Posted by: ibbica | 02/03/2012

Things I find idiotic: Homeopathy

Claim: there is absolutely no evidence that any ingredient in a homeopathic “remedy” in homeopathic proportions (read: none of the ingredient is actually present) has any beneficial effect.

Caveat: the placebo effect is a well-researched phenomenon. If a treatment is not more effective than an appropriate placebo treatment, that treatment in itself is not beneficial. If you don’t care about the placebo effect, then by all means go ahead and toss your money to the “homeopathy” practitioners who are selling you shaken water. Hey, they gotta put food on their table somehow, right?

Challenge 1: Find a published study on the effects of acetylsalicylic acid (that’s ASA, the medication in Aspirin) on acute pain. Read it with a critical eye. Do you find the author’s interpretation of the results convincing? Re-read the paper, mentally replacing the ingestion of acetylsalicylic acid with, say, “repeatedly pounding your head with a hammer”. If such a paper existed, would it convince you to repeatedly pound your head with a hammer to treat pain? Explain why, or why not.

Challenge 2: Find a published study on the effects of a homeopathic “treatment” for your favourite ailment. Read with a critical eye. Do you find the interpretation of the results convincing? Re-read the paper, mentally replacing the ingestion of sugar water the homeopathic concoction with, say, “repeatedly pounding your head with a hammer”. If such a paper existed, would it convince you to repeatedly pound your head with a hammer as a treatment for your chosen ailment? Explain why, or why not.

Challenge 3: Identify any differences in methodology, presentation, or interpretation of the results that might explain any difference in your reaction to Challenges 1 and 2.

Challenge 4: After completing Challenges 1 through 3, find a study (or conduct your own, it’s not actually difficult or expensive or anything!), with an appropriate control group, demonstrating that a homeopathic treatment of your choice has any measurable effect on any ailment of your choice. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You can even ask your friends to help with the experimental design, if your fourth-grade science is fuzzy and you don’t quite remember how to conduct a controlled experiment.

Things to include in your design before you start collecting your data: sample size you’ll be testing, control treatment you’ll be using, experimental treatment(s) you’ll be using, null hypothesis and alternative hypothesis/es, and associated predictions. Write it all down, seal it all in an envelope and then get to testing!

Final thoughts: While thinking about all the evidence in favour of homeopathy having any beneficial effects, let us not forget the cost of this sugar-water. Or the profits that manufacturers of homeopathic solutions turn. But practitioners of evidence-based medicine are all just in it for the money. Amiright, or amiright?

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