Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Discussion regarding homeopathy

From an interesting discussion on the Healthfraud Discussion List. To really follow along, I recommend that readers of this blog join the list, lurk for awhile to get a feel for the written and unwritten rules, and then join the discussions.

The following mail contains some more gems, of the type that are regularly revealed and polished in the discussions. The author, William M. London, Ed.D, MPH, is the former President of the National Council Against Health Fraud, and he is debunking the convoluted reasoning of a particularly obtuse list visitor. I have colored some interesting quotes:

Subject: RE: [healthfraud] Healing and Prayer - Here We Go Again
From: William M. London
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2004 14:47:52 -0700

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Alexus [XXXXXX]
> Sent: Monday, October 11, 2004 9:29 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: [healthfraud] Healing and Prayer - Here We Go Again
> At 21:14 11.10.2004, you wrote:
> >Therefore, be it resolved that prospective prayer would necessarily
> > thus have a positive outcome:-)
> >
> >Charles
> I am puzzled.
> Homeopathy is a snake oil cause we can't explain it rationally, (it is
> against logic), and cause there are too many studies proving it
> not better then placebo, (while we can of course dismiss those
> proving it better then placebo, based on logic).

Treatments promoted as homeopathic remedies are the equivalent of
snake oil because available evidence falls far short of what it takes to
support extraordinary, physical-law-defying claims that they have
any greater therapeutic value for any purpose than snake oil.

> But, a prayer is not a quackery, cause we can't explain it rationally
> (it is against logic), but it still works (who cares), and cause this
> study proves it?

Prayer is quackery only when someone promotes it for financial gain
for medicinal purposes.

We do not have any good reason to believe that praying has
therapeutic value beyond the value of the reassurance and hope
it provides to some people who are afraid or are suffering. We do
not have any good reason to believe that anyone's prayers alter
the course of any disease for anyone.

> Has it ever occurred to anyone that people who designed many of
> those homeopathy studies that "proved" it "worse" then placebo,
> that they have failed on the basic level: diagnoses and remedy.

Yes. It is quite clear that the reliability of homeopathic diagnoses and
the process of selecting homeopathic remedies lacks reliability not to
mention validity.

It has also occurred to me that people who reported positive results in
studies that appear to be tightly controlled may have obtained them
due to chance and that the problem of chance findings is likely when
researchers engage in data dredging.

The more silly hypotheses that are tested the more positive results
you will get by chance. I refer you to the non-study of prayer by
Leibovici to which Dr. Wheeler referred.

> The whole art of homeopathy is based on your skill to diagnose
> and to chose the right remedy.

No one has established a reliable way of distinguishing "skilled" from
"unskilled" homeopaths.

> It is like surgery. If you study effectiveness of a cosmetic surgery,
> while observing the worst surgeons, you may find it very
> ineffective, and very dangerous.
> Have you seen Michael Jackson?
> Have you seen

No one has established who the best homeopaths are and showed the
treatments they recommend are any more therapeutically effective
than what anyone else recommends for any condition.

> But, if you study effectiveness of a cosmetic surgery, while
> observing the best surgeons, you may find it very safe and very
> effective.

But it isn't clear that results of homeopathic studies depend on which
homeopaths' recommendations are followed.

> Do we agree?

No. Your analogy is flawed.

> So, you, person who has got the money and the ability to decide,
> you can decide the outcome of your trial, before trial started, by
> selecting god or bad surgeons.

To some extent. But it hasn't been shown that you can even
distinguish reliably between good and bad homeopaths.

> Everybody knows that if you want to get a result with homeopathy,
> you don't go to someone who just got his degree on a 3 weeks
> online homeopathic school, but you go to a person who is respected
> between doctors, person ho has 15 - 30 years of experience and a
> reputation.

It hasn't been shown that experience and reputation of homeopaths
matters. It's not so much what we don't know that hurts us,
it's what we know that ain't so and what we think that
everybody knows that ain't so.

>When an MD can't help a patient in France or Sweden, he sends
> that patient to that homeopath. Why? Cause he knows that
> homeopath can help.

Again, it's not so much what we don't know that hurts us, it's what
we know that ain't so.

And I wonder what basis you could possibly have for such a
generalization about MDs in France or Sweden.

> That is the homeopath who's effectiveness you would like to study?
> Am I right or wrong ?

Wrong. Yet again. But I differ from many list participants
in that I think you provide a valuable service by continuing
to make easily refuted assertions. I hope you will continue
because you help shed light on how bogus various methods
are and the tortured logic people use to sustain their
wishful thinking about methods of implausible value.

> I am wrong, of course, cause if we would study the effectiveness of
> that person, he would make all of us look stupid, cause not only that
> he is more effective then placebo, but he is more effective then
> most MDs (I am talking about chronic and unexplained syndromes
> and illness, not about trauma medicine and gun wounds, let me
> make that clear!).

Do you have any idea how you came to this conclusion? I hope you
will respond. It would surprise me greatly if the process did not
involve leaping (as in jumping to). Your posts have value in this
forum because they reveal the leaps in reasoning that
people take to believe nonsensical claims.

> I really wonder who were the doctors who were "representing"
> homeopathy in those studies ... when they found out that they
> are not better then placebo? One may ask a question: "Were
> those doctors selected based on their experience, or based on
> their Inexperience?"

One may answer the question by actually reviewing the homeopathic
literature. You mean that you haven't done that yet you make
assertions about the research anyway?

> Were those studies determined to prove homeopathy effective, or
> is there a possibility that people who designed study had interest
> in proving it ineffective?

If a study is well designed, then a researcher's motivation should not
matter. That's why many studies often have findings that are
disappointing to researchers. And that's why we must look closely
at what researchers actually did in carrying out studies.

By the way, researchers usually have more to gain when findings
indicate that a treatment works than it doesn't work.

And most serious scientists do not spend time testing silly
hypotheses. The more silly hypotheses tested, the more
positive result that are obtained by chance.

> A lot of questions that nobody wants to ask or answer ...

I am not nobody. And you are wrong again.

> certainly not HH, PL, CM, TP ....

In this case it is ....

Billy London

> Alexus
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My patience with this particular visitor is not as great as
the patience of Dr. London. Here is my earlier response
to her nonsense:

Subject: Re: [healthfraud] Healing and Prayer - Here We Go Again
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2004 06:42:10 +0200

> A lot of questions that nobody wants to ask or answer ... certainly
> not HH, PL, CM, TP ....
> Alexus

Alexus, you are getting tiring and wasting this list's bandwidth and
time. Your total lack of understanding (or unwillingness or inability to
understand.....) of science and medicine is appalling, and your baiting
messages, filled with strawman arguments and unnuanced
either-black-or-white statements, are usually a waste of time to

You are living proof of the old adage, that a fool can ask a thousand
questions that the wisest man (or even god) can never answer.


(I am not noted for my patience or tact........!)

For more information regarding homeopathy, check out my
HomeoLinks and read some of the on-site articles.