If there’s one thing about homeopaths, it’s that they’re indefatigable in their dedication to their unique brand of pseudoscience. They’re also endlessly protean in their ability to induce their explanations for how homeopathy is supposed to “work” to evolve into endless forms not so beautiful. If it’s not the claim that “like cures like” is some sort of immutable law of nature or that diluting a remedy somehow makes it stronger, it’s pivoting to the claim that water has “memory.” If it’s not that, then homeopaths and homeopathy apologists invoke quantum entanglement that somehow works at the macro level, that “nanocrystalloids” are involved, hilariously off-base explanations of energy, or that there’s somehow a quantum gyroscopic interaction between practitioner and patient. They also seem to have a hard time understanding that explaining exactly what homeopathy is, why it’s pseudoscience, and why it’s quackery is not a “misinformation campaign,” as homeopath Dana Ullman has characterized it.
So when a reader e-mailed this little gem entitled Scientists investigate water memory, I couldn’t help but take a look, particularly since there’s this spiffy video to go with it:
And this introduction:
Does water have memory? Can it retain an “imprint” of energies to which it has been exposed? This theory was first proposed by the late French immunologist Dr. Jacques Benveniste, in a controversial article published in 1988 in Nature, as a way of explaining how homeopathy works. Benveniste’s theory has continued to be championed by some and disputed by others. The video clip above, from the Oasis HD Channel, shows some fascinating recent experiments with water “memory” from the Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart in Germany. The results with the different types of flowers immersed in water are particularly evocative.
The woman who wrote this article is Diana Rico, and she runs a blog called Holy Waters. You’ll excuse me if I say here that it appears to me that Ms. Rico is a bit on the credulous side, but if she’s impressed by the video above it’s hard to conclude otherwise. If there’s anything this video reminds me of more than anything else, it’s the water woo of Masuro Emoto, who claims that he (and anyone who learns how) can imbue water with his “intent.” How does he know? Because he looks at water crystals that have had “negative” emotions aimed at them and compares them with crystals that have had “positive” emotions aimed at them, concluding that they look different. Not for him, though, are minor considerations like blinding observers. He’s also done “experiments” (if you can call the that) in which participants stood in a circle holding hands around some water, each saying a “beautiful word of his or her choice” to the water. Emoto reported he was “able to obtain some beautiful crystalline structures as a result fo this.”
This video reminds me very much of that.
Think about it. The very beginning of the video makes the not-so-subtle implication that water is alive, with the narrator asking questions like, “To what extent is water capable of picking up information?” and “What does it perceive?” and “How does it remember it over time?” There are some big assumptions there, namely that water is capable of “perceiving” anything or “remembering it over time.” To test this hypothesis, we’re told, investigators at the Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart have supposedly figured out a way to “visualize the structure of water.” Of course, scientists have been visualizing the structure of water for decades using a wide variety of experimental techniques; so naturally I was curious just what these investigators were doing that was different from what generations of scientists have done before. Had they figured out some new, high tech method of examining the structure of individual water drops?
Sadly, it was not to be. Basically, from what I could tell in the video, all these investigators did was to put drops of water on microscope slides and somehow take pictures of them. How they did it is not clear, because the water drops all look different. According to the video, drops placed by the same person all look alike and different from drops placed by another person on another slide. Personally, remembering my post over a year ago in which scientists in India mistook heavy metal contaminants for evidence that water has memory, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was subtle differences in the structure of the glass slides that resulted in the apparent differences in how the water drops ended up looking, but that’s just the usual nasty skeptic in me surfacing and harshing the lovely woo buzz being promoted by this video. Maybe different people had different amounts of skin oils on their fingers and left different fingerprints. Who knows? No mention is made of controlling for these factors, nor is there any mention made of blinding. Come to think of it, as Kausik Datta mentions, no explanation is given for how investigators controlled for drop volume, temperature, and other factors. So what did they find?
The narrator tells us that each drop “has a face of its own, unmistakable and unique.” From this, the investigators somehow conclude that the water must “remember” the student who did the experiment. I kid you not. That’s the conclusion! They even show an unidentified scientist sitting in front of a laptop showing the different water drops and how they all look the same for each student and how each student “using the same water” produced “very different” water drops.
The next experiment is even more risible. We’re told that the experimenters put a flower in water and showed pictures of drops taken from the water. It’s then claimed that researchers can tell from every drop of water that the water had been in contact with the flower. How? Well, come on! Look at the pictures! Isn’t it obvious? Based on these two experiments, the narrator then intones that, if water has memory, it will change our whole way of looking at the world. No kidding! If I had wings, I could fly to and from work, too. Leaving my inability to control my sarcasm aside, I couldn’t help but be incredibly amused at how the filmmakers tried to demonstrate just how this astounding revelation changes everything about how we look at the world.
Imagine some water flowing down the Rhine, we’re told, picking up “information” as it goes along. According to this investigator, this means that the water has more information at the mouth of the Rhine then it has at the source. The implication of this, we’re further told, is that the Dutch, living at the mouth of the Rhine, drink in all that information when they drink water pulled from the Rhine. Again, I kid you not. That’s really what this video says. But this investigator goes beyond that. The further implication is, allegedly, that the oceans are vast storehouses of “information” that bind us all together. I’m sure my regular readers can see how this is so wrong on so many levels. For example, why is it assumed that water at the mouth of the Rhine has more “information” that water at the source? Just because it’s supposedly picked up information as it flowed from the source to the mouth? What about the fact that the water at the source had been in the air in the form of clouds and then rained down upon the mountains and provided the water that flowed down the river? Isn’t there a lot of information in there from having been in the form of water vapor, then snow, then liquid water? OK, OK, I know the water at the mouth of the Rhine had all the “information” that it had when it started as precipitation in the mountains, plus whatever it picked up flowing down the Rhine, but the whole argument is so nonsensical that one wonders if the filmmakers think that the Dutch must be more intelligent (or at least knowledgeable) than the Germans because they get to drink more “information-rich” water than the Germans.
Or it could just be that the water is more polluted by the time it gets to the mouth of the Rhine. After all, it passes by several cities, which no doubt results in waste that finds its way into the water along the way. Oh, and I’m sure the odd German probably takes a leak in the river from time to time; certainly animals do. Now there’s some yummy “information.” Kaussik wonders whether the denser “information” content is responsible for the woo and quackery in some parts of Europe. This made me wonder if there was a correlation between belief in “alternative” medicine and location along the Rhine. For example, the Rhine originates in Switzerland. Are the Swiss less prone to woo than the Dutch? Inquiring minds want to know! Maybe the investigators at the Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart can tell us! Observing that there’s a lot of quackery in Bavaria, which borders the Obersee (Lake Constance) might be consistent with this, but only if there’s less quackery in Denmark.
The possibilities for research are endless.
This has to be one of the more amusing bits of homeopathy apologetics that I’ve seen. Unfortunately, having a bit of fun with it is not likely to change Ms. Rico’s mind. Take a look at this response she made in response to critical comments:
Please note, too, that I am not absolutely unthinking regarding the work going on in this field. While I do *want* to believe that water has memory–and I stated it in exactly that way in the post–I also reported that Dr. Jacques Beneviste’s theory of water memory is controversial and included a link to a very extensive discussion of the issues some scientists have had with his studies. On Dec. 8 I also posted a lengthy comment outlining the unscientific nature of Dr. Masaru Emoto’s work (despite the fact that I love said work with all my heart).
Except that Beneviste’s “theory of water memory” is not controversial among scientists. It’s just plain wrong. His work was shown to be fatally flawed by James Randi himself. Criticism does not necessarily equal “controversial.” In this case, it means wrong. Not that this stops Ms. Rico from going on to say:
The bigger difference between us, perhaps, is that I do not believe in Western Newtonian-based science as the only or necessarily the best paradigm for understanding how the world works, at least for me. I like what the commenter Tree Fitzpatrick wrote above on Dec. 10: “I think nature and this whole cosmos is far more awesome than mere scientific thinking allows us to know.”
In other words, Ms. Rico wants to believe in magic, and ain’t no stinking science gonna stop her!