Friday, August 18, 2006

Comments on my Homeopathy Prank - er, Experiment

` Yes, there are a few somewhat amusing things that people have said over all this time (via the internet) if you are interested....
` You might be interested to know that I subscribed to Skeptic magazine just after I told Lou about his homeopathy substitution. And so, I got the standard letter from Barry Karr:

Thank you for your interest in and support of the efforts of CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer. We are pleased to welcome you aboard as a new subscriber of the Skeptical Inquirer. It would help us to know how you heard about us. If you could let me know I'll send you off one of our CSICOP "I Doubt It" decals as a little thank you from us.

Barry Karr

... [I] subscribed to Skeptic because the store I used to buy them from stopped carrying them! When I asked why, the manager of magazines told me that they only sold one copy of each issue! In other words, I was the only customer of Skeptic at that store!! (It is our New-Age-Hippie Co-op and Skeptic is like the anti-Hippie-New-Age magazine.)
` Ha ha!

` Ever since then, I've been attempting to 'skeptify' everything around me, which generally results in debunking. In fact, it's even gotten me into some trouble:

` About the most extreme thing I ever did was replace my boyfriend's homeopathic remedy with vodka. The next time he took it he said his muscle pain was almost gone and that I should really try homeopathy because it worked so well for him. He kept saying stuff like that, and I said it was all in his head. Then one time he said; "Well, maybe I'd believe you if all I was taking was plain vodka!"
` My eyes got really wide and then I told him what I'd done. He didn't believe me AT ALL until I showed him the videotape of what I'd done. Then, suddenly, he backpedaled and started saying his remedy wasn't as effective as usual and that his feeling better was a coincidence, etc, etc, etc!
` I should have kept my mouth shut! Now I have to go to his homeopath, Steve Olsen, because saying something won't help my reverse tactile hallucinations (a.k.a. psychological numbness... long, unpleasant story) but not trying homeopathy isn't being objective, and therefore I'm not really being a skeptic if I just say it doesn't work!!
` No, I have to test it out! Of course... he says it SHOULD work because there's all kinds of scientific evidence for diluted remedies and whatnot, and no research that says otherwise unless the government's behind it and bla bla bla.... and he told me all this crap about 'spirit-like energy' and also how great Kevin Trudeau is because he's a rebel, etc, etc.

` Sigh... so I'm really in for it. I feel so stupid. Maybe some decals would make me feel better ;)

Wow, that is quite an answer. Thanks for the info. I will check out your blogs as well.

...Great story on homeopathy - we've had events here at the Center where we've had people take a whole bottle of a homeopathic remedy - trying to overdose. So far no problems.

The decals are on the way soon. The issue will likely take 4-6 weeks. be sure to send us a photo of the decal wherever you place it. See:

` Oh, and Barry....

` I'm also surprised at the fact that you 'professional skeptics' have overlooked the fact that 'overdosing' yourself on a dilution is utterly meaningless:
` They say it's impossible to overdose on remedy - no effect is totally expected - so taking a whole bottle does nothing but make the homeopaths pissed off and say "ignorant skeptics!! It doesn't work like that!".
` In fact... [my boyfriend] said; "Once your body gets enough, it stops using it - you can't use remedy if you don't need it. So, if you take the wrong remedy, your body doesn't react to it because it doesn't need it."
` He finds that to be logical. I find that to be a perfect excuse for the homeopath to give any of his patients whose condition is not improving.

` (Unless, of course, if you've heard differently, I'd really like to know!!)

so what is wrong with pissing off the homeopaths :)

...Well, it just doesn't 'prove' anything (pardon the pun).


` Ghenggg. I don't think I'd go as far as gathering a bunch of people together to piss off homeopaths... not that there is anything else to do!
` Also, my Skeptic forum friends have had some things to say about my announcement of my 'experiment'!

Doctor X: Teach him BJJ for t3h w1n!!!!!!111


Major Malfunction:
The dilution factor for homeopathic remedies is about the equivalent of a single drop in all the oceans of Earth. So, a glass of plain rainwater probably contains the equivalent remedy for every disease under the sun.

Doctor X:
Always wondered how homeopathists can trust sewage treatment. . . .


` In response to my wondering how to 'break it to him'....

I usually discuss homeopathic remedies in terms of the active ingredients.

I explain how the dilutions mean that there is virtually nothing left of the allegedly diluted "active" substance.

I explain how much glycerine, water, and alcohol are in the product.

I explain the pricing and how much the customer pays for a small amount.

I then compare that to how much of the same substances you can get for the same money.



Active Ingredients: Cinchona 30c,
Chamomilla 30c, Cuprum Metallicum 30c, Laurocerasus 30c, Nux Vomica 30c, Phosphorus Acid 30c, Lac Caninum 30c, Silicea 30c, Zincum Metallicum 30c, CarboVegetabilis 30c, Calcarea Carbonica 30c, Antimonium Tartaricum 30c, Hydrastis 30c, Kalium Bichromicum 30c, Teucrium 30c, Histaminum 30c and Lycopodium 30c.

Inactive Ingredients: 15% Ethanol, 15% Glycerine

ZAPNEA: 60 mL for $29.95

Vodka: 750 mL for $19.95

Medicinal value: the ZAPNEA probably won't affect you but the vodka could kill you.

People just have to decide if $29.95 is too much money for 2 ounces of booze...which is essentially what the homeopathic preparation above, and many like it, really boil down to.

Doctor X:
See if you can get the BBC/Horizons episode.

Sit down and watch it with him.


Pyrrho makes good points.

It is so hard to dissuade believers in alternative medicine. Many claim that the scientific method is not suitable to study their remedies, because their remedies always fail rigorous studies (bassackwards thinking). [And Lou is actually sympathetic with such bassackwards reasoning...] That is the case for homeopathy, they make thousands of claims and each requires rigorous study. I have read what passes for "research" in homeopathic journals, it is as sophisticated as a sixth-grade science project. They don't have any rigorous evidence for any of their claims.

So another thing to say is that evidence for homeopathy is feeble to non-existent. On top of that, it violates established physical chemistry, as well as understanding of pharmacology. [No, sorry, he prefers the 'spirit-like energy' explanation....] One can say there are surely things we don't know about those subjects. However, if we have no reliable evidence for any of the thousands of homeopathic claims (after it has existed more than 200 years) and it is implausible, it is certainly wrong.

What makes homeopathy implausible? We know of no way to leave a chemical imprint in water after the chemical is diluted out of solution (as described by Pyrrho). Water may be the best studied molecule we know (only hydrogen may beat it), and if nobody has stumbled across "water memory," it really, really is unlikely to exist. [Meh. He would just say that the government is suppressing such knowledge.]

Equally implausible is the homeopathic contradiction of 100 years of experience in pharmacology. The universal, pharmacological observation is that a medicine has greater effect when more is taken, and we know why. Homeopathy claims that activity increases as concentration decreases. As a practical example, surely you know that the more alcohol you drink, the more it affects you; conversely, homeopathy claims the more you dilute your alcohol (and the lower total amount you take), the more drunk you should become. The homeopath says a shot of beer is more potent than a shot of vodka!!??

Articles at and the chapter on homeopathy in The Health Robbers (Prometheus, 1993), Barrett and Jarvis eds., may help you.

Doctor X has another, excellent idea.

Lance Kennedy:
A wee bit of history, which may interest your guy.
Homeopathy was a bright idea by an 18th century physician, Dr. Hahneman.
He came up with the inspiration that disease symptoms were the body's way of effecting a cure. Not a bad idea, when you consider the times. Other physicians were 'curing' loss of blood by bleeding the patient!

At the time, the study of natural poisons was well established, and the good doctor knew lots of ways of inducing symptoms with suitable poisons. So, to 'cure' typhoid, he would administer a poison that had the effect of increasing fever. etc.

Sad thing was that his success rate was less than when no poison was administered. Funny that! He tried reducing the dose of poison, and found that fewer of his patients died. Anyone surprised at that?

From this he came up with his great 'break-through'. The more he diluted the remedy, the better it was. Today, homeopaths use ridiculous dilution levels, to the point where no molecule of the active ingredient is left. To get around the obvious theoretical problem, they came up with their own ludicrous idea. Water has a memory!

Recently, the Lancet medical journal, which is one of the most reputable medical journals on Earth, published a survey of 111 studies. These were proper, randomised, placebo controlled, double blind clinical trials. The result of 111 studies? Homeopathic remedy = placebo.

Major Malfunction:
19C Doctors knew more about miasma than 20C doctors. So, obviously, a 19C cure is better than a 20C treatment.

To cure his knee pain with superior 19C knowledge, I would recommend amputation above the knee, with septic technique and without anaesthetics... Well, maybe a bottle of gin, but it's not covered by insurance.

Doctor X:
Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science has a wonderful chapter taking homeopathy to pieces, among other things.


Lord of the Left Hand:
Have your boyfriend write down his claims or have him give you a website that he supports. Then apply the "The Quakery Index" (

On second thought, maybe you shouldn't.....


Wayward Son:
I'm mostly curious about how good his karate is when he's drunk on vodka. Does he fall over when peforming ushiro-yoko geri?

Lance Kennedy:
Why don't you do a double blind trial on your boyfriend?

Discuss it with him and explain what you are doing. Get four bottles of medication, each worth one week. Give them to a friend. Said friend has to re-label them with a code not known to you or boyfriend. Similarly with four bottles of a placebo (distilled water? As long as the taste or appearance cannot reveal the difference).

Give a bottle to boyfriend. End of week, get him to rate its effectiveness on a scale of, say, 1 to 10.
Second week, give second bottle etc. Find some way to choose which bottle at random.

End of 8 weeks, give results to someone neutral (say a University Professor, or whoever you know who is respected by boyfriend). Don't tell which is which. Just treatment A and B. Get result analysed.
Is A better?
is B better?
Are they the same?
Then, after this result is given to boyfriend, find out what A and B are.

Finally, post results on this forum.

` Hmmm! That sounds interesting! I'd have thought of continuing my vodka studies, but unfortunately my boyfriend has some homeopathic powder he's graduating to when he's done with this bottle, so I can't use vodka anymore.

` Later on, I posted Lou's response to the scientific papers I'd found, including the one from the Lancet (in the above post)....

Major Malfunction:
I've developed a homeopathic remedy for unfounded belief in homeopathy. $30 per 30 mL vial. Guarenteed to save you money in the long run.

Maybe I missed it, but how does your (otherwise) skeptical boyfriend come to terms with the fact that there is absolutely NO amount of active ingredient in homeopathic remedies of, say, 30C or higher? In other words, how does he propose to explain, contrary to all known evidence, how water molecules manage to "remember" the shape of the molecules of active ingredient that are no longer there? Furthermore how does he propose to explain, contrary to all known evidence, how this alleged water "memory" causes any effect at all on the cells it comes in contact with?

I'm just thinking out loud here, don't mind me. Smile

[For some reason, spirit-like energy is good enough for him.]

Lance Kennedy:
I can explain your boy-friend's response to the Lancet paper. He did not read this paper, or did not read it only. I have seen on Google several responses to the Lancet paper, written by homeopaths seeking to justify their witch doctory. They come up with all sorts of spurious arguments.

It reminds me of a similar search I did a while back on astrology. A study had just been published based on a good scientific study of astrology which showed it did not work. However the astrologers came up with lots of very shaky arguments against the study. So too with the Lancet study on homeopathy.

Your boyfriend probably read about the Lancet study, from the pen of a homeopath who was not the least interested in correct science. Frankly, he sounds like a lost cause to me.

Doctor X: Someone asked me about constructing a logical argument. Learn by example:

chris59 wrote:
Spoon's experiment with vodka and his pseudo-homeopathic-dilutions etc is simply sad. . . .

Ipse dixit but incorrect.

. . . and proves his laymenship not only in the area of homeopathy, but of performing experiments per se.

Poisoning the Well as well as incorrect.

Then she "received" effect in several seconds - homeopathy NEVER works that quick.

Others claim that speed for some homeopathic preparations. Curious. . . .

Also excessive amount of alcohol can dramatically change not only the "remedy's" actions . . .et cetera . . . et cetera. . . .

Fails to address the basic fact that Spoon's Main Squeeze failed to descern a difference between the preparations.

So lets leave the idiots' sphere now. . . .

Argumentum ad hominem et Poisoning the Well. If an unkind man, I would recognize that all the individual would have to do to leave his sphere is to walk outside, preferably in the direction of a library with a decent science section.

. . . and have a brief look at some sound reasoning.

If an unkind man, I might recognize that as "Poisoning the Well," as well . . . fortunately, "measur'd in manner and speech."

IN MY OPINION AND EXPERIENCE (objective experience is VERY important) :

Obviously, "opinion" is not "objective," nor is personal experience objective experience.

. . . homeopathy is one of the easiest things to verify, yet one of the hardest to prove scientifically:

Methinks that rather speaks for itself.

. . . it is very effective in acute cases but less effective for chronic disorders.

Yet he rather discounted acute cases above. Be that as it may, homeopathic preparations were intended for chronic conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.

*** Proven cure of baby's illnesses that were deemed to be incurable by other means (orthodox medicine, herbs etc). NOBODY in the sound mind can say that the exmaple quoted by me below was simply a PLACEBO effect:

Waits for documented evidence. . . .

. . . my daughter, who had few cases of abscesses on eye lid while being so yound that she did not even realize what was going on:

Eyelid abcesses are not incurrable.

Next. . . .

Description fails to realize child has already been treated with proper medications.

2. Scientific prove :

Here he appeals to wonder, history, among other things which, for space, I will not parse further. Absent remains evidence. Thus:

3. My overall personal / family experience:

remains merely subjective experience and useless without evidence.

In the rain.


Major Malfunction:
If the first treatment doesn't work, your belief must be deeply rooted. Therefore, you must continue the treatment until it is effective. Recommended dosage is 1 mL of preparation to 1 litre white spirit of your choice (vodka, gin, rum), taken daily. For convenience, I accept automatic direct debit and payment in advance up to 10 years, or sign up for my special lifetime treatment plan and save 50%!

Doctor X:
DTMFA [Dump the Motherfucking Asshole.]


a family friend was completely relieved of a huge goiter that was not effectively treated by mainstream docs, and was becoming quite threatening.
I don't know what the Homey remedy was, though.
So fairly useless to go further than to note this. Not a good proof, as you admit, but interesting to me...

Also, I always wonder why my Ganesh wouldn't drink the milk. Laughing

Lance Kennedy: chris and brainfart:

Medical researchers discovered, the hard way, over 100 years ago that case histories mean absolutely nothing! That is why they now test things properly, using randomised, placebo controlled, double blind clinical trials. When you quote the wonderful things that happened to Great Aunt Nelly when she used quack medicine X, then please do not expect to be taken seriously.

Let me tell you my own case history story.
There's me, sprained ankle big as a football. Sent to physiotherapy.
Lovely young female physiotherapist says :" Oh how terribly swollen! You need acupuncture. I have seen it do wonders for sprains."
Me : "No way, Jose!"
Two days later (return visit)
Physiotherapist : "Oh, how the swelling has gone down."
Me : "Yes, and had I let you give acupuncture, you would now be telling me what a great job it had done."

This illustrates a simple point. Individual case histories have no merit in this type of discussion. There is no sure way of knowing what actually caused something to get better.

` Well, that's what happens when I throw some bait out to some hungry Skeptics. Thought I'd post all that for the hell of it. Well, now it's time to forage....


Galtron said...

Ha! You were the only one to buy Skeptic in the whole store? That's really sad!!! This state needs more skeptics and fewer paranoid hippies!!

....Lou sounds like one himself!!! No wonder he doesn't accept their arguments...... he thinks the government is behind them!

S E E Quine said...

` Yes, I find that to be a common theme among paranoid hippies.