Midweek Cuckoo: Kary Mullis

It’s incorrect to assume that only the uneducated, unwashed masses believe foolish things. According to Michael Shermer, “smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

In the case of Nobel laureate Dr. Kary Mullis, I tend to agree. He has arrived at a number of beliefs for non-smart reasons, and in his continual support of those beliefs he ignores all training he ever received as a scientist.

Dr. Kary Mullis received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993 for the invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). It was a work for which he is justly and widely respected. In my eyes, he has since thrown it all away by continuing to support all manner of flapdoodle, giving the ridiculous a sheen of respectability by virtue of his own good name. It’s sad, because some people think that being an expert in one field means you are automatically an expert in all fields. Kary Mullis certainly seems to believe this of himself.

In his autobiography, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, Mullis expounds on his belief in astrology in a chapter entitled I am a Capricorn (PDF). Mullis puts great meaning into the fact that a birth chart drawn up for him was wrong on only the few points that were incorrectly derived from the hour of his birth, due to a mistake with daylight savings time. He feels the sensitivity to a difference of a single hour shows how accurate astrology is. I wonder what he would say if he knew that the entire chart was wrong due to the fact that the sun wasn’t even in capricorn at the time of his birth, even though astrologers would have him believe it was? He would certainly know this if he’d bothered to research both sides of the argument.

Perhaps I could forgive him if this were as far as his silliness goes, but it gets worse. On his website, Mullis recommends a book called The Urantia Book, supposedly written by extraterrestrials in 1955. Mullis describes a number of scientific developments that he says were “unexpected in 1955″ and yet appeared in the book. I’ll address the first of these to give you an idea of how little research backs up his statements. Mullis points out that the book quotes 4.5 billion years as the age of the earth, and then compares this to a few articles in Science from 2005 where the same age is given. Evidence of extraterrestrial authorship? Hardly. The experiment that determined that figure for the age of the planet from radioactive dating techniques was performed by Clair Cameron Patterson in 1953, two years before the Urantia Book was published. The rest of his points remind me of what it looks like when people try to fit the prophecies of Nostradamus to current events, and claim enormous success regardless of how tenuous their links may be.

Mullis has also ventured into the dodgy world of AIDS denialism, and this is where he really makes a fool of himself. His reason for initially doubting that HIV causes AIDS is that when he was working as a consultant setting up analytic routines for HIV, he became curious as to who had made the original discovery that the virus was the cause of AIDS. He asked around and no one could tell him off the top of their head. This he took as evidence that no one had ever actually made the discovery, that it was all made up, and that people like Peter Duesberg deserved to have their steaming, book-shaped piles of effluent endorsed by a Nobel Laureate. So is it really as difficult as Mullis claims, to find out who made the connection? I found one of the men responsible pretty quickly (the virus was actually discovered and linked to AIDS at the same time by a French team so there’s more than one person in the running for ‘first’ linking HIV to AIDS):

From Wikipedia: “Robert Charles Gallo (born March 23, 1937) is a U.S. biomedical researcher. He is best known for his role in identifying the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as the infectious agent responsible for the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)”

From Avert.org (the history of AIDS on this site is very thorough and is a must-read if you’re interested): “Just one day later, on April 23th, the United States Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler announced that Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute had isolated the virus which caused AIDS”

From the Institute of Human Virology (which Gallo founded): “The Institute of Human Virology (IHV) … is directed by Robert C. Gallo, M.D., the eminent scientist who became world famous two decades ago when he co-discovered that the HIV virus was the cause of AIDS.”

And Mullis calls himself a researcher? Enough said. You can deliver my Nobel Prize whenever it’s convenient.

(Thanks to Brian again for his steady supply of candidates)

20 Responses to “Midweek Cuckoo: Kary Mullis”

  1. Just read your post about van der Maas, and then followed the HIV/AIDS link to this article. I’m currently embroiled in a discussion with some HIV deniers, and found some links to some interesting sources in it. Thanks.

  2. Glad to help fight the good fight! I haven’t finished categorizing all the posts that i imported from blogspot, so you may have missed some relevant ones, but glad to hear the ones you found were helpful :)

  3. I have been looking into this guy – and i totally agree and thankyou for your points about the ‘urantia’ book (which I also thought looked like the ‘author’ had taken a few credible ‘scientific’ facts and then grafted a whole pile of **** on top to make it look credible) – so thanks for the research that u did about when the ‘science’ was discovered – 1953. Aha. Makes sense.

    Did you inform Mullis himself? Somebody should!
    I thought he looked like a total quack putting that stuff on his website –
    it’s like he is not taking himself seriously to do that.

    and also thanks for the point about Aids (oh – so the team who discovered it were french – maybe that’s why the bunch of american scientists he refered to wouldn’t know about them)

    But – to take your own point – just because Mullis is a Nobel Prize winner – doesn’t mean that everything he believes has to be true –
    the same applies – that just because he believes in aliens – it doesn’t invalidate the fact that he still is a Nobel Prize winner –

    Also on that theme it doesn’t invalidate that astrology does work for large numbers of people and has worked for thousands of years and in fact was probably the first science – so that just because ‘science’ under modern day standards doesn’t ‘understand’ how it works – doesn’t mean that it doesn’t.

    For example. Physics doesn’t explain ‘how’ a bumble bee flies – but it doesn’t stop the bumble bee from flying.

    People experience weird synchronicity all the time (I certainly do) – science doesn’t explain it – I can’t – it just does.
    The sooner someone in the scientific establishment takes astrology ‘seriously’ – the better.

    We have to judge each case ‘individually’ by it’s own merit.

    BTW: I don’t agree with everything that any astrologer will tell me – and think that there is a huge variation in ‘interpretation’ – but none the less – my life does seem to be influenced by planetary movements – just as the moon affects the tides – and turtles know exactly when to swim from one side of the planet to another to get to a certain beach for a particular full moon that happens once a year….

    We don’t know how they do it – but they just do.
    Science doesn’t know everything…

    We are still searching….

  4. liloland: thanks for the comment, and i’m glad i could help you find some information. Here’s some more: Science can and has explained why the bumblebee flies, so I would advise you to refrain from using that argument.

    Also, science has taken astrology seriously, and performed many many experiments in an attempt to show that it works. All have failed the tests completely. You may want to read my posts here and here.

    You strike me as someone who is interested in gaining knowledge, and whose mind is not necessarily completely closed to well presented fact. As such, I would urge you to do more research on the topic of astrology, including the scientific side of the argument. You may find that there is a lot you have been mislead about.

  5. cool
    well thanks for the reply –
    i didn’t reply for a while – had moved onto other things –
    but just was checking out my liloland apparitions on google – and found this.
    thanx for the info on the flight of the innocent bumble bee.
    glad to know that it has finally been understood after all this time.
    what is interesting about the thread that follows however is a description of how sciencists often come up with theories that say that things are wrong, and then they get proved wrong themselves.
    I just try and be open-minded, as you point out.
    I did think for example that the comment on the thread mentioned above that bees have evolved ‘wrong’ I thought was a bit narrow minded in itself.
    How do we know it is wrong?
    Maybe there is a reason for it, and we just don’t know?
    I know that bees are supposed to have evolved highly complex means of communication through the dances that they perform to each other through complicated shapes that they make. How do we know if maybe the flight of the bee has developed highly complex manouvres that have different significance than purely those of aerodynamics?

    As you mentioned, I am someone who very much likes to gain knowledge about things, and I abhor any kind of cooky belief that is just based on hearsay, without any kind of logical or reasonable rational behind it.
    However, I will also say that certain things ‘ring true’ or ‘resonate’ within me, and sometimes it might take a while for those things to be described in a logical rational linguistic fashion that is comprehensible to others, though I might understand it within myself.
    Such is the nature of the difference between emotional ‘knowledge’ and instinct, and ‘logical’ intellectual knowledge.
    Even science for example can’t know exactly anything, and everything that we ‘know’ through science is part of a ‘belief structure’ that we only believe in, because we suppose it to be true, but at the end of the day, how do we know that the logical world that science describes doesn’t exist per se, and it only exists, because we have created that logic and understanding as part of a framework to describe the world.

    I’m talking about the extremes of science now, that do overlap with such things as cosmology and philosophy, with quantum mechanics, and the discovery that the further you look into the reality of reality, you discover that there’s nothing there. Or maybe it is there, or maybe it isn’t. It depends on how you look at it.

    If you can explain that. Do tell me.

    If you can tell me anything about how the body’s nervous system communicates through the use of quantum light signals, then I would also be very pleased to hear more on your views on that subject.

    My views regarding astrology are based on the fact that I didn’t believe it at first myself, and then I decided to pretend that I was an astrologer, and went round my class giving everyone advice according to their relationships based on their birthdays etc. based on what the books said, so that way I could see if it was true.

    Everyone was amazed at what I said, and then I started picking out ‘traits’ and themes that different people seemed to possess. I am able to tell what star signs people are, and what kind of influences they are going through.

    So therefore, even though I don’t exactly know how it works, as I said, I had conducted an experiment to see if the rules worked, and yes they did. That is how most of ‘conventional science’ itself exists and works.

    There are 2 books which I read which gave me some idea of the potential physical attributes behind astrology, one was supernature, written by a scientist, talking about the gravitational effects of the moon, planets etc. on animal populations.
    The other was an astrological guide for use in agriculture, and it described the historical use of astrology as developed throughout history, and gave a fascinating insight into how astrology had evolved in roman times, and how important philosophers (i can’t remember off the top of my head I will have to check it out) had developed highly complex agricultural planting systems that made influence of not just the ‘seasons’ but the planetary movements as well.
    The comparison of the systems that were used were similar to the physiological systems known as ‘biorythms’.
    Astrology as a full system is actually highly complex, and as mentioned, the effects can vary considerably, and also the interpretations of different astrologers also will vary considerably.
    I think the best way of looking at something like astrology is by looking at it, like something that is like DNA. Your DNA might have a trigger for psychosis for example, as described in one way. Otherwise, that trigger might actually be highly positive for focused and determined physical work using visual imagery or whatever.
    I was watching my cat the other day and thinking about his killing ‘instinct’ to catch animals. It is more like he wants to play with them, and like the killing instinct is actually secondary to the play instinct, which is primarily about curiosity and interactive investigation. Then the secondary mechanism to actually eat something will follow, when the smell or other impulses will take over, to make him desire to put it in his mouth.
    For example, I have seen him interacting with birds by watching them and mimicing them, by merping, in response to when they ‘chirp’ – but he doesn’t immediately want to catch them. It is instead the movement in the trees which will arouse his desire to ‘investigate’.

    Regarding the scientific side of astrology, I am on an astrology chatroom, and some of the most interesting discussions at present are in fact between astrophysicists and astrologers trying to understand each other, and how the systems works.

    So that hopefully will be conducive to some understanding of the process.

    As far as I can see so far, what seems to have emerged, is that, astrology might funtion like a register of a ‘map’ of gravitational influences that affect the individual, and it’s up to the individual how they relate to those influences, (like DNA). The different positions of the planet will ‘align’ in different ways, making different forms of patterns, and these gravitational influences do have an effect on us at a quantum level, and therefore probably act like subtle energy fields that influence our behaviour in subtle ways.

    I am interested as you can see in the logic behind the illogical – I’ve been doing some investigation into other stuff to like ESP and dream interpretation, and religious experiences and NDEs too. So there’s lots of stuff out there to look at.
    I am going through what is called a pluto transit as mentioned, and that does involve deep transformation and life and death experiences etc.
    I’m not sure quite what to make of it, and aliens do appear.
    From the NDE experiences (see http://www.near-death.com/index.html)
    I am guessing that maybe gods and angels and aliens are all part of a larger subconscious awareness, like Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.
    There is meaning there, though also, it is possible to say that all hallucinations are part of physical chemical hormonal side-effects.
    However, these chemical hormones are there for a biological reason, and also things such as ESP and NDE experiences do provide insights into reality and there are such things as psychic awareness etc.
    Even the US and Russian govts tested ESP extensively throughout the cold war, and both concluded that it was possible, and found that any average joe had ESP qualities, given certain specific techniques that they used and developed.

    Well, I’ve written enough now, but welcome your views etc. on anything you care to throw my way.

  6. by the way – i just read your posts about the psychology of horoscopes.
    i should have said before, i agree and in fact, all professional astrologers who take themselves seriously agree, that horoscopes should not be taken seriously.
    That is because if you really want to be a proper astrologer, you can’t take just the ‘sun sign’ into consideration.
    A proper chart includes many different factors, including planets, both where they are now, where they were when you were born, and all the different angles that they make to each other, and is a surprisingly complex task. As such, the results can be surprisingly accurate. I recently have been able to get some astrological insight into certain things that are affecting me at the moment, though I do agree, I don’t take everything that anyone person says to me, without a pinch of salt, because I’ve seen that the interpretation of different planets and influences also varies considerably depending on the personality or learning or outlook of that individual person.

    There are consistencies though, and I am interested to see how the process works from within, from a viewpoint of willingness to believe, just show me how, and I will try and work out the rest for myself if I don’t agree.

    Even so, I still try and take astrology and astrologers and myself or anyone else with a pinch of salt, just because salt is actually a daily requirement of the body.. and therefore physiologically necessary. :-)

  7. hm. was just thinking, according to the rules of quantum physics – whereby the intention affects the end result –
    if we both approached astrology with a willingness to investigate – but both from different angles –
    i was skeptical but wanted to see if it worked, and would have liked to believe but needed more evidence – so my end result was that i saw that it did work, potentially because i wanted to see that result.

    whereas your result is that you disproved it, because your desired intention was in fact to disprove it.
    So it is like we were both right, in that we both achieved what we set out to do, and the laws of quantum physics, which could have gone either way, obliged in each of our instances.

    This beggars the question of how much intention actually influences result.
    Sometimes the very fact that scientists set out to prove and self-validate a desired theory is used as an argument about the validity of their test.
    However, one could also say that if they had a desired result and they managed to acheive that, then that does in fact prove that their thesis was valid, ie it worked.
    So how do you seperate the 2?

    You discuss the use of psychological tools to influence people positively to create a desired effect and belief in horoscopes.
    One could also say that this simple act of providing psychological influences however, in itself, is something that people positively desire, since we are social animals after all, and therefore positive psychological stimulus is very important in our day to day lives.

    The other side of psychological manipulation is when it is used negatively for example in advertising when a product and its marketing is designed to manipulate peoples subliminal desires, and to displace that feeling of satisfaction with the said product. One could say that that is ‘morally wrong’ because it for example might influence people to buy things that are not good for them, thinking that they are.
    On the other hand, you could also say that the constructed world of advertising images creates a sense of nostalgia and wellbeing that provides social cohesion and a sense of common identity among the masses.
    These are the theories of social manipulation no less.
    However, how many times are drugs administered that are said to have certain effects, but actually are placebo, and actually just the belief that it is working in a certain way, creates a physiological effect on the body?

  8. arg! i wrote a long response and our stupid internet wigged out and lost the connection as i was posting! unbelievable.

    Okay, i’m skipping right to my very last point: read “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer. Make sure you get the later edition with the final chapter entitled “Why smart people believe weird things”. I think you will find it very relevant, and eye opening.

    PS be careful about using the QM “observer affects the observation” chestnut. It’s not true. The whole misconception arose from one scientists trying to explain a very complex and non-intuitive concept in simple terms, and it blew up in his face. It’s now become the favorite line for pseudoscientists trying to use QM to explain everything from astrology to psychics, and they only prove by using it just how much they don’t understand QM. Trust me, you have to have studied QM at university level for many, many years before you come even close to getting it, purely because our brains have not evolved to intuitively understand environments that we personally do not have to deal with. Just because the human brain does not have an intuitive reference for how an electron behaves, doesn’t invalidate the thousands and thousands of experiments that all come out with the same results. Scientists have to put aside their own preconceived notions and accept what reality is telling them, no matter how strange. Similarly, just because you personally find something strange and hard to conceive does not make it any less ‘real’. Your brain isn’t capable of intuitively playing tennis in zero gravity either, but that doesn’t mean zero gravity environments aren’t real. A scientists has to spend many, many years getting used to the world of the quark and the electron before he can really understand it, purely because he has to train his brain to intuitively understand a new reality, much like astronauts are initially extremely disoriented in zero G but eventually become experts at moving around in it.

    PPS the idea that gravity can explain astrology is ludicrous and ignores enormous holes like the FACT that the midwife at your birth had a stronger gravitational influence on you than all the planets added together. There is no point trying to find scientific theories to explain astrology, because astrology has been proven time and time again, even by astrologers, to not work. I could come up with a very convincing quantum mechanical explanation for how the moon is made of green cheese, but that doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t.

    and see this post.

  9. paradoxdestroyed Says:

    First of all, how can one deny something that hasn’t been scientifically proven (ie. HIV=AIDS).

    Second, spending BILLIONS of tax dollars on a flawed hypothesis and making up every excuse possible to keep the “dream” alive sounds very much like the AIDS Establishment is in denial.

    Someone who questions a scientific orthodoxy, by the way, is a dissident, not a denialist. Come on now, the slander is becoming rather pathetic.

  10. paradoxdestroyed Says:

    Scientific hypothesis-become-orthodoxy for the above comment.

  11. paradoxdestroyed: the HIV causes AIDS link was scientifically proven 23 years ago, and done so independantly on both sides of the Atlantic. See Barre-Sinoussi et al. 1983 and Popovic et al. 1984.

    True, they are also sometimes called dissidents. However, someone who denies something that is a fact is a denialist. AIDS dissidents have all the primary features in common with Holocaust Deniers, Evolution Deniers, and Germ Theory of Disease Deniers, in that they actually have to purposefully and willfully ignore an enormous body of evidence in order to maintain their delusional belief.

    Also, slander refers to spoken words. If it’s in the printed form, it’s libel. And the defence against both is the truth.

    And it’s not orthodoxy, purely because all that is required to overturn it is a single piece of evidence that it is not true… which the denialists have failed to provide after 23 years of trying. Meanwhile the body of evidence for it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. I’m sorry to inform you, but you’re backing a bunch of loonies who haven’t been able to substantiate their position in over two decades.

    Seriously, do you not check both sides of the story before believing in someone’s lies wholesale?

  12. paradoxdestroyed Says:

    Ahh, loonies. Typical, may I say, of the AIDS apologists MO. So you say those two studies proved “causation” ? Fundamentals bud, correlation is not causation. Simple.

  13. paradoxdestroyed Says:

    And I have never prescribed chemotherapy to perfectly healthy individuals who test positive to antibodies to a retrovirus; therefore, I really don’t know what a loonie is. But I’d guess some quack who does, would have a much better idea. Its been nice chatting. Farewell.

  14. paradoxdestroyed Says:

    One last thing. Sorry. But I find it interesting you should quote Michael Shermer at the top of your page. I’d like to quote from his writing as well:

    “In the jargon of science philosopher Thomas Kuhn, revolutionary ideas that are initially anathema to the accepted PARADIGM, in time may become normal science as the field undergoes a PARADIGM shift.”

    Paradigm is already shifting. Peace.

  15. kuhn also specifies that there needs to be a strong reason for such a paradigm shift, such as EVIDENCE. Kuhn also states that the burden of proof in such a paradigm shift relies on those who are attempting to enact it… in other words, provide some solid evidence that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or your prediction of a paradigm shift is a little premature.

    And the two papers i referenced are those published when the HI virus was first identified as the probable causative agent. Have a look at the THOUSANDS of papers published since that taken altogether prove causation.

    Ah, but of course, refusal to see each individual paper in context with all the others to create a total picture pointing towards HIV causing AIDS would be typical of the denialist MO.

  16. hi moonflake,

    I’m afraid you seem rather confused about the HIV issue, or being deliberately disingenuous. Of course, we all Gallo is credited with the discovery. Mullis wasn’t asking for that. He was looking for the paper, the scientific work which declared that HIV might be a cause of AIDS. Not a press conference! Yet, amazingly, there was no paper, and there still isn’t.

  17. sorry, hadn’t read your words in the comment section. I’ve just checked the abstract of the two papers you cite, and neither of them claim that the paper contains evidence that HIV causes AIDS. When you refer to ‘thousands of papers’ that suggests to me that you think any paper which assumes that HIV causes AIDS and manages to conclude something other than that the moon is purple is somehow helping form an cast-iron scientific case – that’s crap.

  18. Read the abstracts again.

    “From these studies it is concluded that this virus as well as the previous HTLV isolates belong to a general family of T-lymphotropic retroviruses that are horizontally transmitted in humans and may be involved in several pathological syndromes, including AIDS.”

    Do you need a dictionary to help you with the big words? If you are expecting the actual words “this paper proves that HIV causes AIDS” to appear in the abstract then it is you who is being disingenuous. You’re setting up an unattainable goal by creating an artificial requirement that no real world scientific paper will meet, starting off with the simple fact that the virus was not called “HIV” when it was discovered.

    Saying that every single paper after 1982 just assumed that HIV causes AIDS is to show that you personally do not understand how the scientific method works. HIV meets Koch’s postulates for being the cause of AIDS, viz. that it is found in every person with AIDS, that it has been isolated from someone with AIDS and grown in a pure culture, that it causes AIDS when transmitted from an infected person to a healthy person, and that it can be reisolated from the newly infected person.

    Avert.org has a very thorough and objective examination of the evidence from the last 20 years. Go read it.

  19. I am not here to defend Kary Mullis or criticize the author of Midweek Cuckoo: Kary Mullis. However, some comments were made about the Urantia Book that merit a response.

    The reason I am not critical of the author of the original post is because, at that time, the website ubthenews.com was not in existence. Today it has been in existence for over a year and has documented 10 different ways that the Urantia Book has been ahead of science. The book has been exhibiting a unique quality of credibility in this regard for over fifty years.

    Consider what it means to exhibit this type of credibility- being ahead of science. This means that the material must say things that are either in direct conflict with science at the time of publication or say things that science does not address at all. Indeed, the Urantia Book says many things that fit into both of these categories. This is true concerning when it was published and continues to be true today. The trend, however, is one of increasing and dramatic corroborations of the information it provides regarding its assertions about both science and history. To exhibit this type of emerging quality of credibility a document must start out making assertions that are not supported.

    Concerning Kary Mullis’ comments about how science is catching up to the Urantia Book regarding the age of the earth, I have no comment because I have not researched that specific issue. But the reports on ubthenews.com are ones that I have researched and written about. I invite feedback. If people find valid criticism of the work I will thank you for your input and update the material. On Kary’s website he mentions something about genetics research regarding mycrocephalin. The Adam and Eve report on ubthenews.com deals extensively with this extraordinary topic.

    While I understand the inclination by the author of the original post to be critical of Kary Mullis in the manner that was expressed in the article, I would like offer some additional thoughts on that subject.

    People who are on the cutting edge of issues, scientific and otherwise, are pioneers. Pioneers are risk takers. Sometimes they discover wonderful things that benefit all of us and sometimes their adventures into the unknown lead to nothing or to mistakes. They bear the burden alone and personally when they venture out into uncharted areas that lead to nothing or mistakes, while we all share in the benefits when the risks they take lead to discoveries.

    For this reason, I encourage a more sympathetic attitude. Often discoveries were made because people followed their “instincts” or intuition. And once having made important discoveries that were INITIALLY based on that type of process, people, naturally, can be inclined and have been encouraged to use it again. As stated above, sometimes this leads to nothing or to mistakes.

    It is very challenging personally to be a pioneer and society as a whole benefits enormously from those who are willing to take these personal risks.

    There are so many worthwhile things to do in life. Criticizing the pioneers when they appear to be making a mistake may ultimately turn out to be more of a bad reflection on the critic than the pioneer. The Urantia Book is a case in point. Check out ubthenews.com and you will find scholarly reports and learn about an incredible book.

  20. Really good comment UBtheNEWS! Too bad the thread seems to have died a while back but anyway, very insightful!

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