Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for September, 2020

CoVID19: what do we really know?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/15

A visitor to my website sent me this email:

“Hello Dr Bauer. I just read your 2002 article on Confessions of an AIDS Denialist. . . . You must have a lot to say about COVID-19! I . . . would be interested in your view.”

I suspect that my reply will have been rather disappointing:

“I had a lot of fairly reliable data about AIDS and HIV, but there’s a great lack of sound, reliable data about the present circumstances.

AIDS was first noticed and named in the early 1980s, and I looked into it seriously some 20 years later. With CoVID-19, even well-informed experts have been revising their views steadily as more information comes in.

At least one thing is clear already, thanks in part to what has been learned about HIV/AIDS: There is no reliable gold-standard test for diagnosing infection by the supposed coronavirus. HIV/AIDS can be blamed for that because it was with HIV that virologists first allowed the medical profession to use antibody tests and PCR tests as diagnostic of infection even as the published peer-reviewed mainstream literature stated quite clearly that these tests could not establish the presence of infection and should not be used for diagnosis.

The reason is that pure virions, particles of HIV, have never been isolated direct from an AIDS patient.

CoVID-19 infection is being diagnosed on the basis of PCR tests without isolation of actual virus. Even if the bits of RNA or DNA being picked up by PCR could be known to be like some components of a coronavirus, that would not demonstrate that they actually originated from particles of such a virus. As De Harven  had pointed out with respect to HIV tests, what PCR picks up might come from random circulating pieces of DNA or RNA or from the expression of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs).

I think John Ioannidis Is trying honestly and without preconceptions or conflicts of interest to understand CoVID-19, and he is eminently qualified to do so. His most recent analysis  suggests that the virulence of CoVID-19 is comparable to that of the respiratory virus(es) underlying really bad so-called flu seasons.

The numbers that are being thrown around in the mass media are more misleading than informative. For instance, numbers of cases are continually reported and publicized as disastrous without any information about the symptomatic levels of those cases.

In my view, the clearest indication that deaths can be ascribed to the influence of a novel coronavirus is the data on excess all-cause deathshttps://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm

https://www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps

Both in Europe and in the United States, it seems that 2020 is definitely worse than the bad flu season of 2018.

The comparative data for European countries do not yield obvious information about the best way of handling the present infectious agent.

I think that one more thing is, however, quite clear: we do not properly understand why excess deaths are typically somewhat higher during “flu seasons”. Is it simply that when the weather becomes more wintry, mortality increases? Of course particularly among those who are the least healthy, which tends to be among those of greater age? Do respiratory viruses play a significant role in this? If so, should some of the measures now being advocated also be practiced during all winter seasons? What is the actual efficacy, if any, of vaccinating against flu?

I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories that regard the pandemic as planned by governments, agencies, and corporations (e.g. the Gates Foundation) as a step toward increasing domination and control of the general population. I do believe very strongly, however, that the circumstances are being made considerably worse for most people through deliberate actions of pharmaceutical companies, associated conflicts of interest among legislatures and executives, and widespread general incompetence, together with the lack of an impartial, authoritative source of scientific knowledge and understanding.

A sad lesson from HIV/AIDS is that official agencies dealing with medicine in general and virology in particular are not truly competent. Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield, the CDC as a whole, the World Health Organization, etc., continue to be quite wrong about HIV/AIDS. And the approval of drugs and medical devices is incompetent or corrupt or both, and is no safeguard against products pushed by the pharmaceutical companies even when their potential benefits are greatly outweighed by the risks and harms; look no further than HPV vaccines, for example.”

Posted in medical practices, peer review, science is not truth | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Patriotism, ideology, science, politics

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/11

The development of atomic weapons during the Second World War is widely regarded as an enormous achievement of science — though it would be described more accurately as an enormous practical, interdisciplinary, achievement with contributions from engineers as well as chemists, physicists, mathematicians — and not forgetting that government played an entirely necessary role in providing and arranging appropriate administration and resources.

Not widely remembered nowadays is the fuss, the outrage aroused by the matter of espionage concerning atomic weaponry, in particular that some details of the technical developments were shared secretly with the Soviet Union by some dedicated communists in the USA and in Britain.

Those who did this secret sharing are commonly described as traitors. However, some of them and some of their supporters defended their actions by appealing to an idealistic ideology of science as a universal public good that belongs properly to all of humankind and not just to those who make discoveries or to the discoverer’s institutions or nations.

That attempt at rationalization and excusing, blatantly self-serving, will hardly carry much weight with most of us, but there are less extreme instances where the relation between science and politics, ideology and patriotism, can be troubling and far from clear-cut.

Nowadays, for example, politically liberal skeptics about global warming and climate change may confront — or talk themselves into — a dilemma: the hegemonic attribution of climate change to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide is factually wrong: see blog posts listed below; but universal recognition of that would be a political triumph for right-leaning political groups and a severe undermining of the credibility of left-leaning groups and environmental activists. Belief in human-coerced climate change and global warming (AGW, for anthropogenic global warming) has become an unquestioned dogma among politically left-leaning individuals and groups whereas that belief is questioned or pooh-poohed almost only by those on the political right.

Should the truth about climate change, global warming, and carbon dioxide be suppressed in the fear that universal recognition of that truth might contribute to political successes by such authoritarian right-wing movements as those supporting President Donald Trump?

Dilemmas of that ilk are unavoidable so long as there is no authoritative source of scientific knowledge and understanding that is universally recognized as impartial, unbiased, non-partisan, trustworthy.

The only suggestion for what such a source could be is a Science Court that could earn the sort of respect that is accorded the United States Supreme Court in its better decisions. Prominent among the considerable number of non-trivial problems facing the possible establishing of such an institution is how to harness the political willingness and energy for such an establishment from all sides and shades of the political spectrum.

In reason, though, every individual and every political and ideological sect ought to recognize that it is to their clear individual advantage if the actual facts of the real world were in harmony with their beliefs, so that they could cite the authority of the Court as legitimation of their own particular ideology. Everyone and every group should therefore welcome the establishment of a universally agreed source of scientific knowledge and understanding.

Bringing one’s worldview or religion or ideology into harmony with material reality would also avoid the cognitive dissonance that threatens scientifically minded people whose religious or ideological sect preaches things that are at odds with scientifically established views. Thus many Catholics and fundamentalist Christians and their institutions will have been greatly relieved when the Pope finally acknowledged that evolution is more than a theory.

As the posts listed below illustrate, the evidence is quite overwhelming against the theory of human-caused global warming (AGW, anthropogenic global warming), yet it has become globally hegemonic, and contrarian dissenters are ignored or maligned or suppressed or censored or otherwise persecuted. I suggest that this topic in itself shows how sorely needed is a truly impartial and trusted institution for assessing scientific evidence and its interpretation, a Science Court. I discuss it in chapter 12 of Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017).

 

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A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?
Climate-change science and cover-ups
Climate models are wrong — Surprise??
Mainstream propaganda by the BBC about denialism and global warming
Evidence-based global-warming science?
Climate change is responsible for everything, as everyone knows (but what everyone knows is usually wrong)
Sea-Level-Rise Hysteria
Climate–change beliefs are politically and not scientifically determined
Freeman Dyson on climate change
Psychological toll of climate-science belief
Climate change “deniers”
The political division over climate change
Who can be trusted about science? Not the Royal Society of London or the National Academy of the United States
Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide
Climate-change orthodoxy: alternative facts, uncertainty equals certainty, projections are not predictions, and other absurdities of the “scientific consensus”
What science says about global warming and climate change
Slowing of global warming officially confirmed — by reading between the lines
The consensus against human causation of global warming and climate change
Human-caused global warming as Groupthink
Australian university fires climate-change dissenter: dissent is not collegial…
What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review

Posted in consensus, denialism, global warming | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why skepticism about science and medicine?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/06

My skepticism is not about science and medicine as sources or repositories of objective knowledge and understanding. Skepticism is demanded by the fact that what society learns about science and medicine is mediated by human beings. That brings in a host of reasons for skepticism: human fallibility, individual and institutional self-interest, conflicts of interest, sources of bias and prejudice.

I have never come across a better discussion of the realities about science and its role in society than Richard Lewontin’s words in his book, Biology as Ideology (Anansi Press 1991, HarperPerennial 1992; based on 1990 Massey Lectures, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation):

“Science is a social institution about which there is a great deal of misunderstanding, even among those who are part of it. . . [It is] completely integrated into and influenced by the structure of all our other social institutions. The problems that science deals with, the ideas that it uses in investigating those problems, even the so-called scientific results that come out of scientific investigation, are all deeply influenced by predispositions that derive from the society in which we live. Scientists do not begin life as scientists, after all, but as social beings immersed in a family, a state, a productive structure, and they view nature through a lens that has been molded by their social experience.
. . . science is molded by society because it is a human productive activity that takes time and money, and so is guided by and directed by those forces in the world that have control over money and time. Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it. does it. More than that, those forces have the power to appropriate from science ideas that are particularly suited to the maintenance and continued prosperity of the social structures of which they are a part. So other social institutions have an input into science both in what is done and how it is thought about, and they take from science concepts and ideas that then support their institutions and make them seem legitimate and natural. . . .
Science serves two functions. First, it provides us with new ways of manipulating the material world . . . . [Second] is the function of explanation” (pp. 3-4). And (p. 5) explaining how the world works also serves as legitimation.

Needed skepticism takes into account that every statement disseminated about science or medicine serves in some way the purpose(s), the agenda(s), of the source or sources of that statement.

So the first thing to ask about any assertion about science or medicine is, why is this statement being made by this particular source?

Statements by pharmaceutical companies, most particularly their advertisements, should never be believed, because, as innumerable observers and investigators have documented, the profit motive has outweighed any concern for the harm that unsafe medications cause even as there is no evidence for definite potential benefit. The best way to decide on whether or not to prescribe or use a drug is by comparing NNT and NNH, the odds on getting benefit compared to the odds of being harmed; but NNT and NNH are never reported by drug companies. For example, there is no evidence whatsoever that HPV vaccination decreases the risk of any cancer; all that has been observed is that the vaccines may decrease genital warts. On the other hand, many individuals have suffered grievous harm from “side” effects of these vaccines (see Holland 2018 in the bibliography cited just below, and the documentary, Sacrificial Virgins. TV ads by Merck, for example in August 2020 on MSNBC, cite the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as recommending the vaccine not only for girls but also for boys.

For fully documented discussions of the pervasive misdeeds of drug companies, consult the books listed in my periodically updated bibliography, What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine.
I recommend particularly Angell 2004, Goldacre 2013, Gøtzsche 2013, Healy 2012, Moynihan, & Cassels 2005. Greene 2007 is a very important but little-cited book describing how numbers and surrogate markers have come to dominate medical practice, to the great harm of patients.

Official reports may be less obviously deceitful than drug company advertisements, but they are no more trustworthy, as argued in detail and with examples in “Official reports are not scientific publications”, chapter 3 in my Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012):
“reports from official institutions and organizations . . . are productions by bureaucracies . . . . The actual authors of these reports are technical writers whose duties are just like those of press secretaries, advertising writers, and other public-relations personnel: to put on the actual evidence and conclusions the best possible spin to reinforce the bureaucracy’s viewpoint and emphasize the importance of the bureaucracy’s activities.
Most important: The Executive Summaries, Forewords, Prefaces, and the like may tell a very different story than does the actual evidence in the bulk of the reports. It seems that few if any pundits actually read the whole of such documents. The long public record offers sad evidence that most journalists certainly do not look beyond these summaries into the meat of the reports, given that the media disseminate uncritically so many of the self-serving alarums in those Executive Summaries” (p. 213).

So too with press releases from academic institutions.

As for statements direct from academic and professional experts, recall that, as Lewontin pointed out, “people earn their living by science”. Whenever someone regarded as an expert or authority makes public statements, an important purpose is to enhance the status, prestige, career, profitability, of who is making the statement. This is not to suggest that such statements are made with deliberate dishonesty; but the need to preserve status, as well as the usual illusion that what one believes is actually true, ensures that such statements will be dogmatically one-sided assertions, not judicious assessments of the objective state of knowledge.

Retired academic experts like myself no longer suffer conflicts of interest at a personal or institutional-loyalty level. When we venture critiques of drug companies, official institutions, colleges and universities, and even individual “experts” or former colleagues, we will be usually saying what we genuinely believe to be unvarnished truth. Nevertheless, despite the lack of major obvious conflicts of interest, one should have more grounds than that for believing what we have to say. We may still have an unacknowledged agenda, for instance a desire still to do something useful even as our careers are formally over. Beyond that, of course, like any other human beings, we may simply be wrong, no matter that we ourselves are quite sure that we are right. Freedom from frank, obvious conflicts of interest does not bring with it some superhuman capacity for objectivity let alone omniscience.

In short:
Believe any assertion about science or medicine, from any source, at your peril.
If the matter is of any importance to you, you had best do some investigating of evidence and facts, and comparison of diverse interpretations.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, medical practices, peer review, politics and science, science is not truth, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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