An Academic Responds to the Homeopathy Challenge

After two weeks of silence from ten UK academic homeopaths, I get a response to my recent challenge. The challenge was simple: can any of the Universities offering a BSc in Homeopathy tell six different homeopathic pills apart if they do not know which is which to start with. Several emails to them and not a single response from any of the academics.

However, last week I got an email from Harald Walach of Northampton University. Professor Walach works in the School of Social Sciences and is a well known researcher in Homeopathy. He was not on my original list as Northampton does not award a BSc in Homeopathy. But his involvement was welcome.

I shall let the correspondence speak for itself and let you decide if his response meets the requirements of the test.

(The email was copied to Lionel Milgrom, a previous Director of the Society of Homeopaths, and Peter Fisher, Director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and physician to the Queen.)

to comments@quackometer

cc Lionel Milgrom <lionel.milgrom@…>, peter.fisher@…

date 18 December 2008 12:07

subject homeopathy challenge

Although I am too busy going to websites, because I am a researcher, and neither a quacker nor someone writing about quack, I heard about your challenge regarding a simple proof of homeopathy. Although I believe that from an only marginally informed history, theory, psychology and theory of science point of view even the positing of such a challenge shows that the one doing it does not really understand what science is about, I do believe that I have at least put a foot into the door of your challenge. I am not interested in money, and 100 $ would normally not even move me to open my email, because I really have a lot of work to do. But I pose my challenge to you:

If you do not think, our study answers your question, I would want to hear a really good argument. If you do, keep your 100$ or give it as a gift to a charity, I suggest the Faculty of Homeopathy, and announce this publicly on your website, ideally with a copy of your letter to the Guardian and Ben Goldacre.

By the way: I might need to point out the following: although the publication contains two graphs there should be only one. The reason for this being two is that the copy-editor forgot to slot it into the proofs, I resent both graphs telling them to use the one which is better, and they put in both… so much for scientific publishing.

[The Study]

Homeopathic pathogenetic trials produce more specific than non-specific symptoms: results from two double-blind placebo controlled trials

H. Walach, H. Möllinger, J. Sherr, R. Schneider

Best

Harald walach

Prof. Harald Walach

Research Professor in Psychology

University of Northampton

School of Social Sciences &

Samueli Institute for Information Biology (www.siib.org)

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer…

to Walach Harald <Harald.Walach@north…

cc Lionel Milgrom lionel.milgrom@hotmail.com,peter.fisher@…

date 18 December 2008 13:16

subject Re: homeopathy challenge

Dear Professor Walach,

Thank for for this paper. I will read it and examine the results carefully. There are a few  things I would like to point out to begin with. My challenge is not offering a prize. The mention of $100 is my rough calculation of the experimental cost of such a test. It is designed to show that a dramatic demonstration of homeopathic principles does not require access to resources beyond most practitioners. All that is required is a willingness to subject beliefs to test and to think a little.

I would be interested to understand why you believe my test is not ‘scientific’. I go to great pains to ask for homeopaths to suggest how they might improve the test. Recently, I have written to the Universities offering a BSc in homeopathy asking them if they would like to conduct the test and maybe even use their students to take part and critique it. To date, not one of the academics has made any response. Perhaps you, or Dr Milgrom and Dr Fisher, could encourage the Universities to undertake a simple but dramatic test?

A quick glance over the paper does make me think the test has been overcomplicated and allowed much room for data dredging. I will look further into this. It also worries me greatly that you attempt to explain away the discrepancies in your results as a function of quantum mechanical effects. The idea that quantum entanglement can take place between the participants is absurd and shows little appreciation of this subject.

But, thank you for contacting me. I hope you can help see my simple test successfully completed by someone.

Regards,

Andy Lewis

from Walach Harald

date 18 December 2008 13:37

Dear Andy Lewis,

Thanks for this. Here are a few points regarding your questions and remarks:

1. Although intriguingly simple to just say: do an experiment and you know, it is a bit more complicated. Experiments are simple questions within a highly complex machinery of theories. As long as there is no good theory, experiments are blind fishing expeditions. The one which you seem to have in mind makes a crucial presupposition: that the way how molecular pharmacology is looking at things is the only one that is right and possible. While this might be the case, there is no a-priori reason why it should be so. Hence all experiments done along those lines will make that presupposition, and it could well be that this is the wrong presupposition. This is, why it is more complicated than just doing a simple experiment. If you did only a small amount of reading in the history of science, you would know. I suggest you read a bit into Larry Laudan, Hilary Putnam, Bruno Latour, Colin & Pinch, to name but a few and you will see the problem. Every a-historical approach to science and the experimental background is in my view fundamentally flawed. I am happy to be convinced otherwise, but I have not seen much evidence in the way you write that you are even aware of the problem, let alone have a solution. It is always easy to presuppose one way of thinking as the only correct one and then argue from this vantage point, and for most purposes this is sufficient. It is not, if problems are more intricate, and my suspicion is: this is the case with homeopathy and a few other things in our world. I recommend to my students reading the good old philosopher Collingwood, who already in 1944 has pointed to this issue. The fact that he has been reprinted recently shows you, how relevant his ideas are. He was, by the way, the major source for Kuhn and others.

2. The way we did our experiment did not leave any room for “data-dredging” as you call it. We had a clear protocol, it was followed through to the end, and the outcome was a very simple, quantitative variable. The fact that Journal of Psychopharmacology published it after a tight peer review shows you that at least the peer reviewers have understood what we did and found it valid. Do you have similar or even more credentials than the average reviewer for such a scholarly journal?

3. The fact that the outcome is not easy to understand makes the point I was making earlier clearer: it is more difficult than you, and in fact most homeopaths, assume. And the fact that we are using a quantum-mechanical type of reasoning does not mean we are talking about quantum mechanics; we are not (and I have enough knowledge about this background to know about this problem, believe me; and if you read carefully you will see that we have made exactly this point). We are using theoretical structures that are similar to the quantum formalism, but that is a bit difficult to understand. Let it suffice here to say: if you want to be true to the phenomenology of things then you see very quickly that a simple Newtonian approach does not work. But that means: you need to listen carefully to the data. This is what science is about. Not about opening a cookery book on page 25 and say: simple, stupid, just do it.

Kind regards

Harald walach

P.S. I attach some publications regarding these issues…

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer….

Dr Walach

Thanks for your prompt response. I do intend to look at the paper in due course – but other work is pressing right now.

But to respond to some of your comments,

1) I think you are making a lot of assumptions about me. I make no claim in my test that it should follow the paradigms of ‘molecular pharmacology’. Indeed, if you read the test, I go to great lengths to avoid any such assumptions. The mechanisms and practices of homeopathy are immaterial. I simply ask the following: “Given six bottles of homeopathic pills, can homeopaths tell the apart?”. Anyone taking the test is free to choose any method they like: re-provings, analytical, quantum divining – it does not matter. The protocol is also open – as long as the statistical power is not diminished or blinding compromised.

2) I was just a little surprised that you could only get a statistically significant result by combining the results of two trials. This looked rather post hoc. Had you published each independently, things would look rather different. As for my credentials- are they not irrelevant? But for the record, I bet the reviewers knew nothing of quantum theory.

3) I am not sure what a “quantum-mechanical type of reasoning” means if you are not talking about quantum mechanics. You make no mention in the paper that you are not really talking about quantum entanglement. I see you are into the philosophy of Latour – someone horribly confused by physics. In common with such french pomo nonsense, are we to read your paper in the same light of the First Rule of Interpretation of Postmodern Academic Writing- “No sentence means what it says”?

To repeat, I would welcome your involvement in my simple test. Please look at the latest challenge to the Universities.

http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2008/12/homeopathy-university-challenge.html

I think you will find that my test is open and free from radical assumptions about what I think homeopathy is. If you believe that such a simple test could be compromised by some sort of quantum-like ‘non local’ effects then I am sure some change could be made to accommodate such effects. After all, non locality can be demonstrated in physics and many tests  have been done that show a clear violation of Bell’s inequality. You claim to be able to show non local effects in your paper. Could this be replicated?

Regards,

Andy

from Walach Harald

Well, thanks for that. Just briefly:

There is no such thing as a statement or an experiment without assumptions. Here is an analogue: Here are six bottles of red-wine. Give them to someone and ask them: can you tell them apart. Now, depending on the context, you will find people who can and those who can’t. If you are a sommelier, you can. You might even be able to tell the vintage and the growing area. If you are not you cannot. So, nothing is as simple as it seems really.

As to Latour: He might have been mistaken in some points, but his sociological and historical analyses, especially regarding medicine and chemistry, are surely very interesting. And no: I am not into postmodern nonsense, if you think I am. I simply think it is necessary to be well informed about the history, theory and sociology of science, else one is confusing things. And if you are not and are pulling up websites like that with seemingly and supposedly simple test that, if you look at it more carefully, are not that simple, then I find it does matter.

And you are wrong: we did specify the combination of data in a protocol apriori, just as we reported. And this we did for a very specific reason. And if you read carefully, you will see that we did not talk about quantum entanglement, because this is surely stupid in such a context. We don’t have to talk about this. And it might be true that the reviewers of J Psychopharm do not understand a lot about quantum mechanics, but they know what a good study is. And the reviewers of Foundations of Physics know what good physics is, normally, and this is, where we have published our Weak Quantum Theory formalism. And when I say quantum type or quantum analogue reasoning I mean reasoning that takes the central insight of quantum mechanics on board in the way how it conceptualises things: the insight about the fundamental nature of complementarity. For if you do that, then you reach some interesting conclusions.

As to credentials: yes, I do find it matters. I would not want my heart operated on by someone who does not understand about open heart surgery and does not have the necessary credentials. And in the same way I do not want people who do not have enough credentials about science, its historical background, its sociological and theoretical ramifications talk about complex issues in a simplistic way, because this is misleading, I find. That is all. No harm meant, no implications in this, just a piece of clarification, and like you… I am quite busy and will have to turn to other matters

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer…

Well maybe something to think about: what are my assumptions?

Of course I would not ask non-wine experts to tell wines apart. That would be daft – they do not claim to be able to do so. But homeopaths claim remedies have distinct and repeatable effects, and so I ask homeopaths to tell them apart. I do not really see your point unless you can be specific about an assumption that I have missed.

I would appreciate your thoughts in the new year: is my test reasonable? And if not, why not?

from Walach Harald

Well, they do in their practice: they use different remedies and tell their effects apart in the reaction of patients. The assumption you are making is that you can use remedies as such, without the appropriate context, and tell them apart. Of course you can’t. This is a daft assumption, so I am not surprised no one has taken up your challenge.

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer…

Well, they do in their practice: they use different remedies and tell their effects apart in the reaction of patients.

Do they? The point is that we need the evidence for this.

The assumption you are making is that you can use remedies as such, without the appropriate context, and tell them apart. Of course you can’t. This is a daft assumption, so I am not surprised no one has taken up your challenge.

My test springs from many statements of homeopathy web sites. I quote from the Society of Homeopaths

“therapy is based on the theory of treating “like with like”. Homeopathic remedies are diluted natural substances that if given to a healthy person,would produce the symptoms the medicine is prescribed for.”

http://www.homeopathy-soh.org/about-homeopathy/what-is-homeopathy/

I also quote from Wallach. Mullinger, Sher and Schneider 2008. :

healthy volunteers take homeopathically prepared substances.

The volunteers note the symptoms they experience during the

trial, and the symptoms deemed specific are entered into the

homeopathic materia medica and used for prescription in

cases of illness when a patient presents with similar symptoms.

Although in the initial phases of homeopathy the substances

used in such trials were often crude and toxic, homeopaths

have later on often used substances diluted beyond Avogadro’s

number, such as C30.

So which bit of the “appropriate context” am I missing?

from Walach Harald

Well, it is the fact that the remedies seem to operate exactly in the context between a patient/healthy volunteer and the symptoms, as we did show in our study. So the context you are missing is the fact that there is no such thing as the remedy in itself. It is only a remedy, when it is used appropriately, else it is, as is easily spotted with a basic chemical education, only a simple dilution with a lot of different stuff in it, none of which is likely to be very exciting. And this is the bit you are missing. Taking bottles won’t do. You will also need the appropriate set-up, and in our study we showed how it can be done. But unfortunately for you and many others, it cannot be done for 100$. Our study cost roughly 20.000 € at least, if you want to do it properly, likely a bit more, and if you do two studies and combine the data, it is more expensive. If I find another 120k € to do a replication I will do several of these studies and combine the data in a joint analysis. I am still not sure it will work, but we have at least a way to proceed.

If you want to tell aspirin apart form some fake thing you also need a lab, the appropriate equipment and knowledge, etc. As it happens, a lab won’t do for homeopathic stuff, it seems, so the detection system has to be more complex, if there is anything to detect in the first place. Some stupid folks like me think there is. But what we see is: it is not simple.

Hope that clarifies things

Best

hawa

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer…

PS I started reading your paper on ‘Weak Quantum Theory’ but I must admit I did not get past:

Yet, both aspects of a pair of complementary observables are needed to give the full picture of what we are able to say about reality. In other words, complementary variables are not only maximally incompatible in the sense that the knowledge of one precludes the knowledge of the other variable (in the same measurement experiment), but they are also both needed to describe the full picture and thus are both requirements for a holistic view of reality [5].

This is quite clearly wrong. Complementary variables in quantum mechanics can be measured in the same experiment. Quantum Mechanics merely forbids both being precisely specified. We can have knowledge of both, but their commutator is a nonzero constant and so we cannot know both with arbitrary precision. This is far from being ‘maximally incompatible’, but simply places a fundamental limit on what we can know about the world. This has got nothing to do with ‘holistic’ views as spoken about in homeopathy. Are you not just confusing and conflating ideas? Is it worth me reading on?

from Walach Harald

Well, up to you, whether you want to read it, but briefly:

If you follow the discussion on complementarity, not just as a technical term, but as an epistemological, you will see that it’s meaning is indeed about maximal incompatibility, as you cannot, formally, use a term or a concept, negate it, and arrive at a complementary concept. They are, graphically speaking, orthogonal. Technically speaking they cannot be measured at the same time, and you need different measurement set-ups to do this. This is what is described in the algebraic formalism by the non-commutativity of the operators. And this is, what is meant by the Heisenberg uncertainty, that you cannot measure both with precision. This is the whole point. And if you follow the formalism through, or the discussion around the EPR-paradox that Schrödinger started, you can easily see that it is exactly this that is in fact creating the so called holism of quantum theory until measurement occurs. Now, all we do is stipulating that the formal structure might be useful for other systems as well. This is a theoretical and axiomatic statement. Whether this is true or not, is a question of phenomenology, and, ultimately, of conceptual analysis and experimental test.

from Walach Harald

I can’t help your struggle here: perhaps you need to struggle more?

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer…

Harald – it is just not true that you cannot measure complementary variables with the same measurement set-ups. Take a medical positron emission tomography (PET) scanner. When detecting coincident events it is necessary to measure both the timing and energy of photon arrival in the instrument – energy and time being conjugate,. The larger the windows on both variables, the greater the noise. One cannot crank down the measurement precision on both parameters indefinitely- mostly for instrumental reasons, but ultimately quantum mechanical reasons. I am not sure where you get your ideas from.

You appear to be guilty of overstretching a metaphor. Just because you use the word holism in he context of quantum mechanics and homeopathy does not mean you are using equivalent terms or can apply equivalent theoretical frameworks.

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer…

Harald – to come up with a comprehensive set of reasons why my experiment would not work would be a worthy outcome in itself. No one has managed to do this yet and I am afraid that neither have you. In principle, my experiment is no different from your own except it makes far fewer assumptions and has a much higher statistical power. If you have reasons to believe that my experiment would fail then your explanation would be good. If not, then I would welcome help in encouraging homeopaths to take part. So far, you have just made a few hand waving suggestions that I am missing things. Frankly, I do not believe you.

from Walach Harald

Well, look, Andy:

I don’t see the point of this toing and froing: you have put out a challenge for a homeopathic remedy proving to work. I have given you a clear example that it does (and we have in stock another one which is just in the process of peer review). This publication has been

a) well described

b) done according to all standards of methodology (triple blind even)

c) published in a peer reviewed journal

and you come back with the simple “I don’t believe you – you have to do it my way for me to believe you”. Now I cannot and won’t force you to believe me, as belief is a complicated issue. But it confirms two things, and these were, in essence, the ones I was making in earlier comments implicitly:

This whole debate is not about data, it is about belief.

And science is not about data either, it is about a very complex mix of theories, a-priori reasons (Bayesian, if you like), politics, power and social psychology of groups. Any approach that fails to see this is simply inappropriate. And in order to find that out, you just need to do the appropriate reading, which you obviously haven’t done, otherwise you would see my point.

I have been doing work and put thinking into this since my PhD in 1992. I am not going to waste my time explaining to you, why your approach won’t work, since, as you said: you don’t believe me anyway. So why bother. Here is one, but only one, of many, many reasons, why your experiment is in fact not such a good idea as you think:

You can use a homeopathic remedy and give it to volunteers, and nothing at all might happen with 19 out of 20, but one might be very sensitive and produce symptoms. There is not a good way of knowing who will react, as this reaction is an individual one. This is, why we use very experienced provers who know their reaction well and have a reasonable chance at detecting their symptoms as different from background noise. And as you can see from our data: not everyone reacts, but enough react to produce a meaningful difference.

Simplistic provings, such as you are suggesting, have been done already and published. They do not work, because the methodology is too crude. And a more subtle reason is: homeopathic remedies are likely not simple, causal agents, such as a classical pharmacological substance is, but this is a point, where even most homeopaths would disagree with me, let alone you.

But really, this discussion is growing too complex for an internet debate. I have really written a lot about this and I am not going to repeat that for the sake of an individual tutorial here. If you want to keep your money, your belief system and your posture, please go ahead and do. But don’t say: no one has come up and answered your challenge. Say: someone has, but I don’t believe him. And perhaps you should also say: And this is, because real science is not about data, but about belief.

I will think about your previous mail about complementarity, and perhaps answer that one, but this will be the end from my point of view, unless you do two things:

Give me a better reason than your belief and trust for not accepting our data as meeting your challenge;

Give me a reason, by way of your credentials, why a further dialogue might be useful, not only for you, but for me.

And if you want to be a real scientist, then my suggestion is the following: try it out yourself. Purchase some higher potencies of the following remedies (you can take the money from the 100$ you are not willing to give to me): platinum, stramonium, sulphur, and perhaps lycopodium; I would use 30 or 200. Take 5 globules, each hour, for a day or so, perhaps three in a row, but stop, as soon as you detect symptoms. If you don’t get symptoms, leave a couple of days space in between and take the next. If you do get symptoms, and mind you, they can be very subtle, take note and observe, write them down, and consult a homeopathic material medica afterwards to find out, whether you find them there. If the symptoms become too strong, let me know and I will find the appropriate antidote for you.

Cheers, and happy Christmas

from Walach Harald

Andy,

You are of course correct that complementary variables can be measured, even at the same time. But they cannot be measured with arbitrary precision, because then the Heisenberg uncertainty comes into play. I don’t think, this is at all the point. Formally, though, this means that complementarity, as a category, produces entanglement, or, entanglement is a special case of complementarity, namely the complementarity between the description of the whole systerm, and the description of the local variables. In the classical EPR measurement set-up this comes about because the superposition for the whole system, say of entangled photons has a joint probability of say the polarisation angles to be measured, but the single photons don’t until one is measured, and then the description of the whole system defines immediately what the according measurement of the other polarisation angle has to be. So much for the EPR case.

All we have done is the following: We have used this formal structure. We have put out an axiomatic framework. This is similar to using a type of algebra that is already known and used to describe the situation in quantum mechanics. We have then stated that IF this axiomatic framework is applicable to a system, THEN it is the same structure as the one in quantum mechanics proper, and THEN entanglement correlations can be expected also in systems other than quantum systems.

You can, of course say, we are guilty here of stretching a metaphor or an analogy too far, if you like. This is a matter of scientific temperament. For if no one is probing the field at the borders we would never have had progress. My standard example is Harvey discovering the heartbeat: because of Aristotelian physiology that had no room for a beating heart, people were virtually not hearing the heart beat, until Harvey said it did, based on hard experimental evidence. But people did not even want to listen, because their theoretical model did not allow for such a perception.

So I disagree with you here: Any rational analogue, extrapolation, or formal-axiomatic framework that is consistent and makes interesting explanatory moves possible or new predictions is a good heuristic. Whether it is in fact true that such systems exist, whether it is in fact useful to talk about complementarity outside QM proper is an altogether different matter. And whether our prediction of a generalised form of entanglement is true is also a matter for empirical and experimental testing. Schrödinger discovered the oddity of entanglement in 1934. Einstein used it in 1935 to ridicule QM. It was not until Bell, roughly 30 years later, came up with his operationalisation that, again about 15 years, led then to appropriate experimental testing that entanglement was proven a fact, and even nowadays, after a tight series of highly inventive, extremely expensive, and unbelievably clever experimentation, there are still people who say, yes, but perhaps we can see it differently still…. So it will take a while, if our suspicion is correct, until proper experimental set-ups are created, and some empirical evidence is produced. And I do not believe in experimental proofs for convincing sceptics. Already Planck had seen that this is not how science works. It is rather a progress by dying out. So we will see who will survive in the end. For the time being we have produced some ideas how such a model can help in understanding phenomena that cannot be explained within a classical frame of thinking and reference, homeopathy being just one of them. If you do not see the need for their explanation, then fine. If you happen to see this need: here is a potential way forward.

And I think the misunderstandings or misgivings about the way how we formulated the concept of complementarity stems from the fact that you can think about it either practically; then often it is not really a problem, as you say. Or you can think about it from a fundamental conceptual point of view, and then complementary variables are a different category of concepts, because you cannot use a negation of one to express the reality of the other, and yet you have to apply them at the same time to explain a unity. The formulation in the paper came from my physics colleagues, who are not so stupid as you think they are. One is a chair of theoretical physics and has published widely in the field, and has received quite a few positive feedbacks from some of his physics colleagues about this approach, and the other one is a more junior but very well published physicist who has put a lot of thinking into this. But as you know, quantum mechanics can be approached from different points of views, you can use different formalisms to express it, and the one we have used is the more modern one of the C* algebra, which is not normally used, as far as I know, for the practical application purposes, but more for theoretical modelling and clarification. That might explain the differences. And should you have the need for a good reference regarding the basic, fundamental, and irreducible property of complementary variables: here is a good publication by Prof. Mahler, another colleague of ours who has published widely and who has a while ago produced an interesting paper regarding the fundamental nature of complementary variables: Kim I, Mahler G (2000) Uncertainty rescued: Bohr’s complementarity for composite systems. Physcis Letters A 269: 287-292.

Cheers and have a good break

harald

from Andy Lewiscomments@quackometer…

Harald,

It is not fair to quote me out of context about the “I don’t believe you’ This was a statement made in the context of our discussion about ‘weak quantum theory’ and my challenge. I do not believe that WQT has any bearing on the subject and you were being rather evasive, if I may say so.

Now, on a preliminary reading (and I intend to go into more detail over xmas) your paper is not equivalent to my challenge. One wing (the distant untrained) of the trial quite clearly failed. The other wing (the local practitioners) passed when pooled with the other wing. Hardly ringing endorsements. Given the a priori unlikelihood chance of success, one would want to be see unambiguous evidence before accepting a weak pass. Also, one must be slightly sceptical and wonder why someone with a direct and rather large financial interest in a successful outcome was keeping the codes to the test. The other reason I am sceptical, as I have said, is the rather bizarre way the paper turns anomalous results into ‘evidence’ for extremely speculative hypotheses for extending quantum formalism into arbitrary areas. Normally, it is more parsimonious to assume that your experiment has gone belly up. Do you do this because ‘science is not about data’? I am afraid, in my training, data was central to science. It told me what was right and what was wrong. Science without data is pathological science and pseudo-science and I fear you are wading into both.

I find it odd that you feel that the fact that you got your PhD in 1992 and have put a lot of thought into your subject is a reason not to engage more fully with my experiment. Coincidently, 1992 was the year I was awarded my PhD and I too have put a lot of thought into this. Surely, this is a good reason to engage? (BTW, your CV says 1990 for one PhD and 1995 for another??? )

But anyway, thanks for supplying a reason why my test will not work. However, I find it very unconvincing. I cannot believe that such a proving will fail 19 times out of 20 – especially when you then go on to say that if I am a real scientist, why do I not try it out for myself? Would this be convincing with only a 5% chance of success? You tell me that I might need an antidote from you!!

If homeopathy is as subtle as you suggest, then surely it means there are two very important questions that then are raised: is the materia medica reliable? Probably not, given the slap dash approach the vast majority of provings took. And secondly, is it a viable modality of treatment if it is so unreliable? Reminder: there is no good evidence that it is reliable. Is this not an admission of defeat if my test cannot be passed?

Now, reasons to continue:

I do not accept your paper as better than my test for the reasons given above and that I am quite clear in my challenge that  I want statistical power equivalent to my 1:720 or better. My test is simple, unambiguous and powerful.

You want to know my credentials? Which particular exams that I have sat and vivas conducted and institutions worked at would suffice? What would rule in further discussion and what would not? I have demonstrated I know more about quantum theory than you? Is that enough?

I would suggest that the biggest reason to continue in constructive discussion is that homeopathy is under threat and its critics are not going to go away until homeopaths and their apologists engage in critical appraisal of what they do. Most do not want to see homeopathy banned, just responsibly practised within the limits that evidence suggests is reasonable. And if it is to be funded by the tax payer in the NHS and taught as a science degree then homeopathy needs to engage with fully with scientific discourse and step away from pseudoscience, denialism, obsurantism and quackery.

What I have seen so far in my challenge from the most unsophisticated lay homeopath is really no different to yourself. Obfuscation and excuses. I really would hope there would be a more engaging and questioning attitude amongst academics. After all, that is what we pay you to be. I hope you can find a way to do this test. Even a negative result might tell you something.

Have a good Xmas

A

from Walach Harald

Harald,

It is not fair to quote me out of context about the “I don’t believe you’ This was a statement made in the context of our discussion about ‘weak quantum theory’ and my challenge. I do not believe that WQT has any bearing on the subject and you were being rather evasive, if I may say so.

************ okay

Now, on a preliminary reading (and I intend to go into more detail over xmas) your paper is not equivalent to my challenge. One wing (the distant untrained) of the trial quite clearly failed. The other wing (the local practitioners) passed when pooled with the other wing. Hardly ringing endorsements. Given the a priori unlikelihood chance of success, one would want to be see unambiguous evidence before accepting a weak pass. Also, one must be slightly sceptical and wonder why someone with a direct and rather large financial interest in a successful outcome was keeping the codes to the test. The other reason I am sceptical, as I have said, is the rather bizarre way the paper turns anomalous results into ‘evidence’ for extremely speculative hypotheses for extending quantum formalism into arbitrary areas. Normally, it is more parsimonious to assume that your experiment has gone belly up. Do you do this because ‘science is not about data’? I am afraid, in my training, data was central to science. It told me what was right and what was wrong. Science without data is pathological science and pseudo-science and I fear you are wading into both.

*********** well that is simply wrong: it was an apriori hypothesis, and you do not belief it, I can’t help it. I am not turning the results into evidence for a speculative hypothesis, as you say, I am just using the phenomenology of data and try to understand what happesn here. Parsimonious strategies are all very well, but sometimes not sufficient. I agree: science without data is not science; but science without theory is blind data mongering. The challenge is: an appropriate theory for the current data; by the way: it was not a “test” as you say, but a simple study; keeping the code by the randomisation centre that does the distribution is standard practice and can hardly be done otherwise; no one accuses anybody in standard pharmacology research for this very same practice, or am I wrong here.

I find it odd that you feel that the fact that you got your PhD in 1992 and have put a lot of thought into your subject is a reason not to engage more fully with my experiment. Coincidently, 1992 was the year I was awarded my PhD and I too have put a lot of thought into this. Surely, this is a good reason to engage? (BTW, your CV says 1990 for one PhD and 1995 for another??? )

********* I find it odd that you should not accept my experiment; but up to you. I have given you a couple of reasons why I think it is a bit simplistic to go this way; I have published a lot of stuff about this, and I am not going to repeat my reasons in an email; and the 1992 date was because this is, when the book containing my thesis was published; the date of the exam was in 1990; and in 1995 I did a PhD in the Theory and History of Science; as you can see: contrary to you, I am quite transparent with my credentials (that tell you also something about what I likely cannot do well). I am happy to engage in dialogue, always, otherwise I would have hardly bothered to communicate with you. But a good dialogue has a simple precondition, which I do not find much evidence for in the way you write and put your stuff out: openness.

But anyway, thanks for supplying a reason why my test will not work. However, I find it very unconvincing. I cannot believe that such a proving will fail 19 times out of 20 – especially when you then go on to say that if I am a real scientist, why do I not try it out for myself? Would this be convincing with only a 5% chance of success? You tell me that I might need an antidote from you!!

******** why not try out? The best science always comes from primary, personal experience, if you have studied your own science well… and I am not saying you might need an antidote, I am just saying if you need one, contact me. Standard practice…

If homeopathy is as subtle as you suggest, then surely it means there are two very important questions that then are raised: is the materia medica reliable? Probably not, given the slap dash approach the vast majority of provings took. And secondly, is it a viable modality of treatment if it is so unreliable? Reminder: there is no good evidence that it is reliable. Is this not an admission of defeat if my test cannot be passed?

*********** Reminder: Homeopathy has been around since the early 1800s; it was nearly extinct in the States around 1950 and has seen a remarkable revival. Why, I wonder is this so, if it is so unreliable? Because all these patients were stupid and gullible, all these doctors who have all done their medical degree where sods? And this, although at the same time as Hahnemann invented homeopathy there were a multitude of other medical models around, Brownianism for instance, that have all disappeared because they did not help people. So why is this, I ask? Placebo effect? Perhaps? Then why here, and not elsewhere?

Now, reasons to continue:

I do not accept your paper as better than my test for the reasons given above and that I am quite clear in my challenge that  I want statistical power equivalent to my 1:720 or better. My test is simple, unambiguous and powerful.

You want to know my credentials? Which particular exams that I have sat and vivas conducted and institutions worked at would suffice? What would rule in further discussion and what would not? I have demonstrated I know more about quantum theory than you? Is that enough?

********* I am very happy to accept that you know more about quantum theory than I do, in fact, this is the reason why I always team up with real physicists before I make any comments in this area. And it is not very difficult to know more about quantum physics than I do, because I have not studied a hard-core science subject, as you can see from my CV. But contrary to you, I do find credentials important: They tell you something about the training, the history someone has, the potential bias and the potential lacunae, because no one can know everything. And I find: if you pose yourself with that posture of post-modern inquisition then the public also has a right to know: what are your credentials.

I would suggest that the biggest reason to continue in constructive discussion is that homeopathy is under threat and its critics are not going to go away until homeopaths and their apologists engage in critical appraisal of what they do. Most do not want to see homeopathy banned, just responsibly practised within the limits that evidence suggests is reasonable. And if it is to be funded by the tax payer in the NHS and taught as a science degree then homeopathy needs to engage with fully with scientific discourse and step away from pseudoscience, denialism, obsurantism and quackery.

********* I am not sure this dialogue can be constructive, if you start up with misreadings of straight forward experimental work, dismissing it, because you do not seem to understand it in the first place. And, by the way, it is an interesting coincidence that the critics of homeopathy seem to be voicing their critique at a time, when prozac comes under pressure, when NICE takes off its list the new antidementia drugs, etc. Do you not find, this is a remarkable coincidence. You are really naïve, if you believe that this coming out of pure intellectual curiosity. And I say once again: the problem is the term “evidence”, for this is not a neutral, clearly defined notion. It is highly dependent on the context. And if you say, the only evidence is superiority over placebo, this is one way of going about, but not a very intelligent one, I am afraid.

What I have seen so far in my challenge from the most unsophisticated lay homeopath is really no different to yourself. Obfuscation and excuses. I really would hope there would be a more engaging and questioning attitude amongst academics. After all, that is what we pay you to be. I hope you can find a way to do this test. Even a negative result might tell you something.

********* Well I find, the one who is doing the questioning here is really me. I may not always be right. I may not always have the right answers. But at least I seem to have more questions than you. And this is, in my view, the function of an academic.

Have a good Xmas

******** same to you


37 Comments:

Anonymous peterd102 said…

Interesting read, I have to say that I, for one, am sick of Homeopathy, its one of those things that is definitivly BS and im tired of people wasting time over it.

23 December, 2008 18:55
Blogger mugsandmoney said…

You’ve got a lot of patience. I got about halfway down the thread and then my eyes glazed over, I stopped breathing, and my brain fell out.

23 December, 2008 21:04
Blogger zeno said…

I diligently read all of it…

NOT!

However, I will go back over it and see if I can make any sense of what Walach says. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to his research.

23 December, 2008 21:34
Anonymous gusfoo said…

Hm.

So (if I understand correctly) the Professor Walach’s argument is that the challenge as proposed by yourself is invalid as:

a) A given homeopathic treatment may or may not help the patient for a range of symptoms and it is to the practitioner to decide/deduce ex post facto what the next remedy to be given is, given the feedback from the patient, and it is then this second (or 3rd..) course of treatments that assists/benefits the patient.

b) because the treatment is a process involving a dialogue between practitioner and patient then the testing of a single remedy is not informative.

c) the concept of evidence-driven medicene is simply one mode of thought which is inapplicable to CAM and entirely new modes of understanding need to be developed.

This is pretty weird stuff.

24 December, 2008 00:09
Blogger Lemm said…

Interesting discussion, I think both of you were at times a bit too personal. Instead of going into arguments, I’ve read a lot of “arguments from authority”, peacock fights. Who has the most PhD’s, definitely you lost that battle ;).

It appears to me that he is hitchhiking on the complexity of quantum physical reasoning to overwhelm the opponent instead of convincing. I think he is missing one definite point here. In his beloved history of science, he overlooked one thing. The undeniable facts were there first before the quantum physical explanation, which was so different from everyday experience were to be accepted. Remarkable that Planck for instance was not convinced even he as the founder.
As in Prof Walach case, the facts are fully unclear and not methodologically investigated. And as Feynman (talking about arguments with authority) already said, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

24 December, 2008 06:01
Anonymous Derrik said…

A very interesting exchange.

I think three things come out of this.

Firstly, it illustrates, again that understanding the history of science doesn’t actually fit you to be a scientist, in the same way that knowledge of the history of music doesn’t make you a great musician or anthropological study of the ritual practices of the Inuit makes you a shamen.

Secondly Harald fails to distinguish between demonstrations of a phenomena and investigations of those phenomena. Your so called experiment is really a demonstration and not an experiment at all. This is as simple as, upon being told of a unicorn in the garden, going to look in the garden for said unicorn. Harald would seem to reject such an action because “all experiments take place in a theoretical framework”, so looking in the garden for the unicorn can not be separated from the ecology, mating behaviour diet, physiology etc of the unicorn. This is an example of why the history of science doesn’t help you do science. The history of science demands you make some sensible story out of the experiments and experimenters of the past. Actually doing science demands mucking about and having an enquiring mind.

Thirdly, right near the top of your discussion Harald pulls the oldest homeopathic trick in the book:

“Taking bottles won’t do. You will also need the appropriate set-up, and in our study we showed how it can be done. But unfortunately for you and many others, it cannot be done for 100$. Our study cost roughly 20.000 € at least, if you want to do it properly, likely a bit more”

Which means once again we have moved from a simple, effective, wonderful, natural etc.. etc.. method for healing all ills to an ephemeral, subtle phenomena requiring experiments of enormous statistical power to be sensitive enough to observe the effect. The best we can say of homeopathy following Haralds work is that if there is an effect that might be called “homeopathy”, it has never been observed by practicing homeopaths themselves and it is quite beyond the powers of a highstreet healer to use it to any clinically significant effect.

Still good on Harald for talking to you.

24 December, 2008 10:41
Blogger SVETLANA PERTSOVICH said…

This post has been removed by the author.

24 December, 2008 15:00
Blogger SVETLANA PERTSOVICH said…

The talk partakes of known song “The Blarney roses” 😉 In this song a chap wasted time inquiring where the maid is from, when it was absolutely clear because of her Donegal’s accent 🙂
And in our case it is quite clear that Dr. Walach was telling empty words, which proved nothing.
The end of talk was in fact the same as in mentioned song (I could remind, but, sorry, the words are not quite decent there 😉 ).
You wasted time, Andy.

24 December, 2008 15:03
Anonymous Mojo said…

Gusfoo said:

“This is pretty weird stuff.”

These are the usual excuses. They are completely invalid as far as a challenge to tell homoeopathic remedies apart. homoeopaths claim that homoeopathic remedies produce recognisable and specific proving symptoms.

25 December, 2008 11:23
Anonymous Mojo said…

Derrik said:

“Firstly, it illustrates, again that understanding the history of science doesn’t actually fit you to be a scientist, in the same way that knowledge of the history of music doesn’t make you a great musician…”

I’ve seen “musicologist” defined as “someone who can read music but not hear it”.

25 December, 2008 11:25
Anonymous QuackofKent said…

Not a waste of time at all. A pretty hard fought but fairly fought contest I thought.
The Russians have been researching along the lines of Haralds ideas for years. Many of the most eminent Russian ex space program scientists support the idea that quantum entanglement can take place between participants.
Maybe Svetlana can confirm that in Russia there is a pretty even debate on this area among academics. We all know that in the UK the idea of Quantum entanglement taking place between participants is very much a minority view. I suggest that this is not the case in Russia.
I am sure that Svetlana will advise me should she have a difference of opinion on this.

25 December, 2008 18:43
Blogger Le Canard Noir said…

Best Xmas laugh off the day – better than TV. “Ex russian space scientists”. Give me a break.

25 December, 2008 18:50
Anonymous Nash said…

I think there is saying that goes along the lines of “Never argue with an idiot, they’ll only drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

27 December, 2008 17:43
Anonymous dlorde said…

A very interesting discussion, although slightly disappointing – I was hoping for something less antagonistic and more constructive on both sides.

There clearly are several ways that Homeopathy – and CAMs in general – are analogous to modern (esp quantum) physics.

Uncertainty: the more specific the question, the vaguer the response. The closer you examine it the fuzzier it becomes.

Non-locality: effects can occur even when the active agent is distant, or even altogether absent.

The Measurement Problem: the more precisely you attempt to control the variables, the more the necessary context for efficacy is disrupted.

I’m sure there are other similarities, but it’s no wonder the concepts of QM are attractive to those attempting to squeeze some meaning from their otherwise unpromising results.

However, Dr.Walach has a point – if the pills are only distinguishable as part of the Homeopathic context provided by a trained and experienced Homeopath, and even then only 5% of the time (did I read that right – only 1:20 randomly selected subjects will respond? [so much for Holland & Barrett range]), then your challenge is a non-starter – the pills are indistinguishable outside this context.

If Homeopathy is spookily analagous to QM, then we need someone to produce a Homeopathic equivalent of Bell’s Inequality (or any other definitive test), and a Homeopathic Alain Aspect to validate it (or otherwise).

Two other points come mind:

QM is the most fundamental, successful and precisely measured physical theory out there… and Homeopathy? This seems to be fundamental way in which QM and Homeopathy are dissimilar.

It seems odd that Dr.Walach still fundamentally misunderstands the QM complementarity that is fundamental to his analysis – it’s all very well having the support of physicists, but surely a researcher in his position should understand the basic concepts upon which his analysis is based?

27 December, 2008 17:44
OpenID apgaylard said…

“if the pills are only distinguishable as part of the Homeopathic context provided by a trained and experienced Homeopath, and even then only 5% of the time (did I read that right – only 1:20 randomly selected subjects will respond? [so much for Holland & Barrett range]), then your challenge is a non-starter – the pills are indistinguishable outside this context.”

If this is indeed one of the points that he is making, then it seems to suggest that so-called homeopathicprovings are non-starters as well (no sickness, no intention to treat, no therapeutic relationship with a healer …). In fact, LCN’s challenge could be addressed via homeopathic provings; as he has pointed out.

If homeopathic pills can’t be proved reliably on the healthy then they cannot be prescribed reliably for the sick.

I seem to remember somewhere is Walach’s screed that he has some doubts about provings?

It would seem that in order to defend his views and criticise the Homeopathy Challenge he has ‘debunked’ the homeopathic materia medica and repertory.

27 December, 2008 22:05
Anonymous dlorde said…

Walach suggests that his published results are validated provings, but he says “Simplistic provings, such as you are suggesting, have been done already and published. They do not work, because the methodology is too crude. And a more subtle reason is: homeopathic remedies are likely not simple, causal agents, such as a classical pharmacological substance is, but this is a point, where even most homeopaths would disagree with me, let alone you.”

So he puts himself in a minority that disagrees with the majority of Homeopaths about the validity of traditional proving. If Homeopaths themselves disagree on the validity such basic features of their practice, what hope is there of any agreement on a robust scientific procedure to test them – given the requirement that trained, experienced homeopaths must be involved…

28 December, 2008 14:35
Blogger Le Canard Noir said…

One of the cc’ed on the initial email, Lionel Milgrom, is taken apart at Respectful Insolence for similar misunderstandings of Quantum Physics.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/12/your_friday_dose_of_woo_when_a_mad_mathe.php

28 December, 2008 19:00
Anonymous Philippe Leick said…

Very interesting exchange of ideas.

Harald Walach is rather right about the debate being, mostly, not about data, but about world views. And about how these world views lead to slightly different understandings of what “data” or “theories” are.

I certainly don’t share Prof. Walachs world view (see here for details http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.homp.2008.02.010), but it seems to me that he is one of the best and most honest researchers on homeopathy and CAM out there. Still, as AP Gaylard has pointed out in of the earlier comments, he has not really accepted the rather straightforward conclusions that the (his!) research seems to lead to.

I have criticized the “Weak Quantum Theory” explanation of homeopathy in the German magazine“Skeptiker” in a rather lengthy article. I’d be happy to send this to any interested readers (fluent in German) out there.

Now, for the more simple-minded, the question should be why we are even having this debate. I do not intend to insult anybody by this, but rather to point out how intellectually difficult it is to reconcile the lack ofimpressive pro-Homeopathy scientific evidence with the very “impressive” anecdotal evidence in favor of homeopathy. There is, of course, the rather convincing placebo-hypothesis… going beyond that makes it complicated…

29 December, 2008 11:16
Anonymous needhelp said…

‘Like cures like’, and proving is based on ‘like causes like’. Is that right? So if one were to take up Dr. Walach’s variation on LCN’s theme – take some stuff, get some symptoms – then wouldn’t it be enough to take more of the same stuff to sort out the symptoms? Why would an antidote be needed?

Just when I thought I was getting it…

30 December, 2008 12:01
Blogger Citizen Deux said…

Holy smoke. The sheer windiness is almost overwhelming. If homeopathy is effective, results should be far superior to chance. Nothing in this dialogue even hints at such a result. Professor Walach is living in some transcendental realm of hyper theory and sylogism.

His most telling comment came when he admitted that homeopathic remedies were indistinguishable, even in a lab.

30 December, 2008 18:37
Blogger Dana Ullman said…

Mr. Duck,

Harald Wallach has challenged you, and yet, you have not taken him up on his challenge. I’m not surprised that you’re backing away. Your intent is not to do real science but to simply posture.

You’re a smart guy, but you still don’t seem to get the homeopathic paradigm to pharmacology/medicine/healing. It is akin to assuming chi or ki doesn’t exist because it does not flow in veins or arteries.

Once again, the best scientists are humble, often acknowledge what they don’t know, and experience real wonder at the mysteries of nature. I hope that you learn to be a good scientist.

05 January, 2009 03:42
Anonymous J said…

@Dana

“It is akin to assuming chi or ki doesn’t exist because it does not flow in veins or arteries.”

You may hold and exhort any belief you like. But there’s no need to claim that belief as science.

Would you urge someone who is sick to ignore medicine entirely and turn only to religion?

It’s been made reasonably clear to me that anyone who claims homeopathy as being outside of the bounds of science cannot in good conscience claim it to be medicine (alternative or otherwise).

Medicine has its foundations in science – observable, testable, repeatable science.

If homeopathy were marketed as the religion and belief system it is, and not as the science it isn’t, I’d be less inclined to quack at its proponents.

06 January, 2009 01:51
Blogger Dana Ullman said…

J’s comment are sadly typical of black/white thinking…and just sloppy thinking. Just because one advocates for homeopathy or acupuncture or other alternatives does not mean that he or she doesn’t appreciate or use some conventional medicines. It may however mean that one does not use conventional treatments first (remember: “First, do no harm.”).

Let’s avoid simplistic thinking, even if it is so common.

07 January, 2009 14:10
Anonymous Rob said…

Dana Ullman said: “Harald Wallach has challenged you, and yet, you have not taken him up on his challenge.”
Prof Harald Walach of the University of Northampton’s School of Social Sciences? What was the challenge? Some details, please.

09 January, 2009 12:53
Blogger zeno said…

Andy

Unfortunately, I’ve spent several hours over the last few days trying to understand Walach’s trial. I don’t understand all of the gobbledegook (I’m and Engineer, not a scientist), but it all looks like hogwash to me, with (even if you accept the blinding and randomisation) numerous gaping holes.

Have you had a closer look at it or is life too short?

My (perhaps amateurish) summary of it can be read here on the Think Humanism forum.

Alan

11 January, 2009 16:30
Anonymous Anonymous said…

interesting discussion, my problem with some of the Skeptics , Ben Goldacre and others, is that they are vindictive towards alternative medicine, and totally biased against it; so of course they are not going to produce a balanced discussion on the subject: their argument is black and white: anything deemed scientific is good, anything alternative is bad. Although there is much bad science eagerly reported by the ignorant hack form various newspaper, our vindictive friends ignore anything that does not fit their simple model.

They also become instant experts on anything scientific, and I have seen Ben Goldrace apperaing on breakfast telvision as the instant expert on any scientific paper
An other recent example is this woman, (her name escape me for the time being), she is a professor of Gynecology and obsetric, but for the television, she became an instant expert on nutrition, delivering a number of commonly accepted facts as if she had brought up something new, but of course, she is a scientist, a high priest speaking in the name of the new god of science!
I am no expert in science nor in alternative medicine, I am certain that there is a good number of quacks out there in need of seroius debunking, but it seems that an increasing number of people simply vote with their feets, and enjoy the benefits of alternative medicine; this means to me that there must be something in it, even if it is not understood. millions of people cannot be that wrong, especially when you see thedegre of satisfaction among the alternative medicine consumers.
A friend of mine is a vet: a ell scientifically trained specialist, but he uses succesfuly acupuncture and somtimes homeopathy on animals.
How do you explain to a horse or a dog that it should not get better, because oall this is a placebo?

18 April, 2009 17:47
Blogger Le Canard Noir said…

More idiot ‘anonymous’ posters… As soon as you see ‘anonymous’ you know your head will soon hit the desk.

Skeptics, like Ben Goldacre, are not biases against alternative medicine, they are biased against nonsense and unevidenced assertions. Point out one area when Goldacre has shown clear bias.

So, you say your are “expert in science nor in alternative medicine”. That much is clear. “Millions of people can’t be wrong”. Your faith in human infallibility is rather touching. But I guess somewhat naive. Vets can be idiots too. And it does not require a placebo effect to encourage them. Just wishful thinking, demanding pet owners and a cash register.

18 April, 2009 18:57
Anonymous Anonymous said…

I said I am no expert in science nor in alternative medicine.
but any way, here we go: anybody who send an anonymous post is an idiot, vets are idiots, anybody who disagree with you are idiots.
Skeptics like Ben Goldrace and others are organising a witch hunt: but this is not the inquisition, and anybody who disagree with you will not be burnt, hanged or quartered.
I thought it was a good idea to debunk quacks, and on the internet you can see quiet a few of them; the problem is that what you are doing now is propaganda, you put everybody in the same bag: this is a dangerous line of thinking which put you on a par with the anti-semits, racist and other extremist. There are many alternative medicine practitioners (of osteopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine or homeopathy for example) who do a very good job, with integrity, vets who use acupuncture too are honest doctors with apparently more integrity that you demonstrate on your blog: and the millions of people who use their services and are well satisfied with it are the proof, I am not naive and it is not a matter of faith in human infalibility.
Let see if you have the integrity to post my (still anonymous) comment. It is my right ot post anonymously, as your facility permit it, it is my right to decide not to have my name on your website
Calling me and other an idiot for that reason is a very cheap shot who do not do you a great service

19 April, 2009 13:34
Blogger Le Canard Noir said…

So, now you compare me with a anti-semite and racist? Harsh. But typical of an idiot. I do not call you an idiot because you disagree with me, but because you are being idiotic.

Let me count the ways.

Almost all anonymous posters write idiotic things. There is a very close correlation. When you post anonymously, it makes it very difficult to then embark in discussions over differences of opinions. How do I know the last idiotic anonymous post was from the same idiot as the previous one? I do not. It makes debate hard and shows that the anonymous poster has, at the very least, low levels if intellectual integrity if they do not want to stand by what they said. I am not asking you to declare who you are, but to take an online identity, a pseudonym. Use a secure sign in, such as OpenID if you want to show real integrity. I only allow anonymous posts because, on the whole, they are funny, and make my case for me through displayed idiocy.

Now, there may well be “alternative medicine practitioners” who do a good job with integrity. But where are they? Can you show me one nutritional therapist who dares to stand up and be counted and condemn the murderous activities of Matthias Rath? Where are the good homeopaths who campaign to end the delusional and dangerous practices of homeopaths in Africa experimenting on AIDS patients and giving people sugar pills to prevent malaria? Where are they? Where are the chinese herbalists who are appalled at the routine adulteration of their products and are shouting loudly? A few perhaps. Where are the homeopaths and chiropractors beating back the stupidity in their profession regarding the routine condemnation of vaccinations? These people may think they are honourable and good but their professions are riddled with fundamental problems – basically a complete lack of critical self appraisal – and their silence is complicity with the worst and common excesses of their trade.

Homeopathic vets are an excellent example. Now, you could make a good case for giving humans a placebo therapy, like homeopathy. But on animals? There is not the slightest reason to think that giving animals magic water drops or sugar pills will do them any good. Such medicines are given to animals for the benefit of their deluded owners and the deluded/greedy vet. It is completely unethical and why it is tolerated is beyond me. It is basic animal cruelty, negligence and incompetence. That their owners are ‘satisfied’ with their animal’s treatment shows that they are probably not fit to keep them and provide basic care.

20 April, 2009 09:08
Anonymous Anonymous said…

Hello again, i am the idiot who posted anonymously.
You have the faith of the zelot, you are on a (almost religious) mission to rid the world of all quacks but your line of thinking is similar to a number of religious groups, totalitarian states and extremist entity: basically, it stands as “anybody who disagree with me is an idiot, anybody that disagree with me is against me” this line of thinking is old but still work well when implemented efficiently ( see the inquisition, the nazi, al Quaida and a few others)

I may be an idiot, but you suffer from delusions; you should see a psychiatrist.
Science is ridled with empiricism and it is not necesarily a bad thing, this is how many good scientist have used their intuition to direct their scientific project.
there are quacks in any profession, bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad scientist etc and you simply cannot put everybody in the same bag.
your faith in vaccination at all cost is a good example: there is no scientifc benefit into pumping into a 6 weeks old baby a potent cocktail of toxins and chemical, but it is well established that doctor lose contact and control other mothers and baby after 6 weeks.
I am certainly not against vaccination, but why not telling the truth?
the incresingly complex vaccine mixtures given in injection are presumed safe but not proven so: it is impossible to predict the effects of so many molecules on a human organism
every year, many people die from paracetamol poisoning: that makes paracetamol a dangerous drug, but you can buy it outside pharmacies.
Your little black and white world is very simplistic
As for the homeopath who treat malaria in africa, I assume a few of them are going to catch it (poetic justice)
Mathias Rath leaves in a fantasy world, but how many people listen to him? there should be a tightening of the law so that quacks laike Rath are prevented from offering dangerous advice as an alternative to cancer treatment, (the same for malaria and aids) but I disagree with your position on vets and doctors who use alternative medicine: they are before all clinician and must be able to observe the benefits of what they are doing; once a gain you cannot deny them a minimum of integrity.
On the continent, doctors can do a Ph D thesis on acupuncture or herbalism, or homeopathy, this must be conducted with some “scientific rigueur”to be accepted.
There is also a difference between clinical and scientific evidence; in the case of acupuncture, there are good papers highlighting the clinical benefit of acupuncture on pain for example, but little scientific evidence on how it work
The lack of scientific evidence does not necessarily means that ther is none to be found.

PS I tried to post as “Canard polychrome” with an Email address
but I keep on getting a message that my Email address contain illegal caracters
So due to my lack of computer know how, I have no choice but post anonymously again, at least until i solve this problem

21 April, 2009 07:25
Blogger Le Canard Noir said…

I think you need some more help understanding why you are an idiot.

Firstly, what makes you think that I am some sort of mission to rid the world of quacks? My blog is about pointing out the daftness of much quackery and its irresponsibilities. I would not ban it. Please point to evidence that I hold such a view. One form of idiocy is jumping to conclusions.

You say I suffer from delusions. Another form of idiocy is making bold assertions without backing them up with evidence. You have failed to point out one delusion that I hold. This is the idiocy of prejudiced thinking.

You also have an idiotic view of science. Yes, scientists may use intuition to guide their research, but only a bad scientist is ruled by it. Testing ideas against reality is the hallmark of science. Quackery suffers from an idiotic denial of this.

You are also stuffed full of the idiotic canards of the anti-vax movement. You say “There is no scientifc benefit into pumping into a 6 weeks old baby a potent cocktail of toxins and chemical”. Well, quite demonstrably there is. Vaccinated babies do not die, or are crippled, from say, Polio. I am not sure which country you live in. But in a civilised country with well developed socialised medicine, doctors do not lose contact with mothers.

The vaccines given to children are subject to massive scrutiny to ensure safety. In the UK we have an excellent adverse reaction reporting scheme. Trials have shown that the fears about MMR are completely unfounded. Only idiots keep on about it causing autism.

And you make my point about condemning the worst excesses as quacks. Where is the condemnation from the leaders of the quack trades? Contemptible silence. You also appear to be idiotically conflicted by the role of doctors. On one hand criticing them for injecting ‘untested potent cocktails of poisons” into babies – and then suggesting that they have a minimum of integrity when giving quack remedies. It would appear you use the idiots trick of compartmentalised thinking – flipping between contradictory ideas when it suits your agenda.

As with the scientific rigour of acupuncture. Perhaps you would like to read my recent post in fraud in Chinese medicine.

And then the idiot’s mantra “The lack of scientific evidence does not necessarily means that ther is none to be found.” Yes, but a lack of evidence may also mean the subject is nonsense. Quacks need to honestly look for that evidence rather than egocentrically rely on their instinct or the authority of higher idiots.

21 April, 2009 08:15
Anonymous jcairo said…

“Mathias Rath leaves in a fantasy world, but how many people listen to him? there should be a tightening of the law so that quacks laike Rath are prevented from offering dangerous advice as an alternative to cancer treatment, (the same for malaria and aids”

Well, there’s a full page ad in the local (Etobicoke, ON) freely delivered newspaper for a natural health store recommending pills based on his work…

This ad is opposite what appears to be a legitimate story on the same establishment, but really is just more free advertising

25 April, 2009 11:28
Anonymous Anonymous said…

Hello again, canard polychrome is back,
your damn thing still pretend that my email address has illegal caracter
Anyway First thing first: you think I am an idiot, I think you are an arrogant sod, but I am sure these terms have been mentioned to you in other posts; I went into badscienceblog and a few others and came across some fantastic (in a litteral sense) websites; the best are the american ones: if people are going to believe what is written there, they probably deserve what they are going to get.
Anyway, your selective attacks on my comments show your rigid reasoning, and that you have some kind of intellectual defect.
It is less dangerous for this world to have you running after quacks than to go into politic for example.
I think for example the cosmetic industry make as many fanciful claims as these quack, but nobody (including you) dare touching them, they have money and good lawyers
Ultimatly, it is going to be as difficult to prove that alternative medicine does not work as it is going prove that it does.
The large number of studies who appear to prove that acupuncture work for example is going to be hard to refute

best wishes

Canard polychrome

PS is it because I use a Mac with Firefo that I get some posting problems, or is there a bug in your website?

25 April, 2009 18:18
Blogger Le Canard Noir said…

Lots of assertions – little evidence to back up your statements.

When you do make a statement that can be verified it shows how little checking you are prepared to do.

e.g. cosmetics…

http://www.quackometer.net/blog/labels/cosmetics.html

25 April, 2009 20:24
Anonymous jcairo said…

“The large number of studies who appear to prove that acupuncture work for example is going to be hard to refute”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16125589

done

30 seconds tops

I’m winded

25 April, 2009 23:35
Anonymous Anonymous said…

Interesting correspondence, I’m surprised Walach took so much time to address this issue after your display of stubbornness. Of course you both enter into the dialog with your own belief systems, but having read some of Walach’s work I know him to be open and honest in his reporting – even when presumably data doesn’t equate to his own beliefs. Disappointed that you didn’t take him up on the challenge personally. What do you have to lose?

What is anecdote if not a piece of data – combined anecdotes make up most data sets after all. Although I’ve not used homeopathy much myself (I bruise easily and occasionally remember some arnica cream to apply – seems to make the bruise go away quicker and sometimes not appear in the first place). I did however work with a family who used homeopathy to treat teething and crying fits with there 14 month old son. I spent a few weeks living with them and saw what happened with and without the remedy (sometimes we would be out of the house and the stuff was forgotten). Although it’s possible confounding factors could be involved, for a baby the remedy is dissolved into water and syringed into the mouth – this could be soothing – but drinking water or milk did not have the same effect of the homeopathic treatment. I would also consider the parents feeling some relief once the medicine was given leading to some sort of positive result – but this doesn’t completely make sense as there was usually a period of 20-30 minutes before relief appeared to come to the child.
Again, this is just my limited experience, not enough to lead me to see a homeopath the next time I’m sick – but open enough to consider it if other conventional routes are not helping for certain illnesses. Perhaps that makes me a quack, I prefer to call it open-mindedness and a spirit of inquiry. I don’t expect all treatments to work – in the past I have been disappointed by prescription medication that didn’t do what it was supposed to as well as over the counter drugs and herbal supplements – but if something seems to work for me I will continue.
It appears to me that homeopathy works for some people, and so if they choose to continue who are you, we, anyone to tell them it’s not working. It may work for some, it may not work for others – just like most treatments out there – maybe it works for fewer people, maybe it functions on a more subtle level, still there are people finding relief so lets allow them to experience that with healthy skepticism and also appreciation for their experience – I hope we can manage that.

22 September, 2009 17:59
Blogger Le Canard Noir said…

No, an anecdote can never be data – by definition. Because, you can never evaluate what the anecdote means.

This is because an anecdote is not controlled. We can never know what variables, hidden or not, were important in the response. There are many reasons why people appear to improve after taking a remedy without that having anything to do with the remedy. If one person can be misled by, e.g. regression to the mean, the natural course of illness, placebo effects, then thousands can. That is why anecdotes can never add up to a data set.

On other points:

You accuse me of being stubbord! Did you see how Walach started the corerspondence? Lots of false assumptions and a rather condescending attitude I would say.

Secondly, it was my challenge being discussed. No one has taken me up on it. What have they got to lose?

22 September, 2009 18:37

On this theme…

1 Comment on An Academic Responds to the Homeopathy Challenge

  1. 1. Andy Lewis is curious as Harald Walach accused of having no idea about quantum physics. Despite this I see that it is Lewis who has no idea, at least Walach has published articles with some physical and mathematical. And where are the work of Lewis on quantum physics? Where does Lewis demonstrates his knowledge of quantum physics?

    2. On the subject of the blog, Lewis wants to show as a victim to Edzard Ernst. Forget Lewis, the criticisms made ​​by other acedémicos to the poor methodology in several of its systematic reviews of homeopathy, forget Lewis Edzard Ernst agree not to have completed training in complementary medicine but is advertised as a qualified professional in several studies. Even Biologist Ernst shows a complete lack of knowledge about that criticism, ridicule focuses more on that argument.

    3. Lewis forgets that the book “Trick or treat” was funded in part by the Sense About Science Is Where criticism from Lewis!

    4. Lewis never mentions that Edzard Ernst was a reviewer for the journal Homeopathy. This is relevant because it reflects that it probably did not understand Ernst articles.

    5. Edzard Ernst is the key point for Skeptikal Comitte Investigation and part of the multinacionalk Cfi.

    6. Ernst has its own magazine FACT (focus in alternative and complementary medicine). Articles in this juzados can not be good quality, unlike suffer from serious flaws explanatory publication bias, and use as part of Ernst ideology.

    7. Ernst is therefore an instrument of demagoguery on the part of leaders skeptical groups such as CSI, Cfi, SAS, GWUP and media as the same Wikipedia, EsoWatch, Rational Wiki as the main.

    8. Therefore Ernst is used in form a Propaganda.

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