The homeopaths strike back

October 2nd, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, celebs, dna, homeopathy, magnets, placebo, very basic science | 5 Comments »

The homeopaths strike back

Ben Goldacre
Thursday October 2, 2003
The Guardian

· You probably don’t have to be a physics expert like bad science spotter Professor Donald Simanek to spot that the new £2 coin, celebrating our scientific heritage, has an odd number of gears interlocking around the edge, creating a system that could not possibly turn.

· Down at Tower Bridge, illusionist David Blaine has genetically modified supermen working on his security team. They only got worried about people shining laser pointers at Blaine because, as one of them told the Daily Mirror: “In America a dot of light means someone’s aiming a gun at you using an infrared sight.” That’s “infrared” as in below the range of human vision.

· Meanwhile, according to Jack Straw, speaking in parliament last week, Iraq is a difficult place to find weapons of mass destruction in because it’s twice the size of France. That’s presumably the same Iraq that is 437,072 sq km, as opposed to France, which is (according to the, er, CIA World Factbook) 547,030 sq km.

· But there’s more. Writing about the unbelievably excellent Henry Wellcome artefacts exhibition at the British Museum, Time Out tells us about “a lock of George III’s hair that is undergoing DNA analysis to determine whether the king was, in fact, mad”. Looks like psychiatrists are out of a job, then: perhaps his DNA could tell us if he was bad and dangerous to know too?

· And just in case you thought I was going to give complementary therapy bashing a rest this week, may I proudly offer you the fantastic randomised control study from this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association which shows that magnet therapy does not work for heel pain. That’s one quack cure down, only 5,363,672 to go.

· One last thing. I have received, from the director of the Society of Homeopaths, what is possibly the longest letter ever written to any newspaper on any subject. How any alternative therapist who has ever read a newspaper in Britain could possibly claim that they get a bad deal, considering that dark ages superstition has now become the contractually-enforced journalistic norm, baffles me, but in the spirit in which this epic letter was clearly intended I present it here diluted one part in one hundred thousand, in the vain hope that it has more impact on you than it does on me: “Placeb…”


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5 Responses



  1. Hatter said,

    October 12, 2005 at 10:44 am

    King George – couldn’t they be checking for mental illness known to be likely due to genetics, like schizophrenia or porhpyria?

  2. Rose said,

    November 24, 2005 at 4:45 pm

    Heavy metal poisoning would show up in a hair sample too.

  3. Mat said,

    December 2, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Heavy metal poisoning wouldn’t show up in a DNA analysis. And neither schizophrenia nor porphyria have yet been traced back to a genetic cause. Porphyria is known to be hereditory (i.e. genetic) but that’s about it.
    Regardless, Ben’s point was presumably that “madness” is an outward symptom of various illnesses and not something that can yet be determined by genetic analysis. Or he was saying that the subtle interactions of genetic and social influences are probably what cause “madness”, and it’s unlikely ever to be a simple genetic switch. Or he was just having a go at the BM for trying to get a cheap headline. One of those.

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