Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for April, 2014

Media malpractice: Misleading is worse than lying

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/04/06

That misleading is far worse and more reprehensible than “white lies” is nicely argued by mathematician Paul Halmos (I Want to Be a Mathematician, Springer Verlag, 1985, pp. 113-14).

One of the worst ways to mislead, because it is undetectable by people not informed by quite specialized and specific knowledge, is the omission of significant information, very much including the insights of experts who differ from a mainstream consensus.

Some 30-odd senior academics recently signed a letter to The Guardian (“We need more scientific mavericks”)  that reiterates what historians of science and other scholars have known and have been saying for decades: Any mainstream consensus is merely temporary. Progress of science has always seen the modifying, often even rejecting and overturning, of an earlier mainstream consensus. But nowadays “peer review, of course, [is] discouraging open-ended inquiries and serious challenges to prevailing orthodoxies. Mavericks once played an essential role in research. Indeed, their work defined the 20th century. We must relearn how to support them”.

That letter fails to mention the damage that the media do routinely by ignoring the insights of the mavericks, their differences with the mainstream consensus, even as some (of course not all) of the currently maverick views will become a future mainstream consensus — albeit again only temporarily. Since the media routinely fail to mention the existence of dissenting views of competent experts — or, even worse, to dismiss them as “denialism”  or “junk science” or “pseudo-science” — the media entrench belief in what may be mistaken mainstream theories and practices.

This blog was stimulated by a short segment on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” (ABC TV, 6 April 2014). A rising incidence of measles was attributed to increasing reluctance of parents to have their children vaccinated — largely among the better-off who, it was said by one of the invited experts (a journalist), thought they were immune from diseases that afflict largely the poor. Not even the report of a single interview was offered in support of this speculative inference.
I suggest that a much more defensible inference about the motives of those parents would be that they recognize how untrustworthy official medical information and practices have become, as described in dozens of works by mainstream insiders.
Regarding vaccines in particular, the benefits reaped long ago from vaccines against measles, whooping cough, polio, smallpox have become invisible because of the very fact of those benefits, largely eliminating the diseases. By contrast, quite prominent is the propaganda for “vaccination against cervical cancer” with Cervarix or Gardasil. That propaganda, from impeccably mainstream authorities, proclaims an unproven benefit — unprovable for decades! — and ignore the proven damage already done to a significant numbers of young people.

It’s not only in medicine, of course, that the media fail to even mention dissenting experts, no matter how commonsensically and obviously right they are. For recent example, almost none of the punditry about Putin and Crimea has emphasized that Crimea was part of Russia until recently and that Russia is as naturally concerned about encroachments from the West as the USA is against encroachments into Cuba and Latin America from apparent allies of Russia. Only one or two short TV segments have allowed the voice to be heard of “Stephen F. Cohen, a veteran Russian scholar at New York University and Princeton”  whose comments are not only well informed, soundly based in thorough historical understanding, and obviously commonsensical, but demonstrated to be very probably the right insights because they have been viciously attacked from both sides of the political spectrum.

 

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Posted in consensus, denialism, media flaws, medical practices, peer review | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »