Why It Doesn’t Work – Homeopathy

There has been furious debate for years about whether or not homeopathy actually works.  The main contention is that homeopathic blends are created individually for each person based on the determinations of a homeopath.  These results can be explained by what is known as the Placebo Effect. This effect has been explained very well by Dr. Ben Goldacre in this video:

To quote Dr. Stephen Barrett:

Homeopathic products are made from minerals, botanical substances, and several other sources. If the original substance is soluble, one part is diluted with either nine or ninety-nine parts of distilled water and/or alcohol and shaken vigorously (succussed); if insoluble, it is finely ground and pulverized in similar proportions with powdered lactose (milk sugar). One part of the diluted medicine is then further diluted, and the process is repeated until the desired concentration is reached. Dilutions of 1 to 10 are designated by the Roman numeral X (1X = 1/10, 3X = 1/1,000, 6X = 1/1,000,000). Similarly, dilutions of 1 to 100 are designated by the Roman numeral C (1C = 1/100, 3C = 1/1,000,000, and so on). Most remedies today range from 6X to 30X, but products of 30C or more are marketed.

A 30X dilution means that the original substance has been diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Assuming that a cubic centimeter of water contains 15 drops, this number is greater than the number of drops of water that would fill a container more than 50 times the size of the Earth. Imagine placing a drop of red dye into such a container so that it disperses evenly. Homeopathy’s “law of infinitesimals” is the equivalent of saying that any drop of water subsequently removed from that container will possess an essence of redness. Robert L. Park, Ph.D., a prominent physicist who is executive director of The American Physical Society, has noted that since the least amount of a substance in a solution is one molecule, a 30C solution would have to have at least one molecule of the original substance dissolved in a minimum of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of water. This would require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth.

Oscillococcinum, a 200C product “for the relief of colds and flu-like symptoms,” involves “dilutions” that are even more far-fetched. Its “active ingredient” is prepared by incubating small amounts of a freshly killed duck’s liver and heart for 40 days. The resultant solution is then filtered, freeze-dried, rehydrated, repeatedly diluted, and impregnated into sugar granules. If a single molecule of the duck’s heart or liver were to survive the dilution, its concentration would be 1 in 100200. This huge number, which has 400 zeroes, is vastly greater than the estimated number of molecules in the universe (about one googol, which is a 1 followed by 100 zeroes). In its February 17, 1997, issue, U.S. News & World Report noted that only one duck per year is needed to manufacture the product, which had total sales of $20 million in 1996. The magazine dubbed that unlucky bird “the $20-million duck.”

Actually, the laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to the dilution that can be made without losing the original substance altogether. This limit, which is related to Avogadro’s number, corresponds to homeopathic potencies of 12C or 24X (1 part in 1024). Hahnemann himself realized that there is virtually no chance that even one molecule of original substance would remain after extreme dilutions. But he believed that the vigorous shaking or pulverizing with each step of dilution leaves behind a “spirit-like” essence—”no longer perceptible to the senses”—which cures by reviving the body’s “vital force.” Modern proponents assert that even when the last molecule is gone, a “memory” of the substance is retained. This notion is unsubstantiated. Moreover, if it were true, every substance encountered by a molecule of water might imprint an “essence” that could exert powerful (and unpredictable) medicinal effects when ingested by a person.

This brings us to the concept of water memory. My understanding is that a homeopathic remedy is started with distilled water. Water is distilled by boiling the water and then condensing the steam into a clean container, leaving most if not all solid contaminants behind. Yet, if water actually has memory, this would imply that even distilled water would retain the memory of the substance(s) it has come in contact with. This includes everything from concentrated orange juice to human waste.

The head of the British Homeopathic association has been quoted as saying that she doesn’t really know how it works. It just does. Homeopaths use the excuse that medical science doesn’t always understand how medicine works. The difference here is that science is attempting to find out why it works.

Recently homeopaths in Australia have been forced to admit that there is no actual substance in their remedies. See the article here: http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=116560 And here: http://jonn.co.uk/badhomeopathy/modules/news/article.php?storyid=112

In 2005 The Lancet published a body of studies. These studies concluded that homeopathic “remedies” are no better than placebos: http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/AlternativeMedicine/1609

Okay, so if there’s nothing in it, what’s the harm? The problem is that people are using homeopathy instead of medical science to treat themselves and their children. Of course people are entitled to do as they wish with their own bodies. When it comes to eschewing real medical treatment for their children, HERE is where there is a major problem.

http://whatstheharm.net/homeopathy.html 437 people have been harmed or killed due to the use of homeopathy over science.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it doesn’t work.

Thank you for joining me for the first installation of WIDW. I hope you learned something today.

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Belief

I understand that belief in a capital-h higher power is a relatively complex thing. People believe for a number of reasons. I have to wonder though… How much of belief is a coping mechanism for helplessness.

For instance, a loved one is in the hospital with a severe illness. Someone who feels an overwhelming sense of being able to do nothing might turn to something larger than themselves in hopes THAT being can make it better. Perhaps praying, thus perceived as doing something, is better than doing nothing.

Would that then make belief a coping mechanism?

I understand that belief has been a way to make sense of the world. Can it be diluted down to that? Is belief in a higher power just a different form of homeopathy?

What do you think? Is belief a coping mechanism? A form of comfort? A way of making sense of the world?

Best Explanation of the Placebo Effect

Ben Goldacre gives the best explanation for the placebo effect I’ve seen yet. He explains it in such a way that even me, a fledgeling skeptic, can understand it. Even moreso, he explains it so well that *I* could explain it to someone else. Please watch the video here:

Snakeoil Salesman Gets Blasted On Dragon’s Den

Dragon’s Den is a Canadian-based show in which entrepreneurs pitch their products to potential investors. In the second show of the fifth season, the product “Bruce’s Juice” was introduced to the The Dragons (the title bestowed on the investors).

Bruce’s Juice was supposedly extremely purified water that contained “nano silver”. Whether this is colodial silver or some form of homeopathic silver was not made apparent. The entrepeneur claimed that his product can cure colitis, hepatitis, H1N1 and even cancer. The list of ailments this substance could supposedly cure was limitless.

The man had no medical research to back up his claims. He only presented a booklet with a list of ailments the substance in the bottle could supposedly cure.

He was, I am most pleased to say, BLASTED by The Dragons and told to leave.

Watch this sleazy shyster get his ass handed to him here:

Homeopaths Admit It’s Just Water

Thanks to an intentional mass overdose in Australia, homeopaths in that country have been forced to admit that there isn’t even a single molecule of substance in their concoctions. Please see the article here: http://bit.ly/ce6OYn

For those not familiar, homeopathy follows the concept that “like cures like”, so if you’re vomiting, you would take a homeopathic preparation of nox vomica, an agent that makes you vomit. Homeopathic preparations are highly diluted. This is an article about how to make your own homeopathic remedies: http://bit.ly/cM4FW4

As you can see from these instructions, by the time you are done dilluting, there is nothing left of the original substance. There comes a certain point called the Avogadro Constant http://bit.ly/1o0hZQ where, after you have diluted a substance so far, not even a single molecule remains.

Homeopathy relies on a concept called “water memory”. According to them, water retains a “memory” or non-chemical imprint of the original substance. By that reasoning, the water would “remember” everything it has come in contact with. Like, oh, urine, feces, beer, etc.

Thanks goes out to the skeptics who “overdosed” themselves and put their bodies on the line for science.

Filler

I’ve noticed that there are days when places like the Skepchick site has what I would consider filler. Opinions are bandied about concerning a multitude of fluff topics. Often such issues as the Facebook bra color thing and how we fill our down time have been par for the course. Please understand that this is not a criticism of Skepchicks. They rock and I really wish I was one of them.

This is an observation.

As part of the observation, I wonder why this happens. Are there simply not enough news-worthy skeptical topics to cover? Is it that, after a while they simply run out of educational things to talk about all the time? Is it because it offers a break from those times when the stupidity of anti-vaxers, the Catholic Church, religious extremists and conspiracy theorists makes you want to ram your head through a wall??

I think I’ll take door number three.

This is just a guess mind you. After all, I don’t always talk about educational aspects of skepticism. Sometimes we all need a break from the serious.

And so, today we have…Filler!! TADA!

Skeptical Theists

There is, in the skeptical community, an overwhelming number of skeptics who think that it is not possible to be a skeptic and a theist at the same time. The fine folks at www.nonprophetsradio.com have voiced the opinion that while a theist can say they are skeptical about something such as homeopathy or astrology, they cannot call themselves skeptics. According to their statements, if someone still believes in a god, they can only refer to themselves as skeptical.

On the other hand there is Per Johan Rasmark at Skeptic Report (http://skepticreport.com/sr/?p=200) who thinks that it “should not be necessary to explain how it is possible to believe in a God and still be a skeptic, my point of view is that the two things do not overlap…”

My experience with the skeptical community is that a skeptic is a person who has examined their own beliefs and rejected those that have been found to lack a scientific consensus of truth. In other words, if you once believed that homeopathy worked and rejected it on the basis of the evidence then you call yourself a skeptic in regards to homeopathy. Many skeptics think that ALL beliefs should be thoroughly examined and those that do not stand up to scientific scrutiny should be rejected. Unfortunately those who do not reject their religious beliefs have “lost skeptical street cred” according to the Non-Prophets.

I have heard that sentiment echoed throughout the skeptical community. People who still hold a belief in a higher being or beings are scoffed at and not considered skeptics. It has been said that those who maintain a belief can call themselves skeptical but cannot own the title of Skeptic because of that belief.

This sort of bias is damaging. It is one of the reasons that skeptics have such a bad image. We come off as superior and snooty. It seems that if you have a belief in the intangible you can’t come in our clubhouse. This sort of exclusivity has GOT to stop. We ought to be working on growing our community. There are a good number of people out there looking for a skeptical home but because they still hold a belief in a divine being, they are either rejected out of hand or treated as less intelligent. At least until they “come to their senses”.

It is my opinion that someone can maintain a belief in a higher power and still be a skeptic. Analytical thinking is a skill that can be learned by anyone willing to use logic, deductive reasoning and the scientific method. The title of skeptic should not be withheld from those willing to learn and use these new skills.

Every skeptic has started somewhere. Not all of us were born knowing how to be skeptical. Most people have had to overcome their upbringing or self-imposed magical thinking. For those like me, it was an uphill battle and friends were lost along the way. It takes time to become a skeptic and as far as I’m concerned it’s not like earning a boy scout merit badge. If you are learning to be more skeptical, then by damn you ARE a skeptic. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

31 Flavors Of Skeptic

Just like Baskin-Robbins, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. As a whole skepticism can be described as making a judgement about a claim based on the evidence presented. That evidence must be testable. Those results must also be repeatable within a specific margin of error ala statistics. In other words it is a logical fallacy to claim that just because one test yielded a specific result, that result proves the claim conclusively. (For new readers please see previous entries concerning the various types of logical fallacies.)

For instance I read on a science forum that some people are able to see into the near infra-red spectrum. This could explain the claim of being able to see auras. I have not had an opportunity to investigate this claim. There may be evidence to support this. There may not be. In the mean time I am keeping an open mind.

There is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism. A cynic dismisses claims out of hand because they may sound far-fetched like seeing “auras” in the above example. A skeptic, on the other hand, does the research and examines the data looking for credible sources to either verify or refute a claim. It can be really difficult not to be dismissive of a claim that you have already dismissed or accepted. That’s part of being a good skeptic though; learning how to put aside what you think you know and investigating the data even if it is personally uncomfortable or even painful.

I use to believe in all manner of things that do not have supporting testable scientific data. UFOs, magic, Reiki, crystal healing, psychics…name the woo and most of it I believed. Thanks to Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” on Showtime I was introduced to the reality of psychics, auras and many other things. I was also introduced to logical thinking and skepticism. Their shows are a great place to start out. So is George Hrab’s Geologic Podcast http://www.geologicpodcast.com/

As I mentioned in the title of this post, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. James “The Amazing” Randi, a personal hero of mine, has spent his life debunking psychics and those who cause harm with that practice. Other skeptics “debunk” ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, and Nessie.

Other skeptics work on educating the public. At http://www.whatstheharm.net there is information on the kind of harm caused by medical quackery like homeopathy. There are case studies and articles about people who have been permanently harmed or killed by colloidal silver, homeopathy and more.

There are those like the Skepchicks http://skepchick.org/blog that covers a wide array of feminine-related skepticism.

There are skeptics that deal solely with religion. They try to educate people about the fallacies in organized religion. As I said, sometimes being a skeptic can be painful. This is one of those sore points with many people, Here on Fledgeling Skeptic I generally try to avoid mentioning religion since it IS such a sore point.

Then there’s skeptics like me. I try to educate those who are new to the skeptic movement. I talk about what logical fallacies are, how to evaluate evidence, how to use skepticism in daily life and in between I talk about my own experiences and thoughts as a Fledgeling Skeptic.

Ms. Popularity

I may well get kicked out of my school by the end of the term. As many of you know, I started working on my Master’s in Herbalism through the American College of Heathcare Sciences before becoming a skeptic and atheist. A couple months ago the new term started.

In the last module one of the discussion questions asked the students to discuss why we would or would not get our children vaccinated. After taking a deep breath so I didn’t go with my initial “ARE YOU CRAZY YOU FUCKING NUTTERS??” outburst, I posted links to several pro-vacc websites that also detailed WHY vaccines are safe, etc. I just wish that http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.com was up and running. I still linked to the site after mentioning that it is currently down.

What floored me is that one anti-vacc student was told that she did a good job by our instructor and that both sides of the debate had lots of evidence!!! I really don’t know if I can keep going to a school where that kind of thinking is actually ENCOURAGED.

I was hoping that this debate would be skipped over. What’s worse is that this next module discusses homeopathy. I’m going to have to go in and utterly destroy that too.

In the first module many of my classmates discussed how they felt that alternative approaches to Western medicine were valid because they had been around a long time. The underlying tone was one of disdain for science and scientific study.

Herbalism CAN be approached scientifically and HAS been. There are many studies that cover the efficacy of various plant based medicines. But WHY my school feels the need to include woo-based bullshit alone with scientific content is beyond me. I just don’t get how a place that can be so in-depth with its studies on herbs can stoop to including homeopathy in the coursework.

I just don’t know HOW I’m going to be able to keep from calling people complete whackjobs this week when the homeopathy believers come out of the woodwork.

I could use some links and advice. Something besides “Quit” would be good.