HIV – AIDS denialism at the Spectator


5:54 pm - October 23rd 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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The new editor of Spectator magazine, Fraser Nelson has a blog-post on the magazine’s website titled ‘Questioning the Aids consensus‘.

Like a true right-wing maverick who questions the consensus and asks why people are so “vociferous” in the discussion:

Is it legitimate to discuss the strength of the link between HIV and Aids? It’s one of these hugely emotive subjects, with a fairly strong and vociferous lobby saying that any open discussion is deplorable and tantamount to Aids denialism. Whenever any debate hits this level, I get deeply suspicious.

Which is why the below clip – from a documentary which The Spectator Events division is screening next week, called House of Numbers – aroused my interest. The film picked up awards at various American film festivals, but has since been denounced as backing Aids denialism. Yet the footage shows Luc Montagnier – who won a Nobel prize last year for his work on Aids – saying that many HIV infections can be shrugged off by a healthy immune system.

He finishes with: “let’s have your thoughts”, and promptly gets eviscerated in the comments.

But in the world of wingnuttery, any “questioning” of the consensus should be applauded. Who needs research?

Says Mehdi Hasan at New Statesman

If Nelson had done his research, he would know that 18 angry doctors and scientists interviewed in the film have since issued a public statement claiming that the film-maker Brent Leung “acted deceitfully and unethically” when recruiting them and that House of Numbers “perpetuates pseudoscience and myths”.

Here is how the New York Times review for the film starts off:

Couched as a “personal journey” through the history of H.I.V. and AIDS, “House of Numbers” is actually a weaselly support pamphlet for AIDS denialists. Trafficking in irresponsible inferences and unsupported conclusions, the filmmaker Brent Leung offers himself as suave docent through a globe-trotting pseudo-investigation that should raise the hackles of anyone with even a glancing knowledge of the basic rules of reasoning.

Ouch! It was also ripped apart in the Guardian by Dr Ben Goldacre.

And remember this is the same film being promoted by the editor of this country’s main right-wing magazine. Does the magazine take the approach to facts when promoting global warming denialism?

[Unity] As its unlikely that Sunny follows the Science blogging crowd as closely as I do, I’ll jump in here and throw in a couple of links to the indefatigable Gimpy, who’s been all over this story for a while…

Raindance Film Festival Endorse AIDS Denialism
Raindance Film Festival Endorse AIDS Denialism Part II
The Spectator and House of Numbers *update*

[Unity] And I’ll also add a link to Richard Wilson (thanks for the tip, Gimpy) who has this excellent offering on the sdame subject.

Spectator make a spectacle of themselves – When pseudo-debate is worse than no debate at all…

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Oh this old right-wing bigoted chestnut.

*shudder*

And remember this is the same film being promoted by the editor of this country’s main right-wing magazine. Does the magazine take the approach to facts when promoting global warming denialism?

That’s an important observation Sunny. You know I disagree about bringing too much political stuff into the climate debate but in this case I don’t think it unreasonable to ask contributors to the Spectator, whether elected or not, to protest that this debate is even being considered (and for that matter the climate issue where Fraser Nelson has used similar arguments). It does suggest that an influential magazine of the right is run by a moron. Contrast Fraser Nelson’s stance on science with that of The Economist, whose science reporting is almost above reproach.

PS Richard Wilson deserves a hat tip or two, he covered this a while back.
http://richardwilsonauthor.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/when-pseudo-debate-is-worse-than-no-debate-at-all/

Shortly after that was posted I emailed Fraser Nelson expressing concern about the showing and I understand others have too, so he was forewarned.

PPS Aids denials isn’t unique to the right, more on that next week…

I did check Richard’s RSS feed, but didn’t scroll down far enough – he’s been busy of late what with Trafigura and baiting the Chiros…

Speaking of which I had one (American) over at my place giving it the old ‘need more public funding for research line’ the other day.

Even left a link to an American review of the current ‘quality’ of Chiropractic research, which I must take proper look at, at some point – first time out I got as the word ‘subluxation’ and decided that I had better things to do with my time.

3 – indeed, unless you count Thabo Mbeki as a right winger…

Tim J

try contextualising for history and location, hmm?

Sorry, but Mbeki’s wingnuttery does not defeat the ovrwhelming point that it is vastly and overwhelmingly the political right which engages in mainstreaming aids and climate change denialism.

You whatabout if you want to, the left’s not for turning.

Doesn’t Mbeki call himself a Thatcherite?

From what read he seems pretty right wing, although it was Naomi Klein so who wouldn’t seem right-wing?

Oh but it gets better… It looks like the Speccie have also published a crank piece by the legendary Neville Hodgkinson, dismissing HIV science as ‘the AIDS religion’:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=2732069&id=40491054861#/photo.php?pid=2732069&id=40491054861

…and they’ve now got one commenter demanding that HIV scientists be imprisoned in a ‘human zoo’: http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/5461313/questioning-the-aids-consensus.thtml

My theory is that Fraser Nelson is secretly in league with the Spectator’s arch-rival, the New Statesman, who have sent him in on a covert mission to completely destroy the magazine’s credibility…

I might get in touch with the Spectator. I can turn out pseudoscience rubbish for coin and they seem to have their bullshit detectors down and some sort of axe to grind.

Does anyone know if they pay well?

10. Shatterface

One of the automatically generated links beneath Wilson’s article leads to another article by HIV sceptic Henry Bauer who draws parallels to the Lock Ness Monster in SUPPORT of his skepticism.

Mainstream science is ‘wrong’ about Nessie, therefore they are ‘wrong’ about HIV

http://hivskeptic.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/believing-and-disbelieving/

That’s the level of debate?

And the Tim Dinsdale book on Nessie was printed by children’s publisher Target, remembered mainly for their ‘Doctor Who’ novelisations. I read it when I was 6.

11. douglas clark

Look, ffs, the Spectator publishes Melanie Phillips. Nuff said.

It is not exactly science she attacks, it is your actual sanity.

That is how low they go….

When I read that bit about meeting ‘Dinsdale’ I had to wonder whether Spiny Norman would also be making an appearance.

Paul Sagar 6.

Sorry, but Mbeki’s wingnuttery does not defeat the ovrwhelming point that it is vastly and overwhelmingly the political right which engages in mainstreaming aids and climate change denialism.

This is a very dangerous argument to make. For a start it is not true that it is the political right which mainstreams AIDS denial – much of the support is apolitical and comes from the alternative health movements and is a feature as much of the right as the left, in fact most alt therapists, in the UK at least, appear to have political sympathies which lie on the green/liberal/left side of the political spectrum. The Green Party in particular are a haven for these sorts of views.
The climate issue is more complex, but again is not strictly party political, you can find people on the left just as on the right who will dispute the science from a position of ignorance.

But this is all by the by. What is truly objectionable about your reasoning is that you are debasing the cold hard empiricism of science by discussing it at the level of politics, where rhetoric and ideology are used as weapons at the expense of evidence (e.g. see Unity’s recent post on Nick Davies report into the exaggeration of sex trafficking). I, and many others, believe that policy should be evidence based, this does not mean that politics has no role to play but it means that political discussion should be built on a bedrock of evidence. The political healthcare debate should be over the best method of providing drugs that work, the climate debate over the best ways to ameliorate the harmful effects of AGW, the AIDS debate over the best way to reduce the spread and develop effective preventative strategies, etc.
By resorting to party political taunts you cast aside evidence based arguments, antagonise and alienate those who while they may not agree with you on the political implications of evidence nevertheless respect its value and will condemn its misuse and you lower scientific debate to the level of street theatre.
You may be comfortable filtering reality through a political spectrum but that is not how science works. Just as gravity owes no allegiance to 17th century English politics, modern virology has no allegiance to a position on the political spectrum.

Frankly, it is attitudes like yours that are a barrier to a wider public understanding of science and until politicians and journalists realise that scientific evidence is superior to political rhetoric then we will continue to have problems like MMR, AIDS denial, climate denial, etc.

Well it seems the Spectator has finally gone right off the precipice into outright blathering lunacy. Still, they have been flirting with it for a while. I mean, Melanie P’s columns are scary enough.

In a sane society people would simply back away from the publication and ignore it but I suppose that won’t happen.

Montagnier appears to suggest healthy immune systems can shrug off HIV/Aids. Is this not worth investigating? There is a prostitute in Nairobi who is immune to Aids. Surely research into strengthening the human immune system aginst HIV/Aids makes sense?

But in the world of wingnuttery, any “questioning” of the consensus should be applauded. Who needs research?

There’s nothing wrong with questioning the consensus – the problem arises when people refuse to listen to the answers.

Does the magazine take the approach to facts when promoting global warming denialism?

Yes – see anything written by James Delingpole or melanie Phillips on the subject.

It’s worth pointing out that Mbeki has changed his position in the light of scientific evidence, so now the Spectator are pretty much out there on their own. Also, while his science was previously wrong, in suggesting that poverty caused the onset of AIDS, he was partially right. Extreme poverty and especially associated malnutrition certainly doesn’t help the body fight AIDS.

Gimpy’s right – some of the most insidious AIDS denialist arguments have been couched in overtly left-wing terms eg. that it’s all a big conspiracy by big evil multinationals, that ‘HIV’ is merely a socially-constructed ‘label’ used to stigmatise the gay community, that the belief in an African AIDS epidemic is merely the product of western cultural imperialist stereotypes, that the application of ‘western science’ is somehow culturally inappropriate when trying to tackle AIDS outside of Europe and N. America etc.

Major AIDS denialist figures like Christine Maggiore seemed to see themselves precisely as the anti-establishment rebels standing up against the power of corporate Big Pharma, and understanding this is, in my view, key to understanding how and why AIDS denial has taken such a hold.

To give just one example, here’s Caspar Schmidt seeking to explain AIDS as a ‘group fantasy’ among gay men triggered by the election of Ronald Reagan… http://www.virusmyth.com/aids/hiv/csfantasy.htm

PS – Having said that I do also think it’s true that there is a significant current of right-wing ideology which, for peculiarly right-wing reasons, is easily seduced by all sorts of anti-science nonsense, and that it’s fair enough to lampoon those like Fraser Nelson who fall for it. But I agree with Gimpy that the bigger problem is the priveleging of ideology over evidence, whichever point on the spectrum the ideologue occupies…


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  10. Liberal Conspiracy » Spectator mag publishes more AIDS denialism

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