Scientific testing should decide
By Martin H Goodman
Richard Shield's response to my very brief presentation of the facts relating to the deadly and entirely fraudulent "alternative medical discipline" of homeopathy is a remarkably dense collection of the most common responses both by those who are sincere truebelievers in this malignant quackery, and those who cynically promote it for their own profit.
His response reflects a profound ignorance of how scientific and medical truth is established. He is unable to distinguish between what is and isn't intellectually honestly conducted scientific method and valid, intellectually honest research.
In Richard's case, I'm assured by those who know him that his profoundly gullible and credulous comments reflect sincere ignorance, not deceit or greed or the conscious promotion of a con game for profit which one often finds in those defending the fraud that is the multi-billion dollar business of quack medicine. Still, his misconceptions are deadly... both to the health of the masses, and to the way the socialist left is viewed by non-socialist (but perhaps potentially socialist) intelligent and educated medical and scientific workers and professionals.
The outright major falsehoods in Richard Shield's response [on homeopathy, *Solidarity* 527] include (but are not limited to):
(1) Richard claims that I "apparently did not provide evidence" (implying there is no such evidence) regarding what totally worthless fraud homeopathy is. Fact is, there is more evidence from good clinical study that homeopathy is pure 100% bunk and worthless garbage than there is evidence that the earth is round, not flat.
I mentioned a good place to start to see the case presented and documentation provided: the book *Trick or Treatment* by Singh and Ernst.
(2) As is often the case with those who believe things on faith, ignorant of how medical and scientific knowledge is obtained, Richard asserts that such approaches as (centuries long proved methods for determining truth in science and medicine, specifically formulated to remove nearly entirely any bias the investigator might have) double blind (and by implication other) proper methods of clinical study of treatments for disease are not applicable to homeopathy.
He asserts and that (to quote his highly revealing double-talk) "homeopathic studies are not amenable to large-scale, positivistic (whatever 'positivistic' means!) statistical surveys". Instead, he asserts that the proper way to study homeopathy is via "case studies, outcome records, and action learning (sic)" (whatever that last bit - "action learning" - of pure double-talk means).
Honest physicians and scientists know (from the centuries of experience of science and medicine since the Enlightenment) that the methods Richard wants applied are the most prone to giving worthless results, characterized by the beliefs and biases of the investigators, and/or prone to suggesting falsehoods due to their vulnerability to being confounded by random and un-anticipated factors.
No, Richard... all medical therapy is best determined to be effective or ineffective by double blind study, where such is possible. And homeopathy is unusually amenable to double blind studies. To better understand this, I recommend the acclaimed book *Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud*, by Robert Parks.
It very articulately outlines the delusions and rationalisations inherent in Richard's response. While not devoted to quack medicine, this must read book on how to intelligently and rationally approach science does have a cogent chapter on the subject.
(3) As I've found to be common among proponents of quackery and superstition, Richard multiple times engages in creation of a straw man... a grossly false representation of the positions of his opponents... then proceeds to diligently attack this false presentation.
(a) Richard suggests real (science and evidence-based) medicine is "intended to suppress a particular symptom in any and every patient". This is pure bunk. I know, for I was trained in it. Medicine consists of scientific means of addressing the root causes of disease, wherever possible and in so far as it is known of what causes given diseases. Homeopathy consists of pushing pure water or sugar water as a "treatment".
(b) Richard implies real medicine is not "gentle". This is poppycock. Real medicine is as gentle as it's possible to be while still being effective. Of course, when you are promoting an entirely fraudulent therapy, consisting of pushing pure water or sugar water and never in any single case producing any effective benefit to those who need it, it's easy to be "gentle". When you are trying to address heart attacks, stroke, cancer, etc. sometimes a bit more forcefulness is required.
Real medicine constantly tries to be more and more gentle. In the late 1940s and early 1950s it was felt that there would have to be massive numbers of new hospitals and surgical teams to cut out big pieces of peoples' lungs to attempt to treat tuberculosis. Then science and medical research provided us with isoniazid, and suddenly tuberculosis could be cured merely by taking a pill.
In the early days of X-rays, the dose of radiation applied was large, and both patients and medical works experienced some (though even then relatively few) ill effects. Today, with modern image sensors and computer imaging, the radiation dose from simple x-rays is so low you could have 500 of them taken in a year with zero risk either acutely or over the remaining decades of your life of any increase in radiation-related disease.
The incidence of radiation related disease among medical workers who daily work with such equipment is also either the same as or lower than that in a matched population that does not work daily with radiation.
(c) Richard employs the (mostly pseudo-intellectual double-talk, mostly pejorative and insulting) term "scientism" to my comments, to falsely suggest I believe scientific method is the only means of appreciating reality. To the extent "scientism" has any objective meaning, it means the *inappropriate* exclusive application of scientific method to aspects of reality where scientific method is either inappropriate, or provides only part of the picture of reality.
Scientific method has little place in deciding whether you like Matisse more than you like Picasso... or whether you prefer Jackson Pollack to Matisse. Or whether you like Mozart, Coltrane, or The Grateful Dead.
But in deciding how to treat your cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure ... or whether a given medical therapy works or not... scientific method is the *only* means of getting a functional handle on reality. Unfortunately Richard like all superstitious sorts, does not want to listen to evidence that contradicts his faith, so simply asserts that universally considered appropriate tests don't apply. This sort of denial is also commonly found among fanatic religious believers in creationism when confronted by science-based evidence.
(d) Richard uses the pejorative term "allopathic" to describe real and effective medicine. This term was coined by the by Samuel Hahnemann, the fraud who founded homeopathy, and is used today mostly by those who promote homeopathic and other quackery for profit, and those they have conned. The term, and the pretense that it is merely descriptive, is ugly and offense to a large fraction of real, conscientious physicians and other medical workers.
(e) Richard did not, somewhat to my surprise, employ the word "holistic" in his collection of dogma-driven falsehood. But he did imply that real medicine does not look at the circumstances of the individual, and/or was focused myopically on a single isolated disease process (often limited to a single organ). It is to distinguish themselves from this deceitful and false ("straw man") representation of real medicine that many apologists for quackery call what they promote "holistic medicine". They use it as a synonym for the other common adjectives that real medical workers know mean quack medicine (alternative, integrative, and complimentary).
The words "holistic" and "scientism" have a lot in common. Both have semi-objective meanings. "Holistic" means "applying overview"... to (in the case of medicine) look at the big picture of a patient's other medical problems, social and economic situation, and even at the way the existing social reality may be involved with the medical problem one is being called on to address.
Those who are self deceived and the con artist practitioners of and apologists for quackery often will assert they look at the big picture where [real] MD physicians are trained to only focus myopically on a very narrow definition of disease.
In reality, the ignorant (such as Richard), the self-deceived, and the con-artist (those who are quite conscious of the fraud they practice) proponents and practitioners of homeopathy and the many other pseudo medical therapies are the ones who have closed their eyes to the greater reality... the reality of what a deadly fraud they are promoting.
As an MD I went through many years of medical training, and can assure Richard and other readers of this response that we were enjoined frequently... sometimes many times in a single day... to look at the big picture, and not get lost in myopic focus on one organ or one disease process. Real medicine is "holistic" to its core.
Like all things in general, and most things perverted by the demands of a profit-oriented social system, real, evidence-based medicine as practiced under capitalism suffers frequent failings, that include failure to address the whole patient.
Often because while a physician may wish to, he or she feels powerless to make the kind of broad changes required to address the ills of society that impact on the disease one is called upon to treat. This even thought one is painfully aware that disease is highly connected to the exploitation and injustice in society in general.
The "for profit" model of American medicine, in particular, puts overwhelming pressures on health care workers to skimp on the "holistic" to minimise costs (in time and resources) for the sake of profit.
In conclusion, and to repeat: Failure to reject and condemn the superstitious reasoning, the blind faith in dogma, the apology for and even promotion of deadly quack medicine (such as homeopathy, acupuncture, Reiki, iridology, cupping, naturopathy) and denial of scientific method (and the intellectual honesty and rational thinking it represents) is to be roundly condemned.
Scientific method, and the subset of it that is proper clinical study of attempts at medical therapy, is a product of the Enlightenment. Scientific method... the means by which one as much as possible eliminates the bias and expectations of the investigator when examining some aspect of reality... is one of the greatest achievements of human thought.
The Enlightenment is also the parent of socialism and Marxism. □
Martin H. Goodman MD
Director, Riazanov Library digital archive projects
Life-long scientist (from earliest childhood, and above all)
Socialist for all of my adult life