Here’s something you don’t see every day.

November 27th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy, mail | 75 Comments »

Jesus Christ, the Guardian sold the homeopathy pieces on to them…

I’m in the Daily Mail.

www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/health/healthmain.html?in_article_id=496612&in_page_id=1774

Things to notice include:

1. I am in the Daily Mail.

2. I managed to describe the media’s MMR hoax as “the media’s MMR hoax” in the Daily Mail.

3. This is almost as cool as the time I managed to get the phrases “shit head” and “fuck yourself” onto the pages of the print edition of the British Medical Journal.

Beat either of those feats and I will buy you six pints of beer.

Seriously though, they’re clearly a very grown up paper who can entertain a range of views and I look forward to a long and happy future writing the Bad Science column for them instead. The end times are coming. Red Wine causes cancer. No hang on, red wine cures cancer, courgettes cause cancer. Buy fish oils!


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If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

75 Responses



  1. ellazimm said,

    November 27, 2007 at 3:06 am

    Oh no, you’re one of them now!! Run away! Run away!

  2. monstermunch said,

    November 27, 2007 at 3:35 am

    Isn’t combining Ben and the Daily Mail like combining matter and anti-matter? Is the world going to end? :-S

  3. jackpt said,

    November 27, 2007 at 4:12 am

    It’s like wandering into a bar of rival football fans and chanting. Well done.

  4. woodchopper said,

    November 27, 2007 at 4:37 am

    Good work to cut it down so much while still producing a readable article.

    Lets see if we can get some comments past the mods. Just posted my entry.

  5. Rachel said,

    November 27, 2007 at 5:28 am

    Translate for us ignorant Americans, please? I gather the Daily Mail is a little off it’s rocker.

  6. mjs said,

    November 27, 2007 at 5:50 am

    @Rachel,
    did you click the link? you’ll see in 90milliseconds: it’s standard supermarket fare. celebrity gossip, bits such as “Pole Dancing for Breakfast? It’s Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea.”

    @ben,
    congrats, you’re popular!

  7. Norbury said,

    November 27, 2007 at 6:58 am

    Put it this way Rachel, I haven’t read the Daily Mail since reading an article about 15 years ago on how jazz music has caused the decline of western civilisation and the descent into anarchy in which we now find ourselves.

  8. Teek said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:26 am

    1) you’re in the DM – does that make you feel dirty…?

    2) you’re in the DM – will that make any of their readers/journos/editors actually reconsider their woo-ness?

    3) you’re in the DM – what did the Guardian do to persuade Dacre to even consider putting these two articles side-by-side, thereby obliterating the DM’s pro-nonsense stance…?!

    4) you’re in the DM – nuff said, nice one!!

  9. Rachel said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Hee. Gotcha. Thanks.

  10. BobP said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:54 am

    Well, the DM likes a good rant, don’t they. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it?

    Anyway, it gets worse – the byline says “Ben Goldacre is a leading science writer and doctor”.

    OBE definitely in the pipeline, but you’ll have to get yourself a tie.

  11. raygirvan said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Rachel: Translate for us ignorant Americans, please?

    It’s perhaps equivalent to Fox News. It’s aimed at a reactionary middle-class market, and generally aims at stroking the prejudices of that sector. “Gay asylum seekers laughed at dying Diana as house prices plummeted”.

  12. mr e guest said,

    November 27, 2007 at 9:03 am

    “This is almost as cool as the time I managed to get the phrases “shit head” and “fuck yourself” onto the pages of the print edition of the British Medical Journal.”

    It wasn’t me writing, but can I claim a finders fee for the following joyous bit of swearing. In the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (2006, vol 99, p440-3), Prof S Wessely manages the impressive line:

    “I give fuck all for my life and
    I give fuck all for yours and I’ll get you fucking well shot”

  13. Finger waggler said,

    November 27, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Well done Ben, the Mail is getting close to the ‘masses’ at least the middle class ones. I think you need to do a study to see how many readers believed you over Jeanette; the edit seemed to dilute the potency of your article (but fortunately not to 200C…).

    next stop ‘ the Sun’ ?

  14. Ed Yong said,

    November 27, 2007 at 9:27 am

    Your feed appeared as:

    “Here’s something you don’t see every day.

    Jesus Christ”

    In that respect, even getting into the DM was a bit of an anticlimax. Well done though. Now let’s see if their open-mindedness extends to the comment moderators.

  15. Simon Howard said,

    November 27, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Just a minor suggestion – you might want to see about getting yourself a different photo to use if you’re going to “point-counterpoint” style articles like this. You do look like a bit of a “smarmy know-it-all doctor” if you know what I mean. Given it’s the Daily Mail, I think the readers are far more likely to take one look at your photo and make snap decisions.

  16. kim said,

    November 27, 2007 at 9:48 am

    I always find it interesting when the Daily Mail reuses pieces published in The Guardian, supposedly their arch-enemy. Mostly what they seem to do is add extra paragraph breaks to make it seem less complicated for their low-attention span readers.

    I don’t know what licensing agreement you have with the graun, Ben, but I certainly hope that you get a syndication fee.

  17. Nebbish said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:02 am

    They look so similar. Quick, break out the morphing software!

  18. Mork said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:51 am

    “This is almost as cool as the time I managed to get the phrases “shit head” and “fuck yourself” onto the pages of the print edition of the British Medical Journal.

    Beat either of those feats and I will buy you six pints of beer.”

    Not me, but Lucy Kellaway managed to get “fuck” (several times) and “cunt” onto the august pink pages of the FT in October. (It is online but requires registration).

  19. pob said,

    November 27, 2007 at 11:14 am

    From the photos it is clear that the homeopathy debate is confined to those with tousled hair. Are those smirks the result of being tickled with the same homeopathic stick?

  20. nekomatic said,

    November 27, 2007 at 11:50 am

    They were separated at birth, weren’t they? ;-)

    Anyway, keep those D**** M*** links coming, for how else would I get alerted to cutting-edge reportage such as their forensic photographic analyses of (a) Serena Williams’ tights (calm down guys, not as exciting as you might hope) and (b) Whiny Amehouse’s nose?

  21. sven945 said,

    November 27, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Beat either of those feats and I will buy you six pints of beer.

    I won’t go as far as saying that I’ve beaten those, but something I’m moderately proud of (despite being incredibly immature…) is getting this posted at the end one of Richard Littlejohn’s spouts of bile:

    Once again you’ve hit the mark perfectly. I must say, I do enjoy devouring your perfectly formed column twice a week.

    – Jeremy, Mindanao Deep, Philippines

    Yes, horribly juvenile getting things like that posted. But what I’m most impressed with is the fact that the Mindanao Deep is almost 36,000 ft below the surface of the sea.

    I think I should probably get out more…

  22. Trez75 said,

    November 27, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    I stopped reading the DM when they “reported” the the woman who was the model for the large female in the Millennium Dome was “an unemployed, single mother”.
    In reality she was a freelance dancer who wasn’t dancing at time of the article, and had a child with the partner she’d been in a relationship with for the past 15 years. They just hadnt gotten married

    Nice piece though, and think that common sense came out on top

  23. HowardW said,

    November 27, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    RayG – I didn’t realise you wrote that asylum seekers article in the DM. Good work, they make me sick ;-)

    Best bit in the “pro” section of the DM homeopathy article is this:

    “The placebo effect that is often cited as homeopathy’s only resource (i.e. that people like being talked to and then given a pill to take) is common to all therapeutic processes, and it is valuable.

    But it is also true that many who end up visiting a homeopath do so as a last resort, when nothing else is working.

    That such people often see an improvement suggests that the remedies themselves are contributing to the wellness of the individual.”

    So that proves that there’s more to it than just placebo effect then does it? Good argument.

    Howard

  24. confuseling said,

    November 27, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Doesn’t this just illustrate the hypocritical faux-liberalism of the Guardian? I write letters to them about the Jewish problem all the time, they never get published.

    (Sorry… not meant to be beyond the pale, but if anyones really curious about the DM find out who they were allied with in the 1930s)

    Good work Ben, but be careful; you fight on their turf, you’ll end up mucky

  25. DrJon said,

    November 27, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Hmmm… must not have been very popular. No comments all day and now comments have been dropped from the page. How odd…

  26. Diotima said,

    November 27, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Ben, you and Bel Mooney should make a team effort in the Mail, you can write about Bad Science and she can press dotty ideas on us. (The benefits of living in a Yurt, etc).

  27. DrJon said,

    November 27, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Oooh the comments facility is back… still 0 though. Has anyone here submitted a comment? Seems hard to believe considering the number of comments this has generated everywhere else. I’m sure Dana Ullman will turn up soon :(

  28. Nero said,

    November 27, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    The comments have started:

    [QUOTE]Dr Goldacre looks really smarmy! I wouldn’t trust him with my migraine.

    – Ray Mond, Sheffield England, UK[/QUOTE]

    (Do QUOTE tags work on the blog, lets see.)

  29. DrJon said,

    November 27, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Yes, great quality of anti comments. Blockquotes, in angle brackets, work fine. The ME comment is a bit odd: they took pills for ME and their periods became regular. Then a few months later they recovered from ME.

  30. testtubebabe said,

    November 27, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Just tried to comment and apparently the page has ‘expired’. Seems to many comments in favour of Ben and anti tosh has made it explode. Thats the Daily Wail for you…

  31. thegrouchybeast said,

    November 27, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    My dad once had one of his employment tribunal judgments commented on favourably in the Daily Mail. It was a close thing as to whether or not we disowned him for bringing shame on the family. :-)

  32. Bass Tyrrell said,

    November 27, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Good thing they’ve an online version, wouldn’t like to be seen leaving the newsagent with it!

  33. Standstoreason said,

    November 27, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    My favourite is the one that defends homeopathy but ends “consult a medical professional, though”. Says it all.

  34. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 27, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    jesus, they must have grabbed that photo off google image search, it’s from an awards ceremony, so naturally i am looking smug.

    this is enough to drive a boy to getting some soft focus publicity shots done. actually i think i’d rather have spiders lay eggs in my cock.

  35. emmer said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Do not feign contempt for the photograph! Surely it appears on this very website (though in fetching monochrome): www.badscience.net/about-dr-ben-goldacre/ No need to feel ashamed though, as it is quite clear you have the better hair.

  36. projektleiterin said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    One commenter said Ben looks “smarmy”. Sorry, but that’s too funny. :D And I had to look it up – since I started reading this blog I’m learning something every day. :D

  37. afterforty said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Hand Up!
    I was the one wot called Ben “smarmy”. It was the first time I have managed to get anything through the Mail’s filters, so I must have got something right for once.
    I didn’t mean it Ben honest! How could a fourteen year old look smarmy? Ray Mond

  38. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    excellent work.

    has anyone kept an archive of that great period when everyone from the forum was posting spoof responses to the mail and getting them through? rabid incoherent right wing woo, some of them were total genius, and always deserved a more prominent archive.

  39. Dr* T said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    The Daily Mail Game…..

    tinyurl.com/39jqgs

  40. Dr* T said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    Oh Lordy, I’d forgotten how funny some of these are – see if you can guess which ones are real…

    tinyurl.com/2qqn57

  41. Dean Morrison said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    (Sorry… not meant to be beyond the pale, but if anyones really curious about the DM find out who they were allied with in the 1930s)

    – which is why it has been known as the “Daily Heil”

  42. Dr* T said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    To be fair to the DM, that WAS over 70 years ago.

    I think that editor is no longer with the DM (although I don’t know that as fact)

  43. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 27, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Of you two, I know who’s looking better on it. I’ll have what -he’s- having, please. (Well, except that I gather that is the Prize for Being a Clever-Dick Doc, which wouldn’t be appropriate.)

  44. pv said,

    November 27, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    #
    Nero said,

    November 27, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    The comments have started:

    [QUOTE]Dr Goldacre looks really smarmy! I wouldn’t trust him with my migraine.

    – Ray Mond, Sheffield England, UK[/QUOTE]

    (Do QUOTE tags work on the blog, lets see.)

    You have to use HTML quotes in this blog. If you’d have typed, and blockquote instead of quote it would have looked as follows:

    Dr Goldacre looks really smarmy! I wouldn’t trust him with my migraine.

    – Ray Mond, Sheffield England,

  45. pv said,

    November 27, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Damn it, the brackets have disappeared. The brackets should be the pointy ones like “”.

  46. pv said,

    November 27, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    They still don’t show! Ok, the brackets should be the arrowhead variety.

  47. littlec said,

    November 28, 2007 at 7:15 am

    See, it works for ME, so there! Don’t think any further comment is necessary……

  48. rainman said,

    November 28, 2007 at 10:03 am

    From the pictures I’d assumed you written the first article, Ben. Gosh, you and Jeanette Winterson are nearly interchangeable in a police lineup.

  49. scotlyn said,

    November 28, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    I must say this all sounds very “us” vs “them” – it sounds to me like the converse of the “arguing from authority” error Ben mentions in his “who’s Ben” page – “I do not present myself as a “leading expert”, and I rarely even mention being a doctor, on the grounds that “arguing from authority” is one of the biggest problems in the way that science is misrepresented by the media.” Arguing against the Daily Mail because it is an ANTI-authority is surely not a legitimate way to engage with the ideas there presented. Is it?

  50. scotlyn said,

    November 28, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    I posted the following comment on DM comment site – but don’t know if it was accepted:

    “This is a fascinating exchange, especially since it is being billed as a debate between polar opposite views – and certainly both of the writers are convinced in their own minds that the differences between them are insurmountable. In fact there are numerous points of agreement between the writers, which could lead to a more open and less entrenched exchange, if followed up. Here are a few things which BOTH writers said:
    1) placebos do work, and their benefits are real – for some people.
    2) it is irresponsible for homeopaths to undermine the value of conventional medicine in the treatment of serious diseases, for eg. HIV
    3) treatments that are at least as effective as a placebo may have value for people who have not been able to get relief from conventional treatments despite much searching.
    4) the Society of Homeopaths should be getting its house in order by engaging more constructively with its critics, and conducting better research.
    Are these points of agreement not worth discussing in a less fraught and argumentative way?”

  51. stephenh said,

    November 28, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Ben is Sideshow Bob, and I claim my £5.

  52. DrJon said,

    November 28, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    From the Daily Express:

    Tea Tree Oil and Lavender Oil are well and truly a main staple in my medicine chest. Sick of scientists telling me what and what not to do, take etc. The old ways are sometimes the best. Who knows what chemical drugs etc. are doing to our bodies.

    – Karen, West Midlands

    So those would be not homeopathic remedies, and also would be chemicals. What was your point again?

    I often see people that think homeopathy means natural remedy in some way, and they don’t believe me when I tell them that the little bottles with fancy Latin names on them actually contain nothing. And aren’t they chemicals? Hemlocks natural, and it’ll cure a headache, but I’d rather take an aspirin. Likewise I’d rather take an antibiotic than chew moldy tree bark, but each to there own.

    (Legal disclaimer: Please don’t take hemlock as a headache remedy)

  53. DrJon said,

    November 28, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Can we add an edit/retract (within a short time frame?) comment facility. I keep making a mess of this – sorry about the there/their mix up above :)

  54. DrJon said,

    November 28, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Can we add an edit or retract (within a short time frame?) comment facility. I keep making a mess of this – sorry about the there/their mix up above :)

  55. katem said,

    November 28, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Ben wrote: ‘The end times are coming.’ re the Bad Science column. Please say that’s a joke!

  56. mikew said,

    November 28, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Sensible posts onto a DM article frequently don’t get published.

    I made one recently on an item about fingerprinting of schoolchildren, noting the flawed logic in jumping from something being ‘not impossible’ to it therefore being easily doable (within the lifetime of the universe ;)

    Didn’t see the light of day.

  57. AJH said,

    November 28, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    I tried to post a comment on the DM page just now but the captcha would not display, although I do have trouble with some features of IE on this machine so I won’t assume deviousness yet, can anyone else submit comments OK?

    I was trying to comment that Tea Tree oil is not hom, and also that a hom-lover had recognised the harm homs can do in the field of HIV and the need for better regulation, therefore we’re making some progress shurely? But it bombed. And sadly Ms Winterson is hardly a spokesperson for the industry anyway.

  58. pv said,

    November 28, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    And sadly Ms Winterson is hardly a spokesperson for the industry anyway.

    Do we know she isn’t being paid by them? They would know that celebrity endorsement trumps evidence every time, so it has great marketing value.
    I’m surprised some strapped-for-cash UK University isn’t offering degree courses in celebrity endorsement recognition. A sort of alternative to critical thinking.

  59. AJH said,

    November 28, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    The weird thing is (queue twighlight zone music) that I bought the DM yesterday for the first time in months. I’m a grauniad reader, of course, but I like to keep an eye on the opposition, it’s good to have your opinions challenged, keeps your arguments fresh. It’s usually an entirely depressing experience which I don’t then repeat for a few months. However, joy of joys, there was our floppy-haired hero himself, “The Skeptic” in the “Good Health” pages (9 pages, count them). I can now cut out and keep it just in case the DM does an Orwell on it.

  60. confuseling said,

    November 29, 2007 at 3:13 am

    Dr*T said

    I think that editor is no longer with the DM (although I don’t know that as fact)

    Well exactly. Would have been a perfectly legitimate point in a purely hypothetical situation in which their editorial line had shifted discernibly.

    :)

    Scotlyn:

    New to this blog / forum, so don’t speak for anybody, and haven’t read the DM bit…

    But it seems to me that arguments about this are going to coalesce around certain ‘centres of gravity’, and this, although militant, is a fair one.

    You certainly raise a legitimate point: if we are trying to enlighten people, then often combative language is to our detriment. People just see us as arrogant and close minded.

    But counterposingly if we are unduly lenient, if we accommodate the onslaught of idiocy without the sense of humour that realistically we are going to have to maintain for the sheer purpose of survival, then we lose many of our best points, and many of our best posters.

    Any rationalist community that doesn’t exist purely for the gratification of the egos of its regulars is trying to convince people.

    And the people we are trying to convince aren’t those posting about homeopathy; they are probably so passionate that only changes in their life, not entrenched, as you say, opinions on the internet, will move them.

    So we are aiming for an equilibrium between abuse and dry and detached technicality; and i know if i, naively, read a blog like this, it would be obvious which side was on top.

  61. scotlyn said,

    November 29, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks, confuseling. I suppose I came onto this site looking for a “learn to love good science” site, and instead seem to have found a “learn to love bashing bad science and all its advocates” site. Lots of absolute certainty, very little of curiosity, which to me is what distinguishes science from orthodoxy of any kind. I grew up in a born-again Christian family, and you learn to recognise certain signs.

    To me, the research showing that homeopathy is as good as placebo is extremely interesting – and when you phrase it that way, it opens up lots of interesting questions for the curious. Like – what is it in some patients’ own toolbox for self-healing that a placebo is able to engage? Can the effect be amplified (Ben says, intriguingly, that some research indicates it can)? Is “belief” the critical feature that makes it work, or does the placebo effect work equally well for some sceptics? Lots of interesting questions for the scientifically curious to get stuck into, simply from framing the same research evidence in a positive way.

    Whereas, if you frame it in a negative way, Homeopathy = placebo = no healing at all, you do two things that are unscientific, to my mind. One, you simply shut down the debate and imply that there is nothing more of any use that can be said about it – this shutting down of debate (the answers are all known already) has all the hallmarks of religion, not science. Two, you fail to see that when someone says “homeopathy worked for me” (cue everyone reading this reaching for the tar and feathers) you tell the people who have received healing in this way (placebos do work, sometimes, remember – and when they work, the effect is real, remember)that their experience is not real, which they simply cannot accept, and so you have succeeded in cutting them out of a much more interesting debate which might possibly have engaged their own scientific curiosity.

  62. scotlyn said,

    November 29, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    For that last sentence in my previous post, please substitute “alienating them from” for “cutting them out of”.

  63. Moganero said,

    November 30, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Back to the brackets – you mean these ones? (I’ll look foolish if this doesn’t work)

    <blockquote>quoted stuff</blockquote>

    Oh, and BTW the DM’s comments appear to be open for new comments again.

  64. briantist said,

    November 30, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Well done Ben!

    I always worry that your good work is dismissed by non-Guardian readers as “Guardian reader stuff”.

    I too got some stuff in the Daily Mail this year – photos of man fighting the police with a sword!

    www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=467551&in_page_id=1770

  65. mjs said,

    December 1, 2007 at 5:13 am

    Dr* T:
    Thanks for posting the archived DM links. :)
    The last time I felt I had a cold coming on I put a clove of garlic up each nostril – I looked like a right charlie, but never got that cold!
    ——

    It’s very interesting that placebo works at all. Ignoring the ethical dilemma of what to give someone who wants/needs help getting well, the argument about whether homeopathy is placebo begins to seem more like a semantic question than a medical question. Sort of a shame that one can’t prescribe placebo outright on occasion.

    Pluhceeboh. Pleceabow. Plazebo. (Well I thought it could be rebranded. Maybe not.)
    ——-

    I noticed that I must now “bee” logged in to make a comment?

  66. awra said,

    December 1, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    You seem to have spawned an article titled “Homeopati er selvbedrag” (homepathy is self-deception) in Dagbladet, one of Norways largest national newspapers. Only in the online version though, but still.

    www.dagbladet.no/magasinet/2007/11/29/519685.html

  67. confuseling said,

    December 1, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Scotlyn:

    I agree with everything you say. The placebo thing is difficult; as you say (to paraphrase anyway), the placebo effect is called an effect for a reason, and it’s easy to alienate people by the cultural connotation that they’re being credulous or duped. I’m not sure there’s a way around this, some people want to see the term dropped, this seems like a fudge to me, like the people who want to rename shizophrenia to escape prejudice, without changing the diagnostic criteria, apparently unmoved by the argument that once the new term settles they’ll be back where they started…

    The only thing I’m thinking is that more research about placebo and its uses can perhaps bring it back ‘from the cold’, i personally could imagine it one day being used in an ‘opt-in’ scheme in conventional medicine – there’s a thread about this in the badscience forum (“thoughts on the placebo effect- effectiveness of lying”)

    What I would say with respect to this ‘orrible lot is although they do sound quite combative to a person with fresh ears, if you look into some of the debates that go on you’ll find yourself empathising.

    Certain homeopathic regulatory bodies have repeated phraseological inexactitudes so often that they can no longer be dismissed as innocent mistakes.

    An Autism blogger (Left brain / Right brain) seems to have been hounded off the net by the inexcusable personal behaviour of a militant anti-vaccer.

    The fact is, you might find a bulletin board somewhere with a more measured tone, but if it becomes popular, the rabid elements of the opposition turn up, and then we either capitulate, or call in the cavalry.

    And I agree, we need to keep them in check – its horrible when you do see someone asking an innocent, if misinformed question, and being pounced on.

    But compare a site like this with, say, JABS, who seem to me to only allow countervailing opinions for the same reason a cat allows a mouse its final, desperate breaths, and I think you’ll realise that they’re actually doing a sterling job.

  68. Robert Carnegie said,

    December 2, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Furthermore, is all the fiddling around with diluted water or sticking needles into people necessary for the most effective placebo, or are there less laborious and safer alternatives that are equally effective? If it’s all play-acting…

    Of course Ben has already expressed an interest in placebo science that is much greater than my own – sorry.

  69. Junkmonkey said,

    December 2, 2007 at 12:29 am

    Re 70. That’s a very short ‘sword’, 70. Looks more like a knife to me. (Insert obvious joke about Homoeopathic weaponry here?)

    Well done on getting the photos though.

  70. Junkmonkey said,

    December 2, 2007 at 12:55 am

    Scotlyn, I don’t think anyone is saying that placebos don’t work. They do. There is plenty of evidence that they do. The discussion (as I understand it) is as to whether Homoeopathy is anything other than a well-branded placebo.

    The interesting line of research would be surely to explore the known and obvious effects of ‘mind over matter’ – I believe I will get well therefore I will get well. How and why do placebos work? Not trying to prove the ludicrous notion that ‘magic water’ has anything other than a placebo effect.

    I say ‘ludicrous’ because if the Homoeopaths are right then ALL of physics as we currently understand it and ALL western science is wrong. All of it.

    Given the choice between the Juggernaut of peer-reviewed western science (imperfect though it is) and a few random “My cold got better after taking a teaspoonful of water, that once met a teaspoonful of water…

    …that once met a teaspoonful of water that had a garlic atom in it.” testimonials. I know which I would back.

    As for ‘shutting down debate’. There IS no debate. The world is not flat, the moon is not made of cheese, Homoeopathy has no validity other than as a placebo.

  71. mjs said,

    December 4, 2007 at 4:48 am

    follow-up to myself:

    i am a skeptic of homeopathy who has benefitted from homeopathy on the rare occasion. so, does placebo work? to my surprise, it worked for me, once or twice. yay, placebo.

    do i know why it worked? was it even “it” that worked? haven’t a clue. besides, while the treatment alleviated acute symptoms it was useless for the chronic condition. please note: my sudden belief that it might actually do something didn’t make it any more effective.

    so what is placebo? where does it come from? the following is my own unresearched opinion, so read at your own risk.

    something has to be considered the baseline against which the efficacy of all other treatments is measured. for what it’s worth (and it’s worth quite a lot) placebo is the zero point for normalization. which, as the positive control, makes a lot of sense.

    however, i’m willing to bet that equating placebo to a zero –and then forgetting why we do that– is the reason placebo is thought of in common parlance as “no treatment.”

    under this guise, it’s not surprising that any benefits under placebo equate in the imagination to a result of self-delusion.

    people then feel compelled to protest against a delusional state, but this is where the point of confusion may arise: on a relative scale, placebo is statistically zero. on your own personal & absolute scale, perhaps no change would equal zero.

    people want to get well, and they want to feel that they have some control over their lives, so maybe it’s easier to start repeating wholistic cliches than it is to risk losing whatever benefit is derived from believing you must believe.

    [i might add that you can cycle through placebos like a cheese platter, and always come up with something new and intriguing that alleviates a sense of being untaken-care-of. if you can afford it, it's kind of nice, in the sense that stress-reduction is good for you.]

    myself, i’ve never quite understood why magical thinking is preferable to admitting to placebo effect, but there it is. (let me recapitulate: yay placebo.) maybe it borrows on the human instinct for spiritualism. maybe it’s because people just forget how to ask questions. i don’t know.

    the point is, i don’t think that this ambiguity in human nature excuses any professional from recommending any treatment that promises protection but ends up leaving someone open to harm. (e.g., Aids, malaria, cancer…)

    the alt med community, warm and fuzzy and non-confrontational though they are (how delightful!), desperately needs to step up and act like the professionals that they want everyone to accept them for.

  72. Ella R said,

    December 8, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    correction…R part-fight…negative emotions…block open and creative thinking…

  73. spk76 said,

    December 9, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Junkmonkey: “Scotlyn, I don’t think anyone is saying that placebos don’t work. They do. There is plenty of evidence that they do.”

    I beg to disagree. There is a very strong body of evidence that placebos don’t work. After all, if they did work, they wouldn’t be placebos…

    It seems that it’s become a matter of common belief that the placebo effect is real “effect”, yet the evidence, if you look at it, is far from conclusive either way.

    In my own opinion, on balance, I have come to think that the placebo effect is equivalent to no effect.

    This is why placebo is the gold standard for double-blind controlled trials.

    So when the control group are given a placebo, they are being given a blank, i.e. a pill with no active ingredients (just like homeopathy).

    The effects that some people perceive from receiving the fake pill are in fact just background noise, and this is why genuine medical interventions need to be proven to have an effect over and above placebo, i.e. placebo = no effect.

    And it bears emphasising that the original quantitative claim that placebo is real (Beecher, H. K. 1955. The powerful placebo. Journal of the American Medical Association, 159:1602-1606) was subsequently thoroughly dismissed (Kienle GS, Kiene H. 1997. The powerful placebo effect: fact or fiction? J Clin Epidemiol. 50:1311-8).

    And this is of interest:

    “Hrobjartsson and Gotzsche published a study in 2001 and a follow-up study in 2004 questioning the nature of the placebo effect. (Hrobjartsson 2001, Hrobjartsson 2004) They performed two meta-analyses involving 156 clinical trials in which an experimental drug or treatment protocol was compared to a placebo group and an untreated group, and specifically asked whether the placebo group improved compared to the untreated group. Hrobjartsson and Gotzsche found that in studies with a binary outcome, meaning patients were classified as improved or not improved, the placebo group had no statistically significant improvement over the no-treatment group. Similarly, there was no significant placebo effect in studies in which objective outcomes (such as blood pressure) were measured by an independent observer. The placebo effect could only be documented in studies in which the outcomes (improvement or failure to improve) were reported by the subjects themselves. The authors concluded that the placebo effect does not have “powerful clinical effects,” (objective effects) and that patient-reported improvements (subjective effects) in pain were small and could not be clearly distinguished from bias.

    These results suggest that the placebo effect is largely subjective. This would help explain why the placebo effect is easiest to demonstrate in conditions where subjective factors are very prominent or significant parts of the problem. Some of these conditions are headache, stomachache, asthma, allergy, tension, and the experience of pain, which is often a significant part of many mild and serious illnesses.”
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&uid=11372012&cmd=showdetailview&indexed=google

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