Science Guardian

Truth, beauty and paradigm power in science and society

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News, views and reviews measured against professional literature in peer reviewed journals (adjusted for design flaws and bias), well researched books, authoritative encyclopedias (not the bowdlerized Wiki entries on controversial topics) and the investigative reporting and skeptical studies of courageous original thinkers among academics, philosophers, researchers, scholars, authors, filmmakers and journalists.

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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blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.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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Are the Nobels in the grip of the drug companies?

A correspondent raises the following question in the comments earlier and the topic deserves a post of its own, because we think his sensible skepticism about some science has fallen into exaggerated cynicism about all of it.

Here is Marcel’s message in response to the post “Nobel for scientists who rejected dogma:

Truthseeker, when I read about this I wondered if this wasn’t just another example of the microbiological prejudice that biology has, and that maybe it’s just another case of blaming toxic or other problems on a microbe. You are confident this isn’t so? This bacterial cause is proven? I mean REALLY proven?

I think the Nobel and all other prizes should be discontinued. How many times have they honored an idiot who was totally wrong, and sent science in the wrong direction, from which it still hasn’t recovered? Too often, IMO.

I also would like to know what the mechanism is of Nobel prizes. Who are the advisers? Do they have links to Big Pharma? Does Big Pharma contribute money to the Nobel Prizes?

The only way to get science back on the right track is to defund it.

10.7.2005 11:47am

Seems to us that the answer to such doubts should be this:

Marcel, while we appreciate your skepticism about the motivations and modus operandi of the Nobel committee we cannot easily join you in your wholesale cynicism about science and its prizes. Science in practice is an enormous body of people and their achievements have led to major practical tools and weapons which wouldn’t work if the principles upon which thjey were designed were false. Science in general is clearly on the main track of reality and truth even if sometimes it goes off the rails.

In this case, although we have not read deeply into this one as yet, it would seem to us a priori that the two Aussies (a known down-to-earth species) had to get through enough static and ridicule to have genuinely proved their scientific case. We accept this Nobel as going to a simple and practical achievement that for once is irrefutable.

We think you have to guard against becoming extreme in your skepticism about the claims and motivations of those atop science, just as carefully as you have to guard against swallowing whole everything announced in the name of science or medicine.

It is true that the case of AIDS seems to have shown that no unfounded claim is too big to become universally believed, but we already knew that from Goebbels. AIDS, however, is an exceptional case, since it was driven from the very beginning by the most powerful government and then drug company politics. And it is a theory that is very difficult to prove false ie that HIV doesn’t have something to do with the immune dysfunction of AIDS is hard to demonstrate, since there are endless Ptolemaic “explanations” to dispense with objections based on standard science.

Have a look at these two scientists and see if you can’t agree that their work is likely to be genuine. As genuine as, for example, Kary Mullis’s PCR, for whiuch he received the Nobel, an inspiration which has helped to free well over 100 falsely accused prisoners, some of them from Death Row; or this year’s Laskers for the Southern blot and genetic fingerprinting.

“The Lasker Clinical Research Award which is considered by many to be a predictor of future Nobel laureates was awarded to Professor Southern and Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester – who gained his DPhil at Oxford and received an honorary degree from the University in 2004 – for two related breakthroughs which revolutionised human genetics and forensic science. Professor Southern has been honoured for the development of a technique, called Southern blotting, which allows detection of a single gene in a complex genome, eventually enabling the rapid sequencing of entire genomes. This advance fostered Professor Jeffrey’s breakthrough – genetic fingerprinting.”

These are prizes for concrete achievements with proven merit and huge practical application. Unlike some of the ones in the past, we’ll grant you, such as the Lasker for Gallo, Montagnier and Essex. Please note, however, that the Nobel has not yet gone to that bunch of AIDS stars, at least two of whom it must be said nowadays look more like knaves than pure geniuses to us in their photos on this Lasker page: .

A young Robert Gallo, in 1986. Hailed as discoverer of HIV in the mail from Montagnier (twice, since he lost the first batch).

A younger Luc Montagnier, recognized as the discoverer of HIV and endless seeker of a co-factor, for which he was temporarily drummed out of the Bob Club.

The young Max Essex, pride of Harvard and later entrepreneur, who will discover an HIV equivalent in cats which remarkably causes immune suppression (loss of cells) at the same time as leukemia (more cells), for which he now receives royalties for a test used throughout the US.

The suspicion that the world is entirely run by knaves and fools is just as naive as the faith it is run entirely by heroic idealists. But in this Australian case we’d say the awardees are heroic idealists for sure, even if the prize was awarded by a committee of fools, which the Nobel committee occasionally has also shown itself to be.

“The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel prize in Science” by Robert Marc Friedman is one book we recommend as a pretty good history of the way things work behind the scenes in Stockholm. The story of how much trouble they had awarding Einstein a prize for anything, let alone Relativity (they never did for that), is a classic tale of closed versus open minds.

That said, we agree that it is definitely possible that the influence of drug companies on Nobels may well be felt through the fact that the prize is award partly with the guidance and input of previous Nobelists, who include more than one knave who likes to play politics behind the scenes. The man we are thinking of once sent a venomous letter behind the back of a colleague to everyone else in his university, and the colleague didn’t discover its existence for a year.

The important point to be made on this site is that we are not arguing that all or even much of science is a corrupt mess. We are simply saying that the gold standard of science is its most severely tested literature, and it is that which should be the guide for all scientists, doctors and health officials, journalists and even science critics, not the personal reassurances of individual scientists which escape peer review.

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