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Mon, 24 Oct 2005

Homeopathy and blind faith

I had a virtual encounter with Mr. Andreas Bjørndal here. The occasion was that a popular science show on norwegian TV raised the subject of homeopathy, and Mr. Bjørndal was there representing norwegian homeopaths. After the show, he answered questions.

The conclusion? He's deluded. Let me explain why I say this. Here's a translation of my question:

I "know" that homeopathy doesn't work, but Bjørndal "knows" that it works. Who
is right? Bjørndal's point of view is a result of him seeing people recover
after using homeopathic preparates. I believe this happens because most people
recover in any case. Additionaly, research has repeatedly made it clear that
no effect can be attributed to homeopathy, and nobody can explain homeopathy.
However, all this taken into account, I would change my view if I were to see 
sufficient evidence in favour of homeopathy. What, specifically, would make
Bjørndal change his opinion?

Mr. Bjørndal's response was enlightening. Observe:

When you have worked for 25 years and seen patients with serious ailments
who have tried everything for 10-15 years without getting better. When you try 
3-5 different homeopathic remedies without effect and then find the substance 
that every time the patient gets ill even if it is the cold, a headache or 
intestinal infection, then it is difficult to find other explanations. I can
tell you that when I started studying natural medicines I was very sceptical 
to homeopathy, only when I saw the effect it had on family and other patients 
we saw in the education did I change my view. Give me good documentation that 
it does not work and I will be the first to stand by it, but then I would 
prefer a better explanation to what I have seen during 25 years of practice. 
It can't be placebo when both my patient and I think ok, let's try one more 
I have tried not to change the meaning in translation, but some of the sentences are incomplete because they were so in the original.

First of all, Mr. Bjørndal shows that he has no concept of what "knowledge" is. He says he has seen it working many times (just like I said in my initial question, I might add), so it must be true. This is completely misguided. There could be any of a number of explanations to each one of those single cases. Perhaps his patients felt sorry for him after trying so hard all those times, and lied. Perhaps they used normal medicine together with it, and wouldn't tell him in case he got upset. I'm sure most readers could conjure lots of other explanations. Another primary concern I have is the possibility to go back and verify all these cases. Does Mr. Bjørndal keep track of all his failed cases? I doubt it.

Secondly, Mr. Bjørndal demonstrates a lack of understanding of the methods of science. He invites the reader (or me?) to give good evidence that homeopathy does not work. How can I prove that something does not work? I can try to demonstrate whether something works, and when that fails enough times I will discard that idea as wrong. Demonstrating something the other way round is, as far as I know, something for mathematicians.

The final point I will make is that Mr. Bjørndal makes suggestions in another of his responses that homeopathic remedies are better than antibiotics, and that antibiotics only breed stronger bugs. As if homeopathy wouldn't do the same if it had an effect. I'm almost tempted to say this alone is evidence that it doesn't work...

Ketil Froyn

posted at: 13:58 | path: /2005/10/24 | permanent link to this entry