0765: "Dilution"

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby phillipsjk » Wed Jul 14, 2010 7:20 am UTC

Code: Select all

try {
      explain();
     }
Catch (Exception e) {
      generate_code_equivalent();
}


Edit: Lack_0f_sleep Exception: Can't find post I responded to.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby nethopp3r » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:26 am UTC

demadaha wrote:Also, I have a strong dislike, of homeopathy after hearing phrases like "you can just cross out the mass in E=MC^2."

"I am energy, you are energy!"

Wow, that is the least diluted BS I have ever seen :D

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby sarkeizen » Wed Jul 14, 2010 4:00 pm UTC

lly wrote:It's also worth noting that the studies in question (by Gøtzsche, Hróbjartsson et al) have some methodological criticism out against them, such as that they mixed different types of conditions (when it appears that placebo has an effect in certain physical conditions but not necessarily all conditions).


"methodological criticism" is probably the wrong phrase. Although you might infer this from Meissner writing "However, the possibility that yet unidentified subsets of parameters are responsive to placebo treatments has not been taken into account" however this is hardly something G&H didn't realize they state pretty clearly the limitation "We did extensive analyses of predefined subgroups according to the type of placebo, disease, and outcome without identifying a subgroup of trials in which the effect of placebo was large. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that, in the pooling of heterogeneous trials, the existence of such a subgroup was obscured."...and this will always be the case. You can come up with an finite but large number of subgroups based on any number of criteria from G&H's dataset provided it was recorded in the study. Not only that but if Meissner was unethical it would be trivial to come up with a subgroup based on G&H data that showed positive effect.

That said it's arguable that Meissner is only comparable to G&H in a very small subset of the studies - since the first dataset didn't include a no-treatment group ('disease stability' was cited as an attempt to control for this however there is no way to figure out if or by how much that control worked). This brings the number of trials consulted down to 26 and while N isn't everything this could easily magnify a non-existent effect. Also it's interesting to note that Meissner ignored binary outcomes and only looked at continuous outcomes.

It is also important to note that they concluded that placebo's results could not be *distinguished* from reporting bias, which is different from that their results are *caused by* reporting bias.


Only where placebo effect was shown to exist. There was "no significant pooled effect on subjective or objective binary or continuous objective outcomes". As I said on way of looking at this is that placebo effect can be *explained by* reporting bias.

Performing a meta-analysis across multiple groups like this only works if you assume two things:

1) All placebos have identical effects (so sham acupuncture is identical to a sugar pill).
2) All conditions respond the same way to placebo (e.g., biochemical and physical conditions respond the same way).


This is likely incorrect. Since it would apply to virtually any aggregate analysis. i.e. You can only combine results of giving heart medication to people if you assume that every person is effected identically. Meissner isn't on my reading saying that but rather attempting to say that a difference in effect could explain the non-result. Specifically I'm guessing she means some subgroup went unidentified. That said there being no clinically significant placebo effect also explains the non-result.

Monika wrote:
sarkeizen wrote:In the end there is only one kind of medicine - the kind which shows effect in blinded RCTs.

Actually it turns out double-blind randomized controlled trials - in the way they are done most of the time for the FDAs of the world - prove nothing, either. I read two interesting sceptic books on this, basically it was much "lying with statistics". Their conclusion was that instead of RCTs doctors should talk more to their patients, most positive effects in RCTs can be attributed to just taking part in the study ... maybe the "feeling taken care of"


I doubt that, since if they were placebo controlled *AND* well blinded. Then if just "being in the study" is all that is required to get better then the people in the placebo arm would do as well as those in the treatment arm (as long as it's sufficiently large). So your criticism doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Also in order to make your "prove nothing" you would have to also show that most drugs with a significant effect also tend to fail well blinded RCTs. Cause without that, even if it's true that some or even MOST drugs which pass will blinded RCTs even though they have no effect. Passing a blinded RCT still "proves" that you are choosing from the group of drugs which have effect and eliminating some percentage that don't.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Jul 14, 2010 5:55 pm UTC

DavidRoss wrote:
Plutarch wrote:Not everyone has given up on the concept of homeophathy - Nobel prize winner, Professor Luc Montagnier, believes that water has a memory that remains after many dilutions.


First off, there may be an urban legend element to that, since it keeps getting reported as news, but the "story" is dated anywhere from 7 days ago to one year ago. I could not verify it either way.

My main response to the idea that water has memory is that we either have a rule that every electron is identical to every other electron, every proton is identical to every other proton, etc., or we don't have that rule. With that rule, water memory is not possible. Without that rule, "water memory" is entirely possible - the electrons and protons that were exposed to a poison that has been removed from the water could be different from the electrons and protons in water that was never exposed to the poison. Score one for homeopathy. However, without that rule that all electrons are identical, all protons are identical, etc., we make impossible lots of other stuff, like radioactivity, semiconductors and so on. Also, the sun, people and lemonade, but you get the point. That rule was the idea of a crazy Nobel laureate named Linus Pauling (but maybe he just got credit for the "Pauli Exclusion Principle").


Not just that (and the fact that it is easy to demonstrate that electrons are identical), but even if water did have memory, it would remember everything. Like Tim Minchin said, "And whilst its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice seems infinite, it seems to forget all the poo it's had in it."

And even if water did have memory, the serial dilutions are so extreme that there is usually not a single drop of the original sample of water remaining in the later dilutions.

And even if the remaining water still remembered the treatment, the serial dilutions couldn't make a tincture STRONGER, only not completely useless.

And even if water's conformation really did change, there is no way that could treat a disease. That doesn't make sense.

Also, none of this lends any credence to the "like cures like" nonsense.

Most importantly, actual double-blind studies have been performed on various homeopathic "remedies," and have shown them not to be more effective than placebo.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Monika » Wed Jul 14, 2010 6:29 pm UTC

Plutarch wrote:Nobel prize winner, Professor Luc Montagnier, believes that water has a memory that remains after many dilutions.
... the electromagnetic (EM) properties of highly diluted biological samples... ...The EM signature changed with dilution levels but was unaffected by the initial concentration and remained even after the remaining DNA fragments were destroyed by chemical agents.'

But
a) EM properties don't cure anything.
b) even if we assume water remembered poisons and other stuff it had contact with, how come the homeopathic medicin remembers the good things but forgot all the poo it has had contact with?


sarkeizen wrote:I doubt that, since if they were placebo controlled *AND* well blinded. Then if just "being in the study" is all that is required to get better then the people in the placebo arm would do as well as those in the treatment arm (as long as it's sufficiently large). So your criticism doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Also in order to make your "prove nothing" you would have to also show that most drugs with a significant effect also tend to fail well blinded RCTs. Cause without that, even if it's true that some or even MOST drugs which pass will blinded RCTs even though they have no effect. Passing a blinded RCT still "proves" that you are choosing from the group of drugs which have effect and eliminating some percentage that don't.

It's not that all drugs have no effect at all. But some drugs don't and they pass anyway. One example given was like this: 2000 people participate in the trial. Only a few show results. But the groups of people get partioned and re-partitioned until a group is found for which the drug shows to be successful. For example it works for overweight men between 20 and 40. For all 12 of them who participated. Or for 8 or 9 out of those 12. And somehow the various FDAs do not seem to notice that they are approving a drug that was essentially tested in an RCT with only 12 participants.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Thesh » Wed Jul 14, 2010 6:56 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:And even if water did have memory, the serial dilutions are so extreme that there is usually not a single drop of the original sample of water remaining in the later dilutions.


But that's what the vibrations are for, so ha! Explain your way out of that one!
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby lly » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:07 pm UTC

sarkeizen wrote:
Performing a meta-analysis across multiple groups like this only works if you assume two things:

1) All placebos have identical effects (so sham acupuncture is identical to a sugar pill).
2) All conditions respond the same way to placebo (e.g., biochemical and physical conditions respond the same way).


This is likely incorrect. Since it would apply to virtually any aggregate analysis. i.e. You can only combine results of giving heart medication to people if you assume that every person is effected identically. Meissner isn't on my reading saying that but rather attempting to say that a difference in effect could explain the non-result. Specifically I'm guessing she means some subgroup went unidentified. That said there being no clinically significant placebo effect also explains the non-result.


It does apply to all aggregate analysis, but I don't think it does in the way you propose. It doesn't have to effect every subject the same way, so long as the studies that get binned together are roughly comparable. This is a well established feature of metanalysis: you need to compare similar studies. They don't need to be identical, but they need to be "close enough" to not create significant biasing.

So if I have five similar studies that deal with sham acupuncture and 3 similar studies involving a sugar pill, and the condition being studied was similar, then I can compare these to one another. I am asking for trouble if I mix them, however, or if they were evaluating different conditions.

If the mechanism matters (point 1) then we are introducing bias by the number of studies of each type involved without controlling for it, and we are diluting our results. It makes the results of the meta-analysis have very low evidence value since it is possible that, say, sugar pills work while sham acupuncture doesn't on the same set of conditions. We have a pretty serious confounding variable, if nowhere else then in the number of studies that used a non-placebo control for each type.

If the condition matters (point 2), then (as pointed out) we always run into the same confounding variable problem. Meissner's conclusion was that "placebo treatments of peripheral disease processes can affect physical parameters more easily and strongly than biochemical parameters." If this is true then it means that any analysis of placebo's effectiveness should not mix these groups and indicates that "placebo treatments" (for some values thereof) may be effective in some cases but not in others.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby SpringLoaded12 » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:48 pm UTC

neoliminal wrote:I diluted the comic to see if it would make it more effective.
Image

Neo, you're my hero. May I spell your name with a capital N?

SirMustapha wrote:
Sappharos wrote:These past two three comics have been cynical. I really dislike jabs at people, cultures or systems of belief - no matter how justified - especially when they're cheap. They provoke rather than stimulate discussion.


AAAAAaaand it's time for the most exciting contest of the Internet, Predict the Next xkcd Comic!

As always, we have 3 candidates, and today we'll measure the possibility that they'll happen. I'm your host, Tom Bob, and we'll have the comments of our guest commenter, Bob Tom, who'll evaluate our candidates. Let's go straight for candidate #1for the punchline of the next comic. Here it is:

"Creationists are evil and should all be killed!"

Oh, there we have a very good candidate, there. And let's see, the probability that it will happen is... 54%!
That's not very high, is it, Bob? What are the reasons?

-- Well, basically religion is a bit of a strong topic, even for xkcd; at least for now. We still have to see a lot more cynical xkcd comics before Randall tries something in that respect, I believe.

Some very good considerations, there, and so we move on to candidate #2. Here it is:

"People who think men never landed on the Moon are bad and ugly!"

Ah, now there's a very good entry, indeed. So our evaluation is... 76%!
That's considerably higher than before, Bob, isn't it?

-- Yes, certainly, Tom. Moon landing conspiracies are much closer to xkcd's familiar territory and is a much safer bet for Randall. The only problem with that entry, which explains the low probability, is that Randall has used that conspiracy twice before in his comic, though that is not a very big problem for Randall, of course.

Very reasonable indeed. Now, finally, we have the last candidate, and there it is:

"People from the Flat Earth Society are wrong and stupid!"

Wow, a surprisingly good entry, and the probability is... 98%!
Amazing! Totally incredible, that is the highest probability we've ever had here. Any explanations, Bob?

-- Absolutely. First Randall never tackled the "Flat Earth" issue before, and second because that's a very easy target for him. It's easy to assume everyone in the "serious" xkcd fanbase dismisses that theory, so Randall can be every bit as smug and offensive as he wishes without running the risk of hurting anyone he cares about.

Thank you, Bob. So, there we have the entries, and now we just have to wait for tomorrow and see -- and hope, of course, that Randall does not use these entries as inspiration because that would ruin the seriousness of this contest! But it's not like he cares about that, so, there's nothing we can do about it. See you next time on Thursday!

*cheesy theme tune, roll credits*

Oooh, Mr. Grumpy Pants is back, and he's discrediting himself fairly thoroughly today.

I was thinking up a big long argument to type, but then I remembered the futility of arguing with you. So, remind me; why, exactly, do you still read xkcd?
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby ThePixiest » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:52 pm UTC

So... doesn't this make them Homeosexuals?

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby lsdigit » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:27 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:

And even if water's conformation really did change, there is no way that could treat a disease. That doesn't make sense.

Also, none of this lends any credence to the "like cures like" nonsense.




oddly, as this is the comic that lands on the heels of the controversial 'Athropology' comic, the entire mechanism for homeopathy is based on 'magic'. For those of you who have waded through 'The Golden Bough' by J.G.Frazer the term homeopathic is used in conjunction with magic to describe a form of 'ritual' and this clearly is where homeopathic practitioners havetheir roots mummery and witchcraft..there is another is called 'sympathetic magic' where properties can be inherited,examples of this are

1)In some cultures when a woman is about to give birth all the knots in the house are untied, an thus, untying the child from the womb,
2)A small and highly ritualistic subculture of modern times utilise an esoteric practice known as OOP um...zing.oooooh, a punchline worthy of a titter.no?.damn...

one quote from Frazer i just picked up from wikipedia that seems somewhat relevant will soon be my signature.
J.G.Frazer wrote:"The danger, however, is not less real because it is imaginary; imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid." ('The Golden Bough')
J.G.Frazer wrote:"The danger, however, is not less real because it is imaginary; imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid." ('The Golden Bough')

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby sarkeizen » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:46 pm UTC

Monika wrote:
sarkeizen wrote:I doubt that, since if they were placebo controlled *AND* well blinded. Then if just "being in the study" is all that is required to get better then the people in the placebo arm would do as well as those in the treatment arm (as long as it's sufficiently large). So your criticism doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Also in order to make your "prove nothing" you would have to also show that most drugs with a significant effect also tend to fail well blinded RCTs. Cause without that, even if it's true that some or even MOST drugs which pass will blinded RCTs even though they have no effect. Passing a blinded RCT still "proves" that you are choosing from the group of drugs which have effect and eliminating some percentage that don't.

It's not that all drugs have no effect at all. But some drugs don't and they pass anyway. One example given was like this: 2000 people participate in the trial. Only a few show results. But the groups of people get partioned and re-partitioned until a group is found for which the drug shows to be successful. For example it works for overweight men between 20 and 40. For all 12 of them who participated. Or for 8 or 9 out of those 12. And somehow the various FDAs do not seem to notice that they are approving a drug that was essentially tested in an RCT with only 12 participants.


If this happens precisely the way you claim - then this is people simply being dishonest - post hoc analysis can find a preferred effect in anything given enough features and a large enough group and no limit on the minimum size of your group. But sure, there is no test you can't pass if you get to be dishonest about it.

However, three things

i) You used words like "proves nothing" with response to my statement that there is only "one kind of medicine". Implying to me that there is NO VALUE in using RCTs as a standard. However that is both, in your original statement and your current statement untrue. Since, as I've mentioned unless most drugs with effect also fail. Then the RCT group still has a higher concentration of effective medicine even if we take your extreme example as gospel and assume most cheat. Therefore using RCTs as a standard for choosing medicine still "proves" (which is a lousy term btw) that you have a higher chance of getting effective treatment.

ii) I'm skeptical it happens precisely the way you say. I can't say what the FDA looks at but if I had a drug that was going into GENERAL use and I approved it on the basis of some weird subset. (bald, left-handed, 100-120lbs in weight) That would raise a red flag for me. Again I'm not sure exactly what the FDA does in the way of checks - but considering that journals check and refuse to publish on the basis of things like P-values and CI/CL it would seems reasonable that the FDA would do so and those would be affected if you drop your N to something like 12. That said, it isn't like these things can't be finessed either. For example if you started with a group of several thousand, for a disease that had a good chance of self resolving, tracked a crapload of variables (age, sex, lefty/righty, etc..). It would seem reasonable that - if you did get to hand-pick your sample you could come up with some sub-group analysis that looked good on paper. However that would likely be signficantly larger than N=12.

iii) What I do know happens is that drug companies will examine multiple outcomes and do a post hoc elimination of them (e.g. following up both mortality rates and 5 year remission for a chemotherapy agent then only publishing on the arm that did well). This is still dishonest but not nearly as bad a situation as you appear to be making it out to be.

Anyway, do you have the title of the book you read on this subject.

lly wrote:Performing a meta-analysis across multiple groups like this only works if you assume two things:

1) All placebos have identical effects (so sham acupuncture is identical to a sugar pill).
2) All conditions respond the same way to placebo (e.g., biochemical and physical conditions respond the same way).

sarkeizen wrote: This is likely incorrect. Since it would apply to virtually any aggregate analysis. i.e. You can only combine results of giving heart medication to people if you assume that every person is effected identically. Meissner isn't on my reading saying that but rather attempting to say that a difference in effect could explain the non-result. Specifically I'm guessing she means some subgroup went unidentified. That said there being no clinically significant placebo effect also explains the non-result.
lly wrote:It does apply to all aggregate analysis, but I don't think it does in the way you propose. It doesn't have to effect every subject the same way, so long as the studies that get binned together are roughly comparable. This is a well established feature of metanalysis: you need to compare similar studies. They don't need to be identical, but they need to be "close enough" to not create significant biasing.



This isn't so much arguing your point as repeating it (with the one change of forgetting you said 'identical' earlier) and I think you're confusing some things. I'd agree that a meta-analysis has to look at the same factor. i.e. you can't compare blood pressure in study A to flatulence rate in study B. However, earlier on you seemed to be arguing about size of effect which when you apply the same logic to things of the same 'application' or 'mechanism' you would have the same problem. So you seem to have shifted to a position of "different but not too different" which is just special pleading. Oh and the "Well established" bit is an argument from anonymous authority.

lly wrote:If the mechanism matters (point 1) then we are introducing bias


I would use the term "application". Mechanism, to me means more like the underlying biochemical process. IMHO you might still do a meta-analysis of multiple drugs each with their own biochemical mechanism depending on your research goals. For example there have been a few meta-analyses across drugs with a particular endpoint (antidepressants) without regard for class (i.e. SSRI, 5HT2 Antagonist).

lly wrote:by the number of studies of each type involved without controlling for it, and we are diluting our results


Diluting seems to be the wrong word there. You are potentially obscuring a sub-group. As the authors of the first paper noted and what the second paper seemed to be about. Incidentally Meissner fails your own criteria as s/he didn't even "control by the number of studies" for the type types she indicated in her conclusion ("physical" N=20, "biochemical" N=6).

lly wrote:It makes the results of the meta-analysis have very low evidence value


Again, argument from anonymous authority but all that's happening here is the obvious: A large general study can't speak for any and all subgroups. However, we always, always knew that would be the case. For example take rectal bleeding - in the the very general case it is indicative of nothing serious however if you are male and this is the first incident and you are over 40 then it's indicative of colorectal cancer. The action you take based on the general meta-analysis (observe) is perfectly valid as is the action you take in the case of the sub-group analysis (colonoscopy, Barium-Air Enema, FOB test, etc..).

Furthermore no only did we know it would be the case in H&G but in *any* sufficiently large group we are (practically) guaranteed to find a subgroup which runs contrary to the general case but is...wait for it...ABSOLUTELY MEANINGLESS - given that H&G examined something close to 10 000 participants it is unsurprising that such a grouping can be found. So the only open question IMHO is: "Is Meissner's choice of subgroup significant?" That is, does it represent a meaningful departure from the norm (that placebo is likely weak to non-existent) or is it some other factor e.g random chance or experimenter bias. That last one - "experimenter bias" is interesting since unlike a lot of science these days it is actually pretty important to a meta-analysis - since it's impossible to properly blind it. The only portion of Meissner's work I can find is one Journal letter that s/he co-wrote about homeopathy to a CAM journal and an earlier study on effectively using a placebo intervention. It's plausible s/he's biased toward the idea of placebo's working but two documents isn't exactly mean she's made her career on placebo study. Meissner's selection is, as I've said small when compared to H&G and based on some criteria which seems to be clearly post-hoc and a little ambiguous since there is no published criteria as to what is a "physical parameter" (breathing is a physical parameter but it's the result of a biochemical parameter) vs a "biochemical parameter" (cortisol secretion is a biochemical parameter but it's the result of a physical parameter - the excreting mechanism of the adrenal gland) or why these are meaningful distinctions outside of the fact that they turned up in favor of placebo on one side and not on the other (I might assume s/he means 'outcome but my rule of thumb is: "It's the study *writers* job to make their case not the *readers* job to make it for them).

So although I find Meissner interesting - there seems to be no reason to say that it overturns H&G that said it will be interesting to see if any further studies validate Meissner's subgroup analysis.

Note: I'm only considering Meissner's analysis of H&G data because it's the only one which compared vs. no treatment and it is unclear to what degree we can rely on 'disease stability' as a proxy.
Last edited by sarkeizen on Thu Jul 15, 2010 1:50 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby wallacoloo » Thu Jul 15, 2010 5:07 am UTC

"We'll be sure to get pregnant now"
Wait, so they're both going to get pregnant?!

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby hamaryns » Thu Jul 15, 2010 1:29 pm UTC

rwald wrote:homeopaths would never read a comic as erudite as xkcd and thus won't learn the error of their ways no matter how obvious you make it.


Well, that is not true. I am a counterexample.

I wonder why homeopathy is attacked with such vigor here. Has it done something wrong to you? Does it threaten your existence? Or maybe it just doubts the positivistic materialism which mainstream science is the religion of?
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby sarkeizen » Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:43 pm UTC

hamaryns wrote:
rwald wrote:I wonder why homeopathy is attacked with such vigor here. Has it done something wrong to you? Does it threaten your existence? Or maybe it just doubts the positivistic materialism which mainstream science is the religion of?


"here" as in "XKCD", "here" as in "the fourms" or here as in "earth"?

If by "attacked" you me ridiculed. It couldn't just be that it's ineffectual and it's proponents often clowns (e.g. Dr. Werner) who's understanding of science is so broken it's hard to figure out what to fix first.

Then again, you may just be a troll from xkcdsucks.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Thesh » Thu Jul 15, 2010 6:13 pm UTC

hamaryns wrote:
rwald wrote:homeopaths would never read a comic as erudite as xkcd and thus won't learn the error of their ways no matter how obvious you make it.


Well, that is not true. I am a counterexample.

I wonder why homeopathy is attacked with such vigor here. Has it done something wrong to you? Does it threaten your existence? Or maybe it just doubts the positivistic materialism which mainstream science is the religion of?


People have problems with con artists because they actually care about society.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby DavidRoss » Fri Jul 16, 2010 4:18 am UTC

hamaryns wrote:I wonder why homeopathy is attacked with such vigor here. Has it done something wrong to you? Does it threaten your existence? Or maybe it just doubts the positivistic materialism which mainstream science is the religion of?


As one who is attacking homeopathy in this forum, I must admit that it has not done anything wrong to me, directly, but it has sucked money from those around me. Serial killers haven't done anything wrong to me, but I still find the time to rail against them.

Thanks for really hitting my other point about homoepathy - borne out in the video that is linked here. Often, a lot of five dollar words are strung together to sound erudite, but actually don't process. To wit: "the positivistic materialism which mainstream science is the religion of". Just what does that mean?

If anything, science is a slave to, and has as its religion, the control group. I will readily concede that there is someone out there who took a homeopathic remedy and got better. Snooty mainstream science ignores that event entirely and asks "Would the outcome have been different without the homeopathic remedy being involved?"

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:00 am UTC

DavidRoss wrote:To wit: "the positivistic materialism which mainstream science is the religion of". Just what does that mean?


It means he considers the doctrine that rigorous empirical observation can tell us everything there is to know about a phenomenon (and in corollary, that questions not answerable by empirical observation are meaningless) to be an article of faith tantamount to those of religions, and "mainstream science" to be the religion which preaches that doctrine.

Social science people tend to have a problem with said doctrine because they consider it to rule out self-reported (what they call "emic", as opposed to "etic") observations by people living within societies, and reduce the concept to outsiders passing judgement on foreign societies without "walking in their shoes" as they say.

Of course, plenty of hard sciences rely on self-reporting where no other option is viable, and we don't think of that as un-empirical; certain drug trials, for instance, as have been discussed in this thread plenty. That's a big part of what placebos are for, controlling for any systemic bias in self-reporting and making it reliable enough to use. Of course in, say, cultural anthropology (*ducks shrapnel from the One Two thread*), you don't really need to control for bias in self-reports, since what a people think of certain phenomena in their own culture is exactly the kind of information (amongst other things, of course) that they're out there collecting in the first place.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Arkeal » Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:53 am UTC

Oddly enough, I have learned more about homeopathic remedies from this thread then any other source, including dedicated and thorough research (5 bored minutes on Google) and actually studying one method of remedy, Holographic Repatterning. I also find it funny that directly after a recent comment on how homeopathic remedy fans use lots of very large words to defend their belief, a post was made with lots of impressive vocabulary (the first read through made my head hurt).

Please correct me if I am wrong (and please, no big words as I'm barely a sophomore in high school) but the last post more or less says:

He doesn't think generally accepted science is always right, that answers outside of it can matter and not beleiving that is an act of faith.

Many social scientists also don't like hardcore science because it doesn't trust self reference, and doesn't attempt to find self references.

Of course, sometimes hardcore science can't avoid self reference as there's no choice, and we're cool with that. Like drug trials, which we've talked about a bunch. Placebos help allow outside reference, which makes the trials usable. Of course, anthropology is okay with self reference because they're looking for it in others.

Again, please tell me if I didn't understand what you meant, and allow this poor fool to experience the light and glory of knowledge.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:22 am UTC

Heheh, sorry, I'm a bit prone to sesquipedalian loquaciousness (warning: TV Tropes will eat your soul!)

Arkeal wrote:He doesn't think generally accepted science is always right, that answers outside of it can matter and not beleiving that is an act of faith.

Close: I said he doesn't think the scientific METHOD generally used by the "hard sciences" (like physics, chemistry, and biology) can always provide the right answers; that sometimes questions that method can't answer still matter; and that believing that is the only correct method is an act of faith. (The difference between this and what you said is that even people who accept the methods of the hard sciences still usually admit that the generally accepted theories put forth by them might be wrong, and probably are in at least some minor way).

Many social scientists also don't like hardcore science because it doesn't trust self reference, and doesn't attempt to find self references.

Hmm, "self reference" is a little broad a term to use. "Self reporting" is the issue here. For example: would you trust a bunch of teenage boys to correctly report their penis size? Or would you suspect that they might exaggerate? The hard sciences usually don't like to rely on people self-reporting because it's usually not as reliable as just measuring for themselves. But some things you can't measure for yourself, like, how much pain do people feel while taking this drug versus while taking no drugs? All we can do is ask them.

Of course, sometimes hardcore science can't avoid self reference as there's no choice, and we're cool with that. Like drug trials, which we've talked about a bunch. Placebos help allow outside reference, which makes the trials usable. Of course, anthropology is okay with self reference because they're looking for it in others.

Placebos help allow self-reporting, not outside reference. Like with the pain drugs example: a lot of people will expect to feel less pain after taking a pain drug, and since expectations can color their perceptions, they will report being in less pain even if the drug does nothing. So, we give one group of people a drug that's supposed to numb pain, and another group of people a pill that doesn't do anything important, like a pill full of sugar. Then we compare the reports of both groups: the amount of people reporting less pain after taking the sugar pill gives us an idea of how much the people reporting less pain after taking the real drug just think the drug is doing something, and how much they are correctly reporting a real effect of the drug on themselves.

(And then, because the scientists themselves might report the results of the study differently based on their expectations, we set it up so the people taking the reports don't know which group was given the real drug and which was given the placebo; only some other scientists who set up the study know which is which, and later match the reports gathered with their records of who got what. Since neither the participants nor the researchers questioning them know who got a real pill and who got a placebo, this is called a "double blind" study).
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Drakuun » Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:08 pm UTC

I guess my 4 kidney stones were made by sheer willpower?
I took homepathy and now I haven't seen any in 2 years (the 4 first were 10 months apart by clock).
Well....I guess everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want, for or against.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Thesh » Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:52 pm UTC

Drakuun wrote:I guess my 4 kidney stones were made by sheer willpower?
I took homepathy and now I haven't seen any in 2 years (the 4 first were 10 months apart by clock).
Well....I guess everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want, for or against.


Hmm... I haven't taken homeopathic medicines and I have NEVER had a kidney stone.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Monika » Fri Jul 16, 2010 11:16 pm UTC

sarkeizen wrote:Anyway, do you have the title of the book you read on this subject.

I think it must have been one of these, but I would have to reread them to make sure:
Der Hund, der Eier legt: Erkennen von Fehlinformation durch Querdenken Der Hund, der Eier legt: Erkennen von Fehlinformation durch Querdenken / Hans-Hermann Dubben, Hans-Peter Beck-Bornholdt / # ISBN-10: 3499621967 / # ISBN-13: 978-3499621963
Der Schein der Weisen: Irrtümer und Fehlurteile im täglichen Denken / Hans-Peter Beck-Bornholdt / Hans-Hermann Dubben / # ISBN-10: 3499614502 / # ISBN-13: 978-3499614507
Mit an Wahrscheinlichkeit grenzender Sicherheit. Logisches Denken und Zufall / Hans-Hermann Dubben, Hans-Peter Beck-Bornholdt / # ISBN-10: 3499619024 / # ISBN-13: 978-3499619021
Das Ziegenproblem: Denken in Wahrscheinlichkeiten / Gero von Randow / # ISBN-10: 3499619059 / # ISBN-13: 978-3499619052
Der große Schwindel. Betrug und Fälschung in der Wissenschaft. / Federico Di Trocchio / # ISBN-10: 349960809X / # ISBN-13: 978-3499608094

I think it was most likely #2 or #3 on the list.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby BoomFrog » Sat Jul 17, 2010 5:29 am UTC

katydid wrote:I fear homeopaths are dilutional.

This was bar none the best first post I've ever seen. Welcome to the forums.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Monika » Sat Jul 17, 2010 1:20 pm UTC

We have already commons about pet homeopathy ... reporting error, the pet owners who believe in it interpret improvements as result of the homeopathy, even if it's just self-healing due to time passing, but when it gets worse because the real treatment was delayed they ignore that.

But what do you think about "globuli"? I have heard from co-workers they give them to their children. And they didn't use to believe in homeopathy, but oh it works so well. Actually I overheard this on the phone: A co-worker calling with her husband (he takes care of the two kids) about how they are crying, not sleeping. So she tells him to give them one of the "balls" (globuli). I asked what they are and she said: "sugar balls". And that they work, the children calm down and go to sleep. So here we have the actual sugar pill that even is called that. What do you think brings about the effect? Because surely neither the sugar nor the 1/10000000 dilluted calming herb or whatever.


There is an article / discussion about health insurances in Germany paying for homeopathic drugs in a German newspaper today http://www.taz.de/1/debatte/kommentar/a ... nleistung/ . It mentions 5% of doctors here are homeopaths -.-
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Eikinkloster » Sun Jul 18, 2010 8:01 pm UTC

sarkeizen wrote:Evidence suggests that may not be true - at least one study has indicated that showing scientific evidence counter to ones own beliefs actually strengthens ones pre-existing beliefs. Just to play devils advocate you probably don't have any well controlled experiment to show that repeated applications of blistering scorn don't actually work better than a reasoned encounter.


Now that was a *great* point!
Plus this is not an educational site, but entertainment. Randall certainly entertains enough of his target audience with mocking homeopathy and other quackeries, so that should be enough.
Last edited by Eikinkloster on Mon Jul 19, 2010 4:03 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Eikinkloster » Sun Jul 18, 2010 8:15 pm UTC

SirMustapha wrote:
Sappharos wrote:These past two three comics have been cynical. I really dislike jabs at people, cultures or systems of belief - no matter how justified - especially when they're cheap. They provoke rather than stimulate discussion.


AAAAAaaand it's time for the most exciting contest of the Internet, Predict the Next xkcd Comic!


I know one thing we'll *never* see in XKCD:
a drawing of Mohammed.

Even though it's one of the most ridiculous controversies of our times, no one wants to spend the rest of their lives in hiding just for making a joke. Molly Norris thought she was up to it, but by now she has all but converted to avoid the ensuing wrath from her Everybody Draw Mohammed Day cartoon. There is a lesson here: there would be no comedians if every target of comedy reacted with violence.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby DavidRoss » Mon Jul 19, 2010 6:06 am UTC

Drakuun wrote:I guess my 4 kidney stones were made by sheer willpower?
I took homepathy and now I haven't seen any in 2 years (the 4 first were 10 months apart by clock).
Well....I guess everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want, for or against.


I am not questioning the truth of your statements. I believe (1) you had four kidney stones, (2) you haven't had kidney stones in the past two years, (3) you took a homeopathic item. I have no reason to doubt that those statements are entirely true. The interesting question is whether the change from having kidney stones to not having kidney stones was caused by the taking of the homeopathic item. I have evidence that the the homeopathic item could not have caused the change and you have no evidence that it did. You just have three things that happened. The difference is important.

You are entitled to believe what you want, but at some point, too many people believing something that is not correct causes problems for the rest of the people (and for the believers). History has shown many examples of that. You are free to believe what you want. I am free to challenge your beliefs in an attempt to keep enough people from falling for this foolishness so that we don't end up with a majority that would vote in, for example, laws that put homeopathy on the same footing as more credible medical science. (I am going to concede that herbal medicine, accupuncture, chiropractic, etc. may have some validity, because I cannot prove them wrong - and use them occasionally - but the case against homeopathy - at most dilutions - is closed.)

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby sarkeizen » Mon Jul 19, 2010 3:51 pm UTC

Monika wrote:But what do you think about "globuli"? I have heard from co-workers they give them to their children. And they didn't use to believe in homeopathy, but oh it works so well. Actually I overheard this on the phone: A co-worker calling with her husband (he takes care of the two kids) about how they are crying, not sleeping. So she tells him to give them one of the "balls" (globuli). I asked what they are and she said: "sugar balls". And that they work, the children calm down and go to sleep. So here we have the actual sugar pill that even is called that. What do you think brings about the effect? Because surely neither the sugar nor the 1/10000000 dilluted calming herb or whatever.


Well there are a number of possibilities and it's hard to say from the example but similar to homeopathy or even comforting a child sleeplessness is in most cases ( assuming > 4 months of age ) self-resolving and without control and measurement it's hard to account for what is responsible for effect. As an aside one thing is that even if it is effective it may also have a 'side' effect. For example I recall one author referencing a study where the only difference between going to a child > 4 months and comforting them when crying and letting the child cry themselves to sleep. Is the length of time the child would take to learn to sleep unaided. That is to say, assuming the study is correct the parents only gave themselves more work. I'm not sure what is meant by 'child' here but it seems plausible to me that similarly the parents could be creating their own problem. I.e. a normal periodic increase of restlessness turns into a way to ask for candy. It's also conceivable that there is real effect but without epidemiology there's no way to tell (and considering I don't know the dosage or the rate of effect it's hard to even come up with an upper bound).

Incidentally, thanks for the book references - sadly though I doubt I can read any of them. My skill in German is zero.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby squareroot » Mon Jul 19, 2010 5:49 pm UTC

Invertin wrote:
demadaha wrote:Also, I have a strong dislike, of homeopathy after hearing phrases like "you can just cross out the mass in E=MC^2."*

We all agree that 1 + 1 = 2, right? So if we just cross out the first 1, and the + sign, now 1 = 2. I am a genius.

/mygodwhatanidiot

Actually, it was more like

2*A=B, and A is just about zero, so 2=B. In other words, like saying 2*0.01=0.02, but the 0.01 doesn't matter, so 2=0.02. She's right, of course, in mod (your mass) arithmetic....sorta.
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby rjk1994 » Thu Jul 29, 2010 6:37 am UTC

http://www.google.co.uk/trends?q=homeopathy&ctab=0&geo=all&date=mtd&sort=0

I'd just like to draw attention to the peak, 12th July. Same day the comic was posted. This happens with most XKCD comics.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri Jul 30, 2010 8:27 pm UTC

DavidRoss wrote:(I am going to concede that herbal medicine, accupuncture, chiropractic, etc. may have some validity, because I cannot prove them wrong - and use them occasionally - but the case against homeopathy - at most dilutions - is closed.)


"Herbal medicine" doesn't really mean anything. If herbs have active ingredients, those ingredients can (in principle) be tested and proven to work. To quote Dara O'Brien: " 'Oh, herbal medicine's been used for thousands of years.' Indeed it has, and then we tested it all, and the stuff that works became medicine."

Acupuncture has been the focus of many studies, and while it is definitely more effective than some placebo treatments (like placebo pills), it is no more effective than massage or sham acupuncture (in which needles are inserted in the wrong places or not inserted into the skin at all). One of the most effective treatments was basically poking people with toothpicks (and not breaking the skin). What we find is that acupuncture is an intensive treatment that involves lots of contact with another person and high expectations of success, so it is an effective placebo, but it is no more than a placebo. Combine that with the fact that there is no known mechanism by which it could work and the fact that it is apparently based on imaginary energy flows, and you can safely say it doesn't work.

Chiropractic is the only one I would say has any validity whatsoever. Unfortunately, many chiropractors claim spinal manipulation can cure all kinds of ailments it obviously cannot, but perhaps it really is effective for lower back pain. The basis of chiropractic is complete bullshit--it essentially states that diseases result from spinal misalignment--but a modern version of it that simply manipulates the back to relieve tension could perhaps have some real effects above and beyond ordinary massage, and I think there might be evidence to support that, but I haven't really checked.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Monika » Sat Jul 31, 2010 8:52 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:Acupuncture ... is no more effective than massage or sham acupuncture (in which needles are inserted in the wrong places or not inserted into the skin at all). One of the most effective treatments was basically poking people with toothpicks (and not breaking the skin).

That sounds interesting ... do you have a link to these studies?
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Kendo_Bunny » Mon Aug 02, 2010 2:46 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:"Herbal medicine" doesn't really mean anything. If herbs have active ingredients, those ingredients can (in principle) be tested and proven to work. To quote Dara O'Brien: " 'Oh, herbal medicine's been used for thousands of years.' Indeed it has, and then we tested it all, and the stuff that works became medicine."


There is a difference between some herbal treatments and herbal medicine, though. For example, parsley tea can be used to stimulate delayed menstruation, but will not cause an abortion if the woman is pregnant. There is no medicine that does that that I know of. Certain herbs work as diuretics and laxatives, but are usually more gentle than the chemical alternatives. If you have severe constipation or extreme water retention, the isolated chemical compounds from the plants are probably your best bet. If it's not an emergency, senna or corn silk tea would probably be better in the long run, and run a much smaller risk of dependence.

Then again, I'm more an expounder of herbal treatment than herbal medicine. Herbs are great for short periods of time to improve overall health, but in case of actual disease, real doctors should be consulted and stronger medicine used. I'll continue treating everything less serious than the flu with herbs, but if someone has, say, bubonic plague, herbs will only go so far. They may make the sufferer more comfortable or counteract bad side effects of medication, but there is no herb that cures the plague.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby phlip » Mon Aug 02, 2010 3:14 am UTC

Kendo_Bunny wrote:For example, parsley tea can be used to stimulate delayed menstruation, but will not cause an abortion if the woman is pregnant. There is no medicine that does that that I know of.

But assuming for the moment that that's true, it's an actual effect (and not placebo or anything), and it's something that people would want to happen, then the Science can be done to test it. Compare it double-blind with an inactive treatment, see if it does better. Menstruation is a pretty objective thing... it's not like, say, pain, where you have to rely on the patient's self-reporting. Then, whether it works or not, we'll actually know, rather than just relying on whatever guesswork got it this far. And if it does work, then we do have a medicine that does what parsley tea does... it's called parsley tea.

Of course, if it works, then the next stage would be to find out exactly what it is about parsley that makes it work, and figuring out how to extract and/or synthesise it, to get it in a more convenient and consistent form. 'Cause whatever it is about parsley that makes it work, it probably varies from one plant to the next... different plants will have different levels of it. And they'll have other things in them too, which could be causing problems of their own. Narrow down and extract the compound or mixture of compounds that does the work, and you'll have a much more consistent level in the medicines, and fewer side effects. Like how aspirin tablets are more consistent, have fewer side-effects, and are all-around safer than raw willow bark.
And then it'll just be another tablet on the shelf, amongst all the other medications, and all ties to its herbal history will be lost. And it'll be better for it.

As for your suggestion that, for mild problems, the herbal remedies are better than the derived medications... if you have a mild headache, the solution isn't to take willow bark instead of aspirin. The solution is to take less aspirin. After all, that's probably the main effect of the decision to go with the natural option instead, and it does it without introducing all the other crap that comes with it. The idea that the herbs are "less harsh" simply through being natural is without merit.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Kendo_Bunny » Mon Aug 02, 2010 3:45 am UTC

They usually are less harsh, though. Yes, there is some variation depending on where you get it, but sometimes more gentle treatment is required. Aspirin isn't really the best thing to measure by, because levels of pain can be more efficiently treated with different medications. For example, aspirin alone does not treat menstrual cramps terribly well. Naproxen works much better, so naproxen is mixed with ibuprofen or aspirin and marketed as Midol. In things where the body is malfunctioning but not causing pain, herbal treatments tend to be slower, but more gentle.

A better example of traditional vs. herbal: someone who is constipated can take Ex-lax or can drink two cups of senna tea. Both will loosen the bowels and end the constipation. However, Ex-lax works fast, and that's not always a good thing (it is not always a bad thing, either. Sometimes it's necessary). However, it can overstimulate the bowel, causing painful diarrhea. If overused, the bowel may not continue to function without that extra kick. Senna tea takes longer, but it has a much lower risk of dependence, and is very unlikely to cause painful cramping or diarrhea unless it's being taken in excess on a regular basis. Herbal treatments are usually more gentle for chronic but non-life threatening conditions or for conditions where slower healing, using the herbs to complement the body's natural healing process, is better in the long run.

That's the difference between herbal treatments and herbal medicine: someone who subscribes primarily to herbal medicine will not consider synthetic options, no matter what the problem. Someone who supports herbal treatment sees herbs as a complement to medicine (after checking all possible drug interactions carefully) and an enhancer of good health. I would never suggest using herbs to treat cancer, beyond any herbs the patient finds soothing, but in my limited experience giving all-natural facials using herbs and plants, it's a better long-term treatment for moderate acne than antibiotic skin ointments and pills with nasty side effects. Yeah, it'll take longer to heal your acne using honey and lemon, but it is less harsh and usually leaves fewer scars. Plus it has the bonus of not overusing antibiotics.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Eshru » Mon Aug 02, 2010 3:54 am UTC

ThePixiest wrote:So... doesn't this make them Homeosexuals?

A variation on this would have made a better title-text, in my opinion.

Edit: why is everyone defending herbal medicine?

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby phlip » Mon Aug 02, 2010 4:12 am UTC

Kendo: you miss the point of the Aspirin example - which is to compare like with like. Your laxative example would be like comparing willow bark with morphine... morphine is a much stronger painkiller than willow bark is, so if those two were your only choices, the willow bark would be a better choice than the morphine for something like a headache. However, in every situation where willow bark would be the better option, aspirin is better still, and there is no reason to take the willow bark when aspirin is an option other than romantic notions of "natural-ness".
And there's no reason a similar thing couldn't be done for your senna tea, whatever that is... making a medication that is based on the tea, but with the dosage regulated and impurities removed... which would be strictly better in all respects... and the reasonable decision would then be between the strong medicated pill and the weaker medicated pill, and using the herb directly would be as silly an idea as taking willow bark for a headache. The only reason why this would not be possible is if the senna tea didn't work in the first place.

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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Kendo_Bunny » Mon Aug 02, 2010 6:03 am UTC

The thing is, senna does exist in standardized capsule form, but it is more gentle taken as a tea, not to mention it being a lot less expensive. Pill form isn't necessarily best, and since most of the people I've met who take senna tea on a regular basis are people who are getting blocked up because of whatever prescription medication they are taking, more pills aren't appealing. Also, as a tea, it's more naturally and gradually digested, which is the entire point of taking it in the first place. Also, some of the capsule forms are just as strong and just as harsh as Ex-lax, because they mix it with the stronger herbal laxative cascara sagrada and psyllium husk fiber. That's the kind to watch out for, and that's what I try to steer people away from. They tend to assume because it's all plants, it's always gentle, easily digestible, and safe.

There may be reasons to take willow bark tincture instead of aspirin. Difficulty swallowing pills, for example. I wouldn't know, since I've only ever used willow bark as a skin treatment (it is pretty effective against swollen blemishes). I suppose I could get the same effect if I crushed up aspirin tablets and applied them to a swollen blemish, but why pay for a bottle of aspirin when there's a willow tree right outside? Like I mentioned before, my real area of herbal specialty is skin and hair care - I've found that natural is more effective long term and leaves skin and hair in better condition than chemicals, and I don't like antibacterial soaps because of the dangers of resistant bacteria. Necessary for hospitals, not so necessary for every time Mom washes her hands, unless she's been cooking chicken or cleaning the catbox. I believe that falls squarely under herbal treatment and not herbal medicine - I've treated people's acne, dandruff, dull hair, and problem skin with things from my kitchen, but if they had a prescription, I definitely would encourage them to stick with it primarily. But at the very least, the stuff I whip up in my kitchen is better than ProActive, and I can say that after testing it against ProActive with a fair number of people.

For the parsley tea I mentioned earlier, I don't really know if a pill could be developed that was an effective emmenagogue but not an abortifacient. Parsley tea does work to stimulate menstruation, though I honestly don't know how (one explanation I read was the it relaxes the cervix and gently stimulates the uterus. Like I said, I don't know, but that's the best explanation I've read). The closest thing that pharmaceutical companies have come up with all involve high doses of hormones, which I know plenty of women would rather avoid. Plan B will also stimulate menstruation in a woman who is not pregnant, but according to Google, it costs up to $80 and is basically a triple or quadruple dose of the birth control pill. So why wouldn't a woman prefer to drink four cups of tea, at $5 max for the parsley, and get the same result without the added hassle of crippling cramps, which Plan B can cause? I also don't know if there's really enough of a market for anyone to make enough money to cover research costs. Most women with delayed periods will take a pregnancy test and then wait it out, and most women with irregular periods get put on the birth control pill.

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Eebster the Great
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby Eebster the Great » Mon Aug 02, 2010 6:50 am UTC

Kendo_Bunny wrote:The thing is, senna does exist in standardized capsule form, but it is more gentle taken as a tea, not to mention it being a lot less expensive. Pill form isn't necessarily best, and since most of the people I've met who take senna tea on a regular basis are people who are getting blocked up because of whatever prescription medication they are taking, more pills aren't appealing. Also, as a tea, it's more naturally and gradually digested, which is the entire point of taking it in the first place. Also, some of the capsule forms are just as strong and just as harsh as Ex-lax, because they mix it with the stronger herbal laxative cascara sagrada and psyllium husk fiber. That's the kind to watch out for, and that's what I try to steer people away from. They tend to assume because it's all plants, it's always gentle, easily digestible, and safe.


Well obviously you should take the appropriate medication, not the extra-harsh version. The reason the tea is usually gentler is because there is usually less of it and it is drunk much more slowly. But again, dumping the actual contents of a pill into the tea will have the same effect as boiling the senna without the risk of unknown side effects from inactive ingredients.

It is easy to agree that not all medicine should be taken in pill-form, but that is not the same thing as saying that the medicine should not be taken at all. Nobody takes morphine pills or cannabis pills, but they are both useful medications. Would you prefer people inject opium or smoke hemp? That is the equivalent here.

There may be reasons to take willow bark tincture instead of aspirin. Difficulty swallowing pills, for example. I wouldn't know, since I've only ever used willow bark as a skin treatment (it is pretty effective against swollen blemishes). I suppose I could get the same effect if I crushed up aspirin tablets and applied them to a swollen blemish, but why pay for a bottle of aspirin when there's a willow tree right outside? Like I mentioned before, my real area of herbal specialty is skin and hair care - I've found that natural is more effective long term and leaves skin and hair in better condition than chemicals, and I don't like antibacterial soaps because of the dangers of resistant bacteria. Necessary for hospitals, not so necessary for every time Mom washes her hands, unless she's been cooking chicken or cleaning the catbox. I believe that falls squarely under herbal treatment and not herbal medicine - I've treated people's acne, dandruff, dull hair, and problem skin with things from my kitchen, but if they had a prescription, I definitely would encourage them to stick with it primarily. But at the very least, the stuff I whip up in my kitchen is better than ProActive, and I can say that after testing it against ProActive with a fair number of people.


Salicylic acid probably does nothing at all when rubbed on the skin beyond the placebo effect, or you would see it in creams. And again, the method of taking medicine isn't the relevant question here, but the type of medicine itself. Nobody wants to pull bark off a tree and rub that on their skin, but they might want to extract certain ingredients from it for a cream or soap or something. That would be medicine.

As for antibacterial soap, it probably does contribute to the increase in antibiotic-resistent bacteria, but it might also contributes to the huge improvement in sanitation and hygiene in recent history. So I guess it is a matter of weighing the risks. Unfortunately, I don't think there is a lot of data on this question right now.

For the parsley tea I mentioned earlier, I don't really know if a pill could be developed that was an effective emmenagogue but not an abortifacient. Parsley tea does work to stimulate menstruation, though I honestly don't know how (one explanation I read was the it relaxes the cervix and gently stimulates the uterus. Like I said, I don't know, but that's the best explanation I've read). The closest thing that pharmaceutical companies have come up with all involve high doses of hormones, which I know plenty of women would rather avoid. Plan B will also stimulate menstruation in a woman who is not pregnant, but according to Google, it costs up to $80 and is basically a triple or quadruple dose of the birth control pill. So why wouldn't a woman prefer to drink four cups of tea, at $5 max for the parsley, and get the same result without the added hassle of crippling cramps, which Plan B can cause? I also don't know if there's really enough of a market for anyone to make enough money to cover research costs. Most women with delayed periods will take a pregnancy test and then wait it out, and most women with irregular periods get put on the birth control pill.


The reason is that parsley tea probably doesn't do anything, and if it does, it is certainly far less efficacious than Plan B. Furthermore, parsley is unrefined, which means it will not only include the active ingredients you want, but the ones you don't want. Unlike an extract, parsley itself will contain oxalic acid (which leads to the formation of kidney stones), furanocoumarins and psoralens (which increase photosensitivity), and apiole oil (which is a diuretic). And while parsley won't cause an abortion, it can lead to preterm labor.

So it isn't so mild after all.

Now, if you brewed a tea with only the active ingredients and none of those other ingredients I listed, it would in principle have the same effect with fewer side effects. If this is impossible, I would question the value of parsley as a drug.

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phlip
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Re: "Dilution" Discussion

Postby phlip » Mon Aug 02, 2010 8:12 am UTC

What Eebster said. Also:
Kendo_Bunny wrote:That's the kind to watch out for, and that's what I try to steer people away from. They tend to assume because it's all plants, it's always gentle, easily digestible, and safe.
Kendo_Bunny wrote:Herbal treatments are usually more gentle

These statements are rather at odds.

I'll say it again... there's no reason to believe that the herb will be gentler, or safer, or somehow less harsh than the active ingredients from that herb (if there indeed are any) either extracted or synthesised, and then purified and dose-controlled. No reason other than some concept of the herb as being "more natural" which is unscientific nonsense.

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