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.

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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blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.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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House of Numbers savaged by Times on cue

Jeannette Catsoulis, resident pit bull, unleashed on Leung

Naive review compares HIV skepticism with questioning gravity

But can Times afford to open this can of worms?

Brent Leung sits in the cemetery of the once renowned virtues of the New York Times and wonders why his baby was stabbed through the heart by Jeannette  Catsoulis even before it was christened in Manhattan, especially since it appeared that she had not even bothered to think about it.  Surely Jeannette is not a close friend of John Moore of Cornell, but perhaps the editor who assigned her is fully aware of the larger predicament of the Times in covering the topic of HIV/AIDS for 25 years as if it was the paid representative of Anthony Fauci of NIAID, something which Brett's film might expose unless violently trashed before it takes Manhattan.

The New York Times, reliably irresponsible shill for the HIV/AIDS establishment for the last quarter century, has wasted no time in unleashing its house attack dog on House of Numbers, the revealing documentary on scientific confusion in HIV/AIDS which will open at the Quad tomorrow night.

Second tier critic Jeannette Catsoulis achieves a career peak in AIDS Seen From a Different Angle, her brief dismissal of the film in tomorrow’s paper, combining a vindictive level of nastiness about the unfortunate director Brent Leung’s work with zero evidence that she has actually viewed with any real attention more than the film’s trailer:

AIDS Seen From a Different Angle
By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
Published: September 4, 2009

Couched as a “personal journey” through the history of H.I.V. and AIDS, “House of Numbers” is actually a weaselly support pamphlet for AIDS denialists. Trafficking in irresponsible inferences and unsupported conclusions, the filmmaker Brent Leung offers himself as suave docent through a globe-trotting pseudo-investigation that should raise the hackles of anyone with even a glancing knowledge of the basic rules of reasoning.

Assembled from interview fragments with doctors, scientists, journalists and others, the film cobbles together an insinuating argument against the existence of H.I.V. as a virus and AIDS as the resulting disease. Among the many inflammatory claims is that diagnosis is a pharmaceutical-industry ruse to sell complex drug therapies (which the film then presents as the real cause of the syndrome we identify as AIDS). Evidence to support this and other highly dangerous contentions is found not in verifiable statistics (house of numbers, my foot) but in the impassioned anecdotes of individuals who have outlived the expectations of an H.I.V.-positive diagnosis.

Rife with fuzzy logic (most people with AIDS live in poverty, therefore poverty causes AIDS) and a relentless fudging of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions, this willfully ignorant film portrays minor areas of scientific disagreement as “a research community in disarray” and diagnostic testing as a waste of time. A few months ago 18 angry doctors and scientists interviewed in the film issued a statement claiming that Mr. Leung “acted deceitfully and unethically” when recruiting them and that his film “perpetuates pseudoscience and myths.”

Mr. Leung said in a recent interview, “All we do is raise questions.” Perhaps his next film will question the existence of gravity.

HOUSE OF NUMBERS
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Produced, directed and edited by Brent Leung; written by Llewellyn Chapman. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. This film is not rated.

Luckily a more sober and responsible description of House of Numbers is carried in the Movie section on line (House of Numbers (2009), otherwise this childish diatribe would discourage too many people from seeing what is surely one of the most important documentaries this year, given the light it throws on evidence that billions of dollars have been misspent and and countless lives needlessly destroyed by the HIV/AIDS juggernaut:

Review Summary

What is HIV? What is AIDS? What is being done to cure it? These questions sent Canadian filmmaker Brent Leung on a worldwide journey, from the highest echelons of the medical research establishment to the slums of South Africa, where death and disease are the order of the day. In this up-to-the-minute documentary, he observes that although AIDS has been front-page news for over 28 years, it is barely understood. Despite the great effort, time, and money spent, no cure is in sight. ~ Baseline StudioSystems

We are familiar with Catsoulis’s unjustly scathing style, for example, in attacking America the Beautiful last year, as if she would like to have hung, drawn and quartered the director, Darryl Roberts, of that interesting and personal essay on the ways in which the obsession with good looks is distorting American lives, apparently because the film was not sophisticated enough in content and style to suit her.

America the Beautiful
August 1, 2008
What You See
By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
Published: August 1, 2008

Clueless, directionless and altogether pointless, “America the Beautiful” will outrage only those who have spent the last 50 years in suspended animation. Paddling in the shallow end of a very deep pool, the writer and director Darryl Roberts bumbles his way through a hodgepodge of impressions about our national quest for physical perfection before suggesting — wait for it — that real beauty is on the inside. I feel enlightened already.

Stuffed with empty sound bites from the likes of Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton, this fabulously inept documentary aims much of its ire at the beauty industry’s purported tyranny of impressionable young women. Ignoring writers who have spent their careers studying this issue (including Jean Kilbourne and her pioneering video series, “Killing Us Softly”), Mr. Roberts conducts embarrassingly naïve and occasionally creepy interviews with young girls concerned about their body image. Though what we can learn from a close-up of a 12-year-old model’s naked thigh is not precisely clear.

Displaying an astonishing degree of ignorance about his chosen subject (“What’s a six-pack?”), Mr. Roberts zigzags from eating disorders to music videos to Eve Ensler chatting about — what else? — designer vaginas, without drawing breath or conclusions. If he had, he might have noticed that the tragic story of that 12-year-old model offered all the material his movie needed.

“America the Beautiful” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Flesh, fantasy and four-letter words.

Minor critics have always found it easiest to make a name for themselves by showing they are cleverer and more literate than their hapless victims, but we always thought that one of the virtues of the Times was that, like the New Yorker, it employs people who are both skillful and mature enough to please without showing off at their subject’s expense.

You can judge for yourself whether to take Catsoulis’s reviews at face value at Metacritic’s listing of her reviews, which suggest that the Times editors have not, after 247 of them, yet seen fit to send her to major releases, and we can imagine why.

The shame of the Times

In this case, however, one imagines that the politics of the Times in this arena dictated that the editors unleash their pet movie pit bull for a guaranteed throat ripping lest the film gain any traction in New York.

For God forbid that this documentary should be in contention for an Oscar, let alone win one, when it threatens to expose the foolishly one sided Times coverage of HIV/AIDS and its supposed science since 1984.

Even their science reporters, in particular medical reporter Lawrence Altman, write about HIV/AIDS as if they were suddenly unaware that paradigms shift in science all the time as they are reviewed and displaced by better notions, and that the process is made doubly difficult when vast amounts of money and careers are invested in the standard wisdom.

That the Times should have taken sides against Peter Duesberg, the leading light of the field of retrovirus research, ever since he rejected the notion that HIV accounted for AIDS, is unforgivable. And it creates an almost insurmountable barrier to reversing course now that Duesberg’s view is more and more confirmed with every passing year of non-achievement in the field.

If House of Numbers and its message were to gain the audience and respect it deserves (see the LA Times in our previous post for an example of a rational reaction to the film) where would that leave the Times, now struggling financially while trying to leave behind the very serious embarrassments of fiction on the front page and other errors of the last few years?

The irony is that the great newspaper is turning its reporters attention more and more to investigative exposes of waste and venality. Could its tattered reputation survive the revelation that for 25 years its own science reporters and editors have been hoodwinked by Anthony Fauci, Bob Gallo, David Baltimore, Max Essex and John Moore into writing pr for the WorldCom of science?

9 Responses to “House of Numbers savaged by Times on cue”

  1. Baby Pong Says:

    The bankruptcy of this “great newspaper” would be cause for worldwide celebration and rejoicing, even if the blogmeister would miss his beloved Sunday “thump.”

  2. Baby Pong Says:

    But you can also bet that, if it came to that, Obama would bail out the Times, like he did the other pillars of the establishment, the banks and brokerage houses. That would be lovely, as then we would have no more argument that the US has a state-controlled media, which it has, de facto, now.

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    Not sure that your implication that there are puppetmeisters running the Times from some Government office – the White House, NIAID? – is accurate. How about the simple anaesthetizing cosiness of being within the secure thick walls of the castle? The New York Times feels like a Portuguese possada when you are inside being shown around by a music critic, as we were once.

    Poussadas have 15 foot thick walls and are the place to take yourself or your friends who suffer from a scare eg being hijacked by terrorists who don’t like British or American passports, investigated by the albeit purblind staff of the SEC, or the like. Very peaceful backwaters with excellent food and quiet gardens in which to stroll, stone paved verandahs with fountains to sip the best port, and so on. They are monasteries turned into hotels after the Portuguese set a very fine example in the thirties by kicking out the monks and the nuns.

    All is well one feels in the depths of such a building, surrounded by like minded people who know the difference between valid established verities and kooky crackpot superficially attractive nonsense peddled by no account outsiders or members of the club who have gone loony. The whole art of reporting the news reliably consists of knowing the difference, as those who come from the right background can be counted upon to do. Who can dispute such notions, so pleasing to those who are inside the moat?

    Noun 1. cosiness – a state of warm snug comfort
    coziness, snugness
    comfort, comfortableness – a state of being relaxed and feeling no pain; “he is a man who enjoys his comfort”; “she longed for the comfortableness of her armchair”

  4. jtdeshong Says:

    Uhm, three responses. Well, two actually.
    I thought HON was all the rage?!?!
    JTD

  5. Truthseeker Says:

    You have to catch up with HON on the later post, DeShong/Maria. Also one just coming up monitoring Cambridge and other welcomes.

  6. yello Says:

    Orac and to an extent PZ Myers are whining over Bill Maher receiving the Richard Dawkins Award.

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/10/my_last_entry_on_the_maher_issue_probabl.php

    Usual snide remarks on anti-vaccination,HIV?AIDS questioning and alternative medicine in general. Orac is also a bit ticked off at PZ for not totally excoriating Mr. Maher it seems.

  7. Truthseeker Says:

    There are only two things, science and opinion; the former yields knowledge, the latter ignorance. – Hippocrates, Law (5th-6th Century BC)”

    Thanks, yello, interesting tempest in a teapot about Maher, who should be admired by all who genuinely think freely and independently. Here we have atheists as believers, after all , their new faith being establishment science, however irrational.

    But we admire your fortitude. Why any intelligent person should read long into such threads is beyond us, having glanced at that 539 comment monster at RichardDawkins.net and some way into the Orac 109 comment thread. They offer virtually no information of any interest, and parade top of the head personal opinion and banal points up and down as if they were of interest to others, apparently as part of a process of forming “swarm intelligence”, as in

    This isn’t about Richard Dawkins sitting around doing Google searches. The point is that with networked media, these things are not dependent on a single individual’s research. There is swarm intelligence. And within that swarm certain individuals could have voiced their concerns much more loudly. (Orac 36 by Colugo)

    Swarm intelligence seems to be a very suitable and relevant concept, since it appears that what is happening is that crowds of partially informed but mostly uninformed posters sound off in some kind of effort to bring their opinions in line with others to provide them with (one assumes) psychological comfort and supposed influence eg on Dawkins, which I would hope is imaginary(the influence on Dawkins) but fear judging from the post signed “Richard” and offering a “Group hug. Bill Maher excepted, of course.”, that Dawkins is grateful for the group support.

    It suggests exactly what is wrong about the process so many people follow today in forming judgments and opinions, so well exposed on the Web to the horror of any educated person, let alone genuine scientist or other truth seeker. They seek to join with groups flying in the same direction and once part of the swarm of starlings or bees they favor, fly in perfect formation despite sudden irrational twists and turns and all roost in the same tree or settle in the same hive.

    It is disappointing to see that atheists include large numbers of people subject to that coordinating impulse when one would have thought they were by definition independent thinkers. But what seems to be happening in this case that they have decided that Science and Reason are their new Gods and that this equates with the established wisdom in any sphere, from religious philosophy to medicine. In other words, they are not independent thinkers at all, but conformists to a different ruling notion, that is all.

    Why any intelligent thinking person should want to read through too many of their comments is beyond us, except to confirm that the world of Web comment is largely to be avoided. We encountered a fine example of the ability of the any Web thread to derail any constructive exchange and blunt any inclination one might have to enlighten others on the supposition that any such thing is possible with the recent two posts at The New Humanist, Was I conned by AIDS-denialists? and A week of humble pie, where one Caspar Melville, who may or may not be an editor or the editor of the New Humanist Magazine of the Rationalist Association in London (“promoting reason, debate and free thought since 1885”), reported on seeing House of Numbers at its recent Cambridge showing and participating in a panel there, and afterwards having lunch with Brent Leung, and others.

    Seems Caspar was impressed with House of Numbers and its message that all is not well in the House of HIV?AIDS – on evidence mainly issuing from the mouths of the generals of the field, who spoke freely to Mr Leung on many points on which they proved to agree with the “denialists” they had always vilified, as noted in the next post – until he was (it appears) got at by the HIV defenders and brought into line, whereupon he ate humble pie for even briefly imagining that they were misleading the public.

    Several stalwarts of the HIV dissident persuasion attempted to encourage Caspar in his briefly non-PC judgment since he appeared to be open minded at the start, as befits an atheist, but despite copious postings by one “criticnyc” and others expending their best reason and reframing explanation on this potential convert to rational thought in the tortured topic of HIV/AIDS, the HIV defense squad of “Snout” “Bennett” and others soon had the man back in the conformist fold.

    Once again we were forced to the unwelcome conclusion that the percentage of people who are actually capable of examining their own premises if those premises were acquired by taking conventional wisdom for granted is very, very low, and few are to be found on Web comment threads, which are mainly venues for sheep to huddle and baa and asses to bray in unison with whomever they have chosen to shepherd them, such as Dawkins, or the fine fellows who lead HIV?AIDS patients down the garden path.

    Thank God few of them turn up here for long. We have nothing but admiration for those who do think for themselves and are willing to take them on, a fool’s errand if there ever was one. We note that Robert Houston has succeeded in silencing De Shong with facts, though, for once. Congratulations, Bob!

    We are referring to the last two Comments at the misleadingly titled DumbandDumbee post, Celia Farber, Thank You for Admitting You Can Make A Mistake:

    ————————————-
    September 21, 2009 9:44 PM
    jtdeshong said…
    Oh, come on Houston, do you think I am stupid?
    How can you say that “by asking her readers, Ms. Farber rapidly obtained useful answers with links to official sources”? If that is true, Ms. Farber would have had to tell you that, as she did not share this info on her site! You, Mr. Houston are the only one of her readers that sent in any link! Jeez, you’re getting to be as bad as she is what with the lying and all!!
    As for the numbers I linked, I did so to show that in a matter of minutes I was able to obtain numbers that majorly contradicted hers.
    Also, do not try and make me out as a liar on my own blog! I came right out and stated that the 600 figure I got was from 1999! I also found a number of 660 from 2001 and that is how I extrapolated that the number was increasing and therefore did not go down. Especially not down as low as 73. And the figure you got from WHO was for deaths of previously reported “AIDS cases”! If you do not understand the difference, perhaps you should re~read Snout’s post.
    Go back to your denialist hole, Houston!
    JTD

    September 21, 2009 11:53 PM

    Robert Houston said…

    What I deny, JTD, are your claims that what Ms. Farber wrote in her recent piece “The Vanishing” was “invalid” or “lying.”

    As I showed above, the figure she provided from Burd was correct for reported AIDS deaths in Germany and is confirmed by WHO. She even acknowledged estimates of “less than 1,000” – higher than the 600 and 660 you found for earlier years.

    Asking her readers brought useful answers and links – not only from me but from two others. The information is shared in the Comments for the article and validates what it stated.

    September 30, 2009 9:26 PM
    .
    Robert Houston added…

    P.S. “Snout’s post” on the previous thread concerned Canada, not Germany. You’re the one who’s failed to distinguish between estimated and reported cases, mistakenly using the former to deny the official tabulation of the latter.
    —————————————————–

    PS: Oh oh, sorry, we spoke too soon, after a silence it seems that the irrepressible De Shong, like the Knight in the Monty Python film whose four limbs are chopped off who still challenges his opponent to a fight, has managed another comeback, to equally null effect, as far as reason and evidence goes.

    The point Celia Farber made and which Houston drove home despite De Shong’s amusing antics and insults is that HIV/AIDS deaths are down to negligible numbers in many countries such as Canada and Germany, presumably thanks to increasing drug non-compliance and doctors who increasingly take pity on their patients and let them have their drug holidays and reduce their doses, and give them rational immune boosters such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs, as well as the addition of antibiotics to HAART, the addition of drugs which reduce the uptake of AZT and elevate trace elements such as zinc and selenium, possibly stiffer immigration barriers, and so on.

    But Alas, it is the character of this DumbandDumbee blogger and others of his ilk that confirms our aversion to treating their comment threads and others like them with respect. One can lop off the tail and the darn lizard grows another one, and another, and another!

    Or perhaps a better analogy would be a crowd of zombies arisen from their graves in a horror movie that advance on the few remaining defenders of civilization who haven’t fled with horrid rotting flesh and unraveling bandages proving every scientifically and rationally reasoned blow ineffectual.

    You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? – Joseph Welch, Army-McCarthy Hearings, 9 June 1954

  8. Susysmith8485 Says:

    Does anyone know how to contact the webmaster via email? On the main page it says this:

    anthony ((nospam))(at)((nospam)) scienceguardian.com

    But I don’t know what that means!

  9. Truthseeker Says:

    It means the email address is that line of text but with the “no spam” guard words taken out and the sign @ used instead of “at”. All that is done to avoid the reading and use of the email address by spam bots.

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