20 October 2008

Summary of the Debunking of a Crank

So. There's this brand new shiny particle accelerator in Geneva, known as the Large Hadron Collider. There are also some concerned citizens who think that it might make black holes that will destroy the Earth. Two of these, Luis Sancho and Walter L. Wagner, filed for a restraining order against it in a court in Hawaii (note: Hawaii is nowhere near Geneva). It got tossed out of that court recently, but rumor has it that they're planning to file an appeal.

On what grounds is Mr. Wagner making these claims about black holes? How does he know? Well, he says he's a nuclear physicist. After a lengthy foray into researching his credentials over at John the Scientist's blog, however, it has become rather clear that he's not. The discussion there is longwinded and goes around in great big circles, so I'm making a clear summary of it here. Specifically, let's go line by line through the affidavit he filed with his restraining order in Hawaii...

I, Walter L. Wagner, affirm state and declare, under penalty of perjury of the laws of the State of Hawaii, as follows:

1. I am a nuclear physicist with extensive training in the field. I obtained my undergraduate degree in 1972 at Berkeley, California in the biological sciences with a physics minor, and graduate degree in 1978 in Sacramento, California in law.

a) The second sentence actually contradicts the first. "Physics minor" != "extensive training in the field of nuclear physics."
b) It turns out that his law degree is a JD, not a PhD, and it's from an unaccredited institution, the University of Northern California Lorenzo Patiño School of Law. Not only isn't he a nuclear physicist, he's also not a lawyer. He is not and has never been a member of the California Bar, the Hawaii Bar, and probably not any other state bars either.
c) His only actual degree is a BA in biology. (We think. So far we've not had reason to check whether he has even that...)
d) Despite the fact that he calls himself "Dr." everywhere, he doesn't actually have any right to claim that title.
2. Commencing in 1973 I worked extensively in cosmic radiation research at UC Berkeley, Physics Department, Space-Sciences, and am credited with discovery of a novel particle only previously theorized to exist [by Nobelist P.A.M. Dirac], namely a magnetic monopole. That discovery still remains controversial as to the identify of that novel particle, and numerous searches for magnetic monopoles are still currently underway, or proposed, including at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC].

a) The scientists who published the 1975 paper claiming it to be a magnetic monopole later retracted their claim in a 1978 paper.
b) He was a lowly lab tech that was hired to be a scanner. He was told what to look for by the real scientists, and had no part in the actual scientific conversation surrounding the unexplained particle. This is borne out by examining the authorship and acknowledgements of the papers in question. When he says "credited with", what he means is "mentioned in the acknowledgements for assistance." He also fails to mention that he wasn't the only hired scanner in the lab at the time.
c) Nowadays the discovery is viewed as a historical curiosity, not a controversy.
3. Commencing in 1979 I began employment as a federal nuclear safety officer with the US government, from which I am currently retired, though I remain in frequent contact with my former duty station. My federal duty station was with the US Veterans Administration, and I managed an extensive program of nuclear safety involving usages of ionizing radiations from machines [X-ray, CT, etc.], and from a wide variety of radioactive materials produced by particle accelerators, in nuclear reactors, or extracted from nature [principally uranium and its radio-daughter radium]. This work involved enforcement of the regulations of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Department of Energy, and the US Department of Transportation. Essentially, my job was to look for and root-out the safety flaws overlooked by scientific researchers as it pertained to nuclear physics, as a protection not only for the researcher’s own health, but for the visitors and population at large.

a) A nuclear radiation safety officer is a type of lab tech and bureaucrat. They do some simple labwork and lots of paperwork overseeing safety regulations. They don't do nuclear physics or any other kind of science.
b) They don't practice nuclear medicine, either. Not even if the job in question is in a hospital.
4. Following retirement from federal employment I embarked on teaching science and mathematics for many years to grade school and college students. I was noted for having obtained the highest test-score on the basic teacher credentialing examination in California [CBEST] where I initially began teaching. I am presently likewise retired from that field, though I still engage myself in formal programs for science education, including the Journey Through the Universe educational outreach program hosted annually by the Big Island astronomy community, where I live. Such
educational endeavors included periods of time as an instructor at Punahou, Iolani, and several other schools in the Honolulu district.

a) He successfully passed a standardized test for grade school teachers. (This, also, does not make him a nuclear physicist.)
b) Educational outreach likewise does not make one a nuclear physicist. A bachelors degree in biology would qualify him for the stuff he mentions.
5. I have remained active in the field of theoretical nuclear physics, and serve as a science editor for Wikipedia, having numerous articles and revisions in nuclear physics to my credit, and I am very familiar with the editing procedures and processes, and with the nuclear physics editors at Wikipedia. I have been active in the field of theoretical micro-black-holes being created by advanced colliders since publication of my work in Scientific American in July, 1999.

a) Becoming an editor at Wikipedia is approximately as difficult as becoming a member of Myspace. Signup is an automated process of choosing a name and password. Anyone can sign up and edit anything, and if they're sneaky about making themselves look authoritative and intelligent, they can insert all kinds of spurious, wildly inaccurate claims that go unchallenged for a very long time. This is why Wikipedia is not highly regarded as a citable source for in-depth information.
b) His claim for being active in the field of "theoretical micro-black-holes being created by advanced colliders"-ology appears to be based on the educational outreach mentioned in 4.
c) Scientific American is not a peer reviewed scientific journal.
d) His "publication" in it in July 1999 was a letter to the editor.

After two weeks of arguing with Wagner and his faithful minions, the general consensus among the UCF is that the man is mentally defective, possibly clinically insane.

As for the other guy, Luis Sancho, it doesn't take much of a look at all at his website to know where his sanity stands. If he was worldbuilding for some kind of cyberpunk story with sentient AIs in an alternate universe, that would be a great site, but, uhhh. I think that's all anyone really needs to say about that.

Meanwhile, has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet? Click here to check on the status of that.

Update: courtesy of Nathan, there's also this bit of excellently useful data:
song chart memes

One final note. Comments on this post will be heavily moderated because I don't want the arguments to wander over here, too. This article is meant to clarify things, not make everything all muddy. John is the official host of this particular circus, if you want to say something significantly in disagreement, do it over there. I will update this as things continue to progress at Refugees.


vince said...

I think that's an excellent summary of Wagner's credentials and their validity.

Nathan said...

The second graph on this page is also a useful resource:


Janiece Murphy said...

A nice summary. Thanks, MWT.

brenda013 said...

But MWT... if you debunk poor old Wagner by challenging his "credentials," think of all the other "credentialed scientists" out there who will crash and burn. Our world might come to a stop, and then, when I activate your link to the current status of our world, what will I get....? :-(

Random Michelle K said...

One comment. You might want "Walter Wagner" to point to John's debunking.

Just sayin'.

onscrn said...

This becomes one of the good summaries on the US suit filers. I hadn't realized that Wagner's law degree was suspect as well.

There is or was also a European court case filed by an eccentric chaos theorist and futurist named Otto Rössler, who also has no relevant credentials. For some background on this strange fellow I can recommend my blog post Large Hadron Collider: What's the Risk?.

MWT said...

Nathan: it's slipped to fourth one down now. But I'll stick the relevant one in the main post so you don't look too non sequiturish. ;)

Brenda: you'll get your money back. :D [check the page source for details.]

Michelle: the link on his name at the top is the only place I actually point to his site. I think that's fair. The links on "lengthy foray into researching his credentials" point to each of John's posts thus far (and I'll add the jtankers takedown as soon as he posts that).

onscrn: Thanks for the link. That's a good post you got there. Keep fighting the good fight to decrazy the Internet. :)

Random Michelle K said...

Well yes, but if you want to game google and have it point to John's site, you have to change the link for his name. :)

Random Michelle K said...

Also, I have multiple links to his site. It's just linked to terms like no credentials, idiotic motions, and wasting taxpayer money.

MWT said...

Ah. Thanks for the thought, but I think I'll stick with not gaming Google. ;)

Jim Wright said...

Excellent summary, MWT.

My post is up on Stonekettle Station, with links to you and John and Janiece.

kimby said...

As I have mentioned in the other place, I am enjoying reading all of the ongoings at John's site. I cannot add anything intelligent to the arguments, other than personal observation..which I think has already been pointed out by other UCFer's. I do think that you did an excellent job in summarizing the lengthy arguments going on over there.

Besides, I am not really here..I am studying really hard for these damn midterms...yes, that is my story and i am sticking to it.

Jeri said...

MWT - I absolutely *love* the graphic. Nice addition to the discussion.

MWT said...

Minor correction: since Wagner's website is now defunct, I've changed the pointer on his name at the top. It's now going to my other post, a timeline of his life.