Countering Pseudoscience in some of our news media.
Posted on June 7th, 2015
by Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada.
A fair treatment of one of forty topics in Science, mathematics, Buddhism, Kidney disease etc., skimmed over in an article by Dr. Nalin de Silva – Part I
An article adapted from Vadusara (4-June-2015) circulated by Dr. Silva is entitled “The meaning of life and blatant lies ජීවිතයේ අරුත හා පට්ටපල් බොරු”. He discusses many matters besides what is implied by the title. Within a mere 180-odd lines of text, Dr Silva treats at least FORTY complex topics (these topics are listed in an appendix at the end of this article).
In Dr. Silva’s 180-odd lines he quotes and castigates Prof. Amaratunga, attacks and challenges his critics to verbal duals, repeats himself, leaving only about three lines per topic (or less) on the average. He jumbles the topics, ignoring any sequence. For instance, while discussing Sinhala Buddhists and their claimed objective of crossing the stream of Samsara (topic 14) he suddenly jumps to discuss Bodhi Dhanapala’s discussion of a straight line, and then drops it to discuss impermanence (anithya) and soullessness (anaththa). Is Dr. Silva following the card -tricksters method of rapidly flashing many cards to cover his sleight of hand and confuse the onlooker, or is he trying to creat an impression of erudition?. Dr. Silva now brings up another red herring (Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment) to awe his readers.
Dr. Nalin de Silva has not stated if he agrees with Wheeler’s paradoxical result which is contrary to the principle that cause precedes effect, and contrary to the doctrine of Patticha-Samuthpada. Instead he challenges all Sinhala Buddhist scientists to express their views about it “මම සිංහල බෞද්ධ භෞතික විද්යාඥයන්ට ප්රශ්නයක් යොමු කරමි. වීලර්ගේ ප්රමාද තේරීමට අනුව වර්තමානය විසින් අතීතය තීරණය කෙරෙන්නේ යැයි කියැවෙයි. ඒ ගැන මේ විද්යාඥයන්ට කීමට ඇත්තේ කුමක් ද? අනුන්ගේ මත උපුටා දක්වන ධර්මවර්ධන මහතාට බෝම් මේ ගැන කියන්නේ කුමක් දැයි කිව හැකි ද”? Having picked up the “delayed choice paradox” from some book or other, Dr. Silva does indeed qualify as “… උපුටා දක්වන Silva”. Why doesn’t Dr. Silva go to the library and read what Bohr and Bohm have said about it, and also look up Dr. Dharmawardana’s discussion in sec. 7.7.5 of his book, “A physicist’s view of matter and mind”? There the readers can find out what Wheeler tacitly assumes to get his “tongue-in-cheek” paradox.
Dr. Silva has used his campaign against LTTE terrorism to gain brownie points and good will that have been used to leverage his presentation of careless and incorrect discussions about well established, experimentally well confirmed science. Political opinions are opinions which tell us how we ought to act in the politically and define ends rather than means. But scientific facts are value-neutral in the sense that a stick of dynamite can be used for one political objective or another, without distinction, in what ever culture. They become engineering practice when the facts are well established. They are not mere majority “opinions” as in politics.
We plant to eventually discuss many of the topics merely skimmed over by Nalin de Silva, as most of his articles are a regurgitation of the same materials served as a different koththu. In this article we choose just one topic for discussion, viz., newspaper articles and how to reduce dissemination of pseudoscience. In a second article we will discuss Buddha’s objective external world, Chulla-haththi-padopama sutta, and Dr. Silva’s communications with the Devas.
Newspapers and pseudoscience.
Many writers to the Vidusara have no hidden agenda and write good articles respecting the accepted norms of evidenced-based presentation. But this is not the case with Dr. Silva’s articles. I suggested that the Editor of the Vidusara has not been diligence in providing readers with reliable information in allowing Dr. Silva to write what ever he pleases. I suggested that perhaps learned societies, academics and and Senior science teachers should write to the editor when mis-information occurs. Dr. Silva now claims that we are being like the Catholic church which controls the opinions of its flock!
Even simple matters are indicative of the malaise. Dr. Silva has been repeatedly talking of a “de Broolie” when it is well-known that the name de Broglie is pronounced as “de Broy”, and it should be written “de Broy” in a phonetic language like Sinhala. Another example is where Dr. Silva, uncritically copying the errors found in Jim Baggot’s book continued to insist that no one had even a hint of de Broglie’s theories till 1927. These three years from 1924 to 1927 are crucial to the history of quantum mechanics, and such error cannot be permitted. Theses errors are allowed to be repeated in Vidusara, even after being pointed out. Unlike the more philosophical issues, the error is evident here.
The main-stream view about the photon (which agrees with all experiments) is that the dynamical mass as well as the so-called “rest mass” of a free photon is zero. However, Dr. Silva has begun to spin his own theory about the photon and present it in the Vidusara! Such new proposals should be presented in suitable research journals and not in a popular science newspaper. Furthermore, every time Dr. Silva writes about the photon, he commits a new physics error. In his most recent article he suggests via a question that the mass of the photon will manifest when very high energy photons collide (ශක්තිය ඉතා අධික වන විට ඒවා ගැටීමට සැලැස්විය හැකි ය. ඒ අවස්ථාවල දී ෆෝටෝනයක ස්කන්ධය ගැන කිව හැක්කේ කුමක් ද? ). Has he forgotten that in such high-energy collisions one of the photons annihilates and an electron-positron pair is created?
Dr. Silva claims that the Vidusara Editor has published my articles. Far from it. I wrote about the correct pronunciation of de Broglie, and also attempted to correct Dr. Silva’s errors about de Broglie’s work (published since 1924 and not in 1927). My articles written in polite language were not published by the Vidusara editor even though I asked him for the right of reply to Silva’s caustic remarks. It was the Lankaweb editor who published them (English version). Similarly, the article with the simple experiment using the flash lights to demonstrate the error of Dr. Silva’s calculation (copied from Taylor and Wheeler’s book by Dr. Silva) was not published by Vidusara, although we had a right to reply.
Some time ago, when Dr. Nalin de Silva wrote in the Divaina attacking me, I replied and also asked for the right to reply, but justice failed. Prof. Dharmawardana also has been denied right-to-reply by the Divaina, but the Divaina editor allows Dr. Silva to attack anyone in print. Many distinguished Sri Lankan academics have written to me privately that not one of their articles has been published by these partisan editors.
We must thank the Lankaweb editor, and the Island newspaper editor, for following enlightened policies where we are also given a chance to present the established scientific view on these matters.
The idea that there is no evidence-based objective truth, and that there are only “opinions” dependent on one’s perspective and cultural bias, has existed among fringe thinkers since time immemorial. This view was pushed forward by Friedrich Nietzsche calling it perspectivism. The twentieth century schools of post-modernism arose from perspectivist beginnings, and now they have invaded many journalism schools. Indeed, much of public life is populated by lawyers, accountants etc who avoided doing science in school and university for one reason or another. Only 2% of the American politicians (including both federal and state legislators) have a degree in science , and similar statistics hold for US journalists. In the US it is customary for politicians and journalists to uphold “trust in God”. Public figures (and the public they represent) do not understand science. Even though Christianity is waning in the west, its in-grained anti-science attitudes are nurtured by well funded evangelical and conservative groups, as well as by some leftist organizations because US-technology is in the hands of large global corporations.
However, a public poll conducted by the Obama voting machine found that 80% of the public are interested in science, even if they feel that their belief system is threatened. Obama himself, as an attorney judging the evidence, accepted that science plays the major role in all social and political issues today, from warfare to health, energy, agriculture and the environment. And yet, the US media and TV channels did not agree, and the presidential-candidate debates virtually dropped discussion on science policy. The reader should consult the account given by Shawn L. Otta, the producer of the US presidential science debates to understand how anti-science is undermining democracy in the USA.
(Scientific American, Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize US Democracy).
In Sri Lanka it is mandatory for public figures to show yards of chanted wristbands (“Pirith Nool”) to establish their piety. Unlike in the USA, the Sri Lankan public is NOT against science, and even the traditional villager wants his children to study science or medicine. However, a certain segment of the westernized public who imitate US public opinion copy the same suspicion of science shown by the US public. For them, a pains-takingly built up evidence-based scientific theory about the efficacy of vaccination, safety of Pasteurized milk, or the safety of WiFi radiation and cell phones etc, are treated as mere opinions that have no more weight than the opinions of anti-vaccination lobbies, raw-milk advocates or anti-WiFi fanatics. Well-funded lobby conservative groups work hard to even twist the arm of world organizations like the WHO and the FAO.
Dr. Nalin de Silva and his followers also belong to this group, but came to it from a leftist-nationalist perspective where perspectivism has been pushed to a subjectivist nationalistic extreme. So, evidence-based scientific theory is merely “Western science” which is an instrument of domination. In an earlier age, they would have labeled the arrival of Buddhism into Sri Lanka as an Indian invasion of blatant lies (patta-pal boru) designed to subjugate the Yaksaha and Naga people. They do not see how Japan and China have used science to get rid of the shackles of western imperialism and challenge the West.
When a number of people like Ranjith Soyza and Mahes Ladduwahetty claimed that knowledge is “culture biased”, we asked them to provide even just one example of some facts from Chemistry, Physics, biochemistry, Geology etc., that are dependent on culture. They have not replied, and nor has Dr. Silva who talks always of “Western” science, as if he has anything different to offer.
Today in Sri Lanka evidence-based science regarding the chemistry of the water in the Rajarata is treated merely as fraud perpetrated by scientists who are in the “pay of big business”. Such serious and dangerous claims are published with impunity and repeatedly by reporters like Don Asoka Wijewardene, echoing the words od Dr. Jayasumana, without presenting any evidence. When I complained about this, the Island Editor was gracious enough to publish my protest, but the practice of making baseless allegations continues unabated.
[The 40-odd topics skimmed by Dr. Silva are
(1) Newspapers and their policies,
(2)Tamil Nationalism and terrorism,
(3) agro-chemicals, kidney disease,
(4) proposal that the science academies or science teachers monitor and respond to suspicious articles and also review the partisan acts of editors,
(5) mind, musa (falsehoods), pruthagjana (non-arhants) and their knowledge,
(6) abstract constructions,
(7) what is “perceived by the five senses”,
(8) a challenge to other writers to come to a verbal argument with Dr. NS,
(9) why he criticizes sinhala-buddhists,
(10) a challenge to “Sinhala-Buddhist scientists in particular to explain Wheeler’s so-called delayed choice thought experiment using what Bohm had said about it
(11) Sarcastic statement of Prof. Amaratunga’s qualifications
(12) the claim that the question of the meaning of life is a Jewish – Christian question,
(13) A challenge especially to Sinhala-Buddhist scientists to show any concept or theory created by them,
(14) the claim that Sinhala Buddhists want to cross the stream of Sansara, and comprehend impermanence and soullessness and not the meaning of life
(15) Bodhi Dhanapala’s discussion of a straight line
(16) Claim that he had known for a while that Prof. Amaratunga cannot express ideas coherently and if Amaratunga would ever understand that Western science is a blatant lie.
(17) Claim that Western science is an explanation of what is observed by the five senses where the explanations are abstract concepts (kathandara) that are not observable by the five senses
(18) The claim that observations and concepts observable by the five senses, or not observable by the five senses, are all falsehoods (Boru).
(19) The claim that the Buddha paid less regard to the concepts which are unobservable by the five senses, compared to the observable concepts which are in any case all falsehoods
(20) A misrepresentation of the content of the Chulla-haththi-padopama Sutta where the Buddha emphasizes direct observation of the elephant
(21) Constructs a story about God Natha who has been “seen” by a few people
(22) reveals his misconceptions about Newtons theory of gravity and planetary motion
(23) Claim that not seeing God Nath is like not being able to see gravity
(24) Claim that Gods and spirits do not spin theories, but state what they definitely know,and that they are lies, though not blatant lies
(25) Claims that Glyphosate-arsenic-Ca lattices (a hypothetical ceramic) will be the only knowledge given by Sri Lanka to Western Science.
(26) Claims that no scientist has accepted his challenge to show him a discourse of the Buddha where the Buddha has said that there is an objective world indpendent of an observer.
(27) He throws a denigratinly couched challane to Bodhi Dhanapala to find such a Sutta by asking who ever he can
(28) A summary of Earnst machs views in a few sentences
(29) Questions about the theory of gravitation, inertial frames and if they actually exist, and if they are only models (30) Dr. Silva tells us that he won the 1967 Government scholarship in mathematics.
(31) Dr. Silva returns to the question of the definition of a line and asks what is an angle?
(32) Claim that western mathematics is not connected with a so-called “world”
(33) Dr Silva again claims that the problem of the onset of the chaotic regime of the harmonic oscillator is a matter for enguineering and applied maths, and claims that Trishantha Nanayakkara accepted this
(34) Dr. Silva again referes to a non-existant scientist named de Brooli and claims that Dr. Silva followed Ven. Buddhaghosa in giving a mass to the photon
(35) Claims that Wwestern science does not understand photons
(36) Says that when photons have a lot of energy they can be made to collide, and asks about the mass of the photon
(37) Dr. Silva quotes from Professor Amarasinghe and discusses the mind-brain connection (36) Claims that Gods and Spirits have minds but no brains
(38) Discusses rebirth and consciousness
(39) Claims that Dharmakeerthi and Nagarjuna ared “Mahayaanikas”
(40) Asks, “If Buddhism agrees with Western science then why Sinhala Buddhist scientists could not make models (theories) useful for psychoanalysis and related subjects.