Homeopathetic; Or how the 10.23 overdose campaign will probably do nothing

Cartoon credit: worldofweirdthings.com

You may have heard about the planned mass ‘overdose’ that was done on Saturday. If not then I guess it failed anyway, but basically a group of homeopathy sceptics from Merseyside all took a massive ‘overdose’ of homeopathic remedies in a bid to “raise awareness about the reality of homeopathy.” In an open letter to Boots they state that they don’t expect to find products on the shelves of a trusted pharmacy brand that don’t work. In fact Boots’ own Professional Standards Director, Paul Bennet, has readily admitted before the Commons Science and Technology Committe that he doesn’t believe homeopathy to be efficacious. Unfortunately the very reason that people believe homeopathy to work will be the reason that Boots continue to sell homeopathic remedies by the idiots-shopping-basket-full. Let me explain…

So What is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a type of medicine treatment that works on the principle that like treats like. Burnt your sausage fingers getting your frozen pizza from the oven? Don’t worry, just hold them over the gas rings, that’ll sort it right out… And it gets better, as the whole discipline is further based upon a dilution scheme, whereby the tincture is diluted first one part into one hundred parts of water (1c), then further diluted to 30c. You don’t have to be Avagadro to realise that there is nothing left of the original tincture. That’s ok though, a homeopath is able to create an energetic imprint of the medicinal substance through a process called succussion, or ‘shaking it up a bit’. Presumably that’s how they differentiate the intended energetic imprint from every other substance that has ever been dissolved in water. Homeopath = magician…

That sounds mad, surely science has something to say?

Scientific literature including double blind, randomised, controlled studies have found little evidence in support of homeopathic remedies. An oft-quoted study that appeared to support homeopathic remedies (Inflammation Research, vol 53, p 181) in which Madeleine Ennis studied the effects on basophils, white blood cells involved in inflammation, which were treated with ultra-dilute solutions of histamines was later shown to be unrepeatable and the responses that were seen were blamed on poor experimental design. (Citation needed)

Wait, I’ve heard that Quantum Entanglement explains it all…

Quantum Entanglement is the theory that a connection can exist between two objects at the quantum level that defies classical and relativistic concepts of space and time, and that measuring an observable state in one of the objects, such as spin, will give you information about the other object in the entangled pair, regardless of distance. Many homeopaths use this to postulate that the universe is all connected. Victor Stenger explains it much more eloquently than I could in his book ‘The Unconscious Quantum’ but essentially a pair of entangled photons just have the same observable phenomena, this has nothing to do with healing, and the effects will average out given the number of photons present in your average sugar pill

OK, but where’s the harm?

Ordinarily I go along with the adage about fools and money, but this can be a problem where proven treatments are ignored in favour of the homeopathic remedies. In fact there is a veritable catalogue of potential outcomes to delaying treatments. According to one such catalogue there have been 368,379 people deaths and 306,096 injuries directly attributable to homeopathy. In fact there are many children on that list that have died of treatable illnesses like pneumonia and epilepsy because their parents would rather give them a ‘safe’ alternative to medicine.

Furthermore it is my taxes that are paying for £4M worth of NHS homeopathic treatments. Not cool Brown, Not cool.

So why do people use homeopathic remedies at all?

There are numerous sources of anecdotal evidence ‘proving’ that a homeopathic pill cured Aunt Margaret’s cold, or whatever. Clearly the placebo effect is a powerful one, that still needs a great deal of study before we understand what is going on, but knowingly selling a sugar-pill with only the patients belief as an active ingredient is dishonest and, for, me the 10.23 effort didn’t go far enough. Instead of overdosing (on nothing) the group should have taken Boots to court under ‘Fraud by False Pretences’ as they are selling ‘medicines’ that they (in their own words) ‘don’t believe to be efficacious’.

So why was the campaign doomed to fail?

Big Pharma may have it’s faults, and without going into tin-foil-hat territory I have equal disdain for GlaxoSmithKlein as the homeopathic snake oil dealers, however it was clear to me that no amount of media posturing was going to win over the homeopathic remedy crowd. It is their very belief in these remedies that make them work, and if someone believes that a sugar pill treated with an energy imprint can heal their ailments by exposing them to the same thing that is causing their illness then no amount of logical debate or scientific evidence will change their minds.

5 thoughts on “Homeopathetic; Or how the 10.23 overdose campaign will probably do nothing

  1. mbooth

    My favourite argument for homeopathic, herbal and other alternative and traditional remedies is that “they’ve been used for hundreds or even thousands of years.”

    Right. And then we tested it. The stuff that worked became medicine.

    Where’s my clue-by-four?

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  2. The problem is that people who use homeopathy genuinely believe it works, and often the placebo effect means it does. It’s a tricky issue to deny someone what they believe is an effective treatment.

    I know biomedical scientists who take a homeopathic powder daily, when they should know full well that it’s a load of bunk. And that’s the problem. People like medicines, but people don’t like the fact that most medicines have side effects.

    Look at the rise of the ‘probiotic’ yoghurt drink; the drinks themselves seem to do nothing, and if they do there’s not a lot of agreement on what actual benefit they have. But they are a consequence free medicine, people can feel like they’re making a healthy change without repercussions (except the cost, of course). It’s a scam, sure, but so many products are. Designer clothing? Latest Apple product? People can continue to spend their money on what makes them feel good, and I don’t mind that.

    What I do mind is the justification of these things. Boots (formerly Booth the Chemist) selling them seems wrong, and don’t get me started on the Royal Homeopathic Hospital. Let the fruit loops get their alternative medicine from beardy high street vendors, but keep it away from actual, proven medicine.

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  3. Pingback: Why does the media love homeopathy? | Stuporcollider

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