HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Big Science & commercial science publishing = corruption of peer review & science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2010/05/17

The conventional wisdom about science is half-a-century or more out of date. Up to roughly World War II, it was not too wide of the mark to see scientific activity as driven by the curiosity of dedicated individuals who collaborated and competed to tease out a comprehensive understanding of the natural world. No one chose a career in science as a way to wealth, because it wasn’t. By and large, mutual critiquing was based on evidence and logic, and controversies became resolved reasonably soon after the evidence became objectively compelling. Personal unpleasantries did arise, notably in disputes about priority of discovery, but they were between individuals and their close cohorts, not the guardians of a mainstream dogma branding dissenters as denialists, pseudoscientists, or criminals who should be jailed. Of course there was always resistance to new ideas, but it involved ignoring the intellectual challenge rather than seeking to kill the messengers. In the late 1930s, sociologist Robert Merton described the scientific landscape as displaying an ethos (nowadays referred to as the Mertonian Norms) in which scientists were producing a public good, sharing their work openly, conscious of and accepting the universality of scientific knowledge, and working disinterestedly to advance science rather than their own private, personal interests.

World War II brought science and its applications into high public importance: the Manhattan Project that created atomic bombs, radar that crucially helped Britain against Nazi air strikes, sonar that was invaluable in combating submarines, penicillin that revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections, and much else. Science became prominent in political and social policy-making as never before, and scientific advice came to influence significant portions of national budgets. Governments distributed largesse to produce more scientists and more science. Universities found ways to benefit from the largesse. Business and industry also found ways to profit from this burgeoning growth of research activity.

So science became transformed from a public good to a thoroughgoingly for-profit enterprise. Scientists increasingly owed fealty to patrons, sponsors, employers, and the aims of research focused increasingly on what would be profitable, preferably in the short term, instead of on what would most advance human understanding. Scientific publication exploded and its costs rose; journals, traditionally controlled by scientific societies, came increasingly to be taken over or established by commercial publishers. As with commercial publishing in general, there was consolidation and striving for higher profits. Libraries were increasingly unable to cope with the rising costs. Before World War II, manuscripts for publication were judged without regard to fiscal matters, but nowadays costs are a salient factor. Journals of such non-profit associations as the American Chemical Society began to levy “page charges”: authors were asked to pay if their manuscripts were accepted for publication, initially perhaps $50 per page (I seem to recall), but that would seem a remarkable bargain nowadays where the charges are typically ≥$100 per printed page. Because publications constitute a researcher’s career portfolio, the stakes are high and researchers scramble for means to pay page charges, usually via research grants that allow page charges as legitimate costs of research. Entrepreneurs have realized that they can profit by putting out publications whose costs plus overhead (= profit for publisher and publisher’s employees) are borne by the authors themselves or by their research grants, and new publications are springing up at a great rate, primarily to make financial profit for the entrepreneurs and career profits for the publishing authors. It is to the advantage of authors, editors, and publishers of these for-profit ventures to put out as great a volume of material as possible, so quality has gone by the board and “peer review” tends to allow through anything that fits the prevailing viewpoint, no matter how banal, insignificant, useless. Scientific publication has become what used to be called “vanity publishing” not so long ago: Among the general public, and also to some extent in the humanities and social sciences, people who wanted to have their books published but could not meet the standards of existing publishers could pay the costs themselves. The natural inference about such “self publication” judged it as of inferior merit (though a small percentage of such works lived to prove the publishers wrong who had rejected the manuscripts). The contemporary bubble of paid-for, profit-centered scientific publication constitutes nothing short of vanity publishing.

Hand in hand with rushing to produce anything that doesn’t rock the boat goes a fierce determination to exclude anything that threatens the bandwagon and gravy train. Peer review, like other aspects of science, has become thoroughgoingly corrupted by the change from “little science” to “Big Science”, which means commercial science, for-profit science. It has become routine for editors to choose manuscript reviewers with a view to getting the advice they want, namely, something that will not rock the profitable mainstream boat. Don’t try to publish anything that questions HIV/AIDS theory, or Big-Bang theory, or human-caused global warming theory, or Darwinian evolution, or string theory, or an asteroid cause of dinosaur extinctions, or any other prevailing contemporary consensus.


The foregoing repeats much of what I talked about at the Oakland Rethinking AIDS Conference,  but I do so not to repeat myself but as an introduction to recommending a pertinent series of essays by Suzan Mazur. They are based on interviews with scientists and observers of science who have specific experiences to recount of the corruption of peer review. I was alerted to these by an interview of Suzan Mazur on the Jeff Farias Show (“Danger! Big Science Peer Review“).
Links there lead to these other excellent and pertinent items:
The Peer Review “Fig Leaf”: Vera Hassner Sharav, 2010/04/01
Free Science Peer Review From Cultish Conspiracy, 2010/02/03
David Noble: Peer Review, Where Are The Scholars?, 2010/02/26
Margulis: Peer Review Or “Cycle Of Submission”?, 2010/01/05
Jeff Farias Show: Altenberg 16 – Evolution Exposé, 2009/11/26
The Altenberg 16: An Exposé Of The Evolution Industry,  2009/08/26

6 Responses to “Big Science & commercial science publishing = corruption of peer review & science”

  1. Manuel Fernandes said

    Bad “off-topic” news from Brazil, Dr. Bauer:

    “Government assesses antiretroviral against HIV infection – The federal government is discussing expanding the indication of antiretrovirals in the country: in addition to treating patients, the cocktail would be used to prevent infection by HIV. Committee of experts will evaluate the proposal in June to bring forward the start of therapy of positives to reduce the risk of sexual transmission to partners without the virus. Another measure considered is the hallmark of the cocktail after a person has undergone a risk of contagion, such as unprotected sexual intercourse – a kind of ‘morning after pill’ for AIDS.”,governo-avalia-antirretroviral-contra-contagio-por-hiv,553785,0.htm

    Manuel Fernandes

    • Henry Bauer said

      Manuel Fernandes:
      Immediate ART for all HIV+ people as a way of stopping the spread of HIV is being adopted in more and more places (e.g. San Francisco; Washington DC) on the basis of a computer model that has the usual improbable assumptions.
      Prophylactic ART has been less widespread (so far), and the evidence for its efficacy is nil; or perhaps less than nil — negative, in other words — since microbicides containing ARVs have not prevented the occurrence of HIV+ status.

  2. Robert Reis said

    Dear Mr. Bauer,
    I have delved deeply into your wonderful website. If you want to get into real trouble, point out that there is no reliable scientific evidence that passive cigarette smoking harms anyone.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Robert Reis:
      Yes indeed.
      For a comprehensive, documented discussion of the point you make, see chapter 6 in “Hyping health risks” by Geoffrey Kabat, cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. He also debunk the scares about environmental causes of breast cancer, dangers of electromagnetic fields, and the residential radon-risk scam. IWe recently moved house, and the home inspector and realtors were fully aware that fear of radon is a scam).
      One of the interesting points about the passive smoking is the inherent improbability of the claims, that it’s as dangerous as direct inhaling! Once the mainstream has regarded something as settled, it swallows all sorts of unlikely things.

  3. Photonaut said

    The parallels between the different scientific “monoliths” are startling. Look at this, it could be about “HIV”:

    • Henry Bauer said

      Yes indeed. It’s a persistent and pervasive indictment of current journalistic practices that mainstream dogmas are accepted without batting an eyelid and without bothering to read anything about the subject. The recent New Scientist articles about “denialism” (can’t give you the cite, we just moved house, I’m using a backup computer and I can’t find anything) offers a number of examples, for example arch-dogmatist Michael Shermer, who calls himself a skeptic, denigrates and dismisses AIDS Rethinkers like me (without looking at my book, by the way, as he wrote to a friend of mine) and is so ignorant that he writes that we call ourselves “AIDS truthers”!!

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