Deniers, Skeptics, Dogmatists, Scientists
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2011/10/20
AIDS Rethinking has implications far beyond specific issues concerning HIV and AIDS.
A common, natural, naïve objection to AIDS Rethinking is, “How could science be so wrong?” This stems from the conventional wisdom that science is objective and self-correcting because it deploys the scientific method.
A logical fallacy is that the self-correction wouldn’t be needed if the scientific method really made science objective. A practical fallacy is that science is done by humans. There has never been an objective and self-correcting human being, no matter the methodology being used; and there has never been a group of human beings who were objective and self-correcting through being guided by an infallible methodology.
The first sociologist of science, Robert Merton, identified the norms of science as communalism, universalism, skepticism, disinterestedness; and John Ziman later added “originality”. But human beings don’t practice communalism — uninhibited free sharing — and human beings are not very good at being skeptical about their pet theories, and there is no such thing as a universally disinterested human being. As to the scientific method, it is a construct by philosophers trying to explain why science had apparently been so successful at gaining authentic understanding of the material world; scientists don’t actually work by the so-called scientific method.
AIDS Rethinkers have become aware of much of this in the particular case of HIV/AIDS. The hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS is not an outcome of disinterested, skeptical research freely and openly shared. Instead, it exemplifies how science and its applications are subject to the psychological and social influences that pervade all human activities. Self-interested careerists were able to capitalize on particular social and political circumstances to have their views entrenched as mainstream consensus, and the usual sociopolitical inertia against drastic change has kept it there as more and more sectors of society came to have vested interests in the status quo. So the mainstream hardened into dogma, and dissenting voices have been dubbed “deniers” and treated as heretics.
But AIDS Rethinking is not the only nexus displaying these aberrations. As I pointed out at the Oakland Conference in my talk, “HIV/AIDS blunder is far from unique in the annals of science and medicine”, dogmatism and the suppression of minority views is quite widespread.
I was just alerted to a fine essay by David Deming, “Why I deny global warming”, which brings out the difference between skepticism and denying. Since science is a matter of attending to evidence and not a matter of belief, there can be no such thing as denying or denialism if science is being practiced properly. Such things as “belief” and “denying” pertain to matters of religion, not matters of science.
Deming’s essay has a link to an earlier piece, “Doubting Darwin”, which is similarly instructive. Accepting that evolution has occurred does not entail accepting that natural selection was sufficient to bring it about.
Highly recommended reading.