Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's World Dilution Delusion Awareness Week 2010

Replace "Dilution Delusion" with "Homeopathy."

Yes, folks, homeopaths are actually celebrating awareness of their 200-year delusion this week. And as others have already done, I'm all for enlightening the yet unaware about what homeopathy really is. Instead of introducing it let me direct you to these fabulous resources:

Segment from Richard Dawkins' 2007 TV series Enemies of Reason
Talk by James Randi
Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake, by Dr. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch
Prof. Robert Carroll's comprehensive article 

Edzard Ernst, former homeopath who practiced for many years and is the first Professor of Complementary Medicine in the UK, along with science writer Simon Singh have this to say about homeopathy's effectiveness:
We suggest that you ignore the occasional media hype and instead rely on our conclusion, because it is based on examining all the reliable evidence - and the evidence suggests that homeopathy acts as nothing more than a placebo. For this reason, we strongly advise you to avoid homeopathic remedies if you are looking for a medicine that is more than just make-believe. [Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst, Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, Bantam, 2008, p.140-141]
I just went to the Cochrane Library and found a handful of systematic reviews of homeopathy: attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or hyperkinetic disorder, chronic asthma, dementia, induction of labour, adverse effects of cancer treatments. The authors conclude that the evidence is either absent, insufficient or unconvincing.

On January 30 2010 hundreds of brave souls in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US went out on the streets and overdosed on a variety of homeopathic pills. Unfortunately for quackery, none of them died, and no one came down with even a tummy ache. Well, that's the point of the whole 10:23 campaign--to show the world that homeopathic preparations--particularly the allegedly most potent ones--contains no active ingredients.

In February 2010 the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee released Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, a report in which it unequivocally stated that there is no evidence for homeopathy and recommended that the government cease supporting its use.

In October 2009 I wrote about homeopathy in the Philippines. Just an excerpt from that blog entry:
In the Nux vomica oral drops some of the substances are watered down to D1000. How dilute is a D1000? If you had one drop of active ingredient and were to dilute it in one go you'd have to mix that single drop with 101000 (remember, that's "1" followed by a thousand zeros) drops of water or alcohol. How much is 101000 drops? That's equivalent to 6.5 × 10992 cubic meters [see Note 1]. And just how large is that? Well, it's more than the size of our universe. In fact a lot bigger. If a bucket were the size of the universe you'd need 7.7 trillion buckets to end up with 6.5 × 10992 m3 [see Note 2]. After mixing (if you can even imagine achieving that) you can scoop a volume as large as the Earth or the Sun or the Milky Way and the chances of finding a single molecule of the active ingredient would still be exceedingly infinitesimal.
Matt Parker writing in TimesOnline has another illustration of how utterly diluted homeopathic remedies are:
To put homeopathy in a medicinal context, if you wanted to consume a normal 500mg paracetamol dose you would need ten million billion homeopathic pills. Where each pill is the same mass as the Milky Way galaxy. There is actually not enough matter in the entire known Universe to make the homeopathic equivalent of a single paracetamol pill.
The funny thing about these dilutions is that if you remove the labels of two vials containing different high potency homeopathic preparations there is no way homeopaths can distinguish one from the other.

While homeopaths are living in dreamland, the homeopathic industry is an investor's dream.
Somewhere near Lyon, France, sometime this year, officials from the French pharmaceutical firm Boiron will slaughter a solitary duck and extract its heart and liver--not to appease the gods but to fight the flu. The organs will be used to make an over-the-counter flu medicine, called Oscillococcinum, that will be sold around the world. In a monetary sense, this single French duck may be the most valuable animal on the planet, as an extract of its heart and liver form the sole "active ingredient" in a flu remedy that is expected to generate sales of $20 million or more. [US News]
Imagine that. Companies can package pure water and lactose (in pill form), stick a variety of labels on the bottles, market water and sugar pills as having therapeutic efficacy for a host of conditions, make a killing, and get away with it legally!

If that got your goat as it did mine then the following should give you a much needed shot of endorphins. Here are comedians Mitchell & Webb parodying homeopathy and other quackery.

So be aware of homeopathy. And make sure to tell others to be wary of it. It's bizarre. It's bunk. It's bogus. It's balderdash.

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