Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why HIV/AIDS Denialist Henry Bauer Fails to Understand Risk

Henry Bauer is the gift that just keeps on giving. He fails to understand the basic biology of viruses. He does not understand that birth rates can mask the results of HIV/AIDS. He does not understand that the difficulty of making an HIV vaccine lies in its high mutation rate or that HIV tests are extremely accurate.

A study, Scherzer et. al. (2012), was recently published online ahead of print. By studying almost 11000 HIV positive subjects undergoing combined antiretroviral therapy, they showed an association between the use of a specific type of antiretroviral medication (called tenofovir) and an increased risk for certain events associated with kidney disease. However, the researchers concluded that

Despite tenofovir’s association with progressive kidney disease, it is an important component of effective antiretroviral therapy that may be required in many patients to control viral load. The balance between its efficacy and probable adverse effects requires further study.

In other words, tenofovir has side effects, but you also have to look at the side effects of not taking the drug in question. Let’s see how Bauer put a spin these results. In the blog post What’s next for the HIV/AIDS vigilantes at Treatment Action Campaign?, Bauer quotes an article from the website of the University of California, San Francisco called Tenofovir, Leading HIV Medication, Linked with Risk of Kidney Damage. However, he chops up the quotes and forgets to quote the researchers saying that:

Shlipak noted that HIV, itself, increases the risk of kidney damage, while modern antiretroviral treatments clearly reduce that overall risk. “Patients need to be aware of their kidney disease risks before they start therapy, and this should influence the medications that they choose in consultation with their doctor,” he said. “For an otherwise healthy patient, the benefits of tenofovir are likely to exceed the risks, but for a patient with a combination of risk factors for kidney disease, tenofovir may not be the right medication.”

In other words, HIV/AIDS itself increases the risk of kidney damage, which is reduced by the use of modern ARVs. So in other words, the risk of kidney damage from treatment must be balanced against the risk of kidney damage from not being treated. Otherwise you will perform an irrational risk analysis as there is really no such thing as “no risk”, only “risk compared with what”.

To be fair, Bauer does mention that HIV is believed by researchers to increase the risk of kidney damage, but he scoffs at this and rejects it by saying that “HIV itself is blamed by HIV/AIDS believers for every ill that antiretroviral drugs bring”. However, it has been clearly shown that HIV does cause renal failure.

United States Department of Veteran Affairs explains that 30% of HIV/AIDS patients have abnormal renal function and that risk factors include low CD4 count and unsuppressed viral load. Also, the incidence of HIV-associated nephropathy has declined since the advent of cART.

This clearly demonstrates how Bauer cherry picks the research to support his denialist beliefs. Those studies that appears to support his position (like this one about Tenofovir) is accepted without skepticism, whereas studies that contradicts his position (such as those showing that HIV can lead to kidney damage) is rejected out of hand.

New Swedish Site Takes on Anti-Vaccine Crankery

Today, a new Swedish website called Vaccininfo (Vaccine info) has been launched. What is special about this project is that yours truly is one of the writers! We have decided to bring the debunking of Swedish anti-vaccine crank into the online world to counter the increasing vaccine rejectionism presence in the mainstream media and in social medias like Facebook and Twitter.

Here is a description of the website that I wrote (my translation).

Vaccines is one of the greatest inventions of modern medicine. Today, children do not die in vaccine-preventable diseases to the same extend that they did before. During the 20th and 21th centuries, humanity has defeated many infectious diseases by extermination (e. g. smallpox and rinderpest) or radically reduced their incidence (polio, measles, whooping cough).

Despite this enormous success, there are dark forces in society attempting to undermine the public confidence in vaccines by spreading myths, conspiratorial thinking, scientific inaccuracies and fear propaganda.

With the emergence of internet, anyone can publish anything they want without it needing to be accurate. This has lead some to believe more in what they have seen on Youtube than read on the website of various infectious disease control authorities around the world.

Vaccininfo takes on these vaccine rejectionists and counter them on all fronts.

This does not mean the end of Debunking Denialism of course, but my time will have to be shared between these two projects.

HIVforum.info takes on Italian HIV/AIDS denialist Marco Ruggiero

Marco Ruggiero is a professor of molecular biology at the University of Florence. He is also an HIV/AIDS denialist that promotes pro-biotic yogurt as a cure for AIDS. He is also a coauthor of the pseudoscientific junk paper published in an obscure Italian journal with an impact factor of below 0.5

A few days ago, I received a message from a user called Dora from the discussion forum HIVforum.info. Dora said that they had “sent a letter to the provost of the University of Florence, asking for an open dissociation of his Institution from denialist Professor Marco Ruggiero theories and practices” and that they sent “a similar letter [...] to many Italian infectious diseases experts, to the scientific board of the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, who recently published a paper of Duesberg and Ruggiero denying HIV–AIDS link , to activists, politicians, media and institutional agencies”.

Dora asked me to link to the English version of the letter to maximize the circulation of their message. The ongoing forum conversation can be found here (it is in Italian, so use Google translate service).

The gist is that Ruggiero is attempting to teach a course at the University of Florence called “The revolution of immunotherapy: perspectives on cancer and AIDS cure”. According to screenshots taken of the course description, it will be taught that “the HIV role in AIDS pathogenesis; association but not causation” and that clinical trials have supposedly eliminated HIV infection. This would be enormously damaging and they contacted Professor Marco Linari, President of the undergraduate degree in Biological Science at the University of Florence and they have apparently got him on their side now.

I wish them good luck in their attempts to get him investigated and disciplined or ousted. Academic freedom is one thing, but trying to sneak in HIV/AIDS denialist junk into undergraduate biology classes, even if elective, is insane.

Swedish Anti-Vaccine Cranks Start Encroachment on Africa

Your worst nightmare just came true.

As you know, I have been keeping an eye on Swedish anti-vaccine cranks during the last few months, detailing their spread and debunking their claims in detail. They basically repeat the same old canards as their British and American counterparts, often not even bothering to translate it to Swedish, but just copy/paste intellectual defecation from places like Natural News. I generally considered them to have low potential impact on society at large. Their editor Linda Karlström had only given a few talks under the umbrella of marginalized conspiracy organizations and had not gotten any particular coverage in the news.

This was until I noticed a new press release on their website vaccin.me. It just goes on and on, so I only wrote its central message below (my translation).

Vaccin.me want to each out to 115 million french-speaking Africans

Vaccin.me wants to reach out to larger groups that is suspected to lack knowledge about the risks an ineffectiveness of vaccines. Therefore, we want to reach as many as possible within french-speaking Africa to increase knowledge about risks and to stimulate an open debate.

This could, in a worst case scenario, dwarf the deaths of over 330000 people with HIV/AIDS under the regime of AIDS denialist Thabo Mbeki.

Now, the group behind vaccin.me is probably not well-funded or organized. Realistically speaking, their impact will probably be minor. However, they may help to mount an increased resistance against vaccination and contribute to thwarting efforts at eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles.

If they join forces with other anti-vaccine organizations, we may be looking at major outbreaks that could have been prevented. They will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to wash their hands of the blood of innocent African children that died due to their anti-vaccine actions.

Dismantling the HIV/AIDS Denialist Henry Bauer’s Central Falsehoods

Henry Bauer

Why am I picking low-hanging fruit?

Henry Bauer is professor emeritus in chemistry and science studies at Virgina Tech, he has done very little scientific research, no scientific research on retroviruses, believes in the existence of the Loch Ness monster, considers homosexuality an “aberration or illness” (although he has apparently a more generous view these days) and is a former editor of the woo-woo journal called Journal of Scientific Exploration. This hardly sounds like a formidable adversary. However, Bauer is one of the most prolific HIV/AIDS denialists and those supporting science-based medicine should strive to defend rational science from the pseudoscientific falsehoods that Bauer keeps peddling.

I have in many previous articles shown that his claims fall incredibly short of scientific accuracy, but now it is time to release the sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads and focus our rational and science-based thinking on his central falsehoods that he lists on the about page of his WP blog. In the end, none shall survive. Read more of this post

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