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The memory of water: clutching at straws

August 5th, 2007 · 6 Comments

An entire issue of the journal Homeopathy has been devoted to speculations about the memory of water.

The link to this issue is http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/14754916 , but sadly you can’t read the papers without a subscription to the journal (and believe me, they aren’t worth paying much for). With luck, Ben Goldacre will be able to post the full text at badscience.net.

The first paper, The Memory of Water: a scientific heresy?, is by Peter Fisher, the editor of the journal. Peter Fisher, Homeopathic physician to the Queen, is a person whose name appears often in the original IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page, is not at unreasonable man, by the standards of homeopaths. He condemned roundly the recommendation by less-educated homeopaths of homeopathic pills for prevention of malaria. And he did agree with me that homeopathy had not got sufficient scientific basis to justify a BSc degree.

Peter Fisher’s introduction to the issue admits quite frankly that there is no strong evidence for water having memory of the sort that would be needed to explain the claims of homeopaths. There is nothing that explains the bizarre proposition that the medicine gets stronger the more you dilute it. There is nothing that explains the equally bizarre proposition that the water ‘remembers’ only the ingredient that you add, but conveniently forgets the countless other substances that it has encountered in the oceans and the bodies of the vast numbers of animals and plants through which it has passed.

Fisher is also sufficiently honest to include in his special issue a contribution “Can water possibly have a memory? A sceptical view“, written by José Teixeira (a physicist from the European Neutron scattering lab -see some of his publications).

Conclusion

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 [one millionth of a millionth of a second]

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

The special issue on the memory of water takes us no further. After 200 years, there is still no good evidence.

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Tags: Anti-science · Bad journalism · Universities

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 nash // Aug 6, 2007 at 19:57

    Bang goes my theory about Brontosaurus urine being the homeopathic cure all.

  • 2 wilsontown // Aug 8, 2007 at 17:30

    Yup, the whole thing is speculation and badly designed experimentation. I have a go at it all here:

    http://hawk-handsaw.blogspot.com/

    But really, I wouldn’t waste time with it.

  • 3 wilsontown // Aug 10, 2007 at 15:43

    Compared to my amateur effort, there’s a far superior attempt at analysing the papers at http://www.philipball.blogspot.com/

    Martin Chaplin gets involved in the comments, too…

  • 4 admin // Aug 16, 2007 at 07:38

    Wonderful. Ben Goldacre has now posted all the papers from this issue at http://www.badscience.net/?p=490

    Judge for yourself.

  • 5 wilsontown // Aug 20, 2007 at 12:35

    It seems that the Rao et al. paper, featuring Rustum Roy, has some problems with duplicated graphs purportedly showing different things…

    http://hawk-handsaw.blogspot.com/2007/08/very-bad-science.html

  • 6 zathrus // Aug 23, 2007 at 20:38

    Here’s one of my responses to the MoW thing on a recent Guardian site (sometimes you can’t take these guys so seriously):

    Water, water, everywhere
    (And nowt else in the vial)
    It’s *special* water, let’s be fair,
    With history, and guile.

    In homeopathy, you know,
    We hypnotise the water.
    Each piece of common H2O
    Then does just what it oughta.

    When desperate, we make up stuff
    (It *might* just play a role!)
    My favourite’s the quantum fluff,
    Which adds a bit of soul!

    Some rotten spoilsport asked for facts:
    “Do tinctures *really* work?”
    He claimed that we’re just dodgy quacks –
    I called the guy a jerk!

    Of course, I couldn’t prove my case
    (Who could? The Easter Bunny??)
    But water, water, without trace,
    Sure makes me lots of money.

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