Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.


Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.

Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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John Stossel demonstrates how science should decide

20/20 on science versus emotion

Will ABC coverage of South African AIDS be similar?

If there is one place on the network TV dial where science is alive on the everyday level, it’s ABC, which is promising, since it is rumored to be planning coverage of AIDS in South Africa. John Stossel at 20/20 is better at confronting bogus salesmanship with scientific sense than anybody left at Sixty Minutes.

Tonight for example Stossel tormented the smiling Asian-American businessman behind the Tornado Fuel Saver, a product claimed to enhance gas mileage. Stossel relentlessly pointed out that none of the mileage comparisons that backed the product’s claims were scientific. They were simply the stories of friendly customers who were sure that Tornado worked. Meanwhile Consumer Reports tested Tornado and found it made no difference to gas consumption.

Mr Kim merely smiled. “We have sold it to 100,000 customers, ” he said, “and they are all very happy with it.”

“People put the Tornado in, they are so happy with the product, they tell a friend,” Kim says. “So I’m very confident that [the] product works.”

“Well,” said Stossell, “you have 100,000 suckers, it appears.”

Needless to say, we wondered whether there was a hidden message here. Was Stossel sending a psychic salute of sympathy to all those familiar with the charade going on in HIVxAIDS, which we mentioned to him again the other week? Probably not. But there seems to be little difference in the psychology involved in the hundred thousand who have bought Tornado and are very happy with it in spite of the fact that it has no proven influence at all, in fact, is scientifically shown to be useless, and the countless millions who are happy to accept the paradigm in HIVxAIDS, despite the fact that all scientific review shows HIV does nothing at all, and that condoms will have no effect whatsoever as a preventive (since the Padian study confirms that HIV positivity is 100% uninfectious between man and woman) on the global heterosexual “pandemic”.

Is there any difference between the smiling Tornado merchant and the businesslike scientists of HIVxAIDS?

Hard to see any. After all, as Mr Kim said in an appropriate turn of phrase, “Tornado works. That is the bottom line.


Gas Savers: Myths and Secrets

Do Those Infomercial Gas Saver Gadgets Really Work?


July 13, 2006 — Our love affair with the car is no longer a cheap date considering today’s high gas prices. But are there secrets out there that would allow you to get more miles for your money?

Plenty of companies claim if you just buy their products you’ll save on gas.

The infomercial for the Tornado Fuel Saver says its fast and easy installation can save you up to $20, $40, even $60 a month at the gas pump.

The company’s president, Jay Kim, appears in his own infomercials to plug the Tornado. Kim says scientific tests, including some done by ABC affiliates, prove that his product works, but other experts say those road tests don’t mean anything.

According to Kim, he’s sold 100,000 of these Tornados.

“People put the Tornado in, they are so happy with the product, they tell a friend,” Kim says. “So I’m very confident that [the] product works.”

But Consumer Reports disagrees. At its test track in Connecticut, it did road tests and found the Tornado didn’t save gas.

“During those tests, we splice a fuel meter into the line, run them through very strict tests, so we really get to know whether these things work or they don’t,” says David Champion, director of automobile testing.

“We tested it on two cars, [it] made no difference at all.”

But Kim still stands by his product.

“I think that someone made a mistake, because we have testing that shows really positive,” Kim says. He describes one of these tests as “actual real-life, real-on-the-road testing” that came from the ECOlogic Engine Testing Laboratories.

But we spoke with ECOlogic, and the man who signed off on the test, Donel Olson, says he’s sorry that it has his signature on it.

Well, he’s not the only person who signed the paperwork. There’s another manager’s signature on it.

We talked to him, too. He says the tests he did were not scientific.

Kim says someone made a mistake. “Tornado works,” he says. “That is the bottom line.”

Platinum Gas Saver

Another product, the Platinum Gas Saver, guarantees a 22 percent savings on gas.

It’s yet another product that Champion has doubts about. “We tested it on two cars, made no difference at all.”

Joel Robinson invented the Platinum Gas Saver, which he sells for about $200.

We told him that Consumer Reports tested his Platinum Gas Saver on two vehicles. Robinson’s reaction: “Well, two means nothing. We can show you in our own test data … I can show you two vehicles. One that got 12 percent worse and one that only improved by 7 percent. But if you take all 42 vehicles, what you see is an improvement of between 20 and 28 percent.”

Using data from that test done more than 20 years ago, Robinson kept the government from shutting his business down. The Environmental Protection Agency later ran tests and now says the product doesn’t work.

Robinson questioned just how realistic the EPA’s test is.

“The EPA test is done in a laboratory,” Robinson says. “The vehicle sits there on the floor, and the rear wheels are rotating on cylinders.

“There’s no road vibration given to our dispenser,” he adds. “Therefore, no platinum is going to get dispensed. Therefore, I’m not surprised they wouldn’t see any results, even if they did a test.” Robinson defends his product, saying, “Obviously, what we’re doing is obviously scientifically and testwise correct.”

But if his device works so well, then why after 25 years isn’t everybody buying it and saving all this mileage?

His explanation: “We have three vested interests who don’t like us: the oil companies, the car companies, because we double engine life, and the cigarette companies, because I was involved in the first litigation that they lost.”

But what do cigarette companies have to do with this?

“They don’t like me,” Robinson says. “They make life very difficult for us.”

America’s official testing agency for gas-saving devices is the EPA in Washington. They’ve tested 109 so-called gas savers.

“The devices and the additives that we have tested, just don’t work,” says Margo Oge, director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality. “We have been doing it for 35 years, and we have seen pretty much everything that you can imagine.”

Ways to Save

This is not to say there’s nothing you can do to save on gas. Some NASCAR fans told us they use upper-grade gas because they say it gives them a little bit better mileage, more power and a cleaner engine.

But that’s a myth, one of many debunked in “20/20’s” new book, “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity.”

Lots of people are fooled. Just this week, cops arrested eight men for allegedly passing off regular gas as premium at New York gas stations. They were caught only because investigators wiretapped the suspects — the customers never noticed enough to complain.

Some older cars need higher octane. And cars with high-compression, high-revving engines need higher octane gas to run smoothly. But most don’t.

Check your owner’s manual — 90 percent of today’s new cars have low-compression engines. They don’t need high-octane gas, and you’re wasting your money if you buy it.

Now once you’ve figured out which octane to buy, does the brand matter? No. All the gas, brand name and no name, comes from the same refineries.

Even NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson knows the truth. “It’s a myth, you don’t need the name-brand stuff.”

Whatever gas you use, if you want to use less, says Consumer Reports, here are some tips.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated. One that’s low on air uses more energy to push the car down the road.

Roll the windows down — turn off the air conditioner. Some people believe that at highway speeds, there’s so much drag from an open window that you’d save gas by putting the windows up and using the air conditioner. But that’s a myth. Consumer Reports ran tests and found that at any speed, using the air conditioner burns more gas.

Slow down. Don’t accelerate suddenly. You save the most gas by driving smoothly.

Breast feeding and lobsters: more 20/20 science

20/20 went on to promote breast feeding, and suggest that lobsters might be better treated than to be chucked alive into boiling water.

According to the report, studies have shown that breast feeding is beneficial in building up the immune system, the US government has accepted this, and run an ad campaign pointing out that using bottled formula risks losing this effect. Needless to say, some object to the campaign, including mothers who are stuck with bottle feeding for some reason they can’t control.

But amazingly, the formula industry agrees that breast feeding is best, and is not reported as standing in the way. The obstacles include companies which don’t provide privacy rooms, and the attitude to baring even part of a breast in public in “a country that came to a standstill when Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed for a second on national television.”

In other words, science runs head on into cultural sociology and psychology in telling us what could and should be done to protect the immune system of an unborn infant.

Once again, shades of HIVxAIDS, where cultural and social attitudes, and psychology, are much more dominant forces than scientific truthseeking.


Is the Breast Better?

Ad Campaign Rattles Mothers on Breast-Feeding Controversy system.


July 13, 2006 — Do you cringe when you see a woman breast-feeding in public? Or do you pass judgment when you see a woman buy milk formula for her newborn? Americans have mixed visceral reactions to breast-feeding, and a recent breast-feeding ad campaign has brought those reactions to a roiling boil.

The U.S. government spent $2 million on an ad campaign to promote breast-feeding. One of the ads shows a pregnant woman logrolling; another shows her riding a mechanical bull. Both ads ask: “You wouldn’t take this kind of risk with your baby, so then why would you take the risk by not breast-feeding?”

America has one of the lowest breast-feeding rates of any industrialized country. That could be due, in part, to how uneasy Americans get when it comes to seeing a woman nursing in public.

“Whenever I see a mother breast-feed in public, I always go over and say to her, what a wonderful mom you are,” said Amy Spangler, a lactation consultant who was an adviser on breast-feeding ad campaign.

Spangler, along with scientists, doctors and even the baby formula industry, all agree the breast is best. Studies show giving babies breast milk significantly reduces the number of infectious diseases they suffer.

“We teach immunizations, we teach car safety, we teach mothers to use bicycle helmets, but we don’t teach anything to mothers about breast-feeding,” said Spangler. “Yet it’s an integral part of what we really should be doing as part of the healthy lifestyle.”

But critics of the campaign say it should have focused on the health benefits of breast milk rather than on the risk of not breast-feeding. Some women who chose to use baby formula said the negative framing of the ad campaign touched a nerve in them.

Jen Spitzer, a mother who used formula, not breast milk, said the ad made her angry because it was too black and white. “I think it would make someone who can’t breast-feed or somebody who chose not to breast-feed feel guilty because it’s saying that you are putting your child at risk if you choose to formula feed,” said Spitzer.

According to Spangler, that’s not at all what the campaign intended. “It’s not that we were equating that. It [the ad campaign] was simply very humorous framing of a very sensitive topic,” said Spangler. “Any kind of a message using a risk-based focus is always a difficult arena to venture into and it’s always controversial.”

Recipe for Disaster

Dr. Myron Peterson of the Cato Institute, a private research foundation, disagrees. “It’s basically negative advertising and it’s designed to frighten people,” he said. “One of the worst things you can do is to force or coerce or cause a woman to breast-feed when she really doesn’t want to because that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Spitzer knows that recipe for disaster all too well. “If you’re frustrated and you’re stressed, the baby’s goin’ to feel it and sense it as well. I was so much happier bottle-feeding. And I saw a difference in my child,” said Spitzer.

Peterson said women shouldn’t feel bad about not breast-feeding. “I just don’t think it’s correct to say a woman who chooses not to breast-feed is in that category of negative behavior.” Peterson said the focus should really be on taking steps to make breast-feeding easier, such as making changes in the workplace.

Spitzer agreed. “I think it’s irresponsible of the government to put a commercial on and say this is what you must do and then not assist individuals to do it.”

Advocates of breast-feeding agree that much more needs to be done to encourage companies to make it easier on nursing mothers. Sixty percent of mothers with small children are in the work force. Companies are only required to give 12 weeks of maternity leave, and just a third provide rooms for moms to nurse or pump in.

Can Mothers Ever Win

Spangler said it’s the mothers’ responsibility to initiate changes at the workplace to make breast-feeding easier for them. “You need to go to your employer early in your pregnancy. You need to say to them, ‘Let’s talk about what kind of accommodation we can make so that I don’t have to trade off breast-feeding my child for continuing to provide you with the work services that you’re accustomed to receiving.”

But just how easy is it for women to talk to their employers about breast-feeding? Spangler said she hears from mothers every day who speak to their employers about this issue.

Public Tolerance to Breast-Feeding

Critics said that although the government ad campaign succeeds in promoting breast-feeding, it fails to address the negative reactions many nursing mothers receive when they breast-feed in public.

Melissa Lader, a mother who wanted to breast-feed but couldn’t, said, “If they were to have an ad of a woman actually breast-feeding, I think there would have been a lot of uproar in a different way, saying why are you showing that publicly?”

After all, this is a country that came to a standstill when Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed for a second on national television. Is it any wonder nursing women are experiencing a lot of hostility or discomfort when they nurse their babies and expose their breast in a public place?

Spangler cited new legislation on breast-feeding that has passed in some states that gives a mother the right to breast-feed wherever she has the right to be. “Now that the law is in place, we’re challenging those mothers. Please, come out of the closet, come out of the bathroom, come out of the back room, and feel comfortable breast-feeding your babies.”

Supporters of the government advertising campaign said it was designed simply to raise awareness, to encourage women to buck the national trend and start breast-feeding.

“We need to be clear about this — that any amount of breast milk a baby gets is a gift,” said Alison Walsh, a mother who chose to breast-feed. But Spitzer, who decided not to breast-feed, said that type of thinking makes her feel guilty. “Sitting next to you, being the person that bottle feeds, I almost feel as if you’re saying I didn’t give any gifts to my child.”

Despite their differences, there is one thing all women agree on: that the government’s ad campaign put the proverbial cart before the horse. A lot of laws and attitudes still need to change if breast-feeding is to make significant headway in the United States.

Lobsters not OK to dunk in boiling water

Finally, a discussion of the lobster: how fair is it that it should be rapidly boiled alive for our delectation? Here it seems that science cannot advise, except indirectly, because it cannot measure pain in a silent animal, and lobsters do not, contrary to myth, scream when thrown into the boiling pot. They do appear to hurry to get out for quite a few seconds, but according to the Harvard scientist trotted on camera briefly this is mere “reflex”.

“Much of the thrashing around that you see when you put the animal [into the pot] is a reflex contraction of muscle,” Harvard neurobiologist Edward Kravitz tells us, adding, “I think the brain will be dead in seconds, and therefore even if the animal can feel pain, its ability to perceive the pain will be gone in seconds.”

Industry generally agrees, though Whole Foods has stopped carrying live lobsters and now sells only frozen ones. One man who will lose his livelihood if we all stop eating th unfortunate crustaceans is New England lobsterman Laddie Dexter who says the protesters don’t know what they’re talking about.

“They just don’t understand the nature of the animal they’re dealing with, you know?” Dexter says. “I’ve never had a lobster wave to me. I’ve never had one talk to me.”

Sima Frierman, dock manager at Montauk’s Inlet Seafood cooperative, says that “It’s everyone’s prerogative to not eat what they don’t want to eat, (but) it’s not their prerogative to deny other people a healthy source of food.”

What they are talking about is PETA’s objective of cutting out lobsters from the diet altogether. But it is not clear why lobsters couldn’t just start cooking in cold water, or simply be conked on their head before being thrown in.

We sympathize with the creatures seen being sluiced back into the ocean by PETA if the alternative is being boiled alive. Do we really need science to prove they are sentient creatures who deserve a break from being tortured to death, however rapidly?

As far as we are concerned this is another example of how scientists can be psychologically divorced from the very reality they are studying. Of course lobsters are sentient beings, and deserve mercy if we want to dine on them, as long as we have no proof they aren’t immediately sensitive to the attack of boiling water on their nerve endings, which seems all too likely.

Anyhow, we are glad to see that ABC has a home for stories in which science and the scientific attitude plays a part. 20/20 sets a very good example. Furthermore, it signals that the upcoming coverage planned by ABC on AIDS in South Africa may be a little more enlightened than we might normally expect. Other reports we have received are in line with this prospect.


Can Lobsters Feel Pain?

Animal-Rights Advocates, Lobster Industry Battle for What’s on Your Plate


July 13, 2006 — It is the moment of truth for almost every lobster lover — turning a living, primitive creature into dinner.

But the question remains: Do lobsters feel pain? Animal-rights advocates say yes, though some scientists say the notion is nonsense. And the battle for what’s on your dinner plate is caught between them.

“Scientists have studied them enough to prove that they do feel pain,” said Karin Robertson of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. “They’re very sensitive animals. And they’re boiled alive, something we’d never consider doing to a dog or a cat or a cow or a pig. But many people do it to lobsters without thinking.”

Robertson said people should stop eating lobsters altogether. “When they’re being boiled, they’re thrashing around, they’re trying to get out of the pot, and nobody who’s seen that could honestly say that they don’t feel pain,” she said.

But Harvard neurobiologist Edward Kravitz called PETA’s science “bogus.”

Kravitz said diners shouldn’t confuse the involuntary, uncoordinated response to heat with human anguish, and he doesn’t think it’s inhumane to dump living lobsters into a pot of boiling water.

“Much of the thrashing around that you see when you put the animal [into the pot] is a reflex contraction of muscle,” he said, adding, “I think the brain will be dead in seconds, and therefore even if the animal can feel pain, its ability to perceive the pain will be gone in seconds.”

Lobster Empathy vs. Lobster Industry

Still, PETA’s Fish Empathy Project has embarked on a campaign to make us think about what we eat. And its efforts have yielded some results. Last month upscale grocer Whole Foods stopped carrying live lobsters out of concern for their “quality of life” in overcrowded tanks. But they’re still selling frozen lobsters, which suggests the save-the-lobster lobby isn’t out of deep water yet.

The idea that a nation of flesh-eaters should give up surf as well as turf has rankled the scales of those who make their living from lobsters. New England lobsterman Laddie Dexter has been setting his traps for several decades, and he said the protesters don’t know what they’re talking about.

“They just don’t understand the nature of the animal they’re dealing with, you know?” Dexter said. “I’ve never had a lobster wave to me. I’ve never had one talk to me.”

New England lobstermen from Maine to Montauk, New York’s largest port, note that their catch is not endangered and the industry is carefully monitored to prevent overfishing.

And lobster on the menu is an annual rite of summer — just ask Sima Frierman, dock manager at Montauk’s Inlet Seafood cooperative.

“It’s everyone’s prerogative to not eat what they don’t want to eat,” Frierman said. “It’s not their prerogative to deny other people a healthy source of food.”

‘Such an Easy Thing’

Frierman said she is not worried that PETA might have the same effect on the lobster industry as it did when it went after furs and harmed that industry’s business.

“I’m not concerned,” she said. “And I do draw the line. I do see a difference between fashion and food, I absolutely do. It’s not a political statement. We’re feeding people.”

Those in the industry call lobster the ultimate fresh food, harvested from the sea as a healthful part of the American diet. Over the past decade or so, nearly 90 million pounds a year have been caught.

But PETA would like to see lobsters — and all animal flesh — off the table, permanently.

“If we can choose 50 different options at our favorite restaurant, why not choose something that’s vegetarian?” Robertson said. “Why not save the life of a couple of animals just by pointing to a different option? It’s such an easy thing.”

Try telling that to someone dipping a hunk of sweet lobster meat into a cup of melted butter.


3 Responses to “John Stossel demonstrates how science should decide”

  1. Martin Kessler Says:

    With respect to Stossel and Aids in Africa, I don’t have very high hopes. Paul Krugman in his latest column gave a quote from Upton Sinclair: It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. If what Stossel reports on gets reviewed prior to broadcast (which I’d be surprised if it didn’t), either it would get severely edited or canned. Drug companies are major advertising revenue to the networks, and if Stossel’s criticism of AIDS science in Africa was aired, Stossel could get crucified. It happened to Neville Hodgkinson (see David Crowe’s Thoughts on Rethinking AIDS Board meeting.

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    Sorry, the post misled you if it implied that Stossel was doing any report. We have no information on who is doing it, exactly. But the spirit in which it is being done seems to fly a little higher than you fear, so far, according to our sources. Seems that the Rath side may get a little play – but we agree it will probably be firmly dissed as quack in the end, as you expect.

    Dissident optimists are rarely right on this kind of thing. But you never know. The existence of Harpers’ 12 pages is as we see it a new and firm foothold in the shining glass smooth battlements of HIVxAIDS which will support other media reporters and editors in their climb up and eventually over these defenses.

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    PS As noted elsewhere, Kary Mullis was once used as a consultant on an ABC report on HIV∫AIDS, so presumably there is a slim chance that a producer there might be aware of the Other Side to the story.

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