Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Tara Smith on HIV Denial

At the risk of raising Lynn’s blood pressure a bit, I’ll post a link to this post by Tara Smith debunking Tom Bethell’s nonsense about AIDS not being caused by HIV (Lynn is a physician who led an AIDS task force at her hospital and an AIDS support group for victims and families, so there are few things that raise her ire more than those who peddle such myths about AIDS and thereby frustrate our attempts to fight it). Dr. Smith is an expert in infectious diseases and does an excellent job of breaking down the falsehoods in Bethell’s claims. I should also note that at least two very prominent ID advocates are also HIV deniers, Phillip Johnson and Jonathan Wells.


  1. #1 spyder
    February 10, 2006

    Has there ever been a documented case wherein denying, over and over and over, the existence of something factual makes it disappear?? Even among these frustrated ID’ers, there should be sufficient human experience that demonstrates that denial isn’t efficacious. Kids know this: when they break something and hope against all hope that they can wake up and find that they didn’t break it–only to discover that no matter how much they deny it, it still happened. Don’t we describe denial as a part of the process of grief???

  2. #3 steve s
    February 10, 2006

    Wells is also an HIV denier? Didn’t know that.

  3. #4 Gretchen
    February 11, 2006

    Even though I very much enjoyed Tara’s commentary (thanks for the link), I do to some extent agree with the person who complained there about the term “AIDS denier.”

    If you say that somebody is an anything “denier,” you are implying that they are irrationally resisting the preponderance of evidence supporting whatever it is that they are denying. Saying “Joe is an X denier” carries a lot more connotative weight than saying “Joe is a person who believes X isn’t true,” and it’s not quite honest to go with the former claiming that you only do so because it’s more expedient.

    This is not to deny (ha) that there is a preponderance of evidence supporting the claim that HIV causes AIDS (it appears there is, though I don’t know enough to argue about it). It is just that there have been ample times throughout history where even the majority of the scientific world has been convinced of one thing and condemned the viewpoint of a few stalwart scientists who just happened to be right. And it would be a convenient and nasty rhetorical trick for the majority then to call these minority scientists, for example, “luminiferous aether deniers.” For that matter, it would be convenient for ID proponents to call evolutionists “ID deniers,” even though it wouldn’t be as likely to become part of commmon parlance.

    It’s similr to the “pro choice” and “pro life” categories, I think….nobody wants to be labeled as anti-something, especially if the term used carries the connotatin of being deluded as well.

  4. #5 Kristjan Wager
    February 12, 2006

    Gretchen, it would perhaps be more correct to label those people ‘hiv-aids connection deniers’, but the fact is that they are denying such a connection, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

    Calling people who understand, and accept, evolution for Intelligent Design deniers, would not work for several reasons:
    1) There is no (scientific) evidence to deny.
    2) Evolutionists, in general, don’t focus on the concept of an intelligent designer – rather they focus on the arguments for an intelligent designer, as put forward by the intelligent design creationists.
    3) The ID crowd are the people doing the denying – evolutionists are more than willing to take a look at the evidence for ID, as soon as they present it (and have done so every time such evidence have been presented).

    If good (scientific) evidence for Intelligent Design is ever presented, and people then still reject it, then it would make sense to call those people ID-deniers.

    On the subject of ‘pro choice’ and ‘pro life’, I agree that those are problematic, however they are not equally problematic.
    ‘Pro choice’ is actually pretty straight forward, and works, since the opposite group actually wants to take the choice away, and thus justifiably can be termed ‘anti choice’.
    However, ‘pro life’ doesn’t work, since the opposite group isn’t ‘anti life’. They just have a different standard for what entails full life. Also, ‘pro life’ people are not in general concerned with other groups of living people, and their survival, so it seems their self-labeling is unjustified broad.

    Some ‘anti choice’, or ‘pro life’ if you prefer, people label their opponents ‘pro abortion’, and while this isn’t entirely incorrect, it is still not as precise as one might wish for.
    ‘Pro abortion’ carries the feeling that these people think that abortions are a good thing, or that they might want the option to get one themselves. Many people are against the very notion of abortion, would never have one, yet are open to the idea that others feel differently, and that they should make their own choices, thus they are ‘pro choice’, yet in a very real sense ‘anti abortion’.

    One last note, being ‘anti’ something does not in my world carry a taint of negativity or delusion. I frequently describe myself as ‘anti-racist’ or ‘anti-discrimination’. It’s only when the thing, you are ‘anti’, in general is regarded as a positive thing or a well documented thing, that ‘anti’ also implies negativity or delusion.

  5. #6 Kristjan Wager
    February 12, 2006

    Jut realized something while surfing the rest of ScienceBlogs. The people in question shouldn’t be called ‘HIV causes AIDS deniers’, they should be called ‘AIDS deniers’. As Tara wrote:

    Bethell claims that AIDS in Africa is a made-up epidemic; AIDS is really due to simple malnutrition and dirty water supplies, rather than a virus

    Well, that is denying AIDS right there, as the very definition of AIDS is that it is caused by a virus.

    It’s like saying the common cold is caused by lack of sleep rather than a virus. Well, there might be some weird case senario where lack of sleep might make your nose run, and you sneeze, but it wouldn’t be the same as having the common cold. And thus you would deny the existence of the common cold, as it is defined.

    Aside from that, anyone who wants to make AIDS into something unrelated to HIV, seems to me to have highly suspect reasons.
    I’m sure that you can all figure out what they might be.

  6. #7 Treban
    February 13, 2006

    Alas, after my last run in with AIDS denial, when my “AIDS” inflicted roomie got terriblely excited that the disease he has is in fact a myth, I came to understand that they are wrong. At least my roomies doctors convinced him that these sorts of people are just bloody well dillusional and that he should, in fact, keep taking his anti-virals. Remarkably enough, at one time he was diagnosed with HIV. I suppose it is really just a great coincidence that so many people who are diagnosed with HIV end up getting diagnosed later with AIDS and that subsequently they die of an insuficient immune system. Could be a plot by the queerfolk for achieving special rights.

    By and by I am often accused of being quite the lefty and I have major problems with the AIDS crisis in Africa. I would love to see the overpopulation problems dealt with but I would also love to see those suffering and dying for lack of anti-virals to get them and also get real relief from their suffering. I suppose some lefties might be OK with the suffering and death but I don’t know any. I do however know some wing-nuts of the opposite persuasion who seem to think that the suffering of those who suffer is all their own fault and if anything wish more people they dissaproved of were suffering.

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