Horizon: Homeopathy

BBC2 has just shown a most entertaining Horizon on homeopathy. It investigated the claims made by homeopathy; claims that have absolutely no scientific basis as we currently understand it.
A few months ago I read the fascinating book, Voodoo Science by Robert Park which goes through many scientific “debunks” of modern times. But he also looks carefully at homeopathy. Now until I read this book, I had no real idea about what exactly a homeopathic remedy consists of. I thought it effectively meant a herbal remedy. And since herbal rememdies have been around for time immemorial, and have over the years been shown to have active chemical ingrediants that do work, I was happy.
Reading this book, and now seeing this episode of Horizon really explains the nonsense of homeopathy. Homeopathy is based around some kind of ingredient which is said to cure the symptoms – often something that causes the symptoms in the first place. But many modern drugs effectively do this. Where homeopathy differs is in the dilution. The ingredient is diluted one hundred fold again and again, usually to levels where if you had entire seas of the resulting liquid, you wouldn’t find a single molecule of the ingredient you started with. In effect, it’s so dilute it’s simply water. If there is no molecule then how can it work? By some kind of “memory effect” within the water. But of course there is no scientific principle to back this up. The sugar pills that homeopathic remedies tend to be are covered with this water and then passed to the consumer.
Horizon ended a reasonably fair portrait of homeopathy with an experiment conducted under rigourous scrutiny with double blinds and the like, with James Randi putting up his famous $1m if the experiment proved homeopathy to work. We had interviews with both a woman who claimed homeopathy had saved her life and a vet who explained that animals could not be affected by the placebo effect – something that can and does affect humans.
The results were of course negative. Both the “active” liquid and the control had the same effects. The $1m was not awarded. But how many viewers will carry on purchasing these products?
Maybe, much as I dearly love Horizon, this sort of thing needs massive exposure on BBC1.