Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
The Demons of Ignorance and Greed

Literaturnaya Gazeta 01.02.2006

Is it possible to stop the procession of ghosts, sorcerers, soothsayers, and healers of all kinds and titles who have pounced on the country today? For telepathy, ghostly visitations, and other wonders are discussed today as quietly as the dollar exchange rate and the weather forecast. Traffic in medical ignorance has reached a total of hundreds of millions of dollars. Swindles employing generators of questionable energy are carried out by the almost openly intact organizations of "Swindlers Posing as Scientists"… Ehduard Pavlovich KRUGLYAKOV, Academician of the RAN [Russian Academy of Sciences] and Chairman of the RAN Presidium's Commission to Combat Pseudoscience answers questions from LG:

- Ehduard Pavlovich, pseudoscience is…

- First let's approach the question from the other side and define what is science. Science a means of knowing the world around us on the basis of research of natural phenomena, the accumulation of experimental data about the world around us, a search for patterns and the creation of theoretical models describing the experimental data, the prediction of new phenomena, and their detection and confirmation with the aid of new experiments. Pseudoscience, the eternal companion of science, can quite arbitrarily be pictured as two varieties.

The first is "naive" pseudoscience based on a low level of education and the completely unproven fantasies of the authors. The second is based on ambiguous irreproducible experiments, and sometimes simply on mistaken, completely unfounded ideas. Such pseudoscience boldly but without proof demolishes established scientific ideas and crushes the very structure of traditional science.

In recent years a new form of pseudoscience has appeared – with a criminal tone. This is a conscious attempt to get a lot of money from the state budget or private individuals through fraudulent means.

As a rule, pseudoscience with its sensational "discoveries" makes its way to the consumer through the mass media; you won't find a trace of these "discoveries" in a single scientific journal. Pseudoscience prefers to make its way into the budget not through scientific institutes but secretly, through the presidential administration, the government, the Security Council, the State Duma, a governor…Alas, ignorant protectors of all sorts of wonders are to be found there.

- Was there one time during the Commission's existence when after testing a pseudoscientist that at first glance they came to the conclusion that an outstanding but as yet unexplained discovery had been made?

- I have to disappoint you. There has not been one such case. Your question perfectly illustrates the difference in the world's understanding of scientists and journalists. Based on the experience of working in science, a scientist understands quite well that, for example, the story of engineer Garin's hyperboloid described by Aleksey Tolstoy is nothing more than a fascinating fairy tale. The problem is that no scientific discovery made in one scientific laboratories can remain a secret from scientists in other laboratories for long. Real practice in science is such that any discovery would be reproduced by scientists from other laboratories in a week, a month, or at the most – which is in practice improbable – a year. But the idea creeps into a journalist who is unfamiliar with the specifics of the work of scientists who follow science journals very carefully for the smallest nuances and trends in science, "What if?". Well chasing after sensations has its effect…

Swindlers skillfully exploit the differences in the understanding of scientists and dilettantes. I know a case they declared that they were 15 years ahead of the entire world's science when appealing to the highest echelons of government! One such declaration is enough to understand that dirty con artists are before you.

But, as before, every day the mass media throws "discoveries" at us which attack the foundation of the structure of science. But all these "discoveries" are only fiction. No extraordinary upheavals or revolutions in science are expected.

- What remains after the debunking of the latest sensational discovery? What do you usually encounter – genuine error by unlucky people who give no peace to Einstein's laurels, mental illnesses, or complete ignorance?

- Greed is the basic motivation of contemporary pseudoscientists. Making use of highly-placed corrupt officials and so-called kickbacks, they provide very nice conditions for both themselves and the officials who enter into collusion with them. So an official either profits from pseudoscience or he is so stupid that he cannot tell a scientist from an ignoramus. Admittedly, it is hard to believe the latter…However, cases are known when senior officials have issued licenses to…correct nonexistent biofields.

Cases of an altruistic devotion to false ideas are not of interest to the public. Often their dramatis personae even evoke sympathy.

- Can it be said that your Commission was initially created with the objective of combating corruption in science?

- Not at all. Even back in the last years of the USSR an enormous eruption associated with the appearance of all kinds of healers, sorcerers, "seventh generation" wizards, clairvoyants, and astrologers began in the mass media….This eruption has still not ended and it continues right now to remain so dangerous to society that an acute need to counter it appeared.

In the summer of 1998 Academician Yu. S. Osipov, the President of the RAN, suggested that I join the Commission to Combat Pseudoscience that was being created. I agreed and soon was appointed Chairman of this Commission completely unexpectedly. Its first membership contained 12 people of whom six people were physicists (physics has always the most popular among pseudoscientists). Today, as before, physics pseudoscience is in the lead and quack medicine has become dangerous. Therefore many biologists are in the new membership of the Commission.

Naturally the largest-scale swindles of the type associated with the torsion force are within the scope of our attention. If before swindlers tried to get into the Ministry of Defense where they promised a torsion weapon with fantastic abilities, now the focus of this "activity" has shifted to peaceful professions associated with oil and gas exploration, ecology, magical transformations of medicines obtained after irradiation with torsion generators, etc. etc.

In recent years the business of selling old sick people multi-purpose quack "instruments" which cure hundreds of illnesses has taken on a colossal scale. These "instruments" often don't even require batteries to work. Ever greater time needs to be devoted to expose such swindles.

Quackery has become possible because of the unscrupulousness of the mass media, which is ready to cynically advertise whatever one wants for the sake of money. Of course, it is impossible to fail to note the role of the Ministry of Health, which shuts its eyes to the market penetration of strange instruments, to put it politely. And all the same it is the mass media is intentionally duping the population. The regular glorification in the mass media of medical swindlers and their "instruments" prompted me at one of the RAN's general meetings to suggest on behalf of the Commission getting the State Duma to adopt a law "The Responsibility for Dishonest Medical Advertising". We'll see what the Duma does…

Still one more "sore point" is the "courtyard Academies", which openly trade in all sorts of diplomas, patents, and the awarding of scientific degrees and ranks. There is no criminal responsibility for this "business". But while Mr. Grabovoy, who became scandalously famous not long ago, accumulated titles of "Academician", "Professor", and "Doctor of Sciences" for himself, he was awarded more orders than one of the last Soviet General Secretaries.

The problem of patents in Russian might be mentioned among the Commission's concerns. You can't even imagine what anti-scientific nonsense Rospatent is patenting today! I sent Minister A. A. Fursenko a letter which cited several specific examples of recent patents. By the way, along with this letter the terrifying situation was illustrated about the absurd textbooks for higher educational institutions which have received permission from the RF Ministry of Education. Among other things, Mr. Grabovoy's "textbook" was also approved by the Ministry of Education. It is true that Mr. Fursenko did not participate in this. But it is his responsibility to put things in order.

- Has the situation changed at all during the seven years of the Commission to Combat Pseudoscience's existence?

- And quite notably! Pseudoscience tries to become respectable, displaying a multitude of patents, diplomas, and certificates, since the business in trading in these papers has flourished to this day. Pseudoscientists themselves have been covered with the title of "Academic".

I think it necessary to return to the torsion scam, which I consider to be the largest in the entire history of Russian pseudoscience. First the swindlers selected a quite successful scientific basis for their activity. Unlike, for example, antigravity, telepathy, telekinesis, the "resorption" of malignant tumors by methods unknown to medicine and other absurdities, the existence of torsion fields does not in principle contradict modern scientific ideas. For the time being torsion fields can be classified as not contradicting scientific hypotheses. Serious and respected scientists are engaged in a search for methods to prove their existence. At one time Einstein proposed that space curves in the presence of a gravitational mass. This proposal received experimental confirmation. In 1922 Cartan proposed that besides the curvature of space twisting was possible. If this is so, then twisting, or torsion waves (from the English word "torsion", or twisting) are also possible. They henceforth began to be called torsion fields.

Experiments were discussed which could have detected the existence of torsion fields. For example, if it had been able to establish that two bodies with a large and small mass fell with different speeds in spite of the law of universal gravitation this would be proof of the correctness of the torsion hypothesis. However, physicists who discussed the verification experiments understood very well that they needed to search for exceptionally weak effects. In this case, the fall of two masses, this would be an effect on the level of 10-14. It is impossible to detect such an effect.

However in 1987 then-Prime Minister N. I. Ryzhkov did not resist the alluring promises of swindlers who promised secret instantaneous communications with any point on the globe, including submarines, bringing an enemy army to a state of complete idiocy, and a number of other wonders. The state allocated 500 million rubles for this scam (about $700 million at today's exchange rate). No one has answered for this monstrous defrauding of the state.

As far as I know, the Ministry of Defense in the new Russia, too, continued to pay for the torsion swindles, but no longer on the same scale.

In recent years the "torsioneers" have completely forgotten about a torsion weapon and moved to peaceful "professions". The number of swindlers has grown. Torsion firms spring up one after another. It doesn't always turn out as planned. The scam artists turned to Noril'sk Nikel'. They promised an annual savings of $250 million from the introduction of torsion technologies. The owners of the combine did not believe them. But the swindlers got lucky on the Black Sea. The government of Kuban' requested money from Moscow to clean Gelendzhik Bay. The scam succeeded beautifully. After torsion "processing", in 1997 the water analyses in the Bay turned out to be completely satisfactory. True, they compared them with analyses from…1990 at a time when it was found possible to get a decision about stopping the discharge [of waste] into the Bay. Seven years is a long time. In the absence of a discharge the Bay cleaned itself but who will pay attention to such a trifle?

The torsion figures offered the Moscow [City] government to clean the Yauza [River] for 160 million rubles. But it was a disaster; they came to an honest official who demanded an explanation of what physical effect on this work would be based and proposed that the effectiveness first be proven on a small creek. The indignant "ecologists" declared that they work with cubic kilometers of water and would not waste time on trifles.

It needs to be said that the creative thought of the "torsioneers" does not stand still. They proposed, for example, to irradiate old oil wells with torsion generators. A commission was created. And what would you think? They processed six wells, uncapped [them], and oil flowed in four of them! The commission was delighted and they began to sign documents, but then bad luck! One stubborn person demanded that several wells not irradiated be uncapped. He insisted on having his way! They uncapped four wells for him. Oil flowed in three of them! So the large sum was snatched from the fishhook. But four regions in Russia paid for torsion oil exploration after all. As long as there are corrupt officials there will be torsion "technologies"….

- If the state itself does not consider it necessary to combat criminal pseudoscience then what can the Commission you lead do without having any punitive functions?

No, not everything is so gloomy. Things have started moving all the same! The stream of requests to our Commission from the most diverse organizations beginning with the President's administration and ending with governors is always growing.

One need not think that pseudoscience is making its nest only in Russia, although we are among the leaders in this regard, of course. Pseudoscience lives very quietly in the prosperous United States, for example. Three (!) times in the last 15 years crooks have managed to get money for the solution of the problem of….antigravity.

But now about what our Commission can do. I see the results which have been achieved with some optimism. Something is changing for the better after our appeals to the President, the Prime Minister, and several high-ranking officials. When we started it was practically impossible for a scientist to get into the mass media. Today the situation has palpably changed.

- What can explain such a rapid growth of pseudoscientific charlatanism in Russia?

The uncertainty about tomorrow, the growth of official corruption, and a reduction of the public's general level of education are being reflected here. My granddaughter told me that their physics teacher assured students in class that if a copper strip lies around for a long time then it will turn into gold. When she passed onto the teacher my words that this was impossible he told her that her grandfather knew nothing about physics. Alas, the terrible years of the collapse which Russia has endured have left their trace in the quality of education and in public morals. Time will be needed for the state to become civilized.

Suddenly something else. The entire civilized world has now been subjected to the same misfortune as Russia! It is sufficient to say that recently the first defense of a dissertation in modern history on astrology, against which a number of West European scientists spoke critically, was held in the Sorbonne.

- Aren't you afraid that one day your Commission will make a mistake when separating the weeds in science from the "beneficial plants"?

The Commission has gathered in its ranks a multitude of brilliant scientists from different fields of knowledge. Each has many years of work experience in science. Each had to see everything. So the probability of a mistake is extremely small, although of course it exists. The name of the Commission evokes fear on the part of many: what if a new "Inquisition" has been created in Russian science, a narrow circle of people who decide what is needed and can be researched and what is not and cannot. Yes, the term "pseudoscience" is reminiscent of the persecution of genetics and cybernetics. But this is absurd. The repressive apparatus of the state has to take part in order to seriously talk about "persecution" and the suppression of any dissent.

Today is another time and every scientist can freely defend his point of view. We in no way oppose this and therefore there is no need to make a boogeyman of us. Our only weapon is openness. But this is what pseudoscience fears like the plague. A situation suits it in which a pseudoscientist does anything, makes any absurd pronouncement he pleases, and it is accepted without proof. This is where screams about a new Inquisition, Lysenkoism, etc. come from. We are merely speaking of the principle of the "presumption of evidence" in science. If you make a claim, take the trouble to prove it.

In the final account we are fighting for people to be treated by doctors and not sorcerers and home-grown masters of white and black magic; that no science swindler is able to make a fortune from absurd predictions of political and natural catastrophes, unconscionably exploiting the ignorance of the powers that be; and for the newest development efforts of Russian military equipment to be based only on real achievements of science and not on generators of mythical energy.

Today is a difficult time in the history of our Motherland and "swindlers posing as scientists" do not live at all badly as long as there are troubled waters. But this won't last long! The truth will win out. One only needs to remember that one other demonic force besides pseudoscience exists which Karl Marx warned about. He once said: "Ignorance is a demonic force and we are afraid that it will serve as the cause for still more tragedies!". An absolutely correct statement!

Aleksandr Rylov

Translated by Gary Goldberg