Advertisement
Gene Tools
Gene Tools

Book Excerpt from The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back

In Chapter 8, "The Conspiratorial Move and the Struggle for Evidence-Based Medicine," author Nicoli Natrass explores the Internet's role in the rise of anti-science sentiment.

By | March 1, 2012

image: Book Excerpt from <em>The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back</em> Columbia University Press, March 2012

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, MARCH 2012

Modern Forms of Boundary Work in Defense of Science

Because the rejection of medical science has adverse implications for public health—as evidenced by unnecessary AIDS deaths and declining vaccination rates—this cultural tolerance for alternative medicine has not gone unchallenged, especially in the Internet era. In the past, those wishing to explore the cultic milieu and related alternative lifestyles did so primarily by subscribing to print editions of alternative healing magazines such as Mothering—the magazine that featured a cover photograph of Christine Maggiore with “No AZT” emblazoned on her pregnant abdomen. Today, like many other fringe publications, Mothering no longer produces a print edition. Consumers of alternative health services now surf the Internet like everyone else. In so doing, they will encounter alternative websites by the dozen, but they will also come across anti–AIDS denial sites and advice from conventional medical practitioners. They will find sites telling them Maggiore’s daughter Eliza Jane died because a doctor gave her an antibiotic and that Maggiore died of stress—but they will also find information showing that both Eliza Jane and Maggiore died of AIDS. The Internet, in other words, is both a source of opportunity for cultropreneurs—and a site of danger for them as converts can easily be lost.

This determination to fight back and expose the dangers of denialism is evident also in the more conventional print media. For example, the popular magazine for science and reason, Skeptical Inquirer, which started off life investigating claims about UFO sightings, ghosts, psychic powers, and similar paranormal phenomena gradually found its focus shifting to exposing the claims of alternative healers. More recently, medical professionals such as Goldacre, Kalichman, and Offit have penned popular books critiquing bad science, AIDS denialism, and the anti-vaccination movement. As such, they form part of a broader critical set of writings about the false claims and dangers of alternative medicine—for example, Dan Hurley’s exposé of the US vitamin and herbal supplement industry, Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh’s evaluation of the evidence for alternative therapies, and Michael Specter’s critique of denialism and irrational thinking. It is too early to tell whether this counteroffensive by pro-science advocates has achieved much success, but the fact that Goldacre and Singh have both been sued for libel (unsuccessfully) by alternative therapists suggests that some of their blows have hit home.

The electronic media has proved to be a crucial mobilizing instrument for pro-science activists. Supporters of Simon Singh used Twitter and Facebook to keep abreast of the libel case, to organize events, and to lobby for reform of the UK’s libel laws. Both Goldacre and Kalichman operate blogs on topics linked to their books, and they are active within the broader community of pro-science Internet activists. Goldacre refers to the wider group of pro-science bloggers as “the posse” and posts links to them on his website. And their actions are not merely intellectual. When the British Chiropractic Association sued Singh, the posse flooded the association with complaints about individual chiropractors, all of which required investigation. For Goldacre, the lessons are clear:

First, if you have reputation and superficial plausibility more than evidence to support your activities, then it may be wise to keep under the radar, rather than start expensive fights. But more interestingly than that, a ragged band of bloggers from all walks of life has, to my mind, done a better job of subjecting an entire industry’s claims to meaningful, public, scientific scrutiny than the media, the industry itself, and even its own regulator. It’s strange this task has fallen to them, but I’m glad someone is doing it, and they do it very, very well indeed.

In other words, boundary work in defense of science has not only adapted to the modern age by taking place online and with the help of electronic media, but it is being undertaken by members of the public. Whereas, in the past, boundary work was conducted primarily by scholars seeking to develop and maintain public respect for science and to relegate “pseudosciences” like phrenology beyond the pale of academia, today the battle is more diffuse, public, and decentralized—indeed often fought at an individual level via cut-and-thrust debate on blog postings. As Goldacre suggests, it may be that this is more effective than action taken by the scientific community.

Damien Thompson is similarly optimistic, noting in his populist polemic Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History that high-profile alternative therapists have proved “surprisingly vulnerable to guerrilla attacks from the blogosphere”:

Freelance defenders of empirical truth, armed to the teeth with hard data, have mounted devastating ambushes on quacks and frauds who have ventured too far into the public domain. The tactic is an antiretroviral rather than a vaccine, and too modest in scope to effect dramatic change in society, but it does seem to work. . . . Reputations are easily damaged in a furiously competitive market, and people rather enjoy the spectacle of smug, rich lifestyle gurus being humiliated.

This social phenomenon of “angry nerds” and “guerilla bloggers” dedicated to defending evidence-based medicine and challenging quackery is important. Rather than relying on the scientific community to defend the boundaries of science, we are seeing a much more socially embedded struggle over values and how we should be approaching our health and that of others.

Reprinted from The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, by Nicoli Natrass © 2012 by Nicoli Natrass. Used with permission of the publisher, Columbia University Press.

Advertisement

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You

You

Processing...
Processing...

Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo

Comments

Avatar of: Seth Kalichman

Seth Kalichman

Posts: 2

March 13, 2012

Sadly the likes of Nattrass like to engage in their own version of "muddying the waters" by likening people who question the tenuous link from HIV to AIDS as everything from Quacks to Serial Killers. She would also have you believe that those that question the link also question Climate Change the Holocaust and 9/11 collectively and are therefore mentally challenged loonies dribbling on their chins.

When Duesberg published his rebuttal of Robert Gallo's 4 papers linking HTLV3 to AIDS in 1987, he didn't claim any sort of "Conspiracy" he simply stated that it was WRONG. Interestingly Gallo didn't republish anything that countered Duesbergs assertions and to this day still hasn't.

30 years later there is not a single referenced peer reviewed scientifically proven paper that proves the link between HIV and AIDS. All we are offered are glib statements and catch phrases like "Consensus" "Overwhelming Evidence" and the like.

AIDS is not so much a science anymore as a religion, a very well paying religion I might add. One only has to look at the Gatekeepers of the Church of AIDS and see that they are not microbiologists or virologists, instead we get a mish mash of social psychologists, treatment activists, economists and a bevvy of anonymous internet drones that strangely portray themselves as dogs.

Being one of those doubters, I can state: I don't think there's a conspiracy, the Climate is Changing, some nutters flew planes in to the twin towers and Auschwitz was a tragedy, however the link between HIV and AIDS is not such a sure thing as they would have you believe.

The "Science" of retrovirology has not provided humanity with anything worthwhile to date whilst it has consumed vast quantities of public monies. Sadly too, it has stolen funding away from real diseases such as Malaria and T.B. that actually kill hundreds of thousands of people each and every year.

Shame, shame, shame on these activists

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

March 13, 2012

Sadly the likes of Nattrass like to engage in their own version of "muddying the waters" by likening people who question the tenuous link from HIV to AIDS as everything from Quacks to Serial Killers. She would also have you believe that those that question the link also question Climate Change the Holocaust and 9/11 collectively and are therefore mentally challenged loonies dribbling on their chins.

When Duesberg published his rebuttal of Robert Gallo's 4 papers linking HTLV3 to AIDS in 1987, he didn't claim any sort of "Conspiracy" he simply stated that it was WRONG. Interestingly Gallo didn't republish anything that countered Duesbergs assertions and to this day still hasn't.

30 years later there is not a single referenced peer reviewed scientifically proven paper that proves the link between HIV and AIDS. All we are offered are glib statements and catch phrases like "Consensus" "Overwhelming Evidence" and the like.

AIDS is not so much a science anymore as a religion, a very well paying religion I might add. One only has to look at the Gatekeepers of the Church of AIDS and see that they are not microbiologists or virologists, instead we get a mish mash of social psychologists, treatment activists, economists and a bevvy of anonymous internet drones that strangely portray themselves as dogs.

Being one of those doubters, I can state: I don't think there's a conspiracy, the Climate is Changing, some nutters flew planes in to the twin towers and Auschwitz was a tragedy, however the link between HIV and AIDS is not such a sure thing as they would have you believe.

The "Science" of retrovirology has not provided humanity with anything worthwhile to date whilst it has consumed vast quantities of public monies. Sadly too, it has stolen funding away from real diseases such as Malaria and T.B. that actually kill hundreds of thousands of people each and every year.

Shame, shame, shame on these activists

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 17, 2012

Christine Maggiore had more intelligence and integrity in her little finger than this hack shill for degraded and corrupted "science" can even comprehend.

Why don't you leave Christine and her family in peace and switch to baiting any other of the many who have asked perfectly reasonable, important questions that industry refuses to address, instead deflecting attention by name-calling and declarations like "Science has spoken; HIV=AIDS. Period."

Avatar of: maryhirzel

maryhirzel

Posts: 3

April 17, 2012

Christine Maggiore had more intelligence and integrity in her little finger than this hack shill for degraded and corrupted "science" can even comprehend.

Why don't you leave Christine and her family in peace and switch to baiting any other of the many who have asked perfectly reasonable, important questions that industry refuses to address, instead deflecting attention by name-calling and declarations like "Science has spoken; HIV=AIDS. Period."

Avatar of: Sullivan ThePoop

Sullivan ThePoop

Posts: 2

May 1, 2012

 Because letting that misinformation out there kills people.

Avatar of: maryhirzel

maryhirzel

Posts: 3

May 1, 2012

People's lives depend on the trashing of a dead woman????

Geeezzzz

Avatar of: Sullivan ThePoop

Sullivan ThePoop

Posts: 2

May 1, 2012

 This is just a lie.  Go look at pubmed and see all the virologists and immunologists, including me, who have published about aids. If you never have HIV, you never get AIDS.  I cannot believe you think that PCR is nothing worthwhile.  You should be ashamed of yourself

Avatar of: maryhirzel

maryhirzel

Posts: 3

May 1, 2012

Go back to your lab, have another Snickers bar and dream up some more highly profitable crap, Poop.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

May 1, 2012

 Because letting that misinformation out there kills people.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

May 1, 2012

People's lives depend on the trashing of a dead woman????

Geeezzzz

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

May 1, 2012

 This is just a lie.  Go look at pubmed and see all the virologists and immunologists, including me, who have published about aids. If you never have HIV, you never get AIDS.  I cannot believe you think that PCR is nothing worthwhile.  You should be ashamed of yourself

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

May 1, 2012

Go back to your lab, have another Snickers bar and dream up some more highly profitable crap, Poop.

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Life Technologies