HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

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.

12 Responses to “Deniers, Skeptics, Dogmatists, Scientists”

  1. RobinP said

    Henry, you are one of the naughtiest people in history and only one punishment is good enough for you. That is that you be force-fed with a lethal dose of HIV virus (we wouldn’t want to cruelly stick a needle in) and left without treatment to die the horrible lingering death from aids which on latest evidence could take up to 30 years or more, all the time anxiously knowing that that decade could easily be your last.
    Indeed, hopefully you’ll live to be a hundred.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment expressed in “Hals- und Bein-bruch” fashion. It reminded me of Claus Koehnlein’s bon mot, that life is a sexually transmissible condition leading to death after an average latent period of seven decades. 8)

      • RobinP said

        Gosh, I’d not thought of that before. I must get out there to vilify those evil pro-lifers for their crimes.
        On the wider question of whether science is self-correcting, I think part of the problem is when a field becomes taken over by big institutional professionalism, whereupon the distorting institutional agenda comes to dominate the field and drown out what I would call the genuine (amateur) scientists.

      • Henry Bauer said

        Definitely. “Big” science has corrupted real science.

  2. BSdetector said

    Henry, do you equate the small minority of persons who disagree with the global warming theory as those who disagree with the HIV=AIDS novelette. I am not a climate scientist, but it seems to me the majority of people who are global scientists in the world support global warming and the evidence suggest that global warming is real. Yet, there are scientists who disagree. In your support, it seems that those who deny global warming is a problem are employed by the petroleum industry, unlike those that disagree with the HIV=AIDS myth are generally independent of the pharma industry. What do you say to those that accuse you of being “Just like those global warming deniers”?

    • Henry Bauer said

      Those who deny that HIV cause AIDS are not always the same people who deny that human activities are causing global warming. Getting clear about the facts of such matters is very time-consuming and few people taske that time for more than one topic that they happen to be particularly interested in.
      My professional focus for several decades was science studies, especially the role of unorthodoxies in the progress of science, so I happen to have had to become familiar with several such topics.
      It’s a mistake to talk about “global warming” (GW). No one denies that global temperatures are rising. The argument isabout human-caused, anthropogenic global warming (AGW): has the production of carbon dioxide led to more warming than would have occurred otherwise, since we are just 15,000 years past the last Ice Ages?
      Thousands of climate scientists deny that the evidence proves AGW; see
      Since minority views are routinely resisted and shunned by the mainstream, those who question a mainstream dogma will tend to accept support from any available source. That I might be supported by a drug company doesn’t mean I acquired my views from that drug company or in order to be paid by that drug company.

  3. Paul Vahur said

    People who are disinterested towards something do not take it up as a subject of study, they just do not have and interest in it.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Paul Vahur:
      You must have been using the dreadful Third Edition of Webster’s Dictionary. In traditional and correct English, “disinterested” means without conflicts of interest, it does not mean “uninterested”. This was among the many criticisms made of Webster’s Third, which for the first time in any dictionary of the English language showed “disinterested” as meaning “uninterested”. A word to denote lack of conflicts of interest is too valuable to be corrupted like that.

      • Paul Vahur said

        I did not use that dictionary knowingly, but that has always been my understanding of the word. I get what you mean. It seems that this word can only be used in the context of judging something, not in researching of something. I’m not sure I can wrap my brain around this word…

      • Henry Bauer said

        Paul Vahur:
        English can do that to people 8)
        even more, or especially, when you try to write a word you heard, or to pronounce a written word. There are irregularities without end.

      • RobinP said

        But sadly the English language is no longer under the control of us competent Brits or even of you American long-time naturaliseds. Words are now starting to mean whatever the rest of the world assume they do instead.

      • Henry Bauer said

        Perhaps you’re referring to the on-line Urban Dictionary, which is as grossly unreliable as Wikipedia, for much the same reason.

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