Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia, was given some bad advice by a pharmacy:
Last week I was in a pharmacy (chemist) in London just around the corner from my apartment there. I had a sore throat and cough and wanted to buy some soothing cough drops. I did, buying a brand that contains benzocaine. These work.
The clerk tried to sell me something else, Oscillococcinum. He said that this is a French homeopathic remedy, which told me all that I need to know: homeopathy is a proven fraud. But he went on to give some “scientific” details – if I took Oscillococcinum it would disrupt the DNA of the virus before it could make me ill.
Well, that kind of lie is what makes me ill.
I hope it wasn’t a pharmacist, because if they gave that kind of advice, they should lose their licence to practice. Wales continues:
Oscillococcinum is a complete hoax product. The method of production is to take an extract of duck liver and heart and dilute it in a 1:100 ratio with water, and to do that dilution over and over, 200 times. Wikipedia, in the article I linked up above, eloquently explains what this means: “Mathematically, in order to have a reasonable chance to obtain one molecule of the original extract, the patient would have to consume an amount of the remedy roughly 10^321 times the number of atoms in the observable universe.”
When people are told that Oscillococcinum can disrupt the DNA of the flu, they may very well choose not to have a flu vaccine.
What I want to know is this: why is this legal? Or, if it is not legal, then what can be done about it? I’m quite sure that the clerk himself had no direct financial interest in defrauding me, and likely didn’t even know he was doing it.
He’s absolutely right. There is no convincing evidence that Oscilliococcinum is anything more than a placebo. The final product is simple lactose and sucrose. Wales finishes with an appeal and is inviting comments:
Who should I talk to about this in order to encourage the creation of a campaign to stop this? This is not my primary area of interest and so I am not the right person to lead it myself. But I would like to help.
Do pharmacies care that they’re selling sugar pills and calling them medicine? Judging by this sign I spotted at a local pharmacy, I don’t think so.
Placebos as Medicine: The Ethics of Homeopathy
Dilutions of Grandeur: It’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week
The consequences of legitimizing nonsense
Do pharmacy regulators “get” homeopathy?