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I have had the need to dig deep into the theory of architecture and in doing so I have encountered various authors who make extremely grandiose claims about themselves and their work.

This of course is not a measure for the actual value of their achievements, but sometimes it is hard to find out if an author is just very bad at expressing themselves, want to mask their ideas with jargon in order to make them seem even deeper, or if they really are just fabricating incoherent theories.

I by no mean want to denigrate anyone, but I don't want to learn from authors who are practicing junk science. The problem with architecture are authors who talk not just about architectural theory - but connect various disciplines to it, for example psychology, computer science, mathematics, etc... I have no required knowledge of any of those disciplines - so it is impossible for me to know if they are just using complex constructs from another discipline in a way that is just "sugar coating" for their claims.

A bigger problem is that there are very few people who have studied both architecture and some other discipline in detail and are able to comment both.

In this case I am baffled by two authors: Nikos A. Salingaros and Michael Leyton. Their book make incredible sounding claims, and their homepages and Amazon reviews are full of praise that rings all kinds of alarm bells, but at the same time they have permanent positions in universities which to my knowledge are quite reputable, and they have published a lot...

Regarding Michael Leytons theory of perception and cognition, there is a detailed criticism by Hendrickx and Wageman, but as I said, I am no mathematician... Apparently there is something wrong with the mathematical side of his theory though.

Is there any way to find if I can trust these authors? They seem to gather citations from their students and other people who use their work without any kind of criticism. Do I need to go through the magazines they publish into and find out if they are peer reviewed and of good reputation? How would I go about doing that?

I don't want to pollute my work with bad science, and I am very hesitant to make any claims myself if I don't have good grounds for them. With complex interdisciplinary claims like the ones these two authors do, should I just not use them at all since it seems so hard to find out if they can be taken academically seriously?

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    Asking if you can trust specific authors is far too "localized" a question; it won't help anyone other than you, and would this be considered "off-topic" here. However, the question of figuring out how to know when to trust authors as a general matter is perfectly on-topic. So I'd recommend removing the parts of your question relating to specific authors. – aeismail Jun 27 '14 at 13:27
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    The OP makes a bold claim that is not adequately supported by evidence. Hence this post is pseudoscience. – vadim123 Jun 27 '14 at 14:17
  • @aeismail: The OP asks a general question ("what is a general method for...?") and gives two examples to clarify what s/he wants to apply such a method to. Nothing wrong with that. – Ben Crowell Aug 17 '15 at 21:36
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Context: I'm a PhD student in Computational Social Science, so I'm very knowledgable about Complexity Science and related fields and how they are applied to design, architecture, organization science, and economics. Also, my adviser is a leader in the field of Design Science, particularly how Cognitive Science and AI can be applied to understand design and designers. Finally, I have a lot of domain knowledge regarding Pattern Languages and generative models of conception and design.

Is there any way to find if I can trust these authors?

I've encountered many authors, researchers, and consultants who I have identified as "charlatans" when it comes to applying Complexity Science or other models or theories to social systems. For the most part, they apply Complexity Science only in a metaphorical sense (e.g. "edge of chaos" concept), but have no basis or foundation in empirical or theoretical research.

But to determine whether any particular author is a charlatan or not, there is no substitute for you understanding the underlying theory or method. There is no reliable method for you to determine whether author A has a valid foundation in theory X unless you do your homework and develop a working understanding of theory X. If, on the other hand, you stay with your position that "I'm not a mathematician", then you have no basis for deciding either way. Looking at what other people say or citations will not help you, in an academic sense.

If you don't want to do the work to understand the mathematics, computational science, and formal methods that these author use, then just go another direction. If you must include them in your papers, then just say that you have no opinion on their validity or significance because their methods/theories are beyond your grasp.

Finally, just because you don't understand the mathematical and computational methods these authors use their theories doesn't mean there is any "junk science" going on. As Steven Covey (7 Habits) advised: "Seek first to understand."


Edit: Whether or not these authors have tenured positions at important Universities is not very good evidence regarding whether their "science" is "junk" or not.

  • But to determine whether any particular author is a charlatan or not, there is no substitute for you understanding the underlying theory or method. Sure there is. Two methods that spring to mind are to ask someone who does have expertise in that area, or to look at the results of peer review. These are not foolproof, but attempting to build one's own competence to the necessary level is not foolproof either. There are many, many kooks in the world, and they're very knowledgeable in their field and can write convincingly. Even in a field where I have expertise, my time is limited. – Ben Crowell Aug 17 '15 at 21:43
  • @BenCrowell Yes, you can use these two methods, but you are in effect depending on other people's judgment and evaluation, not your own. I accept that we all have limited time and capabilities, and so it is expedient to rely on the judgment of other people. – MrMeritology Aug 18 '15 at 19:41
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I think your definition of academic fraud or pseudoscience is way over the top. I am neither a mathematician nor an architect, but just doing a quick background search on both authors you mention gives me no indication that they are some wackjobs that use terminology from other disciplines to sound smart. If that is the case, they sure have convinced a lot of people that certainly know more about these fields than me (and, maybe, you).

Sure, a lot of people disagree with their theories, but that's completely ok, quite naturally actually. Most theories that go against the mainstream in a field are critiqued strongly. Michael Leyton, for instance, is a professor of theoretical computer science at Rutgers. His theories may or may not be correct, but I would be very hesitant to call it pseudoscience in the absence of further evidence.

  • I think your definition of academic fraud or pseudoscience is way over the top. The OP didn't propose any such definition. – Ben Crowell Aug 17 '15 at 21:38

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