Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#971: Kary Mullis

Kary Mullis is a Nobel prize-winning biochemist, best known for developing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is without doubt one of the most important tools in molecular biology. Outside his field of expertise, however, Mullis adheres to a range of insane pseudoscientific views and conspiracy theories, thus illustrating that it is, in fact, possible to make significant contributions to science without knowing much about how it actually works, I suppose. Among his positions you will find:

- AIDS Denialism; Mullis is fan and friend of AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg, and shares the belief that AIDS is a conspiracy involving the government, scientists, and environmentalists (the role of the latter is described in his book Dancing Naked in the Mind Field). Mullis also wrote the foreword to the book What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong? by Christine Maggiore, a famous HIV-positive AIDS denialist who, along with her daughter, later died of AIDS. The effects of the actions of Mullis and his ilk are described here; the article also adds the Foo Fighters to the list of AIDS denialists – no, they’re not scientists, of course, but denialist groups can’t really make that distinction and survive (see for instance this excellent article on how Intelligent Design creationists are drawn to HIV denialism).
- Alien abductions; Mullis writes of having once spoken to a glowing green raccoon, later speculating that the raccoon “was some sort of holographic projection and … that multidimensional physics on a macroscopic scale may be responsible.” He was also using LSD at the time, but when he weighted the hypotheses the multi-dimensional alien projection clearly won out.
- Aliensdidit in general; Mullis has argued that the Urantia Book provides scientific foreknowledge, pointing out that “several scientific developments, unexpected in 1955, reported in 2005 in Science and Nature [...] were somehow described rather precisely already in the Urantia Book.” (Forgetting to note that the book’s predictions are far less accurate than the conjectures made in most other science fiction of the 50s).

In short, Mullis is a prime example of a victim of the Nobel Disease, a diagnosis based on the observation that many Nobel-prize winning scientists have become notoriously prone to crankery and pseudoscience in their later years.

Diagnosis: Madman and pseudoscientist, who is trying to make damn sure that – after a huge, positive start – his overall contributions to humanity shall be overall negative. Often cited as an authority by cranks (regardless of the fact that he has no expertise in the relevant fields) – indeed, Mullis’s name undeniably adds a sheen of legitimacy to a range of pseudoscience projects – and thus not without rather significant influence.

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