This is truly annoying because it is so patently wrong. It’s wrong in lots of different ways, but I’ll help point out some of the major flaws. What happens when journalist becomes the story, rather than reports it?
You see, there is this journalist, Celia Farber, who apparently has been following the HIV denialists since the beginning. From reading this interview with her in Discover Magazine, it would seem that she is suffering from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Not only that, but the journalist interviewing her shows a complete lack of suspicion, and seems to be one of those modern journalists who thinks that everything has two valid sides to report on. Not everything does.
Instead of chronicling the history of HIV denialism, she has truly drunk deep of the Flav-R-Ade. Ever wonder how to tell if a journalist has lost her objectivity? How about this?
It’s changed in that so much of what the orthodoxy proclaimed has not come true. The paradigm has failed miserably on virtually all counts. So the orthodoxy right now is particularly venomous and vicious against anybody who is what they call an AIDS denialist.
Uh oh. I sense someone begging the question. The interviewer follows up with a WTF.
What are the failures of the paradigm?
Good question, but I would have also asked, “WTF is the ‘HIV paradigm’?”
Response? Right out of the HIV denialist handbook: (all emphasis mine, –PalMD)
The chief one is what used to be called the heterosexual AIDS explosion, which was the model. It was the core of the HIV theory–that there was a virus that was lethal, that was transmissible via unprotected sexual intercourse, needles, and other methods of transmission–blood-to-blood transmission. What they actually said was that there was a model of tertiary transmission. So anybody who sleeps with anybody who sleeps with anybody who’s ever slept with anybody who ever was a drug addict, et cetera. It was a very terrifying model.
Well, at least we can tell we’re not dealing with a medical professional. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she isn’t trying to lie.
No sane, competent medical organization has ever said that anyone who comes in contact with anyone, etc, ad infinitum is going to get HIV. That’s just a lie (OK, someone lied; maybe she is just repeating it). Physicians and epidemiologists have always seen HIV like any other infectious disease—they have mapped it, found its transmission patterns, put together risk assessments. It’s called science. Duh!
And as far as “heterosexual AIDS”, um, ever been to Africa? Oh wait, I’m sure you’ll have an excuse for that one. Nutrition? Toxins?
Wait, wait, there’s more. After citing a single study about transmission, she bemoans the proliferation of panic-mongers, but at least there is a vigorous debate going on, right? Like in the New England Journal, or Lancet, or something?
Well, there’s been a ruckus, a wild debate about this all over the Internet. At the very least, it means that the spread of HIV is extremely difficult, which is quite different than the terror, dread, bubonic-plague model we were given. That’s just the first piece.
Once again, I have to wash the burning stoopid from mine eyes. I wouldn’t think it would be so easy for a so-called journalist to ignore 25 years of some of the best medical and epidemiologic research ever done, but hey, I guess anything is possible.
Of course, no good HIV denialist could go anywhere without talking about AZT, the first HIV drug to actually show promise. It is not used as mono-therapy today (and hasn’t been in years) because resistance develops too quickly. It still is a very important part of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), the treatment that has been responsible for saving so many lives. The science behind the therapy is interesting, but difficult. AZT inhibits one of the steps of viral replication. Thinks that’s an oversimplification? Wait till you read this:
Here’s what’s strange about AZT’s history. On a cellular level, AIDS is the opposite of cancer. Cancer is a proliferation of cells. And AIDS is a decimation of the cellular system. The first drug that was offered was a drug that decimates the cellular system. Why? Why treat an immune suppression with a powerful immunosuppressive drug? It makes sense in cancer. It does not make sense in AIDS. So that is a mystery I cannot answer. I do not think that they [the medical establishment] wanted to kill people. I chalk it down to the terror of the time. The terror of the virus has dissipated greatly. They basically used to say you’d fall down, bubonic-plague style, in the middle of the street. It was an irrational fear, and it was in advance of data. And it was drawing on cohorts of people who were very sick and were dying very fast.
The above reveals either a credulous misunderstanding of biology, or an outright lie. I hope it is the former (but this is in a science magazine, so…). I’m really starting to doubt she has ever spoken to real HIV researchers or doctors, or cracked open a biology text. I don’t think she knows a reverse transcriptase from a typewriter ribbon.
Look, I’m not going to fisk the entire story, but I do want to point out just a couple more logical fallacies. We started up top with “begging the question”. Why don’t we move on to the argumentum ad ignorantium?
Interviewer: “So do you believe that it’s impossible to transmit the disease through sexual contact?”
Idiot: “I have lived in New York City for the last 20-some years, and I don’t know anybody who has acquired HIV through sexual contact. ”
Well that says it all, doesn’t it? She doesn’t personally know anyone (as far as she knows) who has gotten HIV through sex. Well, let’s see, if we’re going that way—I’m an actual doctor, and I know hundreds of people who have. I win.
Look, there’s no sense in going any further in this inane interview. The real issue isn’t that there is another really stupid HIV denialist out there. The story is that a major science magazine is giving her an outlet to spread her lies. This story doesn’t have two sides. HIV causes AIDS, and we know quite a bit about the whole thing. Areas of disagreement arise in deciding priorities and approaches to research, prevention, and treatment. Giving a big spread to a denialist adds nothing. If I tell Discover that I’ve been following the gravity controversy, and I want an interview (“inverse square my ass!!), will they give it to me? I think not.
Perhaps Discover needs a lesson in skepticism. Volunteers?