MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

A ‘RAZOR’ is an argument for “shaving off” unlikely or implausible explanations or arguments. Who would, in this context, not think of alternative therapies and the explanations provided for them? And who could deny that homeopathy, in particular, is crying out for its very own razor?

I am, of course, inspired by 4 existing razors:

Occam’s Razor: Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions is likely to be the correct one.

Hitchens’s Razor: What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what can adequately explained by stupidity.

Alder’s Razor: What cannot be settled by experiment is not worth debating.

To those of my readers who fail to see the relationship to homeopathy, I offer the following explanations:

OCCAM

Homeopaths claim that the explanation for homeopathy’s mode of action is the ‘memory of water’ theory which is now supported, they say, by all sorts of basic science from water structure to nano-particles. Even if true [which it is not], this explanation relies on a whole series of further assumptions, for instance, about how nano-particles bring about any clinical outcome. The competing hypothesis is that the benefit experienced by patients after homeopathy is due to non-specific or context effects such as the placebo effect, the empathetic consultation etc. We have therefore one single hypothesis (i. e. homeopathy works via non-specific effects which is even supported by experimental data) against a myriad of postulates which are largely speculative. Occam’s Razor holds that the explanation with the least assumptions is likely to be correct.

HITCHENS

Homeopaths claim that their remedies are more than a placebo. To support their claim, they have no good evidence but rely on cherry-picking and misrepresenting the available data. Hitchen’s Razor suggests that, as long as they don’t come up with evidence, we can dismiss these claims without even attempting to prove the cherry-pickers wrong.

HANLON

Homeopaths have given us plenty of evidence (for instance, on this blog) for the fact that they often have a somewhat disturbed relationship with the truth. One might think that this is because they are maliciously trying to mislead us. According to Halon’s Razor, it is more likely that they are just stupid.

ALDER

Homeopaths regularly claim that, as long as there is no proof that homeopathy does not work, there must be an open debate about the issues involved and, as long as there are genuine debates and doubts, we must continue to make homeopathy available to all. Alder’ s Razor, however, suggests otherwise: there have been many tests of homeopathy; their results have failed to settle the matter in favour of homeopathy; therefore we can forget about the whole thing, stop debating it, and close the issue.

So, what about the razor promised in the title of this post? Here it comes; it is an attempt to synthesize the 4 razors above and apply them to homeopathy. I will call it (somewhat pompously) ‘Ernst’s Razor’ and I have tried to formulate it such that it can be applied to most other bogus treatments simply by exchanging one single word:

INSTEAD OF RELYING ON EVIDENCE, HOMEOPATHY’S SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON MULTIPLE ASSUMPTIONS, LIES, IGNORANCE AND STUPIDITY.

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