On this blog, I’ve tended to focus on the work of particular climate change contrarians, which have ranged from the once-credible (e.g., Dick Lindzen), to the chronically sloppy (e.g., Roy Spencer), to utter cranks/crackpots (e.g., Christopher Monckton). It’s the cranks who fascinate me the most, because they are often the most successful at developing a large, enthusiastic following. They brutally criticize the scientific “establishment,” and paint themselves as ultra-objective observers–classical “truth-seekers,” if you will. However, they are often almost impervious to facts and arguments that contradict their claims.
I recently stumbled on a fascinating example of crank science, namely, the Universal Model created by Dean W. Sessions. Sessions is not formally trained as a scientist, but since 1990, he has been doing experiments and making geological field observations. He says he immediately found that standard scientific theories couldn’t explain his results, but he found that conventionally trained scientists were unaware of and unconcerned with his “evidences.” His Universal Model (hereafter UM) supposedly overturns many of the most important scientific theories developed over at least the last 150 years, which he characterizes as “the Dark Age of Science”. He has now started a non-profit organization called “the Millennial Science Foundation” so he and his followers can continue the work and spread the word, and he has written an 800-page book, Universal Model: A New Millennial Science, Vol. 1, Earth System. Two more volumes are planned.
To get an overview of the UM, go to their website and poke around, or watch this presentation on their YouTube channel. In a nutshell, Sessions rejects the existence of magma (deeply buried molten rock) and thinks the Earth has a core of ice instead of iron.
I find the UM fascinating, but not because I can see any scientific value in it. (If there were an Olympics for pseudoscience, the UM would definitely be on the podium.) Instead, I am drawn to look into it for several reasons.
- The UM provides a nearly perfect example of a pseudoscientific enterprise that went off the rails early, and then just kept going and going to produce a truly monumental pile of nonsense. It includes some really obvious, egregious errors Sessions could have caught if he had been willing to listen to any conventionally trained experts, but he would not. Therefore, I think the UM can be used to demonstrate where a lack of humility and intellectual rigor will get you.
- Nevertheless, some of the criticisms Sessions brings up about how science is often taught in the classroom have some merit. I have been campaigning for years to get science educators to be more careful about teaching students about the nature of science, so that they come out understanding both the tentative and creative aspects of the undertaking. We should be less concerned about producing students with a “scientific worldview,” and more concerned about helping them understand what kinds of assumptions, reasoning, and observational strategies go into science.
- I’m 99% sure that Sessions and most of his team are Mormons, like me. Look–anyone who is too much of a shrinking violet to let the old freak flag fly once in a while needs to pick another religion. We’re decidedly, and proudly, NOT religiously mainstream in some ways, but for Pete’s sake we don’t need people like Dean Sessions trying to pull us into this kind of black hole of extra-special weirdness. I’m hoping to help nip the UM in the bud before it becomes too popular among a certain demographic of Mormons.
- The UM is coming from an obviously fundamentalist point of view, both religiously and politically. (It includes Flood geology, rejects evolution, and also rejects mainstream climate change science, for instance.) At one point in my life, I was that kid being taught standard science in school and worrying about how to reconcile it with my religious beliefs. It’s certainly not easy, and in some cases probably not even possible, to completely reconcile supernaturalist religious beliefs with naturalistic scientific theories. What I learned, however, was that suspending intellectual honesty and ignoring large bodies of fact so you don’t have to wrestle with difficult issues is not the answer. That way lies either fanaticism or a complete loss of faith when the bottom finally drops out. And in my view, religious young people need to be told this by someone who won’t pontificate about how “science and religion don’t have to conflict” (if you just drop all your inconvenient religious beliefs), or that “science and religion don’t overlap” (as long as your religion keeps its nose out of anything that happens in the real, physical world).
- In my interactions with the UM team so far, I’ve found that if I present clear enough evidence, some of them will actually acknowledge that I might have a legitimate point or two that they should consider. They try to be polite, and can carry on a discussion without flipping out. In other words, there’s hope for some of them, and I would like to save them some heartache later on.
To that end, I’m starting this new section of my blog to critique the UM. I will be producing articles about various problems I find, as well as some essays about larger issues like the UM’s strange philosophy of science. I’m starting with the more specific problems, however, because I will need a number of examples to illustrate the overarching points. This page will serve as an index for articles about the UM, and it will be updated every time we produce another one.
If you are a geologist (or scientist in a related field) and would like to contribute to this effort, let me know by commenting on this page so I can contact you.
Index of Criticisms
Chapter 5: The Magma Pseudotheory
The Origin of the Earth’s Magnetic Field