Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

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Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.
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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

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 ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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Bob Gallo sends South African missile into New York


But the payload seems rather short on explosive

What may be an exceedingly self-incriminating document has been sent to Harpers by the chief suspects in the HIV?AIDS true denialist camp.

By “true denialists” we mean those who most vociferously deny there have been many peer-reviewed fatal flaws pointed out in the paradigm which has ruled for so long, and been so well protected by the campaign conducted by these and other HIV?AIDS defenders, who are surely the true denialists.

The signatories include the hero of HIV, Bob Gallo, we notice, as well as the odd fish who recently visited this site to stir up mischief, Richard Jefferys.

Long silence is finally broken

The document is self-incriminating because it reveals the very lack of justification for supporting HIV?AIDS that they vehemently deny in the letter. So this is the first success of the Harpers piece – Farbers has finally lured out of hiding the key people who have so successfully prevented public debate from proceeding in one of the most important, life or death paradigm challenges extant.

For instead of ignoring the Harpers piece and poo pooing it to any media reporter who asked for their reaction, which is the successful strategy paradigm leaders have followed for twenty years, they have exposed their best arguments against it, and thus all the flaws inherent in their position, for public inspection. Instead of taking their time, they have “rushed” to get the letter out, which is unwise, judging from the language used, which is rather childish, as are their demands:

To save its good reputation, Harper’s should do the following:

* Withdraw editorial support for Farber’s article and publish this withdrawal on the Harper’s Magazine website.

* Publish a retraction in the April or May issue of Harper’s Magazine and on the website immediately.

* Publish the list of errors and corrections in a prominent position on the website as soon as you have been able to fact-check it (the fact-checkers obviously should not include the individuals who “fact-checked” Ms. Farber’s article, or any other individuals suggested to you by her, or them).

* Publish a general rebuttal of the Farber piece in the April or May issue of Harper’s Magazine. One or more of the authors of the errors’ document will prepare such a rebuttal once we hear from you that you will print it.

* Undertake to review Harper’s fact-checking process, with special regard to articles on science (the common procedure of a writer suggesting fact-checkers for the article is seriously flawed).

We expect a satisfactory response from Harper’s by Monday evening. Regards, Nathan Geffen.”

Presumably this is a tribute to the reputation of the magazine, which they call “prestigious” in their letter, and that they have detected that many people they know are taking it seriously. Harpers’ “influence” is apparently making itself felt. Perhaps those who prepared this overconfident broadside should have reflected on the source of that influence, which is that Harpers is run by intelligent and worldly people who operate outside the circle of influence of those who hold the purse strings which influence other media, such as the drug companies, since they are financed by a foundation.

Have HIV defenders shot themselves in foot by saying too much?

The precipitate nature of the communication and its political naivete are indicated by the crude terms in which it is expressed and the silliness of its demands, all of which are based on the assumption that Harpers doesn’t know what it is talking about and can easily be cowed into submission with scientific expertise.

Apparently the singers are not fully conscious of the fact that Farber is the most seasoned investigator of their shenanigans around, having been at it for twenty years, equal to ourselves but busier, and that the article took about two years to go through rewriting and expansion, editing and checking.

The one thing they can be sure of is that unlike the easily frightened Alexander, the blogger of DailyKos, it will take more than a little questionable scientific blather to get Harpers to do any more than ignore them, a nice twist that will serve the political defenders of HIV?AIDS a dose of their own medicine. Probably this overly strong reaction will only add to the Harpers momentum in the circles that count.

The one thing it will do is to provide a record that can easily be referenced by anybody who wishes to check out the strength of the arguments on either side without going to the scientific literature, which is the only reliable and up to date source. You can be sure that all serious paradigm challengers will be poring over this document.

They will certainly pick apart many of the statements made in the pdf criticising Farber for “56 errors”, which are expounded in no fewer than 36 pages. This is certainly an asset for those who support Harpers/Farber, for the longer the reply the more opportunity there is to make mincemeat out of it. From an initial skimming it seems to contain much that was standard in the early days of HIVB?AIDS theory which is now out of date, and much that has been decisively exploded in Duesberg’s papers. Presumably this reflects Bob Gallo recycling his old ideas, apparently unaware of some of the literature which now completely contradicts, for example, the possibility of a heterosexual AIDS epidemic.

We’ve only glanced at it and will post later on any egregious errors we discover, but already we have to note that we see correlation being asserted as causation, responses which avoid the point, appeals to authority compromised by drug company connections (as are some or all of these spokesmen, one suspects, not that this affects the argument), “errors” which are simply subjectively contradicted, “errors” which are true but are explained away, responses which are merely denials of misconduct, “errors” which are referenced as true in Duesberg papers, contradictions which are themselves false statements (PCR cannot count the amount of HIV in the blood, it merely can multiply what it finds, according to its inventor), “errors” contradicted by a reference that can itself be contradicted by another reference, “errors” contradicted by bad logic, “misleading statements” which are correct but they don’t like the phrasing, “errors” contradicted by out of date HIV theory abandoned in the leading mainstream literature (HIV is not held to “directly” kill T cells any more), “errors” contradicted by meaningless exceptions, errors” contradicted by claims that overlook the effect of treatment, “errors” proved by claims that so contradict mainstream literature that they amount to falsehoods (“most HIV transmission is through heterosexual sex”), “errors” proved by the use of logic that would also invalidate HIV theory, objections to the “denialist” case as “holocaust denial”, attacks on the credibility of various people quoted by Farber, and other specious nonsense.

On the whole it is difficult to imagine this amounts to much more than sticking the neck out to have it chopped off. The attempt to demean Duesberg’s authority and reputation seems likely to backfire, particular since it is claimed that most cancer authorities consider his new cancer hypothesis “pseudoscience.” Tell that to those who invited him to speak at the NCI, and the editors at Scientific American.

We detect the hand of Bob Gallo in this kind of schoolboy calumny. We were thinking of him the other day with fondness, as a consummate rogue who was charming in his bullying way. Now, however, he is old, like every major player in this affair. How tragic it must be to have spent your life making career capital out of mistakes great and small, especially a giant one which attacks the health of people all over the world instead of saving it, as Gallo MD once promised to do.

Let’s hope for his sake that he is able to maintain the belief to the end that he was right, and that HIV was really the scourge of the world, and he defended us all against it.

We recall once asking him if he would take AZT if he tested positive for HIV. He didn’t seem very keen. He said he would assess the situation carefully, or words to that effect.

Here is the page with the letter and the pdf: ACTUP offers a critique sent from South Africa

(show)

AIDS DENIALISM IN HARPER’S

March 2006

LISTING AND DESCRIBING IN DETAIL THE ERRORS IN CELIA FARBER’S

AIDS DENIALIST ARTICLE AS PUBLISHED MARCH 2006 IN HARPER’S

AIDS DENIALISM = SEEING WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE

Dear Sam Stark, Lewis H. Lapham and Roger D. Hodge

CC: Publishers and all staff of Harper’s

CC: Robert Gallo, Gregg Gonsalves Richard Jefferys, Daniel R. Kuritzkes, Bruce Mirken, John P. Moore, Jeffrey T. Safrit [co-authored response]

As promised, attached is a document listing and describing in detail the errors in Celia Farber’s March 2006 article in Harper’s. My co-authors are copied on this email. Because of the rush to get this to you, we reserve the option to make modifications to it during the next week. We do however consider it a public document.

We have categorised the errors as follows: 25 are outright false. 16 are misleading. 10 are biased. 5 are unfair. (i.e. 56 errors) These are underestimates, because in some cases we classified several errors as one. I have also not counted errors listed in table 2. Furthermore it would be unsurprising that if you properly fact-check the areas which we have not covered in detail (i.e. Farber’s allegations against the NIH, Jonathan Fishbein, the Hafford case) more errors would come to light. Every one of the errors we list should have been caught by a fact-checking team with appropriate scientific expertise. Many did not even require scientific expertise and just amount to sloppy journalism.

The printing of Farber’s error-filled piece by a prestigious magazine that has a fact-checking mechanism in place is scandalous. In contrast to the Stephen Glass case at New Republic, Farber’s distortions should have been spotted easily by a competent editor because all sources demonstrating her errors are public domain. Admittedly, spotting many of her errors requires some scientific expertise in your fact-checking team. If Harper’s does not have this scientific expertise then it is irresponsible to publish articles purporting to debunk the scientific consensus.

I note a number of disingenuous quotes attributed to Roger D. Hodge in Gay City News. In particular Hodge is quoted as stating “It was very, very thoroughly fact-checked over the course of three months,” and “A lot of what people are describing as errors are differences of opinion about the data.”

I sincerely hope these are misquotes. If they are not, it demonstrates that Mr. Hodge is unqualified to edit articles relevant to science and cannot differentiate between fact and opinion. To characterise research published in credible peer-reviewed scientific journals and the opinions of people with no track record of published AIDS research as differences of opinion is to have a very flawed understanding of truth. Farber’s article was not simply provocative or controversial, it is factually incorrect and unfair.

Hodge is further quoted as claiming that the story was not about whether HIV is the cause of AIDS. This is ridiculous. The story contains numerous assertions related to HIV as the cause of AIDS. Hodge is quoted that the story is rather about the mismanagement of drug studies and the censoring of debate. While this is certainly part of the focus of Farber’s story and an important topic to cover, Farber has covered this part of the story incompetently and unfairly.

To save its good reputation, Harper’s should do the following:

* Withdraw editorial support for Farber’s article and publish this withdrawal on the Harper’s Magazine website.

* Publish a retraction in the April or May issue of Harper’s Magazine and on the website immediately.

* Publish the list of errors and corrections in a prominent position on the website as soon as you have been able to fact-check it (the fact-checkers obviously should not include the individuals who “fact-checked” Ms. Farber’s article, or any other individuals suggested to you by her, or them).

* Publish a general rebuttal of the Farber piece in the April or May issue of Harper’s Magazine. One or more of the authors of the errors’ document will prepare such a rebuttal once we hear from you that you will print it.

* Undertake to review Harper’s fact-checking process, with special regard to articles on science (the common procedure of a writer suggesting fact-checkers for the article is seriously flawed).

We expect a satisfactory response from Harper’s by Monday evening.

Regards, Nathan Geffen

download attachment: “Errors in Farber article in Harpers” (pdf) (273 KB)

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