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Friday, November 01, 2002
World view purification

Many interesting points in this essay by Flemming Funch.

Skeptics and Dogmatists. One of the types of deception that personally makes me the most angry is that carried out by socalled Skeptics. Not that there's anything at all wrong with being skeptical of outlandish claims. I'm skeptical too when I'm presented with new information that doesn't match my previous experience. And I'm skeptical about my own beliefs, and I'll often look for reasons to revise them towards something better. But there's are very influential Skeptics who aren't really skeptics at all, but rather people who use deceit to protect and perpetuate a certain worldview. [Ming the Mechanic]

A few quotes:

Take astrology, for example. It is a model that explains and predicts certain things about people. If it is a good one, we should be able to verify it, and the results through using astrology should be better than random results. That's not very hard to experiment with. Just gather lots of data for some thousands of people, including their birth data. Astrology will predict that certain people will be more accident prone than others, more likely to get married, more likely to have certain professions, etc. That can all be examined statistically.

But a [Dogmatic] Skeptic will usually not do any of those things. He'll be more likely to claim that astrology pre-supposes that mysterious rays are being emitted by the planets of the solar system, which are controlling people. And he will point out that science has found no such rays that control people. And thus astrology must be a fraud.

There's sort of a reverse evidence trick that is often being used to 'debunk' things that don't fit the allowed world view. [...]

The Dogmatic Skeptic approach is to reject anything that can't be proven in a repeatable manner and accepted by the established Authorities. [...]

That kind of Skepticism is very akin to a fundamentalist religion. I.e. it protects a certain belief system, a certain world view, and it uses circular arguments, rather than verification through experience. [...]

I very much suggest that everybody should gather their own baloney detection kit.

What do you think? []  links to this post    9:46:18 AM  
How to get a Ph.D. in theoretical physics - the bogus way

Let's pin those bogometers...

Stung by the Sokal Hoax, two French brothers, Igor and Grichka Bogdanov, have made a stab at righting the scales. They managed to obtain PhDs from the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon and publish 4 papers filled with nonsense:

KMS Space-Time at the Planck Scale, G. Bogdanov, I. Bogdanov , Nuovo Cim. 117B (2002) 417-424.
The KMS State of Space-Time at the Planck Scale, I. Bogdanov , Chin.J.Phys. 40 (2002) 149-158.
Space-Time Metric and the KMS Condition at the Planck Scale, G. Bogdanov, I. Bogdanov, Annals Phys.296 (2002) 90-97.
Topological Field Theory of the Initial Singularity of Space-Time, G. Bogdanov, I. Bogdanov, Class.Quant.Grav. 18 (2001) 4341-4372.

What this says about the French PhD system or refereeing in the journals (and some journals they chose! Nuovo Cimento? The Chinese Journal of Physics? Gimme a break!) is anyone's guess. But the most curious aspect of the affair was that they never even bothered to submit their masterpieces to the eprint archives. Which is to say that no one (and I do mean not a single person) actually read this stuff before the story broke...

For those unfamiliar with the field, let me explain what that means. The abstracts of new papers submitted to hep-th are read daily by thousands of physicists. If the abstract sounds interesting, hundreds will download and read it. Feedback (positive or negative) comes swiftly and copiously. If (like 99.9% of all scientists), you want to get your work noticed and read, you send it to the archives.

If, on the other hand, you want your work to "fly under the radar" and make it into a journal, having been read only by one other person (the overworked referee, and, in this case, perhaps not even by him), then you studiously avoid sending your work to the archives. Since no one in our field reads the journals anymore (why bother, when the archives are so much more convenient?), no one will be the wiser.

For more discussion of the unfolding "scandal", see this Usenet thread.

The plot thickens: The Bogdanov brothers are not listed among the current or recent PhD students of the Lab. Have their names been pulled from the website, or is this all a put-up job?

Apparently, the Bogdanov brothers have been at this game for a while.
I've been pulling up reviews on the web of their 1991 book, "Dieu et la Science" (God and Science), written with Jean Guitton of the Académie Française. From the excerpts, it appears to be written as an extended "interview", with Guitton as the interviewer, and the Bogdanov brothers responding (with what sounds to me to be mostly bullshit). But . . . and here's the interesting bit . . . all the reviews I pulled up from Google credit the Bogdanov brothers as having PhDs in theoretical physics and astrophysics (when they wrote the book, in 1991!).


Follow-up: the Bogdanov brothers deny that this is a hoax.

Here are more reports on bogus science collected by yours truly.

What do you think? []  links to this post    9:14:27 AM  
An Internet way of self-knowledge

Here's a concise but thought-provoking essay by Jorn Barger on using the net to undermine the self-knowledge taboo. Jorn stresses the usefulness of weblogs as a means of self-discovery, echoing Rebecca Blood's "side effects of blogging".

Keeping a weblog of your reading on the Web forces you to commit to some opinion on each link, and publishing that opinion forces you to take full responsibility for it. [...]

Learning to write well also involves seeing-thru these self-deceptions, and hearing that tone in your written voice when you're running-away from truth... and writing on the Net, where every class of critic is potentially just a click away, helps focus this. [...]

Academia and the law often reward obfuscation as a way of making trivialities more impressive, and lies more credible. 

But web-hypertext is useful to the degree that it resists obfuscation, instead laying out its insights as clearly as possible. [...]

Paradoxically, the 'Semantic Web' movement is forcing computer scientists to confront their own lack of self-knowledge. (By analogy with the 'event horizon' of black holes, this lack can be called the self-knowledge horizon.)

[via Psybertron]

What do you think? []  links to this post    8:23:18 AM  

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