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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!