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Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Milgrom’

A homeopathic refutation – part three

Posted by apgaylard on September 25, 2009

In the third part of my series examining an attempted refutation of the critics of homeopathy (Milgrom, 2009) I look at the claim that homeopathy has a serious scientific foundation.

bigstockphoto_Medicine_Dropper_In_Green_Ligh_1866643Dilute Science

This part of the essay starts by outlining a common criticism levelled at the most common form of homeopathy practised in the US and UK.  This calls homeopathy unscientific because:

“[…] in many homeopathic remedies, the original substance has been diluted out of molecular existence, detractors claim belief in homeopathy has no basis in science as ‘nothing cannot do something’.”

So, can apologists for homeopathy point to serious scientific work which shows that nothing can do something?  Read the rest of this entry »

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A homeopathic refutation – part two

Posted by apgaylard on September 13, 2009

This post is the second in a series examining the claims made in a recent essay that seeks, in part, to refute common criticisms of homeopathy (Milgrom, 2009).  I have already examined the empty assertions about evidence for clinically useful specific effects.  Now, I would like to move on to examine an attempted refutation of claims that, “Homeopathy is deadly”. 

black_rubber_pirate_duckHow deadly is homeopathy?

Milgrom starts with a bit of distraction: “The claim that homeopathy is deadly has never been substantiated, primarily because it cannot be proved anyone has died as a direct result of taking a homeopathic remedy.” 

This is entirely irrelevant; no critical discourse that I have come across has made the claim that the remedies themselves are toxic*.  As I pointed out in my last post: the problem is not in the pills, but in their uselessness; and the attitudes of some homeopaths.  He then moves to the actual concerns of sensible critics: 

“The claim arises over concerns that those taking homeopathic remedies might forgo ‘life-saving’ drugs. This is a false perception: many who come to homeopathy do so only after conventional treatments have failed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in homeopathy | Tagged: , , , , | 29 Comments »

A homeopathic refutation – part one

Posted by apgaylard on September 6, 2009

bigstockphoto_Picking_Cherries_5456575Lionel Milgrom recently had an essay published defending homeopathy (Milgrom, 2009).  It’s available on the Homeopathy World Community website.  In it, he notes the current parlous state of homeopathy as a mainstream medical intervention in the UK and seeks to do two things: (1) refute what he identifies as the main criticisms of homeopathy and (2) explore the context for what he views as unjustified attacks. 

In this post I shall examine Milgrom’s opening and his comments on the evidence for homeopathy.  I will be examining his arguments around: the scientific nature of homeopathy, its risks, the role of the profit motive and the influence of philosophy, in subsequent posts. 

Sitting comfortably? 

The summary starts with a familiar defence: “homeopathy has been in successful and continuous use for well over 200 years”.  This makes the usual mistake of conflating two different arguments: efficacy and popularity.  It is a common mistake to assume that the two go hand in hand.  History tells a different story.  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in homeopathy | Tagged: , , , | 31 Comments »

Dangerous delusions

Posted by apgaylard on September 12, 2008

[BPSDB] Professor Ernst’s recent exploration of the dubious ethics apparently demonstrated by some homeopaths, pharmacists and their professional bodies in, “peddling so-called ‘vaccines’ without any evidence that they are effective” set me thinking about the recent “Scientific Research in Homeopathy” conference.

What views, if any, did the speakers express on the issue of immunization?  Three of the speakers addressed this subject.  We shall see that one homeopath doesn’t think that vaccines are needed; another thinks that homeopathy can both treat people with malaria and offer effective prophylaxis; and the conference organiser is hiding behind a fig leaf. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in homeopathy, Pseudoscience | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Blind Anger

Posted by apgaylard on July 13, 2008



In the second part of my journey through the arid valley of the recent ‘Scientific Research in Homeopathy’ conference under the guidance of the philosophically myopic Lionel Milgrom we’ll see that the philosophical element of his apologia (powerpoint file) is empty, inconsistent, contradictory, inept and misleading.

The other bits are no better either.  (Milgrom’s lecture has been skillfully deconstructed on the quackometer by Andy Lewis)

Milgrom claims that it’s time for homeopaths and other CAM advocates to get angry: it seems his anger has blinded him to the weakness of his arguments.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in homeopathy, Logical Fallacies, Philosophy, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

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.

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The Memory of Water: Replies and Answers

Posted by apgaylard on January 17, 2008

While all answers are replies, not all replies are answers.”

Ta’Lon, Babylon 5: Point of No Return, script by J. Michael Straczynski.

The Memory of Water issue of the journal Homeopathy has provoked a number of critical responses, which the journal has now published.  Those authors whose work has been criticised have, quite rightly, responded.  So far, this is healthy: this is how science works.

However, most of the responses could be described by the observation: “not all replies are answers.”  Let’s take the replies to my two letters, for example.

The first is from Lionel Milgrom, the second is by Vybíral and Voráček.

The dangerous swan song of the straw man

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Logical Fallacies, Philosophy, The Memory of Water | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Water Water Everywhere

Posted by apgaylard on November 14, 2007

The recent special issue of the journal Homeopathy on ‘The Memory of Water’ gave rise to a lot of skeptical comment.  A significant amount of this was facilitated by a Journal Club that Ben Goldacre ran at www.badscience.net, with the permission of the publishers (Elsevier) and editor (Peter Fisher). 

It’s pleasing to be able to report that one of the two ‘letters’ I submitted will be published by Homeopathy in the January issue.  It looks like it will be in good company.  The status of the remaining submission is unclear at the moment, though I am hopeful that it will make it in the end!

[ed.  News just in; the remaining letter will also be published in the January issue.]

It is good to see that Homeopathy and its editor are fostering an open engagement with those of us who were unconvinced, to say the least, by what we read in the special issue.

I am also looking forward to seeing what the authors will have to say for themselves.

Finally, I must admit to being somewhat bemused at the prospect of being published in Homeopathy.  As I work in a fairly obscure field, it probably has the highest impact factor of any journal that I’ve been published in.

Posted in The Memory of Water | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Homeopathy and the memory of water: Milgrom and the philosophy of science

Posted by apgaylard on October 12, 2007

The journal Homeopathy has published a special issue on the memory of water.  The contents have been discussed quite widely (see Philip Ball‘s contributions, for example).  An important aspect of this has been the journal club set up by Ben Goldacre at Bad Science.  This has enabled a lot of well informed analysis from people who may not have been able to access the original papers otherwise.  I would like to record my thanks to Ben for arranging this opportunity to get access to these papers and providing a forum for discussion.  Thanks are also due to Peter Fisher (Editor) and the publishers, Elsevier, for giving their permission for the journal club.  It is brave to be open to criticism and an indispensable aspect of scientific discourse.  It stands in stark contrast to recent actions taken by the Society of Homeopaths.

Thanks to the journal club I have been able to have a go at critiquing a number of the papers.  As a result I have submitted a couple of letters to the editor of the journal.  Over the next few posts I’ll make these available on this blog and add some reflections.  I’ll also report on my success, or otherwise, at having my observations published in Homeopathy

Physics remains my main scientific interest and this has coloured my choice of papers.  For me, homeopathy becomes really interesting when it places itself in the domain of real physical effects and mechanisms.  When it does this it must conform to the massively successful description of nature that is contemporary physics.  Am I arguing that physics is complete and flawless?  No.  What I am saying is that physics encapsulates a large, coherent, successful but finite body of knowledge.  By asserting that water can “remember” what has been dissolved in it, even when it is no longer there, Homeopathy has stepped into the domain of what is known and must therefore be judged against it.

The first paper I read makes a wild application of certain aspects of quantum theory to “explain” homeopathy and why it cannot be tested.  All that I will say on that aspect of the paper is that by removing the key experimental observation that quantum physics applies only to processes with very small dimensions, as expressed by Planck’s constant, it has parted company with what I’ll loosely call reality and no longer has the power to explain processes in nature.  [For a detailed analysis of the quantum mechanical content of this paper, and other similar work, the blog by shpalman is excellent.]

The paper awoke memories of undergraduate lectures on the nature and philosophy of science.  As you can see the author asserts that the philosophy of science is to blame for the lack of regard in which homeopathy is held by most scientists.  A philosophical picture is developed to explain this blindness.  His contention is that scientists are so constrained by a prescriptive “method” that they cannot accept the contrarian observations, the black swans of homeopathy.  As my letter points out, the author did this by picking a simplistic (and discredited) philosophical model and defining this as science.  This stands as a fine example of the classic “straw man” fallacy.

Milgrom, L. R., “Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy” Homeopathy, Volume 96, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 209-219.

Straw Men and Black Swans: The Philosophy of Contemporary Science 

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in homeopathy, Logical Fallacies, Philosophy, Pseudoscience, The Memory of Water | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Homeopathy and the memory of water: Milgrom and the philosophy of science

Appealing To Authority

Posted by apgaylard on October 10, 2007

I’ve come across some interesting authoritative statements recently.  I have read about a Nobel Laureate along with a distinguished academic with a host of articles in Nature endorsing surprising views.

This prompted me to think about a common logical fallacy: The “Appeal to Authority” (argumentum ad verecundiam) and to test these pronouncements against its definition.

Here is how different sources define the fallacy. They show some variation, but the core of the concept is clear.

“…appealing to the testimony of an authority outside his special field. Anyone can give opinions or advice; the fallacy only occurs when the reason for assenting to the conclusion is based on following the improper authority.”[1]

“…consisting on basing the truth value of an assertion on the authority, knowledge or position of the person asserting it.”[2]

“… appeal to the beliefs of someone based on something other than their authority on the subject.”[3]

This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject.” [4]

So, this fallacy comes into effect when the authority cited is not a legitimate authority on the subject at hand and when we are expected to assent to a conclusion on their say-so.

That said; appeals to authority can be legitimate.  A common example is consulting a doctor, for instance.  However, even a good appeal to authority should not be viewed, on its own, as a particularly strong argument.  Experts can be mistaken and frequently are; though they are more likely to be right than someone without their particular knowledge.

What tests should be applied to establish the legitimacy of an authority?  A “widely accepted” set of criteria are summarised in the list below. [4]

  1. The person has sufficient expertise in the subject matter in question.

  2. The claim being made by the person is within her area(s) of expertise.

  3. There is an adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question.

  4. The person in question is not significantly biased.

  5. The area of expertise is a legitimate area or discipline.

  6. The authority in question must be identified.

These could be summarised as: expertise, scope, agreement, bias, legitimacy and identifiability.

Let’s review the examples I briefly mentioned to earlier and examine whether they are reasonable or fallacious appeals to authority.

Example 1:   An author responding to criticism [5] of his manipulation of quantum theory to justify homeopathy [6]. 

“… Whether a physicist was included among the peer-reviewers of my paper I could not possibly say. However, for his information, I continually run my ideas passed highly competent quantum physicists (including a Nobel Laureate), so he should have no qualms concerning at the very least, their plausibility.” [7]

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Posted in homeopathy, Logical Fallacies | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »