Cognitive Processes and the Suppression of Sound Scientific Ideas
"The Sorcerer of Menlo Park appears not to be acquainted with the subtleties of the electrical sciences. Mr. Edison takes us backwards. One must have lost all recollection of American hoaxes to accept such claims." -Professor Du Moncel (Milton,1996 p.18)Luckily, the disinterest and derision of Edison's scientific peers did not prevent sharp speculators, like J. P. Morgan and William Vanderbilt from investing funds and helping Edison's inventions become universally adopted (Milton, 1996). Other inventors of the day were not always so lucky.
Cost to individuals and to societyMany invaluable concepts for inventions from Edison's era, were not granted financial backing (Milton, 1996). This was the case for most of the ideas of Nikola Tesla, who known for the discovery and development of AC current. In the book, The Coming Energy Revolution, the author, Jeanne Manning (1996), told of how the treatment of Tesla contrasted with that of his contemporary, Edison. Tesla did not bother as Edison did, to "play the game" (p. 24) with the U.S. science establishment, the media and the investors. Manning (1996) continued with explaining that even though Tesla was the main trail-blazer of the age of electricity, his almost inaccessible brilliance, his lack of interest in publishing, and his wish to give everyone free electric power may have caused substantial professional jelousy. Manning (1996) further postulated that this jealousy and Tesla's non-conformity were responsible for the lack of support and acknowledgment he received. Moreover, Manning (1996) continued, even though other inventors were often credited for them, many of the products that came out of the age of electricity were directly due to Tesla's concepts. These were inventions such as Marconi's radio, which was presented to the public in 1901 and used 17 of Tesla's patented ideas. In 1943, the Supreme Court had, in fact, ruled that Tesla was the radio's inventor (Manning,1996). Unfortunately for Tesla, that was some years after his death. After the US science community and investors turned their back on Tesla, he descended "into wild eccentricity"(p. 26). However, Manning (1996) asserted, his research on wireless power conveyance, bladeless turbines, excess-output energy machines and other futuristic devices are still being marveled at and studied by those that have rediscovered this unappreciated genius.
Other innovators who were described by Milton (1996) as
victims of the insults of the skeptical scientific power elite, were
such men as John Logie Baird, inventor of television. Baird had been
described by the British Royal Society as "a swindler" (p. 19).
Likewise, Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery of X-rays was decried as an
"elaborate hoax" (p.22) by Lord Kelvin, the most influential scientist
of Europe in 1895. Scientists of Roentgen's day produced film
fogging X-rays on a substantial scale but were unwilling to consider
the wide ranging implications of Roentgen's work for 10 years after
his discovery (Milton, 1996).
Another example of such victimization, presented by Dean
Radin (1996) in his book The Conscious Universe, involved the theory
of German meteorologist, Alfred Wegener. This theory which
Wegener developed in 1915, contended that the earth's continents
had once been a single mass of land which later drifted apart.
Although Wegener carefully cataloged geological evidence, his
American and British colleagues ridiculed both him and his idea
(Radin, 1996). Although Wegener died an intellectual outcast in
1930, every schoolchild is currently taught his theory which is
known as continental drift.
The cost of scientific suppression to society can be seen in the
history of the development of the tank. According to Milton (1996),
at a time when 1.000 men a day were dying on W.W.I battlefields for
want of protection from shelling and gunfire, the British admiralty,
of that epoch, had the following to say about E. L.. deMole's ,
invention, the tank:.
"Caterpillar landships are idiotic and useless. Nobody has asked for them and nobody wants them. Those officers and men are wasting their time and are not pulling their proper weight in the war"(p. 20).
Derogation, Trivialization and Reduction of DissonanceSome quotations collected by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navakky in their book The Experts Speak (1984) illustrated further the hostile or trivializing attitude towards different ideas, scientific inquiries, and revolutionary discoveries.
"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." -Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology France, 1872 (p.30)Several of the above examples show new ideas that were grievously misjudged by scientific peers and those in authority.
Today, scientific research is still judged by peer review.
Henry Bauer (1994) in his book Scientific Literacy and the Myth of
the Scientific Method revealed how research is generally funded
through association with a university. In Western civilization , said
Bauer (1994) selected peers judge the journal articles that the
academic scientists must publish to retain their university
positions and insure future funding.
Specific questions about the process of peer review were
examined by sociologist Michael J. Mahoney of the University of
Pennsylvania. In an interview granted to Boston Globe science
reporter, David Chandler (1987), Mahoney discussed his study.
Mahoney sent copies of a paper to 75 reviewers but doctored the
results so that in some cases the research appeared to support
mainstream theories (Chandler 1987). In other cases Mahoney had
doctored the paper so the research deviated from them. When the
doctored results ran contrary to the reviewer's theoretical beliefs
the author's procedures were berated and the manuscript was
rejected. When the results in the doctored papers confirmed the
reviewer's beliefs, the same procedures were then lauded and the
manuscript was recommended for publication (Chandler 1987).
Mahoney presented the results of this study to the American
Association for the Advancement of Science. Afterwards, Mahoney
received 200 to 300 letters and phone calls from scientists who felt
they had been victimized because the results of their research
conflicted with the generally accepted scientific viewpoint or with
their reviewer's beliefs (Chandler 1987).
Daniel Koshland, editor the leading US scientific journal,
Science, said this in an interview to Chandler(1987) about science
that threatens to change the parameters of what is accepted:
"I think it's fair to say that a new idea, something that confronts existing dogma, has an uphill road. . .There certainly is no question that there is a prejudice in favor of the existing dogma"(Chandler 1987).In the same interview with Chandler (1987), Koshland cited, as one example, biochemist Edwin G. Krebs' discovery for which he received the Nobel prize. The discovery which is now known as the Krebs cycle, describes the fundamental series of enzyme reactions in living organisms. It was initially rejected.
Koshland (Chandler 1987) continued with the history of
biologist Lynn Margulis's work, showing the evolution of cell
structure through symbiotic unions of primitive organisms. It was
also initially rejected and even scorned (Chandler 1987). Although
her work has become the accepted dogma and appears in textbooks,
in 1970 the National Science Foundation not only turned her down for
funding, but told her that she should never apply again. Koshland
stated that there are other examples such as these (Chandler 1987).
In-Group and Out-Group EffectsKoshland's statement about the prejudices against ideas that go against the existing dogma (Chandler 1987), and the examples Koshland gives lead this author to suppose that in-group biases could be blinding the scientific authorities to the validity of unorthodox, out-group ideas. As Aronson (1995) revealed, the valid points which the out-group makes are not readily perceived by the in-group. Moreover, the weak points or elements of the out-group preponderate in the mind of the in-group. Aronson (1995) explained the tendency to "in-group favoritism" (p. 144) in which members were thought to produce better output than non-members. This author believes that, scientists with challenging ideas have been viewed as an out-group by the in-group of conventional scientists.
The Urge to ConformChemistry and science studies professor, Henry H. Bauer (1994), in his book, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method urged us to realize that scientists are only human and are therefore subject to all the variations that humans posses. He claimed that although scientists have been seen as single- mindedly pursuing truth in all fields, in actuality scientists are generally expert in only one field and the pursuit of truth may not be a top priority. The fact that modern scientists are financially dependent on university and foundation research positions that are in turn dependent on grants. (Bauer, 1994) These are key factors in the formulation of a scientist's priorities. This financial dependence and instability, declared Bauer (1994), creates a direct conflict of interest between pure scientific pursuit and behavior aimed at keeping funding and positions.
A job in scientific research, seems to this writer, to be much
like any precarious career position. There could be the usual
tendencies to conform and participate in group-think. Criticism by
the science community and loss of livelihood appear to this author
to be punishment, while acceptance by the science community and
financial security seem like rewards. According to Aronson (1996),
punishment and rewards generally compel one to conform.
Bauer (1994) painted a picture of "an elite research
community,"(p. 99) consisting of a few dozen universities, which
traditionally have been deemed to have the most experts. These
universities are thought to turn out the best results and publications
and are the top choice to receive both government and private
Bauer (1994) explained that there is little money in this
country for more exploratory pursuits for the "sake of scientific
progress"(p. 98). Funding and acknowledgment go to virtually the
same schools and the same groups of scientists, so the scope of
exploration and scientific thought becomes limited and intellectual
inbreeding occurs (Bauer 1994). Most of the scientists chosen to be
journal editors and peer reviewers are also selected from this same
narrow ingrained group. This phenomenon was referred to by Bauer
(1994) as the "imperfections of the filter"(p. 99).
Like the "concurrence seeking" (p. 18) member of Hitler's inner
circle, described by Aronson (1995), this "highly filtered" (Bauer p.
99) group of scientists tend to be in a position that often demand
consensus of opinion and necessitates conformity.
Bauer (1994) illustrated how, throughout history, the course of
scientific discovery was impeded by the social environment and
prejudices of the time. He gave the example of how in Nazi Germany,
the scientists were unable to make progress. The reason for this
Bauer (1994) explained, is that they had been commanded to work
without the theory of relativity as that theory had been originated
and developed by a purportedly inferior Jew. Similarly the Soviets
were commanded to do without the theory of wave mechanics which
also had an unpopular genesis (Bauer 1994). The punishment of
being a maverick scientist in either of those societies were death or
forced labor, so the writer of this paper supposes the urge to
conform must have been very compelling.
Bauer (1994) asserted that conformity within the scientific
community leads to the evasion of all unwanted or inconsistent
facts and this obstructs the practice of science. This avoidance of
facts and truth by a group, seems to this writer, to be very much
akin to the consensus seeking and evasion of reality that led up to
the faulty decision to launch the Challenger space shuttle. Even
though it had parts which were known to be of dubious quality,
"NASA and Thiokol executive ...reinforced one another's commitment
to proceed"(Aronson , 1995 p.17).
Thomas Gold, a professor and researcher with Cornell, wrote in
his 1989 journal article "New Ideas in Science" that he attributed
the tendency for consensus seeking among scientist to a primarily
vestigial instinct, "a herd mentality"( p.103). Gold supported this
notion of the herd mentality by stating how petroleum geology and
other disciplines have become completely intolerant of any new
ideas He also told of how he had the experience of making
colleagues violently angry with him, because he had proposed that
there was some uncertainly about the origin of petroleum. (Gold,
1989) Moreover, Gold (1989) claimed, the fresh and genuinely
different research from the other countries that are outsiders to the
US herds, casts light on the truly one-dimensional nature of our
Gold (1989) conjectured that going against the herd and
adopting a deviant viewpoint, feels uncomfortable for personal
cognitive and emotional reasons, as well as for the practical
reasons listed above by Bauer. Furthermore, Gold (1989) postulated
that conformist scientist may be unconsciously motivated by the
protection afforded to them by the herd, "against being challenged
...or having their ignorance exposed"(p. 106).
Cognitive DissonanceAccording to Aronson (1996), when people are confronted with opposing beliefs or ones incompatible with their own, they are likely to ignore or negate that belief. They do this in order to convince themselves that they have not behaved foolishly by committing to false beliefs. To assure themselves that they have been wise in supporting their position, they often convince themselves that those who oppose that position are foolish and truly objects for contempt and derision (Aronson, 1996 p.184-8).
Aronson(1996) also stated that most people, when they are
confronted with information that they have behaved in a cruel
manner, attempt to reduce subsequent dissonant feelings of
perceiving themselves as unkind. They often do this by creating a
belief that cruelty towards the victim is actually justified. Studies
by Karen Hobden and James M. Olson(1994) examined disparagement
humor directed at an out-group. Hobden et al.(1994) had a
confederate tell extremely disparaging jokes about lawyers to a
group of subjects. The dissonance, caused by disparaging the lawyer
out-group, prompted the majority of the subjects to change both
their public and private attitudes about lawyers to one that was
substantially less favorable. (Hobden et al., 1994)
Another study by Linda Simon, Jeff Greenberg, and Jack Brehm
(1995) showed that trivialization is also effectively employed as a
mode of dissonance reduction. The subjects in Simon et al.'s (1995)
study were led to follow counter-attitudinal behaviors. They later
chose to trivialize the dissonant information about themselves more
often than they chose to change their opinions (Simon et al., 1995).
Many of the quotes contained in this paper in which a member
of mainstream science reacts towards new inventions or discoveries
are steeped in trivialization and disparagement. This leads this
writer to believe that scientists are reducing their cognitive
dissonance about challenging science ideas with same faulty
cognitions and methods in which non-scientists engage.
Outside the ParadigmScience author Patrick Huyghe (1995), in his internet article "Extraordinary Claim? Move the Goal Posts!," claimed that although a new science idea may have proof, if it defies convention, then instead of consideration and acceptance:
"There's often some hasty rewriting of the rules of the game. For the would-be extraordinary, for the unorthodox claim on the verge of scientific success, the ground rules are gratefully changed. This practice, often referred to as 'Moving the goal posts' is an extraordinary phenomenon in itself and deserves recognition."(p.1)In the book by science writer, Patrick Huyghe co-authored with physicist Louis A. Frank (1990) The Big Splash, this moving of the goal posts was depicted by the conventional science society's reaction to a challenging discovery made by Dr. Frank. Frank and Huyghe (1990) wrote of how Dr. Frank found evidence that the Earth was being showered by approximately twenty house-sized ice comets per minute. These comets all broke up in the atmosphere. His research led him to believe that the millennia of bombardment by these ice comets were responsible for the presence of the water on Earth. Dr. Frank presented his data and his photographs of the ice comets to a geophysics journal for publication (Huyghe, 1990). At the time of the announcement of Dr. Frank's discovery, the academic standard of proof in astronomy was to have two images of the same object. Although Dr. Frank presented such proof, the appearance of ice comets in his photographs was considered to be merely due to a technical fluke and a higher standard of proof was then required (Huyghe, 1990). As each subsequent level of proof was delivered by Dr. Frank, a yet higher tier of standards was then demanded (Huyghe, 1990).
This writer believes that this goal post shifting is similar to
some of the tendencies examined by Aronson(1995). Aronson cited a
survey which was done to assess people's reaction to the 1964
surgeon general's report about the serious health risks from
cigarettes. Aronson (1995) found that smokers who had tried to quit
unsuccessfully experienced dissonance over their inability to stop
the habit. Those smokers tended to change their cognitions and
create the belief that smoking was not dangerous for them (Aronson,
1995). Exemplifying intelligent people, who also smoked, or
deluding themselves "that a filter traps the all of the cancer-
producing materials" (p.179) reduced the smokers' dissonance and
made them feel that their actions were justified. Just like moving
the goal posts, these cognitive ploys changed the standard by which
information was judged.
James McClenon's(1984) book Deviant Science: The Case of
Parapsychology and Dean Radin's (1997) book, The Conscious
Universe both deal with the topic of psychic phenomenon as a
suppressed science. Dean (1997) cited dissonance reduction as the
reason why conventional science authorities had suppressed
numerous valid studies on psychic phenomenon. Dean (1997) stated
that people have an uncomfortable feeling when they are confronted
with information that seems impossible to them. Evidence of
psychic phenomenon, also known as psi, therefore becomes dissonant
information. Although most of Deviant Science and Conscious
Universe were devoted to describing the many reproducible, strictly
scientific experiments that support the existence of ESP, the
writers also speculated about why this field has been found
unacceptable. Both Dean (1997) and McClenon (1984) claimed that
the dismissal of well executed studies were not due to skepticism,
but mainly to blatant attacks by those who are threatened by the
shifting of perceptions in the sciences. McClenon (1984) cited the
1970's science philosophy of Thomas Kuhn, who coined the term for
shifting perceptions "paradigm shifts"(p.21). McClenon (1984) had
the following to say about Kuhn's definition of paradigms cited from
Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:
"Paradigms are the universally accepted scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners . . . an object for future articulation and specification under new or more stringent conditions" (p.21).When an anomaly outside of this accepted model happens frequently enough, McClenon (1984) explained, there is a crisis. The anomalies that violates the current ruling paradigm are then either incorporated and resolved within the paradigm, or there is a "revolutionary upheaval"(p. 21).
Aronson (1995) described how people commonly have a low tolerance for anomalous, dissonant information. He had this to say about how people generally deal with challenges to their beliefs and thereby reduce their dissonance:
"People don't like to see or hear things that conflict with their deeply held beliefs or wishes. An ancient response to such bad news was to kill the messenger"(p. 185).This writer sees such "killing" going on in the deriding and dismissing of the science ideas and the "messenger" scientist.
Confirmation BiasRadin (1997) also explained that the rejection of serious studies on psychic phenomenon is due to a particular type of confirmation bias, the "expectancy effect"(p. 234). This expectancy effect, as studied by sociologist Harry Collins in his book The Golem (1993), showed that for controversial scientific topics where the existence of a phenomenon is in question, scientific criticism is generally determined by the critic's prior expectations.
Collin's work, cited by Radin, (1997) also explained a
phenomenon termed "scientific regress"(p. 236). Scientific regress
happens when experimental results are predicted by a well-accepted
theory and then the outcome is examined to see if it matches the
initial expectations. Radin (1997) reasoned that with psi research
there isn't a well-accepted theory with which to compare the
results, so skeptics use "scientific regress" to invalidate all of the
scientific results in this field of study.
Radin (1997) also called attention to another form of the
confirmation bias, that of seeking to confirm one's original
hypothesis when a situation is unclear or confusing. Radin's
definition here matches Aronson's (1995) definition of "the
confirmation bias -the tendency to confirm our original hypotheses
Radin (1997) said confirmation biases are especially
problematic for older more experienced scientists because "their
commitment to their theories grows so strong, that simpler or
different solutions get overlooked"(p. 236). These biases, Radin
claimed, preserve ideas that are already established and causes
suppression of non-standard science research.
Dean Radin (1997) broke down the acceptance of a new science
idea into the following four predictable stages which this author
sees as being rife with various aforementioned biases and
Stage 1, skeptics proclaim that the idea is impossible.This writer believes that the cognitions in this last stage are attributable to what Aronson (1996) termed as "the hindsight effect" (p.7).
Taboo or Unpopular ScienceThe Golem (Collins 1993), Fire from Ice (Mallove 1991), The Coming Energy Revolution (Manning 1996) and Alternative Science (Milton 1996) all had chapters which described the genesis of cold fusion and gave important evidence for it's validity. These books told of the findings of two chemists, Professor Martin Fleischmann of Southampton University and his former student, Professor Stanley Pons of the University of Utah. Fleischmann and Pons held a 1989 press conference at which they announced the discovery of cold fusion. Milton (1996) defined cold fusion as "the production of usable amounts of excess energy by a nuclear process occurring in a water at room temperature"(p. 25).
By making the announcement about their success at a press
conference, Manning(1996) and Milton(1996), and Collins (1993) all
stated that these two distinguished scientists were breaking with
the tradition of first submitting an article to peer review for
publication. Manning (1996) contended that it was mainly this
departure from the expected way of introducing the phenomenon, not
the failing of the results, which led to the trivializing and
derogating of cold fusion, and of Fleischmann and Pons as well, by
the majority of mainstream scientists.
Manning (1996) suggested that a secondary cause for
disapproval was the fact that science did not have a framework yet
for how these cold fusion experiments produced the energy. This
lack of a previously existing framework seems to cause most
mainstream scientists to invalidate anomalous data through
experimental regress and the confirmation biases
Evidently Pons and Fleischmann intended to keep the means of
producing cold fusion to themselves in hopes of becoming wealthy,
so they were not forthcoming about the details of the methodology
used. Although they were able to repeatedly get the same verifiable
results, other scientists of the time were not able to independently
duplicate what Pons and Fleischmann had done (Manning, 1996).
A third cause for disapproval, explained Manning (1996), is
that the massively funded hot fusion research organizations had also
been trying over decades to get some of the same findings as those
from the cold fusion experiments and may have had professional
jealousy (Manning 1996).
This writer believes that the suppression of cold fusion could
have been due to some of the same cognitive distortions which led to
the suppression of other maverick science ideas and inventions
throughout history. These cognitions include the in-group out-group,
confirmation, and that expectancy biases, as well as cognitive
dissonance reactions to anomalies.
Manning (1996) wrote of how in America, Fleischmann and
Pon's reputations as cold fusion researchers were tarnished. Cold
fusion articles were suddenly banished from science journals and
U.S. patents for cold fusion were dismissed.
Manning (1997) continued that only Japan was still putting
major funding into cold fusion research. As a heavily populated
island with few natural energy resources, Japan had everything to
gain from clean safe energy production. Also, because many
Easterners have a "spiritual belief in an all pervading energy which
comes in many forms,"(p. 102) the idea of fusion reactions taking
place without extreme high temperatures was not quite such a
dissonant idea as it had been for Westerners.
Other methods to derive usable energy that are considered to
be in opposition to the beliefs of mainstream science were
discussed by Manning (1996). These included solid state energy
devices, vibrational devices developed by nineteenth century
musician and inventor John Ernst Worrell Keeley, vortex and
magnetic energy mechanisms, new technologies for using waste and
hydropower, and the use of hydrogen for power.
Alternatives for excluded scientistsThe internet has, in the last few years, become a valuable resource for those scientists who have been discouraged from experimenting with and publishing unorthodox studies. It gives them the opportunity to network with others interested in their research.
Some websites for these discussion groups can be found at the
yahoo website at http://www.yahoo.com, under the subheading,
alternative science. In addition there is
/weird/wclose.html where one can
find free energy, cold fusion and otology discussion groups under the
subheadings: freenergy-L, vortex-L and taoshum-L.
There are journals created specifically for printing
professionally written studies on unpopular topics. Since
involvement with these non-standard topics might lead to a
professional scientist's ostracism, one publication, The Journal of
Scientific Exploration (1986-1997) only prints articles by academic
research scientists, anonymously. This journal provides a forum for
presentation, criticism and debate for topics that are ignored or
ridiculed by mainstream science. It also has the secondary goal of
publishing articles that help to promote understanding of the factors
that limit scientific inquiry.
Galilean Electrodynamics is a publication devoted to
professionally written journal articles that challenge Einstein's
ideas. Only papers that are in the realm of mathematics, engineering
or physics and that are relativity-related are considered for
publication in this journal.
Infinite Energy Cold Fusion and New Energy Technology (1994-
1998) is a magazine edited by Eugene Mallove and is devoted to
energy experimentation that is beyond the scope of orthodox
Looking forwardBauer (1994) called on science institutions to help foster objectivity by making sure they includes scientist from backgrounds and viewpoints that are as varied as possible. He also asked that scientists fight their personal biases and hidden social agendas by vigilantly examining their own motives, and trying to see an objective reality rather than one influenced by expectations (p. 102).
Dr. Brian Martin (1998) in his current writings posted on the
internet, "Suppression Stories," asked that researchers publish
more accounts about suppression, and claimed that this will provide
necessary support for dissident and struggling scientists.
Radin (1997) closed his book with a hope that this process of
suppressing new ideas will not continue to be at the cost of good
science and scientists. He included this quote by Lewis Thomas,
biologist and author of the Medusa and the Snail:
"The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature. . . It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect"(p. 289).This author will bring this paper to a close with a quote from Bill Beaty's (1998) webpage article "Quotes against excessive skepticism:
"Daring ideas are like chessmen. Moved forward, they may be
defeated, but they start a winning game." -Goethe