Thursday, March 27, 2014

#975: Sheri Nakken

Sheri Nakken describes herself as a “Hahnemann homeopath”, and even her own self-description rather brilliantly expresses the shortcomings of the woo she peddles. Whereas science-minded inquiries attempt to align the hypotheses with reality, and therefore evolve and change with incoming evidence, homeopathy has staid the same since its pseudo-scientific emergence some 150 years ago, which illustrates its core character pretty well – it’s a dogma for which aligment to reality and evidence was never a virtue or a goal. Nakken also promotes faith healing, and has herself been heavily promoted by many of the central pushers of quackery and fraud, such as the Mothering magazine.

Nakken is furthermore a signatory to the International Medical Council of Vaccination’s list of people (mostly quacks) who believe that vaccines pose a significant risk of harm to the health of children and that there is no real science backing the “vaccine mythology” which claims that vaccines are somehow good for children. The list is about as impressive as the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism list.

Nakken’s online courses in homeopathy have apparently contributed to the spawning of a range of crackpots; Rolando Arafiles was for instance a one-time student of Nakken’s.

Diagnosis: Sorry, there is no way around it: Sheri Nakken is an absolutely appalling human being. And it is a tragedy that people pay her any kind of attention.


  1. Another example of people writing something they know nothing about. I would bet you have never sat down and had one conversation with Ms. Nakken. If you didn't get the memo...1 in 68 children have autism. My child is one of those. Although he was not born with it. He retreated into autism the day he got 7 shots....Homeopathy has been beneficial in healing my son. Get your facts straight. You are either terrified of learning the truth or you are paid by some whack job in the Pharma field.............

    1. According to newer diagnostic criteria autism is pretty prevalent, yes. That is relevant precisely because of ... what, exactly?

      And I am genuinely happy that your child has experienced improvement, but anecdotes like this are not very relevant to determining the efficacy of a treatment. You are aware that improvements in autistic conditions are relatively common, and that various factors, such as training or ways of interacting with an autistic child can often greatly improve the situation, right? So on what grounds do you determine that it the *homeopathy* has had any beneficial effect, especially given the complete absence of evidence for homeopathic treatments in large, well-controlled studies? You are aware of that?

      And on what grounds do you determine that "he was not born with it"? There are few claims that have been so thoroughly refuted as the claim that there is any causal connection between autism and vaccines. What *is* illuminating is that in many cases where parents have claimed that their children showed no sign of autism before they received their vaccines (Jenny McCarthy, many of the participants in the Wakefield experiments, plenty of autism omnibus cases) witnesses and video evidence have shown the opposite. That said, kids do receive vaccines at approximately the time when autism diagnoses are usually set, so - given our poor ability to distinguish correlation from causation - it is no wonder why the vaccine/autism hypothesis remains popular among those with little knowledge of the research, despite the fact that it is incorrect.

      Ah, and of course - the pharma shill gambit, and the always delectable "I disagree with you; therefore I conclude that must be in a conspiracy against me."

    2. Well Laura...there's not much else to say to the ones who choose to remain blind but who continue to engage in very impressive geek speak. I'm glad your son is improving, as I've seen with so many others in CH care. Myself being one. Oh, that's right, I'm just an Take care!

    3. Well, not that I suspect that any of you will listen to reason, but for the benefit of other potential readers: People continued to use blood-letting as a treatment for hundreds of years. They clearly believed that it worked, and were able to refer to plenty of people who claimed to have gotten better with the treatment - even though blood-letting demonstrably only can make people worse. And thus they continued to kill people with blood-letting for centuries, honestly believing that they were helping. How is that possible? Maybe you could try to give that some thought?

      Of course, we know quite a bit about the mechanisms that ensure that no matter what people do when they are ill, they may come to believe that it helps. Confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, selective uses of evidence are powerful effects, especially combined with regression to the mean. But those effects, of course, only apply to those who disagree with you, right? It doesn't matter that all seriously conducted studies that actually take these effects into account (counteracting them with controls, blinding, and sample sizes) show absolutely no effect of homeopathic treatments.

  2. What if I told you that your inability to grasp 'Homeopathy' is not an argument against it?

    1. And what, precisely, is it that I fail to grasp about homeopathy, you think?

    2. @GD Your comments about homeopathy shows that you know NOTHING! Never seen a chronic disease cured. In contrast can you tell me of just one example where through the application of modern day drugs a chronic disease was cured without any damage or side effect and without the drug having to be taken for a long period.

    3. It's true that curing chronic illnesses is often a long and complicated process, and often unsuccessful. That's not the question.

      The question is whether homeopathy works. Well, we know a lot about the mechanisms that can lead people to be completely convinced that a treatment works even when it has no effect (confirmation bias, regression to the mean, selection bias, motivated reasoning and so on). That applies to testing homeopathy as well as any other drug. To test whether a treatment *is* in fact efficacious and not just apparently efficacious due to the effects mentioned, you have to control for those effects when you test the treatment. That has been done repeatedly for homeopathic remedies. And when the biases are controlled for, homeopathic remedies come out having no effect whatsoever.

      For a few of the classic studies, see:
      Kleinjen J., P. Knipschild, and G. ter Reit. "Clinical trials of homeopathy." British Medical Journal. 302: 316-323, 1991.

      Hill, C. and F. Doyon. "Review of randomized trials of homeopathy," Review d'epidemiologie et de sante publique, 38(2):139-47, 1990.

      Taylor, M. A., Reilly, D., Llewellyn-Jones, R. H., McSharry, C., and Aitchison, T. C. (2000) "Randomised Controlled Trial of Homoeopathy Versus Placebo in Perennial Allergic Rhinitis with Overview of Four Trial Series" BMJ 321, 471-476

      Wagner, M. W. 1997. "Is Homeopathy 'New Science' or 'New Age'?" Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 1(1):7-12.

      Sampson W, and W. London. "Analysis of homeopathic treatment of childhood diarrhea." Pediatrics 96:961-964, 1995.

      Ramey, David W. "The Scientific Evidence on Homeopathy," Health Priorities, Volume 12, Number 1, 2000.

      And so on, and so forth (there are literally hundreds of them).

      If homeopathy were efficacious, then it should show up in these studies (when bias is accounted for). It doesn't, which makes for overwhelming evidence that homeopathy doesn't work. For why people still continue to believe that it does, this one is helpful and, in particular, this. The NCAHF position paper here sums things up pretty well. It's a bit old, but homeopathy hasn't changed since 1991 in any case.

      But of course, I suspect that some may go with some of the commenters here and - instead of accepting the abundant evidence - assume that it is all an elaborate conspiracy for some rather nebulous purposes.

    4. What's to grasp? There is, quite literally, nothing in it

  3. It's unfortunate that you have omitted the fact that there are many people whose lives have been enriched by knowing Ms. Nakken and receiving her counsel.

  4. For the N's, I have a few selections
    John Nolte (denied the existence of the Vatican's coverup of pedophile priests and also denies the homophobia of Family Research Council)
    John de Nugent (white supremacist)
    Gary North
    David Noebel
    Joanne Nova (climate change denialist)
    Daniel Neiman (woo-merchant)
    Christiane Northrup (another woo-merchant)
    James I. Niehnhus (creationist and fundamentalist blogger)
    Andrew Napolitano (the recent diatribe he wrote about Lincoln and the Civil War needs to be seen to be believed)
    William J. Murray (unhinged fundie nutcase behind the Government Is Not God PAC, you missed him for this round, so round 3?)

    1. Yeah, I missed Murray. I also missed Daniel Neiman - had already posted the entry on Nemeh before I checked out that name.

    2. (Actually, Joanne Nova is Australian)

  5. Sheri is very impressive, she is excellent on vaccines and we have a lot to thank her for. We must take into consideration that infectious disease is a deeply flawed concept in the sense that, for example, a flu germ leaves the body through the oral cavity and infects another person. In fact, I see no evidence of infection through this pathway; hence, coughs and sneezes do not spread diseases. Yes, there are microbes a plenty that are spread around and may well cause some kind of response in the sense of hormones or whatever the case may be, but this does not translate into an infectious germ - a theory based on wishful thinking, a vivid imagination. As an example, flu is similar to most disease in the sense that it is an inside out phenomena, not outside in as we are led to believe. We don’t ‘catch’ flu, that is nonsense. Saliva is not harmful and I cannot see a so-called virus being expelled from the body and causing any harm because this does not happen. We need to understand that the body expels waste matter and so-called living germs are an intrinsic part of a biological system. When a germ leaves that system, it is then waste matter and it is then outside that system and so of little use. To say that this germ still retains super human qualities is total nonsense. That is the theory of germ; it’s merely a theory and nothing more. Look at wolves and kangaroos and humans, they lick each other on the mouth but there is no infectious process. The theory of infection flunks the practical test, it really does not happen.

    The contents of a vaccine will cause a toxicological reaction and this is a very dangerous practice. This is why those vaccinated can react badly because this is blood poisoning. In science, we translate this toxicological response into infectious disease, yet another fatal error.

    I knew a young mother who once had a healthy baby, she took it to the doctor and he jabbed the baby and in ten days’ time, it was dead. You can imagine that the young mother was very upset about this. If Sheri Nakken had treated this baby, failing any fatal accidents, the baby would be alive and well to this day. Her treatment would not have killed that baby. Don't forget that science has made some terrible mistakes, polio circa 1950s was never an infectious disease; it was caused by DDT poisoning – a poison disease. I mention polio because ‘polio virus’ and ‘polio vaccine’ was a monumental blunder on a mass scale.

    The condemnation aimed at Sheri should be directed at those who damage children, meaning vaccines and ultrasound scanners who between the two of them have destroyed the health of children on a mass scale. One in six US children now has a developmental disability - what an absolute disgrace this is. We have done this to our children because of our fears, greed, ignorance and lies. When we cannot face this grim reality and so we choose to attack a homeopath, then this is not rational. Regardless of whether homeopathy is good or bad, I have yet to find a homeopath that has achieved so much as to damage children on a mass scale. I met a woman who gave birth to a few children but one happens to be profoundly deaf. Was this child another casualty of vaccine/ultrasound. The chances that we have damaged this child are extremely high, but the reality is that there are no statistics because causation is rarely ascertained.

    When doctors base their treatment on bad science, then their medicine will also be bad. To rectify this, we don’t need a scientific paper based on rotten science; we need a sociologist, a psychologist or even a philosopher because we cannot address serious issues such as this because of a mindless defence of a dogma through human, industrial and political greed. So what is the answer, what do we do, let’s blame Sheri Nakken, it must be her fault! John Wantling, Rochdale, UK

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  7. Every day an uncaring Universe challenges our happiness and our very survival. We want desperately to know the answers to our problems. It’s so easy to fool ourselves that we have them, so hard to be content not to know. I think the reason so few adopt the scientific worldview is that one must accept how little we can know with confidence, and so often all we can know is that our hopes have been dashed.

    Science’s greatest value is as a way of trying not to fool ourselves. Rigorous empiricism and inter-subjective verification may be limited tools, but without them there is no way to know whether we’re fooling ourselves or not. Science can’t give us all the answers we’d like, but at least we can have a measure of confidence in those it does give us.

    IMO, Sheri Nahken and her fellow CAM promoters are blinded by both hope and pride. They aren't trying not to fool themselves, because they lack the humility even to acknowledge that as a possibility. They pay lip service to Science but are casual in their empiricism, for example by treating anecdotes as data. They'll gladly dispense with verification by more disciplined observers, and indeed will shoot the skeptical messenger who tries to point out the errors in their methods, rather than accept that the Universe is indifferent to their hopes. Understandable perhaps, but still vain, foolish, and unhelpful or even harmful to their patients in the end. A cautionary tale!

  8. At one point, I was skeptical myself, about homeopathy. I recently tried it with my 6 year old (who was diagnosed with PANDAS). We have made the most progress with homeopathy than other conventional treatments we have tried. We used a different homeopathic practitioner than whom this article was written. It sounds like the author who write this was a pretty close-minded person. Perhaps she should actually speak to Sherri Nakken and gather more info. before writing such hurtful and harsh misinformation.

    1. Another 100-point anecdote, in other words. You didn't bother to read why anecdotes don't constitute evidence before you posted, did you? Very well; I'll repost the link to a good discussion here. I don't have much confidence that you'll read it, but there it is; it's good.

      I am unsure what you mean by "close-minded" here. Is it close-minded to reject claims that are demonstrably false? What, in that case, do you think is involved in being open-minded? You see, most of us distinguish being open-minded from being gullible. Open-mindedness means being willing to *consider* a hypothesis, it does not mean *endorsing* any claim that comes your way. Indeed, given the vast amounts of evidence that homeopathy doesn't work, it seems pretty close-minded to continue to believe that it does - it seems to be a matter of arrogantly trusting one's own intuitions and what one wants to be the case regardless of what reality says, and without ever modestly considering the possibility that one is wrong.

      I am willing to change my mind if I am offered sufficient evidence (methodologically sound to rule out alternative explanations of apparent efficacy, and of sufficient volume to rule out the existing evidence against homeopathy). Many of the other commenters here are, apparently, not.

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  10. GD, I don't know if you follow Science-Based Medicine. Relative to homeopathy, yesterday's post, by Steven Novella MD.

    "Homeopathy has no basis in medicine, physiology, chemistry, or even physics. It is one of the few claims about which I am willing to say, it cannot possibly work.

    Unsurprisingly, when homeopathic products are tested in rigorous clinical trials, they don’t work."

  11. Ms. Nakken apparently is so threatened by actual science that she's hijacked the review section of my book on Amazon to turn it into her own personal lecture series.