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August 21, 2007


Blognor Regis

“There was a time when old-fash-ioned family doctors used to hand out placebos but now they aren’t allowed to because it’s against medical ethics. Now it’s only the homeopaths who are allowed to benefit from the placebo effect."

Prof Dawkins


Exception 13

There isn't the money, certainly not for the NHS (never mind the fuss over GP contracts) to pay for this. There will never be, because the only cost is visible, not the savings in other areas (many not borne by government) that might be realised by better general health.

Neil Harding

I think that is the point. Homeopathy is tax funded BECAUSE it is delusional mumbo-jumbo outside of medical ethics. I think it is about time we changed medical ethics and start lying to people - we shouldn't tell them that we think they have 6 months to live if it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We should say we have fantastic medicine that will cure them and prescribe a placebo if it then works well by activating the self-healing mechanisms. While we are at it - we should make the NHS and other government departments exempt from lawsuits. On second thoughts maybe the price of honesty in our public services is tolerating mumbo-jumbo. Which is better?

Richard Mann

The first point is akin to the erroneous idea that because we don't have a rational (scientific) explanation for some phenomenon we are sanctioned to believe what we like. We should simply admit we don't (yet) understand something, and likewise we should admit we can't cure an ailment. If we believe we have an answer when we don't it stunts the incentive to find the real answer.


"Might it be that they were, in fact, never properly taught it [scientific method]?..they acquired merely a body of knowledge and excessive self-belief." Spot on, Mr D. Much "scientific education" consists of a narrow technical training, with added encouragement to sneer at the unenlightened ones. For confirmation, observe the state of "climate science".


For this very reason, i much preferred Christopher Hitchens' book, 'God is not Great' - far less evangelical than Dawkins about his atheism.

Dawkins is a terrible advert for reason because he is as dogmatic and evangelical about his atheism as religious folk are about their beliefs.


good point. I remember really annoying an American woman once by contradicting her statement that she found Germans "scientific". Having lived there, and been exposed to lots of pseudo-scientific babble about Homeopathy I said she probably thinks that because she come from a faith based society in America. I find them technical, not scientific at all. They place far too much faith in titles and status and worry too little about evidence. Australian's (where I come from) are much more scientific (at heart sceptical if you like).

workshy fop

Are the problems you mentioned relating to conventional medicine more to do with people and resources, rather than with science itself?

In an ideal world, a fully staffed and resourced NHS would outperform the 'alternative medicine' sector, clearly.


It happens that my family doctor is one of my best friends. He is 63 and has practised 'conventional' medicine all his life. In the last few years he has begun to cuestionate the way of working of conventional doctors.
It is not because he has lost confidence in the scientific metod, but because that, after 40 years of practice, he has become convinced that a great deal of the PRACTICE of the doctors does not come from objective learning but from laziness, routine and corporate interests. When the spanish NHS gives a pacient 25 sessions of chimiotherapy for a cancer treatement, it is not only that they don't give 30 to save money. There is also that they don´t give 10, or none, because there is an stablished protocol of treatement agreed between the industry and the gobernement. Once you enter the mill, there is not way out until the end. Wich very often is THE END.
What can you think of a professional that before starting to work makes you sign one paper stating that whatever happens to you AS A CONSECUENCE OF THE TREATEMENT he is not responsible ? Would you accept that from your car mechanic?
You make two very good points: why some doctors turned to other practises (it's a mistake to call them 'alternatives': there is only two kind of medicine, like of music, the one that works and the other). In the case of my friend, because he wanted, at least, to stop collaborating to get people worse. As he says: "Some patients think I am a genius, and all I do is to stop their former treatement and they go inmediately better". And, by the same logic: why patients turn to other tretements? After my friends experience, they are not weirdos or mystics. They are normal people tired of being illserviced by a system, part of wich are the doctors who prefer to read the last pamflet to think.
And the other point you make about placebo is also very good. Why conventional doctors do not learn from that? There is a very good observation about that in the epilogue of 'Descartes´ error', the book of Antonio Damasio.
PS: excuse my leght and pardon my english!

Matt Munro

I think Dawkins main whinge (entirely justified in my view) is that in conventional medicine the rigour of the empirical method must be passed in order for a new drug or treatment to be licenesed, and that only qualified professionals are allowed to prescribe, dispense and administer treatment.
Contrast this with homeopathy, where no stanmdards apply. The "medicine" doesn't need testing because it's water, the practitioner doesn't need to be licensed because he isn't treating disesase, and the treatment is proved as effective because a complety uncontrolled, unrepresentative number of self selecting patients say they "feel better" due to a combination of experimenter effects, placebo effects, demand characteristics and self delusion. Despite this, homepathy is publicly funded, whilst we alledgedly can't afford proven anti cancer drugs.
The problem is that people expect science to have an answer for everything, and when it's limitations are exposed they lose faith in it completely and turn to quackery.
100 years ago you couldn't get on a plane, drive a car, turn on a tv, or take an asprin, ask yourself if science really doesn't work.


I believe also, that in contrast to prescription drugs, many treatments are not scientifically tested.

Doctors are also given to over treat, given the risk of being sued if they undertreat.


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When conventional medicine gave up on my oldest brother and told him to go home and that he would die in 3-4 months, although his body was chemo'd and radiated to the point of no return, through alternative medicine and diet, he was able to live 18 months that all of us were thankful to have with him.

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Cleo Pascal

I think the problem here is that people overlook the fact that alternative medicine and healing methods also have science as a backbone. Many people assume that these natural health treatments are mere products of assumptions and the "mind over body" theory, but the truth is they're not. I just wish that people wouldn't jump into conclusions. I mean, if they were really advocating science, why do something that's not so scientific in nature?

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