Homeopathy Journal Club

August 14th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy, journal club | 30 Comments »

Peter Fisher and Elsevier have rather kindly given me permission to reproduce the experimental papers from the special issue of Homeopathy on the memory of water, so I’m posting them in full below. As you know I’m a strong believer in free access to academic journals, especially when they’ve been press-released and discussed in popular fora.

As you also know, I’m very much against censoring the unusually well-informed brand of internet childishness which happens in the discussion on this blog, but on this occasion, since I’m posting academic papers, and since they’ve graciously given us the papers to post and discuss, it might be good to be marginally more journal clubby about it.

I don’t want you to feel inhibited, but I do have a bit of a fantasy about setting up an entertaining online journal club (although a formal one already exists), and I was hoping this could be some kind of dry run, although obviously these aren’t mass appeal clinical papers, which are the kind that I’d aim to do in the future.

So, the papers are set out below, and I’ve marked them as written in 1970 so that they don’t all clog up the front page of the site. There’s some interesting stuff in there, and some very, er, odd stuff too. Enjoy!

Overviews

“The Memory of Water: an overview”

“The history of the Memory of Water”

“Can water possibly have a memory? A sceptical view”

Experimental

“Long term structural effects in water: autothixotropy of water and its hysteresis”

“The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy”

“Can low-temperature thermoluminescence cast light on the nature of ultra-high dilutions?”

“The ‘Memory of Water’: an almost deciphered enigma. Dissipative structures in extremely dilute aqueous solutions”

Theoretical

“The possible role of active oxygen in the Memory of Water”

“The silica hypothesis for homeopathy: physical chemistry”

“The octave potencies convention: a mathematical model of dilution and succussion”

Other Hypotheses

“The nature of the active ingredient in ultramolecular dilutions”

“Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy”

It all kicks off with a characteristically metered editorial from Peter Fisher.

Editorial The Memory of Water: a scientific heresy?

Peter FisherE-mail The Corresponding Author, Editor

Available online 31 July 2007.


Article Outline

A bad memory
Competing hypotheses
The memory of pure water?
References


This special issue of Homeopathy is devoted to the ‘memory of water’, a concept forever linked to the name of the late Jacques Benveniste, although not coined by him. The term first appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde, commenting on a fierce controversy which blew up in the pages of the leading scientific journal Nature in 1988. In June of that year, Nature published a paper by a large international group led by Benveniste which made the sensational claim that the antibody anti-IgE in dilutions up to 10−120 molar, far into the ‘ultramolecular’ range, triggers degranulation of human basophils in vitro.1

Nature had resisted publishing the paper, and the then editor, John Maddox, agreed to do so only on the condition that Benveniste allowed an inspection team, nominated by Maddox, to visit his laboratory after publication. The team duly visited, and, a month later, published its report denouncing Benveniste’s work as ‘pseudoscience’, but nevertheless justifying its decision to publish.2 Two subsequent attempts to reproduce Benveniste’s results failed,[3] and [4] although he remained defiant until his death in October 2004. Yolène Thomas, a long-term collaborator of Benveniste, recounts that episode and the subsequent history of the memory of water in this issue,5 and Michel Schiff has given a detailed insider’s account of the treatment Benveniste suffered for his heresy.6

A bad memory

Yet, the memory of water is a bad memory: it casts a long shadow over homeopathy and is just about all that many scientists recall about the scientific investigation of homeopathy, equating it with poor or even fraudulent science. So why revive it now? The reason of course is the claims made by homeopathy for the action of ultramolecular (also called ultra high) dilutions. Although the basic idea of homeopathy is similarity, the most controversial and, for many, implausible claim concerns the properties of the ultramolecular dilutions characteristic of it. Avogadro’s constant, the number of particles (atoms or molecules) in a gram mole of a substance, is of the order of 1023. The inescapable corollary is that dilutions of substances above this level are unlikely to contain a single molecule of the starting substance, whose name appears on the label. In homeopathic terminology, 1023 corresponds to a 23x/dH or 12c dilution. In fact, for reasons including the concentration of the starting substance(s) the ultramolecular limit is often passed well before 23x/12c. In any case, it is only a statistical probability and many homeopathic starting materials of biological origin are complex mixtures of many chemicals in varying concentrations.

It is this problem that links Benveniste’s work to homeopathy: he claimed to have discovered that aqueous dilutions of a protein retained the essential properties of that protein many 1:100 dilution stages after it had been diluted out. The water diluent ‘remembered’ the anti-IgE long after it was gone. The underlying hypothesis can be stated as follows: ‘Under appropriate circumstances, water retains information about substances with which it has previously been in contact and may then transmit that information to presensitised biosystems’. Note that this hypothesis has two parts: retention of information and transmission of information.

It is now generally accepted that Benveniste’s original method does not yield reproducible results, so why has the idea of memory of water not faded away?

Competing hypotheses

In fact, there are competing theories for the effects of homeopathy. The most widespread is that no explanation is required: homeopathy has no specific effects, and its outcomes are attributable to purely placebo effects: psychological phenomena, including expectation of benefit in which the homeopathic medicine plays no role except to convince the patient that they are receiving a genuine medical treatment.

Among the counterarguments to this position is that homeopathic medicines and treatment regimes seem, from what is known about the factors which increase placebo effects, designed to minimise it!7 They are small and unimpressive, and often administered at low frequencies.

Of course the main counterargument is the steadily growing body of evidence from both clinical and bench science that homeopathy and homeopathic ultramolecular dilutions have effects which cannot be discounted in this way. Other hypotheses which accept that there is something to be explained have emerged, most notably a group involving ‘macroscopic quantum entanglement’. These are represented in this issue in the papers by Weingärtner8 and Milgrom.9

Yet, among those hypotheses which accept that there is something to explain about the properties of homeopathic ultramolecular dilutions, the largest group involve what can be broadly described as ‘memory of water’ effects. In fact, as our Guest Editor Prof Martin Chaplin shows in his masterly overview, there is no doubt that, at a simple level, water memory effects do exist.10 But this is far from proving that they have the features (such as the specificity to ‘remember’ individually all of the large number of substances used as the bases for homeopathic medicines), which would be required to account for the claimed effects of homeopathy.

The memory of pure water?

One interesting theme to emerge from several contributions is that the memory may not be that of water alone. As Jose Teixeira points out in his sceptical view the process of producing an homeopathic medicine produces very high dilutions, but not necessarily in very pure water.11 There is a growing view that chemical contaminants, particularly silica leached from the walls of the glassware, may play a crucial role, a hypothesis developed in this issue by Anick and Ives.12 Voeikov suggests that peroxide species created by the succussion process may be significant.13 There may be homology here to the ‘doping’ of semiconductors. On a different theme, David Anick develops a mathematical model which elegantly accounts for the series (‘octaves’) of dilutions traditionally used in homeopathic practice, independent of the underlying mechanism of information retention.14

But perhaps most significant is the growing body of experimental evidence, based widely on different physico-chemical methods represented by the papers in this issue by Elia,15 Rao et al,16 Rey,17 Vybíral and Voráček.18 None of this work is final, conclusive or above criticism and in some cases the relevance to clinical homeopathy is not immediately obvious. But here are some remarkable convergences, for instance, Elia and Vybíral and Voráček, on the basis of entirely different methods, have detected properties that are unexpected, reflect large-scale organisation in liquid water, and, perhaps, mostly remarkably, increase with time.

The work collected in this special issue reflects convergent views from widely different perspectives that water can display memory effects and that homeopathic production methods might induce them. These findings represent a fundamental challenge to the complacent view which refuses even to think seriously about homeopathy. It may develop to the point at which, after over two centuries of controversy, there is finally consensus about the key to understanding mode of action of homeopathic high dilutions.

There is much work to be done, but at this stage we can say one thing with certainty: the assertion that homeopathy is impossible because the ‘memory of water’ is impossible is wrong.

References

1 E. Davenas, F. Beauvais and J. Amara et al., Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE, Nature 333 (1988), pp. 816–818. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

2 J. Maddox, J. Randi and W.W. Stewart, ‘High-dilution’ experiments a delusion, Nature 334 (1988), pp. 287–290.

3 J.H. Ovelgönne, A.W. Bol, W.C. Hop and R. van Wisk, Mechanical agitation of very dilute antiserum against IgE has no effect on basophil staining properties, Experientia 48 (1992), pp. 504–508. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

4 S.J. Hirst, N.A. Hayes, J. Burridge, F.L. Pearce and J.C. Foreman, Human basophil degranulation is not triggered by very dilute antiserum against human IgE, Nature 366 (1993), pp. 525–527. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus

5 Y. Thomas, The history of the Memory of Water, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 151–157. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (400 K)

6 M. Schiff, The Memory of Water, Thorsons, London (1995).

7 D. Evans, Placebo: Mind over Matter in Modern Medicine, Oxford University Press, Oxford (2003).

8 O. Weingärtner, The nature of the active ingredient in ultramolecular dilutions, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 220–226. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (157 K)

9 L. Milgrom, Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 209–219. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (736 K)

10 M. Chaplin, The Memory of Water: an overview, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 143–150. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (224 K)

11 J. Teixeira, Can water possibly have a memory? A sceptical view, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 158–162. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (366 K)

12 D. Anick and J. Ives, The silica hypothesis for homeopathy: physical chemistry, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 189–195. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (242 K)

13 V. Voeikov, The possible role of active oxygen in the Memory of Water, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 196–201. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (136 K)

14 D. Anick, The octave potencies convention: a mathematical model of dilution and succussion, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 202–208. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (187 K)

15 V. Elia, E. Napoli and R. Germano, The Memory of Water: an almost deciphered enigma. Dissipative structures in extremely dilute aqueous solutions, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 163–169. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (338 K)

16 M.L. Rao, R. Roy, I.R. Bell and R. Hoover, The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 175–182. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (775 K)

17 L. Rey, Can low temperature thermoluminescence cast light on the nature of ultra-high dilutions?, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 170–174. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (267 K)

18 B. Vybíral and P. Voráček, Long term structural effects in water: autothixotropy of water and its hysteresis, Homp 96 (2007), pp. 183–188. SummaryPlus | Full Text + Links | PDF (279 K)

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30 Responses



  1. stever said,

    August 14, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    *joins the club*

  2. emichan said,

    August 14, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for posting these articles and thus adding to the availability of knowledge to the masses. I can’t wait to read them. Unfortunately, working for a living means I can’t do so at this time. :P

  3. kleptonat said,

    August 14, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    Ben

    Perhaps you might explain to the non-science non-med readers what a journal club actually is?

    Whilst it’s a common experience for many of us for those you’re trying to convince it probably isn’t. Might be running the risk of ‘preaching’ entirely to the choir.

  4. superburger said,

    August 15, 2007 at 12:08 am

    journal club is when a lab/research group gets together to discuss one or more papers. Usually one person runs the meeting by presenting a synopsis of some recent work and it *should* evolve into a free-flowing discussion, out of which new ideas flow.

    it is not unique to medicine.

    it can be great, or a total waste of time, depending on your point of view.

  5. kingcnut said,

    August 15, 2007 at 12:13 am

    Well, I’m non-science and non-med, so I’d appreciate a run-down from someone. I’m assuming it’s a sort of unofficial peer-review thingie where everyone joins in to critique the research in question – kind of like a book club, but less artsy, more sciencey. Is that fair?

    My implicit disclaimer about not really knowing what I’m talking about aside, then, it strikes me that the key part of the above article is following sentence:

    “Elia and Vybíral and Voráček, on the basis of entirely different methods, have detected properties that are unexpected, reflect large-scale organisation in liquid water, and, perhaps, mostly remarkably, INCREASE WITH TIME” (my caps).

    Without that property of increasing over time, the “memory of water” can’t achieve anything whether it exists or not – if you dilute the solution to 12c or whatever with pure water, then all but the molecules that were in contact with the original substance won’t remember it anyway. The “memory” needs to spread through the rest of the water if it isn’t going to run up against the same problem that the original molecules had – there just won’t be enough to have an effect. Assuming that this theory of mine makes sense (not definite by any means) then those of you with the expertise need to critique those papers by Elia and Vybíral and Voráček and tell the rest of us whether their methods are sound. If they are, then…

    …whisper it…

    …there might be something worth at least listening to. Or am I being credulous?

  6. kingcnut said,

    August 15, 2007 at 12:15 am

    Oh. Thanks Superburger, that’s the journal club run-down I needed. Well, doesn’t sound like I was too far off.

  7. wewillfixit said,

    August 15, 2007 at 9:12 am

    There’s a very good critique of the Rustrum Roy paper at Jref (especially Rolfes comments).

    forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=88831

    And earlier discussion of some of the work that appear in this paper.

    forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=87421

  8. superburger said,

    August 15, 2007 at 9:33 am

    “The silica hypothesis for homeopathy: physical chemistry”

    “29Si-NMR provide insight into the degree of polymerization of silicates. 29Si-NMR will tell us ratios among Qx loci. ”

    29Si has a natural abundance about 30%, and its NMR receptivity is 2.1% of carbons.

    I am *not* an nmr expert, but…

    At the concentrations of dissolved Si proposed, you’d do very well to see *dissolved* silicates, above the *background* coming from the fact that NMR tubes are mode from, er, glass.

    Normally you’d just run a blank, and subtract the background signal, but at these sort of concentrations I’m not sure that’s a valid method.

    Unless you use sapphire NMR tubes, which has been done before, i think.

    I could well be wrong, can anyone fill me in on the nmr details.

  9. DoctorLoctor said,

    August 15, 2007 at 10:33 am

    @superburger

    29Si, according to the JACS paper cited, has a natural abundance of [edit:] less than 5%. As you suspect, this makes it even harder to detect. However, using glass tubes shouldn’t be a problem as NMR experts (I’m just a former user) would use fancy pulse sequences to filter out signals from static atoms, seeing only those tumbling in solution.

    The main problem is the low sensitivity of the technique – if 29Si is 2% of the receptivity of 13C, well, 13C is about 1% of 1H’s. You need about 10E-5M solutions of (identical) 1H’s to get a good signal-to-noise ratio, so you need about 0.05M 29Si – 1.5 g / l If you don’t enrich the Si, you will need to condense the equivalent of 150g of SiO2 into 1 litre of liquid.

    To comment on this particular paper: as seems quite common for this “field”, the authors have picked up on some really interesting proper science and come up with some wouldn’t-it-be-cool-ifs without consideration to a few all-importants.

    1. it is observed that interesting silicate structures are achievable at very high concentrations of silicate, or by introducing corrosive solutions into glass vials.

    2. it is also true that certain inorganic “clusters” have been shown to possess anti-viral properties, not that they mention this. (see work by Craig Hill of Emory University) These are non-silicates to my knowledge, though I believe people are working on methds for making controlled, soluble cage structures based on Si-O-Si bonds for catalytic and therapeutic applications, but not silicates for the reason below.

    3. problem – silicate anions form in dynamic equilibrium. You can slow this down by freezing the solution or precipitating the anions as solids. However, they simply cannot work as a “memory” in liquid over anything more than a few seconds. Most importantly, you will fundamentally shift the equilibrium if you “infinitely dissolve” the silicate solution over a period of seconds.

    This “hypothesis” suffers from the same fundamental problem as the “water memory hypothesis”, then, in that the proposed mechanism cannot survive over time – the half life of the scrambling of whatever the structural consequences might be of chemical interaction with an active solute is simply a bit longer, as we are talking about covalent bonds rather than hydrogen bonds.

  10. DoctorLoctor said,

    August 15, 2007 at 10:42 am

    correction – abundance of 29Si is 5% not 2%, so you would need to dissolve about 65 g of, well, sand into a litre to get a reasonable signal, if all of the dissolved Si was identical…

  11. superburger said,

    August 15, 2007 at 11:14 am

    yes, abundance of 29Si is >5%. Don’t know where I thought that up from.

    point is, doubt nmr will show up anything of interest.

  12. superburger said,

    August 15, 2007 at 11:18 am

    “Consider two vials of pure water (in practice doubly deionized distilled water is used) each containing 198 drops (about 4 ml). To the first, two drops of pure water (from the same source) are added, making 200 drops. To the second, two drops of Sepia 29c are added. Each vial is covered and succussed. At the end, one is Sepia 30c, and the other is succussed water. To a homeopath, Sepia 30c and shaken water are as different as night and day. From a scientist’s perspective, the only difference between these samples is the 2-drop ‘seed’ added just before succussion. Other than the seed representing 1% by volume, 99% of the two samples (before succussion) were identical.”

    This is flawed too, it appears to assume that the ‘seed': 29c Sepia (cuttlefish ink?) is pure sepia, whereas in fact the ‘seed’ it is almost entirely water.

    Therefore v/v ration is not 99:1, it is really much closer to 100:0.

  13. wilsontown said,

    August 15, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Just as a general comment on the issue as a whole, it seems that the authors are not really talking about ‘water memory’ in the way most people understand the term. They are talking about various impurities and how they might affect the structure of water. This isn’t the same thing as water structurally ‘remembering’ a solute that has been diluted out of existence.

    So homeopathic remedies don’t only contain water; they contain all kinds of impurities too! But then, so does tap water, or distilled water that has been exposed to air for any length of time, so I’m not sure how much further forward this observation gets us.

  14. ayupmeduck said,

    August 15, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    The Homunculus blog was interesting, but as “j” already points out, what sense is there in discussing *HOW* this process (Homeopathy) works, when it has in fact been proven that it does *NOT* work beyond what we already know (Placebo).

    If I tell you I have built a fully functioning time machine, but I don’t know how it works, would you not want to be 100% sure that my time machine really did allow time travel before you start speculating *HOW* it works?

    Having said that, I did read the Yolène Thomas article and I ended up digging into the DARPA funded study that Thomas references, “Can specific biological signals be digitized?” just because I was interested in why DARPA would get involved in this:

    “http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/full/20/1/23

    Thomas leads into his reference to the study thus:

    “More surprising and mysterious was the fact that in some cases certain individuals (not claiming special talents) consistently get digital effects and other individuals get no effects or perhaps block those effects … We dealt with this problem in some of our own studies and also in the course of one independent replication.”

    So Thomas thinks it’s “surprising and mysterious” that certain individuals can apparently replicate the “digital effects”? Others “block these effects”? It becomes far less surprising and mysterious when you read the study and see that the specific “certain individuals” that could show the “digital effects” were 1 member of Jacques Benveniste’s own team and nobody else. Just like the famous Benveniste paper in Nature it shows that Benveniste and his team came up with things that nobody else can replicate. I wouldn’t call this “mysterious”, there are far more down to earth reasons that would explain this.

    Furthermore, Thomas calls the DRAPA study “independent replication”. Lord knows how he can make this claim since the study clearly states in “We found no effects from digital signals…”

    So I’ve followed a trail from the main subject of a process that is proven not to work (Homeopathy), to a paper in a vested interest magazine, to a citied article that is supposed to support the “memory of water”, to a theory about “biological digitised signals” that it is claimed could possibly be linked the to the unsupported “memory of water”, which finally ends in a reference paper that in fact, and contrary to what the Homeopaths would lead you to believe, concludes that there is no evidence of “digitised signals”.

  15. j said,

    August 15, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Charles wrote:
    Pending demonstration of the efficacy of homeopathic therapy, explanations as to the supposedly causal mechanisms are at best moot, at worst a waste of intellectual effort.

    Actually, is Milgrom trying to say that the ‘efficacy’ of homeopathy is outside of causal mechanisms? I.e. maybe Milgrom acknowledges homeopathy doesn’t ‘work’ (doesn’t do anything; doesn’t cause any useful effects beyond placebo) – but he still feels that there’s space for (mis)quoting philosophers and quantum physicists re. metaphysics etc.

    Not entirely sure what the point of that is – I can picture a Dr saying to a patient ‘well, I won’t give you any useful medicine, but here’s a copy of Kant’s First Critique that might distract you from the pain’ – but maybe it’s enough to keep homeopaths happy. I’m also not sure how this relates to evidence or medicine (complementary or otherwise), but anyway…

  16. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 15, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    truly excellent stuff.

    might i suggest that people post their comments here, but also copy them under the specific article they are critiquing? for the milgrom one and the silica issue especially there is a fair amount to be said already.

  17. BobP said,

    August 15, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    There is a process here which I recognise from my experience with acupuncture research.

    Alt-med practitioners who would like to reconcile their practice with conventional science will often start with a proveable hypothesis (e.g in homeopathy, the hypothesis that a minute dose has a measurable therapeutic effect). When this is disproved, they are faced with a conflict – they have either to admit that there is no scientific basis to their practice, or else they must replace the disproved theory with an alternative hypothesis.

    With time, they will end up with a hypothesis which is unproveable. Hence, in homeopathy, the “memory” of water.

    In acupuncture, there is the theory of “intent” which is has been fabricated in order to deny the negative results from double-blind trials – (see for example www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=30416 )

  18. Charles Copeland said,

    August 15, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    J writes:

    Actually, is Milgrom trying to say that the ‘efficacy’ of homeopathy is outside of causal mechanisms? I.e. maybe Milgrom acknowledges homeopathy doesn’t ‘work’ ..

    I thought that too until I read him carefully. Milgrom is a believer. Here are four citations from his ‘Conspicuous by its Absence’ paper:

    [P]ositive results from even the highest standard scientific trials are rejected by those who will not accept homeopathy’s claim that remedies diluted out of molecular existence might have any effect.

    It is perhaps sufficient to say that an explanation for the efficacy of highly diluted homeopathic remedies within the ‘local’ paradigm of the molecular sciences, though difficult is not as improbable as homeopathy’s critics claim. .

    [S]ome trials of non-individualised homeopathic remedies have generated positive results ..

    the positive effects observed in many homeopathic clinical trials

    The core of Milgrom’s argumentation is actually old hat dressed up in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (basically: to ‘observe’ is to interfere, e.g. if you ‘observe’ a frog by dissecting it, the frog won’t be the same afterwards): homeopathy won’t work if you start looking at us doing it, RCTs (randomized controlled trials) cramp our style because of the delicate house-of-cards balance between the patient, practitioner and remedy — and yet homeopathic remedies are so powerful that some of these RCTs despite themselves demonstrate the efficacy of the therapy. In those RCTs that ‘work’ we have what Milgrom calls the ‘surviving relic’ of the homeopathic therapeutic process.

    RCTs – damned if they work, damned if they don’t.

  19. j said,

    August 15, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    thanks Charles – yep, does look like I misread Milgrom re. his belief in the efficacy of homeopathy.

  20. Michael Power said,

    August 16, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I should be working, not reading this nonsense, but I have to say that the main reason (for me) that the “memory of water” hypothesis is implausible is that for memory to work it has to be hand-in-hand with forgetting. Has the water used for homeopathic dilutions run off a blank slate (i.e. forgotten its past)? If so, how did it forget? If not, the water in a homeopathic remedy should have memories of a LOT of stuff that it has been in contact with before it got into the patient’s mouth. So, why would the patient select the active principle?????????????

  21. jonezie said,

    August 16, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Very interesting topic, I hope to have some time soon to look at the information more in-depth. However, I think that some of these ideas and phenomena were already observed and commented upon back in the 1920’s by a man named Viktor Schauberger. I can’t recall the exact themes, but it was all about water being more than just H2O…might be worth a look.

  22. BobP said,

    August 16, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Sorry, Michael, I have repeated your points. Started writing earlier on, got called away from my desk for a while …..

  23. apgaylard said,

    August 16, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Long term structural effects in water: autothixotropy of water and its hysteresis.

    Bohumil Vybíral & Pavel Voráček

    It seems that the authors have some evidence to suggest interesting new rheological properties for weak aqueous solutions of unidentified ions. Hence, my first comment would be that the paper is mis-titled. It would be more accurate to call it: “Long term structural effects in an ionic aqueous solution: autothixotropy and its hysteresis.” Perhaps the title is as it is to help it get into this particular journal and issue?

    However I would like to say that the possible phenomenology here is interesting. One of the reasons that I am intereted is that my final year undergraduate (physics) project looked at non-newtonian behaviour seen in used crankcase lubricants. I found hysteresis and shear-thinning behaviour (but not thixotropy) in some samples, though only with high loadings of solid impurities (of the order of 1%, or so, by weight.) So I am well disposed to the possibility of some real physics here.

    Reading the paper does raise some questions in my mind:

    1. The authors mention that their solution had “..very low concentration of salt ions ..”. I would really want to know what ions at what concentration.

    2. Following from 1: Is this changing over time? Is something leaching from the container?

    3. I must admit that I find it supprising that: “When a smooth-surfaced cylinder, capable of rotating around its own axis, is used instead of the plate, these phenomena are not observed”. I would think that if we have a shear and time dependant viscosity (Thixotropy) that the skin friction drag of the cylinder would change with the local shear as the cylinder is rotated?

    4. I wondered whether the dicussion on “.. freedom of the translative motion of its molecules ..” Is really talking about boundary layer effects?

    5. They note that: “The electrical conductivity of entirely fresh water was 5.6 μS/cm, and after five weeks it increased to 30.5 μS/cm at 25 °C. A dependence of the observed water properties on this change was not noted.” This must indicate increasing ionic concentration. They find that their effect depends on the presence of ions in solution. It seems odd that they contend that this measurement does not correlate with the rheological changes.

    However, I am not comfortable with some of the commentry on the data that the authors provide:

    6. The authors talk about the structural concept of “clustering”. This runs through most of their conclusions. The paper presents rheological measurements on the bulk fluid and thus these data cannot provide any insight into putative structures. For instance: “2. Clusters of water molecules may be destroyed by boiling or intense stirring or shaking..” They can say this of the bulk rheological property they have called “autothixotropy” but they have no evidence that would enable them to comment on the form of any underlying structure.[however, this does rule their observations out as a mechanism that would support homeopathy as the impication is that “succussion” of a preparation would destroy the phenomenon.

    7. I am baffled by their observation: “.. Moral: If two different observations seem to be mutually incompatible within the frame of an established theory, the most probable explanation is not that one of the observations is wrong, but that the theory is wrong or at least incomplete, and that the observations merely discovered that it was not self-consistent ..” This does not really fit with what they have found. There is no theoretical problem reconciling the very short coherence time of small (hydrogen bonded) structures within water[1]and their observations that the rheological properties of the bulk fluid changed with time and shear. These fit into two different theoretical frameworks. One is looking specifically at structures within the fluid; their work is concerned with the bulk properties of the fluid.

    8. They also conclude that: “5. Water slightly deviates from an ideal Newtonian viscous fluid, because autothixotropy also appears in the form of internal static friction, although very weak.”. This, of course, is misleading. They have shown that deionised water does not deviate from Newtonian behaviour, but a weak aqueous solution of unknown ions does.

    There are also some potentially enlightening experiments that could be done to follow up on the measurements. I would suggest that as they have shown that their effect depends on the presence of ions a logical step is to find out what ions they had and in what concentration. Then they could artificailly vary the concentration and see what happens to the autothixotropy.

    So, overall, there could well be some interesting new physics here. However, the authors seem to have inserted speculations that make their paper more in tune with ideas around homeopathy and water memory. I am not saying this was deliberate; however the data would have been better served by the use of more precise language.

    It is worth stating that this paper has nothing to say about water memory. Their water seems to change in time without any intervention. Hence it is not “remembering” anything. (It’s more like it’s making something up!)

    The effect they have measured is a bulk (rheological) property of the fluid. The mesurements have nothing to say about “macroscopic clusters”. This is sheer speculation. They need to directly observe clusters in their test fluid before they can correlate the bulk property with this type of structuring. Afterall, there are many ordinary thixotropic fluids that exhibit this type of phenomenology without such structures. Examples include some paints, ketchups and automotive transmission fluids. [2]

    Finally, the paper provides no comfort for appologists for homeopathy. First, by their own admission the hypothesized clusters (certainly the observed “autothixotropic” effect)”.. may be destroyed by ..intense stirring or shaking..” So “succussion” would destroy this mechanism anyway. Second, they demonstrate that the effect depends on a non-zero, non-trivial ionic concentration in the water. Removing the ions removes the effect. So no congruence with the “less is more” philosophy of homeopathy.

    Hence its appearance in the special “Memory of Water” issue of Homeopathy is puzzling.

    [1] M.L. Cowan et al., Ultrafast memory loss and energy redistribution in the hydrogen bond network of liquid H2O, Nature 434 (2005), pp. 199–200.
    [2] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thixotropy#Examples

  24. bazvic said,

    August 18, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    G. Shelley.

    The model has a glaring flaw, it does not require the water’s memory to be initialised to an assumed “blank” state.

    Since the inital conditions are undefined what follows must also be undefined.

    Does anyone know how the water’s memory can be initialised?

  25. PalMD said,

    August 20, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    I’ve had the “pleasure” of reading the whole issue of the journal, and one of the most glaring problems is the initial assumptions. The journal starts with the assumption that water memory exists, and then tries to find a reason. No where does it actually prove that the phenomenon even exists.

  26. bazvic said,

    August 21, 2007 at 4:00 am

    What the proponents of “water memory” have also not appreciated is that the models take no account of temperature dependance on the aggregation of solvent around solute.

    Studies on the temperature dependance of diffusion of macromolecules in water show the energy associated with water aggregating around sulphonate anions on polystyrene latex (a model macro molecule) is similar to the latent heat of vapourisation for water.

    In other words solvent-solute structures depend strongly on temperature.

    If water memory was true then changing the temperature would alter the information.

  27. apgaylard said,

    August 24, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    “The nature of the active ingredient in ultramolecular dilutions”
    Otto Weingärtner

    This “paper” is nothing more than a flight of fallacy. It is based on the premise that there is an “active ingredient” in homeopathic “ultramolecular dilutions”. To advance this view the author is prepared to sacrifice the laws of physics, in his own words: “…When I started basic research on homeopathy more than 20 years ago I endeavoured to describe homeopathic potencies according to the laws of physics as far as possible.” The key here is “as far as possible”. In other words, if physics cannot support his belief then it is to be discarded. In doing so the author does not follow the falsificationist methodology that characterises good contemporary science [1]. In fact it could be argued on these grounds alone that what is presented here is not science.

    Commenting on the development of his ideas he states: “…This soon led me to the hypothesis of a field being responsible for the homeopathic phenomenon …” This assumes that a phenomenon exists. Having decided that an effect exists and deciding that some sort of field is responsible he continues: “… because of the ability of living organisms to react in a specific way on electromagnetic signals. I concluded that the mechanism of homeopathic effects must be similar to resonances between electromagnetic waves …” This just does not follow and is incredibly woolly. Doubtless subjecting an organism to an electromagnetic (EM) signal (which one? sunlight, microwaves, infrared …) will elicit specific responses (for example: my typically pale skin darkens when subject to an EM signal in the UV range over a suitable period of time). However there is no connection between these measurable and well understood phenomena and any putative homeopathic mechanism. There is no reason why they “must be similar”. (Quite why resonances between EM waves would suggest themselves to the author is a further mystery.) Again, the author is seeking to justify what he already believes.

    His handling of data that does not support his views is illuminating. He states: “…The results of the series of experiments that were carried out with a variety of standard physical–chemical methods were disappointing. Almost none of the experiments could reproduce results reported in specialist literature, and for no experimental arrangement could the results be forecast.” This description leaves open a large number of questions. For instance, what was the author trying to reproduce? Is this the specialist homeopathic literature or reputable scientific literature? Negative results may disappoint an investigator on a personal level, but they do allow hypotheses to be falsified. What were they? What did they fail to show?

    The author moves on to some more detailed descriptions of NMR measurements. He states: “… the totality of experiments with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) showed a clear tendency in favour of a difference between potencies and their solvent in the water- and OH-portions of the ethanol–water-molecule …” This, of course, is not the same as showing differences between potencies; absolutely essential if homeopathy is to be justified. It is referring to an analytical difference between the test solutions as a group and a reference. Interestingly the abstract from reference 4 states: “… Statistical analysis was applied to succeed in discriminating solutions from their solvents beyond the 10-12 level of dilution. No clear explanation emerged, but post-experiment chemical analysis revealed high amounts (6 ppm) of released silica from the glass material used, with excess in silica-lactose samples, and lower amounts of trace paramagnetic contaminants in highly diluted silica-lactose samples, which could provide a clue.” This indicates that the effects reported are most likely due to contamination. To be objective the author should have reported this, even if he disagreed. A proper scientific paper would have discussed this potential explanation, if only to show why the investigator takes a different view. The implication form the way this paper is cited is that the investigations are in line with the authors view when, in fact, it raises an alternative hypothesis.

    It is fascinating that the author has some awareness of the failings in his approach: “…but I realized that looking for effects without having any clue of their significance is hazardous …” Exactly. In fact looking for correlations where the probability of their being a real relationship is low leads to an increased risk of spurious associations [2]. The author’s remedy is, however, bizarre: “… Therefore, I started building models for the ‘Therapeutically Active Ingredient’ (TAI) and it soon became clear that models for the TAI have to have holistic character …” The author is clear that he did not have “.. any clue ..” as to the significance of the effects he was “.. looking for..” How could he build a model based on unknown effects of unknown significance and then base conclusions on their character? How were these models tested, validated or calibrated?

    Next we have an unbelievable piece of reasoning. The author introduces a “thought experiment” he calls SBM. This stands for “Sequential Box Model”. The claim is that it illustrates “…that the homeopathic phenomenon can be treated within physics with no consideration of the degree of dilution.” This is a phenomenal claim. How is this wonder arrived at? The author “explains” in Appendix A. A mother tincture is placed in a box (B0). This is placed “…10 times bigger than B0 and already 9/10th full of solvent… “ and shaken, according to homeopathic practise. This is called B1, and the process is though of as repeated until we arrive at some arbitrary box, BN. So far this is a fair description of the homeopathic dilution process. The author then comments: “… If one attempted to conduct this experiment in reality the procedure would come to an end very soon because of the unrealizable dimensions of the boxes.” Yes, this illustrates the physical problem with homeopathic dilution.

    Next the amazing statement: “… The higher N grows the less probable is the occurrence of a molecule in a random sample taken out of BN. This means that in BN an additional property has to be present which carries the information of B0. This property has to be non-local.” The first sentence is, of course true. The probability of obtaining a molecule of BN in a random sample actually falls to zero as N increases. This only means a non-local property is required if there is a pre-existing belief that, whilst not present in a sample, the original solute has passed on some (undefined) information into the solvent. In other words, assuming that dilution doesn’t matter and homeopathy works – dilution doesn’t matter and homeopathy works! This is just begging the question. This is a no-thought experiment of breathtaking superficiality and banality. To cite it as an illustration that: “… the homeopathic phenomenon can be treated within physics with no consideration of the degree of dilution.” is just plain false. The argument relies on assuming there is a phenomenon and ignoring physics.

    The paper contains more examples of the let’s assume it true and seek to show how this may be type. For example: “…In this context, the existence of a TAI is temporarily assumed as being proven by successful treatment …”
    Then it moves to the paranormal: “…Both procedures, however, suggest mind–matter and matter–mind correlations…” This, of course, is non-science and should never have made its way into a journal purporting to contain science.

    By this point we are well into quantum-mechanical straw clutching. Odd given the author’s view that: “… it was already known that non-local behaviour can occur in non-quantum systems under certain circumstances.” (No substantiation is provided for this crucial point. I’d really like to see some relevant examples.)

    This has been dealt with at length elsewhere [3]. One aspect of the weakening (W) is the removal of Planck’s constant [4], with its annoying consequence of confining quantum physics to small entities or vanishingly small periods of time. The problem is that it represents the restrictions that exist in the natural world. Dispensing with it breaks the link between theory and the natural world. In fact, as Planck’s constant is central to describing the quantisation of energy seen in nature no theory can be justifiably called “quantum” if it is omitted. So perhaps WQT should more properly be called NQT: Non Quantum Theory.

    Its proponents in the homeopathic field generally, present WQT as some sort of metaphor [4,5]. This, at least, circumvents the problem of the break with nature. However, for the author: “With WQT, for the first time, special emphasis is placed quantitatively on entanglement as an idea.” No, as it has removed the constraints of nature it can have no quantitative power to explain nature. It does not represent nature; rather it codifies how some would like nature to be.

    Hence this paper is just a flight of fallacy. The author believes that homeopathic potencies represent something real and makes his arguments from there. It presents no falsifiable hypotheses; just ad-hoc speculation. The author does not explore other explanations for his NMR evidence, even though one is suggested in a paper he cites.

    This work is merely appropriating scientific language, applying it with no reference to how the natural world is seen to behave and offering it as an explanation. This is just “Cargo Cult Science”.[6]

    [1] Popper, Karl “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” Basic Books, New York (1959)
    [2] Ioannidis JPA, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”, PLoS Medicine Vol. 2, No. 8, e124 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
    [3] shpalman.livejournal.com/tag/lionel+milgrom
    [4] Lionel R. Milgrom “Patient–practitioner–remedy (PPR) entanglement. Part 3. Refining the quantum metaphor for homeopathy”. Homeopathy (2003) 92, 152–160.
    [5] Lionel R. Milgrom, “Journeys in The Country of The Blind: Entanglement Theory and The Effects of Blinding on Trials of Homeopathy and Homeopathic Provings” eCAM Advance Access published on March 1, 2007, DOI 10.1093/ecam/nel062. eCAM 4: 7-16.
    [6] Feynman, Richard P. “Cargo Cult Science” Engineering and Science, Volume 37:7, June 1974.

  28. Antbak said,

    August 28, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Sign the Anti-NHS Homeopathy E-Petition on the No. 10 site here:

    petitions.pm.gov.uk/anti-homeopathy/

  29. thaumaturge said,

    September 5, 2007 at 4:32 am

    So, if water has memory, should I be worried about the water from countless people’s toilets being “treated” and recirculated into my kitchen tap? Does each molecule resonate with the vile acts once perpetrated upon it? Or is there some technique that we can employ to “erase” the “memory” of our drinking water? Perhaps some kind of hydroamnesia?

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