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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Sex differences and unscientific ideology

In what is now a famous affair, Larry Summers, the president of Harvard, was mercilessly trounced by the feminist-PC brigade at Harvard recently for daring to suggest there were perhaps innate differences in math and science abilities between the two sexes. Or rather, that the issue was still open to research.

Summers apologized—some might say groveled—in apology after the storm blew in, for the large portion of the Harvard faculty that object to what they feel is his high handed style used it as a club to beat him into submission and win a vote of no confidence in his Presidency.

Now, however, we have discovered a cultural backwater where the science of sexual differences is happily unrestrained by PC politics – Australia. Possibly Mr Summers would like to consider moving down under if his fortunes continue to decline in the US. Apparently science is still somewhat separated from social politics there, at least judging from htis story.

Here is the clip. All those who say Vive La Non-Difference can read it and weep. The rest of us can once again revel in our delight in the difference between the sexes. At least, we can according to a Dutch psychologist, Martine Delfos, who arrived in Melbourne to address a conference on boy’s education recently.

Jennifer Buckingham, Schools editor of The Australian, reported the story on April 05, 2005, ‘Gender divide’ in road of learning as follows:

“It’s all in their brains – boys just can’t help arguing with their teachers, while girls are determined to impress them. The innate differences in the thinking of our children are so stark, according to researchers, that educators need to develop a completely different approach in the classroom.

“Boys preferred a competitive environment, to be challenged, and to have frequent changes of activity to “turn their brains on”, according to Dutch psychologist Martine Delfos. “In school, boys need competition in order to feel stimulated and to know their place in the hierarchy,” she said yesterday.

“The strategy of girls is more often to please the teacher, whereas that of boys is more to compete with the teacher.”

“Dr Delfos, who will address a boys’ education conference in Melbourne today, said the instinctive male response to anxiety or danger was to take action, while the female response was more likely to be passive. Research shows boys tended to externalise their anxiety and girls to internalise it. “The most important problems for boys at the end of primary school are behavioural; with girls, the most frequent problem is tummy ache,” Dr Delfos said.

“Boys have a tendency to action and need action in class. A variation between movement and sitting still is more important for boys than for girls.” Dr Delfos also believes that many diagnoses of behavioural disorders are normal externalised behaviours to anxiety-generating social experiences – “only a boy reacting in a ‘sane’ way to an ‘insane’ situation. Boys need an educational surrounding with more possibilities to express their energy and their discomfort,” she said.

“Her advice for educators is based on her development of the new concept of “preference behaviour. Men and women, boys and girls, are capable of doing the same things but they have preferences linked to their evolutionary gender roles. From the first day of life, boys tend to look longer at objects, girls look longer at faces. Boys have an orientation toward understanding the working of things while girls are oriented to relating.

“After a long period during which there was much resistance to the idea of brain-based differences between the sexes, especially among educators, there has been growing international interest in Dr Delfos’s work.

“There has also been a change in Australia, said Deborah Hartman, manager of the Boys in Schools program at the University of Newcastle. “If we actually acknowledge there might be some differences between boys and girls we might be able to tap into those strengths.” She said a lot of progress had been made in the past decade. “We’re really starting to see the benefits now of a shift in thinking in boys’ education. “We’re noticing in those schools their behavioural statistics are improving and we are also starting to see evidence that boys are more engaged in lessons, including a shift in literacy results.”

“But it would be quite a few years before results would be known, Ms Hartman said. “The main objective now is for the schools that are doing really good work to share their ideas and results.”

What are we to make of this bold, forthright and unabashed assertion that the two sexes are in fact different in their behavior? Some might find it a relief from the widespread notion in the US that, apart from obvious physical differences, the two sexes (if there are still two—some might say we are up to five now in advanced countries – male, female, gay male, lesbian, and transgender) would behave in the same way except for cultural indoctrination. Surely anyone who is married knows better!

The serious point here is that in this field, like so many others in the US, politics is warping science. While it is obviously true that we shall never know precisely how much influence nature has compared with nurture—individual genetic variation is evidently great, and there is probably no way of controlling for the innumerable subtle social influences—research in this field must be liberated from gender politics if it is to tell us whatever it has to tell us.

By all accounts, Larry Summers was speaking in this spirit when he made his notorious faux pas in January. Much of the reaction seems to have been opportunism on the part of the many professors that dislike his highhanded style, who now use it as a stick to beat him with.

Politically, they may have a point, since justice demands as the first priority that in selecting professors, musicians or any other kind of intellectual performer we must never prejudge performance on the basis of sex. One German orchestra proved this in a famous instance where they moved each of the cellists auditioning for an empty seat in their orchestra behind a curtain to demonstrate their skills, and to the surprise and chagrin of the conductor the top three choices all proved to be women, when not a single female had ever been chosen to play under him before.

But society also needs to know what research can tell us, if only to remove whatever false expectations and biased treatment may still distort the social politics. Larry Summers was right. Equal opportunity politics must not be allowed to gag what science has to tell us, especially when talent comes in so many different forms and must be enhanced by education in so many different ways which only science can elucidate.

The group mind is the enemy of truth seeking in science, whether in sex research, AIDS, or any other research topic.

A book that collects the latest in science on this topic is Taking Sex Differences Seriously by Steven Rhoades. The Amazon review chain offers instructive and entertaining examples of how ideology clouds the issue with politics.

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