The path from unquestioned belief to skeptical thinking usually requires one to let go of a few things along the way. Sometimes, certain beliefs are so entrenched in one’s head that the belief is compartmentalized, cognitive dissonance rears its head and a sacred cow is born. Mmm.. veal.
But letting go of old things and accepting new ones is what change is about. Take SGU fan Brendon for example. Brendon writes:
I’m in a bit of a quandry…
I suffer from hayfever, and also an allergy to Anti-Histamines (as well as an allergy to stings/bites – I just freakin’ love the summer)
In previous years, I’ve taken Mixed Pollen supplements from Weleda (http://www.weleda.co.uk/products/name/mixed-pollen-30), but after discovering your podcast late last year, and listening to your diatrebes about Homeopathic medicines, now I’m concerned that these are nothing but placebo, meaning that my suffering may even be psychosomatic.
I know this might seem like a ridiculous question, but in your opinions, would I be better off taking the Mixed Pollen supplements, or attempting to train myself to ignore the symptoms?
I don’t want to lose my Good Skeptic award!
The product being taken here is a classic example of two of the three laws of homeopathy at work. The first is the law of similars. Which basically states that like cures like. Take the cause of the symptom, and give it in minute doses to the patient, and the symptom should be cured. Hay fever is caused by the pollen of certain seasonal plants. Therefore, according to the law of similars, giving a small dose of pollen to the patient should cure the symptoms.
The second law at work here is the law of infinitesimals, which basically states that the more you dilute the homeopathic remedy, the more effective it will become. Brendon’s example has a dilution factor of “30c” which means that the substance has been diluted to 1 part in 1030. In other words, a 30C solution would require a container more than 30 billion times the size of the Earth to contain even one molecule of the active ingredient. Hope you’re thirsty.
Brendon is probably right by stating that the positive effects from this preparation are placebo. Usually the treatment for hay fever is antihistamines, but Brendon states that he is allergic. Well, I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so I’m not about to give medical advice. The best advice I can give you is this:
- Talk to your doctor
There are many things you can do to prevent hay fever, here’s a list from wikipedia:
Avoiding exposure to pollen is the best way to decrease allergic symptoms.
- Remain indoors in the morning and evening when outdoor pollen levels are highest.
- Wear face masks designed to filter out pollen if you must be outdoors.
- Keep windows closed and use the air conditioner if possible in the house and car.
- Do not dry clothes outdoors.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to other environmental irritants such as insect sprays, tobacco smoke, air pollution, and fresh tar or paint.
- Avoid mowing the grass or doing other yard work, if possible. Avoid fields and large areas of grassland.
- Regular hand- and face-washing removes pollen from areas where it is likely to enter the nose.
- A small amount of petroleum jelly around the eyes and nostrils will stop some pollen from entering the areas that cause a reaction
- Avoid bicycling or walking – instead use a method of confined transportation such as a car.
- Wear sunglasses, which reduce the amount of pollen entering the eyes.
- Take a shower before going to bed and change bed linen often to avoid extra exposure during the night
Brendon finally asks if he should continue to take the supplements. This is a personal choice. I think the facts about homeopathic remedies are out there and have shown that there are no benefits to them. Unless you throw a bunch of scientific disciplines out the window. And also remember, the placebo effect isn’t really an effect at all, I’ll refer you to Dr. Novella’s article “Placebo Myths Exposed“.
Brendon, the fact that you’ve been taking this “remedy” for a few years with what seem like positive results. And that, given new information, you are willing to question the validity of those results. I give you, your “Good Skeptic Award.” Congratulations, party at my place, everyone’s invited. Jay, keep the inflatable sheep at home this time.