Today’s comic not only introduces a new character, Bertrand Russell’s Teapot, but points a giggling finger at the lack of plausibility in homeopathic claims.
When you buy a homeopathic cold remedy at your local pharmacy, what you are buying is an active ingredient that is diluted over and over again until, for all intents and purposes, there is nothing left, and that makes it stronger. How can this be? Well apparently water has memory. Holy. Crap.
By this logic, dinosaur pee is the most potent substance on earth because it has had 63 million years to dilute. I’m not even going to mention whale sperm or you and Susie Derkins at Coney Island in 1997. We all want to forget that one.
Homeopaths explain that the water traps electromagnetic energy and retains the effect of the now non-existant ingredient. Congratulations. You’ve successfuly integrated wizardry into your alternative medicinal system. This is the oldest trick in the snake-oil book. Not magnets per se, but the use of a vaguely understood scientific concept to explain a false modality. Quantum physics is often invoked in the same way. It’s the same as saying “It’s magic” and leaving it at that. Besides, an article published in Nature in 2005 showed that any such ‘memory’ or changes in the molecular structure of water as the result of a dissolved substance would be gone nanoseconds after the material is removed. YOUR SECRET IS SAFE.
So what’s the harm? Because it is just water, there is no need to get FDA approval to sell this stuff. —aaaaaaaand sometimes homeopathic companies sneak in a little active ingredient so that their remedy actually does something past the placebo effect. Hilarity, hospitalizations, and recalls usually ensue as, what it now an actual drug, is sold without FDA approval. Recent example? Zicam: a homeopathic allergy remedy which had non-homeopathic amounts of zinc in it, with some users losing their sense of smell. Also, as with all alternative modalities, the real damage is done when people forgo actual treatment in lieu of pseudoscience. There’s a reason alt. med has begun using the term ‘complementary’ medicine instead. Because using it as an alternative could get you killed, while using it in compliment will still do nothing, but at least you’re getting a real, science based treatment.
The important take-away is to think critically, and know what you are getting into. Most people who buy and use homeopathic medicine probably have no idea how it supposedly works. I give a vote of confidence in saying that everyone I know would not use it if they were aware of how much of a crock the very concept is. In a future comic we’ll explore the red flags of pseudoscience, and go into further detail on the workings of homeopathy.
A note on scientific notation, 1080, for those who don’t know, is 10 with 80 zeroes after it. That’s a lot of atoms! But atoms are immeasurably small, and the universe is immeasurably huge, so we can think of the universe as a pretty dilute soup of elements. Speaking of which, this post has been brought to you by Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, in stars, on our planet, and in our bodies. Hm.