Tara points out that we missed a nice little article in Science last week about our friends at AidsTruth. They discuss their ongoing efforts to counter HIV/AIDS denialism on the Web.
Launched by AIDS researchers, clinicians, and activists from several countries, AIDSTruth.org offers more than 100 links to scientific reports to “debunk denialist myths” and “expose the denialist propaganda campaign for what it is … to prevent further harm being done to individual and public health.” The site also has a section that names denialists and unsparingly critiques their writings, variously accusing them of homophobia, “scientific ignorance of truly staggering proportions,” conspiracy theories, “the dogmatic repetition of the misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or mischaracterization of certain scientific studies,” and flat-out lies. “There was a perceived need to take these people on in cyberspace, because that’s where they operate mostly, and that’s where the most vulnerable people go for their information,” says immunologist John Moore, an AIDS researcher at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.
Peter Duesberg, a prominent cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, whom colleagues have pilloried ever since he first questioned the link between HIV and AIDS in 1987, remains unswayed by the Web site, which he derides in an e-mail interview as a “scientifically worthless mix of ad hominems, opinions, intolerance, and religious energy–instead of a theory and facts.” Duesberg maintains that “many essential questions” about what he calls the “HIV-AIDS hypothesis” remain unanswered.
Aww, poor Duesberg. They’re persecuting him! It’s religious dogma! I’m like Galileo!
In reality, there is very little ad hominem attack, but at a certain point, it’s hard not to point out that he’s a monster. In fact, AidsTruth is a nice resource for debunking the claims of the major HIV/AIDS denialists with essays from top researchers, real science papers, and very thorough analyses of how the denialists are using the tactics. And there’s good evidence they’ve had an impact:
To the delight of Jefferys and others, a Supreme Court judge in Australia in April cited a debunking article on AIDSTruth.org in a closely followed case that involved a man convicted of endangering life for not revealing he was infected with HIV to sexual partners. The man appealed, claiming that no studies prove HIV causes AIDS. His defense consisted of two “expert” witnesses, one of whom was extensively questioned about allegations that she had misused a researcher’s results on sexual transmission of HIV. The questions were inspired by an editorial posted on AIDSTruth.org. The judge concluded that neither defense witness–both of whom are branded as denialists on AIDSTruth.org–was qualified to express opinions on these questions. “There’s a constant concern that by rebutting these things, you’re giving them more credence–there’s a thin line between slaying the monster and feeding it,” says Jefferys. “The judge’s decision made the Web site seem really worthwhile.”
He also seems to understand the nature of the crank:
“The denialists tend to be grotesquely inaccurate,” says Richard Jefferys, an activist with the Treatment Action Group in New York City who also helped start the site. “It’s almost like the more outrageously inaccurate the claim is, the more they repeat it.”
Maybe it’s because they were kind enough to host my crank HOWTO! I’m flattered.