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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

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« Farewell to Hard Copies | Main | Another Thing We Don't Know »

July 6, 2009

Argumentum ad Crumenam

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Posted by Derek

There's been a raging battle going on in the comments to this post wherein I disparaged homeopathic medicine. I've been staying out of it, but I had to excerpt this comment, make by a persistent advocate for the miracle water:

In the meantime, homeopathy is practiced openly by learned men in Europe. Why is that? Are they THAT ‘superstitious’? That ‘stupid’? Or that ‘corrupt’. Seriously. Is Great Britain RULED by a bunch of superstitious idiots? The Royal family retains homeopaths as part of their medical staff.

I'll be glad to field that one. Why yes, since you ask, if the royal family pays homeopaths, then "superstitious idiots" seems to be a perfectly appropriate phrase. And anyone who believes that any member of a hereditary monarchy (or of any other rich family) has to be more intelligent because of their position. . .well, there are phrases to describe a person like that, too. Hey, we can even be thrifty and reuse "superstitious idiot". This is an old enough logical fallacy to have a Latin name; see above.

If you'd like to see someone else berate the House of Windsor for just these same failings, you can see Richard Dawkins do a first-class job of it here.

Comments (42) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Snake Oil


COMMENTS

1. T on July 6, 2009 10:44 AM writes...

The Royal family. Learned.

I'm sorry, but those 4 words do not in anyway belong in the same sentence. Surely whoever made that comment has heard the ramblings of the Queens 3 sons?! The brain cell gets shared around between those idiots believe me

Permalink to Comment

2. Nick K on July 6, 2009 11:26 AM writes...

Mitchell and Webb are comedians not scientists, but their demolition of Homeopathy is simply brilliant. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

The idea that the British Royal Family is a repository of wisdom and intelligence has really made my day.

Permalink to Comment

3. Hap on July 6, 2009 12:04 PM writes...

Are you sure that the commenter isn't simply conceding the argument that homeopathy is bunk? Because using the Royal Family as an example of a group of intelligent and sane people (they may not be bad people, but apparently they have more issues than a newsstand) using homeopathy is...moronic? Either the argumenter is conceding the argument directly or he's conceding it implicitly (because obviously the arguer can't actually have the ability to either literally or figuratively rub two brain cell together).

If you don't have data, I guess you have to rely on argument by popularity (see 2000-2008 for a counterexample) or the argument by "smart people do this so it must be good" (lots of smart people smoke and do other stupid things and believe in things without evidence or logic). The fact that these arguments lack any logical or sane basis and that they continue to be used says a lot more about the people who sell and advocate homeopathy than they would prefer to be said openly.

Permalink to Comment

4. SRC on July 6, 2009 12:37 PM writes...

Prince Charles talks to plants.

European royal families graphically illustrate the problem with inbreeding, from hemophilia to the Habsburg lip to galloping stupidity.

Anyone who would defend homeopathy (I could stop right here) by relying the British royal family's perspicacity (I laugh as I type this) must ...uh...shall we say, have royal blood in his veins?

Permalink to Comment

5. Sili on July 6, 2009 2:44 PM writes...

What's wrong with talking to plants? I talk to my cat. - It's good for the mind.

Of course, if one expects them to talk back or benefit directly ...

Has the nutter brought up the 'fact' that Charles Darwin was 'cured' by homoeopathy yet?

Permalink to Comment

6. Hap on July 6, 2009 2:52 PM writes...

Please don't give him any ideas.

I think the official designation for him is CCFCP.

Permalink to Comment

7. Morten G on July 6, 2009 3:44 PM writes...

I don't know much about homeopathy but it seems like (from what I can glean from wikipedia) that at least "classical homeopathy" is pretty much a psychotherapist that gives you a bit of sodium carbonate or whatever. So considering that GPs spend a lot of their time just listening to patients and maybe ordering a bit of blood work for reassurance... well, homeopaths probably aren't so bad as long as people see a doctor to get diagnosed first.

That is of course until we invent a pill against psychosomatic symptoms. Then all those f****** will be out of jobs.

Permalink to Comment

8. ... on July 6, 2009 3:57 PM writes...

I learned a new Latin phrase and logical fallacy today. Good job.

Permalink to Comment

9. Bored on July 6, 2009 8:11 PM writes...

Great Britain gave us the Royal Family and the Giant Hogweed, which by the way is a plant. Does Prince Charles talk to them? Do they talk back? Peter Gabriel with Genesis wrote a great song about the Giant Hogweed. I would guess that Peter Gabriel definitely talks to plants, and he too is a Brit. As far as I know, he isn't a Royal.
It all makes sense.

Permalink to Comment

10. Lucifer on July 6, 2009 9:24 PM writes...

Homeopathy is bunk.. lets give vioxx and bextra to everyone.

Look, if you call homeopathy bunk, why not exhibit the same critical analysis towards our medicines.

Is Zyprexa any good for ADHD and ODD in kids? Is Plavix better or safer than low dose aspirin? Is the use of new anti-epileptic drugs for obesity a good idea? What about Vytorin? Are atypical anti-psychotics good for depression (other than PTSD related)?

Permalink to Comment

11. partial agonist on July 6, 2009 9:54 PM writes...

Homeopathy isn't bunk. The placebo effect is very real.

Lucifer, all of your questions can be answered by placebo-controlled double-blinded clincal trials, and no company can market their drugs for any indication with doing so many times over.

Such techniques can also attempt to distinguish one placebo from another, though advocates for certain placebos never seem eager to put theirs to the test.

Permalink to Comment

12. Lucifer on July 7, 2009 2:36 AM writes...

partial agonist,

I think you missed my point. Pharmas have marketed a lot of useless and harmful drug too.. the FDA has often been a willing accomplice in such scams.

It helps to have real moral highground when exposing fraud or mocking others.

No one will argue that treating hypertension reduces the risk of strokes, or statins reduce the risk of MI. However companies that promote atypical antipsychotics for kids with ADHD, common depression and group homes have a lot to answer to. Same with many other drugs of dubious efficacy.

Permalink to Comment

13. fragment_boy on July 7, 2009 3:21 AM writes...

The problem that most 'drug professionals' have with homeopathy is the claims that what they dispense has 'active' ingredients.

We are all aware how powerfull the placebo effect is and I am in no doubt that it works for many people....

As I say, the problem that I have is the claims that homeopaths make, that a 1 in 2 billion dilution of a natural product, activated by whacking it 8 times against a saddle, is what is making a difference.......

As long as people get feel better whats the problem

Permalink to Comment

14. Kismet on July 7, 2009 5:48 AM writes...

Lucifer, your argument is called a red herring, it's also a type of fallacy. Pharma companies have their own problem, but it doesn't change the fact that homeopathy is bunk. Sorry but you don't need a "moral high ground" to tell the truth.

Permalink to Comment

15. Sinbad on July 7, 2009 7:25 AM writes...

Dude, take care. I once wrote a negative editorial about the nonsense of homeopathy and the crazies came out of the woodwork. I was fielding phone calls, emails, and letters from nutters for weeks. These guys believe in this guff in a way that borders on religious. I guess they have to have "faith" because they lack actual evidence. You can't use logic and science debating against "true believers".

Permalink to Comment

16. Skepticat on July 7, 2009 7:29 AM writes...


You must read this blog on HRH the Prince of Woos opening of a new hospital wing.

http://crispian-jago.blogspot.com/2009/07/new-wing-opened-at-prince-of-woos.html

Permalink to Comment

17. alig on July 7, 2009 7:53 AM writes...

Lucifer,

Actually the FDA came down hard on Lilly for the illegal off-label promotion of Zyprexa to the tune of $1.4 billion. This was for promoting uses which they had not demonstrated with proof in a placebo-controlled clinical study. Would any of the homopathetic medicines like to validate their claims through clinical studies? Pharmaceuticals are held to a higher standard. They have to provide evidence for their claims.

Permalink to Comment

18. stuff on July 7, 2009 8:46 AM writes...

I have always wondered why the homeopathic medicines people refuse to run FDA approved clinical trials.

I would suggest they are scared of the results.

Much better to be un-regulated and available at high cost to the customer (and high profit to the seller) than to be regulated and unavailable.

Permalink to Comment

19. Bored on July 7, 2009 10:33 AM writes...

Sinbad,

The same thing happens if you mention aliens, crop circles, crystals, creationism, rods,ghosts, the Tripartite Pact, Kennedy's assasination, or lord help us, scientology. Most weird beliefs are an attempt by the believer to make sense of the world, however nonsensical they may seem to the rest of us.

Permalink to Comment

20. metaphysician on July 7, 2009 2:41 PM writes...

#18- being more fair to them than they deserve, that would be a bad move *even if their products worked fine.*

After all, clinical trials are expensive, which would be a cost born by the company. However, they wouldn't be able to patent it, and everyone else could still sell it as an herbal supplement, rather than a drug. So, all you'd achieve is a huge cost burden on you, that probably means your competitors will be cheaper and thus sell more.

Which is why the current situation is a little perverse, and there should probably *be* no herbal supplement exception.

Permalink to Comment

21. brian on July 8, 2009 1:52 AM writes...

Playing devil's advocate for the moment, what if there really was no herbal medicine exception?

Would that mean that you wouldn't be able to buy anything 'natural' which might also have a 'medicinal effect'?

What would be the scope of that prohibition and threshold for inclusion under it? Who would decide this? Surely, one must admit that many common foodstuffs can also have a medicinal effect. Some (I.e., Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Ginger, Oily Fish, etc.) famously so (nutmeg will get you high, by the way.)

Or, would you argue that people can buy and sell these substances, but they just can't make an claims about health benefits on the package or promotional materials? Fair enough, but what would stop people from finding out on their own, or stop others (perhaps with a financial interest) from getting the word out in some other manner?

I think the FDA and Congress wisely recognized that this is a very messy and gray area, and that efforts to increase regulation might end up causing more problems than it would solve. And I would hope that they will continue to tread wisely here.

Permalink to Comment

22. Alastair on July 10, 2009 7:41 AM writes...

As an Englishman I'm sad to be able to tell you that we are indeed ruled by an idiot, one who seems to think that everything he does or ever has done is right despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I don't know if he's superstitious, but he's certainly mendacious, and often overtly dishonest. I intended this as a reminder to US readers that Britain isn't ruled by the royal family, their primary role these days is as a very expensive tourist attraction, but then I remembered that our prime minister has not been elected and so has no better democratic mandate than kings and queens of old.

Back on the main subject, we do have some of these quack remedies available on the NHS though. And if ever there was an easy cut that could be made to the healthcare budget, something that is badly needed over here, then this has to be it.

Permalink to Comment

23. Ryan on July 15, 2009 5:31 AM writes...

Interesting to see the comment "Ruled by" the Royal Family. They don't in effect do any ruling - they are just figureheads. But that is a debate for another time!

Permalink to Comment

24. Chuck Pelto on July 15, 2009 9:17 AM writes...

TO: Derek Lowe, et al.
RE: Ack Tso!

Here is new discussion thread....

Sorry I hadn't caught that.

More later.....

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Any argument worth making in a bureaucracy must be capable of being expressed in a single declarative sentence that is obviously true once stated. -- McNaughton's Rule]

Permalink to Comment

25. Chuck Pelto on July 15, 2009 3:40 PM writes...

TO: Derek Lowe, et al.
RE: Say What?

There's been a raging battle going on in the comments to this post wherein I disparaged homeopathic medicine. -- Derek Lowe

“Raging Battle”? Interesting. You must never have been in a REAL raging battle to call that kerfuffle such.

And, for your information—as you’ve apparently forgotten—I tend to agree with you on the idea of “snorting zinc”.

RE: Miracle Water?

I've been staying out of it, but I had to excerpt this comment, make by a persistent advocate for the miracle water: -- Derek Lowe

Heh. You seem to have a persistent forgetfulness. Or would you please point out where I mentioned “miracle water”.

Or are you just being habitually disingenuous with us?

RE: Down to ‘Business’

In the meantime, homeopathy is practiced openly by learned men in Europe. Why is that? Are they THAT ‘superstitious’? That ‘stupid’? Or that ‘corrupt’. Seriously. Is Great Britain RULED by a bunch of superstitious idiots? The Royal family retains homeopaths as part of their medical staff. -- Chuck Pelto

I'll be glad to field that one. Why yes, since you ask, if the royal family pays homeopaths, then "superstitious idiots" seems to be a perfectly appropriate phrase. -- Derek Lowe, in response

Thanks for confirming that for us. I’ll find it useful sooner or later. More likely sooner.....

RE: Heredity, Anyone?

And anyone who believes that any member of a hereditary monarchy (or of any other rich family) has to be more intelligent because of their position. . .well, there are phrases to describe a person like that, too. -- Derek Lowe

Depends on the genes, don’t you think?

I wonder if Mensans who marry and bring forth children more often have children that are rather bright than rather dumb. Sure, environment has something to do with it, but still and all are you suggesting that heredity has NOTHING to do with it?

Admittedly, there could be an entire discussion rivaling nature v. nurture, but I just wanted to touch on your denial that heredity has anything to do with capabilities. [Note: My eldest daughter has a weak right ankle. Just like her father: sprained more than I can remember and broken on at least two occasions. She, oddly enough—at 33 years of age—likes gin martinis with jalapeno stuffed olives as well.] As if heredity has NOTHING AT ALL to do with human development-comportment.

RE: Your Poor Use of ‘Latin’

Hey, we can even be thrifty and reuse "superstitious idiot". This is an old enough logical fallacy to have a Latin name; see above. -- Derek Lowe

I’ll discuss that one, later....

RE: Berating the Royals

If you'd like to see someone else berate the House of Windsor for just these same failings, you can see Richard Dawkins do a first-class job of it here. -- Derek Lowe

You have already done just fine. But Dawkins is an interesting read. Not that it relates overly much to my primary point.

RE: Thread Title Selection

My understanding of Argumentum ad Crumenam is ‘argument by being rich’.

I don’t believe I said anywhere that the Royals were right because they were rich.

Wouldn’t a better title for this thread have been ‘Argumentum ad Regnum’? Right because they Rule?

And speaking of that, if Dawkins is right, then aren’t the British so much more the fools for keeping such an arcane institution going? Why don’t they just get rid of the lot of them.

Oh....but then that REALLY wouldn’t do much in the way of dealing with homeopathy now. Would it. And THAT is my principle argument. I just used the Royal family as an example of the FACT that homeopathy has not been driven out of England like the Druids of old.

And considering the FACT that it takes 9 months to see a British doctor in the vaunted National Health Service about arthritis, I suspect more and more people are going to be turning to homeopathy for treatments of problems that the British National Health Service is just too, too busy to deal with.

And to think Obama wants US to adopt something similar here......tsk....tsk....tsk....

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Wise men learn by other peoples’ experiences. Most other people learn by their own experiences. Fools never learn......]

Permalink to Comment

26. Chuck Pelto on July 15, 2009 3:47 PM writes...

TO: All
RE: Heh

Based on reading a number of the 'comments' here....

...I'm beginning to wonder when the so-called 'intelligent' people in Britain are going to throw the Royals to the executioners.....as Lenin did the Romanovs.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. Interesting. Isn't it? How people either 'love' or 'hate' royalty.

Ain't it great that we don't have that problem—yet—in America?

Permalink to Comment

27. Chuck Pelto on July 15, 2009 4:22 PM writes...

P.P.S. TO: All the 'Doubters' Here

I eagerly await your 'honest' reports on the little 'experiment' I proposed in the earlier thread....

...why are you so 'reticent'?

Permalink to Comment

28. Chuck Pelto on July 15, 2009 6:19 PM writes...

TO: SRC
RE: Talking 'to' Plants

Prince Charles talks to plants. -- SRC

I 'talk' to plants.

Going through the Jungle Course in Panama, I talked to them a LOT. Usually in the form of censorable explatives. ESPECIALLY with the 'black palm'....a tree form of porcupine.

Then there were the elephant ear plants with those cute little bees nests on the underside. [Note: If they stung you, it felt like someone was driving a 16-penny nail through you.]

Not to forget the ever present 'ant trees'. Try hanging your hammock on one of those for a 'surpise'.

What's your point?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. And people wonder why infantry treat the plant world as if—in the words of the immortal Bard—"All the world's a latrine".

Permalink to Comment

29. Tok on July 15, 2009 7:41 PM writes...

#21 brian -
Oh, nobody's saying you shouldn't be able to sell these things. We're just saying you should not be able to mention any diseases they may cure in your advertisement unless you have proof.

#27 - I would certainly watch a video of you severely burning your hands and then putting whatever you want on it or in you to fix it, as you've requested us cowards to do. www.youtube.com is a free service for just that. BTW, I do hear windex works quite well for pretty much everything.

Permalink to Comment

30. Chuck Pelto on July 15, 2009 8:12 PM writes...

TO: Tok
RE: Burned Enough?

I would certainly watch a video of you severely burning your hands and then putting whatever you want on it or in you to fix it, as you've requested us cowards to do. -- Tok

If you can't remember my reports from that earlier thread....

....I've already done it. Sorry that you can't appreciate that without seeing it on the 'telie'.

And, if you can't manage to remember more, I recommended against the direct experiment. Instead, if you can remember, I suggested you just get a vial of cantharis against an accident.

What's the matter? Can't afford $7(US)? Or just a coward?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The Truth will out.....]

Permalink to Comment

31. Chuck Pelto on July 15, 2009 8:19 PM writes...

TO: Tok
RE: Thanks for the Memories....

...but as some other Ranger once said, "I've had enough training in misery as it is."

So....

...maybe you should offer a tad more 'incentive'.

Say $1M(US), in a certified check? For a video of such?

I'll even invite you into the house and prepare the 'meal' we'll enjoy together as you pass the certified bank check to me.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Put your money where your mouth is.....]

Permalink to Comment

32. Tok on July 16, 2009 9:18 AM writes...

I've blown off my leg with a shotgun and sprayed it with windex and it grew back in 10 days. I didn't happen to have a camera around at the time, but if you give me a million dollars, I'll do it again and show you.

Permalink to Comment

33. Chuck Pelto on July 17, 2009 1:24 PM writes...

TO: Tok
RE: Fascinating

I've blown off my leg with a shotgun and sprayed it with windex and it grew back in 10 days. -- Tok

And I was impressed with the way Windex cleared up that couple's zit on their wedding day in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. Do it again, with me present and I think the government will give you a million dollars and a Nobel Prize for Medicine nomination.

P.P.S. I see you're not willing to accept my proposal. What's the matter? Chicken?

Permalink to Comment

34. Chuck Pelto on July 17, 2009 1:28 PM writes...

P.P.P.S. Think of the lives you'll be saving! All those maimed soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan....

Or are you just some kinda 'fool'?

Permalink to Comment

35. Chuck Pelto on July 17, 2009 5:13 PM writes...

TO: brian
RE: Well....

Would that mean that you wouldn't be able to buy anything 'natural' which might also have a 'medicinal effect'? -- brian


....as much as the AMA and the drug companies would like....

....it would be nigh impossible to enforce any such law, outlawing the personal development of homeopathic and/or naturalpathic medications.

It would have to go as far as the 'witch-hunts' of old. And just as gruesome, too.

Why?

Because you can gather such materials from anywhere plants and insects and such are found.

Case in point.....

....take gopher spurge, useful against infectious colitis. Grows along the roads of North and South Carolina....in the drainage ditches....like a weed. Who's going to patrol so much roadway to prevent harvesting?

Another example, Hens & Chicks....useful in treating pain in squamous carcinoma of the mouth. Grows naturally in the semi-arid environment of Pueblo, CO....where I live.

As General Grant used to say about the Confederacy armies....."They ain't got army enough....."

What's my point?

Only this.....

....even the federal government can't out-soldier God.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[God made the Earth and everything therein for Man. Our challenge is to figure out how to use it all..... -- CBPelto]

Permalink to Comment

36. Tok on July 18, 2009 9:25 AM writes...

Between the two of us, we could cure both lost limbs and severe burn damage! Too bad we're both such cowards that we require a million up front to do so...

Permalink to Comment

37. Chuck Pelto on July 19, 2009 11:51 AM writes...

TO: Tok
RE: Wrong....

Too bad we're both such cowards that we require a million up front to do so... -- Tok

....what's really sad is that I can prove my point.

But you can't.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. You just don't have what it takes for me to prove my point. That's either:

Course of Action #1: One million dollars to get me to burn my hands.

Course of Action #2: $7 to buy a vial of cantharis to put in your medicine cabinet against a bad burn in the kitchen YOU or a member of your household experiences.

Who's the 'fool'?

Permalink to Comment

38. Anonymous on July 21, 2009 8:52 AM writes...

To: Chuck
Re: Wrong x infinity + 1

You just don't have wat it takes for me to prove my point. That's either:

Course of Action #1: one million dollars for me to remove a body part.

Course of Action #2: Spray a major injury with Windex and watch it heal.

Permalink to Comment

39. Tok on July 21, 2009 9:25 AM writes...

Chuck,

I've already proven it to you:

I've told you that it worked for me.

I've generously offered to let you give me a million dollars to video tape me doing it again.

I've suggested you try it yourself.

What other proof do you need?

Permalink to Comment

40. Chuck Pelto on July 21, 2009 11:40 AM writes...

TO: Anonymouse/Tok
RE: What It Takes

You just don't have wat it takes for me to prove my point. That's either: -- Anonymouse/Tok

Oh. But I do. Bring the certified bank check and I'll prove it to you.

And as for your Windex cure to regrow amputated limbs.....well...I've already addressed that. And any resonably prudent individual would say I was right. Instead of 'wrong'.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[There's no sense beating a dead horse -- but if you've reached the point where you even seriously consider that abusing a dead animal might improve your lot in life, I say go ahead and give it a shot. -- Anthony Myers]

Permalink to Comment

41. z on July 27, 2009 4:35 PM writes...

In #27, Chuck Pelto said, "I eagerly await your 'honest' reports on the little 'experiment' I proposed in the earlier thread...."

As I understand it, your experiment is: Burn yourself. Take a sugar pill and see if that works. If it doesn't, take cantharis and see if that works.

The fundamental flaw with your experimental design is that, to evaluate whether the pain relief is due to the drug or to a placebo effect, you cannot know when you are receiving a placebo. This is why clinical trials are described as "double blind." That means the person taking the drug doesn't know he is getting a placebo, and the person administering the drug doesn't know he is administering a placebo. Expectations are very important.

The way to run your experiment and get any sort of meaningful result is: Burn yourself. Receive medication that you believe is cantharis (you are told it is cantharis, it looks, smells, and tastes like cantharis--so you really believe it is) but which is really just a sugar pill. Report the results back to the person who gave you the medicine (and who also thought it was cantharis, so he can't influence your perceptions). Find out that your medicine was actually a sugar pill. Compare this with other people who had the same experience, some of whom were given real cantharis, others of whom were also given a sugar pill.

Permalink to Comment

42. Danny Sichel on August 29, 2009 7:52 AM writes...

Ah, homeopathy. In 2008 I went into a pharmacy and asked if they had anything I could take to help the painful bruises I'd gotten from falling through the the river ice and standing halfway past my waist in ice water for twenty minutes before being forcibly pulled out by firefighters. The pharmacist offered me a bottle of some homeopat