How are we to understand the persistence of alternative medicine beliefs? Despite the absurdity of many of the claims of the various superstitious medicines, we see very entrenched positions amongst believers, hostility to criticism and an imperviousness to external mainstream views. Why do people fervently lock themselves into such positions?
Over the past few years, as I have researched the the world of alternative medicine , one of the most striking aspects I have found is how few progressive views there are amongst practitioners. Particularly in the world of homeopathy, it is difficult to find people who express beliefs about their practice that take on board the criticisms that have been made over many years, and attempt to reformulate their ideas in light of modern views of science and health.
Instead, we see people dogmatically fused to positions usually taken by the founders of their belief system, and absolute hostility to anyone who dares question them.
I would not be the first to suggest that believers in alternative medicine often display the traits of members of cults. I have been in correspondence recently with a chiropractic student in the UK who describes how the abusive approach of tutors and huge fees for an MSc course ensured that students felt ‘locked in’ to following a commercial approach that they might otherwise be highly doubtful of.
But, it might be argued, this situation might also apply to more general vocational degrees. For cult-like pressure to apply to students, other factors may be required.
Homeopathy demands a strictly alternative philosophical approach to mainstream medicine. There is nothing ‘complementary’ about its views. Indeed, it defines itself in opposition to what it calls ‘allopathy’ and in doing so creates a straw man of what medicine is today. It lives in an “Us versus Them” world. Followers slavishly follows the ‘teachings’ of its founder, Samuel Hahnemann with the only internal debates being about how to interpret his words. They are zealous in their need to tell people that they hold the One Truth about medicine and people who question that are branded as corrupt shills for the conspiratorial pharmaceutical companies.
Over the past year, I have been in conversation with perhaps the only homeopath I know that has been part of that world, has undertaken a full training, and yet decided to walk away and reject what it stands for. Her name is Wendy.
Wendy says she felt lost to her family for a while. Talking about these things is obviously painful to her, but her words are powerful in that they directly convey the trauma of her homeopathic experience. She has agreed for me to post some of her words. They are a small fraction of what I know she has to talk about, but they directly address this aspect of the cult-like nature of undertaking a homeopathic education. Wendy wishes that others, tempted to invest in a similar experience, have some insight into what others have gone through.
Wendy describes life inside the cult of homeopathy, a term she uses to describe the experience,
It is like living in a different culture. Have you read some of these historical crime novels where they try to get you into how people thought then? Margaret Doody is particularly good – Aristotle series. Completely different assumptions and completely different ‘knowledge’. Homeopaths live in the same space as you but are in a different world, and they ‘know’. To come out of that world is a complete revision of assumptions, thought systems and thinking style. It is very hard to do. I think I’ve been trying to say that for a long time. The larger the numbers have grown the easier it is for people to live in that world with others like them.
Wendy talks about how the training for homeopaths is vital for creating the cult-like mentality. Very early on she realised that questioning was highly discouraged. On her training, she says,
I wrote that I think that by month 3 or 4 I was buying into stuff I would not ordinarily buy into. I never bought into soul or vital force but I’d lost any ability to challenge it within 6 months. I did challenge homeopathic prophylaxis once, and did not get a satisfactory answer. In homeopathy it would be ‘judgemental’ to say anyone is doing it wrong or say an idea is useless, which is why anyone can do what they like. It would be judgemental to, for instance, campaign that prophylaxis has no backing in Hahnemann, or that the petrochemical miasm is just a figment of someone’s imagination. Remember [tutor] pointed it out – you can not criticise or challenge how people operate or what they do. If they say it works for them – anything goes. So you have this bunch of people, all working differently, solely around whatever ideas they get in their head. As we say – ‘whatever works for you’. And no one ever discusses their results. If they say it works, who are you to question.If they say it works for them – anything goes.
My critical abilities were silenced within the first year – not by others – but because it would be considered judgemental in that society.
The discouragement of critical thinking left Wendy with no tools to evaluate good from bad. The authority of the tutors was paramount and critical thought was replaced with a general ‘New Age’ approach to reasoning which appeared to dominate the British lay homeopathy mind-set.
It is as if my left-brain got disconnected for a long time. Ability to evaluate what ideas seem good to me and what looks like rubbish, went – including evaluation of my own ideas. The drama/wind-ups/illusions/influencing of the [tutor] period seems to have particularly geared there as I feel as I still had some common sense when I went in but it went quickly.
Self-belief – that your first stupid idea is the best one, is what happens – because you only see good results (and part of the American New Age philosophies emphasises the positive) there is loss of reflection and insight. This isn’t just the natural ‘looking for success’ that we all do – it is emphasised by the ‘positive-thinking’ philosophy.
I see it as a form of intellectual wanking – because there is no relating back to reality; and people now pay £40 an hour to their homeopath for that.
I have sometimes written the homeopathy might be able to reform itself into a more progressive form by recognising that its strengths lie in it being a form of counselling. Wendy takes issue with this,
You’ve said they might make counsellors – but they’re not trained as counsellors – they are doing amateur psychology based on reading a bit of Joseph Campbell or Jung or Louise Hay or whoever is fashionable this week. Once again, whatever the first idea in their heads is what get addressed with a remedy.
Wendy has found the current sceptical blogging about homeopathy on the internet a useful tool in ‘de-programming’ and re-engaging with a critical approach to examining the claims of homeopathy. I know she does not agree with all that I might write, but the fact that we discuss and debate is important for her.
It’s great to have a bit of sense in my head again and it’s good that you lads [the sceptics] disagree with one another sometimes because I get a chance to engage in some critical thinking and evaluation. Something that was missing for a long time.
Also, it was as if I got stuck there historically. When I came round I hadn’t moved on to 2009, I was still trapped in some issues that existed in the 90s but are no longer relevant. I feel as if I lost a decade. Somehow I got trapped in a world that wasn’t mine and it was very uncomfortable.
As I say, I now see homeopathy as the disease. I think it is a form of madness. I feel adversely affected. I feel as if I lost a decade. Somehow I got trapped in a world that wasn’t mine and it was very uncomfortable. I have had to work hard to rid myself of cult thinking and am still in that process but I feel that I have support and the Cult Information Centre are very useful.
I have never argued that homeopathy should be banned, or that people, in most circumstances, should be denied the choice of taking homeopathy. But it is testimony like this that makes me wonder what the limits of tolerance should be to such matters. Homeopathy appears to be unreformable, and it would appear to be unlikely that any progressive and modern form the practice could emerge from its current lay membership. Homeopathy is so strictly defined by its opposition to modern mainstream medicine that it will always lie at the fringes in a pseudoscientific bubble. It will always cling to its core dangerous beliefs of its universal claim to the True Medical Knowledge and its panacea-like approach to the world. In doing so, it must attack and denounce alternatives – such as scientific medicine – without any form of compromise.
I believe that understanding homeopathy requires a mental model that describes it as a pseudo-medical and superstitious cult. This model best describes its practices and the behaviours of its members. The cult model explains why virtually no homeopaths have condemned the murderous practice of using sugar pills to treat fatal diseases like HIV and malaria. The first treatment Hahnemann tried was for malaria. There is no question that he could have been wrong. It is why we see such a strong and universal anti-vaccination stance among homeopaths. Hahnemann believed mainstream medicine was the cause of disease, not its cure. The dogma persists in the thinking of the cult.
It is worth noting, in this light, that its practices are still provided by the NHS and some universities still teach it as fact. Homeopaths are lobbying government to make it statutorily regulated. Any decisions made in these areas need to take into account the cult-like dark side of homeopathy if people are to be protected from its harms.
Interesting stuff. The final three paragraphs get to the heart of the matter I think. Homeopaths aren’t interested in their quackery sitting alongside real medicine.
Given that, the obvious question is why they are allowed to lie to the public? If I set up in business selling sugar pills I claimed would do thing they wouldn’t, Trading Standards etc would rightly be down on me like a ton of bricks. Yet simply by calling myself a homeopath, this practice is apparently legitimised. This is such an obvious and odd disconnect, I cannot fathom it.
Homeopaths seem determined to force a conflict between their nonsense and real medicine. More fool them.
Interesting anecdote where one person’s opinion is presented as substantive evidence supporting your beliefs into homeopathy. Fortunately there are people who have been able to experience both sides and able to know how each works and see that there is extremism on both sides, which includes this blog. Luckily there are more rationally based minds than those who post on here that are making the decisions that effect our lives.
Duhhh? (And, by the way, it should be “affect”, not “effect”.)
A fascinating read. Wendy’s experience seems to be very similar to Karla McLaren’s account of the many difficulties that she faced when attempting to leave the New Age Culture:
Look at the cult of the “skeptics” of which this blog is the prime example. Beancounters all, who refuse to believe in something that cannot be seen with the eye, or felt with the fingers, but are ready to defend such unproved concepts as dark matter. Bookkeepers, who are incapable of thinking beyond classification, enumeration and calculation, engaged in 13th Century monkish work and enamoured by discussions on how many angels will fit on the point of a needle.
They call themselves “Skeptics in the Pub”, which immediately conveys the ideas espoused – the raving and ranting of a bunch of alcoholic drunks, unable to perceive anything beyond the glass they hold in the hands. Inebriated to the max, they pontificate on subjects they claim to have “researched”. That research amounts to little else than reading blogs of people equally inebriated and expounding similar theories on a subject none of them understands. They may be pondering over the “meta-analysis” of Shang, who “meta” analysed all of 8 studies out of 120.
On such a meagre basis of research, they come to cult-like conclusions, endosred by the same group of drunks and then pretend they have finally given homoeopathy the dagger in the back, they deem it deserves. I say, Andy, keep posting these inanities. You do the homoeopaths a favour, like Goldacre, Colquhoun, that turkey and Ernst, the greatest of all obfuscators. You know why? You keep us in the news, the exact opposite what you want to achieve – obscurity. So yeah, keep it coming, because thanks to you and your ilk, there is an upsurge in homoeopathy – people want to find out what the fuzz is about and end up coming to our doors, and staying too.
Thanks for the free adverts over the years.
And of course, Kaviraj, writing in that manner does not make you look like a dangerous loon.
I wonder if wakeupplease would consider Kaviraj an “extremist”?
By all means come along to Oxford Skeptics in the Pub tomorrow. Two things you might notice: firstly, I will not be drinking as I have to drive home; secondly, the talk is on how drug companies have misled people about Tamiflu.
This does not fit into your cultish homeopathic narrative of what sceptics do. We only talk about homeopathy as it is a great teaching tool into how people mislead over how effective their treatments are.
Jeez! How many times do we have to tell you idiots?
We do not “believe” in dark matter: We believe there is a reasonably good case for it and that it’s the best explanation highly qualified, experienced and peer reviewed specialists have till a better one comes along. You know this; we skeptics have told you true believers this many, many times, yet you persist in parading your feigned ignorance in order to make a bogus point.
And, yes: We do not believe in anything we can not walk around, kick, poke with a biro, measure or detect in some way. How do you decide what to believe?
Absolutely. Here, here. Nice response to a clouded judgement.
So that’s why homeopath hospitals are losing NHS funding? Dream on!
You need to go take a course of “Trick or Treatment 30C”, three times a day. I’ll send you some. (For $25.)
It does help to understand the originals of modern UK lay homeopathy. Peter Morrel is not an unbiased observer but this essay http://www.homeoint.org/morrell/articles/pm_maugh.htm on Thomas Maughan is useful. Maughan is regarded by many as the founder of UK lay homeopathy as is currently understood.
“So why was Maughan so influential? Probably because he made a profound, sustained and intense impact upon his students. He was totally certain and self-possessed, knew them inside-out, impressed them with his knowledge and skill and lured them into a life of secret study and promise of wondrous achievements. He could get to the heart of a case and a person very quickly. In this sense certainly he was a cult-figure and `demonised’ his students, taking them over completely. But it was in the end apparently a totally benign and fatherly adventure. He is rumoured also to have bedded many of his female students in the process and this was seen (by men?) as an amusing aspect both of the man and the Druid teaching. It was as though he captured them and secretly imparted to them a bright light they had never seen before. Or perhaps he nurtured them into finding their own `inner light’ so they could find themselves in a self-transforming way. They willingly followed in his footsteps and after his death did everything in their power to create conditions wherein they could do to others what he had done to them – pass on that light, transmit those powerful insights about health and healing. Perhaps he ruthlessly dominated his students. There is certainly an element of that, but it could not have lasted had he not had so much knowledge and skill to offer them all: his encyclopaedic knowledge of homoeopathy and his great skill in dealing with people. These must be his ultimate legacies for homoeopathy itself.”
Crikey! And did rise again after three days?
If anyone wants to see and understand the most sophisticated type of “cult training,” you simply have to look at or experience training to be a medical doctor. Keep the kids sleepless…keep their blinders on biochemistry, while ignoring the person. And if a person’s culture is different, treat him/her with the same drugs anyway.
And what happens when medical students begin to question the medical paradigm, the compost hits the fan. Questioning polypharmacy (a practice which is commonly conducted, despite virtually NO evidence base) in a hospital could lead to expulsion.
Mr. Duck’s weak editorial is laughable. Now, you’ve created a straw woman…how clever.
Thank you Dana. I would suggest that a doctor is a member of a cult for not questioning biochemistry in the same way that a bus driver is in a cult for not considering the alternative of flying carpets.
Dana, my wife studied medicine before switching to chemistry. Medical training bears no relation at all to your characterisation of it.
The fundamental difference between modern medicine and homeopathy is that modern medicine has a credible answer to the question “how does that work, then?” Your response is “because Hahnemann said so” – we find that unpersuasive especially since we have found out one or two things about the nature of matter since 1796.
“And if a person’s culture is different, treat him/her with the same drugs anyway.”
And why would someone’s culture being different affect the effectiveness of medical treatments? Is there any scientific evidence that it does?
And if a person’s culture is different, treat him/her with the same drugs anyway.
So, glad to see you return here. You left quite a few loose ends. I’ll pick those up later when I have some time. Meanwhile;
Please supply appropriate references to sustain a claim that the efficacy of drugs is affected by a person’s “culture”.
Perhaps “Dana” would care to tidy up a problem that attentive readers may recall he set himself by his contributions at Wikipedia:
User “DanaUllman” said;
To clarify, homeopaths do NOT use “dilutions” of anything! We use “potencies,” and our medicines are “potentized,” that is, they undergo sequential dilution, vigorous shaking, dumping out of 99% or 90% of the original liquid in the same glass vial or in a new glass vial, and the repeating of that process. The vast majority of medicines that are sold over-the-counter are in the 3rd to 12th potency (3X/3C to 12X/12C). The more a substance is potentized, the less number of molecules of the original substance remain.
User “DanaUllman” also said;
Once again, I never said that 12C means 1 drop in 12 test tubes; it is MORE than that (and it has no relationship to an ocean of anything, except perhaps a “homeopathic ocean”). 12C uses 1% of sequential test tubes. I think that you and 88 are thinking that we need to increase by a 100-fold the amount of water in each dilution. No, that is not the case, and here is where you, 88, and Oliver Wendell Holmes have misunderstood homeopathy (the good news here is that YOU are getting clear of the facts, while Holmes prided himself on never talking to or consulting a homeopath, proving that ignorance is bliss). After doing the 1:100 dilution, the drug manufacturer dispenses with 99% of the water and adds more water into the test tube (some homeopathic manufacturing practices use the same test tube and other use a new test tube). Do you get it now? What I now want to know is how did you come to believe your statement above: [SNIP: COPIED BELOW] In NO homeopathic literature has it ever said or implied that a larger container is needed for each stage of the potentization process. FINALLY…you’re realizing how much you (and others) have misconstrued homeopathy.
User RDOlivaw said;
“After 12 times the container would be 100^12 (1000000000000000000000000) times bigger than your test tubes. If your test tube holds a decilitre, then the equivalent test tube size to get the same concentration in, from the same starting amount, is 10^23 litres.”
Charles Darwin said;
“The solution, moreover, in these experiments was diluted in the proportion of one part of the salt to 2,187,500 of water, or one grain to 5000 oz. The reader will perhaps best realise this degree of dilution by remembering that 5000 oz. would more than fill a 31-gallon cask; and that to this large body of water one grain of the salt was added”
1. Does Charles Darwin’s description of a dilution equivalence resemble that of RDOlivaw or “DanaUllman”?
2. Were Darwin’s dilutions succussed appropriately as is essential for homeopathic solutions?
I love you (as a human – I’m married 🙂 I think you are a perfect example of what a human being is capable of. To recognize that your mind is being subverted and then to rise from this mire – it required a truly heroic spirit.
The unknown is a powerful magnet and we humans all too often fall for those who promise a simple explanation. It’s very encouraging that despite this we also can preserve our critical thinking to call bulllshit.
Ah, excellent article, Dr. Lewis, very entertaining indeed. It was almost enough to get me to go to the cupboard and toss out all my little sugar pills! But then some mysterious force stopped me, and strange questions began to burn themelves into my brain!
Why are we ignoring the amazing psychological impact of this mysterious medicine? How is it that this little cult of homeopathy has spread so far and wide, not only to engulf the minds of those you briefly mention, but also Nobel prize winning scientists like Josephson and Montagnier. And yes, what about Montagnier? Did he not used the patented system of renowned virologist Jacques Benveniste, designed to detect the electromagnetic signals (EMS) from the crystalline aqueous “nanostructures” other highly credentialed material scientists, like Demangeat, Rao, Sukul, Roy, Tiller, Elia, Baumgartner, Witt, Bell, Schwartz have detected, just to name a few, all academics, none homeopaths, many Heads of their Depts. at places like Penn State, Stanford, University of Arizona.
This is a strange elixir indeed. If this is some kind of delusion, it ranks in its powers with that of Mesmerism, what btw, Hahnemann recognized as manipulating the same biomagnetic force as homeopathy!
OMG, I can feel its pull on me now!
Dr. Lewis, listen to me, please, this is a profound discovery you have made, that by means of nothing more than persuasion and a drop or two of water, spread out in alcohol and splashed on a hundred little sugar pills, and only one of these placed under the tongue, we homeopaths can fool the great minds and masses of science and the modern world, heal the sick, correct chronic maladies, defy the deadly mosquito, halt terminal disease and even appear to stop epidemics, such as leptospirosis recently in Cuba with 4.8 MILLION doses!
If this is due to some psychogenic force as you seem to imply, then why is it then that I cannot find some text elucidating it? Where is all the science for it, the tests, double blind trials, peer reviewed reports published in prestigious magazines proving the placebo effect and informing the world of its great psychogenic powers, so tht we all may partake of it wonders?
All I find are these strange reports that have to be spurious, must be incorrect, claiming homeopathy has been seen to act biochemically in vitro! No! This cannot be so, unless we have yet to unravel the ideomotor placebo force, as Dr. Amazing Randi suggests . . Or perhaps a magnetic fluid that pours from t he mind of the homeoapth, how can the placebo junket affect blood cells in a petri dish? Please help me with this psychokinesis, Dr. Lewis. Teach me! Perhaps we could use these amazing powers of persuasion to avert getting sued for libel and having our domains taken away!
John Benneth, PG Hom.- London (Hons.)
PS: Save me a seat at the Pub, and by me a pint, I’ll gladly pay you back in services . .
The answer to why it has spread far and wide is usually (though incorrectly) attributed to P. T. Barnum.
“How is it that this little cult of homeopathy has spread so far and wide,” asks John Benneth.
Yes, amazing isn’t it? I frequently wonder the same about scientology and the moonies but, thankfully, there are a few cult survivors like Amy Scobee, Diane Benscoter and now Wendy to help us understand how it can happen that perfectly sane and reasonable people can apparently lose their capacity to think critically in a very short time, once they’re in the clutches of one these cults. Some of the hostile responses to Wendy’s account here would seem to confirm this.
That being the case, it is obviously hard for cultists to grasp even simple truths that are glaringly obvious to the rest of us, such as the fact that just because a lot of people believe in something doesn’t mean it’s true.
and the “amazing psychological impact” is not being ignored. It is widely known in conventional scientific circles as “the placebo effect”. You can find plenty of texts that deal with this. You mentioned it a couple of times above, so you’ve clearly heard of it.
And John, please provide citations for any studies that show sugar pills can “correct chronic [i.e., non self-limiting] maladies”.
Regarding the application of homeopathy in Cuba:
“The homeopaths began their “vaccination” campaign right before the peak of the largest spike in the fluctuating pattern and then claimed credit for the “breaking” of the outbreak, even though it would be expected that there would be a drastic decline in incidence right after the peak, just based on the pattern of previous years in the recent past…”
Both Andy Lewis and Mr. Benneth are mentioned in the article.
Thank you for this blog post.
I have been reading the blogs of the skeptic community for a long time now but have never felt moved (or maybe qualified enough) to comment until now.
“I feel as if I have lost a decade”… As someone who fully trained as an acupuncturist, who then also came to realize the absurdity of all he had been taught, I can relate completely to this statement. I have even said these very words to friends and family over the past two years. I am thirty one years old and it feels like what should have been the most active period of my life was squandered on delusions and childish new-age myths.
Obviously, the way homeopathy is described as a cult in this post could be equally applied to most or even all alternative therapies and the entire New Age movement as a whole. But the individual ideas perpetuated by alternative medicine (the memory of water, chi or whatever) aren’t the core issues. The problem of the New Age movement and its philosophy is the same as all religion’s: it is its entire relationship to knowledge itself.
In New Age circles (at least the ones I moved in) you always try and find a bridge between the other persons descriptions of reality and/or the “techniques” they use and your own. This is considered the most compassionate and non-judgmental thing to do when discussing ideas. Why? because most New-Agers ideas about reality and their therapies, as well as being passed down from various guru characters, are mixed in with a whole plethora of their own intuitions, personally inspired (and need I say “unvalidated”) insights. To criticize someones ideas about the world in this context is to automatically criticize the individual who came up with the idea, and this goes against the entire philosophy of the New Age movement. This is why acupuncturists and homeopaths can have completely different metaphysical systems of anatomy and physiology as well as totally different approaches to treatment and never actually argue. This is why they respond to scientific criticism so strongly, its like the content isn’t anywhere near as relevant as the sentiment expressed by criticism itself.
Also, (and this is where the cult like behavior begins to creep in on a more personal rather than political level) anyone who after having learned the particular philosophy and systems, begins to question and criticizes the dogma, is seen as having “issues” or is accused of being closed minded.
Scarily, no one has to actually do this to you, you do it to yourself. For years I assumed that there was something wrong with me for not quite getting the vacuous answers to my questions about chi, or that all the turmoil I created in my life by following these insidious teachings were due to my “spiritual” failings.
It took me two tumultuous years to deconstruct all the garbage I had crammed into my brain, to get over all the New-Age guilt and get myself to a place where I can really contribute something of value to the world. And now in exactly one month from today, my first day of studying Medicine begins. (I’m in Australia if the date confuses you).
Thanks for the post and the blog Andy. Don’t ever stop.
Wendy, you have my utmost respect.
What an interesting contribution. Thank you for sharing your valuable insight, Sam and good luck with your studies.
Great blog and some excellent comments.
“Dr. Lewis, listen to me, please, this is a profound discovery you have made, that by means of nothing more than persuasion and a drop or two of water, spread out in alcohol and splashed on a hundred little sugar pills, and only one of these placed under the tongue, we homeopaths can fool the great minds and masses of science and the modern world”
John Benneth, let us remind ourselves where the dangerous idiocy of the power of persuasion can lead even without little sugar pills to validate the ritual.
Warning. Don’t follow this link unless you really want to see where idiocy leads.
Recognise that place, John?
Also, a comment mainly to the non-idiots reading this blog.
There are very few tests that actually show whether the homeopathic placebo has much power, but the simple reality is that most of the reported effects of homeopathy are not placebo effect at all.
They comprise regression to the mean, spontaneous recovery, mis-diagnosis, biased reporting and outright lies. When I first started interacting with homeopaths 7 or 8 years ago I simply had not expected the amount of flagrant lying and misrepresentation that I would come across.
By the time you have picked your way through all that mess there is not much scope for a placebo effect in real physical diseases. The placebo may appear quite powerful for the worried well who have nothing really wrong in the first place, but it’s not going to fix your malaria or your cancer or your septicaemia. What homeopathy will give you with real diseases is continued suffering or death.
It’s just as well that in the wealthy West they rarely get their hands on genuinely ill people without conventional medicine also being in play at the same time. But their desire to play doctor on the Third World poor where there is little access to real medicine and they stand as barriers to such access is what makes them despicable.
Well said, Mr Monkey!
I’ve had cause to grumble at critics of homeopathy saying “it’s only the placebo” effect, while ignoring lying, fraud and the other effects you mention. Those who say “it’s only placebo” inadvertantly praise homeopathy even though they usually aim to condemn it.
One thing we can be sure of: it’s not the remedies!
I wonder if the general message of the piece (about homeopathy being cult-like) perhaps also explains some of its commercial success; perhaps long-term participation in this cult makes one a more plausible liar. And it’s so much easier to lie if one believes one’s own lies. I think Messrs Karivaj, Ullman and Beneth show that; they are certainly monumental liars and frauds of the first order, but they wouldn’t recognise that in themselves. (Partly because they wouldn’t recognise the truth if it was a large sledgehammer with “TRUTH” painted on it in flaming letters, hitting them over their froth-filled heads.)
I was trying to find a way to address that double-edged quality of calling homeopathy a placebo, but you’ve got closer to what I was trying to get at.
When homeopaths say that critics call it ‘only a placebo’ there is an implicit assumption that both sides seem to share that the placebo effect is quite powerful. Ben Goldacre has been prone, I think, to over-dramatising its potency, maybe that’s because the tip of his own professional medical iceberg is psychiatric and psychosomatic disease.
This does tend to play into the Homs hands by accepting that the effects they see are in a sense ‘real’, i.e. a consequence of their intervention even if not specifically due to their pills. In part I think this is motivated by a desire to be polite and non-confrontational and also to give respect to the validity of your opponents’ honestly reported experience. I think there is plenty of evidence that homs’ experience is grossly dishonestly reported which conceals even the normal effects of regression to the mean etc, which in turn stand to the fore ahead of any actual placebo effect.
There seem to be occasional attempts to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20129180"?play down the placebo effect, as well as claims that the placebo effect in homoeopathy is somehow special.
Why has it spread far and wide?
Because anyone can do it, the raw materials are cheap cheap cheap, the mark-up is fantastic, no one keeps an eye on you, you can do it at home, it’s backed by a well-oiled marketing machine, your target customers are the sick and desperate, most people think it’s natural herbalism…
But most pertinently, you can charge upwards of £60 per hour!
Here in Germany, one reason it has spread so remarkably is (according to der Spiegel, Aug 2010) because it has successfully targeted a niche market of middle to upper middle class (especially females/mothers).
Medical insurance companies will do anything to keep that demographic happy and although they know perfectly well that homeopathy is bogus, they are happy to “buy” popularity by funding it. Of course they draw the line at paying for it as a treatment for people who are actually sick. They don’t want to be paying any extra hospital bills or involved in negligent homicide charges.
The laws in Germany have been specifically written to make homeopathy exempt from the normal testing standards, yet compel insurance companies to fund it.
Homeopathic lobby groups are also lobbying the EU for similar exemptions, and pushing to be legally afforded direct access to doctors and other medical bodies throughout Europe.
So why don’t idiots like John Benneth and Dana Ullman first try convincing their own lobby groups of all that “compelling evidence”, before bothering others with it? Sorry guys, but your own lobby thinks you’re backing a loser with that approach.
Reads like Popper.
“I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, open your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirmed instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refuse to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still “un-analyzed” and crying aloud for treatment.”
By coincidence the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer (V35N1) has two articles that offer some insight into the cult of homeopathy. Jonathan Smith divides faith into 3 categories: Empirical, Unfalsifiable and Emotional. The skeptic’s view of homeopathy is the first and the practitioner/believer is the second. They can never be reconciled. Gary Barker believes some people are hardwired to believe in the paranormal. His claim applies here in that some people can never think scientifically and this may apply to homeopathy. It is certainly reflected in Wendy’s testimony about her slow recovery of critical thinking faculties. For some people, this faculty can never be achieved. I believe the first case is the greater problem. Anecdotal evidence will always provide more “proofiness” for homeopathy than will evidence showing the nothing that it actually is.
I believe the continued scrutiny of homeopathic claims, the willingness by skeptics to speak out on the subject and a thorough vetting of effectiveness by funding agencies will reduce the homeopathic market. The severe budget shortfalls in governments worldwide present an opportunity to eliminate ineffective programs. This should be communicated to the skeptics’ respective government representatives.
The charge by believers that skeptics have faith is true, but type 1, not type 2. This is a clear distinction with enormous ramifications. There is progress with Empirical faith, but not with Unfalsifiable faith. Homeopathy will be around a hundred years from now and the structure and basis will the same as it is now.
It seems our favourite bald-headed Californian homeopath has decided to run in, shout at us and run away again. I do wish he would stay and answer the questions he keeps ignoring.
Meanwhile, John Benneth seems have have turned up, had a bit of a drunken rant, soiled himself and slumped unconscious in the corner. Could someone open the window? It’s a bit smelly.
Great article, and I admire your courage and honesty Wendy.
One of the most eloquent of scientists has written well on scepticism, Carl Sagan: http://www.csicop.org/si/show/wonder_and_skepticism/
Keep up the good work Andy.
John Benneth absolutely revels in the fact that 2 Nobel prize winners believe in homeopathy. We all know that it gives him a sense of righteousness by association. Would anyone care to have a guess at the number of past Nobel prize winners who think its a load of old sh!te? 101 have been awarded so far in Phisiology and Medicine.
As Josephson’s Nobel prize was for Physics (and is therefore as relevant to the clinical efficacy of homeopathy as my prize for ‘best animal outfit’ at a recent fancy dress party) it could quite possibly be that 100 Nobel prize winners would be entirely against his point of view.
Just a thought
I think it has been commented before that, similarly, many of the scientists who adhere to Creationism are from fields well separated from biology.
Smart people can be really stupid when addressing matters outside their core competence.
“…it could quite possibly be that 100 Nobel prize winners would be entirely against his point of view.”
Montagnier presented his research at a meeting of Nobel laureates earlier this year. According to reports, “fellow Nobel prize winners — who view homeopathy as quackery — were left openly shaking their heads”.
Montagnier has been a little reticent about mentioning homooepathy in connection with this reasearch. His original 2009 paper didn’t mention homoeopathy, and apparently neither did his presentation tothe Nobe laureates. According to the Sunday Times (July 4th, 2010):
“He did not mention homeopathy by name in his presentation. Although the scientific mechanisms he described were similar to those said to underpin homeopahty, Montagnier suggested their main potential use lay in detecting infective organisma rather than curing the diseases they cause.
“His research was questioned by Professor Ivar Giaever, a Norwegian biophysicist who won the Nobel prize in 1973, who described it as “nonsense”. He said: “This work has all the features of homeopathy. But the reality is that you can never induce a structure in water or make it remember things. It is a liquid and it moves around all the time so it cannot retain information or structures.””
“As Josephson’s Nobel prize was for Physics”
It’s irrelevant but not because it was for physics and I think it’s both unnecessary and dangerous to dismiss it on those terms.
Unnecessary, because the ‘physics’ Josephson comes up with in defence of homeopathy (via “water memory”) is easily refutable drivel.
Dangerous, because physics is part of the basic science which tells us that homeopathy CTs are futile and unethical and shouldn’t be carried out in the first place.
A friend of a friend (I never met her) recently died of a disease which was curable by western medication, but she decided to only use a homeopathic remedy.
I’m sure there are so many tragic cases of this kind of thing happening.
I find homeopathy disgusting for all of the obvious reasons and it annoys me when I meet people who believe in it despite understanding what it is. People say things like “yes I know it defies science, but just open your mind; it works. It cures cattle!”. People who say things like this are idiots. I need to strengthen my case so I can make them change their minds!
Does anyone have links to similar cases where people have died from homeopathy or links to disprove cases that appear to “prove” that homeopathy works?
“Does anyone have links to similar cases where people have died from homeopathy”
“or links to disprove cases that appear to “prove” that homeopathy works?”
That’s more difficult: that individual cases don’t prove that homeopathy works is refutable on purely logical grounds:
Fundamental physical, chemical and medical/biological science is more than sufficient to make direct testing of homeopathic remedies completely unnecessary (and actually worse than useless), but since quite a lot of it has been done and is often cynically or naïvely misused by homeopaths…:
“that individual cases don’t prove that homeopathy works is refutable on purely logical grounds”
Heh! Speaking of logic…
There are many very good articles in the homeopathy category at sciencebasedmedicine.org too: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?cat=5
Two more recent cases of death caused by treatment of real illnesses with homeopathy:
Ah yes well here are 783,936 cases attributible to conventional medicine. And that is just one years worth!!!!
Thanks for pointing that out. Where are the stats for homeopathy? Oh that’s right, homeopaths don’t track that kind of stuff and dead people write no testimonials.
See, when people die in medicine it usually means something went wrong. The victims of homeopathy died when their treatment was carried out exactly as recommended. In the stories I linked to, the mistake the homeopaths made no technical errors at all. And people died.
See the difference? (Didn’t think so.)
“Ah yes well here are 783,936 cases attributible to conventional medicine. And that is just one years worth!!!!”
And Gary Null is ignorance and ignorance is bliss!!!
That number includes patients who were going to die without medical intervention. A small percentage die of the medical intervention, but a much larger percentage survive their otherwise terminal illness as a result of that medical intervention.
If not here is an example:
If you have appendicitis you will die without medical intervention. If you have a life saving appendicectomy, there is a small risk you will die as a result of avoidable complications. Your death will be included in that statistic.
If you rely on homoeopathy to treat your appendicitis, you will not die of a complication of the homoeopathic remedy, you will die of appendicitis.
See how this works?
Sorry everyone. I have to ask again of Dullman and other supporters of fraudulent medicine to provide the cases. The fully documented, unequivocal cases where homeopathy has cured anything correctly diagnosed; in particular non-self-limiting conditions. But self-limiting would do just as well. It’s all very well making the claims, making the sales pitch, but no-one has yet actually provided the documented cases – and they’ve had in excess of 200 years to do this. That’s because there are none – not a single case of recovery that couldn’t be more plausibly ascribed to something else. Has anyone ever seen a homeopath’s patient records? Do they exist? No-one hold their breath, except for more obfuscation, deluded drivel and general dishonesty from homeopaths.
Never mind there is no mechanism in the real world by which homeopathy could possibly work, if charlatans like Dullman and others were so sure then they would come up with thousands if not millions of cases. Well, there aren’t any and it’s easy money taking advantage of desperate, vulnerable or ignorant people, and those who simply “hope for the best”. Homeopaths will never provide case examples because to do so would destroy their nice little earner.
And this is where I disagree with Andy Lewis. Homeopathy is medical fraud, and should be treated just like any other form of fraud. In fact I do wonder why others aren’t asking for the same evidence just to make sure they aren’t discussing something that has no basis in the real world. It’s all very well assuming… but so far nothing is forthcoming. The only aspect of homeopathy that has any real world basis is the taking of money under false pretences.
Until the cases are there to be examined, which they won’t be, any other argument about homeopathy is pointless and irrelevant.
Wasn’t the reason the Laing foundation funded the chair that ’eminent scientist’ Edzard Ernst holds/held in the first place due to the success of homeopathy and aren’t the Laing foundation and the University now removing the funding for that same chair.
No, it was because Sir Maurice Laing wanted Ernst to carry out proper research to find out which alternative therapies actually worked. Of course, most advocates of alternative medicine find it difficult to understand this, most likely because they don’t care whether or not it works as long as people like them can make money out of it.
The Laing foundation money has now run out, I believe, but this does not seem to be because of displeasure with Ernst’s research. Far from it, more funding was in fact provided after ten years of Ernst’s work. See here, for example:
Bruce – your post has been removed because it was off topic. My blog is not a general purpose notice board that you can use to pick fights on whatever topic you choose.
Let me spell this out to you Bruce. You are treating this facility like a general forum. it does not matter if you are right or are wrong (although I think you are being a prat), this place is for discussing the above post.
Wow this blog is great – Third post today ! (thankyou for indulging me).
I have my medical education to thank for inducting me into the finest achievement of the human mind, the scientific method. Along the way I’ve picked up some useful stuff about medicine, but far more useful in a general way has been to become a scientist. To be able to look at life rationally, to how to think analytically. This method of thought needs to be taught. It does not come naturally to many (nor myself to begin with). What really P’s me off about CAM types is that they think because of this, skeptics can’t do the “wholistic” thing like they can. As a GP I do both. I’m an expert in the person and their illness, and at the same time protect them actively from BS where necessary. One of my heroes is Richard Feynmann, surely mentioned somewhere on this excellent site. Just look at one or two of his YouTube files and wonder at the clarity achievable by the human mind. And he certainly wasn’t a “dry” scientist. Feynmann on the beuty of the flower … pure magic. (no pun intended).
The history of homeopathy varies from country. The history of modern lay homeopathy in the UK includes druidism, radionics, astrology and in the background, the spectre of theosophy. In the US, homeopathy was synonymous with Swedenborgism for many years and modern US lay homeopathy has a very strong New Age influence. If homeopathy in the anglophone world is not cultic, it certainly bears the imprint of occultism.
Many claims are made for homeopathy in India. But I have been in the consulting rooms of homeopaths qualified in India and seen the portraits of Hahnemann, bedecked in flowers. I have seen the genuflections made to pictures of the pictures of the long dead “masters”. It has been put to me more than once (by Indian secularists) that homeopathy in India exists now because of religious chauvinism. It is strongly associated with conservative Hindu elements. The same elements that tried to introduce astrology as a subject of study in universities.
Perhaps, the teaching of homeopathy to trained medics is different from that given to lay homeopaths. Perhaps, the training is different in the French and German traditions.
Just came upon this excellant piece whilst Googling CAMs in relation to health reforms. I am REALLY scared that “any willing provider” is going to open a whole can of untested worms on a public desparate for anything the media has to advertise – regardless of its worth and of wether it turns people away from life-saving medicine. This from http://www.theyworkforyou.com
David Tredinnick (Bosworth, Conservative)
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. If he is going to get more choice for patients in treatment options, he will have to expand integrated health care so that herbal medicine, acupuncture, back treatments and homeopathy are more widely available across the country. Will he look at the American model of the consortium of 44 academies that has been considering integrated health care? Can he reassure me that his NHS commissioning board will not block options for integrated health care across the country?
Reasons why CAM will not blossom under GP comissioning:
1. We will have less money, as I said, this concentrates the mind. Prescribing budgets have been effectively managed by professional pharmaceutical (independent) advisers removing medicines that don’t work (even “allopathic” ones) from local formularies. Analogously clinical commissioning will come under similar scrutiny.
2. Our duty of care to our patients (plural) trumps individual patient “want” (as opposed to need) when deciding whether to fund the local quack or pay for some more cancer medicines.
3. It really does look (so far) like we will have proper local decision making in future regarding commissioning, and will not come under pressure from DOH/HMG to influence what is provided in terms of services outside core clinical areas. The “choice” agenda will boil down (locally) to a choice of providers or a legitimate service, those providers having been commissioned rationally. Patients will NOT be free to choose “treatment” with somebody we have not commissioned.
I shouldn’t worry so much. The changes will improve matters not make them worse. Clinicians will be making such decisions as opposed to politicians who (a) don’t understand about clinical evidence and (b) have one eye on the polls. To his credit this is exactly Andrew Lansley’s stated intention. It really is “hands off”.
We all want to live in a world where we all get along. I think that the cult bonds under pressure from the scientists. The more we ridicule them and create a paradigm of “us and them”, the thicker their bubble becomes.
Their paradigm of “positive thinking”, “non-judgment”, “whatever works for you” etc is reinforced by our rejection of these ideals. Unfortunately, these are cancers growing on the organs of empathy. Empathy and compassion are as strong as any human desire or emotion.
When you aren’t a realist, it’s easy to abuse the natural pleasure of empathy and compassion by warping these emotions into whatever you want to extend the effect. I think that when you are confronted by realistic empathy, it shocks you out of the cult better than facts or challenge.
These people are looking for a good life and a community more than anything. If we can concentrate on human solidarity and treat our cultist friends as long-lost siblings instead of dangerous mutants perhaps we can move far quicker along.
From the new Communications Director at the JREF “I learned quickly that being right and having a strong argument is not enough to win people to your side. Well-defined logic is not how most people decide what to think, how to vote, or what brand to buy. To change minds and behavior, even the best ideas have to be communicated in ways that appeal to the central values and aspirations of ordinary people.
I think that’s a big problem for skeptics who want to make a change in the world, because the way the general public thinks about skepticism runs counter to some basic values many people hold. I’m excited about finding new ways to talk about what we do that taps into people’s common values instead of setting them up as obstacles.”
Rick Ross, one of the world’s most prominent anti-cult activists and deprogrammers recently outlined his entire approach to deprogramming in a paper.
We need more stories like this, databases and testimonies of people who are ex-homeopaths, ex-truthers, etc, to connect with people who are still stuck in it. It helps, I know I Was there once.
dear wendy, wanna feel special and no one there? this is so sad…
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