“Water memory” – a myth that wouldn’t die

Holy pseudoscience, Batman!

Homeopathy websites (too many to list; I found the material for this post here) are all gleefully abuzz today** with the following factoid – New Research From Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart Scientifically Proves Water Memory and Homeopathy.

A simple experiment by researchers and professors at the prestigious Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart in Germany is confirming Dr. Jacques Benveniste’s 1988 assertion that water has an imprint of energies to which it has been exposed. In spite of Jacques Benveniste’s experiment to show that homeopathy works being replicated many many times at various research labs and universities around the world, skeptics have continued to attempt to debunk it albeit unsuccessfully… This new experiment and support from professors here offer another intriguing view and explanation of how homeopathy works since it proves water has a “memory”.

Naturally interested, I rushed to find a source for this awesome news about a phenomenon that could potentially change all our basic understanding of the physico-chemical nature of water and give a big fillip to Benveniste’s “water memory” theory that has been discredited several times over. I looked and looked, I really did. Did I find a journal article, a research paper, a scientific citation?

NO. All I found was a YouTube video.


So what did the video talk about? What simple experiment led the homeopathy world to such a momentous conclusion?

The experiment is simple enough. The voice-over says that the researchers at “Aerospace Institute at the University of Stuttgart” have found a simple way to make the structure of water visible.

(We shall not get into a quibble over the fact that University of Stuttgart (Universität Stuttgart) has no single “Aerospace Institute”; the faculty of Aerospace Engineering and Geodesy has three separate institutes with ‘Aerospace’ in their names. But as long as we are talking about fact-free assertions, it’s fine.)

[Update dated December 11, 2012: A reader pointed this out: The correct name of the institute is The Institute for Static and Dynamics for aerospace constructions of the University of Stuttgart. Here is a website of the project: http://www.weltimtropfen.de; the site is in German (YAY for Google Translate!). Unfortunately, the website has no pertinent information about the experiments and methodologies. There are some nice photos of water droplets, but mere appearance of some photos is not evidence. That is not how science works.]

The video shows right at the beginning (around 0:14) water being drawn into a syringe and droplets being placed on a glass slide. The voice-over goes on to say that each drop has a face of its own, unmistakable and unique. According to their observation, the water must remember the student who performed the experiment, because four droplets put by the same student looked identical, and there are visible differences between droplets put by different students.

My critical antennae were screaming.

  • We were not told how these images were taken: camera? Light microscope? EM? Could the different observations be image artefacts? Of note in this regard, scienceblogger Orac had a very interesting post on how heavy metal contaminants were mistaken for non-existent structures called nanocrystalloids by a group of pro-homeopathy scientists intents on proving the existence of “water memory”.
  • We don’t know if the images were taken simultaneously or differently. For example, was the same slide used for 16 droplets shown on screen? If the slides were different, how were the variables on slide surface (grease/grime/effect of cleaning solution et cetera) controlled for?
  • Since the water was pushed out through the needle, how was the volume of the droplet controlled for? It is not unexpected that different students would push the plunger with slightly different force and end up with different volumes on the slide.
  • Did each student put the droplets simultaneously or was there a time gap between each set? How was the effect of this time gap controlled for, particularly since the main thesis of the experiment is based on the different appearance of water drops made by different students? The easiest control would have been to get a student to put water drops at two different times, after taking water from the same source.

The person shown in the video demonstrating the observations did not of course get into any such vexatious question. The voice-over moved on to a different experiment, in which different flowers put in the water gave rise to different pictures of the droplet, thereby concluding that the water remembered the flowers.

Again, there was no mention of

  • whether the surfaces of the flower parts were clean or similarly cleaned or not,
  • whether the substances known to be in flowers (such as aromatic oils, alkaloids et cetera) had any effect, or even whether these parameters matched between the two different flowers put in,
  • whether these experiments were adequately controlled for.

Of course not. Silly me. But the next assertion was even more stupendous – that the Rhine carries all the information from the stuff dropping into it, and the Dutch, located at the mouth of the Rhine, drink all that information. Hoozzah! The Dutch have their very own information superhighway in their gut.

Not having been fortunate enough to visit Germany or the Netherlands, I don’t know about the Rhine. But I know about many major rivers in India, even some of the great lakes in the US. I guess no one ever takes a dip in the Rhine? Across Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium, there is not a single place where industrial effluents or human/animal excreta find their way into the Rhine or any of its tributaries? Does the Rhine remember all that information and pass it to the European gut? Gasp! – Is this why there is this preponderance of quackery in certain parts of Europe? The memories of all those nasty stuff in Rhine water must be doing something?

Critical thinking and rational experimentation is not, and has not been, a strong suit of the Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) practitioners. They continue to believe in their particular brand of magical remedies; however, they also crave the legitimacy that science is considered to provide – hence, their relentless struggle to appropriate science-y concepts to demonstrate the efficacy of CAM modalities, failing which there is always Special Pleading, Argument from Authority, Argument from Popularity and various other assorted logical fallacies at their disposal, as well as anecdata, a.k.a. testimonials.

The Editor of the EBM-First website, who goes by Blue_Wode on Twitter, kindly pointed me towards an illuminating article by Prof. Edzard Ernst about how “negative scientific evidence on homeopathy was covered up in Germany in the 1940s” (See page 2). This amply illustrates why rationalists and skeptics within the scientific community must keep up the good work of bringing reason and sanity to counter the lies and misinformation spread by the peddlers of pseudoscience.


**Update in postscript: I was wrong about this being in the news today. I found some blogpost dating back to April 2011 where this was mentioned, along with the vid.

WordPress database error: [You have an error in your SQL syntax; check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near 'WHERE AND comment_parent IN (410,411,412,413,414,415,416,417,426,427,430) ORDE' at line 1]
SELECT wpih_comments.comment_ID, wpih_comments.comment_parent WHERE AND comment_parent IN (410,411,412,413,414,415,416,417,426,427,430) ORDER BY comment_date_gmt ASC, comment_ID ASC

WordPress database error: [You have an error in your SQL syntax; check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near 'WHERE AND comment_parent IN (421,429) ORDER BY comment_date_gmt ASC, comment_I' at line 1]
SELECT wpih_comments.comment_ID, wpih_comments.comment_parent WHERE AND comment_parent IN (421,429) ORDER BY comment_date_gmt ASC, comment_ID ASC


Notice: Use of undefined constant comment - assumed 'comment' in /home/inscient/public_html/wp-content/themes/hemingway/comments.php on line 13
15 Comments

  1. H2O + CO2 can be only H2CO3 and Coke is it while you put it in the Plants and Shine some Light on it becomes C6H12O6 Glucose and Energy Too Oodles of it and Food for all animals and Humans too if you are the spoilsport Vegans ! Wholistic medicine the good old Ayurvedic way reInvented in the West – Rustum Roy !

  2. Just an ordinary guy

    October 19, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    This post started four years ago (2011).
    To me its almost unbelievable that the original post has been disputed for four years. And in fact the only arguments made are references to pseudo scientific material or pseudo ‘scientists’ or belief or personal experience.
    In none of the responses, in these four years, new scientific material is presented, Not even a simple scientific retest in a scientific way proving the original claims or a reference to (non pseudo) scientific research.
    It’s of course true that believe makes the world turn. Belief is very strong. Because people belief things happen (the placebo effect). And also people who believe in the same thing are a force to be reckoned with (the japanese bundle of straws, one straw is not strong, but many straws bound together cannot be bent) But that has nothing to do with science.
    Belief is a very important factor of the human makeup (and genes I believe). A (important) sauce people give to observations that (among other things) brings life. It can lead or go together with the personal realm of love, hope, succes, achieving goals, sharing (personal) experiences. But again has nothing to do with science.
    Belief is important but sometimes comes in territories where it does more harm than good. That is when it fundamentally conflicts with reality/ the voice of enlightment/ what is true for everybody everywhere (versus what is personal). And not based on what you or your group beliefs.
    Thank you mr. Datta for being so patient in your answers for four years.
    Thank you for being the voice of enlightment here,
    The voice of down to earth truth.

  3. Try
    Clatratho Water from Linus Pauling and this from Dra Esther del Rio Serrano.
    http://www.dsalud.com/index.php?pagina=articulo&c=419
    And I have said about Emoto:
    Water can construct or lose the hability to construct crystals.
    http://www.dsalud.com/index.php?pagina=articulo&c=419

  4. I’ve just read through this entire thread of comments that have accumulated over nearly four years, and find it fascinating that in this time there seem to have been no further experiments publicized by Prof. Dr. Kroeplin (apparently not with the University of Stuttgart since 2010), or by other researchers. I can understand that others might not be bothered to investigate, but why would there be no further discoveries by Kroeplin’s team evident in the decade since their first study?

  5. Thanks for your checking this up which is very important. Yet I will point out that the Nobelprize winner in medicine 2008 for showing how AIDS is caused by HIV, Luc Montagnier in someexperiments have shown that water can have a memory and which can be understood from quantum physics and not from molecular chemistry or statistical mechanics. http://montagnier.org/IMG/pdf/DNA_waves_and_water.pdf Best Regrads jan Pilotti M.D. B.Sc mathematics theoretical physics

  6. What I want homeopathic promoters to do is explain how the water does not simply “change” to mimic me as soon as it touches my mouth… I see nothing in the pictures they offered as proof that the so called structure changes are permanent. Or even lasting. I would suspect placebo effect, is far more likely in health benefits. Just as positive mental out look is credited with helping overcome cancer… If a body believes strongly enough… But that level of belief is seemingly rare. I have enjoyed reading this… I hope my thoughts are worthy of discussion.

  7. you cant find the paper because the research is still going on .they havent published the paper yet .its clearly said in the full part of this interview.so you are interested enough you could have a look on
    masaru emoto’s paper.

  8. Mr. Dutta, with all due respect, it take a believer to realize what could be. Trust yourself, water is more than you know.

    Like anything living, you too are a smot of organic matter, frothing in the rush of water.

    70% water in a human makes us a dilute solution of a water droplet, splashing in and out of the sea.

    Its not water alone. At a quantum level, every particle in existence has memory. Some to the extent of pairs.

  9. Kausik, I find your approach of debunking science discovery quite un-scientific.

    Anyhow, if you wish to follow Prof. Bernd Koplin’s lecture here is the complete video footage of his lecture. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWSh_GiE9pQ)

    The jury is still out on the question “how does water memory explain homeopathy’s functioning”. However, the results of the work of Prof. Koplin and others before him have shown beyond a doubt that there is something we don’t understand. Not being able to explain an observation is not a reason to disbelieve the results.

    • Kausik Datta

      February 10, 2016 at 5:10 am

      Auvorata, this is the first time you are commenting in this blog, so I shall give you a pass (yes, despite your silly comment on Twitter). You need to understand that the “video of a lecture” is not objective evidence. If Koplin is making an extraordinary claim of this level, he and his acolytes should be prepared to provide an extraordinary level of evidence in front of the scientific community. “there is something we don’t understand” and therefore it is – is a piss-poor argument that centers around a logical fallacy, known as an argument from ignorance. It makes no sense.

  10. This video showed up in my facebook feed this morning with lots of comments about how cool it was. Of course, that sent me to the rest of the interwebz to find out more. Yours was the first article that popped up on a google search.

    But some creative searching later led me to the ACTUAL experimental page on the Stuttgart site! They didn’t publish in a mere journal (with all of its pesky peer review), but published their own book! There is a little more detail about the experiment itself (drops were allowed to dry and then photos taken with a dark field microscope at 40x), but not a lot online. But for only 39EUR, you can get the book, The World in a Drop, and be ever so enlightened about all the wonders of water!

    http://www.weltimtropfen.de/forschung_individuen_english.html

  11. The method of generating the images is extremely simple: dessicate the water drop and then view it using a darkfield microscope.

  12. You certainly stroked yourself into orgasmic superiority in this self serving article. It occurs to me however that mainstream medicine kills a shocking number of people a year, and condemns many more to misery and toxicity with its chemo, prednisone and similar protocols. The naturopathic world you deride so thoughtlessly brings health, balance and well being to many. You like numbers so much. Take a look: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/deaths-by-medical-mistakes-hit-records Warning: the data may not serve your smug assumptions. I’m sure you will change nothing.

    • Kausik Datta

      May 13, 2016 at 3:47 am

      Dude, you need better metaphors. Seriously. Your claim of “health, balance and well being” means jack if not backed by solid empirical evidence. Get that, and show me. It’s funny, the link you provided, with its completely irrelevant-to-the-discussion “data”. Your understanding of the contents of news reports seems to be at par with your understanding of how evidence-based medicine, as well as science in general, works.

  13. Isn’t it ironic – this discussion titled “water memory myth that won’t die” is now approaching it’s 5 year anniversary. Mr Datta is to be applauded at keeping this myth alive for so long. I bet no lab test, no matter how rigorous would have predicted that – and there is no suggestion that it’s half life has presented yet!

    Al