August 24, 2001

A Classic Case of Challenge, Acceptance, Stalling, Misrepresentation, and a Final Retreat.

The Penta Water saga — Part 1.

I'm still away in Australia, a report to follow. This whole page-change will be devoted to a single subject. We're frequently asked why we don't have a database out there with the million-dollar challenge tests listed and detailed. It's not all that easy. We do a brisk correspondence with many, many, persons every week concerning the challenge, but by far the greater fraction drops out after the first inquiry. Others get to the point of sending in an application, but either don't read that application, or forget something, and we have to write back and forth endlessly to get them to do it properly.

For those who do negotiate the rules and get a notarized statement to us — that's only about 10% of the initial applicants — we have to begin the arduous task of getting them to actually state, clearly, just what they think they can do, under what circumstances, and with what accuracy. I won't go into the many hours that we waste just explaining to them that (a) what they claim is not at all paranormal, (b) what they claim already has a ready explanation, or (c) what goes on in their heads is probably a malfunction that calls for professional evaluation and treatment. Others, we argue with up to a certain point, then we have to abandon the confrontation because they have so little understanding of the real world.

Sometimes, a procedure plays itself out quickly and in sequence, with all the evidence presented clearly and speaking for itself. I'd like to give you just a small sample of that kind of nonsense, unfortunately typical of what we have to put up with here at the JREF. You may recall that Dr. Jacques Benveniste, Professor Brian Josephson, Dr. Gary Schwartz, Dr. Wayne Carr, and so many others, have agreed to be involved in this way, then suddenly fell silent. What follows is the complete correspondence between myself and a Mr. William D. Holloway, whose web page for "Penta Water" should be visited, first, for a better understanding of what follows. You will see here how condescending, arrogant, and patronizing these people can be. They're convinced of their own infallibility and invulnerability, and wonder how it is that they suddenly find themselves in full retreat before the facts that they must face as a consequence of the million-dollar challenge.

It began on July 13th, 2001, when the JREF web page change for that day featured the following item:

Just so that you can see how pseudoscience and ignorance have taken over the Internet merchandising business, I suggest that you visit and try to follow the totally false and misleading pitch that the vendors make for this product, magically-prepared "Penta" water that will "hydrate" your body miraculously. A grade-school education will equip you to recognize the falsity of this claim, but it's obvious that the purveyors are cashing in on ignorance and carelessness. Just read this as an example of pure techno-claptrap:

Normally, the water you drink is in large clusters of H20 [sic] molecules. That's because its [sic] been affected by air, heat, and modern civilization. PentaTM is water that, through physics, has been reduced to its purest state in nature — smaller clusters of H2O [sic] molecules. These smaller clusters move through your body more quickly than other water, penetrating your cell membranes more easily. This means PentaTM is absorbed into your system faster and more completely. When you drink PentaTM, you're drinking the essence of water. You get hydrated faster, more efficiently, and more completely than with any other water on earth.

Folks, water is water. It's burned hydrogen, no more, no less. The molecules of H2O — not "H2O" as these quacks write — do not "cluster," under any influence of the dreadful "air, heat, and modern civilization" that you're cautioned to fear. True, water exhibits surface tension, and the molecules do "line up" to an extent, though almost any foreign substance in there disturbs this effect — soap/detergent "wets" it readily. But water molecules in "clusters"? No way! The illustrations you see here are totally wrong and fictitious. There's no such thing as "essence of water," by any stretch of scientific reasoning, or imagination. This is total, unmitigated nonsense, a pack of lies designed to swindle and cheat, to steal money, and to rob the consumer. And "through physics" has nothing to do with it.

[A side-note: shortly after I published this, a gentleman wrote me saying that water does "cluster," and that he uses it regularly in his business. He told me, "I don't call them 'clusters,' however. I call them, 'ice-cubes.'" He's a bartender....]

I await objections to the above statements. There will be none, because the sellers of "Penta" know they're lying, they do it purposefully, and they know they can get away with it because of the incredible inertia of the Federal agencies that should be protecting us against such deception and thievery. Those agencies just can't do the job, and they bumble about endlessly while the public continues to pay through the nose. But notice: the Penta people, on their web page, beneath a family picture of the founders, clearly assert that:

At first, [the Penta engineers] tested Penta on plants. They discovered that test seeds would germinate in half the time as the control seeds.

Bingo! Hallelujah! We have the means for a test! A simple, inexpensive, clearly demonstrative, test! Such a demonstration would clearly establish the claim these folks are making. Ah, but will PentaTM apply for the million-dollar prize? Dear reader, with your experience of Tice, DKL, Quadro, Josephson, Edward, and all the parade of others who have declined to be tested, I think that you expect, as I do, that PentaTM will apply as promptly as Sylvia Browne did....

The PentaTM page advises us to "Penta-hydrate — be fluid." Translation: "Believe this — be stupid."

On July 13th, just hours after the page went up on the Internet, the following was received from Holloway....

Mr. Randi: On your web site, you claim to be "the world's most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims." What investigation did you do into our Penta water? Did you try any yourself? Did you do any scientific research comparing our water with any other water? Did you talk to people who have used our water? Did you contact us first before publishing your "story"? Proper scientific research requires that you gather the evidence, completely document the scientific testing performed, and then report your findings in a fair and unbiased manner. Did you do any of this? Penta water is real and has changed the lives of thousands. People call, write, or come into our office on a daily basis to thank us for our product. We are a small, family-run business whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for our customers.

You state in your article, "But water molecules in clusters? No way!" Did you do any investigation regarding this statement. Water molecules do cluster. Please go to these two web sites to learn more about this fact. We would like to send you a case of Penta water for you to try. In addition, you are invited to visit our facility to see first hand how Penta is made and to examine the test results from several independent laboratories which prove that Penta is different than any other water. Please feel free to bring a physicist with you.

Regarding the million-dollar prize, we would indeed like to apply. If we prove to you that Penta is capable of hydrating your body faster than any other water, will you actually pay us?

Best regards, Bill Holloway

I sent this the same day, within 30 minutes of receiving Holloway's message, at 8:33 p.m.:

Mr. Holloway: I quote from your e-mail message, just received.

"Regarding the million-dollar prize, we would indeed like to apply."

Excellent news! Please visit our web site (, download the form, and proceed from there. I suggest that you also examine the rules pertaining to the million-dollar challenge, and please ask any questions you may have about the procedure. You asked:

"If we prove to you that Penta is capable of hydrating your body faster than any other water, will you actually pay us?"

Yes, of course we will pay you, but no, we would not use my body in a test. It stands to reason that I would probably be biased against the claim, and against your winning the prize. That would not be fair, and might lead, rightly, to suspicions of improper experimental design.

However, if you will supply sufficient Penta water for the tests, we can design a double-blind procedure for testing the Penta claim.

Supervised independently and conducted entirely by a prominent university lab, a test would be performed in which volunteers would receive either Penta water, or ordinary water, and following their use of the water in accordance with your specific directions, the volunteers would be asked to evaluate what they received, without ANYONE knowing — until after the test — whether they received Penta water, or the control samples. Your people would be the ones to interrogate all the volunteers to record their evaluations.

This would be at no cost to you except that you would contribute the Penta water, so that there could be no doubt that the genuine product was being used by the laboratory. All persons involved would be persons 100% approved by you, and by the JREF.

You understand that the volunteers would not be aware of whether they received Penta water, or ordinary water, and the containers would all be identical except for coded markings which would, following the test procedures, be de-coded. Each individual volunteer would receive only Penta water, or ordinary water, all through the test period, and would be required to use it in accordance with your specific directions. You would be free to visit, question, and advise the volunteers at any time during the test period.

As always, as described in the rules, a preliminary test for the JREF prize would be performed. That test would have odds of only 1 in 1,000 against the results being positive by chance alone. Should your product pass this preliminary test, we would be prepared, as outlined in our published rules, to go to the second and final test for the million-dollar prize.

We await your response to this suggested protocol, with great interest.

(If you will supply a mailing address at which you would prefer to receive mail, a formal copy of this letter, signed and notarized, will follow this e-mail posting. Thank you.)

Signed, James Randi. President, JREF.

Later, after consultation with JREF staff, I sent this message to Mr. Holloway the following day:

Mr. Holloway, it has been suggested by my staff that the "germination of seeds" effect mentioned by you would be a much more rapid, economical, and practical test of Penta. I will ask that you consider this possibility, as well. It would follow the lines of the previously-described tests, except that no human subjects would be required, and your team would of course be the sole decision-makers on whether or not the seeds had been treated with Penta or with ordinary tap-water. I think you can see how the protocol could be adapted easily. In addition, this test would take so little time — perhaps only a few days — and there would be no concern about possible irregularities in applying the proper use of the water, a concern that certainly would be present if human subjects were to be depended upon to follow your directions in imbibing the water. A complete video record could easily be kept of the entire procedure used to produce germination of the seeds, adding to the data obtained and providing for both sides, further assurance of the integrity of the tests. Please let me have your thoughts on this....

James Randi

Later that same day, Mr. Holloway replied:

Dear Mr.Randi: Thank you for your prompt response. We are evaluating your offer and will be in contact this coming week. We would be interested in the live human experiment not the seed experiment, as our process has been modified for human consumption. We would recommend the use of a Bio Impedance Analyzer, which is currently utilized by hospitals to evaluate cellular hydration. The Bio Impedance Analyzer is approved by the F.D.A. and would we feel meet with your approval. If you would like to learn more about Bio Impedance Analyzers go to we recommend this unit since it is F.D.A. approved and in use by major hospitals nationwide. In the mean time while we are developing our protocol and deciding if we will accept your challenge, we would like to send you some Penta water for you to try. This will give you a chance to see for yourself the effects of Penta water as it will only take a day for someone your age to feel the effects. This will afford you the opportunity to print a retraction and apologize for you [sic] comments. We are not out to take anyone's money or embarrass even the Great Randi, Penta water was developed to help people not harm them. I hope you will accept this offer as it is made in good faith.

Best regards, Bill Holloway

I immediately answered:

Mr. Holloway, examining the contents of your message:

>We would be interested in the live human experiment not the seed experiment, as our process has been modified for human consumption.<

That is your choice, of course.

>We would recommend the use of a Bio Impedance Analyzer, which is currently utilized by hospitals to evaluate cellular hydration.<

Very well. The experiment would then take the following form, subject to your approval and subject to any metabolic or other specific factors that might interfere, and of which I am unaware:

1. I propose that we select a group of 50 persons (subjects) for whom you believe the use of Penta water would be beneficial, in that it would increase their degree of cellular hydration.

2. An independent party (A) would obtain an adequate supply of Penta water and would decant this into 50 marked, coded, sterile containers, each container being adequate for a day's supply, and the codes being retained by yet another independent party, (B). Person A would then similarly prepare an equal number of identical marked, coded, sterile containers into which ordinary water would be placed. In the same way, B would retain the secret coding of those containers and would then retire from the proceedings. These 100 containers would then be mixed randomly, so that no observer would be able to tell — without breaking the code — whether he or she is holding a container of Penta water, or of ordinary water. All coding marks are to be fastened permanently on the containers, and masked securely by a simple means until the coding is broken by B in step The stock of containers would then be retained in security by an independent party, (C).

3. The 50 subjects would have their degree of cellular hydration measured and recorded by means of the BIA, and if you wished, you would question them as well. Each would then be given a container of water by C, in a coded container, each person to receive a container selected at random by C from the mixed supply. The remaining 50 containers would not be used, but would be kept securely isolated by C. Each subject would then be required to use the water in the manner approved and dictated by you. You understand that no person (subject, handler, or experimenter) would have any way of differentiating between the containers except by referring to and breaking the coding, or possibly by noticing the claimed beneficial effects of the Penta, if that was what they were given.

4. After a sufficient period has passed that in your opinion the effects of the Penta water, if any, should be evident, you will be asked to examine each of the subjects, question them if you wish, and use the BIA to determine the degree of cellular hydration of each of the 20 subjects. You would record the code-number of the water container each subject used, and place that data in the record.

5. You would then prepare a report based upon your own evaluation, and the input provided by the subjects themselves, making your final decision on whether or not each subject received Penta water or ordinary water. You would be free to disqualify any subject(s) for ANY reason you see fit.

6. When your report is complete, the person retaining the secret coding would be brought in, the coding would be revealed and broken, and a determination would be made of the contents of each of the containers used. Your evaluations would then be compared with the identification of the water used. We would expect that, for a "win" to be attained by you, your evaluation would agree with 37 or more out of the 50 subjects' actual usage -- making allowance for any subjects you might have chosen to disqualify. This would constitute the preliminary phase of your attempt for the JREF prize.

>The Bio Impedance Analyzer is approved by the F.D.A. and would we feel meet with your approval.<

Since the evaluation would be entirely in your hands, you would of course be free to use any and all means to determine whether or not any subject's degree of cellular hydration has been altered, so we are not concerned with these details. Please do not send me any product. I cannot be personally involved in this process, which should be in your hands and under your control as much as possible. Thank you.

Persons A, B, and C, must not be known to one another. We have procedures for maintaining security of the coding, in such a way that the coding cannot be altered, and cannot be "broken" even by the person retaining the information. Person A must perform his/her function, and then cease involvement in the procedure, to be called back in only if there is any doubt or problem with the process he/she carried out. Person B would not be made aware of what he/she in involved with, nor would that person communicate with anyone else concerning what has been done. Person C's only function would be to mix the 100 bottles randomly with the coding number out of sight, as described, and to distribute to each subject, at random, a container, then retain the 50 remaining containers securely and untampered

Addendum: if you wish to shorten and simply this procedure, we would consider using only 20 subjects, but the expectation of your success would then be 18 or more correct. Of course, you are free to perform this test as many times as you wish, at convenient intervals for all concerned. Some parameters may change, in that case. I await your comments....

I should mention that TIME Magazine has been waiting for just such an opportunity to do a feature story on the JREF million-dollar challenge, needing an actual test upon which to base the story. They are awaiting your decision on this, though there is no rush, and time is not an element that should enter into this.

James Randi

End of Part 1. Now, I believe that this is a fair and proper experimental protocol. You might expect that we would receive a proper response and acceptance. Stay tuned. Part 2 will follow next week....