Alternative Science


The Skeptic's Dictionary

Several people have drawn my attention to Robert Todd Carroll's Critique of my Alternative Science website at 

Normally I don't trouble replying to such criticisms, even when they are ill-informed or misguided, because people have the right to speak as they wish on the Internet, and that includes the right to get things wrong.

This case is different because almost every statement of "fact" on Robert Carroll's page regarding my Alternative Science site is false -- including a substantial number of completely fictional quotes that he has made up and tried to put in my mouth.

I am putting this rebuttal here because I know that for every pseudo-skeptic like Robert Carroll there are a dozen real skeptics who care as much as I do about the careful handling of facts and evidence.

Any reasonable person who even glances at the facts below will see that Carroll's "critique"  is an outrageous distortion composed of false assertions and bogus arguments.  Any honourable person would withdraw these lies and apologise.  However, I do not expect Robert Todd Carroll to behave in any such honourable manner, since he is plainly not interested in scientific truth or the integrity of philosophical discourse.    

Robert Todd Carroll publishes a web site which he says is devoted to exposing "sites that provide false, misleading or deceptive information regarding scientific matters". I point out the following factual inaccuracies so that Robert Carroll can correct them at the earliest opportunity:- 

Carroll's claim: "Let's begin with his version of the "they laughed at Galileo, so I must be right" fallacy, a non sequitur variation of selective thinking."

Fact: I do not mention Galileo anywhere on my site.

Fact: I do not say the words 'they all laughed at Galileo, so I must be right' or anything like those words, or anything that could be misconstrued as those words.

Since I do not say any of the things Carroll alleges, it follows that his accusation of committing a non sequitur variety of selective thinking is false.

Carroll's claim: . . . Milton lists a number of inventors and scientists who struggled to get their ideas accepted. Many were ridiculed along the way. But, like many others who commit this fallacy, Milton omits some important, relevant data. He does not mention that there are also a great number of inventors, scientists and thinkers who were laughed at and whose ideas have never been accepted. Many people accused of being crackpots turned out to be crackpots. Some did not. Thus, being ridiculed and rejected for one's ideas is not a sign that one is correct.

Fact: I do not say that "being ridiculed and rejected for one's ideas" is "a sign that one is correct", or anything like that. On the contrary, I am merely recording the indisputable historical fact that skeptics commonly deride new discoveries of all kinds indiscriminately. That is the very opposite of what Carroll falsely claims I said.

Carroll's claim: Thus, finding large numbers of skeptics who reject ideas as being "crackpot ideas" does not strengthen the likelihood of those ideas being correct. The number of skeptics who reject an idea is completely irrelevant to the truth of the idea.

Fact: Nowhere have I claimed that the existence of large numbers of skeptics rejecting ideas as being "crackpot ideas" does strengthen the likelihood of those ideas being correct.

Fact:  I rarely deal in "ideas" as Carroll claims. Almost every one of the undoubted historical examples that I give relates to inventions and discoveries that were confirmed by concrete experimental evidence, yet that were still derided by professional scientists.

Carroll's claim: Ideas such as alien abduction, homeopathy, psychokinesis, orgone energy, ESP, free energy, spontaneous human combustion, and the rejection of evolution--all favored by Milton--are not supported in the least by the fact that these ideas are trashed by thousands of skeptics.

Fact: I have mentioned "alien abduction" once on my site, and then only to quote Dr Paul Kurtz, chairman of CSICOP, who brought the subject up.

Fact: I do not "favor ideas" as Carroll claims. I present empirical evidence for consideration by my readers. (As I make abundantly clear, I am a reporter).

Fact: I have nowhere claimed, as Carroll falsely alleges, that the subjects of homeopathy, psychokinesis, orgone energy, ESP, free energy, spontaneous human combustion, are in some way "supported. . . by the fact that these ideas are trashed by thousands of skeptics". The only person to have introduced this bizarre idea is Robert Carroll.

Fact: If Carroll took the trouble to read the work he is criticising, he would find that far from "rejecting evolution" I have written in the preface to my book "Shattering the myths of Darwinism" -- "I accept that there is persuasive circumstantial evidence for evolution . . ."

Carroll's claim: Like many believers in the paranormal, Milton is quite impressed with the statistical data of people defending claims that they have scientific evidence for such things as telepathy or psychokinesis.

Fact: I have nowhere said "I believe in the paranormal" or words anything like that. I am not a believer, I am an investigator.

Carroll's claim:  He cites Dean Radin who defends the ganzfeld experiments and The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research.

Fact: I cite Radin's article in "Foundations of Physics" concerning the PEAR research. I have never referred to ganzfeld experiments or to any interest Radin may have in them.

Carroll's claim:  In both cases, impressive statistics are used to support the belief in paranormal phenomena.

Fact: I nowhere do I say " I believe in paranormal phenomena".

Fact: If Carroll finds the statistics quoted "impressive", why does he not discuss them rationally, or provide an alternative explanation for them?

Carroll's claim:  It does not seem to occur to Milton that there might be alternative explanations for the statistics.

Fact: Carroll fails to provide any alternative explanations of the data I present anywhere in his "criticisms", which are based solely on assertion and opinion.

Carroll's claim:  Milton seems to think that the parapsychologists are rejected because they pose some sort of threat to mainstream science. There is no threat. If a reasonable explanation of paranormal phenomena is ever made and compelling evidence is produced to support belief in ESP, etc., mainstream scientists will jump on the bandwagon as they have in the past (see below, the examples of continental drift and pre-Clovis Americans).

Fact: I have nowhere said that parapsychology research "pose[s] some sort of threat to mainstream science" nor any words remotely like these. In as far as I've attempted to find a scientific explanation for pathological skepticism, my reporting has centred on the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance.

Carroll's claim:  "ad hominen". Another common fallacy committed by Milton is to attack the motives of those who criticize and reject "crackpot ideas." Milton claims

Some areas of scientific research are so sensitive and so jealously guarded by conventional science that anyone who dares to dabble in them -- or even to debate them in public -- is likely to bring down condemnation from the scientific establishment on their head, and risk being derided, ridiculed or even called insane.

Fact: My statement, quoted above, does not mention anything to do with the motives of skeptics. It is a simple statement of fact that is supported by scores of well documented examples which Carroll omits to mention. 

Fact: Since I have not and do not attack the motives or the character of those skeptical of anomalous phenomena it follows that I have not employed argumenta ad hominem.

Carroll's claim:  The charges are not true in at least two areas where Milton claims it is forbidden to do research: cold fusion and Darwinism. Research continues at several labs into cold fusion, although it is apparently the case that the Department of Energy considers cold fusion to be forbidden territory.

Fact: I provide concrete evidence and testimony from scientists working in the field both of their attempts to conduct research being suppressed and of MIT's Plasma Fusion Laboratory going so far as to falsify its experimental results to discredit cold fusion. Carroll omits this evidence from his criticism. He himself agrees that the most important single US organisation concerned with fusion research, the Department of Energy, does consider cold fusion taboo, as I claimed. This makes it very difficult to understand what possible basis Carroll can have for this criticism.

Carroll's claim:  Darwinism (natural selection), on the other hand, has been attacked from within the ranks of scientists almost from its inception. Even Darwin didn't think natural selection could completely explain evolution (See The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex). Like many critics of evolution, Milton does not understand Darwinism. But that is another fallacy.

Fact: It is true that many scientists working in evolutionary biology have voiced doubts about matters of detail. But Carroll is being disingenuous here. He knows perfectly well that what is forbidden is any strategic criticism in major media of Darwinism at the global level as the mechanism of evolution.

Fact: Once again -- as in every case on my website and books -- I support my contentions with facts (rather than adopting Carrol's own method of arguing by assertion and opinion). I give indisputable concrete examples of attempts to question Darwinism fundamentally being forbidden, examples which, once again, Carroll omits. His objections are completely contradicted by the examples on my site.

Carroll's claim:  Milton's attack on Darwinism is an attack on a position quite distinct from the theory of natural selection. Milton attacks an idea few, if any, hold today. He attacks an ideology he characterizes as a godless philosophy of materialism, embracing the meaningless of life in a dog-eat-dog world of brute aggression.

Fact: It is clear that in many of Carroll's criticisms he is mixing me up with someone else and this is a good case in point. Nowhere in any of my books or anywhere on my site do I say or imply words remotely like this criticism which is bogus from beginning to end. Words like "godless", "materialism", "meaningless[ness] of life" etc., simply do not figure in my native vocabulary, nor am I interested in them.

I have repeatedly stated that I have no religious beliefs, that I have no interest in religion at all, and that my criticisms of neo-Darwinism are based on reporting recent scientific discoveries. Carroll is confusing me with religious writers.

Fact: Carroll accuses me of not understanding Darwinism yet it is clear from his remarks above that he thinks Darwinism is merely synonymous with natural selection -- a mistake which no first year undergraduate would make.

Carroll's claim:  . . . one of the weakest arguments he has is given in favor of a Russian astrophysicist, Mark Zilberman, who has found a correlation between the 11-year cycle of solar activity and winners of the lottery in Russia and France. Milton seems to think this is an amazing feat and indicative of ESP "modulated by external geophysical factors." He can't understand why scientists are not beating a path to Zilberman's door.

Fact: I do not "give any arguments in favor" of Zilberman or ESP. I report his research. Why does Carroll find these results so offensive that he feels he has to distort them and my reporting of them? What's wrong with saying something like "Hey this looks unusual. Maybe we'd better look into this." Why does Carroll have to -- without conducting any research or knowing anything about the matter -- rush into print with arguments about why I am misguided and Zilberman must be wrong?

Carroll's claim:  One characteristic of Milton's "alternative" sciences that distinguishes them from real science is their reliance on ad hoc hypotheses to explain the mysterious mechanisms behind homeopathy, psychokinesis, ESP, perpetual motion machines, spontaneous human combustion, etc.

Fact: I have not attempted on my site or in my books to explain "the mysterious mechanisms behind homeopathy, psychokinesis, ESP, perpetual motion machines, spontaneous human combustion etc" as Carroll's claim. His claim is completely bogus.

Fact: there are two reasons why I would not attempt any such explanation. First I am a reporter not a scientist. Second I am not aware of any plausible scientific explanation for any of the so called phenomena Carroll mentions.

Carroll's claim: How homeopathy is explained will serve to demonstrate this point. Homeopathy is a system of medical treatment based on the use of minute quantities of remedies that in massive doses produce effects similar to those of the disease being treated. Advocates of homeopathy think that concoctions with as little as one molecule per million can stimulate the "body's healing mechanism." They even believe that the potency of a remedy increases as the drug becomes more and more dilute. Some drugs are diluted so many times that they don't contain any molecules of the substance that was initially diluted, yet homeopaths claim that these are their most potent medications!

[There follows a long description using words such as "the metaphysical notion that like heals like", "healing "energies" of "vital forces" bringing this, that, or the other into "harmony." ]

Fact: It is a complete mystery where Carroll got any of this from. It most certainly was NOT from my web site or any of my books.

Fact: having falsely claimed above that I attempt to provide explanations for the mysterious mechanism underlying anomalous phenomena Carroll now adds insult to injury by giving an example purporting to be my explanation of homeopathy which in reality is a whole lot of stuff that Carroll himself has written!

Carroll's claim: Because scientists almost instinctively reject studies, no matter how well-designed they seem to be, that provide supportive evidence for "alternative" scientific notions, people like Milton argue that there is a conspiracy in the scientific community to stifle the truth.

Fact: I have nowhere on my website or in my books ever used the word conspiracy except to make it clear that I do NOT believe in any kind of "conspiracy in the scientific community to stifle the truth". I regard any such view as misinformed. Until now I have accepted with equanimity the many distortions and bogus claims that Carroll makes about my writing, but I take strong exception to this false claim because it is so calculated to be damaging.

Carroll's claim:  They also argue that the scientific community is so blind and biased that they refuse to consider evidence that upsets their pet beliefs.

Fact: I do not merely argue thus, I provide 200,000 words of evidence in two books and a web site with scores (possibly hundreds) of examples demonstrating this blindness, every one of which Carroll omits from his criticism in order to make it seem valid.

Carroll's claim: Much of what Milton considers to be attempts at censorship have nothing to do with censorship at all. He raises issues that are red herrings, e.g., legitimate criticism of the media for promoting junk science in programs such as the Mysterious Origins of Man . . .

Fact: My criticisms of the response of CSICOP members to the TV program "Mysterious origins of man" were purely factual: that at least one such critic called for the program to be "banned from the airwaves" and that members of CSICOP threatened to boycott the advertisers sponsoring the program as a means of controlling the intellectual content of future programs. What better description of censorship could one ask for? And what would Robert Carroll call behaviour of this kind -- if, for instance, it were directed against him publicly expressing his viewpoint? This kind of thinking is nothing less than intellectual Fascism and it needs to be exposed, not encouraged by unthinking self-appointed vigilantes with white sheets over their heads.

Carroll's claim: Milton seems to have a naive view of open-mindedness. He calls CSICOP the Paradigm Police and takes a dim view of anyone who criticizes, boycotts, protests, etc. the promotion of junk science.

Fact: I do not in the least object to anyone campaigning openly and legitimately for their own viewpoint -- however repugnant I personally find that viewpoint -- and I say so on my website regarding CSICOP. I do however object most strongly to the kind of behaviour described above which is routinely encouraged by CSICOP and routinely engaged in by some of its members.

Carroll's claim: He seems to think that what is true in politics ought to be true in science.

Fact: It is not I who made the discovery that science is a cultural enterprise involving advocacy groups and a dialectical conflict of ideologies -- it was scientists such as Dr Thomas Kuhn whose work I report.

Carroll's claim:  Another common error Milton makes is to argue that something is true (such as clairvoyance) because a bad argument was given to show that it is false.

Fact: I nowhere in my site or my books say that "clairvoyance is true" or any words capable of being interpreted to mean that.

Carroll's claim:  The argumentum ad ignorantiam can be found at several places on Milton's pages, but I will focus on just one. Milton defends the significance of unrelated coincidences such as dreaming of an airplane crash in a foreign country and waking to find that the news is reporting that there was an airplane crash in a foreign country. His defense is built on showing that a parapsychologist, Dr. Richard Wiseman, gave a false but persuasive explanation of such coincidences as being expected by the laws of probability.

Fact: Nowhere on my site or in my books do I "defend the significance of unrelated coincidences" as Carroll claims. The sole purpose of the example he criticises was to point out that some explanations offered by skeptics are bogus. The facts support my view, not Carroll's.

Carroll's claim:  Another common error Milton makes is to mislabel things. For example, he labels as pseudoscience Richard Dawkins analogy of the 'evolution' of biomorphs with the 'evolution' of living creatures. This misclassification exposes Milton's malevolence (if it is intentional and he knows this example has nothing to do with pseudoscience but he thinks it will help his anti-evolution cause) or his ignorance regarding pseudoscience.

Fact: On my website I say precisely how and why Dawkins's biomorphs are not an analogy with any living process or any aspect of any living thing. Carroll, by contrast, merely asserts that this is "misclassification" without troubling himself to deal with any of the substantive issues my criticism raises. There is only one person doing any mislabelling here, and it is Robert Carroll.

Carroll's claim: Milton may truly believe that Dawkin's analogy is a false analogy, but you might as well call nuclear physics a pseudoscience for having made an analogy between planets revolving around the sun and electrons revolving around the nucleus of an atom.

Fact: In the case Carroll gives, there are several common features of the two things compared which are thus legitimately analogous. Electrons actually do behave as though they orbit the nucleus in a planetary manner. By contrast, there is no common feature at all between Dawkins's biomorphs and living things. To describe them as analogous, in isolation, would merely be a error. To describe them as analogous, as Dawkins does, in a book whose sole object is to advocate the ideas of neo-Darwinism is not merely an error, it is pseudoscience -- an attempt to influence people's scientific view by bogus means.

Carroll's claim: Mlton seems driven by a need to propose false dilemmas. The basic form of his argument goes like this:

Either we believe my side or we believe these liars, cheats, deceivers, frauds, pseudoscientists, false historians, conspirators, and dogmatists. Clearly, the second choice is unacceptable. Therefore, we should believe my side.

Fact: Not a single word of this proposition is mine -- these words are entirely composed by Robert Carroll. There is nothing in my website or my books that even Carroll could twist into meaning what he has claimed here, and this is nothing more than an outrageous fiction invented for the sole purpose of misleading people as to my real views and discrediting facts to which Carroll has no real answer.



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