From Placebo to Homeopathy: The Fear of the Irrational

Today's biomedical science oscillates between rigorous approaches, with rational attitudes, and irrationality or incoherence. Thus, in the era of molecular biology, psychoanalysis thrives and represents a multimillion-dollar annual business, whereas other such "nonmaterialistic" disciplines as homeopathy, acupuncture, or hypnosis are a priori and uncritically rejected by hard science. Indeed, the temptation is to reject anything without a molecular explanation--better to deny a fact than get m

Dimitri Viza
Sep 13, 1998

Today's biomedical science oscillates between rigorous approaches, with rational attitudes, and irrationality or incoherence. Thus, in the era of molecular biology, psychoanalysis thrives and represents a multimillion-dollar annual business, whereas other such "nonmaterialistic" disciplines as homeopathy, acupuncture, or hypnosis are a priori and uncritically rejected by hard science. Indeed, the temptation is to reject anything without a molecular explanation--better to deny a fact than get mixed up with a fluke.

But if reason has partially freed us from medieval beliefs, it is now proving to be self-destructive (F. Schiller, Clinical Medicine, 19:81-6, 1984). For when facts are rejected as unreasonable in the name of reason, we are adopting the same superstitious approach to reality as people did in the Middle Ages.

The placebo effect is a perfect illustration of scientific exorcism of a disturbing fact (W.A. Brown, Scientific American, Jan. 1998, pages 68-73). Although its existence has...