The Memory of Water: Medicine or Pseudoscience?
“Can you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience?”
“What separates effective medicine from alternative medicine?”
“What assumptions do you make every day?”
As you grow in 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 rigourously 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. If these were true for alternative medicines, we would call them… medicine!
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:
And here’s Ben Goldacre explaining homeopathy:
- Why is it that people buy into homeopathy and alternative medicine?
- Have you heard of the placebo effect or the powers of suggestion and how they affect feeling?
- What are some 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 its central ideas:
- Homeopathy from the Skeptics Dictionary
- The End of Homeopathy? From BadScience
- And lots of great information from Evidence Based Medicine First
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:
If you still need convincing, this article from the BBC on how alternative remedies can prove dangerous for children should do the job.
And… More Woo for You!
Power Balance recently admitted there was no effect for their expensive rubber bands. Of course. It’s all in the mind, if at all. Find out more about the placebo effect, and how more expensive placebos actually have a stronger placebo effect than cheap ones!