“crackpots” who were right 1: Boris Belousov

In 1951 Borsi Belousov wrote a manuscript that opened a whole new field of chemistry with profound implications for physics and biology. Eventually the research would lead to a Nobel prize, but not for Belousov. His manuscript was rejected by the journals and by the scientific community worldwide.   Belousov quit science, discouraged by the reaction from his peers and the early development of the subject was delayed for years.

Boris Pavlovich Belousov was a Soviet chemist who started his work after a distinguished military career. At the Laboratory of Biophysics in the USSR Ministry of Health he began to study the chemistry of reactions related to the extraction of energy from sugars in biology. While seeking an inorganic version of the cycle he stumbled upon a remarkable reaction that oscillated between states with different colours  under only the constant influence of stirring. Astounded by the result he repeated the experiment very carefully while varying parameters such as concentrations and temperature to document how the reaction rates changed. His results were written up and submitted to a Russian Journal of Chemistry.

At that time it was known that the rates of some reactions could vary but there were seemingly solid arguments that no reaction could oscillated in such a manner. The journal rejected the  manuscript out of hand with the assertion that it was physically impossible so he must have made an error. Belousov made one more attempt to submit his article to peer-review but the result was the same.

Luckily a biochemist  Simon Schnoll came to hear of Belousov’s work and persuaded him to submit to an obscure non-reviewed journal to ensure that the work would be recorded. Had he not done so we may never have heard of this seminal research. Even as it was, the development of the subject was delayed by several years. Schnoll assigned a project to one of his graduate students Anatol Zhabotinsky to reproduce the reaction, which he did. It was too late for Belousov who has been so discouraged that he had ended his research. Even while the reaction was being studied in further detail in Russia, Western scientists continued for years to publish refutations. Instead of trying to replicate the result they simply claimed that the reaction was not consistent with the laws of thermodynamics and that some outside contamination must be affecting the results. Their arguments were wrong because they assumed that the reaction reached a stage of thermodynamic equilibrium, but of course it did not.

eventually evidence for the phenomena became overwhelming and was studied in great detail. Similar  reactions became the basis for the study of self-organisation in biology and were a key influence on the study of chaotic behaviour in dissipative structures. In 1977 another Russian chemist Ilya Prigogine received the Nobel prize in chemistry for work in this field, seven years after Belousov’s death. Three years later Belousov was posthumously awarded the Lenin prize for his work.


5 Responses to “crackpots” who were right 1: Boris Belousov

  1. Dear Philip,

    Indeed, there could not be better instance of what successful crackpottery means. In fact, we now know that many key regulators of cellular processes oscillate, and that circuitries in living cells crucially depends on oscillating compounds, simply because, in this case, solutions of the corresponding dynamical systems are in the domain of complex numbers. Trivial, isn’t it?

    The fact is, oscillations in cellular networks are now the standard so if one does not find any in one’s measurements then it may appear suspicious for peer-reviewers… It sounds nowadays completely anti-scientific to reject such an essential idea. Belousov’s discovery was TOO revolutionary, so the consensus could not gather around it.

    A bold result is never easily accepted by the establishment, which prefers protecting itself by rejecting groundbreaking ideas rather than let its walls collapse for the seek of best science.

    All I hope is that vixra.org will ever grow up and develop following its original line: let science be prior to all the rest. If vixra is not essential to academia, which has arxiv, it is essential and relevant to science, which is much larger than the former.

    All I can add here about Belousov is that if he had hung on in time with his idea, then maybe he would have had “pre-humous” recognition. But now, vixra is there to not take the way back when coming across an obstacle.

    Regards,

  2. Fernando Loup says:

    ————————————————-
    quoting Jerome Chauvet

    A bold result is never easily accepted by the establishment, which prefers protecting itself by rejecting groundbreaking ideas rather than let its walls collapse for the seek of best science.

    All I hope is that vixra.org will ever grow up and develop following its original line: let science be prior to all the rest. If vixra is not essential to academia, which has arxiv, it is essential and relevant to science, which is much larger than the former.
    ———————————————–
    yes…i can certify and witness everything written above by Jerome…unfortunately i am inside all this process

    i am an actor in this sad movie

    why i became a blacklisted scientist to arXiv???

    i became a blacklisted scientist to arXiv because i challenged the Klein Compactification Mechanism…see first section of viXra:0912.0044 formerly arXiv:0912.2515 …Modern Physics can be at stake ..but ok..they prefer to work with something that may not exists in Nature ..they prefer to live beneath their walls.. but the time will come when arXiv will become a monotonous conventional place for conventional and perhaps old-fashioned theories and the best ideas will appear here.on viXra .because unfortunately the list of blacklistees will grow .just consider a physicist that got college degrees graduate and post-graduate degrees with something that perhaps may not exists in Nature or perhaps it will be proved wrong or incomplete……if as Jerome says if someone breaks the bricks of the wall such a physicist would perhaps not appreciate the fact that his career was made over something that is not entirely real.or do not exists ..so it is better to reject a new and bold idea..blacklisting the proposer of the new idea .unfortunately some of these conventional physicists are the referees and peer reviewers of the scientific journals so the censorship is not only within arXiv…

    quoting Jerome again

    ——————————————————-
    All I hope is that vixra.org will ever grow up and develop following its original line: let science be prior to all the rest
    —————————————————–

    • Dear Fernando Loup,

      I must say, I profoundly admire you for attempting to bypass the superstring paradigm… Wow, not an easy path to go… I hope you find your way through, thanks to vixra and your peer-reviewed publications. Once you have got phenomenology on your side, you know you are just right, and your detractors are wrong. Keep on going anyway!

      As anybody may understand it from what you wrote here, the moderation policy at arXiv is not only a quality control process, but also an ideology control process. Lately, arXiv’s administrators have been attacked for their unfair moderation policy, but Ginspard simply denied, saying it is only quality control which is performed at arXiv… But what is to be understood through using the word “quality”?… The weird thing in the facts is that blacklisted scientists are mainly of the Physics field, although arXiv be proposing a repository for Biology, Mathematics, Economy, and so on… Arxiv’s moderators are physicists, and will hence moderate Physics e-prints in a different way as compared to e-prints in other fields of science. It univocally demonstrates that the moderation policy is anyhow biased regarding the claimed functionality of arXiv.

      I have recently read on the Internet that a letter was being/had been sent to Nature journal to deal with the Ginspard issue. Wouldn’t it be nice to send a letter to journals saying there is now viXra too? Well, I guess viXra will have it hard to get recognized by academia, but if a lot of people use it so as to augment chance for their paper to be downloaded together with a post to arXiv, viXra may naturally get the academic agreement without more condition.

      I guess the best we have to do is to keep supporting viXra with essential contributions, and the rest will follow.

      Best,

  3. Phil Gibbs says:

    It’s an interesting point about the moderators being physicists. It is hard for arXiv to cover a wider science becuase they would need a huge pool of specialist moderators. There is no such problem for viXra and I am sure we will end up with a much wider subject coverage. Even within physics I think there is a problem with their moderators having too narrow a viewpoint.

    viXra did get some media publicity at launch. e.g. we were in PhysicsWorld and were mentioned on Nature’s blog. This helped us get going and is one reason why we have been more successful than previous attempts at an alternative archive. There is still a lot of resistance from some parts of academia. I think the next level of acceptance will come when some of the work in viXra is widely seen as valuable. It could take some time, or not.

    By the way, not everyone here is trying to bypass the string theory revolution. I for one am a strong string theory supporter and dont see viXra as a reaction against string theory dominance. I think that whether or not string theory is the right way ahead we need to freer forum to allow physics and science in general to flourish.

  4. Fernando Loup says:

    ————————–
    quoting Jerome Sauvet

    I guess viXra will have it hard to get recognized by academia, but if a lot of people use it so as to augment chance for their paper to be downloaded
    ————————-
    quoting Phillip Gibbs

    There is no such problem for viXra and I am sure we will end up with a much wider subject coverage. Even within physics I think there is a problem with their moderators having too narrow a viewpoint.
    ————————–
    quoting Phillip Gibbs again

    There is still a lot of resistance from some parts of academia. I think the next level of acceptance will come when some of the work in viXra is widely seen as valuable. It could take some time, or not.
    ————————–
    i agree with both

    yes the scientific community must see viXra as a wide valid repository for e-prints and a real alternative to arXiv as a first choice to store e-prints ….perhaps works widely seen as valuable and reckognized by the scientific community can change the whole picture..would be nice to have works published in the best known scientific journals but produced first as e-prints for viXra in order to break the resistance of the scientific community … and make them accept viXra as a valid alternative to arXiv

    yes viXra will end with a coverage larger than arXiv because what it happened to me will happens with others when i got blacklisted a colleague told me about viXra…and i already spread the new among my other colleagues …and of course there are many more people that now knows the existance of viXra..so if an arXiv submitter gets blacklisted by now he will appear here

    the process to make the scientific community accept the viXra as a first choice for e-prints instead of arXiv can be slow and will come as time goes by with the blacklistees of arXiv appearing here but i would prefer another choice…a paper from viXra being published and largely cited ..if this happens then many people from the scientific comunity would appear here

    perhaps such a paper is already being worked.thinking in this purpose ..perhaps….

    consider for example arXiv:0809.1915..the paper covers the hot topic of dark matter…imagine a paper being written for viXra with all the stuff of 0809.1915 but with more advanced stuff…a paper that can mark a point in the issue of dark matter ..a paper written for viXra and being published in one journal of good reputation..yes this could turn the tables “upside down” and attract the attention of the scientific community towards viXra in a way faster than to wait for all the arXiv blacklistees

    like i said…this paper is already being written.

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