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.
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.
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.