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There has been a number of attempts to replicate Jacques Benveniste's results relating to the "water memory". Wikipedia lists many of them.

One of those attempts is the "Belfast study".

It seems to indicate that there is, indeed, something going on even with high dilutions (10–30 – 10E–38 M):

In 3 different types of experiment, it has been shown that high dilutions of histamine may indeed exert an effect on basophil activity. This activity observed by staining basophils with alcian blue was confirmed by flow cytometry. Inhibition by histamine was reversed by anti-H2 and was not observed with histidine these results being in favour of the specificity of this effect We are however unable to explain our findings and are reporting them to encourage others to investigate this phenomenon.

In 2010, six years later, Ennis' point of view is still that:

(...) there appears to be some evidence for an effect – albeit small in some cases – with the high dilutions (...)

  • Source: Ennis, Madeleine, "Basophil models of homeopathy: a sceptical view". Homeopathy (Elsevier Ltd) 99 (1): 51–56. doi:10.1016/j.homp.2009.11.005. PMID 20129176, via Wikipedia

I'm specifically referring to the Belfast study and Madeleine Ennis, because she describes herself as a skeptic and I rarely see that study mentioned on skeptic's websites.

So, doesn't that mean we might have missed something - that water memory might exist (maybe only under some circumstances) and, thus, that homeopathy might really work (again, under some specific circumstances)?

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Whether water has memory or not, homeopathy does not work. –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Feb 29 '12 at 13:27
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I know. I'm playing devil's advocate here. :) But, still, I'm surprised to see so little about the "Belfast" study on skeptics websites. It seems to be the main reason why some people believe in homeopathy. –  Olivier Bruchez Feb 29 '12 at 19:40

1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted

No.

There is no evidence to suggest that water does have a memory, at least not anywhere near the length of time proponents of homeopathy claim that it does.

The study by Ennis was interesting only because it was published in Nature. A main problem with both Ennis' and Benveniste's studies is that their starting premise is that water does have a memory. Not to mention the unfounded conclusions they draw from their observations. The results have so far been unable to be replicated. It would seem likely that if water did have a memory such a thing would be easily testable and reproducible.

The BBC took a team of which James Randi was a member and tried to replicate the results reported by Ennis. They failed. Quoting from the transcript:

PROF. MARTIN BLAND (St. George's Hospital Medical School): There's absolutely no evidence at all to say that there is any difference between the solution that started off as pure water and the solution that started off with the histamine.

JOHN ENDERBY: What this has convinced me is that water does not have a memory.

NARRATOR: So Horizon hasn't won the million dollars. It's another triumph for James Randi. His reputation and his money are safe, but even he admits this may not be the final word.

JAMES RANDI: Further investigation needs to be done. This may sound a little strange coming from me, but if there is any possibility that there's a reality here I want to know about it, all of humanity wants to know about it.

NARRATOR: Homeopathy is back where it started without any credible scientific explanation. That won't stop millions of people putting their faith in it, but science is confident. Homeopathy is impossible.

Two isolated experiments in 24 years, both of which have been unable to have their results replicated is not compelling evidence. It is more likely that something interfered with the previous results, or that the data was fudged in both cases.

It is safe to say that based on the evidence we have, water does not have a memory as claimed by homeopaths. Not to mention that whoever was able to conclusively show that water did have a memory would probably win a Nobel Prize, as it would violate our understanding of thermodynamics.

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Again, playing devil's advocate here, but Ennis and Benveniste seem to have had a very different approach. Benveniste, until his death, believed in water memory. He didn't seem to be very familiar with concepts such as double blind. Ennis' study looks more serious. She is more skeptical of her own findings. Has anybody ever had a look at her study in detail? –  Olivier Bruchez Mar 2 '12 at 7:04

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