The cancellation of an event on homeopathy that should have been held in the Pharmacy department of the University of Catania has created doubts and fears about the democratic nature of science. That's why it's a decision not to be afraid of
On March 15, as I had indicated on this page, a day dedicated to students entitled "the reality of homeopathy" should have been held at the pharmacy department of the University of Catania, with an introduction by its director.
The event has been cancelled, apparently due to the direct intervention of the rector, prof. Francesco Priolo: thanks to a physicist, we have obtained a demonstration of seriousness from the Catania academy, which has kept the most classic pseudoscientific theory on the subject at the door of an institution dedicated to drug sciences.
Of course, as expected, along with the many who breathed a sigh of relief, there are some who have expressed doubts of various kinds. I am not referring here to the homeopathic advocates, conspiracy theorists or other sort of assorted dupes, who have become enraged at the lack of credit given to one of their favorite hoaxes; instead I am talking about people who express a more general doubt, a doubt that returns whenever limits are placed on the free expression of opinion in an institutional forum.
They, to summarize it with the words of one of my kind readers, state the following: “homeopathy is water and sugar. Little more. But this doesn't scare me, I'm more afraid of the risk that in order to make people understand it is wrong and risky to cure themselves with water and little more, we almost have to impose ourselves and impose the scientific method as if it were a religion. In fact, science loses its humble function as an instrument of knowledge."
Now, it is not possible to respond to this objection with slogans such as "science is not democratic". In fact, it is not possible to judge the democratic nature of science, just as it is not possible to speak of the triangularity of a pigeon: they are incommensurable concepts because, as I have already written, they apply to completely different domains; at most, we can find certain common characteristics of equality and democracy between the scientific debate and the parliamentary onein the sense that in both cases, you establish rules that also concern who and how can express themselves, there are no limits that in principle exclude a person from participating, and the majority opinion is the one that counts for establishing what consensus is.
In reality, the point is very different: preventing pseudoscientific drug theories from being proposed to students in an institution devoted to the scientific study of pharmacology, formulating them as "realities" like the others, has the primary function of protecting exactly one of the most on which democracy is based, i.e. correct information. Without this, as jurists well know, every democracy is deprived of its main function, that is of the possibility of being able to guarantee the maximum possible equality and freedom, for the simple reason that in the absence of correct information, and indeed poisoning what little of correct we know about the world, it is possible to direct the democratic machine to make the most wrong decisions and furthest from the collective well-being, as those who use disinformation precisely to undermine democratic institutions well know.
The defense of the function of a pharmacy department, which consists in clearly indicating which are the best theories we have about the functioning of drugs within the modern scientific vision, can therefore only be exercised if, within that institution , any confusion between theories of the like, phosphoric and carbonic constitutions, potentisations and other nonsense that inexhaustibly flow from homeopaths, on the one hand, and the best approximations of the molecular reality of the functioning of drugs that we have today, on the other, must be firmly avoided.
That confusion only benefits those who intend to meet the widespread need to exploit the insufficiencies of the health system (not of medicine itself), making it an opportunity to make money through the sale of water and sugar; and seeing any type of pseudo-knowledge stamped by a university and seeing the base of one's associates enlarged, training future sellers and supporters of the product in the marvels of the "homeopathic diathesis" is a very important and highly coveted step by sellers.
Remaining within the university sphere, it would be different if homeopathy were taught in a department dedicated to the study of cultural traditions and the history of science, or if it were presented as a useful tool for exploiting the placebo effect, or again if, together with the more curious ethnographic traditions on the subject of medicine, was placed in its context, which in all cases is not that of the sciences, but that of the many strands of pseudo-knowledge that have flourished over the millennia.
Nor can it be expected that the debate which has demonstrated since its conception the fallacy of homeopathy and the lack of scientific basis of its theory, can be reiterated indefinitely, as if it had never been concluded that the principle of dilution beyond the Avogadro's threshold or the "materia medica" of homeopathy are incompatible, not complementary, with chemistry, physics and therefore the entire edifice of modern scientific knowledge. The debate on the possibility of reconciling homeopathy and science, in the absence of new facts beyond the placebo effect, it's long over; instead it has been demonstrated that the cognitive poison introduced by convincing people of the reality of certain theories opposed to scientific knowledge, undermines their ability to judge, leading them to make wrong choices for their own health and that of others.
So those who care about democracy should have the opposite fear to that summarized at the beginning of this brief note: they should fear the dilution and confusion of university disciplines founded on rigorous methods of analysis and anchored in science, with all sorts of beliefs that have nothing scientific, for the sole purpose of promoting the market and widening its sharing; should therefore fear not that science becomes religion, but, on the contrary, that beliefs similar to religious ones have passed for science, taking advantage of an improper location and an improper presentation to those who, in the future, could be just among the first sellers of such trifles in pharmacies.
Democracy is indispensable to science, but democracy dies in the disinformation chaos, promoted for the most varied reasons.