Silver-level articleDana Ullman

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Against allopathy

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Gregory Dana Ullman, MPH (born December 22, 1951) is a tireless and hard-working advocate of homeopathy. He holds a Master of Public Health degree from Berkeley and never goes out in public without "MPH" appended to his name, though this is not a medical qualification, but a qualification to become an administrator. He has no actual qualifications in either medicine or alternative medicine, and will happily point out that he was arrested for practising medicine without a license. Under the terms of a plea bargain (of sorts), he is required to sign a contract with all his patients explaining to them that he is not a medical doctor.[1]

Contents

[edit] Trolling for compliments (of homeopathy)

Ullman has a lengthy history of roving the Internet to defend and promote his woo. This not only includes promoting homeopathetic products everywhere he can,[2] but also trolling and harassing websites that are critical or even, in Wikipedia's case,[3] listing criticisms of him. This especially includes Internet forum pages and blogs that are skeptical of homeopathy in general, and his works and involvement in homeopathy in particular.[4] Ullman's often relies on an argumentum ad populum approach, claiming that because random historical celebrities use it, homeopathy works.[5]

He's well-known for suddenly showing up in the comments of blogs that mention homeopathy in order to give long-winded spiels about how homeopathy really works.[6] Despite evidently having far too much free time, he is well-respected amongst his fellow cranks, with regular articles at the Huffington Post,[7] book recommendations from the Talk-Show Queen Oprah,[8] through various published books, and the occasional article in woo-promoting journals.[9] He has also attempted to promote himself and homeopathy on Wikipedia,[10] Citizendium, and many other Internet forums.

[edit] Crazy claims

Homeopathy in itself harms only the user's wallet, given that homeopathic remedies contain nothing but inert ingredients such as water, sugar or a tiny amount of alcohol. But what Ullman advocates for is often dangerous. Consider the following quote from "Unplugging From Your Medicine Cabinet: Respecting the Body's Intelligence":

It may be time to go on a special type of vacation: a drug vacation.* A drug vacation is a time in which you reduce the doses or eliminate entirely whatever drug or drugs you are taking. A drug vacation may give you (and your doctor) an opportunity to learn whether you really need to continue taking this drug or not. More important, this vacation will give your body an opportunity to manifest its everyday self-regulating and self-healing propensities without the crutch of a pharmaceutical agent inhibiting or suppressing its important work. IF you are ready, step away from the medicine cabinet. You may not even recognize it, but you may be addicted to one or more of the drugs there. It may be time that you received an intervention, though this time, you should probably intervene on yourself rather than have anyone do it for or to you.

That could kill you[11] Sure, there's a footnote in there claiming he's "primarily" talking about over-the-counter drugs, and says that while you should stop your prescription drugs too, consider doing it with your doctor's help. However, the article also says:

You've probably also experienced other symptoms and syndromes for which you've been encouraged to take additional drugs. If you're smart enough, you're wondering what interactions the drugs have. Your doctor has told you that "there are no problems" taking two, three, four or five medications together, but he cannot point to ANY research that has ever studied that question.

...Which sure sounds more like he's talking about prescription drugs.

Ullman also buys into the extreme homeopathic claims of "suppression", which basically states that if a non-homeopathic drug cures a symptom, then you're screwed. Why?

Little do many people know that when a drug “works,” this may be the “bad news.” It may be that the drug works by suppressing the disease, thereby creating a much more serious physical and/or mental disease.

The random bolding is in the original. He goes on to state, still randomly bolding his text, that:

Such suppression of the disease process may lead to increased chronic disease, immune dysfunction, and mental illness, all of which we are seeing together in epidemic proportions.[12]

As if regular homeopathy wasn't quackery enough!

[edit] Tactics

Dana Ullman's Wikipedia profile; lots of truth.

Dana Ullman edited for a time on Wikipedia, where, unlike his normal fields of debate, everything he says was kept and cannot be dumped down a memory hole. This allows for a detailed analysis of his bizarre and, sometimes, hilarious tactics. An even more lengthy (but very pedantic) analysis can be found elsewhere.

[edit] Cherry picking

You've ignored the findings of Linde et al, and instead reported the bits of data that suit your point of view.
—Hesperian (on Wikipedia), describing Ullman's use of a study.

Using cherry picking tactics, is certainly not specific to Ullman - every pseudoscience peddler in existence uses it. However, Ullman had his own very special twist on it: when Wikipedians would block his attempts on the main homeopathic article, he began targeting articles on substances that happened to be used in homeopathy, and would use insignificant, positive studies involving those substances as an excuse for huge rants about how wonderful homeopathy supposedly is. Conversely, if someone tried to add one of the major studies that showed homeopathy don't work, say, Shang et al?

My NPOV reference is to a study of this substance! Shang review has nothing to do with this specific chemical.
—Ullman's edit summary while converting an article back to quackery.

[edit] Obscure sources are the best sources

One of the biggest challenges to countering Ullman is his use of a collection of obscure sources, many of which are not online in any form. Thus, debating the validity of a study you can't read is much harder, and Ullman will use this to his advantage to bamboozle anyone who doesn't go to extreme lengths to check his claims.

Sample

The Wikipedia article on "Arsenicum album", a supposedly popular homeopathic "treatment," had originally been created as a piece of pure promotional puffery, with such hilarious and bizarre statements as "Peppermint (or other mint products), coffee (or other products containing caffeine), and alcohol may reduce the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies, and should be avoided when using arsenicum album." (So, what, they work worse than placebo if taken with those?)[13] - but more rational editors had gotten it down to a reasonable - though very short - article until Ullman arrived.[14]

Then Ullman arrived and, armed with a study J.C. Cazin et al.. "A Study of the Effect of Decimal and Centesimal Dilution of Arsenic on Retention and Mobilization of Arsenic in the Rat," Human Toxicology, July 1987 -[15] which he planned to convert into a positive article about Arsenicum album - the wonderful remedy that can help you.[16]

Ullman was very upset when people tried to keep him from using this wonderful source. In a section he entitled "An important study was deleted", he wrote about how "it was published in one of the leading journals in toxicology", and continued to praise the importance of the journal over and over.

So, Ullman, we're having a little trouble finding this leading journal. Can you help us?

Oh, really. But what would you say if Hesperian pointed out that "Thomson Scientific's Journal Citation Reports lists 76 journals in the "toxicology" category. It doesn't list journals entitled "Human Toxicology", nor "Human and Veterinary Toxicology", but it does list a journal named "Veterinary and Human Toxicology". When listed in order of impact factor, H&VT ranks 68th out of 76 journals"?

You sure about that? What journal was it in again?

...Guess what, Dana? Every single one of those supposed name changes is wrong! The journal was originally Human Toxicology, and changed its name to Human and Experimental Toxicology, a name it retains to this day [3]. And it's a decidedly low impact journal (Journal eigenfactor: 0.0028658, Article Influence: 0.24856).

So, on what basis were you saying this journal - which you don't know the name of - was a leading journal in its field?

...

Guess what else, Dana? Human Toxicology has a very special section in it which you didn't bother to mention. Let's let the publishers tell us about it:

...So, you found a crappy study published in a journal that gives over one article an issue to some crackpot theory? Good job!

[edit] Anyone else have déjà vu here?

Like all the best trolls, having lost an argument doesn't mean things are over. Just wait a week or so and bring it up all over again! If you're lucky, people will let you start the whole discussion from scratch. If not, claim they're clearly biased and stonewalling, because they refuse to discuss the issue (again).

Sample:

For three and a half months in early 2008, the Wikipedia article on Potassium dichromate was taken over by endless discussions of whether or not a general article on a chemical substance should promote homeopathy. Ullman and a couple of lackeys said "Yes!", everyone else disagreed. Ullman first tried to add it to the article on 15 January... several times - and, when the discussion after that went against him, he just claimed victory and added it again anyway. Soon after that was reverted, the administrators stepped in to say that no one could edit the page for a little bit.

Ullman bided his time, and attempted to restart the discussion from scratch on 30 January. Nobody was very impressed with this. But Ullman knew what to do: Wait until April, point out that one of the editors who disagreed with him had been blocked, and thus the discussion needed to be done again without him.

At this point, the words "We've already thoroughly discussed this. You've made no new arguments here that bear responding to. If you're interested in continuing the discussion, go back and address arguments already made against your position - or even possibly consider that in this one case, your position might be wrong." began appearing on the page over and over again, like some sort of madness mantra. I can't think why.

And so, Dana makes his final stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Homeopathic way: State the same argument yet again, and when people still refuse to discuss it, claim everyone ELSE is stonewalling.

It was about that point that Ullman was banned from Wikipedia for a year.

[edit] You agree with me! Really you do!

Dana Ullman is in your edit history, mining your quotes

Ullman loves quote mining. Indeed, his book, The Homeopathic Revolution: Famous People and Cultural Heroes Who Chose Homeopathy is largely based around this, using such wonderful examples as Charles Darwin, who wrote "in Homœopathy common sense and common observation come into play, and both these must go to the Dogs, if the infinitesimal doses have any effect whatever."[17] ...Wait, bad example. Let me check that... Oh, um, evidently, we're supposed to ignore Darwin attacking homeopathy, because Darwin was too afraid to ever tell anyone he actually supported it.[18] Quote mining the deceased is, as evidenced by frequent misrepresentations of Darwin, commonplace - yet Ullman takes this further by actually quote mining the very people he's debating with.

Ullman's ability to find agreement where none exists is demonstrated in the discussion that took place in relation to Wikipedia's article on potassium dichromate. This story began with Ullman wishing to include a pilot study that purported to show support for homeopathy. In response to allegations that he was pushing the study, he accused a detractor of bullying in order to suppress a study for which the consensus was that it should be included in the article, and commented that the study had already previously been included in the article for several weeks. He rounded off his post with the comment "Just in the past week or so, Scientizzle recommended that we reference it."[19]

The only time the study was included in the article was during an edit war sparked by Ullman's repeated attempts to insert the study in to the article. Scientizzle, a Wikipedia editor, was understandably surprised to hear of his alleged support for Ullman's efforts. Scientizzle responded with a link to the diffs (a record of edits made) and suggested that Ullman may have misread his criticism as glowing support for its inclusion.[20] Ignoring or missing Scientizzle's corrections, Ullman replied to another editor - once again claiming Scientizzle to be in support of Ullman's position. Scientizzle responding - asking Ullman if he'd read his earlier post?[21]

Ullman at that point issued another batch of allegations of bullying before providing a quote of Scientizzle's that did indeed suggest support for Ullman's position - but only after the quote had been suitably edited by Ullman. Both versions of the quote are reproduced here:

Ullman's version

 

Scientizzle's original version

I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic.... I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms."

 

I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic. (Even at List of homeopathic preparations, I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms.[ref]" statement).

Saying that the study could be briefly mentioned on a different page specifically dedicated to homeopathy, not in the article on a chemical Ullman wants to use it in doesn't support Ullman's argument, so it had to change. Ullman's "tendentious editing" lead to the discussion being closed and archive. Ullman was called to task by another editor for his "tendentious editing" and the conversation closed and archived.[22]

[edit] The Wikipedia motto of "Assume Good Faith" means to assume I'm right

Dana Ullman likes to use rules to his own ends. For instance, Wikipedia has a policy of "Assume Good Faith" ("AGF" for short), which is basically the sensible rule that, unless there's evidence otherwise, presume everyone is trying to help the project. It helps protect newbies, who might not realise the need to source facts, or might not realise the need to balance the presentation of all sides of a genuinely controversial issue, and encourages people to work together and discuss things before calling for outside help.

Ullman decided to have a... unique take on this. There's far too many examples to quote them all, but here's a sample:

"Assume good faith" apparently now means "Assume I'm right". But if you DON'T assume he's right, will he assume good faith?

...Nope!

[edit] Right to Reply is awesome

For anyone not aware, if a scientific journal publishes something critical of you or your work, you'll often have a "right to reply": send them a letter, follow a few guidelines as to length and content, and they'll publish whatever you say.

For example, the FASEB Journal included an editorial entitled "Homeopathy: Holmes, Hogwarts, and the Prince of Wales" in their September 1, 2006 issue[23] which briefly mentioned him:

It’s been said that “if homeopathy has a leader in the United States it is Dana Ullman MPH!” Mr. Ullman has written six major texts, and Penguin, his publishers, boast that he serves on the Advisory Council of the Alternative Medicine Center at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and is a consultant to Harvard Medical School’s Center to Assess

Alternative Therapy for Chronic Illness.

Penguin does not report that in the course of the anthrax outbreak in October of 2001, Mr. Ullman advised use of the homeopathic medicine Anthracinum for the prevention and treament of anthrax. This agent, gathered from infected swine, is called a nosode and its producers reassure the public that they are “diluted to a point where no molecules of the disease product remain.” (22) Well, nosodes and Anthracinum, miasmas and the like, which dot the Hogwarts curriculum of Mr.

Ullman’s site, are matched by those on the web-sites of the University Centers he has advised.

Ullman got a right to reply out of that,[24] and spent it cherry-picking studies and ranting about how homeopathy really works because... well, evidently because "[e]xperts in material sciences" say it does. So there! Weissman, the editor-in-chief of the journal, and author of the article Ullman was replying to, was not impressed.

Now, let's see how he uses that published right to reply letter elsewhere:

Infophile has now insisted upon a secondary source for this article. Now, let's see what he does with what he has requested. The FASEB Journal is a high-impact science journal...and here's that secondard source. [4]. Good, now, can we move on. I propose the following statement: One study with 50 patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were given a 30th potency of potassium dichromate (in Latin, Kali bichromicum) or a placebo. This study was published in a highly respected medical journal and conducted at the University of Vienna Hospital. It found substantially significant clinical effects in tracheal discharges, intubation rates, and length of stay in the hospital, though replication studies by independent parties are necessary before truly definitive statements can be made (such replication trials are presently in process).[25]

Wow. So, if a major scientific journal attacks you, you can now claim the glory of that journal for your pathetic little right to reply piece? And said piece means you're now right and so everyone has to let you do unashamed promotion of bullshit on Wikipedia? I need to get attacked in a scientific journal sometime!

[edit] The memory of a goldfish

After being banned for a year, Ullman decided to join in a discussion on a Cochrane review which had recently been withdrawn. As people were directly linking to the study (thus missing the withdrawal page), it was quoted with helpful bolding of the relevant bits. Emphasis original:

Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes

Andrew Vickers1, Claire Smith2

1Integrative Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA. 2Weston Education Centre, King’s College, London, UK

Contact address: Andrew Vickers, Integrative Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Avenue, New York, NY, 10021, USA. vickersa@mskcc.org. (Editorial group: Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group.)

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 3, 2009 (Status in this issue: Withdrawn)

Copyright © 2009 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd.

DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001957.pub4

This version first published online: 8 July 2009 in Issue 3, 2009.

Last assessed as up-to-date: 19 May 2006. (Help document - Dates and Statuses explained)

This record should be cited as: Vickers A, Smith C. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001957. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001957.pub4.

The editorial group responsible for this previously published document have withdrawn it from publication.
REASON FOR WITHDRAWAL

This review was withdrawn from The Cochrane Library, Issue 3, 2009 as the authors are currently unable to update it.

Ullman responded to this, saying "We all seem to be a tad confused on the meaning of this "withdrawal," though the review is still listed at their website..." and goes on to pedantically say that Wikipedia should quote anything positive said in the review anyway, as he always did.

Two days later, in the same thread, he scrolled past the bit that pointed out the word "Withdrawal" in bold, and wrote:

In due respect, the Oscillo research is still very much alive on the Cochrane site: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/homepages/106568753/CD001957_standard.pdf -- It seems to be the same body of information as in the 2006 article. I cannot find evidence at their website that it has been withdrawn. Can someone else? Further, if, by chance, someone finds such a reference, we need to understand what "withdrawn" means because there has not been any new research to disprove what their previous analysis provided. Unless someone provides this information, reversion to the original reference and description is in order. DanaUllmanTalk 17:47, 2 August 2009 (UTC)

Evidently, he cannot find evidence when he's been given the link, and had it quoted to him slightly further up the page.[26]

[edit] Smarm and condescension

Ullman is not particularly pleasant to talk to.

Sample

See every single quote of that smug bastard already provided.

[edit] The inevitable conclusion.

Unsurprisingly, he is now banned from any discussion of homeopathy on Wikipedia - in perpetuity.[27]

[edit] The evitable conclusion

After Ullman was banned from Wikipedia in 2008, Larry Sanger himself invited Ullman to edit on Citizendium,[28] and gave him the special "editor" rights that allowed him to take over their coverage of homeopathy.[29][30] This move convinced many that Citizendium was not a project to be taken seriously. Citizendium has lost most of its contributors and its traffic rank has dropped off the lowest values on Alexa's charts.

[edit] Can he really believe all the crap he spouts?

Bonkers Dana.png

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological term for the rationalizations and behaviours which allow one to avoid the self-esteem damaging effects of being wrong. All of Ullman's actions appear to be consistent with this: ignoring anything inconvenient, an unshakable belief he and homeopathy are always right, and his regular habit of rapidly forgetting anything that would be inconvenient to remember.[31] In short, it seems he does indeed believe everything he says - at least at the time - because he doesn't believe he can be wrong.

As we see with the tweet at left, despite Dana having invoked quantum in defence of homeopathy many times, he states that "quantum theory IS woo-woo". Now look who he's tweeting at: Professor Brian Cox OBE and Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, both tenured professors of physics at English universities and specialists in particle physics. There is no evidence that Dana has even a passing acquaintance with physics, just a real talent for hubris.

[edit] The (D)Ullman Law

Because of his strange, irrational arguments, and his tendency to make a complete ass out of himself in the most pompous, self-satisfied manner possible, Kimball Atwood created the "Dull-man Law", an Internet law (in the vein of Godwin's Law) which says that in any discussion involving science or medicine, being Dana Ullman loses you the argument immediately…and gets you laughed out of the room.[32]

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://www.otherhealth.com/homeopathy-list-discussion/7345-i-arrested-30-years-today-practicing-medicine-without-alicense.html
  2. Such as his Huffington Post column
  3. A small portion of his colorful history on Wikipedia
  4. Here's an example of his shameful trolling by him at the website Quackometer
  5. E.g. "In fact, there is a significant body of literature that shows that 11 U.S. Presidents and various world leaders, six popes and various leading clergy and spiritual leaders, Nobel Prize Laureates and other leading scientists and physicians, literary greats, sports superstars, musical geniuses, world-class artists, women's rights leaders, philanthropists and corporate leaders, and monarchs from all over the world have used and/or advocated for homeopathy." - "Homeopathic Medicine: My 'I Have a Dream' Speech" from the Huffington Post
  6. Mentioned in a comment here, example at Waffle, a fairly obscure blog that usually discusses art and music, and discussed on Science-Based Medicine here.
  7. Ullman at the Huffington Post
  8. Oprah Winfrey's Official Website has an entire page dedicated to Homeopathy
  9. E.g. [1].
  10. Ullman's Wikipedia contributions
  11. In certain controlled circumstances, a "med holiday" is an appropriate intervention -- for example, to troubleshoot adverse effects or drug interactions. This is most common in inpatient psychiatric treatment, when a patient with many meds on hir regimen worsens or develops (possibly med-induced) delirium. But this is an intervention by a physician, and not at all what Ullman is suggesting.
  12. Both quotes from "Don't Confuse Real Healing With Suppression Of The Disease", Huffington Post
  13. First revision of "Arsenicum album" on Wikipedia
  14. Last revision of "Arsenicum album" before Ullman
  15. [2]
  16. How Ullman converted a reasonable article into a hugely promotional one, in just five minutes!
  17. Quoted in a review of Ullman's book at the Quackometer.
  18. Second book review from Quackometer.
  19. Ullman claims consensus for the inclusion of a pro-homeopathy study in a Wikipedia article
  20. Scientizzle questions Ullman's claims that Scientizzle supports his proposal
  21. Scientizzle asks Ullman if he read his earlier post
  22. Ullman accused of quote mining
  23. Weissman, Gerald, Homeopathy: Holmes, Hogwarts, and the Prince of Wales, doi: 10.1096/fj.06-0901ufm September 1, 2006 The FASEB Journal vol. 20 no. 11 1755-1758
  24. Ullman, Dana, Let’s have a serious discussion of nanopharmacology and homeopathy doi: 10.1096/fj.06-1205ufm December 1, 2006 The FASEB Journal vol. 20 no. 14 2661]
  25. Dana Ullman, "Talk:Potassium dichromate/Archive 1" on Wikipedia.
  26. Archived page of "Talk:Homeopathy" on Wikipedia.
  27. Wikipedia Administrator's Noticeboard discussion
  28. Ullman was banned from Wikipedia on 30 July 2008 (for one year, extended soon after he returned from that break), and first edit to Citizendium was 25 September 2008. Combined with Ullman's post here, and Sanger's statements that anyone who advocates for privileging scientific evidence is not welcome at Citizendiumimg, it seems likely that Ullman's ban on Wikipedia directly led to his invite to Citizendium, as Sanger swooped in to get a high-profile he-didn't-care-what.
  29. A NEW and GOOD Alternative to Wikipedia,especially on homeopathy! (Dana Ullman, otherhealth.com forum post)
  30. Talk:Homeopathy > Draftimg (revision as of 22:26, 14 September 2010)
  31. "But wait a minute: Ullman must know these things, because this was only one of several times that he has graced the comments of this blog with his sophistry, including responses to my previous citings of…Linde/Jonas 1997, Jacobs 1994, and Reilly’s allergic rhinitis series." - Kimball Atwood at Science-Based Medicine
  32. The Dull-man Law
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