Sorry posting is a little irregular around here but I’ve had essays due in and the blog’s kind of on the backburner at the moment. It’s a pity because I’ve missed a few key events. In short, the society was invited to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and it was awesome. I just wish humanists had something similar. It appears I’m mellowing out in my relative old age as well, I may soon have to relinquish the title of Not So Friendly Humanist as it’s not that appropriate anymore. I’ve no idea if that’s a good or bad thing.
Anyway, I noticed a couple of weeks ago a set of posters around DHT Basement advertising a homeopathy service running at something called the Edinburgh University Settlement. Apparently that is a charity which isn’t part of the University but has had close links with it since its foundation in 1905, and the homeopathy programme has been running for 5 years. They operate out of the Potterrow Student Union in Bristo Square, so to me it seems like the University is openly condoning Homeopathy, something which obviously as a society we’re not too happy about.
So after reading some of their literature, I went into the Settlement office to speak with someone, hopefully to clear up how closely related it is with the University, but instead the only person who was there was the homeopath herself, Helen Campbell, so she invited me into her office and I asked her lots of questions. First of all, she was absolutely adamant that homeopathy works (my more cynical side is telling me that she would be, seeing as it’s her job), but most of her evidence was very much anecdotal. What she said, however, did seem fairly compelling. For example she told me that once her foot got run over, and through the use of homeopathic remedy, the swelling had gone down completely by the next morning.
So, I’m caught in a bit of a confusing situation. On the one hand I don’t want to be so closed-minded as to dismiss homeopathy totally out of hand. One of my flatmates is very much into her homeopathy, in fact her sister is a practicing homeopath, so I can’t be dismissive, and neither would I want to be. But on the other hand it seems so obviously to be a load of rubbish. A leaflet I read said that the process of dilution and succussion (how they prepare homeopathic remedies) appears to leave the electromagnetic energy signal of the substance on the water in which it is diluted. This balances out the energy signal of the patient which may be out of sync, similar to the way TV aerials work, apparently. Obviously that’s a load of bull, but that’s not to say homeopathy doesn’t work in some other way, which perhaps hasn’t been discovered, even if it’s just by placebo.
I asked the homeopath how she responded to people who claim that homeopathy is just a placebo and that’s why it appears to work, and she said that they obviously just don’t understand, but that doesn’t put her off talking about it, which of course didn’t answer my question. Indeed nobody does understand homeopathy, not even those who practice it!
Of course there’s also the point that homeopathy is very popular in France, and is used side-by-side with what they call “Western Medicine” in Eastern Asia, so I think it’s unfair to dismiss it totally out of hand. What I will say though, is that it is up to homeopaths to prove it is not a placebo, to prove it works, and make some kind of effort to explain how it works, before people will take it seriously in the mainstream. At the moment they seem reluctant to subject their work to any kind of scientific research, thriving in the mystery which surrounds it at the moment, and to let my cynical side through again, making a lot of money from people who like ‘alternative’ culture. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no alternative. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There’s nothing alternative about it. Perhaps it’s because people involved in homeopathy don’t tend to have a scientific background, but to me it seems totally incompatible with the humanist viewpoint.
We hope to do a debate on the subject soon.