Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
What Pseudoscientists are Leading Russia To

Pseudoscientists and pseudoscience are turning Russian into a country of savages

One often has occasion to hear complaints from scientists about meager financing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it turns that the brain drain and the difficulties of living half-starved which inflicted enormous damage on Russian science during this time are by no means exhaustive. Science and even the entire country have suffered a colossal loss from the tireless activity of pseudoscientists who have actively used the liberalization of the way of life to their personal advantage. Pseudoscience took such firm root in our society that the Russian Academy of Sciences had to create a special commission to combat this phenomenon. A VM observer talked with the chairman of the unusual body, Academician of the RAN Eduard Kruglyakov.

Fed from…a pyramid

- Eduard Pavlovich, the following definition of science is well-known: it is a set of methods which allow one to objectively study the world with the aid of certain laws, rules, and mechanisms, as well as to predict new, previously unknown phenomena. But what is pseudoscience and why was it necessary in our country to create a special commission to fight it?

- I would add the following to the definition you quoted. Real science grows out of a set of individual facts whose analysis permits the detection of hidden patterns. A theory is created based on them which permits these patterns to be described and the prediction of new previously unknown phenomena. In the process the theories constructed within the framework of a particular science can in time be refined. For example, it turned out that completely different laws operate at speeds close to the speed of light, unlike Newtonian mechanics. However, no one got it in his head to completely "close" classical mechanics: it continues to serve people who deal with a multitude of engineering problems, including space-related problems. That is, thanks to new discoveries more modern ones are appearing which include old knowledge as a particular case. Unlike science, pseudoscience rejects practically all facts firmly established by science. Any "discovery" from the field of pseudoscience destroys the edifice of science to its foundations.

- Excuse me, but at one time Soviet geneticists and later cyberneticists were accused of about the same "sins", the label of pseudoscience was hung on genetics and cybernetics. But then it turned out that we lagged behind world discoveries…

- The decision about who was right, geneticists or Lysenko and his assistants, was made at the highest level. Those who were "wrong" were subjected to the harshest persecution even as far as prison and prison camps. As regards cybernetics, only ignorant Party bureaucrats were among its persecutors. Fortunately, 1953 had already passed and no repetition of the 1948 VASKhNIL [All-Union Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences] meeting occurred. So, unlike genetics, cybernetics practically did not suffer. Today science is completely separated from politics. Our Commission to Combat Pseudoscience appeared 10 years ago when science in Russia was repressed and pseudoscience was in full bloom.

- Why, in your view, did this happen?

- As a rule, the publications of pseudoscientists were generously subsidized. In addition, it is more interesting and easier for nonprofessionals to understand pseudoscience: it promises miracles, and right now. It is another matter that the promises of pseudoscientists are never kept. But unkept promises are quickly forgotten! Remember Aleksandr Golod, the famous builder of pyramids. In the 1990s he was not afraid to declare for all to hear that he had buried rocks around the [Moscow] Garden Ring "irradiated" in pyramids and fed there by cosmic energy and for this reason the flu epidemic would now bypass Moscow. And right away two very strong epidemics rolled through the capital…This did not achieve much: Russia sent little rocks "irradiated" in a pyramid to the Mir space station to improve how the cosmonauts felt! Then, it is true, a scandal about this broke out in Roskosmos [the Russian space agency]…Such cases make Russian a laughingstock in the eyes of the entire world. The saddest thing is that these crooked "scientists" act in the name of science and thereby discredit it. It is especially worrisome that the advertising of quack medicine is become more audacious and unscrupulous. All sorts of "normalizers" and "harmonizers", plastic "health cards", eye drops in which a "matrix of health" is imprinted, etc. are distributed in enormous quantities. All this is being done with the silent connivance of the authorities. If this scientific-sounding banditry is not stopped Russia will be turned into a country of savages. The popular science literature for which the USSR was famous and which has practically disappeared in the new Russia could serve as a natural antidote against the duping of the population. It needs to be revived, but this is impossible without government help.

Pseudoscience: special signs

- How is the work of your Commission done?

- At first we tried to counter pseudoscience mainly through the mass media. For example, some time ago a "bionormalizer" was widely advertised in Russia. I repeatedly commented on television on the unscrupulous advertisement of this "invention" which informed [viewers] that it "suppresses viral hepatitis, prevents the development of cirrhosis and liver cancer, normalizes the clinical presentation of the blood and well-being", etc. A bit later we were able to get a document annulled which had recognized that another "instrument" named "bioactivator" had met sanitary and epidemiological rules and standards. We also acted against a number of specific higher educational textbooks which had been approved by the Ministry of Education and Science (among them was a "work" by [swindler] Grigoriy Grabovoy), and turned to Minister Andrey Fursenko about the terrible situation with patents. As a result we recognized that the destruction of the expert reviews of projects which had existed in the USSR had led to the appearance of a "black hole" where budget resources were being plundered uncontrollably and proposed that the Russian President restore such expert review. After this the ice broke. Recently we have received many projects for expert review which come from the most varied government bodies, from the Presidential administration and the Security Council to presidential representatives and governors.

- Tell me a secret, is there a clear sign by which one can perhaps identify a pseudoscientist?

- There is no universal recipe: pseudoscience is multifaceted. But there are a number of signs which allow one to separate science from pseudoscience. I'll mention perhaps the most characteristic feature of pseudoscientists: they regularly violate scientific ethics.

- What do you mean?

- [If] you have made a discovery, publish an article in a scientific journal and then address the mass media. Pseudoscientists do exactly the opposite: they "bomb" the mass media, ignoring scientific journals. It is true that the same thing is also found in the scientific world, but very rarely. The most celebrated story of this sort of thing happened about 20 years ago with the Americans Fleischmann and Pons. In February 1989 the newspaper Financial Times published a sensational report that these scientists had obtained thermonuclear neutrons at room temperature (this effect began to be called "cold fusion"). The biggest laboratories in the world began to verify the effect. After a year physicists were convinced that Fleischmann's and Pons' experiments were mistaken. But one of the "fathers" of cold fusion received a lot of money from a private firm to continue the experiments in Japan for several more years. Alas, this is not the only case of financial support for strange projects. For example, for several years the Boeing company set aside money for "research" directed at creating antigravity.

- But these were foreign firms. What about ours?

- The laurel for Russian pseudoscience perhaps belongs to the fathers of torsion fields. This scam is quite a subtle thing. In theory a certain physical substance is behind the concept of a torsion field. After Einstein created the General Theory of Relativity it became known that space is curved. The French mathematician Cartan hypothesized that, besides curvature, that space might have torsion. Accordingly the existence of torsion waves might be hypothesized. However, the matter has not gone further than a hypothesis. Then in the last decade in Russia several dirty deals were manipulated with whose aid enormous amounts were sucked from the budget to create a "torsion weapon" or "torsion lines of communication". The last (of those known to us) such case relates to 1996-1997 when the swindlers concluded a contract with the military. By the way, here the distinction between science and pseudoscience is very evident. The first official tests of torsion communications were held 20 years ago. And has there been any progress? None. But, by way of illustration, the idea of mobile communications arose later. You can see for yourself what happened to it - a real revolution! Do you sense the difference?

How the Ukrainians almost heated their brother Slavs

- But all this was long ago. Are there examples of more recent antiscientific expansions?

- A couple of years ago the President of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences called me and asked for help. The problem was that in Bulgaria a strange firm headed by an Academician Sorochinsky of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine was offering consumers torsion hydraulic generators with an efficiency of about 150%. And one of the members of the Bulgarian government even had the idea of converting the thermal power of Bulgaria to the new principle. The efforts of the Academy of Sciences there, like those of engineers proving that miracles do not happen, came to naught: the authorities were inclined toward the new power source. However our Commission was able to explain that there is no academician in Ukraine with that name, which I told the Bulgarian colleagues in the open press. And the project of "Academician Sorochinsky's" group was quickly rejected. Then it turned out that our own "academician" in Russia, Yuriy Potapov, announced that he had invented a torsion generator with an efficiency with over 100%. Potapov's generator was very simply constructed: a closed rectangular loop of pipe with a pump running water through the loop. In addition, a "spiral impeller" is located in the pipe spinning the water at right angles to the main direction of movement. Some time after the generator is turned on everyone can be convinced that the loop becomes hot. This is not surprising, for water rubs the wall and warms the metal. But the enthusiasts of "perpetual motion machines" say that the additional energy is taken from a physical vacuum via a torsion field or from "cold vacuum synthesis". There are even more fanciful explanations…Alas, competent measurements of the efficiency of torsion thermal generators yield a total of 80-85%.

- If you have no objection, let's switch to "personalities". The so-called "new chronology" of Fomenko and Nosovsky, is it a pseudoscience?

- A typical [one]. I can advise those who are interested in the whole truth about this "science" to consult articles by astrophysicist Yefremov. They can easily be found on the Internet.

- And astrology?

- Also a pseudoscience. But it is very profitable and, unfortunately, has found many government protectors at the highest levels of our country, including in the Ministry of Defense. Until recently a military unit N? 10003 existed at the Ministry of Defense in which wizards, psychics, and others "served". It is no secret that all of them functioned under the aegis of the special services. And today some retired generals with a longing for times past broadcast what unique results were achieved in those years in, say, telepathy. This is all a lie! The successes were only in misappropriating resources.

- Do you possibly risk saying that telekinesis is a fiction?

- I do not deny that there are many interesting phenomena in our lives. For example, Yuriy Gornyy, a master of psychological experiments lives in Moscow. He reads thoughts at a distance, pushes spoons with "the power of thought", is able to move objects without touching them, and many other things that might seem supernatural. Having done all this he will tell you at the same time that there is neither telepathy, nor telekinesis, nor magic. All his tricks have a natural explanation. But in the US there is the Foundation of the outstanding illusionist James Randi. He is old right now and performs rarely but he hates the guts of the quasi-scientific swindlers. So, about 12 years ago he promised that anyone who could demonstrate to him even one paranormal phenomenon would immediately get a million dollars [Translator's note: in fact, Randi instituted the prize in 1964 with $1,000 of his own money which "soon" became $1 million:]. So far the million is alive and well. Randi even convincingly disproved such a phenomenon as divining. Thick plastic pipes were buried in the ground according to his drawings. It was suggested that diviners from various countries determine whether the pipes were filled with water or were empty and also to show even one of the configurations of the pipes with water flowing through it. And not one claimant managed the task!

Translated by Gary Goldberg