By Dana Ullman MPH
[BELOW IS DANA ULLMAN’S EMAIL TO THE ABC PRODUCER of the 20/20 PROGAM, MARK GOLDEN, AFTER THE EXPERIMENT WAS CONDUCTED. December 17, 2003]
I like and respect you, though your reputation (and Stossel’s) will be hurt badly if you consider airing this junk science experiment. (Shockingly, 20/20 still chose to show this “experiment” on their program, though this segment was one of the few segments that was NEVER re-shown during the ensuing time when “reruns,” especially during the summertime, are common.
You seemed to do whatever you could to create a valid scientific study of homeopathy, but for better and for worse, you seemingly didn’t assume that the experimenter would create his own experiment without getting consensus from Dr. Ennis (the professor of chemistry at Queen’s University in Belfast who was the original researcher of a study on homeopathy and basophils) and/or me. The fact that Wayne Turnbull, the experimenter who 20/20 chose to conduct this study, would create his own protocol for a study, despite his own admitted lack of expertise in working with basophils, is simply disturbing (Note: Wayne Turnbull had NO graduate degree, has never published any research, and has never previously created or conducted a study on basophils.)
Below is the email dialogue between Lionel Milgrom (an experienced chemist and a homeopath) and Wayne Turnbull. I think that you will be surprised and even shocked by Wayne ‘s words. He asserts that HIS experiment was not supposed to be a replication of any earlier experiment (further below you will see transcripts from the BBC experiment where the narrator clearly says that this IS a replication of Ennis’ work!). If Wayne thinks that his experiment isn’t a replication of Ennis’ work, what expertise on basophils and in homeopathy does Wayne have to make the determination that his experiment is a valid test of homeopathy? Wayne’s expertise in flow cytometry does not give him the right or the knowledge to make up his own protocol, especially when he had been informed that his way was not the proper way that the experiment is conducted.
“The degranulation protocol that we use was never portrayed as a replication of Dr Ennis’s methodology.”
If this experiment was not a replication of Dr. Ennis’ trial, then whose trial was it? Who agreed to this trial that he conducted? No one!
Wayne goes on to say that he created an “assay that I was confident to stand behind.” Fine…for him, but he HAS to ask us if it is a valid test for homeopathic medicine. He further states that “a consensus between all parties is essential.” Absolutely! That is why it is shocking that he would talk with Dr. Ennis, and despite her efforts to inform him of the way that she conducted the experiment, Wayne chose to do it HIS way. Wayne didn’t like being referred to as “cavalier,” but I simply do not know any other more kind way to refer to his attitude and his actions (actually, there are a lot more descriptive and less diplomatic words I could use here).
Wayne ‘s statement that a “consensus is essential” is a back-breaker because he NEVER got consensus…and he was directly told this. And of course, as soon as I was told that he chose to do “cowboy science,” I emailed him and you to say that this experiment should be stopped at once and that all results would be considered invalid.
“I got involved because it was an opportunity to perform “real science”. Here’s an experiment, you don’t know the answers, let’s see what happens. Given an assay that I was confident to stand behind, the eventual results would be valid, regardless of whether they turned out to be positive or negative. The pursuit of scientific enquiry requires an abstract objectivity. Not only do I believe that I am perfectly capable of such impartiality, I had hoped that I was successful in communicating that impartiality to Dana, John, Francis and yourself. I have tried to be as receptive as practicable when comments have been made, because a consensus between all parties is essential when performing this experiment, otherwise we arrive at the situation we now find ourselves in, with phrases such as television gimmicry being tossed around.”
As you know more than anyone, John Stossel hates “junk science.” And sadly, this is what we have here. Considering John’s reputation, he would be treading on very thin ice if this “experiment” was aired at all, especially after that drama that he created in his story on the organic industry.
I will hopefully send you more information about problems with this study as soon as I hear from Drs. Ennis and Belon. However, due to the holiday season, I know that Dr. Belon is on vacation, and Dr. Ennis had previously told us both that she was extremely busy until the end of the year.
I wanted to send you this email now so that you can begin to plan for inserting something else on the Stossel program or consider doing something else on homeopathy. Because the HOTTEST health topic these days is INFLUENZA, you might consider doing a story on the homeopathic treatment of the flu. You have in your hands the THREE clinical trials that have shown positive results, and what is impressive about these studies is that they were relatively large (over 300 people each), and they were conducted by three separate and independent researchers.
Because homeopathy initially gained its greatest popularity in America AND in Europe in the 19th century as a result of its impressive results in treating various infectious disease outbreaks of that era, it is no surprise that scientific evidence has verified its value today in some common modern infectious diseases.
If you remember, I also informed you of the three trials using homeopathy in the treatment of childhood diarrhea (what the World Health Organization considers to be the most serious public health problem today!).
By the way, we are in the process of contacting the BBC and lodging a formal complaint with them. This drama may be news in its own right, and I will be curious if you or any of your colleagues might be interested in covering it. Although I do not question Mr. Turnbull’s intentions (I have no way to know them), I question his competence in doing this study without adequate consultation with others who have done it before, and I question his integrity for not clearly informing the BBC and the homeopaths involved in the ABC experiment that he made several changes in the study without informing the participants about these changes.
The fact that Turnbull doesn’t consider his changes significant is without merit because he is not an expert enough in this field to make that statement.
From the BBC program, “Horizon,” below are part of the transcripts. You will note that the narrator clearly states that Turnbull was supposed to conduct a replication of Ennis’ experiment. And yet, Turnbull is now saying that he wasn’t trying to replicate Ennis’ work. (How many back-breaking assertions do you need before you quash a story? You have lots!)
NARRATOR: Proving the memory of water would certainly qualify for the million dollars. To win the prize someone would simply have to repeat Ennis’s experiments under controlled conditions, yet no-one has applied.
NARRATOR: So Horizon decided to take up Randi’s challenge. We gathered experts from some of Britain ‘s leading scientific institutions to help us repeat Ennis’s experiments. Under the most rigorous of conditions they’ll see whether they can find any evidence for the memory of water. We brought James Randi over from the United States to witness the experiment and we came to the world’s most august scientific institution, the Royal Society. The Vice-President of the Society, Professor John Enderby, agreed to oversee the experiment for us.
Most of my colleagues who are involved in homeopathic research had sincere and severe reservations about TV science. I personally liked the idea of bringing science to the people’s eyes. I even imagined, naively or not, that this program might encourage more of reality TV and science (that would have been great). I sincerely hope that you do not air this experiment on TV. It would damage your reputation and Stossel’s, and it will hurt science TV too.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the various issues that I’ve raised. In the meantime, some big-time lawyers are chomping at the bit awaiting to hear what you plan to do (I personally do not want any lawyers involved, and I realize that ABC has its own large staff, but I mention this simply to let you know that we are taking this junk science study of homeopathy very seriously).
Finally, I hope that our friendliness to each other can survive this drama. Based on the above information, I personally cannot see how you (or anyone) could take this study seriously, let alone put it on TV as some type of model scientific study (any study that “makes it” to TV must be flawless and MUST have a mutually agreed upon protocol).