Mark Crislip on Homeopathic Vaccines

November 5, 2010

Mark Crislip takes on Homeopathic Vaccines today on Science Based Medicine:

The first ‘law’ behind vaccines and homeopathy is the same: like cures like. Vaccines are the only medical validation of the first  ‘law’ of homeopathy of which I am aware.  It is the second ‘law’ of homeopathy where medicine, and reality, part company with homeopathy, the ‘law’ of dilutions.  Where vaccines are given with a well characterized concentration of antigen, homeopathic nostrums are often diluted long past the point where anything remains behind.  If a homeopathic nostrum is  20X, then there is no longer even a molecule of the original substance in the mixture.   Which can be a good thing, since homeopaths  use nosodes as their vehicle for imaginary vaccination.

A  nosode “is a homeopathic remedy prepared from a pathological specimen. The specimen is taken from a diseased animal or person and may consist of saliva, pus, urine, blood, or diseased tissue.”

And people complain about the alleged toxins in real vaccines.

If only I could post this for everyone’s information on my fun LA based online mom support group.  But I can’t,  because a thread regarding homeopathic vaccinations was shut down by the moderator after it became too heated.  So I am reluctant to post a link to Mark Crislip’s article and bring more angry emails upon myself.

Actually, there were more grateful emails than angry ones.  Several readers on that board wrote to me to say basically, “Thank you for speaking up.  I am afraid to say anything.”

A few months back, a homeopath posted on our board about the possibility of using homeopathic vaccinations, and she offered them as an alternative to parents frightened of vaccines.  I usually don’t say much on the board about alternative medicine.  I prefer to keep my posts limited to finding free baby stuff, getting rid of unwanted baby stuff, kvetching about lack of sleep, and offering support to new breastfeeding moms.  Why get into a tangle with people who are hawking acupuncture or amber teething necklaces?  I don’t see that it would change anyone’s mind, and I already had a forum (Rational Moms, which has now merged with this blog) where I could get on a soap box.

But I had to say something about homeopathic vaccinations.  What would be on my conscience if I didn’t?  A mom gets fooled into giving her kid one of those and then the kid gets measles encephalitis?  So I spoke up.  And there was a huge response, most people on my side, and some really, really not on my side.  I got a few angry emails, more supportive ones, and then finally, the moderator of the blog said enough already and asked us all not to post anymore.

I kept my tone neutral the whole time, but I think what got people’s nipples in a twist (sorry, but you can use that expression if you’re talking about a breast feeding support group) was that I called into question the entire practice of homeopathy.  I didn’t just say the vaccinations were a bad idea, I said look, homeopathy is nonsense, and here are some links for you to read.  And people didn’t like that at all.  I got one email from a woman who said, “Are you crazy?” And then she went on to use a bunch of logical fallacies, like telling me that a lot of people use homeopathy, so it must be valid, and there are even homeopathic hospitals, so who was I to say it didn’t work?

The moderator, when she shut this thread down, gave some general guidelines for discussing controversial topics, and actually I’ve found them quite useful.  As I’ve gotten a little better, over time, at speaking up about skeptical topics, I’ve tried to implement that moderator’s advice, and I’ve come up with a few rules of my own, which I elaborated upon here.  I’ve gone from unfriending people on Facebook to being able to speak civilly and then walk away from a discussion not angry.  Progress!

I guess for some people, questioning alternative medicine in general is just too much.  What I maybe should have stuck with were links to studies that show that these homeopathic vaccinations are inneffective.  And then maybe a little, watered down statement about how “to the best of my understanding” homeopathy in general is a total waste of time and money.  I don’t know.

Here are the studies Mark Crislip found:

Are there any studies or case reports  to support the use of nosodes? As best I can discover there are two clinical trials in animals of nosodes: one in calves that did not show benefit and one in mice that did, and both are in journals too obscure for my library to have subscriptions. There are two cases of fatal polio after receiving homeopathic vaccinations. That is it in Pubmed.  Not a convincing literature for effectiveness.

The proof offered by this homeopath on my mom board was (get ready to be shocked) all self published by some dude, probably writing from his basement.  So all I really had to do was point out the questionable nature of that evidence, which of course, I did.  But changing people’s minds about homeopathy in general?  Maybe too much for the board. 

My point in posting an article like this here is never really to break news.  Homeopathic vaccinations don’t work?  Not really news.  It’s more to contemplate for myself about how to talk to other parents without provoking rage, if that is possible.  How do I live as a person who can’t keep her mouth shut but really hates conflict?  I’m just trying to get better at that, somehow.

Watch a homeopathic remedy be made

September 13, 2009

Crispian Jago has posted on his blog a 7-minute video where he creates a homeopathic remedy for his own urine.  The starting point is some of his own freshly acquired urine (we assume – he discreetly closes the doors while he gets the sample), and the end result is a “30-C” homeopathic remedy, which he promptly drinks.

If you’d like to see it — and it’s very educational for anyone unclear on exactly what homeopathy is — head over to Crispian’s blog at

To save you some time, though, what he does (and what the homeopaths do) is to dilute the solution 1:100 with each “C”, so by the end of the experiment, the urine-to-water ratio would be:

1 : 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,…

…000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 10^60 – I had to wrap the line to not mess up the style of the blog.)

To give some perspective to that ridiculously large number, there are roughly 10^50 atoms on (and in) the earth.  So if you drank 10^10 (or 10,000,000,000) Earths of water (not just the water on those 10 billion earths, but convert everything – crust, core, everything – to water and drink it all), you would drink ONLY ONE ATOM of urine*

* – I know, we should be doing one MOLECULE, since there’s no such thing as an “atom” of urine, but that’s not the point…  Even just to get one of the atoms that was in the original urine, you’d need to drink 10-billions earthfulls of water.

Put another way (if all my math is right)…  You’d need a giant ball, roughly 17,000,000 miles in diameter, full of water, for there to be one atom from the original urine.

A 30-C toast to Phil Plait and Skepticality‘s Derek Colanduno for the tip.

..Rob T.


April 13, 2009

Homeopathic remedies are not all-natural herbal supplements.  They are not an alternative to western medicine and prescription drugs.  They are placebos in the form of sugar pills that are manufactured in such a way as to erase any trace of their original substances.  And they are a waste of money and energy.

It doesn’t matter which homeopathic treatment a child takes, she will end up with nothing more than the equivalent of a tic tac.  That is because the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann, invented the treatment in the 19th century when leeches were a popular way to treat disease.  Not much has changed since  his original illogical ideas, which he described as laws.  I think that once you read these “laws”, you may want to insist that your cute hippie pregnant wife return the Arnica 30x to the store.

The Law of Similars can best be compared to vaccines and venom antidotes.  For vaccines, a live strain of disease is introduced to the human body causing the immune system to build a defense against the disease.  Venom antidotes work the same way, except they are injected into animals, and we use the animal’s antibodies to fight the venom in humans.

Hahnemann had the same idea, but instead of using medical science as his guide, he just made it up and hoped it would stick.  His thought was that certain natural substances cause symptoms in the body, and that those substances (in a diluted form) could prevent diseases and conditions that have similar symptoms.  Confused?  Say tree sap gives you a headache when ingested, well that means that tree sap can prevent headaches.  Besides being a non-sequitur, the concept is void of logic.  You won’t magically cancel out your headache when you ingest substances that cause a headache.  The idea is absurd on it’s face, and even more absurd when you think about the fact that Hahnemann tested these substances without using any standards or controls.  He put all his answers down in a little black book called Materia Medica, and homeopaths use many of the same remedies to this day.

The Law of Infinitesimals states that the more you dilute a substance the more powerful are it’s medicinal properties.  Huh?  That is SO counter-intuitive that I can’t even conceptualize how this man devised such a backwards idea.  The less there is of something, the more it cures?  Of all the failed medical concepts, I find it hard to undestand how this one lasted over a 100 years and is still widely believed by Whole Foods Market shoppers everywhere.

You might find a homeopathic bottle with 30x on the label.  That doesn’t mean it is 30 times more powerful.  It doesn’t even mean that it is 30 times less powerful.  It means that it is diluted 1 to the 30th power.

A 30X dilution means that the original substance has been diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Assuming that a cubic centimeter contains 15 drops, this number is greater than the number of drops of water that would fill a container more than 50 times the size of the earth and a 30C solution would require a container more than 30 billion times the size of the Earth.

Science has told us that there is a limited amount of dilutions a substance can handle before the original molecules are gone.  That means that anything greater than 24x is nothing but sugar water.  Homeopaths will tell you that magical phantom traces of the original substance are left after vigorous shakings called succusions, but we know this to be hogwash that is unverifiable.  Any relief comes from placebo or random natural healing.

Cindy Crawford (what is it with these pretty celebrities?) recently went on the Oprah show to reveal her favorite things, including a homeopathic kit and “bible” that she uses to treat “mosquito bites, bee stings, bruises, etc.”  I guess there are worse substances to cure your children with, but there are also better ways to spend your money.  Not everyone has the money to waste that Cindy Crawford does.  My money goes to the body’s natural immune system and healing abilities, and when that doesn’t work- good old fashioned doctor-prescribed science-based medicine.

Alternative Medicine in Baby Talk

October 21, 2008

Meryl Davids Landau wrote a fluff piece on alternative medicine for Baby Talk magazine, promoting probiotics, homeopathy, acupuncture,  herbal tea, and aromatherapy for infants.  You know I can’t pass this up, so here we go…

Landau begins her article with an anecdote about a mother who cured her son of gassy colic and explosive green poop by dabbing a probiotic powder on her nipple before breastfeeding.  Color me skeptical.   One of the known reasons for “explosive green poop” (GROSS!) is that the infant is not sucking long enough to get the creamy fat content that comes toward the end of feeding. My hypothesis is that the sweetener in the probiotic is inspiring more efficient suckling in the baby.  Perhaps the probiotics are working too, but there ought to be more research on the effects of probiotics on children before it’s marketed to desperate parents.

The article then goes on to describe several other CAM treatments for kids, the worst of which is homeopathic remedies.  She compares homeopathic medicine to vaccines, except vaccines actually have active ingredients and undergo rigorous testing.  It bears repeating that homeopathic medicine is not medicine because the random arbitrary ingredients are so diluted that they lose their original properties.  Homeopathy, left unchecked, can kill people by the simple fact that they are avoiding the actual medicine they need.

On acupuncture, sticking babies with needles is an unpleasant and unnecessary idea.   There is no reason to believe that the placebo of acupuncture will work on children, and endorphin production is just a way to use science to legitimize the pseudoscience.  Landau indicates that there are studies showing that acupuncture helps preemies.  The only literature I could find on this topic showed that meridian massage (a form of acupressure) helps premature babies grow.  Looking further into the literature, I saw that infant massage in general helps premature babies grow, not just arbitrary meridian massage.  So, maybe there is merit in baby massage after all, but that is another topic.

There is nothing in the scientific literature to prove the claims of aromatherapists.  The only thing that can be said about aromatherapy is that it smells nice.

Out of all the suggestions in the article, the one that holds the most water seems to be herbal tea.  The studies that I found on fennel’s effect on colic seemed to be positive.  It’s worth a try anyway.  Just know that colic disappears naturally after six months.  It’s likely that you won’t find a magical cure, whether you use modern medicine or not.   And even though American “gripe water” says that it has several ingredients including fennel, you are likely buying nothing but homeopathic sugar water.

I don’t blame people for seeking ways to help their babies, but many of these CAM treatments are bogus.  Put your energy into good nutrition, listening to your pediatrician, and most of all, patience.

Eleventh Hour Vs. The Mentalist

October 17, 2008

The CSI franchise does not have it’s hooks in me.  You’re more likely to find me watching LOST or my guilty pleasure, Kitchen Nightmares.  But, I may just have to dip my toes into the murder investigation pop culture trend now that there are two new CBS crime dramas that seem to be friendly to the skeptic crowd.

Both Eleventh Hour and The Mentalist are based around the crack investigative skills of a gifted specialty detective, both detectives have a nearly useless female sidekick, and both are dripping with over dramatic plotlines and over-eager guest actors.  Each of the respective detectives use their natural skills and scientific reasoning to solve the crimes.  So all things considered, the two dramas are on an equal playing field.

The Mentalist is, so far, the better of the two programs.  Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a reformed psychic fraud who uses his natural skills at mesmerizing, human observation, and intuition to solve crimes.  As any avid skeptic knows, the skeptical movement is founded on the vision of “The Amazing” Randi, a former magician turned rational skeptic; and if you go further back, the roots of skepticism as a sub-culture can be attributed to Harry Houdini, who repeatedly challenged psychic frauds.  Nobody knows better the folly of false belief than those who manipulate the gullible with magic tricks and stunts.

Simon Baker makes mentalism seem a little too easy.  His bag of tricks may get old.  The writers may run out of fresh ideas and start putting him in supernatural situations.  So far, however, his character has stayed real with perhaps a dash of silliness (such as solving a crime by asking the suspects which animal symbolizes them).  Robin Tunney plays his sidekick, and she is my favorite of the two useless female sidekicks, mainly because she actually helps with the investigation.  I have to admit bias here because I worked with Robin Tunney’s sister at Anne Sather in Chicago, which means absolutely nothing to anybody except to me, but you know how it is.

Eleventh Hour seemed promising at first.  The series is based around a science expert investigator named Jacob Hood played by Rufus Sewell.  Jacob Hood is more serious than The Mentalist’s Patrick Jane; he spends much of the episode glowering at everyone.  He solves the crimes with such confidence and knowledge that he comes across as a cross between Mulder and Macgyver.  The only problem with the program, from a skeptic’s view, is that they had the opportunity to scientifically deconstruct homeopathic remedies, and yet they didn’t.  Last night’s episode featured an herbalist homeopath using psychotropic frog secretions and foxglove poison in her pills.  They could have used science to explain why homeopathy is ineffective and magic, but instead they legitimized a sham alternative medicine.

I can’t complain too much.  I would much rather have two crime dramas that feature a reformed mentalist and an expert in science than I would another psychic detective.  If you can get past the cheesy premise of each episode, the self-important acting, and the fact that you’re watching another damned crime drama, you might find value in The Mentalist and Eleventh Hour.  For now, I’ll be looking forward to future episodes of both with my finger on the remote if they don’t improve.

Placebo Pediatrics – Obecalp and Homeopathy

May 29, 2008


For years, homeopaths have been manufacturing placebos and calling them remedies.  They choose an arbitrary ingredient, dilute it until there is nothing left, shake it vigorously, slap a label on it, and serve it up as an all-natural homeopathic supplement.  They get away with this fraud because their products are not subject to any kind of official inspection by the FDA.  But, no doubt about it, they are placebos in disguise.

A new non-homeopathic kid’s product is coming out that also avoids scientific scrutiny… because there’s nothing in it, just like homeopathic pills.  Instead of lying about it,  Jennifer Buettner of Severna Park, Maryland flat-out admits that her pills are placebos.  That’s the whole point!  The pills are called Obecalp  (placebo spelled backwards) and are meant to trick hypochondriac children into feeling better.  This isn’t the first time that the term “Obecalp” has been used to trick patients, but it is the first time that a placebo has been directly sold to parents.

The word “Placebo” means “I will please” in Latin, and that is just what these non-pharmaceuticals do – please the patient.  The first use of the term placebo seems to have been religious funeral crashers who pretended to know the deceased so that they could sneak out free food.  Now, we use the the term “Placebo Effect” to describe the actual relief (whether it be mental of physical) that comes after being administered a non-treatment by a doctor or authority figure. 

If you think about it, the placebo effect is pretty amazing.  It requires faith in the authority figure and blind ignorance to the product’s inert properties.  I can see why miracles and healing can be attributed to God for that very reason.  But, it also tells us something about the power of blind belief within the functions of our human body and nervous system.

Administering placebos to children may be OK in the form of kissing boo boos or giving the occasional vitamin, but buying a whole vial of placebo pills is taking the situation too far.   First, the product is a waste of money for the very fact that placebo pills can be easily manufactured by any individual with access to sugar.  Second, Obecalp has some ethical problems because the parent is teaching the child to medicate the hypochondria rather than root out the psychological reason behind it (perhaps a need for attention).  Third, the assumption that a child is inventing symptoms may be false, and sugar pills would be replacing proper medical care in that situation. 

Medical practitioners are equally concerned that a commercial placebo pill sends the wrong message to children, but they would do well to point out that homeopathic pills are no better.  I would rather purposefully by a non-medication for my child than be tricked by a homeopathic huckster like Head On (apply directly to the forehead), which actually had to admit that it’s dangerous active ingredient was basically inert due to dilution and succussion.

There is a money-wasting placebo product for kids that I think is fun and relatively innocent called Monster Spray.  For the child terrified of monsters, why not make your own monster spray and spritz it around the room.  The only downside is that it might encourage belief in monsters, but I truly think that even small children intuitively know that monsters aren’t real… even if they have their doubts.


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