By Hall, Harriet
It can read, listen to music, look at pictures, hear your thoughts, heal you, and create world peace. The folks in my community have been arguing about fluoride again. A nutritionist wrote in the local newspaper that fluoride is a deadly poison and that it doesn’t reduce tooth decay. She recommended avoiding it entirely, even to the extent of buying nonfluoride toothpaste. I responded with a calmly reasoned guest column trying to separate the scientific facts from policies and opinions. The scientific facts are not open to debate: fluoride in optimum amounts reduces tooth decay; too much fluoride can be harmful. The public policy question is open to opinion and debate: should we add fluoride to the water or protect our children from tooth decay by other means?
I know that at least one person read my guest column, because there was a letter to the editor in the following issue of the paper. It was written by a very confused woman who signed herself “Reverend.” She disregarded my arguments about the effectiveness of fluoride and the advisability of separating facts from opinions, and she fixated on one thing: her opinion that adding anything to our water is wrong. She’s certainly welcome to her opinion, but she based that opinion on pseudoscientific nonsense that she confused with scientific truth. She wrote:
I am saddened that Harriet Hall is not aware of the latest scientific research by Dr. Masaru Emoto. In his two books, The True Power of Water and The Hidden Power of Water he describes the healing capabilities of non-toxic water (chemical free). Our country is too toxic from pollution, food, thoughts and water we drink. . . . I suggest people go to Dr. Emoto’s lecture . . . and see the slides of microscope samples of the toxic, repulsive water crystals compared to those of pure untainted water. Or, see the movie What the Bleep Do We Know now on DVD, which shows slides of the difference in their molecular structure. Which would you want to drink?
I wrote back that she was wrong that I wasn’t aware of Dr. Emoto’s “research.”
His newest book, Hidden Messages in Water holds a place of honor on my bookshelves as the worst book I have ever read. It is about as scientific as Alice in Wonderland. Emoto took pictures of snowflakes and “observed” that clean water made prettier crystals.
A [real] scientist would have checked to see if he got the same results if he didn’t know beforehand which water was clean. Emoto never bothered with even this most elementary double-check. He didn’t consult real scientists. Had he done so, they could have told him that these snowflake crystals, just like raindrops, form around a core of dust, so actually the cleaner water is less likely to form them. Their beauty varies with the temperature and conditions of formation, not with the purity of the water. The idea that snowflakes could show anything about differences in the “molecular structure” of water is incompatible with basic physics.
Emoto’s popularity is a sad commentary on the scientific illiteracy of our society. His work is a morass of factual errors, misconceptions, misinterpretations, metaphors, and meaningless assertions. He writes in the language of magical thinking and superstition, not of science.
Most serious scientists find Emoto’s delusions too silly to even acknowledge, but one retired chemistry professor has taken the time to debunk water cluster pseudoscience and Emoto’s “research” on his Web site: www.chem1.com/CQ/clusqk.html.
I didn’t mention that I saw the What the Bleep movie and didn’t find it particularly convincing as a scientific document. Its credits list the 35,000-year-old warrior Ramtha “as channeled by J.Z. Knight.”
Remember talking to plants? Emoto talks to water. He claims that if you say nice things, the water makes pretty crystals, and if you say mean things, it just makes amorphous globs. You don’t even have to talk out loud, because water can read. Humans have to be taught to read, but water is smarter-it already knows how. If you place labels with “Thank you” or “You idiot!” on containers of water, the water will respond by making pretty or ugly snowflakes.
Water can not only read, it can look at pictures: a picture of a tree resulted in “a large crystal that seems to be teeming with life,” while a picture of autumn leaves created a “crystal that appears to be formed by leaves before they have fallen from the trees.” The one I liked best was a crystal from water exposed to the word “war” two months before September 11, 2001. He says it looks “almost as if a jet plane crashed into it.”
Emoto talks to plants too. The What the Bleep movie describes an experiment where cooked rice rotted faster if labeled with negative words. Most experiments are published somewhere. I looked for this one in vain. I finally realized that he was only reporting what children had done informally in a private home and reported to him by mail. He “verified” the findings by suggesting to other devotees that they try the same experiment, and some of them reported that it worked for them, too.
A real scientist would ask questions such as: How many people tried the experiment, failed, and didn’t report to him? Were the rice samples kept under exactly the same conditions? Did the experimenters treat the samples with “good” words any differently, for instance by picking them up more often to check them, or breathing on them? Did anyone try it with double blinding so the observers wouldn’t be aware of which samples had which labels? Was an endpoint predetermined, or did the observers just subjectively decide which rotted faster? Was any statistical analysis done to rule out “noise” and the effects of chance? Emoto doesn’t ask such questions; he just marvels about the reports.
In another example, he unquestioningly accepted the results of an experiment with a sample size of only two. A girl grew two sunflower plants, one labeled “fool,” whose growth was stunted, and one not labeled. Emoto would like us to believe that obviously the stunted plant was reading the label, because otherwise there’s no conceivable reason why one plant might grow better than another.
Water likes to listen to music, too: when one sample listened to “a mournful melody,” it supposedly formed different crystals than water exposed to a song by the musician Enya. The Enya water produced a crystal that was “pure, innocent, and white, just like her voice.” All snowflakes are white, and voices aren’t white- unless you suffer from synesthesia. And how could you possibly determine the “innocence” of a crystal? He sees things in crystals like “a brilliant healing effect” and “overflowing love.” He has a great imagination, but an independent observer would have a hard time matching the photos to his descriptions.
He has what he calls a “hado” machine. According to Emoto, everything emits hado. He tests patients with his hado machine, and if they are too ill to leave their bed, he prints out the person’s name and tests the printed slip or their photograph. Then he infuses water with hado to counteract their illness. He brilliantly rehashes the unfounded claims of “energy medicine” and employs a new version of the quack electrodiagnostic machines that have been fooling patients for decades.
He explains how everything in the universe vibrates, and his machine detects those vibrations. He knows a doctor who collected blood samples from patients, kept them for years, and was able to diagnose the patients’ current illnesses because the vibrations in the old blood samples changed as the condition of their bodies changed. He knows of people who can sense from the vibrations of a photograph whether the person is alive or dead. He fails to explain, however, why these talented people have not applied for (and won) James Randi’s million dollar challenge.
Apparently Emoto has been challenged for not being scientific, so in one of his latest books, The Secret Life of Water, he admits, “Photographing crystals is a subjective science.” Did you know there was such a thing as a subjective science? He says, “The methods employed to photograph water crystals might not pass everyone’s definition of being scientific, and there is a degree of uncertainty involved. In fact, there is much about the world of hado that is murky and that cannot be explained by the black-and-white standards of statistical analysis. But when you think about it, all any scientist can do anyway is lift up one small corner of the veil that covers the truth of this world and then try to express it with words that the general population can stretch their minds around.” He compares the uncertainty of subjectively choosing when to snap the pictures of snowflakes to that of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. He thinks that “water changes its form completely depending on the person doing the observing” and whether the observer’s heart is filled with appreciation or anger.
He classifies the crystals into eight ill-defined categories that he apparently made up. In his analysis of crystals from water from the Honmyo River, he found this distribution:
Rather beautiful: 4
Hexagonal pattern: 0
Radial pattern: 8
Lattice pattern: 8
Indefinite pattern: 29
Collapsed pattern: 3
No crystal formation: 0
In this case, he chose a beautiful crystal to represent the sample, because although there were only two beautiful crystals out of fifty, there were others that were in the process or had the potential to make beautiful crystals. Eminently rational, don’t you think? By this kind of reasoning, if an antibiotic only cured two cases of pneumonia out of fifty, we could give it credit for being in the process or having the potential to cure other cases. The drug companies would love that. He says tap water with chlorine doesn’t usually form crystals, but when Emoto had five hundred people pray for a jar of tap water on his desk, he claims it formed beautiful crystals. He would have us believe that prayer and feelings of love work instantaneously at any distance, that water has ESP and can tell which feelings are directed to it, and that prayer changes the appearance of the crystals. Of course, he admits that the crystals are constantly changing anyway, and he has to arbitrarily choose a point to photograph them. With his process, the crystals form, change, and melt over a two-minute period.
He explains that water is life, water is prayer, water is a mirror, and water is beauty. We are mostly water, so we must allow ourselves to flow. He believes in homeopadiy, flower essences, and “effective microorganism” (EM) which (among other things) can be “used to treat the dioxin resulting from the burning of refuse.” Best of all, he believes water is the key to world peace. If we all pray for the water in the Sea of Galilee, it will flow into the Jordan River whose water is used by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and they will instandy stop bombing and start hugging each other.
Guess what? He has a Web site, and it sells things. Here are some of the items you can buy:
* EM Antioxidant mouthwash and gargle to hydrate the oral cavity, $12 for 16 oz.
* EM Antioxidant tooth powder, $12 for 2 oz.
* Stickers with pictures of water crystals to change the atmosphere of whatever you place them on in a positive way, such as “The God of Wealth” for your wallet, and “Love and Thanks” for your cell phone. (I think I’d prefer to tell it “Silence is Golden.”) A sheet of twenty-eight stickers sells for only $10!
* Indigo water-8 oz. of “highly charged hexagonally structured water” sells for only $35. Drinking this is supposed to provide superior hydration, enhanced nutrient absorption, more effective detoxification, increased metabolic efficiency, and improved cellular communication.
* Forty-eight Oracle Cards for $16.95. (I guess if you believe in the rest of this nonsense, you might as well believe in oracles!)
You can even learn to teach this stuff. You can sign up for a four-day hado instructor school for only $3,000. The Web site also has a “water crystal of the month” picture which you can download, but only for your personal use.
I suppose it’s reassuring to think we could control the world with our thoughts and get the God of Wealth to bless our wallets, but another consequence of these ideas is that water everywhere is watching us and knows what we are thinking. Like Santa, it knows when we’ve been bad or good. The very coffee in the cup on my desk knows if I have daydreamed about George Clooney sucking my toes or had the fleeting wish that my boss would catch leprosy and be pecked to death by a rabid ostrich.
The Reverend who urged me to look into Emoto’s “research” was not alone. I’ve met a number of people who were very impressed by What the Bleep Do We Know!? and even one woman who wanted to repeat the rice experiment and watch the rice rot faster when she insulted it. When I tried to give her advice on how to properly do the experiment with controls, she lost interest. It might have been fun to do a half-assed demonstration to confirm her belief, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun to do it right and look for the truth. A university professor told me his students largely thought the Bleep movie represented the cutting edge of science. I’m beginning to wonder if there really is something in our water . . . but on second thought, I’m more inclined to believe our science teachers have failed the American public.
Rationalized irrationality is alive and well. This watery fantasy is all very entertaining and imaginative, full of New Age feel-good platitudes, holistic oneness, consciousness-raising, and warm fuzzies; but it’s hard to see how anyone could mistake it for science. Of course, our thoughts and words do have an effect on the world around us, but not exactly in the way Emoto imagines. Fortunately, librarians are smarter than the reverend letter writer. The Dewey decimal system lists Emoto’s books under Religion-Special Topics.
Harriet Hall, also known as the SkepDoc, is a retired physician who lives in Puyallup, Washington, and writes about alternative medicine and pseudoscience. This is her sixth article far the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER. Her e-mail is [email protected]
Copyright The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (SCICOP) Nov/Dec 2007