Thursday, January 27, 2011

Speak Out Against Homeopathy: The 10:23 Challenge

by Bill Adler

Over the weekend of February 5 - 6, 2011 there will be a world wide protest against homeopathy. The protest is organized as a follow up to the 10:23 protest in the United Kingdom against Boots pharmacy (kind of the British equivalent of CVS) selling worthless and potentially dangerous homeopathic remedies.

Homeopathy is a form or pseudoscience that promotes remedies consisting of nothing but distilled water to cure a variety of aliments. At best, homeopathic remedies are a waste of money; at worst, they prevent people from seeking real medical treatment.  Homeopathy can be especially dangerous when administered to children instead of bringing a child to a doctor. Homeopathy was invented by a German physician in 1796 and is founded on the notion that ultra-dilutions of a substance that causes a disease can cure that disease. Water is supposed to retain a memory of that substance, even after no molecules remain. Medicine has marched forward over the centuries; homeopathy, a dogma, not a science, is fixed in 1796.

Homeopathy quickly grew in popularity. No surprise about that: At the time, the alternative treatment for many diseases was bloodletting with leeches. What would you choose as a patient: a tincture of water or a leech?

Thirteen-month-old Isabella Denley died when her parents gave her homeopathic remedies for her epilepsy. Seventeen-month-old Lorie Atikian died of pneumonia because her parents treated her with homeopathic remedies. Forty-two year old Janeza Podgoršek died of malaria because her homeopath prescribed homeopathic remedies in advance of a trip to Africa, rather than bona fide anti-malarial drugs. A child in Japan died from vitamin-K deficiency because her parents gave the two-month-old a homeopathic remedy rather than a vitamin-K injection.To those who say homeopathy does no harm, you are so very wrong.

The British Medical Association calls homeopathy witchcraft.

Belief is a powerful thing, and once somebody puts their faith in something like homeopathy, it's hard to replace fiction with fact, especially if you have anecdotes to support your position. People who don't believe in global warming point to colder winters and big snowstorms as proof against this well-established science. It took years before the world accepted evolution; and even today some people are certain that evolution isn't possible. When faced with evidence that proves our beliefs wrong, many people either ignore the evidence, fight back with emotional arguments, or develop convoluted rationalizations.

But belief isn't science and it doesn't form the basis for medicine. Science involves looking at both the results that work and the ones that don't work. People who practice homeopathy only look at what seems to have worked for them or for their friends or pets, which can easily be explained by either the placebo effect or by the fact that most ailments resolve on their own.

Homeopathy was invented decades before electrons were discovered, before modern chemistry was developed, when our understanding of how science works was crude, to say the least. We now know better and we now know that homeopathy --the memory of water-- is impossible. Homeopathy is a akin to alchemy, which purports to transmute one substance into another.

During the 10:23 protest, which took place on January 30, 2010 at 10:23 am, more than 400 people overdosed on homeopathic remedies. Not surprisingly, not a single thing --good or bad-- happened to the the hundreds of people who downed the potions in front of television cameras. Homeopathy's supporters were not amused.

The 10:23 campaign seeks to educate people about homeopathy. It seeks to educate people about the basic nonsensical principle behind homeopathy, about which many people are unaware: That homeopathic remedies contain nothing but water. The campaign's apt slogan is "Homeopathy - There's Nothing To It." You can join the worldwide campaign on 10:23's website, as well as join up via Facebook.

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