Brownstone » Brownstone Journal » Philosophy » The Crisis of Pseudoscience, by John F. Clauser 

The Crisis of Pseudoscience, by John F. Clauser 


Dr. John F. Clauser, born 1942, is an American theoretical and experimental physicist known for contributions to the foundations of quantum mechanics. Clauser was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics, jointly with Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.”

Dr. Clauser spoke in July at the event Quantum Korea 2023. What follows is a transcript of his remarks that prompted the International Monetary Fund to cancel his appearance this week, and began a predictable trajectory of broader cancellation.

Below find the speech and transcript.

Oh, I hope there wasn’t a significant miscommunication in the invitation for this particular talk, I’m going to give it another one later on – the keynote address. I was asked for the first to make some brief remarks as inspiration to young Korean scientists. I’m not sure, wasn’t sure how to do that, so here’s my best shot at it and it really has very little to do with quantum technology, but here are my inspirational thoughts.

A long time ago, actually my whole life, I have been an experimental physicist. Have had the distinct privilege of literally being able to talk to God even though I’m an atheist. In a physics laboratory, I am able to ask carefully posed mathematically-based questions and correspondingly observe universal truth. 

To do so I make careful measurements of natural phenomena. In the physics laboratory, I once settled the debate between Einstein and Schrodinger on one hand, Niels Bohr and John von Neumann on the other. In a laboratory, I asked a simple question: which one of these two groups was right? And which one was wrong? 

I didn’t know ahead of time what answer I would get. I just knew I could get an answer. Nonetheless, I found real truth. For the answer. I assert that real truth can only be found by observing natural phenomena. By carefully observing natural phenomena. 

Good science is always based on good experiments. Good observations always overrule purely speculative theory. Sloppy experiments, on the other hand, are frequently counterproductive and provide scientific disinformation. That is why good scientists repeat each other’s experiments carefully. 

For inspiration to young scientists, I would suggest that today is an opportune moment for careful observations of nature. Why? The current world I observe is literally awash, saturated, with pseudoscience, with bad science, with scientific misinformation and disinformation, and what I will call ”techno-cons.” Techno-cons are the application of scientific disinformation for opportunistic purposes. 

Non-science business managers, politicians, politically appointed lab directors and the like are very easily snowed by scientific disinformation. Sometimes they participate in its origination. The purpose is to try to inspire you as young scientists to observe nature directly so that you too can determine real truth. Use the information gained from carefully performed experiments and research to stop the spread of scientific misinformation, disinformation and techno-cons. 

Well-educated scientists can help solve the world’s problems by acting as scientific fact-checkers. A fact-checker’s most common problem, unfortunately, is determining what is true and what is not. The world is awash with someone else’s perception of truth as an alternative to real truth. 

Perception of truth frequently differs significantly from real truth. Moreover, given sufficient promotion and advertising, perception of truth becomes truth. Its promotion by commercial enterprise Is called marketing, commonly used in the furtherance of political, commercial, or various opportunistic ends by its promoters. When promotion is done by government or political groups, it’s called spin or propaganda. 

To such a promoter, perception of truth is truth. If you can sell it, it must be true. If you can’t sell it, it must be false. Perception of truth is also malleable. If you can sell it, if you want to sell it, and you can’t sell it, that’s easy. You change it. You can change truth. You can claim false observations if necessary. 

My favorite in this act is ChatGPT. It’s very good at doing exactly that. It has lots of man-made pseudoscience to copy and manipulate and emulate. It can lie and cheat even better than its human mentors whose writings are abundant in literature. In literature, you will observe there’s far more fiction than there is nonfiction. Pseudoscience is science fiction. Unfortunately, neither computers nor human fact-checkers can, in general, tell fact from fiction. Or science from science fiction or from pseudoscience. 

If Starship Enterprise can fly faster than the speed of light, it’s gotta be possible, right? All you need is dilithium crystals, right? Wrong. 

Real truth is not malleable. It can only be found by making careful observations. Well-tested laws of physics and observational data are important guides to allow you to distinguish truth from perception of truth. 

Now I am not alone in observing the dangerous proliferation of pseudoscience. Recently, The Nobel Foundation has formed a new panel to address the issue called the International Panel on Information Environment. They plan to model it after the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. 

I think personally that they are making a big mistake in that effort because in my opinion the IPCC is one of the worst sources of dangerous misinformation. What I’m about to recommend is in furtherance of that, of the aims of that panel. 

In the past, we scientists act, have acted, as referees for journal article peer review. And we have peer-reviewed each other’s work, so as just to prevent the proliferation of scientific misinformation. That process recently seems to have broken down. Somehow it needs to be reenergized. 

During my career as a scientist, I have frequently been asked to referee lots of scientific journal articles. Here I will offer a few pieces of advice. First, very importantly, your work should be based on careful observations of nature. You must try hard and recognize what I will call an elephant in the room hiding in plain sight. Ask very simple questions. I found an elephant in the room that I will be describing in my keynote address in quantum mechanics. 

I have a second elephant in the room that I have recently discovered regarding climate change. I believe that climate change is not a crisis. 

Real truth could be found if and only if you learn to recognize and use good science. It’s especially true when real truth is politically incorrect and does not reflect political, business aims, or desires of leaders. Even the scientific community can sometimes become diluted by pseudoscience. 

Recall, if you want pseudoscience to be true, just simply spin it and it becomes true. Importantly, A referee must know and use mathematically based physics. A good scientist must also know how to derive and solve differential equations. That was the first thing I learned as an undergraduate at Caltech. 

Follow the teaching of Sir Isaac Newton. He found that the world is governed by differential equations. He had to invent calculus to do it but he did it. A referee must correctly identify the dominant processes. That’s the starting point. The best way to do this is with order of magnitude estimates of the various conceivable processes. 

One of my examples I can give later, I don’t have time to do it though regarding climate change, the dominant process I believe, has been misidentified by factors of 200. So if you’re off by a factor of one hundred, two hundred, your process is way too small to be important. It’s the big one – big numbers matter, little numbers can be neglected. 

Sometimes people will promote new ideas that are off by factors of 1,000,000. They just simply haven’t run the numbers themselves. The most pathetic part of all this is that they don’t know that they need to know how to do that. Their lack of scientific knowledge allows science, pseudoscience, to promote what I will refer to as techno-cons, political opportunistic aims. 

Techo-cons are readily unmasked and identified if you simply apply order of magnitude calculations. Very importantly, a referee must apply good calculus-based statistical methods along with good common sense. I would also like you to consider methods used by two of my former associates at University of California, Berkeley, Nobel laureates. When they were shown data, a group of data points and told “Look, the trend is obvious.” Luis Alvarez, Nobel laureate, would look at it and say, “Flattest line I ever saw.” Charlie Townes would look at it and say, “I don’t see in the data what you’re telling me I’m supposed to see.”

Beware. If you’re doing good science, it may lead you into politically incorrect areas. If you’re a good scientist, you will follow them. I have several I won’t have time to discuss, but I can confidently say there is no real climate crisis and that climate change does not cause extreme weather events. 

Thank you. 

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