January 30, 2010

The memory of an overdose - 10:23

Dang -- just missed it. Would have been fun to participate. From 10:23:
Homeopathy: There's nothing in it
At 10:23am on January 30th, more than 300 homeopathy sceptics nationwide will be taking part in a mass homeopathic 'overdose'.

What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is an unscientific and absurd pseudoscience, yet it persists today as an accepted complementary medicine.

Ask many people what they think homeopathy is, and you'll be told "it's herbal medicine" or "it's all-natural". Few realise that it's been proven not to work; even fewer know it involves substances so dilute that there's nothing left in them. Homeopathy takes advantage of this uncertainty to sit alongside real, proven medicines on the shelves of our major pharmacies.

The 10:23 Campaign
The 10:23 Campaign aims to raise awareness about the reality of homeopathy. We will tell you how it can be proven not to work, why homeopaths' claims are impossible, why you should care.

The campaign is organised by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, a non-profit organisation for the promotion of scientific skepticism. More information about Merseyside Skeptics is available on their website.

What's the Harm?
If there is nothing in it, it can't do any harm, right? Wrong! Journalist and science-writer Simon Singh tells us why.
The 10:23 refers of course to Avogadro's Number. From this page:
Following on from his 'law of similars', Hahnemann proposed he could improve the effect of his 'like-cures-like treatments' by repeatedly diluting them in water. The more dilute the remedy, Hahnemann decided, the stronger it will become. Thus was born his 'Law of Infinitesimals'.

Taking a single drop of caffeine and diluting in ninety-nine drops of water creates what is known to homeopaths as one 'centesimal'. One drop of this centesimal added to another ninety-nine drops of water produces a two-centesimal, written as 2C. This 2C caffeine potion is 99.99% water and just 0.01% caffeine. At 3C the dilution is 0.0001% caffeine, at 4C it's 0.000001% caffeine, and so on. Homeopathic remedies are commonly sold at 6C (0.000 000 000 1%) and even 30C (0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 1%) dilutions, which homeopaths will often drip onto little balls of sugar to sell.

When these numbers are written out, it's easy to see how absurd they are. At 12C you pass what is known as the Avogadro Limit, the point at which there is likely nothing of your original substance left.

By the time you reach 30C, you have more chance of winning the lottery five weeks running than you have of finding a single caffeine molecule in your homeopathic sleeping draft. It's just ordinary water, dripped onto ordinary sugar.
I like to keep an open mind on things -- there are a lot of other cultures besides the Western one and there are a lot of things that we can borrow to great effect. Acupuncture has been an incredible help over the last three years of my hip disease and it's eventual replacement. My practitioner was perfectly cool with pairing Western medications with Eastern and the overall results were amazing compared with a lot of other people with the same disease (Avascular Necrosis brought about by intense steroid use as a child). When Homeopathy first showed up on my RADAR screen, I thought cool -- a codified system of herbal treatments. I then learned a bit more and had a SERIOUSLY WTF??? moment. There is absolutely no way that this can be anything more than a placebo. And the final nail in the coffin -- if this stuff actually worked, Big Pharma would be all over it. Instead, the vendors are all small companies marketing through the offices of wannabe Doctors and in the back pages of new age magazines... Posted by DaveH at January 30, 2010 9:33 PM | TrackBack