You keep citing that paper. I don’t think it means what you think it means.
Another trap that laymen fall into when evaluating competing scientific claims is to uncritically accept scientific citations. When I first stumbled across Walter Wagner, I found in various places on the Internet the claim that he had discovered a magnetic monopole, and a citation on his website to this article. The citation was not in the normal format for scientific cites, and upon finding the publication, I figured out why. Wally was not even an author on that paper, he was the lab tech who looked at the stack of lexan sheets under a microscope for particle tracks that met the criteria outlined by the principal investigators – some of the lowest grunt work available in a physics lab. Wagner was, indeed listed in the acknowledgments of that paper, and has used that brief brush with fame to create a highly colorful, and highly fictional, scientific background for himself.
There is another object lesson in scientific citation for the layman here, as well. Science moves. It advances. The date on a cite is important. If someone is citing only older papers (and “old” in science means about 5 years), the layman needs to check for him or herself (or check with a trusted expert) that the argument presented has not been made obsolete by new evidence. Let’s look a little closer at the magnetic monopole, shall we?
Soon after publishing that paper claiming that the anomalous track might be evidence for a monopole, the authors got a slap on the wrist for jumping the gun. Three years later the group (minus one Walter Wagner) published a wonderful analysis of three possible origins of the anomalous track, one of which was still a magnetic monopole, but since a) it was the only such track ever observed and b) two other explanations fit the data, the experiment is regarded as a scientific curiosity rather than as evidence for Dirac’s monopole. Science moved on, the literature coughed up papers that better explain the data, and yet Walter Wagner continues to cite the original paper out of context.
Citations out of context among the anti-LHC crowd are most marked in the behavior of one James Blodgett, which, for your amusement, you can follow in this thread. His claim to be running a risk assessment program for MENSA only heightens the comedy.
But citations do make a post look more legitimate. I’ll give an example a la James Blodgett:
Under the right conditions, water itself can polymerize, or form chains of molecules. This little known fact was first discovered in Soviet Defense Department-funded labs in the Polytechnic Institute of the ancient town of Kostroma, in the Golden Circle of Old Russia. There a Russian Chemist named Nikolai Fedyakin discovered that he could make small quantities of a hyperviscous water with an elevated boiling point and a depressed freezing point.
Fedyakin was obviously a low-level guy in the Soviet hierarchy, so the Russians soon put their top surface chemist, B.V. Derjaguin, on the problem.(1) Derjaguin continued to work on the problem with his assistant Churaev until the Russians were sure that there were no military applications to this spectacular new discovery.(2) Then they published those discoveries in the West. (3,4)
From there, Western scientists took up the task of characterizing this new form of what’s probably the most commonly used substance on earth. (5,6,7,8) Human beings had been looking at water for millenia, and looking at it scientifically for centuries, without discovering this amazing property of the substance. In a similar vein, a soccer-ball shaped molecule of carbon was discovered in soot thirty years later, another case of something wonderful being hidden in a substance so common, no one bothered to look at it critically anymore.
Western scientists attempted to explain this amazing form of water with a variety of theories (9,10), the most promising being a form of p-electron delocalization. (11) No one was ever able to completely figure out just what was going on at the molecular level, however, because no one was able to synthesize large quantities of the substance.
Derjaguin himself (12) took a crack at providing an explanation a few years after the excitement in the West had died down. But it was not until recently that there was any hope of explaining the forces that bind this unique and possibly useful form of water together. With the recent advances in both experiment (13) and supercomputing (14,15), we are beginning to explore the forces behind the clustering of water molecules, we are beginning to understand the ways that water molecules can cluster together.
1. Derjaguin, B. V., Churaev, N. V., Fedjakin, N. N., et al., Izv. Akad. Nauk. S.S.S.R., ser. khimich., N10, 2178 (1967).
2. Derjaguin, B. V., and Churaev, N. V., New Properties of Liquids (in Russian) (Nauka, Moscow, 1971).
3. Derjaguin, B. V., and Churaev, N. V., J. Coll. Interface Sci., 36, 415 (1971).
4. Derjaguin, B. V., and Churaev, N. V., Nature Phys. Sci., 232, 131 (1971).
5. C. T. O’Konski “Covalent Polymers of Water.” Science 168, 1089-1091 (1970)
6. C. A. Angell and E. J. Sare “Vitreous Water: Identification and Characterization.” Science 168, 280-281 (1970)
7. S. W. Rabideau and A. E. Florin “Anomalous Water: Characterization by Physical Methods.” Science 169, 48-52 (1970)
8. G. A. Castellion, D. G. Grabar, J. Hession, and H. Burkhard “Polywater: Methods for Identifying Polywater Columns and Evidence for Ordered Growth.” Science 167, 865-868 (1970)
9. L. C. Allen and P. A. Kollman “A Theory of Anomalous Water” Science 167, 1443-1454 (1970)
10. J. W. Linnett “Structure of Polywater” Science 167, 1719-1720 (1970)
11. R. P. Messmer “Polywater: Possibility of p-Electron Delocalization.” Science 168, 479-480 (1970)
12. Derjaguin, B. V., and Churaev, N. V., “Nature of “Anomalous Water” Nature 244, 430 – 431 (1973)
13. C.J. Gruenloh, J.R. Carney, C.A. Arrington, T.S. Zwier, S.Y. Fredericks, K.D. Jordan
“Infrared Spectrum of a Molecular Ice Cube: The S4 and D2d Water Octamers in Benzene-(Water)8” Science 276 1678 – 1681 (1997)
14. C.J. Tsai and K.D. Jordan, “Theoretical Study of the (H20)6 Cluster,” Chemical Physics Letters 213, 181-88 (1993).
15. C.J. Tsai and K.D. Jordan, “Theoretical Study of Small Water Clusters: Low-Energy Fused Cubic Structures for (H2O)n, n=8, 12, 16 and 20,” Journal of Physical Chemistry 97, 5208-10 (1993)
I hope you enjoyed this nicely documented piece I just put together.
Because it is complete and utter horse crap.
Fedyakin was real. He, as far as I know, was a two bit polytechnic teacher not associated with the Soviet Defense forces in any way expect the way that every Academic was in that highly militarized society. And, by the way, in the Soviet Union it was “Ministry of Defense”, not “Defense Department”.
Derjaguin and Churaev did run with the discovery, and then tout their results in the West. Western scientists did try to reproduce the results and study the structure of the substance for about four years. However, and I skipped this part, there were plenty of problems reproducing the results. I selectively did not cite these skeptical article from the heyday of polywater research:
W. M. Madigosky “Polywater or Sodium Acetate?” Science 172, 264-265 (1971)
D. L. Rousseau “ ‘Polywater’ and Sweat: Similarities between the Infrared Spectra” Science 171, 170-172 (1971)
S. L. Kurtin, C. A. Mead, W. A. Mueller, B. C. Kurtin, and E. D. Wolf “‘Polywater’: A Hydrosol?” Science 167, 1720-1722 (1970)
By the early seventies, Western scientists had concluded that polywater, which had only ever been made in trace amounts, was actually water with a whole lot of impurities in it, which explained the change in viscosity and colligative properties.
In addition, unless you actually went to look up the last Derjaguin reference, you would not be aware that it was actually the publication where he finally recanted and admitted that the Western scientists were correct about the composition of polywater.
And what about the more recent papers I cited? Well, water can polymerize to a slight degree via various methods of attraction between the molecules. Small polymers, less than a few hundred repeating units long, are often referred to as oligomers, and small amounts of these in a water sample will not cause the viscosity or colligative property changes claimed for polywater. The polywater part of the above essay has NOTHING to do with the water cluster work I cited. I just wanted to make that clear because one of the authors of the legitimate papers is a very old and dear friend of mine.
Moving on to another area of pseudoscience that caught the eye of proponents surfing the web, anti-vaccine commenter Chris has another excellent example of false authority. He cites two sources that the scientist looks at with skepticism – a book and a patent. Patents are horrible sources of scientific information, as the patent office often prefers to take an agnostic stance on questionable science and simply process the legal paperwork.
The patent talks about cell wall deficient microorganisms in vaccines. The premise is that the FDA does not monitor for these bugs in the manufacturing process, and that is the causal link between autism and vaccines.
In fact there is no proven, or even speculative link between infection and autism onset.
The FDA in fact does monitor for mycoplasmas, and recently held a panel to discuss more rapid detection methods, fearing that, in a pandemic, the normal, careful screening would need to be circumvented in order to produce vaccine at a high enough rate to stem the infection’s spread.
The second citation was a book. With the quote “been in textbooks for some time”. What has? cell wall deficient organisms? You betcha. A connection between them and vaccine side effects? No way.
Aside from that bait and switch, scientific books are often out of date before they hit the press. Most journal articles cite one to two books, with papers updating the work to show that it is still valid. I used to cite P.J. Flory’s Principles of Polymer Chemistry, with some updated journal articles by contemporary physicists – but that was the only book I ever cited in my publications. Professor Dutch has some pithy comments on this particular indicator of pseudoscience:
The dead giveaway that a person doesn’t have a clue what really goes on in professional circles is the question “how many books have you read on ……?” Books are just not the principal way information flows among professionals. Almost all professional fields report new information in journals. If you’re in show biz, you don’t find out about new plays and movie projects from books; you read Variety. If you’re a doctor, you don’t find out about new ways to remove gall bladders from books; you read the New England Journal of Medicine. And in any case, it’s not quantity but quality. One paper in the Geological Society of America Bulletin with a reliable age date for a rock unit outweighs ten thousand books by creationists arguing for a young earth.
Beyond that, the book that was cited is by an author who was once a legitimate researcher, but who descended into quackery in her later years. Lida Mattman’s careeer very much resembles Linus Pauling’s in her fall into junk science, finally landing on outrageous claims such as:
Dr. Lida Mattman, who has been culturing cell wall deficient (CWD) organisms from blood for 40 years was contacted to culture specimens from 25 individuals diagnosed with Fibromyalgia Syndrome. She found every samplepositive for CWD Bb, the causative organism of Lyme disease.
Following this finding, 103 seriously ill subjects with a variety of diagnoses were tested and found to be positive for Bb based on Mattman’s Gold Standard Culture method. The conditions included: Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, Mixed Connective Tissue Diseases, Polymyalgia Rheumatica, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Lupus Erythematosus, Palindromic Rheumatism, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
Uh huh. If I have to explain the red flags for junk science in that quote to you, you might as well stop reading right now. The book cited by the anti-vaccine crowd was first published in the 1970s, and has been updated, but is not a significant source of information today. In fact the reason that Mattman is mentioned (rather than more current researchers on CWD organisms) at all by the anti-vaccine crowd is that her quack notions about Lyme disease have led to speculation about a connection between Lyme and autism. I kid you not. (See the comments in that last link).
In the 1990s, Mattman claimed that the cell wall deficient organisms that were the subject of her legitimate research in the 50s, 60s and 70s were so hardy that:
Dr. Mattman believes that touching can spread Lyme disease. The Lyme spirochete can actually occur in tears, and therefore can be transmitted to hands, which contaminates doorknobs, pens, people shaking hands, etc. This appears to be consistent with the observation that whole families often culture positive for Lyme and present with symptoms.
Her name comes up often with the tag “Nobel Nominee in 1998” – uh, news flash, anyone can be nominated for the Nobel, many cranks are by their followers, and a single year’s nomination is hardly a groundswell of recognition, in addition to sounding quite strange. As I mentioned in my previous posts, credential inflation is a bad, bad sign.
Mattman’s later 1990s-era research also comes up in connection with Rife Machines and the Marshall Protocol – known quackery. All red flags. For the layman trying to evaluate claims, Google should be the first resource. Unfortunately in the case of Mattman, there is not a lot of material on the Web about her more outlandish claims, but there is enough citation of her by known, clear quacks that the layman should suspect that either a) her work is easily taken out of context by junk scientists or b) she herself was a junk scientist. I tend to think both answers are correct.
So the next time someone comes citing scientific literature, remember this: always go back and READ THE ORIGINAL SOURCE when someone is citing papers in a scientific argument, or you may find that, like my Derjaguin paper, the citation actually comes to the opposite conclusion of that of the citing “authority”*. Also, when you see papers or especially books, that are more than a few years old being cited, go back and check to see if there are retractions, arguments, or alternative explanations proposed in the literature. Just because an argument cites scientific publications, it does not necessarily follow that the argument is scientifically valid.
*Specifically something such as this reference, which predicts black holes – in certain very unlikely scenarios of string theory – and also predicts their rapid decay. You can’t have one without the other, the theory predicts both events, but that title “Black Hole Factories” doesn’t give you a clue as to that conclusion, you need to go look up the paper for yourself to find it. Bad physicist, bad.
[UPDATE] – I was going to add the following as a comment, but it spiraled out of control, so I will add it here:
In answer to Phil’s request for a layman-friendly explanation, I highly recommend this September 2008 paper, and as it is the most up-to-date view on the issues, I’ll crib from it copiously here. The appendices are math-heavy for folks like Shannon who want to see the guts of the argument, while the body of the paper is remarkably well-suited for a lay audience.
The central argument of CERN (and by association my central argument, as I do not claim any special knowledge outside of my fields of expertise: while I am quite capable of evaluating arguments in Physics, while I would require many years of study to actually make those arguments on the graduate level) is not that black holes and hawking radiation are theoretically coupled. The central argument is that astronomical bodies have not been destroyed by collisions with cosmic rays, or as one physicist pithily put it: the central argument that the LHC is safe is that the moon continues to exist:
We estimate that the Universe is replicating the total number of collisions to be made by the LHC over 10^13 times per second, and has already done so some 10^31 times since the origin of the Universe. The fact that astronomical bodies withstand cosmic-ray bombardment imposes strong upper limits on many hypothetical sources of danger.
For those of you, like me, who think that an argument without numbers is a religious one:
The area of the Earth’s surface is about 5×1018 square centimeters, and the age of the Earth is about 4.5 billion years. Therefore, over 3×10^22 cosmic rays with energies of 10^17 eV or more, equal to or greater than the LHC energy, have struck the Earth’s surface since its formation. This means  that Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth already – and the planet still exists.
Now, in the tradition of true believers everywhere, the anti-LHC crowd started picking at that argument. First, they claim that Hawking Radiation has not been directly observed. True. Even the closest black holes would radiate far too weakly to be observed from Earth. However, Hawking radiation has a strong theoretical basis in the physics we already are pretty sure is true. Aside from that there are other quantum mechanical stability arguments no related to Hawking radiation that make stable microscopic black holes violate known laws of physics. To claim that microscopic black holes would be stable or is to cast doubt on same fundamental concepts of quantum mechanics (and not only ones associated with Dr. Hawking’s theory), and if that is wrong, then we should be equally worried, as one physicist put it, about about dragons being produced by the LHC.
The funniest line of attack I have seen on the internet was couched in terms of pool: two billiard balls of the same energy colliding head on will stop dead, so the analogy was that the black holes will stop dead in the LHC. For those of you who don’t see the problem with that analogy, I invite you to do the experiment yourself and try to collide 2 balls at any velocity more than a gentle roll to stop dead upon collision.
Eventually a few of the anti-LHC group got tired of being made fun of and came up with a slightly more plausible scenario (as in (10^-30)% more plausible), that the slow black holes that might be created according to some (yet unproven) theories in the LHC are just slow enough to stop inside the Earth, whereas the high velocity cosmic ray particles would not. Once again, the continued existence of known astronomical bodies comes to the rescue
In the extradimensional scenarios that motivate the existence of microscopic black holes (but not their stability), the rate at which absorption would take place would be so slow if there are seven or more dimensions that Earth would survive for billions of years before any harm befell it. The reason is that in such scenarios the size of the extra dimensions is very small, so small that the evolution driven by the strong extradimensional gravity forces terminates while the growing black hole is still of microscopic size. If there are only five or six dimensions of space-time relevant at the LHC scale, on the other hand, the gravitational interactions of black holes are strong enough that their impact, should they exist, would be detectable in the Universe.
Now, let’s look at the authors of the papers cited by our newly-resident anti-LHC gadfly. As I said, science moves on, and citing older papers is a sign that one ought to do a little digging before deciding which argument to believe.
First ask yourself, who was contacted by CERN to write the safety report?
Answer: Steven Giddings of UC Santa Barbara and Michelangelo Mangano of CERN.
Hmmmm. If those authors think there is no risk, then any use of their papers to justify belief in risk needs to be accompanied by some serious physics to explain why the conclusions and further investigations of the authors of the paper do not agree with the critic’s reading of said paper. Since I don’t see any of that anywhere, the obvious spurious references in Blodgett’s original comment below are #s 2,9 and 10. As Shannon noted, references 4, 9 and 10 are cited by Blodgett in a similar vein to they way I cited the last Derjaguin post about polywater – the papers are cited in an argument that comes to the opposite conclusion of the authors.
Furthermore, Dr. Mangano is the author of the new paper I cited at the beginning of this comment.
In the same vein, Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek has argued for the safety of the Brookhaven Collider, so citing the paper by him that argues that the RHIC was safe in an argument against collider safety is also spurious in the absence of a detailed, scientific argument as to why the older paper outlines a threat. In the same way, reference #4 argues for the safety of the LHC.
All that is left are references #3,6,7 and 8, all of which are older (5+ years) papers. All of which have been dealt with in later papers in the field, including the comprehensive safety reviews, most especially the paper I referenced at the top of this comment and the 97 page CERN safety report by Giddings and Mangano.
What’s most amusing is that there is a paper that, however slightly, bolsters their case (I might regret posting this, but as a practitioner of science as outlined by Feynman in “Cargo Cult Science, I have to): to wit this paper argues that black holes, under certain unproven theoretical conditions will last for seconds to minutes. The perfect opportunity for the anti-LHCers to yell “see, you guys don’t know what you are talking about”. Unfortunately for the potential new counter-argument, a three minute lifetime however is a far cry from the time it would take a black hole to eat the Earth, and the “moon continues to exist” argument still holds.