View Full Version : Homeopathy Journal, Volume 97, Issue 2

Philippe Leick
27th April 2008, 04:31 AM
In this new thread I’d like to comment on some of the responses of Harald Walach and Lionel R. Milgrom to my letter in Homeopathy Vol. 97 Issue 1 (available online).

I’ll start with Milgrom’s reply. I concluded my original letter with the following statement:

“To summarize the above criticisms, it can be concluded that in their present states, the proposed applications of Weak Quantum Theory to the problem of ultra-molecular dilutions in homeopathy are not science, but rhetoric.”

Now, is there any science in Milgroms rather well written letter? Unfortunately, not really.
It is not my intention here to list the passages where Milgrom has (deliberately?) misunderstood my text, just to answer his key points, which are:

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 1a, Milgrom criticises the “recent high-profile Lancet meta-analysis that seems to show homeopathy is no better than a placebo”. First, it’s not just the Lancet study… Second, while this particular study has been harshly criticized by homeopaths, most of these criticisms have been answered rather convincingly – see A.P. Gaylard’s and Paul Wilson’s sites for details. And third, the effect sizes in many of the studies with statistically significant positive outcomes are so small that it is rather an exaggeration to claim that they show positive results.
Regarding 1b, Milgrom cites the severely flawed Rao et al. study.

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.

I don’t remember endorsing either view, though I did write that “the real test of both models is not whether they explain previously known features of homeopathy, but whether they can be used to improve the design of experimental tests of homeopathy’s core hypothesis” and that “if the gold-standard of evidence-based medicine (randomized, double-blind trials) is rejected, another way to account for the (surprisingly powerful!) placebo effect needs to be proposed.”

I think this is fair to ask. Now, Milgrom states that “[I]algorithms for such experiments were suggested years ago”. I remember reading one of the references given here, which left me completely unimpressed.
He goes on to explain that “Generalized entanglement models of the homeopathic process have been around for about 5 years. I therefore make no apology for what is still ‘work-in-progress’.” and compares this to the years that passed between the first formulations of quantum mechanics (1900), the suggestion of quantum entanglement (1935), the formulation Bell’s inequalities (1964) and the experiments that showed that they are violated (1982 and later). It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for more time to develop the ideas about WQT and homeopathy. But this doesn’t mean that they should be shielded from criticism – indeed, it is often the debate between proponents and opponents of new theories that accelerates their development. In fact, both the EPR paradoxon and the Bell inequalities were attempts to show that quantum mechanics is an incomplete theory. During all these years, so much progress was made in other areas of quantum mechanics that this particular comparison between the historical development of WQT and proper QM can not be taken seriously.

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

Unfortunately, this is necessary. Milgrom’s writings about QM contain so many inaccuracies and errors that it is natural to ask, paraphrasing Feynman, how much of quantum mechanics he has not understood.

The “Epistemology vs ontology”-section warrants two additional comments:

1. It is my impression that Milgrom is trying to wriggle out of a mis-citation of the original WQT paper (Atmanspacher, Römer and Walach) that I identified. But we can leave this to philosophers with too much spare time. The central question is (roughly) the following: If reality itself is beyond our reach, is this an epistemic (what can be known about reality?) or ontic (what reality “really is”) property of reality?

2. Milgrom: “In asking ‘how is it that two so fundamentally different concepts as a remedy (a material object) and a collection of symptoms (an abstract idea generalized from individual observations) can be entangled at all?’ Leick poses a false dichotomy. Both remedy and patient are sources of information, obtained during case-taking, and therefore capable of being entangled in the therapeutic process. By posing this question, Leick and his fellow skeptics exhibit the limitations of their own presuppositions.”

In principle, all quantum states (wave functions; or information about quantum systems, if you prefer) can be combined via tensor products to create entangled states. Whether these are – in any physically way – meaningful is another question. Entanglement essentially requires a quantity whose total value is conserved (such as angular momentum in the most common examples) during the entanglement process, but whose parts can be distributed in different ways between the entangled sub-systems. The fact is that such a quantity has not even been hinted at. Information is often suggested, but information – defined in any meaningful way – is not a conserved quantity.

I’ll write an additional post with comments on Walach’s reply – which actually makes a lot of sense – in a following post. In the meantime, I apologize for not including any links; it seems you need at least 15 posts to be allowed to include links in this forum.

There’s much more to say, but the post is already rather long. Discussions would be very welcome though.

27th April 2008, 06:08 AM
It's funny that Milgrom even bothers to bring up the matter of interpretations of QM. If you're looking at physical evidence, all interpretations provide the same predictions. That's why they're interpretations, not distinct theories.

I think you're doing great. :)

28th April 2008, 02:31 AM
Hi Philippe, I just noticed that Milgrom cites my blog (http://shpalman.livejournal.com/) in his response to you. Good to know he's reading it, maybe he can get around to explaining why weak quantum theory doesn't know the difference between a state and an operator. Anyway, I can make some links for you:

The original comment by Philippe Leick (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.homp.2007.11.007) in Homeopathy (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/14754916).

The two reponses (require subscription):

Lionel R. Milgrom. Treating Leick with like: response to criticisms of the use of entanglement to illustrate homeopathy. Homeopathy 97 (2) 96-99 (2008) (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.homp.2008.02.002).

Harald Walach. Modern of post-modern? Local or non-local? A response to Leick. Homeopathy 97 (2) 100-102 (2008) (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.homp.2008.02.010).

Other blogs: Paul Wilson: Hawk/Handsaw (http://hawk-handsaw.blogspot.com/); Andrian Gaylard: A canna' change the laws of physics (http://apgaylard.wordpress.com/).

The WQT paper: Harald Atmanspacher, Hartmann Römer, and Harald Walach. Weak Quantum Theory: Complementarity and Entanglement in Physics and Beyond. Found. Phys. 32 (3) 379-406 (2002) (http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1014809312397).

28th April 2008, 10:17 AM
Good reply, as ever, Philippe. It's a shame that Milgrom's riposte is included as a 'Debate' contribution, rather than an author's letter in reply to yours. I'd thought that a debate requires more than one particiant? It'd be nice to see your side of the 'debate' published.

Milgrom's paradox: rejecting the RDBT methodology (subject to some sort of quantum-like-ish entaglement) whilst complaining that 'positive' trials are ignored was seen in his original paper. He ducked that part of my letter as well.

He's keener than ever on his philosophical gambit of calling any critic (or criticism) positivist. However, these criticisms are equally valid from a critical realist (Popper/Lakatos) or even a Kuhnian perspective.

Scuttling off to the post-modernist camp still leaves him open to Sokal and Bricmont's objection that if you're going to borrow from science you still need to be self-consistant (otherwise you have nothing).

Keep up the good work.

Philippe Leick
29th April 2008, 06:25 AM
It's a shame that Milgrom's riposte is included as a 'Debate' contribution, rather than an author's letter in reply to yours. I'd thought that a debate requires more than one particiant? It'd be nice to see your side of the 'debate' published.

I missed the irony of putting the responses - that's clearly what they are - in the debate section. In the preceding issue, the letters were in a section (not surprisingly) called "letters to the editor".

I think that I have mostly made my point in the original letter, and there's not that much to add. Actually, for a real "debate", the replies have to focus exactly on that which the other party actually says/writes.

At this, Milgrom doesn't clearly succeed. For example, he accuses me of ignoring evidence that homeopathy "works", trots out the recent high-profile Lancet study (Shang et al.) and criticises it using some familiar, tired and refuted arguments - although I didn't cite Shang et al. and didn't claim that there is no evidence in support of homeopathy. What I actually wrote is something that many homeopaths will agree with, and even Milgrom should agree with: "the absence of studies that clearly demonstrate the superiority of homeopathic remedies over placebos in randomized, controlled double-blind trials" (RCT)
Now, who's telling the rest of us why the results of the placebo and verum groups will inevitably mix when homeopathic remedies are tested in an RCT? That's Milgrom's paradoxon in its purest form.

At two pages, the letter was already rather long according to my own standards. I did sacrifice a bit of precision here or there in order to keep it as short as possible. Maybe I should have explicitely excluded poor, fraudulent, or unrepeatable studies from the above statement.

One point that you could, maybe, award to Milgrom is the following one: Milgrom has claimed that quantum mechanics is non-deterministic (to prove this, he cites a ... website). This was one of the errors about quantum mechanics that Shpalman identified, but by far not the only one. Milgrom defends himself: apparently, "there is nothing wrong with saying quantum mechanics is non-deterministic."

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 oaccording to Schrödinger's equation is fully deterministic.

Scuttling off to the post-modernist camp [...] I wonder if Milgrom understands post-modernist philosophy, or the implication of joining that particular school of thought. And what his fellow homeopaths might think about practicing post-modern medicine.

Shpalman: thanks for putting in the links!

29th April 2008, 06:40 AM
The object which Milgrom cites regarding quantum mechanics being non-deterministic (http://colossalstorage.net/quantum_mechanics.pdf) is actually something which appeared in the "News and views" section of Nature Physics (http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys374) regarding a PRL by Brassard et al. (http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v96/e250401) (which relates back to something in Found. Phys. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF02058098).

Compare a google on "quantum mechanics non-determinism (http://www.google.com/search?q=%22quantum+mechanics+non-determinism%22)".

Interesting papers but little to do with non-determinism (but rather to do with why non-local correlations aren't as strong as they could be).

Philippe Leick
29th April 2008, 07:38 AM
Walach’s contribution to the debate actually makes a lot of sense. His key point is that our “debate” is not about data, but about beliefs and world views. This is certainly true.
In fact, as far as I can judge, Walach’s assessment about the data regarding alternative medicine and homeopathy is realistic. In this forum, nobody needs to be reminded that, unfortunately, this is much more than can be said about many of his fellow proponents of alternative medicine.

Still, I take issue with some of the things Walach writes about me:

No doubt Dr Leick and his colleagues will see it differently. They view likes of Milgrom, Walach, and others as charlatans, a danger to enlightenment, progress and rationality.

The “crime” which we are commiting in Leick’s view is that of imagination, and extrapolation.

I can’t speak for my colleagues, but as far as I’m concerned: not so!

I have tried to make it perfectly clear in my letter (Homeopathy Vol. 97, Issue 1), but even more so in the article in Skeptiker 3/06 and the debate with Hartmann Römer in Skeptiker 4/06 (which, unfortunately, Walach has ignored) that I am more than willing to give new, even unorthodox ideas a chance. But that doesn’t mean that they should be shielded from criticism – quite to the contrary, any new idea that survives a critical discussion is likely to have some merit. It may be a gross simplification, but: critical examination is the absolutely essential ingredient of the scientific method that separates the good innovations from the bad ones!

Like Milgrom, Walach asks for some patience with new ideas – let’s give the young plant a chance to develop and grow strong before the cynics tear it to shreds. The example he uses is actually much better than the one Milgrom puts forward: for 2000 years or more, the idea that the earth is spherical was around, but did not succeed at becoming the accepted paradigm: while there was plenty of evidence for it, “convincing proof that would force even the most violent sceptic into acceptance was lacking”. Actually, the “violent sceptics” that almost managed to make this idea go away were not adherents of the scientific method. They had to resort to much more compelling tactics!

Walach writes that “there are too many anomalies to fit neatly into the box of the ‘modern scientific world view’”. The problem with this claim is that upon closer inspection (by the "modern scientific establishment"), almost all of these anomalies simply vanish. The anomalies that ultimately led to the discovery of quantum mechanics (Milgrom’s example, see first post in this thread) did not vanish under closer inspection, and neither did those that questioned the geocentric, flat-earth world view.

My “crime”, so to speak, seems to be to look too closely at the evidence being put forward in support the world view of Milgrom, Walach et al. I those are the charges, I must plead guilty.

29th April 2008, 03:53 PM
But that doesn’t mean that they should be shielded from criticism – quite to the contrary, any new idea that survives a critical discussion is likely to have some merit. It may be a gross simplification, but: critical examination is the absolutely essential ingredient of the scientific method that separates the good innovations from the bad ones!

My “crime”, so to speak, seems to be to look too closely at the evidence being put forward in support the world view of Milgrom, Walach et al. I[f] those are the charges, I must plead guilty.

I wish you would write another, short, letter saying exactly that, Philippe.


13th July 2008, 06:12 AM
I finally got around to blogging (http://shpalman.livejournal.com/11213.html) Milgrom's response.