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Homeopathy
Posted: 14 April 2007 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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As did I, Jim ...

rolleyes

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Posted: 14 April 2007 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Meatball,

I’m not sure exactly what your point is. Other animals may be able to identify plants with pharmacological effects through trial and error testing and the operant sonditioning that goes along with eating something and perceiving a positive effect. If you are suggesting that they know a plant will eleiminate their intestinal parasites and that’s why they eat it, I think you’re wrong. And if your suggesting that somehow this trial and error method gets better results than organized scientific purification and testing of potentially medicinal compounds, again I disagree. But I’m not really sure where you’re going with this, since I don’t see the connection between the link and your comments about “Big Pharma.”

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Posted: 14 April 2007 02:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Other animals suggests that we are somehow different and incapable of what some animals seem to do. Is that your suggestion?

No, my use of “other” was intended to acknowledge that we are animals too, and that our cognitive capacities have an eveolutionary natural history. I would say our ability to determine the usefulness of medicinal compounds in plants is, in fact, much greater than that of other animals.

There is a lot of mythology about animals having some natural sense of what is beneficial or harmful to them. Having, as a vet, surgically removed a vast array of foreign bodies from the GI tracts of various companion animal species, and seen the effects of their ingestion of spoiled food and many kinds of toxic substances, I certainly don’t believe this mythology is true, at leas as pertains to the species with which I work.

I am not suggesting that the animals even “know” what an intestinal parasite is, much less suggesting that they “know” that a certain plant might eliminate them. It’s a behaviour, and have not specified why or how some animals seem to have the behaviour.

Well, I’ve studied animal behavior professionally, and I have some ideas how animals might stumble on certain plants that had what we might call medicinal effects. As I suggested above, trial and error sampling and operant conditioning (feel bad, eat something new, feel better, try the same again next time) would be the most likley. I do not think, however, the data that animals truly do select plants for medicinal properties on a reghular, systematic basis are all that convincing. It fits a certain view of nature that is popular among proponents of alternative medicine, but I don’t think it’s a convincing argument. And I do not think it in any way suggests an alternative to the way we currently look for and develop new therapies, which you seem to suggest in your original post.

As for vaccines and Big Pharma, long and complicated issue. I agree largely with Doug that there is lots of corruption and unethical practices due to the fact that the development and production of such things are left to the market and there are financial motives that sometimes trump ethical ones. The rushing of the HPV vaccine to mandatory status under lobbying efforts by Merck, due primarily to the desire to capture market share before GSK releases a competitor in the next 1-2yrs is a case in point. Still, without the political will in this country to involve government more in the process, we get stuck relying on private industry for medical research and therapies. I do know personally many ethical individuals working for the big pharmas, and I know that the companies often provide resources for research and training and other kinds of support that my industry in particular couldn’t function without (vet med being the poor stepchild of “real” medicine). I’m an old-fashioned Keynesian liberal, so I’d like to see much tighter control over how private industry in medicine and biotech works, but I’ve been fighting that battle since Reagan got elected in 1980, with no sign of forward progress.

I do think that the sins of big pharma are exaggerated and highlighted by the alternative medicine community as a political ploy to discredit conventional/traditional medicine, and I don’t think the link is accurate. Despite the flaws in letting the market has so much free reign, vaccines do a hell of a lot more good than harm, and there are more stringent controls over potential harm than most of these folks are willing to accept. I think part of the problem is that we want the mythical holy grail- perfectly effective treatments or preventatives with no side effects at low cost. For biological, more than economic or political reasons, this ain’t gonna happen. Anyone who says they have a “natural” substitute for real medicine that will be efficacious with no risks is lying or mistaken. If it has no risks, it doesn’t do anything. Case in point is homeopathy, where this thread started, but there are plenty of other examples. And the garbage about doctors hiding cheap, safe, natural cures so they can profit off of treating illness less effectively, also advanced by the same community, is idiotic and grossly unfair to the medical community.

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Posted: 14 April 2007 03:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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mckenzie:Quote:
Well, I’ve studied animal behavior professionally
is this to show competence as an authority on the subject ? If not, then…

TO some extent, yes. I did an M.A. in animal behavior, with my thesis work on chimpanzees and several years in primatology before I switched to vet med. So I have a fairly good grasp of how animals learn and how new behaviors develop. Chimps, in particular, are often said to seek out medicinal plants, and I believe the article you refernced mentioned Jane Goodall’s work. My feelings on the likely mechanisms and the overall skepticism of the argument stem from my work in this field, though it’s been a few years and I would have to go back through the research to give you specific studies and examples to support my position, which I’m happy to do to the extent time allows, which is, sadly, not very far.

I was not suggesting the theory was invalid because of its associations with alternative medicine, but rather that it’s popularity in that group was misguided and not based on evidence but preconceptions. Sorry if I wasn’t clear about that.

also, since you are a vet, I would appreciate your commentary on the vaccine issue and Big Pharma.

I took this as an in vitation to express an opinion on the topic, though I suppose I should have put my response in the other related thread. I put it here since here is where you invited my comment and it was more convenient.

I’m fine with your approach to responding to my comments. I’m not exactly sure what your argument is, though I am inferring from your posts that in some way you support the notion that animals in nature have evolved to select medicinal plants and that this is in some way related to the comment you quoted in your original post that people don’t naturally relate well to statistics even though these are the best way to make accurate decisions about efficacy and safety of medical therapies. Perhaps you could provide a succint statement of your argument so I might offer a more targeted response?

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Posted: 15 April 2007 03:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I don’t think it reasonable or helpful to understanding , to group believers in the miracle cures of Lourdes with those that have the opinion that there is usefulness in some alternatives.

I don’t know who did this, but it wasn’t me.

I can group believers in the good of Pharma with many religious people ; lots of em trust Pharma: not a helpful grouping.

But, of course, this doing so would be polemical, and as yhou point out not reasonable nor helpful.

as well, I don’t think we have seen data on how all these gullible people arrived at their conclusions -whether by prayer or by self trials or by looking into research.

Well, I thnink Thomas Kida’s book Don’t Believe Everything you Think is a great explanation of how perfectly rational, intelligent people come to believe nonsense. I have daily experience with people who have formed reasonable, and completely mistaken, theories about their pets’ illnesses through simple and common errors such as post hoc ergo propter hoc correlation=cause and effect placebo effect and so on. I don’t think it’s necessary to suggest there is anything stupid about an interest in alternative medicine, only that if one accepts empirical standards of evidence as the best means to ascertain what works and what doesn’t, many alternatives turn out not to be useful and not to have been meaningfully tested despite the passionate belief people may have in them. Of course, part of the problem is that many who are interested in AM don’t trust or accept the tenets of modern scientific method, and this makes finding common ground to evaluate particular therapies difficult.

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Posted: 16 April 2007 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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meatball,

I suppose the use of the word “only” was excessive, but I agree with the general point of the statement. The tendancy to see relationships where none exist due to comon fallacies (post hoc ergo propter hoc, correlation=cause and effect, confirmation bias, etc) is, I think, well-established. The book I referenced above, and websites such http://www.skepdic.com/refuge/ctlessons/lesson5.html illustrate these, and I thbink make a pursuasive case that they are ubiquitous erros. The case that our tendancy to fall into these errors is a consequence of our evolution and natural history may not be as firmly substantiated, but I am persuaded by it. Quick rules of thumb that often lead to a correct, or conservative understanding make sense in a largely pre-technological natural environment. If the grass rustles and a lion walks out once, you’re better off assuming grass rustling=lion than not, even if it is not a statistically accurate generalization, due to the potential costs of failing to respond when it is a correct association. A simplistic example, of course, but it illustrates the general idea.

Statistics are complex reasoning constructs that account for our biases and give us, as I think we both agree, a better and more accurate menas of detrmining which associations are valid or meaningful. And I don’t think there is any evidence (though I’d be interested in it if you know of some) that humans naturally utilize these constructs without being taught them.
So, you’re correct it is not the “only way,” but the general point that it is the best way and that we are not naturally inclined to follow it without deliberate training and effort is one I support.

I’m not sure what “computations” you mean as far as fruit bats are concerned. Are you talking about echolocation algorithms? If so, I would argue these are only “computations” in the sense that we can use mathematics to illustrate how they work, but the internal processes in the bat are qualitatively different from conscious employment of statistics to avoid bias. There is some interesting work on basic mathematical concepts among chimps, parrots, and cetaceans which suggest that these may be present, but I don’t think this challenges at all the notion that we make inferences and assign associations or cause/effect relationshps naturally in ways that are different from, and inferior to in some important ways, statistical methods. The “natural” way of making associations and discriminations has the advantage of being fast, intuitive or learned by observation rather than deliberate formal study, and probably easier to inherit than the Chi-square test, so I don’t mean to denigrate these abilities. But when discussing how to evaluate the safety and efficacy of medical therapies, which is where this thread started, I think statistics are demonstrably superior and only used when deliberately taught, and I think much of alternative medicine would fall by the wayside as unhelpful if we weren’t so prone to the fallacies I mentioned above.

Couldn’t find much about crossbills and clay except a brief reference to the notion that they eat it to absorb resins in pine seeds, so if you have a reference with more detail I’d appreciate it. I can certainly make hypothesis about how such a behavior could evolve, though I’m no evolutionary biologist. If the species relied on such seeds for a major portion of their nutrition, and if a “taste” for salt or some other component in clay could be inherited, perhaps those with this taste would have relatively greater survival and reproductive success due to the toxin-binding effects of the clay and so the gene for “clay-eating” would increase in frequency. Other stories could be invented, and I don’t know the truth of the matter. But in terms of plausibility, it’s seems quite easy to imagine ways in which such a behavior could emerge and be stabilized through selection.

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Posted: 29 November 2007 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Don’t you think it is dangerous to ban something because it is ineffective? Why would we ever want to establish laws to prohibit foolish people from buying worthless stuff- who do we thing we are protecting?  Just imagine that you had discovered something that worked for you and you were not able to abtain it because it was againt the law.  That is a dangerous idea.  It is not the governments place to regulate our exploration of remedies.  And what if you were wrong?  What if the remedy was available but you had passed a law against it.  For instance, what if you passed a law that said everyone with a medical problem had to seek medical treatment? The medical industry would love that wouldn’t they? Would you prohibit a Christian Scientist from praying for healing for instance?  It would be better to stand back and act smug in your infinite wisdom rather than to actually lobby to pass a law against all this foolishness.  Or is it foolishness- Ah, there’s the rub isn’t it?

[ Edited: 29 November 2007 11:19 AM by Playdough ]
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Posted: 29 November 2007 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Playdough - 29 November 2007 11:17 AM

Don’t you think it is dangerous to ban something because it is ineffective? Why would we ever want to establish laws to prohibit foolish people from buying worthless stuff- who do we thing we are protecting?  Just imagine that you had discovered something that worked for you and you were not able to abtain it because it was againt the law.  That is a dangerous idea.  It is not the governments place to regulate our exploration of remedies.  And what if you were wrong?  What if the remedy was available but you had passed a law against it.  For instance, what if you passed a law that said everyone with a medical problem had to seek medical treatment? The medical industry would love that wouldn’t they? Would you prohibit a Christian Scientist from praying for healing for instance?  It would be better to stand back and act smug in your infinite wisdom rather than to actually lobby to pass a law against all this foolishness.  Or is it foolishness- Ah, there’s the rub isn’t it?

Um, yes, it is foolishness, and fraudulent to boot. That is, it is based on false advertising. Now, I do agree that one should be able to indulge in one’s own foolishness, but I do not agree that one should be allowed to sell products based on false claims. And it’s even worse when one is selling worthless snake oil to sick people. That is reprehensible.

So, should people be free to buy worthless stuff? Sure. Should people be free to sell worthless stuff under false pretenses? No.

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Posted: 29 November 2007 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Doug,
We can and should regulate against false advertising but we should never regulate against foolishness.  It is the fools of the world that need to be protected from those who think they know what is best for them. Some of the “fools” of history have latter been found to be the very source of enlightment.

Technially, we could argue what false advertisment is- that is what needs to be defined.  It still pisses me off that juice manufactures are allowed to put “100% juice cranberry”  where the “100%” and the “cranberry” are in huge letters and the “juice are in tiny letters”  The product is 100% juice including apple grape or what ever-oh yeh it has some token cranberry.  The advertisers will always be a sneaky lot slithering around the borders of honesty.  It will always be a battle but that is the price of freedom.

[ Edited: 29 November 2007 11:57 AM by Playdough ]
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Posted: 20 December 2007 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I didn’t feel like opening a new topic, so I am putting it in here.
087.png

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Posted: 20 December 2007 12:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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LOL !!!!! Very a propos to the debate I recently had in another thread with an atheist libertarian devoutly committed to alternative medicine. Thanks!

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Posted: 29 December 2007 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Hello

Much earlier Jr Member said “If anyone knows any similar other sites . . “.

I was amazed to see that nobody mentioned Ben Goldacre’s badscience.net which gets something like 15000 hits per DAY.

In the UK a handful of us have managed to shut down two homeopathic hospitals within 18 months of starting to make a fuss about it, and a rather small amount of government money (around £1m) has been spent on research on things that we mostly know already don’t work.

In contrast, NCCAM has spent almost a billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money, and produced next to nothing useful, and crackpot medicine has penetrated some of the best medical schools. 

What’s going on over there?  I guess the Age of Endarkenment is still in full swing. It will be interesting to see what happens after January 2009.

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Posted: 29 December 2007 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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David Colquhoun - 29 December 2007 03:14 PM

I was amazed to see that nobody mentioned Ben Goldacre’s badscience.net which gets something like 15000 hits per DAY.

In the UK a handful of us have managed to shut down two homeopathic hospitals within 18 months of starting to make a fuss about it, and a rather small amount of government money (around £1m) has been spent on research on things that we mostly know already don’t work.

In contrast, NCCAM has spent almost a billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money, and produced next to nothing useful, and crackpot medicine has penetrated some of the best medical schools. 

Excellent work! I imagine badscience isn’t so much on our radar screens because it tends to be relatively UK focused. But the few times I’ve been over there I’ve liked what I saw.

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Posted: 30 December 2007 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Because I’m visiting the USA in the new year, I’ve just been checking the exoent of penetration of alternative medicine into US universities.  I kicked up a fuss in Nature recently because a handful of low-status universities in the UK were offering degrees in alternative medicine.  Judging by the list here, this problem it is far worse than I’d realised in the USA.

The problem with homeopathy is not (mostly) that it poisons the body, but that it poisons the mind.  How on earth have the academics of Harvard, Yale, Mayo etc etc allowed this sort of corruption of the mind to get such a foothold in their institutions?  Why are they not shouting from the rooftops?  Why are so many of the postings on this admirable blog anonymous?

Is it over-conspiratorial to think that perhaps a billion dollars of NCCAM money is sufficient to buy a lot of silence?

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Posted: 30 December 2007 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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No David, it’s not overly conspiratorial.  This is one of the problems with the “Free Market” in both products and politics.  The academics and most doctors realise how silly the whole idea is, however, between advertising to under-educated people, and having bought enough of the legislators to block government regulations, the U.S. has a thriving market in this. 

While better public education would be the long term solution, it doesn’t seem likely.  So, I guess we just have to adopt the evolutionary view that the least fit (the ones who fall for this tripe) will be less likely to survive.  Unfortunately, it allows the parasites and predators to do well.

Occam

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