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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Olfactory Memory

Can you smell something that isn’t there? Have you ever been watching TV and suddenly you caught a whiff of what was on? For instance, someone pulls a steaming tray of fresh cookies out of the oven and, for just a moment, you smell cookies? Or a Vlassic commercial comes on and all of a sudden your head is filled with the sharp spike of vinegar?

There has been a great deal of research done on scent triggering memories. But what about visual stimulation triggering scent memory? Is that some form of dyslexia? I *am* dyslexic. When I get really tired or I’m in a hurry, I transpose letters or numbers. Could this be a backwards form of the standard olfactory memory? I have looked around and have been unable to find anything on this topic. If anyone can suggest websites that I can use to research this, I would be most appreciative.

The Funeral of a Friend

Michelle would have hated that I called it a funeral. She wanted this to be a celebration of her life. So that’s where we’ll be Sunday night. At her celebration.

It’s not like this was unexpected. Michelle fought back stage 4 cancer once. The second time the disease won. If you’re one for one and you still die, does that mean you’re tied? It reminds me of when I was a teenager in the 80’s. We had MAD back then. Mutually Assured Destruction. Yep. Cold War Era.

How do people like Hitchins, Dawkins and Meyers handle death when it hits close to home like this? This is my first death as an atheist. It doesn’t make me long for an afterlife. I’m not seeking shelter in dogma. If anything I am grieving for a young woman who won’t get to have her mother at her wedding or ask about what to do with a colicky baby or let her mother bounce her grandchild on her knee. Her youngest daughter is only 18. What do you do with something like that?

I’ve told her repeatedly that if she needs anything at all, I’m here for her. I guess that’s all I can do.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever seen on coping with the death of a loved one was from, of all places, a web comic called Venus Envy by Erin Lindsey (http://www.venusenvycomic.com/). Zoe just had her first experience with death when her dog Bergamot (Bergie to his friends) was hit by a car. It devastated her.

As he walked her home, her friend Larsen told her “It’s okay to be sad. But they’re not really gone. The most important parts of them stay with you. The best of what they were will stay with you if you care enough. Just think about them a little each day. What they did for you. What you did for them. One day you’ll realize you’re not deliberately taking that time to think about them. That’s when they’re a part of you forever.”

I love that advice because it doesn’t rely on something mystical. Simply take time to remember them. That’s how people truly live on after death. In our memories and with our love and stories.

Eyewitness Evidence

Well, one of my readers may be a dick but he DID have a valid point. In my last post I got my facts wrong. Eyewitness accounts ARE admissible as evidence in court cases. The fault here lies with my memory.. I saw something on a reply to a Skepchicks post that I *remembered* as saying that it was inadmissible. In actuality the poster was saying that it SHOULD be inadmissible since human memory is so fallible.

This is a good example of that, I think.

Human memory is fallible according to studies cited in this article in the Stanford Journal of Legal Studies: http://agora.stanford.edu/sjls/Issue%20One/fisher&tversky.htm

The article discusses a study in which false information was injected at an accident scene by a third party. Another article discussed the human memory’s vulnerability to bias. “

“Memory is affected by retelling, and we rarely tell a story in a neutral fashion. By tailoring our stories to our listeners, our bias distorts the very formation of memory—even without the introduction of misinformation by a third party”.

A telling quote and one, I think, is an excellent example of what happened when I made my previous error is: “ Bias creeps into memory without our knowledge, without our awareness. While confidence and accuracy are generally correlated, when misleading information is given, witness confidence is often higher for the incorrect information than for the correct information”.

I could have sworn that what I originally posted was correct until my reader pointed out my error in memory.

Please understand. I DO want to know when I make an error. I would just like you all to remember that there IS a human being at the other end of this blog. I’m new to this skepticism thing and something I’m going to get things wrong. So please bear with me and have a little patience and tact when helping me to correct my errors.