Henry Bauer and HPV

Henry Bauer, professor emeritus of Chemistry and Science Studies at Virginia Tech, contends that HIV and HPV do not cause disease. He also contends that the boundaries between science and pseudoscience are artificial. These attitudes are very confusing until you realize that the "Science Studies" in his title is a reference to postmodernism.

Bauer, Postmodernism, and AIDS Skepticism

I know nothing about postmodernism, but while browsing through a journal issue that Bauer contributed to, I found a passage that seemed to sum up Bauer's chosen field.

The Poverty of Postmodernism (Stephan Fuchs, Science Studies Vol 9) says

"Postmodernism is an attempt at upward social and epistemic control; it reduces a strong and authoritative mode of knowing, science, to a weak and contested mode of knowing, STS (Science and Technology Studies)... Much of STS has been about debunking epistemology and scientific method as "not really" guiding the actual behavior of science."
I also ran across a note Bauer wrote to his fellow AIDS skeptics on the occasion of a court ruling that HIV causes AIDS which seems to hint at Bauer's political approach to science:
"Divide and conquer" is applicable here. Every time the mainstream can defeat a dissenting argument, all dissent can thereby be rhetorically denigrated through guilt by association. Therefore, again, the most careful thought should be given to exactly what it is necessary to prove, in order to cast sufficient doubt on HIV = AIDS dogma.

[It seems] incompatible with realities about scientific activity [for the judge to object that we] failed to give an alternative theory...

Science studies - the interdisciplinary field comprising primarily but not only history, philosophy, and sociology of science - has long recognized that false trails followed too long by a mainstream orthodoxy can sometimes be corrected only by relative outsiders, who lack the blinkered biases of those working in the mainstream.

... [This] decision underscores the need to identify exactly what is necessary to establish sufficient doubt about the HIV = AIDS dogma. In my opinion, to accomplish this it is not necessary to establish that HIV does not exist, it should suffice if one can establish that HIV is not sexually transmitted so efficiently ...

In other words, he seems to believe that science doesn't follow the "scientific method", that science sometimes needs to be "corrected" by non-scientists, that this is a fight in which every inch of ground matters, and that when advocating for the position that viruses do not cause disease, one need not try to show what actually causes disease, but instead should make the least outlandish claims neccessary to spread uncertainty and doubt about the science.

Bauer acts on these beliefs by writing books like "Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method" and "The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory".

Bauer's claims about HPV

I was unaware of the above context when I stumbled across his recent blog post on HPV, "Beyond Belief: Deadly vaccines for Africa and Asia", which starts off by claiming
"Here's what's known about Gardasil and Cervarix (see Deadly vaccines):
  1. There's no good evidence that they do anyone any good
  2. There's proof that they harm some people, at times even fatally"
I found these claims surprising, and asked him some questions. Here's a summary of the resulting conversation, sorted by topic.

Does Gardasil do anyone any good?

When pointed to studies showing that the Gardasil vaccination campaign has lowered the incidence of HPV among American girls, Prof Bauer replied
"That the vaccine decreases HPV incidence doesn't mean that it does any good against cervical cancer or genital warts or anything else."
When pointed to studies showing that the rate of genital warts has fallen more than tenfold in the vaccinated age groups in Australia, he replied
... genital warts are not particularly damaging.
When asked "Do you agree that [1] it's been established that warts are generally a transmissible disease, and that [2] the disease agent is a virus, and that, [3] in humans, these viri are generally known as HPV?" he replied
[1] No. Perhaps you are not familiar with Lewis Thomas, "On Warts"?
[2] So, ditto, again NO.
[3] And once more, tritto, NO.
Cite the establishing sources.
(I went and looked up that reference; it says in part
"The wart is what the virus truly wants; it can flourish only in cells undergoing precisely this kind of overgrowth. It is not a defense at all; it is an overwhelming welcome, and enthusiastic accommodation meeting the needs of more and more virus.
The strangest thing about warts is ... Warts can be ordered of [sic] the skin by hypnotic suggestion. ...
Some intelligence or other knows how to get rid of warts, and this is a disquieting thought."
which looks like pseudoscience completely unsupported by evidence.)

When pointed to studies showing that papillomavirus does in fact cause disease in many animals, he said

"How many articles have been published about warts? Where are the reviews or meta-analyses of them to establish whether anything has been established?"
This is not in itself unreasonable (see "Why most published research findings are false"), but when presented with a review article covering 100 years of canine papillomavirus research, he refused to read it, saying
"I just don't see any relevance of warts. Even if you could convince me that they are transmissible; and even if you could convince me that they are caused by HPV, it would not establish that HPV causes cervical cancer."

The evidence that papillomavirus causes warts, and that papillomavirus vaccine prevents warts is extremely strong, and it is disappointing that Prof. Bauer declines to address it.

I never did challenge his assertion that warts are harmless (he started deleting my posts), but the US alone spends $167 million annually treating them, and genital warts in pregnancy are strongly predictive of Juvenile-Onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a nasty and sometimes fatal disease which affects about 1 in 100,000 children.

Does Gardasil harm anybody?

When asked what proof he had that the vaccines cause harm, he replied
"When a government agency disburses $7 million to compensate for damage, it seems highly likely to me that they applied the equivalent of a meta-analysis, or quite direct evidence, before making the payments."
The government agency in question, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program does not recognize HPV vaccines as causing any harm, so each award of compensation requires a separate trial in court, and this court has been known to issue rulings that are not scientifically justified.

In other words, Bauer takes it on faith that the vaccine court, known to not require rigorous scientific proof, required rigorous scientific proof.

This seems inconsistent with Bauer's 1990 paper Barriers Against Interdisciplinarity, which noted

"Even the concept of `truth' is completely different in the legal sense than ... in the scientific sense."

See Also

Copyright 2013 Dan Kegel
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