On the ethics of clinical trials of homeopathy in Third World countries

ResearchBlogging.orgI’m on the record multiple times as saying that I reject the entire concept and nomenclature of “alternative medicine” as being distinct from “conventional” medicine as a false dichotomy, when in reality there should be just “medicine.” Indeed, if there is one major theme to which this blog is dedicated it’s that medicine should be as much as possible science-based, a concept that takes into account not just clinical trials, which are prone to all sorts of false-positive results in the case of modalities that have no plausibility from a scientific perspective. In essence, I advocate treating “alternative” medicine the same as “conventional” medicine subjecting it to the same scientific process to determine whether it has efficacy or not, after which medicine that is effective is retained and used and medicine that fails the test is discarded. Where it comes from, the “alternative” or the “conventional” medical realm, matters little to me. All that matters is that it is based on sound science and that it has been demonstrated to have efficacy significantly greater than that of a placebo.

Given that, you’d think I’d be all in favor of subjecting alternative medicine, be it woo or more credible, to rigorous scientific testing. In many cases, you’d be right. My sole caveat is that, when testing alt-med, priority should be given to modalities that have at least a modicum of scientific plausibility, even if a bit tenuous. Herbal remedies would thus be at the front of my line to be tested, while obvious woo whose core principle on which it is based is so utterly ridiculous and scientifically implausible (like homeopathy, for instance) would be relegated to the back of line, if it’s ever tested at all. More implausible modalities that might work (albeit by a method that has nothing to do with the “life energy” manipulation that is claimed for it) like acupuncture would be somewhere in the middle. It’s a matter of resource prioritization, in which it makes little sense to test blatant woo before more plausible therapies are examined. Indeed, it’s arguable whether blatant woo like homeopathy should even have resources wasted testing it at all, given its extreme scientific improbability. Finally, regardless of what modality is being tested in scientific and/or clinical trials, it has to be done according to the highest ethical standards, on adults fully cognizant of or able to be taught about the questions being asked, the issues involved, and the potential risks who are thus able to give truly informed consent.

Given Dr. Atwood’s recent post about the dubious ethics of certain CAM trials funded by the NIH, I thought I’d discuss one such trial that I first came across about about a year and a half ago that demonstrates many of the ethical problems that come with testing unscientific medicine. In this case, the unscientific medicine is homeopathy, and the research subjects are children in a Third World Country. The study was trial of homeopathy published in October 2006 in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine:

Homeopathic Combination Remedy in the Treatment of Acute Childhood Diarrhea in Honduras

Jacobs J, Guthrie BL, Montes GA, Jacobs LE, Mickey-Colman N, Wilson AR, DiGiacomo R.
Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

BACKGROUND: Despite the widespread availability of oral rehydration therapy, diarrheal illness remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality around the world. Previous studies have shown individualized homeopathic therapy to be effective in treating childhood diarrhea, but this approach requires specialized training. OBJECTIVE: A homeopathic combination medicine, if effective, could be used by health personnel on a widespread basis. METHODS: A double-blind randomized controlled trial was conducted in Honduras to evaluate the effectiveness of a homeopathic combination therapy to treat acute diarrhea in children. A total of 292 children with acute diarrhea was recruited; 145 were randomized to the experimental group and 147 to the placebo group. Tablets containing a combined preparation of the five most common single homeopathic remedies used to treat diarrhea or placebo were administered by a parent after each unformed stool. Children were followed up daily for 7 days or until symptoms resolved, whichever occurred first. Time until resolution of symptoms, daily rate of unformed stools, and total number of unformed stools were compared between the two groups. RESULTS: There was no significant difference in the likelihood of resolution of diarrheal symptoms between the treatment and placebo groups (hazard ratio = 1.02, 95% confidence interval: 0.79-1.32), with a median time until resolution of 3 days for both groups. Children in the treatment group had an average of 2.6 unformed stools per day compared to 2.8 among those in the placebo group; this difference was not significant (p = 0.43). The median number of unformed stools was 7 among children in the treatment group and 8 among those in the placebo group (p = 0.41). DISCUSSION: The homeopathic combination therapy tested in this study did not significantly reduce the duration or severity of acute diarrhea in Honduran children. Further study is needed to develop affordable and effective methods of using homeopathy to reduce the global burden of childhood diarrhea.

I will give the Journal props for one thing in this one instance: It actually published a completely negative study of homeopathy. If you peruse the archive of its past issues, you will find precious few instances of totally negative studies on favored “complementary and alternative” therapies (or so-called “CAM” therapies) like homeopathy being published. Basically, the study above found that the homeopathic “remedies” used above didn’t provide any detectable benefit for diarrheal illness in these unfortunate children in Honduras. Of course, given the utter scientifically implausibility of homeopathy, that’s pretty much a “well, duh!” conclusion. Indeed, it would have been far more surprising if the investigators had found an an obvious treatment effect due to homeopathy that was due to anything more than placebo effect or poor experimental design. However, this study is a beautiful case study of how, no matter how negative the data is, CAM advocates will try to spin it as being something other than it is, as the authors do here:

Although individually prescribed homeopathic therapy by a trained practitioner reduced the duration and severity of acute diarrhea in three previous studies, the combination homeopathic medicine used in this study showed no evidence of efficacy. There was also no evidence that efficacy differed between subgroups defined by demographic or baseline clinical characteristics or category of pathogenic agent detected.

A number of factors could account for the ineffectiveness of the homeopathic combination therapy. Although the homeopathic remedies included in the combination therapy were those most commonly prescribed in the previous studies, it is possible that these remedies would not have been prescribed individually in this population and/or that a different combination medicine would have been more effective. There is also a possibility that the remedies included in the combination therapy counteracted each other in some way, rendering the individual remedies ineffective. Other factors could be that the therapy was not administered correctly by parents in this study, or that it had lost its potency because of improper storage or handling before it was administered.

I cannot help but chuckle at that last sentence. How does a placebo whose allegedly active ingredient has been diluted to a homeopathic dilution of 30C, (which is the equivalent of a 1:1060), a point where it is incredibly unlikely that even one molecule of “active ingredient” remains, “lose its potency”? In fact, to find a single molecule of the “active substance” would require a container over 30 billion times the size of the earth. “Lose its potency,” indeed. It never had any potency to begin with. In essence, the author is suggesting that, somehow 87% alcohol could inactivate 87% alcohol or water could inactivate water!

Another possibility is that the pathogens infecting children in this study were less susceptible to homeopathic therapy in general or to this specific combination therapy in particular.

Which begs the question of how any pathogens could be susceptible to homeopathy at all!

But as much fun as it is to enjoy the discomfiture of the study authors as they try to explain in one of the woo-iest “scientific” journals there is why they found no treatment effect due to homeopathy without stating the glaringly obvious (that homeopathy is nothing more than an elaborate placebo containing no active ingredient), I’m more interested in the ethics of this study. First off, this study gives off an unpleasant whiff of exploitation. Think about it. Here we have comfortable academics from a wealthy nation heading to a country where diarrheal diseases in children, although still mostly self-limited, still cause considerable morbidity and mortality (world-wide around 1.5 million children die every year of such diseases). True, oral rehydration therapy, which has become more widespread, has greatly decreased the death rate. Nonetheless, in spite of this, these diseases still cause considerable morbidity due to malnutrition, mainly because babies suffering from them are unable to eat properly or absorb the nutrients during the course of the illness in whatever milk, food, or formula that they can manage to eat. In our wealthy nation, we rarely, if ever, see the devastation these diseases routinely wreak in impoverished areas like the ones where the study population lives, as described by the authors:

Subjects were drawn from two municipal clinics in the Metropolitan Health District of Honduras. The clinics serve an impoverished population of approximately 80,000 people, with no municipal water, electric, sewage, or garbage disposal services. Educational opportunities are low and unemployment is common…Among the clinic patients, there was a high incidence of childhood diarrhea; in 2001, there was an estimated incidence of 23 cases of diarrhea per 1000 children 5 years old.

Now, let’s look at the specifics of the homeopathic remedies used:

The homeopathic combination medicine was composed of the five most common single remedies, which were prescribed for the treatment of 80% of cases of childhood diarrhea in previous studies.12,13 These included Arsenicum album, Calcarea carbonica, Chamomilla, Podophyllum, and sulphur. The homeopathic remedies were prepared in the United States using standard methods.18 The combination therapy was prepared by a homeopathic pharmacist by impregnating pellets made of 85% sucrose and 15% lactose with a liquid homeopathic dilution in the 30C potency (the active substances diluted 1:100 in an 87% alcohol solution 30 times for a final concentration of 1 x 10-60). Placebo was prepared in the same manner using 87% alcohol instead of the homeopathic dilution. Treatment and placebo preparations were identical in taste, odor, and appearance.

Arsenic. Podophyllin. I wonder if the IRB knew that these were the ingredients being used. Granted, they are so dilute that there is nothing left, but there was no data presented to show that these components had actually been diluted that much and therefore posed no threat to the study subjects. Think of it this way. If the remedy has any active ingredients, it’s potentially toxic. If it is truly homeopathic, then it’s nothing more than 87% ethanol and sugar. How is it ethical to give this to anyone in a clinical trial, other than in a placebo control arm?

Here’s another consideration. The study subjects were children. The Common Rule that covers all federally funded human subjects research makes it very clear that special care must be taken when vulnerable populations are the subjects of a study. Depending on the age of the child, informed consent must be obtained from the subject himself. If the child is too young, then both parents must assent, unless one is dead or unavailable. In any case, the ethical considerations of research on children are very difficult. Now, in the light of the fact that children are considered vulnerable populations who require special protection above and beyond that given adults and that, more than that, they are not American and live in the slums of a Third World nation, think about how these investigators would have signed up patients in Honduras. It’s obvious from the writing in this paper that they are true believers in homeopathy. They probably told parents that they would be randomized to a placebo or to a remedy that might help their child and weren’t lying when they said it–because they truly believed it. Even so, to sell this trial they would have been spreading misinformation, namely that anyone in the study would receive anything that might actually have a therapeutic benefit.

Finally, given the conditions of the areas in which the study population live, it’s not unreasonable to presume that the people living there are mostly not well educated. This brings up the question of whether the parents were in fact able to give truly informed consent. The answer: Almost certainly not. Now, don’t get me wrong. One ethical principle that would be violated in withholding the benefits of a clinical trial from the poorly educated is that such benefits should not be limited only to the well-off or highly educated. However, communicating the risks and benefits of any trial to uneducated people unsophisticated people takes a special effort. It’s a lot of work. Did the investigators make that effort? Maybe I’m being cynical, but I tend to doubt it. In fact, to do this study in the first place, they would by definition of homeopathy have to be giving the parents of the study subjects misinformation. There’d be no way around it.

How this study ever passed muster at the Institutional Review Board at the University of Washington, the home institution of the investigators, I’ll never know. This IRB should have viewed its charge as protecting these Honduran children from being included in an dubious study that could not possibly do study participants any good and at best wouldn’t harm them. I’m guessing that the reason for this is that the members of the IRB had no clue about what homeopathy actually is, why it’s so scientifically ridiculous, and why the above study is highly dubious ethically. Indeed, I wonder if it is a general problem with IRBs that few of their members know exactly what it is that is in so-called “CAM” remedies like homeopathy. One other possible reason in this case is that the investigators probably cited a 13-year old study done using essentially the same methodology in Nicaragua and published in Pediatrics in 1994. This study purported to show a treatment effect, although it was small and arguable whether, even if real, it would be clinically significant. It also used a slightly different bunch of homeopathic remedies, one of which included mercury, of all things. In addition, this study was riddled with methodological difficulties, including failure to control for diet (diet can, as you would imagine, have a considerable impact on diarrhea in these illnesses); the level of dehydration (the treatment group where an effect was allegedly observed suffered from milder dehydration); and previous treatment interventions (patients in the treatment group were more than twice as likely to have received treatment before starting homeopathy). Finally, they did not use optimal recommended methods for quantifying diarrhea output

I truly wonder if the UW IRB would have approved this sort of study twice–or even once–if the study population had been American. I’m not sure which would be worse: If it wouldn’t have–or if it would have.

Finally, looking back at this trial again a year and a half later, I wondered if more such trials had been published in the interim. I was quite relieved to be unable to find any. Indeed, searching PubMed, all I could find were two articles. The first was a systematic review of homeopathy for pediatric and adolescent ailments that concluded that the “evidence from rigorous clinical trials of any type of therapeutic or preventive intervention testing homeopathy for childhood and adolescence ailments is not convincing enough for recommendations in any condition.” The second was a survey that starts out with the assumption that homeopathy is effective in childhood diarrhea and surveys pediatricians about whether they are using homeopathy for such diseases. To my relief, only 3% reported that they were using homeopathic antidiarrheal agents. To my amusement, the authors bemoaned this very low number and proposed means of increasing it:

We conclude that homeopathic antidiarrheal agents have garnered little support among pediatric health care providers. The lack of correlation between adoption and individual innovativeness suggests that adoption will not increase barring intervention. Survey methods have allowed us to identify specific barriers to adoption. Remediation would include improving the evidence base for this innovation to the degree possible, increasing awareness, and providing means of improving experiential knowledge of these agents.

In other words, even though homeopathy doesn’t work for pediatric diarrheal diseases, we propose increasing awareness and getting people “hands-on” experience with it. Of course, the most tortured conclusion is suggesting “improving the evidence base for this innovation as much as possible.” Apparently the authors don’t realize that the evidence base for this “innovation” (how one can call a 200 year old bit of magical thinking based on prescientific ideas on vitalism and sympathetic magic an “innovation” I’ll never know) is as “good” as it’s ever likely to get.

One thing you can be sure of, though, is that homeopathy advocates won’t give up. They will keep trying to carry out ethically dubious trials such as the one described above. Thanks to the existence of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, sadly, you and I will likely keep paying for them too.


  1. Jacobs, J., Guthrie, B.L., Montes, G.A., Jacobs, L.E., Mickey-Colman, N., Wilson, A.R., DiGiacomo, R. (2006). Homeopathic Combination Remedy in the Treatment of Acute Childhood Diarrhea in Honduras. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12(8), 723-732. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2006.12.723
  2. Altunç, U., Pittler, M.H., Ernst, E. (2007). Homeopathy for Childhood and Adolescence Ailments: Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 82(1), 69-75.
  3. Pappano, D., Conners, G., McIntosh, S., Humiston, S., Roma, D. (2007). Why Pediatric Health Care Providers Are Not Using Homeopathic Antidiarrheal Agents. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13(10), 1071-1076. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2007.0651

Posted in: Homeopathy, Medical Ethics, Public Health, Science and Medicine

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83 thoughts on “On the ethics of clinical trials of homeopathy in Third World countries

  1. Right on. Dishonest consent information is ubiquitous in trials of implausible claims, for exactly the reason that you suggest: no prospective subject would agree to participate if he were told that the trial has a vanishingly unlikely chance of showing anything truly useful (even a “negative” result of such a claim isn’t useful, because that is what the prior probability overwhelmingly predicts).

    Consider another possible reason that Jennifer Jacobs, one of Wayne Jonas’s pals, has done many of her studies in Latin America: to skirt the US requirement for INDs for each of the “drugs.”

    BTW, the definitive critique of the 1994 Nicaragua report was co-authored by our own Wally Sampson:

    Here’s a cynical explanation for the woo journal having published a “negative” study: that homeopaths don’t want such cookie-cutter “combination therapy” to work. Their biggest, nearly unfalsiable excuse for homeopathy trials being unimpressive is that most trials do not test “individually prescribed homeopathic therapy,” which is how homeopaths actually practice: matching the absurd list of “symptoms” to the “correct remedy” in the materia medica. We argue, correctly, that to show the lack of any biological effect from such dilutions is enough to refute the whole field; they argue that such is not a true test of homeopathy because that isn’t how it’s practiced–which, to someone naive to homeopathy’s tenets, might seem reasonable.

    Irony: Hahnemann himself would have considered this trial unethical because of the mixture of several remedies, which he decried, and because of the lack of individual prescribing.

  2. qetzal says:

    Regarding IRB approval, 45CFR46.111 states (in part; emphasis added):

    (a) In order to approve research covered by this policy the IRB shall determine that all of the following requirements are satisfied:

    (2) Risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits, if any, to subjects, and the importance of the knowledge that may reasonably be expected to result.

    I wonder how the UofW IRB concluded that that requirement was satisfied!

    Some might claim that if homeopathy = placebo, there were no risks, but that’s false. Any mishandling of the ‘pellets’ could result in risk to the treated children, either through accidental impregnation with undiluted tinctures, or through events such as contamination with bacteria, mold, or other potentially harmful materials. Such risks should be quite small, of course, but they exist. Thus, to meet the above requirement, the study should have offered some minimally reasonable chance for benefit to subjects and/or valuable knowledge. I would love to hear the IRB justify what they think that was.

    To be clear, I wouldn’t expect or want IRBs to set a very high bar here. I’d expect them to give wide latitude on what’s reasonable to expect. However, homeopathic preparations at 30C are way beyond the pale. There were no anticipated benefits or knowledge one could reasonably expect from this study, no matter how far one stretched the definition of reasonable.

    Dr. Gorski,

    perhaps it would be worthwhile for you to write the UofW IRB on this matter. Even if they seem unreceptive to your comments, I hope they would still think twice before approving such a study in the future.

  3. daedalus2u says:

    As I see it, this study was unethical and was a breach of the Helsinki Declaration. Which states:

    29. The benefits, risks, burdens and effectiveness of a new method should be tested against those of the best current prophylactic, diagnostic, and therapeutic methods. This does not exclude the use of placebo, or no treatment, in studies where no proven prophylactic, diagnostic or therapeutic method exists. See footnote

    There are proven therapeutic methods for treating childhood diarrhea. Those proven therapeutic methods should be the standard against which all unproven methods are tested.

  4. pec says:

    So you wouldn’t test anything that doesn’t seem plausible to you? How can you decide whether something is plausible if it has not been tested?

    Never mind, I know. Any hypothesis that relies on substances, energies, or fields not already known to science is implausible and should not be tested.

    Good idea! In this way, we can keep science exactly where it is, forever. Why change a good thing?

  5. Marcellab_5 says:

    I’ve come here via blog hopping and I’m not a professional. I’m also going to ask a question which isn’t directly relevant to this post, so you may want to throw me straight back where I came from, but here goes…
    Psychotherapy (not the ommmm stuff with colours and crystals, but things like CBT, DBT, IPT) scientifically based or woo?

  6. weing says:

    Damn, you wont test if my chanting 99 times “nam myoho renge kyo” cures pneumonia? That is so unfair.

  7. Zetetic says:

    Pec: “keep science exactly where it is” doesn’t really apply to modern science which is ever seeking confirmable truths through hypothesis and theory development using the scientific method. However, it definitely applies to homeopathy – It’s been exactly where it is for about 200 years!

  8. qetzal says:

    pec asked:

    So you wouldn’t test anything that doesn’t seem plausible to you? How can you decide whether something is plausible if it has not been tested?

    Is this directed to me? If so, it seems you either misunderstood, or you’re deliberately constructing a strawman. Assuming the former, let me clarify:

    Don’t test things on people, especially children, that directly conflict with fundamental, well-established scientific knowledge.

    Homeopathy, as practiced in this study, is impossible based on our current understanding of fundamental scientific concepts. In other words, for this ‘treatment’ to be effective, those fundamental understandings would have to be wrong. That means we can’t reasonably justify testing such things on people.

    Now, if you want to try to show that this 30C prep has significant benefit in an animal model of acute diarrhea, that might be different. (Still ethically questionable, though, IMO.) And if, by some miracle, you showed an objective and reproducible benefit in such a model, THEN you’d have a reasonable justification for testing in people.

  9. DavidCT says:

    This contemptable study just illustrates the real dangers to real people of allowing the deluded to practice as if they were real doctors.

    It’s not as if these patients were regular middle class residents from Wooshington State with more money than brains having psychosomatic problems that do respond to a little pampering. These are real childern with parents who care about them. These kids have real diseases and need real help. They are just poor and have few options. For the U of Woo IRB to be approving this sort of study is not unethical, it a crime against humanity and they should be in jail – preferably in Honduras.

    I have two adopted children from third world countries. If circumstances had been different, these wonderful people could have been victums of this “harmless” quackademic research. The sad thing is that the IRB members are probably clueless about the nonsense they are approving.

  10. Harriet Hall says:

    pec asks,

    “So you wouldn’t test anything that doesn’t seem plausible to you? How can you decide whether something is plausible if it has not been tested?”

    From previous comments I am led to believe that pec doesn’t think the Tooth Fairy is plausible. Did he test the Tooth Fairy? Probably not. He probably just thought another explanation (parents) was more plausible.

    We think homeopathy is a Tooth Fairy. I suppose we “could” be wrong, but then pec “could” be wrong and the Tooth Fairy could be real…. if he’s not willing to do serious scientific studies of the TF, maybe it’s not fair of him to suggest we do such studies of homeopathy.

  11. sandswipe says:

    “So you wouldn’t test anything that doesn’t seem plausible to you? How can you decide whether something is plausible if it has not been tested?”

    If something is physically possible, it will be tested. If water memory has never been proven by anyone who wasn’t already making money from selling it when they put on a positive study, and if there is no reasonable mechanism for this that we know about, then it is probably impossible. If it’s a choice between testing something that’s impossible and something that has promising results, I’m going to side with the pharmaceutical researchers every time.

    “Never mind, I know. Any hypothesis that relies on substances, energies, or fields not already known to science is implausible and should not be tested.”

    If a field has no measurable effect on anything in the known universe, then it does not effectively exist. It may be real, but if we can’t look at it, control it, or effect it in any measurable way then there’s no point in trying until we know what it is.

    “Good idea! In this way, we can keep science exactly where it is, forever. Why change a good thing?”

    The core of science is that it self-corrects. It admits mistakes and moves on, but ONLY when the evidence suggests that it was wrong. Homeopathy is not such a case, and with every negative study it becomes less and less likely that it will suddenly burst into mainstream (real) science. If you don’t think you’re being respected, find more reliable results. If you can’t get reliable results, then your hypothesis is probably not how nature works and you are wrong.

    2nding the request for a post on psychology as a science. The impression I get personally is that they try very hard to be scientists in a field where controls and other vital minutiae are very difficult, and aren’t always taught good scientific methods, but a few more opinions on the debate would be interesting.

  12. Harriet Hall says:


    You asked a simplistic question and I’ll give a simplistic answer: Freudian psychoanalysis was not based on science.
    Some modern psychotherapies have passed scientific tests, others haven’t. And some that have been shown to “work” have been misused or mis-applied.

    There is a journal devoted to making mental health more scientific: The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Quite a few of their back articles are available online.

  13. daedalus2u says:

    Actually this combination therapy demonstrates that the homeopathic preparations tested either do not work to prevent diarrhea, or that 1 or more of the preparations caused sufficiently severe adverse effects that the beneficial effects of the curative agent were neutralized.

    They either don’t work, or some have adverse effects that neutralize any therapeutic effects.

    If you accept the premise that at least one of the agents was effective, then the other agents were worse than nothing. They were actually harmful.

    I think this study very much calls into question the conclusion that homeopathic agents “can’t do any harm”.

  14. pec says:


    I don’t think human beings are generally stupid, whether educated or not. I think all of us are limited by our experience, and because we are finite creatures in an infinite universe.

    Since I do not think people in general are stupid, when very large numbers, in various times and cultures, believe something is true, I try to be open-minded regarding that belief.

    The tooth fairy and Santa Claus do not fall into the category of things believed widely in many different cultures.

    I do not look down on the “primitive superstitions” of traditional cultures, or the religious beliefs of contemporary Westerners. I think there might be some truth mixed in with the confusion.

    All humans are confused and overwhelmed by ignorance, and most of us deal with the confusion by subscribing to one ideology or another. We like to feel that we basically understand life, even though we really don’t.

    So it isn’t stupidity or lack of thinking skills that makes people believe in mythology — it’s the need to fill the gaps in our understanding. Scientists are as vulnerable to this as people without Western or scientific education. Scientists are also likely to fall into the smart person’s trap of over-confidence.

    So I don’t look down at humans in general, although I admit most of what we believe, educated or not, is mythology. If I did look down at uneducated humanity I might agree with you and the materialist “skeptics” that ancient and traditional beliefs are as silly as believing in the tooth fairy.

    But I don’t. I think that when you see similar beliefs occurring in many diverse times and places that is a sign that there may be a grain of truth in the belief.

    Energy medicine is a typical example. Mainstream medical science writes it all off as self-deception and wishful thinking.

    Mystical experiences of all kinds are also written off as hallucinations and delusions. In order to be a materialist, you need tremendous faith in the ability of people to deceive themselves.

    I think we can be good at self-deception, but mostly regarding things that are ambiguous and poorly understood. When there is clear evidence, when people see things for themselves, most of us can let go of illusions.

    There is no clear evidence that materialism is correct. People are not necessarily going to throw away lifetimes of experience and intuitive knowledge because an authority tells them their beliefs are based on illusions. Some will, but many will not.

    You do not have clear evidence for your materialist ideology. Spiritual belief systems will not crumble because Dawkins decrees that there are no gods. If Dawkins had clear evidence, more people would pay attention to him.

  15. weing says:

    Most cultures believed the sun traveled around the earth in various vessels, boats, chariots, whatever. So there were similar beliefs, so there must be a grain of truth to these beliefs, it can’t be just wishful thinking can it?

  16. Harriet Hall says:

    Claiming that something is true because everyone believes it is true is a common logical fallacy. At one tiime all of humanity believed the earth was flat. At one time we all believed solid matter was solid; it is still difficult to comprehend that it is mostly empty space between atoms.

    Our brains evolved to cope with a middle ground between cosmic and quantum levels, and our brains evolved a theory of mind to recognize consciousness in others. We are too good at this, and we tend to see forces and personalities where they don’t exist. A child may say the mean chair made him fall off. An adult may misinterpret his inner thoughts as the voice of god, or his inner sensations as evidence for an energy field.

    While it may be natural and universal for humans to believe in supernatural explanations for things, and while internal experiences can be as real as anything external, that is no indication that those explanations correspond to the external material world we all share.

  17. pec says:

    “that is no indication that those explanations correspond to the external material world we all share.”

    And there is also no indication that the things so many of us have experienced are illusions and delusions.

    There is no compelling scientific evidence either way. Yes, people thought the earth was flat because it looked that way. So eventually there was compelling evidence and almost everyone threw their flat-earth theory out the window. Done, finished.

    You are wrong to assume that every “folk” belief will be overturned and replaced by a belief consistent with materialism. You can’t even define “matter,” and you can’t provide any logical or scientific reason to think nothing but what you happen to call “matter” at this moment is all that can possibly exist.

  18. pec says:

    “Claiming that something is true because everyone believes it is true is a common logical fallacy.”

    You know very well that I did not claim that. I said that we should try to keep an open mind about beliefs that have occurred in many times and cultures. We should not dismiss all the knowledge of pre-scientific cultures, and we should not assume that Western scientists are far superior in logic and intelligence.

    Western science is limited (yes Western technology is impressive, but try not to confuse that with wisdom and understanding of nature), and traditional cultures have all been limited.

    We are all limited, and I keep saying that but you keep reading something else into it. I am NOT, ever, saying that every superstition and mythology must be true.

    I am saying we should not simply toss out everything not approved by modern science, and we should not uncritically accept all the materialist dogma.

  19. BlazingDragon says:

    What would a homeopath do with the “materia medica” and me? I react so oddly to so many medications (I usually get the therapeutic benefit + a rare side effect) that a “true homeopathic workup” based on symptoms observed in other people would be worthless. Just goes to show that if you wrote down your “symptoms and cures” a long time ago, based on observation of “normals,” it won’t help people who are outside of “normal.”

    At least modern medicine, for all it’s frustrations, usually delivers on the main therapeutic goal for the vast majority of patients. Tolerability of side effects is another issue and one that seems to be more idiosyncratic and thus harder to manage in some cases.

    Being a chemist, even thinking about a 30C dilution as a “medicine” makes my brain hurt. The “water memory” that proponents of homeopathy use to get around the fact that a 30C dilution means there is no active molecule left in each “dose,” also makes my brain hurt. To me, it is blindingly obvious why homeopathy cannot work, but it’s very hard to explain to someone else without a good grounding in chemistry and physics.

  20. Harriet Hall says:

    pec says, “You are wrong to assume that every “folk” belief will be overturned and replaced by a belief consistent with materialism.”

    No, I’m not wrong because I never assumed any such thing!

    pec says, “I am saying we should not simply toss out everything not approved by modern science, and we should not uncritically accept all the materialist dogma.”

    Listen harder, pec. That’s what we’re all saying. We’re talking about real science, where nothing is ever “tossed out” or “approved” or “uncritically accepted” or “dogma” or even “materialist.” We are all ready to follow the evidence wherever it leads. In the absence of convincing evidence, we’re trying to use common sense about where to apply our limited resources.

    No one is denying that one’s personal experiences are real and meaningful. Unfortunately, if there is anything immaterial going on, the only way we can ever hope to verify that is if the immaterial has some measurable impact on material things. After centuries of looking, no such measurable impact has been verified, and the Bayes probability numbers are continuing to go down rapidly even as we speak – but if we are rigorous scientists we will never call them zero. And we are simultaneously learning ever more about human psychology and neurophysiology, making the probability of materialist explanations continute to rise, but certainly not to 100%.

    Let me turn the “ad populum” argument around – if what most people have believed in for eons were true, wouldn’t we expect to have found a shred or two of compelling evidence by now?

    If the phenomena were robust, we would already be pouring money into research. They aren’t, and we aren’t, and we shouldn’t be. There will always be a few reckless gamblers, but responsible scientists who are spending public money in good faith should be Willie Suttons.

  21. pec says:

    “if what most people have believed in for eons were true, wouldn’t we expect to have found a shred or two of compelling evidence by now?”

    Yes, if we had devoted resources to investigating biofields, for example, I think we might have convincing evidence by now. I am hopeful since, as I learned at this blog, CAM research is getting more funding. I think the theory behind biofields makes sense and would help us understand many mysteries. Why is it perfectly ok to have non-material fields in physics, but not allowed on the biological level?

    You seem to be open-minded Harriet, and I think if you paid more attention to some of the CAM theories you might see that not all of them defy common sense. And there is probably a lot more suggestive evidence than you realize.

  22. weing says:


    You can’t be serious. Wait. Forget it. It’s April Fools day.

  23. daedalus2u says:

    pec, there are no “non-material” fields in physics. Every field and every particle that physics attempts to describe has material effects. Even things as “immaterial” as neutrinos, which have a mean free path in lead of about a light year have been reliably detected.

  24. Harriet Hall says:

    pec missed my point – that if there were any robust effects, we would have found evidence by now without the need for special funding.

    He thinks the idea of biofields makes sense; but there are lots of things that make sense that unfortunately just don’t happen to be true. For centuries, the medical establishment thought the 4 humour theory made sense and kept blood-letting away.

    Fields are OK in physics because we can measure them and their effects on matter. Fields would be perfectly OK in CAM if we could measure them and their effects – but we have never succeeded in doing so, despite many attempts.

    It’s a bit like perpetual motion machines – they would defy known physics, but we would all embrace them with enthusiasm if there were a shred of evidence that they might work. And we would embrace them first and then go back and figure out the science to explain them. Think of the implications for global warming! But I doubt if even pec would encourage spending our tax dollars on a perpetual motion research effort.

    Perhaps pec will favor us with his best example of a CAM “theory” that does not defy common sense.

  25. pec says:

    “we have never succeeded in doing so, despite many attempts.”

    I don’t believe mainstream science has made many attempts at measuring biofields. If you don’t believe such a thing is possible, you would not try to measure it.

  26. Synaptix says:

    Lol, biofields! Thats sooo corny – and to hear an adult talk as if such things exist is rather funny. Seriously though, you say that science hasn’t made any attempts at measuring “biofields” (lol) – how about them “alternative” scientists that you always talk about. I mean, back in the 70’s people could make radio telescopes out of basically nothing and listen to pulsars millions of light years away. Yet you are telling us that they can’t afford to measure some field that should be everywhere we look. Ideas like yours were cool – when I was twelve.

  27. BlazingDragon says:


    You are intentionally ignoring a simple concept: If these bio-fields had any effect on disease, they would be strong enough to be measured. These measurements don’t have to be direct measurements at first (the neutrino was predicted before it was detected because the total energies of disintegration of certain radioactive nuclei were consistently “missing” energy and didn’t add up to 100% with existing technology). Once it is established (through reproducible trials) that medical science is “missing” some portion of an explanation for a disease, scientists will go back and look for WHY and HOW they are missing this bit of evidence.

    If such “missing” bits never show up, why on earth would we spend limited research dollars looking for them? Even if such “bio-fields” exist, their effects must be very weak or have no impact (or they would have been noticed by now as an reproducible inconsistency in one or more biological systems). So if their effects are very weak or non-existent, they cannot affect the course of a treatment in any way that is useful, why should we spend money on something that we know beforehand will be ineffective?

    Feel free to rip this post to shreds or badly mis-interpret it. Your ignorance seems willful, so no amount of logical argumentation will ever change your mind.

  28. Dave,

    I forgot to mention yesterday, after a night of sleep-deprivation “on call,” that I’ve previously mentioned, under the heading “Failing to consider Prior Probability leads to Unethical Human Studies,” another unethical homeo study–this one done here in the US of A, with the blessings of a Harvard teaching hospital IRB. It is linked from here:

    I complained to the OHRP about that study, making the same points that you and qetzal and daedalus and others made and more, and got essentially nowhere. I’ll write about it in more detail at some point.

  29. “Alternative medicine” is a marketing term meant to create an image in customers’ minds of warm, fuzzy, caring people, who listen to them and treat them with the greatest respect, practitioners who offer them options not offered by “conventional medicine”, one of which is that they don’t have to endure clinical discussions with stuffy, arrogant, old white men when they are having a bad day and looking for something to make them feel better, or at least someone to listen to them. Another is the promise of a simple, safe remedy for a complex problem, a remedy that doesn’t come with a package insert telling of all kinds of terrible things that can happen to them when they take it.

    “Alt med” is an illusion. A fantasy. Wishful thinking. Head-in-the-sand-medicine. But it sure sells lots of goods and services in industrialized nations. The terms alt or CAM and conventional also obscure the fact, at least as far as the general public is concerned, that alts. are actually saying that there are two kinds of medicine, the scientific kind and the unscientific alternative or complementary kind. Few people in the general public know that alt. med. and alt. remedies are not evaluated the same way that scientific medicine and approved drugs are, which of course is exactly the way that the alt. industry wants it. It’s good for business.

    IMO, the best solution is to insist that those practicing unscientific medicine either make it scientific by doing the studies themselves that demonstrate that their products really work as claimed or that they announce to the world that they have no such evidence. (Of course, such studies will have to be held to the same standards as those used in evaluating drugs, but I won’t go there now because botanical promoters will jump in ready to debate the issue.) When reliable scientific studies are lacking, products should have to bare labels stating that there are no scientific studies demonstrating that they are safe and effective, but that in spite of that, based solely on personal experience, the manufacturers themselves believe that they are. The same disclosure should be required in their advertising.

    I’d be astounded if this kind of disclosure ever happened in my life time. It is an idea that alts oppose becasue they know what it would do to their bottom lines. When I brought it up to supplement industry leaders at a meeting of the President’s Committee on Dietary Supplement Labels, it was ignored. But from a marketing point of view, it is important to keep bringing it up because it puts the alt industry on the defensive, a position that the scientists in their marketing departments usually manage to keep scientists in.

  30. BlazingDragon says:


    Head-in-the-sand doesn’t just apply to medicine. There are a lot of areas where marketing/spin is substituted for calm, rational evaluation of claims and decisions made based on evidence… The SUV market would never have gotten so big if not for this willful blindness to consequences (to name a less controversial example).

    I think that your idea of proper labeling would even better if it were expanded to include a lot of areas of wishful thinking… but I think you are also correct in stating that it won’t happen for a long time (too much money at stake).

  31. pec says:

    “Once it is established (through reproducible trials) that medical science is “missing” some portion of an explanation for a disease …”

    I guess you haven’t noticed how much medical science is missing.

  32. pmoran says:

    Kimball “Right on. Dishonest consent information is ubiquitous in trials of implausible claims, for exactly the reason that you suggest: no prospective subject would agree to participate if he were told that the trial has a vanishingly unlikely chance of showing anything truly useful –”

    I am not sure that you can say that. Prior plausibility is meaningful to most of the scientifically inclined, but not the public in general. I wager that any survey of the general public would show that at least fifty per cent believe that homeopathy might work, and some would even be keen to enter such a trial to show that it does work better than placebo. Importantly, they will think the same even if you and the rest of the scientific community tell them homeopathy is poppycock.

    Even those skeptical of homeopathy might enter a good quality study, thinking that it is of some importance to demonstrate that homeopathy is a placebo. I personally don’t think homeopathy needs more study — it has had an adequate day in court. But it might under exceptional circumstances.

    So you are not precisely wrong, by your own lights, and to those of us who understand what you are saying, but this argument is a waste of time once you try to preach beyond the choir.

  33. raygee says:

    While I agree that most of the homoepathic ideas are without foundation, there is one ” biofield” that has not had much attention, but which really does exist and is in worldwide use daily. I refer to water divining, a reliable test for underground water, and a set of divining rods is included in civil engineers’ field kits.

    I saw this demonstrated on TV some years ago, by a very scientific team, showing how well it works, blinded, but it could be prevented from happening by wrapping the torso of the diviner in foil. The investigators concluded that the effect was due to electromagnetic radiation (from the water) at something like ultraviolet wavelengths.

    I have not seen any reference to this in the technical literature in following years, so perhaps science is not iinterested in such matters, when geological pulse (explosion) tests have become the norm for exploration.

    The inclusion of so called alternative medicines in the complementary catagory is totally unjustified. Saying that the proprietors of nutritional supplements should perform rigorous tests using their products is almost completely out of the question. The large drug manufacturers have enormous capital resources to use to justify the widespread use of a patentable product, with an earning capacity of many millions. The dealer in non-patentable substances has little incentive to spend large sums on trials which would benefit all in the business of selling the same substance.

    Large research institutions, probably receiving much of their regular income from manufacturing industry have little incentive to change the status quo, and may even feel inhibited from doing so. The result is that such biologically known essential factors, of which Coenzyme Q10 and carnitine are just two, are treated as unscientific, while life just cannot exist without their sufficient presence in the energy producing mitochondria. I see no sign of the scientific community taking an interest in investigating their use. They already carry a label saying that the FDA has not evaluated them, but they are a total necessity to some such as myself, suffering from the serious side effects of the most tested drugs in history, the poisonous statins, I have unwittingly carried out trials of medication against placebo when my supply of either of them, on separate occasions, was of insufficient quality or dose strength. I would welcome properly financed trials being carried out upon them, but I suspect that they would then become priced out of the range of normal patients. For example, Carnitor, the UK prescription form of LCarnitine, licensed only for use in infants and dialysis patients, would cost me £35 ($70) daily. The supplement form costs just 40 pence a day.

  34. weing says:


    Medical science is certainly missing a lot of things. Wasting time and money chasing your quack biofield ideas is something we could do without. Unfortunately our education system has failed and people accept this nonsense instead of laughing at it like at the concept of the stork bringing babies home.

  35. wertys says:


    There are a number of logical and factual fallacies in your post.

    Water divining has been so thoroughly debunked and James Randi and others that there is no serious scientific interest in it anymore. The explanation is the ‘ideomotor effect’ which I suggest you investigate by listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe poscast, or read Randi’s classic book ‘Flim Flam’. there are probably heaps of other references to cite, but those will be enough to convince you that the ‘successes’ of water diviners are entirely explainable by confirmation bias, ideomotor effect, random chance and expectation bias.

    I think the fourth paragraph has an unstated premise that large pharmaceutical companies are not involved in selling supplements or herbal remedies. In my own country (Australia) the largest manafacturer of generic pharmaceuticals actually subsidises its conventional pharmaceuticals by producing several brands of supplements and herbal products. They make bigger profits from this than their generic pharmaceuticals. The reason these firms are not involved in funding studies into these so-called CAM (sCAM) products is that they are not required to prove they are safe and effecive before putting them on the market. If that changed, and there had to be proper regulation and quality control of these products they would definitely be more expensive, and ‘big pharma’ would again be seen as the bad guys. A change to the status quo, in which these products can make pseudo-health claims within a much laxer regulatory framework, is not in the interests of pharmaceutical companies. And you cannot seriously be saying that the makers of Airbourne, who turn over in excess of $120 million in sales could not afford to fund a $1 million dollar trial ? They just had to write off $20 million in fines for deceptive advertising. They should have been required to send that money to medical research…

    In discussing CoEQ10 and carnitine, you are making the subtle but common error of leaping too quickly from preclinical data to the complexities of clinical practice. They are well-known to the scientific community. To find out how much research is being done, do a search on them at, which is the online datadase for the worldwide medical literature. What is missing is hard clinical evidence that these substances taken as supplements do any real good.

    For a discussion about the ‘poisonous statins’ I suggest you read the relevant thread in this blog.

    If you want to pay 40p a day for your carnitine, you are probably getting 0.0002 pence worth of actual carnitine, I submit.

  36. Harriet Hall says:

    It is April 1st.

  37. daedalus2u says:

    A number of organisms do use naturally occurring polarized light to periodically calibrate their magnetic compass.

    It is thought that this mechanism relates to magnetic field effects on photochemical production of radical pairs.

    Humans are thought to have similar mechanisms. Perhaps subtle variations in the Earth’s magnetic field may correspond to underground water sources and it is these subtle magnetic field variations that people are “feeling” and not understanding the source of their feelings.

    Another possible mechanism could be by natural radiation. Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element which upon decay releases radon, a radioactive inert gas. When radon decays it produces radioactive elements also. However these elements are much more reactive than radon and so become ion exchanged or trapped where they are created. Flowing water could very well sweep up radon from a large catchment and then deposit the radon daughter products where they could be detected. The failure of artificial tests may relate to the lack of radon. That mechanism would only work for near surface water in regions with sufficient background radioactivity.

  38. Joe says:

    @daedalus2u, “Humans are thought to have similar mechanisms.”

    Are you participating in the hoax?

  39. daedalus2u says:

    What hoax?

    If there are real phenomena involved with dowsing, the only “data” we have about it are the anecdotal reports of it working. If we postulate a “real effect”, the most likely mechanism(s) are via known physical mechanisms. There are multiple potential physical mechanisms which could explain “the data”. There is no need to invoke completely unknown and completely non-physical “non-material” effects. The mechanisms that dowsers claim they are using are nonsense.

    “The data” is extremely “noisy”. There is plenty of fraud, self-deceit, mistakes, delusion, and nonsense mixed in with the “data”. There may be no “signal” among the noise. Distinguishing between something that is 100% noise and 99% noise is challenging.

    I think that raygee was trying to pull our legs. No civil engineer that I know has ever used dowsing, no civil engineering text that I have ever seen discusses the use of dowsing, there are no discussions of “best practices” of dowsing in the civil engineering literature.

    One of the reasons I have looked into some of this is that anything that involves free radical formation likely involves nitric oxide which does have an unpaired electron. Electrons do have spin, and that interacts with magnetic fields, even the Earth’s magnetic field. If the Earth’s magnetic field does affect development and other things (which the data seems to indicate that it does), then the mechanism(s) likely involve NO and so are something important to include in my “nitric oxide theory of everything”.

  40. Joe says:

    @daedalus2u, “If we postulate a “real effect”, the most likely mechanism(s) are via known physical mechanisms.”

    Postulating a real effect is irrational because dowsers have been properly tested many times, and they always fail. James Randi does it regularly, and he has written about it in his book “Flim-Flam.” Ray Hyman has written an interesting article about how people fool themselves

  41. daedalus2u says:

    Postulating a real effect is not irrational, provided that the effects and mechanisms we postulate are consistent with everything that is known. I don’t at all dispute there have been many studies where dowsers have shown that they do not have the abilities that they claimed to have. All of those studies don’t show that there is no effect, just that there was no observable effect under the conditions studied. A person not having an ability that they claim to have is a sign of fraud. It may also be a sign that the person doesn’t understand the abilities that they do have and misinterpret what they actually can do.

    Tap water (an unnatural substance) in an artificial container is not identical with natural water in a natural porous geologic formation.

    People may have a real ability to detect “something” that in certain geographical areas correlates with the presence of water. That “something” may have nothing to do with water per se, just that it correlates to the presence of water in those natural geologic formations.

    When many individual dowsers all come up with very different maps of where water is in the same geographic area, not all of them can be correct. Perhaps they are all wrong, perhaps one of them is correct. Distinguishing between 100% wrong and 99% wrong would be very difficult.

    At one time people thought that vision was mediated by “rays” that projected out of the eyes of organisms that could see. We now know that idea was incorrect and that vision is mediated through photochemical detection of photons of electromagnetic radiation. People who are color blind can’t distinguish between certain wavelengths of light because they lack the photochemical receptors that are responsive to those different wavelength. Color blind investigators trying to understand color vision by showing color sighted individuals different gray-scales wouldn’t be able to show positive results. Is dowsing something similar? I doubt it, but can’t eliminate that possibility.

  42. Joe says:

    @daedalus2u “Postulating a real effect is not irrational, provided that the effects and mechanisms we postulate are consistent with everything that is known.”

    Great, then explain to us how Sylvia Browne could communicate with the dead.

  43. Harriet Hall says:

    The dowsing phenomenon is real, but there are simple explanations for it that do not depend on the dowser actually sensing the presence of water.

    Ray Hyman wrote a classic book on the subject, “Water Witching USA” and also has written extensively on the ideomotor effect. The ideomotor effect is a powerful illusion that is very convincing to the person whose dowsing rod moves and who has no conscious awareness that he actually moved it himself. Underground water is so common that it’s easy to be successful just by chance; a better test would be for a dowser to detect where there is NOT any underground water, but no dowser has ever done that. Many dowsers have developed an intuitive knowledge of their local area from long experience and are probably recognizing subtle clues from things like vegetation and soil type.

    The James Randi Educational Foundation and numerous other groups on several continents have repeatedly tested dowsers. The pattern is consistent: the dowser agrees to conditions under which he “knows” he will be successful, a trial run when the dowser knows where the water is is always successful, then when the dowser is blinded to the presence of water, his results are no better than chance.

    It is useless to speculate about how dowsing might work when we are 99.99999+% sure that it DOESN’T work. And if there are any “real” dowsers out there, they should rush to apply for the JREF’s million dollars before the offer ends two years from now.

  44. raygee says:

    I am sorry that I posted on April 1st, but that was not in mind. I have a friend who, several years ago, employed a water diviner to find a site for a well on his country property. Not only did he point to the right spot, but gave the depth at which water would be found. The soil was clay, and not rocky. I remember my father, whose ancestors were farmers, explaining to me as a boy how to set about the process, but saying it was only for running water.
    Because something does not have an explanation within one’s total sphere of knowledge, it does not mean that no factors outside that sphere cannot be involved, and it behoves one to take a wider view of the subject and look beyond psuedo scientific prejudices. I do not believe in mystic powers, and skepticism is a common feature of many, but it really does work.

    A little while ago, on another thread, someone was ridiculing PEC, I believe, for speaking of electromagnetic forces in reference to properties of water. Now a schoolboy knowledge of science, and even many chartered engineers would say, “not possible”
    Only a few years ago, a piece of ruby would have elicited a similar response to mention of electromagnetic properties. Then along come scientists who apply large pulsed electromagnetic fields to the ruby, the component electrons get raised into higher energy orbits, and, behold, the ruby emits red light in a concentrated beam of a single wavelength, and the laser is born. Many other materials have succeeded ruby in this proprerty.
    When a violent storm system arrives, and columns of moist hot air rise up through the atmosphere, electrons are dragged out in the process, and enormous amounts of electrical energy store up, to be released in a lightning stroke. Could not this process of raised energy levels in the running water component atoms be possible at a lower energy level, but sufficient to trigger off some radiation at its own associated wavelength?
    It would be remarkable, after millions of years of evolution, if animals, so totally dependent upon water supplies for life, had not found some way of detecting hidden water. I will name it water divining, (as dowsing has connotations with those who believe in ley lines,) uses the twitching of a muscle across the rear upper waist, the elbows are tucked in to rest on the waist, and the rods, or twigs, serve solely to magnify the movement of the hands. Strange as it may be to you, engineers do use the system for finding the route of drains in open areas, I would not expect learned societies to acknowledge the efficacy of something they could not explain.
    Back to homeopathy, I am not convinced of its abilities, but I remember reading once of the necessity to ensure the diluting water was very well shaken, could it be to raise the electron energy level? there could be a little grain of truth hidden in there somewhere, if one searches with an open mind.
    On the subject of dilution, and the infinitesimal active content of the end product, does not the matter of insect pheromones come to mind, where a moth can detect the presence of a potential mate several miles away. The substance emitted can only be in a very small quantity, the moth cannot have a great capacity, but the number of cubic feet of air on the route to dilute it is enormous, perhaps only a single molecule is sufficient to trigger the reaction.
    Wertys, your large company is not selling patented drugs, but generic, so has no brand name product to protect. I do not have much time for herbal remedies, or branded supplements, just the good quality items which should be on a recognised generic list.
    I am not leaping from pre clinical trials, I have found ample trialled information to satisfy me that these have been studied thoroughly. Pubmed only seems to list trials etc reported in a narrow range of medical journals, opposition from manufacturers appears to have inhibited editors from including work on Q10, but there is fulll backing in Japan, and I have complete trust in the integrity and words of others involved. NB I am at such a low ebb in my bodily strength, that Q10 or carnitine of less than top quality bring me to a total halt.
    But then, what am I to do, curl up in a corner and die to avoid embarassing the medical profession? I have chosen to follow the lead of professional people with experience in the subjects, who have no ulterior motive, but measure deficiencies and satisfy them in a tried and tested scientific way. My UK GP is fully aware of my actions, and supports me where appropriate.
    Poisonous statins– Statin toxicity is the name given to side effects such as mine by one of the USA medical university websites, and with good reason.

  45. daedalus2u says:

    I take issue with the notion that an ability to sense water underground could have evolved in humans. During evolutionary times, humans did not drill wells. Well digging likely only occurred after the development of agriculture allowed and required the abandonment of a nomadic life-style. Wells can only be hand dug where there is very near surface water, which would have unmistakable signs in vegetation.

    Human ancestors have only had the ability to dig wells for the past million years or so. That is too short a time for a de novo sense to evolve except as a modification to some existing trait(s). Some organisms can sense water in the air, but that is likely via chemical effects. Gases from the ground might indicate underground water. Many gases do have physiological effects, there is some thought that the Oracle at Delphi was in part due to hallucinations induced by gases from the ground.

    Maybe early cavemen evolved a sense to detect caves, and that sense also works for detecting water. I doubt that there is much evolutionary pressure to find caves. Caves are long lived geological structures, once a cave is found, its location is known and will remain known for the lifetime of the individuals who know it.

    The effect known as dowsing is very likely mediated though some sort of self-deception as Harriet suggests. I think I would only put bounds of perhaps 99.99% that it doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t work the way that people who believe in it think it works. That has been shown time and time again.

    The physics of lasing in rubies is well understood, as is the physics of lightning (which is quite different). Neither of those processes could occur in underground water.

    There is an infinite difference between a single molecule and zero molecules. Receptors can and do respond to single molecules. They don’t respond to zero molecules in any way differently than they respond to nothing.

  46. wackyvorlon says:

    I started on a post regarding similarities between what homeopaths often do with studies, and a characteristic of signals in radio. They are amplifying noise, and selecting for what they want to see. It started out as a comment, but has kind of ballooned into an entire blog post. You can see it here:

  47. I have heard about the studies that Randi and others have done on dowsing but never looked at them. The subject just doesn’t interest me that much although I am very skeptical about its working and would actually be astounded if anyone could produce one much less a number of good studies showing that it does. That being said some of you, well maybe one or two, may be interested in some dowsing stories from Vermont which I will tell from memory which may of course be faulty.

    I think the northern part of VT where I live is the world center of dowsing. And for you uninitiated, we now have dowsers who use rods to locate much more than just plain old water. Some, very, very few, can actually locate serious disease in people and they can do it with a fax machine! I kid you not. I read an “article” about it several years ago in a local newspaper and it was written by a neighbor who I’m sure believed every word that she wrote. (She has a masters in English from a very expensive university and writes much better than I do.), and she truly believes in homeopathy. Now if I remember correctly, these exceptionally talented dowsers who find diseases with a fax machine also can cure them with the fax machine. I assume the detection and cure also involve using rods.

    Now if anyone is still reading, I am a Water & Sewer Commissioner, an elected office, in a tiny village that shouldn’t even have a water and sewer company. Before I arrived, the company went looking for a new well and, as I discovered when reading old minutes, used dowsers as well as engineers. I don’t think either found anything that passed muster with the state so we build a multimillion dollar water treatment plant.

    When I expressed my horror at the village using dowsers, I was told it is the custom in VT. I was also told by our technical guy that the engineer we contract out with for backup operators swears by dowsing and just a few days ago I heard a plumber tell a woman managing a trailer park to get one to find a leak. He said he saw one find a leak under a trailer years ago after the plumbers had searched unsuccessfully for days.

    I had a friend from Texas who is actually very level headed but comes across as pretty flaky if you don’t know her. She was invited to a dowsing class by the lady with the MA in English mentioned above but my friend was thrown out because she wasn’t taking the class seriously enough. She told me she was interested because one of her relatives had made a good living in Texas years ago as a dowser. I said that on the basis of having translated a hydrology report I suspected that dowsers unconsiously had learned to associate plants and maybe the lay of the land with areas that contain water. Thinking back she thought that may have been correct. She remembered her relative paying a lot of attention to such things.

    The dowsers have a bookstore near here. I haven’t been there for years but vaguely remember that it also carries alt remedies like crystals. The last time I went in a friend who is a chemist was with me. He wished we had had a camera because he noticed a book with a very celestial sounding title with a big sign that said that it could not be returned for a refund. He recognized the author as one of the well known Skeptic debunkers.

    Now if any of you are feeling sick, I’m sorry I can’t help you. I don’t have a fax.

  48. qetzal says:

    Couldn’t you dowse for one?


  49. raygee, I believe that Wertys comments about supplements are correct. However, I don’t have the time to give references that lead me to these conclusions and without such references I would not expect you or anyone else to take my word for it. All I would hope would be that those who do not have the interest, time or resources to investigate the matter in depth would at least reserve judgment.

    This is very personal with me and it is the reason that I have made the time to investigate supplements in depth. I speak with the victims. I speak with their lawyers.

    IMO, the reason supplement companies don’t do studies is because they know how bad such studies would be for their bottom lines. The results of their studies would keep customers away. Not only are there many supplement companies which have made huge sums of money in a short time, there are people making money selling “books” and “information” about supplements and there are people selling the raw materials used to make supplements who are making money.

    If you talk to people who develop drugs or even the stockbrokers who follow the industry, you will learn how people can spend years working on what they believe is the cure for a horrible disease but that as the studies become more rigorous, they learn that they were wrong. Do you know how many times the cure for cancer has been “discovered”? It was just a few years ago that Gina Kolata reported it in the New York Times, and I think that may have been on the front page. That is why medical scientists and stockbrokers don’t get very excited about “preliminary studies” and why governments don’t let pharmaceutical companies, which are regulated, market drugs when all they have to substantiate their claims are preliminary studies.

  50. raygee says:
    I appreciate what you say, but do not fall into the trap of tarring all things with the same brush, when my supplements arrive by post, they are usually accompanied by much literature about such things as elk horn velvet and other such fantastic materials, which I discard immediately.
    I cannot do without Coenzyme Q10, discovered in USA as a vital part of beef hearts, and researched by Dr Karl Folkers when at Merck to the extent that he was able to synthesise it. Merck however must have foreseen the damage that the knowledge of its existence and necessity for life could do to their products, that they sold the rights off to Japan.

    There it was treated in the manner which it deserved, many trials were made with it, and it was licensed for use in heart failure, where it is very much more successful than treatments in the western world, even to this very day. Manufacturing methods and, purity have been improved and a second manufacturing plant has been opened in USA. So very well researched, but the telescopes of Western medicine refuse to focus upon it. Demand for it in USA is growing very quickly. It should be in use in everyday medicine, but its history and rejection by Merck have meant that the Health food stores are the major stockists. A hospital consultant , when I mentioned its name to him, remarked:”Isn’t that that herbal stuff from the health food shop”, so, defamation by association.

    L Carmitine, my other necessity to counter raised CK and muscle loss, and also for heart energy at night when blood sugar levels fall, is known to be deficient in some genetically affected babies and in those on dialysis. Other deficiencies arise, but not so well known, in surgery and the use of anaesthetics, with various drugs such as penicillin, and large numbers of post polio sufferers. It is also apparent in statin damage to muscles. Supplementation is recommended for the first two cases, but it would appear that the specialities which have taken possession of the remainder are unwilling to part with their assumed responsibility, eg neurologists “own” post polio, and are reluctant to admit that there is a metabloic dimension to the matter. Cardiologists sweep the statin damage aside, and leave a significant gap in patient care.

    One can only assume that the territorial aspects of medical departments has much to do with the failure to seize upon these known valuable substances and exploit their many uses. Bureaucracy’s dead hand, in government departments, is another factor involved.

    Coming back to water divining,I spoke to my relative who worked in the civil engineers’ department of an English county, where divining was used by several staff to locate drains hidden under roads, some had greater ability than others, but the system had much success.
    I looked it up on a search engine and found an article about Southern Water, who supply a large heavily populated part of southern England. They had trained 90 technicians on their staff in water divining, and had made a great improvement in their ability to locate the points of leakage in their mains and put themselves high up in the league table of companies’ water loss ratios.

    The moral is, dear ScBM members, ” don’t believe everything you read, whether in medical papers or on other matters”. I certainly have little faith in much unless I can read the whole story and satisfy myself that all is above reproach and is good science.

    @ daedulus
    I only introduced lasers and lightning to show possible mechanisms by which a signal might be generated which dowsers could pick up, I am fully aware of the tentative nature of this suggestion, and that lightning and water divining are in no way connected at the point of use. Perhaps an engineer’s attempt to simplify a concept without explaining fully the thoughts linking the various concepts. However, water divining does work in practice, but not all people have the same sensitivity to the signals, radiation, call it what you will.

  51. Deetee says:


    I’m sorry to have missed this post when it first came out. It is one of several examples of what must be regarded as completely unethical practice beign foisted on developing countries. In Africa you will be aware of the attempts to push homeopathy in Botswana for HIV/AIDS.

    I had my attention recently drawn to an equally disturbing study on homeopathy as malaria prophylaxis, courtesy of an idiot in the UK Parliament who quoted it as evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy (David Treddinick, if you must know).

    The study used homeopathic “neem”. It consisted of a small, open-labelled, uncontrolled, unblinded study which relied on historical recollection of possible “malaria” in the study participants (half of them children). They all lived in an area of Tanzania where seasonal fluctuations in malaria incidence occur and where any fool could predict that malaria transmission might be reduced after the end of the rainy season (which is what the study showed).

    Perhaps more disturbingly, it also consisted of an underhand attempt to see if neem had sterilised any of the local women (something that is claimed that neem can do). I doubt that was in the consent forms, somehow (if they ever had any to start with).

    I am bewildered that trials like these ever see the light of day. There should be several steps along the way before anything like this is ever implemented, each of which should require the approval of someone independent with a few neurones to rub together, but no, it seems there is universal stupid on the loose. I despair.

  52. Deetee says:

    Raygee, you said

    “The moral is, dear ScBM members, ”don’t believe everything you read, whether in medical papers or on other matters”. I certainly have little faith in much unless I can read the whole story and satisfy myself that all is above reproach and is good science.”

    Coming from someone as gullible as you, I find this statement deliciously ironic.
    OK…… I’ll give you a chance to prove me wrong. Provide us with evidence that for heart failure, Coenzyme Q is

    is “very much more successful than treatments in the western world.”

    You of course will understand that the only way anyone can conclude this is through a properly conducted randomised trial comparing CoQ to conventional therapy. So can you provide the evidence for this? Just one paper will do. Don’t cite a paper that uses Coenzyme Q as an add-on treatment to conventional therapy (for that is not what you have claimed it is successful at doing) – it must be a comparative study to qualify.

  53. David Gorski says:

    The moral is, dear ScBM members, ”don’t believe everything you read, whether in medical papers or on other matters”. I certainly have little faith in much unless I can read the whole story and satisfy myself that all is above reproach and is good science.

    I have to agree that Raygee’s comment is a strawman big enough to defoliate Kansas–and probably Nebraska, too! Since when have any SBM bloggers ever claimed that we should “believe everything you read” in “scientific papers” or anywhere else?

    We haven’t.

    In fact, the whole thesis of SBM shows why, if prior probability on a basic scientific basis is not considered, a lot of the scientific literature on “CAM” topics should be treated with extreme skepticism.

  54. raygee says:

    @ deetee

    Gullible is a term I would apply more to those who hide behind the skirts of the Randomised controlled trial ramparts. It would be fine if it were possible for such trials to be performed without the backing of major industrial concerns, but selectivity of market performance takes precedence over patient needs. when I first found the enormous benefit of Q10, ( actually life saving in my own case) I spoke to a consultant associated with a university hospital, who said that I should get it trialled, but he added that he thought there was little hope of funding being available. Also, what hope has an 80 year year old layman at a low ebb from statin damage got of organising such a trial.
    What is really needed is for those leading medical science to take some initiative in investigating substances found beneficial by true medical personnel, but not patentable and so able to produce huge rewards for a greedy industry.
    Heart failure is said to be a growing “epidemic” in USA and probably elsewhere, yet digoxin and beta blockers seem to be the main tools of the cardiologists Digoxin is not much more than a herbal stimulant, and beta blockers are known to reduce Q10 production and so reduce the energy production capabilities of the mitochondria in heart muscle, perhaps dealing with present arrythmia at the cost of further weakness.

    I am very much house and chairbound at 87, and have no easy access to medical papers, but there are papers on the subject of trials by Dr Peter Langsjoen of Tyler, Texas and associated medical figures, small, but very well measured and carefully conducted, as they have no large backers, in fact Dr Langsjoen’s father Per, was ostracised for wishing to continue Q10 research after Karl Folkers left Merck about 1990. Much is also on record in Japan, where a success rate of 75 % in heart failure cases is obtained. These are unlikely to appear on Pubmed due to their restriction of reference to certain publications, and so miss pointres to valuable work in progress elsewhere, but will appear on searching for the related subjects.

    Regarding published medical papers and their veracity, there was a significant remark on the BMJ website recently “Read the data, not the abstract!!”

    Did anyone ever do an RCT on such matters as correcting deficiencies in such everyday blood chemistry as iron, potassium, or calcium deficiency? It is all too obvious that such vital things need attention to keep the human machine in working order

  55. Deetee says:

    Raygee, I actually think there may be some evidence that CoQ10 has some benefits in heart failure – there is some preliminary evidence and there is some plausibility in its mechanism of action. Langsjoen has done some interesting work. But you must be more careful with your language – on this site you are dealing with people who use words very precisely. If you claim Q10 is “very much more successful” than other treatments for heart failure, you had better have the evidence to prove it. And, as you admit, you don’t. No-one does.
    CoQ10 may have a role supplementing conventional therapy, but certainly not replacing it. In addition, if you think conventional therapy for heart failure consists of digoxin (“not much more than a herbal stimulant”!!!) and beta-blockers you are very wrong. Some beta blockers are inneffective. Trials tel us this. Digoxin is of marginal benefit. Trials tell us this. The mainstay of current therapy in any case is ACE inhibitors.
    My point about gullibility is demonstrated by you throughout your posts above, specifically in regard to divining and bioenergy junk pseudoscience. And yet to tell us on this blog to “not believe everything we read”?

  56. raygee says:

    You have put your own construction on my posts, divining for water really does work. I am reminded of the old story of the aeronautical engineer who pronounced that the construction and physical properties of a bumblebee were such that it was impossible for it to fly The bumblebee, unaware of these facts, continues to carry on with its business as usual.

    I have never advocated belief in bioforces and pseudoscience, bioenergy as produced in the mitochondria by the krebs cycle from glucose and fat, maybe, a fact seldom taken into account in many statin studies. My working life has been lived under the strict constraints of exact scientific principles in practical use, but all physical phenomena must have a scientific basis for their operation, and it is only by seeking for a possible mechanism that the truth will ultimately emerge. I find this thirst for answers sadly lacking in the field of medicine, I suppose that so many times false claims have been made that anything not emerging from establishment sources is looked upon with suspicion, and no progress is made. Vested interests so obviously play a part, and if the eminence or sponsorship of a top academic is put in jeopardy, that puts a brake upon the whole proceedings.

    I have not been afraid to challenge the statements of those in high positions, and have usually been fobbed off with answers that show the detailed knowledge of the person in question to be very limited and not in accordance with present day understanding of the subject.

    The efficacy of Q10 in heart failure treatment in Japan has been recorded in many places, I am sorry that my incapacity does not permit me to rummage around the house to find the particular document. I must add my own experience on the matter, I have no doubt that the continued absence of heart failure rests upon taking my 900mg of Q10 and my 10 grams of carnitine every day, any shortfall in quantity or quality is very quickly apparent in angina and in blood pressure elevation, energy supplies cannot be maintained to supply its needs.

    The very name ACE inhibitor shows that it does not strengthen heart action, but puts constraints upon its normal mode of operation.

    I have a good relationship with my GP, my problem is with those who guide the national requirements he has to follow, and who were thus responsible for advising to him administer statins in the first place. Another statin victim has just rung me up to compare notes on our progress in the battle with the statin legacy, with no help from professional sources.

  57. Harriet Hall says:

    Dowsing really does “work” in a practical sense – because water is commonly present, because the ideomotor illusion operates, and because dowsers have developed intuitions through experience.

    But if dowsing “works” in the sense of dowsers having an ability to sense the presence of water, there are a lot of very foolish people out there who could have collected well over a million dollars in prizes offered on at least 3 continents. What are they waiting for?

  58. raygee says:


    You have not read my details of practical uses for water divining, where specific water carrying channels and pipes are regularly located by engineering staff wishing to find their location, and with no more reward in mind than to save themselves a lot of excavation work. These are not cranks hanging pendulums over maps. You are far too quick to cast disdain on something for which you personally cannot imagine a scientific reason, but these people are down to earth engineers and not primitive voodoo merchants, they are certainly not in the business of making incantations before tackling their task.

    Your disbelief mirrors that of an underground telephone cable foreman I knew many years ago when I suggested he should use a cable search apparatus to locate a cable, to avoid digging up yards of pavement.(NO it didnt involve dowsing, but pulse induction techniques) His reply, which mirrors your attitude, was ” I know some people can always hear something in that thing when the Inspector is about”

    There are more things in heaven and earth than man (or woman) has ever dreamed of. I try to find that real knowledge wherever it may be, you will not satisfy me with chaff. I can only pity you for being burdened with such a closed mind.

  59. Harriet Hall says:


    I’m ready to believe, but not just because you say so. I’ll need to see enough credible evidence to counteract the great body of existing evidence that these people can’t do what they think they can. Lots of dowsers who believed firmly in their abilities have been tested and failed. Tests have mimicked actual field conditions as closely as possible by setting up underground pipes and seeing whether dowsers could locate the ones containing running water. They “knew” they could, and they “could” as long as they knew which pipes contained water, but the tests showed they did no better than chance when the knowledge of which pipe had running water was concealed from them. These people are very sincere, and they truly believe in their abilities, but they have never been able to demonstrate them under blinded testing conditions. And they are always genuinely puzzled by their failures. And they always think of some excuse after the fact, like the humidity was too high or they ate the wrong thing for breakfast. Their belief system is impervious to the evidence of their failure. It’s fascinating from a psychological standpoint.

    If your engineer friends can do what they say, there’s a million dollars waiting for them. Why haven’t they taken James Randi’s challlenge? Even if they don’t want the money, they could donate it to their favorite charity.

  60. apteryx says:

    This looks to me like another one of those conflicts between philosophy and pragmatism. Dowsing doesn’t work in that holding a stick over it does not enable dowsers to detect water per se. Dowsing does work in that due to, let’s assume, intuitive processing of a lot of data on topology, soil, flora, etc., dowsers can in fact pick good spots to dig wells at a rate better than chance. Rural people do not use dowsers because they’re a bunch of woo-believing New Agers with money to burn. They do it because they want a good well as quickly and cheaply as possible. If the “benefits” of dowsing are due merely to experienced intuition, is that a reason not to use it? Perhaps there will be, or already is, an expensive high-tech service that uses computerized data to generate similar suggestions. The algorithms it uses will still need to be demonstrated to be better than experienced human judgment/guesswork before people spend for it.

  61. daedalus2u says:

    If dowsing worked reliably for detecting oil or gas, the oil companies would be using it every time. Drilling oil wells is a lot more expensive than drilling water wells. Do oil companies use dowsing? Not that I am aware of. There are no dowsing courses at universities. There are no dowsing text books, no dowsing journals, no departments of Dowsology. Geology classes in universities teach very mundane geological science based on the very same chemistry and physics that every other branch of science and engineering teaches.

    Many billions of dollars goes into looking for oil. If there was a glimmer of utility to things like dowsing the oil companies would be using it. Or rather the successful oil companies would be using it. I have no doubt that people have claimed to be able to dowse for oil. Randi’s $1,000,000 would be chump-change compared to the value successful dowsing would bring to the oil industry.

  62. pmoran says:

    “Apteryx : This looks to me like another one of those conflicts between philosophy and pragmatism. Dowsing doesn’t work in that holding a stick over it does not enable dowsers to detect water per se. Dowsing does work in that due to, let’s assume, intuitive processing of a lot of data on topology, soil, flora, etc., dowsers can in fact pick good spots to dig wells at a rate better than chance. Rural people do not use dowsers because they’re a bunch of woo-believing New Agers with money to burn. They do it because they want a good well as quickly and cheaply as possible. If the “benefits” of dowsing are due merely to experienced intuition, is that a reason not to use it?”

    I’m all for pragmatism, but might not the flim-flam with the dowsing rods be liable to distract from any other form of cueing and pinpoint quite the wrong place? I was “taught” dowsing by an uncle when very young. When dowsing one’s focus is on the “activity” of the divining instrument, not the environment.

    I don’t wholly believe in intuition or unconscious cueing, either — if it is occurring regularly its basis will eventually be explicit. And that can add to human knowledge in a way that dowsing never will.

  63. apteryx says:

    I don’t think that’s true. Consciously, there would only be so many factors one could keep in one’s head at once. Take hunting for morels, for instance. You follow just a couple of rules, like “look around elms.” There may be other factors that are relevant and would improve your success, but you can’t consciously notice all of them at once, and you couldn’t keep fifty rules in your head all at once and figure out what to do when they’re all providing contradictory information. The mechanist explanation for intuition is that our subconscious mind is actually processing lots of information simultaneously and coughing up an answer for our conscious mind, without sharing the details of how it got there.

    I wouldn’t expect dowsing to work for oil – oil is present or not present on a much larger scale, for one thing. However, experienced geologists did formerly rely heavily on intuition in spotting places that were likely oil provinces, and they were very often right.

  64. Deetee says:

    Raygee, you say

    “The very name ACE inhibitor shows that it does not strengthen heart action, but puts constraints upon its normal mode of operation.”

    Ah, I see. You base your conclusion upon your wilful misunderstanding of the word “inhibitor”, rather than the abundant evidence. This simple statement tells us all we need to know about your decision-making processes.

    How about the corollary of what you claim: I think the very name “water divining” shows us that this technique is an appeal to faith in mythical, religious superbeings, which must put constraints on its mode of operation.” See, I can play your silly game too.
    ACE-inhibitors have a multiplicity of actions which are beneficial in heart failure. Through their effects on the intracardiac renin-angiotensin system they lead to myocardial remodelling and strengthening. They also reduce sympathetic activity and increase kinins. They have additional benefits through their actions on endothelial function, cytokine levels, hypercoagulable state, plasma fibrinolytic activity, lung function, diastolic dysfunction, arterial compliance, right ventricular function, exercise capacity and skeletal muscle. If you want references for peer reviewed studies on all of these actions, I am happy to provide them. Or you can go on in blissful ignorance.

  65. raygee says:


    I understand inhibitor to mean just that. If you do not restore the heart’s muscle strength by providing access to adequate mitochondrial energy by making up deficiencies in Q10 or carnitine, anything else is tinkering and modifying the normal processes, and not getting to the root of the problem. I know you can point me to peer reviewed studies, but the whole concept is one of modifying rather than getting back some semblance of normality, as far as possible. Of course, I have to assume that you start soon enough, before muscle damage has occurred. I see some of my old colleagues and friends whose hearts are failing, hear of the medications they are receiving, and how their problems with stair climbing increase. I long to be able to offer them some Q10, which cannot harm them, but would almost certainly help them, but medical reticence to accept a beneficial substance, not sponsored by the industry financiers takes precedence, and the world waits, and waits, and waits.

    When I have had less than necessary Q10, or carnitine, I have had angina attacks at night, but I do everything I can, by increasing my intake, etc, to avoid being taken off to the hospital, where I know that my experience over the last 5 years would count for nothing, and I should be put on drugs with more side effects like those which brought me low in the first place. Drugs do help heart conditions, but pharmaceutical products nearly all alter, rather than improve, the action of the relevant problem spot, and inevitably change unwanted other things. Q10 is not a drug, but an essential component of mitochondrial action, so does not modify the body’s systems.

    You are playing with words when you pour scorn on my use of the everyday name water divining, I used it because the alternative, dowsing has even worse connotations. I do not play silly games, I am a retired telecoms engineer, and have eaten and breathed scientific principles all my life, and try to find mechanisms by which effects are produced. (that is how I discovered the deficiencies of Q10 and carnitine in statin damaged patients) I have no time for supernatural explanations for observeable physical effects, and those engineers who routinely use the “divining ” aid cannot be dismissed by such failure to believe demonstrable results. There is not much vegetation to lead the search for a drain under a tarmacked road. I would not expect dowsing to work for oil, it is not on motion, so no movement energy accompanies it, and it is usually very deep down, hundreds or thousands of feet, and more interest needs to be taken of the kind of strata above and below it in commercial searches

    If we have sensors for very short wavelength electromagnetic waves (ie light) and creatures such as some snakes have infra red receptors with which to locate their prey, is it so unlikely that there should be some ability to respond to electromagnetic emissions of a different wavelength? for which man made receivers have not yet been developed, there is an enormous part of the EM wave spectrum as yet uncharted. Physiotherapists use the semi conductor properties of tendons and muscles to demodulate pulsed high frequency theraputic EM waves, Bones are known to have piezo electric properties.

  66. Harriet Hall says:

    Raygee claims to think scientifically but he says “those engineers who routinely use the “divining ” aid cannot be dismissed by such failure to believe demonstrable results.”

    For centuries doctors got “demonstrable results” with bloodletting. It turned out those results were no better than chance (and in many cases, worse). Dowsing’s “demonstrable results” disappear under controlled testing conditions.

    Isn’t it possible that those engineers are using a superstitious practice to justify a decision of where to drill, since they don’t have any more scientific way to justify those decisions?

  67. raygee says:


    Doctors do not have a monopoly in scientific knowledge. In my youth, doctors were thought to know everything, and the idea has lead to a tightening of the hat bands in some cases. Today we know that no-one is in that exalted state, and even at my great age, I could probe your scientific ignorance in my field of science with great ease. I would not dare to infer that your knowledge in other fields did not exceed mine.

    Your first point: I recently was given some prescription gel for solar keratoses on my forehead. the insert proclaimed that the method by which it operates was not understood. I have taken this on trust, and not gone off denouncing it as akin to the efforts of wart charmers because someone has found something that works, without being able to explain it.

    Next, blood letting. A friend has recently been diagnosed with hemochromatosis ( I hope that is the way to spell it) so has to go for regular blood letting sessions, they don’t let it go to waste nowadays. The faulty gene was alleged to have reached Britain with the Vikings, a thousand or more years ago. Could some ancient doctor have chanced upon such a case and found improvement? As is wont these days, he may then have “extrapolated” the treatment, and it becomes the latest thing. The widening use of the poorly understood cholesterol/statin mass medication is termed extrapolation by the leaders of medicine today, with nothing to back up this extension up and down the age ranges and genders in society.

    I would love to see you confront a group of highly qualified engineers and tell them that they were employing superstitious beliefs to helpm in their work

  68. raygee says:

    Sorry, but somehow the comment submitted itself before it was completed and checked.

    I was going to say that one would hear their laughter, (and worse), for miles, for a very long time!!!!

    They might even prevail upon you to try it out for yourself!!!!

  69. Harriet Hall says:


    This discussion is going nowhere because you have not acknowledged that dowsing has been repeatedly tested and has failed every time. It may have practical utility as a decision-making aid, but it does not have scientific validity.

    I would love to have a group of highly qualified engineers who use dowsing submit their skills to a proper controlled experiment and acknowledge the results. Randi awaits.

    And as for trying something yourself, that is usually a mistake if you are trying to determine the objective truth. When you have personal experience, your emotions give it more weight than scientific evidence, and you are likely to accept false beliefs.

    If I tried it myself, it would probably “work” for me in the sense that the dowsing rods would seem to move mysteriously and there would be water underneath. I would have a testimonial, but I wouldn’t have any acceptable scientific evidence. If I interpreted my experience as proof that I could sense the presence of water I would not deserve the name of scientist.

  70. raygee says:

    There have been skeptics writing in similar vein in UK, but disbelief does spell out that it does not work. The rods, twigs, or what you will, have no mystical power, but serve only to amplify the movement of trunk muscles transferred by the elbows dug into the waist to the hands and twigs. No mysticism, just an effect observed and put to practical purpose over the years. Some appear to have greater sensitivity than others, which is only to be expected of any sense.

    I think you would be subjected to much greater scrutiny than just assuming that water is underneath you.

    I think we should declare a truce, you will not be convinced, and I have sufficient faith in the integrity of those from whom I obtained my information to believe them against your reports. I fear I have much more important things to occupy my precious time upon, than in try to argue the pros and cons with someone who only believes what someone else may have written on the subject. A mind open to search for scientific reasons for whatever effect, physical, or biological is essential in the present state of knowledge, not shown in your attitude towards statin problems and Q10 functions

  71. daedalus2u says:

    I think there is some mixing of metaphors here. Engineers or anyone using dowsing to pick a spot to dig has nothing to do with science based medicine. There are no ethical considerations to using dowsing other than the potential for fraud. There might be a case for fraud if an engineering company recommended to a client a certain dowser who gave a kick-back to the engineer. In most cases the alternative to dowsing is drilling at random. Dowsing doesn’t have to be better than drilling at random for it to be as good an economic decision. A person who has done a lot of dowsing might be better than a random choice simply because of their experience and unconscious knowledge.

    Using dowsing to diagnose or treat disease is a completely different story. That is clearly unethical because there is no scientific basis for it. Medical Doctors are expected to use treatments with a scientific basis. A scientific basis in that case means using facts and a train of logic from symptoms to diagnosis. Facts and symptoms that can be recorded in the patient’s record along with the diagnostic chain of logic so that if the doctor were hit by a bus the patient’s record could be picked up by his/her replacement and continuity of care maintained.

  72. raygee says:

    This thread has gone to ridiculous lengths and I will no longer participate in this vicious circle. I am sorry to have diverted it away from its original path.

    I entered the discussion at first, because homeopathy was being treated as alternative medicine, a label given also to treatments with non-drug, un-patentable supplements of essential substances which play a vital role in metabolism and ATP production in the mitochondria. It is this “alternative medicine” label to which I object most strongly, particularly as there is no doubt at all that my life would end very shortly without Q10 and carnitine. The functions of these are well documented in biological explanations of the operation of the Krebs cycle in the mitochondria, but, for some completely inexplicable reason, count for nothing to the upper echelons of medical direction. I suspect that financial and “eminence” considerations are taking precedence over patient health needs.

    I have never suggested that dowsing has any connection at all with medicine, the nearest I have come to this is to suggest that the effect could be (and probably is) due to a muscular or nervous reaction to some as yet unexplored part of the electromagnetic wave spectrum generated by, and transmitted by, turbulent water.

    The case of the large water organisation in UK which uses dowsing to find leaks cannot be explained by kick backs or fraud, it has actually helped them, using their own employees, to reduce leakage loss substantially. There is no unconscious knowledge in the search for a water leak, that would have been exercised long before dowsing ever came into the equation.

    A great juggernaut of medical epidemiologists, randomised controlled triallists, and commercial direction has made it difficult for simple safe substances to be put under the spotlight, and the elite clique of journals which take a rather hauty view of real needs created by the unwanted side effects of popular drugs leave much to be desired.

    I agree with the final sentence above, but logic appears to come to a halt and continuity of care baulks at things which might undermine sales of profitable drugs. I am only still on this earth through my own efforts in tracing the work of those who made real contributions to knowledge, unrecognised by their peers under the influence of the medical juggernaut.

  73. DanaUllman says:

    I am admittedly surprised why Kimball and ALL of the above writers haven’t done their homework on homeopathic research and childhood diarrhea. It is a tad odd that Kimball chose to highlight the one trial conducted by Jacobs, et al. using a “homeopathic combination remedy” which had a negative result, but ignored the three studies in which Jacobs and team have compared placebo treatment with individually chosen homeopathic medicines.

    As for ethics, it is important to note that Jacobs and team provided ORT to all children, and the three trials showed that the children given the homeopathic medicine got healthier faster than those given a placebo. Even those of us who are interested in homeopathy appreciate this integration of homeopathy and good conventional medical treatment (or public health strategies).

    And needless to say, Jacobs is such an impeccibly good and ethical researcher that she will report negative findings when they are there…and positive ones when they are there. Please don’t refer to her as a “homeopathic researcher.” She is a researcher…and a good one.

    Jacobs, J, Jimenez, LM, Gloyd, SS, “Treatment of Acute Childhood Diarrhea with Homeopathic Medicine: A Randomized Double-blind Controlled Study in Nicaragua,” Pediatrics, May, 1994,93,5:719-25.

    Jacobs, J, Jimenez, LM, Malthouse, S, et al., Homeopathic Treatment of Acute Childhood Diarrhea: Results from a Clinical Trial in Nepal, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, April 2000,6,2,:131-140.

    Jacobs, J, Jonas, WB, Jimenez-Perez, M, Crothers, D, Homeopathy for Childhood Diarrhea: Combined Results and Metaanalysis from Three Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials, Pediatr Infect Dis J, 2003;22:229-34.

  74. Harriet Hall says:

    Dr. Ullman,

    Since you have joined the conversation, I wonder if you would care to comment on the statement from the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst, who used to practice homeopathy and used to take homeopathic remedies himself, that “With respect to homeopathy, the evidence points towards a bogus industry that offers patients nothing more than a fantasy.” He was certainly aware of Dr. Jacobs’ research and all the other published research when he made that statement.

  75. HCN says:

    Dana, all of those studies predate the one that Dr. Gorski is speaking about. It seems since it is from the same research bunch that someone came in and took them to task for some shoddy research.

    Basically, the 2006 research by Jacobs is a correction of the previous work done by this person.

  76. Heh.

    Mr. Ullman may be interested in my planned post on Monday…

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