THIS is why we need women in skepticism!

This is cross-posted from Subspecies.
There is a lot of post-Elevatorgate buzz about women in skepticism, including the announcement of a conference to specifically deal with women in secularism, more specifically the lack thereof. A lot of people who think that this is a non-issue have said that women (and other minorities in skepticism) will join the movement when they want to, that women simply aren’t interested in hearing about it. (And if you don’t think people actually believe this, please read the comments on the “Women in Secularism” announcement.) Since secularism is about self-improvement and education, I’m going to call Bullshit! on that. Yes, part of the problem is an environment in secularism that is intimidating to women, a lack of prominence for female skeptics, and so on. But the inverse of that is the amount of woo that is promoted to women.

Manitoba women use the health care system more than men, averaging 5.4 physician visits annually (4.4 for men), and 85% of women see a physician at least annually (79% for men.) Even healthy women of reproductive age receive birth control from their physician, have annual Pap tests, get mammograms, have prenatal consultations, and use health care services before, during and after childbirth. Women who are sick visit their physicians more frequently than men with similar illnesses. Women are more likely to be injured due to domestic violence (1 in 5 Manitoban women have been victimized by their partner in the last five years). Women are more likely to be proactive with their health, seeking screening and taking preventative measures more often than men. Now here’s the scary bit: almost 1 in 5 women in Manitoba consulted a CAM practitioner in 2003 (the most recent data). Only 1 in 10 men did the same! These statistics are in reality even worse, as the analysis excluded chiropractic, which partially covered by the province and therefore “not alternative.” Women are more preoccupied with their health, more concerned with prevention, and therefore more likely to be taken in by quacks.

Here’s a figure from the report I’m getting my data from:

The higher the household income, the more likely the women would seek CAM (here denoted CAHC for "health care"). Men did not seek more care as it became financially feasible.

In other words, as women were able to afford it, likely due to both increased income and increased private insurance coverage with the better paying jobs, more women were using CAM. I certainly would be interested to see if the discrepancy is access in lower income brackets, or a lack of awareness.

Well, maybe, you helpfully offer, chronically ill women are more likely to use CAM, and the wealth changes represent their ability to try unproven treatments for their disease! Nay nay….

The majority of women using CAM are healthy!

So what now? We have a bunch of healthy, wealthy women who are out there spending money on homeopathy and reiki and healing meditation and detox regimens and spiritual communicators. Why is it our problem if women want to waste their money on unproven crap? Well, because it’s not right, and it’s not fair. We don’t teach girls to ask questions, we tell them to trust authority, we tell them that their problems aren’t important, we tell them that they’re not an important part of the skeptical community, and then we proceed to laugh at them for finding a sympathetic ear and falling prey to placebo effects!

Worst of all, thanks to “integrative” “medicine,” woo is pervading our hospitals. While walking through the Women’s Health Centre, I saw a poster for upcoming health workshops being hosted at the Centre that made me do a double take. Yes, sponsored by Alberta Health Services, you can take a $40, 2-hour workshop in Reiki (“massage for your soul!”), a $190, 12-hour class in Feng Shui, or a $48, 3-hour workshop entitled, I kid you not, “Talking to Your Angels and Learning How to Listen,” run by Sandy Day, who claims to be a Reiki Master, Shaman, and Intuitive Healer. This is not some backwoods hand-waving Natural Healing Centre Of Happiness and Puppy Dog Kisses, this is at the biggest teaching hospital in the city, the centre for the high-risk pregnancies, for breast cancer: the medical hub! Or, on Wednesday, September 17th from 7-9 pm, the classroom for “Energy Medicine – The Internal World.” Oh but don’t worry, in tiny text:

Women’s Health Resources does not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, product, remedial center, program or person. We do, however, endeavour to inform because we believe in the right to have access to available information in order to make informed individual choices.

Now, call me skeptical, but I’m pretty sure if I wander over to the Urology clinic, I somehow doubt that I will see the same advertisements promising healing touch lessons for prostate problems.

For more than one reason, really. (zpeckler@flikr)

If we don’t teach our girls to question, and if we don’t ask our women to think, stuff like this is only going to get worse. No amount of half-assed disclaimery is going to change the fact that misinforming anyone is the opposite of giving them an informed individual choice. Talking about the dangerous of being teleported to Neptune by devious extraterrestrial cows does not come into discussions of which car you’d like to buy. Yes, you should be aware of the pros and cons of every car, and yes you should be free to make that choice, but having some random loon come in off the street to convince people that our Bovine Neptunian Overlords only abduct people who drive Chevies is pretty much the opposite of informed consent, particularly if the random loon also happens to sell Toyotas. Why is the Women’s Health Centre not bringing in drug companies to give presentations on why everyone should be taking Lipitor? Perhaps because there is a major conflict of interest when you are essentially charging people to sit through a sales pitch? And this is actually a bad example, because at least Lipitor actually has demonstrable, independently reproducible benefits!

So yes, we do need more women in skepticism. We need women standing up for themselves, saying that they are tired of all this bullshit being thrown at them. Without female allies telling Oprah to go stuff herself and Dr. Oz to take his reiki elsewhere, the skepticism movement will never succeed at exposing fraud in CAM. Women’s voices don’t just deserve to be heard in skepticism, they need to be heard, for the sake of everyone’s health.

Come at me, Boiron!

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

Multinational homeopathic giant Boiron is threatening to sue an Italian blogger for publicly stating that their flagship “remedy”, Oscillococcinum, contains no active ingredient.

In a recent statement entitled Boiron, Please Sue Us, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) invite the company to pick on someone their own size.

Boiron, you are a bunch of intellectual cowards. As Professor Frank Frizelle quipped, “Let’s hear your evidence not your legal muscle.”

Boiron, your claims are mathematically and scientifically ludicrous, and completely without merit. Homeopathic remedies diluted past roughly 13C contain no active ingredient. Come at me, Bro.

Integrative and allopathic medicine: a skeptical medical student’s rant

This article is cross-posted from Subspecies, where Flora is a co-author. 

It’s no mystery that I am not a fan of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), and not because I’m a Big Pharma Shill or been brainwashed by exhaustive campaigns by evil corporations. It’s not that I hate herbs, hate Chinese people, and hate things that are different that I don’t understand. The majority of the time I spent in a research laboratory (5 years, including time as a summer student), I spent it doing research into nutrition and functional foods. I worked with people studying the biochemical effects of exercise on health. I understand the role of preventative medicine and lifestyle interventions more than most people and I strongly advocate them. As part of, you know, medicine.

The term “allopathic medicine” was coined by Samuel Hahnemann, who contrasted it with, unsurprisingly for those of you who recognize the name, homeopathic medicine. It’s a derivative term from the Greek word allos meaning other, implying that the treatment opposes the disease, in contrast to homeos (“like”) cures. That homeopathy continues to persist 168 years after Samuel Hahnemann is a farce – that it is presented to medical students without any iota of explanation or critical thought is a tragedy. Observe:

From the AFMC (Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada) Primer on Population Health, required reading for my class, with the offending phrases bolded by me:

Contemporary Western medicine is increasingly being challenged to consider how to respond to perspectives and treatments other than those of conventional allopathic medicine. One response has been to propose ‘integrative medicine’ as a collaboration between biomedical approaches and other healing traditions, including herbal remedies, manual interventions such as massage therapy or chiropractic, and mind-body practices such as hypnosis. Similarly, the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine trains naturopathic doctors who employ natural therapies as well as using the more standard medical diagnostics of allopathic medicine.

Integrative medicine is about changing the focus in medicine to one of healing rather than disease. This involves an understanding of the influences of mind, spirit, and community as well as of the body…
…Whereas allopathy implies opposing the symptoms of disease, homoepathy implies working with the disease by stimulating the body to produce its natural defensive (e.g., immune) responses.For a time during the mid-nineteenth century, homeopathy (treating like with like) was a serious rival to the allopathic approach, but the development of the germ theory gave allopathy a scientific foundation for many of its remedies. However, by the mid twentieth century disillusionment began when, despite advances in ‘the conquest of infectious disease’ hospitals remained full and waiting lists stayed long. This may have reflected a rising demand for care induced by the perception of its success, but the very success of allopathic medicine (along with improved social conditions) enabled people to live long enough to suffer degenerative diseases for which the allopathic approach is less effective. Moreover, the allopathic approach has some undesired consequences including the rapid increases in costs and the large numbers of people with iatrogenic disorders.2 While allopathic remedies are often highly effective, practitioners are also aware that the best cure may be for the patient to simply restore balance in their life and get adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition.

Did you spot all the devious false equivalences and straw men drawn there? Did you notice the bait and switch set up with massage therapy being touted as alternative? Integrative medicine is not a collaboration between biomedical approaches and “other healing traditions” – it’s the infusion of pseudoscience into science. There is no need to worry about traditions when designing a treatment program. You figure out what works best, and you use it. We don’t continue to give people radium for high blood pressure simply because some people in the past thought it was a nifty neat-o idea! Notice also the mention of naturopaths as if they were an equivalent but separate kind of doctor, as if drinking powdered deer horn tea had the same level of efficacy as prescribing a statin.

The idea that “allopathic” medicine is focused on disease rather than healing is a ridiculous notion that I am ashamed to see presented by the people who are overseeing the curricula of this country’s medical schools. In my first week here, the concepts of the spectrum from health to disease, the need for population-based intervention, and the need to treat patients as individuals and not diseases has already come up. We’ve also already talked about treatment – but what is the point of talking about treatment if you don’t understand the disease? I mean, it’s all well and good that Mrs. Johnson comes in vomiting blood all over, but I’m pretty sure that thinking hard about being healthy and taking a nap isn’t going to prevent her form going into hemorrhagic shock! Only once you understand the disease can  you design a treatment. If you think her vomiting blood is from possession by an evil forest spirit, you’re going to proceed quite a bit differently than if you realize that Mrs. Johnson has a ruptured blood vessel in her stomach. The whole purpose of medicine is to achieve wellness! No amount of pre-scientific thinking or feel-good nonsense is going to save Mrs. Johnson’s life!

And of course, the criticisms that because “allopathic” medicine works so well, now people are living long enough to deal with issues that it can’t treat. So, when Mr. Wong comes into your clinic, presenting with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, clearly the only answer is to abandon the system that works really well at everything else, and try some random stuff that has no evidence to support it. This is the same sort of tactic that creationists use in the “God of the gaps” arguments. We don’t know, so God did it. We don’t know, so let’s use reiki. The absence of evidence for something does not mean you get to fill in the blanks with your chosen brand of unsupported beliefs. If there is a gap in our knowledge about what to do with an Alzheimer’s patient, we should research into causes (and subsequently treatments) of Alzheimer’s disease. Plausible, mechanism-based treatments. They don’t need to be drugs; there’s been psychological-behavioural research being done into mental training exercises (most of which has come up short in translating to increased everyday functionality.) Maybe we need to do more to prevent head trauma injures like concussions during sports activities. Maybe we should look at how alcohol and drug abuse can lead to dementia later in life. All of these are well within the realm of medicine, and require no magical thinking. They are testable hypotheses and should be pursued. Until we have an answer, you don’t get to fill the gaps with the nonsense du jour.

Did you also notice that homeopathy is given a one-off vaguely plausible sounding mechanism without any sort of definition as to what it might be? They make it sound like homeopathy is like vaccination, dealing with it not only credulously but dishonestly. How many students are going to read that claim, assume it correct, and go on to think that is is a perfectly legitimate form of medicine?

It’s unsurprising that they also bring up iatrogenic diseases, which can be literally translated to mean “healer-caused” diseases. These diseases range from anemia due to excessive blood draws in the hospital, to hospital-aquired (nosocomial) infections, to potentially lethal drug side effects. They are a major issue in medicine, especially when they are preventable, as in nosocomial infections (which can be prevented by proper cleanliness techniques) or worse, when someone screws up. There are failsafes in place for mistakes, and are why hospitals have adopted a team approach, but they inevitably will happen. However, this is not an argument for throwing the whole system, which we’ve already established works quite well. This is an argument for making the system better, for preventing the mistakes, for increasing communication within a team, for finding more failsafe systems, for being pro-active. The system isn’t broken, it’s just not perfect. You shouldn’t replace something that works but has side effects with something that doesn’t work but has none, especially since the lack of side effects are due to the fact that it doesn’t work. 

This is, of course, also assuming that “traditional” medicine has no side effects, which the anti-vaccine crowd has shown us that it can have. Eschewing modern medicine kills people. If people forsake their family physician for a naturopath, they will cannot be given prescriptions if they need them. If Mr. Sullivan is an overweight, 58-year old pencil pusher with genetic high cholesterol and an impending heart attack, then advocating a healthy diet and more exercise is important. But given his genetic preponderance and his previously sedentary lifestyle, no amount of oatmeal will help. In addition to lifestyle counselling, he desperately needs pharmaceutical intervention, possibly stenting to keep his heart’s blood vessels open, and an intensive monitoring of his blood lipids. If he dies of that heart attack, and the naturopath did not refer him to a physician when first line defences fail, that naturopath is responsible for his death. Just as letting someone get hit by a bus because you don’t want to rumple their suit jacket makes your failure to act lethal, so does dependence on pre-scientific thinking while avoiding science-based medicine cause people to die. Naturopathy, at its core, is based on true principles (that we get drugs from the natural world, there’s a science based on it called pharmacognosy), but in practice is little more than hand-waving, placebo-effecting ridiculousness. On the Canadian Association for Naturopathic Doctors, the website linked to by the AFMC’s primer, they recommend for colds & flus:

To aid the elimination of toxins through the skin induce perspiration by taking long hot baths, using an infra-red sauna or steam room. Increasing perspiration through the skin is one of the safest and most effective ways of eliminating toxins.

You know, unless you get dehydrated and die.  I hear that making people who have a fever sweat even more is really sound medical advice. To get rid of toxins. Right.

So no, Association for the Faculties of Medicine of Canada, I don’t think that we should consider integrative medicine and the “treatment of mind, body and spirit” in our practice. A doctor is not a shaman, nor should they attempt to be. I think physicians should be compassionate, caring, understanding, attentive, and open with their patients. They should be concerned for their patient’s autonomy, their mental health, and their feelings. They should strive to give them the best care, based on the best evidence available.

TL;DNR: I don’t think that there is any room, when people’s lives are at stake, for bullshit.

Skeptical News Roundup!

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

There are several newsitems (major and minor) that have cropped up over the last few months that I’ve been meaning to blog about, but have simply slipped through the cracks. As you may have heard, I’m helping Scott Carnegie produce a film about nonbelievers that is scheduled to debut at the Manitoba Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists (MASH) Film Festival on August 14th, and that’s currently taking up much of the time that I usually allocate to writing. So there you go.

Courtesy of DragonArt, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

It’s okay to be Takei.

The Takeis have been in the news quite a bit, lately. Over at Blag Hag, Jen discusses Germany’s Union of Catholic Physicians, which is endorsing homeopathy as a cure for the gay. Fitting: a non-existent solution to a non-existent problem—and (as Jen points out) probably less psychologically damaging than the A Clockwork Orange-style aversion therapy that’s more commonly employed to “treat” gays. But if like cures like, you and I both know that there’s only one cure for gay sex, and it’s gay sex.

Also making the rounds is a blog post by Nathan Heflick at Psychology Today. He talks briefly about a 1996 study that found that while both homophobic and non-homophobic heterosexual men were equally aroused by heterosexual and lesbian pornography, only the homophobes were aroused by man-on-man action. Neither the abstract nor Heflick’s discussion of the study raise any real red flags, but I’m not qualified to evaluate it. I am, however, qualified to snigger.

There’s been much ado over the past few months about Ontario’s public Catholic schools, what with their recent decisions to “ban” rainbows, appropriate donations to an LGBT-friendly help-line for a Catholic homeless shelter, suspend students for expressing pro-choice sentiment, and generally being bigoted and disgraceful institutions. BoingBoing reminds us that the United Nations has condemned Canada’s public religious schools as a human rights violation. (Full disclosure: my eleven-year-old brother attends a Catholic school in Thunder Bay, and by all accounts receives an excellent education.)

Hat tips to Anlina Sheng, Blag Hag, and BoingBoing.

Why, WHO, why?

People have been concerned for some time about cellphones and cancer. I’ve discussed this briefly in the past, first in my response to an awful Free Press article about “dirty electricity”, and then again in my last Skeptical News Roundup.

Despite the hysteria that has gripped news organisations and Facebook users alike over the WHO’s recent classification of cellphone use as a type 2B potential carcinogen, there is still no good evidence that your mobile device is poisoning your brain.

Hat tips to Skeptic North and BoingBoing.

Scott Adams almost catches up to Vox Day in the douchebag department.

I enjoy Dilbert, but I have the good sense to be a little ashamed about that, because Scott Adams is such an appalling jackass. He has a history of saying laughably stupid things, and when people call him on it, he responds by ridiculing his critics for taking what he has to say seriously. (He sort of reminds me of Insane Clown Posse in that respect.)

Anyway, it’s now been revealed that—surprise, surprise—he’s been going around the Internet with a pseudonym, praising Scott Adams (himself) as a “certifiable genius”, and going on to claim that those who disagree with him are “too dumb to understand what he’s saying”.

What a douchebag.

Hat tip to Pharyngula.

Dear Oprah…

As you might imagine, I don’t much care for Oprah. I cheered when Brian Dunning named her #1 on his list of celebrities who promote harmful pseudoscience. BoingBoing contributor David Ng does an excellent job of elaborating on her history of endorsing bad science.

That was why I was so delighted when I heard that Opera Software has been receiving emails intended for Oprah for years. And they responded to them!

Hat tip to BoingBoing.

And finally…

The fool, or the fool who follows him?

Also, remember when Judgement Day happened last month? Well, apparently some people were a little upset about it. For example, this woman slashed her daughters throats with a box cutter. So… there’s that.

Hat tip to Pharyngula.

10:23 Follow Up

An article in the Winnipeg Free Press appeared on Saturday about the successful 10:23 demonstration put on by The Winnipeg Skeptics, at which about a dozen people “overdosed” on homeopathic remedies.

Skeptics take overdoses of homeopathic remedies at demonstrations across Canada

WINNIPEG – Skeptics of homeopathic medicine have downed entire bottles of the remedies at demonstrations in several Canadian cities in an effort to prove the concoctions don’t work.

Gem Newman, who consumed a whole bottle of St. John’s Wort at an event in Winnipeg, says the capsules were mostly comprised of sugar and water and didn’t affect him.

According to the Homepathic Medical Council of Canada’s website, the active ingredients in homeopathic medications are taken in highly-diluted form to avoid toxicity.

But Newman says the product’s heath claims are unproven, and the doses are so small that they are useless.

Jonathan Abrams says about 40 people took part in a similar event in Ottawa.

Abrams says he consumed a bottle of a homeopathic medication that claimed it would help his sore throat, but he says his throat only felt worse.

The comments section provides a range of opinions;

You’d have to be pretty stupid to believe any of those “medications” work at all. Good on them to call them out publicly.

to…

What an idiotic idea.

Some commenters confuse homeopathic remedies with herbal remedies, but this is part of the education campaign of 10:23.

So I will conclude with this note from a commenter.

Kudos to the skeptics!

Winnipeg Skeptics Overdose on Nonsense

The 10:23 Campaign took place this weekend, with events in seven Canadian cities and on every continent worldwide—and I mean every continent: I’m told that there was even participation at one of the Antarctic research stations! [Edit: Here’s the link!]

In Winnipeg, we had a modest turnout of ten skeptics; we had a few cancellations due to illness, despite event co-organiser Leslie Saunders’ assurances that there would be copious quantities of Oscillococcinum available. Go figure.

When we arrived at Memorial Park, directly north of the Manitoba Legislative Building, we discovered that the snow was knee- (and in some cases, waist-) deep. Luckily Douglas had a shovel in his trunk, and Robert and I took it in turns to clear a path to our chosen area.

Richelle and Leslie with homeopathic moonshine, diluted to a very potent 60C.

Leslie supplied us all with “homeopathic moonshine”, and Robert and Richelle were kind enough to furnish everyone with some hot coffee (thankfully, not diluted to homeopathic quantities). It was a balmy –2°C, but while the weather was mild the added warmth of the hot beverages was much appreciated. That, and I’m a coffee addict.

Douglas and Nathan with two varieties of homeopathic sleeping pills.

When 10:23 came around, the overdose began. Douglas and Nathan both downed bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills. Half an hour later, they were not even drowsy, although Nathan took his with a Monster Energy Drink: it was obviously this dangerous combination of uppers and downers that kept him going for the rest of the event.

I chose to take a 30C preparation of ignatia amara, a remedy that is meant to treat “intense grief, bereavement, and emotional shock”—and, if I’m reading this reference site correctly, also “shrivelled” genitals and “the plague”.

I down my bottle of ignatia amara, which is supposed to contain a deadly cocktail of strychnine and brucine.

Although we hadn’t received responses to any of our media solicitations, we did have a fellow from CTV who showed up after the main event. Several of us were still chatting, and we were more than happy to do another overdose for the camera. Apparently we got some CTV News screen-time, which I missed. (But who watches the news?) You can find a very brief write-up of the story here.

Gem Newman, founder of the local group Winnipeg Skeptics, said that the protest was to put pressure on pharmacists and healthcare providers to ensure that products sold as medical treatments are effective.

That’s actually a very fair summary of our position. I’m impressed! This isn’t about telling people that they can’t take homeopathic nostrums if they so desire—it’s about raising awareness and educating the public so that they can make an informed choice.

Of course, the obligatory false balance was also present:

Kumar Belgaumkar, a homeopathic medicine practitioner with the Winnipeg Homeopathic Clinic, said that while consuming excessive pills during the staged overdose wasn’t dangerous, it also isn’t a scientific test of homeopathic medicine.

Homeopathic medicine has been practiced for over 200 years and has been proven in a clinical setting, he said.

Of course. It was never meant to be a “scientific test of homeopathic medicine”. Those have been done, and, contrary to Mr. Belgaumkar’s assertion, they show that homeopathy has no effect beyond placebo.* And I presume that you noted his worthless appeal to antiquity?

Let’s move on.

After the event, I was contacted by Rob Drinkwater, a reporter for the Canadian Press, and he conducted a telephone interview with me. I also put him in touch with Michael Kruse and Jonathan Abrams, who organised the Toronto and Ottawa demonstrations.

When the Canadian Press story eventually hit the news sites, I was disappointed by the factual inaccuracies it contained. Even after I walked Mr. Drinkwater through the homeopathic process and explained that the preparations (despite their labels) contained nothing but sugar and lactose, the story implied that the “remedies” were herbal in nature.

Skeptics of homeopathic medicine have downed entire bottles of the remedies at demonstrations in several Canadian cities in an effort to prove the concoctions don’t work.

Gem Newman, who consumed a whole bottle of St. John’s Wort at an event in Winnipeg, says the capsules were mostly comprised of sugar and water and didn’t affect him.

Again, we weren’t trying to “prove the concoctions don’t work”: we’re trying to raise public awareness of this fact. The scientific legwork has already been done, but public perception of these nostrums is lagging behind.

Nitpick Warning: I did not consume a bottle of St. John’s Wort! I did not even consume something labelled St. John’s Wort. I was planning to take hypericum perforatum myself, but its claims to cure puncture wounds, crushed fingers, and lockjaw made it popular enough that I gave it away to another enthusiastic skeptic.

But that’s irrelevant, because no one actually got any hypericum. Taking a whole bottle of actual hypericum could be extremely dangerous, potentially resulting in liver failure. The capsules weren’t “mostly comprised of sugar and water”—they were entirely comprised of sugar and lactose!

So, the lesson here is that dealing with the media is a recipe for frustration.

On a lighter note, did anyone else notice that “Drinkwater” has to be the greatest possible name for a reporter doing a story on homeopathy ever?

In the interest of avoiding facepalms, I suggest steering clear of the comments section on the Winnipeg Free Press site. It’s full of the standard “Big Pharma” conspiracy-mongering, naturalistic fallacies, appeals to consumer freedom, anti-vaccine kookery, and simple misunderstandings of what homeopathy actually is. The comments probably shouldn’t be taken as representative, however: the alt. med. crowd is really good at mobilizing the troops.

IMO, the people who pulled this little media stunt are big pharma insiders out to discredit natural medicine. It’s all part of the plan to remove natural products from the shelves… they don’t even deny it.

Exactly right! Because the only way someone could possibly disagree with you is if they were paid off.

Even so, there were some glimmers of hope. My wife went through the comments and picked out some winners.

Good and innocent people (though not many smart people) quite often die from taking homeopathic remedies instead of medicine. THIS is the issue. You need not bow down to big pharma, but don’t bow down to homeopathy either. It’s so much dumber.

Many, perhaps most “remedies” contain not a single molecule of the active “ingredient” (it’s not an ingredient if there isn’t any of it present, DUH!) because they are diluted by a factor of 10 to the power of 60 (that’s a 1 with SIXTY zeroes after it!). Further claims are even more ridiculous than that one – that the remaining dilutant (usually water or alcohol) retains an “impression” of the diluted substance (which is no long even present). This is, unfortunately, in opposition to all known science.

Big pharma will stop at nothing. [Homeopaths] will stop at even less. Do your own research, and remember that keeping an open mind includes being open to the idea that homeopathy may not be good for you. Weigh the evidence, especially if you or a loved one are ill, even more especially if it is a serious illness that is known to be curable or treatable by other methods than homeopathy.

And how about this one, responding to some anti-vax claims?

People used to die of pneumonia, whooping cough and the COMMON COLD in outrageous numbers but improvements in our understanding of modern medicine (including sanitation) have improved survivabilty of disease. The best that homeopathy can give you is improved hydration.

I believe that this one was posted by Richelle, and it nicely sums up our position:

We don’t want to take away people’s rights to free choice. What we do want to see is people be aware of what they’re throwing their money away on. It is a scam. Imagine if a “Big Pharma” company swapped out their drugs for something that didn’t work, had been proven not to work, and sold it for a jacked up price to an innocent public!

This whole campaign is about choice: it’s about informed choice. As things stand, it’s incredibly difficult for people to make informed choices, because misinformation abounds. This is easily illustrated by the fact that neither the reporter nor the commenters seem to understand that homeopathy ≠ herbal remedies.

And finally…

[Homeopathy] is every bit as valid as horoscopes and healing crystals! I can’t understand how these people can protest such important treatments.

I don’t care if that’s Poe or not: it’s pure WIN!

Homeopathy: there’s nothing in it.

I just want to finish up with a brief note about placebos. Someone suggested on Facebook today that even if homeopathy is nothing but placebo, placebos have been proven to work.

This is not true.

Placebo is “effective” in roughly 30% of cases, and only for symptoms with a high psychological overlay (e.g., pain or nausea), and it isn’t clear whether people are perceiving less pain or if they are simply reporting less pain. Objective outcomes are not affected by placebo.

When placebos seem to affect objective outcomes, this effect occurs in the form of regression to the mean (when symptoms are at their worst, they tend to improve a little). When a patient seems to get better, it can also be due to the natural history of the disease (many diseases—colds, flus, etc.—get better on their own). Throw in a little confirmation bias for good measure, and the “placebo effect” isn’t much of an effect at all.

Many folks think that it’s “mind over matter”. It isn’t. Placebos aren’t used because they work, they’re used because they’re necessary to maintain blinding procedures in clinical trials, which prevents bias in patient, practitioner, and analyst. (But don’t take my word for it! For more information from an actual medical doctor and infectious disease specialist, see episode 5 of QuackCast.)

And don’t forget: with real medicines you get a placebo effect on top of a real medical intervention. Bonus!

I probably should have prefaced this with “TL; DR”. Ah, well.


* From the conclusion of a recent systematic review of 110 placebo-controlled trials: “when analyses were restricted to large trials of higher quality there was no convincing evidence that homeopathy was superior to placebo.”

Source: A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Muntener, L. Nartey, P. Juni, S. Dorig, J.A. Sterne, et al. “Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy”. Lancet, volume 366 (2005).

Press Release: 10:23 Campaign

Consumers in Winnipeg stage homeopathic “overdose”

Consumer rights activists across Canada have today announced their intention to take a mass homeopathic “overdose” next month, as part of a major global protest against the alternative remedies.

Protesters in Winnipeg will swallow entire bottles of homeopathic pills at 10:23 AM on 5 February 2011 in Memorial Park, in a bid to raise public awareness of the fact that homeopathic “remedies” are ineffective, putting pressure on pharmacists and healthcare providers to ensure that products sold as medical treatments actually work.

Gem Newman, founder of the Winnipeg Skeptics, said: “Not only do homeopaths provide no plausible physiological explanation for how their remedies work, the evidence shows that they don’t work to begin with. If you’re ill, you deserve real medicine, not a sham or a placebo.”

The demonstration is being organized by the Winnipeg Skeptics as part of the 10:23 Campaign, a global protest against homeopathic remedies originating in the United Kingdom. Similar events will be taking place in dozens of countries around the world, with protests announced in Germany, Hungary, Australia, and the United States.

Michael Marshall, co-ordinator of the international campaign, said: “Tens of billions of pounds are spent every year around the world on these ineffective remedies, and when told what they really are, and how they’re made, most people are shocked these useless treatments are still able to be sold to an unsuspecting public.”

The 10:23 Campaign launched a year ago in the UK, with almost 400 protestors taking part in “overdose” events across the country following an admission by Britain’s leading pharmacy that the pills are only sold because consumers will buy them, not because they are effective. The campaign is named after Avogadro’s Number, a scientific constant which can be used to show homeopathic potions contain no active ingredients.

Though some would argue dispensing sugar pills may seem harmless, the endorsement of homeopathic potions by pharmacists and healthcare providers has grave consequences. As well as undermining public trust in medicine and medical advice, patients with serious conditions can avoid seeking medical attention in the belief that homeopathy can treat their condition.

An investigation by the BBC in January 2011 revealed that homeopaths were willing to give travelers ineffective homeopathic “preparations” to use in place of real anti-malarial drugs, as well as ineffective homeopathic alternatives to vaccinations. A recent investigation by CBC’s Marketplace turned up similar results.

The 10:23 Campaign is organising protests in more than twenty three cities across ten counties on 5 February 2011.

Local Contact: Gem Newman / spurll@gmail.com / +1 (204) 960-5025
International Contact: Michael Marshall / contact@1023.org.uk / +44 7841 134 309