Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Tag Archives: HIV

You Know You Are a Pseudoscientific Crank If…

crank

Are you sick of always failing to convince us scientific skeptics that GM crops kill people, that homeopathy cures cancer or that climate change is a socialist myth? Do you feel frustrated by being asked to provide peer-reviewed scientific papers to support your position? If this matches your experience and you still do not know why, see how many of the following statements match your behavior to see if you qualify as a pseudoscientific crank.

You denigrate the knowledge of scientific experts, but compare yourself with Galileo and Einstein.

Just because you are criticized by knowledgeable people who provide scientific evidence to back up their arguments does not mean that you are an oppressed genius. Sometimes, you are just a rebel trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. In the end, the flawed notion that criticism means that you are actually right is a pathetic defense mechanism to avoid responding to objections or backing up your claims with evidence.

You are not Galileo or Einstein. They convinced their peers with evidence. You have no evidence whatsoever.

You claim mainstream medical treatments are unsafe and ineffective, while promoting quack treatments that are dangerous and untested.

There is a lot of hate towards modern medicine by proponents of quack treatments. This may be based on envy from quacks who never got into or failed medical school or because of postmodern belief that everyone is an expert. This is yet another example of confirmation bias and selective thinking.

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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.

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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 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

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.

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