Chiedi le prove, the Italian initiative established by CICAP and based on Ask for Evidence in the UK will bring four stories on the importance of evidence to the European Parliament in Bruxelles, on June 21.
Belgian philosopher Maarten Boudry (SKEPP member) wrote in an NRC Handelsblad opinion piece that medicines that rely solely on the placebo effect have one vital ingredient that patients need to supply themselves: belief. However, one cannot choose to believe something; you either believe something or you don’t, depending on circumstances you can’t control. We can’t force ourselves to believe a glass of ordinary tap water can relieve our headache. Likewise, once you know a certain medicine is nothing but a sugar pill, the placebo effect has worn off. Boudry calls this the ‘involuntary nature of belief’.
He therefore disagrees with the seemingly reasonable suggestion of ethnologist Peter Jan Margry, who argued we should draw a sharp line in alternative medicine between healthy and dangerous treatments. You can’t choose your own illusions, Boudry says, and illusions are always prone to harmful side-effects.
Unlike regular medicines, homeopathy may be said to be side-effect free: a sugar pill or a bit of shaken water does nothing whatsoever, neither good nor bad, and some people may get a placebo effect from it. ‘Should we therefore ban the Dutch Society against Quackery (Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij), and all start swallowing shaken water, in the hope we’ll someday all believe it works?’ Boudry asks. He points to an undercover investigation by Simon Singh and Alice Tuff (Sense about Science), who found all ten homeopaths they consulted recommended shaken water against malaria: potentially lethal illusions.
Homeopathy itself may therefore not be dangerous, but belief in it can be, especially when it’s considered a valid replacement of real medicine. Besides, the latter also offers a placebo bonus, so why resort to possibly harmful alternatives?
Kritisch Denken (‘Critical Thinking’) is a Dutch language podcast, founded in 2009 to promote critical thinking in Belgium and the Netherlands. The podcast aims to teach people not to just blindly accept what they hear, nor to brush it aside as a mere ‘conspiracy theory’. The goal is to develop a critical mind, that evaluates views critically, first of all one’s own views.
As of October 2016, Kritisch Denken is downloaded more than 20,000 times a week.
Kritisch Denken is produced by Russells Theepot (‘Russell’s Teapot’), a Belgian–Dutch team of skeptics, consisting Jozef Van Giel (host), Rik Delaet, Emile Dingemans, Stefan Suetens and Leon Korteweg. Russells Theepot makes information on skepticism and critical thinking available for the Dutch-speaking public. It takes the view that freedom of expression can only exist if people are able to critically examine all different opinions.