The universe may be indifferent to Human suffering, but it’s also unforgiving of Human stupidity…at least it used to be.
Modern medicine has done wonders for the survival rate of Human beings, in many cases even going so far as to basically circumvent Natural Selection–the force that, for tens of thousands of years, ensured that stupidity was fatal. This is not one of those cases.
(Take a wild guess what that second “s” is for…)
For those of you new to the BS game, back in the late 90’s AIDS denialism and conspiracy theories about the disease were rampant, primarily centering around the assertion that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was not the cause of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
To be fair, the earliest efforts at understanding HIV were clouded by politics and cultural values of the time. Prior to the discovery of the virus, scientists had labeled the collection of symptoms that would later be known as AIDS, as “Gay-related Immune Deficiency“.
The association of the disease with the gay community hampered efforts to obtain funding for research, especially in the United States under newly-elected President Ronald Reagan who rode a wave of religious conservatism into the White House. The Reagan administration’s Communication Director, Pat Buchanan even argued at the time that AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men”.
The initial push-back against the link between HIV and AIDS came from the medical and scientific community itself.
Dr. Robert Willner, for example, lost his medical licence for attempting to treat AIDS with “Ozone Therapy”. He also attempted to demonstrate the lack of a link between HIV and AIDS by infecting himself with blood from an HIV-positive patient. He died of a heart attack the following year, although as of the time this article was published we haven’t been able to confirm this stunt as the primary cause of his death.
Continuum was a London, England-based magazine run by an activist group that campaigned against AIDS as a genuine illness.
The magazine proposed various ideas about AIDS including that it was a “misdiagnosis” of Tuberculosis, a hoax in general, or the consequence of illegal drug use. Various members associated with the group–most of which suffered from the virus–were ostracized after seeking conventional medical treatment of the time through antiretroviral drugs.
Jody Wells, Huw (not a typo as far as we can tell) Christie, and Michael Baumgartner, were the core members of the Continuum group that published the magazine both in print, and online at “VirusMyth.net”. All died of complications from AIDS; after their deaths the magazine shut down. An archive of some of the issues exists online and can be seen here.
As public awareness of the epidemic grew so did acceptance of the scientific research and medical treatments for HIV. But as we’ve seen countless times with other examples of fringe beliefs, when more level-headed believers defect to the camp of reality, those who remain insulate themselves further from it.
Additionally, those who are most vulnerable to the deadly consequences of denailism tend to be among the poorest and least educated; lacking not just the scientific literacy to quickly parse sense from nosense, but often even a simple awareness of the established science itself.
A prime example of this occurred in South Africa, where President Thabo Mbeki, an AIDS denier, banned antiretroviral drugs–a move that can be linked to causing the deaths of over 300,000 people. In a country where over 15% of the population may be infected with HIV, he made the public statement that he “never knew anyone who’d died of AIDS”, and advocated treatment that involved garlic and potatoes.
Even darker is what as known as “Virgin Cleansing“, a myth that is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. This has lead to the targeted rape of young girls and infants due to the presumption of their virginity.
So while we all may have started this article–reading it on your part, writing it on ours–with a bit of dark humor, laughing at the expense of idiots, we’ll end it with some righteous anger on behalf of the innocent–and a reminder why it’s critical to fight the spread of bullshit.
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