guardian.co.uk, Saturday November 22 2008 00.01 GMT
The Guardian, Saturday November 22 2008
I have a cold (and they're worse than you remember when you're well). Throughout the nation, homeopaths and self-declared nutrition therapists are celebrating. More importantly, I know that there is almost nothing I can do, except sit it out, and wait. Vitamin C will shave a few hours off it, at high doses, like 7g a day, which I can happily live without.
Although literally anything I try will appear, to me, to work: because unless I'm seroconverting with HIV (not that I'm prone to hypochondria) I will get better anyway. This is the natural history of the illness, and it's true with most things. When your back pain is at its worst and you visit your doctor - or your friendly local spoonbender - it's bound to get better, because these things come in cycles, or as statisticians say, they "regress to the mean". You can look at regression to the mean mathematically, if you like. On Bruce Forsyth's Play Your Cards Right, when Brucey puts a three on the board, the audience all shout: "Higher!" because they know the odds are that the next card is going to be higher than a three. "Do you want to go higher or lower than a jack? Higher?" "Lower!"
So I could take homeopathy. Or I could, equally stupidly, harass my GP for antibiotics, even though they are ineffective in treating a viral cold.
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