Homeopathy Awareness Week

World Homeopathy Awareness Week took place between April 10-16 2011 with the aim of “celebrating the healing art of homeopathy“. To promote their cause, the faithful were encouraged to share information on Twitter using the #WHAW hashtag. This their duly did but they can’t have anticipated the response from the skeptic community. Attempts to peddle their familiar line in psuedo-science were met with requests for evidence which in turn produced even more nonsense. Predictably, homeopathy tweeters resorted to the BigPharma shill gambit and sundry other insults. An exchange I had with a tweeter began when they claimed that homeopaths cared more for their patients than did Doctors. It ended when the homeopath tweeted, “… don’t replace your regular drugs, in fact kill yourself with them, I don’t care.” So much for caring homeopaths. From my perspective, homeopaths failed miserably to advance their case via Twitter and ended up scoring a notable own goal. Unabashed however, this week sees the launch in the UK of Homeopathy Awareness Week. Once more, we can expect our twitter feeds to be filled with the usual woo and quackery.

On one level this is mildly amusing and provides good sport for skeptics. Homeopaths are easy targets for debunking and ridicule. On another level, it’s a that the promotion of homeopathy is still a threat to the health and well being of millions of people. In case anyone is any doubt, the “efficacy” of homeopathy has been comprehensively evaluated by Edzard Ernst – Homeopathy: what does the “best” evidence tell us?
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, homeopathy and its supporters continue to try and make the case for the value of this non-treatment.

  1. MP David Tredinnick repeatedly tries to convince the UK Parliament that the NHS is obliged to offer homeopathy.  Andy Lewis refutes the case in the Quackometer. My correspondence with my MP, a signatory of the Early Day Motion, is here.
  2. Homeopathy is touted as an alternative to vaccinations – A canna’ change the laws of physics examines the science behind the claim.
  3. Homeopathy seems to be targetting parts of the world where health care is limited, by making ludicrous and dangerous claims that it can treat HIV-AIDS.

Twitter users can join the debate by using the hashtags #HAW, #homeopathy, #ten23.

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Education Quackery

Ben Goldacre has once again highlighted the nonsense which is Brain Gym having previously written about it in his Bad Science Blog. Further comment from me is superfluous but it brought to mind the frightening amount of nonsense I had been exposed to in a teaching career spanning thirty nine years. A quick dredge through my (not always reliable) memory produced the following list.

1. Programmed Learning.
2. Teaching Machines.
3. TVEI.
4. Assessment for Learning.
5. ICT.
6. Accelerated Learning.
7. VAK (learning styles).
8. NLP (neurolinguistic programming).
9. Thinking Skills.
10.Multiple Intelligence
11. Emotional Intelligence.
12. Student Mentoring.

David Colquhoun has compiled a similar list
I have chosen those initiatives which were intended to have their greatest impact on classroom practice rather than those which affected the structure and organisation of the education system.
What they have in common is the lack of an evidence-base and a requirement for substantial financial outlay, both of which are characteristic of quackery. Why do teachers, generally intelligent, well-educated individuals fall for such nonsense? My thoughts are these.

Teaching is a tough job. Pressures from parents, senior management, Local Authorities, OFSTED and Government can produce a distorted mindset obsessed with achieving unrealistic targets by whatever means available. Some teachers search for the educational equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone, guaranteed to turn base materials into educational gold. All they need is the right text-book, resource, technique, or software and the transmutation would be guaranteed. Usually this doesn’t happen. There might be a short-lived placebo effect but the sought-after result remains as elusive as ever. Only slightly daunted, the would be educational alchemist moves on to the next dose of expensive woo.

There are better, cheaper and more reliable alternatives. The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring has a history of working with teachers and schools to make practice evidence based. They have worked with The Sutton Trust to encourage teachers to evaluate initiatives and make informed choices about the allocation of resources.