Commentary > Friday, February-04-2011

When Homeopathy Is Presented As A Cure

Keywords: homeopathy, cancer, news, reporting

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote an article on my blog analyzing the claims that a man cured himself of cancer with homeopathy.  You've just got to shake your head at the shoddy reporting where the journalist basically acts as a publicity cheerleader for this man's intervention, not even asking any of the very basic questions that even a dumbass like myself was able to throw out there.

I forwarded the Ingersoll Times article to Melany Fulgham of the Skeptic North blog and it made her "Skeptical Fails and Wins" segment (as a fail, of course).  The reason I want to bring it up again is because it's a great case study in how this kind of rhetoric can convince people, and helps us to hone our minds towards seeing the kinds of misdirections and assumptions in these kinds of claims which are virtually invisible until you look for them.

Like when the article says:

Today, the same surgeon who performed the operation shakes his head in disbelief every time Moyer returns for a check-up.

It's a wonderfully convincing statement, until you realize that nobody bothered to question the doctor in question and get any sort of statement from him about how remarkable this case was.  Instead, we only have the word of the homeopath who's making these claims.

One thing I notice upon rereading my old article that I didn't pay attention to at the time is the way Moyer talks about how he tried previous homeopathic treatments, but it wasn't until he got tinkering with remedies himself that he finally found the "cure".  It's such a common way that people fool themselves.  He just keeps  on trying different things, and when the actual medical treatment he was going through finally works he gives the credit to his latest homeopathic attempt rather than to medical science.

And the reporter just accepts everything he says completely at face value.  This willingness to accept anecdotal evidence completely unquestioned is understandable in terms of the way our brains work, but we should expect reporters to be more diligent about questioning and getting the facts right. 

This is especially the case when the article quotes Moyer as saying:

There is nothing we can't treat including serious illness.

That's a serious claim, and it gravely misleads people into believing that homeopathy is serious and potent medicine.  With this kind of rhetoric, it's really no wonder that many people believe that they can forgo actual medical treatments in favour of water and sugar with no science to support it.

What I hope we accomplish with this 10-23 campaign is to convince people to look beneath the misleading rhetoric of homeopathy and to start asking questions about the unproven assumptions and self serving claims made by homeopathic doctors.

Because when you bother to have questions and even just slightly scratch the surface, it's pretty obvious that there's just nothing there.