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Michael Specter in denial


Specter attended AMFAR forum, but was never conscious paradigm is wrong then or since

Dismisses notification of flaws in piece as unworthy of response

Critics puzzle over soft punch of New Yorker scribe: is he closet doubter?

In company with other paradigm critics Michael Geiger, board member of HEAL San Diego, has deluged Michael Specter at the New Yorker in the past few days with email strongly objecting to his piece this week, “The Denialists: The dangerous attacks on the consensus about HIV and AIDS”, energetically pointing out bias and factual errors.
(Cartoon by Andrew Dyson from theage.com)

Specter finally replied to Geiger yesterday afternoon (Thu Mar 8) with this revealing note, perhaps prompted by the fact that Geiger’s email to him was copied to as many departments at the New Yorker as possible:
(Michael_Specter@newyorker.com, themail@newyorker.com, newsbreaks@newyorker.com, fiction@newyorker.com; talkofthetown@newyorker.com, WebComments@newyorker.com; themail@newyorker.com, shouts@newyorker.com)

From: Michael Specter
Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2007 3:43 PM
Subject: Truth

Dear Mr. Geiger:

Thanks for your interest. I do not intend to respond to the letters you and so many of your colleagues in the denialist universe have written. But I do want to say this: No editor ever suggested to me that I write this (or any other AIDS) story. I have been thinking about this issue for twenty years, ever since I encountered Peter Duesberg at that AMFAR Forum in Washington. Until recently I always felt, on balance, it is better to ignore you people than to give you publicity. But after Harpers inexplicably published a
lengthy and irresponsible piece last year I realized I was wrong. In any case, nobody from the AIDS research world suggested the story. Nor did an editor. It was my idea, my reporting and I am totally willing to let people think or say anything they want about it.

Sincerely,

Michael Specter
Staff Writer
The New Yorker

This letter goes far towards explaining how it is that a prominent magazine, with a fact checking department once renowned for its dedication to getting every word right, could have printed such a cheekily uninformed piece, scientifically speaking.

Clearly after twenty years of “thinking” Specter is still so naively confident in the authority of Anthony Fauci, Robert Gallo, John Moore and the many institutions that they lead or that cooperate with these paradigm promoters, that he has never perceived the blatant unsustainability of the HIV∫AIDS ideology, even though he attended the AMFAR forum in the spring of 1988, and was alerted like the rest of us privileged hacks present at this backroom tournament, where Peter Duesberg took on the chief paradigm defenders at the time, to the fact that the claims of the paradigm defense team were so hollow that one of the graphs they presented was revealed then and there to be entirely fictional.

Apparently there is some kind of unconscious conflict going on in Michael Specter, although on the surface he is a stout defender of the HIV∫AIDS faith immune to the doubts he reports on so niftily and has mulled so long. The attitude that Gallo’s and Fauci’s critics must be wrong so permeates Specter’s psyche that he by his own account has never suspected then or since that there is anything at all to Duesberg’s incessant exposure of the paradigm’s lack of credible evidence and blatant scientific unreason, despite the dozen high level, exhaustive, peer reviewed articles Duesberg has written or co-authored before and since, and the flood of some twenty five critical books from scientists and laymen devoted to the problem, including Duesberg’s flagship “Inventing the AIDS Virus”, culminating in Harvey Bialy’s 2004 razor sharp exposure of the incriminating science politics of the field, and Rebecca Culshaw’s short but lethal treatment of its unreason in her book this January.

Specter’s scientific literacy

Obviously Specter hasn’t read these works, or if he has, the AIDS meme resident in his brain has fought off infiltration of the alternative view of HIV∫AIDS as the grandest boondoggle and most lethal caper in the history of biology. Specter’s blithe and scientifically shallow confidence in his prejudice, and his lack of credit or investigation of the claims of the alternative view (clear from his piece and from the dismissive tone of this letter), suggests that he is a highly literate man who is paradoxically unread in this particular science.

He apparently remains as averse as his mentor Anthony Fauci (see earlier NAR posts regarding Vitamin A and the bird flu flap) to perusing the medical and scientific literature through the data base Pub Med and its 16 million papers and studies, currently available to any member of the public courtesy of the NIH, literature which is the basis of this obscure blog and which would soon apprise him of the rank inconsistencies of more and ever more study results in the field with the claims of the politically driven scientific ideology of HIV∫AIDS, and its mismatch with science and sense.

For Specter shows no sign of having read for himself with any depth of understanding either the mainstream literature or any of the critics and their works, instead treating the issue in his letter as a kind of belligerent propaganda war against “you people”, whom he views even now as a bunch of “denialists” who have been effectively dealt with in the past by ignoring their points, as he himself has proudly done, he says. He only now felt it necessary to recognize them in order to condemn them in the wake of the Harpers piece last March, which he nervously calls “inexplicable and irresponsible”, a very odd opinion for a science opinion maker, as Specter now reveals himself to be, rather than an objective reporter.

That exemplary article (“Out of Control: AIDS and the corruption of medical science“) by Celia Farber, years in the making, which Specter has the effrontery to call “irresponsible”, was, in fact, fact checked to such a level of reliability that the only provable error discovered in it after publication involved an unfamiliarity with the works of cuckoo clocks, which Farber at one point used as a metaphor, unlike the Specter piece, whose six pages of major errors, scientific and political, are a sad commentary on the current state of education of New Yorker fact checking, if the hapless Michael Peed, whose work in this instance shows an acquaintance with the literature of HIV∫AIDS as remote as Michael Specter’s, is typical. Peed cannot even get the name of the journal Cancer Research correct (it is not Perspectives of Cancer Research).

All in all, all the surface signs are that the very literate New Yorker magazine appears to achieved the signal feat of publishing a piece by a science writer largely unread in the science of the issue he treats, one dispensing his ex cathedra judgments on a scientific question purely on the basis of crediting his friends on one side of the debate, using not even the mainstream literature as research and reference but their second hand information and claims as his source, and ignoring the challengers—™ critique of the literature and their references, other than repeating a few of them without assessment, and where the few scientific assertions made by the author are not only unreferenced but wrong, that is, contradicted by critics and the mainstream scientific and medical literature he ignores in what he appears to think is a propaganda war.

Why we stopped fuming

On that basis, taking what he writes at face value, we were initially tempted to fume that his piece is a social and scientific outrage, given what is involved here, that is to say, the lives and happiness of large numbers of people who, if the paradigm is as wrong as its own literature indicates it is, are all too likely to take severely toxic and ultimately often lethal drugs on the advice of their doctors.

We were about to fulminate that it is heinously irresponsible of the New Yorker editors, in the context of the health and duration of so many lives at risk in this issue, where so many people are taking toxic drugs at the behest of the paradigm faithful, to print a piece written, fact checked and headlined with prejudice against one side of this very serious scientific dispute, when the author, and evidently the fact checkers and the editors of the magazine, are so clearly underresearched in the science of the matter, and have no respect whatsoever for the critics of the paradigm, especially the scientists involved, despite even quoting Duesberg’s unmatched credentials, and thus show a most naive unfamiliarity with the nature of science as practice and profession, wherein a common characteristic of progress is the initial vehement rejection and disdain by the powers that be of any paradigm challenge which eventually displaces the status quo.

However, on extended contemplation of Michael’s remarkable piece we are inclined to wonder just what is going on here, for along with some astute observers in Comments we have noticed a strange tendency in the piece for Specter to pull his punches, and give the supposedly rascally “denialists” full credit for their fine credentials, at least in the case of Duesberg, and a platform for their views without specifically quarreling with their points, and specifically to mention a prime source of a thousand pages of ‘denialism” for anyone interested to explore (virusmyth.com), and to give a general impression that the overall accusation of the article, in its prejudicial title and subhead framing, that the denialists are “dangerous” and risking people’s lives with their advice to prefer nutrients over drugs as prophylactics against immune dysfunction, actually lacks quotable evidence that they have done any harm, even by dispensing rhinoceros potion.

In fact if we hadn’t read Specter’s note above to Michael Geiger we would have thought that the piece was in many places rather supportive of review of the paradigm, and surmised that John Moore must be very disappointed in Specter’s take on the scene, which instead of being an over the top hatchet job on a par with Moore’s Op Ed piece in the Times last summer, Deadly Quackery, is instead a partially hospitable platform for the denialists, where the rude headlines and subheads, and the smattering of unreferenced and inaccurate paradigm claims, flatly stated as biblical certainties, are all that John Moore can crow about, for at the same time Specter has provided copious coverage of paradigm challengers without any real rebuttal of their position, at least without making any specific scientific points against what they say other beyond speciously implying they are all, including Nobelists and members of the National Academy, the equivalent of witchdoctors.

A case study in self deception?

Perhaps the piece gained a momentum of its own, and just came out that way despite the conscious intentions of its author. It is conceivable that Specter is here giving a live demonstration of self-deception, or what MRI brain research has been showing us over the past decade, which is that the brain can compartmentalize ideas and process data in two different frames at the same time, so that data in conflict with one frame is merely moved to another for storage, in a process that is familiar to many spouses in conflict with their loved ones.

It seems possible on the evidence of the conflicted tone and thrust of the the piece that Michael is, one might say, a secret adulterer, intellectually speaking, who while married and faithful to the ruling HIV∫AIDS camp and thus retaining all the advantages of a courtier to those in power, is also a closet denialist, unconsciously recognizing the truth of the paradigm critics’ version of reality, and while unable to bring it to the surface of his consciousness, ending up presenting it to the reader willynilly as it evaded his emotional repression and seeped through to the printed page.

The more we contemplate his masterwork in detail the more we see such a process at work. But then, given the intelligence of the people at the top of the field, we are sure that this is the mental process also at work in Anthony Fauci, Robert Gallo and other ruling warlords of this scientific territory. For how otherwise than the trick of self-deception and compartmentalisation could it be that the likes of the distinguished, Brooklyn born, well suited Anthony Fauci, for instance, can tell the public that HIV kills T cells three different ways and yet in his surveys of the HIV∫AIDS anti terrorist campaign written for insiders in the field fail to acknowledge the fact that the main one, HIV killing T cells directly, is now thoroughly exploded and abandoned in the minds of all other top researchers in HIV∫AIDS, with the possible exception of the irrepressible Robert Gallo, and even write in his reviews that HIV, on the contrary, causes T cells to multiply?

The Specter syndrome

We think this split mental performance is the visible tip of the iceberg of unconscious repression that is the only explanation of how some of the great minds in science and journalism, such as Anthony Fauci and Michael Specter, can have failed to notice that the paradigm has no clothes, scientifically speaking, and has in fact been shivering naked of real justification for twenty years.

For that reason, we hereby posit that this syndrome is a deeply embedded characteristic of paradigm thinkers from Fauci to chief paradigm theorist Zvi Grossman and in honor of Michael’s stalwart performance exhibiting it in its most obvious form in this classic article we hereby name it the Specter Syndrome.

Since Specter is in denial in this way he is not likely to feel honored by this nomenclature and we can expect him to continue to be rude to “you people”, the “denialists”, even as he parades material that suggests they have a point or even the answer to his internal conflict, a private tussle which mirrors the external conflict between the claims of the paradigm which he treats as holy writ and the results of the massive literature it has spawned in PubMed, which Specter can at a click of his mouse discover disproves his faith wholesale.

Therefore, however much we admire his brilliantly schizophrenic dance in the six pages of the New Yorker this week devoted to his well composed and highly readable account, we are forced to match Specter’s superficial arrogance by deconstructing his story in terms of a simple tutorial of our own, a tutorial in how to perpetrate honest science journalism, whereby we ignore the many signs of his inner conflict and treat his piece in mundane fashion as a laboratory specimen of science writing which, though elegantly constructed and deftly written, is a prize exhibit of how not to write about a dispute in science. We are forced to do this because many people who share the HIV∫AIDS meme with Specter will imagine that his piece is basically a slam dunk for the status quo, as John P. Moore of Cornell seems to do, rather than proof in its own right of how intelligent people can support the prevailing wisdom only by abandoning critical thinking and research, and parroting the misleading claims of the science’s high priests while “ignoring” their critics.

Having made our own rather belligerent assertions about Specter—™s article containing unusually helpful and positive material about the paradigm debunkers, and a number of easily disproved false paradigm claims pronounced from on high by Specter without references, and other errors, it is now incumbent on us to give readers a complete list of both, but we will do it in the next post, since this one is already far too long and verbose.

4 Responses to “Michael Specter in denial”

  1. Martin Kessler Says:

    To the HIV Faithful (Michael Specter et al), there are no errors in the HIV paradigm. Popes Fauci and Gallo are infallible. Contrast that to the well written article in this weeks New York Times Magazine on an unrelated but scientific subject: Dark Energy and Dark Matter. The article entitled “Out There” by Richard Panek looks at the world of theoretical physics – where gravity which happens to be “just a theory”, is still perplexing to physicists, and the proposed Dark Matter and Dark Energy can’t even be found (like HIV). It is nice to see that real scientists (theoretical physicists) have doubts but psuedo-scientists (AIDS related academics) have certainty.

  2. Dan Says:

    Until recently I always felt, on balance, it is better to ignore you people than to give you publicity. But after Harpers inexplicably published a lengthy and irresponsible piece last year I realized I was wrong.

    If this article was somehow meant to answer for Celia Farber’s Harpers article, it has failed.

    Is it a case of self-deception? Or self-sabotage?

    To answer for Celia’s article, this piece should have been written to actually do so. If it had Moore’s hopes and dreams of slamming the “denialists” attached to it, something has gone awry. What happened?

    Specter couldn’t do it. He couldn’t attack “denialism” with the force needed at this point. After so much that has happened in just the past few years (ICC, Harper’s, Rodriguez, Adelaide, the list goes on…) he couldn’t bring himself to launch a blitzkrieg to counter that momentum. Maybe he realized how much was riding on this article and “choked”.

    This article should have been a slam-dunk against “denialism”. It didn’t happen. Call me an optimist…but the tide has most definitely turned.

  3. Michael Says:

    Hey Dan.

    One other thing was quite telling as well!

    This issue of the New Yorker hit the newstands on March 4th. Later that evening, the writer, Michael Specter, was featured on “The Colbert Report”.

    However, the Colbert report interview did not mention the article at all on HIV dissention. Instead, they talked about some other story by Specter on reporters in Russia ending up dead.

    WHAT THE HELL?

    Was Michael Specter letting us know that he would not look into the dissent issue because he too, is afraid he will end up dead if he looks into the AIDS paradigm and speaks out against it?

    OR?

    Was Steven Colbert completely unwilling to mentions AIDS rethinkers as “denialists” and refused to allow the subject to be aired?

    Not sure quite what to think, but it was very surreal that there was absolutely no mention of his New Yorker piece that hit the streets earlier that day!

    Very strange. Very very strange. But perhaps it was a smart move on Specters part not to discuss the issue on “Colbert Report”. After all, Steven Colbert always takes the opposing side from his interviewees, and it would have been soooo much fun to watch Colbert do so with HIV/AIDS.

  4. Dan Says:

    Michael,

    It does seem strange that this article wasn’t mentioned on the Colbert Report. You’d think that after writing the “answer” to Celia Farber’s article, that Specter would want to trumpet his accomplishment.

    Come to think of it, you’d think that Specter would be all over the media, proudly mentioning and referring to his piece that supposedly slams “AIDS denialism”.

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