Irish Times: Reader response

This appeared today in response to last week's skeptical article on Homeopathy

Letter: With reference to an article by Paul O'Donoghue of the Irish Skeptics Society (Health Supplement, July 5th), the Irish Society of Homeopaths queries his views on some of the issues.

We agree it is good to take a sceptical approach, particularly to the vast array of potentially confusing health information that people are subjected to these days from conventional and complementary sectors alike.

However, Mr O'Donoghue focuses solely on homeopathy in this article, as he has continually done so in the past, claiming it is not scientific.

Homeopathy has assisted the health of millions of people worldwide over the past 250 years, is regulated and practised globally by practitioners.

This is underlined by completed positive scientific research, the fact that homeopathy is legally available on the British NHS, and by the existence of five UK homeopathic hospitals staffed by medical doctors and state- registered nurses.

Mr O'Donoghue argues that in chemistry the more of a substance present, the more potent it is, and that without molecules there is no effect. While this may be so in chemistry, these molecular arguments do not hold universally.

Take, for example, the case of electricity where it makes no difference how many molecules of copper are in the wire. The level of electrical potential can be massive or tiny depending on other factors - likewise in a situation where no molecules can be found, such as with gravity.

Therefore, it may be better to recognise that science is continuously trying to explain real phenomena, and may yet find a way of applying chemistry to measure the influence of homeopathic medicines.

Remember, we now have a vast industry in genetics because science was eventually used to explain DNA and genetic material. Until this point of scientific explanation, some argued that genes did not exist and that genetics was untested hocus pocus.

A key point is that the scientific exploration of homeopathy is actually more in tune with recent discoveries in physics than it is with the laws of chemistry.

Scepticism is based on doubt but essentially keeps an open mind until appropriate evidence is available. Cynicism tends to be biased, judgmental and based on an incomplete understanding of a situation.

Mr O'Donoghue's frequently published arguments are ill-informed and, therefore, perhaps better described as cynical rather than sceptical.

This begs the question: "What fuels such public slamming of homeopathy on every possible occasion?"

While everyone has a viewpoint, there are dangers inherent in such continued published cynicism.

Mr O'Donoghue's assertion that people will suffer if they follow only the homeopathic route is an unfair attempt to discredit homeopathy.

No registered member of the Irish Society of Homeopaths would advise a patient to avoid general medical care or to only follow one method of treatment.

The reverse is also true - if people are advised to avoid homeopathy in favour of a solely conventional course of treatment, they are denied the benefits of homeopathic treatment. Benefits which millions bear witness to worldwide, with countless examples of the profound health improvements they have enjoyed as a result of homeopathy.

At the collective and economic level, whether sceptics (or cynics) like it or not, homeopathy is a strong and increasingly important aspect of the healthcare systems in a growing number of countries such as France, Germany, India, the US, Canada, South Africa and the UK.

In Glasgow, the Homeopathic Hospital proved so cost effective it was the only hospital not to suffer recent funding cuts.

By lagging behind in integrating homeopathy into its healthcare systems, Ireland could lose out on the economic and health gains being experienced in other countries.

We all want to ensure the public are protected from incompetence, whether in homeopathy, general medicine, psychology or any other service.

This is precisely why the Irish Society of Homeopaths is working with the Government to establish a robust regulatory system of homeopaths. The society is available for meaningful discussion in the public domain.

We are happy to respond to scepticism, but question the usefulness and inherent danger of cynicism.

Paul Dixons and Suzi Duff

Irish Times Health Supplement, 12th July '05