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Why do we suppress scientific dissent?

Marco RuggieroBritish newspaper Nature reports that one of the 9 authors of a paper purporting to show that the HIV virus does not cause AIDS is now being investigated for illegally dissenting from scientific consensus.

Now one of the whole purposes of University tenure, was to protect professors from the sort of the witch-hunts that political parties cannot resist engaging in. Unlike UK, UVa, PSU, and most American universities, will Galileo’s old University of Florence be able to resist the allure of political correctness? We will just have to see.

But that led to the question, what is it about some topics that seem to attract politicians like flies to honey? Why is it that AIDS research is such a political hot potato? Why does the defense of Darwinism bring out the most spittle-flecked invective seen on the internet? Why do people commit crimes in the defense of global warming? Where can one go to publish alternative theories to the Big Bang?

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21 Responses to Why do we suppress scientific dissent?

  1. Did anyone read the subtitle to the news report?

    Academic freedom should not be misused to spread theories that opponents say lack scientific evidence.

    Wow.

    And then this is from the article itself:

    the HIV Forum, stressing that although academic freedom is fundamental in teaching and research, it should not be misused to spread theories that they say are “lacking any scientific evidence”.

    And then:

    “We hope the Commission will be scientifically rigorous and we hope that it will state that the best way to protect academic freedom is to teach according to the worldwide recognized scientific method” (emphasis mine)

    You have the freedom – to teach what we say you will teach. If you don’t do what we say, we’ll take away your freedom. When did newspeak replace English?

    The article ended with this, slightly more reasonable statement:

    What is not acceptable is that personal theories, that are not supported by the weight of evidence, are taught to students that do not yet have the skills to form an independent opinion and to discriminate what they are being taught from what the bulk of the literature has shown

    The thing is, they must have a very low opinion of their students, and must not have taught them very well if they are worried about this. I worry about this with elementary school kids, and teenagers to some extent. But college students? Give me a break. If you aren’t teaching college and graduate students to think for themselves, you need to stop calling yourself a university.

  2. British newspaper Nature reports that one of the 9 authors of a paper purporting to show that the HIV virus does not cause AIDS is now being investigated for illegally dissenting from scientific consensus.

    That’s not my reading of the “Nature” report.

    It looks to me as if he is not being investigated for his dissent. Rather, he is being investigated for teaching his dissent in the classroom.

    If I happened to have a dissenting view, I would be pushing that in various public forums, posting on the internet, etc. But I would not be teaching it. To me it seems fine to be personally pushing a dissenting view in one’s capacity as a private citizen. But when teaching a class, one is representing the academy, rather than one’s personal ideas. One should teach the accepted consensus view, or decline to teach that class.

  3. I don’t know about the accusations being bandied about here, but Rugierro and the other evaluators come treacherously close to academic malpractice when they approve the two theses that can be found if one follows the link trail. These people do no one – and especially not the students – any good by signing off on such abysmal examples of “scholarship”.

  4. It looks to me as if he is not being investigated for his dissent. Rather, he is being investigated for teaching his dissent in the classroom.

    Which was essentially the charge against Galileo. And Martin Luther. No one cared that Galileo had a different idea. They cared that he taught about it. They didn’t care that Luther had 95 theses or even that he nailed them to the door. They cared that they were translated into the common language and distributed to the common people.

    If you have a major research project, you *should* be teaching it to your students, *especially* if it is controversial. Why would you send students to a top-notch school to learn yesterday’s ideas? You can pick those up for free in the library.

    The only thing I can see that would be problematic is if he failed to say why other people disagree or misrepresented their disagreement. That would be problematic. But teaching the ideas you spent your life studying in a University? I can’t think of a more appropriate thing to do.

    But when teaching a class, one is representing the academy, rather than one’s personal ideas.

    Neil, it is very sad that a University has come to represent an established set of ideas. I would hope that representing the academy would mean representing a spirited debate of ideas and possibilities, rather than simply rehashing what’s in textbooks. If sticking to the consensus view is how universities feel represents them, I will start counseling everyone I know to simply not go. Libraries are much cheaper repositories of consensus opinions.

  5. Which was essentially the charge against Galileo. And Martin Luther. No one cared that Galileo had a different idea. They cared that he taught about it.

    But you are mixing things up there.

    When students sign up for a standard class, they are expecting to learn a particular body of knowledge. And that’s what the teacher should present there.

    Somebody with a major research project should be asking that a special topics class be setup to teach about that research. He shouldn’t be teaching it in the more basic classes. And if his dept chairman won’t setup a special topic class, then he has to persuade the chairman first.

    If he wants to go on a lecture tour, or go on the late night TV shows, that’s all fine. What’s wrong, is to take advantage of a special relationship between teacher and student.

    I am not saying that he should shut up and be quiet about his ideas.

  6. Neil -

    If you read the article, he is doing precisely what you propose. The criticism of his university activities are because two students wrote about HIV-AIDS in their *dissertations*, and that there was a special topics course titled “The revolution of immunotherapy: prospects for the treatment of cancer and AIDS”. The complaint was not about any general ed course. THIS is the controversy – students doing research and a professor teaching special topics. That this is reported as anything other than a threat to academic freedom is amazing.

    In any case, I still think that such a topic is appropriate for a general ed course (after all, why go to a university instead of a library), provided it is couched with sufficient information as to why others disagree, and why it isn’t the standard view.

  7. This has interesting parallels to the teaching of intelligent design in college biology. I think that 80% of the time should be spent on standard evolution and 20% on intelligent design because standard evolution is the consensus. But even basic classes should wade into controversy and cutting edge research a little bit, especially in college.

  8. Neil Rickert:

    One should teach the accepted consensus view, or decline to teach that class.

    What if this happened for the next thousand years, would that be good for science?

  9. Here’s some quotes from a site attacking the paper:

    Peter Duesberg is the among the forefathers of the HIV/AIDS denialist movement. They reject the notion that HIV causes AIDS, despite being contradicted by a massive amount of scientific evidence and has held on to this view for three decades.

    And,

    Duesberg et. al. (2011) tries to compare the spread of infectious diseases such as plague caused by Y. pestis with HIV and concludes that since the spread of HIV and incidence of AIDS does not match that of the typical infectious diseases, this means that HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS or of an infectious epidemic. This is a flawed analogy, because unlike plague, HIV does not spread through casual, non-sexual contact as Y. pestis can and HIV/AIDS can take several years to be clinically obvious, rather than having an incubation time of a couple of days (Hoofnagle, 2011).

    The first quote is right out of the Darwinist’s handbook: “There’s a massive amount of evidence proving evolution!” If you ask for the information, it trickles out instead of gushing out. So much for being ‘massive’.

    And then, when examined, it’s found to be faulty. Ergo, the second quote. Excuses for why we don’t SEE what ought to be seen. IOW, the fossil record is imperfect. Evolution takes place too slowly for us to see, etc. etc.

    All of this suggests that the world of science is being taken over by the totalitarian left, who demand that we all think alike. Not healthy for science; not healthy for politics; not healthy for our future.

    Now they want you thrown out of the University for thinking the wrong things; then they will want you thrown into jail; and then, when the jails get full, they’ll want to guillotine you. Oh, I guess that last one is too old fashion. I’m sure they’ll think of something new, something more modern; after all, they are progressives.

  10. In any case, I still think that such a topic is appropriate for a general ed course (after all, why go to a university instead of a library), provided it is couched with sufficient information as to why others disagree, and why it isn’t the standard view.

    I agree with that part, provided that it is presented as background and not as the core curriculum for the class.

    As for a dissertation – A student dissertation proposal here has to be approved by the graduate studies committee of the department, and by the Graduate School dean. If there were not such checks and balances, then something is wrong with their standards.

  11. What if this happened for the next thousand years, would that be good for science?

    It would not be a problem.

    The consensus view changes, due to debates and arguments between scientists, usually with accompanying evidence. Consensus change doesn’t start in the classroom.

  12. Neil Rickert:

    This is from the Nature item:

    The move follows a letter to the institution’s rector, Alberto Tesi, by an Italian campaign group called the HIV Forum, which represents people infected with HIV and others concerned about the disease. It calls on him to disassociate the university from the “science and activities” of Ruggiero, who, the group says, is “internationally known” for denying the widely accepted link between HIV and AIDS, and promotes a potential cure for HIV involving an enriched probiotic yoghurt for which there is no proven evidence.

    Towards the end:

    The paper, which challenges estimates of HIV–AIDS death tolls in South Africa, has received heavy criticism from scientists, who have questioned how it could have passed peer review, and has led two members of the IJAE editorial board to resign in protest

    How does “consensus change” take place when anyone who disagrees is railroaded out of the academy?

    Why not put out the sign: We will not tolerate dissent! Dissenters need not apply!

    Duesberg was one of the leading, if not the premiere, virologist in the U.S. when all this started happening. Once he openly disagreed with what was the “accepted science” on HIV/AIDs, he lost his graduate students, had his classes limited, his lab taken away, and given a small office. Does the name Richard Sternberg ring any bells?

    HIV exhibits almost NONE of the known behaviors of viruses. You can go down the list, one by one, and it violates almost every, if not every, accepted viral characteristic. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but we have a vaccine for smallpox, measles, mumps, polio, and even influenza; but, after almost thirty years of trying—and failing, there isn’t one for HIV. Doesn’t that need some explanation? Or should people, scientists, who find this troubling simply be told to keep their mouths shut?

    Do you realize that the HIV “test” is not for viral particles of HIV, but simply for the presence of antibodies. OTOH, if a virus is a so-called passenger virus, then the body will simply build up the appropriate antibodies, and that’s the end of it. This is what we see with HIV: no viral particles (or else there would already be a vaccine), and simply antibodies (which simply means you’ve been exposed to the virus, and very little more.) Duesberg points this out. And they want to destroy him.

    And you say: well don’t point any of this out in the classroom until the consensus changes. Well, the consensus should have changed 28 years ago. And 28 years later, after mounting evidence supports the position that HIV doesn’t cause AIDs, they now want to drive people out of academic institutions who are pointing to this evidence.

    Neil, tell me that you aren’t comfortable with this. Tell me you see problems here.

  13. Here’s the paper.

  14. Sigh!

    I was commenting specifically on this part:

    “I believe that every researcher has the right to submit his or her work through peer-reviewed journals, no matter how little credibility that data may have,” Marra says. “What is not acceptable is that personal theories, that are not supported by the weight of evidence, are taught to students that do not yet have the skills to form an independent opinion and to discriminate what they are being taught from what the bulk of the literature has shown.”

  15. http://truthbarrier.com/2012/0.....-accusers/ Some more background information!

  16. 16

    Thanks for the link, sxussd13. Nice info.

    Hey News, look at the new media. Nice info.

  17. Neil:

    The quote at 14 above is fine and dandy. But two people resigned at the Italian journal because of the paper. If you don’t see any connection between classical “germ theory” and the putative HIV epidemic, and you marshal data to support this view, is then a “personal theory”? IOW, if I think you’re wrong, and most people think I’m right, then I’m a scientist, and you’re off parading a “personal theory”.

    What we’re seeing is the moral principle of the Left in action: viz., “The end justifies the means.” Hitler, Stalin, and Mao would all be proud. “Kill him. That will save lives.” (According to our personal theory.)

    No need to respond Neil. These are just reflections.

  18. HIV exhibits almost NONE of the known behaviors of viruses.

    You cannot name one viral “behavior” that is not exhibited by HIV.

    Maybe you haven’t noticed, but we have a vaccine for smallpox, measles, mumps, polio, and even influenza; but, after almost thirty years of trying—and failing, there isn’t one for HIV.

    Hey, PaV, does your corner drugstore offer a vaccine for the common cold? If so, you need to let us know where it is.

    Also, how’s that hepatitis C vaccine coming along?

    Doesn’t that need some explanation? Or should people, scientists, who find this troubling simply be told to keep their mouths shut?

    They should stop lying about viruses, that’s for sure.

    And they probably ought not to be victimizing their students and departments by approving appallingly poor dissertations.

    Do you realize that the HIV “test” is not for viral particles of HIV, but simply for the presence of antibodies.

    So? That’s a pretty common diagnostic tool. Do you have even an iota of evidence that this tool is unreliable?

    This is what we see with HIV: no viral particles

    Wrong.

    (or else there would already be a vaccine),

    Wrong (see “common cold” and “hepatitis C).

    and simply antibodies (which simply means you’ve been exposed to the virus, and very little more.)

    Um, so?

    Of course, the facts that compounds that specifically target viral mechanisms (and I mean specifically) are effective treatments of AIDS, that alterations of the cellular receptor that HIV uses to enter cells provides strong resistance to AIDS, and that, in primate models for HIV/AIDS, site-specific mutation of the inciting virus (done in ways that totally preclude any possibility of the preposterous pathological mechanisms imagined by Duesberg et al.) changes infectivity and the course of disease – all these facts mean nothing to you, do they, PaV?

  19. A Hunt – Do you think all these scientist and even lowly lay-people are what, evil insane stupid and wicked? Their points are valid, your tidy little caricature is a crock.

  20. Not having the time to get into a whole debate about HIV/AIDS, but for the record, antibody assays are NOT definitive diagnostic assays. That is they are only aids to diagnosis, not evidence for diagnosis/infection per se. The manufacturers themselves admit as much. On the ELISA antibody test kits used for HIV testing, they admit as much! I have read their caveats (there for legal reasons as well, so they can’t be sued for a ‘false positive’ result). If you are just picking up antibodies, it is only indirect evidence for infection, ergo not definitive or direct evidence. And when it comes to HIV, you don’t want to play with people’s lives (even though that happens.. To put it mildly).

    Antibodies also cross-react and there are lots of factors that can contribute to a false positive HIV antibody test, from pregnancy to malaria, tuberculosis infection, recent flu vaccination, reactions to certain kinds of medication etc. The manufacturers admit as much! Now think about that, think about testing in sub-Saharan Africa where malaria and TB are rampant.. Under-nutrition also creates immune system deficiencies that complicates testing. This is well-known, there is a medical literature on just this..

    Worse, because of the ‘saving costs’ factor, ELISA tests are routinely used as the SOLE diagnostic tests in Africa (even though in the US and Canada they are not, a confirmatory Western Blot is needed, frankly this is still not good enough..) The point though is that according to the US NIH guidelines on HIV testing, ELISAs are not evidence for an HIV diagnosis, only an aid to such a diagnosis. Any clinic or doctors in the US (and European nations tend to follow the US lead here) that gave anybody such a diagnosis based solely on an ELISA would be guilty of malpractice and incompetence and could have the pants sued off them and struck off the role, lose their jobs.. Yet the self-same NIH (and FDA) turn a blind eye to the fact that in Africa (where the AIDS news and stories are focused in the main) ELISAs are being used in this way (without a confirmatory Western Blot test, never mind a PCR). Many of the clinicians doing these tests in Africa don’t have a clue, to put it mildly.

    In other words it is scandalous. I cannot write up a massive essay here on why antibody assays are not evidence for definitive infection (of HIV in this case), for one you need to understand basic immunology, inclusive of a good understanding of the adaptive immune system and antibody synthesis, B-cell clonal selection..

    One does not need to get into ridiculous paranoid conspiracies here (I cannot stand that kind of non-thinking), but one cannot appreciate this kind of thing without recognizing the corruption of medicine by a MULTI-TRILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY, that is Big Pharma and a massive and bloated ‘health-care’ bureaucracy. The AIDS industry is a multi-billion dollar industry alone, and those writing about it for the most part are utterly clueless. They make the pronouncements of Eugenie Scott and P Z Myers on ID look positively enlightening and thoughtful by comparison (and no I am not kidding).

    For the record many of the ARV (antiretroviral) drugs associated with HAART (and pre-HAART) are highly toxic, especially the reverse-transcriptase inhibitors/RTIs. Even fatally toxic. That’s a whole other thing and if you don’t know that, you know nothing about the corruption, greed, incompetence and stupidity that surrounds the whole HIV/AIDS industry, and yes it is an Industry with a capital I.

  21. Since when have people pursued a university education out of a pure love of knowledge and understanding. Unfortunately, the only true intellectuals in that purest of senses are young children and oddbods such as Einstein; and he soon fell into line, spending most of the rest of his working life after acceptance of his relativity theories, on some cockameeny quest for a unifying theory.

    People go to universities to forge better-paid careers and/or in the case of the Open University, sometimes for the personal satisfaction they gain from their perception of having raised their personal status in the world.

    And all this inevitably SHOWS in our education system – and it’s not going to change anytime soon. But there is no doubt that the time-hallowed witch-hunts on dissenters by intellectual and professional establishments, is utterly despicable.

    How curious, it seems, though, that we should be surprised that, because research purports to be a quest for greater knowledge, it should be so riven with people “with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad”, to borrow from Hunter Thompson’s description of Nixon. Wisdom was never the goal. Quite the contrary.

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