Just when I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about Homeopathy again any-time soon I discover that next week (April 10-16) is World Homeopathy Awareness Week. In theory I am right behind an initiative such as this as homeopaths do a surprisingly poor job of educating the public about what homeopathy actually is.
I suspect though that highlighting the fact that there is no active ingredient in most homeopathic preparations and that huge swathes of established science would have to be wrong for it to work will not feature prominently in the promotional materials.
For those not in the know homeopathy is based on two principles not found anywhere in science, like cures like, known as the “Law of Similars” and less is more or the “Law of Infinitesimals”. In a nutshell these two “Laws” state that a substance that causes similar symptoms to a disease will cure it and the more you dilute the substance the more powerful it becomes. In practice this means that homeopathic preparations can have some unusual starting ingredients (like duck liver) and are diluted to the point that no active ingredient is left in the final product.
A common dilution for preparations is 30C, or 30 consecutive 100 fold dilutions. At this level not only are the no molecules of active ingredient left there aren’t even any molecules of water left from the last dilution that contained any active ingredient.
Due to this fact homeopaths have been reduced to very fanciful explanations of how it might work, most involves invoking some sort of water “memory” effect. This isn’t impossible but neglects to mentions that if it is the case, then the water also remembers every poison it has come into contact with as well. How does it know which effect it should have? Should it kill or cure?
A study performed in 2008 and published in the New Zealand Medical Journal showed that while 85% of respondents believed they knew what homeopathy was less than 5% knew that there is no active ingredient in most preparations. I don’t expect this statistic to change due to any efforts on the part of homeopaths or those that sell generic remedies.
Here’s a pithy website dedicated to How Homeopathy Works.
For those with a high tolerance to brain melting gibberish here’s a video with one of the more confusing explanations of homeopathy:
Youtube Page direct
[UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Lizditz on Dr Steven Novella’s blog about this I have been alerted to this great philosophy paper on Homeopathy; “Evidence and simplicity: Why we should reject homeopathy“, go read it now.]
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