Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Driving under the influence of homeopathy

Posted in homeopathy, Humorous, Skepdude by Skepdude on October 31, 2008

Hat tip to the Friendly Atheist.

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Vatican: Screen for possible gay priests

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 31, 2008

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Thursday recommended that Catholic seminaries test certain applicants for psychological traits — including “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” — that could render them unsuitable for the priesthood.

The statement appears in a new document, “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood,” published by the Congregation for Catholic Education, which supervises Catholic seminaries around the world.

While they do not mandate psychological testing as an automatic part of the seminary admission process, the guidelines call for expert evaluations “whenever there is a suspicion that psychic disturbances may be present.”

The document states that such evaluations can help diagnose any of several “possible problems that block the vocational journey,” including excessive aggression, inability to trust others, and a “sexuality identity that is confused or not yet well defined.”


Pakistan police raid child wedding

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 31, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —

Police raided a wedding between a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl in Pakistan’s largest city, arresting the Muslim cleric officiating at the ceremony and the children’s parents, a senior officer said Friday.

The cleric had not yet begun the ceremony in Karachi, which was attended by 100 guests, said deputy superintendent of police Malik Mazhar.

Pakistan law forbids marriage below the age of 18, but some Muslim scholars say it is permissible if the bride and groom have reached puberty.


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Beth Israel joins the Academic Woo Aggregator!

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on October 31, 2008

I feel bad.

I realize that I’ve been completely neglecting my Academic Woo Aggregator. You remember my Academic Woo Aggregator, don’t you? It was my attempt to compile a near-definitive list of academic medical centers that had “integrated” woo into their divisions or departments of “integrative medicine” (i.e., departments of academic-sounding quackery). Perusing it, I now realize that it’s been over five months since I did a significant update to it. You just know that, given the rate of infiltration of unscientific medical practices into medical academia as seemingly respectable treatment modalities that there must be at least several new additions to this role of shame. Alas, even today, having been shamed myself by the realization of my failure to keep the list updated, I’m not going to do the full update and revamping that the Woo Aggregator cries out for. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do a piecemeal addition here and there. That doesn’t mean I can’t point out new additions to the Woo Aggregator as they pop up, even if it takes me a while to find the time to give it the facelift it needs.

It doesn’t mean I can’t call out hospitals like Beth Israel when they fall into woo, especially when they do it in a big way for cancer patients.

The first thing to know about this degeneration of a once great academic powerhouse is that, as is the case for many centers of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or of “integrative medicine” (IM), when looking for the reason why physicians ostensibly dedicated to scientific medicine would embrace this woo, look for the financial reason. In this case, the financial incentive comes from Donna Karan, founder of the famous DKNY line of clothing. In search of her dollars, Beth Israel has turned over an entire cancer treatment floor to woo:

Medical advances sometimes happen in strange ways. Someone finds a fungus in dirty lab dishes and — eureka! — penicillin is born. Now a premier Manhattan hospital is turning a cancer-treatment floor over to a world-famous fashion designer in the hope that serendipity, science and intuition will strike again.A foundation run by Donna Karan, creator of the “seven easy pieces” philosophy of women’s wardrobes and founder of the much-imitated DKNY line of clothing, has donated $850,000 for a yearlong experiment combining Eastern and Western healing methods at Beth Israel Medical Center. Instead of just letting a celebrated donor adopt a hospital wing, renovate it and have her name embossed on a plaque, the Karan-Beth Israel project will have a celebrated donor turn a hospital into a testing ground for a trendy, medically controversial notion: that yoga, meditation and aromatherapy can enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation.

Whatever happened to the days when a wealthy donor would be happy just to have her name on a building or on a floor? I guess they never truly existed. However, it’s truly depressing to see a former academic powerhouse accommodate such wishes just because they’re trendy, because a wealthy donor is willing to fund them, and because, no doubt, hospital administrators perceive it as good publicity and a draw for credulous patients. I wish I could view this as merely a cynical ploy to add a spoon full of woo to make the real scientific medicine go down easier, but somehow I don’t think that’s the case. I also really, really hate it when I see the same old false dichotomy of “Eastern” versus “Western” medicine. There is no such thing as “Eastern” or “Western” medicine. As blog bud PalMD put it:

I’ll stipulate that by “Eastern and Western healing methods” they mean credulous Americans’ impression of what is done in “the East” vs. science-based medicine as it is practiced around the world (the Eastern and Western bits).


Why Atheists Care About YOUR Religion

Posted in Atheism, Religion, Skepdude, Video by Skepdude on October 31, 2008

I’m a little late to join the fray, but what the hell, this is too good to let go unmentioned!

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Logical fallacies of the homeopathic kind [31-40]

Posted in Altie Meds, homeopathy, Skepdude by Skepdude on October 31, 2008

Welcome to Part 4 of the 5 part demolition (hopefully) of the 50 facts homeopathy article at If you have not been following this series, you may want to go over Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 before continuing here.

* Fact 31 – Big Pharma does not want the Public to find out how well homeopathy works!

Conspiracy Theory – Just because a big, powerful organization/entity is against something, does not make that something automatically true. The us Military is a favorite among conspiracy theorists. The US military is fighting terrorists today. Does that make terrorism good, solely because the US Military is against it? Doesn’t make a lot of sense when you put it that way does it?

Furthermore, this is an obviously false statement. There is money to be made in homeopathy, lots and lots of it for that matter. If there is money to be made there’s no reason why Big Pharma would fight it. Instead they would  do whatever they can to get a piece of the pie. Maybe the fact that homeopathy is not supported by science has something to do with this.

* Fact 32 – In 2005 the World Health Organisation brought out a draft report which showed homeopathy was beneficial causing Big Pharma to panic and The Lancet to bring out an editorial entitled ‘The End of Homeopathy’.

It’s hard to verify this statement without a link to the actual report she’s referring to, or the report title so we could search for it ourselves. Prior experience tells me this report does not exist as described. Alternative medicine supporters like to throw around this sort of vague “facts” that are impossible to verify in order to make an Argument from Authority. More Conspiracy Theory ensues with the sinister Lancet who dares have a different opinion. I wonder if The Lancet is so sinister and obviously in the pocket of Big Pharma how is it they they were responsible for publishing the bad studies that started the whole MMR vaccine scare?

* Fact 33 – In 2005 The Lancet tried to destroy homeopathy but were only looking at 8 inconclusive trials out of 110 of which 102 were positive. This was a fraudulent analysis.
“The meta-analysis at the centre of the controversy is based on 110 placebo-controlled clinical trials of homeopathy and 110 clinical trials of allopathy (conventional medicine), which are said to be matched. These were reduced to 21 trials of homeopathy and 9 of conventional medicine of ‘higher quality’ and further reduced to 8 and 6 trials, respectively, which were ‘larger, higher quality’. The final analysis which concluded that ‘the clinical effects of homoeopathy a
re placebo effects’ was based on just the eight ‘larger, higher quality’ clinical trials of homeopathy. The Lancet’s press release did not mention this, instead giving the impression that the conclusions were based on all 110 trials.”

Where do you start with this one?  First I highly doubt that the Lancet “tried to destroy” homeopathy, as it is not in the business of destroying anything and it couldn’t even if it wanted. We seem to have a bit of a hero complex going on here (or victim complex whatever you want to call it). Second, it is quite an accusation to call their analysis “fraudulent”. You may call it wrong, ill advised, not carefully done, blah blah blah, but unless they intentionally fudged the numbers, fraud is an unwarranted accusation. Then they go to complain that only “larger, higher quality” studies were included by The Lancet. That’s something to complain about? Isn’t that what you want? Weed out weak and poorly constructed studies and look at the good ones? I guess not if that does not give you the answer you want. Further, they complain that the press release did implied that the results were based on all 100+ studies. They don’t link to the press release so I can’t verify that, but even if that’s true, who cares? Does the actual analysis itself make it clear? That just goes to show you that these folks actually equate a press release with a study.

Oh and by the way the link here takes you to the article where she got this info from. The article was published in the “Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” and was written by a certain Peter Fisher, who apparently at the time was Director of Research, Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital in London. Hardly an unbiased source of information wouldn’t you say?

* Fact 34 – There have been many clinical trials that prove homeopathy works. In the past 24 years there have been more than 180 controlled, and 118 randomized, trials into homeopathy, which were analysed by four separate meta-analyses. In each case, the researchers concluded that the benefits of homeopathy went far beyond that which could be explained purely by the placebo effect.

What studies are they talking about? What meta-analysis? If not links, can they provide the name of the journal where they were published, title and author name so people can look them up and make up their own mind? I suspect this is some more bad references. Most probably there were some badly set up studies, or some weird analysis published in a homeopathic journal. That is probable, but without references to follow up on this is just useless.

Notice how this sort of argumentation is constant throughout the pseudoscientific word. The “there was an unnamed study, by an unnamed author published in an unnamed journal that showed fantastic results” technique is used all the time by all kind of alternative medicine and (S)CAM practitioners. Why can’t they provide one link to a respectful publication? Because there isn’t one. I challenge anyone to point to the studies and meta-analyses that she’s referring to here. And I don’t want 180 links. Give me 5 links to good studies, studies accepted as valid by the scientific world.

* Fact 35 – The Bristol Homeopathic Hospital carried out a study published in November 2005 of 6500 patients receiving homeopathic treatment. There was an overall improvement in health of 70% of them (…) .

This reference is quite funny. The BBC article itself also refers to the Lancet study which showed that homeopathy was no better than placebo. Not only that but it turns out this great study by the homeopaths did not even have a control group. Says the same BBC article :

Professor Matthias Egger, of the University of Berne, who worked on The Lancet study said the study was weakened by the lack of a comparison group.

He also questioned the validity of the way the study recorded improvements in patients’ conditions.

“Patients were simply asked by their homoeopathic doctor whether they felt better, and it is well known that in this situation many patients will come up with the answer the doctor wants to hear.”

Wait a minute, don’t these doctors know that that’s precisely what makes homeopathy’s provings more scientific. It is precisely the lack of controls that makes their studies better, don’t you see? You’re such a close minded sheep, you fact checking, scientific method following, non-flexible naysayer!

* Fact 36 – Homeopathy can never be properly tested through double blind randomised trials because each prescription is individualised as every patient is unique. Therefore 10 people with arthritis, for example, may all need a different homeopathic medicine.

And there it is ladies and gentlement, Special Pleading. Right after spending the previous two facts to show how homeopathy had been shown in countless studies to work, she has to qualify it by saying that it can’t be tested scientifically! RIGHT AFTER SAYING THAT IT HAS! Is that not incredible? Furthermore that is bullshit, homeopathic medicines are available at your local pharmacy and they are not individualized. Everybody buys the same little bottle of water or same box of sugar pills.

* Fact 37 – Homeopathic medicines are not tested on animals.

Non Sequitur – So what? What does that have to say about their efficacy? On the other hand does that mean that they are tested directly on humans? That’s horrible and unethical. Or does it mean they’re not tested at all! That, I think, is more likely, because after all homeopathy cannot be tested scientifically (Fact #36), but it has been shown in countless scientific studies to be quite efficient (Fact #34 & 35). Scratching your head yet?

* Fact 38 – Homeopathic medicines work even better on animals and babies than on adults, proving this cannot be placebo.

Bullshit. You can’t know either with babies or animals, because neither can talk properly (especially the animals). But wait did they not just say that homeopathic medicines are NOT tested on animals? But they are being prescribed for animals. So they are prescribing medicines for animals, without testing them on animals, thus without having any idea or basis to conclude that they do work on animals. Yeah, that’s how things should be done. One can only conclude that that is probably the process they follow for the human medicines too.Skip any safety precautions, such as testing to make sure there are no undesirable effects. It is not true that such medicines are not being tested. They are, it’s just that the homeopaths are making the test subjects pay to be part of their experiment. Genius! Callous and immoral, but genius nonetheless.

* Fact 39 – Scientists agree that if and when homeopathy is accepted by the scientific community it will turn established science on its head.

Non Sequitur – Scientist also agree that if a human being could fly unaided (kinda like Superman) that would also turn established science on its head, but that does not mean that there is any truth to the “flying people” rumors. And I doubt that scientists used the word “when” as in “if and when” which gives the impression that they are expecting it to happen. That, I submit is not true. Give me evidence that that is what scientist are saying.

Argument from Authority – Scientists, woooo! I could care less what a mathematician, a statistician or a physicist has to say about this. They are scientists but none of them is an authority in medicine. What do real doctors say? That would be more relevant.

* Fact 40 – Homeopathic Practitioners train for 4 years in Anatomy and Physiology, as well as Pathology and Disease, Materia Medica, Homeopathic Philosophy and study of the Homeopathic Repertory.

Non Sequitur – Who cares. Homeopathy is not medicine so any training in medicine by the practitioner has no bearing upon the veracity of the art of homeopathy. This is kinda like saying that your mechanic is better than my mechanic because your mechanic also studied astronomy.


And for an even more in depth look at logical fallacies, check out the logical fallacies section of Skeptic Wiki.