Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Rav Blumenkrantz rethinks Magic Medicine

Observer noted this little addition, that seems a bit self-contradictory in the famous Pesach guide published by said Rav. Perhaps common sense is slowly seeping in, after all.

Halachic questions remain:
Why does he now hold that only homeopathic remedies with active ingredients are kosher and those that do not, i.e. any dilution at or above 24x / cc, are not? I would think "nothing" would be better for Pesach (and more expensive, as in previous posts). The only guess that I can come up with is that he makes some allowances in the maufacturing process for medicines, but since he does not consider these medicines, the manufacturing process disqualifies them.

Common sense question:
If, in homeopathy parlance, "hyperAvogadro" dilutions are valid on the same logic as "hypoAvogadro" dilutions, then why consider any of it "medicine"? Why cling to the dilusion of efficacy? An example would be if someone were selling dirt, saying that it was more nourishing than food, and safer. Then we found that there was no actual dirt in some of the products sold under this banner. Would we then say that we will only allow products with actual dirt to sold as food?

I wish I shared Observer's optimism on next year's guide.

21 Comments:

  • http://www.lighterblog.blogspot.com

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:43 AM  

  • Homeopathy is based on the theory that water's contact with these elements changes the water's structure, and it is the altered structure of the water which has the effect:

    " ' . . . criticisms centred around the vanishingly small number of solute molecules present in a solution after it has been repeatedly diluted are beside the point, since advocates of homeopathic remedies attribute their effects not to molecules present in the water, but to modifications of the water's structure.'

    'Simple-minded analysis may suggest that water, being a fluid, cannot have a structure of the kind that such a picture would demand. But cases such as that of liquid crystals, which while flowing like an ordinary fluid can maintain an ordered structure over macroscopic distances, show the limitations of such ways of thinking. There have not, to the best of my knowledge, been any refutations of homeopathy that remain valid after this particular point is taken into account.'"

    http://www.alternativescience.com/voodo-science.htm

    If you want to criticize homeopathy, all well and good. But criticize what it actually says, rather than a straw man argument.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:53 AM  

  • Actually there is a scientific refutation of the absurd notion that the "structure" changes or "remembers" the diluted substance. The study showed that the "memory" was measured in fermatoseconds or quadrillionths of a second.

    This link references the article.
    http://rebeljew.blogspot.com/2005/03/homeopathy-finally-proof.html
    (Title links to the article)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 12:01 PM  

  • "By using an extremely thin cell filled with water and monitoring vibrations in the bonds within water molecules, the researchers studied how perturbations induced by a laser light change the structure of liquid water, and for how long these changes persist."

    Homeopathy doesn't attempt to change the structure of the water by shining laser light on it, so at least as the article presents it, it hasn't demonstrated anything. Even if we accept that all structure changes can be measured by "the vibrations in the bonds within water molecules," (and we will grant that their experiment measures that effectively), we have to further accept that homeopathy changes the structure of water to the same efficacy and perminancy as shining laser light. Somehow I doubt they were that thorough.

    For years the "scientific" community claimed that Atkins didn't work. Then they actually did a serious study of it. Ooops.

    This is just another case of an argument from ignorance. I won't study it because I know it doesn't work.

    As long as you are convincing yourself ...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:52 PM  

  • Nor is there any evidence at all that diluting something in the water changes its structure at all. Nor is there any evidence or common sense behind believing that, even if the structure were changed, it would be beneficial as a cure of anything.

    Atkins????!!!! Please tell me you are putting me on.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 4:50 PM  

  • "Nor is there any evidence at all that diluting something in the water changes its structure at all. Nor is there any evidence or common sense behind believing that, even if the structure were changed, it would be beneficial as a cure of anything."

    So can we agree that the study you linked to did nothing to confirm or disprove these assertions?

    Can we also agree that there is nothing magical in the assertion about what it does, and therefore Blumenkrantz is all wet in asserting that molecules have to be present for it to be considered medication and not magic?

    As for there being no evidence, since it isn't studied much (especially the alleged beneficial effects) what value does that assertion have? If all you will accept as valid evidence of effectivness is a well controlled double-blind study, then how many of those have been done? What were their results? If the answer is none because it doesn't work, well that isn't very "scientific" is it. Lack of evidence caused by lack of investigation is not evidence, it's ignorance.

    And assertions that "common sense" dictates that it shouldn't work is no more scientific, or persuasive, than one person trying it and saying they got better from using it. In fact, the one person trying it is more persuasive, although hardly conclusive.

    I think the pooh-pooing of Atkin's central assertion that a high-fat low-carb diet will not negatively affect cholestorol at appropriate caloric levels is an excellent recent example of where that kind of thinking gets you.

    To the wrong answer.

    There are pleanty of other such examples in scientific history, from electric lights, through flying, up to acupuncture.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:33 PM  

  • No, I think that the study, a direct observation, establishes that water molecules have no "memory" beyond 50 fermatoseconds. Hence the mechanism of water remembering the diluted substance in homeopathy is shown not to be valid. You said that perhaps in a dilution, the memory is longer. Yet, that is simply a sophistic retreat, since there is no observed evidence that dilution even affects the structure, much less triggers "memory". Hence, it is of no value. I do not have to explore the North Pole to establish that there is no Santa Claus.

    Therefore, homeopathy advocates must retreat to appeals to empirical observation, which is done by double blind studies. You say above that it has not been done, and I would say you are wrong in that as well. It is simply that every time that it is tried under proper double blind protocols, IT FAILS.

    If you are so certain taht it works, why do you think that the medical profession hasn't jumped on it the way they do with actual medicine (like Mevacore, which is essentially an active ingredient of red yeast rice)? Conspiracy? Doctors just aren't open minded like homeo advocates (known for their open mindedness)? Force of habit? Mass abandonment of the Hypocratic oath?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:37 PM  

  • One thing we can agree on though, Anon.

    Homeopathy is every bit as effective as acupuncture. It is also 5 times as effective as acupunture. It is also one fifth as effective.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:44 AM  

  • "No, I think that the study, a direct observation, establishes that water molecules have no "memory" beyond 50 fermatoseconds. Hence the mechanism of water remembering the diluted substance in homeopathy is shown not to be valid."

    To accept that you have to accept that all "memory" can be measured in the way the test measures it, and that all "memory" is equivalently retained in water no matter how it is introduced.

    Both assumptions remain untested and undemonstrated by the study, especially the latter one.

    "You said that perhaps in a dilution, the memory is longer. Yet, that is simply a sophistic retreat, since there is no observed evidence that dilution even affects the structure, much less triggers "memory"."

    The sophistry is in the attempt to refute an argument by refuting a strawman. If the homeopathic method lead to the deductive or even inductive conclusion that memory via laser light and memory via dilution were equivalent, then maybe you would have a point. But the only one claiming equivalence is the one doing the refuting. And the only reason to claim equivalence is to lend validity to the test.

    "Therefore, homeopathy advocates must retreat to appeals to empirical observation, which is done by double blind studies."

    Actually it is the medical establishment which retreats behind that. They are very expensive, so anything they think won't work doesn't get tested.

    "You say above that it has not been done, and I would say you are wrong in that as well. It is simply that every time that it is tried under proper double blind protocols, IT FAILS."

    Of course if that were the case, you wouldn't be pointing to silly experiments with lazer lights, you would just point to the double blind studies.

    But anyway, my point wasn't the observed efficacy of homeopathy, just silly claims that it is based on magic simply because it has no molecules of the original substance in it.

    "I do not have to explore the North Pole to establish that there is no Santa Claus."

    That fails the basic test of actually being a logical statement (although I know defenders of science often use it). It is a false analogy.

    "If you are so certain taht it works, why do you think that the medical profession hasn't jumped on it the way they do with actual medicine (like Mevacore, which is essentially an active ingredient of red yeast rice)?"

    I am not at all certain that it works. I am, in fact, pretty confident that a statement like "100% of all available homeopathic methods are effective in treating the claimed conditions for each" is likely untrue.

    What I am quite certain of, however, is that the medical establishment hasn't really investigated the issue. Reasons will vary, but the main obsticle is there is a very defined proceedure for getting money to perform the research. Drug companies have no incentive because it would be a sucker's game (prove it works and everyone else rakes in the profits), and government grants are dolled out to those who's theories fit with what the medical establishment expects to actually work. If it doesn't fit their preconception, they won't evaluate it. But it really amounts to little more than bias.

    Medical doctors are put through years of strict education in how to think, and in indoctrination into specific paradigms of how to evaluate things (they call it medical school). This is done because the teachers sincerely believe it is the "correct" way of thinking. But that they believe it doesn't make it right. It does, however, lead to the inevitable expectation that by and large people who have gone through that training will agree on what the paradigm for evaluating new ideas is, and will almost universally reject things that don't fit that paradigm.

    Mevacore fits the paradigm. Homeopathy doesn't. Therefore Mevacore they will study, Homeopathy less so.

    Other areas of "alternative medicine" also get the cold shoulder in large part, I suspect, because the basis of the techniques is very practitioner dependant. Modern Medicine has a distinct bias for cures which are impersonal, and that minimize dependency on the administrator of the cure for efficacy.

    "Mass abandonment of the Hypocratic oath?"

    No, that can be seen in the insistence of working new, less experienced, doctors for 36 hours straight, even when it is illegal.

    They do that for the same reasons. That is what they were taught in medical school.

    "Homeopathy is every bit as effective as acupuncture. It is also 5 times as effective as acupunture. It is also one fifth as effective."

    Although all acupuncture is certainly not effective, check out the study referenced here in note 26:

    http://www.kroger.com/hn/Concern/Tendinitis.htm

    That took all of 5 minutes to find in google. The evidence is out there, if you bother to look.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:08 PM  

  • If homeo has real studies to quote, why all these excuses:
    http://www.abchomeopathy.com/scientific.htm

    If you consider the link that you posted to be a ringing endorsement, you need to read it more carefully, especially as regards long term effects. (Sham needles are not a great method yet, but I won't dispute the point since it is obviously very difficult to double blind. I would rather single blind and put the needles in the wrong places. Then the chi would get all over the place, but there are janitors. :))

    I love the part about doctors being indoctrinated in how to think. :D Say, isn't the definition of traditional medicine that they are trusting a traditional remedy method, despite the fact that it shouldn't work logically? Isn't that the definition of closedmindedness?

    Your other argument that it is practitioner dependent, validly gets you out from between the horns, as it were. It didn't work because the wrong people were doing it. If the right people were doing it, it would be different.

    I would suggest that if anyone can show real results with these magical methods or any other, practitioner based or not, get that practitioner and they should go here:
    http://www.randi.org/research/index.html
    I believe this qualifies.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 3:41 PM  

  • This really says it all.
    http://www.homeowatch.org/research/overview.html

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 3:55 PM  

  • As for acupunture, this really says it all:
    http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/acu.html

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 3:58 PM  

  • There is nothing paranormal about a medication working. From your homeopathic "article:"

    "(b) in some of these trials, homeopathic approaches may have exerted a greater effect than a placebo or no treatment; and (c) the number of participants in these 17 trials was too small to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment for any specific conditions."

    Proves my point exactly. No evidence, no study, grand claims, all based on ignorance. How about an honest statement:

    "Although some preliminary results show that homeopathic approaches may have a positive effect, and there are large amounts of people who report anecdotal evidence of effectiveness, we are not interested in a proper study to make any definitive determiniations because we would rather not upset our current world-view."

    I guess if medication that works even when its mechanism is not understood in reductionist terms is considered magic, people better stay away from this too:

    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20050516/D8A47UQG0.html

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:34 AM  

  • No, the best case that you pull out of context is that there is no reason to believe that it does work. In a sample size of 17, 1 is a significant variance. The claimed mechanism is nonsense. Any success is therefore random hit and miss. There is no way to build on these principles. For instance, with anti-biotics, when the bugs become resistant, they can build on the principle to find an antibiotic that will work against the new bug. In homeo, there is simply no way to say if X did half a job, just adjust this or that and it will work better. It is just a shot in the dark, at best.

    Homeopaths have a large stake in proving these remedies. Why can they not test their methods on normal controlled conditions to which every drug is subjected before it is marketed?

    As far as the article you bring, that is a different case. It may be more like penicillin. It was discovered by accident, but it can be observed to work. I have no problem with things that are observed to work. I have a huge problem with drugs where the best we can say is that we have hearsay and no evidence that it does not work.

    When the lame leave their crutches at Lourdes after kissing the idol and dippiong int he pool, we develop a large database of hearsay cases. I have no proof at all that it doesn't work. Call me overly skeptical if you like, but I still think we have no basis to say that the Lourdes experience is curative.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:55 AM  

  • "No, the best case that you pull out of context is that there is no reason to believe that it does work."

    Translation: The matter has not been studied.

    "In a sample size of 17, 1 is a significant variance."

    Translation: We can imagine that the conclusive evidence will not pan out.

    "The claimed mechanism is nonsense. Any success is therefore random hit and miss. There is no way to build on these principles."

    Translation: we don't want to upset our world-view, so we won't come up with conclusive evidence.

    In other words, you are repeating my point.

    Science is about explaining observed phenomena, not avoiding observing phenomena so that they don't need explination. If water absorbed in a lactose pill cured something at a greater rate than a placebo, that would require explination. The fact that you don't like the homeopath's explination wouldn't obviate the need for one. Saying that it hasn't been demonstrated to work is meaningless when the claim is based entirely on non-study.

    "I don't need to study it because I "know" it doesn't work" is studied ignorance.

    The mythical scientist would love to find unexplained phenomena to open avenues of new study. In actuallity, scientists would much rather think they understand the world already, and don't want to find out differently.

    Don't get me wrong, it is fine if the medical establishment doesn't want to spend the money, they should just be more humble about it:

    "We don't think this would be a fruitful avenue of study because we don't understand how it would work, so we focus our efforts elsewhere, therefore we cannot state an opinion on its effectiveness. However, whenever available, cures we have demonstrated to be effective should be tried first."

    It is not like you had 2-3 proper double-blind studies of the most widely reported anecdotally effective homeopathic medications which showed no effect. That would be evidence that there is "no evidence." Of course you only positively disproved 2 or 3 cures, but that is evidence of no evidence, and any further requests to prove that it doesn't work would be asking to prove the negative. In such a circumstance, you would have a knowledgable position.

    The current state of affairs is very different.

    "Homeopaths have a large stake in proving these remedies. Why can they not test their methods on normal controlled conditions to which every drug is subjected before it is marketed?"

    They already believe it does work. It is also unlikely that they would produce a proper double-blind studies. Such studies are easy and cheap to criticize, but very hard and expensive to develop correctly, so it would take people with serious experience in doing such studies to do them, but most of those people were taught to think that homeopathy doesn't work. It is the medical establishment who values the double-blind study and only accepts it as evidence, and yet refuses to find out.

    Again, that is fine if that is their justification for focusing resources, but not if they won't admit their ignorance.

    "When the lame leave their crutches at Lourdes after kissing the idol and dippiong int he pool, we develop a large database of hearsay cases. I have no proof at all that it doesn't work. Call me overly skeptical if you like, but I still think we have no basis to say that the Lourdes experience is curative."

    And now we are back to the False Analogy. With idolotry, it is forbidden even if it does work, so I'm fine with not studying it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:50 PM  

  • Lourdes is an excellent analogy. Just lots of hearsay evidence and no mechanism.

    And our world view in medicine is upset constantly. Just think of the changes in medicine over the past 50 years alone. Absolutely, new paradigms that changed how medicine was practiced. Traditional medicine on the other hand never changes. No new discoeveries are possible, because the base of the tradition has to be complete.

    Think of the people treated with homeo, the primary medical devices of 150 years ago were homeopathy based. Life span is much longer now, infant and maternal mortality is greatly reduced, an diseases that rode in epidemics are now rare, defanged or extinct, smallpox, polio, deadly flu, etc.

    Homeo has had 200 years to prove itself. All I am saying is that they should prove what any drug has to prove, that it has more than promises behind it. Any drug manufacturer could say as you, "Criticizing is cheap and proving is expensive." But they do it, SUCCESSFULLY. If they don't, they don't go to market. Why does homeo get a pass?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 3:26 PM  

  • "Lourdes is an excellent analogy. Just lots of hearsay evidence and no mechanism."

    First, I reject the premise that Lourdes must not work because there is no known mechanism. I think such a statement suffers from the same problem. I'm just fine with not investigating it because it is idolotry and we are better off just not investigating it.

    I think the philosophy of "I must understand it before I investigate it" to be obsurdly closed minded. And please don't respond with how some other method is more closeminded. I'm not making a comparative analogy here.

    "Any drug manufacturer could say as you, "Criticizing is cheap and proving is expensive." But they do it, SUCCESSFULLY. If they don't, they don't go to market. Why does homeo get a pass?"

    Drugs are very different. There are finantial protections (patents) around them protecting investments in expensive studies, and a big part of the testing is to understand side-effects, as they can be very dangerous stuff. So it becomes a cost/benifit analysis that has to be carefully made.

    I'm not suggesting homeopathy get any passes. I'm not saying doctors should look up the homeopathic remedy for a symptom and prescribe it.

    What I am saying is that:

    1) Homeopathy claims to work as medication, not magic.

    2) Whether or not it is effective medication is not something modern medicine has bothered to investigate. They choose to remain ignorant on philosophical grounds. It is like a blindfolded person saying there is no evidence of light in the room, but refusing to remove the blindfold to find out because he doesn't understand ahead of time where the light would come from.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:30 PM  

  • And there we must disagree. As I pointed out, we have 200 years of research and empirical observation, including times when homeo was the primary mode of treatment. We see the results. It not because we do not know how it works, it is because there is no evidence THAT it works, anecdotes aside. There is ample evidence that it does not. There is no evidence that Lourdes works either, anecdotes aside. There are still plenty of people who go there, and claim that nothing happens. It is just not as good a story, and there is always another excuse why it didn't work, THIS TIME.

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