Skepticism about science and medicine

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Archive for the ‘resistance to discovery’ Category

The Loch Ness “Monster”: Its real and important significance

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/29

Because of my writings about Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster [1], I am periodically approached by various media. Last year I had published [2] the suggestion that the Loch Ness creatures are more plausibly related to sea turtles than to the commonly popular notion of plesiosaurs.

A Scottish journalist came across that article, and for one day something about it and me was featured in every yellow-press newspaper in Britain, and several broadcast media asked for interviews.

The episode reminded me of some of the things that are so wrong with modern mass media.

Their overriding concern is simply to attract an audience. There is no intention of offering that audience any genuinely insightful analysis or context or background information. Media attention span approximates that of Twittering. One television network asked for an instant interview, wanted the best phone-contact number, even offered me compensation — and then never followed up.

I did talk to one Russian and one Spanish station or network, and I tried to point to what the real significance is of the Loch Ness animals, namely, that their existence has been denied by official scientific sources for not much less than a century, demonstrating that official science can be wrong, quite wrong; and while that matters little if at all about Loch Ness, I said, it does matter greatly when official science is wrong about such matters of public importance as HIV/AIDS  or climate change,  about which official science does in fact happen to be wrong [3].

So far, however, my bait about those important matters has not been snapped up.

Misunderstandings about science are globally pervasive, especially not realizing that it is fallible. The consequent unwarranted acceptance of wrong beliefs about HIV and about carbon dioxide demonstrate the need for some institution independent of official science, independent of existing scientific organizations and institutions, to provide fact-checking of contemporary scientific consensuses, an impartial, unbiased, strictly evidence-based assessments of official science. In other words, society sorely needs a Science Court [4].

Misconceptions about science can already be seen as a significant reason for flaws in the announced policies of the new Biden administration, as it places high priority on “combating climate change” and engaging in a “moon shot” to cure cancer: having not learned any lessons from the failure of the war on cancer, or from the fact, obvious in great swaths of the geological literature, that carbon dioxide is demonstrably not the prime cause of global warming since there is no correlation between global temperatures and carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere [5], neither over the whole life of the Earth nor over the last couple of centuries.

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[1]    The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, University of Illinois Press, 1986/88; Wipf & Stock reprint, 2012
GENUINE  FACTS about “NESSIE”, THE LOCH NESS “MONSTER”
[2]    “Loch Ness Monsters as Cryptid (Presently Unknown) Sea Turtles”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 34 (2020) 93-104
[3]    Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland, 2012
The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland, 2007
[4]    Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017), chapter 12
“The Case for a Science Court”
Science Court: Why and What
[5]    “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”
”Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide”

Posted in consensus, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, global warming, media flaws, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | 16 Comments »

The HIV/AIDS blunder: Missed opportunities for mainstream research to self-correct

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/20

Quite a number of specific mis-steps conspired to the acceptance and continuance of HIV/AIDS theory. They illustrate much of what has gone wrong with science: It is subject to interference by commercial, political, and ideological influences; it is comprised of a variety of institutions that do not interact usefully or reliably. Above all:


 Science has no overarching watchdog to ensure
 that theories change appropriately
 as evidence accumulates

  1. 1.The first and crucial mistake was when the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Margaret Heckler) held a press conference at which Robert Gallo claimed to have discovered the probable cause of AIDS. Illustrated by this sad episode is political interference and the pervasive ignorance of how science works:
    →     Gallo had not yet published anything. Insiders regarded him as incompetent and untrustworthy. Investigative journalism later (2002) fully documented that he is an unscrupulous charlatan [1].
    →     Heckler’s background was as a lawyer and a politically active Republican.
    →     Activists had been campaigning vigorously for the Republican administration to do something about AIDS.
     →    This official endorsement of Gallo’s claim acted as a signal that anyone who wanted research support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would likely be successful by proposing to work on HIV; virologists in particular were hungry for funding after their failure to discover cancer-causing viruses in the “war on cancer” [2].
  2. 2.An important contributing factor  was statistical incompetence at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
    →     Mistakenly taking “gay” rather than drug abuse as the most meaningful association with AIDS [3]. The CDC should also have been aware  that AIDS-like symptoms had been quite common among addicts during the 1960-70s epidemic of so-called recreational drug use [4].
    →     Initiated the misleading “young, previously healthy, gay men” characterization based on 5 cases aged 29-36, average 32.6 [5]. Its Task Force on Kaposi’s Sarcoma had found the average age of AIDS victims to be 35. When Cochrane [6] re-examined the medical records 20 years later, she found that the average age of the first 25 AIDS patients in San Francisco had been 38. This mattered crucially: The greatest risk for sexual infections is among people <30; lifestyle ailments are increasingly likely at older ages, more compatible with a decade or two of what used to be called dissolute living.
    CDC researchers as early as 1987 failed to recognize the significance of their finding that, among Job Corps  members at ages about 17 and younger, females are more likely to test HIV-positive than males [7].
  3. 3.The Army HIV Research Office also failed to recognize the significance of their finding that at ages about 17 and younger, females are more likely to test HIV-positive than males [8].
  4. 4.Duesberg had published comprehensive debunkings of HIV in 1987 [9] and 1989 [10]. The latter  has a footnote promising a rebuttal from Gallo that never eventuated, despite several reminders [11: 233].
  5. 5.As the years went by, more and more conundrums emerged whose significance was missed:
    →     The purple skin-patches of Kaposi’s Sarcoma had been the iconic signature of AIDS,  yet after half-a-dozen years they had become rare among AIDS patients.
    →     The correlation between drug abuse and AIDS became stronger and stronger.
    →     Prostitutes who did not use drugs were not at risk of  becoming HIV-positive.
    →     Drug abusers who used clean needles would more likely to test HIV-positive than those who exchanged needles.
    →     Marriage and pregnancy are risk factors for testing HIV-positive.
    →     Many further instances, with primary sources cited also for the points above, see The Case against HIV

Lessons:

The clearest general lesson is that policymakers and administrators should not take far-reaching actions on matters of science or medicine without advice from individuals who have at least an elementary acquaintance with the history of science and the understanding of present-day scientific activity incorporated in Science and Technology Studies (STS [12]). Anyone with that background would be familiar with the danger of accepting any scientific claim made by an individual researcher or administrator of research before the claim had even been published. The training of most scientists and most doctors neglects that important background.

A fairly general lesson is that competence in statistics may be sorely lacking even in an agency like CDC where gathering and analyzing statistical data is a central task. Much has been written during the last several decades about the pervasive abuse and misuse of statistics in medicine and medical science [13].

It is also not irrelevant that an overwhelming of proportion of those who were carrying out and reporting HIV tests were medical doctors, MDs or DVMs, rather than people trained in research. This is not to discount and the insights of the many MDs who have been able to learn from experience and to transcend some of the mistaken lore they were originally taught [14]. But medical training focuses on applying what is known, not on questioning it. By contrast,  journalists who were covering the HIV/AIDS story [1, 15] had a more holistic mindset and noticed how inadequate the officially accepted view is.

A part of understanding what contemporary scientific or research activity involves is to recognize that the overwhelming proportion of individuals doing what is loosely called “research” or “science”  are not engaged in seeking fundamental truths. Most of the published reports on HIV testing were based on taking for granted that HIV causes AIDS and gathering data for other purposes, say, recruitment into the Armed Forces, or the presumed need of for antiviral drugs in different regions of Africa; so those “researchers” had been blind to  the steady accumulation of data incompatible with the view of HIV as a contagious infection.

Present-day institutions of medical science
are incapable of self-correcting a mistaken “consensus”

That is why society needs a Science Court

***************************************************************************

[1]    John Crewdson, Science Fictions: A scientific mystery, a massive cover-up and the dark legacy of Robert Gallo, Little, Brown, 2002
[2]    Peter Duesberg, Inventing the AIDS Virus, Regnery, 1996; chapter 4
[3]    John Lauritsen, “CDC’s tables obscure AIDS-drug connection”, Philadelphia Gay News, 14 February 1985 (and five other papers); reprinted as chapter I in The AIDS war: propaganda, profiteering and genocide from the medical-industrial complex, ASKLEPIOS, 1993
[4]    Neville Hodgkinson, AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science, Fourth Estate, 1996
[5]    Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 30 (#21, 5 June 1981.) 250-52
[6]    Michelle Cochrane, When AIDS began: San Francisco and the Making of an Epidemic, Routledge, 2004
[7]    Michael E. St. Louis, George A. Conway, Charles R. Hayman, Carol Miller, Lyle R. Petersen, Timothy J. Dondero,  “Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection in Disadvantaged Adolescents: Findings From the US Job Corps”, JAMA, 266
(1991): 2387-91;  Fig. 4 [authors’ training: 5 MD, 1 RN]
 [8]   John F. Brundage, Donald S. Burke, Robert Visintine, Michael Peterson, Robert R. Redfield. “HIV Infection among young adults in the New York City area”, New York State Journal of Medicine, May 1988, 232-33; Fig. 3 [authors’ training: 5 MD, 1 DVM]
Donald S. Burke, John F. Brundage, Mary Goldenbaum, Lytt I. Gardner, Michael Peterson, Robert Visintine, Robert R. Redfield, & the Walter Reed Retrovirus Research Group, “Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infections in Teenagers: Seroprevalence Among Applicants for US Military Service”, JAMA, 263 (1990) 2074-77; Table 1 [authors’ training: 4 MD, 1 DVM, 1 MS, 1 PhD]
Burke, D. S., J. F. Brundage, J. R. Herbold, W. Berner,  L. I. Gardner, J. D. Gunzenhauser,  J. Voskovitch, & R. R. Redfield, “Human immunodeficiency virus infections among civilian applicants for United States military service, October 1985 to March 1986”, New England Journal of Medicine, 317 (1987) 131-36; Fig 1 [authors’ training: 5 MD, 1 PhD, 1 DVM]
[9]    Peter H. Duesberg, “Retroviruses as carcinogens and pathogens: expectations and reality”, Cancer Research, 47 (1987) 1199-220
[10]  Peter H. Duesberg, “Human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: correlation but not causation”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 86 (1989) 755-64.
[11]  Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland, 2007
[12]  “STS draws on the full range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities to examine the ways that science and technology shape, and are shaped by, our society, politics, and culture. We study contemporary controversies, historical transformations, policy dilemmas, and broad philosophical questions” (Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech)
[13]  Illustrated in many of the books cited in What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine
but see particularly the cited articles by Altman, Ioannidis, Matthews
[14]  See for example in the books listed in [13] those by Angell, Brody, Goldacre, Gøtzsche, Greene, Kendrick, LeFanu, Ravnskov, Smith
[15]      See books by Farber, Hodgkinson, Leitner, Shenton, in The Case against HIV

Posted in consensus, fraud in medicine, funding research, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, Uncategorized, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

From uncritical about science to skeptical about science, 6: HIV/AIDS is a blunder!

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/16


Why now so obvious to me while officialdom remains misled?

This series of blog posts aims to help me understand why I and many other individuals came to see the obvious while the mainstream community failed and still fails to recognize the facts. The HIV/AIDS episode also illustrates how wrong is the popular view of science, for example that it is self-correcting.

The obvious evidence that HIV does not cause AIDS is set out in several places:
Ø     A book published in 2007 [1]  incorporating details set out in several earlier articles [2, 3-5]; the first of these [2] is already quite comprehensive.
Ø     Blog posts with further illustrating examples and responses to comments and criticisms [6].
Ø     A book chapter describing how I came to analyze the evidence and become frustratedly crankish as a result [7].
Ø     A website, The Case against HIV, cites >900 chiefly peer-reviewed mainstream publications, organized to make it easy to find detailed answers on specific points about HIV and AIDS. 

How the theory nevertheless became accepted and entrenched is described in Part III of my book [1].

My journey to realizing that HIV does not cause AIDS  was unique:
Ø      Long-standing interest in scientific controversies, always on the lookout for new cases to study.
Ø      Learning by chance in early 1990s that HIV/AIDS had been controversial in the past.
Ø      Learning that HIV had supposedly entered into United States  at the earliest in the late 1970s, among gay men  in large cities: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco.
Ø      Chancing (around 2003) on an assertion that among potential Army recruits in  the mid-1980s, female and male teenagers all over the country had tested HIV-positive at about the same rate: impossible, according to the previous point.
Ø      Pedantic obsession with fact-checking: determined to check that assertion, whether it was perhaps a mis-citation, led to  collating all available data from HIV tests.
Ø      Familiarity with the history of science as a succession of mistaken consensuses later corrected; any majority consensus can quite often be wrong, especially contemporary or recent ones.
Ø      Familiarity, largely through participation in the Society for Scientific Exploration, with the fact that the majority consensus in science suppresses minority views ruthlessly and indiscriminately.
Ø      Having available the considerable needed time through being retired, but still with easy access to a research library.
Ø      More general background: As a research chemist, taking as axiomatic that there is no satisfactory substitute for perpetually subjecting theories to the test of factual evidence.

No doubt the journeys by which other people had reached the same understanding were also unique. Certainly it was different than mine for those who were there at the beginning of the AIDS era, or for the several investigative journalists who saw at first hand that theory does not match reality (see Crewdson, Farber, Hodgkinson, Shenton in The Case against HIV).

How to enable the rest of society to shed the mistaken view about HIV/AIDS? How to question a matter that has been taken for granted by officialdom around the world for more than two decades and is still supported by the consensus in the medical-scientific community?
Ø      Once a belief has become generally taken for granted, including in medicine and in science, self-correction becomes increasingly unlikely. A following blog post will cite some of the missed opportunities for self-correction over HIV/AIDS.
Ø      Any questioning of the belief is likely to be ignored, or dismissed as crankish, Flat-Earther-ish, by media and pundits as well as the majority consensus.

That’s why something like a Science Court is needed; see “Science Court: Why and What” and chapter 12 in [8].

A Court is necessary because the majority consensus refuses to engage substantively with dissenters. The Court would serve to force public engagement among the disagreeing technical experts. As the consensus and the dissenters are made to present their arguments and their evidence openly, publicly, and to defend them under cross-examination, the points of disagreement would be identified and clarified; in the case of HIV/AIDS, the truth would become obvious.

—————————————————-

[1]    The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory,
McFarland, 2007
[2]    Is HIV really the cause of AIDS?, The Anomalist, 11 (2003) 19-21
[3]    Demographic Characteristics of HIV: I. How Did HIV Spread?
Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19 (2005) 567–603;
erratum, ibid., 20 (2006) 95
Demographic Characteristics of HIV: II. What Determines the
Frequency of Positive HIV Tests?
Journal of Scientific Exploration, 20 (2006) 69—94
Demographic Characteristics of HIV: III. Why Does HIV
Discriminate by Race?
Journal of Scientific Exploration, 20 (2006) 255–88
 [4]   The mystery of HIV/AIDS, Quadrant, July-August 2006, 61-3.
[5]   Questioning HIV/AIDS: Morally Reprehensible or Scientifically Warranted? Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, 12 (#4, Winter 2007) 116-120
[6]    HIV Skeptic
[7]    Confession of an “AIDS denialist”: How I became a crank because we’re being lied to about HIV/AIDS, pp. 378- 82 in You Are STILL Being Lied To — The REMIXED Disinformation Guide to Media Distortion, Historical Whitewashes and Cultural Myths, ed. Russ Kick (Disinformation Co., NY, 2009)
[8]     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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From uncritical about science to skeptical about science: 4

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/05

Learning about science from beyond the pale

Synopsis for this series of posts:

From post #1:
“Could my opinion be erroneous about a decline in the trustworthiness of science?
If not, why is it that what seems so obvious to me has not been noticed, has been overlooked by the overwhelming majority of practicing researchers, by pundits and by scholars of scientific activity and by science writers and journalists?
That conundrum had me retracing the evolution of my views about science, from my early infatuation with it to my current disillusionment.”

My interest in the Loch Ness Monster led indirectly to learning about other topics that science similarly ignores, dismisses, or denigrates, often by calling them pseudoscience (UFOs, Bigfoot, etc.). Trying to understand how studying such matters differs from doing science automatically meant trying to understand what makes science special; so by learning about pseudo-science one learns as well about science itself. As Rudyard Kipling put it, “And what should they know of England who only England know?” (from poem, The English Flag).

****************************

Continuing the narrative:

 Fortuitously for me, several things happened at about the same time in the mid-1970s: There was a shortage of potential graduate students, because the job market for PhDs had collapsed. My large 5-year grant came to an end, and new grant funds were more and more difficult to come by. There was a widespread infatuation, including at NSF, with the supposed value of interdisciplinary work, and my university was urging faculty to develop interdisciplinary projects as a way of attracting grant money. And some tangible evidence that the Loch Ness Monster is a real animal had been widely publicized: Underwater photographs of large flipper- or paddle-like objects apparently appendages on an indistinct large shape [1].

So I recruited an eminently interdisciplinary team of faculty members — a journalism professor, an historian of science, a philosopher of science, a sociologist — to study how scientific understanding or belief changes as evidence accumulates: Science had long been fairly sure that reports of the Loch Ness Monster were baseless; now that substantive evidence was accumulating, how would the scientific community accommodate it?

Our proposal to NSF was unsuccessful, but one of the reviewers’ comments set me off in a new direction. If we wanted to study how science treats unorthodox claims, a reviewer suggested, why not look into the Velikovsky Affair?

I had never heard of that, and obviously I should have; so I did look into it, and found it very interesting indeed. The psychoanalyst Immanuel Velikovsky had published a popular best seller, Worlds in Collision [2], in which he inferred from legends and myths about heavenly happenings that Jupiter had ejected a comet-like object that had come close to several other planets, producing on Earth effects that included such events reported in the Bible as the parting of the Red Sea and the collapse of the walls of Jericho.

Several things struck me about the Velikovsky Affair.

—> Many a people had found Velikovsky’s scenario plausible or even convincing.
—> That included some quite accomplished historians and social scientists, who had ventured strong criticisms of the scientists who had unceremoniously dismissed Velikovsky’s scenario as utter nonsense.
—> Scientists had indeed been arrogantly dogmatic, making the declaration of nonsense without attempting to address the substantive details in Velikovsky’s book, indeed famously saying that they had not bothered to or needed to read the book. They had behaved unscientifically, in other words.
—> I was struck particularly that everyone was quite wrong in several respects about the nature of science — not only media pundits and humanists but also scientists, including social scientists.

So I resolved to write a book, to be titled Velikovsky and the Loch Ness Monster, setting out the realities about science and illustrated by one example of science getting it right about an unorthodox claim (the Velikovsky Affair) and an example of science getting it wrong (the Loch Ness monster). Altogether, I had found all this so interesting, and the prospects for well-funded scientific research so gloomy, that I decided to make a permanent change of academic career, from chemistry to something like history or philosophy or sociology of science.

It was a very good time for such a move. Historians and philosophers and sociologists of science were teaching interdisciplinary courses together, sometimes establishing joint Centers or Departments, together with some political scientists, engineers, and scientists interested in science policy. The intellectual Zeitgeist was presaging an integration of disciplines that is now the actuality usually named Science & Technology Studies or Science, Technology & Society (the acronym STS works for both; earlier incarnations included “Science Studies”, “Science and Society”, and the like).

These developments in the scholarly world were another sign that the role of science in the wider society was undergoing significant changes following World War II. the Vannevar Bush Report to the President had resulted in dramatic increases in funding of research. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists had been founded in 1945 by some of those who had worked on the Manhattan Project and were very conscious that policy makers needed information and insights from the technical community for sound planning.

 To make my intended change of academic field possible, I needed time to learn at least the basics of the history and philosophy of science. But as member of a Chemistry Department, it was my obligation to garner grants and support and mentor graduate students, too time-consuming to allow for much new learning and thinking. So I applied for administrative jobs, which would be undemanding intellectually and leave ample time for reading and learning subjects new to me. After a couple of dozen failed applications, I lucked into what turned out to be perfect for me: Dean of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI&SU, formerly VPI, but now everywhere known as “Virginia Tech”).

It was easy for me to gather an informal group of people interested in interdisciplinary projects and coursework combining Humanities and Social Sciences with Engineering and Physical and Biological Sciences. The agriculture, engineering, and science departments at Virginia Tech were long-established, with strong research components; and several of the faculty in History and Philosophy in particular had already been teaching some interdisciplinary courses with faculty from technical fields.

Soon we created a Center for the Study of Science in Society (A few years later came interdisciplinary degrees, initially undergraduate but soon graduate as well. More recently the Center was replaced by a full-fledged Department of Science, Technology, and Society.

I learned a great deal about science from the discussions leading to the establishment of that Center, but my belief in the trustworthiness of science, or at least the fundamental potential trustworthiness of science, was not at all shaken. Indeed it may have been enhanced by learning how uncertain, by comparison, is the knowledge commanded by social science [3]. I also learned a great deal about differences between the various subjects professed in a College of Arts and Sciences [4]. But first I want to concentrate on what I learned about science — what can in general be learned about science by looking into matters like the Velikovsky Affair.

My planned volume of Velikovsky and the Loch Ness Monster proved far too ambitious, and eventually emerged as two separate books[5, 6]. I was again extraordinarily fortunate that the Velikovsky manuscript had been sent by the publisher for review by Marcello Truzzi, a sociologist of science long interested in scientific unorthodoxies.

 After World War II, there had come much public interest in topics like Velikovsky — the Yeti of the Himalayas, UFOs (unidentified flying objects, at first “flying saucers”), psychic phenomena, and more [7]. On all of those topics of great public interest but ignored or dismissed or denigrated by authoritative science, there were some quite well-established scientists, engineers, and other scholars who believed that there was sufficient substantive evidence, enough sheer facts, to warrant proper scientific investigation. A group of these mavericks was in the process of founding a Society for Scientific Exploration to exchange experiences and learn from one another. Because Truzzi had read my Velikovsky manuscript, I was invited to join in founding that Society .

——————————————————————————–

[1]    Reprinted in many places, for example “The Case for the Loch Ness Monster: The Scientific Evidence”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 16(2002) 225-246
[2]    Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, Macmillan 1950
[3]    P. 128 ff. in Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992 ; pp. 151-5 in Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed, McFarland 2017
[4]    To Rise above Principle: The Memoirs of an Unreconstructed Dean (under the pen-name ‘Josef Martin’), Wipf & Stock, 2012 (1st ed. was University of Illinois Press, 1988)
[5]    Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press 1984
[6]    The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, University of Illinois Press 1986 [7]    The Literature of Fringe Science, Skeptical Inquirer, 11 (#2, Winter 1986-87) 205-10

Posted in funding research, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The misleading popular myth of science exceptionalism

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/12/28

Human beings are fallible; but we suppose the Pope to be infallible on spiritual matters and science to be exceptional among human endeavors as correctly, authoritatively knowledgeable about the workings of the material world. Other sources purporting to offer veritable knowledge may be fallible — folklore, history, legend, philosophy — but science can be trusted to speak the truth.

Scholars have ascribed the infallibility of science to its methodology and to the way scientists behave. Science is thought to employ the scientific method, and behavior among scientists is supposedly described by the Mertonian Norms. Those suppositions have somehow seeped into the conventional wisdom. Actually, however, contemporary scientific activity does not proceed by the scientific method, nor do scientists behave in accordance with the Mertonian Norms. Because the conventional wisdom is so wrong about how science and scientists work, public expectations about science are misplaced, and public policies and actions thought to be based on science may be misguided.

Contemporary science is unrecognizably different from the earlier centuries of modern science (commonly dated as beginning around the 16th century). The popular view was formed by those earlier times, and it has not yet absorbed how radically different the circumstances of scientific activities have become, increasingly since the middle of the 20th century.

Remarkable individuals were responsible for the striking achievements of modern science that brought science its current prestige and status; and there are still some remarkably talented people among today’s scientists. But on the whole, scientists or researchers today are much like other white-collar professionals [1: p. 79], subject to conflicts of interest and myriad annoyances and pressures from patrons and outside interests; 21st century “science” is just as interfered with and corrupted by commercial, ideological, and political forces as are other sectors of society, say education, or justice, or trade.

Modern science developed through the voluntary activities of individuals sharing the aim of understanding how Nature works. The criterion of success was that claimed knowledge be true to reality. Contemporary science by contrast is not a vocation carried on by self-supporting independent individuals; it is done by white-collar workers employed by a variety of for-profit businesses and industries and not-for-profit colleges, universities, and government agencies. Even as some number of researchers still genuinely aim to learn truths about Nature, their prime responsibility is to do what their employers demand, and that can conflict with being wholeheartedly truthful.

The scientific method and the Mertonian Norms
 do not encompass the realities of contemporary science

The myth of the scientific method has been debunked at book length [2]. It should suffice, though, just to point out that the education and training of scientists may not even include mention of the so-called scientific method.

I had experienced a bachelor’s-degree education in chemistry, a year of undergraduate research, and half-a-dozen years of graduate research leading to both a master’s degree and a doctorate before I ever heard of “the scientific method”. When I eventually did, I was doing postdoctoral research in chemistry (at the University of Michigan); and I heard of “the scientific method” not from my sponsor and mentor in the Chemistry Department but from a graduate student in political science. (Appropriately enough, because it is the social and behavioral sciences, as well as some medical doctors, who make a fetish of claiming to follow the scientific method, in the attempt to be granted as much prestige and trustworthiness as physics and chemistry enjoy.)

The scientific method would require individuals to change their beliefs readily whenever the facts seem to call for it. But everything that psychology and sociology can agree on is that it is very difficult and considerably rare for individuals or groups to modify a belief once it has become accepted. The history of science is consonant with that understanding: New and better understanding is persistently resisted by the majority consensus of the scientific community for as long as possible [3, 4]; pessimistically, in the words of Max Planck, until the proponents of the earlier belief have passed away [5]; as one might put it, science progresses one funeral at a time.

The Mertonian norms [6], too, are more myth than actuality. They are, in paraphrase:

Ø     Communality or communalism (Merton had said “communism”): Science is an activity of the whole scientific community and it is a public good — findings are shared freely and openly.
Ø      Universalism: Knowledge about the natural world is universally valid and applicable. There are no separations or distinctions by nationality, religion, race, sex, etc.
Ø      Disinterestedness: Science is done for the public good, not for personal benefit; scientists seek to be impartial, objective, unbiased, not self-serving.
Ø      Skepticism: Claims and reported findings are subject to critical appraisal and testing throughout the scientific community before they can be accepted as proper scientific knowledge.

As with the scientific method, these norms suggest that scientists behave in ways that do not come naturally to human beings. Free communal sharing of everything might perhaps have characterized human society in the days of hunting and foraging [7], but it was certainly not the norm in Western society at the time of the Scientific Revolution and the beginnings of modern science. Disinterestedness is a very strange trait to attribute to a human being, voluntarily doing something without having any personal interest in the outcome; at the very least, there is surely a strong desire that what one does should be recognized as the good and right way to do things, as laudable in some way. Skepticism is no more natural than is the ready willingness to change beliefs demanded by the scientific method.

As to universalism, that goes without saying if claimed knowledge is actually true, it has nothing to do with behavior. If some authority attempts to establish something that is not true, it just becomes a self-defeating, short-lived dead end like the Stalinist “biology” of Lysenko or the Nazi non-Jewish “Deutsche Physik” [8].

Merton wrote that the norms, the ethos of science, “can be inferred from the moral consensus of scientists as expressed in use and wont, in countless writings on the scientific spirit and in moral indignation directed toward contraventions of the ethos” [6]. That falls short of claiming to have found empirically that scientists actually behave like that for the inferred reasons.

Merton’s norms are a sociologist’s speculation that the successes of science could only have come if scientists behaved like that; just as “the scientific method” is a philosophers’ guess that true knowledge could only be arrived at if knowledge seekers proceeded like that.

More compatible with typical human behavior would be the following:

Early modern science became successful after the number of people trying to understand the workings of the natural world reached some “critical mass”, under circumstances in which they could be in fairly constant communication with one another. Those circumstances came about in the centuries following the Dark Ages in Europe. Eventually various informal groups began to meet, then more formal “academies” were established (of which the Royal Society of London is iconic as well as still in existence). Exchanges of observations and detailed information were significantly aided by the invention of inexpensive printing. Relatively informal exchanges became more formal, as Reports and Proceedings of Meetings, leading to what are now scientific journals and periodicals (some of which still bear the time-honored title of “Proceedings of . . .).

Once voluntary associations had been established among individuals whose prime motive was to understand Nature, some competition, some rivalry, and also some cooperation will have followed automatically. Everyone wanted to get it right, and to be among the first to get it right, so the criterion for success was the concurrence and approval of the others who were attempting the same thing. Open sharing was then a matter of self-interest and therefore came naturally, because one could obtain approval and credit only if one’s achievements were known to others. Skepticism was provided by those others: one had to get it right in order to be convincing. There was no need at all for anyone to be unnaturally disinterested. (This scenario is essentially the one Michael Polanyi  described by the analogy of communally putting together a jigsaw puzzle [2: pp. 42-44, passim; 9].)

Such conditions of free, voluntary interactions among individuals sharing the sole aim of understanding Nature, something like a intellectual free-market conditions, simply do not exist nowadays; few if any researchers can be self-supporting, independent, intellectual entrepreneurs, most are employees and thereby beholden to and restricted by the aims and purposes of those who hold the purse-strings.

Almost universally nowadays, the gold standard of reliability is thought to be “the peer-reviewed mainstream literature”. But it would be quite misleading to interpret peer review as the application of organized skepticism, “critical appraisal and testing throughout the scientific community”. As most productive researchers well know, peer review does not guarantee the accuracy or objectivity or honesty of what has passed peer-review. In earlier times, genuine and effective peer-review took place by the whole scientific community after full details of claimed results and discoveries had been published. Nowadays, in sharp contrast, so called peer-review is carried out by a small number of individuals chosen by journal editors to advise on whether reported claims should even be published. Practicing and publishing researchers know that contemporary so-called peer-review is riddled with bias, prejudice, ignorance and general incompetence. But even worse than the failings of peer review in decisions concerning publication is the fact that the same mechanism is used to decide what research should be carried out, and even how it should be carried out [1: pp. 106-9, passim].

Contemporary views of science, and associated expectations about science, are dangerously misplaced because of the pervasive mistaken belief that today’s scientific researchers are highly talented, exceptional individuals in the mold of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, etc.,  and that they are unlike normal human beings in being disinterested, seeking only to serve the public good, disseminating their findings freely, self-correcting by changing their theories whenever the facts call for it, and perpetually skeptical about their own beliefs.

Rather, a majority consensus nowadays exercises dogmatic hegemony, insisting on theories contrary to fact on a number of  topics, including such publicly important ones as climate-change and HIV/AIDS [10].

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[1]    Henry H. Bauer, Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed, McFarland, 2017
[2]    Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992;
“I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t yet heard that the scientific method is a myth. Apparently there are still lots of those folks around”
(David L. Goodstein, Science, 256 [1992] 1034-36)
[3]    Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”,
 Science, 134 (1961) 596-602
[4]    Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed., enlarged ; 1st ed. 1962)
[5]    Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, 1949; translated from German by Frank Gaynor, Greenwood Press, 1968
[6]    Robert K. Merton, “The normative structure of science” (1942); pp. 267–78 in The Sociology of Science (ed. N. Storer, University of Chicago Press, 1973)
[7]    Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jethá, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, HarperCollins, 2010
[8]    Philipp Lenard, Deutsche Physik, J. F. Lehmann (Munich), 1936
[9]    Michael Polanyi, “The Republic of Science: Its political and economic theory”,
Minerva, I (1962) 54-73
[10]  Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland, 2012

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, funding research, media flaws, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientism, scientists are human, the scientific method, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Science Court: Why and What

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/12/16

The idea for what has come to be called a Science Court was proposed half a century ago by Arthur Kantrowitz [1].

The development of nuclear reactors as part of the atom-bomb project made it natural to contemplate the possibility of generating power for civil purposes by means of nuclear reactors (the reactor at Hanford that made plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb was also the first full-scale nuclear reactor ever built [2]).

The crucial question was whether power-generating nuclear reactors could be operated safely. The technical experts were divided over that, and Kantrowitz proposed that an “Institution for Scientific Judgment” was needed to adjudicate the opposing opinions.

In those years, scientific activity was still rather like in pre-WWII times: A sort of ivory-tower cottage industry of largely independent intellectual entrepreneurs who shared the aim of learning how the material world works. Mediating opposing opinions could then seem like a relatively straightforward matter of comparing data and arguments. Half a century later, however, scientific activity has pervaded business, commerce, and medical practices, and research has become intensely competitive, with cutthroat competition for resources and opportunities for profit-making and achieving personal wealth and influence. Conflicts of interest are ubiquitous and inescapable [3]. Mediating opposing technical opinions is now complicated because public acceptance of a particular view has consequences for personal and institutional power and wealth; deciding what “science” truly says is hindered by personal conflicts of interest, Groupthink, and institutional conflicts of interest.

Moreover, technical disagreements nowadays are not between more or less equally placed technical experts; they are between a hegemonic mainstream consensus and individual dissenters. The consensus elite controls what the media and the public learn about “science”, as the “consensus” dominates “peer review”, which in practice determines all aspects of scientific activity, for instance the allocation of positions and research resources and the publication (or suppression) of observations or results.

It has become quite common for the mainstream consensus to effectively suppress minority views and anomalous research results, often dismissing them out of hand, not infrequently labeling them pejoratively as denialist or flat-earther crackpot [4]. Thereby the media, the public, and policymakers may not even become aware of the existence of competent, plausible dissent from a governing consensus.

The history of science is, however, quite unequivocal: Over the course of time, a mainstream scientific consensus may turn out to be inadequate and to be replaced by previously denigrated and dismissed minority views.

Public actions and policies might bring about considerable damage if based on a possibly mistaken contemporary scientific consensus. Since nowadays a mainstream consensus so commonly renders minority opinions invisible to society at large, some mechanism is needed to enable policymakers to obtain impartial, unbiased, advice as to the possibility that minority views on matters of public importance should be taken into consideration.

That would be the prime purpose of a Science Court. The Court would not be charged with deciding or declaring what “science” truly says. It would serve just to force openly observed substantive engagement among the disagreeing technical experts — “force” because the majority consensus typically refuses voluntarily to engage substantively with dissident contrarians, even in private.

In a Court, as the elite consensus and the dissenters present their arguments and their evidence, points of disagreement would be made publicly visible and also clarified under mutual cross-examination. That would enable lay observers — the general public, the media, policymakers — to arrive at reasonably informed views about the relative credibility of the proponents of the majority and minority opinions, through noting how evasive or responsive or generally confidence-inspiring they are. Even if no immediate resolution of the differences of opinion could be reached, at least policymakers would be sufficiently well-informed about what public actions and policies might plausibly be warranted and which might be too risky for immediate implementation.

A whole host of  practical details can be specified only tentatively at the outset since they will likely need to be modified over time as the Court gains experience. Certain at the beginning is that public funding is needed as well as absolute independence, as with the Supreme Court of the United States. Indeed, a Science Court might well be placed under the general supervision of the Supreme Court. While the latter might not at first welcome accepting such additional responsibilities, that might change since the legal system is currently not well equipped to deal with cases where technical issues are salient [5]. For example, the issue of who should be acceptable as an expert technical witness encounters the same problem of adjudicating between a hegemonic majority consensus and a number of entirely competent expert dissenters as the problem of adjudicating opposing expert opinions.

Many other details need to be worked out: permanent staffing of the Court as well as temporary  staffing for particular cases; appointment or selection of advocates for opposing views; how to choose issues for consideration; the degree and type of authority the Court could exercise, given that a majority consensus would usually be unwilling to engage voluntarily with dissidents. These questions, and more, have been discussed elsewhere [6]. As already noted, however, if a Science Court is actually established, its unprecedented nature would inevitably make desirable progressive modification of its practices in the light of accumulating experience.

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[1]    Arthur Kantrowitz, “Proposal for an Institution for Scientific Judgment”, Science, 156 (1967) 763-64

[2]    Steve Olson, The Apocalypse Factory, W. W. Norton, 2020

[3]    Especially chapter 1 in Henry H. Bauer, Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed, McFarland, 2017

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

[5]    Andrew W. Jurs, “Science Court: Past proposals, current considerations, and a suggested structure”, Drake University Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Research Paper 11–06 (2010); Virginia Journal of Law and Technology, 15 #1

[6]    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

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Can science regain credibility?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/12/09

Some of the many critiques of contemporary science and medicine [1] have suggested improvements or reforms: among them, ensuring that empiricism and fact determine theory rather than the other way around [2]; more competent application of statistics; awareness of biases as a way of decreasing their influence [1, 2, 3].

Those suggestions call for individuals in certain groups, as well as those groups and institutions as a whole, to behave differently than they have been behaving: researchers, editors, administrators, patrons; universities, foundations, government agencies, and commercial sponsors of research.

Such calls for change are, however, empty whistling in the wind if not based on an understanding of why those individuals and those groups have been behaving in ways that have caused science as a whole to lose credibility — in the eyes of much of the general public, but not only the general public: a significant minority of accomplished researchers and other informed insiders have concluded that on any number of topics the mainstream “consensus” is flawed or downright wrong, not properly based on the available evidence [4].

It is a commonplace to remark that science displaced religion as the authoritative source of knowledge and understanding, at least in Western civilization during the last few centuries. One might then recall the history of religion in the West, and that corruption of its governing institutions eventually brought rebellion: the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the enshrining of science and reason as society’s hegemonic authority; so it might seem natural now to call for a Scientific Reformation to repair the institutions of science that seem to have become corrupted.

The various suggestions for reform have indeed called for change in a number of ways: in how academic institutions evaluate the worth of their researchers; in how journals decide what to publish and what not to publish; in how the provision of research resources is decided; and so forth and so on. But such suggestions fail to get to the heart of the matter. The Protestant Reformation was seeking the repair of a single, centrally governed, institution. Contemporary science, however, comprises a whole collection of institutions and groups that interact with one another in ways that are not governed by any central authority.

The way “science” is talked and written about is highly misleading, since no single word can properly encompass all its facets or aspects. The greatest source of misunderstanding comes about because scientific knowledge and understanding do not generate themselves or speak for themselves; so in common discourse, “science” refers to what is said or written about scientific knowledge and theories by people — who are, like all human beings, unavoidably fallible, subject to a variety of innate ambitions and biases as well as external influences; and hindered and restricted by psychological and social factors — psychological factors like confirmation bias, which gets in the way of recognizing errors and gaps, social factors like Groupthink, which pressures individuals not to deviate from the beliefs and actions of any group to which they belong.

So whenever a claim about scientific knowledge or understanding is made, the first reaction that should be, “Who says so?”

It seems natural to presume that the researchers most closely related to a given topic would be the most qualified to explain and interpret it to others. But scientists are just as human and fallible as others, so researchers on any given subject are biased towards thinking they understand it properly even though they may be quite wrong about it.

A better reflection of what the facts actually are would be the view that has become more or less generally accepted within the community of specialist researchers, and thereby in the scientific community as a whole; in other words, what research monographs, review articles, and textbooks say — the “consensus”. Crucially, however, as already noted, any contemporary consensus may be wrong, in small ways or large or even entirely.

Almost invariably there are differences of opinion within the specialist and general scientific communities, particularly but not only about relatively new or recent studies. Unanimity is likely only over quite simple matters where the facts are entirely straightforward and readily confirmed; but such simple and obvious cases are rare indeed. Instead of unanimity, the history of science is a narrative of perpetual disagreements as well as (mostly but not always) their eventual resolution.

On any given issue, the consensus is not usually unanimous as to “what science says”. There are usually some contrarians, some mavericks among the experts and specialist researchers, some unorthodox views. Quite often, it turns out eventually that the consensus was flawed or even entirely wrong, and what earlier were minority views then become the majority consensus [5, 6].

That perfectly normal lack of unanimity, the common presence of dissenters from a “consensus” view, is very rarely noted in the popular media and remains hidden from the conventional wisdom of society as a whole — most unfortunately and dangerously, because it is hidden also from the general run of politicians and policymakers. As a result, laws on all sorts of issues, and many officially approved practices in medicine, may come to be based on a mistaken scientific consensus; or, as President Eisenhower put it [7], public policies might become captive to a scientific-technological elite, those who constitute and uphold the majority consensus.

The unequivocal lesson that modern societies have yet to learn is that any contemporary majority scientific consensus may be misleading. Only once that lesson has been learned will it then be noted that there exists no established safeguard to prevent public policies and actions being based on erroneous opinions. There exists no overarching Science Authority to whom dissenting experts could appeal in order to have the majority consensus subjected to reconsideration in light of evidence offered by the contrarian experts; no overarching Science Authority, and no independent, impartial, unbiased, adjudicators or mediators or interpreters to guide policymakers in what the actual science might indicate as the best direction.

That’s why the time is ripe to consider establishing a Science Court [8].

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[1]     CRITIQUES OF CONTEMPORARY SCIENCE AND ACADEME 
WHAT’S WRONG WITH PRESENT-DAY MEDICINE

[2]    See especially, about theoretical physics, Sabine Hossenfelder,Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, Basic Books, 2018

[3]    Stuart Ritchie, Science Fictions: How FRAUD, BIAS, NEGLIGENCE, and HYPE Undermine the Search for Truth, Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt & Company), 2020

[4]    A number of examples are discussed in Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland, 2012

[5]    Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”, Science, 134 (1961) 596-602

[6]    Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1970, 2nd (enlarged) ed. [1st ed. was 1962]

[7]    Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell speech, 17 January 1961; transcript at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/eisenhower001.asp

[8]    Chapter 12 in Henry H. Bauer, Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed, McFarland, 2017

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, fraud in science, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

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 »

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 »

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.

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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 »

 
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