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Archive for the ‘Homeopathy’ Category

Mirrors on the wail

Friday, October 19th, 2007

“Truth is the shattered mirror strewn in myriad bits; while each believes his little bit the whole to own.”
Robert Burton

Seems the Earth isn’t the only thing that’s hotting up these days. Fierce passions all around the UK are stirring themselves and firing off into the blogosphere on the subject of conventional medicine vs homeopathy. (See last month‘s posts.) The self-proclaimed “sceptics”, convinced they’re championing “the truth”, are becoming more and more outspoken in their self-righteous posturing and attacks on “woo”, prompting the Society of Homeopaths to target one particular piece and have the blogger’s ISP force him to remove the article on threat of prosecution under Britain’s libel laws. Predictably, this has spawned a rash of sympathetic repostings and cries of “thuggery” from the ranks of the sceptics. So much hot air … Jung was so very very right.

Don’t get me wrong, rational scepticism is a healthy and intelligent response to phenomena that challenge our accepted ways of seeing things. But it can also become very easily conflated with personal shadow dynamics, which is when it tends to be adopted as some personal badge, “I”dentified with, and rammed down others’ throats with crusading zeal. Taking a look around some of these blogs is an education. Following the author’s thought and emotional processes, it’s instantly obvious that I could no more convince him (usually) of the strength and “truth” of my “reality” than he could me of his (although having in the past lived something very close to his “reality” as if it were real, I maybe have a bit more understanding of it than he might of mine). It also gave me a real good laugh. And not (for a change!) because I was revelling in some self-righteous superiority of my own and denouncing the lot of them as complete idiots, but because I recognised so much of my own writing in theirs.

It’s that Mirror again … So perhaps the sceptics in turn should read a little Jung and reflect on this knee-jerk compulsion they have to jump on and react to anything that hints at a suprapersonal or metaphysical dimension to existence. And just who are they imagining they’re doing this for? Can’t be for themselves surely, as they’re already convinced of the rightness of their ways. No, they’re the knights in white labcoats championing the cause of some mythical Jo(e) Public who’s supposedly too stupid to be able to differentiate between “pseudoscience” and the “truth” for themselves! Oh mirror, mirror …

A higher level of truth here, taking a leaf out of Gentzen’s Theorem, is that we’re all complete idiots, as thoroughly deserving of the absolute contempt we so delight in heaping on people who don’t see things quite the same we we do as we think they are. How on Earth can we delude ourselves into thinking we’re an intelligent species if, after all these millenia, we still haven’t taken on board that the substrate of “reality” is largely a massive feedback loop returning to us the nature of nothing more and nothing less than ourselves? There is no “truth” “out there” that we don’t have a hand in creating, so arguments about “proof” become merely muscle-flexing, testosterone-fueled demonstrations of the collective strength of belief in any one way of seeing things. (See the essay Unscientific Attachment for more on this.)

Think how much more could be achieved if, instead of this continual tilting at windmills, we stopped defending our corners in the interests of finding out what it’s really all about? Not just in medicine, but in all walks of life. With the way things are going, we’ll have to do this sooner or there’ll be no later. At least, not one that involves humankind.

“Behavior is a mirror in which every one displays his own image.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

New homeopathic resource

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Atropa belladonna

This one deserves an entry to itself (as opposed to just an addition to the Links page).

Vilma Bharatan of London’s Natural History Museum has been working for a number of years on a database of plant/funghal names in homeopathy, translating them to their modern equivalents. Her work was published in book form in 2002, but the updated and expanded database is now online, freely accessible and searchable.

From the site:

“Homeopathic remedies have accumulated gradually over the past 200 years. During this time, the plants and fungi in the various Homeopathic Materiae Medicae have received a variety of epithets, although these are mostly Latin names. Often, the naming of these plant remedies has not followed any recognised botanical or medical code and, despite having some resemblance to the modern botanical system, nearly half of these names needed updating with respect to the current International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN; Greuter et al ., 2000; McNeill et al., 2006). In response to this problem, of outdated and often inaccurate nomenclature, a new checklist was prepared (Bharatan et al ., 2002; Bharatan and Humphries, 2002). This checklist together with the online searchable database can be updated in line with the revisions of the Botanical Code that take place every 6 years.”

Then they fight you

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

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

It really is extraordinary, the lengths some people will go to to try and make reality conform to how they think it ‘should’ be. Or perhaps it’s merely a simple case of trying to destroy that which appears to present a threat to their profits?

I just heard today that there are now a group of people searching out British homeopaths via the internet with the deliberate intent of leading them into an entrapment scenario. They telephone and ask for advice on what the homeopath would recommend they do as they’ve just had a diagnosis of cancer/TB/MS/etc, hoping to draw them into making some claim about the ability of homeopathy to treat such conditions. They then contact the Society of Homeopaths’ Professional Conduct Department citing a breach in their Code of Ethics and Practice, which the Society is then obliged to investigate. Evidence they provide is often selective, so that the quotes misrepresent what has been written or said. Good game, eh?

Well I would like to thank these people most sincerely for their wholehearted endorsement of homeopathy! After all, if it were really just the pure nonsense and woo-woo they publicly claim it to be, such actions on their part would be incomprehensible as well as totally unnecessary. The ‘general public’, for all the scorn heaped on its collective mental prowess by those who consider themselves to be ‘authorities’, is a pretty discerning animal. If something doesn’t work, people soon find out and word gets around, so health fads with no substance (pun intended!) don’t tend to last long, let alone for over 200 years. For someone to go to such lengths to try and discredit homeopathy and the people who practice it, they really must be worried. And dirty tricks departments, by their very nature, don’t get past ‘go’ when it comes to claiming the moral high ground, so they can forget this business about what they’re doing being in the ‘public good’. Isn’t the general idea of good science to encourage the search for truth?

(This is only my opinion, you understand, which is of course an inferior opinion to the opinions of the medical establishment, because they said so.)

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
Giordano Bruno

Then they laugh at you

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Mahatma Gandhi

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Mahatma Gandhi

In the wake of yesterday’s piece by Ben Goldacre in The Guardian (Stick to sugar pills and avoid the hard stuff), gleefully ridiculing homeopathy once again, I found Gandhi’s words (left) coming to me loud and clear as they frequently do when I read articles like this. Now there was a man who knew a thing or too about bringing about sea-changes in prevailing opinion …

Things are running true to form, just as Gandhi predicts. For years homeopathy was ignored as a complete irrelevance, then laughed out of court. Now people are taking it a bit more seriously, we’re into the fighting stage, with the ridiculers continuing to throw their weight in now and again.

A cursory apprehension of Goldacre’s point of view might seem plausible enough, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. What is glaringly obvious to anyone who has anything beyond the most superficial acquaintance with the therapy is that he, and other professional detractors such as Professor David Colquhoun, have never bothered to go further than the prejudice on the ends of their noses to understand why so many people – both patients and practitioners – abandon conventional medicine in favour of it.

Is that good science? Hmmmm …

To attempt to dismiss so many people, among whom will inevitably be a good proportion of rational and intelligent individuals, as misguided fools (or worse) seems more than just a little foolish.

The entire content of Goldacre’s piece comes across as mostly supposition – a set of opinions based on a few choice snippets of information taken out of context, much as American schoolkids’ essays on London often wax lyrical about fog. Goldacre’s assertion that “Peddling fiction is the homeopath’s trade” is typical of the logic that he and his ilk resort to employing in order to support their viewpoints, when in fact what they are peddling is the fiction – a view of homeopathy that coalesces out of the fog of their imagination and bears little or no resemblance to the actuality of daily homeopathic practice in any of its myriad permutations. The notion that all homeopaths are liars, cheats and frauds because what they’re doing can’t be “true” is not a very scientific argument, is it? In fact, it’s on a par with racism. Perhaps The Guardian should send Dr Goldacre out to India to experience the no-nonsense frontline of the therapy in a busy homeopathic hospital, where they treat “the hard stuff” every day. It would be interesting to see how long his theories about what constitutes ‘evidence’ hold up.

Such being the nature of projection, Goldacre is of course massively guilty of the ‘Bad Science’ his column purportedly stands against. Though what is really at issue here is the nature of “proof” itself and the belief in an objectively determinable “reality”. For more on this subject, see my series of essays starting with Unscientific Attachment.

“In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice they’re different.”


Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Cherry picking

“We have actually touched the Borderland where Matter and Force seem to merge into one another, the shadowy realm between the Known and Unknown … I venture to think that the greatest scientific problems of the future will find their solution in this Borderland, and even beyond; here, it seems to me, lie Ultimate Realities, subtle, far-reaching, wonderful.”
Sir William Crookes

Poor Professor David Colquhoun. He’s so caught up in his personal identification with what ‘science’ means to him that he’s driven to ever greater efforts in his attempts to excommunicate subjects like homeopathy from not just his own world view but everybody else’s as well.

He’s not alone, of course. But the more he and those like him rant and rave about what does or does not deserve to be given the status of card-carrying member of the ‘science’ club, the more they reveal the emotional foundation of their position, and the less the argument has anything to do with real science. His latest effort is an article in March 22nd’s Nature magazine entitled ‘Science degrees without the science‘ in which he lambasts British universities for offering science degrees in complementary medicine, judging this as “anti-science”.

Of course, the universities are just drawing their boundaries wide of Prof Colquhoun’s personal comfort zone, which has very little to do with the fundamental nature of rigorous scientific enquiry. (See the essay Unscientific Attachment for more on this subject.) The paradoxical thing about Colquhoun’s increasingly high profile position on the subject is that findings from disciplines likely well within the boundaries of his own definition of ‘science’ have already proved his thinking to be hopelessly flawed. (Not to mention that Jungian psychology also shows it to be highly self-reflective).

Many of the arguments put forward by complementary medicine’s detractors owe more to 19th century scientific reasoning than they do to the 21st century, and where they do make a valid observation, they usually fail to see that exactly the same mechanisms are at work in their own field.

80 years after Werner Heisenberg demonstrated that events do not possess an absolute deterministic predictability independent of the people who are ‘observing’ them, medical science continues to worship the gold standard of the randomised double blind clinically controlled trial for all the world as if it’s based on solid foundations instead of an invalid assumption and the type of linear logic that’s more appropriate to understanding machines than living systems. While being able to readily perceive the fundamental flaws in RCT methodology when applied to ‘unacceptable’ subjects, the same individuals appear totally blind to the same flaws operating within the bounds of what they view as ‘acceptable’. Trumpeting that ‘belief’ plays a large part in complementary medicine’s effectiveness, they miss the fact that exactly the same process is operating in conventional medicine, and with far greater strength at that. Instead of taking the intelligent scientific view that such phenomena need to be properly investigated, tested and incorporated into our understanding of the processes at work, they simply let the evidence feed their unthinking prejudice.

“The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth”
Niels Bohr

What’s more, that tired old chestnut that dilutions which contain no trace of material substance cannot possibly produce any result

” … relies on a quaint old idea from the nineteenth century that the ONLY way that the property of water can be affected or changed is by incorporating foreign molecules. This is the Avogadro-limit high-school level chemistry argument. To a materials scientist this notion is absurd, since the fundamental paradigm of materials-science is that the structure-property relationship is the basic determinant of everything. It is a fact that the structure of water and therefore the informational content of water can be altered in infinite ways” ( Prof Rustum Roy PhD, Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State Emeritus; Professor of Science, Technology and Society Emeritus; Professor of Geochemistry Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University)

Landmark achievements in scientific enquiry owe most to individuals who have been able to step outside the prejudices of their conditioning and perceive natural processes in a fresh light without attachment to underlying assumptions. If anyone is “anti-science”, it’s those who cling noisily and somewhat desperately to the sacred cows populating their maps of the world, behaving exactly as one would expect from people who have projected their own individual sense of identity onto their chosen occupation and who experience some kind of personal affront when faced with a challenge to what they perceive as that occupation’s fixed consensus view of the world. (In reality, no such consensus exists and what is generally held to be ‘true’ by any majority of the individuals involved is constantly changing and evolving.) People like Prof Colquhoun seem to feel that the solution to the problem is not to rise to the challenge but to try to bully everyone else into ignoring it or rejecting it in the hopes that it’ll go away. Unfortunately, life just isn’t like that and truth has a way of coming to light regardless.

Interviewed by Nature magazine for an accompanying news item on the subject of university degrees in complementary medicine, Ben Goldacre, a London-based medical doctor, journalist and frequent critic of homeopathy, says. “I can only imagine that they teach that it’s OK to cherry-pick evidence. That’s totally unacceptable.” Indeed it is. But it seems that both Dr Goldacre and Prof Colquhoun are no mean cherry-pickers themselves. Didn’t their mothers teach them to check themselves in the mirror before venturing out into the big bad world?

“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
George Bernard Shaw

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

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