Last Saturday, the 5th of February 2011, skeptics from all over the world gathered in their nearest towns and cities to stage a mass suicide on homeopathic products. 10 countries joined the protest, with over 23 cities participating, and a total of more than 1000 skeptics overdosing on homeopathic remedies.
Homeopathy is based on several laws, the first of which is the law of similars, which states that disease can be treated with minute doses of drugs thought capable of producing the same symptoms in healthy people as the disease itself.
The second law is the law of Infinitesimals. The drug is repeatedly diluted in water. Samuel Hahnemann, the 1976 creator of homeopathy, irrationally believed that the more dilute the substance, the stronger it would become.
Taking a single drop of caffeine and diluting in ninety-nine drops of water creates what is known to homeopaths as one ‘centesimal’. One drop of this centesimal added to another ninety-nine drops of water produces a two-centesimal, written as 2C. This 2C caffeine potion is 99.99% water and just 0.01% caffeine. At 3C the dilution is 0.0001% caffeine, at 4C it’s 0.000001% caffeine, and so on. Homeopathic remedies are commonly sold at 6C (0.000 000 000 1%) and even 30C (0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 1%) dilutions, which homeopaths will often drip onto little balls of sugar to sell.
These numbers are absurd. The Avogadro Limit is passed at 12C, the point at which it is likely that there is nothing left of the original substance in the dilute solution.
Another discovery Hahnemann made was that by vigorously shaking the remedy during its repeated dilution would increase its potency. This shaking was named ‘succussion’ and a homeopath will shake the vile in between each stage to further ‘potentize’ it.
To this day homeopaths still believe that this process allows water to retain the memory, or vibrations, or the original substance long after it has been diluted away to nothing.
Homeopathy is, as you’ve probably realised by now, complete pseudoscientific snake-oil. A comprehensive review published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2005 analysed every clinical investigation into the effects of homeopathy and concluded that it produces nothing more than placebo effects. Their conclusion was supported by the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent global network of medical professionals tasked with examining medical research to determine exactly which treatments are effective. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since homeopathy flies in the face of everything we have learned about biology and medicine since the 18th Century.
Many people ask what the harm is? My main thought is always that if you are willing to believe one thing without evidence you are susceptible to believing anything without evidence.
Jacques Rousseau addresses this question in The Daily Maverick in his article, Dr Woo and the Silicon Snake-oil Bangle Sellers.
What’s the Harm neatly lists the harmful effects caused by belief in quackery such as homeopathy.
Homeopathy isn’t harmful because it has strong healing powers which are in some way abused. It’s harmful because it prevents people from seeking proper medical treatment. Homeopaths have come under increased fire by medical professionals for ‘treating’ malaria with homeopathic remedies as well as making elaborate claims to cure HIV and Aids. Homeopaths have even recommended their remedies to prevent radiation poisoning in the wake of the March earthquake in Japan.
The ten23 challenge is designed to upstage homeopaths by showing that homeopathy is medically useless and that there is nothing in it.
The 10:23.org.uk page neatly summarises other reasons why homeopathy is harmful and useless, including reasons such as:
- It doesn’t work
- It couldn’t work
- It’s a waste of your money
- It’s a waste of everyone’s money
- It’s a waste of your time
- It’s a waste of everyone’s time
- There are alternatives to this alternative
- It’s not what it says on the label
- It detracts from medicine
- It has abused its placebo privileges
Their site also includes an adapted extract by Simon Singh of his book Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial.
With regards to the name of the campaign, 10:23.org.uk has this to say:
10:23 refers to the time at which campaigners across the globe took part in our ‘overdose’ stunt.
On January 30th 2010, at 10:23am, over 400 of our supporters swallowed an entire bottle of homeopathic pills in an attempt to raise public awareness about the fact that these so-called “remedies” have no active ingredients.
We chose the time 10:23 as a reference to Avogadro’s number, 6.022×1023 and beacuse unusual times are more likely to stick in the mind.
The scene of the Cape Town overdose was Jameson Plaza at the University of Cape Town.
One of our members was kind enough to order a batch of Power Balance bands (rebranded Placebo bands) from an Australian site called SkepticBros.
After downing an entire bottle I am, unsurprisingly, still alive. We took the meds at 10:23am and I never felt the effects of the remedies.