An Open Letter to James Randi on Skepticism about Mainstream Science

* A prefatory note
* Is cold fusion the same as ESP as regards the Randi prize?
* Some quotes on social problems in science
* Homeopathy as a big picture example
* What about future magic?
* A personal disclaimer

January 29, 2011 Last updated: Feb 2, 2011

An Open Letter to James Randi and the James Randi Educational Foundation on Skepticism about Mainstream Science


I guess you might say what I am trying to do here is save you a million dollars, so you can keep it around to keep debunking the more usual paranormal claims related to ESP and so on. :-) In general, I think your skepticism about cold fusion is commendable and well warranted, but, a flat denial of its possibility is shading into the area where science progresses by going beyond what we know well and exploring into that which we are just speculating about (such as the exploration of human flight over a century ago that eventually led to success after much skepticism and many failures). I am concerned that you may have not been skeptical enough about the claims of mainstream hot fusion scientists when they dismiss something like cold fusion that might impact their funding. As I reflect on that issue of cold fusion, and think as well about another contentious human enterprise like homeopathy and as it compares to mainstream medicine with its own problems, I guess I begin to wonder about the general issue of the limits to knowledge given it is part of a social process. You have made it all too clear how anything involving people is subject to corruption and confusion for several reasons. I quote several fairly mainstream academics who say the same thing. So, this is plea in a way for skepticism about mainstream science. Of course, if one is skeptical about mainstream science, then that opens the door to all sorts of possibilities, either now, or in the future as our technology and science continue to change. I also mention in passing nutritional interventions to cure heart disease that you may have an interest in following up on.

A prefatory note

As a prefatory note, I had some email back-and-forth between James Randi on cold fusion and mainstream medicine after sending him a copy of a a version of this, and I am thankful to him for his time. It's not 100% clear to me that the Randi prize is still available for cold fusion claims at this point, even though he remains skeptical about past claims as well as current ones.

Also, as I sent to him in a subsequent email, the essence of what I learned through writing this is that I feel a really thorough skeptic has to be open to the "paranormal" to some degree, since, in the end, what gets defined as "normal" is essentially a social process, and so that is subject to all the problems such social processes can have. And then, on top of that, there is the psychological dimension of all that, and how we as individuals, relate to what a social process is trying to tell us for whatever reasons. So, while it is true that the overly credulous may embrace the paranormal without thinking, I feel a true skeptic has to accept that there may always be things beyond our current understanding.

It's really hard to know who to trust sometimes in this world, or when to look further even when we think we have an answer, even as we do need to trust in some things to some degree every day just to get by. I'd suggest if we are willing to point our skepticism at mainstream science, it often does not fare that well.

In any case, science seems to change over time by bringing a small subset of the paranormal into the range of the normal (like, say, considering that stress effects immune function), and also by taking some of the normal and pushing it into the paranormal (like, say, suggesting that the sun does not go around the Earth when it obviously moves through the sky, or in suggesting that the continents move when they obviously feel solid, and so on). So, perhaps, there are limitations to a prize about proving the "paranormal" if it is construed broadly (beyond a notion of ESP, Telekenisis, etc.), as what is "normal" and what is "paranormal" may then become issues of semantics and degree?

Someone else I've corresponded with about this put issue of "skepticism" most insightfully:

"Real skepticism means questioning your own beliefs. Anybody can challenge the beliefs of other people -- religious fanatics do it all the time."

See also a book on cognitive dissonance and decision making:
    "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts"

That said, I no doubt personally make those sorts of mistakes myself all the time (probably even in this essay). That's the nature of such mistakes, they are usually hard to see for yourself, and often easier to see for other people.

For example, here is a missionary who began to question what he believes after interacting with a happy people more focused on the present and only accepting the evidence they could see:
    "Christian Missionary Deconverted by Tribe"

Or, more controversially, by Marshall Brain:
    "Understanding delusion"

Still, as with an Albert Einstein quote towards the end of this essay, I feel there are limits to only believing what you can see for yourself first-hand, since much of our humanity and morality comes from interactions with other people and accumulated information in various forms in terms of human traditions, imaginations or possibly revelations, stories, and a set of supposed facts. Without all those, we might be less than "human" in some social and moral sense, and we'd also probably be much more limited in our capacities technically (as science and technical understanding builds on itself). But even then, what is human is itself subject to complex thoughts about experiences, imaginations/revelations, traditions, stories, and "facts".

So, I feel there are no easy answers about faith and skepticism.

I myself feel there are fundamental mysteries in the universe relative to consciousness as well as our own limited human capacities for awareness, memory, feeling, and thought in this form (or plane) of existence. I feel any particular human-created model of the universe may be subject to those limits. (I wrote about this topic from an evolutionary psychology perspective more than a quarter century ago in my undergraduate thesis on "Why Intelligence: Object. Stability, Evolution, and Model".) But, even as I can see there may be limits, I am not claiming to really understand those mysteries myself, beyond just the everyday sense of wonder. Or beyond an understanding (incorrect at times, no doubt) of various issues that any person might have from living in a culture that discusses and investigates all sorts of things in a variety of ways.

Still, I find it intriguing that when you turn skepticism on itself or on science (especially a scientific enterprise involving limited humans often embroiled in arguments about funding, prestige, and social power), in some ways, such skepticism does open a door to all sorts of possibilities. :-)

The skeptical (and sadly, late) James P. Hogan might have been saying something like that in his book "Star Child", which has a somewhat mystical and ambiguous twist towards the end:
I read that book to my own child in the days after James P. Hogan's death. I hope the essence of James P. Hogan is indeed on to better things, and that he would not be offended by me suggesting that. :-) But, I can also accept that, on this plane of reality, I will probably never know for sure.

Is cold fusion the same as ESP as regards the Randi prize?

In looking for comments on the recent cold fusion claim in Italy, I came across a discussion of that on your online discussion board. I also subsequently found some alleged correspondence with you about cold fusion that someone had put online in a comment to someone's blog entry about cold fusion.

    "Andrea A. Rossi's new cold fusion claims"

"[JoelKatz wrote:] Apparently, Andrea A. Rossi (I think his web site is at is now claiming to have a device that takes 400W in and produces 15KW out. It's roughly the size of a large suitcase and claimed to be able to run for six months, powered on about 1 gram of nickel. ... I'm guessing it's an investment scam, as these things usually are. But he's claimed an unusually tight timetable, which usually makes it hard to make much money on this kind of thing. Does anyone have any links to skeptical articles on this particular claim or Andrea Rossi generally? ..."

And from what Jed Rothwell claims at another website, you, James Randi, (purportedly) wrote around May 2006:
    "Fusion is a dish best served cold (see the comments)"

"[James Randi in quotation:] Let's leave it here: the million-dollar prize of the James Randi Educational Foundation is available for the operation of a practical working version of the "cold fusion" claim."

Frankly, I think that offer is a mistake. :-) And you will probably eventually have to fork over the money unless you backpedal on that a bit, in the same way Lord Kelvin has been lampooned for a century for saying heavier-than-air human flight as impossible.

I feel considering cold fusion into the same category as, say, everyday working telephone psychics may be a case of overreach. I'm not saying you or anyone else are not right to be skeptical of specific cold fusion claims. It's true that (my humorous phrasing) "Extraordinary claims require at the very least ordinary evidence." :-) I don't know enough about cold fusion to be sure if it has met that level of evidence (a short demo could be faked in numerous ways), let alone an extraordinary level of evidence like being able to buy working devices (as Andrea Rossi promises in a few months, and we'll see if he delivers). But, somehow this lumping together cold fusion (a plausible engineering issue) with the paranormal bothers me.

I guess I can try to understand your feelings about both cold fusion and ESP in the sense that you may think the same *social* and *psychological* forces are going on between people presumably trying to make money or get social power or publicity in either case? And I won't deny that there may well be individual cases of cold fusion research where that is quite true. But while I agree skepticism makes sense in specific cases, I see a problem in lumping the idea of cold fusion into a general category of "paranormal" or "outside science".


"Webster's Online Dictionary defines "paranormal" as "not scientifically explainable; supernatural."

And the FAQ continues:

"... Authority does not rest with scientists, when emotion, need, and desperation are involved. Scientists are human beings, too; they can be deceived and self-deceived ... Scientists can be wrong -- sometimes, very wrong. The history of science is replete with serious errors of judgment, bad research, faked results, and simple mistakes, made by scientists in every field. The beauty of science is that it corrects itself by its own nature and design. By this means, science provides us with increasingly clearer views of how the world works. Unfortunately, though science itself is self-correcting, sometimes the scientists involved do not correct themselves. And there is not a single example of a scientific discovery in the field of parapsychology that has been independently replicated. That makes parapsychology absolutely unique in the world of science."

I agree with that sentiment in general -- a least as far as all but the last two sentences, which I am not up on the literature enough to know about. I do know of work like at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab that seemed, overall, sincere, even if controversial (more on that later). But Wikipedia represents both sides of that argument:

"PEAR closed its doors at the end of February 2007 with its founder, Robert G. Jahn, concluding that after tens of millions of trials they had demonstrated that human intention has a slight effect on random-event machines.[9] "For 28 years, we've done what we wanted to do, and there's no reason to stay and generate more of the same data,"[1] Jahn said. Jahn felt that the work showed, on average, people can shift 2-3 events out of 10,000 from chance expectations.[9] These tiny deviations from chance have failed to convince mainstream scientists who feel that the effect is inconsistent and that relatively few negative studies would cancel it out.[5] Physicist Robert L. Park said of PEAR, "It's been an embarrassment to science, and I think an embarrassment for Princeton".[1] Park maintains that if a coin is flipped enough times, even a slight imperfection can produce more than 50% heads, and that the "tiny statistical edges" PEAR reported are the result of statistical flaws.[9]"

Whatever one thinks about ESP and Psychokinesis sorts of things, I agree that cold fusion may (at times) be an example of self-delusion by some scientists (as well may be ESP in most or all cases). I'm reluctant to say the entire field of cold fusion is delusion and fraud, though. I think there is a lack of evidence on your part to jump to that assumption. The only thing you are basing that conclusion on is probably the statements of mainstream scientists whose prestige and funding is on the line, and so, they themselves are subject to confusion and bias. Where is your skepticism about human nature about mainstream scientists as regards their current mainstream physics models that are interwoven with their sense of identity and social standing? :-)

Pretty much any physical scientist would say fusion of atomic nuclei is possible. Almost all would say it is what powers our sun, with fusion presumably occurring at conditions found in a star, like very high temperatures or with very high amounts of magnetic flux and so on. So, it is not really something outside of science to suggest fusion could occur in other circumstances we don't know much about, like between hydrogen atoms under special conditions in a metal lattice, or between hydrogen and the metal lattice atoms themselves (nickel in the case of the recent claims in Italy). It may we a claim that is wrong (we'll see), but it is not as implausible within the context of mainstream physics as, say, suggesting astrology really works as advertised. So, on a scale of implausibility, I'd suggest cold fusion is a lot less implausible than psychokinesis, given what mainstream science in general has to tell us.

I say that even if I can accept that some astrologers and psychics might otherwise be astute psychologically and be able to offer the sorts of sympathetic and useful advice any socially adept person might offer another, but dressed up in astrological lingo given we live in a society where you need professional certification to call yourself a "psychologist". For example, a psychic might say: "You're having trouble with your boyfriend, the stars say you should be more thoughtful." Or one might say: "Oh your boyfriend did what to you, the stars say get a new boyfriend". And so on, for a litany of usually well-meant advice (maybe put a bit more circuitously than I outlined). I'd also agree there are "psychics" who use fear to extort money from people, such as one profiled on 60 minutes many years ago, who did some fast switch with eggs that had fur or feathers or something stuffed in them to scare the client into bringing in more money. However, for comparison, a recent New Yorker article on ways to rethink mainstream medicine suggested that some MDs will scare patients into having regular checkups and tests and even treatments they don't need. So I'm not sure one can say all psychics are ill-meaning because a few are for sure, in the same way a few fear-based doctors don't mean all doctors are evil. A link related to the New Yorker article:
    "Atul Gawande on the Super-Utilizers"

So, are cold fusion researchers just the same as astrologers or telephone psychics? I would agree that we may not have great theoretical models to explain cold fusion, and the the ones suggested are certainly going somewhat into gray areas of mainstream physics. The claimed Italy demo aside, I'll accept we may never have cold fusion practically or at all. Cold fusion as a field may indeed all be self-delusion and hoaxes and scams, every single paper, every single claim. (Even as I doubt that.) But, the point is, the phenomenon of cold fusion itself is not really as far outside mainstream science in the way something like ESP or Psychokinesis is, because we can point to fusion in one place, and we are just talking about whether it could happen somehow under somewhat different circumstances somewhere else, circumstances which have not been widely explored before. It's kind of like if we could point to whales having ESP, and then saying, well, humans with their smaller brains might be able to have it to, using technology somehow. Whales do supposedly communicate with each other globally, by the way, but it is through low frequency sound waves which mainstream science can accept. :-)

"Research by Dr. Christopher Clark of Cornell University conducted using military data showed that whale noises travel for thousands of kilometres.[22]"

And in fact, humans can duplicate what whales do naturally by using cell phones. :-) But it took many thousands of years of technical development to replicate long-distance whale communications on demand in a convenient way.

Now, cold fusion may sound implausible, and indeed may require proof beyond what we have been shown so far to be widely believable (ignoring many peer-reviewed published papers about related phenomenon). I'd agree with what Freeman Dyson suggests, which is that because cold fusion has been under so much attack and skepticism, the small cold fusion community has been reluctant to express criticism internally, and that does not make for the best peer review, and so fraud and confusion is more likely to slip by.

Still, cold fusion is not outside science-as-we-know-it compared to, say, someone claiming to be able to read what playing card is in an envelope in a locked bank vault on the other side of the planet that they have never seen before and about which a confederate has not communicated to them. Cold fusion is basically just a technical issue of how to get fusion to do what we want it to do, when we know fusion exists somewhere else, assuming it is possible to make it happen under convenient conditions. But by offering your Randi Prize for cold fusion, you are basically taking a position on what, to my mind, is an engineering issue, or even issue of exploratory theoretical physics where the explorations are not very far out from the circle of what is widely accepted as known. You understand a lot about the paranormal field as far as the usual claims of ESP, psychokinesis, card tricks, and so on, in part from your own work as a stage magician and in part from subsequent research. You don't have much experience, to my knowledge, in the field of fusion physics, so, you might want to be more cautious about picking sides in an ongoing debate on that.

So, the fact the you seem to have in some sense lumped both ESP and cold fusion together is something I find questionable, even as I can say you are right to be skeptical about any cold fusion claim given what mainstream scientists currently tells us. I can understand how you might think that way, and see similar social processes at work. But, I would suggest, skepticism about an engineering and physics issue is somehow potentially a different sort of skepticism, more akin to Lord Kelvin more than a century ago saying heavier-than-air human flight was impossible (even when people could point to birds that could fly, and even when new engines had been developed by then that were lighter than coal burning steam engines). From:

"Late in life, [Lord Kelvin] resisted the new scientific revolution that was beginning, so different from the science he knew: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. (1895)""

Again, I'm not saying whether this claim in Italy is true or not, (indeed the broader community simply doesn't know enough about it yet, given the very short public demo that can be explained by other means, and the other comments about it running for a long time are not publicly corroborated to my knowledge yet). You (or someone else) has rightly pointed out, like in the FAQ on the Randi Educational Foundation challenge, essentially that fraud and self-deception are not unknown to the scientific community (or engineering, and business community, either).

IHMO, the strength of your comment on cold fusion, and even your (if the correspondence was accurate) willingness to pay out your fund of a million dollars for a working system, suggest, to my mind, some sort of lack of skepticism on your parts about mainstream science and the social processes that relate to money and politics with it. :-)

Although, by the way, if someone can demonstrate cold fusion successfully and reliably, they could potentially make so much money they would have no need to claim the Randi prize. :-) So, maybe no one will claim that prize? That might be the one thing that saves that money for other uses. :-)

I think, in that sense that you perhaps have set up a false dilemma or false choice relating to mainstream science vs. fringe science.

Is there is the implication in your position that we either accept what mainstream science has to say at the moment or we are trafficking in the paranormal?

Now, by definition, in some sense, that may be true. But, it would also deny something about how science and engineering progresses, by taking an anomaly noticed here and there by one individual or another (like burrs sticking to clothing), and eventually weaving it into some bigger tapestry of connected human knowledge (Velcro).

There well may be many things in this universe that can't happen (like people reading cards in sealed envelopes?). But even if that is true (ignoring x-rays and bright lights and cell phones to send ESP-like signals) there may well be many things that can happen that the scientific community as a social enterprise is just not as a whole ready to accept within the dominant academic world view, even when there is a lot of "proof".

There are several potential reasons for that, but the biggest ones are the one the Randi Educational Foundation is most concerned about in regard to everyday psychics, astrologers, faith healers. Those are things like the profit motive, a human will to power, and a general unwillingness to let go of beliefs that would affect one's financial bottom-line or social authority in a negative way. I'm just asking you to apply the same sort of skepticism you apply to psychics to the hot fusion people whose funding and world view is on the line and who are all too willing to claim cold fusion could never work.

On the subject of fusion and the sun, just to show another fringe view, Professor Oliver K. Manuel has a theory that our particular sun is a ball of iron mostly powered by gravitational collapse and only 38% by fusion. See:

But even that idea is scientific in some way, as attempts to provides plausible, potentially testable, reasons for why it reflects certain facts mainstream physics does not emphasize. So, to my mind, and not being a physicist, arguing over the exact nature of solar processes which we have only indirect evidence for is more like arguing whether a car you see cruising down the road is powered by an internal combustion engine or an electric motor just by listening to it and looking at the body shape. I'm not saying his suggestion is true, or that he might not have ignored some key piece of disconfirming evidence, just that it is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that may produce testable hypothesis that may eventually lead to scientific advances.

To my mind, the question is how do we build a scientific enterprise where such ideas can be pursued without it damaging someone's career to cross a scientific orthodoxy? Or, as Freeman Dyson put it, how do we encourage more heretics? See his comments here:

"We are lucky that we can be heretics today without any danger of being burned at the stake. But unfortunately I am an old heretic. Old heretics do not cut much ice. When you hear an old heretic talking, you can always say, "Too bad he has lost his marbles" and pass on. What the world needs is young heretics. I am hoping that one or two of the people who read this piece may fill that role."

Halton Arp developed an Electric Universe model of how astrophysics may work, where electromagnetism is as important a force as gravity in cosmology, and maybe even more important. He ended up being denied telescope time to pursue it, even being a notable astronomer. See:

Mainstream science may not see things that it goes out of its way to ensure no one can look for. Sometimes the reason there is little evidence for something is that there is no money to study it (and the lack of money is ultimately for political reason, including some people don't want alternative evidence to be found). Again, I'm not saying Halton Arp is right about an electric universe, just that his situation is an example of how scientific dissent gets suppressed, even within the supposedly "objective" physics community.

For another example, how many table top cold fusion experiments could have been done for the cost of one CERN supercolider? But who got the money? Why? Just because the cold fusion people must be wrong? How do you know without doing the experiments? Who gets the money in to prove (or disprove) their theories is in that sense political (even if, as Freeman Dyson essentially says in related books), science generally then weighs in in the long term in a somewhat neutral way on what data is actually collected.

But control over what experiments can be performed is still a very big thing, as is then control over how scientists are trained, which ones get degrees and get to teach, and so on.

All those general forces tend to prop up the status quo, and that leads to people saying thing like in this interaction:
    "The Copper Wall Experiment"

"[From the first page there: Dr. Elmer Green is the former Director of the Voluntary Controls project at the Menninger Institute in Topeka, Kansas. He and his wife Alyce are pioneers in the field of biofeedback training, authoring the classic book "Beyond Biofeedback." His most recent project, "The Copper Wall," explores possible electromagnetic coorelates of the human energy field.] DiCarlo: You have paraphrased the physicist Neils Bohr by stating that "science progresses one death at a time." What is the real reason behind all the resistance to new ideas and to the new models of the way the world is? Green: That's simply fear. If you have an idea of how the world functions, and somebody comes along and they can show you it isn't exactly that way, then you start trembling inside. Everything that you have come to believe has been called into question. It's like the platform of your world has been shaken. Unfortunately, people make the mistake of having their identity linked to their world view. Isn't that amazing? People's identities are linked to their views of the world, so they feel like their identity is threatened. Scientists are no better than anyone else in that way. They are not any better than religious fundamentalists. They are just as nervous about having their world view shaken as anyone else."

Now I'm not saying there is anything to Dr. Green's recent research discussed there on human generating electromagnetic fields (or that there is not anything to it, either. :-) But I think what he says above about people not wanting their world views shaken is likely quite true, from my own experiences working towards new technology and from what I read about the experiences of others. And I can add I've been guilty of being dismissive about things myself. Everyone has their limits, their blind spots, and so on.

For example, people never appreciated what the Smalltalk language and computer environment could do in the 1980s and 1990s. Then after some parts of Smalltalk system were reinvented as the more mainstream and well-marketed "Java" (with a different syntax), lots of people went on about how wonderful some Smalltalk features were, and acted like Java had pioneered things like garbage collection, a virtual machine, or platform-independent code (even when Java had not even done a very good job of that reinvention). Still, I was dismissive of Java because I knew about Smalltalk, yet, in the end, the power of Sun's and IBM's marketing did indeed lead to widespread adoption of that language, and it's eventual improvement to finally be overall better now than what the best commercial Smalltalk was fifteen years ago. So, my skepticism about Java's future was costly to me in that sense, not jumping ship and riding that rise of a new technology (one which still lacks some of Smalltalk's features, sadly, even though it has other good features that sort of balance it out). I was right to be skeptical about the technical merits of Java, but I was wrong to be skeptical about the social dynamics of a vast amount of marketing dollars and a process of incremental improvements.

As long as we don't have a "basic income" or a "gift economy" or "3D printers" whatever, a scientist or engineer is dependent on academic society for support. That means to some large extent staying well within various intellectual bounds which often now relate to sources of research or development funding. Fear of loss of funding then leads to self-censorship and timidness (perhaps more so in science than engineering though). It can also lead to broader claims than are warranted sometimes or conveniently ignoring past work in an area in order to claim credit (which then leads to future funding). There are ways to re-envision our economy so scientists and engineers do not have so much financial pressure on them like a basic income etc., and I hope someday we move more in that direction. I'd suggest we essentially have to, because science and technology are becoming to powerful of a force together to be subject to widespread fraud or confusion or individual power seeking. So, I can suggest that some of the fraudulence you find out there may be a reflection of scarcity-thinking in our socioeconomics, which I'd suggest is becoming less and less compatible with the material abundance science and technology makes possible.

Some quotes on social problems in science

Here are some related broad quotes on social problems in science, some of which relate to competition for funding.

From an article about a sociologist and anthropologist who studies science and technology, Bruno Latour:

"In the laboratory, Latour and Woolgar observed that a typical experiment produces only inconclusive data that is attributed to failure of the apparatus or experimental method, and that a large part of scientific training involves learning how to make the subjective decision of what data to keep and what data to throw out. To an untrained outsider, Latour and Woolgar argued the entire process resembles not an unbiased search for truth and accuracy but a mechanism for ignoring data that contradicts scientific orthodoxy."

A quote from another academic, Brian Martin, involved with Science and Technology Studies:

"Textbooks present science as a noble search for truth, in which progress depends on questioning established ideas. But for many scientists, this is a cruel myth. They know from bitter experience that disagreeing with the dominant view is dangerous - especially when that view is backed by powerful interest groups. Call it suppression of intellectual dissent. The usual pattern is that someone does research or speaks out in a way that threatens a powerful interest group, typically a government, industry or professional body. As a result, representatives of that group attack the critic's ideas or the critic personally-by censoring writing, blocking publications, denying appointments or promotions, withdrawing research grants, taking legal actions, harassing, blacklisting, spreading rumors. (1)"

From David Goodstein, who was Vice Provost of Caltech:

"Peer review is usually quite a good way to identify valid science. Of course, a referee will occasionally fail to appreciate a truly visionary or revolutionary idea, but by and large, peer review works pretty well so long as scientific validity is the only issue at stake. However, it is not at all suited to arbitrate an intense competition for research funds or for editorial space in prestigious journals. There are many reasons for this, not the least being the fact that the referees have an obvious conflict of interest, since they are themselves competitors for the same resources. This point seems to be another one of those relativistic anomalies, obvious to any outside observer, but invisible to those of us who are falling into the black hole. It would take impossibly high ethical standards for referees to avoid taking advantage of their privileged anonymity to advance their own interests, but as time goes on, more and more referees have their ethical standards eroded as a consequence of having themselves been victimized by unfair reviews when they were authors. Peer review is thus one among many examples of practices that were well suited to the time of exponential expansion, but will become increasingly dysfunctional in the difficult future we face. "

About a book by Jeff Schmidt, a previous editor of Physics Today magazine:

"In this riveting book about the world of professional work, Jeff Schmidt demonstrates that the workplace is a battleground for the very identity of the individual, as is graduate school, where professionals are trained. He shows that professional work is inherently political, and that professionals are hired to subordinate their own vision and maintain strict "ideological discipline"."

From Marcia Angell:

"The problems I've discussed are not limited to psychiatry, although they reach their most florid form there. Similar conflicts of interest and biases exist in virtually every field of medicine, particularly those that rely heavily on drugs or devices. It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine."

From the Atlantic from a few years ago:
    "The Kept University"

"Commercially sponsored research is putting at risk the paramount value of higher education -- disinterested inquiry. Even more alarming, the authors argue, universities themselves are behaving more and more like for-profit companies..."

Also from the Atlantic, just recently:
    "Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science"

"Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors -- to a striking extent -- still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice? Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science."

From a book about how mainstream biologists have systematically edited out or been oblivious to evidence for homosexuality in animals:

Bruce Bagemihl writes that Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity was a "labor of love." And indeed it must have been, since most scientists have thus far studiously avoided the topic of widespread homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom--sometimes in the face of undeniable evidence. Bagemihl begins with an overview of same-sex activity in animals, carefully defining courtship patterns, affectionate behaviors, sexual techniques, mating and pair-bonding, and same-sex parenting. He firmly dispels the prevailing notion that homosexuality is uniquely human and only occurs in "unnatural" circumstances. As far as the nature-versus-nurture argument--it's obviously both, he concludes. An overview of biologists' discomfort with their own observations of animal homosexuality over 200 years would be truly hilarious if it didn't reflect a tendency of humans (and only humans) to respond with aggression and hostility to same-sex behavior in our own species. In fact, Bagemihl reports, scientists have sometimes been afraid to report their observations for fear of recrimination from a hidebound (and homophobic) academia. Scientists' use of anthropomorphizing vocabulary such as insulting, unfortunate, and inappropriate to describe same-sex matings shows a decided lack of objectivity on the part of naturalists. ... Throw this book into the middle of a crowd of wildlife biologists and watch them scatter. ...

Some more link I've collected about failures of science as a social enterprise (including educational aspects, like David Goodstein also talks about) are posted in comments here:

More on the schooling aspects of dumbing people down and making them conformists (according to New York State Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto):

No doubt one could find quotes celebrating science (or even schooling, as opposed to true education). I am not denying science (and even some schooling) has not been useful in some cases. I agree science may move by fits and starts and to an extent be self-correcting. Even as science and academia tend to take the credit for a lot of engineering skill learned on-the-job and the innovation that such skills may lead to. :-)

Still, if you think about all these quotes from professionals in the field of science, you can see that science, as a human enterprise, has some major social problems operating within a capitalistic framework. Now, science also has problems operating within a feudal/religious framework, like Galileo encountered (and David Goodstein discussed in "The Mechanical Universe"). And science has problems operating within a totalitarian framework like with Lysenkoism in the USSR.

But the key point is, science can have major systematic problems related to the socioeconomic system it is part of. No amount of skepticism can really fix that as a big issue. Skepticism can help us to deal somewhat with the consequences, but ultimately, pervasive skepticism related to worries about fraud and dumbed-down people everywhere is very wearing and psychologically expensive.

Homeopathy as a big picture example

Let me turn now to another subject of your skepticism, homeopathy. I could probably pick other fields, but in looking at the Randi Challenge bulletin board, a first item I read about was a whole big thing about a homeopath approaching the challenge unsuccessfully. I know something about health issues, so I'm just going to focus on that as an example of where skepticism may be off-based in ways that are different than one might expect, including in ways that have connected to your own acceptance of mainstream medicine for what was probably an unnecessary heart bypass procedure.

Now, I'm not going to suggest that all, or even most, homeopathy works as advertised. But, please consider for a moment five plausible explanations for why some homeopathic remedies may indeed work as well or better as some mainstream drugs for the same condition.

The first, a straightforward reason, is that some homeopathic remedies may have ingredients that are labeled as "inactive", but really may be doing something else. A possible example of that is Simulasan eye drops for Pink Eye which contain a silver compound as a preservative. From:
    "Pink Eye Relief™ homeopathic sterile eye drops"

"Active ingredients: Purpose Belladonna* 6X: redness, burning, sensation of grittiness Euphrasia 6X: watery discharge Hepar sulphuris 12X: redness, stinging
*containing 0.000002% alkaloids calculated as hyoscyamine
Other information: Active ingredients are manufactured according to homeopathic principles and are therefore non-toxic and have no known side effects. Inactive ingredients: Borate buffer, Purified water, Silver sulphate (as preservative), Sodium nitrate"

Silver has been documented as an anti-bacterial, and it can be used commercially in water treatment. Example:

"The World Health Organization includes silver in a colloidal state produced by electrolysis of silver electrodes in water, and colloidal silver in water filters as two of a number of water disinfection methods specified to provide safe drinking water in developing countries.[28]"

If you use eye drops with a silver compound in them, it stands to reason it might be useful in curing a bacterial infection, regardless of whatever else is in, or not in, the homeopathic preparation. I'm only speculating here, but I'd suggest the same may be true for some other homeopathic remedies.

So, I can suggest, if I wanted to win the Randi prize, I could set up an experiment where we tested Simulsan vs. saline drops to cure eye infections. I'd suggest we would find some benefit statistically, which I could attribute to the silver preservative. (I could of course do the same experiment just with colloidal silver eye drops instead of Simulsan, and they might even work better. :-) Unfortunately, I do not have the funds or connections to make that investment, and also, I'm not 100% sure it would prove out, more like 80% sure. :-) (I also have no connection to the company that makes that, I'm just using it as an example I know of from when I was researching eye drops for myself.) Nonetheless, so here is at least one plausible "scientific" explanation for the value of homeopathy in practice.

A second plausible explanation for homeopathy is the placebo effect, which essentially is a statement about mind-body integration, or how the mind affects the brain which effects the body's immune system and hormone systems. There are many documented scientific studies that show the placebo effect is real, and even, strangely enough possibly getting stronger. :-) See:
    "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why."

There are also studies that show the relationship between stress reduction (including laughter, meditation, breathing, Yoga, and so on) and improved health (like studies that show wounds heal less well after a marital argument.) There are possible explanations for all this, from the way hormones secreted in response to stress may decrease immune function or blood flow, or how movement from laughter as exercise may, among other things, cause increase lymph circulation and oxygenation of the blood which may improve immune functioning), and so on. There are also in general deeper issues still under study. I enjoyed a conference I went to a couple years ago run by the Humor Project on some of this, which I highly recommend:

In any case, almost anyone in mainstream medicine would probably agree the placebo effect is real. A big issue in medical research is, do drugs work better than placebos? But, that is just because drug companies want to be able to justify their making money by, to be charitable, being more "helpful" than placebos. :-)

If the placebo effect works, then why not use it to cure the cases where it can be cured?

In the case of mental illness, Psychologist Bruce Levine has written a whole book with the thesis that most mainstream drugs for most mental illness are essentially all placebos, and their side effects are part of how they work, because when people feel sick from taking something that is supposed to make them well, they think it must be working. So, there we have, if he can be believed, and he cites studies, that the entire psychopharmaceutical industry is based on the placebo effect.

From information about his book:
    "Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy"

"The rate of depression in the U.S. has increased more than tenfold in the last fifty years. By not seriously confronting societal sources of despair, American mental health institutions have become part of the problem rather than the solution. The good news is that age-old wisdom and legitimate science - uncorrupted by the profit-margin pressures of pharmaceutical and insurance corporations - have much to inform us about revitalizing depressed people and a depressing culture. Surviving America's Depression Epidemic provides an alternate approach that encompasses the whole of our humanity, society, and culture, and which redefines depression in a way that makes enduring transformation more likely."

So, is it really wrong to think a lot of disease can be "cured" by placebos, when in the end, most disease is indeed in the end cured by the body healing itself? To that extent, might homeopathic remedies (and the placebo effect) work better on someone who believes in the occult, and when the homeopath also believes in mystical things and can be a more persuasive advocate for the preparation? So, in that sense, could encouraging skepticism about homeopathic remedies actually be harming some people who otherwise might have benefitted from them through the placebo effect? There is a very funny scene at the beginning with Robin Williams in "The Birdcage" about a "Pirin" tablet being used to treat disease (essentially through a placebo effect). :-)

So, here is another experiment to win the Randi prize (again, not that I have the resources for it). Assemble a bunch of people with some medical complaint like joint pain. Test them somehow to see how much they believe in the occult to make two groups, high and low believers. Send each of them to a homeopath for treatment or to a regular MD, whichever they trust more. :-) I predict, within a group that chooses the same doctor, for a chronic condition, that the occult believers will do better than the ones who are more skeptical of the drugs, and this can be explained by the placebo effect. :-)

Now, you may not want to do this experiment because the conditions of the test suggest not risking human lives, and I can accept that. I don't have the money to pay for it myself. It may well also have been done before? I have not searched the medical literature. But it is an interesting thought experiment none-the-less, and it points to where skepticism itself might be life-threatening in a medical situation -- especially given that many so-called drugs that have been tested and shown some minor effect but really probably are nothing more than placebos (or the effect was due to publication bias of only positive results being published).

So, the main benefit of many drugs may simple be that the patient trusts the doctor. In that sense, homeopathic medicines for some situations would be better than mainstream drugs, because they will have less side effects if they were indeed just essentially water (some may not be, of course, and those might be dangerous, like a recent problem with ones with zinc destroying people's sense of smell when used in the nose).

One may ask how we can take the placebo effect and turn that into a more reliable force for wellness? Or even how to do that at home, outside of interacting with a medical authority? But we won't think to ask that question of boosting wellness through how we think if we just dismiss the value of what is going on with homeopathic medicines entirely.

By the way, given the ingredients in the placebo are rarely disclosed, consider again:
    "Placebo fraud rocks the very foundation of modern medical science; thousands of clinical trials invalidated"

"You know all those thousands of clinical trials conducted over the last few decades comparing pharmaceuticals to placebo pills? Well, it turns out all those studies must now be completely thrown out as utterly non-scientific. And why? Because the placebos used in the studies weren't really placebos at all, rendering the studies scientifically invalid. This is the conclusion from researchers at the University of California who published their findings in the October issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. They reviewed 167 placebo-controlled trials published in peer-reviewed medical journals in 2008 and 2009 and found that 92 percent of those trials never even described the ingredients of their placebo pills."

For example, study of the effects of some new medication to reduce blood sugar levels could show a good effect if the medicine was charcoal and the placebo was a sugar pill. :-)

So, it may well be that much of the rationale for giving many drugs, even using "evidence based medicine" is little better than what homeopathy uses. :-) At least homeopathy has centuries of traditions to go on and probably, in most cases, does little overt harm (other than potentially delaying other treatments that might be more effective. What might those alternatives be, though, to promote wellness? Are they really usually drugs and surgery in all cases? Or could there be other ways to promote wellness, ones that MDs are not taught much about? Ones that even begin with listening at length to the patient?

As a third reason homeopathy may work, homeopaths in an active practice may also counsel about improved diets (like eating more fresh vegetables and fruit, and less processed food) and about stress reduction techniques (like Yoga, breathing, meditation, and biofeedback). So as an interventional technique, for many people going to see a homeopath, one who may actually listen to the patient and think deeply about the health issues as a systemic thing, may indeed be a much healthier thing to do than to see a mainstream medical doctor. Medical Doctors tend to be trained to push pills or surgery (which may have side effects) and usually are untrained in nutrition, stress reduction, and lifestyle improvement. But many homeopaths, being interested in alternatives and holistic things, may know a lot about such wellness promoting areas.

If you look at the medical practice of a nutritionally-emphasizing family practicioner like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, you can see that nutritional interventions may, for many chronic diseases, offer documented better results that mainstream interventions (or even alternative practices), from reversing heart disease, to getting people off medications for type-2 diabetes, to reducing rheumatoid arthritis, to possibly preventing cancer, and so on -- because those "diseases of affluence" are caused to a high degree by what we eat. Example:
    "Eat For Health - Joel Fuhrman, M.D. "

While Dr. Fuhrman is not a homeopath (nor do I know of him ever recommending them), the point is, someone going to see a homeopath might be put in a state of mind that they might be more receptive to better nutritional advice, which many people like Dr. Fuhrman have shown makes a real big difference in chronic health issues. A related section of his book "Eat to Live", where he is a bit dismissive of medical practitioners who don't emphasize nutrition (which may indeed include some homeopaths):

So, as part of an alternative health care system, the skepticism homeopaths have about mainstream medicine may actually help their patients by funnelling them eventually in to things that really do have solid scientific evidence for them (like nutritional interventions for many chronic diseases as Joel Fuhrman suggests). Granted, it may also funnel them into things that don't work better than placebos or that have bad side effects, too.

In any case, it may be unfair to try to test the homeopathic remedy from the context in which it is prescribed and delivered, if part of what homeopathic practice is doing is prying people out of the hands of conventional physicians who may not be helping them much and eventually delivering them to people promoting better nutrition and other lifestyle changes. It stands to reason that promoting broader wellness initiatives go together with alternative medicine practice. This may sound odd to science-based ears trained by drug companies to focus on whether drugs have a study saying they work, but, short of ideal interventions, what may for many peolpe matters more than whether specific homeopathic remedies work is, does going to see a homeopath help a lot of people get well eventually, at least as well as mainstream medicine, for a broad class of disease, especially chronic disease for which mainstream medicine may have already failed the patient? Essentially, for some conditions, like chronic joint pain, are you more likely to get well seeing a homeopath than seeing a typical doctor, all things considered? The fact is, mainstream medicine does not help a lot of people, and in fact, it can harm a lot of people, and does, every year.

This is not to say some people don't go to homeopaths and get bad advice, or they might not have gotten much better advice for some acute conditions by going to a regular MD. In general, our entire medical care system is very messed up IMHO, and that begins with family physicians not having enough time to really spend with each patient or to keep up with current medical trends or, say, to be selected for more big picture skills as opposed to being good at, say, organic chemistry prized by drug companies.

A page on you says in Wikipedia currently that:

"In February 2006, Randi underwent coronary artery bypass surgery.[82]"

If you look into the nutritional medicine that Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD, practices, but you can also find several others who say the same, you will find that most bypasses are unnecessary and blocked arteries can be unblocked and brought back to health in about two years of an agressive nutritional approach of a diet heavy on vegetables, fruits, and beans (and a little nuts, seeds, and whole grains). So, in one of the greatest decisions of your life, you were, I'd suggest, scammed by the mainstream medical community and its connection with the mainstream agri-business. In fact, people who get a bypass but don't change their eating habits tend to just have the same problem come back.

Please look at this page for alternatives to a future bypass:

"In January I interviewed Ronnie, who had quadruple heart bypass surgery at the relatively young age of 46. On the member center of I recently asked him to describe what the surgery was like, and requested that he "spare no details." All of us were deeply moved by his story, and Dr. Fuhrman suggested that I post it here on Disease Proof. Dr. Fuhrman also stated that bypass surgeries are performed all over the country, every hour of every day; and that this suffering can be completely avoided. May we all wake up to the serious reality of eating disease promoting foods. ... Almost three years later, Ronnie had to have three stents put into an artery, and was sent home to die. The next morning he awoke at 3am with more chest pain so he typed "reverse heart disease" into his computer's search engine. That day, July 10, 2008, he discovered Dr. Fuhrman's web site and embraced the high nutrient eating-style. Today, Ronnie is the epitome of health and fitness. Not only did he lose 140 lbs, but he is now free from all medications, surgical procedures and dependence upon doctors. He is now well!"

Personally, I have such a dim view of most mainstream medicine in relation to doctors pushing drugs (or surgery) and not having time to talk with their patients at length (even when some may want to do more) that I readily could believe a homeopath who knows a little about nutrition and spent a couple hours with a patient could help with a lot of chronic diseases like obesity or joint paint that a mainstream doctor could not manage well in a ten minute visit and prescribing some drug. As Dr. Fuhrman says, people take a prescription for a drug such as blood pressure medication like a permission slip to keep eating the unhealthy way they have been eating. I'd suggest a homeopath who had read Dr. Fuhrman's book on nutrition and had given you advice on better diet that you followed might have spared you what must have been a very traumatic procedure. Now, logically lifestyle advice has nothing to do with homeopathic potions, but it still have everything to do with a mindset of listening to the whole patient and lifestyle context that the larger practice of homeopathy encourages and which mainstream modern medicine as a system does not.

That does not mean I think mainstream Western medicine can not help sometimes too. Conventional medicine is great at trauma treatments, like if you are in a car crash, for example. For a lot of rare genetic disease, mainstream medicine may be useful, too. Surgery is sometimes warranted and beneficial. Antibiotics sometimes are the right thing. Blood tests may help people to realize they have some nutrient deficiency. And so on. But what I'm trying to point to is a much bigger view of integrative medicine that the typical harried mainstream physician may not have time for.

Dr. Andrew Weil, MD is an example here of someone bridging both worlds and trying to re-envision US medicine in alternative ways.

As a fourth reason homeopathy may work, and I admit, unlike the other three points above, this is going much more outside of conventional testable science, we may be living in a computer simulation with bugs and shortcuts. See:

Edward Fredkin is a computer scientist who proposed that decades ago, and is profiled in the book "Three Scientists and their Gods." Muriel Rukheizer said "The world is made up of stories, not atoms." What if that was in some sense literally true? I've implemented computer simulations myself, and I know something about them. They are simplifications of reality to some purpose. Let's say we are living in a lazy simulation that really does not want to do that much calculation to save energy or the cost for hardware. Then, there might be algorithms used that approximate reality in a good enough way that the simulation fulfills its purpose (entertainment, research, punishment, learning, or whatever).

For example, as a labor of love, my wife and I put more than six person-years into developing a garden simulator based on public domain USDA research (and eventually released under the free GPL license). The models we used simplified the reality of the quantum physics of an unimaginable number of particles that in theory operates in the soil, down to really just a few hundreds of numbers representing a few layers of soil in a soil patch. Those number themselves had a specific precision subject to rounding errors. All models are essentially simplifications of reality to some purpose, and so have their limitations and even bugs.

It is possible to imagine that if we lived in a sort of computationally cheap simulation, where a container of a homeopathic representation was modeled as a unitary "thing". Were that the case, it is possible you could indeed divide some potion endlessly and it would still have an aspect of the original potion, because that would be exploiting a sort of "bug" in the simulation and how it represents common situtations. Presumably one could test thing by some scientific test that checked that each divided potion still had some of the same properties (like it bent light in a certain way). Still, there might also be corrective algorithms so that in the special case where one bothered to check something about a potion in a certain way, the results would accord with a more detailed version of simulating that part of reality (making homeopathic potions seem to not have anything in them, even when they did work otherwise.)

I'm not saying any of this is true, nor am I saying in practice I could prove this was the case -- including against active opposition by the simulation's corrective properties. :-) I'm just saying it is plausible as an idea, and it could explain many seemingly anomalous things about our universe or consciousness of it. Of course, that would leave open the issue of whether the simulation is running in another simulation, and so on. :-) So, is our "nature" someone else's cell phone app? :-)

Still, I am open to the idea that, if we are simulated in that sense, at some point, we may learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the simulation we are in. If so, we may be able to learn to take advantage of them, to do many things that might now be considered magical. And, at the point at which we can do them, they won't be considered magic -- like reading a card in a sealed bank vault across the planet or even across the galaxy. :-) Of course, whether someone running such a simulation would like that development or would restart the simulation instead in frustration is a good question. :-)

Arthur C. Clarke said: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

I think the Randi prize more and more is running into the risk of encountering that sort of phenomenon, whatever the technical cause.

A fifth explanation homeopathy may work is simply that, as some doctors have joked, 90% of all conditions get better in the morning. :-) That may sound silly, but in general, the body can heal itself of many conditions if given a chance (fasting may sometimes help, too). So, by homeopaths adhering more strictly to "first do no harm" than MDs prescribing a lot of toxic drugs, homeopaths may indeed be the better practicioners in 90% of the cases.

Take ear infections in children, for an example, where giving a child unneeded antibiotics may cause a chain of other issues by wiping out beneficial intestinal bacteria. A homeopath prescribing essentially water is going to be helping that child more than an MD in those cases (even if some ear infections may need other treatments). Homeopaths might have like a 90% cure rate, even without advice about diet and stress management or without the placebo effect.

From a homeopathic approach to ear infections:

"Antibiotics are only helpful in certain bacterial infections, and since viral diseases are particularly common amongst children, conventional medicine often offers little help. Homeopathy differs from conventional medicine in that it doesn't focus on treating ear infections as a separate problem but instead treats the child as a whole. This same child who has ear infections may also have other physical or emotional symptoms. They have a certain type of personality, certain likes and dislikes and many other things that make them a unique person. All of this information helps in choosing the right homeopathic remedy which matches the whole pattern of symptoms. This one right homeopathic remedy will help bring your child back into balance and allow their body to heal itself by strengthening the overall health of the child. Once the immune system is stimulated your child's health improves, the ear infections and other problems will permanently go away. Homeopathic treatment is also very safe, natural, provides no side effects and is also regulated by FDA."

From a nutritional approach:

"When you have a child, you have the unique opportunity to mold a developing person. One of your greatest gifts to them can be a disease resistant body created from excellent food choices beginning at youth. Ear infections, strep throats, allergies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADD or ADHD), and even autoimmune diseases can be prevented by sound nutritional practices early in life. Common childhood illnesses are not only avoidable, but they're more effectively managed by incorporating nutritional excellence into one’s diet. This is far superior to the dependence on drugs to which we are accustomed. No parent would disagree that our children deserve only the best."

If you combine prescribing water (90% cure rate? :-) with also suggesting a kid eat better, the homeopath is probably going to help almost any child with an ear infection a lot more than an MD who prescribes antibiotics. Now, one may say, but surely, it is better to go see an MD than a homeopath who prescribes (presumably) useless potions, because the MD will know the 10% they should intervene and prescribe the appropriate medication or other appropriate lifestyle change? But alas, I would suggest if you believe that without significant evidence, you are not being skeptical enough. :-)

To be fair, mainstream medicine has yet another study, this time suggesting antibiotics really do help for young children and ear infections:

"For years, we've heard warnings about antibiotics being over-prescribed, but new findings in the New England Journal of Medicine recommend just that when dealing with middle ear infections in young children. An editorial in the journal said the studies provided "the best data yet" that antibiotics are the best treatment for otitis media. ..."

I'd still suggest Dr. Fuhrman's approach towards better nutrition is best as the first line of approach though.

If you look at the evidence all around you, of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dementia, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, recurrent infections, asthma, autism, and so on, even in your own life, I'd suggest the only reasonable conclusion is, outside trauma medicine and a few other things, Western medicine simply does not work very well as a total system (including aspects like insurance issues and the amount of time highly-paid MDs spend with each patient and the way profit-motive distorts research). That does not mean homeopathy does work well, or that it might not lead to tragedies. But at least, it suggests that homeopaths with potions that may often be only water and just activate the placebo effect internal healing, who lend a sympathetic ear, who dispense what was common sense healthy advice 100 years ago about nutrition, sunlight, and stress management but seems to have been forgotten by MDs, such homeopaths may at least be doing less harm, and even sometimes some real good, as well as be cheaper, and so may often come out ahead of the typical MD in overall patient care results, all things considered.

So, taken together, these five aspects may, individually, or in combination, explain why homeopathy works better than you might expect as a skeptic, even if homeopathic potions may (supposedly "inactive" ingredients aside), be probably essentially just water or sometimes alcohol (barring, as I suggest, speculative issues with rounding errors and simulations, or any other unknowns).

Of course, at this point, any homeopaths who have read this far may be saying, with friends like this, who needs enemies? :-) Nonetheless, I think we do need a deeper integrative medicine than MDs offer. Could homeopathic providers, with their focus on deep listening to the patient and looking at a big lifestyle picture, become a more integral part of that, and make a shift to integrative medicine easier than more specialized MDs? Perhaps. A place to start looking, connected to Andrew Weil's Integrative Medicine work:

Also, I see after I write this part, that except for the point about the simulation argument, the Wikipedia page on homeopathy covers some of these sorts of issues (though not exactly in the way I discuss in positive comparison to mainstream medicine for many chronic issues. :-)

What about future magic?

Several people have been talking about the notion of a "Singularity" of some sort with the emergence of AI in a bigger way like Vernor Vinge, Hans Moravec, Ray Kurzweil, and other.

Here were my own predictions from 2000 about our society encountering some singularities twenty to forty years from then, or about ten to thirty years from now (and improved energy technologies was part of that prediction):

Such informed speculations about the future are of course, not subject to test. And even if I am right, that does not really prove much other than I've long read a lot of science fiction and have thought a lot about some areas of science and technology. :-) But, I guess another possible approach to the Randi challenge is simply to have made those predictions that what we now think of as magic like dirt cheap solar cells, intelligent computers, or cell phones are coming our way real soon now (that last one, cell phones, is a joke about how we have indeed realized telepathy technologically in a sense, even without them yet being implantable. :-)

A personal disclaimer

Here is a point on the nature of anomolies, and also a disclaimer.

I worked for a time as a researcher in a robot lab at Princeton University around 1986-1987. The lab was at the time part of several labs that were funded by money from James McDonell foundation, where the main reason the funding grant was there was to fund the Princeton Engineering anomolies lab then run by Robert Jahn (dean of the engineering school then). Our lab itself did not run any related experiments, but we did talk to people in the other labs, including that one. Dean Raden had been involved in that set of labs, as sort of a go between for the labs. Related links:
    "Engineering and Consciousness"
    "Dean Radin"

For a while, there was some talk about how maybe setting up an experiment between the two labs about getting people to focus on moving a randomly-driven robot arm in some specific way might show something. But we never did that experiment when I was there -- our focus was more on 3D path planning using computer graphics and so on.

That anomaly lab ran large statistical tests on things like telekenisis, moving balls a bit to the left or right in a big stochastic device they called "Murphy". They did other experiments as well. I learned there that the main part of their work in that lab seemed to be figuring out all the potential sources of "noise" that could bias their data in a systematic way.

I really felt they were sincere people in their research. So I do know that people can sincerely approach these phenomenon in a reasonably scientific manner.

Here is a little poem I wrote recently on the circle of knowledge:

                The Circle of Knowledge

                All philosophy is anthropology;
                All anthropology is psychology;
                All psychology is biology;
                All biology is chemistry;
                All chemistry is physics;
                All physics is math;
                All math is philosophy. :-)

So, given that, how easily can we "prove" anything in an absolute sense, apart from our interpretations of things? Are there, in that sense, reasons to be skeptical about skepticism?

Here are some ideas for a "hard" sci-fi book that connects to that which I will probably never write: :-)

"I've thought about writing a sci-fi novel based around three interacting groups (taking off on Arthur C. Clark's ideas of any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic): * Those who have expanded human consciousness in a transhumanist technical nanotech/biotech direction and can do magical-looking things like with nanotech (like when nanites rebuilt the Red Dwarf).
* Those who have found this debugger link or just a bug and can affect reality in magical seeming ways (so, like Harry Potter or Earthsea, where words an incantations and symbolic movements and symbolic devices like wands are combined to create patterns that invoke complex programs written in arcane symbols, such as from "lumos" causing light to all sorts of complex spells invoked in complex ways -- maybe with a high degree of secrecy involved in who makes these things and who is told about them).
* Those who have just expanded humanity in a brute-force sort of way throughout the solar system and beyond through self-replicating space habitats duplicating themselves from sunlight and asteroidal ore, and maybe also have recently learned to tap zero-point energy and so create energy and matter in empty space (so, they can duplicate things out of thin vacuum as it were).
I have no idea where that would go. But those are the major sorts of "magic" things I can imagine in our future, and all are hard-sci-fi "plausible". Would the mystery of consciousness be an underlying theme?"

For more of a disclaimer, I have an aunt from the Netherlands who has been a psychic for a time in the past, and told me (through a translating relative as we were walking through NYC's Central Park) that she claims to have talked to her dead husband in heaven. I'm dubious, but I can't prove or disprove her claim, nor can I even begin to think about a replicable experiment to determine the truth of that. But I can certainly accept it means something to her.

As someone with an undergraduate degree in psychology, having studied with a past president of the American Psychological Association, I will readily admit that psychology (just talk) can indeed help some people. I can conjecture, wanting to feel positive about my relative, that as a psychic, my aunt, as a very caring and thoughtful person, may well have been providing a valuable service to people whether she could talk to the dead or not. She may have helped people deal with grief or overcome emotional problems, all without a professional degree in clinical psychology.

I also know, from psychology, that the different aspects of our brain sometimes seem to have trouble communicating with each other. So, what details of the world we choose to pay attention to at a moment, like a light burning out, or the random order of some Tarot cards or the I Ching, and the interpretation that we make up for that, may in some sense be a way of part of our unconscious mind talking to the conscious mind.

And to the extent that we share experiences and memories with other people, we do keep part of them inside our hearts (psychologically speaking). So, indeed, at the very least I have no doubt my aunt could still speak to her dead husband that way and perhaps come to greater insights about their marriage and their life together. The human mind can be great at simulating what others might have said, otherwise we would not have so many compelling scripts coming out of Hollywood. :-) Still, that is not to deny that there well may be more going on than my mainstream conventional explanations -- I'm not trying to deny her experience, even if I can offer some alternative conventional explanations, none of which I can prove or disprove.

Further, since having since gone to a grad school program in ecology and evolution, I can accept that even if the human mind could only effect something in a paranormal way randomly one in a million times, it might still have some extra survival value for a species to have that trait. So, there may well be pressure through evolution towards unusual abilities that may only rarely display themselves under extreme duress.

There are also abilities other animals obviously have that humans seem not to obviously have. Several fish, including the electric eel, are able to sense with electric currents and use electricity to various ends. Some birds seem to have a geomagnetic sense for navigation. So, it is not outside the realm of science to think there may be ways that our minds and brains work that we do not yet fully understand involving things like electricity and magnetism (or other forces physicists may believe in).

Is ESP or telekinesis, in that sense, that different from the idea of cold fusion maybe being possible?

Well, I'm not claiming humans can do these things, or that the should, but, with genetic engineering or even just implantable cell phones and implantable sensors, might we not see human-derived-beings in the near future who do have what today might be called ESP or telekinesis? Even just someone using a cell phone walking around Manhattan is, in some sense, using an ESP-like ability, all explainable by acceptable physics of electromagnetism. Again, this is not to say you are not right to be skeptical about current claims. I'm more trying to get here at the limits of skepticism, and what may eventually lead to humans routinely displaying abilities that right now would be considered paranormal.

And in general, we also still don't understand what consciousness is all about (or at least, I don't claim that knowledge, and I keep my hand on my wallet when someone does. :-)

So, as I see it, a skepticism that is essentially unquestioning about a "materialist" view of the universe, especially in the face of the mystery of consciousness, is itself not very "skeptical". :-)

In the Wikipedia page with your biography, it currently says lots about your skepticism:

But ultimately, as we don't really understand so much about the universe, and so much remains a mystery. So, a true skeptic must be cautious not to let skepticism about things beyond mainstream science either become acceptance at face value of mainstream science or a lack of wonder about the everyday mysteries of life like the mystery of consciousness, the apparent immense age and scale of the universe, the idea of beauty or connectedness in ordinary things like a drop of water or a grain of sand (or even beauty of abstract things like mathematics or the periodic table), the vast improbability of any of us being here at all as we specifically are, and so on. These are real wonders, things far beyond someone being able to do card tricks or ESP using whatever methods that connect to all those everyday wonders.

As has been said, we can choose to live like nothing is a miracle, or like everything is a miracle. Even those who hold a "naturalist worldview" presumably need to accept the mystery of how nature came into existence at all, or the limits of our knowledge about what it is capable of, or what our ethical relationship should be to it all given whatever assumptions about all that we feel comfortable making for whatever reasons. The experience of consciousness in itself in a way is "supernatural" to any materialist.

A related writing by William Kent:
    "Data and Reality"

"What does all this do to our sense of identity, to our egocentric view of people as entities? If we have to rebuild our world view so radically again (as, for example, Copernicus forced us to do once before), then how much faith can we have in the permanence of any world view?     Our notions of reality are overwhelmingly dominated by the accidental configurations of our physical senses. We are very parochial in our sense of scale. Bacteria and viruses and sub-atomic particles are not very real to most of us, nor are galaxies. We don't really know how to comprehend them. Our concept of motion is bounded by the physiology of our eyes: the continental plates don't move, but motion pictures (sequences of still pictures!) do. Most of us think of continents and islands as permanent and discrete entities -- rather than as accidents of the current water level in the oceans. Are islands and mountains such different things? Have you ever had the opportunity to observe a reservoir get filled, or emptied?
    And our sense of reality is quite conditioned by the very narrow frequency range to which our eyes respond. Imagine if we couldn't see the "visible" spectrum, but could see ultra-violet, or infra-red, or x-rays -- or maybe sound waves! We might not have any notion of opaque objects; everything might be translucent or transparent. Things might appear to have entirely different shapes or boundaries. We might not have such a primary notion of things having sharp or fixed boundaries; the normal mode of things might be a state of flux, like the wind or clouds or currents in the ocean. Think of perceiving people in terms of the thermal gradients around their bodies, rather than gradients in the visible spectrum. We might have no concept of day or night. Those concepts are only so "real" and "fundamental" because we are so dependent on visible light. Clumps of heat might look like "things" to us, just as clouds do now. We might see sounds as physical things moving through the air, and we might see the wind. ..."

I'd point out that if someone really could, say, levitate spoons and other ferrous things with his or her mind, that person could probably make a lot more money by haunting casinos than by winning the Randi prize and ending up subjected to experiments and maybe vivisection or whatever else might follow lots of publicity. So, one can't take lack of a prize claimant as absolute proof such powers do not exist, either. So, should be be skeptical about what the Randi Prize being unclaimed really proves?

For another example, would space aliens have any interest in a million US fiat dollars, that just amount, in the end, to a few bits flipped in some banking computer somewhere? A related humorous post by me: :-)
    "Silver, Gold, Mercury and Water Found in Moon Crater Soil by LCROSS Project"

"I can think of only one reason why aliens (if they existed) might be interested in Earth -- "Coochee Coochee Coo!" :-)"

So, let's say space aliens walked among us, as space teenagers just making fun of the hicks, and heading for trouble when their parents find out what they've been up to. The existence of the unclaimed Randi prize could not prove such did not exist. In general, it's probably impossible to prove something does not exist or can't exist, even if our current theories of how the universe works may preclude it. But theories are often proved wrong or incomplete.

Am I some weird kind of ultraskeptic, or what, to be skeptical even about what the prize proves? :-)

As for me personally, I can think of times in my life when something odd or spooky has happened, including associated with the time shortly after the death of my father. I'm talking about stuff like a basement light burning out just when I was about to go down the basement stairs in his house with my shoes untied when I was tired a few days after he had died -- was that my Dad still looking out for me? :-) I'd like to think so, even if it might not be true, or even if it might just be part of my mind, that interactions with him helped shape, looking out for the rest of me. (It certainly was scary in a deep way, and I always did not like the basement, although now that I think of it, it was where my dad kept a lot of potentially dangerous power tools.) Sure, it is maybe providing a comforting-to-me interpretation for a random event taking place late at night when I was pretty tired and worn out taking care of my mother (with dementia and diabetes) in their home. In the scheme of things, where comfort and motivation may be hard to come by in this life, how wrong is that, as part of my building my own narrative about my life? Oh, I'm sure one could invent a chain of events where that lead to exploitation of somebody, but overall, short of that, why be so sure it is not helpful to think about deeper connections between spirit and our observable universe?

Now, a personal anecdote or two does not prove anything. But a little nudge here or there is the kind of thing that also is not really amenable to scientific exploration (as it just happened once at an odd moment). Scientific exploration requires repeatable situations, well defined test conditions, and so on. So, there is a whole area of potential reality not accessible to the Randi prize in that sense.

Just because we can not test something does not mean it does not exist or that it is not important to us. It just means we can't talk about very scientifically yet. We still don't understand how superconductivity works, but people have built it into devices. Do we even understand how magnetism really works in a deep way when we don't know how the universe works 100%? Or when we don't know how consciousness really works to model reality or take part in it, and even quantum physics suggests how we observe things changes what appears to go on? So, how can we be sure that the statements mainstream science makes about many things are ultimately correct, or that they apply in all times and all places, when the tests are just done on one planet in one gravity well?

So, is it really the proper use of the Randi prize money to take the side of current mainstream science on every single issue of theory or practice? Can I claim the prize money just by finding some flaw in, say, current medical practice, like not emphasizing aggressive dietary changes enough in treating type-2 diabetes or heart disease (like Dr. Fuhrman does)?

Maybe you should just give the prize then to Dr. Fuhrman for his Nutritional Research Project, and follow his advice, and spare yourself another heart bypass operation? :-) From:

"Fifty years of scientific studies indicate that most diseases seen in modern countries, as well as the leading causes of death, are the result of diet."

By the way, "The Pleasure Trap" by Doug Lisle and Alan Goldhamer explains why most people ignore that science in practice, but it also suggests ways to get past the problem:

"A wake-up call to even the most health conscious people, The Pleasure Trap boldy challenges conventional wisdom about sickness and unhappiness in today's contemporary culture, and offers groundbreaking solutions for achieving change. Authors Douglas Lisel, Ph.D., and Alan Goldhamer, D.C., provide a fascinating new perspective on how modern life can turn so many smart, savvy people into the unwitting saboteurs of their own well-being."

See, there is an example of a chiropractor who may be helping people a lot. I really hope your skepticism does not get in your way of looking at that sort of alternative view on health.

IMHO, Dr. Fuhrman, MD is doing as much or more to debunk nutritional misinformation than probable anyone (based just on citing and integrating scientific studies, starting with some clues from Herbert Shelton in the past). He is like a James Randi of medicine in a way. :-) And that has what has lead him to focus on nutrition.

As he says here:
    "Reversing Heart Disease"

"The average person is not aware that there are safer, more effective options available. Unfortunately, government agencies are often slow to respond to new scientific information and continue to advocate outdated recommendations. Economic and political forces also make it difficult for Americans to be clearly informed that heart disease is self-induced and totally avoidable by eating a diet of nutritional excellence. Making significant dietary changes allows people who suffer with coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, overweight or obesity and/or high blood pressure to reduce and to eliminate their dependence on medications, avoiding major surgeries such as heart bypass and angioplasty."

See also Dr. Fuhrman's comments on vitamin D, which may also be related to managing the inflammation that can lead to heart disease or cancer:
    "Vitamin D recommendations have been raised, but not enough"

Dr. Fuhrman also has stuff to say about chemotherapy vs. boosting the immune system in his newsletters and online discussion board (which I signed up for as a member and costs something every month -- but I have no financial connection to him, I've just benefitted from his advice for me and my family). In general, much cancer may be preventable by better nutrition, but once you have it, what to do then is much more problematical. You might want to consult with him as to nutritional options to at least supplement what mainstream doctors are telling you if Wikipedia is correct about what it says about you having to struggle with cancer.

Still, wellness is more than just nutrition, as is mentioned in Blue Zones or by Dr. Weil. Overall, I'd expect Dr. Fuhrman would no doubt agree to some extent. Laughter, attitude, community, infrastructure, exercise, and so on, all play a role in wellness, at the very least to give us reason to "eat to live".

Ultimately, what are the limits of a focus on rationality and analysis? Here is part of a Wikipedia page on a new book called "The Master and His Emmissary":

"The author holds instead that each of the hemispheres of the brain has a different "take" on the world or produces a different "version" of the world, though under normal circumstances these work together. This, he says, is basically to do with attention. He illustrates this with the case of chicks which use the eye connected to the left hemisphere to attend to the fine detail of picking seeds from amongst grit, whilst the other eye attends to the broader threat from predators. According to the author, "The left hemisphere has its own agenda, to manipulate and use the world"; its world view is essentially that of a mechanism. The right has a broader outlook, "has no preconceptions, and simply looks out to the world for whatever might be. In other words it does not have any allegiance to any particular set of values."[3] ... Asked in an interview whether he blamed the loss of "our relationship to beauty, to body, to spirit and art" on the left hemisphere, McGilchrist pointed to an article by Stanley Fish, entitled Does Reason Know what Reason Doesn't Know? and stated that the essence of the problem is "that the left hemisphere is not aware of what it is not aware of" and that the difficulty we are faced with is giving the right hemisphere a fair hearing.[8] Whilst agreeing that beauty, spirit and art are not the sole preserve of the right hemisphere, the author does see a reductionism not only in science but in popular culture and a loss of "the power of art to alert us to things beyond ourselves", to the transcendent.[8]
    Asked whether he was giving the left hemisphere "too much flak", given that reason and rationality formed the basis of modern, scientific society, McGilchrist stated that he believes that modern science began earlier than the Enlightenment and that there was "an enormously rich period in the 15th, 16th and early 17th centuries", as seen for example in "the spirit in science from Bacon through to Goethe". McGilchrist went on to point out that "the left hemisphere is not devoid of feelings at all, it has its own range of emotions and the capacity to appreciate emotions."[8] To the author, sequential reasoning and rationality are important. To argue that the right hemisphere is right and the left is wrong is an "either/or black and white misconception" which is in itself indicative of the left hemisphere's view of the world.[8]
    However, whilst the author appreciates that the left hemisphere "has evolved to help us use the world to achieve our ends", he nevertheless draws the conclusion that it is in denial and might be likened to a sleepwalker approaching an abyss.[10]"

Here is a way that that idea of denial relates to the current financial crisis, just to show how the science of mainstream economics may not be much of a science and may have lead us into an abyss:
    "They Did Their Homework (800 Years of It)"

"But in the wake of the recent crisis, a few economists — like Professors Reinhart and Rogoff, and other like-minded colleagues like Barry Eichengreen and Alan Taylor — have been encouraging others in their field to look beyond hermetically sealed theoretical models and into the historical record. “There is so much inbredness in this profession,” says Ms. Reinhart. “They all read the same sources. They all use the same data sets. They all talk to the same people. There is endless extrapolation on extrapolation on extrapolation, and for years that is what has been rewarded.” "

Here are my own comments on that (which got deleted from Wikipedia by believers in mainstream economics):
"Beyond a Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics"
(I'm not saying that could not have been greatly improved as a Wikipedia contribution in lots of ways, short of deleting it all.)

In trying to understand how mainstream science and mainstream medicine have gone so wrong so many times, we need to reflect on how mainstream economics has also gone wrong, even in its most basic assumptions about human motivation. A short funny video about that, which based on research commissioned by the US Federal Reserve, calls into question much of mainstream economics:
    "RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us "

Given problems with mainstream economics as a "science", is it any wonder anyone with a conscience or creativity would, say, rather fix motorcycles than be a mainstream academic in something like political philosophy (given how little sense so much of our supposedly rational society makes in practice)? Related by Matthew B. Crawford:
    "The Case for Working With Your Hands"

"As it happened [after getting a PhD], in the spring I landed a job as executive director of a policy organization in Washington. This felt like a coup. But certain perversities became apparent as I settled into the job. It sometimes required me to reason backward, from desired conclusion to suitable premise. The organization had taken certain positions, and there were some facts it was more fond of than others. As its figurehead, I was making arguments I didn’t fully buy myself. Further, my boss seemed intent on retraining me according to a certain cognitive style — that of the corporate world, from which he had recently come. This style demanded that I project an image of rationality but not indulge too much in actual reasoning. As I sat in my K Street office, Fred’s life as an independent tradesman gave me an image that I kept coming back to: someone who really knows what he is doing, losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun."

Sure, OK, let's pick on the well-meaning homeopaths and the psychics who may actually be dispensing useful advice (even if aspects of what they do may be bunk or dangerous). But then why let the mainstream economists have, essentially, a free pass, along with the dysfunctional mainstream physical and psychological industries that have been spawned by mainstream economics? Can I claim the Randi prize for that knol above debunking mainstream economics (and so my economic claims are essentially in some sense "paranormal")?

Here is a summary of those points as they relate to the socioeconomics of cold fusion, by the way:

Should we not think or talk about the socioeconomics of a world of cheap energy in advance of it being discovered? But, would that not be discussing the "paranormal" in a way, or even encouraging it? :-)

Anyway, one may rightly point out that mainstream economist have deluded themselves for decades, as was said in the NYTimes article. I'd agree. :-)

But, why should that be entirely less true about supposedly "rational" mainstream physical scientists in some specific other ways, like denigrating Halton Arp's Electric Universe model (mentioned on the supressedscience site)? Or ignoring the possibility of cold fusion? Or dismissing the possibility that the mind could sometimes interface with deeper not-well-understood-conventionally aspects of a simulated universe? I'm not saying any of these are true, just that it's hard for them to get a fair hearing. Where do we draw the line?

James P. Hogan wrote a non-fiction book about this:
    "Kicking the Sacred Cow"
    "... Scientists are Only Human — and Not Immune to Dogma ..."

The Flexner Report a century ago (1910) began a purging process of alternative medicine practitioners in the USA. It lead indirectly to people like Herbert Shelton for being persecuted and prosecuted decades later for telling people age-old wisdom that sunlight, whole foods, and occasional fasting (and avoidance of stuff like cigarettes) could cure or prevent most chronic disease, and could do it better than mainstream medicine at the time (something that modern medical science is grudgingly coming to admit). Herbert Shelton may not have had the whole truth, but he had part of a bigger older truth, and he was harmed by a mainstream medical-financial system by advocating for that truth from the past and from his own experience.


"The Report (also called Carnegie Foundation Bulletin Number Four), called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research. ... One of the consequences of Flexner's advocacy of university-based medical education was that medical education became much more expensive, putting such education out of reach of all but upper-class white males. The small "proprietary" schools Flexner condemned, which were contended to be have been based in generations-old folk traditions rather than relatively recent western science, did admit African-Americans, women, and students of limited financial means. These students usually could not afford six to eight years of university education, and were often simply denied admission to medical schools affiliated with universities. At the same time, the Report tended to delegitimize existing women doctors and doctors of color.[citation needed] While many such doctors continued to practice, usually within underserviced clienteles, they did so under proscribed circumstances and for less pay."

From a biography of him:

"At this time in 1927, Dr. Shelton is already being harassed in his Hygienic practice by advocates of The Medical Mentality and by the police. In 1927, Dr. Shelton is jailed for the first time for "practicing medicine without a license" and is fined $100.oo. This same year of 1927, a second arrest takes place, under similar circumstances and with charges of $300.oo. His money is so tight this second time, he has to borrow to be released. Also, in 1927, the New York Evening Graphic lets Dr. Shelton go because he will not co-operate with their advertisement policies and insists on running an anti-smoking article. Still, during this time, Dr. Shelton's Hygienic practice grows; he is respected and admired for his efforts. The third arrest also occurs, all in New York, for "practicing medicine without a licence." The great irony is that Dr. Shelton would never "practice medicine"! Still, that is what the authorities call it when someone tells people how to live, how to sleep, how to eat, and how not to take medicines!"

What sorts of things are people fired for today for not going along with? Or what things get them off the acodemic track so they are not hireable at all?

From Noam Chomsky:
    "What Makes the Mainstream Media Mainstream"

"The universities, for example, are not independent institutions. There may be independent people scattered around in them but that is true of the media as well. And it’s generally true of corporations. It’s true of Fascist states, for that matter. But the institution itself is parasitic. It’s dependent on outside sources of support and those sources of support, such as private wealth, big corporations with grants, and the government (which is so closely interlinked with corporate power you can barely distinguish them), they are essentially what the universities are in the middle of. People within them, who don’t adjust to that structure, who don’t accept it and internalize it (you can’t really work with it unless you internalize it, and believe it); people who don’t do that are likely to be weeded out along the way, starting from kindergarten, all the way up. There are all sorts of filtering devices to get rid of people who are a pain in the neck and think independently. Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience; if you don’t do that, you are a troublemaker. So, it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren’t lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society. The elite institutions like, say, Harvard and Princeton and the small upscale colleges, for example, are very much geared to socialization. If you go through a place like Harvard, most of what goes on there is teaching manners; how to behave like a member of the upper classes, how to think the right thoughts, and so on. "

(Disclaimer: I have an undergraduate degree from Princeton, although it may not have taken completely as I went to SUNY Stony Brook for a year an a half before transferring to Princeton as a sophomore. :-)

I certainly agree with the value of skepticism, but I would ask you to apply that same sort of skepticism to understanding the limits of the mainstream scientific social process and the supposedly valuable fruits thereof. Is the scientific method useful? Yes. I would not deny that experiment and experience are very important. Skepticism is important, too. But, experiment, experience, and skepticism take place within a broader human enterprise, and you surely know that any human enterprise is subject to all sorts of distortions, wishful thinking, group think, and even active suppression of dissent for commercial and political reasons, however that enterprise labels itself, whether "paranormal", "scientific", "religious", or "medical".

Anyway, I guess I'm just mainly asking you to be a bit more skeptical about what some people with socially-conferred labels after their names label as "science". :-) Also, I'm suggesting that lack of skepticism about mainstream economics may itself be driving a lot of the consequential dysfunction in science and schooling. From:
    "The Mythology of Wealth"

"Along with ideas about politics, economic theory, political strategy and other related stuff, you will find at this site a sprinkling of something few people associate with political organizing. I refer to a healthy dose of cultural anthropology. Indeed, one message of this site is that whatever you understand about taxes, trade policy, wages and general social conditions, you can't win the political struggle without also understanding things like culture, symbolism and myth. Many citizens of western industrial democracies like to believe that they have transcended their "superstitious" pre-scientific past. In fact, a central tenet of our industrial culture is faith in its "rationalism". Much of the political debate centers around "rational" social and economic policy. In fact, progressives frequently fail to take into account "cultural" forces that frequently work against rational policies. Progressives regularly bemoan the "ignorance" that cheap-labor conservatives are so good at exploiting to prevent seemingly obvious improvements in society. In fact, the cheap-labor conservatives have counter-attacked with their own "rational" theory to justify their hierarchical world-view. Some call it "Social Darwinism", though more politically savvy cheap-labor conservatives avoid that term. The purpose of this "rational theory" is to establish that the existing social order is the "natural order". Elites enjoy wealth, privilege and status because of their inherent superiority. The place where this natural hierarchy is established, is that mythical place known as the "market"."

See also, by a Harvard theologian:
    "The Market as God: Living in the new dispensation"

"A few years ago a friend advised me that if I wanted to know what was going on in the real world, I should read the business pages. Although my lifelong interest has been in the study of religion, I am always willing to expand my horizons; so I took the advice, vaguely fearful that I would have to cope with a new and baffling vocabulary. Instead I was surprised to discover that most of the concepts I ran across were quite familiar. Expecting a terra incognita, I found myself instead in the land of deja vu. The lexicon of The Wall Street Journal and the business sections of Time and Newsweek turned out to bear a striking resemblance to Genesis, the Epistle to the Romans, and Saint Augustine's City of God. Behind descriptions of market reforms, monetary policy, and the convolutions of the Dow, I gradually made out the pieces of a grand narrative about the inner meaning of human history, why things had gone wrong, and how to put them right. Theologians call these myths of origin, legends of the fall, and doctrines of sin and redemption. But here they were again, and in only thin disguise: chronicles about the creation of wealth, the seductive temptations of statism, captivity to faceless economic cycles, and, ultimately, salvation through the advent of free markets, with a small dose of ascetic belt tightening along the way, especially for the East Asian economies."

So, in the scheme of things, are the psychics and astrologers and homeopaths (or even the dedicated researchers on cold fusion) really the big problem as far as misplaced faith?

In the case of cold fusion, even if you were right to be skeptical of the new claims, you were, in that sense, wrong to be so trusting of the mainstream view. And that excessive trust of self-proclaimed echo chamber of "scientists" may cost you a million dollars about cold fusion (unless you backpedal, as I'd suggest).

And that would be a shame, because it would be over your lack of skepticism, since fusion as a phenomenon seems to exist, the only issue is, can we tinker with circumstances to make it exist under some common conditions that are convenient? That's kind of like being skeptical about grid parity for Photovoltaic solar cells, which many people are, even though many expect PV to reach grid parity in the USA in a widespread way in the next few years given continual progress. Or it's like suggesting nutrition can't cure most heart disease, even yours, when Dr. Fuhrman can point to lots of case where it has, and it has a plausible mechanism.

So, even if the Italian demo does not work out for whatever reason, why be so skeptical about the possibility fusion could happen under convenient circumstances? It seems like a misplaced trust in some scientific dogma, to me, and dogma that is connected with a hot fusion community getting lots of money and wanting to keep getting lots of money. :-) So, you may indeed have fallen for a confidence trick, in some sense. :-) Still, ultimately, we all need to work from assumptions, so I am not saying you are wrong to have put your provisional faith in something. It's just that maybe you put too much faith in the current thinking of that social process?

(By the way, I do think hot fusion is a good research area, even if cold fusion works. IMHO there is plenty of money to go around if we did not waste it in things like, say, pointless wars or treating illnesses that could be cured or prevented with better diet, adequate vitamin D, and so on...)

Does that mean we are adrift without any assumptions, values, and priorities to work from? I'll leave you with this quote from Albert Einstein:

"For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is [capable], and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.     But it must not be assumed that intelligent thinking can play no part in the formation of the goal and of ethical judgments. When someone realizes that for the achievement of an end certain means would be useful, the means itself becomes thereby an end. Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelation of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations, and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to perform in the social life of man. And if one asks whence derives the authority of such fundamental ends, since they cannot be stated and justified merely by reason, one can only answer: they exist in a healthy society as powerful traditions, which act upon the conduct and aspirations and judgments of the individuals; they are there, that is, as something living, without its being necessary to find justification for their existence. They come into being not through demonstration but through revelation, through the medium of powerful personalities. One must not attempt to justify them, but rather to sense their nature simply and clearly."

One problem is that ethical judgments, at least for a time, reflect back into the scientific process itself, like what research is most in need of funding... Which in turn will limit what things we will find substantial evidence for.

The secret of making Roman cement was widely lost for a thousand years of confusion.

"It is not understood why the art of making hydraulic mortar and cement, which was perfected and in such widespread use by both the Greeks and Romans, was then lost for almost two millennia. During the Middle Ages when the Gothic cathedrals were being built, the only active ingredient in the mortar was lime. Since cured lime mortar can be degraded by contact with water, many structures suffered from wind blown rain over the centuries."

What else have we lost or forgotten, even just from decades ago, like Herbert Shelton's ideas? Even accepting Herbert Shelton was not perfect.

Perhaps we have lost the old advice for kids to play outside in the sunshine, but instead now everyone has been told to fear the sun and maybe that is related to the autism epidemic?

Perhaps we have lost the old advice for helping kids develop their imaginations?

So, knowledge, both practical and ethical, can be lost as well as gained. John Gardener wrote about that here:

"Helping each generation to rediscover the meaning of liberty, justice -- "the words on the monuments" -- is a perennial task for any society."

Could the same be said even of "science" as a social process, to understand what "inquiry", "experience", "experiment", "beauty", "imagination", and even "skepticism" really mean? :-)

Anyway, I doubt I can shake your confidence in materialistic science. :-) Or sadly, the mainstream medicine that probably caused you to undergo a traumatic procedure when there were better, but less profitable, alternatives. But no matter. This is an open letter, because even if you are my sort of foil (sorry), it's really intended for a broader audience.

Thanks for all the good you have done for humankind by getting us to think more deeply about our assumptions, including inspiring me to write this. I would really encourage you to look into Dr. Fuhrman's nutritional approach to heart disease so you can keep on being skeptical in other areas for many years to come. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity.

License: CC-BY-SA.