There’s some New Age-y stuff I’m cool about – fortune telling, astrology and ghost tours. These things can be fun and they’re only life-threatening to those on the psychological edge, who take them more seriously than they should.
But there’s a whole class of alternative things that are dangerous and here I’m talking particularly about homeopathy. Homeopathy must be the most studied of all alternative medicines and what we know for certain about it is this: it doesn’t work. In order to pretend it works, you have to argue for a suspension of the laws of nature.
Today I saw Dana Ullman’s post on homeopathy on the Huffington Post which brought back my New Age days in full force. I remember having so many discussions with passionate people which sounded just like this blog. Ullman uses every New Age-y little trick to ‘prove’ that black is white. If you ever see or hear any of the following, be careful, because somebody wants you to part with either your cash or your brains:
- Name dropping. Specific scientists are quoted and it is always emphasized how well thought of and famous these people are. However, the work of the scientists in question often has no direct bearing on the claim being made.
- Arguments by analogy. This is whereby two things are compared in such a way that they suggest a relationship that does not, in fact, exist. For example, Ullman writes:“It is commonly assumed that homeopathic medicines are composed of extremely small doses of medicinal substances. And yet, does anyone refer to an atomic bomb as an extremely small dose of a bomb? In actual fact, there is a power, a very real power, in having atoms smash against each other.”
See what he does there? He creates a chain of logic out of thin air. Some unnamed people assume that homeopathic substances have small doses in them. Atom bombs have small doses in them – of what, he doesn’t say, but we can assume he means fissile materials – so therefore homeopathy is as powerful as an atom bomb.
- Appeals to special cases. Because homeopathy has failed every test, its practitioners argue that it can’t be tested because of its nature.
Ullman says: “It is important to understand that nanopharmacological doses will not have any effect unless the person is hypersensitive to the specific medicinal substance. Hypersensitivity is created when there is some type of resonance between the medicine and the person. Because the system of homeopathy bases its selection of the medicine on its ability to cause in overdose the similar symptoms that the sick person is experiencing, homeopathy’s principle of similars is simply a practical method of finding the substance to which a person is hypersensitive.”
Got that? The reason homeopathy fails every test it’s put to is because it requires a special, hypersensitive person to make it work. Unlike, say, aspirin, which works on everybody, even if their body mass, age and state of sickness means they may need a different dose.
- Rampant generalizations. ‘Tens of millions’ of people have found homeopathy effective. ‘Groups of scientists’ have worked on it, and so on.
Still, just because someone makes an inarticulate argument doesn’t mean they’re wrong. So ask yourself this question: if you were in a serious car accident, would you prefer to be treated by a homeopath or by an intensive care unit? Funnily enough, when it comes to the crunch, most people choose the intensive care unit.
That’s because the consequences of using homeopathy for treating real illnesses is, literally, hideous.
Anyway, all my conversations with my New Age friends on these topics used to end the same way: science doesn’t have the answer for everything and one day it will catch up.
What if science already DOES have the answer and you just don’t like it? In the case of homeopathy, it definitely does have the answer – homeopathy doesn’t work and people who keep peddling this nonsense are charlatans and frauds.
Not convinced by my rave? Read this.