I still remember the shock when I realised that the practice of homeopathy was funded within the National Health Service (NHS) in England. I was taking a lunchtime stroll when I came across the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, which as it turned out was one of the hospitals within the UCL Hospitals NHS trust, which also included the hospital to which the Institute of Neurology where I was studying at the time was affiliated. I almost felt ashamed.
It was particularly shocking because the United Kingdom does have a reputation for science and rationality that is hardly equalled elsewhere in the world. The experience however made it less shocking for me when I got to Sydney, Australia and found lots and lots of alternative practices, with all sorts of interesting and grand names, structured to deceive and confuse with legitimate science. However, I doubt that like in the UK, any is funded from the public purse of Australians.
Two weeks ago, I met a black woman from Jamaica (although born in London and raised in Auckland). She was the first black person I walked up to and spoke with in Sydney, and the first and only person ever to have referred to me as ‘brother’ in the restricted black folk sense of the word. It was rather strange. I had never been a ‘brother’. There are not many in Australia.
We got on the bus together. She had studied ‘alternative/complimentary medicine’ in her youth and had also received training in homeopathy. Much of the rest of the trip was spent discussing the claims of homeopathy, during which she argued that homeopathy was much like vaccination. I was so mad, but out of courtesy I had to change the topic immediately. It reminded me of Raymond Tallis‘ 2007 Sense about Science annual lecture where he said:
…and this is how it is with junk science that borrows the terminology of science, without any sense of its true meaning, and of the massive interconnected hinterland of facts and concepts and even uncertainties behind them.
…and so we have treatments such as ‘reflexology’ which expropriates a well-established, indeed central, concept in biological science, and uses it to label treatments that have no biological foundation whatsoever.
…and ‘homoeopathy’ which, being in Greek, one of the languages of science, sounds very scientific but is based on magic thinking that would shame a six year old child.
…they domesticate terms by uprooting them from a complicated nexus of hard-won concepts.
Whenever I see those Sydney shops or offices, what comes to mind is how successful alternative medicine practice/movement is in Nigeria as well, and how they feed on pretty much the same sentiments. I reckon it must indeed be a universal phenomenon. Thankfully, we are not yet at the stage where the Nigerian government will fund an alternative medical practice, but I bet we are not that far either. I am almost certain of it that the movement will soon have a ’scientific’ arm made up of people trained as much as to be able to throw terminologies around but not quite as much as to have any deep, nuanced understanding of them.
…he [has] invested resources – time and money to visit renowned herbal homes in India, China, Australia, Japan and Pakistan. In similar vein, [practitioners] of alternative therapy in those countries visit him, here in Nigeria, to exchange notes. The result of these research efforts is manifested in the emergence of our three products namely (1) Blood Cure, which a blood purifier and immune boosting herbal medicine (2) M & T Capsule which is an effective herbal medicine for all chronic fever and (3) Energy 2000 which is a powerful herbal medicine for sex ability deficient patients.
The words again: ‘research’, ‘immune’, ‘capsule’, ‘doctor’, ‘discover’, et cetera. It is also interesting that Australia has its place among the visibly oriental countries that Akintunde Ayeni has visited.
John Diamond, who before his eventual death had his hopes of cure from cancer falsely raised by several alternative medicine practitioners did put what would be my summation very beautifully: “There is in reality no such thing as alternative medicine, just medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t…There isn’t an ‘alternative’ physiology or anatomy or nervous system any more than there’s an alternative map of London which lets you get to Battersea from Chelsea without crossing the Thames.”
So how do you define medicine that works? Well, the same way that Artemisinin made its way from the fields of central China to clinics everywhere chloroquine resistant Malaria is treated.