Crank Magnetism

Back when we wrote the Unified Theory of the Crank one of the main things we discussed related to crankery is their inability to recognize competence in others. As a result, cranks tend not to mind the crankery of others, since they see themselves as opposed to a scientific orthodoxy. Consistency be damned, they just want to see science with egg on its face so they can prove that they are being persecuted.

Well lately, Uncommon Descent has been doing a pretty incredible job of sticking to this script. First we have Dembski, insisting upon the persecution of ID abroad, because the Germans jailed a holocaust denier who happened to be a creationist. Dembski, not being the sharpest tool in the drawer, didn’t think to look to closely at the story and, well, played the persecution card a little too soon.

Now Uncommon Descent, aiming for a trifecta of denialism, is using HIV/AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg to attack the orthodoxy. It really is true, cranks are so incompetent at reason and logic they simply can’t see that they’re making a terrible case. In this instance, they’re using Duesberg’s Chromosomal Chaos hypothesis to suggest that science is so addicted to Darwinism we’ve been getting not just cancer research, but bacterial resistance wrong for decades.

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Science Covers

Tara points out that we missed a nice little article in Science last week about our friends at AidsTruth. They discuss their ongoing efforts to counter HIV/AIDS denialism on the Web.

Launched by AIDS researchers, clinicians, and activists from several countries, offers more than 100 links to scientific reports to “debunk denialist myths” and “expose the denialist propaganda campaign for what it is … to prevent further harm being done to individual and public health.” The site also has a section that names denialists and unsparingly critiques their writings, variously accusing them of homophobia, “scientific ignorance of truly staggering proportions,” conspiracy theories, “the dogmatic repetition of the misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or mischaracterization of certain scientific studies,” and flat-out lies. “There was a perceived need to take these people on in cyberspace, because that’s where they operate mostly, and that’s where the most vulnerable people go for their information,” says immunologist John Moore, an AIDS researcher at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

Peter Duesberg, a prominent cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, whom colleagues have pilloried ever since he first questioned the link between HIV and AIDS in 1987, remains unswayed by the Web site, which he derides in an e-mail interview as a “scientifically worthless mix of ad hominems, opinions, intolerance, and religious energy–instead of a theory and facts.” Duesberg maintains that “many essential questions” about what he calls the “HIV-AIDS hypothesis” remain unanswered.

Aww, poor Duesberg. They’re persecuting him! It’s religious dogma! I’m like Galileo!

In reality, there is very little ad hominem attack, but at a certain point, it’s hard not to point out that he’s a monster. In fact, AidsTruth is a nice resource for debunking the claims of the major HIV/AIDS denialists with essays from top researchers, real science papers, and very thorough analyses of how the denialists are using the tactics. And there’s good evidence they’ve had an impact:

To the delight of Jefferys and others, a Supreme Court judge in Australia in April cited a debunking article on in a closely followed case that involved a man convicted of endangering life for not revealing he was infected with HIV to sexual partners. The man appealed, claiming that no studies prove HIV causes AIDS. His defense consisted of two “expert” witnesses, one of whom was extensively questioned about allegations that she had misused a researcher’s results on sexual transmission of HIV. The questions were inspired by an editorial posted on The judge concluded that neither defense witness–both of whom are branded as denialists on–was qualified to express opinions on these questions. “There’s a constant concern that by rebutting these things, you’re giving them more credence–there’s a thin line between slaying the monster and feeding it,” says Jefferys. “The judge’s decision made the Web site seem really worthwhile.”

He also seems to understand the nature of the crank:

“The denialists tend to be grotesquely inaccurate,” says Richard Jefferys, an activist with the Treatment Action Group in New York City who also helped start the site. “It’s almost like the more outrageously inaccurate the claim is, the more they repeat it.”

Maybe it’s because they were kind enough to host my crank HOWTO! I’m flattered.

Who are the denialists? (Part I)

“It’s just murder…It’s really just that simple.”
-Anthony Fauci on the HIV/AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg

I think that one of the clearest examples of denialism, and of the harm that anti-scientific attitudes can have, is in HIV/AIDS denialism. But who in this day and age can continue to promote such a thoroughly absurd idea that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, and worse yet, actively discourage those infected with the virus from pursuing treatments that have been proven to extend life?

I’ll tell you who. The denialists.
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Beware the bashers of peer review

I’d like to hear from some other sciencebloggers and science readers what they think reform of peer-review should look like. I’m not of the opinion that it has any critical flaws, but most people would like to see more accountability for sand-bagging and other bad reviewer habits. Something like a grading system that allows submitters to rate the performance of their reviewers, then editors of magazines would tend to only consult with reviewers that authors felt were doing a fair job of evaluating their paper.

The drawback of course would be that reviewers might start going easier on papers just because they don’t want bad grades.

One thing I do know for sure though, we shouldn’t take advice about peer review from HIV/AIDS denialists…
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