When scientists help to sell pseudoscience: The many worlds of woo

Since Professor Moriarty has mentioned me by name (not once, but twice) in his latest post, the least I can do is reblog it. In fact I agree wholeheartedly with his demolition of the pathological industry that has grown up around “Quantum Woo”…

Symptoms Of The Universe

…or, as Peter Coles suggested, The Empirical Strikes Back


Until a couple of weeks ago, I was blissfully unaware that there was a secret out there that had the potential to change my life forever. I could do anything, be anything, get anything I so desired… if I only knew The Secret. Despite my hitherto abject ignorance, it’s not a particularly well-kept secret: millions know about it — and its universal law of attraction guiding ‘principle’ — largely due to Oprah Winfrey’s glowing and gushing endorsement:

Nor is The Secret anything new. The film which first gave it away was released nearly a decade ago. Like the best memes, however, its rate of infection continues to grow. Googling “The Law of Attraction” gives millions upon millions of hits, and counting.

I found out about The Secret via Tim Brownson and Olivier Larvor, both mentioned in my previous post…

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9 Responses to “When scientists help to sell pseudoscience: The many worlds of woo”

  1. It’s the worst book I’ve read in my life. I was curious what all the fuss was about so decided to read it, though I knew what I would think of it. Even if one believes in such nonesense, this book is just disgusting: so materiallistic, and the authors avowedly make fools out of their readers. You need to ask the Universe to give you what you want, it will for sure – at some point. If you ask to win a lottery and you don’t, it means you will in the future. Because the only thing you cannot be sure of is WHEN these things will happen, as this is a mystery. So I guess your life looks just like soemone’s who doesn’t believe in this – some things happen, others don’t. The only difference is, you will repeat these revelations so other people buy this horrible book. The Secret surely works for its cunning authors…

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      “The Secret surely works for its cunning authors…”

      That’s the real secret.

      Reminds me of those (I’m sure this is another area where Anton and I agree—if Anton, or perhaps Ian, agrees with me, it is usually an interesting discussion) artists who buy some lumber from the local lumber yard, spray-paint it blue, piss on it, call it “longing for enlightenment”, babble about how it is connected to Isis and Osiris, then sell it for a million quid. The true art is commanding such a price.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        There have always been charlatans in art, but only in the 20th century did they become able to command large prices for their output and this says more about the society in which they sell than the artists.

        It is a short step from “addressing the universe” to “addressing spirits of the universe” and, without wishing to enter into discussion about whether such things exist, that is paganism.

  2. Adrian Burd Says:

    The Secret is the secular version of the prosperity creed practiced by some prominent televangelists over here. In this case, the idea being propagated is, if you give money to the church, then you will receive many times that bounty back again. John Oliver recently did a fantastic piece on this on his show (I don’t know if you get it in the UK, but it can be found on the web).

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      That is emphatically not what the New Testament promises and prosperity preachers are a discredit to it. Is that John Oliver thing on YouTube?

      • Adrian Burd Says:

        Anton, I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s the link to John Oliver’s segment.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Adrian, I’ve got a “uploader has not made this visible in your country” when I try to view it embedded here. I can see other clip from this show on YouTube no probs but don’t know which one to look for. Please can you paste in the YouTube URL with something like one “t” removed from “http” so that I can paste it into my browser, correct it and view it?

        Many thanks,
        Anton

  3. Enrico Scalas Says:

    The readers of Moriarty’s post might be interested in this paper on the original Merli-Missiroli-Pozzi double slit experiment performed in the 1970s:
    Rodolfo Rosa
    The Merli–Missiroli–Pozzi Two-Slit Electron-Interference Experiment
    Phys. Perspect. 14 (2012) 178–195.
    A preprint is available here:
    http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/3816/1/mmp_arch.pdf

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Some of us think that “quantum woo” involves Alice and Bob. Did the phrase emerge as a one-letter shortening of “quantum wool”?

    More than two decades ago I wrote an essay I never published, called “Pathological industries of the quantum”. I predicted that the purported connection between quantum mechanics and consciousness was going to grow and worsen, at both the “research” level and the popular level of writing. It has.

    I find it useful, whenever people start pontificating about quantum mechanics in this way, to ask them if they can solve the Schroedinger equation for the harmonic oscillator.

    Moriarty is right that some respectable scientists have spoken twaddle about the interpretation of quantum mechanics. That is because QM is a theory in which, for the first time since modern physics began, certain elements of its mathematical formalism are not in 1:1 correspondence with things posited to be “out there”. There is therefore room – as there isn’t when full 1:1 correspondence exists – for differing interpretations without any effect on testable prediction. Regular readers here know what I think, but even if you don’t go with hidden variables then it is not difficult to embarrass many of the interpretations currently peddled. I try to knock down as many as I can in few words in various parts of my hidden-variables essay, which Peter kindly posted on this blog on August 3rd:

    https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/guest-post-hidden-variables-just-a-little-shy/

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