Monday, August 20, 2007

Scary stuff

Just watched the second part of Enemies of Reason. This week the target was 'alternative' medicine, such as homeopathy, acupuncture etc. Dawkins pointed out that 80% of these have never been subjected to properly conducted trials and quite rightly (and obviously) concluded that if any of them benefit their patients, it is almost certainly due to the placebo effect - i.e. the users want the 'remedies' to work.

That wouldn't be a problem, but it is the complete disregard (and disrespect) for scientific principles that is worrying, fuelled by unfounded media attacks on science, such as the hysteria over the alleged dangers of the MMR vaccine (which has since caused considerable suffering, including measles outbreaks and one death). Of particular concern to me was the doctor who claimed that we all have black holes inside of us that affect our health, despite having no evidence for this theory - you might as well theorise that sleeping with a teapot cures the common cold. As for ancient remedies, Dawkins reminded us that just because they are long-standing, that does not make them right, as with all beliefs.

Most scary, though, was Deepak Chopra, who openly disputed science and the scientific method, and apparently counts among his followers Hillary Clinton, who could be the next President of the United States.


  1. Worringly nearly everyone in 'alternative' 'medicine' concerned seemed to think it was just fine to propound on causations, underlying powers etc. that have no provable basis. Just nonsense. Though to my mind the most telling point was that alternative practitioners spend up to an hour with patients - i'd feel better after an hour of massaging etc. In fact, I do!

  2. Hi Rupert. Thanks for the comment. The sad thing is that so many people accept these theories without question. As for the time factor, I'm sure GPs would prescribe fewer drugs if they could spend longer with their patients.

  3. Dawkins is a fine scientist but his approach to alternative medicine is too narrow-minded for the complex subject-matter:

    Certainly many alternative practitioners are poorly trained even in their own discipline, let alone in science and scientific thinking. Surely there are charlatans out there. Of course spending an hour with a patient is healthful, all else equal.

    But all of this and the other reasons Dawkins brings up do not explain the many successes of high-quality alternative practitioners with serious chronic diseases that are considered incurable. These successes are too frequent to be explained away as spontaneous remission or the placebo effect -- in the sense that these explanations are just as facile as the alternatives that they try to displace.

    As for his treatment of homeopathy, Dawkins does an especially poor job of it, because the evidence against homeopathy is not as crisp as he'd like it to be. I've written a reply to Dawkins on my homeopathy blog:

    Is Homeopathic Medicine the "Enemy of Reason"?


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