High-end cutting-edge research


Gosh – a whole big sciencey conference with sciencey people in sciencey clothes and sciencey glasses, using sciencey words and sciencey concepts, to talk about…

…homeopathy.

What a lot of effort for such a futile activity.

The Homeopathy Research Institute’s International Research Conference, ‘Cutting Edge Research in Homeopathy’, took place in Barcelona in May-June 2013. With a programme dedicated solely to high-end, robust scientific research, this was the first gathering of its kind in a decade. After 18 months of preparation and anticipation, it was a pleasure to witness the event being hailed as a resounding success by respected peers from around the world.

“High end” research? Who says that? That’s a word from advertising, not science. They might as well call it prestigious, or bijou, or exclusive, or glamorous.

Headline speaker, Dr Stephan Baumgartner (University of Bern, Switzerland), summarised the state of play and way forward for basic research (i.e. establishing fundamental principles about the properties and action of homeopathic dilutions).

Yes…it really is more than time to establish fundamental principles about the properties and action of homeopathic dilutions, because so far nobody has the faintest idea how “homeopathic dilutions” could possibly have any curative properties.

Discussions of new findings defined the ‘cutting edge’ theme of the conference and were typified by a plenary session looking at possible mechanisms of action of homeopathic medicines. Prof Iris Bell (University of Arizona College of Medicine) joining the conference live online from the US, shared her theory that nanoparticles play a key role in the mechanism of action – an appealing hypothesis as it potentially brings homeopathy into the realms of conventional nanomedicine.

How exciting! Someone has a theory – and that’s appealing because if it works out it could being homeopathy into the real world. It’s only a pity that it’s taken them so many centuries to get around to it.

It’s also fun that they have no idea what the “possible mechanisms of action of homeopathic medicines” might be, and that that doesn’t stop them taking homeopathic medicines seriously and prescribing them to people as medicine.

Dr Gustavo Bracho (Finlay Institute, Cuba), proposed a scheme to integrate homeopathy in hospitals as a first line of defense against epidemics, suggesting that homeopathy could be used prophylactically to treat infected patients as they come in to hospitals, thereby shortening their stay and the risks of further contamination.

Why?

I’ll assume that “integrate” means “add to existing, evidence-based treatments.” In which case: why? Why waste money and time on this footling conference and talk about adding water to genuine medical treatments? Why make a career out of this stupid bullshit?

Homeopathy remains controversial because of debate around its mechanism of action. However, the strong scientific presentations at this event demonstrate that high caliber academics, medics and practitioners are engaged in robust research in homeopathy worldwide, pushing this field forward.

It’s not research, it’s “research”; it’s just people wearing the costumes and talking the jargon while doing nothing real. They’re all playing dress-up and let’s pretend. It’s kind of embarrassing.

 

 

Comments

  1. Robert B. says

    Prof Iris Bell (University of Arizona College of Medicine) joining the conference live online from the US, shared her theory that nanoparticles play a key role in the mechanism of action – an appealing hypothesis as it potentially brings homeopathy into the realms of conventional nanomedicine.

    Does she mean… molecules? I hate to break it to her, but doctors and other scientists have been studying the action of various molecules on the body for many years. Their body of theory and data shows trivially that dilution removes “nanoparticles” from the solution, and homeopathic dilution does this so thoroughly that no such particles are expected to remain.

    Or is she trying to say that diluting a homeopathic solution makes nanomachines appear in it? If she can demonstrate that, I know of some people who would like to back big trucks full of money and fame up to her doorstep.

  2. kitty says

    “It’s kind of embarassing.”

    I’d honestly call it terrifying because they have the resources to do this. 42 talks and talk of wasting hospital time (and money) with magic water.

  3. quixote says

    Uh, may I respectfully point out that not knowing how something works is not the same as proof that it does not work? For centuries people used aspirin or plant-based extracts containing it without a clue why it decreased pain, inflammation, and fever. It’s only in the last few years (say 15 or so? 10?) that molecular biology has begun to find out what causes the effect.
    .
    As to homeopathy, specifically, we don’t actually know much about its effectiveness because of a dearth of controlled studies. To say that it’s stupid to do those studies because they haven’t been done because it was assumed to be stupid to do them is not the way evidence-based studies are supposed to work.
    .
    Anecdotally, there’s no shortage of people who swear they’ve been helped by homeopathy. It doesn’t strike me as the most parsimonious explanation to claim they’re all deluded. At least not in the way people usually mean it.
    .
    Even assuming that we know everything there is to know about pharmacological effects in the body (now there’s a stretch even bigger than assuming homeopathy is equivalent to antibiotics) — even assuming that — there’s a good bit of research showing that the placebo effect can account for some 30% of the observed results of clinical drugs. Thirty percent.
    .
    There’s no reason to assume homeopathy would have a lower proportion of placebo successes. But unlike many clinical drugs, a pinhead-sized sugar pill held together with a bit of water has no side effects. You know what? If something totally harmless is capable of harnessing the placebo effect for a cure, I’ll support it. On condition, of course, that there is no actually known and effective cure that could be applied to begin with. And if it doesn’t harness it, you try something else. That’s how medicine is practiced, even if they don’t mention it in the movies.
    .
    All that said, this kind of BS:

    defense against epidemics, suggesting that homeopathy could be used prophylactically to treat infected patients as they come in to hospitals

    is the type of life-endangering hogwash that makes any rational discussion of the topic go out of bounds.

  4. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    sciencey glasses

    Want.

    “High end” research? Who says that?

    People who somewhere internalized “High energy physics” and “High-end automobile” then digested, conflated, and spewed forth something suitable to their faux-sciency marketeering needs.

    (i.e. establishing fundamental principles about the properties and action of homeopathic dilutions)

    Because not even the faithful are buying into the original bullspatter quite so much any more.

    I want to help bring homeopathy into the realm of the dead. Sort of a psychopomp for homeopathy. Or a homeopomp psychopath. Or something.

  5. says

    Quixote – but there’s no actual reason to think homeopathy does work (aside from as a placebo), is there? Plus there is a putative explanation of how it works, but it’s absurd. Combine those two facts and it is somewhat risible to talk about looking for the mechanism of how it might work, isn’t it?

  6. Lee DeLay says

    Quixote – there has been research into homeopathy and even setting aside the basic flaw that in dilutions over 12c there is such a small chance of even finding one molecule of the original substance as side there is little in the way of underlying plausibility for homeopathy. The studies that have been done show that homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo.

    The UK had an evidence committee look at all of the evidence they could find to evaluate homeopathy – they found no evidence to say it works. The evidence that was presented on the pro-homeopathy side was laughable.

    Since I’m on my phone I can’t link to the relevant studies but if you pop over to science based medicine.org an search for homeopathy, they go through in excruciating detail the evidence and the plausibility of homeopathy.

  7. Acolyte of Sagan says

    From the OP

    Why waste money and time on this footling conference and talk about adding water to genuine medical treatments?

    But they’ve been doing homeopathy in all hospitals and in homes since pharmacological products were first developed; what do you think that wet stuff is in that little plastic cup that they give you with your tablets?
    Shit! It’s not the morphine or codeine that controls my pain, it’s the glass of water I drink when I take the buggers.
    That’s me converted ;-)

  8. says

    Re Quixote/#3:

    Anecdotally, there’s no shortage of people who swear they’ve been helped by homeopathy. It doesn’t strike me as the most parsimonious explanation to claim they’re all deluded. At least not in the way people usually mean it.

    There is likewise no shortage of people who believe they are heard by gods (generally, I think, a slightly smaller number who think they hear the gods in return, in some sense or other). And it’s actually a fairly parsimonious explanation that they are, in fact, deluded, deluded in this case to be taken in its meaning simply: wrong and/or fooled. (I specify because ‘delusional’ is a different matter, and I’m not grinding an axe on that either way, here, nor do I think I really need to).

    In kindness, you’re right it does seem a pretty remarkable thing, on the face of it, that so many people can be simply wrong, even drastically wrong. Honestly, I sometimes intuitively feel a similar incredulity to what I think you’re expressing, here. But human psychology is stranger than we often imagine, I think.

    I note your ‘not in the way people usually mean it’. I’m not sure what you meant to say by that, but me, I think, actually, in the case of homeopathy, it is pretty much the way they usually mean it. As in wrong, as in fooled. The reasons this belief, as utterly at odds as it seems to be with so much else of what we know about how the world works, persists, I dunno, I can think of a few. Honestly, I don’t even find it that remarkable anymore. In the case of homeopathy, there’s lots of marketing, because there’s money in it. That’s one cause. And sympathetic magic in general (homeopathy’s a subgenre) does ape lots of natural phenomena people do genuinely observe (contagion is a very real thing, in the case of many pathogens, as is acquired immunity due to contact with one), so it probably borrows a bit of plausibility from this.

    But that bit’s conjecture. The take home, here, I think is just this: large numbers of people can be quite wrong. And even in the same way, because beliefs are likewise contagious, and it’s very clear they don’t at all have to represent the truth of the matter to be so contagious.

    And with regard to homeopathy, my view of it is now: not only is the evidence more than solid enough to dismiss it; it’s solid enough I feel it’s a bit of a waste even to continue gathering evidence. Seriously, it makes about as much sense as continuing to try to reproduce Fleischmann–Pons’ cold fusion results. The only real reason anyone bothers is, well, see above. Large numbers of people are wrong enough about this–and spending enough money being so wrong–that maybe it does make sense coming up with one more study saying the same thing: duh, when you dilute something frequently enough that all that remains is water, its effect will be indistinguishable from placebo.

  9. says

    Oh. Right. And I’m afraid I’m going to get branded Chief Sayer of Obvious Things here between these two comments, but anyway, that ‘indistinguishable from placebo’ is probably a third and key reason homeopathy persists…

    The point being: the placebo effect is a very persuasive perception. It’s still argued by some it’s so persuasive that there’s a case for actually deliberately using it for things like pain control. And even argued by some it may have small clinical effects outside this, but this in dispute, way I understand it. It’s another plausible thing people believe that your expectations may in fact effect how well you recover from an illness or injury, but apparently, this is not quite so certain a thing either, when you actually start measuring how fast and thoroughly people actually do recover, and when there’s something you can actually measure, beyond asking them ‘how much better do you feel?’

    … most of this by the way anyway. But the point again: yes, a lot of people can believe something which is not, in fact, true. Or, more, the sense in which it’s true (they say they feel better, I guess they do ‘feel’ better) doesn’t really change the fact that selling this stuff as any kind of ‘treatment’ is, well…

    Well, I think I’d like to coin the phrase ‘indistinguishable from fraud’, if it hasn’t already been done.

  10. john cryan says

    “Homeopathy remains controversial because of debate around its mechanism of action.”

    No, homepathy remains controversial because all available evidence indicates it does not act at all.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    Slightly trivial details that get missed:

    1. It isn’t really about water remembering, most preparations are based in alchohol, and non-soluble materials are processed in lactose.

    2. Dilution beyond the level where a single molecule is retained assumes that the ‘active’ ingredient is a compound. Actual homeopathic substances are mostly mixtures like onion juice, powdered dog shit, mummified human flesh, duck liver etc. Any qualitiy the substance itself might bring to the finished product would be lost LONG before the usual dilution level was reached.

  12. sathyalacey says

    “Dr Gustavo Bracho (Finlay Institute, Cuba), proposed a scheme to integrate homeopathy in hospitals as a first line of defense against epidemics, suggesting that homeopathy could be used prophylactically to treat infected patients as they come in to hospitals, thereby shortening their stay and the risks of further contamination.”

    Did I read this right? This is a plan to treat actually infected people prophylactically, as in, to treat already sick people with preventative measures so they don’t get sick?

    Is my understanding of these words incomplete, or is Dr. Bracho’s understanding incomplete?

    Or has time-travelling medicine been invented?

  13. says

    I wondered that. I figured it might be just a glitch in translation. Or, more likely, just part and parcel of the incoherence of the whole idea and the conference itself.

  14. Ant (@antallan) says

    “has time-travelling medicine been invented?”

    Yeah. Sulfur drugs made with resublimated thiotimoline.

    /@

  15. silentsanta says

    Maybe he’s making an obscure reference to the fact that after 2 centuries of opportunity, and unthinkable amounts of money, Homeopathy research is completely sterile, as is the case with all other pseudo-scientific fields.

  16. quixote says

    (Back late, as usual. Oh well.) Indeed, according to our current understanding, homeopathy couldn’t work. I’m just arguing for a bit of humility. There have been many things that “couldn’t work” according to the understanding at various times. There’s no good reason to think our time is the first exception.
    .
    (And, yes, the homeopaths explanation for why they think it works is good old handwaving.)
    .
    The only currently provable way in which homeopathy could work is as a placebo. That’s what I meant by “not deluded in the way people usually mean it.” But for some conditions — pain relief as another commenter mentioned, insomnia, and the like — it might actually be the way to get the most benefit with the least harm. That’s not laughable, even if it “doesn’t work.”
    .
    I guess what I’m saying is that it’s harmless, so let people believe what they want about it, and let homeopaths practice so long as they’re not gouging their customers or preventing them from getting more effective or necessary treatment.
    .
    The Germans have what I’ve always thought is a good system: in order to receive a naturopath’s license to practice you have to show that you can diagnose reportable diseases and conditions. And if you don’t refer patients with those conditions to a regular doctor, you lose your license. A win-win. People can take placebos to their heart’s content, and some of them get relief, and nobody tries to treat measles or cancer with magical oil.

  17. says

    The harm with prescribing Homeopathy as a placebo is huge – it cost a lot of money (those pills aren’t cheap), people do try to use it and ‘prescribe’ it go life threatening conditions – not just psychogenic conditions, its not regulated very well (if at all) an there is a history of contamination with everything from medicine to lead (which can be deadly). Lying to patients violates informed consent an there is a strong case to make that it is unethical.

    Besides, why not just give them medicine rather than wishful thinking.

  18. says

    Yep a bit of pseudoscience does wonders. My partner was baffled with bullshit about superjuices which cure everything from hayfever to cancer. The bottles came with a lot of pretty logos. A quick check on the net revealed they were from organizations set up by the superjuice industry to validate their claims. Still I tried to give the bullshit he benefit of the doubt and noticed they had a list of antioxidant properties from the Center for Disease Control database. A little bit of checking found that the Center no longer provided this information because the bullshit peddlers were using it to falsely claim efficacy of their product. Next step was the medical research literature. I checked several peer reviewed studies reported in medical journals and none of them confirmed any health benefit. The big surprise was a report funded by one of the producers of this snake oil. It was a double-blind study using one group receiving a placebo and another the product under test. Again no health benefits were found. The real surprise was that the study was discontinued because the group receiving the product showed a higher incidence of early stage prostate cancer. WOOOPS!!

    Any way I presented these results to my wife who took them to the purveyors of this grossly overpriced concoction. Their response: I Know nothing. I am only a scientist who doesn’t wear a white coat like the quacks with doctors degrees who are peddling the crap.

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