Happiness in Ignorance: HIV Deniers

If there is one constant ever present in anti-science groups, whether its Creationists, anti-vaxers, anti-wireless-interneters, whatever– its the groups ignorance on the very topic they are ‘anti’.

HIV Deniers are no exception. One of my favorite HIV Deniers, a blonde bimbo named Rebecca Culshaw (‘I IZ NUT BIMBOS I HAS DEGREE IN MATHS! THAT MEANS HIV IS A LIE!’), is a god damned idiot that doesnt even know the difference between an ‘endogenous’ retrovirus, and an ‘exogenous’ retrovirus, but feels she is in a position to lecture to the scientific community about HIV.

Orac has a great post up right now on a homeopathy proponent, Jeremy Sherr, who is trying to do some illegal clinical trials in Africa (I HAS MAGIC POTION CUR AIDS ME BE FAMOOSE!). Im just assuming Oracs post is great (they always are) because I couldnt make it through the whole post. I blacked out when I hit the concentrated ‘wrongness’ in this one sentence by Sherr:

In many ways homoeopathy is the perfect medicine for persons suffering from AIDS, and particularly in Africa. AIDS means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Homoeopathy works by stimulating and enhancing the immune system and therefore it is precisely in this disease that homoeopathy can be most effective.

This is exactly why you do not want ‘alternative medicine’ quacks treating you when you have a cold, much less HIV/AIDS or cancer– Even if homeopathy is totally true, Jeremy Sherr doesnt even know the basics of HIV-1 as a virus, and what it does to a patients immune system.

If homeopathy could ‘activate the immune system’, Sherrs treatments would kill his HIV patients even faster.

If you ask an Average Joe/Jane on the street what happens to someones immune system when theye are infected with HIV-1, you will probably get a response along the lines of:

HIV-1 infects immune cells and kills them, and eventually they dont have an immune system anymore, and they can die from, like, the flu.

To Joe and Jane, Sherrs ‘therapy’ (assuming it works), sounds like a fine idea. Dont have an immune system? Then, like, ‘activate it’ to get a new one.

Unfortunately, that response isnt correct.

Contrary to popular belief, HIV-1 patients actually have a hyperactivated immune system. See, HIV-1 likes to infect CD4+ T-cells, specifically, activated CD4+ T-cells. It wants to activate your immune system so it has more ‘food’.

This immune system hyperactivation doesnt just mean more HIV-1 targets– eventually, immune cells just die from exhaustion (programed apoptosis). For an example of how bad this is– lets say your body kept some memory immune cells around from a cold you got when you were seven. If you get exposed to that particular cold virus again, your immune system pounces on it before you can even get sick. YAY! But if your immune system is in a hyperactive state, and those memory cells die from exhaustion without leaving any more ‘baby’ memory cells… the next time you get exposed to that cold virus, youve got to mount a whole new immune response. While that wouldnt be so bad for you or me, if you are an AIDS patient with not a lot of immune cells around anymore to attack that cold, or if youre an HIV-1 patient with lots of CD4+ T-cells, but they arent responsive… WHAMMO.

Supercrazyhyper activated immune systems in HIV patients is bad, Jeremy Sherr. BAD. Even if a homeopathic treatment to activate the immune system was 100% efficacious, you would be harming your patients, you friggen idiot!

We recently found that
elite supressors (people who have been infected with HIV-1 for ages, dont need drugs, and you can barely find virus in their system) have a ton of a subset of CD4+ T-cells (regulatory T-cells) that secrete a chemical messenger, interleukin 10. IL-10 is part of a network that tells your immune system to calm down after it has defeated the cold virus in your lungs, or bacterial infection on that paper cut on your finger, or whatever. T-regs can also deactivate immune cells directly through cell-cell contact. And if you are born without the ability to make regulatory T-cells, your body cant stop attacking itself (severe autoimmunity).

In other words, T-regs tell your immune system to shut the fuck up.

Unfortunately, HIV-1 really, really likes to infect T-regs. So most patients lose them right off the bat. And even if they are controlling their viral loads successfully with HAART, the T-regs dont come back (or if they do, they arent functional). Elite suppressors, on the other hand, have a ton of T-regs keeping their immune system ‘mellow’.

So, dear readers, you might be thinking ‘OMG MY MIND HAS BEEN BLOWN! AIDS is caused by an OVERACTIVE immune response?!?! Why dont we just give HIV patients immunosuppressive drugs, like we give transplant patients? Wouldnt that help?’

Alas, giving HIV-1 patients immunosuppressive drugs was a magnificent failure.

Evidently its not just ‘calming the immune system down’. Its an intricate balance of activation/inactivation/activation/inactivation that we dont understand at all right now. And if we dont understand it, we certainly cant figure out an effective therapy for patients.

Its not just a matter of ‘stimulating and enhancing the immune system’.



  1. #1 Johnny Vector
    January 19, 2009

    The nice thing about stuff like HIV/AIDS, is that The Immune System is just one big monolithic thing. Right? Who’s with me on this? I mean, all that stuff about CD4s and regulatory T-cells and shit is really compulclat… constipa… it’s eeevul!

    So there’s immune system cells and everything else. And all the immune system cells are Teh Sames! YAY! So all you have to do is Aktivates dem and cure everything! YAY!

    You stupid “reesurchurs” are always makin’ stuff too hard.

    (apologies to Jim Nieb for totally stealing his joke)

  2. #2 priskiller
    January 19, 2009


    No really, this was a great read. From which I will liberally mooch during my next argument with a pseudo-scientist choad. Thank you for posting.

  3. #3 Ken Clark
    January 19, 2009

    Ah, a good candidate for “Fractal Wrongness”. Sometimes don’t you feel stupid should hurt?

  4. #4 Sam C
    January 19, 2009

    To steal Pauli’s phrase, these quacks are “not even wrong”.

    But the mendacants would think that meant they are totally The Trooth!

  5. #5 Frasque
    January 19, 2009

    As a graduate student you’re obviously in training to be the mouthpiece of Big Pharma and we can’t trust a word you say! If AIDS were cured, how would you make gobs and gobs of money witholding amazing cures from the general public?!

  6. #6 Paper Hand
    January 19, 2009

    Wow … complicated stuff. Fascinating, though! I always learn something new on this blog. At least, when I understand. XD

  7. #7 Tyler DiPietro
    January 19, 2009

    “As a graduate student you’re obviously in training to be the mouthpiece of Big Pharma and we can’t trust a word you say!”

    Everyone here is directly on the payroll of the NWO for spreading disinformation. You gotta think bigger about these conspiracies, bub.

    BTW, we’re paid in Ameros.

  8. #8 clinteas
    January 20, 2009

    Excellent post Abbie,thanks !

  9. #9 BAllanJ
    January 20, 2009

    Yup, another great post from ERV… at least I expect it was… I blacked out after that first blockquote… (duck)

  10. #10 D. C. Sessions
    January 20, 2009

    Sometimes don’t you feel stupid should hurt?

    Oh, it does! Unfortunately, it’s not always the stupid who suffer the pain.

  11. #11 Sili
    January 20, 2009

    My mind! She is a-blown!

    So if hiv likes to go nomnomnom on T-regs, how do the 1337 suppressors manage to go “No! Can’t have! Not urs!”?

  12. #12 Stephen Wells
    January 20, 2009

    Twenty years ago we didn’t know there were elite suppressors, ten years ago we didn’t know why they were elite suppressors, now we don’t know how they maintain such a large pool of regulatory T cells. Amazing how scientists never know anything useful 🙂

  13. #13 Ty
    January 20, 2009

    Sili made me snort coke onto my laptop.

  14. #14 Seth Kalichman
    January 20, 2009

    Great post!
    Rebecca Culshaw has fallen silent. She retired from her job as an Asst. Professor of Math at U-Texas-Tyler before going up for tenure. She must have been given the ‘writing is on the wall’ talk. My theory is she got raked into the denialists by the whole Searge Lang thing. Got hooked into Duesberg and was handed off to Harvey Bialy who got her really bad book published by a new age publisher in Berkeley that sees connected to Bialy. She seems off the map and fortunately her book is so poorly written and says nothing new it never got any traction among denialists.
    Seth Kalichman

  15. #15 Arno
    January 21, 2009

    First post here. Really awesome stuff, Abbie. I was one of those Joe’s, and what you wrote completely changed that. Thanks 🙂

  16. #16 Dr. Matthew
    January 21, 2009

    Awesomeness. Took less than a decade from the elucidation of the CCR-5 knockout “immunity” research to lead to Maraviroc, how far off will T-reg findings be from the next major wave of treatment?

  17. #17 Chris Noble
    January 23, 2009

    But Abbie, ignorance is a virtue if you listen to the HIV Denialist Henry Bauer.

    Scientific illiteracy, the media, science pundits, governments, and HIV/AIDS

    Scientific illiteracy isn’t about knowing what a molecule is, or a retrovirus; it’s not realizing that science isn’t done by a “scientific method” ; it’s about knowing that science can’t be guaranteed to deliver what it promises any more than a politician can; it’s about realizing that scientists are super-specialists blinkered to anything outside their immediate interest, and that the best people to consult about science policy and the assessment of a scientific consensus are historians of science, sociologists of science, ethicists and philosophers of science, especially those who have also done some science themselves at one time or another.

    If you stepped out of your rat-hole of a lab and researched “Science Studies” then you would see that HIV doesn’t exist.

    Lack of knowledge about virology, immunology and epidemiology actually allows you to see the science more clearly.

    Do you understand now?

  18. #18 Seth Kalichman
    January 23, 2009

    Does anyone understand what the hell Henry Bauer is trying to say? Word salad comes to mind. He was harmless when he wrote about big green monsters in deep Scottish waters. His writing about AIDS is not so harmless.


  19. #19 Chris Noble
    January 23, 2009

    Does anyone understand what the hell Henry Bauer is trying to say?

    Physics cranks are invariably scientifically illiterate. They normally view their inability to understand even basic maths, let alone physics, as an advantage rather than an impediment. Avoiding these subjects in high school enabled them to escape the brainwashing that keeps all physicists locked into the orthodox dogma.

    Ignorance is a virtue.

    Bauer is saying the same thing with a cheap veneer of “Science Studies” and po-mo. By actually studying and learning about HIV Abbie has been brainwashed. She can’t see beyond the “paradigm”. By studiously avoiding all knowledge of virology, immunology and epidemiology Henry Bauer is unfettered by all of this false dogma. We should listen to him rather than somebody who knows what she is talking about.

  20. #20 Seth Kalichman
    January 23, 2009

    In researching my new book Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy, there were extensive communications with Henry. He really believes that he has found the answer. You know, he is not trying to fool anyone. He has actually fooled himself. He said that he believed he would land a spot on the Today Show for his book. True. I kid you not. He is willing to engage with anyone who is naive enough to buy into what he has done. But challenge, even just a little, and that is the end of communication. I also remain convinced that David Crowe (or whoever is posing for the mythical David Crowe) ghost wrote significant sections of the book. I know that Crowe reviewed it extensively, but it seems he did more than just review.
    Henry has however gotten what he wanted from his book. He has been noticed.
    Seth Kalichman


  21. #21 Luna_the_cat
    January 24, 2009

    “By studiously avoiding all knowledge of virology, immunology and epidemiology Henry Bauer is unfettered by all of this false dogma.”

    OT, but what this reminds me of is the phenomenon which fiction editors around the world would recognise:
    “I’ve written this totally new and original SF plot — and I know that it must be, because I’ve never read any SF, so my mind isn’t all cluttered up with what other people have written.”

    The invariable result of this is a hackneyed piece of poor writing which finds every mistake that more literate people know to avoid…

  22. #22 Daniel
    February 2, 2009

    Hello, my friend is HIV, is possble to help him with homeopthatics?
    Sorry for my english, Daniel

  23. #23 LanceR, JSG
    February 2, 2009

    Hello, my friend is HIV, is possble to help him with homeopthatics?

    Let’s rephrase that with a little reality and see if it answers itself, yes?

    “My friend has HIV, is it possible to help him with distilled water that has had magic substances in it at one time, and has been shaken alot?”

    Rather a simpler question, yes?

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