Friday, August 16, 2013

Homeopathy: why it is dangerous

Homeopathy is part of everyday life. We see the commercials on TV. Our parents gave us some. And we still see friends giving it to their children. The common and mistaken idea about homeopathy is that it is medicine with a low concentration. It is erroneous. But let's see why!

The origins

At the origin of homeopathy was the belief that giving a tiny amount of X would generate the opposite effect of X. Modern rationality alone is sufficient to see the error of this postulate as would appear with the example of coffee: coffee generally keeps people awake. If the homeopathic principle was true, then giving a tiny amount of coffee would make people sleepy. Even worse than that: it assumed that the effect will be greater by having less of the substance. So if a drop of coffee would make you sleepy, then a fraction of this drop would have even greater effect to bring you to sleep.

So, according to homeopathy, the substance that will take effect should be diluted A LOT.

How it's prepared + some maths

So in order to prepare a homeopathic recipe, we need the so-called "active ingredient", which I'll call X, and we will dilute it.

As illustrated, we start with solution X. For each dilution, we pour 1 drop of the solution in a new solution of water. For easy maths, I'll suppose that our drop is diluted by a factor 1,000. Rinse (literally) and repeat! After the second dilution, X has been divided by 1,000,000.

Rinse and repeat!

Rinse and repeat!

After 50 dilutions, X has been divided by 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or in a more user-friendly notation: 1E150 or 10^150.

Such a number is impossible to apprehend, even for a lot of people who studied scientific subjects. So I need to explain it in a simpler manner: if you hope to find 1 single molecule of X in the final vial, your vial should contain 1E150 (or 10^150) molecules of water. That is 70 orders of magnitude more than the number of atoms in the observable universe.

Let's say it as it is: when you buy homeopathy, there's NOTHING in it.

Well... don't take my word for it! Take the word of Gina Casey for it, a spokesman for homeopathy producer Boiron who produces Oscillococcinum. She said: "Of course it is safe. There's nothing in it".

So it's safe, then? ...Not so fast!

In itself, yes, homeopathy is safe since there's nothing in it. And just like anything else, it can have a placebo effect.

The problem comes from the way homeopathy is presented as a medicine or alternative medicine to the public. People will be tricked by its presentation and, not knowing the scientific facts behind it, will believe it to be a real treatment. It has 2 consequences:

  1. it will deprive them of the opportunity of going directly for the real pharmaceutical treatment, and because of the delay, their health is likely to degrade.
  2. it will lure them into spending their money for a deceptive product, while enriching the people who market homeopathy


Homeopathy is fraud. It is not science and it misdirects ill people and delays their access to real treatments.

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