Let’s take a step back.
Yesterday, I wrote about doctors in England protesting the promotion of homeopathy (and other unproven “alternative medicine”) by the National Health Service. As usual, the post was written in my own snide style, for which I make no apologies since homeopathy deserves to be mocked merciliessly until the people who sell it to the public are too embarrassed to continue living. However, today I’d like to take a moment to offer a serious overview for the benefit of readers who may not fully understand what homeopathy is all about.
I once was a hippy. Okay, I still consider myself rather hippy-ish, but not like I was. I worked as an activist for a progressive nonprofit, used all organic everything, ate a completely vegetarian diet, and I smoked a lot. Tobacco. Of course. Nothing wrong with any of those things, it’s just that all together they technically made me a hippy.
But as part of the hippiness, I also thought homeopathy was a perfectly acceptable alternative to prescription medication. I didn’t really think about it — it just seemed to be common knowledge. At the time, I assumed that homeopathy was the same as naturopathy: all natural ingredients that people have known for centuries to be beneficial to a person’s health.
Then one day I read an actual description of what homeopathy is. Imagine a neighbor you’ve known for a few years. He’s quiet and always says hello when you see him in the yard. Then one day the cops knock on your door and start asking you questions: have you ever seen him in possession of large amounts of hamsters? Do you hear strange “squeaking” sounds coming from his basement at night? Has he ever asked to borrow your wood chipper? You are shocked to discover that your quiet neighbor, who you never really gave a second thought, is bat-shit insane. Your neighbor is homeopathy.
There are two important beliefs upon which homeopathy rests:
1.) Like cures like. In other words, if your liver fails, the best thing for it is something that causes liver failure. Like whiskey.
2.) The more diluted something is, the more effective it is. To really help your liver, you shouldn’t drink the whiskey straight — have it on the rocks. Alternatively, skip the Bushmill’s and go for the stuff in the jug on the bottom shelf. Night Train, or something.
Some of you may think that these are the same ideas that give us vaccines, which we know are effective and even necessary for combatting diseases like polio. Your mistake is assuming that the homeopaths are using common sense. They take belief #2 to an extreme so absurd that you almost wish they were grinding up hamsters in the wood chipper instead.
Let’s take the whiskey as an example — one glass of Bushmill’s will not help your liver. If you take an eyedropper and remove one tiny bit of it and drop it in a bathtub of water, it comes closer to being able to help you. Now mix up the water and take a drop from the bathtub. Deposit it in the swimming pool out back. It’s getting even better! Now take a single drop from the pool and drop it in the Atlantic Ocean. Once the ocean is well mixed, a single drop from it is powerful, but not even half as powerful as some of the “higher potency” homeopathic “remedies.”
Any child can tell you that there is no more whiskey in that mixture. If you want to get technical, maybe the child can tell you all about Avogadro, who came up with an exact figure for determining whether or not a particle of something is still in existence. Maybe the child will be all cute and pronounce it “Avocado’s number,” saying it is “thikth point thero two two timeth ten to the twenty third.”
But anyway, you don’t even need to know that — you just need common sense. Would you sit in a bathtub someone just peed in? Would you swim in an ocean that someone just peed in? There’s a difference, and if you can’t tell that difference then you deserve to spend your life sitting in a tub of pee.
Homeopathic remedies are nothing more than water, or sometimes, sugar pills. They have never been proven to work by a simple, double blind peer-reviewed study. They give people false hope and in some cases they encourage people to stop taking real medicine that could help them. The people who sell these sugar pills (often at an exorbitant cost) are at best deluded and at worst frauds.
I hope that cleared things up for some of you who like me may have been under the impression that homeopathy was just your nice, quiet neighbor.