Homeopathy improves fatigue and pain of cancer patients ten-fold

Few fields demonstrate the exercise of the pseudoscientific method more consistently than homeopathy. Any half-competent editor of a health magazine will be well aware of the red flags, and will steer clear of the junk studies that define the field.

You’ve already spotted the problem, haven’t you? Yes, the editor would have to be half competent. And also they would have to give a shit about facts, rather than their advertising sales.

Homeopathy dramatically improves the mental and physical well-being of cancer patients who are being treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, a major new study has discovered.

Really? I wonder who would produce such a study, and where it might get published?

Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2015; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2015.03.004. A low impact factor (2.2) SCAM-specific journal.

“Influence of adjunctive classical homeopathy on global health status and subjective wellbeing in cancer patients – A pragmatic randomized controlled trial”

The word “pragmatic” is a red flag with homeopathy studies: it means that they are engaged in benefit finding, and have deliberately chosen not to try to eliminate many common sources of bias.

Half the 410 cancer patients, who were prescribed individual remedies, reported “significant improvements” in their levels of fatigue and pain, and had better appetites, than those who weren’t given the remedies. Improvements ranged from seven to 14 times in those taking homeopathy, say researchers from the Medical University of Vienna.

Did they indeed. So a group of people who received amateur talk therapy and magic sugar pills, reported subjective benefits, but no objective measures were used. This tells us precisely nothing that we did not already know.

Here’s something else we know: users of SCAM fare worse when they get cancer.  They delay treatment, trying worthless SCAM remedies first, so they present later and with more advanced disease, and even after controlling for that, they still die sooner.

With that in mind, one wonders why the Medical University of Vienna’s IRB approved this trial. Would they approve one on voodoo?  Maybe they would, it would not be the most unethical thing the university ever did, as Prof. Ernst reveals in his excellent A Scientist In Wonderland.

All the patients, who were being treated for stages 3 and 4 cancer, were interviewed every week while they were taking the remedies, and the improvements in the homeopathic group was very noticeable compared to the group who weren’t taking homeopathy.

According to a bunch of homeopaths. Of course the rigorous blinding that ensured that neither patient nor experimenter was aware of which group they were in, and the use of a carefully selected placebo (including controls for the homeopathic “consultation”, which another study shows is the only part of the whole charade that matters).

Oh, wait, no, they don’t appear to have done any of that.

Improvements in overall health were 10 times greater in the homeopathic group over the three weeks the remedies were taken.

Amazing, isn’t it? You wonder how such a striking finding could come out of a decently designed study given that three separate government reviews of homeopathy (Switzerland, UK and Australia) have failed to find a single condition for which it is provably effective.

There are two possibilities here:

  1. All the previous research is wrong, especially that showing that positive results are more likely when the study design is sloppy and less likely when it’s robust; most of physics is wrong; there are two complete parallel systems of action in human biochemistry, one of which has never been identified by scientists; and there is a form of energy that has never been detected or measured, but which has profound effects on human health.
  2. This is another badly-designed study by True Believers seeking to proselytise their faith.

Which is more likely? Answers on a razor please.

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