Quantum homeopathic bollocks: self assessment

In which Dr Aust sets a small – though not quite homeopathically small –  test.

I had meant to post something for World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW), which was last week.

However, I got a bit distracted by other things, like the dropping of the BCA’s lawsuit against Simon Singh (including whether the BCA had been reading my mind).

I was also hampered by the fact that, whenever I think about writing anything MORE about homeopathy, I tend to find myself losing conciousness.

Or the will to live.

This partly reflects just how many words – undoubtedly running into the tens of thousands – I have expended on homeopathy, both on this blog and elsewhere, right back to around four years ago when I started commenting on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog (e.g. here).

But, though WHAW 2010 has now been properly homeopathically diluted into the infinity of time, I would still like to do my little bit to mark its passing.

So I thought I would offer you a small literature comprehension exercise.

And as it is coming up to the summer exams season in Dr Aust’s University, I have formatted it in something like our house style.

—————————————————————————————————–

Unreality Detection 101  (Quantum Flapdoodle)

April 2010

You are provided with the URLs of two freely accessible online papers concerning quantum mechanical descriptions of homeopathy:

Paper A - Is a Unified Theory of Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine Possible?

Paper B - Towards a Quantum Mechanical Interpretation of Homeopathy

One of the two is a spoof.

One of them is not.

After reading briefly through as much of the papers as you find necessary, answer the following multiple-choice questions:

1. A scientist or scientists with a PhD wrote
A  paper A
B  paper B
C  both paper A and paper B

2. The spoof paper
A  depends which universe you are in
B  is paper A
C  is paper B

3. The likelihood that a homeopath can tell which paper is the spoof is
A  high
B  low
C  homeopathically dilute

4. We know this because homeopaths posting pro-homeopathy links on Twitter have linked approvingly to
A  paper A
B  paper B
C  both of the above

5. Avogadro is the name of
A  a character in The Magic Flute
B  a song recorded by Iron Butterfly
C  a scientist who worked on molecular theory

[Key below]

———————————————————————————————————-

Now, you might feel, having completed that exercise, that any further comment is superfluous. But here’s one.

Whenever I think about homeopathy, the following line always floats back into my mind:

“Only two things are infinite…..

…the universe and human folly.”

* pause *

“..And I’m not sure about the universe.”

- Attributed to Albert Einstein

———————————————————————————————————–

Answers

Mostly or all A: Oh dear. Your grip on reality is somewhat tenuous. You may even be a homeopath. Although you could be a chiropractor. Or Prince Charles.

Mostly or all B: While you have some grasp of reality, you need more scepticism. A copy of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science might make good bedside reading.

Mostly or all C: You are probably a skeptic, or a scientist, or even both. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster lead your path toward enlightenment. Or the bar.

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15 Responses to “Quantum homeopathic bollocks: self assessment”

  1. zeno Says:

    Brilliant!

    The homeopathic Twitterer wasn’t a certain ‘Dr’ Nancy, was it?

  2. draust Says:

    Do you know, I can’t actually remember, Zeno. I think there was more than one. Highly like “Dr” Nancy, though I’m pretty sure this homeopathic enthusiast plugged Paper B as well. And possibly other Unreality fans did too.

    I think it’s a form of Quantum (Bollocks) Recycling…

  3. Gjett faget « Skepsis blog Says:

    [...] dem som syntes den var for enkel/vanskelig eller har funnet det enkle svaret og vil ha en ny test: DrAust lenker til to forskjellige teoretiske artikler om homøopati og spør (bl.a.) hvilken av dem som er [...]

  4. Cybertiger Says:

    I’m puzzled by question 5. Surely, the proper answer is ‘none of the above’ like on the voting paper. I thought the right answer was a vegetable rich in vitamin F – like Herr Draust.

  5. physicsmum Says:

    Ha! Well I would have sworn both papers were spoofs, but paper B by far the funnier one, and it explains a lot about cat behaviour too :-)

    Can’t help wondering if Houdini’s demise was due to a sudden collapse of his wave function?

  6. zeno Says:

    I can’t remember, but there was one that the real ‘Dr’ Nancy did tweet that was a spoof and I think that was before the ‘impostors’ appeared on the scene.

  7. Philippe Leick Says:

    Sir,
    We agree with your conclusions but would like to take them further. Within the conceptual framework of generalized quantum theory, possible answers to questions must not be treated as classical “bits”, which would only allow the well-defined A or B answers. Your paper anticipates the more rigorous “qubit” treatment by allowing “both A and B” as a possible answer, but this falls short: in fact, any linear combination of answers c1A + c2B, with c1 and c2 complex numbers such that |c1|²+|c2|²=1, is possible.
    Recognizing this, the concepts of reality, truth and epic failure, which are deeply rooted in 19th century classical mechanics, become obsolete and are replaced by the modern paradigm of arbitrary assertions.

  8. Carlos Says:

    I wonder why you and others like you are so hung up about homeopathy that you waste time making ‘clever’ digs in this manner?

    If you really want to test homeopathy, get hold of a remedy such as Arsenicum 30c and take a pill every day until you finish the bottle.

    Homeopaths assert that eventually, you will “prove” the remedy and develop symptoms particular to that remedy. When you develop symptoms, then maybe it will give you pause for thought.

    Much is made of the placebo effect. Test this by crushing the tablets and adding to the water bowl of your, or a friends, pet. (you should note that this is illegal if you are not a qualified vet…which would suggest that the veterinary fraternity must consider that the medicine may prove harmful if administered by untrained persons)

    Over the years, homeopathy has attracted all kinds of strange and misguided people who use it and promote it using ever more fantastic ideas. In short, some of the people who use and support it are idiots.

    However, the people who first developed this system of medicine were truly gifted and intelligent. Read the works of Kent for a level and well reasoned exposition of homeopathy.

    It seems that one of the major sticks that people use to attack homeopathy is that there is no scientific explanation for how it works.

    The fact is, there is no scientific explanation for how gravity works either, but I don’t see people having a go at Newton, or floating out to space.

  9. draust Says:

    Carlos:

    It is the combination of utter implausibility and lack of demonstrable effects in multiple tests that makes scientists regard homeopathy as a sham.

    Scientists and skeptics often concentrate on homeopathy as it is a kind of exemplar, or test case, for “belief based pseudo-medicine”. This is because of the total implausibility of a medicine with no ingredients exerting a biological effect attributable to actions of said ingredients.

    In the particular setting of medical trials, homeopathy provides a fascinating example of what happens if you “test-run” a placebo therapy amid all the various kinds of different biases present in the trial arena. The answer, of course, is that:

    (i) the totality of the trials, when you control as best you can for biases, strongly suggest the remedy has no efficacy beyond placebo; and

    (ii) the believers/advocates resolutely refuse to believe the data and come up with reason after reason why “It isn’t just a placebo!” – i.e. their beliefs are reality-proof.

    Much the same applies to other implausible CAM remedies and treatments, from Reiki, to applied kinesiology, to reflexology, to chiropractic for asthma etc. etc. It is just that much more clear cut with homeopathy.

    In the case of animal homeopathy, it is a long-standing anomaly that (at least officially) you need to be a licensed vet to give animals homeopathy, but not a licensed doctor to do the same to people. It doesn’t, naturally, imply anything whatsoever about the homeopathy being effective in animals – perhaps it is telling us that vets are a more effective trade association than doctors, or are happy to keep dishing out placebos. Another answer is that animals, not being people, are unable to agitate for their Magic Beans of choice, or to be talked into taking expensive Magic Beans by plausible salesmen.

    Re. the effects (or rather lack of effects) of homeopathic remedies: the 10:23 protests, where a lot of people (me included – I was taking arsenicum 30C, by the way), took overdoses of the remedies, tells us all we really need to know about their lack of biological effect. How many times,and in how many ways, does one have to take a small dose of sugar or water to show that it is sugar or water?

    Re. the founding fathers of homeopathy, Hahnemann may well have been a savant by the standards of his time, but that does not guarantee his ideas validity two centuries on. And I disagree about Tyler Kent – except in the sense that Kent made transparently clear in his writings that ultra-dilute homeopathic remedies were viewed as “spiritual medicine” for the specifically spiritual ills that (in his view) underlay all symptoms and illness. At the time when Kent was writing in the late 19th and early 20th century, germ theory had already shown that his ideas were wholly at odds with reality. They have not got any more plausible in the hundred-plus years since.

  10. Philippe Leick Says:

    Carlos,

    I’d like to comment on the last one of your points:

    The fact is, there is no scientific explanation for how gravity works either, but I don’t see people having a go at Newton, or floating out to space.

    I won’t try to argue about what exactly a scientific explanation is. But take a look at the development of the theory and applications of gravity since Newton, and you’ll see that a lot of progress has been made during the last 300 years. You have general relativity, which expands upon (and includes) Newton’s original theory, and which takes the “things we don’t understand” to a much more fundamental level. Then you have countless successful applications that simply work (to name just a few: the discovery of Neptune, artificial satellites, geological investigations, GPS,…).

    If you compare this to the development of Homeopathy (or rather: lack thereof), the difference is obvious:

    – The theory is more or less as it was in Hahnemann’s or Kent’s days, as exemplified by modern homeopaths constantly referring to them or even advocating a “back to the roots” philosophy

    – There are no trials or basic experiments that don’t start to look very shaky under close scrutiny (I’m being generous here)

    – There’s no new theory to expand upon Hahnemann’s ideas

    – There’s hardly an idea worth taking seriously that could resolve the incompatibility with current scientific knowledge

    – There are plenty of ridiculous ideas that try to explain homeopathy

    For the last one, though, I’ll admit that there’s no lack of “alternative” theories of gravitation, most of which don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

  11. Mojo Says:

    “Much is made of the placebo effect. Test this by crushing the tablets and adding to the water bowl of your, or a friends, pet.”

    Will the pet tell me about its symptoms, or will observation of them be potentially biased by my knowledge that it has been given the tablets?

    Have you seen this paper? Note the “discrepancies between single-blind and double-blind methods”:
    “In the first phase of experiments, some statistically significant effects of homeopathic remedies were observed. In the second phase of experiments, the effects of homeopathic remedies were not confirmed.”

    “You should note that this is illegal if you are not a qualified vet”

    There is an exemption in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, Schedule 3 for treatments given by the owner of an animal, or a member of the owner’s household:
    “Treatment and Operations which may be Given or Carried Out by Unqualified Persons

    1. Any minor medical treatment given to an animal by its owner, by another member of the household of which the owner is a member or by a person in the employment of the owner.”

    Treatments don’t get much more “minor” than homoeopathy.

    [NB: I am not a lawyer]

  12. Mojo Says:

    “The fact is, there is no scientific explanation for how gravity works either, but I don’t see people having a go at Newton, or floating out to space.”

    That is because it works reliably, regardless of whether people believe in it, and no matter how closely it is observed.

  13. Mojo Says:

    “If you really want to test homeopathy, get hold of a remedy such as Arsenicum 30c and take a pill every day until you finish the bottle.”

    Have you noticed that when they suggest this sort of test homoeopaths never seem to mention any kind of control?

    There’s a discussion of a 175-year-old controlled proving here: Homeopathy – Failing Randomized Controlled Trials Since 1835. Incidentally, I’ve seen an apologist for homoeopathy claim that it was positive for homoeopathy because subjects in the verum group reported symptoms, regardless of the fact that they were also reported by subjects in the placebo group.

  14. Skeptic Chemist Says:

    Homeopathic soup recipe http://bit.ly/bMdMnw

  15. Who Cares How Homeopathy Works? « VaguelyScience Says:

    [...] it works on a spiritual plane, various (wrong) ideas involving the word quantum (like, laughably, wrong ), blah blah [...]

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