Skepticism about science and medicine

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Archive for the ‘resistance to discovery’ Category

Anti-psychotic drugs: initial benefit, long-term harm

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2016/08/03

Recently (Trust medical science at your peril (2): What is the evidence, especially in psychiatry? ) I recommended the newsletter of Mad in America  for disseminating reliable information about psychiatric matters. A recent issue of the Newsletter has links to a very thorough examination of the evidence that anti-psychotic drugs make things worse if used long-term: “The case against antipsychotics — A review of their long-term effects”, by Robert Whitaker (July 2016).

There is considerable support for the hypothesis that psychotic episodes are associated with heightened sensitivity to dopamine. Anti-psychotics ameliorate such episodes by blocking dopamine receptors. These drugs appear to be beneficial immediately, and for perhaps as long as a couple of years. However, once exposed to the drugs, withdrawal almost always has severe bad effects.

It appears that the brain tries to overcome the blocking of the dopamine receptors by increasing the number of these receptors. That takes appreciably long time, apparently many months if not years, so the consequences become significantly important only eventually. That explains why withdrawal brings even worse symptoms than the original ones were, and why long-term treatment is more harmful than beneficial. The drugs must be used forever, and their cumulating “side” effects are very debilitating.

Non-drug treatment of schizophrenia and other psychoses, sometimes teamed with short-term drug use, has much better long-term outcomes than does continual medication; better outcomes in terms of better all-around functioning and fewer relapses.


Posted in medical practices, prescription drugs, resistance to discovery, science is not truth | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

“Cold fusion” never disproved, lives on under other names

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/03/29

“Cold fusion” began in 1989 as a claim that fusion of deuterium could be accomplished at room temperatures in electrochemical cells using palladium electrodes. The claim was quickly dismissed after quick and dirty attempts at replication, but hundreds of researchers have continued to look into that and similar systems, including activation by sound energy or lasers. Further claims of nuclear transformations followed, and the field is now being pursued under other names: ‘condensed matter nuclear science (CMNS)’;  ‘low energy nuclear reactions (LENR)’; ‘chemically assisted nuclear reactions (CANR)’; ‘lattice assisted nuclear reactions (LANR)’.

There is a dedicated professional society, the International Society for Condensed
Matter Nuclear Science ( and journal, the Electronic Journal of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (

For an up-to-date review of the field, see Current Science 108 #4, pp. 491-659, freely available at


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Loch Ness Monsters

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/03/13

A book about “the Loch Ness Monster” by a man (Tim Dinsdale) who had filmed the back of a large creature swimming in Loch Ness had aroused my interest in 1961: Could the Loch Ness Monster be a real animal after all?

I was disappointed that I could find no authoritative discussion of the possibility in the popular or scientific literature. Encyclopedias had no more than a paragraph or two. On the other hand, Dinsdale’s book cited several earlier works, by Rupert Gould and by Constance Whyte, both of whom had quite impressive credentials. Why would science have nothing to say about a topic of such wide public interest?

That curiosity led me eventually to change my academic field from chemistry to science studies, with interest especially in scientific unorthodoxies. But I’ve kept my interest in Loch Ness, which remains an unexplained mystery. I’ve detailed elsewhere what my “belief” about Nessies actually is (Henry Bauer and the Loch Ness monsters).

Some of the most objective and compelling evidence for the existence of these creatures comes from sonar (“The Case for the Loch Ness Monster: The Scientific Evidence”Journal of Scientific Exploration, 16(2): 225–246 [2002]) and a few underwater photos taken simultaneously with sonar echoes, but such technical stuff is less subjectively convincing than “seeing with one’s own eyes”. For the latter, there is no substitute for the film taken by Tim Dinsdale in 1960. Recently Tim’s son Angus published a book, The Man Who Filmed Ness: Tim Dinsdale and the Enigma of Loch Ness, whose website  contains a link  that enables anyone to see the film itself on-line. Grainy as the film is, small as the Nessie’s back may seem at the range of a mile, you need to know only one thing to judge its significance:

The most determined debunkers, of whom there have been quite a few, have been able to suggest only one alternative explanation to this being a film of a large unidentified creature, of a species far larger than anything know to be in Loch Ness: That what seems to be a black hump, curved in cross-section and length, which submerges but continues to throw up a massive wake, is actually a boat with an outboard motor. Several magnified and computer-enhanced frames of the massive wake on my website show quite clearly that nothing material is visible above the wake after the hump has submerged.

If the most dedicated “skeptics” can offer no better explanation than this, then I feel justified in believing that Dinsdale filmed a genuine Nessie.
It reminds me of the Christian apologist, I think probably G. K. Chesterton or Malcolm Muggeridge, who remarked that the best argument for the truth of Christianity is the attempts by disbelievers to discredit it.
If there is one thing that the hump filmed by Dinsdale is certainly NOT, it’s a boat with an outboard motor.

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Public (lack of) sound knowledge about medical matters

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/10/27

This is a scientific age, and medicine (among other things) is now based on science. And science, of course, is self-correcting.

At least that’s what the conventional wisdom is, the Zeitgeist, the common shibboleths, and what the slew of public pundits keeps repeating.

The truth, of course, is quite otherwise. We’re in a Science Bubble [1] in which conflicts of interest, commercial interests, and bureaucracy throughout official institutions and “grass-roots” organizations make it less and less likely that genuine scientific knowledge influences our policies and practices.

The media do not do their job as a Fourth Estate that might help to keep the other Estates honest, they are simply mouthpieces helping to inflate and sustain the Science Bubble.

Evidence for these assertions:
Over the last few decades, and especially the last one, there has been a spate of informed criticism of present-day drug-besotted medical practice, in dozens of books and many more articles, from prominent insiders and from competent and well informed observers [2].
But the public media have failed to bring awareness of these critiques to the general public. And when they do make some reference to bits of it, they fail to emphasize the conclusions or to draw attention to the wider context of the Big Picture.

Case in point:
For years, informed insiders and observers have pointed out that much routine “screening” has done far more harm than good, by leading to unnecessary and damaging “preventive” “treatment” for people who did not need it.
Shannon Brownlee pointed this out at least 5 years ago in relation to mammography screening against breast cancer [3]; and Brownlee practices what she preaches:
“I don’t get mammograms. I don’t do mammograms. Now, I may do a mammogram or two in my 60s when it looks like the benefit is greatest, but I don’t do mammograms. And it’s . . . because I am more worried about being harmed by unnecessary treatment. I’m very worried about being harmed by unnecessary treatment by overdiagnosis.” [4]
Peter Gøtzsche published a book about it in 2012 [5], as authoritative as one might wish since Gøtzsche heads the Nordic Cochrane Center — the Cochrane Collaboration  being an independent group whose raison d’être is literature reviews and meta-analyses to determine whether actual practices do or do not live up to claims and expectations.

But what does the public learn from the popular media?
In 2014, for example, THIS WEEK (ABC TV, 26 October 2014) mentioned, as supposedly current news, that there’s controversy over the benefits of routine mammography screening.

I mentioned this to a good friend who happens to be a statistician/probabilist. He had worked at the University of Michigan some 40 years ago in a group that reported already then that annual mammograms did more harm than good.

Long gone are the days when Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes programs, to the occasional bemusement and sometimes dismay of sponsors, advertisers, and executives, would actually call a spade a spade (or a bloody shovel, as Aussies would say).

When the Science Bubble finally bursts, it will do far more damage than the defective air-bags and other things that the media are currently obsessing over and describing as world-shattering risks. Much is wrong with present-day medical practice, scores of books have been written about that, but the popular media seem ignorant of it and continue to disseminate misleading and damaging material.

[1] The Science Bubble, Edgescience #17, February 2014, 3-6
[2] What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine
[3] Cancer screening: Doing more harm than good?, Reader’s Digest, April 2009
[4] Diane Rehm show, “Debate over the benefits of routine mammograms”, 12 December 2012
[5] Mammography Screening: Truth. Lies and Controversy, Radcliffe, 2012

Posted in conflicts of interest, media flaws, medical practices, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Anti-obesity surgery: Weight loss prevents Alzheimer’s? (Anti-obesity fuss IV)

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/09/05

Being obese is bad for you, so everyone is saying just now; everyone including professional societies, official agencies, and drug companies who sell mind-altering drugs to curb your appetite that may also cause “potentially life-threatening serotonin syndrome . . . . confusion, Cognitive Impairment, disturbances in attention or memory . . . , Psychiatric Disorders including euphoria and dissociation, . . . depression or suicidal thoughts” [emphasis added] as well as priapism (erections lasting longer than 4 hours) [1].

Lest this possibility of literally fatal harm suggests that the possible benefit is not worth the risk and dissuades potential customers for these drugs, we’re now told that the drugs might not only harm the brain, they could actually do the very opposite too:

“Weight-loss surgery can boost brain power and ‘cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s’”

  • Scientists in Brazil found gastric bypass surgery can affect brain activity
  • Found the operation curbed changes in the brain associated with obesity
  • They noted improvements in planning, strategising and organising
  • Researchers also found evidence operation could reduce risk of Alzheimer’s

All this from a study of just 17 obese women, comparing them before bariatric surgery and 24 weeks after surgery.

“[S]ome areas of their [obese women’s] brains metabolised sugars at a higher rate than normal weight women. . . . in a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease . . . . Since bariatric surgery reversed this activity, we suspect the procedure may contribute to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. . . .

The new research focused on a procedure known as a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYBG) which combines the two types of bariatric surgery.

Brain scans and a range of psychological tests were used to assess its effect over a period of six months. . . .
bariatric surgery seemed to improve the performance of the obese women in a test of ‘executive function’. . . . the brain’s ability to connect past experience and current action . . . involved in planning, organising and making strategic decisions. Other tests measuring various aspects of memory and thinking ability showed no change after bariatric surgery”.


The original article on which this account is based is Marques et al., “Changes in neuropsychological tests and brain metabolism after bariatric surgery”, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 26 August 2014: jc.20142068. Its 6 pages are replete with speculation and do nothing to decrease my skepticism that lack of improvement in “various aspects of memory and thinking ability” could accompany improved performance in “planning, organising and making strategic decisions”.

This speculation is without any reasonable basis at all because Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is far from well understood. It is simply not known that there is “a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease”. There is considerable evidence against the mainstream hypothesis that AD is characterized by amyloid plaques [2].

TV’s 60 Minutes of 31 August 2014 reported results of continuing research with cohorts of old (≥90 years) people, observing their behavior and cognitive abilities together with in vivo recording of brain activity. The researchers expressed surprise that the amyloid plaques and tau tangles thought to be the cause of AD were present in some people who showed no signs of dementia; while some individuals with dementia had no sign of amyloid plaques or tau tangles. Instead, there were indications that tiny strokes had effectively killed small parts of the brain, strokes so small that the affected individual would have had no immediate indication of their occurrence.


Lay people might regard those findings as further evidence that amyloid and tau have nothing to do with AD, or indeed with dementia in general.
Those who believe that science rejects hypotheses when the evidence contradicts them might also imagine that the mainstream is now discarding the notion that AD is caused by accumulation of plaques of amyloid protein.

But that’s not what happens in the real world. The researchers suggested on 60 Minutes that maybe the brains of non-demented individuals with tau tangles and amyloid plaques had found some way or other to “get around” those indications of AD . . . . They didn’t try to explain why some AD victims had no tau tangles or amyloid plaques.


Those of us who are familiar with the ignoring of evidence that contradicts mainstream dogmas recognize this as routine, cognitive dissonance in the service of mainstream denialism.



[1] Belviq®, revised 08/2012

[2]  Pp. 108-9 in Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland (2012)

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“The scientific method” — it’s just not used, e.g. in Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/07/17

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the dysfunctional knowledge monopolies mentioned in my book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine  (pp. 108-9).

Decades-old dogma takes the cause of the disease to be the build-up in the brain of plaques of amyloid protein. However, a mass of actual evidence indicates that theory to be wrong: there have been “hundreds of experiments casting doubt on the neurotoxicity of amyloid”; drugs and vaccines that act against the plaque have been ineffective; amyloid injected into brains of mice caused no symptoms. Yet researchers find it very difficult to get their evidence for other causes of Alzheimer’s published or to get research support for their work.

Rationalizations that try to prop up the amyloid theory are feeble and far-fetched, as illustrated by a fairly recent paean to a “breakthrough”:
“New imaging shows Alzheimer’s unfolding in live brains” (Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, 18 September 2013):
“The two major brain abnormalities that underlie Alzheimer’s disease can now be viewed simultaneously in brain scans while people are still alive”. Amyloid plaque has been observable since 2005 by PET (positron emission tomography), but now one can also observe “tau tangles”, and “tau lesions are known to be more intimately associated with neuronal loss than plaques . . . . tau tangles accumulate first in the hippocampus — the brain’s memory centre — at a time when the plaques are already widespread. . . . Previous research has shown that the tangles rapidly kill neurons and trigger behavioural changes. . . . [The new] images suggest that the plaques are themselves harmless, but help to advance disease by spreading the tau tangles from the hippocampus to other brain regions” [emphases added].

Note first that “the scientific method” * that so many pundits still cite and believe in states that a theory is discarded when the evidence goes against it. Here, the mass of evidence against amyloid theory has not broken the grip of the dogmatic knowledge-monopoly. Even as it is acknowledged that tau tangles and not plaques are actually closely associated with loss of neurons, and that plaques were present “10 to 15 years before there are symptoms”, the amyloid theory is still paid obeisance by suggesting that amyloid plays an essential role by “spreading the tau tangles”.

But since plaque pre-dates symptoms by a decade or more, surely it makes more sense to infer that plaque “may be neutral or even beneficial, perhaps attempting to defend neurons that are under attack” since “some amyloid can be found in the brains of most people over 40”.

The New Scientist piece is based on Maruyama et al., “Imaging of Tau Pathology in a Tauopathy Mouse Model and in Alzheimer Patients Compared to Normal Controls”, Neuron, 79 [2013] 1094-1108; the “et al.” stands for 24 additional names. That article begins, “Hallmark pathologies of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are extracellular senile plaques consisting of aggregated amyloid β peptide . . . and intraneuronal . . . pathological tau fibrils, while similar tau lesions in neurons and glia are also characteristic of other neurodegenerative disorders” [emphasis added].
Tau tangles, but not amyloid, are known to be associated with a number of neurodegenerative disorders. Where was the need to invoke amyloid rather than tau as a cause of Alzheimer’s in the first place?
Those who question established mainstream dogmas are routinely called “denialists” — “AIDS denialists”, “climate change denialists”, and so forth. In point of fact, it is typically the mainstream thatis truly denialist: evidence denialist. As Max Planck out it long ago, old theories die only as their proponents also pass away; science advances funeral by funeral.

* See Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press 1992

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More reviews of DOGMATISM book

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/05/22

Two substantial reviews offering much room for further thought have just been published of Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth:

Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28 (2014) 142-48, by Donald J. DeGracia
Dogmatism in Science and Medicine (DSM) by Henry H. Bauer is about the corruption of modern science. For practicing scientists it is a disturbing book to read. Medicine is bitter, yet we put up with it to get better. DSM is bitter medicine intended to improve the health of science.
. . . .
Dr. Bauer does a professional, competent, and important job bringing the corruption of modern science into the light. The criticisms offered above do not detract from the fundamental correctness of the picture DSM paints, but instead underscore its seriousness, and the need to further refine the picture. To scoff at DSM or to think it is off-base is merely to reveal that the scoffer is woefully uninformed about the transformations that have occurred in science over the past decades. If one is a practicing scientist, or a concerned citizen of good will, one ignores this book at one’s own peril.

Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28 (2014) 149-52, by Brian Josephson
At the end of this fascinating book, Bauer asks the question: Can 21st century science become trustworthy again? He suggests that change must come from outside the existing institutions, which merely serve to perpetuate knowledge monopolies, but first the need for change must become generally recognized . Possibilities discussed include a Science Court; independent, publicly funded institutions that can assess scientific claims of public importance; and designated funds for non-mainstream research. Something of this nature is clearly needed.




Posted in denialism, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, funding research, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, politics and science, prescription drugs, resistance to discovery, science policy, scientism, scientists are human | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Experts, pundits, and the search for trustworthy knowledge

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/03/16

Long ago on a family trip by car, after we had gone for some miles in a wrong direction, my 9-year-old daughter noted that “No one’s perfect, not even Daddy”.
That’s worth recalling whenever you hear the word “expert”.

“According to experts” is a favorite media phrase. The citing of un-named experts is an outright scam. Maybe the reporter had just asked a trusted friend? Or consulted Wikipedia or some other Googled source? “Experts” differ in what they know, in how competent they are, how honest, scrupulous, publicity-seeking . . . . — they differ in all the ways that humans can differ from one another, including trustworthiness.

The whole point of citing experts is to justify a claim. But to be able to judge whether an expert is trustworthy, one needs to know who that expert is.

The media’s choices of experts are anything but reassuring. When non-anonymous experts about subject X appear in the media, in print or in person, it can be observed that any assistant professor of subject X at any college evidently qualifies for the media designation “expert”; or any journalist or pundit who has devoted time to subject X. For my part, if I am to take someone’s opinion as worth attending to, I need a lot more information and assurance than that.

Even experts with ostensibly unimpeachable credentials for expertise may not necessarily inspire trust. On matters of public policy, experts (like others) may express views on technical matters that reflect their political inclinations more than they do an unbiased view of the technicalities. Thus on matters of atomic energy and nuclear warfare, indubitably qualified expert Edward Teller and indubitably qualified expert Robert Oppenheimer delivered directly opposite advice with comparable force and expertness.

Indeed, when it comes to informing the general public or giving advice to policy makers, the most technically expert experts are not typically the best sources. The most lauded experts are those who have gained prominence through achieving something highly significant and original. Almost always, such individuals are headstrong, fiercely driven, egotistical personalities whose unwillingness to listen to others was an important asset in their technical achievements, for the most significant and original advances almost always encounter initial resistance from the mainstream, and it requires great self-confidence and persistence and not listening to critics to bring novel science into being (Barber, 1961; though Barber’s analysis is half-a-century in the past, it remains pertinent. For instance, if Townes (1999) had listened to the pleas of his Department Head and other senior physicists at Columbia University, his invention of the maser and laser might well have had to wait for later work by others).

Pundits, journalists, science writers and others may well have focused virtually all their time and effort on subject X and yet get it significantly or even entirely wrong on central points (Bauer, 2012a). Most commonly, they do so because they misguidedly lend unquestioned trust to the most prominent technical experts. And like those experts and everyone else, pundits and journalists and science writers may be so at the mercy of their ideology that they cannot evaluate the evidence in reasonably unbiased fashion. Writings and statements on the subject of human-caused global warming or climate change illustrate that fact as pro and con “experts” wax furious at those with differing views; and the great majority of pundits, journalists and others only consult those experts whose views are congenial to them: Fox News and MSNBC manage to find experts on opposing sides of almost any issue.

Anyone who wants to form a trustworthy opinion on any issue over which “experts” differ must delve into the substantive issues for themselves. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, one does not need much technical expertise to be able to evaluate the trustworthiness of opposing experts. One can judge appropriately by how well or badly the experts try to explain and justify their opinions, whether they respond substantively to queries or whether they brush them aside haughtily or evade them sneakily. When Robert Gallo is queried about the HIV=AIDS hypothesis, for example, sometimes he hangs up the phone, or perhaps says that everyone agrees with him so he must be right; what he has never done in response to a direct request is to cite publications that supposedly prove that HIV causes AIDS (Bauer, 2007).

So the most prominent, publicly acclaimed “experts” on a given topic cannot be relied on to deliver the most judicious and unbiased advice. They can be useful about the most intricate technical details, the structure and properties of leaves or arteries or retroviruses, but they are not usually willing or able to see the forest among all the trees.

Nor of course can anyone else be relied on if you really want to reach an informed and evidence-respecting opinion. No matter how much time and effort anyone may have devoted to an issue over which there is less than 100% consensus, everyone remains fallible for a variety of reasons: conflicts of interest, ideology, lapses of mental acuity, bad luck in not locating important evidence. Not that 100% consensus guarantees trustworthy information either. The whole history of the progress of scientific understanding is marked by milestones that are also gravestones of earlier 100% unquestioned mainstream consensuses. Scientific understanding has progressed via major revolutions in which earlier 100% consensuses were acknowledged to be wanting and were ditched in favor of something different (Kuhn, 1970).

Encyclopedias and other compendia are particularly to be treated with great caution, for they too are drawn up by fallible people. Most commonly, the authors suffer from faith in scientism, namely, “a too uncritically deferential attitude toward science” (Haack, 2013/14): using “science” or “scientific” as an honorific, signifying “to be trusted”; insisting on a clear difference between real science and pseudo-scientific imposters; asserting the existence of an unimpeachable “scientific method”; regarding science as the only source of reliable answers to all possible questions, and denigrating the legitimacy of such non-scientific endeavors as the humanities, the arts, theology.

Nowadays, it is quite difficult to locate individuals who are not to some degree addicted to and misled by scientistic belief — and those most immune to it most often suffer addiction to some comparably intellectually disabling dogmatic faith, say erroneously literalist and fundamentalist Islam or Christianity.

The unquestioned benefits that the Internet has brought have been accompanied by wholesale lack of reliable sourcing. I’ve described from personal experience the lack of fact-checking at Wikipedia and the lack of useful means to correct misinformation, for example, getting plainly wrong by half-a-dozen years two events in my career and thereby drawing an absurdly unwarranted conclusion (Bauer, 2008, 2009). Not that this happens only to ordinary folks like me: The Wiki entry for Francine Prose, a first-rate writer and novelist, has a plain error of fact whose correction has not happened because she “cannot face the byzantine process apparently required”. An even more famous writer, Philip Roth, had to publish at the New Yorker blog a 2600-word open letter before the self-appointed, anonymous officials at Wikipedia corrected an unwarranted inference about an alleged real-life model for one of Roth’s fictional characters (Prose, 2014).

Anyway: with Internet, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, or any other established authority, you believe them unreservedly at your peril. To discover what is most likely to be trustworthy, you need to find and evaluate primary sources for yourself.

Over the years I’ve found the conventional wisdom and the mainstream consensus to be significantly lacking — or just plain wrong — about the Loch Ness Monster (Bauer, 1986); about statins and many other prescription drugs (Bauer 2012b, 2014); about HIV/AIDS (Bauer, 2007) and about the Big Bang and about global warming (Bauer, 2012a); about what gets labeled pseudo-science (Bauer, 2001).

But please don’t take my word for it.
And don’t take anyone else’s word for the opposite, either.
Look at the evidence I cite,
look for other sources of evidence and other interpretations,
and eventually make up your own mind . . .
and don’t hesitate to leave a question open,
awaiting more and better evidence


Barber, Bernard, 1961: Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery, Science, 134: 596-602;
Bauer, Henry H., 1986: The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, University of Illinois Press; also Genuine facts about “Nessie”, The Loch Ness “Monster”
Bauer, Henry H., 2001: Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena                 and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press
Bauer, Henry H., 2007: The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland
Bauer, Henry H., 2008: Defenders of the HIV/AIDS Faith: Why Anonymous?
Bauer, Henry H., 2009: Beware the Internet: “reviews”, Wikipedia, and other sources of misinformation
Bauer, Henry H., 2012a: Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories                        Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland
Bauer, Henry H., 2012b: Seeking Immortality? Challenging the drug-based medical paradigm,
Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26: 867-80
Bauer, Henry H., 2014:  Statins: Scandalous new guidelines
Haack, Susan, 2013/14:  Six signs of scientism, Skeptical Inquirer; Part 1, 37 #6: 40-5; Part 2, 38 #1: 43-7
Kuhn, Thomas S., 1970: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press
Prose, Francine, 2014: New York Times Book Review, 19 January, p. 27
Townes, Charles H., 1999: How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist, Oxford University Press

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How many does it take?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/03/02

To the question, “How many …. does it take to change a light bulb?”, there are innumerable answers, a few of them even good ones

Recent events prompt me to paraphrase:

“How many climate models does it take to get it right?”

After all, the last 15-20 years have seen almost no global warming despite continuing increase in what is supposed to be the primary influence, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; see for instance “Climate scientist: 73 UN climate models wrong, no global warming in 17 years”

Unsurprisingly, gurus and groupies of the hypothesis of human-caused global warming (AGW, anthropogenic global warming) have come up with all sorts of reasons why this recent lack of warming doesn’t disprove their hypothesis, for example [1]:
“The biggest mystery in climate science today may have begun, unbeknownst to anybody at the time, with a subtle weakening of the tropical trade winds blowing across the Pacific Ocean in late 1997. …. average atmospheric temperatures have risen little since 1998, in seeming defiance of projections of climate models and the ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. . . . Climate sceptics have seized on the temperature trends as evidence that global warming has ground to a halt. . . . Climate scientists, meanwhile, know that heat must still be building up somewhere in the climate system, but they have struggled to explain where it is going, if not into the atmosphere. Some have begun to wonder whether there is something amiss in their models…. That has led sceptics — and some scientists — to the controversial conclusion that the models might be overestimating the effect of greenhouse gases” .

The only correct answer, of course, to “How many climate models does it take to get it right?”, is that it takes either none or an infinite number of climate models to get it right, because it is impossible for any number or array of computers to take into account all the variables and their interactions including feedbacks both positive and negative.
Models are research tools. Modelers try to find variables that combine to deliver results that mimic what is actually observed. The only test is against the real world. The only available data are what has happened up to the present. But it is elementary that the past is no guarantee of the future when it comes to human knowledge: not when it comes to believing that all swans are white, or that any given mutual fund outperforms all others, or anything else, including climate models — there is no guarantee that unknown or neglected variables will not become significant in the future. The past can be a fairly reliable guide only empirically, extrapolating actual real-world events, not merely human interpretation of or theories about those events: we can be fairly confident that the sun will (appear to) rise regularly in the east every 24 hours (or so), and that the succession of ice ages and warm periods experienced by the Earth will continue their cycles at about the same intervals (~150,000 years during the most recent million years).

Climate models are no more than research tools. They are inherently, inevitably, incapable of making reliable forecasts (recall always Michael Crichton’s wise words on consensus and prophecy [2].

Most of the arguing over the significance of the lack of atmospheric warming in the last couple of decades has been beside the point, arguments over whether it shows that long-term human-caused global warming (AGW, anthropogenic global warming) is actually occurring or not. Few moments of thought are needed to concluded that a couple of decades is insufficient to decide that. A mere smidgeon of knowledge of uncontroversial historical data suffices to recognize that global warming of about 5-6oC in the next 75,000 years or so is predictable since the Earth is just emerging from the last Ice Age, of which there have been 7 or 8 in the last million years. One of the obvious points against all current climate models is that the causes of these cycles are not understood and are therefore missing from the models.

The real point is that, since all the models have been wrong for the last couple of decades, therefore the models are faulty: “the most important point: the climate models that governments base policy decisions on have failed miserably” [3].
All official climate models have been definitively discredited. It follows that their predictions are not worth attending to.

How many Internet pundits does it take before one finds a reliable opinion?

I’ve remarked before on the pervasive unreliability of Internet stuff like Wikipedia [4] or Facebook [5]. There are a few useful sources only among the mass of rants by people who don’t know what they’re talking about but who parrot mainstream views as though those were Gospel Truth. So, for example, “Skeptical Science” had this to say [6]:
“Climate models have to be tested to find out if they work. We can’t wait for 30 years to see if a model is any good or not; models are tested against the past, against what we know happened. If a model can correctly predict trends from a starting point somewhere in the past, we could expect it to predict with reasonable certainty what might happen in the future”.
Utterly, fundamentally, indubitably wrong on one of the most elementary points about models and what past performance cannot with assurance say about the future. Models are constructed by using past data, so of course they “predict” what happened in the past.
This particular pundit flaunts apparently expert status — “Skeptical Science is maintained by . . . the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland” — while also disclaiming any authoritative knowledge: “There is no funding to maintain Skeptical Science other than Paypal donations — it’s run at personal expense. . . . [and] has no affiliations with any organisations or political groups. Skeptical Science is strictly a labour of love”.

The correct answer, of course, to “How many Internet pundits does it take before one finds a reliable opinion?”, is that unless one already knows a lot about a subject, the Internet is far more likely to mislead than to give reliable guidance.

How many Science Advisers does it take to deliver reliable advice?

It takes only one, provided it’s someone who understands what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, Presidential Science Advisers have so far always been scientists [7] with inadequate understanding of history of science and the nature of scientific activity and who therefore characteristically overestimate the trustworthiness of whatever the prevailing mainstream consensus happens to be. History is perfectly clear that science has always progressed by finding flaws in the mainstream consensus, modifying it or even overturning it completely [8]. The greatest achievements that we honor in retrospect were contrary to their contemporary mainstream consensus and were resisted, often fiercely and sometimes viciously, when they were first proposed [9]. To be potentially effective, science policy would need to be deeply informed by the maturing body of scholarship in Science & Technology Studies (see The progress of science and implications for Science Studies and for science policy;  and A consumer’s guide to Science Studies  [large file, takes a minute or more to download]).

Roger Pielke, Jr., has written soundly and sensibly of the proper role of scientists toward policy making: they should be honest brokers [10], delivering to decision makers the most unbiased, well informed, judicious summary of all the understanding and insight reflected in the various and often differing views of competent researchers.

The current Presidential Science Advisor is scandalously lacking in those desiderata: John Holdren’s epic fail.

How much contradictory data does it take to change a mainstream consensus?

It takes a lot more now even than it used to in the past. Max Planck, Nobel Prize for Physics (1918, quantum theory) is inevitably cited in this connection for the insight that new theories do not become accepted by convincing the mainstream but only as the old-timers pass away and a new generation takes over; science advances, in other words, one mainstreamer funeral at a time. Nowadays, outside interests have become so vested in scientific issues that it will take something like a social or political revolution to displace hypotheses like human-caused global warming [11].

[1] Jeff Tollefson, Climate change: The case of the missing heat — Sixteen years into the mysterious ‘global-warming hiatus’, scientists are piecing together an explanation, 15 January 2014; Nature 505: 276-8 ; doi:10.1038/505276a
[2] Michael Crichton, Aliens cause global warming, Caltech Michelin Lecture, 17 January 2003; also in Three speeches by Michael Crichton
[3] 95% of Climate models agree: The observations must be wrong 
[4] Beware the Internet: “reviews”, Wikipedia, and other sources of misinformation;  The Fairy-Tale Cult of Wikipedia;  Another horror story about Wikipedia;  The unqualified (= without qualifications) gurus of Wikipedia;  Lowest common denominator — Wikipedia and its ilk
[5] Facebook: As bad as Wikipedia, or worse?
[6] Getting Skeptical about global warming skepticism — How reliable are climate models?
[7] Pp. 37-8 in Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method, 1992
[8] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1970
[9] Bernard Barber, Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery, Science, 134 (1961) 596-602
[10] Roger A. Pielke, Jr., The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2007
[11] Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, 2012

Posted in global warming, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Mainstream propaganda by the BBC about denialism and global warming

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/11/05

A BBC documentary entitled “Science Under Attack” was broadcast in the UK on 24th January 2011. It is a superb piece of propaganda masquerading as a scientific documentary. Among other things, it seeks to quench any doubts that emissions of carbon dioxide are greatly speeding up global warming. A secondary aim seems to be to safeguard any and all pronouncements from the Scientific Establishment against criticism from outsiders.

Outside the UK, the program is not available from the BCC website, but on 1 April 2013 it was on YouTube for a short time before being purged for copyright reasons. An earlier YouTube posting had also been removed, as had the 7 sections of the program posted by TheChipsnbeer66.

“Science Under Attack” relied on two unstated presumptions, both of which are unsustainable: That a scientific consensus at any given moment should be taken as correct, and that computer models can accurately make predictions about something as complex as climate.

I call the program superb because it masks its propaganda so subtly:

First through being narrated by Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, a disarmingly amiable man who recounts how he has enjoyed thoroughly his lifelong work in science, along conventional lines but ably enough to bring a Nobel Prize. There is no trace of haughty arrogance in Nurse. When he says, ”Call me Paul”, it is obviously meant wholeheartedly, it is a straightforward, genuine and unassuming meeting card as he begins conversations with people who question the conventional view on global warming, HIV/AIDS, or the safety of genetically modified plants and foods. Even as I find the program deviously misleading, I continue to find Nurse wholly likable. Many likable people are wrong about all sorts of things, and many scientists are wrong about the reliability of contemporary scientific consensuses.

Second, “Science Under Attack” implies evenhandedness by allowing questioners to appear and to be treated in courteous, friendly fashion by Nurse.

Third, the very title of the program already makes its case subliminally. Surely science must actually be under attack if a program is devoted to the matter? Details might be arguable, say, the reasons why it is under attack, but surely the title couldn’t be entirely misleading, could it?
But of course it is. “Science” is not under attack by anyone. It’s just that in quite a number of fields, those in power are suppressing the views of competent peers. It is unwarranted mainstream dogmas that are under attack by a minority of largely ignored experts and informed observers [1].

Fourth, a vast range of relevant stuff is ignored. Perhaps the most important — and the least understood — is that whenever the significance of science outside its own domain is concerned, namely, the consideration of potential applications of scientific knowledge, and in particular any applications that impinge on public policies, scientists (very much including Nobelists like Nurse) are not the experts. Indeed, they are rarely knowledgeable at all. Most relevant here is that the history of science is a continuing story of mainstream consensus being found wrong and needing to be replaced. But most scientists — and many others too — still believe that scientists use a scientific method that automatically produces trustworthy results; they are not only lamentably ignorant but often downright misinformed about the history of science, the philosophy and sociology of science, the psychology of scientists. Scientists qua scientists are not reliable advisors on matters of public policy [2].

An important specific omission comes early in the BBC program, when Nurse cites a letter published in Science in which 250 climate scientists deplore the manner in which they are accused, in intemperate language, of fudging their data. Those cry-babies have nothing to complain of by comparison with how they themselves treat their own peers who happen to take a different view, as when Bjørn Lomborg — who doesn’t even question human-caused global warming, only the purported efficacy of Kyoto-type ameliorations — was compared to a Holocaust denier in a book review published in Nature (414 [2001] 149-50). Dissenters from the consensus are denied research funds, publication in leading journals, inclusion in conferences [1]. The cry-babies had their letter published in Science, but letters from those who dissent from a mainstream consensus and protest the lack of attention to the actual evidence are routinely refused publication in Science and Nature and the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine [3].

The program misleads by stating that the so-called attack on science comes from the lay public, vested ideological interests, and hapless media. In point of fact it is well qualified experts, insiders of the scientific specialty, who question the consensus [4]. Excluded from and shunned by their own professional forums, they can only turn to the public and the media in attempting to get some sort of hearing for their case.

The first flawed presumption on which the BBC program rests — unspoken but clearly entailed implicitly — is that a scientific consensus should always be accepted. This is absurd on its face, especially in conjunction with the program’s soothing assertion that the computer models of global climate are being improved all the time. This amounts to an intellectual oxymoron: If improvement is needed, obviously one shouldn’t have believed earlier claims or, by easy extension, what is now claimed. There is no guarantee that the next “improvement” will not upset the whole apple cart. To give just a couple of actual examples: It had been found that the model was diametrically wrong about the influence of clouds; and it was discovered belatedly that living plants emit significant amounts of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane.
As Michael Crichton pointed out in a splendid essay [5], the same experts whose computer models cannot predict weather with any reliability more than a few days ahead are asking that their computer models be trusted to tell us what’s coming 50 and 100 years from now. Global temperatures have cycled over a range of about 5ºC several times during the last million years. Until the computer models can simulate that record, which they presently cannot, there is no reason to pay any attention to what they predict about the future.
I suggest that when you hear “scientific consensus”, you should immediately reach for your common sense and your history of science. Moreover, many climate scientists and meteorologists are on record as disagreeing with the so-called consensus about climate change.

Crichton is also good about the second flawed presumption. Computer models can never be better than the assumptions and data fed into them. The only way to test them is to compare them with reality. No comparison based on current or past circumstances can ever validate a model for the purpose of making predictions, because the model was constructed through knowledge of those past and present circumstances, and the future might be different in some significant, unsuspected, unforeseeable way. In “Science Under Attack”, Sir Paul expresses admiration for a demonstration at NASA of how similar are the actual circumstances and those calculated by the computer; but of course the computer’s calculations reflect accurately what is happening at the present time, because that’s the knowledge that was programmed into it. Tomorrow may be another day entirely.
The NASA scientist admits that Nature itself, rebounding from the last ice age, is causing some of the warming, but asserts that the present rate of warming is greater than anything in the past. That cannot be known. Past temperatures have fluctuated mightily: over a range of about 15ºC several times during the billions of years of the Earth’s existence, over a range of about 5-6ºC seven or eight times during the last million years, but the data from those past episodes are not fine-grained enough to reveal all the fluctuations over periods as short as a century or so. We simply do not know how rapidly the global temperature rose or fell within any given century 100,000 or a million years ago. Furthermore, assessing changes — let alone rapidity of changes — of a continually fluctuating up-and-down temperature means choosing starting and ending points for calculating the change: start at the trough before a warming period and end at an apex, and the change looks large; start at a rising midpoint and end at a falling midpoint and the “change” will be negligible. The NASA man’s assertion that warming is faster now cannot be known to be true, which makes it in effect a lie, albeit perhaps an unwitting one. A very detailed analysis of Earth’s many temperature cycles, with periodicities ranging from hundreds of years to hundreds of thousands of years, can be found in David Dilley’s “Natural Climate Pulse” [6].

Sir Paul Nurse helps create superb propaganda not only because he is so affable and sincere but also because he symbolizes centuries of scientific achievement, emphasized several times in the program as he visits the Royal Society’s archives and touches volumes by Darwin and Newton. Those lauded scientists were right, therefore we scientists are right now, is the obvious message. There is no mention of Bernard Barber’s long list of now-revered scientists, household names like Einstein (relativity) and Faraday (electrochemistry) and Lister (antisepsis) and Planck (quantum theory) who were fiercely resisted by their contemporary consensus [7]; nor did Newton’s or Darwin’s works receive immediate acclamation from their contemporary peers.
George Bernard Shaw’s insights might well be recalled, that progress depends on “unreasonable” individuals, and that all professions are conspiracies against the laity. Science has been a profession for more than a century now.

The program’s simulation of evenhandedness is entirely misleading. Fred Singer is allowed to make only a single point, that there’s a strong correlation between the solar wind and Earth temperatures. Commenting later on that conversation, Sir Paul points out that one must take into account all the evidence, not just a single factor, implying that this is what Singer does. In reality, Singer in his many publications takes into account every known factor no less than do the orthodox climate scientists, and some might say he considers all the data better than the orthodoxy does. A documentary that made Singer’s case could be just as convincing as this one is, yet in the opposite direction, if 95% of the program expounded Singer’s views of “all” the evidence and if, “in fairness”, one exponent of the orthodox view were allowed to make only a single point.

Similarly, Sir Paul talks with Tony Lance and allows him to mention that he has been “HIV-positive” for 13 years and entirely healthy and that he saw many friends dying after taking AZT. Later Sir Paul confesses that he doesn’t understand Lance’s thinking. Of course he doesn’t, he didn’t spent the requisite time learning about all the mainstream literature Lance has accumulated that supports his interpretation. Were Sir Paul to attempt to convey his own thinking to someone else in the space of a short conversation, that other person could well remain unable to understand Sir Paul’s thinking.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Sir Paul Nurse is a biologist. On the matter of global warming, he takes on trust the purveyors of the orthodox view. This is standard practice within science: specialists in one field trust what they hear from specialists in other fields. But one can reasonably ask, why does Nurse trust the Establishment specialists rather than the at-least-equally qualified and eminent Fred Singer and the thousands of other well qualified specialists who maintain that human-caused global warming has not been proved?
A partial answer to that may be found in “The New World Order in Science”: Conflicts of interest within science and vested interests from outside science have distorted “the search for truth” to the degree that a contemporary “scientific consensus” reflects power and not truth.

“Science Under Attack”, then, is thoroughly wrongheaded and misleading, about matters large — the nature of science, the significance of a scientific consensus, the role of computer models — and about matters smaller, the specific evidence for and against human-caused global warming, HIV-caused AIDS, and the dangers of genetically modifying organisms. It is superbly convincing through the devices I’ve described. It is propaganda pure and simple, at its best — which means at its moral worst.
It would therefore be gratifying to wax furious at Sir Paul Nurse and the writers and producers of this program for their devilish ingenuity in manufacturing such a fine piece of propaganda. But the reality is even worse. We should never attribute to deliberate malice what can be explained by incompetence or ignorance, because incompetence and ignorance are really so much more common than deliberate malice [8]. In more than one place, Sir Paul asserts that science is always trying to test its theories to self-destruction, always looking to all the evidence, always empirical and open-minded. It’s clear that he genuinely believes those things, not understanding that they are ideals and that scientists fall far short of practicing those ideals, individually to some extent but chiefly collectively, because science nowadays is a collection and a hierarchy of interlocking institutions that make it enormously difficult to change any established consensus [1].

This BBC program was produced by perfectly well-intentioned true believers, whose ignorance is vast and quite unsuspected by them. They don’t know that they are cultish followers of the ideology of scientism, and they would be disbelieving, shocked, offended were that pointed out to them.

It is always worth recalling that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.

[1] Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012.
[2] Authoritative discussions of this point by a well-informed writer on science and politics can be found in Science, Money and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (2001) and Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism (2007), both by Daniel S. Greenberg, University of Chicago Press. As to the so-called scientific method, see Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992.
[3] See “Suppression of Science Within Science”.
[4] See for instance the Science and Environmental Policy Project,  established by the distinguished scientist Fred Singer. See also my summary of why human-caused global warming should be treated with the greatest skepticism: “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”.
[5] Michael Crichton, “Aliens cause global warming (Caltech Michelin Lecture)”, 17 January 2003.
[6] The book can be downloaded from Dilley’s website  under “Climate Cycles” and then “Climate Pulse E-Book”. I couldn’t make the links work, so Google “David Dilley Climate” and go from there.
[7] Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery.” Science, 134 (1961) 596-602.
[8] I believe that I first saw this expressed as one of Murphy’s Laws, which contain a huge amount of practical wisdom: Arthur Bloch, Murphy’s Law and other reasons why things go wrong; Murphy’s Law Book Two — more reasons why things go wrong; Murphy’s Law Book FourThree — wrong reasons why things go more (Price/Stern/Sloan, 1980-1982).

Posted in denialism, global warming, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientism | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »