Criticising so-called complementary medicine comes second only to suggesting that we should cut smokers a bit of slack when it comes to provoking virulent email attacks. For a bunch of tree-hugging hippies with flowers in their hair, the alt.therapy brigade sure can turn pretty belligerent when you call a placebo a placebo. Here is some recent feedback:
Material doses of medicine are very last century. Physicists are realizing that there is so much out there that we don't understand and just because we don't understand it doesn't make it bad or mad or wrong. The world was believed to be flat and people died because of their belief that the world was round.
For material doses, read actual doses. And note the almost obligatory use of the we-used-to-think-the-world-was-flat argument. Well, at least they didn't try to rope in Galileo as a persecuted predecessor this time. In an earlier email, the same correspondent advised me (in capital letters) to:
THINK before you speak and learn the true facts
…and pointed out:
Homeopathy at least has never KILLED ANYONE
To which I rather wearily replied:
You are correct when you say that real medicines sometimes kill people, whereas homeopathic ones never have. Just listen to what you're saying. Don't those facts tell you anything? Real medicines have active ingredients which sometimes affect people in undesirable ways (they're known as side-effects). They also happen to have rid the world of smallpox, scarlet fever and (very nearly) polio. Homeopathic medicines have no active ingredients, so cannot possibly harm (or cure) anyone.
But maybe I was wrong. Maybe homeopathy isn't so harmless after all:
Some high street homeopaths claim they can prevent malaria, a Newsnight investigation has found.
Secret filming revealed homeopaths were claiming their preparations could be used instead of anti-malarial drugs to protect travellers in high risk areas such as sub-saharan Africa…
Dr Behrens [of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine] has treated patients who fell for the homeopaths claims "We've certainly had patients admitted to our unit with the malignant form of malaria who have been taking homeopathic remedies and without a doubt the reason that they were taking them and not effective drugs was the reason they had malaria."
It's time someone put a stop to this nonsense. They'll be trying to tell us our kids don't need MMR jabs next.