Nov 19 2013

Coyne Destroys Chopra

Chopra continues his attack on his skeptical critics with a piece in the New Republic, focussing his attention on Jerry Coyne. Coyne, in turn, responds to Copra. I gave away my assessment of the exchange in the title of this post, but take a look and decide for yourselves.

Chopra continues his attempt to portray the situation as him being the victim of militant skeptics who are using underhanded tactics to attack anyone who would expand science beyond our narrow materialist view. In so doing he actually betrays his pseudoscientific natture.

Coyne immediately zeros in on Chopra’s major fallacy – he is arguing that he is not a pseudoscientist by listing all his credentials and associations. That is exactly what a pseudoscientist would do, surround himself in the trappings of science. There is no doubt that Chopra is a successful self-promoter, and in fact he is partly responsible for the infiltration of pseudoscience into academia. None of that rescues him from being a pseudoscientist.

The difference between science and pseudoscience is about process, and Chopra does not even mount a defense of his process, because he simply does not understand the nature of the criticism leveled against him – or he does understand, and is simply attempting a diversion or plausible deniability for his fans.

Coyne gives an excellent example of Chopra’s pseudoscience, but there are countless other. Chopra uses vague references, does not define his terms operationally, make wild unsubstantiated claims and leaps of logic, and does not engage with his critics or the mainstream scientific community in a meaningful way.

One of the surest markers of a pseudoscientist, however, is to attack skeptics as being unduly negative or not part of science. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of science, which is an inherently skeptical enterprise.

Chopra had an opportunity to show that he was intellectual honest at least by constructively engaging with skeptics. If Chopra has science on his side, then address the meat of our criticisms, show us why, exactly, we are wrong. Instead he attacks skeptics and skepticism, and hides behind his credentials.

In protesting the label of pseudoscience, Chopra just proves all the more that he is a pseudoscientist, just a popular one.

12 responses so far

12 thoughts on “Coyne Destroys Chopra”

  1. Kensington says:

    “Here are a few examples of my recent participation in real science.

    I regularly write articles and books co-authored by full professors, researchers and scientists at Harvard Medical School, Mount Sinai Medical School – New York, Duke, and Chapman University.”

    This quote really displays Chopra’s lack of understanding of what science is. He appears to think his books are “science” simply because (with for example his new book Super Brain, which admittedly doesn’t look as bad on the surface as Quantum Healing) he takes the work of others and adds his quantum consciousness mind-brain duality on top, co-authored with a seemingly legitimate Harvard Medical School researcher, and BOOM he just did science! He takes what we already know about brain plasticity and Alzheimer’s, and by the power of Oprah, will make more money from the books 1st run than Norman Doidge has in 6 years. Not to mention the book doesn’t even have a bibliography; science really is Theology in his worldview.

    (PS Steve have you seen Part 3 of his “attack on militant skepticism”?

  2. DavidCT says:

    Chopra’s audience is not the skeptical community or research scientists. The general public and a large proportion of health care professionals not involved in research, do not have a good understanding of how science works. With this reality all he has to do is make claims in a grammatically consistent manner. He can even call his assertions “theories” and rely on confusion to carry the day. Sadly when it comes to cash flow he wins.

  3. ChrisH says:

    Dr. Novella, when you have a chance to chuckle a bit in your hotel room, take a gander at the response Orac got from Chopra’s co-author:

    It is almost, but not quite, as good as the quote Coyne used in his response.

    Continue to have a fun vacation.

  4. steve12 says:


    I just checked that out. It’s funny, but it makes me feel a little bad for Jordan. He’s suffering from some bad mentoring here, as I don’t think he really understands the underlying arguments. He’s thrown into the debate head first and taking shots that should be reserved for the likes of Chopra and Sheldrake, who should know better.

    I think it would be better for him to have these debates in relative anonymity on a blog while he’s getting training. Chopra should understand this, but I really think he’s kind of a jerk.

  5. rocken1844 says:

    Pantheists talk a big game, about being connected to the “God energy” or “Source of Being” or “God consciousness” etc – but they can’t deliver. When Michael Faraday taught us about electromagnetism he had something demonstrable, testable, verifiable, something that delivered, that worked. Pantheists make huge claims about what you can do with your “imagination” in tune with this “God energy”. Fact is, Chopra using his imagination cannot even recharge a single mobile phone. I’ll stick with Faraday.

  6. ChrisH says:

    I also feel a bit sorry for Jordan. But he is an adult, and is co-writing those articles that are specifically going after science, scientists and skeptics. Including the most recent one in the link provided by Kensington. Here is what he says about Dawkins:

    Despite a fifteen-minute TED talk on quantum physics, he seems totally ignorant of current theories of perception, consciousness, the mind-body problem, or the observer effect, all of which grew out of the quantum revolution a century ago. In a word, he has made himself irrelevant by his crude linkage of his personal atheism and a fumbling defense of “real” science that was outmoded long ago.

  7. ConspicuousCarl says:

    I think I have posted this before, but if you ever get tired of Chopra’s BS it is quite amusing to hear the howls of laughter from the audience when he spouts his garbage in a room full of educated people:

  8. oldmanjenkins says:

    Advice to Chopra: Never take a knife to a gun fight.

    Knife = Chopra’s woo
    Gun = Coyne’s science/evidence/counter arguments

  9. steve12 says:

    “But he is an adult, and is co-writing those articles that are specifically going after science, scientists and skeptics. ”

    Oh yeah, he’s saying the worst sort of nonsense. But why is Chopra putting him out there like this? MAybe it’s unlikely, but he might be able to see his errors in a less charged and public environment.

    It may not have been about science, but I had a lot of beliefs when I was 23 that I was disavowed of. I’m glad there’s no public record of that!

    Or maybe this is a springboard into being a New Age Guru. I dunno….

  10. Davdoodles says:

    The thing about Chopra is that he will never, ever, ‘understand’ that his twaddle is, well, twaddle. And he will never stop projectile-vomiting his stream-of-consciousness crap-fountain, so long as there’s a glass-eyed mark willing to pay to get covered in the filthy muck.

    There is no-one so blind as one whose income depends on not seeing.

  11. Bruce says:

    The comments on that New Republic article are fascinating. Really made my morning cup of tea. The “what’s the harm, let us all live in peace and harmony and everyone can be right” people are the funniest of all.

  12. ChrisH says:

    Steve12: “Or maybe this is a springboard into being a New Age Guru. I dunno….”

    When you search for Jordan Flesher you get this hit, but the actual page has the guru bit removed:

    Troy Of-Is | LinkedIn‎
    Current. Emerging Psychotherapist/Guru at Troy of Is … from the foreword by Jordan Flesher/Troy of Is, BA, (MA/PsyD in process), founder of ‘Unknown Therapy’

    It is interesting he is a found of a “therapy” with only a BA in psychology.

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