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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Science admits it has to reassess its review process

But Donald needs a push in the direction of a conference

Nicholas Wade notes today (Jan 11 Wed) in Journal to Examine How It Reviewed Articles that Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science, has acknowledged at last that his review procedures may need updating in the wake of Dr Hwang’s scientific shell game.

But Kennedy has no good ideas to suggest so far except to make every scientist who puts his name to a paper (sometims there are six or more, including as in the Dr Hwang case someone who has never seen the experiment it records) own up in writing to what his contribution to the work was, exactly.

He maintains that realistically, it may be impossible to filter out all fraud from his pages,

Authors may also be required to sign statements saying that they agree with a report’s conclusions.

Dr. Kennedy said in an interview that the review system could not be relied on to prevent fraud.

“I do not think a perfect system can be designed for detecting fraud, and I do not think we can make a dramatic improvement in our capacity to detect it,” he said.

It will be interesting to hear his reasons, after he has devoted a little more thought to the topic. The problem of HIV?AIDS indicates just how important it is avoid claims being supported for the non scientific reasons of fortune and fame, and the issue of how to make peer review a little tougher is obviously wider than simply blocking outright fraud.

With the scientific literature the only stable measure of the quality of science, and peer review the only means of guarding its virtue, in a century where the unscientific stakes of money, power and fame can exert an overwhelming influence on the behavior of scientists, we need a whole conference on the topic.

We at the Committee for Scientific Progress support such a conference and its goal of improving the quality and integrity of the peer review process as a leading priority in the self-governance of science today.

For historical, geographical and ethical reasons we suggest Rockefeller University would be the ideal site.

We are thinking that not only is it sufficiently far removed from the influence of Washington politics, but it is also the place where a certain scientist lost his high position in the wake of his poor behavior in protecting a questionable paper to which he had signed his name without actually checking the experiment done, or so it seemed, including (all this according to testimony in front of the investigating Dingell Committee in Congress) mounting a massive effort to protect it from review and to destroy the career of the whistleblower who had sucked him into such public embarrassment, behavior which resulted in such a wave of disapproval from the majority of the professors at Rockefeller that he was forced to flee in shame and humiliation.

Surely this is the correct venue for a reassessment of how science must guard its virtue.


The New York Times

January 11, 2006

Journal to Examine How It Reviewed Articles


Science magazine, the leading scientific journal that published Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s two now-discredited reports on cloning human cells, said yesterday that it would evaluate how the articles had been reviewed and search for ways to improve its procedures.

The journal’s statement followed the announcement yesterday by an investigatory panel of Seoul National University that Dr. Hwang had never generated embryonic stem cells from human cells, as he reported in articles in March 2004 and June 2005.

The 2005 paper was retracted by the authors, and the journal is now retracting the 2004 paper.

Journal editors have usually taken the position that their reviewers cannot be expected to detect fabrication. This was the view expressed by Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science, and Philip Campbell, the editor of Nature, at an earlier phase of the Hwang scandal.

Nature has emerged the luckier of the two journals, having published only Dr. Hwang’s claim that he had cloned a dog, Snuppy. The Seoul panel said yesterday that Snuppy was a true clone.

Science, however, must recover from publishing the two articles on human embryonic stem cells, which seemed to bring therapeutic cloning – treating patients with new tissues generated from their own cells – almost within reach.

One change Science is considering is to require a statement from each author describing his or her contribution to an article. These statements would be published, probably online, Dr. Kennedy said.

By longstanding practice, scientific reports carry only a list of authors. The first and last named authors generally garner most of the credit for a discovery. The custom is that the first author is the one who did most of the research and the last is the most senior author.

Authors may also be required to sign statements saying that they agree with a report’s conclusions.

Dr. Kennedy said in an interview that the review system could not be relied on to prevent fraud.

“I do not think a perfect system can be designed for detecting fraud, and I do not think we can make a dramatic improvement in our capacity to detect it,” he said.

Benjamin Lewin, a former editor of the journal Cell, said the requirement to state individual contributions might prevent scientists from getting an authorship credit when they had made a minor contribution or raised money. “If this proposal took hold, it wouldn’t be a bad thing since you would have a better sense of people’s contributions,” he said.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

One Response to “Science admits it has to reassess its review process”

  1. Robert Houston Says:

    That “certain scientist” – whose certainty seems largely delusional – was involved, I submit, in a bigger deception than the scandal which caused him to lose the presidency of Rockefeller University. In 1986, Dr. David Baltimore co-chaired the National Academy of Science committee on a National Strategy for AIDS, which helped to misorient the research into an absurdly HIV mono-focus. Moreover, in 1996 he was appointed head of the NIH AIDS Vaccine Research Committee, which resulted in the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars in an entirely useless and irrational effort to make more people HIV antibody-positive. But modern science too often seems to reward chicanery. After stepping down as president of Rockefeller in 1991, was he “forced to flee in shame and humiliation”? Actually, he remained on the faculty until mid-1994, when he became a professor of molecular biology at MIT. Since 1997 he has been president of Caltech.

    I hope that sometime you’ll tell us more about the Committee for Scientific Progress and how we can all contribute. Please let us know in advance the details about its conference at Rockefeller U.

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