Posted by Henry Bauer on 2010/03/20
The disgrace and fall of President Nixon had begun with an ill-advised, pointless little burglary at the Watergate, a group of office buildings. The attempts to COVER UP the burglars’ connections to Nixon’s staff involved so many lies and eventually embroiled so many people that Nixon could no longer govern, all credibility gone despite his astonishing TV assertion that “I am not a crook!”
The media have since that time appropriated the suffix “Gate” as shorthand for any scandal about an attempted, stupid, fumbled cover-up that threatens to bring down some house of cards that earlier had seemed impregnable. So when e-mails were discovered at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit showing that the climate gurus had been conspiring to suppress data contradicting their theories, the event was naturally enough publicized as “Climate-Gate”. The Director of that Climate Research Unit soon resigned, and an “independent” international panel was formed to consider the soundness or otherwise of what had been promulgated for many years by the IPCC — International Panel on Climate Change. It remains to be seen, of course, whether that “independent” panel will be genuinely independent enough to include such highly qualified dissenters from the mainstream dogma as Patrick Michaels, former climatologist for the Commonwealth of Virginia, or physicist Fred Singer, emeritus professor from the University of Virginia and from George Mason University.
Now comes Elsevier-Gate:
In August of 2009, HIV/AIDS vigilantes persuaded Nobelist Barre-Sinoussi to allege to Elsevier that questioning HIV as cause of AIDS represents a potential threat to global public health; which terrified Elsevier’s Vice-President Glen Campbell sufficiently that he had two articles already accepted by Medical Hypotheses, already posted on-line as in press, withdrawn — without bothering to inquire into the plausibility of Barre-Sinoussi’s assertion by, say, consulting the journal’s editor, or its editorial board, let alone the authors of the articles. Perhaps he was terrified less by the medical or scientific substance of the assertion than the threat to boycott Elsevier journals, and to have the National Library of Medicine cease abstracting Medical Hypotheses in PubMed.
The vigilantes had in fact also petitioned the National Library of Medicine to that effect, a petition that was carefully considered and then rejected — even though Medical Hypotheses had over the years published at least a couple of dozen articles questioning HIV/AIDS theory.
Someone at Elsevier must have realized that Campbell’s precipitate action was a blunder, so another V-P, Chris Lloyd, was given the task of fixing the mess. Lloyd’s actions, however, have been just as discourteous, ill-advised, and inept as those of Campbell — or those that led to the fall of Nixon. Lloyd set up “a panel” to look into, not the withdrawal of the articles, but the fact that Medical Hypotheses did not normally use peer review — which had been the chief reason why the journal had been founded in the first place! The whole point was to provide a forum where ideas that mainstream reviewers would not find publishable could be shared with the medical-scientific community, the nature of the ideas being described plainly enough by the journal’s title of HYPOTHESES. This was as plain when Elsevier took over the journal as when the journal had been founded by the distinguished biochemist David Horrobin, so it is crystal clear that this paneling was intended to cover up something (Campbell’s blunder) rather than to produce pearls of wisdom. To make the conspiracy even plainer, Lloyd kept the membership of the panel and its precise terms of reference secret. Unremarkably, the panel delivered the opinion — or so Lloyd said* — that some group of qualified people should consider whether peer review should be made a regular part of the operations of Medical Hypotheses — which had been founded precisely so as NOT to be constrained by the conservatism of peer review. One wonders whether the panel knew of that history and its rationale. The group of allegedly qualified people that Lloyd then enlisted were drawn from the staff of another Elsevier publication, and their identities were again kept secret. Unremarkably, they recommended — or so Lloyd claimed* — that peer review be instituted — in other words, that Medical Hypotheses no longer be Medical Hypotheses and become just another journal disseminating the current mainstream consensus.**
In the meantime, one of the authors of one of the withdrawn articles had sued Elsevier in a Dutch court, since the publicly posted description of reasons for the withdrawal of the already accepted articles represents a libelous statement. Suddenly Lloyd was able to produce unsigned “reviews” of the articles in question by 5 anonymous reviewers, unremarkably enough finding the articles unsuitable for publication — albeit for other reasons than that they constituted a threat to global public health or were potentially libelous, which were the originally stated reasons for withdrawal. In other words, even these “reviews” found that the withdrawal had not been justified on its own terms. Internal evidence in those “reviews” demonstrates how hastily they were composed with the single purpose of justifying withdrawal of the articles: there are not only typos signifying unseemly haste but also ad hominem remarks that should have no place in scientific discourse, and the “reviews” fail to address substantively the actual points made in the articles. Most particularly the reviews failed to address the fact that the Duesberg article presented evidence, data from mainstream sources, that claims of 300,000 unnecessary AIDS deaths in South Africa were based on computer modeling in which the number of South African AIDS deaths was said to be about 25 times greater than the numbers for AIDS deaths published by the official South African Statistics agency.
From the viewpoint of AIDS Rethinkers and HIV Skeptics, it is encouraging that Elsevier-Gate is beginning to attract wider attention:
— In January, at the Times Higher Education website, innumerable comments from people not previously engaged in HIV/AIDS matters spoke to the value of a journal like Medical Hypotheses that circumvents the traditional censorship of genuine novelties that is inevitably imposed by peer review: Zoë Corbyn, “Unclear outlook for radical journal as HIV/Aids deniers evoke outrage”, 14 January 2010; “Publisher attempts to rein in radical medical journal — Editor rejects proposal to have submissions peer reviewed”, 23 January 2010; “Implement peer review or resign, controversial journal’s editor told — Ultimatum spells end for Medical Hypotheses in its current form”, 10 March 2010.
— Now Nature’s website has also described the situation, giving us the opportunity to make public some of the details, like those mentioned above, that Elsevier has failed to disclose to enquiring journalists: Daniel Cressey, “Editor says no to peer review for controversial journal — Move demanded by publisher would ‘utterly destroy’ Medical Hypotheses”, 18 March 2010.
I posted the first comment there after having learned about the piece from Marco Ruggiero, who also promptly posted a comment. Several individuals not previously engaged in HIV/AIDS matters have added their views on peer review, interspersed by some inevitable know-nothing cries from an HIV/AIDS groupie; who will find, as J P Moore and others did at the Times discussions, that when a wider audience participates in these exchanges, the HIV/AIDS vigilantes find themselves clearly out-argued and out-numbered. A wide swath of non-scientists as well scientists understands that the way to discredit bad or false science is to point out in what way it is bad or false. That’s what the supporters of HIV/AIDS dogma cannot do, because it is their own science that is bad and false. After more than a quarter of a century of intensive, well-funded research, they cannot answer these fundamental questions:
1. When exactly was it proved that HIV cause AIDS?
2. What are the scientific publications that constitute this proof?
3. By what mechanism does HIV destroy the immune system?
* A former Department Head in a certain Chemistry Department — in days when Heads were dictators and not chairpersons — was wont to chair meetings of the various Departmental committees. At subsequent business meetings of the whole faculty, he would then announce, “Committee A has met; and it has been decided that…”. All perfectly true, even though the decision would always be his alone and irrespective of what the committee members might have advised.
** Should anyone doubt the value of publishing hypotheses, they might ask themselves why distinguished people would find it valuable, for instance the contributors to The Scientist Speculates (ed. I. J. Good, Basic Books, 1963) who include not only Good himself, internationally renowned for reviving Bayesian statistics, but also (for further example) J. D. Bernal, David Bohm, Sir Cyril Burt, Arthur C. Clarke, Dennis Gabor, Arthur Koestler, L. S. Penrose, N. W. Pirie, Michael Polanyi, Harlow Shapley, R. H. Thouless, C. H. Waddington, Eugene Wigner, and more. The collection’s epigraph is “The intention of this anthology is to raise more questions than it answers”, in view of what everyone who really understands science knows, that the most important spur to progress is to ask the right questions. That was the value of Medical Hypotheses. It could point out that certain mainstream Emperors have no clothes, something that could never pass “peer review” no matter how obviously true it might be.