My Nobel prize acceptance speech, 2010

Your royal Highness, members of the Academy, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great and singular honour for me to accept the Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry and medicine.

In my speech this evening I would like to present a brief account of the thought processes that gave rise to my revolutionary (and prize-winning!) Theory of the Tangential Universe and to show how it finally solved one of the most enduring problems of modern science and medicine, the existence of the strange phenomenon known as the homeopath.

The key moment came on 25th November last year as I was watching the Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament perform an evidence check on homeopathy by quizzing scientists, pharmacists, health administrators and homeopaths. As I listened — in open-mouthed wonderment — to the latter group speaking, I struggled to fathom the source of their incredible pronouncements. What infinite dilution of critical faculties, I asked myself, could have led them to utter such utter nonsense with straight faces? (Pause for laughter)

In a moment of blinding insight, I realised that the answer to my question was embedded within it. As I tried then to empty my own mind of thought, to shed from it the clutter of the scientific insights that have accrued and evolved over centuries, I was suddenly gripped by a powerful vision. It was a Eureka moment such as must have been shared by many who have graced this platform down through the years.

There must be a “Tangential Universe”, I hypothesised, to which the homeopaths — uniquely until now — have had access. I gave it this name both to distinguish it from parallel universe theory (whose proponents might one day find themselves here in Stockholm) but also to highlight the very different laws of physics that obtain there.

By unshackling myself from thought I found a way to gain access to this tangential universe and began to codify the wondrous phenomena that occur there, not the least of which is homeopathy.

Within a few weeks of feverish work I had shown that none of the zeroth, 1st, 2nd or 3rd laws of thermodynamics operate in the tangential universe but was able to formulate the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th* laws which do. From there it was a short step to the formulation of my general and special theories of unintelligibility, my development of bunkum mechanics and, my crowning achievement, the discovery of the querk. (Pause for applause)

This new system of physics, which has remained hidden for so long because of course its laws have no purchase in our own universe, immediately solved the riddle of why homeopaths exist and why they appear to talk in such mysterious terms. In the Tangential Universe all of the following statements are right and proper:

  • Water has memory. (Pause for laugher)
  • “It may yet happen…” that a Nobel prize will be awarded to the person who discovers the mechanism of action of homeopathic preparations**

Dr Peter Fisher, Director of Research, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital

  • “there are significant numbers of homeopathic medicines that are not diluted to the point where the molecular content is uncertain”

Dr Robert Mathie, Research Development Adviser, British Homeopathic Association. (This is the cake-and-eat-it conundrum where one simultaneously holds two contradictory positions, in this case “active molecules are not necessary, because water has memory” (see above) — and “active molecules are necessary”).

  • “One plausible hypothesis is that such instability points act as local dynamic attractors of the system. These necessarily exist in such microscopic form, it requires a novel quantum description that predicts effects at the macroscopic level, with consequences not dissimilar to those of superconductors and super-fluids in low temperature physics. The model is applicable to several systems of complementary medicine, including homeopathy.”

Dr Lionel R Milgrom, (written submission HO 04 to the committee)

(Intriguingly and parenthetically, Milgrom’s prose has a potency that is as yet undetected in any homeopathic preparation made in this universe. Just a couple of sentences of his apparently randomly assembled buzzwords are sufficient to stun temporarily even the most robust of intellects.)

My future work will concentrate on the more practical problem of developing a means of transport that will grant physical (not just mental) access to the Tangential Universe. This will enable the homeopaths to return to their natural habitat.

In closing I simply want to thank the Academy again for the embarrassment of riches that they have showered upon me. My heart goes out to the wonderful men and women at the LHC in CERN whose discovery of the Higgs Boson would, in any other year, have guaranteed them the prize. I hope and trust they will be honoured next year.

Thank you very much for your attention.

  • unfinished
  • This used to be true but I fear I may have scooped them.

P.S. For similarly accurate but perhaps more serious accounts of the Committee’s proceedings, check out the reports from Ben Goldacre, Majikthyse and Skeptikat.

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31 Responses to My Nobel prize acceptance speech, 2010

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    Nicely done. I’m nomnomnominating this for OpenLab.

  2. Austin Elliott says:

    Wonderful stuff, Stephen. What with Tangential, Fractal (TM L Milgom), and Parallel Universes, everyone will be able to have their own personal Plane of Reality.
    Which will please the homeopaths greatly.

  3. Austin Elliott says:

    PS Think you may have missed one trick, though – if you had sent the “deadpan” version of the theory in to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine I reckon there is a decent chance they would have printed it.

  4. Eva Amsen says:

    [applauds with rest of audience] It really helps speed up the ceremony to give three prizes to the same person! They should have given you the Literature one as well, based on the acceptance speech for the others.
    And I also wanted to nominate this for OpenLab, but if Richard did then I don’t have to.
    Here I tried to say something witty about you being nominated for OpenLab and the Nobel Prize in the same year, but your Nobel will be next year so that didn’t work. It’s too early for thinking over here.

  5. Henry Gee says:

    You forgot the 11th Law, which states that no matter how much you wiggle it about, there’ll always be one drop left on the end.

  6. Stephen Curry says:

    Thank you for the nominations Richard and Eva. The 2009 volume will look very well on the mantelpiece next to my 3 Nobel medals!
    At least I’m not gunning to be the first to secure Nobel and IgNobel prizes, an honour that might soon be bestowed on Luc Montaigner.
    Austin – it had not occurred to me to submit my work to that Journal, mainly because I would not then be able to abide the stench coming from my cv.
    There’s no error Henry – please remember I am soon to be a Nobel laureate. I think you may have confused fluid dynamics with thermodynamics… 😉

  7. Melissa Burns says:

    If you are interested, I would highly recommend you read Anita Laughlin’s book,Reindeer with King Gustaf. It’s all about her experience as her husband gets the call that he had just become a recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics. She goes into detail about each event and gives an inside view that we would never otherwise get to experience. One quote I liked in her books is,
    “Nobel Prize-winners work hard, think hard, and are often labeled as a bit eccentric,” she says. “The work they do is to discover truth in our natural world. Often this is accomplished with meager funding, marginal community interest, and yet the drive to make a discovery propels them forward.”

  8. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for the tip Melissa. Don’t think I qualify for the eccentric tag but I’ll be sure to blog about my experiences in Stockholm when I get back from the ceremony! 😉

  9. Austin Elliott says:

    Can I bags your first post-Nobel Prize award interview, Stephen? I interviewed a Nobel winner a few years back and I’m keen to add others…

  10. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Wonderful post, Stephen. I’m looking forward to your inevitable slide into the faintly ridiculous, as has happened to a number of Nobel laureates post-Sweden. Maybe you too can show pictures of naked women in your talks from now on, like Kerry.

  11. Henry Gee says:

    Maybe you too can show pictures of naked women in your talks from now on, like Kerry
    I do this already. I can haz Nobel, pleeez?

  12. Sabbi Lall says:

    But in my opinion you were robbed of the Peace prize (for forging unity between what some had considered immiscible substances).

  13. Andy Wilson says:

    Hah. Stephen that is very funny. Love it.
    Merseyside Skeptics Society

  14. Stephen Curry says:

    I would never stoop so low Jenny! I’ve not witnessed that particular type of presentation in a scientific seminar (though I guess in some fields it would be justified). I remember once seeing a slide of two elephants humping but, as I recall, it was a rather lame attempt at humour.
    Sabbi – my work may have offered an explanation of the homeopath phenomenon, but the current separation of the Normal and Tangential Universes means that homeopathy must still be considered entirely immiscible with science as observed in our world!
    Thanks Andy. It was at the recent Westminster Skeptics that someone suggested to me that ridicule was the only way to treat these people so I guess I must have come under the influence!

  15. Anna Vilborg says:

    I’ll make sure to get some of the tickets for next year’s question time with the Nobel laureates – this will be quite something!

  16. Austin Elliott says:

    bq. “…someone suggested to me that ridicule was the only way to treat these people…”
    That’s always been my feeling. I know I always trot out this line, but if you’ll forgive me for doing it again…

    “Laughter is the best detergent of nonsense”

    A.V.Hill, in a line quoted by Bernard Katz.
    (More on A.V.Hill in this post of Stephen’s and the comments after it.)

  17. Stephen Curry says:

    I’ll try not to disappoint Anna. 😉
    Thanks for the reminder Austin, and for pointing out (via Twitter), a talented homeopathic comedian who could only have come from the Tangential Universe!

  18. Samantha Alsbury says:

    Very good, maybe someone should send this to the select committee!!

  19. Stephen Curry says:

    Actually I heard Evan Harris MP use the phrase ‘parallel universe’ when talking about homeopaths in today’s evidence check by the Sci. Tech Committee, so maybe he has been reading. I would love to think so!

  20. Ian Brooks says:

    Discovery of the Quack?

  21. Austin Elliott says:

    I tried to popularise the term “”QUAP-iverse””: (for Quantum Alternative Parallel Universe, as beloved of homeopaths and similar folk), but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

  22. Stephen Curry says:

    I cannot take credit for that discovery Ian since quack were well known in the western world in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
    The querk on the other hand is a strange particle which, though unable to interact strongly with an intelligent mind, is readily captured by an unintelligent one (the cross-section being alarmingly high). Once captured, the querk holds the unfortunate host in a powerful grip from which few, alas, are ever released (see my special theory of unintelligibility for further details).
    Austin – I will revise my speech to be sure to mention the QUAP-iverse, to give the term the recognition it deserves!

  23. Austin Elliott says:

    bq. “…quacks were well known in the western world in the 17th and 18th Centuries.”
    See e.g. the C17th Dutch paintings that David Colquhoun reproduces in this post.

  24. steffi suhr says:

    Finally catching up – most excellent, Stephen!!

  25. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Steffi – and (belatedly) to you too Austin for the link to those wonderful pictures…

  26. Austin Elliott says:

    Amused to see today via Twitter that the Sun seems to have grasped the point re homeopathy more clearly than the Government, the Dept of Health’s science adviser, or the head of the MHRA.

  27. Stephen Curry says:

    Yes I saw that too, Austin. Do you know if that piece made it to the print version, which I imagine has a much larger audience? I do hope so.

  28. Ken Doyle says:

    I found this a bit late, but…brilliant…just brilliant!

  29. Stephen Curry says:

    Cheers Ken!

  30. Åsa Karlström says:

    🙂 I would looooooove to see this next year.
    I’ll keep hoping!

  31. Stephen Curry says:

    I’m afraid it will most likely only occur in our dreams Åsa… 😉

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