HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Posts Tagged ‘resistance by scientists to scientific discovery’

Why minority views should be listened to

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2011/07/05

On political and on social issues, there are no objectively absolute rights or wrongs. Aspirations of minorities, unorthodox views, and individual claims should be afforded respect as a matter of equitable social order, fair and stable political arrangements, human rights.
On matters of science there are some absolute wrongs. Regarding knowledge about how the natural world works, there are some claims and views that are absolutely, definitively, inescapably wrong — that objects tend to fall away from the Earth, or that the Earth is flat. There are also some matters that are, factually speaking, absolutely right — provided only that the natural world is as regular and law-abiding and non-capricious as very long experience suggests it is: the sun appears to travel from east to west; the earth’s shape is approximately spherical; and so on. Facts can be absolutely right — but not any particular interpretation of them at any given time.
In science, minority opinions about the interpretation of facts should be attended to because they may be right, or at least more right than the prevailing majority or mainstream view. That’s what the long history of science teaches: the majority view, the scientific consensus, may be wrong at least to some degree at any given time.
Unfortunately, this highly consequential fact is absent from most public discourse. It is a very little-appreciated reality that any given mainstream scientific theory is probably wrong in the longer run and thereby already misleading, to some degree or other, in the present.
Few people indeed, and moreover few scientists, know anything of the actual history of science. History of science is not a standard part of the education and training of scientists. When there are gestures in the direction of history of science, what passes for it in the typical experience of most scientists is merely a chronology of significant advances in their specialty. The true history of science is quite a different matter. Its overriding insight, which should be mandatory information for all policy makers and politicians and pundits, is that significant advances, revolutionary breakthroughs, have frequently represented the overturning, repudiation, falsification of earlier mainstream theories. Science has progressed by rejecting mainstream dogmas that were defended bitterly to the very end by the leading scientific authorities, who had to be dethroned or outlived before the evidence was allowed its proper due. In the nice paraphrase of Planck’s dictum, science progresses funeral by funeral, by the deaths of earlier beliefs as their adherents pass on.
This is standard knowledge only within such tiny academic sects as history, philosophy, and sociology of science and the umbrella field of science studies or science & technology studies (STS). The fact becomes known also through their personal experience to the rare, truly groundbreaking researchers who are astonished to find their discoveries shunned owing to mainstream “peer review” — Lauterbur, whose invention of magnetic resonance imaging was refused publication in Nature; Planck himself, of course; in recent medical science, Marshall and Warren who discovered the bacterial cause of many ulcers and were laughed at or ignored for a couple of decades before gaining a Nobel Prize; or Stanley Prusiner who was laughed at for about a decade for suggesting prions as cause of mad-cow disease, until the mainstream capitulated and awarded him too a Nobel Prize. There are innumerable other instances listed by Bernard Barber in his seminal article, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery” (Science, 134 [1961] 596-602.).
It’s a full half century since Barber published his data in one of science’s flagship journals, yet most science writers, journalists, and pundits remain ignorant of it. They imagine that the spokespeople for established scientific institutions are the most trustworthy source for opinions on controversial matters, and they imagine that science has progressed rather steadily as well as surely, and they imagine that significant advances were a systematic building on earlier knowledge. It’s also half a century since Thomas Kuhn pointed out that science had advanced anything but steadily, rather by a series of “scientific revolutions” that interrupt the normal routine of the rather uninspired scientific activity engaged in by most researchers, who try to solve intricate little puzzles without ever questioning the conventional wisdom. Kuhn unlike Barber is widely cited, but his work is grievously misunderstood: scientific revolutions are commonly taken to be giant strides ahead, when their real significance is that older views are overturned, rejected.
Some of the greatest advances in scientific understanding have come from innovators who had a hard time opening the eyes of their Establishment peers to the evidence that the conventional theories were inadequate or even wrong; innovators like Arrhenius, Ampère, Faraday, Heaviside, Helmholtz, Lister, Mendel, Ohm, Pasteur, Karl Pearson. Revered in retrospect, they were not respected or believed by the contemporary scientific authorities. It is worth noting that several of these individuals had little or no prior status or prestige in the field in which they made their discoveries.
That’s the true history of science, including the so-called modern science that got going a few centuries ago; and it remains very much true for contemporary science. The best scientific insight may be found nowadays in quarters that are of low status, of no prestige, outside the authoritative specialist pale. There is no more ground to believe what the National Academy of Sciences claims nowadays than there was ground a century ago to believe what Lord Kelvin claimed about the age of the earth, or to believe the scientific authorities of a century earlier who denied that meteorites could have fallen from the sky. Those authorities had some reasons on their side, and they had been right about many things, but they were quite wrong on some other things.
Not all presently accredited claims are equally dubious, of course. Beliefs that are universally shared are likely to prove inadequate only at some fairly distant time. But when competent insider specialists question a mainstream belief, their arguments ought to be attended to, because that mainstream belief might be far along on the road toward its funeral.
Of course not all minority views are later vindicated; many are called but few are chosen. There is no certainty that any given heterodoxy will become mainstream dogma at some time in the future. What is certain, though, is that any given contemporary mainstream belief will be found wanting to some degree and will be superseded; the question is not whether that will happen but only when and how it will happen, and to what degree it will be found wrong.

How then is it rational to respond when a mainstream scientific creed is questioned by qualified, competent people?

By examining the evidence. It’s only the evidence that matters and not what the authorities say about it.
The difficulty is to make the evidence widely accessible, and to recognize that non-specialists can reach sensible judgments even about highly technical matters by observing the manner in which  the mainstream responds to criticism (and also the typical lack of manners with which the mainstream responds to criticism). When the authorities don’t meet challenging arguments head-on and substantively, one may infer that perhaps they are not able to. When personal attacks are resorted to, one may infer that the substantive questions cannot be answered.
That, of course, is the situation with HIV/AIDS dogma.
Somehow it must become prominently known in public discourse that competent, knowledgeable people question HIV/AIDS theory on substantive factual grounds and that the lesson of history is that such mainstream dogmas have often been wrong in the past; the minority opinions of competent specialists often turned out to be correct.

To that end, it may be useful to be clear about what progress in science consists of. “Science” comprises three distinguishable aspects: the methods by which information is obtained; the data obtained by those methods; and the interpretations, hypotheses, theories, invented to make the data meaningful. Those three aspects of science rarely change in lock-step. The inset in the following figure illustrates that new methodology is followed increasingly by new data and later by a new theoretical interpretation accommodating the new information as well as earlier data. On a long time-scale the steps become less visible and it appears that methods and data accumulate steadily, but theory certainly does not:

Typically, any new method allows the gathering of previously inaccessible data; and eventually those data show up the deficiencies of earlier theories and culminate in a fresh theoretical approach. Over time, a theoretical framework becomes less able to accommodate all the information that continues to come in, so the validity of a theory regresses from apparently universal, almost from the time it is adopted; inexplicable anomalies accumulate and eventually the theory is replaced.
In most cases of disputes between mainstream and minority views, it is primarily the interpretation, the hypothesis, the theory that is being challenged, not all of science. Awareness of that might help outsiders be willing to give credence to minority views: it isn’t “science” that’s being disputed, just a particular interpretation of acknowledged data.

This description is simplified though not misleading: the three aspects of science are not really independent variables. Philosophy of science has long pointed out that “facts are theory-laden”: our beliefs color the manner in which we “see” the data, we are not capable as humans to grasp data objectively. Methods are also theory-laden: our beliefs influence what we believe the methods do. In the case of dissent from HIV/AIDS theory, the fundamental challenge is to the hypothesis that “HIV” causes “AIDS”. But that hypothesis also influences what methods are (mis)used — “HIV” tests, CD4 counts, “viral load” by PCR —  and how the obtained data are interpreted. For more detailed discussion of science as a troika of facts, methods, and theories, with particular attention to heterodox claims, see my books The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery (1986, pp. 152-3); Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies (2001, pp. 9-11); Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science (2001, p. 96 ff.).

The salient point remains that scientific theories are not the same as accumulated factual scientific knowledge, and that questioning a theory is not the same as questioning “science”. An understanding of this and more generally an understanding of what science is and how it advances might help outsiders realize why minority views must be attended to even when the authorities dismiss them out of hand. It might be useful to point this out when critiquing HIV/AIDS theory.

Posted in experts, HIV skepticism, prejudice, uncritical media | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

True Believers of HIV/AIDS: Why Do They Believe Despite the Evidence?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/10/30

A correspondent sent the following, asking whether it might be a relevant comment on one of the Nobel Prize posts. I think it’s more than that, it gets to the root of the problem that Rethinkers and Skeptics face, how to entice the indoctrinated public media and the committed mainstreamers to pay attention to the evidence that disproves HIV/AIDS theory. Andy D. wrote:

“I can find but three possible explanations for the ‘Establishment’s’ most arrogant and condescending behavior and unsubstantial, propagandistic websites and media appearances:
1. They are very well aware of the inconsistencies, problems and failings of HIV-AIDS-theory and their horrible implications regarding AIDS politics and medication, and find some overriding self-interested reason to continue to uphold what they know is wrong; or
2. They are unwilling to look critically at a theory they have established and promoted; or
3. They regard all ‘dissident’ propositions as so silly — what they call ‘moon-is-green-cheese’ pseudoscience — that they require no disproof.

I’ve seen again and again with honest scientists that they are happy to discuss and argue about their theses. Esteemed, intelligent and highly informed people like Peter Duesberg, Etienne de Harven, Heinz Ludwig Sänger, Kary Mullis or yourself should not be treated like nagging students asking the same stupidly absurd questions over and  over again.”

I touched on one aspect of an explanation for all this in “HIV/AIDS Illustrates Cognitive Dissonance” [29 April 2008]: Human psychology is such that true believers simply cannot grasp the implications of evidence that contradicts their belief. Andy’s questions spurred me to think about all this anew. How do people become true believers in the first place? If one could answer that question, it might point also to possible ways of helping people to change their mistaken beliefs.

Human beings are actually raised to be true believers. As babies and children, we are persuaded, urged, or disciplined in various ways to accept what our parents and our teachers tell us. Children  are delightfully curious and questioning, but at first they lack the background information to argue effectively against what they’re told. By and large, too, what children are told makes sense and works out in practice: “Don’t touch that hot stove!” and innumerable other commands, when ignored, prove themselves to have been good ones. So we tend to grow up with confidence in what our elders tell us, and as adults we readily substitute for parents and elders the “experts” , the “authorities”, the “Establishment”.

When we encounter someone who believes very differently than we do, we tend to be puzzled: “How could anyone believe that?!”

The answer is simple: They had different parents and teachers, and later they listened to different “experts” and “authorities”.

So to ask, “How could anyone believe that?!”, is the wrong question. The right question is, “How does anyone come not to accept what they’ve been told, what everyone around them ‘knows’?” (I’ve written more along these lines in Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, especially p. 47 ff. and p. 207 ff.).

When it comes to supposedly factual matters, textbooks and undergraduate courses emphasize learning what — according to the authorities — has already been found out and is already understood. There’s a significant difference here between “scientific” matters and non-scientific ones. If humanists and scientists can be persuaded to discuss their differing approaches to college teaching, it turns out that the scientists have a rather naïve view of their mission as one of transferring reliable, accredited information, whereas the humanists tend to emphasize the nurturing of critical thought. One indication of the difference is that science courses tend to be sequenced in linear hierarchy: students must take general chemistry before specialized inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, and they must take some math and physics before physical chemistry, and so on. By contrast, great swaths of “upper-level” courses in the humanities have few if any prerequisites (more about this in To Rise above Principle: The Memoirs of an Unreconstructed Dean, p. 140).

So scientists and doctors, already trained by parents and earlier teachers to believe what they’re told, become even further accustomed during their “education” — more correctly, their indoctrination — to accept contemporary “knowledge” and beliefs. Once graduated and credentialed, as professionals and practitioners, to those habits of intellectual conformity there are added weighty practical considerations: straying from orthodox paths can incur serious, even disabling damage to one’s career and livelihood.

It isn’t that doctors and scientists “go along” cynically with beliefs and practices that they recognize as wrong or unsound. At best, when they’re conscious of some disparity between what they do and “what’s right”, they rationalize: for example, that they can do more to correct matters by “working within the system” than by becoming whistle-blowers. More usually, though, like other humans, they presume that, because their inherent desire is to do the right thing, therefore they cannot be doing anything that’s fundamentally wrong. That’s the basis of “cognitive dissonance”: psychological mechanisms common to all human beings can render us incapable of discerning facts that disprove our beliefs. I recommend highly the book by Thomas Gilovich, How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life (Free Press, 1991)  for an excellent and very readable discussion of various ways in which we can fool ourselves into not seeing facts that contradict our beliefs; we are simply oblivious to them.

In science and medicine as much as in everyday life, human beings want to “fit in”. We are social animals and want to be part of a group, and that applies on intellectual issues as much as in other matters. The highly creative astrophysicist Thomas Gold described the intellectual conformity in scholarship and research as an expression of “the herd instinct”, illustrating it by the furious opposition he encountered over his suggestions about the mechanism of hearing (about which he later proved to have been right) and the origin of petroleum (about which he may yet turn out to be right) — see “New ideas in science”, Journal of Scientific Exploration 3 [1989] 103-12. The histories of science and of medicine are replete with instances of great breakthroughs that were desperately resisted by the mainstream “authorities” for as long as possible (the concise essay about this by Bernard Barber remains well worth reading: “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”, Science, 134 [1961] 596-602).

That desperate resistance is a consequence of cognitive dissonance and the herd instinct. True believers have reached their beliefs not by considering the evidence but by taking things on faith from the authorities. When they are challenged, it threatens not only their belief but also their self image — their lack of critical thought — and their membership of the herd: if they came to see that the belief is mistaken, they would also have to become outsiders. All that is unacceptable in the extreme, and is therefore resisted by every available means. But true believers cannot respond substantively, because they haven’t arrived at their beliefs in that manner, they have taken matters on faith and don’t even know what the evidence pro and con is. So the desperate resistance typically takes the form of personal attacks, character assassination, guilt by association, and the like; see “Dissenting from HIV/AIDS theory” and “Questioning HIV/AIDS: Morally Reprehensible or Scientifically Warranted?”

A quite general corollary of cognitive dissonance and the herd instinct is that a significant number of counter-intuitive breakthroughs have been made by people who were outsiders rather than specialists in the relevant field; for references and discussion, including counter-examples, see T. F. Gieryn & R. F. Hirsh, “Marginality and innovation in  science”, Social Studies of Science 13 (1983) 87-106. The standard dismissal of Rethinkers by HIV/AIDS dogmatists, that the Rethinkers haven’t themselves done hands-on HIV/AIDS research, has no basis in empirical fact and the history of science.

These matters are highly pertinent for Rethinkers, or in general for anyone and any group that aims to bring down an established paradigm. A direct lesson is that it’s unusual for human beings to question what they have been taught to believe, because of the psychological mechanisms —  ranging from entirely unconscious to barely conscious — that conspire to safeguard us from “seeing” anything that might raise doubts. A bitter extrapolation from this is to recognize how enormously difficult it is to persuade someone else that their beliefs are provably wrong:

“It is difficult enough to reach a personal, informed view on matters over which controversy rages; there is little chance that the true believers or true disbelievers can be converted. ‘The most we can hope to achieve is to make the credulous more skeptical, and the skeptical more open-minded’” — p. 218 in Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies,  citing Arthur C. Clarke, whose words on this subject are well worth attending to; see the Introduction and Epilogue in Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (ed. John Fairley and Simon Welfare, G. B. Putnam’s Sons, 1984).


So, Andy: My view is that we should never be surprised when adherents to mainstream views seem impervious to even the plainest evidence. That’s NORMAL! And it’s so in science as much as in any other human activity. Most of us are still taught in school, college, university, that science is objective and that scientists care only about  learning the truth; but science isn’t done that way, it’s a complicated human activity; for a relatively brief discussion, see Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method ;  and for a comprehensive account, I recommend John Ziman, Real Science.

As to HIV/AIDS specifically, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that the dogma will be abandoned because of research or publication or critical thinking or re-thinking within the mainstream. Much more likely, it will be overturned under pressure from outside sources: perhaps political, because of the inordinate, disproportionate, and unproductive expenditures; perhaps legal, if enough “HIV-positive” people damaged by “antiretroviral therapy” win enough and sufficiently important court actions; or perhaps, again legal, if someone charged with transmitting HIV manages to bring the court to look at the scientific evidence; or if someone prominent enough among black leaders comes to realize that people of African ancestry are being disproportionately subjected, without good reason, to toxic medications; or if someone powerful enough in the major media becomes so interested as to actually look into the facts. Otherwise, I fear, the mainstream will just continue to fiddle with new medications, gradually continuing to make the treatments less toxic, and gradually extending the life-span of HAART-treated people to an average beyond the present middle forties. If that is the case, then it may take a horribly long time before the death toll from antiretroviral drugs becomes so obvious and widely known that the established view is finally held to public account.

Posted in antiretroviral drugs, experts, Funds for HIV/AIDS, HIV and race, HIV does not cause AIDS, HIV risk groups, HIV skepticism, HIV transmission, Legal aspects, sexual transmission, uncritical media | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

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