Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for the ‘consensus’ Category

Dinosaurs were not killed off by an asteroid

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/10/03

Among the several mainstream scientific theories that happen to be unproven or simply wrong [1] is the belief,  accepted by the media’s conventional wisdom (and thereby by society at large), that the dinosaurs  became extinct as a result of environmental changes caused by an asteroid that crashed into the Atlantic near the eastern coast of Mexico (the Chicxulub crater, which lies mostly under water).

To the contrary,  many geologists and paleontologists have always argued that the extinction was not  as sudden as the asteroid scenario suggests, and that in fact it was caused by the environmental consequences of long-continuing and vast volcanic eruptions in what are known as the Deccan Traps in India [2].

A comprehensive but concise and well-documented discussion of these possibilities, with mention of a third theory, is a given by Christian Smoot  in a letter to the NCGT Journal, volume 7 #3.

NCGT Stands for New Concepts in Global Tectonics, an organization founded by professional geologists and others who recognized geological phenomena that seem not to be explainable by the mainstream theory of moving geological plates, i.e. global tectonics, the scientific designation  for what popular discourse calls continental drift.

The journal is publicly available. It should be of considerable interest  to people who realize  that what the public hears from mainstream science is not always the last, absolutely true word.

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[1] Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012)

[2] Dissent from the asteroid hypothesis was earlier discussed in https://scimedskeptic.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/dark-matter-and-dinosaur-extinction

and https://scimedskeptic.wordpress.com/2018/08/26/what-everyone-knows-is-all-too-often-wrong-dinosaur-extinction-and-much-more

Posted in consensus, media flaws, science is not truth | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

The end of the Enlightenment era

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/05/05

The previous two posts (CoVID19, HIV — Enlightenment? Reason based on evidence?; CoVID19 and the HIV legacy: Toxic “antiretroviral” drugs and PrEP) described the actual lack of competence of the medical scientists whose words are being treated by the mass media as Gospel Truth, about CoVID19 as well as about related or other matters.

Quite clearly, what such acknowledged experts as Anthony Fauci (Director of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) say and advise cannot be trusted automatically. In this day and age, lauded not infrequently for its advanced medical science, how has this come about?

One part of the wider context for this bemusing and dangerous state of affairs is that since the latter decades of the 20th century, research, “science”, has become so commonplace an activity that its practitioners are anything but a small elite distinguished by outstanding intellect and background knowledge. Instead, most people doing “science” nowadays are journeymen practitioners carrying on predetermined tasks that do not call for original thinking. “Science” in the 21st century is a corporate, bureaucratic activity carried on without much (if any) thinking about whether accumulating evidence continues to support contemporary beliefs, the prevailing paradigm, the conventional wisdom in the given specialty. Science can no longer be relied on to be self-correcting.

Following WWII, science had increasingly become so intertwined with other social sectors as to have lost what characterized the Scientific Revolution and subsequent Enlightenment, namely, an unfettered single-minded pursuit of veritable, demonstrable truth. As John Ziman pointed out (Prometheus Bound, 1994), toward the end of the 20th century there was no longer a substantive distinction to be made between applied science and pure science: science was serving commerce and industry and government at least as much as being a search for genuine understanding. Science has not learned that it is impossible to serve both God and Mammon.

What has happened with science is just one aspect or symptom of something even more significant, portentous, indeed cataclysmic: a distinct change in the world order, marking the end — or at least the beginning of the end — of an era in which Western Civilization dominated the Earth. For a full and erudite discussion, see Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (2000). The accuracy of Barzun’s diagnosis, published already a quarter of a century ago, is being demonstrated by the rising influence of China as well as India, while the United States and Europe have lost their dominance and are striving mightily just to keep their heads above water, so to speak.

It was not unusual in the 19th and 20th centuries to note that the authority of science had eclipsed that of religion. That stemmed in part from the decadence of religious institutions, progressively corrupted from their initial ideals in becoming large, bureaucratic, institutions — bureaucratic institutions being self-serving almost by definition, and “large” tends to make for mediocrity. Catholic priests and Anglican pastors were by the 20th century quite ordinary men (and women, among the Anglicans), not at all like the idiosyncratic, highly motivated characters among the apostles of Jesus, nor at all like such strong personalities as Luther or Calvin who rejuvenated the Christian religion in the 16th-century Reformation.

Modern science, emphasizing the careful, scrupulous attending to tangible evidence on which to base beliefs, is consensually dated to the 16th century Scientific Revolution, which led to the 17th century Enlightenment that sought to extend that scientific method to human culture as a whole. Just as religion became corrupted, so too has modern science become corrupted through growth and worldliness. The hosts of people nowadays doing some sort of “science” also display the pervasive mediocrity that follows inevitably as an activity attracts more and more people, with the forming of an increasing number of organizations with the inevitable consequence of bureaucracy and an effective loss of any ideals with which the enterprise might have begun. (A prescient discussion was published in 1985: Jan Klein, “Hegemony of mediocrity in contemporary sciences, particularly in immunology”, Lymphology 18:122-31; it is a little eerie in this age of deadly viruses that Klein emphasized immunology, since our only truly effective weapon against viruses is the immune system; and Klein wrote just as the HIV/AIDS blunder was taking hold.)

Religions became decadent as the host of ordinary priests and pastors merely parroted what they had been taught. Just the same decadent mediocrity has now overtaken science and its acolyte, medical science. The media feature as “experts” a variety of scientists and practicing physicians whose credentials illustrate this phenomenon: anyone with an MD or a PhD is automatically accorded the status and prestige of expertise, when in point of fact far from all of these featured experts deserve that appellation: not many of them offer added value beyond what they were taught and what the prevailing so-called consensus happens to be. Before they speak, one knows pretty much what they are going to say, for it differs in no way from what the mainstream conventional wisdom happens to be.

And so it has come about in the 21st century that science has lost and superstition has won, as the public and the media simply accept on the authority of science — in other words, on faith, superstitiously — whatever they are told by “the experts”, no matter how unlikely or contrary to available facts. (See historian John Burnham’s How Superstition Won and Science Lost, 1987).

Almost universally accepted is the belief, disseminated by the International Panel on Climate Change, that human generation of atmospheric carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming, a belief that is proved wrong by the long-standing and unquestioned actual data in the geological literature (lack of correlation between global temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide; for primary sources see Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide).

The degree to which science is generally accorded unquestioned and magical powers is nicely illustrated by the fact that knowledgeable advertisers understood that it would be effective to market a remedy for declining memory (Prevagen) by claiming that its efficacy stemmed from an ingredient first discovered in jellyfish, a species not otherwise known for remarkable powers of memory.

When historian Jon Meacham notes that Trumpism marks a loss of Enlightenment values, he may not realize how deeply that loss is pervasive in contemporary culture.

 

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Caveat re contemporary CoVID19 panic: That Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield and others lack all credibility does not mean that they are necessarily wrong about CoVID19 or anything else. Many Trumpists, after all, happen to be right about climate change. We are all fallible, and we may sometimes be right just by chance, perversely and for wrong reasons.

Posted in consensus, global warming, media flaws, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientists are human | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

CoVID19 and the HIV legacy: Toxic “antiretroviral” drugs and PrEP

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/05/04

The blunder of believing that HIV is a sexually transmitted virus that causes AIDS has brought enormous harm to innumerable people across the world for more than three decades, and it continues to do so as toxic drugs are administered to “HIV-positive” individuals; and even as “pre-exposure prophylaxis” (PrEP) to perfectly healthy people categorized as being at risk of infection — black people, of course, in Africa and elsewhere, and gay men, and those who inject drugs.

Gilead’s PrEP drugs Truvada and Descovy list as “side” effects “Kidney problems, including kidney failure. . . lactic acidosis . . . which . . . can lead to death. . . liver problems, which in rare cases can lead to death. . . . Bone problems, including bone pain, softening, or thinning, which may lead to fractures”.

All those risks in the absence of any real benefit at all.

Nevertheless, the US government recommends PrEP, alleging that “No significant health effects have been seen in people who are HIV-negative and have taken PrEP for up to 5 years”.

That bald claim is obviously misleading. All those “side” effects actually occurred in a significant number of people; that’s why they come to be listed.
It may well be true that some people, really healthy ones no doubt, and quite possibly a small number only, were able to tolerate the PrEP drugs for as much as 5 years, but that is not a legitimate basis for the sweeping generalization.
A different but also official page is only slightly less misleading:
“PrEP can cause side effects like nausea in some people, but these generally subside over time. No serious side effects have been observed, and these side effects aren’t life threatening. If you are taking PrEP, tell your health care provider about any side effects that are severe or do not go away.”
Perhaps it takes a little sophisticated cynicism to recognize this as an admission that some side effects that have not gone away might even be “severe”.

On everything pertaining to every prescription drug, it must be remembered that a drug is approved on the basis of clinical trials carried out for the drug company by groups whose livelihood depends on getting results that the drug company wants. Innumerable articles and books have documented that clinical trials always seem to find that the drug marketed by the trial-sponsoring company is better than competing ones, for example.
There are many ways to bias clinical trials toward a desired result, for example by judicious sampling of who gets included in the “treated” group and in the “placebo” group respectively.
One of the students at one of my seminars happened to have worked on arranging such trials, and she confirmed what I had read elsewhere: There are people, typically unemployed, often homeless, who get comfortable accommodation and earn some or all of their livelihood by being volunteers for clinical trials, having becoming known to and favored by trial organizers because of being outstandingly healthy and least likely to show undesired “side” effects that the drugs might have. (Leisinger et al., Healthy volunteers in clinical studies, Ch. 8 [pp. 67-70] in Schroederet al., Ethics Dumping: Case Studies from North-South Research Collaborations, Springer 2018; Sebastian Agredo, “Professional volunteers: human guinea pigs in today’s clinical research”, Voices in Bioethics, 26 March 2014).

For much more about routine deceptive practices by drug companies and their associates, see for instance (but not only) the books by Abraham, Angell, Braithwaite, Goldacre, Gøtzsche (2013), and Healy listed in What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine.

The hidden carnage perpetrated by PrEP, unremarked by pundits or mass media, is abetted with surely the best of intentions by such charities as the Gates Foundation. Mainstream “science”, “medical science”, has simply failed to recognize that HIV = AIDS is a blunder, let alone abandon it. Thus Anthony Fauci spoke favorably of Gilead’s experimental antiretroviral drug against CoVID19, Remdesivir, as “proof of concept” that SARS-CoV2 is vulnerable to drugs. Fauci recalled that AZT, the first drug used against “HIV”, had led the way to even better medications. But AZT is highly toxic (“AZT actually killed about 150,000 ‘HIV-positive’ people between the mid-1980s and the mid- 1990s” — see “HAART saves lives — but doesn’t prolong them!?”); nevertheless it remains in use, as do its toxic analogues, as well as the toxic later invented protease inhibitors, integrase inhibitors, and fusion inhibitors.
Treatment regimes for “HIV” have to be continually modified to preserve the lives of the patient-victims; see the official Treatment Guidelines.
For documentation of these facts, see   section 5, “What antiretroviral drugs do”, in The Case against HIV.

Posted in consensus, medical practices, prescription drugs, science is not truth, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Never again say “just the flu”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/04/14

Trying to understand whether CoVID-19 really is a disease caused by the new (in humans) virus SARS-CoV-2 has instead made me realize that I never had a proper understanding of so-called “normal” “seasonal flu”.

Now I’ve learned that “influenza A and B viruses can cause epidemic disease in humans” whereas “type C viruses usually cause a mild, cold-like illness”.
And it is not only new viruses jumping to humans from other species that cause exotic dangerous diseases like SARS or MERS; influenza viruses too have natural reservoirs in other species, in particular aquatic birds, and can cause disease in a range of mammalian species including pigs, seals, horses, and humans (https://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/influenza).

During the so-called “flu season”, we often respond to inquiries about minor discomforts by saying, “it’s just the flu”, but we really should say, “it’s just a cold”, because flu — influenza — is not at all a negligible matter; it can result in significant illness and mortality and can spread rapidly around the world in seasonal epidemics. “Pandemic influenza is caused by a new or novel influenza that is introduced into a population where few people are immune. . . . The 1918 pandemic (influenza A/H1N1) which infected an estimated 500 million and killed 50-100 million people worldwide has been the most devastating pandemic to date . . . [while the] 1957 Asian Flu pandemic (influenza A/H2N2), 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic (influenza A/H3N2) and the 2009 (influenza A[H1N1]pdm09) result[ed] in far fewer deaths” (https://www.afro.who.int/health-topics/influenza).

What we — meaning I — have been thinking of as “normal seasonal flu” is potentially much more deadly than I had realized. Between 1976 and 2006, annual influenza-associated deaths “with underlying pneumonia and influenza causes” averaged 6300 in the USA. But what makes flu so dangerous is that it can greatly exacerbate other “underlying” challenges to health; so the number of annual influenza-associated deaths with underlying respiratory and circulatory causes averaged 23,600, ranging in individual years from 3300 to more than 48,000; for instance, nearly 41,000 in 2001-2 and more than 95,000 in the two years 2003-5 (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 59 [2010] # 33).

The substantial mortality of “normal flu” hints at the problem of trying to understand whether what is happening nowadays can or must be properly attributed not to influenza but to a novel strain of a Corona virus. When it is “only” a matter of the flu, of course we do not see the sort of panic that the news currently brings us daily about overwhelmed healthcare systems, lack of protective equipment for caregivers, tragic individual deaths, and so on.

But what I just wrote happens not to be true. It turns out that such rather panicked communal behavior was in fact described in the 2017-18 flu season, with no other virus than influenza being blamed:

“medical centers are responding with extraordinary measures: asking staff to work overtime, setting up triage tents, restricting friends and family visits and canceling elective surgeries, to name a few. . . . The hospital’s urgent-care centers have also been inundated, and . . . outpatient clinics have no appointments available. . . several hospitals have set up large ‘surge tents’ outside their emergency departments to accommodate and treat flu patients. . . . some patients had to be treated in hallways . . . . Nurses are being ‘pulled from all floors to care for them’ . . . . Many nurses have also become sick, however, so the staff is also short-handed. . . ‘More and more patients are needing mechanical ventilation due to respiratory failure . . . .’ (Amanda Macmillan, “Hospitals overwhelmed by flu patients are treating them in tents”, TIME, 18 January, 2018).

Just like now, it seems. Yet I do not recall anything like the present media-wide, nation-wide hysteria accompanying these conditions — even though the death toll being ascribed to CoVID-19 seems unlikely to end up any higher than that attributed to “flu” in 2017/18: the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of “influenza-associated” deaths then at 61,000 — which happens to be the same as the current estimated projection for CoVID-19, down from much larger numbers projected a few weeks ago.

The many uncertainties in the 2017-18 estimate are illustrated by the range of the “95% confidence interval”: 46,404 – 94,987 (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2017-2018.htm): not far from 100,000 Americans might have died of flu in that season.

Why did not the mass media as a whole pick up the story about the 2017-18 epidemic after it was published, including on-line, by TIME magazine? Is it just that a novel non-influenza virus thought to have come from China is more newsworthy than “just another bad flu season”?

The last question is, of course, of much less immediate interest than the issue of trying to find out whether the contemporary pandemic really is owing to a novel corona virus originating in China, as opposed to being a misdiagnosed pandemic of “seasonal flu”.

That question may be well-nigh intractable, unanswerable with any degree of certainty, because of many uncertainties that are unlikely ever to be resolved, given the lack of sufficiently specific and genuinely trustworthy data. The reports of mortality from the CDC reflect the data available to them, and there is no obvious other source for such data. The CDC’s publications do not make it possible to specify the actual individual causes of death: deaths of patients suffering from influenza as well as other respiratory diseases and cardiovascular problems are designated “influenza-associated”, and similarly with patients dying of pneumonia, no matter what other than influenza might have been the precipitating cause of the pneumonia.

In the absence of better data than that available from the CDC, we will have to be satisfied with less than demonstrable certainty in seeking to answer the salient question, whether the global pandemic attributed to CoVID-19 might in fact be owing instead to a particularly virulent strain of influenza, or perhaps even some other virus.

But does it really matter, which virus is responsible for what is now happening? After all, the same practical measures — careful personal hygiene, social distancing — would be taken toward trying to limit the spread of whatever the infectious agent is.

In the long run, of course a vaccine could only the effective if it targets the actual cause, but that bridge cannot be crossed now, it lies more than a year in the future.

Irrespective of now or later, though, it does matter very much if we come to believe something about this pandemic that is not true. The consequences of being wrong could do damage in unforeseeable ways far into the future. The inescapable precedent for that is the case of HIV.

More than three decades ago, it came to be almost unanimously but wrongly believed that HIV causes AIDS (for overwhelming proof, see THE CASE AGAINST HIV). Among the consequences have been immeasurable physical and psychological harm to innumerable people; the establishment, as more or less routine medical practice, the use of inevitably toxic substances as though they could kill viruses without killing the host’s cells that the virus uses for its own replication; and the mistaken but widespread belief that testing HIV-positive is in itself proof of active infection with HIV.

That last belief seems to have become generalized to the extent that at present a positive test for “CoVID-19” is accepted without further ado as proof of infection, even as none of the tests have been established as valid in the only way that could be trustworthy, namely, the prior isolation of pure virus direct from an infected individual. How long-lasting the sad consequences of such mistakes can be is illustrated by the fact that no HIV test has yet, after some 35 years, been established as valid for diagnosis of active infection. The mistaken belief concerning HIV has even survived the open fact that a vaccine against HIV had been projected within a couple of years of 1984 but has never eventuated despite much effort.

A very informative and accurate recounting of the HIV blunder, in the context of the “CoVID-19” pandemic, has recently been posted by Celia Farber (“Was the COVID-19 Test meant to detect a virus?”, 7 April 2020).

Posted in consensus, media flaws, medical practices, prescription drugs, science policy, scientific culture, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Vaccines are not all equally safe and effective

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/07/13

The article below is copied from the website of the Roanoke Times:

https://www.roanoke.com/opinion/commentary/bauer-all-vaccines-are-not-equally-safe-and-effective/article_ef1bf6b6-4e8f-5dcd-b071-91736b99c68a.html

The article also appeared on the Opinion page of the Times on 11 July 2019.

The Roanoke Times is a local/regional newspaper in South-West Virginia. I had tried for a wider audience, but essentially the same piece had been rejected by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall St Journal, and Financial Times.

Several people have been unable to access the Internet link given above, either asked to subscribe to the newspaper or told that it is not available outside the USA, but a number of people accessed it without difficulty.

Recent outbreaks of measles have brought widespread unrestrained criticism of parents who have avoided vaccinating their children under the presumed influence of misguided ideological “anti-vaxxers.” But at least some of the anger and blame should be directed at official sources for refusing to admit that some vaccines occasionally do bring sometimes very serious harm to some individuals. By not admitting that, officialdom provides unwarranted credibility to allegations of official cover- ups, allegations then expanded to blanket warnings against vaccinating in general.

There are three main ways in which vaccines can sometimes cause harm to some individuals.

One is the presence in some vaccines of preservatives to protect against contamination by bacteria. Being toxic to bacteria, they can also be toxic to higher forms of life. A commonly used preservative, thimerosal, is a mercury-containing organic substance, and organic-mercury compounds are indeed often toxic to human beings.

A second possible source of harm in some vaccines is the use of so-called adjuvants. These cause a non-specific stimulation of the immune system, in the belief that when the immune system is already aroused it will respond better to the specific components in the vaccine. Adjuvants work through being recognized by the immune system as foreign and undesirable, in other words as being potentially harmful to the person receiving the vaccine. Commonly used adjuvants include organic aluminum compounds, which are known to be harmful if they accumulate in the nervous system, particularly the brain; some people of my age may recall the long-ago warnings against aluminum cookware because of that possible harm.

A third possible danger lies in the inherent specific action of the particular vaccine. Some vaccines sometimes, though quite rarely, actually bring about the very disease against which they are intended to act. More generally, since vaccines are intended to cause the immune system to do certain things, it is far from implausible that the immune system may sometimes react in a different fashion than desired, for example by setting in process an autoimmune reaction. Our present understanding of immune-system functioning does not warrant dogmatic, supposedly authoritative pronouncements alleging that all vaccines are safe for everyone.

The known sources of possible harm from vaccination makes it not unreasonable, for instance, to recommend that babies be vaccinated against mumps, measles, and rubella separately, at intervals, rather than with a single dose of a multiple (MMR) vaccine. The known nervous-system toxicity of organic aluminum and mercury compounds makes it unreasonable to dismiss out-of-hand that these additives in some vaccines may produce such neural damage as symptoms of autism; reports and claims need to be investigated, not ignored or pooh-poohed. Moreover, wherever possible we should be offered the option of vaccines free of adjuvants and preservatives.

The public would be better served than we are now if official proclamations were to distinguish among different vaccines. The benefit-to-risk ratio of measles vaccine, for instance, or of polio vaccine, seems well established through long experience of efficacy and relative safety (“relative” because there is never 100.000…% certainty). By contrast, vaccines against HPV (human papillomavirus) have accumulated quite a substantial record of serious adverse events: the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program of the Department of Health and Human Services had by 2013 awarded about $6 million to 49 victims in claims against HPV vaccines, with barely half of 200 claims adjudicated at that time; by May 2019, 130 of 480 claims against HPV vaccines had been compensated. Here the benefit-to-risk ratio is not known to be favorable because it cannot yet be known whether the vaccines actually prevent cervical or other cancers, it is only known that they act against viruses sometimes associated with cancer but never yet proven to actually cause cancer.

It is dangerous and without reasonable basis for ideological anti-vaxxers to raise alarm over all vaccinations because of instances like the HPV vaccines. But the conspiratorial and ideological anti-vaxxers are lent unwarranted public credibility and plausibility because officialdom refuses to admit the harm done by, for example, the HPV vaccines, while emphasizing the desirability of maintaining herd immunity against, say, measles, as though the same logic and practical experience applied to all vaccines including new, recently-devised ones. “Since they are lying to us about HPV vaccines, why should we trust them about measles vaccine?”
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Dr. Christian Fiala, MD, adds:
You may add the experience that vaccines have been withdrawn because it became obvious that they were mainly dangerous and had little if any benefit, like Swine flu. Furthermore it because known in this case that most of the recommendations were by people paid for by the industry, including WHO ‚experts‘. This example is proof of the fact that pharmaceutical companies do in some cases exert a strong influence on bodies which are supposed to be neutral. Just like the Cochrane scandal.
The fact that these negative examples are totally left out by the vaccine lobby seriously harms their credibility.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Modern Psychiatric Diagnosis is Bullshit

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/07/09

I use the term   “bullshit”, of course, as the appropriate description of “assertions made without regard to whether or not they have any truth value”, following the analysis of professor of philosophy Harry Frankfurt in his book On Bullshit (Princeton University Press, 2005).

Those who commit bullshit orally or in writing do, of course, often imagine that they are asserting something that is true, but they are merely parroting popular shibboleths, “what everyone knows”,  without having taken any time it to examine the evidence for themselves (see Climate change is responsible for everything, as everyone knows (but what everyone knows is usually wrong).

Extraordinary as it may seem, the professional reference work on psychiatric diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association and (since 2013) in its 5th edition (DSM-5), gives every appearance of having been put together without any careful attention to evidence, or for that matter to whether it makes any sense.

A couple of years ago, I pointed to the nonsense incorporated in DSM-5 about ADHD — Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (The banality of evil — Psychiatry and ADHD).

Now, the peer-reviewed professional journal Psychiatry Research has published a detailed analysis revealing that the diagnostic categories in DSM-5 make no sense in theory or in practice: (Allsopp et al., Heterogeneity in psychiatric diagnostic classification, Psychiatry Research 279 (2019) 15–22; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.07.005).

It should suffice to offer two quotes:

“ [I]n the majority of diagnoses in both DSM-IV-TR and DSM-5 (64% and 58.3% respectively), two people could receive the same diagnosis without sharing any common symptoms.”

“[T]here are 270 million combinations of symptoms that would meet the criteria for both PTSD and major depressive disorder, and when five other commonly made diagnoses are seen alongside these two, the figure rises to one quintillion symptom combinations — more than the number of stars in the Milky Way.”

QED

Of course, the professional literature refrains from exposing its guild’s follies, the nakedness of the unclothed Emperor, to the general public, hence the article’s title is “Heterogeneity in psychiatric diagnostic classification”, unlikely to catch the eye of the uninitiated, rather than the plain “Modern psychiatric diagnosis is bullshit”, but both are saying the same thing. As George Bernard Shaw noted a century or so ago, “All professions are conspiracies against the laity”.

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Science: Sins of Commission and of Omission

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/04/21

What statisticians call a type-I error is a scientific sin of commission, namely, believing something to be true that is actually wrong. A type-II error, dismissing as false something that happens to be true, could be described as a scientific sin of omission since it neglects to acknowledge a truth and thereby makes impossible policies and actions based on that truth.

The history of science is a long record of both types of errors that were progressively corrected, sooner or later; but, so far as we can know, of course, the latest correction may never be the last word, because of the interdependence of superficially different bits of science. If, for instance, general relativity were found to be flawed, or quantum mechanics, then huge swaths of physics, chemistry, and other sciences would undergo major or minor changes. And we cannot know whether general relativity or quantum mechanics are absolutely true, that they are not a type-I error — all we know is that they have worked usefully up to now. Type-II errors may always be hiding in the vast regions of research not being done, or unorthodox claims being ignored or dismissed.

During the era of modern science — that is, since about the 17th century — type-I errors included such highly consequential and far-reaching dogmas as believing that atoms are indivisible, that they are not composed of smaller units. A socially consequential type-I error in the first quarter of the 20th century was the belief that future generations would benefit if people with less desirable genetic characteristics were prevented from having children, whereby tens of thousands of Americans were forcibly sterilized as late as late as 1980.

A type-II error during the second half of the 19th century was the determined belief that claims of alleviating various ailments by electrical or magnetic treatments were nothing but pseudo-scientific scams; but that was corrected in the second half of the 20th century, when electromagnetic treatment became the standard procedure for curing certain congenital failures of bone growth and for treating certain other bone conditions as well.
Another 19th-century type-II error was the ignoring of Mendel’s laws of heredity, which were then re-discovered half a century later.
During the first half of the 20th century, a type-II error was the belief that continents could not have moved around on the globe, something also corrected in the latter part of the 20th century.

 

Science is held in high regard for its elucidation of a great deal about how the world works, and for many useful applications of that knowledge. But the benefits that society can gain from science are greatly restricted through widespread ignorance of and misunderstanding about the true history of science.

Regarding general social and political history, Santayana’s adage is quite well-known, that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. That is equally true for the history of science. Since the conventional wisdom and the policy makers and so many of the pundits are ignorant of the fact that science routinely commits sins of both commission and omission, social and political policies continue to be made on the basis of so-called scientific consensus that may quite often be unsound.

In Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012), evidence is cited from well-qualified and respectable sources that the mainstream consensus is flawed on quite a number of topics. Some of these are of immediate concern only to scholars and researchers, for example about the earliest settlements of the Americas, or the extinction of the dinosaurs, or the mechanism of the sense of smell. Other topics, however, are of immediate public concern, for instance a possible biological basis for schizophrenia, or the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, or the possible dangers from mercury in tooth amalgams, or the efficacy of antidepressant drugs, or the hazards posed by second-hand tobacco smoke; and perhaps above all the unproven but dogmatic belief that human-generated carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming and climate change, and the long-held hegemonic belief that HIV causes AIDS.

The topic of cold nuclear fusion is an instance of a possible type-II error, a sin of omission, the mainstream refusal to acknowledge the strong evidence for potentially useful applications of nuclear-atomic transformations that can occur under quite ordinary conditions.

On these, and on quite a few other matters * as well, the progress of science and the well-being of people and of societies are greatly hindered by the widespread ignorance of the fact that science always has been and will continue to be fallible,   committing sins of both omission and of commission that become corrected only at some later time — if at all.

On matters that influence public policies directly, policy-makers would be greatly helped if they could draw on historically well-informed, technically insightful, and above all impartial assessments of the contemporary mainstream consensus. A possible approach to providing such assistance would be the establishing of a Science Court; see chapter 12 in 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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*    Type-I errors are rife in the misapplications of statistics in medical matters, including the testing and approval of new drugs and vaccines; see the bibliography, What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine
      For a number of possible type-II errors, see for instance The Anomalist  and the publications of the Society for Scientific Exploration  and the Gesellschaft für Anomalistik

Posted in consensus, funding research, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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].

 

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[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 »

 
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