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Only an experiment will show what is science and what is pseudoscience
Parlamentskaya Gazeta N1461 (089) 19 May 2004 (http://www.pnp.ru/archive/14610111.html)
A scientist is developing powerful converters of various forms of energy into kinetic energy so that we can soon travel on personal flying saucers. Another transmits thoughts at a distance and teaches us to see with our skin, a third has created a superpill which not only treats all diseases but can also polish furniture. Still another states that there was no Ivan the Terrible. Yet another denies Darwin’s theory and has shown that we are descendants of demigods from distant planets.
If you believe all this then it turns out that the country is full of scientists of genius, each of whose discoveries means a revolution in world science. Only the scientific community doesn’t recognize them for some reason, calls them charlatans, and what they are doing, pseudoscience and anti-science. With each century the methodology of science has become still more complex and this has reinforced the barrier between it and pseudoscience. As the authority of science has grown, pseudoscience has adopted its terminology. Very different people employed it by the second half of the last century. A parallel “science” has arisen with its own academicians, conferences, and forums. The barrier is collapsing before our eyes. All the more often the creators of “discoveries” become people having scientific degrees. Now before almost every surname there appears “doctor of physicomathematical sciences”, “professor”, “academician of the RAN [Russian Academy of Sciences]”, or “academician of the RAYeN [Russian Academy of Natural Sciences]”.
And we have become witnesses to the next assault of pseudoscience. There was an unusual 3-day international conference in the V. I. Vernadsky State Geological Museum: “Science and the Future: Ideas Which Will Change the World”. From the name it follows that the organizers have turned to the scientific community with a proposal to share ideas which might substantially influence the future of our civilization. What such ideas will change our future?
Vladislav Shevchenko from the P. K. Shternberg Astronomical Institute of Moscow State University proposed viewing the Moon as an energy supply and the asteroids as a source of material resources.
“Already more than 200 objects are known to be approaching the Earth”, says the author of the research. “The largest is 40 km in diameter and the smallest about 10 meters. The type of 50 asteroids has been identified: metallic, carbonaceous, chondrite, or basaltic. Thanks to them the majority of these objects in near-Earth orbits with a small mass are more accessible than the Moon from the viewpoint of energy. For example, a 1-km iron asteroid has 3.8 billion tons of iron, 0.2 billion tons of nickel, and 0.04 tons of cobalt. Such a quantity of iron is equivalent to the world production of steel for five years.“
That is, the exploitation of the Moon and the extraction of resources from asteroids are sufficiently realistic. Vladislav Shevchenko received the conference’s first prize for this idea, 200,000 rubles. Unfortunately, during the discussion no one proposed creating a “net” or at least a “magnet” to catch and deliver an asteroid to Earth.
Second prize, 100,000 rubles, went to Vladimir Kopytov, a professor of Tomsk Polytechnic University, for his work, “The Levitation (Antigravity) of Material Objects, the Physical Nature of its Manifestation and Use”. In his words, an “antigravitator” is being created separately which has a lower weight than the main body and includes an energy source, a converter of supplied energy into kinetic energy in the form of a vibrating body of mass mb. As a result, if the “antigravitator” develops a vibration force somewhat exceeding the gravitational force of the oscillating mass, mb, then with several “antigravitators” one can get a resulting vibration force equal or greater than the gravitational force of the main body.
There’s only one small problem: you need just to “obtain the means” of using the surrounding “free energy” and an economy-class flying saucer will appear on your balcony.
The winners of the third prize of 50,000 rubles were Vadim Skaryatin, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, and Marina Makarova, a docent of the Ecology Department of the Russian University of the Friendship of Peoples, for [their] work, “The Reproducibility of Oil Deposits”. Here is its gist.
Underground lakes of oil dried up by drillers can be filled again with careful and effective exploitation. All this becomes possible because in breaking up hydrocarbons in the course of oil extraction a peculiar “pumping” of various chemical compounds from the interior occurs which facilitates regeneration of the deposit. The fact that at the present time a leakage and seepage of oil to the surface is being observed in many dozens of wells developed and held in reserve back in the 1940s argues in favor of this theory. It is these very facts which permit one to state that in certain geological and geophysical conditions hydrocarbons can be restored in several years.
Thus, the discovery boiled down to: Skaryatin’s theory promulgated for the first time in Moscow casts doubt on the traditional idea about the origin of oil from organic matter, which was heated and transformed in the Earth’s interior for many millions of years, and the unregenerability of its reserves.
One hundred and fifteen reports were heard at the conference. The topics were quite diverse, from “The Physical Modeling of Associative Memory for Non-Digital Coding, Recording, and Reproduction of the Words of Natural Language” to “Programs for Global Forecasting and Control of Planetary Climate”, from “Acquiring Information About the Structure of an Object through the Electroinformation Probing Method by a Group of Specially-Trained Operators” to “Long-range Radio Wave Control of Organisms”.
Avramenko advocated an initiative of creating so-called “standards of civilization”, isolated societies tasked with preserving a healthy gene pool for mankind. For the sake of preserving a “standard of civilization” in the modern world, he proposed announcing a world competition for volunteers ready to settle in isolated territories, communicating with the rest of the world only through the Internet. It is proposed to designate isolated sectors of low-population density territories in several countries whose biological conditions and climate would be acceptable for the permanent self-sufficient survival of several thousand volunteers who have settled there. These societies, in the opinion of the author, “should be economically independent, progressive, and develop the newest high-tech technologies in which the primary production factor will be human intellect”. Being completely isolated they will govern themselves but all deliveries from the outside will be subject to sterilization.
Thus, neither chemical fertilizers nor pesticides nor genetically modified plants nor biochemical food supplements nor medicinal compounds will influence the organisms of these people. The author of the report thinks that in a short time the people in the isolated territories will become standard-bearers in a number of characteristics of mankind and society, and if a biological catastrophe occurs in the future, then their genetic pool can be used to restore the human race. Roman Avramenko thinks that the most appropriate places for “standard civilizations” are Russia, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. He thinks that the most suitable place in Russia is the Kril’on Peninsula on southern Sakhalin Island.
New ideas promote the development of scientific concepts. But by no means are all ideas expressed by recognized scientists. But how could there have been a Mendel, a half-educated Brunn monk who observed the solution to the riddle of heredity in a green vegetable patch in the little monastery’s garden? How could there have been a Tsiolkovsky, a deaf Kaluga teacher who found a means to overcome the Earth’s gravity? Finally, how could there have been the famous Einstein, a Patent Bureau employee who proposed a theory which changed the ideas about the principles of the physical image of the world?
“We don’t regard new ideas as pseudoscience”, says the Chairman of the RAN Commission to Combat Pseudoscience, Eduard Kruglyakov. “Science lives and develops according its own ethnical standards. Any new effect, any discovery should find recognition first in the scientific community. Therefore the authors of any significant scientific result try to publish it in the most prestigious scientific journals, refereed ones, of course. Publicity of initial results through the mass media is considered bad form. However sensational the results there are which contradict existing scientific concepts and are unconfirmed by independent research groups, they cannot be recognized as scientific. As regards spinor and torsion fields, antigravitation, and levitation, independent scientific review has not been able to replicate the results of such ‘research’”.
One of the reasons for the growth of pseudoscience is associated with the attitude of a majority of scientists toward this phenomenon. It can be described by such terms a disgust, contempt, condescension, and collusion. Up to now the majority of scientists have not recognized the degree of danger hanging over science. The scientific community is beginning to see this, although slowly. Today there are enough volunteer scientists ready to work with the Commission to Combat Pseudoscience.
Ukraine has followed Russia’s example. There they have organized a similar commission which has taken the struggle upon itself, including against dishonest advertising in medicine. Contact has been established with it just as with international skeptical societies conducting educational work with the public in various countries.
“It seems to me that the reason for the rapid flowering of antiscience is the profound collapse of public consciousness, if one is to call things by their names”, is how Professor Sergey Kapitsa expressed his opinion. “Not long ago I became part of a UNESCO commission which was to advise the governments of developed nations on how to develop basic science. The commission noted a crisis of public consciousness and a crisis of the attitude toward science toward rational thinking and toward education which has gripped all countries and led to very serious consequences, mainly in the decline of education. For example, the President of the United States has admitted that 20% of Americans are functionally illiterate. This is a verdict essentially meaning that the country is being thrown back into the past. It is sad to admit, but there is a demand in the public for miracles, there is a desire to believe, and accordingly there will be a supply. Our task is to fight this.“
Yevgeniy Chelyshev recalls, “This problem was discussed for the first time in the RAN in 1999. “At Presidium meetings I usually sat next to the late Academician Aleksandr Leonidovich Yanshin. He always bravely and vigorously raised his voice in defense of a just cause, defending scientific fact, thinking little what others would say. Then he told me, “Yevgeniy Petrovich, I am very much afraid that the boundaries between pseudoscience and different hypotheses will be washed away in the struggle against pseudoscience. We have had many hypotheses which it was customary to consider pseudoscientific, you know, cybernetics, genetics, etc.”. Academician Yanshin then called upon scientists not to act recklessly, to beware of premature, insufficiently reasoned conclusions and categorical judgments about what is genuine science and what is beyond its limits.“
In general, whatever fantastic, antiscientific various proposals and hypotheses are submitted, they all require objective verification, an unbiased approach, and a genuinely scientific comprehension of the many secrets still remaining in a world in which, as Prince Hamlet said, "there are more things.., than are dreamt of in your philosophy".
Translated by Gary Goldberg
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