The Skeptic's Dictionary
Several people have drawn my attention to Robert Todd
Carroll's Critique of my Alternative Science website at http://www.skepdic.com/refuge/altscience.html
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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'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
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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.