Rampant Homeophobia

I thought ‘homeophobia’ might catch on – there’s a Guardian piece today with the word in its headline. First thing to point out is the author:

 Rustum Roy is Evan Pugh professor of the solid state, and research professor of materials at Arizona State University

Research professor of materials. Got it. He spends a couple of paragraphs going on about closed-minded scientists who don’t think water has a ‘memory’, and then comes this:

As it happens, there is agreement among all those who have studied liquid water that it is, in fact, the critics, who are totally wrong. Proof? Diamond is the planet’s hardest material; graphite one of the softest. They are absolutely identical in composition, and they can be interconverted in a millisecond with zero change of composition.

I think this paragraph should win some kind of award. The whole thing is a complete non sequitur, for starters: how do carbon compositions translate to ‘proof’ that water has a memory? Not that the diamond thing makes sense. Graphite and diamond are not, as far as I’m aware, ‘absolutely identical in composition’, or my pencil pot would be worth a fortune. They sure as hell can’t be ‘interconverted in a millisecond’, or de Beers would be out of business, not to mention how it’s apparently possible to convert something with zero change of composition. This is from a ‘research professor of materials’?

It’s not like the next paragraph continues this argument – that’s it. I find it difficult to take the guy seriously after this. But here’s some more:

But the main thrust of Goldacre’s argument is the role of the “placebo effect”. Yes, this works. And, yes, it is without doubt present in every homeopathic intervention; but it is far more powerfully present in orthodox medical pills because they are advertised so widely in billion-dollar campaigns.

Afaik the placebo effect is much more subtle than he’s suggesting. It’s not just about public awareness, it’s about time spent with the patient, the type/colour/dose of ‘medicine’ and plenty of other factors – placebos are complex. But even if he’s right, so what? Is he suggesting that ‘orthodox’ medicine is all placebo effect?

Goldacre is accurate in pointing out the high rates of positive v negative outcomes in many of the homeopathy studies. But there are enormous discrepancies in any set of randomised controlled trials on the same orthodox pills.

Only if you include all the crappy trials. Once you remove the poor methodologies you tend to find a convergence of outcomes, and there’s plenty of statistical analysis to help figure it out. What’s this meant to prove, anyway? That trials aren’t indicative of anything? Why does he think homeopathy works, then?

Ben Goldacre must be doing a good job – the homeopathy proponents are increasingly desperate, and increasingly rubbish.