Homeopathy Works

Did that title get your attention?

Oh, don’t worry. It’s total nonsense. But I figured that it might be worth distilling some thirty comments down to a couple of words.

Nonsense
Pictured: not medicine.

A few years ago, Scott Carnegie had the audacity to state (factually, I might add) that KIDS 0-9 Cough & Cold remedy is not medicine. It’s homeopathic, and it doesn’t work. But we’ve been hearing about the wonders of this remedy (and homeopathy in general) in the comments section of this article ever since. These comments aren’t likely to convince anyone of anything (unless it’s that we should follow Popular Science’s lead and simply shut down the comments section altogether), but they do sometimes present us with a teachable moment.

A recent example:

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.

Those interested the history and practice of homeopathy can take a look at the presentation I gave for World Homeopathy Awareness Week a few years ago. It may prove instructive.

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Episode 78: Cosmetics

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble discusses some of the marketing claims made for certain cosmetics with Laura Creek Newman and Lauren Bailey.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Benefit of a topical slimming cream in conjunction with dietary advice | Adipoless Slimming Concept | Woman sues make-up company for false advertising | Clinique rapped by the ASA for misleading ad | High-SPF sunscreens: Are they better? | Sephora Bliss FatGirlSleep | Sephora Bliss FatGirlScrub

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed

Episode 74: Nutritional Supplements

Episode 74: Nutritional Supplements

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble discusses some of the science (and pseudoscience) behind nutritional supplementation with Richelle McCullough, Laura Creek Newman, and Lauren Bailey.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: What’s in Your Supplement? | New Concerns About the Safety and Quality of Herbal Supplements | Bad Science Watch Criticizes “Vanessa’s Law” for Neglecting Natural Health Product Users | Vitamin C and the Common Cold | Dianazene | Glucosamine | Hyaluronan | Plasma and Dietary Antioxidant Status as Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors | Chromium Deficiency, Glucose Intolerance, and Neuropathy Reversed by Chromium Supplementation | Eggshell Membrane: A Possible New Natural Therapeutic for Joint and Connective Tissue Disorders | Is There Anything the Natural Health Products Directorate Won’t Approve? The Antioxidant Edition | Scientology’s Purification Rundown (Purif) | Critical Analysis of the Purification Rundown | Precious Bodily Fluids: Scientology and the Purification Rundown | Narconon

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed

Episode 66: Naturopathic Medicine

Episode 66: Naturopathic Medicine

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble and Laura Creek Newman discuss naturopathy, including Ashlyn’s experience interviewing for a position as a live blood microscopy analyst.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Naturopathy | Live Blood Analysis | Cold Reading | Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine | Six Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

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Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Watchdog Fights Homeopathic “Vaccine Alternatives” with New Campaign

Bad Science WatchReprinted from Bad Science Watch.

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.

For More Information, please contact:

Michael Kruse
mkruse@badsciencewatch.ca
www.badsciencewatch.ca
1 (888) 742-3299 ext. 101

Natural Remedies Never Kill?

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

"Medicine" Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
“Medicine”
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Hey, look! Another completely absurd and almost fact-free article from syndicated columnist Dr. Ken Walker (who writes under the name W. Gifford-Jones):

“Health Canada has been raiding health-food stores, terrorizing proprietors and confiscating natural food supplements,” Dr. Zoltan Rona, an expert on natural remedies, recently told me.

Walker’s article is alt-med propaganda at its most pedestrian. He presents those who peddle “natural remedies” as embattled heroes who are being bullied by Health Canada, which is in the pocket of corporate interests. I find this especially amusing, given that Health Canada has recently been censured for its decision to loosen the licensing requirements for natural health products while bypassing important safety and efficacy checks. (A decision that heavily favours corporate interests, yes: the corporate interests of the multinational corporations who manufacture and distribute natural health products.)

It’s been a while since I’ve played Name That Logical Fallacy, but let’s see… The reader is presented with a false dichotomy in the form of a choice between corporate-controlled pharmaceutical medicine and feel-good “natural” remedies; the deaths resulting from the use of pharmaceutical interventions hint at the fallacy of the perfect solution (the government shouldn’t approve drugs that aren’t perfectly safe and perfectly effective); there’s at least one appeal to antiquity (Nattokinase “has been used for centuries” in Japan); and finally there’s Walker’s completely dishonest (or unforgivably ignorant) claim that “prescription drugs can kill, natural remedies never”: while this isn’t a fallacy, it is the false premise that lies at the very heart of the article.

Walker’s point seems to be that Health Canada should just get out of the way: if the remedy is “natural” (whatever that means) and/or has been used for a long time, its safety and efficacy are unimpeachable. Walker seems to be advocating for some sort of medical free market paradise, a deregulated Wild West of frontier medicine in which the government gives any old snake oil a free pass—snake oil, of course, being completely natural.

“Alternative” medicines can and do kill, directly and indirectly. Natural remedies often lack proper controls to prevent contamination or adulteration; herbal remedies are drugs, and their use in concert with pharmaceuticals can result in unexpected drug interactions; the dose of the active ingredient in herbal remedies is often inconsistent or highly variable (while it is precisely controlled in pharmaceuticals; that’s sort of the point); and when presented with a “natural alternative”, some patients may eschew science-based interventions (that are actually effective). If you’re looking for heart-wrenching stories of people killed as a result of so-called “natural” medicine, here are a couple hundred of them. “Alternative medicine” is most often simply an alternative to medicine.

Walker should be ashamed of himself for promoting such absurdities. But that’s nothing new.

Online Skeptical Activism: Does It Work?

The Winnipeg Skeptics is first and foremost about community: until 2010, skeptics, critical thinkers, science enthusiasts, and curmudgeons in Winnipeg didn’t really have a group to call their own, and so we created one. But many of us also care passionately about skeptical activism—and one of the easiest places to “do skepticism” is online.

In addition to our Facebook page (which you should “like”, by the way), we also have a Facebook discussion group (which we welcome anyone to join). I always enjoy engaging in critical discussions on scientific topics in the comments section of the blog, where I recently had an extended conversation about the purported dangers of radiofrequency EMF. (It’s worth noting parenthetically that “how do i start an anti wifi group” is currently one of the top web searches that leads to the Winnipeg Skeptics site.)

But one of the questions that I frequently encounter when discussing online skeptical activism is simply: Does it work?

I believe that it’s important to counter misinformation wherever and whenever we find it (especially when it seems likely that those who are misinformed may come to serious harm), and confronting pseudoscience on social media serves a valuable role. While you may not persuade those with whom you’re arguing directly (not immediately, anyway), you can prevent bystanders and passers by from being convinced by shoddy evidence, and you can help curtail the spread of bad science.

Members of the Winnipeg Skeptics are always doing battle against pseudoscience, and so I thought that I might share some of our recent social media escapades. I’ll note that a few of the snippets that I’ll present have been reordered slightly. This is because in some cases many people were posting to a thread simultaneously and responding to each other’s comments, and I’d like to present sufficient context for the discussion without forcing the reader to wade through every single comment. I’ll also link to a full screenshot of each discussion for those readers who would like to see each comment in its original context. I have also redacted the names of those participants who I don’t know to be “out” as skeptics. On the one hand, that’s sort of a shame, because there were a fair number of very solid points made and credit should go where credit is due. On the other hand, I feel that leaving these people’s names in there without permission would be rather rude.

We’ll start off with a discussion on the Little Remedies Canada Facebook page from a couple of months back. In their original post they claim that, flu season having arrived, squeezing a clove of garlic into your child’s food would give their immune system a “super boost”. (Full discussion.)

Little Remedies Canada, Image 1Little Remedies Canada, Image 2Little Remedies Canada, Image 3Little Remedies Canada, Image 4Little Remedies Canada, Image 5Little Remedies Canada, Image 6Little Remedies Canada, Image 7

Next, I’ll present a brief exchange that Richelle had with the proprietor of Calgary’s The Naked Leaf tea house, in which they slyly claim-without-actually-claiming that their tea treats high cholesterol and high blood sugar. (Full discussion.)

The Naked Leaf, Image 1The Naked Leaf, Image 2The Naked Leaf, Image 3

The response is classic: they promote nonsense, they’re called on it, and they responded with the old, “Well now, we’re not making any claims! We’re just letting other people make claims on our behalf!” (This is standard operating procedure for multilevel/network marketing schemes, incidentally.)

The last discussion that I’ll cite in detail comes from the Facebook page of Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region. At the end of last month they announced, “Planned Parenthood is proud to be hosting ‘Night with a Homeopath’ on Tuesday February 26th … [to] discuss what a homeopathic practitioner is and what they can do for us.” PPWR described the event as a great chance to learn about “alternatives to ‘modern medicine’.” The skeptical response was swift and decisive, with Rebecca Watson and members of the Winnipeg and Ottawa Skeptics spreading the word on Twitter and Facebook. (Full discussion.)

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 1

That first comment pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 2Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 3Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 4Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 5Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 6Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 7Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 8Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 9

All of that took place within an hour of the announcement. It seemed like Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region wasn’t going to back down, given the fact that they opened with the “you’re not being open minded” gambit, entreating us to just hear the homeopath out. But we were determined to spread this story far and wide, and just a few minutes later links to the announcement returned this:

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 10

And this announcement followed soon after:

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 11

How’s that for a win?

And this news came just a few days before it was announced that the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation had dropped notorious anti-vaccine crank Jenny McCarthy from their Bust a Move charity fundraiser in response to pressure from groups like the Ottawa Skeptics and Bad Science Watch. The #dropjenny campaign, spearheaded by the Ottawa Skeptics’ Chris Hebbern, took place almost entirely on Twitter.

So, online skeptical activism: Does it work?

It certainly seems to.