Homeopathy & the Galileo Defence

By Michael Edmonds 19/07/2012 8

Last month North and South magazine had a feature on Alternative medicine which sensibly pointed out the unlikelihood that many such treatments work, including homeopathy. In the letters section of this months magazine there are letters both applauding and condemning the article.

One article, written by “Diane Willcock, MSc, PhD”, criticized the article  and claimed that homeopathy was “developed using rigorous scientific method then goes on to use what I call the Galileo defence, as follows:

“It is no surprise that there are sceptics  and hecklers – history is replete with rejections, denials and ridiculing of people and their discoveries and theories that did not fit the current mindset. Some examples: Galileo propounded the theory that the earath goes around the sun; his fellow scientists wouldn’t even look through his telescope to see the evidence. George Ohm (of Ohm’s law) had his publication dismissed as a “tissue of naked fantasy.” Ignaz Semmelweis, who suggested that surgeons who had been tending to septic wounds should wash their hands before assisting at births, was derided and ended up in a mental asylum; the Wright brothers flew their plane in public for a year and were dubbed the “Lying Brothers” by Scientific American magazine, which did not so much as send a reporter for a look. Scepticism is healthy, simply denying the evidence is not.”

Let me begin by breaking down these examples.

First, there were other scientists who saw the sense of Galileo’s observations. The pressure to suppress Galileo’s work came from the Catholic church, not from the scientific community. Likewise, in the case of the Wright brothers it was a magazine, not scientists who cast doubt on their achievement; doubt that was soon set aside given the overwhelming evidence of their flight.

In the case of George Ohm, I am not aware of the accusation that his work was a “tissue of naked fantasy”, but history shows that within TEN YEARS of publication his work was recognized for its importance contribution.

Similarly, with Semmelweis, although he was viciously hounded by the medical profession at the time, within FIVE years Lister was using carbolic as a disinfectant and Pasteur was formulating his germ theory.

Unlike these examples, homeopathy has been around for TWO HUNDRED years, and despite repeated trialing has proven to have no use greater than a placebo. It has not provided effective treatments for major diseases, such as sepsis, cancers or cardiac arrest. Rather it lurks in the background “treating” self limiting conditions.

It is true that some of the greatest discoveries in history have been initially been dismissed as absurd or ridiculous. However, it does not follow that if you are told that your idea is absurd or ridiculous, it must therefore be a great discovery. As Carl Sagan so aptly put it – “they laughed at Galileo. They laughed at Newton. They also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”


8 Responses to “Homeopathy & the Galileo Defence”

  • Have to say, i laughed out loud when I read this letter – the shabby reasoning within it (not to mention the flaunting of credentials by its author) is lovely example of just how shallow the claims of homeopaths actually are.

    It reminds me the story about a parent repeating the tale that Einstein wasn’t that good at maths he was at school — but that their kid is EVEN WORSE.

  • Richard,
    Well, I guess if you have credentials you might as well flaunt them. I am curious to know what area her PhD is in.
    Love the Einstein example, hilarious

  • And – THIS IS MY TAXES!!!! Write to your MP and complain before they use up your hip replacement money!

    • Ron,
      Thanks for the link. About the first 10links I found referring to Ohm’s detracters were all using the Galileo defense (or Galileo Gambit) as I have also seen it referred to) to justify various pseudoscientific ideas.
      The link you provide certainly has some great examples, though I think this almost fits the “me thinks they doth protest to much” category. Whoever wrote it certainly had fun researching various detractors of science and technology.
      The science consensus has been quite harsh throughout history to new ideas, however, as can be seen from many of these examples the evidence is what pushes science to accept new ideas often within a decade of the idea being dismissed.
      The subject of open access journals certainly has turned publishing omits head, but I have never noticed the propaganda against it mentioned in our link. I know most scibloggers are big supporters of open access.

  • Oh look, its the Nancy Malik spambot, applying the “argument from authority” using Luc Montagnier.
    Unfortunately since his Nobel prize Montagnier has been venturing into areas that are not his expertise, encouraging the “vaccines cause autism” crowd and carrying out experiments with poor controls.
    Sorry Nancy, if you want to argue homeopathy come here in person and make your case. Leave the spambots at home.