A Letter to Today's Parent Magazine
To the Editors of Today's Parent, in particular Deputy Editor Jacqueline Kovacs,
While reading the November 2011 issue of your magazine, I came across a small sidebar in the "your kids Health" section entitled "A flu alternative". This turned out, sadly, to be an endorsement of oscillococcinum. I find it difficult to believe that the entire staff of editors at your magazine are unaware of the implausible and nonsensical nature of homeopathy in general and of the utter farce that is oscillococcinum - the ridiculousness of homeopathy wrapped around an ignorant misunderstanding of a scientific principle by its inventor.
Most people think that homeopathy is just "natural medicine", which is why it remains so poplar despite its silliness. In brief, homeopathy lies on two principles: the law of similars, or "like cures like"; and the law of infinitesimals, or "the more dilute, the better the medicine". Both of these are fundamental to homeopathy and both are wrong.
"Like cures like" means that a substance that causes some reaction in a person can, when properly diluted, cure that reaction (or one like it) in a well person. For example, poison ivy causes itching, therefore a dilution of poison ivy will cure any pruritus (itching). This idea is pre-scientific and wrong. The second "law", dictates that the more dilute the potion, the more effective the "cure". This is claptrap of the highest order. A 30C dilution (quite common) is the equivalent of having one molecule of the "active" ingredient present in a sphere of water with a diameter of about the distance between the Earth and the sun. Think about that for a minute and then ask yourself if you want to recommend this nonsense to your readers.
Adding to the above, oscillococcinum specifically is not even real. The person who invented the product saw, in slides of flu patients, small round particles moving about - oscillating, if you will. He thought that he had discovered the cause of not just the flu, but of all disease and, because of the roundness (cocci) and movement (oscillating), named these particles oscillococcinum.
He was wrong. The "particles" were likely air bubbles and they moved because of Brownian motion. The ludicrous house of cards continued to build, however, and the inventor decided, for whatever reasons he took to the grave with him, that the most concentrated location of these non-existent "oscillococcinum" particles were in the liver and heart of the Muscovy duck. This unfortunate animal has been the source of the dilution material ever since. I cannot do better than 20-year veteran infectious disease doctor Mark Crislip at the group blog Science Based Medicine in telling the tale of oscillococcinum.
You say in your short sidebar, "...a recent US study is backing them (many people) up, concluding that Oscillo 'probably reduces the duration of illness in patients presenting with influenza symptoms.' While that might not seem like a ringing endorsement, homeopathy remains controversial within the North American medical community." This is self-contradictory in that you say the study "backs up" the idea that oscillococcinum works, but immediately after you admit that it is not a "ringing endorsement". Which is it?
Homeopathy is not "controversial" among doctors who keep up with research, know about scientific methods, and have their faculties of critical thinking intact. The public is being knowingly misled by the purveyors of so-called "alternative" medicine because if they explained exactly what it is, their sales would drop off quickly and in large volume. "Alternative" medicine is not a real branch of health - it consists entirely of products that have not been proven to work or have been proved to not work.
Please, your magazine is very popular and usually very good. Get a science editor or at the least, a science consultant who can keep your health advice to parents based in reality and the best knowledge currently available.
Thank you for your attention,