Some quack “doctor” – actually, “naturalistic doctor” by the name of Eric Bakker has been getting some attention with his idiotic tweets about how homeopathy is going to overtake all medicine because its workings are obviously better. According to him, skeptics are just desperate self-deluded idiots or big pharma shills and the fact that the James Randi Educational Foundation will offer one million dollars to prove it just makes Randi a “Dork” because… skeptics can’t explain how grass grows.. or something.
You can read all his stupid tweets here, but here are some of my favorite:
I think my favorite has to be this one:
All truth passes through 3 stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. …
Whether or not this is true, lets not forget: Not all that is ridiculed is truth.
I don’t really see where he’s going with his “explain how grass grows” nonsense or what that has to do with anything. However, I *think* what he is trying to say is that the growth of grass is self-evident and that homeopathy is also self-evident and therefore it does not matter if you can demonstrate how it works or not – it works and that’s that.
Well, unfortunately, this is simply not the case. It’s a common tactic of quacks to use self-observed results and anecdotes about a patient who got better to justify their non-working cures. Anecdotal reports and experiences once guided medicine, and all in all, it didn’t work out too well. It really was not until medicine started to adopt case control studies and quantifiable experimental data, which wasn’t universal until the late 1800′s, that it actually started to make major advances in conquering disease. Toady it’s the cornerstone of medical science, because it works.
There are a number of problems with the “it works, just ask my patients” argument. First of all, many conditions are self-limiting and people usually recover on their own. If you take 50 people with a cold and give them a pill, in a week most of them will be better. But was it because of the pill? Well, you really can’t tell one way or another unless you can actually compare the results with the pill to those without it. As it turns out, people get better from a cold with or without a pill.
The other problem is that a single case or even a dozen cases of someone recovering extremely quickly from a condition could just be a fluke. Even late stage cancer patients have been known to, on occasion, experience spontaneous remission. If you send thousands of such cancer patients to a homeopath, a few will experience remission and tell you how great their experience was. The rest won’t, but they won’t tell you how ineffective the treatment was, because they’ll be dead.
Finally, there is the placebo effect and the fact that people are just not very good at objectively observing anything and even worse at observing themselves. That’s why the studies collect data from third party observers or, when it is self-reported, it is tabulated and compared to a control group, to see if there is a statistically significant trend.