Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Where Is the Line Between Researchers and "revolutionaries"?

1. Introduction. A few words about freedom

The freedom of pseudoscientific propaganda is one of the downsides of freedom generally and freedom of speech in particular. This statement has now become a commonplace. At the same time, no one is paying attention to the fact that the struggle against pseudoscience has become easier. In the first place, the effect of "forbidden fruit" has been lost. Those who analyzed pseudoscientific works 20-30 years ago remember how touch-typed copies of the lectures of Azhazha were passed from hand to hand and they stood in line for the film "Vospominaniya o Budushchem [Recollections of the Future]". Today no respectable person will pick up "NLO [UFO]" and similar newspapers.

In the second place, it has become psychologically easier to criticize and expose pseudoscience. For in those years such activity signified support of the official position of the CPSU and the government, but it really seemed like informing and participating in political persecutions for the pseudoscientists being criticized could at least encounter trouble at work. Of course, the supporters of pseudosciences also made use of the situation: they skillfully hid themselves behind a veil of secrecy. And having gained access to the government, they used the resources of the KGB to the utmost (let's recall just T. D. Lysenko and his "team").

Under conditions of freedom of speech they often seek to have real researchers "study" their nonsense and them criticize them. It is quite difficult to do this, and often it's unpleasant. The goal of this report is to show that one can separate "revolutionaries" and real scientists without getting into the details and subject matter of the materials they have published.

2. Criteria by which one can distinguish researchers from "revolutionaries"

Following S. Zykov (Sergey Zykov, “Nauka i ‘Tekhnologiya absurda’[Science and "The Technology of the Absurd]", "Zdravyy Smysl’ [Common Sense], 2000, N 17, pp. 21-26) the view of non-specialists that "science and nonsense can seem equally convincing" has to be stated. Therefore, criteria have long been used which are not connected with the subject of the problem to demarcate the line between science and pseudoscience, between genuine researchers and crazy "pioneers" (see, for example, the works of Academician Arkadiy Benediktovich Migdal). These criteria are: biographic (personal data), the formal criteria of publications, and also the criteria of falsifiability and observability.

2.1. The criteria of personal data

1.1. They have a physics and engineering physics education. 1.1. They do not have such an education; as a rule, they are mechanics, electronics technicians, radio engineers, etc.
1.2. They belong to a well-known scientific school (they have a graduate degree or they have worked [in this field]). 1.2. They do not belong to a scientific school in the field of science that they are "revolutionizing".
1.3. They have publications in generally-recognized refereed journals which do not aspire to "revolutions" 1.3. They have works only of a "pioneering" nature.
1.4. They work among professionals of this science and are known to them. 1.4. They work, as a rule, in technical fields. They are unknown to professionals of the science being "revolutionized".

If at least three of these criteria do not indicate that this is a researcher then, with a high degree of probability, this is a "revolutionary" and his works are unsubstantiated.

2.2. Publication criteria

In reviewing a request for publication any non-specialist may, but when distributing credit a supervisor must, pay attention to the following criteria.

2.1. They study and cite other works in the field under investigation. 2.1. They cite practically no other scientific works, most often because they are unfamiliar with them.
2.2. They conduct experiments, calculations, and compare new and earlier known facts. 2.2. They spend time mainly on advertising and a quick "sale" of their fabrications.
2.3. They publish their results chiefly in refereed scientific journals and only then write monographs and articles in popular publications 2.3. They publish their works right away in the form of monographs or articles in popular publications. In recent years the books (books right away!) of such authors have also begun to appear in science publishing houses.
2.4. The criterion of "serendipity" (see Garri Abelev. "Realizatsiya individual'nosti v nauke v usloviyakh konkurentsii [The Marketing of Individuality in Science In Competitive Conditions]". "Zdravyy Smysl’", 1997, N 4, pp. 41-47), and in translation from Sanskrit "went for a flower, but found a princess".

A pioneering result is acquired as the accidental byproduct of a search for an answer to a specific, particular problem.

2.4. Generally-accepted "pioneering", "revolutionary" ideas look for a result single-mindedly.

If at least 3 from this group indicate that this is a "revolutionary", then he is indeed!

2.3. Criteria of falsifiability (per Karl Popper)

This group of criteria is the same as the following; a familiarity with the description of the problem is required, but, as before, special knowledge is not needed.

In the works of the now universally-recognized philosopher Karl Popper [this] principle is formulated: "Only that theory is scientific which can be disproved" (See, for example, "K. Popper. "Realism and the Aim of Science". A condensed translation from English in the collection "A Modern Philosophy of Science. A Reader". 1996, 2nd Edition, Logos, pp. 92-106). It is by that criterion that science and religious studies (Marxism) are distinguished. Applying the principle of falsifiability to the problem under investigation, one can point out the following criteria.

3.1. They conscientiously search for arguments contradicting their explanations. They regard such arguments with respect and carefully analyze them. They indicate the limits of applicability to their results. 3.1. They look only for arguments favoring their results but they supply the results themselves tendentiously, not analyzing them, and not comparing them with previously known [results].
3.2. They strive in every way to simplify explanations. They use well-defined terms. 3.2. They cannot explain the substance of their "discovery" simply, in generally understood terms. After simplification of the language the vacuousness of the work they present is often observed .

2.4. Criteria of observability

This group of criteria is well known to all educated people. The principle was formed by positivists (see, for example, R. Carnap, "The Philosophical Foundations of Physics", translated from English. Moscow, Progress, 1971, 382 pp.): "Everything which science deals with should be repeatable and observable when certain conditions are observed" has proliferated everywhere. This principle served as a structural element when forming quantum theory. It has entered school textbooks throughout the entire world and was actually even described in dialectical materialism courses (it is true, after accusations of "idealism"). See, for example, A. G. Spirkin. Osnovy filosofskikh znaniy. Uchebnik dlya VUZov. Vse izdaniya [The Principles of Philosophical Knowledge. A Textbook for Higher Educational Institutions. All editions].


4.1. Deal with questions which can be verified, although only in principle. 4.1. Introduce concepts and raise questions which cannot be verified in principle.
4.2. Rely on well-known tested theories like old tested friends and do not "betray" them without obtaining hard evidence that they are insufficient or contradictory. 4.2. Operating on the thesis of "But suddenly we don't know this any longer", they eagerly resort to examining issues which conflict the fundamental laws of natural science (the Law of the Conservation of Energy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Principle of Relativity, etc.)

The presence in a particular book, article, or proposal of criteria indicated in the last two parts (2.3 and 2.4) of this section can serve as an additional criterion for identifying genuine [scientists] and pseudoscientists. Statements of the type: "Study our work and then disprove it" ought not to be accepted.

3. "Professors" who are supporters of pseudoscience (PSP)

Openness and permissiveness permit attention to be given to the fact that often pseudoscientific ideas are supported by people who have scientific degrees and titles. We'll call them "professors" for the sake of brevity. Often the conduct of such a "professor" is a sign of emotional illness, but there are also people who genuinely believe that they are "pioneers" and are making a "revolution" in science. In the recent past such people were safe from criticism.

"Professors" who are supporters of pseudoscience (PSP) are, as a rule, specialists in fields of applied technical sciences who had earlier obtained specific results in them, made inventions, have pupils, awards, scientific degrees and titles, and, in accordance with all this, authority. Often their achievements are associated with defense topics and corresponding secrecy. In their engineering and technical disciplines they do not offer any extravagant ideas and do not depart from classical physics (although there are exceptions). Their ideas which claim to be a "revolution" and a revision of "fundamental principles", as a rule concern other fields of science which are new to them, in particular theoretical physics in general, the theory of relativity, or quantum physics. Not belonging to schools of science nor working in these fields of physics and not having [made] a personal contribution in solving specific problems in these fields, PSP get their knowledge only from general physics courses and popular science literature. As educated people, PSP are interested in philosophical problems. On the other hand, PSP have a psychological "orientation toward success". Since they have already succeeded in their own scientific and technical disciplines, they therefore conceitedly state the ideas they have gotten in their heads without bothering to check them and not having sufficiently serious training in fields new to them.

Earlier, in a totalitarian society, specialists of this sort were not shy about resorting to arguments beyond the bounds of the scientific field under examination, for example, arguments from the realm of ideology. In particular, there were attempts to present the theory of relativity, quantum physics, etc. [which they] misunderstood as contradicting dialectical materialism. Now references to dialectical materialism are replaced by references to other teachings which contend for supremacy, chiefly religious ones. In a democratic society such arguments should not be considered.

Without doubt, one of the reasons which facilitate the appearance of PSP is the arrogant attitude of theoretical physicists toward all physicists. As they say, "We are the brains and you – too bad!". Another reason is the weakness in the education of young people in fundamental disciplines.

4. An example of a pseudoscientist: A. P. Smirnov

The leaders of the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Humanist Society (G. G. Shevelev, B. N. Gavrilov) asked me to comment on the views of "professor" A. P. Smirnov. "Professor" Smirnov has a regular program on the NBN television channel. Professor A. N. Sinyakov was given an opportunity to speak on this program. P. A. Trevogin dedicated one of his articles to this professor (see P. A. Trevogin. "Nauchnaya gipoteza ili zaklinanie? [Scientific Hypothesis or Incantation?] "Zdravyy Smysl’" 1999/2000, N14, pp. 46-50). This article illustrates quite clearly the general rules cited above. On the program which "professor" Smirnov presented, people spoke who declare that all the world's problems could be solved if the dimensions of the pyramid of Cheops were correctly measured.

I also saw a program about the ideas of A. P. Smirnov himself. Two people very similar to one another, one of them A. P. Smirnov and the other interlocutor (I didn't catch his name) literally performed a duet; reciting from an earlier prepared text, he proclaimed that the wise "doctor" Aleksey Smirnov would explain everything right immediately. It is obviously time to remove the quotes from the words "professor" and "doctor": A. P. Smirnov - candidate of physicomathematical sciences.

I don't know what education A. P. Smirnov has but he obviously does not belong to a scientific school in either the sphere of thermodynamics or mechanics which he "is revolutionizing". This is what he states.

The most vital property of Nature is creation. It is manifested in the spontaneous transformation of low-potential energy into high-potential energy, that is, in the prevailing processes of self-organization and self-development, but not in the generally-accepted idea about the absolute degradation of the Earth into the heat death of the Universe.

Newton didn't create mechanics, but the dynamics of actual processes. In the consciousness of Mankind the generally-known formulation of his Third Law has been consolidated: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction". Alas, no one in the scientific community either glanced at the original or the translation from the Latin. According to Newton, action is not evaluated as the value of a force but "a product of its force and velocity", for force itself cannot accomplish anything without being given a certain velocity. Force with a velocity is an applied force by which the measure of action is determined from:

Fd * Vd = - Fp * Vp

And there are more than 30 such points (see. G. Shevelev. Physics from the "Shaping Center", "Zdravyy Smysl’", 2001, N 3, pp. 28-30).

Of course, A. P. Smirnov only has works of a "pioneering" nature. He works in a classified technical field and is unknown among professionals in thermodynamics and mechanics. Thus, in the first group, according to biographical criteria he is an obvious pseudoscientist. Professor Smirnov is completely lacking in the criteria of the second group which are defined by the formal criteria of publication. He cites no other scientific works, advertises his works, and publishes works in an unrefereed publication of conference materials, but not in "Nature" or even in letters to ZhEhTF [The Journal of Experimental and Technical Physics].

And, of course, A. P. Smirnov is single-mindedly looking for and studying "pioneering" results, and "overthrowing" generally-accepted ideas. What "serendipity" this is. It's not being wasted.

The statements described are impossible to refute since A.P. Smirnov simply does not provide justifications for them. That's all. Believe it! The professor also does not think about a conscientious search for arguments contradicting his explanations. There's also nothing to say about the terminology. A. P. Smirnov gives all the customary terminology another meaning.

Here is his statement.

The new paradigm is another logic of analysis, another mathematics, another perception of the world as a given in movement, in development.

Where is "another logic"? Where is "another mathematics"? They are absent. But then there are plenty of promises: everything is promised. We cite:

A change in philosophy permits us not only to solve a broad range of problems in science and technology which were theoretically unsolved within the framework of contemporary ideas but also to start solving the vital functions of the living, to identify the conditions necessary for the Harmony of Man, Society, and Nature. A new mentality is opening an epoch of spiritual, physical, and intellectual renewal - the perfection of Mankind and society, creating conditions for the development of a new civilization.

Jesus Christ and Karl Marx right in one person.

It would seem, Mr. Smirnov, that you point out that there will be changes in the movements of planets if, as you imagine, Newton's Third Law is changed. But no, this is quite trivial. Professor Smirnov easily tosses out proven working theories which produce correct, observable predictions. In HIS works neither the principle of falsifiability nor the principle of repeatability is fulfilled.

The conclusion is obvious: The hyperphysics of A. P. Smirnov is not science.

5. Another approach: from the general to the particular

Returning to a general formulation of the problem, it needs to be noted that the contradiction and contrast of "Researchers vs. Revolutionaries" is only one of the facets of comparing closed and open societies. As the experience of history shows, "revolutionaries" who have fought their way to power establish the most severe censorship, suppress dissidence, and in the final result [impose] a totalitarian dictatorship in the field in which they acquired power. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and other tyrants of the recent past are typical revolutionaries. Lysenko and Marr established dictatorships in their fields. If A. P. Smirnov fought his way to the administration of science it would be bad for both academicians and graduate students.

An analysis of the problems of comparing closed (totalitarian) and open (democratic) societies allows us to identify the common criteria by which we can distinguish researchers from revolutionaries. These common criteria of the ideology of those who are inclined to support revolutionaries and those who hold to the views characteristic of researchers are presented below in a table (An Analysis of Closed and Open Societies. See Aleksandr Etkind, "Iz izmov v demokratiyu [From Isms to Democracy]". Ayn Rand and Hanna Arendt, "Znamya", N 12, 2000, pp. 161-181).

1) Mysticism - faith in a bright future: yes, it's bad for us now, but the present generation of Soviet people will live under Communism. 1) Efficiency - rationality is the main agent of survival and self-protection; it makes a person ("right now") special, and unbending to and unreachable by authority.
2) Altruism - the readiness to sacrifice what one needs right now for another, which can be fully used (by "authority") for its selfish ends. 2) Practicality - reason is the most selfish quality. Its product is truth. From this ensues the voluntary exchange (in the future) between individuals and societies.
3) Collectivism - subordination to the collective or society, personified by "the bosses". Subordination and self-sacrifice are the foundation of happiness. 3) Morality - integrity, initiative, mutual aid, charity, and love are personifications of individualism. Success and prosperity are the foundation of happiness.
4) A social movement which began with the ponderous constructs of Hegel and Marx and ended with a horde of unwashed children, stamping their feet and whining: "I want it right now". 4) Capitalism, which began has an epoch of initial accumulation, later based on a voluntary exchange between individuals who were concerned about their personal interest in the future.
5) Inflation. The realm of mythological designs. 5) A is A. Instrumental rationality.

It is interesting that the real researchers in a totalitarian society are always the hidden dissidents and the authorities know this. Actually, no regime manages to stop at the level of technology that has been achieved. External "enemies" are not content with this level. Back in de Tocqueville's book, "Democracy in America", he raised the question, "Can a democracy withstand the military threat of a dictatorship?", and replied objectively and in detail: "Yes, in the long term a democracy is strong and viable". Briefly put: "1) Control is based on technical progress, 2) progress requires creativity, 3) creativity requires freedom, and 4) freedom undermines control.

An example. Sakharov was a technical genius who came to oppose the regime and undermined its foundations.

On the other hand: totalitarianism (revolutionaries) aspire to control of technical progress. Technical progress requires an educational system. Education is impossible without freedom. People deprived of freedom lose the ability to innovate and create. This is immediately followed by a degradation in technical progress.

Freedom is not a toy but a necessary condition of technical progress. Researchers are necessary!

There is nothing more moral than rationality and a good account and nothing more amoral than mystical calls for the common good reinforced by inflation. Right now, after the terrorist acts in New York one can say: the "revolutionaries" are the terrorists, and the researchers are the reasonable people.

6. Conclusion. The presumption of guilt.

The goal of this work is to help overcome or at least lessen the psychological causes which breed pseudoscience. To do this we need to demand compliance with the following conditions from "aspirants to a revolution":

1) submission of the results of experimental verification; 2) confirmation they have sufficient verifiability; 3) conformity with the principles of fundamental knowledge; 4) explanations in generally-accepted terms; and 5) indications of the limits of applicability. Everyone who is not indifferent to the fate of science - officials and deputies who make decisions about the financing of scientific work, editors and journalists who write about science - needs to adhere to the principle of "the presumption of guilt".

In court the presumption of innocence is observed: the burden of proof rests on the accuser and all doubts are resolved in favor of the accused. In science the situation is quite the opposite. The burden of proof rests on the author, and all doubts are resolved against the author. Arguments like "I believe in this; if you don't believe - prove me wrong" are not accepted.


Readers who want to familiarize themselves in more detail with the questions discussed can do this by making use of the literature listed below.

1. A. I. Kitaygorodsky. "Reniksa". Moscow. "Molodaya Gvardiya" [Publishing House], 1973, 192 pp. with illustrations (and later editions).

The name of the book was taken from a humorous story by A. P. Chekhov. The teacher wrote on the work of a careless high school student: "nonsense", but the Russian letters were taken as Latin letters, "renyxa". In the book it pointed out how scientific knowledge struggles with gullibility, bombast, and pseudoscience and how disregard of the methods of the scientific approach opens the way to all sorts of "miracles". Distinguished by the simplicity of exposition and its broad scope, this book is very useful to those who are just beginning to familiarize themselves with the subject.

2.2.1. A. B. Migdal (academician). "Poiski istiny [Searches for Truth] (Notes on scientific creativity)". Moscow, "Znaniye", 1978, 80 pp. (What's New in Life, Science, and Technology. The "Fizika [Physics]" series, N 7, 1978).

The ideas of the book of Arkadiy Benediktovich Migdal, one of the most gifted students of Nobel Laureate L. D. Landau, are the closest to the topic of this publication.

3. A. B. Migdal limited himself to examples from the field of physics. Examples in the article were also taken from chemistry.

M. V. Vol'kenshteyn. "Traktak o lzhenauke [Treatise on Pseudoscience]". "Khimiya i Zhizn' [Chemistry and Life]", N. 10, pp. 72-79, 1975.

The article was written by a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences and published in one of the best popular science magazines.

4. Unfortunately, doctors and pharmacists rarely explain the consequences of resorting to the means suggested by all sorts of "healers". Thus the book is all the more valuable.

4.1. V. G. Kolesov, V. A. Marchenko, N. V. Syrovezhko. "Lekarstvennyye rasteniya: mify i real'nost'. Traditionnaya (narodnaya) meditsina v ob"yektive nauki [Medicinal Plants. Traditional (Folk) Medicine in the Lens of Science]". St. Petersburg. Khimiko-Farmatsevticheskoy Akademii [The Publishing House of the Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Academy], 1999, unknown number of pages with illustrations. This book was written by a clinician, a medical theorist, and a pharmacist. Such a rare combination of authors permitted them to reliably separate the "wheat" from the "chaff" in such a difficult question as the choice of a means of treatment.

4.2. I. I. Sokolov, V. V. Stepanov. "Narodnaya meditsina - nauka i traditsionnoye znaniye [Folk Medicine - Science and Traditional Knowledge]". St. Petersburg, Gidrometeoizdat [Publishing House], 2001, 65 pp.

5. In each field in which the "pioneers" ordinarily work there are fundamental monographs in which it has been shown that "the emperor has no clothes" on the basis of factual material.

5.1. Ch[arles] Hansel "Parapsychology". Translated from the English by F. V. Shirokov with an afterword by A. I. Kitaygorodsky. Moscow. Mir [Publishing House]. 1970, 320 pp. with illustrations (In the World of Science and Technology).

5.2. Lawrence D. Kusche, "The Bermuda Triangle: Myths and Reality"! Translated from the English by K. I. Telyatnikov. Afterword by Academician L. M. Brekhovskikh. Moscow, "Progress" [Publishers], 1978, 352 pp. With illustrations.

5.3. V. N. Soyfer. "Krasnya biologiya: Psevdonauka v SSSR [Red Biology: Pseudoscience in the USSR]". Moscow. "Flinta" [Publishing House], 1998, 264 pp.

5.4. V. N. Soyfer. "Vlast' i nauka. Istoriya razgroma genetiki v SSSR [Science and the Government. The History of the Destruction of Genetics in the USSR]". "Ermitage" Publishing House, 1989, 706 pp. with illustrations.

After reading through these books the reader will be ready to argue with representatives of the pseudosciences.

6. Those who are interested in the current situation in the conflict between revolutionaries and researchers need to turn to the following sources:

6. 1. "Zdravyy smysl’". A journal of skeptics, optimists, and humanists. It publishes materials about these problems from issue to issue.

6.2. Eh. P. Kruglyakov. " 'Uchenye s bol'shoy dorogi ['Swindlers Posing as 'Scientists']". "Nauka" Publishing House, 2001, 320 pp. with illustrations. The author of the book is Chairman of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Commission to Combat Pseudoscience and the Falsification of Scientific Research.

Ye. D. Eydel'man

Translated by G. Goldberg