Posts Tagged ‘aids denialism’

Yeah, I’m calling people names again. Don’t blame me, Simon Singh started it. The big eejit.

There’s been a bit of discussion on Twitter today about the use of the word “skeptic”, particularly as it applies to things that most of the skeptical community wouldn’t want to be associated with.

People who go against the body of scientific evidence supporting the fact of anthropogenic climate change, for instance, are sometimes labelled “global warming skeptics”. Other people who believe some very strange things about the HIV virus are “AIDS skeptics”. There’s even “9/11 skeptics” (though less common than “truthers”) for people who believe that a massive aeroplane is entirely incapable of doing significant damage to a building and the structural integrity of steel couldn’t possibly be compromised by prolonged intense heat.

Clearly not everyone’s using the word “skeptic” the way some of us would hope. It’s being used to just mean someone who disbelieves something, but I hope anyone who identifies as a skeptic in general will appreciate that there’s a bit more to it than that.

Skepticism is an approach to assessing reality, which places importance on the concepts of testing ideas and maintaining caution against cognitive biases and other such logical windfalls which often lead us to believe things that aren’t true.

It’s not just about saying “Nah, I don’t buy it” to any claim anyone ever makes. Rejecting the scientific consensus in an area that’s not your speciality, or foregoing a simple explanation in favour of a vast and unsupported conspiracy, do not constitute skeptical behaviour.

So maybe we should call it something else.

There’s been some controversy before about the usefulness of applying the term “denialist” to some of these non-skeptics, and whether reflexively branding thusly anyone who disagrees with you is a constructive way of doing science. But denialism is a real thing, with specific parameters and symptoms, so it can be a meaningful descriptor if judiciously applied.

There’s an alternate suggestion which has been around for a while, supported by Simon Singh in an article from April 2009, and recently revisited at a talk he gave at QEDcon: numpties.

I like this. There’s something soft, harmless, almost good-naturedly charming about the word. It’s not like calling someone a fuckwit, which has a much more intrinsically hostile feel. “Numpty” is something you’d call your boyfriend after he dropped a plate. It’s something you’d say whilst affectionately tousling someone’s hair.

Of course, let’s not start throwing it around too liberally. Not everyone who doesn’t fully buy into the currently accepted scientific line on climate change is a numpty. Many of them are no doubt well intentioned but misinformed – and maybe some of them even know something the rest of us don’t. It’s always worth checking.

But some people are persisting in their delusion, repeating the same canards, cherry-picking the same data, and avoiding the intellectually honest conclusions that they should be reaching after a full assessment of the facts. James Delingpole, for instance, is a worthy wearer of the numpty crown.

Hat-tip to Kash Farooq for raising a topic I actually managed to have an opinion on.


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The people who sell Miracle Mineral Solution claim that it can cure “AIDS, hepatitis A,B and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancer and many more of mankind’s worse diseases”.

The FDA, who regulate products with medical claims like this in the US, says it contains industrial strength bleach and should be immediately disposed of.

That was in a warning released on the 30th July. It’s now August 6th, and the site is still up. They’re still claiming to cure myriad ailments, through a miracle formula discovered in “clinical trials… conducted in a prison in the country of Malawi, East Africa”.

Yeah, so you could trust that impeccable evidence. Or maybe it could poison you.

Oh, and they tell you to stop taking HIV medication, because HIV “is not dangerous” and “does not cause AIDS”.

Which could also kill you.

This is not a case of a supplement adulterated with a prescription drug or containing trace amounts of heavy metals. This is an active scheme directed not only to driving the consumer to use a harmful product (and even inject it IV), but also encourages the discontinuation of beneficial prescription drugs.

Let me walk you through what to do from here.

1. Read the full story on the Science-Based Medicine blog.

2. Pick your jaw up off the floor.

3. Douse the smoke that may be emerging from your ears.

4. Do something to spread the word about the importance of science-based medicine. Write a blog about the scientific process. Tweet about the dangers of taking medical advice from celebrities, or “maverick” doctors with no traditional scientific backing to their improbable and expensive claims.

5. Consider making a complaint to the FTC, which can be done here. I’m not a US citizen, so I don’t know if I’m eligible to lodge anything with them officially, but I’ll have a go.

6. Have a look to see if you can find any alternative medical practitioners – homeopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, anything – who are being similarly critical of this organisation, and offering similar warnings that people should not stop taking their HIV drugs to drink some bleach because some maniacs on the internet said so.

I’d be fascinated to see if that last one’s fruitful at all. It’s a common criticism of the alternative medicine movement – one of many – that, even if their own treatments are theoretically harmless and largely benevolent, their complacency is damaging when it comes to being uncritical about more harmful medical claims. And so far, to the best of my awareness, it’s an entirely fair criticism. But if anyone wants to bring to my attention the efforts of anyone working in CAM to counter this kind of dangerous nonsense, I’d be happy to highlight it here.

It’d be heartening to see that they’re sometimes capable of that. And so far this is a really depressing story.

Edit: I did actually manage to wade through the FTC Complaint Assistant and make a complaint about this, and you probably can too. You can leave most of the fields blank, and answer “no” to most of the questions – it seems mainly geared around people who’ve had money conned out of them, or been contacted by someone dodgy, neither of which applies to me in this case. But it’s friendlier than most online forms in that it doesn’t object to you leaving as much blank as you want, and just filling in the pertinent bits – basically the name of the website in question, and what they’re doing wrong.

When it came to the final section, where you have a free space to describe the nature of the complaint, I put the following. Feel free to borrow as much or as little of this as you like if you want to say something too.

The claims currently made on the Miracle Mineral website (http://www.miraclemineral.org/) include its ability to cure AIDS, malaria, and “most cancer”. I suspect that this organisation is making serious medical claims that are not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence. They urge customers to consume orally, or even inject, a substance which the FDA recently warned “contains industrial strength bleach” and “can cause serious harm to health”.

They also encourage the discontinuation of beneficial prescription drugs, such as for the treatment of HIV.

More information can be found here: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=6430

It seems terrifying that such a product can still be sold in the context of such outrageous claims, and I would urge that serious action is taken.

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