Nature 8 October 1998, Vol. 395, p. 535. 

French scientist shrugs off winning his second 
Ig Nobel prize


[Boston] French researcher Jacques Benveniste is 
set to become the first person in history to win 
two `Ig Nobel' Prizes when this year's prizes 
are announced at an award ceremony due to take 
place at Harvard University tonight (8 October).

Benveniste won his first `Ig'--awarded annually 
by Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of 
Improbable Research, and a group of scientists--
for work claiming to show that antibody 
solutions retain their biological effectiveness, 
even when diluted to the point where no trace of 
the antibody is detectable (E. Davenas et al. 
Nature Vol. 333, pp. 816- 818; 1988). The water, 
Benveniste argues, preserves a "memory" of the 
substance after it is gone.  The second Ig Nobel 
Prize will be awarded for an extension of this 
work. Benveniste now claims that a solution's 
biological activity can be digitally recorded, 
stored on a computer hard drive, sent over the 
Internet as an attached document, and 
transferred to a different water sample at the 
receiving end. 

"We've demonstrated that you can transmit the 
biological effect by e-mail between Chicago and 
Paris," says Benveniste, who heads the Digital 
Biology Laboratory in Clamart, France, which is 
financed by the private company, DigiBio S.A. 
"With this approach, you could transfer the 
activity of a drug by means of standard 
telecommunications technology."  "French science 
has not risen to such giddy heights since N-rays 
were invented by Blondlot early in this 
century," says James Randi, author of the 
forthcoming book A Magician in the Laboratory, 
based partly on his involvement in an 
investigation of Benveniste's laboratory 
practices carried out in 1988.  Benveniste 
argues that the science establishment is 
inherently resistant to new ideas. "Orthodox 
people are determined to block anything new in 
biology," he says.

He compares the conventional view that "you need 
a molecule to have a biological effect" with the 
debate between Descartes and Newton four 
centuries ago over whether action at a distance 
was possible. "I say the effect comes not from 
the molecule itself but from the signal it 
imparts."    Benveniste says that he is "happy 
to receive a second Ig Nobel Prize, because it 
shows that those making the awards don't 
understand anything. People don't give out Nobel 
Prizes without first trying to find out what the 
recipients are doing. But the people who give 
out Ig Nobels don't even bother to inquire about 
the work."

Harvard chemist Dudley Herschbach, who won the 
1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, finds 
Benveniste's claims "very hard to reconcile with 
what we know about molecules." Herschbach 
considers the second 'Ig' prize "very well 
deserved. And he just might win a third one if 
he keeps going in this way."  

Steve Nadis

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