MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

causation

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When tested rigorously, the evidence for so-called alternatives medicine (SCAM) is usually weak or even negative. This fact has prompted many SCAM enthusiasts to become utterly disenchanted with rigorous tests such as the randomised clinical trial (RCT). They seem to think that, if the RCT fails to generate the findings we want, let’s use different methodologies instead. In other words, they are in favour of observational studies which often yield positive results.

This line of thinking is prevalent in all forms of SCAM, but probably nowhere more so that in the realm of homeopathy. Homeopaths see that rigorous RCTs tend not to confirm their belief and, to avoid cognitive dissonance, they focus on observational studies which are much more likely to confirm their belief.

In this context, it is worth mentioning a recent article where well-known homeopathy enthusiasts have addressed the issue of observational studies. Here is their abstract:

Background: Randomized placebo-controlled trials are considered to be the gold standard in clinical research and have the highest importance in the hierarchical system of evidence-based medicine. However, from the viewpoint of decision makers, due to lower external validity, practical results of efficacy research are often not in line with the huge investments made over decades.

Method: We conducted a narrative review. With a special focus on homeopathy, we give an overview on cohort, comparative cohort, case-control and cross-sectional study designs and explain guidelines and tools that help to improve the quality of observational studies, such as the STROBE Statement, RECORD, GRACE and ENCePP Guide.

Results: Within the conventional medical research field, two types of arguments have been employed in favor of observational studies. First, observational studies allow for a more generalizable and robust estimation of effects in clinical practice, and if cohorts are large enough, there is no over-estimation of effect sizes, as is often feared. We argue that observational research is needed to balance the current over-emphasis on internal validity at the expense of external validity. Thus, observational research can be considered an important research tool to describe “real-world” care settings and can assist with the design and inform the results of randomised controlled trails.

Conclusions: We present recommendations for designing, conducting and reporting observational studies in homeopathy and provide recommendations to complement the STROBE Statement for homeopathic observational studies.

In their paper, the authors state this:

It is important to realize three areas where observational research can be valuable. For one, as already mentioned, it can be valuable as a preparatory type of research for designing good randomized studies. Second, it can be valuable as a stand-alone type of research, where pragmatic or ethical reasons stand against conducting a randomized study. Additionally, it can be valuable as the only adequate method where choices are involved: for instance, in any type of lifestyle research or where patients have very strong preferences, such as in homeopathy and other CAM. This might also lead to a diversification of research efforts and a broader, more realistic, picture of the effects of therapeutic interventions.

My comments to this are as follows:

  1. Observational research can be valuable as a preparatory type of research for designing good randomized studies. This purpose is better fulfilled by pilot studies (which are often abused in SCAM).
  2. Observational research can be valuable as a stand-alone type of research, where pragmatic or ethical reasons stand against conducting a randomized study. Such situations rarely arise in the realm of SCAM.
  3. Observational research can be valuable as the only adequate method where choices are involved: for instance, in any type of lifestyle research or where patients have very strong preferences, such as in homeopathy and other CAM. I fail to see that this is true.
  4. Observational research leads to a diversification of research efforts and a broader, more realistic, picture of the effects of therapeutic interventions. The main aim of research into the effectiveness of SCAM should be, in my view, to determine whether the treatment per se works or not. Observational studies are likely to obscure the truth on this issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that observational studies are useless; quite to the contrary, they can provide very important information. But what I am trying to express is this:

  • We should not allow double standards in medical research. The standards and issues of observational research as they exist in conventional medicine must also apply to SCAM.
  • Observational studies cannot easily determine cause and effect between the therapy and the outcome.
  • Observational studies cannot be a substitute for RCTs.
  • Depending on their exact design, observational studies measure the outcome caused by a whole range of factors, including the therapy per se, the placebo-effect, the natural history of the disease, the regression towards the mean.
  • Observational studies are particularly useful in effectiveness research, AFTER the efficacy of a therapy has been established by RCTs.
  • If RCT fail to show that a therapy is effective and observational studies seem to indicate that they work, the therapy in question is probably a placebo.
  • SCAM-enthusiasts’ preference for observational studies is transparently due to motivated reasoning.

Pisa syndrome (PS) is a condition in which there is sustained involuntary flexion of the body and head to one side and slight rotation of the trunk so the person appears to lean like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The PS can occur as a complication of Parkinson’s disease (PD). It can also be an adverse effect of some medications. It is characterized by a trunk lateral flexion higher than 10 degrees which is reversible when lying. The underlying pathophysiological mechanisms responsible for the development of PS are poorly understood. One pathophysiological hypothesis is that PS in PD is caused by an altered verticality perception, due to a somatosensory impairment.

The management of PS remains a challenge. Physiotherapy with early rehabilitation emphasising stretching exercises for the external oblique and paraspinal muscles is usually recommended. Therapy is also needed to improve static, dynamic posture and the control of pain symptoms. Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) is also sometimes advocated for PS, but does it work?

The aim of the study was to assess OMT efficacy on postural control in PD-PS patients by stabilometry. In this single-blinded trial the investigators studied 24 PD-PS patients, 12 of whom were randomly assigned to receive a multidisciplinary physical therapy protocol (MIRT) and sham OMT, while the other 12 received OMT plus MIRT for one month. The primary endpoint was the eye closed sway area assessment after the intervention. Evaluation of trunk lateral flexion (TLF) was also performed.

At one month, the sway area of the OMT group significantly decreased compared to placebo (mean delta OMT – 326.00±491.24 mm2, p = 0.01). The experimental group TLF showed a mean inclination reduction of 3.33 degrees after treatment (p = 0.044, mean d = 0.54). Moreover, a significant positive association between delta ECSA and delta TLF was observed (p = 0.04, r = 0.46).

The authors concluded that among PD-PS patients, MIRT plus OMT showed preliminary evidence of postural control and TLF improvement, compared to the control group.

The authors entitled their paper ‘Efficacy of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment on Postural Control in Parkinsonian Patients With Pisa Syndrome: A Pilot Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial’. As a pilot study, it should not test efficacy but explore the feasibility of a definitive trial. The fact the authors report outcome data, indicates to me that this is, in fact, not a pilot study, but a hopelessly underpowered clinical trial. This means that the findings could be due merely to chance alone. And this, in turn, means that the researchers owe it to their patients to conduct a properly powered RCT.

‘HOMEOPATHY RESOURCE’ claim they are the online web site for accurate information on homeopathy, homeopaths and homeopathic organizations. On 18 June, they published an article entitled “Another Remarkable Demonstration of Homeopathy’s Effectiveness in Covid-19: ONLY 19 Deaths out of 35 million in Kerala, India”. Here it is in its full beauty:

The State of Kerela India has shown that homeopathy and grassroots health care works dramatically well in epidemic and pandemic situations.. The state, in spite of areas of great density, has reported only 19 deaths. This compares to the UK which has a population of 66 million people but a tragic 41,698 deaths.

The region’s Health Minister Shailaja Teacher has been called the “Coronavirus Slayer” after introducing homeopathy as a primary means of dealing with the epidemic. Kerala India has already come through two Nipah virus epidemics under her watch.

Tactics used by Shailaja included encouraging the use of homeopathy. In a recent media meeting, she talked about the need “to improve the immunity and resistance power of each individual not yet positive to Coronavirus, with the help of Homeopathic/ Ayurvedic medicines. That will help them resist the Coronavirus infection, help them to tide over the infection well, if at all they contract it…… everyone should take Homeopathic & Ayurvedic preventative treatments available.”

According to Dr E.S.Rajendran who practices in Kerala “The total number of people who received the homeopathic preventive medicine Ars alb 30 through Kerala government as on June 1st was 10 million. An equal number of people have also received the same through voluntary organisations. The remaining population is expected to receive the preventive medicine in another one month.” This distribution was carried out in each district with the help of resident associations and was achievable because there is a huge demand for homeopathy from the people.

_____________________________________

Do ‘HOMEOPATHY RESOURCE’ really think that this is ‘accurate information’?

Do they feel that it amounts to evidence that homeopathy prevents COVID-19 infections?

Do they believe that it is responsible to promote such a message?

If so, they are more deluded than their homeopathic remedies are diluted!

There is a plethora of factors that might have contributed to the low infection rate in Kerela. Here are some that spring into my mind (in descending order of probability):

  1. Social distancing measures might have been put in place at the right time.
  2. Hand-washing might have been better accepted than in the UK.
  3. Face-masks might have been more common.
  4. The government might have been less incompetent than the one in the UK.
  5. The pandemic might be arriving with some delay in Kerela (in the last 2 days the COVID cases have more than doubled in Kerela).
  6. The hot weather might have inhibited the spread of the infection.
  7. The Ayurvedic medicine mentioned by the health minister might have worked.
  8. There might be many more cases due to under-diagnosis and poor testing.
  9. The holy cows might have prevented infections.
  10. Homeopathy works dramatically well in epidemic and pandemic situations.

Call me a sceptic, but – whatever turns out to be true (and I sincerely hope that the case numbers stay low in Kerela) – I do not think that ‘HOMEOPATHY RESOURCE’ is providing accurate information with their recent post.

And call me a pessimist, but I fail to see any good evidence to assume that homeopathic remedies have any effect in treating or preventing viral infections. In fact,

HIGHLY DILUTE HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES ARE PURE PLACEBOS! 

Well, they did not directly admit that homeopathic remedies have no effects, of course. But, on 5/6/2020, they tweeted this :

DHU Arzneimittel
@dhu_de Jun 5
#Homöopathie Wissen
‘Pille’ und #Globuli – geht das? Ja, das geht, #Schwangerschaftsverhütung mit der #Pille und homöopathische Arzneimittel beeinflussen sich nicht gegenseitig.

Let me translate the text of this tweet for you:

The pill and homeopathy – is that ok? Yes, it is. Contraceptives and homeopathic medicines do not interact.

Let me translate the text of this tweet for you:

The pill and homeopathy – is that ok? Yes, it is. Contraceptives and homeopathic medicines do not interact.

And in what way is this an admission that homeopathic remedies have no effect?

Let me explain:

To issue such a categorical assurance, any responsible pharmaceutical company must have sound evidence. If not they would be open to expensive legal action, compensation, etc., in case a woman believed them and did get pregnant while taking both the contraceptive pill and a homeopathic remedy. Claiming that no interactions exist without evidence would be unwise, illegal and unethical. That means, there must be a published trial plus several independent replications demonstrating the absence of interactions between the contraceptive pill and homeopathic remedies.

German homeopathic manufacturers are, of course, responsible; I would never dare to doubt it! Ergo, such trials must be available, I thought. Therefore, I quickly conducted a few literature searches in an attempt to locate them.

Here are my findings:

No study on interactions of homeopathics with contraceptives.

No study on interactions of homeopathics with any drug.

(Should anyone have different information, please contact me without delay)

As I said, I do not doubt for a second that the largest German manufacturer, the ‘Deutsche Homöopathische Union’ (DHU), is a highly responsible company. So, how can they responsibly assure the public that there are no contraceptive/homeopathy interactions? How can they be so sure? Why are they not afraid of legal consequences?

There is really only one plausible explanation: they know very well that homeopathic remedies have no actions, and what has no actions cannot possibly cause any interactions!

Am I right, my dear friends at the DHU?

Please do respond if you have a minute!

The Lightning Process  (LP) is a commercial programme developed by Phil Parker based on ideas from osteopathy, life coaching and neuro-linguistic programming. It has been endorsed by celebrities like Martine McCutcheon and Esther Rantzen, who credits it for her daughter’s recovery from ME. Parker claims that LP works by teaching people to use their brain to “stimulate health-promoting neural pathways”. One young patient once described it as follows: “Whenever you get a negative thought, emotional symptom, you are supposed to turn on one side and with your arm movements in a kind if stop motion, just say STOP very firmly and that is supposed to cut off the adrenaline response.”

Allegedly, the LP teaches individuals to recognize when they are stimulating or triggering unhelpful physiological responses and to avoid these, using a set of standardized questions, new language patterns and physical movements with the aim of improving a more appropriate response to situations. The LP involves three group sessions on consecutive days where participants are taught theories and skills, which are then practised through simple steps, posture and coaching.

A few days ago, someone asked my help writing to me: Norwegian newspaper is attacking patients for objecting to a clinical trial of the lightning process which is horrible quackery. LP is being backed by some people in Norwegian health authorities. Could you bring attention to how disgraceful this is please? I promised to look into it. Hence this post.

My searches located just one single trial. It seems to be the only controlled clinical study available. Here it is:

Design: Pragmatic randomised controlled open trial. Participants were randomly assigned to SMC or SMC+LP. Randomisation was minimised by age and gender.

Setting: Specialist paediatric CFS/ME service.

Patients: 12-18 year olds with mild/moderate CFS/ME.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was the the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey Physical Function Subscale (SF-36-PFS) at 6 months. Secondary outcomes included pain, anxiety, depression, school attendance and cost-effectiveness from a health service perspective at 3, 6 and 12 months.

Results: We recruited 100 participants, of whom 51 were randomised to SMC+LP. Data from 81 participants were analysed at 6 months. Physical function (SF-36-PFS) was better in those allocated SMC+LP (adjusted difference in means 12.5(95% CI 4.5 to 20.5), p=0.003) and this improved further at 12 months (15.1 (5.8 to 24.4), p=0.002). At 6 months, fatigue and anxiety were reduced, and at 12 months, fatigue, anxiety, depression and school attendance had improved in the SMC+LP arm. Results were similar following multiple imputation. SMC+LP was probably more cost-effective in the multiple imputation dataset (difference in means in net monetary benefit at 12 months £1474(95% CI £111 to £2836), p=0.034) but not for complete cases.

Conclusion: The LP is effective and is probably cost-effective when provided in addition to SMC for mild/moderately affected adolescents with CFS/ME.

The trial was designed as an ‘A+B versus B’ study which practically always generates a positive outcome. It did not control for placebo effects and is, in my humble view, worthless and arguably unethical. It certainly does not warrant the conclusion that LB is effective or cost-effective.

I do not doubt that the LP-children improved, but I see no reason to believe that this had anything to do with LP. It could have been (and most likely was) caused by the intense attention that these kids received over three days. Giving them a daily ice-cream and some kindness might (and probably would) have produced even better outcomes.

So, what do we call a therapy for which numerous, far-reaching claims are being made, which is based on implausible assumptions, which is unproven, and for which people have to pay dearly?

The last time I looked, it was called quackery.

THE HINDU reported on 22 May the following amazing story:

A corporator from Borivali, Riddhi Khursange, has distributed 10,000 bottles of Arsenicum Album 30, the homoeopathy medicine that was recommended by Ministry of AYUSH as a prophylactic for COVID-19. Another corporator from Ghatkopar, Pravin Chheda, has bought 25,000 bottles and has distributed over 7,100 in the past four days…

“The AYUSH Ministry must have based their claims on the benefits of the medication. The municipal corporation has also approved it for distribution,” said Mr. Chheda, who aims to distribute one lakh vials. He said all his family members have taken the three-day dose.

While the recommendation from AYUSH was issued on March 6, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on May 8 issued a circular that 20 lakh people, including those in quarantine centres, will get the medicine.

Some experts, however, do not agree with such random, mass distribution. Also known as Ars Alb, the medication was termed as genus epidemicus (homoeopathy medicine indicated for an epidemic) during the H1N1 outbreak of 2008-2009. “Back then, Ars Alb proved extremely beneficial. But the current claim of AYUSH Ministry has not been backed by the process of genus epidemicus,” said Dr Bahubali Shah, former president of the Maharashtra Council of Homoeopathy.

“Another major problem is this general mass distribution of the medicine without an attempt to collect data on efficacy. There has to be a proper distribution protocol and a protocol for analysis. Right now, corporators, NGOs, the BMC and everyone who can get their hands on the medication are distributing it without any record-keeping,” he said.

Well-known chest physician, Dr. Zarir Udwadia, who is part of the State’s COVID-19 task force, said any alternative treatment still has to undergo a trial. “In my opinion, it should not be added on ad hoc,” said Dr. Udwadia.

The State government has set up a new committee to exclusively look at AYUSH remedies. Dr. T.P. Lahane, who is a part of the committee, said a meeting was planned on Thursday evening to discuss various options.

Meanwhile, a trial on 44 COVID-19 patients in Agra has shown that a homoeopathy medicine called Bryonia Alba was more beneficial than Ars Alb. “We have submitted our findings to Central Council of Homoeopathy and are now enrolling more patients for a bigger trial,” said Dr. Pradeep Gupta, principal of the Naiminath Homeopathy College and Hospital, who is conducting the trial.

He said 22 patients were given a placebo while 22 others were given homoeopathy medicines, Bryonia Alba, Ars Alb and Gelsemium. “19 patients who had fever, cough and weakness, responded to Bryonia within the first three days, two patients who had respiratory distress were first given Ars Alb, which relieved the breathing discomfort, but they had to be put on Bryonia Alba to relieve their fever and cough. Only one patient who came in with drowsiness was first given Gelsemium, but later put on Bryonia Alba for other symptoms,” said Dr. Gupta.

For patients in Agra, Bryonia Alba seems to be the genus epidemicus, he said. Dr. Gupta has now written to the Maharashtra government to conduct a similar trial on patients here.

Are they serious?

To me this sounds as though some amateurs are playing doctor and scientist.

I am sure we will have some homeopathy fans pointing out that India is doing very well in the pandemic and that this must be due to the widespread use of homeopathy. To this I answer that firstly India is sadly no longer doing all that well, and secondly that proof of efficacy requires more than speculation. They will reply that homeopathy has proven itself in many previous epidemics. And I will counter that this is just wishful thinking.

So, will the current pandemic finally provide the proof that homeopathy works?

No!

And the Indian homeopaths seem to be doing their utmost to obscure the picture in their hope that, in the end, they can nevertheless claim victory out of a shameful defeat.

The aim of this systematic review was to assess the efficacy of homeopathic remedies (HRs) in the treatment of mental disorders.

Italian psychiatrists performed a Medline/Embase search for studies written in English and published from any date to October 23, 2018. All randomized controlled trials enrolling patients with any psychiatric disorder and comparing HR with placebo, no treatment, or other psychotropic drugs were included.

A total of 212 studies were screened, 9 met all selection criteria and reported data on major depressive disorder (MDD) (n = 4), generalized anxiety disorder (n = 1), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (n = 2), and premenstrual syndrome/dysphoric disorder (n = 2). Eight of 9 randomized controlled trials showed high risk of bias. Homeopathy showed greater efficacy in MDD compared with fluoxetine, and in premenstrual syndrome/dysphoric disorder compared with placebo, whereas no difference emerged between homeopathy and placebo in MDD and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The authors concluded that the available data on homeopathy in psychiatric disorders are insufficient to support their use in clinical practice.

In their discussion section, they also add an interesting note of caution: Ethical considerations should therefore prevent clinicians from recommending HRs, which have a cost either for patients or for health care systems, until when a sufficient amount of solid evidence becomes available. In addition, systematic reviews of randomized trials, if unavailable, are advisable for all medical conditions for which homeopathy is currently prescribed.

This is a rigorous, transparent and clear review which generates no surprises. Few critical thinkers would have expected a positive result. It also teaches us, I think, a valuable lesson about the difference between a rigorous and a flimsy review, between independent and biased research. In 2011, evidently pro-homeopathy authors published a paper of the latter kind. Here is its abstract:

Objective: To systematically review placebo-controlled randomized trials of homeopathy for psychiatric conditions.

Data sources: Eligible studies were identified using the following databases from database inception to April 2010: PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Hom-Inform, Cochrane CENTRAL, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine grantee publications database, and ClinicalTrials.gov. Gray literature was also searched using Google, Google Scholar, the European Committee for Homeopathy, inquiries with homeopathic experts and manufacturers, and the bibliographic lists of included published studies and reviews. Search terms were as follows: (homeopath* or homoeopath*) and (placebo or sham) and (anxiety or panic or phobia or post-traumatic stress or PTSD or obsessive-compulsive disorder or fear or depress* or dysthym* or attention deficit hyperactivity or premenstrual syndrome or premenstrual disorder or premenstrual dysphoric disorder or traumatic brain injury or fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalitis or insomnia or sleep disturbance). Searches included only English-language literature that reported randomized controlled trials in humans.

Study selection: Trials were included if they met 7 criteria and were assessed for possible bias using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) 50 guidelines. Overall assessments were made using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation procedure. Identified studies were grouped into anxiety or stress, sleep or circadian rhythm complaints, premenstrual problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mild traumatic brain injury, and functional somatic syndromes.

Results: Twenty-five eligible studies were identified from an initial pool of 1,431. Study quality according to SIGN 50 criteria varied, with 6 assessed as good, 9 as fair, and 10 as poor. Outcome was unrelated to SIGN quality. Effect size could be calculated in 16 studies, and number needed to treat, in 10 studies. Efficacy was found for the functional somatic syndromes group (fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome), but not for anxiety or stress. For other disorders, homeopathy produced mixed effects. No placebo-controlled studies of depression were identified. Meaningful safety data were lacking in the reports, but the superficial findings suggested good tolerability of homeopathy. A funnel plot in 13 studies did not support publication bias (χ(2)(1) = 1.923, P = .166).

Conclusions: The database on studies of homeopathy and placebo in psychiatry is very limited, but results do not preclude the possibility of some benefit.

The two conclusions speak for themselves, I think. They should remind us that, although systematic reviews are in principle the most reliable source of evidence, it is still necessary to check the quality of the work and the independence of the worker.

I know Dr Thompson personally since many years. She is one of the UK’s leading homeopaths and we rarely agreed on anything. Yet I had always considered her to be on the responsible side of the homeopathic spectrum. I am sorry to say that I just changed my mind.

The reason is this video and letter.

In the video, she explains that she has been infected with the coronavirus, has self-treated the condition with homeopathy and promptly recovered. In the letter to all patients, she states the following:

… In terms of Homeopathic Medicines, the medicine Anas Barb 200c, two tablets twice weekly, can be used during this time, increasing to two tablets once a day if you do have exposure to the virus or have symptoms and have to self-isolate.

Other Homeopathic Medicines that are being recommended include:

  • Arsenicum Album 30c: three times daily if anxiety is strong
  • Gelsemium 30c: twice daily if weakness and headache predominate
  • Bryonia 30c: two-three times a day for dry cough particularly if movement aggravates the cough.

If cough becomes more problematic you can use Antimonium Tartaricum 30c three times daily.

If fevers are a problem and particularly if they are periodic (coming at certain times of the day) use China officinalis 30c three times daily…

I find this amazing and alarming. There is, of course, not a jot of evidence that any homeopathic treatment will effectively treat or prevent any viral infection, and certainly no evidence that it cures coronavirus infections. To claim or imply otherwise displays a staggering ineptitude and lack of professionalism. To extrapolate from a personal experience to a quasi recommendation for patients is, in my view, ridiculously unscientific and overtly unethical. As a doctor Thompson should be able to differentiate between experience and evidence and has the professional duty to go by the latter.

I am truly glad to hear that Dr Thompson has had a mild course of the disease and recovered swiftly. But we know that all too often this is not the case and that patients can become seriously ill and some even die of the coronavirus. To give the impression that homeopathy can keep them safe is clearly both incorrect and irresponsible.

As THE TIMES stated yesterday, homeopaths are ‘risking lives with bogus coronavirus treatments’.

It’s high time to stop them.

When I first saw this press-release, I thought it was a hoax. After all, it came from a most dubious homeopathic source. Then I read it again and was no longer sure.

What do you think?

Here it is in full:

Santa Clara, Cuba, April 3,2020 (Prensa Latina) The homeopathic medicine Prevengho-VIR began to be administered as a measure to confront the Covid-19 in this province of central Cuba.

Dr. Mirtha Rosa Hernandez, head of the Department of the Elderly in Villa Clara, reported that the supply of the preparation began in the Grandparents’ Homes and Elderly Homes of the territory, which has 184,000 people over 60 years old, 23.9 percent of the local universe. The medicine is administered by doctors and nurses of the basic working group where the Grandparents’ Homes and Nursing Homes are located in the 13 municipalities of this province.

This homeopathic medicine comes in a 10-milliliter bottle, and the daily dosage is 5 drops, thrice a day; while on the tenth day a reactivation of the initial dose is performed. It is aimed at preventing the respiratory diseases in this risk group, in addition to other medical conditions, such as dengue.

In the upcoming days it will be extended to the Maternal Homes. It is administered by the doctors and the nurses from the basic work group of the senior homes.

She said, that besides avoiding the new coronavirus the formula is also aimed at preventing respiratory diseases in this risk group, in addition to others such as dengue fever.

This medicine can also be administered to children under 10 years old, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and patients with liver disorders.

Combination Medicine
Anas berberiae 200
Baptisia tinctora 200
Bascilinum 30
Pyrogenum 200
Eupetorium perf 200
Influezinum 200
Arsenicum Album 200

As I said, I was not sure whether this was for real. Is it possible that even officials are so stupid, brainwashed or gullible to go for homeopathy in such a serious situation?

In an attempt to find out, I did a little search and quickly found that the story has been reported by multiple media. This, for instance, is what the Miami Herald reported:

As scientists around the world speed up clinical trials to find a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, the Cuban government will begin distributing a homeopathic remedy to the elderly and other vulnerable people to “prevent” the spread of the disease, a top health official said.

Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, said in a press conference on Sunday that “sublingual drops” of the compound PrevengHo-Vir “prevent different diseases such as influenza, the common cold, dengue, and emerging viral infections such as this one.”

On Monday, Durán tried to correct his statements and said that the product “does not prevent contagion” but rather “increases resistance, the body’s defenses against a certain virus.”

Several state media outlets reported that PrevengHo-Vir is already being used in various Cuban provinces to treat the elderly and other groups vulnerable to the coronavirus. There is no internet record of PrevengHo-Vir, other than press reports about the announcement of its distribution in Cuba.

So, it’s not a hoax!

In this case, let me try to predict what will happen next:

  • When the pandemic is over, the Cubans will publish mortality rates achieved with their homeopathic prevention [A].
  • They will compare them to data from a cohort that did not receive the homeopathic treatment [B].
  • Neither of the data-sets will be transparent and nobody will be able to check its reliability.
  • The comparison will yield a significant difference in favour of homeopathy.
  • The Cubans will use this to market their remedy.
  • The world of homeopathy will use it as a proof that homeopathy is effective (it wouldn’t be the first time).

Nothing wrong with that, some will say. Others who understand research methodology will, however, point out that these data are less than convincing.

In such case/control studies, one large group of patients [A] is compared to another group [B]. Group A has been treated homeopathically, while group B received no homeopathy. Any difference in outcome between A and B might be due to a range of circumstances that are unrelated to the homeopathic treatment, for instance:

  • group A might have been less ill than group B,
  • group A might have been better nourished,
  • group A might have benefited from better hygiene,
  • group A might have received better care,
  • group B might have received treatments that made the situation not better but worse,
  • the researchers might have prettified the data to make group A look better.

Such concerns are not totally unfounded; after all, Cuba seems to have a long history of making irresponsible claims for their homeopathic products.

Today is the official publication date of my new book ‘DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU THINK‘. It is essentially a crash course in critical thinking. To give you a flavour, here is an excerpt from its preface:

… So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is a complex and controversial subject. Many people pretend to be experts in SCAM, but few know even the basic facts about it. Many consumers talk about SCAM, but few can be bothered to look behind the smokescreen of misleading claims. Many feel emotionally attached to SCAM, but few manage to think rationally about it. Many religiously believe in SCAM, but few show concern about the evidence. Many are desperate for help, but few seem to mind getting ripped off…

Enthusiasts of SCAM tend to hope for less side-effects, symptom relief, a cure of their condition, improvements in quality of life, and protection from illness. Such high expectations are usually based on misinformation, often even on outright lies. The disappointing truth is that not many SCAMs are truly effective in treating or preventing disease, and that none is totally harmless. In fact, the dangers of SCAM are multi-fold and potentially serious:

  • harm due to adverse effects such as toxicity of an herbal remedy, stroke after chiropractic manipulation, pneumothorax after acupuncture (see chapter 3.2);
  • harm caused by bogus diagnostic techniques (see chapter 4.4);
  • harm of using materials from endangered species (see chapter 3.15);
  • harm through incompetent advice by SCAM providers (see chapter 4.5);
  • harm due to using SCAM instead of an effective therapy for serious conditions (see chapter 4.5);
  • harm due to the high costs of SCAM (see chapter 3.8);
  • harm due to SCAM undermining evidence-based medicine (see chapter 5.4);
  • harm caused by inhibiting medical progress and research (see chapter 5.1).

In this book, I address these issues in detail and explain how consumers get manipulated into believing things that are evidently wrong. Using plenty of real-life examples, I outline how the constant flow of misinformation, coupled with motivated ignorance, motivated reasoning, and cognitive bias can produce a form of wishful thinking that is detached from reality. In the interest of my readers’ health, I aim to correct some of these false beliefs and fallacious thought processes.

My book consists of 35 concise essays each of which addresses one commonly held belief about SCAM. The essays can be read as stand-alone articles; occasionally, this necessitates a degree of repetition which, however, is minimal. The text avoids technical jargon and is therefore easy to follow. For those who want to dig deeper into the scientific evidence, links are provided to numerous papers that might prove to be helpful. A glossary is added at the end to explain some terms that might be unfamiliar.

This book is meant to stimulate critical thinking not just about SCAM, but also in a more general way. Science deniers employ similar techniques no matter whether they focus on health, climate change, evolution or other subjects. Exposing their techniques for what they are is thus important.

  • They ignore the scientific consensus.
  • They cherry-pick their evidence.
  • They rely on poor quality studies, opinion and anecdotes.
  • They invent conspiracy theories.
  • They defame their opponents.
  • They point out that science has been wrong before.
  • They say, ‘science does not know everything’.

Critical thinking is the best, perhaps even the only protection we have from being fooled and, crucially, from fooling ourselves. If my book enables you to question nonsense, call out untruths, correct falsehoods, ridicule stupidity, and disclose fake news, it surely was worth the effort.

 

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