22 June 2009

Homeopathy - A small update

See here for background information.

I received a new tweet yesterday from @jadetaylor38 saying:

@Rablenkov I cannot if I abide by dictation, although the stat use has missed my points.

Unfortunately, I couldn't really make any sense of what she was saying.

Is she suggesting that I've dictated the terms of the evidence she can provide? Surely not? Indeed, she herself happily suggested a meta-analysis that she confidently predicted was supportive of her cause. Here's a summary of the time-line:

1) I ask her if she can point me in the direction of a blinded, randomised trial that showed efficacy of homeopathy.
2) She quoted the 1997 Linde meta-analysis as proof.
3) I pointed her to the 1999 clarification, also published by Linde, which states "The evidence of bias weakens the findings of our original meta-analysis." and "The fact that a number of the new high-quality trials have negative results...seem to confirm the finding that more rigorous trials have less-promising results."
4) She now completely ignores that study and makes a confusing statement about...well, I'm not entirely sure what her statement is about.

I find it disingenuous for her to happily quote the 1997 Linde Meta-analysis as proof that homeopathy works but, when it's pointed out to her that the authors later quantified their initial findings thus removing the implied support, she now decides that the study was somehow flawed. "This great study proves my point completely! Wait, they changed their mind on the basis of further examination? Oh, well it was a crap study anyway. You can't measure these things, you know."

I did send the following response:
@jadetaylor38 I'm not sure what point you're making. Can you elaborate, please?

No response has been received yet.

Interestingly, another of her tweets says, "I am year one student at British school of homeopathy on bath UK. I am honoured to be amongst great minds outside of the brackets."

When she first instigated this conversation with me via Twitter (please remember that - she instigated it, not me. I usually have better things to do than personally attack specific people on Twitter) I assumed she was just someone who'd had a small measure of exposure to homeopathy and was seeking to defend it from a position of relatively little knowledge.

Instead, this latest information casts an entirely different light on the matter. According to the BSH website, their fee for the first academic year is £2350. This entails 22 days of lectures over the year, with 15-20 hours per week of home study. The course takes 4 years to complete. Assuming that the cost of the course is £2350 for every subsequent year (the website is unclear on this), and allowing for additional miscellaneous costs, we'll put forward an extremely conservative estimate of £10,000.

Additionally, with 20 hours of home-study per week over four years, there is a potential time-investment of over 4000 hours, likely to be significantly higher.

Clearly, this lady has bought into homeopathy in a very big way and, due to the sheer size of her financial/resource investment, is unlikely to want to take a step backwards and look at the matter from a rational, science-based viewpoint.

If nothing else, this whole matter is an interesting look at human psychology. When someone puts so much effort into something, bias is inevitably skewed and, irrespective of evidence produced to the contrary, they will often stick to their guns to the bitter end, defending it with terminal intensity.

Part of me feels sorry for her that she's so willing to throw away common-sense, evidence and cold, hard cash in pursuit of something which simply doesn't work as advertised. Part of me also recognises that, once she is successful and presumably becomes a full-time homeopath, there will be plenty of people willing to give her money hand-over-fist for a bottle of sugar pills and magic. Thus, will she recoup her initial investment, from people who are willing to believe anything if it's wrapped up in enough psychobabble.

I shall continue with the conversation (and I remind you again, it was she who initiated it with me, unbidden) but I don't expect her to engage in a logical manner. She has far too much invested in her belief to abandon it so easily.

Indeed, and to be magnanimous for a moment, who's to say that we wouldn't react the same way under similar circumstances?

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