Homeopathy4health

15 June 2008

Homeopathy, Medicine, Science and Cognitive Dissonance

Given that more and more people globally are using homeopathy with benefit for all kinds of ill-health; its effectiveness in treating epidemics: cholera, influenza (here and here); its integration into the Indian medical system; and the World Health Organisation reporting that it is the number 2 medical system in the world (but you won’t find that report anywhere, it’s been buried), I can only conclude that the reason why conventional medics and scientists might genuinely (rather than wilfully because of love of science itself, self-interest or pharmaceutical allegiances taking priority over the health of patients) refuse to use and investigate homeopathy is because they are suffering from what is termed ‘cognitive dissonance’. www.learningandteaching.info describes it well:

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become “open” to them. Neighbour (1992) makes the generation of appropriate dissonance into a major feature of tutorial (and other) teaching: he shows how to drive this kind of intellectual wedge between learners’ current beliefs and “reality”.  
Beyond this benign if uncomfortable aspect, however, dissonance can go “over the top”, leading to two interesting side-effects for learning:

  • if someone is called upon to learn something which contradicts what they already think they know — particularly if they are committed to that prior knowledge — they are likely to resist the new learning. Even Carl Rogers recognised this. Accommodation is more difficult than Assimilation, in Piaget’s terms.             
  • and—counter-intuitively, perhaps—if learning something has been difficult, uncomfortable, or even humiliating enough, people are less likely to concede that the content of what has been learned is useless, pointless or valueless. To do so would be to admit that one has been “had”, or “conned”.

Ordeal is therefore an effective — if spurious — way of conferring value on an educational (or any other) experience. “No pain, no gain”, as they say.

  • the more difficult it is to get on a course, the more participants are likely to value it and view it favourably regardless of its real quality.
  • ditto, the more expensive it is.
  • the more obscure and convoluted the subject, the more profound it must be. This has of course been exploited for years to persuade us of the existence of the emperor’s clothes, particularly by French “intellectuals” and “post-structuralists”. (I recently came across the wonderful phrase “intellectual flatulence” which perfectly describes such rubbish.)

It is not, however, so much the qualities of the course which are significant, as the amount of effort which participants have to put in: so the same qualification may well be valued more by the student who had to struggle for it than the student who sailed through.”

As medicine and science is very hard to get into and arduous to study, it seems to fulfill several of the above criteria.

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6 Comments »

  1. You mention “love of science” as a reason for refusing to investigate homeopathy, as if science and homeopathy are mutually exclusive alternatives — which they are, but only if you accept that homeopathy doesn’t work. Anything that works is science by definition. Science isn’t political, isn’t ideological. Science wants to find the truth, but doesn’t care what that truth is.

    If homeopathy works then refusing to investigate it would betray a disdain for science, not a love of it.

    Comment by Andrew — 15 June 2008 @ 10:47 pm

  2. I mean to imply that homeopathy challenges science ‘too much’ for some people and because they ‘love’ science they defend science rather than investigate homeopathy.

    Comment by homeopathy4health — 16 June 2008 @ 9:42 am

  3. What do you mean by “challenges science”?

    If you mean that the ideas behind homeopathy run counter to almost the entirety of relevant current scientific understanding, then I agree: the laws of physics and chemistry don’t appear provide any mechanism by which homeopathy could have an effect, and our understanding of biology does not suggest that the ingredients used in homeopathy should be suitable if they did. The second law of thermodynamics implies that if homeopathy did work then repeated dilution and succussion would kill the effects, and current clinical evidence doesn’t do much, if anything, to support the hypothesis. But there’s only a conflict there if you predecide that homeopathy works; if you’re willing to concede that maybe it doesn’t then the universe is consistent again. It’s ironic that you should discuss cognitive dissonance and accuse sceptics of being close-minded.

    If you mean that homeopathy is a challenge for science to measure, presumably because you think it works but that science has failed so far to find a suitable test to prove it, then you should use your superior understanding of homeopathy to design such a test, but I think it betrays a misunderstanding of the power of an RCT: if there’s an effect, no matter how strange the mechanism, a large enough RCT will pick it up. That’s what they’re for.

    If you think that there are truths that science can’t measure no matter how good a test it uses, then that puts you in a category with intercessory prayer believers and dowsers, which isn’t exactly impressive intellectual company.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at with this. Please define what you mean by “science”.

    Comment by Andrew — 16 June 2008 @ 11:31 am

  4. Andrew says:
    ” the laws of physics and chemistry don’t appear provide any mechanism by which homeopathy could have an effect, and our understanding of biology does not suggest that the ingredients used in homeopathy should be suitable if they did.”

    Unfortunately this is totally untrue. Physics does in fact offer a potential mechanism for homeopathy to work, even if chemistry does not, and biology actually requires homeopathy to work as it does.

    “The second law of thermodynamics implies that if homeopathy did work then repeated dilution and succussion would kill the effects, and current clinical evidence doesn’t do much, if anything, to support the hypothesis.”

    Again this is not true. Dilution with succussion are exactly the process one would require to enhance the physical effects as opposed to the chemical ones. Also 200 years of clinical evidence supports the theory very well.

    “If you mean that homeopathy is a challenge for science to measure, presumably because you think it works but that science has failed so far to find a suitable test to prove it, then you should use your superior understanding of homeopathy to design such a test”

    Why? If scientists wish to find tests to prove why homeopathy works, that is appropriate, but a GP is not expected to be a research chemist, so why should a homeopath be expected to be a research physicist?

    The power of the RCT depends entirely on isolating a single factor. Any result which is statistical is by definition a result in which more than one factor is having a significant effect. If you do not know what factor is having what effect, then the information is virtually useless other than as part of a process of refining the experiment.

    Comment by givescienceachance — 18 June 2008 @ 8:11 pm

  5. Physics does in fact offer a potential mechanism for homeopathy to work

    What is it, then?

    Dilution with succussion are exactly the process one would require to enhance the physical effects as opposed to the chemical ones.

    No, they’re exactly the process one would require to rapidly generate huge amounts of entropy. Entropy is the enemy of anyone trying to store information in water. your best bet would be to cool the water down until it freezes; then it will maintain a structure. Failing that, pressurise it so it can’t freeze and cool it to a few Kelvin. And absolutely don’t hit it with a book — that will introduce energy, which will cause the molecules to move around and that introduces randomness.

    Also 200 years of clinical evidence supports the theory very well.

    Not nearly well enough to justify throwing out large chunks of current –and far better supported– theory.

    Why?

    Because selling medicines that may or may not work, claiming that they do work, is clearly unethical. It’s fraud, essentially. Don’t you watch The Real Hustle?

    If scientists wish to find tests to prove why homeopathy works–

    You’re running before you can walk. First, prove that homeopathy works, and then people will be interested in why. Nobody is interested in explaining how Uri Geller’s amazing mind control powers work, because nobody is convinced he has any.

    why should a homeopath be expected to be a research physicist?

    Gosh, starting on an in-vitro study? Very sciencey but not really appropriate since there’s no theory to test at the moment. Design an RCT that includes the things you want. I’m certain it can be done.

    The power of the RCT depends entirely on isolating a single factor. Any result which is statistical is by definition a result in which more than one factor is having a significant effect. If you do not know what factor is having what effect, then the information is virtually useless other than as part of a process of refining the experiment.

    Hang on, though, “a single factor” could be “homeopathic medicine”. Presumably homeopaths think that that factor has the effect of curing people, yes? And that can be very easily tested in a suitable RCT.

    Comment by Andrew — 19 June 2008 @ 9:02 am

  6. Homeopathic medicines can not fail although a homeopath can fail.I have treated & still treating patients of fibroid tumors,orthoneurospinal injured patients viz:cervical spondylosis,lumbosacral spinal,renal patients, benign prostate hyperplasia(BHP),easy delivery of pregnant ladies(without surgery except few who have complications) etc.It is a boon to mankind,needs awareness programmes.

    Comment by Dr.SCSRIVASTAVA,Ph.D. — 1 July 2008 @ 6:18 am


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