The Amazing Meeting 2014

Like it? Share it!

Sign up for news and updates!






Enter word seen below
Visually impaired? Click here to have an audio challenge played.  You will then need to enter the code that is spelled out.
Change image

CAPTCHA image
Please leave this field empty

Login Form



Quacking Like a Duck PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

duckOne of the oft heard complaints about modern medicine is that it's dominated by "big pharma," that is greedy, soulless corporations who lie to us and suppress less expensive and more effective treatments for monetary gain. While it's true that corporations are out for monetary gain, and there have been irregularities as with any big business, let's take a look at the pot that's calling the kettle greedy here.

Consider a single product: Oscillococcinum.

Their site never actually says that the "FDA regulated drug" does anything... really, read carefully. It doesn't. They do claim it is a "Flu Medicine." And they claim studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing flu symptoms. We'll save examining the studies for another time, for the purpose of this article, let's focus on the ingredients.

Pharmaceuticals such as Tamiflu and Zithromax are tested for years before they're released to the public. Teams of chemists, lawyers, doctors, nurses, clinical researches, and study subjects go over every conceivable side effect or quality control issue before the drug is released to the market. These procedures cost an incredibly large amount of money, and while it may, in fact, be ridiculous to charge $5 for a pill, there is at least some basis for them being expensive. Part of that basis, is that they have active ingredients.

Not so for Oscilloccinum.

Each capsule is 1 gram, and it contains a 200X preparation of muscovy duck heart and liver, .15g of lactose (milk sugar), and .85g of sucrose (table sugar). For those unwilling to do math, the sugars add up to 1.00g. Er.. where's the duck liver? Well, a 200x preparation of anything is past Avogadro's limit. It's chemically impossible for there to be even one molecule of duck liver in an Oscilloccinum capsule. That means... there is exactly no duck liver in it. In fact, it's a capsule of sugar, more suited for sweetening tea than reducing your flu symptoms. The tea might help though.

What does the company have to say about this? Gina Casey, manufacturer Boiron's spokesman says "Of course it's safe: there's nothing in it."

So how much is this product that's basically less than 1¢ worth of sugar? $21.59 will buy you 6 dosages, which are to be taken up to three times a day. At $3.60 a capsule, that's a pretty tidy profit, wouldn't you say? Oh, I failed to mention... it's available in over 50 countries.

I was in a "health" food store today, and their very prominent displays of Oscillococcinum were nearly depleted. Why? Fear of H1N1 or "Swine Flu." Not even Boiron says the stuff will do anything to prevent the flu, but people are buying it in droves.

Greed did someone say? I'd say selling something with no active ingredients is the very definition of greed. In fact, there's another word for it: snake oil. Maybe we can find some tar to go with all those duck feathers their factories must produce. Oh wait, never mind. A single duck would have provided far more than enough liver and heart for every single capsule ever made. And it would still be quacking to boot, just like the people who promote this stuff.

Trackback(0)
Comments (44)Add Comment
So...
written by Dooyoowoowoo, May 07, 2009
...what exactly is duck heart and liver suppossed to do for flu? Just plain quackers!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +5
...
written by cosmoscott, May 07, 2009
Just a slight nitpick:
".15mg of lactose (milk sugar), and .85mg of sucrose (table sugar). For those unwilling to do math, the sugars add up to 1g."
.15 mg and .85 mg adds up to 1.00 mg not 1.00 g...
Otherwise great post...

EDITED BY JEFFWAGG: Valid enough complaint that I changed it. Thanks!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by Cian, May 07, 2009
... had an infuriating conversation last week with a generally sceptical, atheist friend of mine who claims some homeopathic hangover pill works on him. No matter what i said (including - IT DOESN'T CONTAIN ANY ACTIVE INGREDIENTS FOR IT TO WORK ON YOU & BUYING BAGS OF SUGAR AT THAT PRICE MAY PREVENT HANGOVERS, AS YOU'D SOON HAVE NO MONEY FOR DRINK) ... cut no ice with him. Its particularily galling when the person isn't a woo-woo merchant but places personal experience above scientific fact smilies/angry.gif ..... how frustrating! where's that Horizon documentary when you need it!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +7
I think there's a word...
written by Griz, May 07, 2009
...a psychological term for someone who percieves benefit from something because they paid a lot of money for it. I tried to make the same to a friend of mine who got sucked into Scientology. I told him straight out, these people are not doing anything for you, but you feel better because you're paying large sums of money for the service. You can guess how that went over.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +10
@ Griz
written by Cian, May 07, 2009
... not great i can imagine! its so difficult trying to help in that situation. It is such a minefield trying to point that stuff out without seeming like you're questioning their intelligence. At least it is better than doing/saying nothing
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +3
Cian
written by Griz, May 07, 2009
I was young and I thought then that you could reason people out of their beliefs. The irony was that I was involved at the time with a church that was just as ludicrous as Scientology which no one could have reasoned me out of at the time. However I did eventually reason myself out of it and through that realized that you can make the information available but no one gives up their closely held beliefs while under attack. They have to come to that point on their own time in their own way.

The followup irony is that, on the rare occasion I still get in contact with this individual, he is even more heavily involved in scientology than he once was and when we talk he spends the entire conversation attacking my religion, or what he thinks is my religion based on what little he knew 20 years ago. If my attempts to explain to him that I don't see things that way any more were ever successful, I doubt we'd have anything at all to talk about smilies/smiley.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +7
And another thing
written by zoute drop, May 07, 2009
This doesn't even follow the rules for homeopathy, because eating duck liver and heart doesn't give you flu-like symptoms.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +7
Boiron
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 07, 2009
What puzzles me, is that Boiron somehow manages to be less profitable than "Big Pharma". It makes no sense whatsoever, but there it is.

One horrible thing about homeopathy is that, to my utter astonishment, some doctors are actually buying into this stuff.

I encourage anyone to read Hahnemann's Organon of homeopathy, the "Bible" of homeopathy. It is a terrible book. Even distinguished Pigasus winner Kevin Trudeau does not dare to be as negative about medicine as Hahnemann. It is boring to the extreme and goes on, page after page after page after page, ranting about how horrible conventional medicine is.

The interesting thing is that he was right. In Hahnemann's day, medicine was not entirely benign, to put it mildly. By providing a non-treatment, Hahnemann was likely at a serious advantage. Most homeopaths seem stuck in that time and have failed to update their knowledge. How do we know that modern medicine is better? Simple: our life expectancy at birth has doubled since modern medicine came into being, in spite of the fact that homeopathy all but disappeared in that period.

What puzzles me is that doctors, who get a fairly solid scientific basis during their studies, are still able to buy into this stuff. It not only puzzles me, it worries me greatly, and I find that I have to continuously remind myself of the fact that the probability that modern medicine will extend my life is a lot higher than the probability that homeopathy and other forms of quackery will do so, because it fills me with horror and fear.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +7
Griz, that word you are looking for...
written by gebobs, May 07, 2009
Two actually..."placebo effect"

The Skeptics Guide 5x5 featured this recently. The perceived price (all you have to do is tell people it's expensive) can bolster the placebo effect. Also, administering while wearing a white lab coat. For pills, color, size and quantity (two are better than one) contribute.

It's all based on the power of suggestion. Some people are more prone to suggestion than others. There was a study done back in the 50's that estimated that 35% of the population are prone to experience the placebo effect. They are also prone to fantasy and more readily hypnotized (which kind of supports the contention that hypnotism is entirely placebo).
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
For the non-chemists out here...
written by jamesernst, May 07, 2009
What is a 200X preparation?
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by Squid, May 07, 2009
Jamesernest, I'm with you... what, exactly, is a 200X preparation? 200X of what? MG? G? Inches?

Squid
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
200X
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 07, 2009
In homeopathy, the active substance must be diluted. Hahnemann used successive dilutions of 1/100, but this is now often replaced by successive dilutions of 1/10:

A. You take 1 part of the active substance and mix it thoroughly (succussing is the homeopathic term used - we say "shaking") with 9 parts water and/or alcohol. This is a 1X dilution.

B. Take 1 part of the solution and mix it thoroughly with 9 parts water and/or alcohol. You now have a 2X solution.

Repeat step 2 198 times. You now have a 200X solution.

This dilution is so enormous, that the chances that even a single molecule of the active substance would still be present in a single dose are astronomically small. You are effectively drinking pure water, or -if the solution has been used to impregnate lactose pellets- lactose.

This made still some of type of sense in Hahnemann's time (Hahnemann is the creator of this crackpot idea) because they had still not discovered the atom and the molecule. It no longer makes sense now.

Homeopaths now claim that you have to go "beyond chemistry" and that there is some type of memory effect. As Peter Fisher, director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, says: nobody knows the structure of liquid water. He is right: it doesn't have one. That's why it's a liquid.

James Randi helped expose homeopathy for the quackery it is in co-operation with the sadly recently deceased John Maddox, the eminent editor of Nature magazine, the world's most respected (and quite expensive) scientific journal. In other words: homeopathy does not have any reasonable theoretical basis and, rather more importantly, it does not work.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +13
Thank you!
written by jamesernst, May 07, 2009
So what we have is 1*10^(-200) percentage of liver in the sugar? Ok, even I can eat that much chicken liver.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +4
200X of what? MG? G? Inches?
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 07, 2009
The unit doesn't matter. Hahnemann used drops, but you can just as well use buckets. What counts is not so much the original quantity as the dilution.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
...
written by jez, May 07, 2009
One of the referred websites says that it's a 200C preparation - i.e. twice as many zeroes smilies/grin.gif. Just that much more astronomically unlikely that you'll find any of the active ingredient in there. I seem to remember a figure of 10^85 stated as the estimate of the number of atoms in the universe. We're talking about 10^200 (or 10^400) dilution factors here.

Makes you wonder if Boiron actually goes to the trouble of slaughtering a duck to concoct this.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +3
So what we have is 1*10^(-200) percentage of liver in the sugar? Ok, even I can eat that much chicken liver.
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 07, 2009
You are correct. Even a person in severe danger of mortal anaphylactic shock as a result of eating duck liver can take this and live to tell the tale. I wouldn't advise it, because there is a very real danger of contamination: no one knows how clean the manufacturing process is... but that is the general idea.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +4
One of the referred websites says that it's a 200C preparation
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 07, 2009
I seem to remember that as well. I have once studied oscillococcinum for an article I have never published, because it seems so utterly silly a product, but maybe I should finish it anyway.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by inquisitiveraven, May 07, 2009
Umm, Jeff? It still says 1 gram.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
1 gramme
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 07, 2009
It is supposed to be one gramme:

0.85 g sucrose, 0.15 g lactose
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by Willy K, May 07, 2009
One of the oft heard complaints about modern medicine is that it's dominated by "big pharma," that is greedy, soulless corporations who lie to us and suppress less expensive and more effective treatments for monetary gain.

Next time you hear nonsense like this from a wooster tell them these facts.

#1 Drug company in the world - Johnson & Johnson - $61 billion 2007 - Tylenol $0.07 per dose
#3 Drug company in the world - Bayer - 33 billion Euros 2007 - Aspirin $0.06 per dose

If "Big Pharma" really suppressed inexpensive drugs then why the frak do they advertise, make and sell these two pain killers for mere pennies a dose?

Oh golly... could it be that "Big Pharma" makes a whole range of products from ones that cost thousands of dollars a dose to drugs that are dirt cheap because these products actually work???? smilies/tongue.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +5
...
written by mandydax, May 07, 2009
A single duck would have provided far more than enough liver and heart for every single capsule ever made.

Actually, zero ducks would, statistically speaking. smilies/wink.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +5
...
written by MadScientist, May 07, 2009
Outright deception - labels are made up so that the unwary will develop the impression that the thing might help them. They are preying on people's psychological foibles and relying on the law to let them off the hook because when you look at it, what people might imagine is claimed really isn't explicitly claimed. Personally I'd be furious because I was robbed. For that amount of money I can buy a whole Muscovy duck, have a beautiful roast duck and make a lovely pate from its liver. I think I'll feed the heart to the dogs though; the heart and gizzard are edible but they're pretty small so why should I deprive the pets of a treat? I drool at the mere mention of Muscovy duck ...
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +3
Problems with notation
written by MadScientist, May 07, 2009
What really annoys me with the pharmaceutical industry is the labelling:
mg = milligram (complies with international standards)
mg = microgram (NOT standards compliant, and far worse, indistinguishable from milligram)
mmg = micrograms (milli-milligrams, NOT standards compliant)
g = grain (archaic unit of measure which should be buried, preferably along with anyone who advocates its use)
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
Can thousands be wrong...
written by Alencon, May 07, 2009
Yes but, thousands, THOUSANDS, of people have taken this "fine" (*cough, cough*) product and not a single one of them, NOT A SINGLE ONE, has caught the swine flu, or bubonic plaque, or smallpox, or the measles, or the mumps, or, well, you get the idea. smilies/cry.gif

It works just as well as praying to Sky Daddy and maybe better. That has to be worth something. smilies/wink.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by Skemono, May 07, 2009
In fact, there's another word for it: snake oil.

Must resist pointing out that "snake oil" is two words...!

...dangit! I couldn't!

Anywho, does anyone actually know whether or not companies that make these products actually go through the hassle of taking the "active" ingredient and diluting it 200 times? Or do they just make a sugar pill, say that it went through all that 'succussing', and sell it at exorbitant prices?
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
Big Pharma
written by MAL_JD, May 07, 2009
Big Pharma needs to keep charging you all for the medications they produce.....otherwise I wouldn't be getting a salary from them :-D

-Martin A. Lessem, J.D.
Refulatory Affairs - Risk Management for a Pharma Company
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -1
Placebo effect
written by CanuckleHead, May 07, 2009
Actually, Skeptoid did a podcast about the placebo effect recently. Very informative...

http://skeptoid.com/audio/skeptoid-4151.mp3
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -1
...
written by JeffWagg, May 08, 2009
My apologies on the gram/mg thing. It's hard to see your own writing sometimes. smilies/smiley.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Hmmm ...
written by pxatkins, May 08, 2009
At that dilution there are more liver cells in the bird's excrement ... good news ... for a revitalized guano market.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
One Claim is Correct
written by jschwarz, May 08, 2009
In fairness, there is one important claim that you can't argue with. The page prominently say "no side effects" . smilies/grin.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
No side effects?
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 08, 2009
Actually, that's a lie. If you are lactose intolerant, you'd better stay away.

Also, don't "eat" too many of them, obesity is not pleasant!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Nearly missed this one.
written by BillyJoe, May 08, 2009
This doesn't even follow the rules for homeopathy, because eating duck liver and heart doesn't give you flu-like symptoms.

You should know better than expect a homoeopath to make sense. smilies/wink.gif

I encourage anyone to read Hahnemann's Organon of homeopathy, the "Bible" of homeopathy. It is boring to the extreme and goes on, page after page after page after page, ranting about how horrible conventional medicine is.

Was. And it truely was in Hahnemann's time, which is why homoeopathy got its leg up.

For that amount of money I can buy a whole Muscovy duck, have a beautiful roast duck and make a lovely pate from its liver.

Yeah but, it won't have been succussed against a bible 200 times.

does anyone actually know whether or not companies that make these products actually go through the hassle of taking the "active" ingredient and diluting it 200 times?

You won't believe this but they actually do.

BillyJoe
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -1
Was. And it truely was in Hahnemann's time, which is why homoeopathy got its leg up.
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 08, 2009
I say "is". The immediate reason being that although Hahnemann wrote his book some time ago, he wrote in the present, his present.

I also usually say "is" because our current medicine is truly horrible... If you compare it to the medicine we will have two centuries from now. If religion doesn't terminate it before then, of course.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
You should know better than expect a homoeopath to make sense.
written by Bart B. Van Bockstaele, May 08, 2009
Indeed! And I still have trouble simply accepting it. I realize that medicine is not the most rigorous study one can undertake, but doctors do get a fairly solid basis in science, the scientific method and scientific thinking. That's why I have trouble accepting it.

How can people like Jacques Benveniste or Peter Fisher, both of whom have rather credible academic credentials, lose their critical thinking abilities so completely? I am completely baffled by it.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Something else that has always puzzled me about homeopathy...
written by nickpeeka, May 08, 2009
is that if the effects are supposed to be down to some kind of 'water memory', how is it that homeopatic medicines are normally administered in pill form without even any of this 'magic water' present?
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by BillyJoe, May 09, 2009
how is it that homeopatic medicines are normally administered in pill form without even any of this 'magic water' present?

If you expecting a sensible answer you are going to be disappointed. smilies/wink.gif

You can also purchase homeopathic remedies over the internet in electronic form. Presumably the memory is just passed on.

Simple really.

smilies/grin.gif

BJ
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Homeopathy works because....
written by mlevymv, May 09, 2009
..... water has the memory of the all chemicals and antibiotics that have been dumped in our sewage systems over the last hundred years.

Seriously though, if the water has this magical memory, how do they erase the memory so that you are only getting what you paid for? And of course the next question is how can they do quality control of any kind on their preparations so you know you are getting what you paid for and not something else?


report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
@ mlevymv
written by BillyJoe, May 09, 2009
Succussion erases the memory of the old and substitutes the memory of the new.
I don't know how good their quality control is but it would certainly be possible to do quality control for homoeopathic products.
And, in the end, all they ever get for their money is water or sugar pills.

BJ
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -1
...
written by tmac57, May 09, 2009
I'm thinking about setting up a homeopathic lemonade stand. The overhead should be very low,no?
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +4
...
written by BillyJoe, May 09, 2009
Bible, sucussion machine, dilution appartus...hmmm, maybe not.
Unless you're thinking of CHEATING!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
BillyJoe
written by tmac57, May 10, 2009
BillyJoe-"Bible, sucussion machine, dilution appartus...hmmm, maybe not.
Unless you're thinking of CHEATING! "
Dang! You caught me!. On to plan 'B'.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
..and another one...
written by AndyD, May 10, 2009
And here's one from Australia, today:

"Homeopath Dr Vinay Katyal also told the NSW Supreme Court jury that homeopathy had nothing much to offer for acute patients."

Yep.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
My retentiveness is showing
written by J.C. Samuelson, June 11, 2009
The #1 drug company in the world - Johnson & Johnson had $63.7 billion in sales during 2008, an increase of 4.3% over 2007. The cost of Tylenol Extra Strength Pain Reliever / Fever Reducer 500 mg, Cool Caplets at Walgreens comes in $0.10 per dose.

The Boiron product, Oscillococcinum, is available in a 6 plus 6 Dose Bonus Pack from Amazon.com for $13.62 (list $25.94). This works out to $1.14 per dose at the counter, which is still 11 times the cost of Tylenol, 18 times the cost of Bayer (the Bayer price remained accurate for 200smilies/cool.gif.

Also, according to the packaging, each dose is 0.4 ounces., not 1 gram. An ounce is roughly 28 grams, so these pills are 11 grams each, making the sugar content 1/11th of the pill. Most of the rest is likely a mixture of herbs and other non-active ingredients, i.e., filler. The other points Jeff makes about it are right on the money.

Otherwise, great article! smilies/grin.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by SalzVR6, June 14, 2009
What puzzles me is that doctors, who get a fairly solid scientific basis during their studies, are still able to buy into this stuff. It not only puzzles me, it worries me greatly, and I find that I have to continuously remind myself of the fact that the probability that modern medicine will extend my life is a lot higher than the probability that homeopathy and other forms of quackery will do so, because it fills me with horror and fear.


Don't be too inclined to give doctors a 'solid scientific basis'. The entire field of biomedical engineering exists because of this.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0

Write comment
This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comment.
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.

busy