Ben Goldacre is the Lord Flashheart of science journalism, lancing the boil of pseudoscience and fashioning meaningless hyperbole into a frilly bonnet.
As a bona fide doctor he’s got a bone to pick with anyone passing themselves off as having a medical background in their effort to hawk holistic wares and sell the spiel to lazy journalists. His most bloody battle is with homeopaths (followed closely by ‘Doctor’ Gillian McKeith). Homeopaths have, in fact, threatened him with bodily harm; presumably at only one part to a squillion.
Known for his exposé column in The Guardian, his website and a book, Bad Science, he uses terms like “bollocks du jour” and concocts ways for you to try your own experiments at home to see if various holistic health breakthroughs really work. (No.)
Your average 30C homeopathic preparation, he points out, is a dilution of (according to the Society of Homeopaths) “one part per million million million million million million million million million million”. Homeopaths claim (as do David Icke and Masaru Emoto) that this dilution won’t affect treatment, as water has memory and will have taken and retained an impression of the original molecules.
“If water has a memory,” brays Goldacre, “then by now all water must surely be a health-giving homeopathic dilution of all the molecules in the world. Water has been sloshing around the globe for a very long time, and the water in my very body as I sit typing away in London has already been through plenty of other people’s bodies before mine. Maybe some of the water molecules sitting in my fingers as I type this sentence are currently in your eyeball.
“How does a water molecule know to forget every other molecule it’s seen before? How does it know to treat my bruise with its memory of arnica, rather than a memory of Isaac Asimov’s faeces?
“I wrote this in the newspaper once and a homeopath complained to the Press Complaints Commission. It’s not about the dilution, he said: it’s the ‘succussion’. You have to bang a flask of water briskly ten times on a leather and horsehair surface, and that’s what makes the water remember a molecule. Because I did not mention this, he explained, I had deliberately made homeopaths sound stupid.”
My question: Why don’t homeopaths just up the ratio of herb to brandy and dispel the ‘there’s nothing in it’ argument? Or is it the brandy alone that gives you that warm glow inside?