Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Observer and Guardian disagree on homeophobia

In the Guardian, novelist Jeanette Winterson soberly tackles the tricky subject of homeophobia – the fear and loathing of homeopathy, that is. She relates how while staying at a remote cottage in Cornwall she ran a temperature of 102, had spots on her throat, was delirious. And she had a book to finish. Her “desperate” publisher suggested she call the homeopath Hilary Fairclough who sent round a remedy called Lachesis, made from snake venom. “Four hours later I had no symptoms whatsoever.” (I believe this piece first appeared in The Times in 2004). She finishes: “We should be careful of dismissing the testimony of millions who say the remedies have worked for them.”

For once I have no firm view to offer – by temperament I am too impatient for results. And homeopathy, by my understanding, works slowly and subtly, if at all (Winterson’s rapid symptomatic relief surprises me). Zap me with the chemicals and I’m all yours (reluctantly). But it intrigues me that the piece has been resurrected in the Guardian when its sister paper the Observer only very recently ran a Nick Cohen homeophobic piece in which Hilary Fairclough got a kicking over claims that homeopathy can help in the treatment of Aids. “Of all the pseudo-sciences on offer, homeopathy is the most obviously spurious,” Cohen asserted, in the way Christopher Hitchens promises his flock that there is no god.

I see no reason why The Guardian and The Observer should not run contrary pieces – it’s very fair-minded of them – if a little redolent of their opposing stances on Iraq. Being all things - if done intelligently - is a very attractive commercial proposition.

17 comments:

lavinia said...

Dear little Jeanette was obviously going bananas and therefore susceptible to witchcraft. The placebo effect is one of the most powerful known to medicine. We got Reggie's leg down once, using a homeo.

Anonymous said...

Homeopathy treats dis-ease as acute (sudden violent symptoms as the Orange eating one describes) which can be cleared up remarkably quickly with homeopathy. Then there are also chronic conditions such as asthma, hayfever which respond more slowly. Personally I have had amazing results with homeopathy and nobody will ever persuade me that it doesn't work!

But surely papers are grown up enough to allow dissenting views?

Anonymous said...

I personally can couch for the benefits of homeopathy. It can work slowly or quickly, but as Jeanette says, it's different from orthodox, pharmaceutical-based medicine in that it address the uniqueness of the person. It is not, as she says, 'linear'.

Dr Crippen said...

Just to say that Winterson does not say that homeopathy is a substitute for conventional treatment of Aids. She makes it clear that it must be used in tandem with the drugs - to help the body fight the side-effects of the drugs and build up the body's immunity.

Madame Arcati said...

Dear Lavinia, Have you seen Nesta's letter to you? Please reply in your inimitable style.

Anonymous said...

For more on homeopathy see Francis Wheen's excellent book on mumbo jumbo. The placebo effect is what we're talking about here

Anonymous said...

You make the mistake in associating the two sister papers with any point of view on this matter. Both the Guardian and the Observer have a long tradition of serving as platform for differing points of view. The fact that Winterson has written such a powerful defence of homeopathy made it a perfect response to Cohen's piece.

Anonymous said...

I thought Cohen's piece a disgrace - as a point of view it's legitimate, but as a report? He should be working for the 'viewpaper' Independent.

lavinia said...

Dear Madame - I can't see any letter written to me. But if some creature is suffering from our old friend PMT, I trust you to nip it in the bud.

Anonymous said...

< Dear Madame - I can't see any letter written to me. >

Damn it! I can't either. "Madame" Arcati must definitely be living in his alternative universe.

< But if some creature is suffering from our old friend PMT, I trust you to nip it in the bud. >

Homeopathy or not, do you think he's best qualified to cure that kind of disease? Anyway I doubt Ms Wyn Ellis still suffers from it by now, if ever she did. :-)

Is there any cure for andropause, incidentally? That would solve some worrying hormonal problems here.

SUSAN said...

Why does everyone sneer at and write off the placebo effect ? 1. It works so what`s wrong with it and 2. in itself it is actually pretty amazing, if you think about it carefully. In fact the more carefully you think about it the more it seems like witchcraft.. which also works, or so I am informed.

Anonymous said...

Nobody's poo-pooing the placebo effect, dear. We just want to be intelligent human beings and know what we're talking about and not go down the slippery slope of all that pathetic ju-ju nonsense we saw so much of in Malaya and which leaves people defenceless against witch doctors.

lavinia said...

That was me doing the last one. For some reason my name didn't come up. What's the point of having one if it doesn't come up?

lavinia said...

Who's Susan? Is she that authoress?

Madame Arcati said...

Oh Lavinia, you know who Susan is, she's global. Now when are you going to respond to Nesta?

Anonymous said...

I've always thought homeopathy could have appeared to be quite successful when it was invented. The state of medical knowledge at the time probably meant that many treatments were positively harmful and not prescribing anything but water and a kind word a radical improvement. But, of course, this is not the case today.

David said...

I'm always amazed that seemingly sentient adults claim that homeopathy works, when they would be up in arms about any other medical treatment that has been so debunked by scientific study, and whose practitioners engage in such secrecy and propaganda. As others have said, like, dur, placebo. The idea that water having 'memory' is too laughable to be even considered for more than a second.

Ben Goldacre is for me one of the finest journalists going right now. He is intellectually rigorous, he brings a minority interest - science - to a wide audience - and he always writes such entertaining prose. There isn't another to touch him.