Homeopathy loses another fight with reason

4 minute read

But when it takes 13 years to debunk – twice – one of the dumbest bits of pseudoscience, are we not all losers?

Well, dear reader, it has taken 13 years’ investigation by two of the nation’s most important agencies and who knows how much money, but finally the truth can be told: homeopathy is every bit the crock of diluted-to-undetectability cow poo you thought it was back in 2010.

Thank goodness. I was so conflicted. At last I can rest easy.

Homeopathy was invented in 1796 by a German physician – I use the term loosely – called Samuel Hahnemann, who came across the idea while translating a medical treatise by a Scottish chemist called William Cullen into German.

I suspect Sam and Willy got enmeshed in a classic game of Chinese whispers where one thing went in one end and something completely unrelated came out the other. That’s how off-the-charts bonkers homeopathy is.

It starts out semi-sensible – “like cures like” – after all, that’s how vaccination works, kind of, right? But then it gets diabolically silly. Dilute the “cure” to the point where not even a single molecule of it needs to be present in what you actually give the patient.

Water, people. Or whatever your diluent of choice is. Oh, and don’t forget to hit or shake the bottle it comes in because that makes the diluent “remember” the original substance after its removal.

It’s been ridiculed for 300 years by anyone with half a scientific brain in their head. It’s been debunked time after time after time. It’s done nothing but make its proponents richer and its gullible victims poorer.

And yet, still, it turns out, the National Health and Medical Research Council – this country’s biggest research funding agency and repository for some Very Big Brains – decided it was necessary to review the evidence about the effectiveness of homeopathy.

That investigation took five years, people. FIVE YEARS.

You can read the report here, but TL;DR: “There were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was effective.”

And then, we find out this week that because some unnamed homeopath didn’t like the results, he or she complained to the Commonwealth Ombudsman about the NHMRC’s methodology, prompting the Ombudsman to conduct an investigation of its own.

Yesterday the O-man himself, Iain Anderson, issued a statement about the investigation.

Let me just write down the timeline of this farce, ladies and gentlemen. The NHMRC began its review in 2010 and finished in 2015. The Ombudsman began its investigation in September 2017. And finished when?

July 2023. Let that sink in.

Why did it take so long?

We may never know when it comes to the NHMRC’s initial deliberations. But Anderson has been quite frank about the reasons why it took almost six years to conduct a review. And I quote:

“Despite our best efforts, it was not possible to engage an expert (or experts) to provide independent advice to our Office on this subject,” he said. “In the absence of independent, expert scientific expertise we have not been able to conclusively determine those matters of scientific methodology.”

Can you hear my brain oozing out of my ear? It took almost six years to work out that there are no independent experts in homeopathy. SIX YEARS.

Sorry for the shouting, but honest to god, what are we doing as a society? I despair.

“This did not prevent our Office from forming a view on other aspects of the matter,” Mr Anderson continued.

“Our investigation did not result in any adverse findings about the review or the NHMRC. When finalising investigations, we may offer comments and suggestions to an agency about areas for future improvement. In this instance, we offered comments and suggestions to the NHMRC about how it records and publicly explains decisions about its activities. The NHMRC also independently made several improvements to its processes during the course of our investigation.”

That’s it, ladies and gentlemen. Thirteen years of two investigations into one of the dumbest theories in the history of pseudoscience, and god knows how much money and person-hours.

I am, fair dinkum, in the wrong job.

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