The Dysology Hypothesis

Letting scholars get away with publishing fallacies and myths signals to others the existence of topics where guardians of good scholarship might be less capable than elsewhere. Such dysology then serves as an allurement to poor scholars to disseminate existing myths and fallacies and to create and publish their own in these topic areas, which leads to a downward spiral of diminishing veracity on particular topics.

Friday, 28 December 2012

On Supermyths and the braced myth subtype

Supermyths, of which braced myths are a sub-type - are ironic unintended, or else a deliberate and disingenuous, consequences of fallacy dissemination. Supermyths have very specific components:

1. The creation of a fallacy, myth or error by an orthodox expert.
2. Being used by another expert who in turn promotes it as being ‘true, and whilst still thinking that it is true either promotes it as a good example of the need to be healthily skeptical of bad scholarship, or else: 
3. compounds the myth by using it as a premise upon which to build one or more supporting myths.

Braced myths are supermyths that have been pointedly deployed by orthodox scholars in order to bust another specific myth or fallacy. The braced myth hypothesis is that using one myth as a specific mythbusting device in this way braces the supermyth to make it further entrenched and therefore more difficult to prevent it being credulously disseminated as veracious knowledge.

A pre-supermyth - bracedmyth in the making: The 164ft Zombie Rat Myth
Latest supermyth: The Semmelweis Myth 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Latest Supermyth News.

Is this how they are created? British civil servant creates another arithmetical zombie fallacy  This time we have zombie rats as necessary nonsense to make the bad science calculation all about it Here . Is this a pre-supermyth?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

RbutR: Ahh but Ahh

Rebutter is what we should all be using. It's excellent. Here comes the future of verity online. Ahh, but ahh, does it? Click this link to my other blog to learn more about quite possibly the best way to refute any article or website online with a reference to veracious knowledge.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

What is a Supermyth?

What do we know about the impact of modern myths on society by way of their misinforming and therefore misdirecting central and local policy making, professional practice, teaching, learning and the media?

The above question is of core importance in a topical area that is likely to grow in popularity, not least because international recognition of the importance of veracity in a wide variety of areas is reflected in a growth industry of recent publications that both inform and reflect the increasing number of experts and the international growth of interest groups promoting anti-quackery and skeptical inquiry in the natural and social sciences.

What is a supermyth?

The modern myth is defined simply as a widely believed falsehood, which sets it apart from the older notion of myths as stories that are understood at some level to represent deep and enduring truths about social, spiritual or other psychological conditions of mankind. I hypothesize that the supermyth is a most powerfully influential sub-type of the modern notion of myth.

Created by Experts, Spread by Skeptics, Destroyed by Evidence

The starting point of a supermyth is when an orthodox expert in its subject area publishes a statement of purported fact that is based upon an error in reasoning (fallacy) or else upon a factual error. That published claim then takes on a life of its own as it is credulously reinforced as veracious by numerous orthodox respected sceptics who each cite it unquestioningly in their own scholarly publications, in news paper articles, on television and websites.

According to my thesis, what sets my idea of supermyths apart from other fallacies and myths serves as a unique and timely warning for those promoting the virtues of skeptical inquiry, because the great irony is that, unlike ordinary myths, what I have named supermyths are created by respected orthodox scholars and then credulously disseminated by other experts distinctively in the spirit of promoting skeptical enquiry.

In the case of enduring and pervasive supermyths, experts rely upon an original myth as a premise upon which to build others.

As if the existence of supermyths is not enough to be sceptically concerned about, I have refined the concept further by way of the identification of what I call braced myths. Braced myths are supermyths that have been reinforced by other scholars in that they have not just been disseminated by but also been utilised by credulous experts who have erroneously deployed them as ‘argument winners’ to bust other myths. By using a myth to bust a myth, I argue, these experts have braced the supermyth by dint of such powerful association with expert myth busting verity. Put simply, a braced myth is influential counterknowledge (misinformation packaged to look like fact) that is created by an expert authority and then believed by credulous yet highly influential skeptics, who not only fail to adequately check its accuracy by way of primary data sources and/or fail also to question the rationality of its premises. They then promote it as veracious ‘knowledge’ and, with unintended irony, ignorantly deploy it as an intellectual myth busting weapon targeted at specific knowledge claims made by others.
The Spinach Myth is not only the first supermyth discovered it is also the first braced myth. This widely believed myth goes as follows: A published 19th century decimal point error in the iron levels of spinach led bio-chemists to reprint the error without checking the iron levels of spinach for themselves leading to generations of children being forced to eat unpalatable spinach, above other tastier leafy vegetables, for no good reason and this ten-fold error is the reason that Popeye ate spinach for strength.

The Spinach Myth was finally busted after I was kindly assisted by clues provided by a friendly US skeptic who emailed me after reading my initial publication of a primary research paper that first bust the Popeye part of the myth. Further research led me to discover that it was firstcreated by Professor Arnold Bender (an orthodox nutrition expert) at his inaugural lecture at Queen Elizabeth College, London in 1972 and then spread  by many other respected academics, who, believing it to be true but not checking the facts, used it unwittingly in what ironically turns out to be a number of deeply embarrassing, hypocritical and self-defeating exhortations of the general need to be healthily skeptical by always checking the primary sources of claims made by others.The myth was then braced when a number of other credulous 'skeptics' portrayed it as an exemplar of veracious knowledge to criticize various specific research findings.

I have written several articles on the Spinach Myth: the first one as a primary research paper on the importance of adequate citation and the second, which completely busted the myth here on the Best Thinking site.

Other Supermyths

The second braced myth that I have discovered is the only other known example of the braced myth sub-type identified to date. I named the Zombie Cop Myth, and this one is a widely believed myth about beat policing. You can read about it here on the best thinking site.

Unlike the Spinach Myth, which is solely based upon an error of fact, the Zombie Cop Myth is based upon a combination of unrealistic assumptions about the nature of foot patrol beat policing that informed an exercise in arithmetic ‘on the back of an envelope’ - to demonstrate the lack of efficiency of beat policing - and an error of fact concerning the widely held belief that the origin of the findings of such lack of efficiency lay in an empirical study of real police officers on the beat. My jointly authored paper on this myth explains in detail the origin of the myth, where and how often it has been perpetuated, how it has been used, and most curiously how it has begun to mutate.

The third supermyth that I have identified is the myth that the widely accepted Routine Activities Theory and Situational Crime Prevention Theory notion of opportunity can be a cause of crime. Myth busting Crime Opportunity theory with logic reveals precisely how the widely accepted criminological notion of crime opportunity is based upon a simple error of reasoning. In a number of papers on the subject I have discussed the harmful implications for society of basing such theories upon irrational premises, or within irrational frameworks for theory building. I would recommend my paper Opportunity Does Not Make the Thief as a useful place to begin reading abut the Crime Opportunity Myth.


Here on Best Thinking, I have revealed several cases, which I have so far discovered, where highly respected experts - whose work is in turn supported by respected scholars in the same field - all failed to check the evidence and have been found to have accidentally created what appear to be influential supermyths. More research is required to seek likely causes and to understand the nature, known progress and impact of such myths.

It is my hypothesis that supermyths are particularly deeply socially and academically embedded and harder therefore to limit than other modern myths. Furthermore, supermyths remind all who promote themselves as experts in their field to pay more attention to fact checking primary sources, providing adequate citation to statements of fact and to consider more thoroughly the premises upon which accepted theories and approaches are built.

I began this brief article with a question and so it seems fitting to end it with another. The particularly telling question I would like to ask here is designed in part to serve as an embedded warning of the dangers of failing to check primary sources and of taking for granted the premises of theories. It is this: Might braced myths, such as the Spinach Myth and the Zombie Cop Myth, rank among the most exquisitely ironic discoveries of the unintended consequences of mankind’s purposive action?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Cambridge University Study Also Busts the Crime Opportunity Braced Myth

A new book released by Oxford University Press - Breaking Rules: The Social and Situational Dynamics of Young People's Urban Crime   , by Per-Olof H. Wikström, Dietrich Oberwittler, Kyle Treiber, and Beth Hardie - reports on the findings of a study that followed the lives of 700 English teenagers for five years.
The study, which is hailed as providing findings that will be of major importance for crime reduction policy and policing, reveals that a mere 4 percent of teenagers were responsible for half of all youth crime in the cohort group studied.
Head of the study, Cambridge Professor Per-Olof Wikstrom, is quoted in today’s Independent on Sunday newspaper    (p.6):
“The idea that opportunity makes the thief – that young people will inevitably commit crime in certain environments runs counter to our findings.”
Here, then, is important and solid empirical evidence that supports the theoretical arguments - published as a peer-to-peer article on the excellent Best Thinking website in “Opportunity Does Not Make the Thief. In that article I present a logical case for why Crime Opportunity Theory is irrational and so cannot be a cause of crime. Moreover, I produced an earlier and identical argument, to that made by the authors of the Cambridge 700 Study, that current USA and UK policing practice and crime reduction policy, based on Crime Opportunity Theory, results in ineffective crime reduction methods.
While Crime Opportunity Theorists are notorious for paying scant regard to dis-confirming evidence, hopefully, police and policy makers will now begin take notice.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Even Higher Superstition than Postmodernist Claptrap

Natural scientists Paul Gross and Norman Levitt (1994) are authors of a biting critique of the claptrap that many postmodernist social scientists have published on science. Yet, like so many writers on the so called academic Right they have paid scant regard to the claptrap published from those claiming to be among their own ranks. Here I refer to the self-proclaimed crime scientists, who claim to be natural scientists, and yet seem to understand nothing of the lessons that science teaches of:
      1. The need to seek disconfirming evidence for your own hypothesis,
      2. the meaning of causality,
      3. the need to keep scientific explanations separate from the data you are seeking to explain and
      4. the need for explanations that are both refutable and difficult to vary. 
Crime Science, Crime Opportunity Theory, Routine Activity Theory (RAT) and Situational Crime Prevention (SCP) each breach the 4 points above because all of them are founded upon the RAT ‘Crime Opportunity’ (ratortunity) premise that the three essential components of a successful crime in commission (which can only be known to exist after the crime has been successfully completed (Sutton 2012) combine to create an essential causal opportunity for the commission of any crime.

For those unfamiliar with Crime Opportunity Theory (ratortunity): the three components of a so called crime opportunity are: (a) a capable offender in the presence of (b) a suitable target and (c) an incapable/absent guardian, which are said to jointly comprise the most important cause of crime. The logic of such a claim that these three elements represent an ‘opportunity’ can only rest on the irrational premise that every successfully completed crime and every failed attempt somehow caused itself to happen (see Sutton 2012    for an exhaustive explanation of the complete irrationality of this claim).
As a useful critical exercise let us consider a powerful and valid criticism of postmodernist criticism of science from Gross and Levitt (1994: p.104) - with the word postmodernism adjoined by [ratortunity]. Readers familiar with the prolific work of the ratortunists and ratortunity's significant, yet weird, impact upon credulously supportive and unquestioning academic publications, policing and policymaking may find this exercise particularly intriguing:
‘…such solecisms as we find in these writings are confidently put forth as scholarly discoveries, with every assurance that something profound is being uttered, one must wonder about the system – and the ideology – that nurtures and rewards them. Whence we must ask, does such grossly misplaced intellectual self-confidence come? The smug hermetic, self referential atmosphere of politicized academic postmodernism [and ratortunity] obviously has a great deal to do with it. In this milieu, there is not much thought given to simple scientific accuracy. The caution and scrupulousness that working scientists are conditioned to expect are swept aside, because in the final analysis, postmodernism [and ratortunity] is in great measure prophetic and hortatory, rather than analytic; it announces and cheers on a sweeping “paradigm shift” within our civilization, a change that is supposed to liberate us all.’
Readers may wish to draw their own conclusions. Those who are credulously teaching ratortunity principles to students, publishing them in student text books and the wider peer reviewed academic press, government policymakers and police services might wish to question the implications of what they are doing for both knowledge progression and the moral obligation to at least seek to spend scarce public resources on crime reduction measures that are most likely to be most effective at reducing crime rather than nurturing and rewarding pseudoscientific claptrap and those who propagate it.
Gross, P.R. and Levitt, N (1994) Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science. The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore.
Sutton, M (2012) On Opportunity and Crime.   

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Ratortunity Myth: Criminology 101

Introduction to causality and explanations for crime: for Crime Opportunity Theory, Routine Activities Theory and Situational Crime Prevention

The Crime Opportunity Theory (Routine Activities Theory, Situational Crime Prevention and Crime Science) notion of opportunity (ratortunity) as a cause of crime is 100 per cent wrong because, unlike ratortunity, good scientific explanations of the physical world are (1) easy to refute (2) difficult to vary. And (3) the ratortunity explanation for crime is a mere truism. I have demonstrated point (3) in my peer-to-peer paper Opportunity Does Not Make the Thief

Crime Scientists, having abandoned social science and criminology, claim now to be natural scientists. I think, therefore, they should perhaps take a look at what scientific reasoning actually is. Oxford scientist and expert in quantum computing, David Deutsch, has recorded a superb video lecture where he explains that easy to vary and impossible to refute thinking such as ratortunity is no better than saying about crime "a wizard did it" because it does not tell us how crime happens with a theory that is either true or false. Ratorunity, therefore, is a hopeless post-hoc explanation that tells us nothing more than that crimes happen because they can    and the classic RAT crime triangle, which is a description of the essential elements of a successful crime in commission, amounts to a useless causal explanation that every crime caused itself to happen. Crime opportunity theory (ratortunity), which underpins Crime Science, is not about opportunity, it is not a theory, it cannot rationally be a cause of anything - never mind a cause of crime - and it certainly is not scientific.
Combined with Karl Popper's definition of pseudoscience as being something underpinned by theories and hypotheses that are irrefutable, Deutsch's own unique reasoning about good explanations being those that are difficult to vary allows us to demonstrate quite clearly that ratortunity (Crime Opportunity Theory) most certainly cannot be a cause of crime. Because the only way that ratortunity could be refuted for crimes in everyday life    is if guardians could be both present and capable of preventing crimes that, somehow, happened anyway.
Criminology students, criminal justice students, crime science students, policy makers   and police officers - this video is essential viewing for you, your professors, and those pseudoscientists that you are paying to play around with inefficient rule-of-thumb crime reduction and policing models    based upon demonstrably irrational premises.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Is the Home Office Facilitating a Myth about fear of Crime?

Counter-intuitively, it is not a myth that earwigs enter human ears   , or that ants may get into your pants   , but it is very unlikely to happen to you inside your home or while walking about outside. Hence, we tend to say that the risk of either of these events happening to anyone is extremely low. If however you were to fall asleep in a flower bed of dahlias or beside a nest of ants then the risks of personal earwig or ant infestation would be significantly increased. And so it is with crime. The chances of being robbed, burgled or murdered may be relatively low – across the board - at a national level. But the risks faced by individuals living or working in high crime areas will be significantly higher.

For those living in high crime areas, the orthodox view that fear of crime is greater than the reality of crime    could well turn out to be another super myth that affects thinking and diverts attention away from tackling real problems and from identifying effective crime reduction and policing practice. Muddled academic and official thinking can occur in this area because at a national level, at least in the industrialized western world, the overall level of fear of crime, or incidences of specific anxiety of crime is greater than the actual risk. That said, people living in particularly notorious high crime areas may have an overall level of anxiety    or individual incidences of fear of crime that are more commensurate with their actual risk    of being victimised.

The problem is that the British Crime Survey (BCS) does not sample real high crime areas – it takes a proxy sample instead, which in reality involves analysts of the data creating a high crime area sub-sample of respondents according to the housing architectural type they live in. In doing this the BCS high crime sample is created on the basis of two assumptions: (1) that certain housing architectural types are public sector built and (2) when combined with other variables such as low household income and unemployment they are in high crime areas. In fact, they may be neither. By determining what are and are not high crime areas in this way, the BCS proxy sampling most probably waters down its sample of respondents in real high crime areas with a sample of respondents from low or medium crime areas.

In order to seek to know whether those living in real – geographically defined – high crime areas fear crime more than those in lower crime areas the Home office should conduct a regular booster sample of respondents living in real high crime neighbourhoods. Until this is done, policy making    and policing that is based on the belief that fear of crime is greater than the reality of crime    is likely to lead to practice based on dubious information.    The need for a booster sample of notorious high crime neighbourhoods is something that I and my colleague Machi Tseloni call for in our recently published paper:

Sutton, M. and Tseloni, A. (2011). Area Crime and Fear of Crime Levels: Has analysis of the British Crime Survey diluted crime concentration and homogenised risk?' Criminology [εγκληματολογία ](Special Issue): Fear of Crime: A Comparative Approach in the European Context. pp. 32-39. In. C. Zarafonitou. (Guest Editor) October 2011 Athens: Law Library.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Improper Criticism?

Many a true word said in this send-up of Crime Opportunity Theory on the Crime Science Blog

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Crime Can Be Lethal: Ratortunity is not only wrong it is likely to be very harmful

There is a very useful debate among police, professors and students regarding my argument that ratortunity (the Routine Activities Theory) notion based upon the RAT crime triangle is a harmful  criminology and crime science myth because it cannot possibly be a cause of crime and is diverting our endeavors away from understanding crime causality in favour of over complicating truisms in order to dress them up as causal explanations. 

If you are not already a member of Linked[in] you will need to sign up to see it. The debate is among those in the American Society of Criminology group in Linked[in]. If you are a member and signed in to Linked[in] then the link to the debate is here.  Better still you can join the Dysology conference group and join or start your own discussion.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Vitamin C and Iron Myth: Death by Quackery?

Research across the board shows that the evidence is at best inconclusive regarding whether or not vitamin C can help us to better absorb iron from non heme iron sources such as spinach and other plants (see Sutton 2011).

Official advice that vitamin C is known to enhance the iron absorption from plant and other non heme sources is wrong. This advice is wrong because the overall evidence, from the results of many properly conducted trials is that we have a mixed bag of disconfirming and confirming research findings. In sum, the current evidence of the iron absorbing benefits of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in our diet is at best inconclusive.

Unfortunately, the websites promoting vitamin c in this way ignore all the disconfirming evidence.

In light of the facts revealed in a paper published by Best Thinking (Sutton 2011), I am grateful to the USDA for deleting their misleading spreadsheet from the Internet, which claimed that drinking Florida grapefruit juice would help humans to absorb two to four times as much iron from spinach as would otherwise be possible.

Unfortunately the US Government Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) continues to claim that vitamin C will increase the iron absorption form non heme iron sources, such as spinach, as (ironically) does the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and prevention: Unsurprisingly Wikipedia makes the same erroneous claims.

Many other websites - including one run by MIT ( ) also continue to boldly claim that vitamin C helps with iron absorption.

Since low iron levels - linked to poor diet - kill people in large numbers (see ) there should be more care taken to get the facts right.

Here are just few of the very many web sites that still promote the fallacy (or at least to promote vitamin C in this role when the evidence is inconclusive) some are giving advice on cancer - other are for children's diets.. Just Google ‘iron vitamin c’ and the list seems endless:

If poor nutrition directly kills, and in other cases takes years from life spans, it seems reasonable to speculate that erroneous nutrition advice, if relied upon, might do likewise.

We can only hope that not a single one of the tens of millions of lost years of life globally - and the many hundreds sometimes thousands of deaths that happen as a direct result of iron deficiency each year in the USA - are due to that earlier bad science promoted by the USDA. And we can only hope that the hundreds of thousands of deaths occurring each year on Earth (Stoltzfus 2003) from iron deficiency are not due to current US Government and private sector bad science promotion of vitamin C as a miracle way for humans to better absorb iron non heme iron sources, such as spinach. Because,surely, that should be 'criminal' quackery.


Stoltzfus RJ . (2003) Iron deficiency: global prevalence and consequences. Food Nutr Bull. 2003 Dec;24(4 Suppl):S99-103

Sutton, M. (2011) SPIN@GE USA Beware of the Bull: The United States Department of Agriculture is Spreading Bull about Spinach, Iron and Vitamin C on the Internet:

Monday, 27 February 2012

Crime as opportunity theory is wrong

How can something that has not yet happened make you do it?

Obviously it cannot. And yet the Routine Activities Theory (RAT) notion of Crime as Opportunity as a cause of crime would have you believe it can.

Read how this pathological myth was busted on the Dysology website

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Psychic Powers

Do we really all have psychic powers? If so then how come I never knew? And how come no one has won the Randi Prize?

In September 2011 The Dysology Challenge was first laid down on to two professors of physics. The prize offer and conditions were and remain as follows:

The Dysology Challenge – For Cold Fusion Energy

“If cold fusion produces commercially viable free energy in 2 years time you win and get to present me (Mike Sutton) with a prize for Dysology (bad scholarship) that I'll fund at a cost of £1000 in the form of a bronze trophy depicting the theme of veracity versus claptrap – with my name engraved on it.

And if that happens I will thank you in public for proving me wrong.

If it does not produce such energy then I get to present you with the same trophy that I paid for. In this event you fail, but you still get to keep the prize even though it happens that you are wrong. Only now it is your name that will be engraved on it .”

On September 15th 2011 the Nobel Laureate and Cambridge professor of physics Brian D. Josephson refused to put his reputation where his brain is by boldly declining to accept the Dysology Challenge regarding our difference of opinion regarding whether or not George Washington University Professor Simon Berkovich was right regarding his belief in mysterious free energy existing in the universe. Birkovich, similarly failed to take up the Dysology Challenge. (click here to read the comments section on this article to see how the challenge was made, refused by Josephson and weirdly ignored by Berkovich).

Today I am extending the Dysology Prize to include proof of genuine psychic powers existing beyond coincidence, fraud, methodological bias, or measurement error.

I am in good company. Because the Dysology Prize will be added to the current total of one million three hundred and 64 thousand pounds ($2,105,000 US) offered by a total of nine organisations and individuals, including the massive $1m Randi Prize for anyone who can prove that psychic powers exist. Despite being on offer for many years, and despite the extreme simplicity and fairness of the conditions required, no one has ever succeeded in winning any of these prizes.

Today (8th Jan. 2012) I hereby challenge University of Cambridge scientist Dr Rupert Sheldrake to accept the Dysology challenge for psychic powers. I argue that there is no veracious scientific evidence that proves humans have psychic powers. I publicly challenge Dr Rupert Sheldrake here on the Best Thinking website:

The Dysology Challenge – For Proof of Psychic Powers

I hereby challenge University of Cambridge scientist Dr Rupert Sheldrake to accept the Dysology challenge for psychic powers:

“If you can demonstrate in controlled conditions of the kind laid down by the James Randi Prize and can win the Randi Prize by proving that psychic powers exist then you get to present me (Mike Sutton) with the Veracity versus Claptrap trophy prize for Dysology (with my name engraved on it for bad scholarship) that I'll commission at a personal cost of over £1000. If the outcome is not obvious the British Royal Society will be invited to determine the winner.

And if you win then I will thank you in public for proving me wrong.

If, on the other hand, you fail, then I get to present you with the same prize that I paid for. Only you also get to keep the prize – with your name engraved on it - for your bad scholarship.”

I am prompted to publically challenge Dr Sheldrake following his article in the Daily Mail today (Sheldrake 2012) in which he claims that we all have psychic powers.

I strongly suspect that Dr Sheldrake wrote the article in order to sell his latest book: The Science of Delusion - which is released this week. If he is right then he will win the Dysology Challenge and there is no reason why he should not win a further whopping great pay out of £1,364,000 to add to whatever he makes flogging his book.

If Dr Sheldrake fails to apply for the Randi Prize, and all the other significant cash prizes and accept the Dysology Challenge then we must draw our own rational conclusions about his audacious claims. If he is right then surely winning the Randi prize would sell far more copies of his book than his article in the Daily Mail.

Finally, what kind of newspaper editor or journalist worth his or her salt would not ask Sheldrake why he has not applied for the Randi Prize?

Dr Mike Sutton (

page 1

page 2


Sheldrake, R. (2012) Why we ALL have psychic powers. Daily Mail. pp.56-57. Jan 7th.

Note on Sheldrake

According to his page on Wikipedia today: “In September 2005 until 2010, Sheldrake received the Perrott-Warrick Scholarship for psychical research and parapsychology, which is administered by TrinityCollege, Cambridge.Sheldrake then took his current position as Academic Director for the Learning and Thinking Program at The Graduate Institute in Bethany, Connecticut.”