Biology: August 2007 Archives

 

August 27, 2007

In the comments section, Todd complains about the accuracy of my characterization of ACT UP SF (reformatted for easier reading).
"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 ?

Yes, I do, and I think this phrasing is accurate. ACT UP SF's refers to AIDS as the "AIDS $CAM". Here's a quote from their web site:

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.

So what's going on? Some big government conspiracy? Not likely. Think of AIDS as a tragic medical mistake where in an era of greed and fear non-contagious illnesses were blamed on a virus. Where societal disapproval of gay men was exacerbated by alarmist media reports and a massive amount of government and big business corruption. Think of AIDS as a scam not a scourge.

Sounds like denial to me.

Moroever, at least one ACT UP chapter has dissociated themselves from ACT UP SF. See, for instance, this from "Survive AIDS" (formally ACT UP Golden Gate). (This link was in the original article).

"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.

I can see how this might not have been clear. What I meant to say was that while scientists strive to adapt their beliefs, I concede that it doesn't always happen. Yes, it's a hallmark of good science but scientists are human.

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".

Uh huh.

As it happens, I have taken the time to familiarize myself with some of the arguments raised by the AIDS denial community and satisfied myself that the "evidence" you're talking about is unconvincing. Luckily, it's not necessary for me to take the time to debunk these claims personally because others have already done so.

 

August 26, 2007

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.

...

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.