psychology science

Homeopathy Generics

Simon Singh approached his debate with homeopathy-promoting MP David Tredinnick all wrong this morning. He dived into a critique of the studies Tredinnick presented, thus allowing him to maintain the advantage of framing the debate and losing most of the audience with discussion of statistics and control groups [1].

Instead, he should have laughed at the MP and said gently something like “It is undoubtedly true that homeopathy does work, the only question is about why it works. All the evidence suggests that the effect is due to a combination of the power of individual’s beliefs about homoeopathy and the healing benefits of a meaningful relationship with a physician. For every 1 study that says, like David Tredinnick’s three, that homeopathy has benefits beyond those of placebo there are 50 which suggest that homeopathy medicines are inert and all the properties ascribed to them are properties of belief and relationships. Because of this, we need to ask if we want to allow a misguided homeopathy industry to charge us for medicines which we know to be snake oil, and whether there is not some less expensive and less deceitful way we can access the powerful healing effects that placebos such as homeopathy provide.”

On that last point, I’ve had an idea. Homeopathy is fake medicine, and obviously this has lots of benefits. All the power of placebos! Minimal risk and side-effects! Safe to use in combination with conventional medicine! The only downside I can see is that only patients you allow to remain misinformed can benefit and that the homeopathy industry has all this rigmarole involved in the preparation and delivery of the product that necessarily makes it expensive. So why not sell fake homopathic medicine? I don’t see how homeopaths could object if the medical establishment turns their strategy back on them. We could even use their experimental methods to replicate the successful results they’ve found with homeopathic treatment for our fake-homeopathic treatment. Instead of branded pharmaceuticals you can buy generic pharmaceuticals which have the same chemical composition at the fraction of the price, why can’t we buy homeopathy generics which are equally inert? Doctors could be free to prescribe them, saving the NHS money and simultaneously allowing patients access to all the wonderful benefits of placebo.

[1] Not that discussion of statistics and control groups is a bad thing, or a guaranteed way to lose your audience, I just think Singh lost his because of the way he discussed statistics and control groups, and because it wasn’t essential to the wider issues


Links for May 2010