Groucho Marx

Blog Archive – December 2006

Click here for translations

“ I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives. ”
Leo Tolstoy

“ Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
Democritus of Abdera

December 07 2006

The studiously unstudied

They're at it again. Yet another medical academic hits the headlines with a denouncement of homeopathy, yet again attempting to scare people away, this time by targeting children. Glasgow's The Herald put the story on its front page on Monday under the headline "Homeopathic medicines ‘not good for children’" (article now only available by pay per view or subscription to the archives).

The study by Aberdeen University analysed the records of nearly two million patients in 323 practices from 2003-4, and revealed that 60% of GP practices in Scotland make homeopathic and herbal medical prescriptions. Dr James McLay, a clinical pharmacologist and 'leading child health care expert' according to The Herald, said "There is a real drive to use rational and proven medication and the whole thing about homeopathy is it is totally unproven and totally irrational as well." He goes on to say, "It is difficult to know why children are being prescribed homeopathy. If one assumes homeopathy works because of the placebo effect, and I personally do believe that, you can't do that with children under one year old."

Yet another beautiful example of mistaking the map for the territory; of extrapolating apparent "sense" from a set of questionable presumptions. At least Dr McLay is to be congratulated for stating this clearly ("if one assumes ...", "I personally do believe ..." ) rather than attempting to pass his opinions off as incontrovertible "fact" as so many others have done. I wonder if the fact that people using homeopathy for babies to the extent they do has ever caused him to question his assumptions?

There is enormous irony in so many academics denouncing something they have never taken the time to study in depth. After all, academics are supposed to be people that devote their lives to studying things. Perhaps they have just become altogether too enamoured of their theories and separated from the day-to-day reality of treating people who are sick? Funnily enough, this was the principle complaint of Dr Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, and is what led him to develop his therapy. Meanwhile, 60% of those at the coal face of modern medicine in Scotland are making use of a 250 year-old therapy that only four decades ago was practiced by just a handful of stalwarts and which hardly anybody had ever heard of. Do all these academic scientists imagine that homeopathy would have survived the test of time and risen to its current prominence unless there was a good body of evidence and experience amongst those that have tried it to suggest that it actually does work?

More than a few who practice the therapy, and the vast majority of their patients, don't actually care that we don't have a theoretical framework to explain how it works. They're just glad that it does. It seems that the ones who are squealing the loudest are the ones being brought to confront the possibility that their theoretical frameworks might just require some dismantling and rebuilding.

Or perhaps also those who see their vast and unreasonable profiteering at the expense of suffering humanity under threat by a therapy who's remedies are absurdly cheap to produce and which can't be patented? On that subject, the extraordinary course of events surrounding the Swiss PEK study – a spin-off of which was the much-publicised Shang et al meta-analysis published in the Lancet in August 2005 proclaiming 'the end of homeopathy' – provide some very interesting reading. Consider the repeated assertions that homeopathy is "unproven" against this background, and a quite different picture emerges.

December 07 2006 | | | Permalink

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smeddum.net – Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard