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Cheers - AE

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Here's the science bit.

Numbers can be dull as shite, and when they get too big they can start to become unwieldy and difficult to wrap your head around. National debt? Well, it's turned into a number between one and ten with a lot of zeroes behind it, isn't it?* One of the things I've admired on other blogs is the imaginative way in which some bloggers have tackled the numbers to make them more user friendly, and so we have things expressed in terms of things like how many tons of £50 notes or how many years would be needed to burn a certain amount of money every day to reach the same sum. Still mind boggling but you can at least picture it. But even so there are some things where even this approach hits the buffers. Homeopathy, for example.
I have just purchased a packet of Boots-brand 84 arnica homeopathic 30C Pills for £5.09, which Boots proudly claim is only 6.1p per pill. Their in-store advice tells me that arnica is good for treating “bruising and injuries”, which gives the impression that this is a very cost-effective health-care option.

Unlike most medication, it didn’t list the actual dose of the active ingredient that each pill contains, so I checked the British Homeopathic Association website. On their website it nonchalantly states that to make a homeopathic remedy, they start with the active ingredient and then proceed to dilute it to 1 per cent concentration. Then they dilute that new solution again, so there is now only 0.01 per cent of the original ingredients. For my 30C pills this diluting is repeated thirty times, which means that the arnica is one part in a million billion billion billion billion billion billion.

The arnica is diluted so much that there is only one molecule of it per 7 million billion billion billion billion pills.

It’s hard to comprehend numbers that large.
You're not kidding. How about making it easier on the brain then?
If you were to buy that many pills from Boots, it would cost more than the gross domestic product of the UK.
Okay, we've reached meaningless pretty early and we're only able to get it down to GDP of a major economy?
It’s more than the gross domestic product of the entire world.
Ah. Fuck.
Since the dawn of civilisation. If every human being since the beginning of time had saved every last penny, denarius and sea-shell, we would still have not saved-up enough to purchase a single arnica molecule from Boots.
Then the process of consuming enough pills to get that one molecule also boggles the mind.
Oooooh, I'm not sure, but you can try me.
You can try imagining Wembley Stadium completely filled with people, all drinking pints of medicine at the rate of two an hour. For just one of these people to eventually consume one molecule, you would need a million Wembley Stadiums all at full capacity with people who have drinking pints constantly since the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago.
Number too big again.
Oh, and you’d need 737 million such Earths.
To put homeopathy in a medicinal context, if you wanted to consume a normal 500mg paracetamol dose you would need ten million billion homeopathic pills. Where each pill is the same mass as the Milky Way galaxy. There is actually not enough matter in the entire known Universe to make the homeopathic equivalent of a single paracetamol pill.
Fuuuuuuuck. See what I mean? Normally when someone wants to talk about massive quantities or sizes of things they reach for London buses or jumbo jets or Eiffel Towers. This guy's using fucking galaxies and the universe... and it's not enough. Holy shit!
Homeopathy is actually based on 18th century wishful thinking that water will somehow remember substances that it had previous contact with (but will forget the countless effluent that it has passed through). That a 10 billion year old water molecule will remember everything it has touched flies in the face of all known science and is an insult to any thinking person.

... at least snake-oil has the decency to contain some snake.
Mate, why didn't you just start with that? Alternatively, here's Dara O'Briain on the subject.

* And there are a lot of zeroes behind it in more ways than one, buduhm tish.
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