A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

Posts Tagged ‘Logical Fallacies’

The RCN, CAM and the menopause – Part one – The herbs don’t work?

Posted by apgaylard on November 18, 2008

complementary-approaches-to-menopausal-symptomsI’ve recently stumbled upon the Royal College of Nursing’s “Complementary approaches to menopausal symptoms” and I’m not overly impressed.  So I’ve decided to review it in two posts.  This post looks at some of its introductory sections and then focuses on what it has to say about herbs and the menopause. 

Part two will look at its inadequate treatment of the remaining complementary therapies (acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology and homeopathy)

Don’t get me wrong, the document has its strengths: a good discussion of the placebo effect and information on possible side-effects from herbs, to name two. Read the rest of this entry »

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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

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

Fading Evidence

Posted by apgaylard on November 15, 2007

 I’ve been continuing to pursue the evidence base for Lightwave Stimulation (LWS) Therapy  (a.k.a Downing Technique, Lumatron therapy, Ocular light therapy, Photron therapy) as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) . 

It’s the therapy that a BBC ‘news’ item called “… the answer …” for “… many… ” SAD sufferers.

Now it turns out that the ‘expert’ who appeared on the BBC, Pauline Allen of the Sound Learning Centre, has no medical qualifications.  She does, however, run a private clinic that will sell LWS therapy to SAD sufferers for £60 an hour.

Given this level of confidence you might expect that there is some proper evidence to support these assertions?  Well, try as I might, I cannot find any.  If you can find some be sure to let me know!

My own trawl of the internet turned up just two papers from the Australian Journal of Holistic Nursing.  One was an un-refereed retrospective on colour therapies; the other a single case study.  They were both by the same author.  Not a trial between them.

So I thought that I’d ask the Sound Learning Centre what research evidence was available.  They sent me their Client Information Pack.  The only references it contained were for light therapies generally.  They were to just two books.

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Light on Evidence

Posted by apgaylard on November 3, 2007

 I recently wrote about the BBC’s rash promotional video news item about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Lightwave Stimulation (LWS) therapy.  It is clear from what the advocates of this approach have put into the public domain that this is a speculative, pseudoscientific, treatment.

I’ve decided to dig a little deeper into the evidence base for LWS.  This post is just a quick progress report.

First, money: the Sound Learning Centre (irony levels rising!) charge £ 400 for a child (20 sessions) and £ 500 for an adult (25 sessions).  Not massively expensive, but at £60 per hour a significant cost.

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Posted in Colour Therapy, Lightwave Stimulation, Logical Fallacies | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Light on Evidence

Promoting The Impossible

Posted by apgaylard on October 19, 2007

It would seem that it’s not just newspapers that are prepared to believe whatever wild claims are made by purveyors of whacky technology.  BBC One’s Breakfast News carried a piece about Ecowatts‘ “Thermal Energy Cell“.  It comprised an interview with Ecowatts’ CEO Paul Calver.

To say that this was gentle would be an understatement.  There was absolutely no testing of his claims or remotely challenging questions.  You can see the piece on Ecowatts’ website.

Just compare some of the following statements, made by Mr Calver with what was already in the public domain; thanks to some very credulous reporting in the Daily Mail two days previously and a better article in the Daily Telegraph in 2003.

“… we have had this very carefully checked by a number of key universities to ensure that our measurements are right and our observations are correct…”

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Not Funding The Impossible

Posted by apgaylard on October 19, 2007

I recently commented on the Daily Mail‘s coverage of Ecowatts‘ “Thermal Energy Cell“.  This device was said to violate almost “…every known law of physics ...” and to produce “…150 to 200 per cent more energy …” than is put in without much difficulty.  Nice.  Nobel Prizes to follow in due course then?

Aside from the small matter of the sleight against the first law of thermodynamics, one of the comments in the article that concerned me was: “…The project, which has cost the company £1.4million, has the backing of the Department of Trade and Industry, which is keen to help poorer families without traditional central heating or who cannot afford rocketing fuel bills …”

Now if people want to waste their own money tilting at the first law of thermodynamics, that’s up to them.  However, I do mind if my money (via taxation) is funding their quixotic fantasy.  So, I put in a request to the DTI, under the Freedom of Information Act, (FOIA) for details of the alleged “backing“.

This is what I have been told (Letter dated 15th October 2007):

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Homeopathy and the memory of water: going round in circles

Posted by apgaylard on October 12, 2007

 Next in my series on the “Memory of Water” a paper that contains the silliest piece of “reasoning” I have ever seen published (more later).  Basically it’s a fine example of Begging The Question.

This has not been submitted to Homeopathy; I thought that I’d already pushed my luck with sending in two contributions. 

Weingärtner, O. “The nature of the active ingredient in ultramolecular dilutions” Homeopathy, Volume 96, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 220-226.

An Exercise In Circular Reasoning

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Posted in homeopathy, Logical Fallacies, Pseudoscience, The Memory of Water | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 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 

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