The Campaign Against Medical Hypotheses

Dennis Mangan writes here about the campaign to destroy the journal Medical Hypotheses because its editor dared to publish an article by Peter Duesberg and others questioning that HIV causes AIDS.

The campaign is associated with AIDSTruth.org, which says it is about “the scientific evidence for HIV/AIDS.” A dead giveaway. When I was a senior in college, I wrote a paper called “The Scientific _______” in which I said that use of the term scientific is a sign that the writer or writers don’t know what they’re talking about. Calling this or that “scientific” amounts to calling something else “unscientific” — which isn’t an argument, it’s abuse. The term scientific is often just a way to sneer at other people. Like the word nigger and many other derogatory names and adjectives.

Animal Farm put it well: You become what you are supposedly against. Holocaust denial is strange, yes, but then there are the people who get really really upset by it. Who would have guessed that the solution to intolerance (German intolerance of Jews) is . . . more intolerance? And that is what the campaign against Medical Hypotheses is in favor of: more intolerance.

16 Responses to “The Campaign Against Medical Hypotheses

  1. Nathan Myers Says:

    I don’t know from Aidstruth, but Duesberg had a full hearing years ago. All his arguments were transparently tendentious, essentially ignoring the details of all the evidence.. There’s nothing wrong with Medical Hypotheses printing them yet again, as long as they don’t publish falsehoods or half-truths, but it’s also no reason to pay attention.

  2. David Says:

    The scientific consensus has been wrong innumerable times in the past. On this issue, certainly there is intense economic motivation from the AIDS research community to keep things on track.

    Real science should be open to all ideas and debate them on their merits. This seems suspiciously anti-debate.

  3. Peter Smith Says:

    dude — what the fuck? you couldn’t think of another word in the american lexicon to get your point across?

  4. Link Dump « Rhymes With Cars & Girls Says:

    […] Seth Roberts makes a point more universally applicable: …use of the term scientific is a sign that the writer or writers don’t know what they’re talking about. Calling this or that “scientific” amounts to calling something else “unscientific” — which isn’t an argument, it’s abuse. The term scientific is often just a way to sneer at other people. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Stark raving lunaticBooks, books and more booksWhy We Don’t Think ClearlyLewis Black on his new special, The Daily Show, and the Root of All Evil […]

  5. Jason Says:

    Seconding Peter Smith and Nathan Myers.

  6. Mac Says:

    Seth,

    What is your gut instinct (no pun intended) about the distribution around the mean of effects on different people of things like probiotics (or any of the other regimens you discuss in your blog? It seems to me that any “consensus” assumes that the variance around the mean is pretty small. I.e., what works for one person works more or less the same for everyone. Based on everything you have seen, done, and read, how idiosyncratic do you believe people are in their responses to regimens? And – in what proportion of cases do you believe that a significant part of the distribution has a coefficient with a different sign (negative or positive effect)?

    I know that there is no easy answer to this, but wonder how much you and others have thought about it.

  7. seth Says:

    Mac, I believe everybody needs bacteria in their food just the same way everyone needs Vitamin C in their food. Just as Vitamin C cures everyone with scurvy . . . etc. There is nobody for whom Vitamin C makes scurvy worse.

    Specific applications always introduce variance. Although Vitamin C cures all scurvy, some fruits may have less Vitamin C than others, etc.

  8. Andrew Gelman Says:

    Seth: Do you really think it’s strange that people “get really really upset” by Holocaust denial? Look–you got really really upset by some dude in Canada who published obscure papers on fake nutritional experiments. Sure, the guy shouldn’t have done it, but it’s pretty minor. If you can be upset by that, how can you be surprised that someone can be upset when people minimize or deny the killing of millions of people? Science is important–I’m glad you’ve spent time exposing scientific fraud–but history is important too. If misrepresentation of major historical events doesn’t bother you, fine, but to call that “intolerance”–well, that’s just silly. The next step would be to call mathematicians intolerant for not allowing mathematical mavericks to put the “2+2=5 theory” in math journals and algebra textbooks.

    I also don’t think the word “scientific” is really comparable to the so-called N-word (or even to the much milder F-word). But maybe you use the word “scientific” in a different way than other people do!

  9. Anthony Says:

    @Andrew,

    There’s a difference between people who intentionally deceive, and people who are trying to do honest investigation into (in this case) an historical event. Some of them are intentionally misleading, and in that case, it’s probably warranted to get upset by what they’re doing. Some are not – they believe rather they *they* are being misled (and they believe that this explains why people aren’t allowed to investigate it freely, are imprisoned for questioning the official narrative, and so on).

  10. seth Says:

    Andrew, there are many differences between criticizing Ranjit Chandra, as Saul Sternberg and I did, and criticizing holocaust deniers. Here’s one of them: the information value. Whereas >99% of the world believed Chandra, who had received the Order of Canada, I’d guess that <1% of the world believes holocaust deniers. Whatever the exact percentage, it is very low. If holocaust denial got serious traction, I’d agree with you that it is worth pointing out the problems. But it never has so the inflamed passions, in my opinion, are unwise.

    It’s not my use of “scientific” I’m talking about; it’s how AIDSTruth.org uses it. They plainly use it as a way of placing themselves above other people, the way a thousand derogatory terms are used. It doesn’t fit the definition of “derogatory”, of course, but it is used to the same effect.

  11. rich Says:

    The real tragedy here is that the aidstruth people didn’t recognize the journal ‘medical hypotheses’ for what it is; namely, EXACTLY the journal Deusberg should be publishing in. I’m a regular reader of their abstracts, solely for comedic content. The regular articles hypothesizing why one testicle hangs lower than the other are my favorites! the journal is kind of crappy, deusberg’s ideas are kind of crappy. its really a match made in heaven!

  12. seth Says:

    “Solely for the comedic content”? Solely? Care to comment on this article?

    Dennis Mangan, A case report of niacin in the treatment of restless legs syndrome, Medical Hypotheses, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 30 June 2009, ISSN 0306-9877, DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.05.048.
    (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6WN2-4WN1YJS-1/2/5492c7af920b9b39946d3166687ebce5)

  13. Andrew Gelman Says:

    You write, “>99% of the world believed Chandra.” Actually, I think we can be pretty sure that >99% of the world has never heard of Chandra or his research. As you discussed in your debunking of Chandra, one reason for his success is that he worked in an obscure area that nobody bothered to check.

    In contrast, genocide remains a live issue, and a big rhetorical strategy of mass murderers is to deny that they’ve done it, or to claim that they’ve done it in self-defense. So fighting false historical revisionism is a good thing to do, I’d say. And, of course people get “really really upset” by Holocaust deniers: to have your relatives killed, and then have people trying to get their killers off the hook, yes, that’s horrible.

    Regarding the HIV/Aids thing: Duesberg’s writings give me the impression that he enjoys pissing people off. I’m not surprised that, yes, he succeeds at this task. I don’t think that people responding, perhaps intemperately, to a provocation is comparable to the flinging of racial slurs at people who are just minding their own business.

  14. seth Says:

    Well, I guess we agree that it is intemperate to try to get a journal abolished because it published a paper you disagree with.

    Chandra’s research was not in “an obscure area”. One thing he studied was how old people can avoid memory loss. His work on that topic was covered in the New York Times — taken completely seriously by the Times. Another area in which Chandra worked was what to feed babies. His work was taken entirely seriously by Nestle executives and many other people. His anti-breast-milk (fabricated) results may have harmed thousands if not millions of babies. Every dollar he got in grant money — and he got millions — harmed the scientists who therefore failed to get that money. By “>99% of the world believed Chandra” I didn’t mean  >99% of the world had heard of him. (I wish.) I meant >99% of those who encountered his work believed it.

    I don’t remember saying he got away with it because he worked in an area where no one bothered to check. People did check — and got different results. The politics of science is why he got away with it — the price of pointing it out was too high. It was because his work wasn’t obscure that he got caught: It reached the notice of two people — Saul and me — who were outside his sphere of influence.

    Yeah, fury at holocaust deniers surely has something to do with revenge, as you say. (The more polite term for revenge is justice.) You want the killers to be named as killers; anything that gets in the way of that is infuriating. Fine. Human nature, I agree. But genocide has a large revenge component as well, as Amy Chua has shown in World on Fire. That’s my point: You become what you say you are against.

  15. Tom in TX Says:

    @Nathan: I read about Duesberg years ago, but did not keep up with the debate. What is the best refutation of his view of AIDS?

  16. Mac Says:

    Seth,

    Sorry I was unclear in my question. The question is about regimens and treatments in general, not just probiotics. The variance of responses around the mean is obviously bigger than zero. The bigger it is, the less relevant are “generally accepted practices.” For some treatments, the effect on say 60% of the population could be positive (to various degrees), the effect on 20% could be zero, and the effect on 20% could be negative. Obviously this variance is different for different treatments. I was just wondering how to think about this phenomenon and its implications.