Would a scientist, let alone a scientist who is the cause of fundamental changes, rather work to make progress on her or his work, or sue anyone who had the impudence to contradict her or him? Knowing that falsifiability is at the heart of a serious scientific approach.
You may think this is obviously a rhetoric question, but its answer does not seem to be obvious for the Bogdanoff twins. At least, their recent interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro seems to attest it. As this interview deserves to be questioned, I propose to do so, as viewed from here.
Please forgive me the unusual length of this article, but in this case great care should be taken to explain the different data. Furthermore, as I will discuss about French personalities, several references will be in French. Also, one of the subject of this article will be the Big Bang theory. Therefore, I invite you to read the article about it I have published recently.
To be honest, as these twins are of little interest to me (the purpose of this article is rather to discuss about the misuse of science), my experience does not relate on a significant sample. However, as I can reasonably consider this blog (incidentally quite unknown) is not read only by French people, and as it seems to me that the reputation of the Bogdanoff brothers does not exceed the borders of France, it is better that I start in introduce them to you.
From what planet come the Bogdanoff brothers?
French audience started to hear about Grégoire and Igor Bogdanoff in 1976, when they published quite a good essay about science fiction: Clefs pour la science-fiction1G. and I. Bogdanoff, 1976. Clefs pour la science-fiction, Seghers.. This led them to host various television shows presenting science fiction to the French audience, among them Temps X. They soon included science popularisation during these shows. After all, science fiction is a good entry point for popularisation.
So far, except that we could regret a real lack of rigour in popularisation and maybe that they took too much care on flashy science fiction, there was no cause for alarm.
However, at this point the twins started to build for themselves characters of superiorly intelligent aliens with innate knowledge. This led them to a series of wacky claims.
A quite recent one, for which the technical knowledge necessary to understand it is quite widespread nowadays, occurred in 2006 during the Utopiales in Nantes (France). On that occasion, they claimed having hypothesized a global computer network (that is to say, the Internet) in 1979, that they named Internex2T. Michaud, 2008. Télécommunications et science-fiction, Marsisme.com.. They also mocked the then president of the Centre national d’études des télécomunications (cnet). However, it is very easy to notice that the rfc 675, specifying the tcp protocol at the base of the Internet, is entitled Specification of Internet Transmission Control Program and was published in 1974. Also, even if the relationship was quite difficult, cnet was stakeholder in the Cyclades network, one of the precursors of the Internet. A worldwide interconnection of computer networks was being set up and the name “Internet” already in use when the Bogdanoff brothers predicted its upcoming existence. In literature, The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner3J. Brunner, 1975. The Shockwave Rider, Harper & Row., published in 1975, already gives a foreshadowing of the Internet. While it is understandable that they were a little wrong about the name of a then recent technology, it undermines their claim to be precursors – afterwards predictions are the most likely to turn out to be correct.
Another example, as noted by the October 2004 issue of the French magazine Ciel et espace, they stated in their book Avant le Big bang4G. and I. Bogdanoff, 2004. Avant le Big bang, Grasset. – riddled with mathematical and physical errors, as noted by the journalist – that:
“There is ‘no wonder that our Sun [over 4 billion years ago] seems so big and so bright in the sky’ because the universe was then ‘half the size it is nowadays.’”
This is absurd, since the expansion of the Universe does not affect the solar system. Obviously, the knowledge to realise it is not widespread (but just read my presentation of the Big Bang theory to find it out). Still, it strongly undermines their claiming to have pierced the origin of the Universe and to have succeeded ‘where so many others have failed.’
I could multiply examples in a long, and actually quite boring, list as the twins are always making approximations, gross errors and formulations which lose the reader or the audience rather than giving a clear view of the subject in question. Moreover, as noted by Alain Connes, whose mathematical work have enabled significant advances in cosmology among other progress, in the 19 December 2002 issue of the French newspaper Le Monde:
“I do not have any doubt about my judgement and it did not take me long to make sure they talk about things they do not master.”
Again, if all this had been part of an anthologist work on science fiction, while leaving no doubt that the characters they invented had nothing real, there would not be a real matter of concern. Except that their so called abilities quickly became selling arguments for their speculations pretending to be popularisation, and even scientific. For instance, when Dieu et la science5J. Guitton, G. Bogdanoff, and I. Bogdanoff, 1991. Dieu et la science, Grasset. was published in 1991 – a series of interviews with the philosopher Jean Guitton – the back cover credits them doctors in astrophysics and theoretical physics, when at the time they had never defended any Ph.D. thesis.
The brothers justify this error by the fact that, at the time of publication of the book, they were applying to become Ph.D. candidate, which would have been the source of the confusion. However, in an interview given to the French magazine Paris match in 1985, they had already asserted being Ph.D. holders …
However, the Bogdanoff brothers eventually became Ph.D. candidates in 1991. The physical part of the thesis being considered too weak, in 1999 Grégoire Bogdanoff ended up in defending a mathematical thesis. Igor Bogdanoff’s defence was postponed, as he was ‘on the verge to go straight to the slaughter.’ Before defending, he was asked to publish in scientific journals with review committee. The condition being fulfil in 2002, he defended a thesis in theoretical physics. The Bogdanoff brothers then went back to television sets, hosting the show Rayon X on the French television channel France 2.
At about this period, alerted by the content of the articles of the two brothers which seemed to them preposterous, cosmologists wondered if they were dealing with some hoax. As the twins protested their good faith and after analysing these articles, it became apparent that if it was not a hoax, the scientific contributions of the Bogdanoff brothers is nonsense without interest.
Let’s be clear: there is no scientific controversy. For specialists in the field, things are very clear.
In 2003, the Université de Bourgogne and the cnrs commissioned a report to assess the procedure by which the twins got their theses. The report, which has been published in 2010 by the weekly French magazine Marianne, concluded that there were no scientific interest in the work of the two brothers, as well as there had been a malfunction in the process assessing and awarding their theses. The publication of the report by Marianne led the Bogdanoff brothers to sue the magazine and the cnrs. This led to the conviction of Marianne as the court considered that the content of the articles were more about personal attacks than to challenge to the scientific validity of their work. However, they were unsuccessful in their action against the cnrs (this will be discussed below). They expressed their intention to appeal.
This website only deals with the Bogdanoff brothers as public figures, not with their private self. It is very clear that these public figures are now nothing but a fiction, with no reality. A fiction which they seem to have convinced themselves: as if they had become what Jean Baudrillard called simulacrum. As theorised the latter, there has been a precession of simulacrum, that is to say that the simulacrum have preceded the true identities of the individuals, until these identities are dissolved and no longer exist.
Neither do I come from nowhere
This concludes the necessary exposition of the context required to understand the analysis of the interview I propose below. However, as it concerns a sensitive subject, it is appropriate for me to make a declaration of interest. The aim is certainly not to impress. If I have to convince you, I intend to do so with the quality of my sources and my reasoning. All information presented here (and many others) can be found in my resume.
As this article deals with the cnrs, note that while being Ph.D. candidate, from 2007 to 2010, I was employed by that institution. As I write this, I have no direct link with this organisation any more. Of course, one could find indirect links. For instance, my Ph.D. supervisor is still a cnrs research director. Considering the French public research system, as long as it has not been totally destroyed, it is extremely rare to find a person involved in French research that has not at least indirect links with the cnrs. Moreover, it is not impossible that in the future I will again be in live relationship with this organisation.
Since it will also be discussed about Georges Lemaître, note that I was a research assistant at the Université catholique de Louvain from 2013 to 2015. Georges Lemaître has taught in this university, but before it was separated in two entities, one Dutch-speaking, the other French-speaking.
Finally, even if it does not change anything but as I think the question will arise, my area of speciality is actually not cosmology. While being a student, I became interested in applied mathematics and theoretical computer science. Since my thesis, my scope is physical oceanography. Specifically, I use computers to reproduce the dynamics of oceans. This is the reason I referred to the opinions of experts in cosmology concerning the judgement of Bogdanoff brothers’ scientific work.
This contextualisation is long enough, so let’s look on the interview. It is quite short and I will not copy it in its entirety. Therefore, if you can read some French, I invite you to read it.
The interest of complacent debate
In this interview, the Bogdanoff brothers make several fairly definitive statements. These statements are never questioned. Still, they are worth being subjected to critical scrutiny.
From the first question, Igor Bogdanoff said:
“We are accused of having been the first to explore an area that had never been before: the before of the Big Bang. This research was prohibited – the substance of the matter is there.”
This first statement is wrong. For example, in 1933, Georges Lemaître proposed the theory of the Phoenix Universe, in which the expanding universe, starting with the Big Bang, is preceded by a contracting universe, which eventually collapses on itself (later called the Big Crunch in connection with the Big Bang), which becomes the source of the Big Bang6G. Lemaitre, 1933. L’univers en expansion, Annales de la société scientifique de Bruxelles, vol. 53, p. 51.. This leads to a cyclical pattern because after the expansion, the universe will contract again to collapse, restarting the cycle. Although Georges Lemaître ultimately rejects this hypothesis, it is indeed a pre-Big Bang model studied even before the twins were born.
It should also be noted that, at the time the brothers were finishing their theses, others published for instance on the Ekpyrotic Universe7J. Khoury, B.A. Ovrut, P.J. Steinhardt, and N. Turok, 2001. The Ekpyrotic Universe: Colliding Branes and the Origin of the Hot Big Bang, Physical Review D 64 (12)., a theory based string theory, in which the Universe has already undergone several Big Bang.
Igor Bogdanoff also said:
“The scientific community has not tolerated than two television producers can found important things about the evolution of the Universe.”
Again, this statement is wrong. As I indicated in the presentation of the Bogdanoff brothers, the scientific community questioned their contribution and concluded that it was a nonsense without interest. However, it is true that they are charged to refuse the critical analysis of their work. We will come back to this.
Grégoire Bogdanoff says:
“This story of a million Euro is completely wacky. The blog of the newspaper Libération says so, but we never asked for that sum. The situation is much simpler: we assessed the damage at 60,000 Euro.”
That the reporter does not know neither about Georges Lemaître nor the Big Bang theory, it is regrettable but understandable. However, it is abnormal that he has not read the judgement on the complaint of the two brothers. On page three, it states:
“[…] MM. Igor and Grégoire Bogdanoff, represented by Me Lapisardi and subsequently by Me Froment, ask the Court:
1) to order the cnrs to pay them a total amount of 1,239,771 Euro in compensation for the damage they consider they have suffered […]”
If the reporter read the judgement, it is abnormal that he did not make the remark to the Bogdanoff brothers that the text of the judgement confirms the statement of the journalist of Libération.
Grégoire Bogdanoff adds:
“The blog dare say we were fined 2,000 Euro. And the media relay the information. But this is absolutely false. We are the plaintiffs. A plaintiff can’t be fined. Optionally, a plaintiff can be rejected or dismissed, as is the case here. We have never been fined. In the judgement, there just wrote: ‘MM. Igor and Grichka Bogdanov will pay …’ The idea of fine makes us appear as people subject to a procedure, while we have initiated it.”
Indeed, here is what can be read at the bottom of the page 8 of the judgement:
“Article 2: MM. Igor and Grégoire Bogdanoff will pay a total sum of 2,000 Euro to the cnrs under Article l. 761-1 of the Code of Administrative Justice.”
First, this confirms the amount of 2,000 Euro. Furthermore, I am not a legal expert, but it still looks like a fine. I will ask Me Eolas if the term “fine” is appropriate. If he finds the time to respond, I will update this post.
Igor Bogdanoff then gratifies us the following diatribe:
“The attitude of the cnrs is from the beginning a profoundly unfair attitude. Those who were at the origin of this report do not have courage, no moral and no skill. When you blame someone, you confront her or him openly, not through an anonymous and clandestine report. We have discovered the existence of this report in Marianne. This report was never presented to us.”
However, establishing this report is part of a perfectly legitimate and necessary process in a scientific work. Furthermore, if you were to ask anyone’s permission before contradict her or him, that would undermine the ability to exercise critical thinking …
So let explain a little what is the work of a researcher.
Among the activities of a researcher, an important part is to publish her or his work. This can take the form of reports, theses, seminars, but generally communications (posters and presentations) in conferences and articles published in journals with peer review committees. Although this is not the subject, note that conferences and journals with peer review committees are dedicated to specialists and that contributions are subject to a further analysis by specialists before being accepted.
Once these works published, other researchers address and evaluate them. This leads to issue a critical opinion – as a reminder, a criticism is not necessarily a negative one – about this work. If this opinion is considered important enough, it may be published in the form of reports or articles, for instance.
Every researcher is doing this work regularly. I have done this several times, including on master’s theses. It is an approach that is intrinsic to scientific research. If the Bogdanoff brothers really want to carry out scientific work or, more generally, intellectual work, they have to accept critical reviews concerning their contributions.
That the Université de Bourgogne and the cnrs have commissioned a study on the validity of the twins’ theses works is therefore a perfectly normal and healthy process as part of scientific research. The form of the report is certainly unusual but not even exceptional: sometimes these institutions carry such reports when doubts exist on a work produced within them.
If the report had recommended the forfeiture of the Bogdanoff brothers doctorate, only then would there be something wrong. However, as clearly stated in paragraph 3 on page 5 of the judgement, the report does not do.
Note also that Igor Bogdanoff is engaged in an attack about skills at the cnrs, which is completed by:
“It is full of errors and is based on an incorrect version of our thesis dating from 1999. The arguments put forward by the report are completely fanciful.”
This is something recurrent: every time someone makes the slightest reservation about the two brothers, they accuse her or him of being incompetent and to envy them. So did they concerning the physics Nobel Prize holder Georges Charpak. This website being quite unknown, they will probably never hear about me. But if they are to discover this article (very unlikely), I would probably be accused being incompetent and to envy them myself.
One might argue that they response to an accusation of incompetence by an accusation of incompetence. On the one hand, note that they do not give any evidence to support their accusation. On the other hand, scientific analysis of their statements was conducted, for instance by Alain Riazuelo. Did they answer with a refutation, as should be done in a scientific debate? No, they sued him for breach of copyright. They even stated in the French newspaper Le Monde that they had no other way to silence him.
Of course, I may have missed something. That said, I have not found even the mention of a scientific answer coming from the Bogdanoff brothers to scientific criticisms.
Grégoire Bogdanoff eventually declared:
“This pseudo-judgement on a pseudo-report is dangerous for all researchers and all students. Consider that it is normal to write a mandated and unsigned report and all researchers will be threatened.”
This is clearly an attempt to give to themselves the best role, the Vindicators which first care about the fate of others – unfortunately, the huge amount they request undermines the idea that they are disinterested. As I have already indicated above, evaluating scientific work is the basis of science and teaching. What is actually dangerous, ‘for all researchers and all students’ is that one can be sued because having exercised critical thinking.
Finally, Igor Bogdanoff concludes the interview:
“We – serenely – challenge the scientific community: confront our ideas, openly.”
This was largely done, including outside of France, as shown by the many links that punctuate this article. However, again, I have not found a scientific answer from the twins to the scientific refutation that was opposed to them. Anyway, their propensity to sue their opponents raises doubts as to the veracity of such declaration.
Please allow me to challenge – serenely – the Bogdanoff brothers. Scientific research is not done on television shows, whatever their qualities: if they really think they have some scientifically valid ideas, they should publish in peer-reviewed journals and participate in specialist conferences.
However, there is a life beyond the Bogdanoff brothers
For sure, this article is quite long. However, it is very far from being exhaustive concerning facts where the Bogdanoff brothers really do not appear to their advantage. On the one hand, I stopped not to give the impression to be fierce about them. On the other hand, I also stopped because of the time it takes to learn about all their absurdities.
The twins were not an issue for me. I used to see them the way my colleagues did, that is as a reason for mockery, certainly not as scientists. I have had the first reasons for concern in 2012, when they managed to convict Alain Riazuelo. Having heard about their interview in Le Figaro, I thought it would be useful, since the reporter forgot to do so, to challenge their statements with the facts.
Then, I realised the problem was deeper than I thought. These two brothers want so much to be seen as scientists that have understood the deepest secrets of the Universe, as well as scientific popularisers that can explain everything. This while clearly not having the capacity to do so at all, but showing so much certainty for being superiors beings and with so much bad faith, they would be nothing but pathetic if they were not so keen in bullying and use justice.
However, they have reveal many dysfunctions. First, they have managed to pass through the weakness of the scientific publication system – on this, Acrimed published a comprehensive investigation into two parts on the subject (and an article which follows) – and the theses awarding system. This should probably carry the scientific community to self-criticism.
They are also indicative of the place of science in the general media, a quite paradoxical one. On the one hand, science is a guarantee. We ask science to invent a safe society and even predict crimes before they happen. On the other hand, it is rarely discussed. If we look at the case of the twins, even though their lack of credibility as scientists as well as popularisers is widely known, French media are still really complaisant about them. I do not want to give the impression I am doing some moral judgement. However, it is interesting to have a look on how different media deal of the two brothers. The question is not to produce articles that are favourable or unfavourable about the twins, but to check the facts. On the one hand, Le Monde and Libération reporter Sylvestre Huet (despite a moralising tone being a little annoying) are generally doing quite a good job. On the other hand, Le Figaro lack in doing some journalistic work on the subject and, what is terrible, we are not even surprised that Paris match is doing the same. As for radios and televisions, they are quite shocking on the subject: no matter the lack of validity of their statements and the fact that the formulations are pompous and misleading, the important thing is that they are presentable.
They also have been the catalyst of a surprising attitude. Indeed, to give substance to their complaint, the Bogdanoff brothers have added to their files declarations from former publishing director of Marianne and its current ceo. These declarations give information about the source through which they obtained a copy of the cnrs report. This stems from a curious conception of the confidentiality of journalistic sources.
Marianne ceo said he was disappointed by the attitude of the cnrs, who after the conviction of Marianne ‘has not even sent us a message of sympathy.’ Note, as shown on pages 3 and 5 of the judgement, that the cnrs did not press charges against Marianne, as it had the opportunity. Moreover, the Bogdanoff brothers are trying to use this absence of complaint as a proof of cnrs obscure will to publish the report.
I have never been sent to court, but when being the subject of a procedure as it was (and still is) the case with the cnrs, it seems to me that the right attitude is to speak as little as possible on the subject. Furthermore, if you allow me to issue a rather bold assumption, since the judgement considered that Marianne had delivered more personal attacks than a critique of the scientific value of the work of the two brothers, perhaps the cnrs does not wish to be associated with an act of defamation. Anyway, even if the cnrs does not please Marianne, this can in no way justify a violation of ethics.
The presentation of science in generalist media is often biased. The role of journalists is likely to be put in question, but probably also do scientists fail to communicate with the public. For example, I have recently started this blog, but I still have not made a presentation of my work, while I plan to do so. It is probably important not to leave a gaping void, which some bloated ego will use to shine by default.
Oh! If you have any doubt, the answer to the question that gave this article its title is: no.
|↑1||G. and I. Bogdanoff, 1976. Clefs pour la science-fiction, Seghers.|
|↑2||T. Michaud, 2008. Télécommunications et science-fiction, Marsisme.com.|
|↑3||J. Brunner, 1975. The Shockwave Rider, Harper & Row.|
|↑4||G. and I. Bogdanoff, 2004. Avant le Big bang, Grasset.|
|↑5||J. Guitton, G. Bogdanoff, and I. Bogdanoff, 1991. Dieu et la science, Grasset.|
|↑6||G. Lemaitre, 1933. L’univers en expansion, Annales de la société scientifique de Bruxelles, vol. 53, p. 51.|
|↑7||J. Khoury, B.A. Ovrut, P.J. Steinhardt, and N. Turok, 2001. The Ekpyrotic Universe: Colliding Branes and the Origin of the Hot Big Bang, Physical Review D 64 (12).|