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Different people want different things from their medicines.

There are numerous ways to be treated medically for some ailment. Tablets and tinctures, drugs and drips, surgery and suppositories. Each has its own place and its own value, depending on the situation.

But for some people, the thing that matters most to them – the one, vitally important factor on which they base their decisions about what medicines to take – is whether or not you can safely ignore the recommended dosage limits and neck a gallon of the stuff.

Meet Mike Adams.

Although the painful degree of his misunderstanding is evident even from the headline, it takes him nearly a paragraph to get to the first significant misrepresentation in his latest article.

The 10:23 campaign recently organised its second mass “overdose” of homeopathic remedies, in which crowds of skeptics simultaneously consumed much more than the recommended amount of homeopathic sugar pills, which contain no active medical ingredients but claim to be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions.

It’s an unashamed publicity stunt, and an effective one. But despite Mike Adams’s confusion, nobody’s claiming that because you can overdose on homeopathy and not die, therefore it doesn’t “work”.

We already know it doesn’t work, because people have studied it and acquired a great deal of evidence, and the 10:23 site explains this point very clearly, for the benefit of anyone who’s noticed the pill-poppers’ gimmick and is curious as to what their point is.

But the confusion of Mike Adams runs deep. He seems to count it as the worst hypocrisy that these skeptics “wouldn’t dare” to take the same blasé approach to chugging back litres of their own “allopathic”, “scientific”, “evidenced”, “reality-based” medicines.

And when he tries to unravel the skeptics’ motivations, I haven’t seen such bizarrely tangled logic since… well, since I last noticed Mike Adams.

First, let’s get to the understanding of why the idea that you could “overdose” on homeopathic remedies is ridiculous to begin with…

These skeptics, you see, approach homeopathy as if it were a drug (because that’s all they really know). And in their world, all drugs are dangerous if you overdose on them.

Dude.

We know the idea of overdosing on homeopathy is ridiculous.

If we thought you could dangerously overdose on homeopathy by consuming a lot of it at once then we wouldn’t have had a big party where hundreds of us deliberately overdosed on homeopathy.

The reason we do this with homeopathy and not actual medicine is that actual medicine fucking does something. It has demonstrable physical effects on the body, which often aren’t desirable if you’re perfectly healthy.

His obsession with remedies so ineffective that they can never possibly do anybody any harm is quite inexplicable. Especially since his particular curative fetish drowns hundreds of people all over the world every year.

But homeopathy is safe to take even in large doses, because it has no pharmacological effects on the human body. At all. It’s just water on a sugar pill. We know you can’t overdose on it. The strap-line for the entire campaign is “THERE’S NOTHING IN IT”.

(Adams also contradicts his previous demented tirade, when he attributed to skeptics the notion that “you can take unlimited pharmaceuticals… with absolutely no health effects whatsoever!” Well, which is it – do we think that all drugs are totally harmless or that all drugs will kill you?”)

It gets possibly even weirder later on where he explains “Why I’m challenging skeptics to drink a gallon of chemotherapy”, and gleefully calls for the deaths of thousands. I have literally no idea what Mike Adams thinks “a gallon of chemotherapy” is.

And right now, I have no interest in trying to find out. I’ve got a couple of ounces of toothache, and I’m going to go and treat it with a few yards of chiropractic. I’ll be back in a volt and a half. Seeya.

Update: Steven Novella’s taken his turn at this as well. And my toothache is hours better, thankyou.

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Tragedy struck across the globe today, as members of a science-based internet cult known as 10:23 committed mass suicide, by taking overdoses of homeopathic medications.

The scheme had been orchestrated well in advance of the appointed time, with the group’s website showing a ticking clock for several weeks previously, counting down to the exact minute at which its members were instructed to swallow “an entire bottle” of the chosen remedy at once.

Over three hundred skeptical cultists are reported dead as a result.

“Dr” Manley Nacik, a homeopathic practitioner who has prescribed these alternative medications for over twenty years, was particularly saddened by this mass misjudgment, but said that perhaps now homeopathy would finally begin to find mainstream acceptance among the scientific community.

She also commented on reports that the 10:23 campaign members are, in fact, all alive and well, and were entirely unaffected by the consumption of a large number of homeopathic pills, except perhaps for a slight increase in blood-sugar levels.

“There may be some anecdotal evidence that, in fact, some of the skeptics who took part in this stunt are still alive,” she told reporters today, “but that’s all it is: anecdotal. Reports from friends and family of campaigners that they’ve been seen walking and talking as usual, and the blog posts and Twitter feeds of the skeptics’ themselves, or other members of the public who claim to have witnessed them in pubs countrywide shortly after the event, consist solely of individual eyewitness account and personal testimony. To draw any definite conclusions from such shoddy and unreliable data, and conclude that anybody is actually still alive just because they claim to be, is deeply unscientific and barely coherent.”

Fake medicine expert “Dr” Ana Dullman agreed, and stressed the importance of scientific rigour and drawing conclusions based only on the available evidence, in determining the fates of the campaign participants.

“There’s no solid evidence to suggest that anyone who took a homeopathic overdose this morning now has a metabolism statistically greater than that of a corpse,” he said. “Whereas there are already double-blind, peer-reviewed trials being published in respected academic journals indicating strongly that everyone who overdosed on homeopathy is definitely dead.”

When pressed for details, “Dr” Dullman suggested that interested parties seek confirmation of the results of these trials in the “American Journal of Mumbletymumble” and “The New *cough*cough* Times”.

Meanwhile, regular updates are appearing on the 10:23 event website itself, including numerous photos and videos purporting to depict the overdosers in a state of inexplicable continued good health.

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In precisely 12 hours from the time this post should go up, several hundred people in groups around the UK will each pop a whole bottle of pills bought from a high street chemist.

The 10:23 event is nearly upon us.

Okay, fine, homeopaths are saying that you wouldn’t expect anything to happen in reaction to an overdose like this, because of some even weirder mechanism than the already bizarre way homeopathy is supposed to work.

Sure, whatever, they’re not doing a double-blinded placebo-controlled randomised clinical trial.

That’s not the point.

The campaigners have never claimed to be doing a scientific experiment here. What they’re doing is addressing the fact that many people don’t have sufficient information to make a reasonable, critical judgment of some of the remedies on offer on pharmacy shelves. Remedies with no proven benefits, and no active ingredients. A lot of people really don’t know what homeopathy is, and think it’s probably something herbal, or natural, or organic, or free of any of those nasty pharmaceutical chemicals. And, well, they’re kinda right on that last point. A standard homeopathic solution is free of all chemicals. At least, those that aren’t found naturally in any clean water.

So yes, it’s a stunt. It’s about grabbing attention, and making some noise through the media. And it’s working pretty well. There have been articles recently in the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, Mail, and Times, and many more.

Now, this might sound like something that the skeptical movement has often criticised quacks and pseudo-scientists for in the past. And, well, it’s not far off. One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is doing “science by press conference”, where discoveries or products are announced through an attention-grabbing media event, rather than going through the usual scientific channels of hypothesis testing, peer review, and all the rest. When someone gets a big media circus going to hype their promised free energy device, say, but hasn’t yet got the scientifically published evidence to back up what they’re claiming about it, they’re often taken to task by the same sort of people engaging in the 10:23 campaign tomorrow.

The difference is that that criticism is generally levelled at corporations or pseudo-scientists with a particular (often financial) incentive, who use glitzy spectacle and encourage people to roll up to witness their amazing breakthrough thingumabob instead of testing the thing and proving that they have a point before they start taking people’s money. The 10:23 campaign, on the other hand, is being organised by a group of concerned amateurs, with no financial incentive to do what they’re doing (and holy FSM am I ever tired of the phrase “pharma shill” from idiotic overuse by now), who are organising a big media event to supplement the science that’s already been done, not to replace it entirely.

There is no plausible way that homeopathy could be more effective than placebo. The proposed mechanism is completely at odds with just about everything else we think we know about how chemistry works. Repeated tests of homeopathy do not confirm that the knowledge accumulated from centuries of research across many different disciplines needs to be thrown out the window.

There’s nothing in it.

And despite what some of its detractors (and some perhaps poorly worded news headlines) are saying, the 10:23 campaign isn’t trying to prove this; it’s only trying to bring to people’s attention what’s already proven to science’s satisfaction.

A couple of days ago someone started a fun hashtag game on Twitter, coming up with new #homeopathyslogans. I’ll leave you with a few I came up with.

Homeopathy: Because water’s complicated enough.
Homeopathy: Safer than mainstream medicine, back when they used leeches and hacksaws.
Homeopathy: Do you love anyone enough to give them your last placebo?
Homeopathy: Does exactly what it says on a blank, unlabelled tin.
Homeopathy: It’s probably quantum.
Homeopathy: The theory with the hole.

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At the same time as it’s being ridiculed as a pointless stunt, the 10:23 campaign has prompted an entire backlash website of its own, at 1023homeopathy.org.uk.

It’s not a very good website.

One post in particular caught my eye today, thanks to @giagia and @Crispian_Jago, among the many others who’ve kept my Twitter feed busy lately with more #ten23 news and gossip than I know what to do with. I know I’ve been railing on homeopathy a lot lately, but I’m not bored of it yet, and this is my blog, so you’ll have to play along.

Possibly the thing that most annoys me about the anti-campaign blog is the poor quality of the writing. In their description of the 10:23 event:

They are going to “prove” that there is nothing in homeopathy by “taking a whole bottle of homeopathic pills” (very scientific eh).

See, they’re not even trying to make that parenthetical syntactically coherent. But another contender for the most annoying thing about this blog might be the quality of the research. First of all, on the issue of whether there is literally “nothing in” homeopathy, it’s simply a mathematical fact that no active ingredient remains in a typical homeopathically diluted solution – even homeopaths don’t deny this.

But the phrase “nothing in it” can also be taken idiomatically, as an assertion that there’s no value to it, because it doesn’t work. And although this is something that the 10:23 campaign uses in their slogan, and claims to be true, they’ve never said that the group overdose event is going to prove this fact.

I assume this blogger put “prove” in quotes like that because he thinks it implies sarcasm, because he’s certainly not actually quoting the campaign’s own statements about their aim. What the campaign actually says is:

At 10:23am on January 30th, more than three hundred homeopathy sceptics nationwide will be taking part in a mass homeopathic ‘overdose’ in protest at Boots’ continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them.

“Raising awareness” has always been what it’s about, which is why it’s so funny when detractors accuse it of being a publicity stunt. Yeah, no shit. We know homeopathy is bunk because of science. This campaign is not doing science. It’s doing something noticeable to try and get people to understand the science that’s already been done.

From the woo-blog:

This will once and for all prove there is nothing in homeopathic remedies…or is it?

I know I’ve already argued against this point, I just love how the rhetorical question at the end completely fails to match up with the rest of the sentence… or did I?

Anyway, it then goes on to explain why the 10:23 campaign is so ill-conceived. Apparently those pesky skeptics who think they’re “proving” all sorts of things (they may not have ever claimed it, but you can tell they’re thinking it) would see how wrong-headed they are if they took the time to understand how homeopathy works.

Homeopathic remedies will only have an effect if you are susceptible to them… If you are not susceptible to it, the remedy will not act upon you. This is a basic principle of homeopathy, and what makes it so individualised to the person…

Homeopaths talk a lot about this, that their alternative treatments are specifically tailored to the individual patient, something that mainstream medicine apparently never does. But the focus of the campaign, as mentioned earlier, is that the pharmacy chain Boots currently mass-markets generic homeopathic treatments on their shelves, which anyone can just go in and pick up. They aren’t individually tailored at all. So surely this blogger should be entirely with the 10:23 campaign on this point? At the very least, he’s failed to respond to what they’re trying to do.

Taking one remedy at a time is the same as taking a whole bottle (with potencies beyond 12C). Of course the denialists know this point, and that’s why they know they will be safe in taking the whole bottle as it is the same as taking one pill.

They do know they’ll be safe, but not for the reason you think.

This was actually new to me before I started reading the counter-attacks to 10:23. Apparently taking just one pill has an identical effect to taking a whole bottle (with certain potencies), because they both equate to taking one dose. But doesn’t that mean that you could get the same effect from taking less than one pill? Couldn’t you chop up the pills into smaller fragments before taking them, thus giving yourself many times more doses than you paid for? There’s just as much active ingredient in one flake from a pill as there is in the whole bottle, after all, so one bottle full of pills could last for ages.

I can’t make any sense of this. I’m not aware of any actual medicines that work this way. You don’t see over-the-counter painkillers with labels saying “Hey, take as much as you want, it’s the same as taking just one.” Why would this be true for homeopathy? Well, it’s their magic, let them make it up however they want to. But it’s clear that they’ve just had to find some way of rationalising the fact that it’s apparently impossible to overdose on their sugar pills.

Oh, there is actually an answer to the question of why it would work this way: apparently “this is what homeopaths have found”. Hmm. They’ve found that whether people take one pill, or a whole bottle, the outcome is the same. I think I’m seeing a different obvious explanation than they did.

Also, this still misses the point that it’s a publicity stunt. The 10:23 campaigners are not doing a scientific test here. Those have been done, and you guys lost. Repeatedly. You can’t now complain that they’re doing the attention-grabbing gimmick wrong.

I won’t go through the whole next section of bullshit with a fine-tooth comb, but it’s a typically wacky explanation of what homeopaths call “provings”. You might expect these “provings” to actually prove something, but don’t hold your breath.

In a “proving”, you give a homeopathic treatment to somebody in good health, and watch to see what symptoms they become ill with. Seriously. This is how they decide what disease a homeopathic treatment will cure – give it to someone healthy, and see what disease it looks like they get.

Guys. The universe does not work like this. Magic works like this, and to the best of our knowledge the universe is not fucking magic.

This is also something you don’t see much of in science-based medicine. See, actual doctors have a different way of deciding whether a treatment cures a disease, which involves giving the treatment to people with the disease and seeing if they get better. It’s a radical notion, but goshdarnit if there isn’t some actual sense to it.

Oh god, am I still ranting? Surely that’s quite enough of me.

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So, the 10:23 campaign to inform the public about homeopathy rumbles on.

There were three points of action in this week’s update email (which you can subscribe to here if you’re not already getting it).

1. They’ve got a flyer (PDF link) which you can print off and distribute, containing all the fundamental information about what homeopathy actually is. I may try leaving the occasional copy in the printer at work and see if it gets noticed.

2. They recommend writing an email to the pharmacist Boots (if you’re in the UK), and provide a suggested form letter, asking for details about how much active ingredient exists in a given homeopathic remedy sold there. I’m planning to stop by my local branch sometime this week and see if they have anything on their shelves that I can question them about specifically. From the responses other people seem to be getting to this kind of question, it’s clear that some people selling these remedies don’t understand how homeopathy works (and are under the impression that there’s something other than water in a 30C solution), and some neither know nor care as long as there’s money in it.

3. There’s also a petition to the UK PM, which you can sign if you’re a British citizen or resident, asking that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) be tasked with evaluating whether the NHS should fund homeopathic treatments, or whether there might be some other, better use for several million pounds somewhere in the field of medicine. Sign here. Boom. Done. Mine is signature number 324. As I type this, there’s still time for you to be number 325.

On a partially related note, what’s the deal with George Vithoulkas? The grubbier parts of the internets are abuzz with gossip about Randi unfairly backing out of testing this guy’s mad homeopathic skillz for the $1 million challenge, but I haven’t really heard anything about this from the skeptics’ side, and couldn’t find much except this brief commentary from Randi in October 2008. Is it old news being stirred up for no good reason? His name is nowhere to be found in the log of applicants for the challenge, that I can see. What’s going on here? I feel on fairly safe ground deciding that this guy’s a kook, but I don’t want to rush to judgment on the propriety of his or Randi’s behaviour when I can’t figure out who did what.

The big facilitated communication post I’ve been promised for ages is coming soon, hopefully tomorrow. Honest.

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That’s the slogan of the 10:23 campaign, which aims to “raise awareness about the reality of homeopathy”, and now has an ominous-looking clock on its front page, counting down to some looming deadline.

I’m still in partial agreement with Le Canard Noir and his suggestion for an alternative tag-line, but I suppose somebody at campaign HQ must have decided that “It’s just water for fuck’s sake” might not have sent the kind of accessible, educational vibe they were looking for.

Anyway, they’re currently asking people to sign their open letter to Alliance Boots, the leading pharmacy chain in the UK, expressing the Merseyside Skeptics Society’s displeasure at seeing unproven and unscientific homeopathic remedies promoted on the shelves alongside actual medicines. So, go do that.

I’ve already written a Skeptictionary post summing up homeopathy itself, so I’ll direct you there rather than revisiting it all here if you want an explanation as to why this campaign is a good thing, and broadening people’s understanding of what homeopathy actually is is valuable and important.

They seem to have big plans for the next few weeks, and although I’ve no idea what they are yet I’ll be watching with interest. The Twitter hashtag #ten23 is worth following for more of this.

So, yeah. I should have something of more substance to say for myself soon, but I’m remembering my resolution and not pushing it.

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