Skepticism about science and medicine

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Archive for the ‘science policy’ 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.

——————————————————

[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: 5

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/09

Learning from what science ignores — within science as well as outside

The Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE) had been founded at the start of the 1980s by scientists, engineers, and other scholars who believed that there was sufficient substantive evidence, enough sheer facts, to warrant proper scientific investigation of topics ignored by science or dismissed as fictive, existing not in Nature’s reality but only in human imaginations: psychic phenomena; flying saucers or UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects); cryptozoology — animals unknown to biology, or extinct animals said to be still extant; as well as such heretical views as that the theory of relativity is unsound [1].

Being ignored in the face of apparently good evidence was the shared bond within SSE. Few if any of us shared belief in the reality of all the topics that one or more members favored. I certainly didn’t. In fact, I soon began wondering how it was that so many competent, accomplished, intelligent, highly educated, cosmopolitan people could believe firmly in things that seemed to me highly implausible, at best doubtful.

The next insight followed naturally: My new colleagues surely wondered how I, a successful  chemist and cosmopolitan Dean of Arts and Sciences, could firmly believe in the reality of the Loch Ness Monster.

My fascination over that had begun through random chance, a book picked up and riffled through. No doubt something analogous, some unplanned experience, had set my new colleagues off on their particular interests.

There is an important general point to be made here. Scientists characteristically have an intellectual blind spot — certainly I do: imagining that beliefs are created by factual knowledge, remain held because of factual evidence, and can be changed by new facts. That is simply not the case.
Interest or some other stimulus is crucial. Why does one ever seek facts in some specific direction?
Everyone would likely look for reliable knowledge about something pertinent to health, family matters, earning a living; but it can also happen by chance, by happening upon a book picked up at random. So there is no reason why others should find interest where I happen to.

And it is not sufficient that good and respected friends and colleagues urge one to look at the facts. I have maintained only an observer’s interest in most of the matters that absorb others in the Society. Even though I’d quite like to know enough to warrant having an informed opinion, the problem is the sheer amount of time and effort needed to wade through all the claims and counterclaims before reaching a reasonably firm belief or disbelief. Outside chemistry, I’ve looked in enough detail at only three major controversial topics: Loch Ness Monsters, HIV/AIDS, and global warming (or climate-change).

That there are a great variety of different specialized interests in the Society for Scientific Exploration was not a disturbing factor. We talked (and wrote and published [2]) about our interests and claimed facts and speculations, and benefited from constructive mutual criticism, sometimes quite incisive.  Frustration at the lack of interest from mainstream science was and remains an overwhelmingly strong bond. A corollary is something like shared disdain for the individuals and groups who wage public campaigns about the purported dangers to society of believing in the reality of UFOs, Bigfoot, psychic phenomena and the like [3]. Those activists, who purport to be supporters and defenders of science, typically describe themselves as Skeptics [4], a grossly misleading misnomer since they are dogmatists of the highest order, unwilling to contemplate that official or mainstream science might be wrong in any particular — a stance that ignores the whole history of science.
To my mind, the real danger to society stems from such arrogantly dogmatic groups which insist that everyone share their particular beliefs, as is all too commonly the case with specific religions or, in this case, scientism, the religious faith that science be acknowledged as the sole authoritative source of knowledge and understanding.
These “Skeptics” (Truzzi famously and aptly called them “pseudo-skeptics”) criticize the topics of interest within SSE as pseudo-science, but SSE advocates scientific exploration, seeking the best available facts about Nature and trying to explain and understand them. SSE has quarrels not with “science” but with the too-many career scientists who behave unscientifically in forming opinions without looking at the facts, and then defend those opinions dogmatically.

When I analyzed the Velikovsky Affair [5], what had then most struck me was how incompetently the scientific community had criticized Velikovsky’s pseudo-science, and how little so many scientists seemed to understand what science is really about. Several decades later, having written articles and books about the prevalence of dogmatism in science [6], I can see in retrospect that I had overlooked or not noticed or missed the significance of how insufferably dogmatic the criticisms of Velikovsky had been. Yet that dogmatism was far from a minor part of the Affair; it surely played some part in bringing some social scientists and humanists to rally to Velikovsky’s defense.

The Society for Scientific Exploration also led to my learning about the extent of dogmatism within mainstream science. The society offered a forum not only for topics dismissed as pseudoscience, we also heard at times about  the suppression of unorthodox views within mainstream science. For example, Thomas Gold was widely acknowledged and applauded for his original insights in astrophysics, but mainstream science wanted nothing to do with his ideas about the origin of what are said to be fossil fuels in the Earth  and about life having originated deep in the earth rather than in warm ponds on its surface [7]. Gold also favored the steady-state theory of the cosmos rather than the accepted paradigm of the Big Bang. Halton Arp, an observational astronomer, published data that support the steady-state theory, whereupon mainstream science refused to allow him further access it to the telescopes he needed [8]. A variety of observations indicate that earthquakes may be predictable by electromagnetic or other signals, but mainstream geology will have none of it [9]. “Cold fusion” remains beyond the pale despite intriguing evidence from competent mainstream researchers [10].

I learned that even distinguished mainstream researchers who take a distinctly different view from the prevailing majority consensus are treated no better than are those of us accused of espousing pseudo-science, in fact they often have it worse: their unorthodoxies can damage their career, whereas most members of SSE earn their living by something quite separate from their oddball interests, which are more hobbies, things pursued in amateur fashion, out of sheer fascination and not as a way to earn a living.

So Loch Ness Monsters led me to SSE and SSE led me to recognize how widespread throughout mainstream science is the passionately dogmatic, even vindictive suppression of minority opinion [6] — quite contrary to the popular view of science, the idealistic view that remains my own vision of how science should be carried on.

It seemed natural, then, in my new academic career in STS, to make my special interest the study of scientific controversies and of what exactly distinguishes genuine proper science from what is widely denigrated as fringe, alternative, or pseudo science [1].
My research focus required looking for examples of scientific controversies to study. I don’t recall what first alerted me that there was dissent from the belief that HIV causes AIDS, that there was ever any controversy about it, but I did come across that in the early 1990s.
That is what eventually taught me that what taken-as-authoritative institutions nowadays proclaim in the name of science should never be automatically trusted; it should be fact-checked. The dogmatism, careerism, and institutional as well as personal conflicts of interest that are now rampant in contemporary science have actually brought official public policies and actions that are contrary to the facts of reality, have harmed massive numbers of people, and threaten to cause yet further damage.

—————————————————————————————————–

[1]    Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press 2001
[2]    The Journal of Scientific Exploration began publication in 1987. It is now freely available on-line
[3]    Examples are discussed and critiqued at p. 200 ff. in [1]
[4]    The iconic organization was CSICOP (Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), founded in 1976 by predominantly non-scientists (philosophers, psychologists, writers, amateur investigators) but including a few prominent scientists, for example Carl Sagan; it publishes Skeptical Inquirer and includes under matters criticized as “paranormal”, claims of the existence of what would be perfectly natural creatures
[5]    Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press, 1984
[6]    Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland,  2012
[7]    Fuel’s Paradise
[8]    Halton Arp, Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies, Interstellar Media, 1987; Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science, Apeiron, 1998
[9]    On earthquake prediction, but more generally about matters that global tectonics (“continental drift”) does not adequately explain, see the NCGT Journal
[10]  The topic is nowadays thought to be not the fusion originally inferred but the general phenomenon of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), nuclear transformations at ordinary temperatures

Posted in conflicts of interest, denialism, global warming, medical practices, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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 .

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[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 »

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 »

Dilemmas for a skeptical scientist living in CoVID-19 USA

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/12/06

Anthony Fauci was and remains wrong about HIV/AIDS [1]. But everyone can be wrong about one thing and yet right about another; so might Fauci be essentially right about CoVID-19?

Robert Redfield, current director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), was a member of the HIV Research Group that failed to follow up conundrums about “HIV tests” in the earliest days: the very conundrums that reveal the inadequacies of the accepted views about HIV. Nothing in Redfield’s record inspires confidence in his judgment, quite the contrary [2].

Moreover, even before Redfield, the CDC had failed miserably concerning CoVID-19 tests in the early days. How can I now trust any of the data and analyses issued by the CDC? It was their faulty, statistically incompetent, classification of the early AIDS sufferers that laid the basis for the mistaken view of an infectious disease [3]; and they ignored the HIV-test conundrums when they were pointed out to them [#514 in The Case against HIV ].

A large proportion of my colleagues in Rethinking AIDS [4] have extrapolated the lack of credibility of Fauci, CDC, et al. to conclude that CoVID-19 is not dangerously different from the normal influenza-like illnesses (ILI) of every global winter season. Certainly the age-dependent relationship of CoVID-19 mortality seems to be much like that of ILI mortality.

As against that, the number of deaths attributed to CoVID-19 in the USA is, by the end of 2020, significantly greater than the worst ILI season — according to CDC data, of course. Furthermore, comparison of the United States with other countries,  particularly Taiwan and Australia and New Zealand, seems to support the view that CoVID-19 is exceptionally contagious and that its spread can be greatly restricted by lockdowns, social distancing, and mask-wearing.

On the other hand,  HIV/AIDS-based understanding (as well as a priori reasoning) discredits RT/PCR-CoVID-19 testing as a reliable diagnosis of infection. And yet there does seem to be a strong correlation between reported positive CoVID-19 tests and observed morbidity and mortality. Perhaps indeed the DNA bits found or postulated to be characteristic of CoVID-19 do occur predominantly in individuals who have at some time been infected; some sources have suggested that the DNA or RNA sequences being looked for are fairly lengthy ones and thereby fairly specific to CoVID-19.

To resolve at all conclusively the differences between the official view and the dissident ones, far better data are needed than are presently available. Instead of numbers, one needs to know how those vary by age, by co-morbidities, by diagnoses of actual causes of morbidity and ultimate mortality; together with truly comparable data for ILI. Those data and comparisons are unlikely to be available until far in the future, when historians of medicine do the sort of retrospective investigative work that Michelle Cochrane did for AIDS patients [5].

So what to believe? Who to believe?

Official sources discredited themselves over HIV/AIDS and have not apparently learned from that; HIV=AIDS has never been disavowed, and that mistaken belief and invalid tests continue to bring unnecessary and toxic “treatment” to innumerable individuals.

That officialdom has become widely discredited, including official science and medical science In general, is illustrated by the public hand-wringing by many officials and commentators about the public lack of confidence in vaccines that is expected to interfere with widespread uptake of CoVID-19 vaccination.

The loss of credibility by official sources  has been well earned. A selective bibliography [6] of critiques of contemporary science by scientists and researchers and science writers and other commentators lists dozens of books as well as many articles, as well as a couple of specialist journals concerned solely with breaches of ethics and accountability in science. A companion bibliography [7] lists books, articles, and reports describing the failings of contemporary medicine and medical science.

As to vaccines, the case of HPV vaccines (Gardasil, Cervarix) demonstrates that not only can unproven and even unsafe vaccines be officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration for marketing, they can also then be vigorously promoted by the CDC [8].

In the absence of credible official authorities or sources, What to believe? Who to believe?

Needed reforms are suggested in many of the critical works [7,8], but no significant actions have followed those suggestions.

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[1]    That HIV does not cause AIDS can be convincingly demonstrated to anyone who is willing to look at the actual facts available in the official literature including peer-reviewed journals collated in the bibliography at The Case against HIV; included are a couple of dozen books analyzing the data.
    My own book (#5 in The Case against HIV) came about because I followed up a statement clearly incompatible with the official view, searching the records of about two decades of reported HIV tests and finding that the results of those tests show that what the tests detect is not an infectious agent; see also my narrative of that emotionally stressful research (#514 in The Case against HIV).

 [2]   Laurie Garrett, “Meet Trump’s new, homophobic public health quack”, 23 March 2018;
     Laurie Garrett, “Why Trump’s new CDC director is an abysmal choice”, 13 May 2018;
    Kristen Holmes, Nick Valencia & Curt Devine (CNN), “CDC woes bring Director Redfield’s troubled past as an AIDS researcher to light”, 5 June 2020;
    Tim Murphy, “Robert Redfield’s epic COVID failure is not a surprise to many HIV and public health experts”, 28 September 2020

[3]    John Lauritsen, chapter 1 in The AIDS War: Propaganda, Profiteering and Genocide from the Medical-Industrial Complex, ASKLEPIOS, 1993

[4]     Established to promote understanding that HIV does not cause AIDS, http://www.virusmyth.com/aids. Up-to-date website is https://rethinkingaids.com

[5]    Michelle Cochrane, When AIDS Began: San Francisco and the Making of an Epidemic, Routledge, 2004

[6]    CRITIQUES OF CONTEMPORARY SCIENCE AND ACADEME

[7]    WHAT’S WRONG WITH PRESENT-DAY MEDICINE

[8]    Sacrificial Virgins  (a documentary);
    Mary Holland & Kim Mack Rosenberg, The HPV Vaccine On Trial: Seeking Justice For A Generation Betrayed, Skyhorse, 2018
    HPV vaccines: risks exceed benefits; HPV vaccination: a thalidomide-type scandal;   
    HPV does not cause cervical cancer; HPV, Cochrane review, and the meaning of “cause”

Posted in media flaws, medical practices, science policy, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Never again say “just the flu”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/04/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corona Conumdrums

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/04/12

Something seems wrong about the basis for the current panic over “CoVID-19”.

2019-nCoV, the virus that is said to cause CoVID-19 disease, first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Within a few months, it had reached in Britain prime minister Boris Johnson and  Prince Charles (but not his wife) , in Russia the health minister, and in Australia Tom Hanks and his wife . According to the interactive online map at the New York Times, this new virus is now present on all continents and on islands large and small, and according to news reports it had also found its way onto cruise ships and warships.
To have spread so rapidly, it must be effectively carried through the air, on the winds, and perhaps through the oceans, as suggested in the Los Angeles Times.
But if this virus has been so widely distributed for several months, why has it caused serious illness in so few places? And why has the continent of Africa been so little affected (see NYT map)?
This seems more like something endemic, that has been around for a long time, like the normal cold or “flu” viruses say, than like a virus that newly jumped from animal to human only last December in Wuhan.
Isn’t there something wrong with the official story?
Moreover, since the virus appeared all over the globe within a few months, how can social distancing prevent it from spreading further?

 

Posted in media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, Uncategorized, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

 
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