Homeopathy :-S

One could say that in this blog, I focus too much on UK science policy news, or generally UK science-related events, trends etc. I have to admit, I find them a tiny bit easier to understand, given that I did all my studying in the UK. But there is another reason why I focus on the UK. I am still a bit scared to look at what is happening in Greece.

Probably in 2002, as a naive 2nd year undergraduate, right in the middle of my tree-hugging phase, I looked online to find out what my government’s views were on GM. I was against GM back then, so I was happy to read that the Greek government was too. However, the reality was very different. Since the government did very little to control GM crops, there were many GM fields in Greece. If I remember correctly, they had to burn huge areas when they found out about them, in order to show they were truly against GM. I was very disappointed to say the least.

My problem with science policy issues – e.g. libel law, abortion, animal rights, MMR, homeopathy, etc – is that I have huge gaps in my knowledge, since I only recently started to be interested in them. I have no idea what are the facts, what are the arguments for and against, for many of these issues. Immersed in my world of theoretical genomics, I did not really pay attention when I was in the UK. This was a good thing in a way, because I managed to get my PhD very young, but on the other hand, I now feel completely overwhelmed. Don’t worry, you might say, there is plenty of time. You are right.

Homeopathy is one of the issues I know nothing about in terms of policy. I have met people of course that use it regularly, but i have no idea what is going on exactly with doctor certification, government expenditure, etc.

I have to admit that when I was 13 I went to a homeopathic practitioner. Well, I did not have an appointment as such: I was on holiday with my parents and a common friend of theirs told me to go visit the practitioner at his holiday home. The reason she sent me was that when she gave me a massage, she found that apparently “I had too much garbage in me”. I did not do the therapy he suggested for long – it was ridiculous! – and the whole story was forgotten. I still remember how traumatising the “garbage” thing was. But then again a lot of doctors have told me a lot of traumatising things, so that is a different story.

I only recently found out about the efforts of Dr Evan Harris and many many others, to make sure that there is proof that all homeopathic drugs provided by the NHS improve people’s health better than a placebo. This is an idea that makes COMPLETE sense to me and I am finding it very hard to understand why would someone not agree with such a statement. Also, I only recently found out that homeopathic medicines are so diluted that the chances that you actually get what it says on the label are almost zero.

This is how far my knowledge stretches on the issue in the UK, and I have not had the time to find out what the situation is like in Greece.

Until yesterday.

It all started when my boss told me in the middle of a completely unrelated conversation “Don’t you know about George Vithoulkas?”. Of course I hadn’t. “He got the Alternative Nobel Prize, look him up!”, he continued. My boss is a bit like President Bartlett in the West Wing: he makes me look up completely unrelated things just for the shake of it (I have to say, I do not mind when he does this, given how poor my general knowledge is). So… I looked him up.

George Vithoulkas:

studied homeopathy in South Africa and received a diploma in homeopathy from the Indian Institute of Homeopathy in 1966. Upon receiving his diploma, he returned to Greece where he practiced and began teaching classical homeopathy to medical doctors at what eventually became the Center of Homeopathic Medicine in Athens. In 1972, Vithoulkas started a Greek homeopathic journal, Homeopathic Medicine. In 1976, he organized the first of an annual series of International Homeopathic Seminars. In 1994, he opened the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy on Alonissos, which provides post-graduate training for homeopaths

Vithoulkas has authored a number of books on homeopathy, two of which “Homeopathy: Medicine of the New Man” and “The Science of Homeopathy” have been translated extensively, and is currently writing Materia Medica Viva, a homeopathic materia medica or reference work on homeopathic remedies, to reach 16 volumes when finished.

All this won him in 1996 the Right Livelihood Award – known as the Alternative Nobel Prize – for his outstanding contribution to Classical Homeopathy.

Maybe he knows how outrageous it is that a postgraduate course for homeopaths exists officially at a Greek University, since he seems almost surprised when he boasts about it on his website:

But the climax of homeopathy’s educational recognition in Greece is the publication in the FEK (Government’s Gazette) (1912/issue b’, 29.12.2006) regarding the authorization for a Program of Master Degree Studies in the University of the Aegean for medical doctors and dentists with the title “Holistic Alternative Therapeutic Systems–Classical Homeopathy” (duration: 2 years- http://www.syros.aegean.gr/homeopathy). In this Program of Master Degree Studies will participate the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy and Professor George Vithoulkas.

What is the name of department that this course belongs to? The Department of “Product and Systems Design Engineering”. This department which also provides one graduate studies program (5-year B.Eng. degree: Product and Systems Design Engineering) and another MSc studies program (Design of Interactive and Industrial Products and Systems).

In what parallel universe does a homeopathy course fit in a university that is mainly focused on engineering? How did the government give its consent for such a course??

My boss told me that it is the only postgraduate course in Europe on Homeopathy. I briefly looked it up and discovered that it is definitely not the only one: there is the Homeopathy by e-learning at School of Nursing & Caring Sciences, University of Central Lancashire.

Then I read at the website of the European Committee for Homeopathy

Postgraduate training courses in homeopathy for doctors are provided at universities in Bulgaria, France, Italy, Lithuania and Spain, in other countries at private teaching centres.
Homeopathy is an official part of the Continuous Education Programme for doctors in Hungary and Romania.
A lectureship specifically for homeopathy exists only in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), a professorial chair of CAM including homeopathy in Hungary (Pécs) and Switzerland (Bern).

And I quote only the part on postgraduate courses. There is more on where this came from.

So… On the positive side, Greece is not the only country that provides approved university MSc courses on homeopathy. On the negative side, one of the internationally most recognized supporters of Homeopathy is Greek.

Given that the positive side is not that positive and the negative side is very negative, this is of course a very disappointing reality.

But… why am I surprised?

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