How to Attack a Scientific Theory and Get Away With It (Lots of info)

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Click the Link below! This is a great read...

How to attack a scientific theory and get away with it (usually): the attempt to
destroy an origin-of-AIDS hypothesis

Published in Science as Culture, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 2010, pp. 215-239

Brian Martin

[ ... ]


This framework highlights the powerful advantages held by supporters of dominant
scientific theories.

The treatment of challengers may be quite fair in terms of standard perceptions,
but when the treatment might be seen as unfair, the methods of inhibiting
outrage are powerful tools.

In summary, how can scientists attack a theory and get away with it?


There are lots of ways of attacking, such as withholding evidence, blocking
publications, demanding an excessive level of proof, making disparaging comments
about ideas and individuals, publishing spurious refutations, ignoring evidence,
not responding to arguments, denying research grants, threatening careers and
taking legal action. The trouble with most of these methods is that they seem to
be unfair: they violate common expectations of how science is supposed to work.

So how do scientists get away with attacks?

Partly by hiding them, reinterpreting the attacks as normal behaviour, and by
using expert forums such as panels, conferences and journal editorials to give
the stamp of authority to rejection of the theory.


And partly through the effects of the attack itself: disparaging comments lower
the credibility of targets and intimidation scares many into silence.

Effective resistance requires countering the attacks, for example collecting
evidence, seeking alternative avenues for publication, emphasising key arguments
and refusing to be intimidated. There are no guarantees: even the best tactics
may be inadequate if the other side has overwhelming resources.

Furthermore, in many cases, a fair-minded assessment of a theory, in the absence
of attacks, would still be negative: just because you're attacked unfairly
doesn't mean your theory is better.

In many public policy disputes, scientific theories are attacked as part of a
wider struggle involving politics, economics and ethics.


In such situations, it is naive to assume that scientific theories will be
evaluated neutrally and fairly. Being prepared means that the attackers won't
always get away with it.

[ ... ]

http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/10sac.html
 

akrasia

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This article establishes a very important context in which the WPI's breakthrough research should be seen. The tank they're swimming in is just not inhabited by gold fish but by pirahnas, who because of career investments, egotism, muddleheadness, and just ordinary prejudice against innovation by a small organization promoting a new, "radical" view and treatment of a marginalized illness, have employed consciously and, perhaps unconsciously in some cases, many of the tactics outlined in this piece.

The idea that the WPI has acted "aggressively" should be retired. In my view, they've acted appropriately given the anomalous situation we find ourselves in. And given that the NIH is attending the opening of the institute, I think they have been extremely effective.
 
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Immunologist Anthony Fauci states "ACT UP put medical treatment in the hands of the patients. And that is the way it ought to be... There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country. And he helped change it for the better. In American medicine there are two eras. Before Larry and after Larry."


Thanks very much, Akrasia, especially for this quote. I've for many years suggested we review AIDS and ACTUP history, and specifically re: Larry Kramer and Dr. Fauci. I'd forgotten this quote and really love it! There were fierce disagreements among AIDS activists, and of course oblivion or willful disregard from US Govt. and Science/Medicine. There is much to be learned here.

Katrina
 

richvank

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Hi, Katrina.

I have been a working scientist for over 40 years. The things you posted about above do indeed happen. Science is carried out by human beings, and scientists have the same human frailties that all humans have. I certainly don't condone the types of unethical and unfair actions that you have written about, and I think there have been times when I have been a victim of some of them myself.

I do want to note, though, that attacking scientific hypotheses in a legitimate way is an important part of the scientific method. The progress of science requires proposing hypotheses and trying to shoot them down by evidence-based approaches. All scientific "truth" is actually tentative. It is composed of hypotheses that have so far survived all the attacks brought against them. Occasionally a new attack is brought against something that was accepted as "scientifically true" for a long time, and it collapses. I'm sure you can think of some examples of that.

It isn't always easy to tell what a scientist's motivation is when he or she brings an attack against a hypothesis. Is it well-meaning, designed to help arrive at truth? Or is it being launched for some less noble motive?
The nice thing about science is that the ultimate test of a hypotheis is not by a vote based on people's opinions, but by a careful comparison to what is actually present in the physical universe. Of course, in order to be able to make this comparison, careful research involving observation or experimentation is necessary, and this takes time, money, effort and thought. If these are precluded as a result of unethical or unfair attacks that shut off the funding or the opportunity to do these observations, or if free publication of the results is prevented, of course the progress of science will be impeded.

Best regards,

Rich
 

akrasia

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Hi, Katrina.

I have been a working scientist for over 40 years. The things you posted about above do indeed happen. Science is carried out by human beings, and scientists have the same human frailties that all humans have. I certainly don't condone the types of unethical and unfair actions that you have written about, and I think there have been times when I have been a victim of some of them myself.

I do want to note, though, that attacking scientific hypotheses in a legitimate way is an important part of the scientific method. The progress of science requires proposing hypotheses and trying to shoot them down by evidence-based approaches. All scientific "truth" is actually tentative. It is composed of hypotheses that have so far survived all the attacks brought against them. Occasionally a new attack is brought against something that was accepted as "scientifically true" for a long time, and it collapses. I'm sure you can think of some examples of that.

It isn't always easy to tell what a scientist's motivation is when he or she brings an attack against a hypothesis. Is it well-meaning, designed to help arrive at truth? Or is it being launched for some less noble motive?
The nice thing about science is that the ultimate test of a hypotheis is not by a vote based on people's opinions, but by a careful comparison to what is actually present in the physical universe. Of course, in order to be able to make this comparison, careful research involving observation or experimentation is necessary, and this takes time, money, effort and thought. If these are precluded as a result of unethical or unfair attacks that shut off the funding or the opportunity to do these observations, or if free publication of the results is prevented, of course the progress of science will be impeded.

Best regards,

Rich

Rich,

This is addressed to Katrina, but I would like to comment.

I believe in the free, passionate, exchange of ideas and understand the absolute necessity for critical thinking. Even mistakes and ill considered approaches may be of value in ways we can't know until they are demonstrated. I don't think anyone is taking issue with that. But, sometimes, you can discern projects undertaken in bad faith, as I think several of the "replications" were, specifically, those of McClure, Van Kuppeveld, and the recent one performed by the CDC.

To those with eyes to see, their biases were so pronounced that it is very difficult to see that these "experiments" were innocent of agenda and devoted to uncovering truth. Suzanne Vernon wrote that the CDC's paper set out not to find XMRV. So, why shouldn't this be seen as serving a particular ideology?

Scientists are always trying to assert their autonomy, and as a project that's extremely important. But the fact remains that everything exists in a social context and is mediated by whatever virtues and problematic themes the society embodies at any given moment.

Judy Mikovits and company believed in the desperate reality of this illness; this predisposed them to look at a retroviral cause. The scientists I alluded to above did not, one of them going so far as to assert at a press conference that the Science paper was published, according to her, "prematurely."

It's not unreasonable to view some of the responses to the challenge represented by the WPI's breakthrough research from the perspective of this article.
 
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This is SOOOOO familiar sounding, and is exactly why Project ENOUGH!!! is needed. Thanks for posting Katrina!
 

mezombie

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Rich,

This is addressed to Katrina, but I would like to comment.

I believe in the free, passionate, exchange of ideas and understand the absolute necessity for critical thinking. Even mistakes and ill considered approaches may be of value in ways we can't know until they are demonstrated. I don't think anyone is taking issue with that. But, sometimes, you can discern projects undertaken in bad faith, as I think several of the "replications" were, specifically, those of McClure, Van Kuppeveld, and the recent one performed by the CDC.

To those with eyes to see, their biases were so pronounced that it is very difficult to see that these "experiments" were innocent of agenda and devoted to uncovering truth. Suzanne Vernon wrote that the CDC's paper set out not to find XMRV. So, why shouldn't this be seen as serving a particular ideology?

Scientists are always trying to assert their autonomy, and as a project that's extremely important. But the fact remains that everything exists in a social context and is mediated by whatever virtues and problematic themes the society embodies at any given moment.

Judy Mikovits and company believed in the desperate reality of this illness; this predisposed them to look at a retroviral cause. The scientists I alluded to above did not, one of them going so far as to assert at a press conference that the Science paper was published, according to her, "prematurely."

It's not unreasonable to view some of the responses to the challenge represented by the WPI's breakthrough research from the perspective of this article.
Exactly.
Well put, Akrasia.
 

Impish

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So IMHO there is no comparison between this issue and XMRV. Worobey et al. 2008 is not a "letter" but a peer reviewed paper based on experimentation and scientific results.

If you were to stretch and use this as an analogy for XMRV Worobey would be the WPI using good solid scientific research and Hooper would be the Wessley baseing his claims on pseudo-science.

If you are trying to organize and make outside people more aware of what is going on the LAST thing we need is to allow crap like this to attach itself in any way to CFS. Even by association.

I personally know some of the scientists involved in this and they are great researchers who are about to publish something that is going to disprove some of their own work. They have no problem doing that and if there was actual proof of any link to the polio vaccine they would publish that.

Some the scientists involved in tracing the orgin of HIV have had to endure death threats not just to themselves but to their families from people like this who don't like what the science is showing. Please don't give them a forum to spread this kind of inaccuracies around.
 
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Hi Impish,

The importance of the points in the article that Katrina has posted have to do with what she has highlighted, not with the HIV origin issue itself. It has to do with the template, which fits our own story pretty much exactly, of how to go about stiffling areas of scientific inquiry. Every step outlined above, from cutting off funding, to controlling the peer review process, to refusing to acknowledge when published anyway, and finally, to marginalizing and personally discrediting the researchers involved (Cort, this is why I am seriously furious with you over your efforts to discredit Mikovits) corresponds to our story.
 

muffin

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Union of Concerned Scientists - Scientific Integrity

May be alredy posted somewhere on this site, but here goes: http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/

The Union of Concerned Scientists did a report card on the Federal agencies and how the Federal scientists graded their ability to do scientific work without political/etc. interference. Oddly, the CDC got an A grade. I sent off an email to the head of the UCS and updated Celia Wexler of the Washington DC office about the goings on with the CDC/CFS program. Of course, I headed her off to Hillary Johnson's www.oslersweb.com site for the background necessary to understanding the whole sordid history of the CDC and CFS program over the last 25 years. That background gives a fantastic summary to understanding just WHY we CFS/ME sick are so mad at the CDC. And yes, there IS politics and other government interference/collusion involved in the CDC/CFS program. I just asked that the UCS folks watched over the CDC/CFS program and the NIH and FDA XMRV studies given that the FDA/PNAS study was held back by the CDC after putting pressure on NIH. We sick and scientific research/medical research can not have solid studies damaged by politics and possibly cover-ups (for whatever reasons).

Features
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Has the Obama administrations action matched its rhetoric on scientific integrity? Where's the scientific integrity plan? Explore what the Obama administration has done so far, and see what's left to be done.

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wdb

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Whilst I don't doubt there is truth in the article I do think we would achieve more by using our energy to push for more research and better evidence rather than attacking scientists and pushing conspiracy theories. I do worry the latter is increasingly gong to get as a community us put in the same category as the creationists, moon landing hoaxers, 911 truthers, anti-vaxers, climate change deniers, flat earthers, , etc,etc who all use exactly those same arguments.
 
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wbd,

You are missing the point somewhat. Noone is pushing conspiracy theories here. There is a VERY SERIOUS DANGER that real science involving our disease will continue to be ignored (as it has been for 25 years) if we are not, as a community, aware of this process. The supposedly neutral process is not neutral. We have to actually defend the scientists that are helping us, not just sit back and wait for them to publish their work, because there is often a risk that their work will never be published, their studies never funded, and their careers wrecked because of personal biases and politics rather than good science.
 

muffin

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I agree with AWOL on this - This is not an X-Files conspiracy, no Alien sightings!

Had the Lo/Alter paper not been leaked out to the press, no one, absolutely no one would have known about that positive study. The CDC and others with a vested interest in keeping the lid on CFS/ME would have made sure that this study was killed off, never to see the light of day. And the WPI studies would not be validated and vindicated leaving us sick with nothing.

Now as an American taxpayer, those were my tax dollars being used to fund those studies. I and other Americans OWN those studies. I do not want the government getting their dirty hands into real science and medical research. I do NOT want politics, egos, career advancement, and other games going anywhere near real, solid scientific/medical research. Do you?

This is not some oddball conspiracy. Government intrution into research has happened for decades - it's not a new issue. But it must come to an end and the Obama Admin knows this and is trying to keep science/research nice, clean, open and shared.

There is no X-Files here. This is a well known issue. Just ask some of the Federal government scientists and researchers what happens to their work. I am sure they would be more than happy to give you an hours long dissertation on all the damage done to their work, the government goat rope*/group grope routine, and the politics - always the politics. Oh yea - and MONEY.

* Goat Rope: "A contemporary colloquialism which refers to situations whereby groups of people are obliged to comply with outdated, inconvenient, or even counter-productive rules, regulations, or methodologies, in order to achieve goals which might otherwise have been attained through more rational, and often obvious, procedures. The image conjured up by this phrase is that of a line of goats, each having a horn tied to the same length of rope for better control by their shepherd. Thus, the goats can be lead, single-file, wherever the shepherd pleases, even though the experience may be unpleasant for the independent-minded goats, who have no option but to comply with the uncomfortable manner in which they are led through an unpredictable path, a path which, if left to themselves, they might never have selected. This phrase is often applied to procedures which must be followed as the result of instructions given by officious administrators or pedantic government officials." Wackypedia. Term often used in Washington DC - where else?
 
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Katrina, thank you so much for posting the Martin article. I'm really interested in finding like-minded people to further explore his work on the Backfire Theory, and to read about AIDS activism with an eye towards acting up on our own behalf. The material on his web site is highly instructive.
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