HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Posts Tagged ‘denialism’

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.

Posted in experts, HIV skepticism, uncritical media | Tagged: , , | 12 Comments »

Science journalism ignorant of science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2011/01/17

When Michael Specter’s book Denialism was launched to a dazzle of ballyhoo, I agreed to review it for the Journal of Scientific Exploration. That turned out to be an onerous task, far from enjoyable because the book is so dreadfully bad: a staggering degree of ignorance about science is everywhere on display, deplorable in the extreme since Specter is an award-winning science journalist.
Not long after Specter’s book appeared, the New Scientist carried a series of essays as a “Special Report: Denial” (15 May 2010). Those essays are on the whole as ignorance-based as is Specter’s book. For a thorough debunking of both book and Special Report, see my essay-review just published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration.
The principal flaw in these writings is the underlying belief that on any given issue the prevailing scientific consensus, the Establishment view, is unquestionably correct. Such a belief illustrates ignorance of the history of science, which is a continuing record of Establishment views proven wrong and being replaced by what then becomes the new Establishment view.
Misplaced faith in science as the source of absolute, permanent truth stems from the ideology of scientism, which holds that science and only science can offer true answers. Few people admit to that unsupportable belief when challenged, but by their actions and unguarded words a great number of people show themselves to hold that belief.
Specter is far from the only science journalist or science writer tainted by scientism; Natalie Angier is another. In her review of Specter’s book in the American Scholar (“Science Doubters”, 79 #1, Winter 2010, pp. 102-5) she perpetrates fallacy upon fallacy and indulges in semantic sleight-of-phrase in the attempt to mask her dogmatism. For example, she mimics Specter to the effect that the “overwhelming weight of evidence” favors vaccination, it’s “remarkably safe”, adverse reactions are “rare” — which attempts rhetorically to lull the reader into rejecting the well-based qualms that critics have expressed about the use in vaccines of organic-mercury-based additives and toxic adjuvants like squalene.
Angier approves Specter’s assertion that denialists “replace the rigorous and open-minded skepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment”. But no science writer should remark “the rigorous and open-minded skepticism of science” without mentioning that this is an unachieved ideal and that scientists frequently display “inflexible certainty” about their own views. Angier’s ignorance goes so far that she actually credits Specter with coining the term “denialism”! She deplores that the Internet favors “popularity over p-value”, when it is actually the use of p-values that is responsible for the misguided acceptance as significant of many apparent correlations that are not significant *. Angier follows Specter in dismissing chiropractic as quackery even as mainstream studies have shown that it has a better record of treating lower-back pain by manipulation than does mainstream medicine with drugs and surgery.
Angier differs from Specter in denying that there’s been a loss of faith in science, citing a Harris poll in which 60% of respondents rate the prestige of doctors and scientists as high or very high. That’s what the problem really is; most people have too much faith in what the public spokespeople for science and medicine assert nowadays.

* Matthews, R. A. J. 1998. “Facts versus Factions: The use and abuse of subjectivity in scientific research”, European Science and Environment Forum Working Paper; reprinted (pp. 247–282) in J. Morris (ed.), Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle, Butterworth, 2000.

Posted in experts, HIV skepticism, prejudice, uncritical media | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »