King Charles has chosen a practitioner of alternative medicine. What motivates the upper class to trust in ineffective remedies? | Martha Gill
When I encounter someone praising the benefits of homeopathy, it brings to mind a quote from the TV show 30 Rock. “There are various forms of intelligence,” Jack Donaghy tells a particularly dim-witted employee. “Practical, emotional…and then there is true intelligence, which is what I’m referring to.” Similarly, and possibly related, there are different types of medicine. Natural, complementary, alternative, homeopathic, herbal, traditional. And then there is conventional medicine, which has proven effectiveness.
It is surprising that homeopaths are able to secure jobs in the year 2023, despite the fact that in 1853, Queen Victoria’s physician had already deemed the practice as “an insult to human logic”. Over the course of the next 170 years, it has been consistently debunked and discredited. This is because its principles directly contradict scientific methods, such as using a diluted onion extract to treat watery eyes, believing in the concept of “strengthening” through dilution, and relying on the idea of “quantum entanglement” through shaking.
Last week, it was reported that the leader of the medical staff for the royal family supports the use of homeopathy. Dr. Michael Dixon has promoted various practices such as “thought field therapy”, “Christian healing”, and an Indian herbal remedy that is highly diluted with alcohol and claims to have the ability to kill breast cancer cells. Although these approaches may not be popular, Dr. Dixon argued in an article submitted to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that they should not be dismissed.
Homeopaths often refer to their beliefs as “unfashionable”, as though this somehow increases their validity due to the inverse relationship between popularity and accuracy. However, despite its lack of effectiveness, homeopathy remains popular. A 2021 study by YouGov revealed that approximately half of Britons were open to the idea of homeopathy, with slightly higher rates in the US and slightly lower rates in Australia and the Netherlands. By 2022, the global market for homeopathic products was valued at $11 billion (£8.6 billion).
In 2021, the Society of Homeopaths lost its government accreditation. A year prior, members were requested to discontinue offering Cease therapy, which is based on the belief that vaccines lead to autism and can be cured with a high dose of vitamin C. Recently, in August of this year, the World Health Organization tweeted in support of traditional medicine, including homeopathy. They stated that it has been a leader in medicine and science, similar to how flat Earthers were once considered pioneers in physics.
Why is homeopathy widely used despite its lack of effectiveness? One factor could be its popularity among the upper class. In the 1800s, many homeopathic practitioners were chosen as personal doctors for royalty in various countries. In Britain, the first royal homeopath was related to the Duchess of Devonshire, and even Prince Edward and King George VI supported homeopathy.
The Queen Mother, meanwhile, was something of a maniac for arnica – she coated her dogs with it and pressed it upon her friends. “I think arnica the most marvellous medicine and every doctor, including those not trained in homeopathy, should use arnica,” she once said, madly. And then there is King Charles, who in his first speech as president of the British Medical Association told the assembled crowd of doctors that modern medicine was “like the celebrated Tower of Pisa, slightly off balance”.
The influence of the royal family in the fashion world has diminished. However, a new group of elite individuals who support homeopathy has emerged as their replacements. These celebrities include Helena Bonham Carter, David Beckham, Jude Law, Jennifer Aniston, Chris Martin, and Cindy Crawford. They are actively promoting the use of homeopathy.
Why is this the case? These individuals are not lacking in education, and neither are those who heed their guidance. The average consumer of homeopathy tends to be financially comfortable and of a middle-class background. What makes royalty, celebrities, and wealthy individuals particularly vulnerable to this ineffective remedy?
In my opinion, two factors are influencing this situation. The first is that individuals in positions of power often place too much importance on their own intuition. When surrounded by people who constantly agree with them, such as King Charles and Cindy Crawford, they may see themselves as exempt from the rules that apply to others. As a result, they may be more likely to believe in alternative methods like “thought field therapy” instead of traditional medicine.
Charles Percy Snow first noted the concept of the “two cultures” in the Western world. Not being knowledgeable about literature and the arts may prevent you from being accepted in “highly educated” circles, but it is considered acceptable to have a lack of understanding in basic science, such as the second law of thermodynamics or the definition of “acceleration”. When overconfidence and ignorance of science are combined, it can result in an aristocracy believing that crushed bees and aconite are the solution to their issues.
Unfortunately, this is not good news. While alternative medicine may not always be effective, it can also be dangerous. For instance, cancer patients who rely on tinctures and chanting may experience fatal delays in receiving proper treatment. We must reject this practice.