Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Your Friday Dose of Woo: Fifty woo-ful facts

It’s time.

Well, it’s sort of time, anyway.

As you know, it’s been over three months since I last indulged in my little Friday exercise known as Your Friday Dose of Woo. At the time it was because I couldn’t get myself into the appropriately light-hearted but nonetheless just vicious enough frame of mind to do the exercise after we had to have our dog put to sleep. In retrospect, however, it was clear to me that the whole feature had been running on fumes for a while before that. It had become a bit stale and, I thought, could benefit from a hiatus. At the time, I hadn’t planned for the hiatus to last more than a few weeks, but somehow it stretched into a few months. In fact, even as of yesterday I hadn’t been sufficiently inspired and had been planning on something else entirely, although I had intended to bring back YFDoW on an occasional basis beginning…well, soon, anyway.

Fortunately, didn’t let me down. It shook me out of my lethargy and, let’s face it, just plain farting around about this. No, it wasn’t Mike Adams, but it was one of his woo-acolytes, a woman named Louise Mclean. Not just any woman, though, but a homeopath. OK, it’s not as delightfully woo-filled as some of my previous targets–I mean subjects–for this, but it becomes worthy by its content and by the fact that homeopathy is the granddaddy of woo. After all, it depends upon nothing more than the most amazing of magical thinking in the form of its core concepts of “like cures like” and that dilution with succussion can make remedies stronger. No matter how much homeopaths and their supportive woo contingent try to handwave about the “memory of water” or even “quantum homeopathy,” at the end of the day, it’s all just woo. But what woo it can be! What reminded me of this and inspired me to begin the process of resurrecting YFDoW is an amazing article by Ms. Mclean entitled Presenting 50 Facts About Homeopathy. After reading it, my only reaction was:

Oh. My. God.

Basically, the article is one long defense of homeopathy presented as 50 “facts” about it. Ms. Mclean is very unhappy at how homeopathy has been portrayed recently:

In the last few years there have been many articles in the newspapers attacking homeopathy, claiming it contains nothing more than water, ignoring all the positive studies and saying it works through the placebo effect. So I decided to compile a list of facts to counter this criticism and present the salient points as clearly as possible. So far I have come up with 50.

Indeed she has, and what a set of 50! By the time I got to Fact #3, I was giggling, and by the time I reached Fact 17 I was laughing hysterically and had to stop. Fortunately, I managed to contain myself and, with a massive effort of will, managed to finish the list. My brain will likely never forgive me because (yes, repeat after me) THE STUPID, IT BURNS!

It really does, right away from Fact #1:

Hippocrates ‘The Father of Medicine’ of Ancient Greece said there were two Laws of Healing: The Law of Opposites and the Law of Similars. Homeopathy treats the patient with medicines using the Law of Similars, orthodox medicine uses the Law of Opposites, e.g. antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants, antihypertensives, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics.

Because we want to treat disease using principles first promulgated by a man who lived 2,400 years ago. Look, I have nothing against Hippocrates. He revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, but, come on! He taught that illness was a result of imbalances between the four humors (blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm), for cryin’ out loud! At the time, Hippocrates was indeed an advance in that he rejected the superstition that used to say that illness was caused by the gods or spirits and was the first to separate medicine from religion. That’s great. However, his treatments and ideas were based upon a faulty understanding of human anatomy and physiology. That Hippocrates’ understanding was a major improvement over what Greeks understood before doesn’t make his humoral concept of disease valid now. That Hippocrates’ ideas about the four humors remained popular until Pasteur produced the germ theory of disease in the late 1800s and utterly demolished its last vestiges. In other words, as a modern physician, I admire Hippocrates for his contributions to professionalism, the systematization of patient history and physical examination, and the observations he made and diseases he described for the first time. That doesn’t mean I want my medical care to be given according to the standards of 400 B.C.

The next “fact” shows why homeopaths want to practice like Hippocrates:

Homeopathic theories are based on fixed principles of the Laws of Nature which do not change — unlike medical theories which are constantly changing!

Damned that science-based medicine! Always changing! I mean, what do doctors think they’re doing, changing all the time, rejecting treatments that don’t work and adding new streatments that work better to their medical practice? I mean, come on! Why aren’t we purging, treating with toxic metals like cadmium or mercury, or bloodletting? Why is medical practice today, other than some very basics like history-taking, so utterly different than it was in the time of Hippocrates? Don’t they know there are “fixed principles” and Laws of Nature that never change? Maybe that explains why homeopathy hasn’t changed substantively since Samuel Hahnneman pulled it out of his nether regions and, instead of dumping it in a toilet where most such waste belongs, instead inflicted it upon the world. I know, I know, in the 1800s, doing nothing (i.e.treating with homeopathic remedies) was all too often better than the nasty treatments of “conventional” medicine, but “conventional medicine” has evolved since that time, thanks to science.

So let’s see. Scientific medicine is always changing and homeopathy is unchanging. But:

* Fact 3 – Homeopathy is an evidence-based, empirical medicine.

* Fact 4 – Homeopathy is both an art and a science.

* Fact 5 – The Homeopathic provings of medicines are a more scientific method of testing than the orthodox model.

Ms. Mclean owes me a new keyboard! I was drinking my iced tea as I read that. Clue: The very nature of evidence-based medicine and science is that it changes in response to new evidence. Homeopathy does not. Moreover, homeopathic provings are about as unscientific as it gets, particularly given that the whole concept upon which homepathy is based is a load of…well, I think you know what it’s a load of.

A number of the next facts are all the usual tropes about homeopathy treating the “whole person” and looking for the “real cause” of disease, as opposed to that evil “allopathic” medicine, which, as we all know, doesn’t give a rodent’s posterior about the “real cause” of disease. That’s why it invests billions upon billions of dollars into basic research to try to figure out how the body works and where it goes wrong, not to mention tests to detect abnormalities in anatomy and physiology. In fact, there are so many tropes in this list, that I’m only going to hit a few more carefully selected ones. For example:

* Fact 12 – Homeopathic remedies are cheap.

* Fact 13 – Pharmaceutical medicines are expensive.

* Fact 14 – There are more than 4,000 homeopathic medicines.

* Fact 15 – Homeopathic medicines have no toxic side-effects.

* Fact 16 – Homeopathic medicines are non-addictive.

All of these are undeniably true other than Fact 13, which is only true for some drugs. There are still a lot of pharmaceutical drugs (aspirn, for instance) that are quite inexpensive. Of course, the reason the rest of these “facts” are true is because, as water, homepathic medicine are without a doubt non-addictive and lack toxic side effects. What started me lauging hysterically, though, was Fact 17:

Every true homeopathic medicine is made using one substance — whether plant, mineral, metal, etc. The exact substance is known, unlike most modern drugs where we are rarely informed of the ingredients.

Wait a minute. Homeopaths and herbalists complain about the “reductionist” nature of scientific medicine and applaud the “synergism” of having lots of different compounds in the herbs, and here we have a homeopath claiming that a “plant” is one substance. I’d also point out that, if Ms. Mclean really wants to know what’s in a pharmaceutical drug, it’s a simple matter to read the package insert. Heck, she doesn’t even have to do that. The package inserts for pretty much every drug are available online these days. I’d be happy to point out to her where to find them if she wishes. Not that she’s listening if she really believes this:

* Fact 20 – Homeopaths treat genetic illness, tracing its origins to 6 main genetic causes: Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Psora (scabies), Cancer, Leprosy.

* Fact 21 – Epidemics such as cholera and typhoid were treated successfully using homeopathy in the 19th century with very high success rates, compared to orthodox medicine (

Holy crap! Does she really think that genetic illness comes from “Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Psora (scabies), Cancer, Leprosy”? What are they teaching homeopaths in homeopathy school? It’s obviously not genetics. But, hey, we’re assured. Homeopathy “works.” It’s science:

* Fact 33 – In 2005 The Lancet tried to destroy homeopathy but were only looking at 8 inconclusive trials out of 110 of which 102 were positive. This was a fraudulent analysis.
“The meta-analysis at the centre of the controversy is based on 110 placebo-controlled clinical trials of homeopathy and 110 clinical trials of allopathy (conventional medicine), which are said to be matched. These were reduced to 21 trials of homeopathy and 9 of conventional medicine of ‘higher quality’ and further reduced to 8 and 6 trials, respectively, which were ‘larger, higher quality’. The final analysis which concluded that ‘the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects’ was based on just the eight ‘larger, higher quality’ clinical trials of homeopathy. The Lancet’s press release did not mention this, instead giving the impression that the conclusions were based on all 110 trials.”

Uh, no. Not quite. The reason that the Lancet meta-analysis of homeopathy concentrated on the highest quality trials it could find is because smaller, low quality trials are far more likely to be prone to bias and thus produce false positive results. That was the entire point of that trial; it showed that the better-designed and larger the trial, the less likely it was to find an effect greater than placebo. That was the very point. That was the conclusion. Homeopaths really hate that study–for good reason. Moreover, the journal didn’t give the impression that the conclusions were based on all 110 trials; only someone who can’t read for comprehension would get that impression.

Someone like Ms. Mclean.

But, hey, why should I have all the fun? There’s plenty here for everyone. So, my most excellent readers, I invite you to join in. Pick one or more of your favorite “facts” and have at it!

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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