This article may piss several groups of People off... sorry. (Or maybe just one group, skip to end!)
Homoeopaths claim that if you dilute an ingredient many, many thousands of times, until none of the original ingredient is left in the water, the ‘memory' of it in the water itself is somehow potent and active.
(Yeah, water has memory, sure. What's so odd about that? Just go with it.)
Search Engine Optimists, sorry, Optimisers (SEOs) claim that if you give them monthly fees for them to tinker with the content on your website you will see improvements in your search engine ranking.
The homoeopath will point to the results, saying “Look, your arm/leg/sleeplessness/flatulence is ‘better' so it must have been my remedy that helped."
The SEO will point to their tinkering and say “It was our inclusion of that word in the meta tags that brought about a minute improvement in your search engine positioning."
How do we know either of those things are true?
In science (or programming for that matter) there's an easy way of testing such things. You test the initial state, make a single change, test again. The difference in the results can reasonably be attributed to the change because nothing else has changed that could have caused it.
Homoeopaths don't really do this though. You toddle off with your sugar pills and take them for a couple of weeks. Along with whatever else you fancy eating; steak, chips, chocolate, beer, fags, papaya... You breathe air, any lungful of which contains more active ingredient than that whole tub of sugar pills. In the mean time, your massively evolved immune system has been busy working away on your arm/leg/sleeplessness/flatulence, and low and behold, it's got a little bit better.
The SEOs don't test either. They all - all - admit that they don't know how Google works. So how can they possibly know that the change in your site's positioning can be attributed to their hard work rather than some arbitrary whim of the Google developers? For that matter, your site is in constant flux in relation to the billions of other websites out there, all of which affect each other's ranking. Your site's rise or fall is as much about the other sites as it is your own.
So both SEO's and homoeopaths claim improvements when they have no way of proving that they are responsible. (I suspect that both groups also blame external factors when no such improvement is shown.)
SEO and homoeopathy both show surprising similarities to religion or superstition. Water has memory... ooooh! Google is a benificent being; make tribute and it will look kindly upon thee!
I would love to have some factual backup for this, but hey - that doesn't stop the SEOs and homoeopaths, so why should I let it stop me! Anyway, I suspect that if you drew a Venn diagram with SEOs in one circle and homoeopaths in the other, there'd be a very big crossover.
Like I say, that's pure speculation.
Anyway, if it works for you to spend your money on un-provable remedies for your person or your website, feel free. There'll always be some charlatan willing to take it off your hands.
Not everything a ‘holistic' practitioner does is homoeopathy. Not everything you buy in health shops and alternative chemists is homoeopathy. Homoeopathy is specifically about the extreme dilution of ingredients. In other words the drop of ‘ultra-molecular' (ahem) water they place on those little white pills. If you use arneca ointment for example, as opposed to arneca tablets then that's something different - the very act of rubbing something on your skin (we call that ‘massage') and the other ingredients in the ointment are likely to have a real, measurable effect.
© Jamie Freeman 2010. Jamie is the founder/director of Message, one of Brighton's oldest web design companies. He's been doing this stuff for 15 years and knows something about the subject.
Magpie illustration by permission Salter Cane