Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How homeopathy can actually be dangerous

Homeopathy is the belief that if you take a substance that causes symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of an affliction or disease, and then dilute that substance in water enough, then that water becomes an effective treatment for that disease (not just the symptoms of that disease, but the disease itself.)

For example, if you suffer from sleeplessness, they believe that if you take caffeine, dilute it into water, and then re-dilute that water over and over until basically every single caffeine molecule has disappeared from it, and then drink a drop of the end result, it will help your sleeplessness.

Needless to say, this is just a placebo effect. However, proponents of homeopathy go further and claim that homeopathy can cure actual diseases, such as viral and bacterial infections. (Why would diluted symptom-causing substance do something to the actual viruses or bacteria is anybody's guess.)

Ok, so it's a placebo. It's not really dangerous, is it? But it can be. It can potentially be very dangerous.

And I'm not talking about the danger of someone going off actual medication for their disease in favor of homeopathy. This is, of course, a danger in itself (and people have demonstrably died because of this exact reason; there have been actual court cases and convictions.) However, I'm talking about something else.

Recently, Fran Sheffield (the director of Homeopathy Plus Australia) put up a petition at change.org urging the World Health Organization to test and distribute homeopathy to contain outbreaks of ebola.

Of course trying to fight ebola with homeopathy would be the exact same thing as trying to fight it with drops of water... except that homeopathy would actually be potentially extremely more dangerous. How so?

Can you guess how exactly they propose to make the homeopathic remedies? If you guessed "put ebola viruses in water and then dilute it", then you guessed right.

This would be a really, really, really bad and dangerous idea. Firstly, and most importantly: What happens to the excess water from the dilution process? It's simply thrown into the sink.

That's right. Water infested with ebola is thrown into the sink. Think about that for a moment.

Secondly, while the chance for one of the viruses to end up in the final product is astronomically small, it's not completely out of the realm of possibility. If millions of pills are produced, there's a non-zero chance that at least one virus will end up in at least one of those pills.

In other words, there's a non-zero chance that at least one person will be administered with a pill containing an actual ebola virus in it.

If you didn't think homeopathy can be dangerous before, perhaps you should reconsider.

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