Recently, since July 1st 2012, laws were enforced in the Netherlands that made it illegal for homeopathic substances to make health claims on their packaging
. This means that something like Echinaforce can no longer be packaged claiming it helps against the common cold. It means that from now on all the packaging of all homeopathic substances will just contain a weird name and nothing more. Actually, the laws already existed. It is just that claims on homeopathic substances were tolerated. Well, no longer
At first, this might seem like a limitation of customer choice. After all, how can they make an informed decision if homeopaths are no longer allowed to describe what their products do? Does the government expect customers to just buy all the products and figure it out by trial and error?
This sentiment is understandable. Homeopathy follows slightly different rules than normal medicine, and its value was determined in a different way. A homeopath knows all about the human body and about energy flows and about how natural remedies can cure you. The only reason science has not caught up is because pharmaceutical companies are holding scientists back. Now you want to silence these brave homeopaths as well?
Well, the problem is, most of what I have written in my previous paragraph is complete crap.
There have been studies on alternative medicine. Pharmaceutical companies are not holding anyone back, and can even encourage research. They would love to find out that cranberries heal urinal infections; cranberries are a lot cheaper to fabricate than antibiotics. The problem is not that these studies are not being done. The problem is that the studies show that homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo.
When you give somebody a pill and tell them it will make them feel better, their minds will believe it and they will feel better. This is called the placebo effect. When you take a homeopathic drug and you are told it will make you feel better, it will make you feel better. If you are given a sugar pill (which is a lot cheaper), it will make you feel just as good as if you had been given a homeopathic cure.
When skeptics say that homeopathy does not work, that is what we mean. You can tell us how you felt better after some crème, or felt much more energetic after taking Aloe Vera, or how your muscles have not been as sore since you started taking a local homeopathic substance, but it is all irrelevant. Because the placebo effect is strong. And when you tell us these anecdotes, there is no way to know if you would have felt just as good if you had been given a simple placebo.
That is why we do scientific tests in the first place. We take a whole lot of randomly chosen people, and either give them the real drug or the placebo. We measure how much better the people feel who get the drug, compared to people who got the placebo. That is how we know that substances work. That is why I will ignore a hundred people telling me some homeopathic substance changed their lives, if there have been studies that show no effect. And I will tell every single one “Isn’t the placebo effect amazing?”
Homeopaths have no special insights into the workings of human bodies. Like most alternative medicines, they make a guess and then use philosophy to support their assertions. Homeopaths guessed that 'like cures like' and diluting a substance makes it more powerful. They will cure Arsenic poisoning with arsenic, will cure dehydration with salt and will cure water intoxication with water. They will take something that causes your symptoms, put it in water, dilute it until nothing remains but water, and then sell it to you for a lot more than water costs. Does this sound ridiculous yet? Cause it should.
In the Netherlands there are other substances that call themselves homeopathic. Homeopathy has become the catch-all name for both real homeopathy and also phytotherapy; using herbs to cure diseases, which is why it also referred to as herbology. That does not sound so ridiculous. We know that a plant, like aspirin, can affect our health. So what is the problem? Traditional phytotherapy made assumptions about which plants would cure which diseases. Modern medicine examined all the assumptions and started fabricating drugs when the plants worked, and dismissed the assumptions when they didn’t. Since all working herbology has been taken over by modern medicine, phytotherapy is left with all the disproven bits. All the guesses they made that turned out to be wrong, but which their doctrines say should still be right.
Alternative medicines guess. That is why every box of homeopathic substances has a little disclaimer saying the substance has not been scientifically proven to work. Science is the method we use to determine which theories are true in the real world. That means that if something has not been scientifically proven to work, that it probably does not work in the real work. It was merely a guess.
This might sound a bit high and mighty, but there are no other ways than science to find out if something is true. It is, however, a truth out of definition. That is, we define science to include all methods that are useable to get to the truth. Science does not play favorites. As long as you are earnestly searching for truth, you are welcomed with open arms.
We do not exclude the homeopath’s way of doing things because they do not adhere to some formal requirement that is required to be called a science. We exclude them because they are not interested in the truth. We exclude them because they want to keep their tests vague enough so they can keep claiming homeopathy works. When we tell them why their results are unreliable, they agree to more tests, only to claim later that failure results of the restrictions put on them. Like a magician blaming the particular make of a hat when he is unable to conjure a rabbit out of it as he had done out of his own hat.
If you walked into a pharmacy about a year ago, you would be able to see all the homeopathic substances and they would all be claiming health benefits of some kind. Take this one for stress, this one if you’re having trouble sleeping, this one if you’re feeling sad. There was the implication that the homeopath knew what he was doing. That there was some ancient wisdom that claimed this substance did what they were telling you it did. But no, they were just guesses. And your guess is as good as theirs. Feel free to still buy all of the substances and try them out one by one, guessing which, if any, helps you with your problems. It would be a guess, but your guess is as good as theirs.
That is why I am so happy with this decision. Because I do not like untrained people making guesses about my health. Because I value the truth in medicine and in life. Because to me it matters whether the drugs I am spending a lot of money on actually work. Because I do not like being conned.
I am happy, because the Netherlands became a little bit more rational last year. Let’s keep it that way and not sign crazy petitions