Divine comedy

Carolyn sent me another of her out-of-the-blue text messages on Monday:

Have you ever used those water-finding sticks? I'm going to make some tonight out of coat hangers.

I texted her back to explain that the word she was looking for was diviners (not dividers, as I had overheard some bloke say the previous week, while he was trying to chat up a very bored-looking woman). I also explained that divining was "utter bollocks, obviously".

Carolyn then texted back to say that she had tried it with coat hangers before and "it definitely worked".

After a few more texts, I rang her. "This has got something to do with bees, hasn't it?" I said. Carolyn laughed. It was indeed to do with bees.

It turned out that she planned to go dowsing to look for a suitable fault line to situate her bee-hive near. Yes, she was still going on about that bollocks about fault lines.

I pointed out that using divining rods to detect energy vibrations emanating from fault lines was using a technique which doesn't work to detect something which doesn't exist emanating from something which isn't there.

Which is how I came to find myself standing in a dark field holding a pair of bent coat-hangers on Tuesday night:

Me dowsing

An expert in the field on Tuesday.

"It works! It works!" screamed Carolyn as her coat-hangers crossed.

"It doesn't work; you tilted your hands," I said.

"No I didn't; they definitely moved!" said Carolyn. "Here, you have a go!"

So I had a go. Walking over exactly the same spot, I watched open-mouthed as my two coat-hangers miraculously did not cross, but splayed wide apart.

"You moved your hands!" said Carolyn.

I think not. The dowsing rods had evidently detected my negative vibes.

It's the only logical explanation.

Nothing works as well as homeopathy

Let it not be said that our political representatives never say anything sensible:

Guardian Science Blog: MPs deliver their damning verdict: Homeopathy is useless and unethical

Today the Science and Technology Select Committee delivered its verdict on homeopathy and it was devastating. The committee has called for the complete withdrawal of NHS funding and official licensing of homeopathy.

Hurrah! So, of course, the funding will be withdrawn immediately…

Oh no, that's right, there's a General Election in the offing. Do you really think the government is going to withdraw funding for quack homeopathic treatment, when hundreds of thousands of idiots swear by the stuff? That's hundreds of thousands of voting idiots.

Do me a favour. Should any politican come canvassing at your door in the next couple of months, ask them about their position on NHS funding for homeopathy. Then listen to them not answering the question.

We still have some way to go.

Getting beyond a joke

BBC: Concern over HIV homeopathy role

Doctors and health charities have expressed concern about a conference which will examine the role of homeopathy in treating HIV.

The event includes discussion of what have been described as "healing remedies" for HIV and AIDS.

One of the speakers believes that the treatment, involving flower essences, can be used to halt the AIDS epidemic.

In case any of these homeopaths were wondering, the 'V' in HIV stands for virus. Viruses are parasitic segments of genetic code which replicate by incorporating themselves into their host's own genetic material and piggybacking on the host's genetic replication process. It is debatable whether viruses should be viewed as living organisms at all, but they often participate in evolutionary arms races with their hosts as the hosts evolve counter-measures against the viruses and the viruses evolve corresponding counter-counter measures.

Antibiotics, the most powerful form of medicine known to man, have no effect on viruses. In order to fight viruses such as HIV, we need to develop special anti-viral drugs. In the case of HIV treatment, patients require a cocktail of other drugs to treat the undesirable side-effects of the anti-viral drugs—and other drugs to overcome the side-effects of some of those drugs. It's far from an ideal situation, but it's the best we have at present—and it has vastly extended the life-expectancy of those people with HIV who are lucky enough to live in countries which can afford such treatments.

Adding a few homeopathic sugar-pills to the cocktail of real medicines given to people with HIV will not (and, indeed, cannot) do any harm. But be in no doubt whatsoever that near-infinite dilutions of flower essences have no role to play in our genetic war against the human immunodeficiency virus.

Anyone who advocates homeopathy as an alternative treatment to HIV, however, deserves to be set on fire. Then put out very slowly.

With a spade.