Monday, July 19, 2010

Washing Out Homeopathy

An article I wrote on Homeopathy for Henry the Health Hound

There is often a great deal of confusion about homeopathy when I talk to people on this subject. Some say it’s a herbal medicine, while others comment that it’s all natural. Most often I find that people really have no idea what homeopathy is at all. This article will help you have a better understanding of what it is, what it proposes to do, and why it should be avoided.

So what exactly is homeopathy? Homeopathy is a pseudo-science, or as Robert Park in his book calls it, Voodoo Science. This means that it is unsupported by any verifiable and quantifiable evidence. In other words, somebody just made it up. Homeopathy was first proposed by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. If you consider the other choices of medical treatments with bloodletting and the use of arsenous sulphide (yes arsenic), then you can start to understand why Homeopathy was much more desirable.

So what does homeopathy claim it is? Homeopathy claims that it is a tried and tested form of medicine with scientific reasoning and evidence behind it. We now refer to it as an alternative medicine. Personally, I dislike using that term because it is the furthest thing from a medicine. Homeopathy has 4 basic principles guiding it. A proving, the law of similars, dilution potency, and the memory of water.

A proving is how homeopaths find out what causes a certain set of symptoms. This principle greatly overlaps the law of similars which you’ll see in a bit. The homeopath would see if, for example, ground pepper would make healthy people sneeze (it was never established by Hahnemann what the exact criteria for healthy was and is also one of the problems with homeopathy). Hahnemann and other homeopaths after him used this method with many substances to build a library of symptoms and a causing agent. The problem with this (although the compilation of substances and what they cause is a relatively good thing) was that it failed to actually diagnose the actual cause of a patient’s symptoms when one was sick. Now enters the law of similars.

The law of similars basically states that “like cures like”. This on the surface seems reasonable since people build immunities to substances by coming in contact with them in small doses (like the similar idea with vaccines). If you look at the proving principles above though, you’ll see that the law of similars and “like cures like” is not about coming in contact with the actual substance but something “similar.” For example: If one is having the symptoms of sneezing, red splotches on the skin, shortness of breath every time they are outside, a rational person might think the person is allergic to pollen. The homeopath in the early provings of Hahnemann found that these symptoms are caused also by feline saliva. Since feline saliva can cause the same symptoms, the law of similars says it can be used to cure the pollen allergy. It doesn’t quite make sense now does it? Well, it gets better though.

Next, the law of dilution potency comes into play. This simply states that the more the solution is diluted, the more stronger, or potent, it becomes. Now it’s really not making sense at all. Homeopaths create these “medicines” this basic way: They take a drop of (let’s use the example above) of feline saliva and mixes it with 10 drops of water. This is a 10/1 solution. This solution is not diluted enough and in the eyes of a homeopath is far too weak. So they take this 10/1 solution and take one drop of that and mix that with another 10 drops of water. This is a 10/2 solution (1 in 100. The 2 represents the number of zeros or commonly referred to 10 to the power of 2). This continues on further diluting the homeopathic solution. Homeopaths prefer a dilution no less then 10 to the power of 20 (that’s 20 zeros behind it). Now there comes a point where, mathematically, there can no longer be a molecule of the substance left in the solution. This fact was discovered by Amedeo Avogadro. The limit of dilution for the molecule to still be present in the solution is 10 to the power of 23. You’ll find most homeopathic solutions are above 10/30 (it may say 30x as the concentration). So therefore there is a greater chance that you are just getting water and not any actual “medicine” ingredient. Homeopaths have an answer for this and that brings me to the next principle.

Homeopaths claim water has a memory. Through the mixing, or cessation process, the water molecules come in contact with the substance and they retain that information. If this is true (and it isn’t) water then has a selective and short-term memory because those water molecules in their existence (over all time) have come in contact with everything. If water has a memory then drinking toilet water would be just as good (and cheaper).

There have been many attempts to prove homeopathy scientifically through experiments and studies. These, like the BBC’s Horizon test, clearly show it has no basis what-so-ever (see reference below). Homeopathy simple does not work. It’s only success is due in part to the placebo effect (believing you will get better and thus feeling better…for a short time), confusion of correlation and causation (A + B does not always equal C. Patient has a symptom. Person does something and the symptom is gone. Concludes that the action B cured the symptom A without regard of other factors such as the body’s natural ability to heal itself and other medicines/treatment taken as well), and just plain denial of science and facts.

Although homeopathy in itself is not dangerous (it’s just water, or water dripped onto sugar pills), it’s the belief that it works and the stopping of other treatments (because of side-effects and other factors) which can lead to serious harm and death. Visit to see just a small sampling of the harm.
In conclusion, I urge you to pass this information onto others, so that they will not be scammed into taking homeopathic solutions. Find Scambusting! on Facebook or for more information and links to other scams, hoaxes, quackery and questionable practices.

 Voodoo Science—Robert Park
 Demon Haunted World—Carl Sagan

Boost Your Immune System.

Want to boost your immune system? A lot of herbal remedies, quack cures and juices are being advertised as boosting your immune system. As Harriet Hall, says "When you catch a cold, your symptoms are not due to the virus itself. They are due to your body's immune resonse to the virus. Would you want to boost that response and get more fever, mucus, congestion and sneezing?"

Homeopathy Cartoon

Thanks to Nicholas J Johnson for finding this


Iridology. What is it? It is an alternative medicine diagnosis technique that seems to have little basis in science.  For more information see the links below.


I recently read a book called Freakonomics.

It is a great read. Truly insightful and hard to put down. The deep look into the world of incentives and the answering of questions that you might not of thought to ask like "Why do drug dealers live with their ...moms?" is esquisitly appealing. Find out how abortion led to a drop in crime rates. Find out why teachers cheat and how to be a good parent. Be sure to check out their blog

Monday, July 5, 2010

QuackWatch being sued

QuackWatch is being sued by Doctor's Data in regards to some possible libel statments.  It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

more about the lawsuit:

Cold Reading

From Jason Delaat

Got this from one of Bill's other links:

It's a 5 page pdf with some good information of on cold reading. Detailed enough to give you a good idea of how the process works but simple enough that people should be able to remember at least some of it.

I think this pdf is a great thing to send to anybody who routinely visits... 'psychics.' Just get them to give it a quick read and the next time they go for a 'consultation' have them pay attention and see if the 'psychic' does anything from the pamphlet.

Maybe, just maybe a few people will be pried away from the clutches of these vultures...

Network Marketing

Great new video from Brian Dunning and his inFact series

Disney Myths

Recieved this in the email today....thought it would be fun to share...

Myths about Walt Disney: Is Walt really frozen under Pirates of the Caribbean?

Over the years rumors and myths about Walt Disney and his company have evolved into legends. Legends, which many guests and even some Disney Cast Members today have come to believe as a true part of Disney history.

While some of those legends are true, there are many that are false. Let us take a look at some of the more popular Disney myths.

Walt is frozen and stored at one of the parks

Walt was cryogenically frozen and is placed in a secret vault underneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. It is false, but is one of the longest running Disney rumors today. He was actually cremated Dec. 17, 1966, only two days after his death. Another version of this myth is, since he died before his vision of the "Florida Project" , now known at Walt Disney World - was complete, the secret vault where his body is located was placed underneath Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom Park.

Guest looses head on Space Mountain

A guest's head was severed from standing up on the Space Mountain attraction in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland. Though this did not happen to a guest, it did happen during testing of the ride when Imagineers placed a test dummy on the ride standing up. The dummy's head was severed from its body.

Swan and Dolphin and the monorail

It has been told by many on a variety of forums and even some Disney Cast Members have been telling guests that the black glass on Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resorts can be removed to accommodate the path of a monorail from Epcot to Disney's Hollywood Studios. One story says that there is nothing behind the black glass and another says that there are temporary rooms there, which can be removed easily. Neither are true. Actually the buildings were designed this way and there is no intention, and never was, of putting a monorail through the two resorts.

Cinderella's Castle can be taken apart for a hurricane

I am not sure where this rumor began, but it is out there. Some say that Cinderella's Castle is built in a way that allows for easy dismantling in case of a hurricane. This a false and the castle is not built that way, nor as it ever been dismantled.

Walt's face appears on a bust in the Haunted Mansion

It has been rumored that Walt's face appears on the bust, which is broken, in the Haunted Mansion attraction. Though there is a similarity, this is simply a myth. It is actually the face of Thurl Ravenscroft, who is known as the voice of Tony the Tiger. His voice has also been featured in the Country Bear Jamboree and in the several Disney animated films, including "Lady and the Tramp."

Contemporary rooms are removable

I have been hearing this from transportation Cast Members for as long as I can remember. Though I have found no evidence proving they are removable, I have found information, which may have lead to this rumor. When Disney's Contemporary Resort was being built, the rooms were constructed off site and then crane lifted into their place on the steel constructed A-frame. This was similar to how parts of Disney's Polynesian Resort was built.

A Second Opinion on Learning Disabilities

This is interesting to note in regards to the anti-vaccination movement like Jenny McCarthy (I read some of her book the other day where she said that if she could start over, would she vaccinate her child. Her response: "I would not"). Some people suggest that her son being "cured" did not actually have autism.

This... video from TED suggests a possible reason that could be true that he did not have autism in the first place

I'm excited. Just picked up two items to read from Chapters today.

The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing...compiled by Ricahrd Dawkins and my first copy of Skeptic Magazine (vol 15 no 4)...really wanted to see Shermer's work first hand...I might just subscribe.

Mother Teresa

A recent posting of a friend of mine on facebook had me revisiting this topic that I looked into a while ago. This particular posting was about Great Women. I have found that Mother Teresa is not deserving of that title and her "compassion" is all hype.

I have one question: How does one recieve the Nobel Peace Prize when one openly admits to the promotion of suffering?

Read the following information and see beyond the legend.

You have to love how she refused to return stolen money.

Taken in by the freebie, a tale from anonymous scambuster

There is a major water scam going on, not just in Windsor but all over Canada and the United States. The targets range from senior citizens to the average homeowner, preferably one who is married since both partners must be present.

It all starts with the phone call:

“Hi is this Mr. X? This is __________ calling and we wanted to inform you that you have won a great prize! When will you be home for someone to give you your complimentary 8 free movie tickets and 2 large pizzas? All you need to do is let us test your water. It will only take between 8 and 15 minutes. Will you and your wife be home at 2:30 today? That’s great to hear. My manager will call you back in a few hours to confirm. Thank you!
The rationalization that goes through your head: Wow, what a deal! 15 minutes to do a simple test and I get 8 movie tickets that normally cost $10.00 each PLUS 2 large pizzas?

You’re still a little unsure so you ask again: “Are you sure it’s free?”

Response: Yes of course. Someone will hand you your free coupons at the arrival at the door and there is no obligation to buy.”

You are now sold!
The salesperson arrives at your house after the confirmation is made that both you and your significant other are home.
They walk in and greet you like you’re long lost friends. The small talk begins of “it’s a beautiful day out!” or perhaps if it’s a lousy day “Oh I just hate this weather, don’t you?”
The briefcase goes onto the counter and you’re ready to rock n’roll!

First, it’s the three glasses setup placed on your kitchen table: one with tap water, one with boiled water (microwaved for 1 minute) and the other with the company’s “special additive” water. Using fancy equipment like the TDS, which measures the amount of Total Dissolved Salts in the water and then the scary Precipitator *cue eerie music* that shows the difference between high and low levels in your water. One at a time, each device is plugged into your wall socket and the salesperson waits for that pivotal moment to see your facial expression go from intrigue to horror. Almost immediately the tap and boiled water start changing colour.

So you ask: “Oh no, what’s that colour mean???” The response: “Well let me just get my briefcase to figure out what is happening to your water sir/ma’am.”

The delay creates fear in the potential consumer as he/she watches the water become like sludge. That’s when you are shown a chart with the list of possible colours that range from problematic to “uh-oh, you better get your water filtered fast before you die!!” The beauty of the test is that when the salesperson puts both glasses into the Precipitator, it will ALWAYS change colour. (You can feel free to research the reason for that result and anything else pertaining to the specifics of water testing) The comparison is shown with the company’s water glass that stays perfect in the original state it was in, when it’s poured into the glass.

Not impressed yet? I bet. The salesperson knows you’re still skeptical and have more questions.

Let’s start with a little small talk before we get into what your water results show, shall we? The company trip to the water treatment plant usually comes up where the back area shocks everyone because they notice it’s filled with used condoms and soiled diapers. The look on the salesperson’s face is one of disgust, and so you can’t help but cringe either and say “I didn’t know that was in our water supply!”

So let’s get to the good part; the results. No? Not quite yet… The test is half way completed by that point and you’re told of more stories that the water you are drinking could be toxic. You may even get lucky enough to actually get a story from the salesperson telling you about how they were drinking bottled water until this wonderful product came out and demonstrated its effectiveness to take away all impurities. It’s such a relief as most people have loved ones that they would never want anything to happen to them.

More often than not, your heart is beating a little faster now, after contemplating whether or not you are putting not only yourself but your entire family in danger! You’re shown a laminated list of just about every single disease possible, from cramps to cancer. Then you are presented with a list of chemicals that are in the water system which you cannot even pronounce, nor can the salesperson, who sheepishly admits he/she is not able to even say half of them either. So now you’re on the same wave length. He’s just your average human being too, not some advanced technical or scientific professional.

Before the salesperson even needs to say anything else, you ask the most important question: “How much does this cost?” Be prepared to be told that every other company with similar systems is at least double or triple the price. This particular company is the only one that offers a “special additive” in the water.

You: “What is that?”

Salesperson response: “Well you know i’m not really sure, (insert a little chuckle of embarrassment) I’ve only been in this job for about a year and so it sounds pretty easy to assume that it’s _______ from the sea.”

You: Ah yes, that makes perfect sense.”

The salesperson is off the hook with mentioning about that obvious answer now, right?

So back to the price of the system which I’ll tell you right now costs pennies…yes, only a mere couple thousand dollars for a filtering system. There is that wonderful down payment option though or monthly payment plan. You are told that “These systems are flying off the shelves pretty much with everyone buying them lately because they are concerned about their family’s health and wellbeing.” The guilt you feel now sets in. If everyone has one, why shouldn’t you protect your family too?

It’s still too expensive and you can’t really justify the extra expense. So that’s when the good part comes. “Oh okay, that’s no problem. I do understand. I just want to let you know that I have to phone my manager and let him/her know that I didn’t make any sales this time.” The forlorn look will either make you want to reconsider or to allow the call to happen. Fumbling with the phone, the salesperson has a Eureka moment! “Hold on a second, let me call my manager and see what I can do for you.” It just happens to slip out that their manager is willing to give you a few hundred dollars off but this is only a limited time because you agreed to see the demonstration.

At this time, you either wonder to yourself how they were able to give that information without making the phone call or perhaps they’ve pulled this rabbit out of the hat trick before.

You’re not sold on the product due to its high cost, you’re a little freaked out by this overload of information and all you want now is your damn free gifts and for this person to be on their way!

So you ask about the gifts for allowing this water testing to be done. It was made clear that regardless if you purchase a system, you get 8 free tickets and 2 large pizzas. So you are handed a coloured 4-page brochure with information. As the salesperson is getting ready to leave, you are informed that “You MUST follow the instructions to a T.” If the salesperson thinks you’re hard of hearing, perhaps he/she may tell you again and once more just for good measure.

Now you are left with a copy of the Pizza and Movie Rebate Offer to sift through.

There are the “Terms and Conditions” with 14 (yep 14 steps which will seriously make your eyes buggy!) steps to follow, plus a survey that must be mailed in. The kicker, you have to send a copy of your ID showing date of birth to some unknown company in the United States! “Red flag, red flag!!” Can you say possible identity theft??

So it looks like you wasted a half hour of your time if not more (15 minutes might be for the actual demo itself, but not the scare tactics and wealth of misinformation) you’re still hungry because the pizza deal fell through and you can’t even find 8 people to join you at the movies.

In the end, a valuable lesson learned. There are no free lunches in this world, or in this case, pizzas.

Blaming the Victim
This is the same type of question to ask those who go into Multi-Level Marketing and/or Pyramid Schemes. Do they deserve to be scammed?

Do promoters and practicioners of psuedo-science alternative medicine deserve to be scammed?

My answer:... See More

We may find a person getting scammed by the same scam they are perpetuating (even if they are not fully aware of it) satisfying at times(some people erroneously call that karma). For the betterment of society, I would wager that to stop all scams would be an ideal goal. Any condoning of any scam just seems too hypocritical to me. The "revenge syndrome" can blind us of our humanity.

What's the harm?

From Larry Leeder:
Great little podcast and website (below) that answers the question we often get asked from apologists and followers of alternative medicines like's just water, what's the harm.
Most of the stories listed are not direct harmful results from such practices, but are most definitely indirect....i.e. someone who believes absolutely in homeopathy and thusly stopping any evidence-based medicine.

Dangers of Homeopathy

The Dangers of Homeopathy. Even though homeopathy in general is safe (just water or just sugar pills), it can still cause serious issues including death by denial of modern medicine.