Friday, 25 September 2009

A week of humble pie

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Following my mistaken assessment of the AIDS-denial film House of Numbers on last week's Guardian Science podcast, I've done a week of concerted cramming on AIDS-denialism, something I arguably should have done before discussing House of Numbers in public. Anyway this has led me both to be able to provide an answer to the question I posed on Monday (Was I conned by AIDS-denialists? Yes I bloody was) and to contribute a short correction for the next Guardian Science Podcast (at the end is the text of what I said). Before you read it, two final things. First, thanks to the people who posted in the comments of the original post, not everyone (see below) but many of them (you?) who made me feel just a little better about my gaffe by pointing out, as Snout does, that my error was partly a result of explicit tactics by the denialists:
"the issue is not that the film was conceived and funded by individuals connected with "Rethinking AIDS". The issue is that these origins were concealed, while presenting Leung as an independent and impartial investigator "just asking questions"."Rethinkers" have long ago given up any pretense of subjecting their assertions to informed critical assessment by scientists competent in the fields they claim they are critiquing. Their strategy is to directly target the general public using a standard set of rhetorical techniques, argumentoids and misrepresentations."
Having met the filmmaker Brent Leung I can attest to the fact that he vigorously denies being a denialist (is he in denial?) but the simple fact is he made a whole film about the (supposed; manufactured) 'controversy' about whether HIV causes AIDS without once mentioning the phenomena of AIDs-denialism, or that some of his primary infomants had no scientific credibility at all, or that the very people who were evidently helping him with his film are notorious denialists (though to my continued discomfort I didn't recognise this at first viewing).

'Chris' comforted me with this thought:
"'Denial' involves making statements irrespective of the evidence that is available (and which clinical trials have provided in huge abundance). What Caspar has displayed here is the diametrically opposite quality - something which is in line with science itself: he's looked at the facts again, listened to the other side, and taken the opportunity to re-formulate his opinion, in public."
I would say 'bless you' Chris but that would involve a whole other round of apologising so I'll just give you maximum respect!

There are other instructive posts in the comments, in a different way. As you will see if you're brave enough, the forum has become populated with AIDS denialists of various stripes, with a few gallant rationalists trying to hold back the tide of their multiple postings, vituperative language and accusations, refusal to engage in a proper dialogue, well developed persecution mania and exhausting stamina. One such is Snout, who provides what I think is a really important distinction between the different strands of denialism:
"Neither the Duesbergians "HIV is a real retrovirus but cannot cause disease" or the Perthians "HIV does not exist" can ever rethink their positions because this would require them to acknowledge the devastation caused by their respective ideologies, including the public health policy paralysis in South Africa during the Mbeki presidency which cost a conservative estimate of over 300,000 lives. A third major root of AIDS denialism comes from people with HIV/AIDS, or who are at risk, who have become alienated both by the stigma attached to the disease and the difficulties of negotiating with a seemingly monolithic medical and scientific establishment which often speaks an arcane and sometimes impenetrable language.

In simple terms, HIV/AIDS denialism is a result of the first two groups exploiting the alienation of the third. There are other players, including the proponents of "alternative" health care (sometimes with financial motivations) and some out and out nutcases with a variety of odd agendas. The Duesberg-Gallo vendetta is tedious and irrelevant in 2009. The Perthian arguments are pointless and specious for anyone past the late-night undergraduate bull-session phase (hence their internet popularity).

However, the third root of AIDS denialism deserves serious attention, because it highlights the failure of science and reason to communicate to those who need it most."
Well said.

For the record here is a transcript of what I will say on the next Guardian Science Podcast, available from Monday:
On last week’s science podcast I spoke about the film House of Numbers, and said that it did a good job of raising questions around HIV and AIDS and arguably provides a journalistic service. I also said it was not an AIDS-denial film. I have been justifiably criticised for saying this. I was completely wrong. House of Numbers is an AIDS-denial film.

At the time I spoke I had only just watched the film, and took it at face value. Since then I have researched it and met the filmmaker Brent Leung. Now I know that the film’s claim to be an objective exploration of scientific debates within AIDS research is disingenuous. It misrepresents the views of many of the AIDS experts interviewed (14 of whom have complained) and suggests a false equivalence between credible scientists and discredited loons with no evidence to back up their claims. The film certainly raise questions, but they are not scientific questions – there is no serious debate about the existence of the HIV virus, as the film claims, nor is the suggestion that anti-retroviral drugs do more harm than good backed up by evidence.

The real questions it raises are political – what motivates the weird coalition behind AIDS-denialism of which this is such and obvious example? How did the filmmaker fool so many credible scientists into contributing? Who funded this grubby piece of propaganda? House of Numbers is a dangerous disingenuous con-trick, and, briefly, I fell for it in a rather public fashion. I’m doing my penance now by reading Seth Kalichman’s excellent Denying Aids: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy. If you need inoculation against AIDs-denial conspiracy theories I suggest you do the same.

43 comments:

Richard said...

Caspar, these guys have been perfecting their tactics since the late 1980s - they are experts at sounding reasoned and plausible and there's a whole legion of journalists out there who have been misled by them. What's a whole lot rarer, at least so far as I can see, is for a journalist to acknowledge that they've been misled and act so quickly and comprehensively to rectify things. If even half of the people who report on this issue were as willing to do this as you've been then the world would be a much safer place!

Nemesis said...

Caspar,

It seems we've been through theories concerning the nefarious denialist conspiracies, various ad hominem arguments and complaints about the sneaky methods they employ, such as the cardinal sin of sounding reasoned ans plausible, while making HIV scientists look like self-contradictory and censorious fools.

No, if you don't, mind, what were the scientific arguments that convinced you?

Richard said...

No shame in sounding reasoned and plausible, "Nemesis". You yourself seem pretty good at it, despite your [ad hominem, shock, horror etc.] slightly ridiculous pseudonym. Fervently believing in the tenets of AIDS denialism doubtless helps. Problem is that if you're wrong, and those guys at Harvard who say that AIDS denial helped kill 300,000 South Africans are right, then your reasonable-sounding-ness just makes you a whole lot more dangerous. Unfortunately not all you denialists come with the same kind of big red rhetorical warning sign so helpfully sported by the likes of David Irving, Lyndon Larouche and David Shayler.

Nemesis said...

And now to the science. . .?

CriticNYC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CriticNYC said...

""Rethinkers" have long ago given up any pretense of subjecting their assertions to informed critical assessment by scientists competent in the fields they claim they are critiquing. Their strategy is to directly target the general public using a standard set of rhetorical techniques, argumentoids and misrepresentations."

This is a reversal of the truth, which is that the scientific papers were written and published in peer reviewed journals at the highest level, were never answered in those journals and not refuted in any other, and the repression of the debate has been political and perpetrated by fellow travelers such as Snout ever since, and has been highly successful.

Their success now includes you, Caspar, and with it my initial respect for you has dwindled. Where you started off as an open minded person without a stake in the outcome of the issue you now find yourself happy in agreeing with Snout et al that the "denialists" "conned" you with their film. In this respect you cannot even get your facts straight about the film. Brent Leung was and is open to all comers and new information on any aspect of this topic, and in no way did he start his film as some kind of propaganda exercise peddling anti-science. I know this at first hand because I was interviewed by him for it.

The description above and your own
silly post joining in the detraction of the critics of AIDS science who the film supports so well with the statements of HIV/AIDS leaders is the reverse of the truth. How would you know this unless you researched and thought about the topic properly and without preconceptions? That means reading Duesberg as I suggested and you clearly have not done, and secondly, reflecting on the obvious fact that it is HIV defenders who attempt to curb debate at every juncture with insult and political nonscience.

Your comment thread stands as clear evidence of this and the fact that you haven't twigged shows that you haven't read your own comment thread properly. I suggest you continue your "cramming" not just with the misleading writings of Snout and the HIV defender site AIDStruth.org, a mislabeled site if there ever was one, but also read and digest Duesberg's papers at duesberg.com and some of the excellent writings by HIV critics at scienceguardian.com (links on right) and elsewhere.

Yes there are many that are not scientifically credentialed but that is not necessarily the ultimate criterion in this debate, since almost all scientists in and out of the field assume that Duesberg is wrong because their friends say so and they don't read his papers and assess the ineffective replies.

Just because you may lack scientific training of any kind does not mean that the critiques that impress you are wrong. There have been over 30 books written on this topic by scientists and professional with scientific training or good understanding which question this paradigm.

Seth Kalichman's book is not deserving of respect because it is written out of foolish prejudice in favor of conventional wisdom and the author does not realize the validity of the reviews Duesberg wrote.

No one should be listened to who has not read Duesberg main papers, with attention. It is not possible for any intelligent reader who does so to preserve this prejudice in favor of the ruling clique in HIV/AIDS who have conned so many people into believing what they say, including yourself now, sad to say.

HON Fan said...

Yeah, it really does seem like the magazine for "free thinkers."

You're really "thinking for yourself!"

Oh, that's good stuff. They got you back in line, didn't they, pal?

Thanks for the comedy. Now back to business as usual.

obmode said...

the hiv test is cross-reactive and only identifies the presence of 2, 3 or 4 proteins for a positive result depending on which country one is testing in and many conditions have been found to cause the body to produce those proteins including drug use, flu shots and pregnancy among others. please pray for all those who have been misdiagnosed with hiv and AIDS and please visit www.youtube.com/hivquestions (and healing alternatives) for further links and videos available in multiple languages

Neuroskeptic said...

The problem with thinking for yourself, denialists, is that you're not qualified to do that.

At least when it comes to HIV/AIDS, although I suspect most of you aren't qualified to think about breakfast cereal.

But seriously, let's see your molecular biology degrees?

Neuroskeptic said...

This is also my only point of disagreement with Caspar:

"Following my mistaken assessment of the AIDS-denial film House of Numbers on last week's Guardian Science podcast, I've done a week of concerted cramming on AIDS-denialism, something I arguably should have done before discussing House of Numbers in public."

There's nothing arguable about it, you definitely should have done, and sought expert advice if you were in any doubt.

As it is we have a film made by someone who (self-confessedly) doesn't know what he's talking about (he stressed how he's no scientist), being discussed by someone who (no offence!) didn't know what he was talking about (but now does).

It was never going to end well when you look at it that way.

Anonymous said...

Neuroskeptic, I do not have the degree you require. However, Peter Duesberg might. I would love to see your qualifications in comparison to his. Show us that you have the least little thread of integrity, show me yours, I'll show you Duesberg's. Because, as you reason, that's the key comparison to ultimately prove the speaker of truth in this argument.

TD said...

Peter Duesberg's integrity is on open display in his published papers and on his website.

E.g. In their J. Biosciences paper from 2003, Peter Duesberg, Claus Koehnlein & David Rasnick change a sentence from this paper:

Declining Morbidity and Mortality among Patients with Advanced Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/338/13/853

that reads: "Patients with a diagnosis of cytomegalovirus retinitis or M. avium complex disease before study entry or during the first 30 days of follow-up and patients with active P. carinii pneumonia at the beginning of follow-up were excluded from the analyses of the incidence of that opportunistic infection."

To: "Patients with a diagnosis of cytomegalovirus retinitis or M. aviarum complex disease before study entry or during the first 30 days of follow-up and patients with active P. carinii pneumonia at the beginning of follow-up were excluded."
http://www.virusmyth.com/aids/hiv/pddrchemical.pdf - page 399

In order to pretend that the people with AIDS described in the Palella paper weren't sick before starting antiretroviral therapy, because Duesberg's theory says antiretrovirals cause AIDS. What the Palella paper actually shows is a dramatic reduction in mortality among people receiving triple antiretroviral combinations including a protease inhibitor. The highest mortality was among people who received no antiretroviral therapy.

valdemar said...

How do the AIDS denialists account for the results of the vaccine trials in Thailand? Don't tell me - they have some special miraculous insight that means the work done by real scientists on this project can be totally discounted - just like that! (If I may quote the late Mr Cooper.)

AIDS deniers, holocaust deniers, evolution deniers - all clad in threadbare garments cut from the same unpleasantly greasy cloth.

phayes said...

“It was never going to end well when you look at it that way.” --Neuroskeptic.

Since it did end well, that must be the wrong way to look at it. :) Richard's way to look at it seems about right to me.

Dissidence101 said...

My Kool-Aid Tastes Funny...

Following along here with Casper's long winded diatribe proceeded by his initial commentary, which seemed to be coming from a person that has an open mind; it goes to show just how easily one can become close minded at the drop of a dime. As interesting that it may be, I think the readers of Casper's blog roll can sense something; did he really take the time to fully investigate it? I think not. After all haven't we been feed the social science of HIV/AIDS broken down into sound bites, i.e., "HIV the virus the causes AIDS" a mantra repeated incestuously over the span of 25 years by the established mainstream? This, in and of itself, certainly has a profound impact to persuade one to stop in one's tracks when met with a diametrically opposing viewpoint. The very definition of HV/AIDS is designed to do that. Therefore, it's a cop out to default to consensus without full understanding, but understanding the grand debacle, which the state of HIV/AIDS has become, is not an easy process nor a short one. The question to be asked of Casper is, with 30 + books, 50 + websites, half a dozen major documentaries, countless blogs, videos and more on the subject of HIV/AIDS dissidence, how much did he really get to know? An understanding? Questionable indeed.

Brent Leung's film, in 2 hours, only touches the tip of the iceberg. Taking the time to dig deeper can result in may ways. Some dig in their heels preferring to default to ‘HIV’ causes ‘AIDS’, AIDS is always fatal, poison can prolong your life and your doctor knows best. Some see the grave errors, omissions, anomalies and inconsistencies mired in the mainstream. Some keep an open mind, but we certainly know who Casper's bedfellows are or do we?

Brian Carter

Seth Kalichman said...

So sad. The most wacky American AIDS denialists have come out of their padded rooms to post on this thread. At least our friends in the UK can see what we are dealing with over here. I know AIDS Deniers are everywhere, including the UK. But it seems ours are bit more deranged.

Make no mistake about this. These people are not dissidents or dissenters. They are not scientists and they are not skeptics. They are, using the proper definition of the term, denialists.

CriticNYC..I have not only read Duesberg, I met Duesberg. Peter Duesberg’s reputation speaks for itself.
Seth Kalichman
http://denyingaids.blogspot.com

HIV is a Misdiagnosis said...

What I saw in the House of numbers film is the fact that it takes three tests in Africa to make an assumption about diagnosis. Of course in the instances that tests are used at all for diagnosis. I lived in Africa for three years, and the images you see on the tv screen are very different. And when you see those images on the tv screen if you were aware of the conditions those people were living in, you would be absolutely appalled that we are doing nothing about those things whilst forcing poor governments into backruptcy or submission for toxic drugs.

Those drugs are proven to be dangerous and toxic in hundreds of studies at the NIH... Both to adults, and to unborn children, so I really do not find that theory questionable. Mitochondrial DNA damage. Look it up and consider those implications and another illness they mirror... And if you look at the statistics more people died of AIDS annually when EVERYONE was being drugged at diagnosis. Isn't it you guys that are always quoting the statistics? Well you obviously read selectively.

I also saw that someone at the WHO, openly admitted that the numbers used for calculating the amount of infections were doctored, and that the calculations were not based on confirmed diagnosis. Not to mention the symptoms which defined diagnposis could fit a myriad of other health issues that have been common in Africa for centuries.

I saw another person from the CDC, openly explain the state of affairs in the early 80's and how the CDC "needed" an epidemic. Go look at History doesn't sound like some far fetched theory, and hell who's wants to argue with a source that was there and had a title in the organization.

The dissidents had minor sound bites in this film compared to the long dialogues with the core people from the mainstream of this movement.

I have to say the long dissertation by Luc Montagnier was compelling and mind blowing. I would not say he is not qualified to speak this perspective.

The fact that JP Moore would say he was misquoted is absolutely Hilarious, considering he said nothing more than what we have all seen and heard him say for years. And if you are listening to his statements well... he is known to be suspect, and good at spreading rumors.

I did not see a Dissident film. I say a younger perspective of some very valuable questions and points that can be verified as good plausable questions... If you are a researcher like myself that verifies things in the mainstream before I believe them.

And as for that younger perspective, watch out cause it isn't going anywhere... and that voice is only going to get stronger... until one day... they are the very people in control.

The youth of today are not stupid. They have music bands challenging the likes of flouride.(an entire album dedicated to flouride the poison) They have issues with these authoratative people that keep trying to tell them whats good for them while they stand by and see the harm for themselves. They don't trust pharmacueticals, and they think doctors are aggressive and untrustworthy. Oh yes... I am loving the younger perspective. Talk to any young people lately. Oh yes there is hope.

Neuroskeptic said...

Anon: I'm not qualified to decide on what causes AIDS. That's why I don't try. I go with the consensus of qualified experts.

I make no claim to "think for myself" about this, I'm not that arrogant. Neither do you, I suspect, when it comes to most things. When you fly in an airplane, do you trust that the qualified aircrew know what they're doing or do you try and work it all out yourself?

You are choosing to believe a tiny minority of qualified people over the vast majority. It's as if one of the stewards on the airplane went nuts started demanding that the pilot crash the plane into the ocean or the world is going to end, and you believe them over everyone else.

Except there are rather more lives at stake.

Neuroskeptic said...

"Those drugs are proven to be dangerous and toxic in hundreds of studies at the NIH... Both to adults, and to unborn children, so I really do not find that theory questionable."

And yet the NIH recommend people use them. Do you think you know better than the NIH - if so, why are you quoting their research?

Anonymous said...

Neuroskeptic, I am pleased that Capernicus did not side with the consensus of his day in the blind manner that you side with that of yours. Please do not consider me an innocent making a hesitating attempt at sleuthing. The truth of it is thusly: you are defending a bankrupt paradigm. I do, in fact, think for myself. It feels good. You ought to try it some time. Know this: our grandchildren will understand that Peter Duesberg is a hero of truth in the same way that we understand that Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero of truth, no matter now his unthinking, smug, paid, obscene contemporaries.

Anonymous said...

Seth, please shut your festering gob. One can almost see the flourishes and slashes in the signatures on the checks you cash weekly for your bull rushes in defense of the money propping up Big AIDS. It's a good racket for you, obviously. Until I encountered you, I didn't believe in evil.

Neuroskeptic said...

"Neuroskeptic, I am pleased that Capernicus did not side with the consensus of his day in the blind manner that you side with that of yours."

Copernicus, ah yes. He was one guy 500 years ago. Science has moved on, you would have noticed if you'd read any.

But thanks for raising that issue. You know how the earth revolves around the sun, right - how do you know that's true? Have you made the necessary measurements yourself? Ever been to space to check? Because from where I'm sitting it looks like the sun revolves around the earth. It also looks like the earth is flat.

But luckily I blindly trust in the authorities who tell me the earth is a sphere which revolves around the sun. I assume you do too. Or maybe you "think for yourself"?

"Please do not consider me an innocent making a hesitating attempt at sleuthing. The truth of it is thusly: you are defending a bankrupt paradigm. I do, in fact, think for myself. It feels good. You ought to try it some time."

So look. We have a bunch of evidence about HIV/AIDS. You, a guy with no qualifications, think your interpretation of the evidence is correct while the interpretation of the vast majority of extremely smart, qualified people is wrong.

I can see why it feels good, you must feel like you're the smartest person in the world, because what you are doing would only work if you were. Hint - you're not.

Neuroskeptic said...

"Seth, please shut your festering gob. One can almost see the flourishes and slashes in the signatures on the checks you cash weekly for your bull rushes in defense of the money propping up Big AIDS. It's a good racket for you, obviously. Until I encountered you, I didn't believe in evil."

Do you ever stop to read what you write?

Anonymous said...

I can never understand why people cling to the phrase "mainstream" in a derogitory manner when trying to disprove science. As if somehow having the evidence and support of peers is a bad thing.

Even more bizarre is the pedestal onto which those who are free from the "mainstream" are raised. I wonder what, psychologically thinking, causes this.

One can only assume it is the same break from reality which spurs the majority of conspiracy theorists.

DrYak said...

Congratulations on showing what a real skeptic should be. I must admit that I was seriously taken aback by your quite uncritical acceptance of the film on the podcast but I salute your willingness to look at the evidence and be open-minded about admitting you were hoodwinked. I think it shows admirable strength of character to be willing to reasses a stance based on the evidence and accept error in such a public way. I am also very glad that you are going to put it on the record on the guardian podcast - it says a lot about your integrity and that of Alok Jar and the team over at the Guradian. Kudos.

HIV is a Misdiagnosis said...

In reference to "and the NIH recommends people use them" are you not aware of the amount of censorship their is in the science and medical field.

A study will basically disqualify something...for example the studies on Persistent Mitochondrial Dysfunction in babies exposed to ARV's in the womb. Please Read the study linked below...
Often have to state "Current recommendations for zidovudine monotherapy should however be maintained. Further assessment of the toxic effects of these drugs is required."

Despite the study clearly showing that it was a dangerous practice they still recommend that the use is continued. So in reality I think the real question is "why" does the NIH continue to recommend it.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10509500?dopt=Citation

They have never actually assessed the transmission rate in positive mothers outside of Africa without the use of ARVS. The early studies were often on malnourished africa women, and drug addicted mothers, that both have huge risks of giving birth to sick babies...

I would love to participate in that study considering I am a health conscious woman, who has had a couple children now, who are negative without dangerous ARV intervention.

Unfortunately they only seem to fund research that feeds an industry. I suppose thats also why they censor real solutions... because their is absolutely no profit... in cures.

Neuroskeptic said...

"In reference to "and the NIH recommends people use them" are you not aware of the amount of censorship their is in the science and medical field."

Well, yes, I am actually a scientist, unlike you. There is no censorship. There is a lot of incompetence.

"Despite the study clearly showing that it was a dangerous practice they still recommend that the use is continued. So in reality I think the real question is "why" does the NIH continue to recommend it."

That's an excellent question, however it's a question for you to answer - why do you think they are wrong, what do you know that they don't? The study shows that in some cases ARV therapy might cause serious side effects - but it also protects against HIV, which is much worse, so it's worth the risk. This is why the NIH recommends people use ARVs. Why do you think you know better?

"I suppose thats also why they censor real solutions... because their is absolutely no profit... in cures."

Why do pharma companies make antibiotics then? They cure bacterial infections.

Or maybe you don't believe that either?

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Neuroskeptic said...

"Andrew" can write, or at any rate copy-and-paste, at great length, but apparently he can't read.

The paper he refers to in support of the notion that HIV is never transmitted includes, in the abstract, the statement that

"Male-to-female transmission was approximately
eight times more efficient than female-to-male transmission and male-to-female per contact infectivity was
estimated to be 0.0009 (95% Cl 0.0005-O.001)."

In other words... transmission occurred.

You are going to have to try much harder than this, I didn't even need to read beyond the abstract. I at least expect to have to trawl through the Methods section to demolish the claims of people like you, you are really letting the side down. Buck up!

Neuroskeptic said...

Ha ha ha. No sooner had I demolished, than it was deleted.

Paul Sims said...

Sorry, but we're closing comments on this post. Usually, we never delete comments as we are keen to promote open debate, but when people are just copying and pasting thousands upon thousands of words from elsewhere on the internet, some of which contains racism, we have to draw a line. Comments must involve engaging in direct debate with other users or the initial content of our blog posts. If you wish to refer to something else online then please link to it, rather than flood our blog with pasted words.