Talk

Letter from a cow

Amit Varma | Updated on January 24, 2018

There are serious issues with my liver, I need antibiotics, the pain is excruciating, and my owners are being forced to treat me with bloodysugar pills!   -  Ryan Ladbrook/shutterstock.com

Amit Verma   -  BUSINESS LINE

News from an English farm on a rule that allows only homoeopathy to treat sick animals

Dear Amit,

Thank you for the recent love song, She Mooooves Me, which you wrote and dedicated to ‘all the cows on Planet Earth’. My friends and I here in England have it on loop on CowTube. There are few humans we like — you lot enslave us, molest us for milk every morning, and slaughter us and sell our meat after that. So we’re not very fond of your species. But you, Amit, we have always liked you, because you understand us, you’re a good listener, and you’re so, so cute! But this is not mere fan mail. I am unwell right now, hugely under the weather, and I need to rant. And like I said, you’re a good listener. So here goes.

I won’t go into the details of my illness with you, except to say it’s not just a mere cold. Serious shit is going down, and I’m in a lot of pain every day. And how am I being treated? With sugar pills. Sugar f****** pills. Oh yes, you may pick your jaw up from the floor now, you don’t want a snail entering while you’re all astonishment. (Happened to Lucy once.) This is for real, so let me quote from a report last month in the London Telegraph.

The report says: ‘British organic farmers are being forced to treat their livestock with homeopathic remedies under European Commission rules branded ‘scientifically illiterate’ by vets. Although homeopathy has been branded as ‘rubbish’ by the government’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, organic farmers have been told they must try it first under an EU directive which came into force last year.’

Yes, that’s right. There are serious issues with my liver, I need antibiotics, the pain is excruciating, and my owners are being forced to treat me with bloody sugar pills! That some humans believe in this nonsense is understandable, you’re a nonsense species, and by all means do whatever you want to yourselves. But why force it on us cows?

I first got to know homeopathy was bunkum thanks to your writings. First, there’s the science behind it. The idea of homeopathy is that the substance that is to be used to treat the patient is so diluted that it is unlikely that there is a single molecule of the substance in the pills the patient ends up consuming. As Martin Gardner once said, it is ‘equivalent to taking one grain of rice, crushing it to a powder, dissolving it in a sphere of water the size of the solar system, with the sun at the centre and the orbit of Pluto at the outside, and then repeating that process 2 million times.’ My mind boggles at imagining the scale of this: not the solar system, but the idiocy.

Naturally, homeopathy doesn’t work. The standard scientific way of testing medicines is via double-blind placebo-controlled tests, and homeopathy has repeatedly failed those. I have read accounts of this in two great books you recommended, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst. I no longer have copies of those books — let’s just say that they’ve been chewed and digested — but I strongly recommend them to all those who wish to argue with me on the subject.

My friend Lucy is not into books, though — that’s why her brain is full of grass. And she said to me the other day, “Well, I had indigestion from accidentally swallowing a snail, and I was given homeopathy, and now I’m fine. So surely it works.” I get this all the time, which proves that some cows can be as thick as some humans. So I explained to Lucy the fallacies in such thinking.

First, I told her about the placebo effect. Sometimes, even if you’ve been given a pill containing no medicine at all, if you think you’ve been given proper medicine, you start responding to it. In Bad Science, Goldacre wrote about an American anaesthetist during World War II, Henry Beecher, who had to perform an operation on a soldier with ‘horrific injuries’. Morphine wasn’t available so he used salt water. And it worked! The placebo effect is an incredibly powerful and well-documented effect, which is why when new medicines are tested, they are tested against placebos. Only if they do better than placebos are they considered effective. Homeopathic medicines always fail these tests, because hey, they’re just sugar pills as well.

Another phenomenon I explained to Lucy is regression to the mean. Many ailments work in a natural cycle, where you get worse and then get better, quite on your own. This is true for colds, backaches, migraines, and also Lucy’s indigestion. But if you are inclined to believe that a particular treatment works, you will take the medicine, get better on your own, and ascribe it to the medicine. This is the Confirmation Bias at work, and also that other one, I forget the name, you write about it often, which mistakes correlation for causation.

Anyway, so I patiently explained all this to Lucy, and you know what she did? She said, “Whatever!” Then she swished her tail, turned around and stepped into a pile of her own dung. I’d do a facepalm if I could.

Anyway, enough ranting. I just want to thank you again for your song. If you’re visiting England, please come over to the farm and meet the girls, we’d be sooooo happy. We can’t offer much in terms of hospitality, but I’ll gladly share my sugar pills with you.

Yours forever,

Dorothy (but you can call me Dotty, tee hee).

Amit Varma is a novelist. He blogs at indiauncut.com

Follow Amit on Twitter @amitvarma

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on May 29, 2015
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor