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Randi issues a challenge

Lest I be left out of the fun, I can’t help but point out that yesterday the Amazing One himself, James Randi, issued a challenge to manufacturers of homeopathic remedies and retail pharmacies that sell such remedies, in particular large national chains like Walgreens and CVS and large national chains that include pharmacies in their stores, such as Walmart and Target. This was done in conjunction with the 10:23 Challenge, which is designed to demonstrate that homeopathy is nonsense. All over the world, skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine gathered to engage in overdoses of homeopathic medicines in order to demonstrate that there is nothing in them.

As much as I like Randi, unfortunately, I doubt that the prospect of winning $1 million will make much difference to huge companies like Boiron (a French company that manufactures popular homeopathic remedies), Walmart, or Walgreens, but I do like the spirit of the protest, in particular how it drives home a very simply message about homeopathy: There’s nothing in it.

Posted in: Homeopathy

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25 thoughts on “Randi issues a challenge

  1. ConspicuousCarl says:

    I feel like I should go to my local Walgreens, fill a basket with as many different homeopathic products as will fit, hand it to the manager, and say “everything in this basket is a scam and you should be ashamed of yourself”.

    But I don’t have the guts to actually do it, so instead I will just say it on the Internet. Thanks, Internet. You make me feel big.

  2. DevoutCatalyst says:

    There’s nothing in it?

    “Homeopathy is an alternative to radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery.”

    http://www.ehow.com/how_5398704_treat-breast-cancer-homeopathy.html

    Go Randi, hope we can conquer homeopathy in our lifetime.

  3. hippiehunter says:

    The very existence of transparent scams like homeopathy show that our consumer protection watchdogs (such as the TGA here in Australia) have dropped the ball.

    If they don’t stop the obviously fake power balance bands or water labeled as medicine then their managers need to be held accountable.

    I have lodged a formal complaint with the TGA for allowing homeopathy to have its own deceptive measure of active ingredients.
    I want to know in mg per ml what is in the product but they are allowed to hide it. For example a 30c dilution doesnt explain much but if they said on the label that it was 1 part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 then I can make an informed decision about this product.
    I have yet to hear back from the TGA !

  4. sashen says:

    Wouldn’t the appropriate thing to do be UNDERdose?

    Don’t take a whole bottle… make the treatment a bajillion times stronger by diluting it more!

  5. BillyJoe says:

    sashen,

    You are assuming that there is something logical about homoeopathy. The more dilute the stronger, yet homoeopathic nostrums vary widely in their dilution factor. Why? Makes no sense. The final dilution is often dropped onto a sugar pill from which the water evaporates. So what dilution do we have now. The label often says take 1 or 2 tablets, with two tablets having a more potent effect than one tablet. Hey?

  6. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Randi issues the challenge to the homeo companies. But the million dollar challenge stays open. I guess that any single homeopath who kan find any way
    (for example do tests with a group of people, or take the stuf him/herself, or dowse or whatever) to distinguish properly blinded and randomised highly diluted preparations for any local skeptical group, qualifies for the main prize.

    It is incomprehensible they won’t do that, because by succeeding in such a feat they would make a much better impression on the public than curious experiments with frozen heavy water or mixing heat

    (here: http://www.homeopathy.org/research/basic/Elia.pdf )

    Moreover such kind of tests are the heart of homeopathy. Amost all those symptoms in the homeopathic Materia Medica are obtained from experiments (provings) with high dilutions. That is probably the reason homeopaths believe in high dilutions. All this stuff about vibrations or memory of water are modern inventions. Hahnemann himself saw (around 1800) a parallel with magnetism: you can make a piece of iron magnetic by stroking it with a magnet and with vaccination (which he thought was a great invention).

    In the Netherlands we got an association of lay homeopaths almost willing to take part in a test of Sulphur C200 with 80 people, but then they got cold feet and chickened out. They were afraid the experiment was intended to strike a deathblow to homeopathy. Also they claimed that the test would be wrong because the participants knew which preparation was being tested.

    The irony was that this challenge was actually a counterchallenge. The homeopaths themselves had suggested that the Minister of Health and the head of the Health Inpectorate would take Sulphur C200 to experience its strong effects (this was after the Minister had said that homeopathy is nonsense). Then Skepsis said that an unblinded test with no control group and two subjects was no good, and proposed a properly blinded and randomised test with 80 subjects.

    So we are left with the idea that the homeopaths know very well that a proper test will go wrong. Of course it will. It did so in 1835 already:

    http://www.jameslindlibrary.org/illustrating/articles/inventing-the-randomized-double-blind-trial-the-nuremberg-salt

  7. Joe says:

    These people need to be warned- OTC homeopathetic nostrums are often adulterated with real drugs. There is a danger they may succumb to an overdose to aspirin, caffeine, diphenhydramine, etc.

  8. Draal says:

    11 Reasons Why Pharmacists Should Not Sell Homeopathic Remedies
    http://www.miskeptics.org/2011/02/homeopathic-quackery-and-pharmacists/

    It’s disgusting that that CVS is selling it’s own generic brand of homeopathic remedies. THAT is pure greed.

  9. I think what Randi should do is not offer the million dollars to the companies, he should publicly offer the reward money to a good charity (Children’s Wish, American Cancer Society, etc…) and then make the challenge – as in, tell the heads of that charity that the challenge is being offered and that they will get a million dollar donation either way. If homeopathy passes the test, Randi gives the million to the charity; if homeopathy loses, the company must give the million from their funds.

    This way we can be pretty sure that it’ll be from the company selling or making homeopathy giving the money. If it’s publicly announced that the million is being paid because homeopathy didn’t perform at all as advertised, the goal of making the public aware of the shortfalls of homeopathy should be achieved.

    I’m not saying this will make a huge difference, but it might make the companies look bad in the public eye if they keep refusing to even test this horseshit.

  10. JMB says:

    @Draal

    CVS also has their own in store medical clinic, MinuteClinic.

    I must admit, I’d rather see patients with a non strep sore throat receive a low cost sugar pill or bottle of water than receive antibiotics or worse, a CT to rule out a peritonsillar abscess, as may happen if they go to the ER. When you’re working in the ER it’s hard to keep other patients (some with serious medical problems) waiting for 15 minutes while you’re arguing with a patient that they don’t need an antibiotic for their sore throat. A homeopathic remedy might give you a cheap treatment and a quick exit without paying the price of negative patient feedback. However, there is a thin line between bilking the patient, and lowering the cost of healthcare without decreasing patient satisfaction.

  11. Draal says:

    @JMB

    I can’t help but interpret your view as being one and the same as a “shruggie.”
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=238
    Else, “What’s the harm?”
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=7605

    Now, I’m still conflicted as to which way to go. For example, a doctor friend of mine has no qualms about the use of CAM for pain management. He feels that drug seekers that come into his hospital are better served by a modality that harnesses the placebo effect versus feeding an addict with opioids. He knows its deception but he feels its better that using addictive drugs. I think it’s a compelling argument but I haven’t really researched the alternatives myself. Conversely, SBM contributors like Dr. Gorski feel it is unethical to intentionally deceive patients. I’m leaning towards it being unethical as it opens the door to legitimizing quackery.

  12. Scott says:

    Making effective use of the placebo effect is certainly an ethical minefield, and reasonable people can disagree. I tend to favor the “full disclosure” perspective myself (though IANAD).

    But I would also draw a distinction between an MD prescribing a placebo without explicitly stating it to be such, versus someone SELLING a placebo but making claims of efficacy for it. Two, actually. One is that the MD would be lying only by omission (still serious, but less so). The more critical one is that he doesn’t stand to profit directly from it, while the placebo vendor does.

  13. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    a doctor friend of mine has no qualms about the use of CAM for pain management

    Placebos don’t work too well. So what if the patients keep coming back for more and eventually the doctor has to tell the patient that it was fake. How would the patient react?

    It’s like a gambler taking many small risks for a small profit, but having a small risk for to lose all his money? Should a doctor gamble on losing the patient’s trust?

  14. JMB says:

    The damage to the patient in the scenario I was discussing (ER, ER physician) has more to do with diagnostic errors. If patients are correctly selected for low risk of bacterial infection (for the decision to give antibiotics), or low risk for abscess (for the decision to obtain a CT exam), then the use of either antibiotics or a CT exam has no greater benefit than a placebo, but significantly greater risk.

  15. JMB says:

    @Jan Willem Nienhuys,

    You could tell the patient that. “There is no scientific evidence that it works, but there are many people suffering in pain that swear it works. So if you would like to try it, we will, but come back in two weeks to let me know if its working. You can call me earlier if need be.”

    Then when they return in two weeks, if it didn’t work, you comment, “Well I guess the science was right in this case. Those anecdotes the makers of the remedy like to talk about just are worthless.” If they say it worked, you respond, “Well I’m glad it worked for you. There’s an old saying in medicine, it’s better to be lucky than right.”

  16. Paddy says:

    @JMB,

    On the other side, you’re funding quackery by prescribing said placebo, giving it legitimacy (“but my doctor prescribes homeopathy!”), and, fundamentally, deceiving the patient in that the opening statement implies that you, their doctor, thinks that there’s a real chance it might work.

    And if the patient, quite reasonably, happens to be of the opinion that homeopathy is a pile of steaming horse droppings or to spot what you’re up to, you’ve sabotaged all trust with them for good by offering them this.

    In short: leave the placebos alone, if you want to be a doctor rather than a quack.

  17. Paddy says:

    @JMB,

    Apologies; on re-reading, that may have come over a bit stronger than intended. And I do agree with some of what you’ve said (particularly that the pressure to prescribe antibiotics to patients who don’t need them is problematic). I just disagree with your proposed solution.

  18. Draal says:

    “Placebos don’t work too well [for pain management].”
    Right but I should have stressed I was mainly referring to patients that are using the excuse of pain management to obtain opiates for their drug habits. If the doc prescribes acupuncture as an alternative, he’s chosen the lesser of two evils. Pain is subjective and there’s no way to know if the patient is lying but context is key. Like I said, I’m not particularly in favor of this approach but I can see how this may make sense. I haven’t talked to my friend about this in a over a year so I don’t know if he distinguished not prescribing opiates to prevent possible addiction and those who just want the drugs.
    I am aware of surveys that showed that GPs like to keep their patients happy versus alienating them by denying the patient a particular treatment that the GP feels doesn’t cause harm.

  19. JMB says:

    @Paddy
    I am not proposing that as a standard solution. It is a fall back strategy when standard patient education fails.

  20. # Draalon 07 Feb 2011 at 6:08 pm
    “Right but I should have stressed I was mainly referring to patients that are using the excuse of pain management to obtain opiates for their drug habits.”

    Any evidence that placebo works as an intervention for opiate withdrawal symptoms, or any of the underlying causes of drug habits?

    It probably does work well in getting the drug seeking patient off that particular doctor’s back and that the addict continue their drug seeking elsewhere.

  21. Draal says:

    I don’t know Michele. I’ll ask my doc friend next time I see him.

  22. Mighty Amoeba says:

    The problem that I see with doing overdose stunts is that you have to first BUY the products to overdose on them. I am sure I am not the first person to point this out, but it bothers me.

  23. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    @ MIghty Amoeba

    So if you are an organisation that organises the stunt for, say, 25 participants, you’ll have to get an action sweater ( http://www.zazzle.co.uk/merseyskeptics/gifts?cg=196827116416494070 ) plus one portion of homeodosis stuff. The homeo stuff is about 15 dollar per small bottle, and you might find on the internet companies that won’t sell you stuff over D12 without a prescription of a real doctor.

  24. “The problem that I see with doing overdose stunts is that you have to first BUY the products to overdose on them. I am sure I am not the first person to point this out, but it bothers me.”

    Yes, I’m a strong believer in the consumer vote and from that angle, it strikes me as wrong to give financial support the company I’m protesting by buying their product.

  25. geack says:

    @ JMB re: ethics of doctors “prescribing” homeopathy…

    The problem with a doctor recommending a homeopathic treatment as a placebo is that it reinforces the homeopaths’ claims that their water can cure real problems. What happens when the same patient comes down with something serious but treatable, and the treatment has some nasty side effects, and the patient remembers that harmless and effective homeopathic treament he discussed with his doc a few years back? You haven’t just created a slippery slope; you’ve actively encouraged the natural tendency to confuse hope with evidence.

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