Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

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 »

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”

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Dinosaurs were not killed off by an asteroid

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/10/03

Among the several mainstream scientific theories that happen to be unproven or simply wrong [1] is the belief,  accepted by the media’s conventional wisdom (and thereby by society at large), that the dinosaurs  became extinct as a result of environmental changes caused by an asteroid that crashed into the Atlantic near the eastern coast of Mexico (the Chicxulub crater, which lies mostly under water).

To the contrary,  many geologists and paleontologists have always argued that the extinction was not  as sudden as the asteroid scenario suggests, and that in fact it was caused by the environmental consequences of long-continuing and vast volcanic eruptions in what are known as the Deccan Traps in India [2].

A comprehensive but concise and well-documented discussion of these possibilities, with mention of a third theory, is a given by Christian Smoot  in a letter to the NCGT Journal, volume 7 #3.

NCGT Stands for New Concepts in Global Tectonics, an organization founded by professional geologists and others who recognized geological phenomena that seem not to be explainable by the mainstream theory of moving geological plates, i.e. global tectonics, the scientific designation  for what popular discourse calls continental drift.

The journal is publicly available. It should be of considerable interest  to people who realize  that what the public hears from mainstream science is not always the last, absolutely true word.

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[1] Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012)

[2] Dissent from the asteroid hypothesis was earlier discussed in https://scimedskeptic.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/dark-matter-and-dinosaur-extinction

and https://scimedskeptic.wordpress.com/2018/08/26/what-everyone-knows-is-all-too-often-wrong-dinosaur-extinction-and-much-more

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CoVID19: what do we really know?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/15

A visitor to my website sent me this email:

“Hello Dr Bauer. I just read your 2002 article on Confessions of an AIDS Denialist. . . . You must have a lot to say about COVID-19! I . . . would be interested in your view.”

I suspect that my reply will have been rather disappointing:

“I had a lot of fairly reliable data about AIDS and HIV, but there’s a great lack of sound, reliable data about the present circumstances.

AIDS was first noticed and named in the early 1980s, and I looked into it seriously some 20 years later. With CoVID-19, even well-informed experts have been revising their views steadily as more information comes in.

At least one thing is clear already, thanks in part to what has been learned about HIV/AIDS: There is no reliable gold-standard test for diagnosing infection by the supposed coronavirus. HIV/AIDS can be blamed for that because it was with HIV that virologists first allowed the medical profession to use antibody tests and PCR tests as diagnostic of infection even as the published peer-reviewed mainstream literature stated quite clearly that these tests could not establish the presence of infection and should not be used for diagnosis.

The reason is that pure virions, particles of HIV, have never been isolated direct from an AIDS patient.

CoVID-19 infection is being diagnosed on the basis of PCR tests without isolation of actual virus. Even if the bits of RNA or DNA being picked up by PCR could be known to be like some components of a coronavirus, that would not demonstrate that they actually originated from particles of such a virus. As De Harven  had pointed out with respect to HIV tests, what PCR picks up might come from random circulating pieces of DNA or RNA or from the expression of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs).

I think John Ioannidis Is trying honestly and without preconceptions or conflicts of interest to understand CoVID-19, and he is eminently qualified to do so. His most recent analysis  suggests that the virulence of CoVID-19 is comparable to that of the respiratory virus(es) underlying really bad so-called flu seasons.

The numbers that are being thrown around in the mass media are more misleading than informative. For instance, numbers of cases are continually reported and publicized as disastrous without any information about the symptomatic levels of those cases.

In my view, the clearest indication that deaths can be ascribed to the influence of a novel coronavirus is the data on excess all-cause deathshttps://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm

https://www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps

Both in Europe and in the United States, it seems that 2020 is definitely worse than the bad flu season of 2018.

The comparative data for European countries do not yield obvious information about the best way of handling the present infectious agent.

I think that one more thing is, however, quite clear: we do not properly understand why excess deaths are typically somewhat higher during “flu seasons”. Is it simply that when the weather becomes more wintry, mortality increases? Of course particularly among those who are the least healthy, which tends to be among those of greater age? Do respiratory viruses play a significant role in this? If so, should some of the measures now being advocated also be practiced during all winter seasons? What is the actual efficacy, if any, of vaccinating against flu?

I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories that regard the pandemic as planned by governments, agencies, and corporations (e.g. the Gates Foundation) as a step toward increasing domination and control of the general population. I do believe very strongly, however, that the circumstances are being made considerably worse for most people through deliberate actions of pharmaceutical companies, associated conflicts of interest among legislatures and executives, and widespread general incompetence, together with the lack of an impartial, authoritative source of scientific knowledge and understanding.

A sad lesson from HIV/AIDS is that official agencies dealing with medicine in general and virology in particular are not truly competent. Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield, the CDC as a whole, the World Health Organization, etc., continue to be quite wrong about HIV/AIDS. And the approval of drugs and medical devices is incompetent or corrupt or both, and is no safeguard against products pushed by the pharmaceutical companies even when their potential benefits are greatly outweighed by the risks and harms; look no further than HPV vaccines, for example.”

Posted in medical practices, peer review, science is not truth | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Patriotism, ideology, science, politics

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/11

The development of atomic weapons during the Second World War is widely regarded as an enormous achievement of science — though it would be described more accurately as an enormous practical, interdisciplinary, achievement with contributions from engineers as well as chemists, physicists, mathematicians — and not forgetting that government played an entirely necessary role in providing and arranging appropriate administration and resources.

Not widely remembered nowadays is the fuss, the outrage aroused by the matter of espionage concerning atomic weaponry, in particular that some details of the technical developments were shared secretly with the Soviet Union by some dedicated communists in the USA and in Britain.

Those who did this secret sharing are commonly described as traitors. However, some of them and some of their supporters defended their actions by appealing to an idealistic ideology of science as a universal public good that belongs properly to all of humankind and not just to those who make discoveries or to the discoverer’s institutions or nations.

That attempt at rationalization and excusing, blatantly self-serving, will hardly carry much weight with most of us, but there are less extreme instances where the relation between science and politics, ideology and patriotism, can be troubling and far from clear-cut.

Nowadays, for example, politically liberal skeptics about global warming and climate change may confront — or talk themselves into — a dilemma: the hegemonic attribution of climate change to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide is factually wrong: see blog posts listed below; but universal recognition of that would be a political triumph for right-leaning political groups and a severe undermining of the credibility of left-leaning groups and environmental activists. Belief in human-coerced climate change and global warming (AGW, for anthropogenic global warming) has become an unquestioned dogma among politically left-leaning individuals and groups whereas that belief is questioned or pooh-poohed almost only by those on the political right.

Should the truth about climate change, global warming, and carbon dioxide be suppressed in the fear that universal recognition of that truth might contribute to political successes by such authoritarian right-wing movements as those supporting President Donald Trump?

Dilemmas of that ilk are unavoidable so long as there is no authoritative source of scientific knowledge and understanding that is universally recognized as impartial, unbiased, non-partisan, trustworthy.

The only suggestion for what such a source could be is a Science Court that could earn the sort of respect that is accorded the United States Supreme Court in its better decisions. Prominent among the considerable number of non-trivial problems facing the possible establishing of such an institution is how to harness the political willingness and energy for such an establishment from all sides and shades of the political spectrum.

In reason, though, every individual and every political and ideological sect ought to recognize that it is to their clear individual advantage if the actual facts of the real world were in harmony with their beliefs, so that they could cite the authority of the Court as legitimation of their own particular ideology. Everyone and every group should therefore welcome the establishment of a universally agreed source of scientific knowledge and understanding.

Bringing one’s worldview or religion or ideology into harmony with material reality would also avoid the cognitive dissonance that threatens scientifically minded people whose religious or ideological sect preaches things that are at odds with scientifically established views. Thus many Catholics and fundamentalist Christians and their institutions will have been greatly relieved when the Pope finally acknowledged that evolution is more than a theory.

As the posts listed below illustrate, the evidence is quite overwhelming against the theory of human-caused global warming (AGW, anthropogenic global warming), yet it has become globally hegemonic, and contrarian dissenters are ignored or maligned or suppressed or censored or otherwise persecuted. I suggest that this topic in itself shows how sorely needed is a truly impartial and trusted institution for assessing scientific evidence and its interpretation, a Science Court. I discuss it in chapter 12 of Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017).

 

—————————————————-

A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?
Climate-change science and cover-ups
Climate models are wrong — Surprise??
Mainstream propaganda by the BBC about denialism and global warming
Evidence-based global-warming science?
Climate change is responsible for everything, as everyone knows (but what everyone knows is usually wrong)
Sea-Level-Rise Hysteria
Climate–change beliefs are politically and not scientifically determined
Freeman Dyson on climate change
Psychological toll of climate-science belief
Climate change “deniers”
The political division over climate change
Who can be trusted about science? Not the Royal Society of London or the National Academy of the United States
Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide
Climate-change orthodoxy: alternative facts, uncertainty equals certainty, projections are not predictions, and other absurdities of the “scientific consensus”
What science says about global warming and climate change
Slowing of global warming officially confirmed — by reading between the lines
The consensus against human causation of global warming and climate change
Human-caused global warming as Groupthink
Australian university fires climate-change dissenter: dissent is not collegial…
What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review

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Why skepticism about science and medicine?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/06

My skepticism is not about science and medicine as sources or repositories of objective knowledge and understanding. Skepticism is demanded by the fact that what society learns about science and medicine is mediated by human beings. That brings in a host of reasons for skepticism: human fallibility, individual and institutional self-interest, conflicts of interest, sources of bias and prejudice.

I have never come across a better discussion of the realities about science and its role in society than Richard Lewontin’s words in his book, Biology as Ideology (Anansi Press 1991, HarperPerennial 1992; based on 1990 Massey Lectures, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation):

“Science is a social institution about which there is a great deal of misunderstanding, even among those who are part of it. . . [It is] completely integrated into and influenced by the structure of all our other social institutions. The problems that science deals with, the ideas that it uses in investigating those problems, even the so-called scientific results that come out of scientific investigation, are all deeply influenced by predispositions that derive from the society in which we live. Scientists do not begin life as scientists, after all, but as social beings immersed in a family, a state, a productive structure, and they view nature through a lens that has been molded by their social experience.
. . . science is molded by society because it is a human productive activity that takes time and money, and so is guided by and directed by those forces in the world that have control over money and time. Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it. does it. More than that, those forces have the power to appropriate from science ideas that are particularly suited to the maintenance and continued prosperity of the social structures of which they are a part. So other social institutions have an input into science both in what is done and how it is thought about, and they take from science concepts and ideas that then support their institutions and make them seem legitimate and natural. . . .
Science serves two functions. First, it provides us with new ways of manipulating the material world . . . . [Second] is the function of explanation” (pp. 3-4). And (p. 5) explaining how the world works also serves as legitimation.

Needed skepticism takes into account that every statement disseminated about science or medicine serves in some way the purpose(s), the agenda(s), of the source or sources of that statement.

So the first thing to ask about any assertion about science or medicine is, why is this statement being made by this particular source?

Statements by pharmaceutical companies, most particularly their advertisements, should never be believed, because, as innumerable observers and investigators have documented, the profit motive has outweighed any concern for the harm that unsafe medications cause even as there is no evidence for definite potential benefit. The best way to decide on whether or not to prescribe or use a drug is by comparing NNT and NNH, the odds on getting benefit compared to the odds of being harmed; but NNT and NNH are never reported by drug companies. For example, there is no evidence whatsoever that HPV vaccination decreases the risk of any cancer; all that has been observed is that the vaccines may decrease genital warts. On the other hand, many individuals have suffered grievous harm from “side” effects of these vaccines (see Holland 2018 in the bibliography cited just below, and the documentary, Sacrificial Virgins. TV ads by Merck, for example in August 2020 on MSNBC, cite the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as recommending the vaccine not only for girls but also for boys.

For fully documented discussions of the pervasive misdeeds of drug companies, consult the books listed in my periodically updated bibliography, What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine.
I recommend particularly Angell 2004, Goldacre 2013, Gøtzsche 2013, Healy 2012, Moynihan, & Cassels 2005. Greene 2007 is a very important but little-cited book describing how numbers and surrogate markers have come to dominate medical practice, to the great harm of patients.

Official reports may be less obviously deceitful than drug company advertisements, but they are no more trustworthy, as argued in detail and with examples in “Official reports are not scientific publications”, chapter 3 in my Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012):
“reports from official institutions and organizations . . . are productions by bureaucracies . . . . The actual authors of these reports are technical writers whose duties are just like those of press secretaries, advertising writers, and other public-relations personnel: to put on the actual evidence and conclusions the best possible spin to reinforce the bureaucracy’s viewpoint and emphasize the importance of the bureaucracy’s activities.
Most important: The Executive Summaries, Forewords, Prefaces, and the like may tell a very different story than does the actual evidence in the bulk of the reports. It seems that few if any pundits actually read the whole of such documents. The long public record offers sad evidence that most journalists certainly do not look beyond these summaries into the meat of the reports, given that the media disseminate uncritically so many of the self-serving alarums in those Executive Summaries” (p. 213).

So too with press releases from academic institutions.

As for statements direct from academic and professional experts, recall that, as Lewontin pointed out, “people earn their living by science”. Whenever someone regarded as an expert or authority makes public statements, an important purpose is to enhance the status, prestige, career, profitability, of who is making the statement. This is not to suggest that such statements are made with deliberate dishonesty; but the need to preserve status, as well as the usual illusion that what one believes is actually true, ensures that such statements will be dogmatically one-sided assertions, not judicious assessments of the objective state of knowledge.

Retired academic experts like myself no longer suffer conflicts of interest at a personal or institutional-loyalty level. When we venture critiques of drug companies, official institutions, colleges and universities, and even individual “experts” or former colleagues, we will be usually saying what we genuinely believe to be unvarnished truth. Nevertheless, despite the lack of major obvious conflicts of interest, one should have more grounds than that for believing what we have to say. We may still have an unacknowledged agenda, for instance a desire still to do something useful even as our careers are formally over. Beyond that, of course, like any other human beings, we may simply be wrong, no matter that we ourselves are quite sure that we are right. Freedom from frank, obvious conflicts of interest does not bring with it some superhuman capacity for objectivity let alone omniscience.

In short:
Believe any assertion about science or medicine, from any source, at your peril.
If the matter is of any importance to you, you had best do some investigating of evidence and facts, and comparison of diverse interpretations.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, medical practices, peer review, politics and science, science is not truth, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Percentages absolute or relative? Politicizing science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/08/24

Convalescent plasma reduces the mortality of CoVID-19 by 35%, citizens of the United States were assured in a press conference on 23 August 2020, and the approval of this treatment for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) underscored that this constituted a breakthrough in treating the pandemic disease.

As usual, critical voices ventured to disagree. One physician reported that he had been using this treatment for a considerable length of time and had noted a perhaps marginal, certainly not great benefit for this intervention. Others pointed out that the use of convalescent plasma in general was nothing new.

That “35%” mortality reduction was emphasized a number of times in the televised official announcement. It was only a few days later that we learned that the original data suggested a reduction of mortality to about 8% from 11-12% for presumably comparable patients not so treated. In other words, 3 to 4% of patients may have derived a benefit in terms of decreased mortality.

Indeed, 8 is about 35% less than 11-12. However, a 3.5% reduction in mortality is nothing like a 35% reduction.

This episode illustrates what is quite commonplace as drug companies seek to impress doctors and patients with the wonderful benefits to be derived from their medications: relative effects rather than absolute ones are reported.

This is just one of the many things wrong with present-day practices in medicine, of course; dozens of works describing the dysfunctions are listed in my periodically updated bibliography.

Investigative reporters also revealed and that the FDA’s emergency use approval had come at the behest of the White House. Historians will recall that the whole science of genetics was derailed in the Soviet Union for a generation as Stalin’s administration enshrined as science the pseudoscience invented by Lysenko.

Posted in conflicts of interest, fraud in medicine, media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, prescription drugs, scientific literacy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Continuing CoVID19 uncertainties

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/07/14

I found this recent review by Dr. Jane Orient very helpful.

She happens to be wrong in accepting the conventional story about HIV/AIDS, but that does not detract from her ironic comparison of Fauci’s response to AIDS and to CoVID19.

Estimates made by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention at the end of April indicate that the morbidity and mortality are comparable to the 2009 H1N1 flu season.

 

  Age range CoVID19
(to end April 2020) *
H1N1 2019
New York City **
Symptomatic case fatality rate      
  0-49 0.0005  
  0-17   0.0008-0.0012
  18-64 0.0081-0.0132
  50-64 0.002  
  65+ 0.013 0.0094-0.0147
  all 0.004 0.0054-0.0086
       
Symptomatic case hospitalization rate      
  0-49 0.017  
  0-17   0.098-0.151
  18-64 0.076-0.124
  50-64 0.045  
  65+ 0.074 0.079-0.124
  all 0.034 0.084-0.134
% asymptomatic infections   35%  
asymptomatic vs. symptomatic infectiousness   100%  
       

* https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html, “best estimate”

** https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0011677

 

I still do not understand many aspects of this pandemic well enough to try to convince others. Some uncertainties will remain intractable until there are reliable data, comparable from different sources, about at least
— What is being tested? what tests are being used? are they comparable across countries? How specific and how precise?
— Rates of infection
— Ratio of hospitalizations to infections
— Actual causes of death of what are being labeled “CoVID19” deaths. Orient’s quote about Medicare reimbursements is rather frightening, suggests hospitals would call every death they conceivably could as “CoVID19”

The uncertainties are underscored by the remarkable experience of Joseph Fair, who had all the apparent symptoms, was very ill for some time; but on 5 tests 4 were negative and one “weakly positive”; and he is negative on antibody tests: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/health/after-severe-illness-nbcs-dr-joseph-fair-tests-negative-for-covid-19-antibodies/2506117/

With all that, it does seem clear that USA and UK did not shut down early enough nor sufficiently enough.

Not being discussed, but surely needed:

“Bad” “flu” seasons seem to harm as many people as this “pandemic” does; but most of the harm is not owing to actual influenzas but to what the CDC calls “influenza-like illnesses”. It would be nice to know more precisely what goes on and what — if anything — might be worth doing on both personal and society-wide levels; particularly as the “flu shots” are only minimally effective: https://theconversation.com/the-flu-vaccine-is-being-oversold-its-not-that-effective-97688

 

CoVID19 Conspiracy theories are rampant.

I reject them for two quite general reasons:

  1. They suffer from the same fallacy that pervades so much popular as well as academic discourse about social matters, namely, attributing intentionality to the interactions of human characteristics and social forces: ambition, arrogance, dogmatism, greed, ideology; silly laws, bureaucracy, etc. etc.
    Not to mention insufficient technical understanding of viruses and human immune systems.
  2. Malice is much less common than incompetence

Posted in media flaws, medical practices | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

 
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