Corante

About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Emolecules
ChemSpider
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
PubChem
Not Voodoo
DailyMed
Druglib
Clinicaltrials.gov

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
Kilomentor
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
ChemBark
Realizations in Biostatistics
Chemjobber
Pharmalot
ChemSpider Blog
Pharmagossip
Med-Chemist
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
SimBioSys
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Business|Bytes|Genes|Molecules
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Depth-First
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa


Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
FuturePundit
Aetiology
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Sciencebase
Pharyngula
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net


Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
GruntDoc
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine


Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem


Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Instapundit
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus


Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Roche Goes Hostile for Illumina | Main | (Un)stoppable Pixantrone »

January 30, 2012

The Key to Everything? Not Quite.

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Here's one of the strangest things I've ever seen in the scientific literature. A new journal, Life, apparently solicited papers for their inaugural issues, and one of them was from Erik Andrulis at Cast Western's School of Medicine. The manuscript came in at 105 printed pages, which should have rung at least a tiny alarm bell, you'd think. And if that wasn't a bit concerning, perhaps the title ("Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life") might have seemed a bit sweeping? Or the abstract, which promises that "The theoretical framework unifies the macrocosmic and microcosmic realms, validates predicted laws of nature, and solves the puzzle of the origin and evolution of cellular life in the universe." No? Nothing to worry about yet?

But editors aren't supposed to just look at page counts, titles, and abstracts. Just a riffle through the actual manuscript should have been enough to convince anyone that, rather than a Theory of Everything, that this work is, most unfortunately, the product of a disordered mind. P. Z. Myers has excerpts from the paper on his blog - take a look and see what you think. Here's a sample, and it should really be sufficient:

The ultimate state of gyromnemesis is the stably adapted particle or gyronexus in the gyrobase. . .Finally, although a diquantal IEM (X'') undergoes gyrognosis as the gyrobase of a primary majorgyre, it undergoes gyromnemesis as the gyrapex of an alternagyre.

Right. The paper ranges through the origins of life, organic chemistry, cosmology, geology, astronomy, and who knows what else, all of it explained in language exactly like the above. And yes, there is a multi-page glossary of all those gyro-terms, and no, it does not help. As Myers points out, the spectacularly weird thing is that not only did this paper get published, it got press-released by Case Western. Here, check it out. Whoever put this thing together has gamely attempted to summarize the paper, and not only that, to highlight its importance for the greater glory of Case Western:

To test his paradigm, Dr. Andrulis designed bidirectional flow diagrams that both depict and predict the dynamics of energy and matter. While such diagrams may be foreign to some scientists, they are standard reaction notation to chemists, biochemists, and biologists.

Dr. Andrulis has used his theory to successfully predict and identify a hidden signature of RNA biogenesis in his laboratory at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He is now applying the gyromodel to unify and explain the evolution and development of human beings.

Oh, go take a look and tell me if you see any standard notation. (Update: I see from RetractionWatch that the university has pulled the release from their own sites, saying that they're "evaluating our processes regarding media outreach". I'll bet they are(. Now, I realize that picking up a text on, say, quantum electrodynamics could lead to the same what-is-this-stuff feeling. But any text on QED starts with a grounding in the physical world and the connections of the theory to known physics. And this sort of thing is different in both degree and kind (for one thing, QED has nothing to say about lunar craters). There's a difference between a work that makes you think "Boy, I don't understand this" and one that makes you think "Boy, this person has lost it". The near-infallible signs of scientific derangement include the "Why, this explains everything" aspect, the "Everything you thought you knew is wrong" one, and the intricate details-within-details style, almost always taken to unbearable lengths.

What the Andrulis paper reminds me of, actually, is Alfred Lawson and his Lawsonomy. That one also explains everything from bacteria to the composition of the moon, and brings in "zig-zag and swirl" motions to do so, at excruciating length. No, if you've had any exposure to the fill-the-margins-with-green-ink thinkers, you'll recognize Andrulis' problem, and hope that he can get some sort of help for it. Here's a book-length collection of such, very interesting for what it shows you about the ways that human reason can go off the rails.

That's something I've thought about for a long time - in fact, here's an entry on this blog from ten years ago on that very subject. It's interesting to me that there are a limited number of relatively defined mental illnesses; I think that says something about the deeper structures of human consciousness. The Andrulis paper is a flawless example of one of those categories - the wildly intricate, over-systematized Key to the Universe. I've just never seen one in a scientific journal.

Comments (68) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


COMMENTS

1. anonymous on January 30, 2012 9:23 AM writes...

I check my Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO plan and to make sure that he is not a Prefered Provider. He ain't.

Permalink to Comment

2. Chemjobber on January 30, 2012 9:44 AM writes...

Is there a chance that this is some sort of Sokol-like prank?

Permalink to Comment

3. pdf on January 30, 2012 9:46 AM writes...

Wow, just wow. Trolling at its best.
“No funding source supported this work.” Well, I wonder why.
This paper was even resubmitted in revised form. I can only guess what the referees didn´t understand at first.
“In conclusion, this catholic theory provides an innovative and elegant solution to the origin, evolution, and nature of life in the cosmos”. Ok, enough for me today.

Permalink to Comment

4. Tony on January 30, 2012 9:56 AM writes...

I give it 3 days before I start seeing infomercials for a company that promises to balance your "gyronexus". And the worst part is, people will buy this.

Permalink to Comment

6. Curious Wavefunction on January 30, 2012 10:11 AM writes...

Mmm...gyros. The author is clearly a shill for The Gyro Company.

Permalink to Comment

7. jtd7 on January 30, 2012 10:19 AM writes...

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity . . ."
-- W.B. Yeats

Permalink to Comment

8. etomlins on January 30, 2012 10:21 AM writes...

Makes me think of Terence McKenna, whose rambling, incoherent, but meticulously enunciated thoughts on psychoactive drugs and eschatology were immortalized in a ten-minute trance song called "Re: Evolution" that I used to cue up at college in the '90s. No, I wasn't sober when I did it, why do you ask?

Permalink to Comment

9. Thomas McEntee on January 30, 2012 10:31 AM writes...

This reminds me of some of what I've seen in the "fringe physics" world. Check out the periodic chart as portrayed using the theories of Jim Carter (some URLs follow ):

physicsonthefringe.com/sites/default/files/siteimages/jim-periodictable-high_res.pdf

physicsonthefringe.com/page/about-jim-carter

As you can see, Jim is an eclectic kind of guy... he and Assistant Professor Andrulis should get together and trade notes.

Permalink to Comment

10. luysii on January 30, 2012 10:34 AM writes...

"there are a limited number of relatively defined mental illnesses" Well the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders revision IV (DSM-IV), a product of the American Psychiatric Association, disagrees with you. It defines some 296 disorders in a leisurely 886 pages. The fifth revision (in the works) is said to nearly double the number. Along with many psychiatrists, I think they've gone seriously off the rails. For some background see
http://luysii.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/reification-in-mathematics-and-medicine/

Permalink to Comment

11. sgcox on January 30, 2012 10:34 AM writes...

It is actually one of the more coherent and easy to understand papers in that "journal".
Just look on the titles !!

Permalink to Comment

12. Anonymous Academic on January 30, 2012 10:41 AM writes...

Granted, I haven't actually read it, but the descriptions I've seen of Stephen Wolfram's "A New Kind Of Science" make it sound awfully like this (at least in its grandiose ambitions to provide a Theory of Everything), albeit more coherently written.

The Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics by Randall Mills also struck me as similar, although in that case I think there's a much different motivation at work.

Permalink to Comment

13. Rhenium on January 30, 2012 10:45 AM writes...

I should point out that the paper is only 66 pages, the rest is references.

For more papers that make no sense, try the "The Capricious Character of Nature" paper which follows in the same issue.

Permalink to Comment

14. Pig Farmer on January 30, 2012 10:56 AM writes...

I believe Lewis Carroll got there first:
"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe..." which makes about as much sense as this paper. Honestly, 808 references?
Reminds me of multi-page ad I saw in the New Scientist in the late 1980s written by some guy who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine. Full of equations, and references to "jellyfish" (which as far as I could make out referred to anyone who disagreed with him). All rather sad.

Permalink to Comment

15. PedroS on January 30, 2012 11:20 AM writes...

I agree with #2 above... This paper HAS to be a joke designed by Prof. Andrulis to expose the questionable nature of some "open-access" journals.

I think the following parts of the paper are hints to this postulated "tongue-in-cheek" character:
- the term "ohiogyre" in page 28
- "A quantal emission of energy ripples
outward, moving as focused solitons [185] " ref.185 actually is "Earthquake Source Asymmetry, Structural Media and Rotation Effects. Springer: Berlin, Germany and New York, NY, USA, 2006; p. 582." the only possible application of this reference is to the verb "ripple"

I don't think we will ever know for sure if this is a joke, though... In the case of a joke, Prof. Andrulis should have exposed the prank before the paper had achieved any kind of public recognition. Now, any such admission will seem self-serving and a way to defuse adverse PR.

Permalink to Comment

16. noname on January 30, 2012 11:25 AM writes...

It must be a prank.

The guy's research looks quite reasonable. Either he's trying to punk the system, or he recently blew a gasket.

Permalink to Comment

17. Derek Lowe on January 30, 2012 11:27 AM writes...

While we scientists as a group are sometimes known for ponderous, overdetermined humor in made-up journal articles and the like, this one seems way past even that. I'd like to think that it was a Sokal-like hoax, but it's just too convincing as a pile of borderline-insane ravings. Could you fake it that well and not be crazy? (And if so, why is it then a fake?)

Permalink to Comment

18. Anonymous on January 30, 2012 11:32 AM writes...

"I'd like to think that it was a Sokal-like hoax, but it's just too convincing as a pile of borderline-insane ravings. Could you fake it that well and not be crazy? (And if so, why is it then a fake?)"

Sokal's was also "too convincing as a pile of borderline-insane ravings" ;-)

Permalink to Comment

19. idiotraptor on January 30, 2012 11:37 AM writes...

If the article is a prank, the author should disclose the punchline post-haste. If the article was written as a genuine scholarly work,then
I believe Nativis Pharmaceuticals should add this idiot to their SAB :)

Permalink to Comment

20. Anonymous on January 30, 2012 12:00 PM writes...

It is no joke. He's a colleague of mine and I know him quite well. His mental state has been deteriorating for several years and this theory has become an obsession. It is very sad for him and his family. It is deplorable and inexcusable that our PR department participated and promoted his mania.

Permalink to Comment

21. pete on January 30, 2012 12:06 PM writes...

Every once in a while I used to see this kind of cosmic epiphany pseudo-science stuff as a full page ad in the NYT. Typically it was accompanied by a photo of some mousy, bespectacled fellow with a lot of high-falutin' titles/degrees after his name.

My question is why do these off-kilter theory-of-everything publications always seem to come from males ? I've never seen such stuff from women. Could it be that they just know that the true answer is 42 ?

Permalink to Comment

22. pete on January 30, 2012 12:11 PM writes...

@20 Anonymous
Point taken. Please excuse my making light of this situation.

Permalink to Comment

23. MIMD on January 30, 2012 12:14 PM writes...

Uh....this has got to be a "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" Sokal-like spoof.

PLEASE tell me that's what it is.

Please!

Permalink to Comment

24. Jim on January 30, 2012 12:28 PM writes...

I hope it is a joke, but feel very sorry for the man and is family if it's not.

Still, I'd like to hear John Cleese read excerpts from the paper. Or the guy who narrated the video for the Retro-encabulator
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXJKdh1KZ0w
One of the funniest videos ever.

Permalink to Comment

25. Pig Farmer on January 30, 2012 12:28 PM writes...

I've managed to locate the article: it is in the 18th December 1986 edition of the New Scientist pages 48-50. You can find it in Google Books.
The author is Stefan Marinov, who was a Bulgarian physicist. He committed suicide in 1997.
I suspect 20 anonymous is telling the truth, in which case prof. Andrulis probably needs psychiatric help.

Permalink to Comment

26. Joe T. on January 30, 2012 12:33 PM writes...

I have somewhere a book called _The Nature of the World_ by one Donald O. Rudin, MD. I admit I haven't really tried to plow through much of it, but it sure seems like a similar sort of thing to this. Is this a well-described phenomenon? There certainly seem to be enough instances to take a stab -- the case at issue, Rudin, possibly Wolfram, Alexander Abian (RIP)...

Permalink to Comment

27. Will on January 30, 2012 12:34 PM writes...

Is it any weirder/less plausible/less verifiable than the creation story in the Bible?

\ducks

Permalink to Comment

28. MIMD on January 30, 2012 12:47 PM writes...

#20 if true, that is extremely unfortunate.

Permalink to Comment

29. johnnyboy on January 30, 2012 12:48 PM writes...

"I suspect 20 anonymous is telling the truth, in which case prof. Andrulis probably needs psychiatric help."

And he would have probably gotten it by now (several YEARS of deterioration (!!!)), if he worked in any other setting than in academia. Apparently the great freedoms accorded by the tenure system include the freedom to go psychotic.

Permalink to Comment

30. CROhh NO on January 30, 2012 12:58 PM writes...

I was realy shocked that he took on Global Warming on page 31 by saying that the CO2 levels were not from fossil fuels, but rather a natural process by the carbogyre. Or that protein folding can be explained by this theory. It is kind of depressing to read the paper in light of what #20 stated. Still, I can't help but wonder whether some of the reception I've read on this is similar to the old days when people challenged the "known" theories of the day that were later validated? Not that I'm saying this will be one of those (or that he should be burned as a heretic).

Permalink to Comment

31. Anon on January 30, 2012 1:00 PM writes...

@14 - At least Alice had Humpty Dumpty to explain "The Jabberwocky" to her.

@20 - That is truly sad. It is also unfortunmate that this journal went along for the ride, and as you point out, the PR department at CWR.

Permalink to Comment

32. cynical1 on January 30, 2012 1:08 PM writes...

@ johnnyboy - I'm not sure I agree with you. In industry, the psychotics are promoted up to directors and VPs.

Permalink to Comment

33. Elmer W. Litzinger on January 30, 2012 1:14 PM writes...

Right now we're still trying to classify mental diseases by behaviors and the classifications are quite often imprecise. Then you have to try different drugs, doses and therapies to find which ones work without creating a lot of extra problems. Not always easy.

Although it's amusing to read this stuff, it's not very nice to make fun of this guy.

Permalink to Comment

34. JasonP on January 30, 2012 2:47 PM writes...

I don't know if this is strange to say but reading his stuff left me with a scared and creeped out feeling. Amazing what the mind can do.

Permalink to Comment

35. emjeff on January 30, 2012 3:20 PM writes...

If this is not a joke, it is a classic work product of a scientific crank. The late Martin Gardner had quite a lot to say about such people. (read for example, Science: Good Bad and Bogus, which is still relevant despite its age).

I, as a reviewer for a scientific journal have run into an author like this, who was convinced that the p-value could tell you something about "improper data cleansing". I canned it immediately, but was amazed that the author had been able to publish something similar in another journal. As always, read with a skeptic's eye...

Permalink to Comment

36. Canageek on January 30, 2012 3:58 PM writes...

It is sad how close highly intelligent people can run to mental illness: Kurt Gödel starved himself to death because he believed everyone was trying to poison him. There are many other more mild examples though I don't know them well enough to cite them from memory.

On an unrelated note: some of the writing above reminds me of this little quote I saw in a Gaussian output file. Luckily this man was proven right in time, though sadly his discovery lead to another brilliant chemist leaving science forever:

... I FELL INTO A REVERIE ... THE ATOMS WERE GAMBOLING BEFORE MY EYES
... I SAW HOW TWO SMALL ONES UNITED TO FORM A PAIR;
HOW THE LARGER ONES SEIZED TWO OF THE SMALLER ONES;
HOW STILL LARGER ONES KEPT HOLD OF THREE OR FOUR
SMALLER ONES ... I SAW HOW THE LARGER ONES FORMED A CHAIN ...
THIS WAS THE ORIGIN OF THE STRUCTURE THEORY.

-- C.F.KEKULE VON STRADONITZ

Permalink to Comment

37. Anonymous on January 30, 2012 5:28 PM writes...

"gyronexus" may be preferable to gynorexus, I suppose.

Permalink to Comment

38. Fredo on January 30, 2012 5:30 PM writes...

I don't know if anyone has said this, but it reminds me of trying to read Buckminster Fuller's book 'Critical Path'. It turns out that being a bit mad isn't such a problem if you work in architecture, maybe this guy should move jobs.

Stuff like this makes me worry some of it might stick in the back of my mind like lost change down the back of the sofa...

Permalink to Comment

39. Handles on January 30, 2012 6:15 PM writes...

At least Andrulis will get some help now.

I am reminded of the story about the researcher with delusional parasitosis, who managed to get her imagined bugs