Thursday, 23 February 2006

Quack Medicine

On my cycle journey into work I pass a business offering complimentary therapies. Yesterday morning they had some new posters in their windows offering courses in 'Beginning Homeopathy'. Now, whilst I accept that some of these 'therapies' may compliment traditional medicine and I can't help but remain sceptical. Especially about therapies which market themselves as alternatives to traditional medicine. A homeopathic 'remedy' is a perfect example of a placebo – a perfectly harmless, ineffective, neutral substance (water) being marketed as a medicine and charged for accordingly. If you take such a 'medicine,' you can do so with virtual certainty that the substance is safe. You can do so because it is nothing but plain water or maybe water with a little alcohol or food colouring. Such remedies are so diluted that there is no chance of there being a single molecule of the active ingredient whatsoever (whatever it’s supposed to be) being present. I did a little research into how these so-called 'remedies' are prepared. Read what I found here.
If the original substance is soluble, one part is diluted with either nine or 99 parts of distilled water and/or alcohol and shaken vigorously (succussed); if insoluble, it is finely ground and pulverized in similar proportions with powdered lactose (milk sugar). One part of the diluted medicine is them further diluted, and the process is repeated until the desired concentration is reached. Dilutions of 1 to 10 are designated by the Roman numeral X (X = 1/10, 3X = 1/1000, 6X = 1/1,000,000). Similarly, dilutions of 1 to 100 are designated by the Roman numeral C (1C - 1/100, 3C = 1/1,000,000, and so on.) Most remedies today range from 6X to 30X, but products of 30C or more are marketed.
He goes on to say...
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.
Got that? A 30X dilution requires a sphere of water 50 times the size of the earth to contain a single molecule of the active ingredient. So, when you buy your 10-20ml vial of homeopathic 'remedy', it has to be pure water (plus whatever colouring and flavouring they've added). Higher dilutions are even more ridiculous. But according to homeopathy’s founder Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), the more diluted a solution is, the more powerful and therefore more effective it is. This is homeopathy’s 'law of infinitesimals.' It’s an idea that goes against everything we know about chemistry and physics. To believe it is to believe in alchemy and magic.
Robert L. Park, PhD, a prominent physicist who is executive director of The American Physical Society, has noted that since the least amount of a substance in a solution is one molecule, a 30C solution would have to have at least one molecule of the original substance dissolved in a minimum of 1,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of water. This would require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth. In fact, such a container would be 30,000 times larger than the Sun–which is already a million times larger than the Earth.
Money for old rope?

Thursday, 26 January 2006

Finding E.T's Home is reporting the discovery of a planet that is the most earth-like planet found outside of our solar system (yet).
It is 5.5 times the mass of Earth and orbits at a distance comparable to habitable worlds. It lies about 390 million kilometres from its star: if it were inside our Solar System, the planet would sit between Mars and Jupiter.
It was discovered using a technique known as Gravitational Microlensing which is a method first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1912. Microlensing occurs when a massive object in space, like a star, crosses in front of another more distant star. As it passes, the gravity from the foreground object bends the light coming from the background star, temporarily making it look brighter. If the star in the foreground has an orbiting planet, the light is distorted even more, thus making the background star appear even brighter.
But sadly this Earth-like body probably isn't crawling with life. Its dwarf star is so dim that the surface temperature of this planet is thought to be about - 220 °C.
We won't be booking our holidays there any time soon then.

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Diary of a Cyclist (part 2)

It's not only inconsiderate motorists that are a hazard to cyclists, there's also pedestrians.
Just like motorists, 99% of them remember the lessons learnt in their childhood and still practice the 'Look Both Ways' technique of crossing a road. However, there is one modern day invention which, apparently, causes two things to happen. Firstly, it causes memory loss and an inability to remember the 'Look Both Ways' technique, and/or secondly, it renders the user invincible.
This amazing device is known to modern day society as 'the mobile phone'. With one of these clamped to one ear, a pedestrian can wander out into a road or onto a cycle lane without fear. Some even cling on to their distant 'Look Both Ways' memories and do just that before wandering out anyway, regardless of the day-glo lemon hurtling towards them.
I have discovered, albeit accidentally, a counter measure to this insidious device. Disc Brakes. They are only effective in wet weather, but when required to perform an emergency stop they let out such an ear piercing screech that even the most die-hard mobile phone junkie can be separated from his or her beloved phone and momentarily brought back into reality. All without the need for surgery!

Monday, 16 January 2006

Diary of a Cyclist (part 1)

Most of the people who read this blog and know me, know that I cycle to work (and those that didn't know that, well, do now.)
My journey to work is only a couple of miles (and that's being generous) but it goes someway to making me believe I'm not as unhealthy as the media insists on telling us we all are. This is my bike (well, almost, mine is the 2004 version, but I couldn't find a picture) and I'm very pleased with it. I know there is some kind of irony in having a mountain bike in what is, possibly, the flattest county in the UK but so what?
It's the second Specialized mountain bike I've had. The first was stolen from outside my company offices a few days before Christmas 2004. A few years ago, whilst cycling home from work, I cycled over a roundabout and was run into by a car. It was dark but I did have my lights on. I slid across the vehicles bonnet (I think it was a Ford Escort van or something similar) and landed in a somewhat surprised heap on the tarmac in front of it. My first thought, strangely, was not for me, but for my bike. As my sole source of transport I guess I was wondering how I was going to get into work in the morning. (Actually, this is a slight lie, this was actually my second thought - my first being 'What the f...?!??').
After dusting myself off, giving the driver of the vehicle a mouthful, I walked my (amazingly, still in one piece) bike back to work so I could calm myself down before cycling home. On reflection, I think I was lucky. My bike was fine and I was fine, although I did put a hole in my trousers. Since then, I've made every effort I can to remain visible whilst on my bike. I wear a fluorescent jacket, I now wear a cycle helmet, and I have very bright halogen bike lights. And I've not had another accident. Small price to pay for looking like a glow-in-the-dark lemon. The bane of all cyclists is, of course, motorists and I may have one or two rants about them. But that will be in the future... ;)