Fringe Science Gone Wrong

Bad ScienceOne reader pointed out to me that I have been posting only articles that are favorable to psi and other areas considered to be “fringe science,” and that maybe I should have articles that expose failures as well. Yes, I’ve been focusing on the positive as a way to balance out the negativity and ridicule with which psi issues are subjected to on the Internet, but the criticism is valid. So, in the interest of balance, perspective and fairness, here are a few instances of fringe science failures.

Evidence of Ancient Aliens – the Dogon Tribe of Mali


Mermaid1In the 1930s two French anthropologists (Marcel Griaule and his student Germaine Dieterlen) studying the Dogon tribe spent considerable time with a blind, tribal elder by the name of Ogotemmelli, and learned of legends passed down through generations of an extraterrestrial race from the Sirius Star System, referred to as the Nommos, who visited them on Earth. The Nommos were an aquatic race of humanoid creatures, similar to mermaids. (Some point out that the fact that the goddess, Isis, of Babylon is depicted as a mermaid and associated with Sirius, is highly significant).   The Dogon say that the Nommos descended to earth from the heavens in a great boat, accompanied with extreme wind and loud noise. The Dogon explained that the Sirius system had a companion star, but it cannot be seen from earth due to the brightness of Sirius A. Researchers have found Dogon artifacts dating back over 400 years depicting orbits of these stars. Years later, in 1970, astronomers finally had good enough telescopes to zoom in on Sirius and they photographed Sirius B. The Dogon were right!  The Dogons’ story was popularized in 1976 with the publication of Robert Temple’s book, “The Sirius Mystery,” in which he argued that the Dogons’ knowledge and legends were proof that Earth had been visited by ancient aliens.  Other authors who favored the ancient alien theories also relied extensively on the Dogon example.

The problem was no one bothered to check the accuracy of anthropologists’ data until Walter van Beek (also an anthropologist) undertook fieldwork among the Dogon, hoping to find evidence for their knowledge of Sirius; he failed to find anyone who knew about Sirius B. (Note: van Beek spent several years among the Dogon studying them, and only after becoming accepted by them did he gradually begin to mention what Griaule had learned from Ogdogon2otemmelli – when the Dogons heard some of the stories, they burst out laughing. End note.) As ought to have been obvious from the outset, Griaule and Dieterlen’s reliance on a single informant – the tribal elder Ogotemmelli – severely compromised the validity of their data. What van Beek did find was a Dogon tradition of “harmless games” in which the Dogon produced information that had not existed beforehand.  In effect, they would make up stuff on the spot as an elaborate joke. One example was, when questioned, Griaule’s Dogon informants gave over 30 names for the dung beetle, differentiating between dung beetles found in the dung of horses, grey horses, big horses, donkeys, black monkeys, elephants, hyenas, turtles, chickens, goats and bulls, etc. Van Beek also found that the Dogon had a tradition of making fun of their colonial rulers (Griaule was French, and Mali was a colony of France at the time).

Van Beek did not go so far as to accuse Griaule of lying, instead attributing the misinformation to being the product of a complex interaction between a strong-willed researcher, a colonial situation, an intelligent and creative body of informants, and a culture with a courtesy bias and a strong tendency to incorporate foreign elements. Van Beek published his report in the April 1991 issue of Current Anthropology.  Nonetheless, the story of the Dogons is still trotted out as supporting evidence that the Earth was visited by aliens in ancient times.

Alternative Health Tools – Applied Kinesiology


Kinesiology is the study of muscular movement. Applied kinesiology (AK) is a strength resistance test based on the physical connection between muscles, glands and organs, and is often promoted as a non-invasive method for determining food allergies and sensitivities. It sounds fairly nonprovocative, but in actual practice (generally in a chiropractor’s office) the administrations of this diagnostic technique is as follows: 1) The patient is given a substance (i.e., a vitamin, a food sample or a suspected allergen) to hold, and is directed to raise up his/her arm; 2) The practitioner asks the patient whether the substance is good/healthy/beneficial for his/her body; 3) The practitioner then determines the answer by measuring the muscle strength in the patient’s arm. For example, a patient is directed to hold up a food sample (say, chocolate). If, when the practitioner asks him whether the food is beneficial to him, the patient’s arm drops a few inches (an indication of loss of muscle strength), the food is one that the patient should avoid. Alternately, muscle strength can be measured by using a hand dynamometer.

In 2014, an article appeared in Explore (a peer-reviewed journal that addresses the scientific principles behind, and applications of, evidence-based healing practices from a variety of sources, including conventional, alternative and cross-cultural medicine) titled, “A Double-Blind, Randomized Study to Assess the Validity of Applied Kinesiology (AK) as a Diagnostic Tool and as a Nonlocal Proximity Effect.”

The authors included Stephan Schwartz (one of the founders of modern Remote Viewing and the principal researcher studying the use of psychics and remote viewers in archeology), Jessica Utts (a Ph.D. statistician and parapsychologist), James Spottiswoode (Director of Research at the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory), Christopher Shade (a mercury and glutathione expert), and Lisa Tully (a Ph.D. in pharmacology. and founder of the Energy Medicine Research Institute where she carries out assessments of the efficacy of vibrational medicine technologies and therapies), among others. While this group is highly educated, it’s clear that they would also be open – and possibly even pre-disposed – to believe that something like AK would work.

AK Test1What were the results of the study? After conducting several experiments in which they adhered to accepted scientific protocols and standards (the substances the test subjects were asked to hold were either 1) a vial of harmless saline solution, or 2) a vial of saline solution mixed with a toxic liquid) , the authors concluded that Applied Kinesiology did not demonstrate that is it a useful or reliable diagnostic tool upon which health decisions can be based. The group also reviewed previous AK studies (ones that had been touted as proving that AK worked), focusing on the standards and methodology used; they concluded that the research published by the Applied Kinesiology field was of such poor quality that it could not be relied upon.


So what’s the take-away message of this article? For me, it’s that I shouldn’t check my brain at the door because something is printed in a book or widely accepted, or because the individual proposing the theory has a title or a lot of letters after his/her name.  When I really want to believe something is when I find I have the greatest need to look deeper – how the conclusion was reached, what standards and protocols were used,  what primary documents were used (and maybe more telling – what primary documents, studies and experiments were ignored), as well as what possible biases were held by the researchers.  If I can’t do the background research myself, I need to see whether others – people who are experts – have done so and have confirmed the original conclusion.  It’s a tedious, but necessary process to ensure that psi science is also good science.


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