Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy

Seeking Stories of AIDS Denialism

Have you or someone you know been harmed by AIDS Denialism? If you, or someone you care about, have been advised to stop taking HIV meds, ignore HIV test results, purchase a 'natural' cure etc., please email me.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Hello Professor, a Brent Leung is here to see you"

House of Numbers continues to be the talk of AIDS Denialism. There are many lessons to be learned from the AIDS Denialist crockumentary House of Numbers. The real lesson for scientists is that just because a guy has a camera crew does not mean you should agree to be interviewed by him. Thinking twice before sitting down in front of a camera is a worthwhile lesson indeed. The October 15 issue of Nature, a magazine well known for its excellent book reviews, published a great story on the hazards of scientists appearing in documentaries gone wrong. Too bad the article came out after House of Numbers was in the can. I post the article here for future reference.

And don’t forget to check out the new House of Numbers Website. Everyone should see House of Numbers.But be sure to read up before going.

UPDATE: Editors at Science Daily react to the misrepresentation (lying?) about T-Cells and AIDS twisted in House of Numbskulls.

UPDATE: Joseph Sonnabend, MD - Physician and AIDS Researcher speaks out on the fraud behind House of Numbers.

Caught on camera

What to do when you are interviewed for an unscientific documentary

Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, has always had to deal with angry e-mails from people who think that global warming isn't happening, and that Schneider is part of a conspiracy to promote it. He has been vocal about the dangers of climate change for decades.

In the past week, however, Schneider has been deluged by furious messages. They have been provoked by a clip circulating on the Internet from Not Evil Just Wrong, a documentary film claiming that global-warming fears are 'hysteria'. The clip explains how Schneider did an interview — and then how the university informed the film-makers that it had rescinded permission for using any of the Stanford footage and that Schneider had withdrawn permission to use his name or interview. Schneider says he backed out when he realized that the film-makers were polemicists who had lied to him about their intentions. Some climate-sceptic commentators are accusing him of censorship.

Schneider is by no means the first scientist to feel hoodwinked by film-makers. British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins ended up in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a film purporting to show how academics who do not accept evolution are frozen out of academia. Dawkins says that he was conned — that the film-makers had presented the project to him as an even-handed effort entitled Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion. Carl Wunsch, an oceanographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, felt he was "swindled" in a like manner by the producers of The Great Global Warming Swindle. And Nikos Logothetis of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, let a seemingly objective film crew into his primate laboratory — only to see the footage used in an animal-rights documentary that slams him as cruel.

For many scientists, the natural response to such stories is to stop talking to the media. But that would be an overreaction. For one thing, such misrepresentations are rare. Schneider estimates that he has given some 3,500 interviews since the 1970s, and only twice has he been "set up". Most journalists and documentarians are honestly trying to report the facts, and scientists have a responsibility to tell the public about their work — especially if it is supported by public money.

Fortunately, scientists can do much to protect themselves. When someone asks for an interview, for example, a scientist should enquire about starting assumptions, the intended audience and the identity of the project's backers. And, if possible, researchers should check the earlier work of the journalists and any companies behind the film for a partisan tone, or unacceptable levels of sensationalism.

But if these efforts fail, and it is discovered too late that the film-makers are bent on using an on-tape interview to promote a view that seems unscientific, the question becomes what steps to take. There is rarely a way to withdraw an interview that was given on the record, for good reason. In any case, making a fuss can be a gift of publicity to film-makers. Schneider admits that he might have spared himself the deluge of e-mails had he just ignored the makers of Not Evil Just Wrong.

A better approach might well be to complain to the television channels and broadcasting regulators, many of which have standards for their programming. The Great Global Warming Swindle was censured by Ofcom, Britain's broadcasting regulator, for breaking several rules in its broadcasting code. And when the same documentary was aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it was followed by a point-by-point debate and rebuttal.

In the end, this is perhaps the most effective way to limit the damage. Bad journalism is best met not with red-faced indignation, but with good journalism. The truth is the best revenge.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Harvard Symposium on Denialism, Mistrust & Stigma

Death by denial:Symposium explores HIV denial, conspiracy theories

By Alvin Powell Harvard Gazette

People who deny that the HIV virus causes AIDS continue to persist in their beliefs despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, nurtured by the broad reach of the Internet and cherry-picked scientific claims, AIDS authorities said Monday.

Researchers from Harvard, elsewhere in the United States, and South Africa convened at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts to decry HIV “denialism,” saying that the continued questioning of HIV’s role in AIDS harms those infected with the virus by discouraging both testing and treatment.

According to the speakers, denialism takes two major forms. Some skeptics deny that HIV plays a role in AIDS, or that it even exists, while others believe in AIDS conspiracies, acknowledging that HIV causes AIDS but questioning HIV’s origins, saying it results from a government conspiracy, is intended as a genocide campaign against blacks, that it was created in CIA labs, or is of other sinister origin or purpose.

The event, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, was presented in conjunction with the Carpenter Center’s exhibit “ACT UP New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993.” The exhibit contains posters, T-shirts, fliers, and pamphlets from ACT UP’s AIDS activism campaigns which, through sometimes graphic and jarring messages, pushed government action against AIDS. The campaign argued that the government dragged its feet because of homophobia and racism aimed at two groups prone to the ailment: gay men and intravenous drug users, who are often minorities.
Laura Bogart, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, introduced the event, saying that denialism also includes odd beliefs, such as that drugs for HIV treatment actually cause AIDS. Denialism, she said, is gaining momentum because of the reach that its proponents have on the Internet, and it may have greater traction in communities that already mistrust the government because of past discrimination, revelations of secret medical experiments, and the like.

The symposium examined how denialism affects prevention and treatment, public policy, and human rights.

“Bad ideas have bad consequences,” Bogart said.

Kalichman, professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, said denialist beliefs are surprisingly widespread. He said most people’s attitude when hearing of HIV denial is, “Oh, those people are still around?” In the uncertain early years of the AIDS epidemic, Kalichman said, denialists were dissidents from the prevailing but still uncertain scientific views. As the body of evidence about the nature of HIV and AIDS grew, dissent turned into denial, wrapped in conspiracy theories. Now, Kalichman lumps HIV denialists with those who deny the Holocaust and global warming, and who believe 9/11 conspiracy theories. All use similar strategies, he said, including false experts, bad science, and selective use of valid scientific results.

Kalichman cited a 2007 report on 696 gay men in five U.S. cities that showed a surprisingly high acceptance of denialist beliefs. Forty-five percent, he said, agreed with the statement “HIV does not cause AIDS,” and 51 percent agreed with the statement “HIV drugs can harm you more than help you,” remarking that it would be troubling if even half those numbers believed such statements.

Kalichman said research shows that the Internet is a critical source of denialist information, and that people who hold denialist beliefs are more likely to have symptoms, less likely to adhere to drug regimens, and less likely to take treatment medication in the first place.

Denialism may have done its most damage in South Africa during the tenure of President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki, who endorsed denialist beliefs, delayed the beginning of large-scale AIDS drug treatment, which allowed the pandemic to grow unchecked.
Nicoli Nattrass, director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit and economics professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, presented preliminary results from a large-scale study of teenagers and young adults there. The results, which are still being analyzed, show that denialist beliefs are held disproportionately by black African men and are far more likely to be held by those supportive of Mbeki’s health minister, who has been replaced by the current administration.

Recent research showed how damaging denialist beliefs can be, concluding that Mbeki’s failure to roll out HIV drugs between 2000 and 2005 resulted in 330,000 unnecessary deaths and the infection of 3,500 infants with HIV

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Can Peter Duesberg be Trusted on Cancer?

This week's News Week Magazine raises questions regarding Peter Duesberg's credibility as a cancer researcher. Duesberg is best known for his AIDS Denialism. What many may not know is that Peter Duesberg maintains a small laboratory privately funded by Robert Leppo where he researches potential causes of cancer.

Peter Duesberg was among the first scientists to isolate cancer-causing genes and cancer-related retroviruses. Early in his career, Duesberg worked with other Berkeley scientists, including acclaimed molecular biologist G. Steve Martin, to discover the first cancer-causing genes—oncogenes. The Berkeley Group was among the first to demonstrate that retroviruses carry oncogenes that transform normal cells into deadly cancer cells.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Moron AIDS Denialist Film House of Numbers: Notes from the show

Having seen the AIDS Denialist film House of Numbers, I must say that it is worse than anyone could imagine. The film misuses the words of leading AIDS scientists to raise doubts about whether HIV causes AIDS, the validity of HIV testing, and the benefits of HIV treatments. Context is everything, and House of Numbers creates an illusion of debate among scientists by placing scientists along side of pseudoscientists. All Doctors and Professors are equal in the eyes of Director Brent Leung.

Contorting words to misrepresent reality is what AIDS Deniers do. Some AIDS Deniers must distort reality to protect their bubble of denial. HIV infected persons who are living in an AIDS denial delusion appear in the film, such as the late Christine Maggiore. Also not surprising are the words of the professional AIDS Deniers, who simply repeat the denialist mantra heard so many times before. The mosaic is fascinating to those of us who study AIDS Denialism, reaffirming to those living in denial, and boring to tears for everyone else.

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