Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More on homeopathy

This homeopathy business is more complicated than it first seems and I confess I'm in two minds about it.

Firstly there's today's news that the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is recommending the NHS should stop funding homeopathy on the grounds that there is no evidence that homeopathic remedies are more effective than a simple placebo.

But then I read that Franklin Miller of the US National Institutes of Health (in response to growing evidence of the power of the placebo effect) suggests that doctors and researchers should think in terms of contextual healing - that is healing produced, activated or enhanced by the context of the clinical encounter. Or as he puts it:

"Finding ethically appropriate ways to tap the use of placebo in clinical practice is where the field needs to be moving."

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that if you had to invent a practice designed to deliver the placebo effect you might well come up with homeopathy - or something very similar. Homeopaths believe in what they are doing, the remedies are harmless (as demonstrated by the recent mass-overdose demonstration) and there is good anecdotal evidence that people experience a benefit.

The problem however is that the scientific establishment just can't bring itself to countenance an explanatory framework that is so at odds with established standards. To give credence to such alchemical principles as the Law of Similars or the Law of Infinitesimals would be to open the door to all sorts of mumbo-jumbo: dowsing, crystals, pendulums and so on.

Every discipline needs a framework of some sort within which to operate. There are some who, by denying homeopathy any scientific credibility, hope to drive it to extinction. My own inclination is to regard homeopathy as an art and its laws as essentially poetic.

Is poetry (in this broader sense) something that nurtures and enriches our lives or is it merely recreational? Maybe it is time for a little humility and open-mindedness on both sides.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting insights - I need to review my (strong) position on homeopaty...