Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for May, 2013

Climate-change science and cover-ups

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/05/14

My first post on this blog, “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”, pointed out why it is far from certain that man-made carbon dioxide is adding appreciably to the natural warming of the Earth’s climate.

In 2009, e-mails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (Britain) were made public. They appeared to demonstrate dishonesty on the part of the global-warming advocates. However — and unsurprisingly —  a number of enquiries by various official bodies claimed to find no wrong-doing. As Wikipedia — usually reliable when it comes to supporting mainstream views — put it:
“Eight committees investigated the allegations and published reports, finding no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.[15] However, the reports called on the scientists to avoid any such allegations in the future by taking steps to regain public confidence in their work, for example by opening up access to their supporting data, processing methods and software, and by promptly honouring freedom of information requests.[16] The scientific consensus that global warming is occurring as a result of human activity remained unchanged throughout the investigations.[17]” [emphasis added].

Close reading of such statements often serves to reveal unintended admissions. Here, for instance, the phrases highlighted above acknowledge that climate scientists have indeed been failing to make available to others their raw data and their analytic methods including computer programs, and that they have stalled for years requests properly made under Freedom of Information laws.

Earlier this year, a hacker with the handle “Mr. FOIA” made available to a number of “climate skeptics” some 220,000 hacked e-mails in addition to the 5000 released in 2009 and 2011. A few tidbits from the newly released material have appeared on a number of blogs, for example “Climategate Leaker: Our Civilization is Being Destroyed by Lying ‘Science’ Elitists” (by Ron Arnold, 29 March 2013):
“The first and second email batches contained conversations among ‘scientists’ who appear to have dishonored a once respectable discipline, documenting that their claims of a ‘man-made global warming crisis’ look exactly like deliberate contrivances for academic career gain, research funding and positions of political power in ‘the cause.’”

A mainstream scientist, Tom Wigley of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), complained to Michael Mann (originator of the misleading “hockey stick” graph that has since been disowned by the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change”):
“Mike, the Figure you sent is very deceptive … there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC” —
which in itself is sufficient demonstration of dishonesty acknowledged among themselves by mainstream researchers.

Even more telling, from Peter Thorne (UK Meteorological Office) to Phil Jones, head of the CRU:
“Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere, unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. …. I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it, which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.”
The response is almost as damning:
“I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working on the IPCC 5th Assessment Report would be to delete all e-mails at the end of the process. Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get — and has to be well hidden. I’ve discussed this with the main funder [the U.S. Department of Energy] in the past and they are happy about not releasing the original station data”.

As one of my colleagues in anti-mainstream initiatives puts it, our shared paranoia is well earned. It takes considerable effort to read these exchanges and resist the interpretation that there is a willful conspiracy of researchers and governments at work. I think the truth is elsewhere:
— The “climate change scientists” have allowed themselves to become too infatuated with their computer models, something that is always a danger for researchers. Scientists need hypotheses to guide their studies. Thereby they behave as though those hypotheses were known to be true, and it takes enormously powerful contrary evidence to shake their view, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out half a century ago (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1970 [2nd ed., enlarged; 1st ed. 1962]).
— Governments have felt it appropriate and safe to accept as certain whatever official institutions of science state to be the best current understanding. “Science” has “enjoyed” this on-a-pedestal status since the Second World War and its successes with atom bombs, penicillin, radar, etc. etc.
There is no grand conspiracy, just abysmal ignorance of what science is, in particular that a mainstream consensus never translates into certain truth. There is, however, a limited tawdry conspiracy by leading “climate scientists” not to let observers know exactly what the “scientists” have been doing and are doing. These gurus feel quite sure that their estimates, roundings-up and roundings-down, exaggerations, omissions, curve-smoothings, etc. etc. are perfectly justified and don’t distort the “essential” truth. Their sins are hubris, scientism, cognitive dissonance, but they are not consciously and willfully conspiring to mislead. They mislead nevertheless.

The blog I’ve cited ends with an important quote from President Eisenhower that I’ve used myself:
“We ourselves can’t avoid blame for the science disaster uncovered by Mr. FOIA. As Peter Foster of London’s Financial Times noted, we didn’t heed President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning. ‘Most people are aware of Ike’s warning in 1961 about the military-industrial complex,’ Foster wrote. Our fatal error was to ignore what he said next: ‘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’ [emphasis added].
That’s precisely what has happened with global warming (as well as with HIV/AIDS).

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As to the actual evidence about climate, note that it has not become warmer for at least 15 years even though the levels of “greenhouse” carbon dioxide has continued to increase:
“London’s Mail on Sunday newspaper ran an outraged feature based on the British Meteorological Office’s recent admission that global surface temperatures haven’t risen in more than 15 years. . . . : ‘Official predictions of global climate warming have been catastrophically flawed. The graph on this page blows apart the ‘scientific basis’ for Britain reshaping its entire economy and spending billions in taxes and subsidies in order to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The chart shows in incontrovertible detail how the speed of global warming has been massively overestimated. . . . The eco-debate was, in effect, hijacked by false data.’”

It would be funny if it weren’t so serious a matter, that mainstream human-caused global-warming enthusiasts grasp at straws to suggest, by hindsight, that they almost predicted this: “In retrospect, we ‘predicted’ global warming would slow”.

A convenient way to keep abreast of what “global-warming skeptics” and “climate-change denialists” are saying, and the continuing avalanche of evidence they cite, is to subscribe (free) to the Newsletter “The Week That Was” from the Science & Environmental Policy Project.  Also useful is the blog “Watts Up With That?

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Beyond Belief: Deadly vaccines for Africa and Asia

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/05/12

Here’s what’s known about Gardasil and Cervarix (see Deadly vaccines):
1. There’s no good evidence that they do anyone any good
2. There’s proof that they harm some people, at times even fatally

What then would one expect the manufacturers to do: Withdraw the vaccines?

Of course not. They would find a way to sell them despite the evidence:

Drugmakers, health groups bring poor girls vaccine (cr. AP, Linda A. Johnson)
“Two multinational drugmakers are teaming up with top global health groups to protect millions of girls in the world’s poorest countries from deadly cervical cancer.
Starting with pilot programs in eight Asian and African nations, the ambitious project ultimately is intended to inoculate more than 30 million girls in more than 40 countries by 2020. . . .
The endeavor was announced Thursday by the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership that’s worked with drugmakers to deliver affordable vaccines to poor countries to treat childhood illnesses that are big killers.”

The GAVI Alliance began as the “Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation”. The name change may seem trivial, but it reflects the fact that it’s all about marketing and fund-raising; as with too many other “charities”, those who benefit most are the staff of the organization who enjoy well-paying jobs with ample benefits — for example, about 15% of salaries of GAVI staff are paid into retirement plans or accounts, amounting to about $4 million in 2011. If you can find in the GAVI Alliance Financial Reports  more information than that about how many employees there are, who they are, or what their compensation is, then you’re a better investigator than I am.
But what do the drug companies get out of this arrangement?

“Merck will supply its Gardasil for $4.50 per dose, and Glaxo its Cervarix for $4.60 per dose. In the U.S., the shots cost well over $100 apiece, and a three-dose series over six months is required. . . . .
The goal is for the governments of those countries to show they can set up a national system . . . to provide the vaccines over the long term . . .
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., is providing 93 percent of the shots initially. It’s also agreed to provide more shots at an even-lower price in the future, if higher volumes of vaccines are ordered, as that would reduce production costs. . . .
In the U.S., the vaccines have become steady money makers since they were launched a half-dozen years ago, but they haven’t turned into the mega-sellers initially envisioned.”

I think it’s unlikely that Merck or Glaxo are planning to lose money on this. “Production costs” can be calculated in a number of different ways, of course, but I think one understands the present initiative best by looking at the marginal costs of producing more of these vaccines, in other words regarding the initial research and testing and marketing costs as done with and considering now only how much the actual cost of making more doses is. I would bet it’s less than $4.50-4.60 per dose.

But my disbelief at this initiative, and my cynicism and paranoia were aroused not only by the financial aspects. I was bemused — though not really surprised — to see the blatantly false claims of what these vaccines can prevent:
“The vaccines protect against the strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) . . . that most commonly cause cancer. The virus, transmitted during sex, causes cervical cancer as well as vaginal, vulvar, anal and oral cancers. The vaccines prevent roughly 70 percent of those cancers.”

There is no proof at all the vaccines prevent any cancer. All the evidence amounts to no more than that those strains of  HPV are often found in association with cervical cancer. That’s a correlation, which everyone should know is no proof of causation. The vaccines have not been in use for long enough for there to be any data about actually preventing cervical cancer.
As for “vaginal, vulvar, anal and oral cancers”, this was news to me, so I enquired further. And indeed the authorities do claim it to be so:

From the CDC:
“HPV types are often referred to as “low-risk” (wart-causing) or “high-risk” (cancer-causing), based on whether they put a person at risk for cancer.”
[This classification is guess-work. It is not known whether they cause cancer; everything is merely correlation]
”The International Agency for Research on Cancer found”
[NO: speculated]
”that 13 HPV types can cause cancer of the cervix; one of these types can cause”
[NO: pure speculation]
”cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and certain head and neck cancers (specifically, the oropharynx, which includes the back of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils). The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.
Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it. Usually, the body’s immune system gets rid of the HPV infection naturally within two years. This is true of both high-risk and low-risk types. By age 50, at least 4 out of every 5 women will have been infected with HPV at one point in their lives. HPV is also very common in men, and often has no symptoms” [emphasis added].
In other words, the risk from “high-risk” HPV is tiny at best. There are about 150 million women in the United States; so about 120 million (“4 out of every 5”)  had been infected with HPV at some time or other. In 2009, about 12,500 had been diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4000 died of it.

So the proportion of HPV-infected women
 who experience cervical cancer
 is 12,500/120,000,000 = 1/10,000 = 0.01%

When only 1 in 10,000 infected people experience illness, what sort of illness-causing infection is that?

As to cancers of “vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or the oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils)”; they “are much less common than cervical cancer. Much less is known about how many people with HPV will develop cancer in these areas.”
If they’re even less common, then of course their incidence is less than 0.01%.

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This business illustrates once again how untrustworthy are the pronouncements of official institutions.

The only grounds for claiming HPV to be a cause of any cancers is that HPV has been found in some proportion of certain cancers. Such correlation does not amount to evidence that the virus causes those cancers. Indeed, the claim of causation becomes truly absurd when correlations are used to estimate what proportion of cancers are caused by infectious agents in general:
“The estimated total of infection-attributable cancer in the year 2002 is 1.9 million cases, or 17.8% of the global cancer burden. The principal agents are the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (5.5% of all cancer), the human papilloma viruses (5.2%), the hepatitis B and C viruses (4.9%), Epstein-Barr virus (1%), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) together with the human herpes virus 8 (0.9%). Relatively less important causes of cancer are the schistosomes (0.1%), human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (0.03%) and the liver flukes (0.02%)”
(D. M. Parkin, “The global health burden of infection-associated cancers in the year 2002”, International Journal of Cancer, 118(2006) 3030-44).
There is no actual proof of causation in any of those cases. Everything is calculated on the basis of correlations.
It’s worth recalling that the “war on cancer” declared in 1971 in the USA had funded unprecedented amounts of research by virologists searching for viral causes of human cancer; but they failed to find any at all (Peter Duesberg, Inventing the AIDS Virus [Regnery, 1996] chapter 3). Even before 1971, for some six decades some researchers had looked unsuccessfully for viral causes of human cancers after Peyton Rous had found a viral cause of chicken tumors.

Lack of substantive success in finding any human cancers demonstrably caused by a virus has now morphed into the declaration that viruses cause some proportion of cancers because they are sometimes found associated with those cancers. In other words, viruses cause cancer because correlation proves causation.
The only possible cure for this diseased interpretation might be to demand that every medical researcher be required to take an elementary course in probability and statistics during which they are required every day to write for several hours the phrase

CORRELATION NEVER PROVES CAUSATION

Posted in medical practices, science is not truth | Tagged: , , | 32 Comments »