A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

Making your own reality

Posted by apgaylard on August 19, 2008

This is just a short post to note, with disappointment but not surprise, that some homeopaths are still making up things about the meta-regression analysis of Shang et al and others are only interested in parroting them.

Well-known American homeopath Dana Ullman, in an interview which is being carried on the Sue Young Homeopathy website is making up his own reality and it seems that Sue Young would like to live in it, unencumbered by the intrusion of nasty facts.

Paul Wilson has ably covered the misconceptions and untruths proffered by Ullman.  Given that he made one incontrovertible error of fact, I thought that I’d try an engage with Sue Young (“homeopath, a writer and a human being”) on the narrow point of Ullman’s accuracy.  I did this on the basis that getting simple facts badly wrong hardly does the credibility of her site any good. (hyperlinks and red text added for this post)

Hi Sue,

Just a small correction to a comment made by Dana in the interview. It is quite wrong to say that the study by Shang et al, “did not include any of David Reilly’s research”. It did; the following three studies were included, though none met the criteria for ‘higher quality’. (The [numbers] are the reference numbers used by the authors in their webappendix and other material available on-line.)

[76]      Reilly D, Taylor MA, Beattie NGM, et al. Is evidence for homoeopathy reproducible? Lancet 1994; 344: 1601-06.

[77]      Reilly DT, Taylor MA, McSharry C, Aitchison T. Is homoeopathy a placebo response? Controlled trial of homoeopathic potency, with pollen in hayfever as model. Lancet 1986; 2: 881-85.

[78]      Reilly DT, Taylor MA. Potent placebo or potency? A proposed study model with initial findings using homoepathically prepared pollens in hayfever. Br Homoeopath J 1985; 74: 65-75.

I’m sure that you’ll agree that it’s important to get the facts right – even if we disagree about what they mean.

I have submitted my comment twice, both times is disappeared from the moderation queue.  I’ve even e-mailed to ask why this has happened; to no avail.  It really does the credibility of homeopaths and their apologists no good to keep repeating the same stories to each other; even when they must know they are wrong.

It seems par for the course that homeopaths make up stories about the contents of Shang et al.  Others merely misunderstand and misrepresent the paper.  I understand why they don’t like its conclusions; but rather than criticising what it is not or attacking the motives of the authors, they should really be engaging with the work as it is.

So, to any passing homeopaths that come across this post all I’d like to say is: I know why you don’t like the paper, please tell me where the errors are and by the way, before you try, please do be sure to read it – along with their reply to their critics – first.

Edit. I’m pleased to say that not all homeopaths are as closed-minded as Sue Young. “Life Care – Advanced Homeopathy” are carrying the same piece, I submitted the same comment: the difference is that it has passed moderation and appears on their blog. Thank you Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad; credit where it is due. (7/08/2010) No, wait, it’s been removed Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad is just another homeopathy propagandist.

(Dr Aust’s piece on Alt.Reality makes a good companion for this post.)

10 Responses to “Making your own reality”

  1. dvnutrix said

    This making stuff/reality up is profoundly annoying. It’s like trying to have a discussion with people who have voluntarily rather than involuntarily developed Korsakoff’s Syndrome which allows them to display amnesia, complete indifference to what they are told and allows them to confabulate matters to put together an explanation that suits them.

  2. jdc325 said

    “It really does the credibility of homeopaths and their apologists no good to keep repeating the same stories to each other”
    Their credibility had surely already been diluted out of existence – along with the active ingredients in their “most potent” remedies.

  3. pleick said

    What, and let one of Homeopathy’s great truths crumble to dust as it is exposed by the sunlight?
    For Homeopathy apologists, the alleged Shang conspiracy is just too good of a story to spoil it with straight facts.

    It is the very definition of cargo cult (or amateur) science… so much easier to repeat hearsay or to power-read abstracts than to actually do a thorough review of the literature. Which is just what you should expect from the people who compiled the “Memory of Water”-issue of homeopathy – sloppy experiments, narrowly interpreted in order to obtain the correct result, a stylish disregard of more mundane explanations…

  4. pleick said

    Jdc325: Perhaps you can increase the potency of an explanation by diluting the facts out of it? There shouldn’t be a limit as to how far you can take this.

    Actually, this brings to mind a book by a homeopath that I have the dubious pleasure of currently reading. The author, who treats his patients with 10000K “dynamisations”, delights in the fact that his remedies are obviously “immaterial”. He goes on to repeatedly write that his cures are therefore the obvious proof of the existence of the “immaterial” life energy.

  5. draust said

    That is a very classical piece of “Kentian” homeopathy, Phillipe.

    James Tyler Kent was a very prominent homeopath and teacher around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. He was also a religious (Swedenborgian) mystic. Kent believed, and taught, that all disease was “spiritually based” and resulted from “disturbance of the vital force”… and he therefore favoured and proselytised for ultra-dilute homeopathic remedies precisely because they had no physical active ingredients… thus containing only the “mystic essence” of the remedy.

    Kent is especially revered by British homeopaths, which goes some way toward explaining what a bunch of mystic mumbo-jumbo types they are.

  6. dvnutrix said

    The Swedenborgians – a fascinating group that was remarkably influential. Lots of tie-ins with homeopathy and figures who promised to sell elixirs for eternal life. I had a relative who delighted in discussing Swedenborgian influences on the works of Blake, Browning and Barrett-Browing.

    But then again, if Swedenborgians genuinely believed that each act of sexual intercourse on earth produced a guardian angel in heaven, then it would be straining at a gnat to object to the premises of homeopathy.[/stop derail]

    However, Swedenborgianism and homeopathy flourished amongst intellectuals at a time when countries and societies were progressing by way of political, scientific and industrial revolution. In the clash of social and scientific progress versus faith, then faith could adapt accordingly, maintain a fragile status quo or become more esoteric.

    With all these attempts to distort evidence, delete awareness of inconvenient studies etc., it may or may not be apparent which tactic some modern homeopaths are adopting.

  7. wilsontown said

    I think you’re wasting your time with Sue Young. She’s well known for not allowing sceptical comments on her blog. And, in this case, she’s just posted an interview that was originally published elsewhere. Sure, if you had posted something that demonstably contained errors of fact you’d be embarassed, but this is not the way alt med types think, as you point out.

    It might be worth contacting the Zeus Information Service, who seem to be responsible for originally publishing the interview, but I doubt you would have any more luck.

  8. apgaylard said

    Thanks for all the comments; they make for an entertaining read. I guess I knew that this was a vain endevour; but I just couldn’t resist trying to post a comment. Then I thought, “I’ve gone to the trouble of writing it, why not pop it on my blog?” (cheap content, many birds one stone, etc.)

    I’m following-up on Wilsontown’s suggestion. I’ve also found another blog or two carrying this. One of them is associated with a homeopath who has posted comments here – so he couldn’t object to my polite interjection, could he? Well, I’ll see.

    Like pleick I take this as just another indication of the Cargo Cult nature of the homeopaths who appeal to ‘science’.

    The thing that’s surprised me most as I have got more engaged with homeopathy than I ever intended, is just how easy it is to pick holes in what some ‘leading lights’ publish. No need to be very clever – just a bit of reading required.

    Finally, I’ve just remebered that Dana has form on this type of accusation. Wilsontown and I caught him out last year claiming that Shang hadn’t included some trials by Jacobs in his analysis. Of course, they had: all three were selected as part of the initial 110 by Shang et al. Jacobs (48.) was deemed not to be of high quality. Jacobs (49) didn’t make it into the final eight on the grounds that it didn’t have SE in the lowest quartile.

    Seems that if it’s not in the final eight trials, it’s not in the study as far as he is concerned. Again, missing the point that the whole 110 were used to quantify bias. I wonder what author he’ll plead was left out next?

  9. wilsontown said

    “Seems that if it’s not in the final eight trials, it’s not in the study as far as he is concerned”.

    Perhaps the simplest way to counteract this “they only looked at 8 trials” nonsense is to refer to Figure 2 of the paper, where they show their meta-regression analysis for all 110 trials of homeopathy. The meta-regression curve shows an effect size of zero at its top end. The sub-analysis of 8 trials is basically just a different way of stating the same thing.

  10. apgaylard said

    wilsontown: Thanks, that’s a sound approach.

    Just a quick note (I’ve edited my piece): “Life Care Advanced Homeopathy” are also carrying the Ullman interview; so I submitted a very similar comment. To their credit it has passed moderation. I keep reminding myself that not all homeopaths are cut from quite the same cloth. Though I still disagree with them – some are at least willing to not pretend other views don’t exist.

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