BBC e omeopatia
BBC Two, Tuesday 26 November, 2002 9pm
Homeopathy: The Test
Homeopathy was pioneered over 200 years ago. Practitioners and
patients are convinced it has the power to heal. Today, some of
the most famous and influential people in the world, including
pop stars, politicians, footballers and even Prince Charles, all
use homeopathic remedies. Yet according to traditional science,
they are wasting their money.
Sceptic James Randi is so convinced that homeopathy will not work,
that he has offered $1m to anyone who can provide convincing evidence
of its effects. For the first time in the programme's history,
Horizon conducts its own scientific experiment, to try and win
his money. If they succeed, they will not only be $1m richer -
they will also force scientists to rethink some of their fundamental
Homeopathy and conventional science
The basic principle of homeopathy is that like cures like: that
an ailment can be cured by small quantities of substances which
produce the same symptoms. For example, it is believed that onions,
which produce streaming, itchy eyes, can be used to relieve the
symptoms of hay fever.
However, many of the ingredients of homeopathic cures are poisonous
if taken in large enough quantities. So homeopaths dilute the
substances they are using in water or alcohol. This is where scientists
become sceptical - because homeopathic solutions are diluted so
many times they are unlikely to contain any of the original ingredients
Yet many of the people who take homeopathic medicines are convinced
that they work. Has science missed something, or could there be
a more conventional explanation?
The Placebo Effect
The placebo effect is a well-documented medical phenomenon. Often,
a patient taking pills will feel better, regardless of what the
pills contain, simply because they believe the pills will work.
Doctors studying the placebo effect have noticed that large pills
work better than small pills, and that coloured pills work better
than white ones.
Could the beneficial effects of homeopathy be entirely due to
the placebo effect? If so, then homeopathy ought not to work on
babies or animals, who have no knowledge that they are taking
a medicine. Yet many people are convinced that it does.
Can science prove that homeopathy works?
In 1988, Jacques Benveniste was studying how allergies affected
the body. He focussed on a type of blood cell known as a basophil,
which activates when it comes into contact with a substance you're
As part of his research, Benveniste experimented with very dilute
solutions. To his surprise, his research showed that even when
the allergic substance was diluted down to homeopathic quantities,
it could still trigger a reaction in the basophils. Was this the
scientific proof that homeopathic medicines could have a measurable
effect on the body?
The memory of water
In an attempt to explain his results, Benveniste suggested a startling
new theory. He proposed that water had the power to 'remember'
substances that had been dissolved in it. This startling new idea
would force scientists to rethink many fundamental ideas about
how liquids behave.
Unsurprisingly, the scientific community greeted this idea with
scepticism. The then editor of Nature, Sir John Maddox, agreed
to publish Benveniste's paper - but on one condition. Benveniste
must open his laboratory to a team of independent referees, who
would evaluate his techniques.
Enter James Randi
When Maddox named his team, he took everyone by surprise. Included
on the team was a man who was not a professional scientist: magician
and paranormal investigator James Randi.
Randi and the team watched Benveniste's team repeat the experiment.
They went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that none of the
scientists involved knew which samples were the homeopathic solutions,
and which ones were the controls - even taping the sample codes
to the ceiling for the duration of the experiment. This time,
Benveniste's results were inconclusive, and the scientific community
remained unconvinced by Benveniste's memory of water theory.
Homeopathy undergoes more tests
Since the Benveniste case, more scientists have claimed to see
measurable effects of homeopathic medicines. In one of the most
convincing tests to date, Dr. David Reilly conducted clinical
trials on patients suffering from hay fever. Using hundreds of
patients, Reilly was able to show a noticeable improvement in
patients taking a homeopathic remedy over those in the control
group. Tests on different allergies produced similar results.
Yet the scientific community called these results into question
because they could not explain how the homeopathic medicines could
Then Professor Madeleine Ennis attended a conference in which
a French researcher claimed to be able to show that water had
a memory. Ennis was unimpressed - so the researcher challenged
her to try the experiment for herself. When she did so, she was
astonished to find that her results agreed.
Horizon takes up the challenge
Although many researchers now offered proof that the effects of
homeopathy can be measured, none have yet applied for James Randi's
million dollar prize. For the first time in the programme's history,
Horizon decided to conduct their own scientific experiment.
The programme gathered a team of scientists from among the most
respected institutes in the country. The Vice-President of the
Royal Society, Professor John Enderby oversaw the experiment,
and James Randi flew in from the United States to watch.
As with Benveniste's original experiment, Randi insisted that
strict precautions be taken to ensure that none of the experimenters
knew whether they were dealing with homeopathic solutions, or
with pure water Two independent scientists performed tests to
see whether their samples produced a biological effect. Only when
the experiment was over was it revealed which samples were real.
To Randi's relief, the experiment was a total failure. The scientists
were no better at deciding which samples were homeopathic than
pure chance would have been.
Read more questions and answers about homeopathy.
Homeopathy: The Test
NARRATOR (NEIL PEARSON): This week Horizon is doing something
completely different. For the first time we are conducting our
own experiment. We are testing a form of medicine which could
transform the world. Should the results be positive this man will
have to give us $1m.
JAMES RANDI (Paranormal Investigator): Do the test, prove that
it works and win a million dollars.
NARRATOR: But if the results are negative then millions of people,
including some of the most famous and influential in the world,
may have been wasting their money. The events that would lead
to Horizon's million dollar challenge began with Professor Madeleine
Ennis, a scientist who may have found the impossible.
PROF. MADELEINE ENNIS (Queen's University, Belfast): I was incredibly
surprised and really had great feelings of disbelief.
NARRATOR: Her work concerns a type of medicine which defies the
laws of science.
WALTER STEWART (Research Chemist): If Madeleine Ennis turns out
to be right it means that science has missed a huge chunk of something.
NARRATOR: She has reawakened one of the most bitter controversies
of recent years.
PROF. BOB PARK (University of Maryland): Madeleine Ennis's experiments
cannot be right. I mean it's, they're, they're, preposterous.
MADELEINE ENNIS: I have no explanation for what happened. However,
this is science. If we knew the answers to the questions we wouldn't
bother doing the experiments.
NARRATOR: It's all about something you can find on every high
street in Britain: homeopathy. Homeopathy isn't some wacky, fringe
belief. It's over 200 years old and is used by millions of people,
including Presidents and pop stars. It's even credited with helping
David Beckham get over his foot injury and the Royals have been
keen users since the days of Queen Victoria, but it's also a scientific
puzzle. What makes it so mysterious is its two guiding principles,
formulated in the 18th century. The first principle is that to
find a cure you look for a substance that actually causes the
symptoms you're suffering from. It's the principle that like cures
DR PETER FISHER (Homeopath to The Queen): For instance in colds
and hay fever something we often use is allium cepa which is onion
and of course we all know the effects of chopping an onion, you
know the sore streaming eyes, streaming nose, sneezing and so
we would use allium cepa, onion, for a cold with similar sorts
NARRATOR: This theory that like cures like led to thousands of
different substances being used, some of them truly bizarre.
DR LIONEL MILGROM (Homeopath): In principle you can make a homeopathic
remedy out of absolutely anything that's plant.
PETER FISHER: Deadly nightshade.
LIONEL MILGROM: Animal.
PETER FISHER: Snake venom.
LIONEL MILGROM: Mineral.
PETER FISHER: Calcium carbonate, which is of course chalk.
LIONEL MILGROM: Disease product.
PETER FISHER: Tuberculous gland of a cow.
LIONEL MILGROM: Radiation.
NARRATOR: But then homeopaths found that many of these substances
were poisonous, so they started to dilute them. This led to the
extraordinary second principle of homeopathy: the more you dilute
a remedy the more effective it becomes, provided it's done in
a special way. The method homeopaths use to this day is called
serial dilution. A drop of the original substance, whether it's
snake venom or sulphuric acid, is added to 99 drops of waster
or alcohol. Then the mixture is violently shaken. Here it's done
by machine, but traditionally homeopaths would hit the tube against
a hard surface. Either way, homeopaths believe this is a vital
stage. It somehow transfers the healing powers from the original
substance into the water itself. The result is a mixture diluted
LIONEL MILGROM: That will give you what's called a 1C solution,
that's one part in 100. You then take that 1C solution and dissolve
it in another 99 parts and now you end up with a 2C solution.
NARRATOR: At 2C the medicine is one part in 10,000, but the homeopaths
keep diluting and this is where the conflict with science begins.
At 6C the medicine is diluted a million million times. This is
equivalent to one drop in 20 swimming pools. Another six dilutions
gives you 12C. This is equivalent to one drop in the Atlantic
Ocean, but even this is not enough for most homeopathic medicines.
The typical dilution is 30C, a truly astronomical level of dilution.
BOB PARK: One drop in all of the oceans on Earth would be much
more concentrated than that. I would have to go off the planet
to make that kind of dilution.
NARRATOR: But homeopaths believe that a drop of this ultra dilute
solution placed onto sugar pills can cure you. That's why homeopathy
is so controversial because science says that makes no sense whatsoever.
BOB PARK: There is a limit to how much we can dilute any substance.
We can only dilute it down to the point that we have one molecule
left. The next dilution we probably won't even have that one molecule.
WALTER STEWART: It's possible to go back and count how many molecules
are present in a homeopathic dose and the astonishing answer is
absolutely none. There's less than a chance in a million, less
than a chance in a billion that there's a single molecule.
NARRATOR: A molecule is the smallest piece of a substance you
can have, so for something to have any effect at all conventional
science says you need one molecule of it at the very least.
WALTER STEWART: Science has through many, many different experiments
shown that when a drug works it's always through the way the molecule
interacts with the body and, so the discovery that there's no
molecules means absolutely there's no effect.
NARRATOR: That's why science and homeopathy have been at war for
over 100 years. The homeopaths say that their remedies have healing
powers. Science says there's nothing but water. Then one scientist
claimed the homeopaths were right after all. Jacques Benveniste
was one of France's science superstars. He had a string of discoveries
to his name and some believed he was on his way to earning a Nobel
DR JACQUES BENVENISTE (National Institute for Medical Research):
I was considered as, well in French we have a word which says
Nobel is nobelisable, which means we can have a Nobel Prize because
I started from scratch the whole field of research. I was the
head of a very large team, had a lot of money and so I was a very
NARRATOR: Benveniste was an expert in the field of allergy, in
particular he was studying a type of blood cell involved in allergic
reactions - the basophil. When basophils come into contact with
something you're sensitive to they become activated causing the
telltale symptoms. Benveniste had developed a test that could
tell if a person was allergic to something or not. He added a
kind of dye that only turns inactive basophils blue, so by counting
the blue cells he could work out whether there had been a reaction,
but then something utterly unexpected started to happen.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: A technician told me one day I don't understand
because I have diluted a substance that is activating basophils
to a point where it shouldn't work and it still works.
NARRATOR: The researcher had taken the chemical and added water,
just like homeopaths do. The result should have been a solution
so dilute it had absolutely no effect and yet, bizarrely, there
was a reaction. The basophils had been activated. Benveniste knew
this shouldn't have been possible.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: I remember saying to this, to her, this is
water so it cannot work.
NARRATOR: Benveniste's team was baffled. They needed to find out
what was going on, so they carried out hundreds of experiments
and soon realised that they'd made an extraordinary discovery.
It seemed that when a chemical was diluted to homeopathic levels
the result was a special kind of water. It didn't behave like
ordinary water, it acted like it still contained the original
substance. It was as if the water was remembering the chemical
it had once contained, so Benveniste called the phenomenon the
'memory of water'. At last here was scientific evidence that homeopathy
could work. Benveniste knew this was a radical suggestion, but
there was a way to get his results taken seriously. He had to
get them published in a scientific journal.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: A result doesn't exist until it is admitted
by the scientific community. It's like, like being a good opera
singer but singing in your bathroom. That's fine, but it's not
Scala, Milan or the Met, Met or the Opera at Paris, what-have-you.
NARRATOR: So he sent his work to the most prestigious journal
in the world, a journal which for over 100 years has reported
the greatest of scientific discoveries: Nature.
SIR JOHN MADDOX (Nature Editor 1980-1995): Nature is the place
that everyone working in science recognises to be a way of getting
publicity of the best kind.
NARRATOR: Benveniste's research ended up with one of the most
powerful figures in science, the then Editor of Nature, Sir John
Maddox. Maddox knew that the memory of water made no scientific
sense, but he couldn't just ignore work from such a respected
scientist, so he agonised about what to do. Eventually he reached
SIR JOHN MADDOX: I said OK, we'll publish your paper if you ;et
us come and inspect your lab and he agreed, to my astonishment.
NARRATOR: So in June 1988 Benveniste's research appeared in the
pages of Nature. It caused a scientific sensation. Benveniste
became a celebrity. His memory of water made news across the world.
He seemed to have found the evidence that made homeopathy scientifically
credible, but the story wasn't quite over. Benveniste had agreed
to let in a team from Nature. It was a decision he would live
to regret. Maddox set about assembling his team of investigators
and his choices revealed his true suspicions. First, he chose
Walter Stewart, a scientist and fraud-buster, but his next choice
would really cause a stir: James Randi.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: I looked in my books and I said who are, who
is Randi and couldn't find any scientist called Randi.
NARRATOR: That was because the amazing Randi isn't a scientist,
he's a magician, but he's no ordinary conjuror. He's also an arch
sceptic, a fierce opponent of all things supernatural.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: I called John Maddox and I said what, what
is this? I mean I thought you were coming with, with scientists
to discuss science.
NARRATOR: But Randi felt he was just the man for the job. On one
occasion he had fooled even experienced scientists with his spoon
JAMES RANDI: Scientists don't always think rationally and in a
direct fashion. They're human beings like anyone else. They can
NARRATOR: So Randi became the second investigator.
JAMES RANDI: Astonishing.
NARRATOR: On 4th July 1988 the investigative team arrived in Paris
ready for the final showdown.
SIR JOHN MADDOX: The first thing we did was to sit round the table
in Benveniste's lab. Benveniste himself struck us all as looking
very much like a film star.
JAMES RANDI: I found him to be a charming, very continental gentleman.
He's a great personality. He was very much in control.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: We were quite relaxed because there was no
reason why things should not go right.
NARRATOR: The first step was for Benveniste and his team to perform
their experiment under Randi's watchful gaze. They had to prepare
two sets of tubes containing homeopathic water and ordinary water.
If the homeopathic water was having a real effect different from
ordinary water then homeopathy would be vindicated. (ACTUALITY
EXPERIMENT CHAT) As they plotted the results it was clear the
experiment had worked.
JAMES RANDI: There were huge peaks coming up out of it and that
was very active results, I mean very, very positive results.
WALTER STEWART: The astonishing thing about these results is that
they repeated the claim, they demonstrated the claim that a homeopathic
dilution, a dilution where there were no molecules, could actually
have some sort of an effect.
NARRATOR: But Maddox had seen that the experimenters knew which
tubes contained the homeopathic water and which contained the
ordinary water, so perhaps unconsciously, this might have influenced
the results, so he asked them to repeat the experiment. This time
the tubes would be relabelled with a secret code so that no-one
knew which tube was which.
JAMES RANDI: We went into a sealed room and we actually taped
newspapers over the windows to the room that were accessible to
WALTER STEWART: We recorded in handwriting which tube was which
and we put this into an envelope and sealed it so that nobody
could open it or change it.
NARRATOR: At this point the investigation took a turn for the
surreal as they went to extraordinary lengths to keep the code
JAMES RANDI: Walter and I got up on the stepladder and stuck it
to the ceiling of the lab.
WALTER STEWART: There it was taped above us as all of this work
JACQUES BENVENISTE: Sticking an envelope to the ceiling was utterly
ridiculous. There is no way you can associate that with science.
NARRATOR: With the codes out of reach the final experiment could
begin. By now Benveniste had lost control of events.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: It was a madhouse. Randi was doing magician
JAMES RANDI: Yes I was doing perhaps a little bit of sleight-of-hand
with an object or something like that, just to lighten the atmosphere.
NARRATOR: Soon the analysis was complete. It was time to break
the code to see if the experiment had worked. Benveniste and his
team were brimming with optimism.
JAMES RANDI: Oh my goodness it was party-time, cracked crabs legs
and magnums, literally, of champagne packed in ice.
WALTER STEWART: We were going to be treated to a wonderful dinner.
The press, many members of the press were there.
JAMES RANDI: John and Walter and I were looking at one another
as if to say wow, if this doesn't work it's going to be a downer.
WALTER STEWART: Finally came the actual work of decoding the result.
JAMES RANDI: There was much excitement at the table. Everyone
was gathered around.
NARRATOR: Benveniste felt sure that the results would support
homeopathy and that he would be vindicated.
JAMES RANDI: That didn't happen. It was just a total failure.
SIR JOHN MADDOX: We said well nothing here is there?
WALTER STEWART: And immediately the mood in the laboratory switched,
people burst into tears.
JAMES RANDI: It was general gloom.
NARRATOR: The team wrote a report accusing Benveniste of doing
bad science and branding the claims for the memory of water a
delusion. Benveniste's scientific reputation was ruined.
JACQUES BENVENISTE: Everybody believed that I am totally wrong.
It's simply dismissed. Your phone call doesn't ring anymore. Just
like actresses, or actress that have no, are no more in fashion
the phone suddenly is silent.
NARRATOR: For now the memory of water was forgotten. Science declared
homeopathy impossible once more, but strangely that didn't cause
homeopathy to disappear. Instead it grew. Since the Benveniste
affair sales of homeopathic medicines have rocketed. Homeopathy
has become a trendy lifestyle choice, one of the caring, all natural
medicines, more popular in the 21st-century than ever before.
Despite the scepticism of science millions of people use it and
believe it has helped them, like Marie Smith. Fifteen years ago
Marie was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood disorder.
MARIE SMITH: I was more concerned for me children. I used to look
at them thinking I may, may not be here one day for yous. That
was the worst part of it.
NARRATOR: She'd tried everything that conventional medicine could
offer, including drugs and surgery. Nothing seemed to work. Then
she tried homeopathy. She took a remedy made from common salt.
MARIE SMITH: It's like somebody putting me in a coffin and taking
me back out again. That's just the way I felt and the quality
of my life changed completely.
NARRATOR: Since then Marie has been healthy and she has no doubt
it's homeopathy that's helped her.
MARIE SMITH: I know it saved my life and it's made my life a lot
different, yeah and I'm just glad I'm enjoying these grandchildren
which I never thought I would do.
NARRATOR: There are thousands of cases like Marie's and they do
present science with a problem. If homeopathy is scientific nonsense
then why are so many people apparently being cured by it? The
answer may lie in the strange and powerful placebo effect. The
placebo effect is one of the most peculiar phenomena in all science.
Doctors have long known that some patients can be cured with pills
that contain no active ingredient at all, just plain sugar, what
they call the placebo, and they've noticed an even great puzzle:
that larger placebo pills work better than small ones, coloured
pills work better than white pills. The key is simply believing
that the pill will help you. This releases the powers in our minds
that reduce stress and that alone can improve your health.
BOB PARK: Stress hormones make you feel terribly uncomfortable.
The minute you relieve the anxiety, relieve the stress hormones
people do feel better, but that's a true physiological effect.
NARRATOR: Scientists believe the mere act of taking a homeopathic
remedy can make people feel better and homeopathy has other ways
of reducing stress.
LIONEL MILGROM: And is there any particular time of day that you
will, you'll, you'll have that feeling?
NARRATOR: A crucial part of homeopathic care is the consultation.
LIONEL MILGROM: The stress that you have at work, is that, are
those around issues that make you feel quite emotional?
LIONEL MILGROM: The main thing about a homeopathic interview is
that we do spend a lot of time talking and listening to the patient.
We would ask questions of how they eat, how they sleep, how much
worry and tension there is in their lives, hopefully give them
some advice about how to actually ease problems of stress.
PATIENT I just feel I want to have something more natural.
LIONEL MILGROM: Yeah…
NARRATOR: So most scientists believe that when homeopathy works
it must be because of the placebo effect.
BOB PARK: As far as I know it's the only thing that is really
guaranteed to be a perfect placebo. There is no medicine in the
medicine at all.
NARRATOR: It seems like a perfect explanation, except that homeopathy
appears to work when a placebo shouldn't - when the patient doesn't
even know they're taking a medicine. All over the country animals
are being treated with homeopathic medicines. Pregnant cows are
given dilute cuttlefish ink, sheep receive homeopathic silver
to treat eye infections, piglets get sulphur to fatten them up.
A growing number of vets believe it's the medicine of the future,
like Mark Elliot who's used homeopathy his whole career, on all
sorts of animals.
MARK ELLIOT (Homeopathic Vet): Primarily it's dogs and horses,
but we also treat cats, small rodents, rabbits, guinea pigs, even
reptiles, but I have treated an elephant with arthritis and I've
heard of colleagues recently who treated giraffes. It works on
any species exactly the same as in the human field.
NARRATOR: Mark made it his mission to prove that homeopathy works.
He decided to study horses with cushing's, a disease caused by
cancer. He treated them all with the same homeopathic remedy.
The results were impressive.
MARK ELLIOT: We achieved an overall 80% success rate which is
great because that is comparable with, with modern medical drugs.
NARRATOR: To Mark this was clear proof that homeopathy can't be
the placebo effect.
MARK ELLIOT: You can't explain to this animal why the treatment
it's being given is going to ben, to benefit it, or how it's potentially
going to benefit it and as a result, when you see a positive result
in a horse or a dog that to me is the ultimate proof that homeopathy
is not placebo, homeopathy works.
NARRATOR: But Mark's small trial doesn't convince the sceptics.
They need far more evidence before they'll believe that homeopathic
medicines are anything more than plain water.
JAMES RANDI: I've heard it said that unusual claims require unusually
good proof. That's true. For example, if I tell you that at my
home in Florida in the United States I have a goat in my garden.
You could easily check that out. Yeah, looks like a goat, smells
like a goat, so the case is essentially proven, but if I say I
have a unicorn, that's a different matter. That's an unusual claim.
NARRATOR: To scientists the claim that homeopathic water can cure
you is as unlikely as finding a unicorn.
JAMES RANDI: Yes, there is a unicorn. That is called homeopathy.
NARRATOR: Homeopathy needed the very highest standards of proof.
In science the best evidence there can be is a rigorous trial
comparing a medicine against a placebo and in recent years such
trials have been done with homeopathy. David Reilly is a conventionally
trained doctor who became intrigued by the claims of the homeopaths.
He wanted to put homeopathy to the test and decided to look at
hay fever. Both homeopathy and conventional medicine use pollen
as a treatment for hay fever. What's different about homeopathy
is the dilution.
DR DAVID REILLY (Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital): The single controversial
element is that preparing this pollen by the homeopathic method
takes it to a point that there's not a single molecule of the
starting material present. I confidently assumed that these diluted
medicines were placebos.
NARRATOR: David Reilly recruited 35 patients with hayfever. Half
of them were given a homeopathic medicine made from pollen, half
were given placebo, just sugar pills. No one knew which was which.
For four weeks they filled in a diary measuring how bad their
symptoms were. The question was: would there be a difference?
DAVID REILLY: To our collective shock a result came out that was
very clear those on the active medication had a substantially
greater reduction in symptoms than those receiving the placebo
medicine. According to that data the medicine worked.
NARRATOR: But to be absolutely rigorous Reilly decided to repeat
the study and he got the same result. Then he went further and
tested a different type of allergy. Again the result was positive,
but despite all these studies, most scientists refuse to believe
DAVID REILLY: It became obvious that in certain minds 100 studies,
200 studies would not change the mental framework and so I'm sceptical
that if 200 haven't changed it I don't think 400 would change
NARRATOR: The reason Reilly's research was dismissed was because
his conclusion had no scientific explanation. Sceptics pointed
to the glaring problem: there was still no evidence as to how
something that was pure water could actually work.
BOB PARK: If you design a medication to take advantage of what
we know about physiology we're not surprised when it works. When,
when you come up with no explanation at all for how it could work
and then claim is works we're not likely to take it seriously.
NARRATOR: To convince science, homeopathy had to find a mechanism,
something that could explain how homeopathic water could cure
you. That meant proving that water really does have a memory.
Then a scientist appeared to find that proof. Madeleine Ennis
has never had much time for homeopathy. As a professor of pharmacology
she knows its scientifically impossible.
MADELEINE ENNIS: I'm a completely conventional scientist. I have
had no experience of using non-conventional medications and have
no intention really of starting to use them.
NARRATOR: But at a conference Ennis heard a French scientist present
some puzzling results, results that seemed to show that water
has a memory.
MADELEINE ENNIS: Many of us were incredibly sceptical about the
findings. We told him that something must have gone wrong in the
experiments and that we didn't believe what he had presented.
NARRATOR: He replied with a challenge.
MADELEINE ENNIS: I was asked whether, if I really believed my
viewpoint, would I test the hypothesis that the data were wrong?
NARRATOR: Ennis knew that the memory of water breaks the laws
the science, but she believed that a scientist should always be
willing to investigate new ideas, so the sceptical Ennis ended
up testing the central claim of homeopathy. She performed an experiment
almost identical to Benveniste's using the same kind of blood
cell. Then she added a chemical, histamine, which had been diluted
down to homeopathic levels. The crucial question: would it have
any effect on the cells? To find out she had to count the cells
one by one to see whether they had been affected by the homeopathic
water. The results were mystifying. the homeopathic water couldn't
have had a single molecule of histamine, yet it still had an effect
on the cells.
MADELEINE ENNIS: They certainly weren't the results that I wanted
to see and they definitely weren't the results that I would have
liked to have seen.
NARRATOR: Ennis wondered whether counting by hand had introduced
an error, so she repeated the experiment using an automated system
to count the cells, and astonishingly, the result was still positive.
MADELEINE ENNIS: I was incredibly surprised and really had great
feelings of disbelief, but I know how the experiments were performed
and I couldn't see an error in what we had done.
NARRATOR: These results seemed to prove that water does have a
memory after all. It's exactly what the homeopaths have been hoping
PETER FISHER: If these results become generally accepted it will
revolutionise the view of homeopathy. Homeopathy will suddenly
become this idea that was perhaps born before its time.
LIONEL MILGROM: It's particularly exciting because it does seem
to suggest that Benveniste was correct.
NARRATOR: At last here is evidence from a highly respected researcher
that homeopathic water has a real biological effect. The claims
of homeopathy might be true after all. However, the arch sceptic
Randi is unimpressed.
JAMES RANDI: There is so many ways that errors are purposeful
interference can take place.
NARRATOR: As part of his campaign to test bizarre claims Randi
has decided to put his money where his mouth is. On his website
is a public promise: to anyone who prove the scientifically impossible
Randi will pay $1m.
JAMES RANDI: This is not a cheap theatrical stung. It's theatrical,
yes, but it's a million dollar's worth.
NARRATOR: Proving the memory of water would certainly qualify
for the million dollars. To win the prize someone would simply
have to repeat Ennis's experiments under controlled conditions,
yet no-one has applied.
JAMES RANDI: Where are the homeopathic labs, the biological labs
around the world, who say that this is the real thing who would
want to make a million dollars and aren't doing it?
NARRATOR: So Horizon decided to take up Randi's challenge. We
gathered experts from some of Britain's leading scientific institutions
to help us repeat Ennis's experiments. Under the most rigorous
of conditions they'll see whether they can find any evidence for
the memory of water. We brought James Randi over from the United
States to witness the experiment and we came to the world's most
august scientific institution, the Royal Society. The Vice-President
of the Society, Professor John Enderby, agreed to oversee the
experiment for us.
PROF. JOHN ENDERBY: ...but they'll, of course as far as the experimenters
are concerned they'll have totally different numbers…
NARRATOR: And with a million dollars at stake James Randi wants
to make sure there's no room for error.
JAMES RANDI: ...keeping the original samples, so I'm very happy
with that provision. I'm willing to accept a positive result for
homeopathy or for astrology or for anything else. I may not like
it, but I have to be willing to accept it.
NARRATOR: The first stage is to prepare the homeopathic dilutions.
We came to the laboratories of University College London where
Professor Peter Mobbs agreed to produce them for us. He's going
to make a homeopathic solution of histamine by repeatedly diluting
one drop of solution into 99 drops of water.
PETER MOBBS: OK, now I'm transferring the histamine into 9.9mmls
of distilled water and then we'll discard the tip.
NARRATOR: For comparison we also need control tubes, tubes that
have never had histamine in them. For these Peter starts with
PETER MOBBS: In it goes.
NARRATOR: This stage dilutes the solutions down to one in 100
- that's 1C. We now have 10 tubes. Half are just water diluted
with more water, the control tubes, half are histamine diluted
in water. These are all shaken, the crucial homeopathic step.
Now he dilutes each of the tubes again, to 2C. Then to 3C, all
the way to 5C.
PETER MOBBS: The histamine's now been diluted ten thousand million
times. Still a few molecules left in there, but not very many.
NARRATOR: Then we asked Professor of Electrical Engineering, Hugh
Griffiths, to randomly relabel each of our 10 tubes. Now only
he has the code for which tubes contain the homeopathic dilutions
and which tubes contain water.
HUGH GRIFFITHS: OK, so there's the record of which is which. I'm
going to encase it in aluminium foil and then seal it in this
NARRATOR: Next the time-consuming task of taking these solutions
down to true homeopathic levels. UCL scientist Rachel Pearson
takes each of the tubes and dilutes them down further - to 6C.
That's one drop in 20 swimming pools. To 12C - a drop in the Atlantic.
Then to 15C - one drop in all the world's oceans. The tubes have
now been diluted one million million million million million times.
Some are taken even further down, to 18C. Every tube, whether
it contains histamine or water, goes through exactly the same
procedure. To guard against any possibility of fraud, Professor
Enderby himself recodes every single tube. The result is 40 tubes
none of which should contain any molecules of histamine at all.
Conventional science says they are all identical, but if Madeleine
Ennis is right her methods should tell which ones contain the
real homeopathic dilutions. Now we repeat Ennis's procedure. We
take a drop of water from each of the tubes and add a sample of
living human cells. Then it's time for Wayne Turnbull at Guys
Hospital, to analyse the cells to see whether the homeopathic
water has had any effect. He'll be using the most sophisticated
system available: a flow cytometer.
WAYNE TURNBULL: Loading it up, bringing it up to pressure. Essentially
the technology allows us to take individual cells and push them
past a focused laser beam. A single stream of cells will be pushed
along through the nozzle head and come straight down through the
machine. The laser lights will be focussed at each individual
cell as it goes past. Reflected laser light is then being picked
up by these electronic detectors here.
NARRATOR: By measuring the light reflected off each cell the computer
can tell whether they've reacted or not.
WAYNE TURNBULL: This is actually a very fast machine. I can run
up to 100 million cells an hour.
JAMES RANDI: Whoa.
NARRATOR: But to be absolutely rigorous we asked a second scientist,
Marian Macey at the Royal London Hospital, to perform the analysis
in parallel. Our two labs get to work. Using a flow cytometer
they measure how many of the cells are being activated by the
different test solutions. Some tubes do seem to be having more
of an effect than others. The question is: are they the homeopathic
ones? At last the analysis is complete. We gather all the participants
here to the Royal Society to find out the results. First, everyone
confirms that the experiment has been conducted in a rigorous
MARION MACEY: I applied my own numbering system to the…
RACHEL PEARSON: ...5, 5.4 millimolar solution…
WAYNE TURNBULL: ...we eventually did arrive at a protocol that
we were happy with.
NARRATOR: Then there's the small matter of the million dollars.
JOHN ENDERBY: James, is the cheque in your pocket ready now?
JAMES RANDI: We don't actually carry a cheque around. It's in
the form of negotiable bonds which will be immediately sep, separated
from our account and given to whoever should win the prize.
NARRATOR: We asked the firm to fax us confirmation that the million
dollar prize is there.
JOHN ENDERBY: OK, now look, I'm going to open this envelope.
NARRATOR: Now at last it's time to break the code. On hand to
analyse the results is statistician Martin Bland.
JOHN ENDERBY: 59.
NARRATOR: We've divided the tubes into those that did and didn't
seem to have an effect in our experiment.
JOHN ENDERBY: 62.
NARRATOR: Each tube is either a D for the homeopathic dilutions,
or a C, for the plain water controls.
JOHN ENDERBY: 52 and 75 were Cs.
NARRATOR: Rachel Pearson identifies the tubes with a C or D. If
the memory of water is real each column should either have mostly
Cs or mostly Ds. This would show that the homeopathic dilutions
are having a real effect, different from ordinary water. There's
a hint that the letters are starting to line up.
JOHN ENDERBY: Column 1 we've got 5 Cs and a D. Column 3 we've
got 4 Cs and a D, so let's press on. 148 and 9, 28 and…
NARRATOR: But as more codes are read out the true result becomes
clear: the Cs and Ds are completely mixed up. The results are
just what you'd expect by chance. A statistical analysis confirms
it. The homeopathic water hasn't had any effect.
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.