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Why Homeopathy is Stupid and Dangerous

There are a lot of quacks out there. People will do, say or sell anything for a buck. And unfortunately, the field of “medical therapies” has long been victim to such quackery.

Homeopathy is one of the more prolific of these pseudosciences. It operates on a principle that by diluting a remedy in water, you can make it more effective. In fact, homeopaths claim that the remedy gets more effective in smaller concentrations. This is what homeopaths call the “Law of Infinitesmals”.

Now common sense should already be telling you that this is bogus. But lets do some history, and then science will blast apart homeopathy.

From xkcd

In the late 1700s a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) developed the underlying theories of homeopathy. He believed that symptoms of disease could be cured by administering small amounts of substances that would cause the same symptoms in healthy people. This is called the “Law of Similars”. He further believed that chronic diseases were caused by the presence of evil miasmas or spirits in the body.

Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843)

So, homeopaths have a text called the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia. Within, you will find over a thousand homeopathic “remedies”. Which remedy, and in what concentration, to use on a certain patient is evidently at the discretion of the practitioner. Basically this means you could see two different homeopaths and receive two different treatments for the same illness. Hmmm…..

To show you how dumb this stuff is, consider the following:

A “remedy” called Oscillococcinum is prepared by diluting freeze dried duck heart and liver. The dilution is supposed to be what homeopaths call 200C, which means the concentration is 1 part in 100200

For the non-scientific, this number is a 1 followed by 400 zeros. That this small concentration could have any effect at all is mind boggling.

In fact, the laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to how far one can dilute a solution (about 1 part in 10012, which is far greater than that of Oscillococcinum). Hahnenmann was aware of this, but proposed that by vigorously shaking the solution the water will retain a kind of “memory” or “essence” of the active ingredient. Thus, even if none of the active ingredient remains in the water, the water will somehow “remember” it was there and give the same effect.

Homeopathy has never been shown to do anything greater than a placebo effect. There are many studies and reviews looking at the scientific evidence. One such review noted that:

Homeopathy has been the subject of at least 12 scientific reviews, including meta-analytic studies, published since the mid-1980s….[And] the findings are remarkably consistent:….homeopathic “remedies” are not effective.

In addition, at a meeting of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors in May 2010, Dr. Tom Dolphin, deputy chairman, said:

Homeopathy is witchcraft. It is a disgrace that nestling between the National Hospital for Neurology and Great Ormond Street there is a National Hospital for Homeopathy which is paid for by the [National Health Service]. (emphasis mine)

In should be noted that there has been a small smattering of studies suggesting a statistically significant effect of homeopathy over a placebo. However, these studies have never been shown to be reproducible and are heavily criticized for their poor scientific methodologies. Homeopathy proponents will tout these studies proudly; but a simple bit of research, or even just reading the papers will show the weaknesses in any of these studies.

So why do people continue to believe in this stuff? Well there are a couple of reasons.

The first is that when Hahnemann began developing homeopathy, treatments such as bloodletting were ubiquitous. Bloodletting, if you didn’t already know, is extremely dangerous and ineffective as a medical treatment.

So when someone arrived on the scene offering medical “remedies” which don’t involve opening people’s veins, and sometimes even make the patient feel better (the placebo effect) it garnered a lot of attention.

Secondly, the placebo effect can be significant. And word of mouth is a powerful force. So when one person says they feel better after seeing a homeopath, people start to listen. In fact, studies have shown that people are more likely to listen to a friend than read the scientific evidence.

This is dangerous.

Touting the placebo effect as a medical treatment is wrong and terrible. It causes people to choose pseudoscientific treatments over science-based medical treatment, which can lead to disastrous results and even death.

Furthermore, it leads to unscientific thinking. Once we start believing in homeopathy, whats next? Faith healing? Aliens listening to our thoughts? Its a very slippery slope and it needs to be stopped.

Thirdly, some insurance companies cover homeopathic treatments and some governments cover it in their public health plan. So we are all footing the bill in our insurance premiums or taxes for a therapy that simply does not work.

So my final words? Homeopathy sucks. It doesn’t work. It steals money from sick people who believe they are being treated for their illness. It takes advantage on the hopes of sick people to make a profit, and it is disgusting.

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