David Oakes

E-mail Exchange With David Oakes

David wrote us:

Subject: Skeptical about your definition of skeptic
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2002 16:10:34 -0400
From: "David Oakes" <David_Oakes@ingersoll-rand.com>
To: skeptic@ntskeptics.org


I happened upon your site when searching for pro/con info on blacklightpower.com . Google pointed me to the July 2002 (Vol 16 No 7) online edition. I noticed the Out of Context article by John Blanton.

Per your website, rational skeptics are NOT cynical, hyper-critical, or "negative". Somehow, the above mentioned article does not appear to me to abide by this. I found the article to take a stance that wasn't skeptical but instead relied heavily on blanket, demeaning statements towards not creationism but "creation scientists". Blanket statements like "A "creation scientist," not being a real scientist and not doing any real scientific research," seems rather broad to me. Have you really checked to see if this is true ? I suspect your "religious" fanaticism has gotten in the way of your rational skepticism. I think you might be surprised to find that there are some "real" scientists out there that disagree with you. Or are you the only ones allowed to be skeptical, and only about the topics that you deem worthy ? ;-)

I've read some of the Ampere-Gauss-Weber electrodynamics history and heard how "politics" had a part in the scientific community's siding with Maxwell and choosing to ignore some of the findings of Weber, et. al. Has a tendency to make me skeptical about the pure rationality of the scientific community. I've read how Raymond Birge, highly respected chairman of the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley as the "arbiter" of values of atomic constants, had measured the speed of light in a vacuum and found it decreasing over time, so declared it constant because "a belief in any significant variability of the constants of nature is fatal to the spirit of science, as science is now understood". Tends to make me skeptical about the pure rationality of the scientific community.

Please be skeptical (it's good for you - to a point), but don't let bias or bigotry blind you to the fact that others might have reason to be skeptical also. And just maybe about your "skepticism".

David Oakes

I Responded:

Subject: Re: Skeptical about your definition of skeptic
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2002 16:01:38 -0500
From: John Blanton <skeptic@ntskeptics.org>
To: David Oakes <David_Oakes@ingersoll-rand.com>


Good to hear from you. We so seldom get any critical comments from readers that I sometimes wonder if we are doing our job. Here are some notes of reply interspersed within your note:

If I recall, the "Out of Context" article pertains to creationists' use of OOC quotes. Some of it is based on first hand experience, and I have seriously under-reported it. Any further comments on the OOC article?

I know we are not SUPPOSED to be be cynical, hyper-critical, or negative. However, continually rubbing up against the people we meet in our business hardens us considerably.

For example, I have had one guy tell me flatly he could walk through walls (without breaking them) and visit the contents of a locked room. That sounded like a wonderful skill to me, so I offered the guy $10,000 for a demonstration (I have the money in the bank to pay off). He declined, as though it were an insult to his integrity to be tested.

We get a lot of stuff like that, and we lump the creationists in with them. You have to deal with the creationists on a day-to-day basis as I do to really get to know them. Of course, the creationist crowd I deal with is the lowest of the low. They flash business cards with phony Ph.D. credentials and beguile their flocks endlessly with tales of how disreputable the evolutionists are. For me that has worn a little thin after about 12 years, and I tend to reflect it in my statements about these people.

There are some creationists who do real science in their day jobs (e.g., Humphreys, Behe). Off the clock, though, they spout stories that can't pass peer review in any reputable science journal. By saying "A 'creation scientist,' not being a real scientist and not doing any real scientific research..." I mean not doing any real science on his off hours job as a "creation scientist." I hope that is understood. I will stand by the following statement as true to the best of my knowledge: "For all practical purposes, creation scientists do nothing to promote the truth of creationism, but rather try to find fault with evolution and other aspects of mainstream science. And they fail at doing even that."

Good. Glad you are skeptical about the scientific community (of which I am a very minor player). Let me know when any of the science these people developed stops working. For example, please measure the speed of light and let me know if it has gotten any slower.

Thanks. We have a method for determining whether bigotry is coloring our approach. We back up our position with a $10,000 award for anybody who can demonstrate [fill in the blank: free energy, psychic powers, faith healing...]. If we were wrong we would have paid out the money years ago.

Best regards,

John Blanton
The North Texas Skeptics

David responded:

Subject: Re: Skeptical about your definition of skeptic
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2002 09:19:15 -0400
From: "David Oakes" <David_Oakes@ingersoll-rand.com>
To: John Blanton <skeptic@ntskeptics.org>


Thanks for the reply.

I was thinking about your $10,000 reward. At first glance, it looked like a good litmus test. Then it dawned on me that it assumes that everyone is motivated by money. Unfortunately, not everyone is (hard to find but true). Those most likely to be motivated by the reward are the fakes/wackos/etc who undoubtably are in "it" for the money anyhow, and least likely to cash in. You might have to factor that into your equation.

I'm curious who the "creationists" are that flash phony PhDs that you are refering to. That's quite a serious allegation. Have you brought it up to them ?

You said something about Behe/Humphreys spouting things that wouldn't pass peer review. Seriously, do you really think that those peers who determine what is allowed in the serious science journals would permit Behe/Humphries to expound those ideas in said journals ? Not on your life (= very low probability). Their "faith" in science probably is too firm to allow that, particularly if it casts doubt on what they hold most dear. Kind of a catch twenty-two for Behe/Humphreys/etc.

Personally, I think the open discourse would be invigorating. I was reading an article by John Cramer that was published in Science Fiction & Fact Magazine in which he gives a balanced (my perspective ;-) ) look at an alternate GR theory purported by Huseyn Yilmaz of Tufts University. It brought out that Einstein's GR is not locally energy conservative. Not something that is pointed out very often. I wonder why not ? Einstein was bothered by that fact according to the article. I think it would be better to clearly present where theories have problems. Unfortunately but understandably, people who've invested a lot of their life in becoming an expert in one theory have too much invested to go around casting doubt on it. We'd rather let everyone think that we've got it all right. Sometimes I think we cling too tightly to theories. After all, they're just mathematical postulations, not the reality. Fun to play with, but just not the reality.

Dave Oakes

I responded:

Subject: Re: Skeptical about your definition of skeptic
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2002 09:20:02 -0500
From: John Blanton <skeptic@ntskeptics.org>
To: David Oakes <David_Oakes@ingersoll-rand.com>

Here are some comments. See below:

What seems to happen is those who know they are fakes and are in it for the money won't go for the award, because they know they can't do it. Some who do not know they are fakes may feel insulted at testing their personal beliefs (regardless of the money). The result is few people go for the prize. A few who know they are fakes and believe they can fool the test and some who don't realize they are fakes actually go for the prize (Randi's not ours).

In his book Flim-Flam James Randi has several good examples of people who thought they could pull a fast one on him and get the money. They typically got hostile or very defensive when they failed.

In one notable case the self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller offered to demonstrate his "powers" on the Johnny Carson Show. Carson watched Geller very closely to prevent trickery, and Geller failed miserably, making many excuses for his failure.

In any event, it doesn't matter what the motivation is. If a person can do it he can show it and get the money. If he can't do it, he can't get the money. We have even offered to put aside the award. Just conduct a valid test. Nobody wants to do that, either.

Have I gone up to Don Patton and said "Don, your Ph.D. is as phony as a three-dollar bill?" No, I have not. I have asked him where he got it and have taken notes. The record is quite clear regarding Patton's alleged degree. He once gave me a business card that read something like "Don Patton, Ph.D., Geologist." To our knowledge Patton does not have any kind of degree from an acredited college or university.

At "Dr." Carl Baugh's museum near Glen Rose, TX, I asked the person in charge (Baugh was not there that day) about the "Ph.D." appearing on a video they were selling. The PiC disavowed any support for the "Ph.D." and told me that was a matter between Baugh and his audience.

Ph.D.s for others such as Harold Slusher and Kent Hovind are much the same. Slusher has co-authored a legitimate Schaum's Outline on physics. I used it when I was taking physics in college. McGraw-Hill prints the "Ph.D." on the cover. Slusher got his "Ph.D." from a religious diploma mill, and it is not in physics. I checked the college catalog for the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) where Slusher taught. The catalog does not list any Ph.D. for him. Please see the following:


For Kent Hovind, see the following: http://www.ntskeptics.org/2000/2000march/march2000.htm#web

These guys are our creationism "poster children." We love them and would not want to change them.

Read Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box. We have an Amazon link on our Web site if you want to buy it. Behe lays out his ideas fairly completely there. In the book, if I recall correctly, he has made some specific statements about the impossibility of evolutionary pathways to existing biochemical processes. These statements have been refuted by biologists. That's what would happen if he attempted to publish these musings in a scientific journal. The reviewers would respond with something like "This statement is not true, and here is a case that contradicts it." My review of DBB provides a number of links that were available at the time (about three years ago). Discoveries by scientists were already contradicting Behe back then, and during the past three years science has moved forward while Behe wants to drive a stake in the ground and declare we have gone as far as we can go. See my article "One less elephant" that's coming up in the next issue of the newsletter.

Humphreys has written Starlight and Time. Read the book. The best I can say is that it's just off the wall. Let me know what you think of it. Please follow up and check out some more of Humphreys' ideas. Let me know what you think of them.

Scientific theories are subject to revision when new findings are available. Remember what a theory is. Science does make new discoveries, theories do get revised. Look at plate tectonics. When Wegener proposed it, it was just off the wall. He actually proposed something that was physically unrealistic--continents plowing through solid mantle. Now scientists have noted the mantle is plastic, not solid, and continental drift has been measured. Forty years ago when the first data began to come in, the idea of continental drift was quickly accepted. People who had opposed it for decades dropped their objections in the face of the evidence.

Following publication of Darwin's and Wallace's papers on natural selection in 1858 and Darwin's book in 1859, scientists who had long opposed evolution began to accept it. Some never did, however. As time went by the many objections began to fall as science made new discoveries, all confirming the facts and the underlying principles of biological evolution. Today it is one of the most solid scientific theories around. It has become so by scientists' throwing off their old ideas and accepting the evidence.

Regarding much of this other stuff--when the evidence begins to come in it will be accepted. Always has been. People who say science is close-minded need to get real.

John Blanton
The North Texas Skeptics

I have heard nothing more from David Oakes.