# Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

## Seller of Quack “Treatment” Miracle Mineral Solution Convicted

The promotion of quack treatments recently received a heavy blow from the U. S. criminal justice system. Louis Daniel Smith, one of the major players behind selling industrial-strength bleach as a miracle cure for various diseases and conditions, was convicted in a federal court for “introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead”, “fraudulently smuggling merchandise into the United States” and “conspiracy to commit multiple crimes” according to a press release from the U. S. Department of Justice. He now risks being sentenced to 34 years in prison.

This is a stunning victory for science-based medicine, consumer protection and scientific skepticism generally. It will help protect thousands of people with cancer, HIV, malaria or autism who would otherwise have fallen prey for quackery, both in terms of health and finances. It will also provide a powerful response to both those who claims that quack treatments do not cause harm and those who claim that skeptical activism is pointless. Pseudoscience (and alternative medicine in particular) does cause considerable harm, and skeptical activism does work.

What diseases and conditions were industrial-strength bleach suppose to treat?

A federal jury in the Eastern District of Washington returned a guilty verdict yesterday against a Spokane, Washington, man for selling industrial bleach as a miracle cure for numerous diseases and illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, lyme disease, asthma and the common cold, the Department of Justice announced.

Warning alarms should always sound when a purported treatment claims to be a miracle cure for a wide range of diseases and conditions that are largely unrelated to each other, such as AIDS, malaria, asthma and so on. However, this short list is incomplete. Miracle Mineral Solution is being peddled for an even wider array of conditions than that on the Internet: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), autism spectrum conditions, herpes, dog bites, root canal, gangrene, urinary tract infections, HPV warts, eczema, influenza, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, whooping cough, fibromyalgia, first-degree burns, spider bites, chlamydia, getting bitten by drug addicts, singles, bleeding hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, allergies, gall stones, eye infections, tetanus and even (believe it or not) wounds resulting from attacks by rogue baboons.

## Who Do ‘Rethinking AIDS’ Denialists Consider “Medical Professionals”?

Within mainstream medicine, the causal connection between HIV and AIDS is one of the most well-studied connections between a pathogen and a clinical condition ever known. However, there are still those who think that HIV does not cause AIDS, or even more absurdly, that HIV does not even exist despite the fact that we have a massive amount of clinical, imaging and sequencing data from the virus.

One of the key organizations underlying modern HIV/AIDS denialism is called “Rethinking AIDS” and includes several of the most well-known HIV/AIDS denialists in history such as David Rasnick, David Crowe, Henry Bauer, Peter Duesberg and Marco Ruggiero. The pseudoscientific claims made by many of these individuals have been covered extensively on Debunking Denialism before. Recently, they posted a list of approved “medical professionals” that are “willing to work with HIV-positive people on their actual health problems and will not pressure their patients to take anti-retroviral medications”. Who are these alleged “medical professionals” and what makes them qualified to treat individuals with HIV/AIDS without antiretroviral medication?

## Regurgitated HIV/AIDS Denialism and Anti-Science Libertarianism

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.

## Spell Casting Does Not Cure HIV

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.

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.

## CDC Fact Sheet Confuses HIV/AIDS Denialist Henry Bauer

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

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

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.

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

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.

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