When I finally submitted the article to the Hindustan Times in early January, I was surprised that the person who commissioned article was unhappy with my use of the words **bunkum**, **quackery** and **pseudoscience** in relation to homeopathy. She went on to write: “*While we agree that it is important to debunk myths about alternative medicine, we would also like to avoid lawsuits!*”

I tried to point out that there was nothing wrong with the article, but she replied: “*This may spiral out of control, considering the wide reach of the magazine. We would much rather be cautious, that’s all.*” In the next email, she wrote: “*We do not want to indulge in name-calling in the magazine. Using pejorative words doesn’t help in building up an argument – and removing the aforementioned words will not change the nature of the article at all! And if we carry the piece, I’m afraid, I must insist on certain words to be removed.*”

It is not my finest piece of writing, and it does not say anything that has not been said before, but I find it shocking that the Hindustan Times is so reluctant to offend anyone. Or maybe I am being unreasonable?

You can decide for yourself, as the article that I submitted is pasted below. If the HIndustan Times would like to shed any further light on their decision then I would be happy to include its response in full and uncensored.

]]>Whenever I return to India, I am always unpleasantly surprised at the popularity of homeopathy. I hear of senior political figures endorsing this quackery. I read that PM Narendra Modi has appointed a minister whose portfolio includes homeopathy. And I see that Bollywood stars endorse this pseudoscience.

Perhaps I should not be so surprised, after all the situation is very similar in London, where I currently live. We have several senior politicians in the House of Commons who believe in the power homeopathy, we have a National Health Service that wastes money on these pointless pills and we also have celebrities who endorse the biggest joke in medicine.

So, how did this peculiar form of medicine (which believes in the ridiculous notion of diluting ingredients to the point of non-existence) become so popular in both Europe and India?

Homeopathy was invented in Germany in the late 1700s, and soon became popular among the gentry in Paris and London. In 1829, Dr Martin Honigberger, a Transylvanian physician, brought it to India when he joined the court of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. The idea then spread rapidly, prospering largely because it was perceived as being in opposition to the imperialist medicine practised by the British. Attitudes towards British medicine were so negative that vaccination programmes failed dismally in the mid-nineteenth century.

Moreover, Indians who wanted to pursue a career in conventional medicine often encountered prejudice when they attempted to join the Indian Medical Service, so a more realistic career option was to train to be a homeopathic practitioner. It was also felt that homeopathy and the Ayurvedic system of medicine could work together in harmony.

As the decades passed, tens of millions of Indians came to rely on homeopathy for their healthcare, and this European invention is now firmly embedded in the Indian culture of healthcare. And, back in Europe, homeopathy still remains popular in Britain, France and Germany.

Given its long history and global popularity, what makes me so sure that homeopathy is bunkum?

Homeopaths will tell you that they have plenty of happy patients. Even more impressively, a study of 6,500 patients at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital over six years concluded that 70% of them showed clinical improvements following homeopathic treatment. However, there are many reasons beyond homeopathy that might explain why these patients reported that they felt better, including the body’s own healing abilities, conventional medicine and the placebo effect.

In order to set aside the issue of the placebo effect, homeopaths will often cite how pets and babies seem to get better after taking homeopathic remedies. They argue that pets and babies have no expectations and so cannot exhibit placebo responses. However, both pets and babies may react positively to the loving care of their owners or parents, and we should not underestimate the temporary effect of a shot of sugar, particularly on a baby who is teething. On top of this, those who report apparent improvements are not unbiased observers, but presumably believers in homeopathy who want their loved ones to get better.

Homeopaths will often state that some conventional doctors prescribe homeopathy. Some do, but many do not. In fact, the overwhelming majority of real doctors think homeopathy is pseudoscience. After all, homeopaths typically dilute their remedies until they contain no actual ingredients. Even though zero was invented in India, I suspect that most Indians would spurn the ridiculous notion of pills containing zero.

Of course, the ultimate factor in deciding whether or not homeopathy works is putting it to the scientific test. The bad news is that after 200 years and after more than 200 clinical trials, there is no good evidence that homeopathy works for any condition whatsoever.

Last year, Australia’s

National Health and Medical Research Councilreviewed the evidence for homeopathy in relation to 61 health conditions and concluded that “…the evidence from research in humans does not show that homeopathy is effective for treating the range of health conditions considered.” It was the latest in a long line of such damning assessments.Without doubt, conventional medicine is far from perfect, and I could write an entire article pointing out its many flaws. However, compared to the quackery of homeopathy, conventional medicine is positively miraculous. Indeed, many readers of this article would not be alive if it were not for vaccinations and antibiotics alone. When we are ill, we need to turn to treatments that have been shown to work. This does not just mean pharmaceuticals, but also nutrition, exercise and counseling and other so-called evidence-based medicines.

Those politicians and celebrities who have more money than sense will no doubt continue to rely on homeopathic pills, but the rest of us should be smarter and spurn it.

Mrs Singh’s (AKA Anita Anand) book SOPHIA is about Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who served as a nurse at one of the hospitals in Brighton, where Indian soldiers returning from the Western Front were being treated – Hindus and Sikhs who died in Brighton were cremated at the Chattri, about 5 miles north of Brighton.

There is an annual memorial service, but visitors can access the Chattri any time – it is less than a thirty minute walk across the South Downs. There is a “how to get there” page on the Chattri website, but it is not particularly clear so below is a map that shows the route across a couple of fields. From the starting point (the lower red circle), just head NNW across an open field. Once you reach the gate/style, you should soon be able to see the Chattri in the distance.

*N.B. Via twitter, @jonathanhearsey pointed out: “Just keep away from the cows… they are truly vicious blighters. Pumped up on steroids, I reckon. Worse if you have a dog.”*

The episode (written by Judd Apatow) has not yet aired in the UK, but my understanding is that a visiting hypnotist (Sven Golly) puts Cletus into a trance and we hear him confidently stating: “Thereby proving Zorn’s lemma.”

Sven Golly snaps his fingers, breaks the trance and Cletus responds: “Dang, look at all them hobo signs. My head bone hurts.”

Zorn’s lemma already appears in “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets“, mentioned in a couple of jokes in Examination IV:

**Joke 4**

Q: What’s brown, furry, runs to the sea, and is equivalent to the axiom of choice?

A: Zorn’s lemming.

**Joke 5**

Q: What’s yellow and equivalent to the axiom of choice?

A: Zorn’s lemon.

Zorn’s lemma is not trivial. One of clearest explanations appears on REDDIT provided by Hydreigon92: “*Formally, Zorn’s lemma states that if we have a partially ordered set P such that all completely ordered subsets have an upper bound in P, then P contains a maximal element. He proved it around 80 years ago. For an example, let P = {1,2,3,4,5} (this set is totally ordered, so it satisfies the partially ordered criterion), and we use the standard order on the natural numbers where 1 < 2 < 3 < 4 < 5. Take any arbitrary subset of these five numbers, X = {1, 3, 5}. Is there an element (a) in P such that for all x in X, x <= a? The answer is yes, where a* = 5. This a* works for all subsets X, and a* exists in P, so a* is an upper bound in P. Zorn’s Lemma tells us that this set P = {1,2,3,4,5} has a maximal element, which we know to be 5.*“

The episode ends with Maggie holding a flag that reads: Je Suis Charlie.”

]]>**6/7 March Dubai (Emirates Literary Festival)**

**14 March Cambridge Science Festival**

**25 March Leeds W.P. Milne Lecture for 6th formers
**

**14 April Manchester** **Literary and Philosophical Society **

** **

]]>

CONGRAT-

ULATIONS

YOU’RE A

NERD

(A) **Fermat’s Little Theorem** – the basis for the Fermat primality test, as discussed by James Grime on Numberphile.

(B) **The Riemann Hypothesis** – an unsolved conjecture, one of the Clay Millennium Problems, and worth $1 million if you can prove (or disprove it). More at Numberphile (explained brilliantly by @EdFrenkel).

(C)** The Prime Number Theorem** – describes the distribution and density of primes. Again more at the wonderful Numberphile.

(D) **The Travelling Salesman Problem** – a problem that asks: “Given a list of cities and the distances between them, what’s the shortest possible route that visits each city once and returns to the first city”. The statement in Bender’s head states that the TSP belongs to the set of problems that can be solved in so-called ‘polynomial time’, but nobody has yet proven this statement. This is the third time that the writers of *The Simpsons* and *Futurama* have touched on this area, which revolves around the problem of *P v NP*, More at PLUS, which also looks at a film based on the problem.

(E) **The Riemann zeta function set to zero** – this sets up the Riemann hypothesis in (C). Again, there is an excellent explanation at Numberphile. Watch it carefully and you will be able to grasp the most important problem in modern mathematics.

Obviously, none of this appears in my book “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets”, but I will probably add to the epilogue in a few years time.

In the meantime, you might like to take a look at this video about Simpsorama by @preshtalwalkar or take a look at the brilliant Infosphere website, which has a page dedicated to Simpsorama.

*PS. Thanks to Rob Low, Jon Woodcock, @MattBecker82, @timlimbim (Tim and Joel Cawte) & @HenstridgeSJ for their help in deciphering equation (E).*

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A** Spanish** translation of The Simpsons & Their Mathematical Secrets

(Los simpson y las Matematicas)

**German** translations of Fermat’s Last Theorem (Fermats Letzter Satz)

Simplified **Chinese** translation of The Code Book

An **Italian** translation of Fermat’s Last Theorem (L’Ultimo Teorema di Fermat)

An **Italian** translation of The Simpsons & Their Mathematical Secrets

(La Formula Segreta dei Simpson)

A **Japanese** edition of Trick or Treatment

To get a signed copy, just email me which translation you would like and your address via http://www.simonsingh.net/contact/

Then, after the book has safely arrived, please donate £20 to Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

Simon.

]]>I was delighted to see my own libel case set to the tune of “A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One*“.* The song sheet is further below, and better still you can hear a verse of Professor Todd’s lyrics being performed by clicking the play button.

Last month the Al Jean (exec producer of THE SIMPSONS) and David X. Cohen (exec producer of FUTURAMA) came to London for a special event at the Science Museum to discuss mathematics. Below are some pictures from their visit to the museum. There is also a blog about the event, including some great video clips from our discussion.

]]>The book does not contain the calculations required to derive the mass, but Megan Schmidt has kindly shown her workings, which are at the bottom of the page. (BTW Megan has a mathematics blog called MathyBeagle.) ]]>