Keepin’ it unreal – again

Or: Homeopathic levels of accuracy

Observant readers may have spotted the new Dr Aust Twitter feed down at the bottom of the sidebar on the  blog.

Yes, that’s right – you can now follow Dr Aust on twitter, though I can’t really think why you would want to.

I had resisted signing up on Twitter until just a few days ago. I might bore you with the detailed reasons some other time, but the main one was that, as an Olympic-class procrastinator, I reckoned the last thing I needed was yet another way to procrastinate.

But – I now retract that statement. And Thank Goodness I signed up to Twitter this week.

Because late on Friday afternoon, at about 5 pm, Twitter gave me the best laugh I have had in a couple of months.

This was when several sceptical Tweets directed me to a truly marvellous example of Alternative, not to say Parallel, not to say Quantum Alternative Parallel Reality (“Quap Reality” for short). At which point, I laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my chair.

And it takes a lot to do that late on a Friday afternoon.

The cause was this article, from the notorious Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, or JACM, entitled:

CAM, Free Speech, and the British Legal System:
Overstepping the Mark?

The author of this bravura piece of Unreality (could it be a spoof?) is homeopathic quantum intellectual supreme, Dr Lionel Milgrom.

Or to give him his full title from the paper, which I suspect he would insist on,  since he typically lists all the letters:

Lionel R. Milgrom, Ph.D., M.A.R.H., M.R.Hom., F.R.S.C.

Now, I had occasionally suspected hitherto that Lionel Milgrom had untapped comic talent. But he has outdone himself this time.

Only the first page of the opus is free access, but that is more than enough:

Abstract:

The British Chiropractic Association recently won a libel case against the science writer and CAM ‘skeptic’ Dr Simon Singh

(Italics mine)

As Private Eye like to say – “shurely shome mistake”?

There really can’t be that many people following the BCA v Singh case in even a casual way who don’t know that it is still ongoing.

There is, after all, hardly a lack of coverage, at least online.

While Milgrom’s article clearly went to press before the latest hearing in the case last week – the article has no “accepted on” date, but there is a reference in it that says “accessed Aug 24th 2009″ – surely no-one was under the illusion that Sir David Eady had actually heard the full libel action?

Well, apparently some people were. It gets better:

“The judge agreed with this argument [i.e. that the use of the word "bogus" implied the BCA had knowingly lied about the evidence concerning chiropractic for various childhood ailments] awarding the BCA substantial damages.

Truly bizarre. It was this sentence that had me speechless with laughter.

The first bit is OK – Eady did, in the main, accept the BCA’s pleaded meaning (this is the ruling that has just been sent back on appeal).

But “substantial damages”? Errr – NOT. Damages get awarded when the case is, like, finished.

(“Substantial Damages” , by the way, is a phrase usually used by successful libel complainants in their victorious press statements to imply that their opponents had been comprehensively slapped with the wet kipper, not to mention taken to the cleaners financially)

How very, VERY odd.

The remainder of Milgrom’s article, which sadly is behind a paywall, is a hoot too, but I will leave that for another time.

What I want to concentrate on now is the Sheer Unreality of it.

Unreality….

Unless….

Unless…

Unless there is some OTHER Quantum Alternative Parallel Reality, to which Milgrom perhaps has privileged access as a “Quantum Homeopath”, where what Milgrom says is actually true.

Of course!

How could I not have known?

Indeed, perhaps this “QUAP Reality” is where all the Alt.Reality folk hang out.

Once you have made that Leap into the Unreal, IT ALL BEGINS TO MAKE SENSE AT LAST.

In this Alternative Reality, of course the BCA won.

Indeed, this new Quantum Alternative Parallel Universe, or QUAP-iverse, seems to be especially favourable for Libel verdicts.

Remember how we saw at the start of this year, in “Keeping It Unreal”, that dropping a libel suit and getting landed with hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs was actually a huge VICTORY for noted Alternative Reality Figure Dr Matthias Rath?

Clearly, in the same (Un) Reality Rath seems to inhabit, the BCA have already won large damages, just as Milgrom states.

And then, of course, all the other seemingly daft stuff falls into place too.

- Diluting a substance makes it MORE powerful.
- Mystical laying on of hands beams out healing power.
- Illness is all in the Mind.
- Pushing on your arm can diagnose your allergies.
- Massaging your feet can magically rejuvenate your kidneys.
- Flushing your rear end with a load of warm water can magically “detox” your liver.
- Sticking you in a “Sweat lodge” and cooking you until you are dangerously dehydrated and hallucinating can be a “healing experience”

- and so on.

So - Silly Me.

There I was thinking these folk were all away with the fairies, when really they were simply privileged to be able to access a QUAP-iverse where all this stuff is really true.

——————————————————-

Or: I was right the first time.

They really ARE Away With The Fairies.

Tinfoil Hats And All.

In this rather party-pooping view, which Alt.Reality folk like to call “Scientism” – though I prefer “Reality” – the normal rules of physics and chemistry apply, homeopathic remedies are water, BCA v. Singh is still ongoing, all the daft “therapies”  I mentioned just now are a bunch of **!*, and Dr Milgrom has clearly not been checking his facts carefully enough.

And nor,  it would seem, has anyone else at the JACM.

(Chief Editor, if you didn’t know: Dr Kim “Dr Q-link” Jobst, FRCP).

Of course, Milgrom is on the JACM Editorial Board (you can see the full membership here), so one is curious whether such extended “Opinion Pieces” – the JACM actually calls the section in which the Milgrom piece features “Paradigms”, whatever they mean by that  - even get read by anyone apart from the author, if that author is a journal editor.

As to whether this apparent carelessness with facts is representative of other bits of Dr Milgrom’s oeuvre, or indeed of other content in the JACM -

- you might well wonder about that.

But – on the advice of my lawyers – I couldn’t possibly comment.

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24 Responses to “Keepin’ it unreal – again”

  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Keepin’ it unreal – again « Dr Aust’s Spleen [draust.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com Says:

    [...] Keepin’ it unreal – again « Dr Aust’s Spleen draust.wordpress.com/2009/10/24/keepin-it-unreal-again – view page – cached Observant readers may have spotted the new Dr Aust Twitter feed down at the bottom of the sidebar on the blog. — From the page [...]

  2. Zeno Says:

    Milgrom’s witterings are so riddled with errors, I find it very difficult to get my head around what he was trying to do.

    It’s not that he made an odd error in a complex statistical calculation that peer review had missed or that he had some methodological problem with the randomisation of a trial, but that he got basic, very simple details of fact wrong – details that are fully in the public domain.

    The question is, is he really that incompetent or has he knowingly tried to misinform the AtlMed community with his bogus account of the current situation? No doubt we’ll hear his diatribe quoted as an authoritative source by others not interested in – or just not capable of – understanding simple events.

  3. draust Says:

    I’m sure Milgrom really does believes all the stuff he writes, Zeno He just doesn’t seem to need to check whether what he thinks he knows is accurate.

    Personally I think the elastic attitude to facts stems in part from the “rhetorical” nature of the writing, and in part from intellectual arrogance.

    Re. rhetoric: Like the Holmes et al. “Microfascism” paper that he quotes at every opportunity, Milgrom seems to be channeling the spirit of the two-hour party congress denunciation – complete with over-heated metaphors and ritual declamations, and imaginings of the audience going “Oooh!” and “Aaah!”, and bursting into spontaneous applause. Whether any of the arguments actually stand up, or are supported by the sources cited, or whether the sources themselves are reliable or believable, doesn’t really seem to be the point. I would argue that it is basically a form of demagoguery, of the kind favoured by some politicians (and gurus and cult leaders). See also here.

    If you go right back to the first time Milgrom popped up on the BadScience radar, little about his style or modus operandi has changed since. If you check out the comments thread after one of his papers here at eCAM, or this response thread on the BMJ, you can see the later articles clearly prefigured. As you can see in these last two places, people pointing out the errors, selective quotes, and mis-citations has zero effect.

    Which brings me to the other bit. If you read the comments from Milgrom in the above links I would suggest you can also catch sight once in a while of the intellectual arrogance of the man. Other people are simply too limited in intelligence, or corrupt, to perceive the truths the Great Homeopathic Thinker sees. See also Jeremy Sherr, or indeed many others in the Alt.Reality business.

    A salient difference, it seems to me, between someone like Milgrom (or many other of the Alt.Med gurus) and a real scientist is that when a real scientist writes something s/he is not sure about, s/he thinks:

    “Hmmm…I’d better go and check that carefully, and look at all the papers again, before I write the final version, so I can be sure what I’m saying is accurate, and backed by the best evidence”.

    An Alt Guru doesn’t need to do this. They are never unsure about anything. And just KNOWING what is true, all they have to do is find something to cite that agrees with them.

    And if they can’t find it, they can make it up.

    And then, apparently, they can easily find an obliging Alt.Reality “journal” to print it.

    Compare and contrast, if you will, with the enormous fuss a New Zealand chiropractor tried to whip up in the Alt-Reality-verse over whether David Colquhoun had quoted something from a journal or off the web. The comparison is a salutary one.

  4. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr_Aust_PhD: Keepin’ it unreal – again: http://wp.me/p7r3S-dq

  5. Philippe Leick Says:

    Dr. Aust, don’t you know that all the different possibilities, for example for the outcome of the BCA vs. Singh case, are entangled and co-exist in the many worlds of (weak) quantum mechanics? They are just realized in different realities, so there simply must be one world where Simon Singh has actually lost his case, has not appealed, is duly handing out piles of cash to the BCA and busy writing an updated edition of “Trick or Treatment”, which will carry “The Trials of Alternative Medicine” as a subtitle this time around.

    Seriously: critics of Milgrom’s have pointed out time and again that his citations are, to put it mildly, less than accurate – in some cases, he doesn’t even spell the authors’ names correctly. As you correctly point out, many of his recent opinion pieces are written for rhetorical effect, not for scientific content. I completely agree with the rest of your analysis as well.

    It would be interesting to know the full contents of the paper, since he acknowledges in the abstract that the BCAs “victory” might turn out to be a pyrrhic one. Which should be a golden opportunity for more rhetorical bravado and even (never give up hope!) for some genuine insights.

  6. Sceric Says:

    yep, Milgrom is a funny guy…he wasn’t really able to win a simple argument with a mere engineer (and somebody called him a pharma shill), about the effectiveness of homeopathy…and this although he has all those fancy titles…makes one wonder about the general quality of his work…or as you already assumed he is a bit too much entangled in his own little co-existing un-reality …

  7. Mojo Says:

    “Compare and contrast, if you will, with the enormous fuss a New Zealand chiropractor tried to whip up in the Alt-Reality-verse over whether David Colquhoun had quoted something from a journal or off the web. The comparison is a salutary one.”

    And who was it who complained about DC to the authorities at UCL over this?

    Ah yes: “Dr Lionel R Milgrom”.

  8. draust Says:

    Mojo, that is a brilliant spot – I had quite forgotten Milgrom’s role there.

    …have also tweeted this – too good not to pass on

    I notice Milgrom’s letter to UCL accused DC of “hypocrisy” and “cant”.

    A quick Google finds an Online dictionary definition of the latter as:

    “repeated nonsensical stock phrases”.

    ….!!??! **Sound of Speechless Mirth**

    And as to the “hypocrisy” – Milgrom insinuating that someone else is guilty of shoddy scholarship rather hits that nail on the head.

    I’m trying to think of the correct phrase for all this:

    “Epic Irony Fail”

    - might do it. Or that hardy perennial:

    “You couldn’t make it up”

    …I’ll leave it to the reader to fill in the next line

  9. Claire Says:

    That article really does sound like a load of quap.
    (I can’t resist atrocious puns, esp obvious ones!)

  10. Mojo Says:

    Have you seen the editorial in that issue of the JACM? Not the one written by Milgrom, this one: Disinformation on Both Sides of the Atlantic: A Patient’s View.

    It starts:

    Two articles in this issue deal with disinformation being spread about alternative and complementary medicine in the United Kingdom. These are: Milgrom’s CAM, Free Speech, and the British Legal System: Overstepping the Mark? (pp. 1135-1138) and …

    Oh, the irony…

  11. draust Says:

    Yes, apart from the head-desk Irony Fail moment, it is worth noting that the OTHER “article” the editorial refers to, and which accompanies the Milgrom Manifesto under the Section Banner “Paradigms” , is written by Harald Walach.

    Walach is the other person apart from Milgrom who likes to use “metaphorical weak quantum theory” to bamboozl – sorry, to explain homeopathy. See e.g. here, and here… or even here, where Walach is responding (in his way) to our friend Philippe Leick.

    Note that Walach, like Milgrom, is also on the JACM Editorial Board – as is another enthusiast for mystic quantum flapdoodle, Alex Hankey.

    I wonder if they referee each other’s papers?

  12. draust Says:

    Philippe Leick wrote:

    Dr. Aust, don’t you know that all the different possibilities, for example for the outcome of the BCA vs. Singh case, are entangled and co-exist in the many worlds of (weak) quantum mechanics? They are just realized in different realities, so there simply must be one world where Simon Singh has actually lost his case…

    Quite, Philippe. Or indeed a world where Singh has not yet written the article, so we could tell him not to use the B-word and thereby avoid annoying Sir David Eady.

    I do sometimes find myself wondering if folk like Milgrom and Walach get all their ideas from the late Michael Crichton, e.g. from his “Quantum Time Travel” novel Timeline.

  13. JamesM Says:

    If you want a proper laugh, you have to read the full article. It’s quite embarrassing, but my institution has a subscription – I’ll send you the pdf if you want it.

  14. draust Says:

    Someone already send me it, James – you are right, the rest of it is good value too. But if you’re offering, I could do with a copy of Harald Walach’s article from the same issue too. And Milgrom’s editorial, allusively entitled “…Macavity’s Not There!”.

    Full issue contents here:

    http://www.liebertonline.com/toc/acm/15/10

  15. JamesM Says:

    Well, it’s lunch time and I’m not that busy…

  16. draust Says:

    Hi Sceric, forgot to reply to your comment before.

    I guess you mean Milgrom’s take down by Adrian Gaylard.

    As I see it the difference is partly methodicalness, and the need to accept that one’s “genius” does not place one above scientific method, and normal scientific conventions, like careful checking of one’s sources and assertions. And as I said in an earlier comment, Milgrom is writing for literary effect – a kind of verbal performance.

    What Adrian did was what a painstaking scholar would do – methodically put every assertion in Milgrom’s article through the “scientific and literary forensics”. The result was not flattering to Milgrom. But of course, as Philippe Leick pointed out above, people keep saying this about Milgrom – but the Alt.Reality journals simply carry on printing his stuff. You can draw your own conclusions about what that is telling us.

    The weirdest thing about Milgrom, as you allude to, is that he was a conventional scientist, a perfectly respectable porphyrin chemist, for 25 odd years. I still can’t work out how he squares that with all the homeopathy nonsense, though I have several amateur psychologist theories. I think it is pretty clear that a “personal experience” of being “cured” by homeopathy is likely to have been involved. This is very common among the small number of former scientists who embrace Alt.Reality, though it is not usually the whole story.

    BTW, perhaps the most famous example in Britain – though not in a scientific field – of a “scholar” who was discredited when someone checked all his facts is David Irving. Interestingly, his downfall was the result of suing someone for libel in the English courts.

  17. Sceric Says:

    Hi DrAust,

    yep, that’s what I was referring, too. We got some similar guys in Germany. too. I just read some information from a civil engineer (from one of Germanys top universities in Aachen) that spreads his theory that all viruses (like the flu) are spread via the drinking water supply…it seems he was respected until he reached a certain age and then drifted of into the “weird” section….or because he would like to have his ultra-filtration units sold, one wonders…

  18. Sceric Says:

    sorry, forgot to add, that I was impressed by the way Mr. Gaylard dissected Milgroms “work”….funny enough all those guys try to show off the credentials, as if that makes their work more qualified…

  19. Nash Says:

    Maybe we should coin a new phrase. “A touch of the Milgroms”

  20. jarlostensen Says:

    I just started diving into this stuff after a lengthy debate with some CAM supporters but after reading your post, the comments and a number of other blogs and in particular after reading Milgrom’s article (which I can thankfully “understand” because I’ve retained my university quantum mech and field – learnings) leaves me completely speechless…it’s just criminally bad…I think from now on I’ll just leave the room when the topic comes up…I can’t debate rationally with superstition and witchcraft….

  21. draust Says:

    Thanks, Jarl.

    As I think you have worked out. Shpalman / Danny Chrastina is the real maestro of actual quantum physics-based deconstruction of Milgrom’s witterings (Philippe Leick also does some good work on this, see e.g. here). I really don’t know how they have the patience, though. Anyway, the rest of us just cheer them on.

    Another satirical perspective on homeopathic nonsense, this time from a real physicist (a Professor of X-ray crystallography, no less) can be found here.

    One of the things that most set my teeth on edge is that “journals” like eCAM and J Alt Comp Med give the stuff a home, presumably without anyone who actually knows quantum theory properly reading it. Real 100% pure Cargo Cult Science.

    Finally, re. debating with the CAM-mies, for me it tends to depend if there is anyone in the room that might be wavering, or persuadable to rationality.

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