When the Cranks Rule

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Although accusations of persecution are rife in pseudoscience, ironically, it is muchmore common for pseudoscientists to persecute orthodox scientists whenever thepseudoscientists gain the upper hand. Consider these remarks by John C.Campbell on the useof dowsing rods to locate Viet Cong tunnels in Vietnam (on the efficacy of the method, thenecessary and sufficient comment is that we lost the war. More specifically, we lost thebattle for the tunnels. Surely Marines with welding rods could be expected to find tunnelsfaster than the Viet Cong could dig them).

For the first time in human history, there now exists a situation in which the disciplined thinking techniques, and precision-observing techniques of modern science will be applied in a positive sense to the problem of a subjective phenomenon. "Positive" in that the research men will be commanded, ordered, and damn well required to stop using their talents to prove it isn't so, because their theories hold it impossible, and find out why it is so, because it works. Those scientists who are personally psychologically so oriented that they simply can't accept that notion will be simply brushed aside, and men who can and will see what's happening on their own campuses, and will sincerely try to understand this new order of phenomenon will be installed.

To put it bluntly, science will be ordered to arrive at a preordained conclusion(dowsing works), and any scientists who have the temerity to insist that the Emperor hasno clothes will simply be purged. Campbell seems to savor the thought.

Cranks in the Soviet Union

It actually did happen in the Soviet Union, where a crank biologist, Trofim Lysenko,linked his evolutionary theories to Marxist ideology and became a good friend of Stalin.With connections like that, Lysenko simply purged his opponents to Siberia or worse. Notcontent with nearly wrecking genetics in the Soviet Union, Marxist ideologues attackedquantum mechanics in the late 1940's.

Cranks in Nazi Germany

In Nazi Germany, a pseudoscience of  "Aryan physics" was developed toreplace relativity, many of whose developers were Jewish. The World Ice or GlacialCosmogony cult was active in Germany in the 1930's. This cult believed that the planets,except Earth, were deeply covered with ice, that the Milky Way was made of gigantic iceblocks instead of stars (photographs showing the Milky Way to be made of stars were faked), and so on. They linked their beliefs to Nazi ideology, harassedorthodox astronomers, disrupted scientific meetings, and seem to have had ambitions ofbecoming the science arm of the Nazi Party. The Nazis managed to check that impulse. It ishard to find favorable things to say about the Nazis, but at least once they served thetruth.

It's a good thing the Welt-Eis Lehre is largely forgotten, otherwise, like Velikovsky's followers, we'd have believers touting images of ice-covered moons in the outer solar system as proof of their theory. They'd ignore embarrassments like moon rocks (or claim the samples were faked). It would be interesting to see these people go up against Velikovsky followers over the question of whether Venus is covered with ice.

An American Example

For those who think it can't happen here, some sobering news. It has happenedhere. Before Laetrile became the great crank cancer hope in the 1970's, the ultimatecancer cure was Krebiozen, or "K". Originally developed by two Yugoslavs, Stevanand Marko Durovic in the late 1940's, Krebiozen caught the fancy of Dr. Andrew C. Ivy, aphysiologist and vice-president of the University of Illinois. The president of theuniversity, George C. Stoddard, ordered Ivy not to use Krebiozen in university clinicsuntil he and the Durovics produced samples for analysis. They refused. Ivy found supportamong the trustees, who included former football great Red Grange, and had Stoddard firedin 1954. Health faddists have the unbelievable audacity to cast Ivy in the roleof persecuted martyr in this episode.

In the 1980's, creationists attempted to have creation decreed to be the scientificequal of evolution by law. Having failed in the courts, they have retreated to the grassroots, attempting to gain control over local school boards. Doubtless teachers who refuseto conform, should the creationists succeed, will be disciplined. After the Scopes Trialof 1925, evolution almost vanished from American biology texts for three decades, and evennow the creationist movement has caused publishers to soften or delete statements onevolution for fear of losing the approval of local Boards of Education. Until fairlyrecently, to take another example, students in some universities in the southern U.S. wereexpected to answer that blacks were inferior to whites on biology and psychology exams.Cases of pseudoscience attaining real power are rare, yet in nearly every case thepseudoscientists have launched a genuine persecution of orthodox science. But the worst isyet to be told.

The Church of Scientology, an outgrowth of L. Ron Hubbard's dianetics cult of theFifties, became one of the most controversial of American religious cults. When, in 1977,Federal agents raided the cult's offices because, among other things, the cult hadinfiltrated Federal agencies and stolen Government documents related to investigations ofthe cult, public reaction was amusement as much as anything else. After all, the feds arebig boys and can take care of themselves, and it was fun to see the tables turned and theGovernment being under surveillance. But there's another side to the story. One of thefiles seized was entitled "P.C. Freakout" and referred to "getting P.C.incarcerated in a mental institution or in jail".

 "P.C." was PauletteCooper, and her crime was writing a book in 1971 called The Scandal of Scientology.She and her publisher were sued and forced to halt publication. Cooper was compelled, aspart of the settlement, to sign a statement that 52 passages in her book were false ormisleading, and to agree not to publish the book elsewhere. One wonders where thedefenders of Worlds in Collision and other crank works were while this was goingon, or what opponents of tort reform have to say about it. In November, 1972, a Scientology member, masquerading as a donation collector, enteredher apartment and stole some of her personal stationery, which was then used to send afake bomb threat. Cooper was indicted by a Federal grand jury, but after shepassed a sodium pentathol examination, the Government dropped the investigation. Not until 1977 did theraid on Scientology headquarters uncover evidence that exonerated Cooper. The Church ofScientology regularly used the threat of costly libel suits to silence critics, and thetactic of using libel suits to silence criticism or even critical examination ofcontroversial topics is becoming perilously common in many areas of American society.

Let's junk once and for all the myth of the "persecuted genius." These"persecuted geniuses" usually treat their "oppressors" with far worsemalice than they, themselves, are treated. It's remarkable that the single most bizarreconspiracy in this whole discussion was a real rather than imaginary plot, and it washatched by a pseudoscience cult.

Incidentally, Hubbard's early science fiction works are now regularly published inanthologies along with the works of respected science fiction authors, and his novel BattlefieldEarth became a major motion picture in 2000. Shamefully, nobody in thescience-fiction fraternity has protested this prostitution of science fiction.Nothing gratified me more than to see BattlefieldEarth crash and burn. I didn't want it merely to fail; I wanted it to godown in film history along with Ishtar, Showgirls, and MyraBreckenridge. And it did.

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Created 8 July 1998, Last Update 24 May 2020

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