Saturday, September 17, 2011

Phony scientists argue by authority

The Wikipedia AIDS article says:
A more controversial theory ... According to scientific consensus, this scenario is not supported by the available evidence.
I believe that this type of thinking is a disease among science promoters.

There is evidence for the theory, known as the oral polio vaccine (OPV) AIDS hypothesis. The first known AIDS cases came from Congo around 1959, at the same time as Congo chimps were used for an experimental polio vaccine. But, as Rolling Stone was forced to admit, there is no scientific proof.

Obviously the Wikipedia editors would like to dismiss the hypothesis as strongly as possible, and imply that the weight of scientific authority is on their side. They cannot say that there is no evidence for the hypothesis, as that would be false. They do not want to just say that the scientific consensus is against the hypothesis, because that leaves the possibility that the hypothesis is true but suppressed because the implications are too horrible for the scientific establishment to accept.

It would be much better to admit that the hypothesis is possible, but to give the reasons why it is considered unlikely.

For another example, Michelle Bachmann recently provoked this response (pdf):
The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.
Again, this is a carefully worded ideological statement. A scientific statement would be to cite the evidence that the vaccine danger is low, or that the chance of mental retardation is low or zero. Instead, the statement attempts to use the weight of authority to tell you what to believe, and avoid the real issue with sneaky language, without giving any scientific evidence at all.

Argument by authority is not science. While you might think that it is reasonable to accept the opinion of the AAP on vaccines, it obviously cannot back up what it says because it provides no references to any scientific or medical studies. It is a knee-jerk response to protect their authority over vaccine advice.

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