Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

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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.

HONOR ROLL OF SCIENTIFIC TRUTHSEEKERS

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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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).

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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 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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Global warming: does industry funding make scientist a liar?


Utilities pony up for Michaels, who resists consensus

Which paradigm is most distorted by money?

Tucked away on page 26 of the Times today, this AP report: Utilities Pay Scientist Ally On Warming. It raises the age old question, can scientist accept funding from industry without being compromised, at least in reputation, and is that stain justified?

On reputation the answer seems to be, no. As soon as the Times carries the story, the typical reader will reject him as one of the bad guys. Whether this is justified or not, however, is not so easy to decide.

In a nutshell: Virginia’s state climatologist, Patrick J. Michaels, is a fellow of the Cato Institute and a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. He doesn’t agree with the consensus on global warming and has a staff who analyse other scientists’ global warming research. After he complained in public to “Western business leaders” about running out of money, a utility company passed the hat and raised $250,000 so far in pledges and contributions.

WASHINGTON, July 27 — Coal-burning utilities are contributing money to one of the few remaining climate scientists openly critical of the broad consensus that fossil fuel emissions are intensifying global warming….

The critic, Patrick J. Michaels, is a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and Virginia’s state climatologist.

Dr. Michaels told Western business leaders last year that he was running out of money for his analyses of other scientists’ global warming research. So a Colorado utility organized a collection campaign for him last week and has raised at least $150,000 in donations and pledges….

This is a classic case of industry buying science to back up its anti-environmental agenda,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of the Washington advocacy group Clean Air Watch.

Others, however, view it as the type of lobbying that goes along with many divisive issues. One environmental scientist, Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford University and current editor in chief of the journal Science, said skeptics like Dr. Michaels were lobbyists more than researchers.

“I don’t think it’s unethical any more than most lobbying is unethical,” Dr. Kennedy said….

Dr. Michaels said the money would help pay his staff.

“Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question,” he said.

Come on Dr Michaels, don’t be ingenuous, this is news precisely because of the suspicion that he who pays the piper calls the tune. This is “industry buying science”, says the advocacy group president. But is it? Let’s try defending him.

Seven reasons to take industry money

First, since Michaels formed his views by himself, as far as we know, and has already made them clear all over the place, the money is not going to change them, is it? As well as journal articles, he has written columns and a book on the topic, “Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media.”

Secondly, why shouldn’t he accept money from people who like his research because of conclusions he has already come to? He needs money to do work, just like everyone else. Someone has to pay fo his research staff. Who else is going to give him money? Should he apply only to private foundations which don’t have a position on the issue? If so, where are they, and even if he can find them, why should they care to give him money unless he fits their agenda in some way?

Third, OK, maybe there are foundations who support good science, period, and don’t care how it comes out. They must want to support scientists who just want to analyze the issue objectively, independently of politics.

But is there any example of this you know of? The only one we know of is Robert Leppo, the one man among six million millionaires who stepped forward to fund Peter Duesberg in combating the HIV/AIDS paradigm and continuing his vital cancer research. He doesn’t care in the end whether Duesberg is right on the science of HIV?AIDS, though he trusts him as a fine scientist to get it right, he is simply concerned as a libertarian with Duesberg’s ability to do excellent research without being ostracized and unfunded by the tyrannical and vengeful censorship imposed on HIV?AIDS paradigm reviewers.

Sure, all patrons everywhere will receive special consideration from their beneficiaries. Even Duesberg’s actions and ideas are going to be circumscribed in some way in his dealings with Leppo. He probably won’t get into a heated argument with him over politics, for example. But will he change his scientific ideas? Assuredly not, since he will not be asked to by a patron who has no investment in the issue except the freedom of science.

Fourthly, of course, Michaels sounds ingenuous when he says ““Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question.” The problem he has to deal with is that we all think that his objectivity will be influenced by his gratitude towards utility company executives. If he changes his conclusion too radically, after all, their support will evaporate. But what he is saying here out loud is that he doesn’t expect it will be influenced. He doesn’t view the utilities as his puppetmasters. He rejects the suspicions of those who do not trust him to make up his mind on the basis of good research with an independent mind. Is there any proof that he is lying?

Fifthly, reason also indicates he might even actively resist bias and therefore acquire a little bias in the other direction, pushed also by the embarrassing attacks of global warming activists and the Times coverage.

Sixth, if he does change his position radically after receiving the funds, he will then be admired by others for his integrity, and he can hope to find support from them. So receiving the funds does not prevent him from changing his conclusions, at least after a decent interval, to avoid giving the impression that he took money under false pretenses.

Seventh, he has already shown integrity by taking a stand against the consensus, placing him in an embarrassing minority position, not to mention making him a suspect as an industry tool.

Anti-consensus doesn’t mean bad guy, either

All these factors seem to argue that Michaels shouldn’t be automatically condemned for his industry support. On the other hand, people being what they are…somehow we know that the money is tainted… don’t we?

We admit we can’t really make up our mind where it all comes out, and we empathize with the editor in chief of Science, Donald Kennedy, who calls Michaels both a bad guy and a good guy – a “lobbyist more than a researcher”, yet adds that “lobbying is not unethical”. Huh? Doesn’t combining both roles compromise the research more than the acceptance of industry money?

Perhaps not if Michaels genuinely feels strongly about conclusions he has come to independently. Why shouldn’t he lobby for his own views? He has reason to be proud of them if he argues against a huge consensus, and is not stupid, because he thereby proves he is a courageous and principled man, a man of integrity. Unless and until he is rewarded for it with sizeable industry money, that is. Then we have to wonder if that was the motivation all along.

Trouble is that outsiders cannot judge

In the end, perhaps as scientists who look for evidence we should reject all such suspicions as irrelevant and unprovable speculation that intelligent people should ignore. Perhaps Michaels’ views should stand or fall according to whether it is supported by the data he points to.

That would get rid of all the emotional and political smog that obscures the view.

But most people are not able to assess the vast scientific data themselves, so they have to rely on reputation and credentials, and for other scientists to assess the issue independently, and not be biased against Michaels just because he is against a vast consensus.

For consensus is not a guarantee of truth in science. By definition, each time a paradigm is replaced consensus is proved wrong. Science is not a democracy and its truths are not decided by vote.

It would much easier if all scientists were very intelligent and unbiased and had the time to give complex issues their due, but Alas this is not the case, as HIV?AIDS has shown.

This is why the unanswered questions in HIV?AIDS must be debated and solved instead of censored. It has the most important lesson of all to teach us, which is that modern science with all its panoply of technology and expertise can still make grand mistakes which send the consensus in the wrong direction.

When political intervention sends consensus down the wrong path, HIV?AIDS shows, and censorship prevents review of the situation, consensus consolidates and the lesser minds in the field join the compromised leaders in defending the paradigm from criticism.

What is overlooked is that overturning consensus is the normal process of progress in science.

Money is the root of bad science

Simply put, the tyranny of power politics can kill good science and promote bad as rapidly as it can kill democracy. Big money is the death of science, because big money is power. Since apparently the worst case of this to date is HIV?AIDS, this is why it will be good for all of science to break the NIAID censorship and expose the paradigm to public review

That is why Dr Michaels should get his funding from some other source, and why society should help him do so, even though the consensus says he is wrong.

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The New York Times

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July 28, 2006

Utilities Pay Scientist Ally on Warming

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON, July 27 — Coal-burning utilities are contributing money to one of the few remaining climate scientists openly critical of the broad consensus that fossil fuel emissions are intensifying global warming.

The critic, Patrick J. Michaels, is a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and Virginia’s state climatologist.

Dr. Michaels told Western business leaders last year that he was running out of money for his analyses of other scientists’ global warming research. So a Colorado utility organized a collection campaign for him last week and has raised at least $150,000 in donations and pledges.

The utility, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, based in Sedalia, Colo., has given Dr. Michaels $100,000 of its own, said Stanley R. Lewandowski Jr., its general manager. Mr. Lewandowski said that one company planned to give $50,000 and that a third planned to contribute to Dr. Michaels next year.

“We cannot allow the discussion to be monopolized by the alarmists,” Mr. Lewandowski wrote in a July 17 letter to 50 other utilities. He also called on other electric cooperatives to undertake a counterattack on “alarmist” scientists and specifically Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” which lays much of the blame for global warming on heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

Mr. Lewandowski and Dr. Michaels, who holds a Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin, have openly acknowledged the donations and say they see no problem. But some environmental advocates say the effort clearly poses a conflict of interest.

“This is a classic case of industry buying science to back up its anti-environmental agenda,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of the Washington advocacy group Clean Air Watch.

Others, however, view it as the type of lobbying that goes along with many divisive issues. One environmental scientist, Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford University and current editor in chief of the journal Science, said skeptics like Dr. Michaels were lobbyists more than researchers.

“I don’t think it’s unethical any more than most lobbying is unethical,” Dr. Kennedy said.

Dr. Michaels is best known for his newspaper opinion columns and books, including “Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media.” He also writes research articles published in scientific journals.

He has been quoted by major newspapers more than 150 times in the last two years, according to a LexisNexis database search. He and Mr. Lewandowski say that their side of global warming is not being heard and that the donations resulted from a speech Dr. Michaels gave to the Western Business Roundtable last fall.

Dr. Michaels said the money would help pay his staff.

“Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question,” he said.

Is there a scientific consensus on global warming?

What we need is a disinterested observer. Here we are, an article written today by a history of science professor who did the study on the topic, called Naomi Oreskes:
PERSPECTIVE”>Global warming: Signed, sealed and delivered

By Naomi Oreskes

Yes, she says. There is a consensus. She did the study, and contrary to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Richard Lindzen recently, it has not been refuted. And a history of science professor must be disinterested, surely, unless she is pally with everybody in the field, which come to think of it, is likely:

To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the scientific community. To a historian of science like me, this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new ideas and evidence.

Those few who refuse to accept it are not ignorant, but they are stubborn. They are not unintelligent, but they are stuck on details that cloud the larger issue. Scientific communities include tortoises and hares, mavericks and mules.

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Global warming: Signed, sealed and delivered

By NAOMI ORESKES

07/30/2006

An op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal a month ago claimed that a published study affirming the existence of a scientific consensus on the reality of global warming had been refuted. This charge was repeated again in a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

I am the author of that study, which appeared two years ago in the journal Science, and I’m here to tell you that the consensus stands. The argument put forward in the Wall Street Journal was based on an Internet posting; it has not appeared in a peer-reviewed journal — the normal way to challenge an academic finding. (The Wall Street Journal didn’t even get my name right!)

My study demonstrated that there is no significant disagreement within the scientific community that the Earth is warming and that human activities are the principal cause.

Papers that continue to rehash arguments that have already been addressed and questions that have already been answered will, of course, be rejected by scientific journals, and this explains my findings. Not a single paper in a large sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the National Academy of Sciences, that “most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Since the 1950s, scientists have understood that greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels could have serious effects on Earth’s climate. When the 1980s proved to be the hottest decade on record, and as predictions of climate models started to come true, scientists increasingly saw global warming as cause for concern.

International evaluation

In 1988, the World Meteorological Association and the United Nations Environment Program joined forces to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action. The panel has issued three assessments (1990, 1995, 2001), representing the combined expertise of 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, and a fourth report is due out shortly.

Its conclusions — global warming is occurring, humans have a major role in it — have been ratified by scientists around the world in published scientific papers, in statements issued by professional scientific societies and in reports of the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society and many other national and royal academies of science worldwide. Even the Bush administration accepts the fundamental findings. As President Bush’s science adviser, John Marburger III, said last year in a speech: “The climate is changing; the Earth is warming.”

To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the scientific community. To a historian of science like me, this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new ideas and evidence. This is especially true when the new evidence strikes at their core beliefs and values.

Earth scientists long believed that humans were insignificant in comparison with the vastness of geological time and the power of geophysical forces. For this reason, many were reluctant to accept that humans had become a force of nature, and it took decades for the present understanding to be achieved.

Those few who refuse to accept it are not ignorant, but they are stubborn. They are not unintelligent, but they are stuck on details that cloud the larger issue. Scientific communities include tortoises and hares, mavericks and mules.

A historical example will help to make the point. In the 1920s, the distinguished Cambridge geophysicist Harold Jeffreys rejected the idea of continental drift on the grounds of physical impossibility. In the 1950s, geologists and geophysicists began to accumulate overwhelming evidence of the reality of continental motion, even though the physics of it was poorly understood. By the late 1960s, the theory of plate tectonics was on the road to near-universal acceptance.

Yet Jeffreys, by then Sir Harold, stubbornly refused to accept the new evidence, repeating his old arguments about the impossibility of the thing. He was a great man, but he had become a scientific mule.

For a while, journals continued to publish Jeffreys’ arguments, but after a while he had nothing new to say. He died denying plate tectonics. The scientific debate was over

So it is with climate change today. As American geologist Harry Hess said in the 1960s about plate tectonics, one can quibble about the details, but the overall picture is clear.

Yet some climate-change deniers insist that the observed changes might be natural, perhaps caused by variations in solar irradiance or other forces we don’t yet understand. Perhaps there are other explanations for the receding glaciers. But “perhaps” is not evidence.

The greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton, warned against this tendency more than three centuries ago. Writing in “Principia Mathematica” in 1687, he noted that once scientists had successfully drawn conclusions by “general induction from phenomena,” then those conclusions had to be held as “accurately or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined.”

Climate-change deniers can imagine all the hypotheses they like, but it will not change the facts nor “the general induction from the phenomena.”

None of this is to say that there are no uncertainties left — there are always uncertainties in any live science. Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not “whether” but “how much” and “how soon.” And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.

Naomi Oreskes is a history of science professor at the University of California, San Diego.

(updated 10/3/2005)

Of course, one cannot help wondering if Naomi is competent to assess whether the consensus is right or not, which is another question. Still, that wasn’t her purpose.

But why do we imagine that she probably categorizes Duesberg as a mule, if she has heard of him at all?

Perhaps she would pause if she learned that Duesberg did not take money from industry.

8 Responses to “Global warming: does industry funding make scientist a liar?”

  1. Robert Houston Says:

    Taking money from the petrochemical industry whose massive pollution he defends is nothing new for Dr. Patrick Michaels. He’s been well-rewarded by that industry since the early 1990’s, as have have other prominent “greenhouse skeptics.” Here, for example, is a 1998 article detailing some of the pay-outs (click HERE). It was written by Ross Gelbspan, a Washington Post reporter and author of the terrific book “Boiling Point” (2005), which has more on Dr. Michaels’ longtime industry funding. In addition, an investigation in Mother Jones (May-June, 2005) found that Michaels had at least seven connections to ExxonMobil-funded groups.The oil and coal industry are very concerned about the important new movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, narrated by Al Gore, which presents scientific evidence for the intensifying problem of global warming and exposes some of the deceptions of the “greenhouse skeptics”. As Donald Kennedy said, it is not unethical to be a lobbyist for industry. When making scientific claims, however, a conflict-of-interest in the funding sources is relevant information which should be made public. Many medical journals, for example, do require that such conflicts be revealed by the authors of papers (e.g., that they’re funded by the drug company making the drug that they’re extolling). Some of the “greenhouse skeptics,” such as Dr. Fred Singer, however, have falsely asserted that they receive no payments from the fossil fuels industry, when in fact, as Gelbspan has documented, Singer was listed by ExxonMobil as being paid up to $75,000 by them in one year.In fairness to Dr. Singer, however, it should be noted that he has revised his position in response to the weight of accumulating scientific evidence for global warming. Whereas for 20 years his repeated mantra was that “There is no convincing evidence that the global climate is actually warming,” he reversed himself last year. In a letter to the Christian Science Monitor (4/22/05, Opinion Sec., p. 8), he wrote: “I do not deny the principle of global warming… I believe the climate is currently warming as a result of the increase of greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect is real.”

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    Robert, you are not clear. Are you accusing Michaels of keeping his funding sources secret? Doesn’t sound like he does. If he doesn’t, then he is an honest fellow unless otherwise proven, isn’t he?Singer is vindicated, by your account, an honest fellow who changes his mind when the data persuades him, and is willing to flout the preferences of those who fund him. This is a man of principle. Right or wrong.The point of the post is to say that people need to know that the consensus can be wrong, even if all the good people are on its side. Righteous men can be on the wrong side. And global warming is the most complex system known, which even a pile of supercomputers cannot yet model efffectively, l;ast we looked.Perhaps you feel that the horrendously complex global weather system analysis can be solved by Al Gore and a documentary filmmaker in an hour and a half. Perhaps you feel that Jim Hansen must be right because he is such an obviously decent human being and scientist. Sure, we’ll go along with that. We don’t know better. But what HIV?AIDS shows is that consensus may mean much less than we think, for politics and emotion can twist even the simplest of bad science into grand schemes accepted by all even if rotten at the core. In that case the decent good scientist is against the consensus.If you feel the problem is soluble, tell us how you solved it.

  3. Robert Houston Says:

    The impression conveyed by this post and especially by the articles on which it was based is that funding by the fossil fuels industry is a new occurrence in Dr. Michaels’ career. I merely pointed out that he has a long history of receiving such funding. Has he kept his sources secret, you asked. The 1998 article I cited indicated that he was funded by the oil and coal industry at about 10 times the amount that he acknowledged. Dr. Singer is the one who tries to claim publicly that he is not funded by such industries despite documentation that he certainly is. One could view Dr. Singer’s recent concession that global warming “is real” and is “a result of the increase of greenhouse gases” as indicating, as you suggest, that he’s “an honest fellow” and “a man of principle.” On the other hand, even a rear-guard effort such as his must at some point concede the obvious if it hopes to be taken seriously and not dismissed as ridiculous. His major message remains the same as Dr. Michaels: that we should do nothing about the problem and just enjoy the warmth, i.e., let their benefactors keep profiteering, unrestrained by any pollution controls.Truthseeker, with all respect, you seem to have a romantic notion that the key conflict is between the scientific minority and the consensus, and even that the minority is usually right. On numerous issues, however, the modern scientific consensus is correct, e.g., that the earth is round and circles the sun. The major distortion in truth-seeing is the influence of big money and power wielded by industry and government. This is what distorts the science in HIV?AIDS as well as in global warming.

  4. Truthseeker Says:

    Truthseeker, with all respect, you seem to have a romantic notion that the key conflict is between the scientific minority and the consensus, and even that the minority is usually right. On numerous issues, however, the modern scientific consensus is correct, e.g., that the earth is round and circles the sun. The major distortion in truth-seeing is the influence of big money and power wielded by industry and government. This is what distorts the science in HIV?AIDS as well as in global warming.

    Well, the earth going around the sun isn’t a view so much as a fact. We have to be talking about things where judgement enters in, don’t we?

    We don’t know enough examples to generalize about how likely minorities are to be right, but surely when paradigms are overthrown, as they regularly are in science, the revolutionaries are usually in the minority at the beginning, in fact, a minority of one or two is usually how it starts off, isn’t that right?

    You state that the majority is often right and then quote an extreme instance, the earth going around the sun, where there are probably no scientists of any kind, even amateurs, who oppose the consensus. That’s more a fact than a consensus view or a judgement. To argue that the consensus these days is usually right, you would have to produce a number of less extreme examples, don’t you?

    Logic indicates that there is typically no way of establishing that the consensus is correct on any topic in any field. How would we find out? You are merely expressing a comfortable optimism in your assessment of current consensuses in scientific fields as largely right, when you have no means of proving it to be true. All you can state is whether you agree or disagree with the consensus.

    If you do agree with a consensus, you can only mean that your own reading of the literature and assessment of relevant papers leads you to conclude that the consensus judgement on a topic, say cholesterol level being important in causing heart attacks, is true. But if you consider that for a minute, you will appreciate that it is tautological.

    It is only too likely that the scientific literature will agree with the consensus than disagree with it, since the consensus wrote it. In fact, there is probably no counter example, except in HIV?AIDS. This is what makes the field unique, and so worth studying. The consensus in HIV?AIDS utterly ignores relevant literature in supporting the paradigm HIV=AIDS, that is to say, the critique of the paradigm, and misinterprets or ignores much of its own mainstream findings.

    The only measure of rightness or wrongness we have is the published peer reviewed literature, however flawed it might be. That and our own minds, operated independently, which is also a phenomenon that seems to be lacking in HIV?AIDS.

    But maybe we shouldn’t be using the idea of consensus at all, when it is really only the view of a handful of leaders which prevails in most sciences.

  5. Robert Houston Says:

    Truthseeker, you suggest that anything that is purely factual cannot be an example of the consensus being proved right. The issue of global warming, however, does center around a few key facts (that is, the factual nature of a few key premises). These are: 1) that the average global temperature has increased to the highest levels on record; 2) that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is the highest in 650,000 years; 3) that there is a causal connection between the levels of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and the global temperature; 4) that the burning of fossil fuels is a major factor driving up the CO2 and thereby the temperature.

    As you know, the consensus that verified these premises to be proven factual based on the scientific evidence was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Organized by the UN and the World Meteorological Society, the IPCC was the largest and most rigorous peer-reviewed scientific study in history, involving 2000 of the top climate experts from 100 nations. Their 2001 report was described by the Washington Post as “the most comprehensive study on the subject” and as finding “that Earth’s average temperature could rise by as much as 10.4 degrees over the next 100 years – the most rapid change in 10 millenia” (Wash. Post, “Scientists issue dire prediction on warming,” Jan. 23, 2001).

    Standing against these 2000 scientists forming the consensus are less than 10 scientists, termed “Greenhouse Skeptics”, who are generally well-financed by the fossil fuels industry whose interests (and thus profits) they defend. After 15 years of debunking the simple facts stated above, one of their leaders, Dr. Fred Singer, has conceded that the first three are true. They are reduced to debating how much of global warming is due to fossil fuels, and even to suggesting that the warming will be good for agriculture and should be welcomed. Their major recommendation is that nothing should be done that would interfere with the profits of the oil and coal industry.

    This is not an instance of a brave, truth-oriented, public spirited minority standing up to power and money. On the contrary, it’s just another example of some paid-off stooges of the powerful, wealthy vested interests asserting its agenda for maximum profits. Admittedly, the rewards provided may program such scientists to believe in their cause.

    A similar scientific minority was financed by the tobacco industry when evidence began to accumulate for its harmful effects. Two eminent lung surgeons (Drs. Garland and MacDonald), both smokers, were paid by tobacco companies to appear in ads defending cigarettes. One them claimed, “A pack a day keeps lung cancer away.” (He later died of the disease.)

    This is completely different from the situation in HIV$AIDS, where both the consensus and the wealth and power of both industry and government are all on one side. In such a situation, one must respect the genuine motives of a Prof. Duesberg who will stand up for what he believes is true despite the costs inflicted by the reigning interests. A comparable example in climate science is Dr. James Hansen, Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies of NASA, who has defied attempts by the administration to “muzzle him” from speaking out on the reality and peril of the global warming.

  6. Truthseeker Says:

    Robert, thanks for writing what may be the definitive answer to the question we were posing:

    Does the case of Duesberg show that one has to distrust any consensus, if you believe he has shown that in HIV?AIDS the consensus is wrong?

    HIV$AIDS certainly is a very clear example of how the consensus view in a big field naturally acquires artificial attractions – power, position, money, acceptance, collegiality, respect, authority. These artificially build up consensus – the more people join the consensus view, the more advantages they enjoy. Consensus has a network utility. The bigger it is the better it feels.

    Tragically, Duesberg already had these perks, but sacrificed them to tell the ungrateful US public, who after all paid for his work with its taxes, what he saw was wrong about the consensus paradigm in HIV?AIDS.

    In line with this. your persuasive prescription is to follow the money trail. Suspect the work of scientists who are well paid in money and perks for their views, whether they are conscious of the influence or not. Using this meter, we believe Duesberg, given his huge sacrifice, and we suspect Michaels’ work because of his long history of being paid by big money interests who like his views.

    OK, this makes sense, since the money pressure on Duesberg is to be right (useless sacrifice otherwise), while the money pressure on Michaels is to be wrong (or anyway pro-undustry).

    But most people who enjoy the consensus advantages are suspect on the same basis. So maybe we should conclude that, ceteris paribus, the minority view is more likely to be right.

    In fact, given that all revolutions start with minority support, the view that is most likely to be right then is therefore the later, minority view, rather than the earlier, majority view.

    Another reason to believe that HIV$AIDS is wrong!

    Still, there are five practical points that can be made against your theory though, we believe.

    1) suspicion is not fact, and in the Anglo Saxon legal tradition one is innocent until proved guilty, as it should be. Michaels’ may be a man of steel, unbending in the face of temptation. Like Singer, he may even recant a little, to the chagrin of those who thought they had bought him.

    2) is it right to have these kinds of cynical suspicions in the first place? The New York Times does not allow writers for its Travel section to go on junkets (trips paid for by PR agencies or governments) and then report a story on that destination. Is that distrust of their writers valid? Surely if they trust them normally they should also trust them if they go on a junket, say some.

    3) what correlation is there between staying squeaky clean and being right? Can’t be 100%. Duesberg might be straight as a gun barrel and still be wrong, and Michaels could be as twisted as a spiral staircase and still be right, or anyway truly believe in what he says.

    4) fourth, your point that the climate consensus is the most thoroughly peer reviewed consensus in the history of science seems well taken. Since there seem to be only ten well known scientists who hold out against it, it seems unlikely they are right. But this is exactly what people say about dissenters in HIV?AIDS, isn’t it? Too few of them to be right.

    5) it’s not all cakes and ale when you take industry money – there are penalties for being on the wrong side of the consensus in climate science, since it becomes harder to get published (one reason Singer gave for a poor showing in the UN review) and very isolating. Many people will judge you a mule, and suspect your motives.

    So in the end it seems to us the only thing that is black and white in all this is the literature and the data and reasoning it records. That’s why this blog uses it as the arbiter of truth.

    By the way, we like your shorthand for HIV$AIDS. It inspires us to say, once again, if there is anyone in HIV$AIDS reading this who wishes to make us a large offer to shut up please get in touch immediately. We have mentioned this before, but there has been absolutely no response.

    We want to sell out too, Dr Fauci!

    Sorry, late night joke in poor taste.

  7. Claus Says:

    ”But most people who enjoy the consensus advantages are suspect on the same basis. So maybe we should conclude that, ceteris paribus, the minority view is more likely to be right.” (Truthseeker)The correct formulation is: The view backing and backed by established power and wealth is more likely to be suspect, whether it happens to represent a minority or a majority. The resason being that the first law of power and privilige always, always, always is to protect itself, and hence its first victim is always, always, always the search for any other truth or untruth which could threaten it. The fossil fuel industry, tobacco industry, AID$ Inc. and flat-earthers all follow(ed) this rule in identical, predictable patterns which look roughly like this:1. Denying/persecuting/bribing/ignoring 2. When ‘1’ can no longer be pursued in an absolute fashion, go for the scientific ‘draw’ that preserves a status quo in practice.3. When status quo is no longer maintainable, delay, sift the truth, strategic retreat, cover one’s actual track (record)4. When the new ‘truth’ will out, appear the best one can to have all along worked towards that truth, but in a RESPONSIBLE (slow, conservative) manner, damage control, subvert, obscure the full implications of what’s come to light, scape goats, excuses, hold on to power in the new situation. Above all no REAL revolution.In this company, these steps I should think require no explanatory illustrations.

  8. Robert Houston Says:

    Thank you, Truthseeker, for your excellent analysis of the classic scientific conflict of the minority versus the consensus.You wrote, ” So maybe we should conclude that, ceteris parabus, the minority view is more likely to be right.” Although I too would tend too sympathize with an expert minority (because they have defied respectability and risked ostracism by sticking their necks out), the key assumption is “ceteris paribus” (i.e., with other things being the same). A ceteris paribus assumption is actually the basis of experimental science. Such an assumption does not hold, however, when large amounts of money and influence have gone to one side of a conflict, as has occurred in HIV$AIDS as well as in the global warming issue. In any event, I was not putting forth an epistemological principle but merely noting that the consensus can sometimes be right and sometimes wrong, and so can the minority. Correction: I referred in my previous comment to two eminent doctors who were paid by the tobacco industry to defend smoking as beneficial, and described them as “lung surgeons”. Actually Ian MacDonald, MD, was a famous cancer surgeon and the other doctor, Henry Garland, MD, was a cancer radiologist. Investigations indicated that both were paid $50,000 testimonial fees from the tobacco industry. It was Dr. MacDonald who claimed that “A pack a day keeps lung cancer away” (US News &World Report, 8/2/1957). As late as 1964, Dr. Garland was still claiming that there was no evidence of any link between smoking and disease, and that cigarettes were “one of the better tranquilizers.” It was Dr. Garland, a chain smoker, who succumbed to lung cancer.

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