July 31, 2012
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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.
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.
March 22, 2012
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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
February 16, 2012
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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.
February 3, 2012
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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
January 18, 2012
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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.
January 11, 2012
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Peter Duesberg is the among the forefathers of the HIV/AIDS denialist movement. They reject the notion that HIV causes AIDS, despite being contradicted by a massive amount of scientific evidence and has held on to this view for three decades.
Duesberg has recently got an article called “AIDS since 1984: No evidence for a new, viral epidemic – not even in Africa” published in the obscure Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology. This is after getting rejected from four other journals and having gotten a previous version of the article pulled from the journal Medical Hypotheses, itself a crank journal.
One of the co-authors is Henry Bauer. He is a homophobic professor emeritus in chemistry and science studies at Virgina Tech. He is also, apparently, a world-renowned proponent of the existence of the Loch Ness monster. I kid you not. He was also an editor of the woo-woo journal Journal of Scientific Exploration. All of these three journals mentioned have an impact factor well below 1, making them shoddy and unreliable at best.
The Duesberg et. al. (2011) paper itself is just a rehashing of the same old falsehoods that HIV/AIDS denialists have peddled for many decades Read more of this post
November 27, 2011
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“What’s the harm”?
This is perhaps one of the most common objections to criticisms of alternative medicine, faith healing and assorted irrationalities in the field of pseudoscience, yet it is a rebuttal that is arguably both dangerous and confused. There is a substantial risk of harm from things like faith healing, since not only do they not get any actual benefit from the process, it can make them stop taking the medications they desperately need.
A stunning case of this issue was reported by Sky News a few days ago: HIV Deaths: Church Tells Patients to Stop Treatment. They report that.
At least six people have died in Britain after being told they had been healed of HIV and could stop taking their medication, Sky News has discovered. There is evidence evangelical churches in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow are claiming to cure HIV through God. Sky sent three undercover reporters to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), which is based in Southwark, south London. All of them told the pastors they were HIV positive – all were told they could be healed.
It always amazes me how these kinds of organizations do not get prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They are taking advantage of poor, sick individuals and deluding them into not only taking part in faith healing, but to actually stop taking their medications. This can lead to a reduction in expected life span and, as we have seen, death. Remember this the next time someone asks: “What’s the Harm?”
Deaths resulting from HIV patients being told not to take their medications has happened in the past on a much larger scale. The former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, was an HIV/AIDS denialist who thought that medication against HIV/AIDS where a western pharmaceutical plot by western pharmaceutical companies to destroy the future of Africans. This meant that he not only suggested using lemon and garlic to treat HIV, he stopped antiretrovirals from reaching HIV/AIDS patients. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health estimates that his actions lead to the death of more than 330000 Africans worth HIV/AIDS. The full story is told in Michael Specter’s terrific book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.
The Sky News story continues: Read more of this post