Deepak Chopra, still peeved, tweets about a comment on an ancient New Republic piece

I don’t usually post about internet drama, but this is an exception for two reasons. First, I’m cooling my heels at Midway Airport with a slightly delayed flight, and second, there’s a lesson here about how woomeisters respond when their pseudoscience is attacked, and how they distort data to pretend that many great advances have been stalled by “bullies” like myself.

Although I don’t check Twi**er, I get notifications on another email account when someone tw**ets at me, and I saw this tweet from Deepity Chopra, sent into the ether this morning:

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 9.20.40 AM

This was, as you see, also tw**ted at Dawkins and Shermer.

But when I looked up the article to which Deepity linked, it was simply the exchange of letters we had after Deepity called me a bully and flaunted his credentials as a Real Scientist. But that appeared last November! Why would Chopra be tw**ting this now? And who is the mysterious “Prof Weiss”?

Then, looking at the comments, I found said Dr. Weiss, who left the mini-essay below about 10 hours ago—four months after the original post. (I also see that there are 658 comments—far more than I get on this site—but I can’t bear to read beyond the first ten or so.)

Dr. Weiss, it turns out, is a clinical professor of  medicine at the University of California at San Diego. And something made him put up a post defending Chopra after four months. His lucubrations are below; I have put the parts that interest me in bold:

mindfulscience 10 hours ago

Pseudoscientist Coyne

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has embarked on a regressive campaign to denigrate visionary scientists and theorists who challenge dogma, such as Deepak Chopra, Rupert Sheldrake, and even Rudolph Tanzi. Coyne’s self-conceit that he is uniquely qualified to differentiate science from pseudoscience would be comical if he did not abuse it as a bully pulpit for obscurantism.

Both the proposal and the subsequent proof of alternative theories are integral to the advancement of science. To argue that only theories consistent with dogma can be proposed prior to validation is anathema to science and common sense. Virtually all of the current beliefs of modern science have evolved from the vigorous defense and ultimate rejection of prior dogma. Einstein, Galileo, Dalton, Darwin, Pasteur, and others are among the many pioneers who would have been prematurely silenced with the censorship of scientific theory that Coyne espouses.

The scientific breakthroughs of many recent Nobel laureates such as Prusiner (prions), Marshall (Helicobacter pylori in peptic ulcers), Schechtman (quasicrystals), Haroche & Wineland (manipulation of individual quantum systems) were scorned by critics as pseudoscience for years before being vindicated. Those who defend dogma often erroneously insist that the lack of proof for a new theory is proof that the theory is false. The renowned scientist Martin Rees responded to this fallacy with the maxim “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Carl Sagan decried the “impatience with ambiguity” that often leads to hostile rejection of advances in science as they proceed from a novel groundbreaking theory to scientific validation.

We are in an age of rapidly accelerating breakthroughs in virtually every field. The once falsely labeled pseudosciences of induced stem cells, epigenetics, quasicrystals, microbiomes, superconductors, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and other disciplines have moved from the realm of science fiction to reality. The science fiction author Isaac Asimov was prescient when he said, “science is in a far greater danger from the absence of challenge than from the coming of any number of even absurd challenges.” Coyne and others with an aversion to theories that challenge dogma have heightened the danger by becoming active obstructionists to scientific progress.

Scientific obstructionism is not an abstract hypothetical concern without profound consequences. The sciences are replete with inflated egos and glaring deficiencies in study design, performance, and reporting. The degree of academic fraud and dishonesty is amplified by academic and financial self-interest. The most visible consequences are in the life sciences, with one third of all health care expenditures in the US expended on the pseudoscience of non-evidence based medicine. Besides the enormous financial burden well over 200,000 lives are tragically lost to medical errors each year in U.S. hospitals alone.

A hierarchy that discourages dialogue and funding research into novel theories jeopardizes scientific progress. The established biomedical research literature is glaringly deficient in having omitted from studies important populations such as females, children, racial and ethnic groups. Other critical variables such as genomics, epigenetics, and the microbiome were not incorporated thus challenging the validity of the vast majority of prior research in the life sciences.

Evolutionary biology is a relatively new science that was once denigrated by regressive critics as pseudoscience. The endosymbioitic theory that intracellular mitochondria evolved from previously free-living bacteria is just one of many now accepted concepts that challenged convention. The field has been revolutionized anew by the current paradigm shift with genomics and epigenetics.

Coyne as a disciple of evolutionary biology is exhibiting an arrogant hypocrisy to label others who challenge dogma as pseudoscientists. The “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” he received from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2011 has become a double entendre exposing his shortcomings. It is either a sardonic irony or poetic justice that an evolutionary scientist of his potential has regressed into a caricature of a pseudoscientist. Perhaps an epigenetic event will allow him to evolve into a true scientist.

Joseph B. Weiss, MD, FACP
Clinical Professor of Medicine
University of California, San Diego

What can I say about this? The most important thing is that every quack and pseudoscientist sees himself as an unappreciated genius—as (to use Weiss’s characterization) a more obscure equivalent of Einstein, Galileo, or  Newton—as a purveyor of truly important scientific breakthroughs, if only people would listen!  Yet 99% of these people are quacks. As I’ve said, I put Sheldrake and Chopra into that category.  If Weiss had his way, we’d have to pay careful attention to every claim that comes from the mouths of people that Wikipedia founder characterized as “lunatic charlatans.”

That’s pretty much all I have to say, except to impart a bit of science history. (Let me add, though, that Weiss’s claim that evolution was denigrated as a “pseudoscience” is a canard; evolution was accepted pretty quickly after Darwin proposed it, with only religious creationists resisting it. Further, stem cells, superconductors, and the phenomenon of epigenetic inheritance were never, as far as I know, considered “pseudosciences”.)

Let’s look at Weiss’s claim that Barry Marshall (and his collaborator Robin Warren, whom Weiss forgot) were “scorned for years” by the scientific/medical community for suggesting that Helicobacter pylori was a cause of ulcers.

Their suggestion first appeared in 1983, and in 2005 both researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology.  Were they scorned in the interim? An article by Kimball Atwood  at CSI says “hell, no.” He analyzes the history of Warren and Marshall’s discovery in detail, which I won’t reprise except to give a quote or two:

 I have no reason to doubt that many physicians scoffed when first faced with the notion of a bacterial basis for peptic ulcer disease (PUD). It is not the case, however, that the medical mainstream dogmatically rejected the proposal for an undue period of time. A brief history shows that the hypothesis was accepted right on schedule, but only after “appropriate initial skepticism”—the premise of my challenge—was satisfactorily answered. Some of the other particulars of the mythical version of the story are also incorrect.

. . . By 1987 [four years after the proposal]—virtually overnight, on the timescale of medical science—reports from all over the world, including Africa, the Soviet Union, China, Peru, and elsewhere, had confirmed the finding of this bacterium in association with gastritis and, to a lesser extent, ulcers. Simpler and less invasive diagnostic methods were devised (Graham et al. 1987; Evans et al. 1989). The possibility of pyloric campylobacter being the cause of gastritis or ulcers was exciting and vigorously discussed, even as it was acknowledged by all, including Marshall and Warren, to require more evidence.

. . . The first trial that was both large enough and rigorous enough to be noticed was conceived by Marshall and Warren in 1984 and published in Lancet at the very end of 1988 (Marshall et al. 1988).

. . . By early 1992, at least three more studies had been published that, in the aggregate, convinced the academic medical world of the causative nature of H. pylori in PUD.

The “delay” in accepting the hypothesis was not due to scorn and rejection, but to the simple difficulty of doing tests with animals (Atwood and Tanenbaum, cited below, recount other experimental problems), and establishing the hypothesis to the satisfaction of scientists.

So it was only nine years from the suggestion to the confirmation, and that’s not a long time for such a radical hypothesis. Certainly a few physicians were skeptical, but Warren and Marshall provided sufficient data to make their claim worth investigating.

Chopra has no such data, only bluster.  And it’s sad that I, an evolutionary biologist, have to correct a professor of medicine about this! But do read Atwood’s piece, which was written to answer the Weiss-like claim that bacterial involvement in ulcers was not recognized for years because of unwarranted skepticism. The delay, as I said, was caused solely by the difficulty of testing Warren and Marshall’s hypothesis, a conclusion also supported in a piece by Jessica Tanenbaum at the Journal of Young Investigators. 

Certainly some claims that challenged received “wisdom” have met with resistance. Right off the bat I can think of two: Lynn Margulis’s idea that mitochondria were the descendants of bacteria (Weiss mentions this one), and Alfred Wegener’s claim in 1912 that the continents moved was not accepted for about 50 years because we didn’t know of a mechanism whereby continents could drift. So yes, some theories that prove correct are delayed. But Chopra’s claims are not of that nature: not only do we not know of a mechanism for “universal consciousness,” but Chopra can’t even explain what that means.  And if you can’t even couch your theories in intelligible English, and in a way that makes those theories susceptible to test, you get put in the circular file of science. Chopra’s claims qualify not as science, but New Age woo.

I’m saddened that a medical doctor emits the old bromide that “They laughed at Marshall, and they laughed at Chopra, too.” They didn’t laugh at Marshall, nor at Warren either. They took them seriously, for they made a comprehensible claim that could be tested. And that claim wasn’t couched in obscurantist jargon.

If Chopra finds a way to substantiate his claims that the universe has consciousness, and the moon doesn’t exist in the absence of consciousness, and that we can “simmer down the turbulence of nature” by mass meditation (maybe Chopra can reduce that turbulence a tad through a smaller experiment), and that intelligence is inherent in nature, I’d stop laughing at him, too. In the meantime, he remains figure of fun bedecked in diamond-studded glasses. Granted, a rich figure of fun, made wealthy by those who, flummoxed by his fancy verbiage, buy his claims and his merchandise. Somebody had to pay for those diamonds!

Oh, and it’s also sad to see the woo-ey minions that have come out to support Weiss and Chopra since Weiss’s comment appeared. Below are two of those minions commenting at the New Republic after Weiss’s letter. I weep for this world.

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 10.05.30 AM Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 10.06.01 AM

But who, exactly, is “us”? Those who reject science?


  1. Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    woo meisters always come off sounding like the archetypical “mad scientists” aka lunatic charlatans.

    “No one understands how special I am” and

    “I’ll show them, I’ll show them all.” Mwuh-hahahahahahah.

  2. Grania Spingies
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    The butthurt is strong in this one. Probably because of Quantum. Or neutrinos mutating. That kind of thing.

    • eric
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      They should take some of their own advice. If they want to reduce JAC’s rancor towards Chopra, they should obviously stop posting to the internet and instead use that time to meditate Jerry into a more harmonious state.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Ha ha or Midichlorian levels. Ah Star Wars, is there any way I can’t use you as a smart aleck reference?

      • Posted March 27, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        Ya, when I’m reading these homeopathic treatises aboot The Amorphous Blob I hear Liam Neeson

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I’ll go with “narcissistic personality disorder”.

      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink



      • ladyatheist
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        That’s my suspicion

      • gluonspring
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        That’s counted as a skill in their profession.

  3. eric
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    “I am simply sorry that you don’t understand what Dr. Chopra says.”

    Well that, in essence, is the problem. Science doesn’t understand what Chopra is saying in any operative sense. To borrow from Jeopardy: Dr. Chopra has neglected to phrase his answer in the form of a testable hypothesis.

    • Chris
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      No-one *can* understand what Chopra says. It’s part of his schtick.

    • hank_says
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      That’s the woo-age version of “I’ll pray for you.”

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Weiss’s tirade contains at least a dozen straw man assertions.

    He considers skepticism to be closed-minded dogma. He apparently doesn’t understand science or evidence.

    • ploubere
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      This is the telling statement:
      “Those who defend dogma often erroneously insist that the lack of proof for a new theory is proof that the theory is false.”
      Is Weiss unable to see his own logical leap? Apparently. And so we’re obligated to accept every new hypothesis until it is proven false.

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        Something is getting in the way of them seeing the irony in their comments. When people challenge scientific “dogma” they are “visionary scientists.” If they have the relevant qualifications and have sold enough books. But when actual scientists challenge their scientific vision they are called bullies, all we want is evidence, something to test, something that shows these visionary scientists to be correct. But these visionary scientists have the mind of one who is pushing a conspiracy theory.
        The actual scientists Weiss cites did some very important experiments before they published their results. They didn’t do half the work and insult everyone who was not intelligent enough to see the finished theory.

  5. frank43
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    The endosymbiotic theory for the origin of mitochondria was taken seriously from the beginning – I heard about it in my intro Biochem course in the late 60s. The evidence (antibiotic sensitivity, enzyme profiles, etc.) was regarded as suggestive but not conclusive. It took Woese’s phylogeny to settle the case.

    Theories are taken seriously if they provide a way to new experiments. Has Chopra ever proposed an experiment, and, if so, was the result consistent with his “theory”?

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, the endosymbiotic theory for the origin of mitochondria was discussed very seriously at seminars at the Marine Biological Laboratory when I was there in the late 1960s. I don’t think there has ever been a serious discussion of data that supports anything Chopra says. If he or his followers have any data, show it; if not sit down and shut up.

  6. gbjames
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink


    • francis
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink


      • Diane G.
        Posted March 27, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink


  7. Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I think the mini essay really misses the point between theoretical unproven science, wrong science, and pseudoscience. Shifting continents was a theoretical idea that took a long to to even test like much of quantum physics, there are ideas so advanced that we still have no way of testing if they are true, but we know that if we can advance our technology to a point we can test it to see if it is true. Wrong science is when you test a theoretical idea and it is wrong. Pseudoscience just rejects evidence in favour of wishful thinking. I wish this sugar pill would cure my cancer because it got shaken. I wish the universe had consciousness and that we could control nature through meditation.

    Date: Wed, 26 Mar 2014 15:41:57 +0000 To:

    • Sastra
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      I would also add that most pseudoscience — particularly the pseudoscience of Sheldrake and Chopra — invoke supernaturalism (mind-first dualism.) There is a huge difference between examples which simply involve new understandings of natural phenomenon and proposals which basically turn all of modern science on its head in order to bring back the same tired old bromides on dualism and magic which are the dogma of religion and spirituality.

      As you point out, labeling something “pseudoscience” is reserved for serious violations of method, not just new ideas. Apparently Weiss and cohorts can’t distinguish between “I think you’re wrong” and “what total nonsense!”

  8. Tulse
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    every quack and pseudoscientist sees himself as an unappreciated genius

    As Carl Sagan said:

    “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    • D. Taylor
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the corrective Sagan quote.It was not wise of Dr. Weiss to quote Sagan as supportive of his position.

    • Draken
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Also, we should send Dr Weiss a original Sagan Baloney Detection Kit.

  9. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I find that, as soon as someone invokes Stanley Prusiner, I can expect them to go off the rails. I wonder if he’s ever written about what it’s like to be every nutjob’s favorite scientist.

    • T. Quinn
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

      Stanley Prusiner is the last person Dr. Weiss should be heralding on that list of the scorned, the bastion of scientific ethics that he is.
      Prusiner was not ridiculed for his “discovery” but rather called out on his dishonesty. He is known as a thief in that area of the scientific community and his “prion” bs was a blatant ripoff of the scrapie associated fibrils (SAFs) discovered in the brains of mice infected with scrapie discovered by Merz et al, and published in 1981 in Acta Neuropathologica.
      He gave something that was already known a snappy name and attempted to relentlessly discredit anyone who pointed out the similarities to already published works. He is the height of what is wrong with competitive research and academic dishonestly. Kudos to him and his Nobel Prize… Credit seems not to go to he who publishes first, but to he who weaves the flashiest tale.

      Merz PA, Somerville RA, Wisniewski HM, Iqbal K. (1981). Abnormal fibrils from scrapie-infected brain. Acta Neuropathologica, 54(1):63-74. DOI: 10.1007/BF00691333

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted March 27, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        Didn’t know about this, though I remember hearing a bit about Kuru and vague ideas about ‘slow viruses’ even earlier. Just looked up some journal articles and found Rohwer’s 1984 letter in The Lancet:

        “…the “prion” remains a vague, yet to be identified, structure now postulated to be larger than the scrapie-specific protein but much smaller than SAF. Prusiner’s laboratory has made important contributions to the scrapie story but their use of the conjectural term prion in describing and interpreting these results has served only to confuse the picture, and their use of “prion-rods” to describe what are almost certainly SAF is unwarranted.”

        Reminds me of a certain virologist played in a movie by Alan Alda, didn’t he share a Nobel too?

        • Posted March 31, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

          Alan Alda played Dr. Robert Gallo in “And the Band played On”, the co-discoverer or HIV. In that case, the discovery reportedly happened almost simultaneously by independent laboratories and though initially it was, for lack of a better term, a fight, as to who made the discovery first, it was settled for the most part in a cooperative sharing of the disvovery.
          Dr. Prusiner renamed something that was already a known agent in BSE and scrapie. His refusal to acknowledge the enormous contributions of others in the field, particularly those in the Merz et al, 1981 paper and Merz et al. 1984 (Science 225:437-440) that pointed to SAF as a “specific marker for the ‘unconventional’ slow virus diseases” of TSEs, is just obnoxious to say the least. It is widely known that Particia Merz made the discovery at minimum four years prior and any scientist with any ounce of ethics would have at least acknowledged this and not spent so much energy dismissing or discrediting others contributions.

  10. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    There’s a huge difference between a theory being wrong and a theory being pseudoscience.

    Pseudoscience apes the language of science, craves the prestige of science, but does not follow the epistemological discipline of science.

    Wegener, Margulis, and Marshall&Warren may have had critics, but they worked by gathering evidence, and making their case forthrightly by publishing their work in peer reviewed journals and scholarly books.

    They took their critics seriously and tried to address their skepticism with additional evidence and substantive counter-arguements.

    Many scientists with theories that proved wrong have also done the same, and even in cases where they stayed passionately loyal to their own theories to the end, did so without resorting to Chopran theatrics (e.g., Hoyle wrt to the Big Bang, or Michaelson wrt Special Relativity).

    Either way, these genuine scientists did not retreat into convenient but incoherent jargon when under pressure, call their critics “bullies” or make millions shamelessly fleecing the gullible.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      “Pseudoscience apes the language of science, craves the prestige of science, but does not follow the epistemological discipline of science.”



    • Posted March 27, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      That said, but continuing to flog a dead horse (ressurect a discredited science) is one way to promote pseudoscience.

  11. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Woo appears to be rampant. I was dismayed when I learned that one of my best friends gave her cat homeopathic medicine. After an hour of argument, she said that No she didn’t understand how the medicine worked, but neither do I understand how my “real” medicine works. Besides her vet is a respected member of the community and it very rich.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      I wonder why (s)he’s very rich …


      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted March 28, 2014 at 3:34 am | Permalink

        And which community (s)he is a respected member of…

  12. gophergold
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    They laughed at Lamark too. They laughed at the Piltdown Man, and at the Archaeoraptor.
    They even laughed at the Cardiff Giant, if you can believe that!

    Hey, they laughed at the Cottingly Fairies, despite photographic evidence and the support of Sir Arthur Conan Doye himself.

    Why is science so skeptical, demanding “evidence”, when there are so many things to believe?

    • Harrison
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Be fair. Lamarck was merely wrong, not maliciously fraudulent.

      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        Lamarck was fraudulent? About what? He was a great evolutionary biologist, but of course wrong about what the mechanism of evolutionary change was. He was also a great pioneer of invertebrate biology.

        It is a shame that so many modern biologists, without justification, consider him to be a crackpot.

        • Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          Oops, sorry, misread your comment. You did say Lamarck was not fraudulent. Please ignore my previous comment, and, recursively, this one.

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted March 27, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            But how can we ignore you, Prof Joe? Even when you’re momentarily wrong, you’re so right.

  13. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Brian Cox and Robin Ince had a great episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage that talked about the Mavericks of Science and this exact peptic ulcer example featured prominently. It’s a really good episode because it discusses the difference between someone asserting any idea without evidence and someone actually doing the science.

    Further, Darwin’s theory of evolution was of course a breakthrough but during Darwin’s time people were thinking that species were not fixed. Serendipitously, I was just reading about this in an old history text of mine last night. There was George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon the French math guy, and the other French guy, George Cuvier to name a couple. They sort of had the idea down but didn’t get the mechanism and Darwin figured that out. So, to say Darwin was considered a pseudo scientist is just bunk – he was clearly working within a scientific tradition.

    • Posted March 27, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Bunge was asked in one of the philosophy of science classes I had with him to give a good example of when he rationally changed his mind on a scientific matter, and he recounted his understanding of the ulcer story. (Shame I don’t remember it myself!)

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted March 28, 2014 at 3:45 am | Permalink

      There is also an important difference between a theory advanced on the basis of careful logical analysis of a problem, such as Einstein’s general relativity, and ‘theories’ such as the healing power of crystals or homeopathy that are simply invented. The evidence in support of Einstein’s theories may have taken decades to become available but he knew what kind of evidence would support or refute them when he first advanced them. Woo on the other hand has no proper theoretical grounding or evidential support.

      • Posted March 28, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        This is the virtue of “consilience” or “convergence”. In my view it is is the single hardest to understand aspect of science, and also its greatest strength.

  14. jay
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I saw a bumper sticker “just because no one understands you doesn’t make you an artist “.

    We need a new one, maybe “just because you defy logic doesn’t make you a visionary ”

    (Apologies to the grammar nazis fix it if you must)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Yeah and just because you use a bunch of words no one understands, doesn’t make you profound. 😀 All of these should cover most of the woo out there.

  15. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Coyne as a disciple of evolutionary biology is exhibiting an arrogant hypocrisy to label others who challenge dogma as pseudoscientists. The “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” he received from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2011 has become a double entendre exposing his shortcomings. It is either a sardonic irony or poetic justice that an evolutionary scientist of his potential has regressed into a caricature of a pseudoscientist. Perhaps an epigenetic event will allow him to evolve into a true scientist.

    Hypocrisy much? He start by complaining that Jerry labels others as pseudoscientists and end it by calling him a, what else, pseudoscientist.

    When the woo-heads react in this not-so-transcendent-and-zenish way, it’s probably an indication that you’re doing something right.

    And you must have struck a nerve with the deepster… 🙂

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Whenever you question them they get hot-headed. So, if they yell at you, you are supposed to put your tail between your legs and submit to their authority.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        Reminds me of Cartman.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          I often think of Cayman with, “screw you guys, I’m goin’ home” and when he gets upset with his cat for begging him for food, “no kitty, this is my cookie!” I say that to my dog in Cartman’s voice sometimes.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink


            Maybe I should try that on the cat..

            • darrelle
              Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

              I’ve tried that on mine. All it does is make her more persistent. I’m thinking of trying my Lord John Whorfin routine on her and see if that impresses her.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

                Go for it! 😀

                I’m thinking about cutting down on his catnip and see if I can manipulate him like a douchebag drug dealer…

                Whatever works…

  16. Peter Beattie
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, Dr Weiss doesn’t know what he’s talking about, as all cases he lists are not ones of suspected pseudoscience but of suspected wrong ideas or of missing hard evidence. Actual examples of how “pseudoscience” is about a pseudo-scientific method—and not about arriving at certain results—would be Feynman’s Cargo-cult science and Popper’s demarcation criterion inspired by unfalsifiable theories, such as Freud’s and Adler’s.

    • frank43
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      A long career teaching medical students has convinced me that no one should ever confuse an M.D. with a scientist.

      • desertviews
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink


  17. Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    If you hear “they laughed at Einstein”: when Einstein was a nobody graduate student, he got his stuff published in one of the finest physics journals in the world.

    That isn’t exactly “being laughed at”.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Well, he did have funny hair. Maybe they were laughing at that! 😀

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 27, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        Much later, I think. Einstein was said to be gentle on the eyes in his youth.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 27, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      I’ve commented to much the same downthread. It was the testability and later evidence that swayed people, not the absence of both.

  18. AdamF
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    This might explain why Aurora Carlson was so upset by your dismissal of Deepak. She seems to be in the same business of selling woo.!healing/chux

    • moleatthecounter
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      TO be fair, she seems to have very impressive credentials… It’s just that I have no idea exactly what they are…

      “Ayurvedic counselor and healer, teacher of meditation, Ayurveda and energy healing techniques, life-coach, conscious business coach, linguist …and mother.”

      I know what a mother is. It’s the rest of it I’m struggling with!

      • George
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        You obviously have not opened yourself up sufficiently to become one with the universe. Carlson gives a completely meaningful description of herself on her twitter feed –
        “Universal being tweeting for evolution”

        That is perfectly understandable – NOT!

      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        According to Wikipedia:
        “Ayurveda states that a balance of the three elemental substances, the Doshas, equals health, while imbalance equals disease. There are three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. One Ayurvedic theory states that each human possesses a unique combination of these doshas which define this person’s temperament and characteristics. Each person has a natural state, or natural combination of these three elements, and should seek balance by modulating their behavior or environment. In this way they can increase or decrease the doshas they lack or have an abundance of respectively. Another view present in the ancient literature states that dosha equality is identical to health, and that persons with imbalance of dosha are proportionately unhealthy, because they are not in their natural state of balance…”

        It goes on with more woo. It also mentions traditional medicines that treat our ‘imbalances’, but…

        “Concerns have been raised about Ayurvedic products; US studies showed that up to 20% of Ayurvedic U.S. and Indian-manufactured patent medicines sold via internet contained toxic levels of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Other concerns include the use of medication containing toxic compounds and the lack of quality control in Ayurvedic facilities.”

        • Chris
          Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Oh, that’ll be woo, then.

          Carry on!

      • Kevin Alexander
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        conscious business coach

        Confused? The word ‘busine$$’ says it all.

      • Posted March 27, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        I think I know what a linguist is, too. But somehow I doubt she is one. Does she specialize in tortured syntax? Reference-less semantics? 🙂

  19. jay
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    What is the difference between a radical new idea and a crackpot idea?

    I have explained it to people this way:

    To be taken at all seriously you need one of two things: clear and testable chain of causation, or lacking that, at least a demonstrably strong correlation (with the realization that the correlation may be inaccurate)

    If you can’t do AT LEAST that much, it’s crackpot.

    Novelty does not count. Originality does not count.

    The pylori example is an excellent case of science working as it should. The idea went against current knowledge, but it provided both a mechanism and a means to test. While scientists were correct to be skeptical, the theory was tested and retested (and its success personally benefited me). In a few years the acceptance changed.

    Chopra has been hawking the same crap for decades, and NOTHING HAS CHANGED. He has not provided any new evidence, any new insight (other than making things up) or provided ANY REASON WHATSOEVER to actually believe what he is claiming.

    • desertviews
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink


  20. Robert Seidel
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    The interesting part about Wegener is that he did a far better job at disproving the prior theory (Earth contraction). He thoroughly dismantled it, but lacked the evidence to conclusively replace it with continental drift. So his critics clung to the old theory despite its emergent weakness (wich Wegener was by far not the only one to point out).

    I regard that episode as a prime example for our human unwillingness of treading water. A problematic theory is better than no theory at all.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted March 27, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      It should also be remembered that many geologists in most of the world were persuaded by Wegener pretty rapidly, and it was only in the USA that he was ever anathematised.

      American histories of geology never seem to write it that way, though!

  21. Barbara
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Hmmm. Margulis wrote her paper on endosymbiosis in 1966. I graduated from a small liberal arts college in 1972 and before I graduated I was taught about Margulis’ theory. It was taught as “x and y certainly suggest her idea is right, but I don’t know how we’d prove it.” This was, of course, before DNA phylogenies.

    Margulis had a lot of trouble getting her paper published initially, but it doesn’t seem to me that her idea was effectively censored for a long time.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted March 27, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      The paper however was “rejected by about fifteen scientific journals,” Margulis recalled.

      The paper was received by J. Theoret. Biol. in June 1966 and published in 1967, so the rejections presumably went back a few years before that, to when she was a grad student. I think most grad students find that writing papers that journals will accept takes a fair bit of practice. In hindsight, sometimes rejection and critical reviews seem more persistent and persecutory than they really were; it would be historically interesting to see how much the ms changed (improved) through drafts and reviews.

  22. Stuart Robbins
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    In my experience, they simply have nothing else. That’s why they resort to bluster and insults.

  23. Richard Olson
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “Aurora” Carlson. Let me see the birth certificate.

    It will be a snap to get around Deepity, Dr. Weiss, and Aurora Retail. All that’s necessary is to weed their row:

    Motivated reasoning is confirmation bias taken to the next level. Motivated reasoning leads people to confirm what they already believe, while ignoring contrary data. But it also drives people to develop elaborate rationalizations to justify holding beliefs that logic and evidence have shown to be wrong. Motivated reasoning responds defensively to contrary evidence, actively discrediting such evidence or its source without logical or evidentiary justification. Clearly, motivated reasoning is emotion driven. It seems to be assumed by social scientists that motivated reasoning is driven by a desire to avoid cognitive dissonance. Self-delusion, in other words, feels good, and that’s what motivates people to vehemently defend obvious falsehoods.

    Examples of motivated reasoning:

    the Apollo moon landing was a hoax;

    climate change is a hoax;

    evolution is a hoax;

    9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration;

    Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11;

    the Holocaust didn’t happen;

    AIDS is not caused by HIV;

    vaccines cause autism;

    Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

    Jerry Coyne is an arrogantly ignorant pseudoscientist bully who doesn’t get Deepity Chopra

    See also affect bias, the backfire effect and the nasty effect.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Well, she could be the child of hippie parents; it’s not wholly implausible.


      • Richard Olson
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Aurora is a likely candidate for a flower child name list. Sadly, it is not found near the top. I personally think it is groovier than at least half of these:

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          Heather got off easy. At least you can probably find personalized items with Heather on them. As a kid, there was nothing that said “Diana”, it was always “Diane” then after the princess became famous, Diana was everywhere & my parents were annoyed because they had chosen my name because it wasn’t that known but not so unknown it was weird.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 27, 2014 at 4:35 am | Permalink

          Speaking of names…

          Oh, roar a roar for Nora,
          Nora Alice in the night.
          For she has seen Aurora
          Borealis burning bright.

          A furore for our Nora!
          And applaud Aurora seen!
          Where, throughout the Summer, has
          Our Borealis been?

          -Walt Kelly, 1953

          (I advocated for “Nora Alice” as a name for our daughter. But she turned out to be a “Margaret”.)

  24. desertviews
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    A few comments:

    1. Having graduated med school in 1989, I can remember clearly that H. Pylori was very rapidly accepted by mainstream medicine as a cause for peptic ulcer disease, and as soon as a test was available treatment was appropriately guided based on evidence.

    2. I don’t know Prof Weiss, but he is apparently a medical doctor who has some responsibility teaching young physicians. My bete noir in my medicine is the cavalier manner in which some in my field gravitate to unproven woo. I disagree with Weiss: I see medicine as much too accepting of unproven treatments, and this is perhaps the greatest problem I see in patients’ confidence in our medical science. Patients see doctors basing treatment on idiotic unproven premises. I would even go so far as to say that it contributes to the growth in anti-vax weirdos and homeopathy, etc, because there is a general lack of rigor in how we judge appropriate medical care.

    3. In Prof Weiss’ screed title he calls Jerry a “pseudoscientist”. Whatever complaint Weiss may have with Dr Coyne’s tone and rhetoric, I think calling him a pseudoscientist is obviously inaccurate, and my guess

    • Larry Gay
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Once you spot such an obvious mischaracterization, you can conclude the author is simply not honest, and stop reading unless there are good reasons to continue.

  25. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    The once falsely labeled pseudosciences of induced stem cells, epigenetics, quasicrystals, microbiomes, superconductors, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and other disciplines have moved from the realm of science fiction to reality.

    I wonder why cold fusion didn’t make the cut.

    Oh that’s right… because it was TOTAL HORSESHIT. Just like Deepfried Ochra’s lucubrations.

  26. Kevin
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Shechtman was criticized by Linus Pauling for suggesting quasicrystals. Linus Pauling was, more or less, very alone in this opinion and very wrong. Shechtman did not go against ‘dogma’.

    It is insulting to physicists how little Joseph B. Weiss knows of the history of quasicrystals. And to my knowledge Dr. Weiss misrepresents all cases in which scientists are ‘scorned’ and ‘vindicated’. His accusation that there is such ‘scientific dogma’ as he defines, is incorrect.

    Hubris is the only thing we get from the “we could be right, you know” crowd.

    • joseph weiss
      Posted March 31, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink


      Your statement trying to rewrite the history of science is as wrong as your accusation of hubris is misplaced.

      While I make no claim to any expertise in physics(although historically the term physician and physic predate the natural science of the same name), I have had multiple occasions to hobnob with the wizards who do. Perhaps I misheard what Danny told me about the intensely hostile and personal attacks on his scientific integrity for challenging dogma.

      Fortunately, to spare us from the ignorant deniers of scientific history, his experience was not limited to personal communication with me. Watch and listen to the few minutes on the painful subject in this brief interview readily available on YouTube:

      Prof. Dan Shechtman 2011 Nobel Prize Chemistry Interview with ATS

      Please check your facts before posting, but then again I forget that you a Jerry Coyne acolyte.


      A Physician who knows more about the history of quasicrystal physics history than you obviously do at the moment, but if you study the truth hard, not for long!

  27. gravityfly
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Do Weiss, Tanzi et al really believe what the Deepster says…or do they have other motives for defending him?

  28. Frank Stabile
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Rupert Sheldrake support groups . . . is like AA for woomeisters? I don’t get it. I guess that’s the point of all this pseudoscience though.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      “Hello, my name is Ant … I haven’t experienced any morphic resonance for 42 days…”


      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        Hi, there, everybody. I’m Ben. I haven’t astral projected in almost eight months. But I admit — I did shuffle the Tarot deck on Sunday. But I didn’t deal the cards — honest, I swear!


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          Hi everyone, my name is Diana. I had Reiki done and I didn’t feel anything after. I wonder if the practitioner just wasn’t concentrating hard enough on my chakras but I feel ashamed nonetheless.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        “Hello, my name is Sastra. I haven’t experienced any morphic resonance for 42 days either ….. wait! Morphic Resonance!

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      …like AA for woomeisters?

      Amusingly enough, one of the sayings you’ll hear constantly from old-timers in AA is “Fake it until you make it!

      (Don’t ask me how I know that.)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 27, 2014 at 3:40 am | Permalink

        Amusingly enough, one of the sayings you’ll hear constantly from old-timers in AA is “Fake it until you make it!”

        Now you’ve got me confused. Why would you be an “old-timer” in AA? I mean, you’re an alkie ; you go to AA ; you cease to be an alkie ; you stop going to AA. N’est-ce pas?
        And why would you “fake it”. That’s like going to the quack and saying “I broke my thigh last month, but I’m faking having fixed it” … then falling over.
        Empathy fail.
        ISTR that AA has been accused of having church-like behaviours, rather than treating a medical condition.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 27, 2014 at 4:41 am | Permalink

          No, you need to keep going, more or less forever. They think of it rather religiously, like the christian notion that “I’m a sinner”. You gotta keep going to keep the sin from coming out (or the alcohol from going in).

  29. madscientist
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Well, since Chopra obviously doesn’t have any qualms about using the phrase “the bully Jerry Coyne” at every opportunity, I think I’ll have to insist on referring to him as “the whiny bitch Deepak Chopra”.

    • Chris
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Bullier of a multimillionaire wooist and Discotute Censor of the Year.

      Prof Ceiling Cat has every right to be proud!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 27, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        Bringing the UofC into Repute!
        (Just to undermine an inevitable attack line of the DiscoTute.)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      or the narcissist Chopra. He displays textbook narcissism. I should be an expert by now because I’ve worked with/for several narcissists. You are okay as long as they have a use for you and you submit to them, but if you disagree, they fly into a rage.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Passive aggressive bullying usually involves charging other people with being bullies.

  30. Dev Null
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    If Weiss or Chopra consider themselves on a par with Marshall they should feel free to skull a beaker of H. Pylori anytime they like.

    • Chris
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Marshall’s Australian. Who did hardcore applied science, in almost stereotypical Aussie-style.

      Weiss or Chopra doing that? Ahhh, I’ll believe that one when I see it.

  31. Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    The difference between the purveyors of woo and the scientists they arrogantly compare themselves to, is that Einstein, Galileo, Newton, et al. actually proved the assertions that made them famous instead of relying on rhetorical tricks and jargon that attempt to trick their audience into accepting an unproven claim.

  32. Tulse
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    The “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” he received from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2011 has become a double entendre exposing his shortcomings.

    Perhaps I’m being overly pedantic, but in what possible sense is this a “double entendre”?

  33. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    He. Did. Not. Just misquote Carl Sagan in order to defend woo. The level of self-deception, intellectual confusion, or cynicism required to do that boggles the mind.

  34. Faustus
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    ‘I’m saddened that a medical doctor emits the old bromide that “They laughed at Marshall, and they laughed at Chopra, too.”’
    Reminds me of one of the lines in the film Bedazzled:

    (first ~25seconds).

  35. Mehul Shah
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I guess there is some financial connection between UCSD and Chopra …

    “Since 2004 The Chopra Center has offered the course Journey into Healing that is sponsored by University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, accredited by the Accreditation Counsel for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide American Medical Association credit for physicians.

    The Chopra Foundation co-sponsors university-level research into the effects of meditation on telomerase levels in the body (telomerase is an enzyme with intriguing connections to the aging process), along with in-depth studies of meditation and digital cardiology.”

  36. Konrad
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    May I just point out that Weiss is not currently listed as a faculty member at UCSD Medicine.

  37. Sastra
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    In New Age and Spiritual communities, disagreement and argument are seriously frowned on. They’re considered toxic, a sign that negativity and confrontation are blocking the open curiosity required to advance upwards towards enlightenment. The emphasis is on respect, acceptance, insight, and love. The peer review and debate which is the life breath of science is the death rattle of spirituality.

    “If someone tells you that you’re wrong, then the problem is in them, not you.” In groups which emphasize their ‘spirituality’ this reassurance and variations of it are repeated ad nauseum. It’s advice which makes sense in some contexts, of course: personal ones which involve tastes and lifestyle choices which are nobody’s business but your own. If Jerry likes cowboy boots, then gosh, don’t try to tell him he’s stupid to like them. You’ve got issues; he’s fine. Sure.

    But when this attitude is imported into what purports to be science — watch out.

    Normal criticism and reasonable skepticism are suddenly exaggerated into gross insult. They’ve become attacks and are reframed to fit the model of the strong bullying the weak. It’s all personal to them — and their defenses are personal too. Real scientists who propose an unusual theory react to their colleagues’ skepticism by going back and wracking up more evidence. You have to prove your case to people who aren’t eager to agree, not just present it to people who are easily impressed. But pseudoscientists react to criticism by behaving as if someone told them their boots are ugly or their kittens not cute. The problem is clearly with the critics, not the claim.

    It’s the same reasoning as is used in religious faith. People who believe in God or some other supernatural claim don’t think there is no evidence, or even poor evidence. No, the evidence is good enough if you are receptive. It’s this lack of a receptive spirit which dismays Weiss and the woomeisters, the hopeful seeking towards a flattering goal. They think it is the foundation of science, instead of the heart of religion.

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Very true. Retreating into the “I’m offended” crawlspace is by far the most common response from the Woo Tang Clan.

      I’ve often wondered why. To use an analogy, if the brain was an actual computer, a programmer interested in editing its “religous” software would try to sling-in some new code, only to find that it keeps getting rejected or overwritten by the old code, accompanied by a loud series of warning beeps and possibly the bluescreen of death.

      Selfish neuronal connections?

  38. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    My bold and brilliant theory (which is mine) is also gloriously inconsistent with dogma and totally exists prior to any validation at all therefore MUST be taken seriously and not scoffed at! (Remember it’s mine, you can’t have it) Here it is, my theory:

    Sometimes even people who are smart enough and dedicated enough to get legitimate medical degrees from well respected institutions in their later years become totally pudding-brained and completely lose the entire thread of all the hard lessons they once learned about how science works.

    • Shwell Thanksh
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      I will call it my Linus Pauling theory.

  39. Posted March 27, 2014 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Chopra is a money-loving con artist, like the rest of the charlatans who peddle pseudoscience for their own ends. They always end up looking idiotic in exchanges like this.

  40. Owen Recognizance
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    Another pedantic note–when people in T. Rooseveldt’s time said ‘Bully!’, it was an expression of approval. A ‘bully pulpit’ was a good place to speak from, because lots of people will pay attention to what a president of the U.S. says. This was just an ephemeral bit of slang & Dr. Weiss is making a mistake when he accuses Prof. CC of being a bully just becauses he uses his ‘bully pulpit’ to dismiss the unsupported claims of charlatans.

  41. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    “They also laughed at Bozo the clown.”

    Besides playing the Galileo Card, which merits 40 points on Baez’s Crackpot Index [ ], Weiss touches all the high points. (“50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.”) Even a layman recognizes the pseudoscientist in general, and that is certainly the case in Chopra and Sheldrake.

    Einstein was always highly regarded, since he put in the elbow grease to elucidate both Brownian motion and the photo-electric effect before his -05 “miracle year”. “Special relativity gained widespread acceptance remarkably quickly, confirming Einstein’s comment that it had been “ripe for discovery” in 1905. … Also, and most importantly, the theory was supported by an ever-increasing body of confirmatory experimental evidence.” [ ]

  42. John
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Latverian Diplomat (Comment #10, above)is right on the mark in saying that: “Pseudoscience apes the language of science, craves the prestige of science, but does not follow the epistemological discipline of science.” But there is one other definitive and telling difference between pseudoscientists and practitioners of real science. In my experience, real scientists don’t set up businesses to make money hawking their unsubstantiated ideas to the public with self-help books, seminars, pills and potions.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 27, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      A very cogent point. And it’s particularly ironic when you consider the fact that ego and greed are often supposed to be main reasons why the Materialist Hegemony of the Scientific Establishment refuses to consider the brave new discovery.

      I have friends who claim that alternative medicine breakthroughs are ignored by mainstream scientists because they won’t make enough money for Big Pharma even while they go to naturopaths and healers who bleed them dry selling their products.

  43. Posted March 27, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    So question here, leaving aside any defense of Weiss of Chopra’s position, given the delineation made in this post and subsequent comments between science and pseudoscience (on epistemological grounds presumably which I interpret as empirical and provable hypotheses bases on real data and physical experimentation) where does that leave a theory like the one put forth by David Bohm around undivided wholeness as laid out in Bohmian Mechanics?

    Arguably his theory doesn’t predict anything different than standard Quantum Mechanics which is why his theoretical work is more oft categorized as an Interpretation of Quantum Theory rather than a new theory in and of itself (although it does predict the Abharonov-Bohm effect which I won’t pretend to completely understand) but he does prove that non-local solutions to Quantum Theory predictions are indeed mathematically possible and coherent (as Bell, Einstein and others postulated).

    So is this pseudoscience or science? And if its the latter doesn’t it tell us that there’s some level of interconnectedness, correlation, in the quantum realm that cannot be described by standard, classical physics models that points to the existence of some sort of structure of the universe which is different than what we presume in classical physics? Or are we assuming that Quantum Mechanics as it stands today is simply incomplete and local, realistic models to explain Quantum Mechanics, and quantum gravity, are simply yet to be discovered?

    Again, not defending Weiss or Chopra’s position here but trying to understand more clearly where this line between science and pseudo-science is drawn and what our current understanding of Quantum Theory tells us about the underlying physical structure of the universe.

    • Posted March 28, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Very general scientific theories are never testable on their own; they need auxillaries from outside. General relativity, for example, was tested presupposing some but not all existing optical theories. Bohmian mechanics does not recapture enough of existing ones to be used yet; however, that might change and allow it to be adopted for its organization reasons.

      Realism, BTW, is just a canard: all scientific theories are realistic in the appropriate sense (which is not to say they are whatever degree true, but instead that they are, one might say, truth apt.)

      It is also important to distinguish between Bohm’s own views and what his work allows one to conclude.

      • Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        Makes sense, thanks. I’m a CS as well by the way, recommended read for you if you haven’t landed on it already is Quantum Computing Since Democritus by Scott Aaronson.

  44. joseph weiss
    Posted March 30, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    Thank you for the unexpected honor of your March 26, 2014 thoughtful response to my commentary, and adding to my vocabulary the word lucubration. The reason for the four-month time period was I only recently learned of The New Republic article at an enjoyable dinner engagement with some of your evolutionary biology colleagues at UCSD. (You may be surprised to learn that some of their personal comments about you were actually complimentary!) I have no financial interests, or alternative motivations in defending Chopra, Sheldrake, Tanzi, nor in increasing their book sales or yours.

    The New Republic article and letter were disappointing as rather than a thoughtful discussion based on the merits of a concept you offered what I (and others) perceive as pandering and mudslinging. My sole purpose in writing was to not leave unchallenged your prejudicial view of the realm of valid scientific inquiry. My writing was a pseudoparody of your below the belt screed, the point being that ‘pseudoscience’ is a relatively poorly defined pejorative with which you have liberally painted others. I was hoping that a historical perspective with some appropriately sarcastic humor might lighten the mudslide you launched.

    I was not expecting a reply, and was surprised that my commentary hit such an emotionally sensitive cord. It elicited your prompt and passionate response, but I found it only on your own blog addressed to your followers. Without my open-minded curiosity to learn more about your worldview, I would never have seen it (unlike you, I do not have nor want a tweet alert). Perhaps you did not wish to engage in an ongoing dialogue, otherwise why the change in venue? I am responding because I have no axe to grind, and prefer intellectual honesty even if it comes at my expense.

    Wikipedia and its founder are quotable sources on your blog. In deference to your blog which appears to rely on Wikipedia to be the arbiter of accurate information (I do not share this opinion) I will temporarily rely on it as an accurate resource for my responses. The Wikipedia entry on pseudoscience has a variety of definitions and my use of the term describing challenges to many now accepted scientific theories falls well within these boundaries. Wikipedia also includes commentary by authorities that the term actually has no basis in scientific discourse and should not be used: “Philosophers of science, such as Paul Feyerabend, argued that a distinction between science and nonscience is neither possible nor desirable….Laudan has suggested pseudoscience has no scientific meaning and is mostly used to describe our emotions: “If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like ‘pseudo-science’ and ‘unscientific’ from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us”.”

    I agree with these commentators, and their position supports the argument that those who accuse others of pseudoscience are engaging in pseudoscience themselves. The point was made in my letter by holding a mirror to reflect the image of a pseudoscientist, so you could see yourself (and the self deprecating humorous point not appreciated by some of your readers was that I was thus in the mirror too). Several of your blog followers do not seem to understand the difference between the healthy skepticism of an open mind, and the limited vision of a closed mind. Name-calling is something that even a closed mind person should recognize as being a characteristic of close-mindedness, if they were not blinded by their own close-mindedness (for the humorless, the humor was intended).

    Virtually every science theory evolves through a period of appropriately questioning skepticism and then either supporting or discrediting proof of its validity. More often than not there is a back-story of colorful intrigue, rivalry, and personal animosity, which hinders scientific progress. The time period can be variable and is often many years or decades, and at times centuries later. To demand that experimental or observational proof be provided within the timeframe restrictions of a critic’s choice is in conflict with the history of science as well as the principles of scientific discovery and truthfulness.

    The historical examples that I offered in my letter were to demonstrate that the requisite passage of time is often many decades or more after a theory is first proposed. Your counter that I am in need of your help in understanding medical history is most appreciated. It convincingly proves my point that your opinions are based on personal beliefs and not on factual knowledge. For example, your belief that the Helicobacter pylori theory of peptic ulcer disease was rapidly accepted within just a few years of Marshall & Warren’s (I mentioned only the first winner of shared Nobel Prizes) proposal is false.

    Your statement “The delay, as I said, was caused solely by the difficulty of testing warren and Marshall’s hypothesis…” is false and absurd. Scientific testing of their theory was relatively easy compared to convincing others to overturn dogma. Unfortunately and embarrassingly I know from personal experience about how being wrong can feel so right, as I was one of the many who doubted them. I vividly remember the hostile reaction they received from many in academia. I was in conversation with Dr. Barry Marshall at the time and know the history from others as well. Even a cursory review of the ‘authoritative’ Wikipedia entry on the history of Helicobacter pylori and peptic ulcer will correct your outline of this relatively recent event in medical history.

    I am such an unrepentant curmudgeon that I will still admit that I don’t believe they should have received the Nobel Prize as their discovery was made by many others over a hundred years earlier. The first documentation of these bacteria as a cause of peptic ulcer was published by G. Bottcher and M. Letulle in 1875, over one hundred years earlier. Others brought forth similar theories over the years and all were frequently refused research funding, credibility, and publication. Marshall & Warren’s submissions for publication were summarily rejected by over twenty scientific journals for many years because editorial board members and reviewers did not believe the data that challenged the dogma of ulcers and acid.

    Your assertion that the rapid acceptance of this paradigm shift came about in just a few years is false and your timing is off by well over a century. Even today, many decades after the publication of their Nobel Prize winning research, many if not most physicians still treat peptic ulcers with billions of dollars worth of acid suppressing drugs rather than with testing and treatment for Helicobacter pylori. Old beliefs and patterns of behavior, even when proven wrong, are hard to change especially when supported by special interests having a multibillion-dollar financial incentive and effective marketing.

    I was hoping that your grasp of evolutionary history would be better, since this is your field of expertise, but here you disappointed again. As the humorist P.J. O’Rourke said, “If I agreed with you, we would both be wrong.” You write: “Let me add, though, that Weiss’s claim that evolution was denigrated as a “pseudoscience” is a canard.” I appreciate your previous enhancement of my vocabulary and I would like to reciprocate by sharing with you that the word canard is used to describe a false or misleading story. A statement that is factually correct should not be used as an example of a canard.

    By the way, the word canard comes from the Medieval French expression ‘Vendre des canard à moitié’ the literal meaning of which is ‘to sell ducks by half’. You continued the duck theme with your name-calling pejorative ‘quack’. It is poetic justice that you have cooked your own goose with a perfect example of a real canard, serving it up immediately after you used the word. Your writing continued, “evolution was accepted pretty quickly after Darwin proposed it, with only religious creationists resisting it.” You may want to review the history of your own field of expertise, as he was not the first one to propose evolution. Evolutionary theory precedes Darwin by millennia, with incremental advances over the centuries. Well before Darwin were evolutionary giants such as Ray, Linnaeus, Maupertius, Buffon, Lamarck, Saint-Hilaire, Agassiz, Owen, Cuvier, Wallace and others. Likewise the theory of endosymbiosis precedes Marguilis’s advances by decades, and others proposed continental drift centuries before Wegener’s advances.

    I believe reasonable people, scientists and physicians sometimes included, can agree that scientific understanding is incomplete and will continue to evolve and advance over the years to come. Novel theories will arise, often to great controversy, and will eventually be proven or disproven, often awaiting new technology to objectively measure and assess parameters that are beyond our ability to study today. To denigrate and suppress theories and concepts (such as those proposed by Sheldrake, Chopra, Tanzi, and others who welcome scientific study) which precede our technological sophistication and intellectual knowledge base to test is disingenuous. The theories and concepts should be validated or rejected by truth seeking science and not by pseudointellectual name-calling.

    I am confident that we can each articulate points in support of our respective positions and agree on some points and still disagree on others. As much as I enjoy the stimulating repartee I do not have books to sell or blogs to promote, so I do not have the same motivations that may be driving you to sacrifice accuracy for voluminous blogs. I hope that you will find it easier, and perhaps less emotionally charged, to secure your goal of 25,000 website blog followers by embracing scientific integrity and honesty. In the search for truth and knowledge we should be able to engage in lively debate and even biting sarcasm and still be respectful without name-calling*.

    With genuine regards for your achievements with fruit flies.

    Joseph B. Weiss, MD, FACP
    Clinical Professor of Medicine
    University of California, San Diego

    *Offered in hopefully tasteful humor: (I bet that every time you pass a house of worship you thank God that you are an atheist!)

  45. Posted March 31, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Whose turn is it to make the popcorn?


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 31, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Happily, the paw of ceiling cat struck! That post violated a lot of da roolz, not to mention that its pompous tone reminded me how I used to write in my pompous youth and embarrassed me.

      • Posted March 31, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        Ah, well. Probably for the best.

        …but I still want some popcorn!


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 1, 2014 at 4:16 am | Permalink

          Ok, you can have some popcorn, but use the real butter!

          • Posted April 1, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

            It’s all I ever buy!

            …for what it’s worth, I’m a really big fan of Organic Valley’s European Style. They start with slightly cultured cream — the same general type of cultures used to make sour cream. If you can find it, you can spend about $30 / pound for actual imported French butter that’s marginally better, or you can spend about as much as you would on any other butter in the Whole Paycheck case.



            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 1, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

              Mmmmm butter!

              • Kevin Alexander
                Posted April 1, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

                I mix butter for flavour and palm oil for texture. You get that old movie theatre effect.
                Also lots of salt.
                It will kill me soon but I’ll die with smile on my face.

              • Posted April 1, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

                I cook the popcorn (in a Whirley-Pop, of course) with coconut oil and then, once it’s in the bowl, toss it with melted butter. Lastly, Diamond Crystal kosher salt goes in the mortar, gets a few quick grinds with the pestle, and then gets tossed with the popcorn.

                Don’t eat it too often and you’ll be just fine. Of all the indulgences to have, popcorn — real popcorn, not the shit that you put in the microwave — is just about the least unhealthy there is. There’s really not all that much to worry about, actually, unless you overdo it and regularly — but, then, you could even easier fuck up your oats by drowning them in sugar.


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