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More Bumps on the Head

In response to:

Bumps on the Head from the March 17, 1988 issue

To the Editors:

In his review [“Bumps on the Head,” NYR, March 17] Martin Gardner states the following (in reference to homeopathy):

Homeopathy began its downward slide when orthodox medicine developed statistical techniques for evaluating remedies, but old cults seldom die completely. Homeopathy is now making a comeback among New Age junkies.

I beg to differ with Mr. Gardner’s opinions (and they are opinions!). I suggest that such invective does not belong in such a fine publication as yours.

Mr. Gardner obviously has never read either Divided Legacy by Harris L. Coulter, or Homeopathy: The Rise and Fall of a Medical Heresy by Martin Kauffman. Both books outline the history of the homeopathic movement in this country, and neither one gives credit to “statistical techniques” for the decline of homeopathy.

If Mr. Gardner thinks that “New Age junkies” are bringing back homeopathy, I wonder if that epithet refers to the English Royal Family (who support and use homeopathy), to the orthodox medical schools in France (who are mandated to teach a course in homeopathy), to the staffs of over 400 teaching hospitals in India who use homeopathy, or to the members of the American Institute of Homeopathy, the oldest medical society in this country, whose members have graduated from the finest orthodox medical schools in this country, and who have turned to homeopathy because they have found its therapy more effective than orthodox methods.

Mr. Gardner might find it curious that Portraits of Homeopathic Medicines by Catherine R. Coulter was mentioned as “best book of the year” by Martin Seymour-Smith, the literary critic of The Independent in Great Britain.

Mr. Gardner should confine himself to reviewing things he knows about.

Julian Winston

National Center for Homeopathy

Washington, D.C.

Martin Gardner replies:

The slightest criticism of any fringe medicine is sure to generate angry letters from the true believers. There is no popular pseudoscience that has not produced seemingly impressive books and periodicals. That England’s Royal Family sometimes uses homeopathic remedies no more impresses me than learning that William Gladstone was a hardshell fundamentalist, or that Canada’s longtime prime minister W.L. Mackenzie King was a practicing spiritualist, or that Ronald Reagan believes in astrology, the Second Coming, and supply-side economics. The popularity of homeopathy in India, where a hundred pseudosciences bloom, is a strong count against it.

If readers are interested in what the medical profession thinks of homeopathy, just ask your family physician, or check the January 1987 issue of Consumer Reports. CU gives the results of a year-long investigation of homeopathy by Stephen Barrett, MD. The report concludes:

Unless the laws of chemistry have gone awry, most homeopathic remedies are too diluted to have any physiological effect…. CU’s medical consultants believe that any system of medicine embracing the use of such remedies involves a potential danger to patients whether the prescribers are M.D.’s, other licensed practitioners, or outright quacks. Ineffective drugs are dangerous drugs when used to treat serious or life-threatening disease. Moreover, even though homeopathic drugs are essentially nontoxic, self-medication can still be hazardous. Using them for a serious illness or undiagnosed pain instead of obtaining proper medical attention could prove harmful or even fatal.

For a history of homeopathy, I recommend the chapter on the cult in my Dover paper-back, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.

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