Apr 13 2010

Quietus and Homeopathy Awareness Week

This is homeopathy awareness week – and like some other science bloggers I want the public to be as aware of homeopathy as possible. I want the public to be aware of the fact that homeopathy is based upon the “law of similars” – which is nothing more than the ancient superstition of sympathetic magic. I want the public to be aware of the fact that most homeopathic solutions are diluted far past the point where there is likely to be a single molecule of active ingredient left – and therefore claims for the homeopathic “law of infinitesimals” violates the law of mass action and the laws of thermodynamics.

I also do not want to silence homeopaths, as some have suggested. I want them to speak for themselves – every time a homeopath opens their mouth they make my job easier. Right now Dana Ullman, the ultimate online homeopathy apologist, is spewing incoherent nonsense in the comments at Science-Based Medicine. You also have to see Dr. Warner’s brilliant explanation for how homeopathy works (every time someone watches this video Einstein’s corpse cries.)

And now John Benneth is becoming the energizer bunny of hilarious YouTube videos. Seriously, this is beyond parody. Nothing’s better than homeopathy explained by a raving…well, take a look for yourself. I am slightly embarrassed to have Benneth as my new nemesis. I preferred Egnor – at least he was coherent at times and didn’t come off as a drunk who just rolled out of bed. With Egnor you could play “Spot the Logical Fallacy” and it would be challenging at times. Benneth makes it too easy.

So – I want the public to be as aware of homeopathy as possible. It seems the more people know about this absurd pseudoscience, the further it sinks. In the UK homeopathy is on the ropes, after the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that homeopathy is worthless nonsense that should be completely abandoned. And now the mainstream media in the US is catching on (they are usually slow to these parties, so this is a good sign).

Chris Woolston of the LA Times does a fine job evaluating a new homeopathic solution called Quietus (I guess no one at the company watched Children of Men – awesome movie, btw – in which Quietus was the name of a suicide pill). Woolston reports:

Claims: The TV ad for Quietus says that the product “has helped thousands of people with tinnitus” and will “stop the ringing fast.” The ad doesn’t explain how Quietus is supposed to work, although the website does clarify that it was “created by a rock drummer” to treat his tinnitus.

The website for Tinnitus Relief Formula says “if you do only one thing for your tinnitus … this is it!” The site also says that “many individuals will experience a reduction in symptoms in four weeks.”

Wow – a rock drummer. That’s even better than a school teacher. Tinnitus is a persistent ringing in the ears, often a symptom of damage to the auditory nerve. It is difficult to treat, which makes is ripe for exploitation. There are different kinds of spontaneous head noises, however. The Quietus website mentions pulsatile tinnitus, without further explanation, as if this is one of the types of tinnitus they can treat. But pulsatile tinnitus can be a symptom of a serious condition – a blockage in the carotid arteries that feed the brain – and may be a warning of an increased risk for stroke. There is no mention of this on the website.

There is nowhere on the website any mention of what is in Quietus or how it might work. I could not find any mention of ingredients online, and I have even seen reports that the package does not list ingredients. Of course, if it is homeopathic, it likely does not matter. Except that some “homeopathic” solutions are only slightly diluted (like Zicam) and they have real amounts of active ingredients. So it would be nice to know if there was anything in this product – but probably not.

And of course there is no evidence that Quietus works. All we have are useless cherry-picked anecdotes.

Products like Quietus also raise a salient question – apologists for homeopathy often claim that research is negative because the homeopathic “remedies” tested were not properly individualized. Homeopathy is not like drugs, where you can have a one-size-fits-all approach. Every person needs their own personalized remedy. This, of course, is just more superstitious nonsense on the part of homeopaths, and a convenient bit of special pleading to explain away negative results. This claim is also incompatible with every homeopathic remedy on the market, like Quietus, which cannot be individualized. Internal consistency has never been the hallmark of quackery and pseudoscience.

So for homeopathy awareness week, please do your part to spread the word – homeopathy is dangerous bunk.

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30 responses so far

30 Responses to “Quietus and Homeopathy Awareness Week”

  1. FinancialSkepticon 13 Apr 2010 at 8:22 am

    Steve- You missed the craziest claim of all…

    “Just one small tab twice a day unleashes an exclusive PROPRIETARY blend of ingredients, including the same select herbs FDA compliant as Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the US.”

    Proprietary FDA compliant herbs. Sounds like a winner.

  2. BillyJoe7on 13 Apr 2010 at 9:07 am

    “Right now Dana Ullman, the ultimate online homeopathy apologist, is spewing incoherent nonsense in the comments at Science-Based Medicine.”

    In recent times, Dullman, as he is affectionately known, has become and hit and run merchant on blogs. But it seems he is putting in a special effort during world homoeopathy week. So don’t miss your chance to see a real fool made an idiot of himself up close.

    (Also, he only writes about homoeopathy – he has not actually practised homoeopathy for decades.)

  3. Praedicoon 13 Apr 2010 at 9:39 am

    Ok, so the homeopaths claim the remedies in trials need to be individualised? So they need to come up with a way to perform a randomised, placebo controlled, blinded test using individualised remedies. Why haven’t they done that?
    It’s not that hard, surely. I can come up with a procedure inside of ten minutes, watch:
    The homeopath examines the patient (or whatever it is they do), decides on a remedy for them and makes it. He gives this to a technician, who decides (using some sort of randomisation method) whether this patient gets the remedy, or the placebo. Whichever they are to get, the tech passes on to another homeopath (independent of the first), who administers the treatment.
    Now, obviously, this is likely a hugely flawed procedure (a layman with no scientific or medical training just came up with it inside of ten minutes, after all), but the examining homeopath doesn’t know what the patient got, the homeopath who administered the treatment doesn’t know what the patient got, and – most importantly – the patient doesn’t know what they got, so it’s at least blinded. There’s also the fact that you’d be testing many different remedies at once, but if homeopathy had anything to it, you’d still expect the treatment group to perform significantly better than the placebo group.

  4. Karl Withakayon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:01 am

    Minor note: I am guessing that “I want the public to be aware of the fact that most homeopathic solutions are diluted far past the point where there is likely to be a single molecule of active ingredient left”

    should actually read “I want the public to be aware of the fact that most homeopathic solutions are diluted far past the point where there is NOT likely to be a single molecule of active ingredient left”

  5. DevoutCatalyston 13 Apr 2010 at 10:17 am

    Ireland has acupuncture awareness week, one can hope for a similar opportunity to skewer acupuncture here.

  6. The Dicklomaton 13 Apr 2010 at 10:27 am

    @Karl:

    Either usage is fine for SN’s purpose. The point between “likey” and “not likely” is a boundary, like the seashore is a boundary between the land and the sea. When I am on the land and describe the location of a boat, I can say “the boat is past the point where the land ends” or I can say “the boat is past the point where the sea begins”, which has the same meaning as far as letting you know that the boat is on the sea side of the seashore boundary.

  7. The Dicklomaton 13 Apr 2010 at 10:32 am

    To be more relevant to SN’s statement…”the boat is far past the point where there is (or is not) any dry sand visible.”

    Again, either one is fine in describing that the boat is not on the land.

  8. Draalon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:43 am

    Dana Ullman has a company called Homeopathic Educational Services which can be reached at (800)359-9051 for questions regarding his products.
    Toll free calls cost the owner 5 to 25 cents per minute so please don’t call them and stay on the line for long periods of time.

  9. HHCon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:51 am

    There isn’t any effective treatment for the buzzing and ringing attributed to tinnitus. If there has been a head injury, damage can result to the auditory nerve, the labyrinth, or the blood supply to the auditory apparatus. It varies in intensity, sensation, and duration.

  10. Big Ugly Jimon 13 Apr 2010 at 11:15 am

    Between this post and Orac’s comments this week, I was inspired to write a very sarcastic post on my own blog about a successful homeopathic remedy.

    http://www.meddlingkids.org/2010/04/a-homeopathic-remedy-that-works/

    It’s hard to write like that, with the dripping woo. *cringe*

  11. banyanon 13 Apr 2010 at 11:30 am

    Benneth’s latest video is scary…

    I’ve commented on all his other videos, although the last one turned out to have moderated comments and none of mine got through (oddly enough though, Benneth then asked to be my friend on YouTube). I can’t comment on this one though; I’m beginning to think the guy may be diagnosable and my comments may just be feeding into his delusions…

  12. CivilUnreston 13 Apr 2010 at 5:09 pm

    That last Benneth video was actually pretty creepy. Reminds me of the TimeCube guy.

    In other news, if any readers don’t know about TimeCube, it’s a pretty fantastic example of some totally insane (but sciency-sounding) rantings.

    http://www.timecube.com

  13. BillyJoe7on 13 Apr 2010 at 5:14 pm

    “Either usage is fine for SN’s purpose.”

    In fact, both you and Karl Withakay is incorrect.
    And Steven Novella was correct all along.

    Diluting past the point can only go in one direction.

    Hence this is correct:
    “I want the public to be aware of the fact that most homeopathic solutions are diluted far past the point where there is likely to be a single molecule of active ingredient left”

    And this is incorrect:
    “I want the public to be aware of the fact that most homeopathic solutions are diluted far past the point where there is not likely to be a single molecule of active ingredient left”

  14. Karl Withakayon 13 Apr 2010 at 6:05 pm

    BillyJoe7,

    “Diluting past the point can only go in one direction.”

    That only applies if the method of dilution is adding more water to the base mixture, which is not how homeopathic preparations works.

    Perhaps I’m missing something here, but once you have only one molecule left, further dilution via the means that homeopathic preparation uses, will lead to either one or no molecules left.

    Understand that for homeopathic dilution, they don’t just keep adding water to dilute the mixture. You take a small measure of the prepared mixture, and add it to a new sample of new water to further dilute it. If the mixture you sampled from had only 1 molecule remaining, you probably didn’t capture that molecule in your extraction that you added to the new water, thus not one single molecule left.

    There isn’t enough water (or particles of any kind) in the universe to make a 100C dilution of anything if you just add more water to the starting mixture.

  15. lizditzon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:11 pm

    FYI:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20367847

    J Eval Clin Pract. 2010 Apr;16(2):276-81.
    Evidence and simplicity: why we should reject homeopathy.

    Sehon S, Stanley D.

    Philosophy Department, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine 04011-8484, USA. ssehon@bowdoin.edu

    Comment in:

    * J Eval Clin Pract. 2010 Apr;16(2):282-3.

    Abstract

    Homeopathic medications are used by millions, and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on these remedies in the USA alone. In the UK, the NHS covers homeopathic treatments. Nonetheless, homeopathy is held in considerable disrepute by much of the medical and scientific community. Many proponents of homeopathy are well aware of these criticisms but remain unimpressed. The differences of opinion run deep, and the debate seems deadlocked. We aim to shed some light on this situation. We briefly recap some of the major arguments on each side, but we try to go further by making explicit an underlying philosophical presupposition. In particular, we will claim that there is an important principle, which has ancient roots going back at least to Occam, some version of which constrains all empirical reasoning. We call this constraint the simplicity principle. We argue that this is not something specific to a scientific paradigm, but that, all of us, including proponents of homeopathy, are themselves deeply committed to the simplicity principle. However, once the simplicity principle is made explicit and applied to homeopathy, allegiance to homeopathy is clearly seen as irrational. The point is not merely the lack of clinical trials supporting homeopathy; rather, belief in the efficacy of homeopathy leaves a mountain of unexplained mysteries, and thereby flies in the face of the simplicity rule that guides the homeopaths’ own reasoning and arguments. If nothing else, we hope that defenders of homeopathy will gain a greater understanding of why critics are so deeply reluctant to accept the efficacy of homeopathic interventions – and that this reluctance is not mere stubbornness or artificial allegiance to western medicine. Finally, we also hope thereby to illustrate the usefulness of philosophy in unearthing presuppositions in seemingly deadlocked debates.

    PMID: 20367847 [PubMed - in process]

    I don’t have access to the whole journal.

  16. juncoon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:59 pm

    “Novellaaaaa. To the last, I grapple with thee; from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; for Hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee….” Ahab, Khan, John Benneth?

  17. Scepticonon 13 Apr 2010 at 11:27 pm

    @ lizditz,
    Through the magic of the internet:

    http://www.bowdoin.us/faculty/s/ssehon/pdf/sehon-stanley-evidence-and-simplicity.pdf

  18. The Dicklomaton 14 Apr 2010 at 7:26 am

    @BillyJoe7:

    “In fact, both you and Karl Withakay IS incorrect.”

    should read…

    “In fact, both you and Karl Withakay ARE incorrect.”

    Sorry…I just couldn’t resist.

  19. CrowleysGhoston 14 Apr 2010 at 7:39 am

    Excellent blog, I found it purely by accident. I’m not sure if you heard about the 10.23 movement in the UK, but a couple of months ago they staged a mass overdose:

    “At 10:23am on January 30th, more than four hundred homeopathy sceptics nationwide took part in a mass homeopathic ‘overdose’ in protest at Boots’ continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them.”

    http://www.1023.org.uk

    I’m not sure if something similar has been tried in the US, but it was quite effective in raising awareness over this side of the pond!

  20. Watcheron 14 Apr 2010 at 9:44 am

    @Dicklomat

    Fricking hilarious :D

    As an aside, when will Dana show up to the party? Maybe he’s too busy at SBM …

  21. Karl Withakayon 14 Apr 2010 at 10:02 am

    @BillyJoe7:

    To reiterate, remember, it’s SERIAL dilution.

    Even if we accepted your premise that you couldn’t dilute beyond less than one molecule, what do you get if you drink half a bottle of remedy diluted to the point that the bottle contains exactly one molecule of remedy? Either one or zero molecules of remedy.

    What do you get when you bottle the contents of a vat that has been diluted to the point the entire vat contains only one molecule of remedy? One bottle that contains an actual molecule of remedy and a bunch of bottles with no molecules of remedy; most likely probability for any given bottle purchased: no molecule.

    Q.E.D.

  22. jaranathon 14 Apr 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Holy COW.

    I finally watched that Benneth video. If you remember the Simpsons ep where Krusty runs the “Worker and Parasite” cartoon and exclaims “What the hell was that?!” after…yeah. That pretty much sums up my impression.

    I mean…the wind…the occasional (frog?) sound effect, the occasional bit of audio processing (of many varieties) used to emphasize certain words, the random video twitches… This is the video equivalent of the classic crackpot rant email with the constantly-shifting fonts, sizes, colors, etc.

  23. DevoutCatalyston 14 Apr 2010 at 4:19 pm

    “…I finally watched that Benneth video. If you remember the Simpsons ep where Krusty runs the “Worker and Parasite” cartoon and exclaims “What the hell was that?!” after…yeah. That pretty much sums up my impression….”

    I was thinking the sermon scene in David Byrne’s True Stories. Benneth would have been a natural for the preacher.

  24. Lenoxuson 15 Apr 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Just saw the first half of the Ullman one…

    She declares that the total mass of the universe is “really” the size of a bowling ball (if you subtract all the space between all the subatomic particles, I guess — might not be so crazy, that bit). Following from that, she points out that the mass of any human (along the same lines) would be infinitesimal. She says (regarding E = MC^2) “So you can almost cross out the mass. The formula ends up being: energy equals the speed of light.”

    Even if it was somehow reasonable to just remove M from the equation (instead of dividing both sides by it), how the heck did C squared become C? Well, here’s how it all makes sense…

    “When Hahnemann died, scientists didn’t fall in his camp; the pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit well together. So God in his infinite wisdom sent him another Einstein called Stephen Hawkings.”

    This is a Heisenberg situation of beyond-parody-ness. If you figure out what part of it means, the rest of it gets away from you, and vice versa. While I might have misrecorded some of that, she absolutely does say “Hawkings”. Again and again. I’m trying to figure out some clever joke about there being two Stephen Hawkings, but my brain is simply fried.

    But while the mind is caught up with that bit, we still have the time-travel madness. In response to Hahnemann’s death in 1843, God — having forgotten that Einstein has yet to be born — sends “him” (not too clear who) “another Einstein.” And it’s also someone who has yet to be born, Stephen Hawking.

    This is the why of Poe’s Law.

  25. Lenoxuson 15 Apr 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Sorry, I wasn’t talking about the Ullman but the Werner video; my mistake.

    I wish I could somehow do justice to Werner’s direct comparison of homeopathic remedy preparation to the creation and deployment of atomic bombs. But that is beyond mortal power.

    Due to the lack of coherence of her speech, she’s not simply building a simile or even a metaphor; she actually makes a convoluted, circular description of the creation of an A-bomb (“you put all the chemicals into this… bomb”), describes dropping it on a neighbor’s house in retaliation for his dog pooping on her lawn, and says “That’s homeopathy.” She doesn’t bother to explain exactly what represents what in the analogy. Without intending to, she says that homeopathy is literally atomic weaponry.

    “That’s what we do with homeopathy. We take substances and pulverize them, just like the bomb, and we put them in solution, and we succuss it just like the bomb — we threw the bomb.” (strong succussing hand gesture).

    (As with the Einstawkings, even the time sequence makes no sense; a bomb is thrown before it “pulverizes”. I’m pretty dang sure that if this video were someone’s first exposure to the notion of homeopathy, she would think it involved physically “succussing” and perhaps combusting human beings, if she even managed to grasp any of it, which I barely do.)

    “We take these little white pellets and sprinkle them with the solution. Guess what we have just made?”

    I… I don’t know… I’m so confused, and scared… is the answer “weapons-grade plutonium”? Are you threatening us?

    “An energetic substance, to be used when we choose to use it.”

    I knew it! Please, please have mercy.

  26. Lenoxuson 15 Apr 2010 at 7:10 pm

    “Every single one of us vibrates, with a certain vibration. We either vibrate with a plant, a mineral, or an animal.”

    Too kinky for my taste, but whatever.

    She goes on to describe a homeopathic remedy as though it is meant to match the patient’s personality, not his symptoms. She’s invented a kind of homeo-astrology.

    Is there anything sadder than someone getting their own woo wrong? Well, probably.

  27. kvsherryon 15 Apr 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I watched while shaving, “We are all god’s n*gger” almost made me cut myself. Just…WOW

  28. MarkMarijnissenon 20 Apr 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Wow. I’m speechless.

    What would be a good way to deal with John Benneth? I really can’t think of any appriopriate reaction, since every reaction would acknowledge that John Benneth is somehow making a point.

    You are right. This is a parody on itself. And a bit sad actually – how do people end up like John Benneth? Its a shame that no reaction could help him understand the absurdity of his ramblings.

  29. stompsfrogson 21 Apr 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I lol’d:
    “HCG is a natural hormone/protein type of substance!”

    (from http://www.yourhcg.com/)

    It’s a homeopathic “sublingual drop” that you have to take 6 times/day and it’ll make you lose an average of 1-2 lbs./day! Also, they give you a nifty diet plan! Where you only consume 500 calories/day! But no, it’s the water drops under your tongue that are causing the weight loss. Not the fact that you’re only getting 1/4 of your daily calorie needs.

    They keep advertising at me through Pandora. I guess they’re trying to convince me to get the premium account.

  30. stompsfrogson 21 Apr 2010 at 2:21 pm

    aw, I tried to ask them a question and they hung up on me :(

    Mallori: Welcome to YourHCG.com support chat, an encrypted chat tool. Did you have any questions I could answer for you or would you like to place an order?
    Nichole: Do you label your products “has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction.” as you are required to do by law?
    Or are you exempt from that because you dilute your product until no active ingredients are left?

    (chat session ended)

    Yeah, so I’m late for Homeopathy Awareness Week. I contributed eventually.

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