Archive for the ‘Quackery’ Category

Peter Popoff

March 6, 2007

Peter Popoff, alleged faith-healer who was debunked by James Randi is at it again. Watch here.

Homeopathy, Revisited.

February 27, 2007

(UPDATE: here is a study provided by Skeptico suggesting that homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo, and here is a video of James Randi explaining homeopathy at Princeton University.)

Earlier today, I received an interesting response to my article about homeopathy from a prominent homeopath named Dana Ullman. Mr. Ullman’s response is as follows:

It is so easy to make homeopathy seem stupid when you describe it in an uneducated fashion, when you ignore the 200+ clinical trials, when you remain ignorant of the hundreds of basic science work done in homeopathy, hormesis, and nanopharmacology. It is a tad ironic that you are trying to be a defender of modern science, and yet, you maintain such an embarrassingly unscientific attitude. Whooops.

By the way, epidemiologists have determined that ducks carry many strains of influenza viruses in their digestive tract, and they are one of the carriers/reseviors of these viruses. The fact that homeopaths have used Oscillococcinum (made by duck’s livers and hearts) since 1926 shows that we have been in touch with modern research, and the fact that there have been three large (over 300 patients) trials testing this medicine, with each trial conducted by an independent investigator and each trial with statistical significance. Even the Cochrane Commission calls this research “promising,” but you probably don’t even know who or what the Cochrane Commission is. Whooops again.

First of all, I did not describe homeopathy in an uneducated manner. I used hyperbole to demonstrate just how absurd the entire notion of curing people with extremely dilute substances is. I did exaggerate and I did use hypotheticals. But I described the method the exact same way that Ullman would on his website. Homeopaths really do dilute a substance in ten (or one hundred) times as much water, and continue to dilute it until the chances of a finding a single molecule of the “active” ingredient become infinitesimally small. These people really believe that water has a “memory,” that even a tiny amount of ingredient will leave its “impression” so that the cure will work. I wonder how, if it takes such a small amount of dosage to create a potent cure, homeopathic medicines don’t become severely contaminated by all the different particles in the air? Surely, if an extremely trace (or non-existent) particle of onion can cure hay-fever, a bit of dust in the mix could change things drastically? But then I guess dust makes peoples eyes itch too. Maybe dust makes homeopathic hay-fever cures stronger? But wait, then the substance would become less dilute, because it would have more stuff that makes a person’s eyes itch, and then it would be weaker… and what about all the other particles that might have gotten to the water molecules first? Wouldn’t the water molecules be charged with dinosaur piss, bits of organic molecules, all sorts of germs, etc, well before the the onion or the duck liver or whatever had a chance to charge the water? And wouldn’t the dinosaur piss, or the unknown prehistoric bacteria be a lot more dilute, say several million times more dilute, than the onion or duck liver? So I assume, since more dilution equals more potency, that every homeopathic cure should yield the opposite effect of eating dinosaur piss. Or maybe all of these minor complications are fixed when the homeopath shakes his mixture up and down ten times? Or, maybe, it just doesn’t work.

Ullman continues on to imply that I am ignoring the whopping 200+ clinical trails (which I will return to) and that, for a defender of modern science, I am very unscientific in my thinking. First of all, I am in no way a defender of modern science. Science is progressively changing, and I am fully aware that paradigms do shift. What I am is a defender of scientific thinking, that means believing only in the presence of sufficient evidence. That means I am a skeptic. That means not buying into every bit of claptrap that new-agers and spiritualists throw at me, unless they present a very convincing case. Mr. Ullman seems to imply that while I am unscientific, he is. This seems a bit intellectually dishonest, doesn’t it? is not dedicated to discovering if Homeopathy is valid, it already “knows” it is valid, only upon insufficient evidence. And, whenever homeopathy comes under scrutiny people like Ullman grasp at straws and say things like “Haven’t you ever heard of the Cochrane Commision? It says our work might be promising!” That isn’t true, by the way: I don’t think there is a Cochrane Commision, but the Cochrane Collaboration concludes that “there is not enough evidence to reliably assess the possible role of homeopathy in asthma.” So, basically it doesn’t work. If it does, it works no better than a placebo.

As far as studies go, I decided to inquire with someone who might know better than I, and so I decided to contact famed skeptic and debunker of the paranormal, James Randi. Mr. Randi offers $1 million dollars to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal in a controlled circumstance. I emailed him saying:

Mister Randi,
I seem to have attracted quite a big fish in the Homeopathy industry, with my small blog. I published a very crude article, that I originally had printed in the student newspaper at Cal State Long Beach, On my blog… I received a rather angry comment from a “Dana Ullman, MPH,” who is apparently one of the leading purveyors of homeopathic medicine and educational videos. He runs out of Berkeley, California. My article is a quite humorous explanation of homeopathy (explaining what homeopathic birth control might be like), and in no way masquerades as a scholarly work. Ullman’s reply is as follows:

(same as above)

I was curious what you might make of these claims. Nanopharmacology? I suspect that Mr. Ullman made this up. It seems to be a euphemism for homeopathic … I’d be willing to bet that Mr. Ullman’s alleged clinical trials showed statistical significance that was no better than placebo. I was particularly amused when he explained that homeopaths stay current with medical consensus, because they know that Ducks carry flu. This doesn’t change the fact that homeopathic cures contain absolutely zero ingredient! I must admit however, that I did make one very grave error in critical thinking – I assumed that Dana Ullman was a female. Whoops! I have been searching for scholarly articles on the matter, so that I can accurately dispute Ullman’s claims(for some, completely absurd just isn’t enough)… Perhaps I should suggest that he take your Million Dollar Challenge?

I wasn’t sure if Mr. Randi would respond, but he did (quickly, too) saying:

Ullman knows all about the JREF offer, believe me. He’s flatly turned it down…

When he says you ignore the “200+ clinical trials” – ask who did them – homeopaths. He doesn’t mention the definitive BBC/Royal Academy tests for which I offered the JREF million – it failed miserably. His reporting is selective, to say the least.

As for “scholarly articles” disputing homeopathy, recognize that real scientists dismiss it entirely, and don’t care about it any more than they’d care about “eye of newt and toe of frog”! Do you see “scholarly articles” about Santa Claus…?”

So, I put it to you Mr Ullman – why wont you take Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge? Surely, you could use an extra million bucks to throw around. And what about your “clinical studies?” Who wrote them? Even if they weren’t written by homeopaths, as Randi suggests, it seems that the Cochrane Collaboration does not come out in your favor. Not to mention the fact that Randi himself has shown at least twice that the effects of homeopathy are inconclusive at best. The egg is on your face, Mr. Ullman. Whoops.

Homeopathy: Industry of Death

February 11, 2007

You like that title, eh? I borrowed it from Tom Cruise. At this point you are probably wondering what the hell I am talking about, which is good – it shows that the popularity of homeopathy has been on the decline in the United States. At any rate, let this serve as a warning to you: first and foremost, homeopathy is quackery. It is a fraud. It is also a huge industry taking advantage of the ailing and uneducated all over the world. There are alleged homeopathic cures for just about anything – acne, allergies, arthritis, menopause, the flu, and PMS, to name a few. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Too bad all of these homeopathic cures contain absolutely no active ingredient.

The key to homeopathy, its advocates claim, is that “like cures like.” With this in mind, what homeopathic “doctors” do is find and presumably eat things to see what effects they have on the human body. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the liver of the South African wood duck, when ingested, gives a homeopathic “doctor” a severe case of incontinence – violent uncontrollable diarrhea, if you will. Since “like cures like,” he would insist on using South African wood duck liver in his homeopathic cure for the runs. It isn’t as simple as feeding wood duck liver to anyone who has incontinence, because if wood duck liver gave him incontinence, logically it must also give someone else the shits. So, in his infinite wisdom, what the “doctor” does is put one part duck liver into ten parts water (or alcohol, which is probably more fun) and shakes it up and down ten times. Next, he would take one part of our new mixture, add it to ten parts water, and shake that mixture up and down ten times. He would continue to dilute each new mixture in this way fifteen (for “normal” potencies) to thirty times (for “stronger” potencies). The doctor would insist that the active “ingredient,” in this case wood duck liver, leaves a negative energy on the water molecules. This mystical “energy,” which can’t be detected by science, is supposed to negate the effects of the wood duck liver in our hypothetical.

So, can you imagine what would be produced if we applied the same method to create, say, homeopathic birth control? One part semen in ten parts water, shake ten times, and so on until you have a mixture that almost definitely does not contain single sperm. “Negative sperm energy” should be created, inhibiting pregnancy. Likewise, this “energy” negates the effects of whatever ingredients homeopathic “doctors” want to not actually put in their “real” cures. This is really fucking weird, I know. But people really are selling this stuff. Look for it in a pharmacy, it can be found in the alternative medicine section. If you look at the back of the bottle, the inactive ingredient will almost always be sugar or water. The “active” ingredient will be listed in Latin (this is because they really do use “remedies” as wacky as wood duck liver). Next to the name will be a number followed by the letter “X” or “C.” This number stands for how many times the dilution process has taken place, and is usually from around nine to thirty. The letter stands for the ratio of ingredient to water: “X” meaning one part ingredient to ten parts water, “C” meaning one part ingredient to 100 parts water. A “real” remedy for anxiety and depression lists Plumbus Met, 10X as its active ingredient. Our hypothetical homeopathic birth control might say Sperma Humanus, 15X. The latter is obviously fake, but Plumbus Met seems almost legit, right? That is Latin for lead. Other homeopathic “cures” include arsenic, onions, and ground up honey bees. Not that you could ever find any of these “ingredients” in the final product, anyway. Homeopathy is a fraud, and its “effectiveness” is based entirely on anecdotal evidence. You can’t cure anything but a sweet tooth with sugar pills, and if you think you have you are fooling yourself. Please, don’t use homeopathy, psychic healing, chakra adjustment or any other baseless form of alternative medicine. If any of this stuff worked, it wouldn’t be “alternative” any more. Real medical science requires controlled repeatable evidence, something alternative medicine just doesn’t have.



Psychics are Full of Shit!

February 11, 2007

Here’s an article I wrote for the Union Newspaper:

I am sure many of you have heard about the Shawn Hornbeck case over the past week or so, but if you haven’t here is the scoop: About four years ago an eleven year old boy named Shawn Hornbeck was kidnapped. His parents and the authorities searched for him, and eventually gave up. A few weeks ago, they found him alive and well. There is a lot of interesting debate about why he didn’t leave sooner, since apparently he had many opportunities, but I am not interested in discussing the Stockholm syndrome or leaping on the blame-the-victim-bandwagon. No, who I want to talk about is a lying, ravenous crook named Sylvia Browne. Browne claims to be a psychic, garnering such skills as ESP, Clairvoyance, and the ability to chat with the deceased in her repertoire of deceit. Sylvia is loved by many, and she presumably rakes in a pretty penny. So, what does she have to do with any of this? She was dead wrong about Shawn Hornbeck. Shortly after his kidnapping, Shawn Hornbeck’s parents, obviously grief-stricken and desperate for answers, went to a taping of the Montel Williams show where Browne was scheduled to appear. The Hornbecks inquired about their son, and Browne (remember she is a psychic), confidently explained that he was “no longer with us,” and that his body was located in a field, or a meadow of some sort, between two oddly placed rocks. If that wasn’t bad enough, she felt compelled to describe Shawn’s abductor as dark Hispanic man with dreadlocks. In the real world, Shawn is alive, has a lip ring, and the man who abducted him was a fat white asshole with a patchy beard. Can Hispanic guys even grow dreadlocks? Some psychic.

This is, of course, not her first unforgivable blunder. For instance, a few years ago – shortly after she insisted upon a McCain vs. Kerry presidential race in ’04 – Browne assured her audience, and the news media, that all but one of the victims of a tragic Virginia mining accident were alive. That simply was not the case, and shortly after Brown made her statement of clairvoyance, it was reported that all the members of the mining crew had perished and had been dead for some time. Similarly, she once insisted on the Montel Williams show that a bereaved couple’s daughter had been shot. Unfortunately for Browne, she misread the couple’s question, assuming that their daughter was missing. She wasn’t, she was found dead in her bedroom with no apparent cause of death. If she’d been shot, it seems that the parents just might have noticed the bleeding hole in her skull. Browne proceeded to back pedal, insisting desperately that the child had been shot or struck in some way – perhaps during school sport. Nice try, Ms. Browne, trying to save your ass with vague language. Or, there was the time that she suggested to the grandmother of a missing child that her grandaughter, whose body was found later not far from her home, had been sold into “some sort of slavery-thing” in Japan. There are more. I suggest Youtube. Browne is usually wrong. When she is right, which isn’t very often, it can be attributed to pure chance.

People like Sylvia Browne, John Edwards (see South Park, “The Biggest Douche in the Universe.”), and, as far as I can tell, all alleged “psychics” and purveyors of the supernatural willing to take your money are tricksters and frauds. The rest are, in all likelyhood, deluded. They use techniques like cold reading, pre-acquired data, and vague language to fool people, and subsequently empty their pocket-books, usually during times of extreme emotional vulnerability. Some of these “psychics,” while they won’t admit that they are fakes, suggest that they do a service to people. They say that they help people get through periods of grief, but I can’t see how telling an old woman that her grand daughter has been sold into slavery would work to that end. I fail to see how spending 750 dollars to talk on the phone with Sylvia Browne for 20 minutes would help, either. Unless, of course, the goal is to help Sylvia Browne.