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Homeopathological

by Tim 18th Feb 2009 | 68 comments


EDIT: this was a post in which i replied to an email sent to me by a Homeopath who had found some comments I made in an Australian newspaper disparaging. A justifiable criticism, as I am often disparaging towards alternative medicine in both my act and – if the topic is raised – in interviews. 

I have removed it, as my job is to find funny ways of putting these opinions across, and in posting my response unsatirically I was crossing over into science blogging – a very well-populated sphere.

I am glad I posted it, because it created a conversation, and hopefully even made a few people look a bit further into this particularly insidious form of mumbo-jumbo. 

However, I don’t want to get into a situation where people Google me and find an abrasive essay on alternative medicine. I’d rather they found a stupid song. 

If you are interested in this topic, there are a million places to go. Check out Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog. Or go to Quackwatch – an extremely thorough resource. Steve Novella’s Science Based Medicine blog is- like all his work – wonderful.

Or for some building blocks type any of the following phrases into Google or Wikipedia:
Causal Fallacy
Confirmation Bias
Falsifiability
Scientific Method
Pseudoscience

… and get in amongst it.

This is the shit that gets me excited. This is my porn.
Is that wrong?
Happy reading. Tim.x
[insert laugh track]

68 Comments

Liza (wickedlibrarian) on 19th of February 2009

Most important line in that wiki article:
“Homeopathy is unsupported by modern scientific research.”

And I do need to get on reading Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’ book, especially since I now know from twitter that he’s so good with the puns. And, as you say Tim, he’s so hot. ;)

Faye Clark on 19th of February 2009

Woah Tim.
*Shocked into silence*
I’ll say something expedient and constructive once I get my mind back.

tim on 19th of February 2009

I understand your point of view, Sweet, and it did get a tiny bit bullish on the comments section. And yes, it wouldn’t feel nice to be the object of such derision. But:

There is no “debate” needed about homeopathy. There is no reason to believe it works at all (no theory that explains why it would work, nor any evidence that it does work) and yet people like Michele chose to (among other nonsense) advise parents that they should NOT VACCINATE their babies, but rather take homeopathic remedies.

How dare people like Michele decide that their OWN OPINION about some “alternative medicine” is more valuable than dozens and dozens of studies?

Michele is – through ignorance or arrogance – acting immorally by offering health solutions that are completely bogus. And that is why people are passionate about criticising him and his ilk. (Apparently he’s a he.)

You don’t have to respect people’s “opinions” when they are wrong. For example, I don’t think the opinions that “Jews are bad” or “homosexuals will burn in hell” require debate.

If you want to know more about homeopathy:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy

http://www.quackwatch.org/search/webglimpse.cgi?ID=1&query=homeopathy

Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science” does a great job explaining – among other things – why the scientific method should be applied to medicine.

And Simon Singh’s “Trick or Treatment” is a great primer on “alternative medicine”.

Also, I’d take the time to carefully read some of the extremely well-constructed comments above.

Hope this helps you feel less annoyed.

tim
x

Sweet on 19th of February 2009

I’ve read this twice and got more and more annoyed each time – I agree with Erin Marcella, Michele is just as entitled to her opinion as everyone else is on here, but unlike the majority of these commentators, she isn’t trying to force anyone to believe anything or being rude to them or bullying them.

She clearly doesn’t mind if you don’t believe in homoeopathy, so why the need for the attitude towards her?

It’s really sad to see so much negativity towards one person – imagine how YOU would feel on the receiving end of it?

There’s clearly a need for loads of debate on homoeopathy, but don’t use Michelle as a scapegoat for everything you hate about the practice.

I just had to get this off my chest as it was upsetting me reading through the comments.

misswiz on 18th of February 2009

I’m kind of amazed at the amount of comment and debate this prompted – and in the middle of the night too. But it’s very interesting and makes me happy that so many people encouraged into intelligent debate by one tweet from Tim. Just gutted I missed the action as it happened!

Shell on 18th of February 2009

You were right to send it Tim. And very interesting to read all the debate and comments above.

annawaits on 18th of February 2009

Really interesting reading your experiences, seventh, thanks.

Seventh on 18th of February 2009

As a science-trained sufferer of a chronic illness, I’m just gonna put in a note from someone who’s seen both sides of this homeopathy issue.

My degree was in Biomedical Science, which had a strong Pharmacology unit, as well as modules in most areas of medical biology, concentrating on the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved.

I also have Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, a chronic pain disease involving too much fluid in the skull which puts immense pressure on the brain, back of the eyes and spinal cord. Symptoms include a never-ending headache, visual problems and a huge raft of other related neurological issues. It is treatable, but currently incurable, and as it’s quite rare, it’s not well understood by GPs who tend to treat the symptoms with more and more drugs.

Which is how I was dependant on codeine and tramadol at age 16. Naturally, this isn’t the best start in life for a young person so my parents desperately tried to find other, less addictive treatments. One of these was homeopathy.

We tried it for two months, during which time we forked out over £240 for the appointments, and received eight sugar pills carrying the homeopathic treatment. It didn’t work. At all. And on the day I was rudely told that it wouldn’t work unless I came off all my current medications [including the diuretics that were preventing permanent brain damage and blindness] we’d had enough.

Perhaps it was my scepticism, blocking the magical healing beams, but this is the thing: drugs work whether you believe in them or not. Any drug that only works if you believe it will is surely pure placebo.

On the other hand, the reflexology treatments I had were incredibly effective. The day after i had my hour-long relaxing foot-massage I’d be happy and bright, with much less of a headache and feeling much more energetic and cheerful.

Whether that was the reflexology itself or whether it was just an hour a week where i could sit back in comfort, have a chat with fun people and relax while someone pampered me is still open to debate. But even if it was just the ‘me’-time, it was well worth it!

I liked the reflexologists because they didn’t claim to heal anything, only to make you feel better. And any kind of pampering and ego-stroking from the undivided attention is going to make you feel better!

Mrs Jelly on 18th of February 2009

There is clearly too much bollocks in the world. Let’s make it stop.

Send it!

Ellie x

Mr. Rant on 18th of February 2009

Fair play Tim, there is little or no scientific evidence to support these remedies, but if they work even as a placebo is that not a good thing, as long as there is relief?

I’m not a supporter of methods similar to homoeopathy or so called alternative methods, I would rather be subject to a proven scientific practice, however if relief is obtained via a method which has not been scientifically tested can that be a bad thing if relief is obtained?

Mr. Rant

Sophie Randles on 18th of February 2009

Loving your work.
Somebody needs to explain to your respectful correspondent that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”. I live next to a Homeopathic Hospital – in Hither Green in SE London where the Victorian Park Fever Hospital has been replaced by a housing estate. I walked through it the other day and felt much better afterwards.

Kate Sayer – May I suggest a reason as to why people rarely change their minds on these things? The first group, let’s call them “believers”, base their opinion that homeopathy is effication on the blind belief that it “just works”. Sadly, this is not a rational basis for argument and as such cannot be argued against using logical disucssion. Therefore, this group continue to persist with their beliefs even in the face of evidence collected using proper methods. The second group, lets call these “rationalists”, have evidence-based beliefs that rely on scientific method and repeatable proof. These guys are completely open minded, in that they are 100% prepared to change their opinions when presented with evidence that contradicts their beliefs. Sadly, for homeopathy, no such evidence exists and so this group have no reason to change their belief that homeopathy is nothing more than the placebo effect.

DigitalGoldfish on 18th of February 2009

Some things for Michelle to ponder…

—-
1) If it’s used to treat illness, then it should undergo the same rigorous checks as pharmaceutical medicines. Whether people believe it works or not, surely common sense says that as purchasers (it’s not free) of any product, we’d darn well want to know that any product sold on a promise has been shown to deliver on that promise to at least the same level as a competing, established, product. After all our health is THE most important thing we Humans have.

2) If it’s properly tested and shown to be efficacious, it ceases to be an alternative medicine; it becomes part of the GP’s toolbox and gets prescribed like anything other medicine.

3) If it really worked, Hahnemann would have won a Nobel Prize for possibly the single biggest discovery in both physics, chemistry, and biology.

4) When asked at the government select committee how one would tell the difference between a homeopathic remedy and water, the Chief Homeopath (her name escapes me) answered “only by the label”. I.e. there are no active ingredients (unlike herbal or conventional medicines where these are patently distinguishable in a solution). Furthermore, anyone who can distinguish under double-blind conditions (i.e. no labels) is eligible for James Randi’s $1 Million prize. That’s a lot of money, even with the current exchange rate! (and let’s be clear, the prize is real, he’s not a crook, and anyone claiming otherwise clearly has something to hide..)

5) Scientists don’t “know everything”, and indeed they would be the first to admit this; in fact it’s the very thing that drives many of them as scientists.. However what they do have is a set of tools and techniques for critical appraisal that have allowed us to create the ‘developed’ world that many of us are fortunate enough to live in. This isn’t to say these techniques are infallible; Science is an iterative and applied process, medical science especially. Mistakes are routinely made by individuals, and corrected, and hopefully lessons learned. No one doubts that Iatrogenesis (death by Dr) is a huge issue both within the medical community and without, but to completely dismiss traditional pharmaceuticals in favour of ‘alternatives’, and therefore promote the notion that the scientific method is inapplicable to any area of investigation, let alone Homeopathy which has a clear analogue in conventional medicine, is absurd. You can’t apply a different set of rules, just because they consistently show your idea to be without merit, and no, Michelle, there are no well controlled studies that show it works better than placebo, and yes there are studies that have used “classical homeopathy”, and these too show no more than a placebo effect.

6) However, I’ve no doubt that Homeopathy does help some people, but not for the reasons claimed by the Homeopaths. I for one have had a number of family members with depression, and it’s well established that the families of drugs used to treat many modest forms of depression are materially harmful, and are a sledgehammer to crack a nut in a great many instances. In cases like that, where the Placebo effect can be leveraged very effectively, perhaps we should allow Homeopathy or the prescription of placebos on a more regular basis to these types of patient. If ultimately it’s just water (and therefore free – no patents to worry about), has no side effects (again, it’s just water) and gives some relief, I’m all for it. If you take this line of argument, it’s actually in the best interests of the scientific and medical communities NOT to speak out against Homeopathy, because as soon as the veil is lifted, the efficacy derived from the Placebo effect will be gone. Homeopathy for self-limiting illness shouldn’t be an issue.

7) There is clear evidence (for example that shown on Panorama recently) that some Homeopaths are actively promoting their treatments as panacea, and to the complete exclusion of pharmaceuticals, for even the most serious of illnesses (Malaria, Aids, Cancer). This really is very dangerous and is a far cry from a mild skin condition or a bout of lifestyle-induced depression. There are serious consequences in allowing this to happen, and in the worst cases, may be tantamount to murder. Those purveyors of Homeopathy for serious conditions who promote the message that these represent a ‘real’ alternative to prescribed medicines have a moral and indeed legal obligation to immediately desist from these practices, or face the criminal charges that will/should inevitably follow. I’m not sure which is worse; that these people genuinely believe they are acting in the best interests of their patients, in which case their understanding of science is barely past kindergarten, or that they know full well their products have no efficacy and could result in deaths, and are therefore knowingly trading in blood money!

8) There are some suggestions regarding the regulation of Homeopathy. Regulating alternative therapies is a slippery slope. While it’s wrong to lump all alternative therapies together (herbs have active ingredients that can be poisonous, and therefore should have some control around them, Acupuncture involves needles which if not sterilised could result in infection etc), Homeopathy, Reiki etc are no more than faith based systems, and it surely won’t be long until we start to regulate witchcraft, psychics, and every other manner of alternative beloved of Daily Mail readers. Regulation lends an air of respectability that is wholly undeserved!

andria(fallingonabruise) on 18th of February 2009

tristan,
i have been testing this for 29 years,
some other examples of horse thoughts,
puddles are bottomless pits -avoid
the word’SLOW’ written on a road will jump up and strangle you -avoid
draincovers are the gateway to hell -avoid
everything else, if its not food is probably a tiger -avoid

sorry Tim for going off on a tangent,
carry on arguing…

duckula on 18th of February 2009

hi tim,

I know all to well that beer does provoke confidence to say *woah there!hang on a mo’ you are wrong you big mean bully!*…

But it’s just someones opinion, dont take it harshly, you’re the one with all the fame because of your opinions and the way in which you express them… there’s a reason why she has got the time to ‘bully’ you. she probably just had a bad day and thought, *I know, lets give Mr.Minchin some agro. I feel like picking a fight with someone and he opposes my ideals so why not?its not like he will reply etc etc*

ANYhow, point is you’re better than getting upset over something like that. Theres always going to be people who differ in there views and that’s what makes the world tick.

I just thought i’d try and cheer you up as it seemed to really get you(Twitter updates on overdrive last night). Hope it worked.

Eat toast & straighten hair :)

byee

Delia Stearnes on 18th of February 2009

Go Tim! Evangelistic self-righteous and misguided= homeopaths. Jail a little tough perhaps? How long before you can become a grumpy old man? Send it! xxxx
PS saw you at Norden Farm Maidenhead, loved your show, thanks!

Tristan on 18th of February 2009

Andria, I will be taking carrier bags to my local farm shortly to test your hypothesis. It will be fun.

If I can find tigers I will also bring some of them with me.

andria(fallingonabruise) on 18th of February 2009

howlieT
horses don’t eat ragwort, thats why in totally overgrazed fields all thats seen is ragwort, they only eat it when it dries as it becomes more palatable,therefore going by taste not wether they think its poisonous or not,and considering most horses can’t tell the difference between a carrier bag and a tiger, i wouldn’t take thier word on anything anyway :)

annawaits on 18th of February 2009

Yeah, really cool that Michele has come back on here and had the chance to reply to Tim and the commenters – the problem a lot of people have is with the practice of homeopathy itself, and not her personally. It’s nice to know she realises that; I worry about these things!

Tristan on 18th of February 2009

Erin, it appears Michele is a member of the Autralian Vaccination Network, and advises against vaccination and for the use of homeopathic alternatives, as Lea has pointed out.

Now, these may be her opinions, but that doesn’t mean we should respect them. They are bullshit opinions that can be genuinely harmful, so I don’t see why she should be left alone.

You ask if we will care about this tomorrow. I know for a fact that I will, and I know many others who feel strongly about this issue every day, many of whom also do something about it by raising the issue on blogs, in the media, through complaining to and about regulatory bodies etc. Michele is right, there is an attempt by people in the UK to stop homeopathy, and with any luck it will be successful.

Erin on 18th of February 2009

I would have sent it too. If someone feels comfortable enough writing and telling you their opinion, then you should be able to do the same. Plus, the ‘outways’ thing is a little distracting.

tinkerbell2 on 18th of February 2009

Erin, meet the internet. Internet, Erin.

howlieT on 18th of February 2009

Surely final proof that homeopathy doesn’t work, is that animals are said to select “natures remedies” that are available to them when ill, but horses still eat ragwort? (Ragwort being a fatal and painful poison to equines).
Hmmmmmm.

andria(fallingonabruise) on 18th of February 2009

OR
In the original email, replace ‘homeopath’ with christian (or any other religeous sect),or vegetarian,
and have a whole new argument
;)

Manx-Michelle on 18th of February 2009

Wow, you wake up one morning and there’s a full blown discussion going on in Tim’s news. And I’m supposed to be going to the hairdresser right now…

Okay, I’m far too tired to say anything eloquent or helpful so I’ll keep it short.

Tim- first email was nice, not too harsh and seemingly uninfluenced by the beer. (maybe the end was a bit bolder, I’ll give you that.)

Michele- Many kudos for your reply. It’s nice to see that you weren’t offended and that you are still being civil. (As someone prone to getting angry easily and therefore rude, I admire that.)

And finally, I must apologise for the brash and un-eloquent point I am about to put forward. Let’s be honest- I’m not tactful and I’m extremely brash (even without beer).

“Homeopathy has been around for over 200years”

Well yes, yes it has. Polio has been around for 100 years, too…

Michelle N
x

erin_marcella on 18th of February 2009

okok.
so this is the second time ive read this, the first time i read it was when you first posted a link and then now i thought there must be something new.
however there isnt.
as i was scrolling through the page and reading the comments (i dont have much of a life at the moment, ill admit, but if youre reading this then i guess you dont either. hah.) i noticed that a lot of people were telling you to send it because it ‘got her’ or however you want to put it. im glad she’s read it. you have your side, and she has hers, however, everyone else that is now trying to tell her that she is wrong and what have you should just STOP, mainly because it is her opinion.
she is not on here, emailing you and telling you that you MUST believe in whatever she is saying or you will burn in the fiery pits of hell yada yada yada and so on and so forth.
she is simply expressing her opinion. so leave it be. im glad she saw what tim had to say, its important that both people be able to share their opinions. but that doesnt mean everyone in this great world wide web needs to tell her how wrong she is for saying that, and how her medicines dont work and how it should be called ‘witch doctor’.
i personally dont believe in all that stuff, but what the hell. if someone is dying of cancer or something and it helps them to feel as if they are not just succumbing to the disease, then why not try it. they dont try it last because its worthless, they try it last because conventional medicine failed and they dont want to give up yet.
so whatever.
my point, in short is just LIVE AND LET LIVE.
i mean honestly, by this time tomorrow, are you really going to giving a shit about this??
i highly doubt it, and if you do, then you clearly are far to busy being involved in someone elses business.
im outtie.

Nic on 18th of February 2009

Hi Tim

Your reply was genious as ever! However I think (in my humble opinion) you could have referenced some more of your arguments so eleoquently put in ‘storm’ (thanks for putting that one on utube).

I am on the brink of completing a prescribing course, during which we did not discuss the merits of homeopathy in great detail, except to say that SOME of the compounds CAN alter the way in which real medicine is absorbed/metabolised (the mechanisms of which remain largely unknown), but so can some foods; therefore do we need to now call grapefruit juice or cranberry juice ‘medicine’ and subject them to the rules of prescribing? No, because they are in fact not medicine and have not been proven to have substantial effect on illness (although may mildly affect the body).

I hope you sent the reply. I am suitably impressed at your reserve when drunk emailing/tweeting, I have not been so lucky whilst drunk texting/facebooking (have not managed to drunk tweet yet!).

See you in Sheffield in October, can’t wait!

Lane on 18th of February 2009

I have read all replies and only just realised that she is a he lol. I am glad you sent it, it was a very good reply.
I am not dead set against homeopathy but i would only take it as a compliment to conventional medical treatments.
I would never not imunise my child and hope that a homeopathic remedy would protect them that is just insane and i hope someone takes that ad down.
I wouldn’t bother replying to him again as he really believes what he is spouting.
When are you on buzzcocks again Tim?

Paul on 18th of February 2009

I think that’s a pretty fair response Tim. The whole ‘science?!’ behind homeopathy doesn’t make any sense.

I’m just reading a book on this and similar subjects. It’s called ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldarce. Pretty interesting read if you like this kind of debate.

Fraser Marshall on 18th of February 2009

Tim, your reply was polite and well reasoned.

Jarrad on 18th of February 2009

Great discussion. Now we just need someone to write in about religion.

Liz Hamilton on 18th of February 2009

What a cracking reply! Well done.

Kate Sayer on 18th of February 2009

Oh, dammit, I said two observations. er….

Lea on 18th of February 2009

Oh, I just checked homeopaths website. She is encouraging people not to vaccinate their kids, but use homeopathy instead? Ignorant AND dangerous… Now I think you are way too gentle with this moron.

Kate Sayer on 18th of February 2009

Has anybody ever changed their mind about whether homeopathy – or any ‘alternative medicine’ works? It seems either you believe or you don’t, and nothing will persuade either side to change their beliefs.

Two observations:

Most alternative practitioners are VERY expensive, and will tell you their remedy may or may not work.

Pharmaceutical companies have been known to suppress findings of unpleasant side effects, and individual researchers have falsified results, for the purpose of profit and or personal kudos. Some have been discovered, but how many more haven’t?

A very expensive homeopath told me that my kids and I should never go to the doctor or drink coffee or eat anything strongly flavoured. Hmm. I ignored her advice (not that I gave my kids coffee anyway, I hasten to add). Despite this, some of her remedies worked wonderfully, like magic potions; I could hardly believe it. Others were about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Nobody has ever been able to explain this to me. Of course the placebo effect is the obvious explanation, but why did some work and not others?

I have also taken powerful conventional pain killers and sleeping pills that have not worked, not even a small amount. It’s a mystery (oh dear, I am uncomfortably aware that I have probably laid myself wide open for some smartarse to say “but surely you must understand that … blah blah..”)

Psychology seems to play a huge part in all medical treatment, alternative or otherwise, and I can’t help wondering if the healing often lies in the relationship between the patient and the healer, be it doctor or ‘fkn quack’. Is that why paramedics always assure patients they are doing really well even when they are at death’s door?

Remember – the most dangerous person is the one who thinks they know what is best for averyone else.

Phew! I feel better now.

Yours, trying to keep an open mind (but not so much my brain falls out, obviously)

Kate sayer

Lea on 18th of February 2009

Well put, Tim! Gosh I wish I had your gift of summarizing… And also your calm: Had I been tipsy and answered I would have used way less polite tune.

Bob Rigg on 18th of February 2009

fucking excellent as ever tim

Adeline on 18th of February 2009

Sod all this. Send it. She wrote to you to pass judgement. Why can’t you?? If it were me I wouldn’t even bother going into the scientific evidence nonsense, but then I am of a fiery temper and this would have really pi**sed me off.

AJ on 18th of February 2009

Hi, just wanted to say after seeing your show in huddersfield,england.your now officially my favourite comedian! To be musically gifted and hilarious is hard to beat. Keep up the work, AJ

Lauriel on 18th of February 2009

Dear Michele,
Here is a rebuttal:

“Homeopathy isn’t for everyone, but it is for an increasing number of people who are disillusioned with allopathic medicine & sick of the expense of swallowing hundreds of dollars of pills from the naturopaths every month.”

I would be interested to know if what you say is true, that more people are becoming disillusioned with medicine, do you have any references for that statement? I think it has been documented that ‘use’ of alternative medicine is common (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/328/4/246?ijkey=419d409c9cccd0138894cf42e068f646230ee597#T3), but I have two caveats with studies such as that one. First, the definition of alternative medicine tends to include things like weight-loss programs and self help groups which I don’t think are what most people would consider “alternative”. Also, if seems that many people have tried alternative medicine, but rather infrequently and not persistently. I also doubt that more people are discarding modern medicine, but instead are just trying all their options. Your second point about the cost of pills seems odd since homeopathy pills cost money too. A quick google search brings up tablets for pets that are $30 a bottle.

“Unfortunately the homeopath is usually the last resort, when people have tried everything else, so we tend to end up with difficult cases.”

What types of difficult cases? When I think difficult cases, I think colorectal cancer or ALS, which I doubt are often seen by homeopaths.

“I believe in choice & free will. I’ve never advertised. I’m just a suburban homeopath trying to do what I can. I also happily refer to doctors for things that need it. I think alternative medicine should often be the first resort rather than the last. Let’s face it…have you ever seen an empty doctors waiting room?”

Sorry, I didn’t understand this part. I believe in free will too, I just would like to live in a world in which people were able to have access to the information needed to make educated choices. An empty doctor’s waiting room? I think people fill the waiting room because they know they will be offered the best modern medicine, backed by proof of efficacy.

“I don’t know about England but the Australian allopathic health system is on the brink of imploding.”

Again, I think this claim is in need of some references.

“For the record, the British Medical Journal has published many studies on homeopathy. Few of those studies were carried out according to the protocols of classical homeopathy.”
This seems to be a common complaint made by homeopaths about negative studies and I think the problem lies with homeopathy itself, not with the study. It seems that homeopaths like to complain about the study after the fact instead of trying to fix it in the first place. These studies consult homeopaths for design and therefore they could have voiced concerns in the beginning. It is frustrating when these types of complaints are brought up because they are so similar to astrologers complaining that a negative study didn’t use ‘real’ astrology. I think it is telling that there is not an agreed upon method or standard, used by all homeopaths everywhere.

“The international homeopathic community is very concerned about a minority trying to kill homeopathy in England.”

I am sure they are concerned, but that minority is trying to kill homeopathy because it doesn’t work. If someone where trying to “kill” my career and source of income, I’d be concerned too.

“Homeopathy has been around for over 200years & I’m sure it will still be here in 200 more.”

Sadly enough, you are probably right, but that doesn’t mean homeopathy works. 200 years ago we had slavery, today parts of the world still do, and it might be around 200 years in the future. That doesn’t make slavery “right” or the people who practice it wise.

I think you statement “But I have the experience of observing & hearing & reading of much anecdotal evidence which, to me, far outways any “published evidence”.” is important to address. The reason published evidence is given higher weight is because good studies try to control for human error. We are fallible, more so then most people realize. We forget, we mistake, we see things we want to, we delude ourselves and others. By conducting blinded trials, we are able to control for those biases; so what the evidence is saying about homeopathy is that it only “works” when human fallacy was allowed to effect the result. I know that anecdotal evidence is compelling because it is a personal story, but it is so often wrong. No matter how sincerely someone believes in something, that does not in and of itself, make that something true.

Of course, what it really come down to, is that homeopathy is just water. I wish homeopathy principles did work because then I could buy a bottle of vodka, water it down to 1:1×10^30 and never have to buy another bottle of vodka for the rest of my life and still be able to get drunk every night.

You seem very nice and you’re very polite. I hope I was able to convey the same in this address. If you are interested in why most people think homeopathy doesn’t work, you should see if there are any classes in chemistry in your area, plus chemistry is awesome.
Best of luck,
Lauriel

Laura Dunfield on 18th of February 2009

The most recent ‘positive’ journal I read on homeopathy claimed the 5% improvement as well, but a counter test, double-blinded, was done where a number of patients were put on the homeopathic treatment and the same number of a matched group of patients were put on a placebo.

5% of the patients in group 1 recorded improvements, but then again, 5% of the placebo group did as well. Results being that the homeopathic treatment, basically, is a placebo treatment. Also, that there is no scientific evidence that it is actually the MEDICINE doing the work, and not that the patient is simply getting better by their own means which is certainly plausible.

Ben Poole on 18th of February 2009

If that’s the quality of your writing and thinking when you’ve had a few, I need to start drinking what you’re having.

Spot on that man!

Jon Doust on 18th of February 2009

tim, loved the end. made me laugh.
know what you mean.
just been through something similar, but with a client.
i responded firmly.
with a nice end.

Chris on 18th of February 2009

“Anecdotal evidence” is an oxymoron. That might just seem like a joke but for all sorts of reasons ‘anecdote’ is not evidence. At the very best, anecdotal reports are a spur to gather evidence.

While it is stupendously unlikely that a debate with people like this lady will have any effect on their beliefs, I think it is worth engaging in a dialog if you can be bothered for two reasons. 1) They need to realise that other people disagree with them. 2) On a blog like this there will always be readers who don’t know the issues involved and it is very useful for them.

Re the BMJ positive results for some trials, as far as I can make out these results are controversial and haven’t been validated by duplication. The issue here is that when the base line is the placebo effect, any spurious improvement in the homeopathic treatment group can look quite impressive.

In most trials statistical significance is usually set to be 5% (1 in 20). However, by definition, every 20 or so trials there will be a random improvement in the homeopathic side of a trail that only has a 1 in 20 chance of happening. These results are cherry picked by homeopaths to demonstrate that homeopathy works. What they don’t do is any follow up duplication of the ‘successful’ trials to confirm that it wasn’t just chance.

nunoncastors on 18th of February 2009

I say send it; the points you raise are both valid and accurate.

Laura Dunfield on 18th of February 2009

Mr. Steven Gould up there is spot on.

And Michele,

You seem especially prone to over-generalizing things. There is a good reason why homeopathy is a last result; it doesn’t do anything. The people who tend to turn to homeopathy have reached the end of the line in what current medicine is able to do to for them and will basically try anything to help them. Desperate times and all that. I’m sure if what you’re claiming is true, homeopathy would be a much more accepted practice and not a ‘last resort.’ By admitting that it is a last resort sort of measures, you’re basically also admitting that it’s results are dodgy AT BEST.

Also, I do not think it’s a rational thing to say that you figure people should try alternative medicines first before proven medical procedures. They are alternative for a reason; usually being that they are not proven to actually work. Dabbling around in a bunch of shoddy medicine is only going to delay getting proper treatment and potentially putting the patient at risk of whatever their ailment is getting worse. You say why not try alternative medicines first? I say, why would anyone try anything but the most proven method of treatment first?

You also seem fixated on the fact that articles have been published in the British Medical Journal on homeopathy. My father and mother are both doctors and I am very familiar with medical journals. Medical journals simply present tests. The fact that a test is published in a journal does not mean it is therefor a failsafe method, or that it has any REAL proof at all. The fact that it is published simply means that it has followed specific guidelines of the scientific method and has been explored by other professionals as well.

In fact, I have a psychology journal sitting with me open on a test about nightmares that proves the diagnosis and treatment failed. So saying that something was published in a journal does not mean it’s correct. The very vast majority of journals published on homeopathy have concluded that the basis of this alternative medicine rests in the placebo effect and little more.

Laura Dunfield

Jarrad on 18th of February 2009

Great argument. Homeopathy pisses me off (I work in pharmacy).

Jenny on 18th of February 2009

Ack TILL the next time.

Far too early for me. More fugly sleep needed here.

Jenny on 18th of February 2009

Beautiful Mr Minchin. (that’s beautiful response, pissed or otherwise, not beautiful you…not that you’re not beautiful… anyway mas) ;o)

Shall one day tell you of the hippytastic “social worker” employed by my daughters nursery who occasionally likes to back me into a metaphorical corner to scold me on ending my toxic relationship with the kids Dad, when homeopathic remedies could have saved ‘us’ I kid you not.

She’s fun, I only wish I had the ability to deal with her as effectively you did in this email.

Hope toast was enjoyable and your ugly sleep peaceful.

Tell the next time

Jen x

Anticontrame on 18th of February 2009

Fucking win.

Jack McKay on 18th of February 2009

I love you.
Simply spiffing.
Bravo indeed. You showed him, good show I say.
But be careful, when confronted with reality he may explode…. these people often do.
Look foward to seeing you in Warrington I hope,
Jack

Steven Gould on 18th of February 2009

Still no evidence, Michele, on efficacy. Every properly designed double-blinded study has failed to prove any effectiveness above placebo for homeopathy.

The most recent studies with acupuncture (with the covering sheathes–at last a double-blinded study) also show no effect above placebo.

Science is not about popularity (“The international homeopathic community is very concerned about a minority trying to kill homeopathy in England.” ) It’s about provability. It’s about something actually working, not wish fulfillment.

Steven Gould

Michele on 18th of February 2009

Thank you for your reply Tim.

As you say, it has stirred up some discussion.

Contrary what some thought, I did not take offence at your reply.

Homeopathy isn’t for everyone, but it is for an increasing number of people who are disillusioned with allopathic medicine & sick of the expense of swallowing hundreds of dollars of pills from the naturopaths every month.

Unfortunately the homeopath is usually the last resort, when people have tried everything else, so we tend to end up with difficult cases.

I believe in choice & free will. I’ve never advertised. I’m just a suburban homeopath trying to do what I can. I also happily refer to doctors for things that need it.

I think alternative medicine should often be the first resort rather than the last. Let’s face it…have you ever seen an empty doctors waiting room?

I don’t know about England but the Australian allopathic health system is on the brink of imploding.

For the record, the British Medical Journal has published many studies on homeopathy. Few of those studies were carried out according to the protocols of classical homeopathy.

The international homeopathic community is very concerned about a minority trying to kill homeopathy in England.
Homeopathy has been around for over 200years & I’m sure it will still be here in 200 more.

It seems some medical researchers are picking up homeopathic concepts at last.

I’m raving now due to insomnia (wish it was beer), but I’d like it to be known that Australia leads the world in regulation of homeopaths & their training.

Thanks again for your response & I hope you make it up to the Sunshine Coast when you tour again.

Cheers!
Michele

Heather R on 18th of February 2009

I hope you sent it.
And now I feel the need to drink and practice my drunk-emailing as it pales in comparison to what you wrote.

Foz Meadows on 18th of February 2009

Send away. Healthy, intelligent disagreement hurts no one. Or at least, if it does, then they’ve got problems already. It’s like how the evil dragon warlock dude at the end of The Flight of Dragons gets destroyed by a recitation of the laws of physics after claiming to control the sun. As you say, nothing wrong with the placebo effect helping people, but trying to pretend its anything other than a placebo is deeply misguided.

erin on 18th of February 2009

I was going to write something more here but felt it wouldn’t be entirely appropriate and not really be of much help.
But I <33 you. You make me laugh so much.

Louise on 18th of February 2009

Did you send it yet?
I have to say your argument had an intelligible backbone unlike hers.
And I found your blatant demeanor to be amusing at most points.

By the fact you’ve been “emboldened” by beer, I’m assuming you had a fun night?

Liza (wickedlibrarian) on 18th of February 2009

This is the part that is making me flail about with useless rage the more I read it.

‘anecdotal evidence which, to me, far outways any “published evidence”.’

It just sums up the entirety of her ignorance, doesn’t it? Even ignoring her spelling error, how does something with no medical or actual scientific evidence backing it up OUTWEIGH researched, proven evidence?

*splutter splutter*

I need some toast, too.

Obsidiantears83 on 18th of February 2009

Kudos, Tim. It may not be smart to have her full name on your blog tho.. Despite the fact she contacted you.

You said on twitter that you wanted peoples thoughts on this? Homeopaths: some are good, catering to those who want alternates to modern medicine, but there are a lot of quacks preying on peeps with chronic illness. I have ME and FM, and the stories I hear from other suffers is enough to make your blood boil. I hate hearing people with ill health being taken for joy rides, or when the homeopath doesnt understand the symptoms, and reactions they are dealing with. Some homeopaths are in it for the greater good, and feel they are doing something worth while. Others tho, manipulate their clients, getting them to rely soley on them, and forsaking other avenues – with these illnesses, you are better off finding your own path, if you dont rely soley on a doctor, perhaps melding modern medicine with whatever alternative practices you feel work for you – which may just be meditation to let your body relax enough to sleep. Whatever.. anyway, i agree, that homeopathy, like any other health practice, should meet stringent government regulations – so the quacks out there (even if this michele isnt one of them, I doubt she could deny there arent any in her chosen field). Jail may be a bit strong.. if it is proven that it is a con job, it should be a possibilty, but I think financial and professional penilties would be more effective in curbing such practices. I doubt a jury would convict on the placebo effect..

the thing they dont mention, when they mention anecdotal evidence, is all the times people have gotten worse in their ill health, has bad reactions, or developed new symptoms.. they focus purely on the positive stories, rather than on a percentage comparison…

It is up to you whether you send it or not – she, by addressing you on this matter, left her self open to recieving a rebuttle.

I do suggest removing her surname from your blog tho…

the Procrastinatrix (Kammy Lyon) on 18th of February 2009

Anyone who writes you to say “But I have the experience of observing & hearing & reading of much anecdotal evidence which, to me, far outways any “published evidence”.” deserves a smackdown, and the one you’ve written is actually quite gentle. Send it.

I haven’t had a drink to embolden myself to comment on your blog (cuz I’m a really big fan). I shall rectify that situation immediately. Retro-emboldenation here I come. :)

evilbob on 18th of February 2009

foilly: right on.. if she’s any kind of fan, she’ll find this, and the same thing will have been accomplished without putting it in her face.

Greg Lord on 18th of February 2009

In Michele’s email substitute word “homeopath” with “witchdoctor” – it makes more sense then. Good reply!

Foilly on 18th of February 2009

ha liza your funny…

But I still reckon that biting back at her isn’t a good way for “mature adults” to act…

but then again I am giving advice to Tim Minchin so I am not entirely sure that being mature is his first choice…

Anyway do what you like

I think that you should just think about what sending the email back will accomplish?

If you think it will gain you something send it … If you are only doing it to make yourself feel better about your beliefs then maybe not..

anyway I still think you are awesome
xoxo

evilbob on 18th of February 2009

For what it’s worth, I’d say that jail is a bit harsh. While I do share your skepticism for many things like homeopathy, pharmaceutical remedies *do* have side effects which are sometimes undesired. If a person wants to consult a homeopath, and doesn’t do so under duress, should be able to follow whatever their conscience says. (if ya wanna be a fag….)

I’ve not experienced homeopaths who would tell me not to go to a doctor if I wanted to, maybe your experience has been different.

I’d be interested in conversing about “magic hands” and “feet” sometime….

Sarah on 18th of February 2009

I think that pretty much hits the mark Tim. It’s an important issue. I must say, I wish I was as eloquent when I have a few drinks in me. ;)

Liza (wickedlibrarian) on 18th of February 2009

I particularly like this bit:
“I would never have the audacity to place my personal perception above scientific evidence in the face of the health of others.”

I say SEND IT. If only because it’s one of those perfect arguements where no one can win – because the person who believes she is right despite all evidence will never listen to actual reason. And the rest of us who know the truth can sit back and laugh at her.

BUT then again, I’m a little mean. I hope you pay more attention to the response of someone else with far more intelligence, wit, and patience than I have!

Foilly on 18th of February 2009

Well I think that its an interesting topic raised one which you feel strongly about…

I like the way you have worded your response basing it on your beliefs on things and used common day example such as the computer in your response…

I still don’t think that you should send the reply because it is just biting back at her and that never ends well

Rob on 18th of February 2009

I wouldn’t like to take any type of medicine that changes my sexual preference… homopathic medicine sounds like it might ;)

Rand Jordan on 18th of February 2009

Well written response, Tim. Thoughful, fair, intelligent. Cheers.