I’ve been spending a lot of time with family and friends lately, something I don’t often get the chance to do. And while I’m not happy about the reason for it, I’m still thankful for all the friends I sometimes forget I have.
One thing I found out from many of my friends is that if I post a piece on my facebook page, they’ll read it. But they won’t necessarily come here to read my other stuff. Why not?
The ongoing discussion here in the blogosphere sometimes needs an interruption, a break to remember what it is we do here, if anything. I’m not big on “Top 10” or other similar New Years posts, so for 2009, I’m going to explain to you who the hell I am, what my writing is about, and why you really should read it. Really.
First of all, blog reading 101. Blogs, a shortening of “weblog”, is an online writing form existing somewhere in the space between self-absorbed adolescent diary and journalism. Blogs themselves have certain conventions that print media don’t. For example, when reading a blog post, and encountering a link, this link often leads to another blog or article that expands on the underlined idea, without having to make a major digression. Blogs can also be read in rss feeds, which is an easy format for glancing through your favorite writers.
The Hoofnagle brothers (those handsome lads pictured at the left) started the denialism blog quite a while ago because they saw a pattern. Certain issues in science and the news seemed to attract a certain type of wacko. For example, there is a large and somewhat influential community that denies that HIV causes AIDS. This pissed them off. What the Hoofnagles recognized is that this “denialism” may infect many issues (AIDS, global warming, the Holocaust, evolution, to name a few), but the tactics, the logical errors, remain the same. People who deny the Holocaust happened use the same tactics as those who claim AIDS is something other than HIV infection. Those of us who follow these (very harmful and often hateful) movements have noticed how the people involved use certain tactics over and over to try to show the public how “reasonable” they are.
The study of denialism roots out these tactics, reveals these patterns, and shows these folks to be what they really are—charlatans, hate-mongers, corporate shills, and sometimes just poor, deluded souls.
I started writing myself almost two years ago at a blog I called White Coat Underground. I didn’t have a plan so much as to just write about whatever interested me. Apparently my writing interested others as well, because the readership grew.
Much of my writing was going to be about interesting cases, medical anecdotes, and other “underground” views from the health care system. But I kept running into various kinds of quacks who—while I was working hard at providing my patients with compassionate science-based medicine—who abandoned science, ethics, and humility in favor of charismatic—almost cult-like—medical practices that resembled preaching more than science. These practices included all sorts of so-called alternative medicine, such as homeopathy, reiki, and chiropractic, and share a few things in common: they are profitable, they are attractive, and they are wrong. But what the Hoofnagles and I noticed, as we read each others’ writing, was that these charlatans used many of the same rhetorical tactics as other denialists. Scratch an alternative medicine guru, and underneath, as likely as not, you’ll find an HIV denialist, or an anti-vaccinationist. The denialist errors in thinking are pervasive, and if you can rationalize one illogical belief, you can buy them all.
One example of this was Gary Null, a guy who really bugged me. He promoted all sorts of (profitable) “alternatives” to real medicine, without any evidence of their ability to help people other than vague, anonymous patient testimonials. It shouldn’t have surprised me at all when this guy, who has no formal medical training, crossed the line from promoter of fake cures, to HIV denialist. He has now begun aggressively promoting the idea that HIV does not cause AIDS, an idea that kills.
It would be nice if we could just say, “oh, so there are some wackos out there…big deal,” but we can’t. Gary Null, for example, gets lots of air time on public radio and television during pledge season. He is perceived as mainstream, despite is bizarre and dangerous views. He’s one of those “gateway denialists”; once you start to think the idea is reasonable, you can end up killing people by the tens of thousands. This “denialist thing” isn’t just some exercise in logic and rhetoric. It has real world consequences.
So, last March, the Hoofnagles invited me to write over here at denialism blog. I jumped at the chance. The readership here is great, the exposure is great, the community is great (and contentious). Since it was their digs, I asked what I could write, and Mark said, “anything”. So I basically closed shop at the old blog and started writing here. And while I still write many pieces on medical quackery, denialism, etc., I also like to go back to the medical underground, opening the door on the intimacy of the doctor-patient relationship, the ins and outs of the health care system, and some “hard” science pieces about disease and health.
For many of my friends, though, it’s the personal, the tragic, the celebratory which they read the most. I try to remember to categorize these popular posts under “medical musings”. People will and should read what they want, but I’m using this as an opportunity to invite those of you who have been avoiding some of the writing here to give it another try. If we use too much jargon, or our writing is otherwise unclear, leave questions and comments. Our system allows you be be anonymous if you wish. While I’d love to know who is commenting, it isn’t necessary. Just leave the name and email sections blank, and type away.
So, welcome to 2009, and welcome to denialism blog. Come in and stay a while.