When good scientists go bad?

Get your science fix here: research, quackery, activism and all the rest
Post Reply
User avatar
Tessa K
Stummy Beige
Posts: 3022
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:07 pm
Location: Closer than you'd like

When good scientists go bad?

Post by Tessa K » Sat Oct 02, 2021 2:48 pm

Some of you probably already know about Prof Brian Josephson but I only just found out about him via a friend who did a PhD with him many years ago. He does seem to have gone down the Linus Pauling road. Why do scientists do that, do you think?

https://physicsworld.com/a/life-beyond- ... YS85Jr1oXE

One Nobel-prize-winning physicist who has perhaps veered off the conventional path more than any other is Brian Josephson, who leads the self-styled Mind-Matter Unification Project at the University of Cambridge in the UK ... Most controversially, as far as physicists are concerned, he also carries out speculative research on paranormal phenomena, a field known as parapsychology. Josephson’s interests even touch on homeopathy and cold fusion – two areas in which few physicists would dare to dabble.

He has also faced criticism from the likes of geneticist David Winter, who have accused him of suffering from “Nobel disease” – the notion that a Nobel prize gives a scientist who is an expert in one area an “unfounded confidence” to speak on subjects they know nothing about. Winter believes the affliction encourages sufferers to “spout anti-scientific rubbish”, citing the Nobel-prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling who thought that high doses of vitamin C are medicinally useful.

Such comments do not seem to deter Josephson, who believes that, on the contrary, it’s his critics who are in the dark. “It is people such as Winter who speak with unfounded confidence, on subjects they know essentially nothing about such as telepathy, or memory of water,” he insists. “In the latter case, fallacious arguments are frequently used to dismiss the possibility.”

User avatar
sTeamTraen
After Pie
Posts: 2217
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 4:24 pm
Location: Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by sTeamTraen » Sat Oct 02, 2021 8:38 pm

I suspect a lot of Nobel Prize winners are somewhere on the autistic spectrum, with all the traits that can sometimes imply, including a tendency towards obsessional/cranky beliefs.
Something something hammer something something nail

User avatar
dyqik
Light of Blast
Posts: 4530
Joined: Wed Sep 25, 2019 4:19 pm
Location: Masshole
Contact:

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by dyqik » Sat Oct 02, 2021 9:13 pm

sTeamTraen wrote:
Sat Oct 02, 2021 8:38 pm
I suspect a lot of Nobel Prize winners are somewhere on the autistic spectrum, with all the traits that can sometimes imply, including a tendency towards obsessional/cranky beliefs.
This isn't generally true in my experience (I've worked directly with three Nobel laureates, and one almost).

Brian Josephson is an odd case, because he got his prize for a two page paper he wrote before starting graduate studies. He basically never got any real scientific research training.

monkey
Catbabel
Posts: 910
Joined: Wed Nov 13, 2019 5:10 pm

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by monkey » Sat Oct 02, 2021 10:30 pm

There seem to be quite a few people with "proper" doctorates that end up doing bad science. Should it be surprising that an occasional Nobel winner does the same?

User avatar
Tessa K
Stummy Beige
Posts: 3022
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:07 pm
Location: Closer than you'd like

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Tessa K » Sun Oct 03, 2021 10:53 am

monkey wrote:
Sat Oct 02, 2021 10:30 pm
There seem to be quite a few people with "proper" doctorates that end up doing bad science. Should it be surprising that an occasional Nobel winner does the same?
My doctorate is in French (specifically a Belgian writer) so I'm not sure how I could go bad. Might be fun to try though.

monkey
Catbabel
Posts: 910
Joined: Wed Nov 13, 2019 5:10 pm

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by monkey » Sun Oct 03, 2021 9:24 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Sun Oct 03, 2021 10:53 am
monkey wrote:
Sat Oct 02, 2021 10:30 pm
There seem to be quite a few people with "proper" doctorates that end up doing bad science. Should it be surprising that an occasional Nobel winner does the same?
My doctorate is in French (specifically a Belgian writer) so I'm not sure how I could go bad. Might be fun to try though.
Humanities was why I put the quote marks on proper :) Didn't think it was the best way of shortening "a STEM PhD that wasn't bought on the internet" but I went for it anyway. Hope you knew what I meant!

I think the only Belgian writer I know is Hergé.

User avatar
Tessa K
Stummy Beige
Posts: 3022
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:07 pm
Location: Closer than you'd like

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Tessa K » Mon Oct 04, 2021 7:46 am

monkey wrote:
Sun Oct 03, 2021 9:24 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Sun Oct 03, 2021 10:53 am
monkey wrote:
Sat Oct 02, 2021 10:30 pm
There seem to be quite a few people with "proper" doctorates that end up doing bad science. Should it be surprising that an occasional Nobel winner does the same?
My doctorate is in French (specifically a Belgian writer) so I'm not sure how I could go bad. Might be fun to try though.
Humanities was why I put the quote marks on proper :) Didn't think it was the best way of shortening "a STEM PhD that wasn't bought on the internet" but I went for it anyway. Hope you knew what I meant!

I think the only Belgian writer I know is Hergé.
I did understand.

You've probably heard of Georges Simenon who wrote the Detective Maigret books.

On topic, my guy (Maeterlinck), was a Nobel Prize winner and his work definitely got a bit crap when he got into mystical bollocks later in his career.

User avatar
dyqik
Light of Blast
Posts: 4530
Joined: Wed Sep 25, 2019 4:19 pm
Location: Masshole
Contact:

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by dyqik » Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:26 pm

What's Bob Dylan done that's any good recently, anyway?

Then there's what Obama did after getting the peace prize.

;)

"Past performance is not indicative of future results" should be etched onto the Nobel Memorial Economics medals.

User avatar
Tessa K
Stummy Beige
Posts: 3022
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:07 pm
Location: Closer than you'd like

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Tessa K » Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:30 pm

dyqik wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:26 pm
What's Bob Dylan done that's any good recently, anyway?

Then there's what Obama did after getting the peace prize.

;)

"Past performance is not indicative of future results" should be etched onto the Nobel Memorial Economics medals.
Or as Oprah Winfrey said: 'Every day, you're only as good as your last show.'

User avatar
shpalman
Light of Blast
Posts: 5910
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 12:53 pm
Location: One step beyond

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by shpalman » Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:33 pm

What did Einstein contribute to physics after 1921 anyway?
molto tricky

User avatar
Tessa K
Stummy Beige
Posts: 3022
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:07 pm
Location: Closer than you'd like

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Tessa K » Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:39 pm

shpalman wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:33 pm
What did Einstein contribute to physics after 1921 anyway?
And he did marry a woman who was both his first and second cousin, which is not the smartest thing to do.

(their mothers were sisters and their fathers were cousins)

User avatar
Woodchopper
Light of Blast
Posts: 4413
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2019 9:05 am

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Woodchopper » Mon Oct 04, 2021 1:02 pm

Luc Montagnier is another Nobel recipient we've discussed a few times. He's now into anti-vaccinationism and homeopathy.

IMHO getting a Nobel may well mean that the winner has embraced ideas which were far ahead of the rest of their colleagues. That's a good thing but someone like Montagnier may also be be attracted to other ideas that are rightly not accepted by their peers (but be unable to tell the difference).

User avatar
Bird on a Fire
Princess POW
Posts: 7469
Joined: Fri Oct 11, 2019 5:05 pm
Location: Portugal

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon Oct 04, 2021 1:16 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 1:02 pm
IMHO getting a Nobel may well mean that the winner has embraced ideas which were far ahead of the rest of their colleagues. That's a good thing but someone like Montagnier may also be be attracted to other ideas that are rightly not accepted by their peers (but be unable to tell the difference).
I noticed this a bit with Lynn Margulis. Early on in her career she came up with the idea of endosymbiosis - that mitochondria and chloroplasts originated as symbiotic bacteria before being 'absorbed' as organelles in eukaryotic cells. The idea was ridiculed for ages by mainstream folks like Dawkins, but ultimately she was right about pretty much everything.

Sadly, later in her career she also got into weird ideas like HIV denialism. I do wonder if being the target of strong controversy leads to a kind of f.ck-you feeling towards the rest of your colleagues and community as well.
You can shove your climate crisis up your arse!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door.

User avatar
shpalman
Light of Blast
Posts: 5910
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 12:53 pm
Location: One step beyond

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by shpalman » Mon Oct 04, 2021 2:06 pm

John Nash was asked something like “How could you…believe that extraterrestrials are sending you messages? How could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world?” and he replied “Because the ideas about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. And so I had to take them seriously”.

To some extent good science relies on having an inspirational hypothesis and then finding ways to test them. These can involve theoretical and experimental struggles for which a certain resilience is required. They can also involve struggles against other scientists with differing hypotheses. Bad science is not knowing when to let go because you're wrong, it doesn't work, they're right.
molto tricky

Allo V Psycho
Snowbonk
Posts: 508
Joined: Sat Nov 16, 2019 8:18 am

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Allo V Psycho » Mon Oct 04, 2021 4:16 pm

I did a quick count of Nobels in my former field in recent years, that I knew of (as in, went to their seminars, asked questions at least) but as a very junior PhD student or post doc. I was very lucky that my PhD supervisor was of that ilk. I very evidently wasn't.
John Gurdon
Bob Edwards
Martin Evans
Sydney Brenner
John Sulston
Christianne Nusslein-Vollhard
I did have a fun couple of days with John Sulston, shooting nematode cells with a laser. Met Janni Nusslein-Vollhard as she was starting her PhD, and we all agreed it was a right bugger of a project! I was so glad that wasn't my project....and it turned out to be a big part of the Nobel prize.

I think they all remained reasonably sensible, as far as I know.
I wouldn't have chosen Bob Edwards. Would have given that one to a lovely man and brilliant scientist, a Polish scientist called Andrzej Tarkowski, who I felt had done the hard groundwork. They didn't actually ask my opinion, however.

User avatar
basementer
Dorkwood
Posts: 1112
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:03 pm
Location: 5713, Aotearoa
Contact:

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by basementer » Mon Oct 04, 2021 4:43 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:39 pm
shpalman wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:33 pm
What did Einstein contribute to physics after 1921 anyway?
And he did marry a woman who was both his first and second cousin, which is not the smartest thing to do.

(their mothers were sisters and their fathers were cousins)
It's OK if, like them, one doesn't generate children. But we digress.
Money is just a substitute for luck anyway. - Tom Siddell

User avatar
snoozeofreason
Fuzzable
Posts: 328
Joined: Fri Nov 15, 2019 1:22 pm

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by snoozeofreason » Tue Oct 05, 2021 8:12 am

A friend of mine had his undergraduate project supervised by Josephson, and he was apparently a good supervisor. I've always been inclined to cut him a bit of slack since then because I imagine that, if you have won the Nobel Prize (and he had by that stage), you aren't obliged to supervise undergraduate projects.
In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. The human body was knocked up pretty late on the Friday afternoon, with a deadline looming. How well do you expect it to work?

User avatar
Tessa K
Stummy Beige
Posts: 3022
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:07 pm
Location: Closer than you'd like

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Tessa K » Tue Oct 05, 2021 9:23 am

basementer wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 4:43 pm
Tessa K wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:39 pm
shpalman wrote:
Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:33 pm
What did Einstein contribute to physics after 1921 anyway?
And he did marry a woman who was both his first and second cousin, which is not the smartest thing to do.

(their mothers were sisters and their fathers were cousins)
It's OK if, like them, one doesn't generate children. But we digress.
Unlike the Royal family...

User avatar
Lariliss
Navel Tan
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Oct 29, 2021 3:24 pm

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by Lariliss » Fri Oct 29, 2021 3:48 pm

Hello, I would like to share the following thoughts/opinion.

Behind a great man, a scientist is always a person and personal experience.
And the path is different, regarding education, opportunities, and so forth.
Maybe someone’s target is only a Nobel prize (any acknowledgement). And then - ugh! I will do what I’ve always wanted to do.
I like the Oprah quote mentioned @Tessa K

Michio Kaku - why is he not so popular or often in videos? Though he gives consultancy and answers questions in popular TV programs sometimes, sharing his expertise.

Very few are on the top of the wave, on the top of the notion, on the top of behavior? It might be a coincidence, if one believes so.

Science has got popularized to a great level, which is a great achievement. Still we cannot say the same about the education level.
Pop-culture is sometimes about science in a very clear way.

For scientists ‘good’ and ‘bad’ have very vague borders. They support some ideas or not, sharp in disputes or not, sometimes noble or not.
Number, Letter, Note: Know, Think, Dream.

User avatar
JackWhite1
Navel Tan
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2021 8:29 am

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by JackWhite1 » Thu Dec 02, 2021 9:38 am

Scientists are like other people have their pros and cons. Everyone has their own "sins" which they hide or do not want to talk about much. These people are under a pressure of this world as we are so that's no surprise we can hear such things about scientists. We have to understand each other and be empathetic!

nezumi
Dorkwood
Posts: 994
Joined: Mon Sep 14, 2020 1:43 pm
Location: UK

Re: When good scientists go bad?

Post by nezumi » Thu Dec 02, 2021 10:41 am

I love Michio Kaku for his entertainment value (he's certainly a better presenter than De Grasse Tyson (fight me! ;) ) but his ideas are often so far out there as to be based in a distant galaxy. Entertaining definitely, scientific? Not in my opinion.

I share the opinion that achieving great things in one area can make one think one is an expert in many, many other areas, even when one is absolutely unqualified to comment.
Non fui. Fui. Non sum. Non curo.

Post Reply