Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Optimal peer review for guiding public policy: A Science Court

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/01/29

“Peer review” is widely regarded as the mechanism by which science manages to produce impartial, unbiased, objective facts and interpretations. As with so many popular notions about scientific activity, this is very far from the truth [1].

Innumerable observers and practicing researchers have written copiously about the many things that are wrong with peer review [2]. Contemporary practices of peer review are only about a century old. They began simply as a way of assisting editors of journals to assess the merits for publication of manuscripts too specialized for the editorial staff itself it to render judgment. The need for such specialized advice was not unrelated to the enormous expansion of scientific activity that followed World War II, bringing an ever-increasing demand for space in scientific periodicals as well as ever-increasing competition between researchers for funding and for getting published as a necessary prerequisite for career advancement and resources for research.

At any rate, peer review in science is no more impartial, unbiased, or objective than is criticism of art, music, film, or literary products. One illustration of that: it is becoming quite common for journal editors to ask the authors of submitted manuscripts whether there are individuals who should not be asked to serve as peer reviewers because of their known biases or hostility against the authors. Another point: Peer reviewers are typically chosen because they work on much the same topic as that of the manuscript to be reviewed; thereby they are likely to be to some extent competitors or allies, conflicts of interest that ought to be disbarring.

Modern (post-16th-17th-century) science managed to progress and to succeed quite magnificently for several centuries without the current practices of systematic peer-review. The assessing of already published work through further research and commentary gave science the appearance and the effect of being eventually self-correcting. Note “eventually”: the trials and errors and that preceded correction, sometimes for very long periods indeed, were of concern only within the specialized scientific communities, they were not any problem for the wider society.

Nowadays, however, society in general and industries and governments in particular have come to look to contemporary science for immediate guidance to significant actions and policies. That makes the fact that peer review is not impartial or objective quite important, and indeed dangerous. The nature of scientific activity and of the scientific community is such that the consensus among those who happen to be the most prominent researchers in any given field comes to control what research gets funded, which results get published and which are suppressed, and what the media and the public and policy-makers take to be “what science says”.

Unfortunately, the history of science is far from widely known or appreciated, most notably the fact that the contemporary scientific consensus at any given time has almost invariably turned out, sooner or later, to have been flawed, in minor or major ways.

Ignorance of the history of science, together with the misguided view that any prominent contemporary scientific consensus can be safely relied upon to guide social and political actions on any matters that are technical, including matters of medicine and public health, have already resulted in widespread actions that have brought tangible harm on such issues as supposedly human-caused global warming and climate change [3] and the mistaken belief is that AIDS was caused by a novel virus that destroys the immune system [4]. The closest precedent for these contemporary mistakes seems to be the ideology of eugenics, which led to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans over a period of more than half a century.

Since peer-review is not effectively making science contemporaneously objective and reliable, on matters of social and political importance policymakers badly need some other way to counteract the bias and dogmatic single-mindedness of any contemporary scientific consensus. The only conceivable mechanism to that end would seem to be something like an Institution of Scientific Judgment, as Arthur Kantrowitz suggested half a century ago [5], a concept that has come to be described as a Science Court [6].

 

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[1]  Science Is Not What You Think — how it has changed, why we can’t trust it, how it can be fixed (McFarland, 2017)

[2]  pp. 106-9 in [1] and sources cited there

[3]  “What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review”referring to “#16 A Summary” by Don Aitkin

[4]  The Case against HIV  and sources cited there

[5]  Arthur Kantrowitz, “Proposal for an Institution for Scientific Judgment”, Science, 156 (1967) 763–4.

[6]  Chapter 12 in [1] and sources cited there

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Vaccination, HIV, and a reminder that we are all fallible

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/01/27

A favorite family stories: On a road trip in an unfamiliar country, I had taken a wrong turn that sent us tens of miles in a wrong direction. When I discovered that and confessed to my passengers, my nine-year-old daughter pointed out that “No one’s perfect, not even Daddy”.

I was reminded of that once again after reading a book review by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, who has a great deal of good things to his credit.

“HENRY MARSH studied medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London, became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1984 and was appointed Consultant Neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley’s/St George’s Hospital in London in 1987. He has been the subject of two documentary films, Your Life in Their Hands, which won the Royal Television Society Gold Medal, and The English Surgeon, which won an Emmy, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Do No Harm and NBCC finalist Admissions. He was made a CBE in 2010.”

Nevertheless Marsh too is fallible even when he appears to speak with authority. In his review of a book about vaccination, Between Hope and Fear by Michael Kinch, there are some seriously misleading comments:

“Dr. Gordon Stewart went on to maintain that AIDS was caused not by H.I.V. but by homosexual behavior. His view had a major influence on the South African president Thabo Mbeki, whose AIDS policies were subsequently estimated in a report by the Harvard School of Public Health to have resulted in 365,000 avoidable deaths” (Henry Marsh, “ Protecting the Herd”, New York Times Book Review, 9 September 2018, p.17).

In reality, AIDS is indeed not caused by HIV [1]. Stewart had observed the symptoms of AIDS resulting from drug abuse in New York City and New Orleans during 1968-71, long before “AIDS” came on the scene; John Lauritsen [2] pointed out from the beginning that what was common to the first AIDS victims was drug abuse, not homosexuality. Stewart’s insight enabled him to project correctly future official data on AIDS in Britain, whereas official projections based on HIV theory were dead wrong. As to “avoidable deaths” in South Africa [3], it was not a “report by the Harvard School of Public Health” but simply an article whose authors happen to be employed at that Harvard School, moreover an article that has been thoroughly debunked [4].

 

Marsh’s review also refers to the “false claims” of Andrew Wakefield. It is by no means established that Wakefield’s observations were incorrect, namely, that in some cases vaccination at an early age by the multivalent MMR vaccine appears to be associated with the appearance within a few weeks of symptoms of autism [5].

Altogether, controversies over vaccination and “anti-vaxxers” are badly flawed in several respects. Most notably, at the very beginning of any argument about “vaccination”, distinctions ought to be drawn between such long-established vaccinations as against smallpox or polio by comparison with the flurry of new vaccinations being produced by the pharmaceutical industry as it exhausts the possibility of marketing new prescription drugs for newly invented diseases; thus the vaccines (Gardasil, Cervarix) widely touted as preventive of cervical cancer (as well as other cancers) have never been demonstrated to do what they are supposed to do even as they have been demonstrably responsible for serious harm to a significant number of individuals [6].

There are sound general reasons why new vaccines should be tested to the utmost degree and with the greatest caution:

Ø     Vaccines are intended to make the immune system do new things, but the immune system remains far from completely understood

Ø     Reports that an autoimmune disease has set in following vaccination are therefore not implausible

Ø     Vaccines are touted as being entirely specific, yet they commonly include so-called “adjuvants”, which are entirely non-specific toxic substances intended to arouse the immune system

Ø     For commercial and not scientific reasons, vaccines often include preservatives, which are biologically active toxins

Ø     Since vaccination is intended to stimulate the immune system in some manner, it seems quite plausible that employing several vaccines simultaneously could cause adverse reactions, at least in some individuals

Ø     Officialdom has admitted harm from vaccinations in some instances by the fact that about $4 billion over a 40-year period have been paid to people harmed by vaccination, by the US National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program , including “$5,877,710 dollars to 49 victims in claims made against the highly controversial HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines. To date 200 claims have been filed with VICP, with barely half adjudicated” (“U.S. court pays $6 million to Gardasil victims”)

 

To return for a moment to the issue of AIDS: Why is it that after 35 years of intensive efforts, there has yet to appear the vaccine against HIV that Robert Gallo had promised to produce within a few years of 1984? Perhaps there really is no exogenous “HIV” retrtovirus?

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[1]    See The Case against HIV  which cites ~900 articles and dozens of books

[2]    John Lauritsen, “CDC’s tables obscure AIDS-drugs connection”, Philadelphia Gay News, 14 February 1985; reprinted (ch. 1, pp. 11-22) in The AIDS War, New York: ASKLEPIOS, 1993.

[3]    Pride Chigwedere, George R. Seage III, Sofia Gruskin, Tun-Hou Lee & M. Essex, “Estimating the lost benefits of antiretroviral drug use in South Africa”, JAIDS 49 (2008) 410-5

[4]    Peter H. Duesberg, Daniele Mandrioli, Amanda McCormack, Joshua M. Nicholson, David Rasnick, Christian Fiala, Claus Koehnlein, Henry H. Bauer & Marco Ruggiero,AIDS since 1984: No evidence for a new, viral epidemic — not even in Africa”, Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, 116 (2011) 73-92.

[5]     Officialdom and its groupies continue to maintain that the charges against Wakefield were correct (see e.g. Do Vaccines Cause Autism?), but he also has strong and informed defenders, for instance VAXXED: From Cover Up to Catastrophe or Andrew Wakefield’s Theories about MMR Vaccines and Autism

[6]    Sacrificial Virgins: Homepage: “How young girls are being seriously damaged by the vaccine with the highest reported adverse reactions of any existing vaccine” [emphasis added]
See also, for example, The Truth is Out: Gardasil Vaccine Coverup Exposed
The Gardasil Vaccine—Bad Science, Great Promotion, Dangerous

Posted in media flaws, medical practices, prescription drugs, science policy, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Case for a Science Court

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/01/24

I mentioned the concept of a Science Court in a previous post on this blog: “Who guards the guardians? Who guards science?”

and I’ve mentioned it in a number of other places as well. Sometimes those mentions have brought comments on a variety of blogs. Some raised objections to the idea, unfortunately most commonly individuals who have not read my full discussion of the concept, which comprises the 20 pages of chapter 12 in my latest book, “Science Is Not What You Think”  (see reviews of it).

Obviously I cannot reproduce here the 20 pages of that book chapter. Here are the salient points:

Ø     Nowadays, science is almost universally taken as the ultimate authority on knowledge about the natural world

Ø     Media, pundits, policymakers, and governments accept as reliable knowledge what science says

Ø     “What science says” is taken to be the contemporary “scientific consensus”, the mainstream view, the view held by the contemporary elite group of experts on the given topic

Ø     The history of science is unequivocal, that any given contemporary scientific consensus has been quite often significantly mistaken

Ø     History also records that contemporary experts who dissented from the scientific consensus sometimes — though by no means always — turn out to have been closer to the truth and then the consensus was

Ø     Society at large, and policymakers in particular, would benefit from an impartial independent assessment of the evidence respectively for and against the contemporary consensus. The aim of a Science Court would be precisely to facilitate such an impartial independent assessment.

The need for such an institution is nowadays quite pressing because on a whole host of topics there is no substantive, open, public, debate between proponents and challengers of the contemporary consensus. Many of those topics are of little or no immediate practical public significance, say, what the mechanism is of the sense of smell, or what caused the extinction of dinosaurs, or some other matters discussed in my earlier book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (2012) .

However, there are also some topics of prime human, social, political importance on which informed and qualified experts have offered strong evidence that the contemporary consensus is dangerously flawed: HIV/AIDS, human-caused global warming and climate change, the role of prescription drugs in preventive medicine. On those, the popular media illustrate well enough that official institutions accept the scientific consensus and dismiss all challenges as “denialism”, no matter how eminent are the challengers. Something like a Science Court would seem to be the only conceivable mechanism by which the consensus could be forced to confront openly and substantively the challenges to its hegemonic, dogmatically held, view.

In my chapter-length discussion, I consider also the following:

Ø     The formal structure, sponsorship, authority and powers of the Science Court

Ø     Staffing of the Court: permanent and also ad hoc as appropriate to each specific topic

Ø     The choice of advocates for and against, on each particular topic

Ø     The choice of which issues are to be considered by the Court

My chapter discusses the benefits the Science Court would bring on questions concerning prescription drugs, climate change, and HIV/AIDS. It also describes the history of the concept of a Science Court, which dates back half a century to qualms about the potential safety of generating power in nuclear reactors, when equally qualified experts were arguing both sides of the issue. In more recent times, several legal scholars have argued that a specifically Science Court would be of considerable benefit to the judicial system in general and as a whole, since that system is called on increasingly to decide cases in which central questions involve scientific evidence and the qualifications of expert witnesses.

The pressing need for a Science Court nowadays arises because the scientific consensus cannot be relied upon to deliver the benefits that “science” supposedly brings, namely, the best available impartial, objective, unbiased assessment of what is actually known, what “science” has established.

Science did indeed bring those benefits for the first several centuries of what is generally called “modern science”, beginning around the 16th/17th centuries or so with the Reformation and the subsequent Enlightenment. What has not yet been widely enough recognized is how different scientific activity is since the middle of the 20th century, by comparison with those earlier centuries of modern science. Those differences are described in considerable detail in chapter 1 of my recent book; in a nutshell:

The circumstances of scientific activity have changed, from about pre-WWII to nowadays, from a cottage industry of voluntarily cooperating, independent, largely disinterested ivory-tower intellectual entrepreneurs, where science was free to do its own thing, namely the unfettered seeking of truth about the natural world; to nowadays a bureaucratic corporate-industry-government behemoth in which science has been pervasively co-opted by outside interests and is not free to do its own thing because of the omnipresent conflicts of interest. Influences and interests outside science now control the choices of research projects and the decisions of what to publish and what not to make public.

Aspects of that change were noted by John Burnham in his book, How Superstition Won and Science Lost (1987), and by Jacques Barzun in his magisterial From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (2000).

Science nowadays plays much the same societal role as the Roman Catholic Church did in Western Civilization before the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The Church had become corrupted through bureaucracy and self-interest and the dysfunctions that arise inevitably as a result of human failings when an activity becomes too big and too powerful. It became obvious that the Church’s policies and actions had grown seriously at variance with its founding ideals. The Reformation and the Enlightenment brought and demonstrated the benefits of empirical, rational, evidence-based, pragmatism in the search for reliable understanding, by contrast to taking for granted what the authorities said.

Today’s scientific activity has become similarly dysfunctional through growing too big and too influential; something like a Science Court is needed to bring society the benefits of empirical, rational, evidence-based, pragmatism in the search for reliable insights.

 

Please note that I am far from alone in noting the dysfunctions of contemporary science and medicine: consider the many books, articles, and reports listed in these bibliographies:
http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/CRITIQUES_OF_CONTEMPORARY_SCIENCE_AND_MEDICINE.pdf
http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/WhatIsWrongWithMedicine.pdf

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, prescription drugs, science is not truth, science policy | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

HPV, Cochrane review, and the meaning of “cause”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/10/27

HPV does not cause cervical cancer; HPV vaccination can be deadly mentions that Peter Gøtzsche had been expelled from the Cochrane Collaboration, causing some resignations from the Cochrane Board. For more about that, see what psychiatrist Peter Breggin has written about Gøtzsche: THE REFORM WORK OF PETER GØTZSCHE, MD
and what Gøtzsche himself has written: Disagreements in interpreting the Cochrane Spokesperson Policy https://breggin.com/G%C3%B8tzsche/G%C3%B8tzsche-Reply-from-Peter-G%C3%B8tzsche-to-Cochranes-law-firm-66-pages.pdf.

The Cochrane review of HPV vaccines, Prophylactic vaccination against human papillomaviruses to prevent cervical cancer and its precursors states, “Persistent infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (hrHPV) types is causally linked with the development of cervical precancer and cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers worldwide”.
But that has never been proved. The belief that HPV — or rather that a few of the 150 or 200 strains of HPV — cause cervical cancer is based solely on a statistical association, which — how often must this be said — never proves causation.
As I pointed out in HPV insanity,
“the risk of developing cervical cancer if infected with HPV is roughly 12,000 out of ~40 million . . . In what sense can it be said meaningfully that HPV causes cervical cancer, if that happens to one HPV-infected woman in every 3000?”
To a (one-time) chemist like me, the notion of attaching the label “cause” to something that happens once in 3000 attempts seems utterly absurd.

Another way of looking at this would be to say that 3000 women or girls need to be vaccinated to avoid one case of cervical cancer. In other words, the number needed to be treated, NNT, is 3000; whereas for any desirable medical intervention, NNT should be a small number. That generalization acknowledges that every medical treatment comes with a certain degree of risk that harm rather than benefit will ensue. In this particular case, “reports of adverse effects now total more than 85,000 worldwide. Nearly 500 deaths are suspected of being linked to quadrivalent Gardasil or Gardasil 9” (HPV does not cause cervical cancer; HPV vaccination can be deadly).
Since there exists no systematic, mandatory, global system for reporting adverse events resulting from medical treatment, the number of adverse events and of actual deaths are likely to be considerably higher. As the claimed benefit of the vaccination has never been demonstrated, the risk-to-benefit ratio would indicate that HP vaccination is not a good idea; see my earlier post about NNH and NNT for HPV vaccination, HPV vaccines: risks exceed benefits.
On the basic question of whether any strains of a HPV do actually cause cervical cancer, a serious supporter of the vaccines illustrates the supposedly causal process in this way:

That perhaps makes a bit clearer, why only about 1 in 3000 HPV-infected women ever experiences cervical cancer. Infection may clear; progression may be reversed by regression; and lesions do not necessarily lead to invasive cancer. There are, in other words, at least four distinct processes here, and there are presumably reasons why each of these happens or does not happen. In these circumstances, how could it be legitimate to identify HPV as the cause of the cancer?
In everyday talk, to say that A causes B is usually understood to mean that when A occurs, then B always follows — in other words, that A is a sufficient cause of B; and also, when B has occurred and we want to know why, and we hear that A can be a cause of B, we often jump to the conclusion that only A can cause B, in other words that A is a necessary cause of B.
However, in the matter of HPV and cervical cancer, HPV has not been demonstrated to be either a sufficient or a necessary cause of cancer.

Surely it is misleading to proclaim, as official agencies do and the meda parrot, “HPV causes cervical cancer”.

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HPV does not cause cervical cancer; HPV vaccination can be deadly

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/16

Evidence continues to mount that the presumed connection between HPV and cervical cancer is no more than a statistical association, not a causative relationship:

The Gardasil controversy: as reports of adverse effects increase, cervical cancer rates rise in HPV-vaccinated age groups 

Annette Gartland

“The Gardasil vaccines continue to be vaunted as life-saving, but there is no evidence that HPV vaccination is reducing the incidence of cervical cancer, and reports of adverse effects now total more than 85,000 worldwide. Nearly 500 deaths are suspected of being linked to quadrivalent Gardasil or Gardasil 9.
As Merck’s latest human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil 9, continues to be fast tracked around the world, the incidence of invasive cervical cancer is increasing in many of the countries in which HPV vaccination is being carried out.”

Once again independent scientists without conflicts of interest are maltreated by bureaucratic organizations with conflicts of interest to commercial interests, drug companies in particular:

“This article was updated with information from the AHVID on 14/09/2018.
Update 15/9/2018:
Peter Gøtzsche has been expelled from the Cochrane Collaboration. Six of the 13 members of the collaboration’s governing board voted for his expulsion.
. . . . .
‘This is the first time in 25 years that a member has been excluded from membership of Cochrane. This unprecedented action taken by a minority of the governing board . . . . ‘
In just 24 hours, Gøtzsche said, the Cochrane governing board had lost five of its members, four of whom were centre directors and key members of the organisation in different countries.
Gøtzsche says that, in recent years, Cochrane has significantly shifted more to a profit-driven approach.
‘Even though it is a not-for-profit charity, our ‘brand’ and ‘product’ strategies are taking priority over getting out independent, ethical and socially responsible scientific results,’ he said'”.

 

 

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, medical practices, prescription drugs, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/11

“What everyone knows” is that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, a “greenhouse gas” that holds in heat, warming the Earth and causing climate change, with catastrophic consequences if it isn’t stopped soon.

All official agencies, all mainstream scientific groups, say that.

What few people know is that a considerable number of experts and informed observers do not believe this AGW scenario to be correct: AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming, global warming caused by human actions.

Those dissenting experts point out that actual data on temperature and carbon-dioxide levels, over the life of the Earth but also over the last century, show that carbon dioxide does not cause high global temperature.

But few people, again, can believe that “everyone” could be wrong about this, that “science” could be so dogmatically wrong. To form an opinion as to the relative merits of the official view and of the dissenting experts, therefore requires not only looking at the data but also at how the official view came into bring and how and why it persists. Few people want to take the time and make the effort to wade through huge amounts of writings by opposing advocates to ferret out the genuine facts and legitimate conclusions, which often calls for reading between the lines and being skeptical about everything.

My recent discovery of the Peter Ridd affair had a wonderfully beneficial consequence, learning about the writings of Don Aitkin, an Australian whose academic career included research on social and political matters as well as administrative experience that included heading a university (as Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra). Aitkin spent a decade or more reading and thinking about AGW, and summarized what he learned in a series of blogs. The last in the series, #16,  sums things up and has appropriate links to the earlier ones which concentrate on different aspects of the matter.

This offers a wonderfully convenient way for anyone to become genuinely informed about AGW, and “climate-change denialism”, and incidentally about the interaction between science and public policy. Aitkin is factually reliable and ideologically unbiased, an all-too-rare combination.

*                     *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *

My appreciation of Aitkin’s series on global warming was enhanced when he noted that the hysteria over AGW “bridges the space between science and politics in an almost unprecedented way, though it has some similarities to the ‘eugenics’ issue a hundred years ago”, something that had occurred to me also.

Another Aitkin blog-post, “A good starting position in discussions about ‘climate change’” cites the salient points made by Ben Pile at Climate Resistance:

  1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate. But evidence is not fact, and neither evidence nor fact speak for themselves.
  2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.
  3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone to reverse, any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain, and may itself be harmful.
  4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.
  5. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics not science.
  6. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones. Environmentalism uses science as a fig-leaf to hide an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics.
  7. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.
  8. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.
  9. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.
  10. The public remains unconvinced that mitigation is in its best interest. Few people have really bought into Environmentalism, but few people object vehemently to it. Most people are slightly irritated by it.
  11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.
  12. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet it has never been tested democratically.
  13. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians have had to seek new ways to connect with the public. Exaggerated environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.
  14. Environmentalism is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. It is being embraced by the old Right and Left alike. Similarly, climate change scepticism is not the exclusive domain of the conservative Right.
  15. Environmentalism will be worse for the poor than climate change.
  16. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

*                   *                  *                     *                   *                   *                   *                   *

Aitkin is an Australian, and any connection to Australia always rekindles my appreciation for the sanctuary Australia provided the refuigee Bauers and the excellent public education from which I benefited in elementary school (Picton, NSW), at The Sydney Boys’ High School, and at the University of Sydney (moreover, in those years, at almost no cost to my parents!).
Browsing Aitkin’s writings, I came across an after-dinner speech about “Australian values”  that rings true to my own recollections and also, I think, offers some insights into the similarities and differences between American and Australian life.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, global warming, media flaws, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Australian university fires climate-change dissenter: dissent is not collegial…

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/08

Just another bit of evidence of politically correct dogmatism in science; see Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012

Tenured professor Peter Ridd, a marine scientist, was fired from James Cook University (Queensland, Australia), for sharing with a journalist his view that certain published work is misleading:

“Ridd’s expertise is in coastal oceanography and the impact of sediments on reefs and, for years, he has criticised research suggesting the Great Barrier reef is in serious trouble due to global warming and agricultural run-off, among other things. He claims the research lacks quality assurance, isn’t replicated often enough, and that the peer review system for research is inadequate. . . .
His trouble started in April 2016 when he received a ‘formal censure’ for ‘misconduct’. It was a curious incident: the university had got hold of an email that Ridd sent to a news.com.au journalist a few months before. In it, he urged the journalist to look into work Ridd had done suggesting that photographs released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority indicating a big decline in reef health over time were misleading …
the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies – based at James Cook University –‘should check their facts before they spin their story . . .’

This was enough for the university to censure Ridd on the grounds that he breached the code of conduct by ‘going to the media in your professional capacity in a way that was not collegial and did not respect the rights of others or uphold professional standards’. It was a warning. Ridd could make public comments but they ‘must be in a collegial manner that upholds the university and individuals’ respect’”.

In other words, don’t offer evidence that contradicts the mainstream view, especially if there are mainstream proponents in your own university.

Academic freedom to teach and publish?

Open-minded science that respects evidence?

Read the full article in The Guardian: Gay Alcorn, “Peter Ridd’s sacking pushes the limit of academic freedom”. Note that the journalist, Alcorn, takes human-caused climate change as Gospel truth, yet recognizes that the University fired Ridd because he sought media prominence for his views and refused to allow himself to be censored into not speaking publicly about the University’s actions against him. The Guardian, a stalwart supporter of left-leaning political correctness, could not quite bring itself to state straightforwardly that the university stepped way over the line as to academic freedom, but that’s a minor quibble; I congratulate Gay Alcorn and The Guardian for straight, unbiased reporting.

Ridd has sued the University and raised funds for his legal costs though crowd-funding; “the court hearing has been set for 12, 13 and 14th November”.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, global warming, legal considerations, media flaws, politics and science, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What everyone knows is all too often wrong: dinosaur extinction, and much more

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/08/26

“What everyone knows” is all too often wrong, as I pointed out years ago, specifically about science punditry and TED talks and books;  and about climate change;  see also Who guards the guardians? Who guards science?; “Dangerous knowledge”; Dangerous knowledge II: Wrong knowledge about the history of science;  Dangerous knowledge III: Wrong knowledge about scienceDangerous knowledge IV: The vicious cycle of wrong knowledge.

Perhaps the main reason for “everyone” being wrong about so many things is that most of us take our knowledge on most or even all matters on the authority of other people, and those are all too often unwitting or witting false prophets [1]. Very few people ever bother to look for themselves into what the actual evidence is for commonly held beliefs.

I had become interested long ago in what science is and how it works, and my academic work came to focus on the “hard cases”: controversies in science, particularly the roles played by minority views and claims. So I had the time as well as the interest to dig quite deeply into the facts underlying a number of controversies, including controversies that the mainstream asserts not to be controversial. That is how I came to realize, for example, that HIV has never been proven to be the cause of AIDS, indeed has never even been proven to exist [2].

When I have the occasion to encounter someone who parrots HIV=AIDS theory, which “everyone knows”, I like to ask, “How do you know that HIV causes AIDS?”

Almost invariably the answer is, “Everyone knows that”.

Exactly. QED.

Increasingly since the 19th century, perhaps since about the early-to-middle 19th century, “science” has become the authority for most people as well as for organizations both private and public [3]. That even includes many scholars and pundits of whom one might expect better: When I had first collated HIV-test data and was giving talks about the failings of HIV/AIDS theory, a sociologist in a Science-Studies program said that I must be wrong because “tens of thousands of papers” had been published in the HIV=AIDS genre.

Until the most recent few decades, science has rarely played the role of false prophet on issues sufficiently salient as to inform public policies and actions; an exception in the first quarter of the 20th century was when misguided expert opinion about genetics and heredity led to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans [4].

Nowadays, unfortunately, science has grown so large and unwieldy as to be in many ways dysfunctional [5], so that it has given bad advice on at least two matters of considerable public importance: not only HIV/AIDS [2] but also climate change [6].

In past times and on less prominent issues whose significance rarely matters outside the scientific community itself, “science” has quite typically been wrong before it got things right. The “scientific consensus” at any given time is tentative and temporary; yet, human nature being what it is, the elite proponents of the consensus have always defended their view vigorously, including denigrating and even persecuting fellow scientists who disagree [7].

A case in point is the view that the extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago was caused by the impact on Earth of a large asteroid. A splendid recent article in the Atlantic magazine [9] gives full details of the career gauntlets run by paleontologist Gerta Keller as she has been amassing evidence against the asteroid hypothesis and for the earlier theory that the extinction was brought on by a lengthy episode of recurring intense volcanism — for perhaps 350,000 years, with particularly intense eruptions during the 100,000 or so years that coincide with the extinction. (Calculating the timing of happenings 65 million years ago is unlikely ever to permit accuracy of better than some tens of thousands of years.)

A point that seems powerful to a lay person like myself is that the dinosaur extinction was the fifth major mass extinction indicated by the fossil record, and expert opinion seems to be almost undivided that the first four extinctions had been caused by extremes of volcanic action.

The Atlantic article is also commendably accurate about contemporary science in noting how vigorously the mainstream consensus, the ruling elite, defends its point of view, how unscrupulously at least some members of that elite and their acolytes attack those who dissent; science has become riddled with knowledge monopolies.

Many examples of that sad state of affairs are at hand in a number of other fields [7]: Big-Bang cosmology, amyloid plaque as cause of Alzheimer’s disease, anti-depressant and other prescription drugs, first human settlement of the Americas, nuclear “cold fusion”, dangers of second-hand smoke, plate tectonics (“continental drift”), mechanism of the sense of smell, physiological correlates of schizophrenia, risks from mercury compounds in tooth fillings and in vaccines, possible relation between certain multiple vaccines and autism… .

It is really quite stunning, how many cases there are where “what everyone knows”, namely, the reigning scientific consensus, is questionable in light of the actual evidence, the unquestioned data.

 

That last is a most important thing that everyone does not know but should.

 

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[1]    As an academic Dean once remarked “Saying so, makes it so”, when the sayer is someone in some sort of authority.

[2]    Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland 2007; “The Case against HIV”

[3]    David Knight, The Age of Science, Basil Blackwell, 1986

[4]    “Bauer: Could science mislead public policy?”, Roanoke Times, 10 June 2018;

[5]    Henry H. Bauer, Science Is Not What You Think — how it has changed, why we can’t trust it, how it can be fixed (McFarland, 2017)

[6]    For many discussions, with source references, about the politicized nature of this controversy and the fact that the actual observational data do not support the hypothesis of carbon-dioxide-induced global warming (let alone carbon-dioxide-induced climate change), see the articles at https://scimedskeptic.wordpress.com/ that come up when setting “climate change” in the “Search” box.

[7]    The literature on these points is vast. Pertinent sections of reference [5] cover much of this ground and cite many other sources; see also reference [8].

[8]    Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012

[9]    Bianca Bosker, “The nastiest feud in science”, Atlantic, September 2018

Posted in consensus, denialism, media flaws, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

21st century science:   Group-Thinking Elites and Fanatical Groupies

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/08/11

Science has been a reliable resource for official policies and actions for much of the era of modern science, which is usually regarded as having begun around the 17th century.

It is almost without precedent that a mistaken scientific consensus should lead to undesirable and damaging public actions, yet that is now the case in two instances: the belief that carbon dioxide generated by the burning of fossil fuels is primarily responsible for global warming and climate change; and the belief that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

Both those beliefs gained hegemony during the last two or three decades. That these beliefs are mistaken seems incredible to most people, in part because of the lack of any well known precedent and in part because the nature of science is widely misunderstood; in particular it is not yet widely recognized how much science has changed since the middle of the 20th century.

The circumstances of modern science that conspire to make it possible for mistaken theories to bring misguided public policies have been described in my recent book, Science Is Not What You Think [1]. The salient points are these:

Ø     Science has become dysfunctionally large

Ø     It is hyper-competitive

Ø     It is not effectively self-correcting

Ø     It is at the mercy of multiple external interests and influences.

A similar analysis was offered by Judson [2]. That title reflects the book’s opening theme of the prevalence of fraud in modern science (as well as in contemporary culture). It assigns blame to the huge expansion in the number of scientists and the crisis that the world of science faces as it finds itself in something of a steady-state so far as resources are concerned, after a period of some three centuries of largely unfitted expansion: about 80% of all the scientists who have ever lived are extant today; US federal expenditure on R&D increased 4-fold (inflation-adjusted!) from 1953 to 2002, and US industry increased its R&D spending by a factor of 26 over that period! Judson also notes the quintessential work of John Ziman explicating the significance of the change from continual expansion to what Ziman called a dynamic steady-state [3].

Remarkably enough, President Eisenhower had foreseen this possibility and warned against it in his farewell address to the nation: “in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite”. The proponents of human-caused-climate-changer theory and of HIV/AIDS theory are examples of such elites.

A crucial factor is that elites, like all other groups, may be dysfunctionally affected by the phenomenon of Groupthink.

Janis [4] showed in detail several decades ago how that phenomenon of Groupthink had produced disastrously bad policy actions by the United States. The same phenomenon of Groupthink can cause bad things to happen in other social sectors than the government. Recently, Booker [5] has shown how Groupthink has been responsible for creating the worldwide belief, shibboleth, cliché, that humankind’s use of fossil fuels is causing global warming and climate change through the release of carbon dioxide.

Commonly held ideas about science do not envisage the possibility that a scientific consensus could bring misguided policies and actions on a global scale. What most people know — think they know — about science is that its conclusions are based on solid evidence, and that the scientific method safeguards against getting things wrong, and that science that has been primarily responsible for civilization’s advances over the last few centuries.

Those things that most people know are also largely mistaken [1, 6]. Science is a human activity and is subject to all the frailties and fallibilities of any human activity. The scientific method and the way in which it is popularly described does not accurately portray how science is actually done.

While much of the intellectual progress in understanding how the world works does indeed stand to the credit of science, what remains to be commonly realized is that since about the middle of the 20th century, science has become too big for its own good. The huge expansion of scientific activity since the Second World War has changed science in crucial ways. The number of people engaged in scientific activity has far outstripped the available resources, leading to hyper-competition and associated sloppiness and outright dishonesty. Scientists nowadays are in no way exceptional individuals, people doing scientific work are as common as are teachers, doctors, or engineers. It is in this environment that Groupthink has become significantly and damagingly important.

Booker [5] described this in relation to the hysteria over the use of fossil fuels. A comparable situation concerns the belief that HIV is the cause of AIDS [7]. The overall similarities in these two cases are that a quite small number of researchers arrived initially at more or less tentative conclusions; but those conclusions seemed of such great import to society at large that they were immediately seized upon and broadcast by the media as breaking news. Political actors become involved, accepting those conclusions quickly became politically correct, and those who then questioned and now question the conclusions are vigorously opposed, often maligned as unscientific and motivated by non-scientific agendas.

 

At any rate, contemporary science has become a group activity rather than an activity of independent intellectual entrepreneurs, and it is in this environment that Groupthink affects the elites in any given field — the acknowledged leading researchers whose influence is entrenched by editors and administrators and other bureaucrats inside and outside the scientific community.

A concomitant phenomenon is that of fanatical groupies. Concerning both human-caused climate change and the theory that HIV causes AIDS, there are quite large social groups that have taken up the cause with fanatical vigor and that attack quite unscrupulously anyone who differs from the conventional wisdom. These groupies are chiefly people with little or no scientific background, or whose scientific ambitions are unrequited (which includes students). As with activist groups in general, groupie organizations are often supported by (and indeed often founded by) commercial or political interests. Non-profit organizations which purportedly represent patients and other concerned citizens and which campaign for funds to fight against cancer, multiple sclerosis, etc., are usually funded by Big Pharma, as are HIV/AIDS activist groups.

__________________________________

[1]  Henry H. Bauer, Science Is Not What You Think — how it has changed, why we can’t trust it, how it can be fixed, McFarland 2017

[2] Horace Freeland Judson, The Great Betrayal, Harcourt 2004

[3]  John Ziman, Prometheus Bound, Cambridge University Press 1994

[4]  I. L. Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972; Groupthink, 1982, Houghton Mifflin.

[5]  Christopher Booker, GLOBAL WARMING: A case study in groupthink, Global Warming Policy Foundation, Report 28; Human-caused global warming as Groupthink

[6]  Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press 1992

[7]  Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland 2007

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, fraud in science, funding research, global warming, media flaws, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, the scientific method, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Intellectual charlatanry: TED doesn’t know how to distinguish between good science and bad science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/08/07

On the Mad in America website I came across “TED betrays its own brand by flagging nutrition talk”. After following a number of links, I was led to the guidelines that the TED organization prescribes for talks eligible to be described as “TEDx” (“TEDx is an international community that organizes TED-style events anywhere and everywhere — celebrating locally-driven ideas and elevating them to a global stage. TEDx events are produced independently of TED conferences, each event curates speakers on their own, but based on TED’s format and rules.”).

Sadly, TED’s guidelines for what constitutes good science reveal abysmal ignorance:

Claims made using scientific language should:

  • Be testable experimentally.
    That would exclude all the science that relies only on observation because experimenting is not possible: astronomy, cosmology, geology, parts of biology, almost everything to do with human beings…. String theory, which presently dominates theoretical physics, is not testable experimentally, nor is cosmology’s consensus that “the universe” originated in a Big Bang about 13 billion years ago. And so on, The theory of evolution by natural selection is not testable experimentally.
    Much of what is nowadays regarded as “accepted science” or “settled science   consists just of reasonably solid observations supporting more or less plausible inductive explanations.
  • Have been published in a peer-reviewed journal (beware… there are some dodgy journals out there that seem credible, but aren’t. For further reading, here’s an article on the topic).
    The cited article does not begin to cover this issue. Peer review is not the guarantor of reliability that it is so widely taken to be (pp. 106-9 in “Science Is Not What You Think — how it has changed, why we can’t trust it, how it can be fixed”).
    Even what is published in highly regarded, long-established, peer-reviewed journals may be quite wrong. Perhaps 90% of the primary research literature in physics later turns out to have been faulty or flawed in some way (John Ziman, “Reliable Knowledge”, Cambridge University Press, 1978, p. 40). As an editor of The Lancet (Richard Horton) once put it, “Peer review … is simply a way to collect opinions from experts in the field. Peer review tells us about the acceptability, not the credibility, of a new finding”
    .
    What peer review does very effectively is to entrench whatever the prevailing majority consensus happens to be; but the history of science is perfectly clear that any majority consensus may have a very limited useful life before it is superseded.
  • Be based on theories that are also considered credible by experts in the field.
    Thereby entrenching the possibly wrong contemporary consensus.
  • Be backed up by experiments that have generated enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy.
    Nonsense, see detailed comments above.
  • Have proponents who are secure enough to acknowledge areas of doubt and need for further investigation.
    Proponents of a contemporary consensus are rarely so “scientific”.
  • Not fly in the face of the broad existing body of scientific knowledge.
    Again, thereby entrenching the possibly wrong contemporary consensus.
  • Be presented by a speaker who works for a university and/or has a phD [sic] or other bona fide high level scientific qualification.
    When we founded the Society for Scientific Exploration (which Wikipedia and other science-ignorant sources describe as a “fringe science” organization) it was made a requirement for full membership that applicants have a PhD or equivalent credentials. I found that rather funny, since anyone even slightly acquainted with academe or people with PhDs knows that these are absolutely no warranty of intelligence or competence or lack of kookiness.
  • Show clear respect for the scientific method and scientific thinking generally.
    “The scientific method” is a myth (“Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method”, University of Illinois Press, 1992), and “scientific thinking” is no more easily defined than “the method” 

    Claims made using scientific language should not:

  • Be so obscure or mysterious as to be untestable
    See above re testable
  • Be considered ridiculous by credible scientists in the field
    Once more, relies on current consensus
  • Be based on experiments that can not be reproduced by others.
    For misguided views that “reproducibility” is a necessary criterion and is applied in practice, see pp. 53ff. in “Science Is Not What You Think”, book cited above
  • Be based on data that do not convincingly corroborate the experimenter’s theoretical claims.
    “Convincing” is in the eyes of the beholder
  • Come from overconfident fringe experts.
    Mainstream experts often suffer from overconfidence, and labeling someone a “fringe expert” is no easy matter
  • Use over-simplified interpretations of legitimate studies
    Simplification is a necessity in teaching and in talking to general audiences; what is “over” simplified is again in the eyes of the beholder

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My detailed comments should make plain that whoever drew up these guidelines was insufficiently knowledgeable about science. That’s rather serious for an organization that says:
“Science is a big part of the TED universe, and it’s important that TEDx organizers sustain our reputation as a credible forum for sharing ideas that matter. It’s not always easy to distinguish between real science and pseudoscience…”

Indeed it isn’t, see for example Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies (University of Illinois Press, 2001). It is likely to be impossible for an organization whose guidelines for distinguishing are ignorant rubbish, as above. And so it happened that TED “flagged” a TEDx talk about micronutrients and mental health given by a well-published PhD professor at a very respectable university:

“NOTE FROM TED: We’ve flagged this talk, which was filmed at a TEDx event, because it appears to fall outside TEDx’s curatorial guidelines. There is limited evidence to support the claims made by this speaker. Please do not look to this talk for medical advice.”

For comments on this flagging, see James Moore’s blog post “Julia Rucklidge: Nutrition, Mental Health and TED” which includes an audio of Moore’s interview with Rucklidge in which she describes the flagging (starting at about 18 minutes in the 30-minute interview).

My point here is not, however, just that the flagging was unwarranted. Anyone can learn that easily enough by checking Rucklidge’s publications and following a few other links. My point is to expose TED as practicing charlatanry, falsely claiming expertise it does not possess (“charlatan: a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud, quack, sham, fake, impostor, hoaxer, cheat, deceiver, double-dealer, swindler, fraudster, mountebank; (informal) phony, shark, con man, con artist, scam artist, flimflammer, bunco artist, shyster, snake oil salesman; (dated) confidence man/woman”).

Not only charlatanry: sheer incompetence, and arrogant incompetence at that. Rucklidge’s TEDx talk was flagged by TED without notifying Rucklidge or the organizers of her talk. When Rucklidge learned of this, she wanted to find out the reason for the flagging — but has been unable to get any pertinent information from TED! However, TED did eventually modify the text of its flag, to:

“NOTE FROM TED: We’ve flagged this talk, which was filmed at a TEDx event, because it appears to fall outside TEDx’s curatorial guidelines. Given that the intersection of nutrition and mental health is an emerging field of study with limited conclusive evidence, please consult with a mental health professional and do not look to this talk for medical advice.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dqXHHCc5lA)

This still impugns Rucklidge’s reputation as a legitimate, credible scientist by claiming it is “outside TEDx’s curatorial guidelines”. That is an outrage; and no less an outrage that TED flags a talk without consulting its author and its sponsor, something that decency as well as plain common sense would dictate.

The only obvious reason for anyone to object to Rucklidge’s talk and work is that she points out that presently used psychiatric drugs do not work for some significant proportion of people who need help; and so mainstream psychiatry and Big Pharma may well feel challenged. But this remains conjecture so long as TED will not explain its actions. Clearly, TED ought to be held accountable; but how?

That question is likely to become more frequent and more pressing as time goes by, because it pertains not only to TED but to an increasing number of ventures on the Internet — Facebook, Twitter, etc., the whole genre nowadays categorized as “social media”.

Perhaps a first necessary step is for the realization to become general and widespread, that “social media” includes TED, TEDx, Wikipedia, and innumerable other sites that offer all sorts of purportedly authoritative, reliable information — dictionary definitions, say — and yet have no evident credentials and are frequently anonymous, offering no contactable individual who could be held accountable for errors or for committing personal libel like that visited on Professor Rucklidge.

In her interview with Moore, Rucklidge mentions the classic case of Semmelweiss as an example of unconventional work that was wrongly disdained by contemporary mainstream experts. Unfortunately, this and the fact of many similar cases are known usually only to historians of science or medicine; for further examples see Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth).

See also my long-ago post, “TED and TEDx reinvent the wheel — and get it all wrong (or, Ignorant punditry about science and pseudo-science)”

Posted in consensus, media flaws, peer review, resistance to discovery, the scientific method, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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