Pseudoscientific research
#1
I am starting this thread to discuss 'academic' literature that attempts to validate pseudo-scientific claims via 'research'. Examples of this include the nano-woo related to homoepathy and this marvel I recently stumbled upon, http://cdn.ishafoundation.org/news/happe...ambavi.pdf . It claims to present EEG evidence that in practitioners of Jaggi Vasudev's Isha Kriya, "the brain becomes deeply focused following Shambhavi Maha Mudra, thus reflecting higher level of mental consciousness."

I'm not into clinical or neuroscientific research. But some of the errors in the paper are so blatant,

1. They make the claim based on just 9 subjects. All the subjects were practitioners of the meditation. To compare, shouldn't at least some be randomly chosen among folks who don't practice this?

2. Let us assume that the authors know what to expect from 'agitated and anxious' people. In such a case, they are not controlling for other variables. The meditators may be more relaxed just due to the fact that they live without worrying about the world, in some idyllic estate in the Nilgiris.

It is likely that such a study is publicized by Isha to make their program appealing to rich professionals- the kind who are just smart enough to trust whatever is written in technical-sounding language, but are ignorant (and lazy) to learn how to evaluate scientific merit.

I hope for a massive smackdown of this paper by Nirmuktas working in related fields.

Also, having so few subjects for the experiment is typical of woo-arguments which are of the 'you will start believing when you experience it' types. A common woo-believer-obfuscation is that pranic healing and homeopathy cannot be tested in clinical trials because, 'each person has a different spirit/soul/Karma/LambShawarma'. Testing just 9 people from an ashram is just a cunningly worded variant of such an argument.

I am not setting up an argument about whether meditation or yoga can help one relax. There are other threads discussing that issue. I am just starting this thread to compile examples of pseudoscience masquerading as legit-sounding research.





"Science is interesting. If you don't agree, f off." GoodMorning
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#2
Thanks karatalaamalaka for reporting this. This belongs in a list with the Athirathram research and Son Rise travesties.

Even before attempting, perhaps undeservedly, to dignify the reported paper with a formal critique based on the EEG literature, there are so many red flags even on a cursory reading.

The study does not seem to have been published or submitted for publication at a peer-reviewed journal.

Some items in the references are not peer-reviewed publications, but paperbacks by meditation gurus and releases from meditation workshops!

Can the changes observed in the second EEG measurement be attributed to the Shambhavi Mahamudra? What if say, there is a familiarity effect and the measurement process is less stressful the second time, hence making the subjects seem relaxed? A simple control would be to take the measurements twice with an intervening break but WITHOUT Shambhavi Mahamudra.

No accompanying behavioral studies (not even a questionnaire) or references are provided to establish the link between the obtained EEG measures and a disposition for relaxation.

That the authors write that 'mental and neural activities are highly correlated' itself betrays their dualist bias.

The authors write, "Some consider that delta signifies contact with the collective unconscious." This assumption of a consciousness without a biological substrate is an empirically unsubstantiated one, and hence unacceptable in a scientific publication.
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#3
I came across the latest piece written by the same bloke (http://blog.ishafoundation.org/2011/12/0...evolution/).

Like karatalaamalaka, I am not an expert in the domain of neuroscience but the piece does reek of BS (bad science for the uninitiated).

Would like to hear the opinion of the fellow members on this.
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#4
According to a London based expert, CAM may not be as safe as its practioneers advertise it to be, since trials into the effects of CAM mostly fail to report the adverse effects that may have occured during the course of the trial. The recommendation is, not to give CAM the benefit of doubt if one arises. The report can be accessed here.
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#5
While browsing through the net came across this group Spiritual Science Research Foundation (http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/).

Notice the use of words "Science" here and I think many of things which this foundation profess might have been covered in this forum; a few of which are:

Idea of Karmic Retribution (give and take account) and Destiny (as opposed to free will)
Idea of your present problems being results of evil eye (buri nazar), dead ancestors, ghosts, demonic possession, chanting
Idea of doing spiritual practice under a "Guru" who has significant more "spiritual quotient" than normal human being.

Few of the points which are quite stark are
1. Destiny: http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.o...es/destiny
One's life is pre-ordained and its 65% destiny and 35% free will. I have no idea on what scientific basis the figure has been arrived at

2. Causes of difficulties in life : http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.o...fficulties. More than 50% have spiritual cause ranging from demons, ghosts, ancestors etc etc and there have been given various ways (methods for casting evil eye, chanting, etc etc) for their remedy.

3. Sixth Sense: Now this perplexes me. The spiritual people posses enhanced sixth sense which allows them to perceive black energy, aura and blah blah. What exactly is sixth sense scientifically , if there exists anything like that.

4. Om (AUM) should not be chanted by "females" the reason being some heat is generated by chanting and since Male have genitals which are outside body they can tolerate the energy, but genitals of female are inside the body they will not be able to tolerate the energy generated.
"Due to the spiritual energy generated by chanting Om, a person at a lower spiritual level may be adversely affected by chanting Om regularly. A person at a lower spiritual level can suffer physical distress such as hyperacidity, a rise in body temperature, etc., or psychological distress like restlessness. It is especially recommended that women should not chant just Om, by itself. The frequencies emanating from Om generate a lot of energy which in turn generates physical and subtle heat in the body. This does not affect the male reproductive organs as they lie outside the body cavity. However, in the case of women, this heat can affect the reproductive organs as they lie within the abdominal cavity. Thus, women may experience distress in the form of excessive menstrual flow, amenorrhoea (absence of a menstrual period), dysmenorrhoea (severe uterine pain during menstruation), infertility, etc. Hence, it is advisable for women not to chant Om by itself unless it is specifically recommended for them, by a Guru or a Saint." - http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.o...hanting-om

5. Plus a whole load of other stuff from sleeping position to bathing position to various types of food (sattva, rajas, tamas), 7 regions of heaven and hell......Go through the site to get an idea...
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#6
(25-Jun-2012, 06:00 PM)Ajax Wrote: While browsing through the net came across this group Spiritual Science Research Foundation (http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/).

Perhaps this could be merged with this thread: http://nirmukta.net/Thread-Pseudoscientific-research ?

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#7
Here's one more item that seems to belong to this dump thread, qualifying as a kind of pseudoscience though not explicitly funded by religious organizations.
(Archived from this discussion on Facebook)

Economic Times article: IIM-Ranchi to map MS Dhoni's brain for new course

If only substantial resources weren't to be squandered in this fishing expedition, one could simply laugh at a casually hubristic claim like "We know what chemicals react in the brain in what ways, and how they trigger human reactions." almost amounting to saying that there are no more mysteries in Neuroscience! Talk of famous last words!

There are issues with this at multiple levels. Have funding agencies duly considered the competence and relevant expertise of the institution proposing the project? With all due respect, IIM Ranchi isn't the first name that pops to mind in the field of cutting-edge neuroscience.

As it is the discipline of Neursocience is plagued with a surfeit of new-fangled and quasi-scientific names for subdisciplines like 'neuro-linguistic programming' which have captured the popular imagination but not exactly passed scientific muster. As for the field of 'neuro-economics', there are undoubtedly some key findings about the cognitive biases (like loss aversion) which humans are beset by in decision-making tasks in market-like settings, but the field is far from suggesting recipes to 'rewire our brains' to become better decision makers.

One question that ought to be asked is "How NEURO are all these newfangled neuro-disciplines?" i.e. Can they identify clearly the neural correlates of the behaviours they are studying? If yes at what scales (neuron/Brodmann area/lobe)? Do the findings suggest therapeutic or other 'cognitive fitness' inventions? What makes my skin crawl about articles like this TOI one, is that it assumes smugly that these are settled questions and all that remains now is...marketing! They go on to say "Coke and P&G are wellknown users of such skills. " Well, then Coke and P&G understand the brain better than most living neuroscientists!

The unabashed trotting out of an idol like Dhoni gives 'anecdotal case study' an all new meaning. Ever since the finding that Einstein may have had an unusually large inferior parietal lobe, there has been pop speculation that maybe with some training, aspirant mathematicians could 'grow their parietal lobes'! Neural plasticity, especially experience-dependent plasticity is an exciting field, but it is nowhere close to looking at a 'designer brain' and suggesting exercises to wannabes for 'redesign'. Besides, these possibilities bring with them a host of bioethics concerns which I am unsure these 'premier institutions' are equipped to treat duly.

PS: Perhaps it is a good idea to compile examples of 'what science reporting should NOT be'. This article is an addition to the list that was begun with The Hindu's coverage of the Panjal Athirathram. An article surveying these bad examples of science reporting can also counter whiners' claims that we are meekly following 'science as a religion'.
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#8
Jaggi Vasudev has recently given a couple of sermons, which, are quite plainly, anti-science, and try to cast scientists as being naive outsiders to the supposedly wonderful world governed by the laws described in his pseudoscientific philosophy. In my opinion, the sermons are virulently anti-science. It is quite evident that Jaggi Vasudev does not understand even the basics of the method of science that he self-righteously decries as being inferior. My hypothesis is that Jaggi Vasudev's act of interspersing his religious sermon with science is a conscious attempt to appeal to the urbane middle class. Using intelligently misrepresented scientific concepts, Jaggi Vasudev willfully seeks to discredit the method of science so that his followers adopt his supposedly superior philosophies.

This video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6H7-GKCD...re=related is a case study of sorts into how these modern day guroos make their woo-laden sermons appealing to the educated middle class. I may have said this before, but in my opinion, the educated middle class (in India and elsewhere), collectively, is not well educated enough to reject pseudoscience. They seem to know just enough science to 'understand' and fall hook line and sinker for the woo peddled by SSRS, Jaggi, etc.

The cunning use of 'they' and 'us' reeks of the possibility that Jaggi Vasudev's organization is growing into a cult. At the beginning of the above video, Jaggi Vausdev seems to take listeners on a brief tour of the history of science. More specifically, it consists of facts most people would remember from high school physics. Vague basic-physics, with reasonably accurate, but highly vague, account of the history of modern physics. In the art of spin, such an introduction is probably there to lend credibility to the scientific accuracy of Jaggi's woo.

But let's examine what he says, and play along with the ridiculous branding of scientists as some type of 'the others'.

1. 'They seem to have found something near to what they are referring to as God particle [sic]. The Higgs Boson, that has a mass of certain significance.' 'They'? Really? 'mass of certain significance'? Can Jaggi Vasudev get any vaguer about the premise of his entire sermon?

2. "If you look at the universe, you see nothing. But if you look closely enough into an atom, it yields to you.[sic]"- sounds so much like what a scientist with interest in popularizing science (e.g. Carl Sagan) would say, if the rest of the sermon did not provide context, I would actually think Jaggi Vasudev is a scientist. But, this platitude is neither complete, nor accurate. In reality, astronomy and cosmology teach us so many things about the nature of matter. For starters, early particle physics involved studying cosmic rays in cloud chambers. Jaggi Vasudev could have been useful to the popularization of science and the scientific method had he played on this platitude and asked his followers to build cloud chambers and study cosmic rays, which is a fairly interesting DIY project for a weekend http://www.lepp.cornell.edu/Education/rs...hamber.pdf . In reality, there is no better place to look for Higgs-Boson or any other sub-atomic particle, than in cosmic rays. As Ian Sample points out in this interview, the reason the massive accelerator was built on the earth was because it is much cheaper than sending a sufficiently sensitive detector into outerspace to look for the Higgs boson in cosmic rays that are not sullied by atmospheric effects. Further, any study of the origin of matter must involve an appeal to the origins of the 'universe', i.e., the Big Bang. Turning our eye to the universe- from Hubble's discovery of an expanding universe, through the discovery of background radiation- allowed us to discover the origins and composition of matter and radiation.

3. Paraphrasing him, 'they', the scientists, discovered, "atom ---> sub-atomic particle [sic] ---> something smaller." That is again, a disingenuous claim. It seems to suggest that 'they', the scientists, don't know what's going on, that 'they're just groping in the dark and with each discovery, realizing that they were wrong all along. In reality, that is not how science progresses. The gaps in our understanding are rarely a cause of despondence for the scientist. Rather, for 'them'/'the others', the scientists of false dichotomy that Jaggi Vasudev so badly misunderstands, the absence of understanding is a remarkable opportunity to seek answers, to sate curiosity.

The goal of physicists since the 19th century has been to understand the composition of the atom to as fine a detail as possible. Each discovery related to particle physics enables us to get a more detailed picture of the world around us.

4. "you, [read, the cult of his followers] want to use yoga to learn the empty space between these particles." This is a biolerplate platitude that has been torn apart elsewhere. He also prattles on about how these particles, etc. cannot be seen with two eyes or sensed by our senses. This again is a standard theological apologists argument that is absolute bullshit, to put it mildly.

5. [short lesson on high school physcs] He states the interesting fact that much of the universe is 'empty space' (e.g. in each atom, the nucleus and electron are separated by space that consists of 'nothing', loosely speaking). Again, this appeals to the urbane middle class follower's comprehension of physics.

6. [vedic systems say that knowing the microcosm is knowing the macrocosm] Microcosm and macrocosm are philosophical or literary terms that don't have rigorous scientific definitions. This makes redundant and harmful, any attempt to link such an interpretation of what's said in the vedic scriptures to science.

The second part is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfSxB27Ne...h_response

Jaggi Vasudev ups the ante, by proposing that there is a grand unified community of scientists who are 'becoming good marketers'. Haven't we seen enough of this elsewhere? Every woo-peddler from the homeopath to the climate-denialist has adopted this line of attack. This is total bull shit. Science is all about skepticism. Anyone who has experienced rigorous peer review knows how far from reality this unified-agenda-driven-community-conspiracy-bullshit is. It is dangerous that he chooses to pursue an agenda of casting scientists as 'the others'. He proceeds to mock how scientists expend effort and money into finding answers that are either, 1) 'realizable' via meditation, 2) given in the vedas. This is total bullshit, as has been mentioned in common criticisms of theological arguments misrepresented 'not theology, but spirituality' (it's futile to argue over definitions of spirituality and theology, so if you are an apologist, you'd do well to know that this argument ends at this sentence).

7. "if you touch that which is not, blah blah. Today modern science believes [sic] the whole existence will not oblige to human logic." This pseudoscientific claim again seems designed to appeal to the educated middle class listener. If you think about the question, it appears for an instant to be something profound. But it is just a rehash of the mind-body dualism that has been discussed since ages. I call upon Jaggi Vasudev or his followers to point out exactly what in science that supports this argument!

8. Spin continues- Jaggi Vasudev claims to have spoken to a 'great scientist'. This is an application of the classic appeal-to-authority feature of the woo-peddler's Swiss-knife of woo-peddling techniques. He uses the age old argument along the lines of 'Indian culture is dialectical, narrative', etc. which seem to play up the difference between 'Eastern way of thinking' and 'Western way of thinking'.

9. 'Modern science has admitted that the universe is ever expanding or endless.' This is a platitude that has stood for several centuries. Jaggi Vasudev disingenuously casts the results of modern science as being equivalent to some contemplative speculation. I love to use this analogy: imagine, 2000 years from now, someone comes across the work of Isaac Asimov (you can put your favorite sci-fi author in his place, if you so wish :P ) and if some speculation from it, say, a small-portable source of nuclear power, as in his Foundation series, as contemporaries of Asimov, it would be ridiculous to claim that Asimov had actually invented this device, but it has since been lost to humanity, etc. Similarly, any vedic reference to an endless or ever expanding universe is no more than a speculative byline, with absolutely no significance to modern science. (I've taken at face value, his claim that 'yoga claims that the universe is ever-expanding'.) By peppering his spiritual sermon with misrepresented science, I suspect that he hopes to make his woo more credible and appealing to the middle class.

10. The most malicious claim in the sermon is that 'scientists are nothing without technology' and worse, that 'science would be dead if it did not produce useful technology to the world to justify the enormous money spent on scientific research'. This is so egregiously wrong! There are so many scientific (and mathematical) theories that came about without any apparent utility- right from Newton, Galileo, Maxwell, all the way to Einstein, few great scientists have ever been motivated by the need to create technology out of their research! (I am not arguing that research motivated by the wish to create useful technology is inferior (such an assertion would be pointless and wrong), I'm only refuting Jaggi Vasudev's claims.)

I only wish I had the time and resources to create a video rebuttal.

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#9
The scientific guru, Jaggi Vasudev, likes to keep company of other equally scientific gurus such as baba ramdev whose scientific temper is on full blast in the video below. Enjoy.



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#10
(17-Sep-2012, 09:19 PM)stupidseeker Wrote: The scientific guru, Jaggi Vasudev, likes to keep company of other equally scientific gurus such as baba ramdev whose scientific temper is on full blast in the video below. Enjoy.




I couldn't see the video after posting so hence this link to the same video as an added measure :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4IaxNUub...r_embedded#!
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#11
(17-Sep-2012, 09:30 PM)stupidseeker Wrote: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4IaxNUub...r_embedded#!

Mindblown! Can legal action be taken against him for false claims when he says that they have done research? They stand to gain monetarily from their lies. Are they protected by free speech, ordo consumer protection laws apply here? Is there any legal precedent for prosecuting charlatans for such claims? Does the Indian Medical Association have any authority over these matters? How about Central Drugs Standard Control Organization?

At the very least, some scientific organization at the national level should come out against such nonsense. (Precedents are the NIHs debunking creationism and NASA's campaign against doomsdays, etc.)
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#12
Thats a very valid point. Quacks use the word "scientific" too often. Wonder if there is a provision in our legal system to challenge such casual usage. Probably lawyers on this forum can help us understand about it.

(20-Sep-2012, 08:19 PM)karatalaamalaka Wrote:
(17-Sep-2012, 09:30 PM)stupidseeker Wrote: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4IaxNUub...r_embedded#!

Mindblown! Can legal action be taken against him for false claims when he says that they have done research? They stand to gain monetarily from their lies. Are they protected by free speech, ordo consumer protection laws apply here? Is there any legal precedent for prosecuting charlatans for such claims? Does the Indian Medical Association have any authority over these matters? How about Central Drugs Standard Control Organization?

At the very least, some scientific organization at the national level should come out against such nonsense. (Precedents are the NIHs debunking creationism and NASA's campaign against doomsdays, etc.)

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