So the other day, as i was wandering though the cold and flu relief section of my local pharmacy, I happened to spy a display of product – product that purported to ‘cure’ cold and flus. Interesting, I thought, considering that both of these illnesses are viral and to-date, there is no known ‘cure’ for either of them. How incredible; my local pharmacy has been holding out on the rest of science! When I got closer, I read the smaller print which claimed that the product only reduced the severity and duration of flu, which was sort of a mixed message, I felt.
I took a closer look at the product, and lo! It was prepared by Boiron, one of the largest homeopathic remedy producers in the world, and the name of this wonder drug – sorry, remedy – was Oscillociccinum. Yes, my spell-check flags the word as not being real; which is handy, because neither is the substance.
Here are the basics, as told by the wonderful people at that bastion of medical reality, Science-Based Medicine. Seriously, subscribe to their blog. They are amazing,
“In the 1919 flu epidemic a physician who did not understand that artifacts on the slide, probably bubbles, move randomly due to Brownian motion. Looking at the tissues of flu patients with a microscope, he found what he thought was not only the cause of influenza, but the cause of all diseases: small cocci (round balls) that oscillated under the microscope. He found these wiggling bubbles in all the tissues of all the ill people he examined and thought he discovered the true cause of all disease. Sigh. Yet another cause of all illness. He is the only person, before or since, to see these oscillating cocci. Hence the name.
Subsequently, for obscure reasons, he became of the opinion that the heart and liver of the Muscovy Duck were the most concentrated source of these oscillating cocci. I have found the suggestion that it was because duck liver and heart is a source of influenza, but the product predates the discovery of the influenza, so that would be an oh so silly explanation.”
So, just so that we’re on the same page here, Oscillociccinum is a homeopathic remedy derived from the trapped air bubbles found on microscope slides that have been mistaken for biological substances. Oh, and apparently the best source of this non-existent panacea is a duck liver. That is homeopathy. That is what people in my country are often charged upwards of $10 per six ‘doses’ for; infinitesimally small concentrations of a non-existent substance apparently derived from duck livers.
I went ahead and asked the pharmacist on duty what she thought of this stuff – basically I asked her if it worked. She looked a bit uncomfortable, then quietly admitted that it didn’t, but that some people felt that it worked for their symptoms. I asked her if that sounded scientific at all, and she replied that it wasn’t. I understand now as I did then that it’s not her fault that the pharmacy sells this crap; the store she worked in is just like any other – it’s there to make a profit, and this stuff sells. It doesn’t matter that the ‘doses’ are nothing more than sugar pills that have each received a single drop of water that is supposed to contain the memory of the remedy that was diluted into it – another piece of homeopathic bullshit. All that matters is that people are willing to buy it.
Luckily, there are groups who aren’t putting up with this bullshit any more; Boiron, and at least one of the companies here in Canada that sells oscillociccinum are being sued for selling a product in violation of Canadian consumer protection acts. It’s a start.
Here was are, friends, at the dawn of the twenty-first century – over 100,000 years after our species first evolved; we have set foot on other worlds, sent robotic devices to many more. We can link up with each other in real-time across thousands of kilometres and share the details of our lives instantaneously. We have cured diseases, extended our average life-expectancy and are taking our first hesitant steps into the realms of nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and fusion power. And even here, in the highly advanced nation of the Global North, where I sit and write these words we still - fucking still - have people who believe in magical cures, and still have people who push them.
Magical air bubbles and duck livers.