Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Science Skepticism/critical thinking

On “open-mindedness”

One of the most common refrains from advocates of pseudoscientific and paranormal ideas is that critics are “close-minded,” that they reject out of hand any idea that does not fit within their world view. Of course, this is a canard, given that science thrives on the open and free exchange of ideas, and it is not “close-mindedness” that (usually) leads to the rejection of dubious claims. Rather, it is the knowledge that, for many of such claims to be true, huge swaths of our current scientific understanding would have to be in error to such an extent that a major paradigm shift in various basic science would be necessary. While such paradigm shifts occasionally occur, they do not occur without the confluence of huge amounts of evidence, often coming from different fields and directions. In other words, to show that a paradigm is wrong or seriously incomplete requires evidence even more compelling than the evidence supporting the paradigm.

This video, via The World’s Fair, explains why when woo-meisters wrap themselves in the mantle of “open-mindedness” it’s almost always a crock:

I’ll have to keep this video around for my medical students to help them counter the inevitable charge of “close-mindedness” by CAM advocates. In fact, the part at the end, with the blond dude letting all sorts of rubbish into his brain because he has no critical thinking filter while demanding that others accept his views without evidence reminds me very much of a male version of Jenny McCarthy, full of the arrogance of ignorance. If the cartoon weren’t of such a good-looking young man, I’d say it was J.B. Handley.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

39 replies on “On “open-mindedness””

I really dislike the that canard of close-mindedness, and I’m glad you wrote this blog. With respect to the anti-vaccination movement, how much time and money has been wasted trying to find out if vaccines did cause autism? Talk about being open-minded.

When someone tells me about a miracle cure or treatment, my first reaction is to determine whether there is any, even if small, possibility of a scientific basis for the miracle cure. I try to find out what real research has been done.

I once bought into the whole orthomolecular medicine idea, because I thought it sounded reasonable. But one day, I read an article that about the only thing that was happening was that I had some very expensive urine. Further investigation showed me that there was precious little scientific evidence (and Pauling was a Nobel Prize winner, which obviously confirms the science….sarcasm intended).

I was always skeptical of the MSG scare, because I couldn’t figure out how small amounts of an amino acid, a building block of proteins, could be harmful, even if the compound was delivered in a salt form. Further investigation into the peer-reviewed research has shown me that MSG has no effect. Yet, if you bring it up, it’s because I’m obviously paid off by the Chinese food industry. Yes, I was accused of that when making a speech once on what constitutes scientific evidence. Sigh.

Don’t forget the claim that skeptics are “dogmatic”. That one pairs with the charge of “close-mindedness” like Jack and Coke. It’s ironic for adherents to magical, pre-rational beliefs to call others “dogmatic”.

The shorter version, as I wrote in The appeal to be open-minded: an open mind is open to all ideas, but it must be open to the possibility that the idea could be true or false. It is not closed-minded to reject claims that make no sense. If you can’t accept the possibility that an idea might be false, then you are the closed minded one.

Absolutely wonderful video. Imagine tonight, I’ll be gushing over Qualia Soup in a post with embeds. Thanks so much for posting this, Orac.

I wonder how much of this closed-mindedness vs. open-mindedness debate is motivated by religion. When you bring God into the debate, there is no debate. Even the great Jenny McCarthy spewed out God’s name multiple times in her Larry King interview last night. As if to say, her views are God given and divine. This is not just a scientific debate. The courts decide cases by the “science” and logic of the law (ie, gay marriage-yeah Iowa, abortion etc), yet the public decides by passionate religious and moral attitudes (boo-Prop 8). Hard to debate God.

I like the video a lot, but where it errs is in assuming that “open minded” woo-believers don’t use evidence to support their beliefs. They do – it’s just a whole other category of “evidence” that relies on personal and “expert” opinion. For whatever reason (eg. some rationalist at a party made them feel bad once, they flunked science at high school etc.)they dismiss science straight off, and rely on the personal stories of people they know and/or like as more credible information and evidence. (If Wakefield was ugly and unpersonable, his “evidence” would not have gained the traction that it did. People see him speak and think “he’s such a nice man – it must be true.”)

Otherwise – the vid is great. Love the story about the lampshade.

You mean those aren’t girls living in my radiator? They sure do sing purty. But seriously, that video is a huge help in laying waste to the whole “you’re not open minded” canard, I’ve already gotten my nephews trying it out on their own beliefs and these two jaded tweens actually think it’s cool . . . who knew?

When they had the clip with the woman pouring the magic dust into the injured friend I was reminded of the stuff that medis in Iraq were using to stop bleeding in the field.

Didn’t they eventually have them stop with that because of problems?

very interesting. i am definitely bookmarking this video for future reference when in conversation with friends.

i notice the artist has a fondness for jack kirby and steve ditko in his style. that is a nice touch.

Yeah, if someone claims I am close-minded it is hard for me to believe, and I simply relate to them how for a long time I had interest in many therapies considered alternative, particularly acupuncture and herbal remedies, and that it would actually be more close-minded to close myself off to tested and effective medical modalities just because I favor the idea of some other thing, and that indeed I would be open to other herbal remedies if there is evidence demonstrating efficacy, and that it is not simply water or an extremely diluted solution as in homeopathy. I used a gum drop analogy to explain why there’s so little to none of the original “active” ingredient as well as explaining that if the water simply acquired a “memory” of the ingredient, while there’s no evidence for this occurring, that all the water you drink has memory of all the things it’s been in contact with, from the poisonous to the beneficial, to my dad, who is similarly open to these things but who doesn’t embrace CAM in his daily life.

I personally really wanted to believe that acupuncture would work for my back, and I read people telling things that it was a valid use of it, and I was uncertain whether it was decidedly shown to not work yet, or whether it was still needed research, and I didn’t really research too deeply into it anyway because I didn’t plan on doing it unless I was really desperate – I hate needles going into me and have had vasovagal response when getting inoculated and IV catheter, so even if it would just be a mild prick I wanted to avoid it. But then I came across some of the studies that were well-designed and peer-reviewed and didn’t show benefit beyond placebo. Heck, I can get placebo and the added bonus of an actual effect from painkillers and exercise.

When someone uses the “you are close-minded” canard, I usually just reply by noting they are closed-minded to the possibility they are mistaken. They are often closed-minded to data that actually shows they are wrong.

Going forward, I think I’ll just hyperlink this video.

It seems odd to me, considering all of the debating on Orac’s site, Tara’s site, and all over the world, regarding the HIV as the cause of AIDS, that no-one here has pointed out that those who are labeled as “DENIALISTS” have over and over affirmed that they do not believe in the “MAGICAL” power of HIV to cause a grand list of opportunistic infections or low t-cell counts, defined as AIDS, simply because of the lack of evidence.

Can anyone explain how more than 30 HIV tests have come into being while not finding direct evidence of HIV in a single supposedly hiv positive person’s blood?

Can anyone explain, after 250 billion research dollars have been thrown at it, why no T-cells have ever been harmed or killed by hiv, and while the production/lack of production of T-cells has ever been found to be due to HIV?

Can anyone explain why it is very nearly confined to the same risk groups and has never gone off on any rampaging of sexually active white heterosexuals?

Can anyone explain how a retrovirus that can only transfer in 1 out of a 1000 sexual encounters could have survived in nature?

Can anyone explain how indirect means, such as finding reverse transcriptase, or finding nonspecific antibodies somehow proves retroviral infection or disease causation?

Can anyone explain why no vaccine has ever worked or why the vaccines themselves cause hiv positivity?

Where is the bloody evidence that proves HIV: exists, causes aids, kills T-cells, causes immune suppression, has been isolated, causes low T-cell counts, etc, etc, etc?

Are all of the believers heads too full of stinking fish and fear of magical boogeymen to come to terms with this astounding lack of evidence even after 25 years and 250 billion dollars of research?

Either come up with these evidences and proofs, or Off with your stinking fear filled fish heads!

In my own high school biology textbook, there were scanner electron microscopic pictures of HIV attacking immune cells. Trashy epistudies like those wrongly counting second-hand smokers as non-smokers is one thing, but you can’t debate photographs of scientific events occurring at the cellular level.

Speaking of HIV and the moon landing, is there any page like Phil Plait’s Moon Landing page that goes through the usual arguments of HIV denialists and debunks them? Mostly because I tend to learn things, even if I don’t hold the POV it’s debunking, and I’m starting to realize my knowledge of HIV is about ten years old and from high school health classes (with occasional patches from SciAm articles).

Whoa whoa whoa, Prove; that’s an awful lot of accusations you’re making without evidence to back them up. For example:
[Can anyone explain how more than 30 HIV tests have come into being while not finding direct evidence of HIV in a single supposedly hiv positive person’s blood?]
[Can anyone explain why it is very nearly confined to the same risk groups and has never gone off on any rampaging of sexually active white heterosexuals?]
And so on and so on.
Are we just supposed to take your word on it?

The thing that gets me lately is the whole “I know my child better than anybody else, therefore I know what’s best for him more than any scientist does.” That’s the usual noise from parents of autistic kids choosing to treat with chelation, B-12 shots, Lupron, and all that. But they don’t use that same reasoning when, for example, they give their child Tylenol (“It seems like he has a pretty bad cold, so I think he could use about half the bottle now, and maybe the other half at bedtime…”). They read the label about dosage and believe what the researchers and pharmas–who’ve never met the child–have decided is safe.

Laser Potato,

You very intelligently asked: “Are we just supposed to take your word on it?”

In your post above, you said:

“Whoa…That’s a lot of accusations without backing it up:

“[“Can anyone explain how more than 30 HIV tests have come into being while not finding direct evidence of HIV in a single supposedly hiv positive person’s blood?]”

“[“Can anyone explain why it is very nearly confined to the same risk groups and has never gone off on any rampaging of sexually active white heterosexuals?]
And so on and so on. Are we just supposed to take your word on it?”

No, you are not supposed to take my word for it. But if you are claiming that such evidence exists, then prove it. See the following:

1) Actual and Typical Disclaimers from HIV Test Manufacturers:

“EIA testing alone cannot be used to diagnose AIDS, even if the recommended investigation of reactive specimens suggests a high probability that the antibody to HIV-1 is present. […] At present there is no recognized standard for establishing the presence and absence of HIV-1 antibody in human blood. Therefore sensitivity was computed based on the clinical diagnosis of AIDS and specificity based on random donors”1

“Do not use this kit as the sole basis of diagnosing HIV-1 infection”2

“The Amplicor HIV-1 Monitor test is not intended to be used as a screening test for HIV or as a diagnostic test to confirm the presence of HIV infection”3

1. Abbott Laboratories, Diagnostic Division, 66-8805/R5; January, 1997
2. HIV-1 Western Blot Kit, Epitope, Inc., Organon Teknika Corporation PN201-3039 Revision #8
3. Roche Diagnostic Systems, Inc., Amplicor HIV-1 Monitor Test Kit. US:83088. June 1996)(13-06-83088-001

Quite strange to me, Lase, that the test manufacturers themselves would claim that there is no standard for determining hiv or not!

Laser Potato, you are more than welcome to prove me wrong by supplying any evidence that I am incorrect in any of the above statements.

Until someone does, the claims stand.

And please do. Those called “denialists” by the HIV faithful believers have been searching for it for 20 years!

@ Jake Crosby,

While photo’s may be sufficient evidence for a child to believe in Santa, or for the faithful to believe in ghosts, ufo’s, or space aliens, they are not sufficient evidence to prove that what was believed to have been photo’ed by EM photo’s in the photo you claim to have seen was ever verified to have been isolated and purified hiv.

There are many various endogenous and exogenous retroviruses that can be found in humans, and also various retroviruslike materials found at that level of magnification.

Proving that one of them is actually hiv from an aids patient, and as found in all hiv/aids patients blood sera, has never been done. If it had, the hiv test manufacturers, as stated in the above post, would KNOW that there is a “standard” for HIV, because it would have been proven and verified to have been isolated and seen.

Only indirect (second hand) methods, such as reverse transcriptase, cloning (of who knows what), nonspecific antibodies being found, are what has ever been used for detecting what is believed to be hiv has ever been accomplished, even after 25 years and 250 billion dollars of research.

This is why the aids “denialists” and dissident scientists, and aids rethinkers, as so many call them, are so vocal. They demand clear proof of hiv isolation, and clear proof of causation and proof of sexual transmission, but no clear proofs or evidences are ever found or presented.

Without clear proofs and evidences, all we are looking at is wiggling lamps and presumed ghosts while the believers scream “closed minded DENIALISTS”, and the dissidents scream back “INSUFFICIENT PROOF”.

With your believed in pictures, we are talking sub-microscopic, and only seen by EM. Many things are seen at that level of magnification, but the problem presents itself of how to know for any certain fact that what you believe you are looking at, is what is there.

Such a feat would require direct isolation from an hiv poz patient’s sera, and evidence that what is isolated, can also be isolated in every other hiv poz aids patient . This has never been done.

The HIV/ AIDS Story is Being Rewritten.

In House of Numbers, an AIDS film like no other, the HIV/AIDS story is being rewritten. This is the first film to present the uncensored POVs of virtually all the major players; in their own settings, in their own words. It rocks the foundation upon which all conventional wisdom regarding HIV/AIDS is based. House of Numbers could well be the opening volley in a battle to bring sanity and clarity to an epidemic gone awry.

From Dr. Luc Montagnier, Nobel Laureate 2008:

“We can be exposed to HIV many times without being chronically infected. Our immune system will get rid of the virus within a few weeks, if you have a good immune system.”

– Luc Montagnier, 2008 Nobel Laureate for Discovery of HIV, in the documentary “House of Numbers,” 2009

House of Numbers

This looks like a great documentary, from the trailer. Team Virus comes off a bit muddled.

“We can be exposed to HIV many times without being chronically infected. Our immune system will get rid of the virus within a few weeks, if you have a good immune system.”

As I said at Tara’s, the discoverer of HIV is now saying you won’t get aids from hiv unless you already have aids.

Can you say Circle Jerk?

First, this blog post was mind-blowing and totally refreshing.

Second, as a aspiring biochemist, this nobel prize article caught my attention:

Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier’s experiments seem plausible and this is probably why I still think HIV exists. This is the working theory and there is evidence backing it up, I just have to do some article searches. As of current, I am convinced HIV exists.
The comments denying the existence of HIV were disconcerting but alas, it is true I have never actually looked very deep to investigate if HIV/AIDs existed.
It could be all that post secondary propaganda that has been indoctrinating me. If so, there’s a serious problem at my university. They should give up researching HIV/AIDs altogether after all, they’re not finding more evidence it exists. My microbiology class in particular seems to presuppose the existence of HIV/AIDs. Regarding reverse transcriptase, I wonder how it got into human cells since they have no need for it, it must be some other +strand ssRNA virus infecting lymphocytes. We’d better start there since the two French gentlemen got it all wrong. O those Frenchmen.

Additional note:
I hope that the House of Numbers documentary isn’t one of those that takes everything out of context.

I assume the HIV deniers have flown here from Tara’s because they are getting their bums roundly whupped over there, and hope to spam a new thread with what they hope will be a smaller number of challengers to their nonsense.

Since this is a thread about openmindedness, perhaps they could confine their contributions to saying what evidence they would accept as demonstrating their own ideas were wrong, and what it would take for them to change their minds.

I am not hopeful, at Tara’s they have been through this exercise before, and it culminated with frenzied goal-post shifting and target moving on their part, petering out into embarassing silence and non-response, only to be followed a short while later by the same old debunked pseudoscience being posted anew when they thought their nemeses had become bored with the effort of keeping them to the task in hand and wandered off.

Yeah, they’re sadly predictable that way. I haven’t done a post on HIV/AIDS denialists in a while. Maybe I’m due. 🙂

Maybe I’m due.

Nah, re-post something old on the topic and then spend the evening working with your dog. Bailey, unlike the denialists, can still learn new things.

Are we actually witnessing a case of crank diamagnetism? Have the HIV/AIDS denialists actually forced a usually anti-rational poster into a rational response? Stay tuned. This is almost as exciting as the latest episode of the “Wasilla Snowbillies” (you know, the one where Sarah’s sister-in-law applies “take your daughter to work with you” to burglary).

So, prove it, if HIV is a made up disease, you won’t mind being injected with the made up pathogen to prove your right? Right??


Nahh. There are different varieties of batshit crazy, and they generally don’t all manifest simultaneously in each subject.

I would enjoy watching Jake Crosby square off with Paul King/Mark Hanau up there, though.

Whoa! I’m still dizzy from the drive-by Gish Gallop that just occurred!

You know, guys, all this “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” stuff made more sense back in the early 1980’s – back before we know as much as we do now. As a virologist, I can’t really fathom the “reasoning” behind such denial of a well-supported hypothesis.

It’s probably because most people don’t know that not everybody responds the same way to a viral infection. The factors that affect their response include:

[a] Their genetic makeup – this has been shown very clearly in HIV.

[b] The dose and route of infection. This may also be a factor with HIV.

[c] Other health problems, such as malnutrition, other chronic illnesses, drug use/abuse, other infections. Ditto.

[d] Strain to strain variation in the virus – a notable feature of HIV which, like most retroviruses, mutates rapidly.

This explains why some people who are exposed to HIV don’t become infected and why some people who are infected with HIV don’t progress to AIDS as fast as others. It even explains why some people who are infected with HIV never develop AIDS (although never is a long time).

No doubt there is a lot we don’t know yet about the progression from HIV infection to AIDS, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. If someone else comes up with a hypothesis that explains the data better, I’m ready and willing to listen.

It seems that some of the HIV denialists who commented above are being remarkably closed-minded. They read or heard something that resonates with their world-view (e.g. “AIDS isn’t caused by HIV, it’s caused by homosexuality/drugs/not giving your life to Jesus.”) and they have closed their minds to anything that might contradict that notion.

I’d be curious to know what the commenters above thought the “real” cause of AIDS might be, as well as the reason why every person I know of researching HIV disagrees with their “hypothesis”. Are we all being duped by the Illuminati? Is it all a hoax? Are scientists and doctors so hide-bound by “dogma” that they can’t accept “Brave New Ideas”?

Or is it that web-based conspiracy theories don’t carry as much weight as data and tested hypotheses in the scientific community.

God! We are so backward! Insisting on data and plausible models and refusing to accept the received knowledge of the “enlightened”.

I’m open-minded; show me your data – convince me that you’re right. And don’t expect me to sit back and accept everything you say simply because you say it.

That’s what being open-minded is about.


Hey prometheus, you are wiggling lightshades with your own hotair. Where is YOUR OWN EVIDENCE for what you claim?

You are claiming hiv causes aids? Then prove it with sufficient evidence and not just the bobbing heads of consensus.

You claiming HIV was isolated? Then prove it with sufficient evidence and not just…

You claiming HIV kills T-cells? Then prove it with sufficient evidence….

You claiming the nonspecific hiv antibody tests are accurate for finding your favorite boogeyman? Then prove it with sufficient evidence,

Because your own hot air and that of the bobbing heads of BS that you accede authority to are the only thing that is causing this lampshade to wobble.

Prometheus – lovely comment, and thank you for rebuttals to other comments. I can study yours vs. theirs with simple PubMed searches. Not so much with theirs alone! Much appreciated. Cheers, Ctenotrish

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