Skepticism about science and medicine

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Archive for the ‘consensus’ Category

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”.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, fraud in medicine, medical practices, peer review, science is not truth | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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 »

The Case for a Science Court

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/01/24

I mentioned the concept of a Science Court in a previous post on this blog: “Who guards the guardians? Who guards science?”

and I’ve mentioned it in a number of other places as well. Sometimes those mentions have brought comments on a variety of blogs. Some raised objections to the idea, unfortunately most commonly individuals who have not read my full discussion of the concept, which comprises the 20 pages of chapter 12 in my latest book, “Science Is Not What You Think”  (see reviews of it).

Obviously I cannot reproduce here the 20 pages of that book chapter. Here are the salient points:

Ø     Nowadays, science is almost universally taken as the ultimate authority on knowledge about the natural world

Ø     Media, pundits, policymakers, and governments accept as reliable knowledge what science says

Ø     “What science says” is taken to be the contemporary “scientific consensus”, the mainstream view, the view held by the contemporary elite group of experts on the given topic

Ø     The history of science is unequivocal, that any given contemporary scientific consensus has been quite often significantly mistaken

Ø     History also records that contemporary experts who dissented from the scientific consensus sometimes — though by no means always — turn out to have been closer to the truth and then the consensus was

Ø     Society at large, and policymakers in particular, would benefit from an impartial independent assessment of the evidence respectively for and against the contemporary consensus. The aim of a Science Court would be precisely to facilitate such an impartial independent assessment.

The need for such an institution is nowadays quite pressing because on a whole host of topics there is no substantive, open, public, debate between proponents and challengers of the contemporary consensus. Many of those topics are of little or no immediate practical public significance, say, what the mechanism is of the sense of smell, or what caused the extinction of dinosaurs, or some other matters discussed in my earlier book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (2012) .

However, there are also some topics of prime human, social, political importance on which informed and qualified experts have offered strong evidence that the contemporary consensus is dangerously flawed: HIV/AIDS, human-caused global warming and climate change, the role of prescription drugs in preventive medicine. On those, the popular media illustrate well enough that official institutions accept the scientific consensus and dismiss all challenges as “denialism”, no matter how eminent are the challengers. Something like a Science Court would seem to be the only conceivable mechanism by which the consensus could be forced to confront openly and substantively the challenges to its hegemonic, dogmatically held, view.

In my chapter-length discussion, I consider also the following:

Ø     The formal structure, sponsorship, authority and powers of the Science Court

Ø     Staffing of the Court: permanent and also ad hoc as appropriate to each specific topic

Ø     The choice of advocates for and against, on each particular topic

Ø     The choice of which issues are to be considered by the Court

My chapter discusses the benefits the Science Court would bring on questions concerning prescription drugs, climate change, and HIV/AIDS. It also describes the history of the concept of a Science Court, which dates back half a century to qualms about the potential safety of generating power in nuclear reactors, when equally qualified experts were arguing both sides of the issue. In more recent times, several legal scholars have argued that a specifically Science Court would be of considerable benefit to the judicial system in general and as a whole, since that system is called on increasingly to decide cases in which central questions involve scientific evidence and the qualifications of expert witnesses.

The pressing need for a Science Court nowadays arises because the scientific consensus cannot be relied upon to deliver the benefits that “science” supposedly brings, namely, the best available impartial, objective, unbiased assessment of what is actually known, what “science” has established.

Science did indeed bring those benefits for the first several centuries of what is generally called “modern science”, beginning around the 16th/17th centuries or so with the Reformation and the subsequent Enlightenment. What has not yet been widely enough recognized is how different scientific activity is since the middle of the 20th century, by comparison with those earlier centuries of modern science. Those differences are described in considerable detail in chapter 1 of my recent book; in a nutshell:

The circumstances of scientific activity have changed, from about pre-WWII to nowadays, from a cottage industry of voluntarily cooperating, independent, largely disinterested ivory-tower intellectual entrepreneurs, where science was free to do its own thing, namely the unfettered seeking of truth about the natural world; to nowadays a bureaucratic corporate-industry-government behemoth in which science has been pervasively co-opted by outside interests and is not free to do its own thing because of the omnipresent conflicts of interest. Influences and interests outside science now control the choices of research projects and the decisions of what to publish and what not to make public.

Aspects of that change were noted by John Burnham in his book, How Superstition Won and Science Lost (1987), and by Jacques Barzun in his magisterial From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (2000).

Science nowadays plays much the same societal role as the Roman Catholic Church did in Western Civilization before the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The Church had become corrupted through bureaucracy and self-interest and the dysfunctions that arise inevitably as a result of human failings when an activity becomes too big and too powerful. It became obvious that the Church’s policies and actions had grown seriously at variance with its founding ideals. The Reformation and the Enlightenment brought and demonstrated the benefits of empirical, rational, evidence-based, pragmatism in the search for reliable understanding, by contrast to taking for granted what the authorities said.

Today’s scientific activity has become similarly dysfunctional through growing too big and too influential; something like a Science Court is needed to bring society the benefits of empirical, rational, evidence-based, pragmatism in the search for reliable insights.

 

Please note that I am far from alone in noting the dysfunctions of contemporary science and medicine: consider the many books, articles, and reports listed in these bibliographies:
http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/CRITIQUES_OF_CONTEMPORARY_SCIENCE_AND_MEDICINE.pdf
http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/WhatIsWrongWithMedicine.pdf

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, prescription drugs, science is not truth, science policy | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/11

“What everyone knows” is that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, a “greenhouse gas” that holds in heat, warming the Earth and causing climate change, with catastrophic consequences if it isn’t stopped soon.

All official agencies, all mainstream scientific groups, say that.

What few people know is that a considerable number of experts and informed observers do not believe this AGW scenario to be correct: AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming, global warming caused by human actions.

Those dissenting experts point out that actual data on temperature and carbon-dioxide levels, over the life of the Earth but also over the last century, show that carbon dioxide does not cause high global temperature.

But few people, again, can believe that “everyone” could be wrong about this, that “science” could be so dogmatically wrong. To form an opinion as to the relative merits of the official view and of the dissenting experts, therefore requires not only looking at the data but also at how the official view came into bring and how and why it persists. Few people want to take the time and make the effort to wade through huge amounts of writings by opposing advocates to ferret out the genuine facts and legitimate conclusions, which often calls for reading between the lines and being skeptical about everything.

My recent discovery of the Peter Ridd affair had a wonderfully beneficial consequence, learning about the writings of Don Aitkin, an Australian whose academic career included research on social and political matters as well as administrative experience that included heading a university (as Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra). Aitkin spent a decade or more reading and thinking about AGW, and summarized what he learned in a series of blogs. The last in the series, #16,  sums things up and has appropriate links to the earlier ones which concentrate on different aspects of the matter.

This offers a wonderfully convenient way for anyone to become genuinely informed about AGW, and “climate-change denialism”, and incidentally about the interaction between science and public policy. Aitkin is factually reliable and ideologically unbiased, an all-too-rare combination.

*                     *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *

My appreciation of Aitkin’s series on global warming was enhanced when he noted that the hysteria over AGW “bridges the space between science and politics in an almost unprecedented way, though it has some similarities to the ‘eugenics’ issue a hundred years ago”, something that had occurred to me also.

Another Aitkin blog-post, “A good starting position in discussions about ‘climate change’” cites the salient points made by Ben Pile at Climate Resistance:

  1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate. But evidence is not fact, and neither evidence nor fact speak for themselves.
  2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.
  3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone to reverse, any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain, and may itself be harmful.
  4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.
  5. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics not science.
  6. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones. Environmentalism uses science as a fig-leaf to hide an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics.
  7. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.
  8. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.
  9. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.
  10. The public remains unconvinced that mitigation is in its best interest. Few people have really bought into Environmentalism, but few people object vehemently to it. Most people are slightly irritated by it.
  11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.
  12. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet it has never been tested democratically.
  13. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians have had to seek new ways to connect with the public. Exaggerated environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.
  14. Environmentalism is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. It is being embraced by the old Right and Left alike. Similarly, climate change scepticism is not the exclusive domain of the conservative Right.
  15. Environmentalism will be worse for the poor than climate change.
  16. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

*                   *                  *                     *                   *                   *                   *                   *

Aitkin is an Australian, and any connection to Australia always rekindles my appreciation for the sanctuary Australia provided the refuigee Bauers and the excellent public education from which I benefited in elementary school (Picton, NSW), at The Sydney Boys’ High School, and at the University of Sydney (moreover, in those years, at almost no cost to my parents!).
Browsing Aitkin’s writings, I came across an after-dinner speech about “Australian values”  that rings true to my own recollections and also, I think, offers some insights into the similarities and differences between American and Australian life.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, global warming, media flaws, 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: , , | 3 Comments »

Australian university fires climate-change dissenter: dissent is not collegial…

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/08

Just another bit of evidence of politically correct dogmatism in science; see Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012

Tenured professor Peter Ridd, a marine scientist, was fired from James Cook University (Queensland, Australia), for sharing with a journalist his view that certain published work is misleading:

“Ridd’s expertise is in coastal oceanography and the impact of sediments on reefs and, for years, he has criticised research suggesting the Great Barrier reef is in serious trouble due to global warming and agricultural run-off, among other things. He claims the research lacks quality assurance, isn’t replicated often enough, and that the peer review system for research is inadequate. . . .
His trouble started in April 2016 when he received a ‘formal censure’ for ‘misconduct’. It was a curious incident: the university had got hold of an email that Ridd sent to a news.com.au journalist a few months before. In it, he urged the journalist to look into work Ridd had done suggesting that photographs released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority indicating a big decline in reef health over time were misleading …
the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies – based at James Cook University –‘should check their facts before they spin their story . . .’

This was enough for the university to censure Ridd on the grounds that he breached the code of conduct by ‘going to the media in your professional capacity in a way that was not collegial and did not respect the rights of others or uphold professional standards’. It was a warning. Ridd could make public comments but they ‘must be in a collegial manner that upholds the university and individuals’ respect’”.

In other words, don’t offer evidence that contradicts the mainstream view, especially if there are mainstream proponents in your own university.

Academic freedom to teach and publish?

Open-minded science that respects evidence?

Read the full article in The Guardian: Gay Alcorn, “Peter Ridd’s sacking pushes the limit of academic freedom”. Note that the journalist, Alcorn, takes human-caused climate change as Gospel truth, yet recognizes that the University fired Ridd because he sought media prominence for his views and refused to allow himself to be censored into not speaking publicly about the University’s actions against him. The Guardian, a stalwart supporter of left-leaning political correctness, could not quite bring itself to state straightforwardly that the university stepped way over the line as to academic freedom, but that’s a minor quibble; I congratulate Gay Alcorn and The Guardian for straight, unbiased reporting.

Ridd has sued the University and raised funds for his legal costs though crowd-funding; “the court hearing has been set for 12, 13 and 14th November”.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, global warming, legal considerations, media flaws, politics and science, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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