Junk Science or the Real Thing? ‘Inference’ Publishes Both.
February 1, 2019 5:17 AM   Subscribe

 
This is of course about legitimizing creationism and climate change denialism, but I like to tho k it at least gives SOME time to the exciting field of vampire science.
posted by Artw at 5:30 AM on February 1 [10 favorites]


Later, through tax documents and interviews, I would learn that all of Inference’s funding came from a surprising source: Peter Thiel.

Not sure how this is really surprising: before Elon Musk's recent meltdown, Thiel was Most Likely to Become a Bond Villain, and is still a strong contender. (Also, may I suggest the "peterthiel" tag.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:35 AM on February 1 [10 favorites]


Great reporting. I'd love to see something similar but on the broader topic of science publication. The whole thing is shady as hell. Also I'm def gonna pick up that book on quantum physics.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:15 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Tipler is also well known for an unusual claim: The laws of physics prove that just before the universe ends, God will resurrect the dead and bring them to heaven.
Wow. I attended one of Tipler's lectures once and I knew he liked surfing the fringes, but this is ...
"This book is a description of the Omega Point Theory, which is a testable physical theory for an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God who will one day in the far future resurrect every single one of us to live forever in an abode which is in all essentials the Judeo-Christian Heaven."
... well all I can is say is bish you better hope Teilhard de Chardin and Philip José Farmer have a sense of humor on resurrection day.

The broader conclusion here, though, is that this is one of the ways that the super-rich conduct political warfare. I mean, it's not very different from the CIA funding Encounter, I suppose, but it's a strategy that's available to every oligarch now. Start a magazine or an institute, hire some hacks, stir up some social media buzz, and ride that as far as you can.

(And I'll lay odds that Thiel's given money to anti-trans campaigns. I would be very surprised to be proved wrong.)

I re-watched Redford's Sneakers last fall and I was astonished at how prescient it was. I think of Cosmo's declaration almost daily
"There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think ... it's all about the information!
posted by octobersurprise at 6:56 AM on February 1 [26 favorites]


Pretty sure the underlying trend of physic theories that “supported” the Onega Point theory have all reversed by now, ie instead of a Big Crunch we’re heading for a Big Dispersion.
posted by Artw at 7:00 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


octobersurprise: The broader conclusion here, though, is that this is one of the ways that the super-rich conduct political warfare. I mean, it's not very different from the CIA funding Encounter, I suppose, but it's a strategy that's available to every oligarch now. Start a magazine or an institute, hire some hacks, stir up some social media buzz, and ride that as far as you can.

We'll know we're far gone when the aristocratic sponsors are no longer trying to stay anonymous, but instead demanding florid dedications at the start of every article.
posted by clawsoon at 7:13 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


What's the state of play in the world of pseudoscientific quasi-Christian afterlife theories? Are the Omega Pointers on good terms with the Roko's Basilisk cultists (now, apparently, led by new high priestess Grimes)?
posted by acb at 7:14 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the investigation, freelanceastro. Thanks for the post, OP! Had planned to post this myself and you beat me to it!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:23 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Ha, yeah, I too caught it on Projects and considered posting it here - glad to see someone did! :D
posted by solotoro at 7:36 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Are the Omega Pointers on good terms with the Roko's Basilisk cultists (now, apparently, led by new high priestess Grimes)?

What if Grimes is the new Theodora?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:57 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Artw: "Pretty sure the underlying trend of physic theories that “supported” the Onega Point theory have all reversed by now, ie instead of a Big Crunch we’re heading for a Big Dispersion."

Re: Big Crunch - It always saddens me that Douglas Adams' much more cromulent term "Gnab Gib" has not caught on.
I've seen it. It's rubbish," said Zaphod,"nothing but a gnab gib."
"A what?"
"Opposite of a big bang. Come on, let's get zappy.”

posted by namewithoutwords at 10:12 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


How many other weird billionaire financed influence projects are also hiding in plain sight? If the discovery went—

Inference → Form 990 → Auzen LLC → ??? → Thiel

Is there not a way to reverse the arrows and find other non-profits which are wholly financed by the corporate cutouts of Thiel, the Kochs, the Mercers...? If you Google "Auzen LLC" the first result that comes up is a Bloomberg page for Thiel Capital LLC, so evidently Bloomberg somehow knows what's up.

I'm guessing the answer is that there's no public correlate of the 990 database for corporations and that what info there is available is not usually sufficient on its own to discover anything interesting. Did Thiel just fuck up in this case and not use enough shell companies to break the chain?
posted by books for weapons at 11:52 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Ah, I still have my copy of Physics of Immortality. Back when I was a TxHer/Extropian.

It's an interesting thesis. I remember being sad when discovering Dark Energy changed it all. I'm curious how one could revisit the concept in such a universe. I don't think it's possible.

But I did learn some cool facts from the so it's not all worthless.
posted by symbioid at 12:28 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Start a magazine or an institute, hire some hacks, stir up some social media buzz, and ride that as far as you can.
posted by clavdivs at 2:10 PM on February 1


symbioid, what's a TxHer?
posted by kokaku at 3:03 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Tipler is also well known for an unusual claim: The laws of physics prove that just before the universe ends, God will resurrect the dead and bring them to heaven.
Sounds a lot like the belief in the great prophet Zarquon from Hitchhiker's Guide. It was funnier as fiction; less so in the hands of a sociopathic billionaire.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:18 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


I posted this to facebook today. I know, I know, facebook. But I have a lot of science-y types (including actual scientists) I'm connected to there. I was bothered that the hot take on it seemed to be "Then it's not reputable/Shouldn't be trusted/Then they shouldn't write for it." Yes, of course! That's a no brainer. But they're missing that the site has apparently intentionally hidden its agenda and hid behind offering to pay nice money to write for them. It's attracted credible writers and scientists. It would be so easy to imagine someone giving a brief look at the website and saying yes without looking out for this. Why would they? Or their publicist/agent?

I've really been trying to get my head around the issues we have today with misinformation. From well meaning misinformation to intentionally misleading information because of a political agenda, to intentionally misleading because you're selling something. People can pick and choose who to believe, even if they don't realize they are doing that. How do we combat these intentional attacks?

Incidentally, I'm not going to remember where i saw it, but I did see a site recently (within the last month or two) where the article I read was fine, but a similar article I clicked through, didn't read right. It was publish by? Sponsored by? A Koch brothers foundation. It came out and said that, but it was still subtle. I wish I could remember where it was.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:35 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Disclaimers of financial connection are becoming so common that they don't even attract notice. I watch ABC overnight news often and they have "The Mix" which highlights current media attractions like big budget movie releases. They regularly provide fawning coverage of Disney films and events, then at the end mention ABC is owned by Disney. The effect is negligible compared to the praise oriented coverage from the news anchors that audiences tune in to see.

Yesterday the local news station that follows the overnight crew played a segment from Sinclair Media in praise of Trump. There was a disclaimer calling it an editorial commentary, but since there isn't much chance for competing claims and it runs during the news, it carries far more weight than any disclaimer might off set. It's all bullshit that further enables the powerful to have their way at the expense of the masses.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:18 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Hey there, writer of the article here. Great to see this getting exposure on the blue — the more people who know about this, the better, especially scientists and other academics.

books for weapons: If the discovery went—
Inference → Form 990 → Auzen LLC → ??? → Thiel
Is there not a way to reverse the arrows and find other non-profits which are wholly financed by the corporate cutouts of Thiel, the Kochs, the Mercers...? If you Google "Auzen LLC" the first result that comes up is a Bloomberg page for Thiel Capital LLC, so evidently Bloomberg somehow knows what's up.
I'm guessing the answer is that there's no public correlate of the 990 database for corporations and that what info there is available is not usually sufficient on its own to discover anything interesting.


Yup, that's all roughly right. The "???" in the evidence chain was Auzen Corporation, a separate yet closely related entity that I stumbled across while looking for more information about Auzen LLC. There's generally much less information available about LLCs than there is about corporations (varies from state to state), so the records on Auzen LLC were only enough to establish that it was intimately connected to Auzen Corporation. It was the records on Auzen Corporation that pointed to Thiel.

And yes, it's hard to figure out who's funding these things in general. I got lucky. Nonprofits have to release their tax returns in the US, but there's no particular reason that Inference had to have been set up as a nonprofit, or in the US. And US nonprofits only have to disclose information about donors who give them large donations (generally, more than $5k/year), so if they had been funded by small donations from a hundred different sources , that would have made it impossible to follow the money, even if some or all of those sources were connected to a single person. I was also lucky to spot the connection between Auzen LLC and Auzen Corporation, otherwise the trail would have probably gone cold past the LLC.

Even putting all of that aside: I'm not aware of any public database that allows you to search for the names of people listed in corporate registration documents across all 50 states, which would be the first step in reversing the arrows in this chain. To the best of my knowledge, in most (possibly all) states, you have to query public records like that by the name of the company you want to look up, and then you can get the names of the corporate officers, the address and phone number, etc. These records are all publicly available, so maybe someone's collected them and turned them into a database. But these records are generally not free, so collecting them en masse like that would be an expensive undertaking. All that being said, I'm still pretty green when it comes to investigative journalism (I'm a physicist by training and stumbled into this story), so maybe a database like this exists and I just don't know about it.

One thing you can do pretty easily is search 990s for names. So if you want to find the nonprofits where a particular person sits on the board or serves as director, that's not too hard. You can even find the names of major donors — but only so long as they make those donations directly, rather than through some other corporate entity.

Finally: that Google result for Auzen LLC from Bloomberg is new. I know for a fact that it wasn't there a few weeks ago, so I'm guessing that search result exists because of this article, somehow. That's kind of interesting — I wonder if that's an update that was made by Bloomberg or by Google. I'd guess it's Bloomberg, but it's hard to be sure.
posted by freelanceastro at 11:10 PM on February 1 [12 favorites]


symbioid, what's a TxHer?

Not symbioid, but it looks like some flavor of transhumanist, maybe just transhumanist period.
posted by Four Ds at 10:32 AM on February 2


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