During my travels around the internet, I happened upon this comic from the always awesome XKCD. I too have noticed a worrying trend recently, which sees homeopathic medicines placed on the same shelves as, and packaged similarly to, medicines with..y’know…actual active ingredients.
As fun as it would be to launch into a rant about homeopathy, I’m not going to do that here. As I’ve said before, people should be able to take whatever treatment they choose.
However as I said in the same piece, when the treatment being offered cannot possibly work in any way currently understood by medical or molecular science, that fact should at least be made clear to whoever is making the choice at the time that they’re making it.
Alternative medicine is dismissed out of hand by many, not because all of it is nonsense, but because many practitioners of it are too busy pointing out the evils of pharmaceutical companies (of which there are doubtless many), to trouble themselves with finding out whether the thing that they believe in passionately actually works.
Instead, tired arguments about science’s “inability to explain everything” are trotted out when things get too difficult. But here’s the thing. Being unable to explain everything is not equivalent to being unable to explain anything. As Richard Feynman observed, people are incredibly adept at fooling themselves, the scientific method of checking and analysing our theories, is simply a way of protecting ourselves from this tendency.
In an ideal world, we’d all make fully informed choices about the treatments, foods and products we used. We’d all be well schooled in biology and physics and chemistry and we’d have no trouble distinguishing between what worked and what didn’t. Hell, we’d even be able to cook up our own drugs when we got sick.
Obviously, we don’t live in that world (I’d bet most of you don’t know exactly what was in most of the things you’ve eaten today), which means that the people who sell medicines to the public surely have some responsibility to investigate the effectiveness of the things they sell and inform the customer as best they can.
No-one should argue that alternative medicines shouldn’t be made available to the public. If it’s safe, and it makes people feel better, it should be possible to buy it. I’m just saying that maybe alternative medicine should be placed on alternative shelving as well.