I’d rather be ‘cured’ by a placebo than rely on science and remain ill

90

If the choice is between a New Age effect that works or sickness in the world of Dawkins, I’ll take the meaningless pill

Another day, another homeopathic smackdown. This time it was the turn of Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, who informed the Commons Science and Technology Committee in no uncertain terms that homeopathy was “rubbish”, that homeopaths were “peddlers” and that homeopathic pills themselves were no more effective than a placebo.


Davies, you see, has devoted her life to the practice of genuine, traditional and empirically validated medical science and is thus apparently perturbed by the popularity of alternative therapies, claiming to be “perpetually surprised” that homeopathy is provided on the NHS (to the tune, according to some sources, of up to £4 million a year).

Of course, no one wants to argue with Davies, and we all know that homeopathy hasn’t yet mastered the art of public relations (beardy man in brown jumper + vial of bellis perennis = nuts). But there’s something in the familiar surety of her rejection that niggles. It’s the same dismissive stance of the self-appointed champions of reason who are forever on the lookout for so-called bad science and keen to beat us all into submission with the rationality stick.

I’m thinking here mostly of Richard Dawkins (although Bad Scienceauthor Ben Goldacre is a close second), whose Channel 4 documentary The Enemies of Reason was a true low-point in the annals of intellectual bullying. Here, after sneering through a group meditation and dreaming of “supercomputers that can make 60 trillion calculations per second”, Dawkins took apart the “bizarre” world of homeopathy, concluding, unsurprisingly, that in the face of modern science, “It just doesn’t make sense.”

And yet isn’t the irony here that modern science doesn’t make sense either? Anybody who knows anything about the history of science will tell you that it’s a moveable feast, a constantly shifting terrain of narrative ideas and malleable theories. The long-cherished Newtonian model of the atom, for instance (you know, nucleus at the centre, electrons whizzing around it), is an outmoded joke when compared with the cutting edge of quantum physics, which itself is based more on belief, theory and expectation than actual visible, tangible evidence (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anyone?).

And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with the placebo effect? Hell, if I’ve got the choice of being cured by the best New Age placebo effect or remaining ill in the world of Dawkins and supercomputers, I’ll take a sugary meaningless placebo pill any day.

And, yes, of course, I get it too. I understand it. Nobody likes being patronised by a hippy with a book of spells. But, equally, isn’t this blind faith in the teachings of the medical-industrial complex, not to mention the attendant appetite for the products of multinational pharmaceutical companies, kind of limiting? Isn’t it just a bit, well, ignorant? What did Einstein say? “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” I’m pretty sure that he means you too, science.

Note: Source is behind a paywall


continue to source article at thetimes.co.uk

90 COMMENTS

  1. someone please tell me this is a spoof? If this moron is for real, does he not realise that the choice to be cured of an ailment is not between water molecules that remember the curative substance they have been in one in a billion molecules with, and Dawkins’s super computers.it is between his ridiculous homeopathy nonsense or mainstream, PROVEN TO WORK medicine.

    [Edited by moderator]

  2. Damn,if the laws of physics change tomorrow my laptop probably won’t work and I’ll have to wait for somebody to redesign a new one,then again,I’ll probably be dead too,so,I won’t care,happy days…

  3. Sure, if Homeopathy worked, but wasn’t understood, then Doctors would use it, and no one would argue with the decision to use it; and I would happily recieve treatment based on this principle. However, in the real world, homeopathy has been proven NOT to work, and has not a single ioata of evidence showing that it does indeed work. In the real world, where homeopathy doesn’t work, it’s ridiculous to continue funding it. We have medicine that works, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for better medicine; only that we shouldn’t pursue methods which are a waste of resources.

    The whole point in science is to change your mind and perception based on EVIDENCE. With a lack of evidence in regards to homeopathy, why would you have us pursue it?

  4. Luckily the article is behind a paywall so I don’t have to waste my time reading it. Also it saves me a headache.

    But I will memorize the name of the writer, Kevin Maher, so that in the future when I read his name I’ll know it’s best to avoid his work. Another name added onto my list of people who know nothing about what they write.

  5. “The long-cherished Newtonian model of the atom, for instance (you know, nucleus at the centre, electrons whizzing around it)”

    I think they mean the Rutherford-Bohr model. Maybe not common knowledge but when writing a piece aiming to be clever shouldn’t one get their facts right?

  6. The Author appears to be oblivious to the fact that a placebo is known to be a placebo because its has been subjected to a double-blind test and determined to not be effective on its own. It is generally accepted that some people do respond positively to placebo’s when they think it is an actual remedy. So they may rather take the sugar pill (their homepathic remedy) but they need to have convinced themselves that it will work first. And then cross their fingers because that is all they may have going for them – crossed fingers and a bit of luck that they get better regardless!

    • *In reply to #8 by TerraNova: I don’t think this is entirely correct. There is a real effect from placebo above and beyond no treatment at all. The placebo is used as a standard of comparison for a treatment to establish whether there is a statistically significant effect above and beyond that of placebo. What the causal relationship is another matter. If it is possible to cure a psychosomatic ailment with a placebo, great, it might be more cost effective than psychotherapy. On the other hand, meditative practice has been shown to have effects on brain states (e.g., refer to James H. Austin, Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness, MIT Press).

      If it is possible to exercise willful control of the mind to produce a physiological response, perhaps there is a causal mechanism for placebo effects in some cases. Mental stress has physical consequences, can effect the immune system negatively which can lead to a real disease. Maybe there is a point in the process where a “placebo” treatment can allow the immune system to resume normal function and arrest the disease. If the disease progresses too far, it may become impossible for the immune system, functioning even at top form, to overcome the disease.

      It seems unlikely there are many placebo treatments that can’t be duplicated by medical science (a term that sometimes seems oxymoronic when applied to clinical practice); anything that performed as well as placebo in trials ought to be equally effective.

      The Author appears to be oblivious to the fact that a placebo is known to be a placebo because its has been subjected to a double-blind test and determined to not be effective on its own. It is generally accepted that some people do respond positively to placebo’s when they think it is an actual remedy. So they may rather take the sugar pill (their homepathic remedy) but they need to have convinced themselves that it will work first. And then cross their fingers because that is all they may have going for them – crossed fingers and a bit of luck that they get better regardless!

  7. Mmm…..when the chips are seriously down and the NHS is trying to save his life I’m sure he’ll see it differently…. he’ll demand treatment that is KNOWN to work, not treatment that someone imagined might work. It’s easy to be so clever when your life is not danger!

  8. And yet isn’t the irony here that modern science doesn’t make sense either.

    Nope, the irony is that nothing of modern science makes sense to you, yet you feel qualified to publish such nonsense patently unaware of your own stupidity.

    Anybody who knows anything about the history of science will tell you that it’s a moveable feast, a constantly shifting terrain of narrative ideas and malleable theories.

    Yes, that’ll be because it doesn’t stop questioning. Science, at its base, is curiosity.

    What did Einstein say? “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” I’m pretty sure that he means you too, science.

    That is exactly what he meant. Here’s the full quote:

    The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

    You really do need a good beating with the stick of rationality. Einstein, I’m sure, would, were he around, be the first to pick it up…

    …but I’d make him wait his turn.

    Anvil.

    Ps: Pssst… Have you been paid for the article yet? Meet me outside, I’ve got some beans you might be interested in.

  9. “What did Einstein say? “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” I’m pretty sure that he means you too, science.”

    Can someone please come up with a cure for journalists who write this kind of execrable shite.

    There are valid questions and there are silly ones. Valid questions seek something new not the justification of arch stupidity. Silly questions resort in doing the same stupid tricks and expecting a different answer.

  10. @OP – The long-cherished Newtonian model of the atom, for instance (you know, nucleus at the centre, electrons whizzing around it), is an outmoded joke when compared with the cutting edge of quantum physics, which itself is based more on belief, theory and expectation than actual visible, tangible evidence (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anyone?).

    Oh dear! Someone has been feeding his befuddled brain on “ignoramus pills”!
    Newton is still 99.999999% accurate for practical engineering purposes on Earth!

    It’s the same dismissive stance of the self-appointed champions of reason who are forever on the lookout for so-called bad science and keen to beat us all into submission with the rationality stick.

    The dedicated irrational ignoramus, can never understand why their stupidity is smacked down, – particularly when they pretend that because science does not know everything to the ultimate decimal place, that nothing is sufficiently probable to be classed as usable knowledge in the real world.

    What a dummy of an author!

    People really should have worked at their education to be capable of reading and understanding the work of scientists, before trying to look smart(ass) quoting them!

  11. I take exception to the “long-cherished”. That model of atom has never been cherished because classical electromagnetism shows it would be unstable: the electron would continuously lose energy via bremsstrahlung. They knew it couldn’t be right from the moment it was thought up.

    In reply to #7 by Simongrills:

    “The long-cherished Newtonian model of the atom, for instance (you know, nucleus at the centre, electrons whizzing around it)”

    I think they mean the Rutherford-Bohr model. Maybe not common knowledge but when writing a piece aiming to be clever shouldn’t one get their facts right?

  12. I’ll just debunk the pre-paywall material.

    I’d rather be ‘cured’ by a placebo than rely on science and remain ill

    You can’t put cured in quotation marks; either a treatment causes your recovery or it doesn’t. By definition, placebos don’t. You might get better anyway; in that case, you would have done so otherwise. Taking something that doesn’t work won’t help you, but trusting such things may discourage you from taking that which genuinely does work. Many people do die because of that (sadly, this includes the children of the gullible).

    If the choice is between a New Age effect that works or sickness in the world of Dawkins, I’ll take the meaningless pill

    How come cured was in quotation marks but meaningless isn’t? After all, if this author contends there’s any point in taking a product, he can hardly call it medically meaningless. Also, why is “Dawkins” everywhere used as a synonym for “scientists are right but I won’t admit it”? He’s hardly the leader of the effort to remind people it’s literally physically impossible for homeopathy to do anything good.

    to the tune, according to some sources, of up to £4 million a year

    I’d heard it was more like £10 million a year.

    Of course, no one wants to argue with Davies

    No, so you pretend you only have to argue with Dawkins instead.

    But there’s something in the familiar surety of her rejection that niggles. It’s the same dismissive stance of the self-appointed champions of reason who are forever on the lookout for so-called bad science and keen to beat us all into submission with the rationality stick.

    To read this, you’d think all people’s beliefs are actually right, even when science says they’re not. Except, of course, we all know that’s not so. By definition, we know it, because the definition of knowing it is that that’s what the evidence says, which it does.

    The Enemies of Reason was a true low-point in the annals of intellectual bullying. Here, after sneering through a group meditation and dreaming of “supercomputers that can make 60 trillion calculations per second”

    Firstly, if using empirical arguments to explain why you’re wrong is bullying, insisting on things (such as homeopathy being OK) with no empirical arguments whatsoever must be something even worse – harassment, perhaps, or torture. Secondly, these supercomputers do exist; Dawkins isn’t dreaming about them.

    isn’t the irony here that modern science doesn’t make sense either? Anybody who knows anything about the history of science will tell you that it’s a moveable feast, a constantly shifting terrain of narrative ideas and malleable theories. The long-cherished Newtonian model of the atom, for instance (you know, nucleus at the centre, electrons whizzing around it), is an outmoded joke when compared with the cutting edge of quantum physics, which itself is based more on belief, theory and expectation than actual visible, tangible evidence (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anyone?).

    This is just bare-faced lying. The predictions of quantum physics are among the most quantitatively well-attested in the entire history of science; for example, it can correctly predict some things to 15 decimal places, and makes sense of all the squillions of particle interactions our most powerful machines have observed. It just “doesn’t make sense” in the sense of pre-evidentiary evaluation disliking it. But when Dawkins said homeopathy doesn’t make sense, he meant that in the sense of post-evidentiary evaluation. For the record, the uncertainty principle is a corollary of basic inequalities in the maths of vector spaces, and it really is empirically well-established. Maybe one day homeopathy will be too; until then, don’t act as if trusting it is reasonable. Because it can only be true if all the fundamentals of chemistry also go out the window.

    what’s wrong with the placebo effect?

    The general consensus among medics is that, while it’s one thing to enhance the effects of something that genuinely does work by exploiting human psychology, it’s another to pretend something has an effect it doesn’t. There is such a thing as lying.

    Nobody likes being patronised by a hippy with a book of spells. But, equally, isn’t this blind faith in the teachings of the medical-industrial complex, not to mention the attendant appetite for the products of multinational pharmaceutical companies, kind of limiting? Isn’t it just a bit, well, ignorant?

    What is it with journalists and the false equivalence fallacy? The medical industrial complex and pharmaceutical companies need an enormous amount of hard, cross-checked scientific evidence of a product’s effectiveness and safety before they can legally distribute it, and they don’t illegally jump the gun. Homeopathy ought to be held to the same standards, and the fact that it would fail miserably is its own fault for being wrong. It is not blind faith to accept what the experiments say; by definition, it is neither faith nor blind.

    What did Einstein say? “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” I’m pretty sure that he means you too, science.

    The scientific method is characterised by falsifiability, so yes, science will ask questions. But in the discussion about homeopathy, it boils down to these questions:

    “Does homeopathy work?” “According to evidence, no.” “But does it really not work.” “Like I said, it doesn’t.” “But do other medicines work?” “According to evidence, yes.” “But do they really work?” “Like I said, yes.” “But does homeopathy really work less than those other medicines?” “By the aforementioned, that follows as a syllogism.”

    And until new evidence changes the answers to these questions, that’s where the conversation is.

  13. In reply to #7 by Simongrills:

    “The long-cherished Newtonian model of the atom, for instance (you know, nucleus at the centre, electrons whizzing around it)”

    I think they mean the Rutherford-Bohr model. Maybe not common knowledge but when writing a piece aiming to be clever shouldn’t one get their facts right?

    Facts? Don’t be such a sneery snide bully. Have you been paid by a pharmaceutical company? I bet you’re one of those snappily dressed scientists in their Gucci suits, aren’t you? Einstein says you suck.

  14. I would bet you dollars against donuts that you are wrong. i cannot speak for Richard, however, I can assure you that he is on the side of freedom and smart enough to not get caught in this trap.

    In reply to #13 by McCourt:

    Who wants to bet that, if an MP called for THIS writer to be sacked, Richard Dawkins would support the sentiment?

  15. I’m sorry if this is an ignorant question, but do doctors on the NHS actually prescribe placebos – calling them something else obviously? If so, then they could equally prescribe homeopathic stuff – and let the cheapest win.

  16. (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anyone?)

    I so despise this. I have no idea what Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is. I’ve even read a book on it, specifically on it and I have no idea what it is, especially in terms of its implications on epistemology and metaphysics (which is what the OP is getting at). People just love to evoke that term. It feels good on the tongue and sounds a little spooky. The OP’s slip is showing. This absolutely embarrassing…”anyone? hello?”

    God, it’s painful, the smug ignorance thinking it can pass by soliciting the intellectual insecurity of others. How many readers will think to themselves ‘i recognize that Heisenberg thingy, i are smart, i are on their team, cuz we are smart, i watched a documentary once.’

    This person knows nothing of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and is trying to flatter themselves (passive narcissism?). My god, this is really embarrassing to read. I am so glad I am not this person. If this is just a hoax, bravo. I’m not even going to comment on all the other fail because “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anyone?” is the most painful thing I’ve read in a long time.

  17. [...] true low-point in the annals of intellectual bullying.

    Ad hominem attacks on Dawkins’ (or anyone else’s) character are completely immaterial to the issue at hand. Show me that homeopathy has the statistically significant ability to treat ailments with repeatable double blind experiments, and I will believe that it works. It’s really that simple.

    Anybody who knows anything about the history of science will tell you that it’s a moveable feast, a constantly shifting terrain of narrative ideas and malleable theories.

    Yes, and scientists proudly acknowledge this. It’s called the refinement of existing knowledge. Science works towards more accuracy, while pseudoscience changes arbitrarily with the culture in which it happens to reside.

    And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with the placebo effect?

    It doesn’t do squat for terminal illness. I’ll grab my popcorn while you attempt to treat HIV or cancer with H2O.

  18. Someone who uses the phrase “anybody who knows anything about the history of science” and follows up with a reference to the “Newtonian” model of the atom really ought to consider a career other than science journalism. Or, indeed, journalism of any sort.

    Forget the vacuous drivel it’s packed in – this one schoolboy howler alone ought to be enough to convince any competent commissioning editor that the man hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about. I gave up science after GCSE, and even I know that Newton knew nothing about atoms, let alone Rutherford-Bohr atoms. You might as well talk about the Galilean model of the Big Bang, or Paracelsan population genetics.

    Though I can just about see the value in this piece as a kind of self-referential postmodern performance art. On closer scrutiny it seems that this is, in fact, a cleverly disguised placebo article. It has no active journalistic content, it just confuses the immune system into thinking there has been journalism.

  19. I will admit I have not read Dawkins “The Enemy of Reason” therefore, I cannot comment on his angst concerning homeopathy. I realize that there are many charlatans practicing homeopathy, just as too many who practice modern medicine are quacks. But, I do not understand the sweeping comments that all homeopathy is scientifically bogus. Vitamins, minerals and physical exercise are crucial elements in human cell reproduction and are prominent in homeopathic or (natural remedies), at least where I live. I would surmise that Dawkins is adhering to the dictionary interpretation of homeopathy and does not include plant or natural source remedies as part of homeopathy in his opinion of it’s efficacy.
    Eg. Marijuana and the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) counters the effect of THC and has had positive results in treating schizophrenia (the religion disease). I do not comprehend homeopathy’s total dismissal by the scientific community, irrespective of placebo effect. That is not good science. I must be missing something here?!

  20. “Empirically validated medical science.” That’s the whole point; evidence that something is shown to work. If something works, there is evidence of it working. No evidence, no ability to claim it works.

  21. In reply to #30 by AlGarnier:

    I will admit I have not read Dawkins “The Enemy of Reason” therefore, I cannot comment on his angst concerning homeopathy. I realize that there are many charlatans practicing homeopathy, just as too many who practice modern medicine are quacks. But, I do not understand the sweeping comments that all homeopathy is scientifically bogus. Vitamins, minerals and physical exercise are crucial elements in human cell reproduction and are prominent in homeopathic or (natural remedies), at least where I live. I would surmise that Dawkins is adhering to the dictionary interpretation of homeopathy and does not include plant or natural source remedies as part of homeopathy in his opinion of it’s efficacy.
    Eg. Marijuana and the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) counters the effect of THC and has had positive results in treating schizophrenia (the religion disease). I do not comprehend homeopathy’s total dismissal by the scientific community, irrespective of placebo effect. That is not good science. I must be missing something here?!

    You are missing something. From your comment it seems to me you are confusing homeopathy with holistic medicine. Homeopathy is nonsense but holistic medicine, the idea that diet, emotions, exercise, etc. can play a role in maintaining health is now more or less main stream because it is backed up by empirical research.

    Homeopathy refers to the practice of putting microscopic amounts of a toxin into water, the idea being that a very small dose of something can help you. At least I think that’s the idea, its been a while since I read about it and once I started to understand it I realized it was so ridiculous it didn’t deserve much more attention. A common critique is that given the impurity of most drinking water and the theory behind homoepathy drinking unfiltered tap water constitutes a homeopathic cure.

  22. Okay, I lied. I gotta rack on one more point.

    But, equally, isn’t this blind faith in the teachings of the medical-industrial complex, not to mention the attendant appetite for the products of multinational pharmaceutical companies, kind of limiting? Isn’t it just a bit, well, ignorant?

    No. Science is accessible to everyone. It is designed by our ancestors who were just one foot out of the cave, and anyone can read and evaluate the methodology. When SSRIs came out, the corrupt FDA and profit driven pharmaceutical companies conspired to hide suicide risks from the public. Independent researchers and more reputable state agencies in Europe verified the suicide risk. I could look at their data and tell who was full of shit. With no love for the FDA or trust in Big Pharm, when the thimerosol vaccination papers came out, I was intrigued and found garbage. Injecting babies with mercury because it is cheap is stupid (which is why they stopped, even in the absence of data), but the claims of autism were unfounded, correlation arguments. It never got beyond the hypothesis stage (though anti-vaxers never understood this).

    I can disagree with my doctor by referring to science. Sometimes I’m right. I can take an active role in my healthcare because of science, which one can not do with woo models. With woo models, one surrenders to the authority of a shaman. There is no chance for a lay person to contribute in woo models, but medical science receives regular contributions from lay people and autodidacts, such as the cure for ALD (Lorenzo’s Oil). I read the New England Journal of Medicine and can identify absolute garbage studies. There is no authority or faith in science.

  23. And charging for it! The Times plunges lower and lower.

    Interestingly, a mechanism for the placebo effect has been proposed and seems quite credible. The immune system has a high energy cost, so with only mild health challenges in the food-marginal existence of early hominins (mammals? animals?) the full capability of the immune system is not used, its energy drain being itself potentially fatal. The suggestion is that placebo treatments trick the brain into a feeling of food/energy well being, perhaps by the simple expedient of being notably cared for. The full panoply of AI systems are thus unleashed (as of course they always should be in these days of plenty.)

    Science will master this, with suitable psychological cues being designed into existing healthcare worker consultations visits etc. (My own preference for a maximal sense of well being is to be given handfuls of cash.)

  24. Homeopathy involves serially diluting a sample of a chemical. This serial dilution takes a chemical dissolved in water and removes 1 part in 100 and adds it to a container with 99 parts pure water. It then takes 1 part (out of 100) of that new sample and adds it to a second container with 99 parts pure water. It does this up to 30 times.

    This effectively guarantees that any bit of the 30th container will contain ZERO molecules of the original chemical. The homeopath then claims that the water molecules “remember” the chemical that was in the original sample and when a person takes the water capsule, the chemical that the water remembers can treat their illness and grant them three wishes or something to that effect.

    It is bullshit.

    I have seen James Randi take an entire bottle of the homeopathic “sleep aid” called Calms Forte. He takes the whole bottle at the beginning of his show and proceeds to do an hour and a half lecture without yawning. Try that with Ambien.

    In reply to #30 by AlGarnier:

    I will admit I have not read Dawkins “The Enemy of Reason” therefore, I cannot comment on his angst concerning homeopathy. I realize that there are many charlatans practicing homeopathy, just as too many who practice modern medicine are quacks. But, I do not understand the sweeping comments that all homeopathy is scientifically bogus. Vitamins, minerals and physical exercise are crucial elements in human cell reproduction and are prominent in homeopathic or (natural remedies), at least where I live. I would surmise that Dawkins is adhering to the dictionary interpretation of homeopathy and does not include plant or natural source remedies as part of homeopathy in his opinion of it’s efficacy.
    Eg. Marijuana and the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) counters the effect of THC and has had positive results in treating schizophrenia (the religion disease). I do not comprehend homeopathy’s total dismissal by the scientific community, irrespective of placebo effect. That is not good science. I must be missing something here?!

  25. In reply to #30 by AlGarnier

    This is a common mistake. You’re thinking of holistic medicine. That’s treating the whole body, not just the illness and it has a great deal of scientific merit. Homeopathic is different by definition and is what cruelshoes explained. Don’t confuse herbal remedies and holistic remedies with homeopathy.

    I like Tim Minchin’s definition of medicine. What do they call it if it has been proven to work? Medicine.

  26. In reply to #31 by N_Ellis:

    This is either idiocy or a parody, and I can’t tell which.

    I had the same reaction. If this isn’t a parody it really shows how abysmal journalism around science/medicine has become. The author never once talks rationally. He doesn’t critique one of Dawkins’ arguments, its almost as if he is saying “well yeah Dawkins is right but he is so impolite about it” Of course even that is a lie, Professor Dawkins always amazes me with the patience and grace he displays when responding to the many idiotic arguments and slurs hurled at him.

  27. In reply to #23 by crookedshoes:

    I would bet you dollars against donuts that you are wrong. i cannot speak for Richard, however, I can assure you that he is on the side of freedom and smart enough to not get caught in this trap.

    In reply to #13 by McCourt:

    Who wants to bet that, if an MP called for THIS writer to be sacked, Richard Dawkins would support the sentiment?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if his job is already on the line. The writing here is a little dodgy anyway regardless of his sentiment.

  28. “If the choice is between a New Age effect that works or sickness in the world of Dawkins, I’ll take the meaningless pill”

    So would I. The problem is determining if the New Age effect actually works. That is why you need a double blind clinical trial. Its called “science” you fuckwit!

  29. You are absolutely correct….The whole article is a steaming pile of dogshit.

    In reply to #40 by PBrain:

    In reply to #23 by crookedshoes:

    I would bet you dollars against donuts that you are wrong. i cannot speak for Richard, however, I can assure you that he is on the side of freedom and smart enough to not get caught in this trap.

    In reply to #13 by McCourt:

    Who wants to bet that, if an MP called for THIS writer to be sacked, Richard Dawkins would support the sentiment?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if his job is already on the line. The writing here is a little dodgy anyway regardless of his sentiment.

  30. And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with the placebo effect? Hell, if I’ve got the choice of being cured by the best New Age placebo effect or remaining ill in the world of Dawkins and supercomputers, I’ll take a sugary meaningless placebo pill any day.

    The placebo effect cures cancer, heart diseases, and can make my hair grow back? Well then, sign me in!

    But no… it doesn’t. Only in your mind, mister reporter of Science.

    And only an misguided idiot or a disingenuous con artist can get from homeopathy to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Nice of you to prove the point. Uncertainty principle! Everything I can imagine is possible! Homeopathy works!

  31. If the choice is between a New Age effect that works or sickness in the world of Dawkins, I’ll take the meaningless pill

    Well he has gone for the “meaningless pill! – Hence his irrational new-age mental condition remains untreated! – and being too dim to recognise or use objective testing, he fails to notice that the new-age quackery has not cured him of his delusion, so he is daft enough to think it works!

    And yet isn’t the irony here that modern science doesn’t make sense either?

    Modern science usually makes no sense to the blinkered, scientifically illiterate, dedicated quackologist !

    Like the anti-vaccers in denial, he fails to grasp that scientific medicine is like competent medical advice – It only works if you take it!

  32. I don’t mean in any way to defend this article, though there is a similar point which it could possibly have made, were it better written. There is a great deal of bias in the scientific community regarding some newer theories; my wife recently completed nursing school, and told me stories of how nurses with a doctorate in the field were widely regarded as quacks by her classmates because they discussed a holistic approach (kudos to MAJORPAIN for making the clear distinction between that, and homeopathy). Because of this and perhaps some cultural biases, there are a lot of fascinating phenomena that are hardly researched at all. Take for instance the percentage of pharmaceuticals developed from plants in the Amazon, many of which were used by locals for medicine beforehand. What’s interesting is that complex procedures were developed to extract and use many of these medicines, which precludes the idea of accidentally stumbling on these cures. I won’t go off track with further details and theories, but the point here is that the science of native use of medicine is poorly researched; the ecstatic state is poorly researched, even the effects of something like marijuana seem to be poorly researched. I wouldn’t dream of making a declarative statement concerning the importance of any of these subjects, but I don’t think that they, or many other theories on the fringe, should be dismissed completely out of hand simply because there’s so little evidence. I applaud most those scientists who run with a lot of curiosity and break some new ground (like Fritz-Albert Popp, for example, or Charles Darwin).

    I believe that the problem with a lot of people who are wrapped up in a lot of ‘woo’ (I don’t particularly care for that buzzword in general, but it’s connotation is perfect for this point), use too little science (or ignore what science there is) to make affirmative statements. Rather than trying to get more research on some of these topics, they’re content to use a little bit of knowledge to validate beliefs.

  33. I have no idea what Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is.

    It’s a lower bound on the product of the standard deviations of certain pairs of things you can measure, which in turn implies a lower bound on how accurately you can measure one if you measure the other quite accurately, and an even harsher lower bound if the second variable is measured even more accurately. Of course, these lower bounds are very small. If I measure your position to within 1 nm, I can’t measure your momentum more accurately than to about 10^(-25) kgm/s. But, outside of particle physics, that’s no problem.

    So that’s all the principle it is: a maths statement. There’s no “anything can happen” mumbo jumbo.

    I’ve even read a book on it, specifically on it and I have no idea what it is, especially in terms of its implications on epistemology and metaphysics (which is what the OP is getting at).

    Did the book use maths? Sadly, many blatantly mathematical concepts don’t get such a treatment in the popular press. However, because it can be deduced from maths inequalities alone (such as Cauchy-Schwarz), it’s generally agreed it has neither epistemological nor metaphysical implications – well, not beyond those you’ve already accepted when you agree with quantum physics about nature being stochastic in a manner that’s subject to superposition.

  34. In reply to #43 by papa lazaru:

    And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with the placebo effect? Hell, if I’ve got the choice of being cured by the best New Age placebo effect or remaining ill in the world of Dawkins and supercomputers, I’ll take a sugary meaningless placebo pill any day.

    The placebo effect cures cancer, heart diseases, and can make my hair grow back? Well then, sign me in!

    But no… it doesn’t. Only in your mind, mister reporter of Science.

    And only an misguided idiot or a disingenuous con artist can get from homeopathy to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Nice of you to prove the point. Uncertainty principle! Everything I can imagine is possible! Homeopathy works!

    Actually the Placebo effect does work in some situations. Not to cure cancer but for things like relieving pain and getting over minor illnesses. The reason they need to control for it is because it DOES work. Because a patient who believes they are being treated will tend to heal faster than one who doesn’t. Its one of the reasons the first doctors were shamans. I agree with the critics who come from a holistic perspective on this, our medical system still doesn’t appreciate how important psychological issues are to healing disease.

  35. That ‘Newtonian model’ of the atom was quite sufficient to create the atom bomb. And if not for that penicillin shot I got at age 9 for a life-threatening throat infection I would not be here now. I’m glad my mom didn’t offer me a glass of water instead. I have to wonder just what kind of curiosity this writer espouses?

  36. Yee-Hah! Thum thar scientists don’t know nothin’. Now this here wise guy Heisenberg says anythin’ can happen, so I’ma hopin’ he’s right, and ma cat stays nice n’ safe in that thur box. Shucks, it’s a mighty shame my mom died of cancer, I just guess her water weren’t diluted enuff.

    Now where’s my Colts? This town ain’t big enough for me and Dawkins.

  37. In reply to #37 by crookedshoes:

    Homeopathy involves serially diluting a sample of a chemical. This serial dilution takes a chemical dissolved in water and removes 1 part in 100 and adds it to a container with 99 parts pure water. It then takes 1 part (out of 100) of that new sample and adds it to a second container with 99 parts pure water. It does this up to 30 times.

    This effectively guarantees that any bit of the 30th container will contain ZERO molecules of the original chemical. The homeopath then claims that the water molecules “remember” the chemical that was in the original sample and when a person takes the water capsule, the chemical that the water remembers can treat their illness and grant them three wishes or something to that effect.

    It is bullshit.

    I have seen James Randi take an entire bottle of the homeopathic “sleep aid” called Calms Forte. He takes the whole bottle at the beginning of his show and proceeds to do an hour and a half lecture without yawning. Try that with Ambien.

    And with your definitive description of homeopathy I have to agree with your personal description, “It is bullshit”. Unfortunately all too many, like me and the Queen mother, are misled into bundling Chinese medicine, wholistic medicine, homeopathy, etc. under the Natural medicine banner. Conventional modern medicine in the form of pharmisuticals is much more potent, effective and lethal in most cases when abused.
    Thanks for the info.

  38. In reply to #53 by Nitya:

    If the author is “cured” by the placebo, then he wasn’t really sick, methinks.

    He’s probably only sick of being told he is stupid and ignorant. – With a quick dose of placebo he not only feels better, but actually superior. It must be a Dunning-Kruger placebo!

  39. Actually the Placebo effect does work in some situations. Not to cure cancer but for things like relieving pain and getting over minor illnesses. The reason they need to control for it is because it DOES work. Because a patient who believes they are being treated will tend to heal faster than one who doesn’t. Its one of the reasons the first doctors were shamans. I agree with the critics who come from a holistic perspective on this, our medical system still doesn’t appreciate how important psychological issues are to healing disease.

    I’m not so sure that’s the case. I’m aware that there is often the perception of faster healing, experienced not only by the patient but sometimes by the doctors and nurses giving treatment as well. Whether there are cases where objective measurement has demonstrated actual acceleration of natural healing by patients receiving placebo I couldn’t determine with a casual Google search, but it seems rather iffy to me. If you’re aware of such studies, by all means, post links, as I’d love to give them a read.

  40. And yet isn’t the irony here that modern science doesn’t make sense either? Anybody who knows anything about the history of science will tell you that it’s a moveable feast, a constantly shifting terrain of narrative ideas and malleable theories.

    I think what this person is neglecting to say is that science is by its nature a moveable feast, and this is one of its strengths. The other string to its bow – unlike religion or homeopathy – is that it produces real results and these results are able to be replicated. It’s the characteristics which give me confidence, not to say faith, in science.

  41. Sadly having read this pathetic excuse for a journalist in yesterday’s times, it does not surprise me that he has written this drivel as his standard of journalism is usually very poor and as for this particular article so many mistakes so little time.

  42. I don’t understand the criticism here. This is exactly the sort of informed medical / scientific opinion I would expect to read from the film critic at The Times.

    Although I despair of the world where this makes it into print…

  43. In reply to comments by AlGarnier:

    I read your comment yesterday and thought I’d just leave it to the better educated here to put you straight. Then this morning I read your reply to Crookedshoes which only compounds the ignorance displayed in the first comment and being the gobshite that I am, I thought I’d enter into the frame in an effort to help you out.

    Sometimes it is prudent to do the rudiments of basic research before commenting, remember, Google is your friend.

    I will admit I have not read Dawkins “The Enemy of Reason” …

    No one has read it, because “The Enemy of Reason” is a “Channel 4 documentary”. As stated in the OP.

    Available to view here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CyMglakWoo … for your perusal.

    …therefore, I cannot comment on his angst concerning homeopathy.

    I don’t think ‘angst’ is the right descriptor. You might have noticed the strong feelings on the subject from all the comments on this thread. Especially when journalists like the goatskin writing this OP talk about stuff they so obviously haven’t a feckin’ clue about.

    “Scientific research has found homeopathic remedies ineffective and their postulated mechanisms of action implausible. The scientific community regards homeopathy as a sham; the American Medical Association considers homeopathy to be quackery, and homeopathic remedies have been criticized as unethical.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy

    I realize that there are many charlatans practicing homeopathy,

    Everyone practising homeopathy is a charlatan. It is akin to selling snake oil to the gullible.

    …just as too many who practice modern medicine are quacks.

    No, that is incompetence, plenty of qualified doctors are incompetent, but that isn’t the same as being a quack. ‘Quackery is the promotion of unproven or fraudulent medical practices’.

    But, I do not understand the sweeping comments that all homeopathy is scientifically bogus.

    Because it is ‘scientifically bogus”…and that is the point.

    Vitamins, minerals and physical exercise are crucial elements in human cell reproduction and are prominent in homeopathic or (natural remedies), at least where I live.

    I doubt it. Anecdote aside, homeopaths might well use vitamins, minerals and exercise as supplementary to the woo woo, as prescribed by mainstream medical professionals as required, but that is not what is being discussed here. I don’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out a healthy regimen of vitamins, minerals and exercise is good for my health whether I am healthy or ill. I certainly won’t be paying a quack to tell me the same.

    I would surmise that Dawkins is adhering to the dictionary interpretation of homeopathy and does not include plant or natural source remedies as part of homeopathy in his opinion of it’s efficacy.

    It isn’t Richard Dawkins’ opinion on the efficacy of homeopathy…it is the consensus of the scientific community based on evidence and the lackthereof.

    For the purposes of debate I’d say it is this definition then…

    “Homeopathy Listeni/ˌhoʊmiˈɒpəθi/ (also spelled homoeopathy or homœopathy; from the Greek hómoios- ὅμοιος- “like-” + páthos πάθος “suffering”) is a system of alternative medicine originated in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his doctrine of similia similibus curentur (“like cures like”), according to which a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people.”

    … by using the following method…

    ” The remedies are prepared by repeatedly diluting a chosen substance in alcohol or distilled water, followed by forceful striking on an elastic body, called succussion. Each dilution followed by succussion is said to increase the remedy’s potency. Dilution sometimes continues well past the point where none of the original substance remains. Homeopaths select remedies by consulting reference books known as repertories, considering the totality of the patient’s symptoms as well as the patient’s personal traits, physical and psychological state, and life history.”

    Just so we are all reading off the same page. If you have alternative definitions of the subject, please cite them.

    …Eg. Marijuana and the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) counters the effect of THC and has had positive results in treating schizophrenia (the religion disease).

    More ignorance I’m afraid.

    THC is a cannabinoid, it doesn’t counter THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol. It is the pschycoactive element with analgesic and antioxidant properties that does much of the relieving.

    “Cannabis’ effectiveness as an analgesic has been studied. University of Oxford doctors found that the brain on THC showed reduced response to pain, suggesting the drug may help patients endure pain. Brain scans showed reduced activity in two centers of the brain where pain is registered, the mid-Anterior cingulate cortex and the right Amygdala.”

    That is called scientific research.

    The cannabis analogy is probably the worst possible equivalence you could’ve made. Cannabis has a long medicinal history going back 2737 BCE. Medical cannabis is gaining support with many medical field advising patients to avail themselves of it’s pain relieving qualities.

    Cannabis is not a mainstream medicine because of political pressure. Otherwise it would be prescribed right, left and centre foe a plethora of ailments.

    According to Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Lester Grinspoon, “When cannabis regains its place in the US Pharmacopeia, a status it lost after the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, it will be seen as one of the safest drugs in that compendium”.

    There is not one recorded incident of cannabis causing death and it is not addictive.

    I do not comprehend homeopathy’s total dismissal by the scientific community, irrespective of placebo effect. That is not good science. I must be missing something here?!

    Personal incredulity is not a rational position. Given your understanding of the subject, or should I say, misunderstanding, perhaps that research I alluded to earlier might be the way forward.

    And with your definitive description of homeopathy I have to agree with your personal description, “It is bullshit”.

    Nope, it is THE definition, not his description. As for Crookedshoes personal epithet, that isn’t even exclusive.

    Unfortunately all too many, like me and the Queen mother, are misled into bundling Chinese medicine, wholistic medicine, homeopathy, etc. under the Natural medicine banner.

    This is where you should be applying your critical thinking skills. How’s about finding out stuff for yourself? Don’t even believe everything you read here…multiple sources with evidence is a far better way forward.

    BTW, can you cite a reference to what the Queen Mothers understanding of homeopathy was?

    Conventional modern medicine in the form of pharmisuticals is much more potent, effective and lethal in most cases when abused.

    Of course they are much more potent, effective and lethal than conventional modern medicine, that’s because they are proven and tested to have active ingredients…that’s a no brainer. The problem with homeopathy is not that there is the gullible giving their money to thieves, although when it’s taxpayer money that is a problem. It’s that they are relying on woo woo in place of effective medical cures to their detriment. Perhaps we should put it all down to natural selection. Anyone daft enough to believe the homeopathy bilge should be removed from the gene pool for the good and benefit of mankind. Unfortunately the kooks are giving these ‘treatments’ to children and as a result, children are dying.

    http://whatstheharm.net/homeopathy.html

    Enjoy!

  44. In reply to #40 by PBrain:

    In reply to #23 by crookedshoes:

    I would bet you dollars against donuts that you are wrong. i cannot speak for Richard, however, I can assure you that he is on the side of freedom and smart enough to not get caught in this trap.

    In reply to #13 by McCourt:

    Who wants to bet that, if an MP called for THIS writer to be sacked, Richard Dawkins would support the sentiment?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if his job is already on the line. The writing here is a little dodgy anyway regardless of his sentiment.

    Next step: whining blog posts about how the mean atheists lost him his job and how he’s a terribly persecuted freedom fighter sticking it to the man, etc. Hm, that is quite plausible.

  45. In reply to #45 by GospelofJudas:

    I don’t mean in any way to defend this article, though there is a similar point which it could possibly have made, were it better written.

    The OP wasn’t making any point other than to slate others IMO. It wasn’t supporting homeopathy per se, but just saying that scientists don’t know everything, which we all agree on. Given that science doesn’t know everything, he then asserts that the unknown are legitimate hypotheses. But homeopathy is not an unknown hypotheses. It has been investigated and found to be wanting on a number of levels…not least that it kills people…lots of them.

    There is a great deal of bias in the scientific community regarding some newer theories;

    I’m sure you can cite some of this bias in the scientific community? I’m having problems with that statement going by my understanding of the scientific method ya see.

    …my wife recently completed nursing school, and told me stories of how nurses with a doctorate in the field were widely regarded as quacks by her classmates because they discussed a holistic approach (kudos to MAJORPAIN for making the clear distinction between that, and homeopathy).

    A doctorate in which field? Isn’t possessing a doctorate indicative of being a doctor?

    Because of this and perhaps some cultural biases, there are a lot of fascinating phenomena that are hardly researched at all. Take for instance the percentage of pharmaceuticals developed from plants in the Amazon, many of which were used by locals for medicine beforehand.

    Many of today’s mainstream medicines derive from the natural world…opiates for example, but where are these scientific biases? As I’ve already stated, cultural biases are usually political. But none of this has anything to do with homeopathy…it’s a red herring.

    What’s interesting is that complex procedures were developed to extract and use many of these medicines, which precludes the idea of accidentally stumbling on these cures.

    Really? Complex procedures were developed to extract medicines that nobody knew were there in the first place, on a whim so to speak. That’s fascinating.

    I won’t go off track with further details and theories,…

    No, please do, I’m intrigued. I want to know how this works. So are you suggesting that random plants are selected to undergo complex procedures specifically developed to see if there is something to be extracted that may or may not cure any number of ailments? Sounds like a hell of a lot of work…guesswork at that.

    …but the point here is that the science of native use of medicine is poorly researched;

    You know this how?

    …the ecstatic state is poorly researched, even the effects of something like marijuana seem to be poorly researched.

    Ah ha!…..’seem’ poorly researched. Well that’s a different thing altogether now isn’t it? To whom does it ‘seem’ poorly researched? Not the researchers obviously. There’s that incredulity fallacy creeping in again. Ignorance and incredulity are no excuse. Have a look see for yourself.

    You mean like this research… http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&q=marijuana …?

    I wouldn’t dream of making a declarative statement concerning the importance of any of these subjects, but I don’t think that they, or many other theories on the fringe, should be dismissed completely out of hand simply because there’s so little evidence.

    Then the strawman appears. Who is dismissing any of your red herrings out of hand? The discourse here is on homeopathy. The research and evidence, or lack thereof. Homeopathic research in favour of it’s efficacy has been found wanting in a number of methods used. Homeopathic research using proper procedures have found the concept bogus other than placebo.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=homeopathy&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5

    Common sense will get you to the conclusion quicker in this particular subject though.

    I applaud most those scientists who run with a lot of curiosity and break some new ground (like Fritz-Albert Popp, for example, or Charles Darwin).

    Yep, on the shoulders of giants and all that, but a theory that has been falsified should be put in the bin. Stop flogging a dead horse at the expense of peoples pockets, and more importantly, their health. Ask Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, oh wait, ya can’t, because he is dead, what a waste.

    ” Despite his diagnosis, Jobs resisted his doctors’ recommendations for mainstream medical intervention for nine months, instead consuming a special alternative medicine diet in an attempt to thwart the disease. According to Harvard researcher Ramzi Amri, his choice of alternative treatment “led to an unnecessarily early death.” According to Jobs’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, “for nine months he refused to undergo surgery for his pancreatic cancer – a decision he later regretted as his health declined. Instead, he tried a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments he found online, and even consulted a psychic. He also was influenced by a doctor who ran a clinic that advised juice fasts, bowel cleansings and other unproven approaches, before finally having surgery in July 2004.”

    A bunch of woo woo in other words. Things are woo woo until science proves they are not, period.

    Did you know that Haruspicy was a highly respected and coveted skill in much of antiquity…perhaps we slight that hypotheses out of hand too quick without sufficient research. In Iceland, many still believe there are good and bad trolls living in volcanic caves. Heck, some people in my part of the world believe that if you rub a raw potato on a wart and bury the potato in the garden, as the tatter rots, so does the wart…and what about blood letting, more research I say.

    I believe that the problem with a lot of people who are wrapped up in a lot of ‘woo’ (I don’t particularly care for that buzzword in general, but it’s connotation is perfect for this point), use too little science (or ignore what science there is) to make affirmative statements.

    Or look for confirmation bias.

    Rather than trying to get more research on some of these topics, they’re content to use a little bit of knowledge to validate beliefs.

    Spoiiinng!!! There goes another meter…pot, meet the kettle.

  46. Ignorant Amos

    Spoiiinng!!! There goes another meter…pot, meet the kettle.

    Did you misunderstand what I was trying to get at? All that I was implying is that curiosity is a good thing, this article could have stuck to that and been MUCH better, and that yes, people make mistakes or get too caught up in their own paradigm. One famous example was Einstein; the phrase ‘God does not play dice’ was a direct response to Heisenberg and Bohr’s Quantum model, which Einstein refused to accept, believing that everything in the universe had a direct causal relationship. (The quantum-relativistic model has since become one of the more popular ones among physicists). Just as you can still dig up scientists here and there who dismiss human effects on climate change (and I understand that they are in the minority, I do not agree with them, but they prove my point; these individuals are clearly utilizing EXTREME confirmation bias), there are people the world over who lock in to their beliefs, with only the slightest amount of evidence to go by (the very essence of confirmation bias). If you believe that anyone who adopts the label ‘scientist’ is transformed into a completely impartial and objective observer of reality, unmotivated by personal desires and human failings, then you are being naive.

    The teacher with a doctorate who spoke at my wife’s nursing school had a doctorate in nursing. The label of someone like that is a bit of a hot button issue in American medicine, as doctors wish to keep the word ‘doctor’ for the use of those with an MD, while nursing (which is a distinct and different body of knowledge, focusing in many cases on holistic care more so than acute care) should be distinguished by calling them nurses still. Why the distinction? Ego, maybe. But there it is. Here we have another interesting point; if holistic care is important, isn’t that a subjective experience for most? Making sure that someone is in a good state of mind to heal themselves starts getting away from hard sciences a little and more into the realm of psychology (which I understand has come a long way, but the human mind is still being rigorously explored).

    Now, on to the natives in the Amazon. The anthropologist Jeremy Narby wrote a fascinating book on shamanistic beliefs, and I reference this because the reason behind the use of medicines in the capacity that they have is the most interesting part. More is involved than just feeding people different plants and seeing what happens; ayahuasca, for instance, is created using a 72 hour cooking method with other very specific ingredients. Medicinal preparation of this complexity could have come about by trial and error, though it certainly would take much more trial than eating different things and noting the effects. Shamans claim to gain insight from these plants, and what I think is most interesting is the effects of entheogens on the mind and body. Large bodies of knowledge about these are hard to come by because they are controlled substances; it’s harder to justify a test on, say, dimethyltriptamine, when it’s a schedule 1 drug in the USA. You need a body of evidence and multiple studies to be able to create a meta study and ascertain for certain what predictable results there are, right? How many studies have been done on this drug?

    Just in case you’re going to respond and say that I’m suggesting that shamans gain knowledge from hallucinations that parallels medical study, I am not. I AM saying that it’s an interesting coincidence, and I would very much like to learn more about what DMT does do. How many people do you think could approach this study seriously, and with no bias from western culture? One of the failings of anthropology in much of the past century was that we compared any society we stumbled across to ourselves, and what we felt was a measure of success. Clear bias in action.

    In summary, the article is garbage. It could have served as a less acerbic call for more research, and a little more curiosity, and perhaps less bias; the pharmaceutical system in the United States is profit driven (we’re one of two countries in the world where pharma companies can advertise directly to consumers, did you know that?), and to be frank, there’s more money in keeping someone alive through your products than there is making them better. Look at Dr. Burzynski’s cancer treatment methods and tell me that there wasn’t an interest in quashing it.

  47. In reply to #67 by GospelofJudas:

    First of all, thanks for the thoughtful and explicit response.

    Did you misunderstand what I was trying to get at? All that I was implying is that curiosity is a good thing, this article could have stuck to that and been MUCH better, and that yes, people make mistakes or get too caught up in their own paradigm.

    Curiosity is most certainly a brilliant thing. I didn’t read the article as supporting a curious mind approach. We no longer need to be ‘curious’ about homeopathy past the point that it should be an historical oddity.

    If the author had stuck to a point rather than attacking science critics of homeopathy because of his dislike of scientists who critique woo, and rightfully so too, then perhaps the article might have been different. It was a pile of poop with all sorts of failures as pointed out by the numerous other comments. It was nothing but pure hyperbole and the predictable Dawkins bashing these people seem to enjoy for some reason.

    Just as you can still dig up scientists here and there who dismiss human effects on climate change (and I understand that they are in the minority, I do not agree with them, but they prove my point; these individuals are clearly utilizing EXTREME confirmation bias), there are people the world over who lock in to their beliefs, with only the slightest amount of evidence to go by (the very essence of confirmation bias).

    Well then the term ‘scientist’ should be used very loosely in that case.

    If you believe that anyone who adopts the label ‘scientist’ is transformed into a completely impartial and objective observer of reality, unmotivated by personal desires and human failings, then you are being naive.

    Not at all. Adopting the label ‘scientist’ doesn’t make one so, carrying out the work using the method is key.

    The teacher with a doctorate who spoke at my wife’s nursing school had a doctorate in nursing. The label of someone like that is a bit of a hot button issue in American medicine, as doctors wish to keep the word ‘doctor’ for the use of those with an MD, while nursing (which is a distinct and different body of knowledge, focusing in many cases on holistic care more so than acute care) should be distinguished by calling them nurses still. Why the distinction? Ego, maybe. But there it is.

    Yes, my wife is a ‘theatre tech’, but not a ‘nurse’ in a U.S. hospital…I’ve an idea of what you mean now it’s clearer. I was unaware of the credentials available in holistic medicine. I thought you meant there were nurses with doctorates in homeopathy in the class.

    Here we have another interesting point; if holistic care is important, isn’t that a subjective experience for most? Making sure that someone is in a good state of mind to heal themselves starts getting away from hard sciences a little and more into the realm of psychology (which I understand has come a long way, but the human mind is still being rigorously explored).

    Yes it does I suppose. Mind you, in the old days it was just called ‘bedside manner’. On the “Enemies of Reason” programme, it was asserted that the homeopathy clinic was already good for a patient because of the extra attention given by the doctor at a private clinic vis a vis the production line approach of a normal surgery. Ten minutes and it’s next please. There is a good argument being made that Christianity benefited from the holistic approach to get it started. There is no doubt people feel better discussing their pains and woes with someone, anyone even.

    That said, homeopathy uses holistic methods, holistic medicine doesn’t use homeopathy.

    Now, on to the natives in the Amazon. The anthropologist Jeremy Narby wrote a fascinating book on shamanistic beliefs, and I reference this because the reason behind the use of medicines in the capacity that they have is the most interesting part. More is involved than just feeding people different plants and seeing what happens; ayahuasca, for instance, is created using a 72 hour cooking method with other very specific ingredients. Medicinal preparation of this complexity could have come about by trial and error, though it certainly would take much more trial than eating different things and noting the effects. Shamans claim to gain insight from these plants, and what I think is most interesting is the effects of entheogens on the mind and body.

    Yes, but was the 72 hour cooking time discovered by an accident, like a lot of discoveries? It seems more likely than it being an intentional act. I mean, the 72 hours rings alarm bells already.

    Large bodies of knowledge about these are hard to come by because they are controlled substances; it’s harder to justify a test on, say, dimethyltriptamine, when it’s a schedule 1 drug in the USA. You need a body of evidence and multiple studies to be able to create a meta study and ascertain for certain what predictable results there are, right? How many studies have been done on this drug?

    As I said, politics, but that is not to say they are not being studied by someone somewhere. Just that you and I may not be aware of it. Pharmaceutical companies are very secretive after all.

    Just in case you’re going to respond and say that I’m suggesting that shamans gain knowledge from hallucinations that parallels medical study, I am not. I AM saying that it’s an interesting coincidence, and I would very much like to learn more about what DMT does do. How many people do you think could approach this study seriously, and with no bias from western culture? One of the failings of anthropology in much of the past century was that we compared any society we stumbled across to ourselves, and what we felt was a measure of success. Clear bias in action.

    Agreed, but you are assuming that there is no research going on. Is it really plausible, do ya think that you are aware of these things in the world, yet no one is looking into them with the big dollar signs flashing? There will be people with a lot of money, paying other people to do the research, with the intention of making a lot more money.

    In summary, the article is garbage.

    Yep.

    It could have served as a less acerbic call for more research, and a little more curiosity, and perhaps less bias;…

    It was never the goal of the piece to do so.

    …the pharmaceutical system in the United States is profit driven (we’re one of two countries in the world where pharma companies can advertise directly to consumers, did you know that?), and to be frank, there’s more money in keeping someone alive through your products than there is making them better. Look at Dr. Burzynski’s cancer treatment methods and tell me that there wasn’t an interest in quashing it.

    Well there certainly wouldn’t be any interest in the pharmaceutical system coming up with a one pill cure all solution, that’s for sure. Having lived in the states, I couldn’t believe what DTC advertising went on, and the claims being made. The wife pointed out the disclaimers in very, very, small print at the bottom though. New Zealand is the other isn’t it? Although I think it is just prescription drugs, I know here in Spain they advertise all sorts of medicines on the telly c/w disclaimer. Mind you, many medicines here are available across the counter that require a script at home.

    I understand better now the point you are making, but I still don’t think it is pertinent to this OP or the subject of homeopathy.

  48. In reply to #68 by Ignorant Amos:

    I understand better now the point you are making, but I still don’t think it is pertinent to this OP or the subject of homeopathy.

    I suppose not. All conjecture and thinking out loud aside, more than anything I wish that this piece had been radically different, and had simply asked for thorough analysis of data and assurances that personal bias was not being taken into effect. It didn’t, and it wasted an opportunity, instead just becoming rubbish.

  49. In reply to #69 by GospelofJudas:

    I suppose not. All conjecture and thinking out loud aside, more than anything I wish that this piece had been radically different, and had simply asked for thorough analysis of data and assurances that personal bias was not being taken into effect. It didn’t, and it wasted an opportunity, instead just becoming rubbish.

    Well ya shoulda said…..you want this article over here… The trouble with homeopathy

    }80)~

  50. Wow X a million!!! This guy is clearly on the wrong team (team irrational) and he’s throwing a childish fit by using ultra sarcasm to attempt to look knowledgeable. Even in my extremely limited science education (none!) I can see this person knows LESS than I about the basics of the scientific method. Unbelievable!

  51. In reply to #71 by GospelofJudas:

    In reply to #70 by Ignorant Amos:

    Well ya shoulda said…..you want this article over here… The trouble with homeopathy

    Ha! Much obliged. Has someone sent this over to the Times?

    Now that’s being really silly. Real scientific journalism? Sheeshhh, ya must be kidding.

  52. In reply to #61 by PERSON:

    In reply to #30 by AlGarnier:

    I will admit I have not read Dawkins’ “The Enemies of Reason”

    No-one has. It’s a documentary. It’s on 4oD if you’re in the UK, and on YouTube elsewhere.

    Thanks, that will save me a trip to the book store.

  53. In reply to #73 by Ignorant Amos:

    Now that’s being really silly. Real scientific journalism? Sheeshhh, ya must be kidding.

    I suppose the “acid test” if if a muppet journalist will take a placebo for a broken leg or a nasty burn, if the pontificating is just drivel journalism, – after all he would not want to have remain ill with real medical treatment!

    BTW, you could join a debate on cure by way of resurrection over here! http://www.richarddawkins.net/news – public-school-bible-classes-plagued-with-religious-bias .

  54. In reply to #62 by Ignorant Amos:

    Thank you for the links and excellent information on homeopathy. Your advice about researching pertinent topics before commenting is likewise, excellent information. Thanks again!

    More ignorance I’m afraid.

    You have a good sense of humour, ignorance is part of the moniker you use Amos.

    THC is a cannabinoid, it doesn’t counter THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol. It is the pschycoactive element with analgesic and antioxidant properties that does much of the relieving.

    You are correct, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) does not counter THC but, CBD (cannabidiol) does. It is one of several active ingredients in regular marijuana but, has been removed from the plant as much as possible by commercial breeders to increase its THC content. CBD has exhibited promising results in the treatment of schizophrenia.

    http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/30/marijuana-compound-treats-schizophrenia-with-few-side-effects-clinical-trial/

    Sometimes it is prudent to do the rudiments of basic research before commenting, remember, Google is your friend.

    I agree, and thanks for the heads up.
    BTW, can you cite a reference to what the Queen Mothers understanding of homeopathy was?

    Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was also a great devotee of homeopathy, treating both her family and her dogs too, with homeopathic medicines (including Arnica for any injury).

    http://mrvitaminsnews.com.au/homeopathy/homeopathy-and-the-queen

    Also:

    http://m.naturalnews.com/news/031556_homeopathy_King.html

    Keep up the good work.

  55. In reply to #77 by AlGarnier:

    In reply to #62 by Ignorant Amos:

    More ignorance I’m afraid.

    You have a good sense of humour, ignorance is part of the moniker you use Amos.

    Yes, it wasn’t my first ‘nom de plume’ when I got here many years ago, but I soon realised I was the epitome of an ignoramus, I made the play on words, ignorant and the OT prophet Amos….weak I know, but so what.

    THC is a cannabinoid, it doesn’t counter THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol. It is the pschycoactive element with analgesic and antioxidant properties that does much of the relieving.

    You are correct, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) does not counter THC but, CBD (cannabidiol) does. It is one of several active ingredients in regular marijuana but, has been removed from the plant as much as possible by commercial breeders to increase its THC content. CBD has exhibited promising results in the treatment of schizophrenia.

    Sorry, I misunderstood your point. THC is increased by commercial breeders because….sorry! What was your point again? Cannabis is good for pain relieve and many other ailments. And?

    Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was also a great devotee of homeopathy, treating both her family and her dogs too, with homeopathic medicines (including Arnica for any injury).

    Right, but you said, “Unfortunately all too many, like me and the Queen mother, are misled into bundling Chinese medicine, wholistic medicine, homeopathy, etc. under the Natural medicine banner.”

    From my research, the Queen Mother was a raving kook. In fact the whole royal family might well be feckin’ raving homeopathic kooks. They certainly adhere to the feckin’ crap. But you reckon they are misled into bundling a bunch of woo woo under the natural medicine banner…wise up laddie. Do you know how many advisor’s the royals have? Lots.

    “Queen Elizabeth II has continued the royal patronage of Homeopathy and the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. Her Homeopath is Dr. Peter Fisher who is the Medical Director of the now Royal London Hospital for Integrative Medicine.”

    Those inbred’s know exactly what is what…they are far from being ‘misled’, do you really want tarred with that same brush? The royals are not ‘misled’ on anything…you might be though.

    BTW, treating animals with creams and lotions from herbal extracts is NOT homeopathy. Because folk want to use the royal warrant to sell their wares, that doesn’t make their wares homeopathic just because they say its so, even if the chinless wonders are too gormless to know any better.

    http://mrvitaminsnews.com.au/homeopathy/homeopathy-and-the-queen

    Biased website, but academic.

    http://m.naturalnews.com/news/031556homeopathyKing.html

    Also a biased website, but academic.

    Keep up the good work.

    I try, not always successful, but I try…and you avoided all the juicy bits of my rebuttal, what a shame.

  56. I understand that various retail outlets have been prosecuted for selling “homoeopathic beer” even though the dilution from the hosepipe was below the initially required 10%.

    It seems to me that a practical experiment could be carried out on “believers”.

    First you take their favourite alcoholic drink and dilute it with 10 parts of water. Then repeat the process ad-nausium, and let them savour the water molecules “memory” of the original, from the available buckets! ( I know – a terrible waste!) – Breathalyser anyone???

  57. I’d rather be ‘cured’ by a placebo than rely on science and remain ill

    I’d rather have a crushed limb cured by Harry Potter’s magic wand than have it amputated by a real surgeon and have a disability!

    Ah! Well! – Back to reality!

  58. In reply to #33 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #30 by AlGarnier:

    I will admit I have not read Dawkins “The Enemy of Reason” therefore, I cannot comment on his angst concerning homeopathy. I realize that there are many charlatans practicing homeopathy, just as too many who practice modern medicine are quacks. But, I do not understand the sweeping comments that all homeopathy is scientifically bogus. Vitamins, minerals and physical exercise are crucial elements in human cell reproduction and are prominent in homeopathic or (natural remedies), at least where I live. I would surmise that Dawkins is adhering to the dictionary interpretation of homeopathy and does not include plant or natural source remedies as part of homeopathy in his opinion of it’s efficacy.
    Eg. Marijuana and the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) counters the effect of THC and has had positive results in treating schizophrenia (the religion disease). I do not comprehend homeopathy’s total dismissal by the scientific community, irrespective of placebo effect. That is not good science. I must be missing something here?!

    You are missing something. From your comment it seems to me you are confusing homeopathy with holistic medicine. Homeopathy is nonsense but holistic medicine, the idea that diet, emotions, exercise, etc. can play a role in maintaining health is now more or less main stream because it is backed up by empirical research.

    Homeopathy refers to the practice of putting microscopic amounts of a toxin into water, the idea being that a very small dose of something can help you. At least I think that’s the idea, its been a while since I read about it and once I started to understand it I realized it was so ridiculous it didn’t deserve much more attention. A common critique is that given the impurity of most drinking water and the theory behind homoepathy drinking unfiltered tap water constitutes a homeopathic cure.

    Just be careful what it is your claiming to be accepted with Holistic Medicine for it has been hijacked by the Alternative brigade, The Holistic umbrella does indeed include Homeopathy as well as a variety of other woo alternatives such as natural diet and herbal remedies, nutritional supplements, psycho-spiritual counseling, meditation, acupuncture, osteopathy and crystals. Claiming that Holistic medicine is accepted as main stream (Science based medicine) is woefully misleading.

    Diet and exercise have been part of modern medicine for decades and is nothing new, what is new and exclusive to alternative medicine is the claim that diet alone can cure and prevent disease and illness. What Modern medicine knows through years of research is that diet can lower ones risk to certain illnesses and disease. You can have the best diet money can buy, be fit and healthy but it is still possible to get colds, the flu and all other illnesses and diseases like anyone else.

  59. “What did Einstein say? “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.””

    If there is one unfortunate truth these days, it would be that every time someone mention single quotes by Einstein that person is most likely to be an idiot and stupid person who actually does not know the first thing about Einstein but found some convenient quote attributed to Einstein on Google and pretends that he is an Einstein scholar.

  60. A couple of (tangential) comments GospelofJudas,

    The teacher with a doctorate who spoke at my wife’s nursing school had a doctorate in nursing. The label of someone like that is a bit of a hot button issue in American medicine, as doctors wish to keep the word ‘doctor’ for the use of those with an MD, while nursing (which is a distinct and different body of knowledge, focusing in many cases on holistic care more so than acute care) should be distinguished by calling them nurses still. Why the distinction? Ego, maybe.

    I have seen similar feeling in the UK with ‘Nurse Consultants’ and ‘Clinical Nurse Specialists’ – they are generally highly-experienced nurses taking on a defined role within a medical speciality which may have traditionally been performed by a doctor. The problem comes when the general public believe they are doctors – either because they introduce themselves (technically correctly) by their academic qualification of Doctor (less common as calling oneself a ‘registered medical practitioner’ (i.e. Doctor in a healthcare setting) is limited, under English law, to those with a medical degree) or because ‘Consultant’ is the title of an autonomously practising fully-trained medical doctor (cf. Attending Physician/Surgeon in the USA) and sometimes, the nurse may not be quick to explain the distinction…

    …if holistic care is important, isn’t that a subjective experience for most? Making sure that someone is in a good state of mind to heal themselves starts getting away from hard sciences a little and more into the realm of psychology (which I understand has come a long way, but the human mind is still being rigorously explored).

    Regarding teaching ‘holistic care’ I suspect your wife’s colleagues’ disdain for these particular Doctorate nurses is that they feel they have wasted good nursing career time espousing what should be, if not common sense, at least taught on the job
    (as Amos said, ‘bedside manner’). There is a similar feeling in areas of UK medical education that new doctors are in some ways ‘nicer’ in that they get lots of teaching about exploring patients’ feelings and expectations but are not as good at the scientific medicine bit. Whilst it is definitely a good thing to involve the patient in their own care, I’ve found some (both doctors and patients) consider it is the doc’s role to figure out what’s wrong and fix it, and occasionally, the touchy-feely be damned.

    …the pharmaceutical system in the United States is profit driven (we’re one of two countries in the world where pharma companies can advertise directly to consumers, did you know that?), and to be frank, there’s more money in keeping someone alive through your products than there is making them better. Look at Dr. Burzynski’s cancer treatment methods and tell me that there wasn’t an interest in quashing it.

    I hope you’re not suggesting that Burzynski’s treatments are anything other than selling false hope. His horrendous practise of taking small fortunes off families at the limits of desperation to give them what is essentially placebo (‘Antineoplastons’) mixed with questionable combinations of conventional chemotherapy is beyond criminally unethical. He uses the classic blame-the-victim reasoning of ‘Improvement = my treatment, Deterioration = you didn’t come to me quickly enough’ (see http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/12/12/what-dr-stanislaw-burzynski-doesnt-want/)

    Figuring out what to do when the evidence and patient desire differ, is a large part of the art of medicine and is what separates a doctor from a technician.

  61. The placebo effect must also be at work in conventional medicine. Do we know to what extent? There have been stories of placebos being more effective than the prospective drug but we hardly ever hear about them. Even more troubling is the pharmaceutical companies using the file drawer effect to their own advantage and only publishing positive resulte (much worse in america I understand) . The matter was raised in the Houses of Parliament in an effort to get the companies to publish all results. At the moment we are being provided with some drugs that may not be effective or have undesirable side effects and the information is hidden away from public scrutiny.

  62. Yeah, homeopathy is 100% unadulterated fraudulent bullshit. If it were processed the same way homeopathic medicines are, it would be a tasty, refreshing thirst-quencher. The outrage is that it presents itself as something it is trivially proven not to be. The fact that the Windsors buy into it merely supports a proof that it is easier to breed for looks (and not always that) than intelligence.

  63. May I inject a small dose of common sense here?

    Why is there always such an unwarranted panic induced whenever the “Placebo Effect” is mentioned? It is well documented and is widely accepted by the mainstream medical fraternity as being valid, to the extent that it is not only used in prescriptive form in certain circumstances but causes no end of problems for trials of would-be drugs.

    It may suggest means via which the organism is susceptible to control owing to the “belief of the patient” – but that is no reason to object to it, nor to panic about it. If it exists, it exists – and we have to explain it.

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