You are hereJoseph Sonnabend: House of Numbers is an AIDS denialist film

Joseph Sonnabend: House of Numbers is an AIDS denialist film

30 October 2009

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Joe Sonnabend writes in his POZ blog:

House of Numbers is the title of a documentary film which according to its promotional material will "rock the foundations on which all conventional wisdom on HIV/AIDS is based"

I have seen the film. It is completely unable to achieve this grandiose objective. It is in fact an AIDS denialist film, despite the contention to the contrary by Brent Leung who made it.

The denialists are a disparate group who remarkably continue to believe that HIV cannot be the causative agent of AIDS either because it is harmless or because it does not exist. There are even those who believe that AIDS itself does not exist as a distinct disease entity. Of course there is no shortage of people with strange views that fly in the face of solid evidence. We can mostly just ignore them. But sometimes these views can be dangerous, and then we really do have to confront and challenge fallacious assertions that can lead to harm.

The Spectator is a weekly UK publication that had arranged a showing of the House of Numbers to be followed by a panel discussion of the film with audience participation. I had agreed to be one of the four panel members together with the filmmaker. Several people asked me not to participate in this event, probably with the thought that it was wrong to associate in any capacity with individuals who hold such outrageous views. There was also much activity on UK blogs, generally denouncing the Spectator event. It seems that a lot of people just did not want it to happen.

Two of the panel members withdrew so the event has now been cancelled. This is a pity. The film is as I said, dangerous. It is dangerous specifically because it presents antiviral treatments as only toxic with no mention of their benefits. Therefore it is justified to be very concerned that some people who need treatment may be dissuaded from receiving it after seeing the film.

I do accept that it is right to not prohibit individuals from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful. But when these views carry danger it is particularly important that they be challenged with valid information. It is absolutely wrong to ignore the film and allow it a free hand in spreading misinformation. As I have experienced when I was a member of President Mbeki's panel in S. Africa, it is impossible to argue with those who hold such denialist views. They are impervious to reason. It is therefore pointless to engage them in discussion. However, when their position is presented to the public, then it is right to try to expose the fallacy of their views to those who might be influenced by them and thus may come to harm as noted above regarding HIV infected people in need of treatment.

I should explain why this is definitely a denialist film despite the protestations of its director that it is not.

In providing a more or less equal, uncritical and essentially neutral platform to those holding denialist views together with those who do not, the filmmaker, presenting himself as an unbiased observer merely asking questions, puts forward the impression that the issue of HIV's role in causation remains unsettled. Although the film does not explicitly reject HIV as playing a causative role in AIDS, it most certainly leaves one with the impression that this, and even the existence of the virus, is merely conjecture. This is a misleading presentation of the well established causative link between HIV and AIDS as something that is just a theory, on a par with the theories of Dr Duesberg or of those who claim that HIV does not exist.

This is absurd and as I explained, also dangerous.

Read the full post.


House of Numbers

An AIDS denialist film "House of Numbers" is doing the rounds at film festivals and is being promoted to college campuses and similar venues. AT has published several items about the misinformation contained in the film. For comprehensive information on the lies and distortions in the film, visit Inside House of Numbers.


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