The Unsinkable Rubber Duck Of Alternative Medicine

By Seppo | Critical thinking

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It’s no secret that I feel a certain amount of, shall we say, disdain towards alternative medicine and some other natural healing methods. Because I believed into the nonsense they promote I had to live with acne 7 years longer. That’s why I think that developing a well-functioning BS detector is one of the best things you can do for your skin. It allows you to weed out treatments unlikely to work and focus your efforts on things that work. So allow me to give you another post that helps you to develop that BS detector.

My disdain towards alt-med practitioners withstanding, I’m in favor of using diet, lifestyle, supplements and other drug-free interventions to deal with health problems. But I want to do so in a science-based and rational manner. I’m tired of wading through BS in a vain hope of finding the one nugget that actually works. As far as possible, I want to make sure that the things I do are supported by science and evidence.

And that’s my main problem with naturopaths, chiropractors, Chinese and Ayurveda ‘doctors’, crystal healers, spirit guides and magic water peddlers (a.k.a homeopaths). These modalities are for all intents and purposes immune to science and evidence. They are the unsinkable rubber ducks of medicine. It doesn’t matter how many times you shoot them (with studies conclusively showing they have no effect beyond placebo), they just refuse to go down.

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Dr. David Gorski over at Science-Based Medicine puts it well.

So, yes, much of CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] is either very much more like religion than science in that CAM is immune to evidence. True, the scientific “explanations” change, and CAM practices might evolve at the edges based on evidence, but the core principles remain. You don’t see, for example, homeopaths or naturopaths deciding that homeopathy doesn’t work because science and clinical trials overwhelmingly show that it is nonsense. You don’t see chiropractors leaving chiropractic in droves because they’ve come to the realization that they can’t cure allergies, heart disease, gastrointestinal ailments, or anything else but are in reality physical therapists with delusions of grandeur. Ditto reiki, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and “energy healing.” These practices persist despite overwhelming evidence that they do not work and are based on magical thinking, not science. All of the scientific studies and clinical trials funded by NCCAM and other CAM-friendly organizations never actually take the next step from all the negative studies of CAM and come to the conclusion that they should stop using such modalities.

Dr. Gorski’s article makes a nice contrast between alternative and science-based medicine. He makes the point that science-based medicine is far from perfect and, because of human fallacies, changes much slower than it should. But it does change. Science itself is a self-correcting process – even if the correction happens too slowly.

This is the crucial difference between science-based and alternative medicine. Science starts with what’s known as the null hypothesis, which assumes that the claim under question is untrue until demonstrated otherwise. Then scientists device an experiment to test the claim. If the experiment is successful then we reject the null hypothesis and can say the treatment might work. Of course before a treatment is established it has to survive several increasingly rigorous studies, I wrote more about the process here.

Like a drunk leaning on a light post

Alternative medicine, on the other hand, follows a different process, one that starts with belief and only seeks evidence that confirms that belief (a common fallacy in humans). Skeptics like to say they use science like a drunk uses a light post: for support instead of illumination.

Let’s take food allergy testing as an example, a field rife with quackery. Naturopaths, chiropractors and other alt-med practitioners often claim your health problems are caused by food sensitivities and that they can diagnose those for you. They have all manner of tools at their disposal, including vega test, muscle testing, meridian analysis and IgE-based blood tests. By and large the practitioners offering these services aren’t interested in understanding whether the tests they offer can do what they claim (they can’t).

In fact, they are quite apt at ignoring studies that show the tests don’t and can’t work. Usually these studies are shrugged off with statements like “well, my patients are getting better and that’s what really matters.

On the face of it, that’s a reasonable argument. But the problem is these practitioners don’t really know what caused the improvement. Was it because of removing food allergens? Was it because of overall improvement in diet quality? Was it just a placebo effect of attention from a doctor? Was it that the patient wants to please the doctor and reports an improvement (one doesn’t want to feel like there’s something wrong with him/her if the treatment fails)? Humans also have an unfortunate tendency of counting the hits and forgetting the misses, thus giving the illusion that the treatment works.

The entire scientific method was created to counter these human biases. That’s why being immune to scientific evidence is so dangerous. You end up being driven by bias and beliefs instead of evidence and reason.

This is why I’m against the notion of undiagnosed Candida epidemic, liver flushing, acid-alkaline theory of disease and countless other ‘alt-med exclusive’ diseases and treatments. These are not methods born out of scientific testing and evidence. The Candida syndrome was invented by Dr. Crook, liver flush by Andreas Moritz (as far as I know), and Dr. Young (I presume) invented the notion that all dis-ease is caused by excess acid. Instead of subjecting these things to scientific evaluation they just started promoting these diseases and theories. Driven by testimonials the ideas became popular and other practitioners started running with them and in the end they became established as ‘truths’ (by sheer popularity). Whether the claims are true or not never enters the picture.

You just have to look at homeopathy. It’s massively popular and it’s massively stupid. I mean stupid like it takes stupid to the whole new level. Just see this video where James Randi explains homeopathy.

Want to hear something funny? All naturopathic doctors have been studying homeopathy. Homeopathy mandatory requirement of naturopathic doctor’s education. And not just little bit of homeopathy, they study 250 hours of hours of homeopathy.

This creates an interesting dilemma to naturopaths. How can you claim to be driven by science and practice homeopathy at the same time? Science has shown over and over that homeopathy has no effect beyond placebo and yet it remains part of their education and practice. And these are the same people who want to diagnose you with Candida, adrenal fatigue and remedy you with coffee enemas, liver flushes and vitamin megadoses. I hope see why I have absolutely zero faith in them. And why, if naturopath tells me the sky is blue, I would still verify it myself.

Of course there are exceptions. There are natural practitioners who do good science, but I would hazard a guess that they are the minority.

Why does any of this matter?

If you are anything like I was about 5 years back, you are probably less than satisfied with dermatologists and doctors. Your acne refuses to go away no matter how many times you visit them. That dissatisfaction is like a gateway drug to the ‘dark side’ of reason.

The alt-med industry is very good at cultivating that seed of dissatisfaction and replacing reason with nonsense. I know what happened to me. That dissatisfaction led me down a dark rabbit hole. I ended up spending 7 years of my life chasing alternative and natural remedies for acne. Yes, my skin got better because of some of the treatments, but it was never nearly as good as it’s now. That’s 7 extra years I had to live with acne because I allowed alt-med proponents to fill my head with nonsense.

Admittedly I learned a lot (the vast majority of which was wrong) and my diet improved, but had I followed evidence and reason I would have gotten clear much faster.

I think Michael Shermer’s words at one of his Scientific American columns provide a fitting ending for this post rant.

I conclude that I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know. I believe that the truth is out there. But how can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually true? The answer is science.

Michael Shermer @ Scientific American

I also know there are many natural and drug-free treatments that work in acne. In fact, I believe that diet, lifestyle and natural supplements and skincare work better than most prescription drugs. But unless we follow evidence, reason and logic we’ll never find those, and we are doomed at living in a dark place that the light of reason can’t reach.

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About the Author

Seppo Puusa, a.k.a. AcneEinstein shares rational advice about natural and alternative acne treatments. Read more about me and my acne struggles at the page.

Leave a Comment:

(30) comments

Natalie July 30, 2013

So what helped clear your skin??

Reply
    Seppo July 31, 2013

    The stuff I write in this blog: sensible diet, smart topical treatments, gut healing and strategic supplementation. I see these things as very much science-based treatments because there’s good evidence to support all of my recommendations.

    Reply
Natalie July 31, 2013

I’ll have to read your past blog posts:) What have you found topically that has worked for you?
Cheers

Reply
    Seppo July 31, 2013

    I’m using products that contain vitamin B3 and vitamin C. See posts on topical antioxidants for more info. Occasionally I’ll use little bit of benzoyl peroxide, but that’s like once a week or once every two weeks.

    Reply
Anca August 1, 2013

Hey! Very well said and a really nice post :) I’d like to know your thought on food combining (I’m not sure if it’s alt-med or no, but it seems at least plausible) ?

Reply
    Seppo August 2, 2013

    Glad to hear you liked the article. Unfortunately articles like this don’t always go down so well with some people.

    Food combining. It’s one of those things that seems to make sense but probably amounts to nothing.

    As a disclaimer I want to say that I’m not a digestive expert and I don’t know all the details of what happens to food once I shovel it into my mouth.

    Here’s what I think. There are no natural foods that are purely carbs or protein or fat. Let’s say you eat a meal with potatoes and meat. The proteins in potatoes and meat get digested first in the stomach and once that’s done the bolus moved to the small intestine where the starches are broken down and absorbed.

    I stopped believing into food combining before I even gave up on alt-med. It didn’t match with my experience. If the foods would be putrefying inside the gut, you would know it, trust me. It would smell and you would feel bloated and uncomfortable. That never happened to me, so I just stopped doing it.

    I would suggest just paying attention what happens in your gut. If you’ll get digestive problems, you should be able to notice them.

    Reply
      Anca August 2, 2013

      Thank you. I was thinking the same, especially about legumes.. they’re a good source of protein but also have a fair amount of carbs.. And yes, you are right, once you get into this alt-med thing you become like a religion fanatic, you don’t even want to know/listen what others have to say.. I’ve been there too unfortunately :P Before it, I was always a skeptical person but in my desperation I wanted to believe anything that would promise me results. Discovering your blog was an eye-opener and I have to say my skin is doing better, seems like omega 3s, green tea and some Vit D was my answer. I even ate a ton of carbs, diary, gluten, chocolate and so on and only got 1-2 pimples :D

      You are a life saviour!

      Reply
        Seppo August 2, 2013

        Glad to hear I was able to help you. My road to the dark side.. err.. alt-med was much the same as your’s. Nothing seemed to help so I was open to being influenced by the proponents. It all seemed to make sense at the moment.

        Funny when I think back to that time in my life. How arrogant and entitled I used to feel then. I felt like I had gained some special knowledge that other’s just didn’t get. Ironically, skeptics call that arrogance of ignorance. I was so ignorant that I actually thought I knew something! *shaking head*

        Luckily I recovered from that.

        Reply
      Balthamos August 8, 2013

      Hi Seppo!
      I think your really well informed, and you have been doing a trial during this years that finally worked for you
      In my case, I don’t have bad bad acne .. they are like microzits, that suddenly get inflamed, pus …, then, they dissapeared, but the microzits (it’s like an irregular texture of micro points) are still there, on my jaw line

      maybe it’s kind of hormonal issue, or blocked pores, cause i know they are there, but not gen they will inflammed, i use glycolic acid, and they recover, but the root still there …

      doctors said roaccutane again, but i said no, they remained there even after i took roacutane one time, so any recommendation if you have read about this kind …

      well, the question is when you say:

      If the foods would be putrefying inside the gut, you would know it, trust me. It would smell and you would feel bloated and uncomfortable. That never happened to me, so I just stopped doing it

      I fell that when i eat oats, i have bloating, but all people eating oats have them, (bodybuilders are commonly saying, thanks to oats their bloating gets ..very odorous
      so thats why i never asked myself if it is a gut problem, (celiac intlerant)

      thank you!

      Reply
        Seppo August 8, 2013

        Happy to help. I would treat any abdominal discomfort, bloating or smelly flatulence as potential sign of gut problems and investigate.

        Reply
Schrader August 3, 2013

Hi Seppo.

Have you ever tried homeopathic remedies?

The question lies, if this “placebo” effect as you call it (even though this word trivializes some of the underlying concepts beyond barbaric levels), actually helps the individual get rid of acne, then why not try the same medication and see what effect it has. Like you said, to bring the needle down for some it takes x and for some it takes y.

Since the method of science is actually trying things out and recording your results, I think homeopathic remedies CAN be a worthwhile solution, provided that you make some adjustments. The problem with homeopathy and modern pharmacology is that they appeared in different eras of thought, and trying to fit homeopathy under the current scientific method is a no go. I can go on for pages about this but let me just ask this:

Why is it that under laboratory settings, blindfold, double testing the results are inconclusive BUT when it comes to individual experience (i.e. subjective) the result is positive? If such a thing wouldn’t have persisted homeopathy would have been eliminated years ago. If, with the advent of modern medicine, homeopathy stopped being effective, people surely would have stopped using it at all. It’s simple, if it works – keep using it. The same can be said with over-the-counter- and anti-biotic prescriptions, they might and they might not work.

Regardless of my or your position I’m going to take an experiment on myself for 3 to 5 weeks in testing of homeopathy. I’ll send you an email when I’m done. Maybe the results will be of interest to your readers :)

Reply
    Seppo August 3, 2013

    I haven’t tried homeopathy and am not planning to do so. Not because I’m close minded but because I don’t see a point in wasting money on wholly implausible methods. And I don’t want to support what in my mind is a fraudulent enterprise (selling water pills and pretending they are medicine).

    That said, you raised some interesting points that warrant discussion.

    The question lies, if this “placebo” effect as you call it (even though this word trivializes some of the underlying concepts beyond barbaric levels), actually helps the individual get rid of acne, then why not try the same medication and see what effect it has. Like you said, to bring the needle down for some it takes x and for some it takes y.

    Let me deal with your point on trivializing the placebo effect first and then take the bigger question here.

    What’s called as placebo effect is far more encompassing than what most people believe. People have the idea that placebo effect is in essence mind over body healing, and there’s little bit of that too but it’s only a small part of the placebo effect.

    Placebo effect lumps all what are known as nonspecific effects. Effects that have nothing to do with the active treatment under study. These can include:

    Regression to the mean. Let’s say that on average you have 7 pimples but for whatever reason your acne has been getting worse and one morning you wake up with 15 pimples. Shocked, you decide to do something about it and take some homeopathic tinctures. 2 weeks later you have 5 pimples. The remedy must have worked, right? Not necessarily. Most likely what you observe is the natural fluctuation of acne. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse. This is what’s called regression to the mean.
    – Spontaneous resolution of the problem. Many diseases are self-limiting and will go away on their own.
    – People expecting to get better and therefore get better or at least pay less attention to the problem so it may seem like they are getting better.
    – People wanting to please doctors and researchers. People in general don’t want to be seen as non-responders or outside of the norm (there must be something wrong with me if the treatment isn’t working for me) and therefore they downplay their symptoms.
    – Random statistical noise. As you know, statistics never give precise answers. Rather they can tell you that the answer lies somewhere between X and Y. Let’s say that range is between 5 and 12 pimples. In one week the average pimple count was 9 and the next week it was 6. This may look like an improvement but is probably just statistical noise.

    The placebo effect is all of the above and more. Placebo can result also in real healing and real changes in the body, but in many cases it has nothing to do with real healing.

    Now, what about using homeopathy (or other alt-med modalities) to ‘harness’ the placebo effect. That’s actually what many alt-med proponents are now arguing, since it’s becoming increasingly clear that the vast majority of alt-med treatments have no effect beyond placebo.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that when we are talking with rather benign problems, like acne, but not when we talk of dangerous health problems, like cancer, where delaying real treatment often will lower your chances of survival. Just yesterday I actually saw a report of a study that showed TV ads increased the effectiveness of allergy drugs.

    It’s an interesting question, and something that warrants further research. How reliable the placebo effect is? Do the effects last? What can we do maximize the effect? These are all questions we don’t know the answers to.

    Since the method of science is actually trying things out and recording your results, I think homeopathic remedies CAN be a worthwhile solution, provided that you make some adjustments. The problem with homeopathy and modern pharmacology is that they appeared in different eras of thought, and trying to fit homeopathy under the current scientific method is a no go.

    I don’t agree. We can use the scientific method to study just about anything. We don’t need to understand how something works in order to study its effectiveness. We can always administer the remedy and see if it has any effects. This has been done countless times with homeopathy with little to show for.

    Why is it that under laboratory settings, blindfold, double testing the results are inconclusive BUT when it comes to individual experience (i.e. subjective) the result is positive? If such a thing wouldn’t have persisted homeopathy would have been eliminated years ago. If, with the advent of modern medicine, homeopathy stopped being effective, people surely would have stopped using it at all. It’s simple, if it works – keep using it. The same can be said with over-the-counter- and anti-biotic prescriptions, they might and they might not work.

    When I read this I at the same time laughed and admired your optimism in the reasoning skills of fellow humans :)

    The results in properly controlled trials are not inconclusive. They are very clearly homeopathy has no effect beyond placebo.

    Why then subjective results are so often positive? Because, frankly speaking, humans really, really, really bad at figuring out such causal relationships. As I mentioned above about the placebo effect, there are many, many reasons a treatment might look effective but in reality does nothing.

    The situation is even much worse when you invest time and money into something. By and large people who report good results from homeopathic remedies believe into homeopathy. In such cases your observations are almost certainly ‘tainted’ by confirmation bias (also see this article) and motivated reasoning.

    The history is replete with things that didn’t work but people still kept doing them. Blood letter doesn’t work but is harmful to boot, still people kept using it for hundreds of years. The same can be said for many medical treatments prior to scientific medicine. In fact, the reason homeopathy gained traction in the 1800s was because most medical treatments of the time were killing people (such as giving them arsenic). So arguably giving them water was better than harming them with ‘medicines’. But still people kept going to the doctors.

    The point here is that humans are really bad at figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Sure, we can figure out simple things like headache where the time difference between the remedy and the effect is not that long. But as soon as the differences stretches over many days, not to speak of weeks, it’s almost impossible for us to say whether something works or not.

    The whole scientific method was invented to get over these problems. And scientific medicine developed so that we could, reasonably, reliably answer the question ‘does it work?’

    Reply
      Schrader August 3, 2013

      By and large people who report good results from homeopathic remedies believe into homeopathy. In such cases your observations are almost certainly ‘tainted’ by confirmation bias (also see this article) and motivated reasoning.

      The same can be said about anything :) For example, your are biased to the “scientific method”, because as you said, you didn’t try it out because you discredited it from the start. You too have belief, except yours is not in homeopathy. When you read a paper, it may make perfect sense but the choice is up to you whether you believe (or trust, if you want) the information in that paper to be true. And you do, because the alternative would mean that you would have to recreate the whole experiment to experience the results for yourself, and that takes a hell of a long time, especially if you weren’t a scientist in the first place. So when reading “scientific studies” or anything, you automatically choose to believe, because there’s no easy means to validate what you see, except on the basis of precedent, that you never heard of “scientific studies being faked” or maybe that it’s not that common. I stopped reading papers for this reason: whenever I read one I am biased to agree with them (believe), without having tested it firsthand and that puts too much of my power into an authority that may have an agenda, other than “furthering mankind”. But I digress.

      With homeopathy it’s so much simple: you have the pill, you take it and you see where it takes you. It’s firsthand evidence. You are right in saying that “you have to believe” or better yet “you shouldn’t be opposed” to the idea of them working. The same is true of any medication and I’m pretty sure I can cite a study where it was shown that if the patient doesn’t believe or downright believes that the medication (non-homeopathic) is harmful, the efficacy of the drug diminishes (the mind opposing).

      And btw, homeopathic medicine isn’t that expensive. It usually costs less than “modern” medicine.
      If all it takes to get rid of acne is to ingest a couple of sugar pills for at least 3 to 5 weeks, then why the hell not try it? For me it matters the result (clear skin) regardless of the methodology.

      Also about the word “placebo”. I don’t like using it because it invites negative connotations. It is, as you said, a number of lumped up things, some good, some bad, none of which the current scientific climate actively pursues. That’s because whenever something acausal influences the result, the consensus seems to be: “we cannot replicate it so we throw it out, and label it as placebo”. Which seems very ignorant to me, to disregard something that clearly has an influence without studying it further. You have an article on the “as if” principle which would seem to give some light on that subject (I don’t have a subscription to your site so I wouldn’t know what the “conclusion” is, but if you’re discussing the “act as if you don’t have acne” tool, then you’re spot on and I should give you a big thumbs up)

      Reply
        Seppo August 3, 2013

        I’m by no means opposed to experimentation and trying out things. A lot of what I write on this blog is not based on rock-solid science, simply because not enough studies have been done. So it’s up to us to experiment.

        If I would fix acne with just taking some homeopathic pills, then I would do it in a heartbeat. I find it annoying to watch my diet so I don’t eat anything that irritates my gut and causes acne. I’m just not at all confident that’s possible.

        I wouldn’t say I discredited homeopathy from the start. I’ve looked into homeopathy in detail and nothing I’ve seen gives me reason to believe into it. For homeopathy to be true then most of the chemistry and physics would not only have to be wrong but spectacularly wrong. So it doesn’t fit with ‘what we know to be true’. On top of that high quality trials show it has no effect beyond placebo. Nothing that I’ve seen gives me any reason to experiment with homeopathy, or changes the null hypothesis that homeopathy is nothing but water. I’d rather focus my efforts on things that are more plausible.

        You are right that one always has to trust something. And you are right that studies can and will have flaws and scientist sometimes push their own agendas. That’s why skeptical attitude is so helpful. You approach things with an open but critical attitude. That’s why I often say “this is just one study and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on one study”. That’s why independent replication is crucial in science.

        So I do trust the scientific method and process. I trust that, while individual studies may be flawed and individual scientists may have agendas, the process itself is self-correcting and abnormalities will stand out. So far the scientific method has been the humankind’s most successful tool in separating facts from fiction.

        The ‘As if’ article talks about feedback loops between the mind (brain) and the body. The idea is that if you behave ‘as if’ you are happy, such as force yourself to smile or fake laughter, then the emotions will follow. In essence you are ‘tricking’ the brain, which goes “The body is smiling, therefore I must be happy, let me turn on happiness emotion then”.

        And yes, we are all subject to the fallacies of human reasoning and we all have biases. That’s why one has to constantly watch out for them to remain as rational as possible.

        Reply
Schrader August 3, 2013

For homeopathy to make sense you have to realize that it appeared in an era previous to ours (duh right?). What this means is it was conceived in a “energetical” worldview as opposed to an “informational” or scientific one. If you were to forget for a second about the “informational” one and think in “energetical” terms, homeopathy makes sense. This is also similar to traditional chinese medicine where acne would be thought of as a “fire” in the body and to cure that fire, you would eat things that have water (watermelons, cucumbers and so on) but not only that, you would also deal with eliminating “fire” from your life (stress). Already you can see that the Chinese model, when viewed from an informational point of view, includes diet and lifestyle in considering actually healing and is more encompassing than any other, which wins points if you’re trying to “compare” them to “modern medicine”.

So if you’re trying to subject an “energetical” concept to “informational” testing, the energetical one will not stand up to the test. That’s why it’s called “informational” – it relies on direct information (causal) to be tested. Acausal relationships are thrown away. But that’s exactly what homeopathy is: acausal relationship: that the symptom can be cured by using something that is similar (plant diluted in water) seems nuts from a scientific point of view, but if you were to think about it intuitively, it does make sense (“like cures like”).

Since we’re born and grown into modern societies, the informational worldview is predominant and things such as homeopathy seem archaic when explained in scientific terms. But Chinese medicine for example is “energetical” and has survived for at least 2000 years. Which is my argument about “the people use what works”. Let’s go even further and talk about the shamans in the jungles of Amazon. Theirs is a blend of the original “spiritual” and “energetical” worldviews. By modern standards, the shaman healing you through prayer and potions is even further away from modern science than homeopathy is. In fact, it doesn’t even bother with conducting medical trials with that model. I have only one question: if their method was as clueless as modern science makes it out to be, then how the hell does the shaman and his people get cured? How do they not die from the poison or concoctions that they brew? How is it that “jungle people” seem to have the most perfect skin and most fit physical condition when compared to an average white person?

All of this is fine and dandy but the question is: does it work? :D I’ll let you know.

Reply
    Seppo August 3, 2013

    Please don’t take this as a personal attack against you as its not. This is just a very typical alt-med hand waving explanation that uses scientifically sounding words but doesn’t actually mean anything.

    What does it mean that homeopathy is energetic concept? I get it that homeos like to say that the active ingredient is somehow energetically imprinted into the remedy, but that doesn’t mean anything.

    There’s no known mechanism by which that kind of imprinting would happen, and nobody has ever demonstrated it. People just like to claim it happens without actually providing any evidence for it. Neither we know of any way such remedy, if we allow that they are real, would pass that information on to the body. And there are no known ways for the body to receive and act on such information.

    One can always argue that we just haven’t discovered those mechanisms yet, and that’s of course always a possibility. But there’s no evidence that homeopathy does anything. Scientific testing doesn’t care about the mechanism of action, it can be “informational” or “energetic”, it only cares about results. Why would the effects of homeopathy disappear under properly controlled circumstances but show up in other less rigorous situations? It doesn’t make any sense. Either it works or it doesn’t. The only way this makes sense is if homeopathy is just placebo.

    We certainly agree that homeopathy has acausal relationship with health, only that I interpret it to mean homeopathy has no effect on anything.

    Yes, Chinese medicine and other healing modalities have survived for thousands of years, but that by itself doesn’t mean anything. No country, not even China, relies on traditional medicine anymore. Scientific medicine has taken over everywhere. Why? Because it delivers results traditional forms of healing cannot. Scientific medicine is what allows humans to live longer, and it’s scientific medicine and vaccines we can thank for the eradication of many dangerous diseases.

    So your argument that people use what works cuts both ways.

    Reply
      Schrader August 3, 2013

      I didn’t take it any way. It was an exercise in letting go of your rigid worldview which tries to explain a concept that is outside of its scope but fails (and labels it as “unexplainable”/”not worth it”).

      Scientific testing doesn’t care about the mechanism of action, it can be “informational” or “energetic”, it only cares about results.

      So if I’m healed by “alternative medicine” you won’t register it as a result. But it obviously healed me. Yet you’ll still say, “eh, it’s all placebo”. You can call it anything you want (although I wouldn’t insult one’s intellect that way), that doesn’t make it any less effective.

      No, you see, the scientific testing is when you get results that are in line with the scientific worldview. When you get results that don’t fit in with your worldview, you feel the need to denigrate them, or consider them useless. And by your account, you haven’t even tried the stuff.

      Why should I care about “scientific testing” which I can’t replicate (and am forced to believe) when you yourself agree that “acne” and finding a treatment is DIFFERENT for everyone.

      Yes, Chinese medicine and other healing modalities have survived for thousands of years, but that by itself doesn’t mean anything.

      So if a methodology survives for centuries it means nothing to you? Capitalism has existed for thousands of years. Does that mean nothing? On the other hand Communism didn’t take even 50 years to die. I can go on with all domains known to man. The effectiveness of an idea is determined by how long it’s execution has survived.

      Scientific medicine has taken over everywhere. Why? Because it delivers results traditional forms of healing cannot. Scientific medicine is what allows humans to live longer, and it’s scientific medicine and vaccines we can thank for the eradication of many dangerous diseases.

      No one’s arguing about scientific medicine not being effective. Why do you put it into a either/or black/white framework? Both can work, and have been proven to work. Like you said, I wouldn’t want to cure cancer with green tea, but then again I wouldn’t want to take Accutane for acne either.

      The more you realize that you have this worldview and continuously support it, the more rigid it becomes. The need to prove others wrong is usually very strong at this stage. I don’t care because I got the result. Why should I argue about it? That’s hilarious. I can’t convince you. You can only convince yourself (by trying it yourself — and that’s the only way to do). Information that you have read is information, it is not knowledge. Only when you have experienced it, and only then, you can know.

      Unfortunately this will be my last bit here as there is no gain to be had from these posts. At this stage it’s just mental masturbation.

      Reply
        Seppo August 4, 2013

        So if I’m healed by “alternative medicine” you won’t register it as a result. But it obviously healed me. Yet you’ll still say, “eh, it’s all placebo”. You can call it anything you want (although I wouldn’t insult one’s intellect that way), that doesn’t make it any less effective.

        Regardless of how you are healed, I’m the first one to tell you to keep doing what’s working for you. I may not believe that your healing was due to homeopathy, but I would never tell anyone to stop doing what’s currently working for them. And I will not take your story as evidence that homeopathy works, like I won’t accept anecdotal evidence for prescription drugs or other treatments.

        No, you see, the scientific testing is when you get results that are in line with the scientific worldview. When you get results that don’t fit in with your worldview, you feel the need to denigrate them, or consider them useless. And by your account, you haven’t even tried the stuff.

        I think you don’t really understand how scientific testing works. In case of homeopathy the testing would go like this:

        1. You take a group of people and randomly allocate them into two groups: A and B.
        2. The group A gets one pill and the group B gets another pill. One of the pill is homeopathic pill while another is inactive placebo. Nobody taking part to the experiment knows which is which. This is called blinding and is necessary for minimizing bias.
        3. After the experiment is over you tabulate the results and run the necessary statistical analysis to determine which pill delivered better results.
        4. After this you reveal which pill was homeopathy and which was placebo.

        Why is it that when homeopathy is tested in this way the results disappear? This protocol doesn’t care whether the treatment is “energetic” or “informational”.

        This test also doesn’t care whether the treatment in question matches with the existing “scientific worldview”.

        You seem to think that scientists are these close-minded idiots who are too blind to see things beyond their theories. I’m sure few are like that, but most are open to challenging existing ideas, eager in fact, because there’s no better way to gain scientific reputation than by showing that a widely-accepted theory is wrong.

        The accepted “scientific worldview” is that diet has no effect on acne. Yet, I see papers coming out that challenge that, papers that show mechanisms of how diet would affect acne, and papers that show reduction in acne following dietary improvements.

        No real scientist would reject or laugh at homeopathy if double-blinded and controlled trials, like I outlined above, would show it’s effective. It would be hard to argue against nearly irrefutable evidence. Scientists would jump on homeopathy and try to learn how it works. Because no doctor or scientist wants to use drugs with potentially dangerous side-effects, drug companies excluded. We all want medicine that’s safe and effective.

        Why should I care about “scientific testing” which I can’t replicate (and am forced to believe) when you yourself agree that “acne” and finding a treatment is DIFFERENT for everyone.

        I can’t speak about you, but I care about scientific testing because I want to know what works. I don’t want to waste a lot of time and money trying different things.

        I want to use the best available information (including scientific studies and known disease mechanisms) to figure out the treatment that’s the most likely to work for me.

        To me that just sounds far more rational than taking a sugar pill that doesn’t contain even a single molecule of the active ingredient.

        I didn’t take it any way. It was an exercise in letting go of your rigid worldview which tries to explain a concept that is outside of its scope but fails (and labels it as “unexplainable”/”not worth it”).

        If my worldview seems rigid, it’s because I’ve learned to demand things like evidence, plausibility and that the treatments adhere to known laws of chemistry and physics. Silly me. I know, but such am I.

        I really like the quote from Michael Shermer at the end of the post: “I conclude that I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know. I believe that the truth is out there. But how can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually true? The answer is science.

        Science is the best method humans have deviced for figuring out what works and what doesn’t. That’s why I require scientific evidence before accepting new claims – especially if they are as ridiculous as homeopathy is.

        So if a methodology survives for centuries it means nothing to you? Capitalism has existed for thousands of years. Does that mean nothing? On the other hand Communism didn’t take even 50 years to die. I can go on with all domains known to man. The effectiveness of an idea is determined by how long it’s execution has survived.

        Let’s play name the logical fallacy game. The answer is non sequitur. A lot of stupid ideas have survived for a long time, such as ghosts and spirits and the sun going around the earth or earth being flat.

        Of course many of those were abandoned when the evidence against them started mounting. The same thing happened with homeopathy and Chinese medicine. They seemed rational at the time, but as our understanding of the human body and disease pathology has evolved, most people have abandoned such silly ideas.

        If you think that homeopathy or Chinese medicine are so effective, then how come almost nobody uses them anymore? How come almost everyone who has access to scientific medicine uses it?

        So, going by your argument that people use what works, then it seems those things don’t seem to work anymore.

        You can only convince yourself (by trying it yourself — and that’s the only way to do). Information that you have read is information, it is not knowledge. Only when you have experienced it, and only then, you can know.

        So what you are saying is that we should abandon the knowledge of physics, chemistry and medicine in favor or just trying it out for yourself? Funny that you should say so. Because that’s how medicine was practiced 200+ years ago. That also happened to be the time when people got to the ripe old age of 40 before they died. Luckily they could count on their doctor to let out some blood and purge their precious fluids when they got sick – because people tried those things and were convinced they work.

        This is also the kind of knowledge and wisdom that causes endless confusion and frustration among acne patients. That the web is full of stories of miracle cures that never seem to work for you. Or the fact that if you listen to acne forums it seems like every food out there causes acne and you are left with nothing to eat, pushing many acne patients to eating disorders.

        So for you this kind of knowledge and wisdom is preferable to the scientific method?

        The more you realize that you have this worldview and continuously support it, the more rigid it becomes. The need to prove others wrong is usually very strong at this stage.

        Stating the very good reasons I have for not accepting homeopathy is not the same as the need to prove you wrong.

        By that logic the only ‘good answer’ for you would be that I just accept homeopathy and see if it works for me.

        Skeptics like to say “keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.” Me thinks it fits here nicely.

        Reply
Tree September 4, 2013

Studies don’t show that homeopathy is effective because the studies are not conducted according to homeopathic rules. In homeopathy, two people can have totally different remedies for the same condition and no two people are prescribed the same thing usually. Were the test subjects interviewed by an experienced homeopath before they were prescibed the homeopathic remedy? Did they keep all the rules they are suuposed to keep while taking the remedy? If not, these studies prove nothing because they don’t test homeopathy in the way it is really practised.
I don’t care what studies say but I’m sure my sore throat didn’t heal because of the placebo effect (why didn’t the herbal tea have the same effect then???). I’m also sure that my viginal discharge didn’t stop smelling fishy because of the power of my will. And please, please, tell me how a placebo heals an urinary tract infection, like, how do I suddenly stop going to the toilet every 5 minutes and why did the homeopathic drug have the placebo effect that obviously lasts for 4 years and the scietifically tested and approved drug didn’t have this effect and the infection kept on returning? I would really want to know, if placebo is that effective, then I see no reason to use any other healing, obviously it works better than anything else.
I agree that many of the other alternative medicine things don’t make any sense but homeopathy is not one of them. It can definitely help, it’s no panacea but it’s the best remedy so far.
And many doctors also practise homeopathy (no, not naturopaths). And they were as skeptical as you but obviously something made them change their mind.
You seem to blindly believe in scietific method. What if there is a better method than the one scientists use today?
I’m a very logical person and I understand your point of view but logic is not enough to explain the world, it is just one of the tools we have. While we need logic we should also consider the other ways.

Reply
    Seppo September 4, 2013

    N=1. Your little uncontrolled experiment says nothing about the efficacy of homeopathy.

    If homeopathic remedies require an interview with an experienced homeopath, then how come you can buy them over the counter in many countries? It seems they are happy to take your money without an interview or consultation.

    And yes, some of those studies compared individualized treatment by experienced homeopaths to placebo. Still the same results. It’s magic water regardless of which way you look at it.

    Anyway, I’m happy that you got over whatever health problems you had.

    Reply
      Tree September 4, 2013

      To me it says everything and so does for many other people.
      You can buy them over the counter because they don’t have side effects and are not dangerous. But to be effective they need to be prescibed by a person who knows what he or she is doing. Sometimes even the homeopath might not get it right from the first time (the same way other doctors make mistakes). Of course, some people can identify which drug they need themselves but for a study you need a reliable homeopath.
      Please, give me the links to those studies, I’m curious to see them.

      Reply
Tree September 4, 2013

And what makes you think nobody practises Chinese medicine? Many people practise it in Asia, it is well organised and popular and many people like it better than Western medicine. I don’t know what makes you think Chinese herbs have no effect, they do. Have you ever tried them?

Reply
    Seppo September 4, 2013

    Nice strawman argument. Yes, there are people who use TCM, but far more people rely on scientific medicine and very, very few people use traditional or alternative treatments for anything serious. I never said Chinese herbs have no effect. Many herbs contain pharmacologic substances and thus can act as drugs.

    Reply
      Tree Flower January 7, 2014

      OK, I admit, you were right! I just had very strong beliefs about homeopathy and an emotional attachment to it. Plus, the homeopath treating me is a nice person and never asked for money so he wasn’t deceiving me on purpose but instead genuinely believed. I still think that maybe there might be some truth in it and maybe it can be effective for some illnesses but I begin to doubt it even more. However, when I was blinded by faith all your arguments made no sense and I saw you as cold and close minded. Thanks God I had to take a course in statistics and another one on research methods and I became interested in the paleo movement. Then it all started to make sense. And no, homeopathy is not effective for acne but diet, sleep and tea tree oil are!
      Also, my sore throat never became better with homeopathy. Now I eat a lot of fish in winter with vitamin D and that seems to finally help me go through winter without coughing.
      I understand why people are repulsed by doctors. Many of them are very cold and rude and don’t really pay attention to the patient as a human being. They also try to fix everything with a pill but so do homeopaths. But bad doctors are not enough proof that alternative medicine is better. There are people on the Internet claiming to cure cancer with baking soda! And I would have fallen for that some years ago and I’m an otherwise intelligent person!

      Reply
        Seppo January 8, 2014

        I know what you just did wasn’t easy. I know it was very difficult for me to accept the fact that what I knew about alternative medicine and health just wasn’t true. So thank you for sharing.

        On the flip side it was one of the most eye-opening, humbling and empowering experiences I’ve ever had. And I do hope that you reap great rewards for learning critical thinking and skepticism.

        I also don’t think that most alt-med practitioners aren’t deceiving people on purpose. Sure are, but I think most are honestly just trying to help people.

        I do think that homeopathy, and other alt-med modalities, can help some people. But the healing comes from the inside and has really nothing to do with the implausible alternative treatments. For example, there is evidence to show that acupuncture can increase the production of neurotransmitters that dull pain.

        Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience and I hope also others come to see the light :)

        Reply
Limor September 10, 2013

Hi Seppo,
Thanks for an interesting post. It’s true that wandering from one alternative healer to another leaves you quite confused, as is happening in my case…
While trying to find the cause for my acne, I went to an iridologist and was checked by a machine called ‘global diagnostics’ – both raised no food allergies, but did find small intestine issues. Thing is, I don’t have many bowel symptoms. I was told by one of the professionals that I should try a fiberless diet (similar to the FODMAPs thing you explain on Tracy’s blog). Now, I have been trying a low-fiber, low-gluten diet for about three weeks and I do see an improvement in my acne, but I’m not sure where to turn about finding the root cause, and/or if the diet I’m currently going through is the right one…

My main question to you is: Do you think I should get some medical tests for intestinal problems? How do I know if the low-fiber is good for me? I was considering going low-gluten only for 3 months, seeing if that goes well, and then going low-FODMAPs (so I can isolate the cause), also because it’s extremely challenging to eat no fiber OR gluten for 3 months.

Reply
    Seppo September 10, 2013

    Sorry to say but you wasted your money with the iridologist. Iridology is just about the rankest quackery there is. It has just about zero scientific plausibility and has failed every well-controlled test. I can bet that if you get checked by some other iridologist you would get different results. So I wouldn’t put any faith into the ‘diagnosis’.

    That said, bowel issues can be a factor in skin problems. I can’t say for sure, but I think in some cases they can be asymptomatic. And even if they do cause symptoms, in many cases those symptoms are mild and easily ignored as normal rumblings of the tummy. In Clear for Life I showed some ways to identify gut problems. You can do these at home, but they are by no means 100% reliable.

    Much better would be to get diagnosed by a qualified doctor or GI specialist. They can run tests for malabsorption problems (like FODMAP or fructose), low stomach acid and bacterial imbalances.

    I’m not sure low-fiber diet is a good idea. Fiber is generally good for gut bacteria, and I think cutting out all fiber is throwing out baby with the bath water. It’s unlikely that all fibers are bad for your gut, most likely it’s just some compounds found in plants. What you need to do is to try and figure out what, if any, foods trigger gut problems for you and then do your best to avoid those. Getting diagnosed by a doctor is the best way to do this, but just monitoring your gut symptoms and bowel movements can also do a lot.

    Reply
      Limor September 23, 2013

      OK, makes sense, although the iridology thing is truly a bummer.

      I definitely think I’ll get a few tests done with a doctor. Any idea if these would have to be invasive test or would there be simpler methods of testing (a little nervous about the invasive ones)? Regarding fibers, would you, however, suggest moving to insoluble fibers for a few months like you wrote in another article? Or only after confirming an issue really exists?

      Thanks!

      Reply
        Seppo September 25, 2013

        As far as I know most gut tests are noninvasive, except for colonoscopy, but I don’t think that’s required. Malabsorption issues are usually diagnosed with breath tests and stool tests can give an idea of the bacterial makeup in the gut.

        I would recommend keeping a gut function and food journal and using those to pinpoint possible trigger foods. I wouldn’t go on very restrictive diets without a good reason to do so.

        Reply
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