HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Pots and kettles: Is ignorance an excuse? — Kalichman’s Komical Kaper #6

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/04/20

A favorite tactic of AIDStruthers, including Kalichman (e.g., p. 71 in “Denying AIDS”), is to dismiss without further ado anything said by AIDS Rethinkers and HIV Skeptics on the grounds that they have never done any AIDS research themselves. As I pointed out in “Science Studies 101: Why is HIV/AIDS ‘science’ so unreliable?” [18 July 2008]:

“HIV/AIDS vigilantes like to denigrate rethinkers for not having had their hands dirtied by direct research on the matters they discuss. Historians and sociologists of science, however, know that some of the most acclaimed breakthroughs were made by disciplinary outsiders, who were not blinkered and blinded by the contemporary paradigm (24, 25). . . .
24. Ernest B. Hook (ed.), Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect, University of California Press, 2002.
25. Henry H. Bauer, The progress of science and implications for science studies and for science policy, Perspectives on Science 11 (#2, 2003) 236-78.”

At the same time as the Guardians of the HIV/AIDS Faith insist that it’s worth attending only to people who have themselves worked in a given specialty, those same Guardians of the Faith apparently feel themselves perfectly qualified to hold forth on matters of science in general and of pseudo-science in particular without having themselves done any scholarly research into those matters, indeed without displaying knowledge of even the rudiments of those subjects. They are ignorant even about aspects of Science Studies where they might be thought to have some insight, as when a clinical/social psychologist makes the stunningly ludicrous assertion that “Scientists are by their nature and training systematic and objective” (“Kalichman’s Komical Kaper #2: The Social Psychology of Scientists”, 14 March 2009).

Kalichman further ventures the astonishing and equally ludicrous assertion that one can discuss pseudo-science without first identifying criteria by which to distinguish science from what isn’t science: “Fortunately, we do not have to define science to understand pseudoscience” (p. 57).
The most cursory consideration reveals that statement as utter nonsense. If you offer me a pseudo-apple, the only way I can know it’s pseudo is if I could  recognize a real apple. “Pseudo-science” surely means something that masquerades as science but isn’t the real article; if one cannot recognize real science, then one cannot recognize pseudo-science. Generations of philosophers and other specialists have tried every which way, unsuccessfully*, to find a definitive set of criteria by which to distinguish science from non-science, pseudo-science, pathological science**, “cargo-cult” science, and all the other pejorative terms that Guardians of The Only True Faiths like to toss around:

“Self-styled ‘skeptics’ (26) like to denigrate heterodox views as ‘pseudo-science’ just because those views are heterodox, ignorant of the fact that there are no general criteria available by which to judge whether something is ‘scientific’; and they tend to be also ignorant of the fact that ‘scientific’ cannot be translated as ‘true’ (2, 27, 28). . . .
2. Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992. . . .
26. The mother of all “skeptical” groups is CSICOP, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer; see George P. Hansen, “CSICOP and the Skeptics: an overview”, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 86 (#1, 1992) 19-63.
27. Chapters 1-3, 6, 7 in reference 9.
28. Henry H. Bauer, Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press, 2001.”

Kalichman claims to rely on “standard definitions of pseudoscience” (p. xv) — of which none exist, if “standard” has its usual meaning of accepted throughout the pertinent intellectual community. He lists a number of purported attributes of pseudo-science (p. 57 ff.) — all of them easily deconstructed as invalid — yet doesn’t even pretend to show how any of those are supposed to be exemplified by AIDS Rethinkers or HIV Skeptics. According to Kalichman, moreover, “Pseudoscience, which is not science at all, differs from bad science and junk science, which are science but utilize faulty methodologies to draw incorrect conclusions” —
What on earth does he mean? Is he implying that pseudo-science doesn’t utilize faulty methodologies to draw incorrect conclusions?! What distinction is he trying to draw between his notion of pseudo-science and his notions of bad science or junk science — neither of which he defines beyond the just cited sentence?

This colossal and cavalier ignorance about what science is and how it works leads Kalichman even to adduce, as examples to support his case, instances that actually point exactly in the opposite direction:

“Scientists who hold views outside of the mainstream play an important role in truth seeking. Dissident scientists do not agree with the prevailing theory or do not accept the body of accumulated observations as fact. The importance of dissidence in science is unquestionable, with many celebrated examples throughout history. Revolutions in how we think about our world come from those who move science in new directions. We remember the dissident scientists who changed the way we think. Galileo Galilei changed how we view our universe. Albert Einstein changed how we contemplate space and time. Alfred Wegener changed how we think about the formation of our planet. Charles Darwin changed our view of life. Sigmund Freud changed how we view ourselves. Dissident scientists turn into revolutionaries when their thinking causes science to shift course. Science surely values diverse thinkers, dissent, disagreement, and vigorous debate. How those of us outside of a respective field of science distinguish between genuine dissidence and destructive attempts to undermine the science is a far more complicated matter” (p. 6).

No, my dear Kalichman, it’s not at all a complicated matter to understand how people outside  a field — or inside a field, for that matter — “distinguish between genuine dissidence and destructive attempts to undermine the science”: the long-demonstrated fact is that they don’t so distinguish because they cannot; no one can. As history tells us, devotees of a mainstream consensus regard all dissidence as destructive, just as you and the other AIDStruthers regard AIDS Rethinkers and HIV Skeptics as destructive just because we question the orthodox dogma. Objectively speaking, however, making the distinction is not so much a complicated matter as literally impossible. How can contemporaries distinguish the crank from the genius? As Albert Einstein acknowledged, “There is no objective test” ***.

In point of fact, every one of these former dissidents cited by Kalichman to illustrate how we revere revolutionaries actually illustrates the very opposite. All of them were anything but revered by their contemporaries, ranging from being ignored to being attacked viciously. Galileo’s troubles are well known, and his name has even become the standard example in the conventional wisdom about people who were right even when the authoritative experts pronounced them wrong and wanted them to recant. Darwin and Freud were persistently opposed both by scientists and by non-scientists. Alfred Wegener is one of Gunther Stent’s textbook examples of “premature discovery”, so far ahead of his contemporaries that it was the best part of half a century before his claims were vindicated — posthumously by about 35 years. One of the reasons Wegener’s ideas were ignored or dismissed by earth scientists was, of course, that Wegener was an outsider, not an earth scientist. As to Albert Einstein, the Nobel Committee was careful to note that he was being awarded the Nobel Prize “in particular” for studies relating to quantum theory , not for the then-still-controversial theory of relativity; that disclaimer is somewhat reminiscent of the manner on which Scientific American (May 2007, 53-59) recently prefaced Duesberg’s invited presentation of his views on aneuploidy and cancer:
“Editors’ note: The author, Peter Duesberg, a pioneering virologist, may be well known to readers for his assertion that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. The biomedical community has roundly rebutted that claim many times. Duesberg’s ideas about chromosomal abnormality as a root cause for cancer, in contrast, are controversial but are being actively investigated by mainstream science. We have therefore asked Duesberg to explain that work here. This article is in no sense an endorsement by SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN of his AIDS theories.”

Yes indeed, my dear Kalichman, “Revolutions in how we think about our world come from those who move science in new directions”. But if it were up to people like you, it would never happen, because according to you, only the specialists have a right to an opinion. Except, of course, when it comes to history of science or philosophy of science or sociology of science or science & technology studies, where outsiders like yourself think themselves somehow qualified to speak even though they lack the most elementary familiarity with the matters they address.

* Larry Laudan, “The demise of the demarcation problem”, pp. 111-27 in Physics, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, ed. R. S. Cohen & L. Laudan, Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983
** Henry H. Bauer, “‘Pathological Science’ is not Scientific Misconduct (nor is it pathological)”, HYLE (International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry), 8 (#1, April 2002) 5-20
*** I. Bernard Cohen, “An interview with Einstein”, Scientific American, July 1955, 69-73

3 Responses to “Pots and kettles: Is ignorance an excuse? — Kalichman’s Komical Kaper #6”

  1. Martin said

    All of the dissident scientists you mentioned were OK except one. That was Sigmund Freud. He was not a scientist even though he considered himself one. Really, he was a writer of fiction and an expert at self-promotion. Freud took conventional religious proscriptions against undesired sexual behavior and gave them new names by maintaining the status quo, he really didn’t shed any new light on behavior. Only up until recently, gays could not even become psychoanalsts because homosexuality is a psychopathology. Of course the term psychopathology is itself a stupid term implying that bad behavior is a medical problem rather than a social/legal one. Actually by medicalizing bad behavior, i.e. giving it a pseudomedical term like Oppositional Disorder, one will understand the person less, not more, because the diagnosis is not a disease and becomes the “cause” rather than looking for the reasons and justifications for what the “patient” does. The diagnoses are only used (assuming they are in the DSM) so the shrink can get paid by the insurance company. As Thomas Szasz has said of Freud, “Mental illness is a problem for the patient’s family and society. For the patient, it is a solution. That was Freud’s only discovery. Psychoanalysts ignore it, psychiatrists deny it.” (From Words to the Wise). Freud diagnosed his enemies and those who disagreed with him like Abraham Maslow and Karl Jung. Freud used diagnosis as a weapon — now used frequently against politicians that others would like to see replaced.

  2. Joe said

    Brilliant, Henry. The comparison of your reasoned discussion with Kalichman’s ignorance and pop psychology is wonderful to behold.

    He’s probably done more to further the cause of HIV dissidence than anyone else in the last 5 years. By making the issue of HIV dissidence thematic, he will have given a focal point for many lay people to enter the debate. The very fact that he’s driven people to this site and to buy your book shows that he’s provided a launch pad for their interest.

    I’m quite sure that most lay people don’t see the many anomalies in the theory of HIV/AIDS. That there are any anomalies has been so universally ignored by the media, most people don’t realise that it’s far from cut and dried. Even though, at the personal level, lay people probably do realise that after a quarter of a century this much publicised epidemic never materialized.

  3. Sadun Kal said

    I guess giving Alfred Wegener as an example for how “Science surely values diverse thinkers, dissent, disagreement, and vigorous debate” is as ridiculous as it gets.

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