Science Needs to Combat Pseudoscience:
A Statement by 32 Russian Scientists and Philosophers
Representatives of many sciences and disciplines — astronomers, physicists, chemists, biologists, philosophers, lawyers, psychologists — are concerned by the widespread growth of astrology, alternative medicine, palmistry, numerology, and mystic pseudoscience in Russia and other countries of the world. We wish to draw the attention of the public to the threat of an uncritical attitude to the prophesies and advice of modern “practitioners of the occult sciences,” proffered both privately and in the mass media. Those who believe in the dependence of human fate on heavenly bodies, magic substances, or witchcraft need to understand that science can in no way provide support for these beliefs.
In bygone times people believed in and used astrology, alchemy, cabalistic mysticism, and alternative folk medicine. These ideas were a substantial part of the mythological and magical view of the world providing a prescientific weltanschaaung and cognitive purpose, for science was taking its first steps. People believed that the heavenly bodies were the manifestations of the forces of gods that could magically influence earthly objects. Physical processes seemed to be the product of cryptic “hidden properties,” and chemical elements seemed to be the product of magic. People had no understanding of the nature of chemical and physical interactions. Today, when science understands the main causes by which heavenly bodies influence phenomena on Earth, there are no scientifically based reasons to claim that these occult interactions may influence the destiny of humans.
A person’s psychophysiological structures are not determined by the position of the stars and planets at the time and place of birth, but by the inherited genetic code and sociocultural factors. Astrology mystically interprets the variations of the geomagnetic field and solar activity that have an effect on human well-being. Solar flares and magnetic storms actually do have an effect on the human psyche and on human behavior, but astrology and quack medicine do not provide an understanding of these phenomena.
Living organisms do manifest a feeble electromagnetic radiation, but there is no known scientific evidence to claim the existence of “biofields” or “psychic energy.” The astrological calendar does not correspond to actual physical reality, but only provides archaic metaphorical descriptions of astronomical events. Superstitious beliefs and the uncritical acceptance of coincidences as causative undermine our reliance on the capacity of human beings to realistically face the events of life. Astrologers, parapsychologists, and clairvoyants assert untested claims based on pseudoscience; they organize academics and grant degrees.
Many people believe in clairvoyance, astrology, and other superstitions to compensate for the psychological discomforts of our time. Others seek the advice of outside authorities in making significant decisions. Personal and social problems, with which one cannot cope, drive one to witches, shamans, and quack therapists. The belief in astral forces provides an opportunity to evade the responsibility for choice and absolves people of accepting their own mistakes.
At a time of widespread dissemination of scientific education and great advances in science, we can no longer assume that superstitions will disappear of their own accord. On the contrary, society is now inundated by the “occult sciences.” The propagators of pseudoscience and “cryptic knowledge” attempt to take over the mantle, terms, and methods of genuine science. Astrology, for example, attempts to influence political and economic decisions, shamelessly intruding into the private lives of persons. Much of this is encouraged by the mass media, playing on and exploiting human fallibilities.
Mystic pseudoscience is an international malady that has stricken many countries of the world. This prompted a public statement in 1975 criticizing astrology by 186 leading scientists (including eighteen Nobel Prize-winners), which was widely acclaimed throughout the world.
Today it is time for the community of Russian scientists to confront these issues with all their power.
One of the unquestionably great achievements of recent years is the opportunity for people to express their opinions openly. Unfortunately, many people are ensnared by the persuasive power of absurd and dangerous superstitions; they must not be conned by their pseudoscientific attire. No attempts to make magical thinking scientifically respectable can possibly conceal their utter incompatibility with science.
Vice presidents and members of the Council
of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS)
- V. Kudryavtsev (vice president, RAS)
- O. Nefedov (vice president, RAS)
- R. Petrov (vice president, RAS)
- B. Topornin (secretary, Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, and Law, RAS)
Directors of research institutes
- A. Boyarchuk, Institute of Astronomy, member of RAS
- A. Brushlinskii, corresponding member of RAS, Institute of Psychology
- A. Cherepashchuk, corresponding member of RAS, Sternberg State Institute for Astronomy, Moscow State University
- V. Skulachev, member of RAS, Institute of Physical and Chemical Biology, Moscow State University
- V. Stepin, member of RAS, Institute of Philosophy
Members of Russian Academy of Sciences
- I. Atabekov (biology)
- A. Bogdanov (biology)
- G. Dobrovolskii (biology)
- E. Feinberg (physics)
- V. Ginzburg (physics)
- D. Gvishiani (systems studies)
- N. Kardashev (space astronomy)
- V. Laptev (law)
- T. Oizerman (philosophy)
- M. Ostrovskii (biology)
Corresponding members of Russian Academy of Sciences
- N. Bikkenin (philosophy)
- E. Chekharin (law)
- V. Chkhikvadze (law)
- A. Guseinov (philosophy)
- N. Lapin (philosophy)
- V. Lektorskii (philosophy)
- L. Mitrokhin (philosophy)
- V. Nersesyantz (law)
Doctors of Science:
- Yu. Efremov (astronomy)
- I. Kasavin (philosophy)
- A. Ogurtsov (philosophy)
- B. Pruzhinin (philosophy)
- M. Rozov (philosophy)
This statement was published in Izvestiya on July 17, 1998, and republished in the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of Skeptical Inquirer.