Thursday, July 15, 2010

Homöopathie & Wissenschaft

This is just paraphernalia, but it's fun to think about. Unfortunately only in German: in the spiegel-online interview, a scientist argues that 'Homeopathy is a dogma' in contrast to science (orthodox medicine). The political background is  the proposition to ban homeopathy from health care services. In the interview, the scientist argues that there is no scientific evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy according to standardized tests. His main argument is that homeopathy is not 'scientific'- 'nicht wissenschaftlich'.

It reminds me of the Lysenko discussion Hans had brought up. But what is here flawed science? Homeopathy? Or the official standpoint that something has no effect as long as it does not fit the criteria of standardized tests? And who is the bad guy - politics that want to cut health care budget? Alternative medicine that fools people? Orthodox medicine that is fueled by the interests of pharma industry? In any case, all the elements of our climate discussions are here in this interview, from political influence to belief systems to conspiracy theories. Enjoy.


ghost said...

I cannot believe in Homeopathy. However, many of my friends use homeopathic methods and medicine. They live very well with it, but of course, they use "normal medicine" as well. They are no fools.

I pretty much think that is a healthy approach. Often you do not really need pills and tablets. Thus, Homeopathy could help in this case like it did 200 years ago when it saved you from venesection. Furthermore, Homeopathy can be something like psychotherapy as many non-dogmatic Homeopaths said many years ago.

Interesting silly season topic. ;)

BTW: the health care insurance cannot be saved by forbidding Homeopathy funding. 25 Million Euro on Homeopathy vs 28 Billion Euro overall costs. Interesting, isn't it? With cheaper "normal" medicine you could save much, much more money. So, why do some politicians bring Homeopathy into discussion?

PS: to be a Zwiebelist: Nazi liked Homeopathy, too. Hihi. Sorry, just kiddin' ;).

ghost said...

one remark: Eduardo, you could be really right, they are many points from the climate discussion in the interview. However, who is the orthodox side, who have the dogmas, whose opinions are influenced by big money?

It is not clear. "Skeptics" always say, "AGW"ists are like Homeopathy believers, without science, just believe in the church of Al Gore, the IPCC report is the bible...

however, the scientific mainstream supports radiation equations, lapse rates, etc. The greenhouse effect is quite clear, the increase of CO2 and temperature is mostly clear, etc. etc. Thus, the orthodox science is more or less AGW in all of its facets.

"Skeptics" believe in "blog science", simple correlations between sun radiation and temperature, believing anybody who has a title (or not) and says: climate science is fraud. Therefore, they have an alternative understanding to be nice.

But, who is dogmatic in this discussion? The people who say: we know a lot but not everything. Still, we can make some actions and should do? Or the people: it is all fraud? Okay, there are more moderate "skeptics", but there are really few of them.

Furthermore, nowadays, I believe that big money does not care about the discussion so much. Most of them can do business in any case.

If I read my text, I think, I am not so nice to "skeptics". I hope it was not too biased.

Werner Krauss said...

great job, ghost! It's more or less the stream of associations that crossed my mind when reading the article. But don't mistake me for Eduardo - even though I am sure that he only treats his body homeopathically.
Once somebody equated here on this blog people who deny climate change with those who believe that homeopathy works. I guess it was good ol' Georg Hoffmann, but I am not sure. If so, let us know, Georg!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Werner, I thought Ernst did a bad job discrediting homeopathy (I read it in a Google translation). The take home point for me was that CAGW, like homeopathy, has not advanced. No one disputes the CO2 doubling effect (in a test-tube), no one argues against the risen temperature of the globe (a silly metric). Placebo/Nocebo effects in medicine are not(and IMO will never be) understood. Only experiments can shed some light in the darkness.

Anonymous said...

This is a very difficult question and there is no simple answer.
Ernst is correct but misleading when he says homeopathy is no better than a placebo.
The fact is that placebos can work, especially if people believe in them, for some problems that are more psychological than physical (stress, anxiety...)
So in that sense it would be wrong to ban them.
But on the other hand some people are maybe taking homeopathy for cancer for example, where it will do no good, and declining conventional techniques that would help, which is an argument in favour of banning them.

I don't see any analogy with climate science.


Werner Krauss said...

Is homeopathy to (orthodox) medicine as is skepticism to climate science (overwhelmingly pro global warming)?

In the interview, the physician uses specific strategies to discredit homeopathy. I see certain similarities in the climate discussion such as: homeopathy / skeptics are unscientific; both are believers not scientists; extreme (freak) examples are taken to represent all of homeopathy/skepticism; and, as a subtext, the only one who deserves to wear the white coat is the physicist (this is, of course, my interpretation of the interview).

The interesting problem is that whatever does not fit into the framework of orthodox medicine is excluded from discussion.
The question here is not whether homeopathy or medicine are better; the question is their incomparability in the realm of a certain methodology.

This would be a funny survey: who tends more to homeopathy (or medicine) - climate scientists (pro AGW), climate scientists (skeptic), lay warmistas, lay skeptics?

Anonymous said...

Well, if there is an analogy, it is this:

Homeopathy is to orthodox medicine as climate science is to orthodox science :)


Zajko said...

I read a letter to the editor recently arguing for the efficacy of homeopathy (couldn't find it - but this will do as an example:
What struck me is that homeopathy advocates argue their legitimacy along the same scientific-medical model as orthodox pharmacology. Homeopaths will cite competing control trials of efficacy and blame ones who do not support their practice (as in The Lancet) of bias. It seems that the orthodox standards of evidence are the ones referred to in these attempts at persuasion from outside the borders of the orthodox mainstream (I do not see such letters to the editor arguing for the spiritual superiority of homeopathy). Several alternative medical practices have attempted to take this conventional route, but chiropractics is the only one that seems to have actually been (somewhat) accepted.
One main difference between homeopathy and climate skepticism I see is that while both are delegitimized by their opponents as unscientific belief, homeopaths do not throw such criticisms back at their opponents. They have a clear model (modality) of practice that seeks legitimacy in reference to an existing framework.
Climate skeptics do not share the sort of ontology that homeopaths do - their claims tend to be counter-claims against mainstream climate science and advocates of global warming, who they rhetorically delegitimize (as political, unscientific, corrupt) using many of the same rhetorical techniques through which they are targeted (as deniers, pseudo-scientists, shills for industry). Homeopathy supporters seem to be much more defensive.

Anonymous said...

Homeopaths have something to defend, deniers don't. But come on, the stronger the solution the higher the potency? That is a strong claim which needs strong evidence.
Last week my wife went to a party and encountered 2 9/11ers. How did you change the subject I asked. I started on global warming she said. And.... I asked. Well, she said with a smile, they thought AGW was a government conspiracy but basically they agreed with your views.
Vegetarians?, well that's a safe bet, mostly pro AGW.
Nationalist Right wingers?, sure, anti AGW.
Homeopathy believers?, hard one. I think they are Malthusians at heart, doom and gloom, my bet is they are pro AGW.

Werner Krauss said...

Thanks for those thoughtful contributions, each one of them opening up another line of thought. For sure, this is a strange comparison, but at least both have something in common: orthodox medicine and climate science both have their bad siblings. On the one hand, they try to get rid of them; on the other one, they need them for self-identification and self-empowerment.
The unequal comparison between medicine and climate science shows how restricted the respective discourses are. Inclusion and exclusion follow rules inside the field, but across the fields they become porous. And the scene gets populated - where do these 9/11ers, the right wingers and the vegetarians come from? Are they allowed to have an opinion? And why is it possible that the rules of exclusion become unpredictable as soon as an expert changes the field?

Doc Ernst in the spiegel interview has a double task: he defends science against homeopathy, and he defends his own position as the sole expert with the right to exclude. He points at the different effects of homeopathy and medicine, and at the same time he points at Science (capital S!) and his white coat (expert!).
This is even more interesting when considering ghost's remark:
'the health care insurance cannot be saved by forbidding Homeopathy funding. 25 Million Euro on Homeopathy vs 28 Billion Euro overall costs. Interesting, isn't it?'

Indeed, this is interesting. Is the analogy too far fetched that a good deal of the climate discussion is about cultural values, status, habitus, hierarchies,etc - that is, about inclusion and exclusion, about the right to speak etc.? And that global warming is not the problem to solve, but the means to achieve or maintain a social status (expert-habitus)?

I like anonymous2's analogy:
'Homeopathy is to orthodox medicine as climate science is to orthodox science'. There are so many possibilities. And what about a homeopathic approach to global warming?

Hans von Storch said...

Ture, Werner, without Climate Change I would not be an expert, eeh, Expert. -- This "making of experts" is certainly a problem, when the problem turns out to less interesting or differently interesting.

Werner Krauss said...

or when the E in expert slowly melts while he dreams of a cold beer at the sunny beach of the Baltic sea...

Anonymous said...

My friends call me a scatter brained simpleton, but all I am saying is that if you give me a political/religious group I can 'predict' where they stand on CAGW.
Anyway Werner, it seems your idea is catching on...
Stephen Schneider:
It is completely inappropriate, if there’s an announcement of the new cancer drug for pediatric leukemia [with] a panel of three doctors from various hospitals, to then give equal time to the president of the herbalist society, who says that modern medicine is a crock. They wouldn’t even put that person on the air, so why put on petroleum geologists—who know as much about climate as we climatologists know about drilling for oil—because they’ve studied one climate change a hundred million years ago?
Steve McIntyre:
One of the issues in the debate with the Team is whether Mann-Jones reconstructions rise above phrenology i.e. IPCC has in effect allowed herbalists to have a chapter in IPCC and that’s what’s being criticized.

Zajko said...

Seems that public expertise is more fluid than it used to be. This irks those who wish credentials and peer-review could automatically confer expertise and exclude troublesome outsiders, but the public doesn't seem to care so much.
This is pretty obvious in the climate debate, but I see it in medicine too. It used to be that the doctor's word was it, but increasingly their "clients" may know more about their condition through google, shop for opinions, and go to a naturopath or homeopath (alternative treatments have really been exploding the last 20 years, in part due to disillusionment and skepticism of the mainstream).
I think there is some overlap here. A degree and an academic position/history is still very useful if you'd like to be an expert, but it isn't necessary.