A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

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.

10 Responses to “Shang’s secret – the hydra of homoeomythology”

  1. gimpy said

    There are many more inconsistencies and misinterpretations in these presentations. I will have a post up on Alex Tournier’s interesting interpretation of the scientific method and homeopathy research later on today. It’s mostly the same old lies with a couple of new ones thrown in. Progress.

  2. apgaylard said

    Quite. I look forward to reading your post. I’ll be posting on Milgrom’s determined misunderstanding of philosophy next. Basically a re-run of our exchange of letters in Homeopathy, with some new mistakes. As you say, progress of sorts.

  3. pleick said

    And that coming from a researcher whose pet theory rigorously proves that randomized, double-blind trials are not the correct way to test homeopathy, since the blinding destroys the 3-way entanglement between patient, practitioner and remedy.
    But who are we to criticize: when the evidence is bad, you have to use every good story you can, never mind the facts.

    Seriously, somebody should write them a letter…
    Regarding Milgrom, I’ll just point out that he brought up the “secret 8 trials”-myth in his reply to my criticism of his theory (doi:10.1016/j.homp.2008.02.002, behind paywall) even though I haven’t mentioned it in my letter (doi:10.1016/j.homp.2007.11.007). The “absence of studies that clearly demonstrate the superiority of homeopathic remedies over placebos in randomized, controlled double-blind trials (RCT) and the implausibility of the claim that dilutions beyond Avogadro’s limit can have any specific effect” I mentioned, can be justified by about any sample of non-fraudulent studies, I believe.
    I have half a mind to reply, but very little time at the moment. Still, I might get to it, eventually.

  4. lecanardnoir said

    I love the description of Milgrom being the quantum flap-doodler extraordinaire. I have published my own analysis of Milgrom’s ‘New Fundamentalism’ today. I call him a Bafflegabbler – someone whose multiloquence is characterized by consummate interfusion of circumlocution or periphrasis, inscrutability, and other familiar manifestations of abstruse expatiation.

    The “New Fundamentalism”: Why Lionel Milgrom is Plain Wrong (Again)

  5. apgaylard said

    Thanks for your insight; I hope you get around to writing the letter. It would be really good to get this myth slain in the homeopathic literature.

    Excellent, love your turn of phrase. As for mine, I have to credit Murray Gell-Mann.

  6. dvnutrix said

    Whether it is flap-doodler or babblegabbler, both capture the recurrent pattern that most of these peoplesound like Leonard Sachs, banging his gavel and MCing The Good Old Days.

    There must be a health tonic somehwere that most of them take and that has an ingredient that expands the vocabulary in unhelpful ways while simulatenously conferring amnesia for the inconvenient.

  7. apgaylard said

    That may well be, for Milgrom at least. However, I’ve spotted something I missed in the THES piece comments. Dr A Tournier said of the Shang paper that it, “does not give the reference to the 8+6 trials on which it draws its conclusion”[27 June, 2008]. Later Dr A Tournier PhD said, “Re the Shang etal 2005, yes the references were given after much pressure was exerted” [30 June, 2008]. Assuming that these commenters are the same person it very much looks like either highly selective amnesia or they are being economical with the actualité when they construct their fantasies.

  8. […] Quackometer and apgaylard have already examined Lionel Milgrom’s evidence and found it artificially engorged with […]

  9. wilsontown said

    The homeopaths continue to say the thing that is not. It’s striking how anything that looks vaguely positive for homeopathy will get wheeled out forever, but anything negative at all goes straight down the homeopathic memory hole

  10. apgaylard said

    Thanks, they certainly do. Good post on your blog by the way.

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