Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The ineluctable persistence of fallacy

Before I get to more of the particulars of NICE, I must digress to a subject which has long befuddled me but which I am now at long last beginning to understand. Both the UK and the US suffer from a very similar regulatory defect. In both countries the legislature has forbidden the licensing authority from requiring that homeopathic remedies be shown to be effective. More specifically, substances listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States as of 1938 have legal protection. The FDA has occasionally taken action against substances labeled as "homeopathic" that don't meet the definition, but actual homeopathic remedies are widely marketed in the U.S. although they are utterly useless. The situation in the UK is even worse. Not only are homeopathic remedies automatically licensed, by the National Health Service actually has to pay for them! (Efforts are underway to change this, but it is, believe it or not, politically controversial>)

I won't take up space here demonstrating that homeopathy is absurd, utterly implausible, preposterous, ludicrous, ridiculous, and idiotic. The theory of homeopathy contradicts everything we know, not only about biology, but also about physics, chemistry, and the basic way the universe works. It's completely delusional, insane, and crazy. True homeopathic remedies are first-order harmless: they all consist of the same chemical compound, in reasonably pure form, specifically an oxygen atom attached to two hydrogen atoms, which in amounts under a couple of gallons is well tolerated. They are differentiated only by the label. Second order, however, they may bamboozle people into not pursuing effective remedies, and they do separate fools from their shillings.

So my befuddlement has been over how this and similarly delusional beliefs not only persist, but maintain dedicated and even fanatical followings in spite of mountains of irrefutable contrary evidence. Vaccines cause autism, HIV does not cause AIDS, the WTC was destroyed by controlled demolition, the health care reform legislation includes death panels, God answers prayers, you name it.

I stumbled across some insight into these matters on the blog of a smart-ass condescending east coast liberal elitist, who links to additional useful exegesis. The fact is, a whole lot of people don't reach conclusions based on evidence, they reach them based on identity. And when you present them with facts and logic that show they are mistaken, you haven't done them a favor, you have insulted them and shown yourself to be arrogant and conceited.

I'm not actually sure what can be done about this. I do my best to know what I'm talking about but apparently that's counterproductive.

1 comment:

roger said...

the secret ingredient in homeopathic remedies is placebo. my mind is made up on this matter. don't confuse me with facts.