Imploding Researchers

September 24th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, magnets, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, very basic science, water | 31 Comments »

The Guardian | Saturday September 24 2005
Ben Goldacre
The au pair said something very funny about my dinner parties the other day: oh hang on, wrong column. Didn’t they tell you? We’re all written by the same person. So I’ve been reading the BBC’s health website — on the importance of drinking water — and it seems we missed a very exciting discovery: “Implosion researchers have found that if water is put through a spiral, its electrical field changes and it then appears to have a potent, restorative effect on cells.”

This, speaking as someone who now writes for the news pages, is “news”. They even have further details on the water research: “In one study, seedlings watered with spiralised water grew significantly faster, higher and stronger than those given ordinary water.” (www.tinyurl.com/9p578)

Now, I am of the longstanding opinion that national newspaper journalists calling up press offices and being taken seriously is, in the simplest sense of the word, cheating: which is why I have an extensive range of fake email identities, for circumstances just like these.

So Dr Quentin Arbuthnot (FRS) inquires innocently to the BBC complaints department, with his eminently reasonable questions: “What is an implosion researcher? And what is the electrical field of water?” he begins. “How does your correspondent believe it ‘changes’, and how was this measured?” Too vague. Bring it back to the specifics, Quentin: “What, pray, was the ‘potent restorative effect on cells’ and how was this measured? And please, what is the reference for the research referred to, which shows that seedlings in this special water grow ‘significantly faster, higher, and stronger’?”

That was the beginning of August. Three weeks later, Quentin receives the following: “Thank you for your interesting comments. The author of this piece is getting in contact with the researchers who provided the information and will endeavour to get answers to each of your questions.” Quentin is loving how doggedly they’re being all grown-up and professional. “In the meantime she has asked that this paragraph be removed from the site until the points can be further clarified. We will write to you again once we have further information.”

That was a month ago. Then nothing, although Quentin has been making a right old noise: first he had suggested that someone calling themselves an implosion researcher is no source for a media organisation to use as a source of improbable facts. Then he pointed out that Jacqueline Young, who wrote the piece, describes herself as “originally trained as a clinical psychologist in the NHS”. I contacted the British Psychological Society and they’d never heard of her. So either this was before 1990, or she’s changed her name, or she never was trained as a clinical psychologist.

But lastly, a clarification: this is not a cultural issue, and this is not about alternative science versus western medicine. It is about the far simpler issue of a proper media organisation presenting made-up marketing rubbish as if it was scientific fact.

www.bbc.co.uk/health/healthy_living/complementary_medicine/staying_water.shtml


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31 Responses



  1. Ray said,

    September 24, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    Interesting on a couple of counts.

    1) I’ve run into this “implosion research” before: we’re talking about Vortical Dynamics and their various twisty bits of wire with magic water inside. There was a Centre for Implosion Research site, but that’s down since I looked last.

    2) I’m starting to postulate a standard BBC complementary department runaround. I complained way back, October 2004, about another Jacqueline Young BBC piece on Cranial Osteopathy – on the grounds that it repeats the well-debunked claims about movable skull bones as a fact rather than a belief. Eventually I got told that the writer of the complementary health section “was aware of the situations” and that the issue is being “debated by osteopaths in their professional journal. She is currently investigating and depending on her findings the article will be re-worded”. It hasn’t. See Sacral bleu!

  2. David Brake said,

    September 25, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    What a surprise – some of the offending bollocks has now disappeared from the BBC link. There is still plenty of bollocks in the “complementary health” section of the BBC site. Take the homeopathy page www.bbc.co.uk/health/healthy_living/complementary_medicine/therapies_homeopathy.shtml. The only skeptical part is a throw-away comment – “Many scientists, however, say homeopathic remedies don’t work at all and that any improvement in patients is due to the ‘placebo effect’.” Not “many” but “all but a tiny minority”. Keep up the pressure!

  3. Ray said,

    September 25, 2005 at 6:30 pm

    Ah, here we go: the Centre for Implosion Research website, back from the dead courtesy of the Internet Archive.

  4. Ray said,

    September 26, 2005 at 3:28 am

    There is still plenty of bollocks in the “complementary health” section of the BBC site

    A dig into the regional sections finds even worse. Check out the South East Wales Mind, Body and Spirit section: pages of uncritical hype for woo-woo therapies. Similar at BBC Cornwall. I don’t know how this stuff manages to square with BBC policies: some of it is outright advertorial, like this puff for Healing with herbs.

  5. Bryan Kitts said,

    September 26, 2005 at 3:07 pm

    “So either this was before 1990, or she’s changed her name, or she never was trained as a clinical psychologist.”
    Neither of the first two seem unlikely (women often change their name on marriage or divorce), so it seems a little uncharitable to imply the third might be true without any other evidence.

  6. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 26, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    well maybe. so a shame the bbc didn’t reply.

  7. Adam Bernard said,

    September 26, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    The BBC’s biog: “Originally trained as a clinical psychologist in the NHS specialising in primary care, she then spent five years in the Far East training in oriental medicine. After returning to the UK in 1985 [...]“
    This would put her date of qualification at 1980 (or earlier). That’s before 1990.

  8. Steffan John said,

    September 26, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    Actually, from the BBC Conwall ‘Healing with Herbs’ site, they advertise the quack’s telephone number and email address. Surely this contravenes the BBC’s policy on not advertising for companies?

    It’s bad enough that the BBC highlights such garbage – and herbology is different from homeopathy because it can be positively harmful, instead of pointless – but to propagate details for business profit is appalling

  9. PaulV said,

    September 26, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    Hmmm,

    Just checked out the scientific research pages on the implosion research website. Apparently they cant make contact with their servers, although oddly there is no such problem with their online shop…how strange.

  10. person said,

    September 26, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    What’s a “BSc in Herbal Medicine” (on the BBC Cornwall page, above), bearing in mind what the Sc part is meant to mean…?

    Amusingly, if you Google for “BSc in Herbal Medicine”, you get exactly the BBC page mentioned as the number one result.

    Then, further down, you get things like this course at Lincoln – I’d love to see their textbooks.

  11. Owen Kelly said,

    September 30, 2005 at 10:35 am

    Intrigued by the concept of “Implosion”, I found this “tap water has been passed through biological and industrial cycles many times wherever we live or travel to, and in so doing has been reduced to a simple chemical compound – H20, rather than the energising elixir of life that it really should be.” at this site: www.vorticaldynamics.com/welcome.html

    My question to those who post here and know more about this sort of thing then me: what do the two pictures on the left of this page actually depict? They purport to be pictures of
    1. ” Ordinary London tap water with no cluster structure and very small amounts of Biophoton emissions.” and
    2. “London tap water (at the same magnification) after energisation with the Vortex Energiser showing increased structure and more vibrant biophoton emissions”

  12. Ray said,

    September 30, 2005 at 11:05 am

    I’m certain that the “male structure” shown is nothing to do with micro cluster structure of water: it’s some kind of crystal. There’s more about the purported observation here, which tracks it to the work of a “Professor David Schweitzer”. THis paper mentions something of his technique, which appears to involve letting water drops dry up a bit before photography. So I’d guess the images show dissolved salts evaporating out.

  13. Alan Petrie said,

    September 30, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Only recenlty stumbled upon ‘Bad Science’.Keep up the good work!

  14. Martin said,

    September 30, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    Oh, my. Just read some benefits of ‘energised’ water:

    Food will taste fresher and texture and flavour will also improve.
    Flowers will remain fresher for longer.
    Ice stays frozen for longer.
    Coffee and tea improve in taste.
    Bacteria cannot survive in oxygenated water and are eradicated.
    Water’s efficiency is increased, making heating and cooling quicker and saving on energy consumption.
    Lime scale is dissolved over time.
    Less detergent is needed, as the water is softer and hydrating.
    Skin dryness is reduced and our hair becomes stronger, softer and shinier.
    Energy levels increase and health improves.
    Makes water safer to drink.

    Sounds like it’s a fancy water softener to me, although that doesn’t explain the images of the salts.

    The description of how the vortex energizer works is fantastic, as well:
    “…the Vortex Energizer acts as a cosmic antenna and amplifier which takes its energy directly from the Quantum Sea of Energy or Ether…Direct contact with water is not necessary as the energy is transferred by way of vibration. This process is similar to one tuning fork picking up the vibration of another tuning fork, even if the first one has not been struck. This is also called resonance.”

    OK, so even ignoring ‘cosmic antenna’ and ‘Quantum Sea of Ether’, neither of which I can fairly rubbish, as I’m not an expert in these fields (although I’d love to meet one), what are they talking about with tuning forks? One tuning fork picks up the vibration from another, even if the first hasn’t been stuck. Wouldn’t this mean that tuning forks could never be stored within earshot of each other, as you’d immediately get feedback? If this is true, couldn’t we harness this energy? Huge arrays of tuning forks (in specially sound-proofed rooms) could replace fossil-fuel burning or nuclear power stations. No more unsightly wind farms, no more nuclear reprocessing!

    I wonder why no-one has come up with this before. Is it because the government is in the pay of Shell and BP, or is it because it’s all total clap-trap?

  15. BSM said,

    September 30, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    This bunch have a London telephone number, so are under UK jursidiction. I’d think that theeir loca Trading Standards office culd be asked to take a look at those claims:

    “Ice stays frozen for longer.”
    “Bacteria cannot survive in oxygenated water and are eradicated”

    They are very specific and are probably easily refutable with a minimum of testing.

  16. BSM said,

    September 30, 2005 at 3:40 pm

    Ben,

    Did your investigations of these people yield a physical address? I see that is missing from their website- never a good sign!

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 30, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    My investigations on the BBC? I think they’re in West London somewhere…

  18. Ray said,

    September 30, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    A physical address?

    Vortical Dynamics Ltd, 2 All Saints Church, Tytherton Road, Tufnell Park, London N19 4PZ

  19. BSM said,

    September 30, 2005 at 10:11 pm

    That’ll be Camden and Islington then.

    Islington..hmm…wonder whether Cherie’s got a hold over their Trading Stadnards officers…nah, that’s just paranoia.

  20. BSM said,

    September 30, 2005 at 10:12 pm

    By the way, where’d you get the address?

  21. Ray said,

    October 1, 2005 at 10:37 pm

    Companies House. Although it’s a commercial service, its free WebCheck search gives basic details like address.

  22. Squander Two said,

    October 2, 2005 at 1:17 am

    The bit about tuning forks is actually true. If you fail to even touch a tuning fork, causing it not to move at all, then another tuning fork, no matter how far away, will vibrate at exactly the same frequency as the first, without anyone even touching it. Amazing but real.

  23. Jacqueline Young said,

    October 6, 2005 at 5:59 am

    Dear Ben,

    I have recently returned from Australia and Japan and been made aware of your reference to me in your columns.
    Feedback on anything I have written is always welcome and I will gladly respond to the comments made by yourself and Ray about my text shortly.
    However I am rather shocked by your attacks on me personally where you have questioned everything from my credentials to my ethics. My thanks to commentators Bryan Kitts and Adam Bernard, whoever you are, for giving me the benefit of the doubt for I did indeed obtain my Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Liverpool University Medical School, Sub-dept of Clinical Psychology in 1981. I have also continued academic and professional training in various subjects ever since and, believe it or not, actually share your passion for good science!
    I would be grateful if you would post this comment on your site immediately in order to at least correct your misinformation that I am a ‘fake’ and meanwhile I have a fuller reply to you which will be sent to you via the BBC.

    Yours courteously,

    Jacqueline Young

  24. Thomas Ota said,

    October 9, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    The bit about tuning forks is actually true. If you fail to even touch a tuning fork, causing it not to move at all, then another tuning fork, no matter how far away, will vibrate at exactly the same frequency as the first, without anyone even touching it. Amazing but real.

    Surely if distance is irrelevant all tuning forks will vibrate all the time?

  25. Ray said,

    October 10, 2005 at 8:07 pm

    Ah, tuning fork mysticism. If you want to be depressed, try a Google search on “tuning fork” therapy.

  26. John Hawcock said,

    March 27, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    I thought Ray was joking about the tuning fork therapy. I checked. He wasn’t. Western civilisation is doomed. I think we’d all better start learning Mandarin. Whatever you might say about the Chinese government, they seem refreshingly unwilling to put up with this sort of crap.

  27. troutboy said,

    June 7, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Particularly like the sound of the Angel Tuners set which apparently opens your sould to “the angelic kingdom” and all for $47.

    I wanted to check how much this was compared with musical tuning forks, but google has been so over-run with magic ones that I gave up.

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