Sunday, July 12, 2009

This one time, at the homeopathy ER...

I'm a really big fan of British sketch comedy and one of my all time favorites has to be the duo Mitchell & Webb. I recently saw a sketch by them that was not only really funny but also made a brilliant point about "alternative" medicine.



I can't help but be in awe at the power of satire. Arguing with someone who believes in homeopathy (I'm not even counting all the people who think that homeopathy is the same as herbalism here) can feel pretty futile. You can try explaining the why's the wherefore's the facts and the science of why homeopathic "medicine" is really nothing but water until you turn blue and still make very little impression on a believer. But here with a little bit of humour Mitchell & Webb manage to cut right through all that to a very important truth - if you are seriously injured, what kind of treatment do you want? Would you want real ER doctors treating you or would you want a homeopath or someone with some crystals "treating" you? If you trust science based medicine when your life is in immanent danger, why would you trust "alternative" treatments instead at other times. If you want a real doctor when it counts, shouldn't you go to a real doctor for other ailments too?

The last bit of that sketch was just as brilliant. The idea of homeopathic alcohol was also used by another brilliant Brit - Terry Pratchett:

A recent but short-lived line, which never caught on despite the best scientific recommendation, was Bearhugger's Homeopathic Sipping Whiskey. It is a founding fact of homeopathy that the effectiveness of a remedy increases with dilution. Jimkin decided, therefore, that this idea could profitably be applied to his own product.

Strangely enough, the slogan 'Every drop diluted 1 million times!' failed to attract custom even though, in theory, merely being in the same room as an uncorked bottle of the stuff should make the purchaser riotously drunk.

Terry Pratchett, The Discworld Companion

Again, satire manages to get to the point a whole lot faster than any other type of argument. If you laugh at the idea of homeopathic liquor, why would you take homeopathic medicine seriously? If you don't think ridiculously diluted alchol will have any effect on you, why then would you think ridiculously diluted medicine would?

5 comments:

RandomSue said...

Too busy laughing to leave an intelligent comment :-)

Plucky said...

Be thusly warned!

The God of Wrath forbade the use of homopathetic medicine in his HOLY WRIT! If caught, the perpetrators got stoned outside the camp . . . Sort of a Jewish version of the opium den . . . An example of the type of debauchery encouraged by the marriage of alternative medicine and alternative lifestyle . . .

So apparently this problem with homopathetic alternative medicine goes way back . . .

digapigmy said...

that's funny. i didn't realize that the more medicine was diluted the stronger it would be. i noticed that they went from one part in a million to one part in ten million upon discussion of the victim in the sketch, but i thought they just made a mistake or were being ridiculous until i read the rest of your post.

that might be the most ridiculous tenet of faith ever established.

Eugene said...

That's the reason homeopathic medicine is so safe and why it can claim with such confidence that it has zero side effects - it's so diluted that there usually isn't even one molecule of the active ingredient (on the label) actually in the medicine.

All the principles of homeopathy are ridiculous - it also states that "like cures like", which is why homeopathic sleeping tablets lists caffeine as its active ingredient.

For a really good explanation of Homeopathy and it's principles check out this video by James Randi

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