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Paul Krugman on how those in power de-legitimize intellectual opposition


Shades of AIDS – but would Krugman recognize the same style of defense in HIV?AIDS?

The Times columnist Paul Krugman is a sharp thinking fellow, which we like to think is partly because he is an economist, a species which the rest of the world doesn’t often have any reason to bribe, so economists don’t have to spend much time resisting people or fashionable trends that might otherwise bend their minds with money or conformity, although of course like any profession they are not entirely free of those pressures.

Krugman is onto the main intellectual trick used by those who defend the indefensible against busybody critics and other heretics, which is much used in HIV?AIDS against critics: Instant Illegitimization of the critic as “denialist”, “insane”, “crackpot”, “uninformed”. “dangerous”, etc. etc.

He is talking about the Iraq war and its rationale, but every alert mind in the HIV?AIDS debate will recognize his description in this paragraph from his column today, May 8 Mon:

The truth is that many of the people who throw around terms like “loopy conspiracy theories” are lazy bullies who, as Zachary Roth put it on CJR Daily, The Columbia Journalism Review’s Web site, want to “confer instant illegitimacy on any argument with which they disagree.” Instead of facing up to hard questions, they try to suggest that anyone who asks those questions is crazy.

Indeed, right-wing pundits have consistently questioned the sanity of Bush critics; “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again,” said Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, after Mr. Gore gave a perfectly sensible if hard-hitting speech. Even moderates have tended to dismiss the administration’s harsh critics as victims of irrational Bush hatred.

Of course, the sad irony is that Krugman, if he heard about the challenge to HIV?AIDS before the Harper’s piece by Celia Farber in March (April issue), probably thought it was a conspiracy theory.

The question is, what does he think it is now? Did he even read “Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science?” Alas, even if he did, we think he probably asked one of his colleagues from the Science Desk about it, perhaps Larry Altman himself, who immediately assured him there was nothing to it. If Altman didn’t call it crazy, he probably labeled it unsound. End of Krugman’s curiosity, with the economist’s tendency to think for himself abruptly halted before he is even aware that the scientific literature contains the professional damnation of HIV?AIDS, a condemnation which has ruled for twenty years without a successful rebuttal.

Paradigm battlements built of power politics

The problem with the HIV?AIDS critique is that it has been politicized out of existence in the media and in government. The truth is that the complete rejection of the HIV?AIDS claim has been established and confirmed as the correct view according to the most tested scientific literature for nineteen years now, but it has always been ignored by political leaders and opinion makers.

For the defenders of the paradigm captured almost complete political and media control from the very week the claim was launched, and it had federal support to boot. Thus the scientific literature – and the twenty books explaining it to the intelligent layman – sits unread by politicians, administrators, and scientists in the field and out of it, let alone the Krugmans of the world.

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If Altman didn’t call it crazy, he probably labeled it unsound. End of Krugman’s curiosity, with the economist’s tendency to think for himself abruptly halted before he is even aware that the scientific literature contains the professional damnation of HIV?AIDS, a condemnation which has ruled for twenty years without a successful rebuttal.

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Even the publication of the very first HIV?AIDS critique by Peter Duesberg, in the respected leading cancer journal Cancer Research in 1987, which roundly rejected the new paradigm of “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS” as scientifically baseless, was viewed as a public relations failure by the watchdogs at the NIH, whose memos asked how the article managed to slip into print, and why it wasn’t “flagged” earlier so it could be stopped.

This is the Washington political force, led by NIAID director Anthony Fauci, aided by the gay movement to adopt the virus as the key to generalizing the danger to the public at large, and the path to federal and private fundraising, and abetted by the drug companies who have funded most of the activism, which has protected the paradigm from critics throughout the years of failure to produce a vaccine, a cure or an explanation of the myriad inconsistencies and outrages to common sense that HIV believers are heir to, not to mention their continuing deaths.

So it seems that while the HIV?AIDS paradigm was not created by a large conspiracy it is certainly maintained by a conjoining of forces far beyond the scientific foundation that would be its only legitimate justification, if it hadn’t been exposed in the literature as fatally flawed in all manner of ways.

And it is one indication of this is that the typical response of supporters is not to debate all comers who raise objections in a confident manner which suggests that the theory is unassailable by virtue of logic and evidence. Instead, we get slander and vilification of the critics.

The best and latest example of this of is the supposed “Rebuttal” of the Duesberg thesis as precised in “Out of Control”, launched by Robert Gallo and his loyal colleagues in science and activism at the Harper’s editors like a missile from South Africa as soon as “Out of Control” appeared (as noted in our earlier post Bob Gallo sends South African missile into New York, see right hand margin list of posts).

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The one characteristic that can never be applied to any of the gentlemen named, David Rasnick, Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis and Harvey Bialy, is intellectual dishonesty, though the NIH has officially applied it or the equivalent to Robert Gallo himself.

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This purports to be a list of points countering the claims of the article, but it also includes a good deal of the instant illegitimization that Krugman points to as a sign that an intellectually hollow position is being defended.

We have also ignored the sections on Peter Duesberg’s career problems, his rejected funding proposals, and how he is (or is not) regarded by other cancer researchers nowadays; we have no interest in Duesberg, other than to note that he is not an AIDS researcher and has no practical experience in studying HIV. Using a plethora of false, misleading, biased and unfair statements, Farber attempts to cast scientific institutions and scientists as dishonest. But intellectual dishonesty is the norm for Farber and other AIDS denialists including David Rasnick, Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis and Harvey Bialy – all people she mentions favourably in her article.

This is arrant nonsense, since Duesberg is certainly the best mind that has been applied to this issue, as well as the one that has been most fully versed in its every aspect, perforce. The one characteristic that can never be applied to any of the gentlemen named, David Rasnick, Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis and Harvey Bialy, is intellectual dishonesty, though the NIH has officially applied it or the equivalent to Robert Gallo himself.

Anyone who is willing to suggest another candidate for this description of Peter Duesberg as the best mind in HIV?AIDS can write a comment, but we don’t expect it to be very convincing, since none of the scientists who casually scorn Duesberg in conversation and in print in non-peer reviewed journals have been able to contend with Duesberg directly, by attempting a rebuttal in print in the same journals as Duesberg has published his critiques. Both Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier have promised to do so, but somehow decided that they had more pressing business elsewhere, once they assessed the full impact of Duesberg’s article in their own case.

The truth is that the tendency for defenders of the faith in HIV?AIDS to defend the paradigm with ad hominem insults and “instant illegitimizing” is one of the most obvious signals of what Bertrand Russell interpreted as the “unconscious knowledge that they are wrong.”

Here is the full text of the Krugman column, Who’s Crazy Now?;

(show)

May 8, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist

Who’s Crazy Now?

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Some people say that bizarre conspiracy theories play a disturbingly large role in current American political discourse. And they’re right.

For example, many conservative politicians and pundits seem to agree with James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, who has declared that “man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Of more immediate political relevance is the claim that the reason we hear mainly bad news from Iraq is that the media, for political reasons, are conspiring to suppress the good news. As Bill O’Reilly put it a few months ago, “a good part of the American media wants to undermine the Bush administration.”

But these examples, of course, aren’t what people are usually referring to when they denounce crazy conspiracy theories. For the last few years, the term “conspiracy theory” has been used primarily to belittle critics of the Bush administration — in particular, anyone suggesting that the Bush administration used 9/11 as an excuse to fight an unrelated war in Iraq.

Now here’s the thing: suppose that we didn’t have abundant evidence that senior officials in the Bush administration wanted a war, cherry-picked intelligence to make a case for that war, and in some cases suppressed inconvenient evidence contradicting that case. Even so, it would be an abuse of the English language to call the claim that the administration misled us into war a conspiracy theory.

A conspiracy theory, says Wikipedia, “attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance.” Claims that global warming is a hoax and that the liberal media are suppressing the good news from Iraq meet that definition. In each case, to accept the claim you have to believe that people working for many different organizations — scientists at universities and research facilities around the world, reporters for dozens of different news organizations — are secretly coordinating their actions.

But the administration officials who told us that Saddam had an active nuclear program and insinuated that he was responsible for 9/11 weren’t part of a covert alliance; they all worked for President Bush. The claim that these officials hyped the case for war isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s simply an assertion that people in a position of power abused that position. And that assertion only seems wildly implausible if you take it as axiomatic that Mr. Bush and those around him wouldn’t do such a thing.

The truth is that many of the people who throw around terms like “loopy conspiracy theories” are lazy bullies who, as Zachary Roth put it on CJR Daily, The Columbia Journalism Review’s Web site, want to “confer instant illegitimacy on any argument with which they disagree.” Instead of facing up to hard questions, they try to suggest that anyone who asks those questions is crazy.

Indeed, right-wing pundits have consistently questioned the sanity of Bush critics; “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again,” said Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, after Mr. Gore gave a perfectly sensible if hard-hitting speech. Even moderates have tended to dismiss the administration’s harsh critics as victims of irrational Bush hatred.

But now those harsh critics have been vindicated. And it turns out that many of the administration supporters can’t handle the truth. They won’t admit that they built a personality cult around a man who has proved almost pathetically unequal to the job. Nor will they admit that opponents of the Iraq war, whom they called traitors for warning that invading Iraq was a mistake, have been proved right. So they have taken refuge in the belief that a vast conspiracy of America-haters in the media is hiding the good news from the public.

Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left — which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe — the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences. And we can safely predict that these people will never concede that they were wrong. When the Iraq venture comes to a bad end, they won’t blame those who led us into the quagmire; they’ll claim that it was all the fault of the liberal media, which stabbed our troops in the back.

9 Responses to “Paul Krugman on how those in power de-legitimize intellectual opposition”

  1. Celia Farber Says:

    I have long wanted to write a piece about this myself. I don’t have a position at the New York Times, but I still have my radio show inside my mind. And this is a frequently recurring theme!

    I noticed some time ago that writers, particularly on the Internet, began larding their invective with adjectives of mental disorder, such as: Crackpot, nutcase, fruitcake, Loon, etc. It instantly lights up the low quality of the person using those words, because not only are they sloppy, they are also crude cliches. What is showing beneath the rhetoric is a contempt for complexity and life itself. The mind is dead, the imagination is dead. Some little dweeb with a website sits and shoots pellets at any and all who show evidence of unusual thoughts, labeling him or her a “crackpot.”

    I recall a poem not sure by who, but possibly Milosz, in which he uses the phrase “you who are so revoltingly normal…”

    The poet condems “normality,” because it lacks any humanity or love. In the poem, he is watching a mentally retarded girl dance with great joy.

    I’ll try to find it.

  2. Celia Farber Says:

    I regret “little dweeb,” for that too is sloppy and cheap and unspecific and a cliche.

    It’s just pain talking when people talk like that. You say the thing that erases the human and the individual so that you can, like a child, invent a monster.

    My only excuse is that the thousands of bloggers who spew insanity adjectives and whose tone is so schoolyard- taunting-bullyish…have made me get petty and mean too more often than I want to.

    I don’t mind rage, or even spite, or indignation, or fury–it’s those tut tut words that drive me mad, personally. Like “crackpot.”

    (Incidentally, “mad,” used as the British use it, is a great word, always.)

  3. HankBarnes Says:

    One way to navigate around epithets from anyone is simply to rely on the scientific literature (as much as possible) when dealing with both scientists and laymen alike.

    For example, if I casually say, “Hey, the AIDS drugs are pretty dangerous,” it is good to have at my fingertips this 2003 paper from Journal of AIDS, which concerned a 5-year retrospective study of AIDS patients on the drugs.

    It found that of nearly 3000 AIDS patients on medication, 675 developed a severe,life-threatening event (most commonly liver failure), while 332 developed an AIDS event.

    So, plausibly, this would suggest that the twice as many people are severely injured from the “drugs,” than the virus. Whatever the interpretation of the data, at a minimum, it can start a conversation about the drugs.

    Quoting Reisler:

    All 4 classes of antiretrovirals (ARVs) and all 19 Food and Drug Administration-approved ARVs have been directly or indirectly associated with life-threatening events and death.

    Hank Barnes

    p.s. BTW, Celia, loved your piece in Harpers!! Great investigative journalism.

  4. Truthseeker Says:

    Yes, why don’t we have a lovefest for Celia (no irony intended at all) and all the other people, such as Christine Maggiore, Peter Duesberg and others who have suffered the slings and arrows of vilification for their courage in suggesting that reason and evidence should rule science, medicine and public policy, instead of panic and the mentality of a lynch mob.

    Celia has suggested in the humunguous comment thread that grew like Jack’s beanstalk from the last Larry Kramer post that we should post somewhere permanent here the stories of each such Saint Sebastien, to establish the facts of their case . See Saint Sebastien by Catherine Fournier.

    We will do this and add other permanent posts as soon as this blog is transformed into a site allowing this, as is planned.

    Meanwhile we hope that all the Saint Sebastiens of HIV?AIDS survive their crucifixion with arrows, just as the original Saint Sebastien did, but are not then beaten to death by the emperor when they return to the capital, as happened to the original also.

    After all, the arrows here are really very tiny things, and should be easily blocked by the shield of truth.

  5. McKiernan Says:

    “Even the publication of the very first HIV?AIDS critique by Peter Duesberg, in the respected leading cancer journal Cancer Research in 1967, which roundly rejected the new paradigm of “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS” as scientifically baseless,..”

    It might be worth noting to the readership that the term AIDS wasn’t in use until 1982. And Robert Gallo’s papers not until 1984.

    Perhaps, the 1967 paper to which you refer was on a different subject.

  6. Martin Kessler Says:

    The Cancer Research paper was 1987 not 1967.

  7. Truthseeker Says:

    Oops. Corrected. Thanks.

    Gratifying to see factual accuracy sought with a touch of humor on both sides of the vexed issue, McK. That’s the NAR spirit:-)

  8. McKiernan Says:

    Hey. A green border. Cool. That means I’ll not have to write my critique on how Bertrand Russell stole all of Thomas Acquinas’s moral philosophy notes and deleted the big name references.

  9. truthseeker Says:

    Well, the green border is in tribute to the sense of humor displayed in the post, which is in the right spirit of NAR, which is ruled by the belief that this subject is only palatable when you add something, as in baking bread, to make it rise. The fact that almost every other word is a possible double entendre in these discussions doesn’t help, since the associations are usually obscene.

    Also any time anyone here mentions Bertrand Russell or Thomas Acquinas they are automatically awarded a green border, unless the host, who is normally handicapped by a serious lack of imagination and playfulness, as befits the blog topic, is unable to see what is meant, as in the case of your last comment, McK, which is baffling though certainly very witty.

    We only hope that you do not mean to imply that this site is plagiaristic, since we strive to think for ourselves, indeed think that that is what we must teach others, to solve the HIV?AIDS impasse, with the help of the few openminded and independent thinkers that this site aims to attract, such as the author of the above comment, who is most highly valued for his ability to hold two opposing thoughts in his mind at the same time, rather than one, as is the characteristic of most people who defend the status quo.

    We believe it is thought leaders such as he that need to be won over if the Tower of AIDS babble is ever to be demolished, and we are prepared to use any verbal weapon, including flattery, to do it.

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