Tonight I will wrap up my response to the news24.com article on a documentary entitled Water: The Great Mystery. I started this trilogy in October 2008 and am now ready to finish it off. I must apologise for the delay, please read through the first two installments if you have not done so;
Part 1, More Water Woo, addresses the likelihood of life to evolve independent of water. Part 2, Seven Suspicious Water Claims, takes a closer look at the specific sciency sounding claims made in the documentary.
As the title of this post suggests, I will address the dangers of believing what you are told by authority figures. Very often we are presented with a person’s credentials as a “Bestselling Author” or some other string of impressive titles and we are asked to give them more credence because of their background. It is only natural for us to trust what we are told by people who have spent an awful lot of time working on a specific theory.This is known as the “Argument from Authority”, when someone tries to convince you of something based solely on their perceived authority while paying little heed to the facts be very sceptical.
Unfortunately, A person’s authority does not always mean that their theory is correct. Take the extremely popular and ancient practice of bloodletting as an example. This practice was the go-to prescription for a variety of illnesses, and it was very dangerous indeed. Today we can understand that the choice of bloodletting in the following case was erroneous;
On 12 December 1799 retired president of the United States of America, George Washington, spent several hours inspecting his farms on horseback. The weather was atrocious, progressing from snow to hail and freezing rain. When Washington awoke the next morning he was feeling ill, he had a sore throat and the symptoms of a cold. Washington decided not to take any medication, feeling as though he could overcome the sniffles. His condition deteriorated and in the early hours of the 14th he awoke gasping for air.
Mr Albin Rawlins, Washington’s estate manager attempted to treat him with a molasses and vinegar compress and when this was ineffective in relieving Washington’s dire condition, Rawlins decided to draw blood. Rawlins was an accomplished blood letter and he removed 300ml of blood from Washington. Unfortunately his condition deteriorated and Washington’s doctors were summoned, Dr. Richard Brown and Dr. Elisha Dick and Dr. James Craik.
During the hours that followed, up until the evening of the 14th, Washington’s medical team bled more than three litres of blood from his body. At one point it was noted that the blood flowed slowly and appeared viscous, this is a clear indication that Washington’s body was dehydrated from loss of blood. To put this into perspective, the average human body only holds 5 litres of blood. George Washington died that evening at the hands of the doctors who were trying to treat him through a dangerous treatment, one which was accepted as effective based on the fact that it had been used for thousands of years. Luckily the practice of bloodletting has all but disappeared today with the advent of evidence based medicine.
How does all of this relate to the theme of Water? Well, there are two researchers who are specifically named in the news24 article and the Water documentary, Masaru Emoto and Rustum Roy, and I would like you to be very careful when you are asked to believe anything these guys tell you.
At this point I need to highlight a concept known as pseudoscience. Steven Novella of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe defines pseudoscience as;
a belief system that pretends or tries to be scientific but is hopelessly flawed in methodology. Most pseudosciences are actually ideologies masquerading as science or looking to attach the respectability of science to an ideology. Pseudosciences often go to great lengths to cover themselves in the patina of science – using scientific sounding jargon, doing studies, creating institutes and journals, etc., but they lack the authentic methods of science. The primary feature of pseudosciences is that they generally start with an ideologically desired conclusion and then work backwards to fill in justification. “Type specimens” of pseudoscience include ghosthunting, ESP research, cryptozoology, UFOlogy, and homeopathy.
Masaru Emoto is a world class pseudoscientist who believes that exposing water to different emotions can change the appearance of the ice crystals which form when that water is frozen. Basically, if you expose a vial of water to the word “Love” it will form pretty crystals, but if you expose that same water to the word “Hate” it’s crystals will be ugly. Yes, I am serious. There are so many flaws in Masaru’s reasoning that I dont even know where to begin. Isn’t it obvious that this work is highly interpretive and open to bias? Emoto and his colleagues believe that the perceived response of water to “positive” thoughts is a great way to bring about world peace. You know, since our bodies are made up of roughly 60% water, if you froze all the children on Earth we would have world peace. Interesting….
Emoto’s work is touchy feely pseudoscience and he should be regarded with the highest amount of scepticism.
Rustum Roy is another interesting character referred to in the Water documentary. He is a highly experienced and well respected academic, unfortunately he seems to have developed a moral conviction based on water woo. Rustum Roy believes in water’s power to heal the human body, if this sounds suspiciously like homeopathy you would be right. A quick inspection of his web page sows that Rustum seems to have made it his mission to prove that homeopathy is a valid medical modality.
In the abstract of an article published in the journal Homeopathy (Volume 96, Issue3, July 2007, pg175-182), available at sciencedirect.com one can see just how much of the kool-aid Rustum has consumed. I will borrow from the James Randi Educational Foundations’ forum discussion on this topic in order to highlight my concerns;
Pipirr points out;
You may note the rampant speculation, and overuse of ‘preliminary data’. However, what is most extraordinary to me is that the entire journal edition is devoted to ‘the memory of water’. It’s as though the Nature committee’s debunking of Benveniste never happened.
Mojo would like us to take note of the following;
I see he’s running his strawman argument again:Quote:
The key stumbling block is that it doesn’t work.
And last but not least Zep asks;
Has he got any actual reliable data? Or is it all just rampant gobbledygook and speculation.
Thanks guys, I could not have said it better myself.
As I have pointed out in my previous posts on this topic, if a scientist insists on believing in something (such as homeopathy or acupuncture) when the weight of evidence points to the modality having no basis in reality, that scientist faces the very real danger of being sidelined by the community of his/her peers. Deciding to go straight to the public for fame and fortune, as Emoto and Roy have done with their work in trying to prove that water has memory by convincing as great a proportion of the populace that their methods are legitimate as possible, cannot serve as an acceptable alternative to doing real science.
P.S. I need to say a special “Thank You” to Micheal Meadon for helping me to get this article posted. You rock Mike!