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Author Topic: Interesting article on homeopathy - from a medical perspective  (Read 12704 times)
Darwin
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« on: November 21, 2007, 08:49:32 AM »

Here's an interesting read about the myths surrounding homeopathy. I'm an agnostic when it comes to homeopathy relative to modern western medicine, but I live in an area with a lot of practitioners and do find myself wondering about some of the claims that they make in the local newspapers. Makes you think, which is never a bad thing - even if you don't agree with the argument presented.

http://www.guardian.co.uk...007/nov/16/sciencenews.g2

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CWuestefeld
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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2007, 09:36:41 AM »

No agnostic here. IMHO, homeopathy is not something to sit mum on. With religious differences, I can't prove I'm right, and I can't prove any harm in believing the "wrong" religion. But following homeopathy really does cause harm when you followed a doomed treatment that at best does nothing positive, and may even cause harm by letting a disease progress to dangerous stages before seeking treatment.

So, here's some info from James Randi, famed debunker of charlatans, in his "An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural "
Quote
homeopathy This claimed healing modus is included here because it is an excellent example of an attempt to make sympathetic magic work. Its founder, Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1775?-1843), believed that all illnesses develop from only three sources: syphilis, venereal warts, and what he called “the itch.”
      The motto of homeopathy is “Similia similibus curantur” (“Like cures like”). It claims that doses of substances that produce certain symptoms will relieve those symptoms; however, the “doses” are extremely attenuated solutions or mixtures, so attenuated that not a single molecule of the original substance remains. In fact, the homeopathic corrective is actually pure water, nothing more. The theory is that the vibrations or “effect” of the diluted-out substance are still present and work on the patient. Currently, researchers in homeopathy are examining a new notion that water can be magnetized and can transmit its medicinal powers by means of a copper wire. Really.
      The royal family of England adopted homeopathy at its very beginning and have retained a homeopathic physician on staff ever since.
      The only concern of homeopaths is to treat the symptoms of disease, rather than the basic causes, which they do not recognize. Thus homeopathy correctly falls into the category of magic. And quackery.
More from Randi's publications here, for example: http://www.randi.org/jr/02-02-2001.html, and another article from an MD here: http://www.badscience.net/2007/11/a-kind-of-magic/

That said, it's worth noting that while the efficacy of pharmaceuticals is well established, the success rate of doctors and surgeons themselves really is, from a philosophy of science perspective, purely anecdotal. It's really not possible to do true double-blind studies of, say, a heart bypass. Each case is unique, so we can only talk about statistics, and that only to the degree that the doctors accurately noted all factors.
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tomos
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« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2007, 11:15:03 AM »

Modern, I'll call it "western", medicine - to differentiate from eastern medicines -
is amazingly evolved in terms of surgery.

Funny that you quote this
Quote
The only concern of homeopaths is to treat the symptoms of disease,
rather than the basic causes
-
because,
if you look at western medicine that's *all* your average docter or even specialist will do.
The whole approach of western medicine is to treat the symptoms.
Sometimes they get it right and manage to sort out the illness, but largely they give medicines that "relieve" the symptoms (which is naturally a help to the patient, short term at any rate) but which often have unfortunate side-effects, this without being able to pinpoint the actual cause or cure related to the illness.

Of course the old cliches are true in that if you are able to lead a happy life and take care of your self and your immune system you'll be much better able to resist and avoid viruses/illness etc.

Re homeopathy, I'm not qualified to argue/debate.
But I can say this from experience: it is *very* effective in first-aid situations and
can be also very effective in treating children and even animals.
-
I guess I point out the children & animals cause of the possible positive effects of believing something works.
They arent believing either way, of course it could be just the power of my belief in it if I give them the medicine

And, really, I dont care how or why it works smiley -
I'm happy that it works without side-effects for what i use it for (first-aid, colds, that sort of thing)
as I say, why just doesnt matter smiley
And there's loads of things/times/symptoms it wont work for,
when some symptom-reliever from the chemist/drug store/docter will, well, relieve the symptoms....

EDIT: only reading the article now
« Last Edit: November 21, 2007, 11:22:21 AM by tomos » Logged

Tom
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« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2007, 11:44:56 AM »

well, I read as far as the "science bit".

The guy has a lot of interesting stuff to say -
it would be interesting if you could follow up on all his statements
and claims about trials and tests & their results.

The most unfortunate thing about this article is the tone -
in fact it undermines his message to a large extent.
He gives out (with very good reason by the sounds of it) about "unscientificness" (my word) in the homeopathy community
but his article is a bit of a rant which isnt very scientific or objective....
(Possibly his article in the medical journal is more "scientific" but this one doesnt inspire..)

I didnt even read the science bit because the anti-people always say:
not scientifically proven = doesnt work. Which I find a fairly pathetic "argument"
(as said above, for me if it works I'm not interested in the "arguments")

more like an article you'd get in the Sunday Times* really, innit tongue

* havent read it in a while but could be described as an upmarket tabloid
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Tom
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« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2007, 11:53:18 AM »

not scientifically proven = doesnt work. Which I find a fairly pathetic "argument"

Note: I am explicitly not addressing homeopathy itself, in the interest of preserving civility. This post regards the philosophy of science.

Your thumbnail sketch of the argument, "not scientifically proven = doesnt work" is far too nebulous to address. One could mean at least two things by the "not scientifically proven" part: either "never tested", or "tested but could not find any evidence supporting the claimed effect". Only the first of these is a pathetic argument.

The idea that something has been tested, and that those tests have been unable to find any evidence that supports a claim, is very much a valid argument. This is the foundation of pharmaceutical trials involving placebos: if the tested drugs don't do any better than the placebo, then there's no evidence to support their efficacy, and so the drug will be discarded (at least within the boundaries of what was being sought).

If you disagree, you'll have to put up with me talking about the Invisible Pink Unicorns dancing in my walls, not to mention the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because no tests have proven conclusively that these entities do not exist.
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tomos
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« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2007, 12:21:15 PM »

If you disagree, you'll have to put up with me talking about the Invisible Pink Unicorns dancing in my walls, not to mention the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because no tests have proven conclusively that these entities do not exist.
thumbs up well said CW smiley

"not scientifically proven = doesnt work" is far too nebulous to address. One could mean at least two things by the "not scientifically proven" part: either "never tested", or "tested but could not find any evidence supporting the claimed effect". Only the first of these is a pathetic argument.

First:
my saying that was a response to what I knew would be said - I've read the science bit now & my presumption was correct.

"One could mean at least two things"
actually I didnt mean either (if i understand correctly)
I meant "science" looks at homeopathy "medicine" & says "we cant find anything here because the medicine is diluted too much" (my summary).
Then people like the guy who wrote that article mock it because they cant find anything -

Cant they for gods sake, or should i say for science's sake, just say it in a neutral manner -
which could be something like:
we could find no evidence of anything in this "medicine".
Fair enough! Doesnt mean there's nothing there, just they couldnt find anything.

Re the scientific tests/trials, I have no idea CW
And I in no way want to become an apologist for homeopathy & it's practicioners and what they do or dont do *
The content of that article was disturbing -
unfortunately as I have said the author was on a bit of a rant -
not helpful for getting the message across to neutral people or to the "other" camp.

The most unfortunate thing here is that there has basically been a feud going on between the two camps for centuries probably at this stage smiley which again makes it much harder to figure out the "true" truth

and at the end of the day I'm fairly unscientific myself - it just bugs me a lot when the medical or scientific community are too!!
Obviously it bugs the author that the homeopathic community is too (sensibly)

* nor for any other "alternative" or mainstream medicine for that matter
I'm off for me dinner smiley
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Tom
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« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2007, 01:06:59 PM »

I meant "science" looks at homeopathy "medicine" & says "we cant find anything here because the medicine is diluted too much" (my summary).
I'm sorry if this is too blunt, Tomos, but that is not what "science" says. The stuff about the concentrations isn't the reason that scientists say that homeopathy is bunk, they say that because of trials of actual treatments. The concentration stuff is their explanation, their theory, of why it doesn't work.

It would be more accurate to summarize the position as follows:

"We have conducted many trials of homeopathic treatments. None of our tests have revealed any measurable effect from the treatments, and thus we find that homeopathy is ineffective as a medicinal treatment. We have analyzed the chemicals offered as treatment, and believe that we can explain why the treatments have no effect. Chemically the treatment chemicals are pure water, and many studies show that pure water has no medicinal value*"

* Except in cases of dehydration  Wink

It is not fair to say that a feud prevents a quest for the truth. The reported phenomena have been well tested, and the results are clear. One group stonewalls in order to keep its followers from seeing that truth.

What might be a fair criticism is the possibility that such "memory effects" are simply unexplained by our primitive understanding of chemistry. But this is true in the same way that evolution or quantum are "only" theories, and might be disproven. Moreover, since tests have observed no such effect to be investigated, it seems like trying to disprove an effect that cannot be experimentally observed is much like disproving the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn (may her hooves never be shod).
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nontroppo
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« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2007, 03:38:41 AM »

You can follow along with comments at Ben's personal blog:

http://www.badscience.net/2007/11/a-kind-of-magic/

His blog is very much worth subscribing to.

As someone who has very close friends who believe in homeopathy, I find it an incredibly delicate area to engage in. I think, as Ben has eloquently expressed, that placebo is useful, complex and multi-dimensional. Homeopathy is no better than placebo in well controlled studies, but that still means that it is an effective remedy for minor ailments. By trying to pull the sheet away from the magic of homeopathy, I'm possibly removing a remedy that will work for my friends. I can try to replace that with another placebo, but placebo works fndamentally on misinformation, so why replace one dishonesty with another. So I never engage in conversations over homeopathy with my friends, unless they were going to try to use it for major illness.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2007, 04:22:42 AM by nontroppo » Logged

Eóin
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« Reply #8 on: November 22, 2007, 05:54:47 AM »

nontroppo, I like your final comparison to homeopathy being a valid placebo treatment. If people believe they are taking something which will do them good then for minor ailments as you say it could be considered valid.

But I do think that with people for whom the placebo effect worked they tend to very much develop an entrenched position behind the treatment and also tend to recommend it at every opportunity. (I speak from personal experience here, one side of my family seem to have no faith in any treatment unless they hear about it through word of mouth. As such their first call is always for alternative medicines). CW very correctly made the observation that such attitudes can be dangerous when people avoid proper treatments, at least initially, for more serious conditions which need to be properly dealt with.
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tomos
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« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2007, 10:36:36 AM »

Eóin, I agree that people who support it tend to get entrenched and a bit religous about it in terms of converting the masses (always a big mistake!)
You say
"one side of my family seem to have no faith in any treatment unless they hear about it through word of mouth."
I suspect part of the background to that is that the state of medical treatment for illnesses in general isnt very good, but the state of it in Ireland is particularly poor.
Living in Germany now, I see a huge difference in general in the way patients are treated by doctors, also there's much less antibiotics given out here than in Ireland where they are regularly given even when not required - simply "in case".

nontroppo,
I don't think you have to worry about being so "delicate"!
I suspect if your friends "believe" in homeopathy they wont be so easily converted -
not by the likes of the above article at any rate -
if he was trying to convert anyone he needs a lesson or two in communication skills.
Which is kind of unfortunate really, cause if he has a worthwhile message it would be nice if it was presented in such a way as to be readable by the "other" camp...
And if your friends are converted from homeopathy? maybe they'll find something better.. smiley

Finally CW, I just wanted to give a bit of background to my homeopathic experience.
I did a short evening course in it a few years ago and since then have been using it for minor ailments for myself.
As I've said already I knew nothing about scientific tests/trials done related to homeopathy.
-
The reason I will continue to use it is this :
in my experience, if I mistakenly choose the wrong remedy it wont work (there are often a few possible remedies for something and what with being no expert myself I guess I often get the wrong one)
If I then choose the correct remedy it will work.
I dont know does this rule out the placebo effect but it certainly gives an angle that hasnt been covered in what I've read so far (from the anti-camp smiley)

Actually the most interesting thing bout all this for me was the talk about the placebo effect
and the recognition therein of the effects of our thoughts and beliefs
I did a search for this thread & the only other reference here to homeopathy was a thread/link from app listing things unexplainable by science - [FTR according to Wikipedia the reference to homeopathy has been discredited]
First on the list is "The placebo effect"
An interesting read as well ..
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Tom
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« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2007, 06:05:38 PM »

Quote
Which is kind of unfortunate really, cause if he has a worthwhile message it would be nice if it was presented in such a way as to be readable by the "other" camp...
And if your friends are converted from homeopathy? maybe they'll find something better..

Maybe they will. I think Ben, though passionate, wrote as balanced an article as he could; there are deeply disturbing trends that are being sponsored at the highest level of homeopathy at the moment (SoH's ignoring their members prescribing anti-malarial remedies, treatments for AIDS). Reports claiming efficacy are no more than consumer surveys, and facts are misrepresented. That the SoH refused to even bother investigating their members for the anti-malarial prescriptions, and instead paid lawyers to chase bloggers speaks of how, at least the main body of homeopaths here, does business. This is not only innocuous.
« Last Edit: November 23, 2007, 10:01:41 AM by nontroppo » Logged

Darwin
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« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2007, 07:35:32 PM »

Sorry, nontroppo, I'm dim - what does SoH stand for? All I could come up with was Secretary of Health, clearly this isn't what you mean  embarassed

Anyway, I had no idea that this would generate such as lively discussion - I'm following it with interest. Oh, and thanks, too, nontroppo, for the link to Ben's blog. I'll be adding it in to my daily reading  Thmbsup
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nontroppo
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« Reply #12 on: November 23, 2007, 05:21:43 AM »

SoH = Society of Homeopaths, one of the largest professional bodies of Homeopaths in Europe IINM.
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Darwin
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« Reply #13 on: November 23, 2007, 07:06:18 AM »

Ah... Thanks! That makes sense.  ohmy embarassed
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« Reply #14 on: November 25, 2007, 12:58:44 AM »

I found this very interesting:

Quote
Here is the strangest thing. Every single criticism I have made could easily be managed with clear and open discussion of the problems. But homoeopaths have walled themselves off from the routine cut-and-thrust of academic medicine, and reasoned critique is all too often met with anger, shrieks of persecution and avoidance rather than argument.

The same thing happens when people question the theory of Global Warming. Or when controversial topics arise, like whether or not to allow homosexuals to marry, or what to do about the illegal aliens in the USA.

Anyone who speaks against the idea that humans are causing global warming (or that global warming is actually a real problem) is met with stonewalling, threats, and avoidance. Someone who speaks against illegal aliens or homosexuals marrying is immediately called racist or homophobic and hateful. It's hard to find rational discussion, especially with those who on the surface say they want diversity and open-mindedness. These people just use bully tactics with anyone who disagrees with them.
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« Reply #15 on: November 25, 2007, 02:31:21 PM »

Humans suck. But some things are just not really open for discussion. Abortion is murder or not, depending on what metaphysics sits at you core. Discussing abortion is futile for that reason. Homeopathy makes claims to scientific verification, but really sits as a belief system and thus debates about it cannot function as they may do for plate tectonics or aviation engineering.
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« Reply #16 on: November 26, 2007, 12:28:37 PM »

Homeopathy makes claims to scientific verification, but really sits as a belief system and thus debates about it cannot function as they may do for plate tectonics or aviation engineering.

That's it.
There's also plenty of money involved and a lot of screwed people who are just unaware of the scam. That always bugged me and still does.

Homeopathy is very big in France and other countries like spain, and is even tought in universities.

http://www.boiron.com/fr/.../formation_mede_homeo.htm
http://chf.lautre.net/college_des_enseignants.htm

Go figure. I think it says a lot about the quality of universities in general, the power of money, the power of pride (i.e. : too proud to admit ones mistakes), the pervasiveness of the "magical mindset" in modern/postmodern times, and even, maybe, the (deliberate or not) misunderstanding of some fundamental scientific principles...
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« Reply #17 on: November 26, 2007, 12:49:06 PM »

Uh, is it taught in Spain? I had no idea embarassed, but I knew they started to teach it in the UK.
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« Reply #18 on: November 26, 2007, 12:56:30 PM »

Don't worry Lashiec : here in Canada it's sold everywhere and one of my friend is actually a naturopath using... homeopathy.  embarassed

As nontroppo said earlier : "As someone who has very close friends who believe in homeopathy, I find it an incredibly delicate area to engage in."

(Now... I'm opened to anything. If homeopathy is more than a placebo, fine. Great. But there's no evidence what so ever.)
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Darwin
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« Reply #19 on: November 26, 2007, 03:44:38 PM »

Quote
As nontroppo said earlier : "As someone who has very close friends who believe in homeopathy, I find it an incredibly delicate area to engage in."

Hear, hear... hence, my aside about being agnostic on the subject  Wink
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« Reply #20 on: November 27, 2007, 05:36:27 AM »

I'm really surprised that no-one seems to acknowledge or agree with my problems with the presentation of this article (the Guardian one from Ben Goldacre)

Judging by what he's saying, he is reacting against, well, lots.
But unfortunately reacting is a key word.
Look at it this way, if a kid is obnoxious to you & you're obnoxious back, what do you get -
escalation.
Exactly the same with adults, families, countries, or followers of X or Y, whatever.
I'm coming down hard on Ben Goldacre it's because that's the article posted here,
if I read a similarly patronising & not objectively presented one from a homeopath I would give it a hard time too.

I'm not questioning his facts here, I'm questioning the patronising and rude presentation of same in the Guardian article.
It's as I say unfortunate because he is actually reasonably fair in terms of not seeing the medical community as a bed of roses etc..
I also think it's unfortunate because if he has a message for people, for example who dabble in homeopathy but don't know much about it this patronising tone is not going to win him any converts.
It is an article for the converted and an "up yours" message to homeopathy.
But maybe that's what he wanted... undecided

and he's responding to an article by a novelist - what's going on there ???
maybe that's the problem - it's not scientific/objective/polite because he's responding/reacting to a novelist...
actually the Lancet article is scientific, with references, and not rude etc.
Dont know why he feels he has to be patronising and rude for the other one then...
« Last Edit: November 27, 2007, 05:39:39 AM by tomos » Logged

Tom
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« Reply #21 on: November 27, 2007, 07:12:49 AM »

Tom - I dug (but not very hard) for the Guardian article that he was responding too, but couldn't find it. In light of your posts here, it would be interesting to see if the tone of that article might have influenced the tone of his, if you follow (so I really wish I could find it)... Anyway, I'm going to go back and re-read his piece, because I didn't actually find it patronising and offensive  tellme
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Darwin
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« Reply #22 on: November 27, 2007, 07:19:59 AM »

Er... I guess I didn't look at all for the Jeanette Winterson article because I just found it very easily:

http://www.guardian.co.uk.../story/0,,2209998,00.html

Right, reading both now.
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Darwin
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« Reply #23 on: November 27, 2007, 08:05:20 AM »

Well, my first observatin is: how the heck did I miss "Society of Homeopaths" in my first reading of the Goldacre article?! After that, I'm not sure what to make of the tone of the his piece - not being a homepath, or indeed ever having taken a homeopathic remedy, my initial reading of the article didn't flag any rudeness or patronising over/undertones. Having read through this thread, and having noted Tom's comments, I can see how it would be offensive to homeopathic patients. You can't call the practitioners of homeopathy morons without indirectly calling their patients the same or worse! The Jeanette Winterson article is not written in an aggressive style so its tone cannot be invoked to explain the tone of Ben Goldacre's response to it.

Reading the Goldacre piece again, I think that its tone can be attributed to a genuine sense of alarm on his part. Although I've not tried homeopathy, I have read articles - there is even a semi-regular series in one of the local papers - by homeopaths and have been quite alarmed by their tone and their calls to reject mainstream medicine. I believe that this is what Goldacre is responding to and I think his frustration shows through. Should he have written so bluntly? I don't know. I think that he called homeopaths "morons" in an attempt to get what he refers to as "Homeopathy fans" (presumably homeopathic patients) attention and in hopes that it would make them think.
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« Reply #24 on: November 27, 2007, 09:18:57 AM »

Hey, Darwin, more reading for you smiley
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