Homeopathy, Scientology, conspiracy theories and for-profit-quackery: let’s keep global health science based

by David Lambert

By all accounts, post-earthquake Port-au-Prince was hell on earth. Already suffering from crumbling infrastructure and poor housing conditions, the Haitian capital was perhaps the least equipped city on Earth to withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Within hours, thousands of international rescue workers and doctors were pulling people from the rubble and setting up makeshift hospitals under plastic tents. Their efforts saved lives. But there was one group that almost certainly did nothing besides get in the way. At the cost of $400,000 dollars, a wealthy donor in Los Angeles airlifted 80 Scientologists trained in using “the power of touch” to “reestablish communication” within the bodies of trauma victims. As if the Haitian people were not suffering enough.

Scientology is an easy target. But there is not much difference between “assist,” the Scientologist method of healing, and most other forms of alternative medicines popular in the west. And though some, at times, may have their merits, mixing alternative medicine with global health is both useless and dangerous. Unfortunately, the Scientologists are not the only ones bringing their favorite treatments abroad.

It may sounds like satire, but the group “Homeopaths Without Borders” actually exists, and operates in six countries, Haiti included. Homeopathy is a popular form of alternative medicine that emerged in the 1800s before germ theory. It involves creating elixirs of natural substances diluted to the point that the odds of a single molecule being present in the end remedy are astronomical. Homeopaths—as they call themselves willingly—believe that water molecules “memorize” the substances and act as a cure. As this flouts not only what we know of medicine but also physics, homeopathy is little more than magic water, not a high priority in disaster zones.

Those working in global health tend to be more accepting of alternative forms of medicine than most doctors. Introducing science-based medicine into underserved communities can conflict with traditional beliefs on sickness and health. Some medical anthropologists even view the spread of western medicine as a form of colonialism. As a result, doctors working abroad tread with caution when it comes to critiquing alternative forms of healing, and generally welcome traditional practices as beneficial to the healing process in a principle known as complementarity.

As long as it isn’t directly harmful—like faith healers laying their hands on Ebola victims and thus contracting and spreading the disease themselves—complementarity is a great idea. Rituals and beliefs can comfort a patient, acting as a respite from the cold, technical approach to healing that western-trained doctors sometimes take. Moreover, clinical trials are beginning to uncover evidence that, for some afflictions, simply believing in a treatment can be as effective as the treatment itself. Though the placebo, as it is known, has a negative connotation akin to deception, it can be as powerful of a painkiller as morphine, and has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. As we’re learning, the brain has its own pharmacy to treat illness, and by suggestion can be encouraged to release substances like endorphins (to treat pain) or dopamine (which Parkinson’s disease destroys).

Just a caveat, the healing ability of the mind does not mean that biomedical treatments should ever be discarded. The benefits of placebos are limited and remain contentious among the medical community.

Labeling all forms of traditional medicines as placebos actually shortchanges them. In the Andes, for example, natives would often eat clay dirt to ward off stomach pains, a practice visiting doctors discouraged as inefficacious and unsanitary. What the doctors didn’t know was that the dirt was rich in attapulgite, a mineral used in modern stomach medicines. There are a myriad of other cases in which traditional medicines hold up to the rigors of clinical testing.

The same cannot be said for popular forms of alternative medicine practiced in wealthy countries. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is part of the National Health Institute, receives around $125 million per year in taxpayer dollars—this is more than we devote to autism research—to study every alternative remedy thrown at them, including homeopathy, qi gong, reflexology, and even long-distance physic healing. Since its inception, NCCAM has yet to prove a single alternative therapy is more effective than a placebo.

So at its most benign, bringing alternative medicines to the developing world is a waste of money. The benefits they possess are almost certainly due to the placebo effect, which again can be powerful, yet is something that local alternative remedies do just as well. But there is also a darker side. Proponents of a specific form of alternative medicine sometimes express bewilderment when doctors take a different approach, leading them to the frightening conclusion: Western medicine is evil.

The alternative medicine subculture in the US is a hotbed for conspiracy theories. Here are some headlines from Natural News, a popular alternative medicine site:

– White House admits staging fake vaccination operation to gather DNA from the public

– Polio ‘global health emergency’ entirely fabricated by W.H.O. to sell more vaccines

– Pharma pushers want to conduct Ebola medical experiments on entire population of West Africa

Not all proponents of alternative medicine deny basic science and spread hysterical conspiracy theories, such as the popular myth that vaccines cause autism. But like politics and religion, the radicals are the ones to worry about, especially when they bring their nonsense abroad.

In 2002, a German herbalist named Mathis Rath traveled to AIDS-stricken South Africa convinced that Big Pharma created the disease deliberately to sell antiretroviral drugs, which he claimed were toxic. Sincerely or not, he also claimed that his vitamins could cure AIDS. Rath eventually swayed top officials in the South African government and unleashed a propaganda campaign to convince HIV-positive patients to replace their antiretroviral drugs with his vitamins. Thousands of people took his advice, and lived a much shorter life as a result.

History is repeating itself with the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The fear engendered by Ebola has created an opportunity for quacks everywhere to pitch their beliefs and sell their supplements. In a move reminiscent of the Rath fiasco, Rima Laibow, the “medical director” for a company called Natural Solutions Foundation, sent a letter to top African health officials claiming that “There is good reason to believe that there already is a natural solution for, and prevention against, the terrifying novel Ebola virus.” Laibow goes on to encourage them to use “nanosilver,” which coincidentally, her company sells.

A campaign launched by several homeopathy groups to convince Ebola victims “to immediately seek out their nearest homeopathic healer” gained enough momentum that it prompted the WHO to tweet, “There is no evidence base that #homeopathy can cure #Ebola. Severely ill patients require supportive care.”

Many young people and progressives view alternative medicines as a cool, natural substitute to corporate dominated healthcare. But the reality is that until something is proven efficacious, using it as a medicine is an act of faith. Let’s pretend that a Christian organization encouraged AIDS patients in developing countries to abandon antiretroviral and instead pray to Jesus for a cure. Pretty infuriating, right? Is there much difference between this and what people like Matthias Rath do?

Paul Berg, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, once wrote that “quackery will always prey on the gullible and uninformed.” Let’s not let it prey on the poor as well.

48 comments on “Homeopathy, Scientology, conspiracy theories and for-profit-quackery: let’s keep global health science based

  1. Re: “Rima Laibow, the “medical director” for a company called Natural Solutions Foundation”

    Labow has worked for Scientology’s anti-psychiatry front group, the Citizen’s Commission for Human Rights (CCHR). For example, see:

    Part 1 of 10 Psychiatry – Making a Killing with Dr. Rima Laibow & G. Edward Griffen By CCHR

    Part 2 of 10 Psychiatry – Making a Killing with Dr. Rima Laibow & G. Edward Griffen By CCHR


    Your article has been cross-posted to the Ex-Scientologist Message Board (ESMB) as:
    Homeopathy, Scientology, conspiracy theories and for-profit-quackery

    — and to Why We Protest, (WWP), the home of Anonymous on the web, as:

    Scientology, conspiracy theories and for-profit-quackery: let’s keep global health science based

    One may also want to Google: “Rima Laibow” scientology

  2. But, what about the side effects of western medicine? And, the huge profits that multinational pharma companies enjoy? They don’t research many diseases because they are not profitable enough. Preying on the poor is something the rich will always do

    • The snake-oil peddlers always cast themselves as the little David against the vested interests of the Big Pharma Goliath. In truth, Big Placebo is, what, roughly a $37 billion/year business, without the downside of costs for research, quality control or to prove effectiveness and safety.

      Huge profits and preying on the poor back at you.

      • Well, good point on that one. It is indeed a huge business, and some of it does impel us to kill animals like tigers for their bones. They are not blameless, I agree. Yet, I did work in Big Pharma for a few years, and was shocked by the huge profit margins. I do believe that Big Pharma’s real strength now, is to sell. Their research is bogged down by red tape, and their real strength is in-licensing molecules from small companies and universities and taking them to market. There is value in that

        • @Sam: I find it telling that what passes for faith in miracles now is the ability to attribute entirely rational events with known causality to the workings of an all powerful deity that deigns to save a couple of special lives but not the other 2000. I think I stand with more than a few of our Founding Fathers when I find that kind of thinking atrocious, even outright blasphemous. The horrific amount of ego it must take to feel singled out by deity, I can’t even begin to understand that. Religion of the vulgar, indeed.

  3. I’ve been wrestling recently with the cosmic question, “Why do people believe stupid shit?” Any religion falls into the bucket of stupid shit, as does homeopathy, etc.

    My working hypothesis is that stupid shit is understandable whereas knowledge often isnt.

    Cant understand quantum mechanics? Join the club. But it’s easy to understand stories about a god (or gods) creating havoc and uncertainty.

    Can’t understand economics and international capital flows? OK, just listen to the nonsense on CNBC or Fox about “market momentum” and “breaking through barriers” explaining movements in the market that are statistically random.

    Cant understand chemistry or the math behind statistical inference? Then take your masseuses word for it that she can poke places in your feet and it will fix your cold.

    In short, people believe stupid shit because they want to believe stupid shit. It allows them mental relief because they can “understand” complex issues beyond their ken. It allows them to maintain a level of personal control over outcomes generated by random events (e.g., praying.) And for some reason, that is more reassuring to them than believing that other, smarter people do understand it and will do the right thing.

    By the way, the progressive side of the fence is just as daffy as the conservative side. Our guys believe different stupid shit, like the laws of economics should be suspended for educators, but just as much of it.

  4. Doctors in general want to help. However about 100 years ago the Rockefeller and Carnegie set up tax exempt foundations to fund medical schools. Two aspects to this. 1) The doctors were mainly taught three “science based” treatments – cut, drug, radiate. 2) All other therapies were propagandized as quackery – and the AMA and BMA spent any millions proactively suppressing alternative therapies.

    So it seems that doctors in general have been grossly mis-educated. Those that break the mold and actually cure disease with naturopathy, nutrition, chiropractic, etc, are ostracized by the medical monopoly, Big Pharma and “mainstrram media” who receive billions annually in advertising from Big Pharma, the Medical Monopoly, GMO producers who create disease like Monsanto, etc.

    By the way – look up the origin of the term “conspiracy theory” – it was purposely created by the CIA in the 60s to back off those who were telling the truth about the JFK assassination. It is so overused that it’s main function today is to identify the propagandist – or those duped by the propaganda. If you do better homework, you can improve your blog.

  5. Another opinion fest from someone who has obviously NOT been to Haiti or actually interacted with the Homeopaths Without Borders volunteers or the numerous patients who are grateful for the successful and effective medical help.
    It’s very apparent that there is a critical shortage of “effective care” (IV support in short supply and that’s the extent of it) in Africa for Ebola victims. There are actually riots going on as patients are being forced into quarantine and troops have shoot-to-kill orders. Someone certainly has rose-coloured glasses on if they think that mainstream medicine has even the slightest clue about what to do. In the meantime the WHO is in bed with the drug industry and will go along with unproven unethical drug treatment experiments rather than even trial Homeopathy or other non-drug solutions.

      • It is hardly useful to fail to investigate other options due to pre-existing bias. The pharma industry has created a system whereby the purpose of medicine is not to heal the sick but to maximize profits. And it seems some other peoples’ purpose is to denigrate other systems of medicine while doing no research or having responsibility for patient outcomes. Labelling something one fails to comprehend as “voodoo” doesn’t get humanity anywhere.

      • I’m sure most of Europe, India, South America, Canada, the US, Japan, China, and many other countries would be surprised to hear you call a system of medicine that is widely used, ‘voodoo.’ Ridicule is a poor substitute for fact.

      • The WHO acknowledged at the beginning of this outbreak that there is no registered, licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola and could only recommended supportive care. The fatality rate is between 50% and 90%. WHO also claims to hold to the tenet “first do no harm” when recommending any new medicine. Interestingly, it has OK’d a vaccine which is reported to be linked to elephantiasis. It seems to be “take your pick, Ebola or elephantiasis”.

        On the other hand, homeopaths have been treating similar epidemics successfully for 200 years. There are, indeed, well indicated homeopathic medicines which could be used to treat Ebola victims, and they clearly meet the WHO’s criteria of “first do no harm”.

        Reasonable people have to wonder why a system of medicine that has been proven to be so successful over 200+ years in hundreds of millions of people would be overlooked by organizations like WHO. Let’s watch the results of private work by homeopaths in Africa and then compare the outcomes.

        • Christy: Please tell us what you mean by “treating similar epidemics successfully.”

          For what it’s worth, I can do no harm to an Ebola patient by reading him some of my poetry. Does this make me a healer? Can I now tell people that my poetry is a successful treatment for Ebola?

        • Homeopathy has been very successful in two hemorrhagic fevers, dengue hemorrhagic fever and yellow fever. What it can achieve is evident in the history of just one epidemic of yellow fever which took place in the U.S. in 1878. There were 5,000 deaths in the city of Memphis alone and 20,000 deaths in the Mississippi Valley. The death rate with the allopathic treatment of the time was 15.5%. The death rate among those who were fortunate enough to be treated by homeopaths was 6%. Cuba has all but wiped out dengue fever and denque hemorrhagic fever with homeopathy.

          Leaving aside your poetry and the fact that the allopathic treatments for yellow fever in 1878 weren’t effective, I have to reiterate that reasonable people looking at the facts about homeopathic efficacy would without doubt trial and/or use it.

          I’m going to wait for the reports of homeopaths treating Ebola before I count it out.

        • You’re a member of the cult of scientism. You think knowledge can only be attained through RCT’s. Real knowledge is the facts that are come from the observation of phenomena that occur. If you were to develop yellow fever would you choose the doctors with hundreds of losses or the doctors with a few tens of losses?

          There are 600 basic science studies showing homeopathy has biological effects. There are hundreds of clinical trials and observational studies (they’re valuable because they show the effects of treatments in everyday, clinical use) that show homeopathy produces significant to substantial health benefits. I’m sure you know where to find them. If you were open to the experiences of people in the real world, you would read some case studies. What really matters is what the treatment does for the patient — that’s what medical professionals call clinical evidence. The clinical evidence, case studies, shows homeopathy works in all sorts of conditions, epidemics and pandemics.

        • What really matters is what the treatment does for the patient

          Yes. And this is unknowable unless we study it. And we study it by looking at whether it cures systematically and reliably. And listening to unsubstantiated anecdote isn’t studying, not by any definition.

          I don’t personally care how you conduct your own life. Seriously. The issue here is when snake oil peddlers inflict their ignorance on the innocent. It’s very much like religion in this way. What you believe and worship matters not a whit to me. But as soon as you attempt your legislate your superstitious nonsense on the rest of us, we have a problem.

          I said it earlier, and Otherwise reinforced it. I have no illusions that I can do anything about your willful ignorance. I CAN, however, make sure that your silliness gets pointed out.

          One thing smart people and stupid people have in common: neither can convince the other.

        • Replying to your latest comment re: cult of scientism and your specious claims as to evidence supporting homeopathy. No. Just plain no. Those studies, which you fail to cite (so we’re to take it on the evidence of your assertion that such exist?) don’t withstand the scrutiny of genuine scientific study. Full stop.

          Now, if you engage in all manner of irrational belief systems that lend meaning, peace, and joy to life, more power to you. I do the same. But I do not make the critical mistake of blending “meaning,” as subjective a term as there ever was when it comes to the human existential condition, with evidence when it comes to cold, hard data resulting from empirical research.

  6. Obviously, this author has not considered interviewing a practicing homeopath or person who has been helped by homeopathy. I’m contributing my own very brief experience using homeopathy.

    Despite what the skeptics say, they have no explanation for the growth of homeopathy internationally. Just recently I saw that registrations for courses by the Pitcarin Institute of Veterinary Homeopathy in Portland, Oregon are already being through April, 2015! Additionally,

    That said, my own experience with homeopathy has only been positive for myself, our family and our pets for the past 25 years. I have a family homeopath and a homeopathic first aid kit for acute non-life threatening conditions on many occasions. The homeopathic remedy Belladonna (in my first aid kit) helped alleviate a toothache and swelling from an abscessed tooth over a weekend when my dentist was unavailable.

    In addition, homeopathic Sulphur cured two cases of conventionally treated mange in a dog of my husband’s aunt and another dog belonging to one of my friends.

    Two family members with broken bones were facing surgery to repair because of slow healing. Homeopathic Symphytum hastened the healing of the breaks and both family members were able to avoid surgery. Before and after x-rays and ultrasound documented the healings in both cases.

    Our family homeopath prescribed a remedy that helped my husband avoid back surgery for two herniated discs at the L4 and L5 level. The herniated discs were documented by both x-ray and ultrasound both before and after treatment. He had been in excruciating pain and for six months could only walk using a cane.

    Several years ago my cholesterol level was off the charts. After viewing the lab report, my homeopath prescribed a remedy and on repeated lab testing a month later, my cholesterol was within normal limits. It has remained normal since that time. I took no other medication and no dietary change was necessary.

    A few doses of homeopathic Silicea over a two week period of time opened and helped drain a lipoma the size of a golf ball from one of our dog’s right shoulder. No surgery, stitches or antibiotics were needed and there is no residual scar. Even on an outpatient basis, the surgery local anesthesia, bandaging and antibiotics would most likely have cost well over a few hundred dollars.

    And, living in Florida where fleas on pets is a huge problem, I have used homeopathic Ruta graveolens in all my dogs’ water dishes for the past five years. The use of Ruta to deter fleas was mentioned in the book “Homoeopathy for Farm and Garden” by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj. There is another homeopathic preparation to address the flea problem in pets here in the United States. It is called “Flea Relief.” I believe it is sold on Amazon.

    • @help4hardtimes The irony in your comment is that you suggest, by sharing the comment from the linked study, that if it works for you, go with it. Thing is, anecdotes to the contrary since anecdotes do not establish an evidence base, there has been absolutely no legitimate research that supports the claims of homeopathy. When groups like “Homeopaths Without Borders” inflict this kind of placebo-based wishful thinking on regions suffering under legitimate public health threats, it’s not that they do no harm. It’s that they make the work of legitimate practitioners of actual science that much more of an uphill battle. All the anecdotes in the world don’t even address the simplest concerns even of basic critical thinking. Sometimes effects (e.g., “every weird skin thing”) have multiple and complex causes. When we know that homeopathy doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean the skin condition didn’t go away, or that its disappearance didn’t just happen to coincide with a dose of magic water. What it does mean is that any number of other rational factors may have changed simultaneously, any and all of which may have accounted for the clearing up of the “weird skin thing” (awesome diagnostic skills for that commenter, btw…I’m sure the field of dermatology is richer for it). Maybe it was diet. Maybe it was stress. Maybe it ran its course. But no amount of magic water (seriously, find a single reputable and legitimate source that shows that water with nothing in it contains anything other than water or has properties that physically or chemically distinguish it from water) contributes to any change in any condition, except perhaps thirst if taken in large enough doses.

      So here’s a tricky one for you…if homeopathic remedies are so effective, what’s the lethal amount required for [insert favorite snake oil here] for the patient to overdose? My guess is that, if tested, it would be close to 90 ml/kg, as tested on rats, as that level causes a relative depletion of sodium when the substance is taken in faster than it can be passed by the kidneys. The substance in question, mind you, is just plain old water. If homeopathic remedies require a lower dosage to accomplish the same damage, then it would be indicative that the “substance” was contaminated with other agents and thus not homeopathic at all.

      Sorry, but reality just doesn’t support your fanciful claims. If if works for YOU, by all means, knock yourself out. The placebo effect is an awesome thing, especially when combined with luck and the interactions of other unrecognized causes in a matrix of coincidence. Just keep the Bronze Age thinking out of the public health arena where “do no harm” actually contributes to killing real people when they opt away from evidence-based science on the empty promises of a discredited bunch of hokum.

      • Drug based medical interventions are not “evidence based science” and no mainstream medical journal would make that claim. You have obviously not read my comment on what EBM actually is and what it’s intended purpose is. You are skating on philosophy, not science.
        Accusing those who disagree with you of “Bronze Age thinking” when it is clear that you are doing nothing more than supporting the status quo (which has more to do with marketing than successful patient outcomes) is a sure sign that “skeptic” opinions about non-pharma based medicine are irrelevant.

        • Sam, as you noted earlier, the one thing educated people have in common with idiots is that neither can convince the other. If, hypothetically, this Laurie troll actually has any degree of scientific training, she/it (for all I know it’s some smelly dude in a stained t-shirt in Mom’s basement) willfully rejects the essential tenets of science to further her ridiculous claims. Failing that, all she/it has is the repetition and failure to exhibit willingness to educate her/itself. I’ve worked with professionals in the medical field where evidence-based practice and training were of paramount consideration as standards for care and practice keep improving. To the extent that “Laurie” keeps twisting the phrase to her own ends, she/it just keeps furthering my claim above that she/it’s either deceitful or just ignorant. In either case, it’s good to see that rational minds continue to oppose the rank bunkum she and her ilk keep trying to foist here.

          I’d hold my breath waiting for any legitimate “evidence-base” to be put forward by any of them, but I fear it would be to no avail. Maybe they’ve got some super-priced sugar pills and a gallon of magic water to wash them down with. That, in conjunction with some repeated inhalations, should mitigate any oxygen depletion I might suffer.

        • FWIW, I think this helps put the lie to Laurie’s claim that “drug based medical interventions are not ‘evidence based science.” Granted, the following is not from a “mainstream medical journal, but it is from the 5th edition of Pharmaceutical Practice, published by a reputable, “mainstream” medical publisher, Elsevier:

          “The process of EBM involves four stages. The first involves identifying the question to be answered such as: Does treatment with drug X prevent more cardiovascular events than drug Y? The second stage involves searching the literature to find studies that have compared drug X with drug Y. The third stage is a critical appraisal of the studies that have been identified which involves making judgements about the quality of the studies, comparing the evidence supporting drug X with the evidence supporting drug Y and determining whether the balance of evidence favours one drug over the other. The final stage is about applying the evidence to clinical practice, which could involve recommending one drug be prescribed by clinicians rather than the other.”

          I still don’t know what this Laurieperson’s credentials are, but if they can’t withstand even a little layperson’s Google-fu, maybe she needs more continuing ed.

        • @Frank Balsinger Both you and Sam still fail to comprehend HOW EBM is used, or what science really is. Apparently you can’t see beyond Scientism, which is rationalist materialist philosophy.
          The practise of meaningful medicine, which is health care technology (not science), relies on patient outcomes and is patient centred. You can play the paper trading game all day. Read more mainstream medical journals about the failure of EBM to improve the quality of patient care. It’s an eye-opener you’ve obviously missed in your zeal to diss Homeopathy on paper.

        • @Laurie: Yet again, you fail to provide a single citation for any one of your assertions and attempt to put the onus on those who actually do put forward rational claims backed by evidence. Pray tell, what definition of EBM do you use, complete with citation? How is it “used,” complete with citation? See, I submitted an actual example of its use published by a renowned medical publisher, and its use in an interdisciplinary sense shattered your non-argument. Yet you submit nothing but empty outrage.

          For that matter, there may be legitimate short-comings to EBM, one of the being the degree to which it is or is not inclusive of outcomes data. Thankfully, The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in Toronto makes this claim: “population-based “outcomes research” has repeatedly documented that those patients who do receive evidence-based therapies have better outcomes than those who don’t.”

          The claim is substantiated by another mainstream medical publisher, Wolters Kluwer, in a white paper (which admittedly might have a conflict of interest issue, but not that I see reason to disparage): Use of Evidence-Based Resources By Clinicians Improve Patient Outcomes

          You attempt to rebut reasoned refutations of homeopathy substantiated by peer-reviewed meta-studies, which citation more than meets your demand for recourse to mainstream medical literature with the pejorative “Scientism” without establishing a single basis for the pejorative, whereas, when I’ve engaged in similar rhetoric against your position, such usage of pejoratives on my part has been utterly and completely grounded in evidence. Homeopathy doesn’t work. And, to the point of the article at hand, the one to which you are replying, should be kept out of the global health arena, especially in disaster scenarios.

          Luckily, David Gorski, straight from the “scientism” camp, provides a fine rebuttal for you to ignore in its entirety.

          Lastly, as to playing the paper trading game, I can hardly be said to play when I am the only party to this debate that actually provides sources. What have you got other than apologetics for a field that has been discredited nearly since its inception?

          Reply all you want, but you’ve time and again shown that you have nothing to offer by way of reasoned debate. The difference between science and your wishful thinking is that the fruits of science advance over time, sometimes in fits and starts, sometimes by leaps and bounds, but it advances. Homeopathy has done nothing but fail and move the goalposts, without a single scientific credit to its cause. May you live to a healthy, ripe old age thanks to the marvels of this “scientism” you decry, whether its from improved science-driven patient outcomes, of the technologies that science drives.

  7. Look, there’s a whiff of the rational here and there in this, that’s the problem.

    It’s true that organized medicine is vicious about protecting its monopoly and quick to reject anything from outside.

    It’s also true that all would-be healers overstate the efficacy of their particular treatment regimen. Chiropractors claim to be able to cure colds. MD’s prescribe for conditions that should be left alone.

    It’s also true that big pharma (some of whom I’ve worked for by the way) is a racket and is much, much more interested than a marginal treatment that is patentable than a traditional one that is more or less free.

    However, just because big medicine and big pharma are arrogant, obnoxious, self-inflated and venal and homeopaths are generally well-intended (possibly) and sincere, doesn’t mean that homeopathy works. Nor does it mean that organized medicine is not the best solution for virtually every malady who’s root cause lies outside an overactive cerebrum.

    This sort of silly I-believe-because-I-want-to-believe and you-can’t-prove-it-doesnt-work crap is why quackery flourishes.

    (I must admit, I dont see anything wrong with helps4hardtimes practicing his or her nonsense on her dogs. At least he or she’s not treating haitans.).

    • When you make a claim that X cures Y, you incur a burden of proof. If 100 people have Y and we give them all X and 99 don’t get better, we have failed to provide evidence for our claim.

      Now, as to “well I tried X and I got better,” first, good. I’m glad you’re better. But that isn’t proof. Anecdotes are notoriously bad at controlling for other factors. For instance, maybe at the same time you took X you also ingested something else that cured you without you realizing it. Or maybe you didn’t have Y after all. Or maybe Y went into remission for atypical reasons. Hard to say without actually doing the research.

      Am I an elitist? Well, when you make a claim that you can cure me, I want evidence. If that makes me elitist, then bet your sweet ass I’m an elitist, and proudly so.

      Finally, like Otherwise says, pharmaceutical companies can be all kinds of nasty things, up to and including stone cold sociopathic. This is not an either/or discussion. Realizing that homeopathy is quackery does not mean I think the pharmas are run by angels. The two have nothing to do with one another, and when you try and play that rhetorical game you make clear that either you’re not especially bright or you’re, well, playing a manipulative rhetorical game. So what’s YOUR secret agenda?

      One more note. Bitch and carp all you want, but do not try and pretend that the author says things he does not say and don’t pretend he didn’t say the things he did say. He’s more than fair about the benefits of things that aren’t sold by Big Pharma. You might reread the paragraph that includes the term “attapulgite” – or, more to the point, you might read it for the first time, since I’m seeing plenty of evidence here that some commenters never made it past the opening paragraph.

      • The one word homeopathy True Believers hate: meta-study. Here’s news of the latest of them. Even when homeopathy’s best “evidence” is submitted to scrutiny, it fails. It simply does. Not. Work. For those who think it has worked based on personal experience, consider yourselves lucky, because that’s all it was, the lucky combination of placebo effect and random chance.

        • @FrankBalsinger Thanks for that link. There is a wonderful comment by jimbocurtis that I will share since you already posted the link. His comment is typical of people who support homeopathy worldwide (now over 500 million) AFTER THEY HAVE BEEN TREATED BY A HOMEOPATH. The skeptics cannot say the same thing. Natural conclusion should be and ultimately is a homeopathy skeptics’ opinion does not matter.

          “Actually, after failed attempts with allopathy, I decided to see a homeopath (for the first time) for some symptoms that were quite peculiar. The remedy was an overnight success. It was at that time that I realized it worked and I just went with it. That was in 1997. Ever since then, with any ailment I have had, every weird skin thin or various other problem I couldnt sort out on my own with help from some over-the-counter aid, I would go see that same Homeopath and every single time (and I am serious- every instance) I was given a remedy that was successful to treat the condition I had gone in for. I do not care if science cannot prove it to be real- it works. maybe not for everyone, but it certainly does for some. Just like allopathy doesnt work for everyone- can allopathy be proven that it works? in some cases, yes, but certainly not all of them. And just like there are “good” practicioners of every trade- whether it be your dentist, doctor, auto mechanic, chiropractor, etc- there are also “bad” ones. Everything is not for everyone- to each his/her own. If you like allopathy, that’s great. If you like homeopathy, great. if you like them both, great. if you don’t like either, great. it’s your life, its your choice. choose wisely based on what is needed for YOU.”

  8. Some people seem to want to play “trading studies” when in the real world what is of concern to patients are positive outcomes. These same people then want to argue with the positive outcomes reported by the real world patients based on a lack of traded studies. Fortunately the real world patients could care less about the opinions of people who do no actual research or carry no responsibility for patient outcomes. Moreover, the real world patients find that there are hundreds of millions of other real world patients who are reporting similar positive outcomes and have been for about 250 years. The next time the real world patients encounter a health problem they turn to the system of medicine that has helped them in the past — Homeopathy.

    • Laurie, you (and a lot of others) don’t seem to understand the word “evidence.” Nothing you say here marks these “remedies” out in a way that differentiates them from faith healing, snake handling or burying a rooster’s head under the oak tree under a full moon. And I mean this literally.

      I don’t kid myself that I can cure willful ignorance. But I can shine a light on silliness for others who are reading.

      • Samuel, you are warping the concept of evidence as it applies to Evidence Based Medicine. If you spent your time reading actual medical journals you’d find that it’s purpose is to allow medical practitioners to determine the best possible solution for their particular patient in their OWN system of medicine. It was NEVER intended to be twisted into a meme to be used by non-medical practitioners or those with no responsibility for patient outcomes to baste the internet with opinionated editorials.
        Research into Homeopathy or any system of medicine is to inform practitioners in that system or for the purpose of basic experimentation. It does not exist to justify it’s use to armchair critics.
        Those who have a mindset warped by Scientism routinely manufacture the types of arguments chronically put forth by organized “skeptic” followers to discredit non-pharma based medicine.

  9. Again, I would like to recommend that this author, or any writer/author of an article bashing homeopathy AT THE VERY LEAST talk to a licensed practicing homeopath (by that I mean not taking the repeating what they have heard from other skeptics). I am taking the liberty of providing another *anecdotal* story about the success of a single dose of one remedy that worked in seconds. Cost, minus gas for the car, approximately $35.

    I traveled used to travel 120 miles by car round trip to visit the homeopath that treated my family and our pets for 27 years. It is always a pleasure to hear about the successes of homeopathy, sometimes with just a single remedy. One of the most dramatic accounts of the effectiveness of a single homeopathic remedy concerns a friend of mine who had a colicky baby, 6 months without relief on conventional medicines. I recommended she consult my family homeopath who lived 400 miles from my friend’s home. The child screamed in pain the entire way and the trip was more difficult because of a flat tire along the way. Upon arrival at the homeopath’s home, my friend was told to place the boy on a small table. As he was still crying loudly, it was easy to drop a few pellets of Dioscorea villosa in his mouth. Within seconds the child stopped crying and a huge smile appeared instead. The return trip home was a delight and the little boy had no further episodes!

    This type of response to a homeopathic remedy (and there are so many more) is why homeopathy has survived the attacks by its skeptics for over 250 years.

      • A practising Homeopath is responsible to the patients s/he treats NOT trying to impress armchair critics. The same armchair critics want to argue with satisfied patients who are not interested in impressing the armchair critics either. Third party armchair critics are not involved in this process any more than they are in conventional medical relationships.

        • On the contrary, “armchair critics,” equipped with either scientific understanding, or at least the willingness and ability to acquire it, have an important role to play when it comes to public health. Our job is to counter the pseudo-science quackery you espouse whenever it intrudes on rational discussion and to oppose its use in matters of genuine public concern. This strikes me very much akin to the freedom of/for religion issues we face today. You are free to believe whatever ridiculous crap you wish, as am I, but when it poses a threat to civil society, the state will eventually have to take a stand. Your “deeply held convictions” don’t have to be based on evidence. The implementation of those deeply held convictions in the public arena damned well should be. It’s not that “science” says you are wrong. It’s that the best available evidence produced by the best available method of inquiry has found absolutely no reason to support the correctness of your assertions.

          So back, once again, to the topic of the article, which is, after all, the subject you and your cohort keep straying from, when modern science actually stands a chance of actually helping people in dire need of medical assistance, your homeopaths, crystal wavers, Bible thumpers, and other credulous sorts need to stay away because the position you advance has zero credible support but will appeal to troubled people who are just as credulous and desperate for a solution, any solution. Your non-solution, at best, does not immediately harm while simultaneously making it more difficult for real solutions to be accepted by the people who most need them. That’s “at best,” and that’s pretty damned shoddy. Worse than that, someone who is in dire need of efficacious treatment may turn it aside if blinded by the empty promises you offer and die as a result. At worst, take the Ebola outbreak as a major case in point, if someone declines legitimate aid in favor of your snake oil non-solution, they might not just die but become a vector for the continued spread of the disease that needs genuine treatment.

          Seriously, the nonsense you espouse needs to stop. Your outdated thinking has far more capacity to kill than it does to heal. The most pathetic thing about this claptrap isn’t just that you believe it. It’s that quacks get you folks to part with your hard earned money, what, $15+ for an ounce of nothing, when that money would be better spent on books to educate yourselves or as donations to charities like Doctors Without Borders that actually make a real difference.

      • Thanks for the link, Frank. Not that the pro-homeo folks will click on it or believe it.

        At any rate, this illustrates another problem. We progressives think we can make the world a better place by overcoming any force, however powerful. In reality, we are sweeping back the ocean on this one (as we are on climate change and income distribution.) Some problems are simply intractable, pushed by larger forces than we can combat. In this case, this is evolution in action. The world no longer needs stupid people with strong backs, so evolution is kicking them to the curb. Vaccinating their children with water is a cruel way to do it, but Darwinism aint for the soft hearted.

        • Completely agreed, but as long as the True Believers keep insinuating themselves into the public health arena, they pose a public health hazard themselves. If crystal waving, chanting, and pretty smells alleviate a host of minor afflictions largely attributable to stress, let ’em have at it. When their mumps-susceptible offspring risk bringing it into the public commons, that’s another issue. If an enemy state intentionally unleashed infected individuals on our public, we’d call it biological warfare. This is yet another arena where I think the public interest ought to override “deeply held conviction.” If they can find a way to keep the contagious fruits of those convictions under their own roofs, let them practice their modern day witchdoctrine as they will and let Darwin sort ’em out. Until then, they can maintain their convictions and just suck up the so-called persecution while modern society demands they not unleash their diseased wishful thinking on the rest of us.

  10. Hold on, Sam. If I’m reading this correctly, it sounds like homeopathy can also prevent flat tires, which as a cyclist, is sort of a big deal to me. Where do you buy this dioscorea villosa and how do you apply it to the tire?

    OK, that was childish, but I’m off the thread. In response to a nonsensical bit of circular logic by Daniel Dennert, Sam Harris recently said something like, “I’ve given up all hope of ever using logic and facts to convince anyone to change their mind.” As David said in his last peice, people invest heavily (in emotional dollars) in making their previous decisions seem right. These folks believe and cannot see how silly and puerile their arguments are, and you aint going change thier minds.

  11. 1) At no point did the author claim that science based medicine and its delivery is flawless. Brining up the issues with big pharma or overpriced care is a straw man argument, diverting readers from the main point of the article which is that unless something can be scientifically proven to beat placebo, then it should stay out of global health. 2) Homeopathy has never been proven to work in clinical trials. This is why it is an alternative medicine. So for those clamoring that he should have interviewed a homeopath, then why not a faith healer? Or a long distance physic healer? Or an aroma therapist? They can offer unsubstantiated claims to the efficacy of their treatments, too.

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