Homeopathy: there’s nothing in it. Part 3
Real life has got in the way and I haven’t had time to blog recently. No big fat cheques from Big Pharma for me so far this year! Let’s see if I can’t squeeze a few bob out of them now.
Who’d have thought I’d end up writing a part 3? Having, in my previous two posts, made a genuine attempt to engage with homeopaths and deepen my understanding of the therapy they invest so much in, I envisioned writing a post entitled, Homeopathy: there’s something in it after all!
But not a single homeopath has deigned to respond to any of the questions I raise in my previous post. So, in spite of my extensive reading on the subject, homeopathy remains an unfinished jigsaw to me and nobody seems prepared to step up and help me complete it. The more I’ve learned about homeopathy, the more I’ve come to understand that it’s not a case of bits of the jigsaw being missing; the bits are mishapen and simply don’t fit together to make a coherent whole.
And I think homeopaths realise this. In their heart of hearts, they know that to believe in homeopathy is to believe in something supernatural. That’s why they divert attention away from the flaws in the ideas of homeopathy and resort to personal attacks instead.
When I draw attention to the tragedies that sometimes result from people’s faith in homeopathy (see, for example, the last part of my last post), homeopushers will bend over backwards rather than acknowledge the truth about these. They were dimissed as ‘baloney’ by one of the faithful on yahoo answers, they were ignored by another who instead chose to go to my ‘about skepticat’ page, misrepresent what I had said about myself there and launch probably the most savage personal attack I’ve had.
I had expanded the information about myself here but I’ve now removed it again. Much as I welcome personal attacks for what they demonstrate about the attacker – hence my quackolades column on the left – I’m still keen to focus on the arguments and not be diverted from them by ad hominems. I hope you understand.
The weirdest response came from a blogger called Alan Freestone in the comments below his blog.
He had asked me for evidence for my assertion that “people have died because they relied on homeopathy instead of seeking the proper medical help that would have saved their lives”, so I linked to my last post. This was his response:
I had a quick look at your rant-a-blog…. very… er… interesting. Something about a cat…inter-species-erotica…something called an orgasmatron (!). Whatever floats your boat, although can you REALLY say the cat is enjoying itself when you need those clamps?! …Tell me you didn’t harm an ostrich too?!
He made three further comments on the same theme, each one more unhinged than the last. Here’s another
Yes I remember about your dire warnings about tragedies Septic-Cat, I still am utterly baffled what you are talking about. And please don’t provide a link to any more S&M household pets, I can’t bear it!
There was also,
I have to ask….just why is it do you hardworking Professional Homeopathic Skeptics have no discernible sense of humour, I find it very odd.
I told him I didn’t find the subject of people dying needlessly because of their faith in homeopathy funny. I guess he was trying to goad me into making some riposte about him having an obsession with S&M and bestiality and forgetting about the evidence of tragedies he’d asked for, which I’d provided. Instead, I simply copied and pasted the list of tragedies so he couldn’t keep avoiding the subject.
Unsurprisingly, he deleted it very swiftly, justifying this censorship in a later blog post thus:
I’ve let the two skeptic loonies to repeat their mantras long enough in the ‘comments’ section of 20th Century Musical Geniuses Who Loved Homeopathy. I didn’t want to, but I have removed their latest comments. They are just a repeat of their previous points, so we’re not missing much
(The other “skeptic loony” was Andy Lewis).
Homeopathy is a non toxic, non addictive, safe & above all effective system of medicine…. If you believe it is in fact dangerous please provide some concrete evidence (and not that tragic story of the stupid Australian couple…that is evidence of stupidity, nothing else).
Evidently, you don’t have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to be a homeopath. Nobody is saying homeopathic remedies kill people. If I believed there was a chance of that, I wouldn’t be planning to take a homeopathic overdose in a week’s time.
No, it is when faith in homeopathy – or any other unproven therapy – is taken too far that homeopathy can hurt and sometimes kill people. The aggressive promotion of this unproven therapy by those with a vested interest in it inevitably results in some people giving it more credence than it deserves.
As Alan said, “that tragic story of the stupid Australian couple…that is evidence of stupidity, nothing else”. This is a reference to baby Gloria Thomas, who died because her homeopath father treated her with homeopathy instead of getting her the proper medical attention that would have saved her life. So faith in homeopathy is ‘supidity’, according to Alan Freestone, homeopath. Put like that, who could disagree?
In a nutshell then, my attempts to engage with homeopaths and to challenge homeopathy in a civil manner and in a spirit of mutual tolerance and understanding (just kidding!), have met with nowt but denial and abuse.
Is it just my impression, or are homeopaths really the nastiest people on the web? I know I have a lovely personal collection but in the counterinsurgency taking place now that they’ve cottoned on to the 10:23 campaign, they appear to be trying to outdo each other. On a website bearing the screamingly funny title, Homeopathy: A Rational Choice, Steve Scrutton comments,
To be genuinely sceptical about anything you first have to know something about what you are sceptical about! The ignorance of the denialists is quite amazing. They are at least now proving that they know nothing about homeopathy!
I responded asking for examples of this ignorance, adding that I had several questions about homeopathy that no homeopath had proved willing to address. Unsurprisingly, my comment was not published.
To be fair, in addition to the abuse, the 10:23 campaign has drawn from homeopushers a concerted effort to spread the truth about homeopathy. Google alerted me to the fact that a few people are pimping an old article by a notorious homeoquack as if it were a serious and scholarly piece of work that would seriously undermine the 10:23 campaign. Said one,
Louise Mclean, who wrote the article below is asking us to share it, spread it around, post links to it or repost in its entirety: share, share.
Delighted to oblige. On dozens of homeoquack websites, the article is featured with as much reverence as if it were penned by the ghost of Hahnemann himself. And a more explicit example of sheer crackbrained drivel is hard to imagine: share, share!
I repost it here almost in its entirety. My comments below each section are intended to help Louise or any other homeopushers see why some of us just aren’t getting it and may inspire them to think of ways to improve their explanations of homeopathy.
Homeopathy – Dispelling the MYTHS that Surround it!
In this article, I would like to dispel a plethora of myths surrounding homeopathy which have been used to discredit this highly efficacious healing art and science. Homeopaths are given few opportunities in the media to defend their profession, so a lot of misconceptions abound. The medical profession in general presents a fierce and blinkered opposition, yet as Big Pharma is learning of all sorts of amazing cured cases, they are determined to stamp out competition via EU regulation.
Myth No. 1 – Homeopathic medicines cure nothing.
Homeopathy works by stimulating the body’s OWN healing mechanisms, through like for like. A substance that would cause symptoms in a healthy person can be used to cure the same symptoms in a sick person by giving a minute, highly potentised dose of that substance acting as a catalyst to jump start their own healing mechanisms. Everyone of us has our own natural innate healing powers. All that is needed is the correct stimulus to kick start it. In healthy people this may just be rest and good food but many people become ’stuck’ in their physical, emotional or mental illness and cannot recover. Of course there are different levels of health and the choice of potency given should reflect that. Low potencies are given for very physically ill people and higher for those whose problems are emotional or of the mind. Homeopathy is very successful in treating emotional problems such as stress, anxiety and fears.
One would expect to find, in the text below the heading of ‘Myth No. 1’, an explanation of why the assertion that ‘homeopathy cures nothing’ is a myth. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that no such explanation is given. What we have instead is something purporting to be an explanation of how homeopathy works but even as such, it fails hopelessly. The use of the word ‘catalyst’ is misleading, implying that there is some molecule of something in the homeopathic remedy that stimulates one’s “innate healing powers”, without explaining what these powers are. I’ve seen no suggestion that homeopathy stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, for example. So what healing power does a remedy that once contained, say, a bit of Strychnos ignatia but now contains only sucrose, stimulate in order to treat the “grief, shock, jealousy, fear, anger, depression, embarrassment, fright, or ridicule” that it is prescribed for and how does it do this?
Why are low potencies given for physically ill people and higher for those with mental or emotional problems? We are not told and, without such information the text, as an explanation for anything, sucks. And it ends with an unsupported claim about homeopathy being successful at treating at certain conditions.
Myth No 2 – Homeopathic medicines are just water
Homeopathic medicines are NOT made using only dilution. Dilution alone would do nothing whatsoever. Many homeopaths are getting tired of reading this highly inaccurate reporting in the media. All homeopathic medicines are made by a process of dilution and SUCCUSSION (potentisation through vigorous shaking – 100 shakes between each potency – i.e. between a 1c and a 2c, between a 2c and a 3c potency, between a 3c and a 4c, etc. etc.) Most homeopathic medicines can be bought in either 6c or 30c from Boots or from health shops. Higher potencies of 200c and 1m (1000c) can be obtained only from homeopathic pharmacies. Succussion is nowadays done by machines, originally by hand. Succussion brings out the formative intelligence of the substance and imprints it upon the 60% distilled water + 40% alcohol medium used to make homeopathic medicines – alcohol acting as a preservative.
I hope you managed to stop laughing long enough to read to the end. You may be reminded that Ben Goldacre was the subject of a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission by a homeopath who objected to a piece he wrote sneering at the water’s selective memory idea and saying that, by omitting to mention that each dilution has to be banged briskly ten times on a leather and horsehair surface, Ben had,“deliberately made homeopaths sound stupid”. (Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, p. 36. First edition)
Anyway, it will be obvious to anyone with more than half a brain that Louise is missing the point with this one. The point being that it doesn’t matter if there is alcohol in with the water and it doesn’t matter if the dilution is shaken. There is a law of chemistry that tells us that once the original substance has been diluted beyond a certain limit, all the original substance will be lost. That is the point of calling it ‘just water’. I think you’ll find that those of us who might call homeopathy ‘just water’ know full well it isn’t just water. It’s usually just a sugar pill.
Myth No. 3 – homeopathic medicines are unscientific
Homeopathic medicines undergo a scientific ‘Proving’ where a control group of 50+ healthy volunteers (‘Provers‘) are instructed to keep taking a remedy under trial until they develop symptoms which they must record in detail. Substances that have been rigorously tested include nearly everything on the Periodic Table – metals, minerals and gases as well as plants and even things like snake venom.
The Provers are given a bottle of a new remedy being tested in the 30c potency and must keep taking it until they develop symptoms, which must be carefully recorded and then submitted to a database. The Provers must be healthy and symptom-free to start with so that the symptoms they experience are new ones CAUSED by the remedy.
They must keep a careful daily note of what happens and not discuss it with any of the other Provers. Whatever symptoms the Provers all experienced in common become the black type symptoms of the remedy which are then added to the Materia Medica of homeopathic medicines and Homeopathic Repertory (encyclopedia of symptoms). Thus the curative indications of a remedy are obtained for clinical use.
There’s too much of this one to c&p here but the first three paragraphs should be enough to make the point. There can’t be a clearer illustration of just how unscientific homeopathy is. Do they not realise it’s the 21st century?
Myth No. 4 – homeopathic practitioners receive inadequate training
In fact all qualified homeopathic practitioners undergo a four year training course at accredited Colleges, which includes Anatomy and Physiology, as well as Pathology and Disease, Materia Medica, Homeopathic Philosophy and study of the Homeopathic Repertory. Yet medical doctors and nurses treat after much shorter homeopathy courses. To be really good, you need to study intensively for about 10 years. Homeopathy is a lifetime’s work and you never stop learning.
I’m not sure that I’ve heard this one before. ‘Inadequate’ isn’t the best word, ‘irrelevant’ is. It doesn’t matter if you study witchcraft for 100 years, it still doesn’t make you fit to treat patients with serious health concerns. Giving sugar pills to people who aren’t very ill in the first place, however, is something anyone do.
Myth No. 5 – there are no studies that prove homeopathy works
In the past 24 years there have been more than 180 controlled, and 118 randomized, trials into homeopathy, which were analysed by four separate meta-analyses. In each case, the researchers concluded that the benefits of homeopathy went far beyond that which could be explained purely by the placebo effect. Another meta-analysis found that 65 of the 89 trials analysed had produced an effect way beyond placebo (source WDDTY)
A study of 6500 patients at the Bristol Homeopathic hospital was conducted showing that over 70% of patients reported complete cure or significant improvement of their symptoms.
The first paragraph is yet another example of homeopushers just copying and pasting the same old lie with bothering to check it. Note there is no reference for the meta-analyses, just links to another quack site that says the same thing. I recognise the 89 trials as being the Linde 1997 study, which Linde later admitted had got it wrong. In part 1 I quoted what Linde later said about this study. It bears repeating:
We agree (with Shang et al) that homoeopathy is highly implausible and that the evidence from placebo-controlled trials is not robust….Our 1997 meta-analysis has unfortunately been misused by homoeopaths as evidence that their therapy is proven.
The study from Bristol, which relied on patient self-assessment is for obvious reasons, worthless.
Anyone wanting to know more about Louise Mclean and the zeus misinformation service might like to read the illuminating blog by Andy Lewis last summer. A previous blog of my own featuring one Lady Medea also, funnily enough, of the zeus misinformation service was this one.
Finally, a plug for Martin Robbins’ piece in today’s Independent and a lovely extract from this morning’s The Wright Stuff on Channel 5, where Dave Gorman gives a lucid explanation of why we campaign against homeoquackery and Scott Capurro is his usual twattish self.
- Edited to add: And another fabulous contribution by Crispian Jago, The 10:23 Secret Practice Video