Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

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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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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blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.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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Jonathan Fishbein vindicated by NIH report

An AP story this morning (Mon Jul 4) gives those who believe that the behavior of officials and scientists in AIDS and AIDS drugs has been deplorable reason for confidence. An internal National Institutes of Health (NIH) review confirms some of these suspicions, though not the most serious ones.

According to AP reporter John Solomon, the report judges the AIDS research agency DAIDS (the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID)’s Division of AIDS) as rife with intramural feuding and turf wars, not to mention sexually explicit pranks and expletive-laced emails sent to subordinates.

On the other hand, the AP story makes no mention of the most important allegation of Jonathan Fishbein, the whistleblower who first brought scrutiny to what the NIH now admits is a “troubled” agency. This is the claim that NIH officials actually rewrote a Ugandan study on the effects of nevirapine, a drug aimed at preventing mothers-to-be from infecting their embryos with HIV.

According to this story, the drug was condemned by the study as too dangerous to use, but by the time the report emerged from the office of a certain NIAIDS official, the conclusion was reversed and nevirapine was cleared for administering to whatever unfortunate pregnant Africans are discovered to be “HIV positive”.

The positive spin was forwarded just in time for President Bush’s appearance in Uganda to proclaim that nevirapine would be funded with some of the promised $15 billion in African AIDS aid.

Meanwhile, the way in which the African study was carried out was not, it seems, good enough for the US. So in effect, the drug was forcibly OK’d for Africa but not for the US. To put this plainly, we have a risky drug which is fine to give to pregnant Africans, but not good enough for American mothers, thank you.

This is the story reflected by the full list of allegations at the website that Fishbein and his brother have set up, The Fishbein Brothers’ Honest Doctor site. The list of allegations on that Web site are enough to give any observer pause before accepting the statements of any official of the agency. Apparently, they are not all dealt with in the NIH report, which may well be an attempt at a whitewash, a bluff carried out by admitting and condemning milder pranks.

Meanwhile, the NIH report takes a laughably backhanded crack at Fishbein as well, saying that he should have proceeded with more caution before rushing to find fault with an organization he had barely joined. He should have taken more “time to adapt to the “culture” of the AIDS division before making sweeping changes to improve the agency’s reseearch safety”, according to supervisors.

The NIH report is very specific about the nub of the problem. Fishbein, an “acomplished privaate sector safety expert”, was hired by the NIH in 2003 to improve the safety of its AIDS research.

He soon ran afoul of the deputy director, Dr. Jonathan Kagan, by making a formal complaint about his sexually explicit language and pranks perpetrated on subordinates. He also raised concerns about several studies, including the African one.

The response of the homeboys indicates that sheer stupidity may be the root cause of the troubles at the “troubled” agency. Fishbein was then forced to report to Kagan!

Kagan, who like the division’s director Dr. Edmund Tramont later had to acknowledge that he (Kagan) is given to using “sexually explicit aand colorful language” but (bhoth) protested that no one till Fishbein had ever complained, immediately began efforts to fire the annoying non-teamplayer.

That these efforts were obviously in reprisal was privately noted in a memo from a special adviser to NIH chief Elias A. Zerhouni last August, according to AP’s Solomon, who seems to be rather good at obtaining inside material on the hapless Kagan, who certainly sounds like a real bully.

As if to advertise just how out-of-hand their behavior has become, the agency officials continued with Fishbein’s firing even after two senators wrote to them last week warning them that firing whistleblowers was illegal.

Friday was Fishbein’ last day at the NIH.

Once again, one has to conclude that the NIH officials concerned must have a very strong motive to risk the public attention and embarrassment and escalation of charges this move seems likely to excite.

It reminds us of the Institute of Medicine report recently vindicating the said African report on nevirapine. The accumulation of charges on that issue over more than a year surely indicates something is seriously wrong.

So why risk an attempt at a complete whitewash? Surely because there is an even greater sin to hide.

AIDS science has managed to sweep a mountain of charges on the falsity of its paradigm under the rug for twenty years. Could it be that the NIH officials who have been the ones most responsible for the success of this strategy of evading full inspection are now the ones who will trigger a widening enquiry?

If so, it will demonstrate the truth that it is always the character of wrongdoers which finally emerges to defeat them, and not the efforts of their opponents.

Here is the full AP story, “NIH Review Substantiaates Fired Expert’s Concenrs”:

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NIH Review Substantiates Fired Expert’s Concerns

– By JOHN SOLOMON, Associated Press Writer

Monday, July 4, 2005; Page A02

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s AIDS research agency “is a troubled organization” and its managers have engaged in unnecessary feuding, sexually explicit language and other inappropriate conduct that hampers its global fight against the disease, an internal review found.

The review for the National Institutes of Health director’s office, obtained by The Associated Press, substantiates many of the concerns that whistle-blower Dr. Jonathan Fishbein raised about the agency’s AIDS research division and its senior managers.

The division suffers from “turf battles and rivalries between physicians and Ph.D scientists” and the situation has been “rife for too long,” the report concluded.

Nonetheless, the NIH formally fired Fishbein on Friday, over the objections of several members of Congress. The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee are protesting, saying the firing was an example of whistle-blower punishment.

“Retaliation against an employee for reporting misconduct or voicing concerns is unacceptable, illegal and violates the Whistleblower Protection Act,” Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., wrote the NIH late last week.

“Moreover, it would have a chilling effect on other NIH employees who might makes truthful but critical comments about the NIH,” the senators said.

Citing personnel privacy, NIH officials declined to address the senators’ letter or Fishbein’s termination, except to say that his last day was Friday. In the past, NIH officials have said they were terminating Fishbein for poor performance.

Fishbein, an accomplished private sector safety expert, was hired by the NIH in 2003 to improve the safety of its AIDS research.

He alleges that he was let go because he raised concerns about several studies and filed a formal complaint against one of the division’s managers alleging sexual harassment and hostile workplace.

In a series of recent stories, the AP has reported:

–One of NIH’s AIDS study in Africa violated federal safety regulations.

–Senior NIH managers engaged in sexually explicit pranks and sent expletive-laced e-mails to subordinates.

–NIH-funded researchers used foster children to test AIDS drugs since the late 1980s.

An internal report, written on Aug. 9, 2004, by a special adviser to NIH chief Elias A. Zerhouni but never made public, raised concerns that the NIH’s efforts to fire Fishbein at the very least gave the “appearance of reprisal.”

The report says no documentation was ever provided to Fishbein suggesting poor performance until after he complained about the safety in one sensitive AIDS study and filed a formal complaint alleging that the division’s deputy director was acting unprofessionally with subordinates.

The report said after formally complaining about conduct of the deputy director, Dr. Jonathan Kagan, Fishbein was inexplicably forced to begin reporting to Kagan, who then went ahead with efforts to fire Fishbein.

The report said Kagan and the division’s director, Dr. Edmund Tramont, acknowledged that Kagan “uses sexually explicit and colorful language, saying that no one ever complained until” Fishbein did.

The report broadly condemns the NIH’s Division of AIDS.

“It is clear that DAIDS is a troubled organization,” the report concluded, saying the Fishbein case “is clearly a sketch of a deeper issue.”

“To have the senior management … behave in this manner, spend incredible amounts of time feuding, and writing numerous long e-mails while seemingly unaware of the need for appropriate behavior decorum and enforcement of good management practices and the rules of supervision and concerns about appearance of reprisal clearly indicate a serious problem,” the report said.

Fishbein’s lawyer, Stephen M. Kohn, said Friday he had not seen the report obtained by the AP, but he hailed its conclusions.

“NIH’s internal admissions are unprecedented and damning. Dr. Fishbein was right. NIH must fix its troubled management and stop harassing the whistle-blowers,” Kohn said.

The report, however, also criticized Fishbein, citing some of his supervisors’ statements that he did not take enough time to adapt to the “culture” of the AIDS division before making sweeping changes to improve the agency’s research safety.

“It seems apparent that both sides behaved badly, that a new senior employee did not orient himself about the division and that the most senior people engaged in inappropriate behavior,” the report said.

The report urged the NIH to require sensitivity training for its senior managers and provide instruction about “inappropriate personnel procedures.”

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/03/AR2005070300914.html

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Rand H. Fishbein, Ph.D., Executive Director; P.O. Box 59701, Potomac, Maryland 20859, USA

Tel: (301) 767-1691; Internet: www.HonestDoctor.org; E-Mail: HonestDoctor@comcast.net

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HonestDoctor.org is a confidential network of concerned medical and scientific professionals dedicated to assuring that clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are conducted in full compliance with all applicable statutes and regulations. Government sponsored clinical research must preserve the rights, safety, and well-being of human test subjects consistent with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki and with the aim of producing clinical data with the highest degree of scientific integrity. HonestDoctor.org is working in full cooperation with the National Whistleblower Center.

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