Monday, October 13, 2008

The physics (or chemistry) of homeopathy

Got invited to an interesting lecture this past Friday given by the Amazing Randi. It was a last minute thing, and of course since i didn't have anything better to do, I thought I'd join the nerds for what seemed to be at least an interesting lecture. First, you'd be amazed at how many nerds showed up (including me). Definitely, SRO.

The Amazing Randi is a sceptic and famous debunker of spiritualists. This includes those Sunday morning faith healers as well as new age healers etc. Unfortunately, most of the lecture consisted of his old Johnny Carson tracks. But that doesn't mean you couldn't learn something. For instance, he pointed out that some famous marketing products make such ridiculous claims that he couldn't understand how the average educated person (high school by the way) would fall for them. For instance, he pulled out a advertisement for shoes with magnets in the soles to help the wearer with circulation (since Iron is a metal, the magnet pulls the iron in the blood and helps circulations). There was something about unipolar magnets in the ad and the Amazing Randi rightly pointed out that such a thing existed, it would win the noble prize (once again high school physics, no magnet can be unipolar).

The most interesting part of the lecture had to do with homeopathy and actually analyzing the claims. The idea behind homeopathy is that you can cure an ailment by giving a small dosage of the cause of the ailment. For instance (e.g. by Randi) homeopathic sleeping pills are made with caffeine. But as the Amazing Randi pointed out, based on the dilution used, if you calculate the molar properties, you would find that you would need to take about 1,000,000 homeopathic pills before you even managed to potentially ingest even one molecule of caffeine.

Hurray, for science.

No comments: