Response to simillimum

The final post to the article at the Taranaki Daily News was one that required a bit more time to respond too. It's been about 2 weeks now since I posted the reply and in that time I've posted it twice. I'm not sure about their posting policy but it appears that they may get closed off, Big Homeo are suppressing the facts ;) or just plain ignored after a certain time period. Either way, right of reply is something that can't be taken away with todays tech.

So...

simillimum #67 : I am curious about your credentials Gold.

I have none. How about you?

Despite that though, I seem to have a grasp on what the scientific method is and why it's so important. I'm not sure the same could be said about homeopaths who often resort to special pleading saying that homeopathy can't be tested that way. In the context of homeopathy the scientific method is used to test _if_ it works, not _how_ it works. These are the tests that constantly fail. If it worked, you'd expect to see that.

Onwards though. Below we'll see another couple of approaches the proponents of woo use.

The first is called The Argument from Authority. This is fairly self explanatory. You pull quotes supporting your claim from people with titles before their name, many letters after their name or impressive awards. I'm not belittling the achievements of these people. No doubt they've worked hard for the recognition. Typically though, these qualifications are in a field that is unrelated to the area they specialise in. And there's always this other aspect of human nature that has been well laid out in a book by Dr. Michael Shermer; Why People Believe Weird Things http://www.michaelshermer.com/weird-things/

The other is called the Gish Gallop. It's used to bombard the opponent with too many points to address. Fortunately it doesn't really work in the context of a forum like this. It's also the reason this reply was so long arriving. I had a bit of research to follow up on.

simillimum #67 : To quote Nobel Prize-winning scientist Brian Josephson, Ph.D., responding to an article on homeopathy in the New Scientist magazine:
" Regarding your comments on claims made for homeopathy: criticisms centered around the vanishingly small number of solute molecules present in a solution after it has been repeatedly diluted are beside the point, since advocates of homeopathic remedies attribute their effects not to molecules present in the water, but to modifications of the water's structure.

Simple-mindd analysis may suggest that water, being fluid, cannot have a structure of the kind that such a picture would demand. But cases such as that of liquid crystals, which while flowing like an ordinary fluid can maintain an ordered structure over macroscopic distances, show the limitations of such ways of thinking. There have not, to the best of my knowledge, been any refutations of homeopathy that remain valid after this particular point is taken into account."

The first thing that comes to mind here is; is he claiming that the structure of liquid water is comparable to that of liquid crystals? I would also point him at the research that was done into the ability of water to retain structure, the findings of which showed it could, but for no more than 50 femtoseconds. Would he, or has he, changed his position since this new data was published?

Just to put this in context this is the same Nobel Prize-winning scientist Brian Josephson, Ph.D. who says the water memory can be recorded, digitised, and transmitted over the Internet to a container of plain water, rendering it homeopathic. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,991004,00.html

Again I point out the book mentioned above.

simillimum #67 : Brian Josephson is an emeritus professor of Cambridge University, England. Perhaps Dr Shaun Holt should talk to him.

Dr Shaun Holt does talk to a lot respected names in the field;
Edzard Ernst, Director of Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School
Michael Baum, Professor Emeritus of Surgery & Visiting Professor of Medical Humanities, University College London, England
David Colquhoun, Professor of Pharmacology, Dept of Pharmacology, University College London, England
Andrew Gilby, Lecturer, College of Business, Massey Universite, Palmerston North, New Zealand

These are the co-signers of a recent article in The New Zealand Medical Journal that seems to have gotten the homeopaths so up in arms.

If anyone cares to read the article it's available here; http://bit.ly/fBgDEG

simillimum #67 : He also said " The idea that water can have a memory can be readily refuted by any one of a number of easily understood, invalid arguments."

This statement is contradictory. If they're easily understood _and_ invalid they would be discarded. Yet they're not discarded by the majority studying the field. So from this we can take that they are either not invalid or not easily understood. Either way, his statement is flawed.

simillimum #67 : Have you won any Nobel Prizes lately, Gold?

No. Have you? Not really seeing what this has to do with anything though.

simillimum #67 : Yolene Thomas, colleague of Jacques Benveniste on the subject of the memory of water: " If valid, this would be of greater significance than homeopathy itself, and it attests to the limited vision of the modern scientific community that, far from hastening to test such claims, the only reponse has been to dismiss them out of hand."

You'll noticed she couched the statement with "If valid". Two main things here though;

  1. The scientific community has been testing the claims of homeopathy for 200 years. As our testing methods got better it was realised that homeopathy didn't actually work.
  2. The reason most scientists "dismiss them out of hand" is due to the large body of studies that have lead them to the conclusion reached in 1.

simillimum #67 : Dr Luc Montagnier, French virologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the AIDS virus expressed concern about the unscientific atmosphere that presently exists on certain unconventional subjects such as homeopathy: " I am told that some people have reproduced Benveniste's results but they are afraid to publish it because of the intellectual terror from people who don't understand it."

I've been told that many labs have attempted to reproduce it and found no result of statistical significance. I find it unlikely that there are people afraid of publishing positive results of anything. "intellectual terror"? Seriously? Proving homeopathy works would be one of the most amazing things ever. The medical advancements and the new theories of chemistry, biology and physics that we would then need to explore would be new and exciting. I would question the source of that quote to be honest. It just doesn't sound genuine.

Dr Montagnier also suffers a little from the Halo Effect ("The halo effect is a cognitive bias whereby the perception of one trait (i.e. a characteristic of a person or object) is influenced by the perception of another trait (or several traits) of that person or object." - Wikipedia). He's a virologist. Not a chemist, physicist, biologist etc. He's achieved the award by being very good at what he does.

The connection with homeopathy is tenuous. Let's ignore the fact that Montagnier never actually said he supports homeopathy. One statement that mentions homeopathy was turned into a headline of support by none other than Dana Ullman and the homeopathy supporting community ran with it from there. Dr Montagnier's initial research that brought him to the attention of homeopaths was looking for electromagnetic signatures of bacterial DNA. Completely unrelated to homeopathy. Part of the preparation process involved dilution (but not the ultra-high dilutions used in homeopathy) and shaking. While Homeopaths jumped at this tenuous hope of some link with reality Montagniers own peers were less than impressed. Montagnier presented his findings to a gathering of 60 Nobel prize winners, along with 700 other scientists. After the presentation many "were left openly shaking their heads".

The other aspect of this particular study is the way it was published. The peer-review process can take weeks from submission to acceptance and then more to review and publication. Dr Montagnier effectively self published his research. The peer-review process was completed in days hardly giving it enough time to be reviewed in a reliable or credible way. The journal it was published in was brand new and carried little to no weight within the scientific community (these things take time to establish themselves as reliable sources). The other thing was that Dr Montagnier was on the editorial board for the journal. No bias or conflict of interest there at all.

simillimum #67 : There are high quality studies that have been published in highly respected medical and scientific journals, including the Lancet, BMJ, Pediatrics, Chest and many others. Plenty of research that shows the positive effect of homeopathy. Despite this the British Medical Association referred to homeopathy as witchcraft.

It's not like Homeopaths have any better explanation for how it works. The way homeopaths fill in the gaps with excuses and magical thinking you'd think that "witchcraft" would be as good as anything else.

Please supply the _single_ best example of a high quality study that finds _significant_ positive outcomes of homeopathy.

At this point I would like to point the reader at a post by @XtalDave who examined the list that Nancy Malik maintains; http://xtaldave.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/scientific-evidence-for-homeopa...

simillimum, you may want to check that link and see if your best single study has already been addressed.

simillimum #67 : A special issue of the peer-review journal Human and Experimental Toxicology (July 20110) devoted itself to the interface between hormesis (the mulit-disciplinary field of small dose effects) and homeopathy.

My Google-fu is failing me. I've been unable to locate this. If you can provide a URL I'll take the time to read it.

There's a massive difference between small dose and no dose though. Did it address, or even acknowledge that point?

simillimum #67 : This pathological disbelief exhibited by many scientists and skeptics of homeopathy blocks real truth and teal science.

If by "pathological" you mean the desire to concede opinion in favour of the weight of the outcomes of rigorous studies, then yes, I agree. I doubt that's what you meant though.

The thing that confuses me is the religious fervour that homeopaths show in the face of the mountain of evidence against it. The cognitive dissonance homeopaths go through to maintain the wilful ignorance would be a facinatiting thing to see on an fMRI scanner. Hmm... Now there's a study that would be interesting.

simillimum #67 : Thank you for the discussion, I am done.

Thanks for allowing me the last word then.

The information is out there. I'm all for people reading up and deciding for themselves. I just hope the information I've passed on assists with people reaching a rational conclusion rather than one blinkered by emotion and magical thinking.

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Big Homeo again

Listen to this segment starts at 42 mins. I heard it on the radio on Saturday,

http://newstalkzb.co.nz/thisweek/hourrecswn/Sat,%20May%2014%2009.00%20TR...

You can play spot the logical fallacy, or just hope the host pulls her up.

Unfortunately no