Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

“Denialism” — Who are the “denialists”?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/02/16

“Denialism” is a recently invented, highly disdained condition. The inventors and deployers of the term intend it as a fatal blow to anyone who does not accept a mainstream consensus.
But there have always been minority views, unorthodox opinions, heterodox beliefs, and history teaches that some of them outlasted and eventually superseded the mainstream consensus.
In science, at times a difference of opinion has persisted unresolved for quite a long time. What’s new is not that a significant number of competent experts disagree with a mainstream consensus: What’s new — in modern science — is that mainstream institutions and their representatives seek to discredit their colleagues who interpret the evidence in a different fashion. What’s new in modern science is that differing opinions are labeled heretical and that their proponents are excommunicated, even when those proponents comprise a sizable number of well qualified experts.

Iconoclastic novelty has traditionally been resisted by mainstream science (1-3). Even well-established, senior scientists who make startling claims have tended to be ignored or ostracized (4).

On the other hand, occasionally a medical or scientific specialty seizes on some new claim that quickly becomes a fad. In recent times some of those have become bandwagons: fluorocarbons as destroyers of the ozone layer, for example, or carbon dioxide emissions as cause of global warming, or a retrovirus as cause of AIDS. Here the traditional roles of conservative and iconoclast have been reversed: The mainstream consensus upholds the iconoclastic novelty virtually from the outset while a minority of specialists denies that the evidence has established the new claim beyond a reasonable doubt.

The history of science teaches quite unequivocally that no new claim should be accepted without further ado. Only time can tell whether a new claim is sound; and time can tell that only if researchers repeatedly and persistently test the claim by trying to disconfirm or to confirm the early observations, and by trying to build on them.

The history of HIV/AIDS theory and of the theory of human-caused global warming (AGW, for anthropogenic global warming) demonstrates that in these cases the mainstream misguidedly jumped to acceptance well before conclusive support for the theories was at hand. With AGW, the claim rests entirely on computer models that neglect such important variables as those associated with historical cycles of temperature (5). With HIV/AIDS, the claim is  not supported by epidemiologic data, some of which was available quite early in the AIDS era (6).

These instances also demonstrate that early wholehearted acceptance by influential mainstream organizations can stymie subsequent reconsideration even as the evidence against the theories mounts. A mainstream consensus has enormous inertia; it maintains itself through control of the institutions that fund research and publish findings.

The volte-face in the traditional conservatism of science seen with HIV/AIDS and AGW has been accompanied by an unprecedented ostracizing and persecution of sizable numbers of well established and formerly respected specialists who attempted to play the traditional role of skeptical scrutinizing of new claims. The persecution has consisted of such things as refusal of research funding, exclusion from professional conferences, and extraordinary measures to prevent publication (5).

In the past, there have been cases where once well-established scientists were banished beyond the pale when they made unacceptable claims (4). But it is unprecedented that whole swaths of mainstream practitioners, including highly accomplished individuals, are effectively excommunicated from their profession, are held up to derision and ridicule in the media, and are even branded “denialists” in specific comparison to those who deny the occurrence or nature of the Nazi Holocaust with its mass killings of millions of Jews, gypsies, and other political or social undesirables.

It seems a little remarkable that no influential or popular media have pointed out the high qualifications of significant numbers of those who have been called denialists. Here is a brief survey.

HIV/AIDS “denialists”

The most well known HIV/AIDS denialist is Peter Duesberg, who before his apostasy over HIV and AIDS had been generally recognized as one of the world’s leading cancer researchers and retrovirologists. Other highly qualified critics of HIV/AIDS theory include  Kary Mullis (Nobel Prize), Robert Root-Bernstein (MacArthur “Genius” Awardee), Gordon Stewart (professor at the University of Glasgow and epidemiology consultant to the World Health Organization) and others as well (7).

In an open letter to the scientific community in 1991, more than 30 people asked that the HIV/AIDS hypothesis be re-examined; the signatories included Mullis, Root-Bernstein and Stewart and other well-established biologists in pertinent specialties (e.g. Gordon J. Edlin, Beverly Griffith, Harry Rubin, Richard C. Strohman, Charles A. Thomas, Jr.) as well as MDs and other scientists and science writers. Within 2 years more than 350 others had added their signatures (8): biological scientists, doctors, science writers, and a number of individuals with first- or second-hand experience of AIDS.

Some of those individuals are among those who have written articles and books explaining why HIV/AIDS theory has not been established. Much of this material comes from individuals who have no personal axe to grind and who stood to gain nothing in personal preferment by criticizing the mainstream dogma, indeed some of these people paid heavy professional prices for their apostasy. Among these are science writers who began by researching stories about AIDS but found to their astonishment that the facts on the ground do not support HIV/AIDS theory; see for example the books by Jad Adams, Ellinor Burkett, Neville Hodgkinson, Jon Rappoport, Joan Shenton, Bruce Nussbaum, and also sociologist Steven Epstein (9).

A very useful source for “denialist” works up to 1993 is Ian Young, The Aids Dissidents: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow, 1993).

Useful “denialist” books not among those listed at include:
Harvey Bialy, Oncogenes, Aneuploidy, and AIDS
(dist. North Atlantic Books, 2004)
Richard & Rosalind Chirimuuta, AIDS, Africa and Racism
(London: Free Association Books, 1989)
John Crewdson, Science Fictions (Little, Brown, 2002)
Rebecca Culshaw, Science Sold Out (North Atlantic Books, 2007)
Celia Farber, Serious Adverse Events (Melville House, 2006)
Etienne de Harven & Jean-Claude Roussez,
Ten Lies about AIDS        (Trafford, 2008)
F. I. D. Konotey-Ahulu, What is AIDS? (Tetteh-A’Domeno, 1989)
Evan C. Lambrou, AIDS: Scare or Scam? (Vantage, 1994)
Christine Maggiore, What if everything you knew about AIDS was wrong?
(American Foundation for AIDS Alternatives, 1996)
Maria Papagiannidou-St Pierre, Goodbye AIDS! Did it ever exist?
(Impact Investigative Media, 2009)
Gary Null with James Feast, AIDS: A Second Opinion (Seven Stories, 2002)

In 2012 the Opposing Viewpointsâ Series published a volume on AIDS (ed. Roman Espejo, Greenhaven Press) that juxtaposes pro and con arguments, for instance over whether HIV causes AIDS and whether antiretroviral drugs prolong life.

1.    Bernard Barber, Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery,
Science, 134 (1961) 596-602
2.    Gunther Stent, Prematurity and uniqueness in scientific discovery,
Scientific American, December 1972, 84-93
3.    Ernest B. Hook (ed).,
Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect,
University of California Press, 2002
4.    Chapter 9, “Luck, or the lack of it”, in
Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science, Paraview Press 2001;
ISBN-13: 978-1931044288
5.    Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine:
How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth
McFarland 2012
6.    The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland 2007
7.    See “Whistleblowers” at the virusmyth website;
8.    “The Group
9.    See “Find” and  “Bookshelf

AGW “denialists”

Wikipedia is unusually reliable in listing, in several categories, scientists who disagree with the view that human-caused emission of carbon dioxide is significantly adding to global warming.

Those who question the accuracy of mainstream projections include such competent, indeed eminent people in relevant disciplines as
Freeman Dyson, Fellow of the Royal Society, professor emeritus at Princeton Institute for Advanced Study
Richard Lindzen, member of the National Academy of Sciences, Alfred P. Sloan professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nils-Axel Mörner, former head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University and former chairman of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution
Garth Paltridge, former chief research scientist at CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research (Australia) and former director of the Institute of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre
Philip Stott, professor emeritus of biogeography, University of London
Hendrik Tennekes, former director of research, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute

Those who hold that global warming is owing to natural processes include
Sallie Baliunas, astronomer, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Ian Clark, hydrogeologist, professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa
William Kininmonth, meteorologist, former Australian delegate to Commission for Climatology, World Meteorological Organization
Tim Patterson, paleoclimatologist, professor of geology, Carleton University (Canada)
Ian Plimer, professor emeritus of Mining Geology, University of Adelaide
Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences, University of Virginia; professor emeritus, George Mason University; founding dean, School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences, University of Miami; founder, National Weather Bureau’s Satellite Service Center
Willie Soon, astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Wikipedia lists another dozen people in this category, and a dozen who either regard the cause of global warming as unknown or that it will in any case have no dire consequences.

One of the most eminent AGW “denialists” was Frederick Seitz, at one time president of Rockefeller University, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, awarded a National Medal of Science. He endorsed the Oregon Petition against accepting AGW, a petition signed by more than 30,000 people who hold some credential in science, including >7000 with PhDs and nearly 4000 with degrees in atmospheric or environmental science.

The Leipzig Declaration asserted that there is no scientific consensus over the cause of global warming. It was signed by several scores of atmospheric scientists and meteorologists, including people with impressive credentials, for instance the eminent astrophysicist Thomas Gold and William Nierenberg, former Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmospheres and of the National Research Council’s Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee as well as Director Emeritus of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Among the many books written by well qualified and well established AGW “denialists”, a reader new to the controversy might begin with one of these:
Robert M. Carter, Climate: The Counter-Consensus —
A Palaeoclimatologist Speaks
(Stacey International, 2010)
Michael Crichton, State of Fear
a novel with citations of scientific works (HarperCollins, 2005)
Craig Idso & S. Fred Singer, Climate Change Reconsidered:
The Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change
(Heartland Institute, 2009)
Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science
(Taylor Trade Publishing, 2009)
S. Fred Singer & Dennis T. Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming:
Every 1,500 Years
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2007)
S. Fred Singer, Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate
(Heartland Institute, 2008;
available free at
Roy W Spencer, The Great Global Warming Blunder:
How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Climate Scientists
(Encounter Books, 2012)

Shorter pieces well worth reading include
Michael Crichton, Aliens cause global warming
(Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003)
Andrew Montford, Nullius in Verba (On the word of no one) —
The Royal Society and Climate Change

(Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 6, 2012;
ISBN: 978-0-9566875-6-2)
Maurice Newman (former chairman, Australian Broadcasting Commission),
A dangerous method: Global warming dogma has damaged science itself
(Spectator [Australia], 24 March 2012, p. ix)


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