Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Small victories...

"NHS Trusts 'reject homeopathy'".

This can only be good news - only 37% of the 132 primary care trusts investigated "still have contracts for homeopathic services and referrals are decreasing". Obviously this is not a knockout blow to the popular pseudoscience, but it's certainly better than nothing. To be honest I'm surprised the NHS are able to offer any homeopathy at all given its non-evidence-based nature and the NHS' famous funding problems.

It is based on the principle of treating like with like, so someone with an allergy who was using homeopathic medicines would attempt to beat it with an ultra-diluted dose of an agent that would cause the same symptoms.

But while patients often report that it makes them feel much better, clinical evidence that it works is lacking, and some scientists argue the solution is so diluted it does not contain any active ingredients at all.

The principle of treating like with like is without any sound scientific basis (at least the way in which it is done in homeopathy - vaccines work in a very different way). The success rate of homeopathy is based almost entirely on the placebo effect, magnified now by the belief in its success rate. As far as chemistry is concerned, the "most potent" (most diluted) homeopathic solutions (diluted 10 to the 60th power) are classified as pure water. Not many people know this, but homeopathy gets around this by claiming that the water retains some sort of spiritual imprint of the original "remedy" which is then transferred to the sugar pill over which it is poured.

Does that even sound likely? Does it even sound like science? And yet homeopathy relies on its practitioners being seen in the same way as real doctors and scientists are by the general public - far, far smarter than they are, and trustworthy. He's wearing a white coat - he must know what he's doing.

The NHS has certainly made the right call here - even if it's only done to cut costs, they've chosen the dead weight to throw overboard first. You have to prioritise treatments that are proven to work through exhaustive clinical trials and experimentation.

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