Wednesday, 25 June 2008

More intention experiment: the ghost of Benveniste

I should probably avoid the Intention Experiment website, but it's such a fabulous compendium of nonsense and loony ideas that it's hard to leave alone. Now they're channeling the ghost of Jaques Benveniste. As many will know, Benveniste caused a storm of controversy when his lab published a paper in Nature that appeared to show that homeopathic concentrations of a certain type of antibody could have a biological effect, even though the chances of the solution containing any actual molecules of the antibody were tiny. This is the basis of the idea of 'memory of water' in homeopathy. The Nature paper was published with an unprecedented "editorial reservation", and a team assembled by Nature visited the Benveniste lab to look into the results. The results of the investigation were damning, showing that the design of the experiments was poor, and an article outlining the problems was published in a later issue of Nature. Ever since, homeopaths and other brands of quacks have been convinced that Benveniste's results were suppressed by the scientific establishment on behalf of Big Pharma, and so on.

Benveniste, however, was not put off by this setback, and continued in his work, going on to suggest that not only did the 'memory of water' effect exist, but that it could be transmitted digitally, down phone lines or over the internet. Brilliantly, this only gave 'positive' results when the equipment was being run by a particular researcher. Benveniste doesn't seem to have reflected too hard on why that might have been the case. Benveniste called this "digital biology", which would have "immense consequences on medical diagnostic procedures and the agro-food industry, with huge technological and commercial impact", and was only being held back because scientists are "opposed to the evolution of science". You recognise the narrative here, don't you?

Why do I mention all this? Because the Intention Experiment blog carries news of an experiment into "healing by e-mail". Apparently, a "Francesca McCarney, Ph.D., teacher of professional intuitives at the Academy of Intuitive Studies and Intuition Medicine" conducted the experiment, where 88 people were each sent 2 e-mails. One of these e-mails had "healing energy" "encapsulated" into it, and the other one did not. Apparently, the e-mails were indentified correctly 31.9% of the time, against a 25% probablity of getting them right by chance. This seems like a deeply unimpressive result, with no confidence interval to give us an idea of how likely it would be for such a result to occur by chance, but we're told that "scientists would consider it highly significant result" [sic]. We also don't know whether there might inadvertently have been clues in the text of the e-mails.

It seems that loony ideas never die; they just re-appear periodically in a slightly different form.

9 comments:

HolfordWatch said...

Just dropping a note to say how concerned I was for you when I saw you at lunch. You were looking beyond peaky and heading for haggard. I'm also worried about your hearing as you didn't seem to respond to any of the careers advice that I was so freely distributing to you.

Mind you, the way you eat, the hours you keep, I can't pretend that you didn't bring this on yourself. I hope that this is a lesson to you and that you will take my advice about the Magic Minerals, the healing herbs and diet reform. I'm always available to dispense more advice on the phone. By the way, something seems to be wrong with yours as it keeps diverting to voicemail.

v.

My goodness. I can't get over how well you looked at lunch and what a delight it was to have an opportunity to catch up. Everybody has the warmest memories of your time with us and can't wait for an opportunity to get together again.

Best -

Those sorts of emails?

Paul Wilson said...

Yes, you do wonder, don't you?

Actually, you had me worried for a moment there. If you had seen me at lunch yesterday, I probably was looking "beyond peaky and heading for haggard"...

Nash said...

I've read the Digital Biology paper. By digital does he mean he's sticking a finger up somewhere?

HolfordWatch said...

It's a burden. - Did you receive the Extraordinary Knowing letter that I sent through? Judith Petry warned that there would be moments like this:
Start quotation
"We should be aware that there are consequences of... talking about instances of extraordinary knowing. When colleagues, staff, and patients recognize that we have abilities that go beyond the ordinary, they develop unrealistic expectations of us. We may be seen as sorcerers, witches, seers. Anger and resentment can result when things do not go as desired or expected. Being held to a higher standard than our colleagues who have not come out of the metaphysical closet is a heavy burden to carry.

We each tune into nonphysical reality via our own unique frequency. Extrasensory knowing comes to us in ways most likely determined by our DNA: images, words, light, emotions, nonverbal communications...

Our colleagues will not believe in our experiences or their own anymore than they could have been convinced, before the microscope was invented, that microbes exist and cause illness.

Reality includes so much more than
that which we perceive through our sense organs, yet it is only this to which we choose to give credence. I see the next paradigm shift in medicine as the era of interdimensional healing; when we are open and receptive to all the unseen forces that exist within and between energetic creations..."
End quotation

Sounds just as plausible as encapsulated energy in emails delivering interdimensional healing and is an obvious explanation for the remote-viewing of you at lunch. Couldn't tell you which bit of DNA or frequency enabled it but some mysteries are hidden, even from the best seers.

mugsandmoney said...

I think they should throw away all the high tech goodies and just pray. Results should be jsut as good.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff...

That success rate suggests 28 people getting the right identification (1 no-energy email out of 4), which makes the 95% confidence interval for their success rate (23,42)% - not very surprisingly completely compatible with random selection, if a little on the high side...

Niall

Paul Wilson said...

Niall:

Thanks for that. I wanted to try and figure out a 95% CI myself, as I suspected this was not a statistically significant result, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. I vaguely remember doing them in A-level maths...

Anonymous said...

Hmmm - just realised I misread the Int Exp page, so the interpretation of this interval depends on what they counted as a success. If the subject is "right" if they identify a non-energy email correctly (and therefore the other as an energy email) but don't have to identify what type of energy (A, B or C), then one is choosing between 2 possible arrangements, so the guess probability is 50%. In which case, they are doing worse than guessing... If however a correct guess is non-energy + type A (instead of B or C etc), then there are 6 arrangements of the 2 emails, and guessing should achieve 16.7%. The 25% figure is a red-herring here!

Am now in danger of becoming an obsessive, so will stop...

:-)

Niall

Paul Wilson said...

Niall:

Yes, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the intention experiment blog is that it's never really that clear exactly what they did. It seems that you're correct, though. Which does make the results seem more impressive, even if they appear to have no idea what they're doing.

holfordwatch:

Just realised that I'd forgotten to say thanks for the papers that you sent me. The "extraordinary knowing" one was a classic. Wondered how you'd acheived the remote viewing...