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Just How Dilute are Homeopathic Remedies?

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Homeopathy operates on a principle that the more dilute a “remedy”, the more potent it becomes.

Homeopathy makes no sense, and it doesn’t work, but people still cling to it even though it is simply an over glorified placebo effect.

Many homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that not a single molecule of the original ingredient remains. Just HOW dilute is this?

Steve D wrote a post called “Putting Homeopathy in Perspective” and uses a very pretty visual: Felicia Day.

For example, one such homeopathic dilution is called 3C, which means the remedy was diluted to 1 part in 100, 3 times. This is approximately the number of Felicias in the world who are Felicia Day:

The post is really quite awesome and very well illustrates how ridiculous homeopathy is. Especially since some homeopathic remedies go up to 200C! To have even a single molecule of the original substance still in a sample of a 200C dilution, you would need a sample the size of not only our ENTIRE UNIVERSE, but

100 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000

ADDITIONAL UNIVERSES! (Thats 10320 in scientific notation).

It boggles the mind.

Show Homeopathy Works, Win A Million Dollars!

February 7, 2011 3 comments

ten23. Homeopathy: there's nothing in itOn Saturday, February 5th 2011, skeptics from 10 different countries took a mass overdose of homeopathic “remedies”.

Everyone was ok.

It was part of the 10:23 campaign, which I blogged about on Friday. The point of the demonstration was to show that these products are not medicine, and do absolutely nothing.

Concurrently with the demonstration, James Randi of the James Randi Educational Foundation issued a challenge to Homeopaths. The challenge is quite simple:

Show that a homeopathic remedy works better than a placebo for ANY illness, in a double-blind clinical trial designed by YOU, the homeopath, and supervised by reputable scientists. If you can show a statistically significant effect in a study of this kind, you will win $1 million for yourself, or the charity of your choice.

If homeopathy worked, this challenge would be an easy win for homeopaths. If a homeopathic remedy did anything at all, it would show a statistically different effect than a placebo. Of course, this type of study has been done many, many, many times and the results are remarkably consistent: homeopathy does not work.

James Randi gives a very nice explanation about the ideas behind homeopathy, which unfortunately are not common knowledge. My favourite quote from the video is

Many people think that the work ‘homeopathic’ just means ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ medicine and they are shocked to learn what it really means. It should be a crime for pharmaceutical corporations to profit by denying the public this critical information about the products on their shelves.

It is extremely important that the truth about homeopathy becomes well-known. Particularly now, since I have just read on the Huffington Post (which I read when I am feeling masochistic) that a Doctoral degree is being offered in Homeopathy in the United States.

Those who graduate from the doctoral program will be qualified to diagnose illnesses and treat them with homeopathic medicine.

This is frightening. Many people have been harmed by seeking homeopathic treatment in the place of real medicine. And it just simply doesn’t work.

Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It

February 4, 2011 2 comments

This coming weekend, protesters from 10 different countries and 23 different cities will be overdosing on Homeopathic remedies in the 10:23 campaign.

Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.

The point of the demonstration is not only show that homeopathic remedies are nothing more than sugar pills and are merely placebos, but also to gain some publicity and get the word out that Homeopathy is pseudoscientific nonsense.

There are several Canadian cities participating in the demonstration as well:

  • Montreal
  • Vancouver
  • Toronto
  • Ottawa
  • Kitchener
  • Edmonton
  • Winnipeg

For those who don’t know, 10:23 is a reference to Avogadro’s number, which is 6.022 x 1023. It is a number used frequently in chemistry to link the number of atoms of a particular substance to the mass of the substance (specifically it is the number of atoms in 12 grams of the Carbon-12 isotope). In essence it links the microscopic and macroscopic world.

It is a fitting name for this campaign since homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that virtually (or literally) no atoms or molecules of active ingredient remains. The products are, in fact, only sugar pills.

The event is being organised by the Merseyside Skeptics Society. The event will culminate on February 6th when more than 300 people will overdose on homeopathic “medicine” at the QED conference in Manchester.

This comes at a particularly good time in Canada. The recent episode of Marketplace on CBC about Homeopathy (called “Cure or Con”) has raised quite a stir. In that episode, a small group of skeptics in Vancouver gave a demonstration of an overdose of homeopathic medicine. Nothing happened.

So hopefully this weekend’s events will garner some strong media attention and help expose this practice for what it is: nonsense.

Thanks To CBC Marketplace’s Erica Johnson

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the CBC Marketplace episode on Homeopathy called “Cure or Con?”

I was quite pleased with the episode, and made that known. I also decided I would send my appreciation to the host of the show, Erica Johnson via Twitter.

I didn’t expect a response, but to my surprise she was kind enough to this nerdy little internet blogger a message back.

There certainly is a lot of animosity towards her and the episode from homeopaths, mainly because they are running out of options on how to defend their practice. The evidence is quite clear that homeopathy is nothing but a placebo, and homeopaths are bilking honest consumers out of their money.

Perhaps more importantly, they are putting people at a huge health risk if they choose homeopathic remedies rather than real medicine.

Just know that you have lots of supporters Erica, and don’t let the Homeopaths nonsense get to you!

CBC Marketplace Crushes Homeopathy

January 15, 2011 6 comments

Homeopathy is bull. 100% pure organic bull.

And for once, reality TV delivered everything I had hoped for.

An episode of CBC’s Marketplace aired tonight puts homeopathy to the test. I watched it, and I still can’t believe how happy I was with the episode.

I was expecting some science with mostly woo trying to make a “balanced” view for the story. Boy was I pleasantly surprised.

In this weeks episode, CBC Marketplace host Erica Johnson heads out to try and find the evidence of efficacy behind homeopathy. What she finds is excuses, loopholes and shrugging shoulders.

One homeopath even went so far as to warrant the treatment of stage 1 breast cancer with homeopathy. A claim met with (unexpected) skepticism from this TV show. How does it work? “We’re not really sure” she replied. Are you freakin’ kidding me!?!

The episode also featured a piece about a group from the Canadian group from the Centre for inquiry, a skeptic group, who went outside a Vancouver hospital and purposefully overdosed on a variety of homeopathic medicines. The result? Yeah they’re fine.

But as one of them pointed out, the real tragedy would be if someone gave their child homeopathic medicines instead of real medicine. In fact, homeopaths are selling “vaccines” for a huge range of diseases, including whooping-cough and, yes even polio. Are you freakin’ kidding me!?!

Homeopathic remedies have no active ingredient. None, whatsoever. They have been diluted to the point that no single pill has any active ingredient in them. To think that these pills could actually have any effect on the body is ludicrous. Yet because of tradition, these medicines have been given credence and even legitimacy by the Canadian government.

It is incredibly irresponsible of our government to give this kind of credibility to a product that, well, has no credibility! Its crap!

Homeopathy has been debunked time, and time, and time again. It has no credible science behind it, no logic behind it, and now it doesn’t even have the CBC behind it (whom I have criticized of late).

So great job CBC. Hopefully Ontario takes the hint and will get rid of its plans to regulate the sale of homeopathic medicine and call it “witchcraft” like the British government.

Update: You can now watch the full CBC Marketplace episode of  “Cure or Con” here.

Oprah Guest Chooses Alternative over Traditional Medicine. The Results are Unfortunate.

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

A few years ago, Oprah had a guest on her show by the name of Kim Tinkham. Ms. Tinkham explained that she had breast cancer, but after reading “The Secret” she decided to forgo conventional treatment and instead pursue “alternative therapies”.

David Gorski has written a post today at Science-Based Medicine about Ms. Tinkham, and the news is quite sad. She pursued a pseudoscientific treatment called “alkalinization” supported by one Robert O. Young, who believes there is “no such thing” as cancer and that this type of illness is caused by “excess acidity” in the body. It goes without saying, but this is totally without scientific merit.

But Ms. Tinkham followed this therapy, and for a few years her health was stable. But unfortunately, she is no longer doing well and is not expected to live through the year.

[Update: I am sad to report that Kim Tinkham passed away on December 7, 2010.]

Why do people seek out these types of therapies? Dr. Gorski explains it quite well:

In fact, Kim Tinkham made it explicit by saying that Young and his wife had told her what causes cancer by saying “there is no such thing as cancer.” Again, remember that Young thinks that cancer is the body’s reaction to cells “poisoned” by too much acid, and he really does say that there is no such thing as cancer. He even goes on and on about how acid being “deposited into the fatty tissues” and thereby causing cancer. From a scientific standpoint, it’s a load of rubbish, pure pseudoscience without any good scientific evidence to back it up. But Young can assert his nonsense about tissue being due to acid “spoiling” tissues with utter sincerity. He looks completely convincing–if you don’t know anything about cancer biology, and most people don’t know much, if anything, about cancer biology. Give him a woman who is afraid, who wants concrete answers, and who has demonstrated that she is fairly clueless about breast cancer, and he can convince her that he has the answer and can cure her. The reason, it appears to me, is that Tinkham (and women like her) just want to believe that someone knows what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. Knowing how to fix it isn’t enough; they want an answer to the question, “Why me?”

Quacks are only too happy to provide that answer.

You can and should read the whole sad story at Science-Based Medicine. People wonder why I get upset about alternative medicines, and this is why. Ms. Tinkham’s cancer was treatable, but has now metastasized into other parts of her body.

It is wholly depressing, because she is a victim. A victim of quacks who prey on the vulnerabilities and wishful thinking of sick people.

I’m ashamed to live on the same planet as those people.

The Adventure of Links: Nov. 1, 2010

November 1, 2010 2 comments

In this weeks Adventure of Links, we have accidental condom inhalation, water on Mars, a Star Trek cat fight, and a time traveller in an old silent movie. Happy reading!

Health

Accidental condom inhalation during fellatio: A Love Story Case Study

Homeopathic teething tables have been recalled. Apparently, they hadn’t diluted the poison enough so that it was useless, like most homeopathic remedies.

Are health drinks as good as they claim? The answer will not surprise you.

Unregulated Naturopaths putting lives at risk.

Physics/Astronomy

The Physics of how a wet dog shakes (with video).

Pumpkins pulverized, in the name of science of course.

NASA Mars rover finds evidence of subsurface water, while it was stuck!

The Laws of Physics explained, in comic form.

Fun/Funny

Star Trek Cat Fight. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

“Our Differences make us interesting, not enemies.” The Rally to Restore Sanity was held this past weekend.

10 useful things you can do with your body after you’re dead. Being a zombie is not on the list.

This weeks “You needed a study to know that?!?”: Bullying Widespread in Schools.

A neurological explanation of why the new Gap logo sucked.

Smart people drink more. Science says so.

Skepticism

Is there a time traveller in a 1928 Charlie Chaplain film? I’m not sure, but I am pretty sure it was a slow news day that day.

Canadian man claims the government stole his meteorite which contained alien organisms. The RCMP (the Mounties) say there is no evidence to support his claim.

Scientists find “proof” of psychic abilities. Note: if you have to put “proof” in quotation marks, it’s probably not true.

Women Get Scammed $85000 by “Psychic”

October 28, 2010 2 comments

The headline read Women: We Were Scammed By a Psychic.

I thought to myself, ‘This will be funny!’

But as I read, it turned out to be quite a sad story, and unfortunately one that will probably be repeated.

The Coles notes version of the story is that two women went to see a psychic named Patricia Johns to help them with their relationship problems. The psychic proceeded to prey on their vulnerabilities, and eventually scored roughly $85 000 from these two women.

One woman wanted to improve her marriage, while the other asked for help with her best friend. Said one of the women (who asked to remain anonymous),

I’m devastated over what she has done to me…She has just ruined my life.

The psychic used a different approach with each woman. On the first she used “smooth-talk”, but on the second she used something darker. From the WLFI article,

She did not say anything that was sweet-sounding,” said the second woman. “She had you in such fear – for your life, of things that she said people were doing to you. You are already in a weird state of mind when you have a great loss.”

The psychic used scare tactics to keep these women coming in for more sessions. $100 sessions became $400 sessions, and in one instance, the psychic even got one of the victims to buy her a Rolex. How? Well she told the victim that because her problems occurred at a certain time and place, she had to buy a special time piece and throw it into the river to break the curse on her marriage.

The psychic went with the victim to the jewellery store, picked out a $26 000 Rolex, and the victim paid for it. Later, when they went to the river,

The woman said she caught a glimpse of a watch being thrown into the river, but admitted she had no idea if it was a Rolex.

It’s easy to look at this story and say “Oh, these women are stupid” or “They should have known better”. They are probably saying that to themselves right now. But there is a bigger picture here.

When people are desperate, they will try anything. One of the victims in this story was desperate to save her marriage. Can we really blame her for wanting to try anything?

Lets remember that these psychics are very good at what they do. They know how to prey on people’s emotions. They can convince you that they have predicted something about your life, when really they have been guessing the entire time. (Read up on cold-reading to see how they do this).

This rings true of alternative medicine as well. We can’t blame people for going to Homeopaths or faith healers, because they are simply so desperate that they are willing to try and/or pay anything to help themselves.

The culprits are the purveyors of woo. The psychics, palm readers, faith healers etc, who make a living preying on the vulnerabilities and desperation of people like the women in this story.

If you want to go to a psychic for entertainment, for a laugh, that’s fine. But remember that they have no powers, no special abilities. All they have is just a knack for performance.

“In the course of a successful reading, the psychic may provide most of the words, but it is the client that provides most of the meaning and all of the significance.” –Ian Rowland (2000: 60)

Acupuncture: Not As Harmless As You Thought

October 19, 2010 1 comment

Acupuncture is one of the most widely used alternative medicine treatments today. Photo: GETTY

A recent review article published in the The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine has found reports of 86 deaths in the last 45 years relating to acupuncture treatment.

Incorrectly placing needles and poor sterilization techniques were the main culprits. These poor practices led to punctured hearts and lungs, infections, liver and artery damage and haemorrhages.

From the Guardian,

The most common cause of death was a condition called pneumothorax, where air finds its way between the membranes that separate the lungs from the chest wall and causes the lungs to collapse.

The article was written by Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. When describing his research he said that “these fatalities are avoidable” but are “the tip of a larger iceberg.”

Now, every medical treatment has some form of risk associated with it. What is important is the risk/benefit analysis of the treatment. If you could potentially save a life, the benefit is high which could make a risky procedure worth it.

The problem with acupuncture is that it has consistently been shown to offer little more than a placebo effect. Therefore, if it has no benefit than even a very small amount of risk is unacceptable.

When discussing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments I always get the question, “Well, whats the harm?”

Studies like these and websites like Whatstheharm.net are showing the growing amount of evidence that some CAM treatments are not as safe as we once thought.

Acupuncture and Stroke: The Globe and Mail’s Epic…Win???

September 29, 2010 1 comment

 I guess you could call this post “Part 2” in my examination of science reporting in Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail.

My previous post dealt with the horrific reporting on the supposed link between cell phones and cancer. This time around, I’ll be dealing with an article on acupuncture.

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine wherein needles are inserted into the skin. The needle insertions are supposed to redirect the flow of qi energy in the body, which subsequently cures whatever ails you. (Check my previous post about acupuncture for a more thorough explanation).

Scientific consensus is that acupuncture offers nothing more than a placebo effect. Yet, most insurance companies continue to cover it (including mine).

So when I saw an article about acupuncture in The Globe, was ready for more fodder for my skeptical mind. But I was pleasantly surprised. Somewhat. Just a little.

The article reports on a recent review of 10 studies looking at acupuncture as a therapy for stroke patients. Not surprisingly, the researchers found no evidence that acupuncture helped the recovery of these patients.

While the article does a good job making this finding clear, it does cloud the issue by talking about the supposed “problems” with studying acupuncture.

One of the most glaring problems confounding the study of acupuncture is that it’s challenging to compare it to anything. While researchers studying the effects of a drug can make a direct comparison by giving some patients the medicine and others a placebo, the same isn’t true of acupuncture. Researchers often give one group of patients acupuncture and use a “sham” therapy on another group, in which needles are inserted at non-acupuncture points in the body.

The problem with that approach is that patients may still get a benefit from the “sham” needles, even if they’re not inserted at the correct points in the body.

The “sham” treatment is the placebo in this type of study, and these sham treatments are often developed with the help of trained acupuncturists. The fact that sham acupuncture gives a similar benefit to the patient as regular acupuncture is not a “problem”, it is evidence. Evidence that acupuncture does not provide any benefit other than a placebo. If the treatment does not provide a statistically significant effect beyond that of a placebo, it is not effective.

Proponents of acupuncture usually try to fog the minds of potential customers by saying that acupuncture cannot be studied by standard “Western” practices; that it should be exempt from scientific study because it is somehow “different”. Even the Globe and Mail article manages to contradict itself on this point:

Dr. Korner-Bitensky said there is no solid evidence showing stroke patients can truly benefit from acupuncture.

“For patients and families I would say [acupuncture is] not where you want to put your major commitment in terms of therapy,” she said.

But there’s another important point that shouldn’t be discounted, Dr. Korner-Bitensky added: Some patients simply believe in acupuncture therapy, and that alone could somehow benefit them.

Sorry, but science is a methodology, not an ideology. “Belief” is not enough. If acupuncture produced a real effect, it should be testable and quantifiable. But it doesn’t.

Now the question always arises at this point: “Even if it is just a placebo, why is that bad? It still makes people feel better. Why can’t we let it continue?”

There are several reasons. The first is that if acupuncture is covered by health insurance, it means that we are all collectively footing the bill for a medical treatment that doesn’t work.

Second, if we allow a treatment which doesn’t work to continue, we open the door for similar treatments and ideology to become mainstream, such as faith healing or homeopathy.

Third, if we continue to allow treatments which don’t work to exist, we run the risk of ordinary people choosing “alternative” treatments, treatments which have been proven ineffective, over science-based treatments that do work.

Finally, acupuncture is not always completely benign. There have been reports of needles being left in, punctured bladders, and there is always the possibility of infection.

So although this Globe and Mail article wasn’t an all-out “Win”, it wasn’t a Fail either. But it does serve to bring up discussion about alternative medicine and the associated dangers of giving them more credit than they deserve.