Fwd = Scientists Come Unglued Over Telepathy Row
- Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
Original Date: Mon, 1 Oct 2001 14:31:19 -0700
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Posted Sep 29.01
Scientists Come Unglued Over Telepathy Row
[Original headline: Royal Mail's Nobel guru in telepathy row]
It was meant to be a simple celebration of the world's greatest
intellectual prize. But this week's issue of six special stamps to
honour the 100th anniversary of the Nobel prize has dropped the Royal
Mail into an unexpected, and decidedly bitter, scientific row.
Scientists are furious that a booklet, published as part of the
stamps' presentation package, contains claims that modern physics will
one day lead to an understanding of telepathy and the paranormal.
'It is utter rubbish,' said David Deutsch, quantum physics expert at
Oxford University. 'Telepathy simply does not exist. The Royal Mail
has let itself be hoodwinked into supporting ideas that are complete
Last week Royal Mail officials defended their actions by pointing out
that the offending paragraphs had been written by a Nobel laureate,
Cambridge physicist Brian Josephson. 'Yes, I think telepathy exists,'
he told The Observer, 'and I think quantum physics will help us
understand its basic properties.'
Professor Josephson won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1973 for
proving that some materials could act as switches operating close to
the speed of light, and could revolutionise computing and power
transmission. He said he had deliberately used the booklet to redress
a serious imbalance in reporting paranormal research work. 'I think
journals like Nature and Science are censoring such research,' he
said. 'There is a lot of evidence to support the existence of
telepathy, for example, but papers on the subject are being rejected -
Josephson believes that psychics and telepaths may be able to direct
random energy at sub-atomic levels for their own purposes, and in the
commemorative stamp booklet writes that developments in information
and quantum theories 'may lead to an explanation of processes still
not understood within conventional science, such as telepathy'.
It is not a suggestion that has gone down well with fellow Nobel
'I am highly sceptical,' said last year's physics prize winner,
Professor Herbert Kroemer of Santa Barbara University. 'Few of us
believe telepathy exists, nor do we think physics can explain it.
'It also seems wrong for your Royal Mail to get involved. Certainly,
if the US postal services did something like this, a lot of us would
be very angry.'
For its part, the Royal Mail said it had merely asked a British winner
of each of the six different Nobel Prize categories - physics,
chemistry, medicine, peace, literature and economics - to write a
small article about their award and the implications of research in
their field. 'The trouble is that there are only a couple of British
physics prize winners we could have asked, and we picked Josephson,'
said a spokesman.
It was not a fortunate choice, many physicists now argue. Although
they believe Josephson richly deserved his 1973 Nobel prize, few
believe he has done work of any merit since, while some argue that his
flirtation with transcendental meditation and the paranormal has been
'The evidence for the existence of telepathy is appalling,' said
Deutsch. 'If engineers or doctors accepted the level of proof that is
accepted by paranormal supporters, bridges would be falling down round
the country, and new medicines would be killing more than they cure.'
This view is backed by Bristol University physicist Robert Evans who
said, in a Nature article, that he was 'very uneasy' about a Royal
Mail booklet that said quantum physics 'has something to do with
The row sums up a problem in dealing with Nobel Prize winners. Those
given awards are treated as modern gurus and their words acquire
startling power and authority. Most retain an orthodox scientific
respectibility, but a few go off the rails.
William Shockley, inventor of the transistor, caused outrage when he
moved on to the study of inherited intelligence and claimed to have
found significant racial variations in IQ.
Similarly, Kary Mullis, inventor of PCR - the technique that allows
scientists to make mass copies of genes - caused outrage when he
expressed doubts that HIV was the cause of Aids. In both cases, their
views have been shown to be utterly wrong. Many believe Josephson will
similarly fail the test of time.
As one leading scientist put it: 'The trouble with the Nobel prize is
that it is given to a man or woman for making an individual discovery.
'It is not awarded as a recognition of their total, integrated
contribution to science. That is why you can get unstuck.'
Story originally published by:
The Observer, London / England | Robin McKie - Sep 29.01
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