Clea Saal

Barking mad ‘science’ (in defense of homeopathy)

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This post has been buzzing inside my head for a while. I has to do with a video I came across a couple of weeks ago that really bothered me, but with the attacks in France, and everything else that’s been going on in the real world lately, it just felt too trivial to write about. Anyway, now that some time has gone by the time has come for me to try to get back in the rhythm of things, so here it goes.

This one has to do with homeopathy, or rather with the way in which its detractors go totally insane as soon as the h-word is mentioned (they basically react as if it were a particularly nasty, and an unusually long, four-letter word). Now, before we go any further, a bit of a disclaimer:

My relationship with homeopathy is a complicated one. My father’s a doctor, as are a number of other members of my family, so I grew up in a world in which the notion that ‘homeopathy is nonsense’ was a given, then two years ago something I had a problem a medical professional that caused me to reexamine some of my beliefs (okay, she was a vet, my thirteen-year-old dog was having a number of age-related issues, and I was not to sure about how she was approaching the whole thing). There was one aspect in particular that, while not terribly serious from a medical perspective, I found particularly annoying: my girl had become incontinent due to an estrogen deficiency. Seeing how she can usually be found curled up on the couch behind me as I write, it was beginning to look like my choices were to evict her from what had always been her spot (i.e. to punish her for being sick), or to resign myself to spend my days sitting in a pool of urine. As you can probably imagine, neither one of these options sounded particularly appealing. The vet suggested hormone replacement therapy, but I wasn’t quite ready to walk down that path, not without a second opinion anyway. The way I saw it, her incontinence was a condition that presented a number of characteristics that called for a different approach. In a nutshell, it was  a chronic problem that was likely to stay with my girl for the rest of her life, but at the same time it was not a degenerative condition where an aggressive intervention was a must. That gave me an unexpected bit of leeway, so I decided to try everything, beginning with the least aggressive option, and moving up from there… and even if it went against a lifetime of indoctrination, I decided to give homeopathy a fair shot (it was, after all, the least aggressive option). No, I didn’t go to Petco, and grab the first product off the shelves, what I did -knowing that I was dealing with something I knew absolutely nothing about- was to get in touch with a homeopathic vet, and set up an appointment. The outcome? Forty-eight hours later the problem was gone, and I was flabbergasted. So where do I stand? Well, my common sense is still telling me that homeopathy shouldn’t work, the evidence of my own eyes tells me that maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it, and two years later I’m still trying to figure out how exactly does the placebo effect work on a dog.

Okay, enough with the aside, that is not what this post is about. It’s about some of the nonsense that is posted by the scientifically minded in their attempts to mock those who dare not to share their dogmatism, and it was brought about by a YouTube video that was first posted while I was on vacation. In it a woman who calls herself a SciBabe (I won’t even comment on that one)  gets drunk on a homeopathic remedy, and then makes an awful lot of noise about the fact that kids can buy this stuff without getting carded, and basically demands that it be taken off the shelves because the remedy contains 20% alcohol (if it were just this woman I probably wouldn’t even have heard of it, but this is a point that has been picked up by a number of other outlets).

This whole ‘getting drunk on a homeopathic remedy’ thing is a repeat performance, as  last year the woman got Petco to get a product off its shelves by pulling a similar stunt with a dog anxiety remedy (hence the title of this particular post), but let’s get back to the current incident, which involves an anti-constipation remedy that is sold in 1 oz bottles.

To begin with, let’s focus on the part she doesn’t mention: the remedy in question is supposed to be taken by diluting 20 drops (about 1 ml) in a 4 oz glass of water, what she does instead is to down six whole bottles of the stuff, one after the other, and then she has the gall to to claim that the fact that she could get legally drunk with such an outrageous misuse is proof that the product is not safe.

Let me state the obvious here: if you were to take six bottles of pretty much any regular OTC medication chances are that you wouldn’t just wind up slightly over the legal limit, but rather that you would be seriously dead, so as far as indictments, this one borders on the absurd. When it comes to medications, including those that are sold over the counter, the fact that they are safe come with a huge ‘WHEN USED AS DIRECTED’ implied. In fact, if anything, I would say that this woman’s stunt goes a long way towards demonstrating the safety of the product in question (I’m talking about safety here, not efficacy). As for the fact that kids can buy this stuff, kids can buy a lot of things that can do a lot more than get them a little drunk, and if they are determined to get their hands on some alcohol, they are going to do it without resorting to six bottles of a homeopathic constipation remedy.

Now, as I stated above, my own relationship with homeopathy is complicated, but one thing I am fairly certain of is that while these stunts are likely to amuse those who are eager to dismiss homeopathy as quackery, making them feel smug and superior, they are not going to change a single mind (in fact when you approach them with this attitude those on the other side of the fence are likely to roll their eyes at you, and dismiss you as an ignorant and arrogant bitch who doesn’t know what she’s talking about). That doesn’t mean I think homeopathic remedies should be free to claim that they are effective, and I even agree that requiring a warning about the fact that they are untested, that their use is the sole responsibility of the user, and that delaying proper medical intervention is something that can have serious and even fatal consequences makes sense, but at the same time I would not advocate getting them off the market, which is what this woman, and others like her, are desperately trying to do.

No, homeopathy won’t do you much good if you have a major medical emergency, but there are plenty of instances in which the placebo effect (if that’s what it is) can work miracles, and while I agree that there are some instances in which delaying critical treatment can come back to bite you, I also believe people should be allowed to make their own stupid mistakes.

If Jehovah’s Witnesses can refuse blood transfusions based on their religious beliefs, then people should be allowed to pop sugar pills to treat a headache, constipation, or to help them cope with their anxieties. Yes, I understand that the government has a duty to ensure that the drugs that are approved are safe and effective, and that keeping products that are not safe out of the market is a must, but that is not the case when it comes to homeopathic remedies.

What we have here here are substances that even detractors agree are diluted to the point where safety is not longer an issue… and with Big Pharma using the power of the FDA to establish itself as a de facto state religion. That’s the part I find particularly troubling.

And finally in case anyone is interested,  this is the video in question:

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