Sunday, 11 October 2015

Lynne McTaggart's Holy Implausible

She's at it again.  In a blog post entitled Holy Water, McTaggart thinks she understands what she clearly doesn't understand - science.


McTaggart has decided to take on water because it is the last refuge of the homeopath clinging to their discredited idea.  If, and it is a pleading, longing, highly optimistic if, water can be found to have a way of recording what has been dissolved in it, then perhaps, just perhaps, homeopathy is true and not just magical thinking.

So the premise is clear.  The blog post is trying to sustain the lifeless, rotting corpse of homeopathy by giving it one final jolt of the metaphorical defibrillator in the hope that you don't have to go to the next room and give the relatives the bad news.  So first off, let's establish that water is "weird".
But we’re no closer to understanding exactly how water behaves. In fact, water drives most scientists crazy.
Water is a chemical anarchist, behaving like no other liquid in nature, displaying no less than 72 weird properties – and those are just what we’ve discovered thus far.
Weird means anomalous in scientific language and scientists have a very good understanding of how those anomalous properties arise.  Besides, anomalous is just compared to something else. Water is water, hydrogen sulfide is something else and they each have their own properties.  Because water doesn't fit all the same patterns as we might have expected, does not make it weird. There is a good article on the anomalous properties of water here.

Anyone who was listening in a basic secondary school science lesson can spot what is wrong with the next paragraph.
Hot water behaves far differently than cold water; when water is heated, the molecules expand and it’s easy to compress, but when cooled they move more slowly, they shrink and they get harder to compress
 Molecules don't expand or contract.  Thermal energy makes them move more rapidly (kinetic theory is called kinetic theory for a reason).  Water has a diameter of about 2.75 angstrom (2.75 x 10e-10 metres).  Molecules just don't expand or contract.  Their increased movement produces the expansion.  If that entirely basic and easily understood fact is beyond McTaggart, what chances are there that she can understand anything more complex?

I know.  That's not a fair question.  She doesn't understand science in general. In fact, so many of her statements on science betray a distrust and dislike of science but she enjoys cloaking herself in it because it lends her nonsense a veneer of respectability.  That's why Amazon puts her books in the science section and not the made up rubbish section where they belong.

As you'll see:
Attempts to model water as the seemingly simple substance it is continue to fail. You could spend your entire career – and many scientists do – playing around with water and feel like you’re getting nowhere.
So I Googled "Modelling behavior of water" and I got 1,660,000 hits in Google Scholar which seems to me quite a few and their titles suggest that a lot of progress has been made over the years and that modeling water has enabled us to understand an awful lot about water.  You might note that I chose to search modeling behavior while McTaggart simply says modeling water.  Her command of language also seems a bit weak on this post.  The diagram below shows quite a lot about simple models of water that are, no doubt, above McTaggart's pay grade:
From http://www.pnl.gov/science/images/highlights/cmsd/electron_models.jpg, about a paper modelling aspects of the bahaviour of water, how ironic.
But all this stuff about water being odd is just the shaggy dog tale leading to this punchline:
And now we’ve learned that water does two other special things that could change everything we think about how the world works: it stores information and also broadcasts it.
And like all shaggy dog tales, there is something important to remember about them.  Something about them isn't true.

If you missed the bit that isn't true, here it is again:
And now we’ve learned that water does two other special things that could change everything we think about how the world works: it stores information and also broadcasts it.
The storage of information claim is based on the work of two Italian physicists:
Two Italian physicists at the Milan National Institute of Nuclear Research, the late Giuliano Preparata and his colleague the late Emilio Del Giudice, demonstrated mathematically that, when closely packed together, atoms and molecules exhibit collective behaviors and form what they termed 'coherent domains,’ much as a laser does.
I will let Anna V in a comment on a physics forum explain quantum coherence, especially for Lynne McTaggart, who seems to think it is something magical:
Now coherence in quantum mechanics is due to the nature of the wave functions, which describe the underlying stratum of particles and molecules. These are sinusoidal functions which means they not only have an amplitude ( a measure) but also a phase. Coherence means that the phases of the wave function are kept constant between the coherent particles. 
Can't see information being stored there.  Not in the sense that McTaggart will understand it.

Be that as it may, McTaggart uses lasers as an analogy, some vague reference to other work and then:
As other scientists went on to investigate, water molecules appear to become 'informed' in the presence of other molecules—that is, they tend to polarize around any charged molecule—storing and carrying its frequency so it can be read at a distance.
This suggests that water can act like a tape recorder, retaining and carrying information whether the original molecule is still there or not.
This means that water not only sends the signal but also amplifies it.
Oh, dear.  If it wasn't so poor so far, McTaggart has just nailed the flaw.  A sentence that begins "This suggests..." does not get to be followed by one that begins "This means..." because a suggestion is not an assertion.  It might be true, in which case the last sentence here should begin "If true, this means..."  But it doesn't and less observant readers will miss the logical fallacy.

And then Luc Montaignier. He won a Nobel for co-discovering the HIV virus.  He went seriously woo, according to Orac.  If his experiments did show that water can transmit information, they could be replicated.  If anyone knows a genuine replication, I'd be interested.  Orac points out the likely ways this is wrong, and I have no doubt many others point out some less likely ones.
Orac and friends

Lynne McTaggart employs a lot of wishful thinking.  Her intention experiments are wishful thinking wearing a comedy scientist outfit suitable for any children's fancy dress party.  She wants homeopathy to be true.  She wants water to have a memory.  She wants all those evil scientists in their sinister labs cooking up nasty medicines to be wrong.

But she isn't a scientist and isn't steeped in the deeper and wider knowledge of science, its findings and its methods.  As a result, she doesn't get one simple but extremely important point.  If a new scientific finding is labelled controversial it is for a reason. That reason is that it asks too many areas of science to reconsider themselves.  Scientists understand an incredibly substantial amount about the universe and those bits of information fit together in a tightly formed jigsaw puzzle.  If someone comes along with a new piece that doesn't seem to fit and suggests that it just needs to be hammered in to place, there will inevitably be those that look more closely at the piece and suggest why it doesn't belong in the picture that is being built up.

Unless there is a lot of jiggling of the pieces we have in place already, the memory of water and the transmission of that memory will be put in the back of the drawer with the other discredited pieces.

Note: these are no links in McTaggart's piece.  Nothing is referenced.
 
 

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