Suppression of Science Within Science
I wasnít as
surprised as many others were, when it was revealed that
climate-change "researchers" had discussed in private
e-mails how to keep important data from public view lest it
shake public belief in the dogma that human activities are contributing
significantly to global warming.
I wasnít particularly
surprised because just a few weeks earlier I had spoken at the Oakland
Rethinking AIDS Conference about the dogmatism and strong-arm tactics
that are rampant in a seemingly increasing range of fields of medicine
and science. PowerPoint presentations of most of the talks at the
Conference are available
at the Conference website. Hereís a slightly modified, more
readable, text version of my own talk. The theme in a nutshell:
centuries, modern science was pretty much a free intellectual market
populated by independent entrepreneurs who shared the goal of understanding
how the world works. Nowadays itís a corporate enterprise where
patents, pay-offs, prestige, and power take priority over getting
at the scientific truth, and the powers-that-be have established
I had met Peter
Duesberg in person only at the Conference, but I had been quite
familiar with him from many videos. What had always stuck in my
mind was his expression of surprise, astonishment, sheer disbelief,
as he told what happened to him after he questioned whether HIV
could be the cause of AIDS:
I had all
the students I wanted . . . lab space . . . grants . . . . elected
to the National Academy. . . . became California Scientist of
the Year. All my papers were published. I could do no wrong .
. . professionally . . . until I started questioning . . . that
HIV is the cause of AIDS. Then everything changed.
then was that he got no more grants; his
manuscripts were rejected without substantive
critiques, just that "everyone knows that HIV causes AIDS";
Robert Gallo, who earlier had talked of Duesbergís distinction as
a leading retrovirologist, now publicly called him dishonest on
scientific matters. Defenders of the mainstream view have even held
Duesberg responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of
South Africans and have described him as the moral equivalent of
a Holocaust denier.
What had Duesberg
done to bring about that radical change?
nothing. He was doing science just as before:
gathering data, documenting his sources, making his analyses, presenting
his conclusions for comment by others. Of course Duesberg was surprised
that suddenly he had gone from lauded leading scientist to discredited
course Duesberg was surprised, because his experience of suddenly
being sent beyond the pale was obviously an aberration. Science
isnít like this. Science is done by the objective self-correcting
scientific method. Peer review is impersonal and impartial. Arguments
are substantive, not ad hominem. This experience must be
shared just by other AIDS Rethinkers, because questioning that HIV
causes AIDS is just too outrageous, and quite justifiably it puts
AIDS "denialists" outside the norms of scientific behavior
and discourse. You wouldnít find anything like this in other, more
normal fields of medicine or science.
you would. You do. Duesberg and AIDS Rethinkers are not alone
in this. Duesbergís experience is not unique, itís
even far from unique.
Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge
University Press, 2001) in which Bjørn
Lomborg discussed global warming and pointed out, documented by
>500 mainstream source-references, that Kyoto-type policies would
not reduce warming enough to avoid such major consequences as sea-level
rises. Therefore it makes sense to devise adaptations that will
be needed in any case, a much better investment than trying to reduce
global CO2 emissions.
A rather unremarkable economic argument based solidly on calculations
from mainstream data.
Lomborg was surely just as surprised, astonished, disbelieving,
as Duesberg had been, to find that his scholarly discussion placed
him beyond the pale of civilized scientific discourse. The Chair
of the International Panel on Climate Change asked, Where is
the difference between Lomborgís view on humans and Hitlerís?
An Australian columnist agreed: Perhaps there is a case for making
climate change denial an offence it is a crime against humanity
after all. An American environmentalist seconded the notion,
writing that there should be "war crimes trials for these
bastards some sort of climate Nuremberg."
course those comments were not made in the scientific literature,
which doesnít countenance that sort of character assassination.
Or so one might hope. Hope in vain, it turns out, because a book
review in Nature (414: 149-50) held that Lomborgís text
employs the strategy of those who . . . argue that gay men arenít
dying of AIDS, that Jews werenít singled out by the Nazis for extermination.
. . .
denialism is as much beyond the pale as AIDS denialism. Except that
and perhaps youíve noticed Duesberg has never denied that
AIDS exists, he just has a different explanation for what caused
it. And Lomborg doesnít deny that global warming is occurring, he
doesnít even question that human activities are contributing significantly
to it, he is just making a cost-benefit argument.
both HIV/AIDS and global warming are matters that involve not just
science but public policy and large public expenditures. You wouldn't
find anything like this in a pure science like astronomy or cosmology,
Yes, you would.
Yes, you do.
and the Big-Bang theory of the origin of the universe. Halton Arp
was a respected, senior American observational astronomer. He noticed
that some pairs of quasars that are physically close together nevertheless
have very different redshifts. How exciting! Evidently some redshifts
are not Doppler effects, in other words, not owing to rapid relative
motion away from us. That means the universe-expansion calculations
have to be revised. It may not have started as a Big Bang!
the sort of major potential discovery that scientists are always
hoping for, isnít it?
in this case. Arp was granted no more telescope time to continue
his observations. At age 56, Halton Arp emigrated to Germany to
continue his work at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics.
But Arp was
not alone in his views. Thirty-four senior astronomers
from 10 countries, including such stellar figures as Hermann Bondi,
Thomas Gold, Amitabha Ghosh, and Jayant Narlikar, sent a letter
to Nature pointing out that Big Bang theory
on a growing number of hypothetical . . . things . . . never observed;
alternative theories can also explain all the basic phenomena
of the cosmos
yet virtually all financial and experimental resources in cosmology
go to Big-Bang studies.
the sort of discussion that goes on in science all the time, arguing
pros and cons of competing ideas.
that Nature refused to publish the letter.
on the Internet, and by now hundreds
of additional signatures have been added just like what happened
with the letter the Group for Rethinking AIDS had sent to Nature,
Science, the Lancet, and the New England Journal
of Medicine, all of which had refused to publish it.
a mainstream conference on "Outstanding questions for the
standard cosmological model" there was not even a mention
of the stunningly outstanding question of those anomalous
redshifts. So the non-Big-Bang cosmologists organized their own
separate meeting again, like AIDS Rethinkers, or like those
who question the mainstream dogma about how to cope with global
some reason, non-Big-Bang cosmology is as much beyond the pale as
AIDS "denial" which isnít denial or global warming "denial"
which isnít denial.
that most abstract of fundamental sciences, theoretical physics.
The problem has long been, How to unify relativity and quantum mechanics?
Quantum mechanics regards the world as made up of discrete bits
whereas relativity regards the world as governed by continuous,
not discrete, fields. Since the mid-1970s, there has been no real
progress. Everyone has been working on so-called "string theory,"
which has delivered no testable conclusions and remains a hope,
a speculation, not a real theory. Nevertheless, theoretical physicists
who want to look at other approaches canít find jobs, canít get
grants, canít get published. (Read Lee Smolin, The
Trouble with Physics.)
You begin to
wonder, donít you, how many other cases there could be in science,
where a single theory has somehow captured all the resources? And
where competent scientists who want to try something different are
not only blocked but personally insulted?
the matter of what killed off the dinosaurs. Everyone
knows that the dinosaurs were killed off 65 million years ago when
an asteroid hit the Earth. Everyone knows that, that is, except
the paleontologists, whose specialty this sort of question is supposed
asteroid theory had been developed by Luis Alvarez, Nobel Laureate
in physics, and his son Walter, a geologist. Paleontologist Dewey
McLean had earlier developed a detailed theory based on volcanism
it had long been known that tremendous volcanic activity, the
"Deccan Traps," had occurred at the relevant time.
you think Alvarez engaged McLean in civilized, substantive discussion?
Or would you
be surprised to hear that at a conference, Alvarez
said to McLean in private: "Iíll wreck your career if you persist."
And Alvarez did indeed contact McLeanís university and tried to
block McLeanís promotion I know that for sure because I was
Dean of Dewey McLeanís College at the time.
thereís always been resistance to change in science, as in other
human activities. But this degree of suppression of minority views
and the use of gutter language and character assassination makes
it seem like a new phenomenon. At least it has seemed so to the
people who have found themselves suddenly ejected from mainstream
discourse and resources.
Duesberg, Lomborg, McLean and other "denialists" of various
mainstream theories are surprised because it isnít supposed to be
like that in science. Lomborg doesnít know that "AIDS
denialists" are treated rather like "global warming denialists."
Arp doesnít know that AIDS and global warming "denialists"
have it even worse than those who question the Big Bang. McLean
doesnít know that "denialists" about AIDS, Big-Bang, and
global warming also have their careers threatened. Everyone who
experiences personally this sort of thing imagines itís a unique
experience, because science isnít supposed to be like this.
science nowadays IS like this: Disagree with the conventional
contemporary scientific wisdom and you wonít get grants, wonít get
published, will be compared to Holocaust deniers.
it really wasnít always this way. Nowadays "science,"
"pure research," has become cutthroat in the extreme,
and thereís much corner-cutting and sheer dishonesty in science.
For example, NIH newsletters routinely name specific individuals
who are being barred from seeking grants for some specified period
because of some act of dishonesty.
There was no need, in the good not-so-old days, for a federal Office
of Research Integrity a designation that George Orwell would
have relished. But now we do have such an Office, and at colleges
there are Centers for Research Ethics, and publishers put out journals
like Accountability in Research thereís a burgeoning
young academic industry devoted to telling scientists how to behave
what science has come to. Genuine science, the search for
better understanding, has been hijacked by self-interest and vested
interests and is now captive to knowledge monopolies
and research cartels: A single theory exerts dogmatic
control over grants, publications, jobs, promotions.
How did this happen?
a follow-up piece, Iíll describe how we arrived at this New World
Order in Science.
H. Bauer [send
him mail] is Dean Emeritus of Arts & Sciences and Professor
Emeritus of Chemistry & Science Studies at Virginia Tech. His
books about science and scientific unorthodoxies include Scientific
Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method
or Pseudoscience (2001), and The
Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory (2007).
He currently writes an HIV
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