Appendix 1 – Some Notes On Skepticism

This long, brilliant, but anonymously written essay,1 is probably the
best thing written about the intellectual deceit of the skeptics’ it mentions
the main characters in the movement as well as their fields of
interests. But most valuably, the piece argues cogently how the
Skeptics movement disguises its prejudices and ideologically laden
arguments as ‘scientific reasoning’. The only slight fault with the
essay, from my point of view is that it’s author doesn’t reference Dirty
Medicine,2 which although it doesn’t take these expertly argued points
any further, does try to bring together all the facets of the Skeptics
movement to give a slightly more whole picture of their campaigns.
Dirty Medicine was first published in 1993 and contained information
on the case of Jacques Benveniste, for instance, that I had written after
conducting extensive interviews with him.

Some notes on Skepticism

Many who loudly advertise themselves as skeptics are actually disbelievers.
Properly, a skeptic is a nonbeliever, a person who refuses to
jump to conclusions based on inconclusive evidence. Adisbeliever, on
the other hand, is characterized by an a priori belief that a certain idea
is wrong and will not be swayed by any amount of empirical evidence
to the contrary. Since disbelievers usually fancy themselves skeptics,
I will follow Truzzi and call them pseudoskeptics, and their opinions
pseudoskepticism.

ORGANIZED (PSEUDO-)SKEPTICISM

The more belligerent pseudoskeptics have their own organizations and
publications. In Germany, there is an organization called the
Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Para-wissenschaften
e.V., or GWUP, (“society for the scientific evaluation of
parasciences”) which publishes a magazine called Der Skeptiker
(“The Skeptic”). In the United States, there is the so-called
“Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
Paranormal”, or short, CSICOP. The name suggests a serious, unbiased
institute or think tank whose mission is to advance human knowledge
by sorting out true anomalous discoveries from erroneous or
fraudulent ones. Indeed, that was what some of the original members
of CSICOP envisioned when they founded the organization in 1976.
But in the very same year, CSICOP faced an internal crisis, a power
struggle between the genuine skeptics and the disbelieving pseudoskeptics
that was to tilt the balance in favor of the latter.

At issue was the Mars Effect, an extraordinary claim made by
French statistician and psychologist Michel Gauquelin. Gauquelin had
discovered an apparent statistical correlation between the position of
Mars in the sky with the odds of becoming a sports champion, producing
a genuine piece of empirical evidence that astrology might not
be nonsense after all. This dismayed the pseudoskeptics, who until
them had been comfortable dismissing astrology on purely theoretical
grounds and were unwilling to even entertain the hypothesis that
Gauquelin’s analysis might be correct. In 1976, in an attempt to make
this embarrassment go away once and for all, Harvard professor of
biostatistics and CSICOP fellow Marvin Zelen proposed a simplified
version of the original Gauquelin study which he subsequently performed
with the assistance of CSICOP chairman and professor of philosophy
Paul Kurtz and George Abell, a UCLA astronomer. In order
to get the result they wanted, the trio had to commit a total of six statistical
blunders, which are discussed in detail in the article The True
Disbelievers: Mars Effect Drives Skeptics to Irrationality by former
CSICOP fellow Richard Kammann. Proper analysis showed that
the new study actually supported the Gauquelin effect.

But Kurtz and his fellow pseudoskeptics had never been interested
in performing proper science. Their minds had been made up long
before the study was performed, and they adamantly refused to admit
their mistake in public. This lead to the resignation of many fair-minded
CSICOP members, among them Richard Kammann and co-founder
Marcello Truzzi. Truzzi wrote about his experience in Reflections On
The Reception Of Unconventional Claims In Science:

Originally I was invited to be a co-chairman of CSICOP by Paul
Kurtz. I helped to write the bylaws and edited their journal. I found
myself attacked by the Committee members and board, who considered
me to be too soft on the paranormalists. My position was not to
treat protoscientists as adversaries, but to look to the best of them and
ask them for their best scientific evidence. I found that the Committee
was much more interested in attacking the most publicly visible
claimants such as the “National Enquirer”. The major interest of the
Committee was not inquiry but to serve as an advocacy body, a public
relations group for scientific orthodoxy. The Committee has made
many mistakes. My main objection to the Committee, and the reason
I chose to leave it, was that it was taking the public position that it represented
the scientific community, serving as gatekeepers on maverick
claims, whereas I felt they were simply unqualified to act as judge
and jury when they were simply lawyers.

After the true skeptics had been purged from the committee, CSICOP
and its magazine, the Skeptical Inquirer, degenerated into little
more than a propaganda outlet for the systematic ridicule of anything
unconventional. Led by a small, but highly aggressive group of fundamentalist
pseudoskeptics such as chairman and humanist philosopher
Paul Kurtz, science writer and magician Martin Gardner and
magician James Randi, CSICOP sees science not as a dispassionate,
objective search for the truth, whatever it might be, but as holy war of
the ideology of materialism against “a rising tide of irrationality,
superstition and nonsense”. Kurtz and his fellows are fundamentalist
materialists. They hold the non-existence of paranormal phenomena
as an article of faith, and they cling to that belief just as fervently and
irrationally as a devout catholic believes in the Virgin Mary. They are
fighting a no holds barred war against belief in the paranormal, and
they see genuine research into such matters as a mortal threat to their
belief system. Since genuine scientific study has the danger that the
desired outcome is not guaranteed, CSICOP wisely no longer conducts
scientific research of its own (such would be a waste of time and
money for an entity that already has all the answers), and instead
largely relies on the misrepresentation or intentional omission of
existing research and the ad-hominem – smear, slander and ridicule.

Eugene Mallove, editor of Infinite Energy Magazine, relates the
following telling episode in issue 23, 1999 of his magazine:

On the morning of July 14, 1998, I called Skeptical Inquirer’s editor,
Kendrick Frazier, to ask him, among other things, what research
or literature search he had done on cold fusion. He rebuffed me, saying
that he was too busy to talk, because he was on deadline on an editorial
project. We spoke briefly; he was transparently irritated. He
said, “I know who you are.” He said that he did not want to talk to me
because, “We would have diametrically opposed views.” I said, “Oh,
what research have you done to come to your conclusions about cold
fusion.” I had thought that the careful investigation of “diametrically
opposed views” was part of the work of CSICOP. Perhaps I was mistaken.
Frazier said, “I’m not an investigator, I’m an editor.” The con-
versation ended with Frazier stating that he had nothing further to say.

The entire article is available online: CSICOP: “Science Cops”
at War with Cold Fusion.

Even though it is largely run by scientific lay people, and its practices
are anathema to true science, CSICOP has enjoyed the support of
a number of highly prestigious scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould,
the late Carl Sagan, Glenn T. Seaborg, Leon Lederman and Murray
Gell-Mann. This support has enabled it to project an image of scientific
authority to the opinion shapers in the media and the general public.

For a detailed study of pseudo-skepticism in general, and CSICOP
in particular, I refer the reader to George P. Hansen’s article CSICOP
and the Skeptics: An Overview (published in the Journal of the
American Society for Psychical Research), in which CSICOP’s history,
goals, tactics and membership structure are discussed in some
detail. In his conclusions, Hansen finds that

CSICOP’s message has often been well received, particularly
among scientific leaders. The growth of CSICOP, the circulation figures
of “SI”, and the academic credentials of its readership prove that
there is wide interest in the paranormal among the most highly educated
members of our society. Many readers of “SI” undoubtedly
assume that CSICOP presents the best available scientific evidence.
The readers are rarely told of the existence of refereed scientific journals
that cover parapsychology. The effect of CSICOP’s activities is to
create a climate of hostility toward the investigation of para-normal
claims; indeed, at one CSICOP conference, the announcement of the
closing of several parapsychology laboratories was greeted with
cheers.

The remainder of this text is devoted to a detailed discussion of
pseudoskeptical arguments and debating tactics.

IF IT WAS TRUE, THERE IS NO WAY THAT SCIENCE COULD HAVE
MISSED IT!

This is a variation of the end of science argument – since science
already knows everything, and does not recognize the unconventional
phenomenon, it cannot be real. Besides being based on a mere
belief – that science has discovered everything there is to know – this
argument ignores the nature of human perception. Even scientists tend
to see only what they want to see, and that is how phenomena that we
find completely obvious today, such as Wegener’s plate tectonics –
look how South America fits into Africa! – went unnoticed for a long
time, and were violently opposed when they were finally pointed out.
As Arthur C. Clarke put it:

“It is really quite amazing by what margins competent but conservative
scientists and engineers can miss the mark, when they start with
the preconceived idea that what they are investigating is impossible.
When this happens, the most well-informed men become blinded by
their prejudices and are unable to see what lies directly ahead of
them.”

True skeptics appreciate that the principal flaw of human perception
– seeing what one wants to see – can afflict conventional as well
as unconventional scientists. Their opinions are moderated by the
humbling realization that today’s scientific orthodoxy began as yesterday’s
scientific heresy; as the December 2002 editorial of Scientific
American puts it:

All scientific knowledge is provisional. Everything that science
“knows,” even the most mundane facts and long-established theories,
is subject to re-examination as new information comes in.

CONFUSING ASSUMPTIONS WITH FINDINGS

Pseudoskeptics like to claim that the assumptions underlying modern
science are empirical facts that science has proved. For example, the
foundational assumption of neuroscience, that the functioning of the
brain (and, therefore, the mind) is explainable in terms of classical
physics as the interaction of neurons, is said to be a scientific fact that
is proved by neuroscience, despite the embarrassing and long-standing
failure of this assumption to explain the anomaly of consciousness.
In a recent BBC program on homoeopathy Walter Stewart (the
same one who was part of the Nature team that visited Benveniste in
his laboratory in 1988) is quoted on the subject of homoeopathic dilutions:
Science has through many, many different experiments shown that
when a drug works it’s always through the way the molecule interacts
with the body and, so the discovery that there’s no molecules means
absolutely there’s no effect.

But science has shown no such thing. That the functioning of biological
organisms is reducible to the physical interaction of molecules
is not the result of decades of bio-molecular research, it is the assumption
underlying this research. The fact that homoeopathy confounds
that assumption refutes the latter, not the former.

“DEBATE CLOSED” MENTALITY

Since Pseudoskeptics have by their nature made up their minds on any
question long before the evidence is in, they are not interested in participating
in what could become an involved, drawn-out debate. On
the contrary, their concern is with preserving their own understanding
of how nature works, so discordant evidence has to be disposed of as
quickly as possible. When sound evidence to that end is unavailable,
anything that sufficiently resembles it will suffice. Pseudoskeptics
like to jump to conclusions quickly – when the conclusion is their own,
preconceived one. Once the pseudoskeptical community has agreed
on an “explanation” that is thought to debunk claim X, that explanation
then becomes enshrined in pseudoskeptical lore and is repeated
ad infinitum and ad nauseam in the pseudoskeptical literature.
Subsequent rebuttals are ignored, as is new data that support claims X.
Examples are legion.

* Gurwich’s 1932 discovery of mitogenetic radiation is still derided
by pseudoskeptics as a classical example of “pathological science”
(Irving Langmuir, who coined the term, used it as an example),
even though it has been vindicated by three decades of biophoton
research.

* Pseudoskeptics continue their ridicule of Cold Fusion as a mistake,
even use “cold fusion” as a metaphor to refer to what they
deem pathological science in general, ignoring a full decade of
successful replication of the effect.

* Parapsychology continues to be attacked by the hard-core pseudoskeptics
with criticisms that were addressed and resolved long
ago, leading Radin to remark that:

(..) skeptics who continue to repeat the same old assertions that
parapsychology is a pseudoscience, or that there are no repeatable
experiments, are uninformed not only about the state of parapsychology,
but also about the current state of skepticism!

OVERREACHING AND ARMCHAIR QUARTERBACKING

Faced with contradictory or inconclusive evidence, the skeptic will
only say that the claim has not been proved at this time, and give the
claimant the benefit of the doubt. The pseudoskeptic will make the
(incorrect) counter-claim that the original claim has been disproved by
the evidence (and usually follow up with generous amounts of namecalling
and other extra-scientific arguments discussed below).

This distinction between simply not accepting a claim and making
a counter-claim is important because it shifts the burden of proof. The
true skeptic does not have to prove anything, because she is simply
unconvinced of the validity of an extraordinary claim. Pseudo-skeptics,
on the other hand, making the claim that the extraordinary phenomenon
only appears to be extraordinary, and has a conventional
explanation, have to bear a burden of proof of their own. Do they? The
general answer is no. Most of the professional pseudoskeptics engage
in mere ‘armchair quarterbacking’, conducting no research of their
own. As far as parapsychology is concerned, Radin sums this situation
up as follows:

The fact that most skeptics do not conduct counter studies to prove
their claims is often ignored. For example, in 1983 the well-known
skeptic Martin Gardner wrote:

How can the public know that for fifty years skeptical psychologists
have been trying their best to replicate classic psi experiments,
and with notable unsuccess [sic]? It is this fact more than any other
that has led to parapsychology’s perpetual stagnation. Positive evidence
keeps coming in from a tiny group of enthusiasts, while negative
evidence keeps coming in from a much larger group of skeptics.

As Honorton points out, “Gardner does not attempt to document
this assertion, nor could he. It is pure fiction. Look for the skeptic’s
experiments and see what you find.” In addition, there is no “larger
group of skeptics.” Perhaps ten or fifteen skeptics have accounted for
the vast bulk of the published criticisms.

ASSUMING FALSE SCIENTIFIC AUTHORITY

Many high-profile pseudoskeptics pass judgement based on scientific
expertise they don’t have. James Randi, for example, shares the following
tirade in a July 13, 2001 commentary on his web site:

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

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

Folks, water is water. It’s burned hydrogen, no more, no less. The
molecules of H2O — not “H2O” as these quacks write — do not
“cluster,” under any influence of the dreadful “air, heat, and modern
civilization” that you’re cautioned to fear. True, water exhibits surface
tension, and the molecules do “line up” to an extent, though almost
any foreign substance in there disturbs this effect — soap/detergent
“wets” it readily. But water molecules in “clusters”? No way! The
illustrations you see here are totally wrong and fictitious. There’s no
such thing as “essence of water,” by any stretch of scientific reasoning,
or imagination. This is total, unmitigated nonsense, a pack of lies
designed to swindle and cheat, to steal money, and to rob the consumer.
And “through physics” has nothing to do with it. I await objections
to the above statements. There will be none, because the sellers
of “Penta” know they’re lying, they do it purposefully, and they know
they can get away with it because of the incredible inertia of the
Federal agencies that should be protecting us against such deception
and thievery. Those agencies just can’t do the job, and they bumble
about endlessly while the public continues to pay through the nose.
But notice: the Penta people, on their web page, beneath a family picture
of the founders, clearly assert that: At first, [the Penta engineers]
tested Penta on plants. They discovered that test seeds would germinate
in half the time as the control seeds. Bingo! Hallelujah! We have
the means for a test! A simple, inexpensive, clearly demonstrative,
test! Such a demonstration would clearly establish the claim these
folks are making. Ah, but will PentaTM apply for the million-dollar
prize? Dear reader, with your experience of Tice, DKL, Quadro,
Josephson, Edward, and all the parade of others who have declined to
be tested, I think that you expect, as I do, that PentaTM will apply as
promptly as Sylvia Browne did. The PentaTM page advises us to
“Penta-hydrate — be fluid.” Translation: “Believe this — be stupid.”

Randi could not be more wrong. Water is not simply “waterburned
hydrogen, no more no less”. It is a highly anomalous substance,
and its fundamental properties are still the subject of basic
research. Admittedly, the claims made for “Penta-Water” are scientifically
extravagant. But can they be dismissed out of hand? Contrary to
what Randi asserts with such rhetoric force and finality, water clusters
are discussed in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The interested
reader may want to visit Martin Chaplin’s web site for an overview
of scientific work on water clustering. Chaplin is not a stage magician,
but a Professor of Applied Science at South Bank University, London
and holds a degree in chemistry. He is also an active researcher in the
field of water clustering, and concludes that:

(..) there is a sufficient and broad evidential base for its existence
[the existence of the icosahedral water cluster], including the ability to
explain all the ‘anomalous’ properties of water.

The existence of scientific evidence for water clusters does of
course not imply that “Penta” and similar products have any merit, but
it does caution against outright dismissal of these kinds of product.
Randi’s sweeping negative statements betray lack of knowledge on the
subject and qualify him as a blundering pseudo-scientist. His petty,
adolescent criticism of a simple typographic inaccuracy on the
“Hydrate for Life” web site and his use of ridicule (he asserts that
“Penta” is “magically-prepared” and works “miraculously” while the
manufacturer simply states that the process is “proprietary”) support
that impression. And yet, Randi rhetorically assumes an air of scientific
authority, even infallibility.

Pseudoskeptic Michael Shermer makes the following ignorant
argument in “Baloney Detection” (Scientific American 11/2001, p. 36):

The biggest problem with the cold fusion debacle, for instance,
was not that Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman were wrong. It was
that they announced their spectacular discovery at a press conference
before other laboratories verified it. Worse, when cold fusion was not
replicated, they continued to cling to their claim. Outside verification
is crucial to good science.

The argument against “science by press conference” is a good one,
but it would be more credible if Shermer applied it to accepted science
too. A prime example is Robert Gallo’s announcement of the discovery
of the “probable cause of AIDS” in a press conference in 1984 that
preceded publication of his research in Science and secured a political
commitment to his alleged facts before critical scientific discussion
could take place.

What makes Shermer’s argument ignorant is his use of cold fusion
as an example. Real scientists who have actually studied the evidence
for cold fusion have come to very different conclusions. In February
2002, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center of the United
State Navy in San Diego released a 310 page report titled Thermal
and Nuclear Aspects of the Pd/D2O System that discusses the overwhelming
experimental evidence that the cold fusion effect indeed
exists. Dr. Frank E. Gordon, the head of the center’s Navigation and
Applied Sciences Department, writes in the foreword:

We do not know if Cold Fusion will be the answer to future energy
needs, but we do know the existence of Cold Fusion phenomenon
through repeated observations by scientists throughout the world. It is
time that this phenomenon be investigated so that we can reap whatever
benefits accrue from additional scientific understanding. It is
time for government funding organizations to invest in this research.

Yet Shermer, a psychologist by trade, feels called upon to pass
summary negative judgement on this field of research.

DOUBLE STANDARDS OF ACCEPTABLE PROOF AND AD-HOC
HYPOTHESES

The true skeptic will apply her skepticism equally to conventional and
unconventional claims, and even to skepticism itself. In particular, the
true skeptic recognizes an ad-hoc hypothesis regardless of the source.
The pseudoskeptic, on the other hand, reserves her critical facilities
for unconventional claims only.

William R. Corliss, the author of The Sourcebook Project (a
comprehensive collection of anomalies and unexplained phenomena
reported in scientific journals) gives a salient example of that kind of
behavior in the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Vol. 16, 3 p.446):

One would expect a lively interface between the Sourcebook
Project and the several groups of skeptics, as typified by the
Committee for the [Scientific] Investigation of Claims of the
Paranormal (CSICOP). After all, my catalogs do challenge those paradigms
the skeptics defend so ferociously. Actually, there has been no
traffic whatsoever. While mainstream Nature has reviewed five of my
books, the skeptics have shown no interest in evaluating any of the
Sourcebook publications. The skeptics, it seems, are never skeptical
of established paradigms, only those observations that threaten to disestablish
them.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary, a leading pseudoskeptical online
resource, gives us a great example of this selective blindness. Under
the heading “ad hoc hypothesis”, we find the following definition:

An ad hoc hypothesis is one created to explain away facts that
seem to refute one’s theory. Ad hoc hypotheses are common in paranormal
research and in the work of pseudoscientists.

What Todd Caroll, the author of the Skeptic’s Dictionary does not
see fit to share with his readers is that some of the most celebrated
“discoveries” of mainstream science are mere ad hoc hypotheses
designed to cover the failure of theories to agree with observational
evidence. Some of these ad hoc hypotheses, such as the hypothesis
that almost all of the matter and energy of the universe exists in a form
undetectable by the instruments of science, that there is a particle that
causes mass (the Higgs Boson), and that people who fail to improve
on AIDS drugs must be infected with a resistant mutation of HIV, are
then taken as facts, with the strongest evidence for the existence being
that accepted theory requires them! And yet, you will search skeptical
publications in vain for truly skeptical discussion of these subjects (as
opposed to ones that agree with the mainstream consensus). “The
Mainstream Consensus Is Always Right” seems to be the motto.

The following is an anecdotal example of an ad-hoc theory in
established science. In its June 2002 issue, Scientific American ran an
article on AIDS that contained a chart titled “World AIDS Snapshot”
(p.41). Combining the absolute numbers of people who are HIV positive
with population figures from the CIA world factbook, I found
that in Australia/New Zealand, only one person in 1548 was HIV positive,
while in North America (Mexico counts under Latin America,
according to the UNAIDS web site), 1 person in 329 was. Given that
the predominant strain of HIV is the same in both regions (clade B),
how can the rate of infection be almost 5 times higher in North
America than in Australia/New Zealand?

I emailed Sciam staff writer Carol Ezzell and inquired what the
cause of this discrepancy could be. I received the following reply:

Our statistics come from the UNAIDS (see the web site at
www.unaids.org). Australia/New Zealand has a 0.1 percent adult
prevalence rate, whereas North America has a rate of 0.6 percent.
Most of the cases of HIV infection in Australia/New Zealand occur in
men who have sex with men. A key tipping point in the broadening of
HIV infection occurs when the virus rages through IV drug abusers
and then enters people (men and women) who have sex with those
drug abusers. For whatever reason, this hasn’t happened in A./N.Z.

Actually, the alleged broadening of HIV infection into a general
epidemic that effects large numbers of heterosexuals has not happened
anywhere in the developed world, even though it was widely predicted
by experts in the 1980s. The claim that it somehow exists nonetheless,
and, for some unknown reason, more so in North America than
in Australia/New Zealand, is a perfect example of “a hypothesis created
to explain away facts that seem to refute one’s theory”.
Skepticism towards the prevailing view of “HIV/AIDS” seems to be
called for, but you will find none in the pages of the Skeptical Inquirer
and other “skeptical” publications.

Skeptic has published an article on this subject titled The Aids
Heresies – A Case Study in Skepticism Taken Too Far (vol. 3, no. 2,
1995) by Steven B. Harris, M.D. that seeks to affirm the correctness
of the conventional viewpoint and, in typical pseudoskeptical fashion,
ignores at least one key argument of the AIDS critics. That is the argument
that HIV tests are completely invalid. The Perth Group had
already made that case in 1993 in a paper published in Bio/
Technology (Vol.11 June 1993). Their claims were reported in a headline
story on June 1, 1993 in the Sunday Times of London. Yet, over
one year later, Dr. Harris does not even mention this critical component
in the skeptical case against the conventional theory of
HIV/AIDS in his article. Instead, he misleads his readers into believing
that AIDS skeptics recognize the validity of HIV tests in the first
place by stating that “critics of the HIV/AIDS hypothesis have had to
struggle to keep up with sensitivity increases in HIV testing”.

To discuss an example in physics: University of Michigan physicist
Gordon Kane writes about the Higgs Boson on the Scientific
American Web site under the heading “ask the experts”.

There are currently two pieces of evidence that a Higgs boson
does exist. The first is indirect. According to quantum field theory, all
particles spend a little time as combinations of all other particles,
including the Higgs boson. This changes their properties a little in
ways that we know how to calculate and that have been well verified.
Studies of the effect the Higgs boson has on other particles reveal that
experiment and theory are consistent only if the Higgs boson exists
and is lighter than around 170 giga electron volts (GeV), or about 180
proton masses. Because this is an indirect result, it is not rigorous
proof. More concrete evidence of the Higgs came from an experiment
conducted at the European laboratory for particle physics (CERN)
using the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider in its final days of
operation. That research revealed a possible direct signal of a Higgs
boson with mass of about 115 GeV and all the expected properties.
Together these make a very convincing — although not yet definitive
— case that the Higgs boson does indeed exist

A researcher making that kind of case for an unconventional phenomenon
would be laughed out of town. A single sighting, so the
skeptics would say, is anecdotal evidence and proves nothing. And
that a theory requires it merely means that the scientists saw what they
wanted to see. But particle physics is conventional science, hence different
(i.e. much less stringent) standards of proof apply. Results are
accepted, even said to be “convincing”, based on relatively weak and
purely indirect evidence, and because a handful of experts vouch for
their accuracy.

Another example of established science that should not be so
established is the neutrino. Neutrinos are ghostlike particles that were
introduced by Pauli as an ad-hoc hypothesis to save the relativistic law
of energy conservation (which fails to correctly describe radioactive
beta decay otherwise). Neutrinos can not be detected directly, and
require giant detectors for indirect (statistical) detection. Decades of
neutrino detection experiments have failed to detect the correct number
of solar neutrinos. To account for the discrepancy, physicists have
come up with the idea of neutrino oscillations. In other words, the
neutrino meets several of Langmuir’s criteria of pathological science:
the maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent
of barely detectable intensity, the effect is of a magnitude that remains
close to the limit of detectability or, many measurements are necessary
because of the very low statistical significance of the results and
criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses. Maybe there is no neutrino, and
the relativistic law of energy conservation is simply wrong?
Autodynamics is a proposed theoretical alternative to relativity that
correctly describes beta decay without a neutrino, but you won’t find
it mentioned in physics journals or the pseudoskeptical literature.

So pseudoskeptics often fail to apply their skepticism to conventional
wisdom. But worse yet, when confronted with evidence of
unusual phenomena, pseudoskepticism itself will take refuge to outrageously
arbitrary ad hoc hypotheses: swamp gas, duck butts and temperature
inversions can create the appearance of flying vehicles in the
sky, pranksters are able to produce elaborate geometrical designs in
crops within seconds, in complete darkness, and without leaving footprints
(but somehow changing the microscopic structure of the crops
in a manner consistent with microwave heating), and shadows can
conspire to make a mesa on Mars look like a face, an illusion that persists
under different viewing angles and lighting conditions.

Critics of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (such as selfappointed
“quackwatcher” Stephen Barrett) habitually employ this
double standard. They will piously denounce alternative medical procedures
for not having 100% cure rates, but ignore the fact that the
side effects of conventional drugs kill over 100,000 in the US alone
each year. They will condescendingly point to a lack of proper (i.e.
double-blind) scientific studies supporting certain alternative procedures,
and simultaneously ignore the fact that many conventional surgical
procedures and drug protocols are equally unproven by the same
standard. Worse yet, they will hold alternative medicine responsible
for every case of malpractice that has ever been committed in its
name, but they would not dream of applying the same standard to conventional
medical practice.

The Friday, May 14, 2004 edition of Robert Park’s What’s New
Column contains the following gem:

“Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
(eCAM) is a new international journal that seeks to encourage rigorous
research in this new, yet ancient world of complementary and
alternative medicine … particularly traditional Asian healing systems.”
So begins an Oxford University Press announcement http://
www.oup.co.uk/jnls/list/ecam/. All eCAM papers are available online
at no cost and without subscription. Unlike other open-access journals
there are no author submission fees. Who pays, skeptics might ask?
The “generous support of Ishikawa Natural Medicinal Products
Research Center, co-owner of the journal with OUP.” Yes, it’s the
ancient-wisdom scam. (…) Other industries might be equally generous.
Perhaps the Journal of Gambling Studies, which deals with gambling
addiction, could cut a deal with the slot-machine industry. And
perhaps Join Together Online, which opposes gun violence, could
team up with the National Rifle Association. On the other hand,
maybe not.

Park’s double standard with respect to medical ethics boggles the
mind. Corruption and violation of scientific ethics is endemic in the
mainstream medical system. Drug companies are permitted to write
their own studies or to pay allegedly independent researchers to produce
results, and to suppress results that are not favourable to their
products. Medical journals receive significant funding from the pharmaceutical
industry through advertising. In an interview with the Los
Angeles Times published on August 9, 2004, Marcia Angell, a former
editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, made the following
statement:

Research is biased in favor of the drugs and drug makers. The
pharmaceutical industry spends a great deal to influence people in
academic medicine and professional societies. It does a super job of
making sure [that] nearly every important person they can find in academic
medicine [who] is involved in any way with drugs is hired as a
consultant, as a speaker, is placed on an advisory board – and is paid
generous amounts of money. Conflicts of interest are rampant. When
the New England Journal of Medicine published a study of antidepressants,
we didn’t have room to print all the authors’ conflict-ofinterest
disclosures. We had to refer people to the web site. I wrote an
editorial for the journal, titled “Is Academic Medicine for Sale?”
Someone wrote a letter to the editor that answered the question, “No.
The current owner is very happy with it.” That sums up the situation
nicely.

Dr. Park has evidently heard of Dr. Angell, because he mentions
her as a skeptic of CAM in his May 11, 2001 column. But when the
same person makes public statements that confirm that conventional
medicine is suffering from a large-scale epidemic of the very same
disease that Park finds intolerable in the field of CAM, he shows no
interest, at least not in his What’s New column. If CAM studies are
invalid because of financial conflicts of interests, should not the same
ethical standard be applied to mainstream medicine? They should, but
Dr. Park is apparently more interested in making a system of medicine
he doesn’t like look bad than in applying ethical standards even-handedly
and dispassionately.

Marcello Truzzi, one of the original founders of CSICOP, deftly
exposes the hypocrisy of pseudoskepticism when he writes:

Those who leap to call parapsychology a pseudoscience might do
well to look more closely at the social sciences in general. Those who
laugh at the implausibility of a possible plesiosaur in Loch Ness
should take a close look at the arguments and evidence put forward for
the Big Bang or black holes. Those who think it unreasonable to
investigate reports of unidentified flying objects might do well to look
carefully at the arguments and evidence of those who promote current
attempts at contacting extraterrestrial intelligence allegedly present in
other solar systems. Those who complain about the unscientific status
quo of psychic counsellors should be willing to examine the scientific
status of orthodox psychotherapy and make truly scientific comparisons.
Those who sneer at phoney prophets in our midst might also
do well to look at the prognosticators in economics and sociology who
hold official positions as “scientific forecasters”. Those who concern
themselves about newspaper horoscopes and their influence might do
well to look at what the “real” so-called helping professions are doing.
The scientist who claims to be a skeptic, a zetetic, is willing to investigate
empirically the claims of the American Medical Association as
well as those of the faith healer; and, more important, he should be
willing to compare the empirical results for both before defending one
and condemning the other.

Cremo and Thompson, in Forbidden Archeology, p. 24, write
under the heading “The Phenomenon of Suppression”:

One prominent feature in the treatment of anomalous evidence is
what we could call the double standard. All paleoanthropological evidence
tends to be complex and uncertain. Practically any evidence in
this field can be challenged, for if nothing else, one can always raise
charges of fraud. What happens in practice is that evidence agreeing
with a prevailing theory tends to be treated very leniently. Even if it
has grave defects, these tend to be overlooked. In contrast, evidence
that goes against an accepted theory tends to be subjected to intense
critical scrutiny, and it is expected to meet a very high standard of
proof.

Skeptics, both of the genuine and the pseudo variety, have elevated
this double standard to a principle of science: extraordinary claims
require extraordinary evidence! But this principle does not hold up to
logical scrutiny, because a claim is only ordinary or extraordinary in
relation to a theory. For the sake of making this point, let us assume a
scenario in a hypothetical new science in which there are two pieces
of evidence to be discovered, Aand B, each equally credible, each one
suggesting an obvious, but incorrect explanation (call them (1) and
(2)). (1) and (2) are mutually incompatible, and a third, highly non
obvious explanation (3) that accounts for both Aand B is actually correct.

As chance would have it, one of the two pieces of evidence A,B
will be discovered first. Let A be that piece of evidence, and further
suppose that the scientists working in that hypothetical field all subscribe
to the principle of the double standard. After the discovery of
A, they will adopt explanation (1) as the accepted theory of their field.
At a later time, when B is discovered, it will be dismissed because it
contradicts (1), and because A and B are equally credible, but A is
ordinary relative to (1) and B is extraordinary.

The end result is that our hypothetical science has failed to selfcorrect.
The incorrect explanation (1) has been accepted, and the correct
explanation (3) was never found, because B was rejected. I therefore
submit that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
is not suitable as a guiding principle for sound scientific research. All
evidence, whether it supports accepted theories or not, should be
given the same level of critical scrutiny.

Pseudoskeptics of course would argue that they simply do not
have the resources to be skeptical about everything, so they have to
concentrate on the obvious targets. But that doesn’t get them off the
hook. Pseudoskeptics apply the “extraordinary evidence” standard
only selectively to controversial phenomena – namely, precisely when
they fit their ideological preconceptions! When Doug Bower and
David Chorley made the extraordinary claim that they had created all
of the thousands of crop circles that had appeared in English fields
between 1978 and 1991 (some of which had appeared on the same
night in different regions of the country), there were no armies of
skeptics loudly insisting that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary
evidence”. Apparently, as long as the extraordinary claim is one
that agrees with what the pseudoskeptics have “known” all along, it
does not even require ordinary evidence. Bower and Chorley were
never able to substantiate their claim, let alone prove it, but the “skeptical”
community accepted it on faith – and without a trace of skepti-
cism.

RESPONDING TO CLAIMS THAT WERE NOT MADE aka DEMOLISHING
STRAW MEN

Benveniste (who showed that ultradilutions, i.e. homoeopathic preparations
not containing a single molecule of the original substance can
still have a biological effect) was attacked by Nature editor John
Maddox with the argument that dilutions of the kind used by
Benveniste can simply not exist because they would require “1074
world oceans” (that is more water than contained in the entire universe)
to manufacture. That is correct, if the definition of “dilution”
requires that at least one molecule remain, but Benveniste (and generations
of homoeopaths) have readily conceded that very point!
Everyone agrees that high homoeopathic dilutions do not contain a
single active molecule, so Maddox’s argument is nothing but the ritual
dissection of a straw man. He is not alone – “skeptical” discussions
of homoeopathy invariably spend a lot of time making this completely
uncontested point.

Our favourite resource for invalid criticisms, the Skeptic’s
Dictionary, tries to downplay the important of the Gauquelin data by
stressing that correlation does not imply causation. But astrologers do
not claim causation! Both adherents and skeptics agree that astrology
is a branch of magic, and as such is based on the principle of correspondences.
This principles claims that nature exhibits meaningful,
not necessarily causally mediated analogous behavior on all levels.
The Gauquelin data shows correlation between the movements of the
planets and certain aspects of human behavior; nothing more is
claimed by astrology.

In a personal note published on James Randi’s Web site, Robert
Park makes the following statement about the “Motionless
Electromagnetic Generator”, a claimed free energy device:

I’ve been following the MEG claim since Patent 6,362,718 was
issued in the spring (What’s New 4 Apr 02). The claim, of course, is
preposterous. It is a clear violation of the conservation of energy.

But Park is only demolishing a straw man. The first law of thermodynamics
states that the energy of a closed system is conserved.
But the inventors of the MEG claim that their device takes energy
from the zero-point field of the vacuum, thereby conserving the energy
of the total system (which in this case would be the MEG and the
surrounding vacuum). Whether it can actually do that is an open question.
But the existence of the Casimir force proves that in principle
such extraction of energy from the vacuum is possible (even though
the potential energy gained from the Casimir force between two plates
is negligible). Therefore, one cannot dismiss claims for free energy
devices such as the MEG on a priori grounds of energy conservation.
Since Park is a physicist, he could not possibly be unaware of this. By
making this argument, he is therefore intentionally misrepresenting
the claims of the MEG inventors. They do not claim to have found a
way around the first law; they merely claim to have accessed a source
of energy not previously accessible to human technology.

[Note: The author is aware of no legitimate scientific evidence
that the MEG works as claimed. The purpose of this example is not to
suggest that it is a legitimate “free energy” device, but simply to point
out the invalid nature of some of the arguments against it.]

TECHNICALLY CORRECT PSEUDO-REFUTATION (credit for the term
goes to Daniel Drasin):

Pseudoskeptics are fond of arguing that hundreds of respectable scientists
believe that a certain idea is bunk, and therefore, it must be.
When one points out to them that many scientific breakthroughs were
ridiculed and dismissed by the scientific establishment of the time,
they retort that not every idea that has been ridiculed or dismissed
turned out to be correct. Correct, but completely irrelevant, because it
responds to an argument that was not made. The argument was not
that ridicule or dismissal by scientific experts is sufficient grounds for
accepting an unorthodox claim, simply that it is insufficient grounds
for rejecting it.

Robert T. Carroll, a Professor of Philosophy at the Sacramento
City College no less, falls into this logical trap when he writes in his
Skeptic’s Dictionary about what he calls “selective thinking”:

Let’s begin with his version of the “they laughed at Galileo, so I
must be right” fallacy, a non sequitur variation of selective thinking.

In his book Alternative Science, and on his web site under what he
calls Skeptics who declared discoveries and inventions impossible,
Milton lists a number of inventors and scientists who struggled to get
their ideas accepted. Many were ridiculed along the way. But, like
many others who commit this fallacy, Milton omits some important,
relevant data. He does not mention that there are also a great number
of inventors, scientists and thinkers who were laughed at and whose
ideas have never been accepted. Many people accused of being crackpots
turned out to be crackpots. Some did not. Thus, being ridiculed
and rejected for one’s ideas is not a sign that one is correct. It is not a
sign of anything important about the idea which is being rejected.
Thus, finding large numbers of skeptics who reject ideas as being
“crackpot ideas” does not strengthen the likelihood of those ideas
being correct. The number of skeptics who reject an idea is completely
irrelevant to the truth of the idea. Ideas such as alien abduction,
homoeopathy, psychokinesis, orgone energy, ESP, free energy, spontaneous
human combustion, and the rejection of evolution–all favored
by Milton – are not supported in the least by the fact that these ideas
are trashed by thousands of skeptics.

True, but irrelevant! Milton’s argument shows precisely what it is
supposed to show: that the skeptic’s knee-jerk dismissal of unorthodox
claimants as “pseudo-scientists”, “fringe-scientists” and “crackpots”
simply carries no evidentiary weight one way or another. In his skeptical
zeal to convict Milton of blundering in the realm of logic, Carroll
commits a much more elementary error than selective reasoning: he
responds to an argument that is not being made. Milton’s argument is
not “they laughed at Galileo, therefore every unconventional claimant
is right”, it is merely “they laughed at Galileo, therefore unconventional
claimants cannot be presumed wrong.”

Carroll’s attempt to hold Milton responsible for an argument not
made is a variation of the popular pseudoskeptical technique of
Demolishing a Straw Man.

MAKING CRITICISMS THAT APPLY EQUALLY TO CONVENTIONAL AND
UNCONVENTIONAL RESEARCH

It should be obvious that a criticism is invalid if it applies just as well
to established science as it applies to an unconventional claim (such a
criticism is called uncontrolled). But pseudoskeptics get away with
using this technique anyway. What follows are some common examples
of uncontrolled and therefore invalid criticisms.

DEMANDING AN UNREASONABLE DEGREE OF REPRODUCIBILITY

Reproducibility means that a phenomenon can be demonstrated on
demand, anywhere, at any time. Pseudoskeptics believe that an unconventional
phenomenon can safely be considered nonexistent unless it
is reproducible in this sense. But the same standard of evidence would
invalidate much of accepted science. Discoveries in archaeology are
by their nature unique, non reproducible. Astronomy and geology are
not reproducible in the strictest sense – astronomers cannot produce a
supernova on demand, nor can geologists an earthquake. Even
physics, the “hardest” of all sciences, is less and less reproducible in
practice. Cutting-edge discoveries of high-energy physics, such as the
discovery of the top quark are accepted by the physical community
and then the public largely on faith, because no one else has the facilities
to replicate them. The top quark is simply one of those discoveries
whose experimental verification is beyond amateur science.

Similarly, the complete inability of ordinary humans to influence
macroscopic systems with their minds alone, even in the slightest,
strongly suggests that mind-matter interaction, if it exists, will be hard
to demonstrate experimentally. A skeptic who rejects the conclusion
of statistically sound meta-analysis of decades of mind-matter experiments
because she feels that the phenomenon should be proven
directly, by producing a person who can consistently, say, levitate
objects, should similarly reject the discovery of the top quark until
such time as a demonstration kit be made available that allows any
physics high school teacher to produce said particle on the kitchen
top. Either demand is unreasonable and denies the difficult nature of
the subject matter.

PROFIT MOTIVE

Pseudoskeptics try to invalidate unconventional claims by pointing
out that the claimants derive financial support from their research
(through books, newsletters or speaking engagements), blithely ignoring
that conventional scientists derive their livelihood from their work
as well. If a cold fusion researcher who is trying to commercialize his
discoveries is a priori suspect, should not by the same token the hot
fusion physicist’s 1989 dismissal of the cold fusion discovery be
viewed with extreme suspicion, since their very livelihood depends on
the continued flow of billions of federal research dollars into their
field, a field that has produced no tangible results, despite 50 years of
research?

To mention an anecdotal example, I have personally observed
skeptics of the claim of adverse biological effects from microwave
radiation produced by cellular devices having the gall to argue that
critics of cellular technology cannot possibly be taken seriously
because they make money from publishing their criticisms, while the
same skeptics do not find fault with studies funded and written by the
multi-billion-dollar cellular industry!

STATISTICS CAN PROVE ANYTHING!

Such is essentially the argument that the spokesman of the American
Physical Society, Robert L. Park, makes against psychokinetic
research in his book Voodoo Science (p. 199). In the context of a discussion
of an obviously pseudoscientific Good Morning America
report on anomalous phenomena (debunkery by association: as if TV
shows were the principal outlet for reporting the results of psi
research!), Park writes:

Why, you may wonder, all this business of random machines?
Jahn has studied random number generators, water fountains in which
the subject tries to urge drops to greater heights, all sorts of machines.
But it is not clear that any of these machines are truly random. Indeed,
it is generally believed that there are no truly random machines. It may
be, therefore, that the lack of randomness only begins to show up after
many trials. Besides, if the mind can influence inanimate objects, why
not simply measure the static force the mind can exert? Modern ultramicrobalances
can routinely measure a force of much less than a billionth
of an ounce. Why not just use your psychokinetic powers to
deflect a microbalance? It’s sensitive, simple, even quantitative, with
no need for any dubious statistical analysis.

There are many things wrong with this statement, and I refer the
reader to my review of Park’s book for details. For the purpose of
this argument, I am interested in Park’s assessment that effects that are
only indirectly detected, by statistical analysis, are suspect. Where
does that leave conventional science? Deprived of one of its most
powerful tools of analysis. The cherished 1992 COBE discovery of
minute fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation
would have to be thrown out, since it was entirely statistical in nature,
and therefore by Park’s argument, ‘dubious’. The most celebrated discoveries
of particle physics, such as the 1995 discovery of the top
quark, or the results of neutrino detection experiments, or the synthesis
of superheavy, extremely short-lived elements, would have to be
thrown out, since they, too, are indirect and statistical in nature.
Modern medicine would have to be invalidated as well because it
relies on statistical analysis (of double-blind trials) to prove the efficacy
of drugs.

For comparison: the American Institute of Physics’s Bulletin of
Physics News, #216, March 3, 1995 gives the odds against chance for
the top quark discovery as a million to one. A 1987 meta-analysis performed
by Dean Radin and Roger Nelson of RNG (random number
generator) experiments between 1959 and 1987, on the other hand,
shows the existence of an anomalous deviation from chance with odds
against chance exceeding one trillion to one (see Radin, The
Conscious Universe, p. 140).

Park’s argument is the quintessential uncontrolled criticism:
accepted scientific methods that constitute the backbone of modern
science suddenly become questionable when they are used on phenomena
that don’t fit his ideological predilections.

FRAUD CANNOT BE RULED OUT!

The pseudoskeptical argument of last resort. If a body of research supporting
an unconventional claim is airtight, the pseudoskeptic will
argue that since the conclusion contradicts established theories of
nature (she will call them “facts”), and all other alternative explanations
have been exhausted, the results must therefore be due to fraud.
Of course, such an argument from theory turns the scientific method
on its head (unless the skeptic can prove that fraud has actually been
committed), but what is more important, the same argument can be
made for any research. Indeed, when funding or scientific prestige are
at stake, results are frequently faked in the conventional sciences,
probably much more frequently than in, say, parapsychology where
skeptical scrutiny is intense.

IN MEDICINE: IT’S UNSAFE!

A favourite argument of the professional “quackbusters” like Stephen
Barrett is that an alternative procedure is unsafe. On the Acupuncture
page of his site, Barrett states that:

Improperly performed acupuncture can cause fainting, local
hematoma (due to bleeding from a punctured blood vessel), pneumothorax
(punctured lung), convulsions, local infections, hepatitis B
(from unsterile needles), bacterial endocarditis, contact dermatitis,
and nerve damage. This, of course, misses the mark of controlled criticism
by a wide margin. Why not similarly list the dangers of improperly
performed surgery and then denounce the whole field as quackery?

ACCUSATIONS OF SELECTIVE REPORTING (THE “FILE DRAWER
EFFECT”)

One of the standard criticisms levered by pseudoskeptics against
unconventional research that relies on statistics (primarily parapsychology)
is that only successful experiments were reported and the
unsuccessful ones were suppressed (by burring them in the “file drawer”).
Unlike the previous criticisms, the file drawer criticism is valid
in principle, but I mention it in this list anyway because pseudoskeptics
obsess only about the (largely imaginary) file drawers of the
parapsychologists while ignoring the large file drawers of suppressed
conventional science.

To cite just a few examples of what has been buried in those file
drawers: fundamental criticisms of relativity are a priori ineligible for
publication in the mainstream scientific journals. That’s why most
physicists are not aware of experimental evidence that apparently
refutes special relativity. Positive results on cold fusion are similarly
banned from publication, as are papers that radically question the
accepted time line of human evolution. Cremo and Thompson’s
Forbidden Archeology contains several hundred pages of archeological
discoveries that have been left to be forgotten in that particular
file drawer. Veteran astronomer Halton Arp, who has been made a persona
non grata in astronomy due to his discovery that modern cosmology
is catastrophically wrong, describes how most of his own
papers ended up in the astronomical “file drawer” instead of the astronomical
journals as follows (Arp, Seeing Red, 1998):

“In the beginning there was an unspoken covenant that observations
were so important that they should be published and archived
with only a minimum of interpretation at the end of the paper.
Gradually this practice eroded as authors began making and reporting
only observations which agreed with their starting premises. The next
step was that these same authors, as referees, tried to force the conclusions
to support their own and then finally, rejected the papers
when they did not. As a result more and more important observational
results are simply not being published at the journals in which one
would habitually look for such results. The referees themselves, with
the aid of compliant editors, have turned what was originally a helpful
system into a chaotic and mostly unprincipled form of censorship.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the file-drawer of medical and
other profit-oriented research that has been suppressed due to economic
conflicts of interest is at least as thick as the body of published
research. The tobacco industry had suppressed evidence that smoking
causes cancer for decades, and the chemical industry has likewise suppressed
evidence of public-health risks caused by its products.
Examples of manipulated drug trials in medicine are legion. On July
25, 2002, The Nation published a special report titled Big Pharma,
Bad Science that gives the following devastating assessment of the
quality of modern medical research:

“In June, the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most
respected medical journals, made a startling announcement. The editors
declared that they were dropping their policy stipulating that
authors of review articles of medical studies could not have financial
ties to drug companies whose medicines were being analyzed. The
reason? The journal could no longer find enough independent experts.
Drug company gifts and “consulting fees” are so pervasive that in any
given field, you cannot find an expert who has not been paid off in
some way by the industry. So the journal settled for a new standard:
Their reviewers can have received no more than $10,000 from com-
panies whose work they judge. Isn’t that comforting? This announcement
by the New England Journal of Medicine is just the tip of the
iceberg of a scientific establishment that has been pervasively corrupted
by conflicts of interest and bias, throwing doubt on almost all
scientific claims made in the biomedical field.”

“Unknown to many readers is the fact that the data being discussed
was often collected and analyzed by the maker of the drug
involved in the test. An independent 1996 study found that 98 percent
of scientific papers based on research sponsored by corporations promoted
the effectiveness of a company’s drug. By comparison, 79 percent
of independent studies found that a new drug was effective. This
corruption reaches from the doctors prescribing a drug to government
review boards to university research centers. ”

“Increasingly, the industry has converted academic research centers
into subsidiaries of the companies. The billions of dollars of academic
government funding essentially pays to flush out negative results,
while private industry gets to profit from any successful result. ”

“And the results are expensive and sometimes tragic for the public.
Experimental clinical drug trials are hazardous to participants and,
more broadly, critical to those with life threatening conditions who
need to know which treatments are fruitless to pursue. Yet researchers
on industry payrolls end up pressured to suppress negative results. At
the most basic level, researchers who defy their corporate sponsors
know they may lose their funding. ”

Writer John Anthony West and geologist Robert M. Schoch have
uncovered commanding geological evidence that the Egyptian Sphinx
is thousands of years older than conventionally assumed, but their
data has been, and is still being ignored by conventional Egyptology.
When confronted with this research, Egyptologists have no explanation
for it, but they insist that it cannot possibly be correct, because it
contradicts their theories.

This site contains many more examples of suppressed and
ignored discoveries spanning virtually the entire spectrum of human
sciences. By the standards set by the pseudoskeptics themselves,
therefore, almost all of science would have to be invalid. Pseudoskeptic
Michael Shermer writes in “Baloney Detection” (Scientific
American 11/2001, p. 36).

Watch out for a pattern of fringe thinking that consistently ignores
or distorts data.

But “Consistently ignoring and distorting data” is pervasive in
physics, astronomy, biology, medicine, psychology, archeology and
paleoanthropology. The “file drawer effect”, while not uncontrolled
per se is therefore in practice an uncontrolled criticism. Due to the
broken peer review system and massive conflicts of interest in commercial
science, it applies to and invalidates much of accepted science.

TRYING TO END THE RACE WHEN THEIR SIDE IS AHEAD

In any scientific controversy, there will be confirming evidence from
some scientists and disconfirming evidence from others. Otherwise,
there would not be a controversy. Resolving such controversies takes
many iterations of new and better experiments, publication and criticism.
In a head-to-head race, the lead will change often. Sometimes,
the confirming evidence will gain the upper hand, and then the disconfirming
evidence is ahead again. Pseudoskeptics are always trying
to end the race prematurely, when they’re ahead, and declare victory.
As an example, consider Randi’s never-ending tirades against
homoeopathy. If you study his web site, you will see that all he ever
quotes is disconfirming medical studies, while the ones that confirm
homoeopathy are conveniently ignored.

Try it yourself. Use Google to search Randi’s web site for
Madeleine Ennis homoeopathy and see how many hits you get. One.
And that one just mentions Ennis’ name in the context of discussing a
disconfirming study, and calls her a “pharmacist from Belfast.”
Relying solely on Randi’s site, a reader would never know that the
woman is a professor of Immunopharmacology at Queen’s University,

Belfast, and that she and others have produced a ground-breaking
replication of Benveniste’s seminal work on ultradilutions.

This kind of biased, selective reporting of evidence cannot be
excused by ignorance. It is indicative of malice and constitutes intellectual
fraud.

THEORY OVERRIDES EVIDENCE: the pseudoskeptic holds a firm belief
that certain phenomena are a priori impossible, regardless of the evidence.
This belief is contrary to the scientific method were theory
always yields to the primacy of observation. A theory that is contradicted
by evidence must be modified or discarded, no matter how aesthetically
pleasing or prestigious it is. If an observation is made that
cannot be accounted for by any existing theory, then the observation
must be carefully checked and double-checked for errors. If no errors
are found, then the observation must enter into the canon of scientific
fact, regardless of whether it is explained by theory.

Most pseudoskeptics operate on assumptions about science that
are precisely contrary to this principle. Carroll makes a typical argument
when he writes about homoeopathy:

The known laws of physics and chemistry would have to be completely
revamped if a tonic from which every molecule of the “active”
ingredient were removed could be shown to nevertheless to be effective.

Indeed they would. This process is known as science, as opposed
to the pseudoscientific dogmatizing of the fact-resistant pseudo-skeptics.

In his August 6, 2004 What’s New column, Robert L. Park delivers
the following example of theory-over-evidence reasoning:

COINCIDENCE: IS YOUR RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR SPEAKING
ARABIC?

If it is, you may want to take cover, or seek professional help. In the
August issue of Psychology Today, parapsychologist Dean Radin is
quoted as claiming random number generators (RNGs) were uncharacteristically
coherent in the hours just before the 9/11 terrorist attack
on the World Trade Center and again before Madrid. Coincidences
like that don’t just happen; “events with worldwide impact focus consciousness
and that influences the functioning of machines.” Radin
heads the Global Consciousness Project, with 75 totally deluded
researchers around the world monitoring RNGs to see if they predict
terrorist attacks. Are RNGs the only machines that act up? What about
elevators and missile launchers? This is scary. No, not the machines,
the fact that there are that many researchers that haven’t got a clue
about how things are, and people with money willing to fund them.

The argument is simple. Theologist Park just knows “how things
are”, and no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary can sway
him. His argument consists solely of the application of ridicule and the
ad-hominem, and is entirely devoid of scientific reasoning.

MISAPPLYING OCCAM’S RAZOR

In science, the simplest explanation tends to be the best.
Pseudoskeptics usually insist that this heuristic rule of thumb is an
immutable law of nature! In addition, they usually confuse simplicity
with familiarity, and explanation with rationalization. For example,
given that for over 50 years, observers from all walks of life including
university professors, airline pilots, military personnel, policemen,
Senators and US presidents have witnessed unidentified flying objects
with operational characteristics that far surpass current aircraft
designs (such as ability to make right-angle turns at high velocities),
that many of these unexplained sightings are backed up by radar
observations, photographic, video or physical evidence, and given that
UFO pseudoskeptics have to resort to far-fetched logical contortions,
highly improbable coincidences and laughable ad-hoc hypotheses to
explain away these observations (such as the idea that swamp gas can
create the appearance of flying objects in the sky), one must conclude
that the hypothesis that some UFOs represent real flying objects is the
simplest explanation. The complicated ad-hoc “explanations” (really
rationalizations) of the UFO pseudoskeptics cannot compete with the
unified explanatory power of that simple hypothesis.

DISLIKE OF THE CONSEQUENCES

Sometimes, pseudoskeptics will make the argument that a certain phenomenon
cannot be actually occurring because the consequences
would be too unsettling. For example, on CNN’s Larry King Live,
UFO Skeptic Philip Klass once responded to an argument that the
alien abduction phenomenon is real by stating that “if these things
were true, the social consequences would be intolerable”!

Park’s argument quoted above is another example. He finds the
research generated by the Global Consciousness Project wholly
unpalatable because it scares him. The claim that the correct functioning
of sensitive equipment that we entrust our lives to is subject to
subtle mental effects is indeed frightening. But that does not refute the
claim.

REFUSAL TO SEE THE TOTALITY OF THE EVIDENCE

Any single case of an anomalous phenomenon, no matter how strong,
can always be disposed of by claiming that the observer involved is a
fraud, or was suffering from hallucination. But when there are hundreds,
or thousands of similar cases, this explanation clearly becomes
inadequate. There is a low, but nonzero probability that any single
UFO sighting is fraudulent, but the combined probability that thousands
and thousands of UFO sightings by credible, highly educated
observers over five decades are all bogus is next to zero. There is a
low, but nonzero probability that a single paranormal researcher might
be a fraud, and reporting the results of fictional experiments, but the
probability that there is a global conspiracy of scientists who spend
whole lives counterfeiting research, which has been going on for over
a century, is clearly next to zero.

The pseudoskeptic strictly refuses to appreciate the evidence as a
whole. Every time she dismisses a case on the grounds that the evidence
is not strong enough (because the probability of chance or fraud
is technically nonzero), the pseudoskeptic forgets all about it and
approaches the next, similar case as if there was no precedent. Or
worse yet, the skeptic dismisses a new case solely on the ground that
she has dismissed similar cases in the past! The pseudoskeptical case
against cold fusion seems to rest almost entirely on this kind of attitude
these days.

Allen Hynek wrote about this pseudoskeptical fallacy:

Probabilities, of course, can never prove a thing. When, however,
in the course of UFO investigations one encounters many cases, each
having a fairly high probability that “a genuinely new empirical observation”
was involved, the probability that a new phenomenon was not
observed becomes very small, and it gets smaller still as the number
of cases increases. The chances, then, that something really new is
involved are very great, and any gambler given such odds would not
hesitate for a moment to place a large bet… Any one UFO case, if
taken by itself without regard to the accumulated worldwide data […]
can almost always be dismissed by assuming that in that particular
case a very unusual set of circumstances occurred, of low probability
[…] But when cases of this sort accumulate in noticeable numbers, it
no longer is scientifically correct to apply the reasoning one applies to
a single isolated case.”

F.C.S. Schiller remarked on the same subject:

“A mind unwilling to believe or even undesirous to be instructed,
our weightiest evidence must ever fail to impress. It will insist on taking
that evidence in bits and rejecting item by item. As all the facts
come singly, anyone who dismisses them one by one is destroying the
condition under which the conviction of a new truth could ever arise
in the mind.”

SETTING ARBITRARY STANDARDS OF PROOF AND MOVING THE
GOALPOSTS

Changing previously agreed upon standards of evidence when those
standards have been met.

This is how pseudoskeptics have been able to say with a straight
face that there is not a shred of evidence for extraterrestrial visitation
for almost six decades. When there were only eyewitness reports, they
wanted credible eyewitnesses, such as university professors, doctors
or law enforcement officers. When they got that, they wanted photos.
When they got photos, they wanted videos and physical evidence.
When they got both, they reverted to the safe demand of the landing
on the White House lawn.

What is wrong with that demand? Every hypothesis must be tested
on its own predictions. If a hypothesis requires a certain event to
happen, and that event is not observed, then the hypothesis is falsified.
But there is no logical basis for the conclusion that if extraterrestrials
exist, they would want to make their presence generally known.
Extrapolating from the way that human zoologists use stealth to
observe wild animals, we would tend to expect extraterrestrials to
behave in the same fashion towards us. The ‘White House Test’ for
ETs is therefore illogical, because the ET hypothesis does not predict
this event to happen. That the ET hypothesis has so far failed this arbitrary
and unreasonable test means nothing.

Park’s demand for a psychokinetic who can deflect a microbalance
(in Voodoo Science) is of a similarly arbitrary nature. Even if it were
met, ample historical precedent teaches us that the skeptics would dismiss
this ability as a stage magician’s trick, or as anecdotal evidence
that proves nothing. The pseudoskeptics would, in other words, move
the goalposts.

Former nature editor John Maddox “moved the goalposts” in an
attempt to get rid of Benveniste’s paper. Even though Benveniste’s
research was solid, he would not publish it until it had been replicated
by three independent laboratories. But when that condition had
unexpectedly been satisfied, and Maddox had been forced to publish
it, he remained convinced of the invalidity of the research and abused
his position of power to discredit it.

DEBUNKERY BY ASSOCIATION

If paranormal phenomena are real, then we might just as well believe
in werewolves, fairies and unicorns! To rhetorically imply, by means
of direct suggestion or innuendo, that attempts at serious research into
anomalous phenomena are no more credible than psychic hot lines,
tabloid reports of miracles and newspaper horoscopes. James Randi is
very fond of this rhetorical technique, as he uses it ad nauseam and
beyond:

(…) cold fusion is a dead duck, the earth is not flat, and the fault
lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Effectively, Randy is suggesting that there is some kind of connection
between research into anomalous energy production associated
with hydrogen and astrology and the belief that the earth is flat. A
variation of this technique is to associate serious unconven-tional
research with mass media outlets that report on it – Park’s grotesque
discussion of parapsychological phenomena as reported by a sensationalist,
unscientific ABC program in his book Voodoo Science (p.
195-200) was already mentioned above.

Another variation on this theme is to associate an unconventional
claimant with convicted frauds who are associated with the field. Of
course, there is incompetence and fraud in every profession. There are
surgeons who cut off a wrong leg and scientists who falsify data, but
that does not lead skeptics to conclude that every surgeon is a quack
and all of science is bogus. But exactly that kind of wild, slanderous
generalization is commonly employed by pseudoskeptics to discredit
unconventional fields of inquiry. When it comes to free energy, they
discuss free energy con-man Dennis Lee. To discredit parapsychology,
they devote much time and effort to Uri Geller, Miss Cleo and
John Edward. To ridicule UFO research, they keep going back to
Adamski and his claims of arian dream women from Venus. To discredit
crop circles, they emphasize stories of crop circle researchers
who were fooled by hoaxers, as if that somehow forbade the existence
of the real thing. The possibility of health benefits from magnetic
fields is repudiated by emphasizing obviously worthless charms and
bracelets advertised in the yellow press. Acupuncture is dismissed as
unsafe because it has lead to serious injury in the hands of unqualified
practitioners.

To illustrate, here comes an excerpt from Robert L. Park’s “What’s
New” column of Friday, April 5, 2002. Under the title “Free Energy:
Perpetual Motion Scams Are At An All-Time High”, Park attempts to
discredit the Motionless Electromagnetic Generator by associating
it with Dennis Lee:

In 1999, I went to Columbus, Ohio for ABC News to witness
Dennis Lee demonstrate a permanent-magnet motor that was “more
than 200% efficient.” Actually, he didn’t really demonstrate it. He
stuck a magnet on the side of a steel file cabinet; turning to the audience
he asked, “How long do you think that magnet will stay there?”
He answered his own question, “Forever. That’s infinite energy.” Don’t
laugh, this week, Patent 6,362,718 was issued for a “Motionless
Electromagnetic Generator” that “extracts energy from a permanent
magnet with energy-replenishing from the active vacuum.”

The truly skeptical reader might wonder why Lee’s 1999 “demonstration”
is “new” on April 5, 2002. The answer, of course, is that it
isn’t. It just needed to be exhumed because the MEG is too difficult to
ridicule, given that (unlike Lee) its team of creators are physicists, its
function is described in the peer-reviewed literature (Foundation of
Physics Letters, 2001), that it has apparently been independently replicated
by French inventor Jean-Louis Naudin and that no attempts are
being made to solicit investments from individuals. To still effectively
discredit the MEG (which Park, of course, has never examined in
person), he talks about a known free-energy scam-artist in order to get
the reader into a suitably dismissive mood, and then switches the target
of his criticism at the last second, coupled with an appeal to emotional
consensus implied in the phrase “don’t laugh”. [For clarification:
I do not claim to possess any knowledge or evidence that the
MEG actually works as claimed, or that the theory behind it has any
merit whatsoever. My point is to illustrate the nature of Park’s merely
rhetorical dismissal of the MEG.]

Yet another outfit of scientific arrogance that practices debunkery
by association to ridicule unconventional research is IG Nobel, an
organization that awards its “IG Nobel Prize” annually for “achievements
that cannot or should not be reproduced”. Browsing through the
list of past winners, we find a long list of recipients who were more
than deserving of this dubious honor. In 1991, Dan Quayle, “consumer
of time and occupier of space”, is being recommended for demonstrating
“the need for science education”, and Edward Teller “for his
lifelong efforts to change the meaning of peace as we know it”. But
the same year also sees Jacques Benveniste attacked and ridiculed for
what future historians of science will come to recognize as one of the
greatest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, the experimental
proof that water can carry information. The precise phrasing of the
award also uses other pseudoskeptical techniques such as the adhominem
(“prolific proseletizer”) and misinterpretation of the actual
claim (Benveniste never claimed that water is “intelligent”).

DISMISSING CLAIMS BECAUSE OF THEIR PHILOSOPHICAL PEDIGREE

Where debunkery by association seeks to discredit claims by linking
them with similar, but unrelated, claims, this technique seeks to dis-
credit ideas by discounting their empirical merits in favor of their
philosophical origins. The Skeptic’s Dictionary gives us once again a
prime example. Under the heading “alternative health practices”,
we find the following definition:

Health or medical practices are called “alternative” if they are
based on untested, untraditional or unscientific principles, methods,
treatments or knowledge. “Alternative” medicine is often based upon
metaphysical beliefs and is frequently anti-scientific.

But doctors of alternative medicine are frequently more scientific
than their conventional colleagues. While the former employ modalities
whose safety and efficacy has been demonstrated by decades
(nutrition), centuries (homoeopathy) or millennia (acupuncture) of
clinical practice, the latter frequently derive their “scientific” knowledge
from biased information and rigged drug studies communicated
by pharma lobbyists. Death from alternative medicine is unheard of,
but side-effects of conventional treatments are estimated to kill
100,000 people in the United States every year. It is therefore hard to
dismiss alternative medicine on empirical grounds.

Yet for the pseudoskeptics, alternative medicine remains “unscientific”,
even “anti-scientific”, because much of it is inspired by
ancient beliefs and metaphysical ideas, such as the notion of a vital
energy that animates the body, or the idea that thoughts create physical
reality, not the other way. Pseudoskeptics find the notion that
ancient civilizations could have known things that are still beyond the
understanding of our current civilization deeply offensive. As rationalists,
they believe that our ancestors were without exception superstitious,
ignorant savages, and that our current understanding of nature
represents the highest level of scientific knowledge that has ever existed
on this planet. They are therefore categorically unwilling to entertain
the notion that there could be any truth or validity to medical
practices that were not developed by mechanistic, reductionist
Western medicine. Whether or not alternative medicine has any merit
is not at all a scientific question for them – it’s personal.

Truly scientific thinking, of course, accepts truth based on evidence
alone, regardless of the philosophies and beliefs of the messenger.
To a scientific mind, the question of why Samuel Hahnemann
came up with the idea of curing people with medicines that are so
highly diluted that little or no trace remains of the original substance,
has no bearing on the question of whether homoeopathy has therapeutic
value.

Another example of “dismissing claims because of their philosophical
pedigree” is how academic paleoanthropology reacted to the
challenge posed by Cremo and Thompson’s Forbidden Archeology.
Critics like to point out that the authors are “Hindu creationists” as if
that somehow implied that their scholarly achievement was without
merit. But from a logical point of view, the value of the arguments
made and evidence presented by Cremo and Thompson is completely
independent of the religious beliefs that motivated the research in the
first place, just like the big bang theory is not automatically false
because it is compatible with the Christian religious belief that our
universe was created.

SLURS AND RIDICULE

the true skeptic refrains from ad hominem attacks and name calling
while the pseudoskeptic elevates them to an art form. Examples
abound in pseudoskeptical books and periodicals.

I conclude this little phenomenology of pseudoskepticism with an
extensive quotation that reads like a compendium of invalid criticisms.
It is taken from The Memory of Water, an account of the scientific
witch hunt against Jacques Benveniste. Its author, French biologist
Michel Schiff gives a list of phrases directed by scientists at
Benveniste and his research, which I quote in its entirety:

A ‘bizarre new theory’, a ‘unicorn in a back yard’, a ‘Catch-22-situation’,
‘some form of energy hitherto unknown in physics’, ‘cloudcuckoo-
land’, ‘unbelievable research results’, ‘sticking to old paradigms’,
‘defying the rules of physics’, a ‘hypothesis as unnecessary as
it is fanciful’, ‘data that did not seem to make sense’, ‘ discouraging
fantasy’, ‘unbelievable circumstances’, ‘circus atmosphere’, ‘spurious
science’, ‘magical properties of attenuated solutions’, ‘unbelievable
results’, the ‘product of careless enthusiasm’, a ‘200-year-old brand of
medicine that most Western physicians consider to be harmless quackery
at best’, ‘dilutions of grandeur’, the ‘egotism and folly of this man
who rushes into print with a claim so staggering that if true would revolutionize
physics and medicine’, ‘mystical powers’, ‘magic’, ‘quackery’,
‘charlatanism’, a ‘therapy without scientific rationale’, ‘unicorns
revisited’, an ‘explanation beloved of modern homoeopaths’, a ‘circus
atmosphere’, ‘spurious science’, ‘belief in the magical properties of
attenuated solutions’, ‘what seems to be an aberration’, ‘results that
could not be explained by current theory’, ‘respectful disbelief of
Nobel prizewinner Jean-Marie Lehn’, the ‘cavalier interpretation of
results made by Benveniste’, ‘interpretations out of proportion with the
facts’, ‘magic results’, ‘high-dilution experiments and much of
homoeopathy with their notions of alchemy’, ‘revolutionary nature of
this finding’, ‘generally efficient physicochemical laws being broken’,
‘ throwing away our intellectual heritage’, ‘how James Bond could distinguish
Martinis that have been shaken or stirred’, a ‘delusion about
the interpretation of the data’, the ‘extraordinary claims made in the
interpretation’, ‘Cheshire cat phenomenon’, ‘no basis for concluding
that the chemical data accumulated over two centuries are in error’, the
‘circus atmosphere engendered by the publication of the original
paper’, the ‘fact that it still takes a full teaspoon of sugar to sweeten our
tea’, ‘existing scientific paradigms’, ‘throwing away the Law of Mass
Action or Avogadro’s number’, ‘original research requiring a general
science background sufficient to recognize nonsense’, ‘reports of unicorns
needing to be checked with particular care’, ‘not believing that
no-more existent molecules can leave an imprint in water’, ‘the first
issue of New Approaches to Truly Unbelievable and Ridiculous
Enigmas’, ‘speculating why water can remember something on some
occasions and forget it on others’, ‘outlandish claims’, ‘not publishing
papers dealing with nonsense theories’, ‘data grossly conflicting with
vast amounts of earlier well-documented and easily replicated data’,
‘extraordinary claims’, ‘shattering the laws of chemistry’,’ divine intervention
being probably about as likely’, ‘findings that contravene the
physicochemical laws known to science’, ‘data that purport to contravene
a couple of centuries of chemical data’, a ‘whole load of crap’,
‘1074 oceans like those of the Earth needed to contain only one molecule
of the original substance’, the ‘usual rules of interactions in biology
or in physical chemistry where the molecule is the basic vector of
information’, the ‘failure of fundamental principles’, ‘defying all laws
of physical chemistry and of biology’, ‘unbelievable results’, ‘observations
without any objective basis’, one prominent scientist pointedly
not reading Benveniste’s paper ‘because it would be a waste of his
time’, ‘standard theory offering no explanation for such a result’ and ‘a
priest stating during mass that water keeps the memory of God’.

The anger and outrage these scientists are feeling as they are trying
to come to terms with the cognitive dissonance generated by the
Benveniste results is palatable. Gone are sweet logic and reason, and
gone is the scientific method that says that evidence can never be dismissed
on theoretical grounds. The gut feeling that such results are
simply ‘unbelievable’, no matter what, dominates the response. The
existing physical models are confused with eternal laws of nature, and
their apparent inability to account for the results is taken as a personal
insult. The church fathers who refused to look through Galilei’s telescope
could hardly have been any more irrational than the highly
educated scientists who produced these outbursts of scientific bigotry.

Other online references that might be of interest are:

• Online Articles by George P. Hansen.

• Distinctions Between Intellectuals And Pseudo-Intellectuals
(Sydney Harris).

• Zen . . . and the Art of Debunkery (article by Daniel Drasin).

• On Pseudo-Skepticism (article by original CSICOP
co-founder Marcello Truzzi).

• Extraordinary Claim? Move the Goal Posts!.

• sTARBABY article by Dennis Rawlins.

• Myths of Skepticism.

• Folklore and the Rise of Moderation Among Organized
Skeptics.

• CSICOP Scare!

• Debunking the Debunkers.

• CSICOP Takes Stock of the Media.

• True Disbelievers: Mars Effect Drives Skeptics to
Irrationality.

• CSICOP: The Paradigm Police.

• The Right Man Syndrome: Skepticism and Alternative
Medicine.

• Cognitive Processes and the Suppression of Sound Scientific
Ideas.

• Symptoms of Pathological skepticism.

• The Logical Trickery of the UFO Skeptic.

• Skeptical Inquirer Smears Wilhelm Reich (Again): A
Rebuttal.

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