HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Science, media, and Loch Ness “monsters”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/12/24

In memoriam, Robert H. Rines

Long ago — in the 1930s— “The Loch Ness Monster” became an icon of foolishness,  hoax, tourist-trapping by canny Scots Highlanders, and the like. And so it has remained for some 7 decades for everyone whose knowledge comes only from media sound-bites and shibboleths. The opportunity to become better informed, a potential stimulus to trying to become better informed,  is afforded by the article by Charles Siebert in the New York Times Magazine for 27 December, “The Lives They Lived — Robert Rines: Monster Hunter, 1922-2009”.

I had the privilege of knowing Robert Rines, an extraordinarily accomplished individual; he held patents for inventions in sonar and radar, among other things; first a physicist, later a patent attorney, he was also a musician and composer. He founded the Academy of Applied Science which supported inventors and novel investigations and managed for a federal agency a program to interest young people in science. He founded the Franklin Pierce Law Center. Perhaps above all, he enthused and stimulated untold numbers of people. The many tributes to his life in a range of publications, and the many respectful obituaries after he died on 1 November, attest Rines’s remarkable record of achievements; see for example “Robert H. Rines ’42 — Patent attorney and inventor started MIT the bumpy way” by Sharron Kahn Luttrell, Technology Review, Dec. 2005/Jan. 2006; “Robert H. Rines, Esq. — Pierce Law Founder: A True Renaissance Man”; “Pioneering Loch Ness Monster researcher dies”; obituaries in the Daily Telegraph (UK); in Physics World;  in Huffington Post.

As a potential cure for closed minds, I recommend in particular that last one, by Ben H. Winters, coauthor of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters:
“Sure, the mainstream scientific community felt (and feels) there’s no plesiosaur in Loch Ness; but Rines had seen the damn thing with his own eyes, he trusted his own mind, and by God he was going to get to the bottom of it.
So, yeah, maybe there’s no Loch Ness monster.
Okay, probably there’s no Loch Ness monster.
But it’s worth pausing for a moment to celebrate Robert H. Rines, and the one in a million chance that there is.”

It’s the one in a million chances that have brought genuine progress. Pre-Einstein, for instance, the chances were one in a million or less that Newton’s long-confirmed, long “proved” laws would ever be found wanting. To paraphrase Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, you can spend your life catching and dining on minnows, or you can go after the really big fish, knowing your chances are low but that any success would be a feast for all humanity. Having the courage to risk being wrong makes for progress; as George Bernard Shaw pointed out, progress depends on the unreasonable man. As Jack Good liked to point out, geniuses are cranks who happen to be right and cranks are geniuses who happen to be wrong — they all follow their muse despite the disdain of the multitudes who are too afraid to venture outside what “everyone” believes.

The cranks who happen to be right are often honored only posthumously, for a mainstream consensus defends itself vigorously; as Max Planck pointed out, new ideas take hold only as their opponents die off — science progresses funeral by funeral.

In some part, a mainstream consensus is able to persist so long because media and public seem afraid to look at the evidence for themselves. Once the media have labeled something, that label is likely to stick for a long time; in preparing new stories, time-pressured reporters check newspaper archives and they hesitate to diverge from the received wisdom of the past. So with Loch Ness monsters, the media do not remind the general public that Robert Rines was accomplished enough that he should not have been written off when he became interested in the possible existence of Nessies; the media do not remind the general public that other highly accomplished people had joined in Rines’s searches at Loch Ness, people like Harold Edgerton, inventor of strobe photography and recipient of a Medal of Freedom; Marty Klein, successful entrepreneur, expert in side-scan sonar; Charles Wyckoff, photographic guru at Kodak. The media do not usually accompany mentions of  “The Loch Ness Monster” with reference to the underwater photos of flippers and a long-necked creature that Rines obtained, and which led Nature — at the joint instigation of Rines and the renowned wildlife activist Peter Scott — to publish a scientific name (Rhombopteryx nessiteras) for the creatures.

Nor do the media accompany standard sneers about “cold fusion” with reference to the 15 or so international conferences at which a variety of confirmations of and extrapolations from the Fleischmann-Pons effect have been reported by researchers employed at such places as Los Alamos, the Navy Research Establishment, White Sands, SRI, and official as well as private research institutions in Israel, Italy, Japan, and many other countries as well.

Nor, of course, do the media mention that HIV/AIDS theory has disproved itself in countless ways and has maintained itself only through vested interests and not scientific evidence. I think there really are “Loch Ness monsters” — a reproducing population of large and unidentified critters of some sort in Loch Ness, with cousins probably in Loch Morar and in the oceans; but I’m not quite, 100% sure about it, because you can never prove anything like that 100% unless you have captured a living specimen or found a carcass. But you can definitively, 100%, disprove a theory, and HIV/AIDS theory has been definitively, 100% disproved in a variety of ways. There are innumerable observations that do not fit the concept of a sexually transmitted, immune-system-destroying retrovirus. That evidence is seen, however, only by people not blinded by a mainstream consensus.

Robert Rines is sorely missed, even as we celebrate his achievements and feel grateful for having known him, for the excitement he brought to everything he turned to and the encouragement he gave unstintingly to all who wanted to try something new.

7 Responses to “Science, media, and Loch Ness “monsters””

  1. mo79uk said

    Seasons greetings Henry. 🙂

    While I don’t know much about the Loch Ness monster(s) and admittedly don’t believe in it (but would love to be proved wrong), I always admire people who are willing to go against the grain with plausible theories, and even those whose theories I find far out, because, as you’ve written, they dare.
    Even if an orthodox opinion is correct I always love it when there are irritants ready to shake their heads at it because it either increases understanding of it (for those who antagonise and the public at large) or evolves the thinking — which is what science is all about. But too many mainstreamers hate debate.
    One problem that is common to all ramshackle orthodoxies like HIV/AIDS, is that the problem starts at primary-school level. I remember as a young boy asking a teacher once why something was so, persisting with many many questions out of genuine interest. The eventual answer I got was an irritated ‘It just is!’, and so you unfortunately learn that to succeed is to be ‘told’ what is rather than ‘learn’ what is. I may have got things ‘right’ but sometimes I never knew why they were; you just memorise texts in order to get the grade.

    Another unfortunate thing is, people are quick to scrutinise politicians because they are seen to be untrustworthy in general even when there are some truly noble figures, while all in the medical field are generally revered and often forgiven easily for mistakes, when they too are fallible. People will question easily why we spend money on wars, but not why we spend money on certain treatments because we don’t want to question the intelligence and integrity of our doctors; but it’s not their integrity that worries us at root, it’s what repositories our direct care givers have gleaned their knowledge from.

    • Henry Bauer said

      mo79uk: Exactly.
      I’ve suggested that asking “How could anyone believe that?” is always, about everything, the wrong question, because most of us are trained by parents and teachers to believe what we’re told. The right question is, “How do some people manage to escape indoctrination and learn to think for themselves?”
      My horror story about primary school: My younger daughter asked for help with math, and I found that she was able to understand beautifully when I explained the processes of reasoning to her. After a while she brought a message from her teacher, I should stop helping her because I was teaching her the wrong way to solve problems — in other words, I wasn’t telling her to just use the memorized formulas the teacher was drumming into her and her classmates. I’ve never forgiven that teacher, for my daughter remains tentative about math, about “not understanding” it, like so many other people to whom it was never explained WHY particular formulas are used and where they come from. Hence we have experiences — both my wife and I at various times — that a store clerk was unable to work out how much change to give us in a purchase transaction because the computers were down.
      And, yes, doctors are victims as much as anyone, to the misdeeds of medical researchers and the often misleading information disseminated by official agencies.

      • William M said

        It’s kind of ironic how the search for “HIV” has become a molecular parallel with the search for the “Loch Ness Monster”. There was indirect evidence of each, there was massive amount of time and money spent trying to locate each, there was a lot of glory to be obtained upon locating each — and yet they both just slipped away.

        Nessie was a nice fable — HIV is much more of a concept than a real thing. Whatever Gallo was generating in his Petri dishes, with multiple cross-cultures and multiple stimulants, wasn’t a unique human retrovirus found in human patients.

      • Martin said

        Hi Dr. Bauer, and happy seasonings! Yes — as Dr. Thomas Szasz has said, things like understanding rather than just accepting the received word is something that can not be taught but can be learned through one’s own self-discovery. Cognitive dissonance occurs usually when our observations and self-analysis conflict with what we have been told. I remember when I was in high school, history class was beginning to seem pointless because of the way we were tested on the “facts” like names and dates and places — much I was later to learn was in the words of a wise man : History is usually written by the victor. The history of Chanukah was much more complex than the biblical story I was told as a child of Judah Macabee and Antiochus.

      • Henry Bauer said

        Martin: Indeed. My experience of school history was the same, endless memorization of dates and events without discussion of context, motives, etc. An enjoyable and historically accurate illustration of history being written by the victors, in the genre of a detective story, is Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time”.

  2. Norman B. said

    Seasons greetings, Dr. Bauer!

    The disproving of HIV/AIDS happened again, this time in a Florida criminal court. Ms. Eneydi Torres was facing 15 years in prison for knowingly exposing four men to HIV by having sex with them. Then her attorney, G. Baron Coleman of Montgomery, AL, only three years out of U. of Indiana Law School, struck back. He challenged her HIV-positive status as hearsay based on unreliable tests and announced his intent to call leading AIDS scientists such as Dr. Gallo to the witness stand and have them justify their assertions under oath. With their case rapidly crumbling, prosecutors worked out a plea deal in which Ms. Torres was given a small fine and five days of unsupervised probation. In other words, nothing worse than a traffic violation. So now authorities are on notice that the crimes of using HIV infection as a weapon or of negligently ignoring it in relations with others are unlikely to stand up in court when challenged by the defense.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Norman B.: Yes, very important result. Have a look at Clark Baker’s discussion, which also cites the Supreme Court decision that makes this possible for defendant’s attorneys.
      It’s nice to know that in this case the law is NOT an ass and makes it feasible to defeat bullies in the way they always can be defeated, namely, by standing up to them.

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