Homeopathy, the French, Psychic Dreams, Testing Astrology, and Numerology

Article excerpt

A would-be applicant for the mullion-dollar challenge has written me, puzzled about the fact that I place homeopathic claims into the "paranormal" class, for purposes of the JREF challenge. I explained to him that homeopathic claims are paranormal claims, for these six reasons of similarity and the close parallels they illustrate: (1) Supporters claim that the phenomena are real, but no real evidence exists to verify that claim. (2) The phenomena are said to "work" by means that are not possible, based on what we already know with great certainty, about the real world. (3) The evidence for the phenomena presented is anecdotal, not scientific, and none of the "scientific" findings made by supporters have been independently replicated. (4) When attempted independent replications of the phenomena fail, supporters invoke special conditions and exceptions for their claims, and often state that these cannot be tested by "ordinary" science. (5) Supporters of the claims invoke such words as "vibrations," "memory," "quantum," "spiritual," and "infinite," without knowledge of, or respect for, the actual meanings of such terms. (6) The claimed discovery is of such a nature and scope, that if true, it would radically change the face of science, our way of life, and our perception of the real world: that has not happened.

Homeopathy in the U.K.

The London Daily Mail announced in April, 2003 that Prince Charles and a committee from the House of Lords had brought sufficient pressure on his ministers to get them to budget 1.3 million [pounds sterling] (US$2.1 million) to look into acupuncture, some other "complementary therapies" for cancer patients, and homeopathy. Knowing the British fascination with quackery--matched quite well here in the USA--I'm not at all surprised. The Mail mentioned that two major studies are to be done on homeopathy, which is currently used by one in five Britons, including members of the House of Windsor. But it's condemned by many scientists as a con, especially after the recent BBC attempt to replicate the classic experiments that resulted in the total failure of homeopathy. One might think that Samuel Hahnemann's delusion would be losing support. The intent of the studies is to make alternative therapies available on the National Health Service (NHS), if research shows they are effective. Prince Charles' Foundation for Integrated Medicine has argued that investing in "alternatives" could save the NHS money, over the long term. Perhaps, so long as Charles isn't concerned whether patients receive any actual medical benefits. Some critics are saying that any state-funded research into homeopathy would be a waste of money, insisting; that it "cannot be effective because of the tiny levels of active substance used in most remedies." That's where they've got it quite wrong: in homeopathy, there is no level of activity at all! Zero is not merely "low." Peter Atkins, professor of chemistry at the University of Oxford describes the use of public money on such studies as "appalling":

   Homeopathy is a delusion and I
   can't believe the Government is
   funding research into it. It is
   simply a waste of money. There
   is no evidence whatsoever that
   it works. This money should be
   spent on more serious approaches
   to disease, like cancer
   research, or looking for new vaccines.
   Instead, it's being spent on
   fantasy. It makes it seem like a
   serious project when in fact,
   people should stay away from it.

About 2,000 homeopathic remedies are presently available in Britain, half of them derived from leaves, flowers, berries, fruits, and roots. Two of the most popular and better known are arnica and belladonna. The first is a European plant, Arnica montana, the homeopathic preparation of which was shown by Exeter University to be useless, despite endorsements by several attractive actresses. The other, Atropa belladonna, is a highly poisonous plant: all pans --the leaves, bark, berries, roots--are toxic to all forms of life. …