The Homeopathic Elephant in the Room

April 16, 2012

While always on the radar of skeptics, Homeopathy has has hit the news – or at least the blogosphere – recently with the case of Homeopath Francine Scrayen attempting to sue blogger Dan Buzzard over telling the truth of her involvement in the death of Penelope Dingle.

A while back I ran the numbers to show that there is in fact nothing in homeopathic remedies. But there is one more little thing that rarely gets mentioned, and I would like to haul that out into the open for ridicule. Suppose, just suppose magic water did have the ability to remember the properties of dilution to non-existence. Just suppose. The majority of homeopathic remedies are purchased in pill form. So, what’s in the pill? Pills are a sugar or starch based solid that, we presume, have come in contact with the magic water. But in order to package the pills, they must be dried out. In other words, the water is evaporated away. So not only do homeopathic pills not contain any active ingredient, they also contain none of the magic water that is supposed to retain the memory of the nonexistent ingredient.

So to produce homeopathic remedies, they first dilute out the ingredient leaving only water, and then they remove the water. Yup. There really IS nothing in it.


Hats off to Rhys Morgan

November 29, 2011

Just go read this post:

Rhys Morgan, high school student and skeptical blogger, deals with threats from a frothy-mouthed rep of Burzynski clinic with aplomb.

Keep up the great work Rhys!

Faith vs Trust

August 24, 2011

Creationists – the loud ones, like Ken Ham, Kirk Cameron, and Kent Hovind – often repeat that evolution, like religion, is a matter of faith, and therefore evolution and religion-based beliefs on creation stand on equal ground. But this is a rhetorical ruse. In order to uncover the man behind this curtain, we need to look at “faith” vs “Faith”.

Faith with a capital F refers to religious faith – complete, unwavering acceptance of the tenets of a religion. But faith with a small f means something different. We can say we have faith in a pilot, and in the aircraft he is flying. What this means is not a complete, unwavering acceptance of the miracle of flight, but that we trust the pilot’s training, and the engineers’ skill. But that trust is not unwavering – evidence to the contrary (missteps by the pilot, or mechanical issues with the aircraft) will shake that trust. In the case of religious Faith, many are taught and believe that evidence contradictory to their religious beliefs is there to test their Faith, and so they entrench themselves further rather than changing their worldview.

In a sense, science is a matter of faith – but it is most definitely not a matter of Faith. I would rather say that science is a matter of trust. We trust that the laws of nature will not suddenly change. We trust that the tools we have at our disposal will give us reliable information. We trust that a preponderance of converging data is on the right track to representing how a phenomenon actually works.

But wait, there’s more…

Creationists will say that you have to have faith in Science just as you have to have Faith in religion – but you don’t. The reason Science is so reliable is that it works whether you believe in it or not! You can disbelieve in gravity, rocket propulsion (aka Newton’s 3rd Law), fluid dynamics, and evolution all you like. But that doesn’t make them not happen. So while most people do put some faith (trust) in Science, it is not required that they do so. And, in fact, a critical eye and healthy dose of skepticism (by which I mean real skepticism, not denialism) are necessary for Science to move forward – so scientists who trust the preponderance of existing knowledge do not automatically trust new discoveries.

So the next time you hear the argument that Science is just like religion, because it relies on faith, call that argument what it is: Bullshit.

The Nibiru stupid – it burns!

April 17, 2011

I was searching for a nice tutorial for my students on using Stellarium today, when I came across this youtube video:

At first I thought it might be something cute inserted by the Stellarium team – it is open source, after all, so someone may have slipped it in. But then I read the description:

…If you also want observe Nibiru, just download and install the software Stellarium ( ) and then go directly to the directory C:\Program Files\Stellarium\data, and copy/paste the information below at the end of the ssystem.ini file.

name = NIBIRU
parent = Sun
radius = 24000
oblateness = 0.0
albedo = 0.9
lighting = true
halo = true
color = 1.0,0.84,0.68
tex_map = ariel.png
tex_halo = star16x16.png
coord_func = comet_orbit
orbit_Epoch = 630033.0
orbit_MeanAnomaly = 220.0
orbit_SemiMajorAxis = 234.888999
orbit_Eccentricity = 0.991700
orbit_ArgOfPericenter = 270.0
orbit_AscendingNode = 194.5
orbit_Inclination = -145.0
sidereal_period = 1336815.0


So I ask myself, just how fucking stupid are these people? This guy adds data for a nonexistent object into the software, and then claims the output is proof of the existence of that object. And he tells you how to do it.

So just to show how utterly ludicrous this is, I give you the following screenshot from Stellarium. Proof. What more do you need?

Running the numbers on homeopathic dilution

February 13, 2011

Why do we keep saying that homeopathy is not medicine? Why do we keep saying that there is no medicine in it? Surely when you dilute something there is still some of it there. So why do skeptics insist that there is nothing?

Well, I’ll explain.

In a typical homeopathic dilution, a tiny sample of something is dissolved in water, and then 1 mL of solution is transferred to 99 mL of water (making an even 100 mL). It is mixed (well, “succussed”), and then 1 mL is transferred to another 99 mL container, and so on. This may be done 20 or 30 times.

Sure, that’s a lot of dilution, but even if you put a few drops of something in a swimming pool, there are so many atoms in a drop that any sample should contain traces of the substance, and the homeopathic dilution is, after all, only a few litres.

Well, no. Let’s do the math on this, and see what the concentration comes out to be at the end. Let’s choose something like Lithium, as it is light, and it is used as a medication (I have no idea if it is used in homeopathy, but let’s just use it as an example). Lithium has a molar mass of 6.94g, and a density of 0.53 g/mL. Let’s begin with a 1% solution (v/v), and dilute it 20 times:

1 mL of Lithium contains 4.6×10^22 atoms. That’s 4600000000000000000000 atoms. That’s a lot. When dissolved, 1 mL of that solution should contain 1/100 of that, though still 46000000000000000000 atoms. But each time we dilute it, we decrease it by a factor of 100, so with serial dilutions, we have

  1. 460000000000000000 atoms
  2. 4600000000000000 atoms
  3. 46000000000000 atoms
  4. 460000000000 atoms
  5. 4600000000 atoms
  6. 46000000 atoms
  7. 460000 atoms
  8. 4600 atoms
  9. 46 atoms
  10. 0.46 atoms
  11. 0.0046 atoms
  12. 0.000046 atoms
  13. 0.00000046 atoms
  14. 0.0000000046 atoms
  15. 0.000000000046 atoms
  16. 0.00000000000046 atoms
  17. 0.0000000000000046 atoms
  18. 0.000000000000000046 atoms
  19. 0.00000000000000000046 atoms
  20. 0.0000000000000000000046 atoms

What this means is that after only 10 dilutions there is a roughly 50:50 chance of a single atom being present, and after 20, there is a chance of 1 in 217 billion billion that there will even be one atom present. Or, put another way, it would be the same as taking one mL of a substance and dissolving it in a volume of water equivalent to a sphere over two and a half billion kilometres across, or roughly the size of the orbit of Saturn correction: with 20 dilutions the volume would be about the volume of a sphere the size of earth’s orbit. But if you add two more dilutions, that sphere expands to the orbit of Uranus. And if I’m doing my math correctly, 30 dilutions would be equivalent to dilution in a sphere 130 light years across!*

So we know that there is none of the active ingredient in homeopathic medicine, if it is in fact prepared properly. None at all. But then, homeopaths don’t claim the original substance is there – they claim the water is influenced, and retains a “memory” of the substance, and that this memory is what is amplified by the dilution. This, too, is of course utter bullshit.  This idea is born of magical wish-thinking, and is not even remotely related to reality. Water is water, and has the properties of water, not a “memory” of what was once in it.

So that’s why, when we say “there’s nothing in it”, we really mean it.

*check my math:

  • there are 10^15 cm^3 in a cubic km
  • 30 dilutions by 100 is 10^60 mL
  • which is 10^45 km^3
  • which is a sphere with radius 6.2×10^14 km, or 65 light years.

Oh yeah? So there!

January 20, 2011

Oh, what the hell. I really shouldn’t be doing this as I have actual work to do. CL Taylor (@cltaylor463) claimed to have disproven evolution several times. So I called him on it. He says

@BipedalTetrapod I just refuted your ignorant evolution-Athestic ideas in the past seven tweets

Okay then. Let’s have a look-see at the refutation, in reverse chronological order:

I have once again picked apart evolution!

Ya, ya, you said that. Butlet’s have a look

Adaptive radiation is a pipe dream develped by evolutions to justify a faulty assumption of evolution.

Um, no. Adaptive radiation is observable in the fossil record. Sorry, but “I say so” isn’t refutation.

All creatures are not perfect. Imperfections mean nothing evolution is flawed.

No. Evolution never EVER claimed creatures are perfect. Quite the opposite. Creationists do, however, so that’s a point for me.

Homology means that we have common traits with other animals but nothing more evolution is flawed

You share the same number of arms and legs and hands and feet with your siblings and cousins, yes? Are these genetic? Did you inherit those traits from a common grandparent? Or is it just chance that your whole family has the same number of fingers and toes? If these characteristics are genetic traits that are inherited from a common ancestor, then ALL organisms that share those traits inherited them from a common ancestor.

98% is not 100%.A chimp is not a human.Our DNA is so complex that we do not share a common ancestor.

Duh. If a chimp were human it wouldn’t be a chimp. DNA isn’t actually complex. It is very simple. Paired nucleotides strung together. It’s just that there are a shitload of pairs.

Life does not have a family tree evolutionist.We did not come from bacteria.

“because I say so” isn’t an argument. So, wrong.

It is impossible both mathematically&observingly for evolution to exist.

Whatever that means. Evolution is observable and has been observed (see, and mathematics is used all the time in evolution.

Since radioactive dating is inaccurate,Evolution is based on unscientific&undocumented assumptions.

Radioactive dating is quite accurate. Evolution is based on science, and always has been, whether you like it or not.

Evolutionist,still believe in the principle of superposition?

That recent strata are deposited on older strata? Duh.

Evolutionist-Calculations based on invalid assumptions always=invalid results

But calculations made repeatedly on assumptions that have been validated by umpteen different analyses from all walks of science tend to be valid. I would say, however, that Intelligent Design calculations, which are based on invalid assumptions, do lead to invalid results. So thanks for pointing that out.

There is no way for scientist to know the original amount of radioactivity in rocks when made.

Yes, there is, by looking at the quantity of the products of radioactive decay.

The earth’s rotation was stopped twice in Joshua10:13-14;II Kings20:9-11.

Gee, you got me there. Why, I must give up my atheistic evolutionist ways! No. Just kidding. Sorry, but it really wasn’t.

Only God could have designed cell differentiation so well. Random chance could not have done such.

Evolution is NOT about random chance. It is about iteration under selective pressure.

Evolution flaws-the uniqueness of DNA is so complex that it proves complex organism were made seperate&along side simple living things.

See the Chimp comment earlier. To which I will add that “It’s too complicated for me to understand so it must be false” is not a valid argument. I count 14, not 7 tweets. But anyway, let’s take a couple more:

@kaimatai It is not observable to believe in Evolution, b/c it denies the existance of God. God is the law and order in life.

So, what you are saying is, your faith is so shaky that it is threatened by actual observations of real events?

@kaimatai I find it very hypocritical that your lack of stable morality is lecturing me on your Postmodernism. Really? You are a fraud also

You want lack of stable morality? Research shows that the faithful have a wandering moral compass.

Economic argument against the woo

October 20, 2010

XKCD for the WIN: