Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

The Skeptic Delusion?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 20, 2010

As skeptics, we take pride in our allegiance to evidence; we take pride in applying the skeptical method to various claims in order to figure out if there is any truth behind the claim or not. “Be skeptical; look at the evidence, defer to scientific consensus; look it up for yourself” are usual phrases that we throw around. Yet, the question must be asked: how realistic are those tenets? How honest is it to claim that, for every position we take in our skeptical activities, we’ve done the research? That we’ve found out what the scientific consensus is? That we’ve looked it up, ourselves?

This latest rambling is inspired thanks to a tweet by Daniel Loxton who pointed to a comment on, what else, a commentary on Phil Plait’s now famous, DBaD (a.k.a. Don’t be a Dick) TAM8 speech. Here is the comment by Red Pill Junkie, in its entirety:

Another thing I liked about Phil’s speech was in his telling the anecdote of how he chose to argue with a young Creationist; when she wanted to discuss things about dinosaurs and evolution, he quickly admitted he is not a Biologist, and hence wasn’t qualified enough to give her the answers to such questions.

That is an important message. Obviously a person with such a passion for science like Phil is perfectly entitled to have a layman’s opinion on fields that stand aside of his particular expertise; people should have many fields of interest, not just the stuff you studied as an undergraduate —Hell, that’s why you’re here reading this, ain’t it? 🙂

But one of the main problems with skeptics as a “movement”, is that the moment they acquire the term —and the methods of acquiring vary greatly from person to person, although more fall into simply “not believing in God, aliens and fairies” and be (very) vocal about it— they tend to erect themselves as experts in *EVERYTHING*; they feel entitled to give an “expert” skeptic opinion about everything they come across —UFOs, ghosts, Atlantis, reincarnation, 9/11, etc etc.

But this is not just their fault, since the Larry Kings of the media world always love to use the age-old formula of inviting an expert in some paranormal field —someone like Stan Friedman, who has spent decades researching the UFO phenomenon— and then inviting another “expert”: an official skeptic. The results are often …disastrous.

So yeah: part of not-being a dick is admitting you don’t have a diploma in Everything-ology 😉

It is important to pay special attention to that last sentence. No one is an expert in Everything-ology. It is simply impossible for any skeptic to have the time, or resources, to do an exhaustive search into every claim that we as skeptics express opinions on. Think about this for a moment: how readily do skeptical activists jump on any claim involving ghosts hauntings? How, quickly do we pull out the staple explanations to explain away that haunted house? Yet, how many of us have gone on just one haunted house investigation? The answer, I suspect, will be that not many of us, myself included, have taken part in such an activity.

Let’s look at something like global warming. How many of us have read at least a substantial portion of the science about global warming? Again, I suspect the answer will be that only a small fraction of us have. When we go around proclaiming that the scientific consensus supports the view, are we really basing that on our survey of the science, or are we basing that on what we heard some acclaimed skeptic say in her podcast, or write in his blog? Honestly, how many of us have read the IPCC synthesis report, all 52 pages of it?

Now, I’m not writing all this to belittle grassroots skeptics; I am myself one. The point is that, as the comment above says, we have to be very careful to first have it clear in our head, and also to make it clear to whoever we’re talking to, that in most cases what we’re expressing is an opinion, and that most of us are not an authority in any sense of the word about most things we’re expressing such opinions about.  We have to know our limitations, and knowing our limitations doesn’t necessarily mean that we ought not to form or express opinions, but it does mean that we have to be more flexible than the believer in the opinions we hold. We have to know that we are fallible, that we are most likely forming an opinion based on incomplete information; that we are utilizing an argument from authority when we’re repeating arguments heard on a podcast, or read on a blog without taking the time to “check it out for ourselves”.

Checking it out for oneself is impossible to apply to everything, so we have to rely on others; we have to rely on Joe Nickell’s expertise when it comes to investigating haunted houses; we have to rely on the IPCCs expertise when it comes to summarizing climate science, but we do so with a grain of salt, beacause we did not do the skeptical thing and check these things out for ourselves. And that grain of salt must grow, the further away the commenter, on whose words we’re basing our opinion, moves from his/her area of expertise. That is why the grain of salt would be small when relying on the IPCC report, bigger when relying on Phil Plait’s comments on evolution, and even bigger if you’re relying on my comments about vaccines at my spanking new, and wonderfully informative vaccination blog, Vaccine Central.

Armchair Skeptics

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on March 1, 2010

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

I am often asked if skeptics and skeptical organizations should undertake first-hand investigations. Of course, it depends upon what your goals are. But I think the question can be re-phrased to mean – is there any value or benefit to first hand investigation, and to this the answer is a definite “yes.”

But this is not to denigrate the value of skeptical review from the comfort of your computer chair. This kind of activity has sometimes been referred to as “armchair skepticism” – meant to be derogatory. While I see the value in going out into the field, armchair skepticism has a valuable and complementary role to play.

In fact, these two activities mirror what real scientists do, and are roughly analogous to peer-review vs experimental replication.

Armchair Skepticism

The community of scientists keep each other honest, and keep the process of science grinding forward, in various ways – only one of which is going into the lab to replicate a study or do follow up research. When a colleague publishes a paper, or presents a paper at a meeting, his colleagues provide analysis and criticism. Ideas are examined for logic, internal consistency, and plausibility. Other options, perhaps neglected by the researcher, are explored. And existing research, perhaps not taken into account by the researcher, is brought up and discussed.

This feedback is provided without ever doing any actual investigation. When skeptics perform the exact same service to paranormal or fringe claims, this should not be denigrated at all, but seen as providing in our area of expertise the same kind of analysis that scientists provide in theirs.

This “peer-review” takes several forms. First, the term “peer-review” is often used to refer to the formal process of reviewing a paper that has been submitted for publication. I am not referring to this formal peer-review (which I do not think has any analogy in skeptical activity), but rather to the informal peer-review that collectively refers to all the efforts of the scientific community to hammer errors and flaws out of scientific thinking.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

What, If Anything, Can Skeptics Say About Science?

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on December 22, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, Larry Stock, Robert GerstenNASA visualization of arctic surface warming trends. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, Larry Stock, Robert Gersten

As many skeptics know by now, legendary skeptical trailblazer James Randi set off a firestorm last week with two Swift blog posts about global warming. His first post carried his strong suspicion that consensus science on climate change is incorrect, while his followup post wondered “whether we can properly assign the cause to anthropogenic influences.”

Skeptical bloggers were swift to respond. Critics (including PZ Myers, Orac, Sean Carroll, and James Hrynyshyn) chastised Randi for speaking outside his domain expertise; for dissenting from current consensus science; and for lending his name to the disreputable “Oregon Petition Project.” Others, like Phil Plait, corrected Randi while sensibly reminding us that “anyone, everyone, is capable of making mistakes.” And, inevitably, global warming deniers seized upon the event. (One headline, at Britain’s Telegraph.co.uk, gleefully crowed “James Randi forced to recant by Warmist thugs for showing wrong kind of scepticism.”)

But, of the many posts to respond to Randi, two in particular caught my attention. SkeptiCamp pioneer Reed Esau asked,

So what happens now? That uneasy feeling you are now experiencing may be the implications of the situation setting in. … Most of us are laymen who don’t have the professional experience and analytical skills to properly evaluate the data and the methods. To pretend we do (or to reject it on a hunch) separates us from the very scientific enterprise we skeptics purport to value.

Similarly, according to Skeptical Inquirer columnist Massimo Pigliucci, “we need to pause and think carefully about the entire skeptical movement in light of episodes like this one.”

So, What Happens Now?

I’ve long argued that our patchy and lukewarm acceptance of mainstream climate science is skepticism’s greatest failure. I’ll return to that argument in future posts, but today I’d like to concentrate on the general question raised by Esau and Pigliucci: what is skepticism’s appropriate relationship to consensus science? What — if anything — may skeptics responsibly say on mainstream science subjects?

Organized skepticism has always talked about science. Certainly, we use science-informed arguments when critiquing paranormal claims. We use techniques from science (and from other investigatory disciplines, such as history and journalism) when digging into strange stuff. The promotion of scientific literacy is also a core part of our traditional mandate (as I argued in the essay “Where Do We Go From Here?”).

Nonetheless, it’s my opinion that there are severe limits on the kinds of scientific arguments into which skeptics may responsibly wade. If we’re serious about our science-based epistemology, we must be prepared to consistently defer to scientific consensus. As Esau puts it,

That consistency is essential, because without it people like myself will ask “So, what’s the point?” To waver from that consistency risks calling the entire enterprise into question.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

Daniel Loxton – “Where Do We Go From here?”

Posted in Rodibidably by Skepdude on December 23, 2008

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RODIBIDABLY”

Some time ago I heard a series of Skepticality episodes (original episode and  a later response to the original episode where they talked about an article written by Daniel Loxton, titled “Where Do We Go From here? Has classic skepticism run its course?“. For a while I had wanted to comment on this episode, but had not gotten around to it, until today…

The essential points that he makes (at least as far as I read it) are:

  • There is a feeling that skepticism has “won” (maybe not a complete victory, but if somebody wants to know the truth of just about any pseudo-science, the evidence is available)
  • The top skeptics of the movement (James Randi, Paul Kurtz, etc) are aging, and many in the movement are tired of fighting the same old battles year after year
  • Skepticism and the focus of skeptics seems to be shifting away from the old paranormal foes
  • We need to get back to our roots and not only fight them again, but with renewed vigor
  • There are two proper areas of focus for skeptics.
    One is the promotion of science literacy and critical
    thinking (often using the paranormal as a pedagogical
    tool); the other is consumer protection in fringe science
    areas — in particular, as regards paranormal claims
  • That the skeptical community are the ones best equip to fight against the scams, shams, and charlatans who are using fraudulent methods to bilk people of their money, and in some cases their lives
  • And finally that skepticism should under no circumstances become entwined with and religious (or lack of religious) or political beliefs

While I know that many of my readers are perhaps to used to my long winded posts, I also understandthat no everybody wil lwant to read the full 9 page pdf of this, but I would suggest checking out the two Skepticality episodes (most particularly the first) to hear in his own words, how Daniel Loxton believes we should move forward, by going back ot what got us here in the first place…

We will always need people who still want their chance to slay the dragon.

Let’s go to work.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RODIBIDABLY”

Logical fallacies of the homeopathic kind [41-50]

Posted in Altie Meds, homeopathy, Skepdude by Skepdude on November 11, 2008

Welcome to the 5th and final part of my reply to the Naturalnews.com article titled “Presenting 50 Facts About Homeopathy. Here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.So without further ado, let us get into it, because this lady has come up with more stuff to review and I would like to take a stab at that as well, in due time.

* Fact 41 – Most homeopaths treat patients who have been referred to them by word of mouth. Most patients seek out homeopathy because conventional treatment has not benefited them or because it poses too great a risk of side-effects.

Non Sequitur – There is nothing good to be inferred by these facts. Just because people may be unhappy, or incurable, with conventional medicine and just because the deluded are referring gullible or desperate friends to the homeopaths, that does not have anything to say if homeopathy works or not. In the country where I grew up millions of people fell victims of pyramid schemes. They were also referred to the con artists by word of mouth and they were unhappy with the economic situation the country was in. Should we deduct that pyramid schemes are thus good? Nonsense!

* Fact 42 – The homeopathic community has thousands, even millions, of written case notes that demonstrate the positive benefits of their treatment. Some homeopaths have video proof of their patients before and after treatment.

Anecdotal Evidence – is not data. Anything that tries to brand itself as scientific should know that the plural of anecdotes does not equal data! The part about the video proof is remarkably ridiculous. Having video, or photos, before and after is quite useless unless we know exactly what happened in between. I can produce video of before and after that can show anything. Hell I can make the claim that drinking a glass of orange juice has the same effect on your outward appearance as shaving and taking a nice shower. No really, I have video proof of the appearance before and after drinking the juice.

* Fact 43 – Homeopaths charge patients an average of £50 an hour. Specialist Doctors can charge up to £200 or more.

Non Sequitur – I never quite get these sort of statements. I guess the point is that we should go to the homeopaths instead of the doctors because they are cheaper, but does cheapness justify the purchase? This is like saying that  a Kia is cheaper than a Lexus, therefore the Kia is better, or therefore you should by a Kia.

* Fact 44 – The popularity of homeopathy has grown in the past 30 years, its revival entirely through word of mouth and estimated to be growing at more than 20% a year the world over.

Appeal to popularity – why should we care how popular it is or it isn’t? The question here is does it work, not are people being deceived.  A succesful lie is still a lie. Success alone does not guarantee quality!

* Fact 45 – Hundreds of famous people throughout the past 200 years have enjoyed the benefits of homeopathic medicine (www.homeopathicrevolution.com) .

Appeal to authority – so what? Since when are “famous people” experts in medicine? Famous people in general are known to embrace all kinds of stupid things! Tom Cruise anyone???

Appeal to popularity – Hundreeds? Ha, out of thousands/millions of famous people? A failed attempt I would say at an appeal to popularity. Still, even if all the famous people swore by homeopathy, that would still make no difference whatsoever.

* Fact 46 – The aristocratic patronage of homeopathy in the U.K. extended well into the 1940s and beyond can be easily demonstrated. In the Homeopathic Medical Directories there are lists of patrons of the dispensaries and hospitals. They read like an extract from Burke’s or Debrett’s.

Appeal to authority – Oh yea and aristocrats in 19th/20th century U.K. are medical authorities too, just like the famous people in the previous fact. This is getting more and more ridiculous. I think she started of with the number 50 in her head, and is saying anythig she can think of to reach that number.

* Fact 47 – The Royal Families of Europe use homeopathic medicine and Queen Elizabeth II of England never travels anywhere without her homeopathic vials of medicine.

Non sequitur – Why should the Queen’s beliefs be given more importance than the homeless man’s beliefs? Is she trained in medicine? Has she conducted studies to support her belief? Or is her belief blind? Something tells me its the latter one.

* Fact 48 – Homeopathy is practised nowadays in countries all over the world. In India there are 100 homeopathic medical schools and around 250,000 homeopathic doctors.

* Fact 49 – In a recent Global TGI survey where people were asked whether they trust homeopathy the following percentages of people living in urban areas said YES: 62% in India, 58% Brazil, 53% Saudi Arabia, Chile 49%, United Arab Emirates 49%, France 40%, South Africa 35%, Russia 28%, Germany 27%, Argentina 25%, Hungary 25%, USA 18%, UK 15% (http://www.tgisurveys.com/documents/TGI…)

Appeal to popularity– Facts 48 and 49 are cut from the same lame attempt at an appeal to popularity. We’ve already gone over this fallacy a hundred times in this series so I won’t waste your time. I can’t help but notice though that the higher rates of acceptance of hemopathy come from Thirld World countries, or developing, poor countries, in other words countries where real medicine is harder to come by. Compare the acceptance rates in India and Brazil with those in the U.K. and USA! Hmmm…. I wonder what that means?

* Fact 50 – The media as a whole has been unwilling to air a defence of the efficacy of homeopathy and the validity of this 250 year old profession.

Appeal to Antiquity – This is also a favorite fallacy among (S)CAM-ers. It’s been around for thousands of years they say, even though homeopathy doesn’t have thousands of years to boast about. But hey, I guess 250 is impressive. Nevertheless, blodletting, withcraft and countless other stupid theories have been around for as long too. I guess we must accept their efficacy as well.

Conspiracy Theory – The big bad media is not on our side. Bad media! Forget that media only cares about ratings and they’re always credulously reporting anything. Hello foot detoxing specials on your morning/evening news anyone?

WIKIPEDIA LINKS

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 NaturalNews.com. 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.”
(http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articl…)

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 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/bris…) .

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.

WIKIPEDIA LINKS

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

Logical fallacies of the homeopathic kind [21-30]

Posted in Altie Meds, homeopathy, Skepdude by Skepdude on October 27, 2008

Welcome to the third part in the 5 part analysis of the a recent article on NaturalNews.com, in which 50 “facts” were presented to support homeopathy. Part 1 and Part 2 addressed facts 1-10 and 11-20 respectively. Here I continue with facts 21-30.

* Fact 21 – Epidemics such as cholera and typhoid were treated successfully using homeopathy in the 19th century with very high success rates, compared to orthodox medicine (http://www.whale.to/v/winston.html) .

This is a statement, fallacies do not apply. It is completely made up by the way. The website that this “fact” links to seems to be some sort of conspiracy theory minded site. Here’s the opening paragraph of its mission statement :

MISSION: FREEDOM from Tyranny

[Whale is a search for the truth (and the fun of exploration) and freedom from Tyranny, and a collection of information or knowledge towards that aim (most tyranny survives purely through disseminating lies), and this quote gives some idea about the reasons for doing that: The truth may hurt for awhile – and usually does –but it heals forever – without fail. It may be unpleasant to see parasites like big brother but you don’t kill parasites and gain freedom by ignoring them, however large and powerful they appear when you first see them.  This is mostly a medical politics and anti-vaccination site, the Big Brother and (his) Mind Control sections were included to show the wood from the (medical) trees and to see where Tyranny (eg wars, famine, atheism, poverty, droughts, killer hurricanes, drugs, crime, most disease fear, etc) really comes from, causing most folk to think God doesn’t exist!  “Whale” is a tribute to our larger brained mammals.
PS:  This is a true sceptic site as opposed to the pseudo-skeptics.]

It’s an openly anti-vaccination website, which classifies atheism as Tyranny (WTF???) and apparently is a religious site since it is quite worried that the Tyranny makes people not believe in God. Read this again, they’re complaining that war, famine, killer hurricanes, crime, disease make people doubt God. Wow! And by the way this is the site that the author links to as proof of her patently false assertion that homeopathy was more successful in treating cholera than real medicine. And what an account it is. By their standards homeopathy seems to have a 90% + rate of success. Amazing! Wait a minute though, that’s all anecdotal evidence. What the hell happened to Fact # 5 The Homeopathic provings of medicines are a more scientific method of testing than the orthodox model.” But I digress. I promised to stick with logical fallacies. How about anecdotal evidence? Not quite a fallacy but I guess good enough for this fact.

* Fact 22 – There are thousands of homeopathic books, available at specialist outlets, not sold in the high street.

Appeal to popularity – There is no relation between the number of books being sold and the quality of the information contained within them.

There seems to be a bit of a conspiracy theory flavor to this argument, something in the lines of homeopaths being open with their “Science” and scientists hiding behind their ivory towers that are beyond the reach of mere mortals. Do you get that vibe?

Further, what this really is saying is that it is cheap to become a homeopath, after all our books are available everywhere, but it is expensive to become a doctor. Yes, so what? Real knowledge takes time and effort and money. Any good college education requires time, effort and money. You can’t become a mathematician by buying Math for Dummies books;  without shelling cash for specialized math books you’re just an amateur at best (unless of course you’re Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting). So how do they expect to be able to learn medicine that way?

* Fact 23 – There are 5 homeopathic hospitals in the U.K. — in London, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow. They cost the NHS under £10 million a year compared to the £100 billion for the total annual NHS budget for 2008!

Appeal to popularity & Authority – 5 hospitals times thousands of patients a day, my God this stuff is really popular in the UK! And look at how cheap it is, only 10 million out of 100 billion budget, why that’s barely a drop in the bucket. Notice how they pick UK, and not say Ethiopia. I guess UK makes a much more convincing authority that Ethiopia.

It’s the same argument over and over actually: 1) Lots of people believe this and 2) It’s quite cheap. The main point however should be how well does it work? Except for some wacko website, no other relevant references are offered. You did not expect anything else did you?

* Fact 24 – At one of the earliest debates on the NHS Act of 1948 the Government pledged that homoeopathy would continue to be available on the NHS, as long as there were “patients wishing to receive it and doctors willing to provide it”.

Appeal to Authority – Well the Government doesn’t care, so there must be something to it! After all they are…THE GOVERNMENT!!!!! Since when is the Government an authority on matters of science?

* Fact 25 – There is a campaign by certain U.K. Professors to oust homeopathy completely from the NHS after they wrote on NHS headed paper to all Primary Care Trusts in 2006 telling managers not to refer patients to the homeopathic hospitals.

Conspiracy theory – There is a campaign against us, so obviously we’re pushing the right buttons since they are trying to silence us. That’s what fanatic Muslims think about when they blow themselves up. I believe this is also referred to as the hero complex.

* Fact 26 – The Homeopathic Hospitals are clean, with friendly, well informed staff. The patients are generally pleased with their treatment unlike many orthodox National Health Service hospitals.

Non Sequitur – So what? My local grocery store is clean with friendly staff. Does that mean I should go there next time I break my leg? I mean they’re so nice and clean! Cleanliness and niceness have nothing to do with effectiveness in treating illnesses. Date rapists are generally clean and nice guys, until they slip the drug in the woman’s drink and well you know how that goes.

* Fact 27 – The chances of contracting MRSA or C. Difficile at a Homeopathic Hospital are extremely rare.

Non Sequitur – So are the chances of being actually cured. Scratch that, it’s not extremely rare to be cured of anything in a homeopathic hospital, it is impossible.

Also the chances of contracting MRSA or C. Difficile are extremely low while laying in your couch, but does that mean that you should pick your couch over a doctor when all of a sudden it feels like an alien is trying to rip out of your chest?

This one makes me laugh. This is the equivalent of ” The chances of dying of a plance crash while driving your car are much lower than the chances of dying in a plane crash while flying, therefore driving is a safer flying method than actual flying“. Really, it is that ridiculous!

* Fact 28 – Unlike orthodox medicine where two thirds of all conventional hospital admissions are due to the side-effects of pharmaceutical medicines, the bill for negligence claims soaring into billions, one U.K. leading insurance company reported only ‘a couple’ of claims against homeopaths in a ten year period!

First, I have a feeling the 2/3 statistic is made up from thin air. Second, when you don’t do anything, it is less likely to cause side-effects. After all most of us drink water all the time, and we’re ok. Third, death must not have been considered as a side-effect of the homeopaths by this leading Insurance Company. After all what the homeopaths did, didn’t kill these people. It’s what they were encouraged not to do that hurt them. Fourth, can’t she tell us who this insurance company is? Why does it have to remain unnamed? Why not reference it properly, company XYZ on the XYZ report released on such and such date, which can be found at such and such link. Instead we get the mysterious “One UK leading insurance company”. Riiiiight!

* Fact 29 – In the United States in the early 1900s there were 22 homeopathic medical schools and over 100 homeopathic hospitals, 60 orphanages and old people’s homes and 1,000+ homeopathic pharmacies.

Appeal to popularity – So what? And why are all these statistics coming from the 1900s and 1800s? Isn’t there anything more recent that these homeopaths look at? Do they really believe that 100 year old knowledge is better than current knowledge? After all bloodletting was quite popular right about that time, well actually about a century earlier but you get the point. Just because it was big in earlier times, when people didn’t know as much as today, it does not lend it credibility.

* Fact 30 – Members of the American Medical Association had great animosity towards homeopathy after its formation in 1847 and it was decided to purge all local medical societies of physicians who were homeopaths.

Conspiracy Theory – Well the policy has great animosity towards child molesters too. Is that supposed to imply something good about the molesters?

WIKIPEDIA LINKS

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

Logical fallacies of the homeopathic kind [11-20]

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 26, 2008

This is part two, of the 5 part analysis of logical fallcies in the recent article on NaturalNews.com by Louise Mclean. In Part One we went over Facts 1-10. In this installement we’ll go over Facts 11-20. Without further ado, let’s get going.

* Fact 11 – The homeopathic practitioner treats the whole person, believing all symptoms are interrelated and seeks to select a medicine which most closely covers them all.

This is a statement about the homeopath’s beliefs. As such there are no fallacies to worry about. We could however debate the accuray of such statement, especially in light of  Fact #5 which said that homeopathy’sprovings of medicines are a more scientific method of testing than the orthodox model”. Actually science does not believe that all symptoms are interelated and that there is ONE medicine that can cure them all. But I won’t linger to long on these sort of things. Fallacies is what I am after here.

* Fact 12 – Homeopathic remedies are cheap.

This is also a statement, nevertheless this has some implications attached to it. The implication is that homeopathic remedies are cheap while real medicine is expensive. The second implication is that because they are cheap, people should go to homeopaths. As such we have a couple of logical fallacies to work with.

False Dichotomy – It is not true that all real medicine is expensive. As a matter of fact a lot of over the counter medicine, such as Tylenol and Advil etc etc are jsut as inexpensive, if not more inexpensive, than their homeopathic counterparts.

Non Sequitur – The fact that homeopathic remedies are cheap has nothing to say about their efficacy, how good they are at treating diseases, or if they are better than real medicine. It just goes to prove that water is not that expensive.

* Fact 13 – Pharmaceutical medicines are expensive.

If anyone was going to challenge my implications that I made in regards to Fact #12 please refrain from making a moron out of yourself. Fact #13 proves that I was right.

* Fact 14 – There are more than 4,000 homeopathic medicines.

Appeal to popularity – There are more than 4,000 pedofiles in the world. Does that make child molestation acceptable?

* Fact 15 – Homeopathic medicines have no toxic side-effects.

Non Sequitur – Lots of things don’t have toxic side effects, without being good at curing diseases. For example turning the pages of a book has no side effects, but it does nothing for your hemorroids.

Secondly, there is another hidden implication here. No toxic side effects, therefore no one can’t get hurt. What’s the harm right? This is the harm. I wonder if death is considered a toxic side effect?

* Fact 16 – Homeopathic medicines are non-addictive.

Non Sequitur – Addictive or not, that has nothing to say about their efficacy. I would love to challenge the actual statement that homeopathyc remedies are not addictive, but unfortunately I don’t know much in that area. Can anyone supply some links in the comments?

* Fact 17 – Every true homeopathic medicine is made using one substance — whether plant, mineral, metal, etc. The exact substance is known, unlike most modern drugs where we are rarely informed of the ingredients.

Non Sequitur – This specific type of fallacy is quickly becoming her favorite. Even if we grant her that homeopathinc remedies are made using one substance (which is patently false if you consider that there are at least 2 substances in it, water and whatever they are diluting in it, unless of course she’s agreeing that it’s all water) how do we make the jump from saying that one substance is better than many substances in treating a disease? That’s kinds like saying my toy car is better than your real car, because it has less moving parts. Ridiculous right?

* Fact 18 – Any remedy up to a 12c or a 24x potency still contains the original molecules of the substance and this is known as Avogadro’s number.

Ah the appeal to a real scientist and a real scientific property. Brian Dunning explains homeopathy in Skeptoid Episode 34. Here’s a quick recap on Brian’s demolition of the Avogadro number defense ” Dilutions of homeopathic products that are sold today usually range from 6X to 30X. This is homeopathy’s system for measuring the dilution, and it doesn’t mean 1 part in 6 or 1 part in 30. X represents the roman numeral 10. A 6X dilution means one part in 106, or one in one million. A 30X dilution means one part in 1030, or one followed by 30 zeros. A few products are even marketed using the C scale, roman numeral 100. 30C is 10030. That’s a staggering number; it’s 1 followed by 60 zeros, about the number of atoms in our galaxy. In 1807, they knew more about mathematics and chemistry than they did about medicine, and it was known that there is a maximum dilution possible in chemistry. Some decades later it was learned that this proportion is related to Avogadro’s constant, about 6 × 1023. Beyond this limit, where many of Hahnemann’s dilutions lay, they are in fact no longer dilutions but are chemically considered to be pure water. So Hahnemann designed a workaround. Hahnemann thought that if a solution was agitated enough, the water would retain a spiritual imprint of the original substance, and could then be diluted without limit. The water is often added to sugar pills for remedies designed to be taken in a pill form. So when you buy homeopathic pills sold today, you’re actually buying sugar, water, or alcohol that’s “channeling” (for lack of a better term) some described substance. The substance itself no longer remains, except for a few millionth-part molecules in the lowest dilutions.

Let’s look again at Avogadro’s number. 6 × 1023 atoms is called a mole, a term any chemistry student is familiar with. How big is that number? Well, if you had 500 sheets of paper, you’d have a stack about two and a half inches high, like a ream that you’d buy at the stationery store. If you had 6 × 1023 sheets of paper, your stack would reach all the way from the Earth to the Sun. And not only that: it would reach that distance four hundred million times. Think about that for a moment. One sheet of paper, in a stack that’s 400,000,000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. That’s a typical homeopathic dilution. Sounds pretty potent, doesn’t it? – Wow not so short, but you get the point right? Listen/Read the full Episode 34 transcript for complete details.

* Fact 19 – Every Patient is Unique so homeopathic medicines are individualized.

Actually this completely contradicts Fact #17 which boasts that homeopathic medicines are made by using one substance. Threre are  over 6 billion people in the world. Either they know of 6 billion substances that can be used, or they are re-using some substances.  Fact #14 claims that there are 4,000 homeopathic medicines. So either they can only treat 4,000 people, or homeopathy is not unique and its remedies are not individualized.

* Fact 20 – Homeopaths treat genetic illness, tracing its origins to 6 main genetic causes: Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Psora (scabies), Cancer, Leprosy.

I don’t even know what the hell that means. Can someone elaborate?

 

Introducing Skepticblog

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 26, 2008

I am happy to join the bandwagon in saying welcome to the newest skeptic blog, called appropriately enough, SKEPTICBLOG. This is not just any critical thinking blog. It is an extension of The Skeptologists and its writers include Steven Novella, Brian Dunning, Phil “The BA” Plait, Michael Shermer and others. It is bound to be delicious. Go subscribe to their RSS….NOW!

Logical fallacies of the homeopathic kind [1-10]

Posted in Altie Meds, homeopathy, Skepdude by Skepdude on October 25, 2008

In a recent article on NaturalNews.com, Louise Mclean presents 50 facts about how/why homeopathy works. Louise is a “homeopathic practitioner with 20 years experience. She is also the Editor of Zeus Information Service which came into being in February 2003. Its purpose is to help unify the Worldwide Health Freedom movement – people and organisations who believe in the value of natural health therapies and want to continue using them.

I will not argue about the veracity of the actual claims, meaning that I won’t even bother with how true the numbers or statistics that are given are. I will try to concentrate solely on the logic. As my skeptical tool I will use the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe “Top 20 Logical Fallacies“. For Wikipedia links of the fallacies I use in this entry scroll down to the bottom of the entry. This is the first of what will, hopefully, become a 5 part series each dealing with 10 facts.

* Fact 1 – Hippocrates ‘The Father of Medicine’ of Ancient Greece said there were two Laws of Healing: The Law of Opposites and the Law of Similars. Homeopathy treats the patient with medicines using the Law of Similars, orthodox medicine uses the Law of Opposites, e.g. antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants, antihypertensives, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics.

Appeal to Authority – Just because Hippocrates thought that thousands of years ago, it does not mean that that is how medicine actually works. He may be known as the “Father of Medicine”, but he’s considered as much of an authority on medicine today, as the inventor of the stone wheel is considered an authority in modern car engineering.

Straw Man – Modern Medicine does not operate according to the “Law of Opposites” whatever that is.

* Fact 2 – Homeopathic theories are based on fixed principles of the Laws of Nature which do not change — unlike medical theories which are constantly changing!

Non Sequitur – The statement that the “Laws of Nature” do not change has no bearing upon the veracity of homeopathy, or real medicine. The laws of physics, chemistry don’t change either (more or less), but that fact alone has nothing to say if a physicist is doing good science or not.

False Analogy – comparing apples and oranges. She is comparing the unchanging nature of the laws of nature ( a bit of redundancy there sorry) with the changing nature or our medical knowledge. There is no comparison to be made. Saying that is the same as saying that because the laws of aerodynamics don’t change, aeronautics is bunk because it keeps coming up with different airplane models.

Unstated Major Premise – They are implying that change is bad whereas non change is good. In fact, improvement is by definition change.

* Fact 3 – Homeopathy is an evidence-based, empirical medicine.

This is just a statement, not an argument. As such logical fallacies do not apply. It can be shown that this statement is wrong and nonfactual, but that is besides the point I am trying to make here. Furthermore, Fact #36 states that homeopathy cannot be properly tested, as such it is hard to see how it can be defined as empirical science.

* Fact 4 – Homeopathy is both an art and a science.

This is just a statement, not an argument. As such logical fallacies do not apply. Art yes, science not in the least.

* Fact 5 – The Homeopathic provings of medicines are a more scientific method of testing than the orthodox model.

Again, statement not argument. Nevertheless it makes no sense as it is the orthodox model that uses the scientific method. I don’t know what “a more scientific method of testing” would be. It would be nice to know what additional criteria they use that the current scientific method does not. Furthermore this claim is completely contradicted by Fact #36 which says that homeopathic ideas can never be really tested. Are you scratching your head yet?

* Fact 6 – Homeopathic medicine awakens and stimulates the body’s own curative powers. The potentized remedy acts as a catalyst to set healing into motion.

Unstated Major Premise – They are assuming that whatever self healing properties our bodies have CAN be potentized (which means strengthened) beyond their natural limits.

Furthermore this is a complete fabrication as homeopathy depends on the law of atraction, and has nothing to do with the bodies curative powers. In fact their main tenet is that whatever causes the disease cures it, not the body itself, unless of course homeopathy HAS CHANGED which would be heresy according to Fact #2.

* Fact 7 – Homeopathic medicines work by communicating a current/pattern/frequency of energy via the whole human body to jump start the body’s own inherent healing mechanisms.

Same as Fact #6.

* Fact 8 – Homeopathy assists the body to heal itself, to overcome an illness which brings the patient to a higher level of health. Orthodox medicine suppresses the illness, bringing the patient to a lower level of health.

Straw Man – I don’t know what a lower level of health is but I am pretty sure that conventional (real) medicine does not bring anyone to a lower level of health.

False Dichotomy – Where is it said that there are two and only two levels of health, high and low? This is just some on the spot made up fact in order to facilitate attacking the straw man they constructed.

* Fact 9 – The homeopathic practitioner endeavours to search for and treat the cause of the disease in order to heal the effect.

No issues here. I hope they are all really trying to find the cause. That is what every doctor does. There are no logical fallacies here. We may say that they are wasting time and concentrating on the wrong causes, but there is nothing logically wrong with that, as long as they think they are working on the correct causes.

* Fact 10 – Outcomes of homeopathic treatment are measured by the long term curative effects of prescribing and complete eradication of the disease state.

Those are in fact the standards by which it should be judjed. Nevertheless, we difer in our assessment if homeopathy passes or fails such test. I challenge any homeopath to point to the literture and studies that show that long term, homeopathy has curative effects, if any. Leave the name of the author, publication, date published and study title on the comments section.

WIKIPEDIA LINKS