"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.Well said.
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."
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.