Articles

The Weekly Waluation of the Weasel Words of Woo #10

The W^5/2 Hits Double Figyiz!

OK, I gotta admit that my friend Orac moved me to render this Special 10th Edition of the W^5/2™ (after a brief hiatus) by mentioning it today in the context of an article that used, er, the topic of our venerable game to great advantage! Some of it is brilliant, unprecedented even:

Perhaps most tellingly, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service approved acupuncture as a deductible medical expense in 1973.

My hat is off to whoever came up with that one! Hey, y’gotyer basic logical fallacies, right? Y’gotyer appeal to tradition, yer appeal to popularity (or, as Orac put it, yer argumentum ad populum—sheece, is he a snob er what?), yer appeal to authority, which, I shpoze, an appeal to the IRS is a species of, as it were (hmmm: is that appeal heard in Tax Court?)…but there’s something just a little more special about this than just that. Therefore I propose, in the Tremendous (and Trendy!) Tradition of Trademarked Titles long associated with the Wonderful W^5/2™, a bran’, spankin’ new fallacy of its own, presented, of course, in a tasteful Madison Avenue format:

Are you unsure about your cure? Has that acupuncture juncture got you in a funk, sir? Don’t be waverin’ when you could be savorin’!

For Facts to the Max, consult the Sheriff of the Tariff!©

(Or, in the hifalutin’ language favored by the sniffing Orac, argumentum ad yer-workin’-for-nobody-but-meum).

Last Week’s Entry

Buttanuffa that. Let’s lookit the translations submitted for ‘last week’s’ entry, which, as y’ll recall, was itself submitted by loyal W^5/2™ gamer Wertys! Not that you need reminding, because it’s obviously fresh in your minds, but that entry is once again topical thanks to Harriet Hall’s most recent post, seein’ as how it was all about “palpatory literacy”—in the chiropractic sense, that is.

First off, I gotta gently chide a fewayuz who just seemed to wanna scold. I mean, lighten up a little, OK, Dr Benway, Perky Skeptic, MedsVsTherapy, and Jurjen S.?

Then there’s an intriguing comment by AppealToAuthority suggesting that just maybe the authors of the entry were attempting, in a chiropractic journal, to appeal to rationality, or, even better, to write a satire. Either one seems doubtful, but I gotta admit I hadn’t thoughta that, even if I totally agreed with Stu (m’man!).

As always, of course, the real kudos have gotta go to translators who really put their hearts’n'souls into it, ifya know wuddeye mean: Joe (even if he did nominate himself, f’cryin’ outloud), Mojo, Sastra, Blue Wode, mmarsh, and Stu (m’man!), using (what else?) the Power of Simple Substitution first unveiled right here on the Award-Winning, Wondrous and Wonderful W^5/2™!

Allatheez translators hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head, but for my money the grand prizathaweek goes to…

Michelle B, for makin’ me laugh the most.

This Week’s Entry: Alan Sokal, Cultural Studies, and…Homeopathy

Most readers of this blog are probably aware of the “Sokal Hoax” of the mid-90s: Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU, wrote a satirical article titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermaneutics of Quantum Gravity.” As you may gather from that title or already know, Sokal wrote the article in the style recently favored by a strain of “post-modern” academics. He did it, in extreme summary, to protest the burgeoning nonsense portrayed, by that set, as scientific knowledge. Here is a juicy sample from Sokal’s piece:

But whose mathematics? The question is a fundamental one, for, as Aronowitz has observed, “neither logic nor mathematics escapes the ‘contamination’ of the social.” And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic: “mathematics is portrayed as a woman whose nature desires to be the conquered Other.” Thus, a liberatory science cannot be complete without a profound revision of the canon of mathematics. As yet no such emancipatory mathematics exists, and we can only speculate upon its eventual content. We can see hints of it in the multidimensional and nonlinear logic of fuzzy systems theory; but this approach is still heavily marked by its origins in the crisis of late-capitalist production relations. Catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis.

The hoax occurred when Sokal’s article was accepted and published, with an entirely straight face, by the trendy “cultural studies” journal Social Text. A few months later Sokal revealed the hoax in another journal, Lingua Franca. After that, as they say, all hell broke loose. You can read all about the affair here (it’s worth doing, for entertainment value as well as for a scary look at academic culture of only a few years ago).

In my opinion, the “Sokal Hoax” is one of the best things that has happened during my lifetime. The reason that it pertains to this week’s W^5/2™, however, stems from Sokal’s explanation, after the fact, of the style that he had had to learn in order to write the satire, and how difficult that had been for him to do:

Like the genre it is meant to satirize — myriad exemplars of which can be found in my reference list — my article is a mélange of truths, half-truths, quarter-truths, falsehoods, non sequiturs, and syntactically correct sentences that have no meaning whatsoever. (Sadly, there are only a handful of the latter: I tried hard to produce them, but I found that, save for rare bursts of inspiration, I just didn’t have the knack.) I also employed some other strategies that are well-established (albeit sometimes inadvertently) in the genre: appeals to authority in lieu of logic; speculative theories passed off as established science; strained and even absurd analogies; rhetoric that sounds good but whose meaning is ambiguous; and confusion between the technical and everyday senses of English words.

It seems to have been much easier for those that Sokal satirized to write such drivel, as he demonstrated in numerous quotations throughout his satire. Here is Sokal citing one such author:

Along parallel lines, Donna Haraway (1991, 191-192) has argued eloquently for a democratic science comprising “partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibility of webs of connections called solidarity in politics and shared conversations in epistemology” and founded on “a doctrine and practice of objectivity that privileges contestation, deconstruction, passionate construction, webbed connections, and hope for transformation of systems of knowledge and ways of seeing.”

Here he quotes verbatim from English professor Robert Markley:

Quantum physics, hadron bootstrap theory, complex number theory, and chaos theory share the basic assumption that reality cannot be described in linear terms, that nonlinear — and unsolvable — equations are the only means possible to describe a complex, chaotic, and non-deterministic reality. These postmodern theories are — significantly — all metacritical in the sense that they foreground themselves as metaphors rather than as “accurate” descriptions of reality. In terms that are more familiar to literary theorists than to theoretical physicists, we might say that these attempts by scientists to develop new strategies of description represent notes towards a theory of theories, of how representation — mathematical, experimental, and verbal — is inherently complex and problematizing, not a solution but part of the semiotics of investigating the universe.

Yup, language matters. There is an intimate relation between style and honesty. In Lingua Franca, Sokal wrote:

In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths — the utter absurdity of it all being concealed through obscure and pretentious language.

Social Text’s acceptance of my article exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory — meaning postmodernist literary theory — carried to its logical extreme. No wonder they didn’t bother to consult a physicist. If all is discourse and “text,” then knowledge of the real world is superfluous; even physics becomes just another branch of Cultural Studies. If, moreover, all is rhetoric and “language games,” then internal logical consistency is superfluous too: a patina of theoretical sophistication serves equally well. Incomprehensibility becomes a virtue; allusions, metaphors and puns substitute for evidence and logic. My own article is, if anything, an extremely modest example of this well-established genre.

On, then, to the fun! Several weeks ago, spurred by this and similar comments, I was temporarily inspired to write a satirical homeopathy treatise employing the sort of verbiage quoted above (I even suggested to SD that he might do it, for it seemed that he’d already demonstrated the knack, but he didn’t reply). Well, it proved to require more than a trivial effort and I kinda forgot about it for a time, and then one day it was just STARING ME IN THE FACE! Not, alas, as a satire, but, as had been Alan Sokal’s initial experience, as a completely serious composition, fully formed! Aha, the cognoscenti among you are thinking, I musta read something by Lionel Milgrom. Good try, but nope; this is even better:

Time-Logics of the Quantal Base State in Homeopathic Potentization


Potentizing homeopathic substances beyond the Avogadro limit is a critical-state coherent process, wherein an element of active information cannot be considered identical to itself. Temporal ordering is paramount in transferring such information to and from the quantal base state, and requires m-valued logics and skew-parallel geometries to represent the identity transparency produced by the active temporal operators. In order to model the turbulent dynamics of dilution-succussion, the Hilbert space of quantum theory must be modified under m-valued logics such that a multivalued reference space becomes the informational ground, or quantal base state, decomposed and recomposed by operator-time. Such temporal operations inherently involve complex angular momentum exhange via “imaginary time”. This temporal-spin is a generalization of Dirac’s “spin coordinate” and offers insight into how homeotherapeutic potency sustains itself indefinitely.

In homeopathic potentization the dilution-succussion process…becomes a water-borne stack of crisis states that cascade highly organized (i.e., coherent) time-pattern shapes through the nested collection of “acetate” clock-sheets constituting the transparent information ground.

—Pensinger W, Paine D, Jus J. Journal of the American Insititute of Homeopathy 90(2): 77-88 (1997)

Truth sure is stranger than fiction, i’nit? Happy Waluating!

The Misleading Language and Weekly Waluation of the Weasel Words of Woo series:

  1. Lies, Damned Lies, and ‘Integrative Medicine’
  2. Integrative Medicine: “Patient-Centered Care” is the new Medical Paternalism

 

Posted in: Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Humor, Science and Medicine, Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (17) ↓

17 thoughts on “The Weekly Waluation of the Weasel Words of Woo #10

  1. daijiyobu says:

    I recall, while I was studying the naturopaTHICK, an instructor who, whenever s/he went into a ‘theoretical explanation’ [lets forget that a person actually needs concrete facts to explain in order to actually be theorizing!] such as those above, would very energetically take one hand and create what I can best describe as a vortex in the air in front of whomever was listening.

    A magical gesture, perhaps an attempt to dispel the fact that “facts and evidence matter.”

    So, I’ve put on my list of future projects this study goal: to compare the physical gestures of woomeisters and mainstream scientists as they ‘theorize’ and actually theorize.

    -r.c.

  2. Jann Bellamy says:

    Here’s a tidbit from a much longer commentary by a “peer reviewer” of an article I submitted to a chiropractic journal (I know, I know — it’s a long story). I dared to state outright in the article that the chiropractic subluxation is a discredited concept.

    “The upshot is, contrary to the author’s assertion, an untested hypothesis, like the subluxation, cannot be considered a discredited concept no matter how vigorously or strenuously the author advances her assertion. To the contrary,
    such strongly held views and hard positions, it could be argued, evince a one-sided intellectual constipation and prejudice for the
    Aristotelian/modernistic/mechanistic/materialist/ reductionist method while ignoring or dismissing completely, any inspection or treatment of post-modern/hoslistic[sic]/rational observationist viewpoint in an intellectually honest fashion. As troubling as adherence to untested subluxation is for some, equally troubling is the uncritical adherence to the dogma of scientism. Both viewpoints are prone the [sic] argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy ‘committed whenever it is argued that a proposition is true simply on the basis that it has not been proved false’ or vice versa.”

    So, I guess that’s the problem here at SBM — uncritical adherence to the dogma of scientism, not to mention a one-sided intellectual constipation. Maybe all we need is a good colon cleanse.

  3. Ooh, Donna Haraway! I attended a lecture by her in 2005 and wrote a blog post about it. I had no idea she was notorious.

    http://www.alisoncummins.com/2005/03/25/movies-and-things/

  4. Stu-again says:

    When Bad Translator! makes more sense than the original:

    “A quantum logic, looking up”

    A number avogadro positive data base by using homosexuality is probably the result of normal. In addition, more Transparent, companies, Governments and can project more than. Theoretical predictions of Quantum Mechanics. Logic and Database Errors moderuparesugirubato diving or other water purisutokaosu.

    Monday purisutojetto crisis. Politics at home … Any method (in particular), others vinegar, and

    (Sorry, that’s all I got. Word salad in, word salad out. Phrases like “water-borne stack of crisis states” and “the transparent information ground” are beyond satire. ALBATROSS!)

  5. mmarsh says:

    Interpretation the First: “And if we reverse the polarity of the phaser banks and feed them back into the warp core…”

    Interpretation the Second: “I read _A Brief History of Time_! Well, I looked at the words.”

    Interpretation the Third: “I bought a graduate text on quantum field theory, stuck it in the blender, and hit ‘puree’.”

    Interpretation the Fourth: This is really an elaborate and coded game of bingo. I’m one Schroedinger away from a row!

  6. Michelle B says:

    Kimball, so glad that my entry made you laugh.

    Translation (of a basic homeopathy of the quantum gaps approach modeled after the god of the gaps/goddidit of religious believers):

    Extremely diluted substances no longer resemble avocados because they critically reject the coherence of green, as potency suffers no imitation.

    In order to make a really mean avocado dip, it is necessary to twirl around, passing the ingredients from the kitchen counter to a bowl and back again, at least a zillion times. It is paramount to beat the mixture with a hand-held blender while simultaneously citing every non-sequitur known to mankind. It behooves the operator to be active in order for the avocado dip to snuggle within a quantum gap where it will be safe from logic, evidence, and accountability, not to mention where the greenness of its green will be beyond green. As angular momentum is essential, please bang your elbow against the kitchen counter a few times.

    When family members observe your “spin coordinates” and demand some of the avocado dip, tell them that the dip was made in imaginary time and therefore is available indefinitely as long as they can squeeze into a quantum gap. If they insist that they can’t do that, explain it is because they eat too much avocado dip and should lay off it for a while. At this point, it is definitely possible that those family members will clock you over your head and wrap you in a acetate sheet while flooding the kitchen.

  7. Charon says:

    I’ve somehow missed all the other W^5/2, despite being an avid reader of SBM. So my first thought was, wow, somebody needs some dried frog pills! But then I got into the flow :)

    I would recommend Sokal’s book Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture. It has the hoax, with extensive explanatory notes, but also essays on other topics. In fact, it talks about pretty much all the ideas I despise, from postmodernism to SCAM to religion. It seems everything I despise has the common thread of being anti-rational and anti-empirical.

  8. Sastra says:

    You want a translation of that mess??

    Sigh I will see what I can do:

    Potentizing homeopathic substances beyond the Avogadro limit is a critical-state coherent process, wherein an element of active information cannot be considered identical to itself.

    (Hello. My name is Mr. Pensinger, and some friends and I wrote this article. So, okay, yes. It’s going to be hard to come up with a coherent explanation for how water remembers.)

    Temporal ordering is paramount in transferring such information to and from the quantal base state, and requires m-valued logics and skew-parallel geometries to represent the identity transparency produced by the active temporal operators.

    (We bet it’s going to have something to do with math, though. After all, numbers are real, and they do stuff, but not in the material universe where we can watch them.)

    In order to model the turbulent dynamics of dilution-succussion, the Hilbert space of quantum theory must be modified under m-valued logics such that a multivalued reference space becomes the informational ground, or quantal base state, decomposed and recomposed by operator-time.

    (As far as we can tell, quantum theory is all about how everything is consciousness spread out, so maybe the water remembers things on that level. Here are some physics words to help you visualize this. Sort of. )

    Such temporal operations inherently involve complex angular momentum exhange via “imaginary time”. This temporal-spin is a generalization of Dirac’s “spin coordinate” and offers insight into how homeotherapeutic potency sustains itself indefinitely.

    (Look, if regular scientists use terms like “imaginary” and “spin” when they do ordinary science, then we all agree it’s okay to be kinda loose with our descriptive details, and use imagination and spin, too. Fair is fair.)

    In homeopathic potentization the dilution-succussion process…becomes a water-borne stack of crisis states that cascade highly organized (i.e., coherent) time-pattern shapes through the nested collection of “acetate” clock-sheets constituting the transparent information ground.

    (In conclusion, then, water remembers what it’s been in contact with because the material reality that is the water can be looked through to see the transparent information ground behind it, which is the quantum field of consciousness where remembering takes place. Has to be. And science supports it.
    Thank you very much. Have a nice day.)

  9. Joe says:

    In order to justify the theories and convolutions of homeopathy, one need look no further (nor, indeed, nearer than) the systematic hermeneutics of the New Math which freed us from the shackles of the tyranny of multiplication tables nearly fifty years ago. After all, a billion barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico is qualitatively no more than a drop; so what we are told is true, from a certain point of view. Nevertheless, what is one to make of Avogadro (the Earl of guacamole); it is well advised that a moment on the lips means a lifetime on the hips. The advent of the circular slide rule showed us that the end of on calculation is merely the beginning of another; thus we can snatch victory from the horns of this conundrum by connoting the influence of time dilation on the inexorable result. As the great Richard Feynman noted (in aggregate, among his many publications) “those who claim to understand quantum mechanics are doomed to ‘cargo cult’ science.”

  10. Joe says:

    Michelle B. obviously reversed the negative power couplings to go back in time an rip-off my submission.

  11. Michelle B

    “Extremely diluted substances no longer resemble avocados because they critically reject the coherence of green, as potency suffers no imitation.” etc whole comment.

    Probably because I’ve not been reading much in the last few days, I’m completely baffled by the original article. (I think it’s kinda like, “Lost” you can’t start in the middle.) But I was randomly reading comments and the woo guacamole recipe gave me a much needed laugh.

    Thanks.

  12. tmac57 says:

    Vis-a-vis your colloquy, we should conjointly,endeavor,to eschew,obfuscatory lexiphanicism.

  13. Sean says:

    Regarding the time-logic article: I understand most of those words or phrases, which makes the incomprehensibility of the sentences themselves that much more amazing. The very first part about an element not being identical to itself pretty much guarantees that the whole paper is absurd though. I don’t believe that there’s any definition of the word “identical” that makes that sentence remotely comprehensible.

    Also, the use of the word “linear” is hilarious. In the mathematical sense, a great deal of quantum physics does involve linear equations. It’s not at all clear to me how complex number theory is any more or less non-linear than real number theory. Do the people who say this sort of thing simply not realize that they don’t know what they are talking about? Do they spend any time at all wondering how curious scientists actually think, or what it’s like to know enough to build something new and useful?

  14. phayes says:

    “I understand most of those words or phrases, which makes the incomprehensibility of the sentences themselves that much more amazing.” –Sean.

    If it was done by hand it is quite an impressive achievement but it looks like the output of a computer program to me. Something like this: http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/ but with the contents of a handful of mathematical physics and homeopathy texts as input.

    Milgrom appears to have access to a slightly more advanced program – one which can mimic the (appearance of the) structure of a physical/mathematical argument, and read and write LaTeX, in addition to emulating the grammatical and prose structure.

  15. BillyJoe says:

    All Milgom does is use a metaphor and then mistake it for the real thing.
    That’s it! Milgrom cut and dried and spat out.

  16. tommyhj says:

    Whenever I stumble upon texts like these I am reminded of how a schizophrenic thinks. There are always neologisms, private logic, paranoia, delusions of grandiour, pressure of speech etc. Thrice I have definitely diagnosed schizophrenia from a persons forum-posts alone.

    I believe that many theories and written texts from the SCAM world are in truth products of such minds.

    Makes you wonder about religion too…

  17. Dr Benway says:

    First off, I gotta gently chide a fewayuz who just seemed to wanna scold. I mean, lighten up a little, OK, Dr Benway, Perky Skeptic, MedsVsTherapy, and Jurjen S.?

    Eh? Did someone call my name?

    My relative quiet these past few months doesn’t mean I don’t love everyone here. I just can’t spank the bad people on the Internet when there’s sailing.

Comments are closed.