Dynamize the dilution

Oy. Via David Colquhoun on Twitter, I’m reading a PhD thesis on homeopathy and Evidence Based Medicine, one that argues that EBM gets it all wrong. I have learned that homeopathy is not just the dilution – tut tut, that’s just silly – it’s dilution that gets dynamized. You didn’t know that, did you. Scientistic bastards.

One might draw an analogy with the relationship between a cake and the cake-mixture. To argue that cake-mixture is a delicious complement to tea because cake is, is clearly to neglect that cake is cooked cake-mixture. And so, to argue that homeopathic treatments are not effective medicines because high dilutions are not, is to neglect that homeopathic treatments are dynamized high dilutions. Of course, this analogy ignores the major point of contention. While cooking clearly turns cake-mixture into a delicious complement to tea, it is controversial whether dynamization really does turn high dilutions into effective medicines.

“Controversial” only in the sense that there are people who insist on ignoring the evidence that it doesn’t.

Proponents of homeopathy contest the Canonical Criticism’s framing of the evidential debate in a variety of ways. Below two of the main challenges are noted: first, that the interpretation of EBM in the Canonical Criticism is naïve and unsophisticated…

It is argued that the interpretation of EBM in the Canonical Criticism is ‘scientistic’, and that focusing only on the results of placebo controlled trials fails to not [sic] provide the range of evidence needed to evaluate whether homeopathy works. That is to say, proponents of homeopathy argue that the question of whether homeopathy works cannot be sufficiently answered by evidence from randomised trials, because other evidence is also necessary…The problem identified here is that randomised trials have, according to proponents of homeopathy, been reified in the Canonical Criticism.

Uh huh. Power-knowledge; Foucault; paradigm bingo.

The conclusion starts on page 260, in case you want to end the suspense.


  1. eric says

    The front page just says “Doctor of Philosophy,” not what its in (as in, Ph.D in Chemistry, Biology, Medicine). Is this typical for all British Ph.Ds or does the lack of an “…in XYZ” signal that his Ph.D is actually in the discipline of Philosophy?

  2. flex says


    An experiment to try:

    Dilute cake mixture to a 10C solution. Pour it into a pan, and cook it. According to homeopathic theory it should result in a cake thousands of times better than normal. Or would that be thousands of times more effective (what the efficacy of cake? How do you measure that?)?

    If the second experiment doesn’t result in better cake, I invoke the homeopathic law of similarities to declare than homeopathy is bunkum.

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    Is ‘dynamizing’ the shaking of the solution? Or is this another name for ‘succusation;’ the vital process of tapping the container against a surface ‘such as a book’ 7 times for each dilution?

    And by what means to homeopaths know that 7 taps is right and 5 or 8 wrong? Hahnneman said so! Has anyone challenged homeopaths to tell the difference between the two? Of course not!

    Each bit of Homeopathic arcana tossed up as ‘but what about’ rescue of the absurd theories, is just as riciculous as infinite delution:
    1. ‘Like cures like’ is indistinguishable from sympathetic magic, or the medieval concept of ‘signatures.’ Fever was treated by putting the patient in a room painted red. Frostbite was treated by massaging with snow. Burns were treated by touching with a hot iron etc.
    2. Dilution. ’nuff said.
    3. ‘Proving’ Even Hahnnemann’s original ‘discovery’ around quinine is bogus. The doses he claimes produced fever sypmtoms don’t do so in real life. Hahnnemann was either taking a contaminated dose or showing an allergic reaction. Holmes pointed out that H chose drugs NOT by ‘proving’ but just by finding any mention of them in any book of any age.
    5. Dynamizing and succusation. ‘Nuff said.

  4. Kevin K says

    @ #3-flex.

    You weren’t paying attention. You can’t just dilute the cake batter — you have to dynamize it.

    Presumably with real dynamite.

  5. says

    One might draw an analogy with the relationship between a cake and the cake-mixture. To argue that cake-mixture is a delicious complement to tea because cake is, is clearly to neglect that cake is cooked cake-mixture.

    1) Cake batter (WTF, mixture) is f’ing delicious and would be a wonderful complement to afternoon tea if it weren’t for salmonella and whatnot.

    2) The act of baking is a chemical process– the ingredients in the cake batter react to the heat in an oven in a predictable way. Plus, the heat kills off the salmonella and whatnot. Clearly this person has no idea what the hell baking actually entails (big surprise).

    Or just shake a vial of water and call it cake, same diff.

  6. Gordon Willis says

    Josh, Asshat etc, we daren’t dilute your post, because that will make it ever so much more potent. Before we know it, it will take over the whole web…Aaargh! flex, I haven’t enough pans to make a 10C solution, and the Water Company is complaining INCREDIBLY LOUDLY. I suppose I must be doing something wrong. Re Dynamize the Solution: I suppose that that means we have to shake it ever-so-many times, and thus ENERGISE it. I’m really struggling with the cake-mixture…It’s already almost as big as the known universe, and I really don’t think I can keep on shaking… I just hope that the result is a really good cake.

  7. Rodney Nelson says

    flex #3

    what the efficacy of cake? How do you measure that?

    Jonathan Coulton considers a similar point in “Still Alive”:

    We do what we must because we can.
    For the good of all of us.
    Except the ones who are dead.
    But there’s no sense crying over every mistake.
    You just keep on trying till you run out of cake.

  8. says

    Wow, you’ve got a lot more stamina than I do. I read the introduction and tried skimming some of the rest, but I just couldn’t do it.

    He is listed on the University of Nottingham as being in the School of Sociology and Social Policy. This would make him an expert in medicine, physics, chemistry, and physiology.

  9. says

    Well don’t go thinking I read the whole thing! I didn’t (though I might read more – I do find this kind of thing interesting, in a perverse way); I just read some of the evidence stuff at the beginning.

  10. eric says

    He is listed on the University of Nottingham as being in the School of Sociology and Social Policy


    I remember in every Ph.D graduation I attended, there were always a few folks that you could point to and say “that guy makes my degree look bad.” Nottingham School of Sociology, you have your poster child.

  11. says

    I feel a song coming on.
    “If I’d a-knew you were a-comin’ I’d a-dyanmized a cake-mixture
    Dynamized a cake-mixture
    Dynamized a cake-mixture…”

  12. DaveL says

    Did he ever get around to explaining what the difference was between a “dynamized” dilution and a “magical” one?

  13. says

    Lots of ‘controversy’ about homeopathy. Is he going to teach this controversy?

    Why is placebo and placebo effect(s) in scare quotes everywhere? Ahh I see the whole concept of placebo should be removed as it is unfair to call homeopathy ‘just’ a placebo. But then I don’t get this bit…

    …the Science and Technology Committee have (on the basis of their own assumptions) understated their evidential arguments, by ignoring mechanistic evidence for whether homeopathic treatments are effective

    What mechanistic evidence? Either it is a placebo and does as well as any sugar pill or it isn’t….

  14. says

    It’s not usual to state what subject a doctorate is in, in the UK, but I always thought the university deparment/subject had to be specified on the title page. If only so they could wheel out the right Dean for the graduation ceremony. Evidently no more, at least in Nottingham.
    I think, though, that we can conclude that it wasn’t in a scientific discipline – else where are the Materials and Methods? More to the point, where are the experiments?
    There are, however, plenty of clues that it’s a heap of postmodernist relativistic claptrap, for instance:
    1) His supervisors are both sociologists
    2) He’s published part of it in Biology and Philosophy which “Answers the need for meta-theoretical analysis, of the very nature of biology, as well as of its social implications”
    …need I go on?

    True, there’s a promising-looking graph on p115, plotting “stress” against dilution. However, it turns out to be about how well different papers agree with each other – still not an experiment in sight.
    Quite worthy of a Steve Fuller, I fancy.

  15. says

    Oh and dynamized… Two points – what the fuck is a UK student doing adding bloody Zeds in! I’d fail him on that alone… But might be unfair given he is referring to this -> http://www.angelfire.com/mb2/quinine/dynamization.html

    For treatment Hahnemann used as a rule high potencies which he achieved by diluting thirty times and than by dynamizing with exact number of shakings.

    So… He shook it and it took on magical properties… Yeah still total balls.

  16. Gordon Willis says

    I’ve just reread the cake-mix recipe, and I think I’ve discovered where I’ve been going wrong. Apparently, I only need one atom of cake mix per universeful of water to make a really potent cake. So I don’t have to shake quite as much as I thought, and the Water Company don’t need to worry quite so much about the planet’s water supply. This is such a relief, I can’t tell you. I’ve also discovered that you can cure cyanide poisoning by serving one atom of cyanide in a pint of well-shaken water. At least, I think that’s what you do, though I imagine one would have to do the shaking awfully fast, don’t you?

  17. No Light says

    Dr AZD – Here in Blighty “batter” is what Yorkshire puddings and pancakes are made with, and what fish (cod or haddock, usually) is dipped in prior to frying.

    Cake mixture is what cakes are made of.

    Homeopathy is a load of old bollocks.

  18. F says

    I’ve learnt two things, if I’ve read and understood correctly. (Or, learnt one and synthesized another thing.)

    1. Evidence does not make good evidence.

    2. Whenever someone claims some transformation (such as via “dynamization” or “succination”)or some such, I’ll have to ask, “Where’s the cake?”

  19. Perchloric Acid says

    I’d like to propose a test for the homeopaths that will probably show up here to object to attempts to mock their noble science. They say that one can make a bunch of homeopathic pills by taking blank tablets and shaking them with a “real” homeopathic tablet.

    Take a bunch of blanks tablets, put them in five different vials. Three of them contain a single pill of a different homeopathic remedy, the other two are empty. Shake them with the required dynamic. Take out the original pill (if any).

    Give the five vials to a true believer, who will do a “proving” of the pills. See if they can match their symptoms with the known symptoms of their homeopathic remedies.

  20. Josh, Asshat, Embarrassment to Atheists, Gays, and Free Speech. says

    Ophelia, you haven’t experienced culinary ecstasy until you’ve eaten my carrot cake. I cannot be modest; it would be pointless. It’s the best fucking carrot cake you’ll ever eat. And it cannot be diluted. It’s that powerful.

  21. Josh, Asshat, Embarrassment to Atheists, Gays, and Free Speech. says

    Picky, picky, picky. Fine, missy. See how you like going to blog bed with no dessert.

  22. Rodney Nelson says

    Dense chocolate cakes or nothing

    But what about light, fluffy, homeopathic cakes? Now with extra dynamization!

  23. screechymonkey says

    I’m with Tim Minchin:

    If you show me that, say,
    Homeopathy works,
    I will change my mind,
    I will spin on a fucking dime.
    I’ll be as embarassed as hell,
    Yet I will run through the streets yelling,
    It’s a MIRACLE!
    Take physics and bin it!
    Water has memory!
    And whilst its memory
    Of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite,
    It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it.

  24. No Light says

    I’m just going to leave this here:


    It’s been stuck in my head all day, and hopefully it will remove any homeopathic cake-induced sadness or rage.

    Cake should only ever be on the macro. level, and proved by my tummy. Silly homeopathic fool! Hasn’t he read the Necronomnomnomicon? Let’s see him dynamise his way out of the dark chocolate oblivion.

  25. Hatchetfish says

    And by what means to homeopaths know that 7 taps is right and 5 or 8 wrong? Hahnneman said so!

    No, no, no. Three sir, three.

    “Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.”

  26. Amy Clare says

    I think part of the psychological appeal of homeopathy is its diagnostic system. Something like a common cold is split up into several categories based on e.g. how runny your nose is, what type of sore throat you have, whether you have a cough as well and what type… etc.

    For example:


    If somebody feels that a remedy is perfectly tailored to them as an individual, it makes the placebo effect that much more powerful imo. ‘Dynamized’ solution or no.

  27. Brownian says

    Dynamizing must be how they take perfectly good fruit and perfectly good cake and create the abomination known as fruitcake.

  28. No Light says

    Fruit cake is more than an abomination. Disgusting, claggy, mushy filth that does not deserve. the appellation of “cake”.

    When I get gaymarried there will be every type of cake but fruit cake. And, now that I’m a grownup, I refuse to dignify Christmas cake by allowing it into my house. I’d rather eat soap.

    Oh, I’ve just remembered the blight that is Dundee cake. Now I’m depressed.

    All of the cake in the house is out of my reach, so I can’t even cleanse my mental palate!

  29. Walton says

    Awww… I love fruitcake. Especially Christmas cake, which (here in the UK) is a rich fruitcake with layers of marzipan and fondant icing on top. Mmmm.

    (Now I’m looking forward to Christmas. It’s that time of year again.)

  30. Josh, Asshat, Embarrassment to Atheists, Gays, and Free Speech. says

    Ugh. Fruitcake. The very thought of biting into that candied fruit brings my gorge up.

    I’ll stick with making Christmas pudding, thank you.

  31. Dunc says

    I have a question for homoeopaths, that I’ve never seen raised: what sort of QA procedures do you use to ensure that you’ve prepared your “remedies” correctly?

  32. emily isalwaysright says

    ‘I do find this kind of thing interesting, in a perverse way.”

    Ditto. My favourite TV show is PsychicTvOz, where people pay $5 per 30 seconds to get told on air they have beautiful energy and that they should tread carefully at work but don’t worry because there is travel soon and also your dead relatives love you.

    I’m off to read the conclusion of that paper, then I think I’ll go and re-read Stanley Fish’s anti-free speech speech in the NY Times again, just to make sure I’m sufficiently morbidly fascinated.

  33. No Light says


    Awww… I love fruitcake. Especially Christmas cake, which (here in the UK) is a rich fruitcake with layers of marzipan and fondant icing on top. Mmmm

    You’re in the pockets of Big Phruitcake! You’re a shill for Whitworths!

    My mam loves the stuff. My girlfriend loves mince pies, I’m surrounded by lovers of deceptive dessert items!

    Luckily Tesco do toffee and chocolate Chrimbo puds, celebratory cakes made of piles of cupcakes, and I’ll defiantly munch on pork pies instead of *spit* mince pies.

    They sully the good name of pies, like fruit cake does to cake!

    I hope I’m up and about in time for our alternative celebration. Too hard to eat cake while flat on my back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>