Homeopathy is such a dumb idea that it’s a shame scientists have to even examine it at all. But what’s even worse, is that despite the towering piles of conclusive evidence showing homeopathy to be ineffective, it lumbers on. It’s such an abjectly stupid idea that it remains insulated from the logical and empirical evidences against it. So, homeopathy continues to be a ridiculous, yet lucrative industry of charlatans and quacks. In 2007 homeopaths in the US raked in $2.9 billion from their unsuspecting and ignorant customers. And their sales have only risen since.
In this post, I’ll forgo most of the measured and logical consideration that previous examinations have granted to homeopathy. Instead, this post will aim to supply sweet, sweet ridicule, focused on the stinking, corn-riddled turd-of-an-idea that homeopathy is. Because, when up against such industrial-grade woo, ridicule may just be an effective—even necessary—tool.
**This post has been edited to correct my crappy spelling.**
The Stage for Homeopathy’s inception:
Homeopathy was invented in the early 1800s from the hilarious imagination of Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann. Hahnemann was a German who lived in a pre-germ-theory world. (Germ theory really started gaining traction in the mid- to late-1800s.) This means that Hahnemann lived in a world where science hadn’t started to save people yet. Sick people were still “treated” by having their veins opened to adjust the non-existent humors of their ailing bodies. So, yeah, all Hahnemann (henceforth referred to as Ol’ Hanie for brevity—yes, I know it’s the exact same number of characters and requires more keystrokes, and that I’ve now rambled on and on and on to explain this needling appellation to the point where it is, I hope, obvious that it’s meant for ridicule, not brevity) had to do to be competitive in the medical world was concoct a “treatment” that didn’t actively kill its patients via exsanguination. So, as long as Ol’ Hanie didn’t actively kill his patients faster than the diseases making them sick, he was winning by default.
Homeopathy’s hilarious principles:
Homeopathy is based on two principles that couldn’t be more nonsensical. They are truly the punchline of the joke that is alternative medicine. And, it’s important to note, alternative medicine is like a super dark-humor type of joke, since it is only funny in the inappropriate way that harmful stupidity is sometimes funny. Remember: alternative medicine is just “medicine” that doesn’t work. Or:
“You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”—Tim Minchin
principles 1: Like cures like:
Ol’ Hanie thought, for absolutely no good reason, that if something can make you sick, then very small doses of that same thing will cure problems that cause the same symptoms. So, if you have a headache, Ol’ Hanie would prescribe you a very small dose of some poison that also caused headaches.
Homeopaths still think this. This is a basic and foundational principles of homeopathy. Yes, this is stupid.
Here’s a totally real, made-up story: Ol’ Hanie once saw a dude get kicked by a horse (as people were want to do back in the 1700s). The horse’s victim got knocked unconscious and fell face-first into a pile of horseshit (because piles of horseshit were everywhere in the 1700s). The guy could have been concussed and may have asphyxiated on horseshit, but, lucky for him Ol’ Hanie was there to save the day.
Thinking quickly, Ol’ Hanie pulled out a small pair of tweezers and plucked a single, greenish, bile-covered piece of chewed-up hay from another nearby pile of horseshit with similar size and appearance to the pile that the unconscious man’s head was lodged in. Ol’ Hanie then carefully wiped the mostly-digested piece of hay across the back of the man’s head, thereby applying an infinitesimally small amount of horseshit to the exposed scalp. Obviously, this action saved the man and Ol’ Hanie went on to enjoy a nice lunch of horrible medieval-type food.
Homeopathy is comparably ridiculous to this absurd—yet real—story (it is an actual story).
principles 2: Potentization or Dynamization (dilution increases potency, or, less is more):
How could Ol’ Hanie possibly come up with an idea as zany as his “like cures like” notion? Well, hold his beer because he did it with “potentization”. Potentization (also referred to as dynamization) is a made-up word used to describe the amazingly-untrue and stupidly-nonsensical action of increasing a potion’s potency by shaking it and then diluting the active ingredient. Seriously. Ol’ Hanie thought that decreasing the active ingredient made his homeopathic “medicines” stronger.
Homeopaths still think this. This is a basic and foundational principles of homeopathy. Yes, this is stupid.
Here’s a quick thought experiment to put this stupidity into perspective: Imagine that you were walking along the street in some small town in Saxony, Germany, during the late 1700s. Naturally, since it’s Germany, you are drinking beer. Two beers; one in each hand. And the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law) has already been in effect for over a hundred years, so it’s pretty good beer that helps you forget how horrible everything is because it’s the late 1700s. Suddenly, a carriage goes racing by and splashes horseshit into your beers. One gets hit by a huge, messy gob. The other only takes a glancing blow that drops a small piece of shite that’s still mostly hay. Ol’ Hanie actually wants you to believe that the beer with the small piece of shite is more contaminated than the one that has been largely replaced by stinking turds! (This is a simplification, but not an unfair caricature of the actual belief of homeopaths.)
Here is a summary of what Ol’ Hanie actually thought about his magical dilution process (Campbell, 2008):
“Dynamization was for Hahnemann a process of releasing an energy that he regarded as essentially immaterial and spiritual. As time went on he became more and more impressed with the power of the technique he had discovered and he issued dire warnings about the perils of dynamizing medicines too much. This might have serious or even fatal consequences, and he advised homeopaths not to carry medicines about in their waistcoat pockets lest they inadvertently make them too powerful. Eventually he even claimed that there was no need for patients to swallow the medicines at all; it was enough if they merely smelt them.”
How diluted is it?
Many homeopathic solutions are diluted beyond the point of sanity. There are a lot of good explanations of homeopathic dilutions available online. For example: here, and here, and here. For the purpose of this post (to promote ridicule), I’ll just quickly explain some of the crazier aspects of these dilutions.
Homeopaths use a centesimal scale; presumably because decimals are too straightforward and customers would know how stupid the products are. A centesimal unit is abbreviated “C” and equates to one part in one hundred (a 1:100 scale). 30C is the most common homeopathic dilution available. This is a scale of one part in one novemdecillion. Or a scale of 1: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This can also be written as 1:1060.
If you are thinking that it seems like a bit of a shit deal to buy a medicine that only contains 1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of active ingredient, you are right. Homeopaths are ripping you off.
In fact, at a 12C dilution, it is almost certain that no active ingredient remains. This is due to Avogadro’s limit.
Some homeopathic solutions are sold at a 1000C dilution! Many are sold at 200C. At 200C the ratio of active ingredient to inert ingredient is 1:10400. For comparison, the number of atoms in the entire observable universe is estimated to be around 1080.
How homeopathy causes real harm
Homey the Medicine hurts people in three ways: (1) it can prevent patients from seeking real help for their real problems; (2) it can directly harm patients, often due to the largely unregulated status of the industry (Posadzki et al., 2012); and (3) it reinforces an unhealthy amount of ignorance and enables a culture of intellectual laziness and/or credulity.
Prevention of real help:
Typically, homeopathy is used to “treat” temporary and uncritical conditions that would get better on their own. In fact, they do get better on their own because the stupid homeopaths don’t even give away any active ingredient. Ironically, that’s a good thing, because the active ingredients don’t make any sense anyway!
However, many times homeopathy has effectively placated the concerns of people with conditions that required real help from real doctors and their real treatments. This placation keeps patents from seeking further help and allows their conditions to fester. Tragically this has led to many deaths.
Occasionally, homeopathic “treatments” directly hurt people. How does that happen when the active ingredients have been diluted to nothingness? Here’s how: step (1) make homeopathic “medicine” in factories using deadly ingredients that need to be diluted to nothingness in order to not poison your customers; step (2) don’t regulate these factories; (step 3) sell customers the occasional “medicine” that is poisonous.
This has led to arsenic poisoning (Chakraborti et al., 2003) and the poisoning of babies.
When we are led to believe that something as objectively stupid as homeopathy might actually work, we are literally being sold magic beans. We are granting misinformation permission to fuck with us on a societal scale. I don’t think that this is okay.
Furthermore, allowing this ridiculous belief to continue un-accosted is to grant tacit permission to the propagation of similar falsehoods.
Homeopathy hurts us and is a poison on our intellect. Worse yet, it is so far removed from reality that it is seemingly invulnerable to rational critique. Thus, we should diligently point and laugh at it until it slinks away forever. To call this belief system out for being laughably stupid is a justified public service.
Campbell, A. (2008). Homeopathy in perspective. Lulu. com. http://www.acampbell.org.uk/homeopathy/
Chakraborti, D., Mukherjee, S. C., Saha, K. C., Chowdhury, U. K., Rahman, M. M., & Sengupta, M. K. (2003). Arsenic toxicity from homeopathic treatment. Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology, 41(7), 963-967. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14705842
Posadzki, P., Alotaibi, A., & Ernst, E. (2012). Adverse effects of homeopathy: a systematic review of published case reports and case series. International journal of clinical practice, 66(12), 1178-1188. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/777749
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