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Homeopathy: Is it Really as Stupid as it Seems? (Critique of Dana Ullman)

April 21, 2010

After reading plenty of criticism of homeopathy, and finding it well researched, fairly written, and completely convincing, I thought it would be fair to closely examine a positive piece in favour of homeopathy and check out exactly how well they make their case.

Pretty much at random I chose an article by Dana Ullman,  who is (according to the Huffington Post at least) “America’s leading spokesperson for homeopathy”. I’d never heard of him before, which, in retrospect, was a necessary precondition for deciding to read an entire article by him.

Ullman claims that more than 150 placebo controlled studies show positive results for homeopathy. Well that sounds like the sort of evidence that would change my mind….

He starts off the article by complaining that skeptics are spreading confusion by misrepresenting homeopathy and exaggerating the extent of its lunacy. He doesn’t provide a single example of the kind of thing he’s referring to, preferring to bank on his readers’ trust that he is telling the truth.

He then claims that conventional medicine is riskier than homeopathy, without mentioning the risks involved in homeopathy itself. Why are  deaths resulting from homeopathic treatments not considered a risk?

He makes another claim:

The fact that homeopathy became extremely popular during the 19th century primarily because of its impressive successes in treating the infectious disease epidemics that raged during that time is a fact that is totally ignored by skeptics.

It isn’t. Skeptics that I’ve read routinely note that the placebo effect would have been preferable to the conventional medical practices from that time. (Even James Randi makes that point, for example.)

He then claims the placebo effect is “highly unlikely” to be sufficient to explain the results achieved by homeopathy in those times treating

epidemics of cholera, yellow fever, scarlet fever, typhoid, pneumonia, or influenza.

No references here (and of course, no links). Just assertions and name-calling against skeptics. And interestingly, he seems to be claiming that homeopathy can actually treat these conditions. He must have some pretty solid evidence if he’s claiming homeopathy is powerful enough to be effective against such serious illnesses.

Then we get the concrete claims of success:

There are more than 150 placebo controlled clinical studies, most of which have shown positive results, either compared with a placebo or compared with a conventional drug. (6-10)

He provides five references here. Why on earth is he using footnotes though, for god’s sake? Doesn’t he know he’s on the internet? Just provide the links to the studies in the text, you fool, so that people can check them out without scrolling back and forth! Or at least provide the link in the footnote!

The first study he references in the footnotes:

(6) Jonas WB, Kaptchuk TJ, Linde K, A Critical Overview of Homeopathy, Annals in Internal Medicine, March 4, 2003:138:393-399.

Why didn’t he provide a link? (Here it is.) Ah. Maybe because the table on p. 3 contains the following information in conclusions column for each of the metastudies which he claims were positive for homeopathy:

–Available evidence is positive but not sufficient
to draw definitive conclusions
.

–Results not compatible with the hypothesis
that all homeopathy is placebo. No firm
evidence for any single condition.

–Available evidence suggests effects over
placebo. Evidence not convincing because of
shortcomings and inconsistencies.

–The relative efficacy of classical homeopathy
compared with conventional treatments is
unknown. There is no evidence of effects
greater than placebo.

–Some evidence suggests that homeopathy is
more than effective placebo. Studies of high
quality are more likely to be negative.

The effects of homeopathy are not
significantly different from those of placebo
.

That doesn’t sound like the kind of power that cures “epidemics of cholera, yellow fever, scarlet fever, typhoid” etc.

OK, next reference:

(7) Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al., “Are the Clinical Effects of Homoeopathy Placebo Effects? A Meta-analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials,” Lancet, September 20, 1997, 350:834-843.

Again, no link, but I already recognise this one. This is the study that is still often mentioned by homeopaths, despite the authors later having admitted that most of the studies were of too poor quality to really draw the conclusions they drew. (Again, Dana, I will do your work for you and provide the link.)

Ullman notes the authors’ retraction: (In 1999, Linde acknowledged that some new research reduced the significance of this review, but he never said or implied that the significance was lost. In fact, in 2005, he sharply criticized the Shang review of homeopathic research.)

No link to the Shang report either of course. Here it is, though. (You’re welcome, Dana.)

The Shang report rated studies according to quality and analysed the results accordingly. Homeopathic studies ranked this way showed nothing beyond placebo, while studies of conventional treatments judged by the same criteria clearly showed effects above the placebo.

Interestingly, it also showed a clear link between poorer quality studies returning more positive resultsfor homeopathy.

The next footnote without a link:

(8) Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G, “Clinical Trials of Homoeopathy,” British Medical Journal, February 9, 1991, 302:316-323
Again, I will chase up the link for this lazy author. (De nada, Dana)

Ah, here is why he doesn’t want anyone to see check up too carefully:

Conclusion: At the moment the evidence of clinicaltrials is positive but not sufficient to draw definitive conclusionsbecause most trials are of low methodological quality and becauseof the unknown role of publication bias. This indicates thatthere is a legitimate case for further evaluation of homeopathy,but only by means of well performed trials.

Er, yes, very positive indeed, Mr Ullman.

Well the next does have a link:

(9) Ullman Dana. Homeopathic Family Medicine: Evidence Based Nanopharmacology. An ebook. www.homeopathic.com/ebook

Surprise, surprise. He links to himself. Dana, linking to an entire book is a bit dumb. You can’t just say “this entire book which I wrote myself supports my position”. You are supposed to present your case within the article and cross-reference other authorities.

No link for this next one though:

(10) M. Weiser, W. Strosser, P. Klein, “Homeopathic vs Conventional Treatment of Vertigo: A Randomized Double-blind Controlled Clinical Trial,” Archives of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, August, 1998, 124:879-885.

— and the only sites that google comes up with are anti-vaccination folks and other articles by Dana. But it must be a really positive study. Just trust Dana.

So does any of that establish that “there are more than 150 placebo controlled clinical studies, most of which have shown positive results”?

No.

And you reckon this shit can cure scarlet fever and small pox?

He continues:

If that were not enough –

(-er, no, Dana, it wasnt)

– studies testing the effects of homeopathic medicines on cell cultures, plants, animals, physics experiments, and chemistry trials have shown statistically significant effects. (11-16)

Again, more footnotes where reasoned arguments, evidence and links to references should be.

Footnote (11) is a link to a site which has further links to “many good studies”.

That is pathetic writing, Dana. Where is the fucking evidence, you idiot? You can’t just link to a homepage and expect people to search through the site and work out which studies you are referring to.

Next up, again no link:

(12) Witt CM, Bluth M, Albrecht H, Weisshuhn TE, Baumgartner S, Willich SN. The in vitro evidence for an effect of high homeopathic potencies–a systematic review of the literature. Complement Ther Med. 2007 Jun;15(2):128-38. Epub 2007 Mar 28.

Again, here is the link you didn’t bother providing, Dana, you lazy dog.

And here is the conclusion:

Even experiments with a high methodological standard could demonstrate an effect of high potencies…

Well that sounds impressive. (Although, why do homeopaths do so many experiments with poor standards?) But it continues:

…No positive result was stable enough to be reproduced by all investigators.

In other words, inconclusive. So it doesn’t support your position, Dana, you dickhead. Now we get the picture why he doesn’t provide links.

Next study:

(13) Rey, L. Thermoluminescence of Ultra-High Dilutions of Lithium Chloride and Sodium Chloride. Physica A, 323(2003)67-74.

Yawn. Heres the link.

This reports findings that specific thermoluminescent properties remained in preparations after they had been diluted (like homeopathy) beyond Avogadro’s Number.

Well this one does claim clear and positive results….and if true would assure the researcher a place in the history books for centuries to come. Hmmm. This sounds like that Benveniste bloke who claimed something similar, only to watch his reputation crumble when it turned out the success was the result of sloppy procedures.

Looking a bit further, Benveniste himself is advising caution:

“This is interesting work, but Rey’s experiments were not blinded and although he says the work is reproducible, he doesn’t say how many experiments he did…As I know to my cost, this is such a controversial field, it is mandatory to be as foolproof as possible.”

A minute or two more of searching turns up some serious objectionsto this work, but as Ullman didn’t even deem it necessary to link to the original study (preferring to hide it away in a footnote for people to scroll down to), of course it’s too much to expect that he would even mention that these objections exist – let alone attempt an answer. No His readers will just accept his word that this is compelling evidence.

Next footnote:

(14) Elia, V, and Niccoli, M. Thermodynamics of Extremely Diluted Aqueous Solutions, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 879, 1999:241-248. Elia, V, Baiano, S, Duro, I, Napoli, E, Niccoli, M, Nonatelli, L. Permanent Physio-chemical Properties of Extremely Diluted Aqueous Solutions of Homeopathic Medicines, Homeopathy, 93, 2004:144-150.

I cant find this anywhere except for being referenced by homeopaths. If this is important research, why not at least put the abstract online?

Next:

(15) International Journal of High Dilution Research. http://www.feg.unesp.br/~ojs/index.php/ijhdr

Holy heck, a link! Whoops, another useless one. It just goes to the homepage of a journal, not to any particular study. Boy does this guy hold his cards close. I have absolutely no idea what he is referring to. High school referencing fail.

And again:

(16) HomBRex – a database on Basic Research experiments on Homeopathy. http://www.carstens-stiftung.org/ — a database of over 1,400 basic science studies, accessed 12-31-09.

What a fucking idiot! – I mean me for going to all this trouble, not Dana Ullman. I am sitting here checking his shoddy referencing, and all he does is provide a link to a fucking database and says “some of these studies probably support my position, go look through them”.

Ok Ullman, two can play at that game. Here: this database (*footnote 1) contains more than four million articles that show I’m right.

Ullman continues his self righteous unsubstantiated babbling for the rest of the article. But I’m not listening to this pratt anymore. He’s failed to back up any of his statements and I’ve already taken more care to provide references for his article than he has. He is not worthy of any further attention. Not from me, not from anyone. Goodbye Dana. Thank you for confirming my worst suspicions about the scam you call your profession.

__________________

Footnote (1) Link

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7 comments

  1. Yakaru, thanks for sharing this.

    I’ve been quite critical of homeopathy for a ling time. I have many friends who are strong believers, though, so it keeps popping up.


  2. Thanks for commenting, John. Many of my friends believe in it, and use it, too. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was just being used the way most of my friends use, for a cold or minor allergy or something, mixed in with a few nice sounding spiritual ideas. But when homeopaths start attacking proper medicine, lying and fudging the results of studies, and exporting it to third world countries in the guise of modern “western” medicine, I think it’s time to pull the plug.

    Coincidentally doctor and popular blogger, “Orac” also just posted a take down of another Dana Ullman article.

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/04/the_return_of_dana_ullman_2010.php


  3. […] is rather at odds with the regular claims by homeopaths that studies support it,  but who cares about honesty and integrity when you’re trying to […]


  4. […] I’ve highlighted before here, they regularly claim homeopathy has been validated by scientific studies, while simultaneously lobbying national governments and the EU for exemption from normal scientific […]


  5. “Ullman notes the authors’ retraction: (In 1999, Linde acknowledged that some new research reduced the significance of this review, but he never said or implied that the significance was lost. In fact, in 2005, he sharply criticized the Shang review of homeopathic research.)”

    The 2005 letter criticising the Shang review that Ullman refers to can be found here: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673605678786/fulltext

    Here’s what that letter has to say about the 1997 paper that Ullman cites as evidence for homoeopathy;

    “Our 1997 meta-analysis has unfortunately been misused by homoeopaths as evidence that their therapy is proven.”


  6. Thanks for supplying that link and quote, Mojo. It shows Linde criticizing both homeopaths and Shang, but Ullman decided to tell only half of the story. “We agree that homoeopathy is highly implausible and that the evidence from placebo-controlled trials is not robust.”


  7. […] Homeopaths pull this one all the time — claiming their work has already been verified by “150 studies” and then reverting to “it works for me” when it’s pointed out that the studies were either poorly designed or DO NOT in fact show that homeopathy works. […]



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