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Something Else I didn't Know

Something I didn't know:  Arizona has a State Board of Homeopathic Examiners.   Seriously?  Do we also have a state board for horoscope writers?  For witch doctors?  For water diviners?  Doesn't the Flat Earth society need some supervision?

How do you have a board of scientific examiners for a discipline that has no science behind it.  A key part of homeopathy is the repetitive dilution of active ingredients to make "medicines."  In fact, homeopathy advocates claim that more diluted mixtures are more potent.  Here is an example, via Wikipedia:

Hahnemann advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes (that is, dilution by a factor of 1060).[73] A popular homeopathic treatment for the flu is a 200C [1 in 10400] dilution of duck liver, marketed under the name Oscillococcinum. Comparing these levels of dilution to Avogadro's number, one liter of a 12C homeopathic remedy created from diluting 1 liter of 1 molar solution contains on average only about 0.602 molecules of the original substance per liter of the 12C remedy. Similarly, the chance of a single molecule of the original substance remaining in a liter of 15C remedy dose is about one in 1.7 million, and about one in 1.7 trillion trillion trillion (1036) for a 30C solution.

So what does the Homeopathic board do, look at the products sold for $100 by homeopaths and say, yep, that's pure water, it must be a valid homeopathic brew?

According to our governor here in Arizona, the Homepathic examiners are not doing their job.  What does that mean?  Did some homeopath actually sell a product that had a measurable amount of the active ingredient?  Anyway, the two comments so far on the Republic article sort of sum the whole debate up:

Commenter 1:  The number of people injured by homeopathic treatments is a tiny fraction of the number of people killed and injured by regular allopathic physicians and prescription drugs. The allopathic community doesn't like the competition, though, so they create a crisis.

Commenter 2:The number of people helped by homeopathic treatments remains zero, so the cost/benefit ration is infinitely higher than that of allopathy.  It's true that the allopathic medicine industry doesn't like competition, but that doesn't change the fact that homeopathy is nothing more than faith healing.

A couple of notes, just so I am not misunderstood:

  1. I am sympathetic with the desire not to load oneself up with drugs as much as many doctors seem to prescribe.  I have been prescribed antibiotics about 10 times in the last 20 years and have actually taken them once.  That being said, all those drugs and medical procedures have a real utility in aggregate.  To some extent homeopaths are, like vaccination avoiders, free riders on the medical care provided everyone else.  Go try your diluted duck liver in a plague-ravaged Middle Age city and see how far it gets you.  Go back 100 years and see how many of your children you can save from early death with homeopathy.
  2. I am very sympathetic to those who are frustrated that the current medical profession provides only one type of care without competition.  I have argued this same thing many times.  Its absurd, for example, that we have to go to a person with 8 years of medical education to get a few stitches put in.  Why can't someone with far less expensive education set up an emergency practice without an MD to dress and sew up simple wounds?  Think how much this would clear out the typical ER.  But we can't, because the government colludes with doctors to protect their medical monopoly and their single preferred (read intensive and expensive) style of care.

Posted on April 27, 2008 at 09:58 PM | Permalink

Comments

A couple of additional points for you.

1. There's no such thing as pure water, even the purest water contains trace contaminants. Since the active ingredient is so diluted that it is not even present, all you have is contaminants!

2. Placebos do work to some extent, especially for chronic conditions that can't be treated by conventional medicine.

3. If you truly believe in homoeopathy, you can save money by making your own homoeopathic treatments, which are just as effective as the expensive ones you buy in stores. Write down your symptoms on a piece of paper, put the paper under a glass of distilled water, cover the glass with a dark cloth and leave it in a quiet place for 24 hours.

Posted by: Chris H | Apr 28, 2008 12:28:27 AM

There's a simple reason for the current dissatisfaction with allopathic care, they're alive. In the past most people would be dead by the ages we're reaching now. They'd be thankful to live as long as they did. Not now, I want to live longer in better health with no effort on my part. Kind of like a drug addict looking for a bigger fix to overcome their resistance at the current dose.

Posted by: Ian Random | Apr 28, 2008 3:21:57 AM

If you pee in the ocean, does that make the whole ocean a medicine?

Posted by: Richard | Apr 28, 2008 4:51:20 AM

I like this number for comparison:
number of atoms in the observable universe is about 10^80.

As an aside,
I notice that "ration" is a very common typo for "ratio". Why is that? The n is not near the o.

Posted by: delurking | Apr 28, 2008 7:07:41 AM

Homeopathy helps plenty of people, Coyote. Placebo is a valid form of medicine.

Posted by: Micah | Apr 28, 2008 7:14:17 AM

One wonders exactly what the water does in an Oscillococcinum preparation; it's not as if duck liver is harmful. Next time I feel the flu coming on, I'm going to load up on some foie gras and let my blood stream do the dilution. I wonder if port might have some medicinal qualities as well.

Posted by: SuperMike | Apr 28, 2008 9:07:03 AM

Rather amusingly, there is a regular advert on some channel or other, I think it's BBC America, for a homeopathic spray treatment for a pet's drinking water which is supposed to cure the pet's aches and pains. How the hell do you explain to your pet that this pure water addition to it's pure water drinking bowl is going to help it?

Posted by: Tony Edwards | Apr 28, 2008 11:34:20 AM

Rather amusingly, there is a regular advert on some channel or other, I think it's BBC America, for a homeopathic spray treatment for a pet's drinking water which is supposed to cure the pet's aches and pains. How the hell do you explain to your pet that this pure water addition to it's pure water drinking bowl is going to help it?

Posted by: Tony Edwards | Apr 28, 2008 11:34:45 AM

"I am very sympathetic to those who are frustrated that the current medical profession provides only one type of care without competition. I have argued this same thing many times. Its absurd, for example, that we have to go to a person with 8 years of medical education to get a few stitches put in. Why can't someone with far less expensive education set up an emergency practice without an MD to dress and sew up simple wounds?"

Most ER physicians would agree with you: they don't want to treat minor problems. Some ERs use physician assistants or nurse practitioners to treat minor injuries. Patients still face the high ER fees, however. Some communities have urgent care centers that cost much less than ERs. Urgent care centers usually have few physicians and more PAs and NPs. Unfortunately, too few urgent care centers exist. Some areas don't allow them, and in other areas they went bankrupt (often from being unable to collect their bills).

Posted by: Dr. T | Apr 28, 2008 3:47:35 PM

I think a lot of this can be traced to five factors

1) anti-rationalism - rational thought is attacked by the post-modernists and all the idiots who are educated by them (read: too many school teachers)

2) lack of scientific education - again, our education system is not doing its job.

3) lack of trust in authority - while somewhat justified, too often this sentiment results in "throwing out the baby with the bathwater"

4) the desire for a cure when allopathic medicine doesn't have one. This is alot more common than one might think. Lots of folks are going around with undiagnosable problems which cause them pain or problems. They seek a solution.

5) lack of organized religion in many peoples' lives. Without a single authority on things non-scientific, people look for magic all over the place.

Posted by: John Moore | Apr 28, 2008 6:32:02 PM

You seem to be assuming the potential for competition where it doesn't exist. Two doctors can compete for your business on their labor charges but it's unlikely they will have greatly different yet both clinically proven treatments for the same complaint. Science is funny that way. It's like complaining that we have no competion in the market for sunlight.

Posted by: epobirs | Apr 28, 2008 9:44:31 PM

How do you have a board of scientific examiners for a discipline that has no science behind it.

Perhaps the same way the UN can mandate that the world spends several dozen billion dollars fighting CO2 release?

Posted by: Scott | Apr 29, 2008 1:26:10 AM

Placebo is highly effective. Not something that should be charged hundreds of dollars for however. But I suppose that is just to create the illusion so the placebo actually works?

Posted by: la petite chou chou | Apr 29, 2008 6:36:52 PM

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