Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Posts Tagged ‘Marcello Truzzi’

Organized so-called “Skeptics” groups

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/08/04

Those of us who have been seriously and open-mindedly interested in such controversial topics as Loch Ness Monsters, UFOs, parapsychology, etc., etc., are quite familiar  with the dogmatic attitudes of individuals and groups that designate themselves as Skeptics. The earliest and iconic such groups were CSICOP: The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and its analogous group in Germany, GWUP: Gesellschaft zur Wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften.

When they were first established,  some individuals took seriously the mission statements of investigating scientifically these controversial topics; but as it became clear that these groups aimed not at unbiased investigation but were concerned to ensure that such pseudo-science would not ever find acceptance in the wider society, a few prominent individuals resigned from the groups amid a certain amount of public to and fro. Marcello Truzzi resigned from CSICOP and Edgar Wunder from GWUP.

A wide-ranging  retrospective and updated discussion of the dogmatic character of the so-called “Skeptical”  groups has been published in the Zeitschrift für Anomalistik (Journal of Anomalistics), 21 (2021) issue 1; it is freely available at https://www.anomalistik.de/zeitschrift/inhalt/zfa-21-1 (my thanks to Harry Kriz for this information). It is well worth reading by anyone interested in these matters, and much of the issue is either written in English or accompanied by a translation into English.

 Edgar Wunder writes about past and present and clarifies his own position, which has often been misdescribed. All the commentaries are well worth reading, including an introductory editorial by Gerhard Mayer (Science, faith, faith in science). I was particularly impressed by the brief, cogent, insightful piece by Dean Radin (On pathological skepticism).

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From uncritical about science to skeptical about science: 5

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/09

Learning from what science ignores — within science as well as outside

The Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE) had been founded at the start of the 1980s by scientists, engineers, and other scholars who believed that there was sufficient substantive evidence, enough sheer facts, to warrant proper scientific investigation of topics ignored by science or dismissed as fictive, existing not in Nature’s reality but only in human imaginations: psychic phenomena; flying saucers or UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects); cryptozoology — animals unknown to biology, or extinct animals said to be still extant; as well as such heretical views as that the theory of relativity is unsound [1].

Being ignored in the face of apparently good evidence was the shared bond within SSE. Few if any of us shared belief in the reality of all the topics that one or more members favored. I certainly didn’t. In fact, I soon began wondering how it was that so many competent, accomplished, intelligent, highly educated, cosmopolitan people could believe firmly in things that seemed to me highly implausible, at best doubtful.

The next insight followed naturally: My new colleagues surely wondered how I, a successful  chemist and cosmopolitan Dean of Arts and Sciences, could firmly believe in the reality of the Loch Ness Monster.

My fascination over that had begun through random chance, a book picked up and riffled through. No doubt something analogous, some unplanned experience, had set my new colleagues off on their particular interests.

There is an important general point to be made here. Scientists characteristically have an intellectual blind spot — certainly I do: imagining that beliefs are created by factual knowledge, remain held because of factual evidence, and can be changed by new facts. That is simply not the case.
Interest or some other stimulus is crucial. Why does one ever seek facts in some specific direction?
Everyone would likely look for reliable knowledge about something pertinent to health, family matters, earning a living; but it can also happen by chance, by happening upon a book picked up at random. So there is no reason why others should find interest where I happen to.

And it is not sufficient that good and respected friends and colleagues urge one to look at the facts. I have maintained only an observer’s interest in most of the matters that absorb others in the Society. Even though I’d quite like to know enough to warrant having an informed opinion, the problem is the sheer amount of time and effort needed to wade through all the claims and counterclaims before reaching a reasonably firm belief or disbelief. Outside chemistry, I’ve looked in enough detail at only three major controversial topics: Loch Ness Monsters, HIV/AIDS, and global warming (or climate-change).

That there are a great variety of different specialized interests in the Society for Scientific Exploration was not a disturbing factor. We talked (and wrote and published [2]) about our interests and claimed facts and speculations, and benefited from constructive mutual criticism, sometimes quite incisive.  Frustration at the lack of interest from mainstream science was and remains an overwhelmingly strong bond. A corollary is something like shared disdain for the individuals and groups who wage public campaigns about the purported dangers to society of believing in the reality of UFOs, Bigfoot, psychic phenomena and the like [3]. Those activists, who purport to be supporters and defenders of science, typically describe themselves as Skeptics [4], a grossly misleading misnomer since they are dogmatists of the highest order, unwilling to contemplate that official or mainstream science might be wrong in any particular — a stance that ignores the whole history of science.
To my mind, the real danger to society stems from such arrogantly dogmatic groups which insist that everyone share their particular beliefs, as is all too commonly the case with specific religions or, in this case, scientism, the religious faith that science be acknowledged as the sole authoritative source of knowledge and understanding.
These “Skeptics” (Truzzi famously and aptly called them “pseudo-skeptics”) criticize the topics of interest within SSE as pseudo-science, but SSE advocates scientific exploration, seeking the best available facts about Nature and trying to explain and understand them. SSE has quarrels not with “science” but with the too-many career scientists who behave unscientifically in forming opinions without looking at the facts, and then defend those opinions dogmatically.

When I analyzed the Velikovsky Affair [5], what had then most struck me was how incompetently the scientific community had criticized Velikovsky’s pseudo-science, and how little so many scientists seemed to understand what science is really about. Several decades later, having written articles and books about the prevalence of dogmatism in science [6], I can see in retrospect that I had overlooked or not noticed or missed the significance of how insufferably dogmatic the criticisms of Velikovsky had been. Yet that dogmatism was far from a minor part of the Affair; it surely played some part in bringing some social scientists and humanists to rally to Velikovsky’s defense.

The Society for Scientific Exploration also led to my learning about the extent of dogmatism within mainstream science. The society offered a forum not only for topics dismissed as pseudoscience, we also heard at times about  the suppression of unorthodox views within mainstream science. For example, Thomas Gold was widely acknowledged and applauded for his original insights in astrophysics, but mainstream science wanted nothing to do with his ideas about the origin of what are said to be fossil fuels in the Earth  and about life having originated deep in the earth rather than in warm ponds on its surface [7]. Gold also favored the steady-state theory of the cosmos rather than the accepted paradigm of the Big Bang. Halton Arp, an observational astronomer, published data that support the steady-state theory, whereupon mainstream science refused to allow him further access it to the telescopes he needed [8]. A variety of observations indicate that earthquakes may be predictable by electromagnetic or other signals, but mainstream geology will have none of it [9]. “Cold fusion” remains beyond the pale despite intriguing evidence from competent mainstream researchers [10].

I learned that even distinguished mainstream researchers who take a distinctly different view from the prevailing majority consensus are treated no better than are those of us accused of espousing pseudo-science, in fact they often have it worse: their unorthodoxies can damage their career, whereas most members of SSE earn their living by something quite separate from their oddball interests, which are more hobbies, things pursued in amateur fashion, out of sheer fascination and not as a way to earn a living.

So Loch Ness Monsters led me to SSE and SSE led me to recognize how widespread throughout mainstream science is the passionately dogmatic, even vindictive suppression of minority opinion [6] — quite contrary to the popular view of science, the idealistic view that remains my own vision of how science should be carried on.

It seemed natural, then, in my new academic career in STS, to make my special interest the study of scientific controversies and of what exactly distinguishes genuine proper science from what is widely denigrated as fringe, alternative, or pseudo science [1].
My research focus required looking for examples of scientific controversies to study. I don’t recall what first alerted me that there was dissent from the belief that HIV causes AIDS, that there was ever any controversy about it, but I did come across that in the early 1990s.
That is what eventually taught me that what taken-as-authoritative institutions nowadays proclaim in the name of science should never be automatically trusted; it should be fact-checked. The dogmatism, careerism, and institutional as well as personal conflicts of interest that are now rampant in contemporary science have actually brought official public policies and actions that are contrary to the facts of reality, have harmed massive numbers of people, and threaten to cause yet further damage.

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[1]    Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press 2001
[2]    The Journal of Scientific Exploration began publication in 1987. It is now freely available on-line
[3]    Examples are discussed and critiqued at p. 200 ff. in [1]
[4]    The iconic organization was CSICOP (Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), founded in 1976 by predominantly non-scientists (philosophers, psychologists, writers, amateur investigators) but including a few prominent scientists, for example Carl Sagan; it publishes Skeptical Inquirer and includes under matters criticized as “paranormal”, claims of the existence of what would be perfectly natural creatures
[5]    Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press, 1984
[6]    Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland,  2012
[7]    Fuel’s Paradise
[8]    Halton Arp, Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies, Interstellar Media, 1987; Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science, Apeiron, 1998
[9]    On earthquake prediction, but more generally about matters that global tectonics (“continental drift”) does not adequately explain, see the NCGT Journal
[10]  The topic is nowadays thought to be not the fusion originally inferred but the general phenomenon of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), nuclear transformations at ordinary temperatures

Posted in conflicts of interest, denialism, global warming, medical practices, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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