Skepticism about science and medicine

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Archive for the ‘conflicts of interest’ Category

Speaking Truth to Big Pharma Power

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/03/18

Some time ago I recommended the newsletter of Mad in America, a diligent and reliable commentary on the flaws of modern psychiatric medicine.

A recent issue had links to a superb series of articles by David Healy, a psychiatrist who has spoken truth to Big Pharma and to the conventional (lack of) wisdom, at considerable personal cost. Healy also founded a website with information about dru side effects, RxRisk:
Tweeting While Psychiatry Burns
Tweeting while Medicine Burns (Psychopharmacology Part 2)
Burn Baby Burn (Psychopharmacology Part 3)

Also useful in this newsletter, link to a report of a meta-analysis confirming the Minimal Effectiveness and High Risk of SSRIs

Posted in conflicts of interest, medical practices, politics and science, prescription drugs, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientists are human | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

How Science Has Changed — notably since World War II

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/01/01

The way science is usually mentioned, including its history, seems to imply a fundamental continuity in the development of modern science from its origins around the 16th-17th centuries (Galileo, Newton) to the present time, via the understanding of heredity (Mendel, much later DNA), of evolution (Darwin, Lynn Margolis, many others), of atomic structure and chemical bonding, of relativity and quantum mechanics, and much else.

One can certainly discern a continuity in these discoveries and accumulations of facts and the development of ever-better, more encompassing explanations. But the nature of scientific activity — who does science and how they do it — is best understood not as a continuum over this period but as three clearly distinguishable stages in which the interaction of science with society as a whole is significantly different: what the social place of scientists is, how their work is supported, how the fruits of science are disseminated and how they are accepted (or not accepted) outside science itself.

To understand the role of science in today’s worlds it is essential to understand this history.

The birth of “modern” science is credited uncontroversially to “The” Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, but there is not equally general recognition that there have been three distinctly and significantly different stages of scientific activity since then.

In the first stage, a variety of people — clergy, craftsmen, aristocrats, entrepreneurs —were seeking to satisfy their curiosity about how the world works; truth-seeking was effectively in the hands of amateurs, people doing it for the sake of doing it, truth-seeking was their chief controlling interest. Missteps taken at this stage resulted chiefly from the inherent difficulty of making discoveries and from such inherent human flaws as pride and avarice.

The second stage, roughly much of the later 19th century and first half of the 20th, saw science becoming a career, a plausible way to make a living, not unlike other careers in academe or in professions like engineering: respectable and potentially satisfying but not any obvious path to great influence or wealth. Inevitably there were conflicts of interest between furthering a career and following objectively where evidence pointed, but competition and collegiality served well   enough to keep the progress of science little affected by conflicting career interests. The way to get ahead was by doing good science.

In the third and present stage, which began at about the middle of the 20th century, science faces a necessary change in ethos as its centuries-long expansion at an exponential rate has changed to a zero-sum, steady-state situation that has fostered intensely cutthroat competition. At the same time, the record of science’s remarkable previous successes has led industry and government to co-opt and exploit science and scientists. Those interactions offer the possibility for individual practitioners of science to gain considerable public influence and wealth. That possibility tempts to corruption. Outright fraud in research has become noticeably more frequent, and public pronouncements about matters of science are made not for the purpose of enlightenment on truths about the natural world but largely for self-interested bureaucratic and commercial motives. As a result. one cannot nowadays rely safely on the soundness of what authoritative institutions and individuals say about science.

For a full discussion with pertinent citations and references, see my article “Three Stages of Modern Science”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 27 (2013) 505-13.

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in science, funding research, politics and science, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientists are human | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Trust medical science at your peril (2): What is the evidence, especially in psychiatry?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2016/07/15

All too often, the evidence turns out to be nothing more than statistical association: “Trust medical science at your peril: Correlations never prove causation”.

A particular example of confusing association with causation is the reliance on biomarkers:

“The Institute of Medicine Report, Evaluation of Biomarkers and Surrogate Endpoints in Chronic Disease (IOM 2010), finds that none of the commonly used biomarkers is a valid measure of the illness it supposedly tracks. As to subsequent treatment, Järvinen et al. have pointed out that ‘There are no valid data on the effectiveness . . . [of] statins, antihypertensives, and bisphosphanates’ (the last, e.g. Fosamax, are prescribed against osteoporosis) — British Medical Journal, 342 (2011) doi: 10.1136/bmj.d2175.
That last quote is surely an astonishing assertion, given that innumerable individuals are being fed statins and blood-pressure drugs and bisphosphanates not because they feel ill in any way but purely on the basis of levels of biomarkers (bone density in the case of bisphosphanates)” (Everyone is sick?)

Supporting evidence is sadly lacking for a wide range of accepted, standard medical practices. For at least a couple of decades, insiders and well-informed observers have described and documented the failings of modern medicine: “What’s wrong with present -day medicine”.

Bad as things are with the treatment of physical illnesses, they are much worse where psychiatry is involved. This blog post was stimulated by the informative article, “In Search of an Evidence-based Role for Psychiatry” by John Read, Olga Runciman, & Jacqui Dillon.

I had learned of it through the Newsletter of Mad in America, an excellent website dedicated to disseminating reliable information about psychiatric matters. One can sign up for the Newsletter at


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Trust medical science at your peril: Correlations never prove causation

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2016/06/28

It was a long-known empirical fact that poverty, vagrancy, criminality, and apparently deficient intelligence all correlated with heredity to a considerable extent; they all ran in families and clans. The scientific confirmation that characteristics of animals are passed on from generation to generation, and the Darwin-Wallace explanation of evolution by natural selection of the fittest, made it possible to understand those aspects of human society. It was an obvious, scientifically sound conclusion that human societies could be steadily improved by restricting reproduction of the less fit and expanding the fertility of the fittest. Hence the eugenics movement, promoted by the most progressive, liberal people who were also the best educated, with an apparently justified faith in the reliability of what was at the time the most up-to-date the scientific knowledge (Trust science at your peril: Beware of scientism and political correctness). Those circumstances led to forced sterilization of tens of thousands in America and reinforced Nazis in their doctrines and practices of mass killing of the unfit — Jews, gypsies, homosexuals (Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, 2003).

Only in hindsight did the flaws and errors of the earlier scientific consensus become clear. We now appreciate that environmental and developmental influences can modify heritable traits quite dramatically. “Ill-bred” can be the result of social, economic, environmental factors as much, perhaps even more than any pre-ordained verdict of genetics; and “well-bred” individuals can spring from what might seem the least promising hereditary stock. In other words, the observed correlation between undesired social characteristics and clans was misinterpreted through neglecting the variable of environmental effects.

One lesson to be drawn is that bad science, wrong science, what some even call pseudo-science, can remain the accepted scientific consensus for decades, even in quite modern times, say, the middle of the 20th century. It is unlikely that a mere half-a-century later our societies have become immune from assuming that a mainstream scientific consensus must be true to Nature. Nothing guards our times from treating unjustified, misguided scientific claims as good science.

Unwarranted claims coming from scientists continue to be accepted if they appear minimally plausible and if they are consistent with world-views and vested interests of financial, social, or political powers.

The most sweeping lesson that remains to be learned is that correlations must never be taken as demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship: there might always be in play an unsuspected variable. One of the earliest axioms taught in Statistics 101 is that correlations never prove causation. The evident correlation between biological kinship and undesirable behavioral traits was not a cause-and-effect relationship.

Many or most people have never learned that basic truth that correlations are not causes. Many others “know” it as a generalization but fail to apply it in specific instances, when an evident correlation could plausibly reflect cause and consequence — just as a genetic basis for undesirable characteristics seemed quite plausible to educated and expert people not so long ago.

Indeed, a large swath of modern medical practices is based on mistaking mere correlations for evidence of causation (“Correlations: Plausible or implausible, NONE prove causation”). For example:

HPV and cervical cancer

The National Cancer Institute offers a great deal of information about this:

Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are a group of more than 200 related viruses. . . Sexually transmitted HPV types fall into two categories:
— Low-risk HPVs, which do not cause cancer but can cause skin warts (technically known as condylomata acuminata) on or around the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat. For example, HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of all genital warts. HPV types 6 and 11 also cause recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a less common disease in which benign tumors grow in the air passages leading from the nose and mouth into the lungs.
— High-risk HPVs, which can cause cancer. About a dozen high-risk HPV types have been identified. Two of these, HPV types 16 and 18, are responsible for most HPV-caused cancers. . . .
>> Cervical cancer: Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and just two HPV types, 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70 percent of all cases . . . .
>> Anal cancer: About 95 percent of anal cancers are caused by HPV. Most of these are caused by HPV type 16.
>> Oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the middle part of the throat, including the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils): About 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV. In the United States, more than half of cancers diagnosed in the oropharynx are linked to HPV type 16 (9).
>> Rarer cancers: HPV causes about 65 percent of vaginal cancers, 50 percent of vulvar cancers, and 35 percent of penile cancers (. . . .) Most of these are caused by HPV type 16.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention offer advice on avoiding HPV cancers:

— Bivalent, quadrivalent and 9-valent HPV vaccines each target HPV 16 and 18, types that cause about 66% of cervical cancers and the majority of other HPV-associated cancers in both women and men in the United States. 9-valent HPV vaccine also targets five additional cancer causing types (HPV 31, 33, 45, 52, 58) which account for about 15% of cervical cancers. Quadrivalent and 9-valent HPV vaccines also protect against HPV 6 and 11, types that cause anogenital warts.
— Quadrivalent and 9-valent HPV vaccines are licensed for use in females and males; bivalent HPV vaccine is licensed for use in females.
What percent of HPV-associated cancers in females and males are caused by the 5 additional types in the 9-valent HPV vaccine?
— About 14% of HPV-associated cancers in females (approximately 2800 cases annually) and 4% of HPV-associated cancers in males (approximately 550 cases annually) are caused by the 5 additional types in the 9-valent HPV vaccine.

What evidence is there for these extremely specific claims of causation?

None, actually. The cited facts are merely that the stated strains of HPV have been detected in those proportions of those cancers. Those correlations don’t begin to indicate causation.

It may be worth recalling that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in the early 1990s had officially stated, on the basis of the same sort of data (epidemiology, i.e. correlations), that cervical cancer was an AIDS disease, caused by HIV.

One may sympathize with medical researchers for the impossibility of conducting experiments that would be capable of proving cause-and-effect; ethical, legal, and moral restraints make it unfeasible to use human beings as experimental guinea pigs. There would also be practical barriers: To determine whether a given treatment, in this case a vaccine, actually prevents cancer, a clinical trial would be necessary that spanned over decades and enrolled large numbers of human guinea-pigs, some of whom (controls) would not get potentially-cancer-preventing vaccine.

However, the inability to obtain proof does not justify proclaiming as fact, as these official agencies do, causative relations that are no more than speculation based on statistical correlations.

[The vaccines] “Gardasil and Cervarix have not been shown to be of any significant health benefit. They have been demonstrated to cause serious injuries. It’s scandalous that they were ever approved, and it’s scandalous that they remain on the market.

And they are far from alone on those scores among new prescription medications introduced in the last couple of decades” (Deadly vaccines, 2013/04/17

Alzheimer’s Disease

Sleep disorders may raise risk of Alzheimer’s, new research shows
Sleep disturbances such as apnea may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, while moderate exercise in middle age and mentally stimulating games, such as crossword puzzles, may prevent the onset of the dementia-causing disease, according to new research to be presented Monday

A daily high dose of Vitamin E may slow early Alzheimer’s disease

Again, these are correlations speculated to be possible causes.

Semantics no doubt plays a role. One could report that sleep disorders, and lack of vitamin E, seem to be associated with a risk of Alzheimer’s. Medical jargon puts it like this: “sleep disorders, and lack of vitamin E, are risk factors for Alzheimer’s”. Then the media and public conclude that “risk factor” means something that tends to cause the associated effect.

See also “60 MINUTES on aging — correlations or causes?


It is not feasible to test treatments for chronic conditions by actual outcome, because one would have to wait a couple of decades to determine whether regimen A or drug B reduces morbidity and mortality apparently associated with high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, or high blood sugar, or low bone density, etc. All those are statistically correlated with increased morbidity and mortality. They are risk factors.

Present-day medical dogma makes them biomarkers for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone fracture, in other words indicators of whether the disease is present. But that is tantamount to making those quantities measures of actual risk, in other words regarding them as measures of what causes those ailments, in other words equating risk factors with causes.

Official reports, however, as well as the many studies on which those reports are based, find that biomarkers are not proper measures of risk after all. See:

“Everyone is sick?”

“‘Hypertension’: An illness that isn’t illness”

“Cholesterol is good for you”


Unfortunately, they were not joking

“Magical statistics: Hearing loss causes dementia”


The overall lesson:

“Don’t take a pill if you’re not ill”

The ignorant acceptance of correlations as capable of demonstrating causation is greatly reinforced in medical matters by the pharmaceutical industry, which sells drugs as palliatives and preventatives based on nothing more than correlations with biomarkers.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, media flaws, medical practices, prescription drugs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Trust science at your peril: Beware of scientism and political correctness

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2016/06/25

Science is, ideally, a quest for authentic understanding of the world, of everything in the universe. Scientism is a religious faith which preaches that only science is capable of gaining such authentic understanding and that contemporary scientific claims are for all practical purposes true.

In reality, science is a perpetually unfinished quest. The history of science tells of false trails followed, of errors made, of misguided theories held dogmatically long after the evidence had turned against them, of researchers motivated by self-interest and influenced — corrupted, in a sense — by conflicts of interest.

Science has progressed marvelously, but the progress has not come steadily and linearly, it has come through continual correction of minor errors as well as periodic scientific revolutions in which former dogmas were discarded and replaced by different theories, different beliefs, different dogmas, sometimes to an extent capable of changing world-views.

Those realities have been described and documented in many articles and books over many decades (1), yet the conventional wisdom seems ignorant of them. In the popular view, science deploys the scientific method which guarantees getting things right through scrupulous adherence to facts, so that the scientific consensus on any given topic at any given time can supposedly be relied on quite safely to guide personal and public actions.

People who question the mainstream view, the official positions disseminated by such bodies as the National Academy, the Royal Society of London, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, etc., are dismissed as ignoramuses on a par with those who still believe that the Earth is flat, and they are denigrated, attacked, and suppressed as “denialists” — for example, the eminently qualified scientists who question whether HIV really causes AIDS (2), or whether carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming (3), or whether the universe began in a Big Bang about 13 billion years ago (4).

In other words, the officially accepted conventional wisdom functions as an exercise of scientism, proclaiming as true — as not to be questioned — any contemporary claims that have the imprimatur of a prevailing scientific consensus.

The most common popular, mass-media-disseminated beliefs about science fall in line with the official scientistic conventional wisdom. Prominent popularizers of the scientistic faith include people sometimes described as the “New Atheists” — see for instance Curtis White in The Science Delusion (Melville House, 2014), who names among others Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Bill Mahler. Self-styled “Skeptics” (for instance Michael Shermer and the late Martin Gardner) are also apostles of scientism, as illustrated in associated publications (Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer).

But promiscuously indiscriminate faith in currently accepted scientific knowledge is unwarranted. One does not need the immense scholarly literature (1) to recognize that, it is already obvious from first principles and fundamental logic:

–>      Science is carried out by human beings and is therefore inherently fallible.

–>      Scientific theories are neither uniquely determined nor proved by any amount of factual evidence. The proverbial black swans demonstrate that no matter how comprehensive or long-standing any given body of evidence and associated explanations may be, no matter that an hypothesis may have been thoroughly tested and accepted via the scientific method, there may remain lurking in the unknown unknown some bits of data that can disprove the accepted theory instantly and devastatingly.

The popular adherence to scientistic dogmas is immensely dangerous because it may support public policies that cause tangible damage, sometimes on a large scale. Historical examples are fairly well known, but their lesson has not been learned; perhaps because a corollary of contemporary scientistic faith seems to be the notion, implicit if not explicit, that even if science was fallible in earlier times, today’s science is so advanced, so sophisticated, that it is no longer dangerously fallible. That and similar corollaries are acts of faith unsupported by evidence, thereby confirming that scientism is a quasi-religious faith: it is unshakeable, embraced as absolutely and self-evidently true.

A couple of recent books (5) describe the considerable damage done by public policies based on a scientific consensus which remained active during something like half of the 20th century: the policies of forced sterilization of purportedly feeble-minded individuals. This was an exercise in eugenics, a program intended to improve the national genetic stock, and it was supported and justified by the prevailing scientific consensus.

In reviewing these books, David Oshinsky focuses on the Supreme Court’s 8-to-1 decision in 1927, written by the revered Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and agreed to by the “liberal” Jewish Louis Brandeis as well as by 6 other Associate Justices, upholding the forced sterilization of those judged to be mentally defective: “Was it an isolated misstep or something more: an indictment of Justice Holmes and the Progressive movement he appeared to embrace?” (6).

Oshinsky describes the IMBECILES book by Cohen as “a superb history of eugenics in America, from its beginnings as an offshoot of social Darwinism — human survival of the fittest — to its rise as a popular movement, advocating the state-sponsored sterilization of ‘feeble­minded, insane, epileptic, inebriate, criminalistic and other degenerate persons’.”

The point I want to make here is that the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans, which continued in some States into the 1960s, is nowadays described as an outrage based on pseudo-science, yet it had relied on what was regarded at the time as perfectly sound science supported fervently by individuals whose reputation remains that of progressive reformers: as well as Justices Holmes and Brandeis, strong advocates of this eugenic program included other “progressive icons like Theodore Roosevelt and the birth control champion Margaret Sanger . . . . people who combined ‘extravagant faith in science and the state with an outsized confidence in their own expertise.’ . . . Science didn’t lie” (6).

This notion that science doesn’t lie, that it can always be believed, is a tenet of scientism, and it is baseless, quite wrong, as already noted. Yet this notion, this subconscious scientism continues to corrupt public discourse. Scientism is a faith held unwittingly by most popular media, including such elites as the New York Times; and it is held, again unwittingly, by today’s sociopolitical progressives or liberals.

When some claims by some scientists seem plausibly consistent with liberal, progressive programs, activists seize on them, make dogmas of the claims, and denigrate and attack those who disagree as unscientific denialists.

This circumstance is what has come to be called in recent decades “political correctness”: certain views are to be accepted as so self-evidently correct, objectively true — and by the way ethically and morally sound — that disagreeing with them is virtually a criminal act; and indeed actions that are politically incorrect may bring sanctions. Contemporary illustrations of such sanctions are the penalties imposed by colleges and universities on students and faculty who make politically incorrect statements, including the mere use of a word or a phrase that acts as a “trigger”, a “micro-aggression” that makes some individual belonging to a certified-discriminated-against minority feel uncomfortable (7).

That something is politically correct is shown when people who have no direct specific knowledge about a topic express with certainty a dogmatic opinion about it. They have obviously taken this opinion on faith, from sources congenial to them on ideological grounds, which may be based religiously, socially, politically — at any rate, not on actual evidence about the matter.

Contemporary scientific claims that have attained the status of politically correct include that HIV causes AIDS and that human-caused liberation of carbon dioxide is the prime cause of climate change. The manner in which media and individuals refer to these matters is an immediate proof that opinions about them are politically correct, not evidence-based.

For example, the vigilantes who most assiduously and viciously attack those who question whether HIV causes AIDS include an economist (Nicoli Nattrass), a graduate student (Ken Witwer), a psychologist (Seth Kalichman), a lawyer (Jeanne Bergman), an activist (Nathan Geffen) and others, all of whom feel qualified, despite their lack of appropriate qualifications, to denigrate eminent molecular biologists with deep knowledge of the subject, and even to demand that the National Library of Medicine remove a journal from MEDLINE (8).

Left-leaning media (say, MSNBC) treat HIV=AIDS as indisputable settled science; right-leaning media (say, Fox News) doubt that HIV causes AIDS.

Left-leaning media treat as indisputably settled science that human activities are responsible for global warming and climate change; right-leaning media doubt or deny that.

Nature, however, will not be mocked, and the truth is not determined by human ideologies. Public policies (and also private actions, of course) had best be based on the soundest, most probing and skeptical assessment of current knowledge-claims in light of the indisputable fact that no contemporary scientific consensus represents guaranteed truth.

If the present scientistic, politically correct beliefs about HIV/AIDS and about climate change are as misguided as were the scientistic, politically correct beliefs about mental deficiency and eugenics, then immense harm is being done and will continue to be done. Unfortunately, the plain evidence is that HIV does not cause AIDS (9, 10), and the notion that human activities are responsible for global warming and climate change is suggested only by highly complicated, sophisticated, and fallible computer programs that have already been wrong about the global cooling in the 1940s to 1970s and the lack of appreciable warming since about 2000 (4).

Forced sterilization as part of a eugenic program to improve the fitness of the population was supported by progressive reformers and by eminent medical and scientific experts. That physical traits are transmitted from one generation to another was known, scientifically as well as popularly. That behavioral characteristics are similarly transmitted was not obviously wrong, and when sanctioned by experts it became the conventional wisdom. So feeble-minded-ness, epilepsy, poverty, criminality and other socially undesirable characteristics came to be targets for elimination, by quarantining or sterilizing people and families where such characteristics had been noted (11). There was not sufficient dissent within expert communities to prevent what is now recognized as pseudo-science from becoming accepted as settled science, during the early decades of the 20th century: “Less than 100 years ago, America’s finest minds were convinced the nation was threatened by sexually insatiable female morons” (12). Those finest minds included, as well as the earlier mentioned progressive reformers, David Starr Jordan, a biologist specializing in ichthyology, an activist for peace, an eminent educator — president of Indiana University and later founding president of Stanford University — and moreover so concerned with distinguishing good science from bad science and pseudo-science that he had written a book about it (13), as well as works about eugenics (14).

So policy makers might be excused for succumbing to the “scientific” evidence supporting eugenics — a century ago. Nowadays, though, there is no similar excuse for sticking with the theory of HIV/AIDS or with the claim that it is indisputably settled science that global warming and climate change are humanly caused. Competent, qualified experts have published and spoken copiously, pointing to the deficiencies of the present scientific consensuses on these matters. It is past time that these whistle-blowers, these “denialists”, be attended to; that the actual evidence be attended to.



(1)    For example, among dozens or hundreds of worthwhile works:
Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery,” Science, 134 (1961) 596-602
Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method (University of Illinois Press, 1992)
Michael Crichton, “Aliens cause global warming” (Caltech Michelin Lecture), 17 January 2003
Daniel S. Greenberg, Science, Money and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (University of Chicago Press, 2001) & Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism (University of Chicago Press, 2007)
Paul R. Gross & Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994)
Susan Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate (University of Chicago Press, 1998) & Defending Science — within Reason (Prometheus, 2003)
Ernest B. Hook, (ed). Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect (University of California Press, 2002)
David Knight, The Age of Science: The Scientific World-View in the Nineteenth Century (Basil Blackwell, 1986)
Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1970, 2nd ed., enlarged)
Derek J. de Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science … and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 1963/1986; the 1986 edition contains additional chapters)
Gunther Stent, “Prematurity and uniqueness in scientific discovery,” Scientific American, December 1972, pp. 84-93
John Ziman, Real Science—What It Is, and What It Means (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

(2)   Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory (McFarland, 2007)

(3)    Henry H. Bauer, “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”, 25 November 2012

(4)    Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland, 2012)

(5)      IMBECILES: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen (Penguin Press, 2016)
ILLIBERAL REFORMERS: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era by Thomas C. Leonard (Princeton University Press, 2016)

(6)    David Oshinsky, review of (5), New York Times Book Review, 14 March 2016

(7)    A rather random selection of pieces about micro-aggression:
“Microaggression theory”“21 Racial Microaggressions you hear on a daily basis”;
“Ten things you didn’t know were racist”“Microaggression”“Microaggression Theory: An assault on everyday life”“Microaggressions: Power, privilege, and everyday life”

(8)    Letter of 5 August 2009

(9)    Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory (McFarland, 2007)

(10) Henry H. Bauer, The Case against HIV

(11) Edwin Black, War against the Weak, Thunder’s Mouth Press (2003)

(12) Farhad Manjoo, “Progressive genocide”, reviewing Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity by Harry Bruinius

(13) David Starr Jordan, The Higher Foolishness, Bobbs-Merrill (1927)

(14) David Starr Jordan, The human harvest; A Study of the Decay of Races through the Survival of the Unfit (American Unitarian Association, 1907); The Heredity of Richard Roe; A Discussion of the Principles of Eugenics (American Unitarian Association, 1911)

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientism, scientists are human | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

All vaccines are not the same; some are worse than useless

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/07/02

I am not among those who question the value of all vaccines on principle. I don’t doubt the value of vaccines in controlling smallpox, measles, polio. I do question the use of adjuvants and preservatives in vaccines, and I do think it makes sense to vaccinate babies against measles and the rest in single shots administered over a period of time instead of all at once in multiple vaccines.

But it gets difficult not to over-react as Big Pharma concentrates on generating vaccines that do more harm than any good that has ever been proven.

It seems that Big Pharma has been running out of new diseases to invent (see Moynihan & Cassels, Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients and other works listed in “What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine”) and has been turning increasingly to inventing vaccines supposed to guard against old or new infections.

The expected but not forthcoming “swine flu” epidemic led to rapid invention and marketing of a vaccine that turned out to have nasty “side” effects, for example, “How a swine flu shot led to narcolepsy”.

Gardasil and Cervarix, anti-HPV vaccines claimed to prevent cervical cancer, are a scandalous illustration; see for example “Merck Dr. Exposes Gardasil as Ineffective, Deadly, Very Profitable”  and related links. The only suggestion that HPV causes cervical cancer — or rather, that 4 out of four or five times that number of strains of HPV cause cervical cancer — comes from a correlation: those strains have often been found in women who have cervical cancer.

But correlations never, never, never prove causation, no matter that too many medical “experts” ignore this well established, long established fact.

I’ve become all too cynical about Big Pharma, lack of regulation, conflicts of interest, and the like. Yet I was taken aback to find that the National Institutes of Health profit from royalties from sales of Gardasil, and that there are exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act that enable them to hide that fact and the amounts involved.

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, funding research, legal considerations, medical practices, politics and science, prescription drugs | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

R. I. P., Ivory Tower

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/02/15

There was a time, well within living memory, when academic institutions expected their faculty to teach conscientiously and to do research with the resources provided by the institution. Freedom to follow one’s hunches was aided by tenure.

Then governments started to support research through separate agencies, and faculty could obtain support from them; whereupon academic institutions increasingly came to view their faculty as geese bringing in golden financial eggs from those government agencies. At my first job in the USA, the Research Director at my university tripled the budget I had estimated in a grant application, in order to increase what the university could rake off the top for “overhead”, “indirect costs”, and even reimbursement of part of my salary.

For a decade or so, everyone loved this arrangement, because the funding sources had enough goodies to distribute to satisfy almost everyone asking for them. But then more and more people wanted to feed at that same trough, and things became competitive and then cutthroat. For instance, if you were an engineer at my university 30 years ago and wanted tenure, you needed to bring in about $100,000 annually, and if you wanted to be a full professor your target was $300,000 annually.

I’ve described how The Science Bubble has continued to bloat and become increasingly dysfunctional in EdgeScience #17.

Faculty as milch cows for their institutions was invented in the USA, but the innovation has become viral. Here  is a description of one of the consequences in England.

As I was beginning my career in Australia more than half a century ago, academe seemed and largely was an ivory tower in which one could pursue scholarly and scientific interests sheltered from the hurly-burly rat-race of industry with its single-minded pursuit of commercial profit. So I was surprised in the mid-1950s in the USA when a newly minted chemistry PhD told me that he was planning to enter industry in order to get out of the academic rat-race. How prescient he was.

Posted in conflicts of interest, funding research, scientific culture | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Corrupt “science” publications and meetings

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/12/20

The “publish-or-perish” syndrome, together with the low cost of “publishing” on-line, has brought an endless spate of new “journals” put out by entrepreneurs ready to cash in; and quality control is not a consideration, even as some of the “publishers” pay lip-service to peer review.

A correspondent  to my HIV/AIDS blog  contributed a link to a story at Retraction Watch  that shows how the urge to make money by “publishing” is not restricted to new entrepreneurs, it is alive and well at corporate giants like Elsevier, whose prime interest in proliferating publications means that they do not even exercise ordinary care in overseeing how they accept articles: they had to retract a number of published articles that had been accepted after faked “peer review” because the article authors were allowed to choose who the “peer reviewers” would be.

Elsevier, of course, also published advertisements for drug companies under the pretense that they were journals (Corruption in medical science: Ghostwriting), and emasculated the innovative Medical Hypotheses after unfounded initiatives by HIV/AIDS vigilantes (see Chapter 3 in Dogmatism in Science and Medicine).

A related phenomenon to fake and shoddy “journals” is the proliferation of “conferences” whose only purpose is self-promotion by individuals, institutions, or even perhaps countries, since China is a prominent venue for these occasions; again see Fake, deceptive, predatory Science Journals and Conferences. The invitations to pseudo-conferences are often so incompetently composed that they remind one of the emails from Nigeria that one has won a huge prize at a lottery or inherited a huge amount from a previously unknown relative. Below is a just-received specimen; note that I never responded to earlier invites as well as other signs that this is an unedited from letter; note the poor written expression and syntax; but above all, browse the list of “Keynote Speakers” and “Part” listing of “renowned speakers”; a number of academics are quite happy to enjoy a grant-paid sightseeing vacation in China at an event organized primarily by Big Pharma and an entrepreneurial pseudo-conference-arranging outfit. Don’t neglect the link to the organizational home to note the huckstering of sponsorships, exhibition space, and the registration fees that range from $1300 to $2000; as well as the list of eight other concurrent “conferences” .

Dear Henry H. Bauer,

How are you? I wish everything goes well with you!

This is an email to follow up my previous invitations. I have not heard from you for a couple of weeks since my first letter. Now we have received well responding from worldwide experts in planned sessions, in case you won’t miss it, we’ d like to extend our invitation again. I am writing to confirm whether you would like to attend this grand congress and present a speech. Would you please give me a tentative reply? Thank you very much.

I apologize for the inconvenience if the letter disturbed you more than once. On behalf of the Meeting Organizing Committee, it is my pleasure and privilege to invite you to be the Session speaker in the 7th Annual International Congress of Antibodies (ICA-2015).

The conference with the theme “Innovations from Defending Surface to Penetrating the Membrane” will be held during April 25-28, 2015 in Nanjing, China. If the suggested thematic session is not your current focused core, you may look through the whole sessions and transfer another one that fits your interest. We sincerely wish your participation.

Keynote Speakers:

Dr. Brian E. Harvey, Vice President, Pfizer Inc., USA
Dr. Liangzhi Xie, Founder & CEO, Sino Biological Inc., China
Dr. Andrew Wang, Chairman, Taiwan Antibody Association, Taiwan
Dr. Jonathan Milner, CEO, Abcam, UK
Dr. Chien-Hsing Ken Chang, Vice President, Research and Development, Immunomedics, Inc., USA
Dr. Michael Yu, Presidert, Innovent Biologics, Inc., China

We look forward to seeing you in Nanjing in 2015 for this influential event.

If you need any assistance about the conference, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time!

For more information, please visit:
Sincerely yours,

Organizing Commission of ICA-2015
East Area, F11, Building 1,
Dalian Ascendas IT Park,
1 Hui Xian Yuan,
Dalian Hi-tech Industrial Zone,
LN 116025, China
Tel: 0086-411-84575669-860

PS: Part of Renowned Speakers:
Mr. Homan Chan, Investigator, Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research, USA
Dr. Tao Wu, Principal Scientist, Boehringer Ingelheim, USA
Dr. Liming Liu, Merck Research Laboratories, USA
Dr. Joshua DiNapoli, Senior Scientist, Sanofi Pasteur, USA
Dr. Ostendorp Ralf, Vice President, MorphoSys AG, Germany
Dr. Abdul Wajid, Senior Director, XOMA, USA
Dr. Ernesto Oviedo-Orta, Clinical Sciences Expert, Novartis Vaccines Diagnostics Siena, Italy
Dr. Guohong Wang, VP, Immunalysis Corporation, USA
Dr. Rong-Rong Zhu, Senior Scientist, EMD Millipore, USA
Dr. David P. Humphreys, Senior Group Leader, UCB-New Medicines, UK
Dr. Jian Li, Principal Scientist, Pfizer Inc., USA
Dr. Bing Kuang, Principal Scientist, Pfizer, USA
Dr. William Haseltine, Founder, Chairman of the Board and CEO, Human Genome Sciences, USA
Dr. Martin Lemmerer, Principal Scientist, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Inc., USA
Dr. Jijie Gu, Senior Principal Research Scientist, AbbVie Pharmaceuticals, Inc., USA
Dr. Ronald C. Desrosiers, Professor, Harvard Medical School, USA
Dr. Eva Kimby, Professor, Karolinska University Hospital, Sweden
Dr. Joseph F. John, Professor and Chief, Medical University of South Carolina, USA
Dr. Dongfeng Tan, Professor, the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, USA
Dr. Paul Fisch, Group leader and Professor, University of Freiburg, Germany
Dr. Koshi Mimori, Professor & Director, Kyushu University Beppu Hospital, Japan
Dr. Peggy Hsieh, Professor, Florida State University, USA
Dr. Rudiger Schade, Professor, Charité-University Medicine of Berlin, Germany
Dr. Tae Young Jang, Professor, Inha University, Korea
Dr. Oddmund Bakke, Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
Dr. Rajat Sethi, Chair, California Health Sciences University, USA
Mr. Tim Bernard, CEO, Pivotal Scientific Limited, UK
Dr. Dan Zhang, Chairman and CEO, Fountain Medical Development Ltd., China
Dr. Kaia Agarwal, President, Regulatory Compass, LLC., USA
Ms. Sandra Frantzen, Shareholder, McAndrews, Held Malloy, Ltd., USA
Dr. Seth D. Ginsberg, President, Global Healthy Living Foundation, USA
Dr. James R Harris, CEO, Healthcare Economics LLC., USA
Dr. Martin Gleeson, CSO, Genalyte Inc., USA
Dr. Mingjiu Chen, President and CEO, biosynergics Inc., China
Dr. Jane Dancer, Chief Operating Officer, F-star, UK
Dr. Xiaodong Yang, President and CEO, Apexigen, USA
Dr. Wenzhi Tian, President and CEO, Huabo Biopharm Co Ltd, China
Dr. Ralph V. Boccia, Director, Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, USA
Dr. Jun Bao, Senior Vice President, Shenogen Pharma Group, China
Dr. Francesc Mitjans, Chief Scientific Officer, Lykera Biomed, Spain
Dr. Fiona Greer, Director, SGS M-Scan, UK
Dr. Albrecht Gröner, Head Pathogen Safety, CSL Behring, Germany
Dr. Chung-Chou Lee, CEO of Medigen Vaccinology Corporation, Taiwan
Dr. Chengbin Wu, President of RD, Shanghai CP Guojian Pharmaceutical, China
Dr. Ni Jian, General Manager, National Engineering Research Center of Antibody Medicine, China
Dr. Ian Q. Li, Chief scientific Officer, ATGCell Inc., Canada
Dr. Terry Dyck, President, CEO, IGY Immune Technologies Life Sciences Inc., Canada
Dr. Vijay E-Bionary, CEO, E-Bionary Technologies, India
Dr. Allan Riting Liu, Vice President & Senior Advisor, Wanbang Biopharmaceutical Group, China


All I can say is, FOR SHAME, to everyone associated with such scams.

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, peer review, scientific culture | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Public health VERSUS individual health

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/11/23

“Public health and individual health”  pointed out that “public health” deals in statistics and averages, and some public-health policies and practices can bring actual harm to some individuals unless physicians recognize the danger and treat each patient as the unique individuals that they are.

It seems that things are even considerably worse than I knew.

“How medical care is being corrupted”  reveals that some insurance companies have taken it on themselves to reward doctors for choosing particular drugs and treatments and penalizing them for not doing so. The article is no outsiders’ radical rant: it is by two physicians at Harvard Medical School and is published in the New York Times.

The insurance companies have financial considerations as their prime motive, and their criteria are inevitably statistical and “on the average”. To drive doctors into practicing by the insurance company guidelines means driving doctors not to treat their patients as unique individuals.

Half a century ago already, health-insurance considerations brought into being the damaging belief that “high” blood pressure represents a risk of cardiovascular disease or adverse events, because blood pressure correlates with such events. But it correlates only because both blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular problems both increase with age, naturally and inevitably. No correlations ever prove causation, furthermore. For half a century, medical practice has continued the absurd practice of defining “hypertension” independently of age, thereby classifying as “illness” levels of blood pressure that are perfectly normal at a given age. Something like 75% of American seniors are being exposed chronically, lifelong, to the continuing negative “side” effects of blood-pressure-lowering drugs for no good reason and with no expectable benefit.

The present direct incentives to doctors to harm their patients seems a natural, normal, progression of allowing health-care policies to be determined by the financial marketplace.

You get what you pay for.

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, medical practices, prescription drugs | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Damning psychiatric drugs with very faint praise

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/11/13

The effectiveness of psychiatric drugs has been questioned in innumerable books and articles, see for example What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine.

It would actually be surprising if psychiatric drugs did work reliably and with high efficacy, since psychiatric diagnosis is itself an art, certainly not a science. Saving Normal by Allen Frances (William Morrow [HarperCollins], 2013) and The Book of Woe by Gary Greenberg (Blue Rider Press [Penguin], 2013)document in exhaustive detail the lack of sound basis for the classification of mental illnesses used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), specifically in its latest version, the DSM-5.

The insurmountable problem is that no distinct cause has been found for any of the peculiar or unusual behaviors and symptoms that are described as mental illness, insanity, craziness, psychosis, or the purportedly more specific labels manic-depression (bipolar), schizophrenia, etc.

Applying the label “mental illness” presupposes an understanding of what is not mental illness. However, human behavior and mentation vary enormously, and there are distinct cultural influences. Some things are regarded as crazy in some societies but not in others, and in a given society what is regarded as crazy may change over time; for example, early DSMs labeled homosexuality a mental illness but recent ones do not.

In absence of identified causes, all mental illnesses are defined on the basis of collections of symptoms that are matters of degree and not specific to any one label. The criteria for the “Inattention” part of attention-deficit disorder (ADHD) (DSM-5, p. 59 ff.) describe behavior quite typical of teenagers, for instance. DSMs are replete with loose criteria that call for satisfying only several of some set of listed symptoms, for more than some specified period of time, to degrees that are judged excessive. Diagnoses are therefore inescapably subjective and thereby arbitrary. A given individual is often given different diagnoses by different psychiatrists.

Treatment can hardly be more specific than diagnosis, and the labeling of psychiatric drugs is no sounder than are the diagnostic labels. It is criminally misleading to describe these medications as anti-anxiety pills, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, atypical anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), etc., because they do not have the specific influences implied by those labels. Anti-depressants cause suicide in some people; anti-anxiety drugs in one culture are used as anti-depressants elsewhere; SSRIs are not selective in their effects even though they are designed to target a particular neurotransmitter, and so on.

All psychiatric drugs are mind-altering. They are distinguished from “street” drugs like Ecstasy or LSD only in their legality, not in being better understood or more specific in their action.

This not to deny that psychiatric drugs can be useful at times. But so have been insulin-shock and electric-shock treatment and surgical lobotomy. The point is just that these are all purely empirical treatments. Employing them successfully requires a background of experience and good diagnostic intuition; applying them routinely on the basis of formulaic diagnosis à la DSM can be highly damaging. That is perhaps the main theme of Saving Normal, which deserves to be given considerable respect since the author, Allen Frances, is a distinguished psychiatrist who was the lead organizer of DSM-IV (Arabic numeration supersedes Roman numbers with the fifth edition).

Frances’s book attempts a tightrope path, on the one hand acknowledging the lack of scientific basis for labeling and on the other hand not wishing to undercut the authority of the psychiatric profession. One consequence of attempting this impossibility is that he defends the use of psychiatric drugs by asserting that drugs used in general medical practice often have no better record of success than those applied in mental illness. The latter contention cites “Putting the efficacy of psychiatric and general medicine medication into perspective: review of meta-analyses” by Stefan Leucht et al., British Journal of Psychiatry, 200 (2012) 97-106.

But that review shows only that many drugs don’t do what they’re claimed to do. It isn’t much incentive to taking an anti-depressive, for example, if you’re told, “Of course it doesn’t work, but then your anti-cholesterol drug doesn’t prevent heart disease either”. The data cited by Leucht et al. report, for example, that blood-pressure-lowering drugs overall reduce mortality by 4% although “significant reduction of mortality has not been shown for all of them”. Aspirin reduced stroke mortality by 1%, but heparin did not. Statins reduced 5-year mortality by 1.2%. Digitalis reduced hospital admission by 8% but did not reduce mortality.
But those numbers don’t even take into account possibly unpleasant “side” effects: for example, some 10% of people taking statins experience muscle weakness within a few years; aspirin causes internal bleeding in some people.
What Leucht et al. have documented is that medications used to prevent illness, by contrast to medications used to treat actual illness, have such a poor record of success as to make their use very doubtfully recommendable.

The claim that psychiatric drugs are no less effective compares apples and oranges: the data given for the psychiatric drugs is for treatment, not for prevention. In general medicine, of course there are conditions for which there is simply no really good treatment, namely, conditions brought on by aging — cardiovascular disease, cancer, organ failures — and it is hardly worth pointing out that drugs attempting to treat those don’t do a very good job; but that is no reason to use psychiatric drugs that are no better.

The authors’ Declaration of Interest is worth noting:
“In the past 3 years S.L. has received fees for consulting and/ or lectures from the following companies: Bristol-Myers Squibb, Actelion, Sanofi-Aventis, Eli Lilly, Essex Pharma, AstraZeneca, MedAvante, Alkermes, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Lundbeck Institute and Pfizer, and grant support from Eli Lilly. W.K. has received fees for consulting and/or lectures from Janssen-Cilag, Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Lundbeck, Novartis and Eli Lilly. All authors work in psychiatry.”

The authors have a clear bias toward the use of drugs to treat mental illness, and that alone already brands their article as biased. This is hardly a reliable assessment of the efficacy of psychiatric drugs or a recommendation for their use.

Posted in conflicts of interest, medical practices, prescription drugs | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »