Monckton goes birther – demonstrates crank magnetism

Via Ed I see that Christopher Monckton is expanding his crankery from denying global warming, claiming to be and MP despite cease and desist letters from parliament asking him to stop, curing HIV, the flu, MS and the common cold to now engaging in Birtherism. It’s pathetic when you’ve been pre-debunked by snopes, but there’s no stopping a crank like Monckton.

This reminds me of all the fuss last month over Lewandowsky’s study that basically demonstrated crank magnetism, that is, the tendency of those who believe in one kind of conspiratorial nonsense to believe all sorts of other conspiratorial nonsense if it fits with their ideological worldview. One of the major criticisms of his results was the idea that it was scammed by people trying to make global warming denialists look bad, because there were too many respondents who believed in all the conspiracies. Lewandowsky responded that even removing the “true nutters” did not affect his analysis, but I disagree with the move, and as he notes in the post, Christopher Monckton is an example of why such responses are likely real. This guy is convinced he’s an expert on global warming (and that it doesn’t exist), that he’s cured HIV, that he’s a member of Parliament (despite a cease-and-desist letter from Parliament), and now that Obama is Kenyan. Why anyone should have been surprised by Lewandowsky’s results is beyond me.

Environmentalism and anti-science, how GMOs prove any ideological extremity leads to anti-science

Today I read about two individuals who decided on political defections over perceived anti-science amongst their former political allies- one due to climate change, the other for anti-GMO. From the right, we have Michael Fumento, who in Salon describes his break with the right, spurred by Heartland’s campaign comparing those who believe in climate change with the Unabomber, as well as a general atmosphere of conspiratorial crankery and incivility. And from the left, we have Stephen Sumpter of Latent Existence leaving the Greens over their support for the misguided anti-scientific campaign of “Take the Flour Back” to destroy a crop of GMO wheat at Rothamsted Research which carries a gene from another plant to make it aphid-resistant. Starting with the anti-GMO extremists (since I’ve been picking on right-wing denialism a lot lately), their movement is pretty classic anti-science and extreme. The Rothamsted Research program has been very forthright and clearly is trying to engage and communicate with the protestors, has released this video trying to engage them in a fruitful debate over their research:

and sent them a public appeal trying to explain their side and asking for dialogue rather than violence. I will quote most of it here.

We have learned that you are planning to attack our research test site on 27th May. Please read the
following in the spirit of openness and dialogue – we know we cannot stop you from taking the action you plan, nor would we wish to see force used against you. Therefore we can only appeal to your consciences, and ask you to reconsider before it is too late, and before years of work to which we have devoted our lives are destroyed forever.

We appeal to you as environmentalists. We agree that agriculture should seek to work “with nature rather than against it” (to quote from our website), and that motivation underlies our work. We have developed a variety of wheat which does not need to be sprayed with insecticides. Instead, we have identified a way of getting the plant to repel aphids, using a natural process that has evolved in mint and many other plants – and simply adding this into the wheat genome to enable it to do the samething.

So our GM wheat could, for future generations, substantially reduce the use of agricultural chemicals. Are you really against this? Or are you simply against it because it is “GMO” and you therefore think it is unnatural in some way? Remember – all plants in all types of agriculture are genetically modified to serve humanity’s needs, and the (E)-β-farnesene compound our wheat produces is already found in over 400 species of plant, many of which are consumed as food and drink on a daily basis (including the hops used in beer, to give just one example). To suggest that we have used a ‘cow gene’ and that our wheat is somehow part-cow betrays a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality.

You seem to think, even before we have had a chance to test it, that our new wheat variety is bad. How do you know this? Clearly it is not through scientific enquiry, as the tests have not yet been performed. You state on your website: “There is serious doubt that the aphid alarm pheromone as found in this GM crop would even work.” You could be right – but if you destroy our test, you and we will never know. Is that what you want? Our research is trying to shed light on questions about the safety and the usefulness of new varieties of the staple food crops on which all of us depend. As activists you might prefer never to know whether our new wheat variety would work, but we believe
you are in a minority – in a democratic society most people do value factual knowledge and understand that it is necessary for sensible decision making.

You have described genetically modified crops as “not properly tested”. Yet when tests are carried out you are planning to destroy them before any useful information can be obtained. We do not see how preventing the acquisition of knowledge is a defensible position in an age of reason – what you are planning to do is reminiscent of clearing books from a library because you wish to stop other people finding out what they contain. We remind you that such actions do not have a proud tradition.

Our work is publically funded, we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be owned by any private company – if our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to farmers around the world at minimum cost. If you destroy publicly funded research, you leave us in a situation where only the big corporations can afford the drastic security precautions needed to continue biotechnology research – and you therefore further promote a situation you say you are trying to avoid.

We end with a further concern. You may not know much about Rothamsted. You may not know that our institute is the site of perhaps the longest-running environmental experiment in the world, with plots testing different agricultural methods and their ecological consequences dating all the way back to 1843. Some of these plots are very close to the GM wheat test site, and we are extremely worried that anyone walking onto them would endanger a research programme that has been in operation for almost two centuries.

But we also see our newest tests as part of this unbroken line – research never ends, and technology never can nor should be frozen in time (as implied by the term ‘GM freeze’). Society didn’t stop with the horse-drawn plough because of fears that the tractor was ‘unnatural’. We didn’t refuse to develop better wheat varieties in the past – which keep us well-fed today – simply because they were different from what went before and therefore scary. The wheat that we consume today has had many genetic changes made to it – to make plants produce more grain, resist disease, avoid growing too tall and blow over in the wind, be suitable for different uses like pasta and bread, provide more nutrition and grow at the right time for farming seasons. These agricultural developments make it possible for the
same amount of food to be produced from a smaller area of land, meaning less necessity for farmers to convert wildlands to agriculture, surely we should work together in this?

When you visit us on 27 May we will be available to meet and talk to you. We would welcome the chance to show you our work and explain why we think it could benefit the environment in the future. But we must ask you to respect the need to gather knowledge unimpeded. Please do not come to damage and destroy.

As scientists we know only too well that we do not have all the answers. That is why we need to conduct experiments. And that is why you in turn must not destroy them.
Yours sincerely
J. A. PICKETT DSc, CBE, FRS (Professor)
Michael Elliott Distinguished Research Fellow and
Scientific Leader of Chemical Ecology
Toby Bruce (Scientist specialising in plant-insect interactions, Team Leader)
Gia Aradottir (Insect Biology, Postdoc )
Huw Jones (Wheat Transformation, Coinvestigator)
Lesley Smart (Field Entomology)
Janet Martin (Field Entomology)
Johnathan Napier (Plant Science, Coinvestigator)
John Pickett (Chemical Ecology, Principal Investigator)

The protestors, thinking they’re attacking some Monsanto-like evil corporation, are so consumed with their hatred of GMO that they are spreading misinformation, refusing to allow scientists to even engage in the research into GMO, and rather than engaging the scientists in dialogue are threatening to just destroy their experiment. This is the worst kind of bullying, extremist, anti-science garbage out there. At least the creationists don’t show up in our labs and start spitting in our test tubes. The climate denialists might make a lot of noise but they aren’t threatening to blow up James Hansen’s computer. Finally the “take the flour back” justifications are terrible:

Rothamsted have planted a new GM wheat trial designed to repel aphids. It contains genes for antibiotic-resistance and an artificial gene ‘most similar to a cow’.

This sentence is so stupid I have trouble understanding how they wrote it for public consumption. A gene can not be “similar to a cow”. This makes no biological sense. We could have a gene that has similar sequence to that of a gene in a cow, but even that shouldn’t necessarily be threatening. After all, if you look at our genes you’d find most of them (80 percent) have significant homology to bos taurus. This claim despite being biologically silly, is refuted by the researchers who insist the gene being studied is (E)-β-farnesene, a protein that is in many plants we already consume, that transfers natural resistance to aphids.

Wheat is wind-pollinated. In Canada similar experiments have leaked into the food-chain costing farmers millions in lost exports. There is no market for GM wheat anywhere in the world.

This is patently absurd, the absence of a market for a product that has not yet been brought to market is not an argument. Further, the evidence is that GM crops are readily adopted in the United States, and increasingly in China. The loss of millions has more to do with the unjustified panic over GM that has been created by Luddites in Europe, and finally, how is it possible to study the efficacy and safety of this technology if they’re just going to show up and destroy it? It would be better studied and the results will be more openly reported by the publicly funded Rothamsted researchers than if these experiments were done behind some fence in China by Monsanto.

This experiment is tax-payer funded, but Rothamsted hope to sell any patent it generates to an agro-chemical company.

The researchers deny this and have pledged not to patent the product. However, this might ultimately be an error that is ultimately harmful to the researchers’ attempts to distribute the technology. By patenting the product and licensing it, you will have a greater ability to convince an agricultural supplier to invest in, market and distribute the product. If you don’t patent it, and it becomes immediately public, the inability of a corporation to have exclusive use of the patent may discourage them generally from adopting the product. They’re out to make money, it’s true, and the sad thing is, even if you have the best product in the world, if they can just be copied by any competitor the appeal of investing in your product will be zero. It’s sad but true. I think they should patent it, and simply promise that licensing would require ethical provisions for its distribution to impoverished countries.

La Via Campesina, the world’s largest organisation of peasant farmers, believe GM is increasing world hunger. They have called for support resisting GM crops, and the control over agriculture that biotech gives to corporations.

The marketing practices of agri-business like Monsanto are extremely problematic, and it isn’t just peasant farmers in other countries but farmers here in the US that object to being strong-armed by big businesses, and seemingly extorted into using Monsanto seeds over reseeding their own fields. However, this is separate from the argument that GM crops are unsafe or increase world hunger. If anything, the experience of those such as Norman Borlaug and the creation of dwarf wheat varieties should demonstrate that modification of wheat can have a tremendous impact on world hunger. I have no doubt that GM technology might in the future generate similar advances in productivity as traditional methods. It’s also not the point of the research at Rothamsted which is to decrease the need for pesticide use. Yes, Monsanto sucks, what does that have to do with Rothamset? What does world hunger have to do with decreasing pesticide use? These are illogical arguments, that are a combination of appeals to consequence and straw men. Rothamsted is not Monsanto.

‘Take the Flour Back’ will be a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music from Seize the Day and a decontamination. It’s for anyone who feels able to publically [sic] help remove this threat and those who want to show their support for them.

Decontamination, what an excellent euphemism for vandalism, destruction of property, and violence. They are going to destroy the research project of publicly-funded plant researchers who are trying to answer questions about safety and efficacy of a product that could decrease pesticide use. They have justified this based on false information, biological ignorance, and a Luddite attitude towards biological technology that if anything will improve the safety of our food supply.

People have bizarre ideas about genetic modification, that somehow, transferring a gene from one species will then confer the properties of that entire species to the plant (hence the senseless cow comparison above). This is absurd. The arguments against resistant organisms don’t make a lot of sense to me either, because the alternative – pesticides – share the same flaw – at the same time represent a health threat to humans as well. The idea of transferring a gene that makes a protein that we already eat in other plants hardly seems like it should even raise an eyebrow to me. I don’t get the paranoia from the environmentalists on this issue. The need to feed ourselves and wrest resources from the pests and bacteria that we compete with on this planet is not static. It is constantly changing and our strength is our ability to use technology and science to our benefit. We don’t refuse to research antibiotics because one day bacteria might become resistant. We develop new antibiotics.

This demonstrates though that any ideology is susceptible to anti-science when it becomes extreme and that includes environmentalism. Based on shoddy understanding of biology, paranoia about Monsanto, and misinformation about publicly-funded researchers, these morons are about to go out and destroy a scientific project. If there were a better description of a modern Luddite I haven’t heard one.

Anyway. Onto Michael Fumento’s article in Salon. Fumento is irritated with the right because he sees them as exhibiting the one characteristic that he has never been able to stand in anyone – hysteria.

Gosh! When did I end up in bed with Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber? Could it be because I did specialize in blowing things up while serving my country for four years as an airborne combat engineer? I also watched human beings blown up. I had friends and Navy SEALs I was in battle with blown up. My own intestines exploded on the first of my four combat embeds, three in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Took seven operations to fix the plumbing. I later suffered other permanent injuries.

Yet now I find myself linked not only with the Unabomber, but also Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Or so says the Chicago-based think tank the Heartland Institute, for which I’ve done work. Heartland erected billboards depicting the above three declaring: “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” Climate scientists now, evidently, share something in common with dictators and mass murderers. Reportedly bin Laden was scheduled to make such an appearance, too.

The HI and and Morano have been shrieking about how environmentalists are worse and that this was unfair targeting of what the enviros do all the time, but no, not really. Usually when they find some example of an environmentalist calling for consequences for global warming denialism it’s quoted out of context, and even if it does happen, despite being a tu quoque this was a pretty extreme campaign. Extreme enough to even turn Fumento against them. No small feat.

Now a brief interlude for Fumento to stroke his vast ego (just read his blog tagline):

This is nuts! Literally. As in “mass hysteria.” That’s a phenomenon I wrote about for a quarter-century, from the heterosexual AIDS “epidemic” to the swine flu “pandemic” that killed vastly fewer people than seasonal flu, to “runaway Toyotas.” Mass hysteria is when a large segment of society loses touch with reality, or goes bonkers, if you will, on a given issue – like believing that an incredibly mild strain of flu could kill eight times as many Americans as normal seasonal flu. (It killed about a third as many.)

I was always way ahead of the curve. And my exposés primarily appeared in right-wing publications. Back when they were interested in serious research. I also founded a conservative college newspaper, held positions in the Reagan administration and at several conservative think tanks, and published five books that conservatives applauded. I’ve written for umpteen major conservative publications – National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, among them.

Fumento is a weird guy. He really doesn’t like it when people tell him he should be worried about something. To the point that he’ll deny things like that heterosexuals are at risk of spreading HIV, or at least diminish the heterosexual spread of the disease. This is despite the fact HIV is predominantly a heterosexual disease outside of the US. Similarly with other epidemic concerns, scientists make a big deal out of them, he usually says, “it’s no big deal”, and then by virtue of prevention programs, luck, or maybe even overestimation of the pathogenicity of the bug in question, he seems to come out on top. I don’t think it’s a good way to view the world, because when he’s wrong, he’s going to be really wrong. I tend towards to more cautious side of the spectrum based on historical events like the flu pandemic of 1918. We know it can happen, we should treat emerging diseases and severe flu strains seriously.

So now that he perceives the right is the hysterical bunch, screaming conspiracies about Obama ruining the entire capitalist western world, true to form he rejects the hysteria:

Nothing the new right does is evidently outrageous enough to receive more than a peep of indignation from the new right. Heartland pulled its billboards because of funder withdrawals, not because any conservatives spoke up and said it had crossed a line.

Last month U.S. Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican recently considered by some as vice-president material, insisted that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party, again with little condemnation from the new right.

Mitt Romney took a question at a town hall meeting this month from a woman who insisted President Obama be “tried for treason,” without challenging, demurring from or even commenting on her assertion.

And then there’s the late Andrew Breitbart (assassinated on the orders of Obama, natch). A video from February shows him shrieking at peaceful protesters: “You’re freaks and animals! Stop raping people! Stop raping people! You freaks! You filthy freaks! You filthy, filthy, filthy raping, murdering freaks!” He went on for a minute-and-a-half like that. Speak not ill of the dead? Sen. Ted Kennedy’s body was barely cold when Breitbart labeled him “a big ass motherf@#$er,” a “duplicitous bastard” a “prick” and “a special pile of human excrement.”

Civility and respect for order – nay, demand for order – have always been tenets of conservatism. The most prominent work of history’s most prominent conservative, Edmund Burke, was a reaction to the anger and hatred that swept France during the revolution. It would eventually rip the country apart and plunge all of Europe into decades of war. Such is the rotted fruit of mass-produced hate and rage. Burke, not incidentally, was a true Tea Party supporter, risking everything as a member of Parliament to support the rebellion in the United States.

All of today’s right-wing darlings got there by mastering what Burke feared most: screaming “J’accuse! J’accuse!” Turning people against each other. Taking seeds of fear, anger and hatred and planting them to grow a new crop.

President Obama is regularly referred to as a Marxist/Socialist, Nazi, tyrant, Muslim terrorist supporter and – let me look this up, but I’ll bet probably the antichrist, too. Yup, there it is! Over 5 million Google references. There should be a contest to see if there’s anything for which Obama hasn’t been accused. Athlete’s foot? The “killer bees”? Maybe. In any case, the very people who coined and promoted such terms as “Bush Derangement Syndrome, Cheney Derangement Syndrome and Palin Derangement Syndrome” have been promoting hysterical attitudes toward Obama since before he was even sworn in.

Well at least he’s consistent. Although he once did send me an email comparing me to Hitler. I wish I’d kept it, it was pretty funny. I tend to agree with the characterization of this as hysteria, although to be fair I think Obama is getting it worse than Bush did. After all, the accusations against Bush were often true, including the worst one. His administration did deceive us into a war in Iraq. The weapons were not there, the intelligence was inflated, and either through incompetence or irrationality we ended up in a Middle-Eastern hellhole for 10 years. The evidence against Obama, who in reality is a rather milquetoast pragmatist, being Stalin/Hitler/Marx/The Antichrist is a bit weaker.

His call is for civility, which for some reason that eludes me, is often anathema to bloggers. Civility in some sense of the word is patriarchal oppression, or censorship, or something. I don’t know about that, but my general rule is I write like my mother is reading this (and she might be), so it’s best not to be an outrageous turd to other people.

No, I’m not cherry-picking. When I say “regularly referred to,” interpret literally. Polls show that about half of voting Republican buy into the birther nonsense (one of the more prominent hysterias within the hysteria). Only about a fourth seem truly sure that Obama was actually born here. In her nationally syndicated column Michelle Malkin wrote regarding Limbaugh’s slut remarks, that “I’m sorry the civility police now have an opening to demonize the entire right based on one radio comment.” In a stroke she’s expressed her disdain for civility and declared the new right’s sins can be dispatched as an itsy-bitsy little single faux pas, “one radio comment.”

No, Michelle, incivility – nay, outright meanness and puerility – rears its ugly head daily on your blog, which as I write this on May 23 has one item referring in the headline to “Pig Maher’s boy [Bill Maher]” and another to “Jaczko the Jerk,” [former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko]. She calls Limbaugh target Sandra Fluke a “femme-agogue” and her supporters “[George] Soros monkeys.” Pigs? Monkeys? Moonbats? It’s literal dehumanization.

And now I’m in the bizarre position of actually agreeing with Fumento. Never thought I’d say that. Somehow his protective “never panic” mantra has been protective against the panicky insanity over the Obama presidency coming from the left, and allowed him to hold onto some core of humanity. Maybe it’s an adaptive feature after all?

The new right cannot advance a conservative agenda precisely because, other than a few small holdouts like the American Conservative magazine or that battleship that refuses to become a museum, George Will, it is not itself conservative. Pod people are running the show. It has no such capability; no such desire. I find that disturbing for obvious reasons. But, based on my own conversations with liberals, I think – nay, I know – that if more of these allegedly godless, treasonous people understood real conservatism a lot would embrace many conservative positions.

And this is true. I have voted for Republicans in the past (Connie Morella was the first congresswoman I ever voted for when I was 18), and would like to be able to in the future. But I agree with Fumento (my fingers just went numb again), until they accept empiricism again, and stop pitting their ideology against science there is no way I would ever vote for one. It’s unfortunate, because in the old school/Rockefeller Republican/revenue generation isn’t anathema days they occasionally had good ideas to contribute, and a ideological view that was balanced by a tradition of civility and responsibility towards the country.

The Right Wing Appeal of Duesberg’s HIV/AIDS denialism

Via Ed

If you ever wondered what motivated this particular HIV/AIDS denialist this video makes it obvious. Duesberg comes out and blames homosexual promiscuity for AIDS rather than a virus. I think examples like this make it clearer that the ideology responsible for this denialism is plain just plain homophobia after all. This is, of course, appealing to right wing ideologues so where does Duesberg end up? On right wing radio with the American Family Association’s Brian Fischer proposing the absurd “AIDS was invented for gays to steal grant-money” conspiracy theory. I think the Southern Poverty Law Center was right to designate AFA a hate group, and here’s qhy

The AFA seeks to support “traditional moral values,” but in recent years it has seemed to specialize in “combating the homosexual agenda.” In 2009, it hired Bryan Fischer, the former executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, as its director of analysis for government and policy. Taking a page from the anti-gay fabulist Scott Lively (see Abiding Truth Ministries, above), Fischer claimed in a blog post last May 27 that “[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.” (Ironically, the elder Wildmon was widely denounced as an anti-Semite after suggesting that Jews control the media, which the AFA says “shows a genuine hostility towards Christians.”) Fischer has described Hitler as “an active homosexual” who sought out gays “because he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough.” He proposed criminalizing homosexual behavior in another 2010 blog post and has advocated forcing gays into “reparative” therapy. In a 2010 “action alert,” the AFA warned that if homosexuals are allowed to openly serve in the military, “your son or daughter may be forced to share military showers and barracks with active and open homosexuals.”

I guess it was just a matter of time before he latched onto HIV/AIDS denialism and I think this constitutes and example of crank magnetism. Such is the nature of the rabid ideologue – no matter how obviously absurd a belief is, if it affirms your warped ideology you support it.

Duesberg Strikes a blow for HIV/AIDS denialism

When Duesberg was recently given space in Scientific American I think the blogosphere was rightly chagrinned that they would give space to a crank whose crackpot ideas are thought to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands. But it seemed at the time he had been keeping his denialism on the down low, maybe appearing to have given up on his crank view that HIV does not cause AIDS. Not so anymore. He’s back, and has secured publication of a paper denying HIV/AIDS in an Italian Journal.

Continue reading “Duesberg Strikes a blow for HIV/AIDS denialism”

The New Scientist Debates Denialism

Luckily they don’t make the mistake of actually debating denialists. The feature of last weeks issue, “Age of Denial” is a series of articles by skeptics and one laughable rebuttal, discussing the nature of denialism and tactics to use against it. They do quite a good job covering the basics, starting with Deborah MacKenzie and her article “Why Sensible People Reject the Truth“:

Whatever they are denying, denial movements have much in common with one another, not least the use of similar tactics (see “How to be a denialist”). All set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people. This conspiracy is usually claimed to be promoting a sinister agenda: the nanny state, takeover of the world economy, government power over individuals, financial gain, atheism.

All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.

Here she has it exactly right. Denialism starts with ideology, which most of us possess to some degree or another, and a conflict between that ideology and reality – at least so far as science allows us to understand it. In order to regain control of one’s beliefs, and protect them from being challenged, one has to prove that the science is wrong. And that requires one to believe in some form of non-parsimonious conspiracy theory, after all, how else could it be that science has come up with such an answer if not for the concerted malfeasance of thousands of individuals, all working together to undermine the TRUTH?

Further she cites these as tactics of denialists:

How to be a denialist
Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. “I’m not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings,” he says (The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2).
1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.

Sound familiar? That’s because McKee cites us in his paper. We’ll forgive her for not identifying the original source, after all McKee gives the credit.

She does get a few things wrong, likely due to her unfamiliarity with just how absurd some denialists are. For instance when she says:

The first thing to note is that denial finds its most fertile ground in areas where the science must be taken on trust. There is no denial of antibiotics, which visibly work. But there is denial of vaccines, which we are merely told will prevent diseases – diseases, moreover, which most of us have never seen, ironically because the vaccines work.

This is demonstrably false, as we have encountered denialists who do deny the efficacy of antibiotics and all of Western medicine, as their particular ideology requires them to believe in the primacy of religion (Christian Science, New Age Nonsense) or in the magical properties of nature. She goes on to describe the work of our good colleague Seth Kalichman and the good things he’s done to fight HIV/AIDS denialism. Overall, a good summary of the problem. I also like how she stays non-judgmental and reflects on how pseudoscience is ultimately a complement to science:

This is not necessarily malicious, or even explicitly anti-science. Indeed, the alternative explanations are usually portrayed as scientific. Nor is it willfully dishonest. It only requires people to think the way most people do: in terms of anecdote, emotion and cognitive short cuts. Denialist explanations may be couched in sciency language, but they rest on anecdotal evidence and the emotional appeal of regaining control.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, this certainly applies to pseudoscience. After all pseudoscience is a reflection of the authority science has as the arbiter of truth. If being on the right side of science wasn’t so important, cdesign proponentsists and global warming denialists wouldn’t fight so hard to warp it to fit their ideology, and by doing so, implicitly seek its approval.

Jim Giles contributes an interesting article on an example of how a lie travels twice around the world before the truth gets its boots on with Unleashing a Lie, but then the series gets a bit more problematic with the contributions of noted skeptic Michael Shermer (also anerstwhile global warming denialist and persistent libertarian) and an amusing counterpoint from the otherwise wonderful Michael Fitzpatrick, a British GP who fights the good fight against autism quackery.
Continue reading “The New Scientist Debates Denialism”

Denying AIDS – A book by Seth Kalichman


Seth Kalichman is a better man than I. Kalichman is a clinical psychologist, editor of the journal Aids and Behavior and director of the Southeast HIV/AIDS Research and Evaluation (SHARE) product, and he has devoted his life to the treatment and prevention of HIV. Despite a clear passion for reducing the harm done by HIV/AIDS, to research this book he actually met, and interviewed, prominent HIV/AIDS denialists. I confess I simply lack the temperament to have done this. To this day, when I read about HIV/AIDS denialists, and the the 330,000 people who have died as a result of HIV/AIDS denialism, I see red. I think violent, bloody thoughts.

The HIV/AIDS denialists, like Celia Farber, object to being called denialist, a quote from her in the book:

Those who wish to engage the AIDS research establishment in the sort of causality debate that is carried on in most other branches of scientific endeavor are tarred as AIDS “denialists,” as if skepticism about the pathogenicity of a retrovirus were the moral equivalent of denying the Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews.

To this I would reply that the HIV/AIDS denialists like Duesberg are worse than holocaust deniers. Holocaust deniers are anti-semitic bigots and horrible people sure, but the HIV/AIDS denialists are responsible for an ongoing campaign of death. Because people like Duesberg have convinced morons like Thabo Mbeki of their pseudoscience, hundreds of thousands of people are dead.

This is why I see red. Denialist is about the nicest thing you could call the likes of Farber and Duesberg.

Kalichman’s book is well-written, timely, thoroughly researched, and to his great credit he uses my definition of denialism. Ha! How could I help but love this book? The fact that he pursues denialism from a psychological angle, and interacts directly with the critical denialists behind this story make it a profoundly important study and resource in understanding not just HIV/AIDS denialism, but all forms of denialist pseudoscience. This takes a very patient, very dedicated person. I would have lost my temper, lost my patience, or lost my mind to have delved so deep into this madness. Not to mention, I’m not very forgiving or nice to people I perceive as being so detrimental. It’s a personality flaw, I recognize it. That’s why we’re lucky to have people like Seth Kalichman.

Let’s discuss some of Kalichman’s findings below the fold…
Continue reading “Denying AIDS – A book by Seth Kalichman”

Nature Reviews “Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy”

Seth Kalichman has written a book on HIV AIDS denial and Nature has a book review that’s got me excited to get my copy. From the review:

Inadequate health policies in South Africa have reportedly led to some 330,000 unnecessary AIDS deaths and a spike in infant mortality, according to estimates by South African and US researchers. This carnage exceeds the death toll in Darfur, yet it has received far less attention. Seth Kalichman, a US clinical psychologist, shows in Denying AIDS how words can kill. His marvellous book should be read alongside Nicoli Nattrass’s Mortal Combat, covering similar ground but from the perspective of a South African.

The tragic events in South Africa have been exacerbated by AIDS ‘denialists’ who, Kalichman alleges, assert that HIV is harmless and that antiretroviral drugs are toxic. The author discusses the psychology of denialism, which he says is “the outright rejection of science and medicine”.

These attitudes are not unique to HIV. Denialism, notes Kalichman, is “partly an outgrowth of a more general anti-science and anti-medicine movement”. Groups that support intelligent design, doubt global warming, claim that vaccines cause autism, argue that cigarettes are safe, believe that the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were an intelligence-agency plot or deny the Holocaust all use similar tactics.

As Kalichman says, denialism “will not break until the public is educated to differentiate science from pseudoscience, facts from fraud”.

Excellent! These are the points we’ve been trying to get across for years and I’m excited to see others catching on and emphasizing this point. It’s not about differing opinions it’s about different tactics. The tactics of the pseudoscientists are easy to spot, and don’t require expert knowledge of science. If people know about them, and recognize them, then fighting against insidious ideas like HIV/AIDS denial or evolution denial gets that much easier.

Get yourself a copy!

The Dr. Will Sue You Now – A stolen chapter from Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science

In order to help spread the word about a dangerous altie quack and HIV/AIDS denier who is responsible for probably hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths from AIDS in Africa, I’m reproducing The Doctor Will Sue You Now, here on denialism blog.

The chapter, removed from Ben Goldacre’s new book Bad Science due to libel litigation from the quack, Matthias Rath, in response to Goldacre’s description of his activities in Africa and around the world. Another profile of a crank, this one goes a long way to show the extent to which denialism can damage a country and even cost thousands of lives.

It’s fascinating reading, and important for people to know about. And make sure to check out Ben’s book!

Continue reading “The Dr. Will Sue You Now – A stolen chapter from Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science”

Denialists’ harvest—the AIDS body count in South Africa

As a physician, few things frustrate and sadden me as much as preventable deaths. I see it all the time—the guy who kept putting off his colonoscopy and was later diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer, the woman who put off coming to the doctor with her breast lump until it broke through her skin, the heart patient who couldn’t stop smoking. They all haunt me. But what if the ghosts were numbered in the hundreds of thousands rather than dozens?

That’s what it must be like to be Thabo Mbeki, that is if he has a conscience. It may (or may not) be bad “framing” to call someone a “denialist” but a new study seems to say that whatever you call it, denialism kills. When government leaders allow themselves to be duped by denialists murderers non-acceptors of truth sickfuckdenialistbastards….Damn it, I’m sticking with “denialist”. When government leaders allow denialists to guide their public health policies, people die, apparently in large numbers. I’ll have to leave it to my epidemiology colleagues to evaluate the quality of the study (which on my read looks OK), but even if it’s off by one order of magnitude, the results are horrifying.
Continue reading “Denialists’ harvest—the AIDS body count in South Africa”

Journalist becomes the story: Discover Magazine luvs teh denialists.

HT erv.

This is truly annoying because it is so patently wrong. It’s wrong in lots of different ways, but I’ll help point out some of the major flaws. What happens when journalist becomes the story, rather than reports it?

You see, there is this journalist, Celia Farber, who apparently has been following the HIV denialists since the beginning. From reading this interview with her in Discover Magazine, it would seem that she is suffering from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Not only that, but the journalist interviewing her shows a complete lack of suspicion, and seems to be one of those modern journalists who thinks that everything has two valid sides to report on. Not everything does.

Instead of chronicling the history of HIV denialism, she has truly drunk deep of the Flav-R-Ade. Ever wonder how to tell if a journalist has lost her objectivity? How about this?

It’s changed in that so much of what the orthodoxy proclaimed has not come true. The paradigm has failed miserably on virtually all counts. So the orthodoxy right now is particularly venomous and vicious against anybody who is what they call an AIDS denialist.

Uh oh. I sense someone begging the question. The interviewer follows up with a WTF.

What are the failures of the paradigm?

Good question, but I would have also asked, “WTF is the ‘HIV paradigm’?”

Response? Right out of the HIV denialist handbook: (all emphasis mine, –PalMD)
Continue reading “Journalist becomes the story: Discover Magazine luvs teh denialists.”