[Adam Cuerden] Citizendium: The Encyclopedia only pro-Homeopathy editors can editFebruary 12th, 2009 by Adam Cuerden
Larry Sanger, part-founder of Wikipedia, wrote in 2001:
How are we to write articles about pseudoscientific topics, about which majority scientific opinion is that the pseudoscientific opinion is not credible and doesn't even really deserve serious mention?
If we're going to represent the sum total of "human knowledge"--of what we believe we know, essentially--then we must concede that we will be describing views repugnant to us without asserting that they are false. Things are not, however, as bad as that sounds. The task before us is not to describe disputes fairly, on some bogus view of fairness that would have us describe pseudoscience as if were on a par with science; rather, the task is to represent the majority (scientific) view as the majority view and the minority (sometimes pseudoscientific) view as the minority view, and, moreover, to explain how scientists have received pseudoscientific theories. This is all in the purview of the task of describing a dispute fairly.
This became part of Wikipedia's policies, and remains so to this day. However, in Sanger's new project, Citizendium, he's thrown this noble goal out the window, and actively works to suppress views skeptical of homeopathy.
However, let's discuss the Citizendium Homeopathy article first.
The Citizendium article was largely written by Dana Ullman, who Time magazine described as the "leading proselytizer of homeopathy". It shows: Criticism is practically non-existant, and what little remains is pretty much strawmen designed to be attacked and knocked down, or exist solely as statements on the line of "some criticism exists. Now back to more informatiion about this great form of alternative medicine you should try"
The early sections are pretty bad in themselves - discussing the process of homeopathic dilution with no mention that no molecules are likely to remain in most homeopathic remedies - I should probably quickly explain for the uninitiated:
First off, it's possible to know the number of molecules in an initial substance if you know its mass and its molecular weight, and there are upper limits to how many molecules could exist in a certain volume or mass of substance. Homeopathic remedies use serial dilution to the point that 1part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1060, or 30C in homeopathic notation) is the level of dilution recommended by Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, for most treatments.
The number of molecules in one mole of substance is 6.022 x 1023 If you started with a mole of the substance meant to be homeopathically diluted, you'd go over that at 24X or 12C in homeopathic notation, meaning that, at those dilutions - and most homeopathich treatments are at those levels or higher - the chance of you having even a single molecule of the original substance would be only about 60%. At the 30C dilution recommended by Hahnemann, you'd have less than 1 chance in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of getting one molecule of the original substance.
So, having ignored well-sourced and valid criticism, the article then moves into outright promotion:
A fundamental reason for conflict between conventional medicine and homeopathy is that homeopathy rejects the concept of treatments that target mechanisms of disease, and instead uses remedies that target syndromes of symptoms that they believe strengthen a person's overall constitution. Some homeopathic protocols might look like the following:
- A physician qualified in both homeopathy and conventional medicine, after diagnosing a chronic condition that does not indicate the need for medical urgency, will usually first prescribe a homeopathic remedy which he feels may be more effective and is likely to have fewer side effects than conventional drugs.
and even downright dangerous recommendations:
- Homeopaths disagree with conventional medicine about the role of immunization and chemoprophylaxis for infectious diseases and prefer to prescribe homeopathic remedies that they believe will strengthen a person's immune and defense system.
- For some disease conditions, such as asthma and acute bronchitis, homeopathic remedies are often prescribed not only to alleviate chronic symptoms, but also to treat acute attacks. Homeopathic remedies might also be used after an asthmatic episode with the intent to prevent recurrences.
Homeopaths are given the final word against any of the very weak strawman arguments allowed to be placed against them:
While homeopaths also want to understand how their medicines work, they assert that there is a double standard in medicine and science because there is a long history of certain conventional medical treatments that have no known mechanism of action but that are regularly used; only relatively recently, for instance, has it been understood how aspirin works, but before then doctors used it regularly despite an inadequate understanding of its actual mechanism. Further, homeopaths assert that the overall evidence for homeopathy, including clinical research, animal research, basic sciences research, historical usage of homeopathic medicines in the successful treatment of people in various infectious disease epidemics, and widespread and international usage of homeopathic medicines today, provide extraordinary evidence for the benefits of this system
And then moves on to a section that can best be described as "Let's not let those mean scientists determine who's right. WE'LL decide who's right!":
The “balance of evidence” as to whether homeopathy has any effects other than placebo effects depends on who is balancing the evidence. Homeopaths strongly value the evidence of their own experience in treating patients, supported by the satisfaction reported by their patients in surveys; they believe that this is sufficient evidence of efficacy, but also state that most published clinical trials have shown some beneficial effects.
And, finally, a grand Galileo gambit:
Mainstream scientists and medical professionals are also often interested in homeopathy, despite generally being dismissive of the theories and of the claims for efficacy. They are interested in why so many people believe in homeopathy, when they consider that it has no plausibility. They are interested too in why some studies appear to have positive outcomes - do these reflect real efficacy, or can they be accounted for by flaws in study design or in statistical analysis, or "publication bias" - the tendency for small studies with chance positive outcomes to be published while studies with negative or inconclusive outcomes are not. They also are interested in whether positive results against expectation sometimes reflect manipulation of data or perhaps even fraud.
This interest has a much broader relevance than homeopathy. A huge number of research papers are published every year in the scientific literature - PubMed covers more than 6,000 journals in biology and medicine, and excludes very many journals that do not meet its quality criteria. Many of these papers report results that turn out to be wrong for many different reasons. Usually, errors are exposed when attempts to replicate the data fail; often contradictory results are reported, but often papers are quietly "forgotten" - never cited because their flaws become evident. Sometimes in conventional science overt fraud is revealed, but often it is impossible to confirm that fraud is present. But in conventional science generally, what counts is replicability - it doesn't matter whether unreliable results are the result of fraud or error, individual reputations depend ultimately on publishing important data that can be replicated consistently. Accordingly, scientists are professionally concerned with understanding the sources of error - including all sources of error, in study design, methodology, analysis and interpretation; and for some of them, homeopathy seems like a source of examples where they feel that the conclusions "must" be wrong, so finding the sources of error can teach important lessons.
Of course, it is possible that mainstream scientists and physicians have it wrong; perhaps homeopathy is indeed effective, and, if so, there is something important to be studied. Mainstream scientists enjoy a considerable degree of trust, and their assertions are often accorded considerable "authority". Some may exploit this authority, but the ethos of science generally is one of disciplined skepticism - including skepticism about all that we think we know. Scientific theories are never proven, but always provisional, subject to revision and occasional abandonment as knowledge grows. So scientists generally reject arguments from authority as being of any value - only arguments from reason, embracing current knowledge and understanding count, and these are arguments that each scientist must make for himself or herself, and make afresh as fresh knowledge comes.
There's more, like the section "A typical homeopathic visit", which reads like something out of a pamphlet advertising homeopathy, or "Scientific basis of homeopathy", which presents a half-dozen unsupported crank theories on how homeopathy supposedly could work as accepted scientific fact. But why do I say Larry Sanger is personally censoring any views that aren't in favour of homeopathy?
Because he's doing exactly that. Here's a short thread from the Talk page of Citizendium's Homeopathy article:
The contents of the article on Homeopathy on Wikipedia is controlled by the theorizing, skeptical, critics who have never tried Homeopathy. Anybody who is pro-Homeopathy is banned. I hope someone can change that!Ramanand Jhingade 13:27, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
Is it really necessary to attack people that choose not to try homeopathy? "Theorizing, skeptical critic who have never tried XXX", whatever XXX may be, gives the flavor of anyone who is not a proponent of XXX is an enemy. I would have thought that your experience here indicates that people can be critical but not enemies. Further, I would have thought that it has been established that one can form a reasonable judgment on something without actually experiencing it -- or are all obstetricians status para > 0?Howard C. Berkowitz 00:21, 12 February 2009 (UTC)
Oh, dear, one of those seems unduly nasty! Larry Sanger himself steps in... and, of course, removes not the one directly attacking people and bashing all people skeptical of homeopathy, but Berkowitz's polite response to it, replacing it with:
A comment here was deleted by The Constabulary on grounds of making complaints about fellow Citizens. If you have a complaint about the behavior of another Citizen, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. It is contrary to Citizendium policy to air your complaints on the wiki. See also CZ:Professionalism.
In the article, all criticism of homeopathy is being suppressed, and the homeopaths are allowed to run the show. On the talk page, attacks on critics of homeopathy are allowed to stand, but polite objections to these attacks are being deletedby Sanger himself. This highly biased deletion of posts is a level of discourse usually found in crank forums, not in a "professional" encyclopedia which was intented to show that its system was far superior to Wikipedia. Despite Citizendium's slogan of sorts, found on every page: "We are creating the world's most trusted encyclopedia and knowledge base", this article and the actions on its talk page remove any credibility that Citizendium might have.
For instance, this is the only statement of criticism in the entire opening section, which is about a page, with the sentence after it provided for context:
Although homeopathy is practiced by some medical doctors, as well as by other health professionals in virtually every country in the world, most mainstream medical doctors and scientists, particularly those in the West, do not accept the principles of homeopathy today. In addition to those homeopathic remedies prescribed in the professions practicing homeopathy, remedies are used by consumers all over the world for self-treatment of common self-limiting ailments and injuries.
That's it, and there won't be any mention of criticism again until about the third page, where there's a brief mention that some people objected to allowing homeopaths to advertise their treatments as effective based on homeopathic "provings" alone.
 The use of one mole is a gross exaggeration in favour of homeopathy: of all the solid or liquid substance (at room temprature) in existence, the one with the lowest atomic weight is atomic Lithium, which has seven grams to a mole and fills about 13 cubic cenimetres. It would be physically impossible to fit a mole of pretty much every substance known to exist into the size and weight of a homeopathic pill (with the possible exception of very exotic materials, such as liquid (or solid) hydrogen or helium), and more typical things used in homeopathy, like the organic molecules found in plants or inorganic oxides can have hundreds or even thousands of grams in a mole. Hence, the case for homeopathy is actually far worse than described above.
ADDENDUM: We have CELEBRITY TROLLING in the comments - Dana Ullman, evidently so insecure that he's worried what a no-name university student is saying about him on a fairly obscure blog can't help but show up and complain. Have a read of it - it's pretty hilarious, and even includes a claim that if you do basic applications of physical and chemical laws, like in this post's analysis of the number of molecules in homeopathic treatments, then somehow love doesn't exist.