Flerov’s Gambit

Georgy Flerov was a young nuclear physicist in the Soviet Union who ( in 1943) sent a letter to Stalin advocating an atomic bomb project. It is not clear that Stalin read that letter, but one of Flerov’s arguments was particularly interesting: he pointed out the abrupt and complete silence on the subject of nuclear fission in the scientific literature of the US, UK, and Germany – previously an extremely hot topic.

Stopping publications on atomic energy ( which happened in April 1940) was a voluntary effort by American and British physicists. But that cessation was itself a signal that something strategically important was going on.

Imagine another important discovery with important strategic implications: how would you maximize your advantage ?

Probably this is only practically possible if your side alone has made the discovery. If the US and the UK had continued publishing watered-down nuclear research, the paper stoppage in Germany would still have given away the game. But suppose, for the moment, that you have a monopoly on the information. Suddenly stopping closely related publications obviously doesn’t work. What do you do?

You have to continue publications, but they must stop being useful. You have to have the same names at the top ( an abrupt personnel switch would also be a giveaway) but the useful content must slide to zero. You could employ people that A. can sound like the previous real authors and B. are good at faking boring trash. Or, possibly, hire people who are genuinely mediocre and don’t have to fake it.

Maybe you can distract your rivals with a different, totally fake but extremely exciting semiplausible breakthrough.

Or – an accidental example of a very effective approach to suppression. Once upon a time, around 1940, some researchers began to suspect that duodenal ulcers were caused by a spiral bacterium. Some physicians were even using early antibiotics against them, which seemed to work. Others thought what they were seeing might be postmortem contamination. A famous pathologist offered to settle the issue.

He looked, didn’t see anything, and the hypothesis was buried for 40 years.

But he was wrong: he had used the wrong stains.

So, a new (?) intelligence tactic for hiding strategic breakthroughs: the magisterial review article.

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54 Responses to Flerov’s Gambit

  1. protokol2020 says:

    Those guys from DeepMind, Google, and many other neural networkers and deep learners, already, quote: “don’t have to fake it”? Looks like.

  2. pyrrhus says:

    Kind of like the Ivermectin study by a prominent doctor/researcher that originally praised it, but he changed the conclusions for fear of losing his Gates Foundation funding…He knew at the time that his false article would cost many lives…

    • gcochran9 says:

      If you think ivermectin works, you are silly.

      • chozang says:

        You sound far more certain of that than the actual research. How did you come to your certainty? Mystical visions?

        “Meta-analysis of 15 trials found that ivermectin reduced risk of death compared with no ivermectin (average risk ratio 0.38, 95% confidence interval 0.19–0.73; n = 2438; I2 = 49%; moderate-certainty evidence). This result was confirmed in a trial sequential analysis using the same DerSimonian–Laird method that underpinned the unadjusted analysis. This was also robust against a trial sequential analysis using the Biggerstaff–Tweedie method. Low-certainty evidence found that ivermectin prophylaxis reduced COVID-19 infection by an average 86% (95% confidence interval 79%–91%). Secondary outcomes provided less certain evidence. Low-certainty evidence suggested that there may be no benefit with ivermectin for “need for mechanical ventilation,” whereas effect estimates for “improvement” and “deterioration” clearly favored ivermectin use. Severe adverse events were rare among treatment trials and evidence of no difference was assessed as low certainty. Evidence on other secondary outcomes was very low certainty.”

        • gcochran9 says:

          Close attention, knowing that some of the studies in that meta-analysis were fraudulent, and knowing that the a priori probability of_anything_ working is low.

          latest: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2115869

          • Dmon says:

            Not to get too sidetracked or anything, but in my lifetime I have witnessed massive government-media coordinated propaganda campaigns to try to convince me that:
            -A high carbohydrate diet is much better for you than all that protein
            -it is wrong to focus on gay male practices to try to control AIDS, because everyone is equally at risk
            -Uncontrolled illegal immigration is absolutely, unconditionally good for America
            -Saddam Hussein has WMD, and is an existential threat to the world
            -The sea level will rise 12 feet and human life will be extinct by the year 202x unless we immediately stop all use of petroleum
            -Any difference in life outcome between races is due exclusively to systemic racism on the part of Whites
            -Blacks will be back in chains unless biological males can piss in the girl’s bathroom
            -Ivermectin is useless and dangerous, should be banned outright, anyone saying otherwise should be prevented from engaging in public discourse and deprived of their livelihood.
            Maybe this time, the aliens really do come in peace, and it’s not a cookbook. But I’m going to hold on to my Slim Whitman’s Greatest Hits album just in case.

            • Assistant Village Idiot says:

              I don’t recall any calls for banning it, claims that it was dangerous were quite targeted on the misuse for a disease it had no shown effectiveness treating (seeing that it has side effects, as all medications do), and while powerful private platforms removed discussions they did not like, I did not see any calls that the ivermectin believers should be “banned outright.” They ended up getting heard by lots of people, didn’t they? I think you overclaimed on that last one.

        • Casper says:

          Scott Alexander wrote a piece a few months ago in which he meta-analyzed someone else’s meta-analysis of Ivermectin studies. The prior paper had listed around 30 studies. He tossed roughly half of those based on bad experiment design, small samples, etc., and was left with 15 studies that he judged “strong”. Several of the strong studies showed a significant benefit to Ivermectin in treating Covid patients, while a majority of strong studies found none.

          Then he noticed what countries the studies were done in. The ones showing significant benefit were done in countries where parasitic worms were a widespread health problem.

          His surmise was that, if a Covid patient’s body has been weakened by parasites, you can help the patient recover from Covid if you kill the worms first.

      • teageegeepea says:

        I think it works… against parasites (rather than viruses).

  3. dearieme says:

    @pyrrhus: are you alluding to Hill at the University of Liverpool, or has this happened twice?

  4. jbbigf says:

    And what makes it a “gambit”? A gambit is a strategem that tempts an opponent into a trap by putting a valuable piece in jeopardy.

  5. engleberg says:

    Greg is confessing something, but which of his crushing put-downs is covering up the Secret Magic?

  6. ohwilleke says:

    Damn. That is a scary and more than a half-plausible conspiracy theory.

  7. Assistant Village Idiot says:

    It has a Harry Seldon or Paul Atreides flavor to it.

  8. Space Ghost says:

    Is this about quantum computing?

  9. Steve Sailer says:

    Plomin, R., & Cochran, G. (2022, October 15). Meta-analysis finds no link between IQ and ancestral genetics. Nature, 598(7816), 453–458. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2468-6

    • Assistant Village Idiot says:

      Thank might not completely convince me I’ve been wrong, but the Plomin-Cochran combo would give me more than a little pause. I wonder how much this principle of disguise is affected by what people hope is true versus what they hope is not true.

    • TB says:

      DOI leads to nothing, and Googling the title and authors also leads to no result. Is this a joke?

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I like this fake study. Plomin left no room for misinterpretation with his identical twin studies. But just try and follow it up with further studies and see if you can get it published. Perhaps Cochran,G and Pope Francis can follow it up with a study that finds no link between IQ and religious affiliation. Maybe Mark Twain can come back from the dead and help out. He was the one that came up with this quote. “Religion was born when the first con man met the first fool.”

    • mitchellporter says:

      The article as generated by the language model GPT-J: https://pastebin.com/RE6KLnfF

    • 😂
      A new triumph of Straussian methods. I can just see all the citations now.

  10. I’ve had hundreds of delusional patients over the years, with paranoias based on whatever was in the air whenever they first went psychotic. The CIA was big in the 70s, then the Mafia attracted all the paranoiacs because of the Godfather movies. Satellites, implanted chips, and military experiments have all had their runs, plus there is a steady base of people who think that God or the Bible is telling them, or it’s the neighbors who must be drug dealers, or the Illuminati, Bilderbergs, Jews, etc. I actually have had more than a few who pointed to the absence of information as evidence that something is up.

    It’s proof that elephants are very good at hiding in bag of M&M’s

    • dearieme says:

      My wife can remember when madwomen believed that they were being spied on by the “golf balls” in IBM Selectric typewriters. Always up to date with tech, your nut cases. I wonder whether anyone thinks he’s being spied on by his e-scooter.

      I assume people actually are being spied on by Alexa, of course. Aren’t they?

    • Coagulopath says:

      Yes, it’s no secret that lots of delusions are pop culture distorted in a funhouse mirror.

      People noticed this back in 1965, when Betty and Barney Hill reported being abducted by aliens that coincidentally looked like the monster in the previous week’s Outer Limits.

      The Exorcist created a wave of interest in demonic possession. One of the few Catholic priests who could still perform an exorcism reported receiving over 400 expressions of interest in the years after the movie came out. Then Jaws did the same but for sharks, etc.

      Whenever someone talks about something “the elites” are doing, often “the elites” turns out to be code for “celebs”. People with massive fame but no actual power, like Tom Hanks and Chrissy Teigen. There are major conspiracy theories (adrenochrome, mind-controlled sleeper agents) that started out as literal plot points from fictitious movies.

      A certain percentage of the population just doesn’t seem to realize that the stuff on TV isn’t real.

      • Jason says:

        And then along came the Davos crowd.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        I remember when delusional people were funny. Just a couple percent of the population believing amusing nonsense. But things have changed and they aren’t changing back. A society with brilliant innovators at the top now has truth dictated by popularity at the bottom and the bottom threatens to be a majority at times.

  11. mdap says:

    An exhaustive study convinced paleontologists for decades that birds are no dinosaurs.


  12. Coagulopath says:

    In 2018, Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui used CRISPR to edit DNA in human embryos to make them less susceptible to HIV. It was widely (and sensationally) reported in the media as the creation of “designer babies”.

    The state came down hard on Jiankui. He received a massive fine, and a three year prison sentence.

    Since then…silence.

    An imaginative person might wonder if Jiankui was a sacrificial lamb, and that CRISPR research is continuing under a cloak of secrecy somewhere.

    Probably not. Any team working under those conditions would be severely handicapped (they wouldn’t be able to collaborate with or even discuss their work with anyone, losing out on network effects), and the chance of someone leaking is high. But it’s clear that China disapproved of the publicity more than they did the act itself.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Clear? Not to me.

      • Coagulopath says:

        My impression was that the CCP (as reflected in their state press) was originally excited by the news. Only later, and after backlash, did they turn against him.


        “The news was rapidly reprinted by Chinese media. At first, HE’s research was promoted as a dramatic scientific advancement. For example, People’s Daily Online, the most influential newspaper in the Chinese mainland, described HE’s research as “a historical breakthrough in the application of gene editing technology for disease prevention” (SinaTech, 2018). However, as more detailed information about HE’s research was unveiled by the media, its legitimacy was increasingly challenged by scientists, bioethicists, lawyers, and the general public, both in China and internationally.”

  13. Paul Mendez says:

    I recall reading that in the 1930’s the Pentagon asked US chemical companies to stop publishing research on insecticides. The reasoning was that war with Japan was inevitable, and it would be fought in mosquito-infested jungles.

    Meanwhile, German chemists working on insecticides discovered what would eventually become Sarin. When the Wehrmacht did a literature search, it discovered – to its horror- we had stopped publishing on the topic years earlier. They assumed we not only had nerve agents, but a several year head start. Hence, D-Day was not repulsed with nerve gas.

    But I’ve never been able to find this story on the internet, so I’m not 100% sure it’s true

  14. Rich Rostrom says:

    Paul Mendez says: @May 31, 2022 at 11:25 am:
    [The Gerrmans] assumed we not only had nerve agents, but a several year head start. Hence, D-Day was not repulsed with nerve gas.

    In post-war interrogation, Goering stated that the reason Germany never used gas in combat was “the horses”. Germany was always very short of motor fuel. So they used horse-drawn wagons to move supplies from railroads to all front-line units except panzer divisions. Horses will not work in gas masks. If they used gas, the Allies would retaliate, and their supply operations would collapse. Or so Goering claimed. He would be in position to know.

  15. Henry Scrope says:

    Dr C any thoughs on monkeypox?

    Some people believe that smallpox wasn’t as virulent before maybe 1600AD and then mutated into a major killer. Does the eradication of smallpox in the wild leave a gap for monkeypox to fill?

    Should we bring the smallpox vaccine out of the cupboard, build up stocks again?

    • bomag says:

      Does the eradication of smallpox in the wild leave a gap for monkeypox to fill?

      Suspect monkeypox would fill a niche regardless of what smallpox does.

      These pathogens are not economic monopolists that divvy up markets to maximize profits.

  16. archandsuperior says:

    So what you’re saying is that the entire replication crisis is an elaborate smokescreen for the successful development of Seldon-esque psychohistory.

  17. R49 says:

    Hello “Loaded”, why don’t you just leave and stop poisoning this blog?

  18. Jacob says:

    These kinds of comments reveal a lot more about you than you think they do.

  19. Rob says:

    Greg, I recently learned that lithium is an antiviral. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/antiviral-side-lithium or https://journalbipolardisorders.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40345-020-00191-4.

    There are people who are on high doses of lithium for years or decades. Are there any cancers that are noticeably rare in bipolar people? Auto-immune diseases?

  20. random observer says:

    This Loaded is a strangely sophisticated bot. The messaging varies so much more than is typical.

  21. One of my paranoid pals suggests quantum computing is a spooky LARP to get people to switch to crackable or pre-cracked post-quantum schemes (which, admittedly seem pretty weak: https://www.quantamagazine.org/post-quantum-cryptography-scheme-is-cracked-on-a-laptop-20220824/ ). I figure it’s just the latest woo, like noodle theory and nanotech before: a cheap pencil and paper research subject where nobody actually expects you to produce useful results.

    For comparison, Harvard architectures would actually be useful security enhancements (you can’t do buffer overflows on a SH-2A chip).

  22. dave chamberlin says:

    I hope Greg is doing well and writing somewhere about this crazy world in his honest fashion. If he doesn’t want to do the blog thing anymore, I don’t blame him.

    • Woof says:

      It is disappointing he has taken a hiatus. Hopefully it is temporary. There aren’t a lot of places left on the internet where there is honest commentary, and the few that exist are increasingly behind paywalls like Razib. Was

    • gcochran9 says:

      Work. I’m ok. How are you?

      • Woof says:

        I’m doing well, although I must admit more and more of the blogs I used to read have gotten……peculiar. Too much wishful thinking or utter delusion have infected previously interesting sites. Hope you will find the time to post regularly again.

  23. Dan says:

    I came here hoping that Greg would offer his thoughts on the Nordstream pipeline sabotage.

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