Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A simple myth - homeopathy

A simple myth is more attractive than a complex reality.

So says John Cook in his Debunking Handbook, which is a guide for skeptics who are tempted to challenge the world-views of the credulous people around them.  By 'credulous' you might think I mean only the people who believe in their own local religions, but in fact I use the term much more broadly.

All of us are credulous.  I myself have seen 'evidence' for the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment in a 'miraculous' cure of an annoying ailment that one of my children suffered as an infant.  Remarkably, after two bouts of minor surgery, a homeopathic treatment appeared to clear up the problem.  18 months later, a recurrence of the same ailment appeared to be cured again by the same homeopathic approach.  Obviously homeopathy works, and for a while I was convinced by the idea.  After all, it was quite comforting to find that my grandparents had been believers in it too.  I was left wondering why it was not in the mainstream of medicine if it worked so well.

These instances of luck and coincidence can now be recognised as being just that, because 16 years later I can say that I have seen no more evidence at all that homeopathy works, and have seen a great deal of evidence to the contrary.  Not all homeopaths are charlatans of course.  I believe that many of them believe completely in their art.

Of course the answer, in the words of the great Tim Minchin, is quite simple.  As he says  - there is a name for alternative medicine that works.  It is called "medicine".

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