HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

The mote in someone else’s eye

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2010/10/11

how wilt thou say to thy brother,
Let me pull the mote out of thine eye;
and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
— Matthew 7:3

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, has written a number of unexceptionable, insightful essays about the limitations of peer review and the need for open discussion of scientific matters, for example:

Peer review . . . is simply a way to collect opinions from experts in the field.
Peer review tells us about the acceptability, not the credibility, of a new finding
(Health Wars: On the Global Front Lines of Modern Medicine
New York Review Books, 2003, p. 306)

In the same book Horton dismisses HIV/AIDS dissidence in unequivocal terms — evidently basing his faith in orthodox HIV/AIDS theory on the opinions of experts. And as editor of The Lancet, Horton approved the rejection on several occasions since 2005 of short pieces by Gordon Stewart that referred to unquestioned data about HIV and AIDS confirming the accuracy of Stewart’s projections from the 1980s and the wildly wrong nature of official projections. (Stewart has known Horton well enough to be on first-name terms. Nevertheless, the rejections came in the usual bland non-substantive boilerplate, e.g. asserting that the submission contained nothing new).

In  a more recent piece in The Guardian, Horton points out that the Climategate affair  demonstrates a need for something like a revolution in the way science deals with matters of public interest:
1.    “Simply accepting a scientist’s assurance that data are accurate and reliable is no longer enough. Scientists will have to make their data available for independent audit.”
2.    “[S]cientists must redefine who is a legitimate critic and who isn’t. . . .  some critics ask tough and illuminating questions, exposing important errors and elisions. These critics have an important part to play in shaping scientific debate and dialogue.”
3.    Scientists should resist the public’s wish for certainty, not pander to it. “Uncertainty may be uncomfortable, but its admission builds trust. It demonstrates integrity. One of science’s great strengths is its quantification of doubt.”
4.    “[S]cientists need to take peer review off its pedestal. As an editor, I know that rigorous peer review is indispensable. But I also know that it is widely misunderstood. Peer review is not the absolute or final arbiter of scientific quality. It does not test the validity of a piece of research. It does not guarantee truth. . . . the prevailing myths need to be debunked. . . . If we treat peer review as a sacred academic cow, we will continue to let the public down again and again.”
5.    “A scientist’s training will need to include ways of engaging citizen scientists constructively, making their data more widely available, putting uncertainty at the forefront of their work, and managing public expectations about what science can do.”

Nevertheless, Horton accepts that Climategate does not cast doubt on the dogma that global warming is caused by human generation of carbon dioxide; even though there were “failures, evasions, misleading actions, unjustifiable delays, and pervasive unhelpfulness” by the climate scientists at East Anglia University.
Thereby Horton fails to acknowledge, presumably fails to understand that the results that emerge from scientific activity are only reliable to the degree that they are not “failures, evasions, misleading actions, unjustifiable delays, and pervasive unhelpfulness”, which in the Climategate case included a refusal to furnish raw data and assertions that the raw data had not been retained — which in itself would constitute an extraordinary breach of accepted and acceptable procedures.

I bring Horton in neither to praise nor to bury him, but as a striking and humbling illustration that we are all capable of discerning others’ blind spots and misperceptions and intellectual biases while remaining unaware of our own. Even as we understand generalities, we fail to apply them to specific topics on which we hold firm views.
When scientists or scientific associations provide advice to policy makers, it is their obligation not to press their own convictions but rather to make plain the range of existing competent views, emphasizing that science does not deal in absolute truths and that policies must be made with that understanding of fundamental uncertainty. For a comprehensive discussion, see for example The Honest Broker by Roger A. Pielke, Jr. (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
When not acting as an adviser, of course, it is perfectly proper for each of us to argue vigorously for our views: so long as we do so by presenting the evidence on which we base those views and so long as we do not indulge in polemic irrelevancies like personal attacks or trying to invoke guilt by association (e.g., Bauer is a pseudoscientist’s pseudoscientist who believes in Loch Ness monsters, and a homophobe who opposes affirmative action — see writings of Seth Kalichman and of anonymous contributors to Wikipedia).

The only sensible, potentially productive way to move toward better understanding is to engage in unfettered, evidence-based, public discussion. That not only serves the public good, it can help each of us to realize it when we are going astray, when we have fallen into dogmatism, when we have drawn unwarranted conclusions, when we’re simply wrong.
When that happens, embarrassment is perfectly natural; but it can be eased by recalling that to err is human.
It’s much easier to acknowledge being wrong and to accept correction from friends. That’s a further reason to eschew polemic tactics like invoking guilt by association and making personal attacks: those make it all the more difficult for the other side to appreciate the strength of your argument; it’s counter-productive; the difference of views becomes a personal battle instead of a substantive impersonal scientific argument.
When people do invoke guilt by association and do make personal attacks, a reasonable inference, of course, is that they cannot support their views by sufficiently convincing evidence.

9 Responses to “The mote in someone else’s eye”

  1. Robin said

    Henry, the “Loch Ness monster” was a hoax invented by the local hotel to attract gullible tourist trade such as etc. As for WickedPaedophilia, even one of its founders has condemned its being wide open to uncontrollable abuse by unaccountable unverifiable professional massaging agents and muck-raking agents. Hopefully its deeply flawed character will become generally appreciated in time.

  2. BornSkeptic said

    With all due respect Henry, Lock Ness was covered by a glacier just a few thousand years ago, owing to the last ice age. This is why there is so little life in the Loch, nothing has had time to evolve. the species that it is claimed to be is air-breathing, meaning it would be coming up for air several times every hour, and anyone could spot the creature if they wanted to. Apparently, the Loch has been sonar scanned from top to bottom end to end several times and nothing was ever found. please, stop talking about this silliness, it is unbecoming of a man of your intellect.

    • Henry Bauer said

      PLEASE! After the glaciers melted, Loch Ness was an arm of the sea for some indeterminate period of time before the land rose and cut if off, as Constance Whyte pointed out in “More than a Legend”. Any species of creatures too large to get in and out via River Ness or the canal will have bene trapped around that time and adapted tof resh water — just as sharks and manatees have adapted in other parts of the world.
      Yes, air-breathing creatures would be expected to be seen more often—unless they breathe via snorkels, as some plesiosaurs evolved to do (nostrils on very top of the skull); but who says they are air-breathing? And who is watching the whole surface of this 20 x 1 mile lake all the time? And when they see concentric rings, do they think “Nessie” or do they think “trout”?
      The Loch has never been scanned end to end and top to bottom. Operation Deepscan, at which I was an observer by invitation of Lowrance Sonar, scanned about 2/3 of the loch; and made 3 unexplained contacts.
      All skeptics should recognize that nobody has the time (or inclination) to dig properly into the evidence on more than a few such controversial topics, so they should hesitate to form dogmatic views on those topics that they have not personally researched.
      During about 4 decades, I looked comprehensively into Loch Ness monsters; the Velikovsky claims; and HIV/AIDS. My views on those are based on a thorough knowledge of the evidence. That doesn’t mean my conclusions about them are right, but it does mean that my views about them are not superficial or silly.

      • Guy said

        All this is very interesting. However, one of the points I took from the article these comments are on is that your views on Nessie are irrelevant to your views on HIV/AIDS. Should we be discussing Nessie?

      • Henry Bauer said

        Thanks for the reminder. Perhaps I should have answered BornSkeptic privately.
        Still, I’d like to suggest a subtle distinction:
        Yes, there is no necessary correlation between one’s views about Nessies, HIV/AIDS, global warming, the existence of God, etc. etc.
        So when someone tries to discredit a person’s views about HIV/AIDS by invoking alleged silliness about Nessies, it’s an invalid try.
        However, I think it is relevant, how one’s views were arrived at on any given topic, whether through simply accepting the conventional wisdom or the assertions of one’s teachers or by looking at data. So I claimed to hold evidence-based views on 3 topics, implying that any criticism of my views on those topics should address the evidence I’ve presented (including in books on each of those topics), not declare me wrong just because the conventional wisdom says I am wrong about HIV/AIDS and Nessies.

  3. Francis said

    Well put Henry,

    I am sure there are more than a few well credentialled orthodox AIDS researchers going to church on Sundays with the evidence for the existence of God even more scant than HIV. One can even say that there are several concensus views for Christianity, Islam etc. No evidence though.

    How many researchers and how much money has been put in to SETI? without a zak of evidence to back it up and I’m betting some of those guys go to church too which is totally contradictary.

    Nessie? I don’t know, never seen one, but if I open the paper tomorrow and there’s she is on the front page I won’t be totally surprised. I was reading about giant squid a while back. The largest caught and seen are about 13 metres and the largest sucker seen was 20cm. There is a documented case of a sperm whale with up to a metre wide sucker scar on it’s belly, so what is down there and can catch whales that big?

    You are of course 100% correct in stating that a belief in one idea should not lead to writing off a persons intellect in other areas. In doing that we fall in to the trap that the orthodox “believers” prey upon. The best example I know is the Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis who wrote in his book that under the influence of LSD he hallucinated and saw a glowing racoon. The AIDS goons go over this voraciously in order to try and discredit his whole lifes work and ideas. They still can’t get over his nobel prize though, to the point where the dodgy Wiki page on him states there is controversy over the award to him. On the other hand you have Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier, Luc got the prize, not so Gallo, which in itself is an endorsement of the French heretic and his diverse views on AIDS.

    I hope you find your Nessie, and frankly there is more chance of that than the orthodoxy pulling a complete infectious HIV virion out of an AIDS patient.

  4. Maurits said

    Dr. Bauer,
    Today I discovered that there is another lake in which unidentified creatures may exist, Windermere:
    This is an article in Dutch about the same event, accompanied by a beautiful picture:
    I’m sure you already knew about “Bownessie”, but maybe this information is new for you.

    • Henry Bauer said

      The Bowness/Windermere photo screams “fake”. The “monster” is too sharply defined compared to the rest of the photo, for example, and is reminiscent of the somewhat better fakes produced by Frank Searle at Loch Ness.
      The one lake besides Ness for which I think there is excellent “monster” evidence is Loch Morar; read “The Search for Morag” by Elizabeth Montgomery Campbell.
      People I respect believe there’s good evidence from Lake Champlain, bu I’m not as impressed, and if it’s real I think it’s a very different type of creature. So too with Lake Okanagan.

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