This one’s for you, Dana

As you may have noticed, everybody’s “favorite” homeopath, Dana Ullman, has made a return visit to our humble little blog, where he is laying down his usual list of logical fallacies and irrelevencies (such as attacking Oliver Wendell Holmes) in defense of homeopathy. Consequently, now’s as good a time as any to unveil what is perhaps the best ready-for-a-poster criticism of homeopathy I’ve ever seen:


Clicking on the picture will lead you to a blog post where you can download a high resolution version suitable for printing up and either distributing or posting on a bulletin board or wall. I particularly like that it was made by The American Institute for the Destruction of Tooth Fairy Science. Truly, a nod to SBM blogger extraordinaire Harriet Hall!

My only objection to the poster is the use of the word “shit.” Don’t get me wrong here. Yes, it’s accurate. No, I’m not some sort of prude who never uses the word and wilts at the very sight or sound of it. My problem with it is that its inclusion on the image means that I can’t actually print up and post this beautiful (and brief) mockery of homeopathy on my lab door or on the bulletin board in my office. I can’t put something like that up in public at work. It also made me a little leery of posting it here, which led me to check with our fearless leader before doing it. So I started thinking of alternatives that get the message across but without any curse words.

Clearly, a version of the poster suitable for a G (or at least PG) audience is required.

How about something like:

If water has a memory, then homeopathy is full of crap
Homeopathy: Potentizing poo by flushing.

After all, flushing should “succuss” the remedy as well as hitting it against a Bible.

Yes, I do watch Dirty Jobs a lot, with its host, Mike Rowe, who likes to use the word “poo” a lot. Come to think of it, perhaps Mike Rowe should do a segment of Dirty Jobs segment at a manufacturer of homeopathic remedies. Why? Think of the potentized poo!

Posted in: Homeopathy, Humor

Leave a Comment (48) ↓

48 thoughts on “This one’s for you, Dana

  1. lizditz says:

    I’d like a PG-13 version — poo or poop would be acceptable. Feces is also acceptable and accurate.

    The elementary-school set get in trouble for using sh*t at school, but both poo and poop are acceptable, and of course feces is a “science word”.

  2. daedalus2u says:

    Clearly that must be the mechanism by which homeopathy “stimulates” the immune system. It isn’t the agent that is diluted to non-existence, it is the diluted feces in the water being used for the dilution.

    That is probably the source of the improved health due to improved sanitation. With flush toilets the diluted waste is “successed” and becomes a stronger homeopathic medicine as it flows down the pipes. The more pipes it flows down, the stronger a homeopathic medicine it becomes.

    That is likely the reason that sewage treatment is even necessary. Feces and urine are completely natural substances. Only when they are diluted and successed do they become powerful homeopathic medicines that disrupt the natural ecology of streams and rivers.

  3. David Gorski says:

    Daedalus, you crack me up sometimes.

  4. DanaUllman says:

    Thanx David…your words and cartoon are much more a reflection of you than anything else…and such is the level that you choose to stoop to make a (un)scientific argument.

    Thanx for verifying your true colors…and I cannot help but sense that others agree with me on this one…

    Because this blog is supposed to be on “science based medicine,” I hope that someone will (finally) respond to the Institute of Medicine’s report that one in three Americans is presently taking 5 or more drugs. What is the evidence base for this polypharmacy. Show me the data…or join me in calling this “medical abuse.”

  5. David Gorski says:

    Because this blog is supposed to be on “science based medicine,” I hope that someone will (finally) respond to the Institute of Medicine’s report that one in three Americans is presently taking 5 or more drugs. What is the evidence base for this polypharmacy. Show me the data…or join me in calling this “medical abuse.”

    Dana, Dana, Dana, Dana….

    Questioning aspects of scientific medicine does not in any way demonstrate that homeopathy works. And, I would point out, I not infrequently question conventional practices on this blog (for example, here, here, and here). Nice attempt at a red herring, though. Perhaps you could show us how homeopathic remedies are not potentized poo.

    As for polypharmacy, you haven’t shown that it is “abuse.” Certainly, in some cases, perhaps even more than we would like, patients are being prescribed more drugs than they need to be, but, even assuming that’s true and that it is harmful, that observation would not be evidence that homeopathy is on par with conventional medicine. After all, homeopathy does nothing; it is water. Of course it’s going to appear “safer” than real medicine, which, because it actually has an effect, does carry risks along with its benefits. The downside of homeopathy, of course, is that because it does nothing for the disease for which it’s being described it carries the not insubstantial risk of the complications from the disease if it’s allowed to go untreated.

  6. TsuDhoNimh says:

    Feces and Fantasy?

  7. durvit says:

    Being in the UK, I was originally mislead by the title of the post into thinking it a warm and fluffy tribute to Dana – Eurovision Song Contest winner with All Kinds of Everything.

    A while ago I was at a comedy event where the stand-up said something along Daedalus’ lines. Considering the sewage system in line with your poster etc.:

    It’s extraordinary that homeopaths are not locked in talks with the Environmental Agency to discuss the problem posed by contamination of our drinking water by homeopathic remedies like arsenicum (the Royal Family may have contaminated our water supply in this way for many years). If water treatment works can only detect the presence of contaminants that are physically present, how can they begin to test for dilutions that are present only as memory, not molecules? If they become more potent, the more that they are diluted, have we discovered one of the scourges of modern life?

    Do not let homeopaths persuade you that these concerns are irrelevant because the substances have to be magically succussed to make them powerful. Hahnemann warned practitioners against carrying fluid medicines in the pocket because the inevitable agitation would potentise them to dangerous, potentially life-threatening levels that would harm patients if adminstered to them. Some practitioners dismissed such potentiation as implausible and reported that they had never seen such remarkable effects in their patients.

    Not a man to suffer contradiction lightly, Hahnemann declared that such practitioners “thereby show their want of ability to observe correctly”.

    If sloshing about in a pocket can have this effect, what about bashing around sewer systems, treatment works and water pipes? At the risk of starting my own health scare, who is researching safety limits for homeopathic remedies in our tapwater?

  8. Joe says:

    DanaUllman on 10 Apr 2009 at 8:59 am “I cannot help but sense that others agree with me on this one…”

    Your senses must be extraordinary.

  9. daijiyobu says:

    I personally might prefer to substitute shit with sCat,

    as we often sub sCAM for scam.

    Scat of course in biology meaning “excrement” [AHD].

    sCat: So-Called Authentic Treatment,

    so-called of course meaning “incorrectly or falsely termed” [AHD].

    Not be be confused with spaceScat

    [shameless plug for a band I jam in,

    here ].


  10. HCN says:

    Dana, a long time ago you were asked to show real evidence that homeopathy has cured non-limiting diseases by me, Badly Shaved Monkey and others.

    Do you have an answer yet?

    I am really curious about the claims by Saine that homeopathy works better for rabies than conventional therapies. Do you have any data? Don’t tell me to read Saine’s book, I want real evidence that can be found in a paper that I can read in my local medical school library. The PubMed reference number will be sufficient.

    How about type 1 diabetes?

  11. tmac57 says:

    DanaUllman-“Thanx for verifying your true colors…and I cannot help but sense that others agree with me on this one…”
    I think that you are diluting yourself sir!

  12. DanaUllman says:

    Here are some references to some non-self-limiting conditions. Although the first two in not human trials, one would hope/assume that you would agree that rats are not placebo-driven…

    W Jonas, Y Lin, F Tortella, Neuroprotection from glutamate toxicity with ultra-low dose glutamate. NeuroReport 2001 Feb 12;12(2):335-9. The protective effects of ultra-low doses (ULD) of glutamate against glutamate toxicity was studied in primary rat spinal, cortical and cerebellar neurons. Neurons were exposed to four subtoxic, ultra-low concentrations of glutamate (10(-18) M, 10(-20)M, 10(-22) M and 10(-30) M) for 72 h and then subsequently challenged with toxic concentrations (25 microM) of glutamate. Neuron viability was consistently 10% higher in spinal and cortical neurons pre-exposed to glutamate concentrations of 10(-18) M and 10(-22) M, and in cerebellar neurons pre-exposed to 10(-20) M and 10(-30) M. Using laser scanning confocal microscopy and the fluorescent calcium probe fluo-3, we found no alterations in intracellular calcium dynamics in the protected cells. This protective effect is consistent with a growing body of evidence for tolerance induced by low-dose toxin exposure but is the first time that such tolerance has been demonstrated with ultra-low glutamate exposure. Our data show that pre-exposure of neuronal cells to ULD glutamate can protect against subsequent exposure to toxic levels of glutamate.

    W Jonas, Y. Lin, A. Williams, et al., “Treatment of Experimental Stroke with Low-dose Glutamate and Homeopathic Arnica montana, Perfusion, November, 1999, 12,11:452-456,460-462. This study evaluated Arnica’s ability to reduce long-term damage and mortality from brain injury in rats who were experimentally induced into a stroke. After seven days, Arnica 200C reduced by 50% the long-term damage (infarct volume) and mortality (40% died, vs. 66% in the control group) from brain injury but may exacerbate the immediate effects of the stroke, though this was not statistically significant.

    Oberbaum M, Yaniv I, Ben-Gal Y, et al. A randomized, controlled clinical trial of the homeopathic medication Traumeel S® in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced stomatitis in children undergoing stem cell transplantation. Cancer. 2001;92(3):684-690.
    The homeopathic medication Traumeel S® may significantly reduce the severity and duration of chemotherapy-induced stomatitis in patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation. Thirty patients between the ages of 3 and 25 years who had undergone allogeneic (n=15) or autologous (n=15) stem cell transplantation were randomly assigned to either a Traumeel S® group or a placebo group. Patients in the homeopathy group were instructed to rinse their mouths with Traumeel S® 5 times daily for a minimum of 14 days or until all signs of stomatitis were absent for at least 2 days. At treatment conclusion, mean stomatitis scores were significantly lower in the homeopathy group than those in the placebo group (P<0.01). Five patients (33%) in the Traumeel S® group did not develop stomatitis compared to one patient (7%) in the placebo group. Stomatitis worsened in only 7 patients (47%) in the Traumeel S® group compared with 14 patients (93%) in the placebo group.

    Frass, M, Dielacher, C, Linkesch, M, Endler, C, Muchitsch, I, Schuster, E, Kaye, A. Influence of potassium dichromate on tracheal secretions in critically ill patients, Chest, March, 2005;127:936-941. A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with parallel assignment was performed to assess the influence of sublingually administered Kali bichromate (potassium dichromate) 30C on critically ill patients with a history of tobacco use and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) In this study, 50 patients received either Kali bichromicum 30C globules (group 1) or placebo (group 2). The amount of tracheal secretions was reduced significantly in group 1 (p < 0.0001). Extubation (the removal of obstructive mucus from the lung with a tube) could be performed significantly earlier in group 1 (p < 0.0001). Similarly, length of stay was significantly shorter in group 1 (4.20 +/- 1.61 days vs 7.68 +/- 3.60 days, p < 0.0001 [mean +/- SD]). This data suggest that potentized (diluted and vigorously shaken) Kali bichromicum may help to decrease the amount of stringy tracheal secretions in COPD patients.

    Frass M, Linkesch, M, Banjya, S, et al. Adjunctive homeopathic treatment in patients with severe sepsis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in an intensive care unit. Homeopathy 2005:94;75–80. At a University of Vienna hospital, 70 patients with severe sepsis were enrolled in a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, measuring survival rates at 30 days and at 180 days. Those patients given a homeopathic medicine were prescribed it in the 200C potency only (in 12 hour intervals during their hospital stay). The survival rate at day 30 was 81.8% for homeopathic patients and 67.7% for those given a placebo. At day 180, 75.8% of homeopathic patients survived and only 50.0% of the placebo patients survived (p=0.043). One patient was saved for every four who were treated.

  13. Peter Lipson says:

    Of the studies you mention, i’ve had a chance now to look at one, the use of Traumeel S in chemo-induced stomatitis. It’s a well done RCT but quite small, and looks at a condition which is self-limited—no one has life-long chemo-induced stomatitis. I’m not impressed.

  14. Joe says:

    DUllman (MPH!!),

    You know that the article in Chest has been debunked Why do you continue to cite it? Okay, I know- it is your best and only hope. Try to understand that a handful of studies, even if replicable, do not support the thousands of claims made by homeopaths.

    DUllman on 10 Apr 2009 at 1:21 pm “The survival rate at day 30 was 81.8% for homeopathic patients and 67.7% for those given a placebo.”

    Ooops, you forgot to mention that the difference was statistically insignificant. In fact, as I look at it (and in keeping with the poor standards of the magazine) I think most of the reported results show no effect for homeopathy.

    Perhaps someone could comment on the relevance of 90-day survival rates for sepsis after the 30-day rate has been established; especially in such a small study with a marginal statistical difference at that time.

  15. HCN says:

    Hey! I did not see anything about rabies!

    (oh, and in Vienna, they also gave the patients real medicine along with the homeopathy)

  16. DanaUllman says:

    That “debunking” of the CHEST article is extremely weak. If that is all you got, you got nada. THAT is why there are two replication studies in process right now.

    And in the severe sepsis study, both groups were given conventional treatment, but the group that got the placebo had a mortality rate that was TWICE that of the homeopathic group. Are you now going to say that death is “self-limiting”?!

    As for the Traumeel study, I’m glad that you recognize it as a high quality trial. Whether the condition is self-limiting or not, would YOU recommend it to a child in a similar situation? Come on…say it…

    As for HCN, we all know why you want info on rabies treatment. You are rabid…it is so obvious.

  17. David Gorski says:

    That “debunking” of the CHEST article is extremely weak. If that is all you got, you got nada. THAT is why there are two replication studies in process right now.

    Really? What, specifically, is “weak” or incorrect about the cited deconstruction of the study from Chest?

    Handwaving that the criticism is “extremely weak” without pointing out why or how it’s “extremely” weak is not going to get you taken seriously.

    By the way, while you’re at it, Kim has pointed you to his critiques of a lot of these studies:

  18. HCN says:

    DUllman said “As for HCN, we all know why you want info on rabies treatment. You are rabid…it is so obvious.”

    Idiot… From
    “D r. Saine’s presentation degenerated into a sales pitch for homeopathy that would make any sideshow barker proud. He assured us that homeopathy is more effective than standard medicine and can cure just about anything, magically free from any side effects. He even claims that homeopathy can cure rabies with 100% success. Rabies is almost 100% fatal, even with modern treatment, so this is quite an astounding claim. ”

    It is an easily testable claim, where is the evidence for Saine’s calim?

    Also, what about the other non-self-limiting conditions like type 1 diabetes? Or syphilis? Or tuberculosis?

    And homeopathy only, no cheating with antibiotics or insulin.

  19. Dr Benway says:

    Uh, doods: Homeopathy is water.

  20. Dr Benway says:

    RCTs of homeopathy are like photographs of the Emperor’s new clothes.

  21. yeahsurewhatever says:

    So you think someone who is too immature to read the word “shit” is going to be able to parse “potentizing” ?

  22. pmoran says:

    “Neuron viability was consistently 10% higher in spinal and cortical neurons pre-exposed to glutamate concentrations of 10(-18) M and 10(-22) M, and in cerebellar neurons pre-exposed to 10(-20) M and 10(-30) M. ”

    Dana, from the abstract it appears that three different kinds of neurones were each exposed to four ultra-low concentrations of glutamate and then tested for glutamate toxicity. In eight out of twelve instances there was apparently NO EFFECT but this was conisdered unworthy of mention.

    In an erratic, non-dose-related way a rather minor (10%) positive effect was found in a mere four of the combinations.

    There is no obvious explanation within homeopathic theory for the erratic on-off behavior at successive concentrations (unless you wish to now add to several already extremely improbable and unsupported hypotheses).

    Even if these results were not, as I suspect, simply random effects or artifact, do you not agree this kind of unpredictability would make homeopathy virtually useless in medical treatment?

    A lot of weak data does not stack up into strong evidence. It merely makes us wonder why homeopathic effects can never be demonstrated in direct and unequivocal ways. Where are the epiphenomena? Where lies a reliable biological model for the influences supposedly underpinning this self-contained system of medicine? Remember Benveniste tried for most of his life and was never able to produce a reliable tissue culture demonstration.

  23. HCN says:

    Without comment pec posted two studies.

    The first one:
    Homeopathy. 2003 Apr;92(2):84-91
    The research evidence base for homeopathy: a fresh assessment of the literature.Mathie RT.
    Faculty of Homeopathy, 15 Clerkenwell Close, London, EC1R 0AA, UK.
    “CONCLUSIONS: The available research evidence emphasises the need for much more and better-directed research in homeopathy. A fresh agenda of enquiry should consider beyond (but include) the placebo-controlled trial. Each study should adopt research methods and outcome measurements linked to a question addressing the clinical significance of homeopathy’s effects.”

    The second one:
    Lancet. 1997 Sep 20;350(9081):834-43.
    Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials.
    Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, Melchart D, Eitel F, Hedges LV, Jonas WB.
    Münchener Modell, Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, Technische Universität/Ludwig-Maximillans-Universität, München, Germany.

    “INTERPRETATION: The results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo. However, we found insufficient evidence from these studies that homeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition. Further research on homeopathy is warranted provided it is rigorous and systematic.”

    Wow! Talk about your statements of absolute NON-proof!

    Ummm… what evidence do you have that homoepathy works for non-limiting diseases? By definition these are diseases that will not go away due to the body’s normal immune defense system. This includes rabies, Addison’s Disease, type 1 diabetes and a few others.

    But not things like allergies, colds and general aches and pains. And the treatment should only include homeopathy, not any other conventional medicine (like that used in the Vienna studies).

    Come on, show us what REAL evidence proves Andre Saine’s statement that homeopathy works better for rabies than conventional rabies vaccination!

  24. Dr Benway says:

    LOL. Homeopathy (water) as a treatment for rabies (hydrophobia).

  25. Mojo says:

    HCN wrote:

    Without comment pec posted two studies.

    The first one:
    Homeopathy. 2003 Apr;92(2):84-91
    The research evidence base for homeopathy: a fresh assessment of the literature.Mathie RT.

    That paper has an interesting sequel because it appears to be the basis for the updated figures that the British Homeopathic Association/Faculty of Homeopathy occasionally produces regarding the number of trials of homeopathy that have been carried out (I can’t be entirely certain about this as I haven’t seen the whole paper yet and the BHA/FoH don’t give any details of how they obtained their figures, but it is certainly similar in its categorisation of trial into “positive”, “inconclusive” and “negative” – “negative” apparently meaning that homoeopathy did significantly worse than placebo).

    For example, as of the end of 2005 they had found that “49% show positive results for homeopathy. Only 3% were negative. The remaining 48% were inconclusive, which does not mean negative it means that we need more research.”
    See this press release:

    These percentages work out to 58 positive trials, 4 negative and 57 inconclusive.

    A couple of years later they had found that “134 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have been published to the end of 2007: 59 positive, 8 negative and 67 not statistically conclusive.”

    Finally, a FoH document on the BHA’s website states that “Up to the end of 2008, 136 RCTs had been published: 59 positive; 9 negative; 68 not statistically conclusive.”

    So in the three years from the end of 2005 to the end of 2008, they had managed to find 17 new trials, only one of which had a positive outcome. That’s not far off one in 20; Perhaps they’re getting better at designing trials.

  26. HCN says:

    Mojo, I have a feeling that if one looks closer at the list of studies that the ones that were positive for homeopathy were not well designed, versus the ones that were negative which are as you say “Perhaps they’re getting better at designing trials.”

    You will note that DUllman never posts Jacob’s more recent paper on treating Central American children with homoepathy, because it is negative. I suspect someone at the university where Jennifer Jacobs works actually taught her how to properly conduct a study, and hopefully the ethics of going to developing countries and using children in medical studies.

  27. Mojo says:

    It’s also interesting that despite their repeated claims that “we need more research” they only managed to find 2 new trials in 2008 (one “negative” and one “not statistically conclusive”).

    You’ll also notice that Dana never, ever, mentions Linde et al. 1999 (or any of the other reanalyses of the same data) when he asserts that Linde et al. 1997 is “completely state of the art” or complains about people using “simply out of date information”.

  28. trrll says:

    I have to thank Dana Ullman for directing me to the ““silica hypothesis.” This was quite amusing.

    What is the silica hypothesis? Homeopathic medications are not water; they are glass! The notion is that all of that banging (succussion) causes little bits of silica to break off of the tube, and the silica somehow organizes it around the originally added ingredient to create ingredient-specific silica compounds–which then, by happy coincidence, function as catalysts to organize other bits of silica into similar structures as the original ingredient is diluted down to zero in successive bouts of succussion (hmm…that has kind of a ring to it). Presumably, (the authors do not address this) these self-replicating silica compounds by another happy coincidence happen to satisfy the “law of similars,” allowing the homeopathic practitioner to anticipate their effects without the expensive and time consuming clinical trials that pharmaceutical companies have to go through to figure out the effects of all the different chemicals they have made, because normal organic chemistry does not guarantee that molecules with similar structures will not have anything resembling similar effects on the body.

    The paper is interesting for its contorted and rather desperate efforts to rationalize homeopathy, given that the authors are clearly aware of the problem of thermodynamic stability–i.e. that any chemical structure formed in the process of homeopathic preparation would have to have enough bond energy not to fall apart before being administered to the patient and reaching its target in the patient’s body.

  29. :DIES LAUGHING!!!:

    That is the vaunted “silica hypothesis”??? Pray, if such compounds were produced, why the devil are they still undetectable?

    Homeopathy still = water.

  30. trrll says:

    I’ve commented elsewhere that perhaps the surest way to distinguish science from pseudoscience is that science makes progress.

    Let’s think about how pharmacology has changed in the last century. A century ago, the idea that drugs produced their effects by binding to a “receptive substance” within cells was pure speculation. Nobody knew what such a receptor might be or what it might do in the body, or why sticking a drug to it would produce a physiological effect. Today, most of the major drug receptors have been cloned and sequenced. Many have been had their structures determined with x-ray crystalography, often with drug bound. The physiological functions of many receptors are now understood. In some cases, it has been possible to record the responses of individual receptors to drugs.

    And how has homeopathy advanced? Hardly at all, it seems. Homeopaths still are unable to produce a coherent explanation of the nature of the supposed active ingredient in a highly “potentized” homeopathic preparation. Is it some structure of water that somehow in defiance of thermodynamics is stable over long periods of time? Is it little self-replicating silica nanoparticles? There is no evidence of either. What is the target in the body of the whatever-it-is? How does the homeopathic whatsit interact with its physiological target? What is the physical basis of the law of similarity? Still, nobody knows. Most researchers can’t get homeopathic preparations to do anything at all; the rare effects that are claimed cannot consistently be reproduced, and have no clear relationship to therapeutics. While pharmacology has grown into a massive research enterprise, employing tens of thousands of scientists worldwide, major homeopathic hospitals and medical schools have vanished or switched to “allopathic” medicine and pharmacology.

  31. Mojo says:

    Perky Skeptic wrote:


    That is the vaunted “silica hypothesis”???

    Before he was blocked, Dana also cited one of my favourite quotatyions about “water memory” over on Wikipedia:

    “An example may serve to clarify the concept here: if we take a little water and put it in the freezer, after a certain period of time it will freeze. On removing the water from the freezer, it will be observed that the block of ice, though now exposed to room temperature, will remain a block of ice for some time. Thus, there exists in water a property which enables it to “remember” for a certain amount of time that it has been kept in the freezer.”
    —Paolo Bellavite, M.D. and Andrea Signorini, M.D., The Emerging Science of Homeopathy: Complexity, Biodynamics, and Nanopharmacology, 2002, pp.68-69

    He heads the edit “A great quote”. I agree, but probably not for the same reasons.

  32. storkdok says:

    Frozen water has a short memory (it does thaw). How long does the “water memory” for homeopathy last? As long as an ice cube takes to thaw? Not a long shelf life :D

    Does it last longer if it is frozen, too?

  33. trrll says:

    Frozen water has a short memory (it does thaw).

    And while a chunk of ice takes a while to thaw, a snowflake thaws almost instantaneously when exposed to water at room temperature. How long do you think a snowflake would last if injected into the bloodstream at 37 degrees C? And the supposed aggregates of structured water are even smaller than this.

    There are thermodynamic and chemical reasons why the lifetime of any water structure must be very short at room temperature, never mind body temperature. The stability of a chemical structure is related to bond energy. Covalent bonds can last a long time, but water is unable to form covalent bonds with itself, only low-energy hydrogen bonds. The only way you can get reasonably stable hydrogen bonding (and by that, I mean lasting maybe a day or so) is with very large molecules that can make a large number of hydrogen bonds. But water is too small; it can make only 3. Worse, there is no way of packing water molecules such that there are no exposed sites for hydrogen bonding, which means that any hypothetical structure of water would almost be instantly disrupted by bonding interactions with unstructured water molecules–interactions that are just as strong as a water molecule’s interaction with structured molecules. A large block of ice survives as long as it does by presenting limited surface area to disruptive interactions with the liquid water around it.

    There has been quite a bit of progress in understanding the structure of liquid water, due to the simplicity of the molecule and the power of modern computers to perform molecular dynamics simulations. In such simulations, the lifetime of water structures in liquid water are on the order of 0.00001 microseconds. Of course, while real science progresses, pseudosciences remain essentially static–the pinnacle of what passes for homeopathic theory remains vague speculation about thermodynamically impossible water structures and even more ridiculous self-replicating silica crystals.

  34. trrll says:

    Oops…minor correction. Water has three sites for hydrogen bonding, but the oxygen atom can make 2, so a water molecule can have a maximum of 4 hydrogen bonds.

  35. Mojo says:

    Don’t forget the quantum flapdoodle!

  36. durvit says:

    Dr Benway, everyone knows that homeopathy is sovereign for drowning:

    ‘MR. PIPKIN (M.R.C.S.) read a short but most interesting communication in which he sought to prove the complete belief of Sir William Courtenay, otherwise Thorn, recently shot at Canterbury, in the Homoeopathic system. The section would bear in mind that one of the Homoeopathic doctrines was, that infinitesimal doses of any medicine which would occasion the disease under which the patient laboured, supposing him to be in a healthy state, would cure it. Now, it was a remarkable circumstance–proved in the evidence–that the deceased Thorn employed a woman to follow him about all day with a pail of water, assuring her that one drop (a purely homoeopathic remedy, the section would observe), placed upon his tongue, after death, would restore him. What was the obvious inference? That Thorn, who was marching and countermarching in osier beds, and other swampy places, was impressed with a presentiment that he should be drowned; in which case, had his instructions been complied with, he could not fail to have been brought to life again instantly by his own prescription. As it was, if this woman, or any other person, had administered an infinitesimal dose of lead and gunpowder immediately after he fell, he would have recovered forthwith. But unhappily the woman concerned did not possess the power of reasoning by analogy, or carrying out a principle, and thus the unfortunate gentleman had been sacrificed to the ignorance of the peasantry. [Charles Dickens, Mudfog Papers].

  37. trrll says:

    Don’t forget the quantum flapdoodle!

    Oh, this is as funny as the replicating silica nanocrystals! Published in the oxymoronic journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, no less. Basically, it is an attempt to give a quantum veneer to the last-resort of the woo-meisters: “It didn’t work because you were watching!”

    You see, the double-blinded protocol breaks the quantum entanglement between the patient, the practitioner, and the remedy! It’s like the double-slit experiment where you only get interference patterns if you don’t know which slit the photon went through. Yeah, right.

    This sort of vague quantum handwaving carried more weight a couple of decades ago, when quantum weirdness was still mostly theoretical, when physicists hadn’t really figured out direct experimental approaches to quantum entanglement, much less its limits. But unlike pseudoscience, real science progresses. These days, it is becoming routine for physicists to manipulate quantum entanglement experimentally, and even use it for simple computation and communication. So we know, for example, that quantum entanglement, like water structure, collapses rapidly in the face of interactions with the outside world. To prevent decoherence, such quantum systems must be carefully isolated from all outside interactions. So the notion of quantum entanglement being somehow preserved in a solution at room temperature being banged about by succussion is ridiculous.

  38. storkdok says:

    When is the snow/frozen water in my backyard going to “forget” and melt? Maybe it has some “false memories” implanted in it so it isn’t melting? :)

  39. Prometheus says:

    Oh, my! I laughed so hard that I cried. Whew! (wipes eyes).

    My favorite bit of non-comprehension was the quotation from Ballavite and Signorini, which included:

    Thus, there exists in water a property which enables it to “remember” for a certain amount of time that it has been kept in the freezer.

    That “property”, for those who were not aware of it, is specific heat capacity (often shortened to specific heat). The specific heat capacity of ice is 2.1 kJ/kg/deg K. Thus, if you take an ice cube out of the typical -20 deg C freezer, it needs to absorb 42 J per gram in order to melt. That this takes some time is simply a matter of physics, not some magical “memory” of water.

    That Bellavite and Signorini (and Mr. Ullman) felt that this represented the water’s “memory” of being in the freezer is laughable. They are clearly not the people who should be trying to “explain” how homeopathy “works”.


  40. Dr Benway says:

    Does an ice cube remember the pork chop with too much freezer burn that once was its flat mate?

  41. storkdok says:

    Oh, no, is the ice in my freezer going to remember the dead, frozen guinea pig? I’m waiting for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw to bury him.

  42. Joe says:

    @Dr Benway on 12 Apr 2009 at 11:43 am and storkdok on 12 Apr 2009 at 12:34 pm

    As long as you are careful not to succuss the ice, you should be okay. Keep an eye on seismic activity in your area.

    The remedy for freezer-burn is 30C dessicated mummy.

    As for guinea pig, you might enjoy the result! The ice has a surprising top-note of hamster, followed by a lingering, insouciant notion of gopher. Otherwise, the simillimum is usually 20X vole, unless the case-taking shows that you are averse to being impaled by a spear. That particular condition, is uncharted territory; but I would recommend 100C wombat. Yes it is risky, as it is a marsupial; but I have had success with other, far-flung remedies.

  43. Dacks says:

    I wasn’t sure whether the quantum effect had to do with entanglement, or simply the uncertainty principle. If it is the latter, this is a great avenue for excusing negative results in cam trials: the information got lost in the blinding process!

    I mentioned it to my physicist spouse who remarked that finding quantum effects on the macroscopic scale is definitely news. I replied that homeopathy isn’t macroscopic – it’s magic.

  44. Joe says:


    Lionel Milgrom beat you to the quantum explanation for how blinding fails homeopathy. Mathemagically, Milgrom has shown that the patient, provider and treatment must become entangled, and the uncertainty revolving around the placebo option prevents proper entanglement. I bet you thought you were being original.

  45. Dacks says:

    Sounds kinky!

  46. Joe says:

    On being original, when I saw the movie “Semi Tough” (1977), I thought the writers were really creative- for example, Burt Reynolds went to a therapist, named Pelf, who offered a massage that was more like torture. For example, as I recall, she gouged his chest with her elbow and shoved up his nose with her (gloved) finger. Years later, I learned about Rolfing. They also parodied “EST.” You can read about EST in Wendy Kaminer’s “I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional” (Addison-Wesley, 1992). The movie is amusing, the book is a good read.

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