Returning to my long thread on science in the media over at Peaceful Science, at one stage the accusations of irrational climate denialism were expressed, by a classics graduate, no less, thus:
This is the language of the science denialist. Which anti-science cause will you champion next, chiropractic and homeopathy?
Well, there was no point in exploring the political and sociological shenanigans of climate science – though it is interesting that only this week this study, two of whose authors are NOAA staff, belatedly confirms what meteorologist Anthony Watts has been saying about the warming-bias of recent land-based temperature data for a decade. Greta Thunberg hasn’t read it.
And so there was certainly no point in replying about manipulative medicine, which I practised as part of a highly regarded NHS General Practice for a quarter of a century, gaining more long-term expressions of gratitude from patients than I did for any of my more mainstream activity. I could have gone into the methodological flaws, and indeed often hyperskeptical bias, of many of the studies purporting to dismiss its efficacy. I could have tried to discuss the insights I gained into its neuro-physiological basis from leading pain researchers with whom I collaborated… but when I tried that at BioLogos a year or two ago I got more than my share of condescending comments about my “wish to believe,” from folks far more sympathetic than this guy. You know what they say about casting pearls.
The fact is that the emphasis for the last century, within the medical profession, on biomechanics as a (non)-explanation for spinal pain makes it virtually impossible for those not prepared to question the whole framework to accept evidence for alternative approaches.
However, another reason for not replying was that I might have had to defend homeopathy as well, for which I have never had much sympathy, once again (I now see) because of the particular cultural bias of my scientific training. Indeed, back in 1981 I earned myself a fiver for a humourous snippet I got published in World Medicine:
From the News Standard:
The Westminster coroner today recorded a verdict of sucide on a Pimlico woman who died from an overdose of Hysoscyamus, a homeopathic remedy, when she failed to take any of it at all…
I was never impressed with the results of homeopathy as practised by another local GP – though my very first encounter with it was through the General Practitioner father of my best friend at Cambridge, who had rendered himself unconscious for five months after crashing his motorcycle without a helmet. Hope for his recovery was small, but at around the same time that Addenbrookes Neurologists tried some new idea, his desperate father administered a homeopathic remedy recommended by a colleague. My friend “miraculously” regained consciousness – and his father informed me with interest that it was according to the predicted time course of the homeopathic treatment rather than the conventional.
Homeopathy as a system has many potential criticisms, from its origins in the old doctrine of opposites, through to its methods for diagnosing patients (rather than their diseases). But the main point of scientific criticism is the impossibility of any effect whatsoever from solutions so dilute that no molecules of the active agent remain. I have been known to disparage treatment by “altered water” myself.
But then yesterday I stumbled apon this video, which is worth the investment of your time if you are willing to discomfort your scientific presuppositions.
It shows how Luc Montagnier, who won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the HIV virus, has become fascinated by the ability of water to retain signals – in this case, from the DNA of HIV virus. The film shows his lab diluting the DNA solution absurdly, reading the residual signal instrumentally, and then transmitting the data to a laboratory 1,000Km away, where the signal, applied to purified water, is then used to reconstruct the DNA with 98% accuracy.
Montagnier became intrigued by the work of a predecessor, Jacques Benveniste, whose considerable reputation – and perhaps his very life – were trashed by the opprobium his similar claims about water memory gained from the scientific establishment.
Montagnier, too, has received the same kind of venom seen from “the guild” in the case of other heretics from Intelligent Design proponents to Global Warming Skeptics – he is a charlatan, he is being duped by his staff, he is senile (remember that charge against Anthony Flew when he came to believe in Intelligent Design?) and so on. But it is a little hard to argue with that Nobel Prize (especially if you’re merely a Classics graduate), other than on the basis of incredulity based on one’s limited scientific metaphysics.
Why would that bias exist? Another YouTube video on a possibly related theme, this time by bioengineer Dr Gerald Pollack, suggests a possibility early on in his TED talk. This is that for many decades, science and science training have been dominated by a molecular (bottom up) approach, which more or less ignores the relationships between molecules (top down). It’s the old Aristotelian question of of formal causation above material causation. This is proving to be both important and controversial in biology, but as we see it even has ramifications in understanding the properties of a “simple” substance like water.
I agree with Pollack’s assessment, having dipped into the Introduction of Lily Kay’s unfortunately expensive book The Molecular Vision of Life. In this she begins to show how Rockefeller Foundation money in the 1930s both financed, and set the course, of much science research and education, with a clear agenda of social control based on the assumption that the key to eugenics lay in understanding protein molecules. Though the sociological aim was partly eclipsed, this approach produced much fruit, including the eventual discovery of DNA. But it restricted the mindset of many fields of biology, from medicine to evolutionary biology, up to the present day.
Now, I’m not the person to evaluate the worth of the work of those like Montagnier (he’s the one with the Nobel Prize, not me or even you), but allowing as a possibility the sophistated memory properties of water, closely related to quantum science, potentially ties up some biological loose ends. For example, one thing we forget, owing partly to pictorial representations of molecular biology, is that most of the cell, most of the time, is in a liquid phase. The “molecular building blocks” whose exact physical conformation determines cell chemistry are, in fact, “building solutions.” Or rather, they appear to drop in and out of solution as required for interactions, somehow remembering the particular form to which they need to return.
Perhaps we can only reach an understanding of that by a richer understanding of the aqueous substrate that constitutes 70% of organisms like us. That seems to me a rich area for research, if only molecularly-minded institutions would fund it. Or it is at least a reason for profound wonder at the remaining mysteries of the universe, that is to say most of what exists.
I find that preferable to scornful dismissals based on the mere intellectual conventions imposed on us by big money for the last 90 years. Montagnier himself, lacking the credibility he deserves here in the West, is apparently getting good support in China. Their gain – our loss.