Canadian TV slams homeopathy

By Phil Plait | January 17, 2011 7:08 am

Last week, the Canadian TV consumer advocate program "Marketplace" did a piece on homeopathy, and man oh man did it make my skeptic brain do flips of delight. Completely junking any pretense of false balance — where some ludicrous idea gets as much air time as reality — they went after homeopathy with both lobes, and really showed it for the flim flam it is.

If you’re unaware of this practice, homeopathy is the idea that plain old water can cure any ailment. Homeopaths, of course, say there’s more to it than that, but their claims have been shown countless times to be, um, not supported by evidence. At all.

If you’re in Canada you can watch the whole Marketplace episode online, but for the rest of us, it’s on YouTube in two parts. Here’s the first part:

Part 2 can be found here.

The critical thinking site Skeptic North has more details, including some minor complaints about the program. I agree with their analysis, but also want to make sure we all see the big picture here: this is one of those very rare times where a TV show actually exposes an antireality alt-med idea for what it is: nonsense.

If only there were more shows like this. I have a long, long list of topics they could cover.

And remember, according to their own logic:

If homeopathy works, then obviously the less you use it, the stronger it gets. So the best way to apply homeopathy is to not use it at all.


Related posts:

- British Medical Association: homeopathy is witchcraft
- Homeopathy kills
- Diluting homeopathy
- Homeopathy made simple


MORE ABOUT: homeopathy, Marketplace

Comments (83)

  1. pk_boomer

    Thank you for posting this Phil. I also plugged the show on Facebook, with mixed results from my friends. All I ask of people, whether they are familiar with homeopathy or not, is to watch the show.

  2. Kyle

    Marketplace isnt’ always the best, but this time, it delivered. It really delivered. Go Canada!

  3. John EB Good

    It’s quite sad to notice, in this twenty-first century, that we still have to argue over what’s science and what’s magic (Read:B*llcr*p!). Though quite (or should I say: absolutely) necessary , it is also pretty shocking to see all that bandwith wasted at trying to get rid of fifteenth century ways of thinking and nudge aside the real science in here.

    I saw the program live and I’ve read the comments on both the French and English sites of our national broadcaster, and was not very surprised to read the believers keep believing, accusing the CBC of having dealt with this issue in a one sided way, à la Fox News. (which I guess became some sort of journalistic insult on both sides of our mutual border!) It’s even more surprising to find out that over the French network, believers appear more numerous than on the Anglo counterpart. And this, while we normally assume we’re somewhat more progressives than our English neighbours. Well, I’ll put this on our Latin roots and the hot temper that comes with it to convince myself it’s easier for us, Francos, to come out of the closet and defend, at any cost, an indefendable position. At the very least, I hope so.

    I even think that labeling ourselves as «Skeptics» is a shot in our own foot. What’s the quintessence of skepticism if not by starting to be skeptical about science? I’ve always thought the real skeptics were the ones skeptical in the many hard proofs scientifics put forward in support of their theories. I’ll personally vote to label myself in the future as a «Rational», in opposition to the «Believer». I’ll suggest to all «skeptics» to do the same in the future. It’s scientifically more precice IMHO.

  4. Ethyachk

    I’ve never used homeopathy. Does that mean I’m immortal? Should I bone up on my sword skills?

  5. Chris

    I overdosed when I forgot to take my medicine.

  6. If homeopathy works, then obviously the less you use it, the stronger it gets. So the best way to apply homeopathy is to not use it at all.

    LOL. :-)

    I reckon the homeopaths turn to water in the face of logic like this. ;-)

    Plus, if anyone *really* believes in homeopathy ask them to try the simple experiment of drinking a homeopathic beer – or alcoholic poison of their choice – ie. one drop or less beer in glass of water then compare the results to drinking the normal alcoholic beverage of first resort.

    A la unwatered down.

    Which is more effective and more desirable? :-P

    ***

    PS. Yes, that’s right, that *was* inspired by a past video (Youtube?) clip of some sort seen here via this very blog ages ago, forgotten who did it or what it was called so I can’t cite it – but I do remember it! ;-)

  7. Actually, to modify an Aussie saying, I reckon homeopathy is taking the [passing water!] ;-)

  8. Tom K.

    The biggest hurtle in telling people this is a con is the name. People I ask what they think about Homeopathy say it is just Grandma’s home remedies in a bottle. How could someone bad mouth Grandma.

  9. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (6) said:

    If anyone really belives in homeopathy ask them to try the simple experiment of drinking a homeopathic beer – or alcoholic poison of their choice – ie. one drop or less beer in galss of water then compare results to normal alcoholic beverage of first resort.

    Actually, to make homeopathic beer, you’d need to take that 1 drop of real beer, dilute it 1:100 in water, strike the container against a firm surface (they call this procedure succussing and it’s part of the mysticism) – but not hard enough to break it – and repeat for at least 30 separate 1:100 dilutions. This would give you a “30C” dilution, or a dilution of 1 part in 10^60.

    To do a “direct” 1 in 10^60 dilution is impossible, as the Earth does not contain enough water.

  10. Nigel Depledge

    Off topic:

    Phil, is there something up with the coding on the site? My “superscript” tabs keep disappearing, and I can only seem to put them in properly if I edit my comment. And don’t edit it a second time, or even refresh the page.

  11. Daniel J. Andrews

    Oops. I’ve overdosed on homeopathic ‘remedies’. I’ve swallowed far too much lake water in my time. Who knows what memory that water has. And I’m sure our well water is medicating us as well (poor pun unintended but left in anyway).

  12. Gary Ansorge

    I don’t know about those sugar pills they were taking. If I did that, it might just raise my blood glucose levels(I’m diabetic).

    One thing to remember about this “homeopathic theory”. Since the water is supposed to retain a “memory” of everything that went into it AND it gets stronger with each dilution, THEN every fish, bacterium and virus that has ever lived has left a “memory” in the water and that “memory” from all those critters that have been screwing and pooping in the water should be lethal.

    Think I’ll have to stick to drinking pure alcohol,,,

    Just a passing note about flim/flam. I just received a scam email about those stupid “iRenew” bracelets. I wonder if they could be sued by Apple?

    Gary 7

  13. RobT

    I watched this the other day and I congratulate the CBC for putting this show on the air. There’s a big debate on whether the CBC should be getting subsidy money from the government. If they produce shows like this that don’t kowtow to special interest groups then I say they are worth some money at least.

    On the other hand, I am embarrassed that the Ontario government is lending an air of respectability by regulating it.

  14. Daffy

    Shouldn’t I be able to use homeopathic chlorine in my pool?

  15. I wonder what the homeopathic implications are from Kevin Costner drinking his own recycled urine in his ‘Waterworld’ movie or when the International Space Station astronauts drink water that is recycled from their own past passed water among other things? Hmmm … ??? ;-)

    @8. Nigel Depledge : Actually, to make homeopathic beer, you’d need to ..

    Thanks for that extra info.

    Although actually, the last thing I’m going to do is make or drink homeopathic beer! Correction : Make that I’ll *NEVER* do so! ;-)

    To do a “direct” 1 in 10^60 dilution is impossible, as the Earth does not contain enough water.

    Hmm. what about Neptune? :

    “Would all great Neptune’s oceans suffice to make me a homeopathic beer? No! This my beer, would rather the multitudinous seas de-alcoholate* making the sober one, sad.”**

    ——-

    * If that’s a word – if not it is now. Hey, if the BA can create neologisms so can I! ;-)

    ** With apologies to William Shakespeare, [sabotaged] quote originally from the Scottish play if anyone’s wondering :

    The Thane of Cawdor & future King of Scotland : “Would all great Neptune’s oceans suffice to wash this blood clean from my hand? No! This my hand, would rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one, red.” [Guess what line yours truly once had to learn - & has loved ever since. Yes, I hammed it up. ;-) ]

  16. If water has memory, then homeopathy is full of $h!t. ;)

  17. I just called my MPP’s office, but didn’t get to talk to the MPP himself. The woman I did get to speak to said that homeopathy got royal ascent in 2007. I tried to explain to her what homeopathy is but was cut off.

    Is there anybody else from Kingston Ontario willing to petition MPP John Gerretsen to move against this quack pseudoscience that has been known to cause deaths by keeping people from pursuing real treatments?

  18. hoosierskeptic46064

    @ #5 Messier Tidy Upper
    The video you were recalling is by the always excellent Mitchell and Webb. The video was from their tv show “That Mitchel and Webb Look”
    Here is a link
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

  19. Gonçalo Aguiar

    Placebo effect is what cures people that take those pills.

  20. For years I’ve found it ironic that my acquaintances who swear by homeopathy are also anti-vaccine. If anything actually works and is (to my very limited knowledge on the subject) a little like homeopathy it would be vaccines. Isn’t homeopathy supposed to be giving someone a bit of poison to activate their immune system against the symptom they have? Well vaccine is a tiny bit of a dead virus that creates and immunity to the virus … so … it would stand to reason vaccines would be the hero in Western medicine for these folks. (ok – that argument is too simplistic because it assumes that my anti-modern-science acquaintances are looking at this stuff logically as opposed to buying into some trendy lifestyle idea).

    My mom is a retired nurse and said that even back in the 60′s Western medicine used belladonna for stomach pains for children. I should probably watch this video and see what actually constitutes homeopathy. The whole “less you take is more” and it’s just the water stuff sounds very witch-doctor like. Which like someone said in an above post was great for the 15th Century but is unbelievable now that there is science that understands medicine and health.

  21. Dan

    Great work in this piece. Unfortunately, and maybe this is because these con-artists enrage me so, the interviewer still didn’t go far enough in cornering the deceptive homeopaths. If ever there was an excuse to bully people into admitting their culpability in a scam, this is certainly it. I’d have like to see her get someone from Health Canada and grind them down into admitting that that there is no reason for a homeopathic protocol to be included in any health care regimen, and then demand they explain why and how it is they ever came to be included in spite of the real hazards they pose to patients.

    In other words, being nice to these quacks is exactly the wrong way to go about it. They should face the same pressure and scrutiny of any PhD candidate defending his or her dissertation if they want to compete on a level equal to those in science.

  22. TheBlackCat

    Isn’t homeopathy supposed to be giving someone a bit of poison to activate their immune system against the symptom they have?

    No, not really. There are two big differences between vaccines and homeopathy, one fundamental, the other practical.

    For the practical issue, vaccines contain the active ingredient, while homeopathic remedies (if properly prepared) do not.

    For the fundamental issue, vaccines match chemicals while, homeopathy deals with symptoms. Our immune system can deal with two types of molecules: proteins, and long carbohydrates. It detects these, primes itself for them, and when it detects them again later it is able to react more quickly against them. It doesn’t matter whether the protein or carbohydrates has anything whatsoever to do with the symptoms, all that matters is that it can be used as a marker to identify and grab foreign substances.

    Homeopathy, on the other hand, cares about symptoms. For instance the idea was first sprung because quinine cures malaria, but can cause malaria-like symptoms. Now quinine is not remotely similar chemically to malaria, in fact it isn’t even in the class of substances the immune system can deal with. What matters is that it produces similar symptoms, not that it has any chemical similarity whatsoever to the disease-causing agent.

    There is no plausible mechanism by which the body could use a completely different substance that produces similar symptoms to defeat a microbe. The body doesn’t operate on symptoms, there is no sort of body-wide system that can compare symptoms to substances in the body and decide that the substance is producing the symptoms. The immune system works by matching chemicals, or actually small bits of chemicals, on one disease-causing agent to identical small bits of chemicals on another instance of the same or similar disease-causing agent.

    That is why, for instance, the common cold is such a problem. It is actually a very large family of viruses that produce similar symptoms but have very different protein coats. This means that when the immune system learns to identify one cold virus, you will never catch that cold again (or at least not for many years), but it leaves you totally unprotected against all the other the symptomatically identical by chemically distance cold viruses out there.

    If homeopathy really worked, we would only ever get the cold once, because the body would learn to deal with the symptoms and then use the cold virus from the future to pre-emptively cure itself.

  23. Utkarsh

    Dear phil, I requested earlier…as I do again.
    Please go to the following links and have a serious look over it.
    Please do.
    http://www.ircc.iitb.ac.in/IRCC-Webpage/Homeopathy-Nanoparticle-Note.pdf

    &

    http://www.mydigitalfc.com/leisure-writing/homeopathy-nanotechnology-216

  24. Pete Jackson

    @17 Julia: The witch doctor analogy is actually close to the mark. Every doctor knows that patients are subject to the ‘placebo’ effect, whereby giving them a simple sugar pill and telling them that it will make them get better will often actually make them get better. This effect is so pronounced that trials of drugs have to be double blind (neither doctors nor patients know if the medication is the drug being tested or if it an inert pill) in order to eliminate or compensate for the placebo effect. A skilled witch doctor knows how to amplify the placebo effect in reverse, so the patient/victim can be so sure that they will be harmed that they convince themselves to get sick and even die.

    Many forms of alternative medicine rely partly or wholly on the placebo effect to cure, and homeopathy is one of those. The whole formulary of homeopathic medicines with their Latin names and varying potencies serves to convince patients that it is all a tried-and-true set of remedies that have been used for many years. But the true success of homeopathy and other alternative medicine treatments that use the placebo effect depends on the skill of the practitioner in diagnosing the exact kind of placebo effect that the patient needs. It is also important for the practitioner to be able to see that only a placebo can help the patient, usually after regular medical interventions gave failed.

    Because the success of homeopathic treatments depend so much on the practitioner through the placebo effect, it is not going to be amenable to scientific studies. Frankly, it is not scientific, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be useful for patients that can’t be helped any other way.

    Another way of saying it is that science can’t cure everything, so let’s not automatically castigate non-scientific treatments because they sometimes can help people who aren’t helped by scientific treatments. And remember, homeopathic remedies never have side effects!

    Of course, homeopathic practitioners and other alternative medicine practitioners should not make claims that they are scientific, because they aren’t.

  25. TheBlackCat

    @ Pete: The problem is that homeopaths don’t only provide “treatments” when nothing else works, that provide them in situations where real medicine has proven effective, even in conditions that are easily treatable but lethal if left untreated.

  26. RobertC

    So, in order to make homeopathic beer one would have to dilute coffee to non existance.

    A small tast of which would then render one roaring drunk.

    And yeah, coffee doesn’t sober anyone up. but it’s homepathy, where nothing works, so who cares?

  27. pete

    @23 (Utkarsh)

    If water retains the nature/essence/effect of the stuff that’s in it, how does a homeopath get “pure” water? Won’t it retain the properties of every mineral, plant, and animal it ever touched? Many cities get their water from mountain sources, which have to have a great many plant parts in the reservoirs, not to mention animal waste, before the treatment, yet homeopaths somehow get water that has no memory of its earlier life?

  28. Matt B.

    Since it’s been shown that a placebo will work even when the patient knows it’s a placebo, homeopathists should just own up to the fact that their field is BS.

  29. Lorne

    Nigel Depledge say:

    “Actually, to make homeopathic beer, you’d need to take that 1 drop of real beer, dilute it 1:100 in water, strike the container against a firm surface (they call this procedure succussing and it’s part of the mysticism) – but not hard enough to break it – and repeat for at least 30 separate 1:100 dilutions. This would give you a “30C” dilution, or a dilution of 1 part in 10^60.

    To do a “direct” 1 in 10^60 dilution is impossible, as the Earth does not contain enough water.”

    Here’s a great experiment showing the making of “homeopathic” vodka.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZO9J7dDLU4&feature=player_embedded

  30. Matt B.

    There are so many things they missed the opportunity to say in the video, including when the homeopath manufacturer says that science hasn’t developed the technology to detect the active ingredient, the interviewer should have said, “Then how do you know there’s any active ingredient in there?”

  31. rg

    I would have liked to hear the words “placebo effect” at least once. They didn’t go into why people think it works, and how it works no better than any other placebo.

  32. *looks at my now-empty 32oz water bottle*

    Oh, great. I just homeopathically-OD’d!

  33. Michael Swanson

    The homeopathy mom who said that homeopathic remedies take longer than the “quick fix, like Tylenol” just cracked me up. Usually, you take Tylenol for pain. So, if you have a headache you can either get a “quick fix” or you can, I dunno…wait until your headache goes away?

  34. Nick

    @Michael Swanson
    From what I’ve been told, many times before, most headaches are the cause of dehydration so homeopathic remedies are actually extremely effective at curing them.

  35. Maria

    Awesome, way to give that Bioron spokeswoman enough rope to hang herself with.
    “Eeeets a mystery! oooooeeeeooooo.” Even Snake oil salesmen had better lines then that.

    I’m dumbfounded by the way people claim the flu/cold treatment works. The proof? They got over their flu/cold in 3 to 10 days. It’s like people have completely forgotten that human bodies can in fact get over sickness on their own or heal after certain ailments/injuries. It’s ridiculous.

    I swear that’s the leading reason this stuff keeps being sold. People seem to have this innate need to point at something specific and say THAT is why I feel better.

  36. Steve Metzler

    Matt B. (#30);

    There are so many things they missed the opportunity to say in the video, including when the homeopath manufacturer says that science hasn’t developed the technology to detect the active ingredient, the interviewer should have said, “Then how do you know there’s any active ingredient in there?”

    Yeah, but what you are saying makes sense to people who have been taught to think logically/critically. With homeopathy, on the other hand… it’s simply blind faith, like religion. So you always see the homeopaths saying: “We don’t know how it works, it just does.” Unfalsifiable.

    As Maria above says, it’s just “regression to the norm”. Unless you have something really nasty, like cancer.

  37. RobertC

    @23,

    OK, I read that.

    no evidence was presented. And no, the queen of england and a soccer player are not evidence.

  38. Don

    I can tell you that the homeopathic placebo effect works very well. It’s taking nothing, and whenever I have an illness I start by . . . taking nothing. I have ALWAYS recovered. Sometimes other interventions are required, but my inner self “knows” that the first thing I took — nothing — is what cured me. EVERY TIME! IT’S A MIRACLE!! (Doncha love my anecdotal “evidence”? ;^)

  39. Brian Too

    No Phil, don’t NOT use homeopathy!

    Since homeopathic medicine gets stronger the less active ingredients exist, then the complete absence of the homeopathic treatment logically means that it is then infinitely powerful!

    That much power must never be unleashed upon yourself or the world! Think of the children!!

    ;-)

  40. Joseph G

    I may be totally off base here, but I think that part of the problem is that a lot of people (consumers, not homeopaths) simply don’t know what homeopathy is. To them, it’s a synonym for “natural” or some such thing. And I see plenty of herbal remedies being referred to as “homeopathic,” even when they do contain a significant amount of the active ingredient. To be sure, I’m not saying that herbal medicine is “good” medicine, but at least it works (in the same way that rubbing sticks together to make a fire works – you can do it, but nowadays we have lighters, so why take the paleolithic approach that may or may not pay off?)
    I think if you sat most people down and explained to them about homeopathy as the principles of “let like cure like” (Diarrhea? You need some laxative!) and water memory (I wonder how many dinosaur bladders these molecules of H2O I’m drinking have been through?) that most people would smell the bullpucky on their own.
    At least, I like to think so…

  41. amphiox

    There is nothing mysterious about the placebo effect. Every skilled and properly trained physician knows how to activate it. It’s called ‘establishing a good physician-patient relationship.’

    And every real, effect medical treatment includes, as part of its effect, the placebo effect. That is how they pass muster in a placebo-controlled trial. They have to beat the placebo control. They do that because they invoke the same placebo effect as the control, and they add on top of it an actual medical effect as well.

  42. PeteC

    Joseph G (40):

    I think you’re very right. I certainly know people who think “homeopathy” means “herbal”, and being herbal it must be better than that artificial stuff, right?

    Though I was always a fan of the comedian Dara O’Briain, who says that the thing about herbal medicine is that we tested it, and some of it did indeed work. We gave the stuff that works a special name. We call it “medicine”. The rest is basically salad and Pot Pourri.

  43. Robert

    Joseph G (40):
    There was (maybe is) a case of a ‘homeopathic’ nasal spray. It used an active ingredient, known to provide relief but cause serious side effects, like permanent damage to the sense of smell, at 10x in homeopathic terms. This is equivalent to 1%: a significant ingredient in real terms.

    And, yes, it was causing the serious side effects.

    Edit: Manged to find a search to locate it. It’s name was Zicam, and it used Zinc. Apparently, ‘natural’ nasal remedies using zinc are an ongoing problem.

    I hope the product is off the market by now.

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    @18. hoosierskeptic46064 : Aha! Thanks – that’s the one. :-) 8)

  45. Grant

    Man, they need some sort of government organization that keeps crap like this from hitting the market. Like an administration that regulates foods and drugs… owait

  46. Monkey

    “I guess I would have to work for the company to understand how it works”

    Un-bloody-believable….

    This show was, while short, very well done. Hit the highlights (lowlights, I suppose) and didnt back down.

  47. Grizzly

    I think that the confusion between “homeopathic” and “natural” is all intentional. The Ginger anti-nauseant I picked up says “homeopathic” when it is nothing of the sort, it is almost entirely pure ginger.

  48. Charlie in Dayton

    RE comment #23 from Utkarsh –
    your link
    http://www.ircc.iitb.ac.in/IRCC-Webpage/Homeopathy-Nanoparticle-Note.pdf
    was read. It details “observations” and “Ayurvedic Bhasmas”. For a definition of the latter, I refer you to
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhasma — eye-opening stuff, to be sure. The original paper refers to ‘fascinating observations’ and other buzzwords. I would be much more impressed with observations that the denoted results are reproducible.

    Your second link
    http://www.ircc.iitb.ac.in/IRCC-Webpage/Homeopathy-Nanoparticle-Note.pdf
    states among other things that “solutions containing the DNA of pathogenic bacteria and viruses, including HIV, “could emit low frequency radio waves” that induced surrounding water molecules to arrange into nanostructures. These water molecules, he said, could also emit radio waves…”. As an amateur radio operator of over 25 years’ experience with radio wave generation and propagation, I would be very interested in details of these radio waves…frequency, field strength, polarization, method of detection, and other things. And in both cases quoted, I note the wimp-out “could”. I’m not interested in ‘could’ — I am very interested in ‘how’.

    RE comment #27 from pete –
    I agree. Why hasn’t the water already retained the ‘essence’ of every living being that’s excreted something into it? Like the cartoon said about the pond that someone was drinking from, “Fish pee in there, ya know…”

    RE comment #30 from Matt B –
    rat own, brutha (as they used to say in my misspent youth) — if modern scientific technology can’t detect an active ingredient, how does the manufacturer do so?

    There is much hooraw about many ingredients used in homeopathy being ‘natural’…so are rattlesnake venom, poison ivy, and elephant cr@p…can I supersize one of those for you?

    Finally, great minds thinking alike, the question comes to mind that if homeopathy and its theory of dilutions actually works, how come no one’s getting rich making homeopathic liquor? Answer me that one…

  49. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (15) said:

    Although actually, the last thing I’m going to do is make or drink homeopathic beer! Correction : Make that I’ll *NEVER* do so!

    Hmmm … maybe that explains American beer: an experiment in homeopathy gone wrong (because it still has some of the original ingredients in it). ;-)

    I’m sure you’ve heard that old joke: why is American beer* like making love in a canoe? Sorry, but the answer is NSFW.

    * The mass-produced stuff, not the stuff from the many excellent microbreweries.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (15) said:

    Hmm. what about Neptune?

    Well, now, let’s do the sums…

    A drop of beer is approximately 100 µL (for the sake of argument), or 100 mg in mass (assuming a density so close to that of water that it makes no odds, as even a good beer is at least 92% water).

    To dilute to a kg would be a 10,000 times (1 in 10^4) dilution.

    The mass of Neptune is (very roughly) 10^26 kg (from nineplanets.org).

    So, even if Neptune were entirely made of water (which it ain’t), your one drop of beer diluted into the whole of Neptune would result in a mere 1 in 10^30 dilution.

    Thus, a 1 in 10^60 dilution would require 10^30 Neptune masses of water!

  51. Nigel Depledge

    Julia (20) said:

    For years I’ve found it ironic that my acquaintances who swear by homeopathy are also anti-vaccine. If anything actually works and is (to my very limited knowledge on the subject) a little like homeopathy it would be vaccines. Isn’t homeopathy supposed to be giving someone a bit of poison to activate their immune system against the symptom they have? Well vaccine is a tiny bit of a dead virus that creates and immunity to the virus … so … it would stand to reason vaccines would be the hero in Western medicine for these folks. (ok – that argument is too simplistic because it assumes that my anti-modern-science acquaintances are looking at this stuff logically as opposed to buying into some trendy lifestyle idea).

    Well, kind of, except that vaccines actually contain active ingredients.

  52. Utkarsh

    For @23 replies…
    Guys this a research paper written by IIT Bombay….I dont need to say anything about its supreme reputation….and for the people who are interested in the paper itself….GOOGLE for ” ‘Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective”
    Maybe this link can help further http://www.katonics.com/uploads/2010%20-%20%20Paper%201%20-%20Extreme%20homeopathic%20dilutions%20retain%20starting%20%20materials-A%20nanoparticulate%20perspective.pdf
    Thanks!

  53. RobertC

    WAIT a MINUTE!

    I just conceived a new company of which you are all invited to be ground floor cofounders.

    Homeopathic anti drunk stuff.

    We make a 600C homeopathic dilution of straight alcohol. We need it to be superpowerful and FAST.

    this is then used a drunk cure. Like cures like, right? Am I right? (of course not, but work with me)

    We then sell this at bars everywhere.

    $10 on the way out the door and POOF!, instant sober driver!

    Think of the lives saved, the tickets avoided, the money made.

    …The lawsuits against us…………

    Hmmm, maybe my clever plan needs refining.

    Of course, that would be the simplest test for homeopathic effectiveness ever.

    Walk a drunk through a test, give him our concoction, and do it again.

    Eliminate the variable of time and it either works, or not.

    Genius, I tell you genius.

    hmmm, that gives me another idea, genius pills. First, we need some stupid……

  54. Nigel Depledge

    Pete Jackson (24) said:

    Because the success of homeopathic treatments depend so much on the practitioner through the placebo effect, it is not going to be amenable to scientific studies. Frankly, it is not scientific, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be useful for patients that can’t be helped any other way.

    Apart from the ethics of selling soeone an inert “medicine” and telling them it will make them better, right?

    IIUC, real doctors are no longer allowed to prescribe placebos, because it is unethical. Why should homeopaths be permitted to get away with it?

    Another way of saying it is that science can’t cure everything, so let’s not automatically castigate non-scientific treatments because they sometimes can help people who aren’t helped by scientific treatments.

    Not so.

    Modern medicine is well aware of the placebo effect and our understanding of it is growing.

    What distinguishes a “scientific” treatment from homeopthay is that the “scientific” treatment is only permitted a licence if it has been shown in trials to perform better than a placebo.

    Of course, so-called “orphan” conditions (i.e. those for which there is no current treatment) may be breeding grounds for all sorts of quackery, homeopathy included. Just because a sugar pill might make someone feel better does not mean it actually makes them get better.

    And remember, homeopathic remedies never have side effects!

    True, and irrelevant. They have no active components.

    Of course, homeopathic practitioners and other alternative medicine practitioners should not make claims that they are scientific, because they aren’t.

    They don’t, but they still make many claims that are not supported by any evidence.

  55. RobertC

    @51.

    I read that last night.

    It also contains a reference to ayurvedic woo.

  56. @Utkarsh

    From the paper, “a major lacuna has been the lack of evidence of physical existence of the starting material”
    No it hasn’t. The major lacuna has been the lack of any measurable effect, benefit or efficacy of homeopathic remedies. Just because some “nano” particles remain in a dilution means jack if you need an electron microscope to find them or the solution doesn’t actually do anything (except maybe quench thirst).

    If these “scientists” want to waste time looking for a mechanism for something that doesn’t work well good on them for getting funding. It’s like astronomers writing up a paper explaining the construction of Russell’s Teapot without, you know, observing its existence first.

    The paper was also published in the esteemed journal of Homeopathy.

  57. Lynn Wilhelm

    I was so happy I could watch this broadcast on You Tube since I couldn’t see the original broadcast here in the States.

    I really loved when the host tells the caring (read: gullible) mother that there is no active ingredient in her much loved homeopathic medications and vaccines. Is this really it? I’d like to know how many people who use these really understand this. You sure won’t get this information from the practitioners (read: charlatans).

    I just want to be sure there is nothing more to homeopathy I’m missing. Is the entire emphasis of the “practice” on providing these remedies? Or might the treatment include more? I understand the value of the time a practitioner might spend with a patient and how that and the placebo effect could make sick people feel better. I just want to be sure there is nothing more. Are there non-diluted remedies a practitioner might use in treatment? I wouldn’t be surprised if some practitioners use other forms of treatment, but would those be properly called homeopathy.

    I ask this because I’m part of a group full of woo. There are people touting reiki, reflexology, the law of attraction as well as homeopathy. There are also some reasonable people. I hope to use this broadcast in response the next time I see the homeopathic woo. I want to be seen as an accurate source for information, or a source for accurate sources. If this is all there is, homeopathy is an easy one to debunk.

  58. Tom

    The biggest problem by far with homeopathy is that most people don’t understand what it is. Most people hear the word and assume that it means ‘alternative cures’ or ‘natural medicines’. The best method to reduce belief in homeopathy is to make sure people know what it is!

  59. Gary Ansorge

    41. amphiox

    “Every skilled and properly trained physician knows how to activate it.”

    Actually, recent research into the mechanism of the placebo effect has found it works even if you know what you’re taking isn’t real medicine. It’s the action of ingesting SOMETHING that apparently triggers an endorphin release, which is what makes us feel better. It also works for non-sentient animals,,,

    Gary 7

  60. amphiox

    re 59. Gary Ansorge,

    There is more than just “one” placebo effect. It is in fact a combination of many different and overlapping mechanisms, and what we measure in most trials is the summed effect of all the ones that apply to that particular situation, unless of course the trial was designed to ferret out the individual components.

    But all that is inclusive to my point in #41. We always talk about the “art and science of medicine,” and the “art” part more or less boils down to skillfully activating placebo effects of all kinds.

    Sometimes you hear the claim that alternative medicine is somehow “more effective” at activating the placebo effect than science-based medicine. It is not. The placebo effect has been a major and important part of real medical practice for as long as there has been a profession of medicine, and a good doctor should be a well trained master at using them.

    It’s just that sometimes real doctors can get away with being less proficient in their ability to use placebo effects than ideally they should be because they have other effective options to fall back on, while alternative medicine has nothing but placebo effects, so the only ones you hear about are the cases where the practitioner is good at using placebo effects.

  61. Joseph G

    @Nigel: The curiosity was killing me, so I had to Google that punchline. Too true!

  62. CB

    @Pete Jackson

    The witch doctor analogy is actually close to the mark. Every doctor knows that patients are subject to the ‘placebo’ effect, whereby giving them a simple sugar pill and telling them that it will make them get better will often actually make them get better. This effect is so pronounced that trials of drugs have to be double blind (neither doctors nor patients know if the medication is the drug being tested or if it an inert pill) in order to eliminate or compensate for the placebo effect.

    Actually, no. Double blind trials are not to compensate or eliminate the placebo effect. They do trials double-blind to eliminate bias. Patients or doctors may consciously or unconsciously skew their statements or evaluations based on what they expect to happen based if given the drug, or a sugar pill.

    The placebo effect is instead what the compare against. The people in the placebo group almost always experience or at least report some degree of benefit. This is the placebo effect in action. The active group must perform better at a statistically significant level for the drug or treatment in question to be considered effective.

    It is this step that homeopathy has never succeeded at. And there is no indication whatsoever that choosing “the exact kind of placebo effect that the patient needs” does anything to boost homeopathy above the plain-ol’ placebo effect attained by handing someone a sugar pill.

    For the sake of argument I can accept the idea of actual MDs using the placebo effect to provide some benefit to someone for whom there is no real treatment. It should only be done in that case, and should cost as much as sugar pills cost.

    It’s completely unacceptable to tolerate or defend hucksters using the same techniques as astrologers and psychics to scam people into paying large amounts of money for pills with nothing in them. These people obviously have no concerns for the well-being of their patients since they try to scam them into buying homeopathic preparations even when there are effective, affordable, real treatments available. So whatever the hypothetical benefit of the placebo effect could be, that reasoning simply doesn’t apply to these frauds.

  63. Matt B.

    I think a lot of people also equate “holistic” with “natural”, when it actually means the opposite of “reductionist”.

  64. Michael Swanson

    @ 34. Nick

    “From what I’ve been told, many times before, most headaches are the cause of dehydration so homeopathic remedies are actually extremely effective at curing them.”

    A complex and expensive method for simply drinking a glass of water. I wonder what my tap water “remembers,” and why, if it’s arsenic, for instance, or chlorine, it doesn’t kill me after the overwhelming majority of it is filtered out. I wish they would take the flourine out of my water, so that the trace amounts left on the interior surface of the pipes would cause it to be truly effective!

    Although, thanks to homeopathy, I no longer have to eat fruits or vegetables. I just gently blow on a carrot or a banana over my water glass, stir it vigorously, and get all the memories of nutrients I need!
    :)

  65. Calli Arcale

    John EB Good @ 3:

    It’s even more surprising to find out that over the French network, believers appear more numerous than on the Anglo counterpart.

    Homeopathy is HUGE in France, which probably has something to do with it. Case in point: homeopathy got a major boost in the 80s thanks to the work of a French immunologist named Jacques Benveniste, who claimed to have scientifically proven that water has a memory. The work could not be duplicated, however, and was not properly blinded — in a rather famous incident involving James Randi, it was found that even using the original research team, the experiment could not be duplicate if a proper blind was used. Also, and rather more significantly, that’s where Boiron is headquartered. Boiron, mentioned in the video, is the world’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic nostrums, by a significant margin. They’re the Pfizer or Merck of alternative medicine, really.

    Tom K. @ 8:

    The biggest hurtle in telling people this is a con is the name. People I ask what they think about Homeopathy say it is just Grandma’s home remedies in a bottle. How could someone bad mouth Grandma.

    Well, for one thing, because it’s not Grandma’s home remedies in a bottle. It’s a homeopath’s remedies. People tend to not know what homeopathy actually is. Most people think it’s some kind of herbal remedy or nutritional supplement, and names resembling botanicals or vitamins don’t help that impression.

    Julia @ 20:

    My mom is a retired nurse and said that even back in the 60′s Western medicine used belladonna for stomach pains for children.

    Belladonna’s active ingredient is atropine, and it is widely used in Western medicine even today. Not often for stomach ache; there are usually safer alternatives these days. But it’s been used since antiquity and for a good reason: this one actually does work. It’s most common use is actually in opthalmology — atropine-laced eyedrops will cause the pupils to dialate, making examination of the retina much easier. This is actually the origin of the name belladonna (“lovely lady”); it was used as a cosmetic by ladies who wished to appear aroused by artificially dialating their pupils. It’s got many other uses as well — resuscitation of some cardiac arrest patients (depends on their specific situation), treatment of hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating/salivation/etc), treatment of certain types of poisoning, etc. It can be synthesized, or obtains from a number of plants, not just belladona — it’s also found in jimsonweed, henbane, and mandrake. It was widely used as a sedative in ancient times, assisting surgeons right up until the discovery of ether, and also as an instrument of murder in the form of mandrake wine.

    Atropine would be effective in treating some kinds of stomach pains, but there are other remedies available now which do not have as many side effects. It inhibits the parasympathetic system, which may have something to do with why it was used for stomach pains — or it may simply be its sedative effect.

    Robert @ 43:

    Edit: Manged to find a search to locate it. It’s name was Zicam, and it used Zinc. Apparently, ‘natural’ nasal remedies using zinc are an ongoing problem.

    I hope the product is off the market by now.

    No such luck: not only is it back on the market, but they’ve come out with many new formulations and spinoffs. It’s very popular. The FDA had them dead to rights when they found zinc in the stuff, since that meant it wasn’t homeopathic. But they found a way around that — the FDA cannot require efficacy testing of anything homeopathic, and as far as the law is concerned, that means “stuff that’s on the homeopathic pharmacopoeia”. So the makers of Zicam just persuaded their buddies to add “2x zinc” to the list. 2x basically means the “mother tincture” has been diluted twice, which brings it to 1 part in 100, or 1%. With that “fix” made, the Zicam people got right back into business, with the general public often unaware it had ever been banned in the first place, much less why.

  66. Nic

    Thanks for the post Phil. But this makes me so angry.
    These guys – well ok – some of these guys are effectively murderers.
    That’s a strong word isn’t it.
    I find it difficult to handle (I shout at the computer sometimes when watching stuff like this).
    I have a background in science – not as strong as Phil, I’m an engineer, but I can read evidence and make rational deductions.
    Some people can’t. Perhaps they have an arts education. That’s ok. I can’t act, paint, dance, etc.
    But for people to sell so called ‘medicines’ to potentially vulnerable people – with obviously no rational or evidential support is terrifying. How can anyone be so irresponsible!!?
    But the best point I’ve seen is from the good Dr Phil.
    Herd immunity.
    If enough people believe and use this horse**** people die. People infect other people.
    I get the impression here in the UK that homeopathy is on the ropes somewhat. I do hope so.
    I’ve followed Simon Singh’s travails (Chirobull****) and THAT is definitely on the ropes here.
    Time to rewatch Mitchell and Webb’s homeopathy sketch on YouTube again. That always cheers me up!

    Nic

  67. Bobbob

    Something important occurred to me while watching this program. When talking about homeopathic vaccines, the homeopathic-remedy-using mom said “if people want to use conventional vaccines or normal vaccines, that’s their choice.” I realized, then, that vaccines have been around long enough that people don’t understand how vaccines work anymore. Yes, it’s important that your child is protected from the disease, and yes, it is your choice whether or not to risk yourself or your children. But that’s not the main purpose of vaccines. Vaccines prevent the spread of disease. If you don’t vaccinate your children,you aren’t just putting your children at risk – you’re putting hundreds of thousands of other children at risk by allowing your child to be a carrier of the disease.

    I see that I am not the first person to point this out in these comments, but it can’t be stressed enough.

    Unfortunately, this blog can’t do much to stop this abominable practice. Between slamming the Wakefield followers and slamming homeopathy, I don’t think anyone reading this blog will ever fail to vaccinate their children. This blog just isn’t an effective medium for convincing people of that. Sure, this blog helps educate skeptics so that when they meet homeopathic-remedy-users and anti-vacciners, they can spread the word, but that just isn’t enough in a society where there are people who think it’s okay to be a carrier of a deadly disease. What we need to be doing is petitioning the government – in particular, we need a PSA campaign that clearly and compellingly conveys the truth: if you do not vaccinate your children, with conventional, non-homeopathic vaccines, you could be directly responsible for the deaths of other people’s babies. It only takes one child, having picked up a virus on vacation or something, to start an epidemic that could kill thousands of other unvaccinated children. It hasn’t happened since the invention of these vaccines, for good reason. Let’s not let it start to happen again.

  68. JCF

    Homeopathic ‘medicine’ works great only when it is used as directed by a good horoscope. So, make sure you use only products that come with a good a astral chart.

  69. Nigel Depledge

    @ Lorne (29) -
    Hmmm … must go online from home sometime soon. I can’t view youtube from work.

  70. Nigel Depledge

    Maria (35) said:

    I’m dumbfounded by the way people claim the flu/cold treatment works. The proof? They got over their flu/cold in 3 to 10 days. It’s like people have completely forgotten that human bodies can in fact get over sickness on their own or heal after certain ailments/injuries. It’s ridiculous.

    I swear that’s the leading reason this stuff keeps being sold. People seem to have this innate need to point at something specific and say THAT is why I feel better.

    Yup. This is the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy (roughly translates as “after this, therefore because of this”), and humans are amazingly prone to falling for it.

  71. Nigel Depledge

    Steve Metzler (36) said:

    “We don’t know how it works, it just does.” Unfalsifiable.

    Well, the mechanism might be unfalsifiable, since there is none. But whether or not the stuff works is definitely falsifiable, and it has been shown to not work.

  72. Nigel Depledge

    Pete C (42) said:

    Though I was always a fan of the comedian Dara O’Briain, who says that the thing about herbal medicine is that we tested it, and some of it did indeed work. We gave the stuff that works a special name. We call it “medicine”. The rest is basically salad and Pot Pourri.

    LOL! Very true.

  73. Nigel Depledge

    Robert (43) said:

    There was (maybe is) a case of a ‘homeopathic’ nasal spray. It used an active ingredient, known to provide relief but cause serious side effects, like permanent damage to the sense of smell, at 10x in homeopathic terms. This is equivalent to 1%: a significant ingredient in real terms.

    If it had an active ingredient present at 1%, that’s only a “1C” dilution, which is not really homeopathic. I’ve never seen a homeopathic treatment claim a “10x” dilution.

    And, yes, it was causing the serious side effects.

    Heh! Because it contained something that was biologically active.

  74. Nigel Depledge

    Uktarsh (52) said:

    Guys this a research paper written by IIT Bombay….I dont need to say anything about its supreme reputation

    Actually, maybe you should. I’ve never encountered IIT Bombay, although I have interviewed job applicants who had Masters degrees from universities in India. I shan’t name any names – suffice it to say that I was not impressed with those universities.

    However, irrespective of the reputation of the institution, nonsense is still nonsense.

    A certain Nobel prizewinner became notorious in later life for supporting the hocus-pocus around Vitamin C “megadoses” as a cancer prophylactic (he died of cancer – go figure). You appear to be using the argument from authority logical fallacy. Wrong is still wrong, no matter who supports it, and no matter where they work.

  75. Nigel Depledge

    Lynn Wilhelm (57) said:

    I just want to be sure there is nothing more to homeopathy I’m missing. Is the entire emphasis of the “practice” on providing these remedies? Or might the treatment include more?

    The most effective part of the homeopathic “treatment” is the amount of time and attention the practitioner gives to the customer. This, above all else, strongly activates the placebo effect.

    As you probably already know, some homeopaths also apply other alt-med rubbish such as crystal healing or reiki, but you pretty much have the essence of homeopathy.

    I understand the value of the time a practitioner might spend with a patient and how that and the placebo effect could make sick people feel better. I just want to be sure there is nothing more. Are there non-diluted remedies a practitioner might use in treatment?

    Well, in principle, yes, but they are poisons. The principle of homeopathy is that you use a substance that causes the same effects as the condition you are trying to treat, but diluted beyond any recognition.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some practitioners use other forms of treatment, but would those be properly called homeopathy.

    Not as such, no.

    I ask this because I’m part of a group full of woo. There are people touting reiki, reflexology, the law of attraction as well as homeopathy. There are also some reasonable people. I hope to use this broadcast in response the next time I see the homeopathic woo. I want to be seen as an accurate source for information, or a source for accurate sources. If this is all there is, homeopathy is an easy one to debunk.

    Yes, homeopathy is very easy to debunk. It has been tested in clinical trials, and shown to perform no better than a placebo.

  76. Nigel Depledge

    Calli Arcale (65) said:

    It’s most common use is actually in opthalmology — atropine-laced eyedrops will cause the pupils to dialate, making examination of the retina much easier. This is actually the origin of the name belladonna (“lovely lady”); it was used as a cosmetic by ladies who wished to appear aroused by artificially dialating their pupils.

    And that’s suffering for your art (as ’twere) because the eye drops sting like a – er – female dog.

  77. Mark Hansen

    Utkarsh, the findings of the paper are irrelevant with regards to the point of the article which is that homeopathy just doesn’t work! They were looking for traces of particles in the water and sometimes found them (remember the ND results in the table). They were not assessing the efficacy of homeopathy nor the means by which it is supposed to work.

  78. Utkarsh

    @74
    Dear Nigel,
    With all due respect…you really dont know anything about great placements then, if you are unaware of Indian Institute Of Technology, Bombay ( or any of other 15 IITs in that case, apart from Mumbai in rest of India)….Google it my friend!….And maybe you guys are kind of acting like stubborn against Homeopathy!…And I see no point of arguing this topic amongst us, it will fetch us no decisive reward whatsoever. In my personal opinion…and I am not a homeopathic practitioner…if its true enough, it will survive.
    ADIOS!!

  79. Nigel Depledge

    Uktarsh (79) said:

    Dear Nigel,
    With all due respect…you really dont know anything about great placements then, if you are unaware of Indian Institute Of Technology, Bombay ( or any of other 15 IITs in that case, apart from Mumbai in rest of India)

    Nope. Doesn’t trip off the tongue.

    Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, MIT, Caltech, IIT Bombay. Which one of these institutions is not like the others?

    ….Google it my friend!….

    If your argument rests on the status of this institution, then your argument fails no matter how good the institution is. As I tried to explain, you are merely making an argument from authority, which is a logical fallacy. If the status of the institution matters so much to you, perhaps you could be bothered to share with the rest of us some of the top-flight research that takes place there. I certainly can’t be bothered to do it for you without a much better reason than the one you give.

    And maybe you guys are kind of acting like stubborn against Homeopathy!…

    Nope.

    It’s reality that is being stubborn over homeopathy. And homeopaths are being stubborn right back at it. I know where I’d put my money.

    Homeopathy has been shown in clinical trials not to work.
    Homeopathy has no logical basis.
    Homeopathy contradicts a great deal of what is already known about chemistry.
    Homeopathy has no evidentiary support.

    In short, homeopathy is tosh.

    And I see no point of arguing this topic amongst us, it will fetch us no decisive reward whatsoever.

    Typical troll. Can’t answer criticism, can’t support claims with any evidence, then claims the argument is at an impasse.

    Uktarsh, in case it had escaped your notice, you have failed to make an argument.

    An argument is a connected series of statements designed to set forth a proposition.

    In my personal opinion…and I am not a homeopathic practitioner…if its true enough, it will survive.

    Heh. “If it is true enough”, when it has already been shown to be false.

    You are wrong here. What you should have said was that if homeopaths continue to be permitted to fleece the gullible, homeopathy will survive.

    ADIOS!!

    Bye, bye, troll.

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