Science says that thinking for myself is dangerous. You must trust in the Lord Science.
You have to hand it to those homeopaths! They are terrific at sending themselves up, generously giving us a laugh at their expense. Very much in vogue at the moment is the creation of little animated dialogues between typically dim-witted homeopaths and typically arrogant skeptics. My favourite one appears on UK Homeopathy News. (Edit: if it can no longer been seen there, this site also has it.) The homeopath’s vacuous arguments could have been lifted from any homeopath’s blog.
Unfortunately, as the screenwriter evidently doesn’t engage with any skeptics, his cartoon skeptic’s script doesn’t much resemble anything that even the most arrogant of skeptics would really say or even think. My opening quote, for example, was lifted directly from the mouth of the cartoon skeptic who, by the way, looks like disconcertingly like Evan Harris dressed like a member of an early Beatles tribute band. ( “But do you reckon the cartoon “me” has a chance with the cartoon girl?” was the wistful tweet from Evan after viewing the original. Maybe if he can pretend to dumb down enough to be persuaded by her crappy sales pitch?)
Anyway, in this remake of the comic classic, I’ve left the homeopath’s comments exactly as they appear in the original but I have amended the arrogant skeptic’s script to something a bit more realistic (and, OK, I’ve camped him up a bit because it was fun). You can see the amendments I’ve made to the transcript below.
Skeptic: There is no scientific evidence for homeopathy. It is completely implausible. The people who use it are gullible and stupid. They have stupid beliefs and they believe in witchcraft. They are all witches and we all know what happened to witches often don’t know this. They are sometimes surprised to discover that the remedies they are taking contain no active ingredients at all. Homeopathy is based on the pre-science notion that like cures like. This notion is nonsense. As for the idea that the more an ingredient is diluted, the more ‘potent’ it becomes — well, you don’t need to be a physicist to know this is absolutely daft. If homeopathy worked it would be magic. Like witchcraft.
Homeopath: John, how can you say such things? Do you want homeopaths to be burnt at the stake?
Skeptic: No, of course not.
Homeopath: So why do you call us witches?
Skeptic: I didn’t. That would be insulting to witches. Now, how about addressing my point that Because all science shows that homeopathy cannot work. There is no scientific or clinical evidence for homeopathy. It is anti-science.
Homeopath: And how do you know that is true? How do you know there is no scientific evidence for homeopathy? Have you ever looked at the studies?
Skeptic: No, I don’t have time for that. The media tell us there is no evidence for homeopathy so I believe there is no evidence for homeopathy. And we all know that newspapers never get things wrong.
Yes, I have. The totality of scientific evidence available to us suggests homeopathy is a total crock.
Homeopath: Do you know that there are scientific studies to support homeopathy? Four out of five major systematic reviews show homeopathy to work better than placebo — one of which was published in the BMJ and the other was published in the Lancet.
Skeptic: I don’t want to know. Homeopathy doesn’t work.
If only I had a quid for every time I heard that. I wouldn’t have bought this suit from a charity shop.
I’ve read all those systematic reviews. They all point out that the only positive evidence for homeopathy comes from trials of low methodological quality. And that studies of high methodological quality were more likely to be negative. None of them conclude that homeopathy is effective. You selectively quote sentences you think supports your argument. In a Guardian article this year, a rather handsome dude called Evan Harris says this sort of cherry-picking and misrepresentation seems designed to undermine evidence-based policy-making. It’s right that it should be exposed and deprecated.
And that’s exactly what is happening. Read a few skeptic blogs and see if you can respond to the challenges they pose. Or will you just post empty abuse and run away like most homeopaths do?
Homeopath: Do you know that homeopathy has been shown to work with cows with mastitis in a randomised controlled trial. How could that work by the placebo effect? Homeopathy is regularly used on farm animals in the UK with great success.
Skeptic: Lalalalala talk to the hand. Homeopathy doesn’t work. I know it doesn’t work because scientists tell us that it doesn’t work.
Actually, I know that homeopathy has not been shown to work with bovine mastitis. You are probably thinking of the Werner trial involving 136 cows. A skeptic called Andy Lewis examined this paper on his blog. Read it. Then, if you still think you can claim that homeopathy has been shown to work with those animals, try to explain why without using any ad hominems or straw man arguments.
Homeopath: Do you know there was an observational study at Bristol Homeopathic hospital where 6,500 people were monitored, 70% reporting an improvement in their health? Doesn’t that mean anything to you?
Skeptic: Only scientists are allowed to decide what benefits people or not. Not Patients. Patients are just cogs in the wheel of science.
Surely you can see the problems with this study? It had no control group. We are not told how patients who had stopped attending felt about the treatment. The fact that all these people were attending the homeopathy hospital suggests they had some faith in homeopathy in the first place.
Homeopathy can only work if you have faith. As long as someone believes a genuine medical intervention is taking place, then homeopathic remedies can work as well as any other placebo in placebo-responsive conditions. It might appear to cure a headache but it won’t cure a brain tumour. The danger of encouraging a faith in homeopathy is that sometimes people delay seeking the treatment they need for any underlying serious conditions. Visit the what’s the harm website? to read the sad stories of people who’ve suffered and died because they trusted in homeopathy.
Of course, people who are not very sick in the first place often recover without any medical intervention. But if they’ve taken homeopathy believing that there is something in it, they understandably attribute their recovery to homeopathy. This is called the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
Homeopath: You believe in science as if it is a religion. Can you not think for yourself?
Skeptic: Science says that thinking for myself is dangerous. You must trust in the Lord Science.
Wow – I can feel the love!
When I talk about scientific evidence, I mean evidence that has been that has been arrived at through the scientific method. A minute ago you claimed four systematic reviews were positive about homeopathy. That is scientific evidence. You seemed keen enough on it until I showed you that I know those papers off by heart and they don’t say what you think they say. That’s the trouble with not checking out what you are told before repeating it like a mantra. You get found out and you end up looking silly.
Homeopath: I really don’t know what to say to that. I think you have been brainwashed.
Skeptic: All Hail the Lord Science. Science is the ruler of all else.
I appreciate some of this is difficult for you and I try not to use too many big words. But there’s no need to be insulting just because you’ve lost the argument.
Homeopath: Science is an important tool when used properly but it should not put itself above all else. Scientism is a new religion with its followers more zealous than many religious fanatics.
Skeptic: I think you are gullible and stupid.
What does any of that have to do with the fact that homeopathy breaks the laws of physics and that the scientific evidence tells us it is no more effective than placebo? Are you saying we should disregard this so you can continue to promote falsehoods and make money by taking advantage of people’s desperation?
Homeopath: There really is no point in having a sensible conversation with you. You just repeat things you have been told without questioning them. If you can’t debate intelligently there is no point furthering this conversation. Goodbye John.
Skeptic: Science is king. Hahaha.
My irony-meter has just exploded.