In the Sunday Telegraph, James LeFanu writes that we should be nicer to homeopathy. Specifically he takes issue with Michael Baum, Professor Emeritus of Surgery of surgery at University College London, who has pointed out that homeopathy has no more merit than astrology. LeFanu writes:
The claim that homeopathy is "unsupported" by evidence would be contradicted by the many tens of thousands of people worldwide who say that it has cured their asthma or eczema or markedly reduced their reliance on conventional medicines. Are they all, as he would suppose, foolish and self-deluded?
Of course they are; either that or for some reason the news has not reached them (as it clearly has not reached LeFanu) that science is, in the words of Richard Feynman, "what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves". So if you don't use it when reasoning about what does or doesn't work, what will reliably happen is that you will continue to fool yourself.
Millions of people believe in witches and would swear that killing old women can and does alleviate a wide range of misfortunes including diseases. So, finding a group of people who claim that something cures them has no bearing at all on whether it does. LeFanu, unfortunately, continues:
It is true that homeopathy's supposed mechanism - treating like with like, where "the lower the dilution the more potent the remedy" - seems "barmy" to Western science. But so does acupuncture.
No demonstrable channels of communication cross the six feet that separate the toes from the skull, so how, as is undoubtedly the case, does twiddling a needle in the former cure a crashing migraine in the latter?
What? First of all, there is in fact no good evidence for acupuncture as a treatment of anything. But never mind that: pain and touch nerves do carry information from the foot to the brain. LeFanu is a physician and cannot possibly be that ignorant of basic anatomy. So it is, again, his standards of argument that are at fault. The Telegraph's editors ought to require a higher standard of reasoning in their newspaper than this watered down nonsense.