To the Editors,
        Regarding Michael Shermer's articles in your November and December, 2001 issues (Baloney Detection - parts I and II); I have some concerns, and a rebuttal--of sorts.  Please feel free to use any part of this letter, if it still seems appropriate.  I'm likely to ramble, as I have a fair amount to say, though I'll try to be brief.
        I believe strongly in Mr. Shermer's assertion that we need to test the validity of our own assumptions, rather than accepting the beliefs of others as fact.  I also think Sagan's idea, that people need to have some kind of "Baloney Detection" system to sort out what is reasonable or scientifically valid from what is fanciful and speculative, is entirely accurate.  I therefore applaud what Michael Shermer is trying to do.  However, after careful reading and comparison, I find many flaws in Mr. Shermer's reasoning, and these are disturbing since they encourage people to rule out potentially sound ideas, without establishing a logical basis for such action.  Let it be known that I can detect a fair amount of baloney in Michael Shermer's article.
        Indeed, I find that making a point by point comparison with the list of logical fallacies found in my Basic Logic book from College (Machina - Basic Applied Logic ©'82) leaves Mr. Shermer's article looking rather suspect, as some of his points reduce to logical fallacies (or a combination thereof) in the degenerate case.  His very first point is a clear re-statement of the ad hominem fallacy, of which he seems especially fond.  Some of his other points can likewise be easily mis-applied.  This makes his recommendations an unsuitable platform to advocate as appropriate for open-minded people, especially in these enlightened times.  There is a real danger for people to believe in pseudo-science because they don't know any better, but we should take care not to compound the problem by resorting to logical fallacies and clinging to outdated beliefs, or advocating this for the Scientific community.
        I am of the opinion that most ordinary people live as though the profound discoveries of the early 20th century never happened.  The implications of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics should force people to re-evaluate some elements of "common-sense" reasoning, especially the linear aspects of conventional logic, in favor of what Jung calls Paradoxical Logic.  Instead of either-or, we should be thinking in terms of multiple probabilities.  Mr. Shermer gives this concept some vague attention at the end of his second article, but what he says is somewhat misleading.  It is quite understandable that this subject is a difficult conceptual landscape for some to navigate, but for Science to grow strong, it must incorporate known truths into its knowledge-infrastructure.
        Thus, where I am sympathetic when ordinary folks have a hard time with difficult concepts, I hold professionals to a higher standard, and I regard it as deplorable that so much mechanistic reductionism is at work, in the world of Science today.  Saddest of all, the Life Sciences appear to have the worst case of this malady.  In this vein, I find several of Mr. Shermer's comments rather discouraging since it appears he would have us keep the status quo, or even wipe out some of the progress we've made towards understanding a reality which shows us it is more complex than we imagine again, and again.  Rather than asking us to limit ourselves to what we already know, I would rather see Scientific American encouraging people to boldly explore new avenues of inquiry, and new ways of thinking about things.  What we have learned in the past few years exceeds decades, or even centuries, of work in some areas (e.g.- Cosmology).
        If he wants to be a watchdog of the truth, Mr. Shermer should take note of how much we now know is real, which was once thought to be insubstantial or non-existent.  What is real includes far more than the naked eye can see.  In my opinion, true logic goes way beyond the principle of mutual-exclusion, and includes all that is possible, excluding only that which we know can not be true.  Sometimes, like Sherlock Holmes, we will discover that what we first thought very unlikely is what's real, after all.  Of course, our knowledge always changes, as new discoveries and clearer measurements will eventually supersede earlier understandings.  Mr. Shermer's article seems to suggest that we should rule out what we can't clearly demonstrate.  Does this mean that we should assume there was no magnetism or electricity, before we came to understand and harness these forces?  We know that this doesn't help us find what is real.
        Does Michael Shermer do Scientific American readers a disservice, by asking us to disbelieve what we do not understand, rather than assuming it is merely something which we do not yet comprehend, can not yet verify the existence of, or do not know the value of.  I have questions about a good many things which it would seem Mr. Shermer might just dismiss.  For example, he speaks as though he knows the origin of artifacts from Ancient Egypt, and it makes me wonder.  I read an article by a Materials Scientist, which described the maker's marks left by various fabrication techniques, and the relative occurrence of different kinds of marks on Egyptian stone artifacts of various ages.  It seems that we have only developed the techniques in the last 50 years, to duplicate some of the maker's marks reported to be on some rather old and well known artifacts (i.e.- the tomb in the King's chamber), and we use ultrasound to do it.  Does Mr. Shermer propose that we need to actually find an ancient milling machine, to know that some kind of advanced technology was used.
        This is not to say that I necessarily believe what I read to be accurate.  Nor do I claim to know how it was done.  I would like to see this subject examined further, however, to have a team of scientists look for makers' marks, and watch modern people attempt to re-create some of the work they find, down to the last detail.  I am willing to believe that some ancient humans were smarter than we think.  Just because we pursued a certain route to high technology, it doesn't mean that ancient people would be incapable of developing certain technological marvels of their own.  So what, if we have to re-write our timeline, concerning the emergence of culture?  Whether ETs were involved is not an issue for me, at this time.  Some things which are of great scientific interest need to be examined with an open mind, however.  We should not let the outlandish explanations of a few radical thinkers deter us from studying the legitimate issues that remain to explore.
        Also, Mr. Shermer should get his terms straight, if he is going to be accurate.  His statement about the likelihood of UFOs is technically inaccurate.  I believe he meant to say that there is only an 0.1 probability that someone, somewhere, saw an IAC (Identifiable Alien Craft).  I would say that the likelihood that someone, somewhere, saw something flying in the sky which they could not identify (a UFO), is far closer to the 0.9 probability he ascribes to other events.  I'm surprised that nobody has pointed out this bit of vocabulary, during his speaking engagements.
        I currently have no career in Science, so I have nothing to risk by speaking my mind on this subject.  I have often wanted to de-bunk the scientific establishment, but for now I'm more interested in expanding people's vision of what is real (or possible).  My recent studies have focused on the subject of observability and verifiability, in a Quantum-Mechanical context.  This subject matter is really what makes Shermer's article(s) so poignant for me.  My current research involves the role of the Zero-Brane in our Cosmological origins, and the process by which measureability arises.  My findings raise questions which are clearly Epistemological in nature, and I'm relatively certain that Mr. Shermer will find fault with my work (given his views), if he takes the time to read it.  Both how I came into my knowledge and what I am learning about puts my work squarely into speculative areas which he finds objectionable, but its truth value remains consistent, with or without his assent.
        I'm sure there will be many like Mr. Shermer, who will reject my work out of hand, because I often mix the scientific and the speculative.  On the other hand, I do hope that there will be those who will examine the findings themselves, and attempt to either verify my work or disprove it.  My earlier work involving a Cosmology based upon the Mandelbrot Set was largely pseudo-scientific, by the standards of Mr. Shermer's article, but that idea also remains as valid as it is, or is not.  The only "pseudo" aspect of that work is a by-product of the fact that I tried to show that my theory described an evolution of the universe similar to Big Bang cosmology, where I should have been more bold, and told it like it is.  I didn't have a plausible explanation for the departure, however, at the time.  The real result (not made-to-fit) describes a cosmological scenario more like the consensus we see emerging.  The exciting part is that my current work with the Zero-Brane seems to finally explain why the Mandelbrot Set appears isomorphic to Cosmology.
                        Jonathan J. Dickau
                        8 Lynn Road
                        Poughkeepsie, NY 12603
                        Phone:  845-462-5581

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Sent to the Editors at Scientific American
on February 7, 2002

Posted here on February 28, 2002

Thank You