Complementary and alternative medicine Homeopathy Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

If this is true, the Dutch must be drinking in lots of information!

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!

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

42 replies on “If this is true, the Dutch must be drinking in lots of information!”

I am pleased to learn that students at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and Geodesy at the University of Stuttgart [note the full title there] are carefully placing drops of water upon microscope slides. It must be a relaxing change from designing remote sensors for the European Space Agency, and advanced ion drives for interplanetary propulsion, and the other projects that normally occupy their minds.

This makes me happy. The images of the flowers being dipped in the water is really quite beautiful, and I guess that primes my psyche to think of that water as very fresh, and I’m thirsty now. I don’t believe an iota of the…can I even call it a theory?…how about fever dream? I like that better. The fact that at least one person believes in this sheer fancy fills me with joy. Oh to be a child again and drink that knowledge in. My summer days at the city pool allowed me to collect more than DNA breakage in the skin, I was swimming in information.

The following article deals with the abovementioned studies of Prof. (emeritus) Kröplin:

For those of you aren’t familiar with the German language, I’ll briefly translate the most important information:

“Er begann, systematisch Tropfen unter dem Mikroskop zu untersuchen. Dabei entdeckte er, dass sich Speichel von Testpersonen unter dem Einfluss der Mobilfunkstrahlung zu verändern scheint – Grund genug für das Stuttgarter Wissenschaftsministerium, Kröplins Forschung mit knapp 300000 Euro zu fördern.”

basically translates to:

“He started to systematically analyse drops under the microscope. Thereby, he detected that the saliva of test subjects changed under the influence of cell phone radiation – reason enough for Stuttgart’s governmental science department to fund Kröplin’s studies with 300,000 Euros.”

I’m appalled that the government would fund such hocus-pocus. The newspaper (online version) that published these results is normally considered well researched and read by academics. The article, however, concludes with the following statement:

“Andererseits: Wenn Kröplin Recht hätte, dann würde dies mit einem Schlag erklären, warum die Erforschung der geheimnisvollen Eigenschaften des Wassers so ein mühsames Geschäft ist. Sollte wirklich jeder Tropfen mit der Körperflüssigkeit des Experimentators kommunizieren, wäre es kein Wunder, dass skeptische Forscher andere Ergebnisse erhalten als jene, die inbrünstig etwa an ein „Gedächtnis des Wassers“ glauben.”

translates to:

“On the other hand: If Kröplin were right, it would immediately explain why the research of the mysterious properties of water are such an ordeal. If every drop communicates with the body fluids of the experimenter, it is no wonder that skeptic scientists achieve different results than those that are fervent believers of the “water memory”.”


Wow! The next thing that these nutters are probably going to do is to start a campaign to close down schools and colleges. BigEducation and BigPublishing is lining their pockets when you can educate your kids the “natural way” by drinking in the information at home.

They could even start peddling vials of information at their websites – “High school math”, now in grape flavour!!

Then again, the title is more likely going to be – “Elementary Principles of Intelligent Design”.

Another factor that could be affecting how the images of the drops of water vary: microscope focus differences between students. If the same microscope was used by all students, but the focus was changed even a tiny bit, that would affect how the images appear. If different microscopes were used, variations between instruments might also account for the differences.

Us Dutch know all too well how filthy Rhine water is, so the greater part of Dutch drinking water does not come from the Rhine. Also, Dutch water is so thoroughly purified before it comes out of our taps that it ranks among the purest in the world: even water as filthy as Rhine water is completely cleared of any memory whatsoever.

This isn’t even a science experiment. The narrator says “We got a lot of people to come to the lecture hall at the Institute…”. So they (whoever they are) apparently hired a lecture room and invited a bunch of random people to mess around with microscopes and slides for a couple of hours, leaving viewers to assume that it had University backing. Anybody can do that; I know a guy who has padded his CV with “taught at Unversity X” when he actually taught some part-time hobby classes in a room hired from said University.
I googled the names – Eberle and Schoik (?) – that were displayed on the photos of the water drops, but couldn’t get anywhere; can somebody more fluent in German than me tell us what was written on the screens that we saw?

Well, we Dutch are smarter than everyone else, so maybe there’s something in this!

/me ducks and runs…

Ooh-ooh! Me in Insolence! [Faints] Orac has (as usual) done a far more detailed analysis of this piffle than I ever could. It has long been an observation of mine and others as well that peddlers of pseudoscience, such as homeopathy, crave the legitimacy of science so badly that they are willing to credulously dress-up almost any flapdoodle in science-y terms and present it as “evidence”. It is pathetic. Remember how ‘science’ and ‘scientists’ always used to be depicted in low budget movies and TV shows – the obligatory liquid boiling in a conical flask over a Bunsen burner, a rack full of test tubes with liquids of various colors in them? This OASIS video (albeit made in stunning HD) was not too different from those, and equally bereft of any substance.

I do a lot of microscopy; it is the bread and butter of my lab’s operations. Pretty much everything in that video is easily explained, and you don’t need homoeopathy.

What he is seeing in the images is a diffraction pattern created by the bending of light as it passes between different phases (i.e. air->glass, or glass-> water). The coverslip has two properties that determine the resulting diffraction pattern – its thickness (which determines how much light rays can diverge while travelling through the glass), and its hydrophobicity (which will determine the diameter [and therefore thickness] of the water droplet).

Unless you spend a lot of $$$ to get coverslips of exactly the same thickness, any box you slips you buy will vary greatly in their thickness (i.e. 0.16 to 0.19mm for a #1.5 coverglass; an ~20% difference in thickness). Likewise, to ease end-user use, coverglasses are usually sprayed with a surfactant so they don’t stick together.

The results in this video are what you would expect of those two properties- any one coverglass should be of uniform thickness and hydrophobicity, meaning drops placed by any one student on any one coverglass should be roughly the same. However, the differences from one coverglass to another would lead to very different drops being formed on different coverglasses.

Likewise, the changes he sees when adding things to the water, like residue off of the flowers, is no surprise; those patterns look exactly like what you get when oils are suspended in a water droplet. I, for one, don’t think the patterns looked very much like the flower that made them – I think this guy is seeing his equivalent of Jesus-in-toast…

I am always amused at the frantic scramble to prove *how* homeopathy works.

It seems to escape them that the first must prove *that* homeopathy works.

Heh. The what is considered the smartest province of the Netherlands gets most of it water from underground aquifers.
There instant disproof 😉


I agree that this isn´t a scientific experiment, but sadly, your assumption that these were just people from the street who hired a lecture hall is wrong. The guy in the video is called Bernd Kröplin and was an orderly professor (retired in 2010) at the University of Stuttgart and even head of the “Institut für Statik und Dynamik der Luft- und Raumfahrtkonstruktionen”. He seems to do / did a lot of this water droplet – picture nonsense and, as Dr. Stef wrote at #4, this quack-science was even funded through governmental money. Kröplin uses his water drops to “prove” that electromagnetic fields from mobile phones influence (“destabilize”) these drops and that the water remembered this. He also wrote reports certifying a certain mineral water that it is less susceptible to those bad bad influences and, also using his droplet method, showed the positive effect of an “Energy Transmission Generator” that uses a homeopathic method to stimulate cells.

Kröplin has his own page (unfortunately for most readers here, only in German) at the sceptics’ wiki EsoWatch ( that also mentions his droplet method and the problems it has regarding reproducibility.

“I think nature and this whole cosmos is far more awesome than mere scientific thinking allows us to know.”

On the contrary, I think nature and the cosmos are even more awesome with every new scientific discovery.
Quantum physics? Neuroscience? The complexity of genomic transcription?
Why invoke magical woo when the real world is more than enough to blow your mind?

@ T-reg:

I know you speak in jest, but amongst the loonies I survey, BigU teaches and researches at the bidding of their Orthodox Power Elite Pay-masters ( BigPharma/ Big Government)- therefore people with degrees- esp. advanced degrees- are suspect whenever they open their mouths. If you think about it, this makes sense for many of these proselytisers have been excluded from the type of education BigU provides: sour grapes or an additional advertising trope, who knows? However, this does’t stop some of them from decorating their web-sites with their spurious, fictitious degrees ( Gary Null,many others),legitimate degrees in totally unrelated fields (Louise Kuo Habakus, Mary Holland), struck-off doctors, degrees intact ( Carolyn Dean, AJW) and last but not least, legitimate degree used illegitimately ( Joe Mercola, many others). In addition, many woo-niversities are springing up to service the needs of the woo-seeking public, turning out fresh new accupuncturists, herbalists, homeopaths etc.

On a lighter note: today Mike Adams ( treats us with his poetical stylings: to be perfectly honest, I have read more poetic writing written in spray-paint on the sides of abandoned buildings.

Oh man. I used to live along the German part of the Rhine River when I was a wee lass. I remember water that was a ‘delightful’ shade of poop brown, and probably thick enough to eat with a knife and fork.

Benveniste was the first person to win two Ig Nobel prizes. (Google “benveniste ig nobel” for links.) He won one of the inaugural prizes in 1991 (Chemistry) for the 1988 Nature paper Ms. Rico mentioned, and again in 1998 (also Chemistry) for claiming that the memory of water could be transmitted over telephone lines and the internet. I don’t know if he ever made any claims about wireless transmission (the late 1990s were about when mobile phones became popular in western Europe, and the internet was still, apart from perhaps a few experimental setups, entirely wired).

So yes, Orac is justified in thinking Ms. Rico is credulous, and I can conclude this even without watching the video. Ig Nobel prizes are sometimes awarded for legitimate science (one winner, Andre Geim in 2001, later won a real Nobel prize), but many of the prizewinners (particularly those who win Peace or Economics prizes) are entirely deserving of scorn.

Oh, for limbo’s sake. Why do so many woo investigations sound like something stoned people thought up?

“Dude…what if water like, had memory? What if you could touch a drop of water and it would, you know, remember you?”

“Whoah man, that’s deep! Let’s go to the lab and check it out!”

Given the amount of water I drink every day, I should be a frickin’ genius if this theory is true. Unless the fluoride makes it lose its “memory”…

“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?”

What a silly question! Everyone knows information is heavier than air. As water vapour rises, the information falls back down to the ground, where it can be picked up again by river water.

So this is the presentation we saw in the video:

If you flip through the sheets, you will see that these so-called scientist not only tested the influence of cell phone radiation on lettuce (page 30), but also the influence of emotions (page 40) on water. Communication of droplets was also an issue (some do, some don’t –> page 44).
And don’t miss the influence of music on water (page 53)!


edithprickley @22 —

I think you’re clearly right about the fluoridation. It makes the water lose its — essence.

Oh, and SCTV rocked.

“Does beer also have a memory? Asking for a friend.”

A friend told me that beer has memory. This same “friend” also told me that an overdose of beer, may result in memory loss.

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… each student “using the same water” produced “very different” water drops.

No doubt it also works the other way: each person who drinks the same water will be drinking “very different” water drops. Water and the homeopathic dilutions within water magically conform themselves to the unique character of the person who touches and then uses homeopathy.

Good, spiritually-evolved Believers will get positive results. Bad, spiritually-negative Skeptics will get no result. Ta da! All is thus explained.

Alternative medicine is worthless unless it somehow works the importance of one’s own personal essence into the equation. Isaac Asimov once said “Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.” I think you will also discover a soothing voice — one which tells you, over and over, “You are special; you are special; you are special…”

@ Zarniwoop…from the excellent link you provided about acceptance of homeopathy in New Zealand:

“The New Zealand Council of Homeopaths claims that homeopathy can help with mental illness, fertility and behavioural issues. It points to accounts from the 1918 influenza epidemic and cases of success in homeopathic hospitals. It also had an account from New Zealand homeopath Julia Schiller who told of a woman who could not get pregnant after her first child. Schiller gave her a homeopathic remedy. A few weeks later the woman had a positive pregnancy test.”

Hmmm, she got pregnant just by taking her homeopathic medicine…amazing!

@lilady, I know amazing isn’t it? It must be something in the water 🙂 Actually they do call it God’s own immacualte conception is present in NZ perhaps?

Actually having had the time to think more about my post at number 30 it is probably more accurately described as immacualte misconception. 🙂

Especially amazing, when you consider blaming the conception on Big Homeopathy Medicine…or an error in formulating the “medicine”, prescribed for a headache.

Schiller gave her a homeopathic remedy.

What’s the homeopathic remedy for infertility? A diluted solution of the oral-contraceptive? Rhine river-water surely fits the description.

XKCD is amusing but UNFAIR.

@ Cynical Paediatrician: On the contrary, I think nature and the cosmos are even more awesome with every new scientific discovery.

This is what kills me about the woo-mongers. Sure, magic is a fun idea, and I like a good fantasy/monster/magic movie as much as the next person (perhaps more; I have a sneaking liking for terrible horror/sci-fi movies), but the real universe? mind-blowing. How could some magic water compare?

“but the real universe? mind-blowing.”

Exactly. I often wonder about all these puerile fantasies about how things might work, and you don’t need to be stoned, just half sozzled talking rubbish at 3am standing around the kitchen when the other guests have left the party.

The feeble convolutions and complexities dreamt up by people are nothing compared to the real world. They’re just adding unnecessary flavour and colour to suit their own tastes.

I prefer to take my wonders and mysteries neat.

Please ignore zarniwoop – we like to think we have some Very Long Rivers in NZ! 🙂

More seriously, that widespread acceptance of homeopathy is a bit of a worry & Ms Schiller seems almost wilfully credulous. One assumes her client & said client’s Significant Other were continuing to have s*x in the intervening weeks…

Rhine River water…phooey. I was on a Rhine river boat years ago and it was filthy. Close friends live in Bonn and they tell me the Rhine has been cleaned up somewhat…some daring folks actually swim in the river. I stick to kolsch ale from nearby Cologne or their excellent wines.

doktor bimler, you could dilute Rhine River water a gazillion times and the “essence” of it would remain.

@alison I agree that the widesread willingness to accept homeopathy and many other forms of so-called alternative treatment is worrying. There is also a small but very vocal minority who are apparently hostile to evidence based medicine and within a country with a small population they worringly gain traction. Fortunately the tide slowly seems to be turning but I do have days when I despair. The reponse by the Society of Homepaths is, perhaps predictably, laughable hence my poking fun at them 🙂
BTW Longest river in NZ about 420 km passing through mainly unpopulated areas length of the Rhine about 1200 km it’s all relative isn’t it? ;-}

Oh ye skeptics of little faith! Of course water has a memory: if you pour it in a glass it will remember the shape of the glass! Under the right circumstances water will remember this shape indefinitely. (also works with beer and wine, though usually the effect is of shorter duration)…

Hah! The Murray’s twice as long as the Rhine. But without all the industry.

Nevertheless, Adelaide’s water used to be described, despite lots of processing, as “a meal in a glass”.

That show has played on Oasis several times since Oasis came to Canada. Despite a lot of other good things on that channel, stuff you used to be able to see in some form on Discovery or The Learning Channel, I cant watch Oasis anymore, literally for fear that the water memory show might come on.

And because by showing that, it destroys the credibility of other shows.

I think Oasis needs to be told by our community that we’re changing the channel.

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