Argument Three: Argument From I'll Be Your Bestest Mate

I’d like to show you a scientific paper that someone at the Bad Science forum posted up a while ago. It’s about homeopathy, so perhaps the term “scientific paper” is an overstatement. It’s called “Journeys in The Country of The Blind: Entanglement Theory and The Effects of Blinding on Trials of Homeopathy and Homeopathic Provings”, whatever a “proving” might be, and it was written by a man called Lionel R Milgrom.

It’s also about quantum theory. I would suspect that there is not one person in the world who understands quantum theory and believes in homeopathy. This paper is published in a journal which calls itself Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine with a straight face. And it has, very generously, been released under a Creative Commons licence, which means that you can read it while I mock it!

It rambles on for about seven pages, which is quite a lot, but I shall now summarise it in a couple of sentences (which I shall spread through a few paragraphs of mockery, to make them more potent). It makes two main suggestions, as to how, if something like quantum theory (but not actually quantum theory because we already know that that wouldn’t work) could explain how homeopathy works, double-blind randomised controlled trials wouldn’t show this effect. This would be a very convenient claim, particularly since, as Milgrom observes, the same argument could be used to defend anything that didn’t show up in a controlled trial.

So here are his arguments. Both of them are based on the assumption that homeopathy works because of some undefined form of “entanglement” between the patient, the remedy, and the practitioner. For a quick lesson in quantum, you get a waveform, which describes the system, and then you run operators on it, which return different properties of the system. There’s an operator for energy (called the Hamiltonian), for example. So Milgrom defines a waveform called ψPPR, which he optimistically defines as the waveform of the entire entangled debacle. He states that this is equal to the waveforms of the patient, practitioner and remedy multiplied together. If that sounded complicated, then that is because Milgrom designed it to sound complicated. In reality, all he’s saying is a = bcd but using the symbol ψ for everything.

Argument 1: Argument From Ignorance Of Operational Identities

For this argument, Milgrom says that in a non-individualised homeopathy trial, the practitioner isn’t really involved. Hence, the partitioner’s waveform is set to 0 and therefore the product of that, the waveform for the patient, and that of the remedy, must also be zero. Hence ψPPR = 0 and hence there is zero probability of a cure.

But, if ψPPR = 0, then there is zero probability of anything. There’s no chance of a failure to cure. There’s no energy and the practitioner doesn’t exist.

It also serves as a delightful demonstration of how insane his hypothesis of “weak quantum theory” is. (He calls it a “theory”, which is basically a lie because he could only cite three papers on it and they were all published by complimentary medicine journals and written by people called “Milgrom”, which I’m given to understand is not what you’d call a common name.) In his theory, the remedy won’t work unless it is given to you by an “entangled” practitioner, even if the contents of the bottle are identical. And if anyone watches to make sure it’s working, it stops.

Argument 2: Appeal To The Reader’s Hopeful Ignorance Of Quantum Mechanics

The second argument he calls “more subtle” but in fact is far more brazen. It has a lot of equations again (to use the term generously) but if I’ve read this right it boils down to this: if the patients and practitioners don’t know whether the remedy is placebo or not, then the placebo becomes entangled as well and then it acts like the remedy. That’s a pretty impressive misinterpretation of quantum mechanics. Firstly it assumes that had SchrÅ“dinger put a camera in the box with his cat and broadcast the results live on E4 to millions of people, but not watched it himself, then from his point of view the cat would still be in superposition, which is of course ludicrous because there is such a thing as objective reality. But the even more impressive bit of nonsense in there is that it assumes that entanglement is a thing you can simply do to everyday things. It’s not. It’s something that can really only affect specially created particles, and can only affect things like individual electrons. So you can’t simply say “I think I’m going to entangle these two cups of water” and then boil one and watch the other magically heat up. And you can’t entangle two people and a bottle of plain water, either. And if you could, you’d achieve nothing at all by letting one of the people drink the water, because, well because the whole concept means exactly nothing.

The entire seven page article essentially boils down to this: so, you know how in that double slit experiment thing it doesn’t work if you have a detector watching which slit stuff goes through, right? Well what if homeopathy doesn’t work if you have a scientist watching whether or not it works?

The whole thing reads as if someone had a drunken conversation down the pub (possibly having bought one vodka and tonic at the start of the evening and successively topped it up with free tapwater whenever it ran low), taped it, then typed it up and paraphrased it, added a few equations and submitted it to a journal. Which may be what happened.

The most telling thing is that this paper was submitted to a journal called Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, despite the fact that it is quite obviously comprised entirely of speculation – it even describes quantum mechanics as a “metaphor” for how homeopathy works. That these people can’t tell speculation from evidence is probably all you need to know about them.