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.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Braced Myth Theory and the Self Defeating Prophecy Paradox. Mythbusting Problematized: The Problem of Zombie Cops in Voodoo Criminology

In the past few years a growing number of popular science and other non-fiction books seek to bust myths and conspiracy theories and encourage the public to be more healthily sceptical of news reporting. An underlying aim of these books seems also to be to help provide us with the necessary insight to spot dubious claims and research their veracity for ourselves. This is to be applauded, but does this movement present us with any risks?

The Self-Defeating Prophecy

I hypothesise that the growth of the informed healthy skeptic movement increases the risk of the literature on this subject creating braced myths. And braced myths may well prove more likely to become orthodox authority, that is in turn particularly difficult to debunk, because it is more socially entrenched. Braced myths are - for want of a better word - supermyths.

This hypothesis could be described as a self-defeating prophecy, which is the opposite of Robert Merton' s self-fulfilling prophecy. Because, by warning respected healthy sceptical authorities of the dangers of being hoisted by their own petards, I might diminish the chances of my hypothesis being supported by future evidence.

An example of a braced myth in criminology, which has had a major impact on policing and related policy making, is the Zombie Cop Model

Monday, 27 September 2010

What is Counterknowledge?

The crime novelist Stev Sherez is the originator of the term counterknowledge.

The concept has been developed considerably by the sociologist and journalist Dr Damian Thompson (Thompson, 2008).

Thompson (2008: p. 16), adopting the philosophy of Sir Karl Popper, defines counterknowledge as misinformation packaged to look like fact:

"The essence of counterknowledge is that its factual claims can be shown to be wrong. I say 'shown' rather than 'proven' because, in science, observable facts do not 'prove' a theory: they render it probable to some degree.

The difference between a false and true theory is one of probability. For example, hard-line Creationists believe the world is only a few thousand years old; geologists believe it is a few billion years old. We can say with confidence that the latter theory is true because there is a mountain of evidence supporting it. We can also say, with even greater confidence, that the 'young earth' theory is false, because the evidence offered in support of it is so laughably feeble as to be non-existent. We do not need an alternative explanation to knock down a false belief; if there are no facts making a claim even slightly probable, then it is false."


Thompson, D. (2008) Counterknowledge: How we surrendered to conspiracy theories, quack medicine, bogus science and fake history. London. Atlantic Books.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Discovery of Braced Myths: The Most Disastrous Typo of all Time?

The Spinach Popeye Iron Decimal Error Story

For many years a myth has been circulating in academic text books, peer-reviewed scholarly journals, popular discourse, university lectures and on the Internet that an accidentally misplaced decimal point in 19th Century calculations of the iron content of spinach, exaggerated its iron content tenfold, which was then accepted as true and cited by a multitude of academic studies - all of which failed to check the validity of the figure. This, it is claimed, led to spinach being erroneously promoted as a good nutritional source of iron and the reason Popeye's creator, E.C. Segar, chose spinach as the source of his superhero's amazing powers. The famous Web site even has it as top of the list of the seven most disastrous typos of all time. A search on any search engine, such as Google, will reveal the extent to which this myth is believed and recycled.

In 2010 I published a primary research paper in the Internet Journal of Criminology that showed there was no published evidence to support this story and that the story appeared to be a myth. In that article I proved that Segar chose spinach for its vitamin A content (although in fact we know today that spinach contains beta carotene - which the human body converts to Vitamin A).

Since writing that primary research paper, I conducted several months of historical research on iron and nutrition - much of which involved translating old German nutrition text books and academic papers. This later research uncovered conclusive evidence for the source of the decimal point error story and how it occurred, and goes on to reveal that there most certainly was no decimal place error - but explains exactly why someone might think there was - and from whose early nutrition research the myth sprang. The detailed results of my research on this subject will be published in a book on braced myths. I am afraid that I cannot divulge more details of my findings here until they have gone into print.

In the primary research paper on the decimal error myth I traced the source of the decimal error story to Professor Terrance Hamblin. Subsequent research, sparked by clues sent to me by an extremely helpful U.S. neurologist, reveals that the original published source of this story was the famous nutritionist Arnold E. Bender. Bender first mentioned it in his inaugural lecture in 1972, and later in an article in the Spectator in 1977. My primary research paper cites many scholarly publications whose esteemed academic expert authors - writing on the very subject of the importance of healthy scepticism - unwittingly believe the spinach decimal error myth to be true and so with unintentional irony they use it as an example to support their exhortations on the need for scientists to be healthily sceptical inquirers and always check published 'facts'. Perversely, these respected sceptics failed to check the 'facts' behind the decimal error example. This makes the example self-defeating.

Professor Bender, like Professor Hamblin, is an orthodox authority on nutrition. With further irony, Bender is famously a renowned sceptic of junk science.

What is a braced myth?

A braced myth has two defining elements (1) its creation by an orthodox authority and (2) its reinforcement as "fact" by orthodox respected sceptics in scholarly publications, unwittingly using it as an example of the need to be sceptical. The original myth is thus braced by its unquestioning support from a respected sceptic. The bracing of the myth also forms a brace of myths - one myth is the original myth and the second is that the original myth is undoubtedly true and serves well as an exemplar of the need to be sceptical. For example, the spinach decimal error myth - created by Bender (an orthodox expert) - was compounded by many other respected academics who believed it to be true and so used it, unwittingly or disingenuously, and unintentionally ironically, in what turns out to be a self-defeating example of the need to be healthily sceptical of research findings.

So why do braced myths matter?

In order to determine whether the study of braced myths is something with which we should concern ourselves there are several questions that I wish to explore by way of this blog. Here are just nine of them to be getting on with:

(1) What is it about some myths that are so compellingly believable that even sceptics, writing about the need to be sceptical, unwittingly, or disingenuously, use them as self-defeating examples of the need to be sceptical?
(2) Are there any myths that have been disingenuously (as opposed to unwittingly) promoted as true by respected sceptics using them as examples of the need to be healthily sceptical?
(3) Are braced myths harmful, and if so are they more harmful than ordinary myths?
(4) Is there anything about braced myths, other than the fact they have been unwittingly or disingenuously compounded by skeptical authorities, that will help us to uncover them?
(5) What other braced myths can we identify?
(6) Will the growing myth-busting movement of healthy orthodox sceptics publishing scholarly books lead to the ironic unintended consequence whereby braced myths inevitably increase in number?
(7) Is academic pressure on academics to publish results and disseminate results and publishing industry pressure on sceptics to finish books sooner than they would wish in any way creating braced myths?
(8) Is the fact that myths and many 'debunking industry' books are published by respected publishing houses in any way to blame for the creation of myths and their being braced?
(9) What is the role of the media and popular press in creating myths and in facilitating the creation of braced myths?

Other braced myths

In my own field of expertise, which is criminology, I know of just one braced myth. The myth is that foot patrol based beat policing is proven to be ineffective at fighting crime. You can read about it in my post on the problem of zombie cops in voodoo criminology .


Bender, A. (1972) The Wider Knowledge of Nutrition. Inaugural Lecture. October 24. Queen Elizabeth College., University of London. Somerset. Castle Cary Press Ltd.

Bender, A. (1977). Iron in spinach. Spectator. p.18. July 9.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Introducing the Braced Myth Concept

Welcome to Supermyths. A primary aim of this blog is to explore the concept of braced myths.

The first blog post on the so called "greatest typographical error of all time" will be published soon.

A primary research paper that I wrote earlier this year, which led me to develop the concept of the bracedmyth, can be found here: