Support For Sensible Science

Support For Sensible Science

Words and phrases highlighted in bold type in this article indicate there are links to further reading at the end of the article
For a few months I have been baiting the “boy-scientists” of the Bad Science site and their cult leader Ben Goldacre (don’t bother too much about him for now, its a false name for sure.) There are many examples, one of the best being Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Bacon Butty Weapon, as the title suggests a tongue in cheek article, but with a keen edge.
Well some very reasonable people working in Research and Development in several fields have commented on these posts and feel I have presented a negative view of the sciences at a time when colleges are struggling to recruit students to science courses. I thought I had done enough to distinguish between “scientists,” the kind of people who think that by announcing themselves as scientists they have somehow defined themselves quite clearly and explicitly as members of a superior species, “boy-scientists” who practice a very simplified version of “science” such as might be shown on Children’s Television but behave as if “science is some kind of religion that must not be questioned except by initiates to the priesthood and the scientists who are simply conscientious and competent knowledge workers.
Following my most recent baiting of boy-scientists in the Strangelove post one of the boy-scientists made reference to my “irrational hatred of scientists”. RESULT!
The point many critics miss, presumably because they do not set much store by language skills is that I am actually quite a fan of the natural sciences. I do not hate people who work with any of those skills, physics, chemistry, biology, or their work. Having spent twenty odd years working in computers and telecommunications I am no stranger to applying some of those bodies of knowledge in solving problems. Though pretty hopeless at pure mathematics maths I have always been able to “do the maths” if there is a practical need. Also, my work as a consultant took me into the nuclear and conventional power industries, chemicals, oil, defence, public service agencies and a number of financial and commercial enterprises. All of them use various sciences at some level so I am well aware of the importance of the sciences in a modern society And I deplore the way boy-scientists with their dorky dress sense, their cone-heads and their nerdy tunnel vision present an image of scientific work as something to be avoided at all costs by cool dudes and their hos.
What irritates me increasingly is the way some people, usually of the no-life, mega-personal-hygiene- issues tendency will talk of “science” as a zealot talks of the divine, as if it is something that can only be understood by initiates who have progressed through several stages of competency.
So before we go further let’s get straight what exactly a science is. The Oxford English Dictionary and leading American dictionary, Websters, define a science as “a systematic and formalised body of knowledge.” From Agriculture to Zoology there are many sciences or “ologies” that we do not usually think of as sciences, so it is both misleading and confusing to refer to oneself as a “scientist” without qualifying what science one actually works with. Sorry, I can be a bit pedantic about language at times, but language is a science too. If we study language at a high level it reveals a wealth of information about the history and development of human culture.
Is it any wonder then that so many people get mightily pissed off when somebody like boy-scientist Ben Goldacre or his sad little buddies such as the guy who runs announce “I’m a scientist” before dismissing without thought something like homeopathy or the Intelligent Design argument. It may be the smugness, that “I’m a scientist so I must be cleverer than you” attitude or simply that they appear to think by citing “science” they prove their case beyond argument when in reality they do not even begin to understand the question.
The good thing is they lack life-experience and emotional immaturity so winding them up is easy.
It seems however, in playing these games I have given the impression that the sciences are purely for saddos and nerds, it is time to put it right.

A natural break here, so I should explain that although the phrase Intelligent Design has been hijacked by fundamentalist Christians as proof of the Bilical creation myth. In fact the original theory of intelligent design referred not to the creation of life on Earth but to the design and interaction of sub atomic particles and atoms.The Bible is in fact quite clear on the point that there was life on Earth before the Creation but to understand properly we need to look at the creation myth of the Zoroastrian Zend Avesta.

We must find ways to make study of the sciences appealing or we are in big trouble. Bigger trouble than we are in already. So the first thing we must broadcast is that without the sciences human civilisation would be nowhere. Had Mesolithic or Neolithic humans not made the evolutionary leap that led to their beginning a systematic study of the world they lived in and had they not developed languages to communicate what they learned from tribe to tribe and generation to generation we would still be running around naked and eating dung for our dinner. (BTW If you did eat dung for your dinner it’s probably because you are homeless in Westminster where the dark forces of Nimbyism have stopped the soup run, but that is another issue.) Without the sciences we would have no tele, books (papermaking and printing involves several sciences) no cars or bikes, no trains and boats and planes. We would live in mud huts and cook our food over open fires lit by banging our thumb with a big stone (that might not be true, I just put it in hoping some of the boy-scientists would be thick enough to test the theory.)
Science is a formal body of knowledge and almost everything we do, whether it is related to survival of fun, depends on knowledge.
Science comes from the Latin word “scientia” meaning know or discern. The same Latin root also gives us conscience, (knowing or being aware of onself), prescience (having foreknowledge – like fortune tellers: fortune telling always sets the boy-scientists off,) and omniscience (being all knowing).
Knowing is perhaps the biggest thing that raises us above animals and makes us human. Even the name of our species, homo sapiens sapiens, (from Latin sapere, knowing in the sense of being wise rather than aware of, our early ancestors were homo sapiens, man who knows, we are homo sapiens sapiens, man who knows he knows. I told you there was a science in language.) After 50,000 years or so of living in communities and not only surviving but advancing because we learned first to co-operate and then to record what we learned through co-operating it is rather sad to have come to a point where in some walks of life we have people who declare “I am a scientist (a knowledge worker) as if they have uttered some kind of magic word.

To present the sciences thus, as some kind of closed world of esoteric knowledge that may only be acquired by a select few, the chosen ones, is utterly wrong and damaging. We should be presenting the sciences, including those subjects which are not usually viewed as sciences, archaeology for example, as exciting and cool.

How cool is Physics?

For twenty years now I have followed the work being done at Cern (Conseil Europeean pour Recherche Nucleaire) in Geneva and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S.A.) to identify the Higgs Boson and study other sub atomic particles and thus prove the theories of physicist Peter Higgs. Back in 1957 Higgs was looking one of the great mysteries of the universe, why heavy stuff is heavy (I doubt he would put it like that.) Another way of saying this is “why does a rock weigh more than all the individual atoms making up that rock?”
Everything is made out of atoms so why does a cannonball weigh more than a ball of feathers. Well obviously because that is the way things are, but that was not enough for physicists like Higgs. They wondered about the mysteries of the Universe, not in the sense of why are we here, where did we come from, is there any point to it all and who put the ram in ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong and the questions that puzzle philosphers such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but why did all those gluons and quarks, the sub atomic particles bind together in the nanoseconds after “The Big Bang” (if there was such an event) and make a tiny thing with a nucleus and orbiting electrons. And then why did those tiny atoms bind together with other atoms to make molecules which in turn made galaxies, stars, planets, asteroids, cheese, shirts and poo.

Higgs theory was not just made up out of thin air as I and other fiction writers make up stories and boy-scientists make up facts to support their attempts to get on the corporate gravy train, but carefully thought through after intensive study of the work of other theoretical physicists and the results of experiments carried out in Britain, America, Russia, France and many other nations. He suggested the existence of a sub atomic particle that could only exist as a separate entity for a nanosecond after the nucleus of an atom had been smashed apart, but that while bound with other sub-atomic particles in the nucleus of an atom, gave off a type of energy that joined it to all the bosons in all the atoms in all the gin joints in the Universe to create a field in which all matter is contained. It is this, his work suggests, that enables matter (us and our world) to have physical existence.

If any reader is wondering why I keep slipping the flippant, irrelevant remarks into a serious(ish) article, it is because boy-scientists get really irritated when I do not take them as seriously as they think they should be taken, that’s why.

If Higgs speculations about the boson is proved to be anywhere near right, it opens up a whole new Universe of knowledge. It also proves that most of what we thought we knew is wrong. The obvious benefits are those suggested by science fiction. Anti-gravity belts that enable you to do without a car and still not have to talk to nutters on the bus, interdimensional travel, rides on Star Ships like the Enterprise, all that. Maybe those things are just fiction, but think of the more likely possibilities, the ability to use the seemingly endless and non-polluting supply of energy that drives the universe, leave all the lights on and a tele running in every room, its all free. The ability to feed everyone in the world. This is all wild speculation of course, but we should bear in mind that only a hundred years ago the idea of sending moving pictures through the air to a glass screen in people’s homes was not even wild speculation. Three hundred years ago they would have burned you as a witch for even suggesting it.

If Higgs theory is proved it will means ghosts and elementals could exist after all. Ghosts are, according to serious researchers into the paranormal, simply electro magnetic echoes of past events while elementals are energies. It may also go a long way to explaining some of the other questions that scientific knowledge as it stands, can only respond to with bluster and evasion. The word “ghosts” is used deliberately here because of the effect it has on boy-scientists. They get as sneery about ghosts as they do about psychics, astrologers, scryers and speculative interpreters of prehistory.

Could ghosts be an electro magnetic echo? Well yes, it is perfectly feasible no matter what our boy scientists say. Such echoes or shadows might be a better word do exist and can be interpreted. How do the ghost deniers think forensic computing works, how can technologists identify data on a hard disk after it has been overwritten many times. Quite simply each layer of data leaves its own echo and with sensitive enough equipment to read those echoes, information can be reassembled. Ghosts in the machine.

Does this mean I believe in ghosts? Well when I walk through graveyards at night I’m quite confident of not meeting any dead people running round with white sheets over their heads. Other than that I am aware of many possibilities, one of which is that ghosts may simply a figment of the imagination. I do believe however that people who claim to have experienced such things are utterly genuine. The Supernatural menu of my new web Multi Media labyrinth Greenteeth will have lots of articles on such topics.

A few weeks ago I raised the question of gravity. What is gravity? If as the standard academic answer suggests it is an attractant force, where does the energy to drive that force come from? Every force needs and energy input the theory goes, yet wherever we are in the universe, whatever we are doing, gravity always works … except when it doesn’t.

An anti – gravity engine has long been a dream of aviation engineers and a safe fallback for sci-fi writers. Such stuff is just fantasy the academic community say, and yet we have an anti gravity device that most of us use daily. Which brings us to another mystery, magnets. Find a ferrous surface to hang a permanent magnet on and it will hang there forever. What power holds it there against the pull of gravity? We might be lucky enough to get someone waffling about weak forces and strong forces working against each other, they are always good for a laugh, but we can be sure they will not be able to explain just what these weak and strong forces are. We simply do not understand the energy that makes a magnet magnetic.

Another anti gravity device, one that offers more tangible practical benefits, is maglev propulsion. Maglev uses the superconductive repellent force of electro-magnets to drive a train at high speed as it floats above its tracks. Maglev technology, based on ideas published by German physicist Walter Meissener in 1933, has been around for twenty years but only now are the first experimental trains being built. Attempts to progress the technology have met with obstruction, yet maglev offers the possibility of shipping goods overland to and from the far east in only two days. It is a realistic, less polluting alternative to air travel for the movement of passengers and freight. Opposition to its development is mainly from the world of academic science, are they perhaps fearful of losing the benefits that accrue from their cosy relationship with the oil companies. The case for the urgent development of this technology is argued here:

To describe here all the exciting projects going in the field of scientific research would take too long: a new type of generator to provide electricity from tidal currents, zero carbon energy to power our new Maglev trains; cars that need no driver; the many advances in computing; producing energy from sunlight; all amazing and important projects. There is equally important work going on in agriculture to produce better crop yields by methods less damaging to the environment than the chemical fertilisers used for the past century. This is a case of responsible science trying to undo the mistakes of irresponsible scientists who charged ahead, chasing their Holy Grail without ever pausing to think of the consequences. All we hear from the boy-scientists and their paymasters when combating famine is mentioned is promotion of genetically modified crops. These idiots do not learn, again they are wanting to charge ahead with a process when nobody can possibly have a clue what the long term consequences may be.

The people funding the G-M projects are of course those same oil and chemical companies that are obstructing maglev and pushing for forced medication of the entire population. It is interesting to note most of the boy-scientists I encounter work in medical research. Cult-leader Ben Goldacre’s obsessions are homeopathy, diet supplements, those quack remedies that are advertised in the small ads of the Sunday papers, Promoting the safety of the very suspect MMR vaccine (its worth mentioning here that Goldacre’s main claim to fame is he won a prize for freelance medical journalism for an article he wrote about how the silly people who doubted the efficacy of the wonderful MMR vaccine were. Strangely, when dismissing parents who report autism symptoms appearing in their children shortly after administration of the vaccine as gold diggers and delusional hysterics (nice bloke our Ben,) by saying there is “absolutely no scientific evidence” to support their claims he omits to mention his prize was funded by the main manufacturer of the vaccine. Prima facie evidence of a conflict of interest I would say. Goldacre and his crew obviously have an interest in shouting down criticism of their paymasters so I shall continue to pillory boy-scientists and the corrupt companies who fund them whenever I see evidence of their trying to occupy the moral high ground while serving the interests of their paymasters.

Hypocritical is one thing serious scientists are not.

Magnetic Levitation – Walter Meissner

Energy from marine currents

An academic report on Organinc Farming, its viability and environmental advantages

BBC News Report argues that organic farming is economically viable when the cost of environmental damage caused by intensive farming methods is factored into the cost analysis.

Developments in semi biological photovoltaic cells reported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Intelligent Design
Avesta Zoroastrian Archives

27 thoughts on “Support For Sensible Science

  1. For someone who claims to love language you have missed a ton of rhetorical devices in my posts (the most amusing thing is that you use the same devices in yours!) as a result I wound you up way more than you wound me up anyway, and you are quoting me out of context. Way to go!

    I’m not quite sure why you think that I practice a simplified version of science given that you have no idea what science I’m doing – moreover why would the major drug companies keep paying me millions of pounds to produce childrens TV science? (NB this was a rhetoric – intended to be humourous)

    I could spend hours correcting the mistakes in this article you have mixed some interesting facts about contemporary science with utter gibberish – the opposition to maglev is not from academics, you just made that up. The final paragraph is downright libelous, find one instance where Ben has described parents of autistic children as gold diggers (or was that intended as hyperbole?) etc. etc.

    As far as I can tell the only actual point you were making (in that wall of text) was that scientists tended to treat science like it was the preserve of an academic elite. again as I said in my previous post, I would be very happy if people were reading my papers, Ben’s actual position is to facilitate the public understanding of science, indeed my continued visitation to this blog is also in the name of my understanding the publics understanding of science so I can better help the public to understand science.

    Finally you said
    “dismissing without thought something like homeopathy or the Intelligent Design argument”

    Again this is untrue, scientists have given both a lot of thought and experiments, the evidence on the former is quite conclusive.
    With regard to the latter, as a lover of language you have to accept that the language is dynamic, and that people inevitably respond to the contemporary / most commonly used meaning of a word or phrase such as Intelligent design.
    The present meaning is the fundamentalist christian one. Scientists are working hard to help public understanding of evolution to discredit this idea.
    With respect to a divine force in manufacturing the first subatomic particles, I have thought about this and had this disussion several times as an undergraduate (usually while high t.b.h.), the discussion usually went along the lines of:

    ‘dude, if like a divine being made the first subatomic particles then, like, who made the divine being’

    ‘duuuude that is deep’

    In short you would do well to be a bit more open minded about scientists and Ben and try and see what they / we are trying to do.

    And if you say gotch cos I made a long post then compare it to the length of yours, this took me about 10 minutes to write, and I consider that time well spent, I am bored going in circles debating popscience with other scientists, at least here I know you will disagree with me!


    1. boyscientist,

      So you and your scientific stoners cannot think philosophically beyound calling each other dude a la Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure.

      If you were more broadly educated you would understand the answer to ID was provided by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. Christian philosophy then was a lot different to what passes for philosophy today.

      Aquinas showed that “God” (the Universe) must necessarily exist outside time and space and therefore until humans can think outside time and space we cannot understand the nature of the Universe. The true Intelligent Design theory proposes that The Universe is in fact intelligent. No numbers and equations for you I’m sorry, how can there be numbers in infinity and eternity. The only number is one. But do bear in mind as you are such a fan of scientific evidence, there is very little evidence for the Big Bang. There is just as much chance of I.D. being proved right right, i.e. no chance at all as these things can never be proved.

      Back to the drawing board for boy scientists I’m afraid. I do like that phrase boy scientists, it would be wonderful to think it might catch on.


      1. 1) I was using the Bill and Ted speak ironically as a rhetorical device to emphasise a point.

        2)so God put the 3K microwave background in the universe for a laugh did he, along side various other echoes of the big bang, I edited a huge chunk of other text out here cause it got really technical, if you are interested I will write an essay on the big bang.

        3)I am vaguely familiar with the god and universe = 1 and God exists outside of space and time, I came across it from the perspective of existentialism, it was / is an attractive theory but it is philosophy more than science.

        Arguing from a philosophical stand point rather than scientific I sort of agree, I am reminded of Isaac Asimovs book ‘Foundation and Earth’ where A character points out that the movements of the galaxies when sped up look like life forms.

        But to describe the universe as a life form merely requires that you define what you call life, rather than requiring that the life form be called God.


      2. You really love the cliches. The various background echoes in space are not necessarily from the Big Bang in fact they are not necessarily echoes. They could be anything. As Ian Thorpe and Dr. Hornybuns suggest (deliberate variation in spelling), you cling to your certainties like a born again Christian.

        As the Big Bang is only theoretical there is little point in your writing yet another speculative essay on it, especially as the current thinking among cosmologists is tending towards multiple bangs theory. As astronomers look more deeply into the universe, to galaxies which must have been created before Big Bang they see mature galaxies. So if The Universe was created in Big Bang how were these Galaxies able to exist before? Of course we do not know that what we are seeing are actually galaxies but the evidence suggests they probably are.

        “Many aspects of theoretical physics are philosophy more than science.” Science by definition being confined to that which we know, I think you will find that point was well made in the original article, there is little point a scientist getting involved in abstract discussion.

        I did not argue the case for treating The Universe as a life form, only as possibly intelligent. Who says intelligence can only exist in a living creature?

        What you do boyscientist is try to present yourself as an authoritative voice in areas of physics where no definitive knowledge exists. This is a trait often displayed by the author of The Bad Science column.

        A coincidence maybe?


      3. “What you do boyscientist is try to present yourself as an authoritative voice in areas of physics where no definitive knowledge exists”

        You are confusing assertive argument with speaking with authority.
        Just because I argue a point doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe it absolutely, I have found that the best method to identify alternatives and to fully consider an argument is to defend that position and allow others to challenge it.

        I’m not quite sure about these galaxies that existed before the big bang, if you have a source of further reading on that I would be interested to read it.

        “I did not argue the case for treating The Universe as a life form, only as possibly intelligent. Who says intelligence can only exist in a living creature?”

        Interesting idea, life is simply a classification, I would generally be inclined to redefine life so as to encompass this new entity in the catagory of ‘living’
        We are well into star trek territory here, its life Jim but not as we know it.

        Seriously though I am not Ben, I have never met Ben I am not even a member of his secret cabal of scientific terrorists.


      4. Whether you are or are not Ben Goldacre is of no interest to me. As for Goldacre’s cabal of scientific terrorists, I am familiar with the Bad Science column from the Guardian website and would therefore describe Godacre as a scientific reactionary conservative. His mind is completely closed to ideas that stray from the mainsteam, as is yours which is perhaps why certain people think you are one and the same.

        Here are some web addresses where you will find further reading on the scientific unfeasibility of big bang theory, or as one describes it “the origin of the Universe seen through rose tinted spectacles.”

        The problem with Big Bang lies in its being nothing more than an exercise in abstract mathematics. If all the matter in the Universe was compressed into an object the size of a grain of sand/grain of rice, pea/golf ball, tennis ball/small planet (pick your favourite, and all the empty space between the matter was also compreseed into that ball of matter, what was outside the ball of matter? Space is infinite, compress it and more space fills the void left by the compressed space.

        Big Bang Exploded

        Worlds Within Worlds

        Top 30 problems with big bang

        Big Bang pro & con

        Big Bang or Damp Squib

        Universe is child of an earlier one

        Books to buy.
        The Big Bang Never happened

        The Final Theory


      5. Aidan,
        I did not know your were a friend of Dr. H til I spoke to her over the holiday. Thanks for coming in on this one along with Paul Duffy when I was totally fed up with boyscientist/william/ben’s nit picking and irrelevant responses.

        Some good reading there BTW, I had a look at a couple of the online articles.


  2. I do not miss your rhetorical devices at all. I don’t miss my lines popping up in your posts or Ben Goldacre’s column / web page either. What’s all that about hmmm?
    So you think I made a libellous comment? Sue me.
    I previously said something provocative about Goldacred and one of his “friends” warned me he had grounds to sue. Well despite saying I looked forward to hearing from his lawyers I am syill waiting.

    As for “making up” the maglev thing Ben or William or Bob or Ricard or whatever your real name is, numerous of your beloved academic papers have been published (mostly when you were in short pants) rubbishing the idea. Yet it works. Imperfectly as yet, but if the oil companies, airlines etc. put as much money behind it as they invest in hindering its developments it would quickly become viable.

    The public do understand science Ben / William / Richard / Bob, unfortunately you don’t.


  3. Maglev is indeed viable, I have followed the devlopments of the test track with interest, my point is that academics don’t block it we support it.

    I don’t care about you being libelous, I just pointed out that it was wrong.

    I apologise for not using my real name, but the internet is a dark place and I have no wish to publicise my identity.

    Your final comment is exactly what I am trying to understand.
    What do the public understand by science and why are so many people so easily misled?
    What I understand by science is a whole lot of equations, numbers, caveats and incredible amounts of detail on my fields of interest.
    It is completely un-necessary for the public to know about or understand this (unless they want to then I welcome the interest), but they do need to understand the importance of it… One day it may save their lives


  4. I perfectly understand your reasons for not wishing to reveal your identity, you in turn will understand mine.
    When you say
    “What I understand by science is a whole lot of equations, numbers, caveats and incredible amounts of detail on my fields of interest.
    It is completely un-necessary for the public to know about or understand this (unless they want to then I welcome the interest), but they do need to understand the importance of it… One day it may save their lives” you illustrate perfectly Little Nicky’s point that you and others like you are through your patronising attitude alienating the public.
    (Don’t confuse Ian with Little Nicky, Ian is very real, sexy, charming, laid back and funny, Little Nicky, a made up character, is a waspish, provocative trouble maker.)
    Science to you is equations, numbers and all that fussy nit picking detail about your fields of interest. Medicine to me is tewaking a body of knowledge to needs of many individuals. The doctor / patient relationship is all important as the doctor must encourage in pastients where possible the rght mental state to respond to therapy.
    Only this week Ian mailed me for interest, a story about a doctor who is studying the “will to live,” and how the ability to cope with debilitating diseases and conditions varies so much. It must have upset you as your attitude to patients is they are all automatons. My reason for first contacting Ian was related to this, his is an amazing case. All the scientific evidence suggests he could not possibly have survived such a massive sub arachnoid haemorrhage, yet he not only survived, his recovery was remarkable enough to prompt discussion among doctors in the area. His is not a unique case of course, when dealing with the public I see patients who defy expectations every day.
    As Ian said to you once when you were using another of your many aliases, human beings are just so bloody unscientific.

    I should point out Ian has never been my patient so there is no ethical issue in our friendship. The first time I spoke to him I was sure he had some medical training so fluently did he speak of the effects of his stroke and of the underlying condition that led to it. Part of his approach to managing his own recovery had been a need to understand what he was fighting against and so he learned and understood. It is an approach that has worked for many who have beaten post stroke disabilities, cancer and many other conditions. So manye along with laughter, intelligence is the best medicine. That of course is very unscientific but is something I and many other doctors use to good effect constantly. The trick lies in being human enough to suss out the patients likely to respond.

    Perhaps if you told us your field of science we might understand you better, as it is you give the impression of being very close to autistic so great is your obession with non specific “science” in which your expertise ranges from several highly specialised fields of medicine, through quantum physics to electrical engineering. I am a bit worried about your mental state too, what you probably conside academic detachment is beginning to look like psychotic disconnection and there are strong indications of paranoia too. I cannot make a diagnosis via the net and there is also the possibility you are trrying to bully Ian into getting off your case. That is never going to work, I advise you to seek help although a long holiday away from “science” may be all you need.


  5. The reason i believe the public dont take any interest in science is obvious…whats the point? It seems to me the majority of people don’t feel the need to know how things work, just as long as they do. As has already been stated science takes a part in every technology ever invented and the entire world around us, but as long as all the computers, cash machines, ready meals, microwaves, dialysis machines etc are still working the everyday joe bloggs will feel no need to know anything about it. Obviously more could be done to encourage interest in the sciences but for the moment it seems to me it’s just those who are curious or decide to make a career out of it.


    1. Thanks for the comment. The reason people don’t get interested in the sciences is because so many scientists are…well, a tad obsessive. They have this way of making things seem stupifyingly complicated when in fact they are not that hard. If you write a lot of equations and obscure jargon to explain something (as boyscientist and his mates do) people just get bored and then the boyscientists think they are so clever nobody can do what they do, but the English language is a wonderful tool for communicating and there is absolutely nothing that cannot be explained in words.

      I worked with many boyscientist types over the years, they are all deeply into science but stuggle with simple, practical tasks.

      What science needs is less people who are up themselves and more who can communicate.


  6. I have only had one other alias, William Thompson so I think that the diversity in my range of interests stems from the fact that their is more than one person (I don’t have MPD (as far as I know).

    I have no desire to bully Ian off my or Ben’s (with whom my sole contact is 2 posts on his forum and 6 posts on his blog) case , I am interested in what he has to say.

    I have no contact with patients – I am biophysicist / biochemist (ie PhD not MD), (I think I may have mentioned this when posting as William – I reged because I got sick of the captchas) So yes in a pure science way patients are statistics; in so far as I know that if a patient gets a mutation in a specific gene they are more likely to get a specific type of cancer.

    I also know that if Science can understand enough of the system we can reduce the chance of said cancer developing. But that is not to say that I don’t frequently consider the fact that people are dying from diseases that I believe science (and in some small way I) can cure.

    I am not sure how my attitude is patronising, and on this I am genuinely keen to know why it comes off this way.

    To me it was a simple statment of fact, does the public need or want to understand the equations describing NMR, MRI, protein dynamcs or enzyme kinetics. Do the public care about the subcellular differences between a B and a T cell. At this point I have barely scratched the surface of the detail I could discuss. When any non-biophysicist asks me about my work, and actually seems interested I have to spend 30 minutes before I can even start to talk about what I do – this even applies to cell biologists (who are closely related to my field)!

    as Neonmeatdreams pointed out most people don’t care. But if the public decide that these and other things are not important then science can no longer act to improve and lengthen peoples lives.


    1. Oh you’re into lymphocytes and all that shit. When you said biophysics I thought you meant something interesting like nanotechnology or organic computing.

      Tough luck, keep trying you may get an interesting job one day.


  7. And there we have it, science can no longer act to improve or lengthen people’s lives. But does science improve people’s lives? And as lives are lengthened do we not need to think about dealing with the social consequences.
    Neonmeatdreams is right, people do not care about the details but you are wrong, people care about the consequences.
    Quis custodiat custodes as Ian titled one of his posts a few days ago. The public do William / Ben, medical research may appoint themselves custodians of the nation’s health, but the public watch us like hawks and get very suspicious when somebody tries to blind them with science.

    Before I take my leave on the blogosphere until January can I ask, don’t you think its a little strange as you have so little interest in Ben Goldacre, that you know about his alleged interactions with his web hosting company, that Ian makes a remark elsewhere to the effect that if Ben Goldacre told him the world was round he would join the flat earth society, a couple of days later you send a link on this blog to the flat earth society? Also, on numerous occasions you respond in the first person to criticisms this blog has directed at Goldacre.

    I’ll tell you now it was I who put Ian up to this campaign against Goldacre though his arm did not need much twisting. The Bad Science colum pissed me off a long time ago, before I left Britain for this job. Whatever the guy who writes it is really called bhe is an irresponsible clown. And that is my professional opinion.
    If you like, as these things seem to impres you, you may address your reply to Prof. Honeybuns. But no rush, I’m flying to India to spend time with family on Sunday.


    1. Oooooh Professor….!
      But you are of course so go for it.
      You nailed his first point Hun, it was of course civil engineering that improved and extended lives in the twentieth century.
      I think half the problems “scientists” have is because when they are reminded of that it brings all their insecurities to the surface.

      Don’t know when you will see this but if its today, have a good night. Should be quite a party.


  8. “science can no longer act to improve or lengthen people’s lives…. social consequences.”

    I personally would say that not dying slowly and painfully from cancer would be an improvement in any bodies life, preventing HIV from switching to AIDS is an improvement, not having heart attacks is an improvement (insert advert for CRUK here).

    Yes civil engineering led to some improvements, so did penicillin, germ theory – modern medicene in general really.

    I don’t see your (Ian’s) point, I’m not really sure what these insecurities are, I enjoy learning about the industrial revolution, though I usually have to go and cry in the corner afterwards as I realise that I won’t make the same contribution to the world as Brunell.

    In any event scientific solutions to social problems are far more morally justifiable than the enforced castration of people a blogger from northern England finds undesirable.
    Personally I think we should find a way of living under the sea, this would solve all the problems with global warming what with the flooding and all.

    Interesting that you should mention organic computing (I understand this term to mean the development of a biological / digital synapse). Working on this is one of my research aims, but it is necessary to accumlate experiance with other systems first, there are a couple big problems primarily getting the right proteins into the membrane in the right place.

    “I worked with many boyscientist types over the years, they are all deeply into science but stuggle with simple, practical tasks.”

    great generalisation, just because I have to have someone dress me in the morning and cut up all my food for me then make the aeroplane fly into the hanger (how do they do that?) doesn’t mean that all scientists do.
    And of course I can never talk to gerls and am a virgin because I am very shy, you wouldn’t imagine the problems this causes with my wife!

    “If you write a lot of equations and obscure jargon to explain something ….there is absolutely nothing that cannot be explained in words.”

    I can explain most things in broad terms, but what you call Jargon is because we have to invent new words to describe things, and its usually necessary to talk about specifics.
    As Pratchet says, a language which was developed to talk about where the ripest berries are is ill equipped to describe sub atomic particles.

    I’m not even going to begin on the necessity of math, but to say y=sin(x) is a more elegant description than ‘well the line sort of goes up and down a lot between 0 and 1’.

    What is Dr. Honeybuns problem with Ben? are you one of those homeopaths or an omega3 salesman or something?

    I have no idea about why those coincidental things, maybe it is because I am part of the goldacre hive mind and we can communicate telepathically. He posted about his hosting problems on his blog so thats how I know that.

    One final thing, the name boyscientist is actually a complement, paraphrased from Nietzsche; we must be the camel going into the desert the lion in the desert and the child reborn emerging from the desert.
    So we are the children reborn with curiosity and a sense of wonder, thanks!


    1. I can’t tell if it’s irony or senility where, on replying to a post where Messr. Thorpe makes an effort to distinguish between boyscientists and actual scientists, you go and confuse the two.

      I also find it fundamentally worrying that someone who claims to work on such a low level in the field of biology can confuse the computer (neuron) with the network (brain). Dendrites and axons are nothing more than I/O interfaces which, theoretically, could be treated as data links or HID connections. The main body of research is roughly at the same level of progress as quantum computing and largely involves manipulating raw DNA. When we have some level of mastery of getting reliable answers from a specific and predictable sequence of DNA in a controlled environment, then, maybe, just maybe we can consider the merest hint of a slight possibility of trying to get something out of DNA in a cell with all the associated paraphernalia that has.

      Cray on why Computer Professionals and Molecular Biologists should start collaborating (1996)

      Technion researchers using DNA and enzymes on a chip. Note the number of ‘programs’ accepted by the chip, not instructions. There’s nothing digital about biological computing.

      I look forward to the day when my PC tanks out because the cooling system failed and it suffered an aneurysm.


      1. I noticed his state of the art biophysics is somewhat behind the cuting edge Paul, but I did not respond as Aidan Stewart (a friend of Dr.H) seemed to be doing well on the big bang argument, where again the boy scientists cling to ideas that are way behind the current thinking.

        Thanks for the support again though.


      2. What nit picking?
        There are holes big enough for an elephant to walk through in just about every piece of pseudo science you lot have posted so far. The only person who even seems to have any knowlege of science is Paul Duffy and in that case I was talking about something completely different (which I specified in my post).

        I am not trying to bully or even to discuss science – those big bang arguments are quickly refuted with a google search, so to avoid further accusations of nitpicking I will leave it to real scientists (ie those interested in the pursuit of truth rather than those who believe a bunch of conveniant lies because it feels good and ignore the facts to the contrary) to do so.

        I am trying to understand why you believe the one scientist over the actual scientific community. We really do give new ideas a fair hearing (though talking of the cutting edge – we give it a hearing 5+ years before it enters the public domain), but where its rejected it is done so because there is no supporting evidence. Look up cargo cult science etc.

        Why you think that actual scientists are behind the cutting edge while people who read the technology section of the mail online are with the current thinking?

        And why believe the scientific outliers in some cases but not others – why believe in the absence of a big bang and not young earth creationism supported by two ‘scientists’?
        Why believe the MMR vaccine is dangerous when countless studies show it isn’t?
        Why believe that actual drugs which are shown to be effective are just big pharma pushing pills but when homeopathic preparations which are demonstratably ineffective they are valued medications doing an important job.

        What has Ben done to wrong you so deeply?

        Is it just that the Dunning-Kruger effect?


      3. I think you may have misunderstood the drive of my argument / interest.

        I am not talking about neral nets or lab on a chip / microarrays which is what (I think) you are talking about. This technology is at or near maturity (though quantum computing is miles off).

        The synapse converts a chemical signal to an electrical one by means of a chemical potential difference on either side of a membrane.
        The interest here is creating a synapse which would convert a chemical impulse that I generate ie ‘move arm’ and converting that to a digital signal readable by a computer.
        Or vice versa to tak a digital impulse from a computer (ie 10110000010) and converting that to a sense detectable by a human – eg you just stuck this sensor in a pot of boiling liquid.
        I think the current systems simply read the voltage changes of a given nerve (or stimulate a given nerve with the appropriate voltage) and translates that to a digital signal rather than using a chemical synapse.

        I am actually interested in this from a slightly different perspective though this example makes it seem more exciting and more translatable.

        You manipulate raw DNA to manipulate proteins. DNA is phenomenally boring and manipulation is trivial, the manipulation is done to understand protein which is interesting .
        When you understand how the protein systems operate you can manipulate entire cells to perform specific tasks – genetic engineering becomes bioengineering, the manipulation of entire organisms to create novel systems.
        Why mess around putting things on a chip when you can program an organism to do it all by itself?

        I have intentionally obuscated any differnce between boy scientists and actual scientists because as far as I can tell they are the same thing.
        All scientists are childishly enthusiastic about their work and get impatient when others aren’t able to understand what to us is second nature.
        I think that Ian is basing his entire premise on a combination of a stereotypical opinion of scientists a desire to ‘fight the power’ and an irrational hatred of Ben Goldacre.


      4. That would be I/O and, other than that, you’ve pretty much just regurgitated what I wrote back at me.

        However, anyone who thinks that getting past the simplistic stage of basic addition and onto complex computing is going to be easy and wonders ‘why computers aren’t more powerful than they are’ is in for a shock. I don’t care how much the guy knows about neurons, he clearly hasn’t a clue about just how complex computers are. When he pulls off a square root in 0.000000002 seconds using one neuron he can start knocking modern desktops (your average Blue Gene is substantially more powerful).

        To put four neurons together to do anything is called a cluster, and yes, clusters can behave entirely as one computer as evidence by Beowulf clusters and the Plan 9 O/S. To link them together so as to make them work in a particular formation is a neural network where each individual component works both independently and as part of a whole in the same sense that people do in social organisation.

        It will be extremely useful when we can get complex answers out of single neurons (and why it should be a digital I/O stream I do not know, goes against decades of comms tech) but it’s no use poking around and seeing what comes out. When the internals of a neuron are more fully understood then methods can be deducted instead of chanced upon by trial and error which is precisely why I refer to DNA processors on chips and the minor issue that the internals of the cell need to be understood before any serious progress can be made with the externals.

        Of course, getting back to what you were considering, yes, given that a technique has new been developed by which artificial limbs can be anchored to bone through skin it would be a wonderful progressive step to have them controlled by the human nervous system and provide genuine sensory feedback (with reasonable cutoffs), although digital would be too limited for the potential range of inputs/outputs and ADC/DAC has been a staple of computing for some time now so it’d be a shame to put that to waste and not measure the level of potential difference.

        It’s also not true that all scientists are impatient with those who don’t understand, some teach. Really, I’ve never met anyone who could back up their claims who didn’t actually explain them when asked (and then have it printed on a leaflet they could hand out after the 100th time). Always when someone’s making a load of horseshit claims I provide references, links to relevant material and proof aplenty while being told to look it up for myself so, really, if it’s so damned easy to google then provide a link to the relevant search so you can provide back and make your point at the same time.

        e.g. Big Bang Theory

        Of course, the first link states that it’s not a provable theory due to it’s nature and the second details accurately what we do and do not know. We do not, for example, know that cosmic inflation actually occurred, why there is more matter than anti-matter, why the universe is almost but not quite flat or what’s causing the universe to accelerate in its expansion. We have a lot of general idea and not a lot of detail such as what actually went bang, where that came from or if anything existed before it… and don’t say a supermassive black hole, physicists have been explaining those away for decades with a ‘quantum singularity’ which is theoretically impossible while some of the more abstract thinkers have been developing more realistic, and testable, theorys, ones which fit within the laws of physics.

        Of course, the real boy scientists are all too busy playing amateur theologian and scoffing at string theory while all the real scientists are using higher-dimensional theory to explain observation and refusing to hold a position on the possible existence of any ‘creator’ because they know as well as anyone can, that the entire universe could be the result of some extra-dimensional high-energy physics experiment.


  9. Well it’s very late and I need to interject here…..

    We don’t need to know about Scientists at all.

    Just that science is available with the Mail on Sunday. A boxed DVD set!!!


    1. eggbod,
      I didn’t start it Mum, honest, it were him what started it. 😉

      Wise input there, this lad seems to think the only way of understrandind scientific knowledge is by turning yourself into a nerd who talks in equations. And because the field is full of nerds who talk in equations, we just aren’t educating people in the kind of skills our society needs. And that is a problem.


  10. I hope boy scientist, you are not referring to my contributions as pseudo science after I went to the trouble of finding that info for you.

    But your rwactions do prove Ian’s point, you cling to your prejudices with the zeal of a religious fanatic. I do not say those speculative documents I linked for you are true. The fact is we can never know the truth.

    The Big Bang theory is popular among scientists simply because the idea of an infinite Universe is too inconvenient. How can one ever measure infinity?

    Compress space along wi8th matter into this pea sized Universe and what exists outside the pea sized object. Nothing, or to put it another way, space.

    The best the Big Bang theorists can offer is that what lies beyond the Universe is outside and therefore cannot be said to exist. This, as I pointed out a long time ago is precisely what St. Thomas Aquinas said seven hundred years ago. And so we return to theology.

    You can argue in circles for ever on this one, but you will never be right.


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