HIV denial

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This PLOS Article by Tara C. Smith and Steven P. Novella, paints a pretty grim picture of the HIV Denialist movement. Now, you may have thought that this was pretty much limited to Thabo Mbeki and Peter Duesberg, but no, it turns out that the world is full of whackjobs. Smith and Novella aren't interested in arguing that HIV causes AIDS—a proposition which is fairly clearly true—as discussing how movements like this survive. The parallels to other anti-scientific conspiracy theories (with creationism being the most obvious example) are striking:

Although the HIV deniers condemn scientific authority and consensus, they have nevertheless worked to assemble their own lists of scientists and other professionals who support their ideas. As a result, the deniers claim that they are just on the cusp of broader acceptance in the scientific community and that they remain an underdog due to the "established orthodoxy" represented by scientists who believe that HIV causes AIDS.

...

Further, deniers exploit the sense of fair play present in most scientists, and also in the general public, especially in open and democratic societies. Calling for a fair discussion of dissenting views, independent analysis of evidence, and openness to alternatives is likely to garner support, regardless of the context. But it is misleading for the HIV denial movement to suggest that there is any real doubt about the cause of AIDS.

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Of all the characteristics of deniers, repeatedly nudging back the goalpost--or the threshold of evidence required for acceptance of a theory--is often the most telling. The strategy behind goalpost-moving is simple: always demand more evidence than can currently be provided. If the evidence is then provided at a later date, simply change the demand to require even more evidence, or refuse to accept the kind of evidence that is being offered.

This bit about "fair play" is really important. One of the underlying norms that makes science work is that people to some extent adjust their beliefs in response to contrary evidence. Obviously this doesn't happen all the time, but when you're dealing with someone who's not interested in the evidence at all but merely using it as a sort of prop to attempt to defend their position then that isn't an argument, it's just contradiction. At some point the proper response becomes to just ignore the offender, but then they claim that the orthodox community won't listen to them. It's obviously very hard for a layman to disentangle who's right.

One strange twist to this story is that San Francisco ACT UP (though not other ACT UP branches) has become not only HIV denialist but also AIDS denialist:

The fact is that there is no plague of contagious AIDS. Every year of the so-called AIDS "epidemic" in the United States more people died from car accidents than from AIDS. Government estimates of the number of HIV positive Americans has been continually revised downward from 1.5 million in the mid-1980s to between 400,000 to 600,000 today. In addition, the life span of HIV positives that refuse toxic AIDS treatments is over twenty years -- as long as HIV has supposedly been around.

ACT UP SF now seems to be primarily in the medical marijuana business. There must be a really fascinating story behind that.

4 Comments

arguing that HIV causes AIDS—a proposition which is fairly clearly true
Well, that's the crux of it: it's "fairly clearly true" if you're not a conspiracy theorist, and you believe the medical and scientific evidence.

But if you think it's all a conspiracy perpetuated by the big pharmaceutical companies, and the doctors and the scientists and the government are all in on it, well, then it's not clear at all.

If one is a nutjob who subscribes to the "trust no one" philosophy, nothing is clear.

One of the symptoms of HIV is greatly decreased appetite, followed by gradual wasting of the body. One of the best appetite enhancers, particularly for sweets and fats that are unpalatable to people who are wasting, is marijuana. Having an appetite can add years to the life of someone wasting. Simultaneously, it helps as a general pain reliever that does not cause constipation; constipation in someone who is already wasting can be particularly painful.

Oh, sorry, I wasn't clear. I did know why people with AIDS want to take medical marijuana. I'm just interested in what turn of events took ACT UP SF from a group lobbying for government attention and research into one which nor has its major objective promoting medical marijuana.

"One strange twist to this story is that San Francisco ACT UP (though not other ACT UP branches) has become not only HIV denialist but also AIDS denialist"

They are neither. They are HIV/AIDS Dissidents. And ACTUP has been so for over a decade. Do you make any attempt to be accurate at all ?

"This bit about "fair play" is really important. One of the underlying norms that makes science work is that people to some extent adjust their beliefs in response to contrary evidence. Obviously this doesn't happen all the time, but when you're dealing with someone who's not interested in the evidence at all but merely using it as a sort of prop to attempt to defend their position then that isn't an argument, it's just contradiction. At some point the proper response becomes to just ignore the offender, but then they claim that the orthodox community won't listen to them. It's obviously very hard for a layman to disentangle who's right. "

Actually, it does "happen all the time". It's a hallamrk of good science, to adjust and adapt a hypothesis, if it still works, to fit the evidence.

Speaking of evidence, it's odd how "the deniers" talk constantly ABOUT the evidence, and how people such as yourself, do little more than
1. name-call,
2. misrepresent facts,
and
3. refuse to discuss the facts, yet write on the issue without any notion at all what the big points of disagreement even are.

You can dismiss an argument you've never heard and don't know any of the details of, but don't call yourself "scientific" or even "honest".

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