In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn, Laura, Gem, and Lauren each prepare a quiz to test their fellow panelists’ knowledge in a variety of scientific and pseudoscientific domains.
Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics.
Just wondering if you have seen the new scientific studies indicating that this diluted water holds a memory, thus explaining how homeopathic medicine works? If not, then you should. You cant pick and choose which studies to preach if you are really a man of science. Science must always keep an open mind.
I am a huge skeptic of alternative medicines, due to health conditions and chronic pain. I did try this out of desperation and it seemed to work.
So I conducted a study of my own. My son was sick with a cold and on alternating days I added the 0-9 kids in his juice and the opposite days, I just gave him juice. The result? All 3 nights with kids 0-9, he slept through the night. The other 3 nights in the experiment, he woke up crying about his throat and the sniffles. No other condition/element was changed in his bedtime routine. This was my CONTROLLED study.
You do not have to believe in something for it to be real. Some remedies work for some people, other not so much. Every individual is different, remember that before you one-sidedly decide to preach to parents something doesn’t work.
While I certainly appreciate this commenter’s attitude, she must see that the trial that she conducted is hardly sufficient to conclude that KIDS 0–9 is effective. Her “trial” was not double-blind, it was conducted on a single subject in an uncontrolled environment on a condition that is known to be self-limiting, and it is (of course) subject to all manner of bias on the part of the experimenter. I’m frankly astonished that anyone would conclude that the results (such as they are: I’m not too clear what her primary and/or secondary outcome measures were supposed to be) were due to the efficacy of homeopathy, rather than bias or random chance.
If this commenter is truly open-minded on the issue (which I hope), I’m curious as to why she would choose to ignore pretty much every systematic review and meta-analysis on the subject, and instead opted to conduct her own trial with n=1. For example, a recent meta-analysis conducted by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council that examined the efficacy of homeopathic preparations for 68 different conditions concluded:
The available evidence is not compelling and fails to demonstrate that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any of the reported clinical conditions in humans.
That’s no evidence for efficacy for any of the conditions studied—but her “trial” trumps that evidence, of course.
As to the question of water memory: this is total nonsense. Water memory was an ad hoc justification invented by Benveniste in an effort to deflect the reasonable criticism that homeopathic remedies are typically so dilute that they do not contain a single atom of the original “remedy”. Attempts to independently replicate his research fail again and again (for example), and a team of chemists from the University of Toronto demonstrated in 2005 that water loses whatever “memory” it might have after a mere 50 femtoseconds. Additionally, Benveniste failed to provide any compelling mechanism by which a homeopathic remedy (if it did happen to somehow “remember” what its active ingredient was supposed to be, but conveniently forgot everything else it had come into contact with before and since) could heal the body using this “memory”. It is also unclear how this “water memory” could be transferred to the sugar tablets sold at your local Whole Foods—or perhaps this commenter is suggesting that we should take “sugar memory” seriously, too?
She says, “You cant [sic] pick and choose which studies to preach if you are really a man of science. Science must always keep an open mind.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think that this is the true teachable moment. It’s easy, on the Internet, to find other people who agree with you on any particular subject. If there are twenty studies on a subject with p-values of 0.05, chances are that people on either side of the issue can point to a study that confirms their preconceptions. Evidence that you’re right is, after all, just a Google search away.
What’s hard is to take science seriously and to attempt to achieve a reasonable understanding of the body of evidence on a topic. It’s a lot of work, and it is contrary to the way we typically think on a daily basis. And so I challenge everyone (this commenter is far from alone!) to demonstrate that you are open to following the evidence wherever it leads, rather simply seeking out those few, poorly conducted trials that seem to support your preconceptions.
In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman talks about homeopathic medicine in theory and practice, and is joined by Michael Kruse of Bad Science Watch to discuss the Stop Nosodes campaign.
Toronto, Canada, Friday, 5 April 2013 – Bad Science Watch today launched a new website to support their campaign to stop the sale of nosodes—ineffective homeopathic preparations marketed as “vaccine alternatives” by some homeopaths and naturopaths. The website, www.StopNosodes.org, features information for the public about nosodes and the danger they pose, steps that concerned citizens and health professionals can take to help the campaign, and an open letter to Health Canada.
There is no scientific evidence that nosodes can prevent or treat any disease. Despite this the Natural Health Products Directorate has licensed at least 179 nosode products (82 of which are used as vaccine alternatives), assuring the public that they are safe and effective. As a result Canadians choosing nosodes to prevent dangerous diseases like measles, whooping cough, and polio are acting on false assurances, and are given a dangerous undue sense of security. Additionally, they decrease the herd immunity in their communities, exposing themselves and others to further unnecessary risk. Since they provide no protection or benefit and contribute to falling vaccination rates, Bad Science Watch is calling on Health Canada to cease issuing licenses for nosodes and revoke the licenses for all existing products.
“By licensing nosodes Health Canada undermines its own policies and is working against its own efforts to promote vaccination,” said Michael Kruse, campaign director and co-founder of Bad Science Watch. “We must stop putting Canadian families at unnecessary risk and ban these products.”
Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit watchdog and advocate for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.
In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble, Donna Harris, and Mark Forkheim discuss local and international news of interest to skeptics, including Palestine’s admission to the United Nations, a study demonstrating the benefits of flax, the Pope’s new Twitter account, and more.
The following is a guest post from Brendan Curran-Johnson, who was one of our presenters at last year’s SkeptiCamp. Here, Brendan responds to a few of the claims made in an image that’s currently circulating on Facebook, which originates from the hilarious den of conspiracy nuttery that is Truther.org.
Most people cite the MMR/Autism connection when talking about the harms of vaccines, but the truth is that the study that is based on (the Wakefield study originally published by the Lancet) is not a valid study. The Lancet retracted it, and Wakefield was actually accused of deliberate fraud.
There certainly have been cases of drugs turning out to be harmful (thalidomide being the most obvious example), the process which the FDA and Health Canada use to screen drugs is very rigorous. The process is not perfect (no system could be 100% effective), but it is the most reliable system that anyone has come up with.
This is in stark opposition to homeopathy, which this photo advocates (kind of—marijuana and refusing prescription drugs have nothing to do with homeopathy). Alternative medicine (which is what they really are trying to advocate) suffers the problem that it has either not proven to be effective, or has been proven to not be affective (alternative medicine that has been proven to work is called medicine).
Homeopathy in specific is one of the silliest ‘medicines’ that exists. The two basic precepts of homeopathy are that like cures like (e.g., if someone is having trouble breathing, the proper medicine would be something that also restricts breathing), and that the more you dilute something, the stronger it gets. The typical dilution of homeopathic medicine is 30C. The system works as follows: take 99 parts water and 1 part ‘medicine’. That would be 1C. To make 2C, take 99 parts water and 1 part 1C ‘medicine’. The amount of dilution is 1 part per 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. If you were to make a sphere of water that stretched from the earth to the sun, you would add just one molocule of ‘medicine’ (that statistic is taken from Dr. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science).
The advice being given here isn’t just wrong, its actively dangerous (also counter to point 8: avoid fear, propoganda, disinformation). Medicine is far too important a subject to allow misinformation to be spread unchallenged.
Bad Science Watch to Health Canada: De-register Homeopathic Vaccines
Toronto, ON – Wednesday August 1st, 2012 – Today, the new Canadian science advocacy group Bad Science Watch announced plans to convince Health Canada to de-register homeopathic health products that are offered as unproven replacements for childhood vaccinations. This project will combat the anti-vaccine camps within homeopathy that offer these so-called “nosodes”; the sale of which directly contradicts Health Canada’s own efforts to promote childhood vaccinations.
Nosodes are ultra-dilute homeopathic remedies prepared using diseased tissue, such as blood, pus, and saliva, that are based on the unsupportable “like-cures-like” hypothesis where you give someone a very low dose of the offending substance to then cure or prevent the disease in question.
Homeopaths in Canada are offering these nosodes for a variety of childhood diseases, like pertussis, or whooping cough, a deadly disease that is currently afflicting more Canadian children, mostly infants, than it has in the past 50 years. The anti-vaccine messages spread by homeopaths have caused parents to needlessly question the usefulness and safety of vaccines and as a result the level of vaccination in Canadian communities has dropped to as low as 62%. A level of 80% or higher is needed to have proper protection from pertussis in the community.
“The un-scientific approach of homeopaths is a real threat to parents who just want their child to be healthy and safe,” said Jamie Williams the Executive Director of Bad Science Watch, “and Health Canada, through their approval of these products, is complicit in this message. We will show that the policy of approving nosodes is working against the best interest of public health and we demand that Health Canada review these products and have them pulled from the shelves.”
Even a cursory search of the Natural Health Products Directorate, the agency that oversees the approval of non-orthodox alternative medicine products, brings up remedies purporting to prevent or treat such diseases as measles, polio, and mumps, three diseases that can be life-threatening in children and that vaccines have been effectively suppressing for decades.
“These nosodes may not directly injure a child, as they are so dilute as to contain none of the original substance,” said Michael Kruse, chair of the board of Bad Science Watch, “but they can give a very false sense of security. The basic tenets of homeopathy contradict basic chemistry and physics and there is no good evidence for its use in the prevention or treatment of disease.”
To get involved in the promotion of good science and help stop the spread of the anti-vaccine message, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Bad Science Watch
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Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization that provides analysis of dubious scientific claims to Canadians, our government, and the media, promotes objective critical thinking and advocates for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.
Bad Science Watch is funded by individual donations, and is committed to organizational transparency.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which publishes an annual ‘red list’ of endangered species, said the Western Black Rhino could soon be joined by the Northern White Rhino of central Africa which is “possibly extinct” and the Javan Rhino which is “probably extinct.” Though overall numbers of black and white rhinos have increased, the three subspecies are particularly vulnerable owing to a lack of political will in their habitats and poachers who target their valuable horns which are used in Asian medicine.
When this article first appeared, I linked to it on Facebook, with the title, “Fuck you, Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
An acquaintance from my dinner theatre days (with whom I’ve always been on friendly terms) took umbrage. What follows is a transcript of the short discussion that ensued.
Brandi: The sad part is, western medicine and antibiotics kill and harm ALOT more animals than chinese medicine will ever do. And to add to that, western medicine also kills human beings. Just a way of looking at the other side of things!
Gem: Good to know where you stand on the whole real medicine versus fake medicine thing.
Brandi: Lol my comment was not meant to be offensive or opinionated but rather to shine a light on the subject. Facebook is tough for that!! I do not agree with senseless killings. People could argue for days about what medicine is real and what medicine is fake but the key is education and as I mentioned, there are certainly outs to allopathic medicine as much as anything else. I always say, you bring me your research and I’ll do the same! Only then can one really get into it;)
Gem: Bring you what research? I don’t do medical research, and I’m not qualified to evaluate it. Luckily, we have physicians and medical researchers whose expertise lies in just those areas. I’m certainly always interested in learning more about so-called “alternative” medical practices, [but] citing a positive study or two is unlikely to persuade me of efficacy, because cherry-picking is rampant in the alt-med community and I understand what a p-value is and I recognise that we expect the occasional false-positive. Not only that, but alt-med studies tend to be poorly blinded and controlled. I suggest that if you’re interested in learning more about science-based medicine, you visit http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/.
The fact that you use the absurd and discredited term “allopathic” to describe modern scientific medicine illustrates your biases on the subject. This pejorative term was coined by arch-quack Samuel Hahnemann to distinguish the (in many ways prescientific) medicine of his day from his new (and absurd) “homeopathy”. (For more on the subject of homeopathy, feel free to read this: http://www.startleddisbelief.com/2010/04/winnipeg-skeptics-presentation.html.) Hahneman asserted that allopathic interventions were those that treated the symptoms, rather than the cause, of the disease. Most science-based medical treatments today do not conform to this definition, because they either seek to prevent illness or they remove the cause of an illness by acting on the etiology of disease.
Occasionally, remedies that were once labelled “alternative” are integrated into science-based medicine—but this should happen only after a large body of medical research has demonstrated that the intervention is effective to a reasonable degree of certainty. And it’s always important to consider each study in the context of the entire body of the medical literature. To quote the wonderful comedian/musician Tim Minchin, “By definition … alternative medicine … has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”
Brandi: Lol clearly you have decided to take this much further than it needs to go:) There are plenty of scientific studies to support every field of medicine. I understand how to read them and I can tell you by the abstract alone whether it’s even worth reading the entire study, or if it’s a waste of time:) It’s nice to see you take an interest in the subject as well, hopefully you didn’t need to fork out the thousands of dollars that I did for the education:) I would like to say that using words like “absurd” to color what I have said, clearly states you are not up for the open minded discussion that I was after. I’m always interested in facts and any science to back them up, however I’ve also learned that it’s really not about a cold competition when there are so many things to learn on all sides. I’m sorry to have sparked such a battle, that was not my intention, clearly it’s not something you take lightly. Nor do I:) So let’s leave it here? If we ever run into each other I think the topic would make for some good conversation!!! Hope you are doing well and kudos on the Clue (party?) that was awesome! Was that for Halloween? And who’s idea was it? Good stuff!!!!
Scott: ”western Medicine” aka scientifically-shown-to-work-medicine is backed my empiracal evidence. If Chinese medicine doesn’t kill people directly it’s probably because it doesn’t actually do anything, so it would kill people directly in the fact that whatever health issue the person has isnt actually being treated.
Scott: Either a treatment has.
Gem: I’m not being “closed-minded” or dogmatic about this, Brandi. I will gladly change my mind about any given intervention when large, reproducible, randomized, well-controlled studies can consistently demonstrate efficacy. That’s called being intellectually honest.
And if you don’t consider homeopathy absurd, I would wager that either (a) you don’t know anything about it or (b) you have some sort of vested interest in it. It is mathematically hilarious and the body of the medical literature demonstrates that it works no better than placebo.
Gem: Brandi seems to have deleted all of her comments. Interesting.
You’ll note that I ignored her offer to move the discussion on to a more friendly subject, which I’d imagine was what prompted her to stop responding and delete all of her comments. And fair enough; she doesn’t owe me a response! But I think that this is a very important subject, and I was unwilling to be derailed.
Luckily, I still had the comment thread open on one of my other computers when Brandi deleted her comments, so the discussion is preserved here, in case there’s anything to be learned from it.
The bottom line is that these animals almost certainly would not be dead if it weren’t for the idiotic notion that rhino horns (and other phallic objects) can aid those suffering from erectile dysfunction. Even if it were true (it’s not!), it would still be horribly unethical to kill these animals for their horns.
I have 4 kids, they are all under 10 years old, so when there is an infectious health issue like a cold or flu it tends to spread amongst the whole household like we are living in a putrid petri dish; it’s best to avoid any of us during those occasions.
Recently one of those episodes saw me heading out to find some relief for my little ones’ sore throats. I was at Zellers in Winnipeg looking through the cough and cold section and I was dismayed that all of the cough suppression products I was finding were not for kids under 6 years old, which two of mine currently are. I was thinking about the hot water and honey mixture I would be making for them instead to help their sore throats when I saw in big, bold lettering “Kids 0-9, Cough and Cold”.
Exactly what I was looking for!
As I read the description on the box I became increasingly hopeful.
“Relieve dry cough”, check
“Relieve congestions”, check
“SAFE – No side effects”, awesome
“Great Tasting”, even better
But as I reached the bottom of the box my heart did slump just a little as my joy over this seemingly magical, wonderful, solution-to-my-problems product was squashed.
What a huge letdown.
Homeopathic “medicine” does nothing, it is not medicine. It has been shown through scientific trials to be nothing. For a primer about homeopathy check out Wikipedia and this talk by The Winnipeg Skeptics founder Gem Newman.
I took this package and walked up to the Pharmacy area at Zellers and asked them why they stock this non-medicine along beside actual medicine, why carry it at all? The answer is the same that I’ve gotten when questioning other pharmacists in the big box stores; “we don’t decide what to stock, it comes from corporate”. After saying that they often acknowledge that homeopathy is junk, along with other so-called medicines like ColdFX, but they don’t decide what to carry.
In fact one time a pharmacist at a big box store motioned over to an entire section in their store and said “everything over there is crap”; the area she was referring to stocked nutritional supplements, herbal remedies and “organic” items.
What’s the harm in this?
Simple. The fact that homeopathy is not actual medicine is not well understood by the general public. If a parent walked into Zellers that day as I did and bought this product expecting it to help their children they would be disappointed. They would have wasted their money on non-treatment when their child should be getting actual medicine that has a known efficacy.
To give a homeopathic treatment is to give no treatment; which in the case of a cough or cold is not too serious, but what if that child is running a fever? Has aches and pains? Well there is homeopathy for that too. “Flu Buster”.
Again, to give a homeopathic treatment is to give no treatment, and I find it particularly offensive, and disgusting, to give parents a false sense of security, when they think they are helping their children that are in need of medicine and instead have been tricked into buying nothing.
And Kids 0-9 doesn’t stop there. They have a whole line of products to treat your infants that are suffering from allergies, earaches, colic, etc. This would be great if homeopathy actually worked, but it does not.
And now, enjoy this commercial from the good folks over at Homecan.