Since I haven’t written about homeopathy in a while, I feel obligated to begin this post with my characterization of homeopathy, which is that it is The One Quackery To Rule Them All. Unsurprisingly, the last time I discussed homeopathy was when naturopaths were promoting its use to treat COVID-19—because of course they were, and, as I said at the time, quacks gonna quack and grifters gonna grift—but homeopathy has found its way into the public conversation yet again. The reason is that it was announced this week that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has tested positive for COVID-19. That an NFL quarterback tested positive for the disease is not, in and of itself, big news. What is big news is this, reported on NFL.com:
The NFL’s hottest team will be without its most important player Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and is out for Green Bay’s showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported. Rodgers was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love will start in place of Rodgers.
Despite telling reporters in August he’d “been immunized,” Rodgers is not vaccinated against COVID-19, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported. Rodgers must spend a mandatory 10 days away from the team, according to the league’s COVID-19 protocol, ruling him out for the Packers’ Week 9 game against the Chiefs. The earliest Rodgers can rejoin the team is Nov. 13 — the day before their Week 10 matchup against the Seahawks.
Rodgers previously had sought and was denied an exemption from the NFL-NFL Players Association COVID-19 protocols based on his antibody levels this summer, which left his status as unvaccinated, NFL Media reported Wednesday.
Here’s the press conference in which Aaron Rodgers made his statement:
“You know, there’s a lot of conversation around it, around the league, and a lot of guys who have made statements and not made statements, owners who have made statements,” Rodgers said at the time. “There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated. I think it’s a personal decision. I’m not going to judge those guys. There are guys that’ve been vaccinated that have contracted COVID. It’s an interesting issue that I think we’re going to see played out the entire season.”
He later added: “I think I like to learn about everything that I’m doing, and there was a lot of research that even went into that. But like I said, there’s been people that have tested positive, and I think it’s only vaccinated people here. It’s going to be interesting to see how things work moving forward. Obviously there could be some issues with vaccinated people only testing every couple weeks and then non-vaccinated testing every day.”
As has been noted, Rodgers’ pointed use of the word “immunized” instead of just saying that he was vaccinated was a big “tell” that he hadn’t actually been vaccinated. Those of us who’ve paid attention to the antivaccine movement for a long time know that antivaxxers and quacks (like homeopaths) love to try to make a big distinction between being “immunized” versus being “vaccinated.” The CDC, for instance, while distinguishing between “immunization” as the process by which a person becomes protected against disease by vaccination, and “vaccination,” the act of introducing a specific vaccine to protect against a specific disease, it also notes that the terms are usually used more or less interchangeably. Quacks, on the other hand, like to distinguish between the two, representing their “preventative” (whatever it is) as “immunization,” to distinguish it from the “evils” (to them) of “vaccination” with actual vaccines. In the case of homeopathy, homeopaths will frequently refer to “homeopathic immunization,” claiming that their magic water will prevent whatever disease it’s targeted at.
Homeopathic immunizations, like all homeopathic remedies, are quackery. There are many good reasons why I refer to homeopathy as “The One Quackery To Rule Them All.” I like to recount how, when I first learned what homeopathy really is, I was gobsmacked. I also realize that homeopathy is a bigger thing in Europe than here in the US, where most people are blissfully unaware of the magical principles of homeopathy, such as the law of similars (i.e., “like cures like,” the principle that states that, in order to relieve a symptom, you should use an herb, medicine, or other compound that causes the symptom), the law of infinitesimals (which claims that diluting a remedy makes it stronger), and homeopathic “provings,” in which healthy people take the substances used in homeopathic remedies and then report their findings.
Although the law of similars is without basis in science, biology, or physiology, and homeopathic provings result in some truly hilariously ridiculous nonsense—homeopathic plutonium or even antimatter, anyone?—it is the law of infinitesimals that best illustrates the utter absurdity that is homeopathy. In brief, this law states that, to make a remedy stronger, you must dilute the remedy. In fairness, you must also shake (“succuss”) the remedy vigorously at every serial dilution step. Homeopaths will assure you most seriously that failure to succuss will render a homeopathic dilution useless, just a super dilution. It is the shaking during each serial dilution that is a critical part of the “potentization” that imbues the magic water with its magic. Famously, the inventor of homeopathy himself, Samuel Hahnemann, was said to have drummed the test tubes containing his homeopathic remedies on a Bible at each dilution. This absurdity can be truly appreciated when homeopaths take it their remedies and potentizations to a ridiculous extreme (which they often do).
And, wow, do homeopaths ever dilute their remedies! A typical homeopathic remedy is 30C, with “C” signifying a 100-fold dilution. So a 30 C homeopathic dilution is equal to thirty 100-fold dilutions or (10-2)30, or a 1060-fold dilution. Those of you with a chemistry background will notice right away that this is an incredibly large number compared to Avogadro’s number, which is ~6.022 x 1023 and is the number of molecules in a mole of a chemical. So, even if one starts with a mole of a substance (whose weight equals its molecular weight in grams), the resulting 30C dilution will dilute it over 1036-fold beyond the number of starting molecules. In other words, it’s incredibly unlikely that there will be a single molecule of starting substance left, other than potentially any that might “carry over” between serial dilutions sticking to the glassware. For comparison, a 200C dilution is a 10-400 dilution. For further comparison, the number of atoms in the known universe is only estimated to be on the order of 1080. Of course, if you really want to get ridiculous, look at the “M” in some homeopathic dilutions and consider that “M” is shorthand for 1,000C, making a 1M dilution a 10-2000 dilution and a 10M dilution even more amazingly ridiculous at a 10-20,000 dilution. We’re basically talking fantasy here.
As I usually do in posts about homeopathy, regardless of what this quackery is being used for, I’ll throw in this video clip from Richard Dawkins, because, say what you will about Dawkins these days, it nonetheless remains a great visual illustration of the utter ridiculousness of what Aaron Rodgers did:
I’ve looked and looked but been unable to find out exactly what sort of “homeopathic” remedy Rodgers foolishly used to “immunize” himself against COVID-19, but the most likely candidate is homeopathic nosodes, which I’ve discussed before. The reason is that homeopathic nosodes are the type of homeopathy that is most often represented as “homeopathic immunization” or a “vaccine.” Consistent with the Law of Similars and “like curing like,” homeopathic nosodes are usually prepared from a diseased person or animal, with the “disease essence” being the remedy or preventative for that disease. Sometimes, homeopathic nosodes can enter the realm of the truly dangerous. One example is how homeopaths once took blood or bodily fluids (or, more likely, claimed to have done so) from Ebola victims to make, in essence, nosodes agains Ebola, an incredibly dangerous thing to do, not just for the patient being possibly exposed to Ebola but for the homeopath stupid enough to handle actual bodily fluids from Ebola victims without proper training and, most likely, proper protection.
I could go on and on, but instead let’s see how the NFL reacted to Rodgers’ embrace of quackery:
Rodgers received homeopathic treatment from his personal doctor to raise his antibody levels and asked the NFLPA to review his status. The players’ union, the NFL-NFLPA jointly designated infectious disease consultant and the league agreed that Rodgers’ treatment did not provide any documented protection from the coronavirus.
Accordingly, Rodgers did not qualify for an exemption, and he remained subject to a variety of restrictions, including daily testing, mask-wearing and high-risk close contact protocol that would force him to isolate for five days based on interaction with a positive individual, even if he tested negative.
This is, of course, unsurprising, because there is no homeopathic remedy that can “raise your antibody levels.” That being said, the NFL has a scientifically unsupported set of standards itself:
If his antibody levels are high enough, Rodgers could be considered fully vaccinated with just one shot. The NFL-NFLPA regular-season COVID protocols allow for an individual to become fully vaccinated via “a quantitative antibody test (taken at the club facility and administered by BioReference Laboratory personnel after Aug. 26, 2021 and before the individual has received any dose of a COVID vaccine) demonstrating COVID total antibody levels (IgG, IgA, IgM) to the spike protein of 100 U/mL or greater, and a positive antibody test to the COVID IgG nucleocapsid protein, and 14 days have passed since the individual received one dose of any COVID vaccine (Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer or Moderna).”
In actuality, although there is a lot of work being done in this area, as yet there is no accepted correlate of immunity to COVID-19 in terms of antibody titers, as exists for a number of other diseases against which we vaccinate. Specifically, there is no “absolute correlate” (meaning a protective threshold) for antibody titers against COVID-19. Perhaps someday soon there will be (and having a reliable correlate of protection to determine who is and is protected against COVID-19 would be very useful from a public health standpoint), but there is as yet no such correlate.
Moving on from that brief aside, though, I have…questions. First, who is this “doctor” who supposedly “immunized” Aaron Rodgers against COVID-19 using homeopathy? Was this person a real MD/DO or what this person a naturopath or homeopath? (I’d be willing to bet on the latter, although unfortunately there do exist actual licensed physicians who advocate and prescribe homeopathy.)
One might ask why someone like Rodgers would think that homeopathy is anything other than magic water, except when it’s “not very strong” and therefore not diluted enough to remove every last molecule of the starting remedy, in which case it is simply “natural remedies” still so dilute as to be incredibly unlikely to have a medicinal effect. Apparently, it’s his wife, who is apparently very much into “detoxification” quackery:
Shailene Woodley – star of teen dystopia Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars – has come out as a clay eater. The 22-year-old, who has previously out-Gooped Gwyneth Paltrow with her tales of foraging for stinging nettles and collecting water from fresh mountain streams, told talkshow host David Letterman that she ingests clay as part of a detoxification diet. “Clay binds to other materials in your body and helps your body excrete those materials that aren’t necessarily the best for you,” she said.
She went into more detail for blog Into The Gloss, explaining: “My friend started eating it and the next day she called me and said: ‘Dude, my shit smells like metal!’ She was really worried, but we did some research together and everything said that when you first start eating clay your bowel movements, pees and even you, yourself, will smell like metal.”
According to her, Bentonite clay and Mountain Rose Herbs clay are her clays of choice. She’s also into “oil pulling” and a wide variety of other quackery, including homeopathy. She’s even been quoted by Boiron, a large company manufacturing homeopathic remedies, saying that its products are “the only medicine I use!” and that she goes to Boiron “products for everything: menstrual cramps, toothaches, sore throats, and sinus relief, among other things.” So it’s certainly not entirely unreasonable to suspect that she might have been behind her husband’s embrace of homeopathy, which led to a pretty hilarious observation:
On the other hand, it is entirely possible—very probable, even—that part of the attraction between Rodgers and Woodley was that Rodgers is just as susceptible to medical nonsense as his wife (i.e., they had a shared interest in quackery), rather than his wife having influenced him to do something as stupid as trust homeopathy to protect him against COVID-19. Rodgers does, after all, apparently believe in chemtrails, and his Twitter bio includes a shot of him with the glowing “laser eyes” that signify belief in Bitcoin:
Then there was this recent Tweet:
I note that informally I’ve observed a pretty high correlation between being so into cryptocurrency that one portrays oneself with the glowing eyes signifying that belief and belief in other pseudoscience, antivaccine misinformation, woo, and other conspiracy theories. It’s also not as though elite athletes haven’t had a long history of being prone to belief in quackery. (Remember Michael Phelps using cupping at the 2016 Olympics?) Whatever the path was that led to Rodgers’ misguided trust in homeopathic quackery, I’m with Stephen Colbert (his comments on Rodgers are at around 6:12, in case the video doesn’t start where it’s supposed to), where he noted that his “Goop senses are tingling”:
Jimmy Kimmel also had some fun with Rodgers:
I must say that the air quotes added to the Rodgers clip shown by Kimmel were a very nice touch indeed. So was the fake Pfizer commercial, which was pretty funny.
This brings up the question of how the NFL and Green Bay Packers could have let Rodgers get away with his deception. Either the Packers and the league just took his word for it that he had been “immunized” and didn’t require him to show his vaccine card to prove that he had received a COVID-19 vaccine, or they knew that he wasn’t vaccinated and let him get away with flouting NFL COVID-19 protocols all these months because he’s big time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
I can’t help but conclude by circling back to a pet peeve of mine, especially since it involves a sports analogy and we’re talking about Aaron Rodgers right now. Specifically, some Very Serious Doctors (one in particular) seem to think that homeopathy is so obviously silly, and therefore so incredibly easy to debunk, that combating it is the equivalent of LeBron James “dunking on a 7′ hoop.” Contrary to what a certain Very Serious Oncologist prone to going Godwin thinks, even though from a scientific standpoint homeopathy is indeed ridiculous, unscientific, and, when it comes to the higher dilution homeopathic remedies, physically impossible given that homeopathic precepts violate multiple laws of physics and chemistry, the problem of combatting quackery and antivaccine nonsense is anything but easy. The case of Aaron Rodgers helps to demonstrate how belief in even a “ridiculous” quackery like homeopathy is far more prevalent than many of my “reasonable” and “science-based” colleagues seem able to accept, and combatting it is a Herculean task.
In the meantime, the NFL should penalize Rodgers as harshly as its rules allow for having lied at a press conference about his vaccination status and flagrantly flouted its COVID-19 safety protocols since August. If Rodgers gets away with this and is subjected to just a fine that he can easily pay or some other “slap on the wrist,” it will just show that in the NFL celebrity and status trump health.
ADDENDUM: Not unexpectedly, Aaron Rodgers is showing his true colors this afternoon, and I happened to see it when I had some time to add a bit to the post:
Here’s the result of Aaron Rodgers’ “doing his own research.” I also call some BS on his claim that a league doctor ever claimed that no one vaccinated against COVID-19 can catch or spread COVID-19. If that’s true, the NFL definitely needs to fire that physician pronto, but, again, I call BS:
There you have it. Aaron Rodgers is antivaccine and antimask, two crappy tastes that taste crappy together and, unfortunately, frequently go together. Yes, he “did his own research,” because of course he did, and found several common antivax tropes, such as the claim that it might make him sterile and the antimask nonsense about “breathing your own CO2.” I guess it shows that being able to do well on Jeopardy! doesn’t mean that you’re actually a critical thinker.