12 August 2010
Does Water Have Memory?
For a quick overview of the controversy about "water memory" start here.
If you want to see the paper in NATURE that triggered the 1988 controversy on this point, you'll need to log in to their archive.
The leader of the team that researched and prepared that 1988 paper was Jacques Benveniste. Despite the storm of criticism, despite the loss of his job and funding, Benveniste remains convinced the results were right. See a letter he wrote in 2003.
Water memory is one aspect of the claims made for homeopathic medicine. Homeopathic solutions are typically so thoroughly diluted that no trace of the original foreign element is left at the end of the process, and the patient ends up with just water. Anything more to the treatment than water can provide must come about because the history of a particular sample of water has trace effects.
The claims of homeopathy are discussed, in typically severe style, in The Skeptics Dictionary, although the treatment of the NATURE article and the controversy thereafter is rather buried in the midst of that material.
The two issues are separate, though. One can logically suspect that water has some sort of memory while still acknowledging the studies that show that "homeopathic cures" are explicable as placebo effects. Water could have memory but not have the kind of medically convenient memory homeopathy presumes!
Professor Madeleine Ennis is skeptical about homeopathy, but says: "Despite my reservations" the results of her own experiments "compel me to suspend my disbelief and to start searching for a rational explanation for our findings." So I have read in The Guardian.
Louis Rey, a Swiss chemist, seems to have come at the issue of water memory through a route distinct from any of those before him. He has used thermo-luminescence to study solids and learn about the patterns of hydrogen bonds.
Rey's results have been challenged, too. Scientists need to continue thrashing this out. I think there is something important at the bottom of it all.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.