A satirical comment on AIDS denialist “philosophy”

Although the AIDS denialists are no laughing matter, because of the deaths they cause, it’s sometimes appropriate to laugh at them, as they waddle along their path to destruction. This article wasn’t written specifically about Peter Duesberg, the Perth Group, Rethinking AIDS and all the other loony-toons that constitute AIDS denialism, but it could have been – everything in it applies to their thought processes.

Crank how-to — a definitive step by step guide

by Mark Hoofnagle Who wants to know how to be an effective crank? Well, I’ve outlined what I think are the critical components of successful crankiness. Ideally, this will serve as a guide to those of you who want to come up with a stupid idea, and then defend it against all evidence to the contrary. Here’s how you do it: Step one: Develop a wacky idea. It is critical that your wacky idea must be something pretty extraordinary. A good crank shoots for the stars. You don’t defend to the death some simple opinion, like Coke is better than Pepsi. You’ve got to think big! You’ve got to do something like deny HIV causes AIDS, or relativity, or reject an entire field of biology, or deny the earth is older than 6000 years. If you can’t think of anything, try reading the Bible for claims that are now obviously ludicrous – like the possibility of climbing into heaven using a ladder. Insist on its literal truth. The thing you deny has to be something that’s so obvious to the majority of people that when they hear it, they want to hear an explanation, if only because it’s clearly going to be nuts. This is critical to all successive steps. If you don’t say something outrageous and contrarian, no one will ever see you as the iconoclastic genius that you are. The presentation of this idea is also important. Remember that really important people with really important ideas don’t have time for grammar or spelling. Also try interesting use of punctuation!!!!, CAPITALization and text color. When you EMPHASIZE things people will inevitably take your more seriously. Make sure that you develop new physical laws, name them after yourself, and if you must cite anything, either cite your own name or work, or that of another crank. If you’re feeling bold cite some famous scientist, like Einstein, but don’t list a specific passage, just assume that they said or did something that supports your idea. After all you’re both geniuses, you must think alike! It’s also important during your research of this new idea, never to be worried about preserving the original intent of other authors you quote or cite. If any words they say can be construed to mean something else, that’s ok too. Academic license is part of academic freedom. Whenever possible try to include figures. Line drawings and diagrams with complicated mathematical symbols are ideal. Remember, most people don’t know calculus, include equations you find in other books to prove the mathematical or physical relationship you have discovered. The type of people who will believe your idea aren’t big into checking others’ work for consistency, so it will be OK. Those that do would never believe you anyway, but by the time they get around to that, you’ll have a cult following. Step two: Disseminate your idea This can be done many ways. The old-school method is to spend your day job writing angry letters to politicians, newspaper editors, and anyone else that you thought might listen to you.

Cranks with independent wealth can self-publish their own book (I have many of these provided courtesy of an astronomer friend whose institute regularly receives such works and places them in their “crank file”). A book lends credibility, especially to other cranks who think that anyone who could actually focus their intellects for long enough to write a book, must be onto something. Ideally, send your book to scientists in the field you are trying to undermine, they’ll know just where to put them. If your idea has a more mainstream appeal, send it to church leaders and various pundits who might give it some play in their pulpits.

These days, technology has provided us what is known as a blog. Your target audience, despite the improvements in technology, are just as likely not to care as before. Less so, because now they don’t even have to experience the inconvenience of opening your crank letter or having to file your crank book. The secret to generating traffic then is exploiting the fact that the internet gives access to all sorts of people who will be irritated by your mere presence. Leave comments in others blogs that describe how you have solved this big problem, where everyone else has failed. Ideally, get a minion to constantly extol your virtues and genius. If one is lacking just sockpuppet yourself from another computer. It’s not even necessary to leave comments at science blogs or (real) skeptic sites. Any site will do, bother cat fanciers, tech geeks, whoever. Traffic will inevitably follow. If you’re very adventurous, try submitting it to a scientific journal. First try big, Science and Nature are ideal. If it’s medicine try the New England Journal or JAMA – they are pretty good examples of the stodgy orthodoxy who will no doubt persecute you. When they reject your paper, remember, you’re just like Galileo, or Einstein. They rejected your ideas because they’re just not ready to accept them. Remember, you’re a skeptic! You’re one of those people keeping science honest by making them consider new ideas (except when they’re very old ideas recycled). Don’t let them brush you off easily, resend your manuscript multiple times. If they reject it claim victory! It means you’re a true original. You’ve come up with something the scientific establishment just can’t deal with because of their small-mindedness and bigotry. Ideally keep sending it to publications, to editors at their home addresses, to their children’s school etc. If they get a restraining order claim victory! You’ve been persecuted! You now are a true heir to Galileo. If you want your manuscript (it may make you sound smarter to call it your “treatise” or “monograph”) to actually get published, try something like Medical Hypotheses. Journals with an impact factor of less than 1 might actually be desperate enough to publish something cranky, especially if you can jargonize it enough to make yourself sound smart, or create enough fake data to trick the editors. If it has to do with global warming consider a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. The Creation Research Quarterly is perfect for anything disproving some facet of evolution, geology, astronomy, or physics. You don’t have to be a creationist for them to like your crank theory, anything that pokes holes in dastardly consensus science is a victory. Then try journals that don’t require real experiments, rigorous trial design, peer review or anything that actually indicates actual science has been done. Other cranks in your “field” may have started just such a journal – like the Journal of 9/11 studies. There are about as many places that will publish crank work as there are crank ideas, don’t stop trying! If you get your ideas published in such a journal claim victory! You have mainstream acceptance and a publication record now. There are also many message boards that might like your idea. If you have a crazy new ideology about evolution try the International Society for Complexity Information and Design. If you have a new idea for what causes AIDS, a great starting point is the Dissident Action Group. Search for forums that might be amenable to your idea and post it there. Make sure to re-post it after every ten replies or so, so people can read it again. Finally, don’t forget other cranks are an excellent resource! Cranks usually like to hear about other cranks ideas, even if they conflict with their own crank ideas (9/11 conspiracy cranks might be an exception). Remember, intellectual consistency doesn’t matter as long as you are both criticizing the orthodoxy. These other cranks can mention your idea. They will undoubtedly find it “interesting” if they mention it, even if they don’t agree with all aspects of it. See our recent post on Denyse O’Leary and the Creation Museum, a perfect example. Ideally they will link your site, join your webring, mention your ideas, and many other cranks will promptly arrive to acknowledge your genius (sorry, only other cranks will ever do this – ever). Don’t forget this means you will have to help them promote their crank ideas. Cranks also have a major presence on radio – both internet and terrestrial. Are you anything like this crank? Or or this one? Maybe they’ll have you on their radio show to discuss your new crackpot theory. Follow these steps and soon your idea will be a topic of discussion everywhere. Don’t forget to routinely make claims that the views of orthodox science are imperiled by the threat of acceptance of your ideas, it will make people more likely to believe your later claims of persecution and visit your site to see if you’ve figured out you haven’t changed anything. Suggest that the valid scientific theory is debunked, or will be within a decade frequently, routinely declare victory over the mainstream theory. Step three: Responding to Criticism

All great minds will be criticized by peon scientists who have grown fat and bloated with public grant funds. They’ve been feeding at the public coffers for so long, they wouldn’t know an original idea if it fell out of the ether and struck them on their thick skulls. Here are some simple responses to common criticisms: Accusation: “You haven’t published in a real peer-reviewed journal”
Response: Either say “Peer review is just an old-boys network for peon scientists to pat each other on the back”, or accuse journal editors of persecuting you. Compare yourself to Galileo. Accusation: “You don’t have solid proof”
Response: Either restate what you said already, restate it slightly differently, call your accuser a name, or suggest they are part of the conspiracy to hide the truth. Compare yourself to Galileo. Accusation: “Because of X, Y, and Z, your theory is false and you’re an idiot”
Response: Yell “That’s Ad Hominem – I win the argument” (and that they’ve persecuted you). Accusation: “Because of X, Y and Z, you are wrong”
Response: If they fail to call you an idiot, there are a few ways to respond to this. Either nitpick an aspect of their argument so that you can ignore the rest while diverting the discussion into a meaningless tangent. Or cut and paste large sections of print or references to papers that may or may not agree with you (the exhaustion strategy). Finally, it’s always a good idea to just ignore them and restate your original argument. Alternatively demand they provide you with *scientific* evidence that their theory is the correct one. If they do, ignore it and restate your original argument. Accusation: “No credible scientists or scientific agencies believe this theory”
Response: “That’s because they’re part of a conspiracy to hide the truth!” In addition assert motives for the conspiracy like maintaining control over the populace, spreading materialistic atheist dogma, acquiring grant money, etc. Don’t forget to challenge orthodoxy and compare yourself to Galileo! He was persecuted by the orthodoxy too! Remember, whenever a majority of scientists believe anything, that means it’s wrong. Cite Kuhn, compare yourself to Galileo. You see? It’s easy! All you have to do is ignore anything that contradicts your theory, nitpick others’ arguments, force them to explain themselves, accuse them of lying, accuse them of conspiring against the truth, exhaust them with dumps of links or citations, repeat yourself, and compare yourself to Galileo, because he had problems convincing the orthodoxy too. Also, don’t forget to call yourself a skeptic, or dissident, or iconoclast. Step four: Get Persecuted! You haven’t graduated to being a full crank until you’ve been persecuted. Here are some suggestions:


  1. If you are faculty at a university, make sure to write a book about your crank idea. When the other members at the department decide to deny you tenure because of your moronic ideas or call you an idiot claim persecution!
  2. If you work at an office, make sure you spend your time promoting your crank idea. Tell everybody about it. Send mass emails about it. Leave copies of your “monograph” where your boss and others can find it – like the breakroom. If you’re fired for pursuing your crankery on the job claim persecution!
  3. If someone shows up at your website or forum and points out the flaws in your argument claim persecution!
  4. If anyone calls you an idiot, a moron, a pseudoscientist, a crank, or denialist claim persecution!
  5. If people don’t immediately accept your idea upon hearing it claim persecution!
  6. If they won’t teach your idea in public schools as fact claim persecution!
  7. If they won’t teach the controversy over your ideas in public schools claim persecution!
  8. If people criticize journals for publishing your papers claim persecution!
  9. If people circulate petitions against teaching your ideas claim persecution!
  10. If a journalists covers only the scientific side and doesn’t cover yours claim persecution!
  11. If no one visits your site or listens to you claim persecution!
  12. If no one persecutes you claim persecution!

In this modern world there is such a thing as “parity of ideas”. Everything must be balanced against its opposite. If anyone says anything that contradicts you, it is your right to be able to counter what they say for “balance”, even if you don’t have proof or credibility. If they don’t do this you are being persecuted. You see? It’s easy to be a crank. Just follow these simple guidelines and remember, you’re never wrong. No matter what. Reprinted with permission from the author, Mark Hoofnagle, an MD/PhD Candidate in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics at the University of Virginia. See Mark’s denialism blog for more.