Monday, December 15, 2014

Richard Dawkins debates homeopathy with Dr. Peter Fisher (2007)

Richard Dawkins made a television documentary called "The enemies of reason" in 2007. A large portion of the first part of the documentary is on homeopathy. You can watch it here. While I think it was a pretty good documentary that consisted of legitimate criticism, it was edited for television and was focused on "gotcha" moments. I think it also missed out on an educational opportunity to explain the rigorous methods of a well conducted randomized controlled trial. I recently ran across Dr. Peter Fisher's defence of NHS funding for homeopathy in the 'uncut' interview with Dawkins from the documentary.

This was probably the best defence of homeopathy I have ever seen. Despite this, with his usual style, Dawkins had Dr. Fisher on the ropes the entire time without even citing the evidence for a lack of homeopathic efficacy. Admittedly Dr. Fisher is an easy target, however I would hate to have to debate Dawkins on any subject. He finds common ground, concedes valid points, asks great questions, and lets his opponent talk him/herself into tight corners. From my biased perspective, in this interview Dawkins essentially had Dr. Fisher admit that homeopathy is a form of placebo. However, is there any context in which homeopathy could provide a safe, cost-effective treatment that is completely placebo? Probably not, however water is pretty cheap and safe.


Chris said...

The point isn't whether water is safe, it's whether water is a safe replacement for a working therapeutic (e.g. antibiotic) when you need one!

Rob said...

Thanks for the comment. Obviously I agree with it. It was the best defence of homeopathy I have even seen. Fisher said at one point,"We have a saying in homeopathy, TEETH ... Try Everything Else, Try Homeopathy." He also stated that there is not a scrap of evidence that homeopathy prevents any disease. I was impressed with how much he acknowledged the ridiculousness of homeopathy.
Again, I agree with you. Even as a last resort homeopathy is a waste of resources.
I wonder if there has ever been a trial comparing placebos. Are there any acupuncture vs homeopathy vs healing water trials for example?