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Science vs. Homeopathy 686

Posted by Zonk
from the five-bucks-says-science-wins dept.
Mr. E writes "Ars Technica has an interesting look at pseudoscience as it applies to homeopathy. While most discussions about what science is get derailed by the larger controversies surrounding them, Ars chose a relatively uncontroversial pseudo-science to examine so that they could examine the factors which make homeopathy a psuedo-science: ignoring settled issues in science, misapplication of real science, rejection of scientific standards, claims of suppression, large gaps between the conclusion and evidence, and a focus only on the fringes of what we currently understand."
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Science vs. Homeopathy

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  • by Keith Curtis (923118) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:37PM (#20610849)
    Homeopathy is when you don't care either way about the gays
    • Mod parent up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hedwards (940851) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:01PM (#20611109)
      Seeing as this is /. I'm in no way surprised that this was modded troll. Moderators hear seem to lack the funny gene. Still pretty damn funny though.

      It is a good thing, when one is trying to heal, it is a good idea to know as much as possible about the treatment protocols involved. One of the reasons why acupuncture is being given an increased role in medicine around here is the serious amount of study that the Chinese government in particular has put into it over the last 50 years or so. Up until the middle of last century things were much more empirical than they are now.

      Any legitimate medical treatment should go through great pains to at least do no harm. If it can't do that at least, then it isn't something which has any right to be considered legitimate. The next step is that it should help ease the symptoms or cure the disease outright. That's where things tend to get a bit more difficult.

      The big issue I'm seeing with the article is stated in there, if one wishes for the result to be a specific result, then one really has to be careful about contaminating the study. There's a reason why, despite the inconvenience, that double blind studies are so common. Believe me they aren't doing them because they're fun, they do them to try and keep the observations normative.
      • One of the reasons why acupuncture is being given an increased role in medicine around here is the serious amount of study that the Chinese government in particular has put into it over the last 50 years or so. Up until the middle of last century things were much more empirical than they are now.

        Acupuncture is indeed far more accepted in the west today than it was a few decades ago, but it's effectiveness hasn't changed it has just been studied. I would propose that in many circumstances homeopathic remed
        • by Hebbinator (1001954) on Friday September 14, 2007 @10:22PM (#20612635)
          Placebo effect is very important, especially in things like depression, anxiety, and agitation (its a real clinical status, look it up!) where behavioral therapy may improve symptoms. I'll let it slide that homeopathy for these things is hard to justify, what with the "like cures like" and all (can we get a 100000x dilution of sad juice?), and stick to the placebo effect which I think is your main point.

          Also, we can pretty much write off Prozac because it has become the Ritalin of middle-age. By that I mean that a wide array of causes, behavioral, social, or chemical, are causing a problem, and instead of resolving it (through behavioral therapy or psychological analysis) the doc is just writing for the same treatment. Bobby is loud, give him Adderall. Bobby is sad, give him Prozac. Some people really need the chemically altering action of Prozac to be happy- some people just want to buy a month's worth of 10mg Problem Solver from CVS... i digress..

          When administering or justifying a placebo as a treatment, take care not disregard the importance of real medicine. Placebo effect is significantly less present with things like hypertension, electrolyte imbalance, heart problems, diabetes, kidney and liver diseases, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and other more corporal diseases. There is no "I think this will resolve my congestive heart failure" placebo effect that stands on its own.

          As far as "sugar pills have no side effects" is concerned, look at and drug study that reports side effect profiles - placebos can have many of the same adverse effects as the "medicine" medicine. People will report dry mouth, sweating, fatigue, headaches, sleeping problems, and even sexual problems because ordinary people will have all of these things randomly on a day to day basis. The only thing thats different is that the FDA makes them report every single thing as a "possible side effect" if it occurs during a trial. ..So, if you wake up and feel tired (who does that??), you are experiencing possible drug-related fatigue..

          If you wanted to market sugar pills as an FDA approved drug, your drug monograph would be as bleak as that of any other drug with regard to side effects. I'm not trying to say that pharmaceutical compounds dont have side effects, but the same effect that makes people feel better regardless of drug action can also make them feel worse.

          Homeopathic drugs will never be superior to prescriptions because they are just water. Literally, in some formulations there is actually NO drug - just the solvent, because they have diluted it to such a degree that you could have an entire lot without a single molecule of the effective chemical. It would be nice if all of our healthcare issues could be resolved by just "thinking and feeling as though one is receiving a cure," but almost every time, this is not the case. People who have needs for medicinal intervention can not afford to be distracted by things like this at a cost of delaying real medicine. Real medicine and real doctors and real pharmacists who make people better through real science.
          • "Also, we can pretty much write off Prozac because it has become the Ritalin of middle-age. By that I mean that a wide array of causes, behavioral, social, or chemical, are causing a problem, and instead of resolving it (through behavioral therapy or psychological analysis) the doc is just writing for the same treatment. Bobby is loud, give him Adderall. Bobby is sad, give him Prozac. Some people really need the chemically altering action of Prozac to be happy- some people just want to buy a month's worth o
            • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Saturday September 15, 2007 @02:36AM (#20614051) Journal

              How exactly does behavioral therapy or physiological analysis "resolve" a problem? If your wife left you, will therapy bring her back? No, only the way you feel can be addressed. The fundamental problem will never be resolved. I would be thoughtful before taking a drug like Prozac, but I'm not swayed by the unscientific protestant-ethic-based theory that solving a problem should be hard or time-consuming.

              If your wife left you, that is no longer a problem.
              The way you feel about it is the problem. The way you act because of that is the problem.

              Whatever problems you had before she left you are gone.
              Well, you're probably still broke, or even more broke because she also took all your money when she left, and have probably lost a friend or a gardener as well, but I digress.

              Anyway, therapy (which I consider only a substitute for friends who'll talk to you - and, more importantly, listen to you; I've had both and friends are both better and cheaper) resolves a problem by first showing you it is not the immediate problem at all.
              "Fundamental" problems tend to occupy your attention, so you don't see the real, immediate problems. Problem is (I'm using that word way too much now), if suddenly your fundamental problem was resolved, i.e. your wife came back, your immediate problems would seem to have disappeared altogether. However, whatever led to her leaving in the first place remains unresolved, and your new feelings for her would never be the same anyway.
              Basically, save for foing back in time and preventing certain things to happen, there is no solving those fundamental problems.
              There's just dealing with the consequences.

              Problems are only solved in maths. In life, they are dealt with.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by kestasjk (933987)
          Authors@Google:James Randi [youtube.com], in the Q&A he talks about a friend who runs a government supported acupuncture clinic in China. (41:50 into the movie (Incidentally I didn't know until now that you can now jump straight to any point in a YouTube video, how handy. Anyway..))
          The person knew it was a placebo but says that it's used for people who have small, partly psychological problems, but they turn away people who need real medical treatment.

          I think homeopathy is just a Western equivalent; as long as th
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by ZombieWomble (893157)

            I think homeopathy is just a Western equivalent; as long as the person giving it understands that it's bunk, and takes care to ensure that real medicine wouldn't be more effective, it doesn't seem too outrageous to use it.

            It's a nice idea, but it just won't work - there is a non-trivial fraction of homeopaths who really, really believe in what they're doing (right up to the highest levels of their purported regulatory bodies). One recent example in the UK was a show which found that, out of a dozen or so registered homeopaths asked, none recommended malaria medication for travelling to at risk areas - all offering their delightful little sugar pills instead. This is despite their purported regulatory body explicitly stating

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:38PM (#20610855) Homepage Journal

    Ars chose a relatively uncontroversial pseudo-science to examine

    Homeopathy is controversial, in that some people actually believe it and loudly proclaim its wonders. That's like saying that evolution vs. intelligent design is settled just because science overwhelmingly supports the former, ignoring that many people still believe the latter.

    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:42PM (#20610909) Homepage Journal

      Homeopathy is controversial, in that some people actually believe it and loudly proclaim its wonders.

      Which reminds me, that "Head On" junk advertised on TV is homeopathic. My advice is to use bottled water instead:

      "Evian: apply it directly to the gullible"

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:54PM (#20611041)
        > Which reminds me, that "Head On" junk advertised on TV is homeopathic. My advice is to use bottled water instead:
        >
        > "Evian: apply it directly to the gullible"

        "Evian: apply directly to the naive."

        Fixed it for ya. I always wondered if having your product be "Naive" spelled backwards was an inside joke on the part of some marketroid.

        With that out of the way, my go-to site for debunking quack medicine is Quackwatch [quackwatch.org]. Debunks all the health scams from homeopathy to ear candling to colloidal silver to chiropracty, all on one convinient page.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Just Some Guy (3352)

          Debunks all the health scams from homeopathy to ear candling to colloidal silver to chiropracty, all on one convinient page.

          Well, I have to say that I've had good luck with a chiropractor [slashdot.org] for back pain, but I agree with you on their general theory of disease being cause by misalignment. Chiropractor as physical therapist? I'll buy that. Chiropractor for digestive ailments? No thanks.

        • This is actually a source near Suisse/France. That it spell naive backward is absolute random incident.
          sorry this is in french but about evian les bains. [tourisme.fr]

          and a SNOPES article on Evian/Naive [snopes.com]
      • by Valdrax (32670) on Friday September 14, 2007 @10:39PM (#20612745)
        Which reminds me, that "Head On" junk advertised on TV is homeopathic.

        Wait! You mean those irritating ads are for something that isn't even real medicine? That's it! I no longer have any reason not to burn down their company for those awful ads.

        Ar-son. Apply directly to the headquarters.
        Ar-son. Apply directly to the headquarters.
        Ar-son. Apply directly to the headquarters.
    • by david.given (6740)
      I think what he meant was that the fact that it is pure junk science is completely uncontroversial.
    • Ars chose a relatively uncontroversial pseudo-science to examine

      Homeopathy is controversial, in that some people actually believe it and loudly proclaim its wonders. That's like saying that evolution vs. intelligent design is settled just because science overwhelmingly supports the former, ignoring that many people still believe the latter.

      You keep ignoring that word, I do think it means what you do not think it means.

      Homeopathy, relative to intelligent design, is uncontroversial. That's like saying that a rat, relative to a tiger, is harmless.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Just Some Guy (3352)

        Homeopathy, relative to intelligent design, is uncontroversial.

        I think you're wrong. Worldwide, it seems that many people who would outright laugh at ID would happily tell you about how wonderful homeopathic substances are. After all, it has a scientific-sounding explanation that almost makes sense to people who failed math and chemistry. It seems OK to believe in that particular brand of magic while belittling other kinds.

        BTW, I hope no one read my original post as endorsing homeopathy because that couldn't be further from the truth. I think it's controversial

        • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @01:06AM (#20613591)
          Is that everyone I know who believes in homeopathy also believes that the climate is getting warmer and humans are the cause of that. When asked why they believe in global warming the answer is, invariably, "Because science has proven it." More questioning leads to the point that the consensus of scientists is that global warming is real, and human caused. Fair enough, they lack the education and/or will to investigate it themselves, so they rely on the prevailing expert opinion.

          However you then confront them that the prevailing expert opinion is that homeopathy is junk and they start twisting things, calling up studies of dissenters, distrusting scientists, and so on.

          In other words, they like the "scientific consensus" explanation when it supports their views, but don't when it doesn't. Unfortunately, I think this is extremely common with most people. They just buy whatever explains their world view, they don't apply the rigor they sometimes like to pretend.
    • by Vellmont (569020) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:53PM (#20611035) Homepage

      Homeopathy is controversial, in that some people actually believe it and loudly proclaim its wonders.

      "Some people" also claim the holocaust never happened, but I don't think anyone would seriously claim that the holocaust is controversial.

      I'm sure if you looked hard enough, you could find someone that still believes in geo-centrism as well.

      There's always a few nuts around that will believe crap. The existence of those nuts doesn't mean something is controversial. If anything I'd say it's the percentage of the nuts in the general populace. Even for homeopathy, I'd say that percentage is quite low.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BESTouff (531293)

        There's always a few nuts around that will believe crap. The existence of those nuts doesn't mean something is controversial. If anything I'd say it's the percentage of the nuts in the general populace. Even for homeopathy, I'd say that percentage is quite low.
        How lucky you are. Right there in France, we have a big lab called "Boiron" that's leader in homeopathy, makes regular mess in the media and have a *lot* of the population believe in its lies.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Vellmont (569020)

          How lucky you are. Right there in France, we have a big lab called "Boiron" that's leader in homeopathy, makes regular mess in the media and have a *lot* of the population believe in its lies.

          Eh, our nuts believe the earth is 6000 years old, and want to teach that crap in schools as science. If your nuts only make a stink in the media, I'd say you're the lucky ones.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mr2001 (90979)

        Even for homeopathy, I'd say that percentage is quite low.
        Maybe, but they're pretty visible. Go to Amazon's Askville [amazon.com] and see how many of the health questions are looking for "natural or homeopathic remedies".
        • by Nursie (632944) on Friday September 14, 2007 @08:38PM (#20611995)
          It's a shame that in most people's minds homeopathy has become mixed up with "natural remedies", some of which do contain useful compounds.

          Herbalism and natural remedies aren't suitable for everything, but some of them can help and have been proven to. Some of them are the source of things like aspirin.

          Homeopathy on the other hand is total quackery.
          • by Mr2001 (90979) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @12:44AM (#20613445) Homepage Journal

            Herbalism and natural remedies aren't suitable for everything, but some of them can help and have been proven to. Some of them are the source of things like aspirin.
            Agreed, but looking for something "natural" as an end in itself is foolish. If you want a natural headache cure, you can use salicylic acid from willow bark, but the side effects will be a lot milder if you process it into aspirin first. The people who go looking for "natural remedies" usually just suffer from the superstition that synthetic chemicals are automatically more dangerous than ground-up leaves.

            Also, the term "natural" doesn't really have much meaning in this situation. At one end of the spectrum, you could say that everything is natural, since it's made from atoms that were found here on earth. At the other end, you could say it's only natural if you're taking a bite out of a plant or animal that you found in the wild, without even cooking it or washing off the natural dirt and bacteria. Most people draw an arbitrary line somewhere in the middle: some amount of processing is OK, but any more than that and it's suddenly "unnatural".
            • Herbalism and natural remedies aren't suitable for everything, but some of them can help and have been proven to. Some of them are the source of things like aspirin.

              Agreed, but looking for something "natural" as an end in itself is foolish. If you want a natural headache cure, you can use salicylic acid from willow bark, but the side effects will be a lot milder if you process it into aspirin first.

              Here's a fun assignment, go to your local drug store, and try to find cough syrup without artificial sweeteners. The only ones I can find are natural products, evergreen extracts.

              If your sensitivity to these toxins is low enough that you'll chock their side effects up to the disease you're fighting, you won't notice the difference, but if, like me, aspartame makes you fucking sick by itself, then the natural option is now the only option.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "Uncontroversial" is vague and scope-bound. Do you mean uncontroversial among scientists? Uncontroversial among the educated public? Uncontroversial among the greater public at large? I think homeopathy is uncontroversial within at least two of these scopes.
  • by Winckle (870180) <mark@[ ]ckle.co.uk ['win' in gap]> on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:41PM (#20610887) Homepage
    Your tax money goes to fund an NHS homeopathy hospital in London, whilst other local health trusts are desperate for cash.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by taoman1 (1050536)
      Not surprising since the royal family [skepdic.com] are believers in this nonsense.
  • by David Hume (200499) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:45PM (#20610931) Homepage
    and the suppression of homeopathy.
    • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:49PM (#20610987) Journal
      Yeah, many slashdotters are opposed to Homeopathy, Scientology, and many other varieties of fraud.

      -jcr

    • by Sunburnt (890890) *
      Excellent flamebait. I find it hard to believe that someone who writes under the name "David Hume" could actually endorse the viewpoint in your posts, so I can only assume you're hoping to enjoy some copious nerd hate, which you will no doubt receive in short order.
  • James Randi! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mukunda_NZ (1078231) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:45PM (#20610935) Homepage
    James Randi has often spoke brilliantly on the topic of homeopathy, in this authors@google video he speaks on it, among other things. http://youtube.com/watch?v=MTPj9VlNzQ0

    Homeopathy is a terrible scam and I know too many people that have been sucked in to it due to lack of education, and the ability for critical thought.
  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:46PM (#20610947) Homepage Journal
    The more you rinse them, the stronger the soap becomes!

    Enjoy your placebo effect, people.
  • Rx: Placebo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ringm000 (878375) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:46PM (#20610951)
    A friend of my cousin works in a homeopathic pharmacy (in Russia). She told a story that once in a while a client appears in the pharmacy with a prescription which literally says: "Placebo" (yes, an average Ivan is probably even less likely to be able to read a prescription than an average Joe, as Latin is not Cyrillic). The client gets the prescribed drug and pays a hefty sum for it. Supposedly, the more they pay, the more likely it is to work.
    • by cortana (588495)
      To be fair, doctors' handwriting is second only to that of English teachers for illegibility. :)
    • by feepness (543479) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:03PM (#20611133) Homepage

      The client gets the prescribed drug and pays a hefty sum for it. Supposedly, the more they pay, the more likely it is to work.
      I've been on Placebo for years and it does wonders. I've been trying to find the manufacturer so I can buy their stock but apparently they are very small.

      Also, funnily enough, they look at taste like M&Ms.
    • by Pathwalker (103) * <hotgrits@yourpants.net> on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:31PM (#20611437) Homepage Journal
      Walgreens has a pretty good price on Cebocap #3 [walgreens.com] - $46.29 for 100, and everyone knows the orange ones are the strongest!
    • Re:Rx: Placebo (Score:4, Interesting)

      by John Miles (108215) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:50PM (#20611603) Homepage Journal
      I've been reading Philip Ball's (excellent) biography of Paracelsus, The Devil's Doctor, and he describes this phenomenon to a 'T'. Apparently, it was common for medieval physicians to work hand-in-hand with apothecaries, prescribing drugs whose principal healing attribute (besides being poisonous as hell, most likely) was how expensive they were. The more the patient had to pay, the more likely the drug would help him.

      Homeopathy is interesting from a historical standpoint, because it's really the only semi-mainstream form of quackery to have survived the fall of the alchemical age.
  • Umm, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:48PM (#20610973) Journal
    "largely settled matters"... in 1404, a flat Earth was a "largely settled matter"

    Honestly, as long as it doesn't interfere with other scientific endeavors, I see no problems with such things as homeopathy. They may even stumble across something that is heretofore unknown, actually contributing to science in the process. Even in this case, competent MDs certainly don't discount human willpower and mindset, especially in matters such as healing times and recovery from sickness or injury.

    Sneer all you like folks, but even the fundamentalist creationist types have a chance (small as it may be) at accidentally discovering something along the way that "real science" may have ignored or discounted, or in asking a question (or posing a challenge) whose answer might lead to something useful in science itself -- if a scientist here or there takes the time to tackle them.

    It's kind of how we've gotten as far as we have.

    /P

    • Re:Umm, what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:55PM (#20611045) Journal
      Honestly, as long as it doesn't interfere with other scientific endeavors, I see no problems with such things as homeopathy.

      How do you feel about three-card Monty?

      They may even stumble across something that is heretofore unknown, actually contributing to science in the process.

      Nope. Not a chance.

      Sneer all you like folks, but even the fundamentalist creationist types have a chance

      Even less of a chance, since they do no work at all in any field of scientific inquiry. They just write up ever more long-winded versions of "nu-uh" to science.

      -jcr

    • Re:Umm, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Vellmont (569020) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:00PM (#20611099) Homepage

      I see no problems with such things as homeopathy.

      The problem is really people are wasting a lot of money, and potentially harming themselves from not seeking treatments that actually work. You might say "who cares?", but eventually those people are likely to wind up in the normal health care system when the snake-oil treatments fail to do anything, and in worse shape than they would have if they had sought "conventional" treatments. That winds up increasing premiums for everyone else.

      • Re:Umm, what? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ChrisMaple (607946) on Friday September 14, 2007 @09:35PM (#20612375)
        There's value to the argument that someone who tries homeopathy will eventually have to enter the conventional healthcare system in worse condition than if he had not tried homeopathy, thereby increasing everyone's costs through the mechanism of insurance. However, humans usually defeat most diseases without any special care, and in these cases if homeopathy delays a trip to the doctor so long that the disease ends and the trip never happens, everyone's costs are cut. Furthermore, homeopathic "remedies" are often self-inflicted, so no expensive "professional" services are ever used.

        The number of people who would try to use homeopathy for crisis medicine (heart attack, stroke, car crash) is vanishingly small, so it's probably not a valid concern in such cases.

        Most homeopathic substances aren't very expensive because there isn't much but water or sugar being sold.

        We'd be better off if people didn't believe in frauds, but homeopathy does less damage than many other forms of medical stupidity.

    • Re:Umm, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FreelanceWizard (889712) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:10PM (#20611209) Homepage
      The problem is not so much that people are doing research in this field -- people still do research into parapsychology and memetics, for example. The problem is asserting that your theoretical framework is true and correct in the face of serious competition and disconfirmatory evidence. Homeopathy's principle claims are not supported by evidence. As a theoretical framework, it doesn't buy us anything in terms of explanatory power over its primary competitor, the placebo effect. The placebo effect is even more predictive, because it can explain results such as "red and purple liquids, colored by a biologically non-reactive dye, have greater treatment effects than clear ones." How does homeopathy address that? Even clinically, homeopathy fails; its results are on par with what you'd predict from placebo.

      I don't mind if people spend time looking for results they may never find. It's true that they might stumble upon something, though the evidence so far suggests that they most likely won't. Given the results thus far, we should definitely consider research into homeopathy very risky, and be mindful of spending money on it. That's an issue of efficient resource allocation, however.

      My major problems with researchers into homeopathy is that they often violate the epistemological underpinnings and conventions of science (no special pleading, peer review of results, full disclosure of methods, falsifiable theories and hypotheses, etc.), and that they often make assertions that go far beyond, or run completely counter to, the results of their studies. Those two problems cut to the core of why it's a pseudoscience: it claims to be a science, and sometimes even puts on the airs and trappings of scientific pursuits, but it doesn't follow the same epistemological rules and therefore is *not* science.
    • Re:Umm, what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Goaway (82658) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:27PM (#20611399) Homepage

      "largely settled matters"... in 1404, a flat Earth was a "largely settled matter"
      Yes, it was largely a settled matter that the Earth was not flat, but round. This was known since antiquity.
    • by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhocking@Nospam.yahoo.com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:30PM (#20611427) Homepage Journal

      ... in 1404, a flat Earth was a "largely settled matter"
      No, it [wikipedia.org] wasn't [wikipedia.org].
  • Have a look at http://www.badpsychics.com/ [badpsychics.com] and look at Professor Richard Dawkins' two part series on "The Enemies of Reason". He gives homeopathy and other pseudo-science a right good pasting.
    • by VValdo (10446)
      I was about to recommend the same thing.

      here's the channel 4 site [channel4.com], as well as videos, part one [google.com] and two [google.com].

      W
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NoMaster (142776)
      Uh, this is Slashdot. Everyone else here knows that the correct way to debunk pseudoscience is to post a link to a YouTube video of Penn & Teller making ad hominem attacks while shouting "Bullshit!" at the camera...

  • by neapolitan (1100101) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:51PM (#20611013)
    I'm a doctor -- I could write an entire book on the relation of "scientific" or "evidence-based" medicine in relation to homeopathy.

    In general, homeopathy is essentially tolerated, and as the article humorously points out, it tends to not do much harm because things are dilute. From the Wikipedia article, which nicely summarizes it:
    > any positive effects of homeopathic treatment are simply a placebo effect.

    That has pretty much been my experience -- and it is difficult for an individual (even a doctor) to tell somebody to NOT do something that is not harmful, and (very, very unlikely) may be beneficial. Physicians joke about "homeopathic" doses of drugs when we think a drug is significantly under-dosed (usually when beginning somebody on a new medicine to see how they react to it.)

    It is really funny the ritual surrounding this -- you wouldn't believe the people that adhere to homeopathic remedies and spend hundreds of dollars on these cure-alls, yet still "struggle" to afford the copay on the drugs that are actually keeping them alive. However, something that reinforces positive thought (which indeed can have an effect on your health) is good, and the placebo effect is undeniable.

    Despite their benign nature, the aggressive marketing of these substances to vulnerable groups (the sick) disagrees with me. I mean, look at this http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=homeopathic+remedy&btnG=Google+Search [google.com] and some of the wild claims they make for cure. I can't make these outlandish claims for most of the drugs I prescribe, so how can an honest doc compete? :)
    • ...and the placebo effect is undeniable...

      I think you may find that there are those who do deny the placebo effect.

      You will, in fact, find one or two rather large studies that discount it.

      C//
    • by rumblin'rabbit (711865) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:43PM (#20611527) Journal
      I am amazed at how tolerant doctors are of alternative medicines. Years ago I had a letter published in the local newspaper where I protested their gullible coverage of an obviously bogus medical claim. I was surprized that my letter was the only one that appeared. This was in a big city - where were the letters from the medical doctors?

      Why do so few doctors speak out? Where is their courage? Where is their integrity?

      Some day we may have a public who is completely unable to differentiate between true medical doctors practising evidence-based medicine, and a vast array of charlatans and witch doctors, and the doctors will wonder what happened.

      Your tepid and spineless response to alternative medicine is what happened.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wikinerd (809585)

        Why do so few doctors speak out?

        Some ideas:

        • Doctors may be in the profession for the money. They can't easily earn money just by disproving quackeries, so they don't lose their time doing it.
        • Unfortunately it is possible to be a practising doctor and still have no solid understanding of the scientific method. A person who went to university to study medicine and passed the exams by cheating can find work as a doctor but still be vulnerable to unscientific theories and magical thinking. Some doctors may actually believe in some quack
    • by Elivs (43960) on Friday September 14, 2007 @09:03PM (#20612181)

      I'm a doctor

      Same.

      it is difficult for an individual (even a doctor) to tell somebody to NOT do something that is not harmful, and (very, very unlikely) may be beneficial.

      Unfortunately I disagree with this statement. While most homeopathists generally don't do harm I have seen plenty who have. Things that I've personally seen:

      1) Patients who are struggling with money spending more than they can afford on bogus treatments. Depriving them on money they could have spent on other things.

      2) Patients refusing or delaying treatment to see try homeopathy. While people have the right to chose their own treatment, a faith heeler and homeopathest misled people by saying that their treatment works. One case springs to mind of a patient in their mid 30 with Duke's A bowel cancer. This should have had a good chance for cure, but after 12 months of "trying the homeopathy first" the cancer had disseminated (liver/retro-peritoneum etc).

      3) I've also seen direct harm based on dangerous advice. When I was a house surgeon we had a patient come in with seizures due to a low serum sodium. It turned out that her homeopathists had advise her to drink about 5-7L of water per day. The little old lady did this and essentially diluted herself with excess water until she almost died. (BTW drinking so much water that you do this is REALLY HARD. It requires a lot of will power to drink much beyond your thirst.)

      So, while its nice to say homeopathists etc do no harm, its simply not true. I suggest reading this article on quack watch. [quackwatch.com]

      elivs

      • by neapolitan (1100101) on Friday September 14, 2007 @11:59PM (#20613167)
        You set up a clear straw man argument. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man [wikipedia.org] We don't disagree at all.

        > 1) Patients who are struggling with money spending more than they can afford on bogus treatments. Depriving them on money they could have spent on other things.

        From my OP:
        >you wouldn't believe the people that adhere to homeopathic remedies and spend hundreds of dollars on these cure-alls, yet still "struggle" to afford the copay on the drugs that are actually keeping them alive.

        Appreciate you bringing up the second and third dangerous anecdotes -- however, from my original post, I said it is difficult to tell somebody to do something that is NOT harmful, and clearly instilling polydipsia (excessive drinking) to the point of seizures from hyponatremia (low sodium) IS harmful. I stay involved with my patients that desire homeopathic remedies, and ask them what they have been doing in this regard. They *know* how I feel about the practice, (waste of time and money, largely,) but I don't beat them over the head with it. Clearly if they told me that they were spending large amounts of money or drinking themselves to death, I would step in with appropriate force.

        Think of an analogy to religion. The vast majority of medical doctors tolerate if not support religion, with similar benefits that I eluded to earlier. Would you then disagree with this and come out with the counterarguments:

        "I've seen somebody who prayed to their god instead of seeking a doctor!!! They died of infection instead of just coming in."

        Clearly homeopaths can do harm. This is quite a different statement than what I was saying though.
  • by Sunburnt (890890) * on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:55PM (#20611051)

    The writers picked the topic because of a relative lack of controversy. This is unsurprising to me, but not for a good reason. My experience - I would love to see some research, hopefully proving me wrong - has led me to believe that a majority of people accept the spurious claims of homeopathy advocates. I'm disheartened about this by the number of otherwise perfectly reasonable people who have insisted that I should pay money for a homeopathic dilution of zinc [wikipedia.org] to fight a cold virus.

    "My last cold only lasted three days, must have been the Zicam," is so wrong on multiple levels, and it's a sad commentary on the state of education that such thinking is so widespread, although it's only fair to note that such has always been the case with regards to medicine.

    My favorite part of the article is this three-bong-load abuse of physics by Lionel Milgrom, a contributor to this very special journal edition, who proposes a theory (I shit you not) of quantum entanglement of humans:

    "It is as if at a deep level, everything in the universe is instantaneously linked together in a vast holistic matter-energy network of interacting fields which transcends ordinary concepts of space and time," Milgrom says. "And we, composed of trillions of particles are an inseparable part of it: far from what reason seems to tell us."

    Mr. Milgrom, you and I share the same perspective on the universe. Unfortunately for you, it's called religion, not science, and your attempts to dress it up as science for the purposes of promoting our generation's version of patent medicine are the worst sort of shameful mockery.

    Also, "instantaneously?" How can any two things be made instantaneous by a force that "transcends time?" You're as shitty a philosopher as you are a physicist, Mr. Milgrom.

  • by netsavior (627338) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:59PM (#20611087)
    Diluting something to the point that it is nothing and admistering it as medicine is not a great testament to Homeopathy in my mind. It is a testament against "western medicine". I think it is very true that often doing nothing is better than doing whatever western medicine says. Example: US has one of the most medicalized Birth process of any country, and one of the worst infant mortality rates of any modern world country [cnn.com]. The US also feeds babies medicine(infant "formula") instead of food (breastmilk), cuts off functional parts of the male anatomy at birth out of tradition and ignorance.

    All this unnecessary medicalization happens in the first few seconds of life a large percentage of US born babies. Setting that precident, imagine all the rediculious medicalization the "western world" faces and it is not hard to see why backing the *eff* off and using some kind of placebo voodoo water (assuming homeopathy is false) would be popular and even relieving to the bodies of people who have been abused by their own thirst for "medicine".

    I am not saying western medicine gives us nothing, or that homeopathy gives us something, but I am saying that psychological response is perhaps more important than chemicals and surgery, and maybe a psudo science of placebo is a nice way to wean lemmings off of "just gimme an antibiotic so I can feel better".
    • by RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:11PM (#20611217)
      The problem is that the things you are complaining about have little to do with modern medicine.

      The consensus is that breastfeeding is good, and circumcision isn't beneficial.

      Medicine screws up, sometimes, but you're damn glad it's there when you need it.
      • The consensus is that breastfeeding is good, and circumcision isn't beneficial.

        Actually, there's no consensus on the latter. First, circumcision is actually beneficial in helping to prevent HIV by removing tissue that acts as an easy point of entry. [bmj.com] Second, a small (40 person) study was performed that showed that strongly suggests that sensitivity is not significantly impaired in circumcised men [arstechnica.com] despite commonly held beliefs to the contrary.
  • Excuse me, but isn't the article yattack way too convoluted than necessary, and logically faulty? One can totally misunderstand the principles behind a cure, yet apply it and having it work.

    If you want to prove homeopathy useless gather enough cases and compare how they stack up against normal cures. I guess you'll win.

    Because if the arstechnica objections are right, and homeopathy is only a matter of placebo effect, you'd still have to prove that this placebo effect is inferior to normal cures in terms of
    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Carnildo (712617) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:15PM (#20611277) Homepage Journal

      Because if the arstechnica objections are right, and homeopathy is only a matter of placebo effect, you'd still have to prove that this placebo effect is inferior to normal cures in terms of percentage of people cured.


      That's what every Phase II drug trial ever done has tested: "Is this medicine more effective than a placebo?"
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by marcello_dl (667940)
        You aren't anal enough, which was the point.
        You say it's tested against a placebo (double blind test, I presume), but I said "THIS placebo" for a reason: this appeals to somebody's faith in alternative medicine. The double blind placebo doesn't. Whether it makes a difference is another matter.
  • The root issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tlosk (761023) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:05PM (#20611171)
    Something few people seem to recognize is there are two separable elements to most of homeopathy. The first is the treatment itself, and the second is the explanation for how it works. For whatever reason people aren't satisfied to know that something works, they also need to know why it works. And unfortunately if there isn't a self-evident explanation one will be invented. And it doesn't end there, the invented rationale is then usually extended to develop other treatments (which don't work of course because what they are based on isn't true).

    Take acupuncture. Twirling small needles in the top layer of the skin has a variety of benefits. But why? Traditions tell the story that it balances the energy flows, etc etc. A recent study examined three groups, one with no acupuncture, one with acupuncture in the traditionally prescribed locations, and one with acupuncture in random locations. Both of the latter two groups were better than the first (no treatment), but interestingly they weren't different from each other.

    So yes acupuncture has some effect, but the traditional explanation has nothing to do with why it works.

    So two of the big problems with homeopathy are first that most people get hung up on the far out explanations for why the treatments supposedly work and miss out on stuff that could actually help them. And second that lots of homeopathic treatments are developed that don't do anything to help because they are logical extensions of faulty premises.

    Alternative medicine also suffers from the fact that once a treatment becomes well accepted and is supported by empirical research it magically leaves the realm of alternative medicine. So by definition alternative treatments will always be those that haven't yet been supported by scientific research, even though many of them do in fact work.

    I've talked to a number of homeopaths and in my limited experience they seem to take it like an all or nothing religion, where you have to accept it all or none of it, and you have to accept the wacky explanations to the letter. It would be nice if they didn't feel so burned by the modern medical machine that they reject as a matter of principle empirically based testing.
  • by NEOtaku17 (679902) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:11PM (#20611219) Homepage
    I find it somewhat funny that they make fun of non-western style medicine because it is expensive and unnecessary. In my experience most of the treatments THEY prescribe are also expensive and unnecessary. The majority of ailments people suffer in the U.S. could easily be cured by getting the proper amount of sleep, using good hygiene, exercising daily, and eating whole foods in moderation. Instead they give their patients all kinds of drugs that cause just as many problems as they eliminate and at prices that bankrupt families and put a huge strain on the overall economy. Somewhat hypocritical don't you think?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Idarubicin (579475)
      Do you actually have specific examples, or are you offering a baseless rant?

      Yes, many conditions could be improved - even cured - through lifestyle changes. The incidence of diabetes, many cancers, assorted psychological problems, headaches, tooth decay, and many other ailments could be sharply reduced if people ate right, got enough sleep, brushed their teeth, stopped smoking, and drank in moderation.

      And yet, these people have real diseases, and real problems with their health. Were the problems avoi

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Friday September 14, 2007 @09:09PM (#20612215) Homepage
    Don't be shy. I've asked many doctors who don't know the actual definition. I tend to think this has a lot to do with why homeopathy is still around. If you know the theory behind it you imediatly think "Well.. that's just idiotic!" And you're right! It's idiotic on so many levels

    Homeopathy holds that a substance will cure the condition or symptoms it causes if dilutes. So lets say you have heartburn. Mainstream medicine might say to take an ant-acid, because heartburn is caused by excess stomach acid (to oversimplify) and an ant-acid is an alkaline and thus reacts with the acid and reduces it.

    Homeopathy will say to take an acid, because that is what causes the condition, and dilute it. The more you dilute it, the better it works. Put a drop in a 5 gallon jug? That might work, but not dilute enough. Now put a drop in a 55 gallon drum? That'll work. But it'd be even better if you put a drop in an Olympic size swimming pool and drink some of that

    At some point you get to the point where there is no detectable molecules of the "active ingredient" and that is where the homeopaths use words like "water memory" or other pseudo-scientific terminology. But that, literally is how dumb homeopathy is and it is why the idea has been dismissed by mainstream science and medicine for more than a century.

    Got an itch? how about some diluted poison ivy. Dry itchy eyes? Diluted sand. Acne? Diluted oil and dirt.

    And don't give me the "that's how vaccines work." That's totally different it's not simply diluting something to make it "More powerful" vaccines are not more effective at lower concentrations. ANd they contain some dead or modified pathogen to make the body produce antibodies. Totally different.
  • by Panaflex (13191) * <convivialdingo AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @09:45PM (#20612443)
    It does not work. I'm tried quite a few of them, to be sure.

    But there is one exception - and amazingly it works great. Arnica Montana is amazing stuff. All it does is stop compression-type injuries from swelling.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Saturday September 15, 2007 @02:36AM (#20614047)
    --And I've also searched far and wide, and talked to a lot of people and experienced a lot of things which orthodox science must stretch to such lengths to explain as to sound utterly ridiculous.

    Arstechnica's understanding of understanding of Homeopathy is limited in the common way. --They were trying to understand Homeopathy using conventional theory, and shamefully enough, the various editors of the homeopathy essays which they were knocking down like so many straw men, were doing the same thing and of course, were getting nowhere.

    Strangely, in Ars' multi-page screed, the one theory they did not attack, or even deign to recognize although it is not an uncommon idea, is based on Energy. --As in Chi, (the major component of 3000 years of Chinese understanding of the universe. Surely they've heard of it. I know everybody here has.)

    Energy is is the functional force behind acupuncture, reiki, various forms of kung fu, auras and numerous other phenomenon which are hotly discounted by scientists who haven't bothered to explore any direct experiences with the medium which binds the entire universe together. Essentially, with regard to homeopathy, all matter has an energetic signature and vibrates accordingly. --And we're not talking about classic atomic vibration. It's another quality altogether, although from my observations, it is linked closely to electromagnetism.

    I'd love to see Energy quantified, and I strongly suspect that it has been in the darker recesses of some black-budget lab deep under a mountain someplace. --The vibration of one object or being can affect the matter around it so that it is passed on and emulated. If you put intention into water of a certain energetic flavor, then the water can take on that same energetic quality. It cannot be measured in terms of dissolved particulate matter, nor through molecular configuration, nor through misbegotten theories of quantum entanglement, (all theories which were put forth and appropriately knocked down in the article). Energy is it's own thing.

    Further, energy is the medium from which consciousness is made. --My understanding is that the soul is a highly complex energetic expression which settles into the brains of these human mammals we walk around in, and directs that animal's activities. When the body dies, the soul moves on. This explains everything; all the out of body experiences, the light at the end of the tunnel, phantom limbs, ghosts, Auras, possession and why things like Reiki and Homeopathy work.

    For anybody who is interested in this, Reiki is an interesting subject. --I was exploring Reiki, trying to get something happening, (and had been getting only the most subtle feelings which I wasn't sure were anything), until that one time when my friend was suffering from a headache. I asked if I might try Reiki with her, and she said, sure. So I began. My hands were over her head and I was going through the motions, trying to clear my own intentions out of the way to channel the correct energies as I envisioned them, and unlike all the other times, this time I got whammied with a sudden feeling of extreme heat. It was like somebody had blasted my palms with air from a paint stripper gun. It jolted both me and my friend so that she immediately looked at me with wide eyes. "Wow! I felt that! What did you do?"

    "Heck if I know." --They don't teach this stuff in highschool science. Almost nobody understands this stuff properly, and those who do can't explain it very well. --The best we mundane folk have are a bunch of Chinese metaphors and Castaneda stories.

    Anyhow, my friend's headache didn't go away, and I went home feeling really sick and promptly threw up. I felt much better after that. --I found out the next day that my friend had thrown up as well shortly after I left, and also went to bed feeling much better. And no, there were no drugs or alcohol involved and the only food we'd eaten was whatever we'd each had before I'd arrived that evening. --In any case, I'm
  • by Whiteox (919863) <htcstech@@@gmail...com> on Saturday September 15, 2007 @10:32AM (#20616333) Journal
    A little knowledge is dangerous.
    I used to be a Homeopathic Practitioner. Really I was. I was a Traditional Homeopathic Practitioner. There is a huge difference between 'modern' homeopathy and traditional. The split happened in the late 60s and both forms have diverged significantly since.
    The modern approach is inclusive of as many therapies as you can shake a stick at, while the die-hard traditional won't adopt anything else.

    So what is it?

    - Homeopathy is based on the concept of "Like Cures Like" - So the best thing you can do for a hangover is to take a spoonful of brandy the next morning.
    - Homeopathy works. Why do you take Quinine tablets for malaria? Because taking quinine causes similar symptoms to malaria.
    Ever had eczema or skin issues? Ever taken coal byproducts for it? That's a Sulphur based product - Another homeopathic remedy.
    Have a bruise? Want to get rid of it? Get some Arnica cream. Bitten by a mosquito? Try Urtica cream. Want an effective disinfectant? Try Calendula. All of these are proven homeopathic creams that work. No faith required. Sure, nowadays there's alternative remedies for general conditions like this, but there is no reason to discount alternative and older remedies.
    - All of what we term 'immunization' is Homeopathy in its traditional form. You ingest a serum made from the very substance that causes the disease.
    - Quackery was just that. Real doctors in the 1800's and beyond (especially in the US) used Homeopathic remedies whilst the quacks used opium, alcohol and wild herbs as a panacea.
    - Homeopathy has a rating system. All remedies ending with an 'X' are dilutions eg 1 part per 10. All those ending in 'C' are 1 part per 100 and so on - following the roman numeric system.
    - Homeopathy works from the general to the specific. Never the other way around. There is a huge difference in the efficacy of super-high dilutions 'M' for example and 'X'. A practitioner worth their salt would never give an 'M' first off. Very high dilutions are only used once a particular condition has been aggravated and only rarely.'X' and 'C' have measurable concentrations of whatever remedy is used. It is not water.
    - Remedies are 'proven'. That means that a statistical sample of people are given 'X' doses of a remedy and observed closely as in all drug trials, looking for symptomatology. If the remedy gives consistent results then it is tested with patients who exhibit similar symptoms.
    - Remedies come as creams, powders, solutions, pills, sprays, inhalations and injection (hypodermic).
    - Homeopathy has a pharmacopoeia of thousands of proven remedies.
    - Homeopathy ONLY WORKS if a condition is diagnosed properly. As proper diagnosis involves checking for a myriad of 'symptoms', it becomes a challenge to arrive at the right diagnosis. Get it wrong and the remedy doesn't work. There are a few pitfalls like that. I say that because if you've been given a remedy and it didn't work, then that's probably why.

    Modern Homeopathy however has really gone astray. That's why I got out of it. Modern homeopathy considers that effective remedies can be made by shining a light through a slide that purportedly has the same 'vibrations' as the remedy is supposed to represent. And this is supposed to work? That sort of stuff goes against the grain of traditional practice and I would have to agree with many of the placebo comments made here.

    I know I won't convince many, but when you see it working properly, all doubts fade.
    Just keep an open mind. One day you may need it.

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