Masterclass.com, Neil DeGrasse Tyson teaches scientific thinking and communication
Category: Scientific Method
musings on the scientific method and applications
To be or not to be, is that the question?
Well, is it or is it not?
Scientific orthodoxy is an oxymoron
I came to know about Dr. Malcolm Kendrick from his being attacked by the same trolls that attacked me (and that I am in the process of suing.) He describes himself as a “sceptic,” but it turns out that some kinds of skepticism are called, by believers in scientific orthodoxies, “denialism.”
In the name of “rational skepticism,” they attack anything that questions their beliefs, and I’ve been seeing this for years, often promoting “scientific positions” that I generally agree with, but with toxic argument, often severely ad hominem, and, themselves, pseudoscientific.
Hence these have been termed “pseudoskeptical,” the term first being used in modern times by one of my favorite skeptics, Marcello Truzzi.
Before I link to Kendrick’s post, I will point out that Kendrick expresses no opinion on the wisdom of vaccination or non-vaccination, he simply points to facts, and, as well, to the toxic treatment of anyone who questions what has become an “orthodox” opinion about vaccination, which I have also seen, and have pointed out in the past. Simply reporting in media that anti-vaccination opinions exist has been attacked, see my post, Astroturf or idiocy?
If we want public policy to be grounded in genuine science (don’t we?), it is crucial that scientific inquiry not be biased by reasoning from conclusions, by the emotional reactions that are actually not to fact, but to imagined conclusions from the examination of fact.
I.e., there are those who fear that if questioning the wisdom of requiring universal vaccination is allowed, or the questioning of claims as to the benefits of vaccination, people will not vaccinate, and, “Millions of children will die!“ That is a hysterical reaction, and vastly exaggerated. Under some circumstances, non-vaccination may increase a risk, but how much? And mainstream opinion will not just vanish, if it is at all sound, and so most children will continue to be vaccinated, and so this imagined vast harm will not occur.
Science does not tell us what public policy should be. Rather, if used rationally, it can inform us as to probabilities and possibilities. If used under the domination of reactive psychology, it can lead us seriously astray, but that is not “science,” it is a social phenomenon that pretends to be scientific.
So, Kendrick. Enjoy.
My feelings about the vaccine debate
Astroturf or idiocy?
I came across this from Tom Naughton’s Fat Head blog. I’ll be riffing on this. First, Naughton is not a careful reporter, he’s sloppy, but, then again, he’s a comedian, not a journalist or academic, and he is writing about topics that will be obscure to most, such as actual Wikipedia process. What he wrote:
Remember the kerfuffle when a rogue editor at Wikipedia targeted Fat Head for deletion? He was, you’ll recall, the same editor who deleted articles about Malcolm Kendrick, Uffe Ravnskov, Jimmy Moore, and pretty much anyone who recommends low-carb diets or disputes the Lipid Hypothesis.
The editor in question, originally “Skeptic from Britain,” (and my page) could not delete anything, he was not a Wikipedia administrator. Was Skeptic from Britain a “rogue editor”? Not really. There is a whole faction of editors (including some administrators) who act in similar ways, but SfB is actually a long-term banned editor (best known as Goblin Face), Darryl L. Smith in real life, according to my research (extensively documented on pages here). He is able to do what he does because of the cooperation of many editors.
He did propose articles for deletion (AfD). Links to the deletion discussions: Kendrick (deleted), Moore (deleted) and Fat Head (kept) — this was nominated as MatthewManchester1994, SfB renamed.
Ravnskov was not proposed by SfB, but by EEng, a snarky editor. (One of the problems with Wikipedia is that too many users with no life treat it like an MMRPG, an opportunity to display adolescent hyper aggression, to win by making others lose.) SfB, however was quite active in that AfD.
In the Fat Head deletion discussion, Jimbo Wales (co-founder of Wikipedia) commented about the nominator:
Strong keep – As others have noted, WP:IDONTLIKEIT is not a valid reason for deletion. It is worth noting that the proposer is a serial namechanger and POV pusher who has now apparently left the project.
When SfB “retired,” he claimed he had been outed on the internet. I was, in fact, accused of being SfB by his brother, on Encyclopedia Dramatica. That is how I came to look at SfB. What I found was that the only outing had been by troll socks, accounts that appear and create disruption (like outing), with no history of comment, and often repeating the same message under different names. The outing named the user who was the only Keep vote in the Jimmy Moore deletion. And that behavior then loudly rang the Darryl Smith bell. This was a sophisticated form of impersonation socking, Darryl’s standard MO, used to harass anyone who criticizes him.
So then I looked at edit timings, spending days compiling and studying data. This was clearly Darryl Smith, previously Debunking spiritualism, now moving from attacking spiritualism and parapsychology (and me, for the sin of having exposed his impersonation socking on Wikipedia, Wikiversity, and the WMF meta wiki), into exposing his “Dislikes = Fad diets, LCHF quackery, pseudoscience.” Did he find a new paymaster? I don’t know.
SfB, before going on a massive Wikipedia editing binge, ending with his “retiring” in December, 2018, had made a few edits to RationalWiki as John66, pursuing the anti-low-carb agenda, and when he did retire, John66 started up in earnest and is still quite active. There, he is now a sysop (RatWiki gives out that easily). The entire RatWiki site is largely dedicated to identifying and exposing “quacks, charlatans, pseudoscientists, and conspiracy theorists.” Is that astroturf? Well, maybe, to some degree. More likely it is a pile of nut cases itself (with a few exceptions).
On the conspiracy side, Darryl Smith has claimed (through socks identified behaviorally and sometimes with technical data) that he has been paid by “a major skeptical organization.” These organizations are dedicated to “debunking,” which is where the genuine skeptical movement went, losing its original scientific underpinnings and methods, becoming highly pseudoskeptical.
It is not skeptical at all, it is a “believer” movement, believing in “mainstream opinion,” even when it is not actually “evidence-based.” I.e., “evidence-based medicine” — what a great idea! — becomes “widespread opinion-based” — and widespread opinion can be highly vulnerable to astroturfing, or more deeply, to the effect of research funding and promotion.
Deletion discussions on Wikipedia, while they are sometimes influenced by opinions like “quackery,” turn on “notability,” which in Wikipedia policy is based on the availability of sources for verification of article content, and what sources are usable can be highly controversial, but if there are mainstream “secondary sources,” sources that review primary sources, or that have a business necessity for fact-checking, these will be considered “Reliable source.” Wikipedia policies are arcane to the uninitiated, because “Reliable” does not mean “reliable.” Get it?
The articles on Kendrick and Moore were deleted because of lack of adequate coverage in reliable source. That can change. “Quackery” as claimed by SfB was irrelevant, but it fires up his own support base. By guidelines, the number of votes doesn’t matter, it is the arguments that count, but in reality, some administrators are lazy as hell and just look at the votes. You can tell by the close comments. I have never seen an administrator even reprimanded for a “consensus is delete” close where it was not a “snow closure” — massively obvious — but actually not a true consensus. Sophisticated users will know how to appeal a decision, so, in theory, this is harmless. In practice, the project is slowly warped toward either majority opinion, neutrality be damned, or toward the opinions of a highly motivated faction, which can wear down and burn out users interested in creating a neutral project (i.e., following traditions of academia, that were the basis for the original encyclopedias, or of journalism, as represented by Sharyl Attkisson.)
So, that Wikipedia article on Attkisson. From the message she has in her TED talk, I expect to see her attacked on Wikipedia. Sure enough, this is how it is done (current version)
In her reporting, Attkisson has published stories linking vaccines with autism, despite the fact that the scientific community has found no evidence of such a link. Seth Mnookin, Professor of Science Writing and the Director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT, described Attkisson as “one of the least responsible mainstream journalists covering vaccines and autism. Again and again, she’s parroted anti-vaccine rhetoric long past the point that it’s been decisively disproved.”
I immediately notice a very unlikely claim reported as a “fact.” “The scientific community has found no evidence,” is essentially a lie. There is evidence, but it is also possibly countered by other evidence. “There is no evidence” is a common claim of fanatics, when there is evidence. When someone is guilty of a crime, they are likely to say, “They have no evidence,” but in court, a case will be immediately thrown out if there is no evidence. Rather, in an unbiased proceeding, plaintiff and defendant will present evidence (vetted for being admissible) and the judge or jury will balance and weigh it.
“No evidence” is rhetoric, fake news, and a tell-tale sign of someone attempting to influence opinion by lying or misrepresenting reality. So how is this allowed on Wikipedia? I will look at the process below, but the notes are:
32. politico.com: sharyl-attkisson-suggests-media-matters-was-paid-to-target-her
Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson has accused the liberal watchdog group Media Matters of targeting her reporting, and believes someone may have even paid for them to do it. […]
Attkisson’s reporting has come in for a fair amount of criticism as well, and not just because it frequently targets the Obama administration. She has previously published stories about possible links between childhood vaccinations and autism, and stood by those reports on Sunday even as Stelter noted that doctors believe framing the idea as a “debate” is dangerous and encourages parents to not vaccinate their children. (The majority of the scientific community disagrees with that assertion and the CDC says there is no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism. A famous 1998 study that did purport to find a connection between autism and a vaccine was retracted in 2010.)
“I’m not here to fight doctors,” Attkisson said. “I’m just saying that factually, I’m not here to advocate for one side or the other. I’m just saying factually, there are many peer-reviewed published studies that do make an association, and the government itself has acknowledged a link.”
The article’s expression was confused. The “assertion” just before the claim of majority disagreement was that framing the idea as a debate is “dangerous.” This is a classic fascist argument, by the way, used to suppress dissent. Socrates was condemned for “corrupting the youth” by asking dangerous questions. However, they mean that the majority disagree with a “possible link between vaccination and autism.” This is commonly not represented accurately. The claimed link is, as I understand it so far — I’m gradually becoming more informed on this — between MMR trivalent vaccine and autism. I am very skeptical about this claim. But I would not agree that it is impossible. In any case, “majority” implies that there is dissent within the scientific community, and not merely some single crank (or, for that matter, a single visionary). This is actually contradictory to “there is no evidence.” Rather, first of all, most of the scientific community is not specifically informed, that’s normal. Rather, what can be found is that certain organizations, possibly influential, have issued conclusions. Based on balanced weighing of evidence, or otherwise, these, as science, will stand as evidence for the conclusion, but it is opinion, interpretation, not fact. (Evidence is fact or “witnessing.”) It might even usually be correct, in some way, but “science” goes astray when what is interpretation and opinion becomes “evidence,” and is used to deny that evidence even exists.
Is Atkinsson correct? The CDC page cited now redirects to a different page, with no reference to autism. The Politico article was dated 04/21/2014. The archive.org snapshot of that page the day before shows concern about autism, and then has:
a scientific review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal–containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion that there is no relationship between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism rates in children.
That review clearly is about a weighing of evidence, and does not support the idea that “there is no evidence.” Is Attkisson correct that “the government itself has acknowledged a link”? The evidence shown above does not contradict her statement, which is vague and could mean almost anything. What Politico was reporting on was a CNN interview.
(the interviewer there actually supported the idea that there is a campaign to discredit Attkisson. That, of course, does not end up on Wikipedia!)
In that interview, it is not impossible, nor would it even be surprising, if Attkisson’s views were not flawlessly expressed, or were obsolete. Her actual stand is that people should not blindly depend on her opinions or anyone else, but should dig and think for themselves, and carefully, because there is a great deal of intentionally or carelessly deceptive information available. On that stand, I agree with her completely. Even if the autism/vaccine link was a mistake. Demonizing critique (anti-vaxers are called “murderers”) “controversializes” the very process of free democratic review that is essential to science and to sane public policy.
It is fascist, and, yes, fascism can be on the left or the right. It always has “good reasons” for suppressing dissent. After all, who can be against trains running on time? Or, for that matter, the public being protected from “quackery” and “pseudoscience”? Those vague hazards are not actual risks except to those who choose to follow them, and so fascism protects the public from its own “wrongness,” which itself alienates elements of the public, which can see that forces are attempting mind control. The anti-vax hysteria is fueled by suppression. (And it can itself be fascist, see my fascism post linked above.)
Whew! That’s just the first footnote.
33. Anti-Vaccine Movement Causes The Worst Whooping Cough Epidemic In 70 Years. This is a Forbes blog story, it has apparently been taken down. Archive.org. The author is Steven Salzberg. From his Wikipedia article:
Salzberg has also been a vocal advocate against pseudoscience and in favor of the teaching of evolution in schools, and has authored editorials and appeared in print media on this topic. He writes a widely read column at Forbes magazine on science, medicine, and pseudoscience. His work at Forbes won the 2012 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking.
The “widely read” is editorial insertion, not sourced. The link is to the column itself, violating policy. (I.e., it does not establish notability of the column, though this can be allowed with editorial consensus.) The Prize is awarded by, surprise!, the Center for Inquiry, the descendant of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which became, contrary to its title, a debunking organization going after any fringe science. That “Critical Thinking” award is for “Skeptic Authors,” but the only “Skeptics” awarded are those who debunk skeptics as “pseudoscientific,” whether they are or not. (This faction would call “cold fusion” “pseudoscientific” on Wikipedia, and tried many times, even though the basic ideas are testable, have been tested, and the bulk of the evidence confirms that there is an anomaly and that it is nuclear in nature. But who cares about evidence, if you can simply attack “believers” as “die-hards” and “cranks,” and “pseudoscientists” ? and if you can exclude clear Reliable Source (so judged by Wikipedia policy and the community) as “biased” or “written by believers.” (RS policy has to do with publishers, not authors).
His first version of the Forbes post, 7/23/2012. His tag line:
Celebrating good science by fighting pseudoscience and bad medicine
This is an activist, with axes to grind. The headline is not science. Period. No evidence is advanced that “antivax” caused the rise in cases. He wrote:
Sometimes it comes straight from the media itself, such as the credulous, anti-science, anti-vax CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
That was a libel, but it demonstrates how the thinks. This is pseudoskepticism that, as Attkisson points out, becomes an extended ad hominem argument, as a red flag. It was changed later by the version cited on Wikipedia, to
Sometimes it comes straight from the media itself, such as the CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who has repeatedly and persistently reported on the purported link between vaccines and autism long after such a link was widely discredited.*
Notice the use of weasel words on one side and affirmative statements with no evidence and actually contradicting some evidence on the other. “repeatedly and persistently,” is how many times, out of a very busy career. And she reported on the link, when, and has her reporting been complete. “Widely discredited” simply could mean that a few people have discredited her, or a vast mob of people like Szalzberg. It’s meaningless, showing only a mass of opinion.
Again, I’m not saying he is wrong. I’m saying that this is conclusory, opinion, not fact, and why was this cited?
It appears that the Attkisson article has been used as a coat-rack for attacking her and anti-vaxx. And that is what happens to anyone who offends the faction. I covered the like of this here, on another person who actually supports vaccination but dared to repeat what anti-vaxxers think. , same pattern with Sarah Wilson. Journalist reports fact (in this case, her idea of what some people think), and is attacked viciously. (in this case, all that undue nonsense was removed from the article a few days ago. But Wikipedia process is entirely unreliable, and initiatives that would have made it reliable have been strongly resisted.)
Still on the sources for the Wikipedia article:
34. A blog, The panic virus, entirely devoted to attacking criticism of vaccines. Not reliable source. Vaporized. Archived. More embarrassing anti-vaccine reporting from CBS News’s Sharyl Attkisson, by Seth Mnookin. In addition to much hysteria, what it had on Attkisson was conclusory and based on various concurring opinions (other bloggers!), not any kind of overall survey. This is an information cascade, not “science-based.” There may be some science referenced, to be sure, but science is not a body of conclusions, rather it is a large body of evidence (actual “knowledge”, much of it from, at best, controlled experiment, but interpretation is always conditional and subject to revision based on new evidence, as well as recognition of possible deficiencies in previous analysis. And that is how and why science moves on. Bottom line, this was correctly attributed as Mnookin’s opinion, and he might be considered notable. Is there any balancing evidence? I will look at the history below to see if any was asserted.
Mnookin, by the way, has a book and all this could be seen as pushing his point of view. Authors commonly display a bias toward their own point of view, big surprise? Not.
The book is The Panic Virus, so he could be seen as creating a business around this. (Much as Gary Taubes is accused of doing around low-carb, on the opposite side from the Wiki fanatics. It is plausible that Taubes has a bias, and Taubes actually calls his latest book, The Case Against Sugar, the “argument for the prosecution.” Biased. Now, does “biased” mean, “to be excluded from public discourse and respect”? People with one point of view commonly call opposing views “deluded” or “biased.” The defense very often claims the prosecution “has no evidence.”
Both of which are irrelevant arguments, conclusory, not related to fact.
The Wikipedia article on Attkisson continued:
In 2011, Paul Offit criticized Attkisson’s reporting on vaccines as “damning by association” and lacking sufficient evidence in his book Deadly Choices. In the medical literature, Attkisson has been accused of using problematic rhetorical tactics to “imply that because there is no conclusive answer to certain problems, vaccines remain a plausible culprit.” Attkisson said that she favors vaccinating children, but claimed that research suggests that “a small subset of children” have brains that are vulnerable to vaccines. She has said that pharmaceutical companies are discouraging research into the vaccine-autism link, and that they pressured CBS News to stop covering the purported link.
35. So, again, a book. Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All
This is the argument of medical fascism. The choice not to vaccinate may, if the mainstream is correct, increase risk, but only very slightly for any individual. There is an increased collective risk only if the number of those making that choice rise to a significant percentage of the public. Vaccines are also not completely effective, complicating this.
If a vaccine were 100% effective, it would fully protect the public that chooses to be vaccinated, and others would be at risk, presumably with their own choice, or that of their parents. It is a common fascist practice to take over parenting from parents, in favor of something “better.”
The non fascist answer to the refusal problem would be education, but if the education is fascist propaganda (i.e., excludes and demonizes contrary opinion), it will increase the power of anti-vax arguments, because the oppression can be seen readily, and it does not increase trust in authorities, it has the opposite effect.
I do not conclude that because fascist suppression is used against the anti-vax movement, therefore the pro-vaccination evidence cannot be trusted, but many people will think that and support, then, conspiracy theories.
In any case, this source amounts to a very strong critic of anti-vax attacking a journalist for reporting the other side. It is clear that Attkisson has been criticized, but what is the overall balance? How notable is this, for a Wikipedia biography of a living person?
What is obvious is that critique has been collected, with weak sources being used.
36. Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm – An overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement. Article in Vaccine, a peer-reviewed journal. Copy here.
This is a fascinating article and I could agree with much of it. (I.e, anti-vaxxers use “tactics and tropes.” But so to the critics of “vaccine denialism.” In any case, the article does not mention Attkisson in the body, but cites two sources in footnotes, i.e.,
 Gorski D. Anti-vaccine propaganda from Sharyl Attkisson of CBS
News, . Anti-vaccine propaganda from Sharyl Attkisson of CBS
News, http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/anti-vaccinepropaganda-from-sharyl-attkisson-of-cbs-news-2; 2011 [accessed 25.08.11]. [Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/61D4kploa]
 Attkisson S. Autism: why the debate rages, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/autism-why-the-debate-rages-15-06-2007/; 2007 [accessed 24.04.11] [link corrected]. [Archived by
WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5yAqYL0p2].
 was the “science-based medicine blog” which is affiliated with the debunkers at CSI and often is full of attacks on skeptics of mainstream ideas. Snark rules there, as it does in many “debunking” venues. From the Vaccine article:
Works critiquing the anti-vaccine movement are often accused
of being propaganda [89–91]; those on the other side of the issue
accuse anti-vaccine activists of propaganda as well [92,93].
The blog piece has been taken down. This comment about propaganda is certainly true of both sides. “Propaganda” is conclusory information designed to influence. Neutral reporting is not propaganda, through propaganda might refer to it. It is obvious that both sides of this issue create propaganda. That is normal for political activism. 92 establishes the obvious, but this is not what is supported by the Wikipedia article.
179 supports this from the Vaccine article:
4.2.4. “You can’t prove vaccines are safe”
This accusation demands vaccine advocates demonstrate vaccines do not lead to harm , rather than anti-vaccine activists having to prove they do. Claims such as “There is no definitive research proving a link between vaccines and autism or ADD, but there is also no definitive research ruling it out” or “Those who say autism and ADD are not linked to vaccines do not know what is causing the epidemics”  imply that because there is no conclusive answer to certain problems, vaccines remain a plausible culprit. This involves arguing based on a lack of evidence – not knowing something is true is taken as proof it is false, or not knowing something is false is proof it is true. Likewise, because there have been no studies conducted with the specific conditions antivaccination groups ask for , this lack of knowledge means vaccines are not safe. Lists of questions to ask vaccine proponents  are circulated with the intention of stumping them, with the inability to answer taken as evidence against vaccination.
I have bolded the statement from Attkisson. The “trope” here is an alleged “implication,” that “vaccines remain a plausible culprit.” That should be a simple fact (about scientific process). If there were no evidence, this would be a terminally weak argument. At the time, however, 2007, the Wakefield et al article linking MMR vaccine to autism had not yet been retracted, and there is (I think) some other evidence. (Attkisson certainly claims it.) Behind this “trope” is an assumption that there is no basis for suspicion, hence the skeptical argument is converted to a straw man argument, essentially, “Because we are ignorant, I’m right.”
What is actually in the CBS source:
6. There is no definitive research proving a link between vaccines and autism or ADD, but there is also no definitive research ruling it out.
And, as well, what was quoted. That was a reasonable piece of reporting at that time, and might still be, the question has become more difficult. The section then goes on to report more, all more or less standard journalism. She points to what was certainly, at the time, a live debate. She was pointing to the incompleteness of knowledge, and, yes, that would still leave vaccination as a “possible culprit,” but she certainly also asserted evidence to suspect vaccination. It’s worth reading that CBS report, it is an example of what she has been attacked for. Reporting.
Fascist attack on the media. It’s not just Donald Trump!
(Many other tropes in the Vaccine article are like the above. Yes, there are fanatics and those using logical fallacies, but, as noted in what was quoted above, this happens on all sides, except what might be called the “journalistic” or “academic side,” sometimes. When we become more interested in reality, as distinct from our opinions and interpretations, we move toward journalism. I like the Vaccine article, in part, but, as presented, it has a likely effect of “debunking” vaccine skepticism as if it were all based on such tropes. What is missing is a list of tropes on the other side. The article author has a clear position: the abstract concludes with: “Recognizing disingenuous claims made by the anti-vaccination movement is essential in order to critically evaluate the information and misinformation encountered online.”
This is an ad-hominem attack on an entire movement, when such movements will be internally diverse and will also be, for the most part, sincere, not “disengenuous.” The author of the article has a clear and strong position, and fails to recognize that behind most of the “tropes” is a reasonable core, a claim that has some truth, at least under some circumstances. It is necessary to recognize “disengenuous claims” by all sides, not just one side. Most urgently, when opinion is considered to rule instead of balanced evaluation of evidence — all the evidence! — we fall into the rabbit-hole of fascism, of the domination of factions and people who believe they are right, which is never “scientific.” In science, we attempt to prove we are wrong!
The article begins with:
… a new postmodern paradigm of healthcare has emerged, where power has shifted from doctors to patients, the legitimacy of science is questioned, and expertise is redefined
“Power has shifted.” Shifts in power are always vociferously opposed by those holding excess power. “The legitimacy of science is questioned.” What the author is calling “science,” is not science, but “expert opinion,” which may or may not be based on science. Experts put their pants on one leg at a time, and are just as capable of attachment and bias, not to mention financial incentives, gross or subtle, as anyone else.
Most people don’t take the time to study issues, even when they are crucial to their health, they simply are looking for whom to trust, as if there is some infallible person to trust. Such people will be vulnerable to propaganda from either side, whichever they trust more, for reasons that can be complex, based on personal history.
What has happened with the internet is that minority opinion can still organize with relative ease. In response, the mainstream (which is loosely defined and there is always the possibility of a “silent majority”), has become more severely repressive and even punitive toward minority opinion (though it always has been to some degree).
In the vaccine debates, minority opinion is excoriated as highly irresponsible, if expressed, and murder at worst. And, of course, the minority, noticing the suppression, readily develops a conspiracy theory (which may or may not be real) and accuses the mainstream of murder. Of innocent children, of course. Both sides shout “Think of the children!”
One more source:
37. The Daily Beast. Scandal blog. Sharyl Attkisson: ‘I Don’t Care What People Think’ About My Reporting
This is a fairly balanced story. It is used to support this text in the article:
She has said that pharmaceutical companies are discouraging research into the vaccine-autism link, and that they pressured CBS News to stop covering the purported link.
Well, did they? I do remember that Wikipedia is not about truth, but about what can be verified. So the fact alleged fact here is that she said two things. What did she actually say ?
Attkisson says she is very much in favor of vaccinating kids, but that peer-reviewed studies have suggested the possibility of a “small subset of children” who suffer from difficult-to-detect immune dificiencies that might make their brains vulnerable to certain vaccines, much like some children are allergic to polio vaccines.
But she says Big Pharma has actively discouraged scientific research into possible linkages, and that pharmaceutical advertisers similarly persuaded CBS and other broadcasters not to run stories questioning the risk of vaccines for certain children.
Well, have they? I have not seen evidence either way on that, not yet, anyway. This is a personal interview, in which she may state her suspicions, or it might be knowledge. At this point, from the interview, I don’t know which it is. But the story of Big Pharma (and other established interests) influencing research is routine, an understanding of the problem has become widespread, with increased requirements for funding and conflict-of-interest disclosures.
Never mind that a CBS News veteran, who asked not to be named, says Attkisson’s vaccine-autism reports were eventually killed not because of advertiser pressure, but because they weren’t adequately supported by scientific evidence.
None of the reports I have seen so far were such. I.e, reporting what people think and claim need not be supported by “scientific evidence,” it is ordinary journalism, and the decision of whether or not a claim is “adequately supported” is for review panels of experts (and that itself can be flawed if the panel composition has been warped, which has happened.)
“The fact is, the government has acknowledged there’s a link,” Attkisson says, citing the recent admission by a senior Central for Disease Control epidemiologist that he and his colleagues improperly omitted from a 2004 study the data that tended to support such a link. “They simply say it’s not a causal link.”
No link, no way to check this yet.
What I see as factual here is that she suspects influence from large corporations. It is not black and white, i.e., advertiser pressure or “scientific” evidence or lack of same. What if the advertiser points out the alleged problem? What Attkisson is reporting is that she was prevented from reporting on what she found. Now, that’s an editorial decision, but she decided to give up a contract with a million dollars left on it, if I read the source correctly, effectively not being willing to work under those conditions. That increases her credibility, her stand was contrary to her personal interest. As presented on Wikipedia, this looks like “conspiracy theory,” a common pseudoskeptical trope, though it is not really a conspiracy theory to suspect that large interests would act (and spend money) to defend their interests, that the would support research likely to increase their profits and discourage or at least not support research that might damage profits.
But this little piece of the article does fairly present what she said.
Now, how did the article get this way? Looking at history, I see my old friend, JzG, a blatant and obvious and uncivil POV-pusher who has gotten away with it for years, one of the people who may have complained to get me globally office-banned by the Wikimedia Foundation. For what? Unknown. In any case, here are some fun JzG edits, in reverse date order
- 20:48, 5 February 2019 Reverted good faith edits by 18.104.22.168 (talk): It’s significant that she broadcaSTS ON WINGNUT CABLE (TW)
- 10:53, 27 January 2019 →Anti-vaccine reporting: don’t especially like primary sourcing but Mnookin is a published authority so probably OK in this case. [Yup. He knew it was a problem, but did it anyway].
- 10:47, 27 January 2019 Reverted to revision 880322583 by Snooganssnoogans: Revert the usual whitewashing (TW) [what he reverted was closer to sources.]
There was a strong level of churning on the Vaccination section. That’s basically quite old news, why was it still in so much flux? (My answer: there is currently a great deal of hysteria about anti-vaxx as pseudoscientific misinformation causing epidemics, etc. From history, JzG’s point of view would be obvious. He is regular and very predictable, has been for years. Whenever a neutral presentation of sourced fact makes an article subject look less crazy, the faction will call it “whitewashing,” as if the job of the project is to blacken reputations. To the pseudoskeptics, that is exactly their agenda, to attack “pseudoscience” and “quacks” and anyone who gets in their way.
- 09:54, 26 January 2019 Reverted to revision 879123820 by Ser Amantio di Nicolao: More neutral title since she is anti-vax (TW) [He just lied.]
- 19:10, 10 January 2019 (→Reporting on vaccines and autism: more to the point) [Changes the head to “False reporting on vaccines and autism“]
Yes, indeed to the “point,” the POV (point of view) that JzG has been pushing for years. The sources do not support that conclusion. Some of these things were discussed on the Talk page, on which JzG demonstrated his standard rigidity and contempt for other users. He was recently reprimanded by the community and may have gone off on in a huff, he has not edited at all for three weeks, from a pace of many edits per day. It has been noticed, see his talk page. 9 March, he was in Bangalore. So maybe he is travelling.
So what’s the point?
Until we wake up to our need for truly reliable journalism, that avoids unnecessary conclusions (or, more practically, that walls off and distinguishes between fact and opinion) — just as we need reliable government and reliable institutions of all kinds — and until we become willing to work toward this goal, trustworthiness by design, little will change, my prediction. Existing structures are almost all vulnerable to corruption of various forms.
When we become aware of problems, what do we normally do? Most of us do nothing, we don’t believe that reform is actually possible. A few become activists and create organizations, which, of course, we create using standard models, which are intrinsically vulnerable, or in a few cases, we go for an anarchist model, which, without protective structure, predictably devolves into one of the standard models. See the Iron Law of Oligarchy.
It is known how to create organizations that are not as vulnerable to this, (it has been done here and there) but few know it and understand it. And what I’ve seen, when I have described the approaches to others, is that they will say something like: “I am so glad that someone is thinking about this.” Subtext: so that I don’t have to, end of topic. One of my old questions:
How many people does it take to change the world?
Two, but most people won’t lift a finger. Literally.
Is there anyone out there willing to take responsibility for the future of humanity? Comments here are open. Let me know!
The ultimate pseudoscience
Materialism and spiritualism, both, if presented as “scientific.”Which would then lead us to the ultimate: a belief that our experience is real, and, as, in addition, that our interpretations of it are meaningful.
The Landmark Forum proposes setting the second part of this aside. They have warned that what they are going to say is not the truth. So then they announce a “distinction.” “Life is empty and meaningless, and it is empty and meaningless that life is empty and meaningless.”
This is a “distinction,” a concept that distinguishes and sorts. In this case, it sorts our experience into two categories: “what happened,” and “what we made it mean.”
It is not uncommon for participants at this point to be highly offended. They draw conclusions from the distinction, completely ignoring the second half, concluding that, as an example, “Therefore they are teaching us that Jesus’ crucifixion was meaningless.”
They are not teaching that, and I know advanced graduates who are also major Christian officials, and clearly “believers,” i.e., they have faith.
Landmark is not setting aside the “reality of experience.” But “reality” is not a “meaning.” And there is more to all this, much more. To the point here:
On Malcolm Kendrick’s blog, February 19, 2019 at 4:31 pm, I posted this comment: (I have slightly edited it).
Ah, but we should sell the *most effective* placebos. There is a Nasruddin story, I tried to find it, but failed, so I will have to tell it, with your gracious permission.
Nasruddin had set up as a physician and had an apprentice to help him. One day, as a man was opening the garden gate to walk to the office entrance, the apprentice said, “I can see, by how this man is walking, what he needs!” Nasruddin said, “You can take this case.” So when the man walked in, the apprentice immediately told him, “Eat some pomegranates, you will be healed!” The man huffed, “You didn’t even ask me about my pains!” and walked out. Nasruddin said, “Next time we see one of these cases, I’ll handle it.”
So it came to pass that another patient came with the same malady. Nasruddin welcomed him, had the apprentice serve some tea, and asked him, when they were sitting comfortably, to what he owed the honor of the visit. The man explained his symptoms, and Nasruddin listened, nodding his head in sympathy, asking questions that showed he had heard everything. He then rubbed his beard, obvious in deep thought, and then he exclaimed, “Pomegranates! You need pomegranates!” The man left a large payment and left, happy to know he could now have hope.
So the “placebo business” already exists and it already uses sugar pills, and openly so. Homeopathy is Andrew Weil’s article. It sets up the inquiry into symptoms, and with a good practitioner, all the supporting aspects of medical manner, including whatever will fit the patient.
Nowadays, an ethical homeopath will never recommend that “evidence-based medicine” — that which is truly so — be abandoned for some sugar pills. Some homeopaths may believe in “water memory,” or this or that concept of the “spirit” of materials, that survives and is even enhanced by huge dilution. Personally, I’d prefer one more thoughtful and less certain, but that holds for medical practitioners in general. And there are exceptions to everything.
Homeopathy doesn’t work — or does not work well — when double-blinded, which is a huge clue. That is the same with all placebos. Homeopathy, I suggest, treats the mind, and the body through the mind and through language, and as another article suggested in comments on this blog pointed out, it is not necessary to “believe” the theory of homeopathy, one can (and I would suggest, should) understand that the remedies are physically all the same, in effect. But they have different names and indications. If they are cheap, and if the patient is not encouraged to abandon effective therapies, they are, at worst, harmless.
However, a more expensive placebo tends to be more effective. High-dilution remedies are prescribed when a more powerful effect is desired, and they require more work to make.
If you want a powerful placebo, then, see a homeopath. From how the placebo effect operates, I expect it will generally be more effective if you see an actual, trained homeopath.
If you want a downer, for some reason I cannot fathom, consult a pseudoskeptic who is sure that anything involving belief is nonsense, but who misses all the crap that he, himself, believes. “Faith is for stupid people! I believe in science-based medicine,” as if it actually exists, just because of his imagination and fervent desire.
Yes, there is such a thing as real science. Unfortunately, the state of medical science is primitive, too often. In addition to Doctoring Data, I recommend Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories, as the investigation of a science reporter, who, ironically, also wrote Bad Science about cold fusion, which is a field where another information cascade ensconced itself (with his assistance!), where the “mainstream” firmly believes in “facts” that have not been correct for almost thirty years.
Taubes may or may not be right about the “insulin hypothesis,” but he does not pretend there is proof when there is not. And he actually has facilitated funding for basic research.
There are two brothers, long term trolls, who eventually realized that they could be more effective as trolls, not only by harassing their targets, but by creating articles on them on RationalWiki that would then show up prominently in Google searches. They have been doing this for years. One of their practices is to track all contributions from their target, create sock puppets, and harass them. The brothers are Oliver and Darryl L. Smith, and the particular brother involved in the harassment of Malcolm Kendrick on Wikipedia and RationalWiki is Darryl. Since I have become a major irritant for them, by exposing what they have done, I have become a much higher value target for them than Dr. Kendrick. So two birds with one stone, they love it.
I am sorry to bring up guilt by association but sometimes this is justifiable. You can define a man by the kind of company he keeps.
This is definitely one of the Smith brothers, there are many signals. Why does he lead with a fake apology about “guilt by association”? I suggest it is because I have pointed out that he does this in his articles, including his article on Malcolm Kendrick, and we know that he has read that page. See John66 here.
This blog is filled with loons and quacks that support Kendrick’s ideas. I have been digging around on various blogs posts going back years on this website. There are anti-vaccine activists that comment here, people that on a regular basis quote from known conspiracy theorists like Joseph Mercola and Gary Null, yet commenters here never call out this kind of quackery they endorse it.
Kendrick clearly does not censor comments on his blog (as he points out in responses), and therefore he cannot be held responsible for “loons and quacks,” if any are posting there.
The author of this post has defamed the entire community of those who post on the blog. Defamation need not be personal, apparently, it can be collective, so anyone in a group defamed could have standing to sue. Truth can be a defense, though it is possible that if malice can be shown, there can be exceptions. I.e., a true fact, asserted in a context to create a misleading impression, can be defamation.
I’ll just call this troll Smith, because there is a small possibility that this is the brother, Oliver, but I’d give it more than 90%, this is Darryl. I.e., Skeptic from Britain, John66, and many hundreds of others. His name and at least one address for him are known, and his brother is currently being sued in the U.K. and if anyone wants to get in touch with the plaintiff, leave a comment here with a real email address, which will not be published absent necessity, and I will verify it and forward it. My opinion: if someone libelled by the Smiths pursues the matter, a civil suit will have legs, and in the U.K., there is also criminal defamation. That is more difficult in the U.S., but civil defamation is actionable and, in fact, I filed an action yesterday. Ask me if interested. The defendants include John Doe 1-9. I know who they are reasonably well, but decided not to name them in the suit, to allow evidence to be developed in discovery before amending the action to include them. Two live in the U.K. Guess who! I could also amend the action, but I needed to get the ball rolling, for fund-raising to support expenses, etc. Back to what this troll wrote:
There are people that promote unproven cancer cures here, basically any kind of reality denying nonsense is supported. There are alternative medicine proponents here. There was even a lady promoting the disproven ideas of Cleve Backster that plants have consciousness.
OMG! “I know that they don’t, because I am an accomplished plant mind-reader, and when I read the mind of a plant, I always come up with ‘thanks for the CO2!’ and that is just an automatic message, unlike my own spectacular intelligent consciousness.”
Watch them quote this and claim that I have agreed with Backster’s “disproven” ideas. I actually never heard of him.
There is a RationalWiki article that mentions Backster, The_Spirit_Science.
Investigating that led me to many interesting observations, but they are too off-point to report. Smith will mention Backster on Kendrick’s blog because it’s a dog whistle for RatWiki pseudoskeptics, not because it will be relevant there. Really, someone mentions “plant consciousness” and therefore Kendrick is keeping “bad company”? I don’t believe Rupert Sheldrake’s theories are scientific, but I’d sure welcome a chance to sit with him and laugh about it all, as, my guess, we would. One of my models is Marcello Truzzi, one of the founders of CSICOP, a genuine skeptic, and “believers in the paranormal” loved him because he actually listened and was interested in scientific investigation, which is quite distinct from the “debunking” that took over that organization. I’ve linked to the RatWiki article, which is only slightly weird, it’s a stub only, in spite of how significant Truzzi is in the history of skepticism. Wikipedia. has much more, and I’m glad I looked, there is a book I will want to get about correspondence between two of my favorite skeptics: Truzzi and Martin Gardner. (My third favorite skeptic: Carl Sagan. And then there is Gary Taubes, and since he calls himself a “skeptic,” Malcolm Kendrick and a host of what RatWiki calls “denialists” who are actually skeptics.
Why Truzzi? Well, if you really look at Truzzi, he coined the modern usage of “pseudoskeptic,” whereas I have seen pseudoskeptics deny that such exists. RationalWiki does have an article. By the standards given there, RatWiki reeks of pseudoskepticism. Long story.
David Bailey that regularly comments here is a paranormal believer and alleged psychic. He is an admin on the Skeptiko paranormal podcast owned by a paranormal nut Alex Tsakiris. Another commenter Abd ul-Rahman Lomax is a known conspiracy theorist and cold fusion pseudoscience nut.
- Alex_Tsakiris started by David Gerard, who is not a Smith, but who has often supported them as a RatWiki functionary. Maintained by Forests, David1234, Trolling_Imposter, Crackpot_Hunter, and Skeptical, all probable Smith socks (and characteristically Darryl), and there may be more, as impersonation socks trolling for reaction against other users.
- Abd ul-Rahman Lomax started by Marky (Darryl L. Smith), as part of threatened retaliation for exposing impersonation socking on Wikipedia and Wikiversity. Maintained by many Smith socks (both Darryl and his twin, Oliver), with trolling by impersonation socks. (I made one edit to that article, as Abd (when I was still a sysop on RationalWiki), but there are at least five impersonation socks in the history, using my name, or prior account names of mine elsewhere, or other names associated with me, such as the most recent, “Coldfusions,” not me, and the troll “Lomax is back” is also not me, of course. Who is doing this? One guess: Darryl L. Smith has a long history of creating impersonation socks, he has used them to high effect.
Basically this blog attracts proponents of pseudoscience and woo, not any rational individuals. There is virtually no science here, that is why these insane ramblings are almost limited to a blog on the forgotten side of the internet. I did some private emails to seven known cardiologists in the UK, they said Kendrick is on the extreme verge of fringe science and he is not taken seriously by the medical community as they lack evidence, four of them had never heard of him and two of them described him as a “quack”.
Not at all surprising. Smith also contacts media and creates responses elsewhere, where others repeat what he has written on RatWiki, and then he quotes them on RatWiki as evidence for his claims. Anyone who challenges mainstream views may be claimed to be a “quack,” and “fringe” is not a specific defamation. “Extreme verge” is an exaggerated statement, how many said that? This is the interpretation of possible comments (as little as one, or simply lying), by an attack dog. But I would not wonder to find that some cardiologist or other called Kendrick a “quack,” privately or even publicly.
Reading the blog, I’m led to read scientific papers, on all sides of the issues. Pseudoskeptics have no understanding of the value of diversity of opinion.
Leading doctors also called Semmelweiss a lunatic, and, in fact, he was, probably suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, but . . . he was also right, with quite strong evidence, and by ignoring the evidence he reported, they became responsible for many thousands of gruesome deaths. All to avoid being merely ignorant of a harm, tragic but not morally culpable. A responsible physician would have looked at the evidence. One did and realizing that he had caused the death of his niece, whom he loved, committed suicide, a truly unfortunate response, because he could have, instead, become committed to working to communicate the research, thus saving more lives than he harmed.
Here, Darryl is clearly trolling, not actually engaging in any serious communication, and that’s his MO. He does not provide any actual evidence (and that is typical). It’s all ad hominem, and in some places — not this –he would be trying to induce others to indulge in it. He also knows that sometimes his trolling will draw a target into response he can then quote for defamatory purpose.
He will research identity and find whatever he can use to assert “crackpottery.” A person who simply voices their personal opinion on a very personal issue (their own health! and what they found in their own research toward making persona decisions) will be called a “crackpot,” by one of the most cracked of pots, not useful for encouraging the growth of any thing of beauty, a deranged pseudoskeptic. Smith is not a real skeptic, obviously, he is a believer in “mainstream belief,” that is, anti-fringe, but skepticism is essential to science, and that includes skepticism of what is widespread belief, which RatWikians commonly redefine as “denialism.”
Göran Sjöberg is a metallurgical engineer he has no credentials in medicine and is another one of these low-carb high-fat crackpots.
He has not written an article on this person because it will take him some time to put together a collection of juicy quotes. I looked up Dr. Sjöberg, impressive. Smith will scour every contribution he can find, looking for snippets that can be quoted that will appeal to the juvenile pseudoskeptical community on RationalWiki. If the book he is working on is written, especially, Smith will scour the internet looking for negative comments, and those will be presented as “the response of the medical community,” or something like that. If Sjöberg has written anything that can look unconventional, it will be reported, cherrypicked. I was surprised at all the stuff he found on me, stuff I had forgotten. But, in fact, what I had actually written was fine! (In one case, he was directly wrong, attributing to me what had actually been written by someone else. I pointed that out on the talk page. It was ignored, because he wanted to make the point that I had been involved in an “abusive cult,” and to claim that I had called it that. I had not. If one reads the cited source, one can tell that I never wrote that.
But this is what he does, and few at RationalWiki restrain him in the least.
Nobody is required to have “credentials in medicine” to study a field of relevance to their personal health. One does not become a “crackpot” by concluding something different from “standard of practice.” If I had followed the standard of practice, I would be missing important parts of my anatomy, and, ten years later, I’m intact and the risk that I will regret the choice has become zero. My physicians have always encouraged and supported my study of evidence, and my taking of responsibility for my own decisions.
The course I decided on (“watchful waiting”) was actually recommended as reasonable, not high-risk, by an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, that had just been published, for my exact condition. But my specialist would not have recommended it, because of “standard of practice.” The risk was not zero, and, this was cancer, and if it spread, he could have been sued. (This will lead into a study of Smith’s article on Marika Sboros, where she made a similar recommendation and has been attacked for it.)
But my doctor could tell me the truth and give me his personal opinion when asked when I asked. One previous specialist I had consulted ridiculed what I’d found, and told me many things that showed he was actually ignorant of the state of research (it was shockingly bad), so I dumped him and found a doctor who was more informed — and a better listener.
“Standard of practice” would have had me go into a panic, and demand that the cancer be removed!!! Yesterday, if I can get an appointment!
Because I have a cardiac blockage, though no heart attack, standard of practice says I should have an angiogram, a complex and very expensive procedure, with many possible complications, and, for someone in my condition, no significant improvement of life expectancy. They don’t tell you that unless you ask! And sometimes what they honestly believe isn’t so. Read the studies! It’s your health! Is that important enough to tolerate some difficulty and to warrant spending some time reading complicated papers? (The language can be difficult if you are not used to reading papers. So, are you brain-damaged so that you cannot learn new words? Can you look them up, can you ask others to help you understand the paper? If you are brain-damaged, fine. Name a health care proxy and trust the person you name, pick your physician well and trust her or him. But if you are not brain-damaged, it is entirely rude to lay that burden on another. If my doctor lies to me, he’s risking malpractice, if I’m around to be the plaintiff, but if he tells me his opinion and includes information about the standard of practice, and lets me decide, no, no risk from me, even if it turns out he is wrong, and as to my family, little risk if he has done what I suggest. I have left the hospital more than once, AMA (Against Medical Advice) and I always sign the forms, because it is rude to make them responsible for my choices. (and it never caused harm, because they will be extremely conservative, whereas I can balance risk, cost, and benefit.)
And what would be the approach of a “rational skeptic”? Would it be, “believe the official dogma”?
Or would it suspend belief and investigate?
I could go through countless other commenters here but I will leave it there. This website is filled with absolute cranks and a crowd of reality denying anti-science kooks. It amazes me that people actually think they are pro-science here, delusions of grandeur! The place is a NUT-HOUSE. LOL.
What I see is many people citing actual studies, and pointing out good science and some, ah, questionable studies. This is — or can be — real skepticism.
(I also see a few people commenting with ideas I consider very fringe. But so what? I am not the “fringe police.” Darryl is, and has expressed at various times that he is on a mission. He has also bragged that he has been paid to expose “pseudoscience.” It would not be by Big Pharma. There is a whole community of
cranks pseudoskeptics who wallow in the supposed idiocy of others, and there is money available. There are “professional skeptics,” who give talks on “skeptic cruises.” Ah, diversity. Sometimes I wonder, what does Reality mean by this? Some realities may remain forever mysterious, get over it.)
Many commenters have formed beliefs, that’s normal. Are those beliefs “pseudoscientific”? The pseudoskeptics on RatWiki do not distinguish between personal decisions and choices and claims of “science.” Those who actually study the science know that there is much that is not clearly understood, and that some come to premature conclusions, which sometimes become standard of practice, official recommendations, while the actual scientists have said, “We don’t know that yet, more study is needed.”
And because politicians have said, “We don’t have the luxury of waiting to find out more,” official recommendations were created based on what seemed like a good idea at the time, whether it actually was or not.
Gary Taubes, who is also under attack by Darryl, has documented thoroughly how all this happened, thirty to forty years ago. I just bought the last two books. I don’t believe something is “true” because Taubes writes it. He is a highly experienced journalist and is pretty careful, but analysis is his. Is he correct? Generally, I agree, but Taubes himself claims we need more research to form fixed conclusions. Some conclusions are obvious, though, such as the conclusion that cholesterol does not cause heart disease, if one looks at the history of the idea and then at the nature of the studies underneath the old conclusions and then how they evolved. The idea is pseudoscientific, in practice, because it appears to not be falsifiable, i.e., evidence after evidence appears, indicating no causality — or a weak one — and yet the cholesterol hypothesis is either kept the same, ignoring the evidence, or, slowly, it is revised to keep the core idea, but modify the details, moving the goalposts and continuing to claim that skepticism is dangerous and should be suppressed, even though the original guidelines are now known to be utterly preposterous. It was not long ago that eggs were considered to be terribly risky, because they have high actual cholesterol content. What happened with that? Fat in the diet was pronounced dangerous to be reduced, with the belief that this would save millions of lives. Did it? Originally, it was all fat. Hence the promotion of “low-fat diets.” Then it became saturated fats, especially animal fats. Then the kind of fat became more sophisticated. Then it was shown that fat consumption was poorly correlated with cholesterol levels and heart disease. If at all. With cholesterol, originally it was all cholesterol, then it was LDL cholesterol, then it became more sophisticated, such that the original recommendations, if followed, would be nonsense. Again, moving the goalposts. That is what pseudoskeptics and pseudoscientific believers both do.
(The definition of pseudoskeptic in the RatWiki article is warped against what they actually do, ignoring the fundamental characteristic of pseudoskepticism, which is belief as actually displayed, not merely some utterly untestable idea such as “no evidence would convince them.” That someone believes something is reasonably discernable. A hypothetical is imaginary, unless they claim it as their belief. What is common, though, among pseudoskeptics, is that they will claim a standard of proof that would satisfy them. With cold fusion, a device they can purchase at Home Depot to demonstrate the effect. So does that mean that they have no pseudoskeptical belief? Of course not! What they have done is to predetermine something that would convince them, so they won’t look like a Pseudoskeptic, which is Bad. But that is not the standard. It’s an excuse.)
Once guidelines were created, it then became “dangerous” to publish research that did not confirm the guidelines, that could suggest they were in error. Which could cause some ignorant people to disregard standard medical advice and, OMG, thousands will die! But they do not actually know that, it’s an imagination.
Dissent is suppressed, not as what we think of as some evil conspiracy, but, rather, people believe the nonsense they continue to support. It’s a collective delusion that this is “science-based medicine.” There is a distinct issue with conflict-of-interest research, promoted by people who will profit from certain conclusions. That is slowly being addressed, but it will remain as a problem until the public realizes that a system which requires to profit motive to fund research incentivizes such actions, and until we take responsibility, as the public, for research we need. Taubes got a few million dollars donated. Bake-sale funding. We need billions to do this right, and we need to study and develop methods to do it right. Until then, we are babes in the woods. The situation will not improve much by complaining, only by taking action, and we often err in understanding the problem, falling into blaming the bad guys instead of realizing that we have allowed a system to be maintained that creates and encourages “bad guys,” who are simply filling niches in they system, as biology will do with any environment.
Back to the titled subject:
Homeopathy is one of the favorite targets of pseudoskeptics. I am personally highly skeptical of the “theory of homeopathy.” I am, in practice, a materialist, but with a decision to keep in mind an opposing view, I will call “spiritual,” which holds that there is a “spirit” behind everything. A common name for that spirit is Mind.
And, in fact, all I experience is Mind. Behind that, I refer to Reality, and some atheists have criticized me for capitalizing the word. Why? This would show me that they believe that there is no unique entity, Reality. Do they really believe that?
And then, of course, there are connections between Mind and Reality. What I think affects my body, and vice-versa.
Both positions are pseudoscientific if asserted as scientific. Pseudoskeptics commonly assert that whatever they think is wrong is “pseudoscientific” without actually considering testability, which is crucial to the “official definition” of pseudoscience.
(“Cold fusion” is actually testable, and has been tested, with results that demonstrate, by a strong preponderance of the evidence, a nuclear reality to what was originally found as a heat effect, and those experiments are replicable, and have been rather widely confirmed (contrary to common opinion), with confirmation with increased precision possible, and actually fully funded and under way. So is this “pseudoscience”? On what basis?)
Materialism, if asserted as if a “scientific point of view,” is pseudoscientific, because it is untestable, and a basic skeptical principle is “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and, in addition, pseudoskeptics often assert that “there is no evidence,” when there is plenty.
(They confuse evidence with proof, and there is a lost performative in their understanding of proof, which is the judge, the person interpreting the evidence. Proof is evidence that convinces a judge. It is actually subjective, but where that conviction becomes widespread, it is “social reality.” They commonly and very naively think that “proof” is material, with no subjective aspects, as if it is thing, with material weight and clearly distinct characteristics aside from a judge’s reaction to it.)
But social reality is not Reality, consensus can fall short. And so a true “scientific consensus” would remain open to contradiction, “anomalies,” studying which will generally expand understanding in some way. An anomaly means “something not understood.” What is not understood indicates an edge to knowledge, a frontier. A “scientific consensus” that rejects contrary evidence based on being “fringe” or “crackpot” is pseudoscientific, and “fringe” is the frontier, this is all well-known to sociologists of science who study the “demarcation problem.” RationalWiki, Wikipedia. The RatWiki article is far inferior, even though it is better than the run-of-the-mill RW article. They state the problem to emphasize religion, obviously because most Rats are antireligious, even though the demarcation problem is not about religion at all, it’s about science.
A genuine skeptic will hold as possibilities what can appear to be mutually contradictory hypotheses, and Reality can be approached this way, and that is ancient wisdom, ignored by these trolls who imagine that they understand what they shallowly read, better than those who have spent decades or more studying it. Socially disabled, they are.
Reality is reality, and is not confined by our ideas about it, and “material” and “spiritual” are ideas. These are polar opposites, and enlightenment is generally found in synthesis. One of my favorite questions to ask is:
What arises when we look at something from two different points of view at the same time?
I will see what answers appear in Comments, before giving one of my own.
Jimbo Wales and “lunatic charlatans”
Looking at recent developments on Wikipedia with “fringe” and “quacks,” I’ve found many symptoms of a systemic corruption, and this will show how the project lost its direction, at core and in a failure to honor the original community intentions, it’s become quite explicit. This started with looking at the user page of Roxy the dog. Wikipedia made what may have been a fatal error in not only allowing anonymous edits (probably necessary and highly useful) but also in allowing advanced privileges for anonymous accounts. In this, it deviated widely from academic traditions. It eliminated the “responsible publisher” for itself, creating mob rule.
This protected the Foundation, but not the project. This is classic: organizations are formed for purposes, but their own survival, if it comes into conflict with the purpose, becomes a priority. So if the trial of “community governance” fails — in the absence of clear structures that create responsible actors — nothing can be done. It’s up to the community, not the site owners. Wikipedia is famously not a reliable source. Why not? Precisely because there is no responsible publisher!
The possibility existed for a community project to become more reliable than any such effort in history. That is, in fact, why I worked on Wikipedia as long as I did. But the radically unreliable governance, vulnerable to participation bias (whoever happens to show up in specific discussions, and where some kinds of factional canvassing are allowed, plus the possibly random nature of who closes discussions, where bias in closing could be very difficult to detect, and, if detected, they shoot the messenger), led to a conclusion that the situation was unworkable.
Wikipedia will be replaced by a project that harnesses what Wikipedia has done, but that adds reliable governance and responsibility. This may be for-profit or nonprofit, it could be done either way.
It was clear to me at one point that Jimbo Wales (with Larry Sanger the founder of Wikipedia) was interested in governance reform. However, something was missing, and I’m coming to think that what was missing was an understanding of neutrality. He almost had it, but it’s clear that knee-jerk “popular,” not academic or scientific, responses, very obviously not neutral, took over for him. And this then explains, in part, how “popular factions” came to dominate Wikipedia, as many have noted. They lose, sometimes, their control is not absolute, but it creates a steady pressure and, over time, it’s apparent to me, the project has devolved away from neutrality, and a particular faction has, many times, opposed neutrality and has declared allegiance to a point of view, and they act to push that point of view.
Anyone trained in journalism will recognize the problem, how it infects the language and overall tenor of pages. Blatant violations of neutrality policy, misrepresentations of sources, in favor of attempting to create in readers POV impressions, are, in some areas, practically the rule rather than a transient exception. Revert warring is tolerated, if done by factional editors, who are considered “valuable volunteers” precisely because they work tirelessly for their point of view.
Editors with contrary points of view are isolated and sanctioned and topic- or site-banned. Editors promoting SPOV (“Scientific point of view,” when they go beyond limits in that promotion, may be sanctioned, but also are regarded as heroes. And so if they are actually banned, they often come back. Wouldn’t you?
This is what Roxy the dog has from Wales:
“Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.”
“What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse’. It isn’t.“
Roxy the dog uses this as I’d expect, to justify a series of claims of being justifiably biased. First, what exactly did Wales say, in what context.?
Wikipedia developed a procedure for creating a neutral project and he is referring to it, but he overspecifies that procedure, narrowing it in a way that favors the bias Roxy the dog displays. Was this merely accidental, incautious?
and, in fact, it’s obvious. From that page:
Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales this week sent a clear signal to skeptics who edit the user-created encyclopedia – he agrees with our focus on science and good evidence. He did this by responding firmly in the negative to a Change.org petition created by alternative medicine and holistic healing advocates. His response, which referred to paranormalists as “lunatic charlatans”, was widely reported on Twitter.
I’ve been recommending skeptics pay close attention to Wikipedia since the earliest days of this blog, almost six years ago. Susan Gerbic took up that gauntlet and created her wildly successful Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia project.
In the last year or so, the success of Susan’s project has gotten many paranormal and alternative medicine advocates riled up. They’ve repeatedly floated conspiracy theories that skeptics are somehow rigging the game on Wikipedia, or even bullying opponents off the site. Even personalities like Rupert Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra have gotten involved. None of these accusations have been supported by facts, and both Sheldrake and Chopra have been subsequently embarrassed by their own supporters’ rule-breaking behavior on the service.
This is common.
There is skeptic organization and this blog is proud of it. But if others point to organization, it’s a “conspiracy theory.”
Indeed, I have seen over-reaction, suspicion that, say, drug companies are paying editors to promote statin drugs and attack cholesterol skeptics. I find that implausible, but this is what happens where there are organizations that operate behind the scenes.
Sheldrake and Chopra have popular support, and people with popular support will be defended by some, often people with no real understanding of how Wikipedia works, and so they violate rules. But wait! Wikipedia Rule Number One, promoted by Wales himself, was “If a Rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it!” (WP:IAR)
I used to point out the Corollary, that if you have never been blocked for breaking the rules, you are not trying hard enough to improve the project.
The vision of the original Wikipedians has been lost, and this was practically inevitable (see Iron law of oligarchy), if protective structure was not created, and it was not.
Wales response was to a petition asking for reform.
As is common with reform efforts, what might be a valid objection to the Wikipedia status quo was mixed with lack of understanding of how Wikipedia operates, and a point of view. The title of the petition shows a lack of understanding of the purpose of Wikipedia and the process of creating an encyclopedia.
Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia: Create and enforce new policies that allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing.
I will list problems with this request:
- Wales was not in charge of Wikipedia, he was the Founder, not the Governor. (In the other direction, he remained influential.)
- Wikipedia is not a site for “scientific discourse.” Wikiversity was, and could have remained so, but that was demolished, ultimately, by the faction, early this year. It was trivial to create neutral discourse, and it worked for years.
- The policies on inclusion were not the problem, the problem was lack of workable enforcement structure. The structure worked, though very inefficiently, for handling vandalism and isolated point of view pushing, but, increasingly, as factions developed power, poorly with factional point of view pushing.
MAR 23, 2014 — No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful.
Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.
What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t.
The blog claims that the organizers of the petition were “tone-deaf,” because they quoted Larry Sanger, thus, allegedly, irritating Wales. Sanger was quoted in the petition:
Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, left the organization due to concerns about its integrity. He stated: “In some fields and some topics, there are groups who ‘squat’ on articles and insist on making them reflect their own specific biases. There is no credible mechanism to approve versions of articles.”
Sanger’s comment was a simple conclusion matching what many, many, with high experience with Wikipedia, have found. That happens. It happens in all directions, but . . . factions that represent the “fringe” are, by definition, not popular, and that condition in the population will be reflected in the editorial community, so these factions are readily identified and their efforts interdicted, whereas the faction that is biased toward a popular point of view, can operate with far higher impunity, and in the absence of neutral enforcement, that bias can dominate.
This happened to some extent with traditional encyclopedias, but these were generally written with high academic integrity. Wales became confused on this issue, and was, himself, tone-deaf. Many have complained, and the complaints are routine and remain common. Wales only looks at what was wrong with the petition, and fails to practice what he preaches:
“to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful.”
So Wikipedia sails on, undisturbed by self-examination, supporting the “Scientific Point of View,” which is an oxymoron.
Rather, the Pillars of Wikipedia include one that would, if followed, establish journalistic and academic integrity:
|Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view|
|We strive for articles in an impartial tone that document and explain major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence. We avoid advocacy, and we characterize information and issues rather than debate them. In some areas there may be just one well-recognized point of view; in others, we describe multiple points of view, presenting each accurately and in context rather than as “the truth” or “the best view”. All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy, citing reliable, authoritative sources, especially when the topic is controversial or is on living persons. Editors’ personal experiences, interpretations, or opinions do not belong.|
Wikipedia proposed a solution to crowd-sourcing, to allow it to be verifiable. “Reliable” source does not mean “correct.” It refers to independently published sources, presented with a neutral tone. Stating an interpretation as if fact without attribution is not “honesty.” It’s easy to convert, say, a non-neutral interpretation (which might be found in a reliable source) into a fact by attributing it. “According to . . . ”
Yet there are “skeptical faction” editors inserting their own interpretations as if fact, even about living persons, or entire fields. Because I just noticed it, here is an example, about Gary Taubes:
This is in the lead (current version), which should, by the guideline, be rigorously neutral, enjoying high consensus. The lead has:
Some of the views propounded by Taubes are inconsisent [sic] with known science surrounding obesity.
The source is a book review, and such a review is the opinion of the author, particularly if it is an off-hand comment. What the review actually has, besides praise for the book (“… has much useful information and is well worth reading “):
some of the conclusions that the author reaches are not consistent with current concepts about obesity.
Are “current concepts” the same as “known science”? In fact, Taubes is challenging common concepts, explicitly and deliberately, as not being rooted in “known science,” i.e., known through the scientific method. This has been his theme for his entire career. The editor, however, believes what he has written and so considers that interpretation of the source to be a simple restatement.
The reviewer was not precise. “Current concepts” has a lost performative. Whose concepts? I used “common” as a vague term that would cover what I think is true. The concepts Taubes is challenging became common about forty years ago, through a political process that was only peripherally scientific. Documenting that has been much of Taube’s work.
This begins the lead:
Gary Taubes (born April 30, 1956) is an American journalist, writer and low-carbohydrate diet advocate.
Is he? This was there until a few days ago:
Gary Taubes (born April 30, 1956) is an American science writer.
To the faction, many examples can be shown, “low carbohydrate diet advocate” is a dog whistle to call skeptical attention to a person, who, in other contexts , might be called a “fad diet promoter,” “quack,” and “charlatan.”
Remember, verifiability not truth. The statement about “diet advocate” is not sourced. It’s misleading. What Taubes has been advocating is twofold:
- improved public understanding of the history of the lipid hypothesis and the demonization of fat, as well as the evidence of the “diseases of civilization” being associated with high refined carbohydrate consumption,
- but, more important (certainly to him), the encouragement and facilitation (read funding) of scientific research into diet. Taubes is not a ‘believer,” but he has drawn some conclusions and has been acting on them. That is normal in science. Wales wrote:
If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.
First of all, he was misstating the actual policy. “Published in respectable scientific journals” is not the actual standard, and such publication can happen without “replicable scientific experiments,” that is only one aspect of science, and the reliance is not on “replicable,” but on “confirmed,” i.e., actually replicated, as shown in peer-reviewed reviews of a topic, secondary sources. Many facts can be reported (with maximum freedom, by guidelines) if attributed. The attribution should be to a reliable source, but the source may be weaker, though still reliable. The skeptical faction uses their own factional publications, that focus on “debunking” and are not neutrally peer-reviewed by experts in the fields, as if reliable source, it’s been common for years, whereas independently peer-reviewed secondary source reviews are excluded by the faction as “junk” or “fringe believer author.”
These are obvious violations of the neutrality pillar, but are tolerated because of a false opp0sition as reflected in Wales’ defense of Wikipedia.
A paper that was invited by a major peer-reviewed journal of high reputation, with Gary Taubes as one of the authors:
Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance June 13, 2018
This review treats the topic with academic tone. It presents a variety of major points of view. This is what Wikipedia could be like, were it actually supporting science. Instead, it is supporting a highly judgmental and often fanatic debunking point-of-view.
Another example: Wales wanted to see “replicable experiments.” That is not required for notability, Wales is actually substituting his own ideas for the policy, but . . . I was banned from cold fusion on Wikipedia and the claim was made that I was promoting it, and this was often connected with claims that “cold fusion” is “pseudoscience.” In fact, what I was promoting, what was actually important to me at the time, was Wikipedia neutrality and genuine consensus process. However, when I was banned from the topic, I then investigated “cold fusion” more thoroughly, and eventually wrote an article, published in a significant journal, which would, in theory, satisfy the claims Wales made:
Replicable cold fusion experiment: heat/helium ratio
Okay, a review. Check. Peer-reviewed. Check. Describes multiple confirmations of a crucial experiment, that demonstrates that there is a real anomaly, that looks like it could be fusion (but probably not what most physicists would think of). Check.
Okay, is that cited? I don’t know if anyone attempted it. It was cited on Wikiversity. Much older and weaker sources on claims of helium detection (deprecating them) have been cited on Wikipedia, and remain. As I was about to be topic banned for the second time, I put up another review in a journal of very high reputation for consideration on the Reliable Source Noticeboard. It was found usable as reliable source. And after all that, was the source allowed? No. Immediately removed every time presented.
Peer-reviewed review in a major multidisciplinary journal, Naturwissenschaften. Check. Stronger source than any other source used in the article. If editors think it was a mistake, it could be attributed.
See the arguments against it on RSN. That discussion was narrow and focused but was never “closed.” Consensus was clear. The paper is RS, and as with all sources, to be used with appropriate caution. Just because something is in reliable source does not make it “truth,” it makes it notable. And wikipedia was properly founded on notability, established by what is found in responsible publishers.
So what happened then? I have made the point often that the major problem with Wikipedia has been inefficiency. To establish what should have been accomplished by a reference to policy and guidelines, a matter of a few sentences, took a massive discussion. A responsible publisher would go bankrupt if their editorial process were like this.
There are plenty of Wikipedia editors who understood the policies and attempted to apply them neutrally. They burn out, faced with editors who ignore the policies, are persistent, and who are enabled to continue this, year after year.
removes reference to Storms (2010) based on argument rejected at RSN. Editor: ජපස, who has changed his name many times. He is the one who made the argument about Storms being an editor. That was an attributed reference, clearly neutral. This reverted the edit of Enric Naval.
Eventually, in 2015, the bibliographic reference to Storms (2010), and another citation of it, were removed by JzG, a highly involved factional editor and administrator who had been reprimanded by the Arbitration Committee for his actions with regard to cold fusion. Apparently nobody noticed. Jzg removed the reference to the 2007 book, and the 2010 journal review of cold fusion. His edit summary:
(pruning some WP:PRIMARY, including for example a book review written by a True Believer. We have sufficient high quality sources that we don’t need to dumpster-dive.)
These are the arguments that completely failed to be accepted at WP:RSN. Are there stronger sources by Wikipedia RS standards and the standards for science topics? What was left was weaker, or if not weak, substantially older.
None of these were primary sources, and he’s highly experienced, so . . . he lied, they were all secondary. (2007) was published World Scientific, an academic press, and (2010) was discussed above. The Book Review reference is unclear. JzG also removed material cited in Simon (2002), which is an academic secondary source review (a book), not a “book review”). He did remove from the bibliography one primary source (at least arguably so), Shanahan (2006). There was an appalling discussion in talk, no consensus, and the editor objecting was “reminded” about discretionary sanctions, which was essentially a threat that he could be blocked. This was a blatant and smug display of factional POV editing, and, as usual, without consequence, JzG (and William M. Connolley), sailed on, undisturbed, as they have for years. (In two cases, I took them to the Arbitration Committee, JzG was reprimanded, Connolley was desysopped. But the net effect was, with extensive effort, long term, zero. Discretionary sanctions were established as a result of the second case, (with neutral enforcement, a good idea), but it has only been used to support the skeptical faction and threaten or block anyone appearing to have a different point of view.)
In 2015, Current Science published a special section on low-energy nuclear reactions. It included a number of reviews of aspects of the field, written by major researchers (and one journalist, me). There was mention of this in the article that resisted removal, it’s still there. However, none of those papers are cited in the article, in spite of being recent specific reviews of aspects of the field, on topics discussed in the article.
Wales is either ignorant about what actually happens on Wikipedia, or he’s lying. I prefer the former interpretation, but I also hold him responsible for maintaining his ignorance in spite of complaints. Instead of actually investigating the complaints, or setting up a review process, he smugly proclaimed an extreme interpretation of the policy that then, very clearly, encouraged the SPOV-pushers. I’ve seen a shift since that time, and this might explain it.
No, if one does research and gets it published in peer-reviewed journals, it is inadequate to shift the Wikipedia balance, because the balance is maintained in the impressions and interpretations of editors, and it’s very well-known that when people have committed themselves to a position (by using language like “charlatan” and “fringe believers” and “crank”) they become resistant to change, and will continue to invent justifications and reasons to continue to believe the same.
Ironically, this is what this faction believes about others, that they are “die-hards” and “pseudoscientific.” If someone calls them “pseudoskeptical” or “pathoskeptic,” they will block or arrange for the person to be blocked, but claims in the other direction are routine and tolerated. Enforcement is biased, creating a long-term pressure away from neutrality.
Wikipedia could be transformed, but what has been created is so highly entrenched that it might take a major event.
I’ve suggested that a new encyclopedia could be created that uses Wikipedia content, routinely, but that creates a filter and process for reviewing it. I’ve suggested that such a site might pay authors and editors, and that it might sell itself as “Wikipedia, but more reliable.” And it would solicit donations, but would also sell advertising, carefully vetted to be reliable, itself, which is quite doable. (The advertising would pay for the writing and editorial work.)
Sometimes, you get what you pay for. If you use volunteers, they work for their own purposes. It can be great, but large human organizations pay management, even when they use many volunteers.
Everipedia looks like an effort in that direction, but it utterly fails to attract me, so far, nor does it look like it could attract the kind of massive use and participation that could take it beyond Wikipedia. The Everipedia article on cold fusion is a fork of the Wikipedia article (so far, what I’d expect, but, then, if I read the article, does it invite me to improve it? If so, I don’t see how or where.)
To succeed, an improved project must present something clearly better than Wikipedia, such that users would have an incentive to look up a topic there rather than on Wikipedia. There are also complications, Google being a major supporter of Wikipedia. But a better product does not have to be better in every way, just in some, and it could flag what has been fact-checked and reviewed for neutrality, for example, and what was merely copied from Wikipedia. (Everipedia may do that, I can’t tell, but Everipedia seems to be focusing on selling access to businesses or people who want to control articles about themselves. Not on setting up an expert review process or other structure that would create reliability.)
It would use Wikipedia’s process to create a level of reliability, and then improve it. It would make comparisons with Wikipedia easy, as an example, so that changes to Wikipedia would be imported as (1) automatic if the fork article has not been validated, or as (2) reviewed, as with the contributions of any non-empowered editor on Wikipedia.
The focus appears to be on how to preserve one of the major weaknesses of Wikipedia, anonymity. That’s a double-edged sword. The new project, if linked to Wikipedia, would already have a way for anonymous editors to contribute: on Wikipedia! It could also allow suggested edits on its own versions.
(Wikipedia could also bring in content the other way, through a process that was used on wikipedia when a banned user created an article elsewhere, and then there was a Request for Comment on importing that (radical change) as a single edit. This is actually a far simpler question than the one-edit at a time process Wikipedia follows: “Is A or B better?” )
It would need to have layers of detail. It could have better editorial review tools than Wikipedia. An example of something missing from Wikipedia is an ability to search history, the entire history of the project or of an article, or of user contributions. Now, you can obtain logs, but they are not generally searchable, except primitively. I do it, but by downloading histories (the logs will not retrieve more than 5000 operations), merging them, and then using search in a text editor or in Excel, and that doesn’t give me the editorial text, only edit summaries.
It is possible to search project full-history XML, but it can be incredibly cumbersome.
Everipedia is not showing signs of being well-designed and implemented. The FAQ I find far too complicated. Wikipedia made it easy and quick for anyone to edit. While “anyone can edit” fell apart to some extent, becoming more like “anyone can waste time trying to improve the project,” that ease of use was crucial to Wikipedia’s initial success. Wikipedia failed not from that, but from failure to establish reliable review process, something that is normally crucial for serious publishers.
Another issue is that Wikipedia not only failed to reward expert attention, it actually became hostile to ordinary experts. Wikibooks and Wikiversity were much friendlier, but then I discovered something. Most experts were not terribly interested in sustained free contributions to books or educational resources, if there was no benefit for them other than simply being able to write. And if what was written was fragile, and easily hacked up by Randy from Boise, and if they have plenty of other places to publish, why should they contribute? Many people will do it occasionally just because people are mostly nice. But regularly and reliably? No.
(To assist someone who wanted to study the subject, I set up a Parapsychology resource on Wikiversity, and it actually attracted some notable scientists. But they did not regularly contribute, nor did they watch the pages. That project was deleted early this year when the skeptical faction extended its reach to Wikiversity. Long story. JzG was involved. They also deleted the Wikiversity resource on cold fusion, all based on the action of a single bureaucrat, not supported by the community. Efforts like that had always failed in the past. But the Wikiversity community that had always supported academic freedom and the inclusive neutrality of Wikiversity as distinct from the exclusive neutrality of Wikipedia (i.e., academic standards rather than encyclopedic) was, as usual, asleep. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
I rescued those resources. Cold fusion. Parapsychology. Wikiversity showed how resources could be inclusively neutral. (A clearer example, where there would have been, on Wikipedia, or any other single-level wiki, edit warring, is Landmark Education.) Parapsychology was neutral, I’d been very careful to set it up that way. Cold fusion might not have been completely neutral, (I’d written most of it) but it would have taken about five minutes, with no harm being done, to rigorously neutralize it. The Wikiversity cold fusion article was often attacked on Wikipedia, but it was open for editing, and it had not been at all disruptive. Real neutrality is not disruptive, certainly not in itself. Real neutrality, with good-faith participants, can normally find complete consensus, even in the presence of major controversies. Wikipedia never understood this.
If I just want to shoot off my mouth, or to enjoy writing, I’ll start a blog, not start up an account on a wiki. It is far, far easier and, believe me, far more fun. And I can actually obtain funding for it. (Thanks!)
As an example, I know much of the cold fusion research community. Only very small number have ever attempted to edit Wikipedia. Met with entrenched hostility, for the most part, the handful who tried it simply gave up quickly. The field needs funding, and funding is not obtained by writing about cold fusion on Wikipedia. The inefficiency of Wikipedia makes it seriously wasteful.
Ignorance is bliss
There is at least one physicist arguing that LENR research is is unethical because (1) LENR does not exist, and (2) if it is possible, it would be far too dangerous to allow.
This came to my attention because of an article in IEEE Spectrum, Scientists in the U.S. and Japan Get Serious About Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions
I wrote a critique of that article, here.
Energy is important to humanity, to our survival. We are already using dangerous technologies, and the deadly endeavor is science itself, because knowledge is power, and if power is unrestrained, it is used to deadly effect. That problem is a human social problem, not specifically a scientific one, but one principle is clear to me, ignorance is not the solution. Trusting and maintaining the status quo is not the solution (nor is blowing it up, smashing it). Behind these critiques is ignorance. The idea that LENR is dangerous (more than the possibility of an experiment melting down, or a chemical explosion which already killed Andrew Riley, or researchers being poisoned by nickel nanopowder, which is dangerous stuff) is rooted in ignorance of what LENR is. Because it is “nuclear,” it is immediately associated with the fast reactions of fission, which can maintain high power density even when the material becomes a plasma.
LENR is more generally a part of the field of CMNS, Condensed Matter Nuclear Science. This is about nuclear phenomena in condensed matter, i.e., matter below plasma temperature, matter with bound electrons, not the raw nuclei of a hot plasma. I have seen no evidence of LENR under plasma conditions, not depending on the patterned structures of the solid state. That sets up an intrinsic limit to LENR power generation.
We do not have a solid understanding of the mechanisms of LENR. It was called “cold fusion,” popularly, but that immediately brings up an association with the known fusion reaction possible with the material used in the original work, d-d fusion. Until we know what is actually happening in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment (contrary to fundamentally ignorant claims, the anomalous heat reported by them has been widely confirmed, this is not actually controversial any more among those familiar with the research), we cannot rule anything out entirely, but it is very, very unlikely that the FP Heat Effect is caused by d-d fusion, and this was obvious from the beginning, including to F&P.
It is d-d fusion which is so ridiculously impossible. So, then, are all “low energy nuclear reactions” impossible? Any sophisticated physicist would not fall for that sucker-bait question, but, in fact, many have and many still do. Here is a nice paradox: it is impossible to prove that an unknown reaction is impossible. So what does the impossibility claim boil down to?
“I have seen no evidence ….” and then, if the pseudoskeptic rants on, all asserted evidence is dismissed as wrong, deceptive, irrelevant, or worse (i.e, the data reported in peer-reviewed papers was fraudulent, deliberately faked, etc.)
There is a great deal of evidence, and when it is reviewed with any care, the possibility of LENR has always remained on the table. I could (and often do) make stronger claims than that. For example, I assert that the FP Heat Effect is caused by the conversion of deuterium to helium, and the evidence for that is strong enough to secure a conviction in a criminal trial, far beyond that necessary for a civil decision, though my lawyer friends always point out that we can never be sure until it happens. The common, run-of-the-mill pseudoskeptics never bother to actually look at all the evidence, merely whatever they select as confirming what they believe.
“Pseudoskepticism’ is belief disguised as skepticism, hence “pseudo.” Genuine skeptics will not forget to be skeptical of their own ideas. They will be precise in distinguishing between fact (which is fundamental to science) and interpretation (which is not reality, but an attempt at a map of reality).
This immediate affair has created many examples to look at. I will continue below, and comment on posts here is always welcome, and I keep it open indefinitely. A genuine study may take years to mature, consensus may take years to form. “Pages” do not yet have automatic open comment, editors here must explicitly enable it, and sometimes forget. Ask for opening of comment through a comment on any page that has it enabled. An editor will clean it up and, I assume, enable the comments. (That is, provide a link to the original page, and we can also move comments).
This conversation is important, the future of humanity is at stake. Continue reading “Ignorance is bliss”
It’s come to my attention that there is a company, Synthestech, which has, for about a year, been running an Initial Coin Offering, as an investment in “Cold Transmutation of Chemical Elements.”
Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, which Sythestech is promoting, are real, or at least there are reports by competent and reputable scientists that there are such reactions. However, the state of the art is far, far from any commercial potential, and there have been many scammers in the history of LENR. Reading the Synthestech material, I see no sign that they have a clue how to make this work, reproducibly and practically. There have been many, many researchers working on the problems for many years, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested, with little practical result. If this does show up, it is unlikely to be through an activity using very shaky fundraising techniques.
If one wants to invest in LENR, which must be considered extremely high risk at this time, –expect to lose your money I would suggest Industrial Heat, which does not accept most private investment at this time. At least, though, they are supporting genuine research and it is possible they will get lucky. For the general public, Woodford Patient Capital Trust is invested in Industrial Heat, so it’s possible to buy in, I know a few people who have modest stakes — and a few with much larger stakes. This is, however, more of a way to spend one’s money than to get rich. There was a revaluation lately that looked good. It may or may not mean anything.
Again, I’ll emphasize, this is truly high risk, I am aware of no technology close to commercialization. Andrea Rossi was (and remains) a fraud.
Speaking of Rossi, Sythestech uses his name. In their “White Paper,” they have:
Andrea Rossi was one of
the first entrepreneurs who adopted the LENR technology. In collaboration with Sergio Focardi, he created a device based on the principles of LENR-reactions, which generated electricity. In recent years, many installations that generate electricity have been built secretly.
That’s total BS. Rossi has not claimed the generation of elecricity. He did claim to be operating a megawatt reactor in Florida, and it was secret for a time, but all this blew up in 2016, becoming highly public in the lawsuit, Rossi v. Darden. There was a plant, but it was not generating a megawatt, if it was generating anything, and the odds are high that it was generating nothing, it was just a big electric water heater, maybe 30 KW.
Rossi comes up again in the interview in Entrepreneur.
Your whitepaper ICO mentions modern nuclear technology. Do you also develop advanced nuclear technologies? Could you tell us more about this?
In fact, the field has become more popular than ever. Latest advancements in portable power generation devices developed by Andrea Rossi and progress in obtaining platinum from tungsten by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, indicate that Cold Transmutation has gained real-world traction.
There are no “portable power generation devices developed by Andrea Rossi.” There has been work on certain transmutations by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (the work of Iwamura), but it was not “platinum from tungsten” and was not even close to commercial possibility. Synthestech is doing a lot of name-dropping, making it seem like there is support for their plans. There is not, not from the scientists in the field, not as far as has been shown.
There are so many signs of scam, frenzied hype, that I’m not researching this further, there are many more interesting things to work on, with the real science of LENR. I’m putting this up to warn investors that, while LENR is real, that is, there are real nuclear effects at apparently low initiation energies, the evidence has become overwhelming, the effects remain very difficult to control, they are “unreliable,” generally, in spite of many years of effort to develop control. The best minds in the field are searching for a “lab rat,” a simple experiment that could be widely confirmed. It does not yet exist.
(The evidence for the reality of LENR does not depend on reliability of generating the effect. Rather, the circumstantial evidence is the many reports of anomalous heat, the many reports of anomalous tritium, and then the direct evidence that measured helium is correlated with the heat, at a ratio consistent within experimental error of that expected from fusion. (This does not require that the reaction be “d-d fusion.” Any process that starts with deuterium and ends with helium will show that ratio, it must, if there are no leakages.)
David Gerard, not exactly a friend, has a post on Synthestech. He has his head wedged in a dark place on LENR, but he’s right that Synthestech is a scam. It has many, many marks of deception. However:
Karabanov announced his breakthrough in a press release and press conference in August 2016 — because science by press conference, rather than a published paper detailing an experiment and how to reproduce it, is standard in cold fusion:
It is not “standard in cold fusion.” There were press conferences in 1989, on both sides of the cold fusion controversy, but the real science is not conducted by press conference. There are over 1500 papers on cold fusion published in mainstream journals and if we add in conference proceedings, which sometimes include papers of equal or better quality than what is in journals, it’s roughly 5000 papers. David Gerard is repeating a series of tired old arguments against cold fusion. He has no clue what really happened in 1989-1990 and later, just a pile of vague ideas, second-hand knowledge, not actually researched, repeating the common opinions of the ignorant as if fact.
The problem is not that “cold nuclear transmutation” is impossible, it’s not, but that it is, so far, at best, a laboratory curiosity, not a commercial possibility, except in the most remote sense.Maybe. Some day. If.
Dismissals like that of David Gerard are obviously pseudoskeptical and will have no effect or influence on those who might be interested in investing. Steve Krivit was correct that Rossi was a scammer, but because his evidence was circumstantial and vague, dependent on ad-hominem arguments and inferences, it did not prevent investment in Rossi.
There are many Russian researchers working with LENR, they have long been prominent in the field. I see no sign, so far, that Synthestech is working with the real scientists in the field, though they drop their names, such as Vysotskii and Kornilova. I found that apparently Yuri Bazhutov, the late well-known Russian LENR researcher, has been called an “advisor” to Synthestech. See this obituary.
That points to a Sythestech interview of Bazhutov. I had noticed that Sythestech has claimed to have been an observer at RCCNT&BL in 2017, and the interview was allegedly conducted there. There is only one very brief mention of Synthestech in the interview:
What can you say about “Synthestech” and your visit to the Sochi laboratory?
We were pleased to know that there is a new group in Russia that is studying the same phenomena. It’s very pleasant that there is such a team as “Synthestech”, because the winner is the one who moves.
That is simply a casual comment, non-committal, and not surprising. This is far from an endorsement of the actual company, or its accomplishments. Many entrepreneurs have induced scientists to be called “advisors.” It’s basically meaningless, particularly when the company is unknown and the scientist has little reason to suspect a scam. I have seen scientists, later, distance themselves from such companies, when the way they were operating became clear.
Again, if one wants to support LENR research, I recommend becoming knowledgeable as a first step. There are many ways to support increased awareness of the real work that has been done. Tossing money at overheated investment scams is not one of them. Contact me if interested in supportive activity.
On more point: the original research that Karabanov of Synthestech appropriate was biological transmutation. To those that believe cold fusion or cold nuclear transmutation is impossible, biological transmutation will seem preposterous.
However, there are nuclear effects in condensed matter, that appear to involve unusual structures that allow a collective effect, rather than the brute-force collision effect of hot fusion. This is all poorly understood, but the evidence of nuclear anomalies is overwhelming, and if it can happen in the lab, at low energies, it is easily conceivable that life would find a way to use it, and there is substantial work on biological transmutation, by serious and highly experienced scientists (such as Vysotskii, whose name gets dropped by Karabanov). Most of this is not yet confirmed.
Karabanov is attempting to sell something that might be possible, almost certainly before its time. Here is a page covering some of that research by those identified as Karabanov’s partners. It looks like Karabanov abandoned the biological approach, and he claims to have industrial processes. No evidence has appeared of this. When challenged with, “If you can transmute elements, why do you need the bitcoin investments?” (he could just make precious metals), his answer is that the experiments only produce milligrams of material. I think he is exaggerating even there, if not outright lying, but what is a few orders of magnitude among friends?
Consensus is what we say it is
But who are “we”?
HM Collins, A Bartlett, LI Reyes-Galindo, The Ecology of Fringe Science and its Bearing on Policy, arXiv:1606.05786v1 [physics.soc-ph], Sat, 18 Jun 2016.
In this paper we illustrate the tension between mainstream ‘normal’, ‘unorthodox’ and ‘fringe’ science that is the focus of two ongoing projects that are analysing the full ecology of physics knowledge. The first project concentrates on empirically understanding the notion of consensus in physics by investigating the policing of boundaries that is carried out at the arXiv preprint server, a fundamental element of the contemporary physics publishing landscape. The second project looks at physics outside the mainstream and focuses on the set of organisations and publishing outlets that have mushroomed outside of mainstream physics to cover the needs of ‘alternative’, ‘independent’ and ‘unorthodox’ scientists. Consolidating both projects into the different images of science that characterise the mainstream (based on consensus) and the fringe (based on dissent), we draw out an explanation of why today’s social scientists ought to make the case that, for policy-making purposes, the mainstream’s consensus should be our main source of technical knowledge.
I immediately notice a series of assumptions: that the authors know what “consensus in physics” is, or “the mainstream (based on consensus)”, and that this, whatever it is, should be our main source of “technical knowledge.” Who is it that is asking the question, to whom does “our” refer in the last sentence?
Legally, the proposed argument is bullshit. Courts, very interested in knowledge, fact and clear interpretation, do not determine what the “mainstream consensus” is on a topic, nor do review bodies, such as, with our special interest, the U.S. Department of Energy in its 1989 and 2004 reviews. Rather, they seek expert opinion, and, at best, in a process where testimony and evidence are gathered.
Expert opinion would mean the opinions of those with the training, experience, and knowledge adequate to understand a subject, and who have actually investigated the subject themselves, or who are familiar with the primary reports of those who have investigated. Those who rely on secondary and tertiary reports, even from academic sources, would not be “expert” in this meaning. Those who rely on news media would simply be bystanders, with varying levels of understanding, and quite vulnerable to information cascades, the same as everyone with anything where personal familiarity is absent. The general opinions of people are not admissible as evidence in court, nor are they of much relevance in science.
But sociologists study human society. Where these students of the sociology of science wander astray is in creating a policy recommendation — vague though it is — without thoroughly exploring the foundations of the topic.
Are those terms defined in the paper?
Consensus is often used very loosely and sloppily. Most useful, I think, is the meaning of “the widespread agreement of experts,” and the general opinion of a general body is better described by “common opinion.” The paper is talking about “knowledge,” and especially “scientific knowledge,” which is a body of interpretation created through the “scientific method,” and which is distinct from the opinions of scientists, and in particular the opinions of those who have not studied the subject.
1a: general agreement : UNANIMITY
the consensus of their opinion, based on reports … from the border—John Hersey
b: the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned
the consensus was to go ahead
2: group solidarity in sentiment and belief
Certainly, the paper is not talking about unanimity, indeed, the whole thrust of it is to define fringe as “minority,” So the second definition applies, but is it of “those concerned”? By the conditions of the usage, “most scientists” are not “concerned” with the fringe, they generally ignore it. But “consensus” is improperly used, when the meaning is mere majority.
And when we are talking about a “scientific consensus,” to make any sense, we must be talking about the consensus of experts, not the relatively ignorant. Yet the majority of humans like to be right and to think that their opinions are the gold standard of truth. And scientists are human.
The paper is attempting to create a policy definition of science, without considering the process of science, how “knowledge” is obtained. It is, more or less, assuming the infallibility of the majority, at some level of agreement, outside the processes of science.
We know from many examples the danger of this. The example of Semmelweiss is often adduced. Semmelweiss’s research and his conclusions contradicted the common opinion of physicians who delivered babies. He studied the problem of “childbed fever” with epidemological techniques, and came to the conclusion that the primary cause of the greatly increased mortality among those attended by physicians over those attended by midwives, was the practice of doctors who performed autopsies (a common “scientific” practice of those days) and who left the autopsy and examined women invasively, without thorough antisepsis. Semmelweiss studied hospital records, and then introduced antiseptic practices, and saw a great decrease in mortality.
But Semmelweiss was, one of his biographers thinks, becoming demented, showing signs of “Alzheimer’s presenile dementia,” and Semmelweiss became erratic and oppositional (one of the characteristics of some fringe advocates, as the authors of our paper point out). He was ineffective in communicating his findings, but it is also true that he met with very strong opposition that was not based in science, but in the assumption of physicians that what Semmelweiss was proposing was impossible.
This was before germ theory was developed and tested by Pasteur. The error of the “mainstream” was in not paying attention to the evidence Semmelweiss found. If they had done so, it’s likely that many thousands of unnecessary deaths would have been avoided.
I ran into something a little bit analogous in my personal history. I delivered my own children, after our experience with the first, relying on an old obstetrics textbook (DeLee, 1933) and the encouragement of an obstetrician. Later, because my wife and I had experience, we created a midwifery organization, trained midwives, and got them licensed by the state, a long story. The point here is that some obstetricians were horrified, believing that what we were doing was unsafe, and that home birth was necessarily riskier than hospital birth. That belief was based on wishful thinking.
“We do everything to make this as safe as possible” is not evidence of success.
An actual study was done, back then. It was found that home birth in the hands of skilled midwives, and with proper screening, i.e., not attempting to deliver difficult cases at home, was slightly safer than hospital birth, though the difference was not statistically significant. Why? Does it matter why?
However, there is a theory, and I think the statistics supported it. A woman delivering at home is accustomed to and largely immune to microbes present in the home. Not so with the hospital. There are other risks where being at home could increase negative outcomes, but they are relatively rare, and it appears that the risks at least roughly balance. But a great deal would depend on the midwives and how they practice.
(There is a trend toward birthing centers, located adjacent to hospitals, to avoid the mixing of the patient population. This could ameliorate the problem, but not eliminate it. Public policy, though, if we are going to talk about “shoulds,” should not depend on wishful thinking, and too often it does.)
(The best obstetricians, though, professors of obstetrics, wanted to learn from the midwives: How do you avoid doing an episiotomy? And we could answer that from experience. Good scientists are curious, not reactive and protective of “being right,” where anything different from what they think must be “wrong.” And that is, in fact, how the expertise of a real scientist grows.)
Does the paper actually address the definitional and procedural issues? From my first reading, I didn’t see it.
From the Introduction:
Fringe science has been an important topic since the start of the revolution in the social studies of science that occurred in the early 1970s.2 As a softer-edged model of the sciences developed, fringe science was a ‘hard case’ on which to hammer out the idea that scientific truth was whatever came to count as scientific truth: scientific truth emerged from social closure. The job of those studying fringe science was to recapture the rationality of its proponents, showing how, in terms of the procedures of science, they could be right and the mainstream could be wrong and therefore the consensus position is formed by social agreement.
First of all, consensus in every context is formed by social agreement, outside of very specific contexts (which generally control the “agreement group” and the process). The conclusion stated does not follow from the premise that the fringe “could be right.” The entire discussion assumes that there is a clear meaning to “right” and “wrong,” it is ontologically unsophisticated. Both “right” and “wrong” are opinions, not fact, though there are cases where we would probably all agree that something was right or wrong, but when we look at this closely, they are situations where evidence is very strong, or the rightness and wrongness are based on fundamental human qualities. They are still a social agreement, even if written in our genes.
I do get a clue what they are about, though, in the next paragraph:
One outcome of this way of thinking is that sociologists of science informed by the perspective outlined above find themselves short of argumentative resources for demarcating science from non-science.
These are sociologists, yet they appear to classify an obvious sociological observation as “a way of thinking,” based on the effect, this being argument from consequences, having no bearing on the reality. So, for what purpose would we want to distinguish between science and non-science? The goal, apparently, is to be able to argue the distinction, but this is an issue which has been long studied. In a definitional question like this, my first inquiry is, “Who wants to know, and why?” because a sane answer will consider context.
There are classical ways of identifying the boundaries. Unfortunately, those ways require judgment. Whose judgment? Rather than judgment, the authors appear to be proposing the use of a vague concept of “scientific consensus,” that ignores the roots of that. “Scientific consensus” is not, properly, the general agreement of those called “scientists,” but of those with expertise, as I outline above. It is a consensus obtained through collective study of evidence. It can still be flawed, but my long-term position on genuine consensus is that it is the most reliable guide we have, and as long as we keep in mind the possibility that any idea can be defective, any interpretation may become obsolete, in the language of Islam, if we do not “close the gates of ijtihaad,” as some imagine happened over a thousand years ago, relying on social agreement, and especially the agreement of the informed, is our safest course.
They went on:
The distinction with traditional philosophy of science, which readily
demarcates fringe subjects such as parapsychology by referring to their ‘irrationality’ or some such, is marked.3
For the sociologist of scientific knowledge, that kind of demarcation comprises a retrospective drawing on what is found within the scientific community. In contrast, the sociological perspective explains why a multiplicity of conflicting views on the same topic, each with its own scientific justification, can coexist. A position that can emerge from this perspective is to argue for less authoritarian control of new scientific initiatives – for a loosening of the controls on the restrictive side of what Kuhn (1959, 1977) called ‘the essential tension’. The essential tension is between those who believe that science can only progress within consensual
‘ways of going on’ which restrict the range of questions that can be asked, the ways of asking and answering them and the kinds of criticism that it is legitimate to offer – this is sometime known as working within ‘paradigms’ – and those who believe that this kind of control is unacceptably authoritarian and that good science is always maximally creative and has no bounds in these respects. This tension is central to what we argue here. We note only that a complete loosening of control would lead to the dissolution of science.
They note that, but adduce no evidence. Control over what? There are thousands upon thousands of institutions, making decisions which can affect the viability of scientific investigation. The alleged argument, stated as contrary “beliefs,” misses that there could be a consensus, rooted in reality. What is reality? And there we need more than the kind of shallow sociology that I see here. Socially, we get the closest to the investigation of reality in the legal system, where there are processes and procedures for finding “consensus,” as represented by the consensus of a jury, or the assessment of a judge, with procedures in place to assure neutrality, even though we know that those procedures sometimes fail, hence there are appeal procedures, etc.
In science, in theory, “closure” is obtained through the acceptance of authoritative reviews, published in refereed journals. Yet such process is not uncommonly bypassed in the formation of what is loosely called “scientific consensus.” In those areas, such reviews may be published, but are ignored, dismissed. It is the right of each individual to decide what information to follow, and what not, except when the individual, or the supervising organization, has a responsibility to consider it. Here, it appears, there is an attempt to advise organizations, as to what they should consider “science.”
Why do they need to decide that? What I see is that if one can dismiss claims coming under consideration, based on an alleged “consensus,” which means, in practice, I call up my friend, who is a physicist, say, and he says, “Oh, that’s bullshit, proven wrong long ago. Everybody knows.”
If someone has a responsibility, it is not discharged by receiving and acting on rumors.
The first question, about authoritarian control, is, “Does it exist?” Yes, it does. And the paper rather thoroughly documents it, as regards the arXiv community and library. However, if a “pseudoskeptic” is arguing with a “fringe believer,” — those are both stereotypical terms — and the believer mentions the suppression, the skeptic will assert, “Aha! Conspiracy theory!” And, in fact, when suppression takes place, conspiracy theories do abound. This is particularly true if the suppression is systemic, rather than anecdotal. And with fringe science, once a field is so tagged, it is systemic.
Anyone who researches the history of cold fusion will find examples, where authoritarian control is exerted with means that not openly acknowledged, and with cooperation and collaboration in this. Is that a “conspiracy”? Those engaged in it won’t think so. This is just, to them, “sensible people cooperating with each other.”
I would distinguish between this activity as a “natural conspiracy,” from “corrupt conspiracy,” as if, for example, the oil industry were conspiring to suppress cold fusion because of possible damage to their interests. In fact, I find corrupt conspiracy extremely unlikely in the case of cold fusion, and in many other cases where it is sometimes asserted.
The straw man argument, they set up, is between extreme and entrenched positions, depending on knee-jerk reactions. That is “authoritarian control” is Bad. Is it? Doesn’t that depend on context and purpose?
But primitive thinkers are looking for easy classifications, particularly into Good and Bad. The argument described is rooted in such primitive thinking, and certainly not actual sociology (which must include linguistics and philosophy).
So I imagine a policy-maker, charged with setting research budgets, presented with a proposal for research that may be considered fringe. Should he or she approve the proposal? Now there are procedures, but this stands out: if the decider decides according to majority opinion among “scientists,” it’s safer. But it also shuts down the possibility of extending the boundaries of science, and that can sometimes cause enormous damage.
Those women giving birth in hospitals in Europe in the 19th century. They died because of a defective medical practice, and because reality was too horrible to consider, for the experts. It meant that they were, by their hands, killing women. (One of Semmelweiss’s colleagues, who accepted his work, realized that he had caused the death of his niece, and committed suicide.)
What would be a more responsible approach? I’m not entirely sure I would ask sociologists, particularly those ontologically unsophisticated. But they would, by their profession, be able to document what actually exists, and these sociologists do that, in part. But as to policy recommendations, they put their pants on one leg at a time. They may have no clue.
What drives this paper is a different question that arises out of the sociological perspective: What is the outside world to do with the new view?
Sociologists may have their own political opinions, and these clearly do. Science does not provide advice, rather it can, under the best circumstances, inform decisions, but decision-making is a matter of choices, and science does not determine choices. It may, sometimes, predict the consequences of choices. But these sociologists take it as their task to advise, it seems.
So who wants to know and for what purpose? They have this note:
1 This paper is joint work by researchers supported by two grants: ESRC to Harry Collins, (RES/K006401/1) £277,184, What is scientific consensus for policy? Heartlands and hinterlands of physics (2014-2016); British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship to Luis Reyes-Galindo, (PF130024) £223,732, The social boundaries of scientific knowledge: a case study of ‘green’ Open Access (2013-2016).
Searching for that, I first find a paper by these authors:
Collins, Harry & Bartlett, Andrew & Reyes-Galindo, Luis. (2017). “Demarcating Fringe Science for Policy.” Perspectives on Science. 25. 411-438. 10.1162/POSC_a_00248. Copy on ResearchGate.
This appears to be a published version of the arXiv preprint. The abstract:
Here we try to characterize the fringe of science as opposed to the mainstream. We want to do this in order to provide some theory of the difference that can be used by policy-makers and other decision-makers but without violating the principles of what has been called ‘Wave Two of Science Studies’. Therefore our demarcation criteria rest on differences in the forms of life of the two activities rather than questions of rationality or rightness; we try to show the ways in which the fringe differs from the mainstream in terms of the way they think about and practice the institution of science. Along the way we provide descriptions of fringe institutions and sciences and their outlets. We concentrate mostly on physics.
How would decision-makers use this “theory”? It seems fairly clear to me: find a collection of “scientists” and ask them to vote. If a majority of these people think that the topic is fringe, it’s fringe, and the decision-maker can reject a project to investigate it, and be safe. Yet people who are decision-makers are hopefully more sophisticated than CYA bureaucrats.
Collins has long written about similar issues. I might obtain and read his books.
As an advisor on science policy, though, what he’s advising isn’t science, it’s politics. The science involved would be management science, not the sociology of science. He’s outside his field. If there is a business proposal, it may entail risk. In fact, almost any potentially valuable course of action would entail risk. “Risky” and “fringe” are related.
However, with cold fusion, we know this: both U.S. Department of Energy reviews, which were an attempt to discover informed consensus, came up with a recommendation for more research. Yet if decision-makers reject research proposals, if journals reject papers without review — Collins talks about that process, is if reasonable, as it is under some conditions and not others — if a student’s dissertation is rejected because it was about “cold fusion,” — though not really, it was about finding tritium in electrolytic cells, which is only a piece of evidence, not a conclusion — then the research will be suppressed, which is not what the reviews purported to want. Actual consensus of experts was ignored in favor of a shallow interpretation of it. (Point this out to a pseudoskeptic, the counter-argument is that “Oh, they always recommend more research, it was boilerplate, polite. They really knew that cold fusion was bullshit.” This is how entrenched belief looks. It rationalizes away all contrary evidence. it attempts to shut down interest in anything fringe. I wonder, if they could legally use the tools, would they torture “fringe believers,” like a modern Inquisition? Sometimes I think so.
“Fringe,” it appears, is to be decided based on opinion believed to be widespread, without any regard for specific expertise and knowledge.
“Cold fusion” is commonly thought of as a physics topic, because if the cause of the observed effects is what it was first thought to be, deuterium-deuterium fusion, it would be of interest to nuclear physicists. But few nuclear physicists are expert in the fields involved in those reports. Yet physicists were not shy about giving opinions, too often. Replication failure — which was common with this work — is not proof that the original reports were false, it is properly called a “failure,” because that is what it usually is.
Too few pay attention to what actually happened with N-rays and polywater, which are commonly cited as precedent. Controlled experiment replicated the results! And then showed prosaic causes as being likely. With cold fusion, failure to replicate (i.e., absence of confirming evidence from some investigators, not others) was taken as evidence of absence, which it never is, unless the situation is so obvious and clear that results could not overlook notice. Fleischmann-Pons was a very difficult experiment. It seemed simple to physicists, with no experience with electrochemistry.
I’ve been preparing a complete bibliography on cold fusion, listing and providing access information for over 1500 papers published in mainstream journals, with an additional 3000 papers published in other ways. I’d say that anyone who actually studies the history of cold fusion will recognize how much Bad Science there was, and it was on all sides, not just the so-called “believer” side, nor just on the other.
So much information was generated by this research, which went all over the map, that approaching the field is forbidding, there is too much. There have been reviews, which is how the mainstream seeks closure, normally, not by some vague social phenomenon, an information cascade.
The reviews conclude that there is a real effect. Most consider the mechanism as unknown, still. But it’s nuclear, that is heavily shown by the preponderance of evidence. The contrary view, that this is all artifact, has become untenable, actually unreasonable for those who know the literature. Most don’t know it. The latest major review was “Status of cold fusion, 2010,: Edmund Storms, Naturwissenschaften, preprint.
Decision-makers need to know if a topic is fringe, because they may need to be able to justify their decisions, and with a fringe topic, flak can be predicted. The criteria that Collins et al seem to be proposing — my study isn’t thorough yet — use behavioral criteria, that may not, at all, apply to individuals making, say, a grant request, but rather to a community. Yet if the topic is such as to trigger the knee-jerk responses of pseudoskeptics, opposition can be expected.
A decision-maker should look for peer-reviewed reviews in the literature, in mainstream journals. Those can provide the cover a manager may need.
The general opinion of “scientists” may vary greatly from the responsible decisions of editors and reviewers who actually take a paper seriously, and who therefore study it and verify and check it.
A manager who depends on widespread but uninformed opinion is likely to make poor decisions, faced with an opportunity for something that could create a breakthrough. Such decisions, though, should not be naive, should not fail to recognize the risks.
Fantasy rejects itself
I came across this review when linking to Undead Science on Amazon. It’s old, but there is no other review. I did buy that book, in 2009, from Amazon, used, but never reviewed it and now Amazon wants me to spend at least $50 in the last year to be able to review books….
But I can comment on the review, and I will. I first comment here.
August 7, 2011
I picked up this book on the recommendation of a fellow scientist with good taste in work on the history of science. I’ll update this, should I get further through the book, but halfway through this book is greatly irritating.
The book is a pretty straightforward story by a sociologist of science, something Dr. Vidale is not (he is a professor of seismology). There are many myths, common tropes, about cold fusion, and, since Dr. Vidale likes Gary Taubes (as do I, by the way), perhaps he should learn about information cascades; Taubes has written much about them. He can google “Gary Taubes information cascade.”
An information cascade is a social phenomenon where something comes to be commonly believed without ever having been clearly proven. It happens with scientists as well as with anyone.
The beginning is largely an explanation of how science works theoretically.
It is not. Sociologists of science study how science actually works, not the theory.
The thesis seems to be that science traditionally is thought of as either alive or dead, depending on whether the issues investigated are uncertain or already decided.
Is that a “thesis” or an observation? It becomes very clear in this review that the author thinks “cold fusion” is dead. As with many such opinions, it’s quote likely he has no idea what he is talking about. What is “cold fusion”?
It was a popular name given to an anomalous heat effect, based on ideas of the source, but the scientists who discovered the effect, because they could not explain the heat with chemistry — and they were experts chemists, leaders in their field — called it an “unknown nuclear reaction.” They had not been looking for a source of energy. They were actually testing the Born-Oppenheimer approximation, and though that the approximation was probably good enough that they would find nothing. And then their experiment melted down.
A third category of “undead” is proposed, in which some scientists think the topic is alive and others think it is dead, and this category has a life of its own. Later, this theme evolves to argue the undead topic of cold fusion still alive, or was long after declared dead.
That is, more or less the basis for the book. The field is now known by the more neutral term of “Condensed Matter Nuclear Science,” sometimes “Low Energy Nuclear Reactions,” the heat effect is simply called the Anomalous Heat Effect by some. I still use “cold fusion” because the evidence has become overwhelming that the nuclear reaction, whatever it is, is producing helium from deuterium, which is fusion in effect if not in mechanism. The mechanism is still unknown. It is obviously not what was thought of as “fusion” when the AHE was discovered.
The beginning and the last chapter may be of interest to those who seek to categorize varieties in the study of the history of science, but such pigeonholing is of much less value to me than revealing case studies of work well done and poorly done.
That’s Gary Taubes’ professional theme. However, it also can be superficial. There is a fine study by Henry H. Bauer (2002). ‘Pathological Science’ is not Scientific Misconduct (nor is it pathological).
One argument I’m not buying so far is the claim that what killed cold fusion is the consensus among most scientists that it was nonsense, rather than the fact that cold fusion is nonsense.
If not “consensus among most scientists,” how then would it be determined that a field is outside the mainstream? And is “nonsense” a “fact”? Can you weigh it?
There is a large body of experimental evidence, and then there are conclusions drawn from the evidence, and ideas about the evidence and the conclusions. Where does observed fact become “nonsense”?
“Nonsense” is something we say when what is being stated makes no sense to us. It’s highly subjective.
Notice that the author appears to believe that “cold fusion” is “nonsense,” but shows no sign of knowing what this thing is, what exactly is reported and claimed.
No, the author seems to be believe “cold fusion is nonsense,” as a fact of nature, as a reality, not merely a personal reaction.
More to the point, where and when was the decision made that “cold fusion is dead”? The U.S. Department of Energy held two reviews of the field. The first was in 1989, rushed, and concluded before replications began appearing. Another review was held in 2004. Did these reviews declare that cold fusion was dead?
No. In fact, both recommended further research. One does not recommend further research for a dead field. In 2004, that recommendation was unanimous for an 18-member panel of experts.
This is to me a case study in which many open-minded people looked at a claim and shredded it.
According to Dr. Vidale. Yes, there was very strong criticism, even “vituperation,” in the words of one skeptic. However, the field is very much alive, and publication in mainstream journals has continued (increasing after a nadir in about 2005). Research is being funded. Governmental interest never disappeared, but it is a very difficult field.
There is little difference here between the truth and the scientists consensus about the truth.
What consensus, I must ask? The closest we have to a formal consensus would be the 2004 review, and what it concluded is far from the position Mr. Vidale is asserting. He imagines his view is “mainstream,” but that is simply the effect of an information cascade. Yes, many scientists think as he thinks, still. In other words, scientists can be ignorant of what is happening outside their own fields. But it is not a “consensus,” and never was. It was merely a widespread and very strong opinion, but that opinion was rejecting an idea about the Heat Effect, not the effect itself.
To the extent, though, that they were rejecting experimental evidence, they were engaged in cargo cult science, or scientism, a belief system. Not the scientific method.
The sociological understructure in the book seems to impede rather than aid understanding.
It seems that way to Dr. Vidale because he’s clueless about the reality of cold fusion research.
Specifically, there seems an underlying assumption that claims of excess heat without by-products of fusion reactions are a plausible interpretation, whose investigations deserved funding, but were denied by the closed club of established scientists.
There was a claim of anomalous heat, yes. It was an error for Pons and Fleischmann to claim that it was a nuclear reaction, and to mention “fusion,” based on the evidence they had, which was only circumstantial.
The reaction is definitely not what comes to mind when that word is used.
But . . . a fusion product, helium, was eventually identified (Miles, 1991), correlated with heat, and that has been confirmed by over a dozen research groups, and confirmation and measurement of the ratio with increased precision is under way at Texas Tech, very well funded, as that deserves. Extant measurements of the heat/helium ratio are within experimental error of the deuterium fusion to helium theoretical value.
(That does not show that the reaction is “d-d fusion,” because any reaction that starts with deuterium and ends with helium, no matter how this is catalyzed, must show that ratio.)
That Dr. Vidale believes that no nuclear product was identified simply shows that he’s reacting to what amounts to gossip or rumor or information cascade. (Other products have been found, there is strong evidence for tritium, but the levels are very low and it is the helium that accounts for the heat).
The author repeatedly cites international experts calling such scenarios impossible or highly implausible to suggest that the experts are libeling cold fusion claims with the label pathological science. I side with the experts rather than the author.
It is obvious that there were experts who did that; this is undeniable. Simon does not suggest “libel.” And Vidale merely joins in the labelling, without being specific such that one could test his claims. He’s outside of science. He’s taking sides, which sociologists generally don’t do, nor, in fact, do careful scientists do it within their field. To claim that a scientist is practicing “pathological science” is a deep insult. That is not a scientific category. Langmuir coined the term, and gave characteristics, which only superficially match cold fusion, which long ago moved outside of that box.
Also, the claim is made that this case demonstrates that sociologists are better equipped to mediate disputes involving claims of pathological science than scientists, which is ludicrous.
It would be, if the book claimed that, but it doesn’t. More to the point, who mediates such disputes? What happens in the real world?
Clearly, in the cold fusion case, another decade after the publication of this book has not contradicted any of the condemnations from scientists of cold fusion.
The 2004 U.S. DoE review was after the publication of the book, and it contradicts the position Dr. Vidale is taking, very clearly. While that review erred in many ways (the review was far too superficial, hurried, and the process allowed misunderstandings to arise, some reviewers clearly misread the presented documents), they did not call cold fusion “nonsense.” Several reviewers probably thought that, but they all agreed with “more research.”
Essentially, if one wishes to critically assess the stages through which cold fusion ideas were discarded, it is helpful to understand the nuclear processes involved.
Actually, no. “Cold fusion” appears to be a nuclear physics topic, because of “fusion.” However, it is actually a set of results in chemistry. What an expert in normal nuclear processes knows will not help with cold fusion. It is, at this point, an “unknown nuclear reaction” (which was claimed in the original paper). (Or it is a set of such reactions.) Yes, if someone wants to propose a theory of mechanism, a knowledge of nuclear physics is necessary, and there are physicists, with such understanding, experts, doing just that. So far, no theory has been successful to the point of being widely accepted.
One should not argue, as the author indirectly does, for large federal investments in blue sky reinvention of physics unless one has an imposing reputation of knowing the limitations of existing physics.
Simon does not argue for that. I don’t argue for that. I suggest exactly what both U.S. DoE reviews suggested: modest funding for basic research under existing programs. That is a genuine scientific consensus! However, it is not necessary a “consensus of scientists,” that is, some majority showing in a poll, as distinct from genuine scientific process as functions with peer review and the like.
It appears that Dr. Vidale has an active imagination, and thinks that Simon is a “believer” and thinks that “believers” want massive federal funding, so he reads that into the book. No, the book is about a sociological phenomenon, it was Simon’s doctoral thesis originally, and sociologists of science will continue to study the cold fusion affair, for a very long time. Huizenga called it the “scientific fiasco of the twentieth century.” He was right. It was a perfect storm, in many ways, and there is much that can be learned from it.
Cold fusion is not a “reinvention of physics.” It tells us very little about nuclear physics. “Cold fusion,” as a name for an anomalous heat effect, does not contradict existing physics. It is possible that when the mechanism is elucidated, it will show some contradiction, but what is most likely is that all that has been contradicted was assumption about what’s possible in condensed matter, not actual physics.
There are theories being worked on that use standard quantum field theory, merely in certain unanticipated circumstances. Quick example: what will happen if two deuterium molecules are trapped in relationship at low relative momentum, such that the nuclei form the vertices of a tetrahedron? The analysis has been done by Akito Takahashi: they will collapse into a Bose -Einstein condensate within a femtosecond or so, and that will fuse by tunneling within another femotosecond or so, creating 8Be, which can fission into two 4He nuclei, without gamma radiation (as would be expected if two deuterons could somehow fuse to helium without immediately fissioning into the normal d-d fusion products).
That theory is incomplete, I won’t go into details, but it merely shows how there may be surprises lurking in places we never looked before.
I will amend my review if my attention span is long enough, but the collection of objectionable claims has risen too high to warrant spending another few hours finishing this book. Gary Taubes’ book on the same subject, Bad Science, was much more factual and enlightening.
Taubes’ Bad Science is an excellent book on the history of cold fusion, the very early days only. The story of the book is well known, he was in a hurry to finish it so he could be paid. As is common with his work, he spent far more time than made sense economically for him. He believed he understood the physics, and sometimes wrote from that perspective, but, in fact, nobody understands what Pons and Fleischmann found. They certainly didn’t.
Gradually, fact is being established, and how to create reliable experiments is being developed. It’s still difficult, but measuring the heat/helium ratio is a reliable and replicable experiment. It’s still not easy, but what is cool about it is that, per existing results, if one doesn’t see heat, one doesn’t see helium, period, and if one does see heat (which with a good protocol might be half the time), one sees proportionate helium.
So Dr. Vidale gave the book a poor review, two stars out of five, based on his rejection of what he imagined the book was saying.
There were some comments, that can be seen by following the Unreal arguments link.
Agreed, Dr. Vidale has demonstrated what an information cascade looks like. He’s totally confident that he is standing for the mainstream opinion. Yet “mainstream opinion” is not a judgment of experts, except, of course, in part.
Dr. Vidale is not an expert in this field, and he is not actually aware of expert reviews of “cold fusion.” Perhaps he might consider reading this peer-reviewed review of the field, published the year before he wrote, in Naturwissenschaften, which was, at the time, a venerable multidisciplinary journal, and it had tough peer review. Edmund Storms, Status of cold fusion (2010). (preprint).
There are many, many reviews of cold fusion in mainstream journals, published in the last 15 years. The extreme skepticism, which Vidale thinks is mainstream, has disappeared in the journals. What is undead here is extreme skepticism on this topic, which hasn’t noticed it died.
So, is cold fusion Undead, or is it simply Alive and never died?
After writing this, I found that Dr. John Vidale was a double major as an undergraduate, in physics and geology, has a PhD from Cal Tech (1986), and his major focus appears to be seismology.
He might be amused by this story from the late Nate Hoffman, who wrote a book for the American Nuclear Society, supported by the Electric Power Research Institute, A Dialogue on Chemically Induced Nuclear Effects: A Guide for the Perplexed About Cold Fusion (1995). Among other things, it accurately reviews Taubes and Huizenga. The book is written as a dialogue between a Young Scientist (YS), who represents common thinking, particularly among physicists, and Old Metallurgist (OM), which would be Hoffman himself, who is commonly considered a skeptic by promoters of cold fusion. Actually, to me, he looks normally skeptical, skepticism being essential to science.
YS: I guess the real question has to be this: Is the heat real?
OM: The simple facts are as follows. Scientists experienced in the area of calorimetric measurements are performing these experiments. Long periods occur with no heat production, then, occasionally, periods suddenly occur with apparent heat production. These scientists become irate when so-called experts call them charlatans. The occasions when apparent heat occurs seem to be highly sensitive to the surface conditions of the palladium and are not reproducible at will.
YS: Any phenomenon that is not reproducible at will is most likely not real.
OM: People in the San Fernando Valley, Japanese, Columbians, et al, will be glad to hear that earthquakes are not real.
YS: Ouch. I deserved that. My comment was stupid.
OM: A large number of of people who should know better have parroted that inane statement. There are, however, many artifacts that can indicate a false period of heat production. The question of whether heat is being produced is still open, though any such heat is not from deuterium atoms fusing with deuterium atoms to produce equal amounts of 3He + neutron and triton + proton. If the heat is real, it must be from a different nuclear reaction or some totally unknown non-nuclear source of reactions with energies far above the electron-volt levels of chemical reactions.
As with Taubes, Hoffman may have been under some pressure to complete the book. Miles, in 1991, was the first to report, in a conference paper, that helium was being produced, correlated with helium, and this was noticed by Huizenga in the second edition of his book (1993). Hoffman covers some of Miles’ work, and some helium measurements, but does not report the crucial correlation, though this was published in Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry in 1993.
I cover heat/helium, as a quantitatively reproducible and widely-confirmed experiment, in my 2015 paper, published in a special section on Low Energy Nuclear Reactions in Current Science..
Of special note in that section would be McKubre, Cold fusion: comments on the state of scientific proof.
McKubre is an electrochemist who, when he saw the Pons and Fleischmann announcement, already was familiar with the palladium-deuterium system, working at SRI International, and immediately recognized that the effect reported must be in relatively unexplored territory, with very high loading ratio. This was not widely understood, and replication efforts that failed to reach a loading threshold, somewhere around 90% atom (D/Pd), reported no results (neither anomalous heat, nor any other nuclear effects). At that time, it was commonly considered that 70% loading was a maximum.
SRI and McKubre were retained by the Electric Power Research Institute, for obvious reasons, to investigate cold fusion, and until retiring recently, he spent his entire career after that, mostly on LENR research.
One of the characteristics of the rejection cascade was cross-disciplinary disrespect. In his review, Dr. Vidale shows no respect or understanding of sociology and “science studies,” and mistakes his own opinions and those of his friends as “scientific consensus.”
What is scientific consensus? This is a question that sociologists and philosophers of science study. As well, most physicists knew little to nothing about electrochemistry, and there are many stories of Stupid Mistakes, such as reversing the cathode and anode (because of a differing convention) and failing to maintain very high cleanliness of experiments. One electrochemist, visiting such a lab, asked, “And then did you pee in the cell?” The most basic mistake was failing to run the experiment long enough to develop the conditions that create the effect. McKubre covers that in the paper cited.
(An electrolytic cathode will collect cations from the electrolyte, and cathodes may become loaded with fuzzy junk. I fully sympathize with physicists with a distaste for the horrible mess of an electrolytic cathode. For very good reasons, they prefer the simple environment of a plasma, which they can analyze using two-body quantum mechanics.
I sat in Feynman’s lectures at Cal Tech, 1961-63, and, besides his anecdotes that I heard directly from him when he visited Page House, I remember one statement about physics: “We don’t have the math to calculate the solid state, it is far too complex.” Yet too many physicists believed that the approximations they used were reality. No, they were useful approximations, that usually worked. So did Ptolemaic astronomy.)
Dr. Vidale is welcome to comment here and to correct errors, as may anyone.
Update, December 19, 2018
Apparently I sent Vidale an email notifying him of this post, I normally do that as a courtesy with reviews. I could not find the email, which is a bit puzzling. It was likely very brief with a link, as he stated. I recall no response, but this showed up, a screenshot posted by a troll on Encyclopedia Dramatica (a satire site):
As before, no response is required. The troll who posted that image is also the troll who, with his brother, created and maintained the RationalWiki article, and Vidale’s comment is being used as a proof that I’m a troll. Circular.
Of course, Vidale did, in fact, respond, just not in situ and not where it would be likely to be seen by me. Some people have a weird idea of what “no response” means.
I could not find the post, my guess is that it was taken down. Vidale followed and believed the claims of twin brothers who are the most disruptive trolls I have ever seen, though, to be sure, the internet is vast and I haven’t seen everything!
Protecting the fringe allows the mainstream to breathe
Wikipedia is famously biased against fringe points of view or fringe science (and actually the bias can appear with any position considered “truth” by a majority or plurality faction). The pseudoskeptical faction there claims that there is no bias, but it’s quite clear that reliable sources exist, per Wikipedia definitions, that are excluded, and weaker sources “debunking” the fringe are allowed, plus if editors appears to be “fringe,” they are readily harassed and blocked or banned, whereas more egregious behavior, violating Wikipedia policies, is overlooked, if an editor is allied with the “skeptical” faction. Over time, the original Wikipedians, who actually supported Neutral Point of View policy, have substantially been marginalized and ignored, and the faction has become increasingly bold.
When I first confronted factional editing, before the Arbitration Committee in 2009, the faction was relatively weak. However, over the ensuing years, the debunkers organized, Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia (GSoW) came into existence, and operates openly. People who come to Wikipedia to attempt to push toward neutrality (or toward “believer” positions) are sanctioned for treating Wikipedia as a battleground, but that is exactly what the skeptics have done, and the Guerrilla Skeptics (consider the name!) create a consistent push with a factional position.
There is increasing evidence of additional off-wiki coordination. It would actually be surprising if it did not exist, it can be difficult to detect. But we have an incident, now.
February 24, 2018 I was banned by the WikiMediaFoundation. There was no warning, and no explanation, and there is no appeal from a global ban. Why? To my knowledge, I did not violate the Terms of Service in any way. There was, however, at least one claim that I did, an allegation by a user that I had “harassed” him by email, the first of our emails was sent through the WMF servers, so if, in fact, that email was harassment, it would be a TOS violation, though a single violation, unless truly egregious, has never been known to result in a ban. I have published all the emails with that user here.
This much is known, however. One of those who claimed to have complained about me to the WMF posted a list of those complaining on the forum, Wikipedia Sucks. It is practically identical to the list I had inferred; it is, then, a convenient list of those who likely libelled me. However, I will be, ah, requesting the information from the WikiMedia Foundation.
Meanwhile, the purpose of this post is to consider the situation with fringe science and an encyclopedia project. First of all, what is fringe science?
The Wikipedia article, no surprise, is massively confused on this.
The term “fringe science” denotes unorthodox scientific theories and models. Persons who create fringe science may have employed the scientific method in their work, but their results are not accepted by the mainstream scientific community. Fringe science may be advocated by a scientist who has some recognition within the larger scientific community, but this is not always the case. Usually the evidence provided by fringe science is accepted only by a minority and is rejected by most experts.
Indeed, citation needed! Evidence is evidence, and is often confused with conclusions. Rejection of evidence is essentially a claim of fraud or reporting error, which is rare for professional scientists, because it can be career suicide. Rather, a scientist may discover an anomaly, au unexplained phenomenon, more precisely, unexplained results. Then a cause may be hypothesized. If this hypothesis is unexpected within existing scientific knowledge, yet the hypothesis is not yet confirmed independently, it may be “rejected” as premature or even wrong. If there are experts in the relevant field who accept it as possible and worthy of investigation, this then is “possible new science.” There may be experts who reject the new analysis, for various reasons, and we will look at a well-known example, “continental drift.”
There is no “journal of mainstream opinion,” but there are journals considered “mainstream.” The term “mainstream” is casually used by many authors without any clear definition. In my own work, I defined “mainstream journals” as journals acceptable as such by Dieter Britz, a skeptical electrochemist. As well, the issue of speciality arises. If there is an electrochemical anomaly discovered, heat the expert chemists cannot explain through chemistry, what is the relevant field of expertise. Often those who claim a field is “fringe” are referring to the opinions of those who are not expert in the directly relevant field, but whose expertise, perhaps, leads to conclusions that are, on the face, contradicted by evidence gathered with expertise other than in their field.
With “cold fusion,” named after a hypothesized source for anomalous heat, in the Fleischmann-Pons Heat Effect, (also found by many others), it was immediately assumed that the relevant field would be nuclear physics. It was also assumed that if “cold fusion” were real, it would overturn established physical theory. That was a blatant analytical error, because it assumed a specific model of the heat source, a specific mechanism, which was actually contradicted by the experimental evidence, most notably by the “dead graduate student effect.” If the FPHE were caused by the direct fusion of two deuterons to form helium, the third of Huizenga’s three “miracles,” if absent, would have generated fatal levels of gamma radiation. The second miracle was the reaction being guided in to the very rare helium branch, instead of there being fatal levels of neutron radiation, and the first would be the fusion itself. However, that first miracle would not contradict existing physics, because an unknown form of catalysis may exist, and one is already known, muon-catalyzed fusion.
Evidence is not provided by “fringe science.” It is provided by ordinary scientific study. In cargo cult science, ordinary thinking is worshipped as if conclusive, without the rigorous application of the scientific method. Real science is always open, no matter how well-established a theory. The existing theory may be incomplete. Ptolemaic astronomy provided a modal that was quite good at explaining the motions of planets. Ptolemaic astronomy passed into history when a simpler model was found.
Galileo’s observations were rejected because they contradicted certain beliefs. The observations were evidence, and “contradiction” is an interpretation, not evidence in itself. (It is not uncommon for apparently contradictory evidence to be later understood as indicating an underlying reality. But with Galileo, his very observations were rejected — I think, it would be interesting to study this in detail — and if he were lying, it would be a serious moral offense, actually heresy.
The boundary between fringe science and pseudoscience is disputed. The connotation of “fringe science” is that the enterprise is rational but is unlikely to produce good results for a variety of reasons, including incomplete or contradictory evidence.
The “boundary question” is an aspect of the sociology of science. “Unlikely to produce good results,” first of all, creates a bias, where results are classified as “good” or “poor” or “wrong,” all of which moves away from evidence to opinion and interpretation. “Contradictory evidence,” then, suggests anomalies. “Contradiction” does not exist in nature. With cold fusion, an example is the neutron radiation issue. Theory would predict, for two-deuteron fusion, massive neutron radiation. So that Pons and Fleischmann reported neutron radiation, but at levels far, far below what would be expected for d-d fusion generating the reported heat, first of all, contradicted the d-d fusion theory, on theoretical grounds. They were quite aware of this, hence what they actually proposed in their first paper was not “d-d fusion” but an “unknown nuclear reaction.” That was largely ignored, so much noise was being made about “fusion,” it was practically a Perfect Storm.
Further, any substantial neutron radiation would be remarkable as a result from an electrochemical experiment. As came out rather rapidly, Pons and Fleischmann had erred. Later work that established an upper limit for neutron radiation was itself defective (the FP heat effect was very difficult to set up, and it was not enough to create an alleged “FP cell” and look for neutrons, because many such cells produce no measurable heat), but it is clear from later work that neutron generation, if it exists at all, is at extremely low levels, basically irrelevant to the main effect.
Such neutron findings were considered “negative” by Britz. In fact, all experimental findings contribute to knowledge; it became a well-established characteristic of the FP Heat Effect that it does not generate significant high-energy radiation, nor has the heat ever been correlated (across multiple experiments and by multiple independent groups) with any other nuclear product except helium.
The term may be considered pejorative. For example, Lyell D. Henry Jr. wrote that, “fringe science [is] a term also suggesting kookiness.” This characterization is perhaps inspired by the eccentric behavior of many researchers of the kind known colloquially (and with considerable historical precedent) as mad scientists.
The term does suggest that. The looseness of the definition allows inclusion of many different findings and claims, which do include isolated and idiosyncratic ideas of so-called “mad scientists.” This is all pop science, complicated by the fact that some scientists age and suffer from forms of dementia. However, some highly successful scientists also move into a disregard of popular opinion, which can create an impression of “kookiness,” which is, after all, popular judgment and not objective. They may be willing to consider ideas rejected for social reasons by others.
Although most fringe science is rejected, the scientific community has come to accept some portions of it. One example of such is plate tectonics, an idea which had its origin in the fringe science of continental drift and was rejected for decades.
There are lost and crucial details. Rejected by whom, and when? The present tense is used, and this is common with the anti-fringe faction on Wikipedia. If something was rejected by some or by many, that condition is assumed to continee and is reported in the present tense, as as it were a continuing fact, when an author cannot do more than express an opinion about the future. Now, plate tectonics is mentioned. “Continental drift” is called “fringe science,” even after it became widely accepted.
Wegener’s proposal of continental drift is a fascinating example. The Wikipedia article does not mention “fringe science.” The Wikipedia article is quite good, it seems to me. One particular snippet is of high interest:
David Attenborough, who attended university in the second half of the 1940s, recounted an incident illustrating its lack of acceptance then: “I once asked one of my lecturers why he was not talking to us about continental drift and I was told, sneeringly, that if I could prove there was a force that could move continents, then he might think about it. The idea was moonshine, I was informed.”
As late as 1953 – just five years before Carey introduced the theory of plate tectonics – the theory of continental drift was rejected by the physicist Scheidegger on the following grounds.
That rejection was essentially pseudoskepticism and pseudoscientific. There was observation (experimental evidence) suggesting drift. The lack of explanatory theory is not evidence of anything other than possible ignorance. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
The fact is that the continental drift hypothesis, as an explanation for the map appearance and fossil record, was not generally accepted. What shifted opinion was the appearance of a plausible theory. Worthy of note was how strongly the opinion of “impossible” was, such that “proof” was demanded. This is a sign of a fixed mind, not open to new ideas. The history of science is a long story of developing methods to overcome prejudice like that. This is a struggle between established belief and actual fact. Experimental evidence is fact. Such and such was observed, such and such was measured. These are truth, the best we have. It can turn out that recorded data was a result of artifact, and some records are incorrect, but that is relatively rare. Scientists are trained to record data accurately and to report it neutrally. Sometimes they fail, they are human. But science has the potential to grow beyond present limitations because of this habit.
Anomalies, observations that are not understood within existing scientific models, are indications that existing models are incomplete. Rejecting new data or analyses because they don’t fit existing models is circular. Rather, a far better understanding of this is that the evidence for a new idea has not risen to a level of detail, including controlled tests, to overcome standing ideas. Science, as a whole, properly remains agnostic. Proof is for math, not the rest of science. This does not require acceptance of new ideas until one is convinced by the preponderance of evidence. Pseudoskeptics often demand “proof.” “Extraordinary claims” require extraordinary evidence.” Yes, but what does that actually mean? What if there is “ordinary evidence?” What is the definition of an “extraordinary claim,” such that ordinary evidence is to be disregarded?
It’s subjective. It means nothing other than “surprising to me” — or to “us,” often defined to exclude anyone with a contrary opinion. For Wikipedia, peer-reviewed secondary source in a clearly mainstream journal is rejected because the author is allegedly a “believer.” That is editorial opinion, clearly not neutral. Back to the fringe science article:
The confusion between science and pseudoscience, between honest scientific error and genuine scientific discovery, is not new, and it is a permanent feature of the scientific landscape …. Acceptance of new science can come slowly.
This was presented by formatting as a quotation, but was not attributed in the text. This should be “According to Michael W. Friedlander.” in his book on the topic, At the Fringes of Science (1005). He is very clear: there is no clear demarcation between “science” and “fringe science.”
Friedlander does cover cold fusion, to some degree. He hedges his comments. On page 1, “… after months of independent, costly, and exhaustive checks by hundreds of scientist around the world, the excitement over cold fusion cooled off, and the claim is probably destined to take its place alongside monopoles, N-rays, polywater, and other fly-by-night “discoveries” that flash across our scientific skies to end up as part of our folklore.”
He hedged with “probably.” On what evidence was he basing that assessment? Cold fusion was not actually his primary investigation. On pp. 27-34, he reports the early days of the cold fusion fiasco, (with some errors), and doesn’t report on what came later. He doesn’t mention the later confirmations of the heat effect, nor the discovery of a nuclear product, published in 1993 in a mainstream journal (though announced in 1991, Huizenga covered it in 1993). He does not distinguish between the”fusion theory” and the actual report of anomalous heat by experts in heat measurement, not to mention the later discovery of a correlated nuclear product. He closes that section with:
To summarize briefly, the cold fusion “discovery” will surely be remembered as a striking example of how science should not be done. Taubes has compared “many of the proponents of cold fusion” to Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century scientist who “renounced a life of science for one of faith>” [Bad Science (1993), 92] The whole episode certainly illustrates the practical difficulty in implementing an innocuous-sounding “replication” and points to the need for full and open disclosure if there are to be meaningful tests and checks. It has also exposed some unfortunate professional sensitivities, jealousies, and resentments. At least to date, the exercise appears to be devoid of redeeming scientific value — but perhaps something may yet turn up as the few holdouts tenaciously pursue a theory as evasive as the Cheshire cat.
I agree with much of this, excepting his ignorance of results in the field, and his idea that what was to be pursued was a “theory.” No, what was needed was clear confirmation of the heat anomaly, then confirmation of the direct evidence that it was nuclear in nature (correlated helium!), and then far more intensive study of the effect itself, its conditions and other correlates and only then would a viable theory become likely.
Cold fusion was the “Scientific Fiasco of the Century” (Huizenga, 1992) It looks like Friendlander did not look at the second edition of Huizenga’s book, where he pointed to the amazing discovery of correlated helium. There was a problem in cold fusion research, that there were many “confirmations” of the heat effect, but they were not exact replications, mostly. Much of the rush to confirm — or disconfirm — was premature and focused on what was not present: “expected” nuclear products, i.e., neutrons. Tritium was confirmed but at very low levels and not correlated with heat (often the tritium studies were of cells where heat was not measured).
Nobody sane would argue that fringe claims should be “believed” without evidence, and where each individual draws the line on what level of evidence is necessary is a personal choice. It is offensive, however, when those who support a fringe claim are attacked and belittled and sometimes hounded. If fringe claims are to be rejected ipso facto, i.e., because they are considered fringe, the possibility of growth in scientific understanding is suppressed. This will be true even if most fringe claims ultimately disappear. Ordinary evidence showing some anomaly is just that, showing an anomaly. By definition, an anomaly indicates something is not understood.
With cold fusion, evidence for a heat anomaly accumulated, and because the conditions required to create the anomaly were very poorly understood, a “negative confirmation” was largely meaningless, indicating only that whatever approach was used did not generate the claimed effect, and it could have been understood that the claimed effect was not “fusion,” but anomalous heat. If the millions of dollars per month that the U.S. DoE was spending frantically in 1989 to test the claim had been understood that way, and if time had been allowed for confirmation to appear, it might not have been wasted.
As it is, Bayesian analysis of the major “negative confirmations” shows that with what became known later, those experiments could be strongly predicted to fail, they simply did not set up the conditions that became known as necessary. This was the result of a rush to judgment, pressure was put on the DoE to come up with quick answers, perhaps because the billion-dollar-per-year hot fusion effort was being, it was thought, threatened, with heavy political implications. Think of a billion dollars per year no longer being available for salaries for, say, plasma physicists.
However, though they were widely thought to have “rejected” cold fusion, the reality is that both U.S. DoE reviews were aware of the existence of evidence supporting the heat effect and its nuclear nature, and recommended further research to resolve open questions; in 2004, the 18-member panel was evenly divided on the heat question, with half considering the evidence to be conclusive and half not. Then on the issue of a nuclear origin, a third considered the evidence for a nuclear effect to be “conclusive or somewhat conclusive.”
The heat question has nothing to do with nuclear theory, but it is clear that some panel members rejected the heat evidence because of theory. The most recent major scientific work on cold fusion terms itself as a study of the Anomalous Heat Effect, and they are working on improving precision of heat and helium measurements.
If one does not accept the heat results, there would be no reason to accept nuclear evidence! So it is clear from the 2004 DoE review that cold fusion was, by then, moving into the mainstream, even though there was still rampant skepticism.
The rejection of cold fusion became an entrenched idea, an information cascade that, as is normal for such cascades, perpetuates itself, as scientists and others assume that was “everyone thinks” must be true.
In mainstream journals, publication of papers, and more significantly, reviews that accept the reality of the effect began increasing around 2005. There are no negative reviews that were more than a passing mention. What is missing is reviews in certain major journals that essentially promised to not publish on the topic, over a quarter-century ago.
One of the difficulties is that the basic research that shows, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the effect is real and nuclear in nature was all done more than a decade ago. It is old news, even though it was not widely reported. Hence my proposal, beginning quite a few years ago, was for replication of that work with increased precision, which is a classic measure of “pathological science.” Will the correlation decline or disappear with increased precision?
This is exactly the work that a genuine skeptic would want to see.
I have often written that genuine skepticism is essential to science. As well, those who will give new ideas or reported anomalies enough credence to support testing are also essential. Some of them will be accused of being “believers” or “proponents,” or even “diehards.”
The mainstream needs the fringes to be alive, in order to breathe and grow.
Diehard believers have hope, especially if they also trust reality. Diehard skeptics are simply dying.
(More accurately, “diehard skeptic” is an oxymoron. Such a person is a pseudoskeptic, a negative believer.)
I’ve been working on some studies that involve a lot of looking at Wikipedia, and I come across the Same Old S … ah, Stuff! Yeah! Stuff!
Wikipedia has absolutely wonderful policies that are not worth the paper they are not written on, because what actually matters is enforcement. If you push a point of view considered fringe by the administrative cabal (Jimbo’s word for what he created … but shhhh! Don’t write the word on Wikipedia, the sky will fall!) you are in for some, ah, enforcement. But if you have and push a clear anti-fringe point of view — which is quite distinct from neutrally insisting on policy — nothing will happen, unless you go beyond limits, in which case you might even get blocked until your friends bail you out, as happened with jps, mentioned below. Way beyond limits.
So an example pushed against my eyeballs today. It’s not about cold fusion, but it shows the thinking of an administrator (JzG is the account but he signs “Guy”) and a user (the former Science Apologist, who has a deliberately unpronounceable username but who signs jps (those were his real-life initials), who were prominent in establishing the very iffy state of Cold fusion.
Aron K. Barbey 
- Aron K. Barbey (edit | talk | history | links | watch | logs | views)
- Aron barbey (talk · contribs · logs · edit filter log · block log)
Before looking at what JzG (Guy) and UnpronounceableUsername (jps) wrote, what happened here? What is the state of the article and the user?
First thing I find is that Aron barbey wrote the article and has almost no other edits. However, he wrote the article on Articles for creation. Looking at his user talk page, I find
16 July 2012, Barbey was warned about writing an article about himself, by a user declining a first article creation submission.
9 July 2014, it appears that Aron barbey created a version of the article at Articles for Creation. That day, he was politely and properly warned about conflict of interest.
The article was declined, see 00:43:46, 9 July 2014 review of submission by Aron barbey
from the log found there:
- 08:56, 18 July 2014 Rankersbo (talk | contribs) moved page Wikipedia talk:Articles for creation/Aron K. Barbey to Draft:Aron K. Barbey (Move to (new) preferred location for WP:AfC entries)
- 15:14, 29 November 2013 Malik Shabazz (talk | contribs) deleted page Wikipedia talk:Articles for creation/Aron K. Barbey (G12: Unambiguous copyright infringement (CSDH))
- 10:34, 29 November 2013 Jni (talk | contribs) deleted page Wikipedia talk:Articles for creation/Aron K. Barbey (G13: Abandoned AfC submission – If you wish to retrieve it, please see WP:REFUND/G13)
It appears that the article was actually originally written by Barbey in 2012. See this early copy, and logs for that page.
Barbey continued to work on his article in the new location, and resubmitted it August 2, 2014
It was accepted August 14, 2014. and moved to mainspace.
Now, the article itself. It has not been written or improved by someone with a clue as to what Wikipedia articles need. As it stands, it will not withstand a Articles for deletion request. The problem is that there are few, if any, reliable secondary sources. Over three years after the article was accepted, JzG multiply issue-tagged it. Those tags are correct. There are those problems, some minor, some major. However, this edit was appalling, and the problem shows up in the FTN filing.
The problems with the article would properly suggest AfD if they cannot be resolved. So why did JzG go to FTN? What is the “Fringe Theory” involved? He would go there for one reason: on that page the problems with this article can be seen by anti-fringe users, who may then either sit on the article to support what JzG is doing, or vote for deletion with opinions warped by claims of “fringe,” which actually should be irrelevant. The issue, by policy would be the existence of reliable secondary sources. If there are not enough, then deletion is appropriate, fringe or not fringe.
So his filing:
The article on Aron Barbey is an obvious autobiography, edited by himself and IP addresses from his university. The only other edits have been removing obvious puffery – and even then, there’s precious little else in the article. What caught my eye is the fact that he’s associated with a Frontiers journal, and promulgates a field called “Nutritional Cognitive Neuroscience”, which was linked in his autobiography not to a Wikipedia article but to a journal article in Frontiers. Virtually all the cites in the article are primary references to his won work, and most of those are in the Frontiers journal he edits. Which is a massive red flag.
Who edited the article is a problem, but the identity of editors is not actually relevant to Keep/Delete and content. Or it shouldn’t be. In reality, those arguments often prevail. If an edit is made in conflict of interest, it can be reverted. But … what is the problem with that journal? JzG removed the link and explanation. For Wikipedia Reliable Source, the relevant fact is the publisher. But I have seen JzG and jps arguing that something is not reliable source because the author had fringe opinions — in their opinion!
What JzG removed:
15:48, 15 December 2017 JzG (talk | contribs) . . (27,241 bytes) (-901) . (remove links to crank journal) (undo)
This took out this link:
Nutritional Cognitive Neuroscience
and removed what could show that the journal is not “crank.” There is a better source (showing that the editors of the article didn’t know what they were doing). Nature Publishing Group press release. This “crank journal” is Reliable Source for Wikipedia, and that is quite clear. (However, there are some problems with all this, complexities. POV-pushing confuses the issues, it doesn’t resolve them.
Aron Barbey is Associate Editor of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,
a Nature Publishing Group journal. Barbey is also on the Editorial Board of NeuroImage, Intelligence, and Thinking & Reasoning,.
Is Barbey an “Associate Editor”? This is the journal home page.
Yes, Barbie is an Associate Editor. There are two Chief Editors. A journal will choose a specialist in the field, to participate in the selection and review of articles, so this indicates some notability, but is a primary source.
And JzG mangled:
Barbey is known for helping to establish the field of Nutritional Cognitive Neuroscience.
was changed to this:
Barbey is known for helping to establish the field of Cognitive Neuroscience.
JzG continues on FTN:
So, I suspect we have a woo-monger here, but I don’t know whether the article needs to be nuked, or expanded to cover reality-based critique, if any exists. Guy (Help!) 16:03, 15 December 2017 (UTC)
“Woo” is a term used by “skeptic” organizations. “Woo-monger” is uncivil, for sure. As well, the standard for inclusion in Wikipedia is not “reality-based” but “verifiable in reliable source.” “Critique” assumes that what Barbey is doing is controversial, and Guy has found no evidence for that other than his own knee-jerk responses to the names of things.
It may be that the article needs to be deleted. It certainly needs to be improved. However, what is obvious is that JzG is not at all shy about displaying blatant bias, and insulting an academic and an academic journal.
And jps does quite the same:
This is borderline Men who stare at goats sort of research (not quite as bad as that, but following the tradition) that the US government pushes around. Nutriceuticals? That’s very dodgy. Still, the guy’s won millions of dollars to study this stuff. Makes me think a bit less of IARPA. jps (talk) 20:41, 15 December 2017 (UTC)
This does not even remotely resemble that Army paranormal research, but referring to that project is routine for pseudosceptics whenever there is government support of anything they consider fringe. Does nutrition have any effect on intelligence? Is the effect of nutrition on intelligence of any interest? Apparently, not for these guys. No wonder they are as they are. Not enough kale (or, more accurately, not enough nutritional research, which is what this fellow is doing.)
This is all about warping Wikipedia toward an extreme Skeptical Point of View. This is not about improving the article, or deleting it for lack of reliable secondary sources. It’s about fighting woo and other evils.
In editing the article, JzG used these edit summaries:
- (remove links to crank journal)
- (rm. vanispamcruft)
- (→Selected publications: Selected by Barbey, usually published by his own journal. Let’s see if anyone else selects them)
- (→Cognitive Neuroscience Methods to Enhance Human Intelligence: Oh good, they are going to be fad diet sellers too)
This are all uncivil (the least uncivil would be the removal of publications, but it has no basis. JzG has no idea of what would be notable and what not.
The journal is not “his own journal.” He is merely an Associate Editor, selected for expertise. He would not be involved in selecting his own article to publish. I’ve been through this with jps, actually, where Ed Storms was a consulting editor for Naturwissenschaften and the claim was made that he had approved his own article, a major peer-reviewed review of cold fusion, still not used in the article. Yet I helped with the writing of that article and Storms had to go through ordinary peer review. The faction makes up arguments like this all the time.
I saw this happen again and again: an academic edits Wikipedia, in his field. He is not welcomed and guided to support Wikipedia editorial policy. He is, instead, attacked and insulted. Ultimately, if he is not blocked, he goes away and the opinion grows in academia that Wikipedia is hopeless. I have no idea, so far, if this neuroscientist is notable by Wikipedia standards, but he is definitely a real neuroscientist, and being treated as he is being treated is utterly unnecessary. But JzG has done this for years.
Once upon a time, when I saw an article like this up for Deletion, I might stub it, reducing the article to just what is in the strongest sources, which a new editor without experience may not recognize. Later, if the article survives the AfD discussion, more can be added from weaker sources, including some primary sources, if it’s not controversial. If the article isn’t going to survive AfD, I’d move it to user space, pending finding better sources. (I moved a fair number of articles to my own user space so they could be worked on. Those were deleted at the motion of …. JzG.)
(One of the problems with AfD is that if an article is facing deletion, it can be a lot of work to find proper sources. I did the work on some occasions, and the article was deleted anyway, because there had been so many delete !votes (Wikipedia pretends it doesn’t vote, one of the ways the community lies to itself. before the article was improved, and people don’t come back and reconsider, usually. That’s all part of Wikipedia structural dysfunction. Wasted work. Hardly anyone cares.)
Sources on Barbey
Barbey and friends may be aware of sources not easily found on the internet. Any newspaper will generally be a reliable source. If Barbey’s work is covered in a book that is not internet-searchable, it may be reliable source. Sourcing for the biography should be coverage of Barbey and/or Barbey’s work, attributed to him, and not merely passing mention. Primary sources (such as his university web site) are inadequate. If there were an article on him in the journal where he is Associate Editor, it would probably qualify (because he would not be making the editorial decision on that). If he is the publisher, or he controls the publisher, it would not qualify.
Reliable independent sources
- WAMC.org BRADLEY CORNELIUS “Dr. Aron Barbey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Emotional Intelligence“ APR 27, 2013
- 2013 Carle Research Institute Awards October 2013, Research Newsletter. Singles out a paper for recognition, “Nutrient Biomarker Patterns, Cognitive Function, and MRI Measures of Brain Aging,” however, I found a paper by that title and Barbey is not listed as an author, nor could I find a connection with Barbey.
- SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE David Noonan, “How to Plug In Your Brain” MAY 2016
- The New Yorker. Emily Anthes “Vietnam’s Neuroscientific Legacy” October 2, 2014 PASSING MENTION
- MedicalXpress.com Liz Ahlberg Touchstone “Cognitive cross-training enhances learning, study finds” July 25, 2017
“Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology” (reliable sources make mistakes) Cites a study, the largest and most comprehensive to date, … published in the journal Scientific Reports. N. Ward et al, Enhanced Learning through Multimodal Training: Evidence from a Comprehensive Cognitive, Physical Fitness, and Neuroscience Intervention, Scientific Reports (2017).
The error indicates to me that this was actually written by Touchstone, based on information provided by the University of Illinois, not merely copied from that.
Iffy but maybe
- sciencedaily.com Diana Yates. Theory: Flexibility is at the heart of human intelligence November 20, 2017 (Ms Yates appears to be the University of Illinois
- (University of) Illinois News Bureau Diana Yates President Obama wants to map the human brain. What would we gain? APR 9, 2013
- https://newatlas.com/emotional-intelligence-brain-mapped/25980/ I could not get this page to load but google cache had it. The site might be RS: https://newatlas.com/about/
My sense is that continued search could find much more. Barbey is apparently a mainstream neuroscientist, with some level of recognition. His article needs work by an experienced Wikipedian.
Notes for Wikipedians
An IP editor appeared in the Fringe Theories Noticeboard discussion pointing to this CFC post:
Abd is stalking and attacking you both on his blog  in regard to Aron Barbey. He has done the same on about 5 other articles of his. . He was banned on Wikipedia yet he is still active on Wiki-media projects. Can this guy get banned for this? The Wikimedia foundation should be informed about his harassment. 22.214.171.124 (talk) 13:30, 16 December 2017 (UTC)
This behavior is clearly of the sock family, called Anglo Pyramidologist on Wikipedia, and when I discovered the massive damage that this family had done, I verified the most recent activity with stewards (many accounts were locked and IPs blocked) and I have continued documentation, which Wikipedia may use or not, as it chooses. It is all verifiable. This IP comment was completely irrelevant to the FTN discussion, but attempting to turn every conversation into an attack on favorite targets is common AP sock behavior. For prior edits in this sequence, see (from the meta documentation):
- 126.96.36.199 cross-wiki-contribs • ST • IP info • robtex • gblock • glist — global block request filed at 01:06, 2 December 2017. Admitted purpose of activity and open proxy and requested block on Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:WikiProject_on_open_proxies/Requests&diff=prev&oldid=813153195 03:01, 2 December 2017. Globally blocked at 03:26, 2 December 2017.
- 188.8.131.52 cross-wiki-contribs • ST • IP info • robtex • gblock • glist — began editing 03:36, 02 Dec 2017 global block request (Done). Admitted identity with .10. (Open proxy). Blocked 17:06, 2 December 2017.
- 184.108.40.206 cross-wiki-contribs • ST • IP info • robtex • gblock • glist — first edit 19:25, 02 Dec 2017, obvious, range-blocked spontaneously by steward he harassed 19:43, 2 December 2017
- 220.127.116.11 cross-wiki-contribs • ST • IP info • robtex • gblock • glist — obvious, open proxy, began editing 15:49, 3 December 2017 Done. blocked 16:28, 5 December 2017.
- 18.104.22.168 cross-wiki-contribs • ST • IP info • robtex • gblock • glist — obvious, open proxy. first edit, 05:06, 2 December 2017, but only one edit, until 08:24, 05 Dec 2017. filed block request 18:41, 5 December 2017. blocked 18:54, 5 December 2017.
- 22.214.171.124 cross-wiki-contribs • ST • IP info • robtex • gblock • glist — obvious, open proxy, first edit, 23:08, 05 Dec 2017. report filed 23:52, 5 December 2017. Blocked 00:25, 6 December 2017.
This new account is not an open proxy. However, I will file a request anyway, because the behavior is so clear, following up on the 126.96.36.199 activity.
I have private technical evidence that this is indeed the same account or strongly related to Anglo Pyramidologist, see the Wikipedia SPI.
(I have found other socks, some blocked, not included in that archive.)
I have also been compiling obvious socks and reasonable suspicions from RationalWiki, for this same user or set of users, after he created a revenge article there on me (as he had previously done with many others). It’s funny that he is claiming stalking. He has obviously been stalking, finding quite obscure pages and now giving them much more publicity.
And I see that there is now more sock editing on RationalWiki, new accounts with nothing better to do than document that famous troll or pseudoscientist or anti-skeptic (none of which I am but this is precisely what they claim.) Thanks for the incoming links. Every little bit helps.
If anyone thinks that there is private information in posts that should not ethically be revealed, please contact me through my WMF email, it works. Comments are also open on this blog, and corrections are welcome.
On the actual topic of that FTN discussion, the Aron Barbey article (with whom I have absolutely no connection), I have found better sources and my guess is that there are even better ones available.
JzG weighs in
Nobody is surprised. Abd is obsessive. He even got banned from RationalWiki because they got bored with him. Not seeing any evidence of meatpuppetry or sockpuppetry here though. Guy (Help!) 20:16, 16 December 2017 (UTC)
This is a blog I started and run, I have control. Guy behaves as if the Fringe Theories Noticeboard is his personal blog, where he can insult others without any necessity, including scientists like Barbey and a writer like me. And he lies. I cannot correct JzG’s lies on Wikipedia, but I can do it here.
I am not “banned” from RationalWiki. I was blocked by a sock of the massively disruptive user who I had been documenting, on meta for the WMF, on RationalWiki and on my blog when that was deleted by the same sock. The stated cause of the block was not “boring,” though they do that on RW. It was “doxxing.” As JzG should know, connecting accounts is not “doxxing.” It is revelation of real names for accounts that have not freely revealed that, or personal identification, like place of employment.
“Not seeing any evidence of meatpuppetry or sockpuppetry here.” Really? That IP is obviously the same user as behind the globally blocked Anglo Pyramidologist pushing the same agenda, this time with, likely, a local cell phone provide (because the geolocation matches know AP location), whereas with the other socking, documented above, was with open proxies.)
Properly, that IP should have been blocked and the edits reverted as vandalism. But JzG likes attack dogs. They are useful for his purposes.
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”
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?”
What is scientific consensus?
Cold fusion debates often assert that there is this or that scientific consensus. What would this mean?
1 a : general agreement : unanimity • the consensus of their opinion, based on reports … from the border — John Hersey
b : the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned the consensus was to go ahead
2 : group solidarity in sentiment and belief
So what, then, is scientific consensus? Because consensus is about opinion or judgment, there must be someone with opinions or judgments. Who?
Well, “scientists,” of course! Just any scientist? Continue reading “What is scientific consensus?”
Ruby Carat releases Storms video on HYDROTON A Model of Cold Fusion
Edmund Storms HYDROTON A Model of Cold Fusion
Transcript at Storms 2017 video transcript.
Comments welcome. My commentary will be added.
This is an excellent video explaining Storms’ theory. Ruby, at the beginning, treats cold fusion as a known thing (i.e., will provide energy for a very long time, etc.) — but that’s her job, political. Cold Fusion Now is an advocacy organization.
Our purpose here, to empower the community of interest in cold fusion, can dovetail with that, but we include — and invite — skeptical points of view.
As to cold fusion theory, there is little agreement in the field. Criticism of theory by other theoreticians and those capable of understanding the theories is rare, for historical reasons. We intend to move beyond that limitation, self-imposed as a defensive reaction to the rejection cascade. It’s time.
For cold fusion to move forward we must include and respect skepticism, just as most of us want to see the mainstream include and respect cold fusion as a legitimate research area.
At this point, I intend to put together a review of the video, which first requires a transcript. Anyone could make such a thing. If a reader would like to contribute, I’d ask that references be included to the video elapsed time (where a section begins) … though this could also be added later. Every contribution matters and takes us into the future.
I have done things like this myself, in the past, and I always learned a great deal by paying attention to detail like that, detail without judgment, just what was actually said. So I’m inviting someone else to benefit in this way. Let me know!
(I did make a transcript, then checked my email a day late and found Ruby Carat had sent me one….)
(There is a “partial” transcript here. I’ll be looking at that. If someone wants to check or complete it, that would be useful.)
Transcript ( from YouTube CC, edited by Abd ul-Rahman Lomax)
Transcript moved to Storms 2017 video transcript.
Questions on that video may be asked as comments on that page.
How to shoot your credibility in the foot
Simple. Follow Alan Fletcher’s example. He hasn’t done the testing yet, he claims, but when I saw Alan’s announcement of the pool, my immediate reaction was “Ew! WTF?”
Missing in action: self-critique. What could be a problem with this? How could this pool create doubt regarding the work Alan has undertaken?
This obvious lack of self-critique is a prominent feature of the models of Rossi behavior that I use. Rossi seems totally naive about how his work would appear to others. If he is criticized, they are snakes and clowns. A simple desire to verify is full-on grounds for exclusion. Jed Rothwell wanted to bring his own measuring equipment to a demonstration (such as thermometers.) No, visit not allowed. Rothwell at that time was a strong supporter of Rossi. He didn’t take it personally, remained supportive, because he had friends who privately told him they had witnessed impressive tests, and he trusted them.
Fletcher seems to think that nobody could question his honesty. It is not that I’m questioning it, and the most likely source of mistrust would be from Planet Rossi. And I will explain below what I suspect may happen.
Continue reading “How to shoot your credibility in the foot”
How to beat the law
Don’t try to do it to often, don’t push your luck, but it’s actually easy to experience. Just buy lottery tickets (as a weak example, but easy to understand) until you win. Look at that transaction only: you beat the odds but you won. With some games, you might win immediately, you’ll have a net lifetime gain, unless you continue playing, having decided that you are lucky or smart or whatever. Then it becomes
Usually, anyway. This post is inspired by Simon Derricut’s defense of his ideas, and because he’s exposing some basic principles, worth looking at, and commonly misunderstood, I’m giving this a primary post here, instead of it merely being discussion on posts that aren’t on the point. So below is his last effort, responding to me:
(The Laws of Thermodynamics are statistical: they may be violated with isolated interactions, and this is all well-known, except that people forget and say things, quite commonly, that are inconsistent with that, giving impossibility arguments that are not actually the Laws as understood by those who know them well. This sometimes impacts LENR discussions.)
Take it away, Simon: (my comments are in indented italics): Continue reading “How to beat the law”
On desperation, genius, and developmental disorders
Learn something every day. Yesterday, I encountered Miles Mathis, from a post on LENR Forum.
I think Mathis is way cool, for the same reason my daughter, at 14, thought Donald Trump was way cool, or something like that. (And then she actually met Bernie face-to-face). Mathis is definitely thinking and investigating out-of-the-box. This is actually the evolved task of many or most teenagers, and some of us never grow up. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is considered a developmental disorder. It can also be seen as a genetic variation, an adaptation more successful in hunter-gatherer conditions than for a settled, agricultural and centrally structured society. From the post of Eli on LF:
The world desperately needs a new source of energy. (Governments, banks and energy companies, ARE AGAINST).
I already know where this is going from the first sentence. Desperation creates very poor thinking, where the associative power of the cerebral cortex is reduced to supporting the immediate demands of the amygdala, which routinely will confine that vast power to figuring out how to justify the emotional reaction, in this case, a sense of desperation and the wrongness and animosity of “governments, banks, and energy companies.” In other words, the collective; yet there is a paradox here, a different collective that is not organized, it’s fuzzy. Elisha wrote:
We need to unite us, share what we have, and open business opportunities to all!, United we are Strong!
Obviously. We would be strong if united. However, we are already united in some ways, and this unity is manifest through governments and other organizations, but the writer here doesn’t see that; rather he sees and is talking about something else, an unorganized unity. Unity of what? Well, all right-thinking people, of course! People who think like us!
When such a unity does manifest, with sufficient motivation, it can and has created vast social tragedy. I immediately think of China and the Communist revolution there, which replaced the “bad people” — landlords — with “good people,” right-thinking, the “vanguard of the proletariat.” and then which purged all defective elements within itself, and on and on until the society finally vomited and began to actually create synthesis, i.e., what Marx would have predicted, instead of fixing itself in opposition. Or I think of Adolf Hitler, who appealed to the sense of some terrible conspiracy behind every perceived disaster, or, say, Donald Trump. And I am not comparing Trump to Hitler, except to note that both were populists, appealing to what was called the “silent majority.”
On the internet, it becomes easy to find others with whom we will agree, and thus the “social test of reality” becomes possible, putting off the “ultimate test,” allowing us to believe in a reality without substance, merely created by what is called “conspiracy,” in my training. Example of conspiracy: “My wife doesn’t understand me.” Conspiracy: “Yeah, women are like that!”
If science is simple, common, and accessible to all, that they can not suppress it. That is the advantage for the world, but the disadvantage for manufacturers, since anyone can copy it.
Again, I notice the polarization that does not characterize true inspiration with genuine transformative power. This is not Mathis writing, this is Elisha, who has apparently attached himself to Mathis-as-authority, which is ironic. The teenage me didn’t and doesn’t attach to anyone as authority, but … I did actually meet and spend substantial time with Feynman, and what Feynman inspired in me was not belief in his conclusions, but excitement over his approach, and his writing still does that for me.
Mathis is approaching physics, in some ways, like Feynman, but with something else that contaminates his work. It shows in his “polemic.” Feynman loved people, you can see this in, for example, his imitation of Italian, and many other stories. At the same time as he recognized and confronted “institutional stupidity,” he loved the people and maintained a high sense of humor.
The SECRET of LENR is this.
Nickel with monohydrogen, excited with Electrical current in one direction and Magnetic stimulation at Larmor frequency at or below 90 deg.
Aw, hogwash. Sure, there could be some effect, but the conditions described do not apply to the most basic and most confirmed LENR phenomena. First of all, there is, in gas-loaded work, no “electrical current in one direction” and how one would get “magnetic” Larmor frequency stimulation in a conductor (nickel and hydrogen) without induced AC current is beyond me. Larmor frequency stimulation is apparently used in the Letts dual-laser work, involving a teraherz beat frequency, but Letts dual-laser has not been confirmed and is clearly not related to the basic confirmed LENR results — and IH did apparently attempt to confirm Letts, and the Murray deposition implies that they had no success — except that they may have considered low XP findings “only low level,” which is scientifically irrelevant, if the XP correlates with a much lower laser power (as I think it does in Letts’ reports)
Elisha is not standing on science, but wants us to unite in science? What is wrong with this picture?
(Mathis is not responsible for the fawning extension of his idea into LENR.)
The polarization of nuclear spin axes with static magnetic field does not affect nuclear beta “decay” rates, but the addition of a perpendicular high frequency alternating field at the Larmor frequency, does. With maximum stimulation, does not occur exactly at 90deg nuclear spin precession, but at some angles a little below and a little above 90deg ….
This is the source: http://milesmathis.com/main2.pdf
This does not establish any connection with cold fusion. That’s Elisha’s idea. The source is Mathis’ praise of himself, reflecting his assessment of his communications with genuine scientists. Any genuine scientist is likely to appreciate and benefit from out-of-the-box thinking, it can be hard to find. However, that does not translate to “Mathis is right,” though Mathis himself seems to be promoting that idea. And what does he seek?
My new solutions to old problems are being talked about and seriously considered by working physicists. Do you know any other “internet crank” that can say that? I don’t.
Mathis’ ignorance of the range of human experience and behavior is not a proof of anything, it is hardly even evidence. Mathis is obviously an internet crank, which does not mean he is wrong on any particular idea.
If you want the real numbers applied to specific experiments, I guess you will have to hire me.
And someone might, and that will not prove anything other than possible curiosity and willingness to invest some resources in investigation (money or time). However, seeing this has the effect on me of suppressing interest in his ideas about physics. Caring about being paid is not what I’m accustomed to seeing from the real vanguard; rather, that arises with frauds and a certain kind of self-obsessed crank.
Our own joshg (Josh Guetzkow) wrote an article on “Mathisian physics.”
What will the advent of cold fusion mean for establishment physicists? Will they be able to bend over backwards with ad hoc band-aids to patch up the same theories that keep telling us cold fusion is “impossible?” Or will it require a massive overhaul of our understanding of the physical universe? In that case, we will need a new paradigm and new theories to rebuild it from the ground up. As it happens, someone already has rebuilt physics from the ground up. His name is Miles Mathis, an independent, self-taught polymath. I believe his revolutionary theories hold the key to a comprehensive explanation of all LENR processes, and I am writing this to explain why.
In the “believer community,” which overlaps the “cold fusion community” and the “CMNS community,” there is a concept that is shared with the “skeptical community,” they actually agree on it — and it is, rather obviously, false, and has been known to be false, by the best scientists, since 1989. This idea is that “known theory” somehow proves that “cold fusion” — what’s that? — is “impossible.” We see this idea over and over in Huizenga (1992 and 1993), and it is clearest in his second edition. Huizenga clear has a concept of what process must be occurring if “cold fusion is real.” Yet the actual claim, from the first FP paper, is of an “unknown nuclear reaction.” The analysis that Huizenga applies is to, not an unknown reaction, but a known reaction, or some alternative known reactions, such as d+d -> 4He, the direct and simple fusion by overcoming the Coulomb barrier between two deuterons.
Looking at the Miles results on the heat/helium correlation, he says, in the second edition that this result is amazing, and, if confirmed, would solve a major mystery of cold fusion (i.e., the ash, which was unknown until then, with only a few speculations that it might be helium). Then he says that he expects it will not be confirmed, “because no gammas.” The conversion of deuterium to helium almost certainly requires a high-energy gamma, known to be produced when this conversion occurs as a rare branch of normal hot fusion. The gamma appears to be required by conservation of momentum; but that is only true under two conditions: first, that this is the specific reaction, for if some unexpected catalysis allows, as an example, the fusion of four deuterium atoms to form one 8Be atom, this would generate no high energy gamma (which is what Huizenga expects, low energy photons, if nuclear in origin, are called “gammas” but those are not known to be missing, and would be difficult to detect, leading us to the second condition: that there are no halo states capable of storing the energy for what may only require something in the femtosecond range.
The point is not that multibody fusion is the explanation, but that the impossibility argument fails, as it must, and as was well-known in 1989, being well expressed by Schwinger and others.
What we call “cold fusion” is an “unknown reaction,” now known by a preponderance of the evidence, with very little contrary evidence, to be the conversion of deuterium to helium with no other major persistent products other than heat. (So tritium and transmutation evidence, which may relate to rare branches and secondary effects, can confuse).
There is no violation of “existing physics,” in this, other than the general idea, easily in error — and in error many times in the history of science — that if an “unknown reaction” possibility existed, it would have been observed. In fact, such phenomena are observed, often, but the observations can be missed because they are unexpected. There is a great example of this in Mizuno’s book, a major PdD heat event, before the Pons and Fleischmann announcement, that he passed over as one of those unexplained things that will never be understood.
Was that LENR? From his description, probably.
To examine the vast body of work by Mathis would be tedious. I watched two videos of his on the “Pi = 4” trope. He is crazy, that’s really obvious. That isn’t coming from a belief that pi is not 4, but rather from his redefinition of pi. Pi is used in certain calculations, and may then generate some incorrect results if the calculations do not take into account all relevant conditions. Mathis’ demonstration is blatantly flawed, which is covered over with poor explanation; essentially he assumes that two ball bearings with the same initial velocity, rolling in two tubes on a flat surface, will continue to move with the same velocity, when one tube is straight while the other is curved into a circle. What he finds, summed up, is that the ball bearing in the circular path takes longer than that in the straight path. This is utterly unsurprising and the unstated assumption underneath his argument is obvious: that the ball bearings will move with the same velocity in each case. What he does is only to show that the circular motion slows the ball bearing, as it must, from some simple physical arguments. But he assumes constant velocity to “measure” distance travelled. This is so obvious that I wonder about Mathis’ sincerity.
His explanation of the circularity of a rainbow is more interesting, and less easily punctured. His presentation of rainbows as being images of the Sun is interesting and supported by photographs. It is entirely possible to find long-standing explanations of things that are unreal. If anyone might do this, it could be Mathis. He’s smart, he actually is a polymath, but his conclusions, his personal attachments to being right, if he has them, as appears, are no more likely to generate wisdom than what he’s rejecting.
Feynman did what he did, often, by examining problems ab initio, not looking first for explanations from others. Doing so, he invented new approaches, he found things that had been overlooked. But he did not fix on himself always being right, and warned about attachment to being right. Mathis, if he could recognize his personal psychology as being rooted in a developmental “disorder,” — a misleading characterization for a possibly genetic variation that is called a developmental disorder because it can be disabling in some ways, but that also creates an ability to do things that “normies” don’t seem to be able to do — might be able to make far more progress, and might be far more useful for the development of science as a social phenomenon.
Ratwiki — as it is affectionately known — has an article on Mathis.
Rational wiki is a site dominated by pseudoskeptics, originally organized to ridicule Conservapedia.
Ratwiki is dominated by adolescent psychology, polemic, and the kind of pseudoskepticism, “scientism,” found among, say, “modern atheists” and those who came to dominate CSICOP, the “debunkers,” highly sarcastic and supremely sure of self. One will not find articles there that are overall, “objective,” and “rational.” They are having fun, ridiculing others. That’s the goal, not objectively and neutrality, which they strongly dislike.
I have admin privileges there, which is completely useless except it will allow me to read deleted content. They grant those privileges to almost anyone that any administrator likes in any way, and any admin can grant or remove admin privileges. It’s a formula for vast waste of time, if anyone is interested in confronting the “community point of view.” Been there, done that! Mostly, what I found useful there was in seeing how certain prominent Wikipedians actually thought, what they actually believed, which was much more visible there than on Wikipedia, where they would pretend to be neutral.
I just checked, I still have the sysop privilege, I could still waste my time at great length. Once in a while, I make an edit there. I haven’t in three years.
In any case, joshg ignores the Pi fiasco. His idea is that Miles may make some mistakes, but that his “physics” may contain the clues to LENR reality that the world needs. Joshg is free to discuss this here, but …. this isn’t what the CMNS community needs, to be associated with the radical fringe. It needs the opposite: it needs synthesis, integration, genuine and effective communication. If you believe that an entire community is wrong, you will be, almost certainly, unable to communicate with them. Effective communication requires understanding and sympathy, and that is why this blog welcomes genuine skeptics. Skepticism is rational, to a point. As is pointed out on Ratwiki, “Rational wiki is not rational.” It is almost a parody of itself (that’s the best thing about it.)
I just now went to Mathis’ mathematical “proof” that Pi=4. Proofs like this are familiar to anyone with substantial math experience, I was looking at these before I was a teenager. If anyone is tempted to accept this argument, comment and I’ll look at it and explain it in more detail, but the flaw is completely obvious, and that Mathis still defends it speaks worlds about his psychology, if he isn’t just pulling our chain.
Mathis assumes that a zig-zag path, with an obvious and stable path length, independent of step size, equal to the sum of the two directions, will approach the path length along the circle. In fact, the nifty videos linked below avoid something obvious: if you lay out the circular tubing along the straight tubing, it will not extend to four diameters, but to pi diameters. That is the ordinary meaning of path length along a circle. How much tubing is needed to create a circle with diameter D? Not 4 D, for sure.
This is pure confusion and fog, and Elisha apparently believes it. Zephir_AWT pointed to the Pi confusion, with photos he believed to be Mathis. He wrote:
Miles Mathis suffers with macromanic inventory delusions. He thinks Pi equals 4.0 and other crazy stuffs. This is what disease does with talented people.
The first source is a video by DraftScience, who is implied to be Mathis. (In fact, DraftScience is a critic of Mathis.) The second source does not explain “macromaniac inventory delusions,” whatever they are, but is simply the RatWiki article. The third link is to an article by Miles Mathis on Stephen Hawking being an imposter, fake, (and the original deeper source would be on milesmathis.com.) The last link is to Mathis’ art from google images, and that points to a mathis art page where one can find, for example, a bio of Mathis with photos.
First, What is your contribution ?, since emotional critiques serve to entertain us, but they do not serve to advance in science.
There are relatively objective critiques on or linked from the RatWiki page.
Second, this man in not miles mathis. He is a follower of him.
Miles Mathis can be seen at the RatWiki article, taken from a book cover. This image is claimed to be roughly 17 years old. The image on LF is recent. Mathis writes this about the “man”:
ANNOUNCEMENT, added 8/25/16, some of my readers have been confused by a guy on youtube with a channel called DraftScience. They think that is me. It isn’t. He links to me and discusses my stuff a lot, apparently, although I haven’t watched more than a couple of minutes. I don’t know him, have never talked to him, and have no links to him. Although there is some resemblance, since he is about my age and blond, that is about it. His hair is much longer and less curly, he doesn’t sport a goatee, and he smokes. I don’t.
Here is Mathis’ “extended biography,” and it includes more photos of him. Unless these are fake — hey, if Stephen Hawing is fake, why not Miles Mathis? — Mathis is right, and so is Elisha, on this point. However, being right on one point doesn’t rub off on other points, even though the opposite, being spectacularly wrong on a point, and persistently so, does color everything.
Third, there is a experiment that confirm that pi is 3.14 and 4 this depend of the use case.
Now, first of all, we see these sweaty claims, frequently, and often from people whose English is extremely poor. What does the command of English have to do with one’s cogency? In theory, not at all, but in practice, poor English is associated with lack of care and caution, lack of concern for accuracy, lack of clear thinking, all that. When it is combined with arrogance, it’s ugly.
Elisha points to a video of the “experiment,” which does not do what it purports to do; rather it gives a result that will confuse those who make a basic unstated — and incorrect — assumption, that if a ball rolls with a particular velocity in a level straight path, it will roll with the same velocity in a circular path. That assumption would not, by itself, generate “pi = 4,” but no analysis is given of how linear momentum is converted to angular momentum, but it’s quite clear that converting the motion to circular would slow the ball, yet for the video to make any sense at all, the ball velocity must remain the same, since distance is being measured (marked off) by time.
This is not “skepticism,” it is straightforward and clear analysis, easily done by a careful child. The discussions on that video are appalling.
DraftScience comments on the proof video, imagining that the difference in velocity is due to friction. At least he understands that the velocity is different, but I doubt that the difference is from friction, even though friction would also slow the ball. His argument is incorrect, so if one understands it, that’s a clue one is confused. Joshg shows up commenting there.
Listening further, DraftScience does recognize that the friction argument is missing something: bottom line, he’s “explaining” off the top of his head, a video blogger, and in this is like many bloggers who just blabber on without developing coherence. Further, DraftScience is not a “follower” of Mathis. Quite the opposite. So this whole conversation was bonkers. Rather, DraftScience realizes, at least in some ways, the error. However, he does not address the math, AFAIK.
The original math summary, again. RatWiki points to an allegedly clear exposition. It’s not wrong. The writer’s frustration is apparent. This is not coming from “belief in the mainstream” or any other such nonsense. It is coming from grounded common sense, easily verified experimentally. Mathis redefines words to confuse himself and/or readers. Instead of the “circumference of a circle” being a distance — representing, in practical terms, how much material one would need to build the circle, how much ink it would take to draw it using a compass, etc., like ordinary distance, it becomes a vastly complicated entity. Reality, ordinary reality, is much less complex than Mathis’ world, and that is why children can understand it. I derived most of this stuff as a child, I disliked memorizing formulae and wanted to understand directly.
Mathis creates a fractal, as pointed out, and then assumes that the length of a fractal is the same as the length of a curve that it seems to approach. However, fractals are imaginary structures that can have unlimited length in a confined space, and it would not be difficult to show this, by defining a structure (line) that zig-zags within that space which can be as small as one likes (i.e, as close as one likes to a defined curve).
This is diagnostic of Mathis’ delusions, and shows how dangerous belief in one’s own superior rightness can be. Again, that doesn’t mean that one is wrong, and I would never recommend that people give up what they think is correct, just because others disagree. Rather, what I recommend is an attempt to understand why they disagree, what’s the basis? For a nice little study of a kid who didn’t give up when ridiculed, I posted this early on: The Mpemba effect and cold fusion
Okay, I kept looking a little before publishing this, and found an actual child who demolished Mathis. Well, is an apparent high-school girl a “child”? Maybe not. Nevertheless, here it is: accurate, simple, easy to understand, and devastating.
Another video from her. Now, this young woman is going to change the planet. Or at least will continue to have fun, which, in the end, may be far more useful than being a sweaty, convinced he is right, “polymath.”
And another about Pythagoras. I’m in awe. There is hope for the planet, because she is the future.
Let’s just remove the outliers
Second of the series of posts I promised on the He/excess heat correlation debate, as noted by Shanahan and Lomax. And this one is a little bit more interesting. Still, I’m going to examine the many issues here one by one, so if you expect a complete summary of the evidence from this post or the ones that follow you will be disappointed.
[Quoting Shanahan in italics] On the other hand, the energy/helium ratio does not have this problem. The independent errors in the He and power measurements are unlikely to combine and create a consistent value for this ratio unless the helium and energy both resulted from the same nuclear reaction.
Yes. Very unlikely, in fact. On the order of one chance in a million, or more.
As I have noted the value is not consistent, thus the quoted statement is nonsense.
The value is consistent within experimental error.
There is much more of interest in these comments than might first appear.