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.


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.

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

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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India welcomes the AIDS-busters

“Spread of AIDS in India Outpaces Scant Treatment Effort” trumpeted page A3 of the New York Times today (Fri May 27), featuring a lurid story by one Somini Sengupta, who appears to be the current Timesperson on the subcontinent forging the narrative which we can all expect over the next year or two. In every anecdotal and statistical respect it matches the conventional AIDS theater staged in the minds of media reporters and readers in New York City and around the world.

Future instalments of this standardized narrative will no doubt detail the expansion of the beachhead AIDS (or perhaps just its testers and storytellers) has now established in India to the tune of 5.1 million believed to be HIV positive among its billion people. Gates and Clinton are enthusiastically financing the expanion of treatment of these unfortunates with the latest antivirals, though luckily these are available in India in their cheaper, generic form costing only $25 a month.

This opening of a second major front in AIDS exports of personnel and promotion also faces a few other obstacles which the AIDS-busters no doubt hope to overcome. The Indian Academy is after all the latest place where Peter Duesberg’s skepticism found a home, in his publication of a massive summary article in the Academy’s Journal of Biosciences in 2003. Are the Indian scientists who vetted the article for publication to be dissed by being ignored?

After all, if they were unable to find any way of rejecting what Duesberg wrote, did they not in effect endorse it, just as the peer reviewers in the US who failed to find fault with Duesberg’s articles in Cancer Research in 1986 and the Proceedings of the National Academy in 1988 also were forced to acknowledge his criticism of HIV was unanswerable?

No doubt the disconnect between the science as established by Indian Academy peer review and the politics and economics of AIDS will continue in India as widely as it has to date everywhere else, with the limited exception of South Africa where Thabo Mbeki has tried to cure this medical-scientific schizophrenia.

After all, since India lacks a leader, as far as we know, comparable to Mbeki, capable of reading the material for himself sufficiently well to perceive the disconnect, and at least call for the scientists to close the gap, it seems unlikely that even Mbeki’s very limited and seemingly crumbling resistance to the invasion of the AIDS busters in South Africa will be repeated in India.

Judging from the narrative of this Times story, even if there is some resistance in India (as there seems to be) it will have no effect on the reporting of Sengupta, which is already in line with the standard tenets of conventional AIDS science. For instance, the death rate of 350 out of 800 in five years mentioned at the end seems in line with the conventional 10 year latent period, at a hospice where the famous cheap antivirals of India have not been available for some reason.

A vast expansion of effort along the conventional lines of AIDS discovery and treatment seems inevitable for India, as TV campaigns help to ferret out the bashful and line them up for service.

In fact, the only question it leaves is one for the HIV skeptics. As the story mentions, it is now an accepted fact in the minds of international AIDS politicians and reporters that AIDS treatment was insufficient in South Africa because the government resisted disputed science, so “the virus exploded”, whereas Brazil is a showcase example of early intervention curbing the spread.

If the skeptics are right, and the spread of the virus is a fantasy induced by the spread of testing, what explanation do they have for Brazil not showing th same “explosion” as South Africa? The answer is that they dispute the testing accuracy and results.

Skeptics would doubt there was ever an “explosion” of any kind in South Africa, where according to journalist-novelist Rian Malan, the statistics are completely untrustworthy extrapolations from a handful of pre-natal clinics, where pregnant women tend to score positive on AIDS tests due to cross-reactions induced by hormones.

No doubt, however, there will certainly be an epidemic of testing in India now.


News: Spread of AIDS in India outpaces scant treatment effort

By Somini Sengupta

New York Times

27 May 2005


MUMBAI – On an ordinary Thursday morning at the city’s largest public hospital, an ordinary group of Indians sat around a table, exchanging advice on life and death.

A video being shown on MTV India, depicting a woman infected by her husband, is part of an effort to combat taboos against discussion of AIDS.

A middle-aged man in a button-down shirt said he had long ago stopped having sex with his wife. A wisp of a woman sat quietly in a black burqa, her large eyes screaming bafflement at what she was being told. A plump woman in a brown sari requested that nothing be mailed to her home, for fear that her family would discover her secret. They were all living with AIDS.

Two counselors issued a stream of instructions. Come to the hospital yourself if you want free medicines. Don’t send relatives. Don’t go to your village for so long this summer that you cannot come back in time for your next dose. Never skip a dose. “There’s no need to be afraid,” one said, though the counselors’ noses were shielded by surgical masks.

The scene in this sunny hallway of J. J. Hospital here in Mumbai, formerly Bombay , offered a front-line snapshot of the first efforts to treat AIDS in India , where stigma, poverty, an anemic public health system and the sheer scale of the pandemic combine in a daunting challenge. The government estimates that India has 5.1 million people infected with H.I.V., second only to South Africa .

Only a year ago did the government start offering free drug therapy. Today, in a country that famously exports low-cost generic AIDS drugs across the world, less than 2 percent of the half-million Indians who are likely to need it receive free treatment.

“Our government works in a snail’s pace,” said Neville Selhore, director of an advocacy group in Delhi called Sahara . “The whole H.I.V. response has been very slow.”

In a country of a billion people, 5.1 million cases are, as the government points out, a drop in the bucket. But as public health workers note, India is at a pivotal moment. It could go the way of South Africa , where a lack of treatment allowed the virus to explode, or that of Brazil , where early and aggressive treatment programs checked the spread of infection.

Given India ‘s population, the AIDS pandemic, if not immediately tackled, could far outstrip the devastation visited on many African countries, AIDS advocates warn. In January the World Health Organization called attention to India , as well as Nigeria and South Africa , for not moving fast enough on treatment.

Among Indians, AIDS already is no longer confined to the high-risk groups who are believed to have been responsible for its early spread: prostitutes, their customers and users of injected drugs. Nor does it remain a city disease. The number of local districts considered high-prevalence areas doubled in 2004.

Perhaps most worrisome, the majority of Indians who are infected do not know that they have the virus or are spreading it. Offering access to treatment, health workers say, is the best way to persuade people to be tested. It is also the only way to quash the stigma still associated with AIDS.

” India is at a real turning point,” said Ira C. Magaziner, chairman of the Clinton Foundation’s H.I.V./AIDS Initiative. “If they can address it now with treatment and prevention programs, they can turn it around.”

[Former President Bill Clinton was in India on Thursday to announce a training program for 150,000 private doctors treating AIDS cases. His visit followed an announcement by the government that it had succeeded in slowing the growth rates of the infection. Compared with 520,000 new infections in 2003, government health officials announced, only 28,000 new cases turned up in 2004.]

Still, the government is behind on its own treatment pledge. Last year, when India began its free drug therapy program, it promised to extend coverage to 100,000 patients by April of this year, but only 8,000 now receive it. The government recently repeated its 100,000 pledge, this time giving itself a deadline of 2007.

The private sector, meanwhile, has proved more aggressive, serving at least 20,000 Indians who have purchased antiretroviral drugs, according to government estimates. But the kinds of doctors treating them, and how well, remains a mystery.

One private practitioner in central Mumbai, Dr. Prakash Bora, said he had tended to 3,500 H.I.V.-positive people in the last 12 years. Patients visit his office, he said, to avoid the crowds, long lines and humiliation associated with the public system. As if on cue one evening, a government clerk walked in. He said he had done everything possible to avoid a public hospital; he had not even disclosed his H.I.V. status to his wife, and he declined to divulge his name to a reporter.

The patient said he had not yet thought about how he would afford antiretroviral therapy if he should need it. At the moment he spends roughly $25 a month for vitamins and the traditional Ayurvedic medicines that Dr. Bora prescribes.

Today, antiretroviral therapy for first-time patients costs about $25 a month at a city pharmacy, a hefty amount for many working-class Indians. Those who develop resistance to the first-line treatment, or those who need an alternative drug “cocktail” pay more than twice that amount. The impact of India’s new patent law, which bars Indian companies from producing new low-cost generic drugs, has yet to be felt.

Sometimes, Dr. Bora said, if patients are buying their own medicines, a crimp in the family budget can force them to go off the medicines, or skip a dose or two to stretch out the prescription.

That so few Indians have gotten government-financed treatment points to a host of problems, from the lack of confidence in public hospitals, to a shortage of trained doctors and supplies in parts of the country, to the scarcity of hospitals and health centers where testing and treatment are available. In short, AIDS has tested the fragility of a public health system financed by less than one percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

In one state, Manipur, the head of the state AIDS agency, Binod Kumar Sharma, said there was simply not enough medicine or money to meet the demand, nor enough equipment for tests. At the moment, he said, 432 people are under treatment, but another 1,500 are eligible.

” India has a long, long way to go in scaling up wide-scale access to testing and treatment,” Dr. Richard Feachem, director of the Geneva-based Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said in a telephone interview. “Can India afford it? Certainly. Does India have the human resources, the institutional resources to mount an effective response? Certainly.”

Of the $107 million allocated by the Global Fund for AIDS prevention and treatment programs in India , only $12 million has been disbursed. Dr. Feachem said that was because of “a certain slowness in utilization of funds.”

For their part, Indian government officials say a hasty distribution of antiretroviral drugs without proper training and infrastructure would cause other problems, including people dropping out of the treatment program. “You cannot just start everything under a tree,” said Dr. S. Y. Quraishi, chief of India ‘s National AIDS Control Organization.

“This is totally new in India ,” Dr. Quraishi said. “One of the problems is that patients themselves have to come forward. As word is going around, people are coming. Their numbers will go up.”

He said that before the end of the year he hoped to make antiretroviral treatment available in 100 hospitals and health centers across India , up from 25 now.

Why so few Indians are able to get treatment came into sharp relief at a Catholic-run hospice in a far-flung suburb in New Mumbai, about an hour’s drive from J. J. Hospital . Only one of the 38 patients housed there gets free treatment from J. J. Hospital . The Catholic nuns who run the hospice, the Sisters of the Destitute, say they have no means to ferry their patients to the hospital, wait in line and return for follow-up appointments.

The hospital asks each patient to bring a relative to monitor treatment. The hospice’s patients have no one to bring. They have no money to commute to and from the hospital. “There are many thousands in Bombay ,” Sister Bede, the administrator, said. “Many many are in need of it.” Of the 850 patients admitted to the hospice in the last five years, Sister Bede said, 350 have died.

Online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/27/international/asia/27aids.html

Source: AHRN Daily News Digest

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