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Inconsistent with health and healing

27th April 2008 (11:31)

BPSDBIn his editorial introducing Lionel Milgrom’s latest paper, “A New Geometrical Description of Entanglement and the Curative Homeopathic Process” [1], Alex Hankey (“Self-Consistent Theories of Health and Healing” [2]) can’t even spell homeopathy: he cites Simon Baker’s letter to eCAM (in response to “Journeys in the country of the blind” [3]) as “Re: Homeoathy and hubris”. There’s also a citation to a letter written by someone called “Chrastana”. (This is after Lionel Milgrom got confused between Simon Gates and Simon Baker and ended up replying to Simon Bates.) There’s clearly little hope for any sort of scientific or technical accuracy when basic proof-reading is clearly beyond both Hankey and the staff of J. Alt. Complement. Med in which this is published.

It doesn’t take long for Hankey to have a dig at so-called “scientific conservatives” as if the ones who are desperately trying to dig a 200-year-old quasi-mystical idea out of the deep grave marked “contradictory to all of current modern physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine” are the innovators, not the scientists who have shown why we need to leave Hahnemann’s ideas behind. To summarize: the past couple of hundred years have seen the development of the germ theory of disease, the discovery of viruses, the development of genetics, the discovery of DNA and of its structure and the birth of molecular biology generally, the development of atomic theory and the arrangement of elements into the Periodic table, and the formulation of quantum mechanics and special and general relativity. All of these things are very well confirmed by experimental evidence and most of them contradict the principles of homeopathy. The germ theory of disease contradicts those who still believe in miasmas, molecular biology basically contradicts all that stuff about the Vital Force, and atomic theory explains that the kind of dilutions frequently used by homeopaths contain nothing of the supposedly active ingredient (as if containing a tiny amount of it would really make any difference anyway). But sadly, quantum mechanics, if understood poorly enough, seems to give the homeopaths hope that they haven’t actually been wasting their lives. In the final insult they then claim that it’s the rest of us who are stuck in an old paradigm. When Philippe Leick said that [4]

“the claim that dilutions beyond Avogadro’s limit can have any specific effect linked to the properties of the original substance... if solved to the satisfaction of the adherents of homeopathy, probably will revolutionize physics.”

he was pointing out just how much we’d have to throw away if it were true (which it isn’t).

One thing which has come out of quantum theory of the solid-state is the transistor, and therefore the computer, without which none of this would be happening. David Chalmers and Roger Penrose are invoked by Hankey to explain what’s wrong with modern science, in that it apparently doesn’t have a theory of consciousness.

Now the only Penrose I’ve read is the The Road to Reality [5], so I’ve mainly bypassed all that quantum-gravity–consciousness [6] nonsense [7,8]. (In The Road to Reality Penrose complains that string theory [9] is useless because so far it’s only been able to create the graviton, and then tries to explain his twistor theory, which he’s been working on for 40 years, and which has so far only been able to create half a graviton. But he’s an extremely clever mathematical physicist even if I think he’s wrong about a couple of things. His insights into thermodynamics and entropy are interesting [10,11].)

But when it comes to the philosopher David Chalmers, Hankey cites “Facing up to the problem of consciousness” [12] which is a bit shorter than Penrose’s and is dealt with in another post, in which I try to argue that Chalmers’ dismissal of Penrose’s “nonalgorithmic processing” knackers Hankey’s “putting together” of Penrose and Chalmers. Chalmers has already considered Penrose’s ideas, and even if they were right (which I for one am not sure about) they aren’t what he was looking for. He isn’t particularly interested in general quantum mechanics either, which further knackers what Hankey is trying to suggest (and probably what Milgrom is trying to suggest, or at least what Hankey is trying to suggest about it). Chalmers also basically knackers all of homeopathy and frankly quite a lot of CAM by dismissing vitalism.

Hankey says that “creative thinkers... recognise such laws as necessary bases from which to depart...” and in doing so misses the point that you have to understand a rule completely in order to know its limitations (these guys only think they understand the rules based on some popularizations) and the Dalai Lama quote about “The most important rule is to know how to break the rules” was probably about politics rather than science, in which the rules really can be broken because they are made up and imposed by humans rather than being discovered facts about the universe. Every research scientist, meanwhile, is trying to test, extend, and validate whatever laws have so far been discovered in whatever field he or she happens to be working in (and maybe even helping to discover new laws). It’s what we do all day.

It’s interesting how Hankey and those like him immediately react to criticism by complaining about the attitude of the complainants rather than by pointing to evidence for their positions: it’s becauese they lack the tools to deal with criticism, what without having any actual evidence. He just has philosophy and mysticism, understood at the same superficial level as he understands quantum physics.

In the end Hankey sees all of Milgrom’s work as having “striking confermation” because of the shape he makes up at the end is bit similar to another shape Hankey can think of. Analysis of Milgrom’s work will have to wait until another day - until then you can make do with “mere chemistry”.


  1.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 329 (2008).
  2.  A. Hankey, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 221 (2008).
  3.  L. R. Milgrom, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 4, 7 (2007).
  4.  P. Leick, Homeopathy 97, 50 (2008).
  5.  R. Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Jonathan Cape, 2004).
  6.   S. Hagan, S. R. Hameroff, and J. A. Tuszyński, Phys. Rev. E 65, 061901 (2002).
  7.   M. Tegmark, Phys. Rev. E 61, 4194 (2000).
  8.  H. M. Wiseman and J. Eisert, arXiv.org e-Print archive physics, arXiv:0705.1232v2 (2007).
  9.  B. Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (Vintage, 2005).
  10.  R. Penrose, J. Stat. Phys. 77, 217 (1994).
  11.  J. Bricmont, Physicalia Magazine 17, 159 (1995).
  12.  D. J. Chalmers, J. Conciousness Studies 2, 200 (1995).
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Posted by: gimpyblog.wordpress.com (ext_71561)
Posted at: 27th April 2008 10:26 (UTC)

Fascinating and detailed stuff as usual and an excellent illustration of how homeopathy is flailing like a drowning man desperately trying to reach out and hold onto scientific theories in an attempt to stay afloat only to have them slip through their fingers once any critical thinking is applied. Like the drowning man I suspect homeopathy's only salvation lies in divine intervention, once they admit it is a religion with its truth writ permanent in the holy books of Hahnemann and Kent they may survive.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 27th April 2008 11:51 (UTC)

Are we sure that we are not being hoaxed? Is Milgrom really Alan Sokal? The paper certainly reads the same as Sokal's famous 'quantum gravity' paper, what with all the fatuous appeals to postmodern semiotic bollocks.

Andy Lewis

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 27th April 2008 21:01 (UTC)

I fear that Milgrom is not Sokal. The point of a Sokal-type hoax is to reveal it afterwards, so that the editors of the journal that published the nonsense stand in the spotlight, naked and with egg yolk on their faces.

After a "sequence of a dozen or so major papers written since 2002" and "after a research program of nigh on 6 years, in which he has elucidated the quantum entanglement relationship among patient (subject), practitioner (healer), and remedy (healing energy) [...]", I'm not expecting any revelation in the near future. Both quotes, by the way, refer to Milgrom and are from the Hankey-Editorial discussed here.

One obvious parallel, though, is the lack of competent editors. I'm willing to bet that none of Milgrom's articles has ever been properly refereed by somebody really familiar with quantum mechanics. If they had been, we wouldn't need blog sites like this one!

The one thing that makes sense, though, is Milgrom's admission (confession?) that he is thinking within a post-modern paradigm. I can't help thinking: Wow, that this explains a lot!

Philippe Leick

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 28th April 2008 20:45 (UTC)

"I'm willing to bet that none of Milgrom's articles has ever been properly refereed by somebody really familiar with quantum mechanics."

In one of his responses to criticisms of his eCAM paper, Milgrom stated, "I continually run my ideas passed highly competent quantum physicists (including a Nobel Laureate)". I wonder what they said (and who the Nobel Laureate is).


Posted by: shpalman (shpalman)
Posted at: 28th April 2008 20:52 (UTC)

I expect it's Brian Josephson. I'd like to know what he said too. Maybe he can write a paper for one of these journals.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 27th April 2008 13:43 (UTC)

Hankey's division between scientific conservatives and creative minds is straight from the book of clichés. In the second paragraph, he squarely puts you in the conservative camp and punches below the waistline by complaining that "a major obstacle to civilized conduct of scientific research is the difference in outlook between scientific conservatives and more creative scientific minds". Unlike some skeptics, I don't deny that science is a human affair with all the human faults that are to be expected. Real science is far from the idealized scientific method these guys write about. But to complain about the debate between conservatives and creatives is ridiculous. This debate is absolutely necessary, because it challenges new theories. Those that fail are forgotten; those that pass tests grow stronger (improve and gain support). In general, I found the debate - for example, the letters in "Homeopathy" - to be rather fair and civilized. However, some mistakes, when pointed out, make the originators look like fools. No nice way to point to them will change that...

The lack of critical review is apparent elsewhere, for example, when he writes that "[Milgrom] present[s] a rigorous new approach to modeling states of consciousness by means of quantum theory". Isn't it just the lack of rigor that the critics have so vehemently pointed at? Or "the coincidence is striking [...] the parallels between the two contexts are too striking to be easily dismissed. On the contrary, it seems only to have one interpretation: it represents a confirmation of everything that Milgrom has been engaged in." This he writes because Milgrom has found the stellar octangula prominent in Judaic mysticism!
What is often forgotten is how often coincidences arise simply because of the enormous amount of "stuff out there". There's bound to be something that matches. Especially when rather simple, basic models are used - there are many more complicated structures than simple ones.

Philippe Leick

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 27th April 2008 14:00 (UTC)

Hankey and McCrum were joint authors of Healing by skeptical trainee healers (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17480123?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum%22). We had plenty of that being chucked our way during the recent exploration of the claims made for energy medicine. "It’s interesting how Hankey and those like him immediately react to criticism by complaining about the attitude of the complainants rather than by pointing to evidence for their positions." Yes, that's exactly what happened with us. Apparently, we are malevolent, secretive and sinister (http://holfordwatch.info/2008/03/03/lifes-4-living-respond-to-holfordwatchs-serious-concerns-by-moaning-that-were-malevolent-secretive-and-sinister/).

Marvellous stuff, apparently, energy medicine even works over phone lines (http://holfordwatch.info/2008/02/22/lifes-4-living-the-energy-clinic-claire-sutton-and-sarah-mccrum/) to cure sore throats. The downside is that people can be persuaded to try it and abjure conventional treatment for diseases such as cancer (http://holfordwatch.info/2008/02/22/lifes-4-living-the-energy-clinic-claire-sutton-and-sarah-mccrum/): and they die, and they die in the knowledge that they just didn't try hard enough.

Maybe "striking confermation" is the energy medicine equivalent of succussion?

But seriously, do you, Gaylard, Gimpy, Wilson et al have an outline for a book or something? It would be such an interesting examination fo homeopathy and its theoretical foundatios.

Posted by: draust.wordpress.com (ext_89228)
Posted at: 27th April 2008 19:20 (UTC)
Milgrom and Hankey: what a crock of sh...

Goodness. That editorial of Hankey's is even more (unconsciously self-) parodic than Milgron's umpteenth paper of what I am going to call (from now on) "pseudo-quantum noodling".

Reading the Hankey piece tempts one to trot out that quote about "wearing the mantle of Galileo" again, but even thinking about these clowns is causing me to lose the will to live.

On the other hand, the editorial does make it quite clear to anyway half-way rational observer just what a joke the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is, if a fraud like Hankey is really an editor... and the slightly exasperated tone of priestly finger-wagging he adopts suggests to me that you are getting to them.

Seriously, Shpalman, I think you should write a paper on "common misinterpretations and misuses of quantum mechanical concepts in alternative medicine". I am sure there would be a serious journal somewhere that would publish it.

Posted by: shpalman (shpalman)
Posted at: 3rd June 2008 10:45 (UTC)
Re: Milgrom and Hankey: what a crock of sh...

I've just discovered Macroscopic Quantum Coherence in Patient-Practitioner-Remedy Entanglement: The Quantized Fluctuation Field Perspective so I could get some of the ideas from this blog post into an eLetter.

Posted by: jdc325.wordpress.com (ext_97704)
Posted at: 29th April 2008 10:55 (UTC)
Seconding Dr Aust and Anonymous

Seriously, Shpalman, I think you should write a paper on "common misinterpretations and misuses of quantum mechanical concepts in alternative medicine". I am sure there would be a serious journal somewhere that would publish it.

Yeah Shpalman - write the paper. One thing's for sure, you won't be short of material from the Alt-Med world. Or there's always the book if Gaylard et al are up for this suggested project:
But seriously, do you, Gaylard, Gimpy, Wilson et al have an outline for a book or something? It would be such an interesting examination of homeopathy and its theoretical foundations.

Posted by: Grey Area (greyarea)
Posted at: 1st May 2008 12:45 (UTC)

Excellent stuff.

Came here via your link in JREF's "Rustum Roy..." thread; I'll add you to my friends list in order to keep up with your posts if that's ok?

Posted by: shpalman (shpalman)
Posted at: 1st May 2008 17:39 (UTC)

This Rustum Roy thread? It's always nice to know there are people reading the stuff I write, so thanks for the note. Not that I post very often.

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