by César Tort

From personal experience as a former pseudoscientist I know that, when one is immersed in the dogma of a false science, the believer swears that it is real science.

A typical believer in a classical pseudoscience, such as the study of UFOs or parapsychology (I used to be a parapsychologist), ignores that there is a litmus test to distinguish between false and true science: the principle of the falsifiability of a hypothesis that Karl Popper devised in The Logic of Scientific Discovery. In short, for a hypothesis to be scientific it has to be refutable.

Pseudoscientists follow the opposite methodology: they present their central hypotheses in such a way that they cannot be refuted.

A typical case of pseudoscience from the Popperian point of view is sindonology, the study of the Shroud of Turin. The very term, Sindonology, from the Greek sindon—the word used in the gospel of Mark to describe the type of the burial cloth of Jesus—signifies that the whole field is pseudoscientific. How can a scientist study a fictional object (scholarship since Reimarus has demonstrated that the New Testament narratives are literary fiction)?

Geoffroi de Charny, a French knight who died in 1356 at the Battle of Poitiers, was the first recorded owner of what later became known as ‘the Turin Shroud’. When in the late 1980s I was immersed in sindonology, I not only read a huge amount of literature on the subject where I learned about the de Charny story but even contacted the ‘experts’ by mail, some personally. The late Dr. Enrique Rivero-Borrell, the foremost expert on the shroud in Mexico, told me something I should mention.

I met him at a meeting of a group of Catholic sindonologists who believe that the image of the shroud is nothing more and nothing less than a late ‘love letter’ that God left behind in the 1st century as proof of the Resurrection for our scientific age!

The meeting with Rivero-Borrell, presided by Faustino Cervantes Ibarrola, a pleasant priest, was held in the aftermath of the carbon-14-dating tests results performed on the shroud in 1988. Rivero-Borrell, president of a sindonological organisation, was very confused. The tests, endorsed by the cardinal of Turin himself, revealed that the fabric dated from 1260 to 1390 CE. Keep in mind that the shroud is exactly about the size of an altar cloth; in no way it resembles the several burial cloths used by Jewry. Since the shroud made its first appearance in a town in France, precisely in the times of de Charny, it could not be more significant that science corroborated that the cloth was manufactured in the 13th or 14th centuries.

However, I continued my investigation of the shroud because the image remained mysterious. That was how I learned a couple of years later that Rivero-Borrell left behind all his previous confusion of 1988. Very enthusiastically, he told me that the latest research had revealed that the carbon 14 tests had come out medieval because a fungus had covered the cloth, changing the molecular chemistry and the results turned out aberrant!

In other parts of the world, other sindonologists said that Jesus’ energy in the resurrection, which they call flash photolysis—the very moment when Jesus was resurrected—not only left the miraculous imprint on the sheet, but changed its molecular chemistry. That’s why the results had come out medieval instead of the 1st century! (a rather clumsy deity was this one who intended to leave behind ‘a love letter’ for us).

The least absurd excuse among the sindonologists that I heard is that the piece of cloth to which they applied the carbon 14 tests was attached to the shroud; not a part of the original fabric.

All these excuses have something in common: they present us their central hypothesis—that the image of the Turin shroud is the result of a miraculous imprint at the very moment of Jesus’ resurrection—as an irrefutable hypothesis. And it is precisely the irrefutability of the central hypothesis of a field of study the most common feature in pseudosciences.

For example, those who study UFOs say that there is a conspiracy that involves all governments since 1947: government officials who have hidden evidence from the American people of extraterrestrial visitors. This is an irrefutable hypothesis insofar as, when a sceptic requests evidence that an alien ship exists in a top-secret hangar, the believer responds that everything is jealously guarded by sinister instances of the federal government. A massive conspiracy involving all presidencies from Truman to Trump, including the CIA and the FBI, and which continues today, cannot be refuted. Every time the sceptic complains that a massive conspiracy stresses the claim to the breaking point, the believer responds that the sceptic himself might be a paid CIA agent! I’m not kidding: some ufologists used to say that about the late Philip Klass, the CSICOP specialist in UFOs, whom I met at a conference.

The same happens in the field of parapsychology. I used to believe that extra-sensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK) exist, but that they are such erratic phenomena that it is very difficult to demonstrate methodically and repeatedly in the laboratory. That is, there is no way to adequately submit the paranormal hypothesis to the protocol of refutability devised by Popper. That does not mean that ESP and PK do not exist. It means that the parapsychologists, who claim that they have reliable, empirical evidence of the existence of the paranormal, violate the principle of falsifiability by calling their field of study strictly scientific.

Such a pseudoscientific methodology is what the sindonologists also follow. Take for example the least insane of the above-mentioned excuses about why, according to believers, the carbon 14 tests did not come out of the century they expected: that researchers could have cut a cloth attached to the shroud, not the fabric where the image is.

If pro-authenticity advocates were true scientists they would not come up with such a thing. They would simply ask the Pope to allow another carbon 14 test on the cloth, this time from the area they consider appropriate. Meanwhile, the wise sindonologists would suspend judgment until the Pope approves another series of tests. Instead, what they do is focusing on a battery of secondary tests. Most of such tests are unrelated to the dating of the cloth; tests that purportedly show that the image remains mysterious.

 
Wikipedia

Wikipedia is horrible about politics in these times of mass non-white immigration into the West. But in neutral articles such as science, engineering, computing and even putting pseudosciences in place, it can be a good resource for consultation. In 2004 the article on the Shroud of Turin became ‘a featured article’ on Wikipedia: the maximum decoration offered to an article in that online encyclopaedia. Over the years, several sindonologists began to get their hands on it and currently it is not even considered a ‘good article’, the previous step to convert the Wiki article into a featured one by the standards of that encyclopaedia.

Although I cannot recommend the current article as a good introduction to the subject, such an article may still be useful, especially in its talk page. One of the good passages of the current Wiki article is the lead paragraph with which the article opens:

The Shroud of Turin or Turin Shroud (Italian: Sindone di Torino, Sacra Sindone or Santa Sindone) is a length of linen cloth bearing the negative image of a man who is alleged to be Jesus of Nazareth. It is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy. The cloth itself is believed by some to be the burial shroud that Jesus was wrapped in when he was buried after crucifixion. It is first securely attested in 1390, when a local bishop wrote that the shroud was a forgery and that an unnamed artist had confessed. Radiocarbon dating of a sample of the shroud material is consistent with this date.

(Phase contrast microscopic view of image-bearing fibber from the Shroud of Turin during the Carbon 14 test.) In 1988, three radiocarbon dating tests dated a corner piece of the shroud from the Middle Ages,[5] between the years 1260 and 1390. Some shroud researchers have challenged the dating, arguing the results were skewed by the introduction of material from the Middle Ages to the portion of the shroud used for radiocarbon dating. However, all of the scientific hypotheses used to challenge the radiocarbon dating have been scientifically refuted,[1][2][3] including the medieval repair hypothesis [4][5][6], the bio-contamination hypothesis[7] and the carbon monoxide hypothesis.[5]

Despite numerous investigations and tests, the status of the Shroud of Turin remains murky, and the nature of the image and how it was fixed on the cloth remain puzzling.

 
Explaining falsifiability

To distinguish science from pseudoscience the crux is not verifiability but refutability, that in scientific jargon they call falsifiability. For example, for years astronomers had predicted the physics of a collision between two neutron stars. But it had not been possible to verify it for the simple fact that, until very recently, the phenomenon had not been observed in radio telescopes. And there are astronomical hypotheses that cannot yet be verified due to lack of observation. It may take centuries without these other phenomena being observed.

The idea is to elaborate a solid principle of demarcation that will serve us today to distinguish between true and false science. In addition, in a borderline area of research, such as the shroud of Turin, there is no lab test of ‘Christness’ as there are, say, tests to detect a human pregnancy. What does it even mean ‘scientific verification’ that a cloth covered the body of Jesus? The most we can do is date the linen with reliable radiometric tests. If the results come out after the 1st century of our era, it is ruled out that it is authentic. The point is that this strategy is not verification but falsification of the 1st century hypothesis.

For the general public it may not be easy to understand the concept of falsifiability if they read Karl Popper’ dense treatise. But it is easily understood when we read a pedagogue. The most didactic class I know of to understand the concept is that of the neurologist Terence Hines in the first chapter of his book Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, published the year in which the Carbon 14 tests were done on the shroud. The chapter, ‘The Nature of Pseudoscience’ from Hines’ book begins with the following words:

What is pseudoscience? It’s difficult to come up with a strict definition. In the real world things are not clearly delineated but surrounded by gray areas that doom any hard definition. As the term implies, a pseudoscience is a doctrine or belief system that pretends to be a science. What distinguishes pseudoscience from real science? [Some authors] have discussed criteria for separating real science from pseudoscience and for helping to decide whether a new claim is pseudoscientific.

The most common characteristic of a pseudoscience is the nonfalsifiable or irrefutable hypothesis. This is a hypothesis against which there can be no evidence—that is, no evidence can show the hypothesis to be wrong. It might at first seem that such a hypothesis must be true, but a bit of reflection and several examples will demonstrate just the opposite. Consider the following hypothesis: “I, Terence Michael Hines, am God incarnate, and I created the universe thirty seconds ago.” Now, you probably don’t believe this hypothesis, but how would you go about disproving it? You could argue, “You say you created the universe thirty seconds ago, but I have memories from years ago. So, you’re not God.” But I reply, “When I created the universe, I created everyone complete with memories.” We could go on like this for some time and you would never be able to prove that I’m not God. Nonetheless, this hypothesis is clearly absurd!

Creationists, who believe that the biblical story of creation is literal truth, often adopt a similar irrefutable hypothesis. They claim that the world was created less than ten thousand years ago. As will be seen in chapter twelve, vast amounts of physical evidence clearly refute this claim. All one has to do is point to something older than ten thousand years. Backed into a corner by such evidence, creationists often rephrase the creationist hypothesis in an irrefutable form. They explain the clear geological and fossil evidence that dates back millions of years by claiming that God put that evidence there to test our faith. An alternative version is that the evidence was manufactured by Satan to tempt us from the true path of redemption. No evidence can refute either of these versions of the hypothesis, since any new piece of geological or fossil evidence can be dismissed as having been placed there by God or Satan. This does not make the hypothesis true—it just makes it nonfalsifiable. Such a hypothesis contributes nothing to our understanding of the physical world.

Those who are skeptical about pseudoscientific and paranormal claims are frequently accused of being closed-minded in demanding adequate evidence and proof before accepting such a claim. But who is really being closed-minded? As a scientist, I can specify exactly the type of evidence that would be required to make me change my mind and accept the reality of astrology, UFOs as extraterrestrial spacecraft, or any other topic considered in this book. But the believer, who likes to paint him or herself as open-minded and accepting of new possibilities, is actually extremely closed-minded. After all, the irrefutable hypothesis is really saying “There is no conceivable piece of evidence that will cause me to change my mind!”

That is true closed-mindedness.

When in November of 1989 the group of sceptics known then as CSICOP visited Mexico City, I was completely lost in the paranormal. However, I always had a predisposition for honesty, in the sense of being able to change my worldview if coming across facts and solid arguments based on facts.

The visit of CSICOP to the city where I live changed me in many ways. The sceptic who had published a critical book on the Shroud, Joe Nickell, had been unable to come. But for the first time I spoke with the professional critics of parapsychology: two academic psychologists whose hobby was to read all the important journals of parapsychology, and publish their critique in specialized journals. It was because of their work that I learned the enormous amount of dedication that the refutation of a single pseudoscience, such as parapsychology, requires.

But the problems do not end with finding a couple of motivated sceptics. Their criticism may be true, but the popularisation of the criticism was difficult to divulge because scepticism does not sell. In a society for mass-market consumption what sells well are claims of the paranormal.

For example, the copy I have of David Sox’s book (see sidebar), which I read in the same year I met the sceptics, is made of very cheap paper. If we compare it with the elegant books of pro-authenticity advocate Ian Wilson, Sox’s book seems extremely modest. Nonetheless, despite the poor quality of the paper and the covers, Sox does not violate Occam’s razor by postulating unnecessary miracles. His out-of-print book is more relevant to understanding the relic of Turin than those still in-print books of his popular colleague.

I hope the information provided in this site serves as a sort of sceptic’s corner in a world where the majority of books and websites on the Turin Shroud come from the pen of advocates.

________________

[1] Chivers, Tom (20 December 2011). ‘The Turin Shroud is fake. Get over it’. Daily Telegraph.

[2] Christopher Ramsey, ‘The Shroud of Turin’, Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, March 2008.

[3] Radiocarbon Dating, Second Edition: An Archaeological Perspective, By R.E. Taylor, Ofer Bar-Yosef, Routledge 2016; pg. 167-168.

[4] R.A. Freer-Waters, A.J.T. Jull, ‘Investigating a Dated piece of the Shroud of Turin’, Radiocarbon, 52, 2010, pp. 1521–1527.

[5] Schafersman, Steven D. (14 March 2005). ‘A Skeptical Response to Studies on the Radiocarbon Sample from the Shroud of Turin by Raymond N. Rogers’ (available online: here).

[6] The Shroud, by Ian Wilson; Random House, 2010, pgs. 130-131.

[7] Gove, H. E. (1990). ‘Dating the Turin Shroud: An Assessment’. Radiocarbon. 32 (1): 87–92.

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Imagine my surprise when, leafing through a book (pic below) on the Shroud of Turin in a Houston bookshop, I came across some pages in which they spoke of a writing of mine whose paranormal theories I no longer believed:

Some see the origin of the image on the Shroud as paranormal, rather than miraculous. They suggest that supernatural, rather than Divine, forces may be at work. Mexican parapsychologist César Tort has raised the possibility that the image is a ‘thoughtograph’. There is evidence—controversial, but not easily dismissed—that some psychics can create recognizable images on film by the power of thought alone. The most famous case is that of Ted Serios, an alcoholic Chicago bellhop, whose abilities were studied intensively in the mid-1960s by the eminent researcher Jule Eisenbud. If it exists, the ability of the mind to affect the highly sensitive chemicals of photographic film would seem to be a natural variant of psychokinesis (PK)—the alteration of the state of a physical object by mental influence alone—as exhibited most famously by Uri Geller.

Tort[1] points to a similar phenomenon, that of images appearing spontaneously on the walls and floors of buildings. He cites a well­documented case from the 1920s, when the image of the late Dean John Liddell appeared on a wall of Oxford Cathedral. Such pictures are usually of people of special sanctity, but not always. In one case in Bélmez de la Moraleda in Spain, which was investigated by the veteran parapsychologist Professor Hans Bender one-time mentor of Elmar Gruber, co-author of The Jesus Conspiracy, leering, demonic faces have appeared regularly on the walls and floors of a house for more than twenty years.

César Tort’s starting point was the paradox between the historical and scientific evidence that we had already noted: the image on the Shroud is more consistent with actual crucifixion (and so, to most people, with the first century), than with a medieval artistic forgery, but the carbon dating and the documented history show it to be medieval. How, asked Tort, could a fourteenth-century cloth show a first-century image? So he speculated that it was a thoughtograph, projected onto the cloth by the collective minds of the pilgrims who came to meditate on a (then plain) cloth that they believed had wrapped their risen Lord. Tort admitted the main objection to this scenario: even suspending disbelief about the reality of thoughtography, we would expect the image to conform to the beliefs and expectations of those who unconsciously created it. To a medieval mind, there should be nails in the palms (not the wrists), Jesus should look younger, and he would certainly not be naked as here. To explain this, Tort has to invoke another paranormal phenomenon—retrocognition—where the past can be psychically perceived.

The pros and cons of these phenomena are outside the scope of this book, but in the case of Tort’s hypothesis it is enough to say that neither effect has ever been reported as working on the scale needed to make the Shroud image, and that the use of two such unknowns—thoughtography and retrocognition—is simply stretching credulity far too far. Neither does it explain why a negative image was projected, or why the bloodstains should be so different from the rest of the image. It is a bold and open-minded attempt to reconcile the contradictory elements of the Shroud, but in the end it creates more questions than answers. [pages 45-46]

The title of the book is Turin Shroud: In Whose Image? by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince. The book mentions my name again on pages 48 and 57-58. I never imagined that what I had written in an obscure Journal (see footnote) could have been taken seriously by other researchers.

Before the Houston surprise, the spiritual odyssey it took me to disbelieve paranormal phenomena would require an autobiographical treatment. If life allows, I will write about that stage in my private Hojas Eliminadas. Here I would just like to confess how it was that I began to question my belief that the Shroud image was ‘a double paranormal phenomena’ to quote again from Picknett and Prince’s book referring to my 1990 article.

I owe it, in large part, to the correspondence I had with Dr. Marvin M. Mueller of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Those who have read my other blogs will probably be surprised that, at one stage of my life, a very busy scientist had to squeeze his very limited time to answer my letters, sometimes in a very technical way.

Muller’s epistles made me rethink. They revealed that the asymmetry in hours-work of the scientists who believe that the Turin Shroud wrapped Christ and of those who believe that it is a medieval forgery is tremendous. I had not realised at that time, so immersed in sindonological literature, that it was similar to listening 99 percent of my time to the lawyer and only 1 percent to the prosecutor. Mueller made me see that due to the asymmetry in work-hours, the unsuspecting reader of Shroud literature could fall into a cognitive trap. Together with the literature of the CSICOP, thanks to Mueller’s letters which I reproduce in the following entries, I abandoned the paranormal hypothesis.

I am indebted to him: an authentically objective scientist, and would like to thank him here for his epistles, even posthumously. Only recently I found out the obituary that starts with these words: ‘Marvin M. Mueller, 86, a resident of White Rock, passed away after a lengthy illness on Wednesday, February 4, 2015’.
 
____________

[1] Tort, César J. (1990) ‘The Turin Shroud: A Case of Retrocognitive Thoughtography?’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 56, Nº 818, pages 71-81.

Rivero-Borrell’s experiment

by César Tort

For more than a decade the Wikipedia article on the Turin Shroud (TS) has had this phrase:

While wrapping a cloth around a life-sized statue would result in a distorted image, placing a cloth over a bas-relief would result in an image like the one seen on the shroud.

In November 1993 I paid a visit to the Centro Mexicano de Sindonología (Mexican Centre of Sindonology, located in Mexico City’s Edificio del Arzobispado) to photograph an imitation of the TS made by Enrique Rivero-Borrell, president of the Centre:

I also took other photos of this ‘shroud’, front and back, in addition to the one reproduced at the left.

In his adult life Dr. Rivero-Borrell delivered more than a thousand lectures on the TS, and as a physician his special interest was the pathology of crucifixion.

By his own account, he applied a mixture of skin cream and pigments to a naked man before wrapping him with a cloth. If memory serves an altar cloth—like the altar cloth used to create the TS image—was used.

Since the original colour of the image was strong, Rivero-Borrell washed the cloth resulting in the image visible on the photo. Thereafter he painted the blood, the burning marks and the water spots by hand. The face was not touched up except for the ‘blood’. The hair has a peculiar appearance since the man was wearing a wig. The similarity of the body image of the Rivero-Borrell ‘shroud’ with the body image of the TS is remarkable.

The importance of Rivero-Borrell’s ‘experiment’, as he called it, lies in the fact that without intending it he cracked a long-claimed mystery of sindonological research: the non-distorted image on the TS. Previous to the Rivero-Borrell experiment, those attempts to replicate the TS image from contact transfer techniques with a full human figure grossly distorted it simply because they wrapped the whole pigmented body. When the cloth was stretched out the faces appeared wider than the original model.

This was precisely what moved Joe Nickell to postulate that the TS image could had been made with a bas-relief sculpture using a rubbing technique to transfer powdered pigments onto a cloth. But the Rivero-Borrell shroud potentially could solve the distortions problem while respecting Occam’s razor: as there are no historical records of natural-size, bas-relief medieval sculptures, front and back, such as Nickell believes would have been utilised to create the TS image. What Nickell and other researchers could have missed is that it is unnecessary to wrap all of the body; it is enough that the cloth touches the human model’s front and back leaving his sides untouched.

Although Rivero-Borrell’s experiment could represent a breakthrough for the artistic hypothesis, he never published his findings presumably because it solved an apparent mystery of pro-authenticity advocates. (Just for the record, I have written in Spanish a critique of the gullibility of the members of the Mexican Centre of Sindonology, including Rivero-Borrell.)

Walter McCrone’s observations on the TS have been challenged by the STURP but not refuted, which means that the TS image may have been fabricated in a similar way as Rivero-Borrell made his copy, with skin cream and pigments. According to McCrone, the yellow fibres were the result of an animal tempera medium having yellowed with age. STURP concluded that the yellowing of the body image was due to cellulose degradation. But cellulose can be degraded with some foreign material transferred from a body contact with the cloth. ‘One may wonder’ writes Nickell by the end of his chapter on the yellow fibers mystery in Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, ‘why we were able to find a plausible explanation for the cellulose degradation while STURP could not’.

If McCrone was right about the presence of pigments and STURP wrong, the ‘judgment day for the Shroud’ may be at hand, to paraphrase the title of McCrone’s 1999 book on the TS published a few years before he died (Rivero-Borrell had passed away in 1998).

I sent a letter to Marvin Mueller with several photos of the Rivero-Borrell shroud, including the photo showing the image of the man’s back on the cloth, missing in the present entry. Mueller was impressed—see his March 1994 epistle in the next entry. I sent the same photos to Joe Nickell who had answered me in January of 1994. Nickell showed some scepticism about Rivero-Borrell’s work, and suggested that I tried to replicate what he did.

It’s almost a quarter of a century since Mueller and Nickell answered my printed letters and enclosures, and I have not tried to replicate Rivero-Borrell’s work yet! Why in 2018 I still don’t bother to purchase an altar cloth, pigments and use some of my free time for a test?

Because I want to make a point.

In his previous letters Mueller hit the nail. In terms of experimentation, the work of the STURP Christians took a hundred times more of man-hours work than the experimentation of secular humanists like McCrone, Nickell and Fischer together. In armchair work, it is far more than a thousand times, according to my estimate, the amount of intellectual work that the TS believers have used compared to skeptics. We simply are unmotivated.

When in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was interested in the TS as a subject, there was no Internet in Mexico. My ideas about Rivero-Borrell’s work remained in printed letters and in archived comments on the Wikipedia discussion page. Now, in the age of the Internet, if I were to have an audience I would try to replicate the work of Rivero-Borrell; this time without the manual touch-ups of blood, burns and water stains that he said were painted.

This article was published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 59, Number 834 (January 1994), pages 367- 369:

Second thoughts on the Turin Shroud

by César J. Tort

Watson: “This is indeed a mystery. What do you imagine it means?”
Holmes: “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

(A Scandal in Bohemia)

Five years have passed since I first began to write the article which was published in this Journal under the title “The Turin Shroud: A Case of Retrocognitive Thoughtography?” (Tort, 1990), and I believe the time has come to reconsider it. First of all, however, I should clarify that, although I am a secular humanist, I have always considered that the Shroud’s image is a true enigma—even after the carbon-14 tests dating the fabric to the late Middle Ages.

I recently reread my article for the first time in a long time. What bothered me most was the excessive amount of references squeezed into such a small space, which, besides giving the article a baroque appearance, made it almost unintelligible. In fact, I am not sure which embarrassed me most, though­—the article’s baroqueness [1] or the ideas presented therein! I am referring to the bold hypothesis that the figure on the famous fabric was the product of a thoughtographic phenomenon, by penitents who ‘catalyzed’ the image of Jesus of Nazareth in the fourteenth century. I also have to confess that during the actual writing of the article I became aware that the ‘thoughtographic’ hypothesis seemed strained way beyond the limits of credulity, due to the simple fact that there appears to be blood on the cloth—and dirt on the soles of the image’s feet. Because of this, following the concept of my hypothesis, I should have catalogued the phenomenon as a ‘semi-materialization’ instead of placing it, as I did, within the cases of ‘thoughtographic appearances’. Nevertheless, as even materialization cases strain our credulity—including those of us who believe in psi—such a conjecture can seem as far-fetched as the classical hypothesis that Jesus’ resurrection produced the image.[2]

But this semantic incursion between thoughtography and semi-materialization is almost irrelevant. The important thing is that in the past I incorrectly believed that the consensus of the scientific community concerning the Shroud was the same as that of STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project), the group which directly studied the fabric in 1978. Later, I became aware that this was not so but that just as in the case of parapsychology the majority of scientists have not assessed STURP’s data. This is not due to their closed-mindedness, but because the Church rarely permits hands-on study of the relic, and then only in Turin (which is why STURP spent millions of dollars transporting an entire laboratory to Italy).

Shortly after my article was published I received a letter from Marvin Mueller. I was grateful for this but only after some time able to appreciate it (Mueller is a nuclear physicist who has criticized the work of STURP). Mueller’s letter, along with my becoming acquainted with the literature of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, made me seriously reconsider my ideas. The case is that as neither psi nor thoughtography has been conclusively demonstrated—and even less a class of thoughtography that is also retrocognitive!—it is extremely premature to speculate along these lines to solve an enigma. In order to give some plausibility to such a hypothesis, it would be necessary first to discard all the natural hypotheses and also to demonstrate that the images which I have called ‘thoughtographic appearances’ are actual phenomena.

In his letter Mueller presented me with an outline of an idea (which in my opinion is remote) to create the Shroud image by means of a variant of the well-known method of Joe Nickell. After criticizing Nickell in his assertion that he has already solved the enigma, Mueller (1990) observed:—

To my knowledge, to date no one has spent any significant effort in trying to produce a definitive test of how well rubbing and related methods can simulate the Shroud image. So the issue remains moot as to whether some variant of an imprinting method could have been used to produce the image (cf. what I wrote in [Skeptical Inquirer]). My concept is that, through iterative trial and error, a dedicated artisan could (tediously) learn how to distort the sculpted reduced-relief figure—call it a bas-relief for brevity—in such a manner that the final imprinting product is as anatomically accurate and esthetically appealing as the Shroud image.

Mueller’s letter is extensive and technical. Although it was published in its entirety in a Shroud newsletter, it is improbable that his readers will take his hypothesis seriously. The reason for this is that, if it is as inadequate as the rest of the forgery hypotheses in explaining the image, an exhaustive work would be necessary to invalidate it, and it is not likely that such work would come from Shroud advocates. Mueller (1990) wrote:—

Except for perhaps two or three weeks each by McCrone, Nickell, and Fischer, there has been almost no hands-on bench work put in by those on the skeptical side. In contrast, the total effort by STURP was probably over a hundred times larger. Shroud skeptics are not easy to motivate at the nitty-gritty, nose-to-grindstone level. Yet science, to perform properly, demands that a serious effort be made to invalidate claims and hypotheses.

Regarding the image, Mueller concedes at the end of his letter that “the mystery is very real indeed and it is not likely to be solved soon.” So, returning to the peculiar hypothesis presented in my article, it would be necessary to elucidate several points before seriously considering it—:

1. If STURP’s observations are correct (and they seem to be) an independent group of unbiased scientists should corroborate them. This is an important point because STURP’s assertion that the image is a technical mystery is what has caused all kinds of extravagant hypotheses to be put forward to crack it (including mine).

2. New carbon-14 tests should be done to demonstrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that the cloth is indeed mediaeval. (I mention this because although the 1988 tests seem reliable to me, a series of mediaeval verdicts could silence the clamour among Shroud fans that the 1988 tests were “badly flawed”.)

3. Regarding the Nickell/Mueller hypothesis, “a concerted effort should be made to develop iteratively-improved variants of imprinting techniques, and then the images should be subjected to Jackson-like[3] scrutiny” (Mueller, 1990).

4. And as I mentioned earlier, research is needed to prove whether the appearances on walls and floors are truly thoughtographic (cf., for example, a case I recently investigated in Spain—Tort & Ruiz-Noguez, 1993).

Only after all these points have been resolved by science (1, 2 and 4 positively and 3 negatively), will it be logical to present any speculation about the possible ‘retro-thoughtographic’ origin of the Shroud image. But as it is not clear that these four points will be resolved in this manner, I have to acknowledge that my speculations were rash—or premature to say the least. Failing to follow Sherlock Holmes’s advice that opened this note, I committed the capital mistake of theorizing before having the pertinent data.

These are only some of the conclusions I have arrived at after publication of my article. The sanest course, ideologically speaking, would be to forget this matter. In the 1940s, when the UFO craze broke out around the world, Arthur C. Clarke declared on one occasion that the most rational thing would be to ignore the phenomenon in the following decades.

His words proved to be wise, and I believe the same can be said of the Shroud of Turin, which I sometimes prefer to consider simply a ‘mediaeval mystery’.
 

REFERENCES

Mueller, M. M. ( 1990) Personal communication (April 15th).

Tort, C. J. (1990) The Turin Shroud: a case of retrocognitive thoughtography? JSPR 56, 71-81.

Tort, C. J. and Ruiz-Noguez, L. (1993) Are the faces of Bélmez permanent paranormal objects? JSPR 59, 161-171.

 
FOOTNOTES

[1] Spanish being my mother tongue, I should have paid special attention to style correction. Instead, during the 1989 Christmas season the manuscript was held up in the Mexican postal system for more than a month, and as I had insisted by telephone to the editor that it be published in January (I was excited to see my first article published in a scholarly journal), it was impossible for the editor to correct it. This adolescent impatience resulted in many instances of embarrassing errata as well.

[2] Shroud advocates have been on a crusade to vindicate their faith before an unbelieving world. Their claim is nothing less than that the mystery of the image represents physical evidence of Christianity’s basic axiom: the resurrection.

[3] John Jackson, an American physicist with a military background, is the head of STURP, and has impressed Mueller with the extraordinary dedication and thoroughness with which he has pursued his research on the Shroud.

Below, my review published in The Journal of Psychohistory 36, 2 (Fall 2008) of Hardness of Heart, Hardness of Life: The Stain of Human Infanticide by Larry S. Milner


When I first discovered Lloyd deMause’s writings in the internet in February 2006, I was slack-jawed. My first reaction was a healthy skepticism about the most gruesome aspects of childrearing and, like a member of a juror, I decided to listen to both sides of the story. I promptly purchased a copy of Colin Heywood’s 2001 History of Childhood because Heywood, a senior lecturer in economic and social history in the University of Nottingham, is not a psychohistorian. It surprised me that, although Heywood does indeed accept the historicity of the data of abusive childrearing in history, he did not reach the same stance of deMause by condemning the abuse. After reading his book I could not conjecture another reason for this omission but that Heywood simply chose to close his eyes. Thus the first “witness” against psychohistory in our hypothetical trial had, in fact, the opposite effect in my mind: the data that deMause had amassed was right, but an academic did not want to reach the natural conclusion that childrearing methods have been a nightmare throughout history.

There are not many places in the internet to follow a discussion with knowledgeable academics hostile to psychohistory. But I found an active forum in the talk pages of the articles of Wikipedia related to Psychohistory. Again, after editing quite a few Wikipedia articles and engaging in the lively debates this experience strengthened, not weakened, my working hypothesis that the psychohistorical model was sound. Still unconvinced that the model could potentially shift the paradigm in the humanities and social sciences, I decided to read the most scholarly treatise on infanticide to date, Hardness of Heart, Hardness of Life, first published in 1998 and authored by Larry Milner, a physician who currently has a private medical practice in Illinois. Milner’s treatise is certainly a treasure of very valuable sources for the psychohistorian, and his book is certainly the first exhaustive survey of infanticide. Like most readers of this journal, Milner accepts the evidence of the propensity of parents to murder their children, and in his webpage he estimates that the frequency of infanticide indicates that “up to 10-15% of all children ever been born have been killed by their parents: an astounding seven billion victims!”

Far beyond my expectations, after studying closely Milner’s monograph it corroborated, again, the veracity of the information about what deMause has termed “early” and “late” infanticidal modes of childrearing. Nonetheless, Milner’s views on the subject, not the vast information he collected, left me so speechless that I cannot resist the temptation of quoting him extensively. In the first chapter of his treatise, Milner wrote:

If our forefathers had to practice infanticide, it was because of the hardness of their life, rather than the hardness of their heart. It was not anger that led them to strangle or expose their children, it was the only way they could assure that the other members of a family could survive (p. 19).

I could easily rebut this statement, but in Milner’s work there are so many similar, outrageous statements that paradoxically it would be more eloquent simply to let him speak out.

In the chapter on medieval infanticide Milner quotes from a book by Linda Pollock: that children “were often brutally exploited and subjected to indignities now hard to believe.” Pollock might be described as an author who wants to idealize the parents’ behavior. Just like Pollock Milner idealizes the parents adding that “this did not necessarily mean they did not love them” (p. 72). Before the school of thought named cultural relativism appeared in anthropology and history, nineteenth century scholars were more willing to express value judgments on infanticide. For instance, in his chapter on tribal infanticide Milner quotes Brough Smyth’s 1878 study of the Australian aboriginals, a practice that Smyth described as “savage” and the tribes as being in a “half-civilized state.” Milner, following the political correctness of our times, comments that Smyth’s statement “is unfairly colored by our own particular moral judgments and bias” (p. 139). In the next page Milner states that the adults’ needs have priority over the needs of the infant, and he grossly misrepresents deMause’s views on infanticide:

As a result, infanticide may become a necessity when certain stressful conditions, like extreme shortage of food, are met. According to Lloyd deMause, hunter-gatherer tribes are frequently forced into such circumstances, and are thereby “in the infanticidal mode” (p. 140).

It must be noted that Milner seems to be familiar with deMause’s History of Childhood and the first issues of deMause’s journal, which he mentions fairly often. In his study of the diary of Herold, the doctor of the infant Louis XIII, deMause has called our attention about how the infant was invested with massive, paranoid projections from the adults. Quoting Edward Westermarck, Milner projects similar delusions onto the child: “The adults had to resort to the killing of infants ‘as a means of saving their lives’“ (p. 141). In the next page Milner adds: “It was necessary at times to look at the greater good, and not let the birth of an unwanted infant jeopardize the survival of the entire family or tribe” (p. 142). How a tiny newborn could be so phenomenally powerful, Milner does not explain. In the same chapter on tribal infanticide and cannibalism Milner makes this remarkable comment: “The newborn was occasionally sacrificed in order to help save the life of an older sibling” (p. 151), and using language in a way I could only describe as Orwellian Newspeak, he adds: “[Australian] infanticide was never effected by violence, such as a blow or cut, but rather either by exposure, strangling, or burying alive” (p. 152; my emphasis). Milner continues with this misuse of language when writing about Eskimo infanticide. While he concedes that “the baby is killed”, he comments that “this attitude is not cold-hearted”, and here goes the Newspeak: “This empathy [my emphasis]…has resulted in a general understanding that children must be sacrificed before the adult” (p. 167). In the next pages I marked non-empathetic phrases toward the child such as “One advantage of this destruction of females at birth…,” “forced circumstances to destroy them,” and “they have even been forced to eat the children.”

I could easily fill a chapter with these sorts of quotations that appear throughout Milner’s long monograph. But for the sake of brevity I will only add a few more. In the chapter about child sacrifice, Milner states:

If so many diverse cultures thereby found the offering of their offspring beneficial, can we merely pass them off as chaotic, or pathologic, customs? I think not… Somehow we must find a more rational explanation for their behavior (p. 319).

Milner repeats the above sentence almost verbatim in his final chapter, “Conclusion.” What I found most offensive in this concluding chapter were these words by the author while speculating about a possible genetic explanation of infanticide:

Such research must be supported, however, and our beliefs must include the realization that killing may not always be wrong. Quintilian [ca. 35 -100 CE] noted that “to slay a man is often a virtue and to put one’s own children to death is at times the noblest of deeds” (p. 549).

Milner wrote the above sentence on the very last page of his voluminous treatise. The remainder of the book contains a vast bibliography and an index of names and subjects.

What strikes me the most is that Milner agrees with deMause and some historians about the magnitude of infanticide throughout pre-history and history. Milner even quotes anthropologist Laila Williamson as the chosen epigraph at the beginning of his book: “Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter gatherers to high civilizations, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule” (p. 1). However, like most anthropologists and orthodox historians who have ventured on writing childhood history, Milner seems emotionally incapable of a proper evaluation of the data he amassed through ten years of research. If Milner is representative of the academic idealization of the parental Holocaust perpetrated since our simian ancestors, it is no surprise that psychohistory has yet to be recognized in the academia.



Hojas Susurrantes
(Whispering Leaves)
:

____________Book 1. Letter to mom Medusa
____________Book 2. How to murder your child’s soul
____________Book 3. The chingada Indian girl
____________Book 4. The Return of Quetzalcoatl
____________Book 5. Whispering leaves

Only most of the fourth book will be published in The West’s Darkest Hour.

Syntax revised

January 15, 2012

Spanish is my mother language. This means that putting an article that I write in top shape syntactically often requires the help of a native English speaker.

My most recent article at The West’s Darkest Hour, “Unfalsifiability in psychiatry and licit drugging of white children,” an expansion of the article “On Psychiatry” published here last November, has been syntactically improved by Greg Johnson, editor of Counter Currents Publishing.

I hope visitors of this blog who subscribe to our ideals will send links of this revised article to their friends. The Popperian part of that article represents my original contribution to the debunking of biological psychiatry.

A critique of Lloyd deMause

November 11, 2011

Due to a flaw in Word Press’ Quintus theme, I have moved this post: here.

Fallen leaf

November 7, 2011

Spanish-English translation for a disclaimer that I omitted in my last book of the Whispering Leaves (WL) series:

* * *

Not a single novel by a writer of my mother tongue I’ve ever read or will read. I am a social architect, not a writer. The only work I would’ve energy to do would be a cabinet post in a world state with an enlightened despot in charge like a Karellen as in Childhood’s End, a novel that I will discuss in the book.

As this is not possible, I would take that novel or another of my favorites Arthur Clarke novels to the big screen.

Since even this is impossible, I write.

I originally planned that this fifth book of my series was a long letter to my father. I also wanted, in a sixth volume, to gather facts of my loneliness and celibacy arising from how I was emotionally crippled after I was abused at home, and also had in mind a seventh book critical of my brothers who dissociate the family tragedy, and even an eighth unmasking the charlatans of the soul—from the founders of great religions to the builders of philosophical systems. In this ambitious scheme this would have been the ninth, and climaxing manifesto of what I think about my species. I even toyed with the idea that this book, which proved to be the fifth, includes all that; that it was much longer than my previous four.

I decided to burn stages. No more volumes for this work. In this final book I’ll just talk about the core of my worldview: the legitimacy of the human race. After all, if I myself cannot take it further the expansion of this quintet, the less will my readers want it.

My father once told me that he was satisfied until the eighth Beethoven symphony; that his ninth one rambled. I was a teenager then and I was stunned. As Wagner wrote in his autobiography, I thought that the ninth of Ludwig van had “the secret of secrets.” But Wagner squandered his enormous gifts for pure music composing with overflowing tetralogies, and now I think dad was right. Although I still maintain that the scherzo of Beethoven’s last symphony is great if listened alone, together with the other movements the composer “grandiloquent” intention (the word my father used) raved a masterpiece. So I won’t have my nine books under one cover. Too much pretention to believe that it would be read when, in advance, its author is a declared non-writer but a social architect frustrated that could not even be a director of films (a vignette: as a background for my computer screen I write this book with the beautiful images that Eyvind Earle drew for Sleeping Beauty).

I am so disgusted by the world of letters that I suffer a lot when entering the vast majority of libraries. I think a lot of human knowledge that has nothing to do with the hard sciences is crap: and the proof is the level of suffering in the world today. With the exception of the eccentric fans of literature, Who reads from cover to cover the thick volumes of autobiographies of Casanova or Proust? In his later years Gore Vidal wanted to get away from writing to approach the cinema. If there is something I like in the seventh art are the cuts made so that viewers don’t move in the theater’s chairs: proof that the film has exceeded the captivation limits. The analogy with the literature and philosophy, or the mockery of both, would be admirable booklets as Voltaire’s Candide: short, compact and crushing. Stefan Zweig wrote in his memoirs that he had suggested the editors to publish a complete set of Homer to Balzac and Dostoevsky abbreviating everything superfluous in each, and he enjoyed nothing more than putting his scissors onto his own manuscripts, even if only two hundred pages—the essential—survived out of a thousand, leaving the rest for the trash can.

Five years ago this day a small Mexican editor accepted my first two books for publication. I declined and sent those early manuscripts to major publishers, making disregard of the saying, “Bird in hand is worth two in the bush…” When they rejected me I was left, for years, without a publisher. But the setback gave me the chance to mature my worldview.

For example, the original version of the second book of WL was a heavy treatise of psychiatry. Quantitatively I had written five anti-psychiatric books in one because I knew nothing of the revolutionary potential of the discoveries of Alice Miller. Realizing this fault, and recalling Zweig’s merciless scissors, I eliminated four-fifths of the book. Then I relegated the “fallen leaves” to a blog converted into an e-book, leaving only the essentials for the printing press.

What’s more, when I was accepted in that small publisher in late 2002 I knew nothing of the psychohistorical model, central to my current worldview, and even less about the Islamization of Europe. In an excursus of the fourth book of WL I criticized Lloyd deMause, among other things for slipping away from sight the psychiatric abuse of children and adolescents. Originally I had planned to include, at the end of this book, a critique of Alice Miller; in part due to the way she treated a couple of his fans. It is important to do the criticism to make it clear I’m not taking Miller as guru. The acid test to discern if one is taking a thinker as a tutelary spirit or a guru is the ability or inability to criticize him or her. However, for the reasons given above I have decided to compact this last book to the bare essentials, relegating criticism of Miller to the internet.

Since 1984 I had entertained the idea of writing a long autobiography. An agony of two decades took me to understand that it’s almost impossible to work without a quorum. Compared to a published writer, until the time of writing this line I’ve not been a writer, only an aspiring writer. Few artists progress in solitude, and those who do it suffer so much that sometimes kill themselves, as van Gogh. Arthur Clarke, who died while reviewing this book, said that nothing is more inspiring than the meeting of minds with similar interests. But there is nobody like me in the continent’s largest city. With twenty million humans I’m like Diogenes and his lamp at full sunlight of noon. In terms of elemental affinity—to devise and implement the most urgent social engineering measures—my fellow citizens are “nonentities” as Clarke wrote in another of his novels I wanted to film, The City and the Stars.

Many years ago I thought that in order to communicate my labyrinthine mind my work would be similar to the autobiographies that flourished in the Romantic period. Now I know that the purpose of my books is rather to provide a theoretical model of Evil, as well as emotionally detonate a bomb in the minds of a few of my readers: something that in my most cherished dream is to trigger a chain reaction that eventually will affect the rest of humanity. So I’ve been breaking the linear narrative, however unwise it is from a novel or literary perspective. In fact, this book will have more “filmic” cuts than my previous books.

____________

Originally written in 2007.

On psychiatry

November 3, 2011

A longer—and syntactically corrected version by Greg Johnson—of this article can be found here.



Why psychiatry is a false science

by César Tort

Abstract

Psychiatry is not a science. As a Popperian philosopher of science would easily notice, the way psychiatrists present their hypotheses on the diverse neuroses and psychoses—biological diseases “of unknown etiologies”—makes them non-falsifiable or irrefutable biological hypotheses.

Thus, an irrefutable hypothesis is a sure-fire sign of a pseudoscience.

—Terence Hines [1]

Debunking psychiatry

According to Ron Leifer, there have been four parallel critiques of psychiatry: Thomas Szasz’s conceptual and logical critique of the mental illness idea; Leifer’s own parallel critique of social control through psychiatry; Peter Breggin’s medical evaluation of the assaults on the brain with drugs, electroshock and lobotomy; and the cry of those who have been harmed by it.[2]

Another way to question the validity of psychiatry is to examine the scientific basis of biological psychiatry. This fifth parallel critique, which I would call the evaluation of the scientific status of psychiatry, takes psychiatry to task on its own theoretical base. Exponents of this late strategy have focused on the various bioreductionist claims and logical fallacies in psychiatry; [3] on the dubious science behind psychopharmacology, [4] and on statistical analyses that show that poor countries with few psychiatric drugs called neuroleptics (“antipsychotics”) fare much better in the treatment of people in psychotic crisis than the rich countries.[5] In this article I shall present an apparently innovative way to call into question the scientific status of biological psychiatry.

However odd it may seem, biopsychiatry has not been attacked from the most classic criteria to spot pseudosciences: Karl Popper’s test that distinguishes between real and false science, and the principle known in science as Occam’s razor. Both of these principles have been very useful in the debunking of paranormal claims, as well as biological pseudosciences such as phrenology.[6] I will argue that it is in this latter framework of biological pseudosciences that psychiatry can be recognized and understood.


Bunge’s argument

Mario Bunge, the philosopher of science, maintains that all pseudosciences are sterile. Despite of its multimillion-dollar sponsoring by the pharmaceutical companies, biological psychiatry remains a sterile profession today.[7]

Despite its long history of biological theories since 1884 when Johann Thudichum, the founder of modern neurochemistry, believed the cause of madness were “poisons fermented in the body” to the current dopamine theory of schizophrenia, psychiatrists have been unable to find the biological cause of the major disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.[8] This lack of progress was to be expected. If the biologicistic postulate on which psychiatry lays its foundational edifice is an error, that is to say, if the cause of mental disorders is not somatogenic but psychogenic, real progress can never occur in biological psychiatry; and the subject of mental disorders should not belong to medical science but to psychology. Nancy Andreasen, the editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry, the most financed and influential journal of psychiatry, recognizes in Brave New Brain, a book published in 2001, that:

❍ there has not been found any physiological pathology behind mental disorders;
❍ nor chemical imbalances have been found in those diagnosed with a mental illness;
❍ nor genes responsible for a mental illness have been found;
❍ there is no laboratory test that determines who is mentally ill and who is not;
❍ some mental disorders may have a psychosocial origin.[9]

A better proof of sterility in biopsychiatry can hardly be found. It is worth saying that Andreasen’s book has been tagged as “the most important psychiatry book in the last twenty years.”[10]

The above points show us why, since its origins, psychiatry and neurology are separated. While neurology deals with authentic brain biology, we can assume that psychiatry may be searching for a biological mirage.


Popper’s “litmus paper” test

In The Logic of Scientific Discovery philosopher of science Karl Popper tells us that the difference between science and pseudosciences lies in the power of refutability of a hypothesis.[11] Despite its academic, governmental and impressive financial backing in the private sector, psychiatry does not rest on a body of discoveries experimentally falsifiable or refutable. In fact, the central entity in psychiatry, the concept of mental illness—say “schizophrenia”—cannot be put forward as a falsifiable or refutable hypothesis.

Let us consider the claim that psychiatrists use the drugs called neuroleptics to restore the brain chemical imbalance of a schizophrenic. A Popperian would immediately ask the questions: (1) What is exactly a brain chemical imbalance? (2) How is this neurological condition recognized among those who you call schizophrenics and which lab tests are used to diagnose it? (3) Which evidence can you present to explain that the chemical imbalance of the so-called schizophrenic has been balanced—or has not been balanced—as a result of taking the neuroleptic?

Before these questions the psychiatrist answers in such a way that he who is unfamiliar with the logic of scientific discovery will have great difficulties in detecting a trick. For instance, Andreasen has acknowledged that there have not been found biochemical imbalances in those diagnosed with a mental illness and that there is no laboratory test that determines who is mentally ill and who is not. That is to say, Andreasen is recognizing that her profession is incapable of responding to the second and third questions above. How, then, does Andreasen and her colleagues have convinced themselves that neuroleptics restore to balance the “chemically unbalanced” brains of schizophrenics? Furthermore, why does Andreasen have stated so confidently at the beginning of the section in Brave New Brain that addresses the question of what causes schizophrenia that the disorder “is not a disease that parents cause”?

Speaking in Popperian terms the answer is: by contriving a non-falsifiable or irrefutable hypothesis. In contrast to neurologists, who can demonstrate the physiopathology, histopathology or the presence of pathogen microorganisms, Andreasen and other psychiatrists recognize that they cannot demonstrate these biological markers (faulty genes or biochemical imbalances) that they postulate in the major disorders classified in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-IV. If they could do it, psychiatry as a specialty would have disappeared and its body of knowledge merged in neurological science. What psychiatrists do is to state that after almost a century of research in, for instance, schizophrenia, the medical etiology of the “disease” is still “unknown,” and they claim the same of many others DSM-IV behaviors. As Thomas Szasz has observed, in real medical science physicians observe the pathological alterations in the organs, tissue and cells as well as the microbial invasions, and the naming of the disease comes only after that. Psychiatry inverts the sequence. First it baptizes a purported illness, be it schizophrenia or any other, and the existence of a biological marker is never discovered, though it is dogmatically postulated.[12] A postulate is a proposition that is accepted without proof. Only by postulating that these disorders are basically genetic and that the environment merely plays a “triggering” role can psychiatrists justify to treat them by physical means. But if neuroses and psychoses are caused by parental abuse, to treat them with drugs, electroshock or lobotomy only “re-victimizes” the victim.[13]

In the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s tens of thousands of lobotomies were performed in the United States, [14] but since the advent of neuroleptics only about two hundred chirurgical lobotomies are performed each year in the world. About 100,000 people are being electro-shocked every year in the United States alone, many against their will.[15] North America consumes about 90 per cent of the world’s Ritalin for American and Canadian children. Many parents, teachers, politicians, physicians and almost all psychiatrists believe in these “medical model” treatments for unwanted behaviors in children and teenagers.

On the other hand, the “trauma model” is an expression that appears in the writings of non-biological psychiatrists such as Colin Ross. Professionals who work in the model of trauma try to understand neurosis and even psychosis as an injury to the inner self inflicted by abusive parents during their childhood.[16] The psyche of a child is very vulnerable to persistent abuse while in the process of ego formation. Although some books of the proponents of the old existential and “schizophrenogenic” mother are still in print, [17] today the model is better explained in the case-stories writings of compassionate psychologists such as Alice Miller.[18] In a moving and yet scholarly autobiography John Modrow maintains that an all-out emotional attack by his parents caused a psychotic crisis in his adolescence.[19] Despite claims to the contrary, the trauma model of psychosis is still alive. Only in 2004 two academic books were released on the subject, [20] and in the Journal of Psychohistory Lloyd deMause still suggest that the gamut of mental disorders, from the dissociative states and psychoses of ancient times to the neuroses of today, are consequence of child abuse.[21]

Let us take as an example an article published in a July 2002 Time magazine. The author used the case of Rodney Yoder, abused during his childhood and as adult hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital in Chester, Illinois. From the hospital Yoder has undertaken an internet campaign for his liberation. Catching on the favorite phrases of psychiatrists the Time writer tells us: “Scientists are decades away [my emphasis] from being able to use a brain scan to diagnose something like Yoder’s alleged personality disorders.” [22] In the same line of thinking, Rodrigo Muñoz, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association in the 1990s, stated in an interview: “We are gradually advancing to the point when we will be able [my emphasis] to pinpoint functional and structural changes in the brain that are related to schizophrenia.” [23] That is to say, psychiatrists recognize that at present they cannot understand a mental disorder through purely physical means, though they have enormous faith they will in the near future. Hence it is understandable what another psychiatrist told the Washington Post: “Psychiatric diagnosis is descriptive. We don’t really understand psychiatric disorders at a biological level.” [24] Psychiatrists only rely on conduct, not on the individual’s body, to say that there is an illness. Child psychiatrist Luis Méndez Cárdenas, the director of the only public psychiatric hospital in Mexico which specializes in committing children, told me in a 2002 interview: “Since the cause of any disorder is unknown, the diagnosis is clinical.”

More to the point, in February 2002 I debated psychiatrist Gerard Heinze, the director of the Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatría (the Mexican equivalent to the American National Institute of Mental Health or NIMH.) Arguing with Heinze I rose the question of the lack of biological markers in his profession. Heinze answered enumerating two or three diseases that medical science has not fully understood; he tried to make the point that mental disorders are in this category of still incomprehensible diseases. For example, until 2006 the Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome, which makes some children start to age since their childhood, was an authentic biomedical disease of unknown etiology. But its existence was not controversial before 2006: it was enough to see the poor aged children to know that their problem was clearly somatic. On the other hand, diagnoses of the alleged psychiatric disorders are so subjective that their inclusion in the DSM has to be decided by votes in congresses of influential psychiatrists. Heinze’s point would not have strained my credulity to the breaking point if most of the 374 DSM-IV diagnoses were already proven biomedical illnesses with only a few of them remaining as mysterious diseases. But we are asked to believe that virtually all of the DSM behaviors are mysterious diseases “of unknown etiology”.

One last example related to a 2003 hunger strike of psychiatric survivors in Pasadena, California, who demanded scientific proof of mental illness as a genuine biomedical disease, will illustrate this attitude.[25]

The hunger strikers’ demand was addressed to the American Psychiatric Association and the offices of the Surgeon General. Psychiatrist Ron Sterling dismissed the strikers’ demand for positive scientific proof describing the mental health field in the following way: “The field is like cardiology before cardiologists could do procedures like electrocardiograms, open-heart surgery, angiograms and ultrasound […]. Since brain structure and physiology are so complex, the understanding of its circuitry and biology are in its infancy.”[26] The Surgeon General Office did not even bother to respond. However, in a statement released in September 2003 the American Psychiatric Association conceded that:

“Brain science has not advanced to the point where scientists or clinicians can point to readily discernible pathologic lesions or genetic abnormalities that in and of themselves serve as reliable or predictive biomarkers of a given mental disorder or mental disorders as a group […]. Mental disorders will likely be proven [my emphasis] to represent disorders of intracellular communication; or of disrupted neural circuitry.”

The trick to be noticed in the above public statements is that psychiatrists, physicians all things considered, are stating that even though the etiology of mental disorders is unknown such etiology is, by definition, biological, and that it is only a matter of time that it will likely be proven. This is the hidden meaning of the code word “of unknown etiology.” By doing this psychiatrists dismiss in toto the work of the many researchers who have postulated a psychogenic origin of mental distress and disorders.

Although it is more parsimonious to consider a psychological cause for a mental disturbance that has no known biological markers, with its somatogenic dogma orthodox psychiatry ignores the simplest hypothesis, the model of trauma. To inquire into Yoder’s childhood, for instance, is axiomatically dismissed in a science that clings to only one hypothesis. In other words, by talking of unknown etiologies that will be discovered in the future by medical science —never by psychologists—, these physicians have presented us a biological hypothesis of mental disorders in such a way that, even if wrong, cannot be refuted.

Conversely, if psychiatrists were true scientists they would present their biological hypothesis under the falsifiability protocol that Popper observed in hard sciences.

Let us consider the hypothesis: “At sea level water boils at 40º C.” This is a scientific hypothesis in spite of the fact that the proposition is false (water does not boil at 40º but at 100º C). The hypothesis is scientific because it is presented in such a way that it just takes putting it to the test in our kitchen with a thermometer to see if it is true or not: if water does not boil at 40º C, the hypothesis is false. In other words, according to Popper the scientific quality of a hypothesis does not depend on whether the hypothesis is true, but however paradoxical it may seem, it depends on whether the hypothesis may be refuted assuming it is false. Thus the hypothesis that at present water boils at 40º C can be refuted: it is a scientific hypothesis. On the other hand, the hypothesis that schizophrenia and the other major mental disorders are biological and that this “will likely be proven,” the words of the American Psychiatric Association, cannot be refuted: it is not a scientific hypothesis. Against this biological hypothesis there is no possible evidence at present, that is, there is no empirical evidence which can show that the hypothesis is wrong.

This is the sure-fire sign of a pseudoscience.


Conclusion

True scientists, say, geologists or biologists, never postulate their central hypotheses, tectonic plates and the principle of natural selection, as non-falsifiable hypotheses that “will likely be proven.” It is the futuristic stance of psychiatrists what gives the lie to the claim that their belief system is scientific.

A pseudo-science is a belief system that pretends to be scientific. Psychiatry is not the only biological pseudoscience, but it exhibits the same unequivocal signs of pseudoscience present in every system that pretends to be scientific. Other biological pseudoscientists such as phrenologists or the communist proponents of Lysenko-Michurinism did not comply with the Popperian requirement of presenting their conjectures in falsifiable form either. In this article I cannot deal with communist pseudoscience. Be it enough to say that all pseudosciences, biological or paranormal, have four things in common. Just as its biological sisters (phrenology and Lysenko-Michurinism) and its paranormal cousins (e. g., parapsychology and UFOlogy), psychiatry is a “science” that (1) presents its central hypothesis in a non-falsifiable way; (2) idolizes in perpetuity that sole hypothesis; (3) violates the economy principle by ignoring the more parsimonious alternative, and (4) is completely sterile. After decades of research neither phrenologists nor psychiatrists nor parapsychologists nor ufologists have demonstrated the existence of the (alleged) phenomena they study.

In other words, psychiatrists do not have medical or scientific evidence to back their claims. Psychiatrists’ recognition that they cannot tell us anything about the above-mentioned question—with which lab tests do you diagnose this so-called neurological condition?—demonstrates that their schizophrenia hypothesis is unscientific. The same can be said of ADHD, bipolar “illness,” depression and the other major DSM disorders.

In a nutshell, psychiatry is not a science.

Since the middle 1950s the lack of a mental health science in the medical profession has been compensated by an invasive marketing and the aggressive sales of psychiatric drugs by the pharmaceutical companies.[27]


References

[1] Terence Hines, Pseudoscience and the paranormal: a critical examination of the evidence. New York: Prometheus Books, 1988, p. 2.

[2] Ron Leifer, “A critique of medical coercive psychiatry, and an invitation to dialogue,” Ethical Human Sciences and Services, 2001, 3 (3), 161-173 (the journal has been renamed Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry).

[3] Colin Ross & Alvin Pam, Pseudoscience in biological psychiatry: blaming the body. New York: Wiley & Sons, 1995.

[4] Elliot Valenstein, Blaming the brain: the truth about drugs and mental health. New York: Free Press, 1998.

[5] Robert Whitaker, Mad in America: bad science, bad medicine, and the enduring mistreatment of the mentally ill. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus, 2001.

[6] The Committee for the Scientific Inquiry, that publishes the bimonthly Skeptical Inquirer and whose members included luminaries such as Martin Gardner, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, has been a think tank in the debunking of pseudosciences since 1976.

[7] Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, a journal by a group of mental health professionals, specializes in criticizing biopsychiatry.

[8] For a critical review of the dopamine theory of schizophrenia see for example Valenstein, Blaming the brain, pp. 82-89; Ross and Pam, Pseudoscience, pp. 106-109.

[9] Nancy Andreasen, Brave new brain: conquering mental illness in the era of the genome. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

[10] Ty Colbert, book review in Ethical Human Sciences and Services, 2001, 3 (3), p. 213.

[11] Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Routledge, 2002, chapters 4 and 6 esp.

[12] See for example Thomas Szasz, Pharmacracy: medicine and politics in America. Connecticut: Praeger, 2001.

[13] César Tort, “Cómo asesinar el alma de tu hijo” in Hojas Susurrantes, 2011, pp. 115-227.

[14] As to date Whitaker’s Mad in America is the most readable exposé I know of the darkest period in American psychiatry.

[15] Ibid.

[16] See for example Silvano Arieti, Interpretation of schizophrenia. New Jersey: Aronson, 1994. Originally published in 1955, this celebrated treatise is worth revisiting.

[17] See for example Ronald Laing, The divided self: an existential study in sanity and madness (Selected works of R.D. Laing, 1). New York: Routledge, 1999.

[18] Alice Miller. For your own good: hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. See also Miller’s Breaking down the wall of silence: the liberating experience of facing painful truth. New York: Dutton, 1987.

[19] John Modrow, How to become a schizophrenic: the case against biological psychiatry. New York: Writers Club Press, 2003.

[20] Colin Ross, Schizophrenia: an innovative approach to diagnosis and treatment. New York: Haworth Press, 2004. See also John Read, Loren Mosher and Richard Bentall, Models of madness. New York: Routledge, 2004.

[21] See Lloyd deMause’s chapter “The Evolution of the Psyche and Society” in The Emotional Life of Nations. New York: Other Press, 2002.

[22] John Cloud, “They call him crazy,” Time, 15 July 2002.

[23] Rodrigo Muñoz, quoted in Jeanette De Wyze, “Still crazy after all these years,” San Diego Weekly Reader, 9 January 2003.

[24] Thomas Laughren, quoted in Shankar Vedantam, “Against depression, a sugar pill is hard to beat: placebos improve mood, change biochemistry in majority of trials of antidepressants,” Washington Post, 6 May 2002.

[25] Fred Baughman, Peter Breggin, Mary Boyle, David Cohen, Ty Colbert, Pat Deegan, Al Galves, Thomas Greening, David Jacobs, Jay Joseph, Jonathan Leo, Bruce Levine, Loren Mosher and Stuart Shipko, “15 December 2003 reply by scientific panel of the Fast for Freedom in Mental Health to the 26 September statement by the American Psychiatric Association” (I read it in mindfreedom.org).

[26] Ron Sterling, “Hoeller does a disservice to professionals,” op-ed rebuttal, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9 September 2003.

[27] Valenstein, Blaming the brain.