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Bigbttommy's excellent review of Homoeopathy has already demonstrated many of the fallacies and much of the fraud surrounding this scam, so I'll try to cover new ground as much as possible. The pointlessness of testimonials, and improperly conducted trials is also well covered in the literature, so I'll concentrate on the 'magic' water angle.
Homeoopathic 'medicine' is plain water. Often, a lactose pill with a drop of this plain water placed upon it. Homoeopaths admit, and excuse the fact that they're selling plain old water by saying it 'remembers' some substance that it once contained, and this 'memory' can cure you. Although implausible, (and almost impossible to fathom out what they mean) it is, at least, some kind of response. I tried to steer clear of debunking this too much as, although it's scientific nonsense: (a) It's been debunked many times by people more qualified than me. (I'm not medically qualified at all... but arithmetic, logic and reasoning are qualities we all aspire to.) (b) It doesn't stop paranormal-believers having Faith in a theory that water has memory (whatever that means?).
It's one thing to have faith in something that those party-pooper scientists have disproved, and that there is much in the Universe still to learn. Very commendable. It's quite another thing to continue to believe after discovering that the Homoeopaths have been caught in a bare-faced lie:
Even if we can believe that water has a memory, simple common sense dictates that nothing could have a memory of something that it has never come in to contact with, or has any awareness of its existence. This is the lie. Homoeopaths claim that the water remembers something it used to contain. It didn't. It didn't used to contain anything else but more water. It used to contain some other water that made the same, false, claim. Ad infinitum.
It's like claiming you 'remember' an Amazonian Witch-Doctor, whose name you don't know, and that a 'memory' of his incantations can cure you. Fine. This is the argument they push. The problem is, it's a lie, and that what is ACTUALLY meant is that : You may-or-may-not have met someone, who may-or-may-not have met someone else, who may-or-may-not have met someone else... (etc. x 200) that met this Witch-Doctor and remembers his spell. Phew. You may be able to cope with the first part , but surely it becomes an absurdity thereafter?
Possibly, if you met someone who attributed their illness-recovery to the above, you may think them deluded. But it's identical to the (il)logical argument of Homoeopaths. Homoeopathy persists, simply because it's much, much harder work to see through the smokescreen of made-up science. And much, much easier to hear that someone's aunty got better one day.
What follows is the details of this deception, which unavoidably has to use numbers to back it up. I guess in a magazine review, this would be in a side-panel, purely for readers who want the gory details. But hopefully the above will make the general point. If it doesn't, I apologise for the lack of clarity, but any attempt to explain an intricate web of nonsense requires either numbers, or similarly-ludicrous analogies.
--- The Gory Details ---
Many people may be aware of the 'Medicine that contains no Medicine' paradox, but may still have some faith in the various mysterious processes that seek to explain this; so bear with me, I hope I might be able demonstrate how these arguments are - in the strongest sense of the word - unbelievable, even if you're already bored with the zero-ingredient opinion.
A common homoeopathic remedy for flu is Oscillococcinum (an extract of duck liver). This is at a dilution of "200C". This means that an initial 1-percent solution of active ingredient is further diluted 1:99. i.e. 1 part medicine is diltuted with 99 parts of water; this what the 'C' means. This diluting process is then repeated 200 times. Hence "200C". This gives us a final dilution of 1 molecule of duck to 1-followed-by-400-zeroes molecules of water. (That's 10-to-the-power-of-400). A very big number indeed; write it out to truly appreciate it. In other words, only if you had a giant vessel containging this many parts of water, could you be sure that it contained at least ONE part of medicine. Sadly there are only 10-to-the-power-of-80 atoms in the known universe, which means there is zero possibility that the solution (water), now contains a single molecule of Oscillococcinum (medicine) .
The good news, then, is that homoeopathy poses little threat to the duck population. Quack. In fact, only a single Mallard need be bludgeoned to cure every inhabitant of a near-infinite number of universes, of flu. However, realistically, at a dilution of 10C or greater (to be very generous and round it up), there is effectively no chance that there are enough suitable molecules on Earth to hope that you have a single such molecule of medicine in your water. (Ruling out interplanetary Crested Bantams, of course).
If the exact dilution amount is in any way critical (which they claim it is), then we need to live in a protective bubble. We're exposed to ALL sorts of molecules - as impurities - in the environment. If the quack has told you need 1 or zero molecules of Oscillococcinum to cure you, make damn sure you don't breathe in on the way home or eat anything and put the calculation out by a couple of hundred. i.e. you will have inadvertently consumed 200 molecules of medicine, when the recommended dose is 1 or zero . Have you heard the one about the Homoeopath that died of an overdose after drinking a glass of water?
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Homoeopaths now agree that from 10C-strength-dilutions onwards, we have to resort to the 'memory of water' argument. i.e. they agree that the water contains no medicine, but that some kind of information is coded in the molecular structure of this magic water having once been in contact with the ingredient, and this 'memory' of the medicine alone has curative properties. Really. Ask one.
OK, this flies in the face of everything we know about physics, and every single claim that has been tested, has failed. But what the heck, let's carry on anyway, we left science behind back with the ducks.
The water I am now sipping, I am reliably informed, will contain molecules that have been in contact with excrement, used sanitary towels, urine, and will have passed through the bladders of countless people, including Elton John, several lawyers, and a paedophile or two. I would not be happy to think that I am consuming something that has strong 'traits' of the above, yet this is what I'm being asked to believe. Are you still happy with the memory theory?
OK, if you are happy with the 'memory' of the 10C water, then you've got an insurmountable problem with the 11C solution. (1 part medicine to 10000000000000000000000 parts water) Why? Well because 90 percent of the water molecules in that solution not only contain ZERO duck, but, THEY HAVE NEVER EVEN MET A DUCK-MOLECULE TO HAVE A MEMORY OF ONE!
This is a point much overlooked, especially by homoeopaths. At 20C ( 1 part medicine to 10000000000000000000000000000000000000000 parts water), even if you had a glass the size of the earth, no water-molecule in that glass has ever even met another molecule that's met a molecule, that's met any kind of water-fowl-based medicine. From hereon-in, it's a game of Chinese Whispers played 180 more times! This has got nothing to do with 'memory' (even if you can bring yourself to believe in that), but everything to do with a 'message' concerning a 'memory', passed down a very long line of water-molecules, that have no means of communicating information, let alone with any sort of accuracy. So the memory argument falls to pieces here; it's not memory, it's molecular gossip. If the initial 'memory' was of something a bit like Britney Spears, then at the end of the Chinese Whisper line, the hapless 200C molecules will have an impression of a Massey-Fergusson Tractor, The Gambia, or even Judy Finnegan. It is simply impossible for this information (that most doubt the presence of, anyway) to persist. And let's not even worry about all the impurities at every stage drowning out this pseudo-information.
The most common kind of pills are lactose tablets that have had a single drop of this magic, "water-with-a-message" placed upon them. (Remember it's NOT a 'memory' any more, it's a vague, distorted message at best). Is the message now somehow transferred to the sugar? Does "sugar-memory" or "sugar-language" work the same as water? Or to put it another way, can this sugar now remember that it once met a molecule who's distant ancestor met Britney Spears, and that she looks a bit like The Gambia?
Whatever science that you can bring yourself to believe in, that would explain water's memory and communication skills, the theory will break down when trying to apply it to lactose's utterly different, and more complex, molecular structure. It would be like a deaf person trying to describe Judy Finnegan, using sign-language alone. To a blind man. We don't need to understand the chemistry behind this; you just can't build a Lego model out of Meccano. I won't torture this analogy any more, but you can probably see that this change of medium must now happen many more times before 'something' gets in to your blood stream, including a mouth full of watery saliva - that has many memories and anecdotes of its own, no doubt - and a stomach full of acid.
It's a con. It's taking people's money and mocking them. And most dangerously, there are people deluded enough to forego real medical help that they may need, in favour of it. People who want to promote an open-minded approach to Alternative Medicine should be the most vocal in its condemnation; even the fiercest skeptic will agree that other therapies have some small measure of plausibility - if not measurable proof - but this just promotes gullibility and quackery, and discredits other sincerely held beliefs.
As the other author pointed out, if your last shred of belief is just about hanging in there because you once took a pill and your cold cleared up, then you need to equally credit everything else you swallowed that day, or every action or ritual performed that day, or simply accept the well known facts that colds clear up, blood clots, bones knit, tissue repairs, and antibodies declare war on foreign organisms. If they don't, you need a doctor.
Here's a bit of fun. Take two identical looking 30C+ homoeopathic remedies that differ only in their choice of infinitely diluted medicine, and tell the homoeopath that you've got them mixed up. Request that they take them away for analysis so they can work out which is which.
i found this amusing and clever in parts.....not for me though but thanks for the insight. Av xx
Minha 22.01.2005 16:19
You don't believe in it then? :o) Hazel xx
Champ666 19.01.2005 11:54
Your E and well deserved. A lot of pro-homeopath folk point to how that the success rates are higher than that acheived by placebos in clinical trials, but to my knowledge homoeopathy has neve been subjected to a proper double blind clinical trial, if it has I'd be interested in the result. Oh and if anyone wants to discuss the structure of pure liquid water and how it dissolves things, and how it can't remember those things once it has been removed then I'd be more that happy