Posts Tagged ‘my books’


November 4, 2021

Despite three decades of effort and tens of millions of dollars spent on accelerators and their like, it looks as if Particle Physics is coming to a sad end. No new particles beyond those such as the Higgs Boson proposed 50 years ago, and in particular none of those Supersymmetric particles which theorists had hoped would explain that greatest of all scientific mysteries — Dark Matter. Of course there will now be cries for more money and even larger machines, after all the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva is a mere 27 kilometres in circumference. But wait! Perhaps there is something far more interesting and fundamental at work: Perhaps Particle theorists have misled themselves, and everybody else , through neglecting a philosophical principle at least a thousand years old called ‘Ockham’s Razor’ (OR), named after a mediaeval monk called Friar Ockham.

At the heart of the Scientific Method is the business of Hypothesis Testing, which is where OR comes in. It states “Always prefer the simplest hypothesis first” and that, I suggest, is where Particle Theorists went so horribly wrong. Their “Standard Model” — as they call it, is fiendishly complex — what with its Quarks, Gluons, ‘Asymptotic Freedom’ and so on and so on. How do we measure complexity in Science? By the number of ‘Free Parameters’ (FPs) needed to describe a theory. One way you can think of them is to say they are arbitrary numbers brought into a theory to force it to fit the experimental data. A ‘good theory’ doesn’t need many FPs because it fits the experimental world naturally(for instance Newton’s very successful Theory of Gravitation has only 2 FP s) The so called Standard Model of Particle Physics needs no less than 18 FP s which has always suggested that it is an ugly and unnatural construct. It should be no surprise then to find now that it actually looks to be wrong.

So why did theorists construct such an ugly model in the first place, mostly back in the 1960’s and 70’s? Probably because they didn’t understand just how fundamental OR is. And there’s some excuse for them — because the Philosophers of Science, the self-appointed arbiters of the Scientific Method, didn’t understand OR themselves. Even Einstein, who relied on it extensively, waffled about some plastic ‘God’.

As I see it Hypothesis Testing works like this. You have some data-points, with error bars of course, and you have your hypothesis which generates a smooth curve which you must try to fit through those points. If there are lot of points the Odds on your hypothetical curve fitting them all by chance must be small. So if it does so fit then the Odds are that the hypothesis is probably right. If it doesn’t fit then you can always complexify your hypothesis ,so twisting your hypothetical curve until it does fit. But you can see that’s not a very convincing way to proceed, because eventually you are always going to force a fit. In that case the Odds in favour of it being actually right vanish. And that, I would suggest is what happened to Particle Theory, starting half a century a century ago.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with modifying a theory to fit the facts, after all that’s how science progresses. But you have to be very frugal in doing so. Only introduce a new concept (FP) into your theory if it fits at the very least two more data points than its simpler predecessor. And that’s hard to do, but it won’t degrade the Odds on it being right. But if it only fits one more data point the Odds will generally degrade dramatically. And that’s what Particle Physicists were tempted to do; making names for themselves at the expense of undermining the Odds on their so called ‘Standard Model’ theory. And that’s why almost nobody believes in their theory anymore. It’s as if they’d undermined their currency by printing too many notes. It works for a while — then collapses!

I am not a Particle Physicist, thank God, I am an Astrophysicist. And what worries me is that those same Particle theorists have dragged their own dodgy practices into our subject, with predictably unhealthy consequences. Take “Dark Energy”, an entirely artificial concept dragged into Cosmology by a particle theorist called Ed Turner from the Fermi Lab (and the University of Chicago). Now astronomers are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to chase this fantasy around the cosmos when there’s no justification for doing so, none at all. It was a thoughtless quick-fix extra Free Parameter to fit the apparent acceleration of Cosmic Expansion inferred from Supernova measurements in 1998. Had its introduction explained TWO or more discrepancies between theory and observation we might have welcomed it in. But it didn’t. So it should never have been introduced in the first place. Never!

PS Actually the situation is far worse than I am implying because the bloody particle theorists who have undermined their own subject actually introduced two more unnecessary FPs into Cosmology before Dark Energy: ‘Inflation’ to cure Isotropy and nothing else, and ‘Dark Matter’ to fix the Cosmic chemical abundances. We need to throw them out too.

So where do we go from here? Cosmology should chuck out Dark Energy, Inflation and Dark Matter and start again without them. As for Particle Physics I suspect that they may have to go back 50 years and try to reconstruct a more parsimonious theory of particle interactions than the ‘Standard Model based on quarks and gluons. In his wonderful book ‘Constructing Quarks’ Andrew Pickering (Univ. Chicago Press 1981) suggested that that theory was a social construct anyway, the product of trendy acclamation, rather than sober assessment.

More generally all of us need to understand the process of Hypothesis Testing on which the modern world of ideas is entirely built. Because if that isn’t sound ,God help us all.

For much more on Ockham’s Razor see our post “Fuzzy Thinking and Ockham’s Razor’ under the ‘Thinking’ category here on our blog. For a detailed explanation of Ockham’s Razor and why it works go to the url:

But if you want to go into the whole business of Common Sense Thinking (CST) , of which Hypothesis Testing is only a part, try my book “Thinking for Ourselves” publ Amazon (2020) which is described in the ‘My Books ‘ Category on this site.



October 20, 2021

America is not, and never was a real Superpower. It was sucked into the Second World War by the KGB but made a vast fortune out of it by picking the pockets of Britain and Russia, which did almost all the real fighting. It managed to defeat Japan only by dropping Atom bombs, which the British had largely taught it how to build. It’s Marshall Aid to Europe was miniscule and, although it did get to the Moon first, it was put up there largely by von Braun and his Germans. And it certainly didn’t win the Cold War as so many have claimed. The Soviet Union (another faux Superpower) broke up for other, more interesting reasons which had nothing whatsoever to do with the USA.

Why does it matter? It matters because the world cannot , and must not rely on the US to do more than it is capable of — for instance lead us away from Global warming, or defend us against threatening dictators like Chi and Pu. All the US is capable of is dropping bombs– a singularly ineffectual, but dangerous method of waging war (viz. Vietnam and Afghanistan).

For my detailed case here either go to my book “HISTORY OF THE BRITS (from a scientist’s point of view)” under category ‘My Books’ elsewhere on this site or go to the url:

Incidentally this was written weeks before the recent humiliating pull out of Kabul. Hollywood was never much good at fighting, not off the screen, where of course it was deadly. Just think what would have happened if John Wayne had gone out to Afghanistan.


August 21, 2021


This post is so titled because it stands for “THINKING FOR OURSELVES-ADDITIONS” where “Thinking for Ourselves” refers to my book with that title originally published in 2020 and updated in 2021 (For details see elsewhere under ‘My Books’ Category or under Tags on ‘Thinking’.) But from now on I want the book to become live, so that it can be continually updated here on line. Here you will find Exercises with Answers, corrections, images, calculations, supporting data, more detailed and improved arguments, readers comments with my responses to what is intended to become what I call ‘A LIVING BOOK’.See at the bottom of this Post how to make such Comments.

All the additions are shown below, mostly under a Chapter number and page number in the paperback book, version 2021.



at the following url:


         I finished the book 3 years ago with the surprising but triumphal discovery of Categorical Inference – which connects the whole scheme for Common Sense Thinking so naturally and necessarily with Animal Thinking and Evolution. And IF it’s right it could change the world.

         At that point I sometimes get struck with what  I believe they call ‘Imposter Syndrome’– how could little me have unearthed a powerful scheme entirely missed by giants such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein? It doesn’t seem likely does it?

         But then I look at some of its manifest achievements such as:

  • Explaining Humankind’s dramatic leap in mental capability around 1000 BC.
  • Its unique mechanism for balancing conflicting evidence, as illustrated with its success with Hidden Galaxies.
  • A first transparent and convincing explanation for Ockham’s Razor.
  • Its powerful mechanism (PAW) for dealing with Systematic Errors, which have kept us back so many times  for so long.
  • It’s perfect dovetailing into Animal Thinking and Darwinian Evolution.
  • The multiple new insights which spring from it – see this blog and my other book “History of the Brits’ [HOB ch.5]. For instance  it comes up with the keys to human Progress, what I call ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ .

So then I am reassured. But, but……Why little me again? All I can say to myself, and to potential readers is :

 “It was bloody minded doggedness more than anything else. I started out with the modest ambition to find out what I believed was already known  –  the Scientific Method, only to find to my surprise that it was not, but that it probably had something to do with Common Sense, but that hadn’t been defined either. So I asked myself a different question: ‘How could animals think?’ and thereafter progress became relatively rapid  because now I could entirely  ignore Philosophy, Mathematics and Religion.

So I didn’t have to be a genius, which I definitely am not. And one doesn’t have to be a genius to make a great discovery. Look at Darwin – he spent the first  30 years  of his idle life slaughtering wild creatures for fun. Basically he was an illiterate lout – but he stumbled upon the greatest scientific discovery of all because he happened to be in the right place at the right time – the Galapagos Islands  in 1838. But he was only there because his exasperated father had sent him out there as a punishment, saying “You wouldn’t even make a decent rat-catcher.” Indeed there’s little evidence of ‘genius’ in science more generally [ See Chapter 3 of TFO to see how great discoveries have been made in history] – so even if I’m not a genius , TFO  could still be right.”


As of 21/8/21 there are only 2 because I have just made two dozen corrections to the original paperback edition.They are

P 302: replace ‘Sherman’ with ‘Pershing’.

P 456, line 7: replace 13 with 23.

But the most important of those for purchasers of the older editions are at:


CHAPTER 1 (‘Can we learn to think better?’) p 15

CHAPTER 2 (‘Different kinds of Thinking’) p25

CHAPTER 3 (‘How do Scientists Think?) p46

CHAPTER 4 (‘Natural Thinking and Bayes’ Rule’) p95

There are several Posts on the fascinating subject of ‘Galaxies’ , including ‘Hidden Galaxies’, in the ‘Astronomy’ Category here, with many images.

CHAPTER 5 (‘The Detective’s Equation’) p132

CHAPTER 6 (‘Numbers and Thinking’) p154

CHAPTER 7 (‘Woolly Thinking and Ockham’s Razor’) p170

There are several posts here on ‘Big Bang Cosmology’ — which I use as a case study in dodgy thinking, under the ‘Astronomy’ Category’.

CHAPTER 8 (‘Common Sense’) p198

CHAPTER 9 (‘Error Analysis’) p236

CHAPTER 10 (‘Systematic Errors, The Elephants in the Room’) p268

CHAPTER 11 (‘Statistics – or Terror Analysis’) p294

Statisticians turned themselves from humble clerks into a dogmatic priesthood based on several misunderstandings, on their part. They need to be put firmly back on their stools. Having spent 30 years trying to teach Statistics at university, I gradually came to realise that the profession has got itself hopelessly lost in the No-man’s land between Induction and Deduction. Look what confusing advice they have given to the government over the Covid pandemic, They’re not scientists, they’re mostly priests, who hide behind higher mathematics when they are challenged. See Post “Statistics: exposed at last” under ‘Thinking’ Category.

CHAPTER 12 (‘Persuasion’) p342 t

CHAPTER 13 (‘Poor Thinking’) p357

CHAPTER 14 (‘The Extraordinary History of Thinking’) p407

CHAPTER 15 (‘The Peculiarities of Science’) p451

In Sect (15:12) ‘What about Mathematics’ I only gave some modest examples because I didn’t want to frighten off non-mathematical readers but on this site its maybe worth drawing attention to some more spectacular examples. For instance on pp 471-472 I then failed to recognise the full and dramatic implications of mathematics when applied to immigration: basically because immigrants arrive every year, while children arrive only a couple of times or so in a female’s life, immigration is no less than 160 times more significant than natural birthrate when it comes to population increase! Thus immigration into the UK at present is equivalent to 3 British mothers out of 4 having an extra child! If you don’t believe me, and I found it very difficult to believe it myself, you should consult the url:

Then the modern world, including radio, broadcasting, television, Relativity, satellites, mobile phones, the internet…. were all implicit in a set of equations derived by two Brits in the 19th century, James Clerk Maxwell and Oliver Heaviside. You don’t have to understand the equations in detail but one can certainly admire a human artefact millions of times more momentous than either The Rosetta Stone or Tutenkamun’s Tomb. See:

CHAPTER 16 (‘Consequences and the Ascent of Mankind’) p476

On p486 there is a very brief discussion of Time. If you want to see a deeper discussion of a profound topic see the Post “WHAT IS TIME?” under the Category ‘Thinking’. Those who want to look deeper into TIME can look at the Post ‘MAXWELL’S EQUATIONS’ (under ‘Thinking’ Category )which explains why Relativity has changed our view that Time is absolute; it’s not, according to physicists. Even so Time is still a great mystery; there seem to be several different kinds of time. all mistakenly labelled with the same four lettered word.



APPENDICES pp 547 to 604

INDEX p612


June 26, 2021

In his famous essay on ‘The Two Cultures” CP Snow pointed to the yawning divide in British Culture between Science and the Humanities. It’s still there, just as crippling as it was 60 years ago.

I was reminded of this when I started reading “The Boundless Sea – a human history of the oceans” by David Abulafia a professor of history at Cambridge University (Penguin 2019), a book which has attracted extravagant praise as well as The Wolfson History Prize for 2020. It’s a subject that has fascinated me since, as a boy, I read Thor Heyerdahl’s account of the Kon Tiki expedition — his raft trip across the Pacific in 1947 to explore his hypothesis that Polynesia might have been settled from South America.

That hypothesis gradually sank into disrepute following accumulating anthropological and genetic evidence suggesting that Polynesia was in fact settled not from the East but from the North by navigators of Asian descent. But then in 2020 came better DNA evidence showing that at least some South Americans had arrived in the Marquesas with their plants around 1150 AD. What has Abulafia to say about this evidence? On p 29 he writes that it:”… indicates that Polynesians from the Marquesas interbred with people from Columbia around 1150, most plausibly suggesting that Polynesians reached and returned from South America bringing Columbians and their seeds and tubers along with them.”

Heyerdahl’s balsa raft Kon Tiki sailing West from South America to Polynesia down the West Wind Drift powered by the Coriolis Force . Notice she’s got the wind behind her, as well as a current of 50 miles a day driven by the wind. Courtesy the Heyerdahl Museum in Norway.

What? Doesn’t Abulafia understand the winds and currents which would make such a hypothetical voyage thousands of times more difficult than Heyerdahl’s journey? Surely he understands the Coriolis Force which drives the Great West Wind Drift and indeed nearly all the voyages of exploration and trade around the globe in the days of sail?

So I skip to the Index, all of 63 pages long containing no less than 9,500 entries . No mention of Coriolis Force, and only one brief one to Trade winds, but not in the Pacific Ocean. But what about the maps, of which there are dozens and dozens? The Oceanic waters are entirely blank, no sign of the all-important currents and winds which drove and circumscribed all navigators in the days of sail.

One can only conclude that Abulafia either doesn’t know, or doesn’t understand the bearing of Science on the Oceans, a bit steep when he is writing a “Human history of the Oceans”. It’s like a geography text-book which omits all mention of mountains and rivers. The result is a timid history without any sweep or penetration, just another record of ‘One damn thing after another’ like his earlier book on the Mediterranean “The Great Sea” which I did manage to finish — just.

One could be more forgiving if Abulafia hadn’t been so condescending towards Heyerdahl , referring to him as a “self publicist” unworthy of his fame in Norway. Thor Heyerdahl wasn’t a timid academic, he was brave man who risked his life to explore his own imaginative idea — which as it happens, — turns out to be substantially right.

Abulafia’s egregious failure illustrates the folly of attempting history without comprehending or even taking notice of Science. And the extravagant praise for his book from other historians, and the award of the Wolfson Prize, can only suggest that such incestuos myopia is widespread in British academe. How can we rely on them when they must be writing for each other, and not for us?

But there’s a more general point here. It’s much easier to spot what is wrong with an argument than to spot what is missing from it. For instance the Scottish National Party is aiming to take Scotland out of the UK, without recognising that Scotland, with its 6000 miles of remote coastline, is indefensible on its own, but secure as part of a united island. How foolish. We islanders all need to sit up and take notice of that!


May 7, 2021

It suits a lot of people’s private agendas to claim that the British Empire was an evil one. But was it? When I went to work in India I was confronted by a six foot, broad shouldered American in a sari who bellowed: ” You Briddish ought to be ashamed of what you did in India, cutting off the thumbs of all the weavers in Madras to protect your Lanka Shire cotton industry!” Naturally horrified I looked into the alleged crime.

I hope readers won’t be surprised to find it was nonsense, a canard put about by the Indian Congress party to win an election. But the point of this Post is to warn readers to be very careful before acting or voting on the basis of emotive historical narratives which could easily be lies, and to suggest a way to check them.

This is no small matter The Second World War was started by ‘Ludendorff’s Lie’ which Hitler and many other Germans chose to believe, while Scotland could vote to leave the United Kingdom because of a false historical narrative put about by The Scottish Nationalist Party.

As a Space scientist is wasn’t wise to take complex decisions on the basis of emotive tweets, but how were we to take them, winnowing the grain away from the chaff?

I have tried to apply the ‘Scientific Method of History to the hypothesis ‘Scotland would have fared better outside the United Kingdom’ and come up with odds of 250 to 1 against. see:

and have recently published ” HISTORY OF THE BRITS (From a scientists point of view)” 2020,Amazon, paperback £10, in which these ideas and techniques are discussed in a much wider context.The above url is extracted from it .

I would go far as to say that false history is very often a murder weapon far more deadly than shells or mines because it can stir up whole populations to set upon one another. One third of the German population is believed to have died during the religious Thirty Years War. At the present day Putin, Chi, Modi…… are all trying to use it to make their ‘countries great again’ with consequences which might be quite dreadful, even fatal to all of us. If you don’t believe me find out about ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion‘ , a historical falsehood which lead to tens of millions of deaths because decent people didn’t bother to check its veracity.


February 22, 2021

The biggest fallacy in Education is that because you have a degree you are ‘Educated’; the second biggest that because you have not, you are not. I argue here that a bookworm may become more than 500 times more learned than a graduate .

Thinking of all kinds works through “The Association of Ideas” . Thus a new idea is valuable in proportion to the number of ideas in your head already, with which you can associate it, potentially leading to new insights. Thus the value of reading a new book is roughly proportional to the number you have read already. If you have read 100 say there are roughly 100 times 99 (divided by 2 to avoid double-counting) or roughly 5000 potential Associations to be made between them whereas if you have read 200 that number rises to 200 times 199 (divided by 2) or roughly 20,000. In general then the value of your knowledge lies in proportion to the number of Associations you can make, which rises with the Square of its size. This is a profound but unfamiliar truth, and the basis of my argument.

Now a typical university undergraduate will need to read something like 2 books/course, which comes to between 100 and 200 over an entire degree. A book-worm on the other hand, who reads 2 books every week, reads 2 times 52 times 50 or roughly 5000 books over the course of 50 years. Taking the above-mentioned Square into account that implies that the bookworm finishes up (5000/200) squared, or 625 times more learned than a graduate; which makes my point.

There are of course qualifications. If the bookworm reads only detective novels, or the undergraduate only critiques of Shakespeare plays, neither will become Learned. Some breadth is assumed, the more the better. I would guess most bookworms, because they have no imposed constrictions on their appetites, would be more widely read, generally, but not always , reinforcing the case.

Isn’t that surprising, and interesting? The most learned members of society are not university graduates, not even university professors (of which I am one), but possibly unqualified people who have always got their noses in a book.

What are we to make of all this? I would suggest:

One has no chance of becoming Learned unless one is a life-long bookworm, degree or not.

It must be a primary aim of both parents and educators to see that their charges become bookworms.

A great library in every suburb and school will be an indispensable measure of its Civilization.

All measures which curb or kill Natural Human Curiosity( the main driver of reading), such as bad teaching, or over-examining, must be curbed immediately before it causes life-long damage. What on Earth is the point of turning out qualified but unlearned graduates?

There will be plenty of critics of ‘unfocussed reading’, of mere ‘bookworming’, especially from the Academic professions. All I can say is that I haven’t come to my view lightly. Having made a twenty year study of how successful Science is done, I found it was Breadth that mattered, far more then ‘genius’, for which there was little evidence. Breakthroughs appeared to come mainly from those who could Associate ideas which previously appeared to have no connection. For instance the basis of the modern world is Electro-magnetic Radiation , a concept only born when Hans Christian Oersted (1820), reading about storms at sea, first realised that Electricity and Magnetism must be connected.. If you want to follow the argument you might read my book “Thinking for Ourselves” described elsewhere on this site (under ‘My books’ Category). Here is an excerpt from that book entitled ‘THE VALUE OF LEARNING:

So here’s to readers everywhere! Only you can become truly Learned , and capable of leading, or perhaps we should say ‘reading’, our way on up to new realms of thought…


February 20, 2021

If you wanted to know what to think of some fringe activity such as Spiritualism or Water Divining I doubt one would consult a professional first. After all you know that they must be committed. But what if you wanted to evaluate Big Bang Cosmology? Once again you can’t turn to the biased professionals, although they might argue that unless you are a professional you cannot know enough about the subject to take an informed position. But of course that is a dangerous stance to adopt, and the way in which priesthoods germinate, metastasize and sometimes come to dominate the world. They become immune to criticism because they will admit none but believers as critics. They become malignant, if not necessarily malign.

So what is the wise outsider to do? I would suggest they might consult those whose business it is to know much about the arcane subject- material in question without having to become paid exponents themselves. Cosmology for instance is in practice largely extra-galactic astronomy, so why not consult an extra-galactic astronomer who doesn’t claim to be a Cosmologist? Such an astronomer will know most of the technical arguments – without having to commit to them. That is where I stand with regard to Big Bang Cosmology, or BBC. My passion lies in Galaxies, the largest discrete objects in the Universe. But as they seem to be almost as old as the Cosmos, their origin must be entangled in the early evolution of the Universe itself, so I cannot ignore Cosmology, any more than Cosmology can ignore Galaxies which, so far as we know, comprise most of everything we can actually observe. And as visible galaxies exist in hundreds of thousands of millions, and can be observed in some detail nowadays, they should tell us more about Cosmology than vice-versa. And here is the rub: in BBC galaxies shouldn’t exist. As has been known for fifty years they would have been torn apart by radiation pressure before they could even form. So a desperate fix called CDM, standing for ‘Cold Dark Matter’ was adopted to try and repair the awful hole in the story. But despite many efforts to find out what it is, no one has been able to find any trace of CDM in half a century. Umm.

And there is another stark confrontation between galaxies and Cosmology. In an expanding Universe – the core assumption of BBC – distant galaxies should be totally invisible because of the ‘Tolman Effect’, a test for Expansion, which goes back to 1930. Then we didn’t possess the the telescopes to test it, but now, in the Hubble Space Telescope, we certainly do. And what do we find? That the observed Universe fails – and fails most dramatically – as you can see for yourself. Look at the figure:

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the deepest image of the Universe , taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, which I helped to design. All those tiny dots are actually high redshift galaxies a long long way away. If the Universe is really expanding we shouldn’t be able to see them. But……..

You can see it’s covered all over with a rash of tiny high-redshift galaxies – which simply shouldn’t be there, not if the Universe is expanding. If it was they ought to look no less than ten thousand times dimmer than they appear to be. Surely this is something BB Cosmologists ought to acknowledge? But they don’t. It’s been known since 1993 when we first fixed the telescope’s aberrated mirror, but ever since there has been a conspiracy of silence about the matter. As a designer of that and earlier cameras, I was staggered when I first saw the earliest deep Hubble images because I’d been assured by Cosmologists that Hubble would never see high-redshift galaxies. Yet there they were. There they are in their hundreds and thousands.

The only precedent I can think of occurred back in 1610 when Galileo pointed his little spyglass at Venus and found it to be a brilliant crescent pointing towards the Sun. The two-thousand-year-old Geocentric picture of the Cosmos was quite wrong, All the Planets, including the Earth, must be orbiting the Sun.

But what happened? Galileo was eventually seized by the Inquisition, forced to retract, and then imprisoned for life.

We don’t have an Inquisition any more but we do have Priests of a different kind: experts whose livelihoods, reputations and ambitions enforce adherence to a certain dogma. It’s not easy when you are an elderly, respected professor of Cosmology, with several books and hundreds of peer-reviewed papers behind you, to admit that you have been wasting yours, and everybody else’s time. And if the old won’t recant, why should the young, who still have their reputations and their livings to make? There is no Inquisition it is true but there are, in a highly competitive profession, appointment and tenure committees to please, journal-referees to propitiate. Brave myths to the contrary, academic success is based above all on allegiance to the Common Book of Prayer.

I know it will be hard for outsiders to believe in such conformity, I certainly wouldn’t have believed in it myself if I hadn’t experienced it at first hand, and to some extent colluded rather shamefully in it myself. Yes I went to conferences and politely pointed out the anomalies facing us in the sky. I even published papers in elite journals like ‘Nature’ demonstrating that real galaxies couldn’t possibly have formed in the CDM manner proclaimed by cosmological theorists. But when nobody responded, shouldn’t I have bellowed and trumpeted my doubts?

Honestly I should. But two things held me back; lack of self -confidence for one. Cosmology is a huge and complex subject mired in the hardest Mathematics and Physics – and perhaps I’d missed something – which the experts had not? Then again it wasn’t my real love. If I acquired a reputation as a madman I wouldn’t get the observing time on top telescopes I absolutely needed to do my Galaxy research. Many of us subscribe to popular myths, knowing them to be untrue. One well-known colleague told me that when he is applying for observing time he always alludes to CDM, which he knows to be diseased, because he’s found that if does not, he won’t get the time. And so CDM, a central dogma of BBC, continues alive, when it is so obviously wrong.

But enough of personal anguish and Sociology. How could the uncommitted thinker look dispassionately at the arguments for and against BBC and come to a balanced opinion?

There is a way – using Common Sense – if you know how it works – which most scientists, let alone other scholars, do not. All it will deliver is a provisional conclusion, with some kind of Odds on it attached. What I will do next is to exhibit two different attempts of mine to have a go at the BBC problem, so that readers can appreciate some of the philosophical subtleties involved.

The first, entitled “Doubts about Big Bang Cosmology” was published back in 2011, where my Odds against it being broadly right were only 4 to 1, disappointing, but hardly decisive. It is reasonably short yet contains the main arguments in a not too technical fashion I hope, so readers may care to see how those Odds were reached. You can find it at

In cosmology itself nothing much changed dramatically over the next 4 years. But my understanding of Common Sense did when, in 2015, I stumbled upon the vitally important PAW or ‘Principal of Animal Wisdom’, indispensable to all thinkers who might otherwise be blown wildly off course by Systematic Errors. Now my Odds against BBC shot up dramatically to 128 to 1 against it being broadly right. Not only are they far more conclusive but they are , in my opinion , far more robust too because they rely on a whole network of interlocking and broadly concordant evidence. Without any need to repeat the cosmological arguments the new Inference Table, with its condemning Odds O(H|E) {i.e Odds on the Hypothesis H given all the evidence E} is briefly exhibited at

The conclusion I would draw from all this is that the Universe is trying to tell us something profound and interesting about itself, but we professionals, soaked in our preconceptions, and deafened by our Church choir, are unprepared to listen. After Galileo’s experience we should have anticipated, and some of us on board the Hubble did. But ….

Our susceptibility to misconceptions lies in our weak grasp of Common Sense today, and in particular our total ignorance of PAW, or The Principle of Animal Wisdom. Animals whose very survival depends on sound judgements, cannot afford to be taken in by misleading clues. So how do they discount them? That was the question I asked myself back in 2015. The answer is they cannot allow any single clue a predominating Weight – because that clue might be false, and fatal. They must rely on a network of weaker clues which reinforce one another. That is what I call PAW. And when I apply it to BBC the Odds against it shoot dramatically up. BBC can’t be right, it can’t. Something at least about it is deeply wrong, never mind the technical details. [To see more on the PAW go to Post ‘ANIMAL WISDOM & US’ in ‘Thinking’ Category].

If the PAW is so damned vital for animals then how did we ever lose sight of it? Because Priests preach Certainties – their influence, their power and their livelihoods all depend on proclaiming Certainties, whilst the PAW stands out firmly against them. And, to be fair, many of us prefer Certainties to uncomfortable uncertainty – which is all the natural world has to offer. So over the last few thousand years the PAW, which is grown-up, has become submerged by a childish and misbegotten craving for Certainty, which only priests, but not men of Common Sense, can deliver. As Voltaire put it: “Uncertainty is uncomfortable; Certainty is absurd.” See a talk on Youtube by me on this topic at

What IS the universe trying to tell us ? It could be exciting.


December 16, 2020

How innumeracy has led successive British governments into disastrous economic follies.

In 1820 Britain stood, a lone Collossus, above the world. By 1920 a dozen other nations had higher per-capita GDP. In 2020 we seem even closer to the fringe of things: timid, divided, decaying, relatively impoverished and weak. What happened?

I am going to argue here , through specific examples, that having an innumerate ruling (and media) elite, as we have, is akin to being driven by a drunk.

(A) Leverage (The baboons in the reactor)

The banking crash of 2008. halted progress, stalled incomes, led to austerity, closed social programs and libraries, generated misery and uncertainty, and yet was totally avoidable. Because the ex- Chancellor Gordon Brown, and all his high-powered Treasury officials, were ignorant of simple algebra, they had allowed the Leveraging of bank loans to rise from less than 25 in 1995, already far too high as we shall calculate, to over 50 by 2008. Whatever else was going on, that was bound to lead to a crash. If Brown hadn’t been so innumerate [he did have a PhD in ‘economic history’, which probably made him unjustifiably over-confident] he might even have persuaded his US counterpart ( Alan Greenspan, another innumerate) to behave sensibly. But while Brown was boasting about his “Prudence” he had been blindly driving our bus towards the cliff edge.

A leverage of 50 allows investors to borrow 50 times their own invested capital and so, in a rising market, to double their money every year. How clever, how miraculous! But there ain’t no such things as miracles — even Gordon Brown should have known that. If the market falters, such highly leveraged investors, be they banks or individuals, can lose all their money almost overnight and default on their loans. Banks then panic or crash, and ordinary citizens who were either too wise, too moral or too poor to plunge into the fools’ bonanza, were forced to bail the greedies out. All because Brown and his Treasury wise-acres couldn’t do simple sums. If you want to see just how bloody simple that sum was go to:

(B) Malthus’ Essay on Population.

Follies of innumeracy are by no means uncommon, or new. In 1798 the Revd. Thomas Malthus, a don at Cambridge, published his highly influential “Essay on the Principles of Population”. In it he argued that an unrestrained population would always multiply faster than its food resources, leading inevitably to starvation, to misery, and to a “struggle for existence”. In his own words this struggle entailed  “…..every cause, whether arising from vice or misery, which in any degree contributes to shorten the natural duration of human life. Under this head, therefore, may be enumerated all unwholesome occupations, severe labour and exposure to the seasons, extreme poverty, bad nursing of children, great towns, excesses of all kinds, the whole train of common diseases and epidemics, wars, plagues and famine”.

Malthus’ well-intentioned but naïve argument, was that while population increases exponentially (like flies breeding), food production increases only linearly. It was almost puerile because it ignored the fact that hungry people can often find ingenious new forms of alternative sustenance – thus displaced crofters founded the mighty Scottish herring fishery. But many influential people chose to believe Malthus’ essay, with absolutely tragic consequences for the British poor. It excused: work-houses, forcible Land Enclosures, the transportation of juvenile petty thieves, Highland clearances and so on and so on. The rich used it as an excuse for land grabs, the poor were emiserated, deprived of their livings and their homes, and even of their dignity as human beings. The equivalent of 30 % of the entire British population was forced to emigrate. Never did so little algebra generate so much unnecessary misery. It should have been a warning to all: ‘Beware economic theorists.’

This is a different kind of folly from the first in that here the elite were taken in by a naive mathematics-based essay which most of them probably couldn’t understand but which they should have and probably would have questioned had they had been more confidently numerate themselves. Alas this happens all the time: thus Reagan and Thatcher were taken in by Friedman’s fallacious ‘Monetarism’, again with miserable long-term consequences, mostly for the poor.

(C) The Disastrous Folly of Free Trade.

Malthus’ Essay was bad enough — but it was to be succeeded by much worse. In 1814 Parliament introduced the Corn Laws (i.e. imposed high tariffs on cheap imported cereals) — which enriched the landowning classes and the Church, but impoverished everyone else, especially the industrial poor. The laws were repealed in 1846, but not before they had created a weird economic dogma called “Free Trade”. A millionaire speculator in Parliament David Ricardo convinced many contemporaries that Free Trade is always essential for prosperity and progress. His argument was subtle but, like Malthus’s, far too naive in that it ignored vast factors such as employment, and infrastructure-investment. Unfortunately, subsequent academic Economists, who have a rather feeble grasp of mathematics, though they like to pretend otherwise, were wholly taken in, and what is worse, they persuaded even more innumerate politicians all over the Capitalist world, that Free Trade is good for everybody. It isn’t. It simply isn’t. If you do a proper calculation which embraces all the relevant factors, Free Trade is mostly harmful to any advanced nation like Britain .

       As a result all Britain’s great industries have either closed down, or are in the process: coal, steel, ship-building, cotton mills in Lancashire, woollen mills in Yorkshire, cars, motor-cycles, bicycles, trucks, clocks and pottery in the Midlands, white goods, aircraft, computers, electronics,…….going, going, gone. But it isn’t just Britain. Youth unemployment in France is 25%, 40% in Italy and Spain. And look at America: its great manufacturing centres such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland….. are now part of that broken rust belt which rose in despair and voted for Trump. What have we all done to ourselves? I will argue that what the academic economists proclaim is so good for us is actually a deadly poison.

An imported commodity may be dramatically cheaper at the point of retail sale than its domestically produced equivalent. Unfortunately though imports can also have large Sunken Costs arising from losses in domestic employment, investment and profits. And none of us can afford to ignore such Sunken Costs because we will all have to stump up for them in the end in the form of extra taxes to pay for unemployment benefits, retraining and relocating workers,  lost capital and wasted infrastructure (factories, roads, schools, shops, hospitals….). And that says nothing of the misery involved in breaking up communities, families and friends. All that should be obvious; but not apparently to our Economist friends.

What needs to be made, commodity by commodity, is a calculation of the benefits of  a particular Free Trade set against the Sunken Costs which we will have to be borne by the wider community as a whole (i.e. the importing nation). That shouldn’t be too difficult – and it isn’t. I won’t bore you with the algebra at this point (which is rather simple) but you can follow it all up in detail via the links provided; and I encourage you to do so. The results though, are both dramatic and shocking — for instance just take one example: importing a car into an advanced country like Britain only makes sense if its price at the point of retail sale is at least 64% cheaper than its domestic equivalent: 64 per cent! That’s huge. But why so? Because any advanced nation like Britain has, by definition, invested a lot of money in its people and their infrastructure, and when you destroy their means of making their livings and maintaining their societies, by allowing cheaper foreign imports in, it will cost us all an awful lot to replace them. By contrast a relatively backward country like China with almost no welfare system can hugely profit from such trades. But don’t blame China; blame the innumerate economists over here who can’t do simple sums and who’s head is still buried in a dogma formed in the 1840’s during the fight over the bloody Corn Laws. The real point here is that, 160 years later, this is a very different world, but economists don’t seem capable of keeping up. The damage they have done to Britain (and elsewhere), and are still doing, is incalculable. I will say no more here because there is a separate post entitled ‘THE FOLLY OF FREE TRADE’ which includes my calculation as a url.

(D) The Immigration Fiasco.

Is a contemporary example of what a numerically ignorant ruling elite is capable, or rather incapable of — recognising a simple perilous truth, and thus doing something about it. So high has been the the immigration rate been over the past 50 years that it is equivalent to 3 British mothers out of 4 raising an extra child. If that is not “swamping” then what is? Since I have written a whole post on this, entitled ‘IMMIGRATION FIASCO’ I will say no more here. But you can see the calculation there and see if you agree.

(E) The nuclear war that hasn’t happened. Yet.

By contrast to the hideous damage innumeracy can wreak upon a nation, let’s look at even more dramatic example where numeracy may not only have saved the day but have actually preserved Life on Earth.

The most important event of the 20th century didn’t happen — Nuclear Armageddon, though it appears we came desperately, desperately close during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

In 1921 the Quaker mathematician and pacifist Lewis Fry Richardson pointed to the probable cause of the First World War — a mathematical instability in the arms race that preceded it. If nations can arm faster than they can disarm such a race will eventually explode out of control into war. But if they can disarm faster than they can arm, the race need never blow up in such an accidental way. Rightly terrified out of their wits after Cuba, the commanders on both sides, with their experts, recalled Richardson’s analysis and installed a hot-line between the White House and the Kremlin to defuse potential escalations in future. That is probably why you and I are still alive. An innumerate society with The Bomb could still put us all in the grave.


Britain has been, and is being brought low by a ruling and media elite who imagine they are educated. — when they are not . While some cringers are unwilling to look at the truth (viz. on Immigration) I suspect that most of our troubles do not stem so much from cowardice as from what I call ‘Baducation’. For instance most people who have studied ‘PPE’ at Oxford (as so many of our elite have, including the Editor of The Economist ) are simply not numerate enough to grasp salient facts and arguments.

The only good news here is that if we are only willing to face the truth at last we could rapidly put things right because although Innumeracy is a highly debilitating disease it is not malignant. If we paid everyone who made the effort to learn enough to pass a basic test in Numeracy £15,000 ,we could enumerate the entire nation for less than half the cost of a third runway at Heathrow. It is no accident that the wealthiest people on Earth at present, the Japanese, are also the most numerate ( For instance they figured out the Immigration problem long ago).

In the mean time we shouldn’t listen to, and certainly shouldn’t vote for Innumerates, never mind how many PPE degrees and the like they might have got from ancient universities. They’re simply Baducated, and as such dangerous. As the world has become more sophisticated so it needs more sophisticated people to govern it. We wouldn’t accept an illiterate Cabinet; why should we accept an innumerate one?

There is much more on this topic, and possible remedies we can use, in my “History of the Brits (from a scientist’s point of view) “, described elsewhere on this site . For instance it includes chapters entitled Half Baked Economics and Baducation.


November 29, 2020

Imagine a liquid which, if left out in the sun, absorbs energy from it and goes into its ‘Charged’ state. Later when it passes through the engine of your vehicle it is induced to release that solar energy without burning Oxygen, but reverts to its inert “Discharged’ state and is stored in the vehicle’s waste tank. Afterwards, at the refuelling station the inert liquid is exchanged for fresh ‘Charged’ liquid which goes into your fuel tank, and off you go again. The discharged liquids are collected, re-energised in the sun, and then recycled through the whole process; again and again and again. And because no Oxygen is is burned, no Carbon Dioxide is produced to pollute the atmosphere and warm the globe. In other words humankind would be getting all the energy it needs in a convenient form from the Sun , without damaging the planet. We’d have harnessed endlessly Recyclable Oil, or ‘RO’ for short. And why not? If cabbages can turn sunlight into chemical energy why can’t kings? Eating cabbages, burning the Oxygen which the cabbages have produced as a by-product, and then breathing out CO2 doesn’t have to be the only way we can survive. Sunlight is abundant and free. Surely, by taking thought, we can make use of it without preying on cabbages — or their fossils — and mucking up the atmosphere into the bargain? Grudges will say it can’t be done; but then they always do. As Francis Bacon wrote 400 years ago: ” But by far the greatest obstacle to the progress of science and the undertaking of new tasks and provinces therein is found in this — that men despair and think things impossible.”. Anyway I believe there’s evidence that someone succeeded long long ago:

Mind you one could reasonably argue that if RO were feasible then some creature in all the aeons of past Evolution would surely have exploited it already. The fact that none has is pretty convincing evidence against its practicality. Anyway if you do a simple sum you can show there isn’t enough sunlight out there to power a normal animal. Such a solar powered creature would have to be spread out like a blanket to catch enough of it. Surely that rules the idea out?

A slide from a Powerpoint presentation produced by my son Mathias for a talk he gave on our joint behalf at his own university, University College London back in 2005. It more than hints at what is coming next.

Almost, but not quite. I want to convince you that once upon a time there was a solar creature that ruled our skies for over a hundred million years, only to be wiped out in the great meteorite extinction which ended the age of dinosaurs.

Look at the next photo which I took in the Natural History Museum in New York in 2000:

The fossil wing of a gigantic dinosaur excavated in Texas, with behind it the complete skeleton of a much smaller specimen. The shoulder bones in particular look more like those of an ox than a bird. I was flabbergasted when I saw it because the laws of physics simply rule out such a monster from flying. But what else did it do if not fly? Bigger specimens up to 11 meters in span have been excavated since, though none is complete.

When alive the creature would have had a total wingspan of twenty feet or more and weighed around a hundred kilos. When I saw it first my hair literally stood on end. Why? Because a long term interest of mine had been the science of animal flight (principally birds) and I knew at once that the creature hanging from that ceiling could never have flown — not using normal metabolic processes; never, never, never! To stay aloft it could only have used solar power directly (and didn’t its giant wingspread resemble a blanket?).

Science is hard, mainly because there is so much to learn. We overcome that by specialising early, then specialising further again and again, learning more and more about less and less. That is all very well but it does have crippling limitations. To tackle any really ambitious project we have to form teams in order to broaden our individually narrow specialities. But what if nobody on the team is aware that fact X, from an entirely different field, will be the indispensable key to solving our problem? That happens all the time, and as we become increasingly specialised, may become the greatest brake to further progress in research.

Let’s take a famous example. Hans Christian Oersted was an undistinguished Danish scientist employed by his government to look into the hazards of storms at sea. Reading through the logbooks of ships that had survived, he could hardly ignore the frequent reports that during electrical storms the compasses on board went haywire. At the time (1820) nobody knew that Electricity and Magnetism were in any way related — but Oersted could hardly avoid that inference. So he went out and bought a battery (they’d just come on the market) and sure enough he found that modest currents would cause any compass nearby to swing dramatically. He published a brief note ( in Latin) which set laboratories across the world on fire. In particular Faraday and Ampere worked out the details of Electromagnetism, as it came to be called, and the modern world began: motors, dynamos, telegraphy, radio, Relativity, broadcasting, television, the computer — they were all waiting in the wings of history. But to set off that frenzy of invention it took Oersted’s almost accidental recognition that two previously unrelated phenomena were in fact intimately connected.

In my case the the accident was a warbler that landed on our ship during a storm in mid-Atlantic. To me it seemed like a miracle that such a tiny ball of feathers had made it out so far with no opportunity to either feed or rest. Not believing in miracles I set out to find its secret for myself, with no help from the existing literature. It took me ten years to crack the Range problem and a further two to prove that no bird weighing more than 12 kilo’s would ever fly. It could never generate the requisite power. So what was this monster doing hanging above my head in New York? It must have weighed at least a hundred kilograms,. What was more it could never have taken off, or landed safely. So how could it stay forever up in the sky? Solar power seemed to be the only possibility.

So if I am right Recyclable Oil once did exist upon this Earth — Pterodactyl’s Blood — and if it existed once surely we could synthesize it again — and save our planet?

You might suppose that everyone would be excited by such a possibility. Not a bit of it. On the contrary. Why not? It’s that bloody Specialisation once again. Palaentologists know all about pterosaur bones but don’t understand aerodynamics or physiology sufficiently well to convince themselves that pterosaurs couldn’t fly by normal means, while aerodynamicists knew how to design airliners but are not all that interested in dusty old pterosaur bones. Worst of all no one has that combination of knowledge in paleantology, aerodynamics, mathematics, physiology and energy- generation to convince themselves, or anyone else, that RO could be waiting just round the corner, to save us all. I know, because I’ve tried, and so has my son, to convince different audiences both in print and in person. Nobody has so far been able to find anything wrong with our arguments , but then nobody has so far been sufficiently convinced to publish them either

So then I grew desperate and tried to put the truth, as I see it, in a novel called Pterodactyl’s Blood, which is described elsewhere on this site, but which almost nobody has read so far. The facts are:

  • No animal weighing more than 11 kilograms could ever fly because Oxygen powered physiology is too weak to sustain the required power. Period.
  • Yet pterosaur fossils with wingspans of up to 30 feet testify that they indubitably did.
  • But creatures of that size could never have taken off ( running speeds of over 50 mph required) nor landed without crippling themselves. So they must have remained airborne, day and night, throughout their lives.
  • With Oxygen metabolism ruled out the only means of sustaining themselves in perpetual flight was direct solar power. And such was their wing area in proportion to their likely weight that this looks entirely feasible — even with moderate solar efficiencies ( less than 10%).
  • But such a departure from normal zoology would surely leave tell-tale marks in the fossil record. For instance solar powered pterosaurs could not have had feathers. And so on and so on……

What distinguishes honest science from mere speculation is vigorous Hypothesis-Testing. So we subjected the Solar Power Hypothesis to every test we could think of, and it passed. With no reasonable alternative it therefore deserves very serious consideration, especially so since it could , in principle, solve the Global Warming problem.

If you want to find out more about Recyclable Oil there are three possibilities:

Read my novel Pterodactyl’s Blood — its all in there bar the technical calculations. (described under ‘My books’ Category)

Look at the Power Point Presentation my son prepared for a seminar at his university — University College London. You should be able to see it at:

Or go direct to our rejected science paper ( which may be hard going) at:

and see what you can make of it.

As always comments are more than welcome.

PS There are several more posts on this site about Flight, particularly bird flight, even a simple primer on aerodynamics which should enable one to understand where the Range and Power Equations come from. There’s nothing genius about it, but the consequences are dramatic. That warbler for instance. Click on my Tags and Categories.

PSS We were not the first to worry about pterosaurs with such vestigial legs taking off ( see references in our Science paper) but nobody before us realised the Power-problem, which is quite definitive.


November 26, 2020



As far as I can see Common Sense Thinking (CST henceforth) works like this: we all get ideas, they constantly bubble unasked to the surface of the mind; the real challenge is to decide which ones are sound [‘Hypothesis Testing’ it is called]. To determine that we look for evidence (clues) bearing on our idea or hypothesis H and place each clue in one of only 5 categories (This is the ‘Principle of Animal Wisdom’, or PAW for short):

TABLE (5:1) The Weights of Clues bearing on Idea H





Strongly in favour of H



Weakly in favour of H



Neutral towards H



Weakly against H (underlined)



Strongly against H (underlined)



We then combine (symbol ★ ) the Weights in obvious ways thus:

w★w = s

w★w = n

s★s = ss

s★w = w and so on.

And we finally decide to act on H only when the combined evidence reaches either sss [decide for H] or sss [decide against H]. This is a precautionary measure which saves us from making premature, possibly fatal decisions based on only two strong clues, one of which might be unsound.


A detective is having to decide whether to charge X with a crime [her hypothesis is ‘X is guilty’. Her thinking, based on the available evidence, might look like this:



Her Weight

Accumulated Weight














Witness A




Witness B




Witness C




Witness D







Charges X


My scheme is nothing more than the systematic Association of an Idea H with different clues, combined with a simple precautionary mechanism for avoiding overhasty decisions. I suspect such CATEGORICAL INFERENCE (CI for short) is our main survival mechanism with roots that go back a billion years. You won’t find it in text-books on Inference or Logic; they appeal instead to notions such as Probability Theory, Bayes’ Theorem and Parsimony. The problem is that their authors disagree violently among themselves – so something must be seriously wrong. That’s why scientists ignore them and go on using Common Sense CI to progress.

Notice three important features of this scheme:

1) The more evidence the better. With a sufficiently long string of clues, even when they conflict, we can eventually reach a decision [sss or sss ] about H, one way or the other, provided (a major proviso) a record has been kept of the incoming clues, together with their Weights. For instance I was eventually able to bring my own tangled research project to a triumphant conclusion but only after using writing to compound 25 separate clues, some in stark conflict with the rest. This means the scheme can be used, but only by the literate, to handle highly complex tasks such as voyaging to the Moon.

2) The process is open-ended; there is always room to add new evidence to the tally whenever it is found. Thus it is Provisional in nature, and even after a decision to act has been taken there must be room for a change of mind – in other words to Adapt.

3) Rather than remember these unfamiliar symbols it turns out to be much easier to use betting Odds and replace “combine” (★) by the multiplication sign ×, ‘n’ by the number 1, s by 4, w by 2, underlined-w by ½, and underlined-s by ¼ . Then a decision in favour takes place when the Odds are 64 to 1 on or better, and against at Odds of 64 to 1 against or worse. In future that is what we do. But remember it is still Categorical Inference, no more and no less, a process innumerate animals could have used to survive in the wild. We have just changed the symbols

NB. This extract was taken from Chapter 5 of my book “History of the Brits” where it is later used to tackle some very thorny issues such as ‘Is America Britain’s friend or enemy?’, or ‘Would the Scots have been better off Independent’ and ‘Is mass immigration good or bad for Britain?’.