Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for the ‘consensus’ Category

What science says about global warming and climate change

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/07/06

There is strong evidence that global temperatures are not significantly dependent on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide).

That’s what science — the evidence, the facts — says.

Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly widespread belief among public and governments is the opposite, believing carbon dioxide to be the single most important determinant of global temperature and climate.

How could such a disparity between fact and public belief come about?

President Eisenhower foresaw the possibility half a century ago:
“in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite” (Farewell speech, 17 January 1961).

Such influence of a scientific-technological elite is possible because “science” has become believed in superstitiously: on authority, not because it offers sound evidence and logic (Superstitious belief in science). A number of popular misunderstandings about science conspire to maintain this state of affairs, notably a failure to appreciate how drastically different scientific activities became following World War II, different from earlier times; science nowadays is not self-correcting and it does not follow the so-called scientific method. A full discussion of those points is in my just-published Science Is Not What You Think — How it has changed, Why we can’t trust it, How it can be fixed.

The “fix” refers to the possible establishment of a Science Court to adjudicate expert differences over technical issues. That was first suggested more than half a century ago when the experts were at loggerheads and arguing publicly over whether power could be generated safely using nuclear reactors.
More recently, some legal scholars have pointed out that such an institution could help the legal system to cope with cases where technical issues play an important role.
Beyond that, I suggest that a Science Court is needed to force the prevailing “scientific consensus” to respond substantively to critiques like those made by the many critics of human-caused global warming and climate change.

Posted in consensus, global warming, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientific literacy, scientism | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

How to interpret statistics; especially about drug efficacy

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/06/06

How (not) to measure the efficacy of drugs  pointed out that the most meaningful data about a drug are the number of people needed to be treated for one person to reap benefit, NNT, and the number needed to be treated for one person to be harmed, NNH.

But this pertinent, useful information is rarely disseminated, and most particularly not by drug companies. Most commonly cited are statistics about drug performance relative to other drugs or relative to placebo. Just how misleading this can be is described in easily understood form in this discussion of the use of anti-psychotic drugs.

 

That article (“Psychiatry defends its antipsychotics: a case study of institutional corruption” by Robert Whitaker) has many other points of interest. Most important, of course, the potent demonstration that official psychiatric practice is not evidence-based, rather, its aim is to defend the profession’s current approach.

 

In these ways, psychiatry differs only in degree from the whole of modern medicine — see WHAT’S WRONG WITH PRESENT-DAY MEDICINE  — and indeed from contemporary science on too many matters: Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, Jefferson (NC): McFarland 2012.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs, scientific culture, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Superstitious belief in science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/05/16

Most people have a very misled, unrealistic view of “science”. A very damaging consequence is that scientific claims are given automatic respect even when that is unwarranted — as it always is with new claims, say about global warming. Dramatic changes in how science is done, especially since mid-20th century, make it less trustworthy than earlier.

In 1987, historian John Burnham published How Superstition Won and Science Lost, arguing that modern science had not vanquished popular superstition by inculcating scientific, evidence-based thinking; rather, science had itself become on worldly matters the accepted authority whose pronouncements are believed without question, in other words superstitiously, by society at large.

Burnham argued through detailed analysis of how science is popularized, and especially how that has changed over the decades. Some 30 years later, Burnham’s insight is perhaps even more important. Over those years, certain changes in scientific activity have also become evident that support Burnham’s conclusion from different directions: science has grown so much, and has become so specialized and bureaucratic and dependent on outside patronage, that it has lost any ability to self-correct. As with religion in medieval times, official pronouncements about science are usually accepted without further ado, and minority voices of dissent are dismissed and denigrated.

A full discussion with source references, far too long for a blog post, is available here.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, politics and science, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Climate-change orthodoxy: alternative facts, uncertainty equals certainty, projections are not predictions, and other absurdities of the “scientific consensus”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/05/10

G. K. Chesterton once suggested that the best argument for accepting the Christian faith lies in the reasons offered by atheists and skeptics against doing so. That interesting slant sprang to mind as I was trying to summarize the reasons for not believing the “scientific consensus” that blames carbon dioxide for climate change.

Of course the very best reason for not believing that CO2 causes climate change are the data, as summarized in an earlier post

–>      Global temperatures have often been high while CO2 levels were low, and vice versa

–>     CO2 levels rise or fall after temperatures have risen or fallen

–>     Temperatures decreased between the 1940s and 1970s, and since about 1998 there has been a pause in warming, perhaps even cooling, while CO2 levels have risen steadily.

But disbelieving the official propaganda becomes much easier when one recognizes the sheer absurdities and illogicalities and self-contradictions committed unceasingly by defenders of the mainstream view.

1940s-1970s cooling
Mainstream official climate science is centered on models: computer programs that strive to simulate real-world phenomena. Any reasonably detailed description of such models soon reveals that there are far too many variables and interactions to make that feasible; and moreover that a host of assumptions are incorporated in all the models (1). In any case, the official models do not simulate the cooling trend of these three decades.
“Dr. James Hansen suspects the relatively sudden, massive output of aerosols from industries and power plants contributed to the global cooling trend from 1940-1970” (2).
But the models do not take aerosols into account; they are so flawed that they are unable to simulate a thirty-year period in which carbon emissions were increasing and temperatures decreasing. An obvious conclusion is that no forecast based on those models deserves to be given any credence.

One of the innumerable science-groupie web-sites expands on the aerosol speculation:
“40’s to 70’s cooling, CO2 rising?
This is a fascinating denialist argument. If CO2 is rising, as it was in the 40’s through the 70’s, why would there be cooling?
It’s important to understand that the climate has warmed and cooled naturally without human influence in the past. Natural cycle, or natural variability need to be understood if you wish to understand what modern climate forcing means. In other words modern or current forcing is caused by human industrial output to the atmosphere. This human-induced forcing is both positive (greenhouse gases) and negative (sulfates and aerosols).”

Fair enough; but the models fail to take account of natural cycles.

Rewriting history
The Soviet Union had an official encyclopedia that was revised as needed, for example by rewriting history to delete or insert people and events to correspond with a given day’s political correctness. Some climate-change enthusiasts also try to rewrite history: “There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age. Indeed, the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then” (3). Compare that with a host of reproductions and citations of headlines from those cold times when media alarms were set off by what the “scientific consensus” indeed then was (4). And the cooling itself was, of course, real, as is universally acknowledged nowadays.

The media faithfully report what officialdom disseminates. Routinely, any “extreme” weather event is ascribed to climate change — anything worth featuring as “breaking news”, say tsunamis, hurricanes, bushfires in Australia and elsewhere. But the actual data reveal no increase in extreme events in recent decades: not Atlantic storms, nor Australian cyclones, nor US tornadoes, nor “global tropical cyclone accumulated energy”, nor extremely dry periods in the USA, in the last 150 years during which atmospheric carbon dioxide increased by 40% (pp. 46-51 in (1)). Nor have sea levels been rising in any unusual manner (Chapter 6 in (1)).

Defenders of climate-change dogma tie themselves in knots about whether carbon dioxide has already affected climate, whether its influence is to be seen in short-term changes or only over the long term. For instance, the attempt to explain 1940s-70s cooling presupposes that CO2 is only to be indicted for changes over much longer time-scales than mere decades. Perhaps the ultimate demonstration of wanting to have it both ways — only long-term, but also short-term — is illustrated by a pamphlet issued jointly by the Royal Society of London and the National Academy of Science of the USA (5, 6).

No warming since about 1998
Some official sources deny that there has been any cessation of warming in the new century or millennium. Others admit it indirectly by attempting to explain it away or dismiss it as irrelevant, for instance “slowdowns and accelerations in warming lasting a decade or more will continue to occur. However, long- term climate change over many decades will depend mainly on the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human   activities” (p. 2 in (5)); “shorter-term variations are mostly due to natural causes, and do not contradict our fundamental understanding that the long-term warming trend is primarily due to human-induced changes in the atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases” (p. 11 in (5)).

Obfuscating and misdirecting
The Met Office, the UK’s National Meteorological Service, is very deceptive about the recent lack of warming:

“Should climate models have predicted the pause?
Media coverage … of the launch of the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC has again said that global warming is ‘unequivocal’ and that the pause in warming over the past 15 years is too short to reflect long-term trends.

[No one disputes the reality of long-term global warming — the issue is whether natural forces are responsible as opposed to human-generated carbon dioxide]

… some commentators have criticised climate models for not predicting the pause. …
We should not confuse climate prediction with climate change projection. Climate prediction is about saying what the state of the climate will be in the next few years, and it depends absolutely on knowing what the state of the climate is today. And that requires a vast number of high quality observations, of the atmosphere and especially of the ocean.
On the other hand, climate change projections are concerned with the long view; the impact of the large and powerful influences on our climate, such as greenhouse gases.

[Implying sneakily and without warrant that natural forces are not “large and powerful”. That is quite wrong and it is misdirection, the technique used by magicians to divert attention from what is really going on. By far the most powerful force affecting climate is the energy coming from the sun.]

Projections capture the role of these overwhelming influences on climate and its variability, rather than predict the current state of the variability itself.
The IPCC model simulations are projections and not predictions; in other words the models do not start from the state of the climate system today or even 10 years ago. There is no mileage in a story about models being ‘flawed’ because they did not predict the pause; it’s merely a misunderstanding of the science and the difference between a prediction and a projection.
[Misdirection again. The IPCC models failed to project or predict the lack of warming since 1998, and also the cooling of three decades after 1940. The point is that the models are inadequate, so neither predictions nor projections should be believed.]

… the deep ocean is likely a key player in the current pause, effectively ‘hiding’ heat from the surface. Climate model projections simulate such pauses, a few every hundred years lasting a decade or more; and they replicate the influence of the modes of natural climate variability, like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) that we think is at the centre of the current pause.
[Here is perhaps the worst instance of misleading. The “Climate model projections” that are claimed to “simulate such pauses, a few every hundred years lasting a decade or more” are not made with the models that project alarming human-caused global warming, they are ad hoc models that explore the possible effects of variables not taken into account in the overall climate models.]”

The projections — which the media (as well as people familiar with the English language) fail to distinguish from predictions — that indict carbon dioxide as cause of climate change are based on models that do not incorporate possible effects of deep-ocean “hidden heat” or such natural cycles as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Those and other such factors as aerosols are considered only in trying to explain why the climate models are wrong, which is the crux of the matter. The climate models are wrong.

Asserting that uncertainty equals certainty
The popular media disseminated faithfully and uncritically from the most recent official report that “Scientists are 95% certain that human are responsible for the ‘unprecedented’ warming experienced by the Earth over the last few decades

Leave aside that the warming cannot be known to be “unprecedented” — global temperatures have been much higher in the past, and historical data are not fine-grained enough to compare rates of warming over such short time-spans as mere decades or centuries.

There is no such thing as “95% certainty”.
Certainty means 100%; anything else is a probability, not a certainty.
A probability of 95% may seem very impressive — until it is translated into its corollary: 5% probability of being wrong; and 5% is 1 in 20. I wouldn’t bet on anything that’s really important to me if there’s 1 chance in 20 of losing the bet.
So too with the frequent mantra that 97% or 98% of scientists, or some other superficially impressive percentage, support the “consensus” that global warming is owing to carbon dioxide (7):

 

“Depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, it’s somewhere between 90% and 100% that agree humans are responsible for climate change, with most of our studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists.”

In other words, 3% (“on average”) of “publishing climate scientists” disagree. And the history of science teaches unequivocally that even a 100% scientific consensus has in the past been wrong, most notably on the most consequential matters, those that advanced science spectacularly in what are often called “scientific revolutions” (8).
Furthermore, “publishing climate scientists” biases the scales a great deal, because peer review ensures that dissenting evidence and claims do not easily get published. In any case, those percentages are based on surveys incorporating inevitable flaws (sampling bias as with peer review, for instance). The central question is, “How convinced are you that most recent and near future climate change is, or will be, the result of anthropogenic causes”? On that, the “consensus” was only between 33% and 39%, showing that “the science is NOT settled” (9; emphasis in original).

Science groupies — unquestioning accepters of “the consensus”
The media and countless individuals treat the climate-change consensus dogma as Gospel Truth, leading to such extraordinary proposals as that by Professor of Law, Philippe Sands, QC, that “False claims from climate sceptics that humans are not responsible for global warming and that sea level is not rising should be scotched by an international court ruling”.

I would love to see any court take up the issue, which would allow us to make defenders of the orthodox view attempt to explain away all the data which demonstrate that global warming and climate change are not driven primarily by carbon dioxide.

The central point

Official alarms and established scientific institutions rely not on empirical data, established facts about temperature and CO2, but on computer models that are demonstrably wrong.

Those of us who believe that science should be empirical, that it should follow the data and change theories accordingly, become speechless in the face of climate-change dogma defended in the manner described above. It would be screamingly funny, if only those who do it were not our own “experts” and official representatives (10). Even the Gods are helpless in the face of such determined ignoring of reality (11).

___________________________________

(1)    For example, chapter 10 in Howard Thomas Brady, Mirrors and Mazes, 2016; ISBN 978-1522814689. For a more general argument that models are incapable of accurately simulating complex natural processes, see, O. H. Pilkey & L. Pilkey-Jarvis, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future, Columbia University Press, 2007
(2)    “40’s to 70’s cooling, CO2 rising?”
(3)    Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley & John Fleck, “The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus”, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 2008, 1325-37
(4)    “History rewritten, Global Cooling from 1940 – 1970, an 83% consensus, 285 papers being ‘erased’”; 1970s Global Cooling Scare; 1970s Global Cooling Alarmism
(5)    Climate Change: Evidence & Causes—An Overview from the Royal   Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Academies Press; ISBN 978-0-309-30199-2
(6)    Relevant bits of (e) are cited in a review, Henry H. Bauer, “Climate-change science or climate-change propaganda?”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 29 (2015) 621-36
(7)    The 97% consensus on global warming
(8) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970; Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”, Science, 134 (1961) 596–602. Gunther Stent, “Prematurity and uniqueness in   scientific discovery”, Scientific American, December 1972, pp. 84-93. Hook, Ernest B. (ed), Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect, University of California Press, 2002
(9)    Dennis Bray, “The scientific consensus of climate change revisited”, Environmental Science & Policy, 13 (2010) 340 –50; see also “The myth of the Climate Change ‘97%’”, Wall Street Journal, 27 May 2014, p. A.13, by Joseph Bast & Roy Spencer
(10) My mother’s frequent repetitions engraved in my mind the German folk-saying, “Wenn der Narr nicht mein wär’, lacht’ ich mit”. Google found it in the Deutsches sprichwörter-lexikon edited by Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wander (#997, p. 922)
(11)  “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens”; Friedrich Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans.

 

Posted in consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, peer review, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/05/02

The mainstream claims about carbon dioxide , global warming, and climate change, parroted by most media and accepted by most of the world’s governments, are rather straightforward: carbon dioxide released in the burning of “fossil fuels” (chiefly coal and oil) drives global warming because CO2 is a “greenhouse gas”, absorbing heat that would otherwise radiate harmlessly out into space. Since the mid-19th century, when the Industrial Revolution set off this promiscuous releasing of CO2, the Earth has been getting hotter at an unprecedented pace.

The trouble with these claims is that actual data demonstrate that global temperature is not determined by the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

For example, during the past 500 million years, CO2 levels have often been much higher than now, including times when global temperatures were lower (1):

“The gray bars at the top … correspond to the periods when the global climate was cool; the intervening white space corresponds to the warm modes … no correspondence between pCO2 and climate is evident …. Superficially, this observation would seem to imply that pCO2 does not exert dominant control on Earth’s climate …. A wealth of evidence, however, suggests that pCO2 exerts at least some control …. [but this Figure] … shows that the ‘null hypothesis’ that pCO2 and climate are unrelated cannot be rejected on the basis of this evidence alone.” [To clarify convoluted double negative: All the evidence cited in support of mainstream claims is insufficient to over-rule what the above Figure shows, that CO2 does not determine global temperatures (the “null hypothesis”).]

Again, with temperature levels in quantitative detail (2):

Towards the end of the Precambrian Era, CO2 levels (purple curve) were very much higher than now while temperatures (blue curve) were if anything lower. Over most of the more recent times, CO2 levels have been very much lower while temperatures most of the time were considerably higher.

Moreover, the historical range of temperature fluctuations makes a mockery of contemporary mainstream ambitions to prevent global temperatures rising by as much as 2°C; for most of Earth’s history, temperatures have been about 6°C higher than at present.

Cause precedes effect

The data just cited do not clearly demonstrate whether rising CO2 brings about subsequent rises in temperature — or vice versa. However, ice-core data back as far as 420,000 years do show which comes first: temperature changes are followed by CO2 changes (3):

On average, CO2 rises lag about 800 years behind temperature rises; and CO2 levels also decline slowly after temperatures have fallen.

Since the Industrial Revolution

Over the last 150 years, global temperatures have risen, and levels of CO2 have risen. This period is minuscule by comparison to the historical data summarized above. Crucially, what has happened in this recent sliver of time cannot be compared directly to the past because the historical data are not fine-grained enough to discern changes over such short periods of time. What is undisputed, however, is that CO2 and temperature have not increased in tandem in this recent era, just as over geological time-spans. From the 1940s until the 1970s, global temperatures were falling, and mainstream experts were telling the mass media that an Ice Age was threatening (4) — at the same time as CO2 levels were continuing their merry rise with fossil fuels being burnt at an ever-increasing rate (5):

1945 to 1977 cool period with soaring CO2 emissions. Global temperatures began to cool in the mid–1940’s at the point when CO2 emissions began to soar … . Global temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere dropped about 0.5°C (0.9° F)
from the mid-1940s until 1977 and temperatures globally
cooled about 0.2°C (0.4° F) …. Many of the world’s glaciers advanced during this time and recovered a good deal
of the ice lost during the 1915–1945 warm period”.

Furthermore (5):

Global cooling from 1999 to 2009. No global warming has occurred above the 1998 level. In 1998, the PDO [Pacific Decadal Oscillation] was in its warm mode. In 1999, the PDO flipped from its warm mode into its cool mode and satellite imagery confirms that the cool mode has become firmly entrenched since then and global cooling has deepened significantly in the past few years.”

In short:
–>       Global temperatures have often been high
while CO2 levels were low, and vice versa
–>        CO2 levels rise or fall after temperatures have risen or fallen
–>         CO2 levels have risen steadily but temperatures decreased
between the 1940s and 1970s, and since about 1998
there has been a pause in warming, perhaps even cooling

Quite clearly, CO2 is not the prime driver of global temperature. Data, facts, about temperature and CO2 demonstrate that something else has far outweighed the influence of CO2 levels in determining temperatures throughout Earth’s history, including since the Industrial Revolution. “Something else” can only be natural forces. And indeed there are a number of known natural forces that affect Earth’s temperature; and many of those forces vary cyclically over time. The amount of energy radiated to Earth by the Sun varies in correlation with the 11-year periodic cycle of sun-spots, which is fairly widely known; but there are many other cycles known only to specialists, say the 9-year Lunisolar Precession cycle; and these natural forces have periodically warmed and cooled the Earth in cycles of glaciation and warmth at intervals of roughly 100,000 – 120,000 years (the Milankovitch Cycles), with a number of other cycles superposed on those (6).

So the contemporary mainstream view, the so-called “scientific consensus”, is at odds with the evidence, the facts.

That will seem incredible to many people, who might well ask how that could be possible. How could “science” be so wrong?

In brief: because of facts about science that are not much known outside the ranks of historians and philosophers and sociologists of science (7): that the scientific consensus at any given time on any given matter has been wrong quite often over the years and centuries (8); and that science nowadays has become quite different from our traditional view of it (9).

____________________________________

(1)    Daniel H. Rothman, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 99 (2002) 4167-71, doi: 10.1073/pnas.022055499
(2)    Nahle Nasif, “Cycles of Global Climate Change”, Biology Cabinet Journal Online, #295 (2007); primary sources of data are listed there
(3)    The 800 year lag in CO2 after temperature – graphed; primary sources are cited there
(4)    History rewritten, Global Cooling from 1940 – 1970, an 83% consensus, 285 papers being “erased”;
 1970s Global Cooling Scare;
 1970s Global Cooling Alarmism 
(5)    Don Easterbrook,
 “Global warming and CO2 during the past century”
(6)    David Dilley, Natural Climate Pulse, January 2012;
(7)    For example:
What everyone knows is usually wrong (about science, say)
Scientific literacy in one easy lesson
The culture and the cult of science
(8)    For example:
Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”,
Science, 134 (1961) 596–602.
Gunther Stent, “Prematurity and uniqueness in
scientific discovery”, Scientific American,
December 1972, pp. 84-93.
Hook, Ernest B. (ed), Prematurity in Scientific Discovery:
On Resistance and Neglect,
                                          University of California Press, 2002.
Science: A Danger for Public Policy?!
(9)   For example:
How Science Has Changed — notably since World War II
The Science Bubble
The business of for-profit “science”
From Dawn to Decadence: The Three Ages of Modern Science

Posted in consensus, global warming, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, the scientific method, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The banality of evil — Psychiatry and ADHD

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/04/25

“The banality of evil” is a phrase coined by Hannah Arendt when writing about the trial of Adolf Eichmann who had supervised much of the Holocaust. The phrase has been much misinterpreted and misunderstood. Arendt was pointing to the banality of Eichmann, who “had no motives at all” other than “an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement”; he “never realized what he was doing … sheer thoughtlessness … [which] can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts” (1). There was nothing interesting about Eichmann. Applying Wolfgang Pauli’s phrase, Eichmann was “not even wrong”: one can learn nothing from him other than that evil can result from banality, from thoughtlessness. As Edmund Burke put it, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” — and not thinking is a way of doing nothing.

That train of thought becomes quite uncomfortable with the realization that sheer thoughtlessness nowadays pervades so much of the everyday practices of science, medicine, psychiatry. Research simply — thoughtlessly — accepts contemporary theory as true, and pundits, practitioners, teachers, policy makers all accept the results of research without stopping to think about fundamental issues, about whether the pertinent contemporary theories or paradigms make sense.

Psychiatrists, for example, prescribe Ritalin and other stimulants as treatment for ADHD — Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder — without stopping to think about whether ADHD is even “a thing” that can be defined and diagnosed unambiguously (or even at all).

The official manual, which one presumes psychiatrists and psychologists consult when assigning diagnoses, is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, now (since 2013) in its 5th edition (DSM-5). DSM-5 has been quite widely criticized, including by such prominent psychiatrists as Allen Frances who led the task force for the previous, fourth, edition (2).

Even casual acquaintance with the contents of this supposedly authoritative DSM-5 makes it obvious that criticism is more than called for. In DSM-5, the Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD are set down in five sections, A-E.

A: “A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, as characterized by (1) and/or (2):
     1.   Inattention: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities
           Note: The symptoms are not solely a manifestation of oppositional behavior, defiance, hostility, or failure to understand tasks or instructions. For older adolescents and adults (age 17 and older), at least five symptoms are required.
a.     Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate)
b.     Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or lengthy reading).”
and so on through c-i, for a total of nine asserted characteristics of inattention.

Paying even cursory attention to these “criteria” makes plain that they are anything but definitive. Why, for example, are six symptoms required up to age 16 when five are sufficient at 17 years and older? There is nothing clear-cut about “inconsistent with developmental level”, which depends on personal judgment about both the consistency and the level of development. Different people, even different psychiatrists no matter how trained, are likely to judge inconsistently in any given case whether the attention paid (point “a”) is “close” or not. So too with “careless”, “often”, “difficulty”; and so on.

It is if anything even worse with Criteria A(2):

“2.    Hyperactivity and Impulsivity:
Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities
       Note: The symptoms are not solely a manifestation of oppositional behavior, defiance, hostility, or failure to understand tasks or instructions. For older adolescents and adults (age 17 and older), at least five symptoms are required.
a.    Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat.”
and so on through b-i, for again a total of nine supposed characteristics of inattention. There is no need to cite any of those since “a” amply reveals the absurdity of designating as the symptom of a mental disorder a type of behavior that is perfectly normal for the majority of young boys. This “criterion” makes self-explanatory the reported finding that boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, though experts make heavier weather of it by suggesting that sex hormones may be among the unknown causes of ADHD (3).

A(1) and (2) are followed by
“B. Several inattentive or hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms were present prior to age 12 years.
C. Several inattentive or hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms are present in two or more
settings  (e.g., at home, school, or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
D. There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social,
academic, or occupational functioning.
E. The symptoms do not occur exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or another
psychotic disorder and are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., mood
disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, personality disorder, substance
intoxication or withdrawal).”

It should be plain enough that this set of so-called criteria is not based on any definitive empirical data, as a simple thought experiment shows: What clinical (or any other sort of) trial could establish by observation that six symptoms are diagnostic up to age 17 whereas five can be decisive from that age on? What if the decisive symptoms were apparent for only 5 months rather than six; or five-and-three-quarters months? How remarkable, too, that “inattention” and hyperactivity and impulsivity” are both characterized by exactly nine possible symptoms.

Leaving aside the deplorable thoughtlessness of the substantive content of DSM-5, it is also saddening that something published by an authoritative medical society should reflect such carelessness or thoughtlessness in presentation. Competent copy-editing would have helped, for example by eliminating the many instances of “and/or”: “this ungraceful phrase … has no right to intrude in ordinary prose” (4) since just “or” would do nicely; if, for instance, I tell you that I’ll be happy with A or with B, obviously I’ll be perfectly happy also if I get both.
Good writing and proper syntax are not mere niceties; their absence indicates a lack of clear substantive thought in what is being written about, as Richard Mitchell ( “The Underground Grammarian”), liked to illustrate by quoting Ben Jonson: “Neither can his Mind be thought to be in Tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous”.

At any rate, ADHD is obviously an invented condition that has no clearly measurable characteristics. Assigning that diagnosis to any given individual is an entirely subjective, personal judgment. That this has been done for some large number of individuals strikes me as an illustration of the banality of evil. Countless parents have been told that their children have a mental illness when they are behaving just as children naturally do. Countless children have been fed mind-altering drugs as a consequence of such a diagnosis. Some number have been sent to special schools like Eagle Hill, where annual tuition and fees can add up to $80,000 or more.

Websites claim to give information that is patently unfounded or wrong, for example:

“Researchers still don’t know the exact cause, but they do know that genes, differences in brain development and some outside factors like prenatal exposure to smoking might play a role. … Researchers looking into the role of genetics in ADHD say it can run in families. If your biological child has ADHD, there’s a one in four chance you have ADHD too, whether it’s been diagnosed or not. … Some external factors affecting brain development have also been linked to ADHD. Prenatal exposure to smoke may increase your child’s risk of developing ADHD. Exposure to high levels of lead as a toddler and preschooler is another possible contributor. … . It’s a brain-based biological condition”.

Those who establish such websites simply follow thoughtlessly, banally, what the professional literature says; and some number of academics strive assiduously to ensure the persistence of this misguided parent-scaring and children-harming. For example, by claiming that certain portions of the brains of ADHD individuals are characteristically smaller:

“Subcortical brain volume differences in participants with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults: a cross-sectional mega-analysis” by Martine Hoogman et al., published in Lancet Psychiatry (2017, vol. 4, pp. 310–19). The “et al.” stands for 81 co-authors, 11 of whom declared conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical companies. The conclusions are stated dogmatically: “The data from our highly powered analysis confirm that patients with ADHD do have altered brains and therefore that ADHD is a disorder of the brain. This message is clear for clinicians to convey to parents and patients, which can help to reduce the stigma that ADHD is just a label for difficult children and caused by incompetent parenting. We hope this work will contribute to a better understanding of ADHD in the general public”.

An extensive detailed critique of this article has been submitted to the journal as a basis for retracting that article: “Lancet Psychiatry Needs to Retract the ADHD-Enigma Study” by Michael Corrigan & Robert Whitaker. The critique points to a large number of failings in methodology, including that the data were accumulated from a variety of other studies with no evidence that diagnoses of ADHD were consistent or that controls were properly chosen or available — which ought in itself be sufficient reason not to find publication.

Perhaps worst of all: Nowhere in the article is IQ mentioned; yet the Supplementary Material contains a table revealing that the “ADHD” subjects had on average higher IQ scores than the “normal” controls. “Now the usual assumption is that ADHD children, suffering from a ‘brain disorder,’ are less able to concentrate and focus in school, and thus are cognitively impaired in some way. …. But if the mean IQ score of the ADHD cohort is higher than the mean score for the controls, doesn’t this basic assumption need to be reassessed? If the participants with ADHD have smaller brains that are riddled with ‘altered structures,’ then how come they are just as smart as, or even smarter than, the participants in the control group?”

[The Hoogman et al. article in many places refers to “(appendix)” for details, but the article — which costs $31.50 — does not include an appendix; one must get it separately from the author or the journal.]

As usual, the popular media simply parroted the study’s claims, illustrated by headlines cited in the critique:

And so the thoughtless acceptance by the media of anything published in an established, peer-reviewed journal contributes to making this particular evil a banality. The public, including parents of children, are further confirmed in the misguided, unproven, notion that something is wrong with the brains of children who have been designated with a diagnosis that is no more than a highly subjective opinion.

The deficiencies of this article also illustrate why those of us who have published in peer-reviewed journals know how absurd it is to regard “peer review” as any sort of guarantee of quality, or even of minimal standards of competence and honesty. As Richard Horton, himself editor of The Lancet, has noted, “Peer review . . . is simply a way to collect opinions from experts in the field. Peer review tells us about the acceptability, not the credibility, of a new finding” (5).

The critique of the Hoogman article is just one of the valuable pieces at the Mad in America website. I also recommend highly Robert Whitaker’s books, Anatomy of an Epidemic and Mad in America.


(1)  Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem — A Report on the Banality of Evil. Viking Press,
1964 (rev. & enlarged ed.). Quotes are at p. 134 of PDF available at
https://platypus1917.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/arendt_eichmanninjerusalem.pdf
(2)  Henry H. Bauer, “The Troubles With Psychiatry — essay review of Saving Normal by Allen
Frances and The Book Of Woe by Gary Greenberg”, Journal of Scientific Exploration,
29  (2015) 124-30
(3)   Donald W. Pfaff, Man and Woman: An Inside Story, Oxford University Press, 2010: p. 147
(4)   Modern American Usage (edited & completed by Jacques Barzun et al. from the work of
Wilson Follett), Hill & Wang 1966
(5)    Health Wars: On the Global Front Lines of Modern Medicine, New York Review Books,
2003, p. 306

 

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs, science is not truth, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Science: A Danger for Public Policy?!

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/02/08

Public policies rely on advice and consent from science about an ever wider range of issues (environmental challenges, individual and public health. infrastructure and its safety, military systems). Surely this is unquestionably good, that public policies are increasingly pragmatic through respecting the facts delivered by science?

No. Not necessarily, not always.

The central problem is that science — humankind’s understanding of nature, of the world — doesn’t just deliver facts. Science is perpetually incomplete. On any given question it may not be unequivocal.

The media, the public, policy makers, the legal system all presume that a contemporary consensus in the scientific community can be safely accepted as true for all practical purposes. The trouble is that any contemporary scientific consensus may later prove to have been wrong.

If this assertion seems outlandish —theoretically possible but so unlikely as to be ignorable in practice — it is because the actual history and nature of science are not widely enough understood.

The contemporary scientific consensus has in fact been wrong about many, perhaps even most of the greatest advances in science: Planck and quantums, Wegener and drifting continents, Mendel and quantitative genetic heredity; the scientific consensus and 1976   Nobel Prize for discovering the viral cause of mad-cow diseases was wrong; that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria had been pooh-poohed by the mainstream consensus for some two decades before adherents of the consensus were willing to examine the evidence and then award a Nobel Prize in 2005.

Historical instances of a mistaken scientific consensus being have seemingly not affected major public policies in catastrophic ways, although one possible precedent for such unhappy influence may be the consensus that supported the eugenics movement around the 1920s, resulting in enforced sterilization of tens of thousands of people in the USA as recently as the latter half of the 20th century.

Nowadays, though, the influence of science is so pervasive that the danger has become quite tangible that major public policies might be based on a scientific consensus that is at best doubtfully valid and at worst demonstrably wrong.

The possibility that significant public actions might be dictated by an unproven scientific consensus was explicitly articulated by President Eisenhower. His warning against the potential influence of the military-industrial complex is quite often cited, but little cited is another warning he gave in the same speech:

“in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

That can happen when a contemporary scientific consensus is accepted as practical truth, as settled science. The crucial distinction could hardly be explained more clearly than Michael Crichton did in an invited lecture at CalTech:

“Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. . . . It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.”

Crichton had in mind the present-day scientific consensus that human-caused generation of carbon dioxide is chiefly responsible for rising global temperatures and associated major climate-change. The fact that there are highly competent public dissenters — including such winners of Nobel Prizes as Ivar Giaever (Physics 1973), Robert Laughlin (Physics 1998), Kary Mullis (Chemistry 1993) — demonstrates that human-caused global warming is a consensus, not the unanimity associated with such “settled science” as the Periodic Table of the chemical elements or that E=mc2.

The proponents of human-caused global warming constitute an effective elite. Since they represent the contemporary consensus, they largely control peer review, research funding, and which research gets published; and they hold important positions in the halls of power of individual nations as well as in such international organizations as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The history of science is unequivocal: Contemporary scientific consensuses have been wrong on some of the most significant issues. Those who determine public policies would do well to seek an impartial comparison and analysis of the substantive claims made both by proponents of a mainstream consensus and by those who claim that the evidence does not prove that consensus to be unquestionably correct.

In absence of an impartial comparative analysis, public discourse and public actions are determined by ideology and not by evidence. “Liberals” assert that the mainstream consensus on global warming equals “science” and anyone who properly respects the environment is supposed to accept this scientific consensus. On the other side, many “conservatives” beg to differ, as when Senator Inhofe flourishes a snowball. One doubts that most proponents of either side could give an accurate summary of the pertinent evidence. That is not a very good way to discuss or to make public policy.

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This little essay had been offered as an Op-Ed to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times. the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times (London), and USA Today. That it appears here confirms that none of those media stalwarts wanted to use it.

Posted in consensus, global warming, media flaws, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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 http://www.madinamerica.com/mia-newsletter-signup/.

 

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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 http://wp.me/p2VG42-24).

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?

Biomarkers

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.

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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.

 

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(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)

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