Today I have two water related news stories I would like to talk about.
I stumbled upon this story on CNN in which Nicole Kidman claims to have fallen pregnant because she was swimming in a waterfall near the town of Kununurra in the Australian outback. I assume she means the pool at the base of the waterfall, and not the waterfall itself.
Nicole and six other women who were in the middle of the Australian outback while filming a movie all happened to fall pregnant within that space of time. It must have been the waterfall and not the sex they were having while stuck in a tiny town in the middle of the nowhere.
How would a waterfall improve your fertility anyway, Nicole? I think that what she has done here is she has confused correlation with causation. Just because you all swam in the same pool, does not mean that you are all pregnant because you swam in the pool. How many women swam in the pool and did not fall pregnant? And don’t only count the lesbians for that answer, okay?
The second case I have read about today is that of the Maun Homeopathy Project. This offensive initiative was founded by Hilary Fairclough and Philippa Brewster in 2002. The aim of the MHP is to offer homeopathic treatment to people infected with HIV/AIDS, victims of rape and “people suffering from trauma, grief and stigma”.
Homeopathy is not medicine and any attempt to portray it as such is dangerous. Homeopathy was invented by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann and is based on the fallacious principle “Similia similibus curentur” (let likes be cured by likes).
Hahnemann came upon this idea while working as a language teacher and translator. He had heard that the bark of a Peruvian tree, the cinchona, was effective in treating malaria due to it’s astringency. Hahnemann claimed that other astringent substances were not effective against malaria and set out to test why cinchona bark was. As he could not conduct a clinical trial, he had to test the substance on himself. He claimed that the drug produced malaria like symptoms in him (shaking chills, high fever, sweating, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, dry cough, muscle or joint pain and back ache.) It’s a pity he did not suffer malaria’s most infamous symptom; Death.
Hahnemann concluded that cinchona would provoke similar symptoms in any healthy individual. From this non-exhaustive, not double-blind clinical trial he came upon the following healing principle; “that which can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual, can treat a sick individual who is manifesting a similar set of symptoms.”
That’s it. That is how homeopathy was born.
Interestingly, Hahnemann’s reaction to the cinchona bark does not differ much from the symptoms of quinine allergy. Quinine is a drug which is given as treatment for malaria and it is present in the cinchona bark. For a detailed essay on this aspect of Hahnemann’s self-assessment please read this short page. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened had he not been allergic to quinine. We would surely have been spared the travesty that is homeopathy.
Furthermore, homeopathic “remedies” are diluted to such a degree that the homeopaths themselves cannot distinguish between a vial of water and a “remedy”. In a famous trial carried out by Jacques Benveniste and James Randi, Randi proved through rigorous, double-blind protocols that Benveniste’s team could not score more than 50% (which is no better then the probability of random chance) when trying to distinguish between water and homeopathic remedies. The results of this trial were published in the journal Nature in 1988 (the year in which the study was conducted).
What this means is that the people of the MHP are dispensing woo woo science at its most dangerous. The danger is not the temporary relief offered to the people who seek the homeopathic treatment. The true danger is that one day one of these people may decide to stop taking their anti-retroviral medication because he may believe that the homeopathic rubbish will cure him of AIDS. That will be a very frightening day indeed.