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.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Starve a cold

Today from the Unintentionally Hilarious Department, we have a paper that made its way into PubMed that has the title, "Pharmacoeconomic Comparison Between Homeopathic and Antibiotic Treatment Strategies in Recurrent Acute Rhinopharyngitis in Children."

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Here's a quick summary of the objectives and results, as quoted from the abstract:
Objectives: A pharmacoeconomic study to compare, in terms of: medical effectiveness, quality of life and costs two treatment strategies ('homeopathic strategy' vs 'antibiotic strategy') used in routine medical practice by allopathic and homeopathic GPs in the treatment of recurrent acute rhinopharyngitis in 18-month to 4-year-old children. 
Results: The 'homeopathic strategy' yielded significantly better results than the 'antibiotic strategy' in terms of medical effectiveness (number of episodes of rhinopharyngitis: 2.71 vs 3.97, P<0.001; number of complications: 1.25 vs 1.95, P<0.001), and quality of life (global score: 21.38 vs 30.43, P<0.001), with lower direct medical costs covered by Social Security (88 Euros vs 99 Euros, P<0.05) and significantly less sick-leave (9.5% of parents vs 31.6% of parents, P<0.001)... Homeopathy may be a cost-effective alternative to antibiotics in the treatment of recurrent infantile rhinopharyngitis.
What makes this hilarious is that the authors of the article, Melanie Trichard, Gilles Chaufferin, and Nicolas Nicoloyannis, are apparently unaware that because acute rhinopharyngitis (better known to most of us as a "cold") is viral in origin, antibiotics are entirely useless for fighting it, and no competent doctor would prescribe them in this situation for a child or for anyone else.  So saying that homeopathic "remedies" are as good for fighting colds as antibiotics is akin to the following claims:
  • crystals are as effective as aromatherapy for setting broken bones
  • blood-letting has the same success rate as seeing a witch doctor for curing brain cancer
  • Tarot cards have the same likelihood of telling you your future as palm-reading
  • peanut butter is as effective as chocolate pudding as a window-cleaner
The maddening thing is that you can still find homeopathic "remedies" (i.e., pills or liquids with no active ingredients) being sold for lots of money on pharmacy shelves, despite study after study showing that they are worthless.  The most recent study, just last year, generated the following conclusion:
The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment. 
Although some studies did report that homeopathy was effective, the quality of those studies was assessed as being small and/or of poor quality. These studies had either too few participants, poor design, poor conduct and or [sic] reporting to allow reliable conclusions to be drawn on the effectiveness of homeopathy. 
According to CEO Professor Warwick Anderson, “All medical treatments and interventions should be underpinned by reliable evidence. NHMRC’s review shows that there is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy works better than a placebo.”
Dr. Steven Novella, a vocal and articulate supporter of science-based medicine, put it more clearly:
[The] pattern is now clear – gold standard clinical evidence shows that homeopathy does not work. Homeopaths do not respond by either producing high quality evidence of efficacy or by changing their views to account for the evidence.  Rather, they whine about the game being rigged against them and try to change the rules of evidence, so that weak studies that are almost guaranteed to be false positive are used, or studies that are not even designed to test efficacy...
For some reason we cannot summon the political will to do what reason demands (and what multiple systematic reviews by government bodies have recommended) and finally expel homeopathy from modern health care. 
Still there are researchers, either because they are true believers or just naive, calling for yet more research into homeopathy, such as the proposed Toronto study of homeopathy for ADHD.  The demand for more research will never end.  The public, however, should no longer support this profound waste of resources.
What is amazing is that the homeopaths themselves won't admit that the game is up.  How many failed studies do they need?  I realize that this would mean they were out of a job, but for cryin' in the sink, at what point do you say, "Okay, I guess I was wrong?"

I guess the answer to the last question is, "Never."  "Death before admitting we're ripping people off by selling them useless remedies," that's the motto of the homeopaths.  Anyhow, I'm done here.  I've got to go clean my windows.  The last time didn't work out so well.

1 comment:

  1. It's the same modus operandi that climate denying energy industries, their lobbyists, and associated shill politicians employ:

    You might be right, but I won't admit it, because in the meantime I'm enjoying a comfortable, wealthy life... Just let me enjoy MY life to completion and the next generation can have the less enjoyable task of solving these problems instead of leeching off of them. All life is fleeting, so I don't care whether the climate is habitable after I'm dead.

    The more people there are on the planet, the less any of us perceive the need to care for one-another, preserve one-another's environment, etc. I anticipate narcissism (aka passing-the-buck) to get increasingly worse, proportional to population increase.

    A shoe company CEO can sleep comfortably at night, despite his product being made in a sweatshop, because "There are a whopping 7 billion people on the planet, so who gives a crap about a few hundred underpaid employees?"


    "Who gives a crap if I just sold a $40 vial of tap water with inactive ingredients, to a stranger? Life is fleeting... and I need the cash. Let the next generation agree that this is hogwash."