Monday, March 10, 2014

#949: Donald W. Miller

Among the unifying features of cranks, be they creationists, altmed promoters, global warming denialists or other pseudoscientists, is a shared hatred for the peer review system. After all, the peer review system is an important – not infallible, but very effective – mechanism for distinguishing claims that are actually justified by evidence from claims that are the result of psychological bias, motivated reasoning and an imagination unfettered by accountability or reason.

Donald W. Miller, jr. is a surgeon at the University of Washington who once published research in respectable venues before he gave up evidence in favor of the personal experience and biases that are the basis of all altmed, and aligned himself with the HIV denialists and the antivaxx crowd. He is most famous for his article – widely cited on denialist websites – “The Government Grant System: Inhibitor of Truth and Innovation?”, which, needless to say, did not appear in any peer reviewed, respectable journal. The article presents Miller’s conspiracy theory regarding the peer review grant system – since Miller actually knows the system to an extent, and knows some terminology, it may on first glance look convincing to outsiders. It is not convincing, however, and Miller gives up the game with assertions such as “the human-caused global warming paradigm is most likely false”, citing none other than Soon & Baliunas, before attempting to show that the grant and system is rotten because it hasn’t contributed to the establishment of the idea Miller favors, namely HIV denialism. And since Miller cannot possibly be wrong, there has to be a conspiracy against his view; the same conspiracy that has caused his ally Peter Duesberg to lose any shred of credibility.

In his “Censorship and Show Trials on Vaccines and AIDS,” he adds Andy Wakefield. According to Miller “Peter Duesberg and Andrew Wakefield are two tenacious, brave men. They struggle against the medical-government-pharmaceutical complex’s efforts to disenfranchise them, and they have to endure a withering barrage of ad hominem attacks […] One hopes that in the not too distant future both of these truths will pass through Schopenhauer’s third stage and become accepted as self-evident.” Of course the fact that all of science points in the other direction doesn’t budge him – it simply gives him the Galileo Gambit,

Miller’s recent publication record consists to a large extent of HIV “dissident” tracts published at the (not a source of trustworthy information), global warming denialism, anti-fluoridation rants, and antivaccination ramblings. His article “On Evidence, Medical and Legal” (with U.K. lawyer Clifford Miller) was published in the pseudojournal JPandS. In the article, Miller & Miller argued for the superiority of legal standards of proof over evidence-based standards of evidence, causation, efficacy and practice generally accepted in medicine and science, implying that a single case study should be sufficient to prove causation of harm – and, by extension, legal liability – in cases involving many thousands of claimants with widely varying circumstances and documentation. That is, since rigorous methodology and careful investigation (where biases are accounted for) tend to come to conclusions opposite Miller’s, careful investigation and rigorous methodology have to go.

He also provides dietary advice, which is discussed here. No wonder Miller doesn’t like peer review.

Diagnosis: It is hard to imagine taking denialism and bias much farther than Miller – if science, evidence and accountability show that you are wrong, then science, evidence and accountability have to go. Of course, there are many people like Miller out there, but Miller is noteworthy for being rather explicit about his methodological commitments.

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