Ignorance and stupidity = homeopath “specialists” (part 1)

Over the course of the last couple of months I happened to stumble upon many articles/posts promoting homeopathy. In two of such occasions, a prominent proponent of homeopathy, Dana Ullman, commented trying to provide “scientific” evidence for homeopathy. In both cases, the references he provided were easily rebutted. My rebuttal was followed by infinite silence from Dana, who seems to have disappeared since then…

First incident was in a ridiculous article posted by Lynne McTaggart: What Doctors Don’t Tell You. This is actually written by Harald Gaier as a guest columnist. This is a typical conspiracy post, that implies that somehow the errors and problems in scientific medicine give credibility to homeopathic medicine! But that is not all: Gaier in an amazing demonstration of ignorance and misinterpretation of physics, concludes that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle renders causality obsolete!!!

The bedrock of modern conventional medicine is the principle of causality, the idea that if we fully know the present, we can then predict the future. Yet, causality has been challenged by Heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’, which says that, as you can’t truly define all aspects of matter on a subatomic level, the law of causality doesn’t hold.

Oh dear God! How arrogant must one be to think that understands Quantum Mechanics so well in order to reach such absurd conclusions?!? Medicine is based on the principle of causality? Is Gaier talking about the Germ Theory of Disease (germs “causing” diseases) in a Quantum Theory context? I am confused!

The idea that we can fully predict the future if we fully know the present state of all atoms in the universe was abandoned with the very first discoveries of subatomic quantum weirdness. Further, Heisenberg postulated that there is always an amount of ignorace (equal to a multiple of Plank’s constant) in our measurements of the state of two related variables of a particle (for instance, momentum and position, energy and time etc.). This by no means says that causality at large is not maintained! It only applies to subatomic particles and the microscopic world. But even for collections of atoms at microscopic scales we have very good techniques for calculating behaviour patterns of particles and atoms, using either wave or matrix mechanics (for example Schrodinger’s wavefunction).

But Gaier continues to pile up stupidity on top of ignorance:

This is in accord with one of the most basic tenets of naturopathy: that disease is only possible if a combination of preconditions is present such as impaired resistance, diminished vital energy, the presence of toxins, parasites or nutritional imbalances, dietary or other abuses and psychogenic stress.

So, somehow, this non-causality is a fundamental principle of homeopathy! This sentence should in fact come in the typical woo line: “Quantum Mechanics is counter intuitive. Homeopathy is totally absurd. Therefore, Homeopathy is really only based on Quantum Mechanics.” Arrrrghhhh! Notice also that we have the usual crap in the form of vital energy, and toxin accumulation…

Obviously I objected and pointed out the fallacious conclusions that Gaier reached. And then comes Dana Ullman to the rescue of homeopathy!

Dana provides 5 references in support of homeopathy in a desperate effort to show that “Homeopathy is better than placebo”. But first he goes:

I’m tired of reading uninformed and ill-informed people say that there is no scientific evidence that homeopathic medicines work.

Well, I am sorry Dana, but indeed there is no core scientific evidence that homeopathy works! Simply because there is no scientific mechanism to support homeopathic high dilutions and the “like cures like” concept! What exists though, is a number of positive clinical trials which might follow the scientific protocol for trials but they do not provide core scientific evidence whatsoever! Trials are only there to support hypothesis and conclusions reached from standard scientific analysis and research. They are there to measure the efficacy of treatments that are known to have a measurable effect. For only clinical trials to be adequate evidence there should be numerous of them and indisputable! However, as you obviously know yourself, there is a much larger number of negative clinical trials on homeopathy. Further, prior probabilities and Bayesian theory will show you that positive results are fully expected in some cases. But I do not think you have actually read anything about that Dana. Otherwise you would know these things I am mentioning -they are really very simple concepts…

So, what kind of “evidence” did Dana provide? Let’s see:

(1) Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G (1991). Clinical trials of homeopathy British Medical Journal, 302:316–323. This review of research assessed 105 trials, 81 of them positive [1]. The authors concluded: “Based on this evidence we would be ready to accept that homoeopathy can be efficacious, if only the mechanism of action were more plausible”, “the evidence presented in this review would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain indications”, and “the evidence of clinical trials is positive but not sufficient to draw definite conclusions”.

(2) Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al (1997). “Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials”. Lancet 350 (9081): 834–43. PMID 9310601. Linde and colleagues analysed 89 trials and found a mean odds ratio of 2.45 (95% confidence interval, 2.05–2.93), in favor of homeopathy. When considering just those trials of “high quality” and after correcting for publication bias, the findings actually remained statistically significant. The main conclusion was that the results “were not compatible with the hypothesis that the effects of homoeopathy are completely due to placebo.” The authors later analyzed these trials and concluded that higher quality trials were less likely to be positive than those of lower quality, though the difference from placebo remained statistically significant. Linde K, Scholz M, Ramirez G, et al. Impact of study quality on outcome in placebo controlled trials of homeopathy. J Clin Epidemiol 1999; 52: 631–6.

(3) Jacobs J, Jonas WB, Jimenez-Perez M, Crothers D (2003). Homeopathy for childhood diarrhea: combined results and metaanalysis from three randomized, controlled clinical trials. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 22:229–234.

(4) Vickers A, Smith C (2006). Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. CD001957.

(5) Barnes J, Resch K-L, Ernst E (1997). Homeopathy for postoperative ileus? A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 25:628–633.

(6) Taylor MA, Reilly D, Llewellyn-Jones RH, McSharry C, Aitchison TC (2000). Randomised controlled trials of homoeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial series. British Medical Journal, 321:471–476.

First I want to point out that this is a most common technique of homeopaths: scientific research distortion! My reply to Dana was a very obvious one: point out that he didn’t even read the references he mentions or the responses to those references by the scientific community:

(1) “…if only the mechanism of action were more plausible…” and “…not sufficient…”

The authors themselves say that they cannot conclude that homeopathy is efficient with such an implausible mechanism! Further, the “…not sufficient…” sentence pretty much sums it up. But homeopaths always consider such trials as “evidence that homeopathy works”!

(2) Linde has had his methodology extensively criticized since publication and even in his results it shows that in 6 out of 10 cases homeopathy is no better than placebo! Even Linde conceided problems in his review in 1998

Linde‘s work in 1997 is the one homeopaths love to mention.

(3) the homeopathically treated children were “healed” in 3.3 days while the placebo children in 4.1 days. Keep in mind that the measurements were taken in relatively large intervals (because of the problem at hand: diarhoea) and the parents or health workers were reporting the results. Further, Jacobs herself performed the same study in 2006 and found homeopathy to be no better than placebo!

Jacobs J, Guthrie BL, Montes GA, Jacobs LE, Mickey-Colman N, Wilson AR, et al. Homeopathic combination remedy in the treatment of acute childhood diarrhea in Honduras. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2006, 12(8):723-32

But it was convenient for you not to mention it right?

What can I say here? Only that diarrhea can be assisted with proper hydration so in essence homeopathy can be very helpful in this case in providing more water :-)

(4) Are you kidding me?!? Have you read the results and the authors conclusions?!? Results: “…There was no evidence that homoeopathic treatment can prevent influenza-like syndrome…”. Author’s conclusions: “…Current evidence does not support a preventative effect of Oscillococcinum-like homeopathic medicines in influenza and influenza-like syndromes…”!!!

This is another clear case of distortion or not even reading the paper! The problem remains that such references are constantly used to support homeopathy when in fact they show the opposite. The reason might be (in my opinion) that most people/patients will not bother to read those references and will take the word of the homeopath for it. What a bunch of dishonest, manipulative charlatans to play with the health of the public.

(5) From the conclusions: significance was found only in dilutions less than 12C while more than 12C were no better than placebo! I am sorry but this is in contrast with the homeopathic postulate isn’t it? Further: “…However, several caveats preclude a definitive judgment. These results should form the basis of a randomized controlled trial to resolve the issue…”

Another non conclusive trial that also goes against the most fundamental postulate of homeopathy: that higher dilutions are stronger! But, hey, no! According to Dana (and other homeopaths) this is strong evidence in favor of homeopathy!

(6) This is the only study that seems to actually favor homeopathy. And even here it mentions that: “…On average no significant difference between the groups was seen on visual analogue scale scores…” and that the results were reported by the patients!

While this one seemed like the only one of the six references that actually provided some slight favorable results, Jim helped me out here by providing a sound rebuttal:

(6) For a refutation, see Miller B (2001). Letters: Homeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis. British Medical Journal, 322:169

You can find the discussion of some of the flaws of the study in the British Medical Journal Letters page for that paper. In short there is negative criticism regarding the statistical analysis of the study, as well as the actual condition of many of the patients who had been previously treated with conventional medicine, steroids, and even surgery.

As you can imagine, Dana never replied. Not even to throw out more pathetic lines like “you are closed minded“, “science doesn’t know everything“, “science was wrong before” and others that show a complete lack of arguments and evidence.

The point of this post is two-fold: first, to show that homeopaths either do not understand or deliberately misinterpret scientific studies and misdirect people in an effort to add some credibility to their claims. They also always seem to cherry pick the few studies that are not conclusively negative but instead require for “more research”.

Second, even if some of these studies were truly positive and conclusive, the amount of negative studies alone would be enough to show that homeopathy does not work above placebo due to prior probabilities and Bayesian statistics. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Homeopathy is an extraordinary claim as it goes against well established scientific laws and theories. Some positive trials are not even close to proper evidence, let alone “extraordinary” evidence!

Next time, see how a second “face-to-face” with Dana resulted in yet another silent retreat from him. Stay tuned for more in a couple of days!

I will close this post with the same line I closed my response to Dana, and which is addressed not only to Dana but all homeopaths: