Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Homeopathy by the (mind-boggling) numbers

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 21, 2010


I have just purchased a packet of Boots-brand 84 arnica homeopathic 30C Pills for £5.09, which Boots proudly claim is only 6.1p per pill. Their in-store advice tells me that arnica is good for treating “bruising and injuries”, which gives the impression that this is a very cost-effective health-care option.

Unlike most medication, it didn’t list the actual dose of the active ingredient that each pill contains, so I checked the British Homeopathic Association website. On their website it nonchalantly states that to make a homeopathic remedy, they start with the active ingredient and then proceed to dilute it to 1 per cent concentration. Then they dilute that new solution again, so there is now only 0.01 per cent of the original ingredients. For my 30C pills this diluting is repeated thirty times, which means that the arnica is one part in a million billion billion billion billion billion billion.

The arnica is diluted so much that there is only one molecule of it per 7 million billion billion billion billion pills.

It’s hard to comprehend numbers that large. If you were to buy that many pills from Boots, it would cost more than the gross domestic product of the UK. It’s more than the gross domestic product of the entire world. Since the dawn of civilisation. If every human being since the beginning of time had saved every last penny, denarius and sea-shell, we would still have not saved-up enough to purchase a single arnica molecule from Boots.

Then the process of consuming enough pills to get that one molecule also boggles the mind. You can try imagining Wembley Stadium completely filled with people, all drinking pints of medicine at the rate of two an hour. For just one of these people to eventually consume one molecule, you would need a million Wembley Stadiums all at full capacity with people who have drinking pints constantly since the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. Oh, and you’d need 737 million such Earths.


Canada gets it right

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 6, 2009

Firms that sell “natural” health products are being asked to provide proof their crap works (it doesn’t most of the time) and get this: while these firms do not oppose being regulated they think that being asked to show their claims are correct is too much. Come again?

Firms that make and sell natural health products are not opposed to being regulated. In fact, they welcome the Health Canada stamp of approval, said Carter. However, he said the “pendulum has swung too far” in terms of proving that a drug works.

Oh I get it, they want the “stamp of approval” but they don’t want to do any work for it. They do know that it is not a literal postage stamp right?

The licensing has been underway since January 2004, when Health Canada announced it would regulate natural health products. As of April 2010, all natural health products will need an NPN, natural product number, to be sold.

However, the licensing process has become bogged down, and Carter said it’s partly because Health Canada has set the bar too high.

I guess not taking their word for it qualifies as setting the bar too high in woo woo land. “Trust us this stuff works”. Oh sure, here’s your stamp; you’ve been approved. Yeah right! They’ve had 6 years to get their shit together and now that the deadline is approaching they’ve got nothing to show for it. Do you know how many double blind studies one can conduct in 6 years? Enough to prove your claims are true, that’s for sure!

Carter said part of the problem was something he called “pharmaceutical creep,” where the same stringent standards that are applied to pharmaceutical products are applied to natural health products.

There comes the special pleading: the rules as they apply to everybody else should not apply to me!

Natural health producers today are being asked to supply double-blind studies and human clinical trials to back claims made on the labels, even when safety has been established, he said. It’s a very expensive requirement for small- to medium-sized firms.

Oh the Red Herring! You have to prove your crap works ON TOP of proving it is safe dumbo! Do they really think people are that stupid not to see through this farce of an argument?

He expects herbal and homeopathic medicines to be the most affected and says it’s “crazy” for Health Canada to apply the same standards to both pharmaceuticals and natural health products.

Oh crazy isn’t it? These geniuses want to keep calling their crap “medicine” but they do not want the same stringent standards that are applied to all other medicines to apply. Bit hypocritical no? Hey I have an idea, call your stuff flavored water or tea, stop making claims of it curing this and curing that and guess what: you don’t have to do any double blind studies in that case. Problem solved for both you and us (the rationalists that is).

Pharmacists are talking crazy too (at least the ones quoted in the article):

“Pharmaceutical drugs are far more potent and just a slight deviation in dosage can be dangerous,” said Staples, whose Moncton pharmacy Staples Drugs, has sold both types of drugs for 40 years.

“A doctor can prescribe the arthritis drug Celebrex for you, but it can also cause a heart attack,” he said as an example. “With homeopathic drugs, you can take 10 times the dosage and there’s no problem.”

Umhh, Staples? That’s because homeopathic potions are water and don’t do anything. That’s the way it works you see, homeopathic potions = No effect whatsoever! Either way positive or negative. So why do you want to keep selling them to people? A bit unethical no?

Health Canada is not allowing any “may” claims. For instance, a label cannot say the product “may” do something. In Health Canada’s eyes, it either has an effect or not.

Good for them. “My magical potion may help cancer” is not such an innocent statement after all. People can die because of it; peoples’ lifelong savings may be wiped out because of it; peoples’ precious little time left can be wasted because of it. Canada gets it right. Woo woos have to be held accountable for their words and claims!

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on September 10, 2009

Skepdude says – Gotta love the PayPal thing. Hilarious!

Under the banner of CAM, a handful of these practitioners also advertise that they can communicate with spirits and heal with crystals, colors or sounds; they practice healing touch (reiki) and distance healing (via PayPal!); provide spiritual counseling and ministerial services, and make implausible medical claims such as healing a chronic condition with just one needle!

Science Based Medicine

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Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on August 6, 2009

Homeopathic “remedies” are licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority. But Professor Michael Baum, of University College London, says: “This is like licensing a witches’ brew as a medicine so long as the bat wings are sterile.”

“Regulating quacks helps them prey on gullible patients” – The Sun Newspaper

Mozambique: ‘Alternative Medicine’ Enters Mozambican Law

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 24, 2009


Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Tuesday passed the first reading of a government bill which amends the law on private medicine so that it includes, not only evidence-based medicine, but also “alternative medicine”.

The bill defines “alternative” medicine as “health practices not covered by the National Health System and which are constituted by range of diagnostic and therapeutic practices without the appropriate scientific validation, or which are regarded as inaccessible to the scientific method and experimentation and in this latter case may use metaphysical and spiritual curative practices”.

At first sight this looks as if purveyors of all manner of superstition and fraud – homeopathy, chiropractic, aromatherapy, naturopathy or vitamin therapy – will now be treated the same as qualified doctors. All can go into private practice and open up clinics.


If homeopaths think this means they will be able to open clinics in Maputo tomorrow, they may be in for a shock. For they will have to apply for a licence, just as a clinic offering genuine medical care has to apply. And the Health Ministry will decide whether to grant the licence or to refuse it.

“We will decide on a case by case basis”, Garrido stressed.

The law also allows the Health Ministry to shut down any private practice on grounds of “proven professional incompetence” or “grave acts that damage the physical and moral integrity of the users”.


$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 10, 2009


BETHESDA, Md. – Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.

Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

Many scientists say that unconventional treatments hold promise and deserve serious study, but that the federal center needs to be more skeptical and selective.

“There’s not all the money in the world and you have to choose” what most deserves tax support, said Barrie Cassileth, integrative medicine chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Many of the studies that have been funded I would not have funded because they seem irrational and foolish — studies on distant healing by prayer and energy healing, studies that are based on precepts and ideas that are contrary to what is known in terms of human physiology and disease,” she said.



Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on June 10, 2009


The first panicky retreat in the war on free speech in the UK has begun.

As I wrote last week, the British Chiropractic Association is suing science journalist Simon Singh for saying that chiropractors practice “bogus” medicine. Instead of defending what they do with research and testing, they are acting to silence Singh and chill anyone else who may want to expose what they do.

This attack on free speech has been rippling outward over the past few days, and now there is an ironic twist: the McTimoney Chiropractic Association has strongly warned its practitioners to take down their websites and replace any information on their techniques with just brief contact information. Why would they do that?

Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is […] [i]f you have a website, take it down NOW.

Heh. Gee, why the heck would anyone want to make sure that a chiropractor — a person who will be futzing around with your spine — be able to substantiate their claims with (gasp) RESEARCH?

It’s very telling, isn’t it, that the McTimoney group isn’t telling its people to only stick with proven methods, but instead to take down any claims that might get them sued.



Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on June 1, 2009

What this letter also highlights is that the entire scientific community needs to be called out on the subject of CAM. Being a “shruggie” (someone who recognizes the unscientific nature of CAM but does not feel it is worth any of their time or attention) is no longer ethically defensible.Scientistst and health-care professionals have a contract with society which includes defending the public from the threats of pseudoscience. Nowhere today is this more necessary than the infiltration and erosion of science-based medicine by unscientific sectarian interests.


Stupid quote of the day

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 29, 2009

Alternative Medicine can also be referred to as unconventional medicine because it is medicine in a way that a lot of people are not used to. It is medicine that works for a lot of folks though, and it could be medicine that works for you if you open your mind and body to it.

The thing about alternative medicine is that it emphasizes therapies that also form the basis of treatments carried out in conventional healthcare. The difference is that it stays basic without any of the fanfare and fancy of modern medication. If you ask me, I’d say that is why it is the better option of the two.

The thing about alternative medicine is that it able to address conditions in ways that conventional medicine is unable to. To date, people have begun to express more faith in the alternative than in the conventional. And this has led many more to subscribe to it.

Some douche bag

Homeopaths: fallacies, lies, and dangerous advice

Posted in Journey Through a Burning Mind by Skepdude on April 13, 2009

Since this is the World Homeopathy Awareness Week, I might be spending more time on this particular well of credulity. I will also re-post my piece from last year’s WHAW. But today, I’ll be talking about Melanie Grimes, a homeopath who writes for HealthNews as a health “expert”. The irony though is painful -you will soon see that if “expert” was to be used in the same sentence as Melanie, then that would be: “Melanie Grimes is the exact opposite of a health expert“. So let’s start the fun, shall we?

I had a look at 3-4 of her articles*, and I can assure you they are filled with fallacious arguments of the worst kind; a very bad understanding of modern scientific research; misrepresentation or outright ignorance of the relevant scientific literature; and propagation of very dangerous homeopathic beliefs as to what their pet therapy can treat (from cancer to diabetes, it’s all there).

Starting with her piece on this year’s WHAW (starting slowly with some common stuff):

Homeopathy provides an effective and gently way to treat allergies. Using potentized medicines, homeopaths prescribe minute doses to treat both the acute reaction to allergens, as well as the cause.

I hope you have spotted that subtle piece of misinformation: “minute doses”. It’s not minute doses actually. It’s non-existent doses usually. The most common potencies of homeopathic remedies are 12C and above -a dilution so high that no molecule from the original substance remains in the remedy!

But the most interesting claim is that homeopathy is effective for allergies. In fact, this is a very common claim of homeopaths but is there any evidence to back it up? Readers of this blog already know the answer: no.

A quick search in PubMed brings up some relevant reviews [1][2][3], none of them recommending homeopathy (or CAM in general) for diagnosing or treating allergies. Quoting from “Systematic review of complementary and alternative medicine for rhinitis and asthma”[1]:

Some positive results were described with homeopathy in good-quality trials in rhinitis, but a number of negative studies were also found. Therefore it is not possible to provide evidence-based recommendations for homeopathy in the treatment of allergic rhinitis, and further trials are needed. A limited number of studies of herbal remedies showed some efficacy in rhinitis and asthma, but the studies were too few to make recommendations. There are also unresolved safety concerns. Therapeutic efficacy of complementary-alternative treatments for rhinitis and asthma is not supported by currently available evidence. [emphasis mine]