Homeopathy Awareness Week: Bloggers versus Journalists

June 15, 2009 at 8:21 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bloggers, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy, Media) (, , , )

It’s Homeopathy Awareness Week. I’m not sure we can really trust the mainstream media to be fully aware of the nature of homeopathy. Perhaps we can trust bloggers though? Let’s see: the Daily Mail, having produced (predictably enough) an article headlined ‘Homeopathy works!’, is taken to task by a blogger in this, the beginning of Homeopathy Awareness Week (although I’m not clear on when the Mail article was first published#).

Interestingly, the Mail article claims that “[homeopathy] works on the principle that a substance which in large doses will cause the symptoms of an illness can be used in minute doses to relieve the same symptoms.” I find this interesting because they seem not to have found room to tell readers that many homeopathic remedies will contain not a “minute dose” of a substance but will actually contain no dose whatsoever – anything above 12C will [in all likelihood*] contain no molecules of the original substance. It will have been diluted out of existence. The failure to report this, to my mind, makes the Daily Mail’s article misleading, distorted, and inaccurate (all contrary to the PCC code). But there’s nothing new in that.

Thankfully, one blogger has seen fit to write a post critical of this Mail article: the author of the Zygoma blog doubts that the Mail will publish his comments (and they haven’t so far), but reproduces them on his own website. He also offers readers the opportunity to post any comments they have submitted to the Mail regarding this article.

According to Andy Lewis of the Quackometer, The Society of Homeopaths are promoting “Homeopathy – a natural approach for the symptoms of hay fever”. APGaylard, at A canna’ change the laws of physics, has written about the evidence for homeopathy in hayfever – read how he sorted the wheat from the chaff here: Homeopathy awareness week and hay fever.

David Colquhoun, of Improbable Science, thinks that It’s clear that the public have rumbled the fraud and that homeopathy is heading back to where it was in the 1960s, a small lunatic fringe on the High Street. There’s an interesting comparison made between tobacco companies and homeopaths in this article.

The Quackometer blog, meanwhile, wants to assist journalists and presenters looking for someone to discuss Homeopathy Awareness Week. The author of this blog can put you in contact with researchers, medics and campaigners who care that the public is fully aware of what homeopathy is and what its limitations are. He ends by saying “Let’s have the debate.”

Steven Novella has written a post on Homeopathy Awareness Week and ends with this comment: I am all in favor of homeopathic awareness. The scientific community should use this week to make the public acutely aware of the fact that homeopathy is, put simply, utter rubbish. It is a classic pseudoscience and has no place in a 21st century science-based health care system.

Zeno has urged us to Let’s be aware. Very aware. Zeno discusses the letter from Lewith, Dixon and Fisher published in the Guardian on Saturday.

APGaylard, having commented on Zeno’s blog, has now written a piece of his own titled False positives?. Gaylard takes a look at the six reviews referred to by Lewith, Dixon and Fisher in their letter.

Orac is torn: “On the one hand, publicizing the magical, mystical thinking that is homeopathy serves a purpose [...] On the other hand, why provide homeopaths publicity…” A commenter remarks upon something which had also occurred to me: “Don’t worry too much. Chiropractic Awareness Week in April didn’t do that bunch much good, did it?”

And finally (for now), Crispian Jago has produced a rather wonderful post based on a Monty Python sketch in honour of homeopathy awareness week. One commenter thinks Crispian should do a redub of the original and put it on youtube. I agree.

Please post in the comments section any examples you come across of bloggers or journalists who write about homeopathy this week.

Edit 1: More blogs – the Thinking is Real blog also has a list of blogs that are taking a look at homeopathy. I won’t duplicate that list here – you can visit Thinking is Real to see the full list. Thanks to Andy for alerting me to this in his comment. Evening Person is also blogging on HAW.

Edit 2: *There is a chance that remedies at 12C will contain a molecule of the original substance (a 60% chance if one mole of the original substance was used, I think). Above 12C, the odds that a homeopathic remedy will contain a single molecule of the original substance become ever greater. Thanks to Sandy for raising this point in the comments section.

Edit 3: #According to Dr*T, the article is from 13/06/03. Thanks T.

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20 Comments

  1. Dr*T said,

    If you do a search on the Fail website for “homeopathy works” it gives the date 13/6/03.

    It also comes up with an article form 2005 entitled
    “Homeopathy – Undiluted Tosh!”.

    So that’s editorial line journalism from the Daily Fail right there!

    It is indeed Homeopathy Awareness Week, but not in the way the homeopaths would like it….. :)

    T

  2. AndyD said,

    I have a small but growing list of homeopathy awareness week links.

  3. Sandy5 said,

    “anything above 12C will contain no molecules of the original substance”

    The following could be either appalling pedantry or I could be wrong but 12C dilutions actually have a 10% chance of containing a single molecule (assuming 1 mole in the starting volume). 13C would add two more zeroes so that would have a 0.1% chance, 14C = 0.001% etc, etc. Isn’t it more about the reducing probability of there being a single molecule rather than stating that there definately isn’t a molecule?

  4. jdc325 said,

    Sandy5 – I think that 12C remedies have a 60% chance of containing a single molecule (assuming 1 mole in the starting volume). But you’re quite right to bring up that point and I’ve now edited my post to include a qualifier. Corrections and clarifications (whether pedantic or not) are always welcome here. Thanks for contributing.

  5. jdc325 said,

    Dr*T – thanks. I thought I remembered that crap article from a while back. Is it six years already? (BTW, I wonder if it was originally written in honour of HAW 2003?)

  6. jdc325 said,

    AndyD – good stuff. Have added a link to your post. This Homeopathy Awareness Week is turning out to be rather fun.

  7. AndyD said,

    12C, if I recall*, would have 24 zeros because each “C” is x100, therefore each “C dilution” adds two zeroes.

    A 12X solution would only have 12 zeroes since X is x10.

    Avogadro’s number has only 23 zeroes.

    So, whilst it might be technically correct to express the likelihhood of a single molecule being present as a matter of probability, the probability is often astoundingly low (solutions often well-exceed 12C) – and that’s talking about the probability of just one molecule of ingredient remaining. You’re more likely to find a nostril hair from a lab technician than any active ingredient**

    *Assuming I recall my high school chemistry and maths correctly – it’s been a while.

    **No, I have no statistics to support my nostril hair hypothesis.

  8. jdc325 said,

    Thanks Andy.

    Re: “You’re more likely to find a nostril hair from a lab technician than any active ingredient” – I might use this in future when I discuss homeopathy.

  9. eveningperson said,

    In practice, even the very purest available water will contain between parts per trillion and parts per billion of numerous impurities. There are likely tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of impurities in the form of molecules and ions at this level or loweer. Of course, we don’t expect homeopathic remedies to be prepared with water this pure, which is used for chemical analysis in labs. We happily drink water with much higher levels of impurities because we know that even at those levels they have no significant affect on the human body.

    So, supposing that a homeopathic remedy is prepared with the very purest available water, there may still be something like 10^12 molecules of impurity in a 30C or a 200C remedy, and absolutely nothing of the original remedy. Of those molecules, some molecules of each impurity have been through the whole dilution/succussion cycle (assuming the homeopath evn bothers with that), so presumably the impurities have been ‘potentised’ too. So a homeopathic remedy ought actually to be the effect of many thousands of uncontrolled chemical substances.

    I’ve never actually seen a homeopath deal with that – maybe homeopaths use magic water that does not contain impurities?

  10. jdc325 said,

    “Of those molecules, some molecules of each impurity have been through the whole dilution/succussion cycle (assuming the homeopath evn bothers with that), so presumably the impurities have been ‘potentised’ too. So a homeopathic remedy ought actually to be the effect of many thousands of uncontrolled chemical substances.”
    Here’s something that made me smile:

    Sometimes their dilutions are so weak that the medicine contains not a single molecule of the active ingredient, though it’s alleged that the water “holds its memory”. Mr Marris asked scornfully, “we use a lot of recycled water – why does it not have a memory of the faeces that have been in it, and make us all sick?”

    (Roger Marris replying to David Tredinnick in Parliament during a discussion on homeopathy.)

  11. eveningperson said,

    I was just looking through the Helios catalogue, and I notice that they sell lower “potencies”, presumably for homeopaths to “potentise” further. So the 6C Excrementum Can presumably does contain a trace of dog shit.

  12. Ivor McCormack said,

    Check out how a Professional Cyclist was brung low by a “loon” homeopath.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/other_sports/cycling/8104422.stm

    Tyler Hamilton is the Olympic Time Trial champion.

    “Hamilton, who has been fighting depression brought on by a divorce and his mother’s struggle with breast cancer, admitted to taking an over-the-counter homeopathic anti-depressant containing the banned steroid (DHEA) and then retired in April.”

    He may not be as pure as the driven snow, but he did listen to one of those “loons” who peddle their sugar pills, in this case unknown concentrations of a banned chemical.

    What a waste!

  13. jdc325 said,

    @eveningperson: I find the idea of 6C Excrementum Can rather unsettling. It’s certainly not a remedy I would consider taking. Not that I’d seriously consider taking any homeopathic remedy, unless it was for a stunt like this one – the homeopathic overdose. The advice from the pharmacy assistant (around 3m40s into the vid) is slightly worrying given their position, but it gets a good laugh from the audience.

    @Ivor McCormack: there have been several instances of “natural remedies” (e.g., ayurvedic, or herbal pills) containing pharmaceutical medicines that I’ve heard of. I hadn’t previously been aware of this tale of steroids in homeopathic anti-depressants so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I wonder how many people have taken “homeopathic” remedies containing a banned steroid – worrying.

  14. Warhelmet said,

    Has there been any media coverage of Homeopathy Awareness Week? I’ve been doing the google news search thing and getting bugger all back.

  15. jdc325 said,

    I think it’s just sceptical bloggers. No-one else seems to be aware. I certainly haven’t found any media coverage yet. Maybe the homs thought that the less media coverage they got, the more powerful it would be?

  16. I want to do something really dangerous « An Evening Person’s Blog said,

    [...] 19 June: jdc325 pointed out that there is a 2004 video of a meeting of Australian sceptics taking an overdose of [...]

  17. The Captains said,

    Hello,

    Thank you for your tireless blogging on Homeopathy and other subjects! You and other sceptical blogger’s coverage of homeopathy (especially the whole Jeremy Sherr disgrace), inspired me to write and perform this song with my band, and record a quick version in celebration [sic] of Homeopathy Awareness Week:

    The Homeopathy Song

    Cheers :)

    The Captains

  18. jdc325 said,

    Hello and welcome! By a curious coincidence, I was watching that video earlier this afternoon having seen a link to it on a forum I’m a member of. I love the ending (“please go to your GP…”).

  19. The Captains said,

    Glad you liked it!

    A friend of ours has just made a much snappier version: ‘The Homepathy Song – The Diluted Mix’:

    Cheers,

    The Captains

  20. The King’s New Medicine: on the soporific effect of homeopathy « A canna’ change the laws of physics said,

    [...] Stuff and Nonsense, Homeopathy Awareness Week: Bloggers versus Journalists [...]

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