Jun 07 2012

Boiron Settlement – Homeopathic Active Ingredients are Neither

At the end of April a federal court approved a settlement against Boiron – the world’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic products.

A federal court has preliminarily approved a class action lawsuit settlement with Boiron, Inc. that will provide up to $5 million in refunds to consumers who purchased certain Boiron homeopathic products, including Oscillo, Arnicare, Chestal and Coldcalm.

This is the result of a class action lawsuit against against Boiron alleging that they sold the above named products with false claims they knew they could not support. Jann Bellamy at Science-Based Medicine gives a good overview of the relevant law and the testimony given during the trial.

Essentially the plaintiff’s expert witnesses argued that the “active ingredients” in Boiron’s products are neither active nor ingredients. The claimed ingredients have no proven efficacy in treating flu-like symptoms or anything else. Oscillococcinum is particularly nonsensical – this is essentially duck heart and liver, based upon the pseudoscientific notion that there are tiny oscillating bubbles present in diseased tissue. This claim is almost certainly the result of misidentifying simple air bubble artifacts on slides. The chain of pseudoscientific thinking is astounding: The air bubbles are misidentified and believed to be disease-causing agents, when they are found everywhere (because they are common slide artifacts) it is concluded that they must cause all disease, and for some reason (likely just chance) duck heart and liver are found to have a particularly large number of these bubbles. So, according to the superstitious and false homeopathic notion of like curing like, a dilution of duck heart and liver should cure whatever ails you. There is no evidence for any link in this absurd chain.

Further, the magic duck heart and liver is not even present in the homeopathic products, because they are diluted to such a high degree that no actual original ingredient is left behind. (So what we have here is essence of fairy dust – not even actual fairy dust.) Therefore the agents listed on the box of these homeopathic products are not active and are not actually ingredients. Sounds like a pretty clear case of fraud to me.

Boiron, however, mounted a vigorous defense. They put on the stand an MD homeopath who admitted there is no scientific evidence to support the claims made by Boiron, but there is 200 years of anecdotal experience by homeopaths for the ingredients used. The products themselves have never been shown in a valid scientific study to be effective for anything.

I have discussed before that courts of law are not the best place to decide scientific validity. There are many factors, such as legal considerations, that can influence the final judgement in a case that have nothing to do with the science. The risk of such cases is that if they are decided based upon the law rather than the science, the defendant can twist the results to claim a scientific victory. For this reason I am also anxious about such cases. Many prominent such cases recently have turned out well, most famously the Kitzmiller vs Dover case over the teaching of Intelligent Design, and the autism omnibus cases over the alleged connection between vaccines and autism. In both cases the outcome was determined by the science, and the judgments were clear and overwhelming.

In the case of Boiron it seems we are headed for a similar outcome, however in this case there is a settlement rather than a judgment. The decision to accept a settlement may be a good one from a legal point of view, but it is a little disappointing that there won’t be a judgment in this case. The settlement amount of $5 million also seems quite low given how large Boiron is. In my opinion their entire business is premised on selling fake remedies based upon the most rank of pseudoscience. Nothing less than a lethal blow is adequate justice.

Perhaps it is too much to hope that this will happen in a single blow. My hope is that this settlement will open the flood gates for more class action lawsuits against snake oil producers who are making demonstrably false health claims for their products. This form of legal remedy may also be less than ideal, but politicians have demonstrated their relative unwillingness to pass effective science-based regulations. Homeopathy should be eliminated by rational regulation, but that is not going to happen anytime soon, so class action lawsuits are a viable alternative remedy.

The best thing to come out of this case is the simple fact that Boiron, who has the motivation and the resources, was unable to provide scientific evidence to back claims for their specific products or homeopathy in general. The strength of court cases (when technicalities don’t get in the way) is that they have strict rules of evidence, and the patience to go through large amounts of data. Apparently over 400,000 documents were examined as part of this case. What is apparent from this case is that the homeopaths, at the end of the day, have nothing. They don’t have the science to back their claims. The best they could do was lame anecdotal evidence.

So perhaps the most valuable aspect of this case and settlement is its potential to raise public awareness of the fact that homeopathy is pure bunk.

Share

16 responses so far

16 Responses to “Boiron Settlement – Homeopathic Active Ingredients are Neither”

  1. BKseaon 07 Jun 2012 at 10:49 am

    Well, that is somewhat good news.

    The thing that gets me about oscillo is that even if homeopathy were to work, oscillo itself is based on a link that is demonstrably false – that the cause of flu is present in duck liver. If duck liver still proved to be effective (in this bizzaro world where homeopathy works), it would have to be the most incredible stroke of luck in the history of the world.

  2. SARAon 07 Jun 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I have to say that if I were developing a snake oil, I would not choose an animal based product. You eliminate a whole segment of the population. Vegetarian, vegan,etc. bad choice. And it’s not like they couldn’t choose anything they wanted.

    Personally I would have gone with moon rock. A couple are missing, so it’s “possible” that my my rockmis a moon rock. Its even possible that the water has been in the same room as a moon rock during the filling of the bottles out of the faucet. And it’s not even like any of the rock has to be in the water.

    Moon rock has so many more “star dust ” possibilities. ducks are just pedestrian and ridiculous.

  3. PsyberDaveon 07 Jun 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Government regulation and lawsuits are certainly reasonable ways to address the idiocy of homeopathy. But I take every consumer of homeopathy to be an example of a failed educational system and a failure of the skeptical community to reach to yet reach them. This same attitude holds true for any form of woo. The more that skepticism is promulgated throughout society, the less successful companies and practitioners of homeopathy and other forms of woo will be.

  4. ConspicuousCarlon 08 Jun 2012 at 3:03 am

    So does Boiron believe that the oscillococcus bacterium, supposedly the reason for making a homeopathic product out of duck parts, exists or not?

    If so, do they check their duck extract to be sure that oscillococci are present?
    If not, how is Oscillococcinum valid as a homeopathic remedy, even by their own rules?

  5. Kawarthajonon 08 Jun 2012 at 10:24 am

    mmm, duck liver pate is excellent! Duck liver does cure something – Hunger!!! Although, not when it is diluted.

    I wonder how cynical this company is? Do they actually dillute the water, or are they so cynical that they just fill up these containers with tap water and not bother with the dillution in the first place? It would be very cool to have someone do an investigation into whether they actually bother to dillute the water, as they claim they do. That is, unless it has already been done.

  6. DOYLEon 08 Jun 2012 at 12:01 pm

    It’s our idiot beholden superstition to fairytale elixers,magic potions and bubbling cauldrons full of spectral power.It’s the same duplicity that allows us to believe in the fuzzy magic of religion

  7. norrisLon 08 Jun 2012 at 4:56 pm

    A small bit of good news from Australia.

    1, The federal government budget of May 2012 indicates that quack “treatments” will no longer be allowed to be covered by private health funds, excepting, for some strange reason, acupuncture and chiroquacktors. Why? Because they represent a large (therefore powerful) section of CAM?

    2. Have a look at Friends of Science in Medicine
    http://www.scienceinmedicine.org.au/
    A group of professors got together late last year to point the finger at universities that were offering courses in woo. Several universities declined to reply, some came up with various useless excuses, some argued forcefully that it was “ok” to sell rubbish courses to students, others argued that no woo courses were offered by them when their own websites showed that they did.
    FSM is working away not so quietly to gets its point across to government and public that CAM is a waste of funds and potentially very dangerous. There was a large article from FSM in the Brisbane Sunday Mail Health section a few weeks ago pointing out the garbage that is alternative “medicine”.

    Stuart

  8. BillyJoe7on 08 Jun 2012 at 5:32 pm

    “If not, how is Oscillococcinum valid as a homeopathic remedy, even by their own rules?”

    What rules?
    The more you learn about homoeopathy, the more you realise that there are no rules.
    Anything goes, and everything is possible.

  9. BillyJoe7on 08 Jun 2012 at 5:37 pm

    “Do they actually dillute the water, or are they so cynical that they just fill up these containers with tap water and not bother with the dillution in the first place?”

    It is even stranger to realise that they actually do go through the whole dilution and succussion process (though I think the leather bible bit has been dispensed with :D )

  10. HHCon 08 Jun 2012 at 8:50 pm

    The settlement is likely a consent judgment.

  11. daedalus2uon 09 Jun 2012 at 4:25 pm

    It was probably the equivalent of a legal shake-down by the lawyers who brought the lawsuit. The intention in such cases isn’t to right a wrong, it is to get legal fees. How much of the settlement goes to the lawyers who brought, negotiated and then accepted the settlement and whether it stops the continued sale of the products will be indicative.

    The Tobacco Settlement was about money, not about fixing the health problem of tobacco use. My guess is that this settlement is also about money and that homeopathic stuff will continue to be sold, but maybe with a different label.

    When you are a business and are the defendant and you are clearly in the wrong, you have to settle because a jury could kill your business. If the settlement is structured with more money to the lawyers who brought the case than to those who were defrauded and if the behavior the lawsuit was based on continues (but now with court sanctioned “legality”), what public good has been accomplished?

    The better public health outcome would have been for the tobacco industry to be destroyed. Similarly a better outcome would be for Boiron to be destroyed. But destroying Boiron would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, even if those eggs are really just goose $h!t.

  12. SteveAon 10 Jun 2012 at 8:33 am

    Kawarthajon: “It would be very cool to have someone do an investigation into whether they actually bother to dillute the water, as they claim they do. That is, unless it has already been done.”

    A standard homeopathic dilution is 30C which (according to Wikipedia) equates to 1ml of active ingredient diluted in a cube of water with sides measuring 106 light years.

    The mind boggles at the logistics of applying this ratio in a factory. How could you actually do this without recycling most of the water you started out with?

    I know the whole concept is nonsensical, but there are homeopathic manufacturers out there who claim a 30C dilution on some products and if they can’t show that they’ve stuck to their own magical rules they ought to be held to account.

    Have any manufacturers ever come forward and explained how they can achieve a 30C dilution?

  13. BillyJoe7on 10 Jun 2012 at 10:53 am

    SteveA,

    “A standard homeopathic dilution is 30C which (according to Wikipedia) equates to 1ml of active ingredient diluted in a cube of water with sides measuring 106 light years.”

    Obviously ou don’t need a cube of water with sides measuring 106 light years.
    Do the math. All you need only 30 X 100ml = 3 litres.

    “The mind boggles at the logistics of applying this ratio in a factory. How could you actually do this without recycling most of the water you started out with?”

    The water is “purified” by osmosis and re-used.

    “I know the whole concept is nonsensical, but there are homeopathic manufacturers out there who claim a 30C dilution on some products and if they can’t show that they’ve stuck to their own magical rules they ought to be held to account.”

    As I said, they actually do the dilutions and succussions.
    (but, no, they do not use a leather bible in the succussion process)

    “Have any manufacturers ever come forward and explained how they can achieve a 30C dilution?”

    Here is a video by Bioron explaining what they do (in all seriousness!)
    http://www.boironusahcp.com/homeopathy/about-homeopathy.php

  14. SteveAon 12 Jun 2012 at 7:07 am

    BJ&: “Obviously ou don’t need a cube of water with sides measuring 106 light years.
    Do the math. All you need only 30 X 100ml = 3 litres.”

    Thanks for this BJ. It makes sense when you think about it (which, I admit, I hadn’t).

  15. wileypeteron 12 Jun 2012 at 7:07 pm

    SteveA,

    No, you were right the first time. BillyJoe7 is proceeding from a fundamentally flawed understanding of the math involved.

    BillyJoe7,

    Your math is off. It isn’t 30 x 100ml, it’s a 1:100 ratio repeated 30 times. One ml is mixed with 100ml, then one ml of *that* is mixed with another clean 100 ml, and so forth, thirty times. So after the second step you’re already at one ml of the original substance for 10,000 ml of the water, which is to say ten liters. And that’s at 2C. At 3C we reach a needed volume of 1,000 liters to contain the original 1ml. The math is exponential rather than multiplicative, so we’d need to raise 100 to the 30th power, i.e. add two zeros to the number original 30 times, to reach an amount of water sufficient to contain the original 1ml. Which is to say, the ratio is this:

    1:1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

    That’s how dilution (and, for that matter, exponential math) works. Now, I can’t say I’ve measured 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 ml in lightyears, but I do think we ought to be able to, say, take three zeros away from that figure, look at the number of liters it would take to contain 1ml of a 30C dilution, and agree it’s a teensy bit more than three. More like a septendecillion liters, to get technical about it.

  16. Davdoodleson 15 Jun 2012 at 2:02 am

    Wonderfully, you are all on the right track (though I can’t be bothered to do the maths to confirm lighyears etc). You are just are coming at the problem from different directions:

    If an ENTIRE 1ml was in a 30C suspension then the total mass of liquid would indeed be… bloody huge.

    But that is not what is being claimed by homeofrauds.

    Quite the contrary in fact. They are not pretending to KEEP the whole 1ml, they are in fact trumpeting how cleverly they throw it all away.

    Only the tiniest Avogadro-defying amount (ie none) of “active” ingredient remains in their silly nostrum, so it can indeed be achieved with 3 litres or so…

    To put it another way, a 30C solution can be prepared by either reducing the solute OR (theoretically at least) increasing the solvent.
    .

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.