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Pentcho Valev FAQ

Note. As prepared originally in April 1998 this page included links to many Bionet pages to substantiate the quotations, but unfortunately the Bionet web site was reorganized in December 1999 and the old links no longer worked. Even more unfortunately, the reorganization was done in such a way that the index numbers for the individual postings changed in unpredictable ways, precluding any straightforward way of updating this page. My first thought was that it had probably outlived its usefulness anyway (as Mr Valev has not favoured the BTK-MCA news group with his opinions since the page appeared), and that the simplest would be just to remove it. My second thought was that this would be annoying for the relatively infrequent visitors that it still gets, and so in December 1999 I left the text but removed the links. In January 2000, however, I learned that even if the BTK-MCA news group no longer received messages from Mr Valev there were others that were less fortunate, so I tried to update all the links. I hope that this was done correctly, but after nearly two years it was not always clear which ones were intended, so there are probably some mistakes.

In November 2004 I was again starting to think the time might have arrived to delete this page when I again received information about Mr Valev’s current activities in philosophy and physics news groups. At that time I deleted some dead hyperlinks and updated some others that had changed. Some months later I received a message from someone active in the US Chemistry Education list urging me to not to remove this page. So it will remain for the moment. It is worth noting that there are no links to it from anywhere else on my site (the two that existed in the past were removed quite a while ago).



There are times when to remain silent is to lie (Miguel de Unamuno, 1936)

Reading Mr Valev’s postings to the BTK-MCA and other news groups and trying to answer all the nonsense contained in them incurs the risk of being so time-consuming that it takes over one’s professional time completely, leaving none for more profitable activities. On the other hand, not answering them incurs the even greater risk that some readers of the news group may think that his points are unanswerable and that thermodynamics, kinetics, catalysis etc. rest on as fragile a foundation as he pretends. One respondent to a posting I sent on this suggested that the best thing would be to create a FAQ page and refer readers to it whenever Mr Valev repeated any of his usual fallacies. Although in the first instance this is in itself time-consuming it will pay for itself within a month or two (or even within a week or two). Fortunately it is not as difficult as it may appear because despite Mr Valev’s huge number of postings (normally with a different subject line each time) their content is restricted to a fairly small number of fallacies. So any time a new posting appears it is not too difficult to identify which answer is appropriate.

I apologize to anyone (other than Mr Valev), who thinks this page is lacking in taste. Believe me, some of us have tried hard to deal calmly and rationally with his continuous outpouring of nonsense, but now there is a higher priority than being polite: ensuring that falsehoods are not accepted as truth.

Can a catalyst shift the position of an equilibrium?

No. Absolutely not if it is a true catalyst present at very low concentrations. If it is present at a concentration comparable with that of one or more of the reactants then it may appear to shift the position of equilibrium by mass action effects. However, when it does this it is acting as a reactant, not as a catalyst. Mr Valev’s claims to have shown otherwise are analysed by Lukasz Salwinski (1, 2, 3, 4) and Petr Kuzmic (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). There were also some earlier comments from me (1).

What are Mr Valev’s qualifications as a scientist?

This is one of life’s great mysteries. A literature search has revealed no publications. I had thought that Mr Valev worked at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, but Petr Kuzmic has pointed out that he is actually employed by the State Commission of Varieties, 125 Tzarigradsko Chaussee, Block 1, 1113 Sofia, Bulgaria, and apparently it is only his web connection that comes through the Academy. Subsequently he described himself as the head (since 1994) of the Technological Laboratory of this Commission, and described its work as testing, approbation and control of seeds.

Puzzlement on this subject extends even to Bulgaria, as B. V. Toshev, head of the Departments of Physical Chemistry and of Chemistry Education at the University of Sofia, noted in a message to the Chemistry Education Discussion List in April 2005, when he asked

Who is Pentcho Valev? What is his education? Nobody in Bulgaria knows that. He does not belong either to the researchers or to the Bulgarian education community. I even wonder if he is a real man?!

A small bit of light was shed by Mr Valev himself in January 2000 in a message to the UK chemical education news group:

I am not an educator not even a scientist.

It just confirms what we had already deduced, of course, but it is helpful to have it from an authoritative source.

Why does every message have a different subject line?

Who knows? Petr Kuzmic thinks it’s Mr Valev’s way of making sure that no one can follow a thread, thereby making it more difficult to spot the repetitions, illogicalities, non sequiturs etc. in his postings. Probably he is right, but even without this obstacle they are easy enough to spot. Mr Valev’s explanation is that it’s a consequence of his primitive computer system, but that makes no more sense than anything else he writes. Some months ago he was claiming that it was impossible to put the right return address on his messages, but after a considerable amount of badgering he managed to solve that one eventually.

Is Mr Valev likely to appreciate
any efforts people make to discuss his contributions?

Almost certainly not. You are much more likely to find him in a year or two making more or less the same points to another news group and complaining that nobody ever replies:

This is an absurdity I have been trying to discuss with people for many years — so far my messages acted like to face of Medusa the Gorgon — on seeng them everybody get petrified and never reply.

Why is the group silent on 2nd law problems?

Benno ter Kuile (1, 2) dealt with this one very cogently. There are many followers of the news group interested in the theory of thermodynamics, but they are only likely to respond to serious points raised by serious scientists.

Can a system at equilibrium do work?

Everyone apart from Mr Valev is agreed that the answer is no. Bryant Fujimoto (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) has given the reasons why his example is wrong.

Is the point of true equilibrium of a chemical reaction unique?

Yes: see Marc Roussel. Of course, Mr Valev doesn’t agree, but no one bothered to takes his arguments apart on this occasion, probably because they came at the end of a useful discussion and everyone thought the things worth saying had been said.

Is there a more authoritative discussion of
Mr Valev’s views than is offered here?

Yes: see Thermodynamic Nonsense, Hoaxes, and Disproving the Second Law

What has Mr Valev been up to since April 1998?

Followers of the BTK-MCA news group may suppose that he has just disappeared since this page was first posted, but the reality is that he has just been making a nuisance of himself to various other groups of people, for example on the UK chemical education list and the entropy list.

More recently (March 2002) he appeared on the US Chemistry Education list. If you look at this thread you will see that nothing much had changed in four years: same arguments, same unwillingness to understand any points raised by anyone else, same promises to stop contributing (followed immediately by further contributions), same arbitrary changes of subject line.

After several months of silence Mr Valev erupted again in the same list in mid-2003, and succeeded in irritating some members to set up their own web page entitled Thermodynamic Nonsense, Hoaxes, and Disproving the Second Law in which some correspondence from July 2003 is reproduced. This page is recommended as a more expert discussion of the fallacies in Mr Valev’s views than I can manage.

More recently (November 2004) Mr Valev seemed to have given up on the second law of thermodynamics and was trying to convince physicists that Einstein was a plagiarist. (The link to the thread is more than 255 characters long, so to avoid problems I just give the link to the news group: to find a relevant thread, try The discoveries of the plagiarist starting on 16th October 2004.)

If there was any decline of interest in thermodynamics in that period it was short-lived, because by April 2005 he was again trying to convince subscribers to the US Chemistry Education list that a catalyst affects the position of equilibrium. Connoisseurs of his style of 1997–1998 will recognize that little has changed in his style of arguing and that he has learned nothing over the years. Although he appears to be specifically interested in enzymes now, they are just a particular example of catalysts so they hardly affect the argument. It may be worthwhile, however, quoting the following remarkable statement:

He [P. W. Atkins] should only have added that, in metabolism, almost all reactions are unidirectional (enzymes catalyse the forward reaction but don’t the backward).

What about Mr Valev’s views on relativity?

Although Mr Valev has by no means abandoned his views on thermodynamics, he now seems to be more interested in convincing physicists that their subject took a wrong turn with the special theory of relativity, from which it has not yet recovered. No words are too harsh to be applied to Albert Einstein, if we believe Mr Valev. I don’t feel qualified to dissect his arguments in this field, but interested readers can find some useful pointers at Dirk Van de Moortel’s web site (which suggests that Mr Valev is not the only purveyor of nonsense that physicists have to deal with).

What response will you get if you offer to
help with Mr Valev’s library problems?

Mr Valev is a believer in biting the hand that tries to feed him, so it would be safest not to try. In August 1997, after he had been moaning about his isolation and lack of access to the literature, Petr Kuzmic made the useful suggestion that more fortunate people should package up their old journals when they run out of shelf space and send them to people whose libraries couldn’t afford to buy them in the first place. Mr Valev thought this an appropriate moment to send an offensive reply.

How embarrassed is Mr Valev about the existence of this page?

Not very, he even tells interested parties how to find it. See what he said on 15th March 2002 on the US chemed-l listlist:

Years ago an English professor with the same feelings even found it suitable to create a web site where my wicked nature was exposed - you can see it by writing pentcho valev faq is some search system. At first I did not care much but then discovered with horror that editors, on receiving my papers, just looked at the web site and reacted accordingly.

It is interesting that he is now apparently risking exposing his views to the scrutiny of journal editors. Indeed (18th March in the same thread):

Let me only add (last message indeed) that a letter to the editor will be published in Education in Chemistry where one of the crucial tricks in chemical thermodynamics courses is discussed.

This letter did subsequently appear in the May 2002 issue of Education in Chemistry under the title Mistaken fundamental equation, so my earlier scepticism about whether it would do so was excessive.

Not long after this Mr Valev realized that he was not welcome on that list, and moved his attention to the complexity list where, on 1st June 2002, he was again telling people how to find this page.

In a message to the PHILCHEM list (available in the archives for subscribers to the list, but only after logging in) dated 23 December 2004, Mr Valev provided the full URL for this page, but at the same time added that Practically this ruined my life. Now I have no desire at all to ruin his (or anyone else’s) life, but I find it very hard to understand why he is so anxious to keep people informed about something he claims to have ruined his life — no easier to understand, in fact, than his views on thermodynamics.

Do Mr Valev’s promises mean anything?

No. On 26 January 1998 he wrote

I do not want to be a nightmare (at least so I feel). Of course I will give up — sorry for posting — you can be absolutely sure that this will never happen again in this ng.

His next message came less than two days later, on 28 January 1998. To be fair, his previous promise, of 5 September 1997:

I agree with Pedro Mendes that a lot of rubish has been thrown out of my computer, especially this night when suddenly many old messages which seemed lost appeared together. I do not think that this should continue, so I would like to apologise to the group and promise not to contribute any more. I wish you fruitful discussions.

was not broken quite so soon. It survived until 24 January 1998, but when he broke it he broke it into small pieces, with 17 messages in a week.

Are perpetual motion machines possible?

Not if you mean machines that do useful work. There was a lot of discussion about this in July and August 1997, but unfortunately at that time Mr Valev had found a way of confusing the subject lines so thoroughly that it’s a tremendous amount of work trying to disentangle the threads (or even to work out who sent what). There are lots of postings, mostly with subject lines like Second Law <> PENTCHO VALEV or Bjorn’s model <> PENTCHO VALEV. In essence what happened was as follows. Mr Valev claimed that perpetual motion was possible and that it would be easy to make a machine to prove it. So I asked why he didn’t do it, if it was so easy. For a while he refused to take up this simple challenge, but eventually he did and found that his apparatus behaved as his critics expected, not as he expected (i.e. it did nothing). Mr Valev’s apology:

I made all possible modifications of Bjorn’s model but none of them worked. Obviously both Bjorn and I were wrong: the upper semipermeable membrane behaves in the same way as the lower one — it cannot filter the solution under gravity. The discussion was so emotional that now I feel as if I have offended the people who claimed otherwise. I still believe that there are serious problems with the second law, but fear that the interest will be absolute zero now that I have lost this battle. I do not know what to do.

convinced Marc Roussel, Herbert Sauro and Bryant Fujimoto that congratulations were in order, but it took almost no time at all (less than a week) before Mr Valev was again suggesting a machine that was sure to work. He promised that

I will do the experiment (measuring the potential difference between points symmetrical with respect to but distant from the membrane) as soon as I find suitable electrodes.

but I don’t think this promise was kept.

Is it possible to convince Mr Valev with rational arguments?

I doubt it. After he had himself raised the question of whether he was sound in mind (a question that may have occurred to others who were too delicate to raise it publicly), I tried to summarize the course of a dialogue with Mr Valev, which went like this:

  1. Pentcho proposes a paradox that appears to undermine two centuries of thermodynamics. Nothing necessarily wrong with that — received opinion has been wrong about things for a lot more than two centuries before, and will doubtless be so again.
  2. Someone offers some arguments as to why Pentcho is wrong and thermodynamics is OK after all.
  3. Pentcho either repeats his original point or raises another quite different one. In neither case does he give any indication that he has tried to understand what is said by anyone else.
  4. The respondent tries to explain what was said before.
  5. Pentcho either repeats his original point or raises another quite different one.

After a few cycles of this it becomes clear that arguing with Pentcho is like arguing with creationists about evolution; it’s just a waste of time.

If Pentcho wants people to take his arguments seriously he needs to show some good faith by indicating that he is willing to take theirs seriously. He might also make a serious effort to fix his mail program so that it sends his return address properly. Saying he can’t do it and leaving it at that is too much like his response to everything else to be very convincing.

A more recent analysis is provided by Michael Kohn: read it. Among several useful points, he says

Although I have been a theoretical biochemist for over 25 years, I insist on the primacy of real data. Thought experiments are fine, but at some point their consequences must be tested in the real world.

I have also been mainly a theoretical biochemist for a quarter of a century or more; like Michael I have always believed that biochemical theory should be firmly rooted in experimental observations. Thought experiments are good for getting a better understanding of theory, they are acceptable (though sometimes dangerous) for trying out ideas when wet experiments are impossible, but they are usually useless for trying to find contradictions in theories on points where the theories accord well with the data.

Is the 2nd law of thermodynamics true?

There is probably no law in science that has been tested so thoroughly, by so many people, over such a long period. (Why? Because lots of people would like it to be wrong, and if they could find a loophole it might well make them very rich; as Benno ter Kuile pointed out, an instant Nobel prize would be only a minor part of the rewards). None of them has been able to disprove it, so the only reasonable interpretation for the reasonable person is that it is true. Mr Valev thinks otherwise, and there was a great deal of discussion of this during May to September 1997, during which period Mr Valev’s scheme for tangling the threads was so successful that you will have great difficulty trying to follow any of the arguments. Suffice it to say that if Mr Valev really believed what he was saying he would not be writing nonsense on this news group, he would be building the machine that would make him the richest man in Bulgaria (or even the world).