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20210328 – America’s Revolutionary Mind


The main idea of this book is that American revolution first and foremost occurred in minds of people and in order to understand it one had to look at what was on their mind at the time. So, author reviews key ideas that occupied American minds as consequence of Enlightenment: Laws of Nature, Self-Evident Truths, Equality, Rights for Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, and finally the Consent of Governed. Despite all these ideas being very familiar to everybody, their real meaning is often poorly understood. Consequently, author believes that it is necessary to clarify these ideas so they would become accessible to contemporary American Mind.


Here author clarify the purpose of writing this book and author’s characterization of its nature:” This book, however, is not simply a work of political theory or an old-fashioned intellectual history of the Revolution. It also attempts to reconcile theory and practice by examining how and why American revolutionaries guided their actions via moral principles. It is therefore concerned with motives as the mediating force between ideas and actions.”

Chapter 1 The Enlightenment and the Declaration of Independence.
In this chapter author discusses direct connection of American revolution to the Age of Enlightenment and to this end he refers to the letter in which:” Thomas Jefferson identified the “three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception” as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. These three intellectual giants were, in Jefferson’s mind, the embodiment of the Enlightenment. Bacon was best known for his Novum Organum (1620), Newton for his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), and Locke for two philosophic treatises, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) and the Second Treatise of Government (1689). Jefferson credited this philosophic holy trinity with “having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.””. Author then refer to other founding fathers who provided similar evaluation: John Adams and James Wilson. Author discusses key philosophical points of Enlightenment:

  • Metaphysics: Nature
  • Epistemology: Reason
  • Ethics: Rights

 Author then discusses works of Locke in relation to three questions:

QUESTION ONE: How is certain and absolute moral knowledge capable of discovery and demonstration?

QUESTION TWO: What are the moral laws and rights of nature?

QUESTION THREE: What are the rewards and punishments associated with the moral laws of nature? At the end of chapter author discusses impact of Locke on the American Mind.

Chapter 2 Declaring the Laws of Nature
Author begins this chapter with reference to initial part of the Declaration of Independence:

Then he proceeds discussing how the Declaration supported accusation of King George III in despotism by reviewing British actions either by Parliament or by King. After analyzing presentation of reasons for separation, author moves to discussion of Nature and Nature laws, presenting at the statement published at the time under pseudonym Benevolus:

Chapter 3 Self-Evident Truths
Here author presents what was considered self-evident truth at the time of American Revolution:

He then discusses the meaning of Self-evident as defined by Locke:” self-evident truth as a proposition whose subject and predicate necessarily relate to one another without contradiction”. Author also discusses meaning of truth, notion of self-evidence in America, and how it all was integrated into Declaration of Independence.  

Chapter 4 Equality
In this chapter author takes on another issue that for some reason confuses people – Equality. He discusses development of this idea in Locke’s work as theoretical point, but also as practical issue during Imperial crisis. Far from being some naïve and unrealistic, this idea had very real meaning and to support this author provides comparison table:

Chapter 5 Equality and Slavery

This chapter seems to be designed to respond to contemporary sensitivities. Author quite convincingly demonstrates that slavery was just usual and really unexceptional institution all over the world and if there was something about it special in America, it was detesting of this institution by founding fathers, including those who were slaveowners. In order to support this approach author looks in details at “the views of five American revolutionaries—James Otis, Benjamin Rush, Richard Wells, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson—on the question of slavery, which offer a representative range of American opinions.”  Author also goes beyond period of foundation to demonstrate that, even if it was delayed by nearly a century, it was ideas of American mind that put end to this institution.

Chapter 6 The Nature of Rights
Here author explores how Americans understood nature and source of rights. He looks at both the theory and practice from development of Natural rights idea during enlightenment to specific American understanding of these rights in pre-revolutionary period that turned out to be incompatible with staying under British rule. The difference was that Americans believed in rights being law of Nature to be discovered, pretty much as laws of Physics, while British approach was that rights are granted by King and/or parliament.  Author even provides excerpt from George Washington’s letter to the States to demonstrate this approach:

Chapter 7 Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Here author elaborates what specific rights Americans at the time believed are discovered as the laws of Nature: The Rights to Life, Liberty, Property, and Pursuit of Happiness. Author notes that notion of “Property” had quite expansive character and refers to Madison’s essay to demonstrate this:

Similarly to Property the notion of “Pursuit of Happiness” was rather complex as Locke put it:

Chapter 8 The Consent of the Governed
As a lot of other things in American Mind of revolutionary generation it comes from Locke. Author discusses theoretical approach as derived from idea of natural rights only in this case some powers transferred to the government. These are:

Author then discusses actual application of these theory to American situation at the time of crisis. Basically it comes down to refusal of colonials to cede power to  Parliament, which they did not consider ligitimate body for this power. It is interesting that it was not just the question of representation as part of British polity, which could be easily resolved by adding representatives from colonies to parliament but rather recognition of separate character and interests of colonies. Author also reviews literature – most important being “Common Sense” that was dfferent by declaring that government of colonies should not be derived from mother country, but rather created from the state of nature because colonials actually lived frontier lives in this state.

Chapter 9 Consent and the Just Powers of Government
In this chapter author continues discussion about state of nature and consent as applied to American colonies. He concludes the chapter this way: ” The framers of the United States Constitution created a government that limited, separated, and divided power. American constitutional republicanism meant limited government, which resulted in the creation of social and economic spheres of activity where individuals and their voluntary associations would be left free to think, act, produce, and trade. America’s revolutionary statesmen were, in other words, proponents of a free society.

Chapter 10 Revolution
After deciding that remote British power does not have consent of Americans and even does not qualified to obtain such consent, American Mind had to come with practical “to do” recommendation and it was revolution with objective to achieve independence by all means necessary. It is interesting that revolution was framed as defensive action directed to protect existing freedoms, rather than overthrow existing government to establish new freedoms. Author specifically discusses position of Thomas Paine, who rejected any possibility of compromise, as the closest to representing conditions of American Mind at the moment.

Chapter 11 Rebels with a Cause
In this last chapter author discusses necessity of Declaration of Independence as product of condition of American Mind, rather as consequence of some external forces such as British tyranny. Author reviews actual action of Parliament such as Stamp Act and concludes that there were no real oppression and economic impact of taxes would be negligible. The conflict was more philosophical and was caused by: “as Adams noted, a “radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people.” It was a revolution that advanced new moral values and virtues, new manners and mores, and a new way to think about moral character and moral action.”. Founders understood dangerous character of their actions, but they refused to give up the newly acquired Lockean principals and values. Here how Adams expressed the state of their minds:

In conclusion author discusses the key elements of American Mind in theory and practice. He provides two references: one is quite from Thomas Jefferson on relationship between individual self-government and political government:

Epilogue Has America Lost Its American Mind?

Here author presents a kind of lamentation on contemporary state of American Mind, which become very different from original. He demonstrates that a great many Americans now reject ideas of Declaration of Independence and look for something different: instead of eternal truths of freedom and self-government they believe in continuing progress to higher levels of rationality, which necessarily require submission of individual’s freedom to higher level of societal “freedom”. Author traces this to influence of ideas of Hegel imported from Europe and enthusiastically embraced by Southern slaveholders as justification of slavery as organization of society in most efficient way that benefit not only slaveowner, but also a slave, who is taken care off better than slave could do it for self. After Civil war it was picked up by progressives and author provides quite revealing quote:

This attitude was taught in American colleges for more than a century, but until now had limited influence. However now it is becoming very powerful in its latest incarnation as “democratic socialism”


I found this book highly educational because it explained quite a few ideas of Declaration of Independence that seems to be absolutely ridiculous on their face, such as “All men are created equal” or “Unalienable Rights”. It seems to be obvious in XXI century that all men are different and unequal, while any idiot with knife or gun can alienate people from their life and liberty.  It is highly valuable, at least for me, to understand that representation of these words in American Minds of XVIII century was very much meaningful and was founded on very consistent set of philosophical ideas. Not that I agree with these ideas, but I highly appreciate final result, which made lives of billions of people, including mine, much better than it would be if practical implementation of these ideas in America had never happened. I think I understand author’s frustration with current situation when millions of people, especially young, reject ideas that produced such a wonderful result and run after proved con job of “democratic socialism”. However, I believe that it is temporary phenomenon and solution of this problem is not in going back to Enlightenment ideas, but rather go forward to generate new ideas that would explain both successes and failures of practical implementation of the ideas of American Revolutionary Mind. I personally think that the big part of this could come from look at real, rather than invented state of nature about which thanks to work of archeologists and anthropologists we now know a lot more than Locke could possible be capable imagining. I think that updated foundation should be build on evolutionary approach of multilevel selection, recognize role of availability of various resources to individuals and groups, and take into account increasing role of machines, computers, and soon AI in production, which will cause huge changes in working of human society. In short, when wonderful and beautiful Temple of American democracy start shaking because its old fundament start giving in, the action to be taken is not lament and dream about rejuvenating this fundament, but rather use the newest technology and substitute this of fundament with the new one made with the best materials available now, which did not exist way back. By the way it would not hurt to beautify the Temple a bit in the process, making it even more wonderful and beautiful, than ever.   

20210321 – Biology of Desire


The main idea of this book is to use author knowledge as neuroscientist and experience as recovered addict to promote non-traditional view of addiction as strong habit established via process of deep learning accelerated by overwhelming desire to escape some difficult life problem in quick and easy way. Correspondingly author suggest that the way out of addiction lay not in medication or group therapy, but rather:” addiction can only be beaten by the alignment of desire with personally derived, future-oriented goals.”


Here author presents challenge to the idea that addiction is a disease:” This book makes the case that it isn’t. Addiction results, rather, from the motivated repetition of the same thoughts and behaviors until they become habitual. Thus, addiction develops—it’s learned—but it’s learned more deeply and often more quickly than most other habits, due to a narrowing tunnel of attention and attraction.” He then describes the structure of the book as combination of scientific presentation and story of ordinary people who were addicted and then were able to overcome addition. Author also presents himself as neuroscientist, professor, and former drug addict who had experienced both addiction and recovery.  

Chapter One: Defining Addiction: A Battleground of Opinions
In this chapter author reviews history of different definitions of addiction and correspondingly different approaches. He presents 3 models of addiction: mental disease, lifestyle choice, and self-medication to fight depression and/or any other problems. He points out that that:” These three models of addiction overlap to some degree, but each has unique implications for research, funding, and care, from the level of government policy to that of treatment options for individual sufferers. To put it simply, the disease model calls for treatment at the hands of experts—generally medical experts (including psychiatrists) but also the burgeoning band of treatment personnel who report to them (at least in theory); the choice model advocates reviewing one’s beliefs and changing one’s perspective, often using standard psychotherapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing; and the self-medication model stresses the need to protect children and adolescents from extreme psychosocial pressures and to diagnose and treat underlying developmental issues that may have predisposed a person to addiction.” After that author expresses dissatisfaction with these models and intention to present more viable comprehensive model. But before this presentation he allocates some space reviewing history of disease model and debating its validity, which based on discovery of biological changes in brains of addict. Author’s main argument against this is that brain is very plastic and changes all the time as result of political attitudes, falling in and out of love and similar conditions. He concludes:” Brain disease may be a useful metaphor for how addiction seems, but it’s not a sensible explanation for how addiction works.”

Chapter Two: A Brain Designed for Addiction
Here author discusses characteristics of a brain, its plasticity, process of learning, and accommodation to reality. Author them moves to habit forming and how it linked to addiction:” The brain is certainly built to make any action, repeated enough times, into a compulsion. But the emotional heart of addiction—in a word, desire—makes compulsion inevitable, because unslaked desire is the springboard to repetition, and repetition is the key to compulsion. Like all habits, addiction quite simply grows and stabilizes, in brain tissue that is designed (by evolution) to change and stabilize. Yet addiction belongs to a subset of habits: those that are most difficult to extinguish. To understand addiction, we need to see it as the outcome of a normally functioning brain, not a diseased brain.”

Author then discusses how brain is changing under impact of multitude of different feedback loops and how addiction and other nasty things could be developed:” Bad habits self-organize like any other habits. Bad habits like addiction grow more deeply and often more quickly than other bad habits, because they result from feedback fueled by intense desire, and because they crowd out the availability or appeal of alternative pursuits. But they are still, fundamentally, habits—habits of thinking, feeling, and acting. The brain continues to shape itself with each repeat of the addictive experience, until the addictive habit converges with other habits lodged within one’s personality”.

At the end of this chapter author presents the key point of his views about negative changes in the brain related to addiction:” These changes don’t result from addictive substances. They are not caused by booze or drugs. They result from having a string of similar experiences. Nice experiences. Experiences of relief. Experiences that feel good, or at least better than the rest of your boring and depressing life. These brain changes are caused by motivated repetition—repetition of something special—and how the brain responds to it. The powerful experiences that get the ball rolling are simply events that affect us deeply. Because they are engaging. Because they mean something. As they become even more meaningful, the corresponding brain changes gather more momentum, building on themselves, digging their own ruts—rainwater in the garden.”

Chapter Three: When Craving Comes to Power: Natalie’s Story
Chapter Four: The Tunnel of Attention: Brian’s Romance with Meth
Chapter Five: Donna’s Secret Identity
Chapter Six: Johnny Needs a Drink
Chapter Seven: Nothing for Alice: The Double-Edged Sword of Self-Control
In these 5 chapter author reviews stories of people, which demonstrate variety of form of addiction and how these people were able overcome it by treating addiction more as bad psychological habit that should be grown out of, than bodily disease, that should be treated with medication or surgery.

Chapter Eight: Biology, Biography, and Addiction
In this chapter author goes into detailed reasoning on why addiction is not a disease and provides summary of this reasoning:

Here is authors conclusion:” So, what exactly is addiction? It’s a habit that grows and self-perpetuates relatively quickly, when we repeatedly pursue the same highly attractive goal. Or, in a phrase, motivated repetition that gives rise to deep learning. Addictive patterns grow more quickly and become more deeply entrenched than other, less compelling habits because of the intensity of the attraction that motivates us to repeat them, especially when they leave us gasping for more and other goals have lost their appeal. The neurobiological mechanics of this process involve multiple brain regions, interlaced to form a web that holds the addiction in place. Often, emotional turmoil during childhood or adolescence initiates the search for addictive rewards, which can provide relief and comfort for a while. But there are other points of entry too. Addiction is a house with many doors. However it is approached, and however it is eventually left, addiction is a condition of recurrent desire for a single goal that gouges deep ruts in the neural underpinnings of the self.”

Chapter Nine: Developing Beyond Addiction

The last chapter is about getting out of addiction and here is author’s reasoning:” I believe that getting past one’s addiction is a developmental process—in fact, a continuation of the developmental process that brought about the addiction in the first place. And the biology of neural change—the way brains transform themselves and the way habits form and reform—helps explain how that developmental process works. In fact, the importance of ongoing brain change becomes difficult to dispute when we link the neurobiology of addiction with the stories of those who have been there and moved on. That’s the insight that inspired the structure of this book.”

He then discusses biology of this process: neuroplasticity, experiential and neural paths to quitting, and how realign one’s desires to get out of the addiction.


The area of human life discussed in this book – addiction is completely unfamiliar to me, except that on two occasions I had alcoholics working for me. Both times they were very nice people who were competent professionals unless they get drunk and then become incompetent even to keep their bodies upright. In both cases it was tragic and sad. Both had been in treatment many times and both returned to addiction after a few months or even years of being sober. This book is interesting by moving the topic away from medical / chemical approach to fighting this condition to psychological / lifestyle adjustment method that worked for author and seems to be working for other people. It would be interesting to know if this new approach really works, but I would bet that even if it is working, the implementation would be difficult if not impossible because way too many interests and the whole industries depend on people struggling with addiction forever without winning and people who are running these industries would not give up without serious fight.  

20210314 – This View of Life


The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that Darwin’s evolutionary theory fully applies to development of society and its culture and that without evolutionary approach it would not be possibly to understand how we get to this point in human development and how to move forward. Author is also trying to explain incorrect application of evolution ideas in form of social Darwinism, explain ideas of multilevel selection theory, and provide demonstration of correct application of evolutionary ideas based on work of Elinor Ostrom.


Introduction: This View of Life
Author begins with brief note about meaning of science. He rejects often used sequence “observation -> theory –> experiment” because undirected, random observations are infinite, therefore theorizing should come first so scientist could know what to look for. After that author moves to Darwin and his theory of evolution:

Author briefly tells the story of his personal development and story of mass acceptance of evolution combined with mass lack of understanding that it applies to just about everything related to biology and products of biological objects such as culture.  He  further specifies:” It is one thing for a species to be well adapted to its environment and another for it to be adaptable to environmental change. The same goes for human cultures, and almost no existing culture is adaptable enough to keep pace with our ever-changing world. Conscious evolution requires the construction of a new system of cultural inheritance capable of operating at an unprecedented spatial and temporal scale. This will be a formidable task, but evolutionary theory does provide the tools to get the job done.”

Chapter 1: Dispelling the Myth of Social Darwinism
In this chapter author discusses ideas of social Darwinism, noting that it is pejorative term that nobody really applies to self. Moreover, people accused of Social Darwinism seldom if ever use Darwin’s theory to defend their ideas. Then author reviews stories of such people: Thomas Malthus, Herbert Spenser, Francis Galton, Thomas Huxley, Peter Kropotkin, and, obviously Darwin himself. They all discussed competition and survival, but it was from variety of ideological positions not necessarily related to evolution. Author also shows lack of any connection between Darwin’s ideas and Hitler who was philosophically adherent of Chamberlain and his racist views. Finally, author refer to American philosophy of Pragmatism, which promoters: Dewey, Holmes, Peirce, and James indeed were influenced by Darwin.  Author concludes the chapter referring to damage caused by stigmatization of evolution theory via bogeyman of “Social Darwinism”:

Chapter 2: Darwin’s Toolkit
Author starts this chapter with reference to fragility of truth as demonstrated by contemporary American politics and then moves to present 4 questions of Niko Tinbergen that author considers the most important tools for evolutionary understanding:

  • First, what is the function of a given trait (if any)? Why does it exist compared to many other traits that could exist?
  • Second, what is the history of the trait as it evolved over multiple generations?
  • Third, what is its physical mechanism? All traits, even behavioral traits, have a physical basis that must be understood in addition to their functions.
  • Fourth, how does the trait develop during the lifetime of the organism?

After that author provides some examples and discusses in detail Lenski’s experiment of parallel evolution of 12 populations E-coli over 70,000 generations, with periodically frozen samples. This experiment demonstrated conceptual ability to identify direction of development, while confirming non-deterministic mechanics of this development.

Chapter 3: Policy as a Branch of Biology
Here author defines his objective this way:” The challenge of this book is to show that policy is a branch of biology. A standard definition of policy is “a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, group, or individual.” Liberal and conservative politicians propose different policies to improve the economy. Many religions encourage the policy of “do unto others,” at least in some situations. A “tiger mom” might adopt a policy of strict discipline toward her children. To view policy as a branch of biology means that our proposed actions must be deeply informed by evolution. Around the world, we should be consulting evolutionary theory at least as much as we consult our constitutions, political ideologies, sacred texts, and personal philosophies.”

After that author compares two products of evolution with different design and similar functionality: octopus and human eyes. He specifically points out that in addition to being product of evolution, it is also product of organism’s individual development, for example nearsightedness of Jewish orthodox boys who spent 16 hours a day in school. Then author demonstrates complexity of such development and risks of interference in such development by referring to well researched example of immune systems compromised due to excessively clean environment and negative impact of educational overload on development of intellectual ability in children.

Chapter 4: The Problem of Goodness
In this chapter author discusses goodness, which often considered a problem for evolution because doing good for others often inflict costs on organism. Author demonstrates that it is not problem with evolution, but rather with poor understanding of evolution when people fail to see that selection occurs at multiple levels so a feature benefiting group over individual will be propagated, providing it leads to improvement in evolutionary fitness of individuals with this feature. Here is how author and E.O Wilson formulated this rule:

Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.

Author provides three examples:

  • selfish cancer cells kill host and stops their own propagation
  • chickens’ selection for top performance resulting in crash of group performance due to exceeding competition, while selection for average performance leads to superior performance of the group.
  • Finally applied to the humans:” We are evolution’s most recent major transition. Almost everything that sets us apart from other primate species can be explained as forms of cooperation that evolved by between-group selection, thanks largely to our ability to suppress disruptive within-group selection. In most primate societies, group members are cooperative to a degree but are also riven by within-group conflict. Even the cooperation that exists often takes the form of coalitions warring with other coalitions within the same groups. To the best of our current knowledge, our distant ancestors evolved the ability to suppress bullying and other disruptive self-serving behaviors within groups, like multicellular organisms evolved ways to suppress cancer cells, so that the primary way to survive and reproduce was through teamwork.”

Chapter 5: Evolution in Warp Drive
This chapter is about evolutions beyond genetic code. Author discusses here these examples: functioning of immune system, individual learning, and cultural development of groups.

Chapter 6: What All Groups Need
In this chapter author moves to discuss group selection: “Multilevel selection theory tells us that something similar to team-level selection took place in our species for thousands of generations, resulting in adaptations for teamwork that are baked into the genetic architecture of our minds. Absorbing this fact leads to the conclusion that small groups are a fundamental unit of human social organization. Individuals cannot be understood except in the context of small groups, and large-scale societies need to be seen as a kind of multicellular organism comprising small groups.”

It starts with Elinor Ostrom’s work on practical evolutionary solution for theoretical tragedy of commons. It includes 8 Core Design Principles (CDP):









After this author reviews some specific types of groups: Schools, Neighborhoods, Religious Groups, and Business Groups.  At the end of chapter author call for application of these principle from individual level up and provides reference to www. Prosocial.com, which provides support for such activity.

Chapter 7: From Groups to Individuals
In this chapter author’s focus is on “the concept of individuals as products of social interactions”. Author discusses here “Behavioral Ecology”, “Positive Parenting Program”, and “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)”, all of which seemingly achieve success by understanding and applying approach based on “primacy of the small group as a unit of selection in human evolution.”

Chapter 8: From Groups to Multicellular Society
Here author is scaling up this understanding from small groups to huge societies and discusses usual political dichotomy: market vs. regulation and how reconcile best of both. He also provides a couple of pictures linking well-being and political stress to inequality across countries for the world and across time for America:


I often puzzled by inability of seemingly educated and smart people to understand simple ideas and create unnecessary complexity where there is none. It is especially plentifully demonstrated in everything related to Darwin’s theory of Evolution. It is hard to find anything as clear, easily demonstratable, and comparable with common sense as Evolution, maybe with exception of Euclid’s geometry. For example, why one needs such complex explanations for altruism between humans and other animals as kin selection or reciprocity, when full account for what helps and what hinders to survival would demonstrate that helping others is good for survival as long as the cost is low, even if one has no idea whether the favor will be returned in the future or not or is it provided to kin or not.

Such full account would demonstrate cost and individual’s perception of group interest dependency of altruism, as in case of German citizen helping old Jewish lady to cross street in 1920 with:

“cost/benefit balance = feeling good about self for being strong representative of superior humanitarian culture – extra 30 seconds spent on intersection”

versus the same German citizen in 1935 kicking old Jewish lady on the same crossing with:

“cost/benefit balance = feeling good about self for being strong representative of superior race – extra 30 seconds spent on intersection.”

In both cases this 30 seconds could be saved and directed to something beneficial for individual but were spent to support the group of German nation by demonstrating one’s belonging to the group and promoting its values. Whether the group defined as German people of superior humanitarian culture or German people of superior race is pretty much irrelevant. In both cases it is demonstration of individual expense in perceived interest of the group, driven by internal motivation.

There are infinite numbers of such examples, but they all come down to two factors: how individuals define hierarchy of groups they belong to and what are values of these groups. Therefore, the tragedy of commons in its classical theoretical representation: common pasture overgrazed because everybody maximizes own returns even if result is destroyed pasture, could occur only if some individuals perceive themselves as superior to others, which is evolutionary would be very detrimental if one does not really have demonstratable superior power. Since in real live it is seldom happening that somebody in community has such power, the accommodation between members of community about rules of use of common resource will always occur and CDPs will be operational. In short, in my opinion, multilevel selection is one and only proper understanding of Darwin’s Evolution, but one should always remember that it is not just two levels – individual and group, but rather multiple levels with various hierarchies of groups in minds of different people, which are changing all the time, creating super complex and fluid environment when actions of individuals coordinated or counteracted in unpredictable ways.

20210307 – Fraud in the Lab


The main idea of this book is to demonstrate how fraudulent or at least misleading information about scientific research produced and distributed throughout scientific community, which has become big business fed by huge amounts of mainly government money. The science now is very prestigious and profitable area of activities that provides huge benefits both material and in form of place in pecking order of society, therefore there are of individuals who want to obtain these benefits by all means necessary.


1: Big Fraud, Little Lies
Author starts with reference to persistence of the problem going back to XIX century:” In his Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, Babbage devoted a few juicy pages to distinguishing between four categories of scientific fraud:

The First is hoaxing – reporting discovery of something that really does not exist.

The Second is forging data – reporting false information about some non-repetitive event that could not be checked.

The Third – trimming experimental data, that is slightly adjusting results by removing some of outliers to obtain more clear result.

The final Fourth category cooking data: “This is an art of various forms, the object of which is to give to ordinary observations the appearance and character of those of the highest degree of accuracy. One of its numerous processes is to make multitudes of observations, and out of these to select those only which agree, or very nearly agree. If a hundred observations are made, the cook must be very unlucky if he cannot pick out fifteen or twenty which will do for serving up.”

After providing this definition author presents some examples: Sir Cyril Burt in psychology, Mark Spector in biochemistry, John Darsee in medicine. Author then discusses definition of contemporary fraud: “In 2000 the US Office of Science and Technology Policy defined the breach of scientific integrity as the fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism of data (summed up by the acronym FFP), whether in the conception of research projects (particularly in the writing of grant proposals), their execution and publication, or the reviewing of articles by referees. The FFP definition of breaches of scientific integrity only applies to manipulations of experimental data. It does not deal with professional ethics. The second definition, which is often used in Europe, expands the scope of breaches of scientific integrity by including what international institutions such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development often qualify as “questionable research practices”: conflicts of interest, a selective and biased choice of data presented in articles, “ghost” authors added to a publication in which they did not participate, refusal to communicate raw experimental data to colleagues who request it, exploitation of technical personnel whose contributions are sometimes not recognized in publications, psychological harassment of students or subordinates, and failure to follow regulations on animal testing and clinical trials.”

Author also looks at frequency of the fraud in various scientific disciplines: from none in mathematics to explosion in biology, for which he provides a nice graph:

2. Serial Cheaters
Here author present some specific examples of individuals who do it again and again: Korean Cloner, Dutch Psychologist, American Neuroscientist, German Physician, and French Imposters. Author even presents record holders who had hundreds of articles retracted.

3. Storytelling and Beautification
In this chapter author discusses reasons for manipulations, which does not really amount to intentional fraud: strive to tell a good story, following intuition, even when it is not consistent with data, fudging experimental results to make them more attractive and convincing, and use of technology to make data more coherent than they really are.

4. Researching for Results
This is about the overvalued idea of statistically significant result. Here is author’s characterization:” The scientific community generally believes that a scientific result is significant if it can be calculated that there is less than one chance in twenty that it is due to chance, without truly questioning whether this practice is well founded. Scientists refer to this as probability value, or p value. Naturally, the threshold of p < 0.05 (one in twenty) is perfectly arbitrary. One could just as easily choose one in one hundred, or one in one thousand. Nonetheless, this is the accepted convention for a result to be considered worthy of interest. It should be noted that this practice automatically implies that at least one in twenty scientific studies is false or, at least, describes a phenomenon that may not be one.”

Here is nice demonstration of increasing manipulation of data depending on type of science from physics where manipulation is hard to social science where it is easy:

5. Corporate Cooking
This chapter is about Reproducibility crisis: “Between 75 and 90 percent of results published in the best journals in the field of biomedicine are not reproducible.”  Certainly in very complex experiments related to living matter it is nearly impossible to exactly recreate environment of experiment, but it is also more than probable that lots of time experiment built in such way as to provide justification for additional funding and publishing opportunities rather than to find out something about nature. Author, however, notes:” I only aim to underline that the researchers who went to the trouble of repeating experiments with surprising results were those in the private sector, rather than those at universities or public research institutes.”

6. Skewed Competition
In this chapter author discusses reasons for his findings in previous chapters:” the ever-more-frequent discovery of massive fraud in every discipline, the huge rise in the number of articles retracted in the field of biology (Chapters 1 and 2), statistical proof that results in experimental psychology are increasingly embellished (Chapter 4), and the worrisome fact that the vast majority of experiments published in biomedicine are impossible to reproduce (Chapter 5)”

He somewhat finds it in Multicentrism – competition for recognition and patents between scientific establishment of different countries, which had increased with Chinese entry into the field. It is also rushing to publish in order not to parish and get money, the situation that produced super productive scientists. Author provides an amazing example:” …the world record for scientific productivity is held by the late chemist Alan R. Katritzky. From 1953 to 2010, Katritzky coauthored 2,215 publications, or one every ten days of a long career that began in his native Great Britain and ended at the University of Florida.”

7. Stealing Authorship
Author includes here multiple methods such as Stealing, Outsourcing, and Mechanizing and provides overall picture:

8. The Funding Effect
This chapter is about various machination around public funding of science, which became the main source of prosperity for scientists. Author uses here two stories about funding: one about tobacco and another about GMO. In both cases science was subordinated to public relations to promote interest of powerful organizations – tobacco industry and anti GMO non-profits.

9. There Is No Profile
Here author discusses attempts to profile the cheaters, but had to agree that it is not really feasible and presents Martine Bungerer statement to this effect:

10. Toxic Literature

In this chapter author discusses impact of scientific fraud on literature, which he characterizes as waste, difficulty of separating “the Wheat from Chaff”, and, finally difficulties of forcing retraction of articles based on fraud and published in respected in scientific journals.

11. Clinical Trials
This chapter is about consequences of massive fraud in science. Author provides examples of deaths caused by false results from medical research, anti-vaccination movement and other cases.

12. The Jungle of Journal Publishing
Here author moves to discuss scientific publishing industry, predatory journals, concentration and outsourcing of publishing when publisher present itself as American, while it is Chinese operation.

13. Beyond Denial
Here author refer to the original flag raised about scientific fraud: “Nearly forty years ago, the American journalists William J. Broad and Nicholas Wade published Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science. Their book was the first to focus on scientific fraud; it remains one of the few to have done so. Looking back at it today provides an assessment of the evolution of responses to fraud in the last three decades. While fraud is no longer denied the way it was then, the scientific community is still powerless to halt its progress.”  Author discusses how much worse the problem became, but also show some signs of hope by discussing emerging grass root movement to uncover fraud in scientific community.

14. Scientific Crime
Here author move slightly beyond just covering the fraud by demonstrating how investigations are conducted and describing efforts to establish some formal ethic norms to prevent scientific fraud. The point here is that it is all too little and too late. So far, the only more or less serious consequences occur in situations when external funding is involved so criminal complain could be filed for misuse of funds.

15. Slow Science

In the final chapter author discusses potential measures to fight fraud: sharing of raw data from experimental research, publishing “negative” results, stop evaluating impact factor and bibliometrics for evaluation of research, and, finally, move away from paradigm of “publish or perish” to different paradigm:” publish less, publish better”. In short, author prefer science that is slower, but of better quality.


I do not think that problems described in great details in this book are scientific problems. They are generic problems of any bureaucracy: falsification of result by lower level bureaucrats to obtain more benefits from higher level bureaucrats. That in case of science lower level bureaucrats are “scientists” and higher-level bureaucrats are funding authorities does not change anything at all. Moreover, whatever parameters would be setup for evaluation: whether it is number of citations, positive referral by reviewer, or something completely different, the fraud is unavoidable. The only method that can help, at least partially, would be return to funding by individuals and groups based on their own funds, rather than by government. In this case there would be people really interested in research results being properly obtained and interpreted so they could get whatever they hope of obtaining from research whether it is satisfaction of curiosity or potentially profitable use. This approach would for sure remove any barriers to monitoring of research and access to data by independent reviewers.