It’s Fucking Water

Showtime. Homeopathy. This post is intended to shed some light on the math and science behind homeopathy. If you’re a believer in homeopathy, there are three groups you could fall into.

Edit: it turns out that what I had been writing as “succession” is in fact spelled “succussion,” which is not a real word.  It’s been fixed.

1. Involuntarily Ignorant
First is that you don’t know how homeopathy works and thus have not looked into the math behind it. One wonders why you would trust your health to something if you don’t know how it works. Perhaps you were indoctrinated at a young age by spiritualist parents or have a very persuasive friend that talked you into trying it, and you really don’t have an especially firm conviction that it actually works, but you’ve tried it a few times and it seemed to help. The term “sheeple” comes to mind. If this is the case, then perhaps this post will help you to see the light. You’re a rational person (hopefully) who believes that math is a reasonably indisputable science. If this is you, good. The other two descriptions are going to be much more demeaning.

2. Voluntarily Ignorant
The second option is that you know how homeopathy works, and have not looked into the math behind it. This is almost worse than the first option, in that you are voluntarily refusing to confront the conclusion (obvious by the very nature of how homeopathic “medicine” is created) that it’s all a giant steaming pile of horseshit. Whether you have any basic grasp of science or not, anyone who knows how these “medicines” are made should immediately jump to the conclusion that there is no scientific merit to them whatsoever. If this is you, you’re probably the kind of person that quit reading as soon as you saw the title, but if you’re still here, maybe this’ll help anyway.

3. Stupid
If you’re in this group, I’m sorry to say there’s not much that can be done for you. You know how it works, you’ve done the math (at least a little bit) in your head, you know it doesn’t make sense, and yet you persist. You’re taking it on faith. Intuition tells you that it won’t work, but you hang in there, thinking this is different, that the standard rules of logic don’t apply. You can’t be convinced that homeopathy is a crock for the same reason that religious people can’t be reasoned with. Either stubbornness or simple stonewalling will clam you up as soon as your beliefs are questioned in any way. You almost certainly haven’t read this far. Unfortunately for you, the world doesn’t work that way. If it’s real, there’s evidence. We may not have found it yet, but it’s there. If there’s no evidence, it’s not real. If you won’t listen to reason, then you, my friend, are the anti-science. And you’re stupid.

So here’s the deal. I keep talking about how homeopathy works, now I’m going to walk you through it. What you first need to know is that the basic principle of homeopathy is to take an initial substance, dilute it in a special way and to a special concentration, and the water, rather than diluting the initial substance, will take on the properties of that substance. Right off the bat, that should seem suspicious. Everyone knows that adding water to food coloring makes the color paler. Everyone knows that adding water to vodka makes the drink weaker. And yet people persist in believing this, so I’m going to explain the process in the detail that scientific thought, if not the practice itself, deserves.

The substance I’m using as an example is the botulinum protein, a neurotoxin that happens to be the single most toxic protein known to humankind (tested using actual evidence, and presumably, having killed something). It is also the active ingredient in Botox. The LD50 (median lethal dose) of botulinum works out such that the theoretical lethal dose for a 150-pound human such as myself is three-quarters of a microgram, or .00000075 g. That is a very small amount. Now imagine 100 milligrams of this botulinum toxin in a glass. That’s enough to kill over 133 million people, in theory. You take a 1 milliliter (mL) eye-dropper and fill it with this toxin (which is now at 100% concentration) and put it in a glass containing 100 mL of water. You shake the glass around to mix everything thoroughly and then bang it down on the table a few times. This process is known as succession succussion and, if science is faithful to us—and it tends to be—you now have a 1% concentration of botulinum, or one part in 100. This first cup is known as a 1C remedy, and is considered to be the weakest possible homeopathic remedy, as it has not undergone succession succussion enough times.

You now take one mL of the 1C mixture and put it into a second cup containing 100 mL of water. Succession succussion takes its course, and you should now have a .01% concentration of botulinum. One part in 10,000. That’s a 2C remedy.

Continue this trend. That means a 3C remedy is one part in a million. A 4C remedy is one part in 100 million. A 5C remedy is one part in 10 billion, and so on. Now the homeopathic remedies that you buy in the store, the ones that are considered the most effective, are 30C. That means that the original remedy has been diluted to 1% of its original strength, then re-diluted 29 more times. If we do the math here (which I already did, put your damn calculator away), it means that in one 100 mL dose of 30C remedy (and by remedy I mean neurotoxin), there is a whopping
.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 grams of botulinum. Do you see those zeros? Are you even seeing this? Like for reals? Has anyone even read this far? Anyway, if I were to put that in the form of a fraction, it would be one part in one novemdecillion. I did not make that number up, I swear to you. A novemdecillion is equivalent to a thousand million billion trillion. Squared. That means that in order to reach the level of toxicity required to kill a person, you would need a number of doses equivalent to the number of atoms in the earth.

Now here’s the problem. One part in a novemdecillion is zero. It is nothing. The best mathematics software in the world says it is zero. There is not a single chemical detector in the world that can come even remotely close to detecting such low concentrations. The best one, a carbon-nanotube-enabled beast of a machine, designed at MIT for finding nerve gas in subway systems, is 49 orders of magnitude off. We’re not just talking about dilution anymore, we’re talking about catastrophically low odds of a single molecule of the original substance being in the final product, odds so low that they make the national lottery look like Russian Roulette with six bullets. To put a number to it, the odds of one individual molecule of the original substance ending up in the final product are 1 in 334 thousand million billion trillion, or 1 in 334 nonillion. As you can see if you click that link, that number is also zero. Your odds of picking one particular star out of the vast number that constitute the observable universe are billions of times better. I could continue to make comparisons to give you some way to wrap your head around these numbers, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that after 30 dilutions at 1%, it’s gone.

Now what’s the point? The point is that we started with a huge quantity of the most toxic substance in existence, put it through the standard procedure for homeopathic “medicine”, and came out with none of it left. None at all. And when you have 100 mL of water with nothing in it, you have water. Remember that photo? The first one in the post? That’s it.

What’s the issue, though? You might think that this is a harmless practice. After all, they’re just giving people water (or sugar, when it’s in pill form). So why care? You should care because of the claims that homeopaths make. They claim that their product has no harmful side effects. That’s true. They claim that their product is completely natural. Can’t argue with that one either. Their final claim is that the final C30 result is not a diluted version of the original, it is a super-concentrated version of the original. They claim that the water has “memory” and has now adopted the properties of the original substance, only in a much more potent form. That’s bullshit.

If they were like AirBorne (yes, them too) and acknowledged that their product had no real scientific backing, that’d be fine. But they don’t. A journalist in Britain exposed the fraudulent claims made by homeopathic organizations about their products and was promptly sued for slander. Now, you don’t fuck with journalists. He sued back, called the judge’s attention to a number of scientific studies that unanimously and completely debunked homeopathy, and those organizations are now being forced to acknowledge that their products are worthless.

Even worse, a family in Australia had a nine-month-old child with eczema, an easily treatable skin disease. They tried to treat it homeopathically, despite the pleadings of their doctors, and the disease got worse. Chapped skin gave way to rashes, which in turn led to cracks and open sores in the baby’s skin as the disease progressed unchecked. Into these cracks and sores came germs that the baby’s body, weakened from trying to heal her skin, could not fight off. She became malnourished as her body burned every calorie at its disposal to run her vastly overpowered immune system, and still her parents stuck with homeopathy. She lost two-thirds of her body weight and her hair turned white, as her body shut down all functions of metabolism and growth except those necessary to fight disease. When she finally developed an eye infection, her parents took her to the hospital, but it was too late. Gloria Thomas died of septicemia.

Let’s just recap. Because (and solely because) of a dogmatic belief in an illogical, clearly ridiculous form of pseudoscience, a child is dead. The parents were convicted of manslaughter by gross criminal negligence. This may seem harsh, and I cannot begin to imagine the pain of losing a child, but the sentence is just.

These people killed their daughter.

Not so harmless now.

6 thoughts on “It’s Fucking Water

  1. Anonymous says:

    jesus christ. thankyou for reminding me how stupid people are

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow… that's all that needs to be said here is wow.
    oh and that i totally agree with everything you said.

  3. Tim Danaher says:

    'succussion', not 'succession', BTW … Sign up for the 10-23 campaign!

    http://www.1023.org.uk/

  4. Boy Genius says:

    I realized that after I wrote it, I thought it had been spelled wrong on the site I found it on. Correction has been made.

  5. bulwynkl says:

    What bugs me even more. Every fan of homoeopathy I've ever met is an anti-Vax believer.

    Of all modern science vaccination is most closer to the original tennent of homopathy that the cure for something is to be found in the thing itself. Remember that homoeopathy originated at the dawn of the enlightenment as a first step away from alchemy and wicth craft…

  6. […]  A lot.  I wrote about Valkee, which is stupid, laser baldness treatment, which is stupid, and homeopathy, which is stupid.  I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it elsewhere too, but I can’t […]

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