Horizon’s homeopathy documentary

Posted on December 20, 2008


I’ve just watched the BBC Horizon programme on homeopathy, in which they run a test of homeopathic ‘medicine’ to check if it is at all effective. The programme does the somewhat annoying thing of making it sound like there’s a real question here – a necessary mechanism to make the situation at all dramatic to those who are not normally interested in these issues. Of course, the results do come out negative. Unfortunately, the conclusion drawn from this is that “homeopathy remains without any credible scientific explanation”. While this is strictly speaking true, it is also totally misleading. The purpose of the test that was carried out during the programme wasn’t to provide an explanation but to provide evidence for or against homeopathy. Even if the test had come out positive, there would still be no explanation. As it is, there is no explanation and no evidence – homeopathy is only a social phenomenon, the question to be asked is why do people insist on believing in it. Which leads to another issue that I wish the Horizon programme held dealt with but did not. The test was occassioned by the fact that Professor Madeleine Ennis, a biochiemist who treats homeopathy perfectly sceptically, none-the-less seemed to get positive results. I would have liked it if the programme had gone tried to work out what was wrong with her methodology that led to these results. In particular, if the problems were similar to those that led to the errors in the research carried out by Prof. Benveniste. That information would be particularly useful in stopping this sort of silliness from occurring again somewhere else.

Even with all of these reservations, I think the programme is well worth watching.

Posted in: medicine, science