Mammoth Reads: Homeopathy, Philosophy, Monopoly

Water in the Pill

Pharmacist Scott Gavura reviews a paper titled "Against Homeopathy — A Utilitarian Perspective" from the journal Bioethics about when it might be ethical to use homeopathy in a clinical  setting.

Homeopathy is based on the "theory" that "like cures like."  In essence, find a substance that produces symptoms similar to those of a cold, and that substance should help to cure the cold itself.  Furthermore, homeopathy states that the more a substance is diluted in water the  more potent it becomes, which is, of course, bunk.  Claims like these (and those of many other homeopathic fantasies) fly in the face of everything we know about basic physics.  (Here is a search for "homeopathy" from Neurologica Blog; Steven Novella has done more writing on the topic than anyone else I know of, and his blogs are a terrific resource for anyone interested in the evolving fight to keep homeopathy and other dubious "alternative" medicine practices out of so-called mainstream medicine.)

To Gavura's point (and also Kevin Smith's, the author of the Bioethics article): the decision to use homeopathy in a clinical setting would be contingent upon no other feasible treatments being available.  A placebo would provide only the advantage of psychological comfort to the patient.

Neither Gavura nor Smith appear too convinced that prescribing a placebo in such a scenario would be ethical.  Neither am I; and Gavura provides a terrific outline of why placebos generally don't have a place in clinical treatment, tackling the ethical issues with more authority than I can pretend to.

As a patient, I don't want my doctor to deceive me with a fairy-tale medication, even if it means I have to grapple with an inconvenient truth.  Bottom line: a patient has the  right to provide informed consent.  One can only do so if they're provided with facts—not a vial of what's really nothing more than water.

...And Then Someone Asked "Why?"

I don't, frankly, have a whole lot to say about this one; I have been an outspoken, if somewhat intellectually lazy, critic of philosophy as a worthwhile endeavor, though I'll admit to using the term loosely, often referring more to the lame mental ejaculate that commonly passes for insight.

Katja Grace on the matter, from Meteuphoric:

...It matters whether the methods that were successful at providing insights in what were to become fields like psychology and astronomy—those which brought definite answers within reach—were methods presently included in philosophy. If they were not, then the fact that the word ‘philosophy’ has come to apply to a smaller set of methods which haven’t been successful does not particularly suggest that such methods will become successful in that way.

At any rate, the utility of philosophy is worth considering.  My sneaking suspicion is that the conjecture and loose framing of conceptual questions provided by philosophical thought is an important starting point.  Eventually, though, scientific inquiry takes over, redefines, and, ideally, answers the  questions we've posed.  In some cases, science viciously neuters philosophies.  For instance, those philosophers who continue to idly ponder the nature of the universe—its structure, the implications of its existence, etc.—would probably do well to let physicists answer those questions.

Perhaps philosophy is, in some respects, more equipped to investigate social and intellectual issues than it is problems with supposedly quantifiable solutions.

The Freedom to Compete

I've tried to follow the Net Neutrality wars over the past year or so, and I've been an advocate of the FCC baring its teeth for once to stand up to the telecommunications corporations.  (How long can an organization be so preoccupied with tits on TV, after all?)  Sadly, they offered a watered down plan and made too many concessions to the oligopoly that currently owns the pipe.  My interest in this regard is not in more or less regulation, but in good regulation.  As I see it, if too much regulation ends up stifling positive competition, then it should be loosened or done away with.  If the opposite is true, then the market should be regulated accordingly.

In North Carolina's case, municipalities and co-ops have been creating broadband networks that outperform—both in price and in speed—those of Time Warner and other commercial purveyors, but a bill passed the North Carolina House and Senate with veto-proof margins that restricts public competition.  Today, Gov. Perdue failed to veto the bill, perhaps because her veto would have probably been overturned.

Doc Searls explains the nature of the internet in its current capacity:

We also need to recognize that the Internet is a utility and not just the third act (after phone and TV) in the “triple play” that phone and cable companies sell. The Net is more like roads, water, electricity and gas than like TV or telephony (both of which it subsumes). It’s not just about “content” delivered from Hollywood to “consumers,” or about a better way to do metered calls on the old Ma Bell model. It’s about everything you can possibly do with a connection to the rest of the world. The fatter that connection, the more you can do, and the more business can do.

I think Searls is dead-on when he classifies the internet as a utility and then goes on to support the idea that competition related to broadband services, from whatever source, will be crucial to moving our web forward, especially in rural areas where broadband penetration is low.  Searls also posts a letter written to Gov. Perdue by Larry Lessig—whose books Code: Version 2.0 and Remix are two fantastic texts about the potential and future of the internet—that parses the issue as only Lessig could.

Searls' post is still worth a read even though the bill has now formally become law.  He sketches out the basics of why net neutrality needs to be protected at the state level, not just in Washington, as well as why improving internet service will require a multifaceted approach that involves both the cable/telephone companies and municipalities.  Beefing up our broadband  capabilities is not optional; our future requires widespread access to fast, affordable internet.


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