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Homeopathy Pseudoscience at the HuffPo

by Steven Novella, Jan 31 2011

Dana Ullman, a notorious homeopathy apologist, actually has a regular blog over at HuffPo. For those of use who follow such things, the start of his blog there marked the point of no return for the Huffington Post – clearly the editors had decided to go the path of Saruman and “abandon reason for madness.” They gave up any pretense of caring about scientific integrity and became a rag of pseudoscience.

Ullman's recent blog post is typical of his style – it is the braggadocio of homeopathy. I am sure others will skeptically dissect his piece so I won't go into every point here. I want to focus on Ullman's claim that the clinical and basic science research supports homeopathy. Here is the paragraph on which I want to focus:

Most clinical research conducted on homeopathic medicines that has been published in peer-review journals have shown positive clinical results,(3, 4) especially in the treatment of respiratory allergies (5, 6), influenza, (7) fibromyalgia, (8, 9) rheumatoid arthritis, (10) childhood diarrhea, (11) post-surgical abdominal surgery recovery, (12) attention deficit disorder, (13) and reduction in the side effects of conventional cancer treatments. (14) In addition to clinical trials, several hundred basic science studies have confirmed the biological activity of homeopathic medicines. One type of basic science trials, called in vitro studies, found 67 experiments (1/3 of them replications) and nearly 3/4 of all replications were positive. (15, 16)

Those numbers are references that allegedly support his claims – 14 papers (they are not all studies, some are reviews) that allegedly make the case that homeopathy works. Most reader do not independently check references to see if they say what the author claims. Some may foolishly assume that the editors at the HuffPo have done that already.

First, Ullman is a notorious cherry picker. Any large and complex body of research will have enough noise that you could support just about any claim you wish regarding the research in you cherry pick only results that support your conclusions. The way to get to the essence of a body of research is through a systematic review – a review that looks at all the research and examines each piece for quality. You need to examine the relationship between quality of research and outcome. Ullman, rather, prefers to simply count studies.

I don't know if his claim that most homeopathy studies show positive results if true, but I am willing to concede that this is probably true – because this is true of most research areas, even into therapies that we now know do not work. We know from the work of John Ioannidis that most published studies, in retrospect, are wrong. This is because there is a large amount of preliminary and poorly controlled research leading up to the large definitive trials that finally answer questions. Preliminary research is unreliable and biased – most of it is wrong. But we can still get to reliable answers in the end. Meanwhile, there is also researcher bias, publication bias, and the various placebo effects that conspire to make medical research look positive, even when there is no effect.

Ullman's first reference to support his claim, however, is this meta-analysis: Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. This study does not show that most published homeopathy studies are positive – that's not what a meta-analysis is for. Here is what they concluded:

The results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo. However, we found insufficient evidence from these studies that homeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition. Further research on homeopathy is warranted provided it is rigorous and systematic.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of homeopathy – and that's the best reference Ullman could come up with. I disagree with the authors that the evidence is not compatible with placebo – I think it is, even by their own data. The authors should read John Ioaniddis. These results are perfectly compatible with just the expected noise of clinical research. But they were on the money with their second sentence – you cannot conclude from the evidence that homeopathy actually works for any specific indication. This is a good clue in itself that we are dealing with noise – when you focus on any one indication, the evidence is not there. Yet Ullman includes this as a reference in a paragraph in which he claims the opposite.

His second reference to back this point does not even address his point. It was a re-analysis of the Shang study that showed that homeopathic treatments are placebos, and the analysis concluded that “The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials.” Well, of course they do. That's why systematic reviews are better than meta-analysis. What do the systematic reviews of homeopathy show? Edzard Ernst did a systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy – that's about as thorough as you can get. He found:

The findings of currently available Cochrane reviews of studies of homeopathy do not show that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.

Ullman then goes on to claim that there is evidence for homeopathy for specific conditions – despite the conclusions of his own references that he neglected to mention. I have to note at this point that Ullman takes on the skeptics in his article, writing:

It is remarkable enough that many skeptics of homeopathy actually say that there is “no research” that has shows that homeopathic medicines work. Such statements are clearly false, and yet, such assertions are common on the Internet and even in some peer-review articles.

This is a typical Ullman strawman. Skeptics don't say there is “no research” – what we say is that there is “no good research” – meaning large, blinded, placebo controlled trials that show a replicably positive effect. What we do see is the positively-biased noise of placebo vs placebo research. The better controlled the study, the smaller the effect and greater the chance of no effect. Systematic reviews reveal this pattern – Ullman's cherry picking does not.

Ullman references one study and his own review for the next claim dealing with rhinitis. But an independent review, which Ullman did not reference, found:

Some positive results were described with homeopathy in good-quality trials in rhinitis, but a number of negative studies were also found. Therefore it is not possible to provide evidence-based recommendations for homeopathy in the treatment of allergic rhinitis, and further trials are needed.

Next up is homeopathy for influenza. He chose a Cochrane review of Oscillococcinum for influenza. There are two big problems with this reference. The first is the conclusion:

Though promising, the data were not strong enough to make a general recommendation to use Oscillococcinum for first-line treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Further research is warranted but the required sample sizes are large. Current evidence does not support a preventative effect of Oscillococcinum-like homeopathic medicines in influenza and influenza-like syndromes.

It seems Ullman saw the word “promising” and his eyes glazed over with such joy that he could not read the rest of the conclusion. He also missed the other major problem with this reference – it has been WITHDRAWN (in big capital letters at the beginning of the title). So even the wishy-washy support for this treatment was thought to be not up to the Cochrane's usual standards (which, in my opinion, have slipped recently). If you want to see how silly Oscillococcinum is (beyond the generic homeopathic silliness) read this article by Mark Crislip.

I could go on in detail, but it will get tedious. Suffice it to say that the rest of Ullman's references show the same pattern – they are to small or unblinded studies with weak evidence, or reviews of the same. Most are unblinded, which in this context means they are worthless. The one blinded study he directly references is for homeopathy in ADHD – which was a small study with barely significant results. Again – I prefer systematic reviews, like this one, which concludes:

There is currently little evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy for the treatment of ADHD. Development of optimal treatment protocols is recommended prior to further randomised controlled trials being undertaken.

Conclusion

Again – there is no good evidence for homeopathy, but there is low-grade evidence that apologists like Ullman can cherry pick and misrepresent. Ullman's references do not support the claims he is making – sometimes directly contradicting them. But most readers will just see lots of reference numbers after Ullman's claims and be impressed – and that's probably what he is counting on.

The goal of the apologist is to provide cover, not to make a fair and scholarly assessment of the evidence. I think we can see what Ullman is doing here.

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Homeopathy Pseudoscience at the HuffPo, 4.9 out of 5 based on 22 ratings

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64 Responses to “Homeopathy Pseudoscience at the HuffPo”

  1. MKR says:

    This is appalling. Of course, hardly anyone who reads Ullmann’s article is going to investigate the references to determine whether they support his claims. And in any case, the article is bound to get more attention than your debunking of it, unfortunately. Thanks anyway for putting this investigation together and making it available.

    By the way, you may want to edit the following sentence, or rather would-be sentence:

    I don’t know if his claim that most homeopathy studies show positive results, but I am willing to concede that this is probably true – because this is true of most research areas, even into therapies that we now know do not work.

    The string of words in bold type looks as if it was meant to be a dependent clause, but it makes no sense. Perhaps a word or phrase was deleted by accident.

    • Citizen Wolf says:

      It makes sense to me, but perhaps you should try reading it as follows;

      I don’t know if his claim that most homeopathy studies show positive results is true, but I’m willing to concede that it probably is -

    • tmac57 says:

      When reading a blog post by Dr. Novella, you need to refine your ability to read the intent,not the content ;) (Sorry Steve)

      • Steven Melendez says:

        I have read through a bunch of articles already, and although I am new here… dang… and agreed ;)

        I have to agree with Citizen Wolf, though. It appears to be read as: “I don’t know if his claim that most homeopathy studies show positive results is true, but I’m willing to concede that it probably is -”

  2. Alex says:

    When I first saw the article titled “Nobel Prize Winner Takes Homeopathy Seriously,” I thought HP had gotten serious and the article would describe how outrageous it would be for someone so esteemed to fall for this nonsense.

    Then I saw that it was by Dana Ullman.

    Even if you grant him his argument, isn’t it telling when the fact that a smart person takes you seriously is newsworthy?

  3. Chris Howard says:

    Steve, does Huffpo allow a counterpoint? I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to Huffpo, so I don’t really know who all writes for it, and what it’s all about. Could the Skepticblog, skeptics write the counterpoint segment, that is if it would be welcome?

  4. Bruce says:

    While I appreciate Dr. Novella’s systematic refutation of Dana Ullman’s misinterpretation of the research, I am frustrated by the fact that it obscures the fundamental problem with homeopathy: there is no physical mechanism that explains how it could work. I realize there’s no choice but to scrutinize what homeopaths and their apologists are claiming, but it almost lends credence to the entire subject. The only “explanation” I’ve ever heard for how homeopathy “works” is that water molecules have a “memory” (sorry for all the quotes but I feel they are needed). This is such a ludicrously anti-scientific claim that it’s hardly worthy of acknowledgment. Sigh.

    • Alex says:

      Even if you grant them this argument, they never explain why every water molecule on earth doesn’t already have a “memory” of every possible “remedy.” They have all been here since the dawn of time, and according to the Homeopaths, the more dilute or distant the connection, the stronger the potency.

      So aren’t we all taking extremely potent remedies with every meal? Don’t our bodies comprise 80% remedy?

  5. Keith says:

    I agree that homeopathy does not stand up when judged by Science. But considering the results that it produces time and time again that is a failure of science not homeopathy. I’m one of the countless who can attest that homeopathy works even though it is illogical that it does. For 6 years I endured a couple of times a week severe dry eye problem that optometrists, doctors nor drops were helping in the slightest. A friend got me to take a one little Natrum Mur homeopathic tablet and I never had a symptom for 3 months and only an occasional very slight irritation for the following year after that.

    • tmac57 says:

      Keith,
      Do you think that it is also a failure of science to find evidence for psychic powers? After all, many people, have reported ‘amazing results’ after consulting with psychics,yet time after time the ‘psychics’ are unable to reproduce their feats under controlled conditions.

      • Keith says:

        @tmac57,

        Absolutely, this is another failure of science. There has been much study including some with very convincing results showing that telepathy, intent, psychokinesis exist but they all just get shoved by the wayside because mainstream science is stuck in its little dogmatic box as much as religion is. The field is full of quacks but there are plenty of them in science too and that is not a valid reason to shy away from such a promosing frontier.

      • Sounds like a bit of false equivalence there, Keith, same stuff used by global warming denialists, etc.

        And, again “some studies.” Got links so we can take some skeptical examination?

    • Max says:

      Natrum Muriaticum is diluted table salt, sodium chloride.

      If homeopathy works so dramatically “time and time again,” why don’t placebo-controlled clinical trials find such a dramatic effect?

      You can find dramatic anecdotes about nearly anything: psychics, sugar pills, alien abductions, you name it.

      • Keith says:

        A sugar pill wouldn’t have cured my eye problem and I don’t claim to understand how the dilution upon dilution of the basic elements of homeopathic remedies work but I’m just very glad it did in my case. I didn’t go into the full account in my first message due to length but after a year the symptoms had climbed back up to about 10% of what they were so my friend said it was time for another Natrum Mur and once again I’m completely without symptoms again.

        There is spotty scientific evidence that shows homeopathy does work but the best evidence are the studies that show those homeopathic remedies trigger immune response in animals.

      • What studies, Keith, re the animals?

        Second, I can easily cite your “help,” “fallback” and “redosing” as placebo, regression, replacebo.

      • Keith says:

        That is a quite a stretch. Placebos do not cure chronic conditions for a year and even then it only came back 10% on a few occasions and when the diminished frequency is factored it was only about 2% of my previous condition.

        If a placebo is ever proven to work that well I would say drop all pharmaceutical research and start studying cures from mindful intent because effectively this was a cure for me not a management of symptoms as drugs aim for.

        Search on “homeopathic studies immune response in animals”

      • Max says:

        I don’t think this was a case of mindful intent, because real medicine with mindful intent didn’t work. But a placebo effect could be anything that makes the placebo appear to work. For example, the disease may be self-limiting, and it would’ve gotten better on its own. Dry eye is worse in the winter, right? Or you did something else you’re not telling us, like move or change jobs.

        Dietary supplements are sometimes illegally laced with prescription drugs, but homeopathy is safer in that regard because it’s regulated by the FDA, so I think Natrum Mur is identical to a sugar pill. Again, if homeopathy works so much better than sugar pills, why don’t clinical trials show it?

      • Keith says:

        @Max

        As I said, I had the condition for 6 years and it gradually intensified on a steady trend regardless of my environment. No change of environment at the time of my healing. I went from about 2 severe days every week, including some that were getting so bad I had to lie down and suffer it out, to absolutely no symptoms after taking the Natrum Mur for about a year and they were very slight and infrequent when they did re-emerge. No more since my second dose so far.

        I know there is nothing left in a homeopathic remedy other than the essence itself so science fails in explaining it. But there is an overwhelming preponderance of anecdotal evidence as well as some intriguing clinical trials, and evidence that they trigger immune response in animals, etc to warrant serious study and more importantly studies where the outcome is not determined before it begins.

        Science does accept the fact that we dream and that is based on nothing more than an overwhelming preponderance of anecdotal evidence so there is hope it will come around someday.

      • Max says:

        Did you stop using eye drops or other medications when you took Natrum Mur?

      • Keith says:

        @Max,

        Nothing helped so I had stopped using anything else long ago.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

        Keith says:
        “Nothing helped”

        That statement is quite correct.
        Homœpathy is literally “nothing”, and it APPEARED helped you.
        This is called the “Placebo Effect”, and/or “Regression to the Mean”, and/or “Gullibility”, all of which rely on precisely NOTHING.

      • Keith says:

        @Michael Kingsford Gray,

        I agree that when judged using your narrow, dogmatic worldview there is nothing to homeopathy. But that is just your view and thankfully the universe if far more wondrous and surprising place than what you believe. Sceptics are the worst cheery-pickers of all because the mountain of evidence, not only for homeopathy but for dozens of phenomena that sceptics dismiss outright abounds and grows by the day.

        Furthermore, unless you have not read all my posts, you are not very knowledgably about the placebo effect because if the placebo effect could explain my results it wouldn’t be any less fantastic than my results from homeopathy.

      • tmac57 says:

        That’s making a ‘mountain’ out of a ‘molecule’ ;)

      • Keith – the fact is, anecdotal evidence is notoriously unreliable – historically, demonstrably so. You are not controlling for variable.

        Your recovery could have be nothing but coincidence. There are also a host of other factors that could have played a roll, all of which you can now deny in retrospect – but that too is unreliable as countless psychology experiments attest to.

        The simple fact is that if homeopathy worked as you say it would be easy to demonstrate this in blinded clinical trials. But trials have shown it does not work. This is not a failure of science but a failure of homeopathy. Science is just careful observation – so it makes no sense to say that it works except when you observe it carefully. That’s magical thinking.

        I know personal experience can seem very compelling, but the fact is, it’s unreliable. That is not being closed minded. That is simply being aware of centuries of science, psychology, and logic.

  6. To me, meta-analysis is, of itself, pretty much by nature a “fishing expedition.” Not just here, but in plenty of areas of pseudoscience and pseudomedicine.

    “When I hear meta-analysis, I reach for my gun!”

    • Max says:

      I wonder if there’s such a thing as a blinded meta-analysis, where you select studies based on their design (e.g. only double-blinded) without looking at their results.

  7. Max, any snark aside, that’s actually a very interesting question. I know BOb Carroll has talked more than once about problems with meta-analysis, which includes a lot of the publication bias issues of scientific papers, only squared.

  8. Jack says:

    “First, Ullman is a notorious cherry picker”. Well, Mr. Novella you proved yourself to be pretty good at it yourself with this blog. No mention of the actual subject of the article.
    “Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French virologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the AIDS virus, has surprised the scientific community with his strong support for homeopathic medicine.” No, we’ll just ignore the obviously deluded Nobel Prize winner. Oh ya, and well ignore the other Nobel Prize scientist, Brian Josephson, Ph.D.’s argument, “Regarding your comments on claims made for homeopathy: criticisms centered around the vanishingly small number of solute molecules present in a solution after it has been repeatedly diluted are beside the point, since advocates of homeopathic remedies attribute their effects not to molecules present in the water, but to modifications of the water’s structure.

    Simple-minded analysis may suggest that water, being a fluid, cannot have a structure of the kind that such a picture would demand. But cases such as that of liquid crystals, which while flowing like an ordinary fluid can maintain an ordered structure over macroscopic distances, show the limitations of such ways of thinking. There have not, to the best of my knowledge, been any refutations of homeopathy that remain valid after this particular point is taken into account.”
    Sounds like he might be talking to you, no?
    Pardon me Mr. Novella, but I’m a little skeptical.

    • Max says:

      Josephson also says the water memory can be captured, digitized, and transmitted over the Internet to a container of plain water, rendering it homeopathic. Place your order now!
      There’s a million dollar prize waiting for him if he can even tell the difference between plain water and a homeopathic preparation.

    • Jack – I was not cherry picking. There was way too much pseudoscience to counter in one blog post.

      I do discuss the Luc Montagnier episode on this week’s SGU. Basically, that was a worthless crappy bit of research – technically terrible, with “data” that was nothing but noise. The design was laughable.

      It discredits Ullman further that he would reference such rubbish. He (and you) resort to the argument from authority – hey, he has a Nobel Prize, so this research must be good. Until you actually look at the research.

  9. Trimegistus says:

    The real question is why does anyone expect facts or rationality at the Huffington Post to begin with?

  10. Edgaras says:

    I love articles about homeopathy :)

  11. WScott says:

    @ Bruce #5: “the fundamental problem with homeopathy: there is no physical mechanism that explains how it could work.”

    True, and a valid point from a scientific standpoint. But in my experience that is a spectacularly unpersuasive argument when trying to convince non-scientists; if anything, I think it has the exact opposite effect on most people. The problem is that to the layman, it sounds like “I don’t understand how it works, therefore it doesn’t work.” Note I’m not saying that *I* don’t understand the distinction, only that to most people in casual conversation the difference is not obvious. And it plays right into the cranks’ “science doesn’t know everything” nonsense.

    Again, I’m not saying your statement is wrong – just that it’s not a very persuasive argument. I think it’s important to acknowledge that if anyone could reliably demonstrate an actual, measurable effect, then homeopathy (or other pseudoscience) would be worth investigating even in the absence of an understood mechanism. Becquerel stumbling acorss radiation is the classic example – initially he had no idea what mechanism was at work, but clearly *something* was affecting the plates, so investigation was warranted. The lack of good evidence should be the focus.

  12. WScott says:

    @ Keith: Let me ask the question another way, and I apologize if this sounds insulting – I promise you that’s not my intent.

    Is there any type of alternative medicine, pseudoscience or fringe belief that you *don’t* believe in? I ask because even the most fringe altie believers typically have at least a couple beliefs they reject as just too nutty. Maybe you accept homeopathy, acupuncture, etc, but astrology is too much for you to swallow. Or magnet therapy. Or alien abductions. Or 9-11 conspiracies, bigfoot, psychics, faeries, whatever. Pick any one thing that you feel confident pointing at and saying “Yeah, that seems like bullshit to me.” You don’t have to share with us what that belief is, just hold it in your own mind for a second.

    Now consider that whatever belief you think is nonsense, there is a mountain of non-evidence supporting that claim, just like with homeopathy. In fact, typically it’s the exact *same* mountain of anecdotes, cherry-picked data, non-blinded studies, and outright old wives’ tales. Do you attribute all of that to “a failure of science?” Or is it just possible that your understanding of science, and of homeopathy, may be incomplete?

    • tmac57 says:

      @WScott- I like your approach.I am interested to see if Keith will respond.If not,maybe you at least gave him something to mull over.Thanks!

    • Keith says:

      @WScott,

      I just noticed this comment down here.

      From your list above I would only pick some alternative medicine and acupuncture. Psychics is too vague a term—I’m psychic at times as are many of those around me but I would never label us a such. I’ve seen some pretty surprising things in my day that has convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that spooky action at a distance is not confined to the quantum world.

      • Max says:

        You think astrology works? How about tarot cards, where a randomly drawn card tells your future? They’ve been used for hundreds of years, and I’m sure many people swear by them.

      • Keith says:

        No I don’t; reading comprehension is not your strong point is it.

      • Max says:

        Just wanted confirmation. So why do you dismiss the mountain of anecdotal evidence for astrology and tarot cards? Google astrology testimonials, and you’ll find many impressive testimonials like this one:
        “At first I was sceptical, I don’t believe in the supernatural, paranormal etc. But now there’s no denying that the cards really do work. I have to admit I consult them on all important matters.”

        How would you respond to someone who swears by astrology or tarot cards?

      • Keith says:

        @Max,

        So you found a few random blog posts about astrology on Google and now want to talk about that instead of homeopathy? Somehow I don’t think those Google posts and the evidence for homoepathy are on equal footing.

        I’ll turn it around and say that all of science lacks credibility because Percival Lowell declared that Martians built a network of canals on Mars. That makes as much sense as your point.

      • Max says:

        Both homeopathy and astrology defy reason and laws of physics, and are not supported by controlled experiments, and most of the evidence is anecdotal, so why is homeopathy any better than astrology?

        I’d still like to know how you’d respond to someone who swears by astrology and gives dramatic examples of accurate predictions.

      • Keith says:

        @Max,

        Because when it comes to astrology as a predictive tool, the body of evidence against astrology far, far outweighs the for. This is in stark contrast to homeopathy and while much of the evidence is testimonial there are plenty of trails that suggest it does have some effect and like I said triggering the immune response in animals is particularly intriguing because it rules out the placebo effect.

        The vast majority of scientific studies have not been about impartial judging the effectiveness of homeopathy but trying to prove that it cannot possibly have any effect. Even with those attitudes, there has been enough evidence showing that somehow, someway homeopathy is affecting something. That coupled with all passionate endorsements by those whose lives have been made better by homeopathy should be enough to warrant serious , impartial investigation.

        Homeopathy only defies reason when you try it judge it on its chemical merits and homeopathy is not about chemistry. Hypnotism used to defy reason until science was forced into investigating why it is a valid phenomena.

      • Keith, how can you say the body of evidence against astrology far outweighs the “for”? Look at all the anecdotal testimonials, just like yours for homepathy. Sounds like we’re into special pleading now.

        Oh, the second gunman at Dealey Plaza had a bullet made of Natrum Mur.

      • Max says:

        Keith,

        Homeopathy defies reason because you take Natrum Mur, a sugar pill with the “essence” of table salt, and then eat a meal that contains table salt, so how does the “essence” remain after it’s all mixed with actual salt? If it does remain, then any bottled mineral water has the essence of salt, yet it doesn’t cure dry eye.

        The body of evidence against homeopathy includes skeptics popping homeopathic sleeping pills and not feeling the least bit drowsy.
        The NCCAM would love to prove that homeopathy works, but has failed so far. Publication bias favors papers that show an effect, not papers that show no effect.

        The animal research should’ve used placebos and blinding. What if the immune response was to inactive ingredients or simply to the stress of the experiment? The way to tell is by comparing to a placebo. And the staff should’ve been blinded to prevent bias.

        Why do you dismiss the passionate endorsements by those whose lives have been made better by horoscopes?

      • Keith says:

        @Max,

        I’m not knowledgeable or normally a defender of homeopathic remedies; I just ended up here form clicking a link. Of course we are all wasting our time but discussions can be fun regardless. I just posted because I feel so much appreciation for the cure of my chronic dry eye condition. I trusted my friend and took the remedy with the best intent and I while I wasn’t sure it would work I felt there was a good chance it would. It worked even beyond what I hoped for even.

        I had the process of how they are made and how each dilution level was determined explained to me once and it sounded interesting and even plausible but it was a bit involved I don’t actually remember it now.

        You don’t take homeopathic remedies with food or drink, in fact you don’t even touch them—they go straight under your tongue. Intent greatly matters with all forms of healthcare including conventional.

        I’m not aware of any passionate endorsements of how astrology improved anyone’s life. There are probably some but nothing like what is happening in homoeopathy.

        You question the methodology behind the homeopathic studies on animals yet you cite a bunch sceptics gobbling down homeopathic remedies in a state disgust and ignoring all homeopathic procedures as proof they don’t work. That is quite a double standard. I also never heard of homeopathic sleeping pills so I cannot speak for them. Also there have been lots of studies on animals and while I don’t know for I bet there was a wide range of methodologies used.

      • Psychic “at times”? That’s cherry-picking par excellence! That’s how every professional psychic in the world works. In reverse, as Mark Edwards and others have explained, it’s how cold reading works, essentially cherry-picking the “hits” from the audience.

        Sorry, WScott, but especially given Keith’s response below, you’re not going to land this fish.

        And, Keith, as for your pots-and-kettles “dogmatic” response … thanks for the two-bit laugh.

      • Keith says:

        It is not about cherry-picking at all. It is more about intensities of experiences that you so cut yourself off form that you couldn’t possibly understand so I won’t bother.

        What, you don’t believe that sceptics are dogmatic. Thanks for the laugh too.

    • Keith says:

      @WScott

      Now for the second part of your question. Of course my understanding of science and homeopathy is incomplete as is yours. But more than anything, these are philosophical questions and quite frankly you’re are not qualified to comment on matters of philosophy because of your highly limited, dogmatic worldview.

      • tmac57 says:

        Keith-Since you place a lot of value in anecdotal experience,how do you feel about those parents who believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism?Just go on any anti-vaccine blog (Age of Autism for example),and read the mountains of personal observations that have mistaken correlation for causation.To these people their experience is their reality,but it doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.Is this another example of science getting it wrong?

      • WScott says:

        @ Keith: I was trying to be polite and give you the benefit of the doubt. But you don’t know shit about me, my education, or my “worldview,” so don’t tell me what I am or am not qualified to comment on, okay pumpkin?

        And I was specifically not limiting your choices to the beliefs I listed; I was asking what you did not believe in. So Max is not the one with reading comprehension problems.

        But through all that, you still haven’t answered the question. There is just as much (non)evidence in support of astrology as there is for homeopathy; more probably, if only because astrology has been around far longer. So why should we uncritically accept your entirely anecdotal experience as “proof” but reject the same anecdotes from astrology proponents?

        The definition of dogmatic is someone who refuses to change their opinion based on conflicting evidence. All of us here would cheerfully accept homeopathy (or astrology or anything else) if there was solid evidence to support it, but it just isn’t there. You seem to think that believing in damn-near anything makes you more open-minded and enlightened. But there’s another word that fits better: gullible.

      • Keith says:

        @WScott,

        You were not trying to be polite, you were trying to be condescending.

        I don’t know of one single scientific study that found reason to suggest there is something, even if inconclusive, to the predictive capability of astrology and that is certainly not the case with homeopathy where there has been much.

        Dismissing homeopathy outright despite all the evidence suggesting there is something there for no the reason other than it cannot be explained by chemistry is a perfect example of dogma.

      • WScott says:

        If you thought I was being condescending, I apologize; that was genuinely not my intent. But I was (and am) asking a serious question. I totally agree with you that there is no solid scientific support for astrology. But here’s the thing: people who believe in astrology will tell you about the mountain of evidence that supports it, to include so-called scientific studies. Of course, when you look at those studies, they are every bit as flawed as the homeopathy studies you tout. Looking at both beliefs from the outside, the (lack of) evidence for both of them appears basically indistinguishable.

        There’s a wonderful Mark Twain quote: “The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.” And no, I’m not saying homeopathy is your religion. It’s just frustrating to talk to people who can so easily spot the flaws in others’ pseudoscience, but refuse to acknowledge the exact same flaws in whatever their own pet beliefs are when they are pointed out.

        But apparently the only belief you’re NOT open-minded about is the possibility that you might be wrong. So goodbye. (OK, now I’m being a tad condescending…)

      • Keith says:

        @WScott,

        It would be kind of hard and illogical for me to consider my views about homeopathy (I can only speak for natrum mur and arnica from firsthand experience) wrong when I have received such great firsthand benefits from it. Though, thinking about it, I would probably be a bit dubious myself if not for my firsthand experience with it.

        Good-bye too.

  13. Keith says:

    @tmac57,

    It was a British scientific study first concluded there was a link to vaccines and autism. That study has since been called into question but to my knowledge I believe its authors still stand behind it. I have no opinion on it myself because autism link or not I don’t believe in vaccinations. No gene-pool jokes please :)—besides they would backfire because now I’m way healthier than others my age blithely following the conventional health route. Though it was a serious health issue and proclamation from conventional medicine they couldn’t help me that drove me to alternative medicine in the first place and I’ve never looked back.

    Vaccinations and inoculations can appear to work if one only looks at the short term evidence. For instance I noticed long ago that those who get flu shots become far more susceptible to getting the flu in subsequent years—something that is rarely ever looked at but it is so obvious to me. I believe many parents latched on to that autism-link study because they intutively know vacinnations and innoculations are self defeating in the long run.

    • tmac57 says:

      At least 10 of Wakefield’s 12 co-authors issued a retraction to the study.The Lancet formally retracted the paper in Feb. 2010.

      On 24 May 2010 he (Wakefield) was struck off the United Kingdom medical register; co-author John Walker-Smith was also struck from the medical register, while junior author Simon Murch was cleared.

    • Well, Keith, now that you’ve shown yourself to be some kind of antivaxxer, I believe WScott and others will join myself in not trying to reason with you any more.

    • Keith says:

      @tmac57,

      Thanks for the update. I wasn’t aware 10 of 12 withdrew. Though just guessing I’m sure their withdraw wasn’t exactly voluntary for those who still wanted to work in the field. Regardless it is not an area I’m interested in.

    • Chuck says:

      How do you reconcile the inefficacy of vaccines with the eradication of small pox and drastic reduction of polio?

      • Keith says:

        That is what I meant by seeming to be good by only looking at short term evidence. As we think we are ridding one disease a new one takes its place because eliminating the disease does absolutely nothing about ridding us of the poor beliefs and practices that led to diseases in the first place. The entire technology health system is collapsing under its own economic weight so we will not have a choice other than to come around and take a whole-body, holistic approach to our health instead of trying to micromanage every new disease and symptom that comes along.

        This is most obvious with the bacteria superbug problems that are ravaging the world’s healthcare systems now (except for places like Norway who long ago determined that anti-biotic and anti-bacterial measures were self-defeating in the long run). The anti-biotic/anti-bacterial measures are backfiring big time and that same self-defeating outcome is also happening to viruses though it is not as apparent yet but it will be.

        I am far healthier now since I stopped relying on technological medicine for my health. I don’t even get colds anymore though I’m sure I will from time to time but it has been years. Once one takes responsibility for their own health and trusts it the freedom and reassurance that comes with it cannot be conveyed and would have to be experienced firsthand but I highly recommend it. Of course to achieve that state, it has to be more than an intellectual understanding.

      • tmac57 says:

        We will see how you feel about taking antibiotics after your appendix bursts,or when you get bacterial pneumonia. My guess is that you will be fleeing back to the technological solutions when you really have a health crisis.Hope you don’t need to though,but if you live long enough,stuff happens.Good luck Keith.

  14. Nancy Malik says:

    Conventional, alternative or complementary is as per see.

    A person who prefers, let’s say homeopathic medicine, as a first line of treatment, conventional medicine is an complementary/alternative for him/her.

    Likewise a person who took conventional medicine as first line of treatment, other forms of treatment are complementary/alternative.

  15. If you are not aware, the petition to remove homeopathic “remedies” from stores is still available for signing here: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-retail-pharmacies-to-come-clean-about-homeopathic-products

    Please take action because every signature makes a difference.