World of Wonders

When we see things that aren’t, we miss the wonderful things that are.

How we know homeopathy doesn’t work

Cory Doctorow today posted the following on the always entertaining, always stimulating boingboing.net: “Homeopathy multinational sues blogger over statements that its mythological curative had no ‘active ingredient’.” The blogger is Samuele Riva; the multinational is the largest manufacturer of homeopathic products in the world, a company called Boiron, based in France.

On blogzero.it, Riva makes the claim that Boiron’s product Oscillococcinum has no active ingredient. Understandable, since the company claims the flu remedy is made with oscillococcinum, a substance that doesn’t exist; and understandable since the ingredient is supposedly diluted with a 1:100 dilution 200 times. As Steven Novella writes, that’s “the equivalent of diluting 1ml of original ingredient into a volume of water that is the size of the known universe.” No wonder it’s non-drowsy and has no side effects.

Oscillococcinum

Naturally, many readers’ comments on the story on boingboing.net debunk homeopathy, focusing on the placebo effect, the results of clinical trials, the weakness of anecdotal evidence, and other familiar arguments. Here’s my comment (revised for this posting):

According to the fundamentals of homeopathy, medicines are made “by diluting the remedy and succussing (shaking) it. All homeopathic medicines are ‘potentized’, i.e. diluted and succussed. This method of preparation imparts considerable energy to each substance.” The curative power of any substance is “imprinted” on water through contact and agitation, and its effectiveness is increased by dilution.

But if this is indeed how homeopathic remedies are made, you wouldn’t need to buy Boiron’s Oscillococcinum. In fact, you shouldn’t need to buy any homeopathic remedies at all because a glass of tap water would contain the curative powers of every element and substance on the planet. After billions of years, every element, molecule, compound and substance has been in contact with water at some point, and been subsequently agitated and diluted. Rocks release chemicals into the water of a rushing river; a leaf falls into a lake; rivers pour these dilute solutions into the oceans where they are agitated and diluted even more; and on and on for billions of years.

If homeopathic fundamentals were real, every mouthful of water we drank would provide us with the curative benefit of every substance that any amount of water came in contact with—ever. Every mouthful would contain all the medicinal power of every product in Boiron’s catalog. If homeopathy worked and Boiron truly cared about our welfare, they would simply stop selling their “remedies” and encourage us all—as our mothers did—to drink more water.

Filed under: pseudoscience, science literacy, skepticism

About me

CHRIS SASAKI
I am a Toronto-based writer, author and photographer who is inspired and fascinated by science. Science is our best way of understanding the natural world, but it is much more than that. Science is culture, and its pursuit ultimately leads to meaning, values and wonder.  My interests include evolution, Darwin, the Galapagos Islands, secular humanism, religion, skepticism, climate change, and science culture.  For many years, I wrote and produced astronomy programs for the McLaughlin Planetarium of the Royal Ontario Museum. I am author of many books for young readers (Sterling Publishing and Penguin Young Readers, N.Y.) and articles for children's magazines. I also write non-fiction related to the themes reflected in this blog. You can read some of my longer non-fiction and view my photographs at www.chrissasaki.com, and follow me at www.twitter.com/chrissasaki.

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