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You are here: BBC > Science & Nature > TV & Radio Follow-up > Horizon
BBC Two, Tuesday 26 November, 9pm
Homeopathy: The Test

Homeopathy: The Test - webchat with James Randi

James Randi went online to answer your questions about homeopathy, the Horizon experiment and his approach to debunking pseudoscience. This is a transcript of the questions he was asked and his responses.

Lee Cook: Do you think that homeopathy is okay if it makes someone "feel" better, even if it is only in their mind?

James Randi: Heroin also make people feel better, but I wouldn't recommend using heroin.

James Randi: Feeling better is not actually being better.

JohnkBristol: What commercial impact do you think that this episode of Horizon should have, and what impact do you think it will have in reality?

James Randi: I think it will have very little impact, unfortunately...

James Randi: I have been through similar situations where believers will insist on believing despite the evidence no matter how strong that is.

BrianM: James, were you ever worried that you would lose the million, you looked a bit tense early in the results

James Randi: Bear in mind that I am also an actor.....

stuzza: which paranormal or psuedoscience do you think will win the million?

James Randi: I don't expect that the million will ever be won, simply because there is no confirming evidence for any paranormal claims to date.

James Randi: Tomorrow, who knows?

chrism: Have you been given any explanation as to how the 'memory of water' works

James Randi: Yes, I've been given many long and very boring explanations...

James Randi: None of them are plausible, none of them are likely to be true and I believe that Horizon has established the reason for all this.

zarbid: Have you tried using homeopathy for your self?

James Randi: No. I haven't. I am far too busy with handling a real world, and I owe my life to orthodox medicine.

john1: whats the strangest claim you have had maide to you?

James Randi: This is an impossible question to answer. I have had people claim that they actually make the sun rise every morning,..

James Randi: and I've offered to test them by shooting them, to see if the sun rises the next morning.

James Randi: So far all these people have not responded to my endeavours.

king: will you ever consider using homeopathu if you had an illness that could not be cured

James Randi: No, for the simple reason that I can't waste my time when I'm sick. I would much rather pursue something which has a track record of being effective.

James Randi: ...I would also resist praying to idols and doing incantations.

robin: Have you ever lost any of your bets?

James Randi: First of all, this is not a bet. It's a prize offer. And, no, we have never lost a dollar or a pound of the million that we offer..

neorattler: Do you think that it would ethical for the medical profession to prescribe homeopathy accepting that it is nothing more than a placebo?

James Randi: I think that it would be an excellent move for the medical community to do this, but knowing these..

James Randi: people, I expect that they will choose to be "politically correct".

matt: How many people have actually gone through all of the experiments as part of your challenge, only to be proved wrong?

James Randi: First understand that there is always a preliminary test that would proceed the formal test..

James Randi: We have only put one hundred or so people through the preliminaries, and they have all..

James Randi: failed. There are many more who apply, but they don't seem to be able to make a statement..

James Randi: about what they can actually do.

MoRiAR: What is your motivation for putting up a million? Is it to reinforce your stance on the paranormal or are you encouraging people to investigate things that interest them?

James Randi: I have no "stand" on the paranormal. I merely wish to find what is truth, and what is not.

James Randi: The million dollar offer came about when I was challenged to "put my money where my mouth is"..

James Randi: and it's been in place for years now.

biodeterministjoe: hey Randi, much respect for putting your money out there in this challenge, can you really afford to lose the million $$$

James Randi: First, it's not my million dollars. It belongs to the foundation that I represent and judging..

James Randi: from so many past encounters - and tonight's Horizon programme - that money if pretty safe.

Vista: If the results were positive, would you still be sceptical?

James Randi: Yes, I will always be sceptical of things that are not likely to be true. Now, Sophia Loren,

James Randi: that's a different matter.

blah: would you have taken the results from the programme as final ? or would you have asked for a "recount" if it hadn't gone your way

James Randi: I think I declared myself quite firmly, in advance, and that's the way I do all my business.

Aidan: What separates a homeopathist from a confidence trickster. We don't like to be conned so why do you think people accept homeopathy?

James Randi: I really think that most homeopaths believe that their practice is genuine..

James Randi: That's hard to believe, I know, but my experience in this field has shown me that the true believer will ignore all contrary evidence because he or she needs something to be true.

max: Do you classify religion with the paranormal?

James Randi: Yes, I certainly do. The only difference is that religion is much better organised and has been around much longer, but it's the same story with different characters and different costumes.

briz: There seems to be a lot of money to be made in homeopathy, does this anger you?

James Randi: There is a lot of money to be made in all forms of quackery and in other scams.

James Randi: This is a matter of history, which teaches us that honest people often don't do as well as the con artist.

jaimielou: do you believe that homeopathy is basically a way for people to get counselling for their problems which in turn helps them to get well through psychological means?

James Randi: Any form of quackery can encourage the patient in his or her battle against illness.

James Randi: The big question here is, in my opinion, whether or not "feeling better" is what we are looking for,

James Randi: or recovery.

James Randi: Oh yes, of course. No amount of evidence will ever disabuse the true believer and, there is a lot of money in homeopathy.

SteveC: Do you believe acupuncture is quackry or real?

James Randi: Acupuncture is just a much older form of quackery. We have offered our million dollar prize..

James Randi: to the acupuncturists too. Where are they?

checkmate: Were you always a skeptic?

James Randi: Yes, because I've always been a thinking person. Skepticism is not a bad attitude at all.

James Randi: If we have more skeptics we would have more problems.

strumpet: Is there anything you believe in that you can not prove?

James Randi: Oh yes! I believ in the basic goodness of people but I can't prove that until I've met every

James Randi: person on Earth. I'm sceptical only about those things which appear unlikely to be true.

ioan: Do you agree it would a dull world without hope?

James Randi: I don't quite see the intent of your questions. Hope should be based upon evidence, in my

James Randi: opinion, and it should be evidence that is satisfactory to the task at hand.

JP: If we cannot prove something according to modern science then we label it as quackery. May be our science is not upto proving it yet?

James Randi: There are many things that science has not proven and perhaps will not ever be able to prove.

James Randi: Then again, designating something as quackery because it has not been proven, is not ridiculous.

blah: do you believe in life after death?

James Randi: No.

spoon_bender: are americans easier to scam than brits?

James Randi: Since I've never tried to scam either side of the ocean I really wouldn't know. However, from

James Randi: my experience I would expect that there is equal naivete on both sides of the Atlantic or Pacific.

Baz: Du you feel that there is a general increase in gullibility among the general public for this sort of thing?

James Randi: There has always been a great deal of naivete, and I think it is only easier to access information through the media and the internet.

merlin: Do you think there are still areas of science that we don't understand? Does your money cover explanations of such areas?

merlin: Do you think there are still areas of science that we don't understand? Does your money cover explanations of such areas?

James Randi: Yes, of course, or we would close all of the science glasses, fold our hands and go to sleep.

James Randi: Our prize is available to claims of pseudo-science and we have to be prepared to handle new developments in real science as well.

Paul_B: Does your innate skepticism not bias your investigations?

James Randi: Good question. No, we designed all of our tests in such a way that personal biaises or preferences cannot enter into the process.

James Randi: See our webpage for details. (You can find the link on www.bbc.co.uk/horizon)

_OliverHaskell: Would you personally drink a glass of homeopathic-strength viper poison?

James Randi: Yes, and I have done so in the past. We have used strychnine and arsenic in those tests.

James Randi: I also consumed sixty four times the prescribed dosage of homeopathic sleeping pills and didn't even feel drowsy.

James Randi: I did this before a meeting of the US congress - which if that doesn't put you to sleep, nothing will.

atbarnes: how do you explain the posative results, in the two earlier experiments, shown in the documentary ?

James Randi: I strongly suspect that there might have been unknown and unrecognised influences brought to bear.

James Randi: Recent experiments on homeopathy done in the United States have shown that when one certain

James Randi: person was actively involved in the experimentation, they were always positive.

James Randi: When that person was absent, that experiment showed no results. This is an interesting thing to think about.

James Randi: I am also curious about why Dr Ellis changed her mind about participating in the Horizon experiments.

Vista: If the scientific world at large accepted homeopathy, would you change your skeptism?

James Randi: Not necessarily.

James Randi: Us scientists make mistakes, too. Thus if very firm evidence, in repeatable double-blind experiments were produced, I would certainly accept them and

James Randi: I would put my million dollars up as well.

mikeuk: Do you think that more experiments need to be done to confirm the results in the programme?

James Randi: I would certainly encourage more experiments to be done so long as there were done with the same rigour as the Horizon tests.

James Randi: However, I believe that it would be difficult to have legitimate scientists agree to participate.

Webgnu: What are your views on the apparent positive effects of homeopathic remedies on animals?

James Randi: The problem with those experiments has always been that human beings make the decisions on whether or not the animals have benefitted from the treatment.

James Randi: If we were to see experiments done with animals in a double-blind fashion, and those proved to be positive, I would accept them as evidence of homeopathy's efficacy.

Time for a final word from James Randi.

James Randi: I was not surprised by the results of the Horizon experiments, but I remain willing to observe and consider any and all other tests that are done under similarly precise conditions. I do not expect that homeopathy will ever be established as a legitimate form of treatment, but I do expect that it will continue to be popular.


 
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