View Full Version : Homeopathy

04-08-2013, 13:27
Last night I ended up in a fairly hilarious discussion about homeopathy and I realized just how good an example this is of the human ability to tune out reality completely when it comes to things which have to be "believed" rather than proven.

Most people should already be aware of the reasons why homeopathic treatments are equal only to placebo, but in short:

Homeopathic concoctions generally have nothing of the supposed active ingredient(s) in them. There is always a reference to the dilution level, which most people don't actually understand. Here's a chart to give you a mathematical idea (the URL actually has an ironic freudian spelling error ) http://www.remedymakers.com/dilusionchart/
Anything below "12C" is unlikely to have a SINGLE molecule of the "active ingredient" in it.

One of the most popular flu remedies in France is Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic dilution of 200C. To call this a "dilution" is something of an understatement, it basically means 1 molecule of active ingredient mixed with all matter in the universe to the power of 320. Do you feel lucky?
On the box of this stuff, sold in any pharmacy, it says Inactive ingredient: 0.85 g sucrose, 0.15 g lactose. So you're taking a sugar pill, essentially. Good for worldwide sales of about 50 million USD a year, regardless. Even in Azbuka Vkusa sugar isn't this expensive.

The principle of homeopathy here is, the more dilute the solution, the more powerful it is. Think about that for a minute.

Then remember who came up with homeopathy in its current form: Samuel Hahnemann, whose doctrine was "like cures like". Essentially this comes down to "if we find that substance X creates symptom Y and Z, then if someone comes in who has any of these symptoms we can cure them by giving them an insanely diluted solution of X". Needless to say, in the past 200 odd years we have discovered that disease and symptoms don't quite relate in the way he thought, rendering the entire scheme useless before we even get to the rest of the unscientific arguments.

The granddaddy of all ludicrous claims, finally, is that the somehow the inactive ingredient (usually water) has a "memory" of what it came into contact with and some kind of mysterious energy from the diluted active ingredient is retained. This is based on entirely fictional physics, not to mention very selective. If you drink a glass of water, odds are there is at least 1 molecule in there which passed through *insert historical figure"'s bladder. All water on the planet has come into contact with just about every substance that exists. Like that stuff you flushed down the toilet very recently. But, somehow, the water only remembers what it is supposed to remember. Well, I'll gladly drink a 6C or higher dilution of absolutely anything including the strongest poison anyone can come up with. It's not going to do a thing to you.

But still, homeopathy is somehow seen by its followers as victim to a scientific conspiracy, and there is no shortage of claims that it simply works, one way or other.
Possibly this is because it does, in a way, work. There is a statistically detectable positive effect of homeopathic remedies equal to placebo. Not for any serious disease of course, but for something where you're actually better off not taking any medication at all (like the common cold) it makes sense. If you believe in it enough to get the psychological benefit of it, anyway.

But, be in no doubt, no homeopathic treatment has ever managed to beat an objective independent double blind test. Human perception of what "cured" your running nose doesn't really count...it would have stopped anyway. Anecdotal evidence is not a good way to determine whether a medicine works. If it did, it would easily show up in tests designed to statistically rule out coincidence and perception bias.

And yet, after all the evidence against homeopathy, people will still hold on to it. You can't convince a homeopath that this stuff doesn't work any more than you can convince a devout Muslim that his prophet was just another regular bloke. Even though the evidence in the first case is of course infinitely stronger. In short, it doesn't matter how well something is really established. A considerable portion of people appear to be of a disposition which places limits on the reality they can perceive.

The problem is, almost all of "alternative medicine" is plain quackery and losing money on something worthless is the least serious problem, people have lost their lives avoiding medical attention which could have saved them. Medical science has a long way to go and it's certainly far from perfect, but you're always best off playing the odds. Even Steve Jobs realized that, in the end. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/8841347/Steve-Jobs-regretted-trying-to-beat-cancer-with-alternative-medicine-for-so-long.html

Of course, Randi already went over this already

04-08-2013, 20:21
Homeopathy is the sister of religion: if I believe in it strongly enough, that makes it true.

05-08-2013, 07:23
Be careful jack, criticize religion all you like, but the average russian doctor's list of weeds to be chewed, droplets of eu de dubiousness to place on one's tongue, and the requirement to drink water upside down-is sacrosanct.