I take it as a sign of my own writing success when people I write about start to write about me. It means that at least someone has taken notice of what I’m saying. Unfortunately that is where my satisfaction stops with DR J.P Prinsloo, a South African homeopathic practitioner and the author of what is, officially, the first attack on my writing on the internet, or at least the first one so blatant and lacking in relevant content.
On Dr Prinsloo’s website he hosts a rather exhaustive looking page entitled “Answering the Skeptics” which claims to be a response to sceptical criticisms of homeopathy and tries to provide information supporting the veracity of homeopathy. Unfortunately Prinsloo’s missive is long, repetitive and the arguments are so shallow, poorly executed and fallacious that what promises to be an interesting read soon turns into a chore which demands high levels of discipline to complete.
I am not the first to respond to Prinsloo’s essay; Owen Swart (also mocked by Prinsloo in the article) and Michael Meadon have independently posted critical responses on their respective blogs. As such I will try to address different aspects of Prinsloo’s article. I will focus on a few key issues and perhaps in the future I will write a few follow-up pieces based on Prinsloo’s missive. Please excuse any overlapping content.
The first thing that Dr Prinsloo does is to point out that he will not debate the efficacy of homeopathy with anyone who expresses an opinion on the subject but who is not a qualified, registered, practicing homeopath. I suppose this is so that he can ensure that his views will not be challenged in any way that makes him at all uncomfortable. After all, debating the efficacy of his field of medicine with someone who does not share his views would be a whole lot more difficult than doing so with someone who does. A nice homeopathy friendly echo chamber is far more comfortable, and perhaps Prinsloo is afraid of what he might have to admit should he engage with people sceptical of his discipline. Both Owen and Michael call Prinsloo out on this error, and rightfully so. I cannot think of any reasonable justification for refusing to listen to differing opinions. If Prinsloo does not want to be questioned he should not make public statements about science or medicine and, for that matter, should stop practicing medicine. The very driving force behind science is the human tendency to question the established body of knowledge and it is the scientific process that has revealed everything from the ability of vaccines to combat dreadful contagious diseases all the way to our understanding of the mechanics of the universe. If people did not question what they were told, we’d still be dieing of smallpox and clinging to the geocentric model of the universe.
“Answering the Skeptics” is built on a foundation of name calling which persists throughout his long and boring rant, going from merely calling anyone who might disagree with him an “ignorant” (sic) who doesn’t deserve to be engaged with, to questioning the credentials of other public figures who speak out against homeopathy and ending up as a blatant ad hominem attack against myself and Owen. Allow me to elaborate on some of Prinsloo’s attempts at distracting his reader’s attention from his lack of an argument by attacking the credibility of people who question homeopathy.
He feels that it would be a good idea to throw in a baseless claim about the “ignorants” funding and motivation;
“Unfortunately, as with anything else in this world, there is always a small number of self-centred individuals with their own agendas and probably backed by some pharmaceutical company or grouping, that has to infect our healthy source of drinking water with some unwanted pest or virus.”
Um, excuse me, WHAT? Apart from being absurd, this allegation by Prinsloo seems to me to be an attempt to establish an “us and them” kind of feeling. The brave homeopath is sticking up for the little guy while the sceptics side with the big, evil, scary corporations bent on global domination and poisoning our water supply. Give me a break! If I though that anyone of measurable intelligence would take this seriously I might be more insulted. May I add that if I am funded by Big Pharma I wouldn’t mind actually receiving some funds? Not that I’m ungrateful of course, it’s just that I spend a great deal of my spare time trying to educate myself and other people about the dangers of fraudulent healthcare providers, and I do it without having received a cent in compensation.
Prinsloo doesn’t stop there though, oh no, making one irrelevant claim about people who disagree with him is not enough. He would like his readers to think that people who challenge an alternative medical practice are “The creators of the filth”, as if demanding high standards of, and demonstrable effects from, medicines I might put into my body is somehow a dirty thing to do.
Prinsloo then forgets his earlier refusal to engage with the sceptical community by bravely declaring that he will “address some of the ridiculous statements made by the ignorants (sic)”. He then embarks on a most disappointing attack against the religious position of those sceptics who dare to question his beliefs.
“The one thing that always catches my attention is the fact that generally the skeptics of Homeopathy also tend to be anti-religion or at least skeptical of religion.” (emphasis, spelling and grammatical errors are Prinsloo’s)
Why is that important in the context of a homeopath’s response to skeptics?
“In the meantime, and for the sake of his supporters, I would like to quote a recentstatement on religion by james randi – “Since religion shows up as a part of so many arguments in support of other fantastic claims, I want to show you that its embrace is of the same nature as acceptance of astrology, ESP, prophecy, dowsing, and the other myriad of strange beliefs we handle here every day.””
“I did not know that you have to study and get registered in order to practice as a homeopath? But then again you get degrees in Theology as well.”
This has nothing to do with whether or not we can debate homeopathy.
“To strengthen my point about these skeptics being anti-religion go see for yourself on her distinguished website her jokes about Christianity.”
To strengthen my point, religion has nothing to do with it! How does my own, or any other person’s, choice regarding religion have any relevance to the topic of whether or not we can discuss and debate the history, principles and effectiveness of homeopathy? Whether I am a Buddhist, an atheist or a Pagan has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I can legitimately question homeopathy. Simply waving your hands and trying to distract people from the facts by poisoning the well is NOT going to make us go away and it is NOT going to strengthen your position.
Furthermore, my honesty about my formal scientific training does not make homeopathy any more or less effective, nor does it disqualify me from the debate. Moreover, how exactly would having a degree in astronomy better qualify me for engaging in a debate on homeopathy? It certainly would not bring me any closer to meeting Prinsloo’s arbitrary parameters. Neither does Owens enjoyment of science-fiction, or the fact that James Randi is a magician. Dr Prinsloo, if you have an argument to make, at least attempt to do so without resorting to such obviously flawed thinking. Your argument should be able to stand on the strength of your evidence, not on any character flaw of your opponent which you perceive. You just end up looking like an ignorant (sic).
When Prinsloo eventually does address a statement I made about homeopathy he doesn’t actually consider it to be important to talk about the issue, instead he tries to brush my concerns aside by pointing at supposed factual errors in my statement.
“My rebuttal to the above ridiculous and misleading statement was as follows : “As a matter of interest, James Randi (referred to in one of the comments) was a magician and Jacques Benveniste (misleadingly referred to as a Homeopath in the same comment) was not a Homeopath. He was an internationally renowned French immunologist. In 1979 he published a well-known paper on the structure of platelet-activating factor and its relationship with histamine. He was head of INSERM’s Unit 200, directed at immunology, allergy and inflammation.””
Look! Over there! A FLYING PIG!
Another inexcusable statement Prinsloo makes is that the rules of evidence should be changed to allow homeopathy and other alternative medicinal practices to be encompassed in the definition of “science” and therefore accorded the respect he thinks they deserve. Let me quote from Dr Prinsloo’s article to illustrate exactly what I mean;
“The guidelines and boundaries of science must be revised to encompass the clinical subtlety and complexity revealed by alternative medicine”
No. The guidelines of science are in place to prevent exactly that kind of abuse. If your proposed medical approach does not provide independently repeatable and verifiable results don’t change the rules of the science, change the approach. In a separate essay entitled “Homeopathy Mystical or Scientific” Prinsloo further tries to confuse the issue by referring to “the science of homeopathy” as though it should be thought of as a different kind of science. Not the same as double blinded clinically tested and evidence based science, but a subtle and complex science. Because it cannot show a measurable effect when scientifically tested. BECAUSE IT’S NOT SCIENCE!
Despite Prinsloo’s assertions to the contrary (which are not backed up by ANY form of citation and so may very well have been made up out of whole cloth by Prinsloo) homeopathic treatments have been tested by the scientific establishment. Vigorously. Repeatedly. In good faith. Just in case this once there might actually be an effect. To date the balance of the evidence shows that there is no effect of homeopathic treatments which can be attributed to the substance in the pill / vial and not to the therapeutic effect of having a caring doctor talk to you for an hour before prescribing those treatments – The Placebo Effect. A medical term which is not “unexplained and suggested” per Prinsloo’s mischaracterization, but describes a thoroughly studied physiological response.
Finally I would like to point out one more statement made by Prinsloo in his ramblings about “Homeopathy Mythical or Scientific”
“It should also be remembered that in every single case where a so-called scientist or medical practitioner speaks out against homeopathy, it is someone that has never studied or practiced homeopathy”
While I may not meet all (or ANY) of Prinsloo’s arbitrarily defined criteria for being a suitable commenter on homeopathy, I can sure as hell think of someone who is and I have three words for Prinsloo;
Not an ignorant and not Gish galloping into the sunset on his homeopathic high horse either.
**I apologise for the abrupt ending to my response – in the light of our vocal sceptical response Dr Prinsloo has altered the statements on his website. He seems to think that doing so will somehow make us shut up and go away. It just so happens I saved the original documents onto my USB stick and have not altered them in any way. If someone can tell me how to legally host the original statements made by Dr Prinsloo I will happily do so.**