|Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society|
|Why is Pseudoscience Dangerous?|
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The end of the 20th century was marked by the flowering of astrology, mysticism, occultism, etc. in many countries of the world. However the USSR (in the last years of its existence) and Russia occupy a special place in this sense. The state of ruin, the crushing of old ideals, and the lack of new ones has led to exhausted, desperate people starting to hope only for a miracle...
No little credit for this belongs to the mass media which has unfortunately not been able to make reasonable profit from one of the great achievements of the post-Soviet period, freedom of speech. The license and irresponsibility of the majority of the mass media has led to anti-scientific nonsense literally filling the pages of newspapers, magazines, radio and television. In recent years a new phenomenon has arisen which did not exist before. Pseudoscience has turned into a powerful, well-organized force. In the last 10 years 120 academies have arisen in Russian, many of which simply discredit this word. Several of them "rubber stamp" professionally unfit doctors of sciences in various scientific disciplines, of course not unselfishly, and at the same time in anti-scientific [disciplines]: astrologers, UFOlogists, and the rest of the public received diplomas. Things are no better in the West. For example, the New York Academy in the US has been turned into a purely commercial enterprise. For a little over $100 it eagerly accepts both scientists and pseudoscientists alike into its ranks.
In Russia even research institutes of an anti-scientific bent have appeared. Here's just two examples: The International Institute of Space Anthropoecology and the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics. The first of these managed even to get government accreditation with the aid of the Ministry of Science. And the second received financial aid from this same ministry for several years and from the Ministry of Defense for the well-known fraud with torsion fields. I want to note that Russia is no exception. For example, in the US a Maharishi University has arisen whose activity bears little resemblance to intellectual activity.
Naturally, peaceful coexistence between science and pseudoscience is impossible. From time to time science tries to expose pseudoscience. The latter responds with ferocious hatred. When necessary it was not averse to quitting the Russian Academy of Sciences. This academy really prevents latter-day "scientists". Here are several quotes illustrating their aspirations. "By the end of the 1990s such a considerable arsenal of facts, conceptual conjectures, and extravagant technologies had accumulated on the periphery of official academic science requiring thorough and unbiased understanding that this is giving many scientists the hope of expecting the appearance of a new scientific paradigm at the beginning of the third millennium".
"The scientific paradigm is hopelessly outdated. The epoch of materialistic science which does not recognize thought is over". Meanwhile, in the words of such "scientists", "the influence of thought on the chemical composition of liquid has been proven".
"The world's leading physicists and philosophers have warned of the groundlessness of the modern paradigm and its foundations".
Thus, pseudoscience predicts the complete collapse of science if it does not change the scientific paradigm. Meanwhile, in the words of Academician Zh. Alferov, who was recently awarded a Nobel Prize, "No preconditions for an outburst or a crisis in quantum physics are being observed. Everything is quiet right now in the kingdom of physics by the strictest standards".
Where does such a passionate desire to change the scientific paradigm come from? Here's a revelation from one of the pseudoscientists: "The dogma of experimental research of 19 centuries has been widely disseminated to the present time: only a methodology which ensures the reproducibility of experimental results whenever and wherever acquired is recognized as 'scientific'. One would think it is not necessary to explain what a life of paradise it would be for pseudoscience if this "dogma" were abolished. And all the same it is appropriate to cite the revelations of the chief theoretician of the so-called science of torsion fields, Academician G. Shipov of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. "There is now no doubt of the existence of telepathy, levitation, clairvoyance, and past life regression, or that the energy of consciousness plays a certain role in physical processes". But since science does not recognize all this nonsense it follows that "official science will lag behind new developments".
For a long time science has regarded pseudoscience too condescendingly. This can no longer continue. Pseudoscience is becoming dangerous not just to science but to society. Alas, the bacchanalia of paranormal nonsense is beginning to have an effect on the highest echelons of power. I would say more: the bureaucracy which represents the highest bodies of power in the country is staring to join pseudoscience. There is no lack of examples on this score. Chumak and Kashpirovsky appeared on TV screens at the end of the 1980s. But in those years TV was controlled by the state! This means that the miracle workers appeared on the screens with the consent of high-ranking officials. Meanwhile, if they wanted, the bureaucrats could have at leastfound out that Mr. Chumak was not original: the stunt of "charging" water was revealed back at the start of the 20th century by American physicist Robert Wood.
The sad fact that at one time Mr. Kashpirovsky made it into the State Duma of the country and that Mr. Chumak tried to do this deserves mention. In the case of the above men, unfortunately the authors of the laughable farce devised in Russia (and, yes, not only in Russia) are not known. In the next story the author is known: M. Maley, the Chairman of the Interdepartmental Commission for Defense Industry Science and Technology Issues of the RF Security Council. The goal which he pursued seemed quite reasonable: "From the point of view of the Security Council our task is to correctly filter the main avenues [of research] and orient present and future leaders of the country regarding Russia's starting position in the scientific and technical revolution". In order to prepare Russia's "scientific breakthrough" in this revolution, Mr. Maley created a "large government research center". This is praiseworthy in itself: a high-ranking government bureaucrat is supporting the development of science. Alas, when he described the missions of this center, the horrifying ignorance of a bureaucrat started to make him uneasy: "A change of concepts from quantum physics to neutral physics is coming, from a vacuum as emptiness to the concept of a neutrino field. We have several projects at the engineering development stage which contradict common sense and are not described by a single equation...". A few "pearls" could be added to this which characterize the activity of the Center, but it's hardly worth it. At the same time I want to mention that O. Lobov, the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, who supervised the work of the Council in the first years of the existence of the new Russia, also managed "to distinguish himself". He was the patron of the introduction to Russia of the ill-famed sect, Aum Shinrikyo.
Astrologers, psychics, and latter-day "scientists" of other "professions" are every more energetically penetrating the State Duma, the power ministries, and even the President's entourage. Here are recent examples. A laboratory of psychics was created in the Ministry of Extraordinary Situations and, although nothing has yet been achieved, the laboratory nevertheless exists and supported. A military astrologer has appeared in the Ministry of Defense. In addition, the Ministry has created a specialized military unit "manned" with psychics, wizards, and other riff-raff. Of course, the research is done in secret. I would like to note that only bureaucrats with dirty hands have an interest in senseless secrecy. It breeds a lack of control and corruption.
A Center of Extreme Medicine has been created in the Ministry of Defense. Such an action seems reasonable at first glance. However let's listen to the chief of a directorate of the Center, Prof. P. Shalimov. "We are testing charged water and studying the human aura". One often hears groans in the mass media of the insufficient level of financing the army. And at the same time in the bowels of the Ministry of Defense many resources are being expended on suppporting all kinds of structures with an antiscientific orientation. General G. Rogozin, the Deputy Chief of the Security Service of the President, dealt with astrological predictions, occult sciences, etc. besides his primary responsibilities. At the end of 1998 on the basis of an analysis of predictions by Nostradamus Rogozin predicted the start of a nuclear war in July-August 1999. Fortunately, this person is no longer in the President's entourage.
Grabovoy, a psychic and academician of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, has performed mental testing of the flight readiness of President B. Yeltsin's airplane. And recently the government "Rossiyskaya Gazeta" informed readers how Mr. Grabovoy took part in underground tests of a nuclear weapon in Semipalatinsk where he tested the influence of a certain instrument on a nuclear explosion, a "crystal module". It was maintained that switching on the instrument reduces the power of a nuclear explosion by half. If several such devices were used simultaneously, the force of the explosion could be "nullified". In today's conditions the instrument could be used at atomic power stations where it would serve as protection against accidents. It is immediately apparent to any physicist that all this is a scam but all the same I had to conduct an official investigation. It showed the following: Mr. Grabovoy had never participated in tests of an atomic weapon at Semipalatinsk. Accordingly, a "crystal module" had also not been tested there. I managed to find out in passing that the "doctor of technical and doctor of physicomathematical sciences" had never defended any dissertations. "Academician" Grabovoy is not listed in the Italian Academy of Sciences. It is unfortunate that the government "Rossiyskaya Gazeta" is deceiving readers and not for the first time.
A quite strange exhibition was organized at the previous session of the State Duma at which the chief exhibit was a couch psychic who treated almost 100 illnesses, including impotence and frigidity. The same Duma held hearings on the problem of protecting Russian citizens against UFOs. In order to understand how this could happen I will cite the statements of the Deputy Chair of the State Duma Committee on Ecology, Doctor of Technical Sciences (!) V. Tetel'man: "Science has identified quite a few examples of natural bioresonant processes which influence the human organism. For example, everyone knows the geopathogenic zones, of which there are a great many on Earth. Their main feature is that the flow of time changes there. For example, scientists have established that precision clocks give false readings in the region the Tunguska meteorite fell, in the areas of nuclear tests, around the Chernobyl atomic power station, and other godforsaken places". "It was noted that places with an anomalous time flow are located where there are flows of large masses of water through the surrounding region". I hope that now it is understood who organized the above exhibition and hearings and who tried to push through an absurd law about protecting the energy information welfare of the population. To its credit, the present Duma has not as yet permitted itself any such thing.
Alternative medicine is developing quickly and a multitude of dishonest swindlers hover Óround it fleecing unfortunate sick people whom traditional medicine is not able to help. Newer and newer instruments appear on the market which save sick people from any illnesses. Recently a "New Cardiomag" appeared for sale (the price was only 500 rubles), supposedly helping hypertension, ischemic heart disease, arterial hypertension, stenocardia, and head pain. Can one speak of the conscience of the creators of this "instrument" if one of them, A. Naumov M.D., writes in a Kardiomag advertisement: "This is an ecologically pure self-contained source of a gravitational field, pulsed bipolar current, and permanent magnetic field with special energy characteristics (Izvestiya, 14 March 2001). The Vita instrument is mentioned in the 24 July 2001 issue of the newspaper Izvestiya. Don't think that it is somehow different from the multitude of others. A new property was simply arose in this case: the open lobbying of useless instruments by high-ranking officials. V. Yanvarev, a Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Development is requesting federal executive agencies and the executive agencies of [Russian] Federation entities to "assist chief medical officers in introducing the Vita device". But Prof. Ye. Belyayev, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Russia, shamelessly recommends "the use of the Vita bioenergy security device at enterprises and institutions, ground and air transport...". Even if this instrument actually protected against electromagnetic radiation it is improper for high-ranking government officials to engage in lobbying. And if Mr. Belyayev signs a letter concluding with the words: "For questions of obtaining the Vita instrument see..." and the address and telephone number of the firm follows, the suspicion arises that the official is not doing all this unselfishly.
It remains to add the finding of an expert review panel on the instrument:
"1. The Vita device is not a means to protect against the biological influence of electromagnetic fields.
2. The technical and advertising information presented deceives potential buyers".
It is incomprehensible why the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences is silent. It would seem time to speak out.
The increased activity of pseudoscience in attempts to obtain money through the power structures bypassing expert review ought to be noted. Many examples could be cited when pseudoscientists managed to get money from government sources. The best known scam was based on torsion fields. In addition, "research" has been noted on antigravity and the transmutation of elements with an attempt to obtain gold (of course, this is not about the well-known way to transmute with the aid of a nuclear reaction, but about a modern version of alchemy).
In a similar atmosphere a special Commission to Combat Pseudoscience and the Falsification of Scientific Research was created in the Russian Academy of Sciences at the end of 1998. One of the first acts of the Commission was the preparation of a special appeal which was considered and adopted by the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This appeal was published by much of the Russian mass media.
Members of the Commission have repeatedly spoken out in newspapers and magazines, on radio and television, and have send suggestions to the leadership of the country. One could say that the appearance of the Commission and its work with the mass media are leading to an improvement of the situation. Sympathizers have appeared among journalists, horoscopes have disappeared in several newspapers and science departments have appeared in turn, and scientists have begun to be invited onto television more frequently. However all these are only positive symptoms. It is a long way to a final victory over pseudoscience.
In conclusion I would like to direct your attention one story. About 25 years ago swindlers hanging around science penetrated the French government with the idea of using all-penetrating rays to detect oil deposits. (This is very much like our torsion fields! And our Mr. Akimov has already offered his services to someone to prospect for oil!). And so French President Giscard d'Estaing stopped this swindle: "I think it necessary to conduct an expert analysis in order to uncover possible falsification".
No long ago several members of the Commission (Academicians Ye. Aleksandrov, V. Ginzburg, and Eh. Kruglyakov) sent a letter to Russian President V. Putin. In this letter we called the President's attention to the dangerous growth of the influence of pseudoscience in the country. Among several measures we suggested the first was an expert analysis by the Russian Academy of Sciences of projects which concern the fundamental laws of nature. We hope that the President of Russia will follow the example of the President of France and introduce a careful expert analysis of projects. If this happens, we will be able to observe the cleansing of science of filth and the ignominious flight of pseudoscience.
Eh. Kruglyakov, Academician
Translated by Gary Goldberg
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