Friday, March 08, 2013

Junk Science on YouTube

Sometimes I post about "junk science" on the various science channels. I usually leave the Internet alone because it so full of such idiocy that it's hardly worth the effort. Today I came across this piece of work on YouTube, though: a 2006 Russian documentary simply entitled "Water".

I single this film out due to the fact that it actually has pretty high production value and is so entirely sincere in its presentation that you could easily think it was describing legit phenomena. It's not. Yet this bit of dross received three television awards, including one for the best documentary film.

How exactly do you get a "best documentary" award when you begin with statements like this: "No scientist has been able to explain, for example, why water's density increases below the freezing point, and becomes less above freezing." The answer is because that's not what happens. Frozen water's density is less, which is why ice floats. And that's because the shape of the molecules is such that when they join into their characteristic hexagonal crystals, they take up more room than they do when at liquid temperatures. They then rightly state that water expand when frozen, which makes it the more puzzling why this mis-statement wasn't left on the cutting room floor.

Every time you hear the phrase "scientists can't explain" in this film, it's fairly safe to assume that scientists have explained whatever it is they're talking about... minus the stuff that is made-up B.S. Keep in mind that anomalous does not mean mysterious.

Here's a link to unusual properties of water that science can explain: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-unusual-properties-of-water-molecules.html
Here's another: http://www.freedrinkingwater.com/resource-water-chemistry.htm
And another: http://www.chem1.com/acad/sci/aboutwater.html

Pity the poor scientists who are quoted in this film. Nobel laureate Kurt W├╝thrich is quoted simply as saying that water has been extensively studied and has unusual properties. By pasting in perfectly reasonable statements from perfectly reputable researchers, next to discredited snake-oil salesmen like Masaru Emoto and quack physicians, the filmmaker imply that these scientists support the conclusions of the film as a whole. But what might that be?

That water has memory.

As this is a central proposition of homeopathy, I've heard this magickal line of thought before (although the pretense here is that it was just "discovered". To be fair to homeopaths, even they haven't gone so far as to claim that you can turn water into a super-cure-all entirely by wishful thinking. This crowd has basically increased the profitability of homeopathy by removing the labor of all of that pesky swishing and diluting.)

We're less than seven minutes into the film and already some pretty shoddy thinking has gotten us to this point. For instance... some people were working together in Southeast Asia, supposedly to develop bacteriological weapons. They got sick at a meeting with "symptoms of food poisoning". The water was tested and found to be just plain water. Now a reasonable person would then continue to look elsewhere for a solution -- perhaps some bacteria that produced similar symptoms among these people who work with bacteria -- but these folks conclude that the plain water was poisonous, AND that it wasn't poisonous because it contained poison, but because it simply remembered to be poisonous. Of the investigative "dead-ends" encountered, plain H2O wasn't one. *sigh*

What follows is a barrage of mixture of fact, speculation, and nonsense presented as fact. For instance, water clusters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_cluster) are real. They only last for minute fractions of a second, and they're constantly changing, and don't exhibit the properties claimed here.

Here's some more debunking: http://www.chem1.com/CQ/clusqk.html

Among the claims of this film:
  • Salt water can be made fresh by wishing it to be fresh.
  • Love "increases water's energy levels".
  • Aggressive emotions "reduce the energy".
  • You can affect the shape of an ice crystal by saying "thank you" and "excuse me" to the water before freezing it.
  • You absorb a liter an a half of water when you take a bath or shower. (that's a little over three pounds... next time you bathe, weigh yourself.)
  • Water that flows through pipes is "deformed" so that the "crystals" it contains (in the liquid form, mind you) do not have symmetry or beauty.
  • "Devitalized" water will "steal" your "energy".
  • Water remembers "violence" that is done to it.
  • Water is a giant universal computer that contains "biological programs".
This is punctuated by "mean music" when discussing anything man-made whatsoever, and "nice music" when discussing streams and oceans.

And it just keeps going and going and going and gets worse and worse and worse.... the film claims that water itself burns. (In fact, water does not burn because it's already burnt. "Water" is our name for burnt hydrogen. In order to burn water, you would have to remove the oxygen so that you could then add oxygen. This cannot produce energy, as it would violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics). It actually states, "in order to burn anything whatsoever, there must be at least some quantity of water". Half-true misdirection. Water is formed as a result of burning hydrocarbons, but it does not have to be present for the combustion to occur.

This documentary really doesn't have anything to do with science at all. "Like all sculptures that have not been created are present in clay, so the images of all future living organisms were present in water. Water merely brought to life a pre-existing conception," the narrator intones. Once we realize that this film is merely a compendium of every pop-culture speculation of New Age faith, "legitimized" in a matrix of real and pseudo-science, it becomes a rather dull exercise to pick apart the truth from the fiction. Fact-checking is made easy with the knowledge that every statement containing the phrase "modern science" is complete horseshit.

Really, a documentary shouldn't make you do that. It should be educational and informative in its own right; its educational value shouldn't be measured by the amount of effort you're willing to put in to fact-checking each and every sentence.  But if you want to go through that exercise and have an hour and a half to kill, here's the show in its entirety:



I give this one a solid F. It might have gotten a D (for being pretty) if the few bits of real science weren't completely diluted by the useless crap.



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