“Nonsense on Stilts”: a Triumph of Logic and Reason

A few days ago, doctors in the U.K. voted to stop offering homeopathic treatments through the national health service.  They’ve also voted that homeopathic treatments sold at pharmacies should be clearly labeled “placebo”, and there’s some talk of banning them outright.  This is a huge step forwards for reasonable medical practice, and not just in the U.K. — hopefully other countries (I’m looking at you, Canada) will sit up and take notice of this stance by a highly respected group of medical practitioners, one of whom outright declared homeopathy to be “nonsense on stilts”.  I rather like that phrase and intend to use it in the future when discussing this topic.

Homeopaths and users of homeopathic medicine have, of course, protested the vote.  But they’re not doing a very good job of it.  Instead of making an attempt to disprove the doctors’ claim that there is no scientific proof for homeopathy’s effectiveness (a hard thing to disprove, since it’s absolutely true), they’re citing homeopathy’s long history (it’s been practiced for hundreds of years) as “proof” of its legitimacy.  Hey guys, you know what else has been practiced for hundreds of years?  Racism.  Sexism.  Systematic abuse of children by the Catholic Church.  War.  Murder.  Snorting powdered rhino horn as an aphrodisiac.  Colonialism.  Cutting down the rainforest.  Need I go on?  Just because it’s been around for centuries doesn’t make it right.

The other argument being bandied about by homeopathy’s dupes and con-men is that homeopathy is such an insignificant part of the NHS’s yearly budget that cutting it won’t help in any way to alleviate the budgetary problems that are going on (discussions of how to cut costs were the reason that these doctors got together and held this vote, by the way).  Uhm, yeah.  Even one dollar spent on a treatment that has no scientific basis for working is one dollar too many.  So even if the NHS in the U.K. wasn’t already trying to cut costs, cutting homeopathy out of the picture would still be a good move.  So whether or not it can help with the budget problems, it should still be cut out.

Homeopathy doesn’t work (it would have to defy the laws of physics, logic, and reality to do so), and it simply shouldn’t be provided as “medicine”.  At best, your time spent speaking to a homeopath may manage to set your mind at ease and relieve stress — leaving you more open to the placebo effect when you take those expensive sugar-pills.  At worst … well, people die from refusing real treatments.  So good on you, doctors who participated in this motion:  I hope to see more decisions like this in the future.

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