HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Gold’

Doing science means exploring

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/06/10

End of last month I was at the 28th Annual Meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration, and enjoyed it thoroughly, as I always do. Partly it’s the intellectual comradeship with so many interesting people from very varied backgrounds; partly it’s hearing about intriguing matters that I knew nothing about before.

For me, two invited speakers, not yet members of the Society, were highlights at this meeting. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study (531 customer reviews on amazon.com with an average rating of 4+/5 stars!), presented stunning evidence of the health benefits of eating less than the amounts of animal fats that are typical in current American diets. It was also interesting to learn that he had successfully received grants throughout his career for cancer-related nutritional studies, when his actual interests and studies and findings had far wider significance for diets and nutrition in general; but “nutrition” is not a highly regarded field by those who distribute research funds. No sooner does one hear that then it becomes obvious enough. Where in the hierarchy within universities, for example, are Departments of Nutrition? So research funds are hard to get if you just want to study what people should eat and why.

A second high point was Jay Gunkelman on electrical measurements of brain activity, Quantitative EEG . Direct (d.c.) voltage levels modify the alternating (a.c.) voltages measured by EEG machines, and combinations of the two measurements permit sensitive and accurate control of anesthesia as well as offering data for intriguing insights into consciousness. For example, there has been some success in diagnosing among patients in a coma which ones might be candidates for successful reviving.

There were other interesting talks too, of course; and some not so interesting ones as well as some bad ones. I always think of it as analogous to the experience of ballet fans or opera buffs or book lovers or playgoers: You take in a lot of ordinary stuff, and put up with a certain amount of bad stuff, because occasionally you have so marvelously irreplaceable an experience.

The Society for Scientific Exploration was founded initially by distinguished astronomers, engineers, physicists and others to provide a disciplined forum for topics that the scientific mainstream ignored totally: UFOs, psychic phenomena, cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Loch Ness monsters) were the Big Three, but of course there are many others as well. The determination that the discussions be rigorously scientific led to stringent requirements for membership: PhD or equivalent, tenured university position or equivalent, respectable record of peer-reviewed publications in a mainstream field. I liked to joke that these requirements were supposed to keep out the kooks, when I knew quite a few kooks with all these qualifications. But in practice the respect for and insistence on evidence and logic has been very high, particularly in the Society’s Journal. At conferences, as in mainstream conferences, more speculative pieces are welcome. Moreover, membership is actually open to anyone who is interested, the original restrictive criteria having been limited essentially to voting rights, and there are now about 3 times as many Associate and Student members as there are voting ones.

As the years have passed, the Society has been discovered by scientists and others working in mainstream occupations who happened in some way to be so “out-of-the-box” that they could not get useful critiques from the usual mainstream sources. So we heard from Thomas Gold, the distinguished astrophysicist, about his at-last-accepted-after-much-rejection idea that the sense of hearing depends on an active and not a passive process; and about his not-yet-accepted ideas about the non-biological origin of the Earth’s oil and suggesting that life on Earth started deep down, not in the mainstream-accepted warm soupy pools at the surface. Other fascinating topics at conferences and in the Journal include ball lightning, correlations of birth dates with subsequent professional success, biological rhythms, and many more. There have also been discussions of the history and sociology and philosophy of science, especially the role of unorthodox ventures in the progress of science. One of the most appreciated features of the Journal of Scientific Exploration is the Book Review Section which covers an enormous range of intellectually fascinating material.

Of course there have also been many discussions of evidence relating to extrasensory perception, survival after death, the basis for UFO accounts, possibly artificial objects on Mars, and others where my own personal inclination has been to regard the evidence as in some way misleading or misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it has been enlightening, mind-expanding, a wonderful learning experience to find intelligent, sensible people of high conventional accomplishment who take a  serious interest in matters that I would never have looked at, had I not come to know and respect these people. It has been a rare and salutary education to recognize that everyone, myself included, may turn out to be mistaken even on something about which they have been very sure. Human beings are fallible, gaining new and deeper understanding of the world is difficult, science can only proceed by trial and error. But unless we explore beyond the boundaries of what is currently believed, we can only remain stuck with what we now understand — which no one, I trust, regards as eternally satisfactory.

Individuals like Colin Campbell or Thomas Gold who happen on the Society by chance often describe it in the most glowing terms, typically as the sort of organization that represents what genuine science ought to be, by contrast to the rather ossified and bureaucratic arrangements that have become the norm in mainstream venues. One of the other aspects that typically charms is the opportunity to interact in a meaningful way with people highly knowledgeable in so wide a variety of fields: such disciplines as sociology, music, history, literature as well as the “harder” scientific and engineering ones.

I look forward eagerly to next year’s meeting, even as it is still 11 months away. In the meantime, I am already relishing the opportunity this November to meet in person so many AIDS Rethinkers whom I have long admired from a distance.

Posted in HIV does not cause AIDS | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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).

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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 »