Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Homeopathy for gunshot wounds

I was just thinking about a study I read about years ago, done by Charles Lord, Lee Ross, and Mark Lepper back in 1979.  Called "Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence," this study came to the following rather sobering conclusion:
People who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner.  They are apt to accept "confirming" evidence at face value while subjecting "disconfirming" evidence to critical evaluation, and, as a result, draw undue support for their initial positions from mixed or random empirical findings.  Thus, the result of exposing contending factions in a social dispute to an identical body of relevant empirical evidence may be not a narrowing of disagreement but rather an increase in polarization.  To test these assumptions, 48 undergraduates supporting and opposing capital punishment were exposed to 2 purported studies, one seemingly confirming and one seemingly disconfirming their existing beliefs about the deterrent efficacy of the death penalty.  As predicted, both proponents and opponents of capital punishment rated those results and procedures that confirmed their own beliefs to be the more convincing and probative ones, and they reported corresponding shifts in their beliefs as the various results and procedures were presented.  The net effect of such evaluations and opinion shifts was the postulated increase in attitude polarization.
Argument, then, doesn't change people's minds; it makes believers believe more strongly.

This is why, I think, the homeopaths have been doubling down on their rhetoric as of late.  The critics of homeopathy have been outspoken -- from James Randi's fiery takedown of homeopaths to "What's the Harm?", a running list of people who are documented to have been harmed or killed by taking homeopathic "remedies" rather than seeking conventional medical care.

All of this has, I think, contributed to a "siege mentality" amongst the practitioners of homeopathy, leading them to espouse ever more extreme views -- a result that Lord, Ross, and Lepper would not be surprised by, I think.  Take, as an example, this webpage, the work of John Benneth, a strident homeopath who claims therein that homeopathy doesn't just work for your standard-issue colds, flu, headache, and heartburn, it works for... damn near anything.

Think I'm kidding?  Here are a few of the things that Benneth wants to "treat" with homeopathy.

Child abuse:
30,000 or more children were left permanently physically disabled from abuse and neglect. Child abuse in the United States afflicts more children each year than leukemia, automobile accidents, and infectious diseases combined. With growing unemployment, incidents of abuse by jobless parents increased dramatically. Homeopathy could have helped with individualized constitutional treatments and a remedy such as Magnesium muriaticum.
Gunshot wounds:
In one year 85,000 Americans were wounded by firearms, of which 38,000 die, 2,600 children. Homeopathy could have helped with ledum pelustre , aconitum napellum, arnica Montana and individualized constitutional treatments.
In one year, 160,000 Americans died from diabetes. Homeopathy could have helped with remedies such as Apoc. Carc. Kali-n. Squil. and Uran-n.
1,000,000 Americans were estimated to have AIDS as of 1996; over 250,000 died of it. Homeopathy could have helped with a remedy such as Carcinosin.
Mental illness and mental retardation:
In one year 255,000 Americans mentally ill or retarded Americans, released in recent years were in flophouses or wandering U.S. streets. Homeopathy could’ve helped with remedies such as Arg-n. Arn. Bor. Calc. Carb-v. Form. GRAPH. Hep. Hyos. Kali-c. Nat-m. Nit-ac. Nux-v. Petr. Ph-ac. PHOS. Plb. Psor. Puls. Ran-b. Rhus-t. Sep. Sil. Sulph. Tab. and Tarax.
The trauma of rape:
700,000 American women were raped, one every 45 seconds. Homeopathy could have helped with remedies such as Staphysagria, AIDS Cench. Kreos. LSD. Petr. Posit. Sep.
Elder abuse:
1,800,000 elderly Americans who live with their families were subjected to serious abuse such as forced confinement, underfeeding, and beatings. The mistreatment of elderly people by their children and other close relatives grew dramatically as economic conditions worsened. Homeopathy could’ve helped the victims in their recovery and the victimizers with their anger with remedies such as Nux-v, Cere-s. LSD. Posit. Salx-f. Staph.
Drug addiction:
In one year six and a half million (6,500,000) used heroin, crack, speed, PCP, cocaine or some other hard drug on a regular basis. Homeopathy could have helped with remedies such as Agar. Ant-c. Bry. Chin. COLOC. Hydr. Lach. NUX-V. Op. Ruta and Sulph, indicated in drug poisoning.
And finally, amazingly, child abduction:
150,000 American children are reported missing every year. 50,000 of these simply vanish. Their ages range from one year to mid-teens. According to the New York Times, “Some of these are dead, perhaps half of the John and Jane Does annually buried in this country are unidentified kids.” Homeopathy could have helped with individualized treatments. Homeopathy could have helped with remedies like Absin. Cimic. OP. Phos. Plb. Rhus-t. Staph. Stram., Falco-p, and Magnesium muriaticum .

Mad yet?  I hope so.  Benneth and his fellow purveyors of sugar pills have, as the opposition grows louder, grown louder themselves, making ever wilder claims about what their magic remedies can do for you.  And if you think that Benneth himself is just a lone voice, read the comments section on his webpage -- you'll find that the vast majority of them agree with him.  (I realize, of course, that this is a skewed sample -- the comments on the page represent those who (1) found Benneth's site, (2) read it all the way through, (3) felt motivated enough to write a response, and (4) Benneth himself didn't delete.  But still.)  Here's an example:
At the foundation of John’s extremely informative post, with statistics that should humble our allopathic arrogance, is that humans in an imbalanced condition are sick, damaged, damaging and in pain.

The arguments presented here , critical of JB’s information, deny, overlook or dismiss the philosophical proposal that healthy people do not become criminals and that healthy, victimized people can heal from their traumas. Socially, economically, emotionally, politically, physically and psychically, – health is a fundamental condition. Without it every outcome is a compensation and a handicap. Every solution We have lowered our expectations for health. Shame on us for acquiescing to the precepts of a patriarchal system that wants to keep us sick, sad and hopeless.
Right.  Because all of the "allopathic" (i.e. effective) doctors I know have, as their main career goal, keeping their patients "sick, sad, and hopeless."

I can only draw one positive message from all of this, and it comes from looking at the converse of Lord, Ross, and Lepper's main thesis; that the wild and desperate claims of the homeopaths are an indication that their anti-science, zero-evidence views are on the way out.  But "on the way out" and "gone" are two different things, and I can't help but wonder how many more lives will be lost before homeopathy joins the "four humors" model of human health in the dustbin of history.

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