Thursday, 11 December 2008

Enforced Quackery Day 2

Sorry for the delay in writing this - I got caught up doing actual work, and the girlfriend missed one day of her quackery training through being ill (presumably through not taking the arnica that she was given on the first day...). I'll try to catch up all the posts in the next few days.

First, as pointed out in the last post, the girlfriend told the "teacher" exactly what she thought of homeopathy (it's nonsense, it doesn't outperform placebo in proper blinded studies, etc.). She was challenged to bring in some evidence for her views (oops!) I was all for just taking Ben Goldacre's book, but the girlfriend thought taking something with "Bad Science" on the cover might be a bit too antagonistic, so we looked up some references and she took some metaanalyses instead. Needless to say, these were ignored.

She was then given some documents to take home and peruse as "evidence" that homeopathy works. The first of these genuinely astounded me. It was a document entitled (I kid you not) "An Overview of positive homeopathy research and surveys". (online here)

This document is published by the "European Network of Homeopathy Researchers". A network which has practically zero presence on the web apart from having authored this document, and which is sponsored by the European Council for Classical Homeopathy, but let's forget about it's provenance for a second... an overview of positive research?

I'm sure anyone who is reading this doesn't need me to point out quite how ridiculous this idea is, but my girlfriend hadn't realised until I did, so I'm going to make it explicit here. Imagine I have a dice and I roll it 10,000 times, calling every set of 10 rolls a "trial". I then decide to publish only those "trials" which say that my dice is biased towards the number 6. There are going to be an awful lot of "trials" which give statistical support to this hypothesis (at the 95% level, approximately 50 of them) - does this mean my dice is biased?

It reminds me of the overcomplicated slogan I wanted to get put on a t-shirt once "Is homeopathy better than a placebo? 1 in 20 trials say YES with 95% confidence", and unfortunately confirms my hypothesis that homeopaths just wouldn't get it.

There are many, many more flaws in the document (several trials are repeated, most of them are flawed, the wrong figures are quoted from several) but it's hardly worth taking it to pieces when it's such a ridiculous thing to write in the first place.

There was also some other document about homeopaths having more sympathy for Jenner than the medical establishment at the time, or something like that... I didn't actually read it and I can't seem to find it - but I'll dig it out.

Not much else happened - still no patient contact. Yes, that's right, the "Medicine in Society" module where the students get to see how medicine is practised by real-life practitioners and by day two, still no actual medicine being practised.

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