Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Water Palaver! The Actress, The Doctor and The Pseudo-scientific Study!

Many of you will have come across recent reports of actress Gwyneth Paltrow's belief that negative emotions can affect the molecular structure of water. Now most people are aware that Paltrow is an almost never ending spring of nonsense beliefs and theories, most journalists know this too... and, in consideration of the public's fascination with Paltrow, they exploit it to sell papers. Few have actually examined the source of Paltrow's belief, the work of Dr Masaru Emoto, predominately his experiments with water crystals.    

Emoto, a doctor of alternative medicine, tested his hypothesis that                                                         negative emotions can effect the formation of ice crystals by placing 
phrases such as "thank you" and "you fool" written on paper and in various languages under samples of distilled water.
Emoto states in the appendix of the resulting paper*:

“It didn’t seem logical for water to ‘read’ the
writing, understand the meaning, and change
form accordingly. But I knew from the
experiments with music that strange
 things could happen.”

Hmm... So Emoto started the experiment already fairly convinced that the hypothesis would prove evident. Very little surprise then, that it actually did.
Below are images released by Emoto of the resulting water crystals from the "thank you" and "you fool" samples. 

So does this demonstrate that Emoto's hypothesis is at least worth consideration? I would suggest not, as there are several glaring faults with the protocol Emoto has used thus far. The first is evident from the captioning of the above samples. As you can see, one was labelled "Chinese" the other "Japanese", now why not a direct comparison of  the two phrases in the same language? The use of various languages allows Emoto to cherry-pick the samples which best exemplify his hypothesis. He is letting the hypothesis shape the evidence, not, as should be the case, the opposite. As Emoto has failed to release the full set of photographs taken, when we consider that Emoto has stated that each test was represented by AT LEAST 100 samples this represents a vast amount of missing a data! In fact if only one petri dish is shown for each test, we are missing AT LEAST 99% of the available data! We have no choice than to believe that the samples were not selected and paired at random. They were clearly selected to display Emoto's hypothesis.

Further errors become evident as we probe further into Emoto's protocol, there are a number of environmental factors which can effect the resulting shape of ice-crystals. While Emoto took steps to minimise these effects, for example freezing all samples at -25^0C, in a fixed volume and at constant pressure. All fine and good. But Emoto saw fit not to seal his Petri dishes in order to prevent contamination! This is a particular concern during the photography process, as samples would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the photographer's breath upon them. Also we told little about the lengths of time taken to photograph the samples, we are told the process was carried out at -5^0C, but were all the samples exposed to this raised temperature for the same length of time?

But why would the researchers conducting this experiment not treat all samples the same? Wouldn't  they have to do this as surely they wouldn't know the "negative" samples from the "positive" ones? Unfortunately Emoto didn't find it necessary to impose this standard of blinding in his protocol, meaning all the researchers were aware of what sample they were handling at what time, and what the desired outcome would be for that sample!

One form of contamination that concerned Emoto greatly was the possibility of "negative thoughts" of the researchers effecting the samples, this masterful stroke of special pleading led him to select only researchers that already believed his hypothesis would prove correct. All of the above is damning condemnation that Emoto had no desire to reduce or remove experimenter bias at all. In fact, it seems as if he did everything in his power to ensure there was a maximum bias towards positive findings!

If this has you questioning Emoto's motivations and ethics then the knowledge that he predominantly uses these findings to sell products on his website will do little to quell this. Below is an image his "indigo water" and a brief vague description.

Found on Emoto's Hado site what follows is a quite staggering blurb of pseudo-scientific rubbish which eludes that Indigo water can help prevent "...headaches, asthma, colitis, diabetes, heartburn, peptic ulcer pain, high blood pressure, blood cholesterol and many other symptoms..." the blurb in general seems to aim to throw out as many scientific and pseudo scientific terms as possible in order to obfuscate what indigo water actually does and how it is produced.

Emoto seems to be frustrated at the lack of attempts to replicate his findings, implying that the scientific community doesn't take his findings seriously. And honestly with those control failures and a complete lack of objectivity who would!

Couple this to the fact that Emoto hasn't actually made most of this data available for consumption, and his findings haven't actually been published in a peer reviewed journal, just self published by Emoto himself, and one can hardly conclude that Emoto's hypothesis, experiment or findings are "scientific" at all.

Unless you are a Hollywood actress with no ability to determine science from pseudo-science. Its indicative of a culture that places far more importance in "celebrity" than can be healthy, that anyone takes Paltrow's opinions on science and health seriously at all. 

*Study cited Emoto, Masaru. “Healing with Water.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volume 10, Number 1, 2004, pp. 19-21.