A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

Posts Tagged ‘Inductivism’

The Memory of Water: Replies and Answers

Posted by apgaylard on January 17, 2008

While all answers are replies, not all replies are answers.”

Ta’Lon, Babylon 5: Point of No Return, script by J. Michael Straczynski.

The Memory of Water issue of the journal Homeopathy has provoked a number of critical responses, which the journal has now published.  Those authors whose work has been criticised have, quite rightly, responded.  So far, this is healthy: this is how science works.

However, most of the responses could be described by the observation: “not all replies are answers.”  Let’s take the replies to my two letters, for example.

The first is from Lionel Milgrom, the second is by Vybíral and Voráček.

The dangerous swan song of the straw man

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Posted in Logical Fallacies, Philosophy, The Memory of Water | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

It’s Evidence Jim, But Not As We Know It!

Posted by apgaylard on November 8, 2007

A Commentary On In Pursuit Of Evidence By Kate Chatfield RSHom

I’ve wanted to critique Kate Chatfield‘s philosophical diatribe for some time.  It can be found on the Society of Homeopath’s (SoH) website.

The main reasons for my interest were that when I first came across this piece I was immediately  struck by it’s misrepresentation of clinical evidence and the philosophy of science.

I claim no special skill in philosophy, but a second-year undergraduate course sparked an interest which has stayed with me.  I may not be an expert, but I’ve read Popper and Lakatos.  I also have a passing acquaintance with the works of Kuhn.  So I think I know when someone is not telling it how it is.

Having engaged my attention, the commentary on this piece has ended up being rather long, so I’ve provided an index.

Cherry Picking
Philosophical Straw Men
Allopathic Medicine is Mean
Good Quality Evidence is Bad
You Mean We Have To Be Accountable?
Oh No, We Don’t Have Any Real Evidence
The ‘Whole Person’ Gambit
The Cherry Picking Gambit
It’s Evidence Jim, But Not As We Know It!
A Lamentable Lack of Lakatos
Clutching at Kuhn
Feyerabend’s Cranks
We’re Not Wrong We’re Underdetermined
You Can’t Prove Anything, So We Are Right
Perverting Popper
The High-Dilution Problem Ignored
8 Out of 10 Cats Prefer it
So Let’s Have Customer Satisfaction Surveys Instead
We’re Not Wrong, We’re Incommensurable
We’re Taking Our Ball But Not Going Home
Concluding Thoughts

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Posted in homeopathy, Logical Fallacies, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Homeopathy and the memory of water: Milgrom and the philosophy of science

Posted by apgaylard on October 12, 2007

The journal Homeopathy has published a special issue on the memory of water.  The contents have been discussed quite widely (see Philip Ball‘s contributions, for example).  An important aspect of this has been the journal club set up by Ben Goldacre at Bad Science.  This has enabled a lot of well informed analysis from people who may not have been able to access the original papers otherwise.  I would like to record my thanks to Ben for arranging this opportunity to get access to these papers and providing a forum for discussion.  Thanks are also due to Peter Fisher (Editor) and the publishers, Elsevier, for giving their permission for the journal club.  It is brave to be open to criticism and an indispensable aspect of scientific discourse.  It stands in stark contrast to recent actions taken by the Society of Homeopaths.

Thanks to the journal club I have been able to have a go at critiquing a number of the papers.  As a result I have submitted a couple of letters to the editor of the journal.  Over the next few posts I’ll make these available on this blog and add some reflections.  I’ll also report on my success, or otherwise, at having my observations published in Homeopathy

Physics remains my main scientific interest and this has coloured my choice of papers.  For me, homeopathy becomes really interesting when it places itself in the domain of real physical effects and mechanisms.  When it does this it must conform to the massively successful description of nature that is contemporary physics.  Am I arguing that physics is complete and flawless?  No.  What I am saying is that physics encapsulates a large, coherent, successful but finite body of knowledge.  By asserting that water can “remember” what has been dissolved in it, even when it is no longer there, Homeopathy has stepped into the domain of what is known and must therefore be judged against it.

The first paper I read makes a wild application of certain aspects of quantum theory to “explain” homeopathy and why it cannot be tested.  All that I will say on that aspect of the paper is that by removing the key experimental observation that quantum physics applies only to processes with very small dimensions, as expressed by Planck’s constant, it has parted company with what I’ll loosely call reality and no longer has the power to explain processes in nature.  [For a detailed analysis of the quantum mechanical content of this paper, and other similar work, the blog by shpalman is excellent.]

The paper awoke memories of undergraduate lectures on the nature and philosophy of science.  As you can see the author asserts that the philosophy of science is to blame for the lack of regard in which homeopathy is held by most scientists.  A philosophical picture is developed to explain this blindness.  His contention is that scientists are so constrained by a prescriptive “method” that they cannot accept the contrarian observations, the black swans of homeopathy.  As my letter points out, the author did this by picking a simplistic (and discredited) philosophical model and defining this as science.  This stands as a fine example of the classic “straw man” fallacy.

Milgrom, L. R., “Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy” Homeopathy, Volume 96, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 209-219.

Straw Men and Black Swans: The Philosophy of Contemporary Science 

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