A few years ago I had some dealings with a young man called Wayne. My job was to teach him Biology, his job was to pass GCSE Science. Based on his SAT score I knew that Wayne wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but first impressions were promising. He seemed interested and keen to learn so I anticipated a productive teacher-student relationship. After only a few lessons I realised this was not going to be the case. Wayne was always keen to answer questions. The trouble was, his answers were nonsense. But not ordinary nonsense, sciencey nonsense.
Me: “What acid is produced in the stomach?”
This wasn’t a one off. This was what Wayne did. Every time a question was asked, Wayne had an answer. And every time Wayne had an answer it was sciencey nonsense. I began to think of Wayne as a sort of random science word generator. At first I found this mildly amusing but this faded and irritation and frustration took over. It was frustrating because Wayne always believed he was correct and it was difficult to persuade him otherwise. After all, isn’t “chlorophyll” just a slightly different way of saying “hydrochloric acid”? In Wayne’s World it was.
I was reminded of Wayne a few days ago when following the #homeopathy and #ten23 hashtags on Twitter. Homeopathy Awareness Week was launched on June 14th 2011 and produced a flood of postings from the supporters of homeopathy. Wayne came to mind because so many of those supporters had the same approach to science as he did.
Me: “How does homeopathy work?”
Wayne: “Electromagnet forces.”
(This conversation did not take place, but it might have done.) Rather like Wayne, homeopaths crave scientific credibility. For many years they seemed happy to bump along as an ‘alternative’ to medicine and relied on anecdotes and personal testimonies to justify their existence. This has changed. Perhaps it was the attention of the skeptic community, as exemplified by the Ten23 campaign, which brought about a shift in emphasis. Now we see attempts by homeopaths to use science to shore up their beliefs.
They found a potential ally in Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier. (Montagnier’s Nobel Prize was awarded for his work on the discovery of HIV). Montagnier joined a small but exclusive group of Nobel Laureates who moved out of their area of expertise to produce a piece of work which diminished their status as respected scientists. Andy Lewis describes his work, and its considerable shortcomings, in the Quackometer. Nonetheless, homeopaths seized upon his work as the justification they needed.
The work of a Nobel prize winner, despite having been demolished by the scientific commumity, spawned a new wave of websites devoted to the ‘scientific’ explanation of homeopathy. In this situation, quantum physics is the last refuge of the homeopathic scoundrel.
“One of the possible explanation how homeopathy works is the ability of water to form stable water clusters, that carry information. But I personally see in water clusters only the “materialization” of the invisible forces and fields that derives from succussion, the serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking. (This water clusters may form from succussion and remain stable till to an certain dilution. Homeopathy works also without the water clusters.) Effects that derives from succussion can also be found in the studies of Victor Schauberger on implosion vortexes observed in nature.” Homeopathy and the Quantum World.
Links to this website have been tweeted over and over again by supporters of homeopathy. I haven’t been able to find out who the author is. I think it must be Wayne. He would be proud of it.
If anyone really wants to know how homeopathy works, the answer is here.