BBC Radio 4: The Life of Samuel Hahnemann

This the BBC Radio 4 programme that was on today about the Life of Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homeopathy. It is well worth a listen.

This is not a programme about whether homeopathy works or not. But an examination of the place of Hahnemann in medical history. It is an interesting history of the thought processes that led to homeopathy. I think thought it overstates Hahenmann's medical legacy. Peter Fisher claims that Hahnemann innovated with an empirical approach to medical matters. I am not so sure. Hahnemann was just one of may Empiricals that practised throughout the Golden Age of quackery in the 18th Century. They were known as quacks as they ignored the learned theories of the ancients in medicine. The Empiricals were often non university educated travelling sellers of nostrums and tonics, but included the likes of methodist John Wesley who insisted that theory counted for nothing and direct testing was everything. Nor was Hahnemann as advanced in his empirical thinking as others, who were far more sophisticated in understanding how we can be fooled by simple empirical observation.

Homeopathy survived, not because of some great insight into health, but by stumbling across a set of ideas that ensured it was immune to refutation, was alluring to many and unable to do direct harm.

Fascinatingly, Hahnemann comes across with an attitude that would be indistinguishable from any modern day homeopathic activist or blogger. He was angry and  abusive. He saw nothing but the evils of the modern mainstream medicine of the time. His lectures were rants. And students would come, not to hear his ideas, but to laugh at his presentation style. It would be nice to think that the anger in Hahnemann is the reason that homeopaths, most of all followers of superstitious medicines, are a uniquely angry lot, convinced of the superiority of their world view, and histrionic at the evils of doctors and their drugs.

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