On "Challenging dominant physics paradigms", Published in Journal of Scientific Exploration, vol. 18, no. 3, Fall 2004, pp. 421-438.
"proponents of unorthodoxy may come under attack: their colleagues may shun them, they may be blocked from jobs or promotions, lab space may be withdrawn and malicious rumors spread about them. Even if they can overcome these problems, they have a hard time gaining attention."
By these published sociological studies by active scientists on the reaction of the scientific establishment/community to challengings to "accepted" ideas we can see that the reactions from that community to the reality of anomalies is really not surprising and a reflection of their systemic failure to deal with paradigm changing facts.
Reprinted in Martin Lopez Corredoira and Carlos
Castro Perelman (eds.), Against the tide: a critical review by
scientists of how physics and astronomy get done(Baton Roca, Florida:
Universal Publishers, 2008), pp. 9-26. Published in Spanish in 2012.
Address: Departamento de Fisica,
Universidad de Alcala, 28871 Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Espana (Spain) Web: http://www2.uah.es/jmc/
Address: Arts Faculty, University of
Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia Website
Address for reprint requests:
Juan Miguel Campanario, Departamento de Fisica, Universidad de Alcala, 28871
Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Espana (Spain).
We thank all those who answered our queries for
their valuable comments, only a few of which we have been able to incorporate
in this paper. For comments on earlier drafts, we thank Halton Arp, Andre
Assis, Walter Babin, Dave Bergman, Stephen Brush, James DeMeo, Ken Dillon,
Brenda Dunne, Don Eldridge, Len Gaasenbeek, Bruce Harvey, Roger Nelson,
Caroline Thompson, Tom Van Flandern, Lars Wahlin, Ron Westrum and an anonymous
reviewer. The Spanish Ministry of Education (Action PR2002-0046) kindly
provided travel funds for Juan Miguel Campanario.
There are many well-qualified scientists who
question long-established physics theories even when paradigms are not in
crisis. Challenging scientific orthodoxy is difficult because most scientists
are educated and work within current paradigms and have little career incentive
to examine unconventional ideas. Dissidence is a strategic site for learning
about the dynamics of science. Dozens of well-qualified scientists who
challenge dominant physics paradigms were contacted to determine how they try
to overcome resistance to their ideas. Some such challengers obtain funding in
the usual ways; others tap unconventional sources or use their own funds. For
publishing, many challengers use alternative journals and attend conferences
dedicated to alternative viewpoints; publishing on the web is of special
importance. Only a few physics dissidents come under attack, probably because
they have not achieved enough prominence to be seen as a threat. Physics could
benefit from greater openness to challenges; one way to promote this is to
expose students to unconventional views.
Physics has a reputation as one of the most
highly developed and well established fields of science. Although there are
many exotic-sounding theories at the research frontier involving strings, black
holes and charm, the basic postulates of classic theories such as
electrodynamics, relativity and quantum theory are seen as solidly established.
It is surprising to find, therefore, that there
are many challengers to orthodox physics who offer critiques of conventional
theories and present their own alternative formulations. Furthermore, many of
these challengers are well qualified, with degrees, mainstream publications,
positions at well-known universities and prizes including the Nobel Prize.
Table 1 gives a few examples, listing only a selection of these particular
challengers' achievements. This is not a ranking of dissidents; there are
others with just as many accomplishments.
Table 1. A sample of well-qualified challengers to orthodox physics
Halton Arp is a professional astronomer who has worked at
the Mt. Palomar and Mt. Wilson observatories. He has received the Helen B.
Warner prize, the Newcomb Cleveland award and the Alexander von Humboldt Senior
Scientist Award. He has published a large amount of evidence that contradicts
the big bang (Arp 1987, 1998).
André Assis is professor of physics at the University of
Campinas, Brazil, is the author of several books and over 50 scholarly articles
and is a leading authority on Weber's electrodynamics. He is a critic of
relativity (Assis 1994, 1999).
Robert G. Jahn is professor of aerospace science
and dean emeritus of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton
University and has received the Curtis W. McGraw Research Award of the American
Society of Engineering Education. He researches mind-matter interactions.
Paul Marmet was professor of physics at Laval University,
Quebec,for over 20 years, is author of over 100 papers in electron microscopy,
was president of the Canadian Association of Physicists and has received the
Order of Canada. He is a critic of relativity.
Domina Eberle Spencer is professor of mathematics at
the University of Connecticut and has published several books and over 200
scholarly articles. She supports an alternative theory of electrodynamics, in
the Gaussian-Weberian-Ritzian tradition.
Tom Van Flandern has a PhD in astronomy from Yale
University, became chief of the Celestial Mechanics Branch of the US Naval
Observatory and received a prize from the Gravity Research Foundation. He is
critic of theories of the big bang, gravity and the solar system (Van Flandern
If you decide to question a widely accepted
theory, or to present data that is anomalous in terms of current
understandings, it can be difficult to gain a hearing. Although the essence of
scientific advance is going beyond current knowledge or offering a new way of
understanding data, questioning fundamentals is seldom welcome. Some types of
challenge, such as perpetual motion machines or causality violation, are
automatically rejected. Others, such as cold fusion, are openly considered and
tested but then, if they do not measure up, henceforth rejected by mainstream
It is easy to dismiss challengers as
"cranks," but this risks rejecting fresh ideas from those who are
well placed to achieve radical breakthroughs. There are instances where the
official expert view is later revealed as unproductively dogmatic, as when the
French Academy rejected observations by common people of stones falling from
the sky. It may be that "the kinship of the scientific crank with the
scientific creator is more than a superficial one" (Watson 1938, 41) but
few scientists embrace this connection.
A proponent of an unorthodox idea is likely to
encounter several types of difficulties. First, it is difficult to obtain
funding: very few research grants are awarded for proposals to re-examine long
accepted theories. Most funding agencies expect that proposals will build on
existing science rather than challenge basic postulates. Second, it is
difficult to publish in mainstream journals. Third, proponents of unorthodoxy
may come under attack: their colleagues may shun them, they may be blocked from
jobs or promotions, lab space may be withdrawn and malicious rumors spread
about them. Even if they can overcome these problems, they have a hard time
Our focus here is on strategies used by
challengers to overcome such obstacles. In the next section we outline ideas
from the social studies of science that help to explain the way science
responds to challenges. Then, drawing on responses to questions we submitted to
dozens of physics dissidents, we look at methods used by challengers to current
paradigms to obtain funds for research, publish their work and survive attacks.
We conclude with some observations about how challenges to orthodoxy, even
though most of them are judged wrong, can be used constructively.
Of the large body of research in the history,
philosophy, psychology and sociology of science, we here pick out a few key
ideas that are helpful for understanding why challenges to orthodoxy are likely
to be given a cold reception. We have found that some earlier ideas, now
superseded in the eyes of many, remain useful for explaining challenges and
responses, though for other purposes these same ideas have important
The most common view about how science works is
that new ideas are judged on the basis of evidence and logic: if a new idea
explains more data or provides more precise agreement with experiment, this
counts strongly in its favor.
Karl Popper claimed that science advances by
falsification (Popper 1963). In his view, it is the duty of scientists to
attempt to disprove theories, confronting them with experimental data and
rejecting them if they do not explain the data. Theories that cannot be
falsified are, according to Popper, not scientific. Many scientists believe in
These conventional views were challenged by
Thomas Kuhn (1970). Kuhn argued that scientists - and physicists in particular,
since most of his historical examples were from physics - adhere to a paradigm,
which is a set of assumptions and standard practices for undertaking research.
If an experiment gives results contradictory to theory, then instead of
rejecting the theory altogether, alternative responses include rejecting the
experiment as untrustworthy and modifying the theory to account for the new
results (Chia 1998; Chinn and Brewer 1993).
When anomalies accumulate, the paradigm can
enter a state of crisis and be ripe for overthrow by a new paradigm. This
process of scientific revolution does not proceed solely according to a
rational procedure but involves social factors such as belief systems and
political arrangements. Kuhn's successors have modified his model of paradigms
and revolutions, for example showing that paradigms are not as well defined and
incommensurable as Kuhn imagined, but they have extended his insight that the
process of scientific change involves social factors and is not just a rational
matter (Barnes 1977, 1982; Collins 1985; Fuller 2000; Mulkay 1979; Pinch 1986).
In any case, the idea of paradigms puts a
different spin on the problem of new ideas in science. Rather than being dealt
with according to logic and evidence, challenging ideas may be ignored or
rejected out of hand because they conflict with current models. In effect, the
logic and evidence used to establish the paradigm are treated as definitive and
are unquestioningly preferred over any new logic and evidence
offered that challenge the paradigm. During periods of "normal
science," the ideas developed by mainstream scientists originate from current
paradigms: they add more and more pieces to standard puzzles. Given that the
paradigm is the source of ideas, it is not surprising that challenges to the
paradigm - the framework that allowed mainstream scientists to contribute to
the development of science - are seldom greeted with open arms. If a theory is
not considered physically plausible, it may be rejected even though it makes
successful predictions (Brush 1990).
Eminent philosopher of science Imre Lakatos
says that research programs have a hard core set of fundamental principles
surrounded by a set of subsidiary, less significant assumptions, called the
protective belt. For the research program to advance, lesser assumptions can be
tested and possibly modified, protecting the hard core from being falsified
(Chalmers 1999, 130-136; Lakatos 1970).
Conventional science education helps to
perpetuate current orthodoxy. Students are introduced to physics through
textbooks that typically present current ideas as "the truth" and
either ignore alternative ideas altogether or portray them as convincingly
disproved by experiment. Students learn by solving problems, and the concepts
and magnitudes used in these problems assume the validity of current theories.
Only rarely are students presented with theories that don't work, and even in
those cases, such as Bohr's model of the hydrogen atom, the intent is to show
how researchers overcame problems. By and large, students are confronted only
with success in science. Acceptance of received wisdom is deeper because
orthodoxy is never discussed as orthodoxy: it is simply the truth. Students are
also taught about the "scientific method" - observation, hypothesis
formulation, testing, etc. - and hence come to believe that theories that have
been tested by experiments are true, because the textbook scientific method is
thought to be the way science actually operates. Views that science actually
proceeds in a different fashion are seldom mentioned (Barnes 1974; Bauer 1992;
Feyerabend 1975). Relevant here is a famous quote from Max Planck (1949,
33-34): "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its
opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually
die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
The system of examinations and degrees is a
sorting process; the physics PhD screens out most of those who question
orthodoxy (Schmidt 2000). Once students are committed to the basic principles
of the field, then it is possible to begin research and to question, within
implicit limits, prevailing ideas.
There are definite advantages to training and
researching within a standard framework. Rather than spending lots of time
getting bogged down in the basics, researchers instead can move more rapidly
and confidently to the cutting edge, pushing out to unexplored areas of
knowledge and, thus, reinforcing and developing the paradigm. As long as the
basic principles of the field are sound, it makes sense to simply learn them
and build on them. Traditional education seldom tells students how to go about
challenging current paradigms.
There is another obstacle facing challengers:
the psychological commitment of scientists to current ideas, especially their
own ideas and the dominant ideas. The usual image of the scientist is of a
cool, calm, detached, objective observer, but the reality is quite different
(Mahoney 1976; Mitroff 1974), as anyone who knows scientists is aware. The
classic study of the psychology of scientists is Ian Mitroff's book The
Subjective Side of Science, in which he revealed that Apollo moon
scientists were strikingly committed to their ideas, so much so that contrary
evidence seemed to have little influence on their views. As well, scientists
express strong views, often quite derogatory, about other scientists. To expect
every scientist to react coolly and objectively to a competitor's idea is
wishful thinking, though there are some scientists who approach the ideal.
Intriguingly, Mitroff found that it was often the top scientists who were the
most strongly committed to their ideas.
Tom Van Flandern commented to us:
I have taken aside several colleagues whose pet
theories are now mainstream doctrine, and asked quizzically what it would mean
to them personally if an alternative idea ultimately prevailed. To my initial
shock (I was naive enough that I did not see this coming), to a person, the
individuals I asked said they would leave the field and do something else for a
living. Their egos, the adulation they enjoy, and the satisfaction that they
were doing something important with their lives, would be threatened by such a
development. As I pondered this, it struck me that their vested interests ran
even deeper than if they just had a financial stake in the outcome (which, of
course, they do because of grants and promotions). So a challenger with a
replacement idea would be naive to see the process as anything less than
threatening the careers of some now-very-important people, who cannot be
expected to welcome that development regardless of its merit. (1 August 2002)
Though it is easy to criticize dogmatism, a
certain amount of it can be valuable for scientific progress. That was
certainly Kuhn's view: unless the current paradigm was in crisis, dogmatism in
science education and practice has a functional value (Kuhn 1963). Michael
Polanyi, a chemist and eminent commentator on science, argued "that the
scientific method is, and must be, disciplined by an orthodoxy which can permit
only a limited degree of dissent, and that such dissent is fraught with grave
risks to the dissenter" (Polanyi 1963, 1013) Similarly, Mitroff concluded
that the classic norms of science, such as universalism, disinterestedness,
communism and organized skepticism, did not adequately explain the operation of
science, and instead proposed that counternorms were equally important,
including "organized dogmatism."
Another problem facing challengers stems from
the intense pressures under which most scientists work. Many scientists,
especially those who are ambitious, work extremely hard. They may spend long
hours in the lab or in problem-solving on top of other duties such as teaching,
supervision and administration, not to mention life outside of work. Science is
highly competitive and even the most talented scientists need to work hard to
stay ahead of the game.
What happens when some challengers, who have
spent years or decades developing their ideas, show up and ask a busy career
scientist for an assessment? Even for an open-minded or sympathetic scientist,
it is a real sacrifice to spend days or even just hours examining alternative
ideas, since that means correspondingly less time available for their own
pressing work. The more eminent scientists serve as editors and referees for
prestigious journals where they typically are focused on rejecting work that fails to
meet the standards of orthodox science, making it even more difficult for them
to accept work that challenges those standards.
Most challengers believe their ideas have
value, otherwise they would not bother with them. What they desire from
mainstream scientists is not acceptance (though that would be nice!) but a
fair-minded examination of their ideas. There is a certain irony here:
challengers confront academic power and what some of them see as corruption,
but what they really desire is the attention of mainstream scientists. The
practical problem facing challengers is a scarcity of attention: there are not
enough scientists who have both the time and inclination to scrutinize their
The way that science is organized exacerbates
the problem of shortage of attention for paradigm challengers. Most scientists
work as part of a small network, local and/or international, members of which
address the same topic, share common interests and goals, exchange information
and reprints, and attend the same conferences (Crane 1972). Scientists are more
likely to devote attention to work by others in their network than they are to
the work of outsiders. Dissidents who go to the roots of a paradigm do not
specialize sufficiently to be part of such a network: they are outsiders in the
field in the sense that they do not focus on a small portion of a paradigm. As
a result, few scientists will be willing to give them any attention.
In summary, perspectives and evidence from the
history, philosophy, psychology, and sociology of science, and from science
education, suggest that the obstacles facing challengers are formidable. Most
scientists, due to their education and day-to-day interactions, work within the
prevailing paradigm. Most scientists develop a strong commitment to their own
ideas, a psychological process that is reinforced by the large career
investment in a particular line of work. Finally, the competitive struggle for
success means that most scientists are extremely busy, with little time
available to examine unconventional ideas.
There is, though, a contrary force: the rewards
available for significant innovation. The founders of quantum theory and, above
all, Einstein as the founder of relativity theory are heroes in physics for
inaugurating new paradigms. Even short of these epic feats, physicists may
aspire to be known for their contributions, which often means questioning the
Choosing research problems can be likened to an
investment process (Bourdieu 1975, 1988). Scientists have available a certain
amount of "capital" - knowledge, experience, time and effort - that
they can invest in different ways. A conservative investment strategy is to
pursue small, incremental innovations, with a high likelihood of success and a
modest return on investment, following Peter Medawar's dictum that science is
"the art of the soluble" (Medawar 1967). A risky strategy is to
pursue a speculative idea: the likelihood of success may be low but the
returns, if the idea pans out, can be huge. For example, astrophysicist Fred
Hoyle could be said to have originally invested in the steady-state theory of
the universe, which had decent prospects but turned out to be a bad bet. He
later made a riskier investment in the more speculative
"life-in-space" hypothesis (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe 1978) which, if
validated, would have more dramatic returns (though now too late for Hoyle). In
a sense, paradigm challengers are ambitious investors, in that they commonly
criticize entire theories, such as relativity and quantum theory, rather than
just a part of such theories. They seek to change theories at the level of
A different investment calculation comes into
play, though, when it comes to someone else's ideas. To examine or even promote
someone else's challenge to orthodoxy requires significant time and energy, yet
the major returns go to the other person, if they are recognized as the
innovator. If the idea is a promising one, the temptation is to grab credit,
for example by domesticating the radical idea and publishing in orthodox
journals. It is no surprise that many innovators are afraid of having their
So although there is an incentive to pursue
unorthodox ideas, only some researchers will be tempted to do so. The obstacles
remain daunting, especially given that paradigm-challenging ideas are seldom
taken seriously. Furthermore, few will have the eminence of a Hoyle to attract
attention to their ideas.
Investigating dissent in physics
Our aim is to gain insight into how challengers
can overcome the obstacles facing them. We began our empirical investigation by
examining a range of work - including our own - on resistance to scientific
innovation (Barber 1961; Bauer 1984; Campanario 1993a, 1993b, 1995, 1996, 1997,
2004; Mauskopf 1979; Nissani 1995; Sommer 2001) and suppression of dissent
(Hess 1992; Horrobin 1990; Martin 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999a, 1999b, 2004; Moran
1998). From the large array of obstacles facing challengers, we concluded that
three areas are of crucial importance: obtaining funding, getting published,
and dealing with attacks. Though there are other types of obstacles, we focus
on these three since our interest is less in obstacles than on ways of
By examining a diverse set of challenges, we
came up with a list of ways of overcoming these obstacles. (See Table 2.)
Table 2. Some methods that challengers can use to overcome barriers to their
A. Obtain funding from innovative agencies.
B. Obtain funding from agencies not worried
about the innovative aspects.
C. Obtain private funding.
D. Fund the research through personal
E. Apply political pressure to obtain funding.
F. Use conventional funding but disguise the
nature of the research.
A. Challenge the editor's rejection.
B. Use friends or patrons to help get
C. Submit to other journals.
D. Publish in many different journals and
E. Keep publishing after the initial
F. Seek wider audiences beyond the key
G. Set up a journal or a special section in an
established journal; attend alternative conferences.
H. Send out preprints.
I. Publish books.
J. Publish paid advertisements.
K. Seek coverage in the mass media.
3. Surviving attack
A. Continue without being distracted or
B. Seek support from others who have come under
C. Expose the existence of attacks, especially
their unscientific aspects.
D. Expose the bias or vested interests of the
E. Seek support from colleagues or a
F. Counterattack using similar methods.
G. Take legal action.
H. Join with others who have come under attack.
To determine which of these methods are
actually used in physics, we obtained the addresses of a sample of dissidents
by means of webpages of journals such as the Journal of Scientific
Exploration and meetings and societies of dissidents. To exclude most
of the many uninformed and unsophisticated critics, we restricted our attention
to those who have scientific degrees or are affiliated with reputable
universities or have publications in mainstream journals, though no doubt this
restriction excludes some worthy challengers. Given our aim of finding a
diverse group satisfying our criteria - namely that they are challengers to
dominant physics paradigms who have scientific degrees or research positions or
publications - our search was extensive but not exhaustive.
We did not attempt ourselves to judge the
quality of the dissidents' work. Whatever our own ideas about some research
work's rigor, agreement between theory and experiment, quality of expression
and the like, others would be likely to differ in their assessments, especially
because judgments about quality are commonly mixed with views about whether
conclusions are right or wrong. Hence, rather than use personal assessments in
our selection process, we relied on the surrogate measures of degrees,
affiliations and publications, which encapsulate the collective judgments of
We wrote to a total of 41 well-qualified
dissident scientists, mostly in physics, inviting them to describe their
experiences in overcoming resistance to new ideas in science. We drew their
attention to our list of methods (Table 2) but invited them to tell about any
other methods that they had used. We obtained many fascinating responses, some
of which are mentioned below. We did not seek to collect statistical data on
use of different dissident strategies, because our aim was exploratory;
responses to our letters were wide-ranging, suggesting the limitations of
imposing neat classifications at this stage. Not enough is yet known about
dissident strategies to make it worthwhile pursuing quantitative
categorization, especially given that self-reports may reflect different
judgments about matters such as success and failure of a strategy.
Because our aim was to find out how
contemporary challengers try to overcome obstacles, we ruled out those who were
once dissidents but subsequently succeeded in obtaining recognition. There are
a number of these who could be cited (Hook 2002; Hunt 1983), of which one of
the most prominent is S. Chandresekar (1969), whose ideas on stellar evolution
were initially rejected by Sir Arthur Eddington and others. Examination of such
cases suggests that most dissidents encounter the same sorts of obstacles
whether they are ultimately vindicated or not.
How to mount a challenge
Although we asked about experiences in overcoming resistance,
many respondents focussed more on the resistance itself, commenting critically
on the nature of the scientific establishment. For example, Paul Marmet said
that "Scientists prefer to stick to old theories even if they do not make
sense. I was at first very surprised by that reaction but, after a few years, I
had to admit that it is a normal human reaction" (28 July 2002). Ruggero
Maria Santilli, president of the Institute for Basic Research, said "There
simply is no way of correcting academic-scientific corruption and I consider
futile any attempt at that" (4 August 2002). According to Bruce Harvey, a
dissident physicist, "To say that the established scientific world is
prejudiced against new ideas is an understatement. It is paranoid about
them." (13 August 2002).
On the other hand, some respondents believed
that, despite resistance, in the long run their ideas would be recognized.
David Bergman said that "Nevertheless, I am confident that the truth will
come out and Common Sense Science will prevail as valid science. I have no
ideas how long it will take, or how many will come to accept the scientific
truth that modern physics must be replaced (not reformed)." (30 July
Innovators often have a hard time obtaining
funding from conventional sources. Sometimes their funding is withdrawn. One
option is to obtain a job in science - often by doing conventional research -
and use it as a base to do unorthodox research. Those who are more successful
using this strategy can even create a lab or institute, such as Princeton
Engineering Anomalies Research, a laboratory for research on the mind-matter
relationship. This option is more common for scientists who become interested
in unorthodox ideas after establishing an orthodox career, as in the case of
Brian Josephson, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of the
effect named after him and who is now working in parapsychology.
Sociologist Ron Westrum, who has studied the
scientific community's response to anomalous phenomena (Westrum 1977, 1978),
thinks that the most comfortable basis for mounting a challenge to orthodoxy is
as an older or retired professor (23 October 2002). Historian-of-science
Stephen G. Brush offers similar advice: obtain a secure job and do conventional
research to establish a reputation, thus laying a foundation for proposing
radical ideas (31 October 2002). However, these options are available to only
Some pursue unorthodox ideas by using
conventional funding but disguising the nature of the research. We are aware of
a case in which astronomers, while using a major telescope for observations on
a conventional research topic, used a bit of spare time at the end of their
observing run to look for something different, relevant to an unorthodox
theory. Richard A. Muller (1980) revealed how he circumvented the funding
system for innovative (though orthodox) research. According to David Horrobin
(1989), editor of Medical Hypotheses, scientists know that to
obtain funding they must misrepresent their motivations in grant proposals,
otherwise "All innovative scientists know that they would rarely get
funded, such is the nature of the review system."
Parapsychology researcher Helmut Schmidt - a
physicist by training - was employed by Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories
when he carried out some of his early work using quantum random number
generators (Schmidt 1969). (Later he worked in a private research institute.)
Corporate funding has sustained cold fusion research after it was rejected by
mainstream science (Simon 2002).
There are a few grant-giving bodies open to
unorthodoxy, such as the Lifebridge Foundation. Money for some types of
unorthodox projects is available from the military, which does not want to miss
potential applications no matter how unorthodox the theory behind them.
Other challengers do not ever get started in a
conventional career. They are more likely to support their work through their
own funds. This helps explain why so many challengers focus on theories;
personal funds are seldom sufficient to sustain a significant laboratory.
Cynthia Kolb Whitney, editor of Galilean Electrodynamics, says
that "Personal resources have worked best for me. Though resources are
modest, there are no discontinuities, uncertainties, interferences, or other
annoyances" (17 August 2002).
Innovators often have a difficult time getting
published. Submissions may be rejected or subjected to significant delay. Major
revisions may be required. Even when published, the work may be neglected.
Challengers have used a variety of methods to promote their ideas.
Sometimes unconventional papers are rejected
without refereeing or any critical comment, in which case the author can
request a formal assessment. Apparently Nature previously returned
all submissions from private addresses without looking at them; one of those so
treated was atmospheric scientist James Lovelock, later best known for his Gaia
hypothesis (Bond 2000). Authors also can contest the comments made by journals,
asking for re-evaluation. Of course, challenging the editor's rejection is a
technique available to all scientists, but it is especially important when
ideas may be rejected out of hand.
After a rejection, it is a standard technique
to scout around to find somewhere else to publish. Challengers often have to
search more widely in doing this. However, there is a down side, as indicated
by Paul Marmet: "Spending too much time in an effort to publish our ideas
in conventional journals leads to serious frustration. That is a trap, which
destroys the delicate ability that can lead later to new ideas." (28 July
Stephen G. Brush recommends writing balanced
review articles, with plenty of citations of other authors, for publication in
a journal such as Reviews of Modern Physics, allowing the
possibility of some self-citation (31 October 2002). However, we are unaware of
any dissidents who have adopted this approach.
Even when challenging ideas are published, they
may be ignored (Collins 1999). Therefore, publishing in a range of journals and
presenting papers in a variety of conferences maximizes the chance that someone
will take the ideas seriously.
Parapsychologists set up their own journals,
rigorously refereed, such as Journal of Parapsychology -
reputable enough to be included in the Science Citation Index database - to get
around the low acceptance rate in mainstream journals. Other examples are Journal
of Scientific Exploration, Galilean Electrodynamics, Frontier Perspectives,
Infinite Energy, Cold Fusion and Apeiron. Several of
our respondents reported favorably on alternative journals. Vladimir Ginzburg
said he "published five papers in the journals that are receptive to
speculative ideas, Speculations in Science and Technology and Journal
of New Energy." Caroline Thompson, who has challenged standard views
on quantum entanglement, commented: "I attempted to publish my next
important paper in Physical Review Letters. The story of its
rejection is the subject of my Tangled Methods paper [Thompson 1999]. The paper
in question has now been accepted by Galilean Electrodynamics. I
have had other papers in Infinite Energy and the Journal
of New Energy, and contributed chapters to a few books." (16
Conferences dedicated to alternative
viewpoints, and conference proceedings, provide a venue for challengers. Domina
Eberle Spencer, who has worked since the 1940s on reformulating electromagnetic
theory, reports that as well as new journals open to discussing fundamental
questions, "International meetings which welcome discussions of such
questions have taken place in St. Petersburgh, Russia, Bologna, Italy, Cologne,
Germany and Lanzarote, Spain. In the United States the Natural Philosophy
Alliance was established in 1994 and has held annual meetings ever since."
Concerning her work, "Of course, it is still not possible to have these
results recognized by the established physics journals. But the situation is
much better than it was." (27 July 2002).
In setting up alternative journals and
conferences, dissident scientists imitate mainstream science. They may complain
that orthodox science and conventional peer review reject their discoveries but
they don't try to develop alternative evaluation methods. Challengers are
pleased when mainstream bodies organize conferences or conference sessions
oriented to unorthodox ideas.
Some book publishers are more open to
challenging ideas than journals, as long as there is a market. Hoyle and
Wickramasinghe found publishers for a whole series of books. Self-publishing is
another option, adopted by many dissidents. Vladimir Ginzburg reports that
after rejections by publishers, he self-published three books. Chris Illert
(1992/1993) self-published his work on a classical model for nuclear physics.
Publishing on the web is inexpensive and offers
wide accessibility. Lars WŒhlin, who has developed alternative viewpoints on
gravity and relativity, says, "I believe that it is better to publish on
the internet because it will be available to everybody and not only to a few
journal subscribers. It can appear for an unlimited time and it has the
advantage that one can make corrections at any time if necessary." (4
August 2002). Bruce Harvey writes: "Failing to get my work on electromagnetic
momentum immediately recognised by the British establishment, I produced my
web-site. That led to my inclusion in many lists and invitations to fringe
conferences. ... I have extensive email correspondence with others in the same
field. ... I think my web-site amounts to a better exposure of my ideas than
most professional scientists receive." (17 August 2002). Paul Marmet says
"Presently, the Web is by far the best compromise to publish new
controversial ideas in science, because nobody can stop you, it is very widely
distributed and it costs almost nothing." (28 July 2002). In addition,
there are some internet newsgroups devoted to "alternative physics,"
such as the Natural Philosophy Alliance (http://worldnpa.org/) with its Dissident Physics
Discussion Group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NPA_Dissidents/).
Obtaining electronic publication in credible
forums can be another matter. Caroline Thompson says that she "put copies
of my papers in the archive arXiv.org. I was able to do this because I have
managed to arrange to have a university address. Had it been otherwise I might
have found it hard to register. A contact of mine who did manage to register from
a home address and submit a paper was jubilant for a day or two then found his
registration cancelled and the paper withdrawn."
Another strategy is to publish a paid
advertisement. For example, Pierre-Marie Robitaille (2002) paid to publish an
article in the New York Times. Cameron Y. Rebigsol offers a
$50,000 reward to anyone who can disprove his mathematical arguments against
relativity (http://members.aol.com/crebigsol/awards.htm). Such individuals are anxious to
have their ideas scrutinized.
Seeking coverage in the mass media is another
option. The mass media are not refereed but instead operate on the basis of
"news values" such as prominence, proximity, conflict, timeliness,
action, human interest, and perceived consequences. A scientific controversy,
especially one involving a local personality, could well be considered worthy
of coverage. However, most journalists are respectful of scientific
authorities, so it can be difficult for challengers to obtain sympathetic
coverage. One of the best opportunities for media coverage arises when
unorthodox ideas are published in mainstream journals, as in the cases of
parapsychology and homeopathy. On the other hand, many scientists look down on
colleagues who obtain media coverage, so this option has disadvantages for
those seeking greater credibility.
Some innovators come under attack beyond normal
criticism of their ideas. For example, their professional integrity may be
challenged, malicious rumors may be spread about them, they may be threatened,
their submissions or grant applications may be rejected without proper review,
their grants may be removed, their access to facilities may be denied, and
their jobs may be put in jeopardy.
Attacks are especially common when challengers
provide support to a social movement opposing a powerful interest group, as in
the cases of nuclear power, pesticides, and fluoridation (Martin 1999b). The
most famous dissident physicist is Andrei Sakharov, known for his challenge to
Soviet nuclear policy and for being a prominent scientist who was willing to
speak out in a repressive society. Hugh DeWitt, a physicist at Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory who was prominent in his criticism of US nuclear
weapons policy, came under attack at several points in his career. Scientists
and engineers critical of nuclear power have been suppressed in many countries
(Freeman 1981; Martin 1986; Sharma 1996). These nuclear critics did not
challenge physics paradigms, but the techniques used against them illustrate
how paradigm challengers may be attacked.
Advice for whistleblowers emphasizes collecting
large amounts of documentation of the problem to be exposed, consulting with
family and friends before taking action, preparing to survive attack, not
relying on official channels such as ombudsmen or courts, and carefully
assessing options (Devine 1997; Martin 1999c). Some of these recommendations
are relevant to physics dissidents. Before openly supporting an unorthodox
idea, it is wise to collect documentation of good performance in one's job, be
aware that there could be repercussions, talk matters over with family and
friends and not assume that grievance procedures or professional associations
will provide any help against harassment or victimization. It is unwise to risk
one's career without being fully informed.
The experience of whistleblowers, from a range
of fields, is that talking to other whistleblowers is immensely beneficial. The
existence of networks of dissident scientists suggests the value of mutual
support. Although dissidents often disagree with each other's theories - for
example, some accept quantum theory but challenge relativity and others do the
reverse - some of them are able to work together in societies like the Natural
Philosophy Alliance. On the other hand, we are aware of dissidents who are
quick to dismiss other dissidents as crackpots.
Only a few of the scientists we contacted
described significant problems in their careers, for example having to leave
university posts, due to their dissenting views. The response of an
establishment to challengers typically follows the sequence of neglect,
ridicule, attack and co-optation. Most challengers remain at the first stage,
being entirely ignored. If they are ridiculed or come under attack, that is a
sign of some success!
Cynthia Kolb Whitney, editor of Galilean
Electrodynamics, says to ignore attacks. "People who make them
will never be convinced anyway, so don't waste energy. Dissidents like us live
in a parallel universe largely separated from mainstream physics, except when
the big breakthrough comes, which it certainly will do from time to time."
(17 August 2002).
One of the least effective responses is
counterattack. Paul Marmet told of researchers who sued those who refused to
accept their new idea. One won his court case after 15 years, but "after
so many years, it was too late and he was no longer able to get new ideas in
physics. He was just a legal expert." (28 July 2002).
Challenges to orthodoxy exist even in periods
of "normal science," though this is ignored by most analysts of
science. Many challengers are well qualified - with degrees, positions at
reputable universities, publications in mainstream journals, even Nobel prizes
- but their presence remains unknown to many scientists.
The life of a dissident is seldom easy. That is
certainly the message from those who challenge dominant ideas in physics. Some
have persisted in the scientific wilderness for decades.
Our impression is that most challengers believe
in the scientific approach - that ideas should be tested on their merits, and
that those ideas that work better will be accepted - sometimes more strongly
than mainstream scientists. Roger Nelson says "I believe that it is
essential to do excellent work" (13 August 2002). Ruggero Maria Santilli
says "My main suggestion to fight established doctrines is that of
bringing new theories to the level of predicting new demonstrated effects and
then establishing them experimentally" (4 August 2002). Vladimir Ginzburg
is "trying a new way of presenting a new idea. This way of presenting
includes: a) clear and reasonable assumptions that are based on common
knowledge, b) applying the commonly known calculation methods, and c) presenting
the results that can readily be verified" (24 July 2002). Because many of
the theories proposed by dissidents are comparatively simple and
straightforward, they should be easier to falsify and therefore are, in
Popper's framework, exemplars of good scientific theories.
The experience of challengers, though, is that
they are not treated "scientifically." Instead, they are typically
ignored or rejected without adequate examination. This also happens to many
normal scientists but, because they are developing the paradigm, they cannot
complain that unorthodoxy is the reason their work doesn't receive attention.
Collectively, challengers have tried various
methods to overcome the obstacles facing them, but few individuals seem to have
carefully considered a range of options, much less tried them. There are,
though, a few experienced challengers with well developed assessments of the
dynamics of science and strong ideas about the best way to proceed.
Some mainstream physicists think that the way
the discipline now responds to new ideas is just fine: the field is
progressing, so why worry about those on the fringe? Most of them are wrong, so
But there is another viewpoint: challengers,
even those who are wrong, offer a potential source of strength to science.
Their incessant questioning can be used to guard against complacency, to
improve thinking and to prop open the door to change. One of the greatest
perceived strengths of physics is its openness to speculation at the cutting
edge of research. The field is not so fragile that greater openness concerning
established principles is a real threat to the achievements of the field,
though it may be threatening to some whose careers are built on particular
findings or theories. Greater openness to challenges would increase respect for
the field from potential contributors, whereas dogmatism and arrogance cause
Teachers often say to their students that they
should be skeptical, not believe something until it has been tested, and so on.
If students later perceive that dissidents are ignored or their theories
rejected without testing, that hurts the image of science, even when the
dissidents are wrong.
But what does greater openness mean? Certainly
not automatic publication of any dissenting idea. If physicists want to be more
open to new ideas, the key is attention: spending some time examining
unorthodox ideas. One way to achieve this is to give students - such as
advanced undergraduates - projects that involve theoretical assessment or experimental
testing of unconventional views. This will extend students' minds. If good
students cannot refute a challenge, then it might be time for attention by more
experienced researchers. Other options are setting up new journals and websites
for challenging ideas, and treating them seriously.
Another use of dissent, in teaching, is to show
students what happens to those who challenge current theories. This should be a
part of the curriculum at the university level to avoid misconceptions about
how science works. It can also provide insight to dissidents who might choose,
as Tom Van Flandern suggests, to "keep their heads down" so they
"can survive long enough to become senior in their fields" (30
September 2002). Finally, for those who get their work published with no
difficulties, studying the travails of dissidents can provide insight into what
it is like for others.
Charlatans and others interested in exploiting
the public's ignorance sometimes seek credibility by pointing to dogmatism in
science. If scientists are seen to be open to new ideas, public confidence in
science can be bolstered.
No one knows the optimum level of tolerance for
new ideas in a field. This might be something worth experimenting with. Physics
challengers would certainly say that, at least as regards their own ideas,
tolerance needs to be increased.
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