Brits are very, very fearful of ridicule – most humans are, but the Brits are especially sensitive to it. For a Brit it ranks right up there at the top of things to avoid at all cost, and much of the population runs its life accordingly. And so we see everyone taking sides and hedging their bets on this issue. Homeopaths are by and large, thank goodness for humanity, immune to it. 200 years of swimming against the tide of closed minds has toughened them up.
The placebo effect is a hot topic in science. Right now it allows a paternalistic Dr Goldacre to pronounce homeopaths well meaning but delusional – which is somehow nicer than homeopaths deliberately peddling sugar pills and ripping off the public. It’s the hour long consultation with a caring attentive homeopath that’s responsible for the good effect – the people who see homeopaths are not really ill, and would have got better anyway. Either way, the result is the same – however nicely it’s couched, it’s a misrepresentation of homeopathy.
The thing is, Dr G may be able to wax lyrical about the placebo effect – which given the cultural power vested in a man, (and occasionally) a woman, in a white coat with a stethoscope hanging round their neck, should be much more powerful in conventional medicine – but at the end of the day it’s all a distraction.
A typical Q and A session about homeopathy = the placebo effect goes something like this:
Q1. Some homeopaths are caring people who spend hours with their patients, listening to their stories and empathizing with them – but their patients don’t do well.
Answer: That’s because the patients enjoy seeing the homeopath so much there’s no incentive to get better because then they won’t get that feel good aspect anymore / homeopathy doesn’t work. (But I thought you said it was the placebo effect?)
Q2. Some homeopaths are very businesslike and hold 10 minute consultations, but their patients do very well.
Answer: That’s because they exude an air of confidence that transmits to the patient and that increases the placebo effect. (A bit like a medical doctor you mean?)
Q3. Some patients do not respond to the remedy, even though the practitioner is absolutely convinced that the remedy is the correct one.
Answer: The practitioner probably had a bad day and this transmitted to the patient and undermined the patient’s confidence in that particular remedy / homeopathy doesn’t work.
Q4. When the same patient comes back and the practitioner realizes they made a mistake and prescribes a different remedy, the patient makes a miraculous recovery.
Answer: The practitioner had a good day and this increased the patient’s confidence in the new remedy/ the patient was getting better anyway. (You mean another coincidental resolution perfectly timed with administration of a remedy?)
Q5. Patients who have consulted with numerous conventional medical specialists for 30 years with no results, get better within a few weeks or months of seeing a homeopath.
Answer: See Q4. The last conventional treatment finally started to work, it’s just that the patient and their doctor could not see the signs. (Another coincidence?)
Q6. Homeopathy works on newborn babies.
Answer: That’s because the mother is more attentive and caring and transmits that to the two day old baby, they are subject to the placebo effect as well you know. (Wow that’s pretty powerful stuff, shouldn’t we be utilizing it instead of giving newborns conventional drugs?)
Q7. It works on comatose patients.
Answer: Oh that’s because at some subliminal level the patient is aware of what’s going on around him/her and knows that the ‘sugar pills’ are going to help / they were getting better anyway. (Another coincidence?)
Q8. It works on herds of cows with mastitis when poured into their communal drinking trough.
Answer: Oh come on, not that animal argument again, they’re subject to the placebo effect as well! (A herd of cows in a field drinking from a communal water trough? In a blinded trial?)
Q9. It works on plants – individual plants and fields of crops.
Answer: Yeah right, what next, cells in test tubes?
Q10. It works on basophils in test tubes, a phenomenon repeated by respected scientists in 11 independent studies in labs across Europe.
Answer: What? Oh that! Yeah I saw the BBC Horizon TV program with the magician Randi and the Royal Society blokes – they blew that one right out of the water!
Q11. It works on cell lines in Petri dishes.
Answer: Listen I’m bored with this now – can we talk about something else?
Q12. It works in serious acute illnesses faster than antibiotics or anti-virals, despite the consultation being only a few minutes long. In places like India it is routinely used successfully to treat cholera and typhoid, dysentery, meningitis…..
Answer: Yeah but that’s NOT HERE is it? Who cares what those people over there do/ they’re not as sophisticated so they’re more susceptible to placebo. Anyway we’re talking about wasting NHS money on sugar pills! (Whatever…)
Fact: The research evidence into high dilution/succussion effects is already in and has increased dramatically in just the last few years. Science is not about denying what doesn’t fit a limited view of the world – it’s about exploring frontiers of what doesn’t seem to fit the current view.
Health Warning: To any scientist thinking of getting involved in the investigation of high dilution effects on biological systems or material structures, you need to know that you seriously risk having your credentials trashed and your Nobel Prize called into question. Homeopathic history is sadly littered with people who have been felled by the weapon of ridicule, for daring to question the scientific status quo.
Dr G said at the recent parliamentary committee meeting that “physics is not something that interests me”, well maybe it should – because before this is over you and your compadres might want to eat some of your words.
What’s the real reason for the obsession with Avogadro’s number and sugar pills? It’s not to protect the patient or save the NHS money. No ladies and gentleman it’s politics, politics, politics….
And by the way – just to clarify – high dilution/succussion is only the method of administering the homeopathic medicine – it’s not Homeopathy. Homeopathy is the Law of Similars. Ever wonder why Ritalin – a stimulant – is so effective for hyperactivity?
But that’s for another day.