Dysfunction at Wikipedia on Homeopathic Medicine (Not).

Dana Ullman has written to Jimbo pointing out the “dysfunction” in Wikipedia. It’s predictably self-serving.

In April, 2014, I had the happenstance to run into Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, on the streets of Vancouver. I was there to lecture to a group of medical professionals, while he was attending the TED talks. I expressed my appreciation to him for creating Wikipedia. I also then expressed concern to him about the “unencyclopedic” tone and information in Wikipedia’s article on homeopathy. He then encouraged me to express my concerns in writing, and this is that response.

TL;DR summary

  • Ullman accuses skeptics of “ignoring scientific evidence” when actually he means that skeptics simply fail to interpret it in favour of homeopathy.
  • He switches the standard of evidence according to whether he likes what a particular paper says.
  • He asserts that a one-sided review by homeopaths is more comprehensive than a bipartisan review by the British Government.
  • He asserts that homeopathy is plausible based on findings that are only the tiniest part of the chain of evidence that would be required. 
  • He shows no sign of understanding the size of the gulf between homeopathic beliefs and what is found in the real world.
  • He repeats as fact, claims that have been authoritatively refuted.

Really? Six months later? Or did you write and he told you to stick it, along with all the other lunatic charlatans? After all, he’s on record as being less than chuffed when a London pharmacist tried to sell him the canonical quack remedy.

[Addendum: Jimmy is far too polite to tell even a self-serving crank like Dullman to stick it. It's much more likely that he recognised that it was likely to contain special pleading, misrepresentation of sources and other shenanigans but did not consider himself sufficiently well informed on the details to weigh in - Jimmy tends not to venture half-baked opinions and he is a man whose patience with fools is tremendous].

It may surprise and even shock most people to learn that, according to the Washington Post, the two most controversial subjects on Wikipedia in four leading languages (English, French, German, and Spanish) are the articles on “Jesus Christ” and “homeopathy.”

Not at all. Both subjects have one obvious thing in common: religious fervour at odds with scientifically established reality.

Because I know that you want Wikipedia to be the best modern resource of reliable information, my intent in writing is to show you where Wikipedia is falling below your high standards, and in fact, Wikipedia’s article on homeopathy is providing strongly biased, inaccurate information. This strong bias is a symptom of a deeper problem at Wikipedia in select articles on topics that challenge dominant medical and scientific worldviews. After reading the below body of scientific evidence on the subject of homeopathic medicine, I hope that we can engage in a dialogue that will help reduce the amount of misinformation that pervades certain subjects, such as homeopathy.

You already tried this on Wikipedia. Your characteristic mix of mendacity, aggression, misrepresentation of sources, self-serving bullshit and more mendacity, led to you being banned. Let’s see if you do any better this time (spoiler alert: he doesn’t).

Evidence of the strong bias against homeopathy and against an objective encyclopedic tone is evident throughout the article.

Close. The evidence of bias against homeopathy is in the real universe in which we live. Put bluntly, the universe hates homeopathy, and all its laws conspire to make homeopathy not just implausible, but risible. This brings us back to Jesus: his dad must really hate you lot in order to have created a universe in which every single relevant finding refutes your beliefs. The bastard. Continue reading

Chronic Lynne disease

Chronic Lynne disease is a disorder characterised by symptoms that are entirely generic. The diagnosis is one of exclusion: any diagnosis provided by a reputable medical practitioner, is excluded. Quack’s Medical Dictionary defines chronic Lynne disease as “a constellation of symptoms attributable to being bitten by a disease infested tick, editoria McTaggarti, but which persists long after the tick has moved on to another victim”.

The symptoms are very similar to chronic lying disease, and the two differ primarily in that chronic Lynne disease also include antivaccinationism.

Do homeopathy skeptics “ignore science”?

Homeopathy uber-shill Dana Ullman (aka DullMan) tweets:

dullman

Skeptics of homeopathy feign science but ignore scientific evidence. “How convenient!”

Skeptics do not ignore evidence, but we do not accept Dana Ullman’s spin on scientific studies for the same reason we do not look at evidence of bacteria on meteorites and conclude that David Icke is correct when he says Earth is run by alien lizards.

Is this true? (TL;DR version: No, of course not).

DullMan refers to a collection of different types of evidence:

1. Clinical trials.

In real medicine, a result that has less than a 5% chance of being down to chance, is considered good enough evidence that a treatment works. Homeopaths produce a lot of these. There are several reasons why they are not persuasive.

  • The rules for this significance test and the choice of 95% confidence interval are founded on treatments that have some plausible mechanism. When the prior plausibility is low – and it doesn’t come any lower than homeopathy – the chances of a positive result being a false positive, rise substantially. Ioannidis describes this problem eloquently.
  • Numerous reviews have looked at the effect of study quality on outcome, and the findings are consistent: study quality is negatively correlated with effect size. Put bluntly, the junk studies show big effect sizes, and the ones that are properly conducted show smaller or no effect sizes.
  • This is further complicated by the fact that a lot of homeopathy research is published in homeopathy journals or other quackery-specific publications that are ideologically committed to homeopathy; negative results are rarely, if ever, seen in these journals, and their peer review process (if any) is flawed as nobody remotely skeptical is likely to be invited to review.

It bears repeating: there is no reason to suppose homeopathy should work, no way it can work, and no proof it does work other than as placebo. Changing the last to “only weak evidence that it might work other than as placebo” does not materially change things.

The claim that science and skeptics ignore this research is provably false, as evidence reviews of effect of study design on outcomes. Science acknowledges this evidence, notes that it is weak, subject to bias and confounding, more likely to be a false positive if prior plausibility is low, and does not in any case refute the null hypothesis.

2. “Basic science” research

Basic science research for homeopathy falls into two broad classes:

  • Research that is not totally inconsistent with homeopathy, spun by homeopaths as if it were clinching proof of homeopathy’s validity.
  • Fraud, error and other refuted nonsense.

Some of DullMan’s favourite studies are actually both, such as the refuted work by Jacques Benveniste which not only did not actually provide any generalisable effect but also fell apart once the technician making the observations was blinded to the expected outcome for each sample.

DullMan also trumpets work by Luc Montagnier, which I have discussed here before. This is especially mendacious because Montagnier has stated on the record that his work cannot be generalised to the products used in homeopathy – and it should also be remembered that Montagnier is influenced by Benveniste, the subject is both out of his specialised area, and self- published in his own journal, so not peer reviewed.

Some of the studies promoted by DullMan and other homeopathists fall into the criterion of “not even wrong“, such as the claim that “a theoretical physicist describes why homeopathy makes sense“, where a self-published crank decides that his pet theory (ignored by the scientific community) explains homeopathy (ignored or ridiculed by the scientific community). The fact that the author’s own PhD is pretty much the only academically respectable source for his pet theory invokes the memory of the Bogdanov affair.

Where the science promoted by DullMan is valid – and let’s be clear here, most of it is not – it always falls short of being actual proof of homeopathy. Consider for a moment: if water did in fact have a memory (which it basically does not), the distance from that fact to a proof of homeopathy would still be immense. It would include a robust proof that like cures like, a mechanism by which this supposed symptomatic similarity might work, evidence that it does so by a property of matter that is persistent through indefinite serial dilution, proof that this can be transferred to a sugar pill when the solvent is evaporated, proof that it can be transferred from there to the human body – and so on and so on.

Conclusive proof that water has a memory, even if it applied to every substance, comes as close as it does to proving water powered free energy cars.

3. Conjecture and wishful thinking

DullMan in particular is very prone to wishful thinking. He claims that Darwin was only able to formulate the theory of evolution due to homeopathy, even though Darwin was openly contemptuous of it and credited the water cure (no irony intended). He claims Florence Nightingale as a supporter, though in context her quote was quite clear: she considered it suitable for the “reckless physicking of amateur females” because she knew, as we all do now, that the pills themselves were inert.

Lionel Milgrom could power a medium sized wind farm for a month with the frantic arm-waving that is his “patient-practitioner-remedy entanglement” conjecture, involving as it does three-way entanglement of non-entangled non-quantum objects. This is Chopra-grade quantum flapdoodle, yet some homeopaths even now support it as a valid theory.

Do homeopathy skeptics ignore science?

No. Homeopathy skeptics love science, and study it avidly. The problem for DullMan is that the science he promotes, does not validate homeopathy unless you first begin by assuming that homeopathy is valid.

When DullMan says we “ignore science”, he means we don;t accept his usually misleading spin on a small facet of science as clinching proof of homeopathy. In reality of course we do not accept his claims for the same reason we do not look at evidence of bacteria on meteorites and conclude that David Icke is correct when he says Earth is run by alien lizards.

Alan Hunter part 2

Allergy quack Alan Hunter seems determined to follow the well trodden path of stridently demanding respect while studiously ignoring the only thing that will earn that respect: publication in reliable peer-reviewed journals, followed by independent replication of his results.

Last night he sent another batch of emails of the class that caused us to temporarily disable the feedback form on WWDDTYDTY.com. Apparently “use the comments” is just one more in the long, long list of things he doesn’t understand. Here’s the latest batch (and no I probably won’t bother after today, I think I’ll add a kill rule in my mailbox).

October 1, 2014 3:42 am

You ask for us to tell you where you are wrong?
Thank goodness!
If you feed cats COOKED foods, they will eventually become ill.
That will not happen if you feed them the food they are MEANT to eat –
RAW foods! (Pottenger Cats Study)
They do NOT become ill on raw food!

Only MAN cooks his food – and only man suffers from chronic illnesses
of all kinds!

Every creature in the world eats its food raw. And chronic illness is
virtually unknown in wild nature.

HOWEVER, feed wild animals COOKED foods and they will eventually
become ill. That will be REVERSED once they are restored to their
natural, raw, diets.

Now, dear Guy, I am stating that we (humans) have been eating wrongly
for thousands of years – that we are meant to eat as god (I am not
religious) or the “creator” who made us, planned for us to eat.

Saying we are all eating wrongly, is what I am suggesting is the CAUSE
of our everyday chronic illnesses!

Yes, very radical. Very different. But THE TRUTH.

If you want to call it “alternative mediciine”… well, BANG ON, it
fucking IS an alternative to drugs.

If you can’t see the logic there, then there’s little hope, I would
suggest – NO MATTER your “qualifications”!

You will NEVER remove that fact. It will be accepted by EVERY PERSON
who hears it, only YOU are trying to deprive people of that
knowledge.

Therefore WHO EXACTLY is the dangerous person? People like ME who know
the truth, or people like YOU, who PRETEND to know the truth about
health, based on their fucking useless “Chemistry” degree – worth not
a fucking JOT!

What I CAN tell you is this… My facts are more valid and acceptable
than YOURS. No matter WHAT fucking CHEMISTRY degrees you hold. Why the
FUCK would that solve our health problems.

Fucking JOKE pal. Fucking JOKE my Guy friend.

Oh dear. Apparently he’s a raw food crank as well: is there any form of bullshit he does not swallow whole? Yes, Alan, cats eat raw food, and humans have evolved a shortened digestive tract over the past few thousands of years because we have adapted to a diet where food is cooked so the nutrients are more accessible.

Only humans get chronic disease? Tell that to a dog with arthritis. Animals in the wild tend not to suffer chronic disease very long, though, because they tend to end up dead if they are infirm. Oh, and why do quacks pick chronic disease? A chronic disease is, by definition, a disease for which there is, at present, no actual cure – at one time, syphilis was a chronic disease. Now it’s curable so it no longer is a chronic disease. At least you stopped short of berating medicine for having no cure for a category of disease defined by there being, as yet, no cure.

Arguments based on other species are wrong on several levels of course. You might as well argue that because guinea pigs can synthesise ascorbic acid, we don’t need to consume vitamin C, or that cattle can live on grass so we should also be able to despite lacking the mechanism to digest it.

The core point he misses, though, is this: I make no claim to unique insight, or even total accuracy. I am certainly wrong from time to time while I can’t claim to be especially happy when this happens I do at least try to acknowledge it and change my position. As Carl Sagan put it:

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

And as I have said before, alternatives to medicine have more of the traits of a religion than of science. Yes, chemists can be wrong, but they try not to be, and when they are wrong they try to become right. Science is inherently self-correcting, and quackery is not. Quacks reject anything that does not confirm their beliefs, so not only do they start out wrong, but their mechanism for separating right from wrong more or less guarantees that they will become more wrong over time.

October 1, 2014 3:55 am

You ask for us to tell you where you are wrong?
Thank goodness!

If you feed cats COOKED foods, they will eventually become ill.

That will not happen if you feed them the food they are MEANT to eat –
RAW foods! (Pottenger Cats Study)

They do NOT become ill on raw food!

In the wild, all animals eat their food raw. And they don’t suffer
illness.

Only MAN cooks his food – and only man suffers from chronic illnesses
of all kinds!

Every creature in the world eats its food raw. And chronic illness is
virtually unknown in wild nature.

HOWEVER, feed wild animals COOKED foods and they will eventually
become ill. That will be REVERSED once they are restored to their
natural, raw, diets.

Now, dear Guy, I am stating that we (humans) have been eating wrongly
for thousands of years – that we are meant to eat as god (I am not
religious) or whatever is our “creator” planned for us to eat.

Saying we are all eating wrongly, is what I am suggesting IS the CAUSE
of our everyday chronic illnesses!

Yes, very radical. Very different. But THE TRUTH.

If you want to call it “alternative medicine”… well, BANG ON, it
fucking IS an alternative to drugs.

If you can’t see the logic there, then there’s little hope, I would
suggest – NO MATTER your “qualifications”!

You will NEVER remove that fact. It will be accepted by EVERY PERSON
who hears it, only YOU are trying to deprive people of that
knowledge.

Therefore WHO EXACTLY is the dangerous person? People like ME who know
the truth, or people like YOU, who PRETEND to know the truth about
health, based on their fucking useless “Chemistry” degree – worth not
a fucking JOT!

What I CAN tell you is this… My facts are more valid and acceptable
than YOURS. No matter WHAT fucking CHEMISTRY degrees you hold. Why the
FUCK would that solve our health problems.

You could have a degree in fuckin ADVANCED COMEDY WRITING. It says
fuck all when it comes to health!

You are rejecting what is the TRUTH in health. You ask everyone WHERE
you are at fault.

Well, my good, inexperienced, friend, I HAVE FUCKING TOLD YOU.

Time to re-think your fucking website, what?

This is a duplicate.

Do Dell, your employers, know that you are preventing cancer patients
from seeking HARMLESS approaches to recovery instead of the extremely
poisonouse chemo route?

Your logical fallacy is: begging the question. Feel free to provide robust evidence that these purported harmless approaches to recovery are in the least bit effective – and as usual this means peer-reviewed and replicated science, not arm-waving. Incidentally “extremely poisonous chemo” has around 90% total cure in childhood Hodgkin’s lymphoma, compared to approximately 0% for all the quack “cures” currently documented.

I also refer the hon. gentleman to the obligatory disclaimer: I mention my employer only in the interests of transparency, nothing I write here is said on their behalf, opinions are my own, written in my own time and using my own computer resources. Despite the very obvious fact, explicitly noted, that nothing I write here has anything to do with my employers, they are indeed aware that I spend some of my spare time critiquing quackery because every now and then a quack will make a complaint. This wastes the quack’s time and the HR department’s time, but of course there’s no practical way of stopping them doing it quacks are typically so caught up in self-belief that they are unable to perceive any challenge as anything but evil, unethical, and usually conflicted.

Threatening me with a report to my employer is bullying. It’s an attempt to stifle legitimate criticism rather than address the criticism by the only legitimate route: publication, peer review, replication.

October 1, 2014 5:04 am

You ask for us to tell you where you are wrong?
Thank goodness!

If you feed cats COOKED foods, they will eventually become ill.

That will not happen if you feed them the food they are MEANT to eat –
RAW foods! (Pottenger Cats Study)

They do NOT become ill on raw food!

In the wild, all animals eat their food raw. And they don’t suffer
illness.

Only MAN cooks his food – and only man suffers from chronic illnesses
of all kinds!

Every creature in the world eats its food raw. And chronic illness is
virtually unknown in wild nature.

HOWEVER, feed wild animals COOKED foods and they will eventually
become ill. That will be REVERSED once they are restored to their
natural, raw, diets.

Now, dear Guy, I am stating that we (humans) have been eating wrongly
for thousands of years – that we are meant to eat as god (I am not
religious) or whatever is our “creator” planned for us to eat.

Saying we are all eating wrongly, is what I am suggesting IS the CAUSE
of our everyday chronic illnesses!

Yes, very radical. Very different. But THE TRUTH.

If you want to call it “alternative medicine”… well, BANG ON, it
fucking IS an alternative to drugs.

If you can’t see the logic there, then there’s little hope, I would
suggest – NO MATTER your “qualifications”!

You will NEVER remove that fact. It will be accepted by EVERY PERSON
who hears it, only YOU are trying to deprive people of that
knowledge.

Therefore WHO EXACTLY is the dangerous person? People like ME who know
the truth, or people like YOU, who PRETEND to know the truth about
health, based on their fucking useless “Chemistry” degree – worth not
a fucking JOT!

What I CAN tell you is this… My facts are more valid and acceptable
than YOURS. No matter WHAT fucking CHEMISTRY degrees you hold. Why the
FUCK would that solve our health problems.

You could have a degree in fuckin ADVANCED COMEDY WRITING. It says
fuck all when it comes to health!

You are rejecting what is the TRUTH in health. You ask everyone WHERE
you are at fault.

Well, my good, inexperienced, friend, I HAVE FUCKING TOLD YOU.

Time to re-think your fucking website, what?

Yes, you have told me, in all-caps, but the International Journal of Because I Said So is not peer-reviewed.

We also see here a repeat of the weird behaviour noted before: multiple emails fired off in rapid succession in the small hours, with escalating levels of lunacy, as if the failure to respond at 4am is somehow a calculated insult. Perhaps he thinks the website itself is sentient and should reply on my behalf? Or perhaps he is (a) pissed, (b) insomniac or (c) both.

The psychological effects of sleep deprivation are well documented. This may account for a lot.

Have you ever written a BOOK?

If so, you’ll know that you can waken up and write – at ANY time of
the night. So – ONCE AGAIN – you are holding on to your fuckin stupid
scenarios that I could be PISSED!

Boy, are you building up some load of crap, what with your CHEMISTRY
degree – what the FUCK does THAT prove?

Fuckin stupid prick.

This is a new one on me, though not I guess to the skeptical world more generally. No, Alan, publishing a book does not confer infallibility. There are many, many books which contain abject nonsense. Valikovsky wrote several, so did David Irving, Rupert Sheldrake, Lynne McTaggart and even Dullman.

No I have not written a book. I am not so arrogant and hubristic that I believe my own ideas are worth killing trees for. Just one more way in which we differ.

I’m tempted to ask where you think I got my chemistry degree, but on the whole I think I will just file you in the green-ink basket and move on.

Shillac

Shillac n: An impermeable protective coating made from natural substances that renders a peddler of woo impervious to fact.

I was beginning to wonder if laetrile actually works, but then I used Shillac, now I can discount any contrary opinions as being “pharma shills” and I can sell it with a completely clear conscience. Their so-called “science” rolls off like water off a quack duck’s back.

Alan Hunter is an idiot

Alan Hunter is a quack who thinks he has invented a wonderful cure (don’t they all). His particular delusion is that you can cure allergies by modifying body temperature, a “fact” that has thus far eluded medical science. Science is aided in its ignorance by Hunter’s abject failure to publish in anything like a respectable source.

One of my fellow-editors wrote about this on WWDDTYDTY and the result was an amusing but ultimately tedious torrent of emails and comments from Hunter sufficient that we eventually had to temporarily disable the comment form.

Now he’s found my little corner of the Internets and is continuing his relentless torrent of wibble.

September 30, 2014 2:31 am [UCT]

Whether I can get past your CAPTCHA code is one massive puzzle, but,
for the moment, can I ask if I can meet you? I know for a fact that I
can give you evidence that “alternative” medicine is “provable”!

I would like the chance just to show you that.

Let me know please.

Clearly he has never heard of Minchin’s Law. If it were provable it would, by definition, no longer be alternative. And of course the way you go about establishing the validity of a conjecture is to publish in reliable peer-reviewed journals, not write advertorial in the execrable apologia for quackery that is WDDTY, still less harangue random skeptics.

September 30, 2014 2:39 am

If we can meet, I would love to show you how you can be misguided. No
matter how certain you are.

Willing to meet? Willing to even consider there may be an alternative
approach to health?

Alan Hunter is, according to the Googles, based in Dundee and his IP address is in the 81.132.0.0/16 netblock of BT Internet. That’s in the GMT/BST timezone, UCT+1 right now, what’s he doing spamming me at half past three in the morning? Is he pissed or insomniac or both?

September 30, 2014 2:54 am

I am not sure that my messages may have gotten through to you. I
understand you may be Foreign Legion trained. Excellent!

However, I would like to meet with you to explain my side of the
alternative medicine argument.

I WILL convince you. Be of no doubt about that!

Oh dear, I failed to respond within 20 minutes to an email that arrived in the wee small hours. Shame on me.

September 30, 2014 3:09 am

I am aware that you are the author of wddddddd blah blah. But I would
like to meet you and explain that, if your mother or father, or your
son or daughter, developed cancer, if you wanted them to survive,
would you REALLY put them on chemo?

95% of patients put on chemo die! That is how “successful”
chemotherapy is!

So, an “alternative” approach is NOT a stupid approach at all!

Any chance of a meet

So I can actually EXPLAIN?

You’d first need to display a minimal level of comprehension of the English language, such as, you know, reading the replies to the comments on WWDDTYDTY that point out I did not write the posts on Alan Hunter. This is not exactly rocket science: my writing style is not very difficult to spot and neither is that of my co-editor who wrote these pieces.

You’d then need to show me the one thing that is convincing to a skeptic: published research in reliable peer-reviewed journals, replicated by independent scientists. Or you could, you know, carry on emailing random skeptics in the small hours and wondering why everyone mocks you. Your call, really.

September 30, 2014 3:45 am

I welcome your contact – please phone me on <REDACTED>

Oh yes, phone the crank, what could possibly go wrong? Oh, wait, no. But if you, dear reader, feel inclined to do so, I will happily pass along the number.

The Kipper Test

Not as fishy as a quackademic institution wiht a disclaimer, or a UKIP press release telling you they are not racist at all.
Not as fishy as a quackademic institution with a disclaimer, or a UKIP press release telling you they are not racist at all.

The Kipper Test identifies when a claim to legitimacy is distinctly fishy.

It’s named after the UK_Independence_Party" target="_blank" title="From Wikipedia the definition of: UK Independence Party" class="wikiterm" >UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose followers are known as Kippers, and is a reference to UKIP’s need to keep restating that they are not a racist party at all, usually after some UKIP councillor or other spokesdroid has made yet another clueless bigoted remark .

Example: The Indian Board of Alternative Medicine is widely identified as questionable or even fake. They have a page stating in shouty boldface that they are not in the least bit fake, and their web page header tells you that they are “Internationally Recognized Legally Constituted Largest Institution”.

See if you can find any such disclaimers at the websites of real medical schools.

It’s all rather reminiscent of the way the now-defunct St_Christopher_Iba_Mar_Diop_College_of_Medicine" target="_blank" title="From Wikipedia the definition of: St Christopher Iba Mar Diop College of Medicine" class="wikiterm" >St Christopher Iba Mar Diop College of Medicine (based in an industrial unit in Luton) tried to assert its validity in the face of the GMC changing the rules to make it clear that, well, it wasn’t up to snuff.

So: any institution which is so prominently identified as problematic, that it becomes known for its protestations that it’s really not problematic at all, honest, is probably a little fishy, in much the same way that a railway van full of kippers accidentally left in a siding for a month in the blazing sun is probably a little fishy.

Proud member of the reality-based community

Site last updated October 22, 2014 @ 3:10 pm