Most of the time, so-called "alternative medicine" is treated very gently by television news. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t want to tick off their viewers, or the reporters don’t look into it properly, or if they believe in it themselves. But no matter the reason, it’s always refreshing to see a show really tear into something like homeopathy. That’s precisely what the Australian program "Today Tonight" did recently:
The report featured such noted skeptics as Simon Singh, Richard Saunders, and James Randi, and made it very clear that homeopathy is just very expensive nonsense. I’m glad they didn’t make the report "balanced" by giving a lot of time to promoters of homeopathy; that’s not balance any more than giving time to someone who believes in storks delivering babies in a segment about infant health care.
It’s not hard to describe just how silly homeopathy is — after all, diluting a substance in water until nothing is left is clearly not a great way to base a medicinal practice. Unless you’re trying to cure dehydration. But if describing homeopathy’s silliness is easy, doing it well is another matter; most people don’t have a very good sense of scale when it comes to very big and very small numbers (I guess numbers that dwarf even a trillion weren’t necessary for our ancestors on the plains of Africa, so we never evolved a way to grasp them).
[You really must click through to see the whole thing.]
Well, pictures of her, anyway, and the concept of Felicia’s uniqueness. This is actually a pretty good analogy: you can put Felicia into various categories (like women named Felicia, redheads, guest stars on "House"*, and so on) and compare that number to how much homeopathy dilutes various solutions.
I think this method really works! I love how he used Marian Call and Adam Savage in the redhead category, too.
Anyway, I hope this gets picked up far and wide by the geek ‘net. The more people who grasp the nonsense of homeopathy, the better. After all, there’s nothing to it.
Homeopathy is very popular in America, Australia, and other countries. Thing is, it doesn’t work. There’s no medicine in it, there’s no science behind it, and tests have shown repeatedly and without question that there’s no medicinal effect in it beyond that of a placebo.
And yet, homeopathic sugar pills are being sold next to real medicine at pharmacies across the planet, including RiteAid, Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens in the US. People take these non-drugs, spending billions — billions — of dollars on what is provably nonsense.
That’s why the 10:23 campaign started, to show that homeopathy doesn’t work. People all over the world are gathering this weekend to raise awareness of this. Homeopathy is not harmless. People are taking these pills instead of real medicine, in many cases making them sicker, and in far too many cases dying because of it.
James Randi made a short video to promote the campaign. If there is a local version in your area, go take a look and show them your support.
Last week, the Canadian TV consumer advocate program "Marketplace" did a piece on homeopathy, and man oh man did it make my skeptic brain do flips of delight. Completely junking any pretense of false balance — where some ludicrous idea gets as much air time as reality — they went after homeopathy with both lobes, and really showed it for the flim flam it is.
If you’re unaware of this practice, homeopathy is the idea that plain old water can cure any ailment. Homeopaths, of course, say there’s more to it than that, but their claims have been shown countless times to be, um, not supported by evidence. At all.
If you’re in Canada you can watch the whole Marketplace episode online, but for the rest of us, it’s on YouTube in two parts. Here’s the first part:
Part 2 can be found here.
The critical thinking site Skeptic North has more details, including some minor complaints about the program. I agree with their analysis, but also want to make sure we all see the big picture here: this is one of those very rare times where a TV show actually exposes an antireality alt-med idea for what it is: nonsense.
If only there were more shows like this. I have a long, long list of topics they could cover.
And remember, according to their own logic:
If homeopathy works, then obviously the less you use it, the stronger it gets. So the best way to apply homeopathy is to not use it at all.
Two very cool skeptical announcements:
The Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism — NECSS, pronounced "NEXUS" or possibly "glaven" — has just opened its registration! This weekend conference is in downtown NYC, and will be a terrific event. The speakers include Jennifer Michael Hecht (who spoke at TAM 8 and was terrific), George Hrab, Genie Scott (I <3 her so much), and many others, including (ahem) me! In fact, I’m the keynote speaker for the conference, which paradoxically makes me proud and humbled.
NECSS will be held April 9 – 10, 2011. There are plenty of other extracurricular events as well, including a trip to the American Museum and Natural History (which I’ll be attending as we tour the space exhibit), a concert by George Hrab, and more. Registration is only $95 for both days, and some discounts are available. So go here to register. I want to see lots of BABloggees there!
My friends at the Center for Inquiry-Vancouver are performing a homeopathic overdose for the Canadian TV network CBC’s show Marketplace, a consumer advocate program. From the online preview it really looks like this will be an actual fair and balanced presentation… in that it shows homeopathy not to work. If so, this will be one of those very rare times when reality actually makes it on TV, and homeopathy is shown for what it is: nonsense. The show airs tonight, January 14, at 8:00 p.m. So, my neighbors to the north, tune in and watch what one of your Canuckian skeptical groups is doing.
Darryl Cunningham — the man who did this devastating comic strip about antivaxxers — has turned his sights on homeopathy. In just a few dozen panels he describes this alt-med nonsense, shows why it’s nonsense, shows why it’s dangerous, and then provides a dramatic and emotional example of just how and why belief in homeopathy can kill.
His terse description of the Penelope Dingle case hits like a punch in the throat. Homeopathy is dangerous, mostly because it lures people away from real medicine. But it’s also dangerous because it promotes magical thinking, which eats away at all of reality.
Oh, how I loves me an alt-med smackdown: at a meeting of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors, Dr. Tom Dolphin, deputy chairman, said:
Homeopathy is witchcraft. It is a disgrace that nestling between the National Hospital for Neurology and Great Ormond Street [in London] there is a National Hospital for Homeopathy which is paid for by the NHS [National Health Service].
Ha! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Despite what homeopaths say, homeopathy has been shown beyond any reasonable doubt to have no effect above that of a placebo. That won’t stop homeopaths from still claiming it works; they’ll use anecdotes, they’ll use evidence distorted and twisted into a Möbius strip, or they’ll simply make stuff up.
2010 may very well be the best year skeptics have ever had, and we’re only two months in!
Why, you ask? Because the Ministers of Parliament in the UK have decided that homeopathy is a waste of the National Health Service’s money.
Homeopaths get taxpayer support in the UK to the tune of £4M per year (and probably more), money which goes to prescriptions and four homeopathic hospitals — hospitals which I assume are incredibly tiny, so that their cures are stronger.
Ha! See what I did there?
Anyway, the taxpayers’ money is being wasted because homeopathy is pseudoscientific nonsense. It’s water, pure (ha!) and simple, and has no efficacy beyond that of a placebo. Myriads of tests have shown this beyond any reasonable doubt. And, in fact, homeopathy is dangerous because it can divert people away from taking real medicine, which can have very serious repercussions.
I am thrilled with this news! Now, this does not mean homeopathy will promptly be defunded. It looks like there will be more reports and such, and the NHS will have a response to the MPs in a couple of months. But it’s a major step, and a good one.
I received a mysterious email recently, promoting what to me sounds like a great idea: a concerted effort in the UK to increase the public awareness that homeopathy is quackery, pure and simple. It’s called the 10:23 Campaign, and it’s being promoted by various skeptic groups in Britain. The website is a placeholder for now, but you can sign up there for updates.
Why do this? Well, as they say,
Homeopathy is an ancient, pre-scientific and absurd pseudoscience. Yet it persists today as an accepted complementary medicine, largely because people don’t know what it is.
The 10:23 Campaign aims to show the public what homeopathy is and explain how we know it doesn’t work. It will launch in early 2010.
Excellent. And why call it the 10:23 Campaign? Well, happily I have a mole who informs me of such things.
What do you get when you mix homeopathy with astrology?
I should say that I have to give a kudo to the author for trying to set up a scientific experiment to see what would happen, but the experiment itself is so hopelessly flawed!
In fact it’s so wrong it’s hard to know where to start. The lack of double blinding. The single blinding still being able to influence the testers. The fact that all the testers were believers, and able to influence each other. The starting supposition that a) homeopathy works, and 2) astrology works (when neither does). A lack of clear results predicted so that conclusions (either negative or positive) could be drawn. The very subjective observations. And so on.
It’s clear from the article that the homeopath/astrologer means well, and is actually curious about all this. I wonder if there is any reliable way to take that curiosity, that well-meaning intention, and redirect it toward science? If there is — besides slowly and methodically banging the drum of reason — I’d love to know. A lot of people who believe in things like homeopathy and astrology and all that really are naturally curious, intelligent people, but somewhere down the line they strayed off the narrow path that winds its way through reality, and it would be nice to find a good way to nudge them back in the right direction.
Tip o’ the precessed vial of distilled water to Krelnik.