The spring saw the release of the AIDS denialist crockumentary film ‘House of Numbers’. This breakthrough film was supposed to be the end of AIDS as we know it. While House of Numbers made its way into local film festivals, cancellations mounted as festival organizers caught on. The New York Times summed up House of Numbers best…
Couched as a “personal journey” through the history of H.I.V. and AIDS, “House of Numbers” is actually a weaselly support pamphlet for AIDS denialists. Trafficking in irresponsible inferences and unsupported conclusions, the filmmaker Brent Leung offers himself as suave docent through a globe-trotting pseudo-investigation that should raise the hackles of anyone with even a glancing knowledge of the basic rules of reasoning.
Assembled from interview fragments with doctors, scientists, journalists and others, the film cobbles together an insinuating argument against the existence of H.I.V. as a virus and AIDS as the resulting disease. Among the many inflammatory claims is that diagnosis is a pharmaceutical-industry ruse to sell complex drug therapies (which the film then presents as the real cause of the syndrome we identify as AIDS). Evidence to support this and other highly dangerous contentions is found not in verifiable statistics (house of numbers, my foot) but in the impassioned anecdotes of individuals who have outlived the expectations of an H.I.V.-positive diagnosis.
Rife with fuzzy logic (most people with AIDS live in poverty, therefore poverty causes AIDS) and a relentless fudging of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions, this willfully ignorant film portrays minor areas of scientific disagreement as “a research community in disarray” and diagnostic testing as a waste of time. A few months ago 18 angry doctors and scientists interviewed in the film issued a statement claiming that Mr. Leung “acted deceitfully and unethically” when recruiting them and that his film “perpetuates pseudoscience and myths.”
Mr. Leung said in a recent interview, “All we do is raise questions.” Perhaps his next film will question the existence of gravity.
The Rethinking AIDS Society stepped up its campaign against AIDS charities in 2009. Most remarkable was their launch of a sticker assault on companies that sell Product (RED) to raise money for the Global Fund against HIV/AIDS. The stickers have been seen everywhere from the Rethinking AIDS website to, well, the Rethinking AIDS website.
Celia Farber announced a libel complaint against a New York AIDS charity in 2009. Although court papers seem to have been filed, it would appear that the complaint was a false start.
2009 was the year that multiple studies converged to show that South Africa’s AIDS Denialist policies led to more than 350,000 deaths and 35,000 babies senselessly infected with HIV. Duesberg and Rasnick pushed back with a written response to one article published by Harvard researchers. The Duesberg response was rejected by a legitimate peer reviewed journal only to be accepted by the non-peer reviewed journal Medical Hypotheses. Ultimately, the paper was retracted even from Medical Hypotheses. The same journal, Medical Hypotheses, also retracted another AIDS denialist article by Marco Ruggiero. The Ruggiero retraction drew less attention than did Duesberg’s article but was no less important.
This year saw the start of undoing the harm of AIDS Denialism in South Africa. The new President Jacob Zuma appointed a credible Minister of Health, started cleaning house of the remnants of denialism, and set forth a new and well resourced policy to prevent and treat HIV infection. After nearly two decades of neglect, AIDS policy in South Africa appears to finally be on track.
Infighting among AIDS Deniers escalated in 2009. We saw more than the usual contest of crazies between the Perthians who claim HIV does not exist and the Duesbergians who say that HIV exists but is harmless. One example was when South African AIDS Denialist extraordinaire Anthony Brink exposed Rethinking AIDS President David Crowe as a ‘fraud’ and called into question the legitimacy of the Rethinking AIDS Society. This segment of Brink’s attack is my personal favorite…
“Mr. Crowe likes the feeling of being the king; it's almost as nice as the feeling one gets from being the president of a Rotary Club in a little town in the middle of nowhere that no one wants to go to.
Sorry, I should have said President, President with a capital P, because Mr Crowe always announces himself with a capital P.
He realizes that to deal with the underlying problems caused by his witchdoctor whose views about tokoloshes he promotes, even though deep inside he knows that they're lies, and the problems he causes us by the way he runs things in doing everything possible to prevent a proper ventilation of these lies, would mean the end of his reign as king with the crown he put on his own head, or asked a couple of his friends to put on his head. And he'd have to give up being the king, the king he likes being so much, either by abdicating in disgrace or being kicked out in disgrace with a hard boot up his arse for the tremendous harm he's caused our AIDS dissident movement, and remembered forever for the tremendous harm he's caused our AIDS dissident movement.”
There was a good amount of mainstream media coverage on AIDS Denialism in 2009 including articles in New Scientist Magazine, the Vue Weekly, New Humanist Magazine, Times Higher Education, and UK 'sThe Independent. Newsweek magazine ran a feature article on the continued failed career of the once promising scientist Peter Duesberg. My all time favorite Duesberg appears in this article...‘The whole dissident idea attracts a lot of crazies. And then all of a sudden, without realizing it, you've become one of them."
We lost some AIDS Denialists this year. Good riddance to former South African President Mbeki’s Health Minister Manto. Unfortunately her legacy of inaction and stonewalling HIV prevention and treatment in South Africa is still being felt.
Far sadder was the loss of Lambros Papantoniou who was convinced by AIDS denialists to stop his HIV treatment.
Sandi Lenfestey, a member of HEAL San Diego, died on January 11, 2009. She was 47, and had two children. To understand the real cost of denialism, see her young son’s shattering message to his mother.
No doubt that we are in for another year of antics from AIDS denialists. There is no telling what they will do next, but I am sure it will be interesting.