Mark this as the second time in recent memory an eminent French scientist has published research appearing to affirm the validity of homeopathic remedies only to be disparaged by some in the scientific community and professionally maligned.
More on the first incident (concerning immunologist Jacques Benveniste) in another column, but in recent news Luc Montagnier – Nobel Laureate for his discovery of HIV as the causative organism in AIDS – has made plans to significantly alter his professional activities after being essentially banished by the scientific community of Europe for his work with ultra-dilute materials.
Montagnier is not a homeopath and has never worked in the field. He has never advocated for homeopathy. His recent work never mentioned the word homeopathy and did not involve traditional homeopathic remedies.
Montagnier is an immunologist/virologist, whose work on retroviruses (along with that of NIH’s Robert Gallo), laid the groundwork for he and Gallo’s eventual discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS – a scientific achievement widely considered one of the most important of the 20th century, and the basis for Montagnier receiving the Nobel Prize in Medicine (2008).
Recently, Montagnier has been involved in more groundbreaking work – the creation of a diagnostic technique which can detect viral and bacterial effects in the human body, even when the presence of the organisms is not observable. This advance is significant, because it may make possible new ways of understanding and treating many diseases. Montagnier has so far detected bacterial effects in patients with autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Part of the controversy is that his technique utilizes samples of bacterial DNA which have been homeopathically prepared – meaning, highly diluted in water (dilutions as low as 10 -18) and succussed (mechanically agitated). This is past the point where according to modern science even a single molecule of source material is likely to be present. Although DNA has not traditionally been used in homeopathic remedies, the results nevertheless provide evidence that substances which have been homeopathically prepared continue to influence the water long after the solution has been diluted past Avagadro’s number (6.02 x 10-23), and these changes can be detected.
In an interview published in the January 2011 issue of Science, Montagnier put it this way: “What we have found is that DNA produces structural changes in water, which persist at very high dilutions, and which lead to resonant electromagnetic signals that we can measure.”
You might think that scientists would be thrilled about these advances but unfortunately the opposite is true – or at least enthusiasm is not being expressed publicly and criticism from some quarters has been strong.
At 78, this life-long French citizen is moving to China so that he can fruitfully engage his work. He will assume leadership of a new research institute at Jiaotong University in Shanghai. When asked why he does not pursue his research in France he replied, “I don’t have much funding here…I have applied for funding from other sources and been turned down. There is a kind of fear around this topic in France…intellectual terror from people who don’t understand it.”
So what does Montagnier have to say about homeopathy?
“I can’t say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now, is that high dilutions are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules. We find that with DNA we cannot work with the extremely high dilutions used in homeopathy; we cannot go further than a 10-18 dilution or we lose the signal. But even at 10-18, you can calculate that there is not a single molecule of DNA left. And yet we detect a signal.”
What does Montagnier have to say to his critics?
“Well, I was skeptical myself in the beginning. But these are facts. The findings are very reproducible and we are waiting for confirmation by other labs…it’s not pseudoscience. It’s not quackery. These are real phenomena which deserve further study”
ARTICLE UPDATE: In May 2012 at the annual Joint American Homeopathic Conference in Reston, Virginia, Montagnier stated that his results have been replicated by teams in Italy, Germany and the US – with results awaiting publication.