Homeopathy Research Institute – The Highest Scientific Standards…

The Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI) has been set up by homeopaths Alex Tournier (who apparently works for Cancer Research UK) and Clare Relton (who is based at the University of Sheffield). The Alliance of Registered Homeopaths in one of their rare press statements have made much of it. They say,

The aim of the Homeopathy Research Institute is to promote and facilitate high-quality scientific research in the field of homeopathy. The HRI will be the first central resource dedicated solely to research about homeopathy as it is practised today. A key task of the Institute will be to communicate about the science relating to homeopathy to the medical and scientific communities, the media, the general public, and to homeopaths themselves. The Institute will form a bridge between the scientific and homeopathic communities backed up by a strong PR and communications team.

The HRI itself says that its aims are to:

To perform and promote innovative research of the highest scientific standard in the field of homeopathy .

To enable and encourage communication between the scientific community, the medical profession, professional homeopaths, the media and the public at large.

This could be good news. A team of dedicated professionals who are prepared to tackle the problems of the paucity of evidence for homeopathy. Can this be true? Let’s look at their first newsletter.

The first article in their newsletter says that ‘It’s not ‘just’ water’. Clearly a response to the criticisms made by sceptics like myself. So, do they demolish the obvious criticisms? Do patients get anything other than plain old water? It’s not pretty…

The thrust of their argument is that ‘It is hard to realise just how complex a substance water really is.’ They start off by saying,

Water is everywhere; it covers 2/3 of the earth’s surface and makes up 60-70% of the human body. In our daily life, we only know water as either a liquid, ice or vapour. However upon closer inspection, scientists have catalogued 15 different types of ice, which can be admired in the intricate designs of snow flakes and the amazing pictures of water crystals taken by Dr Imoto. This complexity is due to the precise structure of the water molecule, making water one of the most complex substances known to science.

Now the fifteen types of ice have nothing to do with homeopathy. They are crystalline phases produced under enormously different conditions. They say these have been photographed by ‘Dr Imoto’ and so betray their first failure to stick to ‘high quality’. Dr Emoto has photographed various standard ice crystals, but claims that human thought can make the pictures pretty or ugly depending on what thoughts you ‘direct’ at the water. This is odd given that Alex Tournier says he has a PhD in physics. Does he really believe this? Thought directed crystal growth?

Next they say,

In the field of toxicology there is a known and documented phenomenon known as ‘hormesis’. A substance showing hormesis has the property that it has the opposite effect in small doses, than in large doses. This supports the use of tautopathy, where homeopathic doses of a toxin are given to accelerate the detoxification of that same toxin.

Now, hormesis has nothing to do with water memory. Hormesis requires small doses. Homeopathy most commonly uses no doses. Central to the hormesis idea is that the same substance has beneficial effects at small doses and bad effects at large doses. Water memory requires a different agent – water structures – to play some sort of role if they existed. It has nothing to do with the doses of the substance, since there is no dose in homeopathy. Why hormesis is included to support water memory is just not clear.

Next, epitaxy:

in the field of material sciences, there is a phenomenon known as ‘epitaxis’. This phenomenon is used in the industrial manufacture of semiconductors for microprocessors. Epitaxy refers to the transfer of structural information from one substance to another, which can happen at the interface between the two substances. This transfer of structural information can remain after the original substance has disappeared from the system. This is very similar to the theory of homeopathic dilutions, the only difference being that epitaxy is known to happen in crystalline materials but not in liquids such as water.

They refute their own argument here in that epitaxy is a solid-state surface process. It cannot take place in a liquid medium. Epitaxy has nothing to do with homeopathy. I have discussed the paper quoted in support of hormesis and epitaxy at great length. Mastrangelo has to start by redefining science in order for his arguments to even start to appear to be credible.

Now, the biggest boo-boo so far,

More recently, experiments using the light emission spectrum (Raman and Ultra-Violet-Visible spectroscopy) of homeopathic water vs normal water have shown that homeopathically prepared water has a different molecular structure than normal water. Although these are preliminary results they do indicate that homeopathic remedies are not ‘just water’, something has remained of the originally diluted substance.

It is quite remarkable that for Dr Tournier, who has a PhD in physics, to think that the ‘molecular structure’ of water has changed. This is pseudoscience at its worst. At best, it is a bad summary of the Rao paper. But reading the Rao paper is like reading a parody of itself. It starts of by discussing the structure of water and then present its experimental evidence on ethanol.

Yes, ethanol.

As you might guess, the paper has been torn to shreds. A subsequent issue of Homeopathy published a damning critique that was not properly addressed by the authors. I fail to see how a respectful journal would not have withdrawn the paper. The letter in Homeopathy ends

It is clear that the data presented are wholly inadequate to support the authors’ assertion that UV spectroscopy can differentiate between the two remedies, and between different potencies of the remedies. If the authors wish to test their assertion it will be necessary to repeat the work from the beginning, ensuring that all samples used in the study are sourced from the same bottle of stock solvent, that all duplicate preparations for precision assessment are separately prepared de novo from the mother tinctures, and that sufficient data are generated to allow robust and valid statistical analysis of the results.

The conclusion to this review ends,

Finally, I want to return to the work of the late Dr Benveniste (1935-2004). Benveniste’s original publication in 1988 in Nature7 – science’s most prestigious journal – created outrage in the scientific community all over the world.

Why would they bring up this discredited work? The review states that “It is reassuring that his results have since then been reproduced and confirmed, showing that indeed highly (homeopathically) diluted substances retain a biological activity akin to that of the substance in its crude form”. We are given two references to papers by someone by the name of Belon.

To remind us, Benveniste and the team failed to reproduce his work when a team of Nature investigators were present. Most authors retracted their names from the paper. Unfortunately, Benveniste died. Belon, one of the original authors, republished the work elsewhere. By the way, Belon is a director at Boiron, the half a billion dollar French homeopathic pharmaceutical company.

I am afraid I have to conclude that this newsletter has not been produced with the ‘high quality’ aims of the Homeopathy Research Institute. That is a shame. There was an opportunity for these people to assimilate and communicate the various problems with the state of research into homeopathy to their largely scientifically illiterate audience. What this newsletter looks like is little more than propaganda. I would contend that we are being offered little more than the highest pseudoscientific standards.

15 Comments on Homeopathy Research Institute – The Highest Scientific Standards…

  1. “I am afraid I have to conclude that this newsletter has not been produced with the ‘high quality’ aims of the Homeopathy Research Institute.”

    Well, I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

  2. There’s a number of interesting things here.
    a) They have chosen to be a company limited by guarantee, not a charity. This gives them much more flexibility about what they do and how they do it, and they are not governed by a trust document which has been approved by the Charity Commissioners.
    b) Incorporated in April 2007, so this has been a while in prepartion.
    c) There could weel be a political element in this – having a research program, no matter how cruddy, gets you brownie points in the eyes of the public and politicians. Watch for further political manoeuvering from the ARH or the HRI as regulation looms.

  3. Bob 1 – Logo Added.
    Bob 2 – Yes, I think there will be more wonders when we look beneath the covers of the HRI. Homeopaths accuse meof being a paid shill, but the HRI looks as if it does require money. Are they doing this in their spare time? What is the purpose of the HRI if it is not to disseminate reliable information? Why was it set up? Could be funny.

  4. Actually the stated aims identify it as primarily a PR body – the ARH release says that the research will be “about homeopathy as it is practised today”. The HRI statement itself is even less specific.

    On their “projects” page –
    #1 is nothing to do with homeopathy; they are incorporating a homeopathic “trojan” into a conventional follow-up study of breast cancer patients.

    and #2 is explicitly to do with PR, researching about but not into homeopathy.

  5. shpalman said, “Is that two page newsletter all they have to show for about half a year of “highest scientific standard” research?”

    No, it’s about all they have to show for over 200 years of research.

  6. Certainly, claiming that dreadful Rao et al. paper as evidence for homeopathy would seem to indicate a lack of critical thinking.

    Is there any indication of what research they’re actually going to conduct?

  7. To follow up on bobp’s comment – there are plenty of charities that are established as companies limited by guarantee – the fact that it is a guarantee company does not mean that it cannot be charitable. But – I have looked at the Charity Commission’s web site and it is not a registered charity.

  8. This article is the most deluded load of rubbish I have ever come across on the internet. The author clearly has a weak scientific background, or perhaps is still living in the dark ages.
    1) The duty a doctor to his patient is to make him feel better, if alternative medicine can achieve this then why should we abolish it?
    2) People like you are of the type who have had their weak minds narrowed further by the pharmaceutical industry, who continually tell us how useless this form of treatment is.
    3) If sceptics could just be quiet and let these professionals conduct the research they propose then we can finally find out if this form of medicine is important.
    4) Why hasnt research been carried out already, well funding is a problem. Who wants to fund a group of scientists looking into the health benefits of water? I’m guessing thats what you think, don’t undermine these homeopaths, the science is there, however there is a lack of believe as it doesn’t comply with common scientific belief. I suppose like religion, just because we don’t know what happens, scientists immediately say its nothing. Scientists (and I am one) must try and get over the arrogent view that they know everything. Dismissing something that seems to work just because it can’t be explained doesn’t seem like a logical approach to something.

    You claim to be knowledgable, but by laying into these scientists as you do, I don’t think you’re forming a credible arguement, just being plane rude. I think if you spent time looking at data you will see some benefits. I am not completely behind this form of treatment and I am aware of some professional telling us it can ‘cure’. But I think people like you are holding back humanity, we need to progress and if you continually prevent the drive and quest for knowledge these people have then I’m sorry you’re doing a bad job as a human being. I suggest in the future get you facts correct before slamming people.

  9. The duty a doctor to his patient is to make him feel better, if alternative medicine can achieve this then why should we abolish it?

    So doctors should be allowed to prescribe copious amounts of marijuana / cocaine / LSD / alcohol if it makes people feel better?

1 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Research into Homeopathy is Unethical | The Quackometer

Leave a Reply