Saturday, June 6, 2009

Diluted Objectivity

In the blog "Homeopathy Kills", ( Phil Plait makes an astounding series of errors. His first words in the Blog define homeopathy as the: "antiscientific belief that infinitely diluted medicine in water can cure various ailments". First, homeopathy is not antiscientific in and of itself. Much of the homopathic material is pseudoscience, and some is antiscience. On the other hand, one may notice that it began with the empirical observation of problems in available medicine and a desire to improve on the horrific conditions at the time. Empirical results, especially the effectiveness of cinchona in treating malaria advanced its development. Clearly, the "vital life force imbalances" that were considered to cause disease are a poor guide to treatment by modern standards – a point on which there can be no serious argument.

Today however, the primary claims of homeopathy are that it provides a better sense of wellbeing than traditional medicine, and that it has no adverse side effects. Unfortunately, Plait chooses to ignore these claims, patient satisfaction with treatment, and other psychological benefits. Instead, he chooses to show great outrage, with a stream of fallacies and what might be generously called "mischaracterizations" regarding the horrible and unnecessary death of a baby in Australia.

It is easy to condemn others for their failings, but is the death of this child through misguided neglect detectable against the hundreds of thousands of children killed, poisoned, maimed, and raped as a direct result of the drive to increase corporate profits? Where is a blog venting his outrage over economic institutions that produce much greater harm, are intrinsically based on dominance, often on violence, and in which he participates and could actually do something?

We all have perceptual filters, especially when it comes to what we associate with personal safety, like what we do for a living. Small independent quacks resposible for tragedies make easy, safe targets, but one might hope blogs claiming to be scientific to show better objectivity.


Anonymous said...

i can clearly see that you did not read this from Phil's post.
BTW conchona is not homeopathy- it is herbal medicine, and herbs do work (belladonna, heart glycozydes etc), so please do some investigation before posting crap like this. Not a single "mischaracterization" i saw in phil's post, yet your post is totally unobjective. You homeopaths ignore evidence, IGNORE EVIDENCE- its the worst thing a man with brain can do. I also feel outrageous about those bastard parents. Yeah, maybe homeopathy showed psychological benefits, because a patient knows he will not get side effects, what he doesn't know is that he is not being treated.

Anonymous said...

I think you were very objective in your post. I agree and think you did an outstanding job writing it. Julie, not so anonymous.

Jean-Denis said...

Homeopathy may have claims in "well being" as you say. However, as far as I could find, it also claims to provide effective treatments to cure a number of conditions, often through the repeated 1/100 dilution of some initial chemical(s).

The number of repeated 1/100 dilutions often lead to a solution where no atom of the initial chemical is left whatsoever.

This begs the question: if no atom is left in there, how could it work? The only attempt at the answer to that question that I know of, has been the so called "memory effect of water", proposed by Mr Benveniste if I recall correctly. That laughable suggestion has been thoroughly debunked.

But there is surely no need for a credible explanation, as long as it's working, right? So is it *really* working?

It seems, when you call upon user satisfaction, that it is. However, "working" cannot be defined as "having satisfied users", since many kinds of quackeries do have satisfied users.

Indeed, it is well known that many conditions do improve by themselves without treatment, while others do improve while under "fake" treatments (sugar pills). This is the well known placebo effect. So the current commonly accepted definition of "working" is the following:

- the effect must be statistically significantly better than the pacebo effect (as measured on a control population).

- the effect must be observed in a double-blind study with proper controls

- the effect must be reproducible

So far studies have shown that homepathic treatments don't have any measurable effect beyond the placebo effect.

This is consistent with the fact that homeopathic remedies are pure water.

This is also consistent with the fact that homeopathy has many satisfied users despite not working.

In short, homeopathy doesn't work, and sometimes, faith in homeopathy can kill, as told in Mr Plait's blog post.

Jason said...

The blog you are referring to is "Bad Astronomy", the post was called "Homeopathy Kills" (you ask later where his 'blog' venting his outrage etc and I am pretty sure you mean post there too.

Best you get basic web terminology down before you address others' 'errors'

Jason said...

^best I construct a grammatically correct sentence before addressing your errors :)
And I left off a parenthesis, sheesh

BurntSynapse said...

Jean-Denis: My claim is that the placebo effect does "really work" in ways that are not capturable within a double-blind structure and I claim that user satisfaction should matter, absent a strong justification for ignoring this factor.

The fact that homeopathy might be fairly called "quackery" does not provide sufficient justification for ignoring patient assessment of outcome, in my opinion. Now, in the case of real, measurable harm, I think such a justification is possible, but I don't recall seeing a good one. I think "The Spirit Catches You and Then You Fall Down" may be pretty good on this.

BurntSynapse said...

Jason, Thanks for the feedback. I make lots of errors multitasking. Re: blog, I intended meaning #2: