Wednesday, June 06, 2007

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Last week I rejoiced with everyone else when Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State. His support of Creationism didnt play a hand in the departments tenure decision, but its always nice when a crank doesnt get their way. Its even better if they lose their official platform for pushing their crap-- laypeople 'trust' PhDs, MDs, university/med school faculty, etc.

So a couple months ago, HIV/AIDS researchers from around the world got together to send an official statement to the University of Texas- Tyler regarding Blondie and her HIV Denialism.

I am writing to bring to your attention the professional conduct of Dr. Rebecca Culshaw, an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas at Tyler. Dr. Culshaw has recently published a book, entitled Science Sold Out: Does HIV Really Cause AIDS? in which she variously argues that HIV does not exist, cannot be sexually transmitted even if it did, and does not cause AIDS if it did exist and were transmitted. In that book, and in related advertising material, other writings, and interviews, Dr. Culshaw highlights her professional affiliation as a member of the University of Texas at Tyler faculty, using the university’s name to confer authority on her statements. Dr. Culshaw has the right to publish scholarly research, and she may, of course, hold and promulgate whatever views she wishes. But I question whether she has the right to tie the name of the University of Texas to her opinions on HIV and AIDS.

The existence of HIV and its causative role in the development of AIDS is a generally accepted scientific fact, endorsed by the National Institutes of Heath, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization and many other national and international agencies and scientific societies.

The University of Texas recognizes, as do I, that faculty members should be free to speak their minds. Section Three of the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas stresses that the individual “should be free from institutional censorship or discipline…” Since freedom comes with responsibility, the section continues: the faculty member speaking as a citizen must emphasize that she “is not an institutional spokesperson.” The reason for this stricture is found in the University of Texas Handbook of Operating Procedures, Section 3.01: “The concept of professional responsibility includes recognition by the faculty member that the public will judge the profession by his/her statements.”

I submit that the professions of educator and mathematician suffer from the public statements of Dr. Culshaw, whose book and other works are deeply flawed on a scientific level. Dr. Culshaw, who claims to have studied HIV for over ten years, displays little or no understanding of HIV and AIDS, and her views on various aspects of virology, immunology, pathology and epidemiology are inaccurate and inept, far short of the standards expected of an Assistant Professor at a respected university. Even more disturbingly, her book is riddled with mathematical mistakes and misconceptions that speak poorly to Dr. Culshaw’s competence in her core discipline. With this correspondence is attached a short summary of some of Dr. Culshaw’s more egregious errors in her book; a longer critique is posted at http://www.aidstruth.org/rebecca- culshaw-critique.php.

I am further concerned by Dr. Culshaw’s questionable scholarly practices. First, much of the contents of Dr. Culshaw’s book reflects not her own scholarly research but instead rehashes source material that has long been available on the internet, on websites where Dr. Culshaw herself posts comments regularly; Dr. Culshaw often fails to cite these sources. Second, Dr. Culshaw misrepresents and even manipulates primary data from the scientific literature to support her arguments (see attached Summary, “Scholarly Practices” and following). Third, Dr. Culshaw continued to present her own research on HIV modeling in professional circles for several years after deciding it was based on a fraudulent premise (i.e., after deciding that HIV does not cause AIDS). She has said, “I justified my contributions to a theory I wasn’t convinced of by telling myself these [papers and conference presentations] were purely theoretical… never to be applied in the real world.” This attitude to science is intellectually dishonest; Dr. Culshaw cannot have it both ways.

I reiterate that Dr. Culshaw has the personal right to deny the existence of HIV and its causative role in AIDS. However, I do not believe that the good name of the University of Texas at Tyler should be associated with the views she promotes. The university has a reputation for scientific excellence and stands for the advancement of human health and welfare. Dr. Culshaw’s shoddy research is damaging both to public health and to the university. I am aware that AIDS researchers within the University of Texas system share our concerns on this point, to the point of personal embarrassment.

I therefore request that Dr. Culshaw be instructed that, whenever she promotes her views on HIV and AIDS, be they in a book or on the internet, she do so strictly as a private individual, and not as a faculty member of the University of Texas at Tyler.
I didnt have a hand in this, but I did help Ken a little bit with Blondies claims about HIV and ERVs. And I fully support everything said in this letter. It is completely within Blondies rights to campaign for the death of all puppies in her free time, if she wishes. But she has to state a qualifier/disclaimer that she is not speaking on behalf of UT Tyler, as clearly stated in UT Tylers handbook, as highlighted in yellow above.

Oh you expect the Usual Suspects to act like fools in response to something like this, but here are some excerpts from the 'response' letter all the letter signers got from 'the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas at Tyler', Richard L. Osburn.
To accept the premise that this university, or any other university, should speak against this professor’s opinion is to make a value judgment on what is in the public’s interest and what is not.

Had this professor espoused an opinion in support of your position and had the university received a letter from one who was upset at that opinion by said professor, would you have the university issue such comments decrying that position?

I personally feel that the public interest is best served when there is freedom of expression.
Okaaay. I dont know what to type here that you all arent probably already thinking. So Im just going to blog-scream here real quick.

OMG DID YOU EVEN READ THAT DAMN LETTER, OSBURN?? JESUS!

4 + 7 is zebra. The earth is 6,000 years old. HIV doesnt exist. 'The Once and Future King' is a story about how Gatorade was discovered. Its all a matter of opinion, folks! And how dare you suggest a university go by its own damn handbook! How dare you ask mathematicians to know math, and professors not to encourage plagiarism! Why do you hate freedom so much, AIDS Dogmaists?

I guess Guillermo knows where to look for a job, now.

11 comments:

Dustin said...

Did Osburn say this was a fucking value judgement?

*looks again*

Yeah, he said it. What the hell does he think this is? Art class?

I know I don't even need to say this, but I'm going to anyway -- objective facts and evidence aren't value judgements. They aren't claims about ethics, or aesthetic value, or morality, or anything like that. They're able to be subjected to experiment and disproven. As people have taken to saying lately, you aren't entitled to your own facts.

Actually, why does the university even think that a value judgement isn't allowable? If a professor got on a lecturn and made it his position as a representative of the university that rape and murder should be engaged in by everyone, or that slavery should be brought back, he'd be fired.

ERV said...

... a value judgment on what is in the public’s interest and what is not.

With HIV. A Public health issue.

I was hesitant to post the entire letter, but it appears the recipients of this letter want to bring this to the publics attention, so here it is:
Your letter of April 16 to President Rodney H. Mabry has been referred to me for response. I am the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas at Tyler. I would like to thank you for taking time to express your concerns over the opinions of one of our faculty members on the subject of HIV/AIDS.

The free expression of ideas, even controversial ones, is an important right. A professor is an individual who is part of the collective whole making up the faculty of a university. It is unnecessary and, I would also argue, unhealthy for all members of a faculty to be unanimous in their viewpoints. While I personally may or may not agree with an individual faculty viewpoint, I do support the rights of the person to express him- or herself.

To accept the premise that this university, or any other university, should speak against this professor’s opinion is to make a value judgment on what is in the public’s interest and what is not. Had this professor espoused an opinion in support of your position and had the university received a letter from one who was upset at that opinion by said professor, would you have the university issue such comments decrying that position?

I personally feel that the public interest is best served when there is freedom of expression. Certainly individuals such as yourself have every right to challenge those statements and to inform others of your concerns. I support that right for you, as I do the right of this professor to have dissenting views.

Thank you for your concerns.

Sincerely,

Signed Richard L. Osburn

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs


To add insult to injury: Osburn has a PhD in entomology.

Hes a scientist.

Dustin said...

Nah, he's not a scientist. You have to subscribe to the empirical philosophy to be a scientist.

He's a scientician with a bad case of factual relativism. I'd mail him and suggest he find work with the Discovery Institute.

Ian said...

[I]n which she variously argues that HIV does not exist, cannot be sexually transmitted even if it did, and does not cause AIDS if it did exist and were transmitted.

If there's no such thing as HIV, does that mean that everything you do in the lab is imaginary? Do you even work in a lab? Are you even in OKC? Does OUHSC exist, or am I going on a wild goose chase tomorrow when I have to go up there?

Foxy said...

On a more positive note, 4 + 7 is zebra is /probably/ the funniest thing I've read in at least a week.

Bob O'H said...

Did Osburn say this was a fucking value judgement?
Well, it is. Some of us chose values that stress ideas of truth and respect for reality, others (apparently) don't.

Bob

Chris Noble said...

Another point is that Culshaw is not presenting her book as "opinion". It's supposed to be very,very scientifical because it's got references and she's a mathemetician from the well respected University of Texas.

My only worry is that this iniative will backfire. Denialists won't bother reading the letter. They'll just interpret it as an attempt at censorship and as an ad hominem attack.

Ridicule is probably a better means to make University of Texas embarrased about Culshaw's pseudoscientific nonsense.

The University of Texas may support Culshaw's right to claim that thousands of scientists around the world are stupid, dishonest and actively murdering millions of people but we have a right to ridicule her pseudoscientific conspiracy theories.

Anonymous said...

This is atrocious. With UT's attitude to academia, they should close up shop. Since we all have our own "truth," why bother with higher ed and degrees and all that elitist junk?

We don't need universities or labs or buildings to sit around and talk about our feelings on the phosphorylation of Histone H3. We can do interpretive dance about nuclear import of the PIC without segregating into students and professors. And Nature will publish our poetry on p24 even if Osburn doesn't get his fat salary anymore.

It's the end of academia as we know it. And Blondie feels fine.

Come to think of it, I don't think she would have written that letter any differently herself...well, except for a few spelling and grammar errors.

Anonymous said...

One other thing. Sorry for the double post, but Osburn's academic freedom thing is nonsense, too. The letter-writers never said she shouldn't have academic freedom. No topic should be off-limits in academia.

Here's how it works. At my university, I call up some geology colleagues and say, "Hey guys, is it possible that Earth is three weeks old?" And they say, "Weirdo, that's a strange question, but we support your right to ask it. And since you don't know anything about geology, here's some evidence refuting the premise your question's based on. Have fun reading." And after a few weeks, I say, "Thanks, I guess it was a dumb question after all."

With Blondie, she asks some really dumb questions when she should know better. Then a friend of ours contacts her privately to volunteer as an information resource. She doesn't write him back, but instead ridicules him on the internet like a child. No honest questions, no willingness to learn from the real expert, obviously no interest in the facts. That's not academic freedom. It's an insult to academia and an assault on science.

ERV said...

Ian-- Of course Oklahoma exists! And it is the best place on earth. THE BEST PLACE. :P

hehe Glad you liked it Foxy. Denier World is much like Oklahoma-- A HAPPY, FUNNY PLACE. HAPPY.

hehehe!

Bob, Chris, Anon-- I havent seen a complete list of people who sent the letter to Osburn, but I am mortified for him. He has no idea what hes just done-- like comparing Stephen Hawking to the Moon-Landing Deniers. If he has any sense in his head, he is going to wish he used The Google Machine before he wrote that 'response.'

And Chris, of course They are going to blow it out of proportion, but eh. Again, like Creationists-- cant move without them throwing a temper tantrum.

ERV said...

Oh and double posts are always welcome Anon-- when you gotta vent, you gotta vent :)