Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Category Archives: HIV/AIDS Denialism

Regurgitated HIV/AIDS Denialism and Anti-Science Libertarianism

HIV/AIDS denialism at LewRockwell.com

There are few places more cognitively dangerous to a rational mind than the intersection of political ideology and pseudoscience. Libertarians are increasingly being associated with various anti-scientific beliefs, such as vaccine rejectionism and climate change denialism. This is harmful to traditional libertarian causes, such as curbing excessive bureaucracy and government intrusion into civil liberties because it allows critics to dismiss libertarians as denialist cranks without a second thought.

It is therefore disturbing that the libertarian website LewRockwell.com recently published a screed promoting HIV/AIDS denialism written by medical doctor Donald W. Miller Jr. Despite being an actual medical doctor, he repeats many of the same fallacies that HIV/AIDS denialists commonly deploy. In reality, antiretrovirals decrease progression to AIDS and death rates, HIV can be transmitted sexually and HIV testing is highly accurate.

The specter of “the government”

A common approach used by anti-science libertarians is to portray the mainstream scientific and medical consensus as “the government” or “the official story”. This is a common technique to marginalize their opponents by associating them with something they intensely dislike. However, mainstream scientific communities are not slaves to the government or to politicians. They can design and carry out scientific research and interpret their results on their own.

Initiating antiretroviral therapy regardless of CD4 count

Miller makes a big deal out of the fact that the newest guidelines for treatment of individuals with HIV/AIDS recommend that antiretroviral therapy is given to individuals who are HIV+ regardless of CD4+ count. Had he read the report he is referencing in detail, he would have understood that there is a clear medical reason for why this is done (HHS Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents, 2014):

The recommendation to initiate ART in individuals with high CD4 cell counts—whose short-term risk for death and development of AIDS-defining illness is low is based on growing evidence that untreated HIV infection or uncontrolled viremia is associated with development of non-AIDS-defining diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), kidney disease, liver disease, neurologic complications, and malignancies. Furthermore, newer ART regimens are more effective, more convenient, and better tolerated than regimens used in the past.

In other words, untreated HIV infection (even with a high CD4+ count) increases the risk for a number of diseases. To disable the emotional threat of “forced government medicine” or similar, it can be noted that the guidelines specifically states that the wishes of the individual should be taken into consideration, together with a large number of other factors:

Regardless of CD4 count, the decision to initiate ART should always include consideration of a patient’s comorbid conditions, his or her willingness and readiness to initiate therapy, and available resources.

It is both sad and entertaining to see that denialists rarely read the papers and reports that they themselves reference.

Read more of this post

Spell Casting Does Not Cure HIV

wtf

I almost never bother to interact with spammers on this blog. Their verbal torrents of incoherent blathering about Michael Kors shoes, Xanax or Viagra are promptly destroyed after being sucked into nothingness by the click of a button. However, some spammers post stuff that are so mind-numbingly stupid that I see it as a civil service to refute it. These spam comments are typically very generic and can be found all over the Internet, especially on blogs or websites that do not use an efficient spam filter. Someone who finds themselves being drawn into this nonsense will hopefully perform a Google search and reach this post.

Spellcasting does not cure HIV

Let us go over this message, point-by-point./p>

“I am here to testify on how [...]“

This is perhaps the most obvious sign of an ideologue whose main goal is to spread his nonsense, rather than inform or discuss. Although typically a feature of religious evangelism, it frequently occurs when listening to ingrained proponents of pseudoscience.

Read more of this post

CDC Fact Sheet Confuses HIV/AIDS Denialist Henry Bauer

Bauer, Ethnic group and HIV.

One of the more despicable tactics deployed by some HIV/AIDS denialists is to accuse mainstream medical science of being racist because socially underprivileged groups such as African-Americans have a higher HIV incidence. These HIV/AIDS denialists refuse to accept well-researched statistical and sociological explanations for this observation such as differences in infection base rates, prevalence of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that increases transmission probability, knowledge regarding HIV status, time at diagnosis and access to health care etc. Instead, they falsely portray mainstream medicine as racist and genetic determinist with regards to behavior. This goes to show that some HIV/AIDS denialists clearly stop at nothing in their desperate attempts to prop up their pseudoscientific delusions. One such example is that of Henry Bauer and his two recent posts on HIV and ethnic groups.

The pseudoscientific claims made by Henry Bauer has been discussed in great detail on this website. He does not seem to understand the basic biology of viruses or rational risk assessment of medication. He fails to grasp data on population growth and birth rates and does not seem to realize that there are scientific obstacles to developing an effective HIV vaccine. Despite his appeals to the toxin gambit, combined antiretroviral therapy does not increase the risk of death. Astonishingly, he even seems to thinks that HIV should not be able to spread via contaminated needles because needles do not have sex with each other.

Differences in HIV incidence does not mean that HIV tests are racist

People carrying black-African genes test “HIV-positive” at far greater rates than do people without that genetic ancestry. HIV/AIDS theory “explains” that by postulating greater rates of careless “not-safe-sex” promiscuity and infected-needle-sharing drug injection. Thereby HIV/AIDS theory postulates significant genetic determination of behavior, which in other contexts is dismissed as pseudo-science.

The primary reasons for why African-Americans have a higher incidence of HIV is not because of racist stereotypes concerning promiscuity and so on. It has nothing to do with genetic determinism. Rather, there are important statistical and sociological reasons for this difference that cannot be ignored.

These issues are discussed in additional details in various versions of a fact sheet on HIV and African-Americans available at the CDC website. Also note that 2014 PDF version unequivocal states that African-Americans have “levels of individual risk behaviors (e.g., sex without a condom, multiple partners) that are
comparable to other races/ethnicities”. Read more of this post

The Tainted Ignorance of HIV/AIDS Denialism

Related: The Breathtaking Inanity of Henry Bauer’s HIV/AIDS Denialist Balderdash.

HIV/AIDS denialist Henry Bauer

Despite being a emeritus professor in chemistry and science studies and a well-known critic of the pseudohistorical nonsense of Immanuel Velikovsky, Henry Bauer is a leading HIV/AIDS denialist and a passionate believer in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. His falsehoods about HIV/AIDS have been debunked many times before on this website and they seem to get more absurd as time goes by. He shows no signs of slowing down and continues to spew pseudoscientific claims about HIV/AIDS on his blog. Although, he calls himself a “skeptic”, he is a typical anti-science denialist who uses all of the common tricks.

Earlier in 2013, Bauer wrote a post on his denialist blog called Immaculate infection by HIV where he attempts to point to a dozen or so alleged facts that he thinks are fundamentally unexplainable from the perspective of modern medicine. He even goes so far as to claim that mainstream science should be tempted to consider the virus “supernatural” because of the alleged properties that Bauer puts forward. In reality, his post is filled with misguided half-truths and outright falsehoods. He complains that no vaccine or chemical microbicide is available, yet fails to understand the unique difficulties with HIV vaccine development and the trade-off related to chemical microbicide usage. He claims that HIV is difficult to transmit and thinks this is incompatible with the size of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, despite the fact that these rates are just averages that tell you nothing about the spread. He rejects the fact that HIV can be spread via contaminated needles, stating point-blank that needles do not have sex with each other. He calls HIV a “politically incorrect” virus, despite the fact that we know that differences in incidence are primarily due to a complex interaction of well-known epidemiological, social and economic factors. Bauer fails to understand many basic medical facts, including TB as an opportunistic infection for individuals with HIV/AIDS, that HIV leads to immune suppression which allows opportunistic infections to take root, that there are entire databases with HIV sequences, the consilience of multiple, independent lines of evidence and so on. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Recycled HIV/AIDS Denialism Garbage

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.

This time, the reader feedback comes from Paul and the topic is HIV/AIDS denialism.

For those new to this topic, HIV/AIDS denialism is a loosely organized movement of people who oppose mainstream medicine on the topic of HIV/AIDS. Depending on the specific subgroups, common beliefs are:

(1) that HIV does not exist despite the fact that many HIV strains has been isolated and sequences, that scientists have taken scanning electron micrographs of budding HIV and even three dimensional cryo-electron microscopy and tomography of the overall morphology, core, migration and budding sites of native HIV-1 virus particles (NIAID, 2010; HIV Sequence Database, 2010; Public Health Image Library, 2005; Carlson et al, 2010, de Marco et al, 2010, Zhao et al, 2013; Earl et al, 2013).

(2) that HIV does not cause AIDS despite the fact that HIV fulfills Koch’s postulates, is the single strong predictor of AIDS over different populations, that highly specific antiviral therapies against HIV drastically reduces the likelihood of developing AIDS and dying, HIV impairs and destroys CD4+ T cells in vivo and in vitro, leading to severe immune suppression and so on. Together with many other independent lines of evidence (NIAID, 2010), the conclusion that HIV causes AIDS is among the most evidence-based causal links between any pathogen and disease syndrome.

(3) that antiretroviral medication is the cause of HIV, despite the fact that many clinical trails have found huge improvements in delaying the onset of AIDS (two-drug combinations increased it by 50%, three-drug combinations increased it an additional 50-80%) and despite the sad fact that most people with HIV, especially in poorer countries in e. g. Africa, has never gotten antiretroviral medication and despite the fact that antiretrovirals (NIAID, 2010).

With that background information, let us turn to Paul and his comments. Read more of this post

The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part VIII: HIV/AIDS

Note: This is the eight installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This post will take on what appears to be her most despicable and dangerous beliefs I have come across, namely HIV/AIDS denialism. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.

Bliss and HIV/AIDS

In previous installments of this article series, we have seen Stasia Bliss make some astonishing assertions. She claims that individuals with cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition) caused their own disease by eating acidic food and thinking negative thoughts. She believes that eating genetically modified foods cause corporate mind control via alteration of gene regulation. She encourages people to stare into the sun and states that it will give people supernatural powers, such as astral projection. She asserts that human DNA has twelve strands and that gene transcription turns you into a silica-based life-form. She considers dark matter to be a psychological invention to hide reality. She thinks that quantum mechanics mean that the mind creates reality. She claims that a vital life force exists and does not even understand why basic hygiene practices are a good idea to limit the spread of infectious diseases.

Despite knowing that Bliss subscribes to a long list of crackpot ideas and quack treatment, nothing quite prepares you for reading the supreme ignorance contained in her post on HIV/AIDS in Africa. Bliss promotes “natural remedies” such as changes in diets, herbs, drinking water, consuming hydrochloric acid and colonic irrigation despite the fact that these treatments are ineffective and sometimes harmful. She rejects the mainstream mechanism for HIV pathogenesis by stating that HIV only kill a small portion of T helper cells directly, ignoring the fact that this is only the case for resting CD4+ T helper cells and that HIV can infect and kill active CD4+ T helper cells. In the end, HIV cause the decline of CD4+ T helper cells, but not by the mechanisms that Bliss claims.

Her quack explanation for HIV pathogenesis is that the HIV virus lives on undigested proteins in the large intestine, ignoring the fact that a virus needs a host cell to replicate. She claims that the undigested protein adhere to the intestine wall, enters the blood stream and cause chronic inflammation. As this alleged chronic inflammation continues, it exhausted the immune system. In reality, undigested proteins are usually too large to be taken in the digestive system (that is why they are digested), most of the uptake of digested protein occurs in the small intestine and not the large, eating a substance usually provides a tolerogenic response from the immune system rather than an inflammatory and chronic inflammation is not associated with immune suppression (quite the opposite, as immune suppression is used as a treatment for chronic inflammation).

In her post about HIV/AIDS, Bliss promotes pseudoscientific ignorance that is extremely harmful. Read more of this post

When HIV/AIDS Activism Goes Wrong

virus

A few days ago, a guest post by HaifischGeweint appear on the Crommunist blog over at the Freethought Blogs network. It is about the stigma attached to individuals with HIV/AIDS and focuses on laws requiring individuals that are HIV positive to let their sexual parters know before engaging in sex. HaifischGeweint appears to label these laws “institutionalized HIV/AIDS discrimination”.

Just so there are no misunderstandings

Just to make sure that we are reducing the risk of misunderstandings, let us get some things clear. HaifischGeweint clearly states that he or she “very strongly disagree with engaging in unprotected sex without first having an honest conversation about STIs and safer sex (no matter what your status)”. HaifischGeweint is also careful to point out that he or she “cannot stand by someone who lies about their status when asked about it or who (regardless of their status) deliberately avoids getting tested and/or practising [sic] safer sex. Full stop.”

Second, people with HIV/AIDS experience a lot of stigma. A lot of people just assume that HIV+ individuals have been sexually promiscuous without using protection, even if the HIV infection was the result of rape, having sex with a long-term partner that cheated on you or getting contaminated blood during surgery. We should do everything within reason to work together against irrational stigma against people with HIV/AIDS. But no matter how noble the goal is, we should not promote scientific falsehoods in order to achieve it (see below).

HIV, sex and informed consent

I am not going to spend a whole lot of text on the main issue here, because there are other serious problems with the blog post (see below), but I think it is clear that informed consent is important when it comes to sex (and most other serious human activities). In a perfect world, everyone would get tested, ask their partner about sexually transmitted infections and tell them if they have any as well as use protection. Unfortunately, this is a fantasy. It does not exist, and it does not appear to be reachable within the foreseeable future. So how should society protect people from being at uninformed risk of being infected by HIV? One avenue is via the legal system, where a person with HIV/AIDS is punished when he or she has sex with another person who has been denied informed consent. Should the punishment be 25 years in prison if there was no intention? That seems a bit excessive, but then again, I am not a legal scholar.

I find it quite ironic that HaifischGeweint seems to put a lot of responsibility onto the other person to ask about HIV status compared with the responsibility of the person with HIV telling about his or her status. In reality, how much different, in terms of emotional difficulty, is it to say that one has HIV compared with answering “Do you have HIV?”? Although I do not know for sure what the difference is in terms of emotional impact, I think it is safe to say that both are emotionally difficult. But let’s flip the situation over. Imagine having HIV and that your partner has another sexually transmitted infection that will substantially decrease your health and quality of life as well as the capacity of your immune system. Surely, you would want him or her to tell you? So the value of informed consent really goes both ways. This would lead me to conclude that both the person with HIV/AIDS and the other person both have a moral responsibility to have an open and honest conversation about sexually transmitted infections before having sex.

So what is the main problem? Read more of this post

How HIV/AIDS Denialists Abuse Bayes’ Theorem

Image by Matt Buck, under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

bayestheorem in neon

Note: Snout (Reckless Endangerment) has made some good arguments in the comment to this post. The gist is that HIV/AIDS denialists overestimate the false positive rate by assuming that the initial test is all there is, when in fact, it is just the beginning of the diagnostic process. Snout also points out that it is probably wrong to say that most people who get tested have been involved in some high-risk behavior, as a lot of screening goes on among e. g. blood donors etc. I have made some changes (indicated by del or ins tags) in this post because I find myself convinced by the arguments Snout made.

There have already been several intuitive introductions to Bayes’ theorem posted online, so there is little point in writing another one. Instead, let us apply elementary medical statistics and Bayes’ theorem to HIV tests and explode some of the flawed myths that HIV/AIDS denialists spread in this area.

The article will be separated into three parts: (1) introductory medical statistics (e. g. specificity, sensitivity, Bayes’ theorem etc.), (2) applying Bayes’ theorem to HIV tests to find the posterior probability of HIV infection given a positive test result in certain scenarios and (3) debunking HIV/AIDS denialist myths about HIV tests by exposing their faulty assumptions about medical statistics. For those that already grasp the basics of medical statistics, jump to the second section.

(1) Introductory medical statistics

A medical test usually return a positive or a negative result (or sometimes inconclusive). Among the positive results, there are true positives and false positives. Among the negative results, there are true negatives and false negatives.

True positive: positive test result and have the disease.
False positive: positive test result and do not have the disease

True negative: negative test result and do not have the disease.
False negative: negative test result and have the disease.

For the purpose of this discussion, + will indicate a positive test, - will indicate a negative test, HIV will indicate having HIV and \neg HIV will indicate not having HIV.

P(A) is the probability of an event A, say, the probability that a fair dice will land on three. Conditional probabilities, such as P(A \mid B) , represents the probability of event A, given that event B has occurred. If A and B are statistically independent events, then P(A \mid B) = P(A) , if P(B) \neq 0 (because the definition of P(A \mid B) has P(B) in the denominator).

Let us define some conditional probabilities that are relevant for HIV tests and Bayes theorem: Read more of this post

No Sanctions for HIV/AIDS Denialist Marco Ruggiero

Previously, I have written about how the University of Florence has launched an inquiry into the activities of HIV/AIDS denialist Marco Ruggiero, a professor who held courses actively promoting that HIV is not the cause of AIDS at the university. He also promotes a pseudoscientific yogurt treatment of HIV/AIDS and supervised degree projects by students that also denied the link between HIV and AIDS that were clearly plagiarized.

ruggiero

Yesterday, an article about the decision written by science journalist Zoë Corbyn was posted on the Nature News Blog entitled “Greater oversight but no sanctions for Italian AIDS contrarian“. The general gist of the story is that no sanctions will be leveled at Ruggiero, that his future teachings will be supervised more strongly, that his clinical experiments with the yogurt treatment has been reported to the Italian medical board.

Ruggiero sees it as a victory for his position when he claims that “The University of [Florence] has demonstrated it is an institution where the freedom of research and teaching is guaranteed”. This is of course nonsense as university teachings in science should be based on evidence.

The HIV Forum, who notified the university about Ruggiero, also claims a modest victory because “Our target was not the career of someone, but the consistency of what is taught at the University of Florence with what thirty years of scientific research tells us about HIV,” and “[The result confirms] freedom of research and teaching must ‘move with the scientific method’.”

I think the special commission had a tight rope to talk on. Clearly, the university cannot go around teaching that HIV does not cause AIDS, but sanctions on Ruggiero could create another martyr and strengthen conspiracy theories. I will try to keep myself updated on the decision by the Italian medical board.

HIV/AIDS Denialist Marco Ruggiero under Investigation

In a previous entry about Ruggiero called HIVforum.info takes on Italian HIV/AIDS denialist Marco Ruggiero, I explained how an Internet forum populated by HIV+ Italians and other individuals alerted me to the fact that Ruggiero, a professor at the University of Florence, not only where propagating an alternative medicine treatment for HIV/AIDS in the form a yogurt, but was also teaching elective courses containing parts that explicitly tried to teach that HIV was not the cause of AIDS.

Now, according to a Nature News article by Zoë Corbyn called Inquiry launched over AIDS contrarian’s teaching the University of Florence has launched an investigation into “the teaching activities of an academic who assisted on a course that denies the causal link between HIV and AIDS, and supervised students with dissertations on the same topic”.

I first found out about the dissertations by the students from reading the Reckless Endangerment blog written by Snout. I particularly found two articles, HIV/AIDS denialism at the University of Florence and More pseudoscholarship from the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology especially helpful and informative.

The Nature News article continues:

The Italian university’s internal ‘special commission’ will examine the “teaching behaviour and responsibility” of molecular biologist Marco Ruggiero, a university spokesman told Nature.

The move follows a letter to the institution’s rector, Alberto Tesi, by an Italian campaign group called the HIV Forum, which represents people infected with HIV and others concerned about the disease. It calls on him to disassociate the university from the “science and activities” of Ruggiero, who, the group says, is “internationally known” for denying the widely accepted link between HIV and AIDS, and promotes a potential cure for HIV involving an enriched probiotic yoghurt for which there is no proven evidence.

Tesi replied on 29 February to announce the special commission. This “will examine whether professor Ruggiero’s conduct complies with the institutional guidelines on teaching contents and adherence to the objectives of the official curriculum of biological sciences”, says university spokesman Duccio Di Bari, who adds that any misconduct would be dealt with internally.

This is also a great example of what Internet activism potentially can result in. Besides supervising dissertations promoting HIV/AIDS denialism and promoting a treatment lacking scientific evidence, the inquiry will focus on the elective courses he handled: Read more of this post

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.

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.

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

Nathan Geffen on AIDS Deaths in South Africa

I have already provided a thorough coverage of the flawed Duesberg paper in irresponsible and obscure journal Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, we can now add a piece written by Nathan Geffen, working with the Treatment Action Campaign in Cape Town, South Africa. He published the article What do we know about AIDS deaths in South Africa? at AIDSTruth.org (perhaps among the best available resources for combating HIV/AIDS denialism online). In it, he showed that two of the main claims made by the recent Duesberg paper is fatally flawed.

The first argument, that the population has increased, can be swiftly dealt with.

The annual number of births in South Africa over the last two decades has been between 1 and 1.2 million. By the best estimate the number of deaths rose between 1997 and 2006 from about 400,000 to about 650,000 annually. This rise in deaths, as I explain below is entirely consistent with our large HIV epidemic, but it is still far below the number of births: hence South Africa’s population has risen.

So the population growth in South Africa is due to high birth rates, not with the scientifically flawed claim that there is no HIV/AIDS epidemic. Geffen also shows that there is plenty of evidence for an HIV/AIDS epidemic, but that the death rates from HIV/AIDS are partially obscured by stigma and partly attributed to the availability of ARVs.

Geffen concludes by asking what we all what to know:

All of the above is of course ignored by Duesberg et al. But it is well known to experts on the South African epidemic. This raises a perplexing question: who were the peer reviewers of the Duesberg et al. article? It is very unlikely that any genuine expert in AIDS statistics would have given their paper the go-ahead.

To be honest, a few seconds spent on Google would have revealed that the “arguments” put forward by Duesberg et. al. were merely rehashing of the same old scientifically flawed claims that have been debunked for decades.

The Breathtaking Inanity of Henry Bauer’s HIV/AIDS Denialist Balderdash

Henry Bauer

I have picked apart the flawed claims made by the HIV/AIDS denialist Henry Bauer a few times before and found them wanting, basically rehashing the same old debunked canards that denialists have repeated to themselves and anyone who wants to listen for decades. However, a recent blog entry by Bauer called Evidence-based medicine: No HIV/AIDS epidemic was so full of mind-numbing falsehoods and error that I just had to write a refutation.

So once more unto the breach…

The scientific evidence supports HIV as the cause of AIDS

—> Not only does Bauer think that there is no evidence that HIV causes AIDS, he also thinks that the evidence is stacked against this model. What is more, despite the fact that HIV has been isolated and probably visualized with electron microscopy, he actively believes that HIV as a virus does not even exist.

—> Nothing can be proven with absolute mathematical certainty in science, but a strong case can be made if multiple, independent lines of evidence all converge on the same general conclusion. This is what we find for the model that HIV causes AIDS.

—> The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases lists a lot of this evidence, including established epidemiological association, isolation, transmission pathogenesis, infection by HIV as a uniquely strong predictor for development of AIDS, the vast majority of AIDS-defining illnesses occur in patients with HIV, death rates are higher among HIV+ individuals than HIV- ones, HIV can be detected in AIDS patients, correlation between high HIV virus, viral antigens and viral genetic material one the one hand and increase risk of developing AIDS, efficacy of ARVs specific for blocking HIV replication improves prognosis for HIV patients, individuals with a lower viral load as a result of medication are less likely to progress to full-blown AIDS, AIDS patients have HIV antibodies, low prevalence of HIV antibodies correlate with extreme rarity of AIDS, HIV is similar to other viruses of the same type that causes immunodeficiency in their natural hosts etc. (NIAID, 2010)

—> None of these findings mathematically prove that HIV must cause AIDS, but the combined weight of the independent evidence strongly favors it. Those that reject the scientific conclusion that HIV causes AIDS must not just rationalize away each piece of evidence, but they must find another model on which the evidence is more likely.

—> The bottom line is that the HIV causes AIDS model predicts the evidence with a much higher probability than the notion that HIV does not cause AIDS.

Drop in lifespan reveals the severe impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic

—> Bauer repeats the old canard that HIV/AIDS is not an epidemic since the population growth in certain African countries are positive.

—> This is a flawed argument, because high birthrates compensates. The severe impact of HIV/AIDS can be seen by looking at changes in average lifespan over time. As discussed in a previous blog entry, Kalichman (2009, pp. 77-78) points out that countries in southern Africa, including South Africa, have seen a massive decrease in life expectancy over the years that correspond to the occurrence of AIDS pandemic. He writes that: “Life expectancy in many countries that were improving during the post-colonial years of the 1960s and 1907s began to erode in the 1980s and 1990s, and life expectancy in many countries is now worse than even during the 1950s, the last full decade of colonialism. The reason why some countries afflicted by AIDS sustain positive population growth is simply due to high birth rates.”

Failure to provide ARVs South Africans caused 340000 deaths

––> Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health concludes in Chigwedere et. al. (2008) that over 330000 individuals with HIV/AIDS died earlier than needed because the previous President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, and his government refused to let his people have access to antiretrovirals. They believed that it was just a western pharmaceutical plot to destroy the future of the country and instead, he suggested garlic and lemon as treatment (Kalichman, 2009). How can Henry Bauer claim that there is no HIV epidemic? Read more of this post

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