John Benneth, Brian Josephson and an Absurd Talk at Cambridge

image

On the 1st of October, a rather unusual talk was held at the Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge, entitled “The Supramolecular Chemistry of the Homeopathic Remedy”.

The talk was at the invite of Nobel laureate Brian Josephson and was to be given by a chap named John Benneth. Josephson is a known supporter of parapsychology, telepathy and homeopathy.

Now Benneth may well be known to critics of homeopathy as he is one of the practice’s more absurd advocates. He specialises in producing Youtube videos that range from the unhinged to the deeply offensive.

I was not alone in thinking that such a character does not deserve the esteem of speaking at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Benneth is not a scientist – as he clearly demonstrates when he opens his mouth. He advocates a discredited form of supernatural medicine whose practitioners are a threat to their customers’ wellbeing through their deluded beliefs about medicine.

Indeed, a mild twitter storm blew up when it was realised that Benneth was speaking and many people took to writing to the head of the Cavendish suggesting that it was inappropriate to host such a talk about a pseudoscientific subject from such an objectionable character.

The talk went ahead. It became closed to non-university people and its location became secret to all but those who were thought not to be a threat. Josephson explained that he did this “because opening the lecture to all could lead to an unacceptable lowering of the intellectual level of the discussion”.

A claim that might be hard to justify, unless cattle were allowed in.

You can hear a recording of the meeting here. It is worth listening to just so that you can image the squirming that must have gone on as Benneth makes basic error after basic error.

An analysis of the talk is perhaps best left to the words of Brian Josephson himself.  He explains,

This talk was an experiment, somewhat of a gamble perhaps. John Benneth is an ‘enthusiast’ for homeopathy, not a scientist, and what he said in the seminar might well have made him (and myself) look foolish.

Indeed.

Josephson adds,

On a number of occasions a failure to understand particular scientific issues was apparent, but nevertheless he gave an interesting exposition, which has in fact led to discussion between an open-minded colleague who was present and myself. It was thus felt worthwhile, despite clear deficiencies in the presentation, to upload to this site the audio recording of the talk made at the time, with a link to the accompanying slides.

Should this talk have been given?

For me, there is a clear tension. Academic freedom is extremely important. And the freedom to hold academic talks within a university setting is fundamental to what universities are about. It is also quite important for people to be wrong – indeed, seriously wrong, foolish and delusional. And for that reason, ‘banning’ a talk should not be done lightly – if at all.

“It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

But countering this is that the agreed fact that Benneth was not a scientist and not capable of giving an academic talk. He basic understanding of physics is very limited and essentially just a barely understood sequence of unrelated facts about water and structure. What was quite noticable in the talk was the complete lack of any data to support his assertions. Benneth, as is apparent in the talk, was well expecting to have his knowledge demolished by those far more capable that he. His talk was not used as an academic discussion forum, but as a platform for promoting his own standing. He can now claim that he has lectured at one of the worlds greatest universities, at the invite of a Nobel prize winner, about homeopathy and physics. This talk gave his ideas an imprimatur that they do not deserve.

The consequences of this are not slight. Fundamental to the beliefs of homeopaths is that their medical philosophy is the One True Way and that modern medicine is a dangerous force that does far more harm than good. They are fundamentally opposed to many of the key advances of modern medicine and as such are a threat to people’s health. Benneth has a right to his views, but he does not have an automatic right to a platform for those views from such a major institution. For that reason, Josephson should have been far more circumspect in his decision.

Josephson’s own defence of his actions are quite bizarre. He says,

If videos in bad taste are an issue, we should also ban Sacha Baron-Cohen, while if lampooning of public figures is an issue we should also ban Bremner, Bird and Fortune from speaking on university premises. Would Benneth’s critics also do that? Further, on checking Prof. Colquhoun’s Twitter pages to check on his current activities I was fascinated to see there hostile comment on the law firm Carter-Ruck where the ‘R’ of ‘Ruck’ was replaced by another letter of the alphabet? Is that something a respected academic should be doing, even if it is in his spare time and the Twitter pages are not hosted by UCL?

One obvious point is that Josephson does not read Private Eye, who only refer to the esteemed law firm as Carter Fuck in recognition of their role in taking on libel cases, often with doubtful merit, and using the extreme costs of libel actions as a way silencing critics – allegedly.

But to compare Benneth’s homophobic rants with comedians?  It’s far off the mark.

But the most bizarre aspect of Josephson’s defence is his invocation of a conspiracy theory. In full,

Let me however refer to what seems to me to be a sinister aspect of the whole episode. After the lecture had been publicly advertised on the talks.cam site for a whole week, the Head of Department found himself suddenly in receipt of a large number of emails asking if his department should really be hosting a lecture by a person who had posted rather disagreeable videos on YouTube.

It seems highly unlikely that all these people just happened to see the announcement at the same time and all just happened to know about these YouTube videos, and then all thought it worth complaining about having the speaker give a lecture in the department. One might think it curious also that the people complaining about the speaker (as opposed to his subject matter) all wrote to the HoD rather than taking up the issue in the first instance with myself.

This much seems clear: someone did not want the lecture to take place and organised a campaign against it. One must assume also that whoever orchestrated this campaign advised writing to the Head of Department rather than myself, in the belief that this would be more effective (as it would have been had I not stood my ground).

Now we may enquire as to the motive of the person who orchestrated this campaign? What does the dictum ‘follow the money’ suggest in this case? There is a lot of money in the pharmaceutical industry, which might be harmed by too much interest in the idea that structured water could have health benefits. Might this be the thinking underlying this campaign? But that is only a suggestion, and I leave it to the reader to consider alternative explanations.

Is it not possible that a large number of people could be troubled by this dubious talk without requiring the dark forces of pharmaceutical companies to orchestrate an offensive?

There are indeed “alternative explanations”. And ones that do not require fantasy, conspiracy and corruption. They are not hard to work out, and I will too leave it to the reader to come to appropriate conclusions.

Follow Up

My response to the science of clathrates and other physical mechanisms to explain homeopathy.

http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2010/10/the-futility-of-finding-physical-explanations-for-homeopathy.html

82 comments for “John Benneth, Brian Josephson and an Absurd Talk at Cambridge

  1. Rocko
    October 9, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Bizarre. As one of the people that wrote to the HoD (and received a very courteous, honest and obviously embarrassed email back from him) of course there was no conspiracy. Predictably it appears that Josephson doesn’t understand how stories can ignite very quickly via the internet/blogs/twitter.

    From memory, Josephson’s email wasn’t publicly availble; the one for the HoD was published, however, which is why most of the traffic would have gone to him.

    The rest of the comment is pretty weak stuff. Randi can be rude, so it’s ok for Benneth to abuse and publish hate-filled rants too? Seriously?

    Josephson has already made himself look silly by inviting a deeply unpleasant fantasist to give a lecture on a topic he wasn’t qualified to talk on. That defence of his invitation really doesn’t make him look any less so.

  2. October 9, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Just browsed through his slides. What a load of guff. Not sure I’m up to listening to his talk, but may do when I need a good laugh.

    (Does he not have a spell-checker?)

  3. October 9, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    In reference to Josephson’s justification for having a closed meeting “because opening the lecture to all could lead to an unacceptable lowering of the intellectual level of the discussion”, you said “A claim that might be hard to justify, unless cattle were allowed in”.

    This was unfair to cattle. I have met many cows and I can’t imagine why any of them would want to attend a lecture by John Benneth. I believe that the sales force at Carter Fuck are even at this very moment touring fields and feed lots as the first step in preparing for a class action should you repeat this defamation. Or perhaps a herd action.

  4. October 10, 2010 at 3:21 am

    Hey Dimwit! It’s me, your friend, your best friend, your only friend, John BENNETH!
    Ah yes, clathrates. Make a note of the word, because in it Andy “the Dimwit” Lewis’ little case against homeopathy suddenly equals the lifespan of the hydrogen bond, for it has always been the pushback from the bobbleheads that the only way for water to retain a memory is by liquid aqueous structuring (LAS), which, Andy “the Dimwit” Lewis will say is impossible because of its transient nature.
    The hydrogen bond lasts for only a few pico or nano seconds, depending on which pseudoscientist you’re believing for the micro. But what the pseudoscientists don’t ofgten calculate for us is the duration of separation, and where the molecule goes during that separation. LOL! Logically it goes back to where it was, unless ripped loose by exogenic forces. Because of molecular gridlock it can’t go anywhere else . .
    Yes, the impossibility of LAS is disproven by 200 years of direct observation of LAS, beginning in 1810 by Sir Humprhy Davy and Michael Farraday in their investigation of chlorine. They saw the odd little twinkles and called them “hydrates.”
    Note that here in the Dimwit’s whining column and congress of Randi’s massive circle jerk, is yet to be made any mention of this glaring contradiction regarding LAS. A search on the Internet reveals 115,000 hits on “clathrate hydrates,” which real scientists eplain to be the result of hydrogen bonding, LAS.
    Knock me over with one of Uri’s bent spoons, LMAO,ROFL! How do you explain that, dimwit? Oh God, God is good, thank you Jewish God, Allah Akhbar Tom Cruise!
    So go ahead, Andy, flail away, wave your arms and make your vague dimwit assertions and useless dimwit ad hominems, try to change the subject, but on this point regarding LAS you’ve been proven embarrassingly wrong. But look, if that’s too technical for all the pseudoscientists like Dimwit here, take a look at water surface tension and what accounts for that . . and bubbles . . and then let me hear from Dimwit that water can’t structure at liquid temperatures. The only thing Dimwit now is left to say is that although he’s been proven wrong (once again) about LAS, is that it is irrelevant to homeopathy.
    Go ahead, Dimwit, knock yourself out!
    You see, as always, all arguments against homeopathy are non specific, and impotent . . because why?
    Because they are all based on a fallacy.
    And oh, thanks for the free notoriety, Dimwit!
    Au revoir, til next time!
    John BENNETH LLC (last lecturer at the Cavendish)

    • Le Canard Noir
      October 10, 2010 at 8:02 am

      Thank you John (if it is you and not some hilarious spoof) for helping make my argument for me.

      Classic example of Dunning-Kruger.

      • October 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

        The problem is, if the real John Benneth turned up here now, we’d never know…

      • Wendy Pearman
        October 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm

        Yes. I am normally someone who is quite modest, appreciates others skills and tries to learn if someone does something better than me. In the homeopathy world I thought I was good, better than others, and that we really could cure everything. So did others. One tutor would not take her her child to another homeopath as she did not trust anyone to be good enough. I call it the ‘God syndrome’. I feel it operates at individual level among homeopaths as well as at grou level.

        You can understand where it starts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in 30 weekends or so, you could learn a set of skills to cure all ills, and the cures were cheap? Very idealistic, but worthy. Once you actually think you can you’ve moved to lack of appreciation of others and then outright denunciation of the stuff that relly does keep people alive.

        I think Dunning-Kruger explains a lot of different aspects of the phenomenon.
        (I would also advocate following the money, too, after reading an article in yesterday’s Independent magazine. Big money is a much rarer phenomenon.)

      • Jeff Casey
        October 11, 2010 at 1:22 am

        Kind of a poe’s law effect.

    • October 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

      Wow! I didn’t think John Benneth could get any crazier than he showed a few years ago when he claimed that Sydney was knee-deep in smouldering bird life and we were all driving cars with only one headlight, all due to some otherwise unnoticed energy pulse coming from some unspecified source. I was wrong.

      I do find in encouraging, however, that the person making the strongest argument for the fraud of homeopathy is such a barking mad, mouth-foaming object of self-aggrandising ridicule. John would be funny if he wasn’t so hilarious.

  5. tamarque
    October 10, 2010 at 9:06 am

    It always strikes me as pretty funny that the very process of thinking and reasoning that denialists attack, is the very process that they apply. You may have some grey matter but what you do with it is a travesty. Writing to your own is nothing more than an example of pure mental mastrubation for your own self-satisfaction. You obviously don’t understand enough to make a real critique as you evidence by the total lack of information in your rants.

    Cognitive dissonance: the ability to smell dog poop and allow yourself to be convinced it is real a rose! It really gets tiring listening to people like yourself who can’t take in new information. Your problem is that cant separate your belief/faith system from real information/evidence.

    And BTW, your quote of Conan Doyle is pure newspeak. The world is full of discoveries begun with a theory based on simple observation and then tested out. The theory often comes first and data follows. Of course, when you are a prostitute for the drug industry, the only evidence that is important is their cooked data and oversize bottom line.

    As for homeopathy, the proof is is in the pudding. When a remedy is given and changes occur almost immediately, and this occurs over and over again, we call this evidence. If one counts these evidenciary experiences, we call it data! You need to good dictionary as well as a mental readjustment to reality.

    • Le Canard Noir
      October 10, 2010 at 9:48 am

      The shortcomings of Benneth’s ideas on clathrates are so obvious that they hardly need spelling out. It is indeed quite amazing that he can convince himself (and others) that he is saying something profound. I shall in due course (hopefully this week) spell out why such ideas can quickly be dismissed for those who are struggling.

      • October 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm

        If the shortcomings on my ideas about clathrates are so obvious that they hardly need spelling out, then why is it going to take you at least (hopefully) a whole week to do it?
        Hello?
        Andy?
        WAKE UP, DIMWIT!
        ANSWER THE QUESTION!
        So far Andy Lewis’ post PROMISING to answer the question is the only one out of 10 responses I read here that even comes close to addressing the major point, and it’ll probably be the only one out of 100’s by the time this is over with. All we’re gpoing to hear here is how stupid Benneth is.
        I’ll wager that prior to hearing it from me, at my lecture at the Cavendish, it’s the first time Andy Lewis-Bowels has ever experienced the word clathrate, along with the 99.999999% of mankind, and that’s being generous.
        Tell you what, Andy. I’m going to nominate you for the Nobel prize . . for Stupidity.
        Now, while Andy is sucking his thumb and thinking that one over, allow me to address my colleagues in pseudoscience, as one to another.
        Obviously, Handy Andy has got to stop playing with himself long enough to play catch up with a non scientist, and something tells me he’s either going to start babbling or have a stroke.
        I can hear Colquhoun yelling at him now: “Come on, get in gear, dimwit! Swallow some monkey pills, put some spunkum in your junkum and answer the fucking question: If the hydrogen bond is too transient to support sustained structuring in water at liquid temperatures, how do you explain 200 years of direct observation of it in the form of clathrates?”
        Now that’s simple enough. No one needs a Nobel prize to figure that one out, do they? Come on, somebody grab a slide rule. Call the county extension agent. Call Randi, he’s got an answer for everything. Or call Superman on that wrist watch he gave you, that’s what it’s there for, isn’t it?
        I can hear Goldacre now: “Somebody get this guy Benneth to SHUT UP! He’s making us all look like morons.”
        Ben’s shooting blanks. He was invited to the Cavendish lecture and didn’t come, the little coward. Josepshon even had some juice and crisps waiting for him, but oh no, “boring day job.”

        Quick, get Harriet Hall on the phone, she’s a doctor, she’ll know what to do. What do you mean she’s retired? What about Novella? Tell him to get his head oout of his ass and say something! Where’s Shermer when we need him? Look under the desk! Andy! Wake up Andy! Instead of making more of a fool of yourself with nothing more than ad hominem barking and promises of an explanation sometime this year, why not just say, “Okay, Benneth’s right, I and the legion of pseudoscientists in the daisy chain behind me have nothing but a big zero in response to the question, just like the evidence we have for the biochemical action of clathrates being psychogenic. Zero. A big zero. How big a zero? Hold up your hands. Touch the tips of your fingers together and make a hole, and if you’re a man with normal sized hands you’ll create one of about six inches, the diameter of the opening in Randi’s rectum after an Amazing meeting.”

        Now look, Andy, dimwit, if you don’t like this and think its too ad hominem, take a look at the title of your dimwit blog: either you’re calling me stupid or you’re calling me a quack, right? If you were playing nice in the sandbox to begin with, I wouldn’t have had any reason slip in some dog crap. Okay? So far, without responding to the evidence for liquid aqueous structuring (LAS) both in evidence and theory, the ad hominem is all you’ve got going.
        Don’t cry. Let me give you a little help here, Andy. I will teach and you will learn. There’s no way you can deny LAS without sounding totally uninformed, so don‘t even try. It’s there and its prosaic. So just try to go on ignoring it like you were doing before all this hit the fan, okay? Just say, “clathrates have nothing to do with it. Benneth’s LAS model is irrelevant to homeopathy,” or something to that effect.
        There you go now. Don’t overtax your mind. Have a nice hot cup of tea with milk and honey, tuck yourself in and stay away from the Internet for awhile, just like mother said. When you wake up, stretch and yawn, get up and take a nice long walk in the park after brekky and leave it to others to deal with big bad Benneth and his silly LAS. Its better to keep your mouth closed and make people suspect you’re stupid than open it and prove it for sure.

        John BENNETH

      • Le Canard Noir
        October 10, 2010 at 10:58 pm

        Mr Benneth

        Please follow this link to see my response to your ideas about clathrates.

        I hope the timescales under which I have worked have met your approval.

      • October 18, 2010 at 3:47 am

        Hi John,

        I would never describe my dayjob as boring, it’s the most interesting and exciting part of my life. It’s boring dealing with people like you who casually misrepresent facts, but out of interest I checked, and in the email I wrote to Josephson declining his invitation to your talk, I explained I couldn’t come to Cambridge on account of my “humble” dayjob.

        I’d be grateful if you could clarify this in the zillion places that you’ve posted over excitedly about the outrage of my not coming to see you speak about clathrates. I’m relieved to say that I doubt anyone would take anything you say seriously for obvious reasons, but it’s still not correct of you to say that I described my dayjob – about which I’m extremely passionate and committed – as “boring”.

        I’ve just taken some unpaid leave to finish a book about bad behaviour in the pharmaceutical industry, and have flown to Canada and the US to do a couple of talks as Bad Science has just come out there, and to interview some people about dodgy behaviour in big pharma. It’s not clear to me why you regard this as an unacceptable activity for me to engage in.

        Obviously there are a lot of pressures on everyone’s time, but I’m afraid that like a lot of people I don’t find your ideas very interesting. To be honest, like most people, I also don’t think I’d spend 4 hours travelling to Cambridge and back to see a man who makes videos as unpleasantly homophobic as yours:

        For interest – and god knows this I barely interesting – pasted below is my email to Brian Josephson in response to his invitation, which I think makes it fairly clear why I didn’t come. Perhaps in future people should be forewarned that an invitation to a lecture from Brian Josephson will result in indignant fury at your non-attendance, and tedious unpleasantness from his speakers alleging that you think your dayjob is “boring”. If you are looking for explanations as to why people don’t take you seriously, you might look carefully at your behaviour in episodes like this.

        > thanks
        >
        > it’s never particularly interested me, i’m nore interested in EBM and its
        > application to homeopathy shows that their pills work no better than
        > placebo.
        >
        > i’ll pass it on to ppl who are interested tho, cheers.
        >
        > cant make cambridge, humble dayjob!
        >
        > b

  6. October 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

    “He can now claim that he has lectured at one of the worlds greatest universities, at the invite of a Nobel prize winner, about homeopathy and physics…”

    and thats what upsets me. I have to say I have lost a lot of respect for Josephson now.

  7. October 10, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I see the Cavendish have a proper scientist giving a talk next month:

    How English Libel Law Threatens Science by Dr Simon Singh.

    This will go some way to repair its tarnished reputation.

  8. October 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Ah! The link got lost somewhere: http://talks.cam.ac.uk/talk/index/27253

  9. Fontwell
    October 10, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Academic freedom is fine but note that the part before “freedom” is “academic” and not, for instance, “GCSE grade D”.

    • October 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Oh, I doubt it would even stretch that far…

  10. October 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Blimey, who let the cattle in?

    Josephson must be mortified.

  11. October 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Benneth wants someone to say “clathrates have nothing to do with it. Benneth’s LAS model is irrelevant to homeopathy”.

    Clathrates have nothing to do with it. Benneth’s LAS model is irrelevant to homeopathy.

    There you go. Happy now, John?

  12. Brian Josephson
    October 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Nice cattle, nasty people! This blog supports my rationale very well — the intellectual standard of the typical comment here is pretty low and the lecture would not have benefited from these people’s presence.

    • Quentin Stafford-Fraser
      October 10, 2010 at 6:39 pm

      While the intellectual standard of Benneth’s comments, I presume, would be indicative of what they would be missing?

      When I first saw the announcement about the talk, I honestly thought it was a spoof…

      • October 10, 2010 at 7:03 pm

        Quite understandable, Quentin – there would be little difference between Bennerth and a spoof… except that no-one spoofing homeopathy would dare make it as ridiculous and awash with non sequiturs and basic errors as le vrai Bennerth.

        Prof Josephson’s problem is a classic case of “Nobel Syndrome”. His acknowledged scientific achievements in one particular area (condensed matter), combined with a general intellectual arrogance apparent in many of his comments here and elsewhere about Bennerth’s lecture, has seemingly led him to conclude that he cannot possibly be wrong. If he is right, ergo, the people mocking (which is an entirely appropriate response to incoherent rubbish, of course – to quote an earlier Nobel Laureate, AV Hill, “laughter is the best detergent of nonsense”) must be wrong. And so must be those who have pointed out the scientific problems with the ideas advanced by Bennerth and (a little more coherently) by other homeopaths and sympathsisers. Check out the Nature Network thread here for examples of various bioscientists and biophysicists (including several Professors) trying to explain politely to Josephson why his ideas about homeopathy, and those of others he quotes, do not stand up. You will note that Josephson dismisses most of their arguments with variants on “of course you are not clever enough to understand this”

    • Jeff Casey
      October 11, 2010 at 1:38 am

      I’m going to assume that you missed Mr. Benneth’s comments?

    • October 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm

      Oh yes, Brian, the cattle are so nice, aren’t they? Didn’t you just love how Benneth opened his so-called lecture with an attack on David Colquhoun?

      The “lecture” wouldn’t have benefited from my presence if you’d paid me. From what I heard of it, I’d get more intellectual stimulation from sticking my head down a toilet.

    • phayes
      October 14, 2010 at 1:53 am

      “Nice cattle, nasty people … the intellectual standard of the typical comment here is pretty low and the lecture would not have benefited from these people’s presence.”

      Dreadful isn’t it? Just ignore the nasty knuckle draggers, Prof. Why not raise the intellectual standards even higher by inviting Dr Werner to give your next Cavendish Laboratories talk:

      *And* – as an added bonus – no-one can accuse her of making “deeply offensive” YouTube videos!!!

  13. October 10, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Brian Josephson said:

    “the intellectual standard of the typical comment here is pretty low”

    Since someone called John Benneth has posted by far the greater number of words here, I can only agree.

  14. October 10, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    John Benneth – I’m not sure there’s a tactful way to say this, but I think you need to get another web designer, and you might want to fix the typo “PERSONLITY” about half-way down the page. If you’re going to call your website “Science of Homeopathy”, would it be too much to ask to have a clear link to a page explaining the science? Your comments above are less than illuminating on this point.

    tamarque – “When a remedy is given and changes occur almost immediately, and this occurs over and over again, we call this evidence. If one counts these evidenciary experiences, we call it data!” – No, we call this anecdote. If you can demonstrate in a repeatable randomized controlled double-blinded trial that your homeopathic preparation outperforms an indistinguishable placebo (on a measurable outcome, stated in advance to discourage sub-group analysis and other such fishing expeditions), then we can think about calling it data.

  15. October 10, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    As any fool knows, homeopathy works via the agency of invisible demons, as does all magick.

  16. Michael Power
    October 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Dimwit Andy

    You’re in exalted company now with Harriet Hall, Ben Goldacre, Steve Novella, David Colquhoun, and Brian Josephson.

    Having read Josephson’s report on the meeting, your blog, and the comments, I must agree with Josephson that the intellectual content of Benneth’s lecture could not have benefited from any comments. Its arguments are thermonuclear bomb-proof.

    • October 10, 2010 at 9:38 pm

      Michael,
      Thank you very much for your comment.
      John Benneth

      • Michael Power
        October 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

        Just asking: does John Benneth have a sense of irony?

      • Andy Lewis
        October 18, 2010 at 9:15 am

        He really is the King of Insightlessness.

  17. EdW
    October 10, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Just out of curiosity I went through the slides. The slide with the football is quite suggestive (no 5). Suppose we have a not yet diluted liquid, just for the sake of argument, let us put some lead in it. According to the argument, every lead atom (ion?) gets an ionic macro around it. I would imagine one for every atom. So, if you dilute it over and over, so that there is no single lead atom in the liquid left, there won’t be any of those ionic macros either; the memory is lost. Probably it is believed that shaking the liquid will cause the lead ion to break out the ionic macro, leaving the ionic macro as a second skin behind, and forms a new one over and over. The lifetime of such an empty ionic macro must be quite long, because I never saw an expiry date on homeopathic medicine. This is actually surprising, because you would expect that the memory will fade overtime, also due to thermal interactions and light. But suppose this is all still OK, what happens when the liquid comes in contact with a concentrated acid, in the stomach. Won’t all those chlorides dissolve in the liquid, and create many many new macro ions, destroying the carefully prepared lead water memory? Not to mention, that somehow this ionic macro should end up in the bloodstream to do its effect, during this process the memory must be solid as a rock… I’m not convinced, yet.

    • October 10, 2010 at 11:30 pm

      Dear EdW

      Of all the comments and questions I’ve read so far, yours have suddenly shown to be the most insightful.
      Without splitting hairs here, I think I can say you have basically got the idea with some slight corrections or refinements.
      The inner hydrate shell doesn’t break loose on the guest particle during succussion, but the cybotactic region (CR) does. A chain reaction of structuring occurs in random ordered virgin solution when the CRs are dumped into the next dilution. Succussion breaks up these CRs into smaller units that nucleate around atmosphere (bubbles) and are separated by ethanol, which gives the CR macros distinction and increases coherent epitaxy, i.e. RF (see Roy re: epitaxy). The guest particles are gradually replaced by air nucleation around the CRs.
      You’re right, stomach acid would dissolve these delicate structures, but the active ingredient is sensed by the organism electromagnetically, by taste or smell, in the mouth or nose, andnalso toppically or by mere proximity in some cases.
      Physical tests, supported by observed biological effects, have shown that homeopathics lose their effectiveness when exposed to UV, magnetic fields, temperature extremes, and we are cautioned to keep them away from strong odous.
      Thanks again for eliciting ad rem, rather than the usual, seemingly endless ad hominem.
      Best regards,
      John BENNETH

      • Joe
        October 11, 2010 at 12:40 am

        “the active ingredient is sensed by the organism electromagnetically”

        Can you explain further? I don’t understand.

        Also, can you give figures for the “UV, magnetic fields, temperature extremes” that affect the homeopathic effect?

      • EdW
        October 11, 2010 at 9:45 am

        Dear John,

        Thanks for taking the effort of answering my remark. I try to understand the reasoning. What puzzles me is that how the CR can be copied without the presence of the actual guest particle? I don’t think, the Van der Waals forces can be generating this, they are the weakest of all binding forces and are contact forces with only limited range. So, let’s say we have one particle with CR etc, during succussion the CR survives and put in a random ordered virgin solution. How will the CR extend to a network of to multiply itself? And what happens to this network after the next dilution, why does it become more potent? Guess the CR is a sort of seed that functions as condensation kernel? But why would it create accurately identically CR units which can be used for the next dilation? Is it not more likely that the copying won’t be that accurate?
        A second issue that puzzles me is that homeopathy uses many different types of guest particles. That the structure will be different in the inner hydrate shell is obvious, but the more you go further from the particle, the less the distinction between different particles will be; it will average out the differences. But, in order to be effective, it should be significantly different for all different guest particles. I thought that the idea behind homeopathy is that what causes an illness in healthy people (like lead poisoning), will be healing for ill people when properly diluted. But if you have a lead poisoning it has nothing to do with the CR’s, sorry I still miss too many puzzle pieces to see the picture.
        Kind regards

  18. October 10, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Okay, if you guys are so smart, then let’s see which of you is capable of dealing with this on an entirely ad rem basis.
    My premise here is that one demonstrable way for water to retain a memory is by liquid aqueous structuring (LAS).
    Previously, this explanation was dismissed because of the theoretical transient nature of the hydrogen bond. Now, without going into theory, all I have had to do to validate LAS is simply point to the clathrate hydrate.
    So far, despite the blog host’s promise of an early dismissal, all I’m reading here is that Benneth is an idiot and Josephson has rested on his laurels too long, or words to that effect, i.e. “these guys are no good.” Merely ad hominem, to which I’m entitled to respond to in similia, which highlights the nature of this argument. Now let me bring everyone back down to Earth: So far no one but me has addressed the issue of clathrates being an obvious example of LAS, nor has anyone deferred to the literature re: it but me, most notably Roy’s “Structure of Liquid Water.” So far, Prof. Josephson is right, there’s no contest here. All that’s logically left for Lewis et al to do is traverse to the claim that what they said previously was impossible (LAS) is now irrelevant . .
    In the dim light of such weak ad rem response, I think there’s actually a pretty good claim from the homeopathic industry for tortious interference and economic damages done by Lewis et al, most notably his webhost for presenting out and out lies meant to economically damage and endanger the target.
    If I were to claim that a product was responsible for the death of people without giving one example, in order to maliciously disuade people from its use, as Lewis has done here regarding MalariaX, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be open for a lawsuit. I suppose, however, that his best defense in the case is what’s he’s already proven, is that he’s idiot andobviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Maybe a happy medium would be for Lewis’ host to post a bond in the case Ruchira is attacked as a result of hatred generated by Lewis.
    Perhaps I missed something in my scan of the article, but as usual in the case against homeopathy, I found no specific example supporting the assertion, in this case what Lewis’ headline was claiming, that anyone had died as a result of using Ruchira’s product.
    Homeopathy makes use of a legal, government regulated pharmacy that is supported by biochemical testing. Yet to read Lewis et al, it would appear to be fraud. But if it is fraud, why is it continuing to be legally marketed? The errors in Lewis et al’s resaoning are prima facie.
    One would expect there to be a study comparing fatality rates between users of MalariaX and non, and those relying on Lewis’ suggested treatment. I see no such study to support Lewis’ asssertions. Instead, as it has been with the discussion regarding LAS, it’s just a lot of opinion blowing nothing more than hot air, and criminal libel.

    • Le Canard Noir
      October 10, 2010 at 11:07 pm

      Please go ahead. Sue me. Make my day.

      To sell MalariX in the UK would be illegal. e.g. see here.

      Kenya, as a developing nation, may well have less sophisticated enforcement infrastructures.

      And if you would like a full response about why you are speaking ill informed twaddle, see this post:

      http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2010/10/the-futility-of-finding-physical-explanations-for-homeopathy.html

    • October 11, 2010 at 1:18 am

      “My premise here is that one demonstrable way for water to retain a memory is by liquid aqueous structuring (LAS)”

      So when do the demonstrations start? I don’t mean demonstrations that clathrates can actually exist, I mean demonstrations that they can survive intact through successive dilutions and succussions beyond the point where they are diluted out of existence. Of course, that would not prove that the fraud of homeopathy works, so perhaps the testing and demonstration should start there.

      While doing some preparatory work for a short film I will be making to demonstrate the idiocy of homeopathy I took a seven-year-old child (with a slight developmental delay problem) through the making of a 10C preparation of ink. (I use ink because the lack of it shows up nicely in the diluted samples.) I pointed to the last mixture and asked him if he thought there was any ink in it. He looked at me as if I was mad and said “No” in that tone of voice that children use when they know adults are having a lend of them. So even a child can see how ridiculous homeopathy is.

      My wife was glad that I didn’t spill the 10C ink on my clothes because she was worried about getting the very powerful stain out. I told her not to worry too much and I will be using disposable clothes when we make the 30C mixture for the film. I wouldn’t want to spill that on my shirt or get any on my fingers.

      • October 11, 2010 at 10:51 am

        Peter, you are correct, but there’s an even larger elephant in the room. This is all speculation about the cause for an effect that has not even been successfully demonstrated.

      • Brian Josephson
        October 21, 2010 at 11:30 am

        … and then, when the child was older, he learned about Avogadro’s number, did a few calculations, and realised he’d been tricked into giving the wrong answer when he had been asked some years ago if a 10C (factor 10^20) dilution of ink had any ink left in it.

  19. GeekGoddess
    October 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I find it amazing that such twaddle passes muster at Cambridge. Undoubtedly opening Bennett’s talk to the public would have exposed him to even more ridicule. I’m sure the Texas State Board of Education wishes they could also close the doors to public scrutiny of their scientific failings.

    I am, however, applying for membership in the ” congress of Randi’s massive circle jerk”.

    • phayes
      October 13, 2010 at 9:52 pm

      Reminds me of the time Roger “It doesn’t violate conservation of momentum” Shawyer got invited to Imperial College to talk about his blatantly momentum conservation violating EMDrive.

  20. Jonathan
    October 11, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    John Benneth said….”Physical tests, supported by observed biological effects, have shown that homeopathics lose their effectiveness when exposed to UV, magnetic fields, temperature extremes, and we are cautioned to keep them away from strong odous.

    Is this really true? Anyone fancy joining a anti-homeopathy terror group whereby we go to as many outlets as possible that sell this crap armed with a big magnet and a UV lamp?

    How would anyone tell which products had been “hit”? Oh…I guess they could do a simple proving. Mmmmmm…..just forget that idea then guys ;)

    Jonathan

    • Blue Bubble
      October 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      “… and we are cautioned to keep them away from strong odours.”

      That’s it – I vote we all neglect to shower for a week, eat tons of garlic, and simply show up in one’s nearest Boots store.

  21. October 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Jonathan said: “Anyone fancy joining a anti-homeopathy terror group whereby we go to as many outlets as possible that sell this crap armed with a big magnet and a UV lamp?”

    Me me me! We could ‘de-activate’ all the homeopathy potions in a well-known high street pharmacist and invite them to sue us for criminal damage. The court case would be fascinating!

    • Jonathan
      October 11, 2010 at 4:45 pm

      What’s the betting if someone did this the magnetic field wouldn’t have been strong enough/the UV light was of the wrong intensity/the temperature extreme wasn’t extreme enough/the odour wasn’t odiferous enough to have damaged the precious stock.

      As there isn’t any actual science to back any of this BS up its up to the person who makes it up as to what strength of magnet/intensity of UV/temperature extreme/smelliness of keff (sp?) is required to do the de-effectivenessing.

      Jonathan

      PS my goodness I used some great made-up words in that post….though I say it myself

      • Joe
        October 13, 2010 at 1:50 am

        Johnathan said:

        “What’s the betting if someone did this the magnetic field wouldn’t have been strong enough/the UV light was of the wrong intensity/the temperature extreme wasn’t extreme enough/the odour wasn’t odiferous enough to have damaged the precious stock.”

        Don’t be so ignorant. The polarisation of the UV would obviously be wrong.

        “PS my goodness I used some great made-up words in that post….though I say it myself”

        I am so going to steal “de-effectivenessing”, but shouldn’t is be “de-effectivenessising”? Just wondering.

  22. Moochie
    October 14, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Totally agree with you, but geez, you appear to have an anti-apostrophe bias that affects how you’re regarded among, well, by me.

    Viz. “…threat to their customers wellbeing…”
    make that “…threat to their customers’ wellbeing…”

    “…such are a threat to peoples health.”
    make that “…such are a threat to people’s health.”

    There are probably more examples, but you get the idea.

    If you like, I’ll proofread your material, free. It really is quite good.

    Regards,

    M.

  23. Brian Josephson
    October 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    To take up sundry points, when I wrote “the intellectual standard of the typical comment here is pretty low” I was not referring to the number of words. Rather, imagine you assign, to each comment, a grade from 1-10 say relating to intellectual standard, and average these grades, then you’d end up with a pretty low average (though I see things picked up a bit briefly at one point). That is fine — in most cases discussions such as these don’t operate at a particularly high level. On the other hand the level is important here in the sense that the issue ‘can memory of water be completely ruled out?’, which is my own principal interest, is not one that can be decided at a superficial level; the world of physics doesn’t work like that.

    My other point can conveniently be discussed with reference to GeekGoddess’ point:

    “I find it amazing that such twaddle passes muster at Cambridge. Undoubtedly opening Bennett’s talk to the public would have exposed him to even more ridicule. I’m sure the Texas State Board of Education wishes they could also close the doors to public scrutiny of their scientific failings.”

    it could well be that there would have been a lot of ridicule had random members of the public (e.g, people like GeekGoddess) been allowed in. But uninformed ridicule says very little (see my first point). Who should decide on the ridiculously, the public or experts such as those at the Cavendish? It is surely significant that (with one exception, I should imagine either someone who had to leave early or someone had come along out of curiosity and hadn’t intended to stay for the whole lecture) no-one left before the end, as surely would have happened had the speaker been visibly talking nonsense. And no-one who was present at the talk told me afterwards they thought the talk was nonsense either, though it was generally agreed that B. was a bit confused about a number of things, but not in a way that invalidated the whole argument (though the Princeton studies you’ll find a reference to suggest that a different kind of structure to clathrates might be more important).

    Basically, people recognised that here was someone who had made a study of the research and was presenting a coherent argument heading in a certain direction, someone deserving of respect for that at least. In my opinion, it is the people who mindlessly sling out words such as absurd, delusional, guff, twaddle … who are the real anti-intellectuals here, not John Benneth at all. All in all, the pluses associated with having this talk outweighed the minuses, I believe.

    By the way, I accepted the judgement of those who said they thought no organised complaint process was needed to account for the HoD getting large numbers of emails over a very short period of time, and adjusted my comments accordingly quite some time ago.

    The suggestion that Ben G. finds his day job boring seems to have come about through some variant of ‘Chinese whispers’, and I send my apologies for this having happened.

    • Helen
      October 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      Professor Josephson – I am not a scientist, though as a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, I do try not to be a complete dimwit. If some physical change takes place to water in the process of dilution and succussion, why has it proved impossible for scientists consistently to detect the difference between “homeopathic” pillules and blanks in laboratory conditions?

      Mr Benneth states above that homeopathics can be detected electromagnetically and that there are “physical tests” which detect the efficacy or lack thereof, of homeopathic remedies (“Physical tests, … , have shown that homeopathics lose their effectiveness when exposed to UV, magnetic fields, temperature extremes…”)

      Wouldn’t it be possible to reproduce these tests or demonstrate this electromagnetic effect under laboratory conditions and clear this debate up?

      As to the reported efficacy of homeopathy by users, I recall that my director of studies used to recommend a cocktail of Beechams Night Nurse liquid mixed with whisky as effective against the common cold. They don’t seem to be selling it in Boots yet, though.

      Kind regards

  24. October 21, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Different from, not different to.

    • klk
      October 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm

      You and I speak American, which is different from British.

      • klk
        October 21, 2010 at 12:20 pm

        Perhaps I’m wrong about the first part, but I think there’s no real rule here other than dialect.

  25. October 21, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Brian, you sound increasingly as if you are trying to justify an unjustifiable position. IMHO, it was a serious error of judgement inviting Benneth to talk. Yes, it would be interesting to explore “water memory” in the context of homoeopathy if there were any evidence whatsoever that water has a memory lasting over a timescale of more than nanoseconds, but there isn’t. You might as well have invited someone to give a talk on the mechanism by which pigs are able to fly.

    Moreover, reading Benneth’s posts above here in this blog doesn’t inspire confidence that we are dealing with a heavyweight intellectual. Heavyweight intellectuals don’t usually begin their argument with “Hey Dimwit!”

    I take your point about the question of who should decide whether something is ridiculous. I also accept that physicists (or at least some of them) are probably experts in what happens in microscopic structures in nanosecond timescales. However, the point of the talk was about the implications for homoeopathy. Physicists are not experts in assessing the evidence for the efficacy of medical interventions. If you want a judgement on whether a talk about homoeopathy is ridiculous, then the relevant experts would be clinical researchers or medical statisticians. As luck would have it, I am a medical statistician, and I can tell you quite clearly that homoeopathy is totally devoid of any supporting evidence. Any other qualified medical statistician would tell you the same.

    We all make errors of judgement from time to time. The dignified thing to do here would be to admit that you have done so. Remember the old adage: “when you are in a hole, stop digging”.

    • Brian Josephson
      October 21, 2010 at 11:05 am

      @Adam, “Physicists are not experts in assessing the evidence for the efficacy of medical interventions”: the talk, as agreed with the speaker, was primarily about the structural aspects not applications to homeopathy and if you listen to the talk (regrettably, the dept. banned videoing it so my iPod with its eRecorder app had to come to the rescue, assisted by my wife dashing to the lab with the mic which I’d left at home) you will see that very little was in fact said about homeopathy. Your argument has a non-target.

      As regards your statistical expertise, though, let me put the following to you. Suppose the course of a disease depends not only on medical remedies but on cofactors C. One such cofactor of course is the placebo effect. But suppose it also makes a difference whether one is dealing with a real-life situation (R) or a controlled experiment (E), and also whether a homeopathic practitioner is involved (H) or a random person (~H). If we grant that, then we must also grant that it is possible that in the E+~H situation we will see no difference between the placebo and the remedy while in the more favourable situation (R+H) the remedy will be able to work effectively.

      This is the old question, does the experimental situation reproduce the reality? The knowledge that the subject may not be getting the remedy but a placebo instead may have a negative effect, by altering the whole atmosphere surrounding the investigation, even in those cases where the subject is getting the real remedy, and uninterested experimenters may have a bad influence.

      So, things are not always black and white as you’d like them to be. I’d go as far as saying there should be a moratorium on attempts to ban complementary therapies, except where there is a clear case for so doing. The mere absence of the kind of proof that you would like should not be enough for proposing a ban.

      Finally, I suspect that were Richard Feynman alive today and involved in this kind of discussion, he could well have begun a posting with ‘hey dimwit!’.

      • Le Canard Noir
        October 21, 2010 at 11:38 am

        Good grief Brian,

        To discuss Benneth in the same sentence as Feynman is just absurd. Feynman would have discussed the matter with verve, warmth and wit. Not ignorant insults and idiocy.

        And I find that when people resort to ‘notation’ to descibe a rather simple concept, I wonder if that are being obscurantist. Yes, efficacy can be very different from effectiveness, but to claim that real world usage might be better than idealised usage in a trial is quite a big claim – much rather, effectiveness is a lot less than might be seen in a trial.

        And to claim the talk was not about homeopathy is disingenuous. Benneth quite clearly has a very shallow grasp of physics – just what are you going to learn from someone who manages to string together physics words into barely coherent sentences?

        As for your moratorium, would it not be a better moratorium on homeopaths not making extravagant claims, such as being able to cure AIDS, TB, cancer and malaria, until they actually have some credible evidence that they are doing anything other than parroting an 18th Century, discredited, superstitions view of health?

        As the poster above says, your credibility would be better served by not digging further and apologising for allowing this offensive absurdist a platform in Cambridge.

      • October 21, 2010 at 11:51 am

        Josephson said:

        “I’d go as far as saying there should be a moratorium on attempts to ban complementary therapies, except where there is a clear case for so doing. The mere absence of the kind of proof that you would like should not be enough for proposing a ban.”

        ‘Mere absence’??? Homeopaths are making outlandish and incredible claims about their potions being able to cure all sorts of ills and you don’t seem in the slightest bit concerned about whether there is any evidence for those claims?

        We are talking about people’s health here. Perhaps you are not that bothered with evidence, but many of us are. And for nonsense like homeopathy and other AltMed, the case for banning false claims is extremely clear – they can be dangerous and they mislead and con the public.

        And how do you think a moratorium on banning them might work? Have you any experience of the real world?

      • October 21, 2010 at 11:56 am

        Brian, you are partly right, but are misunderstanding an important point. The effect of treatment does indeed consist of both specific effects (ie direct pharmacological action of the treatment) and non-specific effects (often thought of as the placebo effect).

        Nobody doubts that homoeopathic treatment has placebo effects. The point of doing randomised placebo-controlled trials is to measure the direct pharmacological effect. Yes, a real-life treatment effect will be the sum of that direct pharmacological effect and the placebo effect, and therefore will be greater than the effect observed in a placebo controlled trial.

        But all that is irrelevant to the question of whether “water memory” is involved. If “water memory” existed, that would contribute to the direct pharmacological effect, not the placebo effect. And we know from placebo controlled clinical trials that there is no direct pharmacological effect.

        If you want to learn more about clinical study design, I’m teaching a workshop on it next month. Details at http://www.emwa.org/nice-2010.html (then download the conference brochure and it’s on page 23).

      • phayes
        October 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm

        Given your stated principal interest, I think you’ll find that (at least some of) the clinical researchers and medical statisticians are on your side anyway, Brian. For while they do seem to have shown that homeopathy is not much good as a medicine, they have shown that water has memory:

        “Oscillococcinum treatment reduced the length of influenza illness by 0.28 days”

        http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab001957.html

        >:-]

  26. daGeek
    October 21, 2010 at 11:52 am

    “Suppose the course of a disease depends not only on medical remedies but on cofactors C. One such cofactor of course is the placebo effect. But suppose it also makes a difference whether one is dealing with a real-life situation (R) or a controlled experiment (E), and also whether a homeopathic practitioner is involved (H) or a random person (~H). If we grant that, then we must also grant that it is possible that in the E+~H situation we will see no difference between the placebo and the remedy while in the more favourable situation (R+H) the remedy will be able to work effectively.”

    This of course is why double-blind studies are conducted.

  27. Le Canard Noir
    October 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    PS. Brian. Have you seen how your guest responded to Ben Goldacre’s letter asking him to correct his error?

    http://johnbenneth.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/trial-of-the-millenia/

  28. Brian Josephson
    October 23, 2010 at 11:00 am

    A message I sent a couple of days ago seems to have got blocked by the system. Rocko thinks this is because I included some links, so me try again without the links and see what happens. The talk I was linking to was one by Gerald Pollack of the U. of Washington, and if you search on his name you’ll find various items about his findings concerning water, including a YouTube video of his official lecture. Here’s a quote from an article about this on the university’s web site:

    “For the past decade the UW researcher has been convincing worldwide audiences that water isn’t quite a liquid. In many cases — in the neighborhood of electrically charged, or water-loving, surfaces — it’s more like a gel, or a liquid crystal.”

    “We found something astonishing,” Pollack recalls. A few of his scientific predecessors had proposed that a charged surface could cause water molecules to line up, as they do in a crystal, as far out as 100 molecules. But his experiments showed dissolved particles disappeared and light waves behaved differently — two clues that the water molecules are lined up — in a layer 1 million molecules wide. That’s more than 10,000 times what was previously believed.

    Recently, independent research confirmed his group’s early results, which initially drew skepticism from the scientific establishment because they question long-held premises.”

    I trust y’sceptics will take note.

    Re Adam’s: “Yes, efficacy can be very different from effectiveness, but to claim that real world usage might be better than idealised usage in a trial is quite a big claim – much rather, effectiveness is a lot less than might be seen in a trial.”

    Big claim, maybe. But suppose the process being investigated is that of ‘falling in love’. Would you not accept that the phenomenon of interest might be more liable to occur in a natural setting than in one set up by an experimenter? Your argument seems to be of the kind ‘proof by assertion’, and I see rather too many of these in the current debate.

    Double-blind trials depend, as someone has noted, on the idea of ‘direct cause/effect relationships’. That is OK in simple cases, but less relevant when things are complicated. Simple illustration: the link between CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and temperature. It is fairly easy to compute the direct effect, but the real situation with all the feedbacks is so complex that there is a wide range of possibilities for the effects on temperature in the future.

  29. phayes
    October 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    “I trust y’sceptics will take note.”

    Why? Are Pollack’s tears the jewels of sorrow or the jewels of laughter when the cause of lining up is removed?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_13_Clocks

  30. Le Canard Noir
    October 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Brian,

    The things we can agree on:

    1) Clinical trials and real-world results may well indeed be different. However, this still leaves homeopathy without any sound evidence. It thrives on anecdote – as does every other form of quackery and bad medicine throughout history.

    2) Water has many interesting and anomalous properties. However, this is not supporting evidence of the claims of homeopathy. If you were to show tomorrow that water did indeed have some sort of persistent memory of substances dissolved, then this would only be one small possible step in solving a long chain of implausibility problems for homeopathy. The problem of homeopathy is not synonymous with the problem of water structure. I spell this out in my subsequent post.

    The focus on water memory is a distraction. It is difficult to imagine a sort of solution to this problem that could actually support the arbitrary and contradictory claims of homeopaths.

  31. Brian Josephson
    October 23, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    @Canard: thanks for your comments. I believe different people have different opinions as to whether or not there is sound evidence for homeopathy, but this is not my area.

    It is convenient for you at this point to say ‘the focus on water memory is a distraction’, but let me remind you that until the idea that water memory is absurd started to fall apart as a result of conventional research in this area people did commonly cite the absurdity of the idea of water memory as a reason for disregarding homeopathy. Perhaps you never fell into that category yourself!

    A correspondent has drawn my attention to an alternative to double-blind testing which is now emerging as important (it is supported by the US govt. for example). This is ‘Comparative Effectiveness Research’. This approach does not rely on placebos or double-blind methodologies, but simply compares the effectiveness of different ways of dealing with the same pathology. You’d have a much stronger case if homeopathic practice (as opposed to simply someone being given such a remedy in a trial) proved to be no better than other ways of dealing with a given ailment which was _generally_ considered by homeopaths to be appropriate for such treatment.

    • Le Canard Noir
      October 24, 2010 at 9:02 pm

      I am not so sure that the idea of water memory has ‘started to fall apart’. I am not even sure that there is even a start to showing that such an idea is nothing but a grasp at straws. There are no results that show homeopathic preparations display any properties that can be linked to the homeopathic hypotheses.

      But in any case, I think you will find a history of people arguing that not only is the water memory idea unlikely to be true, but that it is far from sufficient explain what homeopaths believe to be going on. The ‘chain of implausibility’ problem has existed for a while. There is also a history of critics asking homeopaths to show some basic data that needs explaining by such a hypothesis – such as an consistent dose-response curve that cannot be explained by mainstream physics.

  32. phayes
    October 24, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    “the idea that water memory is absurd started to fall apart as a result of conventional research in this area”

    “To summarize this short overview, one can say that water is a ‘complex’ liquid with many fascinating, sometimes unique aspects. Except for some academic aspects concerning supercooled water, the structure of the liquid is well known. In particular, it is certain that:

    (a) There are no water clusters in pure liquid water, but only density fluctuations.
    (b) The longest life of any structure observed in liquid water is of the order of 1 ps (10−12 s).

    This is why any interpretation calling for ‘memory’ effects in pure water must be totally excluded.”

    http://www.badscience.net/2000/01/journal-club-can-water-possibly-have-a-memory-a-sceptical-view/

    “an alternative to double-blind testing which is now emerging as important (it is supported by the US govt. for example). This is ‘Comparative Effectiveness Research’.”

    No, it is *not* an alternative:

    http://www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/index.cfm/what-is-comparative-effectiveness-research1/

    “You’d have a much stronger case if homeopathic practice (as opposed to simply someone being given such a remedy in a trial) proved to be no better than other ways of dealing with a given ailment which was _generally_ considered by homeopaths to be appropriate for such treatment.”

    We should defer to the judgement of quacks? I don’t think so and anyway…

    http://thorax.bmj.com/content/58/4/317.abstract

  33. Brian Josephson
    October 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve put the double-blind issue to a discussion group I am involved with and have got some interesting feedback. Vernon Neppe, MD, director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute in Seattle, says he has written a paper ‘Limitations of the Double Blind Pharmaceutical Study’ (which you should be able to locate through a search on the author’s name plus ‘double-blind’), mainly about the fact that such studies may not really be blind, but including a section ‘Intelligent prescription’, where he notes:

    “… some drugs do not do well in the double-blind paradigm because [that] paradigm implies that the best or correct dose is obvious and easily known and consistent across patients. However, this is not always so …”. He gives the example of the drug buspirone, which according to some practitioners works very well when used appropriately, though others say “This is just placebo; it doesn’t work”. He attributes the difference to the idea that the correct dose may be critical and only experienced practitioners can use their observation to determine what that dose is for any given patient. The DB paradigm more or less rules out such an approach and prevents the full value of the drug being recognised. This would seem potentally very relevant to the case of DB trials of homeopathic remedies, and backs up the argument I gave above.

    Rupert Sheldrake has agreed to my reproducing the text from which I quoted previously:

    “In terms of medical research, the placebo-controlled double blind procedure is still standard, but a far better method is to compare different treatments looking at outcomes. For example, people with persistent migraines could be allocated at random to acupuncturists, osteopaths, physiotherapists, homeopaths,allopaths and anyone else who claimed to be able to cure it. With reasonably large randomized samples, the question would then be, what works best? This would give theory-free, pragmatic, evidence-based medicine, and would be the best method for evaluating alternative therapies. It wouldn’t matter if homeopathy, for example, worked by placebo. If it worked better than others, this would suggest it had more placebo effect.

    [again, if homeopathic practice is found to work better than conventional medicine for some pathologies, the sensible thing is to use this approach, whatever one’s beliefs as to mechanism]

    Now this kind of procedure has become mainstream, under the name “Comparative Effectiveness Research”. There is even a federal agency for it, set up by the Obama administration”.

    • Le Canard Noir
      October 24, 2010 at 8:49 pm

      To a physicist, the DBRCT is a pretty crude experimental tool. It is hard to get good precision and remove all sources of bias. But clinical evidence is not improved by removing some of the elements of a DBRCT that are there to reduce bias, such as controls, randomisation and blindedness.

      I can thoroughly recommend the book Testing Treatments that looks at the issues in a very accessible way. http://www.jameslindlibrary.org/testing-treatments.html

      Your first point about varying dose between patients does not invalidate the DBRCT – it is a similar problem to the individualisation problem in homeopathy and can be solved by randomisation at the dispensary – i.e. after the practitioner has written the individualised prescription. Tests like these are indeed done.

      As for Sheldrake’s suggestion: this is a common call in alternative medicine circles – the outcome study. If I were to be cynical I would say this call is common because such trials are subject to large biases that can make ineffective treatments look effective. The problems include knowing if you are really comparing similar groups of people. Are people who select homeopathy on average similar to those in other groups for example. If people have suffered in the past and found an alternative medicine does not work for them, they may well be more prone to put themselves in a mainstream medicine group. It could make ineffective treatments look better because they contain people on average with less severe symptoms. Also, belief in certain forms of treatment may bias reporting on the effects of the treatments. All this is hard to control for without blinding and randomisation.

      “Comparative Effectiveness Research” is indeed a valuable tool, but the rigours of blinding and randomisation are still used to reduce bias in such trials.

      All this is good and interesting stuff, but it still leaves us with no reason to believe homeopathy is nothing but an inert treatment.

    • Sam McMurdo
      October 27, 2010 at 5:01 pm

      Oh my!

      Rupert Sheldrake gets quoted as if that buffoon could say anything insightful. His first appearance on the scene was a book of b******ks about “morphic resonance” with an example about calluses on ostrich chicks’ knees which he claimed natural selection could not explain, thereby demonstrating that despite having a PhD his understanding of the most basic principles of natural selection was something less than zero. An argument derived only from his ignorance.

      But perhaps you think morphic resonance could be explained by the drivel that the awful Benneth was spouting at your invitation? It’s a nice label and some nana wrote a book about it, so does that make it worthy of serious consideration?

      Have you never heard the expression that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”? Do you understand anything about experimental design? Do you have any concept of where the burden of proof lies?

      Hahnemann concocted his doctrine based on sympathetic magic (morphic resonance if you wish) when there was almost no scientific understanding of medical matters. He did not devise something based on an advanced insight into long chain formation or clathrate structure in water. There were no aliens in silver suits telling him it would be 200 years before science could understand this advanced system of medicine. It started as nonsense, it continued as nonsense, it will always be nonsense.

      Free thinking is fine, but becoming an apologist for the absurd, a promoter of poppycock and a cheerleader for fraudsters is pathetic. An open mind can be good, but your brains have fallen out of the hole on this one.

      Prof Josephson, go back to college and learn some basic science. You clearly need it.

    • Mojo
      November 6, 2010 at 1:07 pm

      “…some drugs do not do well in the double-blind paradigm because [that] paradigm implies that the best or correct dose is obvious and easily known and consistent across patients. However, this is not always so…”

      Using “the example of the drug buspirone, which according to some practitioners works very well when used appropriately”, it should be quite possible to design a trial in which experienced practitioners can use their observation to determine what the appropriate dose is for any given patient, and the patients are then given either the prescribed dosage or a placebo (or other comparator).

      The issue of “individualization” is well known (because it is often used as a post hoc excuse for trials of homooepathy failing to demonstrate efficacy), but it is perfectly possible to design trials of individualized homoeopathy along the lines I’ve just described above, in which a homoeopath carries out their usual consultations with each individual patient and prescribes an appropriate remedy and potency for each individual patient, and the patients are then, as above, given either the prescribed remedy or a placebo.

      Such trials have even been carried out. A review published in 1998 found 32 of them (Linde K, Melchart D (1998). Randomized controlled trials of individualized homeopathy: a state-of-the-art review. J Altern Complement Med. 1998 Winter;4(4):371-88). It found that while “[t]he results of the available randomized trials suggest that individualized homeopathy has an effect over placebo”, “[t]he evidence, however, is not convincing because of methodological shortcomings and inconsistencies.” It also found that “when the analysis was restricted to the methodologically best trials no significant effect was seen.” This is pretty much identical to the results of reviews that also included the many more trials of non-individualized homoeopathy, which suggests that the failure of the research to demonstrate efficacy is not some sort of experimental artifact caused by the lack of individualization.

    • Badly Shaved Monkey
      November 6, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      “He attributes the difference to the idea that the correct dose may be critical and only experienced practitioners can use their observation to determine what that dose is for any given patient. The DB paradigm more or less rules out such an approach and prevents the full value of the drug being recognised. ”

      Or, to follow up on what Mojo has just said, why do you think this “more or less rules out” double blind trials? For you to say so implies a fairly limited understanding of the possibilities of trial design, which would be a rather startling thing to conclude of someone eminent and who professes to hold important beliefs about medicine.

  34. pv
    October 25, 2010 at 2:15 am

    Would the esteemed Brian Josephson like to deal with my request for actual cases of successful homeopathic treatment. For example I have been asking for a few years now for one properly documented and referenced example of homeopathy incontrovertibly having cured a non-self-limiting disease. No homeopath so far has provided such a case. 200 plus years of successful homeopathy and meticulous record keeping, yet no examples.

    How about self limiting diseases then? An incontrovertible case of homeopathy curing a self-limiting disease (which of course by definition tend to resolve itself)? Still after 200 hundred years, and homeopathy being so wonderfully efficacious, I can imagine how difficult it must be to produce one or two definitive examples.

  35. Brian Josephson
    October 25, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    @pv: quite impossible to convince you, I can imagine. “I wouldn’t believe it even if it were true”, and all that.

    Anyway, can we please have less of this criticism of ‘giving pure water as a remedy’ and all that jazz, now that conventional science is waking up to structured water.

    And can people stop saying ‘homeopathy is no better than placebo’, given that Neppe and others have shown how the double-blind tests commonly used in support of such statements can mislead.

    Finally, look how much hubris is involved in having such confidence in one’s infallibility that one can smugly say “We all make errors of judgement from time to time. The dignified thing to do here would be to admit that you have done so”!

    With that I’m off, folks. If anyone wants to contact me about anything (e.g. to ask when John Benneth’s next lecture in our dept. will be [sorry, folks, that’s just a joke, please ignore]) they can find my email address by following the appropriate link on Cambridge University’s home page, which I can’t give here as the system will block me if I do!

  36. hydroman
    March 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    It seems to me that Dr Josephson has a problem. He is being “passively aggressive” and has been for some time.
    There are perhaps many reasons for this.
    1.He is addicted to a drug or attention.
    2.He has a medical condition ie suffered a stroke.
    3.He feels that he has been “slighted” in some way by his peers.
    4.A Woman? (or man)
    I think you are going at this the wrong way.
    The more you question Dr. Josephson the more he goes ever deeper
    off the cliff.
    “Nobel Syndrome” seems to me not the answer.
    Something Pivotal seems to have happened to Dr. Josephson.
    Perhaps YOU his peers could ascertain what or why.
    To me there are only two conclusions about Dr. Josephson
    He truly believes what he says. (he is insane)
    Or He knows what he says is going to produce a reaction.
    He is saying such things and espousing nonsense to GET that reaction because he has some kind of axe to grind with you all,
    and he knows he can get away with it (no consequences to himself).
    Either way it seems to me for many years YOU his peers have done
    nothing to find out why Dr. Josephson has been lashing out so.
    It is time for you to step up to the plate and try to find out
    what Dr. Josephson’s problems are and help him!
    YOU are his peers!
    Help him!

  37. October 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    I made the mistake of reading through all of this.

    Professor Brian Josephson comes out as probably the most reasonable and sensible person despite all the abuse.

    My personal view is that I do not know enough to judge Homeopathy, and it is clear that the readers of Quakometer have made up their minds on this subject, with the occasional exception.

    It is also clear that a debate like this would not have helped the lecture, and that the lecture provided a number of insights into the limitations of the lecturer’s scientific knowledge.

    My personal view is that this is much more of a religious or political debate, where people have predefined strongly held views and cannot be changed by reason or logic.

    Annon Coward – who feels it is too dangerous an area to be seen even reading.

Leave a Reply