Friday, March 27, 2009

When SF writers fight the future and make me mad

It won't come as any kind of surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am irritated by (and usually try to avoid reading) Orson Scott Card's prolific politics columns. I have huge respect for the guy as an author and, as I have said many times, Ender and Bean have a special place in my heart. He does good work with the Medicine Show and his "bootcamp" for writers (I think there's at least a couple alumni of that among writers for M-Brane). I even give him a lot of credit for presenting his views in a tone of civil debate and respectful disagreement with whomever he is disagreeing with. A couple weeks ago when I heard that flap about the TV show Big Love depicting a particular Mormon temple ceremony, a thing that church members generally consider to be private and sacred and not for public ogling, I immediately said to myself, "I bet Card has a post about this somewhere." Ignoring my usual self-imposed ban on deliberately seeking out things that might piss me off, I looked it up.  As expected, on the National Review website, was Card's comment on the Big Love incident. It turns out that his reaction to it wasn't angry and his advice to other Mormons was to just let it go and not get all bent out of shape.  Very calm and reasonable...but he just had to cast it in terms of what he characterizes as the "open season on Mormons" created by opponents of California's Proposition 8. How about letting that go, too? His side may have won a vote on a prop and they may win some more court battles in the days ahead, but let's face it: there's eventually going to be equal marriage rights for everyone in this country whether you think it's a "sin" or not. It's an inevitable fact, just as it's inevitable that Card's church is going to continue. So how about we give peace a chance.

But that's not even what I was planning to talk about.  The writer I wanted to mention is Jerry Pournelle. I've known since the time it was actually going on that he was part of the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy which advised the Reagan transition team on space matters in 1980 and boosted the Reagan administration's desire to build the Strategic Defense Initiative. Other sf members of this group were Gregs Bear and Benford, Robert Heinlein, Jim Baen, Steve Barnes and Poul Anderson. So I always knew he was generally on a different side of political matters than I have ever been.  That's fine, it doesn't bother me.  I haven't even read much of the man's solo work anyway, though I have read a lot of his collaborations with Niven, such as the one in the picture, so it's not like it even makes me see his work through a distorted political lense. But then a piece of information crossed my screen last night that really gave me pause: the Wikipedia article on Pournelle, in the section about scientific contrarian views, says that he "has advocated research to directly investigate Peter Duesberg's controversial views on the cause of AIDS." I hope this does not mean that Pournelle actually endorses Duesberg. If that is what it means, then I don't want to know about it.

Duesberg believes that HIV has nothing to do with the cause of AIDS. The retrovirus is harmless and incidental, he says.  This idea has been roundly rejected by the entire scientific community save for Duesberg and a few other psychopaths. What causes it then? Well, in Africa, they're just getting sick from malnutrition and bad water and other diseases, he says. He sat on a panel to advise South African president Thabo Mbeki on AIDS policy, and his views are considered influential in that country's failure to provide anti-retroviral drugs, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary AIDS deaths and new HIV infections.  I'm not saying that Duesberg is culpable in a sort of passive mass murder of thousands of people. But some people have said that. Oh, you might be wondering what his explanation might be for "all those gays in San Francisco" getting AIDS. This is it: use of recreational drugs, in particular amyl nitrite ("poppers"--yeah, over-the-counter poppers caused AIDS). That's why I'm not going to read Pournelle's blog anymore because I'm afraid he'll endorse this lunatic idea right out in the open and I will scream.

This counts as this week's Science Friday post.

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Rick Novy said...

You have at least one Orson Scott Card Boot Camp Alum. Moi. I attended in 2005, with classmates like Brad Beauleau, Spencer Ellsworth, and Mary Robinette Kowal. A lot of very good writers in that class. Of course, Mary has been on the fastest track from that group, but I expect much more greatness from the others, too.

As it turns out, my story "The Adjoa Gambit" appeared in issue #3 of Intergalactic Medicine Show. It was the last story selected by Orson Scott Card before he turned the editorial duties over to Edmund Schubert. That story is being reprinted this coming May along with an original novelette titled "Winter" as a stand-alone trade paperback from Sam's Dot Publishing, also to be called "Winter."

Anonymous said...

I did a little bit of digging around on Pournelle's site, and it would appear that he does not exactly endorse Duesberg. He believes that Duesberg should be allowed to continue on with whatever research he's doing, but Pournelle does not appear to openly accept Duesberg's ideas as the truth. I get the impression that Pournelle just thinks of looking into Duesberg as playing devil's advocate to everyone else.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Thanks for the reminder, Rick. I thought it was you who had been to the boot camp but wasn't sure if I remembered correctly. Yeah, Mary's getting to be a big deal for sure. She seems to show up everywhere. Just yesterday I started listening to an audio book online of Doctorow's "After the Siege" by Mary Robinette Kowal. Good news, too, on your book forthcoming from Sam's Dot. I think David McGillveray and Lawrence Dagstine, who both had stories in M-Brane #2 either had or will have collections coming from Sam's Dot also.

Derek, thanks for bothering to look into the Pournelle matter. He is definitely a contrarian on scientific matters. Another example would be evolution. He's is apparently not a creationist, and doesn't necessarily endorse the so-called intelligent design "theory" but still likes to try to poke holes in the prevailing science. If he doesn't actually endorse Duesberg, then I guess that's MUCH better than if he did. If he wants to play devil's advocate just to be that way, then fine. But it seems like this is one he could just sit out. No one's stopping the Duesberg line of research as far as I can tell, it's just that he's batshit crazy so I would suspect not a LOT of foundation money or drug company is going into it.

D. D. said...

On the whole creationism vs. evolution deal: I am not what one would consider a religious person; I survived my Roman Catholic upbringing, with some requisite scaring by the nuns. Having discovered science at a very young age, I was fascinated by the way things worked. When discussing the nature of the universe with die-hard creationists, I just simply inform them that they are placing limits on God. Who's to say he didn't just set up the initial conditions and pressed s button to see what would happen? If I was omniscient and omnipotent, I'd be bored most of the time. I would definitely role the dice and se what happened!

Stephen Hawking said it best: "Not only does God play with Dice, He sometime rolls them where we can't see them."

And if you aren't sure about Pournelle's position on religeon and the Church, read "Inferno" and the sequel that just came out, "Escape From Hell". I love the last conversation the protagonist has with the Devil. On his way to Heaven, Allen Carpenter asks the Devil if he has any message. for God. Wherein the Devil replies "Tell Him He could have planned a better universe by throwing dice."

Christopher Fletcher said...

Good point, DD. I always thought that if there was some sort of all-powerful deity it probably wouldn't operate on such a petty scale as the fundamentalists would have it. The Almighty Micromanager: I doubt it.

Rick Novy said...

Yes, one theory says the universe exists at all only because God is not omniscient but does have curiosity.

D. D. said...

My favorite theory is that the universe is the result of a massive hangover God got when he drank too much Tequila...

Christopher Fletcher said...

Amazing...a theological discussion on the M-Brane blog...what strange new world. Rick, maybe that thought can be something that you can bang together a fresh new WOTF submission out of. Dan, the Hangover Theory of Creation is in wide currency around this house. If I were "God" of my little domain, then a great deal of its character could probably be traced back to various hangover events. But I'm not god here--Jeff is-but the Theory still applies.

Seth Kalichman said...

Peter Duesberg has done more harm than any scientist since World War II. He provides a shelter for AIDS Denial that kills unknown numbers of people each day and resulted in the deaths of 350,000 South Africans. A recent book documents the harm caused by AIDS Denialism called Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience and Human Tragedy. All royalties from Denying AIDS buy HIV meds in Africa. For more information on AIDS denial visit

Christopher Fletcher said...

Like I said: some people say Duesberg is complicit in passive mass murder or at least purveying a psychotic idea that is leading to needless death and misery. It's not a cause that I can personally engage in right now beyond what I'm doing in talking about it, but I will not hesitate to point it out to everyone. Indeed, any fraudulent, phony, fake-ass, gibbering nutcase so-called "science" that anyone wants to to expose (particularly when people are dying because of it), I'll be happy to spread the word on its stupidity.

Rick Novy said...

Not enough time to write a new story for WOTF, but I did find a fairly recent one. I may just write something on that topic anyway, though.

Pat Eisel said...

Can I just go ahead and point out that nobody is rolling any freaking dice? Science doesn't require religilous rationalization. Nobody set-up evolution and then hit the button. There is no curious, bored, gambling addict God.

Anybody playing devil's advocate for this Dueshbag character is also a "fraudulent, phony, fake-ass, gibbering nutcase" no matter how well they can spin a yarn and sell a few books.

So, say it like you mean it..."Holeee Shiznit!"


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