HIV/AIDS denialism covered in PLoS!

Our very own Tara Smith and Steven Novella have teamed up to write an excellent paper covering the state of HIV/AIDS denialism in the Public Library of Science.

I love the article, and Tara and Steve do a great job covering all the critical aspects of denialism inherent in the HIV/AIDS denialist movement. Starting with prominent deniers who are largely responsible for the movement, they go on to cover the basic conspiracy theories that really are inseparable from any denialist argument, the classic goalpost moving technique, fake experts, anti-consensus nonsense (also known as the Galileo gambit – a critical component of being a crank) and the basic logical fallacies underlying the denialist opinion. The only thing that seems to be missing is cherry-picking, but hey, 4 out of 5 ain’t bad.

It really is a remarkable and concise summary of HIV/AIDS denial, its history, and the classic tactics of a denialist movement exposed. It’s at PLoS so it’s free, so check it out. Great job Tara and Steve!


  1. While we don’t have it as a separate category or refer to it specifically, a lot of what we describe is cherry-picking: eliminating whole categories of evidence, for instance. Alas, we had to trim a *lot* out of the manuscript for publication, so much good stuff was left by the wayside…

  2. In a display of modesty that’s admirable (and increasingly rare these days), Tara has not opened to comments her brief post noting the article’s publication. So I will have to praise it here.

    It is a superb article, capturing the essence of a complex and difficult subject in a minimum of space. In dealing with a political distortion of science such as HIV denial, the ever-present temptation for any scientist is to let the rational argument be colored by anger; Smith and Novella have avoided this pitfall. The language of the PLOS article is clear and direct, never skirting the central issues of honesty and responsibility, but maintaining a professional tone throughout. The 34 references are well-chosen from the thousands available, giving a useful cross-section of material from across the spectrum of opinion (and expertise.) In all, an outstanding effort, and a must-read for any scientist who believes that what goes on in the forum of cyberspace can be safely ignored.

  3. Re jre

    I suspect that the reason Prof. Smith has not opened her post to comments is that when she posts a comment on HIV/AIDS, the whackjobs come out of the woodwork with their crap cut and pasted from HIV/AIDS denial web sites. In addition, of course, to their conspiracy theories.

  4. Oh, I’ve seen some of those threads, and it’s a freaking zoo.
    Tara Smith has been unbelievably patient in tolerating this menagerie. It would be nice if she could post a note about the PLOS article without every denialist in creation donning the tinfoil hat and commenting — but that’s life.
    As it happens, Orac and PZ (as well as many others, I’m sure) have also posted about the PLOS piece, so there is no shortage of places to leave fan mail.

  5. I posted on it, nothing big, just a mention. I am really happy to see it.

    SLC –

    In addition, of course, to their conspiracy theories.

    Kind of like those old Jay’s potato chip commercials, they can’t stop with just one. I have been tangling with a couple, since I started tackling neurological disorder denial. I have come to see this as pathological credulity. On a virtually daily basis, I get email from one in particular, who feels compelled to send me info on everything from 9/11 theories to cancer denial to the extra-terrestrial/United Nations connection. Indeed, he claims that neurological disorders are actually caused by et mind control devices gone wrong. He also claims that cancers, HIV/AIDS and many other infectious diseases come from et’s experimenting on humans. Unfortunately, not all of them are so obviously crackpot. Too many are very adept at sounding “sciency.”

  6. Randall Flagg

    “remarkable and concise summary”

    If by “remarkable and concise” you mean
    a huge straw-man stuffed with
    fallacies, lies, and propaganda,
    sure is.

  7. Okay, we have what my wife would call a “teachable moment” here.

    Randall, you have made a statement that can be tested. You said: “…a huge straw-man stuffed with fallacies, lies, and propaganda…” In order to test this statement, we need to have examples of the fallacies, lies and propaganda. What specifically are you pointing to as fallacious? What specific lies do you see? What is the propaganda?

    If you have actual points to make, we can discuss those points. This is how science works.

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