Ha, I almost missed this xkcd since I was away at TAM:If only homeopaths really used this method – there would probably be a lot less of them if they didn’t successfully breed.
Andrew Hall says:
Jul 15, 2010
And yet the belief lingers on…must be one of those parasitic memes.http://laughinginpurgatory.blo…
It probably *was* evolutionarily selected for for most of human history, since it was probably a lot safer than going to an actual “doctor”.
But wouldn’t a truly scientific approach say “I don’t know” and then start testing instead of dismissing ideas outright.I had a very serious illness as a teenager that lasted several years. The doctors were unable to do anything, and I got progressively worse to the point where they weren’t sure if I would live. Out of desperation, my parents took me to a homeopath, and it took a while to get better, but I noticed an improvement after just a couple of weeks.I am now able to live a fairly normal life, and I credit that to homeopathy.I know that it wasn’t developed by our culture, but perhaps instead of shunning it, we can start to experiment, and learn something new…
Except that scientists *have* experimented on it dozens, if not hundreds of times, and every single time have found homeopathy to do nothing more than have a placebo effect. Not to mention is completely defies all laws of physics and chemistry.I’m glad you got better, but you were taking nothing but water pills. Something else helped you get better.
Jul 16, 2010
That is a rather broad statement. Do you mean to tell me that they have tested *all* herbs and found that *none* of them have any medicinal properties simply because they were prescribed by an elderly chinese man, and not a pharmaceutical company.Sure there is a lot of hokum in eastern medicine, but there is also a lot that we can learn. Alchemy had a lot of hokum, but science was able to clear away the cruft and give us chemistry.Reductionism has given us a lot of understanding about the universe, but we still have a lot to learn about what happens when we try to put those elements together into a complex system. Fields like systems theory and graph theory are still in their infancy.Eastern medicine defines organs based on their function and interconnection as opposed to their physical location. They look at the body as a network. Our current science is really bad at understanding how to control flow throughout a network (just look at traffic), and how a change in one area may have an unexpected effect on a completely different area. This is the area where I think we could learn the most.What laws of physics & chemistry do you think are violated?P.S. Thanks for your well wishes…
Lukas Thorburn says:
I just want to point out one thing: When you say “Do you mean to tell me that they have tested *all* herbs and found that *none* of them have any medicinal properties”, you seem to be equating homeopathy with all herbal/natural medicine. (If you’re not, and I just misinterpreted you, please correct me.) Homeopathy is actually a very specific branch of herbal medicine, based around the principle that “like cures like”- that is, that plants that can cause a certain symptom in a healthy individual can also, in extremely dilute doses, cure it in a sick individual. Not all herbal medicine falls into this category- indeed, most of it does not.Herbal medicine as a whole is not useless, and I don’t think Jen meant to cast it as such. (Again, correct me if I’m wrong.) There are several herbs and other “natural” cures with legitimate medicinal properties. Scientists have not tested all the possible herbs, and not all the ones they have tested have been rejected.However, homeopathy is one branch of herbal medicine that has been essentially disproven by science. As Jen mentioned, it has been subjected to rigorous testing, and found to be a placebo. No, they did not test every possible herb- what they tested was the principle behind homeopathy. The “minute dose” that is central to homeopathic medicine is diluted to the point where there is essentially only water left. The belief that such a dose still has potency is explained by “water memory”- that is, the idea that some aspect of the herbal medicine is somehow “imprinted” on the water, and the water retains this aspect once the actual herb is gone. Firstly, this conflicts with the known physics of water (the “laws of physics and chemistry” that Jen refers to). Water molecules have no mechanism for retaining information about what they came in contact with. Second, this is the aspect of homeopathy that was subjected to testing, and it was found to have the same effectiveness as a placebo.If the cure that you took for your sickness did indeed cure you, perhaps it was not actually a homeopathic remedy, but merely an herbal one. Or perhaps the cure really was a particularly powerful placebo effect- as far-fetched as this may seem, the placebo effect can be very potent. Either way, I’m very glad it worked for you, and while it doesn’t prove that that particular remedy was effective, it certainly suggests that it merits further study.Sorry to be so long-winded; I just wanted to clarify this.
Yes, I misunderstood. I thought she was talking about holistic medicine in general.I went to someone called a “Homeopath”, but they used a combination of herbs and acupuncture to cure me.
That was a great xkcd, but it’s slightly erroneous. A homoeopath would be trying to use that solution to *prevent* pregnancy (remember “like cures like” or however they phrase it), so there wouldn’t be any kind of evolutionary pressure against it; to the contrary, the evolutionary pressure would be in its favour.Sad, because I really would like to believe that stupidityof this sort really were selected against. I’ve come up against people taking it seriously too often to believe that.Just more motivation to keep reading Orac…
They don’t use the xkcd method because they’re afraid of getting twins
Yeah a friend pointed out that they’re actually making an abortion drug, since sperm causes pregnancy, very dilute sperm will get rid of it.
I love this.
Jul 17, 2010
No offense mate, and I see you’ve accepted the correction, but you’ve delivered a nice round of bullshit bingo there.Eastern/western medicine? Homeopathy itself is neither “Eastern” nor “ancient wisdom”. It was invented by a guy in Germany, about 200 years ago.Reductionism is a strawman here. While medical science does try to work out the ‘reductionist’ mechanism behind a medicine, i.e. why it works, it doesn’t require that. You can test *any* drug, ‘western’ or herbal or homeopathic, using a randomised controlled trial, to see *if* it works without having any idea *how* it works.”Eastern medicine defines organs…” – firstly, I’m pretty sure “western” medicine has a decent idea of the function and interconnection of organs at this point. Secondly, just because “eastern” medicine has an explanatory framework for something that “western” medicine (allegedly) can’t explain, that doesn’t mean that explanation is correct, or anything other than made up based on religious ideas. Why is it that we mock old, superseded western medicine (Greek or mediaeval ideas about the “humours”, leeches, bleeding the patient…) but if it’s just as old and comes from the East, we’re all over it and suddenly it’s all ancient wisdom?Not to mention that in pharmacology specifically, a lot of commonly used “western” drugs *are* derived from herbs (or plants in general). Aspirin, morphine come to mind.Oh, and the fact that a lot of alternative practitioners happily mix and match mutually contradictory ideas. Homeopathy is an internally consistent system of medicine that is mutually incompatible with, say, Eastern ideas of “networks” and “life force” and “Qi”. So for that reason alone I think their claims of being “holistic” don’t hold up.
Hey, I rese(nt|mble) that comment!My mother is a practising, ‘qualified’ homeopath. On balance, I’m still kind of glad that she has managed to breed. And that I eventually managed to stop believing in this shit! Seriously, it’s not easy or fun to change your mind about something like this. I eventually did it (largely thanks to Ben Goldacre, I think), but it took quite a while during which I should have known better. I have some sympathy for people who are stuck believing in these things. Though I suspect a lot of people who aren’t that deep into the rabbit hole are simply and understandably ignorant, i.e. they believe homeopathy to be roughly the same as herbal medicine and have no idea about this batshit insane stuff about diluting 100s of orders of magnitude past Avogadro’s number… what’s embarrassing is that I believed in it for years even after I knew about it.
I am not arguing against rigorous testing or that we should just accept anything from eastern medicine at face value. What I am saying is that it *should* be tested, and not just dismissed outright, so that we can separate the bullshit from what is valid.I misunderstood some of the original comments, and thought that people were dismissing all of eastern medicine, when in fact they were dismissing a very narrow idea which had been tested. I was using the wrong definition.On the definition of organs: I was not saying that western medicine has an incorrect definition of organs, but just that eastern medicine has a completely different way of defining them. I find it fascinating, and I think that is worth taking a look at how those definitions came about.I guess I just get frustrated at the almost religious zeal that some scientists defend the status quo with. There is a lot of anger directed at any theory which contradicts common belief. The whole point of science is that when someone makes a claim, it should be tested for validity. When someone says “That doesn’t agree with my belief system, so we shouldn’t even test it”, they aren’t being scientific… even if they cloak themselves in the language.That was the point I was trying to make originally, though I don’t think it actually applies here given my misunderstanding.
Anonymous A says:
Jul 24, 2010
I almost think that the comments following the blog were better than the blog itself. Just to throw this into the mix, as more medical bulls**t trivia: the Greeks believed that the majority of maladies (psychological and physical) suffered by childless women were due to the womb wandering around the body in search of children- they were right in that a uterus can cause a wide variety of problems, wrong in that it is (thankfully) a stationary organ. My point is that science is a constantly evolving art of asking questions and experimenting to prove or disprove, and sometimes ethos is just as important as logos.
Jul 29, 2010
Homeopaths are taught, not born. Even if homeopaths never reproduced, they could still teach more. If they never reproduced and never had much influence over any children the rate of people becoming homeopaths might be reduced, but it’s not obvious that the the effect would be significant.
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