Respectful Insolence

Essential reading on HIV/AIDS denialism

Fellow SB’er Tara Smith, and academic neurologist Steve Novella have written an essential primer on the dangerous pseudoscience and quackery that is HIV/AIDS denialism. It’s published in PLoS and is entitled HIV Denial in the Internet Era.

It makes a number of excellent points about the deadly quackery that is HIV/AIDS denialism, including how its advocates portray science as “faith,” shift the goalposts when asking for evidence for the HIV/AIDS hypothesis, and in general engage in all the same sorts of logical and scientific fallacies beloved by pseudoscientists and cranks like creationists, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and many aficionados of alternative medicine. I was also disappointed to learn that the Foo Fighters promote HIV/AIDS denialism at their concerts.

Perhaps the most telling part of the article, which should be emphasized over and over and over again is this:

After so much criticism levied upon the prevailing theories by deniers, one might think they would have something to offer to replace HIV as the cause of AIDS. However, the alternatives they offer are much more speculative than the mainstream theories they decry as lacking evidence. Further, their arguments amount to little more than another logical fallacy, the false dichotomy: they assume that overturning the prevailing theory will prove their theory correct, by default.

Always remember that. The “theories” that HIV/AIDS denialists make for the cause of AIDS are nothing more than speculation with little basis in fact. They’re ephemeral, lightweight, with no evidence to support them. Like many cranks, HIV/AIDS denialists seem to think that if they can tear down their hated theory it will prove that theirs is the correct one.

Finally, if you want to see how pathetic the response to this article by HIV/AIDS denialists has been thus far, you have to look no further than Science Guardian, where the best the author can come up with is to make condescending and sexist comments about Tara:

As a bonus attraction, visits to the site were long enhanced by the sight of Tara’s svelte portrait in form fitting costume, and the latest one is just as pretty as the first one she posted for a long time, though perhaps less like a bathing suit (we hope our appreciation of this first portrait here was not responsible for the replacement). We have reproduced it above, at the start of the mention of this attractive scientist.

However, the meeting this last weekend of science bloggers corralled at Seed Magazine’s ScienceBlogs site yielded some more realistic pictures of Tara from the beer drinking gatherings involved, and here is the best one we could find (left). Others are at A Blog Around the Clock, Neurophilosophy and Pharyngula. Readers with an interest in such research will see if intelligence correlates with beauty in the science blogging world.

The rest is no better, an evidence-free rant against the “dogma” about HIV/AIDS:

Intelligent readers will read this through for themselves and immediately see that it is nothing more than a John P. Moore type piece of prejudicial propaganda, a rote recitation of all the reasons why established wisdom endorsed by long established and trusted institutions relied upon by the media and the public, not to mention almost all scientists, physicians, health workers, policymakers and government officials around the globe, should not be questioned by independent critics, especially those without professional expertise in the science concerned, retrovirology and its two human diseases alleged so far, even if the scientific literature at the top level contains an ever growing pile of rejecting reviews and studies which contradict the basic tenets of the paradigm and its medical approach.

Of course, the funniest thing about this Science Guardian piece is this:

In the long run, Tara Smith and Steven Novella will learn the biggest danger of the Internet, which will eventually emerge as its dominant long run characteristic: its permanence.

Every single half baked, under researched opinion everybody writes on the world’s bulletin board will be there twenty years from now, when time itself will have ensured that any nonsense one ventures too precipitately for the wrong reasons will be exposed for all to see, as clear as the day it was scribbled, hanging like dirty laundry in the sun.

Let’s hope for their sake that all the signs in the scientific literature that Tara and her friend Steven are ignoring are somehow proven to be wrong, as they like to assume, apparently without examining them carefully enough. Since they all point in the same direction, to the eventual defeat of a paradigm which never genuinely flew, scientifically speaking, even at the beginning, this seems unlikely. More likely is their embarrassment, as grownups, at what they wrote as babes in the woods.

Tara and Steve will have little to worry about on that score. I’ll even make a not-so-bold prediction: Twenty years from now, HIV/AIDS denialists, if they still exist (and I fear that they will, given that irrational pseudoscience like homeopathy still exists 200 years after its founding and over 150 years after science could show that it was pseudoscience), will still be considered cranks.

Comments

  1. #1 DuWayne
    August 22, 2007

    Thank you Orac, for posting this link. Cue the quacks, 3, 2, 1. . .

  2. #2 Cain
    August 22, 2007

    I was also disappointed to learn that the Foo Fighters promote HIV/AIDS denialism at their concerts.

    What the crap? I didn’t know this. Their music’s pretty good, too. Crap, now I can’t like them anymore.

  3. #3 viggen
    August 22, 2007

    Orac, did you see that they over-wrote most of your comment at the Science Guardian? Remarkable and childish character slaughter on the part of the denialists.

  4. #4 Brian
    August 22, 2007

    Here’s to hoping nobody much cares what anybody wrote about HIV in 2007 when 2027 rolls around. Fingers crossed for a vaccine, or a drug solving the latency issue, etc.

  5. #5 Steven Novella
    August 22, 2007

    Orac – thanks for the post. I like to say about such things (quoting that great political orator, James Danforth Quayle) “I wear their scorn as a badge of honor.”

  6. #6 Vjatcheslav
    August 23, 2007

    It is really a shame that they don’t give any example of “The only problem with this line of paradigm defense, of course, is that the serious paradigm debunking has in fact occurred in peer reviewed scientific literature at the highest level, and has gone unanswered there at the same, peer reviewed level, in the same journals.” I would want to know if they themselves have read the scientific literature.

    “[T]he Proceedings of the National Academy does not publish ‘pseudoscience’, Orac!” which leaves me thinking about Linus Pauling and his vitamine C publications.

    “It is true that the Net is a wonderful thing, allowing all voices to speak out, from the illiterate and juvenile to the scholarly and thoughtful (…)” I don’t think we have to indicate who is the juvenile and illiterate. Tip: it is not a scibling.

    “Calling this a “despicable” moneymaking “scam”, Tara shows no sign of being informed on any of the research on magnetic fields and their effects on biological activity conducted over the past thirty years, which have resulted in entire books on the topic.” Anyone who does know something about science, knows that books are not really important or impressive, but that peer-reviewed articles are. They should do some research before writing such nonsense.

    “It is this kind of self righteous opinionating” Yes, at least something correct. Oh, wait, they aren’t writing about themselves!

    The Guardian has fallen deep, if they accept such things. It is no more than mudslinging, while hypocritically (I hope it is good spelled) saying that the others did it. I did not see any real facts, neither any debunking of the article of Tara Smith and Steve Novella. I am wondering what the qualifications of the writers of this “debunking” article are.

  7. #7 csrster
    August 23, 2007

    I don’t think scienceguardian.com has anything at all to do with The Guardian.

  8. #8 MPW
    August 23, 2007

    “the research on magnetic fields and their effects on biological activity conducted over the past thirty years, which have resulted in entire books on the topic.”

    Oh my dog, this is hilarious. Entire books! Not just halves or quarters of books!

    Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite short stories, Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” about how the rural schoolmaster Ichabod Crane is regarded as a man of great learning because “he had read several books quite through.”

  9. #9 Ky Sanderson
    August 26, 2007

    Orac compares “HIV Denialists” to creationists

    …in general engage in all the same sorts of logical and scientific fallacies beloved by pseudoscientists and cranks like creationists..

    This is a lie, Orac, for the following reasons:

    1. The term “Denialist” is a slander. It’s like McCarthy calling people “Communists.

    2. Creationists, save for the Sternberg exception, don’t publish in the peer-review literature.

    3. Here are several pieces questioning the viral cause of AIDS in the mainstream, peer-review literature:

    1. Cancer Research (1987). (Your favorite journal, Orac!)

    2. Science (1988)

    3. PNAS (1989)

    4. Perspective of Bio Medicine (1990)

    5. Journal of Bioscience (2003)

    6. Nature BioTechnology (1993)

    So, Orac, did you, Smith or Novella ever publish any letter in the literature (not the internet) challenging any of these papers?

    I doubt it, Quack. This is a pure scientific debate, of which, you (1) are completely ignorant and (2) simply cheerlead on the work of other facile, undistinguished amateurs (Smith and Novella).

    But, you also lied.

    Ky Sanderson

  10. #10 Orac
    August 26, 2007

    Just a quick one from vacation, because, quite frankly, I shouldn’t even deal with you now, but you annoyed me just enough that I foolishly am taking a few minutes to respond to your idiocy:

    The answer would be no, because all but one of those papers date back to before I even finished graduate school, and a couple of them date back to before I even finished medical school. In other words, they’re very old and hopelessly out of date–ancient history, even! Hell, the Cancer Research paper is 20 years old. In science, that’s an eternity, particularly in virology. The HIV/AIDS hypothesis has been well-substantiated and established since then. As for the paper written in 2003, that’s by by arch-denialist Peter Duesberg, who lost all credibility on this issue long ago.

    Unfortunately for you, the term “denialism” is a perfect term to describe HIV “skeptics” or “dissidents,” and I will continue to use it, just as I use the term for evolution deniers/creationists and Holocaust deniers. They all use the same sorts of logical fallacies, cherry picking of data, and crank arguments. There’s nothing McCarthy-esque about pointing that out. Indeed, crying “censorship!” is the last refuge of a crank who doesn’t realize that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism.

    Back to vacation. I plan on ignoring you from here on out until I get home.

    Oh, and by the way, accuse me of “lying” about anything again, and I might start to take it personally. I’ve been very patient with so far over the months, but you’re approaching a John Best territory of crankery and false accusations of lying. Disagreement does not equal falsehood, and characterizing honest assertions that you disagree with as “lies” is a true mark of a crank.

  11. #11 DuWayne
    August 26, 2007

    Ky Sanderson –

    Denialist is not an aspersion, it’s a kind understatement. This particular brand of denial kills. Not only kills, but kills in a particularly horrible, brutal fashion. I could offer my own opinion of your brand of denial, but I try not to use that sort of language.

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    August 26, 2007

    HOLY SHIT SIX FUCKING PAPERS OVER A SPAN OF 20 YEARS OMGWTFBBQ!!!!!!1ONEIMGOINGTOCUM

    If you think that even approaches an impressive research output, the only ignorant one here is you. Many individual scientists will publish around that quantity of scientific papers in a single year. The debate around HIV/AIDS long ago ceased to be between legitimate camps of scientific thinking, it’s between legitimate science and denialist crankery.

  13. #13 Ky Sanderson
    August 27, 2007

    Orac,

    Well, ain’t we a bit touchy, my under-acheiving surgeon/blogger friend!

    What a hypocrite — your motto is “A Statement of Fact Cannot be Insolent”

    I have given you various statements of fact, principally:

    1. Some of the best, most prestigious scientific journals in the world (Science, PNAS, Cancer Research) have published scientific arguments questioning the viral cause of AIDS.

    That is a fact. So, you can IGNORE this FACT all you want — but it’s pretty unscientific to ignore the evidence and evade scientific data, when they conflict with your ill-founded opinions.

    Just a quick one from vacation, because, quite frankly, I shouldn’t even deal with you now, but you annoyed me just enough that I foolishly am taking a few minutes to respond to your idiocy:

    Is it idiotic to cite the published literature?

    The answer would be no,

    Of course, it’s “No”. You haven’t read anyone of these papers, let alone publish replies. Yet you feel qualified to call scientists “Denialists.” What should they call you?

    In other words, they’re very old and hopelessly out of date–ancient history, even!

    See Darwin, Charles — 1859. Yeah, the 80’s and 90’s are reallllllllll old, doofus. What are you, a Teeny-Bopper?!!?

    The HIV/AIDS hypothesis has been well-substantiated and established since then.

    Cite, Please? Not a government website either — a peer reviewed paper would be nice.

    As for the paper written in 2003, that’s by by arch-denialist Peter Duesberg, who lost all credibility on this issue long ago.

    Ummm, and did you respond to this paper in 2003? Didya write a letter to the journal, or were you too busy blogging?

    Unfortunately for you, the term “denialism” is a perfect term to describe HIV “skeptics” or “dissidents,” and I will continue to use it, just as I use the term for evolution deniers/creationists and Holocaust deniers.

    You can use any term you want — it’s a free country. It just makes YOU a lame geek on the internet, not a scientist.

    They all use the same sorts of logical fallacies, cherry picking of data, and crank arguments. There’s nothing McCarthy-esque about pointing that out. Indeed, crying “censorship!” is the last refuge of a crank who doesn’t realize that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism.

    Strawman to the extreme. I didn’t cry “censorship” you twit — I cited papers in the literature, of which you were ignorant. All the hand-waving, strawman, ad hominem, ad hoc fallacies I would expect from a phony scientist, who doesn’t read the peer-review literature.

    Back to vacation. I plan on ignoring you from here on out until I get home.

    Well, you’re good at ignoring evidence.

    Oh, and by the way, accuse me of “lying” about anything again, and I might start to take it personally.

    Hey, doncha remember — a statement of fact cannot be insolent:)

  14. #14 Chris Noble
    August 28, 2007

    This is a pure scientific debate, of which, you (1) are completely ignorant and (2) simply cheerlead on the work of other facile, undistinguished amateurs (Smith and Novella).

    Duesberg lost the scientific debate in the 90s. Get over it.
    The HIV Denialism movement is now driven through the internet, popular books and magazine articles.

    Please read this article by Udo Schüklenk regarding the ethics of bypassing the scientific debate and taking dangerous messages to lay audiences.

    http://jme.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/30/1/53

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.