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Homeopathy, Nobel Prize Winners and Ignorance

February 18, 2011

Last week, I wrote about how I was having problems getting comments on at Huffington Post, specifically Ullman’s pieces. Eventually, after complaining to Huffington Post, in conjunction with Sheldon, I was able to get a short comment on.

Ullman pulls out an old story, Luc Montagnier’s whole “I believe in homeopathy” as proof that there must be something to it. It’s not a new appeal by him, and the appeal to authority appears to be his favorite.

My favorite appeal to authority by Ullman is his video insisting that homeopathy is in the Bible:

In my initial response to the Montagnier piece, which was deleted, I wrote, in part: Appeal to authority at its most basic. So? Basic math has established that there aren’t “extremely small doses” left. Even in 1996, Novella had a clear takedown of homeopathy: His thirty minute lecture in Medical Myths is even stronger, backed up by the latest research. This is 2009 is great at explaining:

Steven Novella isn’t the only heavy-weight to break down Ullman’s arguments. Orac has given serious attention to Ullman, as well as to Montagnier

As I pointed out recently, after having been awarded the Nobel Prize, Montagnier has gone woo. But not just woo, the most hilariously bogus woo of all, a woo that, for it to be true, would require that much of what we know about physics, chemistry, and biology be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. Yes, indeed, we’re talking about homeopathy, although I only learned about the homeopathy angle in the context of discussing how Montagnier has decided to study dubious therapies for autistic children. Clearly, Montagnier has come down with the Nobel disease, as evidenced by his pursuit of autism quackery, his reporting that DNA can generate radio waves, and, above all, his embrace of homeopathy.

PZ Myers has also covered Montagnier’s claims:

Montagnier claims in several papers that the DNA of pathogenic bacteria emits an electromagnetic signal, and further, that if you dilute that DNA homeopathically so that no DNA is actually present, the water continues to emit that same signal. Further, if you put two vials of homeopathically diluted EMS emitting water next to each other, the signal can move from one to another. And further, only bacteria and viruses pathogenic to humans produce this signal; ordinary E. colidoes not. It’s madness piled upon madness.
There is no sensible explanation given for this phenomenon, only some wild-eyed speculation that “water molecules can form long polymers of dipoles associated by hydrogen bonds” that may be “self-maintained by the electromagnetic radiations they are emitting”. More madness!

In the end I was able to get a short comment on, and there it sat all isolated until today when this comment was made:

I tried, with no success, to get a response on. Apparently Huffington Post’s moderators on the woo posts (can’t get comments on any homeopathy posts or Lanza posts) are intimidated by my responses.

I think most reasonable people would agree my comment is not ignorant. Reasonable people, examining the evidence regarding Montagnier’s latest adventures, would conclude there is no evidence for his claims. Orac writes:

Not surprisingly, these experiments have not been published in the peer-reviewed literature; so it’s impossible yet to determine what, exactly, Montagnier did and what he is claiming. In other words, we have publication by press release, a huge red flag for quackery or pseudoscience. A Nobel Laureate like Montagnier really should know better. Unfortunately, whatever led him to go woo apparently also led him to abandon standard scientific protocol for reporting experimental results to fellow scientists. Once you go woo, I guess, you don’t come back.

So despite holisticdoc’s assertion that “[T]he results are entirely reproducib­le and have been demonstrat­ed. What more evidence do you want?,” the reality is that it Montagnier’s claims haven’t been demonstrated.  But of course, I’m not the one insisting that “Homeopathy is a system of medicine with incredible potential.”

Critics of homeopathy do not rely on fallacious appeals to authority to support the claim that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo. They rely on the body of sound scientific studies showing that it doesn’t work. They rely on the lack of scientific plausibility for being able to go beyond Avogadro’s number. 

I especially  liked the conclusion to the argument by holisticdoc: “Homeopathy already has evidence, and now it is gaining credibilit­y. So, of course I understand why a dogmatic non-scientist such as yourself would be upset.”

Now, did I look upset, dogmatic, or non-scientific to you? 


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