Date: Mon Jan 24 1994 00:19:22
From: Rick Moen
To: Steve Zadarnowski
Subj: Re: Holographic internons
SZ> I told her I'd gladly take any poison at all diluted to 300C, since
SZ> according to homeopathic principles, it would be ultra-potent. But
SZ> I guess the homeopathites would argue it would have no effect since
SZ> it would not correspond to any ailments I had at the time.
Steve, I called in to a radio talk show, once, when the guest was Dana
Ullman, head of a homeopaths' trade group, the National Center for
Homeopathic Medicine. I had a couple of comments to make:
(1) Because of the homeopaths' Law of Dilution (that their remedies
become stronger as they become more dilute), I strongly urged that, in
the name of public safety, we form special state police squads to keep
all homeopaths far away from the Pacific Ocean. If one of them were to
drop a _tiny amount_ of one of his remedies into a nearby breaker, the
damage to the Earth's ecosystem would obviously be cataclysmic!
(2) (Got this idea from a letter published in _Skeptical Inquirer_.)
I asked Ullman what he used to dilute his medicines. "Twice-distilled
water", he said. "Ah, so that water has _very small_ amounts of
impurities, which therefore must have _very strong_ homeopathic effects!
What are you treating with those impurities, Dr. Ullman?" He was
already changing the subject, when I launched the follow-up: "Is that
pH 7.0 water?" "Yes. Neutral, not acid, not alkaline." "So, it must
have 10 to the minus 7 concentration hydroxyl ions.* That's a _very
small_ concentration of hydrogen, and therefore very homeopathically
potent. What are you treating with _that_?"
He quickly got me off the line, without answering. ;->
However, the homeopaths do _not_ argue that the claimed effect goes away
if you're not suffering the ailment being treated. Actually, the whole
affair started out as a perfectly reasonable scientific hypothesis -- in
the 1700s. One Samuel Hahnemann (sp?) started out with his Law of
Similars -- that like cures like. That is, he went around finding
medicines that induced fevers. Then if a patient had a fever, he'd give
some of that medicine. The fever seemed to go down. Hahnemann
theorised that the medicine gave the patient's body a "push" towards
fever that it countered, thus bringing down the existing fever. It
seemed at the time -- 1700s -- that the effect increased with lower
doses. Thus the Law of Dilution. It was wrong, but was a good try,
and a reasonable guess at the time.
Note that one of the hallmarks of quack medicine is a refusal to abandon
theories that have failed through careful testing to pan out.
Homeopathy was not tenable _past_ the 1700s, and real medicine then
moved on to more promising theories.
*Yeah, I know that's slightly wrong. pH is something like the base-ten
log of the reciprocal of the hydroxyl concentration, but I couldn't
remember that, let alone get it across on the air if I had remembered