Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

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.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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