Brian Josephson 1940 –
Josephson has said:
“if scientists as a whole denounce an idea this should not necessarily be taken as proof that the said idea is absurd; rather, one should examine carefully the alleged grounds for such opinions and judge how well these stand up to detailed scrutiny.”
On Josephson’s web site is the following:
Lectures given by Jacques Benveniste at the Cavendish Laboratory colloquium on his controversial high-dilution experiments, including abstract and a review of the talk
- Benveniste’s home page
- Benveniste reports on his own latest memory of water research
Is homeopathy nonsense? (and why it may not be) in which Josephson says: “Regarding your comments on claims made for homeopathy (Editorial, 27 September, p 3 and Letters, 18 October, p 58): criticisms centred around the vanishingly small number of solute molecules present in a solution after it has been repeatedly diluted are beside the point, since advocates of homeopathic remedies attribute their effects not to molecules present in the water, but to modifications of the water’s structure.
Simple-minded analysis may suggest that water, being a fluid, cannot have a structure of the kind that such a picture would demand. But cases such as that of liquid crystals, which while flowing like an ordinary fluid can maintain an ordered structure over macroscopic distances, show the limitations of such ways of thinking. There have not, to the best of my knowledge, been any refutations of homeopathy that remain valid after this particular point is taken into account.
A related topic is the phenomenon, claimed by Jacques Benveniste’s colleague YolÃ¨ne Thomas and by others to be well established experimentally, known as “memory of water”. If valid, this would be of greater significance than homeopathy itself, and it attests to the limited vision of the modern scientific community that, far from hastening to test such claims, the only response has been to dismiss them out of hand.
BRIAN D. JOSEPHSON
University of Cambridge
YolÃ¨ne Thomas Effects of Pulsed Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields on Water Characterized by Light Scattering Techniques: Role of Bubbles and YolÃ¨ne Thomas Effects of pulsed low frequency electromagnetic fields on water using photoluminescence spectroscopy: role of bubble/water interface
Josephson reviewed Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert L. Park saying:
There, beliefs are not accepted as valid until they have been carefully tested by experiment and assessed by experts; only then are they allowed publication in the scientific journals, which fulfil the role of the depository of accepted knowledge. Most scientists would probably agree with this, but my own experience has led me to see it as representing an oversimplified, self-serving position.
In theory, scientists are open-minded, but in practice there is a tendency to identify with the official position: “the conclusion that science has come to” concerning various things. One can list the various ideas that science “knows to be impossible or has shown to be misconceived”, including paranormal phenomena, homeopathic medicine, and cold fusion.
But, on the other hand, scientists “knew” that Alfred Wegener’s hypothesis of continental drift was scientifically impossible. The idea was ignored for decades despite strong evidence in its favour. And an investigating committee of the French Academy “knew”, on the basis of too simplified a view of orbits in a gravitational field, that objects could not fall to the earth from outer space. It had to find another explanation for reports of falling meteorites, sometimes still warm to the touch when found. That explanation was that people had seen a stone being struck by lightning, mistaking the flash for a falling object. The outcome of this application of the scientific method to eyewitness reports was that meteorites were removed from many museums on the grounds of their being of no particular scientific interest.
A similar approach, “scientists are right, eyewitnesses are wrong”, leads to reports of paranormal occurrences being dismissed in the same way.
We find in Park’s book the official story regarding a number of “mistaken beliefs”. What one will not find — and is hard to find anywhere if one does not know where to look to bypass censorship — is the additional information that might lead one to conclude that the official view does not tell the whole story.
Langmuir then went on to make the dangerous generalisation that if any effect is weak or difficult to reproduce then the effect is not a real one. This does not logically follow; an effect may be weak or difficult to reproduce simply because it is weak or difficult to reproduce. It is not easy, for example, to detect neutrinos from the Sun, and different laboratories tend to get different results in this research.
The reader is perhaps beginning to get the general picture. One starts off with an opinion that a belief is wrong and creates an argument to justify this opinion. The arguments spread by word of mouth and are never updated with contrary information that may subsequently arrive, thus becoming the “correct position” to take. It is perilous to say anything that indicates doubt about whether this position is in fact correct (though a certain proportion of scientists look more closely and can see the cracks in the official position). This effectively prevents any work in the areas concerned being published in the major journals where they will be seen by others.
On Benveniste, Josephson comments:
Let us move on to another blacklisted topic, the “memory of water” (or high-dilution) experiments of French biologist Jacques Benveniste. The claim in this case is that if water is disturbed in certain ways (either by contact with certain molecules or by applying to it an electromagnetic signal) there is some after-effect or “memory”, characteristic of the disturbing mechanism, that can be detected for a considerable time afterwards (in the case where molecules are used, the solution is diluted afterwards to such a degree that only water remains).
This suggestion, like many of the others discussed in the book, seems to arouse irrationally strong reactions from scientists, perhaps because of its associations with homeopathy, also a black-listed topic. But the objections made appear to be based on bad science. The standard argument is reproduced by Park, who states that a fluid such as water cannot retain any memory over significant periods of time because the random motions of atoms or molecules will rapidly dissipate any information that might be contained in their arrangement. The argument is invalid because there could be a more global organisation not tied to specific local arrangements and thus undisturbed by local movements of molecules. Something like this happens with liquid helium in its so-called superfluid state, where the background order present in such a state can sustain vortex-like flow patterns that persist despite the continual movements of individual atoms.
As might have been anticipated, Benveniste did not have a smooth ride when he tried to submit a report of his successful experiments to the scientific journal Nature. Neither the editor nor the appointed referees could see any fault with the experiment but the editor, John (now Sir John) Maddox, imposed a further condition, that Benveniste should allow a team of investigators to go to his laboratory to look for defects in his experiment. Not so extraordinary, except for the fact that the investigation was to follow publication rather than precede it, implying that the object was not simply to prevent incorrect research getting into the literature. Further, the process did not accord with reasonable scientific standards.
For a start, the investigatory team did not include an active biologist, which one might have considered a reasonable precaution to take in order to avoid naive errors. Furthermore, it appears that the Nature report was slipped in as editorial comment without being properly refereed; at least one has to regard it as not refereed because a referee would surely have pointed out that, to justify the title of the report, “High-dilution experiments a delusion”, considerably more work would have needed to be done, and in addition that alternatives to the report’s dramatic conclusion had not been properly assessed.
In any event, the fruits of this doubtful propaganda exercise became the official conclusion regarding “memory of water” research, questioned neither by most scientists, nor by Park.
Josephson concludes his review of the book with the comment:
But it should carry a disclaimer that is the converse of the one with which Park ends his “What’s New” column on the American Physical Society’s website: “the opinions in this book are unquestioningly shared by many scientists, but they should not be.”
In 1999, there was discussion between Parks and Josephson regarding research into homeopathy:
Leon Jaroff of TIME magazine covers the question in the May 17 issue. According to the article, Physicist Robert Park of the American Physical Society and Nobel prize winner Brian Josephson are close to agreeing on a protocol for a double blind test of homeopathy over the Internet.
As TIME reports, Park and Josephson would test homeopathy proponent Jacques Beneviste’s latest claim “that the ‘memory’ of water in a homeopathic solution has an electormagnetic ‘signature.’ This signature, he says, can be captured by a copper coil, digitized and transmitted by wire–or, for extra flourish, over the Internet–to a container of ordinary water, converting it to a homepathic solution.”
Homeopaths put their case like this: you can have a blank floppy disk, onto which you then download the works of Shakespeare. An analytical chemist will say the disk is identical in terms of constituents in each caseâ€¦ but we all know that what is crucially different, is that the disk now contains information. Same principle, they say â€¦ And we have to add that the Nobel Prizewinning Physicist Brian Josephson who was interviewed for our programme has a lot of time for this theory â€¦ So – itâ€™s an interesting one.
Josephson’s views find their way into homeopathic articles The Principle That Makes Homeopathy Scientifically Possible November 2006 and paranormal web sites Debunking the Debunkers and scientific PHd research Reduction of Physiological Effects of Alcohol Abuse By Substitution of a Harmless Alcohol Surrogate Created by Application of a Spin Field and books on Cold Fusion The Rebirth of Cold Fusion: Real Science, Real Hope, Real Energy by Steven Krivit and Nadine Winocur.
On 9.12 2006 Josephson was interviewed on his beliefs by New Scientist :
“In the late 1960s I found my area of research less interesting, so I looked elsewhere for problems to work on. Investigating the mathematics of how the brain works is a much more difficult challenge. I also became interested in eastern philosophy and how that might fit in with physics. I read a book called The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra that pointed out the parallels between quantum physics and eastern mysticism.
I started to feel there was more to reality than conventional science allowed for, and some interesting ideas that it hadn’t got round to investigating such as altered states of consciousness. At a conference in Toronto I saw demonstrations of psychokinesis – the influence of mind on matter – and it all pointed to some extension of what science knows at this time.
Did your Nobel prize allow you to investigate areas that are off-limits for other scientists?
It meant I was free to explore, and people felt less able to say “you can’t work on that”. However, I have had problems with getting funding for collaboration because of the areas I’ve chosen to work in.
You have become an advocate for unconventional ideas. How did that happen?
I went to a conference where the French immunologist Jacques Benveniste was talking for the first time about his discovery that water has a “memory” of compounds that were once dissolved in it – which might explain how homeopathy works. His findings provoked irrationally strong reactions from scientists and I was struck by how badly he was treated.
To an extent, I realised that the way science is done by consensus could get things completely wrong. I feel that it’s important to try and correct the errors that scientists are making.
What errors are these?
I call it “pathological disbelief”. The statement “even if it were true I wouldn’t believe it” seems to sum up this attitude. People have this idea that when something can’t be reproduced every time, it isn’t a real phenomenon. It is like a religious creed where you have to conform to the “correct” position. This leads to editors blocking the publication of important papers in academic journals. Even the physics preprint archive blocks some papers on certain topics, or by certain authors.
Do you believe that cold fusion and the memory of water are real, or are you just open to the idea of their being real?
In both cases there is evidence that makes me accept them as almost certainly real. They’re probably connected with aspects of organisation that are difficult to deal with in the usual scientific way. I’m pushing in that direction. I look very carefully at things before I accept them as real.
You draw the line in a very different place to most scientists when it comes to hard-to-prove phenomena such as telepathy and cold fusion.
Can I take you up on something? These things are not hard to prove, they’re just hard to get accepted. The evidence for these phenomena would normally lead to them being accepted, but they have an additional barrier in that they are “unacceptable” and often unpublishable. Some people are extraordinarily hard to convince.
In particular, people who work in an area in which the phenomena are highly reproducible cannot envisage situations such as cold fusion where – as in many areas of materials science – things are not that reproducible. They take the illegitimate step from “hard to reproduce” to “non-existent”. Science is often presented as an objective pursuit, but the history of science tells you that this is far from being the case.
Do you mean that scientists cannot accept these phenomena because it would ruin their view of the world?
It would mean an admission of error. Instead, skeptics can always say that there must have been something wrong with these experiments. This means that you can never really prove anything, and a skeptic doesn’t actually have to discover anything wrong to dismiss an experiment.
Is this why you’ve posted the motto “take nobody’s word for it” at the top of your website?
Yes. And the corollary of this motto is that if most scientists denounce an idea, this should not necessarily be taken as proof that the idea is absurd. It seems that anything goes among the physics community – cosmic wormholes, time travel – just so long as it keeps its distance from anything mystical or New Age-ish.
There are lots of pointers towards strange things, such as the quantum interconnectedness of entangled particles, but physicists are very prickly about them, saying you shouldn’t read anything into these results. There are in fact a lot of scientists who believe telepathy exists, but they keep quiet about it.
I take it that means you pay a price for speaking out about things like cold fusion, telepathy and the paranormal.
Yes. If you say you accept the reality of the paranormal then this automatically affects your reputation. It’s assumed that if a person believes in this kind of thing then his views are not worth considering. It has led to certain people being very prejudiced against me and assuming that there’s something wrong with anything I do. I don’t have the kind of support network that researchers usually have. But since I can do my research on the mathematics of the brain by myself this is less of a problem than it otherwise would be, though it slows down progress considerably.
Why do you speak out about these things when you know it causes difficulties for your own research career?
They are important for various reasons. For example, cold fusion may contribute significantly to solving the problem of generating clean energy. Had it not been ridiculed back in 1989, we’d probably all now be using energy generated by cold fusion. So it’s really important to speed up the process. I reckon that cold fusion will be accepted in the next year or so.
If the evidence about cold fusion is so convincing, why do so few people believe in it?
You have to look properly at the evidence typically blocked from publication by journals such as Nature, and few people are willing to put in the effort to do that. Even better, go along to a laboratory where the work is being done. It’s also hard to change how people think. People have vested interests, and their projects and reputations would be threatened if certain things were shown to be true.â€
Way to go Josephson!