116 thoughts on “Homeopathic Vaccines.

  1. Harriet Hall says:

    Michiel says “The odds that this one and only instance in my life of such symptoms would follow immediately after this remedy by chance seems very small.”

    Of course it seems to you that the odds are very small. But humans are notoriously poor at estimating such odds. The odds that someone is wrong when he makes such a judgment are very high.

  2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Harriet – not only Pubmed, Google Scholar turns up a surprisingly large number of full-text articles.

    Michiel – bacteria, not bacterie. French I assume?

    You could test your reaction to the homeopathic remedy using a challenge-dechallenge-rechallenge in which you take the preparation, stop, take it again, stop, see when you get symptoms (with adequate timing between doses). To improve the experiment, blind yourself to the preparation you take by having someone put them in coded envelopes where you do not know what envelope contains what type of preparation (and natch, some are “placebos” – easy to do because they’re all more or less identical sugar pills). To improve the test even more, get at least two different preparations of Apis from two different batches (ideally the same manufacturer to start, you could use different manufacturers if you want to get more elaborate).

    If you consistently get a reaction from the homeopathic preparation, I would suggest having it tested for possible allergens. If no lab can distinguish between the Apis that produces a consistent result in you and a different preparation, you should submit your results to the James Randi Educational Foundation as you may be eligible for $1,000,000 not to mention revolutionizing our scientific understanding of homeopathy (and by corollary, much of modern science).

    Right now commentators are facing a choice between believing that your anecdote(s) represents a myriad possible logical fallacies and/or self-delusions notoriously present in the human brain that science is designed to control against – or a revolution to several centuries of understanding of biology, chemistry and physics. Carl Sagan’s dictum was “extreme claims require extreme proof” and it’s a good rule of thumb.

    There are a variety of sources that would probably help you understand the skeptical position regarding homeopathy and science in general. I would recommed:

    #Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, ISBN 000728487X (also an interesting book by that title about cold fusion, by Gary Taubes – I recommend both but Goldacre’s book is much more fun)
    #Snake Oil Science by R. Barker Bausell, ISBN 0195313682 (this one is particularly good because it squarely addresses methodology and the myriad ways the mind can fool itself)
    #Homeopathy: How it Really Works by Jay Shelton, ISBN 159102109X (since we’re talking about homeopathy specifically, this should be a standard reference for anyone interested in the skeptical position and why biology, chemistry and physics do not support homeopathy being effective)

  3. Harriet Hall says:

    PubMed is my go-to resource. It has one big advantage over Google Scholar. It has a handy “clinical queries” search function so you can hone in on research that is pertinent to clinical decisions. There are plenty of articles that show an antibacterial effect of garlic in vitro, but they don’t tell us what we want to know: whether it improves human health outcomes. It doesn’t. Admittedly, PubMed only provides abstracts, but once you have identified a pertinent article, then you can google for the full article and often find it.

  4. Joe says:


    Your suggested books are fine. Personally, however, I think Shelton’s book is not so well-written. I do value it for reference to certain aspects. I add “Suckers” by Rose Shapiro (ISBN 9781846550287) as the best for the layperson.

  5. pmoran says:

    1. Yes the doctor said exactly that, the infection would not cure without antibiotics. She was very clear. And she gave us the antibiotics, a bag full.

    That is an odd thing for a doctor to come out with unless in response to some querying of her management.

    While possibly true, testimonials that rely upon “what the doctor said” make me very wary, too. It is one of the weakest elements of testimonial.

    It is not only that doctors make mistakes all the time, and that they can be poor communicators, allowing misinterpretation. Patient memories seem poor and malleable, even about critical matters such as the diagnosis of cancer.

    I discovered all this, to my surprise, when chasing up the actual medical records of new patients. They often conflict with the history given by the patient.

    Over the course of my career, patients have also relayed back to me things that I am supposed to have said that are quite impossible.

    In cancer testimonials, it is also not at all unusual for the reported “six months to live” predictions of doctors to be inconsistent with the prognosis suggested by the tumour type and stage.

  6. Joe says:

    @Harriet Hall on 15 Nov 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Or, if one lives near a major university many articles are available, free, to the public who use a terminal in the campus library. Parking can be an unpleasant experience.

  7. Badly Shaved Monkey says:


    Monkey, so if my bias doesn’t make it less relevant, than why mention it in the forst place? (you said it does not help, so just leave it out next time if it is not an argument against).

    That doesn’t even make sense. I simply quoted one appropriate sentence where you insist that your anecdote be taken seriously even allowing for your own biases.

    The reason I chose that sentence is that your biases make no difference. Your story tells us NOTHING whether you are “biased” in your presentation of it or godlike in your neutral perspective.

    I note that despite patently having read what I said, you are still insisting we draw causal inferences from your story.

    Don’t buy a tiger-repelling rock from Mojo, I can do you a deal on 2 for the price of 3.

  8. pmoran says:

    BSM The fact that you think it would help tells us that you do not understand that you simply cannot draw meaningful inferences from single case stories such as yours.

    Would we not expect lots of similar instances?

    The weakness of this kind of anecdotal evidence lies not in the number of cases, but in its reliance upon human perceptions developed under uncontrolled conditions. Look at Dana Ullman’s “– homeopathy is proven every day by the hundreds of millions of its users worldwide –“. That is no stronger.

    One task for a “new, improved” SBM should be to develop a better understanding of the hierarchies that can exist within anecdotal clinical observations.

    Our tendency to unthinkingly and lazily dismiss all anecdotal evidence as worthless was cleverly used by chiropractors to dismiss the association of stroke with neck manipulation.

  9. Harriet Hall says:

    The association of strokes with neck manipulation was not based on anecdotal evidence alone. The anecdotal evidence was supported by a plausible mechanism and it led to investigations, for instance the study showing that patients under the age of 45 who had a basilar stroke were 5 times as likely to have visited a chiropractor.

    Scientific medicine doesn’t write off all anecdotal evidence: it uses it to decide what to study. Science merely says that anecdotal evidence alone is unreliable. Minoxidil was a blood pressure medicine. There were anecdotal reports of increased hair growth, so studies were done to determine if there was a true association and a causal link. There was; it was shown to be effective for increasing hair growth and it is now marketed for that purpose.

  10. Anthro says:

    I think some of you have missed an opportunity with Michiel. It is not necessary to call his handling of the child’s infection “despicable”, or to correct his spelling of “bacteria”–that’s just nit picking someone who is doing a good job of using a second language.

    I think Harriet Hall and Utridge have the right approach in this case, patient, straightforward explanations.

    Michiel is trying to communicate and is no Dullman. Give him a break and continue to explain and educate; no need to insult, even if you think it’s true. Some of this just sounds arrogant and is the kind of thing that makes inquiring people (whose info just happens to be wrong) think you are all just a bunch of pointy-headed jerks. Michiel has patiently answered many of your posts, even though they are (or would at least seem to be) insulting to him. Keep giving references so he has a chance to read and learn. Lots of people who are now hardy skeptics got there through a process of education, not by being told they were stupid, uncaring parents.

  11. pmoran says:

    Harriet: Scientific medicine doesn’t write off all anecdotal evidence: it uses it to decide what to study. Science merely says that anecdotal evidence alone is unreliable. Minoxidil was a blood pressure medicine —

    You are helping to make my point: we do give more weight to some kinds of anecdotal evidence than others.

    I suspect that this is often an almost unconscious process, drawing upon prior knowledge and experience from many sources, also biases having varying degrees of justification.

    Nevertheless, we should understand our own minds suffificently to offer reasons why any particular example of anecdotal material is weak (or strong). We should likewise be wary of “it’s anecdotal” as a sufficient reason in itself for being dismissive of certain types of claims.

  12. weing says:


    Let’s say you had a reckless and lucky weekend and a few days later you noted a sore on your genitals. You’d be worried, of course,
    and go to see a doctor who wants to give you a shot of penicillin. You get another opinion from a homeopath and he prescribes a homeopathic remedy for you and the sore disappears after a few days. Or you do nothing and the sore disappears after a few days. You feel relieved and wise for not taking the penicillin, using the homeopathic remedy, or just waiting it out. Congrats. You think you are safe? Even after a rash appears about a month later? It goes away too.

  13. BillyJoe says:

    “…we should understand our own minds suffificently to offer reasons why any particular example of anecdotal material is weak (or strong)…”.

    I thought this is where prior probability comes in. Would it blow apart well evidenced scientific theories if it were true? For example, I can extract nutrients and moisture from the air and live without food ro drink. Is it an appeal to magic? For example, I stopped off for coffee at Pat’s Diner on the way to the game and that’s why we won.

    “We should likewise be wary of “it’s anecdotal” as a sufficient reason in itself for being dismissive of certain types of claims.”

    If that’s all they have then, yes, we can dismiss their claims. Do your clinical trial please.

  14. Michiel – “It is kind of insulting to use the word “despicable”.”

    Joe – “I intended it to be harsh. You took a chance on your child getting worse while you withheld proven treatment. ”

    I just want to point out that many non-medical people do not know how dangerous a skin staph infection can be. They think that it is basically an sore that will get worse gradually or will get better gradually. Many people do not understand the risk of MRSA* or that staph can enter the bloodstream and the spread to other organs very quickly, damaging the lungs, heart or bones and even causing death in some cases.

    I am assuming that Michiel did not know the seriousness of the risk to their child when making this decision or that an infection can sometimes progress very fast even with all the effort of a good hospital staff with serious consequences.

    I am only a layperson, so I am not the best person to explain.

    *a form of staph that is resistant to antibiotics.

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