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Science bamboozles the left


One of the oddest things about the whole HIV-AIDS affair is the fact that the instinctively free thinking, anti-authoritarian types who question the paradigm find themselves in bed with the right wing.



This is the fate of anyone who takes a skeptical view of science these days, or so it seems. From AIDS to global warming to the effects of DDT, all the questioning and second thoughts, all the skeptical realism, seems to come from the dark side, politically speaking.



Skepticism about science does not come from the angels of leftist rhetoric, not even from Noam Chomsky, who we otherwise salute for the graceful decency which imbues his rhetoric. We often listen to Chomsky not so much for his predictable, blame-the–USA angle on world events, as simply a soothing balm for the soul. While Chomsky speaks, conscience lives.



But it’s not from the likes of Chomsky that we hear anything about the issue of whether all is well in politically relevant fields of science. This by itself is surprising, given his work as a theorist of language and brain structure. Perhaps Chomsky has commented on the politics of science, but not in our hearing. (Edit: After this was written, we were told that in the mid nineties Chomsky in an interview did make a mild comment in support of an investigation into AIDS if, as he was told, some prominent scientists disagreed with the ruling theory).)



Instead, we hear from novelist Michael Crichton, science fiction writer James Hogan, 20/20 host John Stossel of ABC, or other skeptical writers and reporters in the pages of the American Spectator, Policy Review (of the Heritage Foundation), the Wall Street Journal or the New York Sun. Rightists all, making fun of the lame brained left for stampeding in panic whenever a scientific doomsayer comes along.



Pity the rare liberal or leftist who likes to double check the facts when it comes to scientific and medical alarms. He has to climb in with the folks at the opposite end of the political spectrum. So what’s going on? What is it about the left that crumples up and dies at the touch of a scientific fact?



Take AIDS, for example, and the dispute over whether HIV is really the cause of the fatal immune dysfunction. Many readers of the New York Times say they have no idea that this dispute existed. Not surprising, since the Times has mentioned it in barely seven pieces in fifteen years. The readers of the American Spectator are familiar with it, however, from Tom Bethel’s penetrating coverage over the years. Meanwhile the liberal and left wing media have been bamboozled into treating any such enquiry as an affront to decency and common sense.



In fact, there have been only a handful of professional journalists in the last fifteen years who have looked into this question from both sides, and reported accordingly. Given the powerful political forces at work devoted to protecting the ruling view, this is not so surprising. But what is remarkable is the fact that typically only the right leaning and conservative press have had the guts to second guess the science establishment on this and other issues.



Perhaps the petty cynics are right in AIDS and the right wing found the anti-HIV idea useful as a club to beat gays over the head with, while the liberals toed the gay party line. And in environmental issues, possibly Republicans are too growth minded for the world’s good. But now all these problems are fully globalized one would have expected such trivial and provincial attitudes to be set aside. Instead, the concerned left make a living out of irresponsibly dire predictions while the conservatives are inclined at least to double check them.



Perhaps it is no coincidence that the most accomplished reporter of this neglected issue is politically beyond such labels. The independent minded Celia Farber, whose columns bashing the current belief about HIV AIDS in Spin magazine are legendary, has complex sociopolitical views, rooted in her experience growing up partly in Sweden as well as the US. But one thing is sure, she is no right winger. Yet having written for fifteen years for SPIN and lately the New York Press on the questions surrounding HIV, she deplores the wilful blind eye that liberals and the left have otherwise turned towards the many anomalies in the science of AIDS.



Even with a multitude of lives at stake, including hapless infants, not to mention billions in health spending that could be put to better use if HIV AIDS science is the scam that so many say it is, the left prefers to wallow in righteous identification with the victims rather than grasp the nettle of the case against HIV, which has survived hostile peer review in respectable journals for over 15 years. In fact, liberals flock to join in the suppression of the heresy, as if the leading scientists were priests in some church. The critics, they bleat presumptuously, “endanger lives.”



Perhaps the truth about people and their ideological alignment these days is too complex for simple labels, and the umbrella terms of left and right are now outmoded, like the once proud banner of liberalism, which conservatives have reduced to a liability. But crude or not, it appears to us that the conservative and right wing of the US press are consistently tougher minded in dealing with science than the left. However intellectually brilliant, the left typically run in fear from science. They simply can’t handle it.



In fact, the graduates of arts and literature at the helm of political and general interest magazines in the US are as quickly reduced to terrified jelly by science as the arts crowd in England were back in the fifties, when C.P. Snow wrote his famous thesis on the topic of the great separation between the arts and science. Mention to the editor of Poz that the science of AIDS is possibly wrong, as I did recently, and he will gape at you as if you had just dropped down from Mars, or were claiming you had.



This applies even to those who write entire books about the AIDS “crisis”. Take the youthful Greg Behrman, scion of a Wall Street family of South African origin who after Princeton and a Rhodes scholarship turned his Oxford thesis into a book, last year, “The Invisible People: How the US Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time”. Asked about the scientific basis for the statistics in his doomsday critique, Behrman, now an AIDS policy coordinator at the Council of Foreign Relations, says he relied on the conventional science and had no inclination to question it.



For someone who conducted 200 interviews for a 352 page book and who has lived in South Africa, the only country whose government has resisted accepting the science before the dispute is resolved, this indicates a naive lack of curiosity, to say the least. More important leaders of opinion such as Richard Holbrooke, Bill Clinton, and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia, all of whom add the weight of their full support to AIDS aid without any interest in the truth of the matter have more to explain, especially when responsible critics say that the very medications they want to help send to Africa and Asia are lethal.



In my own case I recall fifteen years ago that a prominent and respectable magazine in the US, of long and admirable heritage and wide current renown. agreed to assign me a review of the situation in AIDS, after I told the haute WASP editor that I had detected very serious shenanigans going on in this arena of science and medicine, which indicated that people might be suffering and dying needlessly.



Having spent more than two years researching the situation, including attending two AIDS Conferences in Montreal and San Francisco where the behavior of the scientists who were leading the field resembled the antics of the Nazis in Nuremburg, as well as an exclusive, insiders meeting of scientists in Washington run by the inimitable Robert Gallo, I reported a lengthy piece suggesting that venality rather than truth seeking ruled the day, and that all indications were that the sociology as well as the science demanded review.



At first the editor and his junior editor assigned to the piece were thrilled, the great man at the helm opining no less than this piece was the kind of story that “we should be running”. After an interval where the draft was circulated for comment around the office for group reassurance, however, I was taken aback one day to receive a less than-forthcoming call from the junior editor. They were not going to run the piece after all, he said apologetically.



It took all my skill at flattering this careerist to tease out what had happened. Seems that he (the junior editor) had passed a newstand that morning, where the views of the renowned, highly credentialed scientist who had first questioned the HIV–AIDS paradigm had found their way onto the front page of a think tank journal of especially right wing flavor, the above mentioned Policy Review, in fact.



This had immediately put a spanner into the works, and there was no way of extricating it, it seemed. The liberal, patrician editor of the said journal was probably not of a mind to find himself at Manhattan cocktail parties of his fellow literati, being hailed with irony as a political bedmate of their most prominent enemy. So that was that.



I was reminded of all this today (April 14) when I read in the New York Sun the op-ed piece by John Stossel titled “The Alarmists Never Stop”. In it Stossel, famous for his asking befuddled bureaucrats with nasal irony to “Give Me A Break”, the title of his recent book, replies to an inevitable storm of email roused by his support of Michael Crichton’s view that we need not worry as much about global warming as the hand wringing Cassandras would have us do.



Typically charming excerpts read: “Boy when you sell out, you really sell out don’t you? ” and “All of the cow flatulence in the world can’t equal the effect of the odiferous steam rising from the pile of bull— that you lay down.” Most were copied from a Web page quoting the UN and the National Academy of Science, the Pew Center and the Union of Concerned Scientists on the “consensus” that “global warming is a scientific reality”. The writers seemed unaware that Crichton, Stossel and everybody else accept warming as fact; the issue is how much of it is human in origin, and whether huge sacrifices to curb the human portion are needed.



Stossel detects decidedly left wing interests in the concerns of the Concerned Scientists, which rather misleadingly demands no particular degree or experience to join, he points out. He replies to the chief concern of the critics, that scientists and other skeptics on global warming are paid by the energy industry which uses fossil fuels—true in some cases—by saying it is “nowhere near as ‘generous’ as the millions the scaremongers collect…. Suggesting corruption is just another smear.”



He goes on to point out that the Web page involved is “Media Matters for America” run by the David Brock who oddly enough in a previous, right- leaning life wrote “The Real Anita Hill.” About that time Newsweek was writing a piece titled “The Cooling World” and predicting a drop in food output by 1985 as temperatures dropped. “Just 30 years ago, scaremongers were telling us about global cooling. The alarmists never stop.”



If Stossel is correct, then, in scientific matters the left is driven by fear and smear, and the right by facts. This is not a happy situation, given the world as it is, growing more complex and changing by the week. Policy makers need to have the best information on what prospects we face, for there are huge economic choices to be made. What do we really have to sacrifice to save the world in respect to the environment, or to AIDS? Maybe it is less than we think.



Certainly, liberal leaders should be as concerned as the right to have their scientific “facts” (claims) doublechecked. In the case of AIDS, if the HIV critics are correct and the paradigm is nonsense, every million sent to sub Saharan Africa will help kill rather than cure Africans of what ails them.



It is time for the left to engage science. If liberals continue to make fools of themselves by leaving science to the scientists, and relinquish realistic thinking to the right, what kind of world do they expect to end up with?

8 Responses to “Science bamboozles the left”

  1. Darin Brown Says:

    Well, I’m an unapologetic leftist and liberal, and I know exactly what you’re talking about. All I can say is, I make up my own mind about things and refuse to let myself get bullied by the guilt trips and harangues of the left on certain issues. The fact is, the left can be just as closed-minded and witless as the right at times. But once you’ve stood up to them once and you realise that you can stay true to your political *and* scientific values without compromising either, then it’s easier the next time.

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  2. Eugene Weixel Says:

    I count myself firmly on the left but I heartily agree that “our side” is more prone to being bamboolzed and flim flammed by “official science” as opposed to being interested in science.

    “Official science” is often corrupt and resistant to change and growth.

    Also there is a strong nihilist anti-development and anti-growth trend that is accepted as being on the left that truly is not leftist, and not progressive.

    I am one of those heretics who think that the world is not overcrowded with “too many people” and that the earth is not “supposed to be” a museum of pre-human existence.

    Perhaps HIV causes AIDS, but it doesn’t seem to have been proven.

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    “Perhaps HIV causes AIDS, but it doesn’t seem to have been proven.”

    Eugene, thanks for your support, re the vulnerability of the left to be snowed by scientists, though we are not sure that we can follow you on the rest of your stepping stones. Are human beings are by definition creatures who deserve to replace others on this planet, even though as human beings we tend by nature to think so?

    Apart from being conscious and intelligent, we don’t seem to be superior in nature to animals or insects on any moral parameters, as far as we tell. Is a more acute self-concious intelligence enough to justify overcrowding the planet with our species? Even if we feel as we do that every human life is precious, because we tend to identify with others, isn’t this also an argument for restraining the number of precious human lives the planet has to support?

    As far as we are concerned, the current level of six billion concurrent lives is a mind boggling sea of indistinguishable life, most of it undistinguished in consciousness or intelligence precisely because of the lack of time and resources to cultivate body and mind of most of these individuals. Now we have Negroponte’s $100 computer and the WWW, so that probably may be solved as far as education goes. But still, the sheer number of people even in New York City seems incomprehensibly large, if you think of them as unique individuals, each of whom deserves a decent life. Nature seems to agree – she is quite capable of ending lives when they have barely begun.

    So maybe even on the moral plane there are diminishing returns at the margin, as it were – each new human life is not as uniquely valuable after all. Maybe we should restrain ourselves from our natural instinct to propagate to the max and rescue every last deformed embryo, and keep alive every unconscious human vegetable. Maybe we should move the bar a little. Maybe it is time to be a little more tough minded in facing up to reality without sentiment.

    Meanwhile, on the question of HIV and AIDS you seem to be a little confused. There is no valid scientific reason to believe that HIV causes AIDS, or anything else, other than a conventional response of the human system. Or have you discovered one we have overlooked? A prize of one copy of Harvey Bialy’s “Oncogene, Aneuploidy and AIDS: The Life and Scientific Times of Peter H. Duesberg” awaits anyone who can offer such a breakthrough notion, and sustain it.

    Or to put it more simply, if we told you that we were abducted by aliens last Friday night, could you disprove it? But would you believe it?

  4. Eugene Weixel Says:

    Well friend, I just don’t believe that we humans ought to be replaced by viruses or insects. Clearly for better or for worse humans are as much in charge of things here on earth as the climate and geology allow. It’s best to make the best of it.

    I’m just not qualified to have the final say on what AIDS is or what causes it. Imagine a taxi driver making such a pronouncement. I have pointed favorably to the so-called AIDS denialists on my weblog, and I have posted much of what they have to say or linked to it.

    I hope anyone who is told that he has AIDS or HIV does not consult a taxi driver (that’s me), but medical experts on both sides of the argument if possible.

    I always invite folks who believe that there are too many people (other people, of course) on earth to just step off. It wouldn’t be so hard to do. Your characterization of the mass of toilers really as “indistinguishable life, most of it undistinguished in consciousness or intelligence precisely because of the lack of time and resources to cultivate body and mind of most of these individuals” is most hateful and I despise it. So, please step off if it’s so crowded.

  5. Manny Kimmel Says:

    Truthseeker,

    Watch out that you do not get into Mr. Weixel’s cab and begin your genocidal ramblings to pass the time. You might not wind up where you intend.

  6. Truthseeker Says:

    I hope anyone who is told that he has AIDS or HIV does not consult a taxi driver (that’s me), but medical experts on both sides of the argument if possible.

    It is not impossible that a taxi-driver might have the perspective, analytical talent and independence of mind to be immune to the AIDS meme and see more clearly than a pride of “experts” on the topic. In fact in the case of this study, the only hope of correction of the paradigm is that a host of taxi drivers and other lay souls – including wealthy patrons in particular – rise up and smite the Philistines as directed by the few generales in this revolutionary campaign.

    Your characterization of the mass of toilers really as “indistinguishable life, most of it undistinguished in consciousness or intelligence precisely because of the lack of time and resources to cultivate body and mind of most of these individuals” is most hateful and I despise it. So, please step off if it’s so crowded.

    Possibly you mistake the thrust of this remark, which was directed against the injustice of the distribution of resources in the modern world. We believe that in a just society, every single child should be given the maximum resources and opportunity to realize his or her talents, analytical and creative, and not one shortchanged because of the accident of low birth.

    Is there a single child you know that you don’t feel this way about?

  7. Eugene Weixel Says:

    Well I am struggling singlehandedly as of now to expose the New York City Government’s cover up of the Incarnation House abomination. I am a Child Protective worker who blew the whistle once too often, so now I’m driving taxi.

    I have a personal opinion about HIV/AIDS that is informed by people like Liam Scheff and Dr. Duesberg. Frankly though I hold some doubts only because the officialdom of science and medicine is so adamant. They can (in my humble opinion) be corrupt, slipshod, they may fail to meet the standards set for true scientific work and still perhaps be right about something.

    I guess it comes down to the question of whether or not the AIDS drugs do more good than harm or more harm than good. I don’t know how either has been demonstrated. BBC claims that AIDS deaths in Europe have plumetted 80% since a new “drug cocktail” has been introduced. Of course they say that the HIV virus is developing immunity to this drug combination also.What can I make of this? How can I dispute it?

    Surely I am angry that an unknown number of foster children,almost all of them “minorities” probably mostly orphans as young as a month old were literally pumped with chemicals that were certainly known to cause harm and not certainly known to do any good, and that it is probable that a large percentage of these poor children were not even “HIV positive” but their mothers were. I find it hard to understand why it falls to me after others did so well in getting the matter exposed to begin with to raise hell as they steamroll a non investigating investigation, even having admitted that they didn’t even know how many foster children had been given over to the experiments with no parental consent, no consent by the children old enough to decide and to know they are nauseous and dizzy when they take the drug and feel fine when they don’t, no legal appointed guardian to ask the questions and demand the answers as to how the experiment would help his or her specific child. Whether or not AZT ever went on to help anyone what was done was an outrage.

    I am an anti Malthusian. I love people, children especially and I do not think there are or soon can be “too many.” My back gets up about this, maybe because I’ve spent so much time among people who would probably be quickly labled as “excess,” my aging taxi driving self included no doubt. If there is a human life not worth living why then do the even most miserable try to hold on tight to life and fear death?

    I’m sure that just about all people given the right conditions can do amazing things and most don’t get the chance to come close to their potentials. Those relative few born irreversably not able to do this or do that at least can bring joy and affection to others and teach them how fortunate they are.

  8. Eugene Weixel Says:

    No reply. That says a lot.

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