?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Homeopathic Experiment. - AdrianG [APOD]
August 7th, 2009
08:18 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Homeopathic Experiment.
My wife believes in homeopathy, and I don't. I'd like to find a test that we can use to help convince one or the other of us to give ground on this difference, and I'm asking for help in devising such a test. I will be the test subject, and I want the test to get at the heart of our disagreement.

As I understand it, homeopathy is based on the premise that you can take a substance that is harmful and water it down to the point of insignificance and that this super diluted result will cause the opposite effect as the original substance. I believe this idea makes no sense, but my wife thinks (as far as I know) that it works. She also believes that if I "overdose" on some homeopathic remedies that they will cause bad side effects. I want to test that idea.

Now my wife and I are both biased on this issue, so we need to find a testing protocol that leaves us with little room to squirm out of acknowledging the results. If, for example, I find that I experience the side effects that she predicts, I will naturally look for other explanations, like perhaps I would have had that symptom, anyway. So I expect to be able to repeat the test until I'm convinced that the remedy works or until enough repeated trials fail to show results. Also, if I find that the homeopathic remedy really does contain significant quantities of an active substance, then we really won't have tested the theory I'm interested in disproving. So I want to make sure I'm really testing something watered down to insignificance.

If I turn out to be right about one substance, then I would expect her to wonder if that's an isolated case where I just don't respond normally to the specific remedy, and I'd expect her to want to try something else. I will want to cooperate with her on that.

So, can anyone who reads this help me refine the protocol on this test and help me choose substances to try? Remember I want the test to be convincing to one or the other of us.

On a final note, those who you who agree with me need to be extra careful to be polite and civil to those who believe in homeopath and comment here. I want this discussion to be welcoming to both sides of this debate. I do not want to chase of anyone who has valuable insight to offer simply because they are biased in a direction different from my bias.

Thanks.

Adrian

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:unixronin
Date:August 7th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)

"You can't fool me, young man! It's turtles all the way down!"

(Link)
I suspect you're fighting a lost cause. A belief in homeopathy pretty much requires complete unreason. One must accept that a preparation can be therapeutically effective at dilutions so high that it is mathematically certain not only that the vial itself contains none of the active ingredient, but does not contain a single water molecule that has ever been in contact with a water molecule that was ever in contact with a molecule of the original ingredient; that this preparation becomes more powerful, the more it is diluted; and that if it is not diluted enough, it instead becomes toxic and will make you ill.

There have been many double-blind studies on homeopathy. Not one has ever found a homeopathic remedy to be more effective than a placebo. I cannot come up with a test protocol that a believer will find irrefutable, but I submit the following logical argument:

First of all, let us refer to the Wikipedia page on homeopathic dilutions. I particularly refer to the following notes:
  • In the molar limit section, it is noted that a 12C dilution, 1036 times more concentrated than the standard 30C homeopathic dilution, has a roughly 0.6 probability of containing a single molecule (or atom, as the case may be) of the original substance in a liter of solution.

  • Under "equivalent physical scale", it is noted that a 30C solution is equivalent to 1ml of the "active" ingredient diluted into a cube of water approximately 106 light-years on a side.

  • The total volume of the Earth's oceans is between 1.3 billion and 1.5 billion cubic kilometers.

From the above, we can calculate that if the Earth's oceans were a 30C homeopathic preparation, the probability of the oceans of the entire world containing a single molecule of the active ingredient is rather less than 1 in 1015. From this we can probably conclude that, if one accepts the argument that homeopathy works¹, and considers that sooner or later, everything on the planet has been in contact with water, then two possible conclusions arise:
(a) Ordinary seawater should be a sovereign homeopathic remedy for everything, and should be the universal panacea;
or
(b) Ordinary seawater is far too concentrated to be homeopathically effective and, containing excessive concentrations of all possible homeopathic ingredients, is in fact a deadly poison.

I think we can conclude both of these possibilities to be false.

None of this, however, gets us past the point that if she believes in homeopathy, the odds are that no test of scientific proof is going to convince her otherwise. The standard answer from advocates of homeopathy tends to be that homeopathy works by an effect that science cannot measure, and that the studies fail to show an effect greater than placebo because the environment of any scientific study somehow disrupts the therapeutic effect.

I really don't think you can win this one. Acceptance of any scientific disproof of homeopathy requires approaching the question rationally, but belief in homeopathy requires approaching it irrationally.



[1] Which basically requires one of two possible mechanisms: the placebo effect, or the principle of magical contagion. The former exists, but homeopathy advocates deny that it is at work in homeopathy. The latter does not.
[User Picture]
From:adriang
Date:August 7th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)

Re: "You can't fool me, young man! It's turtles all the way down!"

(Link)
I think, though, that it is important to that I am willing to have my beliefs tested. My wife is not a computer program, and it will never be a matter of finding out what input to give her to make her produce the output I want. It's important for me to demonstrate that I believe in the principles that I encourage other people to consider. I believe we are stronger for letting our beliefs be tested.

If the outcome here is that she switches to my side, great. But if she only sees that I'm willing to let my ideas be tested, that's good, too. Proving to her that I believe in my own principles is still important.

Adrian
[User Picture]
From:unixronin
Date:August 7th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)

Re: "You can't fool me, young man! It's turtles all the way down!"

(Link)
Can't argue with that. :)
[User Picture]
From:silverfae
Date:August 8th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)

Re: "You can't fool me, young man! It's turtles all the way down!"

(Link)
And sometimes we just agree to disagree :)

I've had it pointed out to me by a medicine man that a simple glass of spring water, blessed by the rising sun with intent to heal can have exactly the same effect, provided both the healer and the patient believe that it is so.

Belief and the results thereof is not something that can be measured or quantified, but sometimes... it just works.

Good for both of you for having the conversations, regardless of the outcome. Some things are just a mystery, and maybe meant to be so, such as Love, for who can prove Love and why/how it happens to us?



[User Picture]
From:adriang
Date:August 8th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)

Re: "You can't fool me, young man! It's turtles all the way down!"

(Link)
I certainly don't know everything about how the world works. But I do think having ideas is just like any other skill in that to get better at it, we need to have meaningful practice. That is, we need repeated trials where we get useful feedback about how well we're doing.

I can't be certain that a medicine man has no valuable advice to offer, but I think it's healthy to ask, "How would he find out if he is wrong?" Does this medicine man know that he is biased, as we all are? Is he responsible about trying to keep his bias from blinding him to his mistakes? If this medicine man can honestly say yes to questions like these, then perhaps he is, indeed, a good source of advice.

Adrian
[User Picture]
From:silverfae
Date:August 9th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)

Re: "You can't fool me, young man! It's turtles all the way down!"

(Link)
mmm.. well, I had the fortune of meeting Rolling Thunder , very briefly at a workshop. His healing has been documented by the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, amongst others.

I believe his message is valid.
[User Picture]
From:lightning_rose
Date:August 7th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
(Link)

As noted above, homeopathy is pure bunk.

That said, in circa 1800 it was an improvement over mainstream medicine in that it does no harm to the patient, may have a placebo effect, and at 12C and greater dilutions cannot be overdosed. Note that today some herbal remedies are called homeopathic, but contain substances in sufficient quantities that they may be harmful in large doses.

The only way to test would be a classic double blind study where neither you nor the person administering the substance knows if it's a placebo or a homeopathic remedy. Regardless, a testing sample size of two would be meaningless, and as also noted above, anyone believing in woo is not going to be convinced by science anyway.

[User Picture]
From:adriang
Date:August 8th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
    Note that today some herbal remedies are called homeopathic, but contain substances in sufficient quantities that they may be harmful in large doses.

That's what worries me. If we choose such remedy, then we won't really be testing the point upon which we disagree.
    The only way to test would be a classic double blind study where neither you nor the person administering the substance knows if it's a placebo or a homeopathic remedy.

If we choose a substance that really is watered down to the point where there is not a significant level of the active ingredient, then as far as I am concerned, I am getting a placebo. 8-) In this case, though, I should point out that Julie says I will get a headache from an overdose. It sounds like she believes the symptoms will be unmistakable. So, why a formal study should certainly be double blinded, we may still learn something from this informal experiment.
    anyone believing in woo is not going to be convinced by science anyway.

When she and I discuss such things, one of the most important principles that I try to bring into the discussion is that we learn to develop better ideas when we arrange to have some of our ideas tested in meaningful ways. If all that comes from this is a demonstration that I believe this principle applies to me just as much as to her, then that's good enough. I hope we learn to see more things in compatible ways, in the future, but I can live with this more modest goal, for now.

Adrian
My Resume Powered by LiveJournal.com