Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Pseudoscience and Its Victims

(Donetsky Kryazh, Ukraine, 26 September - 2 October 2008)

Many people think that pseudoscience has long belonged to history, but this is not so. All sorts of quacks and psychics continue to amass their capital on the sufferings of people. Many publications regularly print horoscopes to increase circulation and a year ago information appeared that Ukrainian astrologers had tried to receive government accreditation for their educational institution. Ukrainian students are still being taught wellness [valeologiya], which is not so much full of the knowledge of health as of the various occult practices and methods of traditional medicine. Ukraine has raised the falsification of science to the rank of government policy. It is impossible to describe In other words the persistent demands of the President to introduce responsibility for those who do not want to recognize the humanitarian catastrophe of 1932-33 in the USSR as the intentional genocide of the Ukrainian nation.

Academician Ehduard Kruglyakov, Chairman of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Commission to Combat Pseudoscience, speaks to our readers of the problem of protecting scientific knowledge from such infringements.

- Ehduard Pavlovich, how unique is the structure of your Commission? Are there analogs in the scientific communities of other countries, in particular the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine? If so, is joint work being conducted with them?

- We are not unique. For example, you also have a similar commission. It is headed by Doctor of Medicine Professor V. Shumakov. Societies of skeptics fight pseudoscience in a number of countries in Europe, Asia, and America. World congresses are held every other year in which we too take part. The American Skeptics Society is very well organized. It has its own headquarters (Research Center) where I went at their invitation; although this is a public organization it is not supported by the government. They publish the journal Skeptical Inquirer where they expose all sorts of fraud in pseudoscience. [Translator's note: The Skeptics Society publishes its own journal, The Skeptic. Skeptical Inquirer is published by The Committee for Scientific Inquiry, formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, CSICOP]. The journal also shows a profit. American skeptics actually deal with the same things as we do, namely the exposure of paranormal beliefs and mysticism, astrology, psychics, etc. It is my impression that the level of charlatanism of all sorts of frauds, who are often quite ignorant but who trot out the most modern scientific terminology and try to operate in the name of science, is incomparably higher here than in the US. The Americans think that they have more pseudoscience. However, it is not so important who is in first place. What is important is another thing: the spread of pseudoscience is becoming a more serious phenomenon.

- What is the danger of all sorts of pseudoscientific phenomena?

- Enormous. When, for example, we speak of military developments then absolutely absurd projects are being financed under the cover of secrecy along with really worthwhile ones. I won't judge myself which is greater here, ignorance or corruption, but a lot of money goes for pseudoscientific projects. In Russia today there is the well-known scam of torsion fields. In the US money was spent on "research" in the field of antigravity, which is absolutely impossible on Earth. The Boeing firm and NASA paid for such "research". Well, Boeing is a private firm but in the case of NASA swindlers deceived the government. By the way, about antigravity: our Ministry of Defense also sinned. However, it wasn't just us…In the 1990s psychics ensconced themselves in the Kremlin and astrologers were well received even in the General Staff.

Only don't think that you have it better. I recall a recent Ukrainian story with the transmutation of elements, with the detection of unseen elements with atomic masses to which nothing in the world comes close: from 250 to 500! This is clear fraud, but a lot of money was allocated for it.

The mass media promotes the glorification of all sorts of frauds. But what is typical is that they adore and exalt fakes but when the fraud collapses the mass media is silent about it. I know of many such stories. I think the story of the X-ray girl, Natalya Demkina, reached you. News of her miraculous gift to see through any person even reached beyond the borders of Russia. In any event, many from around the world turned to me for comment, even from Great Britain. My reply was the same: this is fraud.

Our colleagues from the American Research Center invited Demkina with her mother and agent to the US. Two professors of psychology prepared Demkina's research program. They had both previously performed on stage with psychological experiments. I had met one of them, R. Weisman from Great Britain, at skeptics' congresses more than once. So, these people prepared a quite serious test program. In the first round seven people were presented to Demkina. Six of them had serious internal injuries (a joint had been replaced by metal, metallic plastic covered a hole in the skull, one lung was missing, etc.), and the seventh was absolutely healthy. Demkina was given cards with the descriptions of each person's injuries. She needed to match the cards to the specific people. If she actually saw through people then God himself told her what was missing in each person. Alas, Demkina failed this test and no further testing was conducted. The fraud was professionally proven by the experiments which had been set up but not a single newspaper, not a single television channel reported the inglorious unmasking of this young woman. How did this end? There is a center in Moscow where, according to the advertisement, Natalya Demkina detects the most complex diseases in a matter of minutes. Such a swindle smacks of a criminal act but so far no one has been concerned about this.

- Often scientific knowledge is replaced by the pseudoscientific in modern education, for example hygiene is replaced by wellness, and ecology by environmentalism. What is the harm from such innovations?

- To my great regret, good-quality Soviet education no longer exists. Well, I know very well what harm penetrates the schools today. As regards wellness, of course this is not a science, and therefore it is senseless to talk on this topic. (In Russia, as a result of many public protests a decision was made in 2001 to exclude the subject and specialty of "wellness" both from the basic lesson plan of educational institutions and the List of Training Areas and Specialties for Higher Professional Education - author's note). At the present time there is a quite palpable danger from attempts to introduce creationism into the educational process instead of "obsolete" evolutionism. Evolutionary theory states that living things gradually develop from the simple to the complex and there are multitude of confirmations. If it is instilled in a student that life arose just 6,000 years ago and at the entire will of supernatural forces then as a consequence such people will hardly be capable of engaging in innovative activity for an accelerated development of the country. I want to stress that we are not speaking against religion and believers. I do not know how things are in Ukraine, but in Russia attempts at pushing religion into the schools have taken a completely ignominious turn. Some time ago an open letter to the President of Russia from 10 academicians about the clericalization of the country was published. It caused a big fuss and the supporters of the clericalization of education are for the time being looking for alternative ways.

Attempts at introducing creationism in the schools and replacing evolutionary theory with creationist theory are occurring in a majority of countries of the world. The Royal Society of Great Britain raised the alarm in April 2006. They directed the public's attention at the fact that science was being taken away, that children were not being taught what they should be taught, and that this threatened dangerous consequences. Some months later 67 academicians of world science signed a similar appeal and it was heard. The European Parliamentary Council charged experts with seeing what was really going on in schools and on 4 October 2007 a resolution, "The Danger of Creationism for Education", was adopted. This document is not being displayed in Russia.

- Much has been said in various publications of the fallaciousness of the so-called "New Chronology" of Academician Fomenko…

- This question was newsworthy at the beginning of the 1990s, but is not interesting right now. In the words of professionals, Fomenko is a good mathematician. But the "New Chronology" has not the slightest relation to science, which has been repeatedly proven by both astronomers and historians. This is simply a big business: books were published in the millions. But the business of Fomenko and Co. is immoral.

- A trend is being observed in contemporary Ukrainian science, especially in its humanities, where the results of research are made to fit specific political projects at the demand of higher government leadership…

- In accordance with the principle, "What would you like?". This is so. There were protests from the clergy against me and my allies, but I do not feel that the authorities have pressured me or have tried to influence me in any way. As regards the exaggeration of the Ukrainian famine this is sheer politics. Scientists rely on facts, not on fabrications. They approach facts objectively and dispassionately. There is no trace of anything like this in this story. The fact that the entire Soviet Union went hungry is a fact, but nevertheless they are trying to present the matter so that only Ukraine went hungry. Why this is done I do not understand.

- How great is the need of journalists, writers, and officials of the arts for modern science to be capable of objectively describing the results of the achievements of science and, conversely, of literately translating the formulas of physics into lyrical language?

- Theoretically, journalists who wield a good pen should be capable of popularizing the achievements of science, enlightening the population, and unmasking falsifications. Unfortunately, science journalism practically disappeared in the post-Soviet 1990s. But the ice has broken. A union of science journalists was recently formed and they have already turned to us with a proposal to consolidate our efforts. Science journalism is rising, but it is not yet all-powerful because a systematic disregard of science and an exaltation of pseudoscience exists. I will cite just two instances: in April 2006 the Rossiya Channel showed a wonderfully-photographed film, Velikaya Tayna Vody [The Great Secret of Water], which received several TEFI [Broadcast Television] prizes with great pomp. Alas, the film propagandized blatant pseudoscience, endowing water with mystical qualities. This was done intentionally, by the way. For example, I was informed that they sell an elixir in Kiev for the eyes which is based on water on which "a matrix of health has been imprinted". You can quickly treat a cataract and improve your vision. Swindlers (Russian Ukrainians, by the way) get a lot of money for this absurdity, only don't take this bait: the elixir is a fraud!

But now about a recent event, the startup of the Large Hadron Collider. For physicists this is an event of enormous importance. We can strongly advance into an understanding of how our world arose and is constructed. But in what does our noble television engage? It whipped up hysteria that the startup of the collider might cause a black hole which would swallow all of us.

- What are your wishes and recommendations to readers of the newspaper "Donetsky Kryazh Plyus" on the issue of avoiding falling under the influence of all sorts of pseudoscientific trends?

- If a person has critical thinking then it is not so easy to be duped. I would like to wish for a rebirth of the critical thinking which is today being zealously eroded. Then people themselves will find the correct decisions and more rarely fall into the snares of swindlers.

Conversation with Aleksandr Dmitrevsky Special Correspondent of DK in the RF

Translated by Gary Goldberg