Monday, July 17, 2006


I saw this in the What's New section of the Skeptic's Dictionary: Rumpology, the arcane science of predicting the future by examining someone's rear end. I thought that it might be a joke, especially as the essay Rumpology for Dummies shows how ridiculous the whole prediction industry is, but take a look at Sylvester Stallone's mum's website.

Whilst rumpology looks like a case of the extremely gullible being parted from their money, this BBC news
item about Malaria is more tragic: people have been taking homeopathic remedies instead of anti-malarial drugs whilst travelling and consequently catching malaria.

The basic idea behind Homeopathy is that, if someone is ill, you should find a substance that produces similar symptoms and then dilute it so much that none of the original substance is left - and that's your medicine. In other words it is utterly stupid.

Real medicine can be shown to work by placebo-controlled double-blind testing - patients are given either the medicine or a placebo (e.g. chalk) but neither the patient nor the doctor knows which as it is randomly determined by someone else - this gets rid of the many effects that obscure whether or not the medicine works especially the placebo effect but also confirmation bias (giving greater weight to evidence that supports your belief than contrary evidence).

As with so many alternative medicines, its adherents claim that homeopathy can't be tested in this way (see last quote in this BBC item); in other words its effects are so subtle that they can't be seen. You'll note that other medicines that actually work, such as Asprin or the anti-malarial drug Lariam, can be tested in this way - and that this methodology also allows us to look for side-effects attributable to the drugs.
Pharmaceutical companies make big profits on their main cash cow drugs, they also pay for the science and technology required to do the research ad testing that underpins the development of new drugs and techniques; Homeopathy has none of the costs (see the Horizon test which showed that homeopathic medicine was indistinguishable from pure water) but has plenty of profits going into the back pockets of its practitioners.

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