'Mississippi Baby' Demonstrates That Real Science Is Rarely Settled

Recently, a treatment for HIV that was believed to be one of the most promising breakthroughs ever in the fight against AIDS ran into harsh reality. Back in 2010, a baby girl, now known simply as “Mississippi Baby”, was born. The girl had received no in utero treatment against HIV, despite the fact that her mother was infected with the virus. Following her birth, the girl was given an aggressive regimen of combination antiretroviral therapy for eighteen months. Then, the mother and baby disappeared for five months, during which time the baby stopped receiving any medicine. When they returned, doctors were surprised to learn they could find no evidence of HIV in the child

The unexpected finding led to pronouncements that the baby had effectively been ‘cured’ of the disease. Hopes were high that a powerful new weapon against HIV infection had been discovered. More than two years passed, but still the baby remained virus-free. Despite this, the doctor, who had originally treated the baby at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, maintained an open and skeptical mind. The baby was diligently tested every six to eight weeks. Then recently, without the slightest pre-indication, the virus returned

Tragic though the discovery was, it served as a reminder of how the scientific method -- intellectually unbiased and politically agnostic -- is essential to progress. A hypothesis (or guess) is put forth. It is tested, and tested, and tested again. If it remains consistent with observation, it is exposed to wider scrutiny, where it is tested as many more times as is necessary to determine its validity. Even then, there may be future challenges to the original hypothesis, for enduring skepticism is the very nature of science.

Now, imagine for a moment that we supplant the scientific values represented in the story of “Mississippi Baby” with those prevalent in the climate change debate. What might that look like? 

For starters, after two years with no evidence of the virus being present in the child, Dr. Hannah Gay would likely be branded as an anti-intellectual, anti-science “denier!” After all, who but a flat-earth, Neanderthal type would continue to question “The Mississippi Cure” when it was the consensus, hope-for-the-future, settled-science solution to HIV? Not long thereafter, Dr. Gay would be dismissed from her job.

Next, if the University of Mississippi Medical Center continued to permit the pursuit of such “heresy” under its roof, they would either lose their funding or have the source of their funding fall under careful scrutiny. Conversely, studies that strived to defend The Mississippi Cure would proliferate and be routinely rewarded -- not merely with money -- but with abundant and supportive media coverage.

Lastly, media outlets would start to halt coverage of any Mississippi Cure skeptics by equating such exposure to “giving a megaphone to holocaust deniers”.

Back in the real world, we might attempt to restore sanity by recalling the simple, straightforward words of the great American scientist, Richard Feynman: 

“If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.  And that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is; it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is: if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.”

It sounds so simple. And, in a way, it is. In order to pursue the questions that swirl around ‘climate change’ -- we only need to compare the “guesses” to the “experiments” (or observations). However, arriving at anything resembling the truth will be utterly impossible if we refuse to pursue those questions with untainted and objective honesty.

Recently, a treatment for HIV that was believed to be one of the most promising breakthroughs ever in the fight against AIDS ran into harsh reality. Back in 2010, a baby girl, now known simply as “Mississippi Baby”, was born. The girl had received no in utero treatment against HIV, despite the fact that her mother was infected with the virus. Following her birth, the girl was given an aggressive regimen of combination antiretroviral therapy for eighteen months. Then, the mother and baby disappeared for five months, during which time the baby stopped receiving any medicine. When they returned, doctors were surprised to learn they could find no evidence of HIV in the child

The unexpected finding led to pronouncements that the baby had effectively been ‘cured’ of the disease. Hopes were high that a powerful new weapon against HIV infection had been discovered. More than two years passed, but still the baby remained virus-free. Despite this, the doctor, who had originally treated the baby at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, maintained an open and skeptical mind. The baby was diligently tested every six to eight weeks. Then recently, without the slightest pre-indication, the virus returned

Tragic though the discovery was, it served as a reminder of how the scientific method -- intellectually unbiased and politically agnostic -- is essential to progress. A hypothesis (or guess) is put forth. It is tested, and tested, and tested again. If it remains consistent with observation, it is exposed to wider scrutiny, where it is tested as many more times as is necessary to determine its validity. Even then, there may be future challenges to the original hypothesis, for enduring skepticism is the very nature of science.

Now, imagine for a moment that we supplant the scientific values represented in the story of “Mississippi Baby” with those prevalent in the climate change debate. What might that look like? 

For starters, after two years with no evidence of the virus being present in the child, Dr. Hannah Gay would likely be branded as an anti-intellectual, anti-science “denier!” After all, who but a flat-earth, Neanderthal type would continue to question “The Mississippi Cure” when it was the consensus, hope-for-the-future, settled-science solution to HIV? Not long thereafter, Dr. Gay would be dismissed from her job.

Next, if the University of Mississippi Medical Center continued to permit the pursuit of such “heresy” under its roof, they would either lose their funding or have the source of their funding fall under careful scrutiny. Conversely, studies that strived to defend The Mississippi Cure would proliferate and be routinely rewarded -- not merely with money -- but with abundant and supportive media coverage.

Lastly, media outlets would start to halt coverage of any Mississippi Cure skeptics by equating such exposure to “giving a megaphone to holocaust deniers”.

Back in the real world, we might attempt to restore sanity by recalling the simple, straightforward words of the great American scientist, Richard Feynman: 

“If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.  And that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is; it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is: if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.”

It sounds so simple. And, in a way, it is. In order to pursue the questions that swirl around ‘climate change’ -- we only need to compare the “guesses” to the “experiments” (or observations). However, arriving at anything resembling the truth will be utterly impossible if we refuse to pursue those questions with untainted and objective honesty.

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