A guest post by Rob Hinkley.
One thing which genuinely impresses me is the variety of materials from which homeopaths make their remedies. Roadkill badger, the south pole of a magnet, a stone circle, plutonium and light from the planet Venus have all been given a good diluting and tested or used as homeopathic remedies.
Not just any water, but water freshly produced by combining hydrogen with oxygen. This is perhaps somehow different from all the other water in the universe which instead consists of hydrogen combined with oxygen.
The newly produced water was carefully mixed with alcohol and repeatedly diluted with more water and alcohol – shaking vigorously at each stage – until long after none of the original water remained. This resulting mixture is the remedy to be tested.
As this is homeopathy the remedy has to be given a sciencey Latin name, in this case Aqua Nova, “new water”, to distinguish the water it doesn’t contain anymore from other kinds of water.
To test its effects thirteen healthy people each took a single dose and then noted any symptoms they experienced for the next couple of months. In this context, “symptoms” is a very broad net which includes dreams and thoughts or feelings as well as the mundanely physical. Because this is a scientific enterprise, one person (prover 14, or “14P” in the symptom notes) didn’t take the remedy and also participated.
So what happened? Eight of the “provers” had headaches at least once in a two month period, including the person who didn’t take any Aqua Nova. Five of them, including the person who didn’t take any Aqua Nova, felt some discomfort of the teeth or gums at least once. A couple of them noticed their food or drink tasting really salty once or twice. Some of them had to strain to do a poo and one of them did a notably lengthy wee. One person “[coughed] up a small amount of green phlegm”. And so on.
Mercifully for all concerned the “Hiccough, Belching, Nausea & Vomiting” section of the report remained empty.
Perhaps most bafflingly, prover number 6 is female but in an an interview six months after taking the remedy reported “Redness of scrotum (sustained)”. I have no idea whether this an administrative error in noting who reported what, or a powerful homeopathic effect with which I am unfamiliar.
On the sturdy foundation of this litany of pains, itches, farts and strange dreams homeopaths decide when to prescribe Aqua Nova to people who are ill. Aqua Nova can be bought from Helios Homeopathic Pharmacy where £4.35 gets you a 4g bottle of sugar pills into which a couple of drops of the diluted liquid have been dripped before the bottle was given a good hard shake.
Rob Hinkley writes software for a living and sometimes looks at pseudoscience for fun and a sinking feeling of sick despair. He tweets very occaisonally posts stuff at semiskimmed dot net.