HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

Of UFOs, Loch Ness monsters, Independent Thinkers, and dogmatists

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/09/29

Last Saturday I enjoyed the company of interested and interesting people at a one-day meeting of the Virginia-North Carolina section of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). I talked about “Challenges and advantages of researching UFOs and similar  subjects”. The text (mufon2008) and PowerPoint summary (also titled mufon2008) are posted here because there are many similarities between taking an unorthodox view as to HIV/AIDS (or global warming, or cold fusion, or fluoridation of water, etc.) and taking the view that it’s worth looking into the claims about Loch Ness monsters, UFOs, psychic phenomena, and the like.

The fundamental similarity is that one is cut loose from the support structure of mainstream scientific activity, and that has consequences in organizational, intellectual, and personal or social matters. Being clear about this can be very useful; I’ve certainly found it so. When I stumbled into active HIV/AIDS skepticism, I recognized quite a few aspects as being specific instances of generalizations that I was familiar with: lack of agreement and cohesion among the skeptics, for example; for another, the cadres of fanatical defenders of the orthodoxy, typically people who themselves had not contributed substantively to the orthodox case and who play the role of attack dogs and character assassins.

The similarities as to organizational and social or personal matters are considerable, but there are important differences regarding the intellectual aspects. Those who look for UFOs or Loch Ness monsters suffer from a dearth of hard data, a lack of clear indications about how more and better data might be obtainable, and the absence of any satisfactory explanation for the putative phenomenon. By contrast, with HIV/AIDS the hard data are on the side of the skeptics, not of the mainstream orthodoxy. However, those data are hard only in the destructive sense of disproving HIV/AIDS theory, not in a positive sense of pointing to all-encompassing explanations of everything about AIDS and about HIV that everyone would agree with. Defenders of HIV/AIDS orthodoxy experience intellectual challenges similar to those of UFO buffs, because their phenomena don’t cohere with an overarching theory: if it’s a virus, then vaccines and microbicides should be possible — but all attempts over more than two decades have failed; if it’s spread sexually, then there should have been epidemics in every country — but there haven’t been; breast feeding by “HIV-positive” mothers should be  deleterious — but it isn’t, quite the contrary; since HAART reduced dramatically the death rate among “HIV-positive” people, “HIV-positive” people should have been living longer — but they haven’t been; since there’s a long latent period, and benefit from antiretroviral treatment, people should on average be dying at much greater ages than those at which they become infected — but that’s not the case, the age distributions are superposable; higher viral load should mean lower CD4 counts and worse clinical prognosis — but those three things don’t correlate in that manner; untreated “HIV-positive” people should die, but many don’t even become ill; Africa’s population should have been decimated — but it’s grown steadily and quite rapidly. HIV/AIDS phenomena and HIV/AIDS theory don’t cohere, the same sort of dilemma faced by UFO buffs and by searchers for Loch Ness monsters.

As to behavioral matters, defenders of HIV/AIDS orthodoxy display the same characteristics as one finds within the mother of all pseudo-skeptical organizations, CSICOP, the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and among its associated groups. Most members of CSICOP are science groupies, not scientists — and similarly some of the most extreme HIV/AIDS vigilantes are economists, psychologists, and the like. Among those with technical scientific credentials, the vast majority have not themselves contributed anything of much note — for obvious reason: as Bernard Shaw remarked long ago, “Those who can, do” — it’s the low achievers who spend (waste) their time attacking characters and denigrating open-mindedness. The orthodoxy-defenders reveal deep personal insecurity, behaving as though it were life-threatening if everyone doesn’t agree with their views.

By contrast, those who don’t take the orthodox position on trust and as absolutely certain don’t display that degree of personal insecurity; they’re often much more interesting, and they certainly seem to enjoy themselves a lot more. Last Saturday, for example, the people I encountered were there out of pure interest. I heard from a man who had spent decades gathering information and whose life had thereby been greatly enriched, through wide travels and through making an enormous variety of friends. I met a couple who traverse the globe with the aim of observing eclipses, and along the way they have learned a great deal about many cultures. Another couple had relocated simply in order to offer their children a better intellectual environment. These are what Patrick Moore described, with empathy and sympathy, as “Independent Thinkers” (Can you speak Venusian?, David & Charles, 1972) — whereas less objective and insightful pundits than Patrick Moore use terms like “crank”, “crackpot”, “pseudo-scientist”. What Independent Thinkers explore might often turn out to be wrong in minor or major ways, but these individuals think for themselves. And that’s what the world needs more of; there’s a vast oversupply of people who just follow their leaders.

My own experience has been that an inclination to think for oneself brings interactions with a marvelous range of personalities, some of whose interests jibe while others do not. I find myself collaborating as to Loch Ness monsters and the like with people whose political views are almost diametrically opposite to mine. I find that my critiques of students who don’t study bring me into touch with others who make similar critiques and who also see flaws, as I do, in HIV/AIDS theory — but who tend to the orthodox view as to global warming whereas I do not. And so on. The company of Independent Thinkers is wonderfully refreshing, compared to the constipated rigidity of the vigilantes of orthodoxy. The latter don’t know what they’re missing.

8 Responses to “Of UFOs, Loch Ness monsters, Independent Thinkers, and dogmatists”

  1. Frank said

    Many thanks, Henry, for such a charming essay. It is itself a perfect illustration of its own argument, that the company of “interested and interesting people” is a boon whether or not you agree with them on any given subject. That honest, open and feisty inquiry can envelope birds of many feathers in an edifying camaraderie is an experience that is cherished by all who have found it, all, that is, but the would-be Torquemada.

  2. sadunkal said

    I had also found your “Loch Ness Odyssey” pretty charming, especially the part where you meet Tim Dinsdale for the first time.🙂 Interested readers can find it here: http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/LochNessOdyssey.pdf

    But actually after reading that I got the impression that your search for the truth became less scientific and objective over time as you developed a personal relationship with the people and Loch Ness, as if you became biased… I don’t know how true that would be though, it’s just the feeling I got. Other than that I came across this website a while ago and thought that you might want to check it out:
    http://www.loch-ness.org/filmandvideo.html

    But it may be that you were already in contact with the site owner, I just noticed you were also mentioned there:
    “A long time commentator on events and evidence at Loch Ness. Author of Loch Ness Enigma, a good work, but which has been overtaken by events, particularly surrounding the Surgeon’s picture and the Academy of Applied Science material. Henry finds it difficult to accept that the flipper and Wetherell pictures are faked.”

    Should I have sent these per email?

  3. Henry Bauer said

    Sadunkal:

    Others need to judge whether I became biased or not. Have a look at my articles posted at http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/LochNessFacts.html and the frames from the Dinsdale film at http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/DinsdaleFilm.html. All the computer experts who have scanned the film have said that there’s no trace of a boat, just the wake (except where the hump is seen before it submerges). Yet the only attempt by disbelievers to explain away the Dinsdale film is to say that he filmed a boat.

    The website you linked to is maintained by Tony Harmsworth, I know it and him quite well. He is one of the Nessie believers who became disillusioned because of his own and others’ failure to get better photos, films, evidence, despite having moved to Loch Ness specifically to solve the mystery. I think they became biased because of frustration 8)

    No problem re sending this as a comment, but thanks for asking.

  4. Henry Bauer said

    Sadunkal:

    Another correspondent pointed out to me the following claim on Harmsworth’s site:
    “Once Adrian Shine pointed out the man in the boat a detailed examination was carried out and the official opinion today is that the object filmed is entirely consistent with a small boat.”

    First, there exists no “official opinion”.

    Second: Shine presented for this “detailed analysis” not the Dinsdale film, but material he had digitized from “a poor quality U.S. documentary which contained a section of the film, pirated, we think, from a copy made by Disney in the seventies and we watched this on the TV. The TV set had the contrast turned up too high and, in the sequence showing the object moving parallel to the shore, a man could clearly be seen sitting in the back of a light coloured boat.”

    The reason Dinsdale’s family has never allowed Shine or Harmsworth access to the film itself is that Shine lied by alleging that Dinsdale himself had lost confidence that his film showed a creature. I myself heard that lie from Shine in early 1985, and checked it out with Dinsdale himself, who was furious.

    Shine superposed several frames from that video of a “poor quality documentary” and alleged that a bright spot just above the main part of the wake was a helmsman’s head. In a never-published essay, Shine compared this highly magnified superposition with an un-magnified picture of the boat Dinsdale had filmed as a control, remarking that the distance between the front of the wake and the bright spot was the same as the distance from the front of the boat to the helmsman’s head — but of course the distance should have been much larger in the magnified version, if it really was also a boat!

    The frames on my website at http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/DinsdaleFilm.html were scanned effectively down to grain size of the film. There is no boat shape there. These frames are from a 16 mm copy of the film that Dinsdale gave me, not from a poor-quality video digitized at 72dpi resolution, as Shine wrote in his never-published essay.

  5. sadunkal said

    Ok, thanks.🙂 That was also what attracted my attention and your last response was a little more reassuring.

    I agree that there is nothing resembling a boat in those pictures at your website. Even though it also doesn’t resemble any creature, people should remain open minded if that’s the best available quality of that film. I attempted at finding an online version of the video, but the best I could find was a very short, edited, low quality version of it on youtube…

    Umm… Now I don’t want to drift too far away from the HIV/AIDS topic, but since we already began this, what are your thoughts about this one:
    http://www.loch-ness.org/underwaterpictures.html

    You address many claims made there also in your paper, but the photos you used in your paper are claimed to be more than just “enhanced”. Gillespie is claimed to have said “that this picture of a flipper bears no resemblance to the computer enhancement he produced.” I don’t know how significant this is if Gillespie also acknowledged the visibility of “something unusual” with “flippers” as you wrote in your paper, but the difference between two pictures is not easily dismissible for me; while what you show in your paper is pretty thought stimulating, the grainy black and white enhancement at Loch-Ness.org is very ambiguous.

    Should I have sent these per email? Because I really can do it you know…🙂

  6. Henry Bauer said

    Sadunkal:

    “Even though it also doesn’t resemble any creature” —
    The point is that NOTHING is visible above the surface of the water at this stage, yet there is a powerful wake — disturbance of the water — caused by something moving fast just below the surface. Many fishermen like me have seen wakes on the surface when a fish is swimming slightly submerged. This wake, though, was huge.

    I have a letter from Charles Wyckoff decribing how the pictures were handled, in nomral fashion by superposing various enhancements. I have direct from Gillespie the view, What’s the fuss about, the flipper shape was there in the original negative before enhancement. Shine and Harmsworth are misquoting Gillespie and Wyckoff.

  7. sadunkal said

    Alright, thanks…

  8. kitty said

    I’ve never understood the freak out over what people call “Nessie.” We’ve often discovered things we thought were extinct living in remote and undisturbed places. Very often sea creatures. No one believed in Giant Squid until one washed up.

    It’s not like anyone is saying Nessie is a magical creature. They’re just saying: “Hey, we think there may be an unusual creature living and breeding in this body of water.” And it’s only unusual because we don’t see it everywhere.

    I have no idea why this idea makes anybody crazy. I think it would be very cool if we were ever able to discover a creature thought extinct in this area. If we don’t, maybe it’s just some really big fish. Or maybe it’s fisherman’s imaginations run wild.

    Either way it’s not like we’re discussing little green men here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s