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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
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A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. – Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

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“Second Opinion”: Laetrile Scandal at Sloan-Kettering Revisited

August 27th, 2014

Eric Merola’s Documentary Shows Pharma Politics Reversed Positive Studies

Public Spokesman/Idealist Ralph W. Moss Resisted Cover Up, Got Fired

Time Brought Justice for Both Sides but Not Yet for Laetrile

By Anthony Liversidge

One of science and medicine’s best buried political secrets has burst like Frankenstein out of its grave into the open this week with the release of Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering, a documentary directed by Eric Merola, which will be premiered with Q/A at Cinema Village (22 East 12 St) at 7pm Friday (Aug 29 2014).

The film beautifully dramatizes and clarifies one of the greatest scandals in the ongoing war between pharma and the alternative natural remedies it labels “quackery”, but which tend to look better and better in mainstream lab research.

Rather miraculously, Second Opinion manages to be riveting despite being essentially nothing more than the testimony of one talking head, the whistleblower in the affair, Ralph W. Moss.

Moss, luckily, has the lively charisma and intelligence to carry the film through seventy six minutes of revelation, aided by images and footage illustrating his story – their own research results that were denied by the poobahs of a great research hospital, their false testimony to the press and to Congress, and the family who backed him in his youthful decision not to lie to keep “the best job I ever had”.

Playing politics with science

The absorbing film dissects the fairly disgraceful attempt by the rulers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the great cancer research and treatment temple in Manhattan, to bury studies by one of their own, a very respected (pioneer of chemotherapy) scientist named Kanematsu Sugiura. His experiments with mice inconveniently showed that the much maligned “quack remedy” Laetrile actually had value, and should have been pursued with further research.

Instead, the research hospital’s administrators arranged to fold his study in a paper of their own (for the Journal of Surgical Oncology 10:89-123, 1978. C.C.Stock et al: Antitumor Tests of Amygdalin in Spontaneous Animal Tumor Systems) which denied that Laetrile had any value and suggested that Sugiura, a grand old man of science who had been with them for nearly sixty years, was mistaken. The further studies added saw his positive results vanish amid skulduggery – “a funny thing happened”, as the Dr Sugiera put it to the press – which mixed up groups of mice and swapped their feeding solutions.

The conclusion of their published paper was the opposite of the truth: Laetrile had nothing to offer. Or as MSK president (and director of Squibb pharmaceuticals) Lewis Thomas put it, testifying in July 1977 at Senator Kennedy’s hearing on Laetrile, the data showed that “Laetrile is without any effect at all.”

Public humiliation of an honest researcher

At the huge press conference mounted in June 1977 to satisfy outsiders on this point, video of which director Eric Merola has miraculously unearthed, the unfortunate Sugiura is seen both inclined to be loyal and politely agree with his employers, yet quietly refusing to renounce his own findings. “Of course, my results don’t agree, but I agree with what my institution says.”

But asked pointblank by reporters if he stood by his results, he replies, “Yes, I stick.”

He added, “I hope somebody will confirm my results later on.”

Meanwhile the preprints of the group paper in which his work was buried were placed by the PR staff behind a curtain so that reporters would use the misleading summary a young science writer at Sloan-Kettering Ralph W. Moss, 34, was forced to author.

The politics inside medical science

This is not quite as much of a blatant embarrassment as the just preceding Sloan-Kettering scandal of the seventies, where William Summerlin used a Magic Marker to darken mice in a bogus demonstration that he had transplanted skin successfully between them.

But this history of the top brass at Memorial Sloan Kettering caught red handed trying to suppress the good results of the ancient and gentle Dr Kanematsu Sugiura is educational for all who might think that the medical community, even today, welcomes studies indicating that natural remedies have potential, though these have accumulated into a small mountain of paper in the forty years since Laetrile was politically defeated.

None of this scientific trickery would have emerged into the light of day except for the integrity and bravery of a young whistleblower on the pr staff of the renowned hospital-research institute from 1974 to 1977. Ralph W. Moss, now 71, was a bright young Stanford Ph.D and classicist hired to master the arcane labyrinth of modern cancer research and translate it for the press. He had the distasteful assignment of blandly peddling the false impression favored by the brass that Dr Sugiura’s results were contradicted by tests at another institution. Being new to science and medical politics, and a young man of unusual integrity, he didn’t take kindly to the role of compromising the truth. Nor did his wife Martha, who said “They want somebody who is going to lie? That is not you!”

So Moss became a mole for truthseekers in the press. He slipped the papers of the esteemed Dr Sugiura that showed that Laetrile (actually the naturally occurring chemical amygdalin drawn from apricot and peach pits, and the kernels of bitter European almonds) was far from useless to the New York Times, but Jane Brody’s front page revelation of the affair (4 Cancer Centers Find No Proof of Therapy Value in Illegal Drug Mon Jul 21 1975) was the reverse of what Moss hoped for – not even mentioning Dr Sugiura (whom Brody didn’t interview, Moss noticed), denying that any positive results could be duplicated and crediting the research of notorious Laetrile enemy Daniel S. Martin at the Catholic Medical Center in Queens which supposedly proved Dr Sugiura wrong, but which was later shown to be based on faulty cancer assays.

Laetrile – a promising direction

As the film shows, Sugiura had in fact found the much maligned Laetrile did not cure but did work very well in slowing breast cancer, curbing new tumors, preventing pain in significantly many test mice, and stopping the deadly spread to the lungs (11 per cent suffered this compared to 89 per cent in one test). Their health and appearance was markedly improved. Moreover, there were two other scientists at Memorial Sloan Kettering who had got similar positive results for Laetrile. Franz Schmid found that even 40mg, a fiftieth of the dose (2000 mg per kilo of body weight) used by Sugiura, extended the life of the mice after they were given cancer by half. Elizabeth Stockert’s results also matched Sugiura’s, all confirmed by the five pathologists that counted lesions and tumors at Sloan-Kettering.

In fact, on July 2nd 1974 the top leaders of Sloan-Kettering (Lewis Thomas, Robert Good, Chester Stock and Lloyd Old) visited with the NCI and FDA in a large meeting to persuade them to allow clinical trials, and it was agreed to consider trials to treat cancer and relieve pain, and “the FDA will publicly endorse good research on amygdalin as in the public interest.”

Federal sun turns to wind and rain

But a later, bigger meeting at NCI on March 4th 1975, with higher ranking NCI officials, was attended by Daniel Martin of CMC, newly a national quackbuster and adamant opponent of Laetrile, and federal permission for trials was cancelled. To Moss’s bafflement, with the exception of Lloyd Old, the head of research, with no change in the science his top officials’ tune changed to “misrepresentations and egregious lies” claiming Laetrile had no virtue whatsoever. Chester Stock, director of the Sloan-Kettering’s Walker labs told the press “We have found Laetrile negative in all the animal systems we have tested.” It was at this point Moss realized there was a “cover-up”.

Only Lloyd Old responded to his concerns. As Moss sat in Old’s office, the head of research said to him “Do you want to know where we get all of our new ideas?” and took down a copy of the American Cancer Society’s Unproven Methods of Cancer Management which blacklisted Laetrile and other innovations as quackery. “This is the Bible!”

Moss says that “scientifically speaking, this was the most mind blowing moment of my life!” Later, he reports, Old handled his inner conflict by holidaying in Tahiti when Sloan-Kettering had its press conference, where as the film shows every one of its leaders present from Lewis Thomas down had to lie convincingly to 100 reporters and cameras, and did so with great acting skill.

After Brody’s failure to present the correct science a doubly disenchanted Moss sent the research in mid 1975 to the main Laetrile lobbying group, but they turned out to have too many members from the extreme right wing John Birch Society, which didn’t help gain traction. So Moss turned to a small left wing group, Science For The People, run by physician-activist named Alec Pruchnicki, and formed the secretly authored Second Opinion movement, to produce an underground sheet for employees at Sloan-Kettering to write anonymously about work issues, which became a must read for all managers on the day it was distributed.

Six months after the press conference held by Sloan-Kettering Moss wrote a 30,000 word monograph correcting the deceptions of his top brass. He decided to hold a press conference about it at the New York Hilton, with the head of Science for the People and others to speak. When assigned by his boss at the research center to spy on it, he confessed that he was the lead speaker. Next day, he described what had really happened with Laetrile research at Sloane-Kettering, a devastating account of corporate deceit in reporting scientific research. “Laetrile in fact is better than all the known anti-cancer drugs. All told, there were 20 positive experiments between 1972 and 1977″. Ultimately, he blamed “the profit system” for the scandal.

The brouhaha and the allegations of cover up landed on the front page of the New York Post, and his boss, Gerald Delaney, finally fired him when he came in on Monday, for “betraying the trust placed in him as a member of the public affairs department of this cancer center,” as he told the New York Times. Meanwhile the papers and statements from Second Opinion were “irresponsible and totally incorrect”.

Moss felt devastated by what seemed “so unfair” – that “an institution ostensibly devoted to seeking scientific truth” should behave in this way. Sloan-Kettering padlocked his filing cabinet and two armed guards told him never to enter the building again. But his wife says she was proud to be his wife, and Sugiura sent him a letter congratulating him on the accuracy of his report.

In the end, all the men who sold out science at the renowned institution have passed away, and as Moss notes, all of them died of cancer.

Ralph Moss as cancer reporter

The public is fortunate that Moss was kicked out from what he has described as perhaps “the best job I ever had”. The radical classicist went on to carve out a prominent place in cancer research information as perhaps its best consultant and writer. He described the notorious but soon forgotten Sloan-Kettering affair in a chapter of his 1980 book on The Cancer Industry and has now returned to the topic in a new book devoted to the battle, Doctored Results, published in February. He has become an unusually useful and widely respected source, publishing 12 books on cancer research and treatment and building a 35 year record of researching the best available treatment for all major types of cancer, and currently writing the Moss Reports, impartially assessing conventional and unconventional research and experience for over 200 cancer diagnoses.

His writing and editing has appeared in publications on both sides of the battle to reform medicine, from JAMA and the Lancet to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, including a monthly column on the “War on Cancer” for the Townsend Letter. He has even been back to lecture as an honoree at Sloan-Kettering, as well as many other medical centers here and abroad, with a slew of awards and honors around the world. He was invited by Harold Varmus who was then director of the NIH, in 1994 to sit on the NIH Alternative Medicine Advisory Council and help found the Office of Alternative Medicine, although this unfortunately has failed to live up to its ambitious charter since.

Why this movie matters

To revisit this storm in a fine china teapot may seem irrelevant forty years later, when Laetrile has been replaced in interest by numerous other plant substances. Especially in the last twenty years, peer reviewed studies in major centers around the world (even by institutions as deeply established as the Mayo Clinic) have shown that substances as common as green tea, resveratrol, curcumin (in turmeric) and the ubiquitous plant flavonoid quercetin might well have or even provably do have beneficial effects in humans in regard to cancer and other major ailments. But mainstream medicine is still not enthusiastic about using them: evidently, the same system flaws are at work.

Whether viewers of this unusual documentary will get its real message seems uncertain, since it spends little time on who’s to blame, and what should be done about a medical cancer research system clearly still in the pocket of big pharma. On this there is but the one telling quote that comes at the end. “Nobody is going to pay $70,000 for a new cancer drug if they can buy Laetrile for 75 cents.” – William W. Vodra, Former Associate Chief Counsel for Drugs, FDA.

The film’s bottom line message is that Memorial Sloan-Kettering should correct the record, and Laetrile should be revisited and properly assessed. Unlike chemotherapy it is not toxic, by the way, contrary to the impression given by Wikipedia. Raw (not roast, marzipan is made in Europe from roast bitter almonds) apricot kernels in huge amounts (more than sixty, say, at 0.5 mg each)) are toxic and even fatal to take orally (the enzymes release cyanide from the molecule) but purified Laetrile itself (amygdalin, C(20)H(27)NO(11)) is perfectly safe in reasonable amounts to take orally, one gram per day, say, in a human. (Given the way cyanide works, nothing much will happen to you if you eat fewer than sixty apricot pits at once, since the body is able to detoxify them in lesser amounts).

Whether current Sloan-Kettering executives will be prepared to take responsibiity for their predecessors misleading the press and public seems highly improbable given that the forces that made them do so are still in place and more powerful than ever. But the crying need to have clinical trials for Laetrile is well established by this careful account of a political crime against good science. As Moss says “to this day, if there are any better agents that have been proven as effective at preventing the spread of cancer they are unknown to me.”

Merola’s Corrective Moviemaking

This is Merola’s second major documentary of this kind, factually supporting pioneers in medical research against unscientific repression of their results. He made the excellent movie about Burzynski, Burzynski! , the Polish anti-cancer pioneer, in 2010, illuminating the excesses of the FDA in persecuting that independent researcher regardless of his promising and now officially validated results in countering brain cancer, something established medicine is largely unable to do. This important movie can be seen free at the Dr. Mercola site A full transcript is available at Burzynski! transcript A part II was completed and released in March this year, see Burzynski Movie. In June the FDA acknowledged the safety and efficacy of Burzynski’s “antineoplastons” and allowed Phase III trials.

Here is the trailer, which is worth watching:

How to catch the film, its director and its star source
Reviews and other responses to film

Almost Everything Human Is Animal, Though Scientists Still Deny It

July 6th, 2014

By Anthony Liversidge

Times Magazine Salutes Soulful Zoo Inmates Afflicted with Depression, Anxiety

Halberstadt Reports Scientists After Centuries Still Reluctant To Face Reality

Conformists Whisper to Him They Knew It All Along, but Dare Not Speak Up

Today’s piece in the New York Times Magazine – Zoo Animals and Their Discontents – is something of a breakthrough, since Alex Halberstadt (edited by Jillian Dunham) lets us know that zoo animals suffer from depression and other emotional malaise just like human prisoners, and are successfully treated by a behavioral psychologist, Dr Vint Virga, who reads their body language expertly and comforts them sometimes with no more than his constant presence and friendly support.

This level of understanding of animals as conscious, self conscious, sentient and emotional beings may be practiced without thought by every pet owner but has been a sticking point for scientists since Descartes and Spinoza, Halberstadt notes. Even today many scientists confuse it with anthropomorphism, or the projection of our own ideas and emotions on animals when we interpret their behavior. Such is the sanction of scorn and derision attached to such a mistake that scientists don’t dare acknowledge the obvious, which is that animals are indeed human in basic respects because after all humans are first and foremost animals.

The bias against animal sentience is hardly recent. Descartes famously wrote that “the reason why animals do not speak as we do is not that they lack the organs but that they have no thoughts.” Spinoza claimed that human reluctance to slaughter animals is “founded rather on vain superstition and womanish pity than on sound reason.” The notion of animals as unthinking automatons has enjoyed curious staying power; one form it has taken is a tendency to study animal behavior to the exclusion of thoughts and feelings. The Oxford Companion to Animal Behaviour, a longstanding reference, cautions behaviorists that “one is well advised to study the behaviour, rather than attempting to get at any underlying emotion.”

Needless to say animals (dogs, birds, dolphins, octopuses) cannot reason as effectively or use the language of words as well as humans (though in some respects some can compete with a four year old) and their social impulses may vary widely from human in direction and consummation (humans do not actually eat their step progeny unlike lions) but the days when Descartes and Spinoza could write that animals were thoughtless automatons without feelings are long behind us. Science has been busy proving the obvious in this field for a number of years now.

The notion that animals think and feel may be rampant among pet owners, but it makes all kinds of scientific types uncomfortable. “If you ask my colleagues whether animals have emotions and thoughts,” says Philip Low, a prominent computational neuroscientist, “many will drop their voices to a whisper or simply change the subject. They don’t want to touch it.” Jaak Panksepp, a professor at Washington State University, has studied the emotional responses of rats. “Once, not very long ago,” he said, “you couldn’t even talk about these things with colleagues.”

That may be changing. A profusion of recent studies has shown animals to be far closer to us than we previously believed — it turns out that common shore crabs feel and remember pain, zebra finches experience REM sleep, fruit-fly brothers cooperate, dolphins and elephants recognize themselves in mirrors, chimpanzees assist one another without expecting favors in return and dogs really do feel elation in their owners’ presence.

Of course, close watchers of Nova and other PBS programs already know many more examples of the extraordinary mental and emotional life of our fellow animals. The latest series of three was one of the most impressive: NOVA: Inside Animals Minds.

At the end of the final segment, Who’s The Smartest?, a group of Australian divers filming giant Manta rays was approached out of the dark by a dolphin wrapped in a fishing line with a hook in its fin, and in response one of the divers was able to remove the hook and line from the animal, which returned to the surface during the seven minute process to get more air before finally swimming away freed of the hook and line which it never could have achieved by itself or with the help of another dolphin.

Saying that it waved its tail in gratitude might be anthropomorphism, but there was no doubt that a high level of interspecies communication had occurred, along the lines of, “Can you free me of this entanglement?” “Yes, sure!”

The Cambridge Declaration

In 2012, a public statement was signed by leading animal researchers to emphasize the findings of the latest research:

In the summer of 2012, an unprecedented document, masterminded by Low — “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals” — was signed by a group of leading animal researchers in the presence of Stephen Hawking. It asserted that mammals, birds and other creatures like octopuses possess consciousness and, in all likelihood, emotions and self-awareness. Scientists, as a rule, don’t issue declarations. But Low claims that the new research, and the ripples of unease it has engendered among rank-and-file colleagues, demanded an emphatic gesture. “Afterward, an eminent neuroanatomist came up to me and said, ‘We were all thinking this, but were afraid to say it,’ ” Low recalled.

The Declaration ended thus: “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” It was publicly proclaimed on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non Human Animals at Churchill College, Cambridge, and the signing that evening in front of Stephen Hawking at the Hotel du Vin was filmed by CBS Sixty Minutes.

Scientists in denial

Why this should be necessary when every Internet surfer is aware of how elephants take their ritual leave of a dead companion, and every Economist reader read the obituary of Irene Pepperberg’s African grey parrot Alex which appeared in its pages otherwise devoted to influential politicians, businessmen and thinkers, is hard to say.

Alex’s cognitive and expressive abilities were astounding to those unfamiliar with the intelligence of African greys: he learned 200 word labels to describe the color shape and material of objects and when asked what he wanted for breakfast would choose what fruit he preferred. If brought the wrong one, a banana, say, he would object, “No, apple!”

A lot of scientists still in denial may be clinging to the supposed superiority of man over beast, or justifying their distasteful cruelty in experimenting on monkeys’ brains. But in general it seems to be theoretical conformity to the ruling idea and fear of sanction if they step out of line. They remain as faithful to the shared notion as the followers of Aristotle did for two millennia, until surgeons and scientists decided to look at the evidence of the real world.

For Philip Low, the Cambridge Declaration was aimed directly at the Cartesian prejudice against nonhumans. “The term ‘animal’ is simply an excuse not to look at something,” Low argues, citing eugenics, phrenology and “scientific” racism as byproducts of the tendency to elevate humans — especially certain humans — over other beings. Some scientists have criticized Low for not consulting with more colleagues before issuing the declaration. “Whom did Descartes consult before making his declaration?” Low asked me.

The hero of this fine article is Vint Verga, the behavioral psychologist who attends to zoo patients so well, who has been reading animals’ body language as evidence of their inner state since he was a child, a child who found pets understood him better than his own family.

Mostly, Virga enjoyed being alone in nature, or with animals. “They understood me better than my family,” he says. “I was shy and had a hard time figuring out what to say to people, so at parties I would gravitate toward the cat or dog. I still do.”

The story of how his breakaway conviction was formed is quite moving in itself, an instance of how great a connection there can be between dog and man without words:

The dog was dying. Virga looked in on him at 3 a.m., after a busy emergency-room shift was over and the clinic had finally gone quiet. If anything, Pongo’s condition had worsened. Resigned, Virga sat on the floor beside him; he filled out medical records while leaving his other hand draped loosely around the dog. Virga was exhausted and engrossed in the paperwork, and an hour passed before he noticed that Pongo’s pulse had grown stronger and movement was returning to his body. By the time the sun had come up, Pongo was nuzzling in Virga’s lap and licking his hand.

Virga had been an emergency-room vet for four years and yet, poring over the dog’s chart, he could find no sound medical reason for Pongo’s recovery. He couldn’t escape the conviction that medicine had little to do with it, that it had been the physical contact and the closeness that effected the sudden change.

Herd of donkeys

Virga has little appetite for dealing with what he calls the religion of scientists, who resist the changing nature of our notions about animals and their interiors because they are stuck mentally, conforming to the group rule which dictates expulsion if they think otherwise. But Virga was one who broke away from convention when he saw that group assumptions didn’t match his experience:

For a behaviorist at a zoo, striking a balance between hard science and drawing reasonable parallels between human and animal suffering may be the only avenue toward effectively diagnosing afflictions and treating patients. Virga told me that encountering misgivings about anthropomorphism once made him timid about expressing his convictions. “But we get to a point in our careers when we say, this is what I feel. And now my job is to prove it.” He says that he could not be effective at his job without understanding animals as individuals with complex psychological lives. “In behavioral work, there are no lab tests,” he says. “But medicine is subjective. Sure, when you interpret behaviors, there’s a leap there. But there’s also a leap when you read an ultrasound.” The debate between skeptics and believers, he says, is akin to arguments about religion, and he’s not eager to engage. “Sometimes a scientist will ask me, ‘What are your data points?’ ” he said. “But if we accept that animals are self-aware beings and have emotions, they are no longer data points. No amount of data points will explain identity.”

Just how entrenched is the fear of losing funds for joining in what is wrongly viewed as anthropomorphism in crediting the new evidence is made plain. It is a prejudice solid enough to resist the influence of spouses and children and the rest of the public, all of whom almost certainly believe otherwise:

Yet avoiding anthropomorphism at all costs may be the main cause of the schism between scientists and the public in the debate about animal sentience. “Most reasonable people will be on the side of animals being sentient creatures despite the absence of conclusive evidence,” Jaak Panksepp told me. “But scientists tend to be skeptics. And, in this field, it pays to be a skeptic if you want to get your research funded.” Irene Pepperberg recalls receiving comments from colleagues on an early grant proposal to study verbal comprehension in African grays: “One of the notes was ‘What is this woman smoking?’ ”

Willful blindness

An interesting comment by a philosopher is thrown in to account for this tendency of scientists to deny what they could see with their own eyes:

The philosopher Thomas Nagel, who wrote the seminal essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” used a term for the tendency to deny the existence of phenomena that cannot be proved empirically. “Scientism,” he wrote in 1986, “puts one type of human understanding in charge of the universe and what can be said about it. At its most myopic, it assumes that everything there is must be understandable by the employment of scientific theories like those we have developed to date — physics and evolutionary biology are the current paradigms — as if the present age were not just another in the series.”

Scientism or not it is such an outdated notion that animals are not sentient or thoughtful or emotionally complex creatures that it has become a blot on the reputation of science.

Virga in ignoring such misgivings has opened up a field where animals are understood to be suffering from anxieties and phobias in the same way as we do. He has cured a giraffe of its fear of large cameras with zoom lens, and an aoudad (Barbary sheep) frantic over the loss of its tail, as well as helped to further the reform of zookeeping from negative (hoses, prods, dart guns) to positive reinforcement (clicks, treats) to get the animals to cooperate, amid the reform of enclosures from concrete pits to natural surroundings. One important asset he promotes is a place to get out of sight of the audience, which Virga feels is essential for the animals’ psychological welfare.

All these bring relief to animals that have long been tormented by pitiless life sentences in crummy living conditions and abuse at least partly due to the conformist conservatism of scientists who should know better. Aristotle two thousands years ago ordained that women had fewer teeth than men, without bothering to check the mouth of his own wife. Today there is very little excuse to do likewise in conforming to a theoretical objection to what Virga and so many others have shown is an emotional life in animals to match humans which can be understood by anyone who learns their body language.

After all, Darwin himself was one of the great observer of animals’ emotions in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals published as long ago as 1872.

Many comments

Meanwhile, once again the biggest problem in a field is the resolute conformity of scientists to an outdated notion. We couldn’t help posting a Comment on the piece as follows, to join the 260 other Comments allowed so far:

Surely there is a very big lesson in this report of a trend in science toward realizing that animals share so much more in common with us than they lack. It is that group thinking distorts science as often as it does every other field.

Why let scientists off the hook for their long established blindness to the body language of animals just because they whisper to the author that they knew that animals were so much more all along, but did not dare to say so out loud?

How scientific was it to be unable to see what was in front of their noses – don’t any of them have pets!? – all in the cause of supposed scientific objectivity? Aristotle is famous for insisting that women have fewer teeth than men without looking into his wife’s mouth to see if this was true. But that was 2000 years ago. Now we have modern professional science, where there is no excuse for ignoring evidence in favor of theoretical preconceptions.

The sad truth is that scientists have been in denial for centuries on this front, and many still are, and it is not the only example where scientists stick to ideas which are out of date and downright wrong because they want to stay in line. Ask any Nobel winner.

In an era of massive group science split into tiny specialties we have to be more wary than ever before of conformist thinking in science in the cause of bad ideas.

From the sound of Virga’s personality, we bet that The Soul of All Living Creatures, Virga’s recent book, published a year ago, is a must read.

Bottom line: Times news editors must wake up, too

But kudos to the Times for pointing out discreetly how scientists from groups which subscribe to fatheaded notions which they then stick to for centuries in the face of new evidence and a rather obvious conflict with the reality they deal with daily.

Perhaps the editors should consider what other notions scientists have peddled to them as gospel which also conflict with the news that the Times itself reports on the topic.

A good place to start would be the constant reiteration of the phrase “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS”, given that the seminal articles by a leading scientist in the top journals rejecting this still unproven notion published twenty eight years ago have never been answered in the same journals or successfully contradicted elsewhere.

Book Expo 2014 Preview: Cornucopia at Javits Will Include Science Gems

May 13th, 2014

By Anthony Liversidge (May 13 2014)

Books still unmatched for depth of information and imagination

University presses come to fore, as Harvard tops list with Piketty’s Capital

New York’s show of the year for literati and fans

There is a boom in on line video, with Netflix accounting for as much as 40 percent of US peak downloading, and Youtube and sites such as Snagfilms, Putlocker and Topdocumentaryfilms offering a vast array of documentaries. But we celebrate real, physical books, which remain the widest and deepest source of information and entertainment for serious readers – artifacts, once in hand, that are faster to search through and more authoritative than Google, more stable visually, easier to mark, more pleasurable to spend time with, and less subject to endless distraction. Ebooks come a close second, of course: they miss out on a lot of these advantages but they have three huge ones – portability, the instant accessibility of a vast library, and electronic text search.

So once again in 2014 we welcome back Book Expo at Javits as New York City’s show of the year. Nothing matches it for the number and variety of stimulating ideas and stories wrapped in the delightful form of new printed books.

The blockbuster size of this upcoming treasure house of fact and fiction (which runs from Wed 28th to Sat 31st May for conferences and Thu 29th May to Sat for exhibits (8am-5pm except Sat 3pm, with remainders shown on Wed)) is daunting, however, even for attendees in search of special interests, such as science, politics, and economics, let alone those seeking jewels of literature.

Selections to look for

Here are some of the best upcoming or recent science, politics and economics releases we will be looking for:

The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life by Alex Bellos (Simon and Schuster June 10 2014) may be the most discursive, anecdote and example packed treatise on mathematics and humanity ever, from the UK Guardian’s math blogger who became a curator at the Science Museum after an Oxford degree in mathematics and philosophy. With a seemingly insatiable curiosity Bellos explores every nook and cranny of math and number lore from past to present in an extraordinary tour de force.

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr (Overlook Press, March 6 2014) examines the capacity of unconventional thinkers to cling to radical notions in the face of scorn and derision from the mainstream and then rationalize them so expertly that the inexpert cannot fathom who is right – sometimes even the expert is lost. While exploring the way our minds work to resist change – the psychology of belief – Storr is sympathetic to radical thinkers and does not demonize them, however tenaciously they hold to extreme beliefs, leaving the reader to consider whether they may have a point. After all, most Nobel prizes are won by radical thinkers, often scorned in the early years of their achievements.

Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty (Harvard, 696 pp, March 10 2014), a young French economist who has turned assumptions upside down. He has thoroughly researched the tax records of the last two centuries in France and elsewhere to topple dogma and show that unless war, depression and tough unions interfere, the natural state of unleashed capitalism is to reward capitalists more and more and workers less and less, just as Marx predicted. The recent 30 years of growing inequality is simply the inevitable trend says Piketty, as the return on investment tends to outpace growth in the economy, and untaxed inheritance multiplies the gains for the rich. The new Gilded Age now upon us can only be reversed by major taxes on riches and inherited wealth, he argues, in this academically accurate but highly readable (though the economics can be technical) 700 page book which after 200,000 copies initially Harvard is racing to reprint as it sits at the top of the best seller list. The best review is by Paul Krugman in the New York Review of Books, where he joins Joseph Stieglitz and other economists and liberal reviewers in praising it to the skies as seminal. Activists are adopting it as a major manual for the future of politics and government, and columnists for business periodicals such as the Financial Times are working hard to refute its message.

Wade has left the Times where he reported orthodox ideas to champion bold notions that upset the orthodox A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History by Nicholas Wade (288pp Penguin, May 6). A longtime reporter on orthodoxy and complacent editorial writer for the New York Times has returned to his roots, as it were, once again provoking orthodox science (his first book was entitled Betrayers of the Truth), this time by advocating “bold ideas which lie outside the consensus”, as evolutionary geneticist H. Allen Orr puts it in the New York Review of Books. Wade’s explosive and improbable thesis is that since the genes of humans vary somewhat by continental location, Tibetans, for example, being adapted genetically to high altitudes, some behavioral differences may also have evolved by natural selection from different circumstances, and that the “five major races” may now differ genetically in social behavior – level of violence, trust in strangers, innovation, conformity, accumulation of wealth etc – and social institutions because of it. Wade emphasizes that his ideas are speculative and are not currently backed by hard science, though they are superficially intriguing, since they could help to explain the rise of the West and decline of Islam and China, or the intellectual success of the Jews. But reviewers point to North and South Korea as counter examples where presumably identical genes have been overwhelmed by cultural differences in a very short time. A provocative discussion by a dedicated reporter having his own say at last, having broken free from group restrictions.

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Paabo (Basic Books, 288pp, Feb 11) reviewed by Steven Mithen in the New York Review of Books as a “fabulous account of three decades of research into ancient DNA” which ended with the publication of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, “to be compared to The Double Helix” as a strong personal account of scientific discovery, and history of a new scientific field.

Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen Dubner (William Morrow, 288 pp, May 12). The inimitable duo of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics blew up standard assumptions in economics by applying first principles and curiosity. Now they return with a book which uses magic tricks and other examples to rise to the meta level and teach adults how to abandon basic assumptions and expectations and think like a child, ie just like Einstein. The chapter on persuasion is worth the price of the book (first principle is to tell a story).

Promoting the Planck Club: How defiant youth, irreverent researchers and liberated universities can foster prosperity indefinitely by Donald Braben, (Wiley Feb 19 238 pp) who demonstrates that in the history of science almost all the good radical notions have come from the heretics that the orthodoxy is always trying to repress. With science these days mostly funded and authorized by peer review committee either at the NIH or in private companies the book is a wake up call to the public to ensure that the fringe (a.k.a.the cutting edge) receives proper funding. It is also one of the most definitive works on how creativity flourishes in individuals in science in far more liberated and innovative fashion than in groups.

Brain Rules by John Medina (Pear Press, 301 pp, April 22) If you need it, a molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine who founded two brain research institutes has written a popular guide to how to fine tune your brain, which replaces hype with scientific research. Attention deficit starts at ten minutes for all. Multi tasking is futile. Exercise colossally reduces risk of dementia and Alzheimers. Learn why and how to nap!

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz, (Simon and Schuster, 496 pp, May 13) a New Yorker, Economist and New York Times writer who follows Gary Taubes in thoroughly reviewing and rejecting thirty years of misplaced emphasis on fat in dieting, in his case as a cause of obesity, in her case as threatening heart disease. “How overzealous researchers and … premature institutional consensus allowed dangerous misrepresentations to become dietary dogma.” “Tracks how a hypothesis morphs into truth without the benefit of supporting data”.

 Julian Simon won the bet, but would he now? The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and our gamble over Earth’s future by Paul Sabin (Yale University Press, 320pp, Sep 3 2013) revisits the famous bet that the Earth would run out of resources to support the modern economy, which Julian Simon won in 1990 after ten years when technology advanced more rapidly than resources (five metals) dwindled. Now Sabin suggests that we have run out of time, soon technology will be unable to keep pace, and a crisis looms. Especially interesting as a record of politics in a scientific dispute and “how intelligent people are drawn to vilify their opponents and to reduce the issue that they care about to stark and divisive terms” (Publishers Weekly).

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (Sarah Crichton Books, 368 pp, March 11) deals with one of the biggest mysteries in current economics, why after a half century of growth we all seem to have less leisure than ever – in fact, seem to be on 24/7. A four page review in the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert notes that John Maynard Keynes in 1931 in “Economic Possibilities” predicted the opposite – that in fact by this date growth would have plunged us into the doldrums of so much leisure we wouldn’t know what to do with it. The answer seems to be that we are caught up in a spiral of ever advancing materialism and will have to get off the train before we can stand still and smell the roses in our back garden, rather than those imported from Ecuador.

General interest picks:

In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman (Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 512 pp, Apr 22) An epic debut which has drawn a plethora of praise all over, from critics and readers, peaking with an admiring three pages by James Wood in the New Yorker (May 19, p87) which labeled it a “dazzling” five hundred pages of rich philosophical musing in elegantly clear English on how the privilege of high intelligence and education on top of distant birth makes for difficulties in class, knowledge and belonging. A Balliol scholar and banker of Pakistani heritage but brought up in America Rahman’s gift for clear, unusually intelligent story telling is apparent from the start, where he mentions Godel in the first three pages, and much other science as he goes along, making more famous novelists look like slurry mixers.

The Double Life of Paul de Man by Evelyn Barish (Liveright, 560pp, March 17) treats the odd case of the notorious literary theorist who was exposed as a great liar in his personal life, confounding his supporters when it was revealed 25 years ago. Louis Menand reviewed this new biography extensively in the New Yorker in The De Man Case and suggested that de Man was clearly a sociopath who deserved condemnation for his actions but that this didn’t invalidate his writing. Others, however, feel that his academic prominence in the US after World War II was achieved by playing self serving political games outside the realm of truth seeking which helped distract attention from his own corruption, which included anti-Semitic wartime articles, embezzlement, falsifying his academic record, bigamy and abandoning his children.

Every Trick in the Book by Charlie Dancey (Overlook Press, 720pp, Feb 7, 2013) a guide to very practical magic tricks, and Great Sayings (Overlook Press Oct 1, 2012), a fine batch of historical and contemporary quotes from Britain, are past picks from Overlook, but the publishers enduring claim to fame is its ongoing reissuing of all of the perfectly phrased works of the celebrated and finest British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse (91 reprints and counting) in very handy and handsome small hardback volumes. The Collectors Wodehouse Series is the first complete edition by any one publisher, corrected for errors, typeset in Caslon, printed on acid-free paper and bound in full cloth, with cleverly suitable dust jackets by Andrzej Klimowksi.

Show schedule:

The Press Room is open 1-5pm Wed and 8am-5pm Thu and Fri, 8am-3pm Sat; Customer Service is 1800-840-5614 or Consumers may come to the show on Sat only at BookCon though VIP Badge buyers get into the kickoff event panel discussion (Tina Fey) on and a sneak peek at the movie “This is Where I leave You”, plus “exclusive happy hour” on Friday and first access to seating for Martin Short on Saturday.

Huge number of signings

There will be over five hundred and fifty authors signing their books, as well as author breakfasts and teas(tickets required) in the Special Events Hall (Angelica Huston and Tavis Smiley 8am Thu, Dick Cavett Fri 4pm, Martin Short 8 am Sat), a bloggers conference (Wed), innumerable speakers and panelists on one of four stages discussing topics such as advantages of mainstream publishing (Thu 3pm Midtown stage), graphic novels (Thu 4pm Uptown Stage) and how to edit a translation (Sat 10 am East Side stage with Ann Goldstein of the New Yorker).

Book blogging and self publishing

Tyro bloggers may find use tips and leads at the Book Blogger conference on Wednesday ($145 before May 15, $175 after; includes breakfast and boxed lunch). All nine of the conference advisory board are female bloggers.

For self publishing authors there is a self publishing event – uPublishU – all day Sat 9am-4pm which aims to help with marketing; it demands a $215 registration for attendance plus box lunch ($115 early bird before May 15) where Kobo Writing Life are offering a free head shot (sign up before May 19).

Attendees should pay more attention to the new title showcase which has been moved from the Siberia of its former location outside the show ropes to a floor location, where perhaps it will be explored more often and more respectfully. There are always some titles worth looking into.

The show planner is here.

A warning note: apparently the organizers worry about fan behavior and have out up a warning notice on harassment policy (though in our experience, the greater danger is the people who will walk off with your bag if you put it down for a few seconds to talk with a booth person – the year before last, it was that booth person who alerted us to the miscreant, a short woman with an Eastern European accent whom we chased and reasserted our prior ownership in decisive fashion):

Harassment of any kind, including stalking, deliberate intimidation, unwelcome physical attention, physical assault and battery, will not be tolerated at BookCon. If it’s illegal outside the convention center, it’s illegal inside the convention center. Harassment is grounds for removal from BookCon without refund as well as potential legal action. We want BookCon to be a safe environment for all Fans, and if you find yourself victim of harassment at the convention please come immediately to BookCon’s Show Office.

Enjoy it while it lasts – in NYC

A sad note: it appears that after next year the show will not be at Javits any longer. The announced dates are:
2015 Thursday, May 28 – Saturday, May 30 at the Javits Center in NYC
2016 Thursday, May 12- Saturday, May 14 in Chicago

We hope not. Given that the city is the center of publishing and media in the US, we trust that the only reason to move to Chicago is they need more space and perhaps lower fees for an even larger celebration of the leading role in literate life still played by the physical book.

A few quotations about books

There has been plenty of room for comment on the role of the book and how to write one over the past few centuries. Here are random quotes to bear in mind:

One of the greatest creations of the human mind is the art of reviewing books without having read them. – Georg C. Lichtenberg

Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books. – Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

The understanding between a non-technical writer and his reader is that he shall talk more or less like a human being and not like an Act of Parliament. I take it that the aim of such books must be to convey exact thought in inexact language… he can never succeed without the co-operation of the reader. – Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (Messenger Lectures (1934), New Pathways in Science (1935), 279.)

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all. – Abraham Lincoln

Until I became a published writer, I remained completely ignorant of books on how to write and courses on the subject … they would have spoiled my natural style; made me observe caution; would have hedged me with rules. – Isaac Asimov (Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov (ed.), It’s Been a Good Life (2002), p38.)

Wisdom is not wisdom when it is derived from books alone. – Horace

Henry Heimlich’s Maneuvers – Hero or Charlatan?

April 20th, 2014

Was Heimlich Wacky or Misunderstood in Later Years with “Malariotherapy”?

Son Peter Reports Heimlich is a Fraud Who May Not Even Have Invented Famous Choking Rescue

Red Cross Still Insists Back Slaps Are the Answer

NPR’s Radiolab drew attention last year (November 2 2013) to the Heimlich saga. The hero who invented the way to expel lumps of food lodged in the windpipe by embracing the suffocating victim from behind and jerking one’s fists into his or her diaphragm became a household word with the success of his advice worldwide, where it has saved countless victims from dying in restaurants, including Goldie Hawn and other celebrities.

Unfortunately Heimlich apparently went somewhat wacky in his later years. Among other ideas he suggest extending the Heimlich maneuver to drowning victims, asthma sufferers, cystic fibrosis, and using malaria to accelerate the immune system to then expel the so-called AIDS virus from the system. Critics answered that this would only induce the waterlogged to swallow their own vomit, without clearing their lungs (which reportedly do not contain much water), and the procedure would be similarly useless in clearing the lungs of asthma and cystic fibrosis mucus.

Eminent authorities in the field of AIDS such as Dr Anthony Fauci of NIAID dismissed the malaria therapy as “atrocious”. Such was the disapproval from the medical establishment and their allies of his latter day initiatives that the American Red Cross made banging choking victims on the back five times a priority before attempting the Heimlich maneuver, which they relabeled “abdominal thrusting”.

Even one of Heimlich’s sons, Peter, turned against him, though the other, Phil, supported him, saying that the old belief that thumping on the back would only lodge morsels deeper in the bronchial tract was true and supported by studies. But the result is that Heimlich, while still a household name, has lost some of its luster.

How much truth there is in all this is interesting to examine. Wiki of course mirrors the established attack line, but one wonders what the reality is. For a start, it appears that the Red Cross has always been upset with Heimlich for saying that their long time teaching to use chest compression was useless, and might break bones in the elderly. Heimlich refuted the American Red Cross move to prioritize back slaps, and told them to remove his name from their instructions on abdominal thrusting.

Heimlich’s autobiography flops

Heimlich’s autobiography was published in paperback this year (Prometheus, 253 pp, Feb 11) and contained much information on his other “creative problem-solving”, according to Booklist:

From Booklist
Henry Heimlich has saved many lives and made it possible for nearly everyone, even children, to save a life and be a hero. In 1974, he introduced the Heimlich Maneuver, an uncomplicated technique for treating victims of choking. But his creative problem-solving extends beyond obstructed airway passages. Heimlich is a real-life medical version of TV’s MacGyver. While stationed in the Gobi Desert during WWII, he devised a simple cure for trachoma (a leading cause of blindness) by mixing pulverized sulfa antibiotic tablets with shaving cream. He has devised an operation that fashions a new esophagus by using a portion of the stomach, invented a chest drain valve that is used in the treatment of collapsed lungs, and developed a device that aids in the delivery of supplemental oxygen. In his uplifting memoir, the retired thoracic surgeon and medical innovator comes across as a man with big ideas and lofty ideals, a caring physician who combines common sense and knowledge to make the world a safer place. –Tony Miksanek .

It boasted only a few pre-publication blurbs from a well known name – Neil Armstrong – and medical sources:

“As White House physician, I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking guest in the State Dining Room at a holiday reception during the final year of President George H. W. Bush’s term in office. Years later, at the Mayo Clinic, I performed the maneuver on a choking staff member. Thank you, Dr. Heimlich, for inventing this lifesaving method that has allowed me to save two lives. This memoir is a must-read for all who want to know about your amazing life and many contributions to medicine.”
—Connie Mariano, MD, former White House physician (1992–2001), author of The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents

“With compassion and an amazing ability for getting to the essence of problems, Dr. Henry J. Heimlich has saved countless lives. And, as we learn in the pages of this remarkable book, no one has ever lived a life remotely like the inspiring journey that has been Dr. Heimlich’s. I recommend that every medical student, every doctor, and everyone who needs to see the potential of the human spirit read this wonderful book and take its lessons to heart.”
—Neal Barnard, MD, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

“From northern China in World War II to the laboratory, to the operating room, and to medical conferences around the world, surgery has been the life of Dr. Henry J. Heimlich. In Heimlich’s Maneuvers, Hank recounts the challenges, controversies, and successes of his more than half a century working at the edge of medical knowledge.”
—Neil Armstrong

“[Heimlich's] ability to find innovative and surprisingly simple solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems has saved countless lives.”
—Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 2010 Award for Innovative Medicine

Apart from a five star rating by one Himri (am “engineer” from Arizona) – “Wow, magician of the human body” – a few days ago the paperback seems to have aroused no enthusiasm among readers and no media reviews except from Booklist.

Evidently the attack on his reputation seems to have scotched the success of the book. Certainly there have been few more lethal sounding patricides that his son’s (read it below).

We are still trying to get to the bottom of this story, which is surely one of the most striking examples of reputation demolition in the history of science. Perhaps you can do better.

Links to explore

Heimlich in WQiki
Medline Heimlich/000047.htm
Heimlich on Why Malariotherapy Makes Sense by Boosting Immunity with Weak Malaria
ABC and Fauci on Why Malariotherapy Might Kill You
Save A Life Abandons Heimlich
Heimlich Fights The Red Cross Backsliding

CINCINNATI (January 21, 2013)– Since inventing the Heimlich maneuver in 1974 with a team of Jewish Hospital researchers, Dr. Henry Heimlich claims the procedure and its abdominal thrusts — into the stomach above the navel and up against the diaphragm to force air from the lungs and remove obstructions — have saved the lives of 100,000 potential choking victims. And yet the American Red Cross’ first-aid procedure recommends five back slaps and then five abdominal thrusts for someone who’s choking.

Those recommendations “horrify” Heimlich. “There has never been any research saying the back slap saves lives,” he said. “We know the Heimlich maneuver works. So it comes down to a matter of life or death.”

Choking is deadly. The National Safety Council lists choking as America’s No. 4 cause of accidental death behind poisoning (35,600 deaths annually), vehicles (35,500) and falls (28,000). In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics have been compiled, choking claimed 4,700 lives, a 4 percent increase over 2009.

Heimlich believes some of those lives could have been saved by his maneuver versus slapping someone on the back.

“I don’t want to fight the Red Cross,” he insisted. “But I don’t want people dying needlessly.”

Heimlich has asked the Red Cross to produce research showing the effectiveness of back slaps over his maneuver. If the nation’s traditionally final word in first aid can’t put up, he wants it to shut up. Stop telling people to slap choking victims on the back, he says. Tell them to use the Heimlich maneuver.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that hitting someone on the back helps a choking person,” Heimlich said. “Many scientific studies” have proven “if a person is choking and the food is in the airway, if you hit them on the back, it causes the food to go deeper and tighter into the airway.”

Heimlich has tussled with the Red Cross before. The Washington, D.C.-based first-aid and disaster relief organization has gone back and forth over the years on endorsing the Heimlich maneuver.

This waffling has vexed the Ohio thoracic surgeon, prompting him to ask the Red Cross to remove his name from any of its literature and training procedures on choking.

“When they started calling for back slaps first and then the Heimlich maneuver,” he recalled, “I wouldn’t let them use the Heimlich name. Why? Because patients were going to die.”

Heimlich has also been at odds with the Red Cross over his claims that the maneuver could help drowning victims and someone suffering an asthma attack. Researchers have seriously questioned both of those claims.

Now, at the age of 92, writing his memoirs, the doctor plans to appeal to the Red Cross one last time.

Turns out, Heimlich’s timing is impeccable. The Red Cross is conducting its semiannual evaluation of the scientific research behind its guidelines for providing first aid to choking victims. The report is due Saturday.

It also turns out, however, that the research Heimlich seeks doesn’t exist.

“To the best of my knowledge, after doing a pretty thorough literature search, no controlled studies exist comparing back blows to abdominal thrusts or anything else,” said Dr. Richard M. Bradley, a member of the Red Cross’ Preparedness, Health and Safety Services advisory council and an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

An independent source concurs. “The literature says there is no one definitive treatment to relieve an obstructed airway on a conscious person,” said William Terry Ray, director of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing’s Nurse Anesthesia program. He looked at 40 years of research. The reviews concluded “a person may have to use the back blows as well as abdominal thrusts to relieve the obstruction, depending on what caused the person to choke.”

No definitive study exists to support Heimlich’s theory that slapping someone on the back can push an obstruction further down the throat. “The literature on this is not conclusive either,” Ray noted. Studies cited in a review of research projects “used animals, cadavers and anecdotal evidence.” But not living human subjects.

Matt Huesman, who used the Heimlich maneuver in August on a choking victim at his restaurant, planned to continue using the Heimlich maneuver over slapping someone on the back. He questioned science’s lack of progress.

“The Heimlich maneuver has been around for a long time,” he said. “Maybe it’s time somebody got on it and did that definitive study.”

Bradley agrees. But he knows that’s not where the grant money is. Choking happens outside of laboratory and research hospital settings, he noted. “Not enough dollars go to out-of-hospital research.”

Nevertheless, choking remains a killer.

“Anytime something is in the top five,” Bradley admitted, “it is a priority for research.”

Peter Calls Father Spectacular Liar and Fraud:

Peter Heimlich the disaffected son

In Spring 2002, my wife Karen and I began researching the career of my father, Dr. Henry J. Heimlich of Cincinnati, famous for the “Heimlich maneuver” choking rescue method. To our astonishment, we inadvertently uncovered a wide-ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud.

Our research revealed my father to be a spectacular con man and serial liar, arguably one of history’s most successful – and destructive – medical humbugs. Armed with considerable charm, an instinct for public relations, and fueled by a ravenous need for attention and adulation, my father used the media to pass himself off as a medical genius/inventor and humanitarian, eventually being crowned “America’s most famous doctor” (The New Republic).

Contrary to his public image, my father was an incompetent surgeon – fired for misconduct from his last medical job in 1977 – who appropriated ideas from other doctors and attached his name to them. Facts indicate that he probably didn’t even invent what came to be known as “the Heimlich maneuver.” In my opinion, the only thing my father ever invented was his own mythology….

For example, the use of the Heimlich maneuver to resuscitate drowning victims has been warned against as useless and potentially lethal by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and other organizations. Nevertheless, for decades the Heimlich Institute put the public at risk by promoting this and my father’s other dangerous medical recommendations.

As we came to understand, my father simply dreamed up these claims, then promoted them in journals and the popular media using evidence that ranged from shabby to fraudulent. For example, we researched a string of case reports in which he claimed drowning victims had been miraculously revived by the Heimlich maneuver. They’re all phony. The results? Dozens of serious injuries and deaths, including children.

Heimlich Institute Video Celebrating Heimlich’s Life and Achievement

Peter Heimlich’s Blog Undermines Forthcoming Father’s Autobiography and Radiolab Report

PDF of Peter Heimlich’s Letter Detailing Radiolab Misreporting

The above two links appear to show fine investigative work in medicine and science pursued to its full extent by Peter Heimlich in challenging ill founded initiatives and claims, without mercy for his father. The thorough performance reminds us of the celebrated Serge Lang of Yale, and is probably similarly discounted as extreme and needlessly discomfiting by his targets, who would probably claim that compromising with perfection is an inevitable part of reporting and story telling, as it is in any other human activity.

The autobiography of his father which was in the works at the time of writing and appeared in February is bounded to be – as far as Peter Heimlich was concerned – a whitewash that omits many of the embarrassments that he has pointed out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
After years of delay (and a canceled contract), Prometheus Books is publishing my father’s autobiography — here’s a preview
Via Heimlich’s Latest Maneuvers by Cleveland writer Mary Mihaly in Health Monitor, December 2009/January 2010:

Dr. “Hank” Heimlich may be the most famous doctor in the world…Inevitably, talk turns to his “latest maneuver”- his upcoming autobiography, Heimlich’s Maneuvers, to be published shortly by Bartleby Press.

The book never appeared, so presumably Bartleby preferred not to publish.

Four years and another publisher later, the wait may be over.

According to Amazon, my father’s 230-page autobiography is scheduled to be released by Prometheus Books, based in Amherst, New York, on February 11, a week after his 94th birthday.

Last week at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (source)

Here’s the Table of Contents which I received from Lisa Michalski, Senior Publicist at Prometheus:

Foreword by Guy Carpico
Author’s Note
CHAPTER 1: Heeeeere’s Heimlich!
CHAPTER 2: My Beginnings
CHAPTER 3: The Depression, Anti-Semitism, and Visits to Sing Sing Prison
CHAPTER 4: Medical School Challenges and a Strange Internship
CHAPTER 5: En Route to China
CHAPTER 6: A Health Clinic in the Gobi Desert
CHAPTER 7: A Medical Newbie Searches for a Surgical Residency
CHAPTER 8: Saving a Life and Finding Love
CHAPTER 9: Restoring the Ability to Swallow: The Reversed Gastric Tube Operation
CHAPTER 10: Taking the Reversed Gastric Tube Operation behind the Iron Curtain
CHAPTER 11: A Promise to a Dead Soldier Kept: The Heimlich Chest Drain Valve
CHAPTER 12: A Boy Named Hayani
CHAPTER 13: Saving the Lives of Choking Victims: The Heimlich Maneuver
CHAPTER 14: The American Red Cross and Back Blows
CHAPTER 15: The Gift of Breath: The Heimlich MicroTrach
CHAPTER 16: Making the Most of Good Ideas
CHAPTER 17: Working toward a Caring World

Hey, where’s “malariotherapy,” the notorious human experiments conducted for decades by Cincinnati’s Heimlich Institute in which U.S. and foreign nationals suffering from cancer, Lyme Disease, and AIDS were infected with malaria, resulting in investigations by three federal agencies and UCLA?

And I don’t see a chapter heading about my father’s decades of relentless campaigning to promote the use of the Heimlich maneuver to revive near-drowning victims, a depraved crusade based on dubious case reports that resulted in who knows how many dead kids.

How about when he was dismissed as Director of Surgery at Cincinnati’s Jewish Hospital in May 1977? Does he tell about the outrageous episode that precipitated his firing? That would probably increase sales.

What about his close relationships with doctors who lost their licenses for massive overprescribing of narcotics? One was Marilyn Monroe’s Dr. Feelgood and two did jail stretches. Wouldn’t that make a lively chapter?

And Chapter 8′s “Finding Love,” does that refer to his marriage or to his reckless sexual promiscuity, some of which my mother, the late Jane Heimlich, shared in her memoir?

And what about the late Edward A. Patrick MD PhD, my father’s 30-year colleague and co-author?

During his singular career, Dr. Patrick obtained a string of state medical licenses using squiffy credentials provided by my father, was involved in every aspect of the Heimlich maneuver, and, per his full-page obituary in the March 13, 2010 British Medical Journal, claimed to be the uncredited co-developer of the treatment — which he called “the Patrick-Heimlich maneuver.”

I asked Ms. Michalski, who replied:

There is no mention of Edward A. Patrick.


How about my father’s widely-published claim that in 2001 he rescued a choking victim at a Cincinnati restaurant by performing “the Heimlich maneuver”? That’s a headline-maker sure to sell plenty of copies.

Via Ms. Michalski:

We have not found any mention of a 2001 incident of Dr. Heimlich saving someone with the Heimlich maneuver in a Cincinnati restaurant.


Then there’s this March 16, 2003 front-page Cincinnati Enquirer article:

For more than 40 years, Cincinnati icon Dr. Henry Heimlich has been taking credit for a world-famous operation that was actually developed first by a Romanian surgeon behind the Iron Curtain.

In interviews, biographies and promotional materials, Heimlich has told anyone who would listen that he performed the world’s first total organ replacement. But even before Heimlich wrote his first article about the “Heimlich Operation” on dogs in 1955, the procedure had been performed dozens of times on humans by Romanian surgeon Dr. Dan Gavriliu, an Enquirer investigation has found.

Gavriliu now calls Heimlich a “liar and a thief.” He says Heimlich not only took credit for the operation, but also lied when he said they co-authored a paper for an international surgery conference.

…”Let Heimlich be a pig if he wants to steal an operation and put his name on it,” says retired New York surgeon Eugene Albu. “He changed the name from the Gavriliu Operation to the Gavriliu-Heimlich Operation. Then it became the Heimlich Operation later on.”

Six years later, from the 2009 article about the (aborted) Bartleby book:

Among other highlights, the book recounts how, in 1953, Dr. Heimlich launched his career by creating a surgical procedure for replacing the esophagus….

So which version is Prometheus running with?

Ms. Michalski:

Dr. Heimlich does credit Dr. Dan Gavriliu, in fact, it’s the basis of chapter 10, “Taking the Reversed Gastric Tube Operation behind the Iron Curtain.” According to the manuscript, Dr. Gavriliu had been performing the operation since 1951 (Heimlich first performed it in 1955).

Finally, here’s her reply when I asked for the name of the Prometheus editor responsible for the content and accuracy of the book:

Our authors are, first and foremost, responsible for the content of their books. During the production process, if the editors working on the book have questions about accuracy, clarity, sources, or the like, these are sent to the author for review and response.

Psst, a word to the wise for those editors….

Re: “questions about accuracy, clarity, sources, or the like,” I have a pretty good idea what’s in these chapters:

CHAPTER 6: A Health Clinic in the Gobi Desert
CHAPTER 11: A Promise to a Dead Soldier Kept: The Heimlich Chest Drain Valve

I’d strongly recommend you ask my father to provide you with a release to obtain his service records from the United States Navy.

And I’ll bet you a Heimlich valve that he won’t.

As in all things in humans and science all this discussion is a mixture of logic and emotion, with the latter is not lacking in this arena.

Anyone who can throw further light of what seems to be a dismal end to a life as one of the most famous names in medicine, please comment.

Book Expo 2013 Richer, More Distracting Than Web

June 12th, 2013

Pot Pourri of Fetching Science Titles at University Presses

Fine Production Values Unmatched by Virtual Books

But Are Publishers Scraping the Barrel for Science Titles?

The 2013 Book Expo America at Javits presented the usual cacophony, as vibrant as ever, of booths offering every kind of author and book to trade, media and fans.

In a sign of the times, however, major booths such as Harper and Random House, showed no actual physical books at all, since all their production was no available to the trade on line. Was this a foretaste of urban life to come, where actual bookstores will be a thing of the past? Probably not, judging from the current flowering of small local bookshops.

But the days of big Barnes and Noble outlets in New York may be numbered, as Amazon crushes their margins with its cheaper (often tax free) warehouses and ruthless pricing and makes many unprofitable, and expiring ten year leases can only be renewed at forbidding cost which promises to drag them under later. The closing of Borders has not yielded an uptick in Barnes and Noble’s sales.

Such an absence would lose exactly the serendipity which makes the Book Expo such a pleasure. The only way to deal with such abundance is to look for specific kinds of books, in our case science, politics and economics.

Outstanding books

Here are our finds in that realm which seem to comprise distinctly fewer big topics than last year (has all the available ground been covered? Are we entering the End of Science Writing?):

The Polish Cultural Institute is a presence at BEA under the direction of David Goldfarb with Dorota Piotrowska. A prize offering at the Polish Cultural Institute was Artur Domoslawksi's biography of the remarkable literary journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life. (David Goldfarb Literature and Humanities Programming Polish Cultural Institute 239 7300 x 3002

Norton (Louise Brockett VP Exec Dir Publicity and PR 790 Fall 2013:
Shores of Knowledge by Joyce Appleby (288pp October)
Feminine Mystique by Betty Friendan intro by Gail Collins, Afterword by Anna Quindlen (592 pp, September)
Spillover: Animal Infections and the next Human Pandemic by David Quammen (592 pp, September)
The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body by Frances Ashcroft (September)
Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience by Laurence Gonzales (272 pp, October, Pbk)
Double Entry: How The Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance by Jane Glesson-White (304 pp, October Pbk)
Poems of Jesus Christ trans by Willis Bernstone (288 pp December Pbk)
E E Cummings Complete Poems 1904-1962 (September 1136 pp)
The Wasteland T.S. Eliot (intro by Paul Muldoon) (112 pp September)
The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies by Josef Joffe (272 pp, Liveright, November)
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes by Jim Holt (160 pp, Liveright, October)
George Orwell Diaries Ed by Peter Davison Intro by Christopher Hitchens (624 pp, Pbk, October)
Chess Tactics for the Tournament Player by GM Sam Palatbik and GM Lev Alburt (256 p, Pbk, September)
Recent: Short (International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays and other Short Prose Forms ((under 1250 wds) Ed by Alan Ziegler (368 pp, February)
Naked Statistics Charles Wheelan,
Mary Roach Gulp (Adventures of the Alimentary Canal) 352 pp April 2013.
Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection by Ethan Zuckerman
Joe Stiglitz The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future
Extra Virginity: The Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
Neil deGrasse Tyson Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier
The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr (The Definitive Guide to the Cloud Computing Revolution)

Harper Collins imprint Ecco Michael McKenzie Senior Director of Publicity

Penguin Katie Grinch Ass Dir Publicity Putnam’s 366 2574 General Tel 366 2847.

Thames and Hudson Christoper Sweet Ed Director 354 9181
Are We Being Watched: The Search for Life in the Cosmos by Paul Murdin (p x).

Naked Calories and Rich Food, Poor Food by Jayson Calton (CaltonNutrition 941-882-4297 Excellent guides by an independent author and his wife, who traveled the world to find out the truth about diet and health for themselves – curing her of very early osteoporosis in the process. Beautifully produced volumes with accurate information.

Princeton (Casey LaVela Publicity c 609-258.9491
The Universe in Zero Words: The Story of Mathematics As Told Through Equations by Dana Mckenzie. Against the tide of editing science books which seeks to include as few equations as possible,. Dana Mackenzie, a mathematics professor turned author, fearlessly lifts the veil of mystery from mathematics and equations, traversing all the surprising, concise, consequential and universal equations that are the jewels in the crown of mathematics. Mr Mackenzie’s zeal and clarity are unmatched, and he manages to o embody his material in story telling throughout.

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson (Princeton, 500 pp, May 12) is a definitively thorough but readable account of the life of the sane madman who first wired the world (by inventing alternative current) which is well indexed and written by a professor of history, science, technology, engineering and society at the University of Virginia who has read every other book (good and bad) and source on Tesla, whose reputation for original genius is safe in his sober hands. Included is a nice discussion of why individuals such as Tesla are motivated to do the hard and risky work of developing disruptive technology.

ECW Press. Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy by Tyler Hamilton. A fine rundown on quirky clean energy inventors who follow in the tradition of Tesla, whose story of incredible mystic inventiveness in electricity is summarized very well in the opening pages, justifying his recent renaissance in reputation which now exceeds Edison in the field.

Science at Javits: Book Expo 2013 Promises Cutting Edge Reads

May 27th, 2013

Once Again, Trade Bash Adds Buzz to Science Between Two Covers

Books Still Central for Information Seekers, Paper or E-text

More Science Best Sellers? A Few Early Picks
This week (Thu 29 thru Sat Jun 1 2013) the BEA – Book Expo America – takes over Javits again with a roaring Niagara of books in all shapes and colors on every theme for the delectation of tens of thousands of booksellers, reviewers, reporters and now even more than the one thousand consumers than last year, who are allowed in as “Power Readers” for $49 on the final day to share in the swag.

Even with the galloping advance of e-books, the gigantic BEA remains the most important annual event at that venue, where the continuing supremacy of the book as the richest information package and as literate entertainment is celebrated. The trade event is for booksellers to meet authors, with some tickets available for consumers on Saturday, and is essential for editors and reviewers of books in every field.

Reign of the printed book continues while e-books develop

As anyone who works seriously with any area of research and scholarship knows, the physical book has long been not only a beautiful thing but the finest source on almost any topic, an invaluable storehouse of the best new and old ideas and data available.

This especially applies to science in a media world where science reporting is rarely investigative and where journal articles are generally unreadable by the public. Books may be the only good source of corrections to misleading claims by scientists who obtain political backing in Washington, although they may have no effect (there have been as many as forty exposing the absurdity of HIV/AIDS theory, without changing the consensus). Paper volumes are also still very easy and quick to refer to, to handle and to mark, and their distinct page layouts enable the mind to retain what they say more effectively than the indistinguishable pages of e-text.

There is no reason we know of why ebooks can’t catch up in richness of presentation and manageability, to add to their advantages of Search and hyperlinks, and footnotes and color illustrations are becoming more common. But in either form the book still reigns supreme, holding its position at the heart of the literate culture much better than newspapers, it seems. One reason is that authors put their heart and soul into their books, and happily take personal responsibility for their quality and usefulness.

The result is that printed books usually have higher quality content than other media in terms of breadth and depth of research and independent perspective on important issues. They also tend to be more novel and original in their approach and inhabit the cutting edge of their topics more often than group discussions on stage or television, where the demands of politesse and reputation – not to mention media politics – discourage too much novelty and difference in views.

Crowd sourced and group serviced Wikipedia entries and Web sites do well enough in keeping up to date if they are well maintained, but they are too often taken over by the dominant faction in a controversial issue who will erase any attempts to include the other side’s views. Even so, Wikipedia entries may be up to date on basic information but even then they are rarely as new, comprehensive and well thought out as a book, which is almost always much more than a collection of Wiki entries on a topic.

Why books are still best

Needless to say, the information in a physical book is far easier to manage mentally except for searching for an individual name or phrase, the one thing for which electronic versions are ideal. The main thrust of an author’s determination is to produce a physical book, which the serious reader will prefer for reading, review and reference for myriad reasons.

One is that the hands on mode not only aids the memory enormously with its tactile and visual cues but also it enables markings of important or beloved portions with pencil, Post-It or a real movable and often pretty Bookmark which allow reference faster even than electronic search, in fact instantaneously.

Vast market though science boom fading

This manageability is undoubtedly why the printed book is not fading away in favor for the e-book but is still vast in terms of sheer numbers in most categories. Despite a huge falloff in the business of reprinting public domain titles the number of printed books from traditional publishers in the US rose in 2011 to about 350,000, according to Bowker, though the gain of 6% was entirely caused by the boom in self publishing. Self-published books totaled 211,269 in both ebook and printed form while traditional houses maintained print output level.

Sadly, science books declined 13 per cent in 2011 but nonetheless we found many exceptional titles at the BEA last year in finished or proof form, heralding the bumper crop of bestsellers in the present season. We expect the same this year, when the BEA runs from Wednesday May 29 to Saturday June 1st, with exhibits displayed from Thursday May 30 and accommodating consumers on the final day.

Titles in the pipeline

Here are three potentially interesting picks from the proofs pipeline:

    Breakpoint: Why The Web Will Implode, Search Will Be Obsolete, and Everything Else You Need to Know About Technology is in Your Brain, by Jeff Stibel (Palgrave Macmillan Jul 23)

Stibel is a brain (neuro) scientist and chairman of BrainGate which uses chips to allow the disabled to control electronics with thoughts. Something of an Internet futurist, he predicts that all networks reach a breaking point and collapse, like MySpace, and that will include Facebook and Google. Stibel (also CEO of the Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp and on the board of Brown’s Entrepreneurship program Tuft’s Gordon Institute and USC’s Innovation Institute) seems the right, realistic guide to the creative destruction of the Internet, and he makes some intriguing predictions, such as the emergence of megabrains fueled by crowdsourcing, all inspired by his study of ants and termite colonies, among other things which point the way to a future where networked quality will replace quantity.

    Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection by Ethan Zuckerman (Norton, June 17)

One of Foreign Policy’s list of top 100 Global Thinkers, Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, and an Internet activist who blogs at a high level on policy and trends. He maps the current state of the Internet and explains why it has yet to form a truly connecting community and what we have to do to establish one worldwide. Early blurbs by friendly colleagues include ““Weaving a rich tapestry of stories, data, and theories, Rewire challenges many of our core assumptions about globalization and connectedness and how the Internet affects us. It is a book well worth reading.” and “No one is in a better position than MIT and Harvard’s Ethan Zuckerman to confront the Internet’s failure to connect us across cultures. Zuckerman’s astounding range, careful reasoning, and superb storytelling make Rewire an essential and urgent read,” but our copy indicates that his enlightened and wide ranging survey is a little long winded and its final conclusions too general to please an impatient reader.

    The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers by Curtis White (Melville May 28 2013)

White is a novelist and essayist and social critic whose platforms stretch from Harpers to Playboy, whose previous book The Middle Mind was praised by the wide ranging literary supernova and suicide David Foster Wallace as acute, beautiful and true. The book is a challenge to the reductionism which has invaded biology and neuroscience in recent decades, joining others who insist that consciousness and the mind is, like cellular development and DNA, far too rich and complex to be reduced to one factor alone, such as brain scans or DNA. White tilts at those who he suggests have rejected religion in favor of science as the answer to all questions on morality, creativity and the origin of life and existence, and urges that we move away from “scientism” and its material reductionism and take up Romanticism as something our technology obsessed society desperately needs.

Whether this is a justified argument for more humanity in our lives or whether it strays into the usual liberal confusion between the internal world of the imagination and the external world in examining “truth” and urging that we use our imagination more for solace and community remains to be seen, but the title is attractively provocative. Scientists have been known for a long time to be emotionally truncated, like doctors, in the service of their profession, and especially in communicating its joys of discovery to others, though this is now changing. Luckily emotions have entered the analysis of studies from economics to psychology over the last half century and even scientists now seem to generally understand that we share with other animals a brain body connection that cannot be separated, and in fact should be emphasized and even celebrated.

It is not easy to see how far Curtis White goes beyond this recent truism from a limited reading of the densely written proof, which is enjoyably cranky but demands a complete reading to capture its ultimate import. But White is billed as urging mpore poetry and philosophy in our public discussions, and it is hard to argue with that in an era where cost cutting has erased the arts in many schools across the US. But the book seems inconsistent in making early attacks on Hitchens and Dawkins as too reductionist in dismissing the benefits of religion, yet soon White is having fun debunking the simplified version of creativity peddled by Jonah Lehrer is his best seller, which had to be withdrawn after it turned out he had made up some blatantly unlikely quotes on behalf of Bob Dylan to confirm the thesis of the book.

University beauties

The Autumn/Winter catalogues of Harvard and other university presses promise the following titles which seem of special interest:

The Perfect Wave With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time by Heinrich Päs, Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics at Technische Universität Dortmund, Germany. Almost weightless and able to pass through the densest materials with ease, neutrinos seem to defy the laws of nature. But these mysterious particles may hold the key to our deepest questions about the universe, says physicist Heinrich Päs. In The Perfect Wave, Päs serves as our fluent, deeply knowledgeable guide to a particle world that tests the boundaries of space, time, and human knowledge. The existence of the neutrino was first proposed in 1930, but decades passed before one was detected. Päs animates the philosophical and scientific developments that led to and have followed from this seminal discovery, ranging from familiar topics of relativity and quantum mechanics to more speculative theories about dark energy and supersymmetry. Many cutting-edge topics in neutrino research—conjectures about the origin of matter, extra-dimensional spacetime, and the possibility of time travel—remain unproven. But Päs describes the ambitious projects under way that may confirm them, including accelerator experiments at CERN and Fermilab, huge subterranean telescopes designed to detect high-energy neutrino radiation, and the Planck space observatory scheduled to investigate the role of neutrinos in cosmic evolution. As Päs’s history of the neutrino illustrates, what is now established fact often sounded wildly implausible and unnatural when first proposed. The radical side of physics is both an exciting and an essential part of scientific progress, and The Perfect Wave renders it accessible to the interested reader.

World AIDS Day Yet Again, Undisturbed by Rationality

December 1st, 2012

By Anthony Liversidge (Dec 1 Sat 2012)

Intelligence of readers, viewers insulted by scientists and media daily, as positive tests demonstrate HIV already defeated

Blacks, youths expected to keep “epidemic” fantasy here going, though slowing globally

Why critics have no effective influence on official fiction

Today, World AIDS Day will be celebrated with the usual attendant clamor in groups that stand to benefit from the attention it receives – gays, NGOs, scientists, officials, charities, drug companies, etc. Most of the public will take it for granted that the fanfare and the begging cans are all in a good cause, to save the unhappy souls who might fall victim to the notorious retrovirus, HIV.

We have already been treated this week to a piece in the Times telling us that California will vote on forcing actors in the “sex film industry” to use condoms (the mandate passed), a thick UNAIDS report that 30 million have died and 34 million remain harboring HIV, but that many southern African countries have made tremendous progress against HIV/AIDS, European television coverage of advances against HIV/AIDS in southern Africa, news on NPR that blacks and youth are now the hotspots of HIV’s rampage in the US, a speech by Hilary Clinton looking forward to a future where no child is born with HIV as drug treatment is expanded worldwide, and the obliging appearance of Dr Anthony Fauci on PBS Newshour to reassure its middleaged audience that a tipping point is nigh – when those treated will outnumber those catching the virus.

As Ray Suarez summed up: “Lots of reasons to be encouraged and a lot of challenges ahead.”

Or in other words, the same as last year and every year for the past twenty, with the unchanging central pillar in the form of an outstretched hand, palm upwards.

A simple primer in the HIV fantasy

Sorry, but we beg to differ. Ever since we have been familiar with the so called science of HIV/AIDS, that is, for the last quarter century, it has been clear to us (as it is to many other people) that this is one of the most remarkable examples in history of the universal stupor induced in people by established authority, in this case the authority of science and government.

But why is it that so few, even among AIDS patients whose health and lives are at stake, subject what they are told to the litmus test of simple common sense? Why have most Americans with functioning minds and the willingness to use them on official wisdom given HIV/AIDS a free pass?

Why you should cherish your positive “AIDS test”

After all, you really don’t have to know any complicated science to see through it. The core ideology of this vast scientific-medical-industrial-government-charity complex is so simple yet so contrary to common sense and established science in every major respect that anyone should be able to see through it who understands the word “antibodies”.

For HIV antibodies is what the test is for, not for HIV. It is even inaccurate in detecting HIV antibodies, since it cross reacts with as many as 80 other things, thus scoring positive when you may have none at all in you. But that is not the fatal flaw in the scheme. The unutterable silliness at the heart of HIV/AIDS is that the test is for antibodies, as it has to be. Because after they appear there is virtually no detectable virus in patients, even dying ones.

So a positive result in an “AIDS test” means that the supposedly unfortunate testee is full of antibodies to HIV, HIV which entered his or her body at some earlier point, but is now banished forever by the body’s natural defenses, antibodies specific to HIV. So you are now in no danger whatsoever from HIV any more, even if it was actually destructive (no scientist has ever proved that HIV destroys anything). You don’t harbor it, you harbor antibodies to it – the body’s usual guarantee that you won’t be bothered by an agent again.

The scientists involved have come up with all kinds of convoluted theory as to why you are still, they claim, in danger of coming down with HIV/AIDS in ten or twenty years, but none of this wriggling has enabled them to escape the simple fact that the tests are designed to find people with antibodies, simply because there is effectively no HIV left after they appear.

This point is not noised abroad, of course. Instead, this successful defense by HIV antibodies, a standard immune response, is simply denied. From the NIAID web site:

HIV Vaccines
Historically, vaccines have been our best weapon against the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, including smallpox, polio, measles, and yellow fever. Unfortunately, we do not have a vaccine for HIV. HIV has unique ways of evading the immune system and the human body seems incapable of mounting an effective immune response against virus. As a result, scientists do not have a clear picture of what is needed to provide protection against the virus.

After all, the public purse is being milked by NIAID to sustain a massive effort to find a “vaccine”, and any admission that HIV works very well as a vaccine against itself would threaten the household budgets of not a few well paid researchers. But it does provide an opportunity for amusement for anyone who cares to ask the experts after a panel why not patent HIV as a very effective vaccine, as we have done, and watch the wriggling.

Of course, this simple fact of HIV vaccinating itself leads to the enormous question why we are all being told that an epidemic is just around the corner, if we don’t limit the number of positives in the US with preventive drugs which will stop them transmitting HIV to someone else. After all, antibodies are not infectious, from one person to another. There is no HIV left. So what is “transmitted”?

The answer must be, nothing. An HIV epidemic is therefore impossible. But surely this must be confirmed in the scientific literature, if it is true? And indeed it is. Nancy Padian, a decorated HIV/AIDS general, carried out the largest ever study of potential transmission within heterosexual couples in the nineties only to find there was no transmission whatsoever, as one would expect. This embarrassing revelation has been swept under the carpet, with her Wikipedia entry incorrectly reporting that she demonstrated transmission, and an HIV promoting website featuring her own denial stating that it proved the opposite.

In short, the evidence for the sexual transmission of HIV is well documented, conclusive, and based on the standard, uncontroversial methods and practices of medical science. Individuals who cite the 1997 Padian et al. publication (1) or data from other studies by our research group in an attempt to substantiate the myth that HIV is not transmitted sexually are ill informed, at best. Their misuse of these results is misleading, irresponsible, and potentially injurious to the public.

In fact, the paper states infection rates far too low to support an epidemic, and even those are not actual, but supposed to have occurred before the study.

Male-to-female transmission was approximately eight-times more efficient than female-to-male transmission and male-to-female per contact infectivity was estimated to be 0.0009 (95% CI 0.0005-0.001). Over time, the authors observed increased condom use (p < 0.001) and no new infections. Infectivity for HIV through heterosexual transmission is low.

“Low” as in non existent during the study, during which there were “no new infections”. We had the pleasure of congratulating her on this signal result of proving nil transmission at a Washington NIAID conference, as reported here earlier, to which she replied weakly, “Well, it transmits better in Africa”.

Such HIV proponents who insist that HIV does transmit in the dark continent desperately offer various insulting fantasies of African sexual customs unknown in the US, or claim that the epidemic there is achieved through dirty needles in clinics. But the awkward fact remains: the biggest study in the US showed no transmission among heterosexuals, so all claims to the contrary must be unscientific. Certainly the proven science matches the experience of heterosexuals in the US, where contrary to the loud alarms raised by Oprah Winfrey et al in the eighties, there has been no discernible heterosexual epidemic.

Be that as it may, the bottom line remains. An HIV/AIDS pandemic based on HIV transmission is an impossibility according to the basic science of the matter, and any studies which claim heterosexual transmission must be mistaken. Thus, the claims of HIV/AIDS numbers rising in blacks and in youth which the CDC has peddled in the last week, in the run up to World AIDS Day, must be based on studies which have not been carried out properly, by definition, as far as they concern heterosexuals.

Of course, this fatal flaw at the core of HIV/AIDS propaganda is not the only obvious proof that HIV is not the culprit for any AIDS symptoms. The rest of the theory reeks of claims that no rational peson can believe. Do you want to buy some HIV for your lab? It will arrive flourishing in cultures of T cells, the very immune cells it was originally thought to attack. While the grand theorists of HIV/AIDS such as Anthony Fauci have given up claiming that HIV kills T cells, the propaganda continues to imply it does:

From Why is it difficult to develop a vaccine for HIV and AIDS?

Developing a vaccine is a very difficult challenge for scientists. There are many reasons for this, including:

Nobody has ever recovered from HIV infection, so there is no natural mechanism to imitate
HIV destroys the immune system cells that are meant to fight against it
Soon after infection, HIV inserts its genetic material into human cells, where it remains hidden from the immune system
HIV occurs in several subtypes, each of which is very different from the others
Even within each subtype, HIV is highly variable and constantly changing
There are no good animal models to use in experiments although the use of non human primate (NHP) models could become a more significant model for HIV vaccine design and testing in the future.

Freezing minds

Anyone at all familiar with the true science of HIV/AIDS knows why each of these statements is fatuously misleading, but this is not our point. The point is that the minds of almost all who read this tripe are frozen into acquiescence. How else can one explain why, if HIV has no practical effect discernible to scientists or anyone else other than to create antibodies to itself, people have accepted that one needs to “recover” from it, and that down the line one will get AIDS symptoms, wither and die, unless one is given drugs which are clearly themselves responsible for the deaths that follow (17,000 a year, says the CDC, predominantly from symptoms of liver and kidney failure which have nothing to do with HIV)?

And those irrationalities are hardly all. For those of a more scientific taste, allow us to go back to our post from last World AIDS Day and once again list the incredibilities inherent in HIV/AIDS’s global ideology, which together clearly mark the money printing paradigm as the world’s greatest piece of science fiction:

So what exactly is it that you believe in when you accept HIV as the cause of AIDS? Let us count the ways, and see how you like them. To believe in HIV/AIDS, you have to believe in

-an infectious viral disease causing a global epidemic where the virus’s rate of infection is zero among heterosexuals
- a cell killing retrovirus, when retroviruses are otherwise known never to kill cells
- a virus which is provided to labs in immortal cultures of the same human T cells it is said to kill off in people
- a transmissible, fatal virus that hardly be found in most patients, even dying ones, only antibodies to it
- a disease where patients merely with antibodies can nevertheless somehow transmit the agent and die of the disease
- a disease whose nature varies radically from place to place, being almost entirely a homosexual and drug user ailment in North America and Europe, but entirely heterosexual elsewhere
- a disease that correlates with drug use in North America and Europe, yet is to be prevented by a bowl full of damaging and ultimately lethal drugs
- a disease whose mechanism, including an up-to-twenty-year delay in onset, is as yet quite unexplained
- a cell killing disease that also causes cell multiplying cancer, with no trace of the virus in the cancer
- a disease said to be a killer epidemic in Haiti and South Africa, with no significant change in overall mortality, and long endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where a population explosion nonetheless has added 200 million people in the last decade, to 800 million, with a growth rate of 2.5% annually.
- an epidemic mapped in Africa by the World Health Organization almost entirely without the benefit of AIDS tests
- a disease for which the tests are not for the agent but for antibodies to it
- a disease for which the tests cross react with many other agents
- a viral epidemic without initial exponential growth or bellshaped rise and fall, which has maintained level prevalence in the US for 30 years (at around 1 million positives)
- a viral epidemic which has not found immunity anywhere
-a killer disease where no doctor, nurse or researcher working with it has caught the disease
- a disease with risk group, lifestyle, and malnutrition specific symptoms
- a disease whose every symptom is shared with other diseases–in fact, a disease which would in every case be counted as those other diseases except for the supposed presence of antibodies to the “virus that causes AIDS”
- a viral epidemic without a sign of a promising vaccine despite the best funded army of researchers in history
- a viral disease which quickly achieves the antibodies of vaccination of its own accord
- a virus transmitted 25-50% through birth which has produced no epidemic among children.

As we have often said, anybody who knowingly believes in the above list we would like to contact us, since we have a bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn that we would like to sell them for an extremely large sum of money.

The HIV/AIDS pyramid

There have been many effective critics who have deconstructed HIV/AIDS lore over the years, but still this pyramid of nonscience seems only to grow more solid and immovable each year. The critics have included everyone from the finest scientist in the field, Peter Duesberg of Berkeley, to expert and lay authors of some forty books, infuriated and excited by their discovery of how they have been misled, and how obvious the impossibility of HIV causing illness becomes once the official distorting spectacles are removed.

Another brave new book

Such books continue to come out. The latest, with the refreshingly blunt title AIDS: They Suckered US, Greatest Blunder in Medical History, is self published by Noreen Martin from Charleston, a writer and nutritional consultant who recounts her own sudden decline nine years ago from a mysterious ailment which weakened her immune system and was diagnosed as HIV/AIDS. This was one patient who read up on the topic for herself, however, and she soon took her treatment into her own hands, rejecting AIDS drugs for what she believed to be the saner approach of restoring her immune system with diet and supplements, and now feels thoroughly vindicated by the result. Her book assembles a mound of her research on alternative thinking on AIDS which she presents uncritically but with the uninhibited enthusiasm and despatch of an autodidact who has reliably detected error in established dogma.

The book is not by a professional researcher, its assembly is not smoothly edited, and Martin simply assumes the credibility of all her sources, even business Web sites, if they are in line with her beliefs, leaving readers to make up their own minds about what they will credit. But with her copious and complete gathering of so much useful information, all will surely see how consistent the data in her alternative medical approach is, and be influenced if not persuaded. She has found like so many others that even though her starting point was only to second guess standard practice and peer reviewed research, the alternatives to standard medicine form a coherent and convincing whole.

Her book is up to date enough to include the famous remark by Luc Montagnier, the senior French scientist in Paris who won the Nobel for discovering HIV in 2008, unguardedly telling Brent Leung, the maker of the revelatory documentary House of Numbers: Anatomy of an Epidemic, that HIV presents no threat to a healthy person, who will shrug it off in a week:

Leung: If you take a poor African who’s been infected and you build up their immune system, is it possible for them to also naturally get rid of HIV?

Luc Montagnier:I would think so. It is important knowledge which is completely neglected. People always thinks of drugs and vaccine.

Brent Leung: There’s no money in nutrition, right?

Luc Montagnier: There’s no profit, yes.

A fine piece of guerilla interviewing. As Francis Bacon noted four centuries ago, “A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open.” Quite how Dr Montagnier reconciles his assurance that HIV is not by itself the cause of AIDS, the premise on which his medal was awarded, with his acceptance of that medal without mentioning this interesting fact, we leave up to connoisseurs of professional standards in science to tell us.

In fact, it is worthwhile to note here that the full transcript of the House of Numbers interview actually contains the following:

Luc Montagnier: “… I believe HIV, we can be exposed to HIV many times without being chronically infected. Our immune system will get rid of the virus in a few weeks, if you have a good immune system; and this is also the problem with African people; their nutrition is not very equilibrated, they are in oxidative stress, even if they are not infected with HIV, so their immune system doesn’t work well already, so it is prone, you know, to allow HIV to get in and persist. So there are many ways, not the vaccine, many ways to decrease the transmission, just by simple measures of nutrition, giving anti-oxidants, proper anti-oxidants-hygiene measures, fighting the other infections.”

Leung: “If you have a good immune system, then your body can naturally get rid of HIV?”

Luc Montagnier: Yes.”

Brent Leung’s documentary House of Numbers is a classic documentary (here’s a free copy on YouTube if you don’t have the well deserved monetary payment it asks for the triple DVD at the documentary’s site) which is the definitive investigative work on film that exposes the embarrassing disarray in theory and opinion of the world’s top HIV scientists, and how they often contradict the paradigm they are trying to defend. In this case, the man who graciously accepted an award for the being the discoverer of HIV, a discovery whose importance hinges on its status as the cause of AIDS, is repeating the opinion he has actually publicly held for twenty years, that by itself the notorious retrovirus is harmless.

Adding to Martin’s credibility, more and more alternative medicine in diet is being backed up by mainstream research, which shows in the lab at least that phytochemicals can be more effective against cancer cells, for example, than drugs. Certainly Noreen’s rejection of HIV is aligned with the views of Peter Duesberg, the best innovative researcher in cancer and the most prominent reviewer in the field of HIV/AIDS, who has argued in leading science journals and extensive lectures since 1987 that HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS. That alone, for many, will guarantee the credibility of Noreen Martin’s work.

But her book is only the latest of some forty well informed volumes dismissing the standard claim in HIV/AIDS, on which annual spending rests which amounts to tens of billions annually. Numerous articles have appeared over the years in the mainstream press challenging the idea, as well as more scientific articles in leading peer reviewed journals debunking it. Conferences have been held, lectures given. The Web carries copious material, ranging from one of Duesberg’s finest lectures, to a Dutch collection at VirusMyth by Robert Laarhoven of most of what has been written against HIV, to an up to date news and analysis site Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society run by a Canadian executive, David Crowe. The best academic level site is HIV Skeptic by emeritus professor and expert on scientific controversy Henry Bauer, author of The Origin, Persistence, and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory (2007). There is a specialized AIDSWiki which features entries which haven’t been bowlerized by HIV defenders, unlike those on Wikipedia. Then there is OMJ, the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice, a site of news and editorial by Clark Baker, a criminal investigator. Even this site features most of the key material in posts since 2005, in well informed discussions in comment threads and in the blogroll down the side of the page on the right).

Why HIV/AIDS dogma is immovable

Yet after twenty five years it can be fairly said that HIV heresy has got precisely nowhere in terms of altering the official story or the medical profession’s or the public’s views.

Why this defeat of rationality? We count the following among the most important factors repressing public review of HIV/AIDS:

Overwhelming official endorsement

Not only has President Obama showed no sign of seeing through the HIV/AIDS fairy tale, but he has endorsed the effort, having Clinton announce expanded drug treatment funding and putting up a very large red AIDS ribbon on the North portico of the White House today. Thus he joins every other president since Reagan in backing the strenuous efforts of NIAID and UNAID to “find a cure”, as NBC News put it today, meanwhile applying billions of tax payer dollars to that end and expanding access to “lifesaving drugs” to demolish the health of AIDS victims around the world. With the seal of approval from every official body inside science and out, and from every scientific body, innumerable charities and NGOs and the Hollywood actors that support them from the late Elizabeth Taylor on downwards, the standard HIV/AIDS dogma has become the most automatically approved cause in the culture, with instant reflex suspicion of the sanity and possible “homophobic” motives of anybody who calls it into question.

Media running dogs

The mainstream media from the New York Times on down have uncritically and irresponsibly taken a position in a scientific debate which they do not investigate or understand, with rare exceptions simply repeating the standard dogma of HIV causing AIDS and serving as its leading propagandists. The rest of the media follow the Times like their own Pied Piper, with a very few brave exceptions, the best known of which is Harpers, which published a long piece by the best writer in the field, Celia Farber, only to abandon the politically embarrassing initiative after a counter attack from scientists and activists invested in the HIV scheme was mounted. So too have corporations, from the AIDS drug companies which fund NGOs and gayactivists defending the status quo to corporations climbing on the band wagon, such as Chevron, which bought three pages of the ad-starved issue of Time this week to state that “We Agree” (that AIDS is Going to Lose).

Money talks, reason walks

Those foolhardy enough to take up their scientific or literary cudgels for the cause of reform in HIV/AIDS tend to give up over time, as defenders of HIV very well know. The imbalance in resources is huge, with billions spent on HIV propaganda (which is embedded in every official, industry, research, professorial, NGO and charitable action in the arena), and the media coverage they get. Scientists will lose funding support from their colleagues if they open their mouths to object – Peter Duesberg, once the golden boy of grant seeking at the NIH, has not had a public penny to spend in twenty five years. Any critical journalist and author will be starved of assignments and foundation support, indeed, reliably bankrupted if he or she tries to pursue truth in the area too long without a second career or private income. Questioning HIV is the third rail of professional medical or science journalism, as its handful of practitioners know, though the gratitude of patients who with their help find another path to health is overwhelming.

Time silences dissent, reinforces consensus:

The longer HIV proponents manage to hold off reviewers, the more firmly they consolidate their rule. In the end, they win by default.

Like a Middle Eastern dictator who holds on against a popular uprising with violence, the scientists who protect HIV from questioning have spread fear throughout the scientific and media community. Any researcher who brings up the HIV issue in a scientific forum today would be in danger of being referred to a psychiatrist. Dr Anthony Fauci stated publicly early on that any reporter who raised the topic of hostile HIV critiques at the NIH would be spurned as incompetent.

Dealing with this kind of pressure is impossible for all but the toughest idealist, one without spouse or children as hostages to fortune, one prepared to sacrifice his or her career if need be. Such types are as rare as Nader. Few are prepared to resist the kind of tactics that have been employed in the now silenced AIDS debate – the phone calls behind their back to employers and universities labeling them dangerous, the scotching of their appearances to state their case on television (to be replaced at the last moment by spokesmen for the paradigm), the attack on editors who see fit to publish their views, sometimes costing them their jobs.

As a result, both scientific and journalistic heretics eventually retire into silence on the topic, isolated and bereft of publishing platforms or live appearance stages to air the topic. Their absence quiets the debate. Eventually, those not directly involved assume they have been defeated in argument and by new evidence. The assumption becomes universal, even among sophisticated observers.

Thus we recall attending the meeting celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Pope’s Academy of Science inside the Vatican, and explaining to a senior member of the academy, a Belgian, the doubts about HIV’s role in AIDS and that Peter Duesberg’s rejection of the hypothesis in top journals against strict peer review had never been refuted on the same high level, in fact had never been answered in the same journals.

“I am glad you told me. I was following that earlier and thought he was right”, he said. “I just assumed when I stopped hearing about it that he had lost the argument.”

The irony of course is that the success of HIV proponents in silencing heretics in HIV/AIDS is that indeed, they have won the argument.

An unmentionable topic

Then finally, last but perhaps not least, there is the simple fact that the topic is essentially unmentionable in polite society, since it evokes a raft of distasteful images, from holloweyed, skeletal AIDS victims at the door of death to the sexual high jinks of gays which most people prefer not to think about over dinner. Like a skunk which stinks when you kick it, the topic simply subjects heterosexual conversationalists to a concern over whether they are gay, and if not, why the interest in the topic, which is certainly not going to help them impress women?

Politically sensitive gay readers may object to us pointing this out, since the reaction obviously contains a certain amount of prejudice, or “homophobia”, not on our part but on the part of the typical conversationalist. Then of course there is the tiresome reaction of many people to any idea which engenders cognitive dissonance of a major order, which is essentially discomfort, usually resolved by labelling the perpetrator misguided if not insane. We distinctly remember the moment when a middle aged gay man outside the New School after a panel on HIV/AIDS who seemed to think he was bonding with us over shared views only to discover – horror of horrors – that we were heretical on the topic, whereupon he literally scooted away about thirty feet to place a comfortable distance between himself and his newly discovered candidate for burning at the stake.

Delusions we are all heir to

Finally, the dominant factor may well be the flaws in reasoning inherent in human nature which have been illuminated in several books recently, notably the best seller Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Drawing on decades of research in psychology that resulted in a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, Daniel Kahneman takes readers on an exploration of what influences thought example by example, sometimes with unlikely word pairs like “vomit and banana.” System 1 and System 2, the fast and slow types of thinking, become characters that illustrate the psychology behind things we think we understand but really don’t, such as intuition. Kahneman’s transparent and careful treatment of his subject has the potential to change how we think, not just about thinking, but about how we live our lives. Thinking, Fast and Slow gives deep–and sometimes frightening–insight about what goes on inside our heads: the psychological basis for reactions, judgments, recognition, choices, conclusions, and much more. –JoVon Sotak

Others which are less comprehensive but more readable include The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Rivers,

“Self-deception has long been a dark, opaque side of our behavior, but the author brings a bright flashlight to his investigation of why we alter information to reach a falsehood…. Trivers examines our biases and rationalizations, denials and projections, misrepresentation and manipulations, and his writing is comfortable and suasive, resulting from his familiarity and command of the subject’s broad application and investigative history…. A gripping inquiry. Trivers is informal but highly knowledgeable, provocative, brightly humorous and inviting. – Kirkus Reviews

and the amusing and telling You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney, who writes the blog of the same title. (Interestingly, McRaney provides a ironic example of the Physician, Heal Thyself problem that Kahneman has described, which is that expertise in the pitfalls of thinking does not guarantee an author notices them in his own beliefs. His article Spinners of Web: AIDS crusaders in the Deep South on a milieu where many have had positive tests for HIV antibodies shows that despite his expertise he has been taken in hook, line and sinker by the HIV claim.)

Whether you’re deciding which smartphone to purchase or which politician to believe, you think you are a rational being whose every decision is based on cool, detached logic. But here’s the truth: You are not so smart. You’re just as deluded as the rest of us—but that’s okay, because being deluded is part of being human.

Growing out of David McRaney’s popular blog, You Are Not So Smart reveals that every decision we make, every thought we contemplate, and every emotion we feel comes with a story we tell ourselves to explain them. But often these stories aren’t true. Each short chapter—covering topics such as Learned Helplessness, Selling Out, and the Illusion of Transparency—is like a psychology course with all the boring parts taken out.

Bringing together popular science and psychology with humor and wit, You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of our irrational, thoroughly human behavior.

All these volumes detail the delusions that afflict mankind in general at every corner of their supposedly lucid reasoning process, and show precisely why a grand delusion may live on despite its debunking by brilliant and persistent critics, since it is supported by the common delusions of the crowd of normal human beings who believe it. In other words, most of us have to make a serious and prolonged effort to think straight if our beliefs are going ever going to be in line with reality.

For example,

(From a Guardian review of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow by Oliver Burkeman): Take the famous “Linda question”: Linda is a single 31-year-old, who is very bright and deeply concerned with issues of social justice. Which of the following statements is more probable: a) that Linda works in a bank, or b) that Linda works in a bank and is active in the feminist movement? The overwhelming majority of respondents go for b), even though that’s logically impossible. (It can’t be more likely that both things are true than that just one of them is.) This is the “conjunctive fallacy”, whereby our judgment is warped by the persuasive combination of plausible details. We are much better storytellers than we are logicians.

Relevant pages are at Scientific American on Trivers, Guardian on Robert Trivers, Guardian on Daniel Kahneman

Myth making at the heart of culture

All of these kinks in human reasoning arise not from neuronal inefficiency at navigating logic per se but from the corrupting effect of emotions on reason. Since there is no sluice gate to close between brain and body, objective reasoning is impossible without a very great effort to remove their influence, which is made very difficult by the fact that we all tend to be blind to the effect in ourselves (present company excepted, of course).

So if myth can be said to be belief founded in emotion rather than reason, then mankind’s love of myth may be the final factor in the triumph of HIV/AIDS ideology, a force against which reason is generally powerless, as in religion. The mechanisms of religion – the unison of crowd behavior, the love of authority, the tribalism, the wish fulfilling fantasy, the healing power of story – are all engaged by the power of myth, and HIV/AIDS is a powerful myth, which through its appeal to everyone from scientists to gays clearly binds groups and enforces subscription to a biblical text. Prising a believer away from his or her belief in HIV as a deadly virus is as difficult as separating the Bible from the Pope.

Against such a force, the hapless individual heretic in HIV/AIDS, however well credentialed, is reduced to the status of a mouse facing a juggernaut.

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