Homeopathic Aids Fantasies [Edited]

January 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm (Dangerously Wrong, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy) (, , )

Homeopath Jeremy Sherr has a blog post up describing a proposed trial of homeopathy in Aids patients in Africa. Ben Goldacre has posted a comment pointing out that the proposal is “a frighteningly poor quality research plan with no adequate control group to compare against.” Later in the comments johnhw notes, in response to Sherr’s point that placebo treatment is considered unethical in AIDS, that “a trial of an implausible remedy that lacks good evidence of any benefit over placebo – and which is being given to patients who are not receiving ARV treatment” may not be considered to be ethical either and makes a suggestion as to how the trial could be better designed. William points out that, as homeopathy is most likely nothing more than placebo, Sherr’s “experiment is just as unethical as treating with known placebos”. In response to these comments, Sherr now has a new post up. Here it is. It is a rant about the “Pharmaceutical Inquisition […] squawking away in a hysterical frenzy”. All that has happened is that bloggers have commented on the shockingly poor design of Jeremy’s proposed trial. I don’t consider the phrase Jeremy has used to be an accurate description of the blog comments he has received and I think that calling the posters the “Pharmaceutical Inquisition” is ridiculous. It implies that they are stooges of Big Pharma and borrows the term Inquisition in order to equate posters on his blog with the Catholic church’s erstwhile torturers. This is a pretty pathetic slur. Instead of making up childish insults for people who disagree with his ideas, wouldn’t it be better to engage in serious discussion? After all, we are talking about Aids – not something trivial.

Why on earth do homeopaths have these childish fantasies about healing Aids with magic water (or magic sugar pills)? I don’t know. Perhaps it is ignorance, perhaps delusion. Ignorance is an important factor in health and medicine. In the 1980s, there was a government campaign with leaflets headed “Aids: don’t die of ignorance” [You can see the leaflets here.] and this was something that came to mind when I read this study. There is a table here that shows the state of knowledge of homeopathy practitioners and educators in India. Forty-four percent of practitioners wrongly believed that a vaccine was available for the Aids virus and the same number wrongly believed that a cure for Aids was available. Twenty-four percent thought that you could catch Aids from using the same cutlery as someone with Aids. Fifteen percent did not believe that sharing needles was a risk factor. Twelve percent of practitioners also failed to realise that “having sex with a person who has the aids virus” can lead to transmission of Aids. Fifteen percent of practitioners and educators even thought that you could tell who had Aids just by looking at them.

Further Reading

Jeremy Sherr a Rath in the making. African Aids Adventure. Woo will kill. An older blog post from Gimpy on Sherr wanting to cure Aids and Malaria with homeopathy.

EDIT: Lay Science has also reported on Sherr’s response. As has teh mighty Gimpy.

EDIT2: Clicking on the Jeremy Sherr tag to find other WordPress blogs writing about him led me to this site: homeopathyresource.wordpress.com. They have a post up on Sherr as a teacher. They repeat the slur about critics being Big Pharma shills, refer to Jeremy as “an excellent teacher of homeopathy”, and reveal that Jeremy is not only a Fellow of the Society of Homeopaths, but also a member of the North American Society of Homeopaths. I’ve emailed NASH to find out their views on Sherr’s proposals, but I won’t bother with SoH as their ethics committe is a well-known joke. See Gimpy’s blog for more on the SoH’s code of ethics.

EDIT3: This is now officially a shitstorm. Dr* T has a post looking at the end of Quackademia at Salford and the Sherr controversy in a two-for-one special. JQH, meanwhile, comments on Sherr’s obvious dislike of criticism. Over at Semi-Skimmed, Sherr’s follies are being archived – here.

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12 Comments

  1. jdc325 said,

    I don’t know how other people feel about trialling homeopathy in Aids patients who are not taking ARVs, but apart from anything else I would be loath to participate in any trial organised by, or to take medical advice from, a profession that has such an ignorance of the causes of transmission of HIV/Aids. Let me just remind you:

    Fifteen percent did not believe that sharing needles was a risk factor. Twelve percent of practitioners also failed to realise that “having sex with a person who has the aids virus” can lead to transmission of Aids.

    That’s not just ignorance, it is dangerous ignorance and in my view homeopathy practitioners are wholly unsuitable as providers of medical assistance to those with Aids. To imagine such a person conducting a trial of homeopathy in Aids patients also horrifies me. Particularly when it is as incompetently designed as Sherr’s proposed trial.

  2. Claire said,

    “Fifteen percent did not believe that sharing needles was a risk factor. Twelve percent of practitioners also failed to realise that “having sex with a person who has the aids virus” can lead to transmission of Aids…”

    Nightmare. As if there weren’t enough misconceptions about HIV/AIDS already circulating in African countries. According to this, 75% of people in Africa have never had a hiv/aids test, and infectivity can be hugely reduced (though not eliminated) with ART. If there’s one thing the put-upon Africans don’t need, it’s new versions of magical thinking about disease: testing and ART are crucial, so we in the rich west need to keep the pressure on governments and pharmas.

  3. jdc325 said,

    “If there’s one thing the put-upon Africans don’t need, it’s new versions of magical thinking about disease”
    I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Shelley said,

    Homeopathy works. It works well and much better than conventional medicine. If it didn’t work, it would not last for more than 200 years and have so many followers and supporters around the world. Numbers do not lie (unlike this blog). If homeopathy were such crap, why does this blog and so many other people, from the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies, make such an effort to fight against it? If it didn’t work, people would not turn to it and it would fissile out, like many medical theories have over the years.

  5. stavros said,

    Hello Shelley. Great arguments! Very strong and difficult to counter. Let’s see:

    “Astrology works. It works well and much better than conventional astronomy. If it didn’t work, it would not last for more than 3,000 years and have so many followers and supporters around the world. Numbers do not lie (unlike this blog).”

    Kidding aside, you say: “if homeopathy were such crap, why does this blog and so many other people, from the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies, make such an effort to fight against it?” uhhh, maybe because it is dangerous?!? [As opposed to astrology which is harmless fun :-)]

    I suspect I have just wasted a whole minute since Shelley seems like a hit-and-run homeopath. Shelley, prove me wrong and entertain us a little more!

  6. wilsontown said,

  7. jdc325 said,

    It’s a brilliant drive-by isn’t it? I’m accused of lying – but the accusation is general rather than specific, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to have “lied” about. There is an insinuation that I am working for the medical establishment or a pharmaceutical company (I don’t). Finally, there’s an appeal to popularity (lots of people use it, therefore it works).

    Possibly the best part of it is this: “if homeopathy were such crap why does this blog […] make such an effort to fight against it?” Uh, the reason I argue against homeopathy is because it is such a load of crap and I don’t think people should (a) waste money on it or, more importantly, (b) take it seriously and attempt to use magic water to cure Aids.

  8. apgaylard said,

    “Homeopathy works. It works well and much better than conventional medicine”

    Of course if this were true we wouldn’t have the database of marginal, failed and inconclusive trials of homeopathy so thoughtfully provided by the UK’s homeopathic elite.

    As jdc has said, excellent drive-by; almost Ullmanesque. I wonder if he’s giving lessons?

    Shelly actually provides an eloquent answer to her own question about the risilliance of this risable nonsense: enough people are sufficiently unaware of what constitutes evidence and reason to be taken in. Add in those who don’t take the time (or have the interest) to check it out, are conned by others, or who fall for the Nirvana fallacy and get upset (sometimes understandably) that their GP can’t sort out their ailment and you have a market.

    Include the overall context of lax regulation, Royal endorsement and credulous media it’s telling that homeopathy is a minority pursuit.

  9. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comment apgaylard – I think your homeopathy database is a useful resource and the .png file showing the distribution of evidence makes it quite clear just how poor the evidence for homeopathy is. I like the Nirvana fallacy – I’d not come accross the name before, only seen examples of the fallacy in action.

  10. apgaylard said,

    jdc325: Thanks. I didn’t make it clear, but I was thinking more about the NLH database than my analysis of it. Anyone who looks at the evidence tag would have to be a True Believer to see anything other than that the distribution of evidence fits the profile of a placebo (under the effect of publication bias, poor trial design, small study effects etc.).

    The Nirvana Fallacy is also known as the Perfect solution fallacy. As you say, it’s not uncommon. It’s one of the group of false dilemma type fallacies.

    (insert hate vaccine du jour here) (has risks/doesn’t work perfectly) therefore it is better not vaccinate to use it. {optionally followed by “(insert woo here) can help.}

    Pharmaceuticals (have side effects/don’t work perfectly) therefore they are bad. {optionally followed by “therefore (insert woo here) is better.}

    Doctors kill people so conventional medicine is bad.

    So many woo arguments have this kind of structure.

    On Sherr, an exchange in the current issue of the Homeopathy comic is amusing. Shows the almost cultish nature of the community.

  11. jdc325 said,

    Re the database/blog post: Oops, my bad. That’s what happens when I post comments in a rush. Still, your blog post on the NLH database is a useful resource.

    The “Pharmaceuticals (have side effects/don’t work perfectly) therefore they are bad. {optionally followed by “therefore (insert woo here) is better.}” example of the Nirvana fallacy seems (to me, at least) to be the most common one. And vaccines aren’t perfect therefore we shouldn’t use them probably comes a close second. Although my examples of this fallacy probably all come from alt.med or sceptic websites so that’s not hugely surprising.

  12. Jeremy Sherr does not act alone, but with the support of the homeopathic establishment « gimpy’s blog said,

    […] weekend.  JQH has some nice summaries and analysis in two posts, here and here.  And jdc325 has similar summaries but with an additional interesting link to what some homeopath bloggers think of […]

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