Friday, January 02, 2009

The horrible price of the War on Science - lessons from AIDS denialists

Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has caused millions of deaths through his carnal stupidity. He was a dupe of Peter Duesberg, a genuinely evil man who also influenced Christine Maggiore. The Guardian has just published Maggiore's obituary (emphases mine)...
Bad science: Thanks to HIV/Aids denialists like Christine Maggiore more will die | Comment is free | The Guardian

... What if everything you thought you knew about Aids was wrong? That was the title of a book by Christine Maggiore, an HIV/Aids-denialist lauded in the American media. She is now dead.

Maggiore decided that HIV does not cause Aids, and that antiretroviral drugs do not treat it. She was HIV positive, which the media loved. She declined to take ARV drugs and specifically decided not to take HIV drugs during her pregnancy, despite the strong evidence that they massively lower the risk of maternal transmission. She insisted on breastfeeding her children, even though it has been shown that this increases the risk of maternal transmission. She also refused to have her children tested for HIV. Her daughter, Eliza Jane Scovill, died three years ago. The coroner attributed the death to Aids and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. She was three years old.

Last Saturday, two days after Christmas, Maggiore died of pneumonia, aged 52. She was an extremely effective advocate. She set up successful campaigning organisations and counselled HIV-positive pregnant women on how to avoid pressure from medics to use azidothymidine (AZT) during pregnancy to prevent maternal transmission of the virus. She appeared on the cover of Mothering magazine, with a "No AZT" sign painted on her pregnant tummy.

However, as always, this is about far more than one person. Maggiore's views on HIV were driven by the work of Peter Duesberg, a well-known Aids denier. He was unable to persuade other scientists that his views on HIV were correct, but he did very well with journalists, most notably Neville Hodgkinson, former science correspondent of the Sunday Times.

Over two years in the early 1990s the paper published a series of lengthy articles rejecting the role of HIV in causing Aids, calling the African Aids epidemic a myth. It was all a scam to make money and defend reputations, they said....

... Duesberg went on to great things, including South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki's disastrous presidential advisory panel on Aids. It was here that the country's Aids-denialist policies were set into play, with tragic consequences. One demographic modelling study estimates that if the South African government had used antiretroviral drugs for prevention and treatment at the same rate as the Western Cape, around 171,000 new HIV infections and 343,000 deaths could have been prevented between 1999 and 2007...

Given the stakes, if Duesberg was sure that HIV did not cause AIDS, why did he not inoculate himself with HIV like Robert Wilner claimed to have done? (Wilner died 6 months later of an unrelated MI.) Duesberg once said he would do so, but he never has.

Wilner and Maggiore were tragedies, but Duesberg and Hodkinson are evil.

The era of AIDS denialism is passing, but we still struggle against global climate change denialism. The shattered remnant of the GOP is still at war against science and reason, indeed what's left is ever more the party of Limbaugh.

Remember the lessons of the Maggiore family. Denying reality has consequences.

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