The Nobel Prize in Quackpottery

At The Guardian, blogger GrrlScientist is passing out Nobel Prizes for Quackpottery in the fields of physiology, physics, and chemistry. The prizes are awarded to actual Nobel Laureates who have made deep and long-lasting contributions to undermining their own credibility by latching onto hypotheses they can't back up with evidence and then continuing to promote those hypotheses despite the lack of evidence. It's a nice reminder that scientists are human, and that even very, very smart people are not always rational people.


  1. I think Linus Pauling championed some pretty cranky ideas, well outside his field of expertise.  I find this charming, as long as it doesn’t kill people.

    1. Came here to say that Pauling had better be the #1 inductee. 

      “Charming, as long as it doesn’t kill people.” I found out that there are still people who believe that ultra-mega-doses of Vitamin C will cure their cancer, in the process losing their lives because they don’t use, say, chemotherapy. That kinda rained on my parade.
      Certainly he’s less evil, say, than Hulda Clark, but, as a scientist, he should’ve known better. (My not-very-well researched opinion is that when people did carry out real science studies, and found his claims false, he kept “doubling down” and saying, “Increase the dosage.”

      Indeed, the idea that Vitamin C is non-toxic is, to be kind, stretching the truth, and seems to fall at his doorstep. Taking a huge dose can cause diarrhea and all that that ensues. That’s best case.

      For certain people such as myself, who have a predilection for Calcium Oxalate kidney stones, large amounts of Vitamin C can greatly increase stone production. (Note: There are many kinds of kidney stones, and each has different treatments/things to avoid. If you want, ask a Real Doctor to explain. I don’t fully understand the chemistry despite having read some of the good books, namely, )
      BTW, Kidneys are fascinating. I love mine. Also, Dr Rose’s book used to have a bright yellow cover, which was perfect.

      1. Speaking of unproven science, it is certainly not determined that large amounts of Vitamin C causes kidney stones.  Yes there is a rationale for how it can happen, but studies have been equivocal, with some resarch actually showing lower incidence of stones in patients taking higher levels of vitamin C.

        1. That seems like a study where it might be difficult to get volunteers. You’d need people who are predisposed to getting kidney stones and are willing to do something–on purpose–suspected of increasing production of kidney stones. So you need people who have already had more than one kidney stone rip through their penis like shrapnel and think to themselves “Hmm, I would like to experience more of that.”

          1. Plenty of studies exist where they look at vitamin C intake and/or  vitamin C supplement intake across a large population, and note incidence of kidney stones.  These were the equivocal studies I mentioned.  No, a double blind placebo trial is unlikely to be done any time soon. 

    2. Does “convincing people to use an unsupported, ineffective cure to treat their illness instead of an actual life-saving one” count as killing people? Because Pauling certainly did plenty of that.

  2. One of my Physics teachers was a Christian.  I’m sure it’s not that uncommon, but It didn’t feel right.

    My Biology teacher was a professional fencer – that didn’t bother me so much.

    1.  As an amateur fencer I’m very curious how one becomes a professional fencer, unless you mean your professor taught at a salle or something. The possibility of my business cards alone intrigue me.

        1. Dealing in stolen good is also potentially more lucrative than swordsmanship.  Historically some highwaymen could have done both. 

      1. As in, he competed at a professional level (Sure I remember references to Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, but I can’t remember the guys name to look him up). Rather oddly my other Biology teacher was a professional driver

        Something tells me that they weren’t Biology teachers out of choice.

        1.  Ah, so like international fencing with prize money.

          No, I’d imagine he was teaching because even with prize money and sponsorships it can’t be that lucrative. Fencing, for some reason, isn’t much of a draw. This is insane in my, admittedly biased, opinion. I’d much rather watch pretty much any kind of swordplay than something like NASCAR or even US football.

  3. Ok, so I am a physicist working on biological systems in the Boston area. Back in my PhD days I was invited to attend a wonderful meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau (a beautiful place) and there I had dinner one night with Josephson and his wife. He certainly has controversial ideas, but rather than being amused at a ‘quack’, I wondered how many of these literal heros of knowledge come to these offbeat ideas.  

    What must it feel like to peak? I’m in science because it’s a lot fun, but I’ve known many, many others who were in this to win a Nobel. And that really is a tall peak- most of us will peak at a much lower altitude, and probably not even realize it.  These guys realize it, and I’m sure it is a blast, but if that’s was the end goal, then it leaves a big hole.  Some of the laureates make huge leaps post Nobel, reinvesting their intellectual credit capital in a new mountain- others go after what appear to be maybe even unreachable fringe challenges, and maybe even some take illogical shortcuts to get that summit feeling fast.  Much more importantly, entertaining ideas that most people find laughable is essential to revolutionary science- then data make it real.  Boltzmann ended up taking his life in a large part due to derision from Planck et al.  But Boltzmann was right.

    I can see the oddity of at lot of these pursuits, but I have to say making fun of him is kind of sad and shameful.  I have a lot of respect for these folks, and while I might not understand some of their current ideas, I imagine very very few individuals really understand the science behind any of their prizes.

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