A dilution of the facts – part 3

This continues from part 1 and part 2.

We met this afternoon to debrief a little after being treated to a lesson on homeopathy. The students and I sat around a couple of tables and discussed our thoughts, what we learned and how we felt about it. Unfortunately none of the senior students were able to attend so what follows is entirely the thoughts of some year 7 and 8 students.

They noticed two things about they way he presented that stood out to them. The first was how vague his responses were, and how he struggled to find answers. They felt that the vagueness in his answers was possibly a (subconscious?) tactic to avoid criticism. Making very clear and specific claims are easy to target and dissect, whereas comments like “strengthen the being” and so nebulous that it’s hard to find exactly what’s wrong with. Like punching a cloud, the entire statement is airy and difficult to catch.

Almost unanimously the students decided that his struggle to find answers (this wasn’t shown in my transcript but his answers often followed quite a lengthy pause) was due to him not really understanding homeopathy, as least as far as how it real life goes. Obviously this might not have been the case, I’ve been known to pause for a while before thinking of the best way to turn a phrase but there was a definite sense of somebody trying to conjure answers out of thin air.

The second thing the felt about his personality was just how nice and reasonable he seemed. It was their first time meeting somebody of this ilk before and I suspect they were expecting worse. Possibly due to their personal opinions of homeopathy, they were a little surprised at how likeable he was. This led them to understand a little more clearly just how easy it is to be convinced by someone. They considered the difference between going into a busy doctor’s office, having ten minutes worth of time and getting shoved out the door with a prescription in hand and visiting a homeopath, who has the time to sit down with you, get to know and make you feel important.

It’s a sad fact that the overworked nature of doctor’s limits the time and attention they can give to their patients. I guess that is one of the many prices of legitimacy.

A student commented on how important personal charisma is in selling unscientific ideas. He wondered about how many other ideas that have fallen by the wayside due to the lack of personal charm of the salespeople.

A young boy felt that everything the homeopath said made sense, as long as you were willing to make certain assumptions about reality, such as 1 + 1 = 3 . If the laws ‘like cures like’ and ‘dilution makes thing stronger’ were true then homeopathy would be perfectly valid and mostly consistent. He felt that there is possibly a universe out there were homeopathy works, but this wasn’t it.

Funnily enough, one student said that the homeopath did a better job of convincing them that it didn’t work than I ever did! I suppose I should be a little offended at this but I see his point. Maybe I should consider this for the future, instead of breaking down the fallacies and delusions of ufologists, I should just have one come and visit and let them speak freely.

A girl raised the point that mention of the Higgs Boson was so obviously a grasp at the latest and greatest scientific discovery.The kids wanted to know if he would have mentioned it six weeks ago, before it was in the papers. The girl reminded us that he was using it as an example of how there is a lot of stuff out there that we don’t know, then pointed out that we already know that! Scientists are well aware of how much we don’t know, but also aware of how much we do. It’s irrelevant anyway because even if a mysterious particle is one day found that could allow homeopathy to work, simple, controlled experiments have conclusively shown that it doesn’t.

It was very strongly felt that “like cures like” is too vague a concept to be useful. How far does this extend? Should you a shoot a gun-shot victim? It seems like a ridiculous suggestion but there are those who claim that burns should be cured with heat! Given that so many diseases cause similar symptoms and so many substances cause the same, it seems like you could just about cure anything with anything.

One final point was made before the bell went. Our guest referred to scepticism several times, including suggesting that he was a sceptical personal himself. None of my students agreed with this, but an interesting conversation started, only to be cut short by time. I suspect a false dichotomy was made when we argued, was he not a sceptic at all or was merely not a very good one? Could you be a scientifically illiterate sceptic who has been genuinely persuaded by homeopathic “evidence”? This then raised the question about could a sceptic be religious, or think that they’ve seen a ghost?

A discussion to be continued another time…

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3 Comments

Filed under McKinnon Secondary Sceptical Society

3 responses to “A dilution of the facts – part 3

  1. Pingback: A dilution of the facts – part 2 | Sceptic School

  2. JSug

    Funnily enough, one student said that the homeopath did a better job of convincing them that it didn’t work than I ever did!

    I wouldn’t take any offense at this. This means you did a great job of giving them the tools they needed to spot the problems with what he was saying. It’s one thing to listen to a teacher tell you about how the acceleration of gravity is (for most useful purposes) a constant. It’s another thing entirely to get your hands on some tools and run experiments yourself. But unless someone pointed it out to you, you probably would never notice that the period of a pendulum does not vary with amplitude or weight.

  3. D^2

    Just a minor quibble: the Higgs Boson does not have an apostrophe. It doesn’t belong to someone named Higg.

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