Respectful Insolence

A homeopathic journal club

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgDue to annoying stuff at work and good stuff personally, I didn’t have time to grind out my usual bit of Insolence, either Respectful or not-so-Respectful, today. Fortunately, there is a long history on this blog, full of good stuff that I can repost. So, as I did when I went to TAM7, I’m picking a couple of posts for today that originally appeared in August. This one happens to have first appeared in August 2006; so if you haven’t been reading at least three years, it’s new to you (and if you have, I hope you enjoy it a second time).

I’ll be back tomorrow.

So, after nearly two weeks of torturing myself trying to put together an R01-level grant on short notice and make it actually competitive, I’m finally free. The grant has been submitted (amazingly, the online submission process went through without a hitch), and, sleep-deprived but still hopped up on the Sudafed that kept the mucus membranes in my nasal passages from exploding outward at a high velocity, scattering watery goo everywhere.

Not a pretty sight when it happens, hence the Sudafed.

Fortunately, the pollen has subsided to the level where I am only mildly miserable, allowing my thoughts to turn to this blog’s weekly feature that it can’t do without. Yes, indeed, it’s time for some woo. I figured that, after spending almost every waking moment (and sometimes even non-waking moments) thinking about rigorous science and how to persuade the reviewers that my science is worthy of more funding, I could use a break. And what better break from rationality than some serious woo? Thanks to Ben Goldacre, I found just the rich mother lode I needed, so much so that I really only intend to dwell on a small part of it.

We’re talking all homeopathy, all the time, baby!

But not just any homeopathy. No, we’re talking about the journal Homeopathy, which has devoted all of its most recent issue to articles on the “memory of water.” There’s such a rich vein of woo there that it is far beyond the space and time I have here to devote to it, but, thanks to Ben, you can read it for yourself even if you don’t have institutional subscriptions that allow you to access Homeopathy.

I was half-tempted to look at this article, The octave potencies convention: a mathematical model of dilution and succussion, by David J. Ainck, but I decided that the mathematical woo there is probably better addressed by my blog buddy Mark over at Good Math, Bad Math. One bit, however, is just too tasty not to quote, though. Consider it a little wafer to cleanse the palate before diving into the even more outrageous woo:

How does succussion raise the concentration by a factor of H (typically H=100)? The answer depends on what the active ingredient is alleged to be. For the nano-bubble hypothesis, a nano-bubble might, during the pressure wave of succussion, organize the adjacent H2O into another copy of the same nano-bubble, and both bubbles might survive as structural features after the pressure wave passes.

For the silica hypothesis, silica might be released into solution as Si(OH)4 monomers by the mechanical agitation of succussion, and the specific silica nanocrystals might catalyze the formation of more copies of themselves out of the newly released monomers. It is beyond the scope of this article to assess or justify whether such notions are plausible.

Actually, it’s beyond the scope of all the books ever written to provide a scientifically plausible hypothesis for how homeopathy “works,” although this issue of Homeopathy certainly did appear to impress one homeopath who has been known in the past to take the occasional swipe at skeptics like Ben Goldacre who point out how scientifically bogus the entire concept is, even at one point comparing him to Lord Voldemort. Heck, she’s even taken a swipe at Orac himself over an earlier edition of YFDoW.

In actuality, one mathematical point that I’d really love to see addressed about homeopathy is what it is that’s so special about the number 100? After all, nearly homeopathic dilution is done by a series of dilutions of 1:100 and succussions (shakings). Each 100-fold dilution is called a “C.” Consequently, a 20C dilution has been diluted 100-fold 20 times, for a total of a 1:1040 dilution. But there are a number of ways to get to a dilution of 1:1040 that don’t involve the number 100? So what is magical about the number 100 and why do we never see homeopaths using any other dilution step to reach their desired dilution? For example, a frequent homeopathic dilution seen is 30C (1:1060). Why thirty 100-fold dilutions? Why not reach 1:1060 through 100 thirty-fold dilutions? Or fifteen 10,000-fold dilutions? Why–

Hold on, I’m starting to sound like Andy Rooney. I’d better stop with this and move on.

The woo gets better. True, the last bit had many impressive-looking equations, which is always a good thing for making your woo appear scientific, but another article, The nature of the active ingredient in ultramolecular dilutions by Otto Weingärtner kicks the woo up a notch:

When we talk about the active ingredient of ultramolecular dilutions as used in homeopathy, we mean a non-material quality which–according to the principles of homeopathy–can be traced back to a substance. Moreover, this quality is understood to be able to make the symptoms of a patient disappear when administered via a vehicle. Many people call this quality ‘information’.

And there are some who call me…Tim, too.

But if that’s not enough, just read a little further, and there’s more:

In physics, fields are inevitably linked to interaction between material partners via interaction-particles. Photons, for instance, are the interaction-particles of the electromagnetic field. Thus, potentization as well as treatment with potencies–procedures that implicitly do not depend on matter-matter-interaction–are not primarily based on physical fields. Both procedures, however, suggest mind-matter and matter-mind correlations.

  1. Neither a specific chemical nor a specific physical property of the original substance is known to be transferred during the preparation of potencies although mother tinctures, which of course contain many molecules of the original substance, are mandatory for a starting point of this procedure. Potentization here appears to embody a procedure that relates matter to mind.
  2. No common donor-acceptor-mechanism is known to be responsible for the effects of potencies. Treatment appears to embody a procedure that relates the ‘mind of matter’ to the ‘mind of illness’. The latter of course itself is strongly related to biological matter and is often looked upon as a relationship belonging to psychosomatics.

Are these correlations better described by interaction mechanisms that are not linked to particles? A possible alternative is non-local correlations, known from specific effects in quantum physics.

It looks like we’re back to quantum homeopathy. Of course, whenever there’s quantum homeopathy, there’s one man who can’t be far away. Yes, I’m talking about the man who’s done more to torture quantum theory to make it appear to justify the pseudoscience of homeopathy that any man alive, indeed, so much so that he was the man who gave me the inspiration for Your Friday Dose of Woo and provided the fodder for the very first article and later produced the quantum homeopathic gyroscopic circle.

It’s Lionel Milgrom of course, and he’s produced a doozy for this special issue of Homeopathy, entitled Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy.

I bow before the Master of Homeopathic Woo, as he begins:

Despite increasingly sterile debates over ‘whether’ homeopathy works, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ have yet to be seriously addressed by science. One need not look far to see why.

Formerly a successful allergy researcher, Jacques Benveniste spent the last 20 years of his life out of the scientific mainstream because of his fascination with the ‘Memory of Water’.3 Despite democratic appearances, when it comes to dealing with what it considers ‘heretical’ (eg, homeopathy), science can be as narrow-minded, unforgiving, and vicious as any inquisition. Disregarding the burning stakes of peer opprobrium however, some are seeking answers to the question of how homeopathy might be possible.

Yes! It’s the Galileo Gambit and claiming persecution, all in the first two paragraphs! Even better, Milgrom seems to be in essence conceding that there is no good evidence that homeopathy works. After all, he explicitly states that some are “seeking answers to the question of how homeopathy might be possible.” That’s the problem with Milgrom (and, for that matter, pretty much all the homeopathy “theorists” who publish long-winded screeds of Orac-ian length full of thought experiments about the “memory of water” and how homeopathy “might” work without actually providing any evidence that homeopathy does work! They put the cart before the horse in a big way! After all, why should scientists bother to address the “how” and “why” of how homeopathy “works” if there is no good evidence in the first place that it does, in fact, work? Not surprisingly, this latest Milgrom opus is no different. Just watch as Milgrom discusses the two main types of “theories” for how homeopathy “works”:

Two types of hypothetical ‘mechanism’ are under consideration. Labelled ‘local’ and ‘non-local’, they depend, respectively, on conventional scientific positivism, or appeal to generalised quantum theoretical concepts of complementarity and entanglement. Local hypotheses envisage homeopathic remedies behaving in a way similar to any other medicine, ie, ‘pharmacologically’. The problem is that most homeopathic remedies are diluted out of molecular existence. In order therefore to comply with the causal principles of positivist science, a mechanism has to be envisaged by which some kind of information transfer (usually thought of as electromagnetic) can occur to a molecular substrate (eg, water), via homeopathy’s unique method of remedy production. Involving successive iterations of dilution followed by violent agitation collectively known as succussion, it is this information transfer to the solvent which has been called the Memory of Water (MoW).

Non-local hypotheses, are concerned less with the remedy per se, proposing generalised forms of quantum entanglement as the basis for homeopathy’s efficacy. They suggest instantaneous, acausal correlations are somehow established between various combinations of patient, practitioner, and remedy, ultimately leading to an observed change in the patient’s state of health. These ideas are in their infancy and even more controversial than MoW: indeed, to many the idea that quantum theory might be applicable in our macroscopic domain is anathema. The received conventional wisdom is that non-deterministic quantum theory describes the world of sub-atomic particles, atoms and molecules, while deterministic Newtonian (classical) and Einsteinian (relativistic) theories are sufficient for the macroscopic world of material objects. Non-local hypotheses however, have the advantage of being generalisable outside homeopathy to other healing disciplines.

“Instantaneous, acausal correlations are somehow established between various combinations of patient, practitioner, and remedy”? No wonder he’s The Man when it comes to quantum homeopathic woo! Of course, the wag in me wants to point out that the reason that the non-local hypotheses that Milgrom uses to “explain” homeopathy are “generalizable” to other healing disciplines is because the “healing disciplines” for the justification of which woomeisters like to invoke quantum theory and other nonlocal principles are, by and large, just as much a load of crap as homeopathy.

Quite frankly, the reason Milgrom’s article defeats all other woo in this issue of Homeopathy is because it distills down the essence of all of his arguments about homeopathy, including abusing quantum theory and his concept of the “vital force” as a quantum gyroscope upon which homeopathy can act. If you want a summary of Milgrom’s amazing woo all in one place, this is the place to be. Then, if your brain hasn’t exploded, you can then proceed to read his woo in more depth. What I find more amusing is that now Milgrom adds the one element that’s been missing from his woo, the one element that makes it the perfect woo. Yes, I’m talking about a postmodernist attack on those nasty scientists who don’t accept homeopathy:

Most people assume that science starts from secure reproducible observations out of which ‘facts’ about the world are distilled, an ideal enshrined in logical positivism. Its core beliefs are that scientific questions can be answered completely objectively; that experiments allow scientists to compare theory directly with facts; and that science is a sure route to ‘truth’. In this respect, it is scientifically established ‘evidence’ that is now supposed to provide the only basis for the ‘facts’ on which medical decisions are to be based, regardless of practitioners’ empirical ‘hands on’ experience and intuition.[12] and [13]

However, since the second half of the 20th century, logical positivism has been under sustained attack as being too simplistic from Post-Modernist philosophies of science. There is no such thing as unbiased observation free of any sociological or cultural conditioning, even in science and even under the most stringent experimental circumstances. Therefore, our acceptance or rejection of ‘evidence’ is also open to serious question. Our tendency is to reject evidence which does not fit with currently-held theory. Consequently, positive 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. For black swans, read homeopathy.

Yes! No good woo is complete without a little postmodernism thrown into the mix, the better to call critics fascists who want to impose their narrative on the brave “outside of the mainstream” scientists. (And, of course the woomeisters’ narratives are just as valid as the scientific narrative, at least according to the woomeisters.) Even better, he invokes “quantum entanglement” and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to explain why high quality randomized clinical trials of homeopathy have been negative:

One application of the PPR entanglement metaphor I have described is to provide a rationale for why RCTs of homeopathy often return equivocal results.45 It suggests the double blind RCT ‘collapses’ the three-way patient-practitioner-remedy entangled state in a way analogous to that by which observation collapses a particle’s wave function in the Copenhagen Interpretation of orthodox quantum theory. Thus, while unobserved, a particle exists in an indeterminate state; its evolution in time expressed as a wave function. Observation causes the wave function to ‘collapse’ to a particle whose complementary position and momentum are related via Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. The profound meaning of this is that the act of observation in part creates that which is observed. Or, even more starkly, “The price of knowledge is the loss of an underlying ontological physical reality”. In a similar way, the observational procedure of the RCT may ‘collapse’ the three-way entangled state, leading to the loss of the underlying homeopathic effect, a therapeutic equivalent of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Wow. Just wow. Milgrom has outdone himself. Not only has he summarized his two greatest accomplishments in woo, quantum homeopathy and the Vf (vital force) quantum gyrosocope, but he’s added a bulletproof woo rationale to explain why RCTs have consistently failed to demonstrate any efficacy due to homeopathy by invoking the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I’m not entirely sure how the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle could explain this difficulty, but it sure sounds all physics-y and impressive, doesn’t it? I suppose if homeopathy is claimed to “work” through a quantum entanglement of the practitioner, patient, and remedy, then it follows, in woo world, at least, that trying to observe this entanglement might affect it somehow. After all, in Milgrom’s world, where metaphor is the scientific argument, you might as well carry the metaphor to its conclusion, no matter how misguided and warped the metaphor is.

In a way, I’m glad that Homeopathy put all these articles in one issue. If you really want to see the intellectual bankruptcy–and, yes, outright bullshit–of homepaths and homeopathy, it’s all here on display for all to see. I will give them credit for one thing, though.

Some of their woo is really entertaining.

Comments

  1. #1 LIbraryGuy
    August 3, 2009

    I’m reading “Twenty Years Later,” the first sequel to “The Three Musketeers,” and I ran across this quote:

    There is nothing more convincing than a firm conviction, it has an influence over even the incredulous…

    I work in the Woo section of a large grocery store, and after explaining why homeopathy couldn’t possibly work, a believing co-worker said: “Well, aren’t there lots of things that violate the laws of science?”
    Then she went off and spent 11 bucks on a tube of sugar pills…

  2. #2 Jason Dick
    August 3, 2009

    Oh, man, that finale is just utterly fantastic! Homeopathy only works if you don’t investigate whether or not it works! Amazing!

    I also love how he quotes himself. Hunting that phrase down led me to discover this bit of thermonuclear stupid that Milgrom put out in 2006:
    http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/4/1/7

    I find it profoundly hilarious, but am at the same time absolutely revolted that Oxford Journals actually has an alt-med section.

  3. #3 James Pannozzi
    August 3, 2009

    Why it’s yet ANOTHER (surprise!!) posting about Homeopathy by our dear PalMD! He correctly mentions utterly goofy ideas (or is it?) by Milgrom, ridicules all of it as “woo” (one of my favorite words usually from the “scientifically” minded anti-alternative medicine nuts) but….WHAT’S THIS? fails to advance any ridicule or even MENTION of Professor Emeritus Dr. Rustum Roy, whose papers on the “water memory” idea advance, quite scientifically, the idea that there just might be a rational, scientific basis for Homeopathic curative action. In one paper, Roy claims to have smashed the “it’s just water” argument, correctly pointing out that diamond is a very hard substance, while graphite is soft but, hey….IT’S JUST CARBON.
    It is STRUCTURE, he tells us, not just composition, that determines properties. WOOf about that one PalMD! (At this point, Pal will probably mentions some outrageous quote of Roy’s, etc. etc. but will no doubt forget to mention Roy authoriship of a world famous textbook on Crystalline Chemistry, nor his other academic and scientifc attainments… in fact, anything except discuss Roy’s Memory of Water paper. Perhaps PalMD can think up some clever joke, dimiss Roy’s work as “woo” or make some other equally vapid derrogatory remark.)

    And… what’s this? PalMD has somehow managed to miss the key experiment, and indeed AVOID any mention of her name, done by a pharmaceutical researcher and Homeopathy skeptic M. Ennis who set out one day to prove that the “memory of water” idea was absurd….UNTIL, that is, she actually did the experiment and ended up with positive results (Inflammtion Research Vol 53, Page 181) (yes, it’s been repeated, yes, same results, unexplainable) in which biological effects were indeed stimulated by a high dilution substance in which all molecules of the stimulant were diluted away, yet the effects still occured as though the missing molecules were still there. No, it does not prove Homeopathy but it is most certainly indicative of the need for more research rather than a descent into WOOFUL stupidity, condescending mockery and/or arrogant dismissal. One can just see PalMD laughing at the absurd idea of H. Pylorii, several decades ago, ridiculing Barry Marshall and re-asserting pontifically that stress and diet were the causes.

    The really unfortunate thing about PalMD’s woobegone Quixotian crusade is that, probably unbenknownst to him, his attitudes carry within them an anti-scientific, doctrinaire (no pun intended) idealogical aspect which castigates new ideas, paralyzes research, undermnines science and serves only to preserve the status quo rather than to open new vistas, enable breakthroughs, faciliate the exchange of ideas and the development of new perspectives.

    In light of these kinds of attitudes, is it any wonder that after the billions spent on cancer research over decades, the results have been so meagre?

    The coming medical reforms are going to cause people to question the waste of money and scientific talent and resources under the control of a single system of medicine with a single monodimensional viewpoint held up as gospel by academicians and promulgated by the likes of PalMD, whose end result seems to be the perpetuation of their own positions of authority and the involuntary reflex response of woo to anything beyond their mental blinders.

    PalMD’s views are sincere but openly reflect this bias – a dangerous and blindsided approach which will only serve to block new discovery instead of enable it, thus drying up funds for resarch in things like Homeopathy while the claim is simultaneously made that there is not sufficient research extant to support it!

  4. #4 Barbara
    August 3, 2009

    I’m new.
    what’s woo?

  5. #5 Kismet
    August 3, 2009

    Galileo gambit and now the Barry Marshall gambit? You know that you need to be actually right to play those?

    I’m just wondering if you are aware that carbon is not a liquid while water is, which might explain those phenomena?
    I can’t comment on the alleged research in ‘Inflammtion Research Vol 53, Page 181′, but considering that your post contains >75% useless rhetoric and you only devoted one paragraph to this “groundbreaking” research (which is the only interesting point you make), I’m not sure you can be trusted.

  6. #6 James Pannozzi
    August 3, 2009

    Oh, this Orac’s blog not PalMD’s – OK, where’s the coffee?

  7. #7 the bug guy
    August 3, 2009

    Um, James, PalMD is over at WhiteCoatUnderground. The blogger here is Orac…

  8. #8 Matthew Cline
    August 3, 2009

    In one paper, Roy claims to have smashed the “it’s just water” argument, correctly pointing out that diamond is a very hard substance, while graphite is soft but, hey….IT’S JUST CARBON.

    Those are solids. The molecules in liquid water hold onto each other via hydrogen bonds which are constantly breaking and reforming, so any pattern/structure will quickly be lost. Also, if I recall correctly, often times the liquid result of dilution-and-succession is applied to a sugar pill which is then dried out. Assuming my memory isn’t playing tricks on me on that account, then whatever it is in the water would have to somehow be transferable to sugar.

  9. #9 Ramel
    August 3, 2009

    @Barbera: Woo is pretty much any claim that requires the dismissal of reality, normally used for alternative medicine but can also be applied to any crazy claim from mediums and astrologers to those magnets you can but to attatch to fuel lines to increase fuel efficency.

    @James:
    1) This is not PalMD’s blog, reading comprehension fail.
    2) Carbon and diamond are solids and therefore maintain a structure over time. Water is a liquid, it can develope structures but they have life spans measured in micro seconds. Shelf life fail.
    3) We’ve seen the inflamation reaserch reference before, this time you claim it’s been repeated. Please provide reference(s).
    4) The Gallileo Gambit is a weak argument, as they say “They laughed at galileo, and they laughed at columbus, but they also laughed at Bozo the clown”. They stopped laughing at astronomers who believed the earth went around the sun when the astonomers provided vast quantities of clear evedence to support their claim.
    5) Random capitalisation of words does not add emphasis, it makes you sound like a tinfoil-hat-wearing nut.

  10. #10 ntsc
    August 3, 2009

    I follow that 20C is 10 to the 40. If you can do 1 dilution/succession (spelling may be off) per second that is roughly 10 to the 32 years. Acording to the creationists the universe is less than 10 to the 4 years old.

    I see a problem here.

  11. #11 Ramel
    August 3, 2009

    That should read “magnets you can buy”.

  12. #12 brian
    August 3, 2009

    James,

    what is this i dont even

  13. #13 wilsontown
    August 3, 2009

    Ha ha, someone is actually using Rustum Roy’s work as evidence for homeopathy. Roy’s memory of water paper is perhaps the most incompetent that I’ve ever seen. It was so bad that I co-authored a response to it, pointing out how useless a study it was. The response can be found over at the JREF forums here.

    Rustum Roy may indeed be an eminent materials scientist, but when it comes to homeopathy he is a crank.

  14. #14 D. C. Sessions
    August 3, 2009

    Random capitalisation of words does not add emphasis, it makes you sound like a tinfoil-hat-wearing nut.

    You noticed, eh?
    For more mishegoss from our Citizen Jimserac, head over to Google Groups and search for him in misc.health.alternative

    He’s currently going on about how academic researchers (who had previously endorsed homeopathy) should never be believed when they stop endorsing it, because they have so much more conflict of interest than the homeopaths themselves do.

    Seriously — you can’t make this kind of thing up:

    In one paper, Roy claims to have smashed the “it’s just water” argument, correctly pointing out that diamond is a very hard substance, while graphite is soft but, hey….IT’S JUST CARBON.

    Carbon which, curiously, behaves exactly as physics predicts that it should. This includes the properties of novel forms such as carbon nanotubes of varying structure, or graphene with extremely diluted dopants.

    Isn’t that a remarkable coincidence, considering as how for homeopathy to be useful that very same physics has to be invalid?

  15. #15 Chris
    August 3, 2009

    Barbara:

    I’m new. what’s woo?

    For all your skeptical questions try the Skeptic’s Dictionary: the definition of “woo”.

  16. #16 Ramel
    August 3, 2009

    Thinking about it I do think I recognise the name, I think I once had an argument with him over the closing of a NHS funded homeopathic hospital. He was offering the the same ‘evidence’ then as well, Rustum Roy’s dodgy paper and the same journal reference (Innflamation Research), he faild to show it had been reproduced then, but it was over a year ago. Probably shouldn’t start a debate with this one, for a start I’m still recovering from last weeks run in with the Dullman…

  17. #17 rob
    August 3, 2009

    i suggest homeopaths use a different base than 100 to up the “mathiness” of the field. try using e instead. or maybe pi. 100e or 100π looks waaay cooler than 100C. even cooler 100∞!

  18. #18 Adrienne Veseth
    August 3, 2009

    I think it’s woo hoo!!!!. If you can wrap your head around the fact there there is more to the world than what we can see with our eyes, you can understand how homeopathy works. It is ENERGY MEDICINE guys! There is no bearing on the molecular makeup of the dilution. In the dilution and succussion process, at each stage there is less of the material and more of the energetic component. The best scientific proof of homeopathy is the thousands of people all over the world who are being cured by homeopathy every day. It even works on skeptics! Energy and spirit is universal and cannot be denied—that is why homeopathy is still around and flourishing all over the world today. Improve your health-set yourself free! http://www.freedomhomeopathy.com

  19. #19 Dr Aust
    August 3, 2009

    Jason Dick wrote:

    I also love how [Milgrom] quotes himself. Hunting that phrase down led me to discover this bit of thermonuclear stupid that Milgrom put out in 2007:

    http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/4/1/7

    I find it profoundly hilarious, but am at the same time absolutely revolted that Oxford Journals actually has an alt-med section.

    Yes, it is depressing to find Oxford University Press (OUP) running a Woo-journal. One has grown used to the for-profit publishers doing it, since the basic equation runs:

    CAM = readers = journal subscription sales = £££ / $$$

    …but one might have hoped that the many Oxford University academics who sit as “Delegates to the Press” on OUP’s governing board would have offered some insurance against the same nonsense there. Evidently not.

    An earlier favourite of mine from eCAM was the hilarious “Mellow Rats in Pyramids” paper, which I discussed on my blog a while back.

    One thing eCAM does have is an electronic response set-up. The response thread after Milgrom’s 2007 paper (follow Jason’s link above and scroll down to the bottom of the page) is worth reading. Particular notable are the two responses from real quantum physicist Danny Chrastina, who sets out in excruciating detail just how badly Milgrom misuses quantum physics. The PDF one that you have to click on is particularly magisterial. After detailing why Milgrom has the physics wrong, Chrastina concludes:

    In summary, Milgrom seems to have copied out a few equations from articles, textbooks and popularizations of quantum physics, assigned arbitrary and shifting properties to the entities within them, and then claimed to have a model/analogy/metaphor for homeopathy. The more seriously the metaphor is taken, the less sense it makes. It would be simpler to set up something called “Weak Number Theory” in which 2+2 doesn’t have to be four, and he can pretend to prove whatever he likes with that.

    .

    Though it is tempting to laugh, it is worth noting that Lionel Milgrom has published something like a dozen instalments of his “patient-practitioner quantum entanglement” theory in what are (accurately, though simultaneously misleadingly) described as “peer review journals” of homeopathy and CAM. And Milgrom is now producing commentaries and reviews of his own babblings. By the way, he is also a fan of the chiropractors’ libel action against Simon Singh, as you can see here.

    What Dr Milgrom’s ability to get all this stuff into print tells you about the rigour of the review process at the journals he publishes in I will leave to your imagination.

  20. #20 Dr Aust
    August 3, 2009

    Jason Dick wrote:

    I also love how [Milgrom] quotes himself. Hunting that phrase down led me to discover this bit of thermonuclear stupid that Milgrom put out in 2007:

    http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/4/1/7

    I find it profoundly hilarious, but am at the same time absolutely revolted that Oxford Journals actually has an alt-med section.

    Longer comment stuck in the spam filters – but if you go to look at the Milgrom paper Jason mentioned, do be sure and check out the rapid responses below it (scroll down to the bottom).

    Particularly notable are the two responses from real quantum physicist Danny Chrastina, who sets out in excruciating detail just how badly Milgrom misunderstands and misuses quantum physics. Chrastina’s PDF one

    “Weak quantum theory isn’t that weak”

    is an especially magisterial demolition.

  21. #21 antipodean
    August 3, 2009

    Let try Feynman’s technique of imagining reality if this new groundbreaking theory were actually true…

    Imagine being able to build buckyballs or buckytubes out of water.

    If water had that kind of structure the morning swim might be more like jumping onto a large pile of finely ground scrapmetal.

  22. #22 Prometheus
    August 3, 2009

    Adrienne Veseth has an…..interesting view of homeopathy. To quote:

    It is ENERGY MEDICINE guys! There is no bearing on the molecular makeup of the dilution. In the dilution and succussion process, at each stage there is less of the material and more of the energetic component.

    I’m curious – how do we end up with more energy with successive dilutions? This would imply that energy can be created out of nothing (see: First Law of Thermodynamics), unless Ms. Veseth is claiming that the “succussion” converts matter into energy (see: matter to energy conversion, nuclear fission and nuclear fusion). OK, we’ll skip over that one and move on to the next:

    The best scientific proof of homeopathy is the thousands of people all over the world who are being cured by homeopathy every day. It even works on skeptics!

    Can you say “placebo effect”? It even works on skeptics.

    Moving on:

    Energy and spirit is universal and cannot be denied…

    “Cannot be denied”? I’ll give it try – here goes: “Spirit is not universal – it’s not even regional!” Hmmm…that was easier than I expected. I’ll grant that “energy” is pretty much universal – the background microwave energy left over from the Big Bang seems to be everywhere. But “spirit”? What, exactly, is “spirit”? Can it be measured? And what does “spirit” have to do with homeopathy – I thought it was all in the wrist.

    …that is why homeopathy is still around and flourishing all over the world today.

    Homeopathy is “still around and flourishing all over the world” for the same reason that religion – another non-rational belief system – is still with us. For that matter, bleeding – to “balance the humours” – was with us from the time of Theophrastus (371 BCE – 287 BCE) until the late 19th century (over 2000 years).

    We now know that bleeding to “balance the humors” was useless and, in fact, harmful. Homeopathy has only been with us since 1796 and we knew that it was bunk as early as 1842. I suppose that it will take a few centuries more for the last of the homeopathic “believers” to finally disappear.

    Prometheus

  23. #23 Matthew Cline
    August 3, 2009

    @Adrienne Veseth:

    The best scientific proof of homeopathy is the thousands of people all over the world who are being cured by homeopathy every day.

    So then I guess the anecdotal evidence of all those people who thought blood-letting was helping them is evidence that blood-letting worked? Too bad we got rid of it. Bring back the four-humors theory!

    -that is why homeopathy is still around and flourishing all over the world today.

    Blood-letting survived as a medical treatment for, what, 1,800 years (or more)?

    @Prometheus:

    I’m curious – how do we end up with more energy with successive dilutions? … unless Ms. Veseth is claiming that the “succussion” converts matter into energy

    To play devil’s advocate, Adrienne might mean that the mechanical energy of succession is being converted to energy that’s stored via an undiscovered fifth fundamental force. The problem is that the effects this undiscovered force has on the human body would have to fit into the gaps/edges of our knowledge of biochemistry, and that just doesn’t leave enough wiggle room.

  24. #24 Dr Aust
    August 3, 2009

    Sorry, as usual I can’t possibly let a thread on homeopathy go by without a shameless plug for my homeopathy theme song, Super Calibrated Shaking (with apologies to Mary Poppins).

    As the Nobel Prize winning biophysicist Archibald Vivian (AV) Hill liked to say:

    “Laughter is the best detergent of nonsense”

  25. #25 Jennifer B. Phillips
    August 4, 2009

    “Laughter is the best detergent of nonsense”

    Speaking of laughter, this is kind of funny–although it also kind of makes me want to vomit.

    Candidate for most vomitous quote:

    Tony Pinkus, the director of Ainsworths, said: “At Ainsworths we cater for our many homeopathic customers who have requested a remedy to alleviate the symptoms of swine flu.
    “Most of our customers are people who routinely use homeopathy and find it a satisfactory alternative to allopathic or conventional medicine and are exercising their freedom of choice.
    “The remedy is available on request and we do not advertise or encourage people to buy it.

    Freedom of choice, baby! How dare the nasty, skeptical MHRA poopyheads question whether Swine Flu Formula Treatment actually treats swine flu? It’s not like Ainsworths is encouraging people to buy it, or anything. Tut!

  26. #26 antipodean
    August 4, 2009

    Homeopathic patients? Is that like a thimble full of the Indian Ocean that I swam in once?

  27. #27 Dr Aust
    August 4, 2009

    Antipodean, you’re forgetting the all-important magic shaking, sorry, “succussion”, by a committed magical believer, sorry, trained homeopath.

    I doubt that they would agree that ocean currents count, though the degree of dilution you described is getting towards homeopathic levels.

    There is a story that as Samuel Hahnemann, the founding father of homeopathy, got older, he became more and more taken by the idea of greater dilution and more magic shaking increasing the “medicine’s” “potency”. So much so that he solemnly warned his followers not to carry the remedies in their waistcoat pockets, for fear they would “over-potentize” the remedy as they walked or rode along and thereby inadvertently give the patient give an overdose.

    This story may, of course, be apocryphal, but somehow it nicely captures the sheer craziness, and simultaneously the utter po-faced seriousness, of homeopathy. You can still see these two co-existing characteristics in the work of folk like Milgrom two centuries later.

    PS Talking of Lionel, he is, unsurprisingly, a fan of the chiros’ libel lawsuit against Simon Singh (see recent Orac post), as you can see in the British Medical Journal comments thread here.

  28. #28 Dr Miller
    August 4, 2009

    Jennifer,
    It is called survival of the fittest.
    Why use vaccines to protect the weaker of the population? We should not inject even a trace of potentially harmful long term toxins into the healthiest of our race. May the strongest, healthiest, most intelligent individuals live and breed. If you are week enough to die from a disease, then you should die. Using vaccines alters the course of natural selection, and the sub-standard continue to breed in our society.

  29. #29 Ramel
    August 4, 2009

    Dr. Miller, are you being serious? If so you are a world class fuckwit.

  30. #30 antipodean
    August 4, 2009

    Dr Miller is of course a schoolgirl giving us a parody of a Victorian gentleman conflating the mechanism of evolution with a moral imperative.

    This type of argument would lead to us putting the poo back into the drinking water in London so we could have cholera epidemics again. Survival of the fittest wot, wot!

  31. #31 Chris
    August 5, 2009

    So, “Dr Miller”, did you have fun at Space Camp? What do you want for your 9th birthday?

  32. #32 DJW
    August 5, 2009

    Pedantic maths corrections.

    In the main article: 30 times 100 fold dilutions (100 to the power 30) is not the same as 100 times 30 fold dilutions (30 to the power 100), just as 2 cubed is not the same as 3 squared. This doesn’t of course invalidate the question being asked.

    Post 10: 20C is a dilution of 10 to the power 40, but that doesn’t mean countless billions of successions. Only 20 dilutions are needed, which may be why 40X isn’t used – 40 dilutions would take twice as long. Of course you could save even more time and just take the water straight from the tap…

  33. #33 Dr Aust
    August 5, 2009

    Of course you could save even more time and just take the water straight from the tap…

    True, but the resourceful homeopaths have saved time by inventing magic shaking machines (see e.g. here).

    In the usual version, tipping the vessel upside down and emtying it is presumed to leave about a hundredth of the contents. Makes those “C dilutions” nice and easy. Then tip back upright, fill with water, put on lid, shake, remove lid, tip upside down to empty… etc etc.

    Really, as we say in the UK, ya couldn’t make this stuff up…

  34. #34 Dr Aust
    August 6, 2009

    I guess this one has expired, but if anyone needs an up-to-the-minute example of homeopathic madness, I can recommend this one about treating HIV/AIDS patients in Africa with water and mumbo-jumbo. They are looking for volunteers…

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