“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
The UK Society of Homeopaths have now published their critique of last month’s much-publicised Lancet meta-analysis (Shang et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Lancet 2005;366 (9487):726-733) purporting to be the “final word” on the validity of homeopathy as a “real” therapeutic intervention. (See also last month’s post and Myths and Misconceptions.)
It makes for interesting reading. For instance:
“The authors went to the great trouble of selecting 110 homeopathy trials that met their inclusion criteria, matching them with 110 allopathy trials and then ignored all but 8 trials of homeopathy and 6 of allopathy in their final statistical analysis. Moreover the original stated intention to compare trials of similar condition and outcome has been ignored in the final analysis. The final small subset of trials is not matched at all suggesting that different kinds of trials are being compared, apples are being compared with oranges – a common failing in meta-analyses.”
Apparently the quality of the study has been roundly condemned in conventional, as well as homeopathic circles. Mikel Aickin PhD, Research Professor at the University of Arizona commented: “The Lancet article appears to be part of a recent trend, in which medical journals are publishing articles of exceedingly low quality to justify attacks on controversial therapies.”
Could there possibly have been some bias in the study? The Lancet’s Senior Editor, Zoë Mullan, admitted, “Prof Eggers stated at the outset that he expected to find that homeopathy had no effect other than that of placebo. His “conflict” was therefore transparent. We saw this as sufficient”. That such a study passed the peer-review process is rather telling. With standards like that, who needs science?
And do you reckon this side of the story will make it to prime-time television news and a prominent position in the national daily newspapers like the initial publication did? You bet your bottom dollar it won’t. Seems hard to avoid some fairly cynical conclusions about the agenda from the outset …
“We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.”