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Not Good for Much


Good to hear that the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health has stopped its operations with immediate effect. Disappointing, though, that the reason is not because its founder has taken on board Oliver Wendell Holmes’s views on homeopathy – ‘a mingled mass of perverse ingenuity, of tinsel erudition, of imbecile credulity, and of artful misrepresentation, too often mingled in practice, if we may trust the authority of its founder, with heartless and shameful imposition’ – but because of a more mundane alleged deceit: two people have been arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

When Holmes wrote his essay in 1842 he believed that homeopathy would soon go the way of touching for the scrofula – another Royal Cure – and Bishop Berkeley’s Tar Water (‘good for so many things’). But in a new edition nearly 60 years later he had to admit that charlatanry and pseudo-therapeutics had not been defeated. ‘Homeopathy has proved lucrative, and so long as it continues to be so will surely exist – as surely as astrology, palmistry, and other methods of getting a living out of the weakness and credulity of mankind and womankind.’

Comments on “Not Good for Much”

  1. outofdate says:

    This is becoming too much of an ideological issue. Homeopathy is perhaps not the best example, but osteopathy is more of a grey area, and Chinese medicine, though underpinned by what to us sounds like flagrant gobbledegook, demonstrably works. But if you suggest there may be something to it we don’t yet understand by the parameters we just made up, you’re now somehow not just anti-science but anti-progress altogether, and the Richard Dawkins fraternity, and with it all decent, right-thinking people, come down on you like a ton of bricks. The New Yorker only a couple of months ago furiously denounced anyone who wouldn’t get a jab for swine flu, saying they are THE SAME KIND OF PEOPLE who question Obama’s birth certificate, i.e. loony Christian rightwingers, and so the lines are drawn…

    The truth, I’m trying to say, is that ‘imbecile credulity’ is a broad church, and while every profession is crawling with opportunists, charlatans and plain morons, science seems to me to have more than its fair share.

  2. loxhore says:

    Placebos work! Especially if people believe they will!

  3. tjhb says:

    Holmes’ “of mankind and womankind” is a bit interesting. Didactically it looks like a mistake, since how could men and women be of a different kind in this strict sense?

    But more interesting is that, in 1901(?), he should be driven to supplement the first category with the second. Or is it just a wink, that women are naturally more susceptible to spurious claims than are men?

  4. Lancaster says:

    It is simple to knock Homoeopathy just join the pharmaceutical industry critics and shout loudly. Bias is often predjudice but when you look into something properly and ignore some of the dust arond placebos (it works for animals and they dont know about placebos) and reject the drug industrys shilling you will find a repertory by Kent and a materia Medica by Boericke and literally hundreds of books on the subject by Doctors and serious scientists – then it is not what you were told. Thousands of people benefit every year and yet journalistic yap still tries to discredit it.Think about it, a bent accountant does not discredit it – thats a superficial view.

    • Thomas Jones says:

      Hugh Pennington isn’t a journalist: he’s a serious scientist (emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen). Homeopathy isn’t serious science.

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