Homeopathy for autism? Negatory!

A friend of mine sent me a story the other day of a group of homeopaths who thought they could go peddle their magical thinking in West Africa and try and treat people with Ebola. I’m happy to say that they were soundly refuted by health authorities and are now left to wander around with their tails between their legs, begging for scraps. To think that you can treat anything with magic is idiotic at best and extremely dangerous at worst.

It’s not just Ebola that these idiots are attempting to treat with homeopathy, of course. They are also trying to treat autism with homeopathy. That really grinds my gears because they, the homeopaths, prey upon unsuspecting parents who are eager for a “cure.” I’m sorry to say this to you, but there is no cure for autism.

Check that. I’m not sorry. I’m glad.

The quicker we accept that autistics are and always will be autistic, the quicker we can move away from quack treatments for it and into what works: occupational therapy, behavioral interventions, accommodations at school and in public places… Acceptance.

Take this crackpot, for example. He read a book on homeopathy, became hooked, and then got a “four year degree” in it. Now he’s offering to consult and treat autism over Skype.

Over effing Skype. I guess he has a problem looking at the people he’s swindling in the eye?

Alright, so he does have a clinic in person:

“I graduated in 2009 & now work full-time as a homeopath. I see people in my clinic in London and over Skype. I also supervise a student clinic, as well as working in one of the homeopathic pharmacies dispensing remedies & giving advice on acute conditions.

I treat a wide range of conditions, but have particular interest in treating children with autism, which I believe to be a reversible condition often caused by toxins (be they from vaccinations, or other medications or sources of heavy-metals).”

Ah, yes, the damned vaccines. It’s always the vaccines.

If you look at his blog, there is nothing there but pure, unadulterated, non-diluted (non-homepathic?) bullshit. He claims that ultrasounds cause autism, without giving much of a citation to his evidence, and dares his readers to take the detox challenge, for a convenient fee, of course.

The more I read about this guy on his blog, the more I began to be convinced that some of his testimonials are not exactly true. For example, this is his experience with an Italian mother whose child he’s treating over Skype:

“There was a clear regression at both 8 & 22 months after he received his childhood vaccines. He went white, floppy and cold after his MMR vaccine at 8 months.”

To the uninitiated — and we are initiated, aren’t we? — this might sound legit. The initiated among us know that you don’t give the MMR under 12 months because the body will not mount an effective immune response. We’d also check the European immunization schedule and find, with no surprise, that the MMR there is given at 12 months in Italy (and most of the European Union). So someone is probably lying in that story.

Big surprise.

Then again, there are plenty of people who do fall for this stuff. After all, our homeopath friend would not be in the business if it weren’t profitable. That’s the reason I teach. It pays well. I wouldn’t do it for free, that’s for sure.

He also has a history of lashing back at his detractors, so we’ll see how he reacts to some “choice” comments I made on his blog. Who knows? He might be reading this blog right now and furiously googling my name to know more about me.

You can find me in Atlanta, bro. *wink*

Before you do contact me, you should look and see what the Advertising Standards Agency has said to homeopaths like you, then decide if you want to continue your game. Read this part with particular care, almost like as if it was written by Hannemann himself:

“Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation.”

Can you independently prove your magic works, Alan?

Homeopathy for allergies

Ah, Texas. I’ve been to Texas. Have you ever been to Texas? Texas is special in so many ways. Talk about a place where people hold on to their guns and bibles. This story comes out of Houston where:

““Spring in Houston starts in January,” said Dr. Frank Orson, with Baylor Medical Center. He said some of his clients are ditching over-the-counter medicines. “We get a lot of our clients who have been through the Claritin and other allopathic approaches and when they are not getting the result there, they come to us,” said Philip Lanham  with the Homeopathy Center of Houston.

Lanham says diluting what you’re allergic to and drinking the potion, helps your body build up a resistance. “It helps the body identify it, and how to work with it, or fight it,” he said. Lanham said there are no side effects.”

That last part, the “no side effects” part seems to be the selling point of homeopathy. For $20, they’ll give you a bottle of a solution with extremely diluted amounts of the things that you’re allergic to. In a true medical setting, the allergist would also dilute what you’re allergic to, but he or she wouldn’t dilute it to the point where you need a sphere of water the size of the solar system to find just one molecule of the allergen being diluted. It would be diluted enough to give you a mild reaction. The allergist would then keep you in the office for a little bit to make sure you don’t have a severe reaction. Over time, the allergist increases the dose. This builds up your tolerance. For your body to get through the allergies, you have to have that reaction. You have to have side-effects.

Supporters of homeopathy will probably say that their allergies went away with the “potions,” but I propose a simpler explanation. I propose that their allergies went away with the allergy season going away. After all, most allergies are seasonal… And homeopathy is a sham.

In that news article, one of the commenters mentioned this study. I found a PDF of the study in a homeopathic website, so I had a chance to read it all. You don’t have to read the whole thing to find the significant part of the conclusion. You can read the PubMed entry:

“CONCLUSION: The symptoms of patients undergoing homeopathic treatment were shown to improve substantially and conventional medication dosage could be substantially reduced. While the real-life effect assessed indicates that there is a potential for enhancing therapeutic measures and reducing healthcare cost, it does not allow to draw conclusions as to the efficacy of homeopathic treatment per se.”

Read that last part again, the one I’ve highlighted in bold. And remember what I said about side-effects? This is from the results section of the PubMed entry:

“No side effects were reported during treatment.”

Of course! Why would something so diluted give you side-effects?

You might be thinking right now that I just don’t want to listen to the evidence. Oh, but I am. See, this is what they did (from the methods section of the actual paper):

“During the first exam [E1], the treating physician assessed the minimum duration it would take for the current allergic symptoms to resolve without treatment. Then, before starting treatment, the patient was asked to complete the first questionnaire.

All subjects were asked to be present at the practice for completing the second questionnaire within their period of allergic reaction, no earlier than two weeks and no later than 16 weeks after commencement (the second exam [E2] took place at the end of the follow-up period). Intermediate consultations and individual therapy modifications resulted from the course of treatment. The follow-up/treatment period of 2 to 16 weeks was based on a minimum duration of treatment necessary for allowing assessment and a maximum tolerable duration in case of treatment failure. Participation in the trial terminated after the patients had completed the second questionnaire.”

So they asked patients to complete a questionnaire about their symptoms, take the homeopathy, then report back in 2 to 16 weeks from their initial assessment to see if they had a diminishing in symptoms, if they reduced the dose of their allopathic (real) medicine, and to see if there were any side-effects to the homeopathy. Well, you can go read the paper for yourself. I did. But I was strongly encouraged to quit reading when I read that one of the medications these folks were assessed for discontinuation were antibiotics.

I’m not joking.

If they reduced their consumption of antibiotics in 2 to 16 weeks, then that was a positive endpoint. Let me just tell you this: Not a lot of people take antibiotics for more than two weeks. Only the serious things like TB and drug-resistant bugs require antibiotics for months.

Another drug they looked at was steroids. Again, you don’t use those for weeks. You’re not typically supposed to. Yet, the authors use it as a positive sign of homeopathic use that people on homeopathy discontinued the use of steroids. Sure, they write in the discussion that the benefits of homeopathy may be from the natural course of the disease, from the use of the prescribed medications, or from the seasonality of the allergies… But they go back to the whole “no side effects” part.

Listen, I wish that all medications used to treat all diseases had zero side-effects. I wish people could get rid of cancer without losing their hair or being susceptible to serious infections. I really do wish for all that. But that’s not the world we live in. Maybe in the future, but not now. Even aspirin has side-effects. Heck, the cranberry juice you might take for your urinary tract infection will have side-effects (especially if you’re diabetic). The absence of side-effects doesn’t make something “good” or “better.” Working and being proven to work under controlled situations is what makes something worth using.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

A Question Of Whose Side You’re On

Yeah, I know I haven’t published a new chapter in The Poxes in a while. Relax.

Anyway, let’s talk about bias a little bit. Take a look at the following clip:

Did you see that? The player in red (Chile, I think), grabbed the arm of the player in yellow (Colombia?), and hit himself with it. Clearly, it was not a foul. But the ref still called it a foul and gave the ball to the Chilean team.

What the fuck, right?

Unfortunately, a lot of things in life work the same way. The deceit is especially tricky, or the person making the call is not paying attention (or not informed enough to make the good call).

People who make pseudoscientific claims do kind of the same thing. They’ll take a fact about their pseudoscience and run with it. For example, homeopaths will say that their remedies are free of side-effects, and they’re correct. However, their remedies are free of any effects.

Now, people who want to believe in homeopathy will believe it no matter what. It’s actually a very low number that will change their mind when they are presented with evidence. Very low. Those who won’t change their minds will – sometimes literally –  go to the grave for their belief. They will see the Chilean player clearly grab the arm of the Colombian and hit himself with it, and they will still say that the Colombian was a dirty player.

People of science, critical thinkers, and anyone else that likes to look at the evidence presented to them before jumping to conclusions, those people will see what really happened and act accordingly. Can they be tricked? Of course. They’re human. But they are much more likely to change their mind to what is right and what is fair rather than stay in a state of darkness that brings about harm to others around them as well.

I’m not saying that everyone in the world should take up a scientific discipline and become a critical thinker. It wouldn’t hurt, but I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that there are two factions – at least – who are in a battle for the minds of the public. On the one hand, you have the charlatans, those who would send you sugar pills and attribute to those pills all sorts of magical acting. On the other are the people who hold themselves to a higher standard, to not deceiving the public. Rather, we’re here to point out the Chileans in the world, so to speak, who are trying to trick you into losing the game.

It’s all a question of whose die you’re on.

Fun with homeopathy and math, again

After the last discussion on homeopathy, someone asked me to give a description of what a 200C homeopathic remedy would have to start out with in order to have at least one molecule at the end of the dilution. So let’s use the example of sugar (glucose) and see how much sugar we would need to get at least one molecule of sugar in a liter (1,000 mL) 200C remedy. We will use math for this, so hold on to your butts.

Remember that Avogadro’s constant states that there are 6.02×10^23 molecules of glucose in 180 grams of the stuff. So, if we add 180 grams of sugar to a liter of water, we will be adding 6.02×10^23 molecules of glucose into that liter. Remember that diluting that initial solution 1C (by one hundred) will leave us with 1.8 grams per liter or 6.02×10^21 molecules of glucose per liter. Finally, remember that we have to do this 200 times (to get to 200C), and that doign this makes us run out of molecules at around the 8th or 9th C dilution. After that, we are diluting water with water.

But what if we want to make sure there is at least one molecule of sugar at the end, at the 200th C dilution?

In that case, we work backwards with the assertion that there is one molecule per liter at 200C. To go to 199C, we would have to concentrate (the opposite of dilute) the solution by a factor of 100, leaving us with 100 molecules in the 199C dilution. Moving up to 198C, we have 10,000 molecules (100 multiplied by 100). Not quite Avogadro’s constant yet. Let’s go to 197C, and see that we have 1,000,000 molecules (10,000 multiplied by 100). Have you noticed the trend?

For every C concentration, we are adding two zeroes to the right of the 1 that we started with at 200C. So, after 200 concentrations, we will have 400 zeroes to the right of the 1. That’s an enormous number of molecules.

How enormous? Taking into consideration that Avogadro’s constant is 6.02 followed by 21 zeroes to make up just one mole, 1×10^400 molecules make up… well… a lot of moles.

Seriously, I don’t have a calculator with me with a display big enough for all those zeroes. I plugged in 1×10^400 into my mac’s calculator and it laughed at me! I tried to divide that number by Avogadro’s constant to get the number of moles, and the damn thing grew legs and walked away, cursing at me.

No, the computer didn’t do that. But if you believe homeopathy then the computer doing that doesn’t seem so far fetched.

If you multiply all those moles times 180 grams, you will have a lot of tons of sugar that you need to somehow cram into one liter of water in order to dilute that liter of water by 100 two-hundred times to get a final 200C homeopathic remedy that has at least one molecule per liter.

Did you catch that?

One molecule per liter. One. You have a 1 in 1,000 chance of catching that molecule if you only take one milliliter of the final solution – the remedy – at a time.

Even if you go from 30C to an original solution, you add 60 zeroes to the right of the 1, which is still a huge number, you will have 1.66×10^36 moles of sugar at your beginning solution. At 180 grams per mole, you’re looking at about 3×10^38 grams of sugar that will need to be put in one liter of water.

You’re going to need a lot of sugar. So…

Now do you see why homeopathy is more about magical thinking than any sort of science or medicine?

Why October 23?

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have seen that the countdown clock to “The Poxes” is almost there. It will reach zero time on Sunday, October 23, at one minute past midnight that morning. Why did I pick that date?

I picked that date because it is “10.23” a date in which people in different parts of the world point out the scientific inaccuracies of the homeopathic remedies sold as cures to all sorts of things. Why 10 23? Because Avogadro’s number is a constant which establishes that there can only be 6.022 times 10 raised to the 23rd power (6022 followed by 20 zeroes) atoms or molecules of something in a mole of that something. It’s a pretty big number, but you can see how diluting something by 100 two hundred times can wipe out even that many molecules. An example? Keep reading.

From the periodic table of elements we see that glucose (made up of six carbons, twelve hydrogens, and six oxygens) has a molecular weight of about 180 grams per mole. That is, 6.022×10^23 molecules of glucose weigh 180 grams. So let’s take those 180 grams and put them in a liter of water (1000 milliliters). Now, like any good homeopath, let’s take that initial solution and make a “200C” homeopathic remedy.

The “C” in “200C” stands for a dilution of 1 to 100. So “200C” means that the solution is diluted 1 to 100 two-hundred times. So we start with a 180g per liter solution. Dilute that by 100 the first (of 200) time, and we have a 1.8g per liter solution. Dilute it the second (of 200) time and we have 0.018g per liter. The third time? 0.0018g per liter. But let’s just stop and look at what’s happening at the mole of glucose.

The mole of glucose we started with in one liter was 6.022×10^23 molecules. There were that many molecules of glucose, remember? After the first dilution, there were 6.022×10^21 molecules. Second dilution? 6.022×10^19. After the third, there were 6.022×10^17. Can you see where this is going?

As we continue to dilute our homeopathic remedy, we are adding two zeroes immediately to the right of the decimal point in terms of grams per liter. In terms of moles, we are subtracting two powers of ten from the exponent (ten times ten is one-hundred, get it?). In both cases, if we go through to the 200th dilution of 1 to 100 parts, we’re going to A) have a whole bunch of zeroes to the right of the decimal point (400 zeroes, in fact), and B) run out of exponents of the moles.

It’s B that really brings the message home. Why? Because 0.0…198 zeroes here…018 grams per liter equals less than one molecule per liter left. What’s less than one molecule? No molecules. (You can’t split a glucose molecule and still call it “glucose”.) That’s right. If you dilute a mole of glucose (180 grams) – or anything else in the known universe – to a “200C” solution for homeopathic treatment, you end up with no chance of even one single molecule left in the final dilution.

No chance… Well, okay, there’s a chance, but it’s small. I’m talking really, really small. How small? Let’s say that we have the ability to fill the universe with lottery balls. You can pick one ball. What is the chance that the winning ball will be yours if we have the entire universe to pick from? Yeah, it’s that small.

And what does one goddamn molecule of anything do, anyway?

So how does homeopathy “work”? It doesn’t. But the charlatans that push it will still tell you fantastic stories of how water “remembers” what’s been in it. So, even with no molecules left, the water in the 200C remedy will remember that it once had whatever you dissolved into it. Yes, you guessed it, there is no evidence of this claim. (In fact, if it were true, then water would remember all sorts of nasty things it’s been in contact with… Like feces.)

What if you add more than one mole to the initial solution? Is there an amount of moles you can add to still have at least one molecule left at the end? Yes, there is. But that number is so large (6.022×10^23 multiplied by 180 grams, in our example), that you’re diluting the water in the solution, not the “active ingredient”.

In “The Poxes”, you will meet two very skeptical characters. One is skeptical by nature, because he is always questioning the universe around him, a true scientist. The other is skeptical out of spite. A homeopath did something very, very bad to him earlier in his life. So the second character has an axe to pick with questionable medical practices. You’ll get to meet them on 10-23. I hope you join me.