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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37 replies on “Homeopathy vs. science?”
Does it really matter whether the lines are straight?
Uh, yes… In that your lack of acceptance of it skews your entire vision of the visible universe.
I would have expected a homeopath to say that our perception of the lines as bent, even though they’re actually straight, proves that homeopathy works. (Cue mystical wind chimes.) Then, as the beleaguered scientist sputters over the illogic, maintain a zen-like demeanor, overcoming the limitations of the physical world…
Those lines weren’t properly succussed or potentized. Silly scientists. They always forget the memory of paper.
You have to see it for yourself. Do not try to bend the lines – that is impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth – there are no lines. Then you’ll see that it is not the lines that bend, it is only yourself.
A true homeopath would print out that web page, then wash it with one hundred times its weight in water — then shake up that water in a paint shaker before diluting it with another amount of water one hundred times greater than that, repeating the dilution five times until he or she had enough liquid to sell for the next twenty years as “Curved Line Vision Enhancer” at $100 a pop for a one-ounce bottle.
is there really a homeopathy joke that comes off as clever anymore? Yes, homeopaths dilute things. This post happened to be a really good ANALOGY for homeopathy that gave you a perfect framework for jokes not involving dilution. Cue a bunch of jokes about dilution. Yaaaawn.
Isn’t it amazing how the straightedge (nÃ©e ruler) bends to make the lines appear straight?
@bif — any more absurd than the Copenhagen Intrepretation of Quantum Mechanics, http://www.benbest.com/science/quantum.html ?
Or, maybe it’s just an example of Quantum Homeopathy in action – it is impossible to tell if the straight-edge is straight or curved until you’re diluted and shaken, and it’s measured against a Peter Maxx design.
Actually, this dialog helps illustrate an oft found scientist bias against listening to people that creates the enormous gap between science and popular opinion.
Truth is that the lines look bent until one covers some of the blocks with the ruler. Optical illusions are an accepted and known aspect of mental image processing. Note that by defining it as an illusion, the scientist is accepting that it happens and then can use the data for study.
Usually homeopathy is denied outright as impossible and the evidence is rejected. Science would be much better calling it a medical illusion that is not yet understood. If something works for some people, that is valuable data. Perhaps aspects of homeopathy can be used to reduce healthcare costs.
Science is not absolute, but an evolving journey of knowledge acquisition and refinement. As soon as one rejects observable data for theory, one has lost science and is pursuing ego.
Go ahead and ridicule or flame away in your responses. The fact that your emotions have been triggered should tell you that something more is going on here than you’d like to admit. A real scientist never lets emotions get in the way of the pursuit of knowledge and the acceptance of observable data.
Yeah… except you’re demonstrably, factually wrong. The mechanism by which homeopathy works IS known. The placebo effect, far from being a “medical illusion that is not yet understood” is actually quite well understood, or at least well documented.
It is right that there should be a gap between science and popular opinion. Popular opinion is based on a shallow interpretation of facts that is clouded by any number of heuristics and misinterpretations. That is precisely the reason that science is important – it doesn’t kowtow to what people THINK, it aspires to accurately measure reality.
In this particular example, the reality is that the lines are not bent. “Popular opinion” suggests that they are, and without any direct measurement of them, that would certainly appear to be the reality. However, when alternate explanations are accounted for (using a ruler for the optical illusion, using a placebo for homeopathy), it is possible to strip away the nonsense that our brain throws our way and determine what’s actually happening.
It is in fact YOU who is throwing away observable data. The fact that something SEEMS to be a certain way isn’t “data”, it’s anecdote. When alternate and more plausible explanations for a phenomenon are introduced and justified, but one still refuses to abandon what SEEMS right, that person is the poor scientist.
Indeed it is. The question is, did it really ‘work’ for those people, or did they get better for some other reason? Or did they only ‘think’ they got better? Etc.
Not quite true. Usually homeopathy is denied outright as impossible and the evidence is attributed to placebo effects, regression to the mean, bias, etc. All of those are well-demonstrated effects that are entirely compatible with known biology, psychology, physics, etc.
In other words, science already calls homeopathy a medical illusion.
I went in circles the other day with a naturopath in progress trying to tell me there were so many complexities I didn’t understand about homeopathy. As a commoner I must not be able to handle such otherwordly ideas. What a guy.
Of course this is the same person who tried healing my cousin’s hangover with reiki.
Sounds like Hacker has never been out of the echo chamber, before.
Don’t you see, people? Hacker’s bald, unsubstantiated assertions trump your wussy substantiated facts any day of the week!
Hate to be the offtopic ‘Look at this’ guy, but something else funny and a metaphor that’s new on the web worth looking at is the latest Tree Lobsters. They’ve got Wakefield in lobster-comic form.
Hacker: “Go ahead and flame away”
yes, as a troll you were expecting it.
Anyone who’s bothered to read anything on Homeopathy should know full well by now that the only effect it has is anecdotes and placebo effect. It’s been studied to death, despite the fact that there’s no reasonable mechanism of operation. So, being told “you’re wrong” is not being flamed or insulted, particularly when the facts are not on your side.
This reminds me a little of the historic faceoff between Wallace (codiscoverer of “evolution by natural selection”) and a flat-Earther.
said that in March the diseases are very common and it is best that science seeks adequate information to reevaluate the new ways and new opportunities to improve the quality of life for millions of people.
Orac, I swear that thing you found is absolutely brilliant. It’s a rare gem! I sent it to friends as well. If you find similar stuff in the future, plz PLZ POST IT!
Marc, if you’re just looking for illusions (as opposed to homeopath-bashing), Starts with a Bang had a few on color/brightness perception recently here.
Me, I’m up for some good woo-bashing; I’ve been in a really bad mood for weeks and it distracts me, almost as good as the gabapentin et al. I can’t afford.
@Uncle Glenny: Nope, I’m looking for woo-bashing as well. That’s what I liked about Orac’s post. The illusions I know them well. Most of them come from the Gestalt School of Psychology. Interesting stuff.
Love the “old skool” rule nice touch, had one just like it when I were a lad.
I wish you damn scientism freaks would stop repeating that old canard about homeopathy only working due to the placebo effect.
That’s simply untrue.
There’s also regression to the mean, selective bias and, of course, outright lies. So sometimes it’s not even the placebo effect, it’s not working at all!
It’s because of quantum mechanics that the lines bend. And you can follow the bends better using a piece of string, rather than using an inflexible left-brain logical ruler. That’s what Steven Hawkins’s string theory is all about. It’s the same priniciple.
Orac is just a shill for Big Ruler.
The illusion for me wasn’t that the lines seemed to bend, it was that the blocks seemed to move (in alternating directions). Straight lines, moving blocks is what I saw. Weird, huh?
Oh, and the further from my focal point the block, the faster it seemed to move.
The illusion for me wasn’t that the lines seemed to bend, it was that the blocks seemed to move (in alternating directions). Straight lines, moving blocks is what I saw.
Dude, sounds like your brain needs to be cleansed of toxins. I’m sure you can find a recommendation over at Huffington Post.
It’s really unfortunate that HuffPo is getting cited more and more these days for “newsy” things. The (in)credibility is contagious; when I see a URL to them, my first inclination is to grant them all the credibility I’d give to the National Enquirer.
Exactly, just like homeopathy looks effective until one applies a properly constructed double-blind placebo-controlled study.
As far as science being an ongoing process, yes, we know. Homeopathy has had the better part of two hundred years to demonstrate that it belongs in the “process”, and it has as yet failed to do so. It’s a pretty poor bet that that will change.
Hacker commented March 9, 2010 6:06 PM.
The first response is pretty comprehensive. It appears only 13 minutes after Hackers. Posted by: Ian | March 9, 2010 6:19 PM
Then the rest of the observations of the mistakes of Hacker follow. The comments are not flaming, but educational. On a homeopathy blog, would they be educational, or even mature?
Hacker does make some good comments, even if most of them appear to be unintentional.
Actually, the thing about science is that the goal is to eliminate bias. This means that the oft biased observations of non-scientists need to be examined in a way that minimizes the influence of bias. Most people do not attempt to avoid bias, but minimizing bias is essential for observing the truth.
by defining it as an illusion, the scientist is accepting that it happens
Really? An illusion is not really happening. An illusion is only the appearance of happening.
That is one of the problems with homeopathy and other placebos. The effect is due to the attention the patient is receiving, but not due to the actual treatment. It does not matter if it is a homeopathic product, tap water, holy water, or Budweiser. The result is the same.
The illusion of receiving an effective treatment leads to the placebo effect, if there is any effect at all. As Sam C stated –
Citing illusory data is not very scientific. Imagine –
I have a study that produces wonderful results. It confirms exactly what we want it to confirm. Don’t look too closely at the data, because they are not really there. Also, the ARA terrorists will be thrilled to learn that no sacred cows were harmed in any way in the production of this nonsense.
Perhaps aspects of homeopathy can be used to reduce healthcare costs.
Charging ridiculously inflated prices for water that is shaken, not stirred, is going to reduce healthcare costs? Let’s raise the prices of sugar pills and water, so that we can reduce healthcare costs.
Science would be much better calling it a medical illusion
A medical illusion is still an illusion. Think of it this way.
I’m sorry we could not resuscitate you little girl. Don’t let that get you down. You can bring her body home with you and pretend that she is alive. You just have to use the power of medical illusion.
Theory is not to be ignored, but what is your point?
Homeopathy is all theory, and very flawed theory, without any observable data.
Aren’t you projecting your emotions onto people who will have a variety of responses? I would expect that the most common reaction is one of pity.
Again, you mention observable data. If there were data to support homeopathy, the response would be, We don’t understand it, but it appears to work and we will keep studying it. In the mean time, we recommend it.
Hey Orac, you may want to bring the hammer down on comment number 18 up there, by “Oklahoma”. It’s a spambot, and not a very advanced one, it seems.
Oh, and “Hacker”? Number one, you give real hackers a bad name, and two, you seem to have two letters too many in your name.
“Perhaps aspects of homeopathy can be used to reduce healthcare costs.”
That must be why the UK has decided to stop paying for any homeopathathic treatments or remedies? Oh, wait, they examined it and decided not only was it useless/ineffective, but they were wasting money on it…
IANAS, but I understand that placebo effects can vary according to dosage etc. I think it was Ben Goldacre’s article in the Guardian recently that pointed out that two sugar pills “produce” better pain relief than one, and a saline injection works even better than the sugar pills.
So if serious medicine is going to exploit placebo effects, is it unreasonable to suspect that expensive sugar pills might be more “effective” than cheaper ones? Marketing people have known this about cosmetics for years (expensive ones are “better”) and the same probably goes for cars, cameras (and, surprise surprise, military systems). Why not placebos?
The lines look straight to me, I keep looking at the lines but they don’t look bent. I think my brain must be broken.
but the Chinese have been seeing those lines bend for thousands of years!
This is true. The placebo effect is about theater. The appearance of the treatment (cost, packaging, invasiveness, . . . ), rather than the treatment, itself.
One of the primary points of the review of homeopathy by the British Parliament was that the government should not be paying for placebos.
Just because more expensive and more theatrical placebos seem to be more effective than placebos delivered with less outrageous prices and less Oscar-worthy performances, does not mean that we should encourage the use of quackery.
When you intend to deal in fraud, where does the fraud end?
I take your point about fraud. AFAIK it is generally regarded as unethical to fail to provide a treatment where one is available, so trials of placebo against treatments known to be effective are ruled out. The HofC report makes that clear.
The point I’m interested in is investigation of the placebo effect and how it might be used for real therapeutic purposes. How can can you set about measuring the strengths and mechanisms of placebo effects without breaching ethics? And if you got worthwhile results, how could you ethically put them to use in medicine?