An international cabal of scientists who believe in their own righteousness. Scientific journals, conferences and grants that suppress dissent. Tens of billions of dollars in money from taxpayers, big pharma and venture capital. Decades of research – and little to show for it all.
I am not describing Covid, global warming or any other highly politicized scientific debate. I’m talking about research on Alzheimer’s disease. The implications for the rest of science, politics and education, however, are profound and troubling.
Everyone in the United States knows about Alzheimer’s disease. Audiences across the country have read (or at least seen) “The Notebook.” More recently, “The Father,” starring Anthony Hopkins, won two Oscars and brought just about everyone to tears.
The reason so many of us cried is that many know someone who has suffered from this disease. We know what it is, we know what it does – and we know it’s terrible.
All this to say that we care about Alzheimer’s disease as we care about cancer, heart disease and others that have affected us personally. Did you know, however, that despite being officially diagnosed over a century ago; despite all the grants, institutes and money that goes into it; and despite the Americans’ self-interest in solving it, we have not discovered a single remedy?
Zero. We don’t even have treatments, really.
Why not? For starters, we may have focused on the wrong thing.
Since Dr. Alois Alzheimer first identified the disease that now bears his name, we have been interested in plaque deposits found in the brains of deceased patients. However, follow-up research into the disease was slow to get off the ground, only arousing serious interest in the 1970s, when Congress created the National Institute on Aging (part of the National Institutes of Health), then moving on. accelerating in the 1980s with institutes entering the fray.
The main driver of these plaques was finally discovered in 1984 and identified as beta-amyloid. The discovery was electric and quickly gained followers.
Three years later, in 1987, reports STAT News, a new study further discovered “mutations in a gene called APP that increases amyloid levels and causes Alzheimer’s disease in middle age, supporting orthodoxy then emerging”.
In 1991, reports Science magazine, many scientists considered the amyloid thesis an established fact. Even serious studies casting doubt on the hypothesis have been largely ignored, including a 1991 study which found that “although the brains of elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease have amyloid plaques, so do for the brains of people of the same age who died without any signs of dementia”.
At the same time, scientists began to wonder if amyloid was the cause of the disease, or just a sign of the damage the real cause was causing to the brain; the difference between, say, a terminal illness and the gravestone left behind after wreaking havoc.
The science, however, was settled and alternative hypotheses would no longer be considered.
“In more than two dozen interviews,” a STAT News expose revealed in 2019, “scientists whose ideas did not fit the dogma recounted how, for decades, proponents of the dominant hypothesis suppressed the research on alternative ideas: they have influenced studies published in top journals, whose scientists have been funded, who have been tenured, and who have won speaking slots at reputation-enhancing scientific conferences.
To stray from dogma would mark you as a “traitor,” a prominent scientist has explained, and could cost heretics published papers, prominent positions, research grants, and speaking slots at prestigious conferences.
Even private investment in research into the new Alzheimer’s disease has been blocked, report Science and STAT News. How? Before investing in a dissenting scientist’s idea, venture capitalists often sought input from top Alzheimer’s scientists, who rejected alternative hypotheses.
The 100th anniversary of the discovery of Dr. Alzheimer could have been the year skeptics had their say, pointing out that despite decades of research and money, no cure yet existed. But that same year, reports Science, “a jaw-dropping Nature article stepped into the breach.”
The study built on existing amyloid theories, but found what its author called “the first substance ever identified in brain tissue in Alzheimer’s disease research that has been shown to cause memory problems”.
It went off like a bomb, reinvigorating a dogma that had shown signs of age after decades of failure. Over the next 15 years, the 2006 study would be cited in more than 2,000 other scientific works.
Then in 2022 it would be exposed as apparently fraudulent by a host of credible scientific investigators.
Fraudulent, as in, literally using doctored images to make their case. It turns out that the “stuff” might not even exist.
However, the damage was done. Since the study was first published, millions of man-hours and billions of dollars have been spent to reach its conclusions. Minds that might have been working towards real progress have instead been misled. Conclusions based on false presumptions had been compromised – as were all studies based on those now compromised studies that operated from the 2006 results.
The reality is that while one (or a few) rogue players certainly caused a lot of damage, they couldn’t have done it without the help of a cabal of seasoned scientists who jealously guarded their theory – and suppressed the rebels. who dared to question this.
“Things [had] shifted from a scientific inquiry to an almost religious belief system, where people stopped being skeptical or even questioning,” former National Institute on Aging scientist Zaven Khachaturian told STAT three years before this specific report came to light.
None of this means that the people who have dedicated their lives to researching Alzheimer’s disease are a nefarious cult. They were just human beings, which means they were greedy, protective, prideful, and prone to groupthink.
“It’s hard to break into a field with so many strong voices supporting a single target,” INmune Bio CEO Dr. Raymond Tesi told STAT News. “Alzheimer’s has egos, superstars and big personalities unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else.”
These men and women had lucrative careers to pursue. “Admitting doubt,” STAT editor Sharon Begley concluded, “not to mention error, would not only be a blow to the ego, but also a threat to livelihoods.”
“There were really big egos involved and they couldn’t be wrong,” acknowledged Nikolaos Robakis, a neuroscientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It wasn’t science anymore.”
The above is the story of how quickly greed, pride and groupthink can spiral out of control, even in a strictly scientific field of research – so many Americans of all parties, incomes and races are personally interested in understanding.
How much easier could it be in more politically turbulent areas? In fields that give the best scientists access to more than money and prestige, but also to power.
In areas like global warming, where dissidents (or even simple skeptics) are labeled “holocaust deniers”? Just this week, Al Gore likened these skeptics to police in Ulvade, Texas, whose inaction contributed to the killing of 19 school children and two teachers.
Billions of dollars more are invested in this field than in research on Alzheimer’s disease. In the name of global warming, organizations like the United Nations are joining powerful state actors across the planet to shape politics and economics based on privileged research.
From its very beginnings, the most alarmist claims of global warming scientists have been deniedyet they are still walking, confident as ever.
And what about Covid science, where famous scientists have admitted mistakes and even lies; yet shamelessly advance, pillory and censor anyone who dares to speak out against them?
There, as in Alzheimer’s disease, as in global warming, the science is far from established. The reality is that the science is never really settled. Instead, the only thing certain is the power, money and influence that comes when the experts claim otherwise.
These weaknesses are human weaknesses. And behind the totem of “established science”, there is only that: humans; just as we are behind all sorts of authoritative veneers. In the end, these claims to hidden power and knowledge are just us – despite all our pride, greed, fear and imperfections.