Two months ago, my colleague Ron Lindsay wrote a Free Thinking blog entry about a statement CFI issued with its sister organization, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, against Wal-Mart’s sale and marketing of the homeopathic flu “remedy” Boiron Oscillococcinum.
CFI supporters and the public are now invited to join the leading scientists and physicians who have signed CFI and CSI’s statement (including 2009 Chemistry Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, science author and critic Simon Singh, and many others). Add your name today by clicking here .
As Ron Lindsay noted in his blog entry, there is no credible scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of Boiron Oscillococcinum beyond what is expected from the placebo effect. The product’s alleged active ingredient consists of mere liquefied duck liver and duck heart, substances early 20th century homeopaths thought contained a nonexistent bacterium they dubbed “oscillococci.” Moreover, Boiron Oscillococcinum’s homeopathic preparation requires repeatedly diluting the “active ingredient” in water until the odds that the solution contains even a single molecule of it are effectively zero.
In other words, Boiron is making money from customers by selling an impotent cold remedy that is diluted away to nothingness. And Wal-Mart is helping them to do so.
Among its many claims, Wal-Mart’s web site, www.walmart.com, states that Boiron Oscillococcinum is to be used ” for flu-like symptoms. ” The website also features an image of the product’s package, which indicates that the product “Reduces [the] Duration and Severity of Flu Symptoms,” including “Fever, Chills, Body Aches and Pains.” Wal-Mart’s website contains further assurances that the products it sells will help customers fight colds and the flu. Wal-Mart customers are purchasing Boiron Oscillococcinum based on Wal-Mart’s assurances.
Oscillococcinum is modern-day snake oil. Tests have shown repeatedly that homeopathic remedies have no greater effect than placebos. Like all homeopathic remedies, Boiron Oscillococcinum is based on a set of bizarre superstitions invented by the homeopath Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. Hahnemann taught that any substance that causes symptoms in healthy individuals can treat the same symptoms in sick patients, if administered in small amounts. In addition, Hahnemann thought that diluting his so-called treatments in water would make them stronger .
Diluting a homeopathic solution in water by a factor of 100 produces what homeopaths call a “1C” solution. Diluting the already-diluted solution yet again by a factor of 100 produces a “2C” solution, which is diluted by a factor of 10,000. According to homeopaths, the higher the C-factor, the stronger the homeopathic remedy.
Hence Boiron Oscillococcinum’s proud claim that its preparation is “200C,” meaning that duck liver and heart has been diluted in water by a factor of 100, 200 times over .
To put this number in perspective, consider the following: to consume even one molecule of “active ingredient” when ingesting a (far less dilute) “30C” homeopathic remedy, a patient would need to swallow a sphere of solution with a diameter equal to the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
This leads me to worry about my own health. I am suffering from a head cold at the moment, but have not ingested single bit of Boiron Oscillococcinum to treat it. Under the principles of homeopathy, I may be in danger of an overdose.