Yet more memory of water
This month’s issue of Chemistry World carries a letter from Martin Chaplin and Peter Fisher in response to my column discussing the special issue of Homeopathy on the ‘memory of water’. Mark Peplow asked if I wanted to respond, but I told him that he should regard publication of my response as strictly optional. In the event, he rightly chose to use the space to include another letter on the topic. So here for the record is Martin and Peter’s letter, and my response. I suppose I could be a little annoyed by the misrepresentation of what I said at the end of their letter, but I’m happy to regard it as miscomprehension.
From Martin Chaplin and Peter Fisher
We put together the ‘Memory of water’ issue of the journal Homeopathy, the subject of Philip Ball’s recent column (Chemistry World, September 2007, p38), to show the current state of play. It contained all the current scientific views representing the different experimental and theoretical approaches to the ‘memory of water’ phenomena. Some may be important and others less so, but now the different areas of the field can be fairly judged. The papers mostly demonstrated the similar theme that water preparations may have unexpected properties, contain unexpected solutes and show unexpected changes with time; all very worthy of investigation. Although not the main purpose of the papers, we show the problems as much as the potential of these changed properties in relation to homeopathy.
Ball skirts over the unexpected experimental findings that he finds ‘puzzling’, so ignoring the very heart of the phenomena we are investigating and misinterpreting the issue. He backs up his argument with statements concerning pure water and silicate solutions that are clearly not relevant to the present discussion. Also, he uses Irving-Langmuir to prop up his argument. This is fitting as Langmuir dismissed the Jones-Ray effect (http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/explan5.html#JR), whereby the surface tension of water is now known to be reduced by low concentrations of some ions, as this disagreed with his own theories. Finally Ball finishes with the amazing view that he knows the structure of water in such solutions with great confidence; I wish he would share that knowledge with the rest of us.
M F Chaplin CChem FRSC, London, UK
P Fisher, Editor,Homeopathy, Luton, UK
Response from Philip Ball
I have discussed elsewhere some of the experimental papers to which Chaplin and Fisher refer (see http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070806/full/070806-6.html and www.philipball.blogspot.com). Some of those observations are intriguing, but each raises its own unique set of questions and concerns, and they couldn’t possibly all be discussed in my column. Langmuir’s ideas feature nowhere in my argument; I simply point out that he coined the term ‘pathological science.’ If the issues I raise about silicate self-organization are not relevant to the discussion, why do Anick and Ives mention them in their paper? And I never stated that I or anyone else knows the structure of water or aqueous solutions with great confidence; I merely said that there are some things we do know with confidence about water’s molecular-scale structure (such as the timescale of hydrogen-bond making and breaking in the pure liquid), and they should not be ignored.