The Memory of Water: Science or Pseudoscience?

“Can you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience”

“What separates effective medicine from alternative medicine?”

This is an activity from the ToK and Biology section.

As you grow through Biology and ToK, you should develop your critical thinking skills and become more of a skeptic. Being able to answer these two questions is a skill that you can carry through life, helping you to make sensible decisions when faced with a range of seemingly convincing alternatives.

Medicine is a system of rigourous testing, evidence collection, statistical analysis and controls to ensure that a treatment is effective when recommended to patients. If it works and it is strongly corroborated, we call it medicine – it is available to professionally-trained medical doctors to use or prescribe for their patients.

Alternative medicine is simply that – alternative to medicine. It is not rigorously tested, double-blind controlled or statistically analysed. It is built on belief without true empirical evidence. One might believe it’s efficacy based only on anecdotal or circumstantial evidence, but this is not enough.

This activity links with unit 3.1 – Chemical Elements and Water.

Richard Dawkins’ recent series Enemies of Reason tackles these issues brilliantly, as does Dr Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog. Start with this short clip of Dawkins explaining the idea behind homeopathy, a bastion of alternative medicine:

Homeopathic First Aid.
Homeopathic First Aid.
  • So why is it that people buy into homeopathy and alt med?
  • Have you heard of the placebo effect or the powers of suggestion and how they affect feeling?
  • Watch the whole episode (below) and think of reasons why a patient might feel better after visiting a homeopath than after a consultation with the doctor.
  • What is the difference between complementary and alternative medicine? Which might a doctor recommend as part of a treatment? Why?

To find out more about homeopathy and it central ideas:

Homeopathy from the Skeptics Dictionary

The End of Homeopathy? From BadScience

And lots of great information from Evidence Based Medicine First

Video Links

Watch the full series of Enemies of Reason on GoogleVideo:

Part 1: Slaves to Superstition

Part 2: The Irrational Health Service (includes the homeopaths)

Ogo-dear... Burrrp!
Ogo-dear… Burrrp!

And it’s not only homeopathy that abuses our sacred water. The oxygen-water companies are it too.

More than Water? From BadScience (download reading activity here)

Unless you have gills, it’s an expensive burp! from Chem1.com

So, when you read the magazines, watch TV or wonder about a miracle cure, anti-ageing cream, magical treatment or anything else related to unusual claims and you health, think: “Where’s the evidence?”

Now here’s a funny sketch from Webb and Mitchell:

About Stephen

Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator at Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan. Formerly MYP HS Science & IBDP Bio teacher and missing it terribly. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer.

Posted on September 17, 2009, in TOK & Pseudoscience and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi,

    Two more links for your Homeopathy activity.

    Article from Richard Dawkins:The trouble with homeopathy.
    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5139

    A five minute video about the placebo effect.

    Kind regards,

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