Médecins Sans Medicine
April 11, 2014 7:36 AM   Subscribe

 
No no no... the more you reduce the awareness, the more powerful it becomes.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:39 AM on April 11, 2014 [106 favorites]


Oh, good head fake there.

I really need articles like that for my Facebook feed. Ones that start like they cater to a particular misconception or body of pseudoscience and gradually lead to a refutation of it.
posted by ocschwar at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


ocschwar: I really need articles like that for my Facebook feed.

Here you are: Homeopathy Awareness Week.org
For example, many people mistakenly believe homeopathic products are a form of herbal product – not realising that homeopathic products typically contain no active ingredients at all. Over two centuries ago, the first homeopaths perversely decided that diluting an active medicinal ingredient makes it more potent, with the vast majority of remedies containing nothing at all! Modern homeopathic tablets are generally 100% sugar, containing no active ingredient whatsoever.
Then they list 12 key points about homeopathy.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


This article is even more effective if you mix it with water.
posted by spaltavian at 7:44 AM on April 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


Related.
posted by dobie at 7:45 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


No no no... the more you reduce the awareness, the more powerful it becomes.

Actually, that's the point of the article.
World Homeopathy Awareness Week – the annual promotional campaign organised by homeopaths around the world – kicked off on Thursday. This year, rather than ignore it, moan about it or condemn it, scientists and sceptics alike should join in.
Well, you're reducing the "awareness" of homeopathy as a viable alternative.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:46 AM on April 11, 2014


For those interested, here is the TED talk the always delightful and adorable James Randi did about homeopathy, notable because he downs an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills at the start of the lecture and proceeds not to die.
posted by phunniemee at 7:46 AM on April 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


I was going to make a purely jokey comment, but then I thought I'll reduce the humour level in this comment to 0.00001% and hit "post," because that will be funnier. And it is.

I'm usually not even that funny.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:46 AM on April 11, 2014 [24 favorites]


notable because he downs an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills at the start of the lecture and proceeds not to die.

But did he fall asleep?
posted by filthy light thief at 7:47 AM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


He did. But first he had to consume a gigalitre of water.
posted by Wolof at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


Several hours later, exactly when he needed to - that's how effective homeopathy is!
posted by hat_eater at 7:50 AM on April 11, 2014 [23 favorites]


I like to think this approach would make a difference, and every time I try, I run into my old nemesis "Confirmation Bias" and realize it's a waste of time. Those people are evidence-immune in a way I can't wrap my brain around.
posted by kjs3 at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Then they list 12 key points about homeopathy.

Now I just need the same treatment for:

1. Antivaxxers.
2. Climate change denialists.
3, Anti-mass transit attitudes.

And I'm sure my shopping list will grow by Monday.
posted by ocschwar at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I try practice homeopathic holistic fitness but it's very difficult and time consuming. I've been working on increasing the dilution of my crunches to less than 1 per day but I find that it's very difficult to avoid completing one when going to and then getting out of bed. On the plus side, I'm currently running a 6-month mile, which is great!
posted by rebent at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2014 [56 favorites]


I'm sick right now, and my mom keeps begging me to start taking Cold-Eze or other ZInc lozenges, which don't do anything, but I don't want to have the fight with her because if the placebo effect is working for her than why would I try to shatter that?

(Purveyors of homeopathic "remedies" can go straight to hell, though.)
posted by Navelgazer at 7:58 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


9 Minute Beat Poem
posted by zizzle at 8:02 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


But did he fall asleep?

Yes, at some point he did, perhaps even the night after the talk. More proof that homeopathy works.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:05 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sick right now, and my mom keeps begging me to start taking Cold-Eze or other ZInc lozenges

So, apparently the Zinc lozenges *do* actually have a perceptual level of Zinc in them. See here for the CVS generic version; 13.3 mg of Ionic Zinc in each tablet. I'm not sure why they're labeled as Homeopathic. See here for a debate on that.
posted by damayanti at 8:08 AM on April 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


I know the thread is mostly going to be jokes about homeopathy, so I’ll try to be brief with the actual serious discussion. This is a very valuable article with a valuable point: experts who are going to be advocating against something really need to be able to thoroughly understand what it is they’re advocating against if they’re going to have productive discussions with their clients/patients/students, etc.

If the latter get the impression that the former are dismissing the thing in question out of hand without having given it more than a cursory glance - no matter how deserving or undeserving it may be of study in the greater scheme of things - it’s just going to get more traction. If an expert can put aside their annoyance at being distracted by something they feel is unworthy of their attention and be able to say without rancor, “Yes, I’ve looked into X, and here’s why it doesn’t work,” I think it would probably lead to better results.

Sure, maybe in a perfect world they wouldn’t have to, but we all know that’s not the world we live in.

I know I said I’d keep it brief, but I’ve just got one other related bit. Anti-science folks could benefit from the same attitude. I’ve had conversations with people who support abstinence-only sex-ed in schools, and they said their reasoning was that abstinence was the only 100% guaranteed method of preventing pregnancy and STI’s. They didn’t stop to consider that a comprehensive course that informed students of the success rates of all contraceptive methods and STI treatments would give them the exact same information about abstinence.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:08 AM on April 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm sick right now, and my mom keeps begging me to start taking Cold-Eze or other ZInc lozenges, which don't do anything, but I don't want to have the fight with her because if the placebo effect is working for her than why would I try to shatter that?

Amen, additionally, at least the "zinc" actually contains zinc.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:08 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Dear Homoeopathy,

The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

Sincerely,
Everyone.

posted by blue_beetle at 8:09 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


In the world of medical care, homeopathy couldn't care less.
posted by mazola at 8:11 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm sick right now, and my mom keeps begging me to start taking Cold-Eze or other ZInc lozenges, which don't do anything, but I don't want to have the fight with her because if the placebo effect is working for her than why would I try to shatter that?

Maybe it's not the pills providing the placebo effect, but throwing away money. Help her out and ask for a bunch.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:34 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I got a bill for $100 from my homeopathic doctor the other day.

I sent him a penny in a jar of water.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:34 AM on April 11, 2014 [55 favorites]


So, apparently the Zinc lozenges *do* actually have a perceptual level of Zinc in them. ... I'm not sure why they're labeled as Homeopathic.

I always assumed it's because if it's labeled as "homeopathic" they're no longer required to demonstrate that it's medically effective.
posted by ook at 8:54 AM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


Now I just need the same treatment for:

1. Antivaxxers.
2. Climate change denialists.
3, Anti-mass transit attitudes.


1. It's not quick, but rather exhaustive: Rational Wiki page on anti-vaccination movement, including data to debunk claims of "wide-spread" issues, but there are also some great one-liners, like "complications are more likely to arise from illness than from vaccination."

2. Skeptical Science provides a ranked list of common climate change denial claims, and the science to debunk such cliams, all in handy snippets (example: "It's the sun" - In the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions)

3. Transit use is increasing, mostly, and subsidizing public transit is a complicated issue, without any handy one-liners either for or against.

But a key factor to being against transit use (and support) comes down to four major factors: in plain terms, fear, class, race, and even shame color the decision to get out of the driver's seat and into a seat on a bus, train, or subway. The bias against public transit is so polarizing that European researchers last year announced a "Car Effect" that biases against transit.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on April 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


See also: vitamins, dietary supplements, herbal supplements, and pretty much anything else you can find in a GNC.
posted by domo at 9:07 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


if the placebo effect is working for her than why would I try to shatter that?

I feel a bit conflicted about this. There has been a lot of debate about the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, an NHS hospital which until recently was called the "Royal London Homeopathic Hospital" and, according to a friend, still displays that sign.

My instinct is to argue strongly against the provision of homeopathy on the NHS. I broadly trust them not to do any direct harm (i.e. not "treating" patients who'd be better served by real medicine), but it seems inevitable that by appearing to legitimise homeopathy they'll increase the number of people going straight to quacks instead of doctors.*

On the other hand, it's not hard to find reviews like these, from patients being seen for stuff like chronic pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea. These are things whose root causes we can't do much about. All that matters, besides having a doctor around to keep a weather eye, is the patient's subjective experience. And these placebos make the patients feel better. Which is a big deal for someone going through chemo, or whose arthritis is advancing and promising years of ever-increasing pain.

So... ideologically I'm strongly against the homeopathic hospital and its ilk. I think it almost certainly has a net negative effect on health across the population. But, having watched friends and relatives deal with chemo, radiotherapy, and chronic pain, and having seen some of them use placebos like homeopathy to reduce their symptoms and restore a sense of control, I find it really difficult to stride into the debate and pit my principles against their suffering.

*I'd love to see data on this, if anyone knows of any? Hard to measure directly, but I'm sure you could assess e.g. shifts in beliefs about the validity of homeopathy when people learn that it's available on the NHS
posted by metaBugs at 9:16 AM on April 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


All very nice, domo, but I need the head fake treatment.
posted by ocschwar at 9:17 AM on April 11, 2014


See also: vitamins

Careful, there. A recent study did declare that, "supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful."

Healthy folks can put down their multivitamins. However, pregnant women are still advised to take folic acid, and people with anemia and other deficiencies (i.e., non-well-nourished adults) should continue to take supplements as advised by a doctor.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:26 AM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


This article is even more effective if you mix it with water.

Actually, you need to hit it ten times with a horsehair paddle. Say what you will about homeopaths, but they thought quickly on their feet before somebody pointed out that water would be the most vile-tasting substance on earth if it really held the essence of everything it came in contact with.
posted by dr_dank at 9:28 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought their points were a little watered-down.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:29 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was just coming to say something very similar to metaBugs. I have a social acquaintance who used homeopathy for years, and it would be easy to assume she was just being gullible and buying into the woo. But she was very straightforward about saying that she knew perfectly well that any benefits from homeopathy were from the placebo effect. She just really wanted the placebo effect. She had no health insurance at the time, so real medicine wasn't an option anyway. And she took a gamble on the placebo effect, and it worked. She got better. (She even admitted that maybe she just thought she was feeling better...but isn't pain subjective anyway?)

It's worth noting that the reason we started talking about this subject was because I had been working with my psychiatrist to balance my anti-anxiety meds, and we were talking about the suggestions that the placebo effect is pretty powerful there too. (Wasn't there a recent discussion here about the placebo effects of Prozac?)

I don't mean to say that the people selling it aren't culpable for the harm that they do, but I think that a sizable portion of people using that stuff already "know" it is a useless sugar pill. They're just willing to give it a shot anyway.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:30 AM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


So, it's the pro wrestling of medicine?
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:43 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


she was very straightforward about saying that she knew perfectly well that any benefits from homeopathy were from the placebo effect

Doesn't this pretty much kill the effect?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:53 AM on April 11, 2014


Every year I threaten to make a homeopathic hotdish for our annual hotluck. However, it would be infinitely hot because I would dip a habanero in the water before cooking the noodles, though, and so I refrain for reasons of public safety.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:55 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Doesn't this pretty much kill the effect?

Not necessarily! The human mind is a strange thing.
posted by ODiV at 10:00 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Obligatory Homeopathy A&E skit from That Mitchell and Webb Look.

The skit, linked years ago on another Metafilter post about Homeopathy, is what got me into watching that show, which I find much more entertaining to the more popular Peep Show from the same comedians.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


This article is even more effective if you mix it with water.

Ya also gots to thump it.

[pakled]Thumping is good. Thumping turns sugar into medicine.[/pakled]
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


FORMER homeopathic doctors are offering a new treatment where patients smoke a lot of cigarettes.
After new research found homeopathy to be ineffective, former practitioners launched an innovative cigarette-based therapy. Ex-homeopath Emma Bradford said: “Maybe if you think a thing is good for you, it has a healing effect. Certainly it’ll be interesting to explore that with fags. “Like homeopathic products, cigarettes are expensive and shunned by mainstream doctors. All we need is to apply a veneer of New Age hullabaloo and we’re good to go.” Fagsopathy patient Nikki Hollis said: “Following a detailed consultation my fagsopath put me on forty a day. It’s going brilliantly, I’ve got this hacking cough which is apparently the sound of bad energy leaving my body.”
posted by Blasdelb at 10:06 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


The only thing that gets on my nerves more than the blunt irrationality of homeopathy promoters is the acute smugness of it's internet critics.
posted by fairmettle at 10:10 AM on April 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


The difference being, no one has ever died from second hand smug.
posted by stenseng at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2014 [20 favorites]


Nice pun, but it really is just a form of intellectual bullying. See The Underpants Monster's comment above for a more enlightened approach.
posted by fairmettle at 10:19 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Smoking cigarettes is not the best or safest delivery mechanism for nicotine by a long shot, and so far as I'm aware nicotine isn't the best or safest treatment for any of the things it can be used to treat, but it is at least effective for a variety of conditions. So it would, sadly, be a step up in the world.
posted by Sequence at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2014


So, it's the pro wrestling of medicine?

Except that pro wrestlers actually do flips and acrobatics and pretty athletic stuff. The Pro wrasslin' of medicine would be herbals and vitamins. Homeopathy would be more like pro wrasslin' on the radio (and not live).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


She got better. (She even admitted that maybe she just thought she was feeling better...but isn't pain subjective anyway?)

This might be due to the fact that you're more likely to take medication when you're feeling at your absolute worse. So, since there's no place to go except up (unless you have a chronic illness and/or are dying), you're going to feel better no matter what you do.

There's some discussion of this in the book Bad Science.
posted by damayanti at 10:23 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have (or used to have) more patience for antivax parents terrified of giving their kids autism than I ever did for homeopathy advocates. (I no longer have sympathy because antivax views cause real harm and the data is now out there for everyone to see.)

It's one thing to fear that there might be something undisclosed in a medicine that will irrevocably mess up your kid's brain forever, it's another to believe that infinite dilution of a substance into water gives you anything but water.

I mean, we've had drug recalls for undisclosed or unknown deadly side effects. Many Thalidomide babies are still with us. There is a precedent for that sort of thing.

No-one has ever provably received more than a placebo benefit from homeopathy. There's absolutely no there there.
posted by emjaybee at 10:23 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lovely:

"The active ingredient was instead seen dripping down the outside of the vial assembly. [Nelson’s] lacked controls to ensure that the active ingredient is delivered to every bottle."

In other words, one in six vials of homeopathic pills from the largest supplier of high street homeopathy contain no homeopathy at all. That no consumers seem to have noticed speaks volumes for the efficacy of homeopathy.

posted by duffell at 10:32 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't know emjaybee, I've heard there is a lot of dihydrogen monoxide in homeopathic medicine and everyone on the interwebs has heard about how dangerous that stuff can be!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:32 AM on April 11, 2014


Semi-related comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal today.
posted by duffell at 10:32 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Nice pun, but it really is just a form of intellectual bullying.

What's the term for slathering around "bullying" so widely that you remove its actual, productive meaning? If there isn't one then apparently we need one.

It's bullying when someone stronger, physically or authoritatively, abuses someone weaker for no reason than their own ego and power. People pushing homeopathy are causing actual harm, at least indirectly, they're not just quietly reading their comic book on the park bench. It is not bullying to speak up and refute their harmful lies, no matter how earnestly they might believe them.

Stopping someone from kicking their dog doesn't mean I'm bullying that person.
posted by phearlez at 10:33 AM on April 11, 2014 [30 favorites]


Stop with your animal abuser shaming, phearlez!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:43 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Stopping someone from kicking their dog

Treating someone who takes sugar pills like a person who kicks dogs might not be the best course of action if your goal is to win that individual over to your side.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:53 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Treating someone who takes sugar pills like a person who kicks dogs might not be the best course of action if your goal is to win that individual over to your side.


I think the way the analogy works here is that the companies pushing homeopathy are the dog-kickers; people who take the pills are the dogs being kicked.
posted by damayanti at 11:07 AM on April 11, 2014 [16 favorites]


How about ridiculing someone who throws away the lives of their children or their family's financial well being on widely disproven and logically impossible sugar pills or better yet, the purveyors of such pills who have the gall to call themselves medical doctors? Because that's what is actually happening here rather than an actual comparison between homeopathy and animal abuse (though not to digress too far there is homeopathic veterinary "medicine" as well). Personally, my goal would not really be to win over an existant homeopathy adherent, but to stop someone from becoming a homeopathy adherent in the first place.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:09 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


They're not people who take sugar pills, they are people who suggest to others that they take sugar pills rather than use real medicine. Judging them as no more harmful than dog-kickers is generosity, and granting their views false equivalence is bad for everyone.

If homeopathy users would sit in their rooms and take their useless junk they would still be guilty of financially supporting a competitor with productive science, but I'd agree that seeking them out to harangue them about their wasted money is pointlessly mean. When they take to the streets/forums/airwaves and promote that nonsense, however, they are a part of causing harm. Speaking out against their harmful lies is not bullying them, it's educating the people who might otherwise hear their nonsense w/o a counterpoint.
posted by phearlez at 11:13 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


a fiendish thingy: "she was very straightforward about saying that she knew perfectly well that any benefits from homeopathy were from the placebo effect"

Steely-eyed Missile Man: "Doesn't this pretty much kill the effect?"
Not necessarily!

Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Background:
Placebo treatment can significantly influence subjective symptoms. However, it is widely believed that response to placebo requires concealment or deception. We tested whether open-label placebo (non-deceptive and non-concealed administration) is superior to a no-treatment control with matched patient-provider interactions in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Methods:
Two-group, randomized, controlled three week trial (August 2009-April 2010) conducted at a single academic center, involving 80 primarily female (70%) patients, mean age 47±18 with IBS diagnosed by Rome III criteria and with a score ≥150 on the IBS Symptom Severity Scale (IBS-SSS). Patients were randomized to either open-label placebo pills presented as “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes” or no-treatment controls with the same quality of interaction with providers. The primary outcome was IBS Global Improvement Scale (IBS-GIS). Secondary measures were IBS Symptom Severity Scale (IBS-SSS), IBS Adequate Relief (IBS-AR) and IBS Quality of Life (IBS-QoL).
Findings:
Open-label placebo produced significantly higher mean (±SD) global improvement scores (IBS-GIS) at both 11-day midpoint (5.2±1.0 vs. 4.0±1.1, p<.001) and at 21-day endpoint (5.0±1.5 vs. 3.9±1.3, p = .002). Significant results were also observed at both time points for reduced symptom severity (IBS-SSS, p = .008 and p = .03) and adequate relief (IBS-AR, p = .02 and p = .03); and a trend favoring open-label placebo was observed for quality of life (IBS-QoL) at the 21-day endpoint (p = .08).
Conclusion:
Placebos administered without deception may be an effective treatment for IBS. Further research is warranted in IBS, and perhaps other conditions, to elucidate whether physicians can benefit patients using placebos consistent with informed consent.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:16 AM on April 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


Not necessarily!

Aw. That (potentially) shoots the premise of this short story all to hell.
posted by figurant at 11:23 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]




Raising awareness about homeopathy is the quickest way to dispell any belief in it.

But like Scientology, the trick will be to prevent people from becoming more aware about it until you've already brainwashed them into believing it. The untrained mind is simply too open to doubting the truth.
posted by three blind mice at 11:45 AM on April 11, 2014


I could be entirely wrong, but I imagine that many of the people purchasing tubes of Boiron sugar balls aren't homeopathy-only types, but are doing so in addition to accessing traditional, doctors and double-blind-trials medicine. In that case, a simple, "Hey, I know buying that tube might not seem like a big deal, but doing so gives money to a company that is actively making the world a worse place" seems pretty sufficient.

Intense, outraged messages about people "throwing away the lives of their children or their family's financial well being" can be kind of counterproductive, especially with regard to winning over people who aren't already homeopathy adherents. Such messages seem likely to sound hyperbolic to the average consumer, and unlikely to reach or change the minds of the people who are actually engaged in those behaviors.

Don't get me wrong. Homeopathy sucks. I just think that sometimes, grar isn't the only, or best, way to go.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


The only thing that gets on my nerves more than the blunt irrationality of homeopathy promoters is the acute smugness of it's internet critics.

Ahem. Surely you mean "its Internet critics".
posted by kmz at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


Placebos administered without deception may be an effective treatment for IBS.

It seems the apparent effectiveness of placebo stems from faith in the healing power not of medicines, but medicine.
posted by hat_eater at 12:09 PM on April 11, 2014


I agree, evidenceofabsence, but we don't seem to be speaking to potential adherents in this thread. When I do I certainly use less inflamitory language that tends to explain that they are contemplating purchasing of expensive water or sugar. I have yet to actually speak with anyone who is risking their children's lives on this garbage, though they are out there and one friend is coming pretty close (she's treating her child's respirtory allergies with homeopathy despite a family history of fatal asthma attacks - though she's promised they have spoken with real allergists as well and are following advice in addition to the magical water drops).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:17 PM on April 11, 2014


The term 'woo' just makes me cringe these days.

I know people who have an extremely naive view that consists of categorizing everything as either 'science' or 'woo,' and basing every determination on that. Anything that has a study attached to it, however weak the results, is 'science,' and anything that falls outside of accepted Western canon is 'woo.' And I mean that I've seen people call talk therapy, neti pots, colony collapse, and meditation 'woo.'

Overall, I've noticed that those same people seem to have a very simplistic notion of 'science' as some sort of very conclusive testing process, in which you can run some kind of simulation looking for predictable results and then receive a simple yes or no answer as to whether something works. And that is as dangerous and absurd as the 'woo' they so studiously avoid.

Homeopathy as I understand it* is a very specific thing, and to lump it into some generalized 'woo' category isn't really helpful. I'm all for increasing awareness by simply telling people what homeopathy consists of, but the fact is that a lot of the regular schmoes who buy into homeopathy do so because they are not aware that it's a distinct thing from other types of alternative medicine.

* I am pretty disturbed by the revelation that it's also a regulatory category, so not all things labeled 'homeopathy' are those like-treats-like dilutions that I thought they were until a few minutes ago.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:31 PM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


I am so sick of scientists bullying homeopaths.

This one time I was hanging out with my homeopath practitioner friend, eating lunch at Subway. We are all about sensible living and good health, so it was a natural choice. I got a foot long cold cut, and he had a Diet Coke with as much ice as possible. Then a scientist walked in.

"Oh no," said my friend. "That's Dr. Nesbit. He hates my guts."

He slouched in his chair and tried not to be seen. It was pointless. "Come for a sandwich, stay to get bullied by a scientist" might as well be Subway's new slogan. Dr. Nesbit saw us and made a beeline for our table. The first thing he did was knock over my friend's soda, spilling ice cubes and a little bit of Diet Coke all over the table.

"Aw, did I do that?" asked a sarcastic Dr. Nesbit. "I'm sorry. Here, let me clean that up for you."

Dr. Nesbit tore a teensy-tiny piece from the corner of a great big paper napkin. He put it on the ice cubes. "This should do the trick! The wetter it gets, the more absorbent it becomes. Ha ha ha ha ha!"

My friend was about to cry, but I was just getting angrier and angrier. The napkin joke was the last straw. I couldn't take it any more.

"Hey! That's not nice!" I yelled.

Dr. Nesbit's mood changed instantly. His smile disappeared. His fists clenched. He scowled as he turned to face me.

"Keep talking punk; I got a peer-reviewed swirly with your name on it."

I didn't know what that that meant, but it scared me. My homeopath practitioner friend started to cry. Dr. Nesbit was filled with rage. "You gonna cry now, punk? Are you? Huh? Well I'm a real scientist, so I'd better investigate. The editors of Wedgie Studies asked me for a paper, because I'm a big-time scientist. The name of my paper is 'Novel method for serially diluting the homeopath ego using successive wedgies'."

I summoned all my courage.

"You know what? You are a bully," I said. "A great big bully."

Dr. Nesbit was outraged. "Son, you just don't listen," he said, as pulled something big and heavy out of his lab coat. "So it's time to learn from the best."

Bam! He punched me in the head with a Richard Feynman medallion. I saw stars.

"Eat fresh, bitches," he said, and walked out of the restaurant.

Ever since that day I have hated scientists with the burning heat of a thousand geocentric suns.
posted by compartment at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2014 [29 favorites]


notable because he downs an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills at the start of the lecture and proceeds not to die.
See, that's the problem right there: he took too much.
posted by rouftop at 12:50 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Keep talking punk; I got a peer-reviewed swirly with your name on it."
I hope we can talk about how maybe it is better to not be shitty to people, even when they're doing shitty things, for pretty much everyone involved without this kind of weird gotchya-style strawmanning.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:00 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Previous discussion.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:15 PM on April 11, 2014


I will purposely take something relatively harmless that I can feel an effect from in order to placebo treat a condition I don't have medicine for. I, will not, however, spend money on "magic" from the pharmacy. Last Spring, I became very frustrated when the only otc treatment for an ear infection I could find was "homeopathic". The pharmacist (who agreed with me) got an earful about that chain even selling it as medicine instead of as a novelty.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:28 PM on April 11, 2014


I just note that it's the "placebo effect", not the "placebo illusion", and figure I should try to make it work for me.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:12 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you eat those blue diamond marshmallows out of a box of Lucky Charms you can get a placeboner.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:54 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


As a Colorado resident, ... damn. I just seem to feel so hungry, and focus has been difficult lately too. Uh, yeah. I keep forgetting something, something about the air I breathe sometimes, and the smells around so many of the new businesses. Oh well; must be Friday.
posted by buzzman at 4:20 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Funniest thing I have seen on the intarwebs was a hippy forum where a new member was asking for a treatment for some minor affliction.
She was given a homeopathic tip and proceeded to go buy the pills, then posted again the following day with questions about what the labels meant.
Initially, her concern was about possible side effects, but slowly the explanations from the homeo-promoters became clear until she posted:
"So it becomes stronger the more it is diluted, and the pills I bought have just minuscule traces of the ingredient?" to which she got a round of agreement.
Her next post was:
"What the fuck? Are you guys kidding? I just spent $24 on nothing pills?"
Good times.

In any case, I don't really get the anger here. Homeopathy is a safe and convenient form of strong placebo. It says right on the bottle what illness the placebo effect will fight. Sure it is costly, but look at how bold the type face is on the bottle. It exudes effect. The earnestness of the salesperson adds to the placebo strength.
My own non-traditional treatments like osteopathy for a sore back deliver results I find quantifiable. I would be very upset if one of you came along and broke that causation with your facts and cynicism, because in all seriousness my experience is other therapies do little for my back pain, and it really, really hurts sometimes, and I really want it to stop then.
And I will abandon a lifetime of science to get that pain to stop, and if you get in the way of that you are truly not helping.
posted by bystander at 5:24 AM on April 12, 2014


My own non-traditional treatments like osteopathy for a sore back deliver results I find quantifiable. I would be very upset if one of you came along and broke that causation with your facts and cynicism, because in all seriousness my experience is other therapies do little for my back pain, and it really, really hurts sometimes, and I really want it to stop then.

The controversy around osteopathy and chiropractic has to do with the claims that they can treat anything but lower back pain; it is clear that they actually do have a legitimate effect on that one thing.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:22 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


In any case, I don't really get the anger here. Homeopathy is a safe and convenient form of strong placebo.

The trouble is that it's widely advertised and sold as a real treatment for a wide range of diseases, many of which are some combination of serious and treatable.

Upthread I described my ambivalence about the provision of homeopathy on the NHS, which is a context in which patients are monitored by actual doctors, and the placebo only offered in cases where there's no serious condition that can be treated by other means. The ethics in that situation are tricky: on an individual scale you're (probably) helping patients who have no better options, but on a societal scale you're (probably) undermining trust in medicine and/or encouraging trust in placebo, which could plausibly lead to more suffering overall.

In contrast, the linked article describes homeopaths who offer treatments for things like malaria, and placebo alternatives to childhood vaccines. A homepath local to me advertised treatment for asthma in children, hinting on their leaflet that it can replace an inhaler. This is a large, profitable industry that's actively working to divert people with potentially life-threatening health concerns away from proper diagnosis, and away from established, evidence-based medicine. Depending how much the homeopath believes in their product, this is somewhere between dangerously negligent and outright evil.

I tend to think that mockery is counter-productive ("titillating the converted", to steal a phrase from Lehrer) because it's hard to persuade someone who you've just offended, but the anger is entirely justified.
posted by metaBugs at 10:31 AM on April 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


The trouble is that it's widely advertised and sold as a real treatment for a wide range of diseases, many of which are some combination of serious and treatable.

And it almost universally preys on and simultaneously reinforces a conspiracy-minded fear of traditional medicine by claiming that it's all deliberately ignoring these equally good options.

I have a friend mourning the loss of someone close to her who eschewed all typical medical treatment for cancer in favor of alternative therapies. Not because she looked into the prognosis and difficulty of treatment and decided it was better to take a hail-mary pass and maintain some dignity, but because she really believed those cherokee hair tampons or whatever were going to be more likely to do the trick.

That's just pathetic and pointless, and demanding perfect calm and tranquility in the face of that is ridiculous. Not quite as ridiculous as this binary image that seems to be here between gently guiding the homeopath believer to enlightenment and hoary abuse and screaming, but close.
posted by phearlez at 8:38 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


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