Thursday, March 23, 2006

Authoritarian intolerance on campus.

I don’t pretend to be a medical doctor or a biologist. So I have no position on whether HIV causes AIDS or not. But that is not important when it comes to whether or not such debate ought to be allowed.

In any area debate ought to be free. By free, I mean unhampered by government law or regulation. I do not mean that one must respect the opinions of others only respect their rights. Nor is one obligated to help them spread their ideas in any way. It is entirely one of negative obligations: that is one may NOT do things to them but there are no positive obligations to do things FOR them.

This is a foundation of classical liberal thinking. Anyone who helps, promotes or encourages the use of government sanction to punish an individual for expressing a peaceful opinion is not an advocate of human liberty.

Recently I watched the documentary, The Other Side of AIDS, which looked at this debate between respected researchers on both sides of the issue. But one man stood out. Not because of his research but because of his viciousness and authoritarianism. That was Dr. Mark Wainberg of the McGill University AIDS Center.

Wainberg is being interviewed about this debate and he immediately starts demanding to know whether or not the interviewer is a dissident or not. If a dissident then Wainberg will immediately cut off the discussion. He will refuse to answer questions. Worse yet he launches into demands that people who disagree with his view ought to be rounded up and arrested.

Wainberg asks the man if he believes HIV causes AIDS. The interviewer says that is the prevailing view. Wainberg then demands to know “Do you personally believe that HIV causes AIDS.” Now, I couldn’t answer that because I don’t know. I have no medical degree or the scientific knowledge necessary to judge the quality of research. But Wainberg sounded like a theologian, not a serious scientist. He wanted to root out heresy and damn the heretics to some undetermined penalty.

The researcher responds: “I don’t have enough information either way quite honestly.” That’s not good enough for the Grand Inquisitor. “Are you one of the dissidents?” he demands to know. The interviewer says he is not a dissident. This does not satisfy this theologian. “How can you say you don’t have enough information?” Maybe because he is not trained in the fields required for him to make such a judgement. What Cardinal Wainberg is demanding is not that the man make an informed judgement at all. He is demanding that the man agree with him. He is demanding that Wainberg’s view be accepted without evidence. Wainberg tells the man he should have had an opinion formed before doing the interview.

What it means is that Wainberg will only be interviewed by people who already agree with everything he is going to say. Why such a fear? Why such intolerance? Wainberg told the man that unless he already agreed with him he may want to edit his remarks to make him, Wainberg, look foolish. Why? Wainberg was already doing that all on his own.

Then Wainberg issued his fatwa against anyone who dared disagree with him. “Anyone, those who attempts to dispel the notion that HIV is the cause of AIDS are perpetrators of death. And I, would very much, for one, like to see the Constitution of the United States and similar countries have some means in place that we can charge people who are responsible for endangering public health with charges of endangerment and bring them up on trial. I think that people like Peter Duesberg belong in jail.”

“Someone who would perpetrate the notion that HIV is not the cause of AIDS is perhaps motivated by sentiment of pure evil. That such a person may perhaps really want millions of people in Africa, and elsewhere, to become infected by this virus and go on to die of it . Who knows maybe there is a hidden agenda behind the thoughts of a madman, maybe all psychopaths everywhere have ways of getting their views across that are sometimes camouflaged in subterfuge but I suggest to you that Peter Deusberg is probably the closest thing we have in this world to a scientific psychopath.”

Wainberg is seriously unhinged here and perhaps unfit to deal with students. What is really scary here is that at this moment I’m reading How the Idea of Religious Tolerance Came to the West by Perez Zagorin. He discusses the logic of those who burned heretics at the stake and their reasoning. They sound exactly like Wainberg right down to the accusation of the heretics being “pure evil.”

The interviewer made a mistake with this scientific mullah. The interviewer had seen that Wainberg’s irrational statements were all directed at Dr. Peter Deusberg alone. So he mentioned that there are other scientists who take the same position. The mere mention that numerous researchers disagree with this Mad Doctor of McGill was enough. Wainberg gives the man a dirty look and says: “And now this interview is over” and walks out.

My inclination is to go with the scientific consensus in most cases where I don’t think I can draw my own conclusion. But when I see people like Dr. Wainberg acting in such a way, and demanding that their views be legally protected from challenge, then I have to wonder if those who disagree don’t have a real case. This sort of intolerance is so often rooted in a fear that one may be wrong. It is ripe in theology but ought not exist in the academic world. Dr. Wainberg is an embarrassment to his profession and a man with such a passionate hatred for academic freedom that he ought not hold a position at a respected university. He may be right about the medical facts. But he shames his own position when he acts like an academic Stormtrooper. The world will never be a civilized place as long as men sit in university posts who want to imprison others over intellectual differences.

Labels: , ,