People who know about me within the skeptical community know that I am no friend of homeopathy. However, there are some cases where the sheer stupidity of an idea can limit the damage that it can cause.
I am not even entirely sure where I came across this MSc thesis entitled “A homoeopathic drug proving of the ivory of the male African elephant (Loxodonta africana) with a subsequent comparison to the doctrine of signature” but it was too good not to share with the world. It is great for a number of reasons:
Offering a course in homeopathy
It is a Masters thesis. Admittedly, it is a “Masters of Technology: Homeopathy” course, but still… The fact remains that this is a postgraduate course run by what I presume is a reputable institution: the Durban Institute of Technology. The Faculty of Health Sciences at DIT proudly proclaims on its website “Our facilities are top notch and include a state-of-the-art dental technology laboratory, and fully functional top notch homoeopathy, chiropractic, somatology, radiography, primary health and community nursing clinics to serve our communities.” Clearly full of woo. In fact, the homeopaths get an entire DEPARTMENT to themselves! I honestly have no clue what goes on in there…
A homeopathic proving
The second great thing about this thesis is that it is a contemporary example of a phenomenon that I have only ever heard about either from history books or in skeptical parodies: the homeopathic proving. What this essentially involves is the recruitment of healthy subjects who are then given 30CH dilutions of a substance. For those of you not familiar with homeopathic medicines, a 30CH dilution is 1 part “mother tincture” diluted with in 100 parts alcohol or water. This is then repeated 30 times by taking 1 part of the resulting dilution and diluting it again and again. By the time you get to the 12th dilution, you do not have anything left of the mother tincture. It’s just water. In fact, to actually make a 30CH dilution you would simply take one molecule of whatever is being diluted and toss it into a container of water more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the earth. So the proving involves giving healthy people water.
The participants keep a journal in which they record any symptoms they feel for one week before the administering of the “drug” and then begin again one week after. They continued to record symptoms until they stopped and then then for two weeks after the last sign of symptoms. I suggest that everybody go and read chapter 4 of the thesis, which contains the recorded symptoms that were reported by the participants. Here are a few choice examples:
- “Strange kind of cold and callous ideas. E.g. saw a beggar limping up the road on my side of the road towards me while driving. I thought after passing him of swerving my vehicle into him and knocking him over. Something like in a zombie movie. I was quite surprised at my thought. I did not feel the impulse or drive to do it so much as imagined it. No passion or anger involved. Quite a cold and distant thought.”
- “I am angry for no real reason. Took great offence when someone told me that my skirt looked old fashion (it’s supposed to look like that, old is in fashion). I wanted to shout and curse at him. What does he know anyway? Yet I suppressed it. The worst part of this anger is not being able to express it. I feel it would be better if I shouted and cried, but I don’t and I can’t.”
- [As part of a dream journal] “We were out casts from a catastrophe world war holocaust type of situation. Earlier in the dream before being separated heard machine gun fire. I was happy because I thought the enemy where being attacked but the fire was directed at us in a type of non lethal way to drive us out of the desired area. There was not enough space for our group to be saved into a safe zone. We had to go back into a deserted city area with no load and try to survive. The danger was hungry dogs that we needed to protect ourselves from. We climbed a tall block of flats to the very top of the lift or stair well and proceeded to block the way down so the dogs could not get through. Our materials to do so seem very limited to me. There are spaces where the dogs can get through. Maybe by repeating the methods of barrier creation there will eventually be an impenetrable barrier.”
The thesis concludes that “The results of this proving indicated that Loxodonta africana has the potential to be a valuable remedy in homoeopathic practice. Proving signs and symptoms revealed that the remedy could be indicated for mental and emotional conditions as well as a variety of physical diseases.” Since the 30CH dilution actually involves no elephants whatsoever at least the homeopaths are doing less harm than Traditional Chinese Medicine (but more on that another time…).
A more serious conclusion
Seriously, though… I challenge any reasonable health practitioner to read the kind of drivel that is found in that thesis and defend the therapy. This is what homeopathy is! We skeptics struggle to make jokes about it that are more ridiculous than what actually goes on at Homeopathy HQ! The fact that this is the standard of clinical evidence that is required for homeopathic medicines to be stocked on shelves, paid for by taxpayer money and granted drug identification numbers is utterly absurd and something needs to be done about it.