[My comments are in indented italics. I have done some minor copy editing of THH’s original.)
As a borderline pseudoskeptic I should have interesting personal experience to bear on this topic!
Sharing personal experience is always welcome.
I do have some detailed views on it, since it has always interested me. First, the label pseudoskeptic is profoundly unhelpful unless accompanied by certainty you have got it right. The whole point about debate is to argue the arguments, not the personality of the arguer. The label pseudoskeptic only has use as a marker: this person has been dismissed as someone wholse views are predictable and therefore uninteresting (and wrong).
Well, this is an issue of language and how it is used. All labels can be “profoundly unhelpful” if we confuse the label with the thing itself. Human beings are complex and reducing them to a label is often to miss the reality. However, pseudoskepticism is a discernable phenomenon; in discussing this with groups that, in my opinion, are commonly pseudoskeptical, what I’ve seen is a denial that pseudoskepticism even exists. We will look at the definition below. However, to say that So-and-So is a pseudoskeptic, if it is taken as a fixed and dominant identity, as if the person is completely known by the application of the label, is normally quite rude, if not worse than that. However, if a specific behavior appears to demonstrate pseudoskepticism, it is simply honest to disclose that occurring. Only if we insist that we always be ‘right’ does this represent a problem, in one direction, and in the other direction, some are unable to handle such labeling and become enraged.
In fact, labeling anyone a pseudoskeptic is the same phenomenon as what I think Abd means by pseudoskepticism, and just as odious.
I’ll agree that believing that labels are the thing labelled is an aspect of pseudoskepticism. I will here point out that “odious” is a label, also, a complex and very personal judgment.
Abd I believe defines pseudoskeptic to be someone whose beliefs are so limiting that they are prevented from paying attention to contrary evidence and therefore erroneously keep a biassed view.
No, that is overspecified. It’s simpler than that. Pseudoskepticism is an apparent skepticism that is not skeptical of self. It is skeptical of others and their views, it is skeptical of ideas different from those of the skeptic, but does not balance this with skepticism of the pseudoskeptic’s own ideas. It is thus “pseudo-” skepticism, it pretends to be skeptical, while, at least in some area or with some issue, it is founded in belief or fixed ideas.
This can show up as the quality described: evidence that supports the pseudoskeptical position is asserted and believed, whereas evidence that may indicate otherwise is deprecated, criticized, and rejected as weak.
The reality is that fact is classified by us, often, into Supporting Truth and Misleading Claims, and then rationalizations are created for accepting or rejecting the facts (i.e., accepting facts that are weak, because they support what is “known,” and rejecting facts that might more objectively be just as strong or stronger, because they lead to “wrong conclusions.”
However, fact and conclusion are clearly and rather easily maintained as distinct. A careful witness can readily do this, or if a mistake is made, can easily be called on it.
My interest is in negotiating broad consensus, and my general finding and stand is that this is possible with careful discussion of fact and interpretations, keeping them distinct. We should be able, generally, if sincere, to agree on fact (by appropriate specification), it is in interpretation that agreement can be elusive.
One more point. To discuss pseudoskepticism usefully, we must drop the idea that it is Bad. Pseudoskepticism is a product of developed and possibly instinctive personal and social process, and I must distinguish between “hardened pseudoskepticism” — which goes way beyond merely making routine life simpler — and simple manifestations of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” a useful phrase that can hide the complexity, that assumes that “extraordinary” is well-defined, and that often then requires utterly overwhelming evidence, not merely clear and verified evidence.
Further, “requires” for what? Probably “for belief.” Yet belief — any belief that pretends to be fact — is itself problematic in science. There is a routine usage, to be sure, but pseudoskeptics use “belief” to describe “believers,” whereas they may deny it for themselves, yet it can be quite clear that they believe what they are claiming, it is not merely “rational.”
These are all human behaviors, and it’s crazy to expect humans to not display them. However, my interest is in discussing the behavior, in learning what is behind it and what is possible, and that can require labels, devices for pointing to patterns.
Unfortunately, here convenience is the enemy of attention. It is true that someone (say IO) who is convinced that LENR does not exist may both overlook evidence that it does and talk in a way that is unquestioning (even while overtly asking questions). Equally someone who is convinced that LENR does exist (say Jed) will overlook or dismiss contrary evidence, and dismiss contrary people as idiots or worse.
Yes. Without nailing what is being said to the individuals involved — it is up to them if they accept the description or not — the phenomenon is common. I’ll tell a story, below. I’ve had fun.
These two phenomena exist and both are problematic regardless (let us say) of whether Jed or IO is correct, or whether this question is an open one where an objective viewer would reckon there is no clear answer.
Right. One of the essential distinctions I’m pointing to is that poor arguments might support truth, false facts can be alleged in the same direction, and the reverse: true facts may appear to deny what is true; this, then, is all about interpretation, and for me, the first issue is what the facts are, and one of the differences, a clear one, between fact and interpretation is that it is possible to obtain very high consensus on fact, whereas this can be much more difficult, if not impossible, with interpretations.
If (for example) Jed is correct, then his unwillingness to examine the issue with care is less harmful than if he is wrong. In PR terms it may be equally harmful, since certitude does not convince others.
I’ve been known to assert this, again, not insisting on Jed as an example.
Again, Jed has, I believe him, spend a great deal of time and effort considering these matters. That makes his views of more weight than someone who has not done that. But it does not make them ineluctably true.
Right. Of course. However, if we want to be careful, we will respect the experience and knowledge of someone like that. “Respect” does not mean “fall down and play dead.”
Just as, for example, a believer who has spent a life studying his faith, does not make his belief more plausible to agnostics or someone of a different faith. Science is not faith, and there can be scientific judgments which any open-minded expert would validate based on current evidence. But often (and my view is that LENR has this character) the evidence is cloudy and does not allow clear answers. But it does allow, maybe attracts, conviction.
Again, whether a body of evidence creates “conviction,” also called “belief,” is a personal phenomenon. I think there is a brain sense that notices when something “clicks.” I.e., it fits together. However, manufactured theories with little foundation can click. I used to say that there is probably a drug we could take to create certainty. Indeed, some of the psychotomimetic drugs probably do this, they activate those responses.
So, my point here is that convictions are human. They are a necessary shortcut. We all have them, often they are incorrect, occasionally they are very harmful.
The way we progress with science is to admit we are fallible humans, with convictions, and then bend over backwards to try and question them and see the other side.
Again, yes. There is a technique I was taught for interfaith communication and it also works in negotiating consensus. That is to have the participants express the other side, such that the other side says, “Yes, that is what we believe.” Not mockingly! However, this does not mean “believe the other side.” It means understanding it clearly enough to be able to express it well, that way. If we look at the interminable conversations on sites like LENR Forum, we can usually see that these are “sides” that cannot express each other. Each side is nailed to its own position. However, the truth will not disappear if we stop holding on so tightly that we can’t express what we might think is false.
The way we respect other people is to realise that even when we are pretty sure their convictions are wrong, we should respect them as people, and pay attention to their arguments and views, which still have merit. And convictions matter to people.
By definition. My ontology does not admit “should” without specification; however, behaviors of respect (such as visible listening with patient attention to detail) generates rapport which generates understanding, which may generate agreement and movement and learning.
Sometimes, in such dialog, convictions can change. Regardless of the bottom line details matter. And even if my convictions are unshaken by evidence contrary to them, I still want to understand and weigh that evidence. For me I want attention to details, and the capacity to follow through a train of argument to its conclusion.
Yes. Those are values for me as well, and this has been obvious about you and is then a cause for me to be happy that you have elected to create conversation here. Even if you are (sometimes) pseudoskeptical. So what? You do the work, that’s obvious. It is merely — in my opinion — not complete.
Abd I think conflates two things in the label pseudoskeptic: someone who has strong conviction that LENR is false, and somone who is incapable of processing contrary points of view about LENR. Then, he labels interlocutors as pseudoskeptic or not. That label is obviously a convenience, it saves effort.
I don’t tie “pseudoskeptic” to LENR, but someone who “has a strong conviction that LENR is false” is like an atheist who rejects “God” without having a broad enough definition of God to allow understanding the experience of others. That strong conviction is pseudoskepticism. It is not scientific, obviously. However, doubt as to any particular alleged fact, and especially doubt about conclusions drawn from alleged facts, may or may not be pseudoskeptical. “Pseudoskeptical,” in my language, never means “wrong.” It merely represents an attachment to a variety of belief.
But it is inherently wrong. Just as wrong as I would be if I labelled Jed as a believer incapable of looking at contrary evidence because he is often dismissive of it and impatient with people propounding it.
“Inherently wrong”? What does that mean? What if you see that Jed is as you claim? That is, this is what occurs to you, which with high-level abstractions is the most basic level of thinking. Then you might be able to distinguish and identify the causes for this occurring in, say, what he has written. As with anything, there might be error in this, but we do not find reality by being afraid to make mistakes; indeed, the fastest way to learn is to be wrong. If we pay attention, and are not attached to being right.
I will agree, nevertheless, that labels can depress communication. Sometimes, however, we have other goals, perhaps emotional imperatives, such as standing up to oppression.
As for IO – is he a pseudo-skeptic?
I’d much prefer not to answer that. I’d happy label any of his posts as more or less pseudoskeptical. Some are quite strongly so, others are not at all that.
His expression became, with time, more and more obviously pseudoskeptical. Setting aside the possibility of trolling, assuming sincerity, his knowledge of cold fusion is poor. He literally doesn’t know what he is talking about, but expresses himself with high certainty. That’s pseudoskeptical. A major characteristic is a belief that others are wrong, that those who appear to hold the rejected ideas are stupid. IO came barging in with that, and has not, so far, acknowledged blatant errors. So I’m happy at this point to tag his writing as pseudoskeptical. He isn’t nailed to that, he could participate positively and usefully at any time. Any skeptic can.
Jed has been poking pseudoskeptics like IO for decades. It’s like hitting him below the knee with a hammer, he’s going to kick. However, engage seriously with Jed — it’s certainly possible — useful conversations can arise.
Oh – and me? Make up your own mind! Or, don’t.
My mind will be made up when I’m dead. Until then, it’s unmade and messy. I referred to you as a pseudoskeptic somewhere. I have also many times claimed you as an example of a genuine skeptic, the kind that the field needs. When I referred to you with pseudo-, I had in mind certain statements I’d seen where you expressed what was linguistically fact, but which is actually a complex conclusion — or idea that has not been challenged and carefully examined, but believed to be true.
What I expect from you is that you would engage on this, to create useful conversations, not only useful to yourself, but also to others. Whatever question you have, others will also have.
And I don’t mind being wrong, or appearing so. Sometimes “wrong” is better than “right,” because of what it can lead to. That works when we are not attached.
Welcome to Cold Fusion Community.
I said I’d tell a story. I became, years ago, an expert on the claims of Rashad Khalifa, about the “numerical miracle of the Qur’an.” I knew Khalifa, but, unfortunately, when he was assassinated, and when, out of respect for his memory, I attempted to verify his work, I discovered that it was an artifact of the search process, most likely — even though there are some amazing “facts.” By the way, this formed the occasion for mention of my work by Martin Gardner, a hero of mine when I was a teenager.
At one point, there was a man who was working on something similar and we were discussing the Qur’an. It is a common belief among Muslims that there is only one text of the Qur’an. That is almost true. Unfortunately, this can interfere with claims of perfection in, say, letter counts.
So at one point, I wrote to him mentioning textual variations. Like most Muslims, he was unaware of this, and, in fact, certain that I must be wrong. So he wrote to me, “I have no patience for fools.”
I responded with “If there is any difference between you and I, this is it.”
So what happened? He laughed. Great guy. He then paid my way to attend two conferences set up to consider his ideas, because I was the only one who both understood his ideas, what he was trying to do, and who could critique them. He valued that.
In a comment on Validity of LENR science,
So: just some summary points on this discussion.
(1) Abd has answered some of my points in his main article now, with arguments that cohere. However, they do not change my views, because they do not raise matters that I have not previously considered.
This work, so far, was not intended to “change” his views. It is intended to lay out some of the issues, and, as well, what I wrote in that post is a general commentary on the discussion on LENR Forum, not the detailed examination that THH is looking for; rather that will be distinct. This comment here is also not that detailed discussion. However, it may point to how it may be set up.
Abd’s post gives the impression of a lack of symmetry – in that he would appear to believe he has a more complete and considered view of this specific matter than mine, and his arguments would seem to be more telling.
I might think that, and could adduce some evidence for it as likely to be true, but this is basically irrelevant. He is mistaking what might be an occurring with a conclusion, a “belief.”
Therefore, he argues, where I have contrary views I perhaps have a pseudoskeptic (faith-like, in this context) attachment to them.
Yes as to the definition of pseudoskeptic. However, absent specifics, this is shadow-boxing. This has nothing to do with contrary views. When he proposed an idea I have seen dozens of times, and have studied in detail, yes, I imagine I might know more, but that is beside the point. Most of what THH writes does not show “faith-like attachment,” but there are signs here and there of possibly unrecognized assumptions, held as true. All that will come out in a detailed discussion. Notice: “possible.” And not claimed as wrong — unless we get into specifics.
THH is here focusing in the “pseudoskepticism” issue, which is not the main point, it is not where we will go. I will be seeking consensus, not “winning.”
I see a symmetry here. I can (and would elsewhere – see below for the necessary conditions) reply to Abd’s reasonable comments with reasonable comments of my own giving opposite conclusions. Should I therefore be symmetrical in my summary of Abd’s stance – and reckon that his complete negation (in counter-argument) of my points implies a faith-like fixity of viewpoint?
What complete negation? This is taking place in a vaccum, without referents. If I “negate” every point, that would be a sign of attachment, though not quite a proof. Someone arguing from an attached position may sometimes argue in that way, accepting nothing, negating everything. Someone more sophisticated might suppress that impulse, knowing how it looks. On the other side, if a series of points are made and all of them are seen as bogus, pointing this out is not necessarily attachment.
The process of discussion in good faith will move through and beyond all this.
That would be very unhelpful to this discussion – nor am I willing to think that of Abd. But I get the sense here that on the soft evidence there may well be very different views that are difficult to move because there is a lack of real relevant data.
Actually, not as difficult as THH may think. What would be difficult would be coming to firm conclusions when necessary data is lacking, but it is possible to agree on what data is lacking. That, then, might suggest research, which is the point. The goal here is not “moving views,” though it is possible that this will occur. The goal is to identify and express the issues and the extant evidence.
(2) The form of debate on this page I find difficult, because it is inherently non-linear. LENR forum for all its faults provides a linear thread of comment, with easy access, which can work well when drilling down to specifics and replying to other comments. Here, what I’d really like is to follow up each unresolved issue in a linear format and its own place.
That may work for you in your personal process, but it does not build a resource that is easy to access for others. We are starting as a spin-off of a discussion on LENR Forum. Posts here are “traffic.” They may announced “pages.” I expect that we will build pages on specific issues. I have already done this, and this will expand.
Now, I have already done some of this, years ago, on Wikiversity. Look through that Resource, and you will find subpages that sometimes go into great detail on specific issues. You will find debates on Talk pages, threaded. That Resource is open and can be used for page collaborations. Page collaborations may also occur here, subject to some security consideration.
(3) In this area of judgement, where hard data is not present, it is inherently difficult to weigh arguments. I’d find it interesting to catalog the various arguments (much as in the AGW debate some sites do) with a summary.
Yes. Exactly. The goal, a complete compendium, on some particular issue, of all notable arguments, as determined by a consensus of participants. It is actually possible to have all arguments, not merely notable ones, but the consensus will, I hope, organize the material so that approach is relatively efficient. Because this can be done on Wikiversity, it is where it differs greatly from Wikipedia, which often suppresses minority views. Wikiversity still has a neutrality policy, but it handles it by inclusion, not by exclusion.
Unlike the AGW debate where for nearly all of these contentious argument there is hard fact that supports specific interpretation – not 100%, because AGW relates to hypotheses still underdetermined by science to date, but enough to make the fringe skeptical opinions clearly unlikely – in this debate the hard fact does not exist for many of the arguments.
Bingo! Statement of belief. “The hard fact does not exist.” Now, THH can do better than this! To be sure, this might not be “belief,” but instead of seeking hard fact, on the face of this, THH is declaring that it doesn’t exist. We may need to create some epistemology here, what is “fact” and what is “belief,” or “interpretation”? This actually is not difficult.
Of course, the way to test that is to evaluate such an argument with hard facts attached.
To me, the goal is confused by this word “argument.” And then “evaluate” with no clear standard or purpose.
This is difficult. For example, over excess heat, there are very many experiments, each with different issues, and coming to a group judgement not possible unless the effects of selection and systematic error can be weighed.
Attempting to evaluate the entire field at once is not only difficult, it may be impossible. This is why I generally confine any of my more definitive claims to a narrow set of reports, finding anomalous heat in palladium deuteride, using the electrolytic method of loading. This is not because this is necessarily the best way, but it is an approach with many results, and then with many correlations. Would that there were a large set of identical experiments with only a single variable (perhaps the most difficult condition to set up could be the single variable: the material!) — or sets of experiments with one variable at a time controlled. We don’t have that luxury, yet, except with some subsets.
That just does not seem possible to me which is why I find it more illuminating to drill down into specific papers looking at all the evidence.
But this is what we will do. We will study the published work, generally (and we may supplement this by asking questions of the original workers, in some cases, or sometimes those who knew them.)
So we get a catalog of arguments, but it will be written differently by those of different views. You’d in many cases need to leave at least two different summaries unresolved.
We don’t know what we will need until we have created the context and content. The goal of polemic is to convince. That will not be our goal, we will be providing material to cover the issues, so a decision-maker is fully informed, of evidence and argument. This will begin with what may be voluminous discussion, and if it stays that way (as it does on LENR Forum), it will be almost useless. We will, when we sense that the open discussion phase is complete, begin to organize it and compile it and write concise summaries, linking to the full discussions. Hypertext.
(4) My current view of Shanahan’s arguments is that I don’t know whether they specifically apply to LENR experiments. They certainly could so apply to many. Shanahan tends not to be interested in the limits of applicability of his ideas, which I dislike. Equally Jed and on evidence this page Abd seem not to be interested in the extent of applicability of his ideas, which I also dislike. For me the fascination is exactly in delineating that applicability however large or small it is. And the chances of its being either 0 or 100% – given that the ideas pass basic sanity checking – seem low to me. One proviso though is that if I look more deeply into it I may discover some killer problem not raised (or perhaps raised and not fully understood by me) by the many people here who dismiss Shanahan’s work.
Understand, THH, that when I began to look at the cold fusion article on Wikipedia, and the havoc that had been wreaked by abusive administration, I came across Shanahan. I rescued his deleted article, placing it in user space so it could be worked on. Shanahan attacked me as a believer. I wanted his ideas to be fully expressed, but he was hostile. As I recall, he supported my en.wiki ban. After the ban, the copy of Shanahan’s article was then deleted as an attempt to delete “everything Abd.” See the deletion discussion where I attempted to save his page. (the majority of user names in that discussion were very familiar, a sign of factional pressure.) See his page’s deletion log. See the log for the userfied copy.
I invited Shanahan to elucidate his ideas in detail on Wikiversity. He never showed up. See
https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Cold_fusion/Skeptical_arguments, and then https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Cold_fusion/Skeptical_arguments/Shanahan
Years ago, I looked at Shanahan’s older history. He was a fervent opponent of cold fusion on the internet, in the 1990s. He was only published later. We will, I assume, be going over Shanahan’s ideas. I don’t yet know where we will start.
(5) Perhaps Abd could progress the debate here by enumerating the areas of LENR evidence that are critiqued by the (experienced and knowledgable) LENR community. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I read, from those who believe LENR is very important – as those who think it probably exists must do, a normal variation in opinion with detailed and serious doubts about the relevance of given experiments, with reasons.
There are certain exceptions, but generally intra-field critique is on the private CMNS list. There is very substantial variation in opinion, trust me! But if I publish material from that list, I’d be banned. I can ask questions and can obtain permission to publish answers. (Krivit sometimes publishes material from the list. How does he get away with it? He supposedly left the list long ago, but he has informants.) If we get specific, I can obtain comments.
That would help reviewers from outside to identify material that was relatively stronger, and also show that groupthink did not suppress the process of scientific debate within the LENR community. I am myself unclear as to what an LENR expert would consider the strongest evidence.
There is great variation and often little agreement. I’ve stated this many times: when I proposed the heat/helium confirmation work, there were stated oppositions. The majority of these were probably based on “waste of money, we already know this.” Others were based on “helium is not the ash, so it’s a waste of money.” Those tend to be people with some alternate theory. By the way, if you have watched the Taubes video I linked, his general opinion is that only about 5% of scientists actually practice science. Bad Science is all over the place, and I agree with him.
Fortunately, there are some real scientists in the field, and they saw the importance of heat/helium, and went and got the funding. It really takes only a small group to push beyond the barriers. Of course, those scientists had been working for years, and had established reputations.
My opinion is obvious: the strongest evidence is the heat/helium correlation, as seen in many experiments and by many groups. Storms shows that the ratio settles on, across many experiments and allowing for substantial error in capturing and measuring helium, the theoretical fusion value. The error is large enough, so far, or at least close to being large enough, to allow alternate theories for fuel/ash than deuterium/helium.
Jed is more likely to point to the massive numbers of AHE confirmations, or tritium measurements or X-rays. (There are many). In writing my paper for Current Science, I ran into opposition because I seemed to be deprecating the tritium evidence. I was able to deal with that; the problem with tritium is lack of correlation with heat, and theoretical reasons for that can be advanced, but … we really don’t know the mechanism and how tritium and helium would be related. It’s frustrating to see, in the literature, reports of heat and then reports that tritium was found, but not quantitative information. Bockris, who did the most work on tritium, didn’t look for excess heat. My hope is that the Texas Tech collaboration will look for tritium and attempt to measure correlation with heat. There is a probable additional variable: the H/D ratio in the fuel. That is easy to measure and should be routinely done anyway, because heavy water is hygroscopic and will increase in H from exposure to air, and it only takes 1%, from prior work, to eliminate the AHE, as to what can be measured. It is sometimes thought that under these conditions, tritium production increases. All these are things that could be studied, and where extant study is inadequate.
Jed’s contribution to this has not yet helped me, though the McKubre isoperibolic series report (with high apparent excess heat) looks a good place for me to start since there is available much detail and Jed identifies it as being specifically convincing. I’m not certain that others would agree with Jed.
You can start anywhere, but I do highly recommend you register an account here, and ask me for Author privileges, which will allow you to create posts and pages. I think only Posts allow comments. Comments here are like LENR Forum comments, except they are threaded, i.e, replies are below the replied-to. And the comment editor is punk. But that is really only for unregistered guests.
For collaborations, we could use Wikiversity. Ask me!