Complainant-friendly British libel laws are increasingly being used to silence the critics of alternative medicine. The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has won an initial judgement against Simon Singh, a prominent science writer, after he called their fantastical claims, wholly unsupported by the scientific evidence, for chiropractic (e.g. that it can treat otitis media in children) "bogus". The court held that Singh had to show the BCA knew their claims to be false. This judgement is dangerous for free speech and the public interest, since if it is allowed to stand, it would seem to encourage anyone who makes bogus claims - but who sincerely believe themselves - to sue for libel when they are called out. The Guardian writes:
The consequences of letting the libel law loose on scientific debate are horrendous. Science proceeds by peer review. A researcher's colleagues must submit his or her ideas to scrutiny without fear of the consequences. If they think they could lose their homes and savings in the libel courts, however, they will back off.
Mark Hoofnagle reviews Seth Kalichman's Denying AIDS for the Denialism Blog. He writes,
Seth Kalichman is a better man than I. Kalichman is a clinical psychologist, editor of the journal Aids and Behavior and director of the Southeast HIV/AIDS Research and Evaluation (SHARE) product, and he has devoted his life to the treatment and prevention of HIV. Despite a clear passion for reducing the harm done by HIV/AIDS, to research this book he actually met, and interviewed, prominent HIV/AIDS denialists. I confess I simply lack the temperament to have done this. To this day, when I read about HIV/AIDS denialists, and the the 330,000 people who have died as a result of HIV/AIDS denialism, I see red. I think violent, bloody thoughts.
John P. Moore
Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy
by Seth Kalichman
Springer: 2009. 205 pp. $25
Inadequate health policies in South Africa have reportedly led to some 330,000 unnecessary AIDS deaths and a spike in infant mortality, according to estimates by South African and US researchers. This carnage exceeds the death toll in Darfur, yet it has received far less attention. Seth Kalichman, a US clinical psychologist, shows in Denying AIDS how words can kill. His marvellous book should be read alongside Nicoli Nattrass's Mortal Combat, covering similar ground but from the perspective of a South African. Read more »
by James Wortman
A college professor takes on AIDS naysayers in his latest book.
Despite overwhelming scientific findings, some people remain convinced that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS and that antiretrovirals are toxic poisons. Led by vocal skeptics such as former South African President Thabo Mbeki and the late Christine Maggiore, AIDS denialism continues to flourish, especially with the help of the Internet.
To counter this strengthening movement, Seth Kalichman, PhD, a social psychology professor at the University of Connecticut, wrote Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy ($25, Copernicus Books), which examines AIDS denialism’s origin, agendas and potentially damaging influence on HIV prevention and treatment.
Kalichman believes that the scientific community’s decision to stay quiet over the years has only fueled the denialists’ power. “[For too long] scientists have believed that if you ignore the denialists, they will go away,” he told POZ. “The HIV community really has a role in combating this misinformation.” Read more »
Update: Read an account of the film 'House of Numbers' by a member of the AIDSTruth team.
Scientists who appear in a new film 'House of Numbers' have distanced themselves from the film after it transpired that the filmmaker is an AIDS denialist, and that he manipulated the final product in order to mislead viewers and promote denialist myths. The director, Brent Leung, deceived a number of prominent scientists into granting him interviews, pretending that the film would be a history of AIDS research. However, Leung also interviewed a number of prominent AIDS denialists and edited the film in such a way as to create the false impression that uncertainty exists about AIDS science and that AIDS denialism is a credible position.
The scientists have released a statement raising strong objections to the film.
The film has been screened at two film fesitvals (in Nashville and Boston), with AIDS denialists attending the screenings, and at times behaving abusively towards members of panels convened by the film festivals as a community response. See this article in Bay Windows for a report on the screening in Boston, where denialists stormed the stage during the panel discussion. Scientists were invited to "debate" the film with Leung and/or other denialists, but have refused to do so. See this article on why AIDSTruth opposes debating denialists. Also see this article in the Tenessean and this blog post by Seth Kalichman for further background.
Although the film is unlikely to gain much attention outside these film festivals, it is dangerous and has the potential to mislead people with HIV into disregarding their doctors' advice.
This is an extract from Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, Published by Harper Perennial 2009. You are free to copy it, paste it, bake it, reprint it, read it aloud, as long as you don’t change it – including this bit – so that people know that they can find more ideas for free at www.badscience.net.
The Doctor Will Sue You Now
This chapter did not appear in the original edition of this book, because for fifteen months leading up to September 2008 the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was suing me personally, and the Guardian, for libel. This strategy brought only mixed success. For all that nutritionists may fantasise in public that any critic is somehow a pawn of big pharma, in private they would do well to remember that, like many my age who work in the public sector, I don't own a flat. The Guardian generously paid for the lawyers, and in September 2008 Rath dropped his case, which had cost in excess of £500,000 to defend. Rath has paid £220,000 already, and the rest will hopefully follow. Nobody will ever repay me for the endless meetings, the time off work, or the days spent poring over tables filled with endlessly cross-referenced court documents. Read more »
In what is surely a serious blow to AIDS denialists, researchers have published video microscopy of HIV transferring between T-cells:
by Martin Weinel (Originally published on Politicsweb.)
Almost every day governments around the world have to make political decisions that depend on scientific or technical knowledge. Where and how to store nuclear waste? How to respond to global climate change? Should a particular medicine be made freely available to the whole population or should its use be highly restricted or even banned? These and countless other 'science policy decisions' show that policy making is highly dependent on scientific knowledge. Read more »
Under South Africa's previous administration, the country's health department failed to act against vitamin entrepreneur and AIDS denialist Matthias Rath, when his foundation conducted unauthorised clinical trials and distributed vitamins to AIDS patients, while advising them to stop taking antiretroviral drugs. The Treatment Action Campaign took successful legal action, and the Court ordered the state to take action against Rath. Now, the era of denialism seems finally to be over, as the Department of Health (under a new Minister) has informed the TAC that criminal cases have been opened as a result of its investigation of Rath. Here is the TAC's press release: Read more »
In the light of recent developments, we have addressed the myth that HIV cannot be detected post-mortem on our Debunking denialist myths page.
Myth #15: HIV cannot be detected post-mortem
HIV can be detected post-mortem with a high degree of accuracy. This is very important because deceased tissue donors need to be tested to ensure that tissue recipients are not infected with HIV. See:
Christine Maggiore's death certificate states that the immediate cause or condition resulting in her death was disseminated herpes viral infection. Bilateral bronchial pneumonia is given as the underlying cause, and oral candidiasis is given as a significant condition contributing to death. Based on her statements and her career, Maggiore was HIV-positive (see her book, and note that Alive and Well, the group she started, is described on its website as having been "founded in 1995 by a group of HIV positive diagnosed men and women"). In HIV-infected people, all of the above conditions are AIDS-defining opportunistic infections, and in combination they are hauntingly typical of AIDS in the years before ARVs. Many people who have died of AIDS shared the same constellation of opportunistic infections that killed Ms Maggiore. HIV-negative individuals almost never have all of these opportunistic infections simultaneously. Read more »
At the 16th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) Dr Tammy Meyers presented data from a large cohort of children on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) at Harriet Shezi Children's Clinic in Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto, South Africa.(1) Of 2,102 chidren initiated on HAART over a four year period (April 2004 - March 2008), 1734 (82%) are alive and in the programme. Most of these children started HAART with severely compromised immune systems. Based on studies of untreated children at this stage of HIV disease(2)(3), it is fair to say that nearly all would have been dead had they not been placed on HAART. By the end of the study, half the children had been on HAART for at least 17 months. Read more »
Sometimes AIDS denialists do such a good job of discrediting themselves that we don't have to do much to counter them. See this email from Andy Maniotis to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with an attached document that he claims to have also sent to President Obama (while offering to serve as Mark Dybul's replacement).
From: Andy Maniotis [redacted]
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2009 12:21:38 -0600
Subject: With the stroke of a pen
Dear Mr. or Mrs. Gates,
I am deeply concerned about the information you have been receiving regarding the scientific basis upon which several of your global policies are based.
Mr. Dybul, Mr. Bush's World AIDS coordinator has just been fired. In a letter to President Obama's team, I have offerred to serve as his replacement.
A short video commissioned by the US State Department:
A short video commissioned by the US State Department:
The claims made by some denialists over 'experimentation' on New York City foster children (and which convinced some civil rights campaigners and City Council members) have been comprehensively debunked in an independent report conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice. Update: The Vera report can be downloaded from their website. The NYC Administration for Children's Services' press release has been appended to this story. The New York Times reports:
An investigation into the participation of New York City foster children in clinical drug trials for H.I.V. and AIDS over a nearly 20-year period has found no evidence that any children died as a result of the trials or that the foster children were selected because of their race. ... After interviewing dozens of people involved in the trials and reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of case files, documents and correspondence, the Vera Institute concluded that none of the 532 children in the trials died as a direct result of the medications. (Twenty-five children receiving treatment as part of the trials died during the trial years.) The report also found that foster children were not removed from their families by the city because a parent had refused to consent to a child’s treatment, as some had alleged. In addition, the study said that researchers did not specifically select foster children for enrollment in the trials. And while the foster children were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, as some critics emphasized, that profile mirrored the demographics of children with H.I.V. infection in the city at the time.
CD4 Counts Decline Despite Nutritional Recovery in HIV-Infected Zambian Children With Severe Malnutrition
New research in Zambia further undermines the idea that AIDS in Africa is caused by malnutrition. Severe malnutrition did not reduce the CD4 counts of children without HIV. HIV-infected children with severe malnutrition may respond well to nutritional rehabilitation, despite low CD4 counts, but nearly all require early antiretroviral therapy to prevent disease progression. Read more »