Do we need to dig into the history of the subject of posts? October 21, 2014 12:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm pretty uncomfortable with how this thread evolved.

It started out as a conversation about someones teaching encounter. Some people were critical of the teacher, which was fine. But then the thread took a turn when people started digging into the academic research of the subject of the post and attacked the teacher because of research utterly unrelated to the post at hand.

I don't mind that it was a derail (which it was), but I am bothered that the persons history was dug into and what was revealed had nothing to do with the post itself. Most people have done some things they weren't proud of in the past, but if it doesn't relate to the matter that's being discussed, is it appropriate to bring it up in a thread?

Thankfully I don't have a ton of other examples of this sort of behavior, but I hope it doesn't become a trend. It seems a bit ugly.
posted by el io to Etiquette/Policy at 12:36 AM (76 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

That derail doesn't happen for quite a long time, to be fair, to the point that while reading through the thread I wondered if you mislinked. It actually stays as a ludicrous argument as to whether teachers should mercilessly mock their students mistaken beliefs or not. Apparently this is a point of debate.

OK, finaaaaally got to the bit you were talking about. Hmm. Well. So its worth noting that this always seems to happen on metafilter. If Amanda Palmer has done a thing, you can bet your bottom dollar we will be talking about all the other things she has done in the past as well. I agree that, for the most part, it would be more interesting to debate the article at hand (especially as it has no real connection to his past behaviour), unless there is a very clear link (i.e. a past article directly contradicts the current article, as, actually the "talk" he has given in the past does).
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:51 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't see much of a problem with the derail - it gets handled reasonably well in thread, doesn't drown out other conversation or cause excessive grief , and concludes with reasoned rebuttal from the subject himself (!).

From the linked thread, it seems to me a general rule or guideline against looking up the (possibly unrelated) background of people we talk about would solve a problem we aren't having.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:02 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


This callout gets a 'meh' from me.

His academic history was a derail, but ultimately led klangklangston to actually emailing him for clarification and receipt of an interesting response that I imagine answers most people's questions.

It hasn't exactly destroyed the thread, so I'm not too sure what this callout will achieve. The problem, such as there was one, appears to have been resolved.
posted by modernnomad at 2:03 AM on October 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


Looking over it, it also feels weird to me, fwiw, but from a moderation point of view, we aren't likely to declare an official or implicit moratorium on discussing an author's views in the context of other works or writings as a general thing. In this case, it seems like the original charge of "AIDs denialist" was apparently overstated, inaccurate and/or out of date, which seems more of a problem to me. (I'll also just note, however, that there were no flags on the either the original comment or the followups, so it seems maybe more like a weird slow burn thing wherein more accurate information was injected as the discussion progressed.)
posted by taz (staff) at 2:26 AM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Taz is of course spot on in how there really isn't anything more we can expect the mods to do about problems like this one, but there was a lot about this aspect of that thread that got unacceptably ugly and which we should not tolerate as a community.

This wasn't just finding relevant context for a public figure to broaden the discussion, this was digging into the work of a conspicuously respected and publishing academic looking for something to discredit him. And for what? Because he responded to confusion with competence and kindness? Because he not only failed to evangelize the posters religious feelings at his classroom but respected someone else's? What is it about leaving religious evangelism out of a science classroom and just teaching scientific methods, principles, and findings that is so existentially threatening? All of the other supposed reasons for this being upsetting were so conspicuously contrived, with the solid positive consensus on the use of class time and pedagogical approach from metafilter's sizable contingent of people who actually teach university level science, what else could it be?

I'd like to think that we can do better to be a good audience towards the people whose writing we post, good citizens who understand the importance of the religious neutrality of state institutions, and good neighbors .
posted by Blasdelb at 3:07 AM on October 21, 2014 [16 favorites]


Also, as soon as I saw the thread I was really hoping that ChuraChura would show up being so perfectly specialized towards providing a truly awesome answer.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:23 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


The author's response was very clear. He says he wrote a book outlining four basic theories of AIDS Denialism, he now only believes one of the theories.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:42 AM on October 21, 2014


It's not AIDS denialism.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:46 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think a post about AIDS denialism would be an interesting one (although I would disagree that he said that, I would say that you said that, but that's a discussion left for a post about AIDS denialism).

Lots of people have done and said lots of things in their lives... It doesn't seem to be fair to me to dredge up things from people's past that don't have a relationship to the post at hand - it seems pretty mean-spirited, and not something I would want to have anything to do with.

While I disagree with attacking the man for his methods for teaching, that's entirely relevant and pertinent to the post.

I think this sort of behavior has an effect that squelches participation in society... I mean most of us wouldn't want to run for office in part because there would be vicious oppo research done against us... But do we expect to have that level of oppo research to be done just because we author a post about something that occurs in our lives? How many of us could have our lives scrutinized carefully looking for a misstep to try to discredit something positive we are trying to do today.
posted by el io at 3:51 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know if there's an actionable rule to be drawn by this, except for people to be better than mere rumor-mongering, and to use better critical thinking skills when evaluating claims.

Derails should be flagged. I think this was a special case, because the derail itself was still relevant to the topic of critical thinking in general. The site would not be improved if there was a roving Logical Fallacy bot with bannination powers, or if you were unable to accuse somebody of holding Silly Belief X unless you yourself could answer an eight-page questionnaire on the topic.

I will say, however, that I have seen plenty of cases where some people snort and snuffle at the idea of reading something from someone who has held beliefs they do not like. I have also encountered the less frequent reverse of the problem, in which somebody who has said likeable things before is treated with too much deference.

Still, there's no hard rule to be drawn from that. People are people. Part of the human condition is liking and not liking things.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:07 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


He says he wrote a book outlining four basic theories of AIDS Denialism, he now only believes one of the theories.

What he actually wrote (excerpted):
I point out that there are basically four positions on HIV/AIDS and that is still the case today. Here’s my current take.
One is that AIDS is caused by something other than HIV and that the virus is just another opportunistic infection that takes advantage of an already suppressed immune system....
The second position is that HIV is both necessary and sufficient to cause AIDS....
The third and fourth positions involve what are called “cofactors”. The “weak” cofactor approach argues that HIV is necessary and sufficient to cause AIDS, but that the rate at which AIDS develops after HIV infection will be influenced by a person’s nutritional status, drug use, exposure to other infections (especially sexually transmitted diseases), etc....
The “strong” cofactor approach argues that HIV is necessary but not sufficient to cause AIDS.
The first of those is what's generally understood as "AIDS denialism." The second and third are pretty uncontroversially "HIV causes AIDS." The last can be twisted into "AIDS denialism" if you squint hard enough.

charlie, you are clearly pushing "LABEL THIS GUY AN AIDS DENIALIST" pretty hard, and it's also pretty obvious that you're doing it because you just don't like him for daring to not take the opportunity to point and laugh at a LOLXian.
posted by Etrigan at 4:23 AM on October 21, 2014 [39 favorites]


charlie don't surf, so long as you are intent on keeping this as being about you,

This only appears simple to you, as you mentioned in your deleted comment, because you conspicuously lack the understanding of the progression HIV infection necessary to interrogate the more ontologically nuanced, if now clearly wrong with the benefit of more data, ideas he actually presented back in the day and are instead substituting your own simplistic parody for them. Those ideas he still has are still pretty outdated and aren't worked on in the wider HIV research community, but mostly because they haven't panned out with anything useful over the last 20 years, aren't likely to pan out any time soon, and there are much more promising approaches. Positing the still plausible existence of unknown but manipulable co-factors in the transition from HIV to AIDS as a means of explaining various still puzzling aspects of what is known about HIV infection and AIDS symptoms is more than a bit anachronistic and stubborn. However, it is categorically distinct from crankery or any of the things that the term 'AIDS denialism' is meant to evoke from the Holocaust variety.

You seem to have this idea in your head that scientific communities are all homogenous clones of you with a shallow layer of more specialized knowledge, when really so much our strength comes from how we are composed of fundamentally different people with unique perspectives, hobby-horses, and quirks. There is value in not being specially shitty towards Christian students with misconceptions they are theologically literate enough to know originate in the bible and not just for how inexcusably and illegally fucked up the alternative is. There is special value in having science learned and then taught to the public by voices more people than just you can relate to, and there is value in bringing in all of the non-intuitive kinds of diversity that would correlate with being scared off by the kind of shittiness you are advocating for.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:57 AM on October 21, 2014 [30 favorites]


To be clear, I don't think Root-Bernstein is even a stubborn researcher. He seems instead to be simplifying a pretty important research line for consumption over email. His preferred model is "HIV + Cofactors = AIDS." And that's what I'm seeing in the contemporary literature. There are many cofactors, ranging from cellular transmission cofactors to secondary infection cofactors:

Here is a search of research on HIV cofactors, that only includes publications since 2010. Notice that there are 11,000 results?

Here are a few of the top results:

Targeting Cellular Cofactors in HIV Therapy

"Cellular cofactors include receptors for HIV-1 entry, LEDGF as cofactor for the viral integrase, the RNA helicase DDX3 involved in the nuclear export of unspliced viral RNAs, and diverse cellular kinases that promote viral replication. Cellular restriction factors are often antagonized by HIV-1 accessory proteins in order to counteract their restrictive function on viral replication. Although cellular cofactors in the HIV field are understood as factors promoting viral replication, we add a subchapter on the most important restriction factors (Trim5α, APOBEC3G, SAMHD1, and tetherin/BST-2). Today highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) mostly targets HIV proteins like reverse transcriptase, protease, or integrase to specifically interfere with virus replication. However, the identification of cellular cofactors and the increasing knowledge on their mode of action at defined steps in the HIV-1 replication cycle have opened new avenues towards the development of HIV-1 inhibitors."

HIV-1 Entry Cofactor: Functional cDNA Cloning of a Seven-Transmembrane, G Protein–Coupled Receptor

"Identification of the fusion cofactor (or cofactors) for the macrophage-tropic isolates is thus critical. It is also important to emphasize that most primary HIV-1 isolates have some dual tropic character (30), perhaps reflective of their ability to function with more than one fusion cofactor. We also predict that distinct fusion cofactors exist for HIV-2 and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), as the entry requirements of these viruses for various CD4+ cells are clearly different from those of HIV-1 (3, 9, 36–38). It is thus reasonable to propose the existence of a family of fusin molecules, perhaps also members of the G protein–coupled receptor superfamily with seven transmembrane segments. Interestingly, other members of this superfamily have been exploited for target cell entry by diverse human pathogens."

Chronic Inflammation and the Role for Cofactors (Hepatitis C, Drug Abuse, Antiretroviral Drug Toxicity, Aging) in HAND Persistence

"The persistence of HAND in individuals experiencing suppression of systemic HIV viral load with antiretroviral therapy (ART) is incompletely explained, and suggested factors include chronic inflammation, persistent HIV replication in brain macrophages, effects of aging on brain vulnerability, and co-morbid conditions including hepatitis C (HCV) co-infection, substance abuse, and CNS toxicity of ART, among other factors. This review discusses several of these conditions: chronic inflammation, co-infection with HCV, drugs of abuse, aging, and antiretroviral drug effects. "

Restimulating Interest in Cytomegalovirus as a Cofactor for HIV Infection

"Many potential mechanisms have been put forward to explain how CMV could act as a cofactor for HIV disease progression [16]. These included direct coinfection of cells, leading to enhanced HIV replication; facilitating HIV uptake through the Fc receptor of CMV, providing alternative coreceptor pathways for virus entry; transactivation of the long terminal repeat; and viral pseudotype formation. Laboratory evidence for each of these mechanisms has been obtained, although the precise contribution that one or multiple pathways play in vivo remains elusive. "
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:23 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Guys, this is also not the place to actually have a thread about AIDs. Let's stick to discussing site policy issues here, and someone can make a post on the blue about HIV + cofactors research / theories.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:29 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


The fact that it takes some in-depth knowledge to even begin to evaluate the author's AIDS position is yet another reason why people should be more careful about bringing up this kind of stuff, let alone raising it as an ad hominem against an unrelated argument of theirs.

Reminds me of the time I posted an interview with James C. Scott. The interview was at CATO's site, so of course some people skipped the interview so that they could just dump their feelings about CATO into the thread.

Whether it's against people, or against institutions, or even against the most indirect connection, please think twice about poisoning the well. At the very least, please do so in a constructive way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:48 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is it possible to poison the well in a constructive way? I guess some gin, lemon slices and quinine might be one method.
posted by Wolof at 5:51 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


it's not digging our dredging to read a wikipedia page. i'm glad he answered the email and i'm glad he's not what most would consider an aids denier, but i don't think it was inappropriate to bring it up.
posted by nadawi at 5:53 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Count me as someone who thinks it was appropriate to raise the concern, but inappropriate to ignore the refutations in-thread. I'm all for digging; I just don't like superficial "find evidence that supports my claims" digging. When I first started looking into this, I was ready to discover that Root-Bernstein was one of those Engineer's Disease guys who had good basic things to say about critical thinking and pedagogy, but then got lost in the weeds and developed some crazy theory and thought the world just didn't understand it.

Now it seems like he's pretty well in the mainstream, and in fact did some important pushback in the 90s against both the HIV skeptics and HIV reductionists, so it's a non-issue. One key issue here is that in the 90s virologists were bickering about why HIV vaccines weren't working, and what this means for the basic disease model. Now it seems that virology has caught up with where Root-Bernstein was two decades ago when he claimed that HIV reductionists were taking research on the wrong track. The recent work on HIV seems to focus on cofactors in both the weak and strong senses that Root-Bernstein argued for, with consensus maybe a bit tilted towards weak over strong, but not by much.

If charlie don't surf had let it drop or modified his position when we got the email from klangklangston and Root-Bernstein, I'd say that it was more like a successful Metafilter thread, especially because of the HIV excursus. It's just the digging in and ignoring responses that's irritating. Basically, charlie don't surf is acting like a "Cofactor Denialist", but I don't really think he is, or that he cares about the basic medical issues here.

Actually, looking back at the thread, it seems a little like bad faith commenting to me, so maybe this ought to have been a user callout rather than a policy discussion.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:12 AM on October 21, 2014 [8 favorites]


someone can make a post on the blue about HIV + cofactors research / theories.

I wish someone would, because I've honestly never even heard of this before. I knew AIDS denialism was a thing but I had no idea that there was still any debate about the specific HIV-to-AIDS mechanism among scientists.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:21 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


It was immediately obvious to me upon reading that essay, that it was pushing a hidden agenda. At first I thought it might have been some way to bend over backwards to avoid accusations of "Liberal Facism," trying to demonstrate how to be (overly) accommodating to christian dogma. But upon researching the author, it became apparent that he was trying to create a cover for his own AIDS denialism, trying to walk it back from the extreme fringe of quackery, into the realm of accommodating dissident ideas.

But there is a substantial difference between a student who doesn't know thoracic anatomy due to religious dogma, and a professor who is arguing (by proxy) that his dissident ideas about AIDS deserve serious scientific scrutiny even though it challenges "medical dogma."

This guy is the original AIDS Denialist and he firmly established a conspiracy theory that killed people and will continue to kill people. You can't just walk that back and say people misunderstood your theories, they were too nuanced to understand with the technology available to you when you wrote them. And it is illegitimate to use hapless students as a stand-in for your own arguments.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:34 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Um what?

I use a very similar line of questioning/reasoning in the classes I teach to deal with students coming from a very similar place as that student did. I find your reading of the essay completely baffling and pretty obnoxious. The scenario he went through is a scenario that happens ALL THE TIME. When I try to get students to understand evolutionary theory and the methods of science, I am not actually hiding some shameful secret and shadow-arguing for my own bizarre theories. I am trying to get students to understand evolutionary theory and the methods of science.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:38 AM on October 21, 2014 [34 favorites]


It was immediately obvious to me upon reading that essay, that it was pushing a hidden agenda.

And yet, despite your repeated attempts at gotcha-ing this researcher, completely unproven. Perhaps the best way to approach things is something other than to reach your conclusion first and then fish around for evidence to support it.
posted by maxsparber at 6:45 AM on October 21, 2014 [14 favorites]


This guy is the original AIDS Denialist and he firmly established a conspiracy theory that killed people and will continue to kill people. You can't just walk that back and say people misunderstood your theories, they were too nuanced to understand with the technology available to you when you wrote them. And it is illegitimate to use hapless students as a stand-in for your own arguments.

You know how in the original post, the idea was that if someone is wrong you don't just yell it into their face because they're going to dig in and double down? It is happening to you right now.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:52 AM on October 21, 2014 [32 favorites]


It was immediately obvious to me upon reading that essay, that it was pushing a hidden agenda. At first I thought it might have been some way to bend over backwards to avoid accusations of "Liberal Facism," trying to demonstrate how to be (overly) accommodating to christian dogma. But upon researching the author, it became apparent that he was trying to create a cover for his own AIDS denialism, trying to walk it back from the extreme fringe of quackery, into the realm of accommodating dissident ideas.

It's immediately obvious to me that this makes no fucking sense.

Other people in the thread who teach have talked about using similar methods, so I guess they have some hidden agenda as well. It can't possibly be that this is an effective teaching method for a lot of people. Nope.
posted by rtha at 6:55 AM on October 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


This is actually becoming quite an embarrassment. Pedagogically, the method was sound — all self-identified educators who expressed an opinion in the thread agreed. The subject of the ad hominem attack made a detailed and gracious reply clarifying his position, which was completely disregarded in certain quarters.

My frank assessment is that this sort of campaign makes you look stupid. Much like last week's jeremiad on calculus.
posted by Wolof at 7:01 AM on October 21, 2014 [21 favorites]

"I wish someone would, because I've honestly never even heard of this before. I knew AIDS denialism was a thing but I had no idea that there was still any debate about the specific HIV-to-AIDS mechanism among scientists."
Really that would make a better semester of graduate level coursework that Root-Bernstein's current ideas would be a valid-ish footnote in than metafilter post.

For clarity, with apologies to taz, Root-Bernstein is using the word "Co-factor" to mean something pretty idiosyncratic to the way it is used in most of the literature cited by anotherpanacea. He is using it from an almost epidemiological perspective to describe some mysterious thing or set of things is co-responsible for AIDS (a syndrome defined primarily by its symptoms) in someway alongside HIV (the virus). Most of those papers are using the term in a much more defined molecular sense, describing for example various characterized transmembrane proteins as co-factors in HIV entry to macrophages because the macrophage infecting HIV viruses use them to get into the cell. What he is describing is a legitimate, though significantly less promising pursuit - at least until someone finds something, anything, sufficiently less obvious and/or more useful than the other co-factors that have already been demonstrated. Its the kind of theory that is important for graduate students to be exposed to but not get obsessive over, and pretty meaningless for the public at large.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:03 AM on October 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


For clarity, with apologies to taz, Root-Bernstein is using the word "Co-factor" to mean something pretty idiosyncratic to the way it is used in most of the literature cited by anotherpanacea.

Well, I recognize that the cellular cofactors are supporting the "weak" cofactor thesis: they're working on the exact mechanism by which HIV infects and turns them into replicators for further transmission. Things like LEDGF/p75 and fusin are cofactors because they can be targeted by gene therapies, added or knockout of animal models for testing. In their absence HIV infection doesn't occur, but that's probably not the sort of thing that explains variable mortality rates because they're never absent in human cells (though there is natural variation.)

But the work on cytomegalovirus and Hep C I cited and his own work on other complementary infections does seem to bolster a slightly weakened version of the strong cofactor claim: that cofactors that include drug abuse, aging, and Hep C and antiretroviral toxicity contribute to the onset of AIDS symptoms, AIDS transmission (especially from mother-to-infant) and ultimately mortality.

Like I've said, this approach may be wrong, but it's still being published on by a wide variety of virologists in peer reviewed journals: it's not just crank science, nor is it a once-possible-theory now debunked. It's a going concern.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:17 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


The sitewide issue, which is also a humanity-wide issue, is that people often use sloppy thinking. They use ad hominem arguments, both aloud and to themselves. They view issues through their own biases, so that both the observed facts themselves and the conclusions drawn from them are distorted. All people do this, no matter how smart are, and no matter how reasonable their base concerns might otherwise be.

This creates situations in which otherwise smart, reasonable people can reach nasty, demonstrably false conclusions about people and arguments.

This isn't really a hard rule issue. There would be no value in banning ad hominems, or anything like that.

Instead, it's a culture thing. People in general need to be aware of their own limitations. It's not just Usenet-era points-scoring to bristle at logical fallacies: the use of those fallacies really does lead to poor thinking, poor reading comprehension, etc. If you do not understand why it really is poor form to use ad hominem arguments, or to not question your own assumptions, then look at the embarrassing disaster which ensues when somebody goes whole hog with it.

....

This kind of stuff dovetails with some bits of the "what are you uncomfortable expressing?" MeTa thread. We may all agree on the big ticket things which should not be brought up on this site. However, in the gray areas and edge cases, we will find cognitive biases and intractable differences and the false belief that we are each obviously correct about everything.

To resolve some of these differences, we should embrace the fact that each and all of us are only a hop, skip, and a jump away from saying that men and women have different numbers of ribs, even when the skeletons are right in front of us.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


But there is a substantial difference between a student who doesn't know thoracic anatomy due to religious dogma, and a professor who is arguing (by proxy) that his dissident ideas about AIDS deserve serious scientific scrutiny even though it challenges "medical dogma."



Um. I don't really know how you came to this conclusion. AIDS isn't mentioned in the original article. The original article is a discussion as to how someone can change someone else's mind when their opinion is a dogmatic one that is not based in facts.

I'm trying to be polite here, because my honest opinion about your post here is... well... not polite.

Assuming you are sincerely engaging with the subject here, I would argue that

A)You have completely misread Root-Bernstein's intentions with the original article, and it really has no connection to his previous behaviours whatsoever
B)Your assertions re AIDS-denialism do not appear to be grounded in fact
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:27 AM on October 21, 2014


charlie don't surf is wrong a lot here and should maybe think about taking up surfing.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 7:32 AM on October 21, 2014 [10 favorites]


I had no idea about anything AIDS in that thread until I read this. I commented early and then saw this Meta.
posted by josher71 at 7:34 AM on October 21, 2014


i do not agree with charlie don't surf and his axe is looking ground to the handle at this point, but i also continue to disagree with the idea that a person's other work is somehow off limits or dishonest to bring up if it isn't explicitly mentioned in the post. if andrew wakefield wrote an article about arranging gardens that got posted to metafilter, i think it would be completely appropriate for someone to point out that he's at the center of the anti-vax movement.
posted by nadawi at 7:41 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


One way of thinking about it: in what sense should we embrace the halo effect? In what sense are we reading articles and in what sense are we reading authors?

In my field this comes up a lot, because some pretty important philosophers were racists, misogynists, and Nazis. But it's not a refutation of Frege to note that he was a virulent anti-Semite. Aristotle defended democracy AND slavery: does his defense of slavery mean that democracy is wrong, too?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:46 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]




Nadawi: I wouldn't think it was necessarily inappropriate, I would just wonder what the point would be? Assuming Andrew Wakefield wrote an engaging article about gardens, would it be useful to have a discussion about his mendacious behaviour over vaccination? Wouldn't it be more fun to engage with the content of the article? I guess it might be interesting to say something a long the lines of "gee, for someone who actively lies about science, he sure does have some interesting thoughts on gardens!"

But here, it just changed the subject so that, instead of talking about the fpp of engaging with creationists over biology, it became a conversation about an imagined fpp about whether someone was an AIDS denialist or not.

I dunno, I guess I don't see the point of doing that.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:49 AM on October 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


if andrew wakefield wrote an article about arranging gardens that got posted to metafilter, i think it would be completely appropriate for someone to point out that he's at the center of the anti-vax movement.

It could be appropriate to bring up, but it would be a textbook example of bad reasoning to say that the gardening advice was any worse as a result.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:51 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


In my field this comes up a lot, because some pretty important philosophers were racists, misogynists, and Nazis. But it's not a refutation of Frege to note that he was a virulent anti-Semite. Aristotle defended democracy AND slavery: does his defense of slavery mean that democracy is wrong, too?

Yeah, this is the point that turned a digression into a derail, to me. Noting or discussing the author's history with AIDS research would be interesting, but using that history to make the argument that this article on a totally different topic is not only invalid but evil by association is....not cool.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:52 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


all depends on what the gardening advice is, no? if he calls on his history as a doctor to discuss why rose bushes should be grouped in a certain way, then his history as a doctor should be examined. likewise, if someone is discussing how to teach science, come to scientific conclusions, etc and his science-based writings have been used by aids deniers, it seems on topic to wonder if his methods in the two areas are related. i'm glad to see that it at least appears that actual aids deniers twisted his points to conform to their ideas instead of him being an active participant in the scene, but i still don't think it was wrong to bring up (and i'm glad it was brought up because his email that was posted was very interesting).
posted by nadawi at 7:56 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

"i do not agree with charlie don't surf and his axe is looking ground to the handle at this point, but i also continue to disagree with the idea that a person's other work is somehow off limits or dishonest to bring up if it isn't explicitly mentioned in the post. if andrew wakefield wrote an article about arranging gardens that got posted to metafilter, i think it would be completely appropriate for someone to point out that he's at the center of the anti-vax movement."
There is a difference in how Andrew Wakefield is a public figure attempting to be pervasively involved in public affairs whereas this dude is just a physiologist who wrote a book addressed to academics 20 years ago that was, appropriately, not well received at the time and has since gone on to do solid work and apparently some pretty inspired teaching.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


all depends on what the gardening advice is, no?

Yes, we would focus on the advice itself, the argument. We would not focus on the person in this case, neither in the sense of dismissing it because he's a quack, nor in the sense of regarding it highly because he is (was?) a doctor (but not even a botanist!). You would only be able to see if his same errors/lies/etc. existed by examining the actual arguments.

While sometimes personal histories can be relevant, more often than not it is bad reasoning to pretend that focusing on the person (the "hominem") is a substitute for engaging with the argument.

And in the context of this thread, that was indeed how the fallacy was employed. "All you people think he's describing good pedagogy, well guess what, he's held this crazy belief!" Even if the author had indeed gone full Duesberg, it still wouldn't affect the truth-value of the article itself.

Another thing is how bad reasoning can lead to worse reasoning.

It is of course perfectly reasonable to generally not trust Andrew Wakefield. However, that is different from the qualities of his hypothetical gardening advice, especially if it's right in front of us and can be evaluated on its own terms. It is all too easy for people to slide from "Andrew Wakefield is a quack, therefore I don't trust him" to "Andrew Wakefield is a quack, therefore he is wrong" to "the arguments of bad and wrong people can be easily dismissed". This can also be associated with the related sloppiness of beginning with something reasonable, like "AIDS denialism is bad", but then sliding into bad reasoning with things like "therefore any deviation from what I understand HIV/AIDS to be is AIDS denialism" and "this person was quoted by AIDS denialists, therefore he is also an AIDS denialist" and so on.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:10 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Fertilizers cause blights!"
- Andrew Wakefield
posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:11 AM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, I wish people would remember the ad hominem fallacy fallacy.

"Actual instances of argumentum ad hominem are relatively rare. Ironically, the fallacy is most often committed by those who accuse their opponents of ad hominem, since they try to dismiss the opposition not by engaging with their arguments, but by claiming that they resort to personal attacks."

posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:16 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I heard that bringing up fallacies is a new fallacy in itself. It's the oh-no-tu-didn't fallacy. The fallacy typically involves misusing a fallacy, mis-understanding it, and then expecting the other party to be like "what me fallacy? Uh oh!"

Times are changin'

Here's what a nuanced review of the "AIDS denialism stuff" looks like, by someone with some expertise and nuance like our resident Blasdelb who's, like, all scienc-y and respectful when it's called for, and a very good barometer for calling out outright bullshit when it's appropriate.

Despite its drawbacks, those who are involved in AIDS research, especially those likely to be asked to comment on the controversy about the cause of AIDS, may find this book useful. Dr. Root-Bernstein provides enough of a substantiated conceptual framework to permit readers to understand the several different schools of thought among “HIV skeptics” and to form a basis for further discussion. However, the overall lack of scientific rigor in this work and its unconventional format as a book rather than a series of peer-reviewed papers or a monograph are unlikely to make it convincing to many in the scientific community.
posted by aydeejones at 9:43 AM on October 21, 2014


I heard that bringing up fallacies is a new fallacy in itself. It's the oh-no-tu-didn't fallacy. The fallacy typically involves misusing a fallacy, mis-understanding it, and then expecting the other party to be like "what me fallacy? Uh oh!"

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's the Fallacy man vs the Fallacy Fallacy!
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:11 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wow, klang's question and that response justifies that whole thread.
posted by corb at 10:50 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't mind that it was a derail (which it was), but I am bothered that the persons history was dug into and what was revealed had nothing to do with the post itself. Most people have done some things they weren't proud of in the past, but if it doesn't relate to the matter that's being discussed, is it appropriate to bring it up in a thread?

I don't like it much either, but it just isn't going to stop any time soon. Those kinds of quasi-doxing derails have happened before here and they will happen again, because we tend to collectively agree that doing that stuff is okay when the target is someone we are not supposed to like, and doing it is not okay when the target is someone we are supposed to like. It's a natural group dynamic and I'm not sure there is a real solution.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:59 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't consider it to have been comparable to doxxing. Nobody broke a pseudonym, nobody posted his address. It was just a derail pertaining to a cherry-picked version of the truth. It's like shitting up a thread about Planned Parenthood by saying Margaret Sanger had supported eugenics.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:09 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apparently nobody noticed this article appeared in the September 1995 issue of Discovery Magazine.

Root-Bernstein published his book Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus in 1993.

This article appeared during the early days of the AIDS Denialism controversy he helped establish. I could accept the argument that this article was about sound pedagogical methods, if it had appeared in a forum where that made sense, e.g. The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2014. But it appeared in a pop science magazine in 1995 and was aimed at the general public.

The 1995 article was a ploy by the author to shore up his public reputation, to establish that he was a fair and even-handed judge of scientific method, amidst a firestorm of controversy that he was a quack. His email response does not address the context of the original article. It merely serves the same purpose as his original article: to shore up his reputation.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:22 AM on October 21, 2014


All right, you don't trust him, you've made your point. There doesn't seem to be a broad consensus that your point makes any sense to anybody but you, and maybe that's a good place to leave it. And, frankly, I find your unscourced accusation that he founded AIDS denialism and actually caused people to die to be reprehensible, and you might want to reconsider the lengths you go to make your points.
posted by maxsparber at 11:30 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is something for your personal blog, cds, not for a metatalk discussion about general site policy and practice. Give it a rest.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


It was at this very moment that charlie don't surf realized that, in this seemingly innocuous situation, there was in fact something more sinister involved, something more than what he would ever have dared to imagine. A coincidence? A collusion? A contraband? A crassness? A cluelessness about more words starting with the letter C?

It did not matter. Even cortex seemed crass. They are all colluding, I know it! thought charlie don't surf. And then, suddenly - a flicker, an impossibility, a self-reflection - a persistently ceasless consciousness of constancy, of presence.

"Can't win every day, I guess," thought charlie don't surf.

And in that, he was completely correct, even though complacency never ceased to command charlie don't surf's futher thoughts. And that was as it should be.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:02 PM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


It was immediately obvious to me upon reading that essay, that it was pushing a hidden agenda. At first I thought it might have been some way to bend over backwards to avoid accusations of "Liberal Facism,"

I doubt it. You do realise this was an article from 1995, do you?

Personally I had no problems with you playing the irritant around which a pearl of a thread could form, but this seems to be going into cloud cuckoo land and/or retrograde justification for being an obnoxious boor.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:24 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not really helping for folks to keep engaging from the other direction either, fwiw.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:45 PM on October 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


The author's response was very clear. He says he wrote a book outlining four basic theories of AIDS Denialism, he now only believes one of the theories.

I find it odd that you are able to write, yet can't read worth a damn.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:44 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Kind of sorry to see this thread go so pear shaped. I thought it was an interesting question, so I wrote him a polite email that identified myself, the site, the thread and a bit of the context, then asked him to clarify. I don't know enough about virology to remark on how his current theories are received, but it seems tendentious to describe him as an AIDS denier. I just enjoyed getting curious, asking a question, and getting an educated response.
posted by klangklangston at 4:01 PM on October 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


Sticherbeast: "I will say, however, that I have seen plenty of cases where some people snort and snuffle at the idea of reading something from someone who has held beliefs they do not like."

I've probably told this story before (because I think I have now told MetaFilter all my stories), but I was in law school and I had a super-conservative professor off on a tear about everything that is awful about Ralph Nader and how government regulation is evil and most of it is Ralph Nader's fault, and he pulled up mid-rant, paused for a second, said, "You know, there is a special place in heaven for that man for the number of children's lives he saved with car safety laws." And then went RIGHT BACK INTO WHY RALPH NADER IS TERRIBLE.

I try to remember this whenever I see a reasonable point from someone I think is terrible and then find that my dislike of them is overwhelming my ability to see that they have a reasonable point on this particular issue. (I suppose the less-charitable framing is, "Even a broken clock is right twice a day.")

I also try to remember it because it was extremely funny and thinking of it always makes me laugh.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:41 PM on October 21, 2014 [18 favorites]


Some possible context, given what I have been reading about this subject:

1) The "strong" co-factor hypothesis is generally considered to be untrue, and a form of AIDS denialism.

2) The "strong" co-factor hypothesis is not considered to be as dangerous or misguided a form of AIDS denialism as other forms (such as that AIDS does not exist, or that HIV has no role in AIDS), but it is considered to be harmful. It can lead to blaming the victim -- "Although you are HIV positive you would not have AIDS if you did not [eat the wrong foods, drink alcohol, whatever]." And at its worst, the hypothesis can be used as an excuse for quack cures -- "I guarantee your HIV positive status will not develop into AIDS if you [eat oranges, drink only spring water, whatever]."

3) The "weak" co-factor hypothesis is generally accepted, non-controversial science.

4) The general public perception of Root-Bernstein is that in the early 1990's he was a proponent of the "strong" co-factor hypothesis, and that he has since changed his mind. He is therefore widely regarded as someone who was at one time an AIDS denialist but no longer is.

5) Based on his own words (in interviews and in his response to klangklangston), the public perception is incorrect. He still takes the view that "strong" co-factor view that HIV is necessary but not sufficient to cause AIDS.

6) The likely reason that he is (incorrectly) widely regarded as having changed his mind is that he is on record (again, both in interviews and in his response to klangklangston) as basically calling the vast majority of AIDS denialists a bunch of idiots who make stuff up and deny evidence, and he has renounced any association with them.

7) He indicates, in his response, that his reason for taking the "strong" co-factor view is, in contrast, evidence-based, and that his support of the "strong" co-factor hypothesis is therefore not a form of AIDS denialism at all, but rather an assessment of the available evidence. (I am not qualified to judge whether or not this is true.)

8) However, it should be noted that unlike many who have published contrarian views of HIV and AIDS, Root-Bernstein's articles on the subject have generally been peer-reviewed. (Papadopulos-Eleopulos and Duesberg, in contrast, published their work in non-peer-reviewed journals or otherwise bypassed the peer-review process). This does lend credence to the idea that he is a serious researcher with a minority view, rather than a crank on the subject.
posted by kyrademon at 5:07 PM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I suppose the less-charitable framing is, "Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

God, I hate this saying. IT'S CALLED DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME, PEOPLE. A broken clock is right between one and three times a day. Get with the program.
posted by uosuaq at 5:30 PM on October 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


I honestly don't care if he's a denier, or if he kicks puppies, or he declaws every cat he meets. I think it's all very irrelevant to the post, and the topic of the post.

I don't like the idea of digging into someones past (particularly if they aren't a very public figure) to figure out some bad thing they did or believe that doesn't have anything to do with the matter at hand.

His kicking declawed puppies has nothing to do with a friggin' teaching anecdote. And I hope that folks will think twice before being internet sleuths, or revealing things they've found that have nothing to do with the matter at hand. I do some sleuthing sometimes myself, but I don't share my results with metafilter unless its actually pertinent.

In fairness there is at least one person that thinks his AIDS works invalidates the value of this teaching anecdote. I'm going to assume that's in good faith and be bewildered by that.

It does look like there is enough interest (and ignorance, speaking for myself) on AIDS denialism to be worthy of an FPP; although I'm certainly not the one to craft it.
posted by el io at 8:02 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


(If the clock is digital and displays 88:88 IT IS NEVER RIGHT.) Whether Dr Root-Bernstein is an HIV denialist is irrelevant to his ability to teach the evolution section of an undergraduate introductory biology course. He has plenty of pedagogical experience and his essay showed his understanding of the material and his teaching approach were both totally on point.
posted by gingerest at 8:52 PM on October 21, 2014


I'm going to assume that's in good faith and be bewildered by that.

If you assume it's in bad faith, as in black and white fundamentalist-like thinking, there would be no cause for bewilderment.
posted by Brian B. at 8:59 PM on October 21, 2014


Assuming bad faith is not useful to me. Bewilderment has a possibility of leading towards better understandings (certainty does not).
posted by el io at 9:01 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Assuming bad faith is not useful to me.

It's not useful to anyone.
posted by Brian B. at 9:08 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


So apparently it is a consensus here in MeTa that it is inappropriate to judge a scientific work according to the background history of the authors. I disagree and so do many others. These are serious questions of medical and scientific ethics and cannot be dismissed so lightly.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:03 PM on October 21, 2014


So apparently it is a consensus here in MeTa that it is inappropriate to judge a scientific work according to the background history of the authors.

oh man, why did no one tell me it was disingenuous interpretation day on MetaFilter?
posted by modernnomad at 10:33 PM on October 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


So apparently it is a consensus here in MeTa that it is inappropriate to judge a scientific work according to the background history of the authors.
What "scientific work"? The thread isn't about a peer-reviewed data report in a journal, or even his books - it concerns an essay about teaching in a general-audience science magazine.
posted by gingerest at 11:15 PM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


oh man, why did no one tell me it was disingenuous interpretation day on MetaFilter?

Apparently there was a consensus and you weren't invited.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:03 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

"He indicates, in his response, that his reason for taking the "strong" co-factor view is, in contrast, evidence-based, and that his support of the "strong" co-factor hypothesis is therefore not a form of AIDS denialism at all, but rather an assessment of the available evidence. (I am not qualified to judge whether or not this is true.)"
Reading his thing, he seemed to me to not really be standing by a view, but even if he had it wouldn't really even be quite relevant exactly.

'AIDS denial' is a social phenomenon, not a primarily scientific one. It doesn't really make sense to judge whether he is or is not an 'AIDS denialist' through the lens of any scientific models, much less his, exactly. The current consensus models for understanding AIDS, as well as pretty much everything, are in fact necessarily wrong and in need of improvement. In order to do science you necessarily need to deny that our current understanding of what you study is 'right'. 'AIDS denial' in a scientific context, like climate change denial and evolution denial, is instead working to create a parallel pseudo-scientific community away from responsible peers in order to say bullshit responsible peers would never allow. That is unambiguously not where he is now, even if he did clearly run right up to the line of that for a couple of years. He seems to have found himself on the edge of a bad crowd, part of which was dead set towards building such a thing, honestly and in good faith twenty years ago never quite drinking the kool-aid, and then extracted himself from it, which is no small feat. I've gotten to watch good PIs descend towards woo first hand, and once that starts there is clearly an immense amount of social pressure to continue, its pretty inspiring to me that he got himself out and didn't stray from honest grants.

Really to understand how he fits into his theoretical model dividing the putative influence of 'co-factors' into four categories, you've got to interrogate it. It is honestly hard to look at it and see its primary ontological purpose as being meant to usefully describe anything, either demonstrated or hypothetical, so much as serve as a fig leaf for saving face. As a model, it is hopelessly vague and currently functionally useless for guiding real research.

If you search pubmed for HIV and things like heroin or STDs like herpes, you'll find research showing illegal drug use and co-infection to work like the 'weak cofactors' he describes, and general health also clearly works that way, all of which has been pretty uncontroversial since the 80s. Where clinical experience with AIDS patients and then rigorous statistics done on patient outcomes was able to show these as indicators of accelerated development of AIDS, and we've been able to recommend 'don't do drugs' and 'practice safer sex' ever since. However, his model does not currently have the ability to predict testable hypothesis for other usefully manipulable 'co-factors,' and without that it basically only works as an exercise in intellectual masturbation. If he could develop the model to the point where it would predict some possible 'co-factor' this would be an entirely different conversation, as he'd then be able to test it against indexed databases of patient outcomes (or generate a new value to index) and be shown to be right or wrong.

From a scientific perspective though, the 'co-factors' model is still arguably very much worth learning by graduate students who would ideally go on to half remember it into their careers and then be able to apply it if they ever come across a finding that would suggest a hypothesis to test for exactly this reason, but aside from that, its basically useless for guiding anything. The dude's research can certainly have the model laid onto it, and can plausibly be said to be inspired by it, but at least as its been communicated cannot authentically be guided by it - nor really can anyone else's.

Really, charlie don't surf's flailing here is ridiculous and embarrassing enough that he's not even quite wrong about him, just lacking the context to understand what has value in science.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:50 AM on October 22, 2014 [11 favorites]


its pretty inspiring to me that he got himself out and didn't stray from honest grants.

Can you say a little about "honest" grants? How does the research community distinguish those from the dishonest ones? I ask because there's a conflict right now in my field about the John Templeton Foundation and the Liberty Fund and I'm wondering if there is work or a consensus in other fields on this question.

However, his model does not currently have the ability to predict testable hypothesis for other usefully manipulable 'co-factors,' and without that it basically only works as an exercise in intellectual masturbation.

Are you sure about that?

Antigenic complementarity between HIV and other AIDS-associated infections results in idiotype-antiidiotype antibody complexes that cross react with lymphocyte proteins.

"HIV proteins mimic HLA proteins, and the proteins of cofactor infections (cytomegalovirus, hepatitis viruses, mycobacteria, mycoplasmas) mimic CD4 proteins, making some HIV antigens molecularly complementary to cofactor antigens. Antibodies to HIV and its cofactors should therefore act like idiotype-antiidiotype pairs. Over 2000 combinations of antibodies were tested for such complementarity using modified forms of Ouchterlony immunodiffusion and ELISA. HIV antibodies do precipitate some antibodies against cofactor infections including CMV, HBV, mycobacteria and mycoplasmas. These antibodies also mimic antibodies against HLA and CD4 proteins. Thus, some combinations of HIV with cofactor infections may induce lymphocytotoxic antibodies (LCTA), a risk that must be addressed in vaccine development."
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:11 AM on October 22, 2014


Years ago, in the city I lived in, a new police chief was hired. I was a mod at a very liberal forum and somebody made a "Yaay! They hired a black guy!" post. I was happy too. Then I googled the guy, found something not so good. I mentioned it on the forum. Better googlers found more. Much much more.

It got to the point where 20 of us were calling the city manager and council, reporters. Nobody would listen to us. A prominent local blogger culled all of our research from that thread and posted that. He got called a racist.

We were right. This guy has really damaged the police department. So I say dig in.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:11 AM on October 22, 2014


So apparently it is a consensus here in MeTa that it is inappropriate to judge a scientific work according to the background history of the authors. I disagree and so do many others.

The topic of that thread doesn't seem to support your argument. In both of the cases noted, people are judging books by the contents of those books, and explicitly not by the background of the authors:
[These] two books published in anatomy made a lot of controversy, the first was an atlas by the Nazi anatomist Pernkopf in which he used illustrations from cadavers of war prisoners...the second one by R. Frederick Becker and others used pornographic pictures of nude women in the text to illustrate surface anatomy.
posted by cjelli at 8:44 AM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


klangklangston contacting the guy made it a worthwhile derail.
posted by homunculus at 4:50 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that ChuraChura's comment has been highlighted on the sideblog, that was awesome!
posted by Blasdelb at 11:21 AM on October 24, 2014


(thanks!)
posted by ChuraChura at 1:20 PM on October 24, 2014


it can lead to blaming the victim -- "Although you are HIV positive you would not have AIDS if you did not [eat the wrong foods, drink alcohol, whatever]." And at its worst, the hypothesis can be used as an excuse for quack cures -- "I guarantee your HIV positive status will not develop into AIDS if you [eat oranges, drink only spring water, whatever]."

I know you're just presenting the perceptions, but this type of thinking is itself dangerously unscientific. An idea isn't true or untrue because of what one could imagine the idea could be used to argue.

The strong co-factor theory (which, for the record, I do not subscribe to), does not blame victims or support quack cures inherently. Someone could come up with reasons to to do either with any theory of AIDS- be it "HIV=AIDS", the weak co-factor theory or full on denialism. Minority theories get glommed unto by quacks and moralists all the time, but the theory needs to be evaluated on it's merits- not the danger "right-thinking" think it poses to social acceptability.

We know race/ethnicity can play a role in some medical conditions. Should we reject that because some racist idiot could use that to make stupid arguments about race that we find distasteful?

Blasdelb's point above is right on target- denialism is a social phenomenon, not something you can really apply to a scientific debate. Debating the moral ramifications of a theory tells us exactly nothing about the idea's correctness. I think we saw that exact error in that thread, and that's why it lead to digging up of someone's past- when you turn science into a moral disagreement, it seems fair play to prove someone is a bad person, as charlie don't surf seems intent on doing.
posted by spaltavian at 9:02 AM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


I suppose the less-charitable framing is, "Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

God, I hate this saying. IT'S CALLED DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME, PEOPLE. A broken clock is right between one and three times a day. Get with the program.


There is no universal time for every frame of reference, therefore no clocks are ever right.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


« Older What do you feel uncomfortable about saying here?   |   FPP titles that made you smile or laugh Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments