The Bobbu

Watered Down Bullshit

Half empty of half full? A representation of homeopathy

Why do people seem to want to cling on to magical potions, and supernatural, inexplicable hocus-pocus cures? Yep, today I’m pissed off about homeopathy.

It’s disappointed me that a poll on the Guardian about whether or not we should ban homeopathy in the NHS is currently sitting at just 55/45 in favour of getting rid of the stuff. That means that almost half the people voting believe that we should allow snake oil to be sold on the NHS. What the hell is wrong with them?

I could go into how none of the “science” done by homeopaths has managed to actually succeed in showing anything more than a placebo effect; or how the entire premise upon which the treatment is supposed to work is physically impossible according to all our current scientific models: but there are better examinations of the scientific claims of homeopathy out there done by scientists. I’m not a scientist, I’m just someone concerned with the truth.

As such, I get very annoyed when people start spouting bollocks about how scientists who deny the validity of homeopathy are not “real scientists”, because they don’t have minds so open that their brains fall out. For clarification – a scientist does not require an open mind. In fact, a scientists is better off having a mind that is geared towards skepticism and careful examination of any proposed claim; it’s only through challenging things, and rigorously testing them that we can ascertain the truth of the matter. That’s the foundation of empirical, modern science.

Then again, the assumption seems to be that one cannot have an open mind and disbelieve the claims of homeopathy at the same time. Now, I like to believe that there is a possibility that some UFOs might actually be extraterrestrials. I believe that the human mind could be capable of incredible, almost paranormal things. I think that qualifies me as having a mind which is open to possibilities beyond the acceptable norm. However, just because I’m open minded about them, doesn’t mean every time I see a light in the sky I declare it to be a flying saucer; nor do I believe that all stage psychics must have some kind of strange power. There is a difference between being open minded enough to accept that there are possibilities, and being gullible enough to be a believe them despite evidence to the contrary.

And it’s not as though most of the believers have been convinced by compelling evidence, either. Most of them simply say something like “well it worked to cure my cold.” Or “I heard that it worked really well in this one study I’ve not actually read.” That’s wonderful for you, you poor, gullible wretch. Trouble is, when you try to explain placebo effect, confirmation bias, or reasonable sample sizes to them, they tend to respond with an expression akin to a canine who has been shown an illusion. I’ve even seen people try to sidestep these points by saying that the worst it can do is nothing; doing nothing to help when someone has a serious illness is pretty bad when it comes to medicine, actually. Morons.

Let me give you an example of an argument with a homeopathic supporter I actually had earlier:

Cretin: ” I have had some good results from homeopathy and the worst it can do is nothing. Lots of prescription drugs have side effects. Just because you don’t understand how something works doesn’t mean you should deny it works. Who’s the real scientists?”

Me: “The true scientists are still the people following the experimental evidence that homeopathy is no more effective than a similarly administered placebo, and is based upon bad science. The real scientists are still the people who believe in rigorous empirical testing, not having such ‘open minds’ that your brain falls out.”

Cretin: “First stop the NHS paying for silicone breast implants. Then tell me what bad science is.”

Me: “…cretin.”

So it looks to me like the problem with getting through to people who support this fake science (and the quacks that practice it) isn’t entirely an issue of scientific misunderstanding. It’s a problem of rhetoric and understanding logical statements, too: Namely that these “open-minded” folks seem incapable of identifying, never mind using, a coherent set of statements. Maybe if we taught a little more about how to recognise a faulty argument in schools than we do about the methods to pass exams, we might have a few less gullible people in the world. Just maybe when I next have a discussion about homeopathy someone could actually try to defend their position, rather than spout incoherent bollocks.

But what I really do not understand is the emotional investment people seem to put into homeopathy, and general distrust of the medical establishment. I can understand, to a degree, an unshakeable faith in a god who can protect one from harm (and even death). I can even understand climate scepticism, though only in the context of money-grabbing oil industrialists & people too lazy to change. But that magical properties of water can make insubstantial amounts of poison more powerful curatives than actual medicine? Can anyone explain that to me, please?

Published March 21, 2012 at 10:07 am