Thursday, November 22, 2007

Homeopathy, Scientific Trials, and the Placebo Effect

Article on homeopathy includes discussions of: how scientific trials should and should not be conducted, the mystery of the placebo effect, and the good side of homeopathy (along with, of course, the bad.)

Despite what the author says, he looks all of 33, not 12. He is very cute and more importantly, a very clear writer willing to give the other side its due. Here is his blog, which I will be reading.

1 comment:

Cindi said...

I went back and read Jeanette Winterson's article, which this article is a response to. Mostly because I like her as a (fiction) writer and speaker, and was suprised that she wrote anything on the topic of medicine. Not suprisingly, it was a layperson's view.
This doctor says that he didn't say what she said he said. As I understand it, she said that he said that homeopathy has no more to offer than the placebo effect.
As I undertsand it, he is saying that homeopathy offers: (1) a glorified placebo effect, and (2) a lack of the side effects that might happen if one sought traditional (Western, scientific) treatment for the sort of thing that traditional medicine doesn't really have a cure for.
But... if I read his article and buy his point of view, the placebo effect won't work for me, since I won't believe the hokmeopathic remedy will be any more effective than a sugar pill. And if I just stay home, I also won't incur any negative side effects. So... wouldn't I be better off not going to a homeopathic practitioner?
And isn't that pretty much what she said he said?
He also critiques her use of the word "nano"; he says she uses it "senselessly". Well, she doesn't use it correctly, but I can follow her usage. I think she starts w/ the metaphorical meaning, and then moves to the literal meaning, probably w/o realizing that she is conflating them. I doubt she is trying to be deceptive.
Homeopathy is the use of miniscule amounts of drugs that would normally induce the unwanted symptoms in a healthy person. Sort of like the "hair of the dog" technique for curing a hangover. However, since no atoms are split, these are not really "nano" amounts, nor is the behavior of nanoparticles relevant.
Which brings me to another point. Homeopathy is, by definition, the technique described above. Winterson also associates it with holistic medicine -- medical approaches that assess the whole person: body, mind, spirit, lifestyle, etc. in the context of all systems working together as a whole. To the degree that some homepaths are wholistic medical practitioners, it seems to me that they can function as valuable critics of the Western medical system, but this is not a subject this doctor takes up.
Also, I'm a little disturbed by his tendency to lump all homeopaths together. Winterson makes it explicit that there are many who would never recommend that an AIDS patient turn down traditional treatment.
I suspect there are a great number of quacks in the homeopathic field (because it is unregulated and because of human nature), but it may not be 100%. My feeling is that the great majority of the people in the traditional medical field are also quacks, greedmongers, egotists, or drug-company puppets.
No matter who is prescribing it, I don't want the drug of the week.