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From Abracadabra to Zombies
is a commentary on
mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the
paranormal, and the supernatural.
Skeptimedia replaces Mass Media Funk and Mass Media Bunk. Those blogs are now archived.
How to quit smoking
farm animals, homeopathy, and energy healing
28 Jan 2010. Sometimes it's hard for me to focus. I began the day following up on a press release from The Medical News that the Journal of Homeopathy has recently published (19 Jan 2010) a collection of slam-dunk scientific articles demonstrating the wonders of homeopathy. I read one of the articles last week: Homeopathy as replacement to antibiotics in the case of Escherichia coli diarrhoea in neonatal piglets. It was as interesting and exciting as it sounds. At least I wouldn't have to concern myself with placebo effects. I couldn't help but wonder, though, at how far removed I am from the real world where scientists test homeopathic treatments (HTs) on pigs who have diarrhea. I had no idea. I knew the article wouldn't have been published in this collection if it hadn't found that pigs given an HT had less diarrhea or fewer bouts of diarrhea than the controls. I didn't really want to know how they measured such a delicate phenomenon, but I couldn't help but wonder how they deal with borderline cases. At what point do pig feces qualify as diarrhea? I didn't really want to know the details, but I realize that scientists investigating such matters have to figure out a way to quantify the strangest things and that I would have to wade through whatever data they would throw at me. Anyway, here's a summary of the results of this study:
Piglets of the homeopathic treated group had significantly less E. coli diarrhoea than piglets in the placebo group (P < .0001). Especially piglets from first parity sows gave a good response to treatment with Coli 30K. The diarrhoea seemed to be less severe in the homeopathically treated litters, there was less transmission and duration appeared shorter. [Italics added and British spelling of diarrhoea retained for the sake of accuracy and to promote discussion among anal retentive quibblers. Parity, according to the researchers, "has an influence on the occurrence of neonatal diarrhoea."]
I'm sure you're as impressed as I was. The expression "significantly less," as most readers probably know, is a reference to the result of a statistical formula, not a reference to quantity of diarrhea. For those who like their science straight and technical:
The data were analysed with SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA 2002–2003 (version 9.1.3). Data per piglet were used to generate frequency distributions, further statistical analyses were based on data per sow. To test if the treatment had an effect on the occurrence of diarrhoea, data were analysed using the module Generalized Linear Models. The type of distribution was Binomial, as Link function the Log has been used. To correct for possible effects of season, parity, and group, these factors were included in the model. Values of P < 0.05 were considered significant.
I know you're as glad as I am that the authors cleared that up. For those who don't mind their science being a little sloppy or diluted: 260 piglets were treated with Coli 30K; 10 of them got diarrhea. Of the 265 controls, 63 got diarrhea. This sounds very impressive, until you consider that piglets are born in litters and the spread of infection in litters can be rapid. Thus, it is important to compare the diarrhea in Coli 30K litters vs. the controls. In the controls, 16 out of 26 litters (61%) showed diarrhea, compared to 7 out of 24 (29%) litters in the Coli 30K group. On the other hand, "mean duration of diarrhoea was not significantly different [statistically, that is] for both groups." Still, half as much diarrhea in the homeopathic piglets is probably not due to chance.
The study was randomized and used decent controls. "Piglets could suckle colostrum from the sow. Piglets did not receive additional milk replacer or feed. Both groups were housed in the same compartment. Animal care was in accordance to institutional guidelines."
As far as I could tell, the study was not double-blind, however. It was "observer blind," which I take to mean that one, two, or three of the four researchers was not told which sows were treated with Coli 30K. We're not told how many of the researchers did the observing, but if the researcher who did the randomization tagged along with the observer(s), the design was flawed. He could have inadvertently given cues to the other researchers. We're told: "Administration of treatments, observations and statistical analyses were all performed blind." One would hope that the researcher who did the randomization was not present for the administration to the sows or the observation of the piglets. Furthermore, the authors of the study note: "The owner of the farm where the experiment was carried out was at first quite sceptical about homeopathy. After the experiment he decided to apply Coli 30K to all sows. Since then E. coli diarrhoea has hardly occurred." No mention was made as to whether the farmer had his sows vaccinated against E. coli after the experiment was over, nor was there any speculation as to why Coli 30K became even more effective when control groups weren't used.
So, what is Coli 30K and how was it administered? It's a nosode prepared from various strains of E. coli bacteria. "The homeopathic dosage Coli 30K consisted of 99.85% demineralised water, 0.1% pure alcohol and 0.05% milk sugar sprinkled with a homeopathic potentization of E. coli." The controls got the same treatment except that their remedy did not contain the nosode. How dilute the nosode was is not mentioned. (I am familiar with the 30C dilution designation — dilute by a factor of 100 thirty times —which effectively means there are no molecules of the diluted substance left in the potion. The greatest dilution that is likely to contain at least one molecule of the original substance is 12C. Hahnemann advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes, but he invented his ideas prior to our understanding of atoms and molecules. Anyway, if 30K means that the substance was diluted by a factor of 1000 thirty times, then we can assume the homeopathic remedy had no E. coli present.)1 Potentization refers to the alleged increase in potency a dilute substance gets by banging it around (vigorous and methodical shaking called "succussion") to release its vital energy.
"For practical reasons the treatment was administered by spraying the agent in the vulva of the sow. Treatments were administered to each sow twice a week during the last four weeks pre-partum." How much of any agent so applied could be expected to find its way into each of the several gestating piglets is not something I care to speculate about. I have no idea why the control piglets weren't vaccinated with E. coli vaccine and the Coli 30K groups given their doses orally or nasally. Nor do I understand why the sows rather than the piglets were given the placebo or the real thing. Sow diarrhea wasn't being studied, so why not treat the piglets, whose diarrhea was the focus of this research?
I can only find one other problem with this study (besides measuring diarrhea in piglets and spraying stuff in the vulva of sows). It is commonly assumed by critics of homeopathy that all homeopathic remedies are inert and have no active molecules left in them after dilution. This is not true. Some homeopathic potions have active ingredients. It's not clear to me that Coli 30K has no active ingredient.
The other problem is that this is a single study and needs to be replicated before any grand conclusions are drawn. Any volunteers?
Anyway, I was going to start going through the other slam-dunk articles proving homeopathy is more than placebo medicine when I was struck by a reference to "the toxic pecking order" (TPO) in my entry on isopathy, the type of homeopathy that uses nosodes. I Googled 'toxic pecking order' and was soon reading the Bioresonance Clinic's toxic pecking order from flukes to negative miasmic antibodies. On the left-hand column of the page there was a question: Who is Caroll Macy? I wondered if she were a homeopath and worked with pigs. It turns out that she's much better than a homeopath. She says she's a registered practitioner of Chinese medicine; a reiki master; and, for the past 3 years, she's specialized in "Bio-Resonance Therapy in order to help people bring their body systems back into balance and enjoy a healthy and energetic life."
To refresh my memory as to what bioresonance preaches, I did a search of Quackwatch and of my own site. Stephen Barrett has an article debunking bioresonance tumor therapy and over two years ago I had commented on a dog that was allegedly treated with bioresonance therapy.
As you can see from the above photo, bioresonance not only improves your dog's health, it improves the focus of your camera. Reading my comments from two years ago reminded me of how often I've repeated myself over the past 15 years of writing on this website. The animals may change, but the underlying folly is the same.
Bioresonance is the latest incarnation of radionics. The idea behind these energy medicines is that everything emits energy, that healthy cells emit a different kind of detectable energy from sick cells, and that somebody has developed a machine that not only can tell the difference but can rearrange the energy and fix the problem. The problem is that there is no evidence that there are sick and healthy energy frequencies nor is there any machine that can detect such energies. There are plenty of people selling machines that allege they can do these things. There are plenty of people waiting in line to buy them and there are plenty of satisfied customers. Even so, the whole enterprise is bogus. Nobody in this kind of racket does double-blind, randomized, controlled studies. Their evidence is always anecdotal. It would be a poor physician or vet who couldn't point to dozens of cases of animals or people who improved after getting some treatment. Most cases resolve themselves. A lot of these characters seem to be admitting this by claiming that they or their machines don't really do the healing: they just make it possible for the body to heal itself. But they have nothing to compare their successes to except their own failures and the failures of others with other types of treatment, which may not have been failures had they waited long enough before trying something new.
Still, try to explain to someone whose dog got better after going to a naturopath or a bioresonance therapist that the treatment given by the alternative vet may not have been effective and they will laugh at you for not seeing the obvious: their pet is better now! What more proof do you need? They've achieved a reduction in anxiety by having their pet healed; they don't need you to add to their vexation by reminding them that if something else happens to their pet, the same treatment may have no effect. They are at peace because their pet is better and they have hope for the future should another illness occur. They want the healer to be right. The healer offers hope and reduction of anxiety. You who demand better evidence offer confusion and discomfort. What are your chances of getting such people to re-evaluate their experience?
In a way, the same thing happened to Caroll Macy that happened to the dog owner whose dog improved after bioresonance treatments. There is a lesson in Caroll Macy's story, a lesson that's been repeated by me and many others thousands of times. I don't know that anybody who needs to understand this lesson will pay attention, but here it is anyway.
The short version of Caroll Macy's story is this: she got sick four years ago and went through four types of treatment from four different "healers" with no relief from her symptoms. After going to the fifth healer, her symptoms disappeared, so she concluded that the techniques of the fifth healer cured her and can cure just about any disease anybody else might have. The last in a chain of healers gets the credit, deserved or not. It doesn't occur to the healed person that maybe the disease just ran its course, that one of the earlier treatments had a delayed effect, or that some other factor she's unaware off was the main causal agent in her recovery. The last of the healers gets the credit.
The long version is that four years ago a sudden illness came over her. She describe the symptoms: "weeping, incredibly itchy swollen rashes over my face, ears, neck and chest – an inability to sleep – allergies to many foods such as carrots, beets, most fruits and all dairy and wheat products, and I felt like all energy and life force had been sucked out of me." I'm no medical doctor, but it sure sounds like a nasty virus or a severe allergy attack to me. Some of the healers she went to inquired into the possibility that she'd been exposed to some sort of poison. From what I've read about food allergies and intolerances, it doesn't seem likely that either of these would be responsible for her symptoms. Her first healer — whom she describes as "a Doctor, who had an interest in natural remedies"— prescribed cortisone cream and antibiotics. Nothing good came of that. The second healer, a natural health practitioner who claimed he "could identify the chemicals and poisons" in her body and identify what foods her body was allergic to failed to heal her. The third healer employed applied kinesiology. He did some muscle testing and claimed to have identified harmful chemicals in her body and then to have neutralized them. Macy writes: "on my last visit I was told I no longer had any chemicals left in my body – even though I had liquid pouring down my neck from my ears." I'm sure she had a few chemicals left in her body, but whatever else this quack did, he didn't heal her. Next, she consulted another natural health practitioner who claimed to be able to identify chemicals and poisons in her body, but after her fourth and final treatment with this healer she says she felt her "body deteriorating even further."
Macy doesn't give any specifics about the treatment provided by her fifth and final healer, except to say that he used the toxic pecking order and bioresonance. She tells us that because her rash was "hot" the healer identified it as due to "petrochemicals." But since petrochemicals are number 10 in the toxic pecking order, she would first have to do treatment for the nine above it:
- Pentachlorophenol (P.C.P.)/P.C.B./Dioxin/O.P.T. D.D.E
- Radioactive Material (x-ray/Strontium/Radium etc)
- Plumbum (lead)
- Abnormal Proteins
I have no idea how this order was obtained or how one could go about challenging it. It appears to be rather arbitrary and I take it for granted that it is absolutely worthless. At the very least, piglet diarrhea and wi-fi should be in the top ten. If this were accurate, all those millions of people who've had their mercury fillings removed or stopped having dental x-rays, were wasting their time if they didn't take care of the flukes first. Anyway, Macy concludes her self-description page with the following:
Today at the Bioresonance Clinic I follow the same protocol – working with a Toxic Pecking Order using Bioresonance technology. I can identify what toxins are held within someone’s body – establish the proper removal order, and provide the assistance in removing that which prevents us from reaching a healthy state.
Had her symptoms gone away after consulting the applied kinesiologist, is there any doubt what she'd be practicing today?
She's not one-dimensional, though. She helps people quit smoking. She says 70% stop after the first treatment and 90% stop after the second. She doesn't specify whether they quit smoking or quit treatment, however. Anyway, it's easy to quit smoking. I've done it hundreds of times.
Maybe I should start smoking again, though. It might help with my focus and it would cover up the odor if I decide to do any experiments with farm animals.
1. Sérgio G. Taboada comments: If each K means the dilution of one part of the substance in 1000 parts of water, 30K is 10 to the thirtieth power bigger than 30C. So, not only does 30K mean that there is no E. Coli in the medicine, it means that there is no E. Coli in the universe. 30K means 1000 to the thirtieth power or 10 to the ninetieth power. Since the universe is believed to contain only 10 to the eightieth power particles, it is useless to look for traces of the bacterium.
The last time I quit smoking was in November 1977. The only thing different about that time from the many other times that I quit was that I and my wife both announced to ourselves and a few others that we were quitting on Smokeout Day. I'm guessing that stating our intention and doing it together were the main factors in our success.
* AmeriCares *