Your Friday Dose of Woo: The physics of homeopathy and “nanocrystalloids”

I happen to be fortunate enough this year to have taken the Friday after Thanksgiving off, and it is a very good thing indeed. However, this morning, having indulged in the American tradition of stuffing myself full of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and various other most excellent and hearty foods, all accompanied by some hearty ale. What that means is that I’m still suffering some of the after effects of food coma. What that further means for the blog is that I don’t feel up to tackling something that will require me to exercise my neurons too much. So, in my food-induced haze, I asked myself: What topic would be light-hearted but yet not require too much intellectual firepower to throw a little Insolence at?

Homeopathy, of course!

Remember how I had some fun with a haplessly clueless homeopath named Dr. Charlene Werner about a month ago? Well, thanks to Science-Based Pharmacy, I’ve found more of the same!

The man is John Benneth. The website is The Science of Homeopathy, and the results are pure Your Friday Dose of Woo material!

I love how Benneth starts out by saying he has “another stunning piece of information for you” and claiming that the “material sciences have taken a growing interest” in homeopathy. I’ll grant Benneth that that is “another stunning piece of information,” mainly because it would indeed be stunning if real scientists took a “growing interest” in homeopathy. However, I suspect that what is really going on is that real scientists (unlike homeopaths, who are as “real” a bunch of scientists as the homeopathically diluted remedies and “memory of water” they like to promote) take an interest in homeopathy as an example of how to do science about as wrong as it can be done. It’s rather the same way that some of us skeptics take an interest in homeopathy as pseudoscience and, more importantly, as a test case of showing the limitations and flaws of randomized clinical trials for discovering whether a particular treatment works or not. Indeed, given the pure magical thinking behind homeopathy, including the concept derived from ancient myths of sympathetic magic that “like cures like,” the idea that diluting a substance to the point where it is highly unlikely that even a single molecule remains above normal background, and the more recently postulated “memory of water” to which homeopaths point as an explanation for how homeopathy “works” even though there’s no pharmacologically active ingredient left in most homeopathic remedies, homeopathy makes an excellent example in teaching how magic can be cloaked in “science-y”-sounding terms to fool the unware. It’s an even better example of how otherwise intelligent people can believe in pure magic.

Oh, wait. That wasn’t Benneth’s “stunning piece of information.”

Benneth actually goes on to point out that science–yes, science!–is showing that homeopathic remedies are full of–are you ready for this? (yes, I’m repeating what Benneth said)–“nanocrystalloids”! Well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it? He then further claims that these nanocrystalloids are made from extracts of plant, animal, and mineral substances and that these fantastical structures “transform the background radiation into specific electromagnetic signals that act on a cellular and even molecular level.” Oh, goody. I can’t wait, especially since Benneth goes on to claim that he’s going to explain the physics of homeopathic medicines, an oxymoron if ever there was one. More interestingly, it both resembles and conflicts with Dr. Werner’s “explanation.” It resembles it in that there’s woo a’plenty with lots of science-y-sounding terminology. He also whines about how homeopathy has been “grossly and intentionally misunderstood form of medicine” (I would argue that it’s not medicine and that the only persons grossly and intentionally misunderstanding it are homeopaths), after which he proclaims:

The dilution and succussion process that is used to make homeopathic medicines creates self-replicating hydrate clathrates. These are crystalloid polymers that appear as nanobubbles that are emitting electromagnetic radiation transformed from the natural background radiation. The cells of the body pick this up and react to it.

Sure they do, Mr. Benneth. Sure they do. I love this. Clathrate hydrates are real chemical structures. They are real science. The University of Pittsburgh describes them thusly:

Clathrate hydrates are solid cages of water that form around small gas molecules such as methane, hydrogen, or carbon dioxide when the appropriate conditions are met. Methane hydrates are of interest as a s potential energy source. It is estimated that the amount of methane in hydrates is equivalent to twice that of all other fossil fuels combined.

Of course, most research interest in clathrate hydrates is based on the potential to release methane or other hydrocarbons that may be trapped in these structures. However, as homeopaths always do, Benneth misuses and abuses real science to fit it into his beliefs. Of course, he cites Rustum Roy, a formerly respected materials science of late has gone woo, using all manner of bad arguments, bad science, and pure nonsense to try to show a physical basis for the magic of homeopathy and destroying his formerly highly respected reputation in the process. In any case, Benneth goes on to claim that the dilution and succussion process is forming “polymorphic nanostructures that are or are analogous to clathrates, crystalline cages” and that this is how homeopathy works.

Benneth then goes on about “nanobubbles” that are supposedly hydrogen-bonded polymer “ice cages” that contain the magic (my term, of course, not Benneth’s) of the homeopathic remedy. In Benneth’s view, homeopathic remedies are clathrates, in which the host molecules are water and the “trapped” compound is the “seed tincture” (which is what homeopaths sometimes call the original substance they are succussing and diluting. He then goes straight into chemical woo by claiming that the seed tincture is going from an “orthodox molecule” to a “super molecule of gas in one step of dilation and then collapsing in another becoming an ever-increasing rarified gas, eventually becoming a hyperproton.” Apparently, a French applied physicist Roland Conte called a “white hole,” whatever that is.

But what is a white hole? I had never heard of it before. The concept is that a white hole has no matter but emits tritium radioactivity; it’s even actually a real concept in physics but far more theoretical. Indeed, the concept of white holes has been used to suggest the possibility of existence of wormholes that would allow one to travel in time and space, although it’s also been pointed out that white holes can’t exist because they violate the second law of thermodynamics. In any case, supposedly these nanobubbles break up and form new nanobubbles with each step of dilution and succussion. Benneth then asks: What is homeopathy? He answers his own question: Radioactivity! Thanks to white holes, apparently! More specifically, Benneth claims the mechanism of homeopathic medicine is radiance being emitted from polymeric crystalloid nanostructures. He likens homeopathic remedies to liquid crystals that act like little radio transmitters that are self-replicating and generate electromagnetic signals that organisms can pick up and respond to.

Truly, this is most excellent woo! But to get the full effect, you really do need to watch the full video. Even better, peruse Benneth’s website, the Science of Homeopathy, which could potentially provide blogging material for me for Fridays on end, which is why I’m not even going to discuss it right now, other than to point out that Benneth’s claim that homeopathy was used successfully to fight the 1918 flu pandemic is purest nonsense, particularly his hyperbolic lie that medicine’s reaction to the 1918 pandemic was “genocidal manslaughter.” (Maybe it’s worth another blog post at a future time to explain why.)

Particularly hilarious, though, is Benneth’s reaction to criticism of his video in the comments. One commenter quite rightly points out that Benneth’s appropriation of chemistry and physics terms to justify homeopathy is akin to Star Trek technobabble, pointing out that “beta scintillation detectors detect beta particles (high energy electrons) not electromagnetic radiation.” Others have also had fun taking Benneth to task for his abuse of physics, and you can too if you want. Let’s just say that, even if these “nanobubbles” existed and did emit electromagnetic radiation, there’s no evidence that the body “responds” to such radiation therapeutically. Boiled down to its essence, you can simply substitute “qi,” humors, or just plain magic for Benneth’s use of “electromagnetic radiation.”

All I can say is that this isn’t a case of something that makes baby Jesus cry. It’s a case of a torrent of nonsensical stringing together of real scientific terms in a manner that sounds impressive but means nothing. It makes Albert Einstein cry, wherever he is.