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Homeopathy
November 19, 2007 11:20 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian discusses homeopathy: Jeannette Winterson supports it, Ben Goldacre opposes it.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 (208 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
a fierce debate is raging between those, like me, who trust homeopathy because it works for them, and those who call it shamanistic claptrap, without clinical proof or any scientific base.

If you can't tell you're on the wrong side of that debate, just based on your own sentence about it, I just don't know what else to say to you.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:24 AM on November 19, 2007 [11 favorites]


Although I'm 100% with Goldacre on this one, Winterson's final paragraph makes a lot of sense:

I would like to see homeopathy better regulated. I would like to see the Society of Homeopaths engaging with its critics, as well as initiating more research. There will always be rogue homeopaths and bad homeopaths, but that is true of any profession. Above all we should be careful of dismissing the testimony of millions who say the remedies have worked for them.

Goldacre's approach on this issue has a touch of dawkinsian bombast that doesn't seem likely to result in greater engagement, no matter how right he is.
posted by roofus at 11:32 AM on November 19, 2007


I've gone to experimental transgressive novelists for all of my medical needs ever since Hubert Selby Jr. cured my eczema with a pound of unsalted butter and a Chinese throwing star.
posted by dyoneo at 11:33 AM on November 19, 2007 [16 favorites]


"support"? "oppose"?

These are belief words. WhoTF cares what they believe? The question is: Does it work? (In the case of homeopathy: No.)
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on November 19, 2007


Placebo effect, I'd like you to meet Ashenfelter's Dip.
posted by grobstein at 11:41 AM on November 19, 2007


Actually, as Ben Goldacre is at pains to point out, Homeopathy consistantly works as well as a placebo, which is actually a different and more interesting thing than it flat out not working.
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on November 19, 2007


Winterson simply does not understand science, and because of this I have a hard time taking her beliefs on science seriously. Nano-particles permeating a solution?

Phlogiston and aether.
posted by klangklangston at 11:44 AM on November 19, 2007


"support"? "oppose"?

These are belief words. WhoTF cares what they believe? The question is: Does it work? (In the case of homeopathy: No.)


Wow, you are so knowledgeable it's like you have a bachelor's degree in medicine. I appoint you "DU, MB".
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:44 AM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


I appoint you "DU, MB".

The nano-particles of funny permeating that comment cured me of my disbelief. ALL HAIL SHAMANISTIC CLAPTRAP!
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Goldacre's writing seems very plain and clear. I've got no idea why you think it's bombastic.
posted by bhnyc at 11:49 AM on November 19, 2007


Jeannette Winterson supports it, Ben Goldacre opposes it.

The entire field of scientific medicine also opposes it, of course.

Not that it matters.

From the first link: "This seems to be partly why tests used for conventional medicines fail when used to test homeopathy. Sceptics will say it is the medicines that fail, and not the trials, but if the medicines really are ineffective, why is it that so many people who have tried homeopathy have found that it makes a difference to their wellbeing?"

Um, because it's a placebo? Before this paragraph, she goes through about 500 words saying that people with AIDS shouldn't abandon their regular HAART regimen for homeopathic "medicine", saying that "There is no suggestion that homeopathy can replace ARVs."

Yet she goes on to suggest that even though all these scientific trials soundly disprove homeopathy, and that it is a placebo, people should still take it because "we don't know everything about the universe" or some such silliness. What rank intellectual dishonesty. She's smart enough to know that her diluted water solutions can't (and never will) cure AIDS or any other serious illness, so she takes the "well, it helps with my sore throat so obviously something must work!" angle. How odd that homeopathy can cure a symptom that goes away on its own yet be helpless to stop a documented (and quite deadly) illness!

Listen hun, if you want to waste good money buying a vial of tap water thats had some belladonna waved over it, be my guest. But if you keep going around extolling the benefits of your magic water, eventually sick people are going to start believing you, and they're going to start dying. If you're interested, I have a nightshade-diluted solution that can cure a troubled conscience.
posted by Avenger at 11:50 AM on November 19, 2007 [11 favorites]


Yean, TBH I've never seen any particular signs of Dawkinseque dickishness in Ben Goldacres writing.
posted by Artw at 11:50 AM on November 19, 2007


Less dismissively, Winterson makes her case about as well as it can be made, but I sort of suspect that her novelistic strengths - her unkempt imagination; her sympathy for the occluded; her desire to find new less-than-rational patterns in an overdetermined world - are here, perhaps, making her more prone to belief than she might otherwise tend to be.
posted by dyoneo at 11:56 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


As my family doctor once said:

"If you want rub bark and twigs and rocks on yourself instead of using penicillin, that's fine with me."
posted by KokuRyu at 11:57 AM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


Can anyone actually read the homeopathic concept of "water memory" and keep a straight face, much less believe in these so-called remedies?

A few years back, I had a co-worker who complained about a nagging pain in her shoulder; she would bring a heating pad with her to the office in an effort to try to get comfortable. Not long afterward, she developed a nagging cough which brought up something that looked like coffee grounds (she was, er, *kind* enough to show me once, asking my opinion. Blech.) Did she go to a doctor? No. She went to her chiropractor, who was also a rabid practitioner of homeopathic medicine. Without any chest X-rays or blood tests, he decided she had a staph infection, and gave her pills labeled "Spanish radish root." He also said she needed colloidal silver. As her condition deteriorated, he continued to prescribe "natural" medications and told her to get rid of her beloved lovebirds, as they were no doubt the source of her infection. (He apparently never took into consideration that she was a two pack a day smoker.)

This all started in March, and she was dead by October of what the autopsy revealed to be lung cancer.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:57 AM on November 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


Objections to homeopathy begin with what are viewed as the impossible dilutions of the remedies, so that only nano amounts of the original active substance remain, and in some cases are only an imprint, or memory. Yet our recent discoveries in the world of the very small point to a whole new set of rules for the behaviour of nano-quantities.

Don't you love how some people use logic up to the point where it confirms their belief, and then ignore the subsequent logic? The notion of water retaining the nano imprint of a substance in order to cure ailments ignores all the other substances this water and all the other water we consume every day has come in contact with throughout the past several billion years. Not only are you taking homeopathic medicine every day without knowing it, but a nano portion of the stuff the doc sells you has likely passed through Hitler's private parts.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:58 AM on November 19, 2007 [12 favorites]


KokoRyu, there may be some actual, clinically provable, beneficial effects of some bark and twigs and rocks, but homeopaths claim that the mere idea or impression of some bark and twigs will cure what ails you.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 12:00 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


OK. I'm sorry. Paris Hilton.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:00 PM on November 19, 2007


It's rather amusing to read Ms. Winterson's comments on "nano-particles" being understudied. This in the context of having just returned from a conference where the eco-toxicity of nanoparticles was a topic covered by a few hundered papers. The toxicities of very small particles aren't completely understood, to be sure, but to be saying that they aren't well studied, well....

Incidently, if "nano amounts" did remain in homeopathic solutions, they would be fairly easy to detect: analytical chemistry routinely does parts-per-trillion (10^9) these days, and parts-per-quadrillion (10^12) are almost routine now. Even smaller, femtogram per gram (10^-15) techniques are now being discussed, and I heard attogram quatities (10^-18) mentioned for the first time in an analytical context last week.
posted by bonehead at 12:02 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


KokoRyu, there may be some actual, clinically provable, beneficial effects of some bark and twigs and rocks, but homeopaths claim that the mere idea or impression of some bark and twigs will cure what ails you.

And while we're at it, what the fuck was with that entire "Angels" fad a few years ago. Or those goddamn crystals? Time was, if you wanted to bone a chick in the early nineties you had play a Michael Hedges CD, light some beeswax candles, and quote from some godawful Richard Bach book. Or maybe set the mood by talking about dolphin birthing. Thank god for the Internet and Suicide Girls.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


I like that there are 50 articles tagged "SCIENCE!"
posted by grouse at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2007


What is the correct usage of the SCIENCE! tag anyhow?
posted by Artw at 12:18 PM on November 19, 2007


What I find odd is that this "debate" is still ongoing so mnany years afer it was clear to science that there is no evidence that homeopathy works. Yes. Placebo, it may well be but that does not make it good medicine .
posted by Postroad at 12:19 PM on November 19, 2007


Jeanette you ignorant slut...
yeah, srsly, I don’t know about making a quantum level argument for chemical interactions. Consciousness might be that subtle, but there again you have the possibility for a placebo reaction - and my (limited) understanding is body chemistry while complex is also a gross sort of thing due to redundancies and such so you have to give it a real brute force push sometimes with the pharmaceuticals. And, really, good thing, we’re swimming in an atmosphere filled with fungi, pollutants and all sorts of other stuff I’d rather not have the water in my body ‘remember.’

But I do have to take a nanoexception with Goldacre’s article. You don’t sacrifice a goat after rolling a double six, that has to be determined by a 2d10 roll (for percentile) to determine if your deity responds (unless it’s HASTUR).
posted by Smedleyman at 12:20 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have a nano-opinion about this. It has at some point come into contact with a fact but has since been diluted one-million-fold.
posted by srboisvert at 12:22 PM on November 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


That just means it's that much stronger, according to the magical rules of homeopathy.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2007


Urine cures everything that ails me! But that's because I'm exclusively ailed by the need to urinate.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:33 PM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


We're not dismissive of homeopathy because we're OMG SKEPTICS WHO BELIEVE IN NOZZINK, LEBOWSKI, we're dismissive of homeopathy because it's based on ideas that contradict everything we know about science and medicine and because it doesn't fucking work.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:36 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is almost exactly like grumbling about priests and parishioners and the prayer system. In either case, no amount of reasoning and scientific studies will ever change their minds. Only negative personal experience ever does the trick. With religion, important prayers go unanswered and a few people (not many) start to ask why God lets bad things happen, or whether there's even a God at all. With homeopathy and other forms of alternative medicine, the method would have to fail when they counted on it very much. Unfortunately, there's always another alternative medicine to try -- there is a larger faith in the alternative medicines as a whole.
posted by pracowity at 12:37 PM on November 19, 2007


Jeanette you ignorant slut...

Now what is this comment about? Didn't we have a great discussion about just this sort of thing over the weekend?
I'm a man, and this "slut" shit just makes me shudder.
posted by Hobgoblin at 12:39 PM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Jeanette you ignorant slut...

Now what is this comment about? Didn't we have a great discussion about just this sort of thing over the weekend?
I'm a man, and this "slut" shit just makes me shudder.


Under ordinary circumstances, I'd be right behind you on this one, but in this case the commenter is referencing a recurring bit with Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curten on Saturday Night Live. Curten would come on and give a short little position statement on some topic of social import- very well-thought out and well-argued- and then Dan Ackroyd would come on and open with "Jane, you ignorant slut." He would then attack her, and not her argument, for the remainder of the sketch.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:42 PM on November 19, 2007


Oh yeah, I'd forgotten. I didn't really like hearing it even then, but I suppose that was the whole point. Perhaps I was too fast on draw, and if so, I apologize.
posted by Hobgoblin at 12:45 PM on November 19, 2007


A few years back, I had a co-worker who complained about a nagging pain in her shoulder; she would bring a heating pad with her to the office in an effort to try to get comfortable. Not long afterward, she developed a nagging cough which brought up something that looked like coffee grounds (she was, er, *kind* enough to show me once, asking my opinion. Blech.) Did she go to a doctor? No. She went to her chiropractor, who was also a rabid practitioner of homeopathic medicine. Without any chest X-rays or blood tests, he decided she had a staph infection, and gave her pills labeled "Spanish radish root." He also said she needed colloidal silver. As her condition deteriorated, he continued to prescribe "natural" medications and told her to get rid of her beloved lovebirds, as they were no doubt the source of her infection. (He apparently never took into consideration that she was a two pack a day smoker.)

This all started in March, and she was dead by October of what the autopsy revealed to be lung cancer.


PWNED
posted by Greg Nog at 12:46 PM on November 19, 2007


There was a fantastic bit a few years ago where SNL opened with Darrell Hammond doing his Bill Clinton impression. This was back during the Clinton-Dole debates on 60 Minutes (in the few short weeks before it became clear that nobody cared) and Hammond gave his Clinton argument before the shot cut to...

...Dan Ackroyd, as Bob Dole, who bellowed "Bill, you ignorant slut."

The crowd went wild.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:47 PM on November 19, 2007


Hobgoblin, only a reactionary ass such as yourself could oppose harmless namecalling like this. But, then again, I guess it's your habit to ignore reality. You're a paranoid schizophrenic, Hobgoblin, whose opinions are obviously born out of some buried infantile trauma. You hide from reality, constructing a hostile world to justify your own incapacity for love and compassion. Go ahead, Hobgoblin, live in your dark, lonely world. The rest of us will extend our hands in friendship to twenty thousand Metafilter users, saying, "Hi! You do exist. Let's be friends."
posted by designbot at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2007


a few people (not many) start to ask why God lets bad things happen

Srsly? You think only a few people ever ask that question? That everyone else just ignores the "bad things" that are the foundation of human living? And that once they start asking those questions everything falls apart? Job?
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:50 PM on November 19, 2007


designbot, I'm not sure what you're smoking, but I've got a glass of tapwater homeopathic remedy for it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:51 PM on November 19, 2007


All I know is that when I take this after I run it
eases the pain in my feet- especially where I broke my 5th metatarsal (hey- MetaTarsal) last year.

Is that a placebo effect? No- because the relief is not temporary.

Is it a cure? Of course not.

When you talk about this subject you have to be more specific than just: "it works"/"it doesn't work".
posted by wfc123 at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2007


Whenever Goldacre has touched on this subject in detail, he's always been clear to point out that the "placebo effect" itself is amazingly interesting as a scientific phenomenon. That is, something about it works, and there are different levels of effectiveness (apparently related to the patient's belief in the efficacy of the treatment - injections trump pills, for example).

Testing homeopathic treatments would actually destroy their value. Peeking behind the curtain would either reveal fraud, or reveal that the curtain is the treatment. Either way, they have nothing to gain by doing it. If homeopaths were required to be supplemental medicine only (and not permitted as the sole treatment), it seems likely that you'd get the best of both.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:54 PM on November 19, 2007


It's the appeals to (faulty) science that drive me mad. If you're going to lash on the anecdotes and "alternative" reasons why we should ignore the science, then by all means be my guest and join the religionists in the corner.

Just don't bring the science (nanoparticles) and then also complain when the self-same science points out that, yes, nanoparticles can have effects on a body -- but they do so in scientifically testable, reproducable ways. Unlike your bullshit.
posted by bonaldi at 12:56 PM on November 19, 2007


Is that a placebo effect? No- because the relief is not temporary.

I wish you knew more about placebos so you wouldn't say things like this.

Testing homeopathic treatments would actually destroy their value. Peeking behind the curtain would either reveal fraud, or reveal that the curtain is the treatment. Either way, they have nothing to gain by doing it.

What else should we keep people ignorant about in order to make them feel better?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:59 PM on November 19, 2007


What else should we keep people ignorant about in order to make them feel better?
Economics.
posted by bonaldi at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2007 [6 favorites]


Oh yeah, I'd forgotten. I didn't really like hearing it even then, but I suppose that was the whole point. Perhaps I was too fast on draw, and if so, I apologize.


Hobgoblin,
Thanks, though for being fast on the draw.
(and for Pope Guilty's defusing explanation).

Good on you both for showing "that weekend discussion" wasn't just a homeopathic parts-per-trillion dilution!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:01 PM on November 19, 2007


If we can't get past this controversy, is it any wonder a goodly chunk of the planet has trouble getting their heads around much more complex topics like climate change and evolution?

We need a new religion for these people, based on truths but sold as palatable lies. We can, by this indirect means, bring fools further from the brink, perhaps.

I vote we base it around The Force from STAR WARS, but without those homeopathic midichlorians.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2007


I would like to see homeopathy better regulated. Voodoo dolls should also, by law, be of non-flammable material, and rainmakers should file an environmental impact statement before beginning their ritual.
posted by QuietDesperation at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Do need to have my humor-meter tuned up? I've been sitting here in shock since reading designbot's comment. Someone tell me.
On topic, as said above, trying to talk sense to True Believers is probably a waste of time.
posted by Hobgoblin at 1:04 PM on November 19, 2007


All I know is that when I take this after I run

Have you ever noticed how often proponents of bogus remedies begin sentences with the phrase "All I know is"? It's the rhetorical equivalent of "La la la I can't hear you la la la".

Hobgoblin, I think designbot is teasing you in the vein of Ackroyd's over-the-top invective.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:06 PM on November 19, 2007


wfc123, we're not disputing the power of these magical energy tablets that you're fond of.

Actually we are, and since we're talking about a placebo, you should probably stop reading before you turn your critical thinking skills back on and start wondering how sugar pills with no molecules of active ingredient can heal you.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:07 PM on November 19, 2007


This all started in March, and she was dead by October of what the autopsy revealed to be lung cancer.

I'm 100% on board the "allopathy roolz, homeopathy droolz" team, which is why I feel compelled to point out that your anecdotal evidence is about as compelling as the anecdotal evidence supporting the efficacy of homeopathic medicine. Which is to say -- in the absence of a controlled experiment -- not very.

It's a tragic story nonetheless.

I suppose that people can (and do) argue about the effectiveness with which modern allopathic medicine treats certain disorders. But its diagnostic capabilities are unmatched.
posted by Slothrup at 1:11 PM on November 19, 2007


Actually we are, and since we're talking about a placebo, you should probably stop reading before you turn your critical thinking skills back on and start wondering how sugar pills with no molecules of active ingredient can heal you.

The fact that it lasts more than five seconds means that sugar pills are real medicine.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:12 PM on November 19, 2007


You're mistaken, Slothrup.

Anecdotal evidence is a more powerful rhetorical tool than quoting statistics when speaking to fuzzy thinkers. Never underestimate the power of a good story.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:13 PM on November 19, 2007


Once, when I had a terrible cold, I took regular OTC cold medicine, and it took the symptoms almost four days to dissipate. The next time I had a bad cold, I tried a homeopathic remedy, and I was better in about half a week! Hallelujah!
posted by rtha at 1:14 PM on November 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


Wow. The nanoparticle digression in Winterson's piece was truly embarrassing.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:21 PM on November 19, 2007


Sorry if my comments came off sounding like a defense of homeopathy. They weren't intended that way. It's all crap and nonsense.

But... hell. Belief in placebos work. That's why we have them. And some versions of placebos work better than others, based on our expectations of their value. So something is happening, and we don't understand it. That's not to suggest that some deity took pity on you and cast some healing spell, or that the nano-whatever quackery these homeopaths are peddling has any basis in reality. We don't understand it because it hasn't been studied enough, that's all.

A patient's belief in a placebo triggers something that improves health, and that's worthy of study.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:22 PM on November 19, 2007


It's bizarre to me that he dismisses homeopathic successes as owing to the placebo effect, but then goes on to say:

"The mysteries of the interaction between body and mind are far more complex than can ever be permitted in the crude, mechanistic and reductionist world of the alternative therapist, where pills do all the work.

You can't have it both ways. If life is so complex and mysterious that the placebo effect can be employed so effectively, then it is complex enough for certain remedies to affect certain people certain ways under certain circumstances.

I'm not into homeopathy, and have actually talked some friends out of certain folk remedies in favor of a doctor's attention. But it seems like most people who pounce on the issue seem to have a certain homeopathist or dumb-bunny patient in mind when they talk. This is incredibly lazy and makes even your smartest argument sound like it's coming from the brain of a bleeding halfwit.

Sort of like the thread about dumb aggressive snooty bicyclists who make the roads so dangerous. Those people are out there, but they are the exception, and it is your fault, not all the others who benefit from that pasttime, if you can't see past the obnoxious or dangerous few and into the real heart of the matter, that is real for so people.

If the placebo effect is as effective as it's proven to be in the most basic clinical trials, imagine how much more effective or nuanced it might be under psychologically more engaging circumstances? Just as this is a more complicated issue than many homeopaths would like to admit, it's a deeper and more personally challenging issue than most skeptics are able to take on.
posted by hermitosis at 1:25 PM on November 19, 2007


It's also an ethical minefield, since they don't work when people know they're placebos. So you're faced with lying to a patient, hoping they don't find out and ignoring all ideas of informed consent.

And if this became widespread, wouldn't most informed patients suspect anyway? Saying that homeopathy has a placebo effect is not dismissing it; it's putting in the category of virtually useless for Real Work.
posted by bonaldi at 1:30 PM on November 19, 2007


hermitosis, the problem is you can't have it both ways; if we as a culture keep homeopathic medicine around as an effective placebo, we're going to have people relying on it as treatment when they should visit a real doctor and have their lung cancer diagnosed.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:33 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is that a placebo effect? No- because the relief is not temporary.
Define "temporary". If it relieves the symptoms long enough for your body to rebound, it's still temporary.

Homeopathy == enhanced placebo effect.

As for the SNL-based "ignorant slut" comment, Smedleyman (and Pope Guilty), it was totally out of line and wrong, and let me explain to you why. It was a running joke in the context of a fictional and fully pre-scripted debate format between two fictional characters, and as such, was used for comedic shock value in the already comedic context and to define the character saying it as sexist and insensitive. (The Dole to Bill Clinton usage was an ingeniously designed reframing using Clinton's image as a 'womanizer'*) Failing to recognize that and using it "in jest" in a real, non-scripted discussion just reinforces your own sexism and lends credibility to your opponent. And in this case, your opponent was arguing the absurd case for homeopathy, less an 'ignorant' argument and more a dishonest one. If you insist in recycling Saturday Night Live jokes in your arguments, please keep your Cock in a Box™.

*In the unfair language of our times, "womanizer" is often considered the male equivalent of "slut".
posted by wendell at 1:34 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


“If life is so complex and mysterious that the placebo effect can be employed so effectively, then it is complex enough for certain remedies to affect certain people certain ways under certain circumstances”

Reading on past that bit, Goldacre writes about a double-blind clinical trial in which “the people getting the placebo sugar pills do just as well as those getting the real, posh, expensive, technical, magical homeopathy pills.” The point being that homeopathic remedies are not measurably better or worse than a placebo. It's a wash, in other words. The effect of homeopathy is the placebo effect.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2007


If the placebo effect is as effective as it's proven to be in the most basic clinical trials, imagine how much more effective or nuanced it might be under psychologically more engaging circumstances?

Because patients generally like to be told what's wrong with them and what the doctor is doing for treatment. Proper use of a placebo requires witholding information from the patient, in effect lying to them. Most patients prefer more discolsure and less paternalism. "Don't worry your sweet head dear, invert glucose is a proven treatment for chonic back pain."
posted by bonehead at 1:43 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Goldacre's approach on this issue has a touch of dawkinsian bombast"

What? Goldacre is as kind and gentle as it's possible to be while still clearly contradicting someone on principle. If you read the archives of his Bad Science blog you'll see that he bends over backwards to attribute good motives to people and avoid insulting them.

Mind you, it's very hard to write about people being ignorant and wrong without sounding a little patronising or condescending or arrogant or whatever, because we're brought up to believe that directly contradicting people is impolite. But I think Goldacre in particular tries hard on this front.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2007


But... hell. Belief in placebos work. Goldacre admits this. But I'm not ready to have my insurance premiums fund payouts to homeopaths so they can make a living dispensing them. Pharmacies could rather sell them for 10 cents-over-the counter (in fact, they do now - they're called Skittles).
posted by QuietDesperation at 1:55 PM on November 19, 2007


hermitosis: You can't have it both ways. If life is so complex and mysterious that the placebo effect can be employed so effectively, then it is complex enough for certain remedies to affect certain people certain ways under certain circumstances.

What? If somebody acknowledges that there are complex things in the world, they are then never allowed to deny that any other thing takes place, so long as it too is complex? What on earth are you babbling about?
posted by flashboy at 1:58 PM on November 19, 2007


Apparently, the antidote to misunderstood SNL references is not even-more obscure SNL references. Who knew?
posted by designbot at 2:07 PM on November 19, 2007


I was stuck in a train from Oxford to London on Friday (a fatality on the line near Slough, so everything slows to a crawl while they pick up the bits) and read this article then. This was I think the first time I've been able to get all the way through a Ben Goldacre column, because that for all he's an interesting thinker his writing is often just bad, and poorly or unedited, in a way that makes it a real effort to slog through, and more often than not I just give up. And just like here in Metafilter I overheard different parties in the carriage also reading and discussing it. It really is a very interesting, compelling piece of writing. Anyway, carry on.
posted by Flashman at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2007


You missed the third Guardian link.
posted by edd at 2:11 PM on November 19, 2007


I like Winterson's fiction. Except the bits about homeopathy working.
posted by everichon at 2:12 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


his writing is often just bad, and poorly or unedited

If you were reading it in the Guardian, it's often horribly over-edited - they regularly cut about half the text out. The full, original versions are usually posted on his badscience.net site.
posted by flashboy at 2:16 PM on November 19, 2007


I first encountered homeopathy when I started reading the Amazing Randi's weekly newsletters. You may expect I have a less than stellar opinion of it.

I one day found myself stuck in a conversation about homeopathy with a co-worker and his wife at a holiday party. I had heard they were somehow into homeopathy. It turns out his wife had written a well-known book on the topic. They had their autistic son treated with homeopathic medicine and claim he was miraculously cured. Ever since then, they have been believers. Thankfully I fought the urge to argue with them about the impossibility of such an event.

The odd thing is that my co-worker is very intelligent and accomplished; so too is his wife, I believe; they both have PhD's and years of experience in top-rank research labs. In other words, they are not strangers to rational thought. They both clearly believe their son was cured by homeopathy and that homeopathy is a viable treatment option for autism. I met the son; he acts just like an ordinary teenager, no signs of autism that I can see. I presume he really did have autism beforehand. Thus it was somehow cured. The cure coincided with homeopathic treatment. So I suppose I can't really fault them for their belief, as hard as it is to swallow.

(I am going to link to the book on the hopes that nobody here will bother the author. here)
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2007


Coincidence
posted by Wilder at 2:31 PM on November 19, 2007


Anecdote, the stuff homeopaths thrive on
posted by Wilder at 2:31 PM on November 19, 2007


PercussivePaul, I assume the irony of the book's title is not lost on you?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:40 PM on November 19, 2007


I'm sharing the story because it illustrates how people come to believe in homeopathy. While I do not share their conclusion I can understand how they came to it. If I were in their shoes I imagine it would be difficult for me to label it a coincidence.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:52 PM on November 19, 2007


All I know is that when I pack my homeopathic nanoparticles into buckyballs, and then place magnetic pyramids over them, it generates an already-comedic context.


I think it deserves more study.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:56 PM on November 19, 2007


Randi has made the point often that scientists are often even easier to fool than other people when presented with fake "research" outside their own specialties.

PercussivePaul's co-worker and his wife have PhDs in computer science and years of experience in top-rank artificial intelligence labs. That's no reason to expect them to be less gullible than any other desperate buyers of snake oil.
posted by nicwolff at 3:14 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm going to market a homeopathic treatment for Morgellon's.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:21 PM on November 19, 2007


HOMOEOPATHIST, n.
The humorist of the medical profession.
HOMOEOPATHY, n.
A school of medicine midway between Allopathy and Christian Science. To the last both the others are distinctly inferior, for Christian Science will cure imaginary diseases, and they can not. Ambrose Bierce
posted by hortense at 3:24 PM on November 19, 2007


And the occurance of truly "miraculous" cures during homeopathic treatment is statistically about as common as those corresponding to pyramid therapy, magic crystals, watching Marx Brothers movies and, yes, Prayer (although I hear that praying to the ancient Greek gods has had statistically worse results than other deities).*

And some Miracle Cures happen during the course of normal treatment (in which case some doctors give themselves too much credit) or no treatment at all, robbing the patient and their family of the opportunity to write a book about it. But entrepreneurial patients sometimes find supernatural explanations after the fact that make good reading too.

I compare the one-in-a-million cures to the fact that it has indeed occurred that a single exposure to 'second hand smoke' has caused lung cancer in a few people while others smoked two packs a day for eighty-plus years and died of something else with no sign of cancer. The odds of a single carcinogenic molecule causing a cancer is in the one-in-a-million-gazillion range but (and correct me if I'm wrong, I am extremely NOT a doctor) a million carcinogenic molecules attacking your body at once doesn't increase your odds much beyond a-million-in-a-gazillion (although they may be toxic in other ways that do depend on concentration). Some perfectly natural occurances are purely random chance.

*the Placebo Effect is often enhanced by treatments that alter the patient's state of mind, including Prayer and laughter, but in Miracle cases, not that much.
posted by wendell at 3:35 PM on November 19, 2007


“Perhaps I was too fast on draw, and if so, I apologize.” -
posted by Hobgoblin

No worries. Excellent explication by Pope Guilty. I did think the Winterson piece was well argued and cogent (unfortunately it’s also completely wrong), and, as has been pointed out, Goldacre’s piece was a bit acerbic. Hence the reference
All I know is, I can be a bit arch at times. Even when I’m going lowbrow. So I’ll just rub some some bark and twigs and rocks in my hair.

Wendell, it was totally correct, and let me explain to you why. I am a completely fictional character who Jeannette Winterson will never hear from. I was writing for a specifically intended audiance (on this community weblog) for comedic shock value in an obviously (to anyone who understands the reference) comedic context referencing (as stated above) the sentiment of some of the folks in the thread regarding Goldacre’s tone.
Whether it’s your inferior understanding of humor or limited insight into how the thread progressed is irrelevant to your misunderstanding of the depth involved. I can surmise from your implicit assertion of my mysogyny and fixation on trivial detail to misconstrue what was honestly and obviously intended as a joke that you have even less understanding on my position on feminism (clearly stated more than several times on mefi) than you do on jest. Is it at all relevant given the source - the by then stated source of the comment as a joke referencing a fairly well known SNL skit - that Winterson’s argument is ignorant or dishonest or whatever?
It was completely in jest. The word choice has little to do with literal assertion and everything to do with the tones of the respective peices and the comments in the thread.
Now, if you truly have a problem with what I said take it to meta and try get me banned for using the word “slut” in a way so far from earnest you couldn’t see it with the Hubble, you’ll probably get a good laugh all around. Not that you would understand the source of the derison, given your range is limited to fast food chain/genitalia puns, but you know, others might enjoy it. Although you don’t seem that concerned with that either in your rush to limit speech.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:01 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


breaks the guidelines? wrote:
It's a wash, in other words. The effect of homeopathy is the placebo effect.

How is can we draw this conclusion?
posted by kuatto at 4:36 PM on November 19, 2007


nano quantities of logic.
posted by bonaldi at 4:52 PM on November 19, 2007


Disregard my atrocious grammar for a moment.

Making an assertion about something that cannot be scientifically proven using science as your argument's basis is confused.

All you can say is that science says something or it says nothing.

So, science says:

"The effect of homeopathy is roughly proportional to that of the placebo". It is breakstheguidelines's assertion that they are equivalent. My point is that this is not clear. It's not clear at all!

First off then, let us start with a clear definition of placebo effect.....
posted by kuatto at 5:24 PM on November 19, 2007


Jeanette Winterson loves the nano. From her preface to Nightwood:

Certain texts work in homeopathic dilutions; that is, nano amounts effect significant change over long periods of time.

Nightwood is a nano-text.

Nightwood is itself. It is its own created world, exotic and strange, and reading it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined.


If you drink some jewels, they make literature happen inside you. If you drink some sweet futuristic mnemonic water, your cold will be cured. It all seems pretty self-evident to me.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 5:38 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


kuatto: science says:
"1. Hypothesis: there is absolutely no ingredient in homeopathy treatments that could cause any effects in a patient.
2. When we properly test the effects of using homeopathic treatments, we find that the results are the same as the effect we get when we test people with pills that we know to have no active ingredients.
3. There are no other unexplained results from our tests.
4. So ... We thought homeopathic treatments offered no value, in testing they had exactly the same effect as something we know has no value, ergo: they have no value.
5. Can we have some chips?"
posted by bonaldi at 5:48 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


How to be a homeopathic bioterrorist
posted by plant at 5:50 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


James Randi explains everything you need to know about homeopathy.
posted by McSly at 5:51 PM on November 19, 2007


Nightwood is a nano-text.

Nightwood is itself. It is its own created world, exotic and strange, and reading it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined.


Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
posted by Wolof at 5:54 PM on November 19, 2007


Best example of homeopathic medicine I’ve ever seen was when my dad was in the hospital and dying of cancer. We had one of those old parish priests (you know, the unbelievably smart, savvy guys who could have been ward boss, but they liked the booze) and he was giving my dad what was basically his last rites. And he said “Anything else I can do for you?” And my dad said “Yeah, I want a beef sandwich.” So, in the dead of winter, in a snowstorm late at night, he called in some favors from a good Catholic who opened his resturant and made my dad a beef with sweet peppers (if you’re not from Chicago, you don’t know). Drove back, got into a fight with the doctor who apparently thought my dad was going to live forever, albeit in a hospital bed as long as he didn’t eat any ‘bad’ food, cut the sandwich up and fed it to him by hand. Dad lived almost a week after that and was happy as a clam the next day.
No question that kind of thing has power. My problem is with people who sell it.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:00 PM on November 19, 2007 [7 favorites]


Did you hear the one about the homeopathic patient who forgot to take his meds and overdosed?
posted by ijoshua at 6:15 PM on November 19, 2007 [9 favorites]


I am a completely fictional character
Now THAT is funny, if only because you apparently have no idea what it is saying about you. You are no Stephen Colbert. (And neither am I)

to anyone who understands the reference
I know the reference very well, which is why I tried to explain my interpretation of it.

regarding Goldacre’s tone.
And that's where you blew it since it was more likely to be misinterpreted as YOUR tone. (I'm not the only idiot who did so.)

my position on feminism (clearly stated more than several times on mefi)
...but never as memorably as that one bad joke. You're not the first to have that happen lately. Ethereal Bligh's reputation as a male feminist was genuinely damaged by some crass and tacky comments he made about Ann Coulter.

if you truly have a problem with what I said take it to meta
I used up my one MeTa post for the week to recognize somebody who writes comedy real good, which was a much more worthy cause.

using the word “slut” in a way so far from earnest you couldn’t see it with the Hubble,
"Context is Everything?" Well, not quite, but unless you were blissfully unaware, the discussions around here of the last few days have shaped the context more than your own intent.

your range is limited to fast food chain/genitalia puns
My mistake, I should've written "Dick in a Box". I forget that here we keep the cocks in buckets. But if I had intended the pun you claim, it would've been "Cock in THE Box". Besides, I get paid to write fast food humor.

Although you don’t seem that concerned with that either in your rush to limit speech.
I had wasted far too much of my own time Fisking your 295 words with my own 300+ and I was going to let it all slide until you threw in this final shot. Honestly, this is the first time in eight years at MeFi that I have been accused of trying to shut down somebody else's free speech. THANK YOU. I've found that the MetaFilter participants who get accused of this are usually the ones I respect the most, so I feel like I'm in really good company.
posted by wendell at 6:33 PM on November 19, 2007


And my apologies to everyone but Smedleyman for the derailery.
posted by wendell at 6:35 PM on November 19, 2007


If the placebo effect is as effective as it's proven to be in the most basic clinical trials, imagine how much more effective or nuanced it might be under psychologically more engaging circumstances?

Take it a step further. Imagine how much more effective it would be if we gave people medicines that actually had a demonstrable effect, in addition to being believed in. Oh, what brave new world that would be.

Goldacre's approach on this issue has a touch of dawkinsian bombast that doesn't seem likely to result in greater engagement, no matter how right he is.

Homeopathy doesn't need engagement, it needs destruction. It needs it made illegal for any health insurance company to pay for any of its services, ever. It needs its practitioners hauled in front of judges and being forced to demonstrate the efficacy of their treatments or face imprisonment.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:32 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why does being a homeopath make fraud not a crime?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:47 PM on November 19, 2007


I feel compelled to point out that your anecdotal evidence is about as compelling as the anecdotal evidence supporting the efficacy of homeopathic medicine.

Yes, I know that one anecdote is not proof of anything. I shared that story in hopes that perhaps some believers of memory water and medicinal gemstones will consider all types of treatment when they are seriously ill. That they don't blindly accept the medical traditions and superstitions of past centuries. That these assumptions should be tested analytically, through experimentation and a "scientific method"...
Naaaaah.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:03 PM on November 19, 2007


If you can believe in homeopathics work for any reason other than self-delusion, you are willfully stupid and it would be a waste of time to try to educate you.

The flaws in logic are so obvious and so flawed that there is simply no way to rationalize it without calling upon magic.

If it has any efficacy, it can only be through faith in the product, because there sure as hell isn't one 100x dilution of logic or science in it.

The only way to deal with believers of homeopathics is to let them be. Trying to clue them in will just result in them hating you for persecuting their faith.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:07 PM on November 19, 2007


Did you hear the one about the homeopathic patient who forgot to take his meds and overdosed?

I am so gonna steal that.

I once proposed, in the online HHGthG (I believe), that the most effective treatment of disease is the application of homeopathic doses of oxygen. Within three minutes, the "patient" will have no pains or worries. Problem solved.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:20 PM on November 19, 2007


wfc23: chances are one of the non-homeopathic substances in that remedy are working just fine. Suppose it contains tumeric, a well-established anti-inflamatory as an active ingredient, not to mention, say, willow bark (primary source of non-synthetic aspirin).

I want to hasten to tease apart the magical-thinking behind nano-madeuppium in homeopathics from active ingredients which are non-pharmaceutical in nature.

In short: water dilutions, colloidal silver: bah.

Other substances which do things similar to pharmaceuticals but are cheaper/more readily available/obtained with less processing: sure - why not. A debate for another day: should things like tea tree oil (effective as a topical antibiotic) be regulated the same as synthesized antibiotics (with demonstrated and measurable efficacy).
posted by abulafa at 8:25 PM on November 19, 2007


I am not a scientist; I trust scientists that there is no objective basis for homeopathy. I don't use homeopathy, don't plan to use homeopathy.

Assuming that the person doesn't forego/delay effective conventional treatments* for ailments that require such treatments (cancer, HIV, etc.), and doesn't delay prompt conventional check-ups of troubling symptoms, and the person finds it helpful/beneficial -- well, I can't see getting all worked up about it.

*Is there evidence of homeopathy people really foregoing effective conventional treatments? So many people do both, or only do the homeopathy thing when convention treatment doesn't work.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:34 PM on November 19, 2007


There was a NPR segment where people with the placebo of acupuncture (Thought they were getting it, without needles) out preformed people actually getting acupuncture, and those getting actual pharmaceuticals.
The placebo effect outweighed actual medicine to a significant degree.

Stupid losers.
posted by Balisong at 9:04 PM on November 19, 2007


Scientist: I've got a degree in homeopathic medicine!
Civil Defense Van: You've got a degree in baloney!

(obligatory Futurama quote)
posted by dreamsign at 9:35 PM on November 19, 2007


One should get as worked-up about homeopathy as one does religion: which is to say, on the whole not very much, because on the whole no one is really being harmed.

Besides which, homeopathics and religion come down to the exact same thing: faith in magic.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:47 PM on November 19, 2007


c/magic/magical thinking/
posted by five fresh fish at 9:47 PM on November 19, 2007


'no one is really being harmed.'

Not true. The NHS in the UK funds five homeopathic hospitals and some number of GPs and other services. It's diverting taxpayer's money that could be spent on proven medical care.

If people were wasting their own money on it and not mine, and not potentially endangering my health if I ever end up in the situation I need a treatment the NHS can't afford, I'd have less of a problem.
posted by edd at 10:03 PM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


One should get as worked-up about homeopathy as one does religion: which is to say, on the whole not very much, because on the whole no one is really being harmed.

If someone is convinced by a charlatan that drinking tap water is a better cure than, say, chemotherapy or the anti-HIV cocktail (and if it isn't, why on earth would you take it?), then yes, I'd say there's a harm there. Nobody's disputing that homeopathic remedies are harmless- hell, the FDA gives their reason for not regulating them as being because they don't do anything- but when magic is presented as being as good as or better than medicine, there's a problem.

And you know, I've asked it just slightly upthread- why does being a homeopath make it okay to commit fraud?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:42 PM on November 19, 2007


bonaldi wrote:

4. So ... We thought homeopathic treatments offered no value, in testing they had exactly the same effect as something we know has no value, ergo: they have no value.

So we know they have equivalent value to a placebo. But you have not shown that they have the same value because they are the same! In principle you could know, but in practice you can never say for sure.

I'm not defending homeopathy in the sense that I think it really fucking works, we all know it does ;) What I'm saying is that all you can say is that: it works about as well as a placebo, whatever that is!

Give me a definition of how a placebo works, and show me that this shit works for exactly the same reasons. I don't think it can be done. Rather than get upset about that, just breath deep and say "It works about as well as a placebo, whatever that may be".
posted by kuatto at 11:20 PM on November 19, 2007


Hey ClaudiaCenter,
You better think twice before asking science to provide you with a basis for object reality. Not that I think they are generally wrong. In fact, they are generally right. They can say more provably correct things then anyone around.

It's just that any basis for reality that they give you will be incomplete. It's up to you to provide what's missing.
posted by kuatto at 11:28 PM on November 19, 2007


So we know they have equivalent value to a placebo. But you have not shown that they have the same value because they are the same! In principle you could know, but in practice you can never say for sure.

Dude, you're not using your head. Slow down. Think a moment.

What I'm saying is that all you can say is that: it works about as well as a placebo, whatever that is!

It works as well as plastic bunnies. As well as hopping up and down on one foot while reading Catcher in the Rye. It works as well as sugar pills. It works as well as nothing, so long as you think nothing is something. That's not the basis for a claim of efficacy. The onus of proof is on the proponent.

In one breath you question science (or more to the point, the scientific method) for providing you with a basis for objective reality, and in another say "It's up to you to provide what's missing". Five billion personal takes on reality is about as far from objective as you can get. I'm sorry to say you are nowhere close to being able to evaluate a scientific claim, so I'm not surprised that you're having trouble doing so with homeopathy.
posted by dreamsign at 1:16 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


It works as well as plastic bunnies. As well as hopping up and down on one foot while reading Catcher in the Rye. It works as well as sugar pills. It works as well as nothing, so long as you think nothing is something. That's not the basis for a claim of efficacy. The onus of proof is on the proponent.

Yes, yes, exactly! It works as well as all of those things!

But what I'm asserting is that swallowing a sugar pill is not equivalent to jumping on one foot reading Catcher in the Rye. It simply cannot be proved!

and as the proponent of such a ridiculous claim, the onus is on you to prove it! ;)

In principle I think you could know, but in practice you can never say for sure!
posted by kuatto at 1:37 AM on November 20, 2007


btw,

I never said ClaudiaCenter should strive for an objective reality, nor did I question the scientific method.

All I indicated was that the quest for understanding is never complete, so if you're expecting science to fill in the complete picture, you may be waiting for a while.

Blind faith in science is as bad as superstition. It leads to things like the draining of the everglades and the Interstate Highway system. natch !
posted by kuatto at 1:44 AM on November 20, 2007


Blind faith in science is as bad as superstition.

Mainly because it can be misused by people trying to cloak quackery in pseudoscientific clothes. Far crazier than the claim that homeopathy works better than a placebo (despite the evidence against this) are the spooky psuedoscientific claims that homeopathists make as to the mechanisms.
posted by grouse at 2:08 AM on November 20, 2007


Kuatto, FFS. You're either wilfully misunderstanding, or I have a whole new insight into homeopathic users. It might be best if you just read placebo as "nothing". Rewriting your question:
So we know they have equivalent value to nothing.

I'm not defending homeopathy in the sense that I think it really fucking works, we all know it does ;) What I'm saying is that all you can say is that: it works about as well as doing nothing.

Give me a definition of how nothing works, and show me that this shit works for exactly the same reasons. I don't think it can be done. Rather than get upset about that, just breath deep and say "It works about as well as doing nothing"


You're talking about the equivalency of nothing at all.
posted by bonaldi at 2:12 AM on November 20, 2007


Placebos do have different values of nothing though. Red and green sugar pills have different effects as placebos for treating anxiety, placebo surgeries have more effect than placebo sugar pills for other conditions. So it's not right to say it has the same effect as plastic bunnies.

Despite this I can't figure out what kuatto is getting at.
posted by edd at 5:35 AM on November 20, 2007


But what I'm asserting is that swallowing a sugar pill is not equivalent to jumping on one foot reading Catcher in the Rye. It simply cannot be proved!

It is, so long as the patient believes that jumping on one foot and reading Catcher in the Rye is an effective treatment.

and as the proponent of such a ridiculous claim, the onus is on you to prove it! ;)

Here's the wikipedia page on placebos. Read and be enlightened.

All I indicated was that the quest for understanding is never complete, so if you're expecting science to fill in the complete picture, you may be waiting for a while.

When you are determined to discard science, it is no wonder that you would say such things.

Blind faith in science is as bad as superstition. It leads to things like the draining of the everglades and the Interstate Highway system. natch !

What the hell are you even talking about?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:35 AM on November 20, 2007


Blind Faith
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:00 AM on November 20, 2007


Wow Kirth, I wasn't expecting something somewhat NSFW in the SCIENCE! thread. Good thing no one else is in the office today.
posted by grouse at 8:03 AM on November 20, 2007


The NHS in the UK funds five homeopathic hospitals and some number of GPs and other services. It's diverting taxpayer's money that could be spent on proven medical care.

Ah, well, that's just plain wrong. The public ought not be funding religious medical cures, just as they ought not be funding religious facilities.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:03 AM on November 20, 2007


it's the English version, just for you, grouse.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:04 AM on November 20, 2007


Pope Guilty, read the fucking article b4 you link it!

From the Wikipedia page:

"It has been observed often enough, yet still frequently overlooked, that the notion of placebo as it occurs in modern clinical discourse is not a rigorous concept, and despite many attempts, it has not been possible to provide a coherent definition."

There is no solid definition of what a placebo is! So how can you say that two things that seem to exhibit the same result (a placebo type effect) operate in the same manner?

bonaldi, Is jumping on one foot reading a book nothing?

Is swallowing a suger pill nothing?

I assert that they are something! So in comparing the two, we are comparing two things that are not rigorously defined in the context of medical science.

And that is the key here, they are not defined in the context of science. And this goes back to my earlier point about placing faith in science. Science cannot explain everything. This is not "discarding" science, this is the recognition of an inherent limitation.

Science can't explain what a placebo does and neither have any of you. Does this mean we throw away science? No. Does this mean that we conclude a sugar pill is equivalent to homeopathy in how it works? No. No no. All we can conclude is that, scientifically speaking, they have the same effects
posted by kuatto at 9:37 AM on November 20, 2007


Here's another way to think of it:

I can deliver a piece of mail by bicycle, car, or bus. The letter arrives at the destination in all three cases. We can say the effect is the same: The letter arrives.

If we don't know which delivery method was used, we cannot say they were delivered in the same way. We can say they are functionally equivalent if we treat the act of delivery as a black box. But in reality the implications of delivering the letter by car,bike etc are quite different: One was delivered on a bike, another on a bus...

The analogy is the same here to homeopathy. If we don't know or can't define how a placebo works, we cannot say that any two occurrences of the placebo effect occurred in the same manner. All we're talking about here is effect, not cause.
posted by kuatto at 9:54 AM on November 20, 2007


Blind faith in science is as bad as superstition.

Blind faith in science is not science.
posted by Artw at 9:57 AM on November 20, 2007


Is swallowing a suger pill nothing?
In a medical context, why, yes it is. The physical activity is not the *cause*, is the point. The *cause* is suggestion, which is identical whether it's belief in pink rabbits, the touch of a royal, homeopathy or a sugar pill.

Here's another way to think of it. The mailman can wear a blue suit, or a pink suit. But he's still delivering the letter. Placebo is still placebo, whether it's a "dilute solution" or a pink pill.
posted by bonaldi at 10:01 AM on November 20, 2007


Science can't explain what a placebo does and neither have any of you
Actually, yes it can. A placebo does nothing at all. The power of suggestion does the work, and is that which isn't fully understood.
posted by bonaldi at 10:04 AM on November 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


The idea that we should stop using the term placebo because there is not a universally agreed-on definition is ludicrous. There are not universally agreed-upon definitions of such basic biological concepts as species or gene rigorous enough that everyone will always agree on whether populations A and B are different species, or whether concepts C or D are different genes.

But there are some things that any biologist would agree were definitely different genes, different species in the same way that a biomedical researcher would agree that something would be a placebo.

Does this mean that we conclude a sugar pill is equivalent to homeopathy in how it works?

Yes. Yes, we do. Scientists use Occam's razor in formulating theories, and the simplest possible explanation for the reason that a homeopathic works as well as a sugar pill is that they work the same way, since all the scientific explanations for why a sugar pill would relieve symptoms apply equally to homeopathy. This is the null hypothesis. If you want to add a special case for homeopathic "remedies" or blue sugar pills instead of red sugar pills, you need to show why that is necessary through evidence.
posted by grouse at 10:12 AM on November 20, 2007


We cannot seperate the suggestion from the effect of the suggestion.

Just because you insist that it can be done does not make it so.

Consider that the color of a pill can qualitatively alter its effects.

bonaldi, you stated:
The physical activity is not the *cause*, is the point. The *cause* is suggestion. Well then, will you assert that the variation in pill color mentioned in the link above has no relationship to the variation in effects? How can the physical examination and swallowing of different colored pills result in different results if all placebos are operating in an equivalent manner?

In fact different "placebos" are not equivalent in how they work, nor are they equivalent in results.
posted by kuatto at 11:06 AM on November 20, 2007


They are entirely equivalent in how they work, viz: in your head. This is why they don't work on comatose patients, animals etc. The difference is in their power of suggestion: this is why scary big red needles work better than little green pills etc.

Good luck with that "we can't seperate cause from effect" bit, btw. And try reading Grouse's posts.
posted by bonaldi at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2007


kuatto, you’re talking nonsense and you’re way off-topic. The difference in the efficacy of placebo treatments has nothing to do with their actual, physical or chemical properties. That’s the very nature of a placebo! The effective difference comes as a result of the participants’ perception of the treatment.

Getting back to your initial disagreement with my statement, how can you distinguish the effect of a homeopathic treatment from the effect of a placebo? The empirical evidence from double-blind clinical trials indicates that there is not a significant difference.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 11:18 AM on November 20, 2007


OK, lets backtrack a bit.
'Give me a definition of how a placebo works, and show me that this shit works for exactly the same reasons. I don't think it can be done. '
I can take hyperdiluted percussed water and double blind it against water that's not gone through the homeopathic ritual. I can see that both have exactly the same effect.

I can't positively demonstrate that they're not giving the same result in different ways, but given that the explanation is a lot simpler and more predictive if they do (I can then predict that every homeopathic cure will have the same effect, which the theory that they're coincidentally having the same effect due to some other mechanism does not, at least obviously to me, predict) it's the better explanation and the one we pick.

Furthermore, with my theory that homeopathy is bullshit, I can predict that homeopathic preparations from any substance have equal efficacy against any disease. Any suggestion that homeopathy has a true effect stemming from the substance in question doesn't make the same prediction.

Therefore, when you say
'All we can conclude is that, scientifically speaking, they have the same effects'
this is wrong. A theory that says the effect of a homeopathic preparation is a function of the starting material and the preparation process doesn't make the same predictions as a theory that says homeopathy is bunk - which says it always has the same effect. So when you don't see any difference in effect you conclude homeopathy is bunk, and that's why you conclude a homeopathic remedy has the same method of operation as a placebo.
posted by edd at 11:30 AM on November 20, 2007


Edd,

your theory is very nice indeed and thanks for it. But, how would you incorporate the problem mentioned above involving different colored pills? (Perhaps you could relate this to different colored bottles of homeopathic treatments, or bottles with different pictures on them). In that case the result from placebo treatment is *not* always the same. How would you adapt your theory?

Would you have to incorporate cognitive/social psychology, issues of perception etc? Perhaps the patients mood, the lighting in the room?

Look, I'm not suggesting that placebo treatments work on trees, or comatose patients. All I'm saying is that until we can state how these things work, all we can do is categorize these treatments under the title Placebo/Power of suggestion. But don't be mistaken, one type of suggestion is not equivalent to any other. A red sugar pill is not equivalent to a Blue sugar pill is not equiv to a pretty bottle of flower essences.

However, what I am asserting is that the suggestion, the "Placebo Effect", is indeed linked to the actual physical and chemical properties in this sense: The blue pill makes you calm, the red pill amps you up. Color is certainly a physical characteristic of the placebo substance is it not?

Your mind is an incredibly complicated system. Why would you assume that all suggestion operates in precisely the same manner to precisely the same effect?

Think of it in this way: Are all religions the same? Is it possible to say that the religious experiences derived in one religion are equivalent to another? This is after all mass-hypnosis, the power of suggestion right? I would say no.

The "self-delusion" associated with one placebo is fundamentally different then another. This is the assertion.
posted by kuatto at 11:57 AM on November 20, 2007


Let me rephrase:

Your mind is an incredibly complicated system. Why would you assume that all suggestion operates in precisely the same manner to precisely the same effect?

The "self-delusion" associated with one placebo is fundamentally different from any other placebo.
posted by kuatto at 12:00 PM on November 20, 2007


I am asserting is that the suggestion, the "Placebo Effect", is indeed linked to the actual physical and chemical properties in this sense: The blue pill makes you calm, the red pill amps you up.
And you are wrong. Again. The red pill given to someone who is told "this is just a placebo" will not work. The same identical pill, given to someone by The World's Greatest Doctor, who says "this will cure you!" could well have an effect. The same pill.

And nothing you have said in the wake of edd's theory, which you like and thank him for, makes any argument for treating homeopathy any differently from any other placebo. They're all in the same basket, whether or not some have better abilities to create the effect in a subject.
posted by bonaldi at 12:05 PM on November 20, 2007


The blue pill does nothing. The red pill does nothing. The homeopathic treated water does nothing. The placebo effect is due to the participants’ conscious or subconscious expectations of some result.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 12:07 PM on November 20, 2007


Where's You Get a Favorite For Being Dumb when you need him?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:12 PM on November 20, 2007


Quite, I'm making no claim about the exact mechanism of a placebo, only that a homeopathic treatment presented in exactly the same way as just the substance used as the homeopathic dilutant will have exactly the same effect, and that therefore regardless of the mechanism of the placebo we can conclude that the homeopathic medicine operates by the exact same mechanism.

Given that patients won't usually see the actual process of homeopathically diluting the substance (and assuming the doctor is also unaware of whether or not that process actually happened), that entire ritual has no value.
posted by edd at 12:15 PM on November 20, 2007


The same identical pill, given to someone by The World's Greatest Doctor, who says "this will cure you!" could well have an effect. The same pill.

Yes, I accept this. But the The World's Greatest Doctor could also give you a green pill that does not work at all!

What I'm saying is that the you can lump placebos together in the same category, but they do not operate in precisely the same manner.
posted by kuatto at 12:18 PM on November 20, 2007


Oh Jesus H Christ you're an idiot. They operate in exactly the same manner. Some are assigned more powers of persuasion via cultural factors or patient beliefs. It's similar to how two engines can operate on exactly the same principle, except one puts out more power.

Except the engines' powers are real
posted by bonaldi at 12:24 PM on November 20, 2007


Quite, I'm making no claim about the exact mechanism of a placebo, only that a homeopathic treatment presented in exactly the same way as just the substance used as the homeopathic dilutant will have exactly the same effect, and that therefore regardless of the mechanism of the placebo we can conclude that the homeopathic medicine operates by the exact same mechanism.

Thanks, I accept this wholeheartedly. Except there is one thing. In placebos and homeopathy, presentation is everything. It's like show business for christs sake.

Given that patients won't usually see the actual process of homeopathically diluting the substance (and assuming the doctor is also unaware of whether or not that process actually happened), that entire ritual has no value.

and as in religion, rituals are very important to create the appropriate suggestion. That's why homeopathy places emphasis on how the substance is ritualistically created.
posted by kuatto at 12:25 PM on November 20, 2007


Some are assigned more powers of persuasion

by whom? the individual
and why? physical stimulus [aka the placebo]
posted by kuatto at 12:27 PM on November 20, 2007


kuatto, a well-designed clinical trial will involve placebos that cannot be distinguished from the active drug. In most of these trials where a homeopathic "remedy" performed indistinguishably from a placebo, they almost certainly would have been the same color. So it's a bit specious to argue that if you used a placebo of a different color from the active drug, that would explain the difference. The thing is, they weren't different colors.
posted by grouse at 12:27 PM on November 20, 2007


and as in religion, rituals are very important to create the appropriate suggestion. That's why homeopathy places emphasis on how the substance is ritualistically created.

So are you now saying that homeopathy operates via the placebo effect?
posted by bonaldi at 12:30 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


'I accept this wholeheartedly. Except there is one thing.'
Yes, we're not in disagreement about that one thing. This is why I used the words 'presented in exactly the same way'

'That's why homeopathy places emphasis on how the substance is ritualistically created.'
Of course that's not what homeopaths think. But then maybe that just makes your analogy to religion stronger.
posted by edd at 12:30 PM on November 20, 2007


When have I ever said that homeopathy is not a placebo? I've just said that placebos are ill defined and cannot be compared to each other in terms of how they function.

Yes grouse that is completely true.

but what I'm talking about is a trial to compare the relative perfomance of different placebos viz their appearence:

http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/313/7072/1624

This is how different effectiveness of placebos are rated in the marketplace as well. Some placebos are more effective than others by quirks of individual cognition.
posted by kuatto at 12:36 PM on November 20, 2007


When have you ever said it? OK, disengenuous kid:
breaks the guidelines? wrote:
It's a wash, in other words. The effect of homeopathy is the placebo effect.

How is can we draw this conclusion?
posted by kuatto at 12:36 AM on November 20 [+] [!]

posted by bonaldi at 12:39 PM on November 20, 2007


I will concede that homeopathy is lumped into a category called placebo effects. But I will not concede that it achieves those effects in an equivalent manner to every other thing in that category.

I asked this question, I didn't make an assertion to expose what I saw as a schism in the reasoning in this thread. Namely, once something is added to the placebo category, it becomes the same thing as everything else in that category.
posted by kuatto at 12:55 PM on November 20, 2007


Look, I'm gonna start throwing around some holy water soon :)
posted by kuatto at 12:57 PM on November 20, 2007


Again, kuatto, how can you distinguish the effect of a homeopathic treatment from the effect of a placebo? The clinical trials show no significant difference. The simplest explanation for those results is that they are the same. You can continue to postulate that some invisible, unmeasurable mechanism makes some imperceptible difference in how we arrive at the result, but that violates Occam’s Razor.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 1:03 PM on November 20, 2007


I will not concede that it achieves those effects in an equivalent manner to every other thing in that category

On what evidence? And since the category consists of things that work by the effects of suggestion, it can't be both in the category and not work by the same means as everything else in it.
posted by bonaldi at 1:06 PM on November 20, 2007


You can continue to postulate that some invisible, unmeasurable mechanism makes some imperceptible difference in how we arrive at the result

The human mind

On what evidence? And since the category consists of things that work by the effects of suggestion, it can't be both in the category and not work by the same means as everything else in it.

Why not? Do all suggestions operate the same way in the mind?

For example, perhaps we are predisposed genetically to have a reaction to the color red. Fear, Anger etc,
Would not the suggestion induced by taking a red pill be different from that of a blue pill?
posted by kuatto at 1:21 PM on November 20, 2007


I might add:

Both red and blue pills, despite acting differently within the mind are still lumped under the category "Placebo".
posted by kuatto at 1:24 PM on November 20, 2007


You’re conflating the difference between red and blue pills with the difference between a homeopathic treatment and a non-homeopathic placebo. No one is denying that the colour of a pill can affect the outcome of a placebo-controlled trial. Just stop bringing it up. The question is, assuming the perceivable physical properties are the same, how do you distinguish a homeopathic treatment from a non-homeopathic placebo?
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 1:31 PM on November 20, 2007


“Now THAT is funny, if only because you apparently have no idea what it is saying about you.”

It doesn’t say anything about me. ‘Smedleyman’ doesn’t exist. It’s just a name on a web blog. I don’t have my real name here or any particulars. Some folks do, their choice. I’d argue that makes them perhaps more real.

“but unless you were blissfully unaware, the discussions around here of the last few days have shaped the context more than your own intent.”

I prefer to be judged on my own intent

“Besides, I get paid to write fast food humor.”

Then I guess you’re so much better than me aren’t you? Too bad you can’t recognize or let slide a joke when someone explicitly tells you it is one.

“I had wasted far too much of my own time Fisking your 295 words with my own 300+”

Well, we agree on that.

“and I was going to let it all slide until you threw in this final shot”
Oooh. You were going to let me slide? Really? Until I started acting like a dick? I missed how your saying my comment was “totally out of line and wrong” and your inference that (if I insist on continuing to comment) I should not make comments you judge to be sexist (unless I’m missing what the please keep your cock in a box sentence means).


“I've found that the MetaFilter participants who get accused of this are usually the ones I respect the most, so I feel like I'm in really good company.”

Last one I remember accusing of that was Paris Paramus. But you know, go for yourself if you’re happy.

“I used up my one MeTa post for the week to recognize somebody who writes comedy real good, which was a much more worthy cause”

Then stop giving me shit and wasting everyone’s time. It. Was. A. Joke. Want me to say I’m sorry? The implicit apology to Hobgoblin not enough? Ok. My apologies to you Wendell, for offending your sensibilities.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:41 PM on November 20, 2007


Once, when I had a terrible cold, I took regular OTC cold medicine, and it took the symptoms almost four days to dissipate. The next time I had a bad cold, I tried a homeopathic remedy, and I was better in about half a week! Hallelujah!

so are you saying OTC cold meds are fraudulent as well?

They are entirely equivalent in how they work, viz: in your head... this is why scary big red needles work better than little green pills etc.

I think kuatto has a good point though - we dismiss "in your head" far too easily, as if it's meaningless nonsense. But it isn't! It actually works, to various degrees. Your mind has some degree of efficacy over how your body does. And I had not realized that the color of the pill or the injection vs pill made a statistical difference as well - that does seem like we have to take into account the possibility that we don't know if "placebo" means what we think it means, or really, we should reconsider if we even know what we think we mean, since usually when we say "in your head" that's to designate NOT actually doing anything whereas here we're saying, "in your head in a way which has a measurable effect on your body." You have to admit that's a very particular kind of "in your head".

It's bizarre that by slapping a label on that so we can say "that's just the placebo effect", we are able to dismiss a very real and often quite effective component of healing. Many psych meds just barely fly by FDA standards of outperforming the placebo effect in trials, and they're often able to run several trials until they get one that "proves" efficacy. But how many of the patients who take it actually need the medicine and how many need the placebo? If those companies can make money on what must in some portion of cases be placebo related, while actually putting the patients at some level of risk for side effects etc, why is it evil for other people to make money selling placebos? (I'm not saying they should, but just pointing out that it's about percentages rather than absolutes - and pretty thin percentages - it's much messier than you're making it out to be).

Anyway, I'm kinda disappointed that Jeanette Winterson is into the whole homeopath thing, but I do think the question of what the placebo is, and what it means for medical ethics to imagine trying to use it (if lying to patients is likely to heal them, is it wrong to lie to them?) is deeply interesting. I made a previous comment around here about how even magicians seem to feel like they have to be more direct with their audience these days - that blatantly lying even as part of an act that is meant to be about illusion is not always something modern magicians are comfortable with, when in the past it would have been fine (because their purpose was to make you believe, not impress you with their skill). So if the point of a doctor is to cure, then if it actually increases his ability to cure if he lies to you, is that just doing the job better? Or are we more concerned with being equals who are fully in on the workings of things?
posted by mdn at 1:43 PM on November 20, 2007


whoa. Smedleyman got me there.

The question is, assuming the perceivable physical properties are the same

Why should they be the same? If i go into a homeopathic store, will all the different treatments be labeled the same? This is the situation that I am talking about, choosing between multiple *different* placebos.
posted by kuatto at 1:48 PM on November 20, 2007


ASSUMING they are, is there a perceptible difference?

mdn: yes, placebo is a very interesting area, as Goldacre makes very clear. But pretending homeopathy works by some other means (nanoparticles? memory?) is bad science, through and through.
posted by bonaldi at 1:54 PM on November 20, 2007


TBH most cold meds probably DO have equivalent effectiveness to a placebo.
posted by Artw at 1:57 PM on November 20, 2007


kuatto, why keep changing the parameters of the discussion? Why not answer my simple question? My initial statement was made in the context of a clinical trial, not a homeopathic store. In a clinical trial, the different treatments will be visibly indistinguishable because we know that, for example, two placebo pills of different colours can have a different effects under the same conditions. So, once more, how can you make a distinction between a homeopathic treatment and a non-homeopathic placebo?
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 2:01 PM on November 20, 2007


Most over-the-counter cold medicines treat symptoms rather than the cold itself. You better believe that Sudafed will bring immediate relief to a stopped-up nose more effectively than a placebo for most people. Will it cure your cold faster? That's another story. But if it didn't do anything the FDA would start looking to remove it from the market, because "medicine" is held to a much higher standard of evidence than homeopathic "remedies."
posted by grouse at 2:02 PM on November 20, 2007


homeopathic treatment and a non-homeopathic placebo

I'll admit there is no difference in a clinical trial. But, given a choice between homeopathic remedies, there can be one that is more effective; the reason being is that it works better.

There is nothing that says we can only talk about the Placebo effect in the context of a double-blind scientific trial. In fact, it's more natural to talk about the effectiveness of homeopathy within the context of belief itself.

To put it another way, the value of Jesus Christ is probably equivalent to a potato in a double blind scientific study.
posted by kuatto at 3:59 PM on November 20, 2007


Now, I want you to admit Jesus Christ is the same as a potato! in a science study that is
posted by kuatto at 4:02 PM on November 20, 2007


given a choice between homeopathic remedies, there can be one that is more effective; the reason being is that it works better.
No, the reason being that it was the one chosen. The perception of persusasive properties is all in the mind, remember.

There is nothing that says we can only talk about the Placebo effect in the context of a double-blind scientific trial.
There's plenty that says we can only judge its medical worth in that context.

Now, I want you to admit Jesus Christ is the same as a potato! in a science study that is
In terms of placebo effect? I doubt potato would work as one at all, but if you want to equate homeopathy and prayer, you've probably got something there, yes.
posted by bonaldi at 4:14 PM on November 20, 2007


mdn: yes, placebo is a very interesting area, as Goldacre makes very clear. But pretending homeopathy works by some other means (nanoparticles? memory?) is bad science, through and through.

Well, it may be bad science but good medicine... if it is going to heal people, then even if it does so by activating some unconscious internal healing system, it still heals people. All that really counts here is the percentages. If it has the same percentage as a sugar pill, perhaps it's silly to say "it has the same percentage as a placebo" since we don't know what a placebo really is, and anyway apparently it can have different effects depending on minute changes like color in some cases. So perhaps the good science here would just be to report what percentage got better not taking anything, taking a sugar pill, jumping up and down on one foot while juggling bunnies (or whatever that was), and taking homeopathic remedies. If the sugar pill and the homeopathy do better than doing nothing and juggling bunnies, then that's all we really know, scientifically, right?

Most over-the-counter cold medicines treat symptoms rather than the cold itself.

The poster said his symptoms persisted for four days... though you're right about sudafed, a lot of other meds are not as clearly efficacious (and sudafed you often can't get OTC anymore anyway...)

But if it didn't do anything the FDA would start looking to remove it from the market, because "medicine" is held to a much higher standard of evidence than homeopathic "remedies."

What about stuff like "Airborne"? THere are plenty of "remedies" that aren't FDA approved, and people know they're not FDA approved. I think it's very important that we have a government administration to keep track of this stuff, rather than "letting the market sort it out", but that doesn't mean that non FDA approved "remedies" are all just con artists and frauds in a straightforward sense. Maybe people are buying placebos because they want to buy placebos, and because they work (because they're placebos - effective ones).

I'm not saying you're wrong so much as, what does it mean to be right about this? Why prove that something which works doesn't work, thereby making it not work? If it works, there's a sense in which we should take that seriously, even if the reason it works is just that it sounds believable enough to some people.
posted by mdn at 4:17 PM on November 20, 2007


If the sugar pill and the homeopathy do better than doing nothing and juggling bunnies, then that's all we really know, scientifically, right?

Well, no, we also can posit mechanisms of action for real medicine, and examine the body to see whether what we actually observe is consistent with the posited mechanisms -- do we see these changes in liver function, or those changes in blood chemistry, or whatever. In the case of homeopathy, it's not clear that we can even consistently posit a mechanism, and we're very unlikely to ever see evidence of an actual homeopathic mechanism operating in the body.

(Yes, I know that there are medicines whose mechanisms aren't perfectly or well understood)

Maybe people are buying placebos because they want to buy placebos

It seems very unlikely to me that people are intentionally buying compounds chosen specifically for their lack of effect upon the human body.

I'm not saying you're wrong so much as, what does it mean to be right about this? Why prove that something which works doesn't work, thereby making it not work?

Because there are medicines and procedures that do work, and people should use those?

And because if we're going to intentionally dose patients with water or sugar pills or saline and lie to them so that their bodies maybe do better, there are certainly cheaper ways to do that than homeopathic remedies?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:37 PM on November 20, 2007


Well, it may be bad science but good medicine... if it is going to heal people, then even if it does so by activating some unconscious internal healing system, it still heals people.
No, I'm not saying that use of placebos is bad science, I'm saying that explanations for why homeopathy works apart from the placebo effect are junk science (like claiming it works via water memory).

There's also, I think, a gross overstatement of the wonders of the placebo effect here. To say that something works as a placebo doesn't mean its effectiveness comes close to that of the best medicines. They're not alternatives, they're equivalent to doing nothing. Which, in some easily-persuaded people who are lied to, can produce an alleviation of symptoms.
posted by bonaldi at 4:45 PM on November 20, 2007


I mean, seriously. This is entirely equivalent to the kids game where you tie an invisible string around another kid's hands and they move together. That's all it is.

"But the hands move together! And if your hands are big, they move together quicker! There must be a difference! It's a property of your hands! Can I sell your hands on the NHS? Are you a faith healer? Have you got a potato?"
posted by bonaldi at 4:52 PM on November 20, 2007


I think kuatto and mdn are saying: "whoa! the placebo effect offers a better chance of cure than doing nothing. Therefore, lets not pick on homeopathy."
I think many of the other comments are saying that homeopathy is a fraud because it produces results no better than the placebo effect.
There are ethical issues with placebo treatment (lying to a patient) and there are fraud issues with homeopathy which make it particularly unappealing to people who value science.
Add to that the occasions where homeopaths dissuade their victims/patients from conventional medicine (the anti-vaccine angle particularly steams me) and many people conclude they are doing more harm than good.
Unfortunately, I think the real issue is developing a way to harness placebos without the usual baggage of exploitative mumbo jumbo.
posted by bystander at 7:30 PM on November 20, 2007


You see, because your hands are bigger than your face, you have cancer. The homeopathic treatment is like with like, so I'm going to have to prescribe hitting yourself.
posted by klangklangston at 7:34 PM on November 20, 2007


The poster said his symptoms persisted for four days... though you're right about sudafed, a lot of other meds are not as clearly efficacious (and sudafed you often can't get OTC anymore anyway...)

Hopping back in this thread to clarify something, since the above is apparently in reference to my earlier comment.

First, it was a joke. A riff on how no matter what you do, your cold symptoms will typically last 4-7 days (well, mine do). OTC cold medicines ease symptoms - that is, you start to feel better, but they don't necessarily make your cold go away any faster. Likewise, homeopathic remedies make you feel better - if you believe they work. It's a placebo effect. The OTC offer some medically based physical relief, and likely provide a degree of placebo-related relief.

That's a very long-winded way of saying that homeopathy is bunk. If I gave you pills that I told you were homeopathic (but they weren't), and you believed - or at least didn't disbelieve - in homepathy, then I would expect you to do no worse than you would on actual homeopathic pills. It's in your head.
posted by rtha at 8:02 PM on November 20, 2007


Well, no, we also can posit mechanisms of action for real medicine

there are a lot of medicines we really don't have much idea at all about the mechanisms of, and given that a lot of meds are only effective to some portion of the population, and can be dangerous to others, it would help quite a lot if we did... This is especially true of psych meds which is a reason it's kind of interesting that a lot of very science focused people will say things like "it's all chemical" when someone's depressed, and suggest they get meds, when that could well mean they're recommending the placebo effect... (as I've said numerous times around here, I don't disagree that its chemical, just that that means anything, because it's also mental - etc)

To say that something works as a placebo doesn't mean its effectiveness comes close to that of the best medicines. They're not alternatives, they're equivalent to doing nothing. Which, in some easily-persuaded people who are lied to, can produce an alleviation of symptoms.

NO. That is not the placebo effect. The placebo effect is a poorly understood but usually agreed to fact in medicine that a higher percentage of people taking a sugar pill actually get better than people who do nothing. Doing nothing would just be coincidence or statistical randomness, but the point here is that there is supposedly an actual effect that taking the medicine and believing it will work has. And it is not self-reporting. That's why the studies are "double-blind" - even the doctors do not know who is getting the real medicine. But if 40% of the patients on the real medicine and only 12% of those on the placebo are cured, that still means that 12% of the placebo group are cured, even though obviously the real medicine is a better chance. But if you've already tried the real medicine, or there is no real medicine in this case, or the side effect risks of the real medicine are too great for you to want to deal with (eg, the lung cancer woman who died may also have preferred to die when she was "meant to die" instead of living with an iron lung or whatever - some people would rather "go gently" - not saying I would but if the info is out there, it's up to them to decide what fits with their life) then if something actually harnesses the placebo effect, it does something...

Likewise, homeopathic remedies make you feel better - if you believe they work. It's a placebo effect.

I understood the joke, by the way - I was just pointing out that the joke presumed OTC remedies were bunk too. ANyway, as I said above, it's not that they make you feel better. THe point is, if the placebo effect is real, then your belief that you will get better seems to have a real impact on whether you actually do get better.

The skeptic's dictionary has an interesting entry on placebo - a good selection of links, anyway. THey mention that there is a new researcher claiming the placebo effect is not real, by the way, so that's an option if you want to say it's nothing / just statistics. But if you accept the placebo effect, it has to be understood as an actual effect, not just you saying you feel better when you are still dying.
posted by mdn at 9:33 PM on November 20, 2007


NO. That is not the placebo effect. The placebo effect is a poorly understood but usually agreed to fact in medicine that a higher percentage of people taking a sugar pill actually get better than people who do nothing. Doing nothing would just be coincidence or statistical randomness

Your quoted poster didn't say doing nothing, but "equivalent to doing nothing". Of course there is an actual effect. Placebos wouldn't have been much of a subject of study otherwise. The fact that belief in medical efficacy, rather than the necessity of active ingredients, appear to explain the effect, and thus render any given placebo the equivalent of rainbows and lollipops, makes your point kinda moot.
posted by dreamsign at 12:21 AM on November 21, 2007


Look all...just because you call something "the placebo effect" does not mean you understand it is. We can all agree that there is an effect. Tangentially, this effect is linked to procedure or ritual; it is belief in some sense.

My point is that given our ignorance to the mechanisms that promote the healing effect, we cannot say that all placebos operate in the same manner. Least of all "placebos" entrenched in a contextual history.

Consider a placebo that has a long history. Its packaging lovingly crafted and many people you know speak highly of it, and it works! 25-50% of the people who take it get better (for the particular ailment that it treats). If I take all that contextual history away-If I package it in plain wrappings and do not tell the patient what it is, Is it the same thing?

Can Science quantify the psychological mechanism that suggests a difference from one "placebo" to another?

Scientifically, what can we say when the well packaged homeopathic remedy works better, and is more effective, than a generic pill wrapped in plastic wrap labled "CURE" in big sans serifs?
posted by kuatto at 1:10 AM on November 22, 2007


We can all agree that there is an effect.

Actually, we can't, as mdn alludes to above. But I'll accept that there is one for the current discussion.

Scientifically, what can we say when the well packaged homeopathic remedy works better, and is more effective, than a generic pill wrapped in plastic wrap labled "CURE" in big sans serifs?

We can say that the study suffered from poor experimental design. To wit, the placebo was not indistinguishable from the drug under test.

Also, you are taking the results of such a study as a given, which I would not agree with.
posted by grouse at 1:24 AM on November 22, 2007


If I take all that contextual history away-If I package it in plain wrappings and do not tell the patient what it is, Is it the same thing?
you tell me. If you dress up like a member of the Klan, are you the same person as you are when dress in a business suit? Could you stand up in court and say "aha! but that person was wearing a Klan outfit, and here I am in a suit. They are *different* people! Hell, one has a long cultural history!"

The most your argument shows is that appearances matter, which most have not denied. It does not show that appearances are fundamental differences.
posted by bonaldi at 7:00 AM on November 22, 2007


"Tangentially, this effect is linked to procedure or ritual; it is belief in some sense."

A good deal has been better said than I could contest the point. I will say my main objection to homeopathy given - perhaps especially given - that point is that it is sold. The packaging, all that, is not to cure, but to sell. There are plenty of 'cures' being sold that don't work at all. The blame then is "you don't believe enough." That's the same kind of hucksterism televangelists and snake oil salesman use.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:57 AM on November 22, 2007


It does not show that appearances are fundamental differences.

If something is apparently different from something else, is that not a fundamental difference? Or do you speak only of a hypothetical inner character of the substance that only you can see?

if you dress up like a member of the Klan, are you the same person as you are when dress in a business suit? Could you stand up in court and say "aha! but that person was wearing a Klan outfit, and here I am in a suit. They are *different* people!

Putting on a mask is not a trivial manner. To the extent that putting on a klan outfit makes you feel differently, then you have become a different person

Consider this: perhaps all the horrors that Klansmen perpetrated we became easier by the anonymity provided by the masks. Is it easier to march down a street knowing that no one can see your face? This is a big difference!

In fact putting on any uniform can be a transformative experience. That is why soldiers wear uniforms, when you put on a uniform, to some extent, you become a soldier. Consider one of the first steps in reconstruction in Iraq was buying a bunch of dudes guns and uniforms, thus creating a military.
posted by kuatto at 3:03 PM on November 22, 2007


If something is apparently different from something else, is that not a fundamental difference?
No. I don't have to mean Platonic Ideals or True Characters to draw a distinction between the superficial and the actual.

To the extent that putting on a klan outfit makes you feel differently, then you have become a different person
And, again, the extent to which this is true is very superficial. As my court example illustrates. Do you expect that argument would stand up in court? "It wasn't me, it was the suit".

Soldiers remain soldiers when the uniform comes off, as PTSD so sadly proves.
posted by bonaldi at 3:24 PM on November 22, 2007


Bonaldi,

Do you remember when you were a kid and you got to join the boy scouts or wear special clothing, like for church? Do you remember what it felt like to put on special clothing? I don't know about you, but I felt like a new person, literally! I have a little nephew who, when he puts on his spiderman outfit, he "becomes" spiderman. He gets so fired up, running around in a completely different world, catching bad guys etc. Are you saying that he wasn't changed by this? Or just that a court of law would say he wasn't affected? Or maybe the emotions and thoughts don't matter compared to the "Facts". Is how we feel simply a superficial illusion?

And How can I legally prove the insubstantial? Are thoughts and emotions are an illusion because science cannot quantify them? It is preposterous to assume that a court of law is an appropriate mechanism to determine the true nature of a thing, especially something as philosophically treacherous like the mind. What a terrible example!

Nature is indeterminate at it's core. As I mentioned in a previous post, you should be very careful to allow any authority to define what "reality" is.

For your own sake, If you are uncomfortable with trusting your own conception of reality, I would suggest that you let science define your reality. In some ways that would be safer than allowing the criminal justice system to define it. At least you will then have fixed guidelines, laws can change every day. Do you want someone to legislate your world away?

You said:
"No. I don't have to mean Platonic Ideals or True Characters to draw a distinction between the superficial and the actual."

Do you believe that you can know absolute Truth? Because that's what you are talking about when you refer to the "Actual" versus the superficial. This is what the conversation has devolved to??!?

"Superficial" is all that there is. There is no final equation that reveals everything, there is no final layer of abstraction that once peeled away reveals the "Truth". There is no final layer of superficiality to be cast aside. Every layer of abstraction yields another.

The very structure of reality is unknown. Sure, we can predict the motion of billiard balls etc, but we can't say what Mass is. Certainly, a court of law cannot tell you what Time is.

Here is a short list of things fundamentally unknown:
Mass
Energy
Space
Time

It's interesting to note that each of these form the units (kg j m s) upon which we build our entire physical descriptions of the universe.

My point is that when you start to talk about "the actual", you have strayed far beyond the charlatan hawking quack remedies that you protest. You are a charlatan hawking "truth" under the guise of science.

As for your comment on soldiers. You missed the point completely:

They put the uniform on and they were changed. Supposing they have PSTD afterwords implies that they were changed

Perhaps, you'll explain that, "it wasn't the uniform that did the changing" etc, maybe it was some other factor. But imagine for a moment the US military with no uniforms. It wouldn't be a military!! The uniform is as integral a part of the experience in the army as any other thing. So to talk about being changed by the Army necessarily implies that you are being changed by that uniform.

Putting on a uniform, be it army, clan, religious, is a deadly serious business. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.

The uniform is the Oath, it is the Bond, it is the determination to give your Life if needs be. I defy any interpretation that says otherwise.


For everyone in this thread:

If you think you have things figured out, then you are a fool. Not only that, but you are also ideologically dangerous in this sense: You harness the conventional wisdom (science and medicine) as a club. Far more dangerous then some wonky homeopathic nerds. This is exactly how things are labeled science and rammed down our throats every day!

Fine, tell me that homeopathy doesn't work for shit in a double blind trial. Fine ok, great! But if you tell me that to be healed by a "magic" potion is the same as taking a sugar pill you must appreciate the innate contradiction, To use science to talk about something that science cannot possibly say anything about is absurd.

I am asking you to prove that this supposed potion is NOT magic, and you seek to oblige? Using Science?!?
Know your limits good sirs. For shame.

The main problem in this thread is not homeopathic cures, it's that people are angry because their notion of the Truth has been abused!

People have a particular view of the world and, "Sorry, no magic potions allowed!"

Guess what people, I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy, but I'm not about to step out to prove he doesn't exist, because that's impossible!!!!!!!!
posted by kuatto at 6:52 PM on November 22, 2007


Not that anyone is even left here except bonaldi and me ;)</small
posted by kuatto at 6:53 PM on November 22, 2007


No, it's just you, now. There's no way I'm taking that on. Especially not with that many exclamation marks.

Stick with the magic, the thinking's just not your game.
posted by bonaldi at 7:26 PM on November 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hmm. It seems to me that it would be interesting to run an experiment where one groups of patients is given a homeopathic treatment without their knowlege and another is given nothing, to see how homeopathy compares with nothing without the presence of placebo effects. There's probably all kinds of medical ethics issues there though.
posted by Artw at 6:31 AM on November 23, 2007


(And, of course, if Homeopathy did perform the same as nothing in such an experiment it still wouldn't convince a lot of people)
posted by Artw at 6:32 AM on November 23, 2007


You've suggested that a legalistic mechanism being the basis of perception and reality. "If it can't be proved in a court of law, it ain't real" Fucking ridiculous!

pa-tooie!
posted by kuatto at 1:25 PM on November 23, 2007


Heh. Well, that's sort of a related concept, but very different.
posted by Artw at 1:45 PM on November 23, 2007


I think he was directing that straw man (which looks like an argument, therefore it must be an argument) at me, Artw.

Homeopathy aint meds, so does it matter if you come off them?
posted by bonaldi at 2:11 PM on November 23, 2007


Look, If you want to make assertions about reality using Double-Blind Scientific Studies, you are eventually going to come up against a whole range of topics that you will be unqualified to talk about.

One of these being the different ways in which placebos operate in order to achieve their effects.

Quite literally, If I put on a uniform it changes me in a different manner then just putting on a funny hat. Reducing that situation to taking two identical pills in a Double Blind trials will not tell you anything about that original difference. The process has to be studied in the context that it occurs.

If you assume that because these trials suggest a uniform underlying process, that in context these processes are the same. This is not true. There is nothing that science can prove or disprove in this case.

To paraphrase:
A uniform ain't a Soldier, so does it matter if you strip him of it?
posted by kuatto at 4:40 PM on November 23, 2007


So let's cut to the chase: are you or are you not saying that homeopathy is bunk?
posted by five fresh fish at 5:50 PM on November 23, 2007


To reiterate,

The question is not "is it bunk?". In fact we know that it works. Colloquially, this is referred to as the placebo effect.

My assertion is that scientific trials or other formal processes will tell you nothing about the manner in which it does work. So it is a mistake to say that homeopathy is equivalent to, say, a sugar pill other than in the sense that they both achieve a "placebo effect".

But then the rejoinder is, "but the scientific trials prove that a water placebo is the same as a similarly presented homeopathic cure."

And to that see my comment about the soldier above. What I'm referring to is something that can only be quantified and measured as it is , not as it is not (as in the case of a double blind trial).

But to your question, I don't think homeopathy is a very good cure for a serious illness. Unless, of course you really trust your intuition.

But this still doesn't mean I can formally state how it works.
posted by kuatto at 2:04 PM on November 24, 2007


Another question, then: do you think it is worth studying, and under which disciplinary field would you place it?
posted by five fresh fish at 2:34 PM on November 24, 2007


The question is not "is it bunk?". In fact we know that it works. Colloquially, this is referred to as the placebo effect.

Actually, we don't. Much of homeopathy is untested altogether, not even against a placebo. And most of these studies won't include a natural history (untreated) group, so you can't even say that the homeopathic treatment was better than doing absolutely nothing.

I guess the researchers who designed these studies never imagined that homeopathy advocates would look at the results and say "look, it works as well as a placebo!" as if that were a positive thing.
posted by grouse at 2:37 PM on November 24, 2007


five fresh fish:

I would say that it is worth studying, even for the most ardent supporter of scientific thought, in this sense: It requires you to address what is possible and to do so in a honest manner. You must muster all the analytical structures at your disposal in order to define the edge of what is knowable. As it is said, true wisdom is knowing what you cannot know.

In the context of a field of study, I would suggest a "Religious Studies" approach. It becomes clear that any argument about homeopathy can by analogy be reduced to: "Can you definitively prove that God exists?". Not that I'm suggesting that homeopathy is in any sense a worship of a god, rather that the argument is scientifically undecidable. Homeopathy's efficacy is decidable only in the context of whether or not it works for you.

In much the same way, there was at one time or other a great debate in England over the supposed existence of fairies. Rational and scientific investigations will not reveal the true nature of fairies. Rather, the only way to know if they exist is by chance to see them

If you think fairies exists, well that's fine. But how can we suggest that science should settle the matter?
posted by kuatto at 3:48 PM on November 24, 2007


I did get a little upset in a previous posting, sorry about that all. But I really think the feelings coming from the anti-homeopathy side is rooted in a personal conception of Scientific Truth that has been abused.

After all, fairies don't exist, right?
posted by kuatto at 3:54 PM on November 24, 2007


If you want to make an analogy between the evidence for homeopathy and the evidence for fairies, I think I'm okay with that.
posted by grouse at 3:59 PM on November 24, 2007


Well, I'd certainly agree that homopathics is in the domain of religious inquiry.

Which, IIRC, is what I said way back in this thread: the reason governments shouldn't support homeopathic alternatives is because it's a religious thing.

(homeopathic medicine is allowed to have cost 'cause churches are entitled to their tithings)

I do think there's some amount of argument that homeopathics should be banned for much the same reason Scientology should be banned. They're both political forces for teh stupids manipulated by the greedies in this world. No good can come of that.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:36 PM on November 24, 2007


After all, fairies don't exist, right?
Right. And if you or anyone else wants to say they do, they have to prove it, to some standard higher than anecdote or "unknown wisdom of the known within a context of personal belief ugga booga TRUTH".

It becomes clear that any argument about homeopathy can by analogy be reduced to: "Can you definitively prove that God exists?".
Yes. And you know what? Science can. It just hasn't been able to so far because there's nothing there except inside people's minds. The only way science couldn't prove God's existence is if you define God to be "something humans can perceive but science can't", which description is laughable, given human scientists.

The case here is not that my personal notion of truth has been abused, it's that the you're flirting with reality's notion of truth ("homeopathy works!") then denying its power ("but you can't test it!")

You are not asking us "Can you definitely prove that God exists". You are saying "can you definitely prove God doesn't exist?". Which is rather idiotic of you.

The onus is on you to prove homeopathy works -- and you know what? The placebo effect counts as "not working".
posted by bonaldi at 8:03 AM on November 25, 2007


Yes. And you know what? Science can.

:) I'd love to hear this!

The case here is not that my personal notion of truth has been abused, it's that the you're flirting with reality's notion of truth ("homeopathy works!") then denying its power ("but you can't test it!")

This is actually what I was referring to. "reality's notion of the truth".

I don't deny the essential fact that reality exists, but I would caution that, in principle, it is unknowable in the absolute sense. In a logical conception, fine, but as soon as you bring in the "real" world, things get very hard.

For instance, simple properties, such as the length of an object, can defy basic quantification within the absolute sense of "reality's notion of the truth":

We can say that we know how long the coast of Britain is, but in "reality", it is quite unknowable.

Another classic example in this same vein is the quantum mechanical implication of particle velocity and location. To the extent that we require complete knowledge of a system (Truth), we shall be left wanting.


Don't be so sure Science can establish the existence of God, given it's inability to establish such a basic matter as the measure of length.

After all, fairies don't exist, right?
Right. And if you or anyone else wants to say they do, they have to prove it


Right, and likewise, if you say fairies don't exist and I claim a divine source of "Truth" on the matter, the onus is then on you to prove that they don't.

Of course that's easier said then done. Much like the "proofs" for or against the existence of God.

But for christ's sake, don't let my ramblings stop you from explaining your "Scientific" proof against the existence of God :) I'd love to hear it!
posted by kuatto at 9:09 AM on November 25, 2007


But for christ's sake, don't let my ramblings stop you from explaining your "Scientific" proof against the existence of God :) I'd love to hear it!
You thought-challenged numbnuts. I said science can't prove God doesn't exist, because you can't prove a negative.

This is why the onus is never on me to prove that fairies don't exist. It can only ever be upon me -- or any skeptic -- to prove that the evidence supporting claims of their existence is false. Which -- hey! -- we can do pretty easily with homeopathy too.

We can now add epistemology to the growing list of things you suck at.
posted by bonaldi at 9:17 AM on November 25, 2007


Right, and likewise, if you say fairies don't exist and I claim a divine source of "Truth" on the matter, the onus is then on you to prove that they don't.

That's not how it works, pal. Not in the least.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 AM on November 25, 2007


(And, oh gods, before you come back with something like "but you said fairies don't exist and this is you saying that there's no proof of them which is also the fallacy of proving a negative!!!!!!!", I'm not saying that. I'm saying "there's no evidence that fairies exist")
posted by bonaldi at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2007


kuatto, I suspected if you went on long enough, you'd invoke quantum mechanics. I didn't think you'd invoke fractals as well. (The latter is not science but rather mathematics, so this is the equivalent of arguing, "Triginometric functions and algebra exist, therefore you are wrong, and gnomes are stealing the candy bars from your desk drawer.)

Science is not a buffet, she is a formal dinner. You can not pig out on her chocolate covered strawberries while ignoring her salad and cheese course. Nothing in quantum mechanics rules out Atomic Theory, which is extremely well established. Using atomic theory, diluting a solution containing n duck liver molecules, C200, (homepathic notation for diluting by 100^200), means there is a negligible probability of having any duck liver molecules in the remaining water.

I suspect you're remaining in this thread just for shits and giggles, rather than having an opinon as to what truth is. Seeing as this sort of fuzzy thinking and belief magical sugar pills kills people, like Oriole Adams's co-worker mentioned upthread, I find your behaviour a little obnoxious.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:08 PM on November 25, 2007


The fact that belief in medical efficacy, rather than the necessity of active ingredients, appear to explain the effect, and thus render any given placebo the equivalent of rainbows and lollipops, makes your point kinda moot.

we are just talking past each other here, because my interest in the topic was that in fact we cannot explain the effect - we have named it, but we do not know how it works. This is a decent overview of the problem.

As has been said already, part of the problem is that it is possible that human beings, that nature in general, does not work quite the same way as computers and man made physical machines. We may be affected on two levels, the same way we experience on two levels - our mental life might be more relevant than we've been believing in the scientific community. So only the quacks even pay attention any more to the intuitive needs of the human being, but it is possible those intuitive needs speak to something real, that a more self-aware science could open up to.
posted by mdn at 5:14 PM on November 25, 2007


five fresh fish:That's not how it works, pal. Not in the least.

Well, then the point is moot, then nothing will be proved either way.

Hey bonaldi, I said:
It becomes clear that any argument about homeopathy can by analogy be reduced to: "Can you definitively prove that God exists?".

You said:
Yes. And you know what? Science can.

sebastienbailard with regards to your comments on "Science",

I suspect you're remaining in this thread just for shits and giggles, rather than having an opinon as to what truth is.

There's an old saying:

Opinions are like Assholes, everyone has one.

My opinion? I would rather drink mineral water then take homeopathic remedies. But I cannot suggest that "Science Proves" anything with regards to how homeopathic remedies work (ritualistically, psychologically or otherwise) or how it doesn't work in a human. That is, If I say:

"Using atomic theory, diluting a solution containing n duck liver molecules, C200, (homepathic notation for diluting by 100^200), means there is a negligible probability of having any duck liver molecules in the remaining water."

My view is that science is a reflexive, ongoing process, whereby a set of expectations or beliefs is validated via critical analysis, experimental evidence and observation. Every such expectation or belief is judged critically within the context of a collected body of work and linked via that critical mechanism to the whole of the body of Science . New knowledge is added only if it is consistent with the Scientific body.

My opinion is that for people, it is very, very, convenient to adopt science as their one and only frame of reference with regards to reality. A topical perusal promotes a inward focus:

If it is not consistent with science then it is not what reality is.

That is, if science does not address it in terms of a Theory (Atomic or otherwise), then it is not real.

If I have made an assertion within the context of Atomic Theory. I have not addressed the totality of the Truth. Unless, I am naive enough to think that the current body of scientific knowledge encompasses all Truth for all time.

What I see here is people making assertions, backed by Science, about things that Science cannot directly address. sebastienbailard, I'm glad you mentioned the notion of an "opinion of the truth" with regards to the topic at hand. I am more comfortable with people asserting their "opinions" rather than addressing a scientific "Truth" that precludes homeopathy.

For example, consider the effect Newtonian Mechanics had on peoples view of what the universe was. It had a profound effect on politics, philosophy etc. Too the extent that newtons laws of Motion are correct is not in argument. Rather, the argument is that there is a larger Truth that exists outside of Scientific "Laws", this is called reality.

PS: It mildly irritates me that you suggest that Benoît Mandelbrot is not a scientist or something for introducing the notion of a fractal with regards reality. What exactly are you suggesting there? Follow your logic to the end: To the extent that you consider Mathematics "seperate" from reality, so is Science.
posted by kuatto at 1:53 PM on December 1, 2007


Right, and likewise, if you say fairies don't exist and I claim a divine source of "Truth" on the matter, the onus is then on you to prove that they don't.
That's not how it works, pal. Not in the least.
Well, then the point is moot, then nothing will be proved either way.
¿Eh? If you make the extraordinary claim that fairies exist, the onus is on you to prove it. Divine knowledge does not count as any sort of proof, as it proves nothing whatsoever.

You are right, though: if divine knowledge is your sole argument, the point is indeed moot.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:38 PM on December 1, 2007


Hey bonaldi, I said:
It becomes clear that any argument about homeopathy can by analogy be reduced to: "Can you definitively prove that God exists?".

You said:
Yes. And you know what? Science can.

Uh ... yes? And it can. I did go on to say that it hasn't been able to yet, because there's nothing there behind the claims. But the scientific method is absolutely able to test God-claims, apart from ones that specifically and handily exclude testability in their definition of God. Kinda like how I can fly why nobody's looking.

However, you also said:
But for christ's sake, don't let my ramblings stop you from explaining your "Scientific" proof against the existence of God :)
Which is bollocks, just like the fairies. Can't prove negatives.

Finally:
New knowledge is added only if it is consistent with the Scientific body.
roffles.
posted by bonaldi at 9:05 PM on December 1, 2007


Well, the existence of god shall be proven once and for all, eh? (Perhaps on the second Tuesday, after an unknown amount of time, in the year whenever?). Hah

fff:
You are right, though: if divine knowledge is your sole argument, the point is indeed moot.

Do you realize that this is the point at which the thread started? If you have a notion of what Scientific Truth is, please be prepared to know the limits of what you can claim. Science places these limitations on itself. Of course "divine knowledge" knows no limitation ;). This is another way of saying that what "Is" is more than "The Body of Science".

Finally:
New knowledge is added only if it is consistent with the Scientific body.
roffles.


For instance, Newtons laws (divinely inspired!), consistent with experimentation and observation, superseded a Copernican formulation. Not that Copernicus was completely wrong, certainly his explanation made more sense then epicycles! Rather Newton was even more correct. Likewise, Einstein in turn superseded Newton, not because Newton was wrong, again, because Einstein was more correct.

So when I say "added only if it is consistent with the Scientific body", I mean that it explains everything the old theory explained, confirms the same experiments, and does it all better. In addition, the new theory necessarily goes on to make predictions and raise new questions that the old one could not.

Still the assumption is that these rules and laws of nature are incomplete. There is always a better explanation. The unfolding process of Science can never be considered "complete" in the colloquial sense of the word, but it does grow. Maybe that's why you ROFFLD, this process is a little strange when considered in its totality. Popper might suggest that this is the evolutionary theory of objective knowledge.

So think of it like this, Science is what it is and it not anything else. It has limits, it has a fairly clear edge that you can peer over and wonder about; the indeterminate nature of reality.
posted by kuatto at 5:59 PM on December 5, 2007


Well, the existence of god shall be proven once and for all, eh? (Perhaps on the second Tuesday, after an unknown amount of time, in the year whenever?). Hah
I'm not sure how else to put this to you, kuatto. My point is this: the scientific method is entirely capable of asserting claims of the existence of God. And lots of people have tried to make them, though more often in the framework of analytical logic.

You said that testing homeopathy was essentially like testing claims of God. And I'm telling you that science can do both, and has, and has always found them false.

I'm not sure you're getting what fff is saying, either. If you want to make claims inside science's framework (of things we can test, repeat and prove and can therefore rely on for things like medicating the sick) then you don't get to suddenly step outside at a crucial point and have a bit of the proof be "because God says so".

Oh: I roffled at your phrasing. I see how you think Einstein was "consistent" with what came before him, but it's more usual to say that his methods were consistent with scientific method.
posted by bonaldi at 9:20 PM on December 5, 2007


gah! *assessing* claims, not asserting them.
posted by bonaldi at 10:37 PM on December 5, 2007


Oh noes science is killing homeopathy
posted by bonaldi at 12:50 PM on December 9, 2007


I asked:
"Can you definitively prove that God exists?"

Testing claims? Perhaps. But testing particular claims does not answer the question stated above. There is a key distinction there.

The Scientific method cannot make assertions about the existence of God, or magical water for that matter. It can state: "similar results in a double-blind trial". To assert that the claims are false "because god does not exist" is as absurd as me responding with: "Well they didnt work out because God knew you were looking". Both are equally preposterous.

The point I keep attempting to make here is that science is not some whipping boy that you can marshal up to attack distasteful, or conflicting points of view. If you don't believe in god, that's wonderful. Good for you! Bravo.

However when you try to explain to people that science has "proved" god doesn't exist, you come off like a fool. Science says no such thing.

Go ahead, write down definitive proof that God does not exist. Please, go head. You are one person in a long line of individuals who has struggled to make rational, "scientific", claims about God's existence. But first, tell me:

Do angels poop in heaven? And what does science say about angel poop? Is there a scientific test that can determine if angels poop out rubys?

I want you to respond:

"And I'm telling you that science [can test claims about angels pooping], and has, and has always found them false."

I will then print that out and look at it every day. I will put it in a frame and hang it on the wall. I will read it every morning while I eat toast and murmur the words to myself at night.

I tell you sir, the real question is not: Does God exists? Or does homeopathy heal?

Rather it is: Do angels poop?

I'm actually not that surprised that homeopathy is fading away. So much of what was once here on this planet is fading away: Tibetan herders, the Bushmen of the Kalahari are now gone. The Pygmies live is apartments now while they're not being killed. Birds and animals are dying, industry spews; Tell me, does science make claims about the lost languages, the hidden arts and incantations long fallen to the wayside? The primitive vistas of ancient forests and valleys, replaced by Microsoft Vista. What rubbish.

Science is of course blameless, it is rather the people who wield science as a weapon, science as an economic tool, science as a personal framework of belief, science as a fucking excuse for any ol' goddamn thing, it is these who shoulder the blame.

Yes, all these things have faded away, are fading away, replaced by fat people in autos; their corpulence weighing down their thoughts, dulling their senses. If you cannot recognize the limitations of science or any other pedagogical framework, then you have become a slave to it; A shining individual whose thoughts resemble the peristaltic movement of an angel's large intestine.

I humbly supplicate and wait for your assertions about angel poop. I will be here as long as it takes to clear this up.

To the people who devoutly prostrate themselves before the alter of science.
regards,
kuatto

PS: Angels do NOT poop ruby's, they shit 24k gold nuggets. FYI...
posted by kuatto at 8:39 PM on December 11, 2007


I humbly supplicate and wait for your assertions about angel poop. I will be here as long as it takes to clear this up.
Shouldn't take long, fucknuts. State your proof of why you say angels poop 24k gold nuggest, and we'll test it.

This is all I'm claiming for science. I haven't ever said "science has proved there is no God" (but have tried a couple of times to tell you about proving negatives). All I've said is that If you want to claim that [God exists/homeopathy works/angels poop gold nuggets/you can read]* then "science" is perfectly capable of testing those claims and giving them a truth value. That's it.

*delete as appropriate, or insert similar things
posted by bonaldi at 9:17 PM on December 11, 2007


So Science can never conclusively prove the NON-existence of God or kuatto's brain, but repeated testing has failed to prove the existence of either. And while there are some who are mis-educated enough to treat science like it's a religion, very few of them "prostrate themselves before the altar of science"... most of them use their ignorance to attack science while they prostrate themselves on the altars of their own false gods. Those poor people are just too weak to stand on their own and can't imagine that anyone else might not need an altar to prostrate themselves on.
posted by wendell at 10:10 PM on December 11, 2007


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