Posts Tagged ‘Francis Bacon’

Florence on Government-Approved Pseudoscience In ME and the ‘Nudge Unit’

October 31, 2015

Yesterday I blogged on Mike’s article, criticising a highly dubious report by the Torygraph that scientists at Oxford had concluded that ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was all in one’s mind and could be cured through a mixture of exercise and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I took the view that this was basically pseudoscience. I got two highly interesting comments from Florence confirming this and providing further information. She writes

Reports in the literature from the USA on ME / CFS, The NIH for example, cite fMRI, PET scan (imaging of brain) evidence for CFS/ MEe, along with immunologic and inflammatory pathologies, ie it is a physical disease, with measurable physical changes in the patient. There are ample published critiques of the Oxford authors’ results, analysis and conclusions, poor experimental design and methods, and fatal flaws in the execution of the studies. Not least some medical researchers have raised ethical concerns regarding the Oxford Authors earlier PACE study, which is the basis for CBT/GET therapy in the UK. Indeed the IOM proposed a new name for the disease – Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, embedding the key concept of post-exercise malaise (mental or physical). So much for GET IN fact many of the committees and editorial boards of post-conference publications have expressly bewilderment and concern with the “UK model” of psychological illness. The prominence of this report in the national press demonstrates that these are the preferred Establishment scientists, and they are being rewarded for their work in providing (quasi) scientific support for a political view of this illness. Worrying.

In a nutshell, science has proven that ME is a real disease, and this tripe peddled in Oxford is purely politically motivated pseudoscience.

She adds

It dovetails nicely with the fake, and ethically-damned nudge unit foray into forced psychological “testing” of JSA claimants which was revealed a couple of years ago, plus the new forced CBT for JSA and ESA claimants in the Job Centres, illustrating the govt ideology that worklessness, like disability, is a psychological deficit in every individual. Many years ago I was asked to read & deliver my opinions on a number of publications by those working under Stalin (it was hard going). I took away a couple of things that remain relevant today. The Corporatist control of research, especially since Thatcher, has been quasi-Stalinist, and has been damaging to scientific research generally, but medical research in particular. Second, the current govt is following a descent into Stalinist state use of psychiatry and psychology against those it wants to control.

In other words, it’s just part of a general pseudoscientific model of illness that claims that somehow it’s all imaginary because this fits with Tory and Blairite attitudes to unemployment and those off sick through disability, in the same way that Stalinist policies corrupted science in the Soviet Union.

There are a number of very good books on pseudoscience, and the promotion of spurious, fake, and in the case of eugenics, murderous doctrines in the history of science. The one I mentioned yesterday was Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science.

Another book worth reading is Walter Gratzer’s The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-deception and Human Frailty (Oxford: OUP 2000).

Undergrowth Science Cover

This has chapters on the following fake science:

1. Blondlot and the N-Rays

2. Paradigms Enow: Some Mirages of Biology
Gurvich and his mitogenic radiation
The curse of the death-ray
Abderhalden and the protective enzymes
The case of the amorous toad
Memory transfer, or eat your mathematics.

3. Aberrations of Physics: Irving Langmuir Investigates
Capturing electrons
Allison’s magneto-optical effect.
Langmuir’s rules.

4. Nor any Drop to Drink: The Tale of Polywater

5. The Wider shores of Credulity
-This includes a number of weird ideas, including the controversy over Uri Geller and his supposed mental powers.

6. Energy Unlimited
– This is about Cold Fusion.

7. What the Doctor Ordered.
This includes a number of examples of extremely bad medicine, such as
-Ptosis, the doctrine that disease was caused by sagging organs, and which resulted in a fad of entirely
useless operation on perfectly healthy people, including their kidneys.
– Intestinal lavage, or colonic irrigation
– Surgical removal of parts of the colon to prevent aging.
– Monkey glands, or the surgical implantation of part of monkey testicles in order to rejuvenate people.
– Homeopathy.
– Drinking radium for your health.
– Lobotomy.

8. Science, Chauvinism and Bigotry.
This is about the growth of the nationalist belief of different countries in their own superiority as

9. The Climate of Fear:
The tragedy of Soviet genetics
The spread of the contagion
Soviet physics: idealism, pragmatism and the bomb
Is there a Marxist chemistry?

10. Science in the Third Reich: Bigotry, Racism and Extinction
The Roots of Fascist biology
The Ahnenerbe: Himmler the Intellectual
Die Deutsche Physik (German Physics): Its friends and enemies
A deutsche Chemie (German chemistry)
Anti-Semitism and mathematics
The consequences of the Nazi incursion into science.

11. Nature Nurtured: The Rise and Fall of Eugenics
The birth of eugenics
Eugenics and politics in Europe and America
Eugenics in the Third Reich
Eugenic nemesis in the Soviet Union
The rise and fall of eugenics: a pathological science.

Ever science Sir Francis Bacon and Descartes in the 17th century, science has been one of the most powerful forces in human society for extending human knowledge, and improving health, living conditions and industrial, technological and economic progress. But it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s made by humans, sometimes fallible human, who can make mistakes, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Some of this is caused when science is moulded by ideological, particular political forces, such as in the Third Reich and Stalin’s Russia. While these cases are notorious, the topic is still highly relevant today, when it seems that nearly every day the papers carry stories claiming that scientists have found the cure for this, or that a particular disease is in reality caused by such-and-such. In many cases scepticism is most certainly warranted. And in the cases of the model of disease now promoted by the DWP, these should be taken with a whole mountain of salt. It’s clear to me that Ian Duncan Smith’s and John Lo Cascio’s ideas on the origins of the disease in the unemployed should also be consigned to the dustbin of dodgy, politically motivated pseudoscience, to be included in future editions of book’s like Glatzer’s.


Robert Boyle, Atheism and Christians in Science

May 8, 2013

Robert Boyle was one of the founder of modern experimental science in the 17th century. His book, the Sceptical Chymist, broke with medieval alchemy to lay the foundations for modern chemistry. Unlike previous, Aristotelian Natural Philosophers, Boyle believed that the universe was composed of atoms. This theory was viewed with great suspicion in the 16th and 17th centuries, as it had originated with the ancient Epicureans. These considered that the universe had been created by chance without the intervention by the gods, although they did not deny their existence completely. It was thus considered an atheist doctrine. Boyle himself was deeply religious, and bequeathed a legacy to set up a series of annual lectures arguing for and promoting Christianity. He also attempted to argue for Christianity and the compatibility of the Christian faith with the new science in his book, The Christian Virtuoso. Many of the arguments he advanced there are still valid today.

In the book’s preface, Boyle states that

‘I could scarce avoid taking notice of the great and deplorable growth of irreligion, especially among those, that aspired to pass for wits, and several of them too for philosophers. And on the other side it was obvious, that diverse learned men, as well as others, partly upon the score of their abhorrence of these infidels and libertines, and partly upon that of a well-meaning but ill-formed zeal, had brought many good men to think, that religon and philosophy were incompatible; both parties contributing to the vulgar error, but with this difference, that the libertines thought a virguoso ought not be a Christian, and the others, that he could not be a true one’.

He then argued that, whilst some atheists used science to oppose religion and Christianity, truly devout people would find in science even greater reasons to believe and praise the Lord:

‘And I deny not, but that, if the knowledge of nature falls into the hands of a resolved atheist, or a sensual libertine, he may misemploy it to oppugn the grounds, or discredit the practice of religion. But it will far much otherwise, if a deep insight into nature be acquired by a man of probity and ingenuity, or at least free from prejudices and vices, that may indispose him to entertain and improve those truths of philosophy, that would naturally lead him to sentiments of religion. For, if a person thus qualified in his morals, and thereby disposed to make use of of the knowledge of the creatures to confirm his belief, and increase his veneration of the Creator (and such a person I here again advertise you, and desire you would not forget it, I suppose the virtuoso, this papers is concerned in, to be) shall make a great progress in real philosophy; I am persuaded, that nature will be found very loyal to her author; and instead of alienating his mind from making religious acknowledgements, will furnish him with weighty and uncommon motives, to conclude, such sentiments to be rational and just’.

Boyle then goes on to quote the founder of the experimental method, Francis Bacon, whom he acclaims as the ‘first and greatest experimental philosopher of our age’

‘that God never wrought a miracle to convince atheists; because in his visible works he had placed enough to do it, if they were not wanting to themselves’.

Boyle himself was not impressed either by contemporary atheists’ grasp of the new science, or their arguments in favour of atheism. He states

‘I must own to you, that I do not think there are so many speculative atheists, as men are wont to imagine. And though my conversation has been pretty free and general among naturalists, yet I have met with so few true atheists, that I am very apt to think, that men’s want of due information, or their uncharitable zeal, has made them mistake or misrepresent many for deniers of God, that are thought such, chiefly because they take uncommon methods in in studying his works, and have other sentiments of them, than those of vulgar philosophers. And in the next place I must tell you, that having through the goodness of God, chosen my religion, not inconsiderately but upon mature deliberation, I do not find those virtuosi, you call atheists, such formidable adversaries, as those that are afraid to hear them do, by that apprehension, appear to think them. And indeed I have observed the physical arguments of the atheists to be but very few, and those far enough from being unanswerable.’

These arguments still apply today. From the statements made by very vociferous atheist scientists like Dawkins and Steven Weinberg, you could be mistaken for believing that all scientists were atheists, and indeed true scientists could only be atheists. Yet a Gallup poll made nearly a decade or so ago recorded that the proportion of religious and atheist scientists had not changed since the poll was first made a hundred years previously. Even then the number of theist scientists had surprised the researchers, who had confidently expected all the scientists to be atheists. Now the religious scientists are not in the majority, but they still form a sizable number equal to the number of atheists in science. There is a group, Christians in Science. James Hallam, the Roman Catholic historian of science who blogs as ‘Bede’ in Bede’s Library and the Adlibitum website, was an atheist until he studied physics and university and found just how unlikely it is that the cosmos does exist by chance. It can astonish you just how scientifically active and accomplished some of these religious scientists are. Yet you mostly don’t hear about them, because they’re mostly just interested in doing science, rather than using it like Dawkins and co. to promote atheism. So it’s important to bear Robert Boyle’s comments in mind the next time Dawkins or the comedian Robin Ince try claiming science for atheism.


Robert Boyle, The Christian Virtuoso, in D.C. Goodman, ed., Science and Religious Belief 1600-1900: Selection of Primary Sources (Dorchester: John Wright and Sons/ The Open University 1973) 119-29.

Francis Bacon and Science as the Road to God

May 6, 2013

Francis Bacon is one of the major figures of the 17th century Scientific Revolution. It was he who formulated the modern scientific method of induction through experimentation. This replaced the methodology of Aristotelian, scholastic science, in which one observed nature and then attempted to deduce the reasons behind it. Bacon was also deeply religious, and strongly argued that the new science promoted the belief in God, rather than atheism. The critics of the new ‘mechanical philosophy’ believed that it would lead to atheism as it concentrated only on secondary causes. Bacon strongly argued that religion and science should be kept separate. Nevertheless, he argued that although science could not tell us anything directly about God, it would still lead to Him as the Lord acted through secondary causes. He thus stated

‘Undoubtedly a superficial tincture of philosophy may incline the mind to atheism, yet a farther knowledge brings it back to religion; for on the threshold of philosophy, where second causes apear to absorb the attention, some oblivion of the highest cause may ensue; but when the mind goes deeper, and sees the dependence of causes and the works of Providence, it will easily perceive, according to the mythology of the poets, that the upper link of Nature’s chain is fastened to Jupiter’s throne’.


Basil Wiley, The Seventeenth Century Background (Harmondsworth: Penguin and Chatto and Windus 1934).

Dawkins, ID and Forteanism

June 9, 2008

Looking through this month’s copy of the Fortean Times, a monthly dedicated to reporting the weird and bizarre, I was particularly struck by two letters to the magazine from readers defending Dawkins from criticisms made by two of the FT’s long-term columnists, Noel Rooney and The Hierophant’s Apprentice, and the columnists’ replies to the letters. What I found particularly remarkable about the comments of Dawkins supporters wasn’t their defence of Dawkins’ attacks on religion, but the fact that they found his views Fortean. The author of one of the letters stated that ‘I consider Dawkins to be most ably informed on the excesses of religion and the myth of belief and to be doing a particularly fortean job in exposing the fallacies of religions, the religious and the religious principle in all its forms’. 1Now there is some similarity between Dawkins’ views on the paranormal and the type of philosophical scepticism adopted and recommended by Charles Fort, the compiler and publisher of weird and scientifically inexplicable facts after whom the Fortean Times is named. Dawkins’ view that if the paranormal exists, then it is ‘perinormal’, that is, it is not totally outside science but will eventually become incorporated into a scientific paradigm when enough evidence is accumulated to allow this, is close to Fort’s own observations that previously damned data – facts ignored or denied by conventional science – may become accepted by science through a change in the scientific paradigm, or the Dominant as Fort himself termed it. Nevertheless, at the risk of slavishly defining Forteanism according to Fort’s own personal philosophy, something that Fort himself did not want and which Noel Rooney in his reply also criticises, there’s a big difference between Dawkins’ scepticism towards the supernatural and Forteanism.

Dawkins own scepticism is very much that of 19th century Positivism, which believed, following the theories of Auguste Comte, that religion and metaphysics had been superseded by science. Indeed the university chair Dawkins holds, that of Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, has a strongly Positivist tone, suggesting that there is a single, absolutely authoritative view of science about which the public must be informed, but must not question. This is not an ‘anti-science’ view. I recall one scientist, who certainly showed Dawkins’ concern for better communication of science, making the same arguments in an opinion article published in the ‘Forum’ column of New Scientist in the 1990s. Fort, on the other hand, while not religious, directed his scepticism very much at science and the claims of scientists who presented as objective fact a view of reality based not so much on evidence as on their own, personal beliefs, in defence of which they excluded and suppressed any scientific data that could not be fitted into it, or which actively appeared to contradict it. Fort’s Book of the Damned begins by stating this very clearly:

‘A procession of the damned.

By the damned, I mean the excluded.

We shall have a procession of data that science has excluded.’ 2

Fort’s scepticism, rather than being Positivist, appears to be closer to that of the ancient Greek Sceptics like Pyrrho and Heraclites. These ancient Greek Sceptics believed that reality was fundamentally unknowable, in that nothing definite could be said about it, and so argued for a complete detachment from belief. 3 The great Sceptical philosophers, Carneades, was notorious for being able to argue both for and against a given position with equal force. While he also considered that reality was fundamentally unknowable, he considered that some impressions were more persuasive than others, and more servicable through closer inspection and corroborating impressions. They were thus more credible, though not more certain. 4 Fort’s view that everything was in a state of intermediacy, and striving to become ‘more nearly real’ while gradually blurring into everything else, was also similar to the view of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus that everything was in a state of flux, and that nature operated through the union of opposites, stating that ‘Combinations – wholes and not wholes, concurring differing, concordant discordant, from all things one and from one all things’. 5 Fort’s scepticism towards dogmatic science was also shared by the militantly atheist Nietzsche, who also considered reality to be a flux that was only imperfectly caught and described in the net of language, and declared that any view that claimed objective validity was a ‘shadow of God’ that oppressed humanity.

Alhtough they aren’t Sceptics, in many ways the adherents of Intelligent Design have a far more Fortean approach to science than Dawkins. As Intelligent Design, by suggesting that living creatures are the product of an intelligent designer rather than chance Natural Selection, is very much contrary to existing orthodox evolutionary science, its supporters are, like Fort, critical of the claims of scientists to proceed through the dispassionate evaluation of objective evidence. Philip Johnson, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design, has supported his arguments in this regard using the views of the physicist and philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. Feyerabend, like Thomas Kuhn, considered that scientific progress largely consisted of the change of one set of self-consistent scientific concepts with another, only marginally based on the empirical evidence and not really constituting anything like progress in knowledge. 6 Although a controversial view, the history of science does provide examples of the way scientists have acted to suppress facts that do not support their current paradigm, and supporters of Intelligent Design have documented and publicised these incidents. For example, a recent post for the 26th May, ‘Can Science be Unbaised’, at the Intelligent Design site, The Design of Life, by Jane Harris Zsovan noted the intense controversy surrounding the views of Steven Shapin and Simon Shaffer in their book, Leviathan and the Air Pump. Examing the debate about the usefulness of experimental in constructing a true model of the world between Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, Shapin and Shaffer concluded that scientists were no more objective in their view of the world than other people. In November 2007, Shapin and Shaffer in an edition of the Canadian TV science programme, Ideas, that after their book came out they suffered personal abuse and even threats of sacking from their colleagues, because of their rejection of the claim that science proceeds through complete objectivity. Thus, Denyse O’Leary, another leading supporter of Intelligent Design, has stated on her blog that ID is not the first or even the only scientific debate in which one side has been attacked and declared to be ‘anti-science’ by another.

Now this does not mean that Dawkins’ view of evolution is necessarily incorrect. It just means that in this instance, his view of science is less Fortean than that of the supporters of Intelligent Design, even though they aren’t sceptics like Fort himself. However, I do find interesting the recommendation of one of Dawkins’ defenders in their letter that Dawkins’ successor as Professor for the Public Understanding of Science should be invited to take part in the Fortean Times’ annual Unconvention and debate the motion ‘this house believes that all science undergraduates should be made to read Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned’. 7 My guess is that they wouldn’t, especially if the similarity between Fort’s views appeared to support the wider philosophy of science expressed by Intelligent Design.


1. Philip Bolt, ‘Dissing Dawkins’, in Fortean Times, no. 237, (2008), p. 74.

2. X, ed., with introduction by Bob Rickard, Charles Fort’s Book of the Damned (London, John Brown Publishing 1995), p. 1.

3. ‘Scepticism’ in J. Speake, ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy (London, Pan Books 1979), p. 314.

4. ‘Scepticism’, in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 314, and ‘Carneades’ in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 56.

5. Aristotle, On the World, 396b7-8, 20-25, cited in Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1987), p. 114.

6. ‘Science, Philosophy of’, in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 320.

7. ‘Dissing Dawkins’, Jason Mills, Fortean Times, no. 237, (2008, p. 74.