HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Kalichman’s Komical Kaper #2: The Social Psychology of Scientists

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/03/14

My first view of the text of Kalichman’s book came after the grapevine had reported its availability on-line at Scribd (“a social publishing site, where tens of millions of people share original writings and documents. Scribd’s vision is to liberate the written word”):

“Dear Henry,
I just stumbled upon what appears to be Kalichman’s entire book available online for free.  Do you have it yet?  If not get it here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/11369143/Denying-Aids-Conspiracy-Theories-Pseudoscience-and-Human-Tragedy
I’m only ending the Duesberg chapter, but ohee vey. Since I’ve read just about everything related to the controversy going back to 1987, perhaps 300 times more than Kalichman, and I find myself recalling information he misses, ignores, or avoids, or doesn’t know about in almost every paragraph.  And of course he’s constantly scolding dissenters for denying the Emperor has clothes, but always avoids the core scientific issues by never referencing the proof that the Emperor has clothes.  Perhaps what is needed is to critique every page, paragraph by paragraph, in another book to highlight his… I don’t have the word to describe it yet. I’m speechless except I’m not.  I’m laughing except I’m not. . . .
It is truly amazing how even highly educated people’s critical thinking skills can be so narrow and illogical… I find myself asking if he is now the Rush Limbaugh of AIDS scientism? . . .  Anyway, reading it is kinda crazy making though. . . . what he seems to be doing is pathologizing dissent, like a flawed therapist that already has decided on a diagnosis based on influential hear-say before seeing the client, and is interpreting everything from the client in a way to validate the pre-determined inference while believing he is being impartial. . . .
I almost ended by saying ‘You’re going to have fun with this one’, but based on my own feelings about it that’s probably being much too glib.”
[The writer is formally credentialed in psychology]

Someone else had suggested that I write a review of the book; and before having seen the text, I had agreed to do so. However, after the text became available at Scribd, the grapevine also informed me that I was the third most frequently castigated “denialist” in the book. Scanning the text for mentions of my name confirmed that I and my writings are referred to frequently as well as incorrectly (to put it mildly); so conflict of interest makes it impossible for me to write a review. Anyway, I wouldn’t know where to begin, for every page delivers raised eyebrows, groans, unbelieving chuckles or outright guffaws, aroused by mis-stated facts about HIV/AIDS,  by displays of ignorance about science and much else, and by attributing to my book things that are simply not there. Some of the statements are simply hilarious, for instance:

“Scientists are by their nature and training systematic and objective” (p. 112).

That semantic puerilism is what one might expect to find — perhaps! — in an easy reader for children in primary school who are being slowly eased into the more sophisticated understanding for which they are not yet quite ready. Certainly one wouldn’t encounter it in any article or book in philosophy of science, sociology of science, history of science, psychology of science, or the like. It’s not the sort of thing one would hear, either, from people who have had even cursory contact with real-life scientists. So I doubt that it’s necessary for almost anyone that I deconstruct this assertion — except, it seems, for the sake of Seth C Kalichman.

Could it really be so, that scientists are selected (or self-selected) from the mass of other human beings because they are genetically or by early upbringing (“by their nature”) destined to be systematic and objective?
Are there scientists who would be able to explain just how the training they received through graduate school and post-doctoral stints was designed to make them (even more?) systematic and objective?
Beyond that, is there anyone who could explain how, or would suggest that, any human being can attain objectivity, whether by “nature” or by “training”?

Surely only someone who knows nothing of human psychology or sociology or social psychology could venture such an assertion. Or, surely only someone who knows nothing of science or of scientists or of human psychology or sociology could make such assertion.

Oops!

The author, it turns out, is a psychologist. Seth C Kalichman is even a social psychologist, at the University of Connecticut!

What’s more, Kalichman fancies himself to be a scientist:
“Realizing that all AIDS scientists should take action . . . , I decided . . . . Like nearly every AIDS scientist, . . . . I often felt more like a journalist than a scientist” (xiv); “What is it about denialists that can push a scientist out of objectivity into a fit of rage. In the Preface to this book I described my own emotional outrage . . . (113); “For the part of the AIDS scientists, we must become better at communicating with people other than our fellow scientists” (161).

Evidently, Kalichman — admittedly, like so many of us — tends to judge others by what he knows about himself. He evidently knows he’s a scientist. Apparently he also knows that he is by “nature and training systematic and objective”. Therefore he assumes that all other scientists are also “by their nature and training systematic and objective” (unless, of course, they happen to be “AIDS denialists” as well as scientists).

30 Responses to “Kalichman’s Komical Kaper #2: The Social Psychology of Scientists”

  1. Andy said

    “Scientists are by their nature and training systematic and objective.”
    Let us graduates print that on T-shirts, showing it to our wives (or husbands) when we have an argument…

    • Henry Bauer said

      Andy:
      Great idea. And perhaps we should present Prof. and Mrs. Kalichman with a couple of them.

  2. Sadun Kal said

    “Scientists are by their nature and training systematic and objective”

    I find that kind of statements to be of similar nature with saying something like:

    “Lord Almighty protects us from all evil!”

    These irrational, naive beliefs form the core of the modern religion of the so called “Skeptics Community” and of course most of the mainstream scientists; Scientianity. People still need some kind of omnipotent thing in their lives on which they can lazily rely on I guess, which has tragic consequences obviously…

    • Henry Bauer said

      Sadun Kal:
      The usual term for the religion of science is “scientism”. Scientism regards science as the only true source of knowledge and scientists as the priests of this religion. The self-styled “Skeptics” typify scientism, I do agree; but I wouldn’t include mainstream scientists as a whole. On most subjects, I think most scientists can be as rational and judicious as anyone. It’s only on a few specific topics that you encounter the sort of irrationality exemplified by “AIDS” “scientists” and their groupies.

  3. Sadun Kal said

    I find the word “Scientism” a little too soft for what I intended to communicate. Scientianity, as weird as it sounds and as uncommon as it is, makes the religious connection clearer I think. You’re probably right about the mainstream scientists.

    And I liked the T-Shirt idea too.🙂 What’s not so funny is that I believe that there really would be a serious market for such products.

  4. Martin said

    Hi Dr. Bauer, Sadun Kal created a neologism. By introducing such a new word, its use can become conventional if it’s useful.

  5. Sadun Kal said

    Now it does!🙂

    But I also googled it after I made it up. And apparently I wasn’t the first one. For example a fan of Richard Dawkins suggests it as their new religion, and Dawkins as their prophet and savior:
    http://www.richarddawkins.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=312

    He’s only half-joking I think. That feels more like Scientianity than Scientism to me.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Sadun Kal, Martin:
      All sorts of lessons here —
      You can find ANYTHING on the Internet, including information about things that don’t exist.
      If we had given Kal credit for this neologism, it would have been an example of Stigler’s Law, that things are not named after the person who first discovered or invented them, they’re named after the LAST person to have invented them.
      My memory continues to worsen. Somewhere or other there’s a name, a word, for “words that should exist but don’t”, I talked about this long ago with my friend Jack Good who has quite a history of inventing new terms, some of which actually came into use (in statistics). I’ll ask him next time I see him.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Sadun Kal, Martin:
      Found it. “SNIGLETS” are words not to be found in a dictionary, but that would be very useful.

  6. Cytotalker said

    While Kalichman plays his role as the Rush Limbaugh of AIDS scientism, the late Christine Maggiore has sadly suffered from being the Terri Schiavo of this dogmatic movement, with hordes of Bill Frists eager to offer ideologically-driven diagnoses at a distance.

  7. MacDonald said

    There is no reason to single out Christianity. Why not Scienslam, or Sciendaeoism?

    “Scientism” is neutral and phonetically pleasing.

    Dixit!

  8. Martin said

    MacDonald said: There is no reason to single out Christianity.
    Unless the creator of the sniglet was particularly hostile to Christianity. I agree that Scientism is a better, more neutral term. A few years ago I created a Yiddish-like sniglet : Zustschka. I googled it just to see if I could find it somewhere. Voila! I came up with Admor of Zutschka — Yitzchok Eizek Rosenbaum — Admor of Zutschka. Well, what was an Admor? That was a Yiddish acronym for a Rebbe or Hasidic leader (Adoneinu Morenu). But where on Earth was Zutschka? Well, after much googling, I found out it was in Buchovena Romania. Anyway, I use the term Zutschka or Zutschke as my own useful term for thing-a-ma-jig.
    Googling is like what I used to do as a kid when I liked reading the encyclopedia or a dictionary and go from one subject to another and learn.

  9. Cathy said

    I quite like the sound of Scientianism in a De Bono sort of way, but MacDonald and Prof. Bauer –– your points are very valid.
    Having just had a discussion about this with my SO, he suggested Scientigion –– that encompasses everyone. Should I write to the OED?

    • Henry Bauer said

      Cathy, MacDonald, et al.:

      Bill Maher snigletted “Religulous” for the Emperor of Religion’s Clothes, combining “religion” and “credulous”; so “scientigulous”?
      Jack Good agrees that “sniglet” is not a good sniglet, because there are no clues in it to its real meaning. He makes the excellent suggestion of “dictionable” for words that deserve to be in a dictionary. That, I think, is eminently dictionable.

      Cathy: “SO” means “senior officer”? Or what?

  10. I think to truly understand Seth Kalichman one needs to take a look at propaganda techniques. His university department is funded by the CDC social-marketing program. On his blog he uses scapegoating techniques to target those who disbelieve government views on HIV/AIDS. He directs his criticism at individuals (“denialists”) rather than at ideas. Thus his technique ceates an “enemy” to draw attention away from the very real problems of the HIV/AIDS theories believed by the government. Social psychologists understand propaganda techniques. Blogs are part of the social marketing of HIV/AIDS (CDC website states the use of blogs in social marketing health—it is also used against those who oppose vaccinations). Kalichman is a propagandist. How do you argue with a “Joseph Goebbels” or any propagandist? There is no rationality when dealing with people whose paid job is producing propaganda.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Valerie:
      I think Kalichman is SUBCONSCIOUSLY a paid propagandist. He exemplifies not a conspiracy but a human tragedy. A sad part of his book is an incredibly muddled discourse on how to decide about scientific matters by choosing whom to trust. Near the beginning of his career, Kalichman trusted the mainstream beliefs about HIV/AIDS, and his whole career has been hitched to that. How could he ever cope with the revelation that everything he’s done professionally has been along a wrong track, and that when he thought he was helping people he was harming them?

  11. MacDonald said

    Valerie:

    Those are very good points, I agree, although Seth Kalichman’s stuff is so amateurish in general that it’s difficult to determine what’s deliberate and what’s pure incompetence.

    Prof. Bauer:

    Cathy is, as we know, extremely romantic and “SO”, acronym for “Significant Other”, is one of her sweetest nothings.

    In some relationships it could mean “Senior Officer” as well, but I doubt it’s the case here.

  12. Edward Kamau said

    Here is a link to an article on false positives to add to the stash. This is in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper. It refers to some academic paper as well.

    http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/546212/-/u35myy/-/index.html

    emk

    • Henry Bauer said

      Edward Kamau:

      Thank you! Our library doesn’t have this issue of the academic journal yet, but here’s the Abstract:

      “Sensitivity And Specificity Of Hiv Rapid Tests Used For Research And Voluntary Counselling And Testing
      Request Article ” by O Anzala, J Sanders, A Kamali, M Katende, GN Mutua, E Ruzagira, G Stevens, M Simek, M Price
      Abstract
      Background: HIV rapid tests (RT) are a quick and non-technically demanding means to perform HIV voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) but understanding their limitations is vital to delivering quality VCT.
      Objective: To determine the sensitivity and specificity of HIV rapid tests used for research and voluntary counselling and testing at four sites in East Africa.
      Design: Cross-sectional study.
      Setting: Masaka District, Uganda; a sugar plantation in Kakira, Uganda; Coastal Villages in the Kilifi District of Kenya; and the Urban slum of Kangemi located West of Nairobi, Kenya.
      Subjects: Six thousands two hundred and fifty five consenting volunteers were enrolled into the study, and 675 prevalent HIV infections were identified.
      Results: The RT sensitivity tended to be high for all assays at all sites (97.63-100%) with the exception of the Uni-Gold assay (90.24% in Kangemi, 96.58% in Kilifi). Twenty four RT results were recorded as ‘weak positives’, 22 (92%) of which were negative by ELISA. There was a high rate of RT false positives in Uganda (positive predictive values ranging from 45.70% to 86.62%).
      Conclusions: The sensitivity and specificity of the RT varied significantly across sites. The rate of RT misclassification in Uganda suggests that a multiple test algorithm may be preferable to a single test as screener for HIV VCT.
      East African Medical Journal Vol. 85 (10) 2008: pp. 500-504

  13. Dave said

    Here is a short summary of Kalichman’s book:

    Denying Denialists Who Deny the Undeniable

    Denialists are a group of scientists and lay people who deny undeniable facts. Therefore, they are in denial. This rampant form of denialism leads to an extreme form of denial, which undeniably, results from their denial of the undeniable. To the extent that they continue to deny that which the consensus asserts is undeniable, they will continue to be Denialists. To be sure, this denialism stems from deep-rooted feelings of denial, but if they continue to cite Robert Gallo and deny the undeniable, their denialism will continue to dominate their view of AIDS.

  14. Sadun Kal said

    Well… I’m glad we moved on to more serious matters from my silly “neologism”. But I’ll still point out a problem I perceive with “Scientism”:

    A follower of Scientism is…? A Scientist?

    I don’t like that. How do we know which scientists are scientists and which scientists are non-scientists and which non-scientists are scientists? I mean it’s confusing.

    Scientian, Scientianist, Scientigion, Scienslim, Sciendaoist, Scientigulous… all work better in that sense I guess.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Sadun Kal:
      An advantage of not having a word for those who perpetrate scientism is that one cannot be ad hominem about it. In other words, one can label a particular statement or viewpoint as scientism, but one doesn’t thereby claim that any person is invariably scientistic.

  15. MacDonald said

    “Scientigulous” isn’t bad, but how about “scientigulism”, does it work as well?

    Moreover, you missed an important root of the word “religulous”, namely
    “ridiculous”. The two words are very close phonetically.

    • Henry Bauer said

      MacDonald:
      Actually I seem to recall that’s what Maher had in mind. I was being too gentle 😉

  16. Sadun Kal said

    Hmm yes… we don’t want to fall into the “denialism” trap like the AIDS establishment I guess. Scientism it is then. And if we ever use the word scientist as an ad-hominem it’ll be a secret ad-hominem, and it won’t have any effect on the real discussion, I guess.🙂

  17. LaVaughn said

    MacDonald:

    I generally refer to practitioners of scientism as scienticians. That’s probably because I watch “The Simpsons” way too much.

  18. Cathy said

    MacDonald I am NOT romantic in the slightest — except when it comes to cats (okay — I admit I am the mad cat lady from the Simpsons). And thanks for clarifying SO — I just feel a bit old using the term “boyfriend” and not quite “hip” enough to use the word “partner” (it leads to all kinds of misconceptions — trust me on that).
    I have seen the trailer and excerpts of Religulous but has anyone seen it in its entirety?
    I admit I have a crush on Bill Maher (and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) — maybe that makes me romantic!

  19. Cathy said

    Umm, I did post a potted summary of Kalichman’s research on change.org in response to his shameless sock puppet posting of a chapter of one of his previous tedious books but the whole thing appears to have been deleted from the site. But, from memory, most of Herr Kalichman’s “studies” have been along the lines of finding ways to “ensure adherence” to HIV medications (yes, please do chew on the connotations).
    Kalichman suffers some type of weird Stockholm Syndrome by appearing to have attached himself like a newborn bubba to the teat of Nazi-ism of the HIV-AIDS establishment.

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