shpalman (shpalman) wrote,

That's the way (aha, aha)...

.. I Leick it (aha, aha)

BPSDBPhilippe Leick [1,2] wrote a letter [3] (as did many others) to Homeopathy to comment on papers by Lionel Milgrom [4] and Otto Weingärtner [5]. Milgrom responded [6], as did Harald Walach [7] (a coauthor of the Weak Quantum Theory paper [8], previously criticised by Leick [1]) and Leick dealt with this in a JREF thread.

These are the key points from Milgrom (another point is addressed elsewhere on JREF) which Leick deals with, to which I'll add my own comments:

1. [Leick and his fellow skeptics] ignore research that demonstrates (a) homeopathy's clinical efficacy over placebo, and (b) differences between solutions potentised beyond Avogadro's limit and pure water.

Regarding point (a), there is of course a certain irony. Milgrom is well aware that homeopathic remedies work no better than placebo in well designed trials [9] (even if he still clings to some misconceptions about that particular analysis) otherwise he wouldn't have spent all this time trying to “explain” this effect [10] with weak quantum-mechanical Patient-Practioner-Remedy entanglement [11-21].

It is interesting to note that the idea of Patient-Practitioner-Remedy entanglement really has nothing at all to do with the specifics of homeopathy, namely the alternating dilution of the active ingredient and the banging of the phial on a book or something, and apparently everything to do with the practitioner having the time to listen to the life story of the patient:

“A patient enters the practitioner's ‘space’ and for a time, becomes during the consultation ‘isolated’ from the surrounding environment. This produces a kind of ‘quantum superposition’ or ‘coherence’ between patient, practitioner, and therapy (in the case of homeopathy, this would be the remedy). When this state interacts with the outside world after the consultation, it gradually undergoes ‘decoherence’ (i.e., collapse of the quantum superposition), possibly to a state of cure.”

It ought to be obvious just from this that the nature of the “therapy” itself is irrelevant.

Regarding point (b), the work by led by Rustum Roy [22] was anything but ignored: it was exposed for the worthless mess it was [23]. Rao and Roy, who claimed to measure changes in water ethanol which was supposed to have had something homeopathically present in it, were last seen trying to measure changes in water that some people had been thinking about.

2. [Leick and his fellow skeptics] exhibit a fundamentalist adherence to (a) the DBRCT as the only way to demonstrate the efficacy of any therapeutic modality; and (b) one, positivist, interpretation of quantum theory.

There's nothing magic about the double-blind randomized controlled trial, as I've previously said: it's just the best way to work out if there's something really going on by systematically cancelling out confounding factors. If this Patient-Practioner-Remedy entanglement gave rise to real effects then there would also be a way to test it (we could design a trial with homeopathy versus pharmaceuticals, for example). Regarding quantum theory, there is no room for interpretation when it comes to quantum theory itself and it's obvious that even within the framework of weak quantum theory [8] Milgrom makes errors, such as not knowing the difference between an operator and a wavefunction, not realizing that states exist whether or not anything occupies those states, and not realizing that “0” is an impossible state. Milgrom has not responded to these criticisms, but instead responds to Philippe saying that I have compiled a list of errors and inaccuracies on my blog, “some of which may be trivial, some of which would shame a second year physics student (such as the claim that quantum mechanics is non-deterministic or giving the units of Planck's constant as [J/s] in Ref. [20])” with “there is nothing wrong with saying quantum mechanics is non-deterministic” based on Popescu [24,25]. Philippe replies,

“Now, this is a at best a gross simplification. The finer point being missed here is that, while quantum mechanics may not be completely deterministic, this does not automatically mean that Milgrom's statement is true. Whether the measurement process is deterministic or not depends on the interpretation of quantum mechanics. In the Copenhagen interpretation, it isn't. In the Many Worlds interpretation, it is. In any case, the evolution of the wave function according to Schrödinger's equation is fully deterministic.”

There's room for interpretation when it comes to asking what quantum theory actually means about the fundamental nature of the Universe; however, whenever some element of someone's interpretation [26] wanders into the realm of things which can be tested, such tests are designed [27] and eventually done [28,29] (by physicists of course, not homeopaths). John Gribbin [30], who prefers the sum over histories and the transactional interpretation, writes that “the one thing you must not do is believe that any quantum interpretation is The Truth. They are all simply crutches for our limited human imaginations, ways for us to come to grips with the weirdness of the quantum world, which never goes away and is outside the scope of everyday experience.” Milgrom's talk of “collapsing wavefunctions” seems to place him within the slightly outdated [30] Copenhagen interpretation; so much for the physicists being the conservative ones.

The experimental work of Gröblacher et al. leads to the conclusion that a broad class of non-local (i.e. allowing faster-than-light communication) hidden-variable theories must be excluded as possible interpretations of quantum mechanics and the authors go on to speculate on what this might mean: [29]

“We believe that the experimental exclusion of this particular class indicates that any non-local extension of quantum theory has to be highly counterintuitive. For example, the concept of ensembles of particles carrying definite polarization could fail. Furthermore, one could consider the breakdown of other assumptions that are implicit in our reasoning leading to the inequality. These include Aristotelian logic, counterfactual definiteness, absence of actions into the past or a world that is not completely deterministic [31]. We believe that our results lend strong support to the view that any future extension of quantum theory that is in agreement with experiments must abandon certain features of realistic descriptions.”

The implications of Gröblacher et al. may have us finding that reality is even more strange and counter-intuitive [32] than we thought, but it does seems that whatever there is, quantum mechanics describes it. (There's a good discussion of quantum mechanical determinism in Gross and Levitt's book [33], but this is based on the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics [34,35] which is probably not the right one.)

3. [Leick and his fellow skeptics] attempt to dismiss opposing arguments by disparaging the scientific views, competence and credibility of their proponents.

Look, if you're unable to do basic quantum mechanics, and then build a whole theory on top of this inability, there isn't really a nice way to say “this theory is meaningless because you fundamentally don't know what you're doing.” Just because Milgrom doesn't understand quantum mechanics, that doesn't make him as clever as Feynman [36]. There's no room for differing interpretations or philosophies when it comes to Milgrom's basic errors. If he wants to actually use (rather than just borrow a few technical-sounding terms from) quantum mechanics to explain something then he needs to play by its rules. Even weak quantum theory has rules. (In any case, the time when Milgrom pulled Feynman's authority over Simon Gates was not at all an attempt to disparage Gates's competence or credibility.)

Regarding epistemology versus ontology, Milgrom still doesn't get it: the double slit experiment stops working as soon as it becomes possible to know which slit the particle went through whether or not anyone actually knows it [37]. In a DBRCT, the person in charge always has the key regarding who got verum and who got placebo. From the point of view of the patient and practitioner the key might be like a set of “hidden variables” and entanglement should not occur anyway [27,29]. (I'm indebted to this comment for pointing this out.) You can't get all post-modern about knowledge when experiments [28,29,37] make it this clear.

But Milgrom has indeed “adopted implicitly a post-modern stance. This acknowledges there is no such thing as an objective reality that has only to be unveiled, and exists whether we observe it or not, and irrespective of the method in which it is approached.” There's an obvious reply to this, but the less obvious one is that objective reality still exists and it is a strange counter-intuitive quantum objective reality. There's nothing subjective about the result of an entanglement experiment; nothing subjective about the way in which an operator acts on a wavefunction; nothing subjective about whether homeopathy works or doesn't.

And finally, Milgrom cites this comment thread as an example of “the cynicism and disparagement that is the lingua franca of some sceptical blog-sites.” I can only assume that this is due to Adrian Gaylard's [39] quoting of an Italian journalist reviewing a book in which Del Giudice et al. are described (without being named) as “fornicating priests” for their part in perpetuating the cold fusion lie. Where have I insulted any homeopaths? It's not necessary. The facts speak for themselves. Objectively.

  1.  P. Leick, Skeptiker 3/2006, 92 (2006).
  2.  P. Leick, Skeptiker 8/2008, 86 (2008).
  3.  P. Leick, Homeopathy 97, 50 (2008).
  4.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 96, 209 (2007).
  5.  O. Weingärtner, Homeopathy 96, 220 (2007).
  6.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 97, 96 (2008).
  7.  H. Walach, Homeopathy 97, 100 (2008).
  8.  H. Atmanspacher, H. Römer, and H. Walach, Found. Phys. 32, 379 (2002).
  9.  A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Müntener, L. Nartey, P. Jüni, S. Dörig, et al., The Lancet 366, 726 (2005).
  10.  D. E. Moerman, and A. Harrington, Semin. Pain Med. 3, 2 (2005).
  11.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 91, 239 (2002).
  12.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 92, 35 (2003).
  13.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 92, 152 (2003).
  14.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 93, 34 (2004).
  15.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 93, 94 (2004).
  16.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 93, 154 (2004).
  17.  L. R. Milgrom, Forsch. Komplementmed. 11, 212 (2004).
  18.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 11, 831 (2005).
  19.  L. R. Milgrom, Forsch. Komplementmed. 12, 206 (2005).
  20.  L. R. Milgrom, Evid.-Based Compl. Alt. 4, 7 (2007).
  21.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 329 (2008).
  22.  M. L. Rao, R. Roy, I. R. Bell, and R. Hoover, Homeopathy 96, 175 (2007).
  23.  M. Kerr, J. Magrath, P. Wilson, and C. Hebbern, Homeopathy 97, 44 (2008).
  24.  S. Popescu, Nature Physics 2, 507 (2006).
  25.  Compare googling on “quantum+mechanics+non-determinism”.
  26.  A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, Rev. Mod. Phys. 47, 777 (1935).
  27.  J. S. Bell, Rev. Mod. Phys. 38, 447 (1966).
  28.  A. Aspect, P. Grangier, and G. Roger, Phys. Rev. Lett. 49, 91 (1982).
  29.  S. Gröblacher, T. Paterek, R. Kaltenbaek, C. Brukner, M.  et al., Nature 446, 871 (2007).
  30.  J. Gribbin, Q is for Quantum (Weidenfeld and Nicholson history, 2002).
  31.  J. S. Bell, Dialectica 39, 103 (1985).
  32.  P. Bloom, and D. S. Weisberg, Science 316, 996 (2007).
  33.  P. R. Gross, and N. Levitt, Higher Superstition (John Hopkins, 1997).
  34.  D. Dürr, S. Goldstein, and N. Zanghí, J. Stat. Phys. 67, 843 (1992).
  35.  D. Dürr, S. Goldstein, and N. Zanghí, Phys. Lett. A 172, 6 (1992).
  36.  Your Feynman chaser is at 5:42--6:01 of Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives 2/6 (other parts of which also feature Max Tegmark [38]).
  37.  M. O. Scully, B.-G. Englert, and H. Walther, Nature 351, 111 (1991).
  38.  M. Tegmark, Phys. Rev. E 61, 4194 (2000).
  39.  Adrian has examined the philosophy behind Milgrom's anti-science in two excellent blog posts, Shang's secret... and Blind Anger.
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This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.
Tags: badscience, bpsdb, homeopathy, lionel milgrom, quantum

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