Thursday, October 22, 2009

Movement to squelch Medical Hypotheses afoot

Medical Hypotheses, the ideologically iconoclastic medical journal edited by academic and Steveosphere giant Bruce G. Charlton, is under siege for entertaining the ideas of 'AIDS-denialist' Peter Duesberg. Dennis Mangan takes an in-depth look at what has transpired. Rather than try to rehash what he has written, I'll urge you to go there to get the story.

If there is anything Bruce believes sympathetic readers will be able to do in his aid, I'll be sure to make it known.

17 comments:

OneSDTV said...

Does AIDS denialism have any merit whatsoever?

Given my experience with HBD, I approach any scientific topic tenously connected to a PC issue (such as climate change, race, or NAMs) with skepticism.

As we see wit HBD, the scientific establishment will gladly ignore loads of undeniable evidence to further and support their liberal policies.

But I've never encountered any skepticism concerning AIDS. What exactly is the controversy and does the opposition have a case?

By defualt, I go with the establishment, but if it doesn't seem to make sense (like gliobal warming), then I reconsider.

bgc said...

@OneSDTV - answer from Bruce G Charlton (editor of Medical Hypotheses).

The real issue is not whether you or I believe that specific ideas are true or not (as editor I ought properly to be agnostic about the truth of papers - because the validity of science should properly be decided by the scientific community by argument and testing _after_ publication) -

rather, the issue is whether ideas should be coercively excluded from the scientific literature by the pre-publication actions of pressure groups or publishers etc.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

The real issue is not whether you or I believe that specific ideas are true or not

In other words, I don't care if this guy has any scientific evidence at all, I'm going to destroy my reputation and everyone associated with me just for the sake of sticking it in the eye of the establishment.

Unless this fellow has substantial evidence in favor of AIDS being a fraud, do NOT publish an AIDS denialist, or you are going to cause enormous damage to everyone who has ever written for your publication.

Would you publish someone who wants to discuss alien abductions and UFO conspiracies if the establishment was against him?

The consensus opinion is not always wrong.

Have you consulted with previous writers for your Journal who will be damaged by an AIDS denialist appearing in your journal, or are you more interested in being a martyr for a fraudulant cause?

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Do not have any more associations with this guy.

Anonymous said...

TUJ, are you gay or something? This seems to have struck a nerve with you.

Yes, given the political climate, it was probably not a good idea to publish this. But is that climate a good thing? Is it good to live in an age where such-and-such view is beyond the pale and provokes outrage?

What bothers me is that the tone of this outrage is not "Medical Hypotheses is a bogus journal" but "Medical Hypotheses dared to publish this particular bogus article, which I find offensive".

It is certainly true that "public opinion is not always wrong", but your argument seems to be more like "we shouldn't always allow public opinion to be questioned". I vehemently disagree with that.

Jason Malloy said...

"The real issue is not whether you or I believe that specific ideas are true or not ... rather, the issue is whether ideas should be coercively excluded from the scientific literature by the pre-publication actions of pressure groups or publishers etc."

Bruce, the real issue most certainly is whether you believe that specific ideas or true or not.

Whether peer reviewed or 'editorially reviewed,' science is reviewed by a peer or jury of peers for competence and suitability. This is why there will be no papers published in Medical Hypotheses or elsewhere with quality safe-guards titled 'The Link Between Mind Control and Phlogiston,' despite the fact that similar incompetent, false, and incoherent theories are abundant. Much as with "freedom fighter" and "terrorist," the semantic line between "reviewing" and "coercion" can be manipulated simply by shifting the probabilities that the excluded ideas are meritorious. As a reviewer you are tasked to assess merit and exclude the Khunian waste products of Zombie Science.

Duesberg's HIV theories certainly fit the definition of Zombie Science. At one time his theories were merely controversial, but the weight of the evidence soon discredited him. But he keeps repeating his original claims as if this weren't the case. He is too invested in his reputation to give up his discredited paradigm, or admit error, as is typical. Peer review -- a system of discrimination -- is one channel for moving things forward at the expense of individual egos.


"as editor I ought properly to be agnostic about the truth of papers - because the validity of science should properly be decided by the scientific community by argument and testing _after_ publication"


As editor you can't be agnostic about the content of the papers. You have to know the context of the science being discussed. You have to evaluate based on your own scientific competence in the subject matter. Otherwise what if the content has already been tested?

And this gets down to the crux of the controversy: the appropriateness of 'editorial review' vis a vis 'peer review'. Peer review delegates editorial judgment to specialists versed in the scientific issues being discussed.

How can one man, even an intelligent polymath, possibly have the universal competence to evaluate all ideas for scientific appropriateness? Reading journals it quickly becomes apparent that there are a virtually infinite amount of scientific sub-disciplines, each with their own set of burgeoning, current, and resolved controversies.

To understand which controversies have been resolved and why you'd need to be fully versed in that discipline; an impossibility for all disciplines. Hence the broader the subject matter of the journal, the greater the need for specialized reviewers to competently screen the content.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Anonymous,

I am not questioning the quack doctor's right to question the existence of HIV. I'm saying the editors of science journals (in this case, Dr Charlton) should not allow crackpots to be published in their journals. The HIV denialist has a moral right to free speech - he does not have a right to be taken seriously by editors of peer reviewed science journals.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

I'm saying the editors of science journals (in this case, Dr Charlton) should not allow crackpots to be published in their journals.

Let me rephrase that,

Journals can publish pseudoscience if they want, but if they destroy their scientific credibility in the process, the editors have no right to complain.

popularsymbolism said...

If you would beg my pardon for a minute, I would like to focus on this word 'AIDS-denier' for a minute.

More evidence that everyday people's usage of the English language is getting more and more dumbed down - just witness all the 'denial'isms that have surfaced over the years and employed ad nauseam by the mainstream media. 'AIDS-denialist', 'Holocaust-denier', 'Global-warming denier' - perhaps non-US audiences would be shocked to find people actually TALK like this in academic circles with the utmost of conviction without sounding embarassed by the slightest. It's a rhetorical weapon that by itself infers that to deny (say) the Holocaust/global warming/AIDS, you are automatically wrong because you are denying the existence of something which is a fact.

Let it be said that I'm not saying the Holocaust or AIDS can be denied - my beef is with this whole rhetorical construct and the disingenuous way in which it is employed - because they use it in such an intellectually dishonest way that they put words into people's mouth and characterize a person's arguments with a very broad brush to discredit his argument, or lump him in with a fringe group.

It's yet more confirmation of George Orwell's prescience - Newspeak and the continual bastardisation of the language is definitely going on. 'Thoughtcrime' covered the wide gamut of everything that was wrong - it was unnecessary to say 'you're a thief' - thoughtcrime covered that already. It was unnecessary to elaborate on why you think someone was wrong - because by branding him as a 'Thoughtcriminal', he was immediately a social outcast/heretic that needed to be re-educated.

George Orwell once did an essay on Newspeak within the framework of a final book chapter in the book 1984 - it's well researched and well worth reading, and above all, the key is not so much having to employ two contradictory definitions of a word or meme, but the way in which context and meaning was destroyed by the elimination of the vocabulary.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

More evidence that everyday people's usage of the English language is getting more and more dumbed down - just witness all the 'denial'isms that have surfaced over the years and employed ad nauseam by the mainstream media. 'AIDS-denialist', 'Holocaust-denier', 'Global-warming denier'

"Denier" is certainly a term of disparagement, but it is accurate because the people in question are actually denying something exists (or is being greatly exaggerated).

I will freely admit to being a Global-Warming denier because I deny Global Warming exists, or, at best is being highly exaggerated.

"Denier" is a reasonably accurate term regardless of the motivations of the "believers."

Dennis Mangan said...

It's bleeding obvious that TUJ hasn't the slightest idea of what Duesberg actually says. He denies neither the existence of AIDS nor that of HIV. Nor does TUJ know anything at all on the topic except what he's read in the newspapers, and on that basis has the gall to label Duesberg a crank.

bgc said...

@Jason Malloy

I think you are simply mistaken about the nature of the scientific process when it is working properly - perhaps because things have changed so much, and in so much the wrong direction, over the past few decades. Compared with science as practiced in the mid-twentieth century, the way that mainstream science is being conducted at present is corrupt, inefficient and - worst of all - ineffective.

You may already have read (and perhaps been un-persuaded by) my writings on editorial review and the nature of science that can be found at:

http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/

but the arguments are set out there in many pieces published over several years. The arguments are based on a fairly extensive knowledge of the history, philosophy and sociology of science - in particular writers such as Popper, Bronowski, David L Hull, and John Ziman.

I’d like to focus on the work of John Ziman. Ziman's Real Science (Cambridge UP 2000) is just about the only book written so far that documents the profound changes in science during the period since 1945: the shift from academic to 'post academic' science – similar to De Solla Price’s ‘Big Science’. Ziman was in a position to know this – being highly eminent and well-connected, a Fellow of the Royal Society for his work in Physics, and with decades of detailed sociological study over decades published in several books.

Ziman mentioned Duesberg in Real Science in discussing how science did (and ought to) deal with persistent dissent from scientists of proven ability:

(Continued below)

bgc said...

(Continued fromabove)

John Ziman mentioned Duesberg in Real Science (2000) in discussing how science did (and ought to) deal with persistent dissent from scientists of proven ability:

page 44:

"Consider, for example, Peter Duesberg's controversial opinion that AIDS is not caused by HIV. An overwhelming majority of the experts on this subject regarded these views as wrong-headed and completely disproved by a vast body of contrary evidence. Nevertheless, Duesberg and his small band of supporters were given journal space for their 'heresies', provided that these were presented impersonally, in a form that referees and editors could accept as contributing in some small manner to scientific understanding."

Page 255:

"...it is no longer thought appropriate to set up an official tribunal - even under the aegis of an august National Academy - to settle a scientific controversy. Good science is not made by majority verdicts. Discredited claims are never _killed_; they simply _fade away_. Although their supporters usually learn to live with the dominant view, they are not expected to recant in public. Indeed, some of the soldier on for decades, refusing to admit defeat. If they are as eminent as Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle or Peter Duesberg they may even continue to be given space for their 'heresies' in the formal literature, despite the fact that nobody seriously believes them. The custom then is for other authors to ignore them completely, or to cite them perfunctorily, without bothering to express negative opinions that would only reignite a fruitless controversy."

Ziman is describing the way in which persistent dissent by highly able scientists was dealt with by the scientific community in the era when science was at its best, he is also endorsing this as the best way to deal with dissent.

Ziman was (until his death) on the editorial advisory board for Medical Hypotheses, and endorsed the journals policy of editorial review and its mission to publish revolutionary science. Popper was also on the editorial advisory board when the journal was set up. David L Hull (author of Science as a process, Chicago UP 1988; and major evolutionary theorist) is another board member.

So your expressed view about the ‘impossibility’ of effective editorial review would be regarded as mistaken by Popper, Hull and Ziman amongst other eminent editorialists such as Nobel Prizewinners Sir James, Black and Arvid Carlsson.

Indeed editorial review demonstrably works: the impact factor of Medical Hypotheses is 1.4 and still rising, and I know from internal data that our download rate of half a million per year matches that of Journal of Theoretical Biology. The journal also makes a profit.

These are the facts about Medical Hypotheses, not my personal opinion.

Medical Hypotheses has nothing to apologize for, and much to be proud of.

Jason Malloy said...

"So your expressed view about the ‘impossibility’ of effective editorial review would be regarded as mistaken by Popper, Hull and Ziman amongst other eminent editorialists such as Nobel Prizewinners Sir James, Black and Arvid Carlsson."

Bruce,

I did not say that editorial review was impossible; I said that it would be impossible for one man to be well-versed in all current science. Additionally, I said that the broader a journal's content, the less one person would be able to evaluate the merit of all the papers submitted.

I'm not sure what part of your quote applies to, or contradicts my comment. Taken at face-value your quote indicates that you published what you knew to be pseudoscience, because.... well, I don't know why. Nothing about the quote really gives adequate justification for why pseudoscience should be published in a scientific journal. It just suggests that the scientific community routinely publishes the false ravings of high status cranks out of some sort of in-group loyalty. I'm not sure this is even true, given that Duesberg's HIV theories are no longer published in any other journal. And even if it were true, it certainly doesn't justify the practice. Indeed, knowingly publishing false science is corrupt.

It was not my intention to sweepingly dismiss editorial review or sweepingly malign you or the journal Medical Hypotheses. But I do believe something is broken in a review process if it allows pseudoscience like this to be published. This is a concern that can not be mitigated by Impact Factor.

bgc said...

@Jason Malloy

As you are somebody I respect, I can only say that I am very disappointed at your attitude. I can only urge you to continue thinking about these issues.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Nor does TUJ know anything at all on the topic except what he's read in the newspapers, and on that basis has the gall to label Duesberg a crank.

His theory has been proven wrong by virologists for some time now. Pushing a scientific theory that has been disproven qualifies as "crank."

There's no difference between him and Intelligent Design theorist Michael Behe.

Galtonian said...

@ Bruce Charlton,

Your editorial policy was quoted as:
"Medical Hypotheses takes a deliberately different approach to review: the editor sees his role as a 'chooser', not a 'changer', choosing to publish what are judged to be the best papers from those submitted. The Editor sometimes uses external referees to inform his opinion on a paper, but their role is as an information source and the Editor's choice is final."

So I am curious, as editor of Medical Hypotheses did you, or did you not, do some "choosing". Did you choose to reject some manuscripts because you deemed them to be too nutty (i.e. too irrational or too unscientific)? For example have you rejected creationist/intelligent design papers? If indeed you have elected to reject some nutty papers, why then did you not reject the these two nutty papers that deny a well supported scientific fact (i.e. the link between HIV and AIDS)? Is it correct (as Jason Malloy surmises) that your editorial policy was to publish totally nutty papers by famous cranks but to reject equivalently nutty papers by more obscure nuts?

I realize that there is a need for a publishing venue for unpopular scientific hypotheses, but nevertheless these scientific hypotheses still have to be grounded to some degree in empirical fact and scientific plausibility. In the case of the HIV-causes-AIDS theory, this is a very successful theory that accounts satisfactorily for all known empirical data. On the other hand, the Boasian/Gouldian hypothesis (a politically correct theory which postulates innate ethnoracial equality in IQ-type intelligence) is a scientifically implausible theory. So I agree with your decision to publish unpopular anti-Boasian papers in Medical Hypotheses (such as some of your columns and the papers by Jason Malloy and by Rushton & Jensen). The Boasian theory is a decrepit, corrupt, and broken theory. But in the case of the HIV-causes-AIDS theory, this modern consensus theory is highly robust and is working fine, so as we say here in America--if it ain't broke don't fix it! Just because as a young researcher, Peter Duesberg was smart (or lucky) enough to be involved with an important research success during the 1970s (cloning the chicken RSV-src gene or what ever), nevertheless now he is a total crank and thus there was no imperative to publish his paper in the scientific press, instead he could still publish his nonscientific views where it belongs, in the nonscientific popular press (in a book, or blogs, or popular magazines etc.).