Mary Yugo, Sniffex and the Blindness of Reactive Certainty

On LENR Forum, maryyugo bloviated:

When James Randi’s foundation exposed Sniffex as a fraud, he was sued. The suit was similarly dropped before independent technical experts could perform tests on the device. Strange how that works. You may recall that Sniffex was sold as an explosive detector but was really a dowsing rod which when tested by many different agencies, detected nothing. It and similar devices did and probably still do maim and kill many people who rely on them to detect explosives and IED’s, especially in S. E. Asia and the Middle East and IIRC Africa where they can still be promoted and sold. Amusingly, Lomax the abdominable snow man, still thinks these things have merit. I propose giving him one and turning him loose with it in a minefield so he can prove it if he thinks we are slandering the makers.

I know the Sniffex case and have researched it fairly deeply. Much of what Mary Yugo has claimed is not verifiable, but some is. It does appear that the Sniffex was a very expensive dowsing rod (about $6,000, though there are sources saying as high as $60,000).

However, dowsing rods can detect something, this is where Mary goes too far. What they detect is entirely another issue, I call it “psychic.” Meaning “of the mind,” not  meaning woo. A “psychic amplifier” or “sensor” will fail a double-blind test, the kind that Mary considers golden. However, in real life, there are often what are called “sensory leakages,” in parapsychological research. Information that comes through in ways that are not necessarily expected.

In medicine, there is the placebo effect, but, then, are there approaches which amplify the placebo effect? Clinical manner certainly would. Anything else?

I never claimed that the Sniffex “had merit.” This is Mary’s corrupt interpretation, radically misleading, like much of what Mary writes.

And I never claimed that Yugo was “slandering the makers.” Mary made all that up. Continue reading “Mary Yugo, Sniffex and the Blindness of Reactive Certainty”

Examples

CSICOP (now CSI) is, on the face, a skeptical organization, originally dedicated to the “scientific investigation of claims of the paranormal,” but which rapidly became a “debunking” organization with a very clear political agenda, not neutral and scientific. This can clearly be seen on RationalWiki, which is generally very sympathetic to CSI positions and treats them as, more or less, gospel. So, examples, listed under fields.

Diet

Searching for CSICOP-related pronouncements on the Atkins Diet, I found this Skeptical Inquirer article, by Reynold Spector. It’s quite good, though I wouldn’t agree with everything in it, and it uses “pseudoscience” rather loosely.

However, the fanatic skeptics at RationalWiki may not be reading Skeptical Inquirer. So, from the RW article on me, under “Diet woo,”

Lomax is an advocate of the Atkins Diet, a low-carb fad diet that most of the medical community have rejected as quackery.[34]

Spector is pointing out that the opinions of the “medical community” are largely based on poor research, he actually calls it “pseudoscience,” which is further than my major source, Gary Taubes, would go. Bad Science, is his theme. That something is “fad” has nothing to do with its scientific or pseudoscientific character, though usually fads have some kind of evidentiary basis, at least in practical experience, or it wouldn’t become a fad. That is not the same as “proof,” and ideas that are fads are not therefore factually-based. I don’t interact with “most of the medical community,” I interact with doctors and medical professionals that my insurance will pay for, and most of them are quite aware, and have told me, that “Atkins works.” The RationalWiki article itself covers this to a degree. After a shallow coverage of the Atkins Diet, it has:

The reality of low carb, higher protein diets

First of all, this makes a common error: an assumption that LCHF (low-carb, high-fat) diets are “higher protein.” That depends on the choices a follower of the food plan makes.

There is a two fold reality to truly low carb diets: 1) They work[27] 2) They are dangerous[28][29]

So perhaps I have generally followed an Atkins Diet is because it works, and certainly because it worked in my experience. (What does “works” mean? It means, for me, loss of unwanted weight and improvement of cardiac risk factors. Not to mention being able to eat my favorite foods, which, since childhood, were high-fat. I moved away from them many years ago because of the “low fat fad” that was promoted by the “mainstream.” Then I woke up!

Is Atkins “dangerous”? What is shown is very weak and unscientific, not based on actual research, just imagination. Woo, if you like, only carried and promoted by “authorities,” as described by Spector. (And, in far more detail, Taubes.)

The reality with any “Very high protein”(VHP)[30] or “Very low carbohydrate”(VLC)[31] is that they are helpful for short periods of time, but pushing the body into ketosis for extended periods, or asking the body to process high levels of protein leads to a variety of mild to major conditions, including: increased risk of heart disease; kidney dysfunction, liver dysfunction, bone density loss, arthritis, water retention, kidney stones and bad breath (ketoacidosis causes a fruity smell on the breath due to increased acetone in the body) and body odor[32]. So while it does work, it is something best done under the guidance of a physician or dietician (not a nutritionist) and only for short periods of time.

I have seen no evidence that extended ketosis is harmful. “Ketosis” simply means “burning fat,” i.e., as ketone bodies, which the body mobilizes from stored fat. There are cultures that eat very little carbohydrate, without apparent harmful consequences. The problems with a high-protein diet are known (I think). If one only eats protein, the body goes into the third metabolic system, burning protein for fuel. It can do that to survive, for short periods. But fat may be the primary system, largely not active when there is plenty of carbohydrate in the diet, i.e., the modern standard diet. “Bad breath” is culturally determined. So RationalWiki is giving unscientific advice, thinking that this is “rational.”

The other problem with high protein diets is that according to several studies, the weight is more quickly regained than with dieters who followed a moderate reduction in calories over a longer time, presumably due to the fact that the weight was lost under the body’s “duress”, and not simply because more calories were spent than eaten.

The real problem with science and diet and nutrition is the paucity of high-quality studies. Losing weight with an HFLC diet is not stressful, they made that up. It is easy and comfortable. Again, many studies are poor and poorly interpreted.

Atkins is sustainable as a long-term food plan because it allows highly satisfying meals, thoroughly enjoyable. If one stops following the food plan, the result is largely predictable: gain of weight. That is true for almost any diet. They have not cited sources for the alleged studies.

Granted, low-carb diets can be astonishly [sic] effective. But given their side effects, they can be suggested only when the overweight itself presents graver dangers to the health of the patient than the risks of the diet. Morbidly obese patients (weight index 38+) may benefit from low carbohydrate diets in order to normalize their body weight. Such diet should always be considered only as the means, not the end.

This is unencyclopedic fluff. Back to the point, that I “advocate” Atkins (I suggest people look into it) was used as evidence that I am a “woo” promoter. The paragraph above relies on assumptions that Atkins is dangerous (it was common for low-fat promoters — and low fat can be very dangerous, since fat is an essential nutrient — to say that Atkins might work, but has not been proven safe, which, of course, neglects that LCHF diets are very old and some cultures have eaten that way for very long periods of time; the alleged dangers, if they exist at all, can be monitored. For example, I used Ketostix to monitor ketone levels, which would reveal any dangerous ketoacidosis, even though that is very rare and not expected in my general health condition. I also more carefully monitored blood lipids and even got a cardiac CAT scan, since I had hypercholesterolemia, which sounds bad but which can also be simply familial and harmless. Atkins appears to be reasonably safe, compared to the dangers of the standard American diet.

So, that’s RationalWiki. Anything else?

Okay, Skepticblog. Not bad, but uninformed, makes ignorant assumptions to make unscientific recommendations.

Found a nice article by the Skeptical Cardiologist about the death of Atkins (i.e., it had nothing to do with his diet). The guy has some other interesting posts, such as there being no problem with saturated fats from dairy. An actual skeptic! Does he remember to be skeptical of his own ideas? (That is the acid test!) I don’t know, but he is a good writer.

While I found some skeptics spouting unscientific “knowledge,” I did not find an organized anti-Atkins effort, and quite  a bit of positive material that accepted at least part of what Atkins recommended.

Cold fusion

Here is a link to a page presenting a Randi video on cold fusion. Randi claims not to have a priori bias; however, what is shown here is his name-dropping of Carl Sagan, with whom he witnessed (and walked out of) a Martin Fleischmann press conference in which Fleischmann was evasive. This is all well-known, at that point, Fleischmann was under instruction from lawyers, apparently, not to reveal too much. It’s meaningless, but apparently Randi thinks it’s important. Then he turns to the topic of Andrea Rossi. This was November, 2011. Rossi is introduced by the interviewer as an “Italian physicist,” which was quite incorrect, Rossi is an inventor and entrepreneur with a shady past. By this time most LENR researchers had dismissed Rossi as unverifiable and very possibly a fraud. Randi’s predictions were not accurate, Rossi did not go to a public stock offering, and he has never sold stock. He did attract private investment, sale of licenses, based at least in part on something Randi did not anticipate: some real scientists appearing to confirm Rossi’s claims.

They had great fun with “University of Baloney.” The University of Bologna, according to the Wikipedia article, “founded in 1088, is the oldest university in continuous operation[2], as well as one of the leading academic institutions in Italy and Europe[3]. It is one of the most prestigious Italian universities commonly ranking first in national rankings.”

A skilled con artist can fool many regular scientists, including “skeptics.” Such an artist will also carefully avoid close examination by anyone with true expertise, and Rossi did that (Randi did predict this). Knee-jerk dismissal, however, and expectation of fraud was useless. What it took to truly and definitively expose Rossi was actual investment, by people who knew what they were doing (consciously taking risks). The result is thoroughly documented on this blog, the gateway is Rossi v. Darden docket.

Even this is not proof that there is no Rossi Effect. However, at this point, it is clear that Rossi is deceptive and that any demonstration that he can manage in any way is untrustworthy.

Carl Sagan’s real opinion was far more nuanced.

It is clear from his last quoted statement on cold fusion, however, that he was not informed. Claims of neutron production had been largely abandoned by then: if neutrons were being produced (and there is some evidence for that), the levels were a million million times down from the actual measured (and correlated with heat) product, helium. Further, his original idea that science would prevail was incorrect, he did not sufficiently realize the power of the information cascade. (That combined with the difficulty and unreliability of replication, the drastic variability of the effect, which, among other things, made commercial application remote and not yet attainable.)

In a book on Carl Sagan’s Universe, 1997, James Randi wrote about cold fusion.

People are still fussing about cold fusion, which in my opinion and the opinion of many of my colleagues probably just does not work, but it does work in one respect. It gets a lot of funding, at least from Toyota, who just gave them $7 million to pursue cold fusion studies. Wonderful! I must also announce a diistressing bit of news that I am currently arguing with my very good friend, Arthur C. Clarke, in Sri Lanka. I’m glad that he is a considerable distance from me. We might be in a fistfight, because he is quite supportive of cold fusion. He has spoken to the founders of this wonderful notion and is pretty well convinced by them, so I may have to go over and clast that icon too!

This is all personal and is actually the kind of thing that Sagan wrote against. Why does Randi’s opinion matter? What does he know? He was a magician, and could indeed be an expert on the generation of illusion. He will also be senstitive, from his predelictions, to possible fraud and delusion. So … who are his “colleagues”? Magicians? CSICOP members? He isn’t a physicist, but so-called “cold fusion” was not actually a physics topic, it was an experimental result in electrochemistry. The “them” he refers to would be Pons and Fleischmann, funded to continue their research in France. Is that about “cold fusion.” Pons and Fleischmann did not claim that what they found was “fusion.” They claimed it was an “unknown nuclear reaction.” They actually had no real “nuclear evidence,” only more heat than they could explain by chemistry (and they had been mistaken about low-level neutron radiation, later work completely deprecated that claim).

It was not until 1991 that clear nuclear evidence was found; before that, there were mysterious reports of tritium, never correlated with heat, unlike the 1991 work which found a clear correlation between anomalous heat and helium. By that time, cold fusion was already heavily rejected by “consensus,” which, of course, excluded contrary opinion, and, here, Randi talks about a strong argument with Clarke. Over what? Clarke was aware of the evidence, Randi was not, was operating on his own reactivity.

Randi’s opinion is totally nonscientific. However, he writes something else there I find remarkable, see Parapsychology, below.

Parapsychology

This is remarkable, James Randi saying that parapsychology is a legitimate science. This is in a book published on Carl Sagan’s Universe, in 1997.

I speak to a great number of lay audiences and academic audiences, and we have to get some terminology straight. Pseudoscience and crackpot science are differentiated in certain ways. Examples of pseudoscience in my estimation are things like homeopathy, which is diluting a medicine down to the point where you’re beyond Avogadro’s Limit, and there’s none of the original medicine left, but the vibrations are still there. …

I agree with Randi here, that the “explanations” of homeopathy are legitimately called “pseudoscience.” His description of what homeopathy is, however, neglects clinical practice and studies that show that homeopathy is an effective modality. Because the “explanation” which he focuses on, as if it were the entire issue, is truly “woo,” and disconfirmed, as far as I know, by double-blind studies, there being no discernable difference when the placebo effect is ruled out, homeopathic theory is not “scientific.” However, there remains an issue, the effect of the mind and human presence and interaction, and the possibility that some mythical modality might still be effective, amplifying, as it were, the placebo effect, the effect of language and thought. The “vibrations,” he demeans sarcastically, could simply be thought, the idea of the substance, that then has an effect on the practitioner and patient. This is not so simple to test! Is it “pseudoscientific”?  Unfortunately, I don’t know how to test it. Are we pseudoscientists if we propose untestable explanations? Only, I’d say, if we pretend that they are scientific.

In general, pseudoskeptics dismiss evidence that is other than peer-reviewed and confirmed blind studies; yet human beings routinely order their lives based on anecdotal evidence, and I have seen no evidence that refusing to do this is at all conducive to survival. Pseudoskeptics often reject what is ordinary, common human practice, as if “wrong,” imagining that they have the enlightened view and everyone else is stuck in darkness and ignorance. Randi goes on, my emphasis:

Some parapsychology, in fact, I think most of parapsychology, is also pseudoscience because of the way it is approached, but parapsychology is a legitimate science, no question of that, and it must be pursued.

Randi is obviously aware of the definitional problem ignored by the RationalWikians. Parapsychology is the scientific investigation — using the methods of science — of the “paranormal,” which essentially means phenomena that are not yet explainable by “natural physics” or the like. The term has come to refer to “psychic phenomena,” but that is interpretive. The core meaning of “psychic” is “of the mind.” From my point of view, it’s not clear that the mind exists other than in a realm of ideas and impressions. I.e., does the smile of Mona Lisa exist? It’s just some oil paint on canvas, in some patterns. The “smile” exists in our interpretation of those patterns. The idea that the mind is an illusion is very old. But we routinely trust in the reality of the mind. It is entirely possible to move beyond that, to something far more “grounded,” but pseudoskeptics, in general, are utterly naive about all this.

When Randi refers to “most of parapsychology,” he is referring to theories and the possible concepts of some students or researchers in parapsychology, not to parapsychology itself. In the end, his definition of “pseudoscience” relies on his own opinions and judgments, not an objective standard, from what I’ve seen. Genuine parapsychologists, like real skeptics, postpone judgment, possibly forever. Randi then argues practicality.

It is in an unfortunate positions. It’s been around for something like a hundred and twenty years, no necessarily under the name, parapsychology, but scientific research directed in that way has been around for that amount of time. When I speak to parapsychologists, they usually say, “Well, I still have a feeling there is something there,” in spite of the fact that they have not had one positive experiment yet, in more than a century, that has been replicated. Strange! It is very much like, in my estimation, being a doctor for 120 years, and everyone of your patients has died.

All patients die eventually. Perhaps Randi has not realized this.

His essential claim here is that investigations of the paranormal have produced no results, which is nonsense. Some results have indicated, for example, that no effect of statistical significance was present in reports that earlier seemed to show some paranormal phenomenon. Those are parapsychological results, and they are of value. However, there are other results, claimed and published under peer review, that seem to show some paranormal effect, and some of these have been replicated. Randi simply denies that these exist. Parapsychology would continue to investigate these. As with cold fusion, above, it is not clear to me that Randi is aware of those claimed results.

I am not confirming or denying those claims. I simply don’t know enough, it’s quite a bit of work! I’m generally quite skeptical, and choose not to invest the time; however, what I actually did was stand for the right of those interested in parapsycholgy to create educational resources on the topic on Wikiersity, and that includes “beleivers” and “skeptics” and anyone else interested. In setting that up, I did write that parapsychology was, by definition, a science, and that was attacked by RationalWikians as being my “promotion” of pseudoscience, as if I believed in some parapsychological theory or hypothesis. I don’t. Some of the results I have seen are interesting, that’s all. I don’t draw conclusions from that, other than noticing knee-jerk rejection without actual consideration of evidence. I.e., the inverted kind of pseudoscience, practiced by those who imagine they are promoting “critical thinking” and “science.”

After the first thirty years, wouldn’t you get an idea that maybe you should seek a different line of work? …

That’s a choice for individuals to make. What is sometimes offensive from “believers” is a demand that others pay attention to what they believe. If a physicist thinks cold fusion is bogus and doesn’t want to pay attention to it, that’s his or her choice. What is offensive is when those who do actually pay attention, or actually invest time and resources in research, are attacked as “pseudoscientists” and “deluded believers.”

 

CSICOP

The SoS page, following, gets the current name not quite right. It is Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Has CSICOP Lost the Thirty Years’ War?

This is the best article I’ve ever read on the history of CSICOP/CSI. The name change actually reflects the take-over that Truzzi objected to. “Scientific Investigation” — which would be, by definition, as a field, parapsychology — becomes “skeptical inquiry,” which, in practice, readily favors an unbalanced and unscientific, highly critical approach, even though CSI claims it “Does not reject claims on a priori grounds, antecedent to inquiry, but examines them objectively and carefully,” CSI activists and authors blatantly and sometimes explicitly do this, and CSI does not correct or balance this. This is common for ideological activists, they will quote their ideals as if those are evidence as to actual behavior.

I’m going to explore Examples on the subpage, from my own study. CSI, in general, attacks as unscientific or pseudoscientific, people and fields based on the alleged opinion of the “majority of scientists,” whereas it would be rare that the “majority of scientists” would be aware of the evidence involved. CSI activists often assert “there is no proof,” sometimes taking that down to “there is no evidence.” There is no “proof” is true of much of science, at the edges or “fringe.” Only in mathematics is proof abundant, and mathematics is ordinarily highly cautious about assumptions and logic. To say “there is no evidence,” however, is to completely neglect the most common legal evidence: human testimony. Pseudoskeptics commonly confuse evidence with proof, discounting evidence because they do not consider it proof. The reality would be “I have not seen evidence that convinced me,” sometimes shortened just to “convincing,” perhaps extending this to “me and my friends or those who think like me.”

This is often visible in Wikipedia editing. In the case of cold fusion, the position of cold fusion in the journals flipped many years ago. In the first year after announcement, “negative” papers — as assessed by Dieter Britz, a skeptical electrochemist — outnumbered “positive” ones. The next year they were about equal. After that, positive papers dominated and negative papers almost entirely disappeared. Pseudoskeptics claim that this is because “most scientists” no longer considered it worthwhile to even consider the subject. (There may be some truth to that).

However, years ago, I did a study of mainstream publications from 2005 on, and found not just primary sources, but many reviews, with critical response being rare to non-existent. Supposedly peer-reviewed secondary sources, i.e., reviews, are golden for Wikipedia articles on science, but uniformly and rapidly, citations of these were removed by the “skeptical” faction.

Somehow, authors on cold fusion were able to pass peer review, and in one case, one of the Wikipedia  editors called that “something strange.” Policy has not been followed. An editor there, Manul, shows up in my studies of an editor who appears to support extreme skeptical positions, and when his name was mentioned, that disruptive editor went totally ballistic, as if Manul had been attacked (which was not the case, he was merely mentioned) Manul claimed that he was being harassed off-wiki and had changed his user name (which is pretty useless), and that was mentioned, because he had filed sock puppet reports attacking a favorite target of the disruptive editor, and without that knowledge, it could be assumed that this was two independent editors. Manul has since disappeared, but what I notice here is the threat of reporting the editor he is arguing with for “personal attack.” This was a common tactic of the entire skeptical faction. I see here that Manul is actually a disruptive editor (I would have been blocked in a flash if I had behaved like that), but he has apparently retired, which, when attention might start to be focused on them, disruptive editors, especially those acting in collaboration with a faction, often do.

In one case, in a mainstream chemistry journal, which had published a review of the field of LENR or “cold fusion,” there was a critical Letter published, and one of the original authors and a phalanx of scientists in the field responded, and the critic was left sputtering that the journal would not publish his rebuttal. I find it fairly obvious that journals were refusing to publish knee-jerk pseudoskeptical rejection, and that the shallow (and blatantly incorrect, in a critical way) Letter was the best they got.

“Most scientists” would be completely unaware of this situation, so they would base their opinions on what became widely believed in 1989-1990, that it was all a mistake. I thought that until I actually started to review the field, not as a believer, but as neutrally skeptical (and understanding the theoretical reasons for rejection, they are rather obvious to anyone with knowledge of nuclear physics.)

Something is happening that we don’t understand. For people who have based their identity on “Scientism,” that is terrifying. In theory, humanists and skeptics don’t have a belief system, but in reality, humans do, and denial of it leads to much mischief.

And here is an example of how I learn by writing. To link to the Wikipedia article on Scientism, I needed to look at it, at least briefly. There I saw reference to Schumaker, A Guide for the Perplexed. (1977) And that, for me, immediately brought to mind a book by Nate Hoffman, A Dialogue on Chemically Induced Nuclear Effects, A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED About Cold Fusion (1995). This was one of the first books I read on cold fusion.

(Schumaker’s title was itself a reference to a 12th century book by Maimonides.)

Hoffman has been excoriated by at least one “cold fusion believer” for being Wrong about this or that and probably hostile. However, the book is written from a genuine skeptical point of view, one that does not demand conformance to “expectations” and it actually skewers common pseudoskeptical arguments. Hoffman, I see now, was clearly referring to Shumaker’s book in his title, and skewering scientism in general, i.e., the smug, satisfied belief that challenges to orthodoxy (what “scientists believe,” generally neglecting diversity of opinion among scientists) can be a priori dismissed.

Skeptical about Skeptics

Skeptical about Skeptics 

Googling “pseudoskepticism,” I was presented with this image at the top of the results. I followed it, and found the site. On the face, this is professional-quality presentation. My interest: what is the content? Is it “believer” or “skeptical” or “pseudoskeptical”? It is possible to be a mixture, and some believers can also be skeptical at the same time, the words are not precise. And the site claims to be “skeptical about skeptics.” Or is it pseudoskeptical?

PSEUDOSKEPTICS REVEALED

Genuine skepticism is a virtue in science. Unfortunately, some self-proclaimed guardians of science are committed to conventional taboos against psychic phenomena, despite many promising lines of evidence. Although they call themselves skeptics, they are in truth fundamentalists who attack any challenge to their beliefs, even if it means contradicting the core scientific principles of paying attention to evidence and keeping an open mind. They assume psychic phenomena cannot exist, and remain ignorant of the relevant research. They are pseudoskeptics.

“Many promising lines of evidence,” unqualified, could be a “believer” comment. it is not qualified. Lines of evidence for what? Well, “psychic phenomena,” which means what? The term “psychic” can be used in many ways. The core meaning is “of the mind.” However, it comes to mean, in some contexts, “relating to or denoting faculties or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws, especially involving telepathy or clairvoyance.”

There are “phenomena” that are called “psychic,” but by definition (the second definition), that is not a “natural” explanation, and I’m not sure that “laws” explain anything of weight, to depth. They allow us to make certain kinds of predictions; the core scientific question would be verifiability. From a study of conditions, can results be predicted?

The idea that phenomena (i.e., what can be observed) given the name of “psychic” cannot exist is obvious nonsense.

However, the “scientific investigation of claims of the paranormal” seeks causes, it does not deny the phenomena. So a cause of a “clairvoyant’s” surprising knowledge could be “cold reading,” a skill that can be trained, which might be a hypothesis. Testing this could be well-done or otherwise, but the investigation can certainly be scientific. The pseudoskeptics who are the topic of this web site claim otherwise and for this reason they are outside of science, themselves.

Skeptical About Skeptics examines their ill-informed attacks with articles by well-known scientists and thinkers, revealing their faulty critiques and the underhanded methods they employ. We highlight controversies in specific fields of research and shine a light on prominent pseudoskeptics and skeptical organizations.

We are pro-science, and we are in favor of open-minded inquiry.

First of all, are there “attacks,” as distinct from ordinary critique? Are there “underhanded methods” being used? I’ve been, the last few weeks, researching and handling the a family of sock puppets that impersonate their targets, to make impeach them and make it appear that they are disruptive fanatics and cranks, or to confuse deliberation on wikis and other fora. So, yes. That happens. In my study, I have not yet come to the case of Craig Weiler, who appears to be a principal at our topic web site, but he has certainly been a target, see his RationalWiki article, and, looking through the history of that and its talk page, and seeing how much his name is raised by these sock puppets, I see ample confirmation. (I’ve been documenting the “single-purpose accounts” — obvious attack sock puppets — who often create articles like this; see, here, the obvious Strawberry Smoothie and then the most recent editor, Marky — look at his contributions!

His article follows a common trope. If anyone presents evidence “for” some phenomenon being psychic, psedoskeptics will claim that “proof” is being asserted. This runs through many long-standing debates. for example, what really amount to atheist activists, those who are far to the right of ordinary non-believers, will say that “there is no evidence for the existence of God,” leaving out what would be crucial, what is “God”? “God” is a high-level abstraction that might actually mean something different to each person. I use the word as a personal name of Reality, along with many other such names. So, is there no evidence for the existence of Reality? What would that even mean? Pseudoskeptics reduce difficult issues, such as the demarcation problem, to sound bites and snarky comment, especially on RationalWiki. They are anti-science, reducing science, a method for developing effective predictability, to a body of “established knowledge,” while leaving behind the method that maintains and expands that knowledge. The RationalWikians are pretty explicit that they follow the “mainstream,” i.e., the majority of “scientists,” a rather fuzzily-defined group that excludes anyone with differing opinions, no matter what their individual qualifications.

If their targest have a view that seems to differ from the mainstream, they are “cranks” and “pseudoscientists.” Weiler is pouring out some of their own medicine.

As I have mentioned, I’m skeptical about claims of psi being not explainable consistently with known science (experimental results might require some unexpected explanation). It is clear to me, though that some attempted explanations are inadequate for at least one set of experimental results that I’ve looked at. This is far from “believing in pseudoscience,” or “promoting it.” On Wikiversity, I facilitated the formation of an article on Parapsychology, neutral by inclusion and editorial consensus, so far. The pseudoskeptics have no patience for that, the ones that have showed up want a quick victory or else they go away, to come again another day with some new twist, like bogus disruptive editing on Wikipedia.

This SoS article I found quite well-written: Zen … and the Art of Debunkery Or, How to Debunk Just About Anything

I have seen most of the tactics that he sarcastically presents. His lede:

“While informed skepticism is an integral part of the scientific method, professional debunkers — often called ‘kneejerk skeptics’ — tend to be skeptics in name only, and to speak with little or no authority on the subject matter of which they are so passionately skeptical.”

So, I have seen an undergraduate student, with some physics courses, actually considered the resident expert on RationalWiki, ridicule a theory paper on cold fusion by a physicist with over forty years of experience, a standard (hot) fusion expert, because the man used a term he had never seen. It was an ordinary term, “platonic solid.” That student had no understanding of what he was reading, but was certain that there was something wrong with it. The paper was simply an exploration of a possibility that nobody had calculated before, of multibody fusion, just looking at the math of quantum field theory.

I may review various articles on that SoS site as subpages here. I’m critical of some claims, but science advances through academic freedom (and civil discussion), not through ridicule and suppression of alternate views.

So what about homeopathy? After all, the theory seems ridiculous! The idea of some kind of structure in water, some kind of “water memory,” is not quite as ridiculous as it sounds, but water memory operating as claimed with homeopathic medicines seems colossally unlikely to me.

Here is a problem: There are clinical studies showing that the *practice* of homeopathy is effective, even if double-blind tests show that the remedies are not more effective than placebo. That may be challenged, there may be studies, and then there is the question of how to interpret them. This is not a task for fanatics of either kind!

I have used homeopathic remedies on occasion (because I trust in trust itself, which can be created, I’m actually trained to do that.) So I had an injury and someone gives me a remedy, with care and love, and it would be totally rude to reject it. And, in fact, I felt better, healed quickly, etc. Anecdotal, of course. Proves nothing.  I use words alone to accomplish those results, often without a “token.” It’s really about how the brain works).

Homeopathic practice includes training in the “law of similars.” It is entirely possible that a treatment modality based on something, that is not literally accurate, still works. I had this discussion with Andrew Weil in Tucson, something like 1974. It occurred to me that homeopathy might, through the nature of the study and practice, be amplifying the placebo effect. Skeptics generally stop with a finding that a medicine is no better than a placebo, but medicine is practically never prescribed or used without knowledge of what it (supposedly) is.

That could be called a “psychic phenomenon,” though it requires no unnatural explanations, only a possibly different understanding of what “medical practice” is — and how treatments are most effectively applied.

Is cold fusion a fraud?

In a recent post here, I documented the temporary ban of Ascoli65 on LENR Forum. As a result, there was discussion of this site, of Levi and UniBo, and of cold fusion, on fusionfredda.

As part of that, one user gave a series of arguments, ignoring what I’d written, that cold fusion was rejected by mainstream science (both true and stupid in context), and one user, after I pointed out that nobody understands cold fusion, claimed that, no, cold fusion was simply a fraud, representing that as an understanding. I’m not going to continue that conversation unless specifically invited. Because these arguments are old, and I haven’t written about them in quite a while, I’m posting this here.

Beyond that, I’m not concerned if some fanatics have weird opinions on a blog that is rapidly becoming obsolete, designed from the beginning to be useless except for transient bloviating that generates no enduring value. Continue reading “Is cold fusion a fraud?”