Oh how I love a softball interview of one quack by another. In A Homeopath Answers To Skeptical Critics, a webshite littered with non-words like “wellness” interviews the head confectioner at Boiron, makers of the canonical quack remedy.
Here’s what a group of homeopathy shills under the umbrella of “Homeopathy Works For Me” had to say for themselves:
Due to the public response of Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, to over 8000 signatures on a petition asking him to allow the Wikipedia page on Homeopathy to be edited in a more neutral and objective way we distance ourselves from the information presented therein. We find Jimmy Wales’ comments about homeopathy and his blatant prejudice against complementary and alternative medicine to be unjustified.
If you wanted to win the World Cup, would you turn up with a hockey stick and then complain that the rules are skewed against you?
The problem in any case is reality, not what is written about reality in an online encyclopaedia. This is genuinely not Wikipedia’s problem to fix. As Jimmy said in his memorable diatribe against the “lunatic charlatans“:
Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful.
Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.
What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t.
It’s no a coincidence that homeopathy and Jesus are similarly contended. Throughout Wikipedia’s history, the longest and most bruising battles have been fought between groups of non-Wikipedians deeply vested in an ideology, and the reality-based community within Wikipedia’s own ranks. Creationism, climate change, alternatives-to-medicine, Gamergate – in every case a group of ideologues, often collaborating externally, has made it their mission to “fix” Wikipedia’s “bias”.
They fail not because Wikipedia is biased, but because Wikipedia reflects the real world and in the end the real world always tends to recognise bullshit. Nature can’t be fooled. The quacks state:
It is our position that patients, prospective patients and other interested parties view the Wikipedia page on homeopathy to be inaccurate and heavily biased: it is not currently a credible source of information
Well, they might very well think that. And the thing about Wikipedia is that if they come along to the Talk page and they can provide a credible argument with good sources, then the article will change.
They don’t. They advance the same endless litany of refuted nonsense. And very often they become so incandescent with wrongteous anger that they get themselves banned. This is further hailed as evidence of Wikipedia’s bias, but as the fate of the “five horsemen” targeted by Gamergate trolls demonstrates, Wikipedia does not show favour in this respect.
Homeopathy vs. science: spot the difference.
To be blunt, Wikipedia does not care one way or the other: Wikipedia has no vested interest in homeopathy, energy psychology, the age of the earth or anything else very much. This is not a conflict between opposing extremes, as the quacks portray it, it’s a conflict between dogma and reality. Science has a complete, coherent, internally and externally consistent explanation for all the observed facts, homeopaths don’t like it but they have nothing to stand in its place other than statements of doctrine.
The reason homeopaths fail on Wikipedia is interesting in itself, and is related to the core issues with the notorious Swizz Report. They dispute the result because they are not playing the same game. Their view of a good study is how well it supports their beliefs and practices, ours view is based on how well it controls for bias and confounding.
Consider: if you wanted to win the World Cup, would you turn up with a hockey stick and then complain that the rules are skewed against you? Your arguments failed, quacks, we won’t change the rules, so you need to bring better arguments.
As Feynman pointed out, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong. And homeopathy disagrees with experiment, at least when the experiment is competently conducted and honestly reported.
Wikipedia’s coverage of quackery is hated by quacks precisely because it is accurate, unbiased and credible, It is not promotional. It is dispassionate. Not all the people who edit the article are dispassionate, and that’s true of every Wikipedia article, but the structures mean that most of the time, over most subjects, the content develops towards something which is agreed by all parties to be accurate and neutral. In the long term, reasoned argument and good quality sources works, hysterical accusations of bias and malfeasance simply get you shown the door.
In April 2014 a complaint was upheld by the ASA against Dr. Philips Idahosa and his “www.mobilepsychiatricclinic.co.uk” website (now shut down). The complaint was by Stephen Barrett, MD., of Quackwatch.
Back in December 2012 I compiled a complaint to the GMC on the grounds that Idahosa was advertising chelation and orthomoleculaer treatment (code for megadoses of vitamins) for conditions including:
Bipolar affective disorder
Autistic spectrum disorders
Preventive heart treatment
Sickle cell disease
There is no evidence that either therapy is effective for any of these complaints.
Although he was promoting chelation for autism, none of the sources he provided showed any benefit for autism.
The TACT trial was deeply flawed (I can’t think of many other trials whose experimenters included people with convictions for dishonesty), and it provided weak evidence for heart disease only through p-hacking. Chelation is not part of the standard of care for heart disease in the UK and is unlikely ever to be so.
After more than two years – the complaint was accepted in January 2013 – the GMC has consented to voluntary erasure from the medical register. As of 16 June 2015, Idahosa’s record on the GMC register of practitioners, reference no. 4685553, shows status of: “Not Registered – Having relinquished registration”.
It’s a sad story on several levels.
How many vulnerable people were scammed in the two and a half years it took to stop Idahosa?
What a shame that Idahosa chose to throw his toys out of the pram rather than comply with standard of care. A waste of his time, effort, education and experience.
What a pity the GMC don’t proactively monitor these things.
But, most of all, the terrifying truth: if the zombie corpse of the Saatchi Bill is reanimated by the Doctor Frankenstein of British political intrigue, the public would have no such protection. Idahosa would need only to have found one or two other doctors (among something like 240,000) who would support him, and he’d be protected.
Think about that.
A man who proposes a risky procedure approved only for acute heavy metal poisoning, to treat autism, on the entirely bogus grounds that the tiny trace of mercury that is no longer included in vaccines and hasn’t been for some years, is the root cause of the condition, even though a massive body of evidence shows this to be complete bollocks. And the Saatchi bill would allow him to carry on peddling his delusions to the vulnerable.
McTaggart is a Scottish police drama renowned for its gritty realism grating lack of reality.
The eponymous protagonist, McTaggart, is a hard-drinking, hard-of-thinking all-nonsense cop with whine-one-one on speed dial; no case is left open when it can be pinned on a member of one of the local gangs, the Docs, the Immunisers and the Skeptics.
His catchphrase – “scotch, organic, diluted, shaken, not stirred, then thumped on the bar, diluted, shaken some more and keep doing it until I tell you to stop” – achieved fame of its own.
Love interest is provided by Charlotte-Anne, on whom McTaggart dotes to the point of fawning obeisance.
In a shock plot twist at the end of the ninth episode of Series 23, McTaggart reverses his previous stance and starts taking bribes. Inspector Nightingale is soon on the case and several of McTaggart’s informants are put in front of His Honour, Lord Asa QC, and sent down.
It’s clear that McTaggart has been rumbled, so he goes on the attack and begins hiring hit men, but unfortunately for him they turn out to be incompetent, inflicting numerous flesh wounds on McTaggart himself. With a dwindling pool of informants and having lost the support of his patron Mr. Smith, McTaggart’s future looks bleak.
Can McTaggart return to credibility? Can he salve his black conscience? Will his credibility become more potent as a result of all the dilution? Who knows.
Number needed to tweetn: The number of cases needed before an alternative practitioner will tweet their amazing success. The average value for The UK is something below 1. For the US and Australia it is currently negative.