Guest Post From Latsot


Hi everyone, I’m not sure I should be doing this, but Maria is away and asked me if I’d put up a couple of posts to keep the fires burning.  I wanted to run the idea of this post past her, but she’s out of touch so I decided to post it anyway and hope she’s not cross.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before (it turned up on Swift in 2009), but I was reminded of it recently and the stupid burned me so much that I had to comment.  This woman treats or used to treat people with vision problems.  This confuses and angers me, because she doesn’t seem to know anything at all about anything.  She tries to use physics to explain how homeopathy works.  It does not go well for her.  Bear in mind that I’m not a physicist (so corrections are welcome!) but even I can spot one or two flaws.

You know you’re off to a bad start when the speaker asks the audience if they know what H2O is.  I think she does this to establish her scientific credentials. A scientist wouldn’t ever just say “water” after all.  But in case you’re still in doubt, she assures us that her theory is scientific because she invokes Einstein.  If Einstein is in on the deal, it must be right.  Right?

Here is Dr Werner’s theory, insofar as I’m able to understand it.

Einstein said that E=MC^2.  This means energy is mass times the speed of light squared.  But all the mass in the universe can be compressed to a volume the size of a bowling ball, so there isn’t really very much of it.  So we can safely remove the mass term from the equation which gives us E=C^2, which is the same as saying that mass and energy are the same thing.  Oh, and eyes can detect light. This will be important later.

Then Stephen Hawkings (yes, Hawkings, apparently) invented string theory.  This says that in addition to all the other stuff in the universe, there are strings, which are u-shaped energetic particles which vibrate. Ears, of course, can detect vibrations. Perhaps your brain can detect a pattern emerging.

Disease, as we all know, is defined as a change in our energy from one state to another so to cure someone, all you have to do is change it back to the previous good energy state. And this is where our eyes and ears come in; our existence is just a series of transformations between energy states, so with the right kind of light and noise, we can choose what energy state we’re transformed into.

But it’s not just light and sound: homeopathy can do this too! This is because the energy in the active substance is released by the act of succession, then we can take the pill whenever we want to alter our energy state to a preferable one, just like we only bomb our neighbours when they really piss us off.

And that’s how homeopathy works!  Scientific, isn’t it?

I don’t know about you, but I think there might be one or two teensy problems with the theory. I’ll list some of them here.  If I’m wrong or you have any to add, it would be great to see them in the comments.  Some of my points relate to things that aren’t in my summary, but they’re in the video, if you can bear to watch it.  I recommend that you do.

1. Mass is not the same as volume, or as matter, yet Werner confuses the three. Mass is a property of matter which gives it weight in a gravity field but remains constant when gravity fields change.  You weigh less on the moon than on the Earth because it’s gravitational field is weaker, but your mass won’t change.  If you compress all the matter in the universe into a volume the size of a bowling ball, it will still have the same mass as it always did. This is because regardless of how small it is, IT IS STILL ALL THE MATTER IN THE UNIVERSE.  Mass isn’t the sort of thing you can compress because it’s a property of matter.  Werner seems to mean both, interchangeably, by the term ‘mass’.

2. Where does the bowling ball come from?  We know that the universe could actually get much smaller than that because shortly after the big bang it was microscopic.

3. If you make mass zero, you get E=0 not E=C^2 because we’d have to multiply the speed of light by zero, which gives us zero. A misguided understanding of energy is as important to Werner as to every other quack, so it amuses me that she defines it away in the first couple of minutes.

4. C stands for the speed of light in vacuum, not for light itself.  In fact, the term really stands for the maximum speed anything could go in the universe which – because it has no mass – light can pull off.  There is no connection to actual photons.  Werner doesn’t understand this, however and seems to conclude that this says something profound about eyes.  She neglects to say what.

5. Stephen Hawking (not Hawkings) didn’t invent string theory. He’s done some work on it but has never been considered a big hitter in the field.  In fact, like most scientific endeavours, string theory cannot be attributed to a single person and there’s no way Hawking can or would take the credit.

6. Strings are not ‘energetic particles’, nor do they exist in addition to the elementary particles we’re more familiar with like quarks and electrons and so on.  In fact, the theory says that those things are strings.  And they’re not u-shaped, whatever that means.  They vary in shape and dimension. Nor should anyone be bandying their existence around like it’s a fact.  Strings are hypothetical and we can’t detect them.

7. Strings vibrate, but that doesn’t mean we can hear them.  Werner doesn’t explain how the vibrations of strings are transmitted to our ears, presumably because the idea is preposterous.

8. Animal cells don’t have cell walls.

9. Electrons, protons and neutrons are not ‘pieces of energy’.  They are particles. E=MC^2 doesn’t mean that energy and mass are the same thing, just that they can be converted between one other.  It is not the case that our bodies have virtually no mass and not true that ‘the remainder’ (whatever that means) is therefore energy. Werner is not made of energy.  You are not made of energy. You’re made of matter.

10. If our mass were really infinitesimal, we wouldn’t weigh anything.  And yet it appears that we do.

11. The definition of disease here differs quite a lot from Werner’s. That site looks to me as though it should know what it’s talking about. Werner doesn’t say what an energy state is or what a change in energy states might mean, let alone how someone could recognise a particular state and move from there to finding the right kind of energy that would reassert the desired energy state. She doesn’t show that light or sound or homeopathy even can change energy states in the way she claims it can or how it would do it.  There seems to be quite a lot missing from this ‘explanation’.

12. Her bomb analogy is…creepy. She seems perfectly comfortable with the idea of bombing her neighbours if they are annoying. But it’s also a terrible analogy. While a bomb indeed stores energy for when you need it (much as she claims homeopathy does), there’s no combination of substances (or energy) that will move the house back to its healthy energy state by rebuilding it.  She doesn’t say how the house’s energy state is changed by dropping a bomb on it or what it means for a house to have an energy state in the first place.  But homeopathy is somehow just the same as that anyway, apparently.

13. I don’t wish to imply that anything in this video could be considered an explanation, but the one thing she really doesn’t explain is how homeopathy works, which was the purported aim of the entire exercise.  How is the energy released from the active substance into the water by succession?  Where is it stored?  How does that energy, stored in a pill, change our energy state to a more healthy one?  How do we know it works?  You’d think these would be the cornerstones of an explanation of how homeopathy works, but she doesn’t even mention them.

14. Science is not metaphor, but Werner plainly thinks it is.  She overloads terms like ‘mass’ and ‘energy’ so much (while also fundamentally misunderstanding what they mean) that she can and does draw fanciful analogies between virtually anything and virtually anything else. And yet she still doesn’t make a coherent argument, even if we accept these kludgy logical leaps.

At least we know that she’s saving up her bombs for when she really wants to use them, which is a blessing….of sorts….I suppose.  We can only hope that she uses homeopathic bombs.  Shortly after this video was first guffawed at on sites like Pharyngula and the JREF, Werner’s lawyers ordered that the video be removed from YouTube.  Fortunately, the Streisand Effect kicked in and now you can’t throw a brick without hitting a copy, hooray!

So what idiocy have I missed?  There’s a lot flying around there, so there’s bound to be something.  That’s what the comments are for, I guess.  And if anyone knows whether Werner is still pretending to treat people with medical problems, break the news right here!

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3 Comments

  1. February 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    So I guess if you can just cross things out of an equation, like she crossed out Mass (which like you said, she’s not even really understanding correctly) then I can cross out something in this equation:

    This woman probably has no idea what she’s talking about = true.

  2. February 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    and what I’d cross out, is the word “probably”

  3. sgerbic said,

    February 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Nice to see Maria’s blog continuing even if she isn’t here. Think you should stand in more often.

    I had wondered about this woman that I saw on the PZ site, the version I saw was all cut up with some Star Trek references to gibbly science references. I knew she was supposed to be talking about Homeopathy but what hell?

    I also had not heard of the Steisand Effect, but heard that she was upset someone took a picture of her coast home. I followed the link you gave and now I’m up on one more Internet meme. Thanks.

    Susan


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