Mar 21, 2012

CERN Owes it to the Citizens from whom it Asks Support to be Frank, Honest and Informative

Posted by in categories: existential risks, particle physics

Verbatim quote from Richard Feynman ( ) at minute 45:00:

NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest and informative so that those citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of these limited resources. For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. Tom Kerwick says:

    Otto — thanks for sharing this — a very enjoyable video on Richard Feynman’s life pursuits. It is interesting the reference to the minory report on Challenger safety and NASA, I understand you believe this same delibrate exclusion applies in your case with CERN.

    However, I get the impression in your case it is a case of not suppression, but a belief that your research is scientifically incorrect. Hence my suggestion of a revision of your work to include reference to where G&M’s calculated accretion rates are flawed…

  2. Quote: “a belief that your research is scientifically incorrect”.

    Do you think “a belief” would justify refusal to reply to a given proof of danger, dear Tom?

  3. Tom Kerwick says:

    Of course… As a matter of politeness/respect they should have responded to you and/or formally commented on your paper even if just to state why they believe it to be flawed… in the same manner they have done for some of the other crictical papers.

    I think the point is that they don’t consider it to carry the same credibility as some of the other critical papers. However, rather than debate the ethics, isn’t it better to improve your paper and debate the science instead? Although granted you are running out of time…

  4. Dear Tom: I absolutely agreee with your question. We both do not know what is better: to say it in a better way if possible or to ask them to be so kind as to use the remaining two weeks to dismantle the proof that lies on the table.

  5. bill johnson says:

    Mr. Rossler I just saw the nature journal libel case from this past November in which you testified. During the testimony you said “if you have something new to offer, peer review is dangerous”, adding that in such cases “peer review delays progress in science”, (story from BBC). Given that view it is not surprising that CERN doesn’t respond to your work given the high value that the scientific community gives to the peer review process.

  6. Dear Mr. Johnson: Thank you for your remark. I can well understand it. There are two kinds of scientific growth, appositional and jump-like — or local and unpredictable, respectively. The former linear mode is very good for many purposes, but it does not allow for what Tomas Kuhn called “scientific revolutions.” You may have seen Leo Szilard’s booklet “The Voice of the Dolphins” of 1948 (I discuss this matter in my gothic-R paper). So I do not believe we really have dfiffering opinions. And of course you are right that in any specific case, the presence of a jump-like increase in knowledge is almost infinitely less likely than that it is all rubbish.

    Okay? Take care, Sincerley yours, Otto E. Rossler

  7. bill johnson says:

    You are correct in saying that there are different kinds of scientific growth and there are countless examples of this, however that doesn’t mean the academic process changes for these different kinds of growth.

    The peer review process is just as important if not more so when there is some new unpredictable result and thus I think many would be alarmed at your statement that “if you have something new to offer, peer review is dangerous” this goes to Tom’s analysis of CERN’s position because much of credibility in the scientific community is determined by peer review and not having peer review or not getting past per review hurts credibility. In this case you question the usefulness of per-review all together.

    If I may ask, do you believe CERN has an obligation to respond to criticism that hasn’t been peer reviewed?

  8. Otto E. Rossler says:

    Dear Mr. Johnson:

    Quote: “you question the usefulness of peer-review altogether”.

    This is not my opinion. For normal science it does have its advantages. But it is , of course, no guarantee for progress.

    As to your question: Any constructive criticism ought to be taken maximally seriously, especially in a case where even the institution addressed has initiated a “safety report” itself. Not taking published papers into account is always a risk. If recklessness becomes predictably implied in case the decision of neglect turns out to be at fault in retrospect, then the advice to take the papers in question seriously is worth heeding.

    And a refusal to discuss — over years — also is not a sign of scientific maturity no matter how many people were involved in the consensus, right?

    But let me make a more general remark here since this discussion you initiated is so important: The “linear” progress guaranteed by peer review that we agreed upon before is not unconditional. It presupposes that the field of knowledge in question has a linearly coherent structure itself. This is far from being the rule, however. Many underlying subjects turn out to be complex and fractal in retrospect. In such cases, linear progress can jump over “valleys” and indeed turn out to be totally misleading afterwards, producing nonsensical artifacts adhered to by a whole community.

    I happen to know of such a case, hoping that you can forgive me if I feel fairly certain at the time being about it even though he final word remains to be spoken. I mention one paper here about which I harbor a fairly secure “feel.” I would be grateful for your reaction (I do not quite know how accessible it is): AIP Conference Proceedings/Volume 1389,

    Sincerely yours, Otto E. Rossler

  9. bill johnson says:

    So would it then be correct to say that in some cases you question the usefulness of peer review while accepting its use in others? For our topic here the two key questions are really; if there are situations where you feel non-peer reviewed material are still valid for use against CERN? And must CERN respond to such material? Your answer to those questions seems to be yes. Is that correct?

    Keeping that in mind let’s look at the issue of refusal to discuss. There is no academic obligation to respond to every “constructive criticism” that is given because there are certain standards that the criticism must meet to be considered and one of those standards is peer review. This then is the distinction between failing to respond because they don’t see the work as credible and failing to respond because they are suppressing something.

    BTW Only the abstract of the paper is available, but I’m not sure what your point was there.

  10. Yes.

    Second paragraph: Kindly look at my more elaborated next post.

    I shall come back to the BTW.

  11. Otto E. Rossler says:

    A friend sent me the following remarks addressed to Mr. Johnson:

    Two outstanding examples in which peer-review procedures rejected two outstanding works that would promote science:

    1) Fuzzy logic. As the American innovator Lotfi Zadeh stated in his recent biography…20View.pdf ,
    his seminal paper “Fuzzy sets,” published in the Journal of Information and Control in 1965, would have been rejected if the author had submitted it to another journal of which he was not one of the editors. The paper has since been cited 38.025 times.

    2) Prince Louis de Broglie (1892−1987). All of his professors rejected his thesis (or held a completely negative opinion) which was about the wave nature of matter (electrons), but Einstein saved it by expressing his positive opinion.

    One can see that peer-review procedures are sometimes dangerous and can postpone sciences progress.

    I would add: It admittedly is hard to install a better system. Society itself has found ways to mitigate the disadvantages — like multiplicity of journals and the very anonymity which allows for friendship to act behind the scenes since, in reality, competent scientists often support each other. So I do not speak out against the system in general, only against using it as a life insurance in critical cases, as CERN tried to do for almost 4 years.

  12. bill johnson says:

    I would agree that there are cases where the peer review process may in fact slow down progress just like any other review system. The process of review for other matters ranging from new medicines to new buildings also slows them down and in some cases blocks something that would have been useful. However the danger from not following such review processes is greater than the cases where they are over-restrictive and thus the systems of review are accepted as necessary.

    I appreciate the two cases that you cited but I would point out that it always easier to look back in hindsight at a review process and judge whether it was too restrictive or not. If on the other hand we are talking about an ongoing case the issue becomes more complicated and for better or for worse deviating from the accepted review process does call into question one’s work. Thus while you can say that CERN is using this as a poor excuse not the refute your work CERN can say that it’s a valid reason not to bother countering.
    So really all I’m saying is that the issue does muddy the waters.

  13. Otto E. Rossler says:

    Thank you, mr. Johnson.

    Quote: “you can say that CERN is using this as a poor excuse not the refute your work CERN”.

    I reply: No, this is not my argument for several weeks by now. The papers CERN is openly neglecting have been published within the peer-review system. Nevertheless CERN continues to openly neglect them.

    Also you are screening out two facts: In case of danger, even weak evidence has a higher weight. Second, only incompetent companies have to rely entirely on peer review. Institutions that have competent members can be expected to use this expertise themselves. Fresh knlwledge never underlies the peer review constraints by definition.

    But somehow it feels good to communicate with someone who is obvioulsy absolutely immune to the content proper of the arguments at stake.

    What is the reason for your absolute trust in CERN, if I may ask? (I would like to share in it if you can explain.)

  14. bill johnson says:

    Well but as you acknowledge this is a recent change so up until that point the issue of peer review was an issue. As to your two facts, weaker evidence has a greater weight only if the danger is widely seen as real, which would not apply to this case. Secondly yes they have their own subject matter experts however the burden isn’t on them to do the review of criticism rather it is the role of the critic to have the criticism peer reviewed before it is sent over.

    I don’t have absolute trust in CERN however it has been my experience that all big science, LHC, NIF, ITER, HAARP, ect. all attract many warnings of every imaginable nature, from threatening the existence of the world to being government super weapons. The LHC alone has over a dozen theories warning of some negative effect of its use and so after looking at all these differing ideas I tend to approach such theories with a lot of skepticism. That said your clarification of many of the related issues is helpful.

  15. Otto E. Rossler says:

    Quote: “weaker evidence has a greater weight only if the danger is widely seen as real, which would not apply to this case.“
    Right — but this applies only to the one side of the mirror, as you are aware of.

    Quote: “I tend to approach such theories with a lot of skepticism.“
    Again I totally sympathize with you.