05 July 2012

Quixie Reviews a Homeopath

Posted by at 4:02 AM

The following is in response to a blog post on Chandran Nambiar’s blog devoted to homeopathy.
It was suggested that I read this blog post in order to have a better understanding of the theoretical aspects of homeopathy from a viewpoint other than “new age wackos.” Here goes …

A metaphor that came to my mind while reading Chandran Nambiar’s apology for homeopathy is that of a Trojan Horse. The article begins as a call to modern homeopaths to amend the outmoded paradigm which relegates the active component of homeopathic treatments to the realm of the intangible and unexplained/unexplainable, and to take a more rigorous scientific approach to the discipline, so that it may be taken seriously and finally incorporated into general medical practice without the sarcasm and mockery which it is frequently subjected to from this establishment, both currently and in the past. This seems like a noble goal. As such, I found myself cheering him on in the first few paragraphs of the piece, where he chastises his fellow practitioners for the gaping lapses in the theoretical scientific formulations of the practice. In one of the opening paragraphs, he states:
Studies of homeopathic practice have been largely negative or inconclusive. No scientific basis for homeopathic principles has been substantiated”. For the last 250 years since its inception, homeopathic theoreticians were trying to explain the ‘modus operandi’ of potentized homeopathic medicines using one or other hypotheses available or evolved by them. They go on spinning diverse types of fanciful ‘theories’ using ‘ultra-scientific’ jargons, that make homeopathy a piece of unending mockery before the scientific community. Actually, nobody could so far even propose a scientifically viable ‘working hypothesis’ about homeopathy, that could be presented as a reasonable candidate for verifications according to scientific methods.
Like the proverbial Trojan horse, Nambiar’s article is impressive in magnitude, massive even (33,000 + words, in fact). It is without a doubt the most erudite (copious typos notwithstanding) and exhaustive attempt at a defense of homeopathy that I have read to date. But while it certainly is ambitious in its stated goal, instead of logical cogency, his arguments depend more on verisimilitude, and thus fall flat of being at all persuasive. In the end, his is nothing but a specious “fanciful theory” that is unsupported by research, using much “ultra-scientific jargon” in order to seem more “sciency” than the homeopathic theory of old. By the time one reaches the midpoint of the extremely long blog post, in fact, it is quite clear that Mr. Nambiar is no different from those whom he condemns in his introductory caveat. Nambiar’s Trojan horse purports to be a corrective measure against homeopathy’s intangible, mystical past, but it only succeeds in slipping in a few more layers of nonsense to its already over-burdened and tenuous “theory.” To his credit, though, I will say that at least he is aware of traditional homeopathy’s failings, and he is at least trying to address them by formulating a working hypothesis, which is more than can be said of any other homeopathic apologist that I have come across.
But his fundamentally apologetic tendencies are hard to conceal despite his posturing as a defender of science. A sentence like:

"Such a fundamental re-building shall obviously help in enthroning homeopathy on its rightful status of the most advanced branch of modern medical science, unfairly denied for more than last two hundred years."
betrays the ultimately ideological modus of his thinking. Or, try this sentence:
"We repeatedly hear about ‘successful” attempts by its opponents, to ‘disprove’ it ‘scientifically’, and time and again declaring it a ‘fraud, placebo, or pseudoscience’. In spite of all these scorns, ridicules and ‘witch hunts’, homeopathy still exists and thrives all over the continents, alleviating pain and sufferings of millions. The rising acceptance of homeopathy not only by the millions of lay public, but by the heads of states, members of royal families and many other dignitaries all over the world, has produced a state of dilemma in the world of medicine. Either all of these millions had fallen victims to a successful global scale ‘medical hoax’, or the ‘learned scientists’ striving to disprove homeopathy, are being proved themselves wrong."
Or …

"They miserably failed to comprehend the revolutionary content and epoch-making relevance of Hahnemann’s findings. "

Or …

"The principle of ‘Similia Similibus Curenter’ has sufficiently proved its ‘right of existence’ through thousands and thousands of miraculous cures by homeopaths all over the world."

Or …

"The sarcastic comments of our opponents that ‘homeo medicines act only as placebos’ may be dismissed as expressions of their arrogance resulting from ‘scientific ignorance’ regarding matters happening outside the dominion of their comprehension."

Not only are these the words of a man with a horse in the race, of an impassioned apologist, these are the words of a man who is obviously presuming that which he is supposedly trying to prove, namely, that homeopathy is a demonstrably efficient technique. (As a trained scientist—before I became a lowly musician, my formal education was in chemical engineering — I take some slight offense at that last sentence of his, by the way.)
So much for his being a detached and objective observer and champion of science.
Anyway, after summarizing the fundamental axioms of homeopathic practice that we all have heard before he eventually gets to making his main point, which is the only one that is pertinent to my focus. His novel idea is not that hard to encapsulate, actually. Basically he has learned about and has become excited by recent discoveries in polymer chemistry, specifically something called ‘molecular imprinting in polymers’ (MIP). This is a process by which chains of polymers seem to exhibit a kind of ‘memory’ at a molecular level.
From the article:
This technology involves the imprinting of synthetic polymer substances using enzymes or such macromolecules as ‘guest’ molecules. As a result of imprinting, nanocavities with 3-d spacial [sic] configurations complementary to the ‘guest’ molecules will be created in the interaction surfaces of the polymers. These imprinted polymers, by virtue of the nanocavities they contain can be used to bind molecules with configurational similarity to ‘guest’ molecules. They are at present widely used in various laboratory assays as powerful adsorption surfaces and molecular sensors. MIPs are also found to be of much practical use in various areas of science and technology.
He then takes a bold step in suggesting that a similar phenomenon might be at work in the water/alcohol substrate which every homeopathic remedy is “prepared” in. He formulates the problem in the following way:
"What is the exact character and dynamics of this physical transformations occurring in the alcohol-water mixture during potentization? How is the information regarding the medicinal properties of drug molecules encoded into these physical formations, and preserved even without the presence of a single original drug molecule? What is the exact molecular dynamics of therapeutic action of these highly diluted preparations? How they interfere in the bio-chemic interactions of an organism, thereby removing the specific pathologic molecular inhibitions? The future of homeopathy and medical sciences at large, depends on the answers we provide for these fundamental questions. With apology, the author dares to delve into the depth of these vital issues, equipped with his very limited resources."
Since he already presupposes that homeopathy works, he thinks it completely plausible to posit this analogue between polymers and water. Now, if this were so, it could very well account for the alleviation of symptoms that one might experience from a homeopathic tincture which statistically has been diluted well beyond the likelihood of there being any molecules of the corresponding substance in the solution. He well knows of this conundrum. Imprinting in water would be a brilliant solution to the problem. That would rock. The trouble is that water and polymers are not much alike. We have no reason to make such a comparison between apples and pineapples. It is a completely unwarranted step.
Well, to illustrate this equivocation, we need to go a bit into the definition and attributes of polymers. Simply stated a polymer is the result of molecules uniting with other molecules to form a chain. In a sense, polymers are the organic analogue of mineral crystallization, where a matrix (lattice) is established according to the spatial and ionic configuration of the molecules involved. Nambiar’s own discussion of protein polymerization is not inaccurate, in fact:
Proteins are a class of highly complex nitrogen-containing bio-molecules, functioning as the primary carriers of all the bio-chemic processes underlying the phenomenon of life. There exist millions of protein molecules belonging to thousands of protein types in a living organism. Each protein molecule is formed by the polymerization of monomers called amino acids, in different proportions and sequences. Each protein type has its own specific role in the bio-chemic interactions in an organism. Most of the amino acids necessary for the synthesis of proteins are themselves synthesized from their molecular precursers [sic] inside the body. A few types of amino acids cannot be synthesized inside the body, and have to be made available through food. These are called essential amino acids. There are specific protein molecules assigned for each bio-chemic process that take place in the body. Various proteins play different types of roles, like biological catalysts or enzymes, molecular receptors, transport molecules, hormones and antibodies. Some proteins function as specialized molecular switches, systematically switching on and off of specific bio-chemic pathways. Proteins are synthesized from amino acids, in conformity with the neucleotide [sic] sequences of concerned genes, with the help of enzymes, which are themselves proteins. ‘Protein synthesis’ and ‘genetic expression’ are very important part of vital process. It may be said that genes are molecular moulds for synthesizing proteins. There are specific genes, bearing appropriate molecular codes of information necessary for synthesizing each type of protein molecule. Even the synthesis of these genes happens with the help of various enzymes, which are protein molecules. There is no any single bio-molecular process in the living organism, which does not require an active participation of a protein molecule of any kind. The most important factor we have to understand while discussing proteins is the role of their three-dimensional spacial [sic] organization evolving from peculiar di-sulphide bonds and hydrogen bonds. Water plays a vital role in maintaining the three dimensional organization of proteins intact, thereby keeping them efficient to participate in the diverse biochemical processes. Proteins exhibits different levels of molecular organization: primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary. It is this peculiar three dimensional structure that decides the specific bio-chemic role of a given protein molecule. More over, co-enzymes and co-factors such as metal ions and vitamins play an important role in keeping up this three-dimensional structure of protein molecules intact, thereby activating them for their specific functions.
This is all true. Unfortunately for his argument, water has none of the “chains of proteins in specific configurations” properties that would make it an analogue to polymers. Water is a dipolar molecular fluid, a solvent, where polymers are not. It has unique properties of cohesion and adhesion which affect things like its relatively high freezing and melting points and rate of evaporation, but it is otherwise a fairly simple fluid. In order for Nambiar’s hypothesis to bear out, he would have to posit (and he does) that water has the ability to retain a three-dimensional negative image of whatever “guest” particle is in suspension. In other words, he would have to posit that water has “memory.”
Is there research that Nambiar can appeal to in this regard?
Well, there was a paper in 1988 from a man named Jacques Benveniste (1935–2004), who essentially claimed that he has observed such a phenomenon (i.e. the memory of water), but subsequent rigorous experiments failed to repeat the results reported in his original paper, and the idea was pretty much discredited. Nambiar, of course, needs “memory of water” for his idea to work, and so, he laments the discrediting of the paper and thinks that it was the arrogance of the establishment that was to blame for suppressing a great discovery:
"He suspected that the molecular memory of the antibodies which was imprinted in water during dilution is responsible for this peculiar phenomenon. But the sad part of this story is that he failed to prove his arguments in the repeated experiments which were conducted in an atmosphere of absolute hostility, under the supervision of experts who were inimical to him, whose sole aim was to disprove him."
Why is it sad that the experiment wasn’t able to be replicated? Oh yeah, I remember, because Nambiar needs this to be really real. But if the phenomenon which he discovered were in fact real, experiment would have revealed them to be so, whether there was hostility or not, right. Yet, despite the general discrediting of Benevite’s assumptions, Nambiar proceeds to use them as though they were in fact verified to be true and useful. This is the point at which Nambiar’s train of thought completely derails and he is revealed to be a shark-jumper.
"Obviously [my emphasis], hydration shells assume an internal spacial arrangement exactly fitting to the 3-dimensional spacial configuration of the foreign molecule entrapped in them. If we could devise some technique to remove the entrapped ‘guest’ molecules from these hydration shells, without disturbing the hydrogen bonds between the constituent water molecules, these hydration shells can still retain the molecular memory of the molecular configurations of the removed ‘guest’ molecules. This rarely studied phenomenon is known as ‘molecular memory of water’."
Or try these little gems …
"It has been well proven that these hydration shells later show a peculiar capability to differentially recognize the original ‘guest’ molecules which were responsible for their formation." … "Even if the ‘host’ molecules are removed from clathrates, the network of water molecules have been found to remain intact. " [again, my emphases]
No footnotes or references to the research involved in either of these statements. Just bald assertions filled with certitude, which the reader should just take as a factually true. Right? Needless to say, this is embarrassing and shameful.
Probably realizing that he doesn’t have any support anywhere for his “memory of water” assertions, he reaches deep into the absurd:

"We all know that water exists as ice crystals in its solid form. But it has been recently observed that water can exist even in its liquid form in crystals. In reality, water formed by melting of ice is in a state of liquid crystals. "
Even if this were true; would it be relevant? Has anyone ever heard of homeopathic remedies being prepared in water which is in a state of either melting or freezing? That one is just desperate flailing, if you ask me. Yet, despite all of this nonsense, he insists in portraying himself as a maverick in the field:
"I am well aware that these revolutionary concepts may not be so easily welcomed by the mainstream homeopathic profession, conditioned by education and experience of long years into dogmatic concepts and fixed mindsets on these issues. I may be running into a major controversy due to my theoretical interventions and revisionist concepts. But somebody has to come forward and ‘bell the cat’, and open up a discussion on scientific re-building of homeopathy, at any point of time. Once my assumption that the secret of potentization lies in the phenomenon of ‘molecular imprinting’ is experimentally proved to be correct, my suggestions may become more relevant and acceptable."
If he were standing before me, I would like to ask him, “What, pray tell, sir, are you doing toward this end?  — Have you tried research?”
The Achilles’ heel in his house of cards can be pinpointed with one final quotation from this blog post:
"It is in the phenomenon of ‘molecular memory of water’ itself that we naturally land on when we attempt to scientifically explain the homeopathic potentisation of drugs. We have already seen that the alcohol–water molecules contained in the medium used for potentization, arrange themselves around the drug molecules, and form hydration shells. The drug molecules entrapped in the hydration shells are systematically removed as a result of serial dilutions and shaking, done as part of potentization. Empty hydration shells or ‘hydrosomes’ remain. These ‘hydrosomes’ are nano-cavities, imprinted with the three-dimensional ‘finger print’ of drug molecules used as ‘guest’ molecules. [my emphasis] This phenomenon may be called as ‘molecular imprinting in water’. These ‘hydrosomes’ are the real active principles of homeopathic medicines, potentized above 30C."
The idea that water molecules, connected by hydrogen bonds that last for only about a picosecond (that’s 10-12 ) before breaking and reforming, could somehow cluster into long-lived mimics of an antibody in suspension within their proximity is simply absurd on the face of it. Add to this nonsense the idea that the guest molecules somehow fall out of place and leave an imprint, as if that is how dilution of aqueous solutions works . . . . .
I think I'll stop right here, actually.
I’ve tried to retain some semblance of civility while reviewing this man’s writing. It hasn't been easy.


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