The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘homeopathy’

Homeopathic A&E: A Must-See Youtube Video!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 9, 2010

Every now and then a little nugget of skeptical humor comes my way, and I simply must share it with others.  Many times on my blog I’ve exposed various forms of medical pseudoscientific woo, and one of my favorite targets is simultaneously one of the most ludicrous & popular – homeopathy.

To give you an idea of just how silly the whole notion of homeopathy and their mantras of “like cures like” and “dilution is the solution” really are, check out this quick Youtube video by “That Mitchell and Webb Look” 🙂

Posted in humor, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Amazing Skeptical Smackdown of Homeopathy!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 8, 2010

(Hat tip to Phil over at Skeptic Money for passing this little gem along 🙂 )

Below is some footage from a BBC show called Dragon’s Den, where would-be entrepreneurs make a sales pitch to the assembled judges about why their idea is worth funding.  In this case, a homeopathic doofus pitches his “miracle water” to them using the standard alt-med, “natural is good” woo-woo, with disastrous results.  What follows is, to me, an excellent example of in-your-face skepticism in action – with the perfect combination of hard questioning, demands for evidence & research, and moral outrage.  Take a look…

Posted in economics, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

10:23 “Overdose by Homeopathy” Event a Miserable Failure

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 1, 2010

This is a follow up to my recent “Suicide by Homeopathy?” post – and by calling the event a “miserable failure” I mean that it was the homeopathy that was an epic fail.  Hundreds and hundreds of skeptics attempted to overdose on a variety of homeopathic remedies, and not one person was adversely affected. Which begs a question: why do homeopaths bother mentioning anything at all about dosage on their remedies when it is apparent that dosage doesn’t matter?

Apparently, the press caught wind of this public experiment and thought it was interesting – check out the BBC article on it. In addition, here’s an update on the event from the 10:23 Campaign, along with some neat footage as well…

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Suicide by Homeopathy?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2010

If you’ve been running around in skeptical circles for any amount of time, then you’ve no doubt heard of the quackery called homeopathy. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on homeopathy…

Classical homeopathy originated in the 19th century with Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843) as an alternative to the standard medical practices of the day, such as phlebotomy or bloodletting. Opening veins to bleed patients, force disease out of the body, and restore the humors to a proper balance was a popular medical practice until the late19th century (Williams 2000: 265). Hahnemann rejected the notion that disease should be treated by letting out the offensive matter causing the illness. In this, he was right. On the other hand, he argued that disease should be treated by helping the vital force restore the body to harmony and balance. In this, he was wrong. He rejected other common medical practices of his day such as purgatives and emetics “with opium and mercury-based calomel” (ibid.: 145). He was right to do so. Hahnemann’s alternative medicine was more humane and less likely to cause harm than many of the conventional practices of his day. …

Homeopaths refer to “the Law of Infinitesimals” and the “Law of Similars” as grounds for using minute substances and for believing that like heals like, but these are not natural laws of science. If they are laws at all, they are metaphysical laws, i.e., beliefs about the nature of reality that would be impossible to test by empirical means. Hahnemann’s ideas did originate in experience. That he drew metaphysical conclusions from empirical events does not, however, make his ideas empirically testable. The law of infinitesimals seems to have been partly derived from his notion that any remedy would cause the patient to get worse before getting better and that one could minimize this negative effect by significantly reducing the size of the dose. Most critics of homeopathy balk at this “law” because it leads to remedies that have been so diluted as to have nary a single molecule of the substance one starts with.

And this is the real rub with a notion as loony as homeopathy.  We already know from modern science-based medicine that, in the case of drugs, there must be a certain amount of active ingredient in the drug in order for it to have the desired effect.  Of course, there are dangers from using medical drugs: one of the most common is that of over-dosing.  If someone takes too much of a certain active ingredient, it can be harmful or – in the worst case – fatal.  For example, we all know about stories of people committing suicide by over-dosing on sleeping pills.

However, with homeopathy, this is all turned completely on its head.  Homeopaths, invoking their magical “law of infinitesimals”, insist that by diluting the active ingredient to the most ludicrous extreme (i.e., imagine diluting a solution so much that only one molecule of active ingredient remains in it) this will somehow transfer the healing power of the ingredient to the patient and actually make the solution more potent.

A classic example of debunking this particular woo-woo claim has been performed numerous times by James Randi as he lectures on the topic of homeopathy & other quackery.  As he lectures, usually for roughly an hour, Randi will consume an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills that he’d purchased earlier from a nearby pharmacy.  Needless to say, despite performing this feat numerous times, James Randi has yet to die from such an “over-dose”.

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Good News – Alt-Med Gets Whacked in 2009

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2010

It looks like, upon looking back at the year 2009, that in many ways it was a good one for science & skepticism – at least, it was good for medical science.  That’s because, according to a breakdown by, various forms of alt-med woo woo got a well-deserved smackdown.  That’s because a number of popular alt-med ideas were – gasp!actually tested out under controlled conditions to see if they actually do what their practitioners claim.  Let’s look at the results…


Reiki is a spiritual practice developed in Japan in the early 20th century that, in the hands of Westerners, has evolved into a new-age healing practice. Popular in Hawaii and California by the 1970s, reiki has since become a staple at health spas and in granola-loving cities across the United States.

Reiki involves a practitioner (that is, someone who has taken a couple days of training) who places her hands on or just above a patient’s body to transmit healing energy — the “ki” or reiki, better known as qi in Chinese traditional medicine. Reiki has all the trappings of new-age healing: restoring balance and instilling life energy through mysticism and/or vibrational energy. Akin to a hands-off massage, reiki is said to relieve stress, fatigue and depression and promote self-healing for just about any disease, including cancer.

The two largest scientific reviews of reiki, published last year in International Journal of Clinical PracticeJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reveal that reiki is not an effective treatment for any condition. and in November 2009 in the Also in 2009, the U.S. Catholic Church weighed in, stating at a March meeting of bishops that, “since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for… Catholic health care facilities… to provide support for Reiki therapy.”

Reiki is not an outright scam; the practitioners seem to believe in what they are doing. In the end the soft music and whispery speech of the practitioners during the reiki sessions merely helps one relax.

Well, regardless of the Catholic Church’s theological opinion on reiki, one thing is clear: the science shows that, despite the fervent belief held by its practitioners, reiki doesn’t work. I can wave my hands in the air just as well as a “qualified” reiki practitioner and achieve exactly the same results… nothing at all. What’s next?

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

World Health Organization Slams Homeopathy

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 25, 2009

In a PR win for medical science, the World Health Organization recently slammed the alt-med pseudoscience of homeopathy!  The main problem is, that when you get down to it, homeopathy is indistinguishable from magic. And the WHO knows this: in a scathing critique, the WHO stated, among other things…

Dr Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB department at the WHO, said: “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care do not recommend use of homeopathy.”

This is just another poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy
Paula Ross, Society of Homeopaths

The doctors had also complained that homeopathy was being promoted as a treatment for diarrhoea in children.

But a spokesman for the WHO department of child and adolescent health and development said: “We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit.

“Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration – in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”

Dr Nick Beeching, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said: “Infections such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis all have a high mortality rate but can usually be controlled or cured by a variety of proven treatments, for which there is ample experience and scientific trial data.

“There is no objective evidence that homeopathy has any effect on these infections, and I think it is irresponsible for a healthcare worker to promote the use of homeopathy in place of proven treatment for any life-threatening illness.”

Notice the interesting response by the homeopaths…

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

$2.5 Billion Spent, No Alternative Cures Found

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 11, 2009

Well, since I’ve been bagging on the alt-med nonsense lately, I simply couldn’t pass up this headline.  And folks… the headline says it all… “No Alternative Cures Found”… Zilch… Nada… Zip… Zero!  Despite their inability to understand the most basic aspects of science and the associated math, I think that zero is a number that even alt-med woo-meisters can grasp 🙂

$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

Big, government-funded studies show most work no better than placebos

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.”

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Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Alternative “Medicine” Quackery Goes Mainstream

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 10, 2009

Since I’m on a kick about alt-med lately, let me just throw one more thing into the mix… a recent news story about how alt-med quackery has gone mainstream:

AP IMPACT: Alternative medicine goes mainstream

The news article is very revealing in its analysis of how pseudoscientific nonsense such as reiki, touch therapy, and “natural” herbal supplements have wormed their way into the medical profession over the years.  One of the big reasons is due to a political push…

Fifteen years ago, Congress decided to allow dietary and herbal supplements to be sold without federal Food and Drug Administration approval. The number of products soared, from about 4,000 then to well over 40,000 now.

Ten years ago, Congress created a new federal agency to study supplements and unconventional therapies. But more than $2.5 billion of tax-financed research has not found any cures or major treatment advances, aside from certain uses for acupuncture and ginger for chemotherapy-related nausea. If anything, evidence has mounted that many of these pills and therapies lack value.

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Death by Alternative “Medicine”

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 6, 2009

In my most recent post – Silencing Skepticism: The Case of Simon Singh – I outlined the dangers in allowing alternative “medicine” woo-meisters to silence skeptics.  But in the process of writing that entry, I left out perhaps the most important reason why skeptics must fight against attempts to silence them: alternative “medicine” can kill.

Case in point…

Parents guilty of manslaughter over daughter’s eczema death

A couple whose baby daughter died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicine have been found guilty of manslaughter.

Gloria Thomas died aged nine months after spending more than half her life with eczema.

The skin condition wore down her natural defences and left her completely vulnerable when she developed an eye infection that killed her within days of developing.

Thomas Sam, 42, a homeopath, and Manju Sam, 37, of Earlwood, Sydney, were charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated case. ‘Nuff said.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Scientists Fight the sCAM Quacks

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 6, 2009

It seems that the current economic & political climate might be giving actual scientists the opportunity to take on a pseudoscience called CAM (Complementary & Alternative “Medicine”) – what I like to call sCAM – which has wormed its way into various U.S. medical institutions over the years.

As the Washington Post reports in a recent article…

The impending national discussion about broadening access to health care, improving medical practice and saving money is giving a group of scientists an opening to make a once-unthinkable proposal: Shut down the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

The notion that the world’s best-known medical research agency sponsors studies of homeopathy, acupuncture, therapeutic touch and herbal medicine has always rankled many scientists. That the idea for its creation 17 years ago came from a U.S. senator newly converted to alternative medicine’s promise didn’t help.

This is great! Apparently, there is some belt-tightening going on at the National Institutes of Health, and the real scientists – you know, the ones who practice actual medicine – see a good opportunity to cut funding for the NCCAM woo.

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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