HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Kuhn’

Scientists as idiots savants (Science Studies 200)

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2010/02/28

What do scientists actually do? What do they produce?

Consider, for example, the titles of the articles in volume 53, issue #2, February 2010, of JAIDS (Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes). How relevant are they to the question of interest to AIDS Rethinkers and the public at large, which is whether HIV causes AIDS?

— Urgent need for coordination in adopting standardized antiretroviral adherence performance indicators
— Pairwise comparison of isogenic HIV-1 viruses: R5 phenotype replicates more efficiently than X4 phenotype in primary CD4+ T cells expressing physiological levels of CXCR4
— Prediction of HIV Type 1 Subtype C tropism by genotypic algorithms built from Subtype B viruses
— Maternal antiretroviral use during pregnancy and infant congenital anomalies: The NISDI Perinatal Study
— Insulin sensitivity in multiple pathways is differently affected during Zidovudine/Lamivudine-containing compared with NRTI-sparing combination antiretroviral therapy
— Pooled nucleic acid testing to identify antiretroviral treatment failure during HIV infection
— Short-term bone loss in HIV-infected premenopausal women
— Pharmacokinetic interaction of Ritonavir-boosted Elvitegravir and Maraviroc
— Durability of initial antiretroviral therapy in a resource-constrained setting and the potential need for Zidovudine weight-based dosing
— Hepatitis C and the risk of kidney disease and mortality in veterans with HIV
— Bisexuality, sexual risk taking, and HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men accessing voluntary counseling and testing services in Mumbai, India
— Trends in HIV prevalence, estimated HIV incidence, and risk behavior among men who have sex with men in Bangkok, Thailand, 2003-2007
— Indian men’s use of commercial sex workers: Prevalence, condom use, and related gender attitudes
— The association between alcohol consumption and prevalent cardiovascular diseases among HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected men
— Sustainability of first-line antiretroviral regimens: Findings from a large HIV treatment program in Western Kenya
— Comparison of early CD4 T-Cell count in HIV-1 seroconverters in Cote d’Ivoire and France: The ANRS PRIMO-CI and SEROCO cohorts
— Incident depression symptoms are associated with poorer HAART adherence: A longitudinal analysis from the nutrition for healthy living study
— Prevalence and correlates of HIV infection among male injection drug users in detention in Tehran, Iran
— HIV infection: An independent risk factor of peripheral arterial disease
— Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in HIV-infected persons: Epidemiology and the role of nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
— Reply to “Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease among HIV-Infected persons”

This little exercise is intended to illustrate what should be perhaps the first axiom of scientific literacy: Nowadays scientists qua scientists are idiots savants. They are focused professionally on just one very specific and highly technical matter that is almost immeasurably distant from the wider context that matters to everyone else. Popular coverage of science, TV documentaries, magazine and newspaper pieces make it appear as though scientists were grappling continually and always with LARGE questions: the overall story of human evolution, perhaps, or how species become extinct, or how vaccines were invented, and so on and so forth. But the overwhelming proportion of scientists spend their time on esoteric little aspects of obscure little details, and they step into quite other shoes and perform in quite other roles if they are ever brought to speak to the public at large.

Specialization nowadays has reached the degree that the old saw* becomes almost literally true — scientists get to know more and more about less and less, until they know almost everything about almost nothing while knowing essentially nothing about everything else. A minor but instructive example: Medical professionals engaged for several decades in attempts at gene therapy did not keep up with the progressive understanding of genetics and development which has revealed that the initial basis for attempting gene therapy is not valid, because the Central Dogma of “one gene, one protein” was wrong — see for example the review by Ast, “The alternative genome”, Scientific American, April 2005, pp. 58-65. “Genes” are not permanent units of heredity, they are functional assemblages of sub-units that get activated and deactivated by signals from elsewhere, and those signals must be timed and coordinated with exquisite precision.

The very success of science has entailed that achieving ever deeper understanding means that research has to focus on increasingly infinitesimal detail. Scientific research means looking intensely at properties of the markings on individual leaves; which may eventually lead to a better understanding of the leaves; which might eventually contribute to a better understanding of tree growth; which is still a very long distance from knowing much about the forest, let alone the landscape.

In doing research, scientists simply accept as unquestioned the theoretical framework of the prevailing mainstream consensus. HIV/AIDS researchers have no time, no incentive, no reason to wonder whether HIV really causes AIDS — that’s simply a given for them. If it weren’t, then they wouldn’t be HIV/AIDS researchers: they might be scholars of “science and technology studies” (historians, sociologists, philosophers of science, political scientists, and so on), or they might be “HIV-positive” people whose health and lives depend on how the big question is answered.

Suggest to an HIV/AIDS researcher that HIV might not be the cause of AIDS, and you are questioning the very basis of his professional life and implying that he might not be able to trust his colleagues, his guild, his “science”. That’s why those Rethinkers and Skeptics who have approached even friends of theirs who happen to be HIV/AIDS researchers have received very cold, unfriendly, dismissive responses. It is quite literally UNTHINKABLE for an HIV/AIDS researcher that HIV might not be the cause of AIDS.
It’s also unthinkable for the great majority of biologists who are not HIV/AIDS researchers themselves, for they automatically trust their colleagues in other specialties of biology or medicine to be right about their particular specialty, just as they themselves expect to be trusted about their own specialty.
And it’s unthinkable for most scientists that any area of science or medicine could be so visibly and drastically wrong on so major an issue as HIV/AIDS.

Science is a vast mosaic of overlapping specialties glued together by mutual trust. Centuries of modern science appear to the conventional wisdom as a triumphant progress to better understanding of more and more about the natural world. That the progress has actually come by many trials and much error is known only to specialist historians and others. Even for them, this awareness of continual correction of errors, and of the occasional startling “scientific revolutions”, is no preparation for the possibility that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, for history offers no instance of a mistake comparable in its huge, widespread human and financial cost. Lives lost to “AIDS” in one way or another, and resources expended on “HIV/AIDS”, are of a magnitude usually associated with wars, not with a medical-scientific blunder (of which there have been many of lesser magnitude).

*********************

This underscores what Clark Baker, among others, has been saying to Rethinkers for some time: Overturning HIV/AIDS theory will not result from scientific discussions, it can come only through political and social activism. The wider society must decide to force HIV/AIDS theorists to defend their faith under public cross-examination. HIV/AIDS researchers will reconsider the fundamental basis of their work only if forced to do so by irresistible outside pressure.

I’m not saying that the scientific issues are unimportant. They are nowadays of little concern only because all the necessary evidence is already at hand, in the mainstream literature, to demonstrate that “HIV” tests do not detect infection by an HIV retrovirus, that testing “HIV-positive” is not an inevitable prelude to illness, that “HIV-positive” is not in general a sexually transmitted condition; and so on. I am saying that the necessary task is to find some way of presenting that scientific evidence to the media and to the public and to socially and politically influential people in sufficiently concise yet convincing manner that they are forced to think the unthinkable, namely, to question the official mainstream consensus even when there is no precedent for such questioning.

One barrier to such a scenario is scientific illiteracy. Scientists as well as non-scientists are functionally illiterate when it comes to understanding the proper role of science in public affairs and how science should be organized to serve the wider society. That’s how scientific literacy and illiteracy should be defined, in terms of the place of science in human affairs. It’s quite unnecessary for everyone to know what molecules are, or enzymes, but it’s essential in a democratic society that everyone have an understanding of the degree to which experts, including scientists, can be taken at their professional word.

Here are some basics of scientific literacy:
There is no scientific method that guarantees objectivity (H. H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992).
Science is the search for consensual knowledge — consensual among fallible, non-objective human beings (John Ziman, Public Knowledge: An Essay Concerning the Social Dimension of Science, Cambridge University Press, 1968; and others culminating in Real Science—What It Is, and What It Means, 2000).
Like other human beings, scientists don’t readily change their views in the face of contradictory evidence. Resistance to new discovery by scientists is endemic. Major advances that modify or overturn an established scientific consensus have always been strenuously resisted, even as afterwards the resistance is forgotten and the formerly resisted ones are pronounced heroes — sometimes posthumously (Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”, Science, 134 [1961] 596-602; Gunther Stent, “Prematurity and uniqueness in scientific discovery”, Scientific American, December 1972, 84-93; Ernest B. Hook (ed)., Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect, University of California Press, 2002).
The overwhelming majority of scientists nowadays are craftsmen, tinkerers, journeymen. Many are mediocre even in terms of their professional talents. To think of Einstein, Darwin, Freud, and the like as exemplifying scientists is like thinking of Eisenhower, Macarthur, Marshall, and the like as exemplifying soldiers (H. H. Bauer, Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press 1984, 1999, pp. 303-6).
The great achievers are typically idiots savants. Nobel-winning scientists usually make very poor administrators or advisers on anything outside their narrow specialty. Nobelist Varmus as head of the National Institutes of Health dropped conflict of interest regulations that led to scandalous behavior by senior scientists (David Willman, series in Los Angeles Times, December 2003). Nobelist Chu as Energy Secretary has already displayed qualities of dogmatic belief and single-mindedness that high-achieving scientists need but that are dysfunctional for administrators who need to be flexible, open-minded, pragmatic, willing to compromise. The enormously successful atom-bomb project had as its director Robert Oppenheimer, a highly knowledgeable physicist but not the highest achiever within physics. (I should enter the caveat that some Nobelists are quite sensible, even wise, for example economists Herbert Simon and James Buchanan.)
In research, one accepts the prevailing theoretical framework as the working hypothesis and tries to build on it. That becomes functionally equivalent to believing that theoretical framework to be true. Anomalous phenomena are shoved aside for later attention, or reasons are found for ignoring them as flawed, or ad hoc modifications are added to the basic theory to accommodate them, no matter how illogically or awkwardly — like Ptolemy’s “wheels within wheels within wheels” to preserve the Earth-centered view of the heavens. The accepted theory is abandoned only as a last resort under a tsunami of contradictions. (T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1962/1970; Imre Lakatos, “History of Science and its Rational Reconstruction”, in Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences, ed. Colin Howson, 1-40, Cambridge University Press, 1976).

A couple of things about science are relatively new and have so far not become generally recognized even within the interdisciplinary field of science studies:
The normal resistance to counter-mainstream views has become actual suppression in an increasing array of fields (H. H. Bauer, “HIV/AIDS in historical context”; “Suppression of science within science”; “The new world order in science”; “21st century science: Knowledge monopolies and research cartels”).
Before HIV/AIDS, no scientific theory was so wrong as well as so influential in medical practice as to bring direct physical harm to hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of people, also causing unknowable amounts of psychological, social, and fiscal damage. That this is unprecedented makes it all the more difficult for the media and the public and the policy makers, let alone HIV/AIDS researchers themselves, to see it. (Human-caused global-warming theory is just as ill-based scientifically, but it hasn’t caused the same human suffering.)

So, again, what’s needed is to find facts sufficiently obvious to non-specialists, sufficiently incontrovertible, and of sufficient human impact, “human interest”, that the media cannot avoid taking notice and the politicians cannot continue to remain in blissful ignorance. Somehow HIV/AIDS dogma must be forced publicly to reveal and defend its supposed evidentiary basis.

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* I thought I’d read somewhere, perhaps in Gulliver’s Travels, the insight that specialization leads to knowing more and more about less and less; but a search through readily available reference-sources (Bartlett, Hoyt, Bergen Evans, GOOGLE) turned up only “An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less, until eventually he knows everything about nothing” in a Murphy’s Laws collection, though the first clause is attributed in several places to Nicholas Murray Butler; also “An old complaint about the narrowing of interest of the medical specialist defines him as a person who gradually comes to learn more and more about less and less” (editorial comment, Psychiatric Quarterly, 23 [1949] 567). But I’m still inclined to think that Jonathan Swift, or perhaps George Bernard Shaw, said something along those lines.

Posted in experts, Funds for HIV/AIDS, HIV does not cause AIDS, HIV skepticism, HIV/AIDS numbers, uncritical media | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Science Studies 101: Why is HIV/AIDS “science” so unreliable?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/07/18

Recent comments and e-mails reminded me of my career change, about 3 decades ago, from chemist to science-studies scholar. I had begun to wonder: What is it exactly that has made science so strikingly reliable?

(This is a long post. If you prefer to read it as a pdf—of course without hyperlinks to some of the on-line references—here it is: sciencestudies101).

Over the years, teaching chemistry and publishing research in electrochemistry, I had become increasingly aware that research practices and practitioners differ significantly from the ideal images that had attracted me (1). My education, like that of most scientists, had been strictly technical: chemistry, physics, math, biology, statistics. Recreational reading had added some history of chemistry, which also focused on the technical aspects—progress, discoveries, breakthroughs. We were not exposed to history, philosophy, or sociology of science in any meaningful way; nor are most people who study science even nowadays.

Mid-20th century, that lack of exposure to the context and significance of scientific activity was partly a matter of Zeitgeist, I recognize in hindsight. Philosophy of science was rather in flux. History of science as a whole was not so different in approach from the history of chemistry I had read—and perhaps not so different from how history in general was being taught: as milestones of achievement made by great individuals (largely, of course, men). Sociology of science had been founded only in the late 1930s. It was the 1960s before historians of science and philosophers of science began to engage seriously with one another, an engagement illustrated by Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. Sociologists of science, too, began to engage with the historians and philosophers of science.

Following World War II, some scientists and engineers were looking for ways to make their knowledge an effective influence in public policy. Emblematic of this quest was the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Starting about 1960, there were founded a variety of free-standing academic courses, a few research centers, and some organized academic programs under the rubric of “science and society”. These science-based ventures and the history-philosophy-based ones soon recognized each other as concerned with the same issues, yet even after a half-century, no truly integrated multi-disciplinary approach to understanding scientific activity has matured into an overall consensus (3). There persists a distinct internal division between those whose backgrounds are in the practice of science and technology and those whose backgrounds are in the humanities and social sciences (3, 4, 5). But despite differences over modes of interpretation and what is most worth looking into, there has accumulated a body of agreed facts about scientific activity. Most important for the present purpose is that many of those facts about science are at variance with commonplace conventional wisdom. Misconceptions about scientific activity are pervasive, not least among practicing scientists and medical practitioners.

I was lucky enough to participate in the early days of one of the first programs in the world in what has become known as “science and technology studies” (STS). At Virginia Tech, we began with physicists and chemists, economists and sociologists, mathematicians, statisticians, political scientists, and other as well, telling one another how we thought about science. We scientists learned to be less sure that our research reveals unchanging, objective, universal facts about the real world. The humanists and social scientists learned that the physical and biological sciences uncover facts about the real world that are more trustworthy than the knowledge accessible in such disciplines as sociology. We learned also how different are the viewpoints and intellectual values to which we are schooled in the various disciplines: in a sense, the differences are not so much intellectual as cultural ones (6,7, 8). I learned even more about such cultural differences between academic fields through having responsibility for the variety of disciplines embraced by a college of Arts & Sciences (10).

A salient fact is that “the scientific method” is more myth than reality (2, 11). What makes science relatively reliable is not any protocol or procedure that an individual scientist can follow, it is the interaction among practitioners as they critique one another’s claims, seek to build on them, and modify them, under constraints imposed by the concrete results of observations and experiments. Because individual biases predispose us to interpret the results of those observations and experiments in congenial ways, the chief safeguard of relative objectivity and reliability is honest, substantive peer-review by colleagues and competitors. That’s why I was grateful to “Fulano de Tal” when he pointed to errors in one of my posts: we rethinkers do not have the benefit of the organized peer-reviewing that is available—ideally speaking—in mainstream discourse [see Acknowledgment in More HIV/AIDS GIGO (garbage in and out): “HIV” and risk of death, 12 July 2008].

Because proper peer-review is so vital, conflicts of interest can be ruinously damaging (12, 13). Recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are too often worthless—worse, they are sometimes positively dangerous (14)—because in latter days the advisory panels are being filled overwhelmingly with consultants for drug companies. That’s not generally enough appreciated, despite a large and authoritative literature on the subject (15-20).

Lacking familiarity with the findings of science studies, scientists are likely to be disastrous as administrators. It was a Nobel-Prize winner who relaxed the rules on conflicts of interest when he headed the National Institutes of Health, with quite predictably deplorable consequences (21). There have been many fine administrators of technical enterprises, but few had been themselves groundbreaking discoverers. To convince the scientific community of something that’s remarkable and novel, a scientist must be single-minded, captivated by the idea and willing to push it to the limit, against all demurrers—very bad qualities in an administrator; the latter ought to be a good listener, an adept engineer of compromises, an adroit manager able to stick to principles with an iron hand well masked by a velvet glove.

Those who have the egotism and dogmatic self-confidence to break new ground also need luck to be on their side, for—as Jack (I. J.) Good likes to point out—geniuses are cranks who happen to be right, and cranks are geniuses who happen to be wrong: in personal characteristics they are identical twins (22, 23). This role of luck has important implications: it’s why Nobel-Prize winners so rarely have comparable repeat successes, and why they should not be automatically regarded as the most insightful spokespeople on all and sundry matters.

HIV/AIDS vigilantes like to denigrate rethinkers for not having had their hands dirtied by direct research on the matters they discuss. Historians and sociologists of science, however, know that some of the most acclaimed breakthroughs were made by disciplinary outsiders, who were not blinkered and blinded by the contemporary paradigm (24, 25).

Self-styled “skeptics” (26) like to denigrate heterodox views as “pseudo-science” just because those views are heterodox, ignorant of the fact that there are no general criteria available by which to judge whether something is “scientific”; and they tend to be also ignorant of the fact that “scientific” cannot be translated as “true” (2, 27, 28).

Most relevant to the question of the “truth” of scientific knowledge is that science and scientists tend to occupy something of a pedestal of high prestige in contemporary society; perhaps because when we think of “science” we also tend to think “Einstein” and other such celebrated innovators. But nowadays there are a great many run-of-the-mill scientists, and even considerably incompetent ones: “Science, like the military, has its hordes of privates and non-coms, as well as its few heroes (from all ranks) and its few field marshals” (29)—which serves to explain, perhaps, some of the examples of sheer incompetence displayed in HIV/AIDS matters (30). Pertinent here is the fact that much medical research is carried out by people trained as doctors; training for physicians’ work is by no means training for research.

——————-

Those are some of the ways in which the commonplace conventional wisdom is wrong about science, but there are plenty more (24, 25, 32, 33). Those misconceptions play an important role in the hold that HIV/AIDS theory continues to have on practitioners, commentators, and observers, and they need to be pointed out in answer to the natural question often put to rethinkers: “But how could everyone be so wrong for so long?”

That’s why Part II of my book (31) has the title, “Lessons from History”, with chapters on “Missteps in modern medical science”, “How science progresses”, and “Research cartels and knowledge monopolies”. (About research cartels and knowledge monopolies, see also 34, 35). I’m enormously grateful to Virginia Tobiassen, the fine editor who helped me with the book, not least for the opportunity to augment the technical Part I with this Part II and the Part III that recounts the specific details of how HIV/AIDS theory went so wrong.

I’ve come to understand a great deal more since the book came out, among other things that perhaps the crucial turn on the wrong path came when Peter Duesberg’s rigorously researched and documented argument against HIV/AIDS theory went without comment, even in face of an editorial footnote promising such a response (36). Just as virologists ignored Duesberg’s substantive critiques, so epidemiologists ignored the informed critiques by Gordon Stewart (37) and immunologists ignored the fully documented questions raised by Robert Root-Bernstein (38); and just about everyone in mainstream fields ignored John Lauritsen’s insights into data analysis and his insider’s knowledge of interactions among gay men (39).

Peer review in HIV/AIDS “science” lapsed fatally from the beginning and has not yet recovered. Thus the only real safeguard of reliability was lost, it sometimes seems irretrievably.

References:
1. “Are chemists not scientists?”—p. 19 ff. in reference 2.
2. Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992.
3. —— , A consumer’s guide to science punditry, Chapter 2 in Science Today: Problem or Crisis?, ed. R. Levinson & J. Thomas, Routledge, 1997.
4. —— , Two kinds of knowledge: maps and stories, Journal of Scientific Exploration 9 (1995) 257-75.
5. —— , The anti-science phenomenon in science studies, Science Studies 9 (1996) 34-49; .
6 —— , Disciplines as cultures, Social Epistemology 4 (1990) 215-27.
7. —— , Barriers against interdisciplinarity: Implications for studies of Science, Technology, and Society (STS), Science, Technology, & Human Values 15 (1990) 105-19.
8. Chapters 11, 14, 15 (in particular) in reference 9.
9. Henry H. Bauer, Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science, Paraview, 2001.
10. Chapters 15, 16 in Henry H. Bauer (as ‘Josef Martin’), To Rise above Principle: The Memoirs of an Unreconstructed Dean, University of Illinois Press.
11. Chapters 4, 5 in reference 9.
12. Chapter 5 in reference 2.
13. Andrew Stark, Conflict of Interest in American Public Life, Harvard University Press, 2000.
14. Joel Kauffman, Malignant Medical Myths: Why Medical Treatment Causes 200,000 Deaths in the USA each Year, and How to Protect Yourself, Infinity Publishing, 2006.
15. John Abramson, Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine, HarperCollins, 2004.
16. Marcia Angell, The Truth about the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do about It, Random House, 2004.
17. Jerry Avorn, Powerful Medicines: The Benefits, Risks, and Costs of Prescription Drugs, Knopf, 2004.
18. Merrill Goozner, The $800 Million Pill: The Truth behind the Cost of New Drugs, University of California Press, 2004.
19. Jerome Kassirer, On the Take: How Medicine’s Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health, Oxford University Press, 2004.
20. Sheldon Krimsky, Science in the Private Interest, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.
21. David Willman, Los Angeles Times, 7 December 2003: “Stealth merger: Drug companies and government medical research”, p. A1; “Richard C. Eastman: A federal researcher who defended a client’s lethal drug”, p. A32; “John I. Gallin: A clinic chief’s desire to ‘learn about industry’”, p. A33; “Ronald N. Germain: A federal lab leader who made $1.4 million on the side”, p. A34; “Jeffrey M. Trent: A government accolade from a paid consultant”, p. A35; “Jeffrey Schlom: A cancer expert who aided studies using a drug wanted by a client”, p. A35.
22. Henry H. Bauer, “The fault lies in their stars, and not in them — when distinguished scientists lapse into pseudo-science”, Center for the Study of Science in Society, Virginia Tech, 8 February 1996; “The myth of the scientific method”, 3rd Annual Josephine L. Hopkins Foundation Workshop for Science Journalists, Cornell University, 26 June 1996.
23. Chapters 9, 10 in reference 9.
24. Ernest B. Hook (ed.), Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect, University of California Press, 2002.
25. Henry H. Bauer, The progress of science and implications for science studies and for science policy, Perspectives on Science 11 (#2, 2003) 236-78.
26. The mother of all “skeptical” groups is CSICOP, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer; see George P. Hansen, “CSICOP and the Skeptics: an overview”, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 86 (#1, 1992) 19-63.
27. Chapters 1-3, 6, 7 in reference 9.
28. Henry H. Bauer, Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press, 2001.
29. “Science as an institution”, pp. 303-6 in Henry H. Bauer, Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press, 1984.
30. Pp. 110, 192, 195 in reference 31.
31. Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland, 2007.
32. Chapters 1, 4, 6, 7 in reference 2.
33. Chapter 12 in reference 9.
34. Chapter 13 in reference 9.
35. Henry H. Bauer, Science in the 21st century: knowledge monopolies and research cartels, Journal of Scientific Exploration 18 (2004) 643-60.
36. Peter H. Duesberg, Retroviruses as carcinogens and pathogens: expectations and reality, Cancer Research 47 (1987) 1199–220; Human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: correlation but not causation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 86 (1989) 755–64.
37. Gordon T. Stewart, A paradigm under pressure: HIV-AIDS model owes popularity to wide-spread censorship. Index on Censorship (UK) 3 (1999).
38. Robert Root-Bernstein, Rethinking AIDS—The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus, Free Press, 1993.
39. John Lauritsen, The AIDS War: Propaganda, Profiteering and Genocide from the Medical-Industrial Complex, 1993, ASKLEPIOS. ISBN 0–943742–08–0.

Posted in experts, HIV does not cause AIDS, HIV skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

CAN EVERYONE BE WRONG ABOUT SOMETHING?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/04/07

After just a little thought, most people would answer “Yes” to that question, surely. After all, everyone has been wrong about all sorts of things over the ages; the Earth being flat is perhaps the most commonly cited example (though it’s a popular misconception that this was the case as recently as medieval times).

Most people, too, would have to agree that there are some matters over which large chunks of humanity must be wrong. When it comes to God, say, there are a number of competing beliefs, none of which commands majority adherence even though no more than one of them can be correct. Most people would see matters of politics as another and similar illustration. Yet on those very same questions of politics and religion, each group of adherents is firmly convinced that their group—and only their group—has it right while all the others have it wrong. In other words, all manner of minorities believe that the others, who are in a majority, are wrong.

But in this age which is often (self-)described as a scientific age, there’s a widespread  belief that science is somehow exempt from the polarization of opinions that characterizes other spheres of intellectual life, that science possesses some magic ability—namely, the scientific method—to have it always right; and it’s blithely taken for granted that science is synonymous with the established institutions of science and with the views of those who happen to hold leading positions in those institutions.

That circumstance coexists with a general willingness to cite Thomas Kuhn (1962/70) on “paradigm shifts” and “scientific revolutions”, and to get the significance of Kuhn’s work entirely wrong. It’s not that science advances by periodic giant and revolutionary steps; “revolution” here means getting rid of the present order. Kuhn’s insight, buttressed by a pretty good knowledge of the history of science, is that periodically the accepted view of things is overturned, as it’s realized that what was previously believed to be right turns out to be wrong.

Very little known are the works of Bernard Barber (1961) and Gunther Stent (1978), lately revisited in an important, long-overdue discussion (Hook 2002): history of science reveals that corrections of mistaken scientific paradigms are always fiercely resisted up to the very moment that they succumb to a revolution. Just now I came across a discussion of this phenomenon that predates Barber’s classic and focuses in large part on matters of medicine (Stevenson 1958).

By and large, it’s only scientific pioneers who discover this truth of routine resistance to new scientific discoveries, when the pioneer’s peers refuse to consider even well-supported claims that don’t fit the mainstream consensus. Peter Duesberg illustrates the surprise that such pioneers experience when the approbation and high regard they have long enjoyed is suddenly switched off, indeed reversed, because they said something different.

Even when these insights of Barber and Kuhn and Stent and Stevenson are recalled and pointed out, it doesn’t shake the mainstream belief on any given topic; somehow, the conventional wisdom is able to sustain the illogical and intellectually unsustainable view that this time, on this particular issue, one can be absolutely sure that “science”—the mainstream, their own group, the Establishment—has it right beyond any doubt. Added to the certainty expressed by the insiders is that disseminated by the science groupies, herds of dogmatists who reveal themselves on blogs as utterly sure about matters of which they actually have little if any direct knowledge. All they know is that it’s what “science” says and so it must be right. Such dogmatists may be found in academe as elsewhere, and they populate such organizations as the Committee for Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which is comprised of more non-scientists than scientists, does no investigating, and is as one-sided in its approach to evidence as those blogs that style themselves as scientific.

Over the years, I’ve come to prize more and more those rare individuals who are able to admit their own fallibility and who strive to mold their beliefs to the best available empirical evidence while remaining aware that what’s now the best available will not remain so. I’ve found such individuals everywhere, even in the ranks of CSICOP. The late Gordon Stein, for example, was active in CSICOP and intent on debunking what deserves to be debunked while refraining from the indiscriminate castigation of every unorthodox opinion in which most CSICOPpers indulge. Just as I know of no one who is always right, so too I’ve not been unfortunate enough to get personally into contact with anyone who is always wrong. (Well . . . maybe I can think of a couple.)

The state of affairs that I’ve described applies, of course, to HIV/AIDS as to many other and many less prominent topics. Dogmatists over HIV/AIDS will readily—or at least ultimately—admit that, of course, science and medicine have sometimes been quite wrong; it just happens, they maintain, that this time and on this issue, there’s just no doubt at all. The evidence, after all, is overwhelming, and the overwhelming majority of qualified and competent doctors and scientists are unanimous about it.

The trouble is, those dogmatists are committing the usual, the typical, the routine error of not applying to their one pet subject the lessons that history offers; and, as the saying goes, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”.

It’s not only the lessons from history of science that they forget; it’s also the substantive history of HIV/AIDS itself. “HIV” was never isolated by Gallo from all his AIDS patients, in fact he claimed to have found it in fewer AIDS patients than in association with what used to be called pre-AIDS. As Michelle Cochrane has documented, the shibboleth that the early AIDS victims were “young” and “previously healthy” is wrong on both those counts. As John Lauritsen pointed out long ago, the shibboleth that the early AIDS victims were young, previously healthy “gay men” is also misleading because the common factor was drug abuse, not gay sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seem to have forgotten that they have proclaimed year after year for about two decades that about 1 million Americans were “HIV”-positive, as they continue to talk of spreading infections. Some of the most careful and comprehensive studies are ignored whenever they conflict with the accepted view: the Concorde study which showed AZT to be useless at best and CD4 counts to be clinically irrelevant; the Rodriguez study that found no correlation between CD4 counts and “viral load”; the Antiretroviral Collaboration, with data from 22,000 patients, which found that HAART brings “adverse events” on sooner. The significance is ignored of huge masses of data: that HIV tests do not track an infectious agent; that deaths from HIV disease show no sign that the “lifesaving” antiretroviral drugs have extended life; that every bright idea for a vaccine against HIV fails to make good on its promise. And innumerable self-contradictions are swallowed whole, say, that HIV crossed in Africa from monkeys or chimps to humans, did no damage there but made its way to the Western Hemisphere where it produced the first epidemics, whose cause was then somehow transported back to Africa to spread like wildfire there even though it hasn’t in the developed countries where it first appeared. This infectious disease is unique, unprecedented, “everyone” is willing to accept: it discriminates by race, unlike every other infectious disease; it kills preferentially adults in the prime years of life, unlike every other infectious disease; the virus multiplies prodigiously without being detectable, and it mutates at an unprecedented rate while remaining fully pathogenic.

And so on. During these months where I’ve become increasingly irritated by the lack of intellectual integrity displayed by political partisans and pundits, I find myself sadly reminded that intellectual integrity is in short supply everywhere, by no means excluding academe, science, and medicine.

Citations:
Barber, Bernard (1961). Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery. Science, 134: 596-602.
Hook, Ernest B. (ed) (2002). Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962/70). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1st ed. 1962, enlarged 2nd ed. 1970).
Stent, Gunther (1972). Prematurity and uniqueness in scientific discovery. Scientific American, December, 84-93.
Stevenson, Ian. (1958). Scientists with half-closed minds. Harper’s Magazine, 217: 64-71.

Posted in HIV absurdities, HIV and race, HIV does not cause AIDS, HIV skepticism, HIV tests | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

GURUS IN WHITE COATS

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2007/12/03

I referred less than respectfully to “experts” both unnamed and named, in my “LIES” post of 2 December. Contributing in an important way to the HIV/AIDS mess is the uncritical adulation extended by media and (therefore) public to “experts” bearing the brand of medicine or science, who are wont to advertise their status by wearing white coats for photo-ops. I believe that a significant reason why HIV=AIDS continues to be accepted, despite all the evidence against it, is that media and public cannot conceive that authoritatively and officially promulgated views could be so wrong. So it’s good to be aware of rampant misconceptions that foster this state of affairs.

You should of course ask, what makes Bauer think he’s qualified to discuss misconceptions about science ?

In high school, I became captivated by science in general and chemistry in particular, and later taught chemistry and did research in electrochemistry for a couple of decades. I started to wonder about gaps in what science concerns itself with, and the role that heterodox claims play, and how to distinguish between real science and pseudo-science. So I switched from chemistry to the then-fledgling field of “science studies”, which incorporates approaches from history of science, philosophy of science, sociology of science, and other fields as well. What I learned is described at some length in several books (1, 2), which have detailed discussion and supporting citations for the assertions I’m going to make here and that are particularly pertinent to what goes on with HIV/AIDS. The most authoritative and comprehensive descriptions of all facets of scientific activity are by John Ziman (3).

I haven’t lost my fascination with science or my respect for science; it’s as noble and worthwhile an activity as human beings can aspire to (though not necessarily more so than some others). But I’ve learned that science can be only somewhat better than its practitioners and institutions, and that if those practitioners and institutions become sufficiently incompetent or corrupt, then the whole enterprise can let us down as much as can a corrupt commercial enterprise (an Enron, say) or a corrupt government (a Stalin, say). Science and medicine are not exempt, either, from being taken over by fads, fashions, and bandwagons that the experts approve right up until the moment that the bubble bursts, as with the financial bubbles that burst periodically. (On the latter, essential reading is J. K. Galbraith’s [1990/93] A Short History of Financial Euphoria.)

* * * * * *

Science is not infallible. It progresses by trial and error. Theories are never true in any absolute sense, they are just convenient temporary summaries of what has so far been learned. They are helpful as guides to further research, and that further work then brings modifications or total abandonment of the pre-existing theory that stimulated the work.

Scientists range widely in competence. Individual scientists are much more fallible than science as a whole, because facts don’t become part of “science” until there is reasonably wide agreement about them. Agreements are reached better and more reliably, the more honest and competent are the scientists who are involved. Conflicts of interest can be very damaging. Deliberate cheating is far from unknown, especially in recent times where the competition for grants and positions has become intensely cutthroat: presently the National Institutes of Health, the largest source of grants for research in biology and medicine, funds only about 1 in 5 grant applications (4)–and for young researchers, getting grants is usually necessary for job security and advancement.

There is no impersonal “scientific method” that automatically makes reliable whatever a researcher does. The “scientific method” consists of the interaction among scientists.

Medicine is not science. It’s related to science rather like engineering is related to science. It’s concerned with what works, not why it does.
Corollary: Medical doctors are trained to apply existing agreed-on knowledge, they are not taught to question it. Scientists are trained to question existing knowledge in order to contribute to correcting it and expanding it.
Caveat: Some MDs do become first-rate researchers.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that a high proportion of HIV/AIDS researchers are MDs–for example, the statistically illiterate ones mentioned in the “LIES” post. Among those who question whether HIV = AIDS there is a high proportion of research-trained PhDs.

Institutions of medicine and science are not doctors or scientists. They are bureaucracies, whose primary aim is aggrandizement: increasing their own importance, their size, their status, their prestige. The media should be as searching of reports and press releases from institutions of science and medicine as they are of reports and press releases from commercial enterprises, government agencies, and political entities.

Administrators are not doctors and they are not scientists, even if they once were. Their primary role is to administer, to safeguard their territories, and that takes priority over caring for patients or furthering science. The media should be as searching of statements from administrators of science and medicine as they are of administrators or spokespeople for commercial enterprises or government agencies.

Scientists vary widely in competence. The greatest successes in science tend to come from single-minded obsessive work, so the most accomplished scientists are not necessarily the most intelligent, practical, judicious, or sensible. The winner of a Nobel Prize might make a good administrator–but probably not; or a good advisor on public policy–but often not.

Serendipity, luck, being in the right place at the right time with the right tools is a significant factor in success in science (5), just as in many other fields of human activity. The most brilliant success in science does not bespeak some overall inherent brilliance or even competence: Nobel Prize winners rarely win a second such Prize. An analogy might be the mutual-fund managers who top the rankings in a given year; they rarely repeat, because the insight that brought success was right just for a particular time and set of circumstances.

My distinguished friend Jack (I. J.) Good is fond of pointing out that geniuses are cranks who happen to be right, and cranks are geniuses who happen to be wrong: they are stubborn, obsessive, impervious to criticism. If their obsession is with something that turns out right, they are likely to be ranked as genius; if their obsession is with a phantom, they are likely to be remembered as cranks; see chapters 9 and 10 in (2) for illustrative examples.

There is no reliable guide to deciding beforehand or at the time, whether one’s interest is in a genuine phenomenon or an illusory one (6-8). So herds of researchers can be chasing what later turns out to have been a phantom: cancer-causing viruses, say, or vaccines against HIV. Some maverick claims are later vindicated, others not (6); some accepted “scientific truths” remain useful for a long time with relatively little modification, others suffer sudden, often unforeseen eclipse in a “scientific revolution” (9).

That science and medicine are replete with jargon and technicalities does not mean that they cannot be assessed by outsiders. Just as with politics, finance, or any other specialized activity, outsiders can judge whether statements are self-consistent, whether they offend common sense, whether questions are evaded rather than answered, whether promises or predictions come to pass. Media and public should treat doctors and scientists as human beings who happen to have some particular knowledge and abilities but who remain fallible even in their area of expertise. Media and public should be as skeptical of administrators and institutions of medicine and science as they are of company executives and commercial enterprises. If that had been the case with HIV/AIDS, then the bandwagon would not have been able to evade such issues as:
— What are the specific scientific publications proving that a positive HIV-test means that infectious virus is present?
— What are the specific scientific publications proving that HIV causes AIDS?
— What are the specific scientific publications proving that the proteins and genes taken to be the characteristic constituents of HIV are actually present in whole infectious particles of retrovirus?
— What was the basis for expanding the set of “AIDS-defining” diseases beyond the opportunistic infections and Kaposi’s sarcoma that caused AIDS to be identified and defined in the first place?
— How could something (HIV) spread in epidemic fashion when it is apparently transmitted sexually at an average rate of only 1 per 1000 acts?
And that, of course, hardly exhausts the possible list.

(1) Bauer (1992) Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method
(2) Bauer (2001) Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science
(3) John Ziman, especially Real Science (2000) and Prometheus Bound (1994)
(4) Daniel Greenberg, “So many labs, so little money”, Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 September 2006, B20.
(5) Paula E. Stephan & Sharon G. Levin (1992) Striking the Mother Lode in Science: The Importance of Age, Place, and Time
(6) Bauer (2001) Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies
(7) Bauer (1984) Beyond Velikovsky
(8) Bauer (1986) The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery
(9) Thomas S. Kuhn (1962/70) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,

Posted in experts, HIV skepticism, uncritical media | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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