The German Connection, contd.: How not to test an hypothesis (Kalichman’s Komical Kaper #3, part 2)
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/03/25
In Kalichman’s not-so-Komical Kaper #3, I questioned via personal anecdote the suggestion that support for Duesberg’s views about HIV/AIDS might be partly owing to “nationalist sentimental loyalty” among people with some sort of Germanic connection. Here I consider how a scientist — someone who, according to Kalichman, is “by nature and training systematic and objective” — might go about testing such an hypothesis, paying due regard to established principles of science, statistics, and logical thinking.
The hypothesis is that Germanic association of some sort predisposes to support of Duesberg’s views. That’s the same as saying that there are relatively more people with a Germanic association of some sort among Duesberg’s supporters than there would be by chance, which is the same as saying that Duesberg’s supporters include a higher proportion of Germanic-associated people than there are people with Germanic association in the population at large, or among those who oppose Duesberg.
Now, Kalichman claimed to have identified (p. 54) eight individuals as Germanic-associated Duesberg supporters. AIDS Rethinkers — people who, like Duesberg, deny that HIV has been proven to cause AIDS — include at least the individuals listed at the Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society, numbering 2648 as of early February 2009.
Thus Kalichman has identified as Germanic-associated 8/2648 = 0.302%, say 3 per 1000, among known AIDS Rethinkers and HIV Skeptics. It should be unnecessary to point out that Kalichman is aware of this publicly available list. It seems eminently reasonable, too, that the actual number of those who do not adhere to HIV/AIDS theory is likely to be significantly larger than the published list. So 3 per 1000 is likely to be a considerable overestimate.
The world’s population as of mid-February 2009 was about 6.75 billion; and the population of Germany was about 82.5 million. Thus in the world as a whole, more than 12 in every 1000 (82.5/6,750) were actual citizens of Germany — which is 4 times larger than the 3 per thousand identified by Kalichman who “support” Peter Duesberg because of shared “nationalist sentimental loyalty” toward Germany. But, of course, there are far more German-associated people throughout the world than merely the present-day citizens of Germany; for example, the US Census reports that anywhere between 15% and 25% of Americans claim part-German ancestry, in other words about 200 per 1000. So for the world at large, 12 per 1000 is a gross underestimate. Indeed, since so much of HIV/AIDS dissidence is based in the United States, perhaps the figure of 200 per 1000 is the one that should be used in the comparison with Duesberg supporters.
So Kalichman is claiming as noteworthy, something less than 3 per 1000, when pure chance would yield somewhere between 12 and 200 per 1000. He is claiming the very opposite of what is suggested by the very evidence that he presents. The fact is that people of Germanic association are hugely under-represented among Duesberg supporters. Kalichman wrote (p. 54), “The number of German colleagues who rally around Duesberg is notable”. Yes, notable for how SMALL is their number, not how large.
Why should that be?
The answer seems obvious: Duesberg’s views are so well founded, so intellectually compelling, that they force agreement even from people who don’t harbor Germanic nationalist sentimental loyalties.
This is just a very rough sketch of the proper statistical approach that Kalichman should have used. To test the Kalichman hypothesis really strictly, perhaps one ought not to deal with populations at large but ought to identify all interested and relevantly qualified people who are (1) supporters and (2) non-supporters of Duesberg and then determine the proportions of Germanic-associated individuals in each group. So the statistical problem demands somewhat more research.
I hope to be excused from actually working on this myself, though, because I’m so confident in knowing what the outcome will be. But I trust Kalichman will do the work, now that he has been informed about the correct way to test scientifically the hypothesis he seems so taken with. It shouldn’t be too great a burden, since he has at his disposal an excellent stable of graduate students, as he acknowledges in his book and as will feature for more than one reason in later Chapters of Kalichman’s Komical Kapers.
But it’s not only the relation between numerator and denominator that Kalichman needs to check in order to determine whether Germans are over- or under-represented among Duesberg ”supporters”. As I pointed out in “The German Connection: Kalichman’s not-so-Komical Kaper #3”, the numerator in this proportion, Kalichman’s “catch” of 8 German supporters, needs to be reduced to 7 by removing me because I’m an Austrian Jew and actually lack any nationalist sentimental loyalty toward things German.
Curious whether others might find themselves in a similar situation, I asked Charles Geshekter, with whom I’ve been in occasional correspondence over the years:
In this forthcoming book, one of the extraordinary statements is
‘It is also noteworthy that much of the groundswell of support for Duesberg has come from his German colleagues, suggesting a nationalistic source for at least some of his support. As a German-born and German-trained scientist whose father served in the German Army during WW-II, Duesberg may evoke a sort of nationalist sentimental loyalty among some fellow countrymen.’
Among those German colleagues he lists you and me. Do you feel a ‘nationalist sentimental loyalty’ toward things German, or toward Peter D because he’s German?!
You must tell me that you are surely joking? Come on now! Say it ain’t so!
1) My paternal grandparents came from Austria; my maternal grandparents were from Russia.
2) Duesberg will confirm that he has been a follower, supporter and acolyte of mine, not the other way around, when it comes to challenging and debunking the orthodox view of AIDS in Africa.
That Kalichman identified Henry Bauer and Charles Geshekter as Germanic raises the question of what criteria he used. In my case, it was Austrian birth, but with Geshekter he obviously didn’t have even that information. So here’s an open letter aimed at clearing up this mystery:
Dear Professor Kalichman:
Did you infer without further ado that “Geshekter” sounds German, and that his “support” of Duesberg “confirms” it? If so, let me suggest that your argument is a circular and invalid one.
Do you have much familiarity with the German language? For my part, I would expect a German name to have “sch” rather than “sh”, and not the “k” alone but rather “ck”, or perhaps “ch” — as in “gerecht” (“correct”, “fair” — an important concept, by the way) or perhaps “Geschichte” (“story” — which you seem adept at concocting) or even “Geschicklichkeit” (“dexterity”, “skill” — which your inferences don’t display often enough, I’m afraid).
Of course, the spelling of names is often changed, so “sch” could easily have become “sh”, and “ch” or “ck” might well have become “k”; so your inference is not necessarily or obviously wrong, it just would have benefited from checking.
But now I’m even more curious: “Kalichman” seems no less German than “Geshekter”. In fact, among my parents’ friends from Vienna, fellow refugees in Australia, were a couple named Paul and Ruth Kalisch. Was your family name perhaps once “Kalischmann”?
Thinking along lines like that brings me to wonder whether Kalichman and Bauer might even be related?
One of the long-standing jokes in the Bauer family was the frequently voiced suggestion that my father’s favorite exercise involved jumping to conclusions.
That’s a trait that Kalichman displays to an even higher degree of perfection — so to speak.
Kalichman’s uncanny ability to draw inferences from names reminds me of a true story that my mother never tired of telling. Miss Ruby Moore was a fine Australian lady and a family friend. Like all human beings she had some foibles, and like many non-Catholic Australians she could discern Papal conspiracies where others couldn’t. Anything untoward she was inclined to track to something Catholic. One day my mother told Ruby Moore of an occasion when a greengrocer had overcharged her. Snapped Miss Moore: “What’s his name?”, evidently expecting to hear something like “O’Flaherty”.
My mother responded, with perfect truth, “Smith”.
Ruby was unfazed and unshaken: “Hmmph”, she sniffed, “INCONCLUSIVE“.
Ever after, “inconclusive” became in our family a convenient shorthand for not allowing one’s beliefs to be swayed by the evidence or lack thereof.
Seth Kalichman jumps to conclusions better even than my father, and draws conclusive inferences where even Ruby Moore might remain in doubt.