Delusions About Dilutions Never Cease

In “Challenging Challenges” (Swift, Oct 17), Jeff Wagg posted a video with weird sounds and the voice of John Benneth, who is challenging Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge. I recently had an e-mail exchange with Benneth that was very illuminating. A former unsuccessful applicant for the MDC, he is considering re-applying.  He thinks he can distinguish between water and homeopathic remedies. He believes a recent study by Montagnier et al. supports homeopathy, and he wants to perform a variant of the same experiment. He is not alone in praising the Montagnier study: homeopaths are touting it as proof that homeopathy works.

You can read the pdf of Montagnier’s article by going to this webpage and clicking on the line below “fichiers”.

I have critiqued this study on Science-Based Medicine, and several of my readers have pointed out numerous additional flaws in the “Comments” section. The title of the study is “Electromagnetic signals are produced by aqueous nanostructures derived from bacterial DNA.”  Guess who designed the experimental apparatus? The infamous Jacques Benveniste, the one whose homeopathy experiment failed under the observation of Randi and the other investigators from Nature, and who subsequently won his second Ig Nobel prize for allegedly sending homeopathic remedies over the Internet.

The really hilarious thing is that if Montagnier’s results were true and if this were the mechanism for homeopathy, it would actually disprove homeopathy on 3 counts:

  1. The EMS signals they found required the presence of particles of DNA. They were able to measure the particle size. In high homeopathic dilutions there are no measurable amounts of the original substances present.
  2. Homeopathy postulates effects at all dilutions, with increasing effects as the dilutions become greater. In this study, there were no effects at low dilutions. There were a series of positive effects at high dilutions but the effect size did not increase progressively as the dilution increased. At the highest dilutions, the effect vanished.
  3. The signals were detectable for less than 48 hours. Homeopathic remedies are not administered within hours of their preparation. They supposedly remain effective for long periods. Most homeopaths say that homeopathic remedies do not require expiration dates and will remain effective indefinitely as long as they are properly stored.

Not that Randi needs any help, but between my critique and the glaring flaws pointed out by the commenters, there would be lots of conditions to set (controlling for background noise, contamination, etc.) before any similar experiment could be accepted for the MDC. Montagnier’s experimental design is so faulty that on the Quackometer website, Le Canard Noir has nominated him for an Ig Nobel prize. That would give him the dubious distinction of being the first to win both the Nobel and the Ig Nobel.

This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.


Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.