medicine, it’s AIDS. It went from a mystery immunodeficiency that was killing gay men in San Francisco and New York (primarily) in the early 1980s to having its causative retrovirus identified in 1984. A mere 10 years later, effective antiretroviral cocktails had been validated, and from that point on, HIV infection was no longer a death sentence. That’s record time. Now, three decades after the discovery of HIV, AIDS can be effectively treated. Now, no one’s denying that the antiretroviral cocktails that keep the virus in check in HIV(+) patients in industrialized countries don’t have significant side effects. Worse, they have to be taken for the rest of the patient’s life. On the other hand, that’s better than death, and certainly Ullman’s magic water can’t do diddly against HIV.

Of course, what “saved” homeopathy from those evil reductionist skeptics in Ullman’s fantasy was this:

To the rescue came the Homeopathic Anti-Defamation League. This organization played an instrumental role in correcting individual’s and the media’s misconceptions of homeopathy. This organization also served as the primary defender in legal actions against homeopathic practice.

Because criticizing pseudoscience is exactly like anti-Semitism.

And, of course, the problems with homeopathy (namely that it doesn’t work and is a pseudoscientific medical system rooted in prescientific vitalism) are due to incompetent physicians glomming onto the wonder that is homeopathy and Doing It Wrong:

The rapidly acquired recognition of homeopathy created serious problems. Even before all the publicity, many good homeopaths were popular enough that they either had a long waiting list or simply were not accepting new patients. After the publicity, virtually every homeopath had to stop accepting new patients, due to the demand for homeopathic care. Here is where the major problem began. Many physicians and other health professionals who knew little or nothing about homeopathy began calling themselves homeopaths and started practicing it. Needless to say, the results that their patients experienced were not up to the standards that homeopathic care normally obtains. Some patients were turned off to homeopathic care, thinking that it didn’t work and that the whole movement was overrated. The lack of a nationally recognized certification of properly educated homeopaths exacerbated the problem. In time, however, the media exposed this problem, and with the aid of government agencies and public health officials, a national homeopathic certification procedure was established for all health professionals.

Yes, you read that right. A national homeopathic certification procedure saved the day! Never mind that medical certifications are not within the purview of the federal government. The licensing of medical specialties has always been a function of state governments, and there’s no reason to expect that it will be otherwise anytime between now and 2096.

So what’s supposedly ahead of us in the remainder of the 21st century? Whatever it is, I surely hope that it bears no resemblance to Ullman’s homeopathic fantasy. He envisons this:

A

s has been the tradition in homeopathy from its inception, there are a variety of ways to prescribe the medicines. The primary schools of homeopathic practice in the 21st century have been:

–the classical homeopaths who utilize the single medicine;

–the pluralists who utilize more than one medicine at a time;

–the techno-homeopaths who utilize electronic and energetic technologies to help find the correct medicine and potency;

–the intuitive or spiritual homeopaths who prescribe primarily from their own psychic abilities.

Naturally, Ullman still thinks classical homeopathy is da bomb, The One True Woo that will supplant science-based medicine, absorb all other woo, and Rule Over All Medicine, but he does concede:

The techno-homeopaths have developed numerous sensors over the decades that seek to find one or more homeopathic medicines for the sick person. The first such technology called the Voll machine, also called the Model V (named after the car) spawned various other electronic technologies similar to itself. The Model V placed an electrode on an acupuncture point and sought to evaluate how homeopathic medicines might balance that particular point. Over time, researchers learned that measuring an individual acupuncture point primarily measured the effect of a medicine on that specific meridian, not to the whole person. Other machines measured the energies coming from the hands, and likewise, these machines too primarily detected hand energy. Some machines measure the person’s blood, urine, semen, or other fluids, but it was discovered that each fluid primarily represented its own idiosyncratic aspect of the person. In 2070, however, new technologies were developed which evaluate the whole body field and how to individualize medicines and specific potencies.

Yes, you read that right. Ullman foresees a time when homeopathy will fuse with all manner of quackery, including acupuncture.

Of course, if you want to see just how delusional Ullman is, just check out this paragraph:

The future is always full of more changes than one can ever imagine. Over a century ago, some people thought that homeopathy was dead. At one conference in 1988, it was formally announced that reports on the death of homeopathy had been greatly exaggerated. 

And today, as we look throughout this auditorium at our fellow colleagues from the Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades, we can feel a sense of real accomplishment that we Earthlings have made some contributions to homeopathy, even though they have utilized the homeopathic principle for centuries longer than we have. 

Seriously? Ullman seriously believed that we would be traveling to other galaxies a mere 108 years after his talk? That could only be possible if everything we know about physics is wrong and not only is faster-than-light travel possible, but much faster-than-light travel will become routine. Now, I’m as optimistic as the next guy that someday human beings will travel to the planets and then to the stars, but I surely don’t expect us to be traveling to Andromeda and the Pleiades by 2096. Of course, I won’t be alive then, as much as I wish I might be. Being a middle aged male, I probably have, at best, 20-40 years left in me, depending upon luck, my body holding out, and my family tendency to cardiovascular disease not cutting that time short. Even so, it seems incredibly unlikely that science will find that the Theory of Relativity is so incredibly wrong and will be able to exploit that discovery to travel to other galaxies.

Of course, given that homeopathy is magic, it’s not surprising that Ullman would have imagined that to be possible 26 years ago. After all, fantasizing is what he does best. Sadly, for him at least, homeopathy was quackery in 1796. It was quackery in 1988. It is quackery today in 2014. It will still be quackery in 2096.