Homeopathy: it takes mega stupidity to believe in the power of nano doses

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The hallmark of homeopathy is the belief that tiny doses of medicinal substances have big effects. It’s like insisting that the less salt you put in water, the more salty the water will taste. In other words, it defies common sense, is scientifically unfounded, and has been thoroughly debunked.

Even more inane than the concept of homeopathy are its proponentsโ€™ attempts to explain how it works. Homeopathy is, perhaps, the paradigmatic pseudoscience, and like most pseudosciences, it invokes science while at the same time ignoring the scientific evidence.

One of the best (and inadvertently funniest) examples can be found on the Huffington Post. Dana Ullman has written How Homeopathic Medicines Work: Nanopharmacology At Its Best.

Pseudoscience advocates have learned the benefits of clothing pseudoscience in “scientese,” language that sounds scientific but makes no sense. “Nano” sounds scientific, so Ullman insists that homeopathy is “nanopharmacology.’ As Ullman breathlessly explains:

Although the word “nano” also means one-billionth of a size, that is not its only definition. In fact, “nano” derives from the word “dwarf,” and “nano” is the only word in the English language that is used on common parlance as denoting extremely small AND yet extremely powerful.

Sounds cool and so scientific, doesn’t it? Just a few minor problems, though. First, nano does not mean powerful and has nothing to do with power. Second, there is a scientific discipline of nanopharmacology and it means something very different than what Ullman pretends it means.

Nanopharmacology is not about tiny amounts of medication. Nanopharmacology involves assembling tiny particles into medications or medication delivery systems. So nanopharmacology might involve the delivery of chemotherapy drugs directly to cancer cells, not the use of tiny amounts of chemotherapy to cure cancer.

In other words, nanopharmacology refers to the size of the medication delivery system, NOT the dilution of the medication.

How does homeopathy work? Well, it doesn’t work; copious scientific evidence has thoroughly debunked homeopathy. Ullman ignores that point to speculate on various possibilities, each more ridiculous than the last.

Scientists at several universities and hospitals in France and Belgium have discovered that the vigorous shaking of the water in glass bottles causes extremely small amounts of silica fragments or chips to fall into the water. Perhaps these silica chips may help to store the information in the water, with each medicine that is initially placed in the water creating its own pharmacological effect.

Or, perhaps these silica fragments do nothing. Certainly it doesn’t help water “store information” since that is a chemical impossibility.

Or maybe it’s the bubbles:

Further, the micro-bubbles and the nano-bubbles that are caused by the shaking may burst and thereby produce microenvironments of higher temperature and pressure.

If it’s not the silica fragments or the bubbles, maybe it’s the waves:

Normal radio waves simply do not penetrate water, so submarines must use an extremely low-frequency radio wave. The radio waves used by submarines to penetrate water are so low that a single wavelength is typically several miles long!

If one considers that the human body is 70-80 percent water, perhaps the best way to provide pharmacological information to the body and into intercellular fluids is with nanodoses. Like the extremely low-frequency radio waves, it may be necessary to use extremely low (and activated) doses for a person to receive the medicinal effect.

Of course every self-respecting quack must invoke, and profoundly misinterpret, quantum mechanics:

Quantum physics does not disprove Newtonian physics; quantum physics simply extends our understanding of extremely small and extremely large systems. Likewise, homeopathy does not disprove conventional pharmacology; instead, it extends our understanding of extremely small doses of medicinal agents.

But quantum physics is involves sub-atomic particles of very small size, NOT small numbers of particles.

Homeopathy is nothing more than pseudoscience, and a particularly inane pseudoscience at that. It is not involve nanopharmacology. However, we can say that belief in homeopathy is evidence of mega-stupidity, best defined as startling gullibility combined with a profound deficit of scientific knowledge.

 

This piece first appeared in December 2009.

  • Michael McCarthy

    Apparently the FTC is preparing to lower the boom on homeopathic products.
    Time For Homeopathic Remedies To Prove That They Work?

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Silica chips? Huh? I feel like that “theory” is the product of a thought process that basically went “‘Silicon’ and ‘chips’ are words that have to do with computers in some way. Computers involve information storage.Computers are like medicine because they are both complicated and I don’t really understand either of them. Therefore silica chips in homeopathic solutions must store information that cures you because computers medicine something something.”

    Such medicine! Much science!

  • Steph858
    • yentavegan

      What is this supposed to mean?

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      That barrel hasn’t been diluted enough. You can still see the fish ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Sue

    What’s not to love about the Homeopath’s business model?

    – Cool names…like Nat. Mur. (sodium chloride)
    – Infinitely dilutable…so essentially no costs for materials
    – Prescriber can sell you the “remedy”
    – If it doesn’t work, they can sell you another one
    – People with buy it without a shred of evidence for scientific plausibility.
    – and so on.

    I particularly like the “nanoparticle” research that found the silica particles. Instead of admitting that, if you bash a glass bottle hard enough (sorry, ‘succuss’), you will release silica particles into the contained solution, they prefer to conclude that the silica must be part of the ‘therapeutic effect’! ANd people BELIEVE THEM!

    Big Pharma would be celebrating if they could duplicate that model.

    • Who?

      If only I had no morals or ethics, I’d be a wealthy woman today.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      if i had the food babe’s scientific accuracy, i’d say they were drinking glass

      • Azuran

        Could you imagine the outrage if shaking a vaccine vial released silica particles in the vaccine? They’d be saying that we are injecting glass directly in the bloodstream or our kids. But if it’s in ‘natural’ medicine, then it’s totally fine.

        • Sue

          Exactly. And STRAIGHT INTO THE BLOOD STREAM!!

  • N

    Oh, but he calls himself an evidence based homeopath. Yeah. Then use all the evidence that shows that homeopathy doesn’t work and stop scamming people.

    • Azuran

      Maybe he’s applying the homeopathy logic to the research. The less there is, the more powerful it is.

      • Lion

        hope homeopathy is applied to his payments from the Huffington Post.

    • N

      Oh, an other N. This is not me. I’m the one that posted once that she learns from you all for more than a year now. And posts now regularly. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Nat

        Sorry, that was an a autocorrect annoyance. My apologies

  • yentavegan

    If I may veer off a bit…the professional lactation community continues to betray what ever shred of professionalism they have by referring parents to cranio-sacral therapists for feeding problems. I keep reminding my fellow lactation educators that if the infant’s pediatrician has not diagnosed a musular/skeletal inadequacy it is a pretty good indicator that none exists. Recommending parents shlep an underfed infant to various quasi-medical interventionists is unethical.

    • Lion

      I face the same issues. I also help mothers who want to breastfeed to do so if they’re having problems, and some of the things I hear others tell parents or that parents tell me they have been told make my hair stand on end. I generally ask my questions in the comments here when I’m not sure, but get attacked for it sometimes, but I don’t actually care, when genuine questions and an attempt to learn get the bofa on the sofa treatment, I remember he’s a bofa and get on with my day.

      • yentavegan

        OMG! I have has my head handed back to me on this forum too. I have had to re-examine most of my parenting / breastfeeding philosophies and I have learned to be less of a sanctimonious self congratulating privileged Princess Snowflake Unicorn Glitter Bitch.

        • Lion

          ha ha. I’ve always been quite sceptical in my outlook, but I’ve definitely fallen for a few things that have sounded reasonable and I didn’t have the knowledge to think were not real. But I keep reading here and science based medicine and a few other reliable sites and it helps.

    • MaineJen

      My pet peeve has always been Infant Chiropractic. In…what…world…is that a good idea.

      • Linden

        It horrifies me. D-:

  • namaste863

    I love the “Well………it maybe does this” and “Maybe it does that” explanations she gives. There are three little words that would make her sound far less pompous; “I don’t know.”

    PS: her spiel about submarines made about as much sense as saying “The moon looks kind of orange sometimes, therefore it must be made out of mild cheddar.”

    • Squirrelly

      There is nothing wrong with posing these kinds of thoughts. In fact there is a whole body of study devoted to answering these kinds of questions: the scientific method. The problem comes when these guys come up with a vague idea and then accept it as fact without actually testing it, or reject any results that don’t support a preordained conclusion.

      I would love for these guys to prove something, anything for once using real evidence. Like have them do a fifth grade science experiment with a hypothesis, test method, test results and conclusion. And then we can peer review them.

  • LaMont

    OT: Having a private convo later today, by phone, with someone whose work I very much admire, to express my desire to work with her at some point in the mid-range future. I found an email address on a random site and didn’t think it would work. It did work, but she seemed not-thrilled to talk with me (yet gave out a number). I am excited for this chance but worried about riding the line between fangirl and serious proto-business-lady. I want to accurately convey the depth of my feeling but also the heights of my competence. I feel more likely to have a heart attack. Wish me luck, gang! Also, any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Cartman36

      I would keep it very professional. I hope this doesn’t come across meen but the desire to convey the depth of your feelings sounds a little stalker-ish. I would just stick to, I really respect your work and I was hoping through this phone call to get some advice or mentoring for X. At the end of the call, I would say, would it be OK if I called you with follow-up questions after the new year.
      Good Luck!

      • LaMont

        Thanks! That’s my main idea right now – the issue is it’s a creative field so you never know who ends up being all about the touchy-feely parts of idolizing “the work” in that way. Every job app is like “you need to be passionate about the field” which is so weird for apps/talks/interviews. I hope I am able to roll with whatever is thrown at me regardless!

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Every job app is like “you need to be passionate about the field” which is so weird for apps/talks/interviews.

          It’s not. They aren’t looking for “rah rah” type cheerleading, they want to see demonstrated passion.

          Let me give you an example I know about: vet school. When my wife got into vet school, I learned a lot about the application/interview process. I found two types of students in vet school:
          1) Off scale smart. These kids scared me in how smart they were. But they weren’t as abundant as you would think. The other group, which was more of the class, was
          2) Ones that I always said had a “thing.” You would call it passion.

          This passion wasn’t just “oh, I love animals.” It wasn’t even “I grew up on a farm.” No, this was demonstrated in ways that you don’t think about. It wasn’t just “I foster rescue cats for the humane society”, it was “I currently have 40 cats in my apartment that I am fostering for the humane society.” Another of her classmates was a snake breeder. My wife had more than 4 years of wildlife rehabilitation volunteering experience. And almost everyone in the class had a “thing” like that. I’ve always said, it’s not normal. Normal people don’t breed snakes, it takes a serious passion to get into something like that.

          And that is why she nailed her interview. She didn’t have to say that she loved animals, it is demonstrated by what she does.

          That’s what they are going to want to see in the interview. It’s not saying “I eat, drink and sleep this stuff.” It’s telling about things you do that demonstrate your passion. You need to show that this is who you are, not just say it.

          I hope you can find a way to make comparisons to your field. If you can, you have a huge advantage.

          • LaMont

            I have done pretty extensive, quantifiable work in it, both professionally and on my own time. I will keep that in mind!

          • LaMont

            Aaaaaand turns out I managed to have a totally pleasant informational conversation like a normal human. May have overthought being super nervous about that. Anyway it was great and I learned a lot! Didn’t die of a heart attack, which is also always good.

          • RubyRed

            In vet school now. Can confirm.
            Although now when you apply you pretty much cannot get in without having loads of volunteer experience. For my school there was a section in the app for paid work and one for unpaid work.

            I’m glad to hear the call went well LaMont!

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Although now when you apply you pretty much cannot get in without having loads of volunteer experience.

            Yeah, but that’s part of the “demonstrated passion” stuff I talked about.

            Volunteering/working at a vet clinic is basically the lowest common denominator. If you don’t have that, you don’t even make the first pass.

            If you have the passion, that is one of the things you do to demonstrate it. If you don’t have the ambition to be doing that, you don’t have the passion needed to be a vet. That’s the way they view these things.

          • Azuran

            Guess I’m lucky it doesn’t really work that way where I went to school.
            Having loads of volunteer experience is not available to everyone. The closest shelter and vet clinic where 45 minutes away from where I lived. And no, there was no public transportation to get there.
            But then again, extracurricular activities are generally not actually a very significant part of application in most fields. Those who actually had working/volunteer experience in vet clinics where actually the minority in my school.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            But then again, extracurricular activities are generally not actually a very significant part of application in most fields.

            It depends on the “extracurricular activities.” Those that attest to the passion absolutely do make a difference. Volunteering for the Thanksgiving dinner at your local shelter is nice, but won’t help in your vet school app.

          • Azuran

            It didn’t get the student who has been working at our clinic for the last 3 years to get in.
            In our vet school, when you first do you application, the only things that matter is your grade. The only thing they get is what school your are from and what grades you have. Then, they will call those with the highest grade for the interview. (about twice as many as they need)
            You have to make a presentation letter of maximum 1 page, and a CV or 2-3 pages maximum. And go to the interview.
            The interview itself has a very specific set of questions. They don’t ask about extra-curicular activities. We weren’t asked about our experiences, our passion or what we wanted to do as a vet. Basically they just want to get a feeling of if you can handle the workload and how likely you are to give up and go do human medicine instead.
            They don’t actually expect us to have any real idea of what being a vet is like, and 0 actual medical or veterinarian knowledge is required.
            Then they give a general grade to everyone to put them in order
            School grades are 60% of the final note
            The interview itself is 30-35%
            Your extracuricular activities are worth 5-10% at best. And won’t make up for your grades,

  • MaineJen

    Hahahahahahahhaaaaaaaaa

    Had to pick myself up off of the floor after reading those quoted passages. My GOD. “Perhaps these silica chips help to restore the information in the water?” I’ll have what she’s having.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      Ok, keep in mind I have no formal education after high school with the exception of some tech(computer) classes. But isn’t silica/silicon dioxide inert? I mean, it’s dangerous if you breathe in the dust, but it’s chemically inert right? I’ll just be over here gently beating my head on a tree….(channeling my inner Charlie Brown)

      And again I am the lady in the Geico commercial “That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works! AAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHHH!”

      It doesn’t help that I have been watching the news this morning…I have to stop doing that, my blood pressure can’t handle it.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        But isn’t silica/silicon dioxide inert?

        Generally, yep. For a couple reasons

        1) Group IV oxidation is extremely favorable. Consider combustion, for example. The whole reason it works is because it makes bonds between carbon and oxygen (oxidation). And all the heat that gives off? You need to put it back in to go the other direction. The oxidation of silicon to SiO2 in the gas-phase gives off basically the same amount of heat. But there is more
        2) SiO2 does not prefer the gas-phase like CO2. Because it is much more ionic, it forms solids. AKA sand. Or glass. So there is a huge crystal lattice energy, and that has to be overcome before you can do anything with SiO2. (simple way to think about it: sand doesn’t dissolve in water. Or pretty much anything, for that matter). Even at nano-scale, any reactivity at the silicon will have to overcome those intermolecular forces, which is really, really hard. Ultimately, the only thing that you will see is mundane surface chemistry. This is a big difference between silicon and even carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is largely inert, but will undergo some reactivity spontaneously at the carbon. Of course, you can do a lot with CO2 if you add energy, as plants can do in photosynthesis. However, you can’t get SiO2 to do even any of that.

  • Tori

    The aspect of homeopathy that always makes me smile is thinking of its application to treated sewage. Filtering and treating it makes it more dilute and then more powerful, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Azuran

      That also means that hydrotherapy for wound care is actually making the dirt and bacteria more powerful

      • Steph858

        No, no, no, no, NO! All good Wooists know that there are no such things as pathogenic bacteria. For if there were, then that would mean germ theory was correct, and then the whole Pseudoscience(TM) empire would come crumbling down.

        • Heidi

          The germ theory deniers astonish me more than someone who believes the world is flat! It’s so easily observed everyday that I just can’t understand how people don’t believe in it.

          • Steph858

            Germ Theory Denialists believe that pathogens are a symptom rather than the cause of disease. A tragic subset of Germ Theory Denialism is AIDS Denialism; the belief that AIDS is caused not by infection with HIV but by malnutrition (or voodoo curses) and can thus be treated with vitamin/herbal supplements caused the preventable death of hundreds of thousands of people.

            Strangely, there’s a lot of overlap between Germ Theory Denialism and ‘Boost Your Immune System’ism. I’ve never met a full-on denialist; the ones I’ve met believe that pathogens CAN cause disease BUT ONLY if your body is already weak because you eat non-organic food and don’t use All-Natural Immunaboost(TM) products. Funnily enough, none of them – not even the full-blown denialists – are keen to drink a glassful of pathogen.

  • Sean Jungian

    Hilarious! This part:

    “vigorous shaking of the water in glass bottles causes extremely small amounts of silica fragments or chips to fall into the water. Perhaps these silica chips may help to store the information in the water

    reminded me of episode of Metalocalypse where the boys burned all their recordings to “pure water!” And makes about as much sense.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d6cb305b2b5a51508dc6c3255ef5055a372e2ea0b211ac668a1be8d7105c9ae7.jpg

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    less may be more in many cases, but there does come the point were less is just less.

    • Azuran

      And eventually, less becomes nothing, which is often the case with homeopathy,

      • Sean Jungian

        But…but…WATER MEMORY!! Special shaking and rapping! You discount these rigorous scientific methods???

        • LaMont

          Water has memory! And though its memory of a long-lost drop of onion juice seems infinite, it somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it! – Tim Minchin

        • N

          My husband hates it, when our kids drink things like capri sun at their friends houses. It is just water and sugar and flavours after all. Now I can tell him, that it is ok because of water memory. The water looked at an apple and memorised it. And now it transformed into 100% real juice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Mel

    The section that attempts to link the length of radio waves that are used for communication to submarines to the use of tiny doses of “activated” materials makes my brain hurt.

    There’s not even a coherent transition between the two ideas – and it needs one badly because I can’t figure out how a long-wavelength radio frequency has any connection to a tiny dose of a chemical.

    • QuantumMechanic

      It’s the Chewbacca Defense, applied to scientific concepts.

    • Sean Jungian

      She took the shotgun approach – have a wide enough spread and you just might hit something.