Category: Irish Times

‘Psychology of Christmas’ media round-up

So this is Christmas; and what have you done?

Well, this is what I’ve done: a whole lot of media, surrounding my public lecture on ‘The Psychology of Christmas‘ just the other week. Turns out lots of people are interested in Christmas. Who knew?

I’ve made a list (I’ve even checked it a few times):



Dublin City FM:

Irish Independent:

The Irish Times:


Channel 9 (Australia):

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I know. That’s probably enough, isn’t it? Well, time is certainly running out, so soon it will all be over…

Happy You-Know-What!

What’s the deal with that Swiss government homeopathy report?

A letter in today’s Irish Times bemoans a recent column on homeopathy. The column had drawn attention to a report by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council that was dismissive of homeopathic treatments. But according to our letter-writer

The report of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) ignored any positive research on homeopathy, including the Swiss government report, a five-year study which found in favour of homeopathy and recommended its inclusion under its health insurance. This Swiss report concluded that, “There is sufficient evidence for the preclinical effectiveness and the clinical efficacy of homeopathy and for its safety and economy compared with conventional treatment.”

The Swiss government, eh? I keep hearing about it. So, what’s the deal with their homeopathy report?

Well, this is the deal with their homeopathy report:

swiss med wkly


From the introduction:

In 2011 the Swiss government published a report on homeopathy. The report was commissioned following a 2009 referendum in which the Swiss electorate decided that homeopathy and other alternative therapies should be covered by private medical insurance. Before implementing this decision, the government wished to establish whether homeopathy actually works. In February 2012 the report was published in English and was immediately proclaimed by proponents of homeopathy to offer conclusive proof that homeopathy is effective. This paper analyses the report and concludes that it is scientifically, logically and ethically flawed. Specifically, it contains no new evidence and misinterprets studies previously exposed as weak; creates a new standard of evidence designed to make homeopathy appear effective; and attempts to discredit randomised controlled trials as the gold standard of evidence. Most importantly, almost all the authors have conflicts of interest, despite their claim that none exist. If anything, the report proves that homeopaths are willing to distort evidence in order to support their beliefs, and its authors appear to have breached Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences principles governing scientific integrity.

So basically more of the same ol’ homeopathy mumbo-jumbo.

The full critique is worth a read. Check it out here.

But our letter writer goes on:

There was no representation for homeopaths and no expert on homeopathy on the NHMRC. Would this be acceptable, for example, in oncology or orthopaedics?

Well, would it be acceptable in oncology or orthopaedics? No, I dare say it wouldn’t. But this is because oncology and orthopaedics are pretty ordinary enterprises. They are not controversial. They are not famous for making claims that are described by scientists as laughably implausible. They are not known for their ridiculous assumptions about the way nature works, or for flying in the face of not only medical science, but that of physics and chemistry too. Homeopathy, by contrast, is controversial. And massively so.

(Also, a review of either oncology or orthopaedics would require expertise in medicine and, critically, in research methods relevant for medicine. Let’s just say homoepaths are not exactly famous for their expertise in methods.)

So, indeed, it would be quite unacceptable for a review of homeopathy to be conducted by a bunch of homeopaths. In fact, it would be quite scandalous. Like with that Swiss government report which, let’s face it, has been discredited for some time now. Not that that stops the homeopaths going on about it.

A bit like homeopathy itself, really.

What ‘Science By Press Conference’ looks like

Exhibit A: 1989 and Pons and Fleischmann announce cold fusion — an “inexhaustible source of energy” — at a press briefing in Utah, before they had applied for patents or published their technology. Too bad they were just plain wrong. I bet they feel embarrassed now.



Exhibit B: 2002 and five-word headlines circle the globe as Clonaid announce their human cloning activities. Twelve years on, and we’re still waiting for any evidence whatsoever of said clone.



Exhibit C: The WHO issue a press release concerning a yet-to-be-published paper on mobile phones and brain cancer. The world media reports a definite causal link, even though the yet-to-be-published-paper was (a) unseen by everyone in the world media, (b) focused on only a small subset of possible cancers, and (c) was merely a document where a group of boffins “discussed and evaluated” the available research literature, rather than a new study bringing new data to bear on the issue.


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And finally, apropos of nothing at all, and arising just randomly from miasmic boredom of a Bank Holiday, here is today’s Irish Indo front page…

(Pic: Twitter)

(Pic: Twitter)

Hmmm. Stream of consciousness, eh?

Here are some observations on that story featured in the main headline. Continue reading “What ‘Science By Press Conference’ looks like”

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