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Professional responsibilities of biomedical scientists in public discourse
  1. P S Copland
  1. The Bioethics Research Centre, University of Otago, Otago, New Zealand;

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    Minorities who disagree with the “scientific consensus” must be allowed to air their views

    I will begin by discussing the example used in Schüklenk’s paper1 of the self proclaimed “HIV dissidents” and then discuss whether the recommendations made are useful and could be applied to other examples in science.

    Schüklenk’s primary concern according to his title is with the professional responsibilities of biomedical scientists engaging in public discourse. The example given is of the effect that self proclaimed HIV dissidents have had on the provision of HIV related public health measures in South Africa. Fundamental to the example given is a distinction that both Schüklenk and indeed the general public often fail to make. It is important to recognise the difference between biomedical science and clinical practice. Science and medicine are two distinct fields, each with their own historically founded methods and purposes; they have had little in common with each other until relatively recently. Schüklenk confuses the two when he judges a scientific hypothesis by its clinical utility.

    It certainly seemed prudent to me at the time to give support to critics of a hypothesis, the pursuit of which had done little to bring those in need closer to life extending or life saving AIDS drugs.

    He later reconsiders his position on the basis of new clinical evidence.

    My own conversion to the mainstream view took place roughly when dissident predictions about AIDS deaths resulting from what they believed were highly poisonous drug cocktails—that is, triple therapy, did not occur, and when it became clear that actually the opposite was true; these drugs were at least life extending. I saw …

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