Monday, March 25, 2013

Lying For Science: The Taboo 3

Note: As I pointed out yesterday, this piece was published in draft form by mistake. I will be working on it today and will post more final versions of it later. I apologize for this.   Note:   I use the term "Skepticism" to refer to the pseudo-skeptics and the industry they've set up to promote their ideology.

After I posted the piece last week about PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne's successful campaign to get TED to suppress the TED talk by Rupert Sheldrake, I went back to re-read what they've said about him before.  Having read some of what Sheldrake has written in the past and having listened to his suppressed TEDtalk a couple of times, I am left with the impression that neither Myers nor Coyne, not to mention Sean Carroll, is, actually, familiar with what Sheldrake has said.   If you could ask them cold and unprepared, I doubt that any of them could give you accurate answers about what Sheldrake has said about much of anything.   I do believe that they all know what they're supposed to think about Sheldrake or, indeed any person or idea they believe would be placed on a "Skeptical" list of prohibited topics.   Having looked very hard at the "Skepticism" industry over the past few years, that is typical of how it operates, especially among the big name "Skeptics".  I will point out, again, that this standard of intellectual practice is in keeping with Myers' "Courtier's Reply", in which knowing nothing about such topics is deemed to be sufficient for the great and sciency.

Myers has lied about Sheldrakes' experiments in the past,  misrepresenting experiments sound enough to be published in peer reviewed journals as "a Fortean exercise in collecting odd anecdotes and unexplained phenomena".   His further charge that,  "His ‘experiments’ are exercises in gullibility, anecdote, and sloppy statistics" would have never been made by someone who had actually read the papers documenting them.  Sheldrake has demonstrated his competence in methodology and analysis in a long list of conventinal research, You can compare the list of papers Sheldrake I gave in my last post on the topic, linked to above, to that of P.Z Myers to judge which of them has a more extensive record of actually producing science.   Myers' scientific publication record seems to peter out about the same year he began his career in ideological blogging c. 2002.  It strikes me as having been somewhat modest before that, perhaps the most modest thing about him.  Sheldrake is still publishing research in reviewed journals as Myers' writing career  is mostly dedicated to spewing ideological invective.  That is also a well known career path in the "Skepticism"/atheism industry.

Rupert Sheldrake has documented similar instances in which Michael Shermer, James Randi, and other big name "Skeptics" have made statements out of demonstrated ignorance of what he's actually said.   Sheldrake has shown in several instances that they have publicly lied about it.

His report of how Richard Dawkins and his supporting media operation act  could stand as a template of "Skeptical" habits as well (underlining is by me):

We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.

The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

Richard seemed uneasy and said, "I don’t want to discuss evidence". "Why not?" I asked. "There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about." The camera stopped.

The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.

I said to Russell, "If you’re treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it’s not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise."

Richard said, "It’s not a low grade debunking exercise; it’s a high grade debunking exercise."

In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.

For anyone who has heard the word "evidence" repeated by"Skeptic"/atheists as if it were a term and concept they had a copyright on, the demonstrated disinterest that they have in actual evidence is one of a number of glaring hypocrisies endemic to the ideology.

Yet the great force of truth and science that the "Skepticism" industry passes itself off as being, goes on without correcting their dishonest record or distancing themselves from the "Skeptic" who has violated their stated standards of conduct.  I will be writing specifically about James Randi, probably the biggest fraud in the long line of celebrated figures of pseudo-Skepticism later.

The depths of the fraud that is the "Skepticism" industry has a long history, especially in its modern incarnation,  going back to the very beginning.

When the extreme skeptic, downright obnoxious atheist and founding member of CSICOP, Denis Rawlins, wrote his expose of CSICOP's quite enormous  sTARBABY scandal he tore the false front off of the most famous "Skeptics" organization, proving it to be dedicated to ideological promotion at the expense of the truth.    His account was later confirmed by Richard Kamman, a sitting member of CSICOP when he wrote his own account (The True (Dis)believers).

One of the more jaw dropping revelations made by both Rawlins and Kammann was that some of the bigger names in that "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" were entirely ignorant of statistics.   Paul Kurtz,  James Randi and Phil Klass (the last one assigned by CSICOP to write a hit job on Rawlins).*  All were entirely ignorant of the very thing they would need to know to have an informed opinion of scientific research they were attacking.   Even more shocking was the demonstrated statistical incompetence of two of the principles in the scandal,  scientists at some of the most prestigious universities,  George Abell and Marvin Zelen, whose professional work dealt with statistics.   And, as Kammann said, there was no excuse that the entire line of conduct was mere bungling:

Michel Gauquelin had already run into one group of irrational skeptics in the Belgian Para Committee who, upon unexpectedly confirming the Mars effect, dismissed their results. They fastened on the fact that babies are not born equally often during the 24 hours of the day and supposed that this could produce a spurious Mars effect. In effect, they suggested that everybody, not just sports champions, has a Mars effect.

Dennis Rawlins, then on the Council of CSICOP and its astrology subcommittee, checked this argument out mathematically and found it to be irrelevant. Nevertheless, Zelen, Kurtz and Abell grabbed the Belgian theory and publicly challenged Gauquelin to produce a control group of nonchampions. Michel and Francoise Gauquelin promptly accepted this "definitive test" as the trio called it and, as Rawlins predicted, won hands down. There was no Mars effect for ordinary people.

George Abell sensibly wrote Paul Kurtz saying the Gauquelins had won that round, and he suggested getting on with the new test on American athletes. Rawlins used this "smoking gun" letter as proof that the trio knew the true situation right from the start, but the case is not strong. Abell specifically asks in the letter what Zelen saw in the data. Meanwhile, as I described in Part 1, Zelen fancied he saw two anomalies in the data that suggested a biased sample. In my "subjective validation" scenario, Zelen's erroneous statistics became the starting point for the trio's private belief that the Gauquelins had probably cheated. By the time the paper got to print, Zelen's skeptical approach had replaced Abell's; although the trio did not openly accuse the Gauquelins of fraud, they smothered the victory under a blanket of bogus side issues, partly achieved by deleting the favorable Mars results for female champions.

Against an "innocent goofs" theory, the trio was warned before publication that their statistics were wrong, once by Michel Gauquelin and once by Elizabeth Scott, Professor of Statistics at Stanford University. (Rawlins was not consulted.) Even worse, after the paper came out, neither Scott nor Gauquelin could get space in The Humanist for a reply.

Rawlins conclusively shows that the CSICOPs who were engaged in it were less competent in statistics than Michel Gauquelin, the neo-astrologer they were attacking.   As someone whose B in undergraduate course in statistics left me feeling inadequate,  it scandalized me to find out that "Skeptics" as famous as James Randi and Paul Kurtz were entirely incompetent in a way that entirely discredited what they had to say on this subject.

The incompetence demonstrated by James Randi, Paul Kurtz, et al would leave them equally incompetent to judge the scientific study of parapsychology.  It is impossible to even intelligently reject that without understanding the statistical basis of the scientific analysis of the results of the experiments.   J. B. Rhine, one of the early targets of Kurtz et al. pioneered the use of statistical research in the social sciences.  Despite what you might read about the competence of his statistical analysis from skeptical sources, that was thoroughly studied by statisticians all along and found to be entirely competent.

Dr. Rhine's investigations have two aspects: experimental and statistical. On the experimental side mathematicians of course have nothing to say. On the statistical side, however, recent mathematical work has established the fact that, assuming the experiments have been properly performed, the statistical analysis is essentially valid. If the Rhine investigation is to be fairly attacked, it must be on other than mathematical grounds.

Dr. Burton H. Camp, President of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics

In fact, some credit Rhine and his associates with developing some of the meta-analytical methods that have become commonly used.  On the other hand, CSICOP demonstrated incompetence in statistical analysis so bad that it produced a Nixonian coverup.   As pointed out, their ability to understand the statistical arguments on which the published science rested rendered   Kurtz, Randi, Klass, etc. literally incompetent to judge it.   However, you will still find the false charges of statistical incompetence against Rhine, Pratt and other researchers into parapsychology, even when those charges have been studied by statisticians of unquestioned competence and refuted decades ago.

As the cover up began to fall apart an even wider scandal happened.  The members of CSICOP's highest levels, the "Councilors" and "Fellows" who clearly had the statistical competence to understand how badly CSICOP had compromised itself demonstrated that they were were OK with their pretense of competence.   Carl Sagan, who could have known from the beginning that the entire effort at debunking Gauquelin was a complete botch, never broke with the CSICOP establishment.  Ray Hyman, who, for decades, has attempted a long debunking effort on statistical grounds - only to have one after another of his sophisticated arguments fall to objective analysis -certainly understood that Kurtz Abel and Zelen had botched it, he certainly knew that Randi, Kurtz, Klass and others were entirely incomptent.  And those are just two of the many self-appointed guardians of science and rationality who didn't break with Kurtz and his rapidly expanding conglomerate of ideological groups and shell companies.  Those groups, some with name changes such as "CSI", constitute the core of the "Skepticism"/atheism industry today.  Many of the people, websites and other institutions of that industry have ties to Kurtz and his groups.

The greater scandal of sTARBABY is that the competent scientists involved were, ultimately, OK with lying for their ideological position.

In his account of the denouement of the sTARBABY, Denis Rawlins shows that for the CSICOP insiders,  names as big as Carl Sagan, the ideological program was more important than scientific or just plain old fashioned,  personal integrity.   As the (former) "Fellow" of CSICOP, Richard Kammann asked,  "If the Fellows and Scientific Consultants of CSICOP do not put a stop to this, who do they think will?"   Clearly no one.  Which is pretty much the case with organized "Skepticism"/atheism** today.

The even bigger scandal is how Kurtz's publicity campaign has entirely succeeded with the media which has lazily accepted his handouts instead of looking at the data from some quite rigorously conducted research into some quite modestly defined phenomena.   If Rawlins and Kammann hadn't published their expose's of sTARBABY I doubt anything would be known about it today.  The wall of silence among the remaining CSICOPS who stayed inside it even as they knew exactly how bad it was, would have held.  The list of professional scientists who didn't quit as they could not have been unaware of the scandal is quite long.

The "Skeptical" movement has always enjoyed the unquestioning confidence of the media, even going back to the early 1950s when Martin Gardner was just embarking on his career in constructing the list of prohibited ideas, joined soon after by the "Humanists" after Corliss Lamont's financial takeover.   On the one occasion I'm aware of that the record of dishonesty of the burgeoning industry was seriously challenged in the most august of newspapers, it was in J.G. Pratt's letter protesting the New York Review of Books review of C.E.M. Hansel's hit job on his and J.B. Rhine's research.  After noting Hansel's falsifying the physical layout in one of Pratt's more convincing experiments in order to claim the possibility of cheating, the real layout would have made it impossible, and showing how Garder, as he typically did, twisted innocent facts to indicate dishonesty, Pratt asked:

I strongly protest against the tone of the whole review, which is one of scorn and ridicule for an on-going field of research that the reviewer has not accepted. Mr. Gardner has every right, of course, to his opinions. But am I alone in feeling that the type of critical attack exemplified by his review is foreign to the spirit of scientific inquiry?

Well, as science is marketed, yes, those kinds of things are supposed to be foreign to the spirit of scientific inquiry.  But the "Skepticism" industry isn't about inquiry, it's an ideological debunking program.  Gardner's reply to him was a rather sinuous evasion of his points, which anyone who compared Gardner's claims about controlled research into this area with what the published papers show would see was typical of him.  As can be seen throughout its modern history, "Skepticism"  has sought to suppress the study of widely reported phenomena, glorying when laboratories and programs conducted with far higher standards of rigor and honesty than in research they accept as science, are defunded and closed down.   "Skepticism" benefits from the fact that the methods of controlled parapsychological research require a rather sophisticated knowledge of statistics whereas lying and mockery, pretending that the liar and mocker actually does have that statistical sophistication that his accepting audience,  doesn't.  If there is one thing that the "Skepticism" industry can depend on, it is that the general ignorance of statistics and the peer-reviewed, published record of parapsychology works in their favor.   Few if any of the non-scientific scribblers on this topic will go farther than the scientists of CSICOP did in looking at the facts.  Dangerously, it isn't only on this topic that ideologically and financially interested parties can depend on that  ignorance.

I've come to believe that the "Skeptics" practice the same kind of pseudo-scientific PR that the creationism and climate change denial industries do.  In fact, I think they could teach those other enterprises in industrial dishonesty a thing or two.   I don't think that it's any accident that a couple of the biggest names in pseudo-skepticism, Randi and Jillette,  have also attempted to debunk science of man made global warming, only walking it back when it was clear they'd gone too far with that one.  None of it is science, despite its popularity with a number of ideologically atheist scientists who, it would seem, haven't really read the record of research either.   They've got their faith in old-fashioned materialism and nothing, no number of experiments conducted with a level of rigor and statistical analysis that they don't practice in their own work, will shift it.  They are all (dis)honorary CSICOP "fellows".

NOTE:  In looking for online sources of things I have only in print, I repeatedly got Wikipedia articles at the top of the google search.  Reading various Wiki articles on these topics in the past few days, I've repeatedly come across seriously distorted and incomplete information that leads me to believe those articles have been compromised by ideological "editing" by pseudo-skeptics.

If you want to find accurate information about this topic, you're not going to find it except in sources whose authors are named, giving citations that can be checked for their reliability.  Many of the citations online are of things by Martin Gardner, Ray Hyman and other professional debunkers have written.  Those might be useful to look at but many, if not virtually all, of their claims have been addressed, quite often by people and groups with more professional competence and no ideological or, financial interests in the results.  Neither Hyman nor Gardner was disinterested.  The online writing on this topic is so corrupted that I wouldn't trust anything without thorough checking.

* - The Klass letter started a long and exasperating exchange in which he talked about everything but the statistical errors and the real cover-up. He kept me busy for a while answering irrelevant questions, while periodically attacking my objectivity, intelligence or integrity. From time to time, he threatened to expose my cover-up of scientific evidence he imagined he had uncovered. After he regularly ignored all my serious answers and qanuestions, I nicknamed him T.B. Diago--the best defense is a good offense. He eventually fell back on the traditional Council stance--he didn't understand statistics.

- Klass and Randi reacted to my January memos by claiming they couldn't understand the indictment!  And that is not to mention Paul Kurtz, the king pin of the "Skepticism"/atheism industry.   If he had understood the problem the scandal would never have begun.

**  The many scandals in American Atheists surrounding the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair are another example of outrageous and uncorrected dishonesty.   A student of organized atheism in the post-war period could hardly miss the obvious seediness and corruption of it.  In some of its details it rivals any of the exposed scandals in religion.  Including the promotion of pedophilia.


  1. Read the bit on Dawkins and Sheldrake, and from there went to Sheldrake's blog and then (finally) to the TED controversy.

    Very interesting.

    As Sheldrake points out, once you accept certain premises (his discussion of "materialists" and "consciousness" shows roots directly in Hume; who was a clever guy, but whose discussion of consciousness consists of the old "and then a miracle occurs" line of reasoning; i.e., consciousness occurs because it seems to, but it doesn't really, and Hume only formulated his philosophy because of sensory inputs related to pen and paper. Or something. Anyway....).

    I don't know Sheldrake's work, and for all I know he's the blind hog that found an acorn. But he convinces me Dawkins is nothing but a empty megaphone, and that you see the world you are determined to see, and hammer it into the boxes you have determined are there.

    As I say, very interesting.....

  2. Sheldrake is worth reading. I have no idea if his theory of morphogenetic fields will gain acceptance but his analysis of the problems he developed it to address are there and I don't think the materialist-reductionist program has had much of a success in addressing them, either.

    The case I laid out here is just the tip of the huge mass of "Skeptical"/atheistic replacement of their ideology for the scientific standards they pretend to observe. The entire thing is a false front of PR and ideological coercion masking a pretty corrupt industry.