Taking the P out of pseudoscience

By Phil Plait | September 13, 2009 2:15 pm

Crispian Jago is a skeptic with one of the better senses of humor I’ve run across. He delights in tweaking believers of nonsense, and he’s done it again with this short video taking the, uh, well, y’know, out of homeopathy. Because I try to keep at least a modicum of decorum here on the BA blog, I’ll just link to the video and not embed it; when you click the link you’ll see why. But man, that’s a great demo. And home brewed, too!

If you like it, show it some love on Reddit and Digg, too.

Comments (28)

Links to this Post

  1. Watch a homeopathic remedy be made « SCIENCE-BASED PARENTING | September 13, 2009
  1. I don’t know why you didn’t embed it. There was nothing offensive at all that I could see, just a hilarious putdown of the technique.

    My only thoughts while he was working his way down the row was that he was using the same pipette each time. Just the evaporated residue up in the bulb was probably orders of magnitude more concentrated than anything in those glasses by about the fourth or fifth dilution.

    And is that really how homeopaths do the mixing? Just banging it on the table? I was expecting a vortex mixer of some sort.

    Hey, did you hear about the homeopath that forgot to take his meds? He died of an overdose…

    – Jack

  2. Crux Australis

    Oh, I just got the title. Good form, Doctor!

  3. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    Dugg it! Also, I second Jack Hagerty’s comment, especially the first paragraph.

  4. JoeSmithCA

    Wow, I dare a homeopath to try that with bug spray starting with 1 part bug spray and going through the cure process of diluting err stengthening it down 1ppb. Walk over to your nearest hornets nest and splash the nest. In theory they hornets should drop dead instantly. To make a reasonable test I say we’d need at least 4 homeopaths and four hornets nests of the same level of activity and size.

    Homeopath One with just stand near the hornets nest and do nothing for 30 seconds and then poke the nest with their finger for 10 seconds.

    Homeopath Two will pour 1/2 cup distilled water on the nest until it is saturated and stand near the nest for 30 seconds and then poke the nest with their finger for 10 seconds.

    Homeopath Three will pour 1/2 cup of homeopathy bug spray liquid until it is saturated and stand near the nest for 30 seconds and then poke the nest with their finger for 10 seconds.

    Homeopath Four will pour 1/2 cup of pure bug spray liquid until it is saturated and stand near the nest for 30 seconds and then poke the nest with their finger for 10 seconds.

    If I’m right we should have three less homeopaths but if they’re right we’d unfortunatly be down only two homeopaths. Also, if they’re right the EPA is going to have to completly re-write the rules on safe drinking levels–after all I’m sure that cute little bunny pee way up in the mountains is now 100 million times more potent coming out of the faucet.

  5. JoeSmithCA

    @Jack (Post #1)
    ROFL!

  6. Moose

    BA, may I suggest “take the water out of homeopathy” as a suitable pun and euphemism?

  7. Moose

    JoeSmithCA (post 4), to (pretend to) cure something, homeopaths are supposed to dilute something that _causes_ the symptoms. Homeopathic sleeping pills are made from over-diluted caffeine.

    Hitting a nest with over-diluted bug spray would cause the hornets to become very _very_ healthy and immediately vigorous, which would only “support” their claim. You still get three fewer homeopaths during testing, though, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

  8. NewEnglandBob

    Its just all wet.

  9. If I was a homeopath I would be peeved at this video.

    Ivan3man at large, what was wrong with Ivan3man at regular why did we him bigger.

  10. I'd rather be fishin'

    So if I did the same thing with my single malt scotch (shudder) I would be wasted after the 1st glass. If homeopathy really works this way, every engineering and chemistry student I ever met would have been doing this every Friday night.

    Would the process work the same if I dissolved a small amount of gold in aqua regia and diluted it to 30C?

  11. Paul M
  12. Tom

    http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-snubs-film-on-theory-of-evolution-20090912-flkx.html

    A British film about Charles Darwin has failed to find a distributor in the US because it’s too controversial. According to a Gallup pole, only 39 percent of people in the US believe in evolution.

    Funny, but I bet a fair portion of those other 61 percent use up at least most of their antibiotics because they’ve been told about super strains of bacteria and viruses being a problem because the haphazard use of antibiotics eliminated the week bacteria or viruses. But that apparently isn’t evolution.

    Good grief.

  13. Kim

    Ok, for the hornets’ nest would you recommend venom? I think they should also gather it themselves so as to assure themselves it is of the correct quality and from the correct species.
    And then we would lose all 4 homeopaths, better yet.

  14. JoeSmithCA

    @Moose (#4). Good point, I did not quite understand that and thank you for the correction.

    @Kim (#14). Well with Moose’s correction the venom test would be a success. I’m going to suggest a radiation sickness cure using polonium-210 (starting with 1 part polonium-210 at 10grams undiluted). With about 10,000 volunteers we could start by having them rebuild the Chernobyl Sarcophagus, this should give them more than enough of a radiation dose to start. Then they can all take the hemeopathic anti-radiation cure. It’s a win-win situation–if they’re right we’ve got a cure for radiation poisoning AND Chernobyl be better protected from the elements. If they’re wrong… well it’s 10,000 less homeopathy nuts.

  15. I'd rather be fishin'

    What’s wrong with you people? You all want to use the homeopathic method for GOOD! What a waste. Just what is wrong with using it to line your pockets with other people’s money? After all, it’s what the ‘homeopathic practitioners’ do: free enterprise, giving the suckers what they deserve, err I mean ask for, a little (almost) harmless fun at other peoples’ expense, etc.

  16. JoeSmithCA

    @I’d rather be fishin’ (#16)
    There is nothing wrong with me, I’m completely sane. I’m saving tons of money using the homeopathic cure for mania and dementia.

  17. MadScientist

    The worst thing about pseudoscience is that it has a Silent P – there is no sounds to make you aware that the P is there.

  18. One Eyed Jack

    Since I noticed some comparisons of a “30C” dilution to ppb, let’s take a moment and do the math. Ignore the 1/101 dilution and call it 1/100. Ignore the poor mixing, and ignore the poor pipette technique.

    30 serial dilutions of 1/100 results in a final concentration of 1/1.0×10^60, or

    1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

    A 1 ppb solution would be 1/1.0×10^9, or

    1/1,000,000,000.

    As insignificant as a ppb seems, 30C is staggeringly more dilute.

  19. @MadScientist
    There is that “warm” feeling that lets you know it’s there.

  20. Flying sardines

    D’oh. “Video not available – please try again later” is all I got there.

  21. MadScientist

    @shane: Hmm. That brings back repressed memories of swimming in a pool in winter with the neighbor’s kids all in; once in a while I’d swim through a warm patch. It also brings back high school pranks like spiking someone’s drink with Methylene Blue before the swimming class. My health was much better in those days; maybe I have all the kids to thank for the homeopathic cures.

  22. Jeremy Henderson

    “And is that really how homeopaths do the mixing? Just banging it on the table? I was expecting a vortex mixer of some sort.”

    Homeopathic texts generally recommend vigorously the dilution container repeatedly against a hard but slightly flexible surface, such as a leather bound book. Apparently Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, had a special board made by a saddlemaker for just such a purpose (I’m surprised they don’t try to sell specially energized boards for this nowadays…hmmm…).

    Also, I love this quote from Wikipedia on 30C solutions: “Dilution advocated by Hahnemann for most purposes: on average, this would require giving two billion doses per second to six billion people for 4 billion years to deliver a single molecule of the original material to any patient.”

  23. @MadScientist Says:

    The P isn’t silent, it’s just been diluted a few times. This means, of course, that you might not be able to hear it, but it is still a much more potent P.

  24. Flying sardines

    Aha! Finally seen it &, yes, it was worth watching. 30 cups of increasing diluted urine.

    Well after 12 cups water but then water=urine anyway. Good thing its sterile.

    Is it wrong to say “bottoms up?” ;-)

    Hmm … Did he actually do glass 16 or do it twice too, may have to go back & check again …

    As someone noted in the comments there homeopaths believe the product in glass 30 is a lot more potent than that in glass 1. But I wonder how many of them would have the guts to put that to the test by drinking that first glass? ;-)

  25. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    Wait…isn’t succusion supposed to be ten actual strikes, instead of the 2. Come on, now, how are you gonna convince us on the fence if you ain’t gonna play by their rules.

    Repeat after me: 10 hard taps, 1o taps to the left, 10 taps to the right, put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in, shake it all about, do the hokey pokey and you shake yourself around, and that’s what it’s all about.

    Sorry, I got even sillier than homeopathic preparation. I did some further research and it turns out that in fact, the taps range from 2 to 100, to simply vigorous.

    This apparently reputable “medicine” is a science, except the part that’s an art. And by “the part” I mean “the whole diluted enchilada, 100 c, yo!” There, I think I made a very potent point there.

  26. Damon

    Well that was 10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Thanks, BA.

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