Louise Mclean Interviews Dana Ullman

I recently found this, Lousie Mclean’s interview with Dana Ullman.

They start by discussing Ullman’s book The Homeopathic Revolution. So far as I can tell from the interview, it is an account of famous and historical figures who have used homeopathy. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but I do hope his research was better than that of those homeopaths who falsely claim that Charles Darwin used homeopathy and that Louis Pasteur renounced the germ theory of disease on his death bed.

Unfortunately, he betrays his weak grasp of logical thinking with the following:-

“I also admit to experiencing a fair amount of magic on a regular basis. What I mean is that whenever I would start working on a chapter on politicians or peacemakers, corporate leaders or philanthropists, I would actively seek, read books, go online and then all of a sudden someone would email me some vital information which would just happen to be about the chapter that I was working on!”

I do not doubt that on occasion someone sent him information on a subject he was working on. There are two reasons other than magic that this might happen. Firstly, as he says himself, he was actively seeking information. So people knew what he wanted. So perhaps it is not too surprising that they sent it too him. Secondly, simple confirmation bias. We all remember things that confirm what we already believe. He does not state how many people failed to send him relevent information, or sent irrelevent information. It is analogous to the case where we remember a friend calling us when we are thinking abouit her but fail to remember all the occasions when she did not ring when we were thinking abouit her, or rang when we were not thinking about her.

He says that he was inspired to write the book on hearing about Coretta Scott King [Martin Luther King’s wife] dying in a homeopathic hospital in Mexico. Looking into this, I discovered that the hospital was a general “alternative medicine” establishment and not specifically homeopathic. Personally, if I was a homeopath I’d be putting as much distance as possible between myself and this particular establishment.

According to this the hospital was not licensed to perform surgery, take X-rays, perform lab-work or run an internal pharmacy but was doing all of them.

According to the Washington Post the owner of the hospital, Kurt W. Donsbach is a chiropractor who is not licensed to practice medicine. Furthermore, he has been convicted of tax evasion and smuggling unapproved drugs into the US.

According to the New York Times there are serious concerns over the standard of care on offer. They give the example of George Ott who paid $12,500 for a ten day stay. Within 5 days he contracted a blood infection (he believes from a dirty needle) that damaged his heart and nearly killed him. Well, homeopaths and many chiropractors reject the germ theory of disease and since infection control is based on that theory it seems plausible that they don’t believe in that either.

Ullman goes on to say that seven Popes and eleven US Presidents have used homeopathy. He doesn’t give names in the interview (Presumably I will have to buy the book to find them – if I see it in a charity shop I will buy it.) This is typical argument from authority which even on those terms it doesn’t add up. Since homeopathy was invented there have been fifteen Popes and close to forty US Presidents. Which means that the majority did not use homeopathy. He also relates an anecdote regarding Yehudi Menhuin being a supporter of homeopathy. Now Menhuin was a great musician but why this means we should accept homeopathy because of his support is not made clear.

He then has a bit of a winge about his book not selling as well as he thought it ought. Should have been a best seller, he says. Mclean claims there is media censorship of homeopathy. Aye right. Only if “the media” does not include the Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail who regularly feature homeopath puff-pieces.

She also has a moan about propose EU regulation that woul allow only people who hve state registered qualifications to practise. You have only to look at the career of Kurt Donsbach to see why state registration of medical practitioners is essential.

They both moan about ‘attacks’ on homeopathy. By this I presume they mean people such as yours truly, gimpy, Andy Lewis and Ben Goldacre pointing out that the evidence is that homeopathy does not work beyond placebo. Ridiculous claims, such as those by Jeremy Sherr, that homeopathy can cure AIDS, have also been highlighted. Any discussion of the evidence supporting homeopaths’ claims is always interpreted as an attack, for some reason. Ullman also claims that ‘spooks’ are creating bogus complaints to getting inverstigations going. Paranoia reigns.

We have an example of Ullman arbitrarily changing the meaning of a word to create a definition that he thinks supports his case:

“…I strongly believe that homeopathy represents the very modern if not futuristic medical paradigm because to me it is a form of nano-pharmacology. I like that word because nano is the only word in our language which means both very very small and very powerful. I encourage my colleagues to use it too and use the word nanodoses. Part of its definition means one
billionth but its real origins come from the word which simply means very small and so I don’t think of it as simply a billionth. It is very small and very powerful.”

Nano means billionth. It does not mean powerful, Ullman thinking otherwise does not make it so. Furthermore, homeopathic medicines are not nanodoses, they are not one part in a billion, they are one part in 10^60.

Homeopaths often witter on about their sugar pills ‘boosting the immune system’. Ullman appears to have caught on to the fact that sometimes the last thing that the immune system needs is boosting:-

“…homeopathic medicines can and will augment immune response when necessary and they will tonify it when it’s overactive… “

So now the nostrums which we have always been told will ‘boost’ the immune system now know when it does not need a boost and will “tonify” it instead. Perhaps his book explains how this happens. Perhaps the peer-reviewed papers demonstrating this effect will soon be published. Perhaps DUllman is talking out of his arse.

They then get onto slagging off Shang because his meta-analysis showed that homeopathy does not work, and accuse him of fraudulent research:-

“…He ignored comprehensive analysis entirely. I think he knew exactly what it was but he didn’t want to report on it, as it was too positive. Instead he only reported on trials with very large numbers of subjects because when you do
that, most of those studies use one remedy for everybody without any degree of individuality.”

Actually Shang did not include trials with small numbers because it is too easy for seemingly good results to come about by chance when small numbers are involved. As for individualising remedies, earlier in the interview, Ullman speaks favourably of pharmacists like Boots selling homeopathic remedies. Since these are mass produced and the sales assistants do not take your case history they are certainly not individualised remedies – so they are open to being tested like any other mass produced remedy.

There is also a complaint about research into oscillococcinum for flu being ignored. If this is a reference to the trial at Grenoble University Hospital in 1989 then it is likely because of methodological weaknesses such as self-reporting by patients ie they joined the trial but then went home instead of remaining at the hospital. They then reported back a week later with their daily rectal temperatures and their experience of flu symptoms.

Ullman goes on to refer to a “…new journal article in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology which is ranked as one of the top international journals of reviews of research, has accepted the new studies.” The implication of this is that the Journal of Clinical; Epidmiology has accepted an article that proves that homeopathy works. A quick bit of googling found this whose abstract includes:-


The meta-analysis results change sensitively to the chosen threshold defining large sample sizes. Because of the high heterogeneity between the trials, Shang’s results and conclusions are less definite than had been presented.”

This merely says that Shang’s analysis is not as conclusive as he said. It is a long way from saying that he is actually wrong.

He refers to some research administering homeopathy to plants. Having not seen the research itself I cannot comment on it. Though I do wonder how they took the plants’ case histories in order to individualise their medication. This lack of consistancy does not bother Ullman of course and he goes on to speculate that homeopathy can be used to alleviate ecological disasters.

Both Mclean and Ullman clearly believe they can cure anything:

“Dana:…treating people with very serious chronic illness and life-saving [I assume he means life-threatening here JQH] conditions that would normally kill people and having such good results with homeopathy.

Louise: Absolutely and when you see a child’s high fever go down within minutes or a haemorrhage stop practically instantly after the right remedy, you have to see it to believe it. In acutes, that’s when you really see the magic happen.

Funny how homeopaths never produce the details of these people allegedly saved by homeopathy. They prefer to home in on “acutes” aka short term illnesses ie those that can get better on their own. I have never seen Mclean’s dramatic account of a haemorrhage stopping instantly or a high fever dropping within minutes anywhere else. I would have thought homeopaths would be trumpetting these from the rooftops.

Ullman talks about the possibility of hiring a public relations person with the brief of using the media to make homeopathy a household word. Seems like something a dodgy politician might do in order to persuade the public to swallow an ill-thought out policy. When you are relying on spin rather than evidence, you are in deep trouble.

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18 Responses to “Louise Mclean Interviews Dana Ullman”

  1. Twitted by badscienceblogs Says:

    […] This post was Twitted by badscienceblogs […]

  2. apgaylard Says:

    Nice critique of the inimitable Ullman. We had words about this a while back.

    If he turns up here I hope that he’ll clear up a few outstanding issues he’s left lying around.

  3. smfdoc Says:

    Kurt Donsbach was certainly a chiropractor at one time, but it should be pointed out that he lost his license in California several decades ago. Clearly, not holding a license in any discipline does not seem to have slowed down his ability or desire to “treat” people.

  4. Mojo Says:

    “I do hope his research was better than that of those homeopaths who falsely claim that Charles Darwin used homeopathy…”

    There’s a review of Dana’s book on the Quackometer blog, which discusses Dana’s claims about Darwin:

    The Homeopathic Revolution by Dana Ullman: A Review

    See also this thread on the JREF forum: More Fun with Homeopath Dana Ullman, MPH(!). Dana first appears, using the name “JamesGully” on the first page, saying:

    I appreciate good skeptical thinking, and yet, am I the only one who thinks that no one responded to the numerous basic science and clinical studies that Dana Ullman referenced?

    Am I the only one who think that Ullman also gave a good, solid critique of that questionably done “meta-analysis” that sought to compare 110 homeopathic and allopathic studies?

    The claims about Darwin start on page 7, get debunked over the next couple of pages, repeated on page 10, and then debunked again on the following page.

  5. jdc325 Says:

    I’m surprised DUllman hasn’t already been by to visit a ‘Dana Drive-By’ upon you JQH. Funnily enough, I’ve just (about half an hour ago) finished writing a post that mentioned his book. I was going to suggest that this was an amusing coincidence, but perhaps we’ve both blogged about it because of some kind of “magic”?

  6. Dana Ullman Says:

    Here’s my anticipated hello to y’all.

    Although Darwin was skeptical of homeopathy, the RESULTS speak for themselves. Read for yourself…read my short post which contains direct links to Darwin’s letters: http://www.homeopathic.com/articles/view,128

    NATURE previously reported that over 100 million people in India rely ENTIRELY on homeopathic medicine for their health care needs. I challenge any physician to try to practice medicine by prescribing placeboes to their patients for just one week and see the results (I predict that this doctor will be called at all times of the day and night about the ineffectiveness of such treatment). And yet, over 100,000 homeopathic physicians in India prescribe ONLY homeopathic medicines (which many people on this blog assume are the same as placeboes).

    That is my challenge to you. Find one doctor with a full-time practice who agrees to prescribe ONLY placeboes to patients. You cannot do this with ONE doctor…and yet, there are hundreds of thousands of homeopaths who you assume do this every day.

  7. jaycueaitch Says:

    You spoke too soon jdc.

    Mr Ullman: The Darwin-homeopathy business has been debunked many times. Not least in the link mojo posted above. But then you know that already.

    Placebos often help with self-limiting illnesses. They do not help with conditions such as AIDS or cancer, so no ethical doctor would prescribe them in such situations.

    A challenge which you and all homeopaths dodge is to find even one proven case of a non-self-limiting illness being cured by homeopathy.

    Here is another challenge which I have often issued to homeopaths but have yet to find any takers:

    I am willing to state legally that I am in no circumstances to be given any form of homeopathic treatments if you similarly refuse any form of “allopathic” treatment.

  8. Mojo Says:

    NATURE previously reported that over 100 million people in India rely ENTIRELY on homeopathic medicine for their health care needs.

    What is the average life expectancy in India?

    And yet, over 100,000 homeopathic physicians in India prescribe ONLY homeopathic medicines (which many people on this blog assume are the same as placeboes). That is my challenge to you. Find one doctor with a full-time practice who agrees to prescribe ONLY placeboes to patients. You cannot do this with ONE doctor…and yet, there are hundreds of thousands of homeopaths who you assume do this every day.

    Why do you expect us to find a doctor who is prepared to prescribe only placebos when they have effective treatments available? That would be a highly unethical practice. While the Hippocratic oath is often quoted as saying “first, do no harm”, there is no suggestion (outside homoeopathic circles, perhaps) that it continues to say “do no bloody good either”. Are you claiming that the fact that we can’t find doctors who are prepared to lie to their patients and prescribe placebos when effective treatments are available to them somehow validates homoeopathy? The fact that homoeopaths are prepared to prescribe only placebos while proper doctors are not is a failing of homoeopathy, not of real medicine.

    Oh, and once again, there’s no need to shout out journal titles like that. The tags for italics work fine here, as elsewhere.

  9. Louise Mclean Says:

    Have been very amused at your obsession with taking apart my articles, Mr. Jaycueaitch. This article says there are 400,000 homeopaths in India. Why don’t you go there and see it working for yourself if you don’t believe it?

    Savvy marketing sees surge in alternative therapies

    Press Trust of India / New Delhi June 30, 2009, 13:32 IST

    ‘There are over 400,000 registered homoeopaths in the country currently, with approximately 13,000 more being added every year.’

    ‘There were 28 homoeopathic dispensaries in Delhi in 1978 and the number now has gone up to 78. The number of patients taking homeopathic medicines has increased from around 800,000 patients in 1997 to 13,62,174 patients in 2006, she adds.’ http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/savvy-marketing-sees-surge-in-alternative-therapies/66042/on

    • jaycueaitch Says:

      Hello, and thanks for your response.

      The aticle you link to also says that there are 7,500,000 conventional doctors in India. Which, using your logic, proves that conventional medicine is vastly better than homeopathy.

  10. Dana Ullman Says:

    Conventional medicine’s effective treatments? Sure…approximately 15% of what doctors do is backed by hard evidence …according to many sources (the one I have in front of me now is Business Week, May 29, 2006, “Medical Guesswork” (coverstory). Despite ALL of the money in the world to prove their treatments, there is only “homeopathic” doses of proven treatments from conventional medicine.

    And anyway, one in three adults in the US take 5 or more medications together (according to the Institute of Medicine, 2007). Where is that science? Please reference…

  11. jaycueaitch Says:

    Mr Ullman: “Homeopathic doses of proven treatments” would mean only 1 in 10^60 are proven to work. According to you better than 1 in 7 are proven to work – so not homeopathic quantities then.

    15% of what doctors do being backed by hard evidence still puts them 15 percentage points ahead of homeopathy.

    Even if conventional medicine has limited evidence, this is not proof that homeopathy works. But then logical thinking does not appear to be your strong suit.

    Finally, I see you continue to duck my challenge above. You know what they say, if it ducks like a quack, it’s a quack.

  12. Mojo Says:

    Conventional medicine’s effective treatments? Sure…approximately 15% of what doctors do is backed by hard evidence …according to many sources (the one I have in front of me now is Business Week, May 29, 2006, “Medical Guesswork” (coverstory).

    Yeah, that old canard, based on out-of-date research, reported in peer-reviewed, pubmed-indexed journals like, er, Business Week.

    Try doing a spot of homework.


    And this is irrelevant to the point. Even if only 15% of treatments were backed up by strong evidence (and this isn’t actually true, remember) it would still be unethical to prescribe only placebos.

  13. Prolix Says:

    When you are relying on spin rather than evidence, you are in deep trouble.

    Q: How many pharmaceutical companies use public relations and advertising?

    A: All of them.

  14. jaycueaitch Says:

    So what are you saying? “Big Pharma is dodgy therefore homeopathy works”?

    Or are you just trying to change the subject?

  15. wilsontown Says:

    Yes, and according to the link that Louise Mclean provided, it is “savvy marketing” that is responsible for the expansion of homeopathy in India.

    So what have we learned? That both homeopaths and pharmaceutical companies use PR and advertising. But homeopathy still doesn’t work.

  16. Michael K Gray Says:

    Homœpathy is an infantile fraud, unsupported by real evidence.
    Get in the fookin’ sack, Dana.

  17. apgaylard Says:

    Hmm, I see Ullman has retreated in the face of evidence that he should be well aware of (Masters in Public Health afterall) again. Is this a ‘drive by’ or Trolling; or is there no difference?

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