Saturday, December 29, 2012

Peer Review, censorship, scientific "consensus"...

Peer review has troubled Harmonia Philosophica for some time now. We live in a society which accepts the mainstream and condemns anything beyond it with a great ease. An idea, no matter how genious or clever, it will never be published on a "high profile" scientific magazine only because... well Because!

As simple as that.

struttJohn William Strutt (also know as Baron Rayleigh) made a research related to "science heretics" in the 19th centrury. He was astounded to discover that John James Waterston had sent a paper to the Royal Academy containing a kinetic theory of gases LONG BEFORE Joule, Clausius and Maxwell... The paper was never published. The two referees who read it found it incompehensible and "difficult to accept as a valid theory". (source: "Αλλοπαρμένες μεγαλοφυΐες", εκδόσεις Τραυλός, σ. 178 - Greek version of "Il Genio Incompreso", Federico Di Trocchio) Well, we know now that they were wrong. But the author was destroyed by that rejection back then. And not only that: because he did not have a copy of the article and because the rejected paper was never sent back to him, he was also unable to send it for publishing elsewhere!

One could say that: OK, science has lost some years of progress.
So what?
The theory was discovered after all.

imagesBut this is not the real problem you see. The real problem is that "cranks" like Waterston can really make a difference in the "cold bored scientific community" which only cares for the verification of what is "known" at the time. Geniouses are always a type of "crank". Maybe this is why Einstein supported Velikovsky who despite him being a bit... "weird" did make some astounding predictions regarding magnetic fields in the Universe and the role of planet/asteroid collisions in the cosmos (see Cosmos Without Gravitation, Worlds in Collision).

S. Warren Carey
Warren Carey
Theories which were also supported by another "lunatic", named Warren Carey. Carey, beginning from the idea of an expanding Earth (a theory which you would be surprised to know that was widely accepted up until late 1960's and which was discarded not because of "errors" found but mainly because the theory of plate tectonics was found to replace it. After all research found that the Earth IS getting larger - see here), thought that the magnetic fields of the planets and the celestial objects were something more "fundamental" than scientists suspected. He even formulated a theory to explain things. The fact remains that all things in the Universe - from small particles to great planets - are spinning and have magnetic fields... Carrey suggested that we should limit the fundamental quantities to just two: mass and distance. And he postulated that the Universe is actually a gyroscope of... Nothing, from the spinning of which mass is generated via the dynamic energy of movement. His theory even explained why objects repel each other in great "galaxy-scale" distances.

Too much for you? Well, maybe then we think of "Dark Energy" and "Dark Matter". Would that be... "better" and more... "scientific" ?!? Why? Just because the "Community" told you so?

Ivor Catt
Ivor Catt
Continuing our journey throught the cases of peer review censorship, the case of Ivor Catt comes next. Ivor Catt patented some ideas on Wafer scale integration (WSI) which allowed computer technology industry create waffers with ease. But then he discovered what is know as "Catt anomaly" (see and asked for a reformation of the whole electromagnetic theory. That was it. He was "instantly" put aside. If Catt is right, that would mean that Oliver Heaviside would be right also. Another example of a "weirdo" who thought that the current flowing through a wire is due to the energy transmitted in the space around the wire and not inside it. But again, the "authenticity" of his time - the "all mighty" chief mechanic of the Post Office William H. Pearce - made sure that Heaviside would never publish again a paper at The Electrician. And so the story went on, with Heaviside being added to the people ignored by the "mainstream science community". Simple. Yet frightening.

The next time you hear about a "crazy" man speculating some "weird" theory just think: is this theory rejected based on evidence and the proper reasons? Or just based on the authenticity of someone else?

You would be surprised on how many times the answer is the latter...

Newton himself thought his idea of an invisible force field which expanded throughout the whole Universe and was the cause for an instantaneous force, was "so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it". (see The Construction of Modern Science: Mechanisms and Mechanics, by Richard S. Westfall. Cambridge University Press. 1978) And who can really say that the theory which discarded Newton's gravity was "logical"? How logical is thinking of the Theory of Realativity? And how logical are the conclusions of the other theory of the time, Quantum Mechanics?!? How "scientific" is to think of things being two opposites at the same time?

After all, it was Niels Bohr who said "We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct"...

PS. Douglas P. Peters and Stephen J. Ceci once conducted an interesting experiment: they took 12 scientific papers which were already published in known scientific magazines, re-typed them and changed the names of the scientists with other unknown ones. They then sent the same articles for publication to the same magazines. The result? Only in two cases did the editors realize that these articles were already published. In all other cases, the articles were rejected due to "serious methodological errors" they contained... Speaks for it self...

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