Save the cows

Cows
"There is nothing as relaxing as a field of cows" - quote from an astrophysicist Image credit: Stuart
This post is not about astronomy. It is a bit of a rant that originated a week or so ago when I happened to read the label on a pot of Yeo Valley organic yoghurt. The label said "we use homeopathic medicines as much as we can to treat our cows". It has a cartoon of a flower next to it. I've never been shocked by a yoghurt carton before. I don't expect to be shocked by yoghurt cartons.

What is my problem? Scientifically (i.e. based on stuff in the real world) there is no evidence that homeopathy is any better than a placebo. Homeopaths claim that diluting a substance (in DHMO), until there isn't much chance that a single atom of it is left, will help cure various illnesses, reduce stress, and even ward-off flies. The mechanism for this is the claim that water has a "memory" of what was previously in it. That memory apparently cures people (and cows). Nobody has shown that this is actually the case. Do homeopaths think about the dinosaur poo that was once in the water they're drinking?

Homeopathy is junk science at a level even lower than the "science" in beauty product adverts. Proper science does big trials, controls for variables, uses real statistics, and reports negatives too. I'm not a pseudo-scientist so I have a questioning mind and can entertain other possibilities. As a thought experiment let us assume that homeopathic treatments can help prevent or even cure diseases. That sounds like powerful stuff. With our open minds, we should also consider the possibility that homeopathic treatments have bad effects.

Just because something is "natural" doesn't make it safe. Radon gas is natural in Cornwall but its existence increases the chance of cancer. Uranium is also natural but I wouldn't sprinkle it on my cornflakes. Also, just because something has been "in common practice for centuries" doesn't make it safe. Lead paint (lead is natural) was common for centuries and even used in cosmetics. It wasn't (and isn't) safe. In our thought experiment in which homeopathy works, it might also harm us.

Are we safe? After all, some homeopathic treatments use deadly poisons as raw materials. Real medicines declare the side-effects. Perhaps homeopaths are reckless types who couldn't care less about the safety of people or cows.

The upshot of all this is that I'm boycotting Yeo Valley and have become disappointed in the Soil Association too after reading their take. If they think homeopathy works, I want them to conduct large scale safety trials to check for detrimental effects on their cows and effects further up the food chain. While they're doing that, they could also check if homeopathy is statistically better than a placebo. I await the findings with interest.

Please save cows from pseudo-science.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 17th Jan 2011 (21:18 GMT) | Permalink
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