Waffling in THREE dimensions.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Thoughts on Homeopathy

Today, I come to you representing a disenfranchised and persecuted minority group, the homeopaths. Homeopathy is the radical notion that drinking water is good for you. But not just any water, this water has been energized by adding some mineral, like sulfur or Natrum muriaticum (a version of table salt sold to New Agers), and then reenergized even further by adding more water. The more water the better, also if that water comes from far away that also helps. Preferably by train for some reason, because homeopaths don't how the water cycle works. But that's not their fault; clearly science education has failed them.

Homeopaths swear by the effectiveness of this elixer. They boast of numerous health benefits that come from this lifestyle, like really clear urine. As someone who regularly voids the color of apple juice, and once the color of Blue Voltage Mountain Dew, I suppose I might be proud of that too.

Recently this group of peaceful aquaphiles has been under attack by a sinister force, The Amazing Randi. This diabolical magician insists that these claims of benefit are "woo-woo," the Canadian equivalent of the word bogus. Using his power of hypnosis, he incited dozens, perhaps hundreds, of militant skeptics to exceed the recommended dosage of several over the counter homeopathic remedies. A man in West Virginia, clearly wishing for the sweet death caress of death in a way only West Virginians can, took one million times the recommended dosage. With his mass suicide failing to claim a single nap, Randi's forces of negative vibes and vehement eye rolling have declared a mild victory on the forces of pseudoscience. They have also sunk their tendrils into the last bastion of truth, Wikipedia, where the word "remedy" has menacing quotation marks surrounding it like a pack of wolves. Things fair even worse for "potentization" which gets slammed by the scourge of sarcastic italics. You know you're in a bad place when even Wikipedia is making fun of you, or rather through a series of debates and multiple rounds of voting has decided that the appropriate tone for your article is derision [citation needed].

One of the skeptics' arguments is that things which aren't medicine have no business being marketed to idiots as medicine. Or that by applying a tiny asterisk to say that they haven't been subject to evaluation by the FDA they can skirt all sorts of practical regulations and ingredients. Or that the entire concept of "molecular memory" is irreparably flawed and flies in the face of both chemistry and modern medicine. Even the most favorable scientific evaluations of homeopathy have yielded results on par with the placebo effect, that is to say no discernable effect, but so what? Sugar water is delicious, and isn't drinking water not unhealthy? Unless it's from one of those plastic bottles which are actually quite dangerous and not very environmentally conscious either. The Amazing Randi has come a long way since he publicly embarrassed a man who was already claiming to bend spoons with his mind, but trying to prevent idiots from wasting their money seems like a fool's errand. And last I checked, the placebo effect is still better than a no placebo effect. As his minions have proved, the pathies clearly aren't in any real danger of overdose in anything except magical thinking.

Not pictured: cloak and wizard hat.

So far, it's hard to tell if Randi's campaign has been more or less effective than his attempt to convince AOL users that there aren't actually 1000 hours in a month. His million dollar grand prize and beard remain untouched and bushy, respectively. It's unlikely that a demographic which believes an elementary school teacher can successfully moonlight as an apothecary will really listen to a reasoned argument about the merits of statistically measured double-blind trials. These are the same idiots who think taking a megadose of vitamin C will prevent anything but scurvy. Contracting pirate-face is a persistent fear of mine, so I'm not going to correct them, but I'm also not going tell them about all the factual inaccuracies present in the film Jurassic Park. I love that movie and whoever has been driving that custom Jeep around Eugene is my personal hero, but tearing it apart takes away some of the industrial light and magic.

While Randi rages against superstitions and magical thinking, ostensibly for noble purposes, he also belittles the whimsical belief that we have some control over our lives. Taking a homeopathic remedy probably isn't going to prevent a cold, especially if you're trapped on an airplane, any more than me wearing my favorite shirt for a chemistry exam will imbue me with the mystical power of three wolves howling at the moon, but I'm going to do it anyway because it a little silly hope is better than nothing. Of course, I know I'm using the shirt as a placebo effect, rendering it moot, and it’s a little ill fitting. It also has a full moon and a new moon would probably be more potent. Regardless, the cold facts say that exposure is the only true path to immunity. With a significantly varied diet, a multivitamin isn't going to be beneficial either, but I'll still take those because they make them look and taste like gummy bears now. But unless I gorge myself on them, a probable scenario, I probably won't experience any negative consequences from taking them.

Certainly these people are missing out on legitimate medical knowledge and resources that might save lives, but should we correct them? No, because they don't want to be. And also because we need them to die. They are diluting the gene pool.