Sunday, 13 January 2013

Comment #17: -- Why Homeopathy CAN'T Work

Date Started: 1/8/12
Date Completed: 6/12/12
Date First Published:13/1/13

Did you hear about the guy who died from a homeopathic overdose? He forgot to take his pill... 

Let’s be serious, though – here are a small sample of 437 people (at the time of writing) who have been harmed by homeopathic belief:

The water might be harmless, but taking it as medicine is not.

Homeopathy is a pseudo-science – a superstition. This means it is not derived from evidence.

Unlike some medicinal pseudo-sciences, like ‘herbal’ non-medicines, where some herbs do actually contain useful ingredients (e.g. aspirin – derived from the bark of a willow tree) amongst the thousands that do not; homeopathy can’t work. We’re never going to find a nosode that actually treats something. [1.1]

Homeopathy is the theism of superstitions – it isn’t just a set of beliefs that could be true but aren’t – its very nature – its essence – its composition, to its very fundament – is erroneous.

I am now going to tell you, not just why homeopathy doesn’t work, but why homeopathy can’t work.

If you're still reading, it's likely that you're not a fully paid-up subscriber to Bullshit Monthly Magazine, but you might find this interesting and amusing anyway.

If you think homeopathy might work; that it's worth 'looking into'; that it's not a horrendous cult of medical fraud perpetrated on patients and taxpayers alike; then i have news for you...

I am not going to list the principles of homeopathy for now (some homeopaths don't even keep to them), because i am interested only in what homeopaths actually do, to prepare their homeopathic, erm... treatment? Listing principles would distract from Practice, and treat the claims as Theoretical – or even hypothetical – which they are not.

Firstly, the homeopath takes something horribly poisonous – like Echinacea [1.2] – and they dilute it. And not just slightly, either.

They dilute it so many times that a proper analogy for the process would be more like dunking the ingredients in the water, and then removing them again. [2.1]

It is both clinically and physically [2.2] accurate to say that homeopathic preparations contain nothing but water. It is literally true to say of homeopathy that:
“There’s nothing in it” [3]

This is because of chemistry that was unknown at the time Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) dreamt homeopathy up, a couple of centuries ago. He was working from ideas that we now know to be erroneous. What can i say, but “GIGO”. [4]

The idea of a ‘mole’ though, is familiar to any school-kid doing GCSE Chemistry, nowadays.

1 mole is 1 Avogadro’s-constant-worth of material – in atoms, compounds, or molecules - 6.0221415 * 10 ^ 23. [5]

~= 600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

This might be a massive number, but the dilutions involved in homeopathy are even greater...

1 C dilution is 1 in 100; 2 C is 1 in 100*100 (or 1 in 10,000); 3 C is 1 in 100*100*100 (or 1 in 1,000,000). Clearly, we’re going to get a massive number pretty quickly.

With a 12 C preparation, we have a 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 dilution, which means a 6 in 10 chance that there’s just one molecule in the beaker in your hand. [2] 

A standard preparation is at least 23 C – the numbers for which are absolutely astronomical!

There is only water in a preparation of greater than 12 C.

It says something rather profound about the culture, in which we live, that this is a standard item in school-age Science teaching, to inform of this fact; and yet the homeopathy industry rakes in millions of pounds/dollars/Euros, every year, from people who fail to identify that this simple truth means homeopathy is empty, but very expensive, water – an empty, but very expensive, lie! [6]

Further to this fraud, is the notion that water has memory.

When compelled to rationalise the idea that water, which is water, and behaves exactly as you’d expect water to – as water – can somehow behave as if it’s something else – not water – homeopaths claim the notion of aqueous recall.

Memory, however, is not possible, by water alone.

The reason for this, is that memory is an encoded condition/pattern/signal, and therefore can only be recorded inside a material of fixed structure. Fluids can not have memory. [7]

The dilution nonsense was a principle of homeopathy; this memory nonsense is a principle of homeopathy; ‘like cures like’ is another principle of homeopathy [8]; and a kind-of meta-principle is that shaking and tapping against a magic saddle somehow makes all of the above come true! I kid you not.

These claims are all bunk.

The strength of an object’s effect is determined by its presence. This is a pretty-much tautologous statement: a faster arrow has more speed; a longer show takes up more of your day; a heavier box hurts your foot more.

And yet it’s a homeopathic claim that this incredibly-well-substantiated of facts magically reverses when someone says the ‘h’ word!

The effect that a chemical has is determined by what the chemical is, and what the object is – not what any of their users would like them to be.

Chemical properties are determined by the electrons in the atoms of the chemical. And the properties of the electrons are determined by the nuclear properties of the chemicals that they are in.

See a chemist explain how a particular chemical works the way it does. In this case, it’s ‘Very Fast Death Factor’. He explains that the way the chemical interacts is determined by its shape, and the atoms of which it is comprised. 

Here’s another Periodic Video in which Peter Liddle explains how a uranium-containing molecule (that he researched) behaves:

H2O behaves as H2O because, quite literally, it is H2O.

To behave as if it were some more-complicated chemical, such as the ones in the videos, it would have to be that chemical.

It would have to have the electrons, in all the same energy levels, in the same configuration, around the same number of nuclei, as that chemical. Because it is different, it interacts differently. 

Honestly – why do i even feel it necessary to say that? [9]

Even if the water were in its solid, crystalline form – ice – it would still behave as solid water – not as any medicine. [10]

If you took the prof’s plastic model and threw it in a tank, with a load of others, do you think it would react?

No – of course it wouldn’t. Because it’s all just plastic!

To get a real reaction, you have to have the real thing.

This is the crux of the matter – this is why homeopathy does not and can not work as a medicine.

This is why homeopathic preparations of aqueous water inside a wet solution of bis-hydrogen monoxic H2O and dihydrogen monoxide solvent will never behave in the same way as the medicine it is standing in for. [11]


This is not just a catchy tagline.

Homeopathy does not and can not work... BECAUSE IT’S JUST WATER 

For this reason, i prefer to refer to it as “shaken water” – because calling it ‘homeopathy’ invites people to speculate that there is more to it than that. Shaken water is all it is, and “shaken water” is what it shall be called, by me.

I think it's important to 'drive home' hard, with homeopathy, because it is such a perfect case study of superstition, and in the context of medicine.

If people can be made to realise that an apparently-well-meaning person/business will perpetrate crimes such as these, with a smile on their face, and a dreadful disregard for reality, then they will realise that they can't go through life without critical thinking skills. The markets for these people will dry up, and they will be forced to adopt more socially acceptable activities.

The rigours of Science are not just for balding White men in ivory towers - they are tools that everyone can and should use, in the real world, day to day - to identify charlatans by their claims and behaviour, and to not be duped by their charisma, or their empty promises.

I can’t resist quoting an adroit letter, sent in to New Scientist, some time ago, which refutes a homeopathy advocate in brilliant style. Here it is, in full:

Sugaring the pill
Colin Jacobson's letter on homeopathy (20 March, p 25) annoyed me.
First, he argues that homeopathy is good because it costs less than conventional medicine. Of course, water and sugar should be cheaper than clinically tested drugs, but that does not make it useful.

He then argues that homeopathy satisfies a real demand in healthcare, to the inconvenience of big drug companies, ignoring the fact that selling water and sugar to people is of great convenience to the big homeopathy companies.

Next, Jacobsen suggests that the author of the original article on homeopathy, Martin Robbins, should take into consideration the anecdotal evidence of his miraculously cured dog, disregarding the importance of the scientific method.

Finally, he rounds off by stating that homeopathy is "cheap, effective and safe". There are cheaper placebos on the market, more effective ways to treat people and there are safer, more reliable ways to run a healthcare system.

The day we found out we could give sweets to educated adults to make them feel better was the day we should have realised that people really are fools unto themselves, and that fools and their money are soon parted.

by Lee Hart, Oxford, UK

The referenced letter:

Martin Robbins's article on homeopathy (30 January, p 22) shows that he understands almost nothing about it. If he did, he would know that UK doctors using homeopathy cost the government considerably less than those who do not, and that the 40 per cent of French doctors who use homeopathy cost the French government less than half of those doctors who use conventional medicine.

If homeopathy is as useless as he makes out, why have both the World Health Organization and the European Parliament called for its closer incorporation into the western medical system?

The fact that homeopathy is increasing in popularity suggests that there is a very satisfied user base that globally saves their governments hundreds of millions. The big drug companies are not happy about this, and have tried for decades to discredit homeopathy, though I am not suggesting that Robbins has any association here.

As for arguments that homeopathy only works via the placebo effect, Robbins should talk to my 14-year-old dog. After months of conventional treatment for arthritis he could barely stand. Following a course of homeopathy he now joins me on a daily walk.

Homeopathy is cheap, effective and safe and should be a complementary part of every good healthcare system.

by Colin Jacobson, Kirribilli, New South Wales, Australia


[1.1] 'Herbal medicines' (i use the inverted commas because the name is euphemistic; most are not from herbs - just assorted plant matter - and very few can be counted as medicines, under modern standards) do, occasionally, have a chemical in them that will work. Medical people call this the 'active ingredient' - the acetaminophen in paracetamol, for example. There is no assurance that any 'herbal medicine' will have one of these, and this is how they don't work. But there is one thing 'herbal medicines' have in common -- all the rest of the plant gunk thrown in. All these thousands of extra chemicals are bound to interact somehow, and that is how 'herbal medicines' cause a myriad of side-effects (effects you don't want) whereas proper medicines cause only a few - the generic ones, such as nausea and headaches; and the occasional intolerance/allergic reaction. This makes the oh-so-natural-in-fact-it's-straight-out-of-the-cow 'herbal' bullshit much more dangerous than the stuff those mega-selfish-but-at-least-held-to-some-safety-standards pharmaceutical companies will sell you.

[1.2] One of the principles of homeopathy is that ‘like treats like’ – what harms is what cures, when in a homeopathic preparation – obviously, this is totally wrong, for the reasons outlined in the main text of this mini-essay. But, for some reason, homeopaths have inherited the trait of utilising poisons like Echinacea, (presumably from herbal non-medicinists) and claim they can be used in a wide variety of cases. This flouts their own principles, but hey – pseudo-science never makes sense anyway. Homeopathy certainly doesn’t. They have used this fudging of their own rules to make egregious claims like “[homeopathy can treat] the victims as well as the culprits of domestic violence”. I’m not joking. They are motivated by potential exploitation of the desperate! This, i consider to be sick behaviour. 
‘Claims that homeopathy treats domestic violence must be stopped, experts say’ 

[2.1] The Korsakof method doesn't even preserve the pretence of dilution - it's more akin to... well... rinsing the equipment out! The water's poured away and replaced, rather than a drop taken out and put in another vessel. 

[2.2] ‘Physically’ means there is actually nothing in it, in any sense – zero molecules/atoms. In the Biology of medicine, however, a tiny enough dose of anything can be ignored – treated as zero. Be it water, mercury, hemlock, or the famously radioactive uranium-235. Even in the occasional preparation that happens to have one molecule of the added poison, that lone molecule is nowhere near sufficient to have an effect. This makes it meaningful to say that there is nothing in it, ‘clinically’.

[3] The 10:23 campaign, which seeks to educate the public about homeopathy, and counter-lobby the snake-oil salesmen of the homeopathic industry, goes by the tagline of “There’s nothing in it” 

[4] Homeopathy really is that young – although many CAMmers (‘Complimentary and Alternative Medicine’ – although nothing under this label is actually either) claim that it’s derived from ancient knowledge. They do this because they think old things are always better. In Science, we know this as the ‘Antiquity Fallacy’ or the ‘Appeal to Tradition’. This fallacy’s entry on Nizkor:

“This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because the age of something does not automatically make it correct or better than something newer. This is made quite obvious by the following example: The theory that witches and demons cause disease is far older than the theory that microrganisms cause diseases. Therefore, the theory about witches and demons must be true.” 

 [5] One mole of water, for example, weighs 18g. A standard homeopathic preparation weighs just 2 or 3g. You’ll get even less if you buy it in sugar pill form, because all they do is sprinkle water into the packet – herein lies a further crime, because that way, you get moist pills at the top, and dry ones at the bottom – all the ‘dose’ (which isn’t real, but let’s humour them, for a moment) is in the first few pills, and none in the last. In real medicine, that would be a scandal!

This was actually a plot in an episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Dumb Witness – in which Emily Arundell died because she got a great big dose of phosphorus-containing medicine in the very last gulp of her doctor’s preparation (it had settled to the bottom). This killed her, of course. Regular doses are very important! 

[6] The 10:23 people estimate that the homeopathy industry’s worth £40 million in the UK, and €400 million in France and Germany combined. They don’t say whether this is profit, revenue, or equity, however. Any price for water (which you can get out of the tap, for a tiny portion of your local tax bill) is too much. And their prices for sugar pills are extortionate! They don’t even taste nice. That’s  £40 million that should be better utilised.

[7] Brains encode ideas into their electrical signals; silicon-based computers encode software and RAM into similarly electrical circuits; nitinol ‘remembers’ its shape at different temperatures by expanding and contracting in such a way that it occupies one pattern or the other, depending on temperature. 

[8] I would like to point out, here, that there is a notion which is easily confused as homeopathic, but is actually starkly different. ‘Hormesis’ sounds similar, and does involve small amounts, but is practically opposing in method. In homeopathy, the dose is extinguished by reduction; in hormesis, as big a dose is given, as can be afforded, in order to stimulate a response from the patient’s body. An example might be the case of inoculation, in which you’d give as much deactivated or mimicking pathogen as they can take (without being overwhelmed or running up a massive bill) so that their immune system gets a bloody good idea of what it should be dealing with. I repeat: homeopathy means zero dose; hormsesis means a big dose. 

[9] For the same reason that i feel the necessity to point out that gods and ghosts and ghouls don’t exist – because there are too many noisy people claiming that they do; and too many deluded, gullible, or just ignorant, people believing the claim!

[10] Most ice would melt, anyway, and lose any capacity to retain a shape resembling a medicine.

But if you could make ice crystals that retained their shape in >300 K environments (inside the body) it would still be water, and so would still behave as water.

These formations of ice crystal are not yet known to exist, but there are phases of ice that can exist well above the boiling point of liquid water, as long as they are under high pressure.

In the graph, you can see that phases VII, X, XI can all remain solid, above 650 Kelvin / 350 degrees Celsius, as long as they are under massively high pressures – unachievable inside the human body!

[11] “aqueous”, “water”, “wet”, “bis-hydrogen monoxic”, H2O and “dihydrogen monoxide” are synonymous. I hope you noticed :-P

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