On a blog about alternative medicine, the issue of ‘pseudoscience’ can never be far. Several posts have already focussed specifically on this topic. Recently, I came across an excellent article on homeopathy (which is well worth reading in full). It concluded by listing the techniques commonly used in pseudoscience.

I think this is important and relevant to much of the discussions about alternative medicine. Therefore I take the liberty to cite it here in full. According to the authors of this article, John Timmer, Matt Ford, Chris Lee, and Jonathan Gitlin, the techniques are as follows:

  • Ignore settled issues in science: We know a great deal about the behavior of water (and evolution, and other contentious topics), but there are many efforts to introduce new science without ever addressing the existing body of knowledge. As such, many of the basic tenets of topics such as homeopathy appear to be ungrounded in reality as we understand it.
  • Misapplication of real science: Quantum mechanics is an undeniably successful description of parts of the natural world, but the limitations of its applicability are widely recognized by the scientific community, if not the general public. Pseudoscientists such as homeopaths appear to cynically target this sort of ignorance by applying scientific principles to inappropriate topics.
  • Rejection of scientific standards: Over the centuries, science has established standards of evidence and experiment to ensure that data remains consistent and reproducible. But these strengths are presented as weaknesses that make science impervious to new ideas, a stance that is often accompanied by…
  • Claims of suppression: Pseudoscience is rejected because it does not conform to the standards held by the scientific community. That community is depicted as a dangerous hegemony that rejects new ideas in order to perpetuate a stifling orthodoxy. This happens in spite of many examples of radical ideas that have rapidly gained not only acceptance, but major prizes, when they were properly supported by scientific evidence.
  • A conclusion/evidence gap: Many areas of pseudoscience do not set out to examine a phenomenon but rather have the stated goal of supporting a preordained conclusion. As such, they often engage in excessive logical leaps when the actual data is insufficient to support the desired conclusion.
  • Focusing on the fringes: All areas of science have anomalous data and anecdotal findings that are inconsistent with the existing understanding. But those anomalies should not obscure the fact that the vast majority of current data does support the predominant theories. In the hands of a pseudoscientist, these unconnected edge cases are presented as a coherent body of knowledge that supports the replacement of existing understandings.

Perhaps the clearest theme running through many areas of pseudoscience, however, is the attempt to make a whole that is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. Enlarging a collection of terminally-flawed trivia does not somehow strengthen its scientific significance. This is especially true when many of the components of the argument don’t form a coherent whole. For example, quantum entanglement, structured water, and silica are essentially unrelated explanations, and any support for one of them makes no difference to the others. Yet, somehow, presenting them all at once is supposed to make the case for water’s memory harder to dismiss.


19 Responses to The techniques of pseudoscience

  • Claims of suppression: This one is even more ironic than the other. Homeopath like to get into the quantum woo, but quantum physics was firstly rejected by numerous scientist and then they quickly accepted it in the face of evidence (and it was not easy to accept because of how not intuitive it was).

  • Maybe we should simply agree with the most eminent of pseudoscientists, and propose that we apply a proven and largely suppressed (guess by who!) fact to demonstrate how terribly flawed conventional science is: jumping/falling out of an airplane is perfectly survivable without a parachute.

    Clearly, parachutes have only been created to enrich members of the military industrial complex. As Vesna Vulović, Nicholas Alkemade and others have demonstrated beyond the reasonable and unreasonable doubt, parachutes are simply not needed. Only those narrow-minded scientists and money-hungry engineers who are kowtowing to the establishment would claim otherwise, and they happen to have “the government” on their side, corrupt as always.

    So, why don’t we put the pseudoscientists together in a Lockheed C-130 and push them all out of the door at 10,000 feet or so as part of their OMSEC, also known as open-minded-science education curriculum? They are essentially guaranteed immortality, for their deed would be talked about for decades to come. What are they waiting for? It would be so convincing.

  • Part I:

    Mr. Ernst your post is nonsense. Let my explain. The ars technica “debunK” is laugingh. Why?
    The arguments exposed is ad-hominem or straw man fallacies. In this context, the memory water hypothesis is coherent with the QED theory since 1980. Ok, in the ars techinia cites the Martin Chaplin text:

    -The role of water memory in homeopathy could be demonstrated in two ways: physical measurement of some structure that was imposed upon water by the active ingredient or by the demonstrated efficacy of the diluted solution.-

    If you agree? I assume your answer is yes. In this context the Ars technica articles was published in 2007!!!
    In the guardian a one article says: “There is no scientific case for homeopathy: the debate is over
    Edzard Ernst”, “As both of these assumptions fly in the face of science, critical thinkers have always insisted that few things could be more implausible than homeopathy.”

    Sure Ernst?

    New evidence:

    1) Transduction of DNA information through water and electromagnetic wave
    Journal: Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine
    Conclusions: “A new property of some DNA molecules has been discovered, that of emitting low-frequency electromagnetic waves in water dilutions. These DNAs originate from pathogenic agents or agents endowed with pathogenic potential. It may not be pure coincidence that such EMS are associated with diseases, particularly chronic diseases.”

    2) Physicochemical studies of extremely diluted solutions (homoeopathic formulations) of sulphur in ethanol by using volumetric, acoustic, viscometric and refractive index measurements at different temperatures
    Journal: Journal of Molecular Liquids
    Conclusions: ” It has been observed that even in extreme dilutions the molecules of sulphur may be present in these homoeopathic formulations. Both the presence of sulphur as well as succussion phenomenon is responsible for the variation of the physicochemical properties of these homoeopathic formulations.”

    3) Dielectric Dispersion Studies Indicate Change in Structure of Water by Potentised Homeopathic Medicines
    Journal: Journal of The Institution of Engineers (India): Series B
    Conclusions: “So, the induced structures in the water vehicle are also medicine and potency specific”

    Part II.
    Let me explain the another nonsense of Ernst. This writtes:

    “Our trials failed to show that homeopathy is more than a placebo.”

    False. In this context, the literature review of papers (Homeopathy AND Ernst) shown that the major works of Ernst in homeopathy is about systematic reviews, not trials.

    a) A one example is the “Homeopathy for Postoperative Ileus?: A Meta-analysis” published in Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. The conclusion is positive:

    “In conclusion, our analyses suggest that homeopathic treatment administered immediately after abdominal surgery may reduce the time to first flatus when compared with placebo administration. ”

    But the unique excuse of withdrawn this conclusion is the “implausibility”. Yeah the Ernst facist law is cooming!

    b) Another example?

    A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy – BMJ

    “Moreover, the volume of the evidence for oscillococcinum is small and therefore not fully conclusive. Our systematic review of various homeopathic medicines for postoperative ileus produced an overall positive result [10]. Yet several caveats need to be taken into account, most importantly the fact that the definitive study designed as a multicentre trial to replicate several of smaller studies failed to demonstrate a positive effect [10]. One independent review of all homeopathic RCTs regardless of indication or type of remedy yielded a positive result”

    Wow, Ernst find a positive and promise results but this explains with ad-hoc excuses or the cliche word “caveats”.

    c) Homeopathic remedies for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a systematic review – BHJ

    “In conclusion, the evidence to suggest that homeopathic remedies are efficacious in the treatment of OA, although promising, is inconclusive owing to the small number of studies conducted to date. In view of the popularity of homeopathy, further research is warranted.”

    The evidence suggest efficacy in randomized controlled trials but again the ad-hoc excuse is funny.

    d) “Homeopathy: what does the “best” evidence tell us?” – MJA

    Conclusion: “In conclusion, the most reliable evidence— that produced by Cochrane reviews — fails to demonstrate that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.”

    “The Cochrane review by Kassab and colleagues 11 found preliminary evidence in support of homeopathy (Box).”
    “It is not surprising that such medicines can have pharmacological effects, but concluding that homeopathic medicines are effective, on the basis of such data, would be misleading.”

    Wow, again the ad-hoc excuse. This is funny. In this case you admits the existence of low potency homeopathy, but in other papers neglects. Funny, funny.

    Part III.
    Bad Ernst.

    “Homeopathy: A Critique of Current Clinical Research”

    “Future research in this area should be more rigorous and readers of biased research papers should apply appropriately critical assessments.”

    “Future research”, but in your blog is easy see the facist actitude against homeopathy. This is mst funniest.

    —-A Critique of Ernst’s Critique and Request for Replication of an Arnica Study—

    “Dr. Ernst acknowledged that “the third RCT did demonstrate a significant reduction of 1.8 percent,” but he failed to mention the “p<0.02" value (which is the usual manner of reporting a statistically significant finding). I can only assume that his failure to disclose the p<0.02 level of significance is a way of minimizing the significance of this finding."
    "Dr. Ernst noted that Brinkhaus et al., concluded that
    "patients receiving Arnica showed a trend toward less post-operative swelling compared to patients receiving placebo" and that the observed effects "seem to justify the use of homeopathic Arnica in cruciate ligament reconstruction." Their data do in fact support these conclusions, and Ernst provided no reason to dispute their conclusions."

    Wow, Ernst PhD with bad statistics and bad science, the fraud in science is a unethical position.
    In my opinion, the Ernst conclusions exposed in "A scientist in wonderland" or "trick or treatment" is fatally flawed and criminal defamation against of homeopaths, patients and researchers interested in the ultra dilutions. I will need denounce Ernst for fraud.

    • It is blindingly obvious that you do not possess enough knowledge to even begin to understand that which you have cited in your pathetic attempt to support your claims. You have more than adequately demonstrated your bankruptcy in four important areas: science, logic, etiquette, and modern manners.

    • @ARP-SAPC
      You’re not scoring many points with this verbosity.
      The incoherence and unmistakable lack of analytical ability suggest either the influence of insobriety or advanced dull-wittedness. I hope for your sake it is the former.

    It seems English is not your first language. I have tried very hard to understand the points you are trying to make, but with little success. Let me try to respond to part I, where you seem to be saying there is plausible new evidence for some active properties of homeopathic dilutions. Please note that it is normal in science to give the precise reference for papers you cite: year of publication, journal volume number and first page number. You force your readers to search the journal websites, which is both inconvenient and unprofessional.
    The first paper you cite I can’t access; it’s behind a pay wall for a journal with an impact factor of 0.8, i.e. a journal of low quality. The abstract doesn’t read anything like the conclusion you quote.
    The second paper also hides behind a pay wall and also has an impact factor less than 1. But if extreme, homeopathic dilutions sulphur can be found, then — sorry, but the dilution hasn’t been done properly!
    The third paper I was able to access: for its first two pages. These review the history of the science purported to surround water memory in such an uncritical manner it seems unlikely the rest of the article is likely to raise the standard. I cannot discover the impact factor of this journal.
    At risk of appearing rude, I have to say you don’t seem to possess the first clue about what constitutes effective science, critical thinking, or robust evidence. Just because something appears in a journal doesn’t make it true. When the journal is one of low repute, the probability it will contain science of any quality is usually low. Like many of those who uncritically support the ‘truth’ of homeopathy, you think you understand how research works, but cannot comprehend how poor your understanding really is.

  • Why would someone need to read an article refuting homeopathy? Is this the year 1880? How about an article refuting phrenology? Does anyone still believe homeopathy is real? If so, I doubt an article will convince them otherwise. “Gee, I was a big believer in homeopathic techniques, but then I read an article.” If someone in 2015 is a follower of homeopathy, hey have bigger problems than an article on a website can solve.

    • @John
      “If someone in 2015 is a follower of homeopathy, they have bigger problems than an article on a website can solve.” Maybe, but homeapathy is not better than homeopathy. If no pressures are applied in an effort to knock reason into the heads of the constitutionally irrational then we might as well also give up on articles advocating consumer protection, decrying racial bigotry and exposing corruption. All of these problems also go back centuries; that is not a reason for inertia.

  • One of the worst pseudoscientists I’ve come across is Steven Lehar who claims that all of neuroscience, psychology etc. is against him, knows his crackpot theory to be true but is actively supressing it, the real reason is that they don’t even consider his theory because it is pure bulls**t (it’s on the same level as the flat-earth cranks), he fits all the criteria listed here. How that guy is still employed at a University is beyond me, he needs to be exposed and sacked in my opinion.

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