Jail terms of 6 years have been imposed on Italian seismologists for misleading the public about the possible danger of a possibly impending major earthquake following a host of smaller tremors (Jailing of Italian seismologists leaves scientific community in shock):
“the seismologists got the science right, but left the job of public communication to a civil protection official with no specialist knowledge of seismology. His statement to the press was, to put it mildly, a grossly inaccurate reflection of the situation: “The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable.” At this point, the seismologists should have stepped in. But they did not” (Italian earthquake case is no anti-science witch-hunt).
Under this precedent, scientists are required to correct any public statement that they know to be inaccurate. So, for example, whenever it is publicly stated that positive HIV tests bespeak infection by a human immunodeficiency virus, every HIV/AIDS researcher should publicly correct that, given that no test is 100% certain: Stanley H. Weiss and Elliott P. Cowan, “Laboratory detection of human retroviral infection”, Chapter 8 in AIDS and Other Manifestations of HIV Infection, ed. Gary P. Wormser, 4th ed. 2004.
There are innumerable other aspects of HIV/AIDS dogma that persistently misrepresent reality as represented in data in the published mainstream literature. Thus every statement that a single act of unprotected intercourse can cause infection should be immediately accompanied by a correction that the probability is on the order of a few per thousand (and for most people hunderdds of teimes leess than that, since the probability that ones’s partner is infected is on average only a few per thousand). Every statement that AIDS has become a manageable chronic disease should be accompanied by detailed specification of the common “side” effects of antiretroviral drugs — including perhaps the information that the notorious AZT, acknowledged in practice if not in words to have been too toxic at the original high doses, is present in smaller but far from negligible amounts (typically 300 mg twice a day) in many treatment “cocktails” under pseudonym (zidovudine ZDV; Retrovir), for example in a recent “Preferred Regimen for Pregnant Women” [LPV/r (twice daily) + ZDV/3TC1 (AI) — Treatment Guidelines updated to October 2011; the “AI” marks the strongest possible recommendation used in these Guidelines: “A: Strong recommendation for the statement; I: One or more randomized trials with clinical outcomes and/or validated laboratory endpoints”]. The first dosage of AZT was often 1500 mg/day, though at first as high as 2400 mg (400 mg every 4 hours). A clinical trial comparing this with 750 mg revealed no significant difference in mortality, less than 10% of AIDS patients on these regimens surviving for more than 33 months (Joseph Sonnabend, “Remembering the Original AZT Trial”, 29 January 2011). One might wonder whether current regimens of 300 mg twice a day are appreciably less toxic than 750 mg/day had been in that long-ago trial.
But of course it is not only with respect to HIV/AIDS that experts fail to correct public statements. Whenever someone claims that there is no doubt that human-generated carbon dioxide is adding appreciably to the rate of global warming, for instance, the computer modelers should rush to point out that all they claim is some sort of statistical probability. When it is mentioned that the universe began about 13 billion years ago in a Big Bang, astrophysicists should hasten to remind us that this is an inference based on various other inferences and assumptions as well as evidence. Indeed, whenever any scientific conclusion is broadcast as tantamount to truth, scientists should leap to correct that and point out that science is perpetually self-correcting — in other words, changing all the time — and that it never claims or can claim or should be allowed to claim final certainty.
Current circumstances are quite different, though. In an increasing range of fields of science, one finds dogmatic adherence to and promulgation of a contemporary mainstream consensus as beyond doubt, together with excommunication of dissenters as heretics, under the more modern term of “denialist”, which the unwary may not recognize as synonymous with heretic — see my latest book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth.