Anti-science & the Denialists

In an article published in the American Journal of Medicine and entitled: “Should We Maintain an Open Mind about Homeopathy?” Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst, addressing their colleagues, strongly criticised homeopathy:

“Homeopathy is among the worst examples of faith-based medicine… These axioms [of homeopathy] are not only out of line with scientific facts but also directly opposed to them. If homeopathy is correct, much of physics, chemistry, and pharmacology must be incorrect… To have an open mind about homeopathy or similarly implausible forms of alternative medicine (eg, Back flower remedies, spiritual healing, crystal therapy) is therefore not an option. We think that a belief in homeopathy exceeds the tolerance of an open mind. We should start from the premise that homeopathy cannot work and that positive evidence reflects publication bias or design flaws until proved otherwise… We wonder whether any kind of evidence would persuade homeopathic physicians of their self-delusion and challenge them to design a methodologically sound trial, which if negative would finally persuade them to shut up shop… Homeopathy is based on an absurd concept that denies progress in physics and chemistry. Some 160 years after Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions, an essay byOliver Wendell Holmes, we are still debating whether homeopathy is a placebo or not… Homeopathic principles are bold conjectures. There has been no spectacular corroboration of any of its founding principles… After more than 200 years, we are still waiting for homeopathy “heretics” to be proved right, during which time the advances in our understanding of disease, progress in therapeutics and surgery, and prolongation of the length and quality of life by so-called allopaths have been breathtaking. The true skeptic therefore takes pride in closed mindedness when presented with absurd assertions that contravene the laws of thermodynamics or deny progress in all branches of physics, chemistry, physiology, and medicine.”

Baum M, Ernst E (November 2009). “Should we maintain an open mind about homeopathy?”. Am. J. Med. 122 (11): 973–4.

Where does one begin with a tirade like that! The good professor admits in another part of the piece that he has no homeopathy qualifications, which interestingly he claimed to have a few years ago! That’s by-the-by, though you would expect a professor to have an understanding of his subject!

“We should start from the premise that homeopathy cannot work and that positive evidence reflects publication bias or design flaws until proved otherwise.”

So…you can show him research which suggests homeopathy has an effect (& there is tons of it out there), & this anti-scientist is claiming that we should ignore this evidence as it contradicts his preconceived beliefs! This is a common attitude in the denialist brigade (they prefer to call themselves Skeptics…however this is totally inappropriate. Skeptic is from the Latin ‘scepticus‘ meaning thoughtful or inquiring).

I’m struggling to come up with an analogy here… someone like Ernst conducting research that sets out to disprove something is like The Wright Brothers trying to build aeroplanes to prove they will never fly (in other words, they’d never have got off the ground)…it’s totally backward & not good science. There can be hundreds of factors that might stop an experiment working properly, if you’re wanting the outcome to fail, you don’t have the drive or incentive to keep fine tuning until it works. Then once you get the reaction or whatever working, you write it up & challenge others to follow your methods & get the same results.

There is something deeply disturbing to me about this type of mindset, it’s a peculiar philosophical belief structure I’d call Secular Materialism. The Denialists that follow this religion seem to me to have a real inability to live with the unknown…I believe that’s why have such a problem with homeopathy & it’s high dilutions! So you can present the amazing & massive study on the successful homeo-prophylaxis of 2 million people against Leptospirosis in Cuba (there are now 2 years worth of data showing the same incredible results) & it won’t matter a damn to this crew…their belief structure is threatened, so reality be damned!

“Homeopathy is based on an absurd concept”

What absurd concept is that? That giving someone a small amount of a substance, say a TB, can prime a person’s immune system to deal with the disease?!

This is really a battle of two belief structures, rather than between rational people & whooly-headed crazies. The new religion of Secular Materialism believes that we are just complex machines (which we are in part of course)…so every disease must have a physical cause. You just have to look the state of modern psychiatry to see where that assumption leads to, endless searching for specific physical causes in the brain that can be treated with chemical drugs. Anything wooly like ‘mind‘ or ‘consciousness‘, or even the idea that a patient’s psychiatric problems may stem from past trauma has to be swept under the carpet if they can’t be measured.

On the other hand homeopathy & other alternative medicines are based on the idea of VITALISM, that our bodies have an innate healing intelligence. So a homeopathic remedy, or traditional Chinese doctor’s needle, is being used to nudge this innate healing intelligence into healing the problem, rather than attempting to fix some discrete physical dis-ease within the body.

6 Responses to Anti-science & the Denialists

  1. EZ September 21, 2010 at 11:56 pm #

    “homeopathy is based on an absurd concept” – I thing what we should stress is that homeopathy as a practice is not based on any concepts at all, but on observations – vast experimental basis that Hahnemann has created and many studies reproduce – that living things react to substances, diluted or not, in a certain way, and further OBSERVATION that diluted substances were found – THROUGH EXPERIMENTATION – to produce much the same reaction as the original substances, and the effects were even stronger in many cases. We should tell people about “primary action” of remedies and “secondary action” – and not about conclusions that many homeopaths tend to make from their practice. While these conclusions may be correct, they are not the basis of homeopathy as a practice, and talking about them is only making it possible to such people as Ernst and Baum to say what they do and ridicule homeopaths… VITALISM as an idea is deeply rooted in experience – the body is able to react only when it’s alive! And I think we should stress that first… Not to dissuade the “sceptics” though, but to get the general population thinking.

    And the topic of science in – and behind – homeopathy should really be made different from practice – well, it’s my humble opinion, and thank you for your posts!

  2. Gold September 22, 2010 at 3:34 am #

    Wow. It’s not even worth pointing out how much the author missed the mark by.

    I’m going to take one statement from the AJM article and challenge every homeopath on the planet to explain why they won’t do it.

    “We wonder whether any kind of evidence would persuade homeopathic physicians of their self-delusion and challenge them to design a methodologically sound trial, which if negative would finally persuade them to shut up shop…”

  3. homeopathyuk September 22, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Hi EZ thank you for your reply,

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, as Hahnemann wrote in aphorism 1 of his Organon,

    “The physician’s highest calling, his ONLY calling, is to make sick people healthy – to heal, as it is termed”

    Then he went on to say in the footnote,

    “It is not to weave so-called systems from fancy ideas and hypotheses about the inner nature of the vital processes and the origin of diseases…nor does it consist of trying to endlessly explain disease phenomena and their proximate cause, which will always elude him.

    Nor does it consist of holding forth in unintelligible words or abstract and pompous expressions in an effort to appear learned so as to astonish the ignorant, while the world in sickness cries in vain for help.

    Surely by now we have had enough of these pretentious fantasies called ‘theoretical medicine’, for which university chairs have been established, and it is time for those calling themselves physicians to stop deceiving poor human beings by their talk and to start acting instead – that is, really helping and healing”.

    As usual, the old man understood & expressed it perfectly 200 years ago!

    I read something this morning that resonated with me,

    “The belief in coincidence is the prevalent superstition of the Age of Science”.

  4. Nancy Malik September 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    Real is scientific homeopathy. It cures even when Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails. Nano doses of evidence-based modern homeopathy medicine brings big results for everyone

  5. Swisstoons December 10, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Thank you very much for presenting Professor LIpton’s discussion of homeopathy. I will be posting it to my Squidoo lens, “Homepathic Medical Quiz.” Accompanying the 10-question quiz is a short poll which asks visitors’ their opinion of subject. After a writer for the online UK Guardian critiqued the quiz (one question at a time), and the subject of homeopathy, my quiz was deluged with visitors comprised mainly of anti-homeopathy zealots, so that now (in the poll), unfortunately, the number of people who vehemntly believe that homeopathy is nonsense outnumbers those who know of its efficacy in treating disease.

    • Swisstoons December 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

      Just wanted to add that the vehement deniers outnumber believers by not quite 2 to 1.

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