Friday, 6 February 2009

Enforced Quackery: Day 7

So, I wondered how long it would be, and it seems the answer is "about 6 weeks". The question? 'How long is it possible to be taught by homeopaths without hearing some nonsense about quantum mechanics?"

Day 7 consisted of a visit to the London Homeopathic Hospital. Just for added irritation value, this is on Great Ormond Street, and one has to (I am reliably informed) walk past the famous hospital where they actually do real medicine in order to get there. There was a meeting with a GP who is also a homeopath. He seemed to be the most sensible of the pracitioners they'd come into contact with so far - coming pretty close to Ben Goldacre's ideal of "ethical bullshit". He gives homeopathic remedies to patients because they seem to help, and doesn't worry about why - he was quite willing to admit that the mechanism is very probably the same mechanism as a placebo... but he made the fairly valid point - if I can give these people pills that make them feel better, why not do it? And who cares how they work?

Of course, then he was asked about how he thinks they work... while admitting that a placebo effect was a possibility, he then spouted the traditional nonsense about what he thought the mechanism might actually be, invoking the "memory of water", and something called "non-linear quantum mechanics". Now, I'm no expert, but I distinctly remember reading something about non-linear quantum mechanics fairly recently, it was this paper which no-one who isn't studying Complexity Theory should bother reading. It says that if quantum physics is non-linear, this should in theory allow us to build quantum computers which solve NP (and even #P) problems in polynomial time. It also says:

Such non-linearity is highly hypothetical: all known experiments confirm the linearity of quantum physics to a high degree of accuracy.
That's right the explanation for the extremely macro-level phenomenon of really really tiny water molecules somehow managing to remember that they once came into contact with significantly less tiny arnica molecules has something to do with the fact that the superposition principle of quantum mechanics - which has to do with things which are a lot tinier than water molecules, might possibly be violated in some cases (even though no-one has ever actually seen this happen).

This is classic bullshit. Essentially the argument goes: homeopathy works, and we don't really know why. I don't really know how quantum mechanics works either, so surely it must have something to do with that. It's not science, and it's certainly not an important part of a medical education.

Once again, there were complaints made to the people in charge about the fact that there hasn't been nearly enough patient contact (although apparently they did see a few during this session). Once again, the reason given was that the "medical practitioners" were worried about what the future doctors might say to their "patients". Again, a promising sign that they've not been brainwashed, but surely if they're not going to be allowed to see patients, then they're not going to be able to observe Medicine in Society.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Cheers for reporting on this - I found this through David Colquhoun's Improbable science page ( I'm glad that the students are having none of it, and I hope they are able to formulate a polite but to-the-point criticism of their placement when it comes to the end of term course evaluation.

It must suck for your girlfriend to be placed at such a bogus place when she'd been expecting to go to a place where they practised evidence-based medicine, though I would say that both of you (and your girlfriend's colleagues) have a unique opportunity to make a strong stand to the university on the rather dubious science they've been exposed to.

Please keep on writing - you have my support!