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Political non-science: Frog (5)

Iowa Tara’s trashing of critics betrays ignorance of science history

Science is reason and evidence, not democracy

Deplorable inaccuracies about a fine lady

froggie.jpgOK, back to the Poison Dart Frog, our image for the laborious trashing of the critics of the wingless HIV∫AIDS paradigm by Tara C. Smith of Iowa and Steve P. Novella of Yale at the Public Library of Science under the misleading title HIV Denial in the Internet Era.

The smokescreen of misconceived notions about the HIV critics and about science pumped out by this tract is nothing new.

Knocking the credentials of the HIV critics naturally occurs to defenders, perhaps, when their attitudes are drawn from uncritical acceptance of authority more than from their own investigations, as this paper suggests.

In general, HIV paradigm promoters choose to defend the science of HIV∫AIDS with political rather than scientific counter attacks, and this essay with its studious avoidance of the scientific debate is a fine example, since the authors make it explicit. The authors claim that the non peer reviewed Web pages they refer to at the NIH and CDC do the scientific debunking of the critics for them, but since those pages are not peer reviewed, they make it hard not to conclude that the real problem these defenders have is that they lack faith in the science and/or lack the answers to defend it directly.

We would say that their attempt to support the conventional wisdom with diversionary replies is a gift to the critics, since objective onlookers are provided with evidence of insecurity, historical misunderstanding and belligerent defensiveness that suggest that the critics are on the right track.

This is why we feel that a blow by blow deconstruction is worthwhile, since this unusually lengthy and “worked up” series of political potshots now on display at the NSF Public Library of Science offers a rare chance to make a thorough reply to the propaganda, for a change. This seems preferable to ignoring it as beneath serious consideration, and letting it sit like a slow release AZT pill into the bloodstream of the national discourse. Better to offer a complete antidote rather than allow this to happen, as it so often does because the expert and high level critics of HIV and AIDS, such as the distinguished Peter Duesberg, or the fiery Harvey Bialy, find it distasteful to deal with such ignorant trashing of their position as peer-reviewed elite commentators, and would rather occupy themselves with more constructive activities than responding to material which no intelligent student of science can take seriously.

This is why in a spirit of self sacrifice we offer our own deconstruction of the Frog, realizing that seasoned observers of this long drawn out battle such as the witty MacDonald will not find our series of posts on it very original; but we hope that it will be useful to newcomers to the arena, one obscure to so many people such as Hank Campbell for lack of of media coverage.

Saddling up the camels for this trek across this intellectual desert, we will now go through the claims of the text one by one. Here they are:

1. Implication that any paradigm debunking is by definition invalid

froganalyzed.jpgIt may seem remarkable that, 23 years after the identification of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), there is still denial that the virus is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). This denial was highlighted on an international level in 2000, when South African president Thabo Mbeki convened a group of panelists to discuss the cause of AIDS, acknowledging that he remained unconvinced that HIV was the cause [1]. His ideas were derived at least partly from material he found on the Internet [2]. Though Mbeki agreed later that year to step back from the debate [3], he subsequently suggested a re-analysis of health spending with a decreased emphasis on HIV/AIDS [4].

Response: On the contrary, there is nothing at all surprising in the fact that few people outside the field of HIV∫AIDS, and not everyone in it, know that there is still a serious question that the virus HIV is the cause of AIDS after 23 years, because there has been effective official and institutional censorship, some explicit, including the leading media, of the news.

That any public criticism still exists despite the huge pressure against challenging HIV=AIDS should tell you, in fact, that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, especially when a seasoned politician leading the most advanced country in Africa looks into the question for himself, rather than depending solely on advisors, and is then sufficiently alarmed to call a special panel of science professionals from both sides to resolve the issue, because he has been directed via the Internet to relevant and authoritative material in the peer reviewed mainstream scientific literature which is not being reported in the media, and then resists tremendous political and media pressure to go along and conform to the paradigm, and instead frees up his health policy from total dependence on the suspect paradigm claim, after it is neither proven nor justified by its supporters at the special panel he called to review it. For that is the story of what has happened in South Africa.

2. Just quoting the skeptics is enough to show them up

greenandbblackpoisondart.jpegThe false premise of the entire text of this essay is established at the start by the clear suggestion that it is enough to quote the statements and behavior of the skeptics to show how laughable they are, and that quoting and replying to any of their scientific objections is not necessary.

Response: This assumption is by definition scientifically naive since any familiarity with the history of science and medicine, not to mention simple logic, will indicate that science advances paradigm by paradigm, with the old replaced by the new and improved as a result of fresh data and thinking, much to the surprise and chagrin of people who assume that the consensus of conventional scientists is a validation of their belief. By definition all replaced paradigms reign by overwhelming consensus until they are overthrown by revisionists, who as Schopenhauer and others have pointed out, are inevitably first ridiculed, then violently opposed, and finally joined by their opponents who will claim they knew their new paradigm was right all the time.

Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized: In the first it is ridiculed. In the second, it is opposed. In the third it is regarded as self-evident. – Arthur Schopenhauer.

(see the page of this and other salutary Quotations on Science, Politics and Beliefin the blog, indexed as a link in the list of Pages in the right margin).

3. Implication that any challengers are “dangerous” to the public interest, untutored in science and unqualified to discuss the issue

tiny-frog.jpgHIV denial has taken root in the general population and has shown its potential to frustrate public education efforts and adversely affect public funding for AIDS research and prevention programs. For example, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was for many years on the front lines of AIDS education and activism. But now a San Francisco chapter of the group has joined the denialist movement, stating on its Web site that “HIV does not cause AIDS… HIV antibody tests are flawed and dangerous…AIDS drugs are poison” (http://www.actupsf.com/aids/index.htm). In 2000 the chapter wrote letters to every member of Congress asking them to stop funding research into HIV [5]. ACT UP San Francisco’s position has been condemned by other ACT UP chapters, such as ACT UP Philadelphia and ACT UP East Bay (http://www.actupny.org/indexfolder/actupgg.html). Rock stars have weighed in on the topic. Members of the group “The Foo Fighters” provided music for a soundtrack of the recent documentary, “The Other Side of AIDS” (http://www.theothersideofaids.com/), which questions whether HIV is the cause of AIDS. The band has spread its message that HIV does not cause AIDS at concerts [6], and it lists the HIV denial group “Alive and Well” as a worthy cause on its Web site (http://www.foofighters.com/community_cause.html).

Response: Defending against paradigm challenges by labeling them a danger to public remedial measures begs the question who is right about the paradigm, rather than answering it. A political argument of this kind suggests that the scientific defense is not strong enough to stand by itself, an implication that this whole essay carries.

That respectable people who normally would be expected to follow mainstream institutional and professional authority especially in matters of science and medicine turn against it so decisively, especially after long trusting the paradigm and fighting for it as in the case of ACTUP San Franscisco, tells us that there must be persuasive arguments against the claim of authority which have led them to take a public stand against it in the face of social sanctions and penalties of all kinds, including this kind of scorn.

Since the lay dissenters quoted take an active part by publicly insisting on paradigm review, in the case of the Foo Fighters at the risk of losing some of their audience, their public stand indicates that they take the issue very seriously and are not merely superficially deluded fools who persist out of sheer iconoclasm, especially when they assert factually detailed views on their web pages, as in the case of ACT UP San Franscisco.

4. Misleading characterization of challengers and their arguments as below the level of peer-reviewed literature

largepoison-frog.jpgAs these challenges to mainstream theories have largely occurred outside of the scientific literature, many physicians and researchers have had the luxury of ignoring them as fringe beliefs and therefore inconsequential. Indeed, the Internet has served as a fertile and un-refereed medium to spread these denialist beliefs. The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV/AIDS Hypothesis (“Reappraising AIDS”) noted, “Thanks to the ascendance of the internet, we are now able to reinvigorate our informational campaign” [7]. The Internet is an effective tool for targeting young people, and for spreading misinformation within a group at high risk for HIV infection.

Response: This attempt to stain the critics objections as unable to meet the standards of peer review, and thus able to find self-publication only on the Internet, is 100% inappropriate and misleading. The opposite is correct.

The challenge to the mainstream HIV∫AIDS theory was initiated and pursued at the highest level of the scientific literature by the senior expert in the relevant field, retrovirology, and repeatedly survived (and thus was doubly validated by) the fiercest and most hostile peer reviewers, who knew perfectly well their own backsides were on the line if they let any of the material through, but they were unable to prove it incorrect or even questionable. All their objections were met before publication.

The critique of the paradigm published by this expert retrovirologist, Peter Duesberg, from 1987 to 2003 has never been countered effectively in the top journals where it has appeared, where no peer-reviewed rebuttal has been attempted, despite a promise to do so by Gallo at the Proceedings of the National Academy, where the longest fundamental debunking took place in 1988.

Duesberg’s review and rejection of the paradigm thus stands as the best and most validated peer-reviewed science in the matter, even though, politically speaking, the paradigm bandwagon has steered around it, and while intensely resisting any media coverage of the reviews, delivered every scientist riding on it to the unusually large HIV∫AIDS trough at the NIH, where every now and then they raise their heads and cry, No review necessary! Any questioning dangerous! before resuming feeding again.

If anything the fringe pseudoscience is not the HIV∫AIDS paradigm refutation by its critics, but the initially politically established, never scientifically substantiated, soon professionally reviewed and rejected ruling paradigm of HIV=AIDS, purveyed by its leading scientists and officials such as John Moore, Mark Wainberg and Anthony Fauci who act as despots of the field banning media coverage of paradigm critics and are enthusiastically joined in this by outsiders such as Tara and Steve who naively imagine they are defending good science.

The critics occupy the fringes of publication on the Internet only because print and television editors know better than to assign articles on the topic, even if they have the resources and inclination to investigate science, for fear of misunderstanding, ridicule, and alienating the NIAID, where the policy announced in print in an AAAS newsletter by director Anthony Fauci early on was that no reporter who raised the topic of the reviews that rejected HIV in the literature would have his or her calls returned.

With editors uniformly playing the role of establishment gatekeepers the Internet is indeed the only public venue readily available for the distribution of this information, information which in its ability to explain the paradoxes and insults to common sense and good science inherent in the standard model of HIV=AIDS has such power to suggest that revision is necessary, and that the drugs are suspect and dangerous, that the paradigm promoters justifiably view it as “dangerous”, and rightly so, to the funding of the paradigm, and try to deflect it with political misdirection such as calling it ‘pseudoscience’. If the critics are right the danger is to their welfare, clearly, and not to the welfare of patients, who will benefit. It is hard to imagine that anyone who genuinely believes that the case for HIV=AIDS is rock solid scientifically would fear and smear those call for open debate.

5. Misrepresenting promotional fact sheets as peer reviewed science

cricket-frog.jpgTwo excellent online fact sheets have been prepared to counter many of the most commonly used arguments to deny HIV causation of AIDS [8,9]; as such, we will not discuss these in this article. Instead, we will review the current intellectual strategies used by the HIV denial movement. Although other forms of science denial will not be specifically discussed, the characteristics described below apply to many other forms of popular denial, including denial of evolution, mental illness, and the Holocaust.

Response: The official fact sheets referred to are not peer-reviewed, and are not a valid excuse for avoiding any mention of the specifics of the scientific debunking of the paradigm by critics.

Nor are the objections of the critics vitiated by whatever “intellectual strategies” the authors might like to discern in a supposed “HIV denial movement”, both of which phrases imply that the battle is a political one, when in fact it is only a political one because the defenders of the paradigm resist the free and open purely scientific review demanded by the critics.

There is very little coordination among the disparate and widely scattered sources of paradigm rebuttal, such as this blog, or the many individuals and groups around the world listed in the Accurate/Helpful section of our link index on the right. Rather, there appears to be much more coordination in the consistent, in fact universal refusal of the many individuals and institutions working with the globally entrenched paradigm to countenance any questioning at all, let alone respect any critics, who are countered with media censorship, funding and tenure refusals, and active smearing and disinformation at AIDSTruth, the New York Times and multiple media outlets.

To repeat, our pair of paradigm defenders in stating their purpose neatly evade the need to produce any kind of scientific rebuttal by quoting the NIAID Factsheet and the site AIDSTruth.org of John P. Moore as sources of rebuttal, when neither is peer-reviewed and the latter site very seriously misleading in its science, as this blog has often pointed out in earlier posts, most egregiosuly including statements where scientists contradict their own research, most notoriously Nancy Padian and her attempt to disown her landmark study demonstrating “HIV positivity” does not transmit between the sexes.

These scientifically corrupted sites cannot weigh in the balance against the peer-reviewed rejections of the paradigm in the highest journals in science by one of the most respected practitioners of retrovirology, Peter Duesberg, who is universally respected for his own work by his peers, even those who resist his HIV=AIDS critique, for the quality of all his research and publications, which have never been questioned, except for the extremely high quality critique he has made of HIV=AIDS theory, which has led those of his colleagues who are its promoters to shun him, rather than answer him, which in itself is a signal of how much they fear his view. But none of them has ever called him personally anything but a fine scientist.

6. Misinformation peddled as fact

tomatofrog.jpegOne of the prominent HIV denial groups currently is Christine Maggiore’s “Alive and Well” (formerly “HEAL,” Health Education AIDS Liaison) (http://www.aliveandwell.org/). Maggiore’s life story is at the center of this group. Diagnosed with HIV in 1992, Maggiore claims she has since been symptom-free for the past 14 years without the use of antiretroviral drugs, including protease inhibitors [10]. She has risen to prominence, and been embroiled in controversy, in recent years after giving birth to and openly breast-feeding her two children, Charles and Eliza Jane. She had neither child tested for HIV, and did not take antiretroviral medication during her pregnancy or subsequent breast-feeding [11]. Eliza Jane died in September 2005 of HIV-related pneumonia [12], though Maggiore remains unconvinced that HIV had any role in her daughter’s death [13], and continues to preach her message to other HIV-positive mothers.

Response: This paragraph is misleading on the facts, which it misstates in prejudicial terms. Whether Christine Maggiore was ever HIV positive remains a question, with her critics now saying she was not. Her resistance to treatment with standard medication would be understandable, even if she hadn’t read deeply into the paradigm issue and written a very thorough book debunking it.

The hounding of Maggiore on the false assumption she betrayed her daughter by not having her tested for HIV is deplorable, since the tragedy of Maggiore’s child Eliza Jane was that she suffered a rapidly fatal allergic shock reaction to an antibiotic, and had no AIDS symptoms, contrary to claims by the coroner. She did not suffer from HIV∫AIDS nor did she die from it, since she did not test HIV positive after death, and her T cell count was quite remarkably high.

The lynch mob treatment of Christine Maggiore in the aftermath of this tragedy by misinformed people has been one of the worst episodes of this wretched affair, and it may reasonably be labeled a disgrace that reputable scientists such as Tara and Steven should blindly join in this perfidy, where naivete is no excuse.

7. Mistaken belief that science is a democracy, decided by the authority of consensus

greentreefrog.jpegThat HIV is the primary cause of AIDS is the strongly held consensus opinion of the scientific community, based upon over two decades of robust research. Deniers must therefore reject this consensus, either by denigrating the notion of scientific authority in general, or by arguing that the mainstream HIV community is intellectually compromised. It is therefore not surprising that much of the newer denial literature reflects a basic distrust of authority and of the institutions of science and medicine. In her book, Christine Maggiore thanks her father Robert, “who taught me to question authority and stand up for what’s right” [10]. Similarly, mathematical modeler Dr. Rebecca Culshaw, another HIV denier, states: “As someone who has been raised by parents who taught me from a young age never to believe anything just because ‘everyone else accepts it to be true,’ I can no longer just sit by and do nothing, thereby contributing to this craziness” [17].

Response: All established paradigms are naturally and inevitably based on wide consensus, but all advances of a major order in science and medicine involve overturning that consensus. Science is not a democracy, and its questions are not decided by vote. It is decided by gathering research data and by reasoning, in open debate, on the meaning of the data, and this free discussion is the life blood of good science. The worst sign of a paradigm which has gone past its due date is the fierce resistance which gathers to prevent its overthrow by rejecting criticism.

Any time anyone calls for repressing any view in science, as the HIV=AIDS promoters do, they betray their lack of understanding of how science develops. When scientists or institutions foreclose debate by refusing to review any data or interpretation called into question in the peer reviewed literature, they abandon science itself, which dies if questioning dies, and becomes religion.

Authority and consensus might reflect the best judgment of the current leaders of a field, but consensus is always subject to the myriad social and psychological influences listed at the top of this blog. These may influence the peer-reviewed literature too, but with all its flaws it’s the best measure of the validity of a paradigm that we have, and that is why this blog reviews the paradigm in the light of the literature, which lies unread by most defenders of the faith, including it seems clear, Tara and Steven.

To be continued.

3 Responses to “Political non-science: Frog (5)”

  1. MacDonald Says:

    Liam Scheff, in his response to Tara and Steven on his website, has called them “cowards”;
    http://liamscheff.com/daily/2007/09/17/the-aids-pogrom-my-letter-to-biggaynews/

    Especially in the case of Christine Maggiore, Tara Smith abundantly demonstrates the AIDStruth crowd’s most prominent character trait – cowardice. To science blogger, Hank, better known as Therapy Buddy, Dr. Smith served up this little fairy story about how her warm and fuzzy mothering instincts compelled her to HIV/AIDS activism.

    Tara Smith: Like most scientists, I hadn’t even realized there was an active denial movement until recently, beginning with the story of Eliza Jane Scovill. As a parent myself, I can only imagine how horrible it must be to lose a child, but it angered me that Maggiore didn’t learn anything from her daughter’s death–and indeed, continues to actively promote her denialist ideas to other mothers. To someone in public health, that behavior is beyond appalling, and I do think attention needs to be called to this movement, and to science denial more broadly.
    http://www.scientificblogging.com/hank/the_least_known_war_in_science_does_hiv_cause_aids

    Dr. Smith also professes to believe that, “Scientists must engage more with the public or the HIV/Aids deniers will gain credibility (…) It is up to us to explain the science to the public” –
    http://aidstruth.org/fanaticism.php

    This all sounds very nice in a sycophantic magazine article. However, Dr. Smith has never attempted to take personal contact to Christine Maggiore, who, as we all know has issued a standing invitation, all expenses paid, to any confident “HIV expert” who wants to demonstrate to her face to face the error of her ways in moderated debate.

    This proves Dr. Smith is a fraud. Even her account of her own involvement with HIV/AIDS, supposedly based on her feelings as a mother, is merely a cynically calculated attempt to smear Christine Maggiore, whom Dr. Smith has neither the personal empathy nor the courage to interact with as a fellow mother.

    Dr. Smith has been challenged several times to show that she is more than a run off the mill cowardly hypocrite mindlessly parroting the AIDStruth talking points – last on her own blog a couple of days ago:

    Funny how those supporting HIV causation of AIDS discuss actual scientific research, while the deniers post nothing but insults and really, really bad parodies.
    Posted by: Tara C. Smith | September 20, 2007 3:13 AM

    To which she received this answer from someone calling herself “Epidemiology-LISA”:

    Funny, I must have missed the scientific discussion in your latest articles Dr. Smith. Would you mind cutting and pasting, so we can have look see here? When are we gonna see you out in the real world debating Christine Maggiore, you know the case that got your bleeding heart involved with this thing in the first place?

    Dr. Smith had no further comments be it to E-LISA or Maggiore. Like every self-appointed HIV/AIDS warrior, she is a hypocrite and a coward, not half the mother that Christine Maggiore is.

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    Well said, MacDonald. The moral deficits of those who blindly shriek and wave the flag for the standard wisdom without checking it for themselves are enormous, we agree. With so many lives at stake including infants and young children, this mother, who is not handicapped in reasoning or in science, has the disrespect to abandon responsible dialogue for one sided rationalization and insults.

    To adapt Groucho, if there is a club that would accept me on that basis I wouldn’t want to belong to it. But in some people the desire to belong is paramount, presumably based on the childish desire to please the Daddy who is the key to your survival. Maybe she is right. Rachel Carson said that she never imagined how bad it could get, and she didn’t have a family.

    In a society that prides itself on individualism we find that it doesn’t run very deep in most people here. Seems to apply to individual initiative in commerce, not in ideas. In England years ago if memory serves we always seemed to have a different attitude, where a different opinion was seen as the spice of conversation. Here it seems to be part of labeling you as a member of the tribe, or not.

    But that may be out of date, or a matter of who you are talking to. Perhaps Tara just lacks any capacity to think different.

  3. Chitachitamuchita Says:

    Q-Who’s funding Tara ?

    A- Look to the banner in the top of AETIOLOGY, “NATURE REPORTS” which is funded by as you guess ! by ARV’s manufacturers Glaxo and Gilead…..

    From there, I think that everyone can understand why she and her blog are PR for BIG PHARMA…

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