Thursday, June 03, 2010

Homeopathy cures breast cancer!

Every once in a while, perhaps more often than we'd like to admit, peer review fails. This time a paper published in the International Journal of Oncology claims that homeopathic preparations (Carcinosin, Phytolacca, Conium and Thuja) are cytotoxic to breast cancer cell lines. Now I don't mind homeopathic formulations being tested scientifically, although I'm sure MD Anderson Cancer Center could have put that money to better use, but I couldn't help but be suspicious. New Scientist points the finger at the peer review process, and rightfully so. I didn't even need to read the paper, just took a look at their figures: no measurement of the active elements shown (although we're supposed to take their word for it), no statistics shown on the MTT assay and clearly the diluent (EtOH) can account for the effect (now alchohol has memory too?) and most glaringly the western blots showing the mechanism are lacking proper controls for the various timepoints. In fact it tells us exactly what happened, changes in the cyclins and caspases suggests the cells are over-confluent and dying off. Most shockingly, according to the New Scientist, this study was mentioned in the British parliament as an argument for more funding for alternative medicine. But even if peer review is "fixed", it's almost inevitable that wrong findings are going to be published, perhaps what we should do is teach parliamentarians how to weigh evidence.

At least we know that homeopathic medicine can sometimes demonstrably save lives, as the case of Billy Joel's daughter's attempted suicide with homeopathic sleeping pills. I guess she hadn't heard of the 10:23 campaign.


Kamel said...

Wow. That sounds like a pretty terrible paper, and full debunkings are already available online.

My question is what do we think went wrong in the process? And what do we propose as a fix?

gawp said...

peer review is a coarse filter and is an artifact of the mail driven communications of the past. It depends on the quality of the reviewers and the chances of getting 3 bad or careless reviewers is non-zero.

I think it's still a good idea, but more explicit mechanisms post-publication review are also warranted. There's no reason a paper once published needs to be immutable anymore. One can imagine a paper published, criticized, amended and even retracted all being part of the same "publication" thread.

breast cancer survivor said...

There no cure known for breast cancer. Scientists not know not why Most women obtain breast cancer, still breast cancer is tumor more frequent found in women worldwide.

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