Medicine vs. Magic

When you’re a parent, people never tire of telling you what to do and how to do it, not in the form of advice, but in the form of judgement. And when it comes to health, they’re bloody insistent. With everything else you have to contend with, it’s damnably unfair to hear veiled criticisms of your parenting, especially when you’re in the emotionally vulnerable position of wanting to do the right thing with a screaming and thoroughly unhappy baby.

The best response is to bite back your annoyance and say, ‘Thank you for your advice, but as the mother/father of [insert baby’s name], I will make the decision as to what is best for my child.’ It’s short, polite, to the point, and reminds them where the power truly lies.

But it doesn’t stop you wanting to throttle them with their condescending attitudes and ridiculous ideas.

It’s like a friend of mine who is on a personal mission to stop me giving Calpol to my baby, because paracetamol is bad, it’s bad for babies, it damages their liver, it’s unnatural, and all that jazz. Whenever she discovers I still use it, she turns into an evangelical preacher and acts like I’m slowly and deliberately poisoning my child.

With Calpol.

I’m not saying that paracetamol is safe – overdoses do damage livers – and nor do I advocate dosing kids up on paracetamol as and when you feel like it, but when it’s necessary, and when it is administered carefully, at the right doses, then there is nothing wrong with it. Izzie has an ear infection and a high temperature, as I discovered yesterday afternoon when I rushed her to the doctor’s after she projectile vomited all over Lizzie. The doctor prescribed Calpol to bring down the fever. Simple.

But, according to my opinionated friend, I’m practically killing the baby by giving her paracetamol, and I should avoid using it until I’ve tried some alternatives.

‘What alternatives?’ I asked. ‘Child Ibuprofen? Because I have that too.’

Nope, lectured my forthright friend. Homeopathic remedies.

Ah. Magic water and wishful thinking, then. Glad we had this conversation.

Until a few years ago, I thought ‘homeopathy’ was simply another way of saying ‘alternative medicine’. I figured it was herbal remedies like St John’s Wort, cinchona bark, and suchlike. But that’s not homeopathy at all.

Homeopathy is a medical system invented in the late 1700s that posits that ‘like cures like’ (hence the ‘homeo’ part of the word). Its essential belief is that if you put something that causes an illness into some water – say, something that causes a headache – then dilute that water down almost exponentially until there’s unlikely to be a single molecule of the original substance left, that water is somehow energised and imprinted with the ‘memory’ of that substance and will therefore be able to cure headaches.

There’s another word for water that contains no molecules of any other substance:


Homeopathic remedies contain precisely zero active ingredients and are therefore precisely useless. And ‘like cures like’ has no basis in science whatsoever. That’s not just my opinion – the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not recommend homeopathy is used to treat any ailment, the NHS say there’s no good evidence that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any health condition, while a 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report concluded homeopathy is no more effective than placebos (

No matter how much you talk about Nature with a capital N, or the Law of Similars, or how substances leave a quantum imprint behind, I do not believe in homeopathy. I will take science and evidence over magic and fairy dust every time.

Then there’s the close relative who has this crazy notion that the best way to cure a cold is to consume vast quantities of vitamin C, and so tries to get us to overdose every time we have the slightest sniffle. The fact the human body can only absorb a finite amount of vitimin C before excreting it out, and excessive amounts give you diarrhoea, means it’s not the best advice, ta.

And don’t get me started on amber necklaces helping with teething. This whole ‘Baltic Amber contains up to 8% succinite, an anti-inflammatory and analgesic that will be absorbed into the baby’s skin to ease pain, cut drooling, and stimulate the thyroid’ is pseudoscientific claptrap. You show me a substance that is strong enough to exist for millions of years at excessive temperature and pressure, yet is weak enough to leak out when brought to a baby’s body temperature. I’d respect them more if they went right ahead and said, ‘It works by magic,’ or even, ‘We don’t know why it works, but it does,’ than duping people into thinking there’s a scientific basis for this. And since the same people who advocate amber necklaces also disparage modern medicine as ‘dangerous’, aren’t they worried that they have no control over the dose of succinite their baby receives?

I’ll end by paraphrasing GK Chesterton: it’s good to have an open mind, but don’t open it so much that your brain falls out!

5 thoughts on “Medicine vs. Magic

  1. Well, you seem to be wrong on quite a few counts there.

    Magic? No. Centuries of well-observed clinical practice. Anti-homeopathy witchhunts and propaganda, yes. It seems to bring out the worst in pseudo-scientific bigots who’ve never properly studied it (or who have some axe to grind against former teachers).

    Pediatricians were warning against paracetamol some years ago. It’s in blister packs because it destroys livers & silently kills people.
    A couple of articles, unfortunately missing cites (apologies, I haven’t the time to chase them)
    and the reputation of this drug has been taking further hits recently, recent research suggesting that long-term moderate yet continuous use in adults predisposes (surprise) to liver disease.

    Homeopaths would say paracetamol is not only a potentially dangerous toxin, but is also ‘suppressive’, that is it interferes with natural healing mechanisms by bring down temperature unnecessarily, but I shouldn’t knock cautious use of what appears to work, so long as it isn’t dangerous or over-used. And if there wasn’t anything better, of course. Quite possibly Calpol, like most OTC meds, appears to work by placebo effect & observer bias.

    I suppose you know that only about 13% of conventional medicines have actual good evidence base, and many have unknown mechanism? Let’s see, I’ll refer you to http drkaplan co uk/575/
    (What the pro-big-pharma people fall for there is the “perfect world” or “Nirvana” fallacy.)

    And of course you already know that prescription medicines, even correctly prescribed, are a leading cause of death in the US (Starfield report, and there was a page on the FDA website, now removed but in archive as )
    If I’m not permitted links, that’s
    web archive org/web/20100309121950 (slash)http .. (slash)Drugs/DevelopmentApprovalProcess (slash)DevelopmentResources/DrugInteractionsLabeling/ucm114848 htm

    Looks like you’ve swallowed the anti-homeopathy propaganda whole. “Magic water ” rudeness and all that. It’s spread by a relatively small but loud arrogant clique, who manage to dominate news media & wikipedia, for instance. Liars. I wonder why they would do that? Cui bono? Real scientists would want to investigate, try it out, instead of coming up with a bunch of unproven alternative hypotheses and straw homeopaths. Real scientists wouldn’t go on repeating known untruths (like the “all RCTs have failed” one). The pseudo-skeptics really are a disgraceful bunch of bullies and unscientific medical fascists.

    There’s lots of good basic science emerging from people like Prof Martin Chaplin at South Bank Uni, and Luc Montagnier, now working in China becasue he was fed up with the bullying from so-called “skeptics”. Not to mention Ennis who replicated Benveniste’s work, only to get ‘shouted’ at. Look on youtube at the Homeopathic Research Institute youtubecom/user/homeopathyresearch, in particular “Dr Robert Mathie HRI Conference Rome 2015”.

    Now, that House of Commons so-called Evidence Check 2010. Did you know it was put together by anti-homeopathy activists who only invited others of the same ilk? The Queen’s physician (homeopath) found out about it though, so he and a couple of others gave supporting evidence at a few days’ notice. Their input was pretty much ignores, of course. What happened when it came to voting the report through? It didn’t have support. Two extra MPs were drafted in – after the hearings had finished – to secure the vote. Only one other (of the initial 12) who had actually attended the hearing, turned up to vote. He voted it down, but bias prevailed. The report was then effectively dismissed by the responsible Department of Health (the Science committee had in fact exceeded it’s remit). Not so many people know all that, but it’s a matter of record.

    For a real evidence check, look at the work of Prof RG Hahn in 2012. He found that the standard critical SRs had (accidentally?) been ‘fixed’ as well. He was quite scathing:

    “Studies depicting homeopathy as ineffective are bogus”

    “.. only by discarding 98% of homeopathy trials and carrying out a statistical meta-analysis on the remaining 2% negative studies, can one ‘prove’ that homeopathy is ineffective”

    “To conclude that homeopathy lacks clinical effect, more than 90% of the available clinical trials had to be disregarded. Alternatively, flawed statistical methods had to be applied.”

    Paper: “Homeopathy: meta-analyses of pooled clinical data.”
    Hahn RG 2013
    www ncbi nlm nih gov (slash)pubmed (slash)24200828
    “Prof. Robert Hahn: My Scientific Article on Homeopathy” ( homeopathyheals me uk 2015 )

    Prof Hahn isn’t a homeopath.


  2. “The best response is to bite back your annoyance and say, ‘Thank you for your advice, but as the mother/father of [insert baby’s name], I will make the decision as to what is best for my child.’ It’s short, polite, to the point..”

    Very good, Gillam 🙂

    Heaven forfend, I didn’t mean to impose, nor to insist that you accept actual facts, merely that you and your readers should be appraised of them. It would be terribly nice of you to stop promulgating the dishonest propaganda about “magic water” being worthless, but that too remains your decision.

    May we take it that you fully support the prerogative of other parents to make decisions as to what is best for their children in similar regard? I do hope so.

    Best wishes, and best of health to you and to Izzie; let’s hope the need for medical interventions does not arise.


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