Homeopathic Dilutions

Like many press outlets, the Daily Mail pre-empted the publication of the Science and Technology committee report and published a story yesterday summing up the MPs’ findings. Of course the Daily Mail is the home of the gullible reader and a good number of the comments on that story are attempting to defend the woo-mongers.

The Mail often stop taking comments on their stories after about a day (giving no indication that they’ve done so) and the number of comments on this story has stuck at eighteen since I first saw it last night so we must assume that they won’t publish any more.

This is a shame as there’s quite a lot of unchallenged nonsense there. In particular, the most recent comment published is from Dave in Basingstoke. Someone previously in the discussion had mentioned the ludicrous amount of dilution in homeopathic solutions. Dave replies with this:

“But scientists point to the fact that the ‘cures’ are so diluted that the cannot possibly contain even a single molecule of the original substance.”

Ha! Maybe a climate change pseudo-scientist would say that, but a chemist never would because it isn’t true. If you dilute a solution of anything by a million to one, there will still be thousands of molecules of the substance present in the diluted solution. The body can detect that amount, and work on it.

Let’s ignore his childish dig at climate change and get to the meat of his argument. Dave thinks that is you dilute something by a factor of a million then there will still be molecules of the original substance in the solution. And he’s right there. No one will argue with that fact at all. But homeopathic remedies aren’t million to one dilutions.

Homepathic dilutions are given a number on the “C scale”. Each time you dilute something by a factor of a hundred, you get another point on the C scale. A dilution of a hundred to one would be called 1C. Dilute that solution be another hundred to one (that’s now ten thousand to one from the original solution) and you get to 2C. Another step to 3C gives us a dilution of a million to one from the original solution. That’s about the level of dilution that Dave is talking about.

But homeopaths don’t stop there. 3C dilutions are nothing. Remember a key tenet of homeopathy is that the weaker the dilution, the stronger the effect. Homeopaths carry on diluting their solutions again and again and again. Next time you’re in Boots have a look at the numbers on the tubes of homeopathic remedies that they sell. You’ll see that 30C is a really common dilution. That solution has been diluted by a factor of a hundred to one thirty times. The original solution has been diluted by a factor of one to a number which is one followed by sixty zeroes. That’s a huge number. With numbers like that involved, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that there is none of the original material left.

Here’s an example to help you get to grips with those numbers. The number of water molecules in a swimming pool is going to be around a one followed by thirty two zeroes. One molecule of something else in that pool will be equivalent to a 16C homeopathic remedy. See the Wikipedia entry on homeopathic dilutions for more examples like this.

This is why the slogan for the 10:23 campaign is “There’s nothing in it”. It’s literally true. There is no active ingredient left in any homeopathic remedy that you find.

I’d love it it if Dave from Basingstoke found this entry. It would be great if he could see just how misinformed he is.

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