The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Misty Water

I remember walking past the Centre For Homeopathic Medicine in London. It’s a huge, imposing building. Which is ironic, really - you’d think a much smaller building would be more effective.

Obviously homoeopathy is a load of old nonsense and is not merely unproven but thoroughly disproven. Why is medicine the only area in which you can get a ‘complementary’ treatment? Why aren’t there complementary mechanics? They could treat the whole car holistically. They could probably fix a sticky clutch by sticking pins in one of the wheels,

What about the anecdotal evidence? Well, drinking lots of water is good for you. The placebo effect can be a powerful thing, particularly with regard to nebulous psychological conditions such as mood or a sense of general well-being or those niggly little complaints which are part and parcel of being alive.

Homeopathy works in the same way that a lager shandy will be more potent than a straight lager. The lemonade ‘remembers’ the lager and replicates its effect. Similarly, we all know that a gin and tonic will get you more drunk the more tonic there is and the less gin there is. That’s not a fact but don’t let that get in the way of you believing it to be true.

But maybe there is something in it. I like my coffee black. If there’s been so much as a single droplet of milk in it I can tell and will send it back. They love me at Gregg’s for doing that. But coffee with a tiny bit of milk in it is even more revolting than coffee with a lot of milk in it.

One argument in favour of alternative medicine on the NHS is that it keeps the hypochondriacs happy and lets the doctors concentrate on people who are genuinely ill. But, on the other hand, it’s alternative medicine that’s driving tigers to extinction because some Chinese men think their willies are magic.


  1. I've always said it's the same part of the brain as the religion and UFOs bit; some people just need mystery in their lives, and fear the "coldness" of actual knowledge. They erroneously believe that Science (a) already knows everything or (b) *thinks* that it does, and thus needs to be balanced by a healthy amount of comforting ignorance.

    I wish I had been the person who said, "We have a different word for 'Alternative Medicine' that actually works. We call it 'Medicine'."

  2. I took my son to the doctor recently for a non-serious problem. We were offered a homeopathic remedy as an alternative to real medicine. My son is as clued up as I am about the whole subject, so we declined, describing ourselves as "homeopathy sceptics - or scientists." I was bloody furious, to be honest. The rationale was that "some people want it." If some people wanted crystal healing, should we fund that on the NHS? (Stepping back a couple of days, Green policy is for more complementary therapy on the NHS, so they might go for that.)

    I work in the science department of a state school. Tomorrow, there is an exam for the year 10s, where one of the three questions will be about homeopathy. I haven't seen the paper yet, so I don't know quite what the question will be, but I'm concerned. On the one hand, this could be a good chance to get kids to recognise the difference between evidence and anecdote, between a randomised double-blind test and a customer satisfaction survey. And that would be great - science teaching in schools should concern itself with equipping pupils with a functioning bullshit detector. But... why couldn't they have used a genuine scientific controversy instead of bringing made up nonsense into a science classroom? I'm hoping that, once I've seen the questions, it will all be OK, but I can't help thinking that by even mentioning homeopothy in a science lesson, the damage may already have been done (i.e. now some kids may think that the effectiveness of homeopothy is a genuine controversy, rather than the load of old tosh that it is).

  3. I wonder if Niall is reading this, because I wonder if it's the case that placebo-based therapies are only effective on people who are gullible enough to believe in them. Which would seem to mean anyone with a rational view of the universe is unfairly discriminated against.