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Homeopathy: because snake oil costs money

June 10, 2010

Homeopathy is on my mind today thanks to an ongoing thread on Rational Skepticism’s psuedoscience section. Presently they are dealing with an apparent homeopath from India with a lot of time on her hands to spam forums.

In the meantime, I have used the opportunity to learn more about it. Admittedly I end up thinking first, who would use this in my Mage game? But aside from that, I just find it a waste of time, energy, and money, and sometimes people’s health and life. I find that in my state in particular, homeopathy has been used by otherwise discredited, shouldn’t-be-doctors to go on practicing and waste more money and people’s lives than they already have.

So, for starters:

Based on an ipse dixit[1] axiom[2] formulated by Hahnemann which he called the law of similars, preparations which cause certain symptoms in healthy individuals are given as the treatment for patients exhibiting similar symptoms. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking, which homeopaths term succussion, after each dilution under the assumption that this increases the effect of the treatment. Homeopaths call this process potentization. Dilution often continues until none of the original substance remains.[3]

The interesting part about this ‘serial dilution’ is how it’s generated this nomenclature that homeopaths evidently find useful; it looks all sciencey when they label their samples of water or alcohol or sugar pills, I suppose.

A picture from a shelf at a Boots store in Britain, seems. Looks all…medicinal and such. What’s it mean?

Three potency scales are in regular use in homeopathy. Hahnemann created the centesimal or C scale, diluting a substance by a factor of 100 at each stage. The centesimal scale was favored by Hahnemann for most of his life. A 2C dilution requires a substance to be diluted to one part in one hundred, and then some of that diluted solution diluted by a further factor of one hundred. This works out to one part of the original substance in 10,000 parts of the solution.[56]

The homeopathic ‘theory’ of dilution indicates that a more diluted solution is somehow more potent, while in the reality-based community, knowledge of chemistry indicates that at a 12C dilution, one might expect to find one molecule of the original substance in the sample. So, they’re selling nothing much at all.

It’s a somewhat amusing aside from a chart on the wiki page that permissible levels of arsenic in our drinking water would represent a 4C dilution.

When you dig into the subject (as we’re doing on RatSkep), you run afoul of a screaming lot of metaphysical garbage…things like vitalism, like patient and doctor becoming ‘entangled,’ that these ‘doctors’ have to tailor their treatments to the individual. Which begs the question of what that shelf of standardized BS is doing in a store. And I find the source of a common label I’ve seen used by homeopaths; seems it’s an age-old insult.

The term ‘homeopathy’ is derived from two Greek words: homeo (similar) and pathos (suffering). Hahnemann meant to contrast his method with the convention of his day of trying to balance “humors” by treating a disorder with its opposite (allos). He referred to conventional practice as allopathy. Even though modern scientific medicine bears no resemblance to the theory of balancing humors or treating disease with its opposite, modern homeopaths and other advocates of “alternative” medicine misleadingly refer to today’s science-trained physicians as allopaths (Jarvis 1994).

Interesting. Allopathy. Balancing humors. Who does that anymore? Yet I have seen that term bandied about.

Curiouser still is this shaking business, this succussion. They’ve learned this much: the value of medical-sounding jargon. What is this practice when you break it down? Well, it’s the excuse they use for why water’s ‘memory’ doesn’t ‘recall’ being through your toilet.

Hahnemann believed that very small doses of a medication could have very powerful healing effects because their potency could be affected by vigorous and methodical shaking (succussion). Hahnemann referred to this alleged increase in potency by vigorous shaking as dynamization. Hahnemann thought succussion could release “immaterial and spiritual powers,” thereby making substances more active. “Tapping on a leather pad or the heel of the hand was alleged to double the dilution” (ibid.).

On RatSkep there is an unanswered question as to how one may differentiate a solution that has not been shaken from one that was properly shaken, or shaken too much or not enough. This is the sort of squirming idiocy you run into when you dig a bit. Of course, there’s no mention of spiritual powers nowadays, not that I’ve seen. It’s all quite minimal and medical-sounding.

This I feel is partly why people buy this stuff; it’s in stores they like, it has the look of a proper treatment, it has its loud proponents, and lots of shiny-happy, caring ‘doctors’ making their clucking mother hen noises while they sell you water and sugar pills.

It is interesting to consider just how much of this fraud is psychological in nature, though. It can be the tendency of a person to just get better…it happens…and to wrongly attribute a cure to something that’s not. It can certainly be that mother-henning aspect — I see they’ve got that down.

….most homeopaths like to allow at least 45 minutes for a first consultation and many prefer an hour or more. Second, patients feel that they are being treated “as an individual”. They are asked a lot of questions about their lives and their likes and dislikes in food, weather, and so on, much of which has no obvious connection with the problem that has led to the consultation. Then the homeopath will quite probably refer to an impressively large and imposing source of information to help with choosing the right “remedy”. (Campbell)

Homeopathy has this vitalism-inspired easy out, though; allegedly, they get the body to cure itself. Conveniently, this omits evidence. If the body cured itself, which it can do at times, how can you show the ‘medicine’ did anything? How can you show it has any effect on anyone? This may be why a particular event was staged to demonstrate the point, by scads of people ‘overdosing’ on the stuff. No damage.

Where this hits home for me is knowing there is a board in Arizona licensing homeopaths, and some of the dreadful mistakes they’ve made. It is somewhat revolting to consider discredited doctors remaking themselves as homeopaths, then continuing on with their discredited medical skills until they happen to ruin some more lives in Arizona. For example, the case of the Utah doctor, Gary Page, as far as I can tell is still in court. If the case was ever resolved I can’t find it.

I found this when looking for an answer to another question on RatSkep…just what does it take to lose one’s license to practice homeopathic medicine? Sure, the typical response is that it’s mostly harmless — as placebos are supposed to be. And why should anyone want to pay for this useless, ineffectual ‘medicine’?

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