AIDS Pseudoscience and the media

What ethical obligations do editors have when reporting claims that are contrary to well established scientific knowledge? What are the ethical consequences for freedom of speech when pseudo-scientists use the media to promote unproven remedies as alternatives to scientific medicines? How should scientists respond? What can editors and broadcast programme managers1 who want to ensure the scientific accuracy of their products do to avoid inadvertently promoting nonsense? Medical pseudo-scientific claims are especially concerning because of their potential to influence people to take decisions that risk their health. What are the ethical consequences for freedom of speech when people sick with HIV endanger their lives by trying untested remedies promoted in the media, or people who are HIV-negative practise unsafe sex because they have read that HIV does not cause AIDS and is not sexually transmitted?

— Nathan Geffen, Treatment Action Campaign

The article appended below is written by a scientist who once held AIDS denialist views but who now no longer does so. The author expresses some opinions in the article with which we do not agree (such as the last paragraph on page 54 where he claims that history has proved his analysis of the ‘over-reaction’ to the threat of AIDS to be correct; this is not the case). However, we consider the article to be worth posting because it exposes many of the scientific flaws in the AIDS denialist ‘arguments’ along with the harmful consequences of their actions. It also emphasizes the important role the news media plays in communicating scientific information accurately to a lay audience. Further, it argues that scientists who have a minority view not accepted by mainstream science have a moral obligation to refrain from taking their arguments “to the streets”, to a scientifically illiterate audience incapable of assessing the accuracy of their views.