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Friday 6 January 2012

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Nobel laureate, calls astrology a fake discipline

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Nobel laureate, calls astrology a fake discipline

TNN | Dec 30, 2011, 05.48AM IST

CHENNAI: Nobel laureate Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan provoked a few and
enthralled many with his talk on 'The Sceptical Scientist' in the city
on Thursday. He termed astrology and alchemy fake disciplines that
depended on the power of suggestion and said homeopathy was based on
belief. Terms like 'positive and negative energy' used by various
"quacks were complete mumbo jumbo" and had no precise meaning, he
said. Science, he added, had a particular definition of energy.

Delivering the 2nd S V Narasimhan Memorial Oration, organised by
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Dr Ramakrishnan said that just as good system
of government guarded people from their worst instincts, the process
of science "protects us from our biases and irrationality."
"Scientific methods protect us from the danger of false beliefs. No
system that does not incorporate proper testing, criticism from peers
and other checks of modern science can claim to be 'scientific'
regardless of the scientific jargon used," he said.

Quoting examples from history, such as disproving of Fleischman-Pons
ideas of nuclear fusion at room temperature (cold fusion) and Linus
Pauling's claim that huge doses of vitamin C can keep away cancer.

He said beliefs persisted despite data, adding that hundreds of
website and news articles continue to come out on cold fusion and
benefits of vitamin C. To pass the test, prescribed procedure or
medicine should be the actual cause of the cure and not a coincidence
or due to an unrelated occurrence.

Dr Ramakrishnan said homeopathy had been advocated for
life-threatening diseases like AIDS and cancer, for which there are
real effective medicines, while astrology can be abused and used to
influence decisions. "Both can lead people away from taking more
effective actions based on logic and contemplation. A culture based on
superstition will always do worse than that based on science," he
said. He added that doctors could, however, use the power of
suggestion to enhance the effect of their medicine.

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