Thursday, June 23, 2016

The biggest math error I’ve ever seen in an article

It was hard for me to stop laughing after reading an article on the web site for Mother Earth Living magazine by Sheila Kingsbury titled Defining Types of Natural Medicine. It is part of a longer article on The Case for Alternative Therapies that appears on pages 50 to 56 of their July/August 2016 issue. Her discussion of homeopathy says:

“Homeopathy can be difficult to make sense of: First, it can be hard to understand how its remedies could be effective as they are so incredibly diluted (for example, a “30X” homeopathic solution contains 1 part mineral or botanical substance to 1,000,000 parts water and/or alcohol); second, homeopathy’s incredibly individualized nature makes it almost impossible to study.”

Her description of that dilution as by a factor of a million is way off. If you look up Homeopathic dilutions at Wikipedia, you will find that X means by a factor of ten, and 30X means to repeat the dilution 30 times so it really is ten to the 30th power. At Quackwatch an article by Stephen Barrett, M.D. titled Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake explains that:

“A 30X dilution means that the original substance has been diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Assuming that a cubic centimeter of water contains 15 drops, this number is greater than the number of drops of water that would fill a container more than 50 times the size of the Earth.”

So, Sheila was off by a factor of ten to the 24th power or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 which is a septillion. I had to look up what that even was called in the article on Power of 10 at Wikipedia

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