JULY 1999 

The myth of academic freedom

ENGLAND'S THE SPECTATOR (Feb. 20) favorably reviewed a new book that described Peter Duesberg's experience at UC-Berkeley as a stark example of academics who are effectively silenced by their peers for articulating conclusions that contradict prevailing paradigms, even as those peers piously advocate academic freedom and the scientific method.

Reading University philosophy lecturer David Oderberg wrote the review, entitled, "Rhetoric and reality," about Gordon Moran's book, Silencing Scientists and Scholars in Other Fields. Oderberg writes:

Moran documents the scandal involving AIDS research, where vested interests in what he calls the "scientific-government-pharmaceutical complex" have combined to convince the world that AIDS is caused by a virus. At the same time the complex has deliberately sought to silence Professor Peter Duesberg, once the world's most renowned virologist and now a sidelined and suppressed voice who has to scrabble around for publishers willing to let him prove to the world that AIDS is not virus-induced, as evidenced by the existence both of HIV-free AIDS sufferers and of HIV-positive people who have been in the best of health for years.

Moran describes similar cases, Oderberg writes, most interestingly one involving a Duesberg hector, the NIH's David Baltimore who "tried to suppress the work of NIH scientists who sought to expose errors in Baltimore's own research. The errors were eventually published, but the careers of the whistle blowers suffered. Similar incidents have occurred at Yale, Harvard and many other [universities]. University heads have sometimes even been found giving speeches eulogizing academic freedom while their own disciplinary committees were in the process of silencing scholars."
Moran's passion for exposing the sham of academic freedom springs from his own experience as a suppressed scholar. In 1977, Moran, an art historian, challenged the accepted attribution of a famous painting. This caused an uproar among art scholars. Art journals stopped publishing his letters, and he suffered other retributions that he assumed did not exist in academia.

Examining the topic of academic freedom -- which he originally assumed typified university life -- revealed that his experience with censors and gatekeepers was common rather than anomalous.
Oderberg continues: "Graduate students learn early that if they want a job they should avoid challenging the research of their supervisors or potential examiners, or indeed launching any challenge against the 'paradigm,' the received view, in their field." Moran attributes the impulse to suppress these challenges to what he terms "paradigm dependency."

Oderberg concludes that "vested interests, such as the millions of pounds channeled into AIDS research -- the AIDS gravy train -- [should not be] allowed."

-- Paul Philpott