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----  To strive for a healthier science culture environment in China (Part A)  (http://www.geochina.orghttp://www.geochina.orgdispbbs.asp?boardid=1&rootid=2&id=2)


--  作者:Shen-su-Sun
--  发布时间:12/29/2005 3:59:15 PM

--  To strive for a healthier science culture environment in China (Part A)
We all know that there are all kinds of bullshit talks. Some are brilliantly creative with lateral thinking, some are holy bullshit and others are crappy and stinky bullshit. It is not surprising to find that some great ideas started from casual bullshitting peppered with educated intuition.

We all know that there are all kinds of bullshit talks. Some are brilliantly creative with lateral thinking, some are holy bullshit and others are crappy and stinky bullshit. It is not surprising to find that some great ideas started from casual bullshitting peppered with educated intuition.

A Chan (Zen) story

Recently I made up a Chan (Zen) story to make a point about "holy bullshit". As you probably know that Chan stories are often designed to reveal the ridiculous game play of words, silly metaphysics and the folly of mankind. The moral teaching of Chan stories often is aimed to give a shock treatment and hopefully it can lead people to "dunwu" (suddenly understand the true meaning). My story goes like this: About twelve hundred years ago in the prosperous city of Chang’an, the capital city of Tang dynasty, there was a very popular Jewish religion among Chinese people. This religion was introduced by travelling Jewish traders. It has an almighty creator whose Jewish name is Haupt-niufen-yah. The image of this God is quite different from the harsh, vengeful and violent desert God Yahweh of the Jewish Bible. He is kind, gentle and wants to serve humanity. He responds to his believers’ requests generously. He preaches paradise on Earth and harmony among the different races. The Chinese people had great faith in this foreign God, and believed that he was the only true creator of the Universe and the fertile world they lived in. By the way, one of this God's main concerns is fertility of the land.

Some Chinese scholars in Chang’an were puzzled to find that a God with such a gentle personality came from a harsh desert country, they suspected that this God had a Chinese connection as his name sounds like a Chinese name. Thus, they carried out some intensive research into the origin of this God and his religion. After many years of hard work to break through many layers of well designed, coverup metaphysical myths surrounding this religion they were able to reveal that this gentle God indeed had a Chinese origin andt hat his Chinese name meant "Holy Bullshit". Consequently, they were able to explain why the main concern of this gentle God was the fertility of the land as bullshit is the one of the main sources of fertiliser for the Chinese rice paddy fields.

The folly of the expanding Earth hypothesis

You may already know that the idea of Earth expansion (i.e., no subduction!) has been promoted by the eminent Australian geologist, Emeritus Professor Sam Carey of University of Tasmania. Carey has been an outstanding Earth scientist with creative ideas, has made major contributions to the theories of continental drift and sea-floor spreading, and was an inspiring teacher who stimulated many Earth scientists in Australia and other parts of the world. Since late-1950th Carey has been strongly promoting the idea of Earth expanison and arguing against plate tectonics. Apparently, he still regards subduction as "a myth". Dick Armstrong in 1989 wrote a review for the American Scientist (V.77, 382-284, 1989) on Carey’s book entitled "Theories of the Earth and Universe: a History of Dogma in the Earth Sciences" (Stanford University Press in 1988). In this book review, which is attached below for your interest, Armstrong gave the Earth expansion model a hard time. By the way, Dick Armstrong was an adviser for my PhD thesis more than 25 years ago on the global Pb isotopic systematics observed in basalts of mid-ocean ridges, ocean islands and island arcs, which fully supported Armstrong’s view that recycling of crustal material through the subduction zones is a very important process in the dynamic Earth.

It is my understanding that Carey’s mechanism for Earth expansion is by "energy transforming into mass", changes of gravitation constant G and cosmic Hubble constant. In his papers and books Carey talked about expansion of the Universe, "Big Zero" and creation of mass out of nothingness. By the way, in Armstrong’s book review there are mentions of "magician" and "magic" attributed to Carey. It is well known that when he was young Carey actually liked to play magic tricks as an amateur magician. In the earlier version of Carey’s expanding Earth model without subduction, the radius of the Earth in Mesozoic was only ~60% of the present radius. This whole thing is incredible to me. I thought an advanced university science student may know that for energy to transform into trans-iron elements it needs to go through the process of big bang, nuclear synthesis in the burning stars and supernova explosion. You may say, okay, the Earth maybe expanding for some unknown cosmic reason, but why we don’t see any young rifts on the Moon and the Mars caused by expansion. The answer you will get is that planets need to have the size close to the Earth or bigger then they can expand. Here is another rabit pulled out from the magic hat?

I have heard Carey's talks in a few occasions. In ~1977 Carey gave a talk about "Big Zero" and the expanding Earth in the Department of Geology, Adelaide University, South Australia. I was there in the audience. After his talk one of the graduate students, an Italian guy, started arguing with Carey. This guy pointed out that growth of the Universe out of Nothingness is not a new idea. For example, the Chinese two thousand years ago talked about origin of the Universe out of interaction of Ying and Yang which grew out of Nothingness (in fact, this growth out of Nothingness concept is a common feeling of prehistoric people worldwide, not a Chinese creation). Their arguments became semantic and fruitless. Finally, the Italian student concluded: Your contribution today is a "Big Zero"! In his many years engaged in arguments of controversial issues Carey must have encountered many of this kind of comment. Thus, I guess this kind of insult will not hurt his feeling too much.

In another occasion I attended Carey’s international symposium on "The expanding Earth" held in Sydney in 1981. At the end of the meeting I asked an eminent Australian scientist does Carey knows what he is talking about when he presented those magic numbers and magic words? After explaining what he thought about my question this eminent Australian scientist told me a story how the magic works. At the end of one of Carey’s expanding Earth talk someone in the audience asked Carey a hard question. Carey went to the blackboard and wrote down a very complicated equation and thus, shut up the person who asked the question. Afterwards one of Carey's friend asked him how could he remember that equation! The reply is, he just wrote something on the blackboard to shut up the guy, there is no such equation! I am not able to prove or disprove what I have been told. But, it sounds like a good story. If it is true, the justification for this magic trick, I suppose, is that Carey knows the expanding Earth idea is right and subduction is a myth. In that 1981 expanding Earth symposium one American retired navy commander wasted about 20 minutes of our time presenting his case of expanding Earth by addition of material through meteorite infalls! There is simply no evidence to support this well worn idea. Even Carey himself would not consider this option! I was later told that not long after the 1981 meeting someone asked Tuzo Wilson what does he thinks about Carey’s statement made in that meeting that history will prove him to be right again (the first time was his support of continental drift and the history has already proven that he was right)? The reply was that he can not see the logical connection between the first one and the second one. In the concluding remark of his review of Carey’s book Dick Armstrong wrote: "He was fortunate to have played a major role in one scientific revolution. Contributing to two revolutions in one lifetime may be too much to expect.

At this moment in Australia there is a young fellow who still argues strongly for Carey's expanding Earth model. This person kept sending letters to the editor of the newsletter section of The Australian Geologists (TAG) during 1995-1996. After reading all of his letters on TAG I could not take it anymore, I called up Phil Schmidt, one of the top guns of Australian paleomagnetician at CSIRO in Sydney. Phil told me that he was the examiner of this person’s Master thesis. Since Phil did not want to fail this person and thus, he did not state in the examiner’s report that this person completely misunderstood the way how to properly interprete paleomagnetic data. Instead, Phil only suggested that he should read a paper by Schmidt and Clark (Geophysical J R Astr Soc, 61, 95-100, 1980) where the proper way was explained. If this student is smart enough he will see the light. Anyway, during this conversation I mentioned to Phil Schmidt about my concern and suggested that he should do something about it to set the record straight. Phil said he already has planned to write to TAG. His comment was published on page 5 of March 31, 1997 issue of TAG. The full paper by Schmidt and Clark (1980) was reproduced in TAG pages 22-25 of the same issue.

Several years ago as a result of long term satellite survey it was shown that the Pacific Ocean is shrinking. This is consistent with the plate tectonics model with American and Asian plates moving closer through time. This observation is obviously against the expanding Earth idea. However, this information has not prevented some people in Australia, for example, to send letters to The Australian Geologists supporting the expanding Earth idea. Old soldiers never die, they just fade away (Douglas McArthur). When the old soldiers are gone many of their ideas will disappear with them. However, their living followers may carry on their convictions. The idea of expanding Earth is dead! Are you kidding? It is certainly not dead, it is alive and well in China!

Maybe it is worthwhile to mention here that my writing about the expanding Earth has been triggered four months ago by a paper (in English) written by a Chinese senior scientist who claims that migration of mantle fluids is the key to understand many major geological processes, including abiogenic formation of large gas and oil fields. Migration of mantle fluids can also explain some mysterious big forest fires and the origin of El Nino (I am not kidding! But, it does not claim cures for AIDS and common cold.). I have been asked to provide review comments on this paper. And, I found that the author is strongly against modern plate tectonics but, supports the silly idea of Earth expansion. This event was followed by a series of communication with a friend Dr. Niu Yaoling of University of Queensland a few weeks ago when he was visiting Lanzhou University before he went to Beijing and elsewhere in China to visit several institutions (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Beijing University, China University of Geosciences in Beijing, University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, and Nanjing University) in December, 1998. In one of Yaoling's message he pointed out that the difficulty in getting a unified model leads to the proposal of alternative interpretations (such as the expanding Earth idea) without realising (1) the data we currently have do not suffice, and (2) the alternative interpretations are even worse and violate the basic physics. I appreciate what he said. By the way, Yaoling also mentioned that he would talk about the folly of the expanding Earth to some of his friends in Beijing and elsewhere when he visits them.

Sometimes you may wonder why in the world so many people are willing to be bewitched by some experts of bullshit and become followers. It is true that we are living in an uncertain world it would be nice to have something to hold on to. I still can recall that when the American ex-President Richard Nixon was in deep-shit of the Watergate scandal in the early 1970th he and his close aids created a network of lies for the cover-up job. The basis for his tactics is that "People want to believe". No doubt, there is a lot of truth in this statement. However, as scientists we each have to make some critical evaluation and follow-up investigation of the "new thinkings" we hear and then decide what to do with them, I suppose. Furthermore, it is not simply a matter of "to believe or not to believe" which belongs to the realm of religion.

Chinese bullshit and academic opportunists

A Chan (Zen) monk may ask: What kinds of bullshit do we Chinese experts in the Earth sciences have indulged in? In addition to the political holy bullshit, how much crappy and stinky bullshit we have produced? It is easy to joke about the folly of the western experts. But, once we come to face our own people we must be extra careful. Otherwise, all sorts of accusation and shit will be poured over your heads. Since I already have had elephant shit poured over my head (see below), I may as well take the risk to carry on. During the process of revising this article I was advised by a respectable friend that I should take Chinese culture and Chinese attitudes into account when I write about the Chinese, so as not to upset some mainland Chinese Earth scientists who have limited contact with the outside world. I greatly appreciate this piece of advice. Thus, a sort of self-censorship is imposed on what I am going to write. I will take the risk of turning whistle blow into a muted noise. Under this circumstance, if someone accuses me of making a lot of thunder noises to set up the stage, but when the time comes all I can produce is just a few drops of rain. And, what I am doing is not much more than the shadow boxing, it is not forthright. In this case, I will plead guilty to these charges. To make up for these obvious shortcomings maybe I should promise to produce more rains and write in more details about Chinese experts of bullshit in another occasion.

More than two years ago I was amused as well as alarmed to find that there is an abstract in the 1996 Beijing IGC abstract volumes suggesting that the Earth radius in the late Archaean and Cambrian was ~80% and 94%, respective to its present radius. The silly idea of expanding Earth has a group of strong Earth scientist supporters in China too! It does not surprise me that the leading scientist of this group which promotes the expanding Earth idea in China is from the eldest living generation and thus, he can be excused for being out of touch with the rest of the world. However, this excuse should not apply to his followers (or proteges), many of whom are believed to have some overseas experiences in the recent past.

Similar cases can be found in other institutions in China. The fact that these younger followers (or proteges) are helping, or perhaps "encouraging" (manipulating?), the elder-generation scientists to promote ideas like expanding Earth means that they either truly believe in these ideas, or they have no idea themselves. Either cases they are doing so for their own gain (i.e. getting huge grants, building up their own power bases, accelerating their academic promotions, and perhaps eventually getting themselves elected to the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences). Sometimes, I can not help wondering about the possibility that many of these younger people are academic opportunists who surf on the political tides and these old gentlemen have been simply used by their followers (or proteges) as cat’s paws for the power game. After being briefed by a number of reliable sources plus my own observations, I have the impression that in some places the manipulation of scientific information and people involved in present day China has reached the extent of dishonesty or even worse.

The influence of the older generation super-scientists will naturally diminish with time, but the impact of the younger generation is going to be greatly increased and long-lasting. I am happy to see that there are many rising stars of ~40 years old becoming academic leaders in China. There is no doubt that some of these stars are very good in their fields. But, there are others who have climbed high in the sky through dubious and devious routes. The damages they have done to the xuefeng (academic culture environment) is obvious and alarming. Perhaps one of the biggest damages is that they tend to prevent younger and better people breaking out from the ground and reaching for the sky.

Some suggested solutions

It is not difficult to realise the key to improve this situation (thus, to improve "xuefeng") is to have a better peer review system for research grant applications, publication of scientific papers, and academic promotions. To achieve this goal it it highly desirable that internationally-accepted procedures and academic standard are implemented. And if possible, the review system should go beyond the national border. In addition, I would like to see some sorts of scientific moral discipline be built into the ego of these rising stars. Only in an environment with a better xuefeng and fair competition we can prevent crappy and stinky bullshit ideas becoming a dominant force in China.

When I was in Japan for three months in early 1997 I was told by more than one successful and reliable Japanese friends that if one can impress, by fair means or foul, the officials of the Ministry of Education who control the funding of large grants, one can have a very good chance of success in the large grant application. Thus, all kinds of tricks have been used to impress those xueguan. It is thus sad to find some people in China being inspired by "new thinkings" proposed by some Japanese scientists whose main concern is to create something bizarre to impress their xueguan. To be constructive, I would like to voice my support of the idea strongly proposed by some senior Japanese scientists that large grant proposals should be assessed by international peer’s reviews. And, important projects should have their major achievements written up for publication in the reputable international journals. Preferably, such publication is through normal peer’s review system, but not through publication of invited papers which can be more easily accepted without critical reviews.

I would encourage those who have personal experience of being influenced by Chinese experts of bullshit to take advantage of this Discussion Forum and to reflect on their change of minds after studying in foreign countries. Many of you must have seen that famous poster "We Must be Mushrooms. They Keep Us in the Dark and Feed Us with Bullshit!". It is time to pour your heart out (either in Chinese or in English) in the "Discussion Forum" of this OCESTA website. Muck-raking of this kind may not be a pleasant thing to do, but it will help us to liberate our souls. We examine the past and present for the sake of the future.

I can think of several topics for discussion, for examples, heterogeneous accretion of planetesimals during Earth formation as the key to explain the formation and evolution of the continental crust, the formation of Archaean greenstone belts, and the formation of super-giant ore deposits. Also, using mantle plumes to explain all sorts of giant and super-giant ore deposits in China; abiogenic origin of large gas and oil fields from fluids derived from the mantle and the deep crust; major metorite impact events are responsible for most if not all major events of mass extinction, for eruption of continental flood basalts, and for triggering continental breakup and drift and orogenesis. I am amazed and amused to find some detailed schemes have been proposed for these sorts of "new thinkings". No doubt, they are necessarily highly speculative and contain lots of wishful thinkings. And, sometimes even include fabrication of "facts". Furthermore, I wonder how many of these new thinkings are mainly designed to impress xueguan and senior scientists who are very much out of touch with real frontier research? However, inspite of my own obsession with these sorts of topics, I would rather leave the specific topics to the future participants of the forum discussion. This is a challenge and I hope that there are people out there are willing to take up this challenge and make the website a hotspot of discussion of interesting geological issues.

After reading this article you may wish to read two other Chinese zawen articles of mine, "zhuanzai" in the Special Report section of this website. They are entitled: 1. Some critical comments and suggestions for the Earth science research and development in the mainland China (1994, actually published in 1995); 2. Some critical comments and suggestions for the Earth science community in Taiwan (1996, actually published in 1997 with Lee Chao-Shing as co-author). You may be interested to hear that in an open letter which I received second hand Prof. Wang Xianbin, a Keda (University of Science and Technology of China) 1963 graduate and the Director of Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Science, located in Lanzhou commented that what I have done in writing these two zawen articles is like a blindman feeling the elephant. The only difference is that I only have touched the elephant shit dropping on top of me. Did I touch a raw nerve?


--  作者:cpan1
--  发布时间:12/29/2005 4:00:26 PM

--  re
I feel you are too emotional while talking about a scientific problem. It may not be that wise to use not very scientific language to discuss something that at least is for the knowledge of scientisits, even if you feel which is not really scientific. Your audience, I believe, mostly are scientists or at least related to scientists. So I think it may be more convincing if you keep a more scientific manner, and let others judge for themselves on what you have criticized are truly trashes or not. I have heard of Carey, and, if my memory is correct, even had attended one of his presentations when I was still a student. However, I do not recall he had ever impressed me, and I also have hardly found his work in the literature that I may use. His views, or the views close to his, are not prevailing, so why not let they go as they are? People can always express their views, good or bad, if they are able to. But, as we know, only those views that are truly scientific or that can really approximate the physical truth will be accepted eventually. I think this is the way science is.
--  作者:An Yin
--  发布时间:12/29/2005 4:02:34 PM

--  re- To strive for a healthier science culture environment in China (Part A)
Hey, I like the article very much. Intermational peer review is the key for the rise of Chinese Earth Sciences!!
--  作者:Shen-su-Sun
--  发布时间:12/29/2005 4:04:08 PM

--  re --re --
I appreciate Pan Cheh's comments and tend to agree with him that the right approach is to let the expanding Earth idea alone. The expanding Earth idea is basically not relevant to the modern Earth sciences, even though it has some market in China. When Chinese Earth scientists in China and overseas read this bullshit article of mine most of them may feel that it is not relevant to the scientific reality in China and thus, they will simply ignore it. But, I do hope that they can be amused by the silly stories in the article. If that happens I will be quite happy.
By the way, the title of this article has been changed from "Experts of bullshit" to "Bullshit and good ideas" to "To believe or not to believe" to the current one. It was meant to be a light-hearted article to make a point. But, friends told me that the title with bullshit in it stinks; "to believe or not to believe" has a religious connotation. Suggetions made by friends to improve the presentation eventually made the article an English zawen with a serious concern with xuefeng. During final revision I thought I might well give it a grand title. To give a bullshit story such a grand title is a joke itself, I suppose.

--  作者:xiaoxue
--  发布时间:5/29/2010 12:10:54 AM

--  dd
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--  作者:wangjiwei
--  发布时间:4/13/2011 6:37:51 AM

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