Nov 14 2013

Is There a Pseudoscience Event Horizon?

Earlier this week Massimo Pigliucci over at Rationally Speaking wrote an intriguing blog post asking whether or not there is a pseudoscience black hole – a point beyond which a pseudoscience gets sucked in and can never escape? Asked from the other direction – are there any historical examples of a pseudoscience that became legitimate, essentially turned out to be true?

I thought this was an interesting enough question to pick up the ball and explore the question further.

First, the question requires a discussion of what is pseudoscience. This is a common topic of discussion among skeptics. Any definition must contend with the demarcation problem – there is no bright line between legitimate science and pseudoscience. Rather, there is a smooth continuum, although I do think the distribution along that continuum is bimodal.

The differences between science and pseudoscience have to do with process, not subject matter. Pseudoscientists display a number of typical behaviors  (I will quickly list some of them here, but I am overdo for an updated post just on this topic):

1 – Hostile to criticism, rather than embracing criticism as a mechanism of self-correction
2 – Works backward from desired results through motivated reasoning
3 – Cherry picks evidence
4 – Relies on low grade evidence when it supports their belief, but will dismiss rigorous evidence if it is inconvenient.
5 – Core principles untested or unproven, often based on single case or anecdote
6 – Utilizes vague, imprecise, or ambiguous terminology, often to mimic technical jargon
7 – Has the trappings of science, but lacks the true methods of science
8 – Invokes conspiracy arguments to explain lack of mainstream acceptance (Galileo syndrome)
9 – Lacks caution and humility by making grandiose claims from flimsy evidence
10 – Practitioners often lack proper training and present that as a virtue as it makes them more “open.”

Even world-class respected mainstream scientists may allow some pseudoscientific behavior to creep in. Further, rank pseudoscientists may be right on certain points or actually produce some useful evidence. One way to restate Massimo’s question is this – is there a point along the spectrum toward pseudoscience beyond which a pseudoscientist cannot return, and if so, approximately where is that point?

When considering individuals, rather than topics, I would say anything is possible. Respected scientists can descend into full pseudoscience later in their careers, with Linus Pauling being the classic example. It’s also possible that a pseudoscientist can see the error of their ways and reject their prior claims, although a dramatic example of this does not come readily to mind.

Massimo’s question was framed more toward the belief rather than the believer – is there any claim that was considered pseudoscience but now is accepted by mainstream science? This is problematic because pseudoscience is defined by its methods, not its claims. So, if pseudoscientists turned out to be correct in the end, it would be almost by pure luck and chance. This is not impossible, people can be right for the wrong reasons.

Is there, however, an event horizon – a point of no return? Again, I think there is a demarcation problem, meaning a fuzzy boundary, and therefore no sharp event horizon. I do think that the longer a claim is rejected as pseudoscience the less likely it is that it happens to be true.

The fun comes in trying to think of examples. Massimo raised the possibility of acupuncture. While I agree that acupuncture has gained a certain amount of mainstream acceptance, this is despite being a pure pseudoscience, not evidence that it is legitimate. In my opinion, acupuncture is merely an example of a sophisticated pseudoscience that does a good job of infiltrating mainstream institutions by camouflaging itself as a real science. When you dig deep, however, there is nothing but pseudoscience.

Acupuncture also raises another problem of categorization, which Massimo discusses. What if acupuncture has some efficacy through a purely physiological mechanism, and all of the pre-scientific explanations about chi and life force are still pseudoscience? Can it then be said that “acupuncture” is not completely pseudoscience?

I say no. This gets to the definition of what is acupuncture, which I contend is placing thin needles into acupuncture points (regardless of the explanation). The evidence shows that acupuncture points do not exist, and that where or even if you stick needles through the skin adds nothing to efficacy. There may be some non-specific effects from superficial or incidental aspects of acupuncture (such as conditioning, or counter-irritation) but this does not rescue acupuncture from being pseudoscience.

As another example of this point, blood letting (phlebotomy) is an accepted treatment for polycythemia (too many red blood cells) and also certain conditions of excess iron. Does this mean that blood-letting as practiced under Galenic medicine is not pseudoscience? Of course not. It is a coincidence that removing blood has very limited clinical applications that have nothing to do with the practice or philosophy of blood-letting.

Massimo also brings up herbalism, and does explore the complexity of this example. Herbalism is complex because it contains many practices and beliefs. Simply stating that herbs are a rich source of potential pharmacological ingredients is accepted science. It is even true that most cultures identified local plants that can be exploited for medicinal or other purposes.

However, many modern examples of herbalism as a system of medicine are pseudoscientific. They are often based on the naturalistic fallacy, or even supernaturalism (stating, for example, that God created herbs specifically to be medicines for Homo sapiens.) Many practices within herbalism are based on anecdotes and tradition, and do not follow any rigorous scientific methodology.

In searching for other examples of pseudosciences that escaped from the gravitational pull of the black hole, other problems of definition arise. To qualify as a “pseudoscience” it is not enough that a claim was not initially accepted. Most scientific ideas begin out on the fringe and are treated with initial skepticism, until they meet their burden of evidence, and then are gradually accepted. So being initially rejected, like the H. pylori theory of gastric ulcers, is not enough.

Some pseudosciences, like phrenology (reading personality from the bumps on the skull), may get certain claims correct. It turns out that the brain is compartmentalized to some degree, as early phrenologists predicted. All the other claims of phrenology, however, are wrong, and once this was discovered by neurologists phrenology descended into pure pseudoscience. Now it persists as a tiny fringe belief.

In the end I cannot think of any examples of a belief that fully resided in the camp of pseudoscience whose core claims (not minor or incidental aspects of the pseudoscience) turned out to be correct and were later accepted by mainstream science.

Science is mostly about probability. It is not impossible that a belief that arises through pseudoscientific methods will turn out, by chance, to be true. It’s just highly unlikely. Most new hypotheses in science will turn out to be wrong. Those that have been shown to be wrong long enough to consider their proponents pseudoscientists, because only fatally flawed methods can still promote the claim, are really unlikely to later turn out to be true.

Very unlikely things do happen. So probably at some point in history there will be a dramatic example. One reason I am confident that no example exists now is because if there were such as example, pseudoscientists would be forever flogging it in the face of skeptics.

Further, while I cannot categorically say that any belief currently considered a full pseudoscience will never be confirmed and escape the pull of the black hole, I think the chance of that happening is vanishingly small.

Homeopathy, creationism, ESP, cold fusion, free energy, acupuncture, the growing Earth, astrology, vitalism, and dowsing are very likely to forever remain pseudosciences.

However, if one of these claims turned out to be true, its contemporary proponents would still be pseudoscientists. Remember, science vs pseudoscience is about method, not specific beliefs. Being right by chance despite using invalid methods still makes one a pseudoscientist – just a lucky pseudoscientist.

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72 responses so far

72 Responses to “Is There a Pseudoscience Event Horizon?”

  1. Bruceon 14 Nov 2013 at 10:48 am

    “One reason I am confident that no example exists now is because if there were such as example, pseudoscientists would be forever flogging it in the face of skeptics.”

    I do wonder how woo-merchants would react to one of their fringe beliefs suddenly becomming accepted by mainstream science. I almost think that most would turn against it, like those cool kids who used to love Nirvana until they became so mainstream.

    In all seriousness though, if there woo were to fall within the bounds of science and lose all mysticism and naturalistic pretenses (just by the very fact that science accepts it), do you think it would still fall in the region of CAM? I would love to as a sCAM artist how they would feel if their little baby were no longer considered “Alternative” or “Complimentary” or “Integrative” but was now “Mainstream”.

  2. banyanon 14 Nov 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Could the big bang theory be such an example? I believe the scientific consensus at the time was that the Universe existed in something like its current state back eternally and the notion of a sudden beginning was largely proffered by the religiously motivated.

    If so, it also answers Bruce’s question above. The minute the supernatural element disappears, the supernaturalists turn on their favorite theory. After all, people don’t generally believe substantive claims not backed up by evidence merely because they think they are true. Usually they serve some sort of psychological need or agenda, and by becoming mainstream they probably lose that.

  3. Steven Novellaon 14 Nov 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I don’t think there was ever any big bang pseudoscience. Competing theories rising and falling in favor as new evidence and ideas come in does not qualify.

  4. BillyJoe7on 14 Nov 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Nice pseudoscience cake, but the cherry should be on top.

  5. TheFlyingPigon 14 Nov 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Is there any legitimacy to saying that pseudosciences like astrology or alchemy split into scientific and pseudo-scientific versions? So did astrology in some sense give birth to astronomy?… with astronomy rejecting the pseudo-scientific elements for scientific practices and astrology doing the opposite.

    Maybe this notion uses definitions of astrology and astronomy that are too vague, but that seems necessary if we’re looking at the evolution of a field from pseudo to real science or vice versa.

  6. tmac57on 14 Nov 2013 at 5:55 pm

    There seems to be a widely popular belief that a placebo response can “trigger the powerful natural healing ability of the human body”. I hear this so often that I have to ask,am I wrong in thinking that there has never been any definitive proof that a placebo can trigger actual ‘healing’ as opposed to providing a bit of relief from subjective symptoms such as pain or stress etc. ?

    To me, the ‘healing’ (as in healing a disease such as cancer,MS,heart disease) part seems like it might be pseudoscience,but plenty of people (even real scientists) seem to be holding out hope that it can actually be leveraged to effect a cure.

  7. Davdoodleson 14 Nov 2013 at 7:25 pm

    “It’s also possible that a pseudoscientist can see the error of their ways and reject their prior claims, although a dramatic example of this does not come readily to mind.”

    Edzard Ernst, maybe?

    Then again, he seems to have been more of an initially-impressed mark who quickly realised the gurus were naked, than ever a rabidly committed evangelist of fluffy thinking.
    .

  8. techczechon 15 Nov 2013 at 2:53 am

    The problem is that the very notion of what is science has been developing over time. So we should also ask the question if there ever was legitimate science that is now accepted as pseudoscience. Phrenology never gained a wide acceptance as proper science even in its time. But many other things did. By your classification, we can discount phlogiston and ether because they were pretty legitimate theories of their time and quite easily amenable to revision based on new evidence. But what about eugenics? At the time of the Scope’s trial, that’s what theory of evolution amounted to. And are there modern candidates? I’d like to nominate Evolutionary Psychology. I also suspect many of the excess of functional localism in neuroscience will be looked at with raised eyebrows in the future. (http://metaphorhacker.net/2011/03/the-brain-is-a-bad-metaphor-for-language) But they are all done by people who are not in any sense pseudoscientists (for the most part). And of course, there’s things like social science where identifying quackery is more difficult but not impossible. Physical anthropology has had its share of issues. Archaeologists can’t look at their predecessors of only 50 years ago without shuddering. So a combination of the development of methods, technologies and theories all serve to put a different spin on things. You need to locate pseudoscience in time, as well as in behavior. So for example, bloodletting today is pseudoscience, but bloodletting when the humor theory held sway, was practiced as mainstream (unlike phrenology which was always a fringe phenomenon). Was it still pseudoscience? How about the effect of a lack of evidence. Newton was not only a believer but an active researcher in the Young Earth theory paradigm. Today, it falls quite uncontroversially in the pseudoscience category.

  9. BillyJoe7on 15 Nov 2013 at 6:28 am

    “But what about eugenics? At the time of the Scope’s trial, that’s what theory of evolution amounted to”

    Only for those who equated is with ought.

  10. Asgardon 15 Nov 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Eugenics is a social philosophy, not a scientific discipline. Evolutionary psychology is part of mainstream psychology. Neither is a good example of pseudoscience.

  11. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 10:04 am

    Since the article linked by Steven at the beginning of this piece mentions the Starchild Skull, perhaps he can clear up the following.

    In 2006, Steven claimed that the skull is probably a case of congenital hydrocephalus (see here – http://www.theness.com/index.php/the-starchild-project/). As stated in the article:

    If a child suffered from untreated hydrocephalus until age four or five, their skull would display distortions in almost every feature. All of the proper bones, prominences, holes, and sutures would be present, as they are in the Starchild skull, but they would be deformed and displaced. This is exactly what we find in the Starchild skull.

    However, if you look at the actual data, the skull does not appear to be a case of hydrocephalus. See here for details – http://www.starchildproject.com/hydrocephaly

    So Steven, why are you claiming the skull is probably hydrocephalic?

  12. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Not that this has anything to do with the thread, but….

    Even if this non peer reviewed (i.e., meaningless) “study” is correct, and hydrocephaly is wrong, it doesn’t follow that it’s from outer space.

    The reasoning of “I found something that I can’t explain, ergo aliens (or God, or lizard people, or ESP or etc, etc. ) are real is ridiculous on its face.

    Anyway, the DNA testing finished off this absurd nonsense of an alien hybrid.

  13. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 2:47 pm

    steve12,

    Actually, the question I raised with Steven N is very relevant to this thread. Dr. Novella claims that pseudoscientists don’t embrace criticism as a mechanism of self-correction, cherry pick data, dismiss rigorous evidence if it is inconvenient and make grandiose claims with little evidence to back them up. Can you see where I’m going with this? Anyway, I’ll wait for Dr. Novella to respond on the hydrocephaly thing (BTW, the question of alien hybrids is the irrelevant bit – I didn’t raise it).

  14. ccbowerson 16 Nov 2013 at 2:53 pm

    “ ‘But what about eugenics? At the time of the Scope’s trial, that’s what theory of evolution amounted to’
    Only for those who equated is with ought.”

    BJ7, I would word it even stronger. Eugenics goes beyond saying is = ought, and I think the original quote was way off in using it to describe the science at the time, because eugenics is not and never was science. It is/was a way of promoting a set of atitudes, prejudices, and biases by misusing science and semiscientific information.

    Defining which human traits are desirable/superior verus undersirable/inferior is essential to the idea of eugenics, and this assigning of value and advocation of certain goals makes it a prescriptive ideology, rather than a science. The original quote implied that eugenics turned into the theory of evolution, when I think it is much more accurate to say that eugenics decribes a distinct ideology that misused some ideas from the science to ‘support’ its legitimacy.

  15. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 3:23 pm

    steve12,

    You don’t really need a peer reviewed article to understand the hydrocephaly issue. You can just look at the skull yourself here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EynQ5EEf7IM#t=30

    and compare that with a hydrocephalic skull pictured at the bottom of this page – http://craniophiles.wordpress.com/tag/hydrocephalus/

  16. Sastraon 16 Nov 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Bruce wrote:

    In all seriousness though, if there woo were to fall within the bounds of science and lose all mysticism and (super)naturalistic pretenses (just by the very fact that science accepts it), do you think it would still fall in the region of CAM?

    I think it depends on the nature of the ‘woo’ which has now been accepted as mainstream. Unless you’re circularly defining the “supernatural” as “that which can never fall within the bounds of science” I think the discovery of what amounts to moral or mental “essences” — either abiding within substances or acting as their own powers — would be extraordinary enough to qualify under their own category and turn the current scientific model of reality on its head. And my guess is that the woo-sters would purr with satisfaction at the4 cowed mainstream scientists. “You were right and we were wrong.” That’s what they care about. Vindication.

    And then they might go on to find different ways to be a Brave Maverick. Or not. They’ve extended the warm and accepting spiritual community to include its former skeptics.

    We have all been in situations where we were right about something but nobody believed us — especially when we were children. We’re too small and insignificant for people to pay any attention to, we aren’t believed even though we should be. Frustration leads to revenge fantasies, scenarios where the last shall be first and the lowly shall be exalted. SCAM proponents seem to be playing this sort of story out in their heads.

    Steve’s list of pseudoscience processes is now redefined point-by-point as how an underdog stood up to bullies (ignored the insults; believed in themselves; knew where the real evidence was; trusted their intuition; persisted in the face of obstacles; withstood attacks from The In-Crowd; opened their mind to new ideas; wasn’t afraid to dream or to be themselves.)

  17. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 3:47 pm

    “You don’t really need a peer reviewed article to understand the hydrocephaly issue. ”

    Actually, it turns out in science you always need a peer reviewed article.

  18. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 3:51 pm

    “BTW, the question of alien hybrids is the irrelevant bit – I didn’t raise it”

    This is the sort of disingenuous arguing that I can’t stand.

    OK – what DO you think the “Starchild” is then?

  19. BillyJoe7on 16 Nov 2013 at 4:22 pm

    DavidSmith,

    You are assuming that all hydrocephalic skulls look the same.
    You are assuming that all hydrocephalic skulls look like the pic to which you linked.
    You are assuming that no hydrocephalic skulls look like the so called “starchild” skull.

    I’m no expert, but it seems to me you could be wrong about this.

    https://www.google.com.au/search?um=1&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=cNWHUqCjLcfXkAXto4G4CQ&q=hydrocephalic+skulls&oq=hydrocephalic+skulls&gs_l=img.3..0i24.22552.25970.0.27103.11.11.0.0.0.0.237.1046.8j0j3.11.0….0…1c.1.31.img..8.3.654.Jmr5LtcTRcI#facrc=_

    For a start, you are comparing the hydrocephalic skull of a five year old child (“starchild”) with the hydrocephalic skull of a newborn infant (your second link). Secondly, there are four different types of hydrocephalus and each produces differently shaped hydrocephalic skulls. There are also different degrees of severity of hydrocephalus which affect the final appearance of the skull. Your five year old “starchild” presumably had a much less severe case of hydrocephalus than the one who died in the neonatal period.

    Finally, what exactly is it that you are trying to say?
    What is your hypothesis, or what hypothesis are you favouring?

  20. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 5:48 pm

    steve12

    Actually, it turns out in science you always need a peer reviewed article.

    Not really. You can make an informed decision about something if the data and conclusion is clear. In this case, the video shows the relevant data quite clearly.

    This is the sort of disingenuous arguing that I can’t stand.

    There’s nothing disingenuous about it. I understand that you’re one of Novella’s fanboys and you don’t like it when one of his claims is questioned.

    OK – what DO you think the “Starchild” is then?

    I don’t know, and it’s not relevant to my question. I’m more interested in clearing up this hydrocephaly thing. It’s an easier problem to resolve anyway. All we need is Dr. Novella to reply with his reasoning and evidence for his claim.

  21. techczechon 16 Nov 2013 at 5:58 pm

    @ccbowers and @BJ7. I think you will find that a lot of science is concerned with ‘ought’ as a result of descriptions of ‘is’. Isn’t that the very nature of medicine? We ‘ought’ to be healthy and therefore we need to study what an illness ‘is’ so that we can get rid of it. That was exactly the project of eugenics (or at least, one of its many strands). My point was that it was a legitimate field of study of that time. I worded it too strongly – there was obviously more to the theory of evolution than eugenics, but take a glance at biology textbooks of that time and your hair will stand on its end. You cannot simply wish it away from the annals of science. And as with so many other areas of science (e.g. epidemiology), it was very closely linked with policy with well known consequences (including the ‘birth’ of oral contraception).

  22. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 6:08 pm

    BillyJoe7,

    I don’t know what you are trying to say with that link. Show me an image of a hydrocephalic skull that has no widening of the sutures and we’ll call it quits.

    Finally, what exactly is it that you are trying to say?

    It’s not rocket science mate. I’m asking Steven to explain why he claims the Starchild skull is hydrocephalic. I’m really sceptical of that claim. In fact, it looks like pseudoscientific behaviour according to a couple of points on his list.

  23. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 6:10 pm

    There’s nothign that says honest scientific inquiry like being…coy.

    “Not really. You can make an informed decision about something if the data and conclusion is clear.”

    No. Becasue people will simplify complex issues and say that things are clear when they’re anything but.

    For all of the reasons that BJ7 said above (and you should address them all) a peer reviewed article is necessary here for any claim here. Many things could have happened to that skull over time, and real expertise (i.e, not you or Lloyd Pye) from several fields need posit hypotheses, and then the scientific community needs to look it over.

    Peer review. We’re not abandoning it now.

    Anyway, the DNA says theu skull is 100% human, so this cant’ be for anything more than interest in what casued this human child’s condition and death.

  24. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 6:11 pm

    “I’m really sceptical of that claim.”

    Good. You should be.

    Now what do you think caused his condition?

  25. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 6:14 pm

    “Show me an image of a hydrocephalic skull that has no widening of the sutures and we’ll call it quits.”

    Show me an image of what a hydrocephalic skull that’s been sitting for 100s of year is supposed to look like.

  26. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Ok steve12, you wait for your peer reviewed article before you accept that Steven is wrong. In the meantime, let’s see what Dr. Novella has to say to back up his claim that was made so confidently. I’ll ask you what I asked BillyJoe7 – show me a hydrocephalic skull without widening of the sutures and we’ll call it quits.

    Now what do you think caused his condition?

    I answered this question the first time you asked about 3 or 4 posts back. Aren’t you paying attention?

  27. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 6:29 pm

    “I answered this question the first time you asked about 3 or 4 posts back. Aren’t you paying attention?”

    No, you precisely did not.

  28. steve12on 16 Nov 2013 at 6:30 pm

    And who cares if Steve is wrong? Maybe it’s a condition unknown to science.

    The important thing is that we know FOR SURE through DNA testing that this is a human, and i no way evidence that aliens have visited us, as some claim.

  29. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Show me an image of what a hydrocephalic skull that’s been sitting for 100s of year is supposed to look like

    Not a picture, but see bottom of page 57, point 4 –

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=qubTdDk1H3IC&pg=PA57&lpg=PA57&dq=ancient+hydrocephalic+skull&source=bl&ots=H6Vama6Xy5&sig=R25tWSfasTpKFVUzHIgSakukeh8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=A_yHUsC8O-Gq7QbD6YGYCA&ved=0CFIQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=ancient%20hydrocephalic%20skull&f=false

  30. davidsmithon 16 Nov 2013 at 7:04 pm

    No, you precisely did not.

    Ok, the answer is I don’t know (have you spotted it yet?)

    And who cares if Steve is wrong?

    That depends on how he came to his conclusion

  31. BillyJoe7on 17 Nov 2013 at 1:54 am

    davidsmith,

    “I don’t know what you are trying to say with that link”

    I was trying to show you that not all hydrocephalic skulls look the same.
    This means that linking to one particular example of a hydrocephalic skull, comparing it to the skull of your “starchild”, and finding many points of difference, does not prove that the skull of your “starchild” is not hydrocephalic.
    At the very least, you need to look at a wide range of hydrocephalic skulls to even begin to make a case.
    Please tell me that you understand this.

    “Show me an image of a hydrocephalic skull that has no widening of the sutures and we’ll call it quits”

    Okay, so finally we have your claim…
    You haven’t stated it precisely, but I think it would go something like this:

    All hydrocephalic skulls demonstrate widening of the sutures.
    The skull of your “starchild” does not demonstrate widening of the sutures.
    Therefore the skull of your “starchild” is not that of a hydrocephalic.

    Furthermore, you are willing to accept a single counter example to show that your claim is false.
    Well, I’m no expert, so I can’t vouch for this example, but what about this one from the National Museum of Health and Medicine:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:4948137341_1ccab41fda_bHydrocephalic.jpg

  32. BillyJoe7on 17 Nov 2013 at 2:06 am

    davidsmith,

    “It’s not rocket science mate”

    Well, I don’t even know you, so I think “mate” is a little premature |:
    However, it does remind me that I haven’t seen sonic around here for a while ):
    Anyone else seen him lately?

  33. davidsmithon 17 Nov 2013 at 4:03 am

    BillyJoe7,

    I was trying to show you that not all hydrocephalic skulls look the same.

    I know that. I was pointing to a clear example of what widening of the sutures is supposed to look like. There appears to no sign of this on the Starchild skull. Of course there are different degrees of widening.

    Okay, so finally we have your claim…

    I’m not claiming that all hydrocephalic skulls have widened sutures – I’m not an expert. However, it’s well established that a key feature of hydrocephalic skulls is widened sutures. Dr. Novella’s claim looks dubious in light of this and he looks like he is behaving pseudoscientifically. I’m asking for a single picture, not to prove any claim you might think I’ve made, but to show that Novella’s claim has any basis. The picture you linked to clearly shows a widening of the metopic suture (look at the magnified version of that image). I’m guessing that there’s a larger widening more towards the posterior but that area is out of view.

    Still waiting for Novella’s response.

  34. ccbowerson 17 Nov 2013 at 11:05 am

    “I think you will find that a lot of science is concerned with ‘ought’ as a result of descriptions of ‘is’. Isn’t that the very nature of medicine? We ‘ought’ to be healthy and therefore we need to study what an illness ‘is’ so that we can get rid of it. That was exactly the project of eugenics (or at least, one of its many strands). My point was that it was a legitimate field of study of that time.”

    Science alone is not (and should be not) in the business of determining oughts. Occasionally the “is” does go a long way to determining the ‘ought,’ and science can inform those questions, but ultimately we have to insert our values into ought questions.

    I disagree with your use of medicine as an example. First, it is not strictly a science. It is the application of science to health and disease, which often does involve the insertion of values. These values do not come from the science, but are determined on an individual and societal level. A patient brings his or her values to the situation, and medicine involves integrating the science with the values and desired goals.

    The more that I think about it, your example of eugenics may be the opposite example of what the original question was. Like much of pseudoscience, it starts with some science (or trappings of science), but at its core it is unscientific. Instead of a pseudoscience that became a science, isn’t it just another example of a pseudoscience that borrowed from science?

  35. steve12on 17 Nov 2013 at 1:06 pm

    “I’m not claiming that all hydrocephalic skulls have widened sutures – I’m not an expert. ”

    You’re finally speaking plainly and truthfully.

    “However, it’s well established that a key feature of hydrocephalic skulls is widened sutures. Dr. Novella’s claim looks dubious in light of this and he looks like he is behaving pseudoscientifically.”

    Only if you don’t know what “pseudoscientifically” means. An odd phenomena is by its nature hard to explain, or we wouldn’t be talking about it. Having a hypothesis that explains most, but not all, of the phenomena isn’t pseudoscience!

    Interpreting one unexplained feature to mean that aliens and humans have mated – THAT’s pseudoscience.

    See the difference?

  36. steve12on 17 Nov 2013 at 1:15 pm

    And why go to alien / human hybrid? Isn’t alien unlikely enough?

  37. davidsmithon 17 Nov 2013 at 2:28 pm

    steve12

    You’re finally speaking plainly and truthfully.

    That’s twice you’ve called me liar you naughty boy. Care to show me where and why? (I guess I have been speaking a bit more plainly, but only so someone like yourself can understand me better).

    Only if you don’t know what “pseudoscientifically” means. An odd phenomena is by its nature hard to explain, or we wouldn’t be talking about it. Having a hypothesis that explains most, but not all, of the phenomena isn’t pseudoscience!

    We can call it pseudoscientific behaviour if he is cherry picking his evidence (point 3 on his list). Widened sutures are a key feature of hydrocephaly. The Starchild skull does not have such widened sutures. If Novella is going to confidently claim hydrocephaly while ignoring the fact that the Starchild Skull does not have widened sutures, then that is cherry picking his data to suit his hypothesis. Unless he can explain why hydrocephalic skulls can fail to display widened sutures, but he is yet to respond to my question. You could also argue that he is committing a few other points on the list. According to the Robinson et al. report in 2004, there is also a lack of erosion of the inner table of the skull which would be present in hydrocephaly. Novella would have to explain this too, and a host of other points detailed on the starchildproject website.

  38. steve12on 17 Nov 2013 at 2:48 pm

    “That’s twice you’ve called me liar you naughty boy”

    Creepy…. And you are a liar. You believe the alien hybrid HS – you’re not fooling me.

    Your response is nonsense.

    “ignoring the fact that the Starchild Skull does not have widened sutures, then that is cherry picking his data to suit his hypothesis. ”

    No. I say above why this isn’t so. Re-read it if you’re having problems understanding.

    In science, sometimes the best theory has problems explaining everything, but explains most things. In these cases, it’s on YOU to offer some alternative that does a better job, not simply point out that there are problems.

    What’s your alternative?

  39. BillyJoe7on 17 Nov 2013 at 3:58 pm

    davidsmith,

    I don’t see widening of the sutures in that skull but, like you, I’m no expert. At the very least, compared to the skull you used for comparison, the sutures are minimally widened, so there exists the probability that there are hydrocephalic skulls which show no widening at all and that your “starchild” is an example of this.

    “What’s your alternative?”

    That’s the key question. Science is nearly always about probabilities. So what’s more probable than that the “starchild” skull is that of a hydrocephalic?
    Unless you are prepared to answer that question, you’re just pissing in the wind.

  40. davidsmithon 17 Nov 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Creepy…. And you are a liar. You believe the alien hybrid HS – you’re not fooling me.

    Really? I believe that theory do I? What makes you say that?

    In science, sometimes the best theory has problems explaining everything, but explains most things. In these cases, it’s on YOU to offer some alternative that does a better job, not simply point out that there are problems.

    You’re not getting it. You can’t just ignore data that falsifies your hypothesis no matter how much confirmatory evidence you cherry pick. And to suggest that I have an obligation to offer an alternative explanation for the skull is ridiculous and irrational. Just because the skull is currently unexplained does not mean you get to cling to a theory that is contradicted by the data.

  41. davidsmithon 17 Nov 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I don’t see widening of the sutures in that skull but, like you, I’m no expert.

    Oh come on, did you forget to put your glasses on! Click on the largest image size and zoom in. Compare the area marked 789 with the very top of the skull, along the metopic suture. You can see the ‘crack’ in the top of the skull where the pressure has forced the bones apart. It is about 4 or 5 times the width of the suture near the 789. Like I said, there’s probably a bigger gap out of picture towards the posterior.

    At the very least, compared to the skull you used for comparison, the sutures are minimally widened, so there exists the probability that there are hydrocephalic skulls which show no widening at all and that your “starchild” is an example of this.

    Is there a single example in the medical literature of an enlarged skull due to hydrocephalus that does not display widening of the sutures (that are unfused)? That’s one question I would like Dr. Novella to answer.

    So what’s more probable than that the “starchild” skull is that of a hydrocephalic?

    That’s not how it works. An unlikely explanation doesn’t become likely merely because there are currently no alternative explanations available.

  42. steve12on 17 Nov 2013 at 8:22 pm

    “You’re not getting it. You can’t just ignore data that falsifies your hypothesis no matter how much confirmatory evidence you cherry pick. ”

    But this info doesn’t falsify. I don’t think you know what falsify actually means.

    I don’t think you know what cherry picked means either. Most of the evidence says that it’s hydroceph, something else doesn’t (IF that’s true, and I’m not even sure it is). That’s not what cherry picking means – he would need to be IGNORING something else. What is he ignoring that would support an alternative.

    “And to suggest that I have an obligation to offer an alternative explanation for the skull is ridiculous and irrational.”

    Or….science. You seem have little idea how science works.

    ” Just because the skull is currently unexplained does not mean you get to cling to a theory that is contradicted by the data.”

    For all you (or I) know, the suture spaces become calcified over time given a certain environment. The fact is, you don’t really understand any of this, so you’re in no position to say know whether hydoceph is falsified or not by the sutures.

  43. steve12on 17 Nov 2013 at 8:29 pm

    And I want to point out, david, that YOU are cherry picking. You’re cherry picking one detail (the sutures) while ignoring everything else. That’s what cherry picking is. To top it off, you admit to not really understanding how the whole process works!

    And we all know that you’re disingenuous. We know what your endpoint is and you won’t admit.

    Your misunderstanding of science has led you to believe that you have a “gottcha” card, and you don’t want to be distracted from playing it. The funny part is that – even if your right – it’s not a gottcha card at all. And you don’t understand why that is, which is sort of funny.

  44. BillyJoe7on 18 Nov 2013 at 5:28 am

    davidsmith,

    “I’m not claiming that all hydrocephalic skulls have widened sutures – I’m not an expert”

    We’re done then.

  45. davidsmithon 18 Nov 2013 at 2:49 pm

    steve 12,

    But this info doesn’t falsify.

    According to Robinson et al, the hydrocephalus hypothesis has effectively been falsified – ruled out – by numerous observations. In other words, they did not observe a number of specific physical characteristics that were predicted by the hypothesis (not just an absence of widened sutures). Of course, they would have considered hydrocephalus as a possible explanation on the basis that enlargement of the skull is a characteristic of this condition. However, on closer examination, this condition was ruled out (effectively falsified) because none of the other predictions were confirmed. Novella’s article is dated as 2006. Robinson et al.’s report was done in 2004 so that data was available I believe.

    Most of the evidence says that it’s hydroceph

    As far as I can tell, only the enlarged skull is consistent with hydrocephaly. A number of other observations are inconsistent with that theory (read the report and other material on the website). This is why I’m asking Novella to respond. He needs to explain himself.

    That’s not what cherry picking means – he would need to be IGNORING something else.

    That’s exactly what he appears to be doing – ignoring data that goes against his hypothesis. As stated in the Robinson et al. 2004 report, the absence of various characteristics (including absence of widened sutures) rule out hydrocephaly as an explanation. Novella seems to be ignoring this data in favour of one characteristic (deformed shape of the skull) that is consistent with his hypothesis. That’s cherry picking. Like I said before, you could also argue that he appears to be committing a few other points on his pseudoscientific list like failing to embrace criticism as a mechanism of self-correction, dismissing rigorous evidence if it is inconvenient, and lacking caution and humility by making grandiose claims from flimsy evidence.

    Or….science. You seem have little idea how science works.

    In the peer review process, reviewers can say “your conclusion is not warranted from your data because of x, y, z” without offering an alternative conclusion. The situation is the same here. This is all about pointing out apparent problems with Novella’s position. I’m under no obligation to offer an alternative explanation for the skull. To insist on such an obligation is irrational.

    For all you (or I) know, the suture spaces become calcified over time given a certain environment. The fact is, you don’t really understand any of this, so you’re in no position to say know whether hydoceph is falsified or not by the sutures.

    I’m going on information in the Robinson et al. report which is at odds with Novella’s claim. If you are going to hypothesise that suture spaces become calcified over time, then you need evidence to back that up (a paper or a single example from the medical literature would be nice). That’s the kind of thing I’m asking for from Novella, but so far he has been uncharacteristically silent.

    And I want to point out, david, that YOU are cherry picking. You’re cherry picking one detail (the sutures) while ignoring everything else.

    It’s not cherry picking. It’s failing to reject the null because some of the well established predictions of hydrocephaly are not confirmed by the data. Novella, on the other hand, appears to be rejecting the null on the basis of one piece of data while ignoring a whole bunch of other data that go against his desired conclusion.

    And we all know that you’re disingenuous. We know what your endpoint is and you won’t admit.

    I note that you have failed to point out where I have been lying and why you think I believe in the alien/hybrid theory. I’ve already said that I don’t know what caused the skulls appearance. But I guess its your style to resort to ad hominem.

    Your misunderstanding of science has led you to believe that you have a “gottcha” card, and you don’t want to be distracted from playing it. The funny part is that – even if your right – it’s not a gottcha card at all. And you don’t understand why that is, which is sort of funny.

    It would be helpful if you could stay away from posting this kind of cryptic nonsense.

  46. davidsmithon 18 Nov 2013 at 2:55 pm

    BillyJoe7

    We’re done then.

    You may be done, but I’m still here waiting for some evidence to back up Novella’s diagnosis.

  47. BillyJoe7on 18 Nov 2013 at 4:01 pm

    davidsmith,

    The only link you have given is to the website of a person who originally believed the skull was that of an alien. The DNA evidence showed that was impossible. So now he has retracted to saying that the skull is that of a human/alien hybrid. Since we can have no idea what alien DNA looks like, his claim is unfalsifiable. However, since different species on Earth can’t interbreed, it would be extraordinary if an alien could breed with a human. If you explore his other beliefs interests, it should become apparent that this man champions many other crackpot ideas.

    Yet this is the only reference you can find to support your opinion that the skull is not that of a hydrocephalic. Think about that.

    As for the 2004 study. Your hero set up this study and he got the result he was after. A sort of refutation that the skull is that of a hydrocephalic. However, most of the time they are comparing the skull of your “starchild” with a normal skull. There seems to be only two differences from that of a hydrocephalic skull that they can identify: the absence of widening of the sutures and the absence of erosion of the inner table. In my inexpert opinion, my linked hydrocephalic skull is a good counter example to the first characteristic. It appears to me that the sutures were open and growing at the time of death, but not separated. I welcome the opinion of an expert though.

    (As a side note, it seems your hero has recently been diagnosed with an aggressive B lymphoma and he has indicated that he will be seeking alternative cures.)

  48. zorrobanditoon 18 Nov 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Re placebos:

    To me, the ‘healing’ (as in healing a disease such as cancer,MS,heart disease) part seems like it might be pseudoscience,but plenty of people (even real scientists) seem to be holding out hope that it can actually be leveraged to effect a cure.

    It is my understanding that indeed the so-called “placebo effect” (that is, people getting well without actual medical intervention, merely because they have been given an inert substance) is quite real. It is for this reason that we conduct rigorous double-blind studies to test the effectiveness of proposed drugs or other treatments: some things, to speak bluntly, seem to get better by themselves if we will only pay some medical and personal attention to the patients.

    This definitely includes real cures of deadly diseases. Otherwise, why bother with expensive and tedious scientific tests for such cures? We could just give out the proposed cure, and watch who and how many got well, and not trouble ourselves with people who were affected only by the placebo effect, since they would never really get well anyway.

    However, sometimes they do. Don’t understate the placebo effect. It is poorly understood, but it is real.

  49. Hosson 18 Nov 2013 at 4:26 pm

    davidsmith

    You’ve seem to have done a lot of research into why the starchild skull is not caused by congenital hydrocephalus. Personally, I find the starchild subject stupid and very boring, but you’ve attracted my attention.

    I see no reason to toss the hydrocephalus diagnosis due to the lack of widening of the sutures especially since the widening is not a necessary symptom. Other people have pointed this out to you and you’ve stipulated to it.

    “I’m not claiming that all hydrocephalic skulls have widened sutures – I’m not an expert.”

    Now based on what you’ve stipulated, the lack of widened sutures of the skull cannot be used to rule out hydrocephalus. The argument for your claim is decimated, but I’m sure your no true hydrocephalic skull fallacy will persist.

    While it is possible that the starchild skull was not the result of hydrocephalus, with the current state of evidence hydrocephalus appears to be the best diagnosis probabilistically.

    BillyJoe

    I don’t think Sonic was able to appreciate/handle the implications of “The Beach Report”.

  50. steve12on 18 Nov 2013 at 4:56 pm

    You just don’t know what you’re talking about, davidsmith, and carrying on with you is as tedious as it is pointless.

    If you want to believe that aliens and humans have mated, have at it.

  51. BillyJoe7on 18 Nov 2013 at 10:43 pm

    zorrobandito,

    “This definitely (the placebo effect) includes real cures of deadly diseases…Don’t understate the placebo effect. It is poorly understood, but it is real”

    Well, it seems it is poorly understood by you.
    The placebo effect is real but, more commonly, it is overestimated rather than underestimated, and it definitely does not cure serious diseases.

  52. Bruceon 19 Nov 2013 at 4:43 am

    zorrobandito,

    “This definitely (the placebo effect) includes real cures of deadly diseases…”

    Sorry to repeat that, but it is a very big claim. Is there any evidence of this? An example would be a study showing that people are cured of cancer or some other “deadly dissease” BECAUSE they were given a sugar pill or some other placebo?

  53. Bruceon 19 Nov 2013 at 5:14 am

    @Sastra,

    “I think it depends on the nature of the ‘woo’ which has now been accepted as mainstream.”

    Yes, I think you are right, I had in my head medicinal woo, hence the “naturalistic” comment refering to the naturalistic fallacy. I think different ‘woo’s would react differently, conspiracy theorisits more likely to be suspicious if the government and scientists and “they” suddenly turned around and agree with them.

  54. Bruceon 19 Nov 2013 at 7:37 am

    @zorrobandit

    From this very blog:

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-rise-and-fall-of-placebo-medicine/

    Some interesting research into placebos. I can be summed up as such:

    “For objective physiological outcomes, there is no significant placebo effect.”

    The way I see it is that placebos might make someone feel better, but they do not actually make someone better.

  55. Steven Novellaon 19 Nov 2013 at 8:10 am

    If you have read my post from Monday you would know I am on vacation this week, so my writing is limited.

    I will delve into this when I get back home, but very briefly:
    1 – the DNA evidence shows the starchild skull material is human. They hybrid hypothesis is nonsense and not even consistent with the evidence.
    2 – I have received allegations that the starchild skull is a complete fake, molded from bone but not a genuine artifact. As far as I know this has not been adequately investigated.
    3 – If real, I do not know exactly what caused the skull’s features. Some of the features can be explained by hydrocephalus, but this is clearly not a simple case of hydrocephaly. I have also noted that some features can also be explained by boarding, so perhaps it is a combination. Also it might be the result of some bizarre genetic disease causing megencephaly as one feature. I have only examined photos of the skull, not the skull itself. In any case, the inability to explain exactly what causes the features does not mean it’s alien.
    4 – The skull has not been properly examined by appropriate experts in a transparent fashion. Pye has sought out people with credentials to say what he wants, mostly “I don’t know” and then turning that into “it’s alien.” Until a proper transparent examination has been done, by objective scientists, we are all going on inadequate information. What I want to see are peer-reviewed detailed examinations that are then picked over by the scientific community. This has not happened – think about why that is.

    The only real evaluation has been of the DNA, which is human, and actually proves the bones come from a person who had a human mother and a human father.

  56. Steven Novellaon 21 Nov 2013 at 9:19 am

    Interesting – after all the bluster I finally respond and now two days of total silence.

  57. davidsmithon 22 Nov 2013 at 10:53 am

    Steven, you’re not the only one with a busy life. I can see why you might want a peer reviewed article before accepting the findings of the Robinson et al study, but likewise, why should we accept your confident claims considering that you have not handled the actual skull or seen any scans etc? What concerns me most is this air of desperation you appear to have in explaining it as something relatively mundane. In the process, it appears like facts are being ignored in favour your preferred hypotheses.

    Hydrocephaly :

    It’s all well and good pointing out that a few features are consistent with hydrocephaly, but this contradicts the findings of the Deformity and Features Study (which provides the names and work addresses of 11 specialists who examined the skull and associated scans). Hydrocephaly was ruled out primarily on the basis that there was an absence of widening of the sutures and an absence of erosion of the inner table of the skull. Are you going to engage with this information or just ignore it? Can you provide evidence and explain why the skull could still have been caused by internal pressure from enlarged ventricles in spite of these observations?

    Boarding:

    Again, although the superficial appearance of the skull resembles the result of boarding, this too was ruled out by the study because there was no distortion of the surface of the bone. Again, are you going to actually engage with the findings of the study or just ignore it in favour of your preferred hypothesis?

    Unrecognised genetic disease:

    This is the most plausible of the explanations you proposed, in the sense that it doesn’t conflict with the Robinson et al report. However, it is speculation. The problem with this hypothesis is that there are many unusual features in the skull like no inion, no frontal sinuses, thin but extra strong and extra light bone, strange fibres in the bone, red residue in the bone, different chemical composition, the list goes on. It is fair to assume that because of these structural differences, there are going to be genetic differences compared to a normal human. I’m going to speculate that the number of genetic differences needed to account for the wide range of structural anomalies in the skull is going to be large. Whether such a large number of genetic differences can be regarded as a disorder is an open question at the moment I think.

    You said,

    I have received allegations that the starchild skull is a complete fake, molded from bone but not a genuine artifact. As far as I know this has not been adequately investigated.

    Anyone can make a wild allegation and spread unfounded rumours. Who made these allegations and why were they made? Has this person handled the skull? Have they seen any of the scans? Is this just hearsay? If so, why mention it? Dr. Ted Robinson, who had been in possession of the skull for a few years, states “the skull is real, it is comprised of calcium hydroxyapatite (the essence of all mammalian bone), its parts are configured “naturally” (not cobbled together or in any other way hoaxed),”

    The skull has not been properly examined by appropriate experts in a transparent fashion. Pye has sought out people with credentials to say what he wants, mostly “I don’t know” and then turning that into “it’s alien.” Until a proper transparent examination has been done, by objective scientists, we are all going on inadequate information.

    Again, where is your evidence for any of these allegations? The names and work addresses of the experts who carried out the Deformity and Features study are provided in the report. Several are experts in craniofacial surgery and congenital deformities of the skull and face. To claim that the skull has not been examined by appropriate experts seems a ridiculous thing to say in light of this. And why aren’t these experts objective scientists?

    What I want to see are peer-reviewed detailed examinations that are then picked over by the scientific community.

    Fine, then wait until a paper is published before you accept anything the experts have to say. In the meantime, don’t make grandiose claims, like hydrocephalus or boarding, on the basis of insufficient data, especially since such claims are contradicted by experts who have examined the skull in sufficient detail.

    This has not happened – think about why that is.

    How about you tell me what you are implying by this.

    The only real evaluation has been of the DNA, which is human, and actually proves the bones come from a person who had a human mother and a human father.

    I don’t know what you mean by “real evaluation”. In any case, I presume you are talking about the 1999 DNA analysis done by a teaching lab with most of the work carried out by students (according to Pye). The starchild website claims that test was contaminated. If the work was indeed carried out by students, this is a likely possibility (when I was a student, I tried to isolate some DNA by following a well described recipe but failed miserably along with many other fellow students in the class. That was around the same time as the first DNA study so the technology was probably similar). The 2003 study failed to isolate nDNA so we can’t say from that study whether the father was human. The latest DNA study claims to have found a large number of difference in a highly conserved region of nDNA (no matches with anything) but there are no names attached to the report so it is not currently possible to verify if the study is legitimate.

  58. steve12on 22 Nov 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Davissmith must have been up all night for this Book Report.

    “Deformity and Features Study”
    “Robinson et al report. ”

    Why aren’t these peer reviewed? If you wanna play the “I’m not an expert, but the experts say…” game, you need real, peer reviewed science. Why do you thin that’s not available? Peer review is not optional in science. It is required.

    Your wikipedia-level understanding of all these issues SHOULD give you pause. Unfortunately, it does not.

    And it’s all so amateurish. Just the notion that all phenomena present themselves in a clear and unambiguous way – and if they don’t, our best hypotheses are pseudoscience. By this idea, the Standard Model of physics is pseudoscience until QM and gravity are reconciled.And of course, this lack of absolute clarity means that alien hybrids, bigfoot, ghosts, etc must be real.

    This , though, is straight-up comedy:
    “In the meantime, don’t make grandiose claims,”

    So the neurologist positing a mundane account that meets most of the evidence is making a grandiose claim, but the nutjob saying that this evidence means aliens and humans mated is just going where the evidence leads!

    You can’t make this stuff up…..you really made my Friday davidsmith!

  59. Steven Novellaon 22 Nov 2013 at 1:42 pm

    steve12 is correct. My writing on this issue has been an examination of Pye’s arguments and methods. Not an analysis of the skull per se. Before making highly implausible claims, like alien-human hybrid, ou have to rule out all mundane possibilities. I don’t think this has been done. At best what we have are anomalies. That does not equal alien.

    Regarding the expert reports, they just don”t read like legitimate scientific analysis. Surgeons are not necessarily scientists,and I don’t see the kind of analysis that was designed to really answer the questions. My point in focusing on the fact that these reports are not peer-reviewed is because they are not real science, done with sufficient methods to get past per- review.

    Think about this- If a real scientist got their hands on what they thought was a genuine medical anomaly, let alone the first real evidence of aliens on Earth, that would be a huge deal. The scientific attention and analysis would be extensive. Instead what we get is unpublished reports by people who don’t really have the expertise to do a proper scientific analysis.

    It’s all a great example of pseudoscience.

  60. tmac57on 22 Nov 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Maybe Pye should take a trip to the Mütter Museum. Aliens aplenty there!

  61. ccbowerson 23 Nov 2013 at 10:05 am

    davidsmith is defending an “I don’t know, therefore aliens” position, but is shifting the focus of that argument.

    Instead of acknowledging the nonsequitur nature of that argument he is focusing on the “don’t know” portion of the argument. When there are several possible mundane explanations for an unknown, the fact that a person has not narrowed down among those explanations does not mean that far-fetched explanations become more likely.

    Yes, we are at the “I don’t know” stage (because it hasn’t been properly studied)…. now how do we get to “therefore aliens?” That’s right, we don’t without compelling evidence. Anomaly hunting is not evidence.

  62. davidsmithon 23 Nov 2013 at 12:15 pm

    That’s three, perhaps four of you who have accused me of defending an “I don’t know, therefore aliens” position. It’s all in your heads. Nowhere have I defended such a position. It’s like you’re cognitively programmed to perceive anyone who questions Novella’s position as a “believer” or something. I tend to believe the findings of the Robinson et al. report over the claims made by Steven N, and I am asking him questions about this. The Robinson et al. report does not mention anything about aliens. You need to read what I have written more carefully I guess.

    Steven N,

    You still have not answered my questions. I’m asking you how you would reconcile the findings of the Deformity and Features study with your claims. They rule out hydrocephaly and boarding for specific reasons. How can you still claim those explanations apply except by ignoring the findings of this report?

    The rest of your comments were really vague. Despite what you claim, you did make an analysis of the skull. In your 2006 article you said,

    “If a child suffered from untreated hydrocephalus until age four or five, their skull would display distortions in almost every feature. All of the proper bones, prominences, holes, and sutures would be present, as they are in the Starchild skull, but they would be deformed and displaced. This is exactly what we find in the Starchild skull.”

    and,

    “The child very likely suffered from untreated hydrocephalus, a mundane and simple explanation for the anomalies seen in the skull.”

    This may represent a quick and dirty analysis based on little information except a grainy picture on the internet, but it is an analysis nonetheless, and you make such a confident conclusion based on such little information.

    In addition, why doesn’t the Robinson et al. report read like a legitimate scientific analysis? What kind of analysis would really answer the questions? Why don’t these people have the proper expertise? Some of them have years and years of experience dealing with craniofacial deformities. What are you getting at? Be specific.

  63. BillyJoe7on 23 Nov 2013 at 3:49 pm

    davidsmith,

    Do you agree with the following:

    The only link you have provided is to the website “The Starchild Project”.
    The Starchild Project actively promotes the view that the skull is that of an alien/human hybrid.
    Doctor Robinson’s study was commissioned by The Starchild Project.

    In fact, I can find no other website that supports that hypothesis and no other website that reports on Dr. Robinson’s study.

    The author of that website has come to the conclusion that the skull is that of a human/alien hybrid, and he has spent years looking for evidence to support his conclusion. This is not science. In science, you go where the evidence leads, you don’t lead the evidence to your predetermined conclusion. Yet this is your only source of information about the skull. Do you understand why we find this problematic?

  64. steve12on 23 Nov 2013 at 6:45 pm

    “You still have not answered my questions.”

    It’s funny thart you’re saying this when you have not acknowledged any of our points.

    “That’s three, perhaps four of you who have accused me of defending an “I don’t know, therefore aliens” position.”

    Because you’re being coy re: your endgame. It’s all quite childish. We’re to believe that you just have some real super interest in what was wrong with this kid? BS. And ya know how I know it’s BS? Becasue you refuse to set things straight and clarify what you think about all of this. When you’re coy, people wonder why. So please: set us straight.

    As I said before, the world is messy and fossils that are 100s of years old are not going to come with little notes that explain their entire history. If the skull presented identically to that of a skull from someone who died 2 weeks ago THAT would actually be weird.

    “I’m asking you how you would reconcile the findings of the Deformity and Features study with your claims.”

    Ya know what non peer-reviewed “reports” from experts are worth? 0, zilch, nothing. There’s no need to reconcile anything. The skull needs to be released to the scientific community at large, or these “reports” are meaningless nonsense.

  65. davidsmithon 24 Nov 2013 at 3:07 am

    BillyJoe7,

    I agree with those three points. I can also understand why people on this forum would treat evidence contrary to their preferred position with suspicion. But consider that the report contains the names and work addresses of all involved. It would be possible to contact them personally to verify that the study is legitimate at least. That’s not much of a concern to me though.

    steve12

    I have said repeatedly that I don’t know what caused the skull’s appearance. You can’t get a more straightforward statement than that. I find the skull interesting because it presents some apparent anomalies. I like weird stuff like that. However, I’m here primarily to ask Steven N some important questions about his hydrocephaly claim. This claim gets bandied around the sceptical literature (the editors at Wikipedia and RationalWiki lap it up) like it has been proven or something. The truth is that is contradicts the data presented on the starchild website. And you expect nobody to be interested in getting to the truth?

    Ya know what non peer-reviewed “reports” from experts are worth? 0, zilch, nothing.

    To you maybe. And in that case, you had better not listen to anything Steven N has to say. By the way, Steven N seems to be fine accepting the results of DNA analyses that do not appear to have been through any peer review (the BOLD and Trace Genetics studies mentioned on the website). Double standards of course, but I guess it doesn’t matter if the conclusions suit you.

    Your (and BillyJoe7′s) argument boils down to “I’m going to ignore the experts because I don’t believe them and accept what Novella is saying without question”. I’m beginning to understand how things work in the so called modern sceptical movement.

  66. pseudonymoniaeon 24 Nov 2013 at 3:54 am

    David, either you have an agenda, or you really don’t understand how science works

    You state: “The truth is that is contradicts the data presented on the starchild website.”

    What evidence was presented on this website? I don’t see any. I think you mistake “unverified and unverifiable claims” with “evidence”. These are not the same thing. If you cannot see this, or why anyone else here would call you out on this point, then you really need to go back to Skepticism 101.

    And you know what: before you start telling people on this forum that they can “call up the experts” whose names are listed on this unaffiliated “starchild website” (as though this somehow provides verification) perhaps you, David–who appears to be very motivated to question Dr. Novella and the commenters on this forum–should find enough motivation to make those phone calls.

    And the first thing you should ask is “What were the findings of your research on the “starchild” skull and why didn’t you try to get this study published?”

    I strongly suspect, given that many of the people on that list are legitimate researchers, that they would be either surprised or annoyed by the claims made by Robinson on that website. If you want to prove me wrong, please feel free to do some due diligence.

    (Oh, and by the way, the “study” is unscientific because it is simply a list of comments, not a realistic scientific publication. Most apparent, it lacks a proper description of the methods employed, it does not present results in a manner suitable to objective analysis by peers, and there is no reference made to the existing base of scientific knowledge in developing any claims. In short, it is not science.)

  67. steve12on 24 Nov 2013 at 1:25 pm

    “To you maybe.”

    No. To the scientific community. And I will agree with you here: the DNA work should be peer reviewed, and you’re quite right to be skeptical of it. Now if Pie would just allow that to happen (wonder why he won’t?).

    ‘Your (and BillyJoe7′s) argument boils down to “I’m going to ignore the experts because I don’t believe them and accept what Novella is saying without question”. ‘

    Absolute nonsense! Steve above has acknowledged that there are portions of the specimen that don’t fit hydrocephaly – we’ve all ceded that over and over. (but who knows what could be explained if the specimen was released for normal scientific scrutiny).

    This is where your poor understanding of science comes in (it’s OK: you could choose to learn instead of prattle). I’ve tried to explain this concept to you, but you keep ignoring it. I’ll try one more time.

    When any hypothesis attempts to explain some phenomena, there are things left unexplained. This is normal – EVEN IN A CONTROLLED EXPERIMENT this is the case, always. So, we choose the explanation that – get ready for it:

    ACCOUNTS FOR THE MOST DATA given what we know.

    We don’t repeat over and over to each other that we haven’t explained everything. We know that! Our explanation makes predictions that can be tested, work goes on.

    If you don’t buy that explanation, what you need to do is offer up an alternative that ACCOUNTS FOR MORE OF THE DATA. Instead, you simply drone on and on that not everything is understood. Pardon my French, but no shit Sherlock! When is EVERYTHING ever understood in science?

    So there we are. We agree: there are many features that fit hydrocephaly – but there are others that do not. So what else could be going on? Let me guess, your explanation is that there are inconsistencies with hydrocephaly! Super. So helpful.

  68. bgoudieon 26 Nov 2013 at 9:38 pm

    so in the end what davidsmith is saying can be boiled down to this…
    “it’s clear that the starchild is no true hydrocephalic Scotsman.”

  69. superdaveon 27 Nov 2013 at 11:25 am

    If I had to take a stab at it, I would say Freudian psychology. Many if not all of Freud’s specific theories have been discredited and could be considered pseudoscience, but the general concepts that the external environment affects the brain in subconscious ways and that talk therapy is helpful to relieve some of the issues this causes are generally accepted as true.

  70. ebohlmanon 28 Nov 2013 at 9:56 am

    superdave: I’d have to say that the scientific importance of Freudian psychology lies more in the questions it raised than the answers it tried to give. The answers were important ones, but the questions were ones that had previously been approached only haphazardly.

    Steven: Suggested topic: what’s known about the neurological underpinnings of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, in particular any relationships it might have to the autism spectrum (some of its symptoms superficially look like Asperger’s, but there are notable differences)? The comments to this post partially inspired my question, since one common symptom of OCPD is “truth ownership”, an inability to let go of an idea despite overwhelming evidence against it.

  71. ebohlmanon 28 Nov 2013 at 9:58 am

    I meant to write “the answers were incorrect ones” above.

  72. norrisLon 09 Dec 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Prior plausibility people! What is the prior plausibility that an alien mated with a human to produce the so called “star child skull”. Given that we have never encountered an alien, as far as we know at least, that in itself suggests the probability of an alien-human mating is very unlikely to occur.

    What is the prior plausibility that this is a one off oddity caused by a variety of possible situations, eg: genetic, environmental etc. Surely much more likely than an alien-human mating. And indeed a mating that produced live off-spring

    Prior plausibility suggests the latter while at the same time we cannot totally rule out a human alien mating, however extraordinarily low the probability of that may be. My thoughts are that whatever this so called star child is, it is far more likely to be a human oddity caused by factors that we may never be able to elucidate.

    Going to the extreme diagnosis of an alien-human mating and even more so, live offspring, appears at first glance, ridiculous. And that is because it has an almost 100% probability of being impossible. To the point that you can discount this crazy “theory”.

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