About AIDS

AIDS denialism rises again

"AIDS denialism" is the belief that HIV and AIDS are bogus. There are several variations: that HIV/AIDS are artificial concepts constructed of pre-existing phenomena, that HIV doesn't really exist or doesn't cause AIDS, etc. Denialists believe HIV/AIDS was invented to fulfill some darker agenda, most commonly profits for multinational drug companies.

It's worth noting that no AIDS denialists are practicing physicians in the field and that few are even scientists: They treat no patients or work toward a solution. Most are young, quite intelligent (even if not particularly adept at critical thinking), and often idealistic.

Bush's invasion of Iraq wasn't really about WMDs; so, too, with denialism. Other agendas – perhaps valid, perhaps not even recognized – underlie denialism: dislike/distrust of corporations or profits, opposition to Western-style medicine, anger at "the system," ordinary ego, a passion for being against something, etc. Some are pushing their own self-interest.

The current letter-writer's (see "Postmarks") fount of wisdom, Liam Scheff, is of the last category, a Karl Rove-ian tabloid journalist trying to sell his wares. He is an accomplished master of isolated quotes taken out of context or taken from outdated studies (but published in credible journals like JAMA) coupled with bald-faced lies, deliberate misinterpretations, or selective examples. Woven through is just enough genuine truth to "prove" credibility.

Scheff's own work illustrates denialism. For example, he criticizes HIV testing as being nonspecific, frequently wrong, and resulting in AIDS diagnoses. The first two charges are demonstrated primarily by selective quotes from credible studies – but circa 1985-87, when HIV testing technology was new and, like all new technology, not as reliable as desired. For years now, false HIV-positive results have been rare indeed. The last charge is a blatant lie, and Scheff surely knows it. An HIV-positive test result should never, ever result in an AIDS diagnosis or be used to start someone on medications. (If so, the patient should run from the quack!)

Scheff, like W. or Rush Limbaugh, knows that virtually no one will bother to examine his assertions; they will simply swallow his "facts" as truth, especially if they are predisposed to his philosophy. Indeed, like neocons, he may even delude himself.

This writer, however, has spent 24 years avidly reading almost every scrap of information available and would urge anyone interested: Read! Read widely – professional journals (if you can understand them – I do); consumer media; magazines of, by, and for people with HIV/AIDS; and, yes, denialist Web sites, which may raise interesting points to consider, such as distinctions between the U.S. and African epidemics.

Skepticism can be very useful, especially in today's world, but so can having genuine facts. ASA and I seek only to have people, especially HIV-positive people, know as much as possible so they can make the best choices possible. Their lives may depend on it.

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