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The Key to Everything? Not Quite.

Here’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in the scientific literature. A new journal, Life, apparently solicited papers for their inaugural issues, and one of them was from Erik Andrulis at Cast Western’s School of Medicine. The manuscript came in at 105 printed pages, which should have rung at least a tiny alarm bell, you’d think. And if that wasn’t a bit concerning, perhaps the title (“Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life”) might have seemed a bit sweeping? Or the abstract, which promises that “The theoretical framework unifies the macrocosmic and microcosmic realms, validates predicted laws of nature, and solves the puzzle of the origin and evolution of cellular life in the universe.” No? Nothing to worry about yet?
But editors aren’t supposed to just look at page counts, titles, and abstracts. Just a riffle through the actual manuscript should have been enough to convince anyone that, rather than a Theory of Everything, that this work is, most unfortunately, the product of a disordered mind. P. Z. Myers has excerpts from the paper on his blog – take a look and see what you think. Here’s a sample, and it should really be sufficient:

The ultimate state of gyromnemesis is the stably adapted particle or gyronexus in the gyrobase. . .Finally, although a diquantal IEM (X”) undergoes gyrognosis as the gyrobase of a primary majorgyre, it undergoes gyromnemesis as the gyrapex of an alternagyre.

Right. The paper ranges through the origins of life, organic chemistry, cosmology, geology, astronomy, and who knows what else, all of it explained in language exactly like the above. And yes, there is a multi-page glossary of all those gyro-terms, and no, it does not help. As Myers points out, the spectacularly weird thing is that not only did this paper get published, it got press-released by Case Western. Here, check it out. Whoever put this thing together has gamely attempted to summarize the paper, and not only that, to highlight its importance for the greater glory of Case Western:

To test his paradigm, Dr. Andrulis designed bidirectional flow diagrams that both depict and predict the dynamics of energy and matter. While such diagrams may be foreign to some scientists, they are standard reaction notation to chemists, biochemists, and biologists.
Dr. Andrulis has used his theory to successfully predict and identify a hidden signature of RNA biogenesis in his laboratory at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He is now applying the gyromodel to unify and explain the evolution and development of human beings.

Oh, go take a look and tell me if you see any standard notation. (Update: I see from RetractionWatch that the university has pulled the release from their own sites, saying that they’re “evaluating our processes regarding media outreach”. I’ll bet they are(. Now, I realize that picking up a text on, say, quantum electrodynamics could lead to the same what-is-this-stuff feeling. But any text on QED starts with a grounding in the physical world and the connections of the theory to known physics. And this sort of thing is different in both degree and kind (for one thing, QED has nothing to say about lunar craters). There’s a difference between a work that makes you think “Boy, I don’t understand this” and one that makes you think “Boy, this person has lost it”. The near-infallible signs of scientific derangement include the “Why, this explains everything” aspect, the “Everything you thought you knew is wrong” one, and the intricate details-within-details style, almost always taken to unbearable lengths.
What the Andrulis paper reminds me of, actually, is Alfred Lawson and his Lawsonomy. That one also explains everything from bacteria to the composition of the moon, and brings in “zig-zag and swirl” motions to do so, at excruciating length. No, if you’ve had any exposure to the fill-the-margins-with-green-ink thinkers, you’ll recognize Andrulis’ problem, and hope that he can get some sort of help for it. Here’s a book-length collection of such, very interesting for what it shows you about the ways that human reason can go off the rails.
That’s something I’ve thought about for a long time – in fact, here’s an entry on this blog from ten years ago on that very subject. It’s interesting to me that there are a limited number of relatively defined mental illnesses; I think that says something about the deeper structures of human consciousness. The Andrulis paper is a flawless example of one of those categories – the wildly intricate, over-systematized Key to the Universe. I’ve just never seen one in a scientific journal.

68 comments on “The Key to Everything? Not Quite.”

  1. anonymous says:

    I check my Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO plan and to make sure that he is not a Prefered Provider. He ain’t.

  2. Chemjobber says:

    Is there a chance that this is some sort of Sokol-like prank?

  3. pdf says:

    Wow, just wow. Trolling at its best.
    “No funding source supported this work.” Well, I wonder why.
    This paper was even resubmitted in revised form. I can only guess what the referees didn´t understand at first.
    “In conclusion, this catholic theory provides an innovative and elegant solution to the origin, evolution, and nature of life in the cosmos”. Ok, enough for me today.

  4. Tony says:

    I give it 3 days before I start seeing infomercials for a company that promises to balance your “gyronexus”. And the worst part is, people will buy this.

  5. Mmm…gyros. The author is clearly a shill for The Gyro Company.

  6. jtd7 says:

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity . . .”
    — W.B. Yeats

  7. etomlins says:

    Makes me think of Terence McKenna, whose rambling, incoherent, but meticulously enunciated thoughts on psychoactive drugs and eschatology were immortalized in a ten-minute trance song called “Re: Evolution” that I used to cue up at college in the ’90s. No, I wasn’t sober when I did it, why do you ask?

  8. Thomas McEntee says:

    This reminds me of some of what I’ve seen in the “fringe physics” world. Check out the periodic chart as portrayed using the theories of Jim Carter (some URLs follow ):
    As you can see, Jim is an eclectic kind of guy… he and Assistant Professor Andrulis should get together and trade notes.

  9. luysii says:

    “there are a limited number of relatively defined mental illnesses” Well the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders revision IV (DSM-IV), a product of the American Psychiatric Association, disagrees with you. It defines some 296 disorders in a leisurely 886 pages. The fifth revision (in the works) is said to nearly double the number. Along with many psychiatrists, I think they’ve gone seriously off the rails. For some background see

  10. sgcox says:

    It is actually one of the more coherent and easy to understand papers in that “journal”.
    Just look on the titles !!

  11. Anonymous Academic says:

    Granted, I haven’t actually read it, but the descriptions I’ve seen of Stephen Wolfram’s “A New Kind Of Science” make it sound awfully like this (at least in its grandiose ambitions to provide a Theory of Everything), albeit more coherently written.
    The Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics by Randall Mills also struck me as similar, although in that case I think there’s a much different motivation at work.

  12. Rhenium says:

    I should point out that the paper is only 66 pages, the rest is references.
    For more papers that make no sense, try the “The Capricious Character of Nature” paper which follows in the same issue.

  13. Pig Farmer says:

    I believe Lewis Carroll got there first:
    “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” which makes about as much sense as this paper. Honestly, 808 references?
    Reminds me of multi-page ad I saw in the New Scientist in the late 1980s written by some guy who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine. Full of equations, and references to “jellyfish” (which as far as I could make out referred to anyone who disagreed with him). All rather sad.

  14. PedroS says:

    I agree with #2 above… This paper HAS to be a joke designed by Prof. Andrulis to expose the questionable nature of some “open-access” journals.
    I think the following parts of the paper are hints to this postulated “tongue-in-cheek” character:
    – the term “ohiogyre” in page 28
    – “A quantal emission of energy ripples
    outward, moving as focused solitons [185] ” ref.185 actually is “Earthquake Source Asymmetry, Structural Media and Rotation Effects. Springer: Berlin, Germany and New York, NY, USA, 2006; p. 582.” the only possible application of this reference is to the verb “ripple”
    I don’t think we will ever know for sure if this is a joke, though… In the case of a joke, Prof. Andrulis should have exposed the prank before the paper had achieved any kind of public recognition. Now, any such admission will seem self-serving and a way to defuse adverse PR.

  15. noname says:

    It must be a prank.
    The guy’s research looks quite reasonable. Either he’s trying to punk the system, or he recently blew a gasket.

  16. Derek Lowe says:

    While we scientists as a group are sometimes known for ponderous, overdetermined humor in made-up journal articles and the like, this one seems way past even that. I’d like to think that it was a Sokal-like hoax, but it’s just too convincing as a pile of borderline-insane ravings. Could you fake it that well and not be crazy? (And if so, why is it then a fake?)

  17. Anonymous says:

    “I’d like to think that it was a Sokal-like hoax, but it’s just too convincing as a pile of borderline-insane ravings. Could you fake it that well and not be crazy? (And if so, why is it then a fake?)”
    Sokal’s was also “too convincing as a pile of borderline-insane ravings” 😉

  18. idiotraptor says:

    If the article is a prank, the author should disclose the punchline post-haste. If the article was written as a genuine scholarly work,then
    I believe Nativis Pharmaceuticals should add this idiot to their SAB 🙂

  19. Anonymous says:

    It is no joke. He’s a colleague of mine and I know him quite well. His mental state has been deteriorating for several years and this theory has become an obsession. It is very sad for him and his family. It is deplorable and inexcusable that our PR department participated and promoted his mania.

  20. pete says:

    Every once in a while I used to see this kind of cosmic epiphany pseudo-science stuff as a full page ad in the NYT. Typically it was accompanied by a photo of some mousy, bespectacled fellow with a lot of high-falutin’ titles/degrees after his name.
    My question is why do these off-kilter theory-of-everything publications always seem to come from males ? I’ve never seen such stuff from women. Could it be that they just know that the true answer is 42 ?

  21. pete says:

    @20 Anonymous
    Point taken. Please excuse my making light of this situation.

  22. MIMD says:

    Uh….this has got to be a “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” Sokal-like spoof.
    PLEASE tell me that’s what it is.

  23. Jim says:

    I hope it is a joke, but feel very sorry for the man and is family if it’s not.
    Still, I’d like to hear John Cleese read excerpts from the paper. Or the guy who narrated the video for the Retro-encabulator
    One of the funniest videos ever.

  24. Pig Farmer says:

    I’ve managed to locate the article: it is in the 18th December 1986 edition of the New Scientist pages 48-50. You can find it in Google Books.
    The author is Stefan Marinov, who was a Bulgarian physicist. He committed suicide in 1997.
    I suspect 20 anonymous is telling the truth, in which case prof. Andrulis probably needs psychiatric help.

  25. Joe T. says:

    I have somewhere a book called _The Nature of the World_ by one Donald O. Rudin, MD. I admit I haven’t really tried to plow through much of it, but it sure seems like a similar sort of thing to this. Is this a well-described phenomenon? There certainly seem to be enough instances to take a stab — the case at issue, Rudin, possibly Wolfram, Alexander Abian (RIP)…

  26. Will says:

    Is it any weirder/less plausible/less verifiable than the creation story in the Bible?

  27. MIMD says:

    #20 if true, that is extremely unfortunate.

  28. johnnyboy says:

    “I suspect 20 anonymous is telling the truth, in which case prof. Andrulis probably needs psychiatric help.”
    And he would have probably gotten it by now (several YEARS of deterioration (!!!)), if he worked in any other setting than in academia. Apparently the great freedoms accorded by the tenure system include the freedom to go psychotic.

  29. CROhh NO says:

    I was realy shocked that he took on Global Warming on page 31 by saying that the CO2 levels were not from fossil fuels, but rather a natural process by the carbogyre. Or that protein folding can be explained by this theory. It is kind of depressing to read the paper in light of what #20 stated. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether some of the reception I’ve read on this is similar to the old days when people challenged the “known” theories of the day that were later validated? Not that I’m saying this will be one of those (or that he should be burned as a heretic).

  30. Anon says:

    @14 – At least Alice had Humpty Dumpty to explain “The Jabberwocky” to her.
    @20 – That is truly sad. It is also unfortunmate that this journal went along for the ride, and as you point out, the PR department at CWR.

  31. cynical1 says:

    @ johnnyboy – I’m not sure I agree with you. In industry, the psychotics are promoted up to directors and VPs.

  32. Elmer W. Litzinger says:

    Right now we’re still trying to classify mental diseases by behaviors and the classifications are quite often imprecise. Then you have to try different drugs, doses and therapies to find which ones work without creating a lot of extra problems. Not always easy.
    Although it’s amusing to read this stuff, it’s not very nice to make fun of this guy.

  33. JasonP says:

    I don’t know if this is strange to say but reading his stuff left me with a scared and creeped out feeling. Amazing what the mind can do.

  34. emjeff says:

    If this is not a joke, it is a classic work product of a scientific crank. The late Martin Gardner had quite a lot to say about such people. (read for example, Science: Good Bad and Bogus, which is still relevant despite its age).
    I, as a reviewer for a scientific journal have run into an author like this, who was convinced that the p-value could tell you something about “improper data cleansing”. I canned it immediately, but was amazed that the author had been able to publish something similar in another journal. As always, read with a skeptic’s eye…

  35. Canageek says:

    It is sad how close highly intelligent people can run to mental illness: Kurt Gödel starved himself to death because he believed everyone was trying to poison him. There are many other more mild examples though I don’t know them well enough to cite them from memory.
    On an unrelated note: some of the writing above reminds me of this little quote I saw in a Gaussian output file. Luckily this man was proven right in time, though sadly his discovery lead to another brilliant chemist leaving science forever:

  36. Anonymous says:

    “gyronexus” may be preferable to gynorexus, I suppose.

  37. Fredo says:

    I don’t know if anyone has said this, but it reminds me of trying to read Buckminster Fuller’s book ‘Critical Path’. It turns out that being a bit mad isn’t such a problem if you work in architecture, maybe this guy should move jobs.
    Stuff like this makes me worry some of it might stick in the back of my mind like lost change down the back of the sofa…

  38. Handles says:

    At least Andrulis will get some help now.
    I am reminded of the story about the researcher with delusional parasitosis, who managed to get her imagined bugs published in an entomological journal.

  39. 20 Anonymous says:

    @39 I hope he does get some help… as for the CWRU community, we are deeply concerned.

  40. Anonymous Researcher says:

    I know a former journal editor who got several fringe submissions every year. I also read somewhere that a famous mathematician had a printed form letter: your proof of _________________ is incorrect. The first error is on Page ___, Line ___. A grad student would be assigned the task of filling in the blanks.
    The mention of Lawsonomy reminded me of my Wisconsin youth — there used to be a big sign University of Lawsonomy in an open field next to an Interstate Highway. As a kid saw that sign whenever we drove to Chicago. No visible campus, just the sign. I dunno whether it’s still there, I forgot to look for it the last time I was on that road during a family visit.

  41. Joe rae says:

    He has posted on a few internet forums for years and discussed this theory and is not particularly knowledgeable about physics – he doesn’t have to be because the theory covers all that. Part of the problem is a certain public contempt for science when people say stuff like “well you don’t like my ideas but how about dark matter, the ultimate fudge”. Or substitute for dark matter, “renormalization”, “big bang”, … It stems from the fact that theories these days take a bunch of education. If you don’t have that education, you feel left out.
    When I heard about the life publication, I figured it was no big deal – there must be online magazines for this type of stuff. I was flabbergasted by the CWU press.
    Perhaps this guy can rescue his career if he gets the right help. It’s not his fault and, as others say, he seems like a good scientist.

  42. Pharmaconduct says:

    While looking up Lawsonomy on Wikipedia, I came across the entry for Martin Gardner’s book on scientific fads and fallacies (see, which discusses two of the common characteristics of scientific cranks:
    1) Working outside the scientific mainstream of peer review
    2) paranoia and obsessiveness.
    I have come across this personality several times in my career. Interestingly, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology exhibited all of the characteristics described by Gardner, and he wrote voluminous works.

  43. Sangomasmith says:

    My current (naively optimistic) theory is that this guy simply got too keen playing ‘Genius: the Transgression’ and decided to live-action roleplay his character. I’ll keep a look-out for any references to mania, lemuria or bardos and live in hope…

  44. LondonChemist says:

    “Mmm…gyros. The author is clearly a shill for The Gyro Company”
    I think “Gyros” is the german word for Kebab….

  45. Guppy says:

    He probably does need help. But in most modern countries, if he refuses it (I’m sure it’s been offered, probably many times) he cannot be compelled to take treatment — unless he becomes a clear danger to himself or others.

  46. gattsuru says:

    @21 : Men are dramatically more likely to develop schizophrenia, and slightly more likely to develop schizotypal personality disorder or schizoid personality disorder. There’s some evidence suggesting that men are also less likely to be treated or have education limited as a result of these conditions. They also are more likely to end up in the sort of roles where you could write a paper like this.
    It could be another Sokal, but Sokal didn’t use nearly as much newly designed language. There’s a lot of word salad in this paper, and it’s too obvious a sign of neurological misfiring to be part of an intentional parody.

  47. DCRogers says:

    I can only imagine the sinking feeling any reviewer would experience getting a draft of this monster in the mail. Such papers are like getting encrypted text — you need to decide whether there is some message in there, or just random noise.

  48. tel says:

    I work at a scientific journal. Unfortunately we get that kind of paper at least two or three times a month. Whenever we get an obviously crank paper, we wait a few days, then send a polite “no thanks” letter. Letter or not, you really have to have some system of dealing with cranks, because they will come in no matter what. A slip-up this major is seriously damaging to any journal’s reputation; “Life” might not survive its inaugural issue, if this is any indication of its scientific quality.
    I suspect “Life” contacted CWRU to coordinate press. The university press folks usually aren’t scientists. They probably saw: “Hey! Publication! New Journal! Exciting!” and went right ahead and publicized it without checking anything else. Normally it’s pretty safe to do that, and with an institution as big as Case Western they probably wouldn’t know all their professors personally. But with a totally untested journal, a professor who was apparently in mental decline, nobody double-checking anything … you get a perfect storm of embarrassment.

  49. pete says:

    @47 gattsuru
    Thanks. Ponderous subject. The absolute brightest guy I knew in HS was swept away by schizophrenia. A truly sh*tty disease.

  50. Texan99 says:

    It sounds like left-hemisphere temporal lobe epilepsy: the association of seemingly trivial data with deep, even cosmic meaning, and the hypergraphia.
    Poor man. But the real scandal is the publication’s and the university’s not being able to distinguish between this and real work.

  51. Anonymous says:

    …odd that the iron-overload guy, or the nitric oxide guy
    – both of whom infest endless med blogs –
    haven’t chimed in yet. I bet their obsessive theories have
    a telling explanation for this man’s affliction.
    They could explain that while he is certifiable, they
    are simply over-looked geniuses crying in the intellectual

  52. Myma says:

    I think Gyrapex would be an excellent name for a rock band.

  53. Ernie G says:

    Who knew that a Greek sandwich would be the key to understanding the universe and everything?

  54. D^2 says:

    I recommend Margaret Wertheim’s recent book about “outsider scientists” if you find this Andrulis affair as fascinating as I do:

  55. coprolite says:

    Douglas Adams nods approvingly.

  56. Mylie says:

    Sad, very sad. Same sort of oddness appears as Letter #1 in the Jan 16 2012 C&EN. Sad.

  57. Secondaire says:

    A good friend of mine rotated, while in grad school, with Andrulis, and I can testify (through him) that the poor man really isn’t all right upstairs. It’s quite depressing, really.

  58. Jonadab says:

    > Sokal didn’t use nearly as much newly designed language
    That’s because Sokal was going after postmodernism, which consistently adheres to a modus operandi of abusing existing language (often in a severely egregious fashion) rather than creating new terminology where it would otherwise be warranted. Rather than talking about the “gyromnemesis” being a “gyronexus” in the “gyrobase”, a postmodernist paper would be far more likely to press existing terms into service and say that the “fundamental paradigm” consisting of a “conclusive determination” in the “academic society” or some such. It’s just as meaningless at the sentence level, but the individual words appear superficially meaningful.
    I’m not saying the gyroeverything paper is necessarily a hoax attempted to expose the journal. I’m only saying the existence of copious neologisms does not preclude this possibility. The journal in question is not a postmodernist journal, so one would not necessarily expect postmodernist-style usage of vocabulary, in a sincere submission nor in a prank submission.

  59. Kyle says:

    @9 Thomas McEntee: That is one of the most bizarre, confusing, and mildly disturbing things I’ve ever seen (science-wise of course, the internet is a scary place).

  60. joe rae says:

    Quote from the author, in tinfoil palace:
    “If I were to have listened—or listen now—to everyone that says that something is impossible or off-limits or inappropriate, then I would never have tried or continue to try to unite all of Humankind in Peace.”

  61. Mike O says:

    Is there some connection between the Life paper and the Theosophy movement? Andrulis’ work read a bit like some of the things an elderly neighbour, a theosophist, is keen for me to explore in my work as a scientist. The Yeats poem in @7 led me to this: “The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom” by John Thomas Noonan. It notes at p.158 “William Butler Yeats for a period was a Theosophist and borrowed “gyres” and other concepts from [Madame Helena] Blavatsky.”. Is there a link?
    BTW my neighbour often says that if I would open my mind to theosophy and apply it to my science I would surely win a Nobel Prize. So far I’ve resisted the invitation. I don’t have the heart to tell him there are more real-world personal and pragmatic reasons why I won’t.

  62. nettle says:

    The paper is genuine. I know because I have read it and previous versions — plus and enormity of additional, related material. (Louis, yeah, there is a heck of a lot more.)
    The paper is heterodox and VERY dense, so naturally most people will take the intellectually lazy route and just mock it.
    CWRU acted in a cowardly fashion by taking down its press release. Its press office was bullied by two physicists who were embarassed (threatened really) that a non-physicist would dare to trespass in their sacred territory. Science is about defending the status quo — and getting grants that support pet theories.
    I have spent several YEARS in conversations with Erik about the paper (and related material). He has made corrections and revisions and has made coherent arguments.
    I have advanced degrees in science, and those, coupled with my many discussions with Erik give me a distinct advantage in understanding this paper.
    If any serious reader wants to understand this paper, he or she will have to read it several times — if only to get a notion of what it is about.
    The radically new can be extremely hard to understand, you see.
    Also, for your consideration:

  63. Ignatios Souvatzis says:

    @45: “Gyros” is Greek.

  64. Mrs. Anonymous Researcher says:

    @41 and @49, yes, crank submissions were an inescapable penance of the mostly-otherwise-pleasant years I worked in a journal office. Oncology journals apparently attract a certain percentage of submissions from grandiose types with “cancer cures”. One author, a registered pharmacist, sent us the same paper so many times I eventually stopped sending a terse polite thanks-and-rejection letter. Once she sent me copies of the letters she’d received from all the other journals she tried; apparently she couldn’t tell kind rejection from almost-agreement, and I called a few of those editors and asked “What did you really think?” Once I asked the Exec. Editor “may I send this to reviewers just so she’ll take no for an answer afterward?” He replied “Please don’t insult our valued reviewers by sending it!”

  65. Getheren says:

    The sad thing is that when intelligent, well-educated people, well trained in systematic thought and the art of presenting ideas and theories in a respectable intellectual framework, go off the rails … they tend to go off the rails majestically.
    Their minds are in the habit of developing coherent theories of what they understand and presenting well-written, coherent presentations of same. Which served them very well when the reality they were in touch with was (at least mostly) in tune with the reality of their audience. Once that reality becomes delusional and hallucinatory, on the other hand, they tend to produce very well-written, (internally) coherent representations of madness.
    Looked at it one way, they achieve genius: their work is the crème de la crème of kookery, with a kind of sublime beauty that appeals to a certain kind of taste. But scientifically, it’s complete bollocks, and on a human level, it’s more than merely sad to see “what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”.

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