A test of homoeopathy for homoeopathy awareness month

Posted Apr 21, 2010 by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
April is homoeopathy awareness month. For the occasion, a test of homoeopathy by the BBC's Horizon has been made available on YouTube. The test failed. Utterly. However, the video contains information that is not widely known. A must-see.
The American Institute for the destruction of tooth fairy science
The programme starts by explaining the basic principles of homoeopathy.
The principle of like cures like
A disease is cured by administering a product that causes -in a healthy person- the same symptoms as experienced by the person who is ill. Dr. Peter Fisher tells us that onions (Allium cepa) are used for colds and hay fever because both cause streaming eyes and nose and sneezing.
Serial dilution
The more a homoeopathic remedy is diluted, the more effective it becomes, provided it is done in a special way. 1 drop of a remedy is diluted in 99 drops of water and vigorously shaken (1C dilution). Of this dilution, 1 drop is taken and diluted again, in 99 drops of water and vigorously shaken (2C dilution). This is done a number of times, the most typical dilution being 30C. This is way beyond the point where a single molecule of the original substance is still present in the dilution.
This makes no sense whatsoever, and science therefore rejects this principle. In comes Jacques Benveniste, a French researcher. He claimed that he had found evidence that homoeopathy works after all. It seemed that water had a memory of active ingredients that were no longer present.
In order to get his results published in the prestigious journal Nature, he had to accept an inspection by a team from the journal. The team consisted of then-editor Sir John Maddox, scientific fraud investigator Walter Stewart and professional skeptic James Randi.
The team discovered that there was no effect whatsoever and Jacques Benveniste's reputation was ruined. However, this did not stop the resurgence of homoeopathy. How could so many millions of people still believe in it? The explanation lies in the placebo effect, the bizarre phenomenon that medicines that contain no active ingredient whatsoever can still have an effect in a patient.
Pharmacological researcher Madeleine Ennis did report similar results as Jacques Benveniste, and this led to the investigation that is reported in this programme.
The James Randi Educational Foundation has promised to pay one million dollars to anyone who can show that homoeopathy works. Nobody has applied. Therefore, Horizon decided to take the plunge and try to win the prize.
Horizon asked some of the leading scientists in their field to conduct an experiment in as rigorous a way as possible. They will repeat Madeleine Ennis' experiment and see if there is indeed such a thing as water memory.
In order to do the experiment, two solutions are prepared: a homoeopathic one with histamine and one that contains only water as a control. These are diluted a few times until a 5C solution is reached. The tubes are then relabelled in order to obscure whether they are homoeopathic tubes or controls. The code is then sealed.
After this, the tubes are diluted further and recoded. A laboratory then tests the tubes on living human cells to see if there is any activity. This is done in parallel by another laboratory as well, just to be sure.
Once the test results are in, all the participants come together to tally up the results and decode the tubes. The test turns out to be a total failure. Water does not have a memory. That puts homoeopathy back where it started: without a credible mechanism.
Science is confident, however: homoeopathy is impossible.