On January 30th 2010, at 10:23am, all over the country hundreds of sceptics of homeopathy ‘overdosed’, by swallowing an entire vial of homeopathic ‘pillules’. Shockingly, everyone survived. This was part of an organised campaign against the public funding and support of homeopathy: the ’10:23 Campaign’. I want to lend my wholehearted support to this campaign, as I hugely resent that taxpayers have to fork out for this absolute rubbish; as well as homeopathic treatments being available on the NHS, a recent refurbishment to the ‘Royal Homeopathic Hospital’ was part funded by the government for £10million. Just to enrage you: that’s the same as 500 nurses’ annual wages (and the employees of this ‘hospital’ do not have to possess a medical degree, or indeed any qualification at all. Is there a doctor in the house?)
First of all, I’ll explain exactly what is in a homeopathic ‘medicine’. The easy answer would be ‘nothing’. I could be more specific, and say ‘just water’, or be even more specific, and say ‘well, ok then: water diluted in water, several million times’. Let me elaborate. Most of the homeopathic treatments a customer might see on a shelf are labelled ‘30C’. This, in homeopath-speak, means ’30-centestimal’. In scientific-speak, it means that there is one molecule of ‘medicine’ in every 10030, or 1060, molecules of water. (I won’t type out the actual number, but the number of zeros would occupy more space than the entire next paragraph.)
To picture this dilution, we can look to noted pseudoscience debunker Dr. Ben Goldacre; he explains that one molecule of the active substance, surrounded by a sphere of the water necessary for dilution, would fit snugly between the earth and the sun, with a diameter of around 150 million kilometres.
This is where the 10:23 of the campaigns name comes in. It is a reference to that central concept in chemistry, Avogadro’s constant, or the number of molecules of a substance in one ‘mole’ of a substance (~6 x 1023). Because of this, we can truthfully say that in a 30C (or 1 in 1060) homeopathic solution, there is not a single molecule of anything other than water. Yet in 2008, the US spent $15million on oscillococcinum, or a molecule of duck offal at 200C dilution. (There are approximately 1080 atoms in the universe, so even if the entire universe was a batch of ‘oscillococcinum’, there STILL wouldn’t be a single molecule of offal in it.)
The founder of the ideas behind homeopathy was a man named Samuel Hahnemann, and he published them in 1796. That’s 214 years ago. Back then, there was still widespread scientific support for humourism (the theory that all disabilities and diseases stemmed from excesses and deficits in black bile, yellow bile, blood or phlegm). And yet, all homeopaths still unquestioningly and fervently stick by Hahnemann’s crackpot ideas. Ideas completely contradictory to all scientific knowledge, such as the ‘Law of Infintesimals’: ‘the greater the dilution, the more effective the treatment’, which is the same as saying ‘the less whisky you put in your next JD and coke, the drunker you’ll get’. Right. Or ideas such as making the active ingredient of a homeopathic remedy what is making you ill, thanks to Hahnemann’s genius ‘like cures like’ concept. If you’re tired, a homeopath will prescribe ultra-diluted caffeine (called ‘coffea’). If your eyes are streaming from hayfever, have some onion, etc. Luckily, this hugely harmful idea doesn’t come to anything (as it would if the substances were at normal concentrations), precisely due to the dilution precept. So the whole exercise is simply expensive and useless.
So what’s the harm, surely? If some idiot wants to part with £5 for nothing more than a few grams of sugar, why am I kicking up such a fuss? Well, what if the idiot has a serious condition and prioritises homeopathic remedies over drug-trialled, peer-reviewed science? What if the idiot is a parent, and, having the responsibility for their child’s safety, gives them homeopathic remedies before real medicine? Well if the condition is serious, then they die, or are irrevocably damaged before real doctors can step in. That’s the harm. Here are some stories:
Lorie Atikian, a Canadian baby, was given homeopathic remedies and an organic vegetarian diet by her parents, because they were concerned about modern food additives harming their child. Lorie died at 17 months old from malnutrition and pneumonia.
Isabella Denley, another baby, was prescribed medications for her epilepsy. Her parents ignored them and consulted a range of alternative medicine peddlers including an ‘applied kinesiologist’. She was treated purely with homeopathic medication, and died at 13 months.
Russell Jenkins, a 52 year-old from Southsea, impaled his foot on an electric plug. Instead of going to get the minor injury treated at a hospital, he took the advice of his homeopath and treated the foot with honey. He was a diabetic, and his foot became gangrenous. He died.
We don’t still think the earth is flat, so why do we still treat people for epilepsy with water?
Please sign the Downing Street petition to start an inquiry into the funding of homeopathy in the NHS: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/NHSHomeopathy/