The Short Memory of HIV/AIDS denialism

Greta Christina has sent me this link to her wonderful essay discussing the short memory required for HIV/AIDS denialism.

It is really a fantastic essay, personal and well-researched, and it covers a very important point. A lot of the anti-science attitudes we see are from people have no memory of what things were like before some medical intervention like vaccines, antibiotics, or in this case HAART. It’s easy to think there’s no problem with avoiding vaccination, or denying germ theory once the problem of these diseases are so well-controlled that there doesn’t seem to be a tangible benefit from the interventions anymore. Similar with HAART, HIV/AIDS denialists who for whatever reason have bought into the crankery, probably didn’t experience or can’t remember what a dramatic effect HAART had on survival rates of AIDS, or the sheer terror of the disease in the early days when no one knew the cause, or how it was transmitted. HAART and public health have been highly successful, and as a result AIDS awareness now occupies the back-burner. This will likely make HIV/AIDS denialism ripe for a resurgence as people ignorant of the history of the disease will have no personal experience to counter the lies of the cranks.

Unless, of course, people go read Greta’s essay, and spread it around the web.


  1. Tara Smith also has posted a thread on Ms. Christinas’ post. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for the HIV/AIDS deniers to hijack the thread on her blog. Fortunately, they seem not to have discovered this blog as yet.

  2. Oh they have, I think I’m just less tolerant than Tara. It’s clear though they specifically troll her blog looking for fights.

  3. I remember the intro of HAART very well. I was a third year medical student fascinated by infectious disease. Most of the HIV docs were the original front line internists working in big cities.
    I did a clerkship in the ID floor my 3rd year, and signed up for an HIV rotation. In the interim, PIs came out. When I went to do my HIV rotation in a comprehensive unit with a library, social workers, art therapists, etc, there were only 3 patients in house. The other 2 dozen beds lay empty. It was quite the Lourdes moment.

  4. Thanks Pal,
    Are there any other clinicians out there with similar stories? There is probably no better cure for the disinformation of the HIV/AIDS cranks than people explaining exactly how big a deal HAART was for patient care.

  5. Please note the NIH Fact Sheet revised October 2006:
    “”However, the use of antiretroviral therapy is now associated with a series of serious side effects and long-term complications that may have a negative impact on mortality rates. More deaths occurring from liver failure, kidney disease, and cardiovascular complications are being observed in this patient population.”

  6. Stupid HIV/AIDS crank. Do we not understand risk/benefit analysis? Yes, HAART has side effects, but the very most important effect is not dying of AIDS within a few months or years of diagnosis.

    Now bugger off.

  7. No he didn’t!
    You think lipodystrophy even holds a candle to PCP and death??!!1111one!

    Sorry for yelling, but, as Orac says, “The stupid, it burns.”

  8. Evinfuilt

    It seems that any time science solves a problem, people assume the problem never existed in the first place. Its the most confounding thing I’ve seen, but it happens with everything.

  9. minimalist

    The cyclical nature of things. People with no (firsthand) knowledge of the past may be doomed to repeat it. See also: chickenhawks eager to start wars they have no conception of in the Middle East.

  10. I was in medical school in the 1980s, before HAARTs. Basically, back then AIDS was a death sentence, and patients died pretty quickly (months to maybe a couple of years) after the development of an opportunistic infection. The difference between today and 20 years ago is one of the greatest success stories in modern medicine. Within a decade, the cause of the disease was found, and effective treatments developed, from HAART to protease inhibitors. HIV/AIDS denialists are, in my book, even stupider than antivaxers. The reason is that the last major outbreaks of feared vaccine-preventable diseases (polio in particular) were nearly 50 years ago. Most people aren’t old enough to remember. In contrast, the cause of AIDs has been known for only around 23 years, and effective treatments were only truly developed in the last 20 years or so.

  11. Oh they have, I think I’m just less tolerant than Tara. It’s clear though they specifically troll her blog looking for fights.

    65 comments and counting as of now. It looks like certain ScienceBlogs seem to be the home for certain kinds of cranks. I get the antivaccination and “mercury-causes-autism” nuts, plus a smattering of Holocaust deniers. Tara gets the HIV/AIDS denialists.

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