The term is one commonly used by serious non-credentialed inquirers to distinguish themselves from academic historians and academic scientists, all of whom have achieved their status by way of acquiring a diploma from some institute of higher learning. The term “alternative research,” does not indicate much to the average person on the street, but there is an increasing number of people who can distinguish that it means quite a lot.
To this audience the term indicates that the inquirer whose work they’re going to read or listen to at a conference is someone who is not bashful about stepping on toes, who calls a spade a spade, whose career does not depend on toeing some line and playing it safe.
To the “credentialed inquirer” (an academic) the term “aternative researcher” means someone who has few if any standards, has not accrued any standing, who has not learned how to think critically, and who is close to being a snake oil salesman. OUCH!
One has only to look at the history of science to see that it is replete with many early researchers who would today be considered dabblers – mere “researchers”. Some point to Einstein himself as a dabbler, since he was working in the Swiss Patent Office at the time he developed his Theory of Relativity. But Einstein is not an appropriate example of a non-credentialed inquirer, because he had only taken the job as a stop-gap measure. He had attended university and was already known a little bit in the academic world.
Benjamin Franklin would be a more appropriate example of a non-credentialed inquirer. He had little formal education and but had a fervent interest in multiple areas of inquiry and – eventually – a wide circle of influential people in science as an audience. At that time, evidently, the wall between the two types of researchers had not yet formed.
“Alternative” implies “pseudo” to credentialed scientists, it seems, and certainly suggests outside of science. It is difficult to address history or archaeology in this present essay, since both of them use so much interpretation that is not quantified, leading to two fields that are so rife with personal prejudice, subjectivity and belief system as to render them both little more than compendia of opinions. A close friend who is degreed in history amazed me with assertions that everyone is allowed to have an opinion, and that no opinion is considered true above any others. As an engineer, to hear that even FACTS are debatable and only opinion – well you can imagine my reaction… I DO ask that friend if 2+2=4 is just an opinion. So far no answer…
Therefore, here I am referring only to the following scientists – geologists, physicists, medical doctors and researchers, chemists, meteorologists, biologists, and astronomers (though I am – when I use the term “credentialed inquirer.” Note the missing psychologists, archaeologists, Egyptologists, science historians, anthropologists, I only barely include astronomers, since so much of their idas can never be tested empircally, so how can we know if what they think is fact or not? It is not that the excluded ones are not credentialed, nor is it that they are not doing research. But, like they do to alternate researchers, it is clear to me that those fields draw unfounded and speculative conclusions based on vague nothings that they have built up into interactive larger nothings. Arkies can find one artifact buried in a site (as often as not in a grave) and wax poetic about what the site’s ancient inhabitants were like, what they thought, what they believed, what their social structures were like, what their marriage ceremonies were about – all SORTS of things that do not bear on the artifact itself at all.
EXCLUDED DATA – OUCH!
That is not to say that the work of archeologists and historians are beneath either of the groups being addressed here, but that their fields are different from scientific style inquiry. Though archeology uses scientific tests in its research, those tests are continually vetted and measured against qualitative timelines that are used as a court of last resort, which in their history they have used to literally discard physical evidence and laboratory results that do not agree with what their pre-conceived notions of chromnology. In other words, the NON-lab-tested timelines are used to say whether the C14 dates are correct. And what happens if the C14 dates don’t match up? The lab results are discarded, with the assertion of contamination of the sample(proof of such not required). It happens more than anyone outside would believe. I read once, about 30 years ago, that 85% of all Carbon 14 dates are discarded by the client scientists – not the labs. It was in a footnote, with source, but I lost the book and footnote long ago. Is it possibly that high? I wouldn’t think so, but even 8.5% is to me too many. Data is data. Measured things ARE what they measure. And ALL data should be specifically included – or noted and given a solid reason to be excluded. (THIS is almost never done, to the shame of scientists everywhere who allow and enable such practices.)
In real science (supposedly) data drives the debate, lab results being of high standing, and rejecting lab results out of hand is considered – and absolutely should be – fudging the data. Within their acruacy/uncertainty range, C14 and other dating methods are ACCURATE. Archaeologists tend to point at credentialed inquirers and accuse them of fraud (which is a form of fudging the data), all the while doing it themselves and claiming the right to do so. After all, they know if a lab date is correct; if it matches closely with what they expect, then it is allowed, and if it doesn’t it must be tainted and must be rejected. They turn science-as-quantification on its head.
When the opinions and non-quantifiable information are the measuring stick to accept measured data or not, there really can be no serious reason to accept archaeologists (yet) as scientists, even if they do have credentials. The fudging in their field suggests – nay, demands – that credentials themselves might need to be reconsidered. So, in this present observation, I have chosen to include archeologists with historians, as opinionarians, and leave them out of it. “It” being science.
That is not to assert that no academic scientists or non-credentialed inquirers are without opinions or pre-conceptions. Far from it. And it is also true that non-credentialed inquirers do not have a standard yet set up by which to vet their own kind or the work they do. Without such a process, as one would expect, the level of work done by non- credentialed inquirers has a higher level of quality variation than credentialed inquirers. But given the state of archaeology, that has to be said with fingers crossed behind the back.
Some day, non-credentialed inquirers may have (and should have) a system by which to objectively assess the consistent application of field procedures and methods of inquiry by members of their class. They do not have such a mechanism now. God forbid they ever do, based on the inefficiencies and iniquities in the peer-review process. Some people put serious thought into how to “fix” the peer-review process, because it clearly doesn’t work well. In far too many cases it doesn’t weed out faked research. In other cases, cliques circle-jerk the journals by buddying it up and giving easy passes to their friends in their fields. Faked and fudged data (“manipulated” is the over-polite term they use) has become a major problem in science. But scientists when challenged by outsiders on such common bad practices have in many cases circled the wagons and deny that anything is wrong. Some suggest that posting papers online in an open-source way would be a better means of vetting research. I happen to agree with the latter. Something is crooked in Denmark, and some day Birnam Wood may be seen storming the castle gates of academia.
(I can’t COUNT the number of really BAD journal papers I’ve read in my own days and nights of researching things. The number is certainly in the hundreds. Conclusions are drawn that are wholly out of proportion to the evidence presented, yet reviewers and editors somehow give the thumbs-up to such passages. I won’t even go into how MANY papers are not original science, either, but just compendiums or summaries of other people’s work. They are like a middle ground between science papers and popular magazine articles. It boggles my mind that such papers can be called science.)
Even among credentialed inquirers (scientists) the interpretation of a particular body of inquiry can vary, sometimes widely. For example there are now SIX different “explanations” for the Libyan Desert Glass. Each researcher of each of those six is fairly certain that he/she has the right answer or is very close to finding it. Otherwise they would not have published in journals. But if any one of them is correct, then the other five must be wrong. Yet there are their papers in those journals – FIVE wrong research papers (at a minimum)!
But isn’t “wrong” the reason that credentialed researchers and journals reject the non-credentialed researchers and their work? If wrong is the criteria, take at least five groups of credentials away.
One would expect the same to be true in non-credentialed inquiry as well. The holy grail, the quest, of both groups almost certainly should be to discover the facts of the matter under consideration, so that the those facts can be used as a solid basis for future inquiry. One might also mention possible applications in industry, transportation and “the real world”.
To begin, then, if we address “alternative research,” we need to understand that “alternative” implies outside of science, as in non-orthodox. The term “research” is reasonable, since it implies the very process of inquiry – and certainly alternative researchers do that, in their own way. I do not need to explain that all the “-ologies” are so named because they are themselves “the study of” that subset of the universe that we wish to know about.
LIBYAN DESERT GLASS
When scientists assert that their current conclusions constitute actual knowledge, I can show one good example of science in which that cannot BE the case. There are currently SIX opposing “explanations” for how Libyan Desert Glass could have been formed. Yet, how can ANY of the understandings of any of the involved papers and groups be understood as knowledge? If one of the six is correct, the others must be wrong. Yet all of the researchers were scientists! Shouldn’t they all come up with the same – correct – understanding? If they didn’t, why not? How can any the conclusions in their papers be knowledge, when five (or six!) of the “explanations are going to one day be found to be wrong?
(BTW, the early century or so of the study of electricity was chaotic, too, with all sorts of tentative understandings eventually (very eventually) evolving into a solid compendium of knowledge.
At the same time, even electricity and its ability to produce motive power – the physical power to MOVE things – is still a great unknown. HOW does an electron – even billions of them – moving from one atom into another create a motive force?
NEWTON AND GRAVITY/ACTION-AT-A-DISTANCE
Add in gravity to this discussion… Newton said this about the concept of “force at a distance”:
[Writing in 19693 to his friend Richard Bentley]
You sometimes speak of gravity as essential & inherent to matter; pray do not ascribe that notion to me, for ye cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know, & therefore would take more time to consider of it… Tis unconceivable that inanimate brute matter should (without ye mediation of something else wch is not material) operate upon & affect other matter wthout mutual contact; as it must if gravitation in the sense of Epicurus be essential & inherent in it. And this is one reason why I desired you would not ascribe innate gravity to me.
That gravity should be innate inherent & essential to matter so yt one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum wthout the mediation of any thing else by & through wch their action or force may be conveyed from one to another is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters any competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.
This is one of the most stunning passages in the history of science. Newton essentially threw his hands up and said,
“ACTION-AT-A-DISTANCE IS SUCH AN ABSURDITY THAT NO COMPETENT PERSON CAN BE EXPECTED TO BELIEVE IT.”
Newton never DID figure out what gravity came from. And no one else ever has, either. If someone claims to have such knowledge, you know you have a fool before you. Scientists wrestled with this problem up to about the middle 1800s and then gave up. No one is working on it now. Ignorance of what gravity is, however, hasn’t stopped any of us from using gravity – for everything from walking, to staying on the planet Earth, from designing roller coasters, to overcoming it with airfoil wings that can allow human flight, to spitting in a spittoon, and a gazillion other ways. We don’t have to know WHY gravity works, as long as we have derived ways of USING it.
Though the scientists have struck out on gravity and electricity and why they work as the do, the others – the practical-minded mass of humanity still utilizes both every day, sometimes hundreds or thousands of times every day.
Science, in toto, is the “study of” our universe, though it does not carry the linguistic ending its subsets do. Any serious inquiry into our universe is real, no matter the dispute over credentials, training in thinking methods or conclusions drawn from such inquiry. Inquiry is an attempt to move forward our understanding. Any inquiry by its very nature must be an acknowledgement that the knowledge is incomplete in that certain area. I assert here that efforts to block or diminish the ability of others to inquire are in actuality non-science – and non-sense. I include in that all efforts by credentialed inquirers to discount and/or snub the work of non-credentialed inquirers.
Oh, let me tell you, there are lots of times I don’t agree with what some alternative researcher has concluded – probably the majority of the time, in fact! But in the hundreds of journal papers I’ve read in the last several years, I’ve cringed at the conclusions of the orthodoxy, too. Nearly every one of them interprets their data through the lens of the orthodoxy, and isn’t bashful about doing that, either.
But here is where it gets dicey for them… If their current paradigm is wrong, then any interpretation using that paradigm is certainly wrong. And, as Thomas Kuhn in his Revolutions in Science paper in 1962 discussed, paradigms are not permanent things but often get overthrown, when better observation or measuring techniques arise and give better data.
Let’s throw in Göbekli Tepe here, too. Presently the site in south central Turkey is fully acknowledged to be 12,000 years old. And right up until that date was solidified, all archaeologists stated as fact that human civilization did not start until about 2,000 years later. Obviously, now that 10,000 year date is wrong and was wrong, all those years up to Göblekli Tepe’s dating was laid out. Folks, this is a big deal. 2,000 years wrong. The entire orthodoxy of archaeology and anthropology was wrong for well over one hundred years. And what did the alternative researchers argue for as long as they’ve looked into the age of civilization? That civilization is considerably older than the orthodoxy was telling us. When Posnansky long ago told the world that Tiahuanaco was 12,000 years old, they all laughed at him. Why? Because civilization was only 10,000 years old – no place could be 12,000 years old! And now what do they say about Posnansky? Nothing. How did Posnansky arrive at his 12,000 year date? By looking at the astronomical alignments and seeing that they almost but not quite pointed to certain stellar alignments. Posnansky mathematically adjusted those alignments slightly, to line up some time in the past, and by the amount of the adjustments, he was able to line them all up, but that date was 12,000 years ago.
At the present time, such adjustments are made all the time, with astronomers telling us that Stonehenge or some other megalithic site was aligned to the rising or setting sun on the equinox or solstice, X number of years in the past. It is called archaeoastronomy, and it is commonly used. But at least until Göbekli Tepe came along, they still ignored Posnansky’s dating of Tiahuanaco. Though others are allowed to project the alignments to stars back X number of years, Posnansky is not credited with putting archaeoastronomy on the map. Nor is his 12,000 year date accepted. YET. He wasn’t correct, because they thought – and still think – that he couldn’t be correct. If you or I used such reasoning we’d be laughed out of a bar, much less the halls of academia.
And here is the kicker about Göbekli Tepe – the really big story of the site’s architecture:
<b>That level of architecture did not get developed in Göbekli Tepe, nor at 12,000 years ago.</b> <i>Everybody is missing this very important point.</i> Such sophistication and technical expertise does not spring up out of nomadic hunter-gatherers suddenly deciding to make them a big temple, with animals on the columns. Such technical skill must be accrued over time, over generations and generations, one technical step at a time. Certainly hunter-gatherers don’t go around with developed but unused stone-working skills until the time they decide that they need to settle down in one place. To develop them means to practice them – and this means there are other, earlier, temples and edifices – ones that have not been found yet.
Such an idea as “instant temple builders” is ludicrous. It is like saying that the Bushmen of Africa of 200 years ago could just stop what they were doing – hunting and gathering – and build the Temple at Delphi. Is that a ludicrous idea? Of course it is. But right now that is the forming paradigm about Göbekli Tepe – that they went straight from hunting and gathering and built them a temple. No learning curve. No centuries-long development of tools for working stone or architectural design. The mind recoils at such silly simplistic concepts. That researchers are not capable of taking more than one mental baby step at a time saddens me to no end. Göbekli Tepe MUST suggest to them an earlier developmental period; anything else is and cannot BE science.
Gobekli Tepe was not the start of building temples. It was the end of a period of development that died out when Göbekli Tepe was intentionally buried about 10,000 years ago (as the story goes right now). The skills required to build such temples and columns died with that burial and was not rediscovered for thousands of years. (DO you know ho much more complicated it becomes to make a squared column when carved animals are made from the same big stone? Their skill level at least rivaled the Greeks. And how long do we acknowledge that the development that led to Delphi took? Since the time of Sumer, at least. And the time span between the two was how long? About 2,000 years.
So, should we expect that the technical skills at Göbekli Tepe also took about 2,000 years to develop? If not, why not? If in the future we find out that it was 2,000 years, then the current paradigm of civilization being 12,000 years old will be turned on its head again.
PARADIGMS WILL SOMETIMES BE WRONG – MAYBE ALWAYS
Just how many paradigms does it take to get it right? And with only earlier paradigms will be – by definition – wrong. And this is not the alternative researchers being wrong. This is the orthodox, academic science being wrong.
So, it is obvious that being wrong cannot be even part of rejecting someone’s research or conclusions. It can’t be, not when in time the majority of paradigms will turn out to be wrong.
WEGENER – CAN CONTINENTS MOVE?
Before we leave off, let’s look at three other wrong paradigms that South America and Africa seemed to “fit” together amazingly well, and he set out to see if that idea would “hold water”. Well, long story short, he did, but the geologists 100 years ago – who had never themselves looked into the concept – laughed him out of conferences one of those who looked at the map and wondered how those two continents cold fit together so well. I recall even thinking that it sure wasn’t very far across the Atlantic Ocean at that point! So what was the wrong paradigm? That the continents are fixed and immutable. This was wrong on a scale almost on the level of the Sun orbiting the Earth.
HARLAN BRETZ AND THE SCABLANDS
The second wrong paradigm was the one that said that during the ice ages no ice dams could fail and cause the Scablands in the American northwestern plains. Harlan Bretz, like Alfred Wegner, was told where to stick his idea. Geologists, it seems, laugh at people a lot. Long story short again, it is now fully acknowledged that Bretz was right, and – again – the geologists were wrong. Another paradigm busted.
ROCKS CANNOT FALL FROM THE SKY – OR CAN THEY?
The third one is one fewer people have heard about, though today it seems that it was inevitable that today’s paradigm was going to exist. In the 1600s and 1700s occasionally a meteor would come flying in and crash to the ground or airburst in the sky. People in various places witnessed them, but dammit, those pesky scientists continually asserted the wisdom of the day — Rocks cannot fall from the sky:
In 1790 a fireball raced across the sky near the town of Barbotan in southwest France. Immediately after the fireball disappeared a shower of stones fell. Over three-hundred people witnessed this event, making it difficult for French scientists to discount. The scientists were forced to admit there was some connection between the fireballs that fell from the sky and the rains of stone. In 1794, four years later, more than 200 stones fell from the sky near Siena, Italy with enough witnesses to make the existence of the event undeniable. Though many scientists explained the stones as condensations from “igneous clouds” or volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, a German researcher had a different idea.
That year Ernst Friedrick Chladni published his theory in a book titled On the Origin of the Mass of Iron Discovered by Pallas and Others Similar to It, and on Some Natural Phenomena Related to Them. In this work Chladni built a case that rock falls were related to fireballs even if the fireballs were not observed. He also reached the conclusion that fireballs because of their very high-speeds, among other characteristics, had to be coming from outer space.
His view received immediate resistance and mockery by the scientific community. In the late 1790s, rocks from space just didn’t fit into the concept of nature…
…However, a large number of conservative scientists kept on denying the obvious facts, among them some of the most influential members of the respected French Academy of Sciences. Their mockery and sarcasm was silenced several months after Howard’s publication: on April 26, 1803, a shower of about 3,000 stones fell in broad daylight near L’Aigle, France, witnessed by countless people. This incident attracted much public attention, providing a fertile ground for further research and the young science of meteoritics.
Which was correct? The paradigm before or the paradigm after? We can look at many areas of science and find that scientific fact of today is very different from scientific fact of past times.
Science can be wrong, and science has been wrong. But the rest of us still look to scientists to study the natural world and study the advance of humans and the civilizations that humans have built. Why do we look to them, if they have been wrong as many times as they have? Because they are the best we’ve got? (Not everybody agrees on that latter point.)
THE OTHER DEVELOPMENTS AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE ADVANCED THE WORLD – AND WILL IN THE FUTURE, TOO
And there are other stories and many things today that would in the past have been denied as being impossible in most cultures, even western culture – electricity, microscopes, telescopes, computer chips, radio waves, flexible fiber-optic cables, radiation, television, horseless carriages, satellites, splitting of the atom, computers, automation, plastics, even magnetism, to name a few. (And more are on the way…) Each new development had to overcome the thinking of the past in order to come to life. For each one of those – and more – we have had to accept that we could see very small things or very far away things, or light up buildings and cities, or watch as machines do work that used to be done by humans – all sorts of new realities in our world. If there is one thing true about humans, it is that somebody will develop new things that will change the way we think – even the scientists (maybe even especially the scientists). But we certainly do NOT only get advances by waiting for scientists to develop or discover them. Look up “serendipity” some time, and see how many discoveries and developments were just accidents. The idea that the slow and steady advance of science takes us into the future misses the quantum leaps and serendipity that the history of scientific and technological development is populated with.
One thing we cannot do is to pretend that what we know now is all that can be known or that only a certain class of people have brains enough to discover new things. Steve Jobs would be a name we wouldn’t know if all new ways of working with the world came through scientists. Or Thomas Edison, or Nikola Tesla, or Orville and Wilbur Wright, or Henry Ford, or Karl Benz, or Cyrus McCormack, or Eli Whitney, or Johannes Guttenberg, or Benjamin Franklin, and the Montgolfier brothers, to name a few. Every one of the developments of those men and others like them were also trying to make sense of the natural world. Literally, the world and civilization as we know it would not exist without their efforts to solve the problems in front of them, which were certainly attempts to understand the natural world – in their cases in order to make things that had not existed before.
Today in the sciences we see very little of people sticking their necks out and bucking the orthodoxy. It is as if it is assumed that everything that needs to be discovered has been discovered, and that no new things will come along to shake the present understandings of the natural world.
On the other hand, a growing number of alternative researchers are saying just the opposite – that there is a lot to discover yet, and that our scientific and historical hubris is keeping us from discovering them.