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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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January 10, 2011

Has Luc Montagnier Lost It?

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Posted by Derek

I truly don't know what to make of this one. Virologist Luc Montagnier has announced that he's heading off to Shanghai, to found an institute and investigate. . .mysterious electromagnetic signals from extremely diluted pathogens.

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. Not all DNA produces signals that we can detect with our device. The high-intensity signals come from bacterial and viral DNA. . .

. . .I can't say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the 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 at the extremely high dilutions used in homeopathy; we cannot go further than a 10 to the minus 18th dilution, or we lose the signal. But even at 10 to the minus 18th, you can calculate that there is not a single molecule of DNA left. And yet we detect a signal. . .

Well, Montagnier believes that he's chasing something real, and all I can do is wish him luck as he tries to chase it down. I'd be extremely interested to see something reproducible come out of such ideas, not least because it would open up whole new areas of science. But at the same time, I'm not going to hold my breath waiting on success.

That's because this whole homeopathy/high dilution/water signature business isn't just another wild new idea that might or might not pan out. Even if it were that, this would be tricky stuff - any of the edge-of-detection phenomena are. But this area is a known swamp full of quicksand (and inhabited by various strange swamp creatures) which has claimed careers before. There are huge sunken deposits of quackery and self-delusion to be found out there, and before you announce you're digging up something valuable, you'll have to be very sure that you're not just dedging up more of the same swampy stuff.

Montagnier, as a famous researcher past retirement age in his own country, might be (from one perspective) just the sort of person who can investigate such things. But there have been a lot of eccentric dead ends pursued by famous researchers past retirement age, too. Bring us back some numbers, I say, and some reproducible experiments. Then we'll have some serious talks indeed.

Blog housekeeping note - I'm provisionally assigning this to the "Snake Oil" category, since many other discussions of this sort of thing can be found there.

Comments (41) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Snake Oil


1. anon the II on January 10, 2011 12:42 PM writes...

Well I say, "Good for old Luc"!!

Maybe he'll hire a bunch of chemists.

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2. Michael Goode on January 10, 2011 1:03 PM writes...

Oh wow! I was so scared when I started reading this in my RSS reader and the 2nd paragraph of the quote looked like the rest of the article (so I thought you had written it). I thought you had gone off the homeopathic deep end! I'm glad that is not the case.

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3. anchor on January 10, 2011 1:19 PM writes...

Must be dream come true for the researchers at Nativis (The Power of Photon) and of course Kevin Trudeau who can now sell "diluted water" with that "electromagnetic signature" for a price. All the more reasons to leave chemistry...

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4. pete on January 10, 2011 1:27 PM writes...

"the Force is strong with you, Luc"

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5. RB Woodweird on January 10, 2011 2:04 PM writes...

My standard reply to the water memory crowd: Biochemistry and most of modern drug chemistry (going directly to the application of same and ignoring discovery - no one has proposed yet that THF has a memory) takes place in water. If there were any property of water which was as profound as the alleged memory, drug companies would be all over it in the perpetual chase of that slim advantage over the competition. As there has never been a peep from industry about taking said memory into account, the chances that it exists are as miniscule as Dr. Luc's chances to win the Nobel Prize in Physics and Economics at the same time.

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6. milkshake on January 10, 2011 2:06 PM writes...

Sir, there is no quicksand in swamps - sometimes quicksand can forms in marches but not in swamps. Please watch your metaphoric expressions because if they mix and interbreed their DNA would surely imprint incorrect electromagnetic signal upon dilution. This would lead to a complete morass.

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7. Chris Croy on January 10, 2011 2:11 PM writes...

The Nobel disease claimed him a while ago. He started chugging the crazy juice the moment he won and never stopped.

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8. Derek Lowe on January 10, 2011 2:12 PM writes...

Milkshake, I should have known to stay away from that metaphor! See this article:

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9. Sigivald on January 10, 2011 2:15 PM writes...


I mean, I suppose it's notionally not impossible that somehow, by means we cannot even imagine using standard Physics, that this could be so and could be demonstrated.

But I'll believe it when it's replicated by a skeptics. Multiple times.

My immediate guess is that he's delusional, or that, at best, his samples or equipment are contaminated and giving false positives.

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10. Boghog on January 10, 2011 3:00 PM writes...

A classic take:

That Mitchell and Webb Look: Homeopathic A&E

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11. Hap on January 10, 2011 3:09 PM writes...

Someone pointed at Langmuir's talk on pathological science earlier and the reference seemed relevant. One of Langmuir's hallmarks for pathological science is its consistent presence at the limits of detection, where people's wishful thinking is most likely to manipulate the observed results. Seems like a permanent problem with the homeopathy field, even in the absence of its use by con artists and other assorted hacks.

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12. partial agonist on January 10, 2011 3:22 PM writes...

Since all therapy occurs in an aqueous environment and people have done dose-response experiments for over 100 years, wouldn't the alleged memory affect have shown up countless times, in potent drugs showing a perfectly flat dose-response curve? Isn't this principle tested thousands of times a day all over the world, since before even the FDA existed?

Even Nobel laureates can go nuts.

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13. johnnyboy on January 10, 2011 3:31 PM writes...

Looks like Montagnier is going down the same crazy road as Han Selye did decades ago with vitamin C... Should there be a mandatory retirement age for scientists ?

With an endorsement like that, the diluted-water salesmen will be laughing all the way to the bank for years to come.

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14. CB on January 10, 2011 3:43 PM writes...

He has clearly entered his dotage, its sad how often it occurs.

Structured water would long ago have been uncovered by:
dilution measurements,
viscosity measurements,
NMR spectroscopy.
Structuring of water would have significant impacts on all these observables.

Recycled waste water would really be nasty as well as the effects on
pharmacology and biochemical dosing.

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15. ech on January 10, 2011 4:57 PM writes...

This reminds me of the old Weekly World News, the supermarket tabloid that featured the Bat Boy. They had a cover sroty headline along the lines of "Top Prof Says 'Blow Up the Moon'". Since I worked on manned spacecraft at the time, I bouhgt it.

The story was an interview with a famous Usenet celebrity, Alexander Abian, who was in fact a math professor at Iowa State. He really thought that blowing up the moon would help all kinds of environmental and climate problems on earth.

Maybe we have the same thing happening here.


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16. qetzal on January 10, 2011 6:50 PM writes...

In my "Woo" file, I have a copy of (one of?) Montagnier's paper on this:

Montagnier et al. (2009), Electromagnetic Signals Are Produced by Aqueous Nanostructures Derived from Bacterial DNA Sequences. Interdiscip Sci Comput Life Sci 1: 81-90.

Here's what that paper says about their method for detecting their alleged electromagetic signals from highly diluted DNA:

[W]e used a device previously designed by Benveniste and Coll (1996; 2003) for the detection of signals produced by isolated molecules endowed with biological activity.

That name Benveniste may ring a bell....

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17. Sili on January 10, 2011 8:43 PM writes...

Has Luc Montagnier Lost It?

This has been this night's edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions™. Thank you for playing and good night.

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18. Laura on January 11, 2011 3:15 AM writes...

I would like to know how much shark pee (okay, excretions) are found in this sample. By my rough calculations, it's been diluted more than the DNA has, but I'm interested, more generally, in how much of an effect shark pee has on me when I drink tap water. That seems like a serious issue. Can this also be detected?
Stupid homeopathy.
Also, The Weekly World News actually had something resembling the truth in it?! I am going to stop worrying about toxic water and resume worrying about the goat-headed baby born on the roller coaster that I swear was a real headline when I was a kid.

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19. Jack Bauer on January 11, 2011 3:26 AM writes...

If you dilute a DNA solution until there is "No DNA left", then where did the DNA go?! It must of gone somewhere!

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20. Ich Dich on January 11, 2011 7:20 AM writes...

The chance that at least one of the water molecules in his vial was once part of the brain of a living being should be close to one, and increases upon dilution. So maybe its not the DNA doing this, but the remaining will of the dead creatures...

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21. wwjd on January 11, 2011 9:10 AM writes...

The laws of thermodynamics have disproved this theory long ago.

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22. Hap on January 11, 2011 10:42 AM writes...

#19: If you dilute the DNA into a big enough volume, then the DNA is still there, but is unlikely to be in the volume segment you've chosen.

#21: The laws of thermodynamics are based on (copious) experience, but experience nonetheless - if we find something new, the laws have to change to accommodate the experience, not the other way around. Of course, it would take a lot of well-characterized experience at this point to overturn pieces of thermo, but it could (theoretically) happen.

I'll still leave this under "pathological science" and ignore it unless something interesting happens.

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23. aidan walsh on January 11, 2011 6:44 PM writes...

well maybe now luc montagnier has come around from his interview with dr'batman' on the real benefits of

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24. Anonymous on January 11, 2011 9:19 PM writes...

Linus Pauling blew my socks off in graduate school when he was a big contributor to most of the class material I studied in several areas. Vitamin C and colds, anyone?

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25. Anonymous on January 12, 2011 12:11 PM writes...

The laws are not based on experience, but are described by statistical mechanics and as such are mostly invariant to any perturbation in physical input. Finding a new way to add 2+2 is unlikely to occur!

You are being charitable, Hap.

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26. Hap on January 12, 2011 3:40 PM writes...

But statistical mechanics was handed down by God or aliens - it was generated to explain lots of phenomena (thermo and quantum mechanics) which couldn't be explained otherwise. It is, in fact, based on experience (experimental data). Nice self-consistent theories that aren't founded in experimental data are fantasies, and not worth bothering with.

There is a lot of data for the homeopathy people to disprove, and I'm pretty sure they can't or won't. But if they could come up with better data that is robust on repetition and doesn't have another explanation, well, then, stat mech, quantum, and thermo would have to change. Theories are tested by data - when they stop explaining it, they have to change, or die.

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27. Hap on January 12, 2011 3:42 PM writes...

WASN'T handed down by God or aliens. Ack.

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28. Bill Callahan on January 13, 2011 11:34 AM writes...

This sounds like a case of not sterilizing one's test tubes. It also reminds me of Rupert Sheldrake and "morphogenetic fields."

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29. Karl Laszlo on January 14, 2011 1:24 PM writes...


Link at..........


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30. Inflation Does Not Exist. on February 1, 2011 7:50 PM writes...

Why is this so controversial? A molecule has an EMF signature does it not? One dissolved in water would interact with the hydrogen bonds in water to create clusters of water around it, a "shape" if you will, that would interact with other water clusters around it as far away as water clusters can interact with each other.

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31. Sigh on February 2, 2011 1:44 PM writes...

I find it disappointing that you would intentionally use quackery inuendo to a priori dismiss a potentially new application of chemistry.

"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. Not all DNA produces signals that we can detect with our device. The high-intensity signals come from bacterial and viral DNA. . .

It may not be totally correct, but certainly it is not totally wrong.

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32. Patsy on February 4, 2011 1:07 PM writes...

Everyone here sounds sooo bias. Talking about one side of the problem and not taking into account the detail as to why he made the statement. He is a scientist, something that most of you still need to comprehend>

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33. Sili on February 6, 2011 6:46 PM writes...

Everyone here sounds sooo bias.
He is a scientist, something that most of you still need to comprehend
Not anymore, he isn't. Scientists live and die by the scientific method. Montagnier is high on ego and religion - no science in sight, save for the cargo cult variety. Permalink to Comment

34. RRRR on March 13, 2011 5:16 PM writes...

You have worked for several pharmaceutical companies then?? That says it all about you opinion on this subject, doesn't it???

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35. I can see on May 17, 2011 4:07 AM writes...

Eh, all of you sceptics who only use the information about DNA (or any subject) you already know cant possibly grasp something new. All scientific breakthroughs begins with an assumption that is not proved yet or mistakes that goes out of normal thinking and shows the way. Ever heared of, "think outside the box" ??? Did I misspell something ?? Pleeease let me know !

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36. Silvermaven on May 21, 2011 10:28 AM writes...

Nostradaums said the cure would be found in the water...

If your going to comment on a mans intelligence, you would think you would at least know the cure he seeks.

May the force be with you Luc!

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37. SL on August 19, 2011 7:17 PM writes...

Montagnier's work has nothing to do with water memory hoaxes do your own research and read the man's paper before opening your mouths. That water retains a radio frequency (as his theory really claims) is in no way related to all the homeopathic water memory hoaxes we have seen over the years of "water remembers its original state and strips minerals from your body to return to it."

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38. Anna on September 12, 2011 4:31 PM writes...

Is this the same guy who discover the HIV virus?
Now if he's loosing it, can we really blame Peter Duesberg? all of them seem to be wako

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39. Jeroen on December 6, 2011 7:17 PM writes...

I hope Montagnier is right.In whatever he's discovering.
If only to teach you all a good lesson.
Today's science has become the new opium,
and I've had it with all those mind masturbating morons, who believe they are god , but hardly perform any real science anymore themselves= open your mind and take a step out of your own universe of self indulgance to discover something new that actually makes the world a better place, instead of destroying it.
Or did you forget, you actually played a part in co-creating industrial revolution and nuclear catastrophies and much more?
(if my english isn't good enough, you answer me in Dutch then)

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40. Nikola on January 10, 2012 12:04 AM writes...

Sorry my very bad Inglish. I very old man and leaving in Russia. I need contact with you aboute this team and may be it will be very interesting for you. But... I can conversation with you only Russian... Is it possible? Thank you very much.

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41. Xelandre on June 16, 2012 10:49 AM writes...

He lost "it" quite a while before he was granted the Knowbull Prayz.

He was a friend and supporter of the late Jacques Benveniste, and back in 2006 he filed "expert" opinion to the European Patent Office when it was minded to refuse an application by Benveniste for a device and method based in the memory of water. (The EPO's decision was eventually confirmed on appeal).

In fact, he founded the same year a company, Nanectis, in which Laurent Benveniste, (the son of Jacques) owns 40% of the stock through his own company, Digibio. Nanectis/Montagnier are now pursuing several patent applications of their own for "detecting" water signals.

Montagnier also drew attention for his "interesting" theories on the virtues of papaya juice. Is is because it contains a lot of vitamin C? Linus would be so proud...

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