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Monday, August 31, 2020

Still More Nineteenth Century Evidence for ESP

In the posts here and here and here I discussed evidence for extrasensory perception (ESP) dating from the nineteenth century. Below is some more evidence for ESP dating from that century. 

On pages 108-109 of the book Enigmas of Psychical Research by James Hyslop, we have an account by Sir John Drummond hat seems to involve in 1879 a telepathic recognition of the exact words of a distant speaker:

"I was woke by hearing distinctly the voice of my daughter-in-law, who was with her husband at Mogodor, saying in a clear but distressed tone of voice, ' Oh, I wish papa only knew that Robert was ill.' There was a night lamp in the room. I sat up and listened, looking around the room, but there was no one except my wife, sleeping quietly in bed. I hastened for some seconds, expecting to hear footsteps outside, but complete stillness prevailed, so I lay down again, thanking God that the voice which woke me was an hallucination. I had hardly closed my eyes when I heard the same voice and words, upon which I woke Lady Drummond Hay and told her what had occurred, and I got up and went into my study, adjoining the bedroom, and noted it in my diary....A few days after the incident a letter arrived from my daughter-in-law, Mrs. R. Drummond Hay, telling us that my son was seriously ill with typhoid fever and mentioning the night during which he had been delirious. Much struck by the coincidence that it was the same night I had heard her voice, I wrote to tell her what had happened. She replied, the following post, that in her distress at seeing her husband so dangerously ill, and from being alone in a distant land, she had made use of the precise words which had startled me from sleep, and had repeated them. As it may be of interest to you to receive a corroboration of what I have related, from the persons I have mentioned, who happen to be with me at this date, they also sign, to affirm the accuracy of all I have related."

The narrative was signed by three members of the family besides Sir John. It would be hard to get a more convincing account to establish ESP.  We have a very distinguished witness, multiple corroborating witnesses, and an exact match not only in time but an exact match of the words spoken and the words heard by the distant person. 

On pages 122-123 of the book Psychical Research by Sir William Barrett,  we have the following account of a wife who seemed to telepathically hear what her husband was saying 150 miles away:

"On September 9, 1848, at the siege of Mooltan, my husband, Major- General Richardson, C.B., then adjutant of his regiment, was most severely and dangerously wounded, and supposing himself dying, asked one of the officers with him to take the ring off his finger and send it to his wife, who, at that time, was fully 150 miles distant, at Ferozepore. On the night of September 9, 1848, I was lying on my bed, between sleeping and waking, when I distinctly saw my husband being carried off the field, seriously wounded, and heard his voice saying, ' Take this ring off my finger, and send it to my wife.' "

Below is another case  described on pages 284-285 of  Volume 1, Number 3 of the Psychical Review (February 1893).  We read of someone who had a dream exactly matching the trouble his son far away was experiencing at the same time, with the man's anxiety lasting until the exact time that his son's problem cleared up:

"In the spring of 1837, Mr. A. C. K., a merchant of Terre Haute, Ind., was at the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans, La. One night he dreamed that his son James, then a year old, was choking; that he breathed with great difficulty, and with a deep, hoarse sound. The child’s mother, his Aunt Mary, and young Dr. Hitchcock were standing by the bedside, evidently much alarmed. It seemed strange to Mr. K. that the old family physician, Dr. Daniels, was not there. Soon the child gasped and struggled for breath. The doctor said to the mother, 'I think that he is dying.' Mr. K. awoke much alarmed; the dream had been so vivid that it seemed to be a reality. When fully awake he could not shake off the effect. As he found it impossible to sleep, he went down into the rotunda of the hotel and tried to read, but could not, he felt so anxious and excited. About two o’clock he suddenly felt relieved, went up to bed, and slept soundly until late in the morning. He thought nothing more of his night’s experience, except to consider it a very disagreeable dream. When he arrived home several weeks after this, his wife said, 'We came very near losing James one night while you were gone. He had the croup. From midnight until two o’clock we were very much alarmed about him. Once the doctor said that he thought that he was dying. At two o’clock he was relieved, and slept till morning.' " 

Some of the most astonishing nineteenth century evidence for ESP comes in accounts involving Alexis Didier.  The original accounts can be read in the pages of the nineteenth century journal The Zoist, which can be read here.  At the link here you can read an account of many pages describing evidence regarding this person. 


Alexis Didier
Alexis Didier

Before discussing Alexis Didier, the author (a doctor) gives on page 478 a remarkable account of a female clairvoyant: 

"For six years I have made repeated trials with numerous patients of my own : but never have found one who I was satisfied could even see the objects about them with the eyes closed, or look into the interior of the bodies of others and state their condition and prescribe for them. But among my searches after clairvoyance I have at length found one example of the highest kind...This patient is the perfection of integrity and every other moral excellence. Her word is a fact : and her truth is not less absolute than her freedom from vanity. She dislikes to exert her clairvoyance....

She will accurately describe who are in a particular room at her father's house at a particular moment, and the arrangement of the furniture, &c. —a distance of above fifty miles : or she will search for and see a member of her family, and describe the place in which he or she is, and the others also present. I at length succeeded in prevailing upon her to see some others, not members of her family, or known to them or to herself, and whose names even I did not mention, but only a very few particulars about them. She has described their persons most accurately, the places in which they were, their occupations at the moment ; and told what others were in the same room with them : and all this when I knew nothing of the truth at the time, and had to verify it afterwards. Far more than this she would tell : and tell with perfect accuracy : and predict numerous things relating to others which have since exactly taken place."

The author then describes many feats of clairvoyance performed by Alexis Didier, typically in a hypnotic trance and with a blindfold  over his eyes (usually with cotton balls between his eyes and the blindfold).  It is futile to speculate about some idea of some tricky blindfold that Alexis could see through, because very many of the accounts involve Alexis successfully describing details that were distant in time or space. Below is an example from page 485:

"Another lady then said, 'Alexis, will you travel with me ?' 'Yes ; give me your hand.' She did. He then just passed his own over it, slightly clasping it, but let it go immediately. - 'Well, I am ready ; which way do you go ?' 'Towards Fontainbleau, (forty miles from Paris) ; are you there ?' 'Yes.' ' Pray describe my house near there.' Alexis then rapidly described the approach, the appearance, the number of stories, and the windows, very minutely, and, as the lady allowed, very correctly. She then proposed to him to go indoors, to tell her the plan of the house, &c., and then her room, and the windows, &c., and furniture, and how arranged. This he did as perfectly !" 

On page 492 we read the following:

"Seven of us encircled the devoted youth. 'Tell us,' we cried, ' the exact time each of our watches now in our pockets is.' He did : one after another, as he spoke the time, took out his watch, and as he spake so it was, to the minute, and sometimes to the second ! Before I took out mine, I said, 'What is there about my watch ?' 'The glass is broken,' he said, 'and you have lost the little hand that goes tic tac, tic tac, in a little circle.' I knew it was so. I drew it out, and the time was right to a minute : the glass was broken, and the second-hand gone."

Below is another example from page 494. A soldier who had been wounded visted Alexis Didier, and encounters him with a blindfold  around his eyes (which he often used in attempts to demonstrate clairvoyance):

"Years past away, when a few months since a neighbour of his a military man, called upon him, and proposed to take a run up to Paris, to see Alexis Didier. ' I think,' said the soldier, ' he will be puzzled to find out where I have been wounded.' It was agreed to. They arrive, and find Alexis sitting in due, blind bandaged state. ' I have a question to put to you, Alexis.' ' Give me your hand, Sir.' He felt it a moment. 'l am a military man.' ' I know that.' ' Have I been ever wounded? ' 'You have.' ' How often ?' ' Three times.' ' Where ?' ' There, there, and there' touching the three wounds. ' Were they made by ball or by sword ? ' 'This was by sword, those two by musket balls,' fixing his fingers on them ! ' Pardieu, Mons. Alexis,' cried the astonished soldier ; ' you are quite right. It is as you say !' "

On page 497 we have this astonishing account of clairvoyance by a blindfolded Alexis Didier:

"He frequently told his adversary what cards he had in his hand, as on one occasion that he had three tens, on another that he had four trumps...Once or twice he made mistakes, as saying the nine of hearts instead of the seven, but in the great majority of instances was right. Another person then took the cards, and the same wonders were repeated. He then moved away from the table, and played at a distance of about four yards from his adversary, but he still told the cards as before, and played his own frequently without looking at their faces....Alexis was then asked to read, and a volume of Le Moyen, Aye Pittoresque, was placed before him. The wool and bandages were still unmoved, but he read off from the page wherever he was told by any of the visitors, and by myself amongst the rest. On one occasion he continued to do so, although two hands were placed before his face and the type. He seemed, however, to find this somewhat more difficult. He was very animated, and talked rapidly as he turned over the pages, as if pleased with his own exploits."

On page 500 we have this account of Alexis Didier reading while heavily blindfolded by an inch of cotton and three handkerchiefs:

"Alexis' eyes were bandaged. Lord L. took up a card, and Alexis told it after thinking a few seconds. He then extracted one from the pack ; and after one mistake Alexis told it correctly. Lord Adare then gave him Villemain's Cours de Literature to read, (opening a page ;) he held it nearly on a level with his eyes ; -so that it was impossible for ordinary vision to act ; there being an inch thick of cotton and three handkerchiefs between his eyes and the object. He began by spelling the first word : and then read more easily, reading a line or two. He then turned to another page, and read quite rapidly, the book being about twenty degrees below the level of his eyes. Lord Adare asked him to read through several pages ; and turned to another place and pointed to the right side, in which he had seen nothing : he told three words. The party looked over the pages, but could not find the words. The same happened again. We tried again : he said, ' I see two lines — on one Francois, and below Albigeois. ' This was right, four leaves off, and near the inside of the page. We turned to another place, and he read, ' descendants les anti- quitis mysterieux :' which was right."

On pages 502-503 we have another of many examples of Alexis Didier correctly describing a distant location he had never seen:

"Another gentleman now put himself en rapport with Alexis. He wished him to follow him in mind into Lincolnshire, and describe the house he lived in there. Alexis said, ' I am with you : but this house is too large for me to describe. Let us fix on some of its rooms.' He then described a library — a small room in which there was a bust — not marble, but plaster on a pedestal ; and lastly, a very large room, lighted by a dome raised from the centre of the ceiling ; he said there were two fire-places with white marble chimney- pieces, and spoke in terms of admiration of the varied colours of the light admitted into this noble apartment. All these points were assented to as correct."

On page 508 we have this account of an ability by Alexis Didier to read while blindfolded, with a hand in front of his face:

"Alexis was bandaged most carefully : cotton-wool and handkerchiefs were not merely placed over and below the eyes, but over and below the nose : and, in this state, he read six or seven lines, out of a French book, opened at random, with an ease and a rapidity of utterance that I could scarcely imitate in my own language. He repeated the experiment with another passage, when the hand of a gentleman was interposed between the face and the volume, and he succeeded completely. He read a few words, through five or six thick pages of the same volume ; and this he did two or three times, not failing once."

On page 508-509 we read that Alexis Didier was able to  describe an object in a thick closed case, an object he had never seen:

"An officer, of long standing in the army, who was severely wounded at Waterloo, and is well known in the highest military circles, was one of the company present. He was an unbeliever, and knew nothing of mesmerism, and had never seen or scarcely heard of Alexis, — but having been accidentally invited to join the party, and been told that the young man had the power of reading through opaque objects, he determined to bring his talent rigidly to the test.
He produced a morocco case, eight inches long, and an inch and a half thick, looking like a surgical instrument case, or a small jewel-case. It was placed in the hands of Alexis, who held it for a short time in silence, and then gradually and slowly gave the following description :

 'The object within the case is a hard substance.'
' It is folded in an envelope.'
' The envelope is whiter than the thing itself.' (The envelope was a piece of silver-paper.)
' It is a kind of ivory.'
'It has a point (pique) at one end' (which is the case).
' It is a bone.'
' Taken from a body'—
' From a human body' —
' From your body.'
' The bone has been separated and cut, so as to leave a flat side.'

This was true : the bone, which was a piece of the colonel's leg, and sawed off after the wound, is flat towards the part that enclosed the marrow.

Here, Alexis removed the piece of bone from the case, and placed his finger on a part, and said, ' The ball struck here.' (True.)

' It was an extraordinary ball, as to its effect.'

'You received three separate injuries at the same moment.' (Which was the case, for the ball broke or burst into three pieces, and injured the colonel in three places in the same leg.)

' You were wounded in the early part of the day, whilst charging the enemy.' (Which was the fact.)"

On pages 512-513 we have this astonishing account of blindfolded reading by a hypnotized Alexis Didier:

"Alexis, having been put in a state of somnambulism, had a large piece of cotton wool placed over each eye, after which three handkerchiefs were closely bound on; he then rose from his chair, and placing himself at the table, proceeded to open a new pack of cards, which he shuffled and arranged with greater rapidity than his antagonist ; he played two or three games of ecarte, winning each time, and telling, not only his own cards, but those of the other person. One of the guests took from the shelf the first book that presented itself; Alexis, then, with his eyes bandaged and his outspread hand placed on the page, read the passage which the hand covered."

On page 513 we have another one of countless accounts of apparent clairvoyance by Didier that cannot be explained through any hypothesis of blindfold trickery, because distant objects are being described:

"Another person then took his hand, and pointing to a gentleman, (whose name Alexis did not know,) asked him to describe a certain picture in his apartment. He said he saw a very large picture without a frame ; at one side was a great building, from the windows of which men were firing; in the centre was a man on horseback — an dese de I'ecole Polytecnique, and round him were a number of men. The building was the Louvre, and the scene represented the French Revolution of 1830. All these particulars were correct to the letter, and he described some others, which I do not at this moment recollect, but which were equally true. He was then asked by the same person to describe another picture. He said it was large, but not so large as the preceding one : it was a portrait representing a man in a very singular costume, — full length. He could not exactly describe the costume, but it was dark, with a great deal of white in front, and a white stiff ruff round the neck : the wearer was fair, with the hair thrown back from the temples, and with large whiskers : — this was equally correct."

On page 517 we have the following astonishing account, which uses the term "mesmeric trance" to refer to a state of being hypnotized:

"Alexis was in a very few minutes placed in the mesmeric trance, and having had his eyes carefully bandaged, played at ecarte, read from a book, &c. &c., with great success and facility. I then sat down by him, and asked to have some conversation with him. He took my hand. I asked him if he could tell me where I lived. After a good deal of hesitation he said, ' North-east of London ;' and gave the distance very correctly in leagues. He then said, ' There is a railroad which leads to your part of the country. There are two branches to this railroad, and your house is situated on the left branch ; and on the right side of that branch — ' He then called for a sheet of paper, and began to draw a map of the part of the country he was describing. He delineated the railway with great correctness, marking the branch which turns off eastward at Stratford, and continuing the other to a point where he said there was a station. He gave a very minute account of the position of this station, answering in all points to that of Roydon ; the river running nearly parallel to it, and the bridge immediately in front : and he also described with much truth the general character and appearance of the surrounding country, and said that the railroad extended only three or four leagues from this point, which is the fact. He then marked on his chart another station, a few miles farther on, and gave exactly the relative distant and position of my house with these two stations. . He then said, ' Now let us go to your house,' and proceeded to give a sketch of the road with its various turnings. As he approached the house he was more minute, and described with singular correctness the sudden descent ; the brook about half as wide as the room, the steep ascent on the other side, and the gateway on the right hand of the road. He gave the distance of the house from the gateway very exactly, mentioned a piece of water on the right with ducks upon it, (I keep a few wild-ducks,) and described the position of the stables, &c. The perfect accuracy of the whole of this minute description was truly astonishing. I then asked him if there was any one living in the house during my absence from home. He said, ' Yes ; there was only one person — a gentleman, ' (which was the fact); and he then proceeded to state his age and describe his character and appearance, as correctly as if he had been well and personally known to him."

At the link here you can read an account of about 50 pages describing these and very many other observations as impressive as the ones I have quoted above, all of them involving reports of clairvoyance by Alexis Didier. No one who has read my previous post  on hypnotic clairvoyance ("The Academic Committee That Found in Favor of Clairvoyance") should be enormously surprised by any of these accounts. In that post I had described how a committee of the Royal Academy of Medicine in France had spent years investigating phenomena such as hypnotism and clairvoyance, and had issued an 1831 report stating that clairvoyance in a hypnotic state was a fact established by the committee's careful observations.   The observations involving Didier reported by the Zoist in 1844 (quoted above) were just further reports of the phenomena (clairvoyance under hypnosis) that had been thoroughly attested by the official academic report of 1831. 

Although the study of enhanced psychic abilities under hypnotism was greatly neglected in the twentienth century, the US government funded for many years experiments involving something similar, involving an anomalous mental ability to discover details about distant locations.  There were many remarkable successes (some discussed here and here), but they were called "remote viewing" rather than clairvoyance. 

Postscript: In the nineteenth century book Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance we have on page 27 another remarkable account of ESP. The patient described was one suffering from mental and  physical problems so very severe that any type of clever swindle on her part would have been impossible. Here is the account:

"It sufficed to call her attention to any object placed in her room or in the next room, or in the street, or out of the town, or even at enormous distances, to have it described by her as perfectly as if she saw it with her eyes. The following are some experiments sufficient to prove this assertion. In presence of a celebrated Professor of the University, it was agreed to ask her to describe a convent in the town, into which neither herself nor any of her interrogators had ever entered. Next to describe a cellar in a country house, equally unknown to the questioners. According to the description she gave, plans were designed ; and, on the places being visited, they were found to correspond perfectly with the designs made by her dictation. She even pointed out the number and position of some barrels in the cellar. Odorous substances were discovered by the patient with the same promptitude and precision."

Friday, August 28, 2020

How Biologists Propel Their Cherished Dogmas

Let us now look at 25+ ways in which some biologists get people to believe claims that are not well established by observations,  dogmas that have become very fashionable among biologists, but which are not well proven by evidence.

1. Many biologists write scientific papers that have titles, summaries or causal inferences that are not justified by the data in the papers.

A scientific paper reached the following conclusions, indicating a huge hype and exaggeration crisis both among the authors of scientific papers and the media that reports on such papers:

"Thirty-four percent of academic studies and 48% of media articles used language that reviewers considered too strong for their strength of causal inference....Fifty-eight percent of media articles were found to have inaccurately reported the question, results, intervention, or population of the academic study."

The paper found not merely a big problem involving unjustified causal claims in media articles (with nearly half of them being faulty in this regard), but also a very big problem in the scientific papers, with about one third of them using improper causal language. So the hype problem in science isn't just something involving press release and media articles. It is largely something that is wrong in the scientific papers. The scientists who write scientific papers are very often insinuating that they have discovered things they haven't discovered, or provided evidence of causal links when no such causal links exist.

Another scientific paper analyzed 128 other biomedical scientific papers, looking for cases of spin (doubtful or debatable interpretation in the paper). The paper said the following:

"Among the 128 assessed articles assessed, 107 (84 %) had at least one example of spin in their abstract. The most prevalent strategy of spin was the use of causal language, identified in 68 (53 %) abstracts."

So in more than half of the scientific papers the authors were making statements suggesting a causal relation that was "spin," and not directly implied by the data collected.

2.  Many biologists design experiments with too-small sample sizes, experiments in which there will be a very large chance of a false alarm.

Scientific studies that use small sample sizes are often not reliable, and often present false alarms, suggesting a causal relation when there is none. Such small sample sizes are particularly common in neuroscience studies, which often require expensive brain scans, not the type of thing that can be inexpensively done with many subjects. In 2013 the leading science journal Nature published a paper entitled "Power failure: why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience." There is something called statistical power that is related to the chance of a study producing a false alarm. The Nature paper found that the statistical power of the average neuroscience study is between 8% and 31%. With such a low statistical power, false alarms and false causal suggestions will be very common. The Nature paper said, "It is possible that false positives heavily contaminate the neuroscience literature." 

An article on this important Nature paper states the following:

"The group discovered that neuroscience as a field is tremendously underpowered, meaning that most experiments are too small to be likely to find the subtle effects being looked for and the effects that are found are far more likely to be false positives than previously thought. It is likely that many theories that were previously thought to be robust might be far weaker than previously imagined."

Scientific American reported on the paper with a headline of "New Study: Neuroscience Gets an 'F' for Reliability." Such problems are the fault of the biologists who designed the study.

3. Biologists repeatedly appeal to dubious achievement legends and doubtful causal claims, citing a supposed opinion of the majority as their justification.

Best practice in scientific discourse is for anyone making a causal claim to back up his claim by citing evidence, convincing his reader with facts just as he would have to do if he were the first person making the claim. But instead what goes on routinely in the writings of biologists is that the biologist asks someone to accept the most weighty causal claims without presenting much evidence for such a claim. Instead, a convenient appeal is made to majority opinion. I have studied many neuroscience papers on memory, and notice again and again the writers will introduce the idea that memories are stored in synapses, not by presenting some chain of evidence leading up to such a conclusion, but by making an assertion such as “It is generally believed that memories are stored in synapses.” 

4. Biologists repeatedly make “your brain does this” type of statements about research findings, even when the research provides no actual evidence of brain activity, but merely provides evidence of mind activity.

One of the most shady practices of biologists is to make statements about brains when research provides no evidence of brain involvement. Here's a hypothetical example. A scientist might do some study on memory, in which it is found that people remember something they are studying less accurately when there are sexual distractions. Let's suppose the study involves no brain scanning at all. The biologist may then write up the study by stating something, “Your brain remembers less when you're sexually distracted.” But in this case there was no warrant for any claims  at all about the brain, and the only thing studied was memory. Such statements are made often by biologists. Very many times that they state that something goes on in the brain or that the brain does such-and-such, they really have only evidence that something is going on in the mind, or that the mind does such-and-such. 

5. Many biologists cite underpowered studies that had a large chance of being false alarms, whenever they want to support some similar claim they are making, without mentioning flaws in the research they are citing.

I discussed before that a large fraction of neuroscience studies are unreliable, because they are underpowered studies in which there is a very high chance of false alarm. After such a study appears, it may then be cited numerous times by other scientific papers, often other scientific studies that were guilty of exactly the same shortcomings. What is extremely common is for some biologist to present some underpowered study that used too small a sample size, and to describe that research in a paper that refers to other weak underpowered studies. In such a case, the paper's author will virtually never discuss the low statistical power of the papers he is citing (not wanting to make the reader think that his paper has the same problem).

6. Many biologists present visually misleading brain visuals that create impressions of brain activity differences that do not match the underlying data of the brain scans.

One of the most outrageous tricks of the modern biologist is the misleading brain visual. It works like this. Brain scans will be done on a group of subjects, and will typically show less than a 1% difference in brain regions (with the exception of the occipital lobe which is a center of sensory activity). The data from these scans will then be presented with some visual that makes it look as if there were large differences in the brain activity of such subjects. Using bright red to display regions that differed in signal strength by less than 1%, the visuals will make it look like there was something like a 10% or 20% difference in different regions of the brain outside of the occipital lobe, when actually none of those regions differed by more than 1% or half of 1%. Although it has become customary to use such visuals, what is going on is a custom of deception. If the actual data shows no more than a 1% variation in a set of regions, such regions should never be depicted as being different by more than 1%. For example, if there are 30 brain regions that do not differ in activity by more than 1%, they should be depicted with none of the colors looking different by more than 1% from any of the other colors.

7. Biologists repeatedly try to back up mountainous causal claims by giving us only paltry evidence examples that are like molehills. 

There are two categories of evolution: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution refers to relatively small changes in the characteristics or gene pool of an organism, such as changes that are only superficial or changes merely involving minor changes in the gene pool. Macroevolution refers to alleged cases of dramatic biological innovations produced by evolution. An example of microevolution is that some humans have over the years been able to digest lactose more efficiently. Another example of microevolution is the darkening of the wings of moths. An example of macroevolution is the alleged evolution of advanced human mental capabilities or the evolution of wings. In presenting evidence for evolution, what routinely goes on is that our biologists will present minor little examples of microevolution. They will then cite such examples as “proof of evolution,” neglecting to explain that what has been provided is a mere example of microevolution that does nothing to prove the possibility of macroevolution.

8. Biologists repeatedly use misleading metaphors rather than exact non-metaphorical descriptions. 

There are several major examples of biologists repeatedly making inappropriate use of metaphorical language instead of using exact accurate language that is non-metaphorical. One is the use of the term “natural selection” to refer to the alleged superior reproduction rate of fitter organisms. Such a term is literally inaccurate, because blind unconscious nature does not literally select or choose things. Only living things or conscious agents can select or choose things. 

There was no need for biologists to ever use the term “natural selection,” because the alleged superior reproduction rate of fitter organisms can be described by two precise non-metaphorical terms: “survival of the fittest” and “differential reproduction.” The use of the term “natural selection” (rather than a term such as “survival of the fittest”) is intrinsically duplicitous, and it leads to all kinds of misleading notions among the populace, such as the idea that organisms got vision when Mother Nature selected eyes for animals like some person hatching a scheme. 


NaturalSelectionBoast
Follow this goofy advice to get hooked on an intoxicating conceit

Another major example of biologists using misleading metaphors is their frequent statements in which DNA is called a blueprint or a recipe or a program for making a human. We know of very good reasons why DNA cannot be any of these things, given its low-level expressive limitations; and no such thing as a blueprint or recipe or program for making a human has ever been found in DNA. DNA actually contains only low-level chemical information, not high-level body-plan schemas or layouts or blueprints. DNA does not even specify how to make any of the 200 types of cells in the human body.  

An additional misleading metaphor commonly used by biologists is when they compare the brain to a computer. We know that computers are able to store and quickly retrieve information because they have a whole set of specific things (such as read-write heads) that human brains do not have. It is also silly to compare brains to computers, as humans have consciousness and computers do not.

9. Biologists repeatedly use speculative charts and diagrams that are not correctly identified as being speculative.

One of the key plays of the evolutionary biologist is to produce an authoritative-seeming chart that shows a “tree of life” or a “tree of evolution.” Such charts are speculative. For example, charts showing ancestry of earthly organisms are based on a largely speculative branch of science known as phylogenetics, which makes heavy use of software that makes very heavy use of computerized guessing. Similarly, charts showing the alleged evolutionary ancestors of humans are largely speculative. There is a large amount of disagreement in such charts. You can find in the literature 20 different charts which show different imagined ancestries for a group of organisms. But typically when presenting such a chart, a biologist will not include a caption that makes clear the speculative nature of the representation. Nor will any mention be made of the fact that other experts have made other charts that disagree with the chart being presented. Instead, the reader will be left with some kind of impression that scientific fact is being visualized.

10. Many biologists cherry-pick data presented in their papers and textbooks.

The term "cherry picking" refers to presenting, discussing or thinking about data that supports your hypothesis or belief, while failing to present, discuss or think about data that does not support your hypothesis or belief. One type of cherry picking goes on in many scientific papers: in the paper a scientist may discuss only his or her results that support the hypothesis claimed in the paper title, failing to discuss (or barely mentioning) results that do not support his hypothesis. For example, if the scientist did some genetic engineering to try to make a smarter mouse, and did 10 tests to see whether the mouse was smarter than a normal mouse, we may hear much in the paper about 2 or 3 tests in which the genetically engineered mouse did better, but little or nothing of 4 or 5 tests in which the genetically engineered mouse did worse.

A very different type of cherry-picking occurs in another form of scientific literature: science textbooks. For many decades biology and psychology textbook writers have been notorious cherry pickers of observational results that seem to back up prevailing assumptions.  The same writers will give little or no discussion of observations and experiments that conflict with prevailing assumptions. And so you will read very little or nothing in your psychology textbook about decades of solid experimental research backing up the ideas that humans have paranormal abilities; you will read nothing about many interesting cases of people who functioned well despite losing half, most, or almost all of their brains due to surgery or disease; and you will read nothing about a vast wealth of personal experiences that cannot be explained by prevailing assumptions. Our textbook writer has cherry picked the data to be presented to the reader, not wanting the reader to doubt prevailing dogmas such as the dogma that the mind is merely the product of the brain.

A scientific paper entitled "Questionable research practices in ecology and evolution" surveyed 494 ecologists and 313 evolutionary biologists and found this: "we found 64% of surveyed researchers reported they had at least once failed to report results because they were not statistically significant (cherry picking); 42% had collected more data after inspecting whether results were statistically significant (a form of p hacking) and 51% had reported an unexpected finding as though it had been hypothesised from the start (HARKing)."

11. Many biologists use data-dredging.

Data dredging refers to techniques such as (1) getting some body of data to yield some particular result that it does not naturally yield, a result you would not find if the data was examined in a straightforward manner, and (2) comparing some data with some other bodies of data until some weak correlation is found, possibly by using various transformations, manipulations and exclusions that increase the likelihood that such a correlation will show up. An example may be found in this paper, where the authors do a variety of dubious statistical manipulations to produce some weak correlations between a body of genetic expression data and a body of brain wave data, which should not even be compared because the two sets of data were taken from different individuals.

12. Some biologists make unethical use of images.

This article states, "35,000 papers may need to be retracted for image doctoring, says new paper." It refers to this paper, which begins by stating, "The present study analyzed 960 papers published in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) from 21 2009-2016 and found 59 (6.1%) to contain inappropriately duplicated images." As I explain here, there is reason for thinking that the technique used by the authors of this paper (to find problematic images) was not very robust, and that a more thorough technique would have come with a percentage far higher than 6.1%.  

13. Some biologists make inappropriate requests to statisticians.

A page on the site of the American Council on Science and Health is entitled "1 in 4 Statisticians Say They Were Asked to Commit Scientific Fraud." The page says the following:

"A stunning report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that researchers often make 'inappropriate requests' to statisticians. And by 'inappropriate,' the authors aren't referring to accidental requests for incorrect statistical analyses; instead, they're referring to requests for unscrupulous data manipulation or even fraud."

14. Biologists often blend the factual and the speculative in a way that makes it very hard for readers to sort out what is fact and what is speculative.

Evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists both very commonly write in a way that blends the factual and the speculative as thoroughly as one may blend ingredients in a blender. There is almost never an identification of which parts are speculative and which parts are factual. This has the effect of fooling many a reader. If you're an average reader reading some paper in a science journal, a paper filled with many impressive facts and details, there is a good chance you will think the whole thing is fact if none of the speculations are identified as speculations.

15. Biologists repeatedly make inappropriate use of "action verbs" in describing inanimate chemical units.

In a Nautilus article, biologist Ken Richardson describes a misleading way that biologists often talk, while suggesting that people are starting to realize the errors in such speaking. He states the following:

"In scientific, as well as popular descriptions today, genes 'act,' 'behave,' 'direct,' “control,' 'design,' 'influence,' have 'effects,' are “responsible for,' are 'selfish,' and so on, as if minds of their own with designs and intentions. But at the same time, a counter-narrative is building, not from the media but from inside science itself.”

Innumerable times biologists will refer to some mindless chemical (or set of chemicals) that cannot possibly have anything like an intention or a will or a plan or a goal, but use anthropomorphic language claiming that such a chemical (or set of chemicals) "directs" or "regulates" or "governs" or "controls" just as if such a chemical was some person with a plan. 

16. Some biologists publish extremely inaccurate and misleading diagrams of cells, causing people to think cells are 1000 times simpler than they are.

If you ask a person to describe a cell, he will typically recollect one of those diagrams of a cell that appear in biological textbooks, and also a thousand places on the internet. Such diagrams will make a cell look pretty simple. A typical such diagram will show a nucleus,  and maybe ten or twenty organelles. You might, for example, see two different mitochondria in the cell, and two or three ribosomes. But the types of cells which humans are made of (eukaryotic cells) are vastly more complex than such diagrams suggest. For example, a mammal cell may contain thousands of mitochondria, hundreds of lysosomes and millions of ribosomes. 

Why do these cell diagrams not include text pointing out that cells are a thousand times more complicated than the diagram suggests? Perhaps it is because such diagrams foster a dubious idea that our biologists want you to believe in.  Our biologists want you to believe that cells are simple enough to have originated through random, unguided processes. You might not believe such a thing if a cell diagram properly indicated how complex cells are. 

17. Some biologists write extremely inaccurate and misleading comparisons in which they claim that there is little difference between the minds of animals and the minds of humans. 

It would be rather hard to find a worse example of a biologist misstatement than those in Chapter III of Charles Darwin's book The Descent of Man. Very absurdly, he stated this (using "shew" to mean "show"): “My object in this chapter is solely to shew that there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.” The long chapter that followed contained much very sophistical reasoning and misinformation, such as when Darwin claimed dogs understand many sentences,  and when he insinuated in the second-to-last paragraph of the chapter that dogs are kind of spiritual like humans. There is obviously a vast gulf between the minds of humans and the minds of animals. 

18. Some biologists try to get us to draw conclusions about natural selection and natural evolution based on what goes on in artificial selection. 

We have no business drawing any conclusion about a blind, unguided, natural process based on what we observe happening in a directed, guided, artificial process (just as we have no business drawing conclusions what would happen when you throw a deck of cards into the wind based on what can happen when people try to carefully create a house of cards). But since the time of Darwin, biologists have been committing the trick of trying to get us to draw conclusions about the creative power of blind, unguided natural selection based on some things going on in directed, guided, artificial selection.  Darwin himself used this trick, when he stated in The Origin of Species, "Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the coadaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may be effected in the long course of time by nature's power of selection." Similar trickery continues in recent times, as purely artificial selection experiments such as these are cited as evidence for the power of natural evolution. 

19. When finding some very weak correlation with a negligible  correlation coefficient, biologists may announce the correlation as being significant, or publish misleading "trend line" graphs, and fail to state clearly how weak the correlation is.  

A type of graph often found in scientific papers is a "scatter plot" that compares two different variables, one shown on the left-axis and the other on the right-axis.  If there is a close correlation between the two, a trend-line in the graph may clarify the correlation. But we often see a trend line drawn in biology graphs when there is only a very weak correlation. Such graphs mislead us into thinking there is a strong correlation when no evidence of that has been found. 

For example, the paper "The Neural Architecture of General Knowledge” found no evidence of anything other than negligible correlations between the brain parameters it was studying and knowledge or intelligence. But the authors announced as "significant correlations" some correlations less than 0.2.  But in the scientific paper entitled, “A guide to appropriate use of Correlation coefficient in medical research,” we read the following: “ A correlation coefficient of 0.2 is considered to be negligible correlation while a correlation coefficient of 0.3 is considered as low positive correlation.”

20. Biologists often make unproven statements about specific biological units such as synapses, failing to inform us of the relevant facts that contradict their claims. 

Many biologists have made the very unproven claim that memories are stored in synapses. When they make such claims, biologists will generally fail to inform us about the complete lack of any understanding of how such a storage could occur. No one has any understanding of how human episodic experiences or human learned conceptual knowledge could ever be translated into neural states or synapses states.  Biologists making these claims about synapse memory storage will also typically fail to inform us of the very strong neuroscience reason for rejecting such a claim: the fact that memories can last 30 times longer than the most long-lived synapse, and 1000 times longer than the average lifetime of proteins that make up synapses. 


21. Some biologists and chemists do biological origin experiments that do not realistically simulate the conditions that are under study.

The history of origin-of-life experiments has been largely a history of misleading experiments that claim to simulate some early Earth conditions, but come nowhere close to providing a realistic simulation of such conditions.  Among the many procedural sins have been errors such as using an incorrect mixture of gases or totally failing to account for the natural circulation of gases and liquids that would occur because of things such as atmospheric circulation and the natural circulation of water.  You can read about such misleading experiments here and here and here and here and here and here and here


22. Biologists generally fail to inform us of exceptional neuroscience cases that conflict with the dogmas biologists teach. 

There are very many neuroscience case histories which conflict with the claims of biologists. Among these are cases in which people had little change in intelligence or memory after having half of their brains removed to stop very bad seizures, and cases of people who maintained high intelligence even though almost all of their brain had been lost to disease.  Biologists almost never inform us about such cases. They act as if they were trying to hide such cases from us, and prevent us from learning about them. 

23. Some biologists make misstatements about split-brain patients.

The two hemispheres of the brain are connected by a mass of fibers called the corpus callosum. Split-brain patients are patients that have had their corpus callosum severed, to prevent very bad seizures. Severing the corpus callosum does not at all lead to some split personality. Contrary to the dogma that the brain produces the mind, a split brain patient (with a severed corpus callosum) has a single mind. A neuroscientist states it this way:

"What is most remarkable about these patients — what spurred Roger Sperry to do his landmark Nobel Prize-winning research — is that after the surgery they are unaffected in everyday life, except for the diminished seizures. They are one person after the surgery, as they were before. They are basically the same, even after their brain has been functionally cut in half. They feel the same, act the same, and think the same, for all intents and purposes."

But you would get the opposite impression from the statements of some biologists, who have tried to make people think that a split-brain patient has some kind of dual personality. 

24. Some biologists publish brain diagrams making dubious claims of function localization.

A technique long used by biologists to propel their dogmas is the technique of publishing brain diagrams in which particular function words are placed next to particular parts of the brain. Such diagrams are mostly dubious speculation. A typical diagram of this type will try to persuade us that thought comes from the front part of the brain, but there are many reasons for doubting such a claim, discussed here

25. Some biologists make dubious claims about particular parts of the brain. 

Biologists often make dubious claims about particular parts of the brain, such as making claims about the prefrontal cortex of the brain that are not justified by the evidence. I have noticed more than once a biologist claiming that the hippocampus is vital for memory. Such claims are based on a handful of case histories in which there was both hippocampus damage and memory problems. But the largest study on the relation between the hippocampus and memory is the paper "Memory Outcome after Selective Amygdalohippocampectomy: A Study in 140 Patients with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy." That paper gives memory scores for 140 patients who almost all had the hippocampus removed to stop seizures.  Using the term "en bloc" which means "in its entirety" and the term "resected" which means "cut out," the paper states, "The hippocampus and the parahippocampal gyrus were usually resected en bloc."  The paper refers us to another paper  describing the surgeries, and that paper tells us that hippocampectomy (surgical removal of the hippocampus) was performed in almost all of the patients. 

The "Memory Outcome after Selective Amygdalohippocampectomy" paper does not use the word "amnesia" to describe the results. That paper gives memory scores that merely show only a modest decline in memory performance.  The paper states, "Nonverbal memory performance is slightly impaired preoperatively in both groups, with no apparent worsening attributable to surgery."  In fact, Table 3 of the paper informs us that a lack of any significant change in memory performance after removal of the hippocampus was far more common than a decline in memory performance, and that a substantial number of the patients improved their memory performance after their hippocampus was removed. 

26. Some biologists make dubious claims about particular proteins. 

In a previous post I noticed that particular scientists were claiming in the title of their paper that a particular protein was "essential" for memory, even though the data in their paper showed the exact opposite, that you could get rid of the protein in animals who would perform well in memory tests. 

27. Some biologists use charts with inconsistent or misleading scales.

In a recent article attempting to persuade us of the evolutionary origin of humans (although actually sounding quite a few notes of caution and hesitation), we had a most objectionable chart with a kind of "funny business" scale in which the left two inches of the chart represented 7 million years, and the right two inches of the chart represented only 100,000 years. 

28. Some biologists use the term "early human" when it is not justified. 

 A very misleading statement often made by biologists is when they use the term "early humans" when describing organisms that lived more than 100,000 years ago. A biologist may refer to some organism corresponding to a fossil that was dated to 500,000 years ago or 1,000,000 years ago, and call such an organism "an early human."  The defining characteristic of a human is the use of symbols and the use of language.  The oldest evidence for the use of symbols is not older than about 65,000 years old. Lacking any evidence of the use of symbols, culture or technology prior to 100,000 years ago, we have zero evidence that any real humans existed before 100,000 years ago.  If there lived  organisms with bodies rather resembling humans at some time way before 100,000 years ago, we have no basis for calling such organisms "early humans."