Diluting Felicia

By Phil Plait | March 4, 2011 10:02 am

It’s not hard to describe just how silly homeopathy is — after all, diluting a substance in water until nothing is left is clearly not a great way to base a medicinal practice. Unless you’re trying to cure dehydration. But if describing homeopathy’s silliness is easy, doing it well is another matter; most people don’t have a very good sense of scale when it comes to very big and very small numbers (I guess numbers that dwarf even a trillion weren’t necessary for our ancestors on the plains of Africa, so we never evolved a way to grasp them).

However, Steve DeGroof at MadArtLab (the same guy who does the skeptic web comic Tree Lobsters) has found a way to put homeopathy into perspective: use Felicia Day!

[You really must click through to see the whole thing.]

Well, pictures of her, anyway, and the concept of Felicia’s uniqueness. This is actually a pretty good analogy: you can put Felicia into various categories (like women named Felicia, redheads, guest stars on "House"*, and so on) and compare that number to how much homeopathy dilutes various solutions.

I think this method really works! I love how he used Marian Call and Adam Savage in the redhead category, too.

Anyway, I hope this gets picked up far and wide by the geek ‘net. The more people who grasp the nonsense of homeopathy, the better. After all, there’s nothing to it.


* Or, for that matter, cast members of SyFy channel’s show "Eureka" when it comes back soon — I can’t wait to see it!


Tip o’ the 100C solution to reddit.

Related posts:

- Taking the P out of homeopathy
- Homeopathy: there’s nothing to it
- Canadian TV slams homeopathy
- Homeopathy made simple

MORE ABOUT: Felicia Day, homeopathy

Comments (33)

  1. kevbo

    “Unless you’re trying to cure dehydration”? But it doesn’t even do THAT anymore! Somehow magically transferring the water’s ‘memory’ of the original substance to a sugar pill (which in no way was done to ease shipping and handling…) has now removed dehydration from any possible benefit…

    Unfortunately though, preaching to the geek net isn’t likely to change too many opinions…but then again…hey, Felicia Day!

  2. BJN

    For a minute I thought this was about using dilutions of Felicia Day’s urine as a homeopathic treatment. Fill a bottle from the lake, and voila! Now just what would that dilution cure?

  3. Doc

    BJN,

    What would a homeopathic dilution of Felicia Day cure? Given the principles of homeopathy, my first guess would be … um … arousal?

  4. Why no astronomer redheads? :D

  5. You have to admit that homeopathic medicine makes good economic sense at last. Considering the virtues of dilution, one bottle should last you a lifetime. Just add water.

  6. Keith Bowden

    If I dilute a hammer, will that cure headaches, arthritis and other aches and pains? (And broken bones…) :)

    I’d have used Karen Gillan, but Felicia Day’s a good choice!

  7. fred edison

    Homeopathic suppliers should also dilute the money paid for these psychological comfort placebos to $0.00, perhaps then they’d be worth the cost but they’d still be a waste of your valuable time.

  8. Michael Swanson

    And this backs a cornerstone of homeopathic theory: there is only one Felicia Day, and this is why she is so potent!

  9. Matt B.

    I’ve never perceived Adam Savage as a redhead. He’s so obviously blond, not even strawberry blond.

  10. Tristan

    Brian@5: what a wonderful way to break the back of the homeopathy industry: beat them at their own game! Just publish, as widely as possible, detailed instructions on how to turn that expensive bottle of 30C Nat. Mur.* into a lifetime supply of far more potent 40C. Bam! No more homeopathy market.

    * Natrium Murium = sodium chloride = common table salt. Yep, they’ll happily sell you homeopathic salt.

  11. Glen T

    Since almost all of the water in the world has been in contact with every substance at some time in history, wouldn’t all water be homeopathic? The oceans are just one big homeopathic cure.

  12. This is brilliant.
    All my future references to size ratios will be in Felicia Day units.

  13. Joseph G

    My favorite comment on that page:
    “What would you use a 30C solution of Felicia Day for? I suppose priapism?”

  14. David George

    “The more people who grasp the nonsense of homeopathy, the better. After all, there’s nothing to it.”

    How about the people who grasp the nonsense of this thread? Homeopathy may work. And there is a lot to it. What do you know about water? For that matter, what do you know about lightning?

  15. Mike H

    I am also not Felicia Day. Or Adam Savage either, dammit.

  16. Steve (treelobsters)

    Thanks for the mention, Phil!

    Larian LeQuella: I had considered that but went with David Caruso instead. :-)

  17. PeteC

    @14 David George

    “Homeopathy may work”. Well, I suppose so – in the same way magic *may* work, chanting ‘Cthulu F’tahgn’ *may* call back the Great Old Ones, or sticking two fingers up your nose and dancing the Macarena *may* bring you World Peace, seven trillion dollars and transform the Atlantic Ocean into custard. It’s just not very likely, to the point of only being true if everything we know and have built our society and technology on is totally, completely wrong.

    What do we know about water? Quite a lot, actually. Lots of our science and a massive amount of our engineering is based on it or uses it. Our bodies are mostly made of it. It’s been the focus of our attention for many, many years. We know it’s constituent atoms, the shape of its molecules and how it reacts to most substances. We know how and why things dissolve. We can solidify it or vaporise it. And yet, for all the use it has and the tests we’ve done on it, it has never – in proper, methodical testing – shown magical, supernatural abilities.

    Lightning is similar. We know fairly well how it’s caused, and very well what it is. You may have noticed all the lights in your home, the television, the computer – they’re powered by a form of tame lightning we control we call “electricity”.

    Of course, there are probably many things we don’t know or understand yet. That does not mean, however, that you have the right to invent whatever you fancy to fill its place without any evidence or logical theory at all. I know little about you – it does not give me the right to tell everyone that you are a murderer or a child molestor or a reptilian alien from Zeta Trianguli in disguise come to steal our babies so you can eat them. Inventing fantasy to fill the gaps is fine for storytime, and plenty of science fiction does exactly that, but no sci-fi author then goes to tell everyone that even though they have no proof whatsoever, Klingons, Vulcans and Mimbari really *do* exist.

  18. David George

    #17 PeteC — Did you know this, from “Physics World”, Feb. 4 2011, under the heading “Physicists Discover New Quantum State of Water”:

    “The team argues that this is evidence that the protons exist in a previously unobserved quantum state when water is confined to a very tiny volume – a state that is not described by the electrostatic model. They say that whereas at the 0.1 nm distances that typically separate molecules only the intermolecular potential well exerts a significant force, at the 0.01 nm scale typical of an individual proton’s potential well quantum fluctuations in charge that take place along the hydrogen bonds become significant. In this way the hydrogen bonds form what is known as a “connected electronic network” and they speculate that it is the response of the network to confinement that causes the large changes in proton energy….
    “According to Reiter, the quantum ground state that they have identified could be important to life because the confinement length typical of their experiments – about 2 nm – is roughly equal to the distances between structures within biological cells. “I think that the quantum mechanics of protons in water has been playing a role in the development of cellular life all along but we never noticed before,” he says.”

    Were you aware of the findings by Dr. Gerald Pollack of the University of Washington, of an ordered phase of water?

    http://faculty.washington.edu/ghp/researcthemes/water-science

    And then there is this:

    http://cassiopaea.org/forum/index.php?topic=7462.0

    I don’t think this is crackpot science. On the other hand, I don’t blame you for being skeptical, Americans have to be the most snake oil bitten people on Earth, dating back to the old Rockefeller who knew all about suckers.

    If you can tell me how lightning is caused, go right ahead. Apparently the professional lightning researchers can’t figure it out — the numbers don’t fit. Maybe you know something they don’t.

  19. bobert joe

    ladies and gentlemen….You may say that homeopathy does not work, for “scientists” have said otherwise, but at scientists are not always right, heck in most cases they are wrong. If they were right then the earth would be flat, and the solar system would revolve around the earth. And numerous other such things. Just because a scientist says its not possible, doesn’t mean it is such. Also remember how many scientists are politically influenced. Most will say whatever gets them more money. Which is not necessarily what is true, and I hear Big Pharma pays well.

  20. Tristan

    David #18:

    Fine. Now all you have to do is tell us what on earth this has to do with homeopathy, which doesn’t involve confining water into nanometer-scale cavities, and *does* involve diluting out all presence of any ingredient that could impose structure on it.

  21. Joseph G

    @20 Tristan: Thank you! You beat me to it. The other example had temporary solute concentration in the presence of IR radiation in a lab environment, but same thing – that has eff-all to do with homeopathy.

    @19 bobert joe: Ah yes, the Galileo fallacy. “People thought Galileo was wrong, therefore, scientists telling me that my crackpot theory is bunk are just unable to comprehend my brilliance.”
    Bottom line, for every Galileo or Orville and Wilbur Wright, there are about a hundred thousand cranks who vastly underestimate the insight and talent of the scientific community.

    And before you go too far with the “Big Pharma money” line of thinking, go ahead and Google how many alternative medicine “providers” are selling all manner of untestable nostrums and machines on the intertubes. The only difference between the alt-medicine industry and “Big Pharma” is that the pharmaceutical industry has to actually prove that their product contains the stuff they say it contains and that it outperforms a placebo – you know, that it actually does something. If you really want to make a load of money, homeopathy is the way to go. Zero R&D budget, no government oversight, no potential side-effects or interactions (nothing to interact). Wow. If I didn’t have some actual scruples, I’d go into the business myself.

  22. David George

    #20 & #21 -

    Obviously you did not do the homework I suggested – your initial response is what I would call “argument by innate superiority”, common among mainstream nutters. If you had read what I gave you, you would realize there is no way a single post could explain what goes on in a cell. But it is inter- and intra-cellular communication via light waves. Biophoton emissions are light emissions from cells which are absorbed both within cells and by other cells. And to oversimplify, a concentration of some substance in a water solution is diluted even to the point that “none” of the substance remains, but the water retains the information of the substance. The information is transmitted in the biophoton emissions. This is a micro scale process, only now being recognized by “mainstream” science. The “homeopathic” information is sensitive to interruption and can be destroyed even by the person handling the water.

    Other than that I have no more to say; it is not worth arguing with people who don’t listen and conduct an argument according to their supposition of their innate superiority.

  23. flip

    #22 David

    Your whole argument boils down to “quantum physics”, which is one regularly used and regularly debunked.

    Bo-ring. Especially since you didn’t bother answering the questions posed to you, re: dilutions.

  24. Nigel Depledge

    Glen T (11) said:

    Since almost all of the water in the world has been in contact with every substance at some time in history, wouldn’t all water be homeopathic? The oceans are just one big homeopathic cure.

    Not really. Earth’s oceans don’t contain enough water.

    For instance, a 15C dilution of 100 µL of a solution would – to do a direct dilution rather than the stepwise dilution that homeopaths actually perform – require a mass of water equal to the mass of Neptune.

  25. Nigel Depledge

    David George (14) said:

    How about the people who grasp the nonsense of this thread? Homeopathy may work.

    Homeopathic “remedies” have been shown in clinical trial to perform exactly the same as a placebo.

    So, no. Homeopathy doesn’t work.

    And there is a lot to it.

    Such as what? Aside from the black-magic mumbo-jumbo about the “memory of water”.

    What do you know about water?

    Plenty. How about you?

    For that matter, what do you know about lightning?

    Which has what to do with homeopathy?

  26. Nigel Depledge

    Pete C (17) said:

    Of course, there are probably many things we don’t know or understand yet. That does not mean, however, that you have the right to invent whatever you fancy to fill its place without any evidence or logical theory at all. I know little about you – it does not give me the right to tell everyone that you are a murderer or a child molestor or a reptilian alien from Zeta Trianguli in disguise come to steal our babies so you can eat them. Inventing fantasy to fill the gaps is fine for storytime, and plenty of science fiction does exactly that, but no sci-fi author then goes to tell everyone that even though they have no proof whatsoever, Klingons, Vulcans and Mimbari really *do* exist.

    Yes! This!

  27. Nigel Depledge

    David George (18) said:

    #17 PeteC — Did you know this, from “Physics World”, Feb. 4 2011, under the heading “Physicists Discover New Quantum State of Water”:

    “The team argues that this is evidence that the protons exist in a previously unobserved quantum state when water is confined to a very tiny volume – a state that is not described by the electrostatic model. They say that whereas at the 0.1 nm distances that typically separate molecules only the intermolecular potential well exerts a significant force, at the 0.01 nm scale typical of an individual proton’s potential well quantum fluctuations in charge that take place along the hydrogen bonds become significant. In this way the hydrogen bonds form what is known as a “connected electronic network” and they speculate that it is the response of the network to confinement that causes the large changes in proton energy….
    “According to Reiter, the quantum ground state that they have identified could be important to life because the confinement length typical of their experiments – about 2 nm – is roughly equal to the distances between structures within biological cells. “I think that the quantum mechanics of protons in water has been playing a role in the development of cellular life all along but we never noticed before,” he says.”

    First off, do you understand the significance of what you have quoted?

    Second, this last bit sounds very much like over-interpretation to me. It all depends on what you call a “structure”. When I was reading it, my mind instantly associated the word “structure” with a cell’s organelles, which are typically a hell of a lot farther apart than 2 nm!

    Then I started thinking about what that author might be referring to as “structure”, and what exists in the cell at that kind of scale. DNA? Well, let’s see. Oh, look, the double-helix has a diameter of about 2 nm.

    So, is this fellow saying that most significant biological structures are so close together that a piece of dsDNA would only just squeeze through?

    This is insane – he obviously needs to go and talk to a cell biologist.

    I mean, considering DNA alone – what about supercoiling (which is the natural state of dsDNA)? What about histones (that all vertebrates use to help package and arrange their DNA)? The natural state of DNA is actually much larger than 2 nm in diameter.

    So he seems to be suggesting that all the “structures” in teh cell that matter are so close to one another that nothing can move around except the smallest molecules. Which is quite obviously wrong. Ribosomes – for example – move around, and they’re a lot bigger than 2 nm across.

  28. Nigel Depledge

    Bobert Joe (19) said:

    ladies and gentlemen….You may say that homeopathy does not work, for “scientists” have said otherwise,

    Wrong. Clinical trials have demonstrated that homeopathic “remedies” are just a type of placebo.

    but at scientists are not always right,

    Individual scientists are not always right, but science as a whole progresses through continual cross-checking and confirmation. So, what is accepted as “true” by relevant scientists is almost certainly – at the very least – a very good approximation to reality.

    heck in most cases they are wrong. If they were right then the earth would be flat,

    Eh? When has a scientist ever claimed that the Earth was flat?

    and the solar system would revolve around the earth.

    Wrong again. This is an assumption, and it took science to prove it wrong.

    And numerous other such things.

    And if those are the best examples you can find of “scientists” being wrong, then your argument clearly has no substance.

    Just because a scientist says its not possible, doesn’t mean it is such.

    This is true, but probably not for the reasons you think.

    Any relevant scientist will not dismiss something as impossible unless they have data to back that up. Homeopathy has been shown in double-blind, randomised clinical trials to perform exactly the same as a placebo. So, we know it doesn’t work.

    Also remember how many scientists are politically influenced.

    Yes. So are many gardeners. Or plumbers. Or electricians. Does that invalidate their expertise? Certainly not.

    Those scientists that are “politically influenced” happen to fall into multiple camps, in the same way that any sample of human beings will. This is just a non-sequitur, but you are disguising it as some kind of snide insinuation that scientists are not to be trusted, which is both unkind and impertinent.

    Most will say whatever gets them more money.

    Rubbish! Unless you can pay me more than I’m getting now, of course . . . ;-)

    [and, for the hard of thinking - yes, I was being sarcastic]

    Which is not necessarily what is true, and I hear Big Pharma pays well.

    Big Pharma pays its scientists more than they might get working in the public sector. But that’s only a trivial fraction of what they might get if they had instead chosen to be doctors or lawyers or accountants. If scientists were genuinely motivated by money, they would never have chosen to enter science as a career.

    And this critique comes from a person who doesn’t even bother with giving proper nouns initial capitals.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    Joseph G (21) said:

    The only difference between the alt-medicine industry and “Big Pharma” is that the pharmaceutical industry has to actually prove that their product contains the stuff they say it contains and that it outperforms a placebo – you know, that it actually does something. If you really want to make a load of money, homeopathy is the way to go. Zero R&D budget, no government oversight, no potential side-effects or interactions (nothing to interact). Wow. If I didn’t have some actual scruples, I’d go into the business myself.

    Yes. This too!

  30. Nigel Depledge

    David George (22) said:

    Obviously you did not do the homework I suggested – your initial response is what I would call “argument by innate superiority”,

    Yes, commenters 20 & 21 – black marks for both of you, and a slap on the wrist from Teacher. Bad boys!

    common among mainstream nutters. If you had read what I gave you,

    Actually, they did this. What they perhaps did not do was read the other stuff to which you linked.

    However, if your argument comprises linking to some stuff someone else has wriotten, this suggests that your understanding of it is so limited that you are unable to express it in your own words. And thus, it may not actually say what you think it says.

    you would realize there is no way a single post could explain what goes on in a cell.

    It depends on which cellular cellular processes you refer to. Obviously, there are many, many things occurring in most cells most of the time, and to name but a few:
    1. DNA replication.
    2. Transcription.
    3. Translation.
    4. Carbohydrate metabolism.
    5. Amino acid metabolism.
    6. Phospholipid metabolism.
    7. Intracellular endocrine signalling.
    8. Extracellular endocrine signalling (i.e. the docking of a hormone with a cell-surface receptor).
    9. Second-messenger signalling (and, seriously, let’s not get started on MAP kinase).
    10. The regulation of all the above metabolic processes.
    11. And so on.

    Anyone with some rudimentary knowledge of biochemistry or cell biology knows that a single comment cannot encompass everything that occurs within a cell. However, I can pretty confidently state that much of this is not relevant to your argument that homeopathy “might work”.

    But it is inter- and intra-cellular communication via light waves.

    Intracellular communication using light? Go on, I’ll bite – how does that work?

    Exactly?

    Biophoton emissions are light emissions from cells which are absorbed both within cells and by other cells.

    Really?

    And to oversimplify, a concentration of some substance in a water solution is diluted even to the point that “none” of the substance remains, but the water retains the information of the substance.

    This has been proven to be nonsense. Water retains no “information” from solutes.

    After all, most of the water on Earth has existed for most of the lifetime of Earth. It has had a great many solutes with which it has come into contact. How does a lowly water molecule choose which solutes to “remember” and which ones to forget?

    The information is transmitted in the biophoton emissions.

    Water does not interact with light except at very short wavelengths (far UV) or quite long wavelengths (microwaves). Given that hard UV is very damaging to cells and that microwaves have wavelengths many orders of magnitude larger than the cell, how the hell is this supposed to happen?

    This is a micro scale process, only now being recognized by “mainstream” science. The “homeopathic” information is sensitive to interruption and can be destroyed even by the person handling the water.

    Oh, how convenient. So, tell us. How is the patient, with their little bottle of sugar pills, supposed to take the “medicine” without destroying the information it contains?

    Other than that I have no more to say;

    Translation: that’s where my technobabble skills run out.

    it is not worth arguing with people who don’t listen and conduct an argument according to their supposition of their innate superiority.

    So, let me ask you something: has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong, and that the people who have been studying biology and chemistry for most of their lives might just be onto something?

    No? So, now who’s refusing to engage in a discussion because of their own feeling of innate superiority?

  31. Joseph G

    @Nigel Dipledge: Awesome post is awesome.

    *wonders how those biophotons manage to carom around in that water without being absorbed, reflected or refracted out of the container*

  32. Radoo

    @Nigel Dipledge: Great post(s). If you add “bio” to some scientific well established terminology (like photon, energy,etc. ) you end up with some crazy s#!t explanations for the woo industry.

  33. Nigel Depledge

    @ 31 & 32 – Thanks, guys.

    BTW, my name’s Depledge, with an e, not an i.

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