I took another quick dip in the pile of burning stupid that is Sandra (Hermann) Courtney’s “Farting for Homeopathy” blog (see @BrownBagPantry for the deranged source). I found some questions that homeoquackery shills are supposed to ask skeptics.
It would be rude not to answer them.
1. Mainstream medicine has cured countless diseases and syndromes. There are daily publications noting that there has been a disease or syndrome CURE. True or false?
The short answer: Medicine provably cures and prevents many diseases, saving millions of lives annually. It also reduces morbidity and mortality where a cure is not yet available.
Why they ask this: Homeopaths love to claim that medicine does not cure disease, it merely suppresses symptoms. This is a core dogma of homeopathy and has been for well over a century. It was false then, it is still false now.
The long answer: Diseases caused by bacteria are cured by new antibacterial agents, but the biggest success of medicine is in preventing disease (through immunisation especially), preserving life when disease does strike, and managing diseases that cannot yet be cured.
One day there will be a cure for type I diabetes, almost certainly delivered via gene medicine. Until then we have insulin, which allows diabetics to live a near-normal life. Which do you think they prefer, insulin or certain death?
Turning the question round: why is there not one single authenticated example where homeopathy has been objectively proven to cure anybody, of anything, ever?
Not one. In history. Ever.
So the relevance of a question about medicine curing new diseases daily, is unclear. Medicine provably has cured diseases, and prevented diseases, the “daily publications” comment is an obvious strawman.
2. Big Pharma’s drugs are safe, therefore warnings of serious adverse reactions or death do not need to appear on their labels. True or false?
The short answer: Drugs must demonstrate safety and efficacy in order to be sold. Anything that has an effect, has a potential side-effect. Ethics demands that side-effects are documented.
Why they ask this: Homeopaths love to talk about the lack of scary side-effects with homeopathic remedies. This is a classic red herring since homeopathic remedies generally have no effects, side or otherwise.
The long answer: Medicine, unlike SCAM, is honest about the product. Pharmaceuticals are safe, they are required to demonstrate this before they can be marketed, they are also effective. Anything that has a potential effect has a potential side-effect. In medicine, as in everything else, it’s all about the balance of risk v. benefit.
Importantly, medicine is committed to the ethical doctrine of informed consent. That means you get to hear about all the potential side effects reported by anybody at any time during the testing and post-marketing surveillance of the drug – even if, in many cases, there is no reason to think they are actually caused by the drug itself.
There are caveats about manipulation of the science (hence All Trials) but medical science strives to be honest. And quacks and charlatans exploit that and contrast it with their own dishonest narrative which substitutes “natural and popular” for safe and effective, as if they are equivalent.
You have a bacterial infection, say for example bronchitis. It may kill you. There is an effective antibiotic, but the side effects include damaging your gut microbiome resulting in diarrhoea. Death or the shits, which is worse?
The question is designed to allow a homeopathy shill to lead with lack of side effects, their favourite fallacious distraction, but that is irrelevant because the “side” in side effects is redundant when discussing homeopathy. Homeopathic remedies generally have no effects.
And when it comes to the ethical question, homeopathy relies for its “effect” on actively disinformed choice. It only works when you lie to the patient.
Turning the question round: why should homeopathic nostrums – and SCAM generally – be exempt from the requirement to demonstrate safety and efficacy?
When a product can be sold only because it is generally recognised to be inert, which is the case for homeopathy, it is blatantly dishonest to discuss the side-effects of products that have objectively provable effects.
3. Doctors do not push drugs or get perks for prescribing certain high cost drugs. True or false?
The short answer: Generally true.
Why they ask this: SCAM shills are unable to comprehend that anybody involved in science or medicine could have any motive other than greed. They are also unaware of the towering irony the question embodies.
The long answer: True in most jurisdictions and for most drugs, with caveats here and there. Unlike naturopaths, homeopaths and other sociopaths, doctors typically do not sell treatments from their office.
The business model of the typical SCAM practitioner – where they diagnose an illness (real or fake), propose a remedy, and then sell you the remedy there and then – is generally considered completely unethical in medicine.
In fact most skeptics will tell you that anyone who presents themselves as a medical professional, and who sells the products they prescribe from their front office, is almost certainly a charlatan.
Turning the question round: The question implies acceptance of the premise that selling a product you prescribed yourself, is unethical. Do you accept, as medicine does, that this is unethical?
4. There are no adverse permanent side effects from any synthetically manufactured drugs. True or false?
The short answer: See answer 2. Everything that has an effect, has a potential adverse effect – anyone who tells you otherwise is a charlatan.
Why they ask this: It’s a minor variant on question 2 and based on the same fallacy.
The long answer: See question 2 above.
The term “synthetically manufactured” is of course an invocation of the fallacious appeal to nature. There is basically no such thing as a “naturally manufactured” product.
Turning the question round: If any provable long-term adverse effect from treatment A rather than treatment B, inherently invalidates treatment A, then doesn’t the case of Penelope Dingle invalidate homeopathy?
5. Chemotherapeutic drugs are themselves carcinogenic. True or false?
The short answer: It depends on the drug.
Why they ask this: If there’s one thing homeoquacks and other woo-believers really despise it is chemotherapy for cancer. Never mind that the cure rate for childhood Hodgkin lymphoma is in excess of 90% using chemo as the primary therapy. They are chemophobes and they want you to be one too.
The long answer: Chemotherapy is a generic term referring to any therapy using a chemical agent. Since everything in the world is made of chemicals, it essentially means all therapy with drugs.
But the quacks don’t mean that. What they mean is cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents used in treating cancer. They want you to think of nausea, misery, weight loss, hair loss. They want this because they are chemophobes and they want you to be one too. In fact modern chemotherapy drugs and doses are vastly less unpleasant than they were even a couple of decades ago.
Some cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents are themselves carcinogenic. This is part of the risk-benefit analysis in setting up a treatment plan. The question is, does the treatment reduce the risk of recurrence by more than it increases the risk of another cancer? And the answer is: yes.
Most of the drugs that are carcinogenic increase the long-term risk of leukemia and lymphoma by a small margin. Some increase the risk of bladder cancer (so are given given hydration to flush the bladder and reduce the risk). However, the risk is small and in general the drug is given only in order to reduce a much larger risk of recurrence. Remember: the patient already has cancer. Without treatment they will die.
Turning the question round: Would you prefer to do away with the modern cancer therapies that have more than doubled five-year survival since the 1970s, to the point that now most people diagnosed with cancer are still alive five years later?
6. Mainstream medical practitioners and drug companies spend large sums of money in an effort to protect themselves from law suits. True or false?
The short answer: Virtually all companies and professionals carry insurance, and that includes the medical profession and drug companies. This is usually mandated by law.
Why they ask this: As part of their narrative of “gentle cure” they want you to focus on medicine’s potential for harm and not the benefit. Never mind that medical science has doubled human lifespans. Never mind that many of the lawsuits are vexatious. Just focus on the fact that doctors get sued.
The long answer: Medical insurance covers a lot of eventualities. The worst is malpractice, of course, but that is reducing and a lot of money goes on compensation for unavoidable complications. I am sure the homeoquacks would be even more incensed if people were not compensated when something goes wrong despite the best efforts of skilled people.
The worst effect of compensation culture on medicine is actually the precise opposite of what the quacks imply. The practice of [W:defensive medicine] results in more tests and more conservative treatment
Incidentally, if you want to avoid adverse effects, steer clear of chiropractors. They will fight tooth and nail to deny liability for well-documented adverse events. They are in denial about the mere existence of chiropractic-induced stroke.
I suppose this plays to a specific bit of hubris that is endemic in homeopathy, especially. There is no reliably documented instance of homeopathy rejecting, as a body of practice, any product or practice. Any differences (e.g. classical v. combination) are dealt with through schism or mental compartmentalisation. Homeopathy does not even have an objective way of settling disputes, it literally has no way of rejecting a practice. I cannot find a single example of a remedy that has been removed after having once been added to the homeopathic pharmacopoeia.
Homeopathy apparently considers itself infallible. And that is a hallmark of a religious cult, not a body of scientific knowledge.
Turning the question round: Do you think homeopathy is infallible? Would you use a practitioner who has no liability insurance?
7. The number of successful lawsuits against mainstream doctors and pharmaceutical companies resulting in millions of dollars in payments for permanent damage far outweighs any similar law suits against homeopathic pharmacies and/or homeopaths. True or false?
The short answer: Nobody knows, as there is no systematic recording of homeopaths’ errors.
Why they ask this: Homeopaths know that people are very emotionally vested in alternative treatments. It is rare for someone to turn on their alternative practitioner even when they have been scammed: it is the Emperor’s New Clothes all over. Oh, and that word mainstream? It’s not a pejorative.
The long answer: The question is worthless without the context of benefit – and problems with medicine validate hoemopathy in precisely the same way that plane crashes validate magic carpets.
Nobody knows how many treatment incidents with homeopaths cause harm through misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis or treatment. Nobody knows the comparative risk, because compensation claims vary widely by specialty and there are very few homeopathic neurosurgeons.
There is no comparison between homeopaths and doctors, because doctors are diagnosing and treating sick people, while homeopaths are only playing at it. A more valid comparison would be homeopaths versus mainstream confectioners.
Turning the question round: The risk/benefit ratio is the only meaningful measure. Homeopathy has zero proven benefit, and provable disbenefits including misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis or delayed treatment, must be divided by zero. The cost per unit benefit in homeopathy is some unknown figure divided by zero, making?…
8. The British Royal Family is stupid since they believe in and have promoted homeopathy. True or false?
The short answer: You might very well think that but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Why they ask this: It’s a perfectly standard example of the fallacious appeal to celebrity endorsement, itself a blend of the argument from authority and the argument from popularity.
The long answer: The Royal Family have been indoctrinated from birth to believe a number of things. A congenital right to rule, God as taught by the Anglican Church, and homeopathy. None of these are objectively provable. They don’t care because for the most part they recognise that they are philosophical beliefs not objective fact.
The principal exception to this is Prince Charles. Who is, if not an idiot, then certainly a meddling eccentric.
Turning the question round: Professor Lord Winston says homeopathy is insane. Professor Dame Sally Davies calls it rubbish. Professor Sir John Beddington says it’s mad. These people are eminent scientists and manifestly not stupid, so homeopathy is rubbish. True or very true?