Richard Dawkins: The Enemies Of Reason (2007) – Full Transcript

The Enemies of Reason is a two-part television documentary, written and presented by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in which he seeks to expose "those areas of belief that exist without scientific proof, yet manage to hold the nation under their spell", including mediumship, acupuncture and psychokinesis.

The Enemies of Reason is a two-part television documentary, written and presented by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in which he seeks to expose “those areas of belief that exist without scientific proof, yet manage to hold the nation under their spell”, including mediumship, acupuncture and psychokinesis.

* * *

Science has sent orbiters to Neptune, eradicated smallpox and created a supercomputer that can do 60 trillion calculations per second. Science frees us from superstition and dogma and enables us to base our knowledge on evidence. Well, most of us.

Previously, I’ve explored how organized faith and primitive religious values blight our lives.

Yusuf Al-Khattab: You take the women and dress them like whores on the street

Dawkins: I don’t dress women, they dress themselves!

Yusuf Al-Khattab: They do now, but you were aware it as a norm.

The fault line runs deeper even than religion. There’re two ways of looking at the world: through faith and superstition, or through the rigours of logic, observation and evidence, through reason. Yet today, reason has a battle on its hands. I want to confront the epidemic of irrational superstitious thinking.

Would you understand somebody on the spirit side with the name Charles? I believe, I did…

Dawkins: You really believe it?

I’m really, actually 100% that is true.

Dawkins: Seriously you believe it?

Because it’s been proven to me against my rationality.

It’s a multimillion-pound industry that impoverishes our culture.

Astrology leads toward the divine and the sacred, … you don’t like very much.

And throws up new age gurus who exhort us to run away from reality.

The treeness is the spiritual quality.

Dawkins: Or the rockness.

Or the rockness.

As a scientist, I don’t think our indulgence of irrational superstition is harmless. I believe it profoundly undermines civilization. Reason and respect for evidence are the source of our progress our safeguard against fundamentalists and those who profit from obscuring the truth.

Dawkins: We live in dangerous times when superstition is gaining ground and rational science is under attack. In this program, I want to take on the enemies of reason.

* * *


Slaves to Superstition

300 years ago, in the age of enlightenment scientists and philosophers from Galileo to David Hume, had the courage to stand up for intellectual principles and reason. The rational science they pioneered has given us tangible benefits. Everything from antibiotics to electricity, sewage systems to Sat Nav. And it’s not just material progress. Increased life expectancy, health and leisure provided by modern medicine and industrial technology, have given more people more time than ever before to educate themselves, express their creativity and ponder existence. And yet, into this better world that reason has built primitive darkness has coming back, a disturbing pick’n’mix of superstitions. Where better to start my journey than a New Age fair?

Dawkins: Hello, what do you do?

(Hello, there.)

Dawkins: What kind of readings do you do?

All kinds. I do the tarot and then I also do the crystal-ball. This is George.

Dawkins: Hello, what can you do for me?

Well, we can take your aura photography.

Dawkins: All right. I like that. Yes. What do I do? Just sit in the front of that?

Take a seat, please.

Dawkins: Should I take my glasses off? What we got here?

You know, you have got a couple of spirit guides around you at the moment Because I think that something in your life’s changing. I think this is about you as well being more comfortable with yourself. Now what you have here? Would you have somebody in spirits really, really close to you and he’s got the arms around your neck.

Dawkins: Well, that’s very nice to know.

All these people reap the rewards of science and reason but many here revel in a foggy suspicion of scientific thinking.

Dawkins: Ok, so you could teach me how to use my psychic energy?


Dawkins: Is that the idea?

Yes. You can rely Much better than on that, than on your head.

Irrationality is woven into the fabric of modern life, we unthinkingly indulge unscientific delusion.

I’m the, rather schizophrenic Gemini.



Astrology is so pervasive that just about everyone has been indoctrinated with the alleged character of their star sign.

They’re fiery, a bit unreliable. They love traveling. They’re very expansive. They’re quite spiritual

Loyal, spend too much money, a good leader.

They could be a bit mood swing one way and the other. they could be very upbeat at one minute and then a bit down and you’ll never know what to get them, as my husband says.

A full quarter of the British population claim to believe in astrology. Day in, day out, astrological horoscopes get far more newspaper column inches than science. Amusingly, it falls foul of our modern taboo against lazy stereotyping.

Dawkins: How would we react if a newspaper published a daily column that read something like this? Germans: It is in your nature to be hard-working and methodical which should serve you well at work today. In your personal relationships, especially this evening you’ll need to curb your natural tendency to obey orders. Chinese: Inscrutability has many advantages, but it may be your undoing today. British: Your stiff upper lip may serve you well in business dealings but try to relax and let yourself go in your social life. And so on, through 12 national stereotypes. Of course, the astrology columns are not as offensive as that but we should ask ourselves exactly where the difference lies. Both are guilty of facade discrimination, dividing humanity up into exclusive groups based on no evidence.

I always thought that by the 21st century science and reason would have long since cleaned up and yet every day of the week we’re encouraged to retreat into the fog the superstitious past. Astrology is a primitive belief system made into elaborate pseudo-science. It arrogantly makes humans the focal point of the universe. The movement of planets is supposed to signify petty developments in our career or love life. It was developed in the 2nd century AD by the philosopher Claudius Ptolemy and has not moved on since. Despite the discovery of new planets and despite a shift in the earth’s rotational axis that has thrown Ptolemy’s zodiac out by 23 degrees.

Neil Spencer, Astrologer, The Observer: You could ask a question. You can say, ‘Who has stolen my money?’

It never made sense when it was first invented and it makes even less sense now.

Dawkins: Read it off as though, you mean, they get it right? Didn’t an actual physical influence for planets that somehow beams down and influences us, people?

Spencer: I think it’s very hard to see that. I think if you try to understand astrology as a causal agent I think that’s hard to imagine how that would happen. I think you have to look at the planets as signifiers. When you look at the movement of Saturn around the zodiac it’s a very strong signifier of what’s going on in individual lives.

Dawkins: I don’t even understand how they could possibly be signifiers, I mean How could the rise of Saturn possibly be a signifier of something that’s going on physiologically in a person’s body. The position of planets in…

Spencer: How would it work? This is what you keep coming back to ask me. How could it possibly work?

Dawkins: How would that work? Yes.

Spencer: And I told you I don’t know. It’s a deep dark mystery.

What isn’t a deep dark mystery is why the trite vagaries of newspaper horoscopes seem to chime with readers. Psychologists have identified what’s known as the Barnum Effect where by people tend to believe statements are accurate for them personally while in fact they’re general enough to apply to anyone.

Dawkins: We could devise a little experiment where we take your forecasts and then give some of them straight, to some of them randomized Sometimes give Virgo the Pisces forecast etc. and then ask people how accurate they were?

Spencer: Yes, that would be a perverse thing to do, is it?

Dawkins: It would be yes, but it isn’t, wouldn’t that be a good test?

Spencer: A test of what?

Dawkins: Well, how accurate you are?

Spencer: I think your intention there is mischief and I think what you then get back is mischief.

Dawkins: Okay, well, my intention would not be mischief, my intention would be experimental test.

Spencer: Okay.

Dawkins: Scientific test. Well, even if it was mischief, how could that possibly influence it?

Spencer: I think it does influence it. I think whenever you do things with astrology intentions are strong.

Dawkins: I just thought you’ll be eager and I just thought you will… You see, well, the fact that you’re not makes me think you don’t really in your heart of hearts believe it. I don’t think you really are prepared to put your reputation on the line.

Spencer: I just don’t believe in the experiment, which is so simple.

Dawkins: Well, you’re in a kind of no-lose situation, don’t you believe it?

Spencer: I hope so.

Dawkins: Yeah.

Regardless of Neil Spencer’s concerns, I wanted to conduct a simple trial. We selected 20 people at random. We asked them to read that week’s horoscope for Capricorn. But as a test, we said it apply to their own star sign.

Not only do you have clever Mercury and ambitious Mars, fortunes and success.

And now the sun is at the same pivotal mid haven angle of your solar chart.

I’ve no idea what that means?

Put simply, this means that this is your moment to go that extra miles to become the person you’re dreaming of becoming.

Remember however that there will be others who want what you have and will stop at nothing to get it.

Astrologers say this should fit just Capricorn and not the rest. But what actually happened?

Yeah, maybe.

To be honest I felt there’s some Mercury energy this week because there’s a little arguments around and there’s a lot of bad vibes. Yeah, that kind of make sense.

What a lame junk!

It could apply to me as much as to the next person.

Yeah, in a way, yeah… I’m going on a Flamenco course in Spain.

That isn’t necessarily pertain to me this week. It pertains to me generally.

A pile of rubbish!

The same number of people agreed that the horoscope was accurate for them as disagreed and similar results are found with proper large state experiments. Technically, all but one of our group should have disagreed, namely our only Capricorn.

Not at this moment, no.

Am I taking this too seriously? I believe astrology misleads the public, denies scientific progress and belittles our universe. There’s a far richer way of looking at the cosmos. Astronomy is a triumph of the human intellect a real science constantly enriched by new evidence.

Dawkins: Forget about the astrologer’s charts with their constellations and planets move in or out of this house or that house, go into a real observatory and look at the milky way or go out into the country on a moonless night, just lie in your back and gaze up at the stars.

The heart-stopping sight you’d see is 100 billion stars spinning through an expanding universe at a speed of a million miles per day. The light from some of the closest stars started its journey at the time of the dinosaurs. You’re staring into a deep time machine.
And yet even as science unravels these natural wonders our society is drawn to the slim pickings of supernatural belief.
Half the British population now say they believe in paranormal phenomena. Over 8 million of us have owned up to consulting psychic mediums.

Simon Goodfellow: One way you to do, Richard, pull me, just pull me out eight of them, please.

Simon Goodfellow claims that with these cards he could use his psychic powers to tune in to the spirits of dead people around me. These voices from the past can apparently give him a glimpse of my future.

Goodfellow: Now, Richard, thank you. Now I feel it’s giving me an initial G with his name Okay, now I feel with this man as well I feel he was a family member and I also feel very strongly with something to do advertising and it with him, something to do with newspapers with him as well. Now I do feel with him as well he’s telling me about changes that coming up in your life for the moment. I see totally changes in how you’re working so as it will be working the future.

The words Simon seems to be fishing for is retirement the obvious next step for most 60-somethings.

Goodfellow: It won’t be as active, and it won’t be as active for you and I do feel it when it…

This could apply to anyone my age, but can Simon back up his more precise statements?

Dawkins: What was that male relative with the G? What was that about you said earlier on?

Goodfellow: I do, the male relative with the G, well, I do feel with him, I don’t feel it was a family member but I don’t feel with him now it was some connection.

Dawkins: I thought you said he was a family member.

Goodfellow: Did say that? That he was a family member?

Dawkins: I think you did.

Goodfellow: Right, okay. Let me see if I can feel in him still.

Dawkins: Yeah, it’s okay.

Goodfellow: Right, okay, then. Well, I feel with you now. I feel he a lot of things. He was a very strong character. Another feeling he’s giving me. It was very regimented as well. I feel it served in some forces,  in he forces someway, as well. But can you understand anybody with the military background was connected to you?

Dawkins: Well, I got really nobody military in my background at all. And actually nobody fitting the G either.

Goodfellow: Right. Okay.

Spirit G has rung no bells but now another voice comes from the ether…

Dawkins: …in which it’s given me the initial E with the name. Now I do feel with her as well as some things to do, well, I feel a grandparent and I want to give you an e-sounded name.

Dawkins: My grandmother had a name beginning with e…

At last something I could identify with…

Goodfellow: Yes.

Dawkins: Tell me more about her, please.

Goodfellow: The lady I do feel with her as well… she had a lot of cats.

Dawkins: A lot of?

Goodfellow: Cats.

Perhaps not.

Dawkins: She never had a cat. She hated cats, as a matter of fact.

Goodfellow: All right

Dawkins: She liked dogs, but she hated cats.

Goodfellow: Well, I can understand, not everybody… You have also to remember with this as well, not everybody can relate to everything the reader would say. Not everybody… I mean I’ve got people like yourself…

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence but here I seem to get extraordinary excuses.

People are quite skeptic, it’s always twice as hard as a reader to read for them because normally people who come to these events come for a reason and because they want a closure in the direction of the light and also what you’ve got to think about Richard as well some things are very raw to me…

* * *

Psychics may believe they communicate with the dead but I’ve seen no evidence for it. My concern is that for some people this superstitious nonsense can be far from harmless fun.

There’s a network of over 500 spiritualist churches across Britain. Here, Tuesday night is seance night.

Craig Hamilton-Parker, Psychic Medium: And we ask that we can now build a bridge between this world and the next, so that we can once again go some way to proving that we survive death and the our loved ones in the spirit are forever with us. Amen. Okay, I expect most of you are familiar with spiritualism but those that…

Spiritualism makes a nod to god then it descends into a darker world. The real droll is when the dead start talking inside the medium’s head.

Hamilton-Parker: Okay, one of the first link I want to do is I feel I got somebody give me the name Charles and I want the gentleman on the spirit side that passed with chest conditions with this and something about a name that sounds like, sounds a bit like Devon but I thought I could hear and it could be Dave, Devon or Davenport something like that. And I feel this side somewhere. Can anybody understand this so far? The lady close to the bookshelf there, would you understand somebody on the spirit side with the name Charles.

No, but I have a home in Davenport.

Hamilton-Parker: You have a home in Davenport? Okay.

Dawkins: Isn’t what you’re doing cold reading?

Hamilton-Parker: Well, it depends on what you call cold reading or something got a lot of the rations that come up saying that what you do or you say something can people basically make it fit.

Hamilton-Parker: Now, see if I can find the Charles in a minute but let me… give you a few things I can feel about you. Has that been a few problems with the stomach condition around you. Because I feel as if I want to go to your stomach and I feel uncomfortable there. Does that make nonsense to you whatsoever? What would you understand then a lady that I want to connect with on the spirit side that would suffer with the stomach condition, because I’m being given the stomach condition. Okay? And I feel with this lady I want someone that’s a fairly comfortable build I would say, a bigger build lady not the slight build lady that’s given me this, Yes?

Hamilton-Parker: I think when you really examine the evidence of myself or other mediums do you’ll find a large, large proportion could never be explained the way by something called cold reading. Because there’re sometimes such specific details that come through.

Hamilton-Parker: I’m seeing like a painting or print would be, of a painting looks like a Stubbs painting, you know the ones in the horses in the pigs and things like that. The lady in the white sits back there I’m not around you, am I? I hate you when I can’t find the link. Let me see if…

Dawkins: I think if I were talking to someone in the spirit world I’d say things like ‘what’s it like being dead?’ ‘Can you see the whole of the universe?’ Why do you ask them such banal questions?

Hamilton-Parker: Yeah, good point but I think what happens is that mediumship comes from the non-rational, nonverbal thought parts the brain of the subject thing. I believe it’s a blending of thoughts between myself and the spirit communicator but if only it could be just like a telephone line.

Hamilton-Parker: Let me just say what we can get a little more information from her first.

Hamilton-Parker: If you’ve convinced the person that as their grandmother to the point that they’re actually crying I mean surely those tears enough are perhaps proof that they had proved that really is their grandmother that’s making the communication.

Dawkins: It could indicate just desperate wishful thinking perhaps.

Hamilton-Parker: Now, I don’t fit on with a Steve Bennet for I’ve got those things I want to bring together somehow with particularly a car crash.

My friend Ben died in a car crash and he’s … on school’s day.

Dawkins: Your friend Ben passes and so there’s not Bennet as I said it was Ben. Let me see if I can describe Ben to see if we can…

Beyond whether it’s true or false what concerns me as well is the exploitation of often vulnerable people.

Hamilton-Parker: Can I say when you were buying the new shoes have you been on your mind at that time?

It was on my mind, I know I really buy, yeah.

Hamilton-Parker: Yeah, because this is about this particular foul around me at that particular time that’s why I felt I’ve got the connection with that. And you know his messages really in a whiny sorry, because he can’t…

Dawkins: Do you feel it might actually be damaging to some people stopping them from letting go after they’ve lost somebody that they love very much?

Hamilton-Parker: It’s a good point, a lot people bring up that, but I believe that it does help people to progress and move forward.

Hamilton-Parker: He gives me the feeling that…

But do people move forward? Or do they get addicted to a spiritual hit? Most of these congregation are regulars. Craig Hamilton-Parker’s grass peer seems impressive until it transpires that he’s already read this bereaved girl before.

He actually had a tire on the left hand… this call change before the accident and the police thought there was something to do with that and I had a message from you before saying there was something to do with the tire.

Hamilton-Parker: I’ve given you a message right before? Okay, well, I can’t remember that. But anyway I want to sort feel his…

Hamilton-Parker: I believe what I do was absolutely true, I believe I gave…

Dawkins: You’re really believe it? Seriously you believe it?

I really absolutely 100% is true. Because it’s been proven to me against what I believe against my rationality. But it’s shown me so many, many times that life continue and personal proved that I’ve had as give me proves that father passed of continuation of spirit incredible things that I’m, so very personal, subjective they hard to argue a case for but for me it’s been life transforming and I believe as I was helped I can help others.

Timer again so called psychics… … science and evidence. “I have personal proof it’s true to me!” But as with religion if it hangs on private feelings that can’t be proved or disproved by science then in what way can it be valid or meaningful to the rest of us?

* * *

I want to show how scientific reason is always the best way to look at the world and explain the dangers of superstition. I’m often asked how I know that there isn’t a spirit world or psychic clairvoyance. Well, I don’t It seems improbable but unlike the fixed world views of mystical faith science is always open to new possibilities. Scientists test and retest evidence, refreshing our understanding of reality.
In the 1940s, the American zoologist Donald Griffin demonstrated experimentally that bats use sonar echo-location of their cries Back then, sonar was brandnew military technology and the theory that it was natural to bats outraged some of Griffin’s colleagues. But the more scientists tested the evidence, the more robust the theory became.

Dawkins: They found out exactly what the bat cries were like how they work, how the brain works. Everything about it added up to a complete picture of mutually supporting evidence that this really was a fact.

It’s this cumulative build up of corroborating evidence that distinguishes the discovery of bat sonar from alleged paranormal effects. The so-called evidence for psychic phenomena is not robust but will-o’-the-wisp. The more we look at it, the weaker it becomes. The alleged detection of water through dowsing is not obviously ridiculous—it might work—but does it? The only way to tell is through a rigorous experiment.

How does dowsing work? That’s the No. 1 question And nobody can answer you. Well I reckon I’m convinced that something is helping me to dowse. One of the earlier chaps thinks it’s god.

Dawkins: How do you do it till then? What’s you principle about it?

I think of the question and I expect god respond in a way that I understand. I expect the right hand one point to the camera and the left hand one straight forward, I wanna…

Dawkins: Yeah, okay.

Look, it finally ramp.

Dawkins: Have you done the test yet in the tent?

Yes, I did.

Dawkins: What was the result?

Oh, I’m gonna 6 right, 100%

Dawkins: Yeah, what happened?


Dawkins: So what do you make that then?

God was having his laugh, isn’t he? He loves a joke, you don’t realize.

The psychologist Chris French thinks there may be a simpler explanation. He has devoted his career to investigating claims of the paranormal. And now he’s set up this test for dowsing — a properly controlled double-blind trial. In each of these rows just one container chosen a random holds a bottle of water, all the rest contain sand. Neither the dowsers nor the tester are allowed to know where the water is until the boxes are opened. So there were no unintentional giveaways.

Have another go.

Safeguards like these make the double-blind trial one of the crowning achievements of scientific reason.

Chris French, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths College: What you typically find when you talk to dowsers is they’ll give you a lot and lots of anecdote evidence, a lot stories about how they discovered a leak there in your neighbor’s pipes and so and so forth but there’re always the possible explanations there. What we’re trying to do it a set of conditions which rule out any of those explanations, then we get down to the very fundamental basic issue, can’t the dowsers actually do what they think they can do.

I think it’s full. No, I think it’s full.

So shall we see how are you done? This is sand.

In that case I can’t do this.

This is the water in No. 5. Sand again. This time guess was in No. 3 (Correct.) That’s water.

Final trial, it’s sand again.

In that case, I’m 100% wrong again.

Well, you got one right and, that was 6 which is what we expect by chance.

So far, they performing pretty much in line with mean chance expectation, in other words, guess work. So no one has scored more than 2 hits out to 6. Three. Three?

Dawkins: The people you’ve been testing, do they understand why they’re being put through the double-blind procedure?

I think that once you explain it to them, then they appreciate why someone who is perhaps skeptical or doubtful about their claims would see that that was necessary. What’s interesting is it doesn’t actually tend to dent their confidence at all.

Dawkins: Which you suggest that they’re completely sincere.

I think they are completely sincere and they are typically very, very surprised when we run them through series of trials and actually say at the end of the day well your performance is no better than what we would expect just on the bases of a guess work. And then what typically happens is they’ll make up all kinds of reasons, some might say excuses, as to why they didn’t pass that particular test.

I feel the whole test is wrong.

I’m shocked on words that this has happened, but I did say from the outset couldn’t we just sort out some grey blocks and some scaffold boards, so then I can work above it, which is what I would routinely do and I’ve done for 40 years.

Who knows where or what bottles were in what tubs?

Dawkins: That’s the whole point, isn’t it? That’s the whole point.

If you understand dowsing than I do you’ll understand that everything is an image.

This state of denial is extraordinary. Even when confronted with hard fact these dowsers prefer not to face up to truth but retain their delusion.

* * *

Rather than adapt to evidence, many of us seems remain trapped in ways of thinking inherited from our primitive ancestors. Irrational belief, from dowsing to psychic clairvoyance, has roots in early mankind’s habit of attributing spirit and intention to natural phenomena such as water, the sun, a rock or the sea.

Dawkins: The sea has often been thought to be a malevolent force actively out to get you. In 480 BC, King Xerxes of the Persians built a pontoon bridge across the Hellespont and the rough sea came and wrecked it. And King Xerxes was so furious that he sentenced the sea to 300 lashes. I wonder whether there’s something of King Xerxes in all of us to this day. We don’t want to believe that things just happen; we want to believe that there’re some kind of deliberate intention behind everything, even when inanimate objects are concerned. And perhaps that is the key to humanity’s belief in the supernatural.

Even in the 21st century, despite all that science has revealed about the indifferent vastness of the universe, the human mind remains a wanton storyteller creating intention in the randomness of reality. The delivery of rewards by a one-armed bandit is determined at random but many gamblers want to think that what they do can increase their chances of winning the jackpot. They stand on one leg or wear a lucky shirt. Are these superstitious behaviors a byproduct of our evolution?

Dawkins: All wild animals have to be kind natural statisticians looking for patterns in the apparent randomness of nature when they’re looking food or trying to avoid predators. There’re two kinds of mistakes they can make: they can either fail to detect pattern when there is some; or they can seem to detect pattern when there isn’t any, and that’s superstition.

60 years ago, the American psychologist B.F. Skinner investigated the behavior of pigeons rewarding them with food when they learned to peck a key in the feeding apparatus. But then Skinner set the apparatus to reward the birds at random; now the pigeons just have to sit back and wait, but that isn’t what they did. Instead the majority developed what Skinner called ‘superstitious behavior.’

Dawkins: When an individual pigeon, for example, happened to look over its left shoulder and the reward mechanism just happened to click in at that point. It would have got the idea that it was looking over the left shoulder that it got its reward so it tried it again. By sheer luck as it happened the reward mechanism delivered food at the same time again and so the pigeon was reinforced in its idea that looking over the left shoulder was what got it the reward. And it went on and on and turned into a maniac for looking over the left shoulder.

Humans can be no better than pigeons. We constantly create false positives, we touch wood for luck, see faces in toasted cheese, fortunes in tea leaves. These provide a comforting illusion of meaning. This is the human condition we desperately want to feel there’s an organizing force at work in our bewilderingly complex world. And in the irrational mind set if you believe in the mystical pattern you’ve imposed on reality, you call yourself spiritual. Spirituality is a prized commodity. The media tells us to respect spiritual souls and there are apparently deep insights. Spiritual self help guides do a roaring trade in the material world outnumbering science books by 3-1. But what does spirituality actually mean?

Satish Kumar: So please take your seat and please come slowly and gently and so that we can start the proceeeding without losing time. So could you please…

Satish Kumar is the editor of Resurgence, an ecological magazine at the sandal-wearing end of the green movement. And he counts amongst his many fans Price Charles and Dalai Lama.

Kumar: I represent the entire history of evolution. I was present in the beginning, in the first Big Bang and I’ll be here for billions of years to come.

But isn’t Satish’s spirituality just about imposing yet another superstitious false positive?

Kumar: World is made of two elements. One element is visible element, the other aspect of creation is invisible dimension, things we cannot see. So what is that element which is invisible? I call it spiritual. When you go in a room, you say there’s a good feeling here. There’s a spirit in the room.

Dawkins: Well, now you’ve changed to something rather different.

Kumar: There the spirit is very big, and very holistic, and very inclusive world. It is not defined in a one particular way. So when you go in a room… you can say the tree has a spirit… and a rock has a spirit. It’s a living rock for me. Nature without spirit cannot exist. Like tree cannot exist without the sun. Light, it cannot exist without rain, … cannot exist without soil, also it cannot exist without a treeness. The treeness is the spiritual quality.

Dawkins: Or the rockness.

Kumar: Or the rockness.

Dawkins: When you talk about the rockness or the quality of a rock, I can see as a scientist the rock has hardness, things like that but I think it’s not quite what you mean. It sounded as if what you do mean is something imposed by the human observer. A rock is atoms…

Kumar: But there is a rock quality in the rock.

Dawkins: Well, you, that’s a matter of assertion, I mean, you are now simply asserting that.

Kumar: Asserting? I’m understanding it. This is my understanding. Some may understand more fully than others but it is no imposed, it is there.

It all sounds very poetic, but it’s not reality. Like priests, mullahs, and rabbis, new-age mystics ceaselessly attempt to fill gaps in human understanding with fabricated meaning. Science and rationality are often accused to having a cold bleak outlook; but why is it bleak to face up to the evidence of what we know.

Dawkins: The word mundane has come to mean boring and dull, it really shouldn’t, it should mean the opposite, because it comes from the Latin mundus, meaning the world, and the world is anything but dull. The world is wonderful. There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality. And yet today science is under attack.

In the last 50 years, science has put a man on the moon, cloned a sheep, decoded the human genome. And yet, sadly, the white heat of the 1970s seems to be treated as white elephant today.

What colorkind do you see girls? Anything yellow close is okay..

A prejudice against science is evident in schools. Physics A-levels have halved in the last 25 years. Chemistry fallen by more than 1/3. University departments are closing all around the country. This is a betrayal of the enlightenment. The fundamental problem, I think, lies with the fashion throughout our educational system to teach students to value private feeling more highly than evidence based reason. This is rooted in the post-modern relativist agenda. For relativists, scientific truth is just a patriarchal western orthodoxy that like, the old Roman Catholic church, stands in the way of other equally valid outlooks on the world.

Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology, Warwick University: With things like paranormal, the drive for alternative medicine, all these kinds of movements away from the orthodoxy in science. I see a lot as approximately reformation vis a vis catholicism. Internet in a way, is kind of functioning, is a kind of information source very much like the printing press did in the 15th century, 16th century that is empowering people to sort of look up stuff for themselves in terms of different kinds of treatments and things like that and in a way, not trusting the experts any more. Look, why do I have to trust, you know, the GP? Why do I have to trust The Royal Society?

Dawkins: I think you’re so close to being right, but yet you’re darn wrong, you’re absolutely wrong. I would like to take that ball and run with it in a different direction. We want to question authority. We don’t want to say because this person is the president of Royal Society therefore what he says is right. We’ve got to go back to the evidence and find out what is actually true.

Fuller: The problem is, of course, people may look at he same evidence and then reach some more different conclusion from what the head of Royal Society reached. And so that they would say look, you know, I look at the evidence too and I’m not persuaded by this. That’s where you start getting a kind of opening up of science.

Steve Fuller is, of course right, that the internet is revolutionizing how we use and consume information. But the impersonal algorithms of internet search engines do not weed out robust evidence from unsourced, uncorroborated assertion. Wikipedia world presents both great opportunity and huge danger.

Dawkins: Paranoia conspiracy theories circulate unchallenged. Sometimes they’re relatively harmless like the rumor that NASA faked the moon landings, which is a bit of a joke because the evidence for going to the moon is so strong. But how about the malicious and utterly unfounded rumor that 4000 Jews were tipped off by Israel agents not to go to work in the World Trade Center on 9/11. It’s one of the nasty lie circulating as truth in the blog community of racists and religious fundamentalists. Now such people can find each other anywhere in the world instantly, whipping up scares and reinforcing their paranoia and delusions.

As evidence is devalued, even medical progress has become a target.

…through vomiting.

Hundreds of families blame me. MMR vaccines for autism, brain damage and meningitis.

When one report, now widely discredited, wrongly linked MMR vaccine with autism, an innuendo circulated that the establishment was conspiring to risk our children’s health. It led to hundreds of thousands of parents failing to protect their offspring from the threat of measles, a serious disease that in Afghanistan kills 35,000 people a year.

Dawkins: This is the world of private hunches and no respect for evidence.

Reason has built the modern world. It is a precious but also a fragile thing which can be corroded by apparently harmless irrationality.

Dawkins: We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling, otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those would obscure the truth.

* * *

The Irrational Health Service

Richard Dawkins looks at how health has become a battleground between reason and superstition. A third of us now spend a total of over 1.6 billion a year on superstitious alternative remedies, but 80% of them have never been subjected to properly conducted trials.

* * *

There exists a hidden world of microorganisms beyond what we can see with our unaided eyes. over a hundred years ago this world was discovered through the progress of science. It was a huge leap forward for mankind. Scientific medicine came to understand how germs cause disease. we washed our hands, sterilized surgery, and created vaccines antibiotics and drugs that work. Life expectancy doubled in less than 50 years. But now the happy story starts to falter.

Dawkins: Today a war is being fought against reason. science is treated with suspicion perhaps born of fear and medical advances challenged by the March of irrational belief. A third of us now spend over 1.6 billion pounds a year on superstitious alternative remedies which, as far as the evidence can show, don’t work.


Have you asked any angels to come close to you?

Dawkins: No.

I wouldn’t have known even.

If any remedy is tested under controlled scientific conditions and proved to be effective it will cease to be alternative and will simply become medicine so-called alternative medicine either hasn’t been tested or it has failed its tests.

There wasn’t a control system outcome so it was just a pilot study.

So that’s not really even from a proper trial.

And some alternatives are funded by US taxpayers, even though they’re unproven claims question the known laws of physics.

You might think I’m cutting the patient I don’t claim that it’s much more than a hypothesis. What I do say is that I have quite considerable in terms of homeopathy does work and I’m totally safe.

Dawkins: Today while we indulge unproven healing magic, tried-and-tested scientific medicine is under attack. In this program I want to look at how health has become a battleground between reason and superstition.

The Irrational Health Service

Elisa Livingston: You come here to move through time and through space allows the eyes to gently close smile your very best smile. Swallow the smile listen saliva into the heart and let the heart smile back at you. And there’s a warm in a welcoming feeling. Joy without end. Grace, beauty, laughter. The deep knowing of the wise being that you are. And the golden glow that comes from the heart comes from a golden flower and use the gold light from the center of the flower like a sunbeam. And beam it onto those petals and wake them up. There is a second part, that’s very personal, and this is to step inside the pearl itself… because if you step inside the pearl… you could find out… who you are.

Elisa Livingston is a professional faith healer she runs the Shambhala retreat in Glastonbury. For a hundred and forty pounds a day she treats patients including those with terminal cancer with a mix of meditation spiritual healing and the playing of recorded charts. She believes she can alter the structure of DNA.

Livingston: Quite an experience.

Dawkins: Thank you very much.

Livingston: Yes.

Livingston: DNA is very interesting right now in our the evolution of the human race. Every human being, except a very small percentag,e has a double helix in the cell.

Dawkins: We don’t all have?

Livingston: Oh, everyone.

Dawkins: You said a very small percentage.

Livingston: Oh no, a very small percentage do not.

Dawkins: Really?!?

Livingston: They have got more strands. We used to have in Atlantis 12 strands and they’re in the form of four triangles facing in in each cell and we forgot who we were in the experiment after Atlantis and everything changed reincarnation was introduced so.

I know what you’re thinking, this woman is way out. I expected a serious program about the attack on science and here’s Richard Dawkins just picking on an easy target.

But these ideas are not so weird in the irrational world of alternative health. In fact their common place. Is Elisa’s theory of DNA from Atlantis any more irrational than the Ayurvedic notion of chakras, 7 spinning energy wheels inside us? They’re certainly great money spinners.

How do we know all this worked where does all this come from?

It comes from the Akashic record the record of all vibration on this planet out we also have knowing in when we were doing the heart meditation you go into the deep knowing and the deep knowing it really can’t be argued what you know I know do you realize this, of course, you know.

Well I know that DNA is a double helix but that’s only been known since 1953.

So how is her evidence the knowing of this Akashic record any worse than the evidence for homeopathic claims that the more you dilute an active ingredient the more effective it becomes. both depend on faith.

For all things and all activations of spirit.

Apparently I’m only a few DNA strands short of the full Atlantean quota. alesis kindly agrees to top me up. so let’s put the last triangle.

And it’s done.

Let me know in six months are you follow ours you can see if I get anything it may be both any offense.

Unfortunately it’s not or wacky quacky fun. today alternative or other unproven remedies are fast becoming mainstream, implicitly casting doubt on scientific medicine. Surveys reveal that 1/3 of us spend an incredible 1.6 billion pounds a year on the kind of therapeutics tabs in the dark touted here in Glastonbury.

It’s mostly angels.

I want to find out why such superstitious nonsense is mounting a growing challenge to scientific medicine. [Music]

Once, society exhorted scientists as heroes. their insights fuel tangible progress from clean water to network computing self-evident benefits that we now take for granted. yet as science has moved on it’s become more complex and difficult to grasp. it’s easier to portray scientists as the people who bring us Frankenstein food, pollute the environment, or conduct sinister experiments on defenseless little animals. in the war being fought against reason even medicine is now under attack. media cause celeb from side effects to superbugs have bred widespread cynicism about medical progress. so much so that in 1998 the publicizing of one survey of 12 children that wrongly linked MMR vaccine with autism prompted hundreds of thousands of parents to opt their children out of entirely sensible inoculations. a hyped up insinuation that the government and the medical establishment were conspiring to sacrifice our next generation to autism has left up to a fifth of our children entirely unprotected against rubella, mumps, and measles, a disease with complications such as brain injury and deafness.

Number of parents and copulating their children with MMR quickly.

There have now been epidemics in Kent and Yorkshire and a first death from measles in 14 years now as mine confuses muddies the waters frightening see the boy I’ll tell you.

It’s an acute example of the danger of devaluing evidence. Where once there was reason now there is confusion.

One of things that struck me right from the outset was how extraordinary it was that this scare got abroad when there it was so insubstantial I mean there was really no scientific basis for it whatsoever I find it very easy to sympathize with patients who were scared partly because the media built it up but also because having your child vaccinated as a positive act it’s something that you did to the child and so somehow that’s that’s more scary than a sin of omission very much and I think that’s even more the case these days when people are much less familiar with the diseases against which their children have been protected by immunization. You know it’s a generation or two since people had much experience of measles and mumps and rubella and a significant scale and so when somebody comes along and says well you know this immunisation may cause some other problem then they’re most likely to be susceptible to that.

Why do you think that sort of thing happens in our society today?

I think that there’s a climate of anxiety but particularly focus on issues of health generally people feel I think more isolated more atomized more individuated perhaps than they did before and these anxieties and concerns often focus on their health.

This is a paradox of early 21st century life; we now have the luxury of irrational anxiety about our health and can dabble in faddish unscientific remedies, precisely because scientific medicine allows us to live longer and more healthily. Our fears are fed by newspapers, which wildly exaggerated the risks of scientific medicine and meanwhile churn out acres of positive coverage of alternative therapies. In any other field politics say or the next move on interest rates journalists would ask hard questions and demand answers, but alternative medicine has managed to lodge itself in the less rigorous lifestyle and celebrity pages, essentially free advertising.

[Music] Oh [Music] it’s little wonder that alternative health fairs like this are flourishing across the country.

What what’s your liar watch is sir magnetic therapy.

What is psychic energy? what are these ones used for [Music]

People may come here with real health problems but what do they get remedies that appear to have no basis in science or evidence people put knees in a cards bed they’ll find animals will go to the bed with the magnets and that have been done properly with control trials is it no not in control trials they’ve got ancient wisdom that we doing right.

I’ve always liked the saying that we should be open-minded but not so open-minded that our brain falls out.

So do we all have an angel hovering on our shoulder or something so you have several right yes okay can how many am i got and pin your tail or have you asked any angels to come close to you no I will you haven’t got anything okay the idea is yeah that we all have some core movement the angelic guide you Angelica and some form of guidance that help us travel our life. You might need strength you might need forgiveness to my video through your lifetime and the Angels as we perceive them all those energy bands their parts of ourselves, their fragments of ourselves that we can call upon and amplify to help. These energies are a little bit like tea you can have herb teas you can have decaf teas you can have all sorts of different flavors and strengths of varieties of teas.

Remember this is a multi-billion pound industry yet 80% of alternative remedies have never subjected themselves to controlled scientific trials they depend entirely on subjective word of mouth that health-wise hunches and private feeling which may be prone to bias or possibly even delusion. The scientific method by contrast tests with objective experiment and statistical analysis what is effective and what is not. Individual scientists may or may not be honest but science with its safeguards of peer review and repeating experiment has scrupulous honesty built into it by design science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.

Untested and unverified yet desperately seeking credibility alternative remedies follow in the rich tradition of organized religion and set up intricate belief systems. They substitute real science with pseudoscience.

Face up or face down?

You face up right and you sit here no just guide your head so you don’t know.

This matters because in the process they deny fact and misuse science but that isn’t that pointing up I just had to go this in flaunting words like energy vibration vortex they exploit and also distort some of Sciences great discoveries [Music] the sleep I’m sure is therapeutic. [Music] But how could these illuminated crystals be energizing my chakras as advertised?

Mangia Samantha Lawton is a conventionally trained former GP who now speculates on the science behind alternative fads. She asserts that chakras in our bodies are something like black holes. Yes, as in the big ones that suck in everything in space.

We used to think of black holes as the great guzzlers of the universe that they actually started to suck in everything around it what we’re finding now is that black holes are in the center of every single galaxy and they occur in all sizes so black tiles have become into a creative principle.


The creative principle does that mean that we’re realizing that black holes has something to do with creating matter in the galaxy. And this is very very new and what I’m suggesting is that black holes are created at every level even within our own bodies which is what perhaps the chakras are.

So whereabouts in my body might be a black hole?

Well the idea from esoteric knowledge is that chakras are centers in a body that are spinning which is why they’re called wheels chakras and there are different colors and they relate to different parts of body so there are traditionally seven chakras at different parts of the body.

The universe is a deeply mysterious place and a deeply wonderful place and scientists have always been struggling to understand it. Don’t you feel that there’s enough real mystery to investigate without importing what sounds to me horribly like mumbo-jumbo?

Yes I can understand it you think it’s mumbo-jumbo but there’s plenty of people who are now getting interested in these topics. They are part of our universe okay and especially part of the day part of it with what they do has any value I mean.

That’s up to you.

Well it’s not really up to me it’s up to science and it’s up to evidence.

What worries me is the big Eiling misuse of scientific language to prop up entirely unscientific belief systems.

In the Middle Ages healers would conjure up evil spirits or magical spells. Now in the 21st century it seems they turned to black holes and, above all, quantum physics. Quantum theory accounts for the anomalous behavior of light and atoms it’s astonishingly accurate but notoriously difficult to grasp. But Deepak Chopra, who once qualified as a doctor, has seized upon quantum jargon and applied it to healing. He claims disease can be caused and cured by a shift in consciousness to believe in their arc you’re automatically living in.

God Chopra has managed to become a one-man alternative health industry he’s worth up to 75 thousand dollars per lecture and in this era of self-absorption he claims Michael Jackson Madonna and Hillary Clinton as followers.

If you feel genuinely attractive you’ll attract other people to you.

The great American physicist Richard Fineman once said: “if you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory.” Isn’t Deepak Chopra just exploiting quantum jargon as plausible sounding hocus pocus.

Quantum healing is the theory that shift in consciousness creates a shift in biology that’s it we try and get into every aspect of a patient’s life their relationships their hopes their dreams and then we combine it with a ritual of deep meditation massage and really a lot of spiritual counseling including the fear of death. We think that many times patients feel healed even though they may die from a disease if they learn to go beyond their personal fear of death and you can never do that unless you have a patient have a spiritual experience.

Where did the quantum theory come into that?

Oh it’s just a metaphor just like hug an electron or a photon is an indivisible unit of information and energy a thought is an indivisible unit of consciousness.

Oh so it’s an it’s a metaphor for a unit did nothing to do with quantum theory as in physics.

No I think quantum theory has a lot of things to say about observer effect. There are a school of physicists who believe that quantum leaps for example are examples of discontinuity and creativity in consciousness is also an example of discontinuity and that healing may be a biological phenomenon that relies on biological creativity. That at very fundamental levels it may be a discontinuous phenomenon it’s something unpredictable that happens in the proliferation of uncertainty.

So it sounds like a sort of poetic use of the word discontinuity. It’s it’s actually confusion isn’t it to bring in quantum theory other than as a metaphor designs though you’re both doing it as a metaphor and a little tinge of something like what physicists are talking about.

As well I think there’s controversy the aficionados in the world of quantum physics have somehow hijacked the word for their own use oh okay so they’ve hijacked your word.

What happens is that there are fundamentalist since and that is absolutely wrong Sciences quest is to try to sort out to tease out those bits that we don’t answer I’ve become so arrogant in its in its premise that it has all the answers in a mechanistic approach that it has whilst it has gotten rid of lots of things like polio and malaria and tuberculosis in many parts of the world we are now seeing the emergence of modern epidemics that are a result of some of the things that have come about through science.


Chopra at least where’s his disdain for Western science openly. the rest of us are prone to politely blurring the vital distinction between science and mumbo-jumbo. if you want to pay for unproven potions and use them in the privacy of your own home all well and good, but such is the power of the alternative medical lobby that one seemingly bizarre remedy has become embedded in our National Health Service. Now I want to find out why we’re all paying tax to fund other people’s gullibility.

I agree there is a plausibility problem you know and I pinch myself from time to time I quite regularly pinch myself you know is this really happening.

* * *

It’s the hottest alternative health fad. It boasts an impressively vast and well stocked medical cabinet it’s endorsed by royalty and the stars and is doing a booming trade in high street pharmacies. 500 million people worldwide claim to use it.

What is it? it’s a system for dosing up on a dilute solution of water. welcome to the bizarre world of homeopathy homeopathy was dreamed up in the late 18th century as a way of boosting the body’s vital spirit one of the central tenets handed down by its founder Samuel Hahnemann was that like cures like superficially this might sound faintly plausible but unlike a vaccine that introduces a diminished form of a virus into the body in order to provoke its immune system like cures like makes the unfounded assumption that what causes similar symptoms can cure those symptoms.

In Hanuman’s world dilute poison ivy cures skin rash because undiluted it causes a rash if touched. By the same principal red onion can alleviate streaming eyes and snake venom stiffness.

But amazingly homeopathy gets even stranger still homeopaths claim that the more you dilute an active ingredient in water the stronger medicine it becomes. Most homeopathic remedies are marked 30c what does that mean it means one part medicine to a hundred to the power of 30 parts water. How much? A drop in a fish tank? No, a fish tank is nowhere near big enough. The swimming pool doesn’t provide enough dilution. [Music] Not even a lake. What about a drop in the ocean? But it turns out that even the sea isn’t big enough. For the really approved homeopathic recipes in order to get one molecule of the active substance you need to imbibe all the atoms in the solar system. To science just doesn’t make sense.

Even homeopaths acknowledge that there is not a single molecule of active ingredient in the bottle they sell you. It’s just water. So how can it possibly work in an attempt to resolve the paradox homeopathy boldly paddles further up the creeks of pseudoscience claiming that water somehow has a memory of the Lao completely absent active ingredient. But wouldn’t water also have memory of other more common impurities it’s come into contact with? Salt, urine. Scientists have calculated that in each glass of water we drink at least one molecule has passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell. Incredibly you and I are paying for this unproven industry through our taxes.

Despite the national health services net 540 million pound deficit for 2006 the refurbishment of the royal homeopathic hospital was part funded by the NHS to the tune of 10 million pounds. That’s equivalent to 500 nurses salaries. Right here on the floor here’s a point to illustrate wooden floors very unusual in a modern health health care facility this hospital was only completed 18 months ago so this is our main clinical area the homeopathic profession is unregulated by government you can call yourself a homeopathy without any qualification training or even insurance after all all you’re doing is dishing out water solution.

But Peter Fisher clinical director of the hospital is a medically trained rheumatologist I see Prince Charles over there yeah oh yes great friend of ours these are the new homeopathic medicines that are in daily use this is one you know for instance it has quite a strong evidence base Rostock which is poison ivy.

Right okay.

I want to know how someone highly qualified in real medicine can make such a leap of faith.

I agree there is a plausibility problem you know and I pinched myself from time to time, I quite regularly pinch myself. you know is this really happening you know the fact is I couldn’t stop what I do now even if I wanted to this by patient wouldn’t let me they said health so how things work very much better severe I’ll show you um I know a virtue No you know if I’m aware of the siblings gonna start again I start taking it again and I can feel the improvement and I’ll go back to until I need it again you know good oh well that’s pretty straightforward we just bash on the same no yeah.

I’m still taking the remedies but you’ve said to me um you know if you get Minnie if you get little reaction just hold off taking the remedies until they’re then let subside so therefore I’ve been doing that. So for example I haven’t had a remedy for a week now and last time you met you said you were getting a bit of an emotional sort of upset the day after you took it.

I was impressed by the amount of time and care Peter Fisher devotes to each patient far more than an ordinary doctor.

Um but in terms of the treatment I would be you know reluctant to make a big change I think this is the right stuff and we may need to fiddle around with it.

Like a GP Peter Fisher prescribes medicine. but in this case the medicine is a bit of a surprise.

Thank you very much humming song natrum muriaticum sodium chloride again in an ultra molecular dilutions I mean obviously since it’s common salt I mean she’s obviously taking in a hell of a lot of common sort yes oh sure I’m…

How do how does the one the truth is nobody know I don’t know nor does anybody else yeah and you know the question is do you think that because we don’t know because it seems implausible it can’t work and that may be where you and I differ.

Actually the most recent problem is your skin wasn’t that’s right yeah my hands so cleared up quite well.

While patients like these provide positive anecdotes for homeopathy subjective stories are not enough for science. I want to pin down precisely what double-blind trials have been conducted.

Over 100 have been done some by me on the whole they’re positive and I haven’t you know I’ve worked hard on it. but in the face of great skepticism in the face of many people who say oh well find homeopathy it’s have got to be a load of rubbish.

Why do you think they say that if there really are controlled trials which which ship is your Yahoo your but better place to comment on because you’re versatile person said that well because I I have read studies which show me such meta analyses and things which suggests that yes occasionally there’s a slight suggestion of something maybe in a slight suggestion there but if you take the all the studies that have been done it doesn’t add up in the way that.

I don’t agree with that at all now.

If a double-blind control trial really does show that it works then that suggests we’re dealing with an entirely new force of physics something unknown to science.

I think there’s a slight exaggeration. I mean there are the various hypotheses remarkably nobody knows what the structure of liquid water is so there is there is room you know for a phenomenon analogous to I’m not saying the same but I now like this to the storage of information by a magnetic medium by a floppy disk or video.

Yes if I were a doctor doing what you do and was convinced that it really worked I would drop everything and really really try to demonstrate and win the Nobel Prize for Physics I mean it would be an astonishing totally astonishing fact.

Sir to be honest one of the main reasons I got into it Halon bishop got me into it in the first place but I agree it would be nice to see you know a really serious program of research done done on it.

Well you’re saying it has been done and…

Well no I’m saying that look quite a lot of research has been done it’s I don’t claim it’s conclusive well.

Why not I mean it sounds as a well.

Because it’s very diffuse and of course it does depend what question you are asking you know are you saying does it benefit people that people feel better and I think actually this there’s no doubt about that but people who go to homeopathic Osmonds have only other treatment do you feel better but of course you will say that’s all because you’re nice to them.

This is all rather contradictory so let’s be clear about the latest evidence. in 2005 the medical journal The Lancet surveyed all the meta analyses the analyses of the analyses and failed to find any reliable effect of homeopathy. tellingly for me in the bigger trials less prone to chance anomalies homeopathy was more likely to show zero demonstrably effect.

And yet despite the lack of robust evidence homeopathy thrives. Many clinicians look on in horror at the unlevel playing field of trials and evidence for medical licensing. In 2004 American trials seemed to show that the drug Herceptin could have the death rate for a particularly virulent form of breast cancer. This was a major breakthrough patients understand to declare mode for the new drug but unlike in the world of homeopathy the claims of scientific medicine are tested rigorously and that takes time. Accordingly the licence was delayed.

We went to a period of a year or two when Herceptin quite rightly in my opinion was held up for the treatment of breast cancer until all the evidence was there so we had extremely rigid cost-effectiveness analysis before we could use Herceptin. And okay there was a short passage of time when it seemed unfair but you compare that when actually lives are lost because we’re talking about life threatening disease with drugs which actually save lives – TO the way that ineffective irrational remedies had just been nodded through and it makes you weep. The pharmaceutical industry takes a lot of knocks and yes drugs are very expensive but the reason they’re so expensive is there may be 20 years of R&D to get to an effective product. Every step of the way is checked and double-checked and now to the back door we’re getting a class of compound being allowed into the marketplace with a license with no such evidence of efficacy.

I can’t understand how you could even…

But if homeopathy isn’t tested properly or flunks its trials then why do homeopaths remain popular.

A lot of them owe their success not to the homeopathy but to the fact they have decent people they have time they’re compassionate they love the patient in the eye they talk to someone for an hour these are nice people. I would like to accrued these really nice people to practice proper medicine and then in the end what we’ve got are proper doctors empathetic doctors who will in addition to the placebo effect of being that kind of physician they can also add in truly effective drugs.

Clinical trials show that homeopathy simply cannot match up with safe chemical drugs. Yet in the realm of petty ailments like sore eyes or itchy scalp homeopathy is probably innocent enough.

Because it’s really all about attentive doctors spending time listening to the patient.

That one is still this to the tiny bit puffy isn’t there is it well it’s always like then giving.

Them something that makes them feel better precisely because it’s supposed to make them feel better. I think it’s all down to the placebo effect. I want to find out if that’s the key to alternative medicines grip on public confidence.

I would disagree with you that’s a that something is being done in why are we so good at placebo and the Orthodox medicine as…

Well they’re pretty good at it too.


Alternative health remedies are swamping us we’ve seen how most are not properly tested how they undermine science and delude the public.

I know are you okay good your health kinesiology session.

I’d like to know what it is um I’m hoping to learn okay have a lie-down but the irony may be that in this very delusion lies their success.

What we do in kinesiology is we clear energy blockages in the meridian system there are 14 meridians or energy pathways that run up and down the body.

Can they be seen with microscope can you sort of um look at them and…

I don’t know thanks I don’t think so okay unlike a library all right I’ve got all these energy packs stored in me and you are just picking the one that you want and we have Baker’s used here all right so I’m just gonna touch a point right by your ear this is the test for allergy there’s just no tension it just releases completely okay you want this fixed yes please.

Okay I have to admit I’m rather enjoying this kinesiology if you’re very relaxed but what is helping me here the tapping of my feet the feel of a kind woman’s hands or some sort of expectation that what it’s doing is therapeutic. What I’m talking about is the placebo effect treatment through the power of suggestion and I’m gonna hold points on your head okay right here and here and what I want you to do is think the phrase fear of being ignored.

Human beings have evolved extraordinarily sophisticated self-healing mechanisms above all a powerful immune system fear of being ignored. Could it be that interaction with any kind of healer acts to focus our self-healing abilities some evolutionary psychologists believe this may be the entirely rational explanation behind irrational remedies.

It works because most of Medicine in fact is a case of self cure when with the pain goes down after taking placebo medicine or under the influence of acupuncture for example it’s our own minds which have reduced.

What you’re saying is that we get better anyway why then would alternative missing be better surely an ordinary doctor might do that.

Real medicine does the same but I think we shouldn’t we shouldn’t underestimate the powers and sometimes the superior powers of people who go under funny names or have funny authorities written up on the wall and so on because some people respond to that information much more than they would to the conventional information in the doctor surgery.

Nevertheless I sort of have a sort of hankering off what’s actually true. How far do you think so-called alternative practitioners believe the mumbo jumbo that they that they say is the theory behind their potions and how far do they know that it’s a placebo. are they deceiving or their self deceiving I think in many cases the self-deceiving?

Well, is not himself deceiving they have seen in their own experience that these treatments work so they believe in them um they have them to invent a rationale some spiritual a magical explanation of what they’re doing now supposing you were a miracle worker in two 3,000 years ago Smith who were Jesus and seeing that they’re lame men got up and walked when you tell them to you’d be rather than pressed with ourselves boom yes um but I’m sure it was a placebo for yes Mike.

I still believe scientific medicine offers more effective and more honest treatment. But I accept Nick Humphreys point this alternative medicine is peculiarly well-positioned to dish out receivers.

In the 24/7 globalized rat race of the 21st century people are yearning for timeout. visiting an alternative healer provides an hour for unwinding and contemplation and if you’re lucky exposure to piped whale music. Much of alternative medicine is about cosseting about making the patient feel pampered feel as though they are the center of attention.

Okay so compass the name of the game is comfort as you can so literally want you to do is just to relax okay so the first thing I have to do is very gently cup and hold here and feel like I’m not doing anything but it’s a very gentle movements.

While in our hard-pressed National Health Service the patient doctor encounter lasts on average just eight minutes.

So the rotation on your left a good rotation you’re right it’s restricted so this is called activate.

An alternative healer usually gives you an R. In return for a healthy fee of course.

The Hale clinic near London’s Harley Street offers a huge array of healing arts ancient and modern many may make you think you feel better without having real affect in themselves in other words they’re placebos. If I were wanting to exploit the placebo effect then I would do exactly what you’re doing. I would have a large number of different things which look impressive sound good use long words talk about quantum theory lights flashing and the whole point is to impress the patient the whole point is to make the patient feel that something is being done but but something is being done I mean I would disagree with you that I think I think something is being done and why are we so good at placebo and the Orthodox medicine oh well they’re pretty good at it too and when I go to my doctor yes and he just talks to me and I seem to be miraculously cured as

Well, that’s very very important it is very but maybe he’s he’s giving you some healing energy in your day well he would call it that yeah you wouldn’t call it that but it could be it’s very very important to talk to find out to take a property’s history but I don’t think it’s the only reason. I think complementary medicine has effect over and above that in my opinion.

Yes, do you ever do clinical trials on your your methods or do people come in and do do them for you we done one study at Hammersmith Hospital on stroke patients that was funded quite a few years ago and what treatment we were giving them we were giving an ayurvedic treatment called mama massage and it was only a pilot study and it showed an improvement in certain number of patient of what what was the control in that case if there wasn’t a control it was just an outcomes do it was just a pilot study right so that’s not really their proper proper trial do you think there’s a bit of a double standard doctors have to spend six years qualified and so on isn’t it just a bit too easy to set yourself up in practice without qualifications and without which ones were you thinking well what about the Ayurvedic one fits up well it’s a 4-year degree course yeah one second later they’ll and principals are evading with an anatomy and physiology I mean it’s one of the older systems of medicine world are available oh yes that doesn’t make it good though does it no it shows it has a lot of experience.

The idea that ancient equals years of accumulated wisdom is a fallacy it’s a teasing irony that the moneyed classes in the rich west are indulging superseded Hindu healing magic when back in India people are voting with their feet and opting for modern vaccines and antibiotics. Resuscitating Ayurveda today is rather like bringing back bleeding with leeches. In medicine ancient also means developed before we understood the causes of disease before germ theory. It was based on ignorance then and age makes it no truer. We misguidedly look back to a golden age that never was ours is the golden age of safe tested medicine effective beyond placebo in which we’ve cut infant mortality and conquered diseases then forgotten they existed. let’s hear it for Western scientific medicine in the 20th and 21st centuries we’ve orbit eliminated terrible diseases like polio completely eradicated smallpox by a worldwide program of vaccination antibiotics well I wouldn’t be here but for antibiotics and I guess there’s a good chance that you wouldn’t be either blood transfusions magnificent surgery all these things are given to us by scientific principles scientifically trained doctors all the methods are properly tested and retested none of that could be said for so-called alternative medicine.


The indulgence of superstitious alternative remedies implicitly casts doubt on scientific advance and undermines confidence in real medical progress. Yet as we’ve seen the attack on medicine is just one small part of the creeping rise of irrational superstition. In Ayurveda or clairvoyance homeopathy or astrology we’re confronted by those who deny evidence of the real world and instead Bend reality around a dogmatic belief system handed down by tradition.

Sceptical rational inquiry is always the best approach. We don’t have to follow the herd and buy into trendy untested health fads. We don’t have to be swayed this way and that by media driven health scares instead we can think independently be truly open-minded that means asking questions being open to real corroborated evidence. Reason has liberated us from superstition and given us centuries of progress. We abandon it at our peril.



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