Homeopathic overdose
January 16, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

The 10:23 challenge is an international protest over the weekend of February 5-6 2011, to make the simple statement: "Homeopathy - There's Nothing In It". Protesters will ingest significantly more than the recommended dosage of homeopathic remedies, to demonstrate the lack of efficacy. Here you can watch legendary sceptic James Randi take a lethal dose of homeopathic sleeping pills. (more at Science-Based Medicine)
posted by ivey (223 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
In other news, homeopathy companies reported a massive spike in revenue this quarter.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:34 AM on January 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I doubt that this will change any minds. People seem to have an infinite capacity to ignore empirical evidence and believe what they want to be true.
posted by octothorpe at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Wouldn't not eating a homeopathic remedy at all be much more powerful than actually ingesting it?
posted by empath at 11:40 AM on January 16, 2011 [24 favorites]


Homeopathy CURED my dehydration!!!
posted by qvantamon at 11:41 AM on January 16, 2011 [32 favorites]


I will drink a tiny, tiny droplet of tapwater.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:42 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I knew a guy that had a lethal overdose of homeopathic medicine. He fell out of a boat and drowned.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:42 AM on January 16, 2011 [23 favorites]


I think homeopathic medicine is total bulllshit too, but it seems kind of weird to organize an "international protest" about it. It's not like The Homeopathy Man is oppressing poor, benighted science-based medicine.
posted by dersins at 11:44 AM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's not like The Homeopathy Man is oppressing poor, benighted science-based medicine.

No, just diverting uninformed people from seeking real medical care to treat real problems. Totally harmless.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:46 AM on January 16, 2011 [38 favorites]


Vaxa-Mime
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:47 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not like The Homeopathy Man is oppressing poor, benighted science-based medicine.

Yeah it's not like homeopathy ever killed anyone.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 11:48 AM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's not like The Homeopathy Man is oppressing poor, benighted science-based medicine.

No, but homeopaths do try to treat malaria with their bullshit, leading to more deaths.

Homeopaths do go into developing nations and convince people to refuse vaccinations and other real medicine.

Homeopaths do also accept real, folding money from people, people who often need real medical treatment.

http://whatstheharm.net/homeopathy.html
posted by device55 at 11:50 AM on January 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


Some pharmacies in London sell homeopathic anti-malaria drugs.

437 documented cases of death or injury due to homeopathy.
posted by ivey at 11:50 AM on January 16, 2011


it seems kind of weird to organize an "international protest" about it

cf What's the Harm?
posted by Rhomboid at 11:52 AM on January 16, 2011


I'm not saying it doesn't suck and isn't potentially dangerous, but saying you're "protesting" something, implies that the thing you're "protesting" is the thing that's in, or has some significant power-- power which a fringe practice like homeopathic medicine manifestly does not.

It's like organizing an "international protest" against astrology, or veganism, or the green party.
posted by dersins at 11:53 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


saying you're "protesting" something, implies that the thing you're "protesting" is the thing that's in, or has some significant power

That's an odd definition of "protest". As for "power," having caused many deaths isn't good enough?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:57 AM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Homeopathic remedies I think are much more commonly used and sold in the UK compared to the US, which is why this is primarily a UK-based project. The purpose of the protest is to try to educate people that don't know better that there is no science to it and to convince them to stop spending money on snake oil. Making it in the form of a protest is probably the easiest way to get media coverage, also likely the reason for the (fingerquotes) overdose.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:57 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would like to protest astrology. Where to sign up?
posted by 7segment at 11:58 AM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's like organizing an "international protest" against astrology, or veganism, or the green party.

I don't have a problem with any of those ideas, actually.


In the UK homeopaths are quite fond of suing anyone who publicly criticizes anyone who challenges homeopathy for libel. That has a chilling effect on journalists and doctors and what have you.

And even if that weren't the case, since when does the thing you're protesting have to have any 'power'?

Can't it just be wrong or dangerous?
posted by device55 at 11:59 AM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Just last year Hyland's "homeopathic" teething tablets were recalled after several adverse events. I had several other mothers tell me, "Oh, they're homeopathic, so they're perfectly safe for your baby, not like that terrible infant Orajel!"

I said, "Yeah, but if they're working, they have an active ingredient and should be regulated. And if they're really 'homeopathic,' they won't work."

"Yeah, but Orajel has DRUGS in it."

"Yes, but they're regulated and I know what the dose is."

"But Hyland's is HOMEOPATHIC so it works AND it's perfectly safe."

Turns out Hyland's is full of "inconsistent amounts" of BELLADONNA. ("In addition, the FDA has received reports of serious adverse events in children taking this product that are consistent with belladonna toxicity.") And that's what people are giving their babies as "perfectly safe"!!!!!

So, yeah, homeopathy is not only nonsense, but since it's unregulated, can be dangerous. And it can be dangerous to children too young to know that their parents are idiots.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:01 PM on January 16, 2011 [48 favorites]


Mitchell and Webb: Homeopathic ER.
posted by isopraxis at 12:04 PM on January 16, 2011 [46 favorites]


For the record, you don't have to be an idiot to believe something that's not true.
posted by mhjb at 12:05 PM on January 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


To really take down homeopathy shouldn't you take far LESS than the recommended dose? After all, the remedy is stronger when more dilute.

Cheaper too. Just buy 1 dose then dilute it 10,000 times. Enough for everyone!
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 12:06 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Octothorpe: It doesn't have to be about changing minds. I'll admit that I knew almost nothing about homeopathy before today, and assumed that it was comprised of traditional herbal remedies that might have some benefit in certain cases. Due to this post, I've spent the past half hour or so informing myself about the quackery of homeopathic "medicine". I'm putting the effort solidly in the "win" column.
posted by KGMoney at 12:07 PM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


CBC: Cure or Con?
Erica Johnson investigates one of the country's fastest growing alternative health treatments: homeopathy. Ontario homeopaths are about to become the first province in Canada to regulate homeopathy — lending credibility to this unproven practice.

Canada's leading consumer ally takes a long hard look at the theories, and the remedies. For the first time in Canada, we conduct a test of homeopathic medicines, investigating the science behind these so-called medicines. In light of our results, we ask both the Ontario government and Health Canada why they are lending credibility to the homeopathic industry. Johnson also meets up with a rep from the world's leading manufacturer of homeopathic medicines, who admits that even the company says how homeopathty works is a mystery.

Watch, as we witness a Vancouver group of skeptics taking part in a group overdose of homeopathic remedies. Perhaps most disturbing we learn that some homeopaths are treating cancer patients with homeopathic remedies. A leading cancer specialist says there is no role for homeopathy in the treatment of cancer, that it is a "scam that is not evidence-based."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:09 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ummm.... this happened about a year ago, right? Or did I have a premonition?

Also, this.
posted by Decani at 12:13 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the record, you don't have to be an idiot to believe something that's not true.

It helps, though.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:15 PM on January 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


I would like to protest astrology. Where to sign up?
posted by 7segment at 7:58 PM on January 16


You sound like an Ophiuchius. The most sceptical of signs.
posted by Decani at 12:15 PM on January 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


Homeopathic remedies I think are much more commonly used and sold in the UK compared to the US

Yeah, I get the impression there's a different kind of thing going on in the UK, because in the States it would be highly unusual for someone to call themselves a "homeopath." You can go into most drug stories and buy gingko biloba or what have you, but that's about it. Homeopathic remedies exist here, but there's no body you could point to and dub "homeopathy" the way you could, say, "psychiatry" or "optometry." So to Americans I think it sounds more like declaring war on an abstraction than it may elsewhere.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:16 PM on January 16, 2011


I've never used homeopathy, and despite it being a pet hate of the internet tribe, I have always considered it to be a potentially useful application of the placebo effect - - just enough pseudoscientific hand waving to bluff the rank and file. My only wish is that I were credulous enough for it to work on my own ailments, but I certainly don't wish to take that benediction away from others.
posted by fairmettle at 12:23 PM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wait, if the theory behind homeopathy worked, wouldn't that mean that a whole lot of people are full of drugs all the time?
posted by griphus at 12:23 PM on January 16, 2011


When I was in Belgium I had an occasion to be with a friend as they were visiting their physician. After a normal diagnosis with a normal prescription the doctor asked my friend what she thought about Homeopathic medicine. My friend shrugged, unfamiliar, but willing to go along with her doctor's advice. The doctor then prescribed homeopathic remedies to go along with her normal prescription.

Being a relatively civilized country, Belgium has socialized health care; taxpayers were paying for her homeopathic prescription.

Later, as she picked up her homeopathic 'medicine', she did so in a normal looking pharmacy; the homeopathic medicine was side by side with the real medicine.

As homeopathic treatment isn't in the mainstream in America, I can understand how American's could look at this issue and shrug; even calling it an overreaction, a complaint about nothing.

Having seen this practice invade the mainstream of medicine in other countries, I'm glad it's getting scrutiny.
posted by el io at 12:28 PM on January 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


As a much smarter friend once said, if alternative medicine worked, they would just call it medicine.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:29 PM on January 16, 2011 [23 favorites]


All I can say is I love my Bach Flower Rescue Remedy.

I do take Citalopram as well for anxiety, but seriously, if I start feeling calmer after five minutes of taking the Bach's and it's all in my head, I'm not complaining. I'll take my brain bullshitting me instead of grinding my jaw to a pulp any day.

Personally, I distinguish between what some call "Natural" and "Homeopathic" remedies. Others don't.
posted by New England Cultist at 12:36 PM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


As a much smarter friend once said, if alternative medicine worked, they would just call it medicine.

And these medicines would be called placebos - proven time and again in clinical studies to be safe and effective. Indeed the "medicinal" effect of these so-called "placebos" are so common that strenuous effort is made by statisticians to nullify their contribution in the testing of any new drug.
posted by three blind mice at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast, that hasn't been my experience. I certainly know people who rely on homeopaths for at least part of their health care, and products like the Hylands teething tablets, sleep remedies, etc., are commonly sold in pharmacies and suggested through the grapevine for all manner of ailments. I've known medical professionals to suggest them as supplemental treatment for their patients, perhaps on the basis that they're no worse than a placebo--the belladonna incident has proven that this is not a safe assumption.
posted by Songdog at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It may be totally worthless but science now indicates the power of placebos...thus it might be useful!
posted by Postroad at 12:44 PM on January 16, 2011


I'm not an expert on homeopathy, but isn't the fact that the formulas are so diluted part of their reason behind their supposed efficacy? And so taking large quantities isn't going to do much to convince the adherents of too much, will it?
posted by crunchland at 12:46 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


And these medicines would be called placebos - proven time and again in clinical studies to be safe and effective. Indeed the "medicinal" effect of these so-called "placebos" are so common that strenuous effort is made by statisticians to nullify their contribution in the testing of any new drug.
posted by three blind mice at 12:37 PM on January 16


However, so-called alternative medicines such as homeopathy, whose effectiveness, if any, is that of a placebo, are only a suitable treatment for health problems of a psychosomatic nature.
posted by knoyers at 12:48 PM on January 16, 2011


They're going to have quite an uphill battle when they start tackling Chinese medicine.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I figured, if a little bit of placebo has such a dramatic effect, what if I take a whole bunch?

Well, after six years of drinking a gallon of sugar water per day, I'm blind and have lost a foot, but at least I never got cancer!
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:00 PM on January 16, 2011


Diabetes myths
posted by found missing at 1:03 PM on January 16, 2011


This is kinda silly. The only people that understand the humor in ODing on homeopathic "meds" are resistant to homeopathy as it is.

I would have thought the purpose of this movement was to inform those who aren't scientifically inclined, rather than pat themselves on the back while preaching to the choir.

I'm a marijuana smoker, but I seriously don't understand the point of smoking in front of a police station as "protest". Their brazen actions actually undercut the message and make them look like fringe people...kinda like the 10:23 people.

Excellent bread, not so nice circus, though.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:04 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Indeed the "medicinal" effect of these so-called "placebos" are so common that strenuous effort is made by statisticians to nullify their contribution in the testing of any new drug.

Randomisation?
posted by docgonzo at 1:05 PM on January 16, 2011


There may be a positive placebo effect that comes along with certain homeopathic remedies, but that's not a justification for a dishonest industry.

The placebo effect, while it can be powerful, is quite complicated and hard to predict. When placebo is used therapeutically, it is done so in a very controlled way and without deception if possible.

Here's an interesting quick article which touches on how placebo effect can actually reduce the effectiveness of a previously assumed to be effective drug.
posted by device55 at 1:06 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


437 documented cases of death or injury due to homeopathy.

Certainly homeopathy is bullshit and can be very dangerous, but one could probably point to high #s of documented cases of death/injury due to various legitimate, scientifically based medical treatments/drugs.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:09 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty stupid protest. They're just proving to everyone that "Homeopathic" remedies are safe. The idea that Randi took a "lethal" dose is not true, because no one would call the dose lethal and it didn't kill him.
Personally, I distinguish between what some call "Natural" and "Homeopathic" remedies. Others don't.
Marijuana is a natural remedie for nausea, that doesn't mean it's fake. The problem with Homeopathic stuff is that it's simply not true The stuff is diluted to such an extent that it doesn't even exist at the molecular level.

Also, there was a study recently that showed placebos even work when you tell people they are placebos and contain no medicine.
posted by delmoi at 1:13 PM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's like organizing an "international protest" against astrology, or veganism, or the green party.

Or Scientology.
posted by ryoshu at 1:13 PM on January 16, 2011


Ummm.... this happened about a year ago, right? Or did I have a premonition?

Yes, they did this last year too:

Robbins said that the campaign, conceived and orchestrated by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, would be a success if it prompted the public to ask more questions about what homeopathy actually is.

And the public response?

Sales of alternative medicines are booming as consumers shake off their cynicism. Analysts predict sales will increase by 33 per cent to £282 million over the next four years as more patients reject prescription drugs in favour of natural remedies.
posted by verstegan at 1:13 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


...but I seriously don't understand the point of smoking in front of a police station as "protest".

Well, you'd be better off smoking it in front of the offices of a lobby group who distribute fact-sheets about the harmfulness of marijuana. The cops have nothing to do with that at all. Even then, (non-insane) anti-marijuana advocates have long ceased trying to claim that you can "overdose" on marijuana. Why? Because you can smoke your brains out in a single sitting and outside of getting sick from smoke inhalation or passing out or getting loopy, you can't overdose on it in the medical sense. It won't be the actual THC in you that will make you ill. Before this was common knowledge, someone attempting to smoke 'til they OD would be seen as a ridiculous person committing an act of self-harm for attention. Until, of course, they turned out to not have overdosed.

Considering that homeopathic "meds" can't even get you high, I think showing people that a whole shitload of their medicine won't have any effect isn't such a bad idea.
posted by griphus at 1:14 PM on January 16, 2011


I would like to protest astrology. Where to sign up?

just go outside tonight and scream at the stars
posted by pyramid termite at 1:18 PM on January 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


For the record, you don't have to be an idiot to believe something that's not true.

Sure, but we're talking about homeopathy.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:20 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dumb moon!
posted by device55 at 1:22 PM on January 16, 2011


Not that I'm an admirer of homeopathy, but one does wonder at the root causes of it being so widely admired, besides "woo" and "people will believe anything."

I think a portion of the interest in it comes from a somewhat earned distrust of Big Pharma and the Miracle Age of Plastics (also a good band name). Go ahead, trust us. This is safe as houses. This is just a plastic softener. This prevents miscarriages. This is a fire retardant. This will ease your pregnancy. This will help you lose weight. And then you get heart attacks and infants with some unfortunate conditions and folks in Biosphere 2 whose bodies serve as a reservoir for various industrial chemicals.

Then you've got the fact that not everyone is on board with gatekeepers to their health and would like a more do-it-yourself approach. Drugs aren't cheap. Appointments take time to get, and then you get a whopping five minutes with the doctor.

It's not a huge surprise that people want to try something else. To be rid of homeopathy, some of the root causes must be addressed.
posted by adipocere at 1:31 PM on January 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


I've never used homeopathy, and despite it being a pet hate of the internet tribe, I have always considered it to be a potentially useful application of the placebo effect - - just enough pseudoscientific hand waving to bluff the rank and file. My only wish is that I were credulous enough for it to work on my own ailments, but I certainly don't wish to take that benediction away from others.

Ironically, the more a homeopathic vendor is intent on scamming the consumer, the safer their product is likely to be. Why? Because "real" homeopathy would actually include, during the manufacturing process, harmful ingredients. "Fake" remedies would just be starch or some other common, harmless ingredient.

Since there's no regulation, you get shit like the toxic belladonna in the teething tablets. Additionally, vendors love to make their products look like medicine, and thus you have hapless consumers who equate homeopathy with "herbal medicine" or "home remedies" - thus thinking it's safe, who end up buying an unregulated product that could contain unsafe levels of any kind of shit.

It's like a perfect storm of stupid.
posted by odinsdream at 1:36 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Further to adipocere's and other remarks: given the tendency to over prescribe chemically active medicines, it seems at least possible that a massive movement toward taking little sugar pills instead of medicine with both beneficial and harmful effects could result in a net improvement in the health of a population.

I recall hearing (years ago) a defender of actual medicine admitting that 70% of interventions were not based on evidence (prescribing antibiotics for flue symptoms being a common example).
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:47 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"health problems of a psychosomatic nature"

I just wanted to point out that after approximately 12 weeks, ANY pain related problem will have undergone some centralisation, and thus could be described (or dismissed) as of a psychosomatic nature. This leads to pain care being both wide open, and a little bit odd, to the extent that if someone is wondering whether homeopathy will help with their long term back problem, it probably will.

Of course, massage will probably help too, as will Chinese medicine, or exercise, or anything else which is helping the patient to feel more in control of their pain.

(Cribbed roughly from the pain series of lectures in my Osteopathy course. YMMV.)

But whatever you think of that, chronic pain, and it's treatment, is fascinating. And probably debilitating as well.
posted by fizban at 1:49 PM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Yeah, but Orajel has DRUGS in it."

Yet more casualties of the war on drugs.

Ben Goldacre is a good source of background reading on this sort of thing in the UK, I'm fairly sure he's the original source for the "if alternative medicine worked" quote earlier.
posted by robertc at 1:50 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have friends who love touting homeopathic bollocks 'treatments' this little video.

It does fuck all to help, but it makes me feel good in a passive aggressive kind of a way.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 1:56 PM on January 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'll be honest, the first thing I thought was (after seeing the James Randi video), "Wow, all these people are screwing other people out of their money with bullshit. How do I get in on this?"

I mean, it seems a great way to make easy money. Creating a type of medicine that depends on using as little of the active drug as possible? Saying it's more effective if it's more diluted? Really? Those must be some profit margins there.

Same goes for mind reading, astrology, talking to the dead, etc. Cold reading is as easy as saying "You must be a deep thinker, and you don't get angry often unless someone or something you care for is attacked in some way. Yes, and you're shy in some situations and talkative in others, for example when you're with your closest friends...etc."

Who wouldn't be tempted to make money from this? Especially since there are clearly very little consequences for those who come up with these scams.
posted by majonesing at 1:57 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do mot do homeopathic rememedies. Herbal remedies are another matter, but I even use those with caution. I take some prescriptions that don't mix well with herbs and spices now.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:58 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh bollocks...

"I have friends who love touting homeopathic bollocks 'treatments'. I love sending them this little video."

*sigh*
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 2:00 PM on January 16, 2011


I go to health food stores a lot, and when I go through the health aisles, I see the homeopathic remedies mixed in with the herbal remedies and the actual drugs. I have friends who use all three interchangeably and don't understand the difference. When I grab one of these people and explain what homeopathy is, they are flabbergasted. If protesting homeopathy educates people, I'll be first in line to drink that homeopathic flea remedy from the pet aisle.
posted by acrasis at 2:16 PM on January 16, 2011


However, so-called alternative medicines such as homeopathy, whose effectiveness, if any, is that of a placebo, are only a suitable treatment for health problems of a psychosomatic nature.
posted by knoyers


Well, no. This is not true. Placebos work by triggering the body's own endorphins and defense mechanisms. So if you were to give morphine and placebos to two groups of patients in a blind study, both would experience some relief of pain. Now the really interesting thing: If you then were to give opiate blockers to the two groups, BOTH would experience the recurrence of pain, because the body's morphine-like endorphins are also blocked.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


An alternate protest strategy:

What we need is for only one person worldwide to protest homeopathy
( a 1.4x10^-10 strength protest)

and for this protest to last only second per 100 years (1 second/100 years = 3.2x10^-10)

That will give us a protest potency of not quite 10C (4.5x10^-20). Not very dilute by homeopathic standards, but it's about as powerful a protest as I think we can pull together.

OK, here I go, praising homeopathy for one second. Ready...
NOW!
...homeopathycancureanythingseriouslyanything...
TIME!

Now all of us just need to be as neutral as possible toward homeopathy for the next 100 years and it will be eliminated. Also, we need to shake ourselves vigorously. May I suggest the minecraft rave?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'll admit it: I bought the damn Hyland's tablets when my daughter was teething, because we were in HELL, and I was grasping at straws. They seemed to work, albeit not for very long. I asked my doctor about it. She said "It's the sugar. Babies can be temporarily calmed by anything sweet. You can go ahead and use the tablets if you want [this was before the recall -- ed], but sugar cubes are cheaper." Sure enough, giving the baby a couple of drops of sugar water worked just as well for just as long.

As for how homeopathy gained any foothold at all: it was "discovered" during a time when conventional medicine sucked ass and used lots of things like mercury salts, sugar of lead, and bloodletting. The homeopathy didn't work any better, but at least it didn't make your jaw fall off from mercury poisoning.
posted by KathrynT at 2:30 PM on January 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm going to go make a lethal dose of creamed spinich and eat it, and no, you cannot watch.

Creamed Spinach cures what ails ya!
posted by not_on_display at 2:33 PM on January 16, 2011


Wait, if the theory behind homeopathy worked, wouldn't that mean that a whole lot of people are full of drugs all the time?

If water has a memory, then homeopathy is full of shit

Also, folks, "placebo" doesn't mean "it works despite not having a mechanism" or "the body cures itself". At least read the Wikipedia page.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, having the FDA start regulating homeopathic remedies would seem to be an excellent step, as it would have the same effect as banning them, but without direct confrontation.

I realize, of course, that's not really true. The FDA I'm sure would be branded a tool of the pharmaceutical companies by the homeopaths (not that they aren't, but you get my meaning).

Very much like how anybody who points out that there's no link between autism and vaccines is "a tool of big vaccine". What?
posted by HotPants at 2:45 PM on January 16, 2011


The FDA refuses to regulate homeopathic "remedies", I believe on the grounds that they are not, technically, drugs and aren't (usually) harmful to ingest.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:51 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


most of the people i've met who are against vaccines also think homeopathy does something...even if they know the diluted nonsense behind it. and they refuse to believe anything to the contrary, despite any kind of evidence.

so while this a nice idea, it seems like a better idea to continue to educate those people who don't know what homeopathy is and that it's not the same as having some mint tea for an upset stomach or having hot lemon-honey water when your throat is sore.
posted by sio42 at 2:53 PM on January 16, 2011


If I take an antibiotic, would that work by reducing the infection to homeopathic levels, thus multiplying the effect of the treatment? Or would the antibiotic, as it tapers off, itself become a homeopathic infection multiplier, thus creating a condition of ...

[Removes sunglasses]

... Homeostasis

Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh!
posted by zippy at 2:53 PM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


What some people may not know is that there is a publicly-funded homeopathic hospital in London. It's part of the National Health Service.

I don't feel very militant about people who believe silly things in general, but I think I would be pretty damn annoyed at my tax dollars paying for sugar-water "remedies".

This rather unusual situation in the UK presumably came about because the Royal Family were believers.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:54 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


CALLING ALL SCIENTISTS, CALLING ALL SCIENTISTS
posted by Scoo at 2:55 PM on January 16, 2011


prescribing antibiotics for flue symptoms being a common example

I don't know what it is, doc, but I just keep venting gasses from my woodburning stove.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:56 PM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Homeopathy CURED my dehydration!!!

This made me laugh out loud, but I also want to point out that oral rehydration solution has saved millions of children's lives from dehydration due to acute diarrhea, and while it's better to make it too dilute than to use too much sugar or salt, ORS with "homeopathic" concentrations of sugar and salt will move through the digestive system too quickly, and the child is likely to die of dehydration.
posted by straight at 3:02 PM on January 16, 2011


Tim Minchin is wonderful!
posted by gallois at 3:05 PM on January 16, 2011


The trouble with protesting homeopathy in this way is that some remedies that are sold as homeopathic actually aren't homeopathic at all. Arnica creams at "1X" or "TM" ("teincture mère", that is "mother tincture" dilutions, are commonly sold as "homeopathic", despite:

a) being at a dilution of just 1 in ten; and
b) working in contradiction with the "Law of Similars".

Yup, homeopathy companies, not content with selling fake remedies, also sell fake fake remedies, which actually work but, as pretty much any remedy with an active ingredient, can also cause side-effects and overdoses. (Arnica in particular can have pretty nasty effects if taken orally, which is why "arnica" pills are always really homeopathic).
posted by Skeptic at 3:06 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's the wrong problem to protest from a statistics point of view, too.

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego investigated more than 62 million U.S. death certificates between 1979 and 2006. Of those, 244,388 deaths were caused by a medication errors [sic] in a hospital.

I expect to see them picketing outside my local ER any day now. Yep. Any day...
posted by underflow at 3:18 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not like The Homeopathy Man is oppressing poor, benighted science-based medicine.

As others have already suggested in this thread, one of the reasons for homeopathy's prolonged success, despite its deeply irrational nature, is continued support by Europe's royals. Of course, when it comes to quackery, they've done worse. Much worse.
posted by Skeptic at 3:28 PM on January 16, 2011


There's a generation of people who won't be swayed against Homeopathy by any logic. But there's a younger generation which can be. And moreover, even the ignorant among them can be turned against it by a campaign which simply makes it out to be something that old stupid people do. The right campaign could make today's teenagers respond to talk of homeopathic remedies with the same eye-rolling gut reaction that they have when their aunt sends them an email chain letter from her .aol address.

Seriously, focus on the kids.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:37 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


244,388 deaths were caused by a medication errors [sic] in a hospital.

I'm so tired of that bullshit nosocomial/medication error stat being used to create a false equivalence between evidence-based medicine and woo.

That number is only significant when expressed as a percentage of lives saved or bodies healed by scientific medicine, as well as total numbers of patients treated and the seriousness of their problems.

Homeopathy does no good. So any associated morbidity or mortality is in proportion to zero positive effect. Next time you break your arm or develop strep throat, who you gonna call?
posted by spitbull at 3:37 PM on January 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


The trouble with protesting homeopathy in this way is that some remedies that are sold as homeopathic actually aren't homeopathic at all. Arnica creams at "1X" or "TM" ("teincture mère", that is "mother tincture" dilutions, are commonly sold as "homeopathic"

Huh, I wonder if this specific example is why so many of the anecdotes I come across about homeopathy working seem to mention arnica.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:42 PM on January 16, 2011


That number is only significant when expressed as a percentage of lives saved or bodies healed by scientific medicine, as well as total numbers of patients treated and the seriousness of their problems.

You can't compare percentages, though. The only way to get that percent is dividing number harmed by number helped, and you can't divide by zero.
posted by kafziel at 3:52 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


The trouble with protesting homeopathy in this way is that some remedies that are sold as homeopathic actually aren't homeopathic at all. Arnica creams at "1X" or "TM" ("teincture mère", that is "mother tincture" dilutions, are commonly sold as "homeopathic"

Huh, I wonder if this specific example is why so many of the anecdotes I come across about homeopathy working seem to mention arnica.


I believe so. I've encountered those pseudo-homeopathic arnica creams in several countries, and to realise that they actually aren't homeopathic you have to read the ingredient list (which typically is in tiny characters) and be familiar with whichever of several obscure homeopathic notations for dilution has been used.
posted by Skeptic at 3:54 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another example of not-actually-homeopathic homeopathic remedies: Zicam nasal gel before it was pulled. Zinc was the active ingredient. It was called homeopathic to avoid regulation although the end-around appears to have failed given it was ordered off the shelves and all.

Not saying that zinc gels actually treat colds but it was an actual non-homeopathic attempt.
posted by Justinian at 4:08 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast, that hasn't been my experience. I certainly know people who rely on homeopaths for at least part of their health care, and products like the Hylands teething tablets, sleep remedies, etc., are commonly sold in pharmacies and suggested through the grapevine for all manner of ailments. I've known medical professionals to suggest them as supplemental treatment for their patients, perhaps on the basis that they're no worse than a placebo--the belladonna incident has proven that this is not a safe assumption.

Fair enough -- as I read through the thread, I found that "homeopathic" and "herbal" (or whatever these "all-natural" things are called) are terms I use interchangeably as well, I guess because this is something I've never paid that much attention to. I'm still not 100% clear on the difference, but yes, I agree that ingesting nightshade is a bad idea. Down with that sort of thing!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:14 PM on January 16, 2011


I took advantage of the confusion between "homeopathic" and "natural" medicines when someone gave my wife some homeopathic "sleep aid" for our son when he was a baby. I pointed out to her that the active ingredient was "100C Caffeine", and it quickly ended up in the bin.
posted by Jimbob at 4:18 PM on January 16, 2011


I did this 40+ years ago.

When I was a kid my grandma would take my mom and me to a homeopath whenever either one of us was in New York. My grandmother would go to regular doctors who would tell her there was nothing wrong with her (it's called "getting old," I'm older now than she was then, I should know) until she found some crank who would tell her there was something wrong with her and prescribe some phony baloney "cure." Enter homeopathy.

There was this old german guy somewhere around 12th or 14th street in Manhattan in a dingy second floor walk-up who would look into grandma's eyes menacingly for about a minute and then hand her some sugar pills and a bill. She swore by this guy and insisted on taking me and mom to him every time we were around, whether we felt sick or not. He would stare into our eyes menacingly for about a minute and then hand us a bottle of little bitty sugar pills and hand grandma a bill.

So I'm back home some time later and I find some of these bottles of sugar pills. There were quite a few of them around by this time, and I ate a couple. They were sweet and tasted good so I ate a couple more. Pretty soon I had finished off the bottle and probably started on another one. About this time mom walks in, sees what happened and panics (I feel fine, BTW). She calls grandma, grandma calls the old german guy, mom calls old german guy who tells her not to worry about it, I'll be fine. Mom, a bit confused at this point presses the old german guy who basically says there is nothing in them that could hurt me. I don't think he ever actually admitted they were just sugar. Any actual effect from the "medicine" was the placebo effect from having an old german guy stare menacingly at you for about a minute and then sucking on a sugar pill.

I'm way ahead of the curve on this.
posted by lordrunningclam at 4:27 PM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm still not 100% clear on the difference, but yes, I agree that ingesting nightshade is a bad idea.

Real simple difference. Herbal remedies sell you chemicals, which are promoted as "natural" in order to attract sales, but nonetheless essentially aim to work the same way as regular pharmaceuticals. Homeopaths, on the other hand, sell you bottles of pure water or alcohol which have supposedly magic, mysterious properties that can't be explained by science.

Herbal or natural medicines use "natural" active ingredients in the same way that "regular" medicines use ingredients. There is some substance that is presumed to have an effect on your body, and so you take it. Natural medicines trade on the idea that these herbs are healthy, natural, so it can't be bad for you... but there are plenty of things in nature that can be bad for you. There are also plenty of things in nature that can help you as well - I mean, most common drugs we use are derived from or based on naturally found compounds (aspirin, morphine, you name it). Herbal remedies aren't as rigorously tested as "mainstream" drugs, but it is entirely possible for them to "work" (and it's also entirely possible for them to harm you as well.)

Homeopathic medicines, however, throw out all established scientific concepts in physics, chemistry, and biology by claiming that (a) a substance will do the opposite of what it normally does if you take really, really small amounts of it, and (b) the more dilute, the better. Hence, you get homeopathic remedies to help you sleep that "contain" caffeine. Scare quotes around "contain" because the solutions are diluted so much that there is unlikely to be a single molecule of caffeine in the bottle.
posted by Jimbob at 4:45 PM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


437 documented cases of death or injury due to homeopathy.

In Hospital Deaths from Medical Errors at 195,000 per Year USA.

More than 10,000 Britons may be dying each year because of bad reactions to medication, a study suggests.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 PM on January 16, 2011


Yes, flapjax, and only 609 people died from Motorcycle crashes in the UK in 2003, making riding a motorcycle a much more effective remedy than medicine.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:02 PM on January 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


No one, as far as I know, died from being trampled by a giraffe in the UK, so I feel more confident recommending giraffes over both motorcycles and homeopathy.

Take one even-toed ungulate and call me in the morning.
posted by zippy at 5:13 PM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, yeah, giraffes, motorcycles... all I'm saying is that enormous numbers of people die every year from the pharmaceutical treatments prescribed by the medical establishment that they trust. So, if someone wants to trot out 478 people dead or injured as a result of homeopathic practice, and present it as a clear indictment of homeopathy, why not do the same for the "scientific" medical establishment?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:26 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


flapjax, I understand. It's not that the medical community can't do better. It's just that the comparison is invalid. Since homeopathy doesn't do anything but leads to a bunch of deaths every year, and modern medicine saves a hell of a lot more people than it harms, we're talking about two different things. And one of them is only in the conversation at all because people are willing to believe in magic.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:31 PM on January 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Why? Because homeopathy had no demonstrated upside better than that of a placebo, and so resources spent on homeopathy are resources poured down the drain.
posted by zippy at 5:32 PM on January 16, 2011


This is a timely post - thanks. I'm heading to my doctor's this week. He's a traditional medical doctor. The last time I was there he told me to buy some homeopathic medicine for an injury. I did, not understanding what it was, and then researched it a bit after a couple of days when I realized some of the ingredients were ones I shouldn't be taking. I'll be chatting to him this week about how he can be telling patients to spend money on sugar pills.

I also watched the CBC Marketplace episode in Blazecock Pileon's link. As a result, I sent an email to Health Canada and the Health Minister asking how they can give DRUG ID numbers to products which are clearly not drugs. It gives them legitimacy they don't deserve.
posted by nelvana at 5:40 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Since homeopathy doesn't do anything

Well, see, I'm not of that opinion, but believe me, I realize that I am, in that regard, an extreme anomaly here at Metafilter. And I know that whatever I have to say about homeopathy (based on personal experience, the experience of people I know, etc) will not change anyone's opinion here one whit, so, there's no further point in my discussing it. I'm just not one of y'all, when it comes to this subject!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:40 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


there's no further point in my discussing it.

I think there is, actually. Trust me when I say that you're one of the Mefites I have the most respect for, so I hate to be arguing with you here. Since you're not a dumb guy, I'm curious to know why you think it works, and what you think makes it work.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:47 PM on January 16, 2011


Thanks for your kind words, Navelgazer. But, honestly, I don't like being underneath a pile on, and that's what's gonna happen. So, I really think it's best for my own mental well being that I bow out of the discussion. Still, maybe I'll put on my glutton-for-punishment hat, and come back to this thread a bit later, attempt to articulate some thoughts on this, and... get the shit kicked outta me!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:08 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have always had success in dealing interstitial cystitis with cantharsis. Time after time, year after year, I have tried it for burning urination and frequency and it has relieved my symptoms.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 6:16 PM on January 16, 2011


Well, see, I'm not of that opinion, but believe me, I realize that I am, in that regard, an extreme anomaly here at Metafilter. And I know that whatever I have to say about homeopathy (based on personal experience, the experience of people I know, etc) will not change anyone's opinion here one whit, so, there's no further point in my discussing it. I'm just not one of y'all, when it comes to this subject!

This is not a matter of a difference of opinion. This is a matter of fact and science. If you benefitted from a placebo effect, that is not a point in homeopathy's favor. If you think you benefitted from more than a placebo effect due to homeopathic treatment, you are factually wrong.
posted by kafziel at 6:18 PM on January 16, 2011


i more than qualified to stand protesting Homeopathy, real modern medicine is why i here and not pushing up daisys after suffering a major stroke, heart attack, angina, severe diabetes, Now, happy i'm well and enjoy posting on Metafilter. The only Homeopathy medicine (so-called) is good old fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup, that works.
posted by tustinrick at 6:18 PM on January 16, 2011


This is not a matter of a difference of opinion.

If you think you benefitted from more than a placebo effect due to homeopathic treatment, you are factually wrong.


Well, there you go, then. The facts. Fact. That's the big factually facty WORD, right there. I am factually wrong. Nothing more to be said! Except, of course, that the pile on I mentioned above has already started! Hey ho!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:30 PM on January 16, 2011


acrasis: "I go to health food stores a lot, and when I go through the health aisles, I see the homeopathic remedies mixed in with the herbal remedies and the actual drugs. I have friends who use all three interchangeably and don't understand the difference. "

I did this once. It was 6AM and an inner ear infection had kept me up with a massive ear ache all night. I drove to the only place that was open, and grabbed the first drops I could find marked "ear relief". It wasn't until I got halfway through the bottle that I noticed "homeopathic" in eensy weency little letters.

Needless to say, the drops didn't help all that much. The aspirin, though...
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:32 PM on January 16, 2011


get the shit kicked outta me!

Paracetamol's good for that ;)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:56 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


We sometimes have homeopathic presentations at work as part of our "wellness" efforts. I can't stomach them, but the one I attended was funny because the lady "Dr" told us the story of how she burned her hand, treated it with homeopathic remedies, and then had to go to the REAL DOCTOR to get antibiotics for the subsequent infection.

Over the last 20 years in Calgary, I'm pretty sure I've seen a steady increase in references to homeopathy as a presence in my "personal health care space". This is not because homeopathy works, it's because people are making money from it.
posted by sneebler at 7:07 PM on January 16, 2011


If someone believes in homeopathy, and if it works for them, that's fine with me. However if we're talking about public policy or claims of medical efficacy or the treatment of dependent minors with serious illnesses that are successfully treated by western medicine, then these policies and claims must be based on demonstrable and repeatable evidence - that is, science.

Otherwise, these decisions are a matter of opinion and anecdote ("it works for me" vs "it is measurably and verifiably good"), as when we get into opinion and anecdote, there is a good chance we will get it wrong.

The baseline with medicine is the placebo. A placebo does have a measurable effect, but that effect is not due to its ingredients.

Where companies and doctors claim to have better than placebo treatments, they are required to back up these claims with evidence. And the lowest bar is that they must show that their treatment, in reproducible trials, has an effect better than that of a sugar pill.
posted by zippy at 7:09 PM on January 16, 2011


The discussion of homeopathy and the placebo effect made me think of this article about the ethical use of placebos which deals with the idea of informed placebo use and its effectiveness. What do you need with homeopathy as a placebo if you can just tell people they're using a placebo and get good results?
posted by immlass at 7:10 PM on January 16, 2011


As I understand it, the mass overdose which is the main event of the 10:23 campaign, has two central arguments:

1. There's nothing in homeopathic pills (no active ingredient), and
2. The harm in homeopathy is not, in fact, because of the first point, but rather that homeopathists will lead you away from the true and effective medical treatment you need.

Homeopathists (practitioners, informed users and advocates of homeopathy) will certainly not argue with the first point. Most homeopathic pills have no molecules of the original substance left. (Elaborating on the "most" would be too involved a discussion and is beyond the scope of this post. Let's just say for now that homeopathic pills really basically have nothing in them.)

Homeopathy maintains that an overdose of real homeopathic pills would result in nothing, unless those particular pills are actually indicated for your condition, that is, unless they match your particular problem. That's the whole claim of homeopathy, that like cures like. So unless James Randi is suffering from insomnia, well, homeopathy would agree that nothing is going to happen.

I'm sure a lot of people would agree that the real substantial argument here is the second one. Homeopathy (or any other form of therapy or alternative treatment) can be dangerous if it leads you away from necessary, conventional medical treatment. And yes, unfortunately some people have suffered and died as a result of this.

It's really important to remember that, if you do seek homeopathic treatment, if you feel that the practitioner has a negative attitude toward, or is dismissive of conventional medicine, you should find someone else. Any homeopath who thinks that homeopathy should entirely replace conventional medicine in all situations is unscrupulous. Furthermore, a professionally trained homeopath is expected to have sufficient knowledge of pathology and disease to recognize a condition that needs conventional medical attention, and is expected (as well as morally charged with the responsibility) to recommend it unequivocally to his or her patient.

And yes, it's the responsibility of the homeopathic community to inform the potential user what homeopathy is all about. Including the fact that "there's nothing in it".

Otherwise, this gets into a whole other sticky question of how much freedom of choice we should have when it comes to our lifestyles and philosophies of health and well-being. I'm personally very happy that people like James Randi, completely smug in his total confidence that he is RIGHT, does not as yet hold any political office or seat of authority which would enable him to prevent me from seeking and getting the health care of my choice. I have little doubt that he (or others like him) in his evangelic zeal, would not hesitate to do so, were it within his power.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:49 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm personally very happy that people like James Randi, completely smug in his total confidence that he is RIGHT, does not as yet hold any political office or seat of authority which would enable him to prevent me from seeking and getting the health care of my choice.

Homeopathy is not health care. It is fraud.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:57 PM on January 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Oh, they're homeopathic, so they're perfectly safe for your baby, not like that terrible infant Orajel!"

IS RADIO-ACTIVITY DANGEROUS TO THE HEALTH?

Most everyone offers this question because it is only natural to regard this as a drug or medicine. The answer is that radio-activity is not a medicine or drug, but a natural element of water, and that since practically all spring and well water that Nature herself gives for drinking purposes contains this highly effective beneficial element, it is but common sense to restore it to water that has lost it just as we restore oxygen to a stuffy room by opening a window—by eating foods that contain vitamins—or by the installation of window glass that permits the entrance in sun light of the all important ultra violet rays.

posted by Kalthare at 7:59 PM on January 16, 2011


And really, there's two sides here: one that thinks it's okay to sell fake medicine to people while telling them it's better than real medicine, and one that says no, that's not okay. We can philosophize and blather about it, but all it really comes down to is whether you think it's okay to sell quack remedies and encourage people to drink sugar water without any medical supervision whatsoever instead of seeking help from trained professionals.

Go ahead and skip out on medicine and take all the nonsensical fake medicine you want. The instant you're telling people it's something that it's not, and selling it to them, you're a goddamn criminal and should be subject to sanctions.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 PM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


flapjax, first, thanks for braving the pile-on.

Second, it's pretty clear you're not going to have your mind changed regarding the efficacy of Homeopathy, and in frank honesty, neither am I. So I don't see much reason for us to argue back and forth about it.

I am, interested to know, though, how you've arrived at your position. You've clearly started from different first principles than I have, and I'd like to know where we disagree.

Basically, my worldview goes something like this:
1) We live in a physical world that behaves according to predictable, constant, and internally consistent forces.
2) Because of this, we can study the world, and make predictions about it.
3) These predictions are responsible for a very great deal of power we have as humans, including the powers we term medicine, but also things like astronomy, electrical engineering, and aeronautics.
4) Homeopathy makes claims that are mutually exclusive with the entire edifice of (3).
5) Because I believe that the world is internally consistent (1), the dilemma of (4) forces me to chose between homeopathy and all of (3).
6) By study of the world, and all of (3) I can not find a reason to believe in Homeopathy over the Chemical and Biological foundations of Western Medicine. Specifically, I see cars and penicillin and MRIs and space ships.
7) I therefore reject homeopathy.

You seem like a good faith homeopath. Where do we disagree?
posted by Richard Daly at 8:15 PM on January 16, 2011


Homeopathists (practitioners, informed users and advocates of homeopathy) will certainly not argue with the first point.

How do they say homeopathy works then? Say one of your 'good' homeopaths made two pills, one containing the dilution and another without the dilution. Does a homeopath think there is any difference between these two pills and if so what are those differences? In order to believe in these differences does the homeopath need to reject basically the entire field of chemistry and physics or just part of it? What parts? If a homeopath thinks the two pills are identical why dilute anything in the first place?
posted by Green With You at 8:52 PM on January 16, 2011


Thanks for your reasoned and rational reply, Richard Daly. I cannot respond adequately now, though. I'm off to a soundcheck (got a gig tonight). I'll check back in on this thread in, oh, about 7 hours. At that point, I may or may not rejoin the conversation, depending on how tired I am.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:05 PM on January 16, 2011


And yes, it's the responsibility of the homeopathic community to inform the potential user what homeopathy is all about. Including the fact that "there's nothing in it".

Go ahead and skip out on medicine and take all the nonsensical fake medicine you want. The instant you're telling people it's something that it's not, and selling it to them, you're a goddamn criminal and should be subject to sanctions.

CONTRADICTION DETECTED!!

I'll never understand the arrogance it takes to deny the experiences of someone else when they don't fit one's carefully constructed paradigm of how the world works.
posted by girih knot at 9:16 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


No hurry, the thread stays open for a month, right?
posted by Richard Daly at 9:18 PM on January 16, 2011


I'll never understand the arrogance it takes to deny the experiences of someone else when they don't fit one's carefully constructed paradigm of how the world works.

I like.
posted by New England Cultist at 9:51 PM on January 16, 2011


posted by New England Cultist

That's what I'm fhtagn about!
posted by lumensimus at 10:16 PM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'll never understand the arrogance it takes to deny the experiences of someone else when they don't fit one's carefully constructed paradigm of how the world works.

I'll never understand the arrogance it takes to quote something and immediately, with only two words of intervening text, pretend it says something it doesn't. But hey, you got to make your cute little point about how skeptics are terrible people, and if that requires telling baldfaced lies to support criminals and murderers, hey, fuck it. Why not?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:31 PM on January 16, 2011


I don't recall saying skeptics are terrible people. And I apologize if I misunderstood what you were saying. What you said came so close after flapjax at midnite said about how homeopathy shouldn't lead a person away from necessary, conventional medicine and how it's the ethical responsibility of a homeopathist to be honest about what homeopathy is, that I drew the conclusion that it was in response. Again, sorry if I misunderstood.

But flapjax at midnite also suggested upthread that he has personally seen beneficial use of homeopathy in himself and in people he knows. For you to claim that that's "fraud" is exactly the kind of arrogant attitude I'm talking about.
posted by girih knot at 10:46 PM on January 16, 2011


I'll never understand the arrogance it takes to quote something and immediately, with only two words of intervening text, pretend it says something it doesn't. But hey, you got to make your cute little point about how skeptics are terrible people, and if that requires telling baldfaced lies to support criminals and murderers, hey, fuck it. Why not?

Actually, it meant I liked what girih knot said. As in the meaning of the two words "I" and "like". Oxford Dictionary is handy for this sort of thing. I'll just be sitting here in the corner, laughing my elliptical head off.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:51 PM on January 16, 2011


What you said came so close after flapjax at midnite said about how homeopathy shouldn't lead a person away from necessary, conventional medicine

A homeopath who does not lead a person away from "necessary, conventional medicine" doesn't have an income, because it is a practice and body of ideas which at its core denies the efficacy of conventional medicine. This is not some vague religious idea where we can argue about whether or not Buddhist practice is compatible with Christian practice. To affirm the efficacy of conventional medicine is to deny the fundamental principle upon which homeopathy is based. To deny this requires a very, very shallow understanding of homeopathic principles and practice. If homeopathy works- if the universe works the way homeopaths claim it works- physics shouldn't work, chemistry shouldn't work, and biology shouldn't work. Except those fields are internally consistent in ways that make most structures of ideas look like rotting cobwebs and have enormous bodies of evidence, having been formed and confirmed through experimentation, while homeopathy has no evidence to support it and is a set of ideas which were formed not by experiment but by anecdote and sheer assertion. Whether or not homeopathy is efficacious or correct is not something upon which reasonable persons can disagree. The matter could not be more settled.

and how it's the ethical responsibility of a homeopathist to be honest about what homeopathy is

What homeopathy is is a scam. There is no evidence whatsoever that properly-practiced homeopathy- i.e. homeopathy performed according to the principles of homeopathy and not the upthread-mentioned 1X arnica creams- has any effect, positive or otherwise, on the human body. It has never been shown to be anything but a scam. I'd like to meet the homeopath who greets new marks with "Today I'm going to charge you money for a substance with no curative properties at all. You have no reason to believe that the substance I give you is medicine or will benefit you in any way. To represent my wares as beneficial to those who consume them would be lying. If we do business, you are going to give me money and get nothing in return." I do not believe that such a homeopath- a con man who tells his marks he's about to steal from them- exists, and I do not believe that medical quackery and fraudulence should be tolerated even an ounce. Like I say, shit, take whatever you want. But once you start lying about how medicine works and selling people fraudulent cures and false hope, there needs to be a hammer to come down on you, and hard.

But flapjax at midnite also suggested upthread that he has personally seen beneficial use of homeopathy in himself and in people he knows. For you to claim that that's "fraud" is exactly the kind of arrogant attitude I'm talking about.

You know what's arrogant? To look at an enormous mass of data, studies, and experiments which have a single, obvious result and outcome, and to say "I had an experience which could be interpreted, were one so inclined, as contradicting the whole history of empirical investigation into the workings of the world. That experience is more important in understanding the world, how it works, and what is real and what is unreal than the life's work of thousands and millions of people who've devoted their life to that understanding." It's arrogant and narcissistic to privilege a few years of your own fallible perceptions over centuries of research conducted with a strong eye toward objectivity and empiricism. I do not deny that flapjax had the experiences he relates, for how could I possibly know what he experiences? I am not in his head. I deny that those experiences are more important than the sum total of all serious effort to understand the workings of reality. That is not arrogant. That is a refusal to let the arrogance of individuals serve as a justification for destructive, harmful, deceptive behavior.



Actually, it meant I liked what girih knot said.

I wasn't addressing you. I was addressing the person whose text I copied and pasted and italicized. That's why I copied, pasted, and italicized that text- so that it would be clear who I was addressing and which part of their post I was addressing. Obviously citing the exact text that one is responding to is inadequate in communicating which text one is responding to. I shall endeavor to find a way to make it clearer.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:13 PM on January 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


That's the whole claim of homeopathy, that like cures like.

What's the proposed mechanism for this?
posted by empath at 11:15 PM on January 16, 2011


I'll never understand the arrogance it takes to deny the experiences of someone else when they don't fit one's carefully constructed paradigm of how the world works.

If you are going to live at all in reality, your default position should be to disbelieve what people are telling you if it doesn't match your own experiences of the world, and they can't provide evidence that what they are saying is true. Otherwise you're going to spend your whole life being the victim of con artists.
posted by empath at 11:18 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


And how is "like cures like," that is, the therapeutic inducement of similar symptoms, compatible with materials that cause no symptoms at all in healthy patients?
posted by lumensimus at 11:22 PM on January 16, 2011


Pope Guilty: Thank you for so beautifully and elaborately illustrating the exact attitude I have an objection to. This is what the exchange looks like to me, and please correct me if I am misrepresenting it:

"Homeopathy is bad for these reasons _______"
"Actually I've used it and [anecdotal contradictory evidence to how all homeopathy is like that]"
"No, you are wrong, because we have SCIENTIFIC DATA that shows your experiences are wrong, and we all know all homeopaths are hucksters and swindlers anyway!"

No one here is claiming that the entirety of empirical investigation into the world is wrong. We're capable of living in a world where we understand the laws of nature, and where homeopathic remedies can still work for people for some things.

This is an unrelated anecdote, but it's along the same vein of what I see wrong with the stance you're taking.

A few weeks ago I got in an argument with a friend's friend on facebook about that Bem study. I said something to the effect of "Personally, I think it'd be cool if other studies replicate the findings so that we can have a paradigm shift about the way we view time." He responded by saying that any other studies that confirm the findings would be false positives, because we a priori know that ESP is impossible, and described at length how we know this because we know humanity would be different if we had the capability to see in the future. And since we're NOT different, we know ESP is impossible.

This kind of stubborn refusal to even acknowledge contradictory observation is in direct opposition to empirical investigation and stagnates our understanding of the natural world. We do not know everything about how the universe or our own minds work and there needs to be enough flexibility in us to listen to the experiences of other people and consider that there may be something to them, even especially if those experiences contradict the way we think the world works.
posted by girih knot at 11:35 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Homeopathy is bad for these reasons _______"
"Actually I've used it and [anecdotal contradictory evidence to how all homeopathy is like that]"
"No, you are wrong, because we have SCIENTIFIC DATA that shows your experiences are wrong, and we all know all homeopaths are hucksters and swindlers anyway!"


This is not an accurate description of the exchange. This is what it looks like to me.

"Homeopathy should not and does not work for these reasons ________."

"Actually, I've used it and it worked for me this one time in this one case."

"Your particular experience with the homeopathic remedy lacks several features that make it credible as a method of curative medicine. At least two of these features include first, the fact that based on rigorously tested principles of physics, chemistry, and biology refined over hundreds of years, the proposed causal mechanism for why the homeopathic remedy worked does not make sense. Second, thousands of individuals have done the same thing, in controlled environments, and the homeopathic remedy has not worked for them."

We're capable of living in a world where we understand the laws of nature, and where homeopathic remedies can still work for people for some things.

The problem with this assertion is that the two appear mutually exclusive; the proposed mechanisms for why homeopathic remedies work entirely contradict the laws of nature as currently understood. There are two likely resolutions: either something else other than the homeopathic remedy is responsible for the work done, or the laws of nature as currently understood (constructed from the entirety of empirical investigation of human history up to this point) are wrong. Pope Guilty is pointing out that homeopathy advocates are basically saying the latter, i.e., "claiming that the entirety of empirical investigation into the world is wrong." And there is substantial evidence for the former.

I don't think its reasonable to equate "SCIENTIFIC DATA" and a person's unrepeatable, unverifiable and inexplicable positive reaction to what are conceded to be sugar pills as having the same weight, but that's precisely what your version of the argument does.
posted by shen1138 at 12:03 AM on January 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


No one here is claiming that the entirety of empirical investigation into the world is wrong. We're capable of living in a world where we understand the laws of nature, and where homeopathic remedies can still work for people for some things.

No, we're not. Homeopathy claims that chemically identical water samples can have different effects on the body based on things that used to be in there but have been removed, because the water has a "memory" that is not represented in any physical form. Homeopathy is inconsistent with the entirety of empirical investigation into the world. If homeopathic remedies work, then all of science is wrong. All of science is not wrong here.

flapjax at midnight claims to have seen homeopathic remedies help his family. I am willing to deny this, because he didn't. He may have seen the placebo effect at play, he may have seen a homeopathic remedy taken to help a condition that went away on its own with time and rest, he may have seen any number of events that he is mistakenly interpreting as homeopathic medicines helping - this is why actual science tries to minimize and account for variables. There's no way to tell exactly what he saw, with nothing but a coy "I've totally seen it work once!" statement to go on. But he did not see homeopathic medicine work.

Conjectures about human behavior given hypothetical ESP are not chemistry, and it is chemistry that denies the possibility of homeopathic efficacy.
posted by kafziel at 12:12 AM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pope Guilty - noted.

If you are going to live at all in reality, your default position should be to disbelieve what people are telling you if it doesn't match your own experiences of the world, and they can't provide evidence that what they are saying is true. Otherwise you're going to spend your whole life being the victim of con artists.

Reality - that old chestnut.

It's a bit silly to throw the entire concept of homeopathy under a thundering bus because a) a person's worldview disables them from considering the fact that homeopathic remedies may work in an entirely different way from traditional medicine. Sure, it may very well be psychosomatic. But when does it become the individual's choice - and responsibility - to choose their own treatment?
posted by New England Cultist at 12:16 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


girih knot wrote: "I'll never understand the arrogance it takes to deny the experiences of someone else when they don't fit one's carefully constructed paradigm of how the world works."

If it's arrogant to think that evidence is required to prove an assertion, I am one arrogant motherfucker. I believe in placebo, for I have seen evidence of it. I believe that homeopathy can work as placebo, as that is consistent with what I know of placebo. I do not believe that homeopathic "remedies" have any effect beyond placebo, for I have seen no evidence of that.

Given that, I think it is unethical for homeopaths to claim that their "remedy" is more than placebo.

In other words, it's one thing to say "hey, I had this experience...". It is quite another to say "hey, I had this experience and my ills were cured." Especially if the latter is followed by "buy my product." At least here in the US, we've had our snake oil salesmen. We outlawed the practice, and our health (and society) is better for it. It was a dark day when we decided to let the camel stick its nose back in the tent..
posted by wierdo at 12:19 AM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm inclined to think that some of us need physical proof to understand/accept how something works. Others don't, or are happy to work with an unclear explanation. There's nothing inherently wrong with either approach, they're just two completely different ways of thinking.
posted by New England Cultist at 12:29 AM on January 17, 2011


We outlawed the practice, and our health (and society) is better for it.
This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This comment is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
posted by lumensimus at 12:29 AM on January 17, 2011


lumensimus wrote: " This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This comment is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease"

Thanks for invoking the camel's nose more explicitly. ;)

TBH, I'm of a mixed opinion about our present regulatory scheme which allows herbal remedies. On the one hand, I do find melatonin to be helpful as a sleep aid (whether that's due to placebo or a physical effect, I can't say, although I'm inclined to think the former absent evidence), but on the other, there's shit like Zicam out there which may or may not work for its advertised purpose, but apparently can have serious side effects in some people.
posted by wierdo at 12:39 AM on January 17, 2011


The theory here is that the pharmaceutical industry is less hocus-pocus-y?
posted by telstar at 12:54 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whatever its weaknesses, it deals in measurable physiological effects derived from quantifiable chemical agents. It is a radical act of hocus-pocus to suggest that a thimbleful of pure water is anything else, to say nothing of suggesting that I should pay 39.95 for one.
posted by lumensimus at 1:05 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


When someone offers anecdotal evidence that a homeopathic remedy caused them to feel better, we shouldn't berate them for being wrong. Feeling better after taking a homeopathic dose is not inconsistent with what science says. What is inconsistent is the interpretation -- there are several different ways of interpreting "got better". One would be that the disease ran its course naturally, such that the person would have felt the same had they not taken anything. Another would be that the suggestion that something will make them feel better caused them to feel better for no reason other than its suggestive power and not for any innate quality of the treatment. And we should explain that this is why anecdotal evidence cannot be dispositive when considering the efficacy of treatments.

Also:

What's the proposed mechanism for this?

That's a hilarious story. Samuel Hahnemann in the 1790s read that quinine bark cured malaria, and so he self-experimented on himself by taking some every day. He developed malaria-like symptoms, and therefore concluded that like cures like. However, it is now believed that Hahnemann had a rare quinine hypersensitivity which caused the reaction. Yes, this is the basis for your magic water: some dude in the dark ages of medicine came up with a ridiculous idea that was not based in any fact and just ran with it.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:12 AM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think its reasonable to equate "SCIENTIFIC DATA" and a person's unrepeatable, unverifiable and inexplicable positive reaction to what are conceded to be sugar pills as having the same weight, but that's precisely what your version of the argument does.

Then read my argument more carefully. I said we should consider other people's experiences, not that we should blindly accept them.

Other things I've not said: that homeopathic remedies work the way homeopaths claim. That doesn't mean they don't work ever, even if the mechanism they do work by is the placebo effect.

A person that's either so ignorant or so distrustful of conventional medicine that they'd use a homeopathic remedy to treat something life-threatening that conventional medicine can cure isn't going to be won over by diehard skepticism. Telling someone their experiences are flat-out wrong and impossible only alienates them.
posted by girih knot at 1:17 AM on January 17, 2011


kafziel wrote:

flapjax at midnight claims to have seen homeopathic remedies help his family. I am willing to deny this, because he didn't.

Wait, what?
posted by New England Cultist at 1:48 AM on January 17, 2011


1) We live in a physical world that behaves according to predictable, constant, and internally consistent forces.

Well, that's what Newton thought. Others aren't sure. And only last week it was reported that thunderstorms produce anti-matter. Who'd have thought it.
posted by peterkins at 2:06 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I said we should consider other people's experiences, not that we should blindly accept them.

How long should we consider them for? Because we've known that homeopathy doesn't have any more effect than a placebo for many decades now. If more people pop up and say that it works for them because they got a result that looks remarkably like a placebo effect, it doesn't change the fact that there are no active ingredients in their remedy, and they could have got the same effect from eating a sugar cube.

At some point, I've got to make a decision about my health care. It's going to take a lot more than tales of placebo effects to make me choose anecdotes over decades of hard data.
posted by harriet vane at 2:17 AM on January 17, 2011


Regardless of the efficacy of homeopathics, I would love to see James Randy become skeptical of himself.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:18 AM on January 17, 2011


Homeopathy maintains that an overdose of real homeopathic pills would result in nothing, unless those particular pills are actually indicated for your condition, that is, unless they match your particular problem.

This is worth repeating, as it shows how ridiculous the stunt in the original link is. What exactly are the organizers planning to show by taking large quantities of homeopathic remedies? Supporters of homeopathy would expect exactly what the protest organizers are expecting: that nothing will happen. If you're trying to show that someone's beliefs are mistaken, you need to first make sure that you know exactly what those beliefs are, and then show something that's at odds with those beliefs. But the organizers of this protest will be showing something that's completely consistent with the beliefs of homeopathic supporters.

Also, the people calling homeopathy a "scam" or a "fraud" are making pretty serious accusations (ones that I think are, in general, false). "Scam" and "fraud" imply bad faith -- they imply that practitioners know homeopathy doesn't work, and they are using it just to fleece the gullible. I've met several homeopathic practitioners, and they believe very strongly that homeopathy really does work (and not just as a placebo). They may be mistaken about that (in fact, they probably are), but they're totally sincere. Accusing people of acting in bad faith just serves to make a real discussion more difficult.

As for homeopathy contradicting all known science, I think there are people in the field who would disagree. Studies of homeopathy have appeared in peer-reviewed journals, so there are certainly people who are committed to applying the usual scientific standards to it, and there have been attempts (though not very convincing ones, in my opinion) to use modern physics to explain how it might work. A number of years ago (when I had easy access to a university library), I looked up some of these studies, and a few did show small positive results. As I remember, there was also a published meta-analysis that concluded that, in aggregate, the published studies showed little or no effect, but I imagine further studies are still being performed. The mechanisms by which it might work are, of course, also not clear. But if studies were to show effects that are not explained by theory, then so much the worse for the theory. And there's also a difference between "contradicted by theory" and "not currently explained by theory," and I think homeopathy falls in the the latter category. Its downfall is, I think, not that it's not explained by theory, but that peer-reviewed studies have failed to show it to be effective.
posted by klausness at 4:07 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is probably as good a time as any to toss out a link to the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast, since homeopathic remedies are one of their pet subjects. You might also want to check out the host's blog, especially the items that fall under the homeopathy tag.
posted by crunchland at 4:54 AM on January 17, 2011


Sorry. My mistake... those last two links aren't the host's blog. This is.
posted by crunchland at 4:56 AM on January 17, 2011


Then read my argument more carefully. I said we should consider other people's experiences, not that we should blindly accept them.

Except, you know, we did consider people's experiences with homeopathy. People said "Hey, these homeopathic remedies helped me", and scientists looked into it extensively and found no evidence whatsoever that homeopathic remedies have any more curative effect than fake homeopathic remedies.

It reminds me of people who believe in psychic powers, who when they're not making the false claim that science has confirmed the existence of psi like to make the false claim that science has not investigated psi and they just want scientists to investigate it instead of just dismissing it, pretending that the millions upon millions of dollars spent over the course of the twentieth century investigating psi and finding fuck all never happened.

At some point, enough evidence piles up that "keeping an open mind" becomes close-mindedness in and of itself. The desire to consider people's experiences and keep an open mind- which is a useful, necessary, and admirable desire, don't get me wrong- can, if not properly counterbalanced by a commitment to evaluating people's claims critically, lead one to such silliness and error as claiming that unverifiable, unrepeatable anecdotes override the whole of scientific investigation. There's a saying that goes "You can be so open-minded that your brain falls out." Our desire to pay attention to people's experiences cannot lead us to disregard empirical investigation of the claims those experiences lead them to make.



Also, the people calling homeopathy a "scam" or a "fraud" are making pretty serious accusations (ones that I think are, in general, false). "Scam" and "fraud" imply bad faith -- they imply that practitioners know homeopathy doesn't work, and they are using it just to fleece the gullible.

I'd be lying if I said I cared. It's 2010. If you're wealthy enough to have access to the resources needed to go into business as a homeopath, you're wealthy enough to have access to the information indicating that it's a crock. This is not secret information- even a cursory googling will turn it up. So either homeopaths are scam artists or they're too dumb to do even the most basic research into their "discipline"- neither makes them sound admirable, and I'm willing to argue that if you're the latter, you shouldn't be practicing medicine, real or fake.

As for homeopathy contradicting all known science, I think there are people in the field who would disagree.

You can find people claiming to be biologists who don't believe in evolution, climatologists who don't believe in global warming, and so on. It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that a handful of chemists believe in homeopathy. Being bright enough to earn a college degree doesn't make you immune to believing in stupid things.

A number of years ago (when I had easy access to a university library), I looked up some of these studies, and a few did show small positive results. As I remember, there was also a published meta-analysis that concluded that, in aggregate, the published studies showed little or no effect

You're committing an error that a lot of people make, which is where you look at a single study or a couple of studies and say "Hey, these have a particular result! That means there's something to my theory!", giving that handful of studies equal wight to the mass of the studies. Statistics being what they are, you could probably find a study- a properly designed and performed study, and one that passed peer review- saying nearly everything. But when you've got a thousand studies with one result, and a dozen with a contradictory result, it's time to admit that the dozen are statistical noise.

And there's also a difference between "contradicted by theory" and "not currently explained by theory," and I think homeopathy falls in the the latter category.

No, that's not correct. Homeopathy makes claims about chemistry, physics, and medicine which contradict what we know about those disciplines. It is a relic of the pre-scientific age which has survived because it is profitable for certain people and because it feeds certain prejudices and feelings.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:55 AM on January 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm personally very happy that people like James Randi, completely smug in his total confidence that he is RIGHT, does not as yet hold any political office or seat of authority which would enable him to prevent me from seeking and getting the health care of my choice. I have little doubt that he (or others like him) in his evangelic zeal, would not hesitate to do so, were it within his power.

Have you ever met James? He's a wonderful, kind, engaging person. Smug doesn't even make any sense in this context. There is a verifiable, factual basis to this discussion. You can fall on one side or the other, and only one side requires evangelism to stay afloat.. it's not Randi's side.
posted by odinsdream at 6:11 AM on January 17, 2011


You can't say:

- people studied it, and came up with some very mediocre results that are consistent with the placebo effect
- people tried to explain it in terms of modern physics, but it was unconvincing
- if studies contradicted the results that physics would predict, that would be interesting, but there aren't any studies that have contradicted physics so far

and expect anyone to jump up and say "well, golly, I'll keep trying to find a way to make this work". How much money is supposed to be wasted on further studies of homeopathy when there are so many other medicines that need further research and proof?

They're getting close to a vaccine for AIDS; there's been real advances in treating ulcers. Homeopathy is relying on the same explanation and barely perceptible results they came up with in 1770. Zero progress makes me think it's a dead end.

If the Large Hadron Collider (for example) reveals some new facets of physics we haven't realised so far, that have anything to do with how water molecules might keep a memory of other substances they've come in contact with, *then* it'd be a great idea to further research homeopathy. But until then, it's an enormous waste of time and energy.
posted by harriet vane at 6:23 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, that's what Newton thought. Others aren't sure. And only last week it was reported that thunderstorms produce anti-matter. Who'd have thought it.

How is thunderstorms producing anti-matter at all a contradiction of science? We learned that was the case because we built a fucking anti-matter detector and launched it into fucking orbit. All of which would be pretty damn hard to do without understanding anything about science.
posted by odinsdream at 6:24 AM on January 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


I shall take half the lethal dose(whilst wearing my Powerbalance tm) with water thereby doubling my chances of death?!
posted by gallagho at 6:36 AM on January 17, 2011


In the words of the inimitable Carl Sagan, "They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:10 AM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


> You're committing an error that a lot of people make, which is where you look at a single study or a couple of studies and say "Hey, these have a particular result! That means there's something to my theory!", giving that handful of studies equal wight to the mass of the studies.

I think you're making the mistake of assuming that if someone disagrees with you in any particular, they disagree with you in all particulars. In this case, if someone objects to calling homeopathy a scam because they think homeopaths aren't intentionally taking advantage of people, they must believe in homeopathy (even if they clearly say otherwise).

You're completely ignoring this bit of klausness' comment:

there was also a published meta-analysis that concluded that, in aggregate, the published studies showed little or no effect

and this bit:

Its downfall is, I think, not that it's not explained by theory, but that peer-reviewed studies have failed to show it to be effective.

(The same goes for harriet vane's comment. I'm not seeing him draw the conclusions you're attributing to him.)


I'll add:

This recent study compared patients given a consultation with a homeopath and then given either a homeopathic treatment or a placebo with patients seen by a non-homeopath and given a homeopathic treatment or placebo. There was no difference between the homeopathic treatments and placebo in either group, but patients who got a consultation with a homeopath showed more improvement than those who didn't. Apparently they got some psychological benefit from the homeopaths' consultation style over and above the simple placebo effect. This might account for some of the apparently positive effects seen in earlier studies.

As Kirsch put it:

Practitioners of acupuncture, homeopathy, and other alternative and complimentary medicines do an excellent job of eliciting and bolstering placebo effects.
posted by nangar at 7:23 AM on January 17, 2011


You can't compare percentages, though. The only way to get that percent is dividing number harmed by number helped, and you can't divide by zero.

That was my point. The number of deaths caused by medication errors or nosocomial infections has *nothing* to do with making a case for unproven alternative medicine. Nothing at all. When homeopathy advocates can show me their preferred approach has resulted cured cases of cancer, people living with otherwise fatal chronic diseases, and the saving of a life when a bullet has gone through someone's brain, then I will give a flying fuck about how "safe" it is.

It's a disingenuous argument. Everyone dies of something. Usually it's a disease or an injury, and usually that means you are under medical care when you die. So as a result medicine gets blamed for people dying. The problem is that without scientific medicine, a lot more people would be dying a lot younger. Homeopathy cannot claim that, or anything close to it. In fact, it can't claim anything other than anecdotal "experience" based evidence, which is meaningless in science.

Less than 100 years ago your odds of dying in childbirth (mother or baby) were as high as 1 in 3 even in the developed world. How many millions of babies have been born who would have died? How many millions of mothers have survived childbirth to have more babies? There's the number that matters for comparative purposes.

I'd rather win the game by 1000 to 1 (actually, it's much bigger than that) than refuse to play because I might get hit by a pitch.
posted by spitbull at 7:23 AM on January 17, 2011


Also, it's "complementary," not "complimentary," and if you don't know the difference you probably are an unreliable witness for the defense.
posted by spitbull at 7:25 AM on January 17, 2011


I thought it would be nice to market a range of Complimentary Medicines - pills with "You're Looking Good!" or "Have You Lost Weight?" or "Nice Hat!" stamped on them.
posted by Grangousier at 7:30 AM on January 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought it would be nice to market a range of Complimentary Medicines ...

They'd probably have an excellent placebo effect.
posted by nangar at 7:38 AM on January 17, 2011


I think you're making the mistake of assuming that if someone disagrees with you in any particular, they disagree with you in all particulars.

I've been very careful not to do that, in fact.

and this bit:

Its downfall is, I think, not that it's not explained by theory, but that peer-reviewed studies have failed to show it to be effective.


I actually responded to something very similar.

This recent study compared patients given a consultation with a homeopath and then given either a homeopathic treatment or a placebo with patients seen by a non-homeopath and given a homeopathic treatment or placebo. There was no difference between the homeopathic treatments and placebo in either group, but patients who got a consultation with a homeopath showed more improvement than those who didn't. Apparently they got some psychological benefit from the homeopaths' consultation style over and above the simple placebo effect. This might account for some of the apparently positive effects seen in earlier studies.

Believe it or not, skeptics have been aware of this fact for years, and mainstream medicine is hardly ignorant of the fact that a warm and comforting meeting with somebody who listens makes people feel better.

Practitioners of acupuncture, homeopathy, and other alternative and complimentary medicines do an excellent job of eliciting and bolstering placebo effects.

Only for a value of "placebo effect" which is divorced from its nature as an element of experimentation. "Placebo" does not mean "your head makes you better".
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:10 AM on January 17, 2011


BBC: Newsnight - UK Homeopathy Update 2011 - Is bad homeopathic advice putting travellers at risk?
BBC: Newsnight's 2006 investigation on homeopathic malaria 'treatment'
Guardian: Is homeopathy on the ropes after ban on prescription for pets?
posted by hot soup girl at 8:30 AM on January 17, 2011


I'm personally very happy that people like James Randi, completely smug in his total confidence that he is RIGHT, does not as yet hold any political office or seat of authority which would enable him to prevent me from seeking and getting the health care of my choice. I have little doubt that he (or others like him) in his evangelic zeal, would not hesitate to do so, were it within his power.

It's a bit silly to throw the entire concept of homeopathy under a thundering bus because a) a person's worldview disables them from considering the fact that homeopathic remedies may work in an entirely different way from traditional medicine. Sure, it may very well be psychosomatic. But when does it become the individual's choice - and responsibility - to choose their own treatment?

Did you guys miss the bit about a publicly-funded homeopathic hospital in London? Can you see why this would bother people? Choose whatever treatments you like, but don't expect people to cheerily support that with their tax dollars. Especially when they've been proven to be no more effective than a placebo.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2011


Does it count if, instead of buying homeopathic medicine, I down a tiny jar of nonpareil sprinkles from the supermarket?

Nonpareils work to cure my ailment: really, really liking sugar.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:10 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's difficult to argue with impeccable logic like this.

Your brain is 80% water, you remember stuff. Therefore water has a memory. Therefore homeopathy works.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 9:51 AM on January 17, 2011


You're committing an error that a lot of people make, which is where you look at a single study or a couple of studies and say "Hey, these have a particular result! That means there's something to my theory!"

No I'm not. That's why I referred to the meta-analysis that showed little or no effect (which is one reason why I'm inclined to believe that homeopathy, in fact, does not work, beyond the placebo effect). The point was that there are enough studies out there that do show some effect that you don't have to be ignorant, stupid, or gullible to believe that it works. I think a reasonable person could conclude that studies so far have been inconclusive and that more and better studies are needed to settle the issue.

Also, the people calling homeopathy a "scam" or a "fraud" are making pretty serious accusations (ones that I think are, in general, false). "Scam" and "fraud" imply bad faith -- they imply that practitioners know homeopathy doesn't work, and they are using it just to fleece the gullible.

I'd be lying if I said I cared.


This is the sort of attitude on the part of self-described skeptics that makes people get their backs up. If you want to have a civil discussion, you need to assume good faith on the part of the people with whom you're debating, unless you have very good evidence to the contrary. Uri Geller was a scammer and fraud. Homeopaths may be stupid or misguided or whatever, but they are not (in general, at least) frauds.

You can't say:

- people studied it, and came up with some very mediocre results that are consistent with the placebo effect
- people tried to explain it in terms of modern physics, but it was unconvincing
- if studies contradicted the results that physics would predict, that would be interesting, but there aren't any studies that have contradicted physics so far

and expect anyone to jump up and say "well, golly, I'll keep trying to find a way to make this work".


I'm not saying that. Given that the existing evidence is very weak at best, it's clearly incumbent upon the supporters of homeopathy to come up with some well-designed studies with strong results if they want to be taken seriously. But it's not necessarily irrational or unscientific for them to believe that such studies could be performed with positive results.

People with serious medical conditions should, of course, choose treatments that have been proven to work, and homeopathy clearly has not been proven to work.
posted by klausness at 10:17 AM on January 17, 2011


This recent study compared patients given a consultation with a homeopath and then given either a homeopathic treatment or a placebo with patients seen by a non-homeopath and given a homeopathic treatment or placebo. There was no difference between the homeopathic treatments and placebo in either group, but patients who got a consultation with a homeopath showed more improvement than those who didn't.

Thanks for finding that, nangar. This looks like exactly the kind of study that I thought was missing from the literature back when I last looked into this. And the results seem to be pretty much what I would have expected.
posted by klausness at 10:27 AM on January 17, 2011


If you want to have a civil discussion, you need to assume good faith on the part of the people with whom you're debating, unless you have very good evidence to the contrary. Uri Geller was a scammer and fraud. Homeopaths may be stupid or misguided or whatever, but they are not (in general, at least) frauds.

It's cute how you've excised the part where I explain why I don't care to make it look like I'm being mendacious. Of course, if you were an honest person, you wouldn't be defending dangerous scam artists.

But hell, I'll say it again. If you're a homeopath in 2011, it's because you're either a cynical scam artist or too dumb to figure out reality. If it's the first, you're a monster. If it's the second, you shouldn't be in business in the first place, and we should not as a society be enabling you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:36 AM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course, if you were an honest person, you wouldn't be defending dangerous scam artists.

Ah, so now I'm dishonest? Thank you for elevating the tone of this discussion.
posted by klausness at 11:23 AM on January 17, 2011


But it's not necessarily irrational or unscientific for them to believe that such studies could be performed with positive results.

It really is. It really, really is, because the premise upon which homeopathy is based is nonsensical and pre-scientific.

Here's one way you can tell, if the "it defies the basics of chemistry" argument isn't compelling enough: can anyone who supports homeopathy describe a test that can tell homeopathically-treated water from plain water? They don't even have to build the test, necessarily, just describe it in detail. How would such a device work?
posted by ivey at 11:27 AM on January 17, 2011


It's cute how you've excised the part where I explain why I don't care to make it look like I'm being mendacious.

Cute, eh? I just didn't want to quote everything. Any partial quoting is going to be incomplete, but the original comment is still up there for anyone to read. In any case, I don't see any argument for why it's reasonable to accuse someone who's acting in good faith (even if they're "too dumb to figure out reality") of being disingenuous.
posted by klausness at 11:31 AM on January 17, 2011


just describe it in detail

I'm not sure on all of the details, but I bet it'd start with jogging the waters memory.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:38 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


the premise upon which homeopathy is based is nonsensical and pre-scientific

I don't see that. In fact, I would say that homeopathy is a scientific theory. It just happens to be a scientific theory that has been falsified. Homeopathy makes explicit testable predictions, which is why it has been possible to do studies that, at this point, appear to show that it does not work.

Here's one way you can tell, if the "it defies the basics of chemistry" argument isn't compelling enough: can anyone who supports homeopathy describe a test that can tell homeopathically-treated water from plain water?

Here's a test: Give homeopathically treated water to someone who has an illness that is appropriately treated with the homeopathic remedy in question. Of course, this only works if homeopathy actually works (which, again, based on the studies that have been done, it does not appear to). But my point is that it's irrelevant whether you can tell homeopathically-treated water from plain water in the laboratory. What matters is whether it works as described. If it were to work as described and we had no theory to explain it and no laboratory test to detect it, then we'd need to improve our theories and laboratory tests.
posted by klausness at 11:47 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can I pay for my homeopathic treatments using homeopathic currency? I'm pretty sure I can pry a molecule or two of gold off this ring I'm wearing.
posted by aramaic at 12:01 PM on January 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


If it were to work as described and we had no theory to explain it and no laboratory test to detect it, then we'd need to improve our theories and laboratory tests.

We do have a theory, the placebo effect.

How many negative results do we need to have until the matter is settled? It ends up looking like some people (not you in particular) just want more and more tests until they get the result they want. Which, on all evidene thus far collected, will never come.

There are better things for scientists to be getting on with.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 12:09 PM on January 17, 2011


evidene

Evidence, obviously.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 12:16 PM on January 17, 2011


If it were to work as described and we had no theory to explain it and no laboratory test to detect it, then we'd need to improve our theories and laboratory tests.

As Reggie already said nicely, there are better things for science to deal with.

What you have here is people arguing, politely, over magical thinking. This is ultimately unproductive.

If I suggested that I had created a new flu medicine by placing cups of water next to my fridge for precisely 1 hour, stirring counter-clockwise for precisely a minute, then letting it sit for another hour, you'd not waste any time at all on it.

You wouldn't be arguing with me about whether the particulars of my manufacturing process influenced the medicine's flu-curing abilities, whether I'd used the proper stirring motion, or if the distance between the water molecules and the fridge was too large or small. For some reason, you'd be able to jump straight to the "that's not relevant at all" part of the equation.

Because there's a slightly more convoluted process to "make" homeopathic remedies, a history of hand-waving about how to "prescribe" them, and an industry supporting it, people are willing to debate the finer points of how the "remedies" operate or not. This is magical thinking by definition. It's arguing with homeopathy on its own terms without even bothering to discuss the core idea, that anything about the homeopathic manufacturing process would even create something worth evaluating.
posted by odinsdream at 1:16 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Previously.
posted by ostranenie at 1:50 PM on January 17, 2011


If it were to work as described and we had no theory to explain it and no laboratory test to detect it, then we'd need to improve our theories and laboratory tests.

We do have a theory, the placebo effect.


I was talking about the hypothetical situation in which homeopathy was shown to work better than placebo. In that case, we would need to improve our theories and laboratory tests. Absent any such evidence, we can, of course, feel free to ignore the claims of the proponents of homeopathy.

As Reggie already said nicely, there are better things for science to deal with.

If homeopathy were found to actually work as claimed, then I think there would not be all that many more important things for science (at least biomedical science) to deal with, since that would show a significant gap in our theoretical framework. But it's crtainly not incumbent on the scientific community to look for such evidence -- it's up to supporters of homeopathy to provide the evidence that it works, and unless they can manage to do that, the rest of us can safely ignore it.
posted by klausness at 1:51 PM on January 17, 2011


and unless they can manage to do that, the rest of us can safely ignore it

Agreed for the most part. Except being a British taxpayer means that i'm funding some of these quacks. They should have to prove their efficacy as a condition of receiving NHS funds, jebus knows we could do with the saving.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 1:55 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


peterkins wrote: "And only last week it was reported that thunderstorms produce anti-matter. Who'd have thought it."

Me. It's been known for years that electrical arcs occasionally produce antimatter. It was not previously proven that this happens in thunderstorms, obviously. It was also not previously proven that said antimatter sometimes escapes into space.
posted by wierdo at 2:58 PM on January 17, 2011


Part of homeopathy's claim is already that dosage doesn't matter. So basically this "protest" will prove its medicines are safe, while exposing their existence to those inclined to believe in energetic healing but who hadn't yet heard of it.

Fucking brilliant.

Homeopathy is probably bullshit, but these people are definitely wankers.
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2011


The narrative is wrong. This is not a winnable argument if the argument is "you are dumb for trusting these people with white coats and scientific terminology - you should believe these people with white coats and scientific terminology".

People like the idea of "the Science Establishment doesn't take us seriously, are you strong enough to go against the crowd?". People who get into this sort of thing do, anyway. Ridicule is a stamp of approval.

Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry has earned our distrust, and for minor ailments, you may as well just pick a placebo and wait to get better.

I guess the only thing to do is wait for it to go out of fashion, and accept that ignorance will always kill off a few innocent people. We've exacerbated it by having a low standard of science education which ensures that any scientific-looking claim seems equivalent to any other to anyone who isn't aiming for a degree.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:10 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I guess the only thing to do is wait for it to go out of fashion"
It simply won't without working at it. Homeopathy dates from 1796 and there were placebo controlled trials taking place within 40 years - it's had strong critics from the start even aside from those sorts of tests of its efficacy.
It's persistent crap for sure, but most people really don't understand that it isn't some kind of herbal medicine and 10:23 definitely has educated people about this already, even before this year's event. I recognise the paradoxical nature of any expression of personal experience on this front, but it and related campaigns against homeopathy in the UK have raised awareness of it amongst those who might otherwise just pick up a tube of pillules from the shelf of Boots.
posted by edd at 3:26 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is thunderstorms producing anti-matter at all a contradiction of science?

My point was that new stuff gets found out about everyday, and some of it gets our previous view of things turned on its head. I was responding to what I thought was a pretty Cartesian, Newtonian view of the world in the post i was quoting. Nowt to do with 'contradicting science'.
posted by peterkins at 3:44 PM on January 17, 2011


peterkins: It perhaps wasn't exactly the nature of the point you were responding to, but in
1) We live in a physical world that behaves according to predictable, constant, and internally consistent forces.
the contant nature of physical laws allows us to repeatedly experiment and accumulate data. We've repeatedly experimented and accumulated data on homeopathy that shows - when it is collected together and when the strength of the trials are properly considered - it doesn't work. We haven't repeatedly accumulated data on thunderstorms measuring their positron production - we've only just started. In that sense, when you develop a new capacity for observation you can expect to observe new things.
Homeopathy, in contrast, is claimed to have been observed by someone in 1796 or earlier. We've had 200 years plus of ever increasing ability to examine homeopathy and instead of accumulating evidence making an ever stronger case, homeopaths still scrabble around at the edge of detectability. If this was something Hahnemann had really been able to discover himself in 1796 we simply would not be arguing about it now. We find out new stuff every day of course, but it's virtually always new stuff we find because we've looked somewhere new or somewhere we've not been able to examine in as much detail before - not something that a disturbingly large part of the population seems to want to claim is as plain as the noses on our faces despite the fact that an amassing of statistics and ever more powerful laboratory methods and data analysis techniques haven't eliminated the argument before anyone commenting on this page were even born.
The evidence for and against positron emission from thunderstorms in no way resembles the evidence for and against homeopathy.
posted by edd at 4:06 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


peterkins wrote: "My point was that new stuff gets found out about everyday, and some of it gets our previous view of things turned on its head"

And my point is that absolutely nothing was turned on its head with that discovery.
posted by wierdo at 4:20 PM on January 17, 2011


I'm not saying that.

Those phrases were taken from your comment, I was quite careful in order so I didn't put words in your mouth. Next time I'll use direct quotes, but it doesn't change the point.

You yourself find homeopathy unconvincing, but believe that it's not irrational for homeopathy supporters to do further studies. Which I agree with.

But what I'm saying is that we've got limited funds and resources, so we should spend them on things that actually show progress more often than once every 240 years. We can't study everything just in case it works next time even if it hasn't worked in the past. We've got to assess what's a reasonable use of public money.

It's not impossible or irrational to do further studies, but it's like beating a dead horse. Maybe the horse isn't dead, he's just pining for the fjords - but at what point do we move on? Homeopathy's had it's chance. Between idiots who put belladonna in their preparations and corporations who cash in with pills and potions they know are mostly water, it's time to put a stop to the harm it does.
posted by harriet vane at 12:18 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Poor protesters...what fools they are! Don't they know they'll be ingesting deadly dihydrogen monoxide?

More seriously, will the protesters be diluting their own homeopathic remedies, or will they be relying on the word of homeopathic product manufacturers? Are they willing to risk their lives that people who believe in homeopathy are actually competent to carry out the dilutions they claim?

And per previous discussion in this thread, non-homeopathic products are sometimes labelled "homeopathic." I hope none of the protesters nor anyone in this thread is suggesting it's safe to take 1023 of these "homeopathic" lozenges which have 18mg zinc per lozenge.

Finally, what exactly is it the protesters are trying to refute? If, as the OP says, they are trying to prove the product's lack of efficacy, that only works if the protesters have the condition which is claimed to be treated by the product. If someone claims that a product cures the common cold, having a bunch of people who don't have colds take the product doesn't refute that claim. OTOH, if they're trying to call in to question the safety of the product, rather than the efficacy—a completely different thing—have homeopaths ever claimed that megadoses of their products are unsafe? If not, again, what are the protesters refuting? And exactly what conclusion is the common person supposed to draw from this demonstration? That homeopathic products are more safe than conventional drugs? While I sympathize with the desire to draw attention to the inefficacy of homeopathic products, it seems to me that this demonstration is utterly incapable of accomplishing that.

Fighting pseudoscience with pseudoscience does not advance the cause of critical scientific thinking among the general populace.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:38 AM on January 18, 2011


I think it's interesting that so many people on this thread question the validity of homeopathy yet apparently have no problem accepting the validity of the placebo effect. If skeptical thinkers are to be consistent in their critical scientific inquiry into how the world works then they should be taking a closer look at the research regarding the placebo effect. Indeed, there are studies that suggest it does not exist. If this is the case then why aren't more scientists critical of the concept? Could it be that critical thinkers are susceptible to delusions(aka beliefs based more on emotional biases than perspicuous objective observation) as well as less critical thinkers? Or could it be that there is just more evidence to suggest the existence of the placebo effect? I think it's a little bit of both. There is a fine line between science and scientism. Science, as is commonly understood, is an unbiased investigation of the nature of reality that relies on things like empirical evidence, predictability, verifiability, etc. However, scientism is a reification of science, mistaking the theory or model for the reality itself. Another way to descibe scientism would be to use Piaget's terms of accommodation and assimilation. Assimilation means to integrate new information into a pre-existing schema or map of the world whereas accommodation means to change one's pre-existing schema in order to make sense of the new information. Thomas Kuhn dealt with this phenomenon extensively in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Scientists as well as all critical thinkers are human, all too human, as the saying goes and are susceptible to the same emotional attachments to belief as the rest of us. The whole reason I'm saying this is because I'm seeing way more scientism and not enough science in this thread. While I agree with those who disparage homeopathy if it is used to the exclusion of other remedies or otherwise prevents someone from getting the help they need, I do not agree that we can make a final declaration regarding its total lack of efficacy. Surprising counter-intuitive discoveries happen all the time. We simply don't know enough about reality to say either way. Reality is much too messy to fit inside the box we've currently built for it. I think that what we really need is more research into this so-called placebo effect. For the more one thinks about this concept the more one realizes that it points to a way out of the mechanistic, reductionistic, and materialistic box we're currently stuck with.

And as for people who go to things like this protest, I wonder how much they're going for the greater good and how much they're going to defend their version of reality.
posted by umamiman at 11:38 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


My point was that new stuff gets found out about everyday, and some of it gets our previous view of things turned on its head

A) This didn't turn anything on its head. Thunderstorms produce a tremendous amount of energy. Any time you have that much energy, some of it will be converted to mass. Anytime that happens, it's just as likely to produce anti-matter as matter.

B) Generally, for our view of things to be turned on its head, it requires something called evidence. Of which there is none, in the case of homeopathy.
posted by empath at 11:44 AM on January 18, 2011


umamiman, not sure how those two things really compare. Placebo effect has been observed, and isn't fully understood. Many experiments for investigating the what, how and why of placebo have been pretty flawed, as The Skeptic's Dictionary points out. That doesn't change the fact that there is a repeatable, observable set of data that shows an effect exists, and must be accounted for in designing clinical trials.

By contrast, there is nothing to demonstrate a similar homeopathic effect. There's no data suggesting further investigation is needed. On the contrary, there's plenty of data to show there's nothing there. If you do not agree that we can make a final declaration regarding its total lack of efficacy, would you also agre that we cannot make a final declaration about the total lack of existence of my pet unicorn? After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so my unicorn is probably still real, right?

The placebo effect was discovered, and then theories and tests were designed to understand it. Homeopathy was invented. That's the difference.
posted by ivey at 11:59 AM on January 18, 2011


I think it's interesting that so many people on this thread question the validity of homeopathy yet apparently have no problem accepting the validity of the placebo effect. If skeptical thinkers are to be consistent in their critical scientific inquiry into how the world works then they should be taking a closer look at the research regarding the placebo effect.

This would be relevant if there were "placeboists" who set up practice selling placebos in lieu of any other treatments, even for very serious illnesses, and used their advanced placebology degrees to know which of many very different placebos to prescribe for particular illnesses.

Why is it not obvious to you that homeopathy is an industry worth deriding? It's a scam, plain and simple, and it's stupid to claim otherwise at this point.
posted by odinsdream at 12:12 PM on January 18, 2011


ivey, I think changing the word "fact" in your post to something like "strongly suggestive interpretation" makes more sense because, after all, particularly when dealing with something that isn't fully understood, what counts as a fact is actually an interpretation of a wide range of data. Since you're aware of the existence of flawed studies regarding the placebo effect, how have you determined the supportive studies aren't flawed as well? Is it because there are so many more studies that support its existence and to bring all of them into question would be unreasonable? Personally, as I said in my previous post, I think there is enough evidence to warrant further study of the placebo effect. I think it is an amazing phenomenon that, if true, could have a huge impact on our understanding of health and healing. Why isn't there more research being done to examine the placebo effect? Could it have something to do with the politics of funding that kind of research?

As far as spending more time researching the efficacy of homeopathy, I'm not actually strongly in favor of doing so just like I don't think it makes sense to fund an expedition in search of unicorns. However, in the course of general scientific inquiry, if we happen to discover something like this , for example, and we're open to the possibility that there can be validity to claims in favor of homeopathy then those people who go to those protests are going to look foolish. Again, I don't think we know enough to know either way. There may not be any unicorns but there will likely be many more black swans.

Regarding the difference between the placebo effect and homeopathy and one being a discovery and the other being an invention, there's a little bit of both in each. In the case of the placebo effect, an observation was made that sometimes someone feels better for no apparent reason and a theory was invented to explain why that is. In the case of homeopathy, Hahnemann discovered(at least he thought so) an effect by which he then invented a theory to explain it.

odinsdream, I think mainstream doctors do use placebos and/or drugs that aren't known to affect a particular condition regularly, either on their own accord because they don't think there's anything else that can help or because the patient demands something to make them better, e.g. prescribing antibiotics for a viral infection. I think there is harm that can come from this practice that many doctors are beginning to realize.

I agree with you that prescribing homeopathy in lieu of other treatments can be harmful. However, it can also be done in ways that are not harmful(see above study where placebo effect was stronger when prescribed by homeopathist) Go ahead and deride the industry all you want. I'm going abstain from doing so and instead say caveat emptor.
posted by umamiman at 3:16 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you, umamiman, thank you. That's some required reading for a lot of people in this thread. I am so happy that you've articulated those thoughts so well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:22 PM on January 18, 2011


It's a scam, plain and simple

Nothing is as plain and simple as you imagine it to be, my friend, and it's only unfortunate that umamiman's comment couldn't nudge you into at least partial understanding of that concept.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:24 PM on January 18, 2011


Just in case some folks missed the word in umamiman's reasoned and eloquent comment upthread, I'd like to point to it once more: Scientism.

This thread (as well as past homeopathy threads here at Metafilter) is awash with comments by its zealous devotees. They are as fired up and absolutely, unswervably sure of their beliefs as any Bible-thumping evangelist. Probably more so, in fact, because they don't even consider their beliefs beliefs, in any way. Their opinions are, simply, fact. Yes, fact, and completely unassailable. Like the man who, at the end of the day, simply ends all arguments with "well, it's here in the Bible", or "that's not the Bible". That's why I called James Randi "smug". That's why I said I'm happy he doesn't hold authority to decide whether or not I am able to seek homeopathic treatment, should that be my desire. And to the shrieking, strident commenters here who suggest that homeopathy should be criminalized, publicly derided, etc., I can only say that I'm glad that you, too, hold no such authority. I am as afraid of you scientism devotees as I am of any other intolerants, religious and/or political, who are dead certain that God is on their side. Stay out of my life an out of my business. I don't give a good goddamn how right you're sure you are.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:55 PM on January 18, 2011


flapjax at midnight, that's absurd. I am sure that homeopathy does not work, based on what I know about the world and the evidence so far. However, if someone were to show me any actual evidence to the contrary, I'd be happy and eager to change my mind and admit I was wrong. My position is easily assailable: I just wish you'd assail it with evidence, not insults.

Like many of us who base our lives around things that are, you know, real, I'd be delighted to find that unicorn. I don't think it's very likely, and it's going to take more than someone telling me they have one, but I don't have an emotional attachment to my position that would go in the face of facts, and it would also be pretty cool. I mean, come on...a unicorn! How does that make me an ideologue, again?

I haven't seen anyone asking for homeopathy to be criminalized; do what you want. I have seen many people, especially in the UK, saying that public funds shouldn't be spent on what all the evidence currently indicates are bogus treatments. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable position to me. Do you disagree?
posted by ivey at 5:37 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


ivey writes: I am sure that homeopathy does not work

Good for you, ivey. Stay sure. I am reasonably sure that it does work, based on personal experience and experiences of people I know. Now call me wrong. Someone else upthread did. "Factually wrong" was how he put it. Fine. Y'all knock yourselves out. Wrong wrong wrong. OK! I won't be answering any more of those! Like I said, it's like the dead certainty of the Bible-thumper. And no point in arguing with it. Toodle-oo!

ivey writes: I just wish you'd assail it with evidence, not insults.

I can't find where it is that I insulted anyone. And if I did insult anyone, it certainly wasn't intentional. And the evidence I need is personal experience. I'm really sorry if that's not good enough for you. But I'd never in a million years seek to impose upon you or anyone else my own opinions (no matter how strongly held) about what sort of health options they choose.

ivey writes: I haven't seen anyone asking for homeopathy to be criminalized

Comments like these come close enough for me...

Go ahead and skip out on medicine and take all the nonsensical fake medicine you want. The instant you're telling people it's something that it's not, and selling it to them, you're a goddamn criminal and should be subject to sanctions.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 PM on January 16 [4 favorites +] [!]

But hey, you got to make your cute little point about how skeptics are terrible people, and if that requires telling baldfaced lies to support criminals and murderers, hey, fuck it. Why not?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:31 PM on January 16 [+] [!]

ivey writes: I have seen many people, especially in the UK, saying that public funds shouldn't be spent on what all the evidence currently indicates are bogus treatments. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable position to me. Do you disagree?

Yes, I disagree. But I'll leave it up to the democratic process in England to decide on the nature of the country's health care system. I don't really have a dog in that particular race.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:05 PM on January 18, 2011


Nothing is as plain and simple as you imagine it to be, my friend, and it's only unfortunate that umamiman's comment couldn't nudge you into at least partial understanding of that concept.

Why does it frighten you so thoroughly that we, as a species, might actually understand homeopathy fully and completely, and as a result understand it to be a scam? Does the implication that you've been taken by a scam unsettle you to such a degree that you're willing to jump through mental hoops and hurl insults to distract yourself?
posted by odinsdream at 6:07 PM on January 18, 2011


flapjax at midnight, you basically called me a Bible thumper. I can think of few things more insulting.
posted by ivey at 6:19 PM on January 18, 2011


flapjax at midnight, you basically called me a Bible thumper. I can think of few things more insulting.

ivey: "midnite", brother, "midnite"!

Comparing devotees of scientism (see definition upthread) to Bible-thumpers is not an insult. It is something that I consider to be a fact, based on verifiable data (that is, the comments) appearing in this thread. It is my informed opinion that many of you hold the same unswerving conviction in your beliefs that fundamentalist religious believers do, thus, the comparison seems obvious to me. Sorry if you consider that an insult.

Why does it frighten you so thoroughly that we, as a species, might actually understand homeopathy fully and completely, and as a result understand it to be a scam?

It doesn't frighten me, pal. Not in the least. I just don't believe in your "fully and completely". And if you do, please reread umiman's comment above. I really think it can help you out of thast mental trap. Honestly.

Does the implication that you've been taken by a scam unsettle you to such a degree that you're willing to jump through mental hoops and hurl insults to distract yourself?

Likewise, I am jumping through no hoops. Except perhaps in your overwrought imagination.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:27 PM on January 18, 2011


By the way, odinsdream, might I also address one other point?

You wrote: Why does it frighten you so thoroughly that we, as a species, might actually understand homeopathy fully and completely...

We? As a species? Um... and the homeopathy advocates (millions worldwide) are... what species, exactly?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:38 PM on January 18, 2011


A couple of points:

Medicine does not equal science. It is constrained by considerations that are outside the realm of science. If this were not the case, I think we would see a lot more prescriptions of "three months at a spa eating decent food", rather than "40mg prozac daily". The fact that homeopathic physicians actually take some time with their patients, and that this has a healing effect also applies. Human physiology and psychology are so complex that a purely scientific approach to medicine, void of intuition for example, or empathy, is not likely to produce better medicine. There is art in good medicine.

Also, characterizing homeopathy as a scam, and its practitioners as criminals, is unfair and inaccurate - unscientific, even. I know a number of homeopathic practitioners, and they may be deluded in some way, but they are decent people and are motivated by a desire to help others. Note that they actually do help people, even if this is incidental to the practice of homeopathy.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:41 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


not_that_epiphanius: Thanks for braving the storm with your thoughtful comment. As I mentioned above, many of the anti-homeopathy voices in the thread are so utterly strident and harsh, it shows true bravery to step in here with any sort of positive comment on homeopathy. Good on you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 PM on January 18, 2011


flapjax, let's take a step back a bit to be sure we're even discussing the same thing.

Are you certain you understand how homeopathic remedies are manufactured? Any discussion we have, especially involving whether or not it's a scam, is contingent on a good understanding of the manufacturing specifics.

Here's an explanation from a company that manufactures homeopathic products.

Please review that and let me know if you disagree with their methods or have a different understanding, then we can continue from there.
posted by odinsdream at 7:14 PM on January 18, 2011


A scam implies bad intent. I don't think those guys have bad intent.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:20 PM on January 18, 2011


not_that_epiphanius: if you want to play along, that wasn't my question.
posted by odinsdream at 7:42 PM on January 18, 2011


I wasn't trying to answer your question. I was responding to the use of the term scam. I don't think I'm ever likely to flag anything, but I suppose this fits the case of "flag it and move on"...
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:56 PM on January 18, 2011


Comparing devotees of scientism

The use of "Scientism" to describe one's rhetorical opponents is every bit the "I'm a bullshitter who doesn't know enough to be in this conversation" alert as "statist" or "misandrist".
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:58 PM on January 18, 2011


sigh... Pope Guilty, I have to say that even from you, I was expecting better than that. Perhaps the slightest nod toward an admission that your strident rhetoric about criminals and murderers might have been just a little over the top?

No such luck.

But it hasn't been my intention here to change people's minds on this subject. Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass what individual commenters here do with their own health care, what choices they make. That's up to you. But equating homeopathy with criminality and murder, hey, that's just way off base, and I pity you for your closed mind and obviously hate-inflamed mindset about the subject.

I'll be signing off now, for you are not the sort of level-headed individual that I care to converse with. Feel free to say whatever you like about me in any followup comments, but I won't be responding to them. All the best to you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:44 PM on January 18, 2011


Odinsdream, actually, yes, I know rather a lot about how remedies are made, and rather a lot about homeopathy in general. But let me reiterate: I am not here to sway popular opinion. I see all too clearly that popular opinion is entrenched beyond sway. I simply made some points about how the zealotry displayed by James Randi, and by many contributors to this thread (their absolute certainty that they are 100% correct in all their assumptions about this subject, and that the practitioners, users and advocates of homeopathy are 100% wrong) is a mindset that is foolishly and dangerously absolutist, and holds the potential for the enacting of legislation (Glaxo Kline Smith would be delighted!) which would, at worst, outlaw homeopathy. And that is something that would impact me adversely, so I hope it doesn't happen. I imagine that many (not all, I'm sure, but many) of the loudly vociferous voices in this thread would be pleased to see such a legislative scenario, judging by comments here.

I really have no inclination to debate homeopathy here: it's a losing proposition from the start, and it's not my job, fer chrissakes. I'm a musician and a music enthusiast, and my interest in Metafilter has much more to do with presenting and/or discussing music and related endeavors. I really don't care that you or anyone else doesn't like my opinion about homeopathy. And I won't be prodded into answering every question posed to me about it, for I didn't come into this thread waving any HOMEOPATHY WORKS AND YOU ARE ALL BAD PEOPLE FOR NOT BELIEVING THAT IT WORKS banner. I am not your Poster Boy for Homeopathy. I don't care what you think about it. Like I said upthread, I just want people to stay out of my life, my choices and my business. And we can all get along fine!

So, to you as well, at least for this thread, I bid farewell. Unless, perhaps, you answer my "we as a species" question, cause I'm really curious as to this point. Perhaps I truly am a different species altogether, and you could enlighten me as to my origins, relatives in the animal world, etc.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:20 AM on January 19, 2011


But, friends, one last thing. I recommend that everyone read umamiman's comment above. Read it twice. It's the clearest, most compassionate, level-headed thing I've seen in this thread, and it's not from an advocate of homeopathy, at least, not any overt advocate. But it's a lesson in humility, a much-needed message here. An antidote to hysterical know-it-allness.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:28 AM on January 19, 2011


The whole reason I'm saying this is because I'm seeing way more scientism and not enough science in this thread.

I would invite any advocate of homeopathy to provide any science in support of their view.

I don’t care what strangers believe, that is of course up to them. What I care about is sparse public money in my country being spent on giving people water as a cure.

Give me "scientism" over magical thinking any day, especially if you are going to hand me the bill for it.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 3:44 AM on January 19, 2011


So, to you as well, at least for this thread, I bid farewell. Unless, perhaps, you answer my "we as a species" question, cause I'm really curious as to this point. Perhaps I truly am a different species altogether, and you could enlighten me as to my origins, relatives in the animal world, etc.,

I'll be glad to answer that question. I was not suggesting that there are different species of humans, those who believe in bullshit and those who believe in science. I was emphasizing that we, collectively, all together, as a human species, have developed a great many things with the help of science. We've made specific, quantifiable discoveries.

Reading my comment as dehumanizing homeopathic supporters was not my intent, and I'm surprised that you leaped to that conclusion.

Odinsdream, actually, yes, I know rather a lot about how remedies are made, and rather a lot about homeopathy in general. But let me reiterate: I am not here to sway popular opinion.

I asked you to review it because from our discussion so far, it seemed to me that we were not on the same page. If you truly understand how homeopathic remedies are made, you're going to fall into one of two categories:

1. Agree that there's no physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, and this means they are just as effective as medicine as pure water.
OR
2. Agree that there's no physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, but propose that there is a magical reason why homeopathic water is different from pure water, and thus it works as medicine.

Homeopaths are very clear about the manufacturing process. You can replicate it at home if you want to (and I'm surprised that anyone who believes in homeopathy wouldn't want to save themselves bundles of cash by doing so).

Since you didn't specifically claim to agree with the manufacturing process I linked to, please let me know if you disagree with anything specific about the way they make the remedies, which would negate any of this comment applying to you specifically.
posted by odinsdream at 5:48 AM on January 19, 2011


But it's a lesson in humility, a much-needed message here. An antidote to hysterical know-it-allness.

I'd like to take this as a separate discussion to the main one, if you please.

Why is humility at all related to correctness? Do you just want people to disagree with you politely? You've claimed that Randi is "smug" as if that's relevant. I've provided personal anecdotes (which you regard very highly) that this is not true. You've chosen to continue to believe he is smug.

When evaluating a statement for truth, I'm wondering why you put any weight at all on how nicely someone states their opinion, or how humble they are. It's telling that these things are important to you when determining how truthful someone is being.
posted by odinsdream at 6:04 AM on January 19, 2011


I don't think the philosophical difference between "people who believe in bullshit" and "people who believe in science" is as sharp as it's sometime portrayed as being.

People who believe in "bullshit" (that is, things discredited by or not supported by scientific evidence), usually believe it because of anecdotal evidence - it work for me, it worked for my aunt. Science on the other hand can seem like incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo, frequently accompanied by skeptics yelling at you. Contrasted with often poorly presented information they don't understand, they accept evidence from personal experience they do understand.

This is not actually irrational. Science also relies on evidence, it's just much more systematic about collecting and analysing it.

Unfortunately, a lot of self-described skeptics don't understand science well enough to explain understand and evidence relevant to their arguments, and so are reduced to platitudes and name calling. (I don't think this is true of people like Randi or Shermer, I'm thinking of skeptics I run into on the web - and it's not true of all of them, even.)

In my experience, people without any background in science are much more open to understanding scientific research than a lot of might think (as long as they're not actively hostile to it), if you actually explain it.
posted by nangar at 7:27 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you truly understand how homeopathic remedies are made, you're going to fall into one of two categories:

1. Agree that there's no physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, and this means they are just as effective as medicine as pure water.
OR
2. Agree that there's no physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, but propose that there is a magical reason why homeopathic water is different from pure water, and thus it works as medicine.


Not necessarily. There's at least one other possibility:

3. There is some physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, even though they contain none of the original substances that were used in their preparation. We do not currently have a good explanation of what that physical difference is, but whatever it is, it has nothing to do with magic, and it is responsible for the efficacy of homeopathic medicines.

I think most non-newage supporters of homeopathy actually believe something like (3).

(And let me, once again, repeat that, based on the available evidence, I don't actually believe that homeopathic remedies work)
posted by klausness at 8:40 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


3. There is some physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, even though they contain none of the original substances that were used in their preparation. We do not currently have a good explanation of what that physical difference is, but whatever it is, it has nothing to do with magic, and it is responsible for the efficacy of homeopathic medicines.

Repeated testing over the past two hundred years, including testing of homeopathic supplies currently available, have shown this isn't true. There is no physical difference.
posted by kafziel at 9:34 AM on January 19, 2011


... to explain understand and evidence relevant to their arguments ...

Uhm. I meant "understand and explain evidence relevant to their arguments."

Oh, well. I was a bit late catching that.
posted by nangar at 11:16 AM on January 19, 2011


3. There is some physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, even though they contain none of the original substances that were used in their preparation. We do not currently have a good explanation of what that physical difference is, but whatever it is, it has nothing to do with magic, and it is responsible for the efficacy of homeopathic medicines.

Wait, do people claim that homeopathic remedies are devoid of water? Because water was definitely used in the preparation. I don't think this is what you meant; that is to say, that you mean that there is water, and nothing else. That means that it is pure water. Which means that this "third" explanation is the same as the second explanation, above.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:35 AM on January 19, 2011


Philosopher Dirtbike: well.... the 10:23 people usually take sugar pills. So it's sugar with a memory of water with a memory of something else. Which.... errr... might be water.
posted by edd at 12:49 PM on January 19, 2011


I don't think people who use homeopathic remedies are idiots. I think they've been convinced by the placebo effect, but also by regression to the mean, and post-hoc fallacies. We're all prey to these cognitive biases, especially when it's an area we're not experts in, like health and disease.

But equating homeopathy with criminality and murder, hey, that's just way off base...

People have died because they trusted in homeopathy to cure their diseases.

Homeopathic vaccinations for whooping cough. What if someone's child dies because they're not adequately protected against a potentially fatal, yet preventable, disease?

A couple were convicted of manslaughter because their child died due to their insistence on using homeopathic remedies to treat eczema. They were sincere in their belief that they were doing the right thing, and I'm sure they loved their little girl very much. But they were wrong.

Don't forget the belladonna in the baby teething gel mentioned above. I don't care if the makers of that produce are scammers or merely ignorant, it's criminal negligence.
posted by harriet vane at 11:35 PM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Good news on the British front, at least.
posted by kafziel at 7:52 AM on January 20, 2011


3. There is some physical difference between homeopathic remedies and pure water, even though they contain none of the original substances that were used in their preparation. We do not currently have a good explanation of what that physical difference is, but whatever it is, it has nothing to do with magic, and it is responsible for the efficacy of homeopathic medicines.

Repeated testing over the past two hundred years, including testing of homeopathic supplies currently available, have shown this isn't true. There is no physical difference.


No, testing has shown no physical difference that can be detected using currently available methods. The point is that there could be a physical difference that we are currently unable to detect (or that we have not yet thought to check for). There's no way to show, scientifically, that there is no physical difference. At best, it can be shown that there is no physical difference of the kind that we have checked for. There are a many physical things that we once were not able to detect (radiation, electromagnetic fields, strong and weak forces, etc.), and something currently undetectable could be involved in homeopathy. That'd be a pretty significant claim (requiring some very good evidence), but it's different from claiming that magic is at work.
posted by klausness at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2011


Homeopathy, in case you didn't know, doesn't simply prescribe its "remedies" in a one-to-one relationship with specific ailments.

Every patient has to be assessed at some length and specific remedies in specific combinations prescribed for them ... in case you can't see where I'm going with this, Homeopathy may be the practice of prescribing water as medicine, but it's also the practice of patiently, respectfully, listening to the patients feelings and complaints in a respectful, calm setting. It's a form of therapy, in other words.

Obviously a good double-blind test would be for one prescriber of natural or homeopathic remedies to see patients in the respectful, calm setting as described, and the other to say "Oh bloody hell, you again? Here we go. [rolls eyes] I suppose you've been [airquotes] depressed again? [sigh]".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:07 AM on January 21, 2011


AmbroseChapel, that's an entirely fair point. I want to make sure I'm clear that I have nothing against therapy, discussion, caring relationships, etc. As far as I'm aware, though this may tend to be something homeopaths do as a matter of practice, it's not part of homeopathy in the same way that like-cures-like, succussion and dilution are.

That is, a homeopath who didn't use like-cures-like diluted succussed medicines wouldn't be a homeopath at all, no matter how much patient consultation they engaged in.

Since there are plenty of no-joke actual medical doctors who are very good at listening to patients, respecting them, engaging them in discussion and talking through options at length, I propose that this doesn't set homeopaths apart from actual doctors at all. What does set them apart is the remedies.
posted by odinsdream at 5:25 AM on January 21, 2011


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