From time to time we come across someone promoting a product or “therapy” which either implies or states it is a cure or preventative against cancer. The people who promote these products are attempting to prey on people’s fears or offer false hope to cancer sufferers, just to make a buck.
You can observe a lot by watching
– Yogi Berra
I’ve always loved quotations. Some time ago I began to come across sayings attributed to Yogi Berra. Always short, always thought provoking, often obscure but always with a Zen quality.
People sceptical of acupuncture have for a long time claimed that it has no therapeutic value beyond the placebo effect. Whilst not dismissing the value of placebo, if that’s all that going on then a heck of a lot of people have been hoodwinked - including, I suspect, most of the practitioners themselves.
So how can we find out? How can you devise a test which will separate out the placebo effect from a real effect, if present? On the face of it, it would seem to be very difficult. However, in 2005 a team of researchers at Southampton University and University College London claimed to have done just that, and I have to say their approach appears to be a good one.
I was reminded recently of a story about Homeopathic Crystals. For those not familiar, the story goes like this:
One day in 2003 a New Scientist Reader named Gareth Thomas came across a site selling Homeopathic Crystals, which made all kinds of claims for these special healing stones. He posted a critical assessment of the site and it’s claims on Uk Pagan - a site devoted to all things mystical.
Several regulars on the site responded to say that Homeopathic Crystals really do work - that they are exactly as described. Other posts were less than complimentary to Thomas, even going so far as having to be removed by the site’s admins. Thomas then posted a point-by-point criticism of the site’s claims, and was met by even fiercer resistance. More heated replies followed, and Thomas was branded a cynic for his views.
I have a friend who is a croupier. Well, actually, an ex-croupier. She no longer croups, but when she did she was, apparently, very good at it. So good, in fact, that eventually she was put in charge of a number of other croupiers and had to oversee them and the punters in the very posh casino in which she worked. Anyway …
… one of the games she had to oversee was roulette. You know, a wheel, some numbers, a ball and lots of money being placed in bets. The house has a small but significant edge on the odds, so over time the house always wins. However …