HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Why Ethics Matters in Science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2010/09/28

That’s the title of my opening talk at a workshop on “Ethics in Science”,  held at the end of August in Montreux (Switzerland). Here’s the abstract, which makes plain that this issue is clearly pertinent to HIV/AIDS matters:

Ethics matters nowadays because the character of scientific activity has changed so drastically in about the last half century; because doing science is a human activity and not something impersonal; and because the crux of science is in interpretations, not in supposedly objective facts.
The so-called “scientific method” makes it appear as though objective facts can be obtained and theories tested objectively. But observations always need to be interpreted, and interpretations are inevitably influenced by preconceived beliefs. Science actually is produced not by application of a formulaic “scientific method” but by mutually interacting experimenters, theorists, journal editors, funding agencies, policy makers, and even such outsiders as science writers and historians and philosophers of science.
Because science is inescapably a human activity, it can go wrong for such reasons as inappropriate motives or incompetence. Ethical behavior in science therefore means behaving in such a way that discovering genuine truths is assisted and not hindered, and that requires that it be produced by people who have no interests that conflict with truth-seeking.
Science is often said to be self-correcting through the mechanism of peer review, but peer review is itself a human activity, and nowadays it is increasingly subject to undesirable bias as a result of pervasive conflicts of interest, institutional as well as individual.
Here’s a pdf of the talk,  and here are the PowerPoint slides.

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The program for the workshop was slightly different from the posted  initial plan through combining by general agreement some of the proposed round-table discussions.
The ambience and interactions were as fruitful and interesting as I’ve come to expect whenever people from a range of backgrounds and disciplines converge to focus on a topic of common concern. A highlight for me was to have some time with Michael Baumgartner, whom I had met at the Vienna Congress and who delivered a powerfully moving talk as the concluding presentation at the workshop on Sunday: “The right to facts” described the human dilemmas brought on by the HIV/AIDS mess without explicitly referring to HIV or to AIDS, and through bypassing preconceptions in that way, the enormity of the tragedy is underscored.

2 Responses to “Why Ethics Matters in Science”

  1. Robin said

    mutually interacting experimenters, theorists, journal editors, funding agencies, policy makers, and even such outsiders as science writers and historians and philosophers of science.

    There is a key essential additional here that no-one recognises. Namely what I would call “hypotheories”, which are “self-evident” unexamined crude assumptions about a subject. (No individuals get identified as the “hypotheorists”.) Two examples: “Autism is an inferior form of humanity, there is some fault in the brain in autism, something that has gone wrong”; and “Alzheimer’s is caused by a process of degeneration of the brain”. Being an evil AIDS-denialist you would probably contend another example as being “AIDS is a disease that originated in the 20th century”, and “AIDS was caused by the novel HIV virus”.
    My book is foreshadowed by the essays I posted some time ago:

    Suppression of Science Within Science

    The New World Order in Science

    • Henry Bauer said

      Robin:
      You are actually pointing to the theme of my forthcoming book: that on an increasing range of topics in science and in medicine, there are knowledge monopolies — public knowledge monopolized by a single viewpoint, things that (almost) everyone knows — thinks they know; BELIEVES to be true; takes for granted. Those views are entrenched in the conventional wisdom by the large number of vested interests: academic careers and the associated funding and publishing industries, commercial interests like pharmaceuticals, government agencies and private foundations and public charities, all of which have put their mouths and their moneys on the side of the single viewpoint, and defending that by suppressing minority opinions and the evidence on which those opinions are based.
      Thus public policies can go wrong — HAVE gone wrong — for long periods of time, causing inestimable harm to an inestimable number of people.

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