What it looks like to completely miss the point

The blog Naturopathic Physicians has commented on the 10:23 overdose stunt from 30 January – and did they ever miss the point. But they did it with the style that only copious amounts of logical fallacies can provide.

A group of so-called “skeptics” recently staged public relations events at various cities in Great Britain designed to discredit the science of homeopathy. Yawn.

Yawn. I’m so bored I’m not even going to talk about it. Oh, wait…

Poisoning the well with the phrase “so-called ‘skeptics’” sets the stage for the mindset of the author. Ignore what was done and why, skeptics did it so it must be biased and malicious. I’ll set the record straight: They were demonstrating that pills that promise to have the same effects as medicine have no effect at all. Why? Because making bold, unsupported claims and charging money for sugar pills that do nothing (well nothing more than a free placebo could also do) is unethical.

I have heard the following arguments against this: that the treatments were not personalized, that you can’t overdose on homeopathic medicine, etc. Well, homeopathic and naturopathic researchers, get cracking on the objective evidence to support these arguments. Please demonstrate, with clinical trials, the difference between personalized and non-personalized treatments. Please demonstrate how a pill that is supposed to have a clinical effect has no dose-response curve.

I would think these researchers would be interested in these stunts to see the effects they have on the human body so they could learn and develop their theories and mechanisms.

These hooligans purport to stand up for scientific principles, while in fact their zealous dogmatism and denial of evidence would make Galileo’s persecutors proud. Score one for book burning and witch trials.

I will call “hooligans” an ad hominem as it’s clearly an attempt to ignore the actual purpose of the 10:23 campaign to paint them as bullies. The point (whether or not one agrees with their methods) was to raise awareness, through a public demonstration with actual homeopathic pills, that homeopathy does not have the effects that are claimed. It also incidentally demonstrates that if anecdotes are fair game, and according to the horse’s mouth they’re the cat’s pajamas, then why not skeptics’? Why do the anecdotes of homeopathy not working count less than the anecdotes of it working?

Which segues nicely into the next insult: “zealous dogmatism”. Calling someone dogmatic skirts the issue – we should not be arguing about who is the biggest jerk, we should be focusing on the evidence. Homeopathy has no demonstrable mechanism for efficacy and the principles of chemistry and physics oppose the claim that water has memory. That is a fundamental flaw. Also, various reviews find that evidence for homeopathy is of poor quality, lacking entirely, or no better than placebo.

It’s irresponsible and unethical to make such concrete efficacy claims for specific ailments with this level of evidence. If proof of efficacy is lacking because there aren’t enough studies, then write a grant proposal, do a reasonably well-designed study, and submit it for publication. Provide the evidence to justify the claims and the objections will fall away. Critical objections and challenging assumptions are a normal part of scientific peer review, not “zealous dogmatism”.

It’s interesting to cite Gallileo, a scientist persecuted because his scientific evidence challenged long-held popular norms. Interesting because the argument ad populum is a favorite among many alt-med practitioners while they decry science-based pharmaceuticals as unnatural money-grabbing poison. Hmm…

But me thinks thou dost protest too much.

They named their campaign “10:23″, a reference to Avogadro’s number. This number is significant to chemists in that it supposedly sets the limit below which no material elements are likely to be present in a given dilution. Homeopathic remedies are made with solutions far more dilute than Avogadro’s number.

Do these “skeptics” really think the public cares about Avogadro’s number when homeopathy has just significantly improved their toddler’s autism or offered help with any of a vast range of diseases which respond so well to homeopathic (and often not to conventional) treatment?

“Supposedly sets the limit”? Honestly, this is why it can be difficult to take alt-med practitioners seriously at times. They claim to understand chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacokinetics, etc. and then say something like this. They seem to argue against the relevance of the Avagadro constant by saying “Well we get even lower than that, so there! Besides no one cares anyway.”

For one thing, slogans and symbols are generally necessary for a public campaign. In this case, the Avagadro constant is relevant because “like cures like” homeopathic dilutions are so far beyond it. There is no evidence that water has “memory” so if the solution is diluted to the point where there is no molecule of medicine left, then how is it medicine? This non-trivial conflict must be reconciled.

The point, in this case, is not the giant strawperson (I stole that wonderful gender-neutral term from a fellow skeptic) of being cynical towards all of alt-med, but to call critical attention to one area in which there hasn’t been due diligence with evidence. The public does care about the science, because it might affect their decision of how to medically treat themselves or their children. Note there was not one link to a scientific study to support the use of homeopathy for autism or the “vast range of diseases” mentioned, nor even an objective acknowledgment that the lack of evidence for a mechanism of action is a problem that they need to work on. Just pointless naked vitriol.

This is just another tantrum by the clueless wing of the scientific/medical community that can’t understand why the people don’t praise them for their ideological purity and courage, even when the fruits of their scientific labors rot like a brown banana. Note to protestors: maybe they’re just not that into you.

And this is just a string of strawpeople, poisoning the well, ad hominem, non sequitur nonsense that in no way addresses the point of the 10:23 campaign, nor does it address the results of what took place (i.e., no one died or even got sick). This post, from the official blog of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, falls far short of a sensible and calm explanation. Can they blame skeptics for not taking their position all that seriously when this is how official representatives of their profession address direct criticism? No one is looking for praise, skeptics simply want an explanation. Or barring that, at the very least, a culling of the unsupported claims of efficacy.

As Peter Fisher, personal physician to Queen Elizabeth II and editor in chief of the journal Homeopathy so eloquently pointed out in a letter to the Canadian Pediatric Society, “[you are] not alone among bodies representing the medical establishment in countenancing almost any explanation for the popularity of homeopathy except the obvious one — that it is effective!”

The arguments ad populum and non sequitur are not convincing enough for me to take any supposed drug no matter what the claim, nor should it be. What would convince me, in the case of homeopathy, is solid evidence/theory for the following: mechanism, efficacy, how fundamentally similar formulations/preparations are justified for different substances and conditions, and how a dilution of one substance in water is as effective after being added to another substance (sugar).

Boots stated that homeopathy does nothing, yet sells it anyway because people will buy it. That is why skeptics are appalled – homeopathy is a big money-maker without concrete supporting evidence. When an argument against it is brought up, proponents try to paint a picture of Big Pharma bullies caring more about money than the autistic kids, the diseased, etc. Yet the homeopathic industry profits greatly from people who don’t have the expertise to evaluate products of varying quality, all within the same pharmacy, that are sold not because of relative efficacy, but just because people will buy them.

*The opinions in this article reflect that of the author only and do not necessarily represent the views of employers, regulatory bodies, or professional associations. The author strives to promote science-based health care in all fields and advocates for a client’s right to honesty.

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  • Kim Hebert

    Kim Hébert is an occupational therapist. She is interested in the promotion of science and reason, particularly regarding therapeutic health interventions. She blogs occasionally about occupational therapy and other health topics at Science-Based Therapy. Her hobbies are art and astronomy. **All views expressed by Kim are her personal views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers, associations, or other affiliations. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.