Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for January, 2019

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].



[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


Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, funding research, global warming, media flaws, peer review, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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?


[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:

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 »

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