Shang’s secret – the hydra of homoeomythology
Posted by apgaylard on July 4, 2008
The Complementary Medical Association (CMA) recently held the inaugural “Scientific Research in Homeopathy” conference at the University of Westminster. Homeopathy researcher and quantum flap-doodler extraordinaire Lionel Milgrom was one of the speakers. Reviewing the slides of his presentation is a real treat; a truely remarkable document. (It’s available here as a powerpoint file)
For this post I’ll just pick his slide on the controvertial (for homeopaths) Lancet paper by Shang et al.
So, what’s wrong with this slide? It depends when it was presented; If this had been presented at a conference in between the end of August and mid-December 2005 then the answer would be: not much (aside from the implicit mis-understanding of the study. Also I’m not able to comment on the assertion that Egger refused to provide the data). To be fair, Peter Fisher’s published objection does fall between these dates.
It is true that the identitites of the final eight high-quality trials of homeopathy and six trials of conventional medicine were not included in the original paper. However, they were identified explicitly by the authors in the 17th December 2005 issue of The Lancet [Lancet 366 (2005) pp.2083-2085.] The authors also made additional material available online.
It’s worth noting that this is the same issue of the Lancet that the critical comments of Fisher et al., Linde and Jonas, Walach et al., and Dantas appeared in. Milgrom seems to be aware of, at least, Fisher’s contribution. It seems odd that the author’s reply passed him, and so many others by.
The on-line material is available to anyone with internet access and a bit of curiosity. It provides a list of homoeopathy studies excluded from their analysis; details on the characteristics and results of the 110 placebo-controlled homoeopathy trials they used and the equivalent data for the 110 placebo-controlled conventional trials. This information was originally posted on December 17th, 2005 and subsequently corrected (for an error in the graphs) on December 23rd, 2005.
Yet Milgrom at a conference in June 2008 is pretending that this never happened; stating these criticisms like they have any meaning outside those three-and-a-half months in 2005. He is by no means alone in propagating this piece of homoeomythology, but you’d think that he’d take more care with his scholarship at such a high-profile event. It’s astounding that a celebrated homeopathy researcher would be so out of date; almost beyond belief that others involved with this event also seem to be similarly out-of-date.
For instance, Dr Alex Tournier had this to say about Shang et al:
“…its conclusions are based on the comparison of 8 ‘high-quality’ homeopathy trials with 6 matched conventional medicine trials. It … does not give the reference to the 8+6 trials on which it draws its conclusion.”
Dr A Tournier, 27 June, 2008 (Comment on “Homoeopaths label scientists the ‘new fundamentalists’ “, Times Higher Education Supplement, 26th June 2008.)
Well, yes, as we have seen: that was true for a few months in 2005. You’d think that the homeopaths would at least try to keep up with such a contentious issue. It’s just remarkable how often this myth gets an airing. This hydra-headed myth keeps popping up; like a deranged Heracles we hack away: it just doesn’t want to die.
“The biggest defect was that the authors identified 110 relevant studies and then excluded all but 8 of them from the final analysis — and declined to name them! This would seem to be blatant research misconduct.”
Dr Damien Downing, “LIES, DAMNED LIES AND…PROFESSOR ERNST’S NEW BOOK“, 21st April 2008.
Any thinking person should ask themselves: if Milgrom is so wrong about Shang et al can we trust the other things he had to say? In many cases the answer is no, but those are for another day.
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