June 2, 2009

179 words
30 July 2008
The Times
Times2 2
(c) 2008 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

It is a bad time to practise alternative medicine. First, one of your number is arrested on suspicion of war crimes, then it emerges that homoeopathic prescriptions on the NHS have halved. But practitioners have hit back, telling us that 60 per cent of patients attending homoeopathic clinics report an improvement in health.

There are many ways of explaining this apparent success, only one of which requires believing that a 200-year-old therapy containing no active ingredient cures illness. We are all familiar with the placebo effect, so consider something else: regression to the mean. Homoeopathy is often prescribed for chronic conditions such as eczema. And when do you go to the doctor with eczema? When it gets worse. Since conditions fluctuate, you may often be treated at a high point, after which the condition will improve – regressing to the mean. Eliminating this factor is easy: test people against placebos. Why are homoeopathists unwilling to do this?


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