House of Numbers

September 26th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in africa, aids, bad science | 93 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, 26 September 2009, The Guardian.

This week, listening to the Guardian Science podcast, I had a treat. Caspar Melville, editor of New Humanist magazine, leader of something called the Rationalist Association, had been to see two films at the Cambridge Film Festival. One was a dreary creationist movie that famously misrepresented the biologists interviewed for it. This was obvious bad science, he explained. But the other was different: House of Numbers, a new film about Aids, really had something in it.I have now seen this film. It presents itself as a naïve journey by one young film maker to discover the science behind HIV. In reality it’s a dreary and pernicious piece of Aids denialist propaganda.

All the usual ideas are there. It’s antiretroviral drugs themselves that are the cause of symptoms called Aids. Or it’s poverty. Or it’s drug use. HIV doesn’t cause Aids. Diagnostic tools don’t work, Aids is simply a spurious basket diagnosis invented to sell antiretroviral medication for a wide range of unrelated problems, and the drugs don’t work either.

It would take two months of columns to address all the bogus claims of this film, and that blizzard, perhaps, is the point of making it, with all the classic rhetorical devices that have been honed by Aids denialists and creationists over decades. It engages, for example, in repeated overstatement of marginal internal disagreements about the details of HIV research, to the extent that 18 doctors and scientists interviewed for the film have issued a statement saying that the director was “deceptive” in his interactions with them, that it perpetuates pseudoscience and myths, and that they were selectively quoted to make it seem as if they are in disagreement and disarray, when in fact they agree on all the important facts.

At one point there is an extended sequence explaining that you can’t take a picture of the HIV virus: or maybe you can, but if you can, different scientists disagree on how, and whether their method is best. This is an infantile world view where stuff only exists when you can easily take a photograph of it, and where the internet, compound interest, and magnetism don’t exist either.

There is a memorable skit on diagnostic tests, where the film-maker manages to find one woman working in a marquee in a shopping centre in Africa giving HIV tests, who accidentally misinforms him about why she is asking for information on his health risk behaviours. In the film, this becomes a dramatic exposé: the HIV diagnosis is a tautology, they suggest, a basket diagnosis for sick people of any kind who engage in risk behaviours, the blood test is unreliable, a piece of theatre, and the diagnosis is only made because the tester has asked if you are gay or inject drugs.

But people working on the front line of HIV testing are often told to ask about risk behaviours during a test, because testing is also a great opportunity for education about prevention. Furthermore, as an interesting statistical aside, knowledge about your pre-test likelihood of having a condition also helps the tester to correctly interpret any diagnostic test: because as we have covered in this column, for terrorist screening, for predicting violence in psychiatric patients, indeed for anything, the likelihood of a false positive with any test is higher where the population prevalence of a condition is low. In any case, HIV tests are so reliable that in 2007, an HIV negative woman won $2.5 million in damages after she was treated for Aids without a proper diagnosis, since there was no excuse for the mistake that her doctor made.

But am I protesting too much? As you read these words, is doubt creeping in? So tests aren’t so good? So there is controversy? It’s all so complicated. So many details. Maybe there’s no smoke without fire. And so, maybe, I should ignore this film: but it’s so profoundly misleading that you can’t stop yourself.

There is an interview with Christine Maggiore, who talks about her difficult decision to go against medical advice by refusing Aids medication, medication, and how much better she felt as a result. What the film doesn’t tell you, as you shout at the screen, is that Christine Maggiore’s daughter Eliza Jane died of Aids and PCP pneumonia three years ago, at the age of three, and, as I reported nine months ago, Christine Maggiore herself died two days after Christmas 2008 of pneumonia, aged 52 (the film finally acknowledges her death in the last 2 seconds of the film, at the end of the lengthy credits, in small letters).

We see Neville Hodgkinson, the Sunday Times health correspondent who drove their denialist reporting in the 1990s. There is Peter Duesberg, who you will remember from a recent column, when academic publishers Elsevier forcibly withdrew an article by him in one of their journals. I could go on.

Do you give idiots a wider audience when you respond to them? Are they marginal and irrelevant? I’d like to believe that they are. But the duping of Caspar Melville (who has since recanted from his uncritical response to the film, albeit only on his blog), and the attention-seeking smugness of Cambridge film festival in putting on such a moronic film, both suggest otherwise. I will never know the right way to deal with any of these people, and I will always welcome advice.


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93 Responses



  1. Dom said,

    September 26, 2009 at 1:10 am

    Good, but HIV virus = Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus.

  2. biggerpills said,

    September 26, 2009 at 2:44 am

    I’ve blogged about ‘Light of Hope: Help for Children with Autism’ and ‘The Living Matrix’ before, thinking that making an entire feature-length film was an unusual PR move. Now more quacks seem to be making films and promoting them heavily, some take them to film festivals and some are even getting them screened at Russell Group universities.

    What could be behind this trend? Such films will never be seen by a wide audience and their producers are likely to be preaching to the converted. Such films are press released but despite the efforts of their PR teams they get very little positive coverage- check the reviews of ‘House of Numbers’ on the official site and you’ll see that most of them are pretty negative. The films are never made available for free as Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ was, and the target audience is not likely to want to pay for them.

    What is the point of this PR tactic, and why is it now so popular when it doesn’t seem to be at all effective? Perhaps I’m the deluded one here: they managed to fool a high-profile skeptic so perhaps they could actually be dangerous.

    Granted Caspar Melville isn’t a scientist but he is known as a skeptic and someone who probably should know better, which makes me wonder just how convincing this film really is. I’m keen to find out but not so keen that I’d pay to see it. Melville got to see it for free but I doubt it will reach any paying skeptics, so who are such films actually made for?

  3. Michael Gray said,

    September 26, 2009 at 4:12 am

    The days of remaining schtumm about these supporters of genocidal criminals is well overdue.

    Eady notwithstanding, I say: go for the throat, and call them exactly what they are: complicit ‘aiders’ & abettors of egregious crimes against humanity.
    They deserve to be given no quarter.
    Silence as a prophylactic to these toxic bastards is akin to letting an infectious disease “run it’s course” as a form of cure.
    They will only multiply if left unchecked.

  4. CoralBloom said,

    September 26, 2009 at 4:14 am

    I’m concerned at the costs of dealing with these people. First, there is the human cost, the health cost for those people duped by this, at best, misinformation.

    It should be a given that if we want freedom of expression, then with that freedom comes a responsibility. There just has to come a point (which I am afraid I am rapidly approaching) when we, as a society, refuse to accept the hideously bad science foisted upon us for the sake of whim by those with no interest in good science.

    Clockwork Orange was banned in this country for a reason. This film, should probably be banned too.

    Secondly, there is the cost of repeatedly explaining the science over and over again. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort to deal with them. That time, effort and expense could be put to far more constructive use (like searching for vaccines, better treatments for the thousands of other illnesses facing mankind.

    If the government really wants scientists to engage more with the public, and are willing to consider the different ways scientists could be rewarded for doing so, then why reward people for fighting the same fight over and over again? Before we know it, we’ll be debating photosynthesis versus magic year after year.

  5. jackpt said,

    September 26, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Tutting at something, conveying how it’s sad and wrong, is different from debating. Fine line. If you debate something that is essentially nonsense it’s wasted energy, and runs the risk of creating the impression there is a debate. Probably best to do as you’ve done in the above article, and calmly relate that it’s wrong, as neutrally as possible, and hope that people who can understand will. Documenting rather than rebuttal. I think the article does a good job for its size.

    The broader context in the article ensures a focus on broader issues rather than spotlighting idiots, therefore elevating them.

  6. grahamstorrs said,

    September 26, 2009 at 4:55 am

    People can be duped by films like this. People who are duped by them will make bad health choices. People who end up with AIDS because of these bad choices should sue the makers of the film that duped them. A few such lawsuits and people would become very wary about making films like this. Whether these film makers are doing it maliciously, recklessly, or because they are stupid, being made to face the consequences of their actions through the courts may stop some or all of them.

  7. Francis Xavier Holden said,

    September 26, 2009 at 7:06 am

    I’m more forgiving of a blog post that only takes a hour or so of caffeine fueled impetuosity or and a click of the mouse to publish worldwide.

    I’m fairly unforgiving about a film or a book. Films take months,even years to get up. Plus they have an extensive and detailed story board and treatment. Therefore they have ample opportunity to do research and check facts.

    Trouble is research these days means “I read something someone gave me” and facts mean “someone said” – the equivalent of what used to be termed pub talk.

  8. Francis Xavier Holden said,

    September 26, 2009 at 7:08 am

    I’d suggest complaining to the advertising council perhaps

  9. DevonDozer said,

    September 26, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Inviting advice is always dangerous. You end up getting opinions and barely disguised rants, like mine!

    Junk such as these films needs to be refuted, clearly and unambiguously. Any such counter should not, however, be of the form of an ‘argument’ with the daftness because that can lend credibility to the nonsense.

    You know better than I do that few respond to reasoned argument – most of us seize on ‘facts’ to support or reinforce our beliefs. Any attempt to argue will probably lead to a hardening of opinion – even among the dorks.

    The best advice my late Dad ever gave me was; “Never argue with an idiot, because people watching lose track of which is which”. The older I get, the more I appreciate his words. Several times a week, I’m given cause to think of them.

    The fundamental problem here is the effective destruction of the state education system and the marginalisation of ‘science’. That is the key issue. The very existence of an audience for films like this is a symptom rather than a cause. Focus on the cause!

  10. danielrendall said,

    September 26, 2009 at 8:12 am

    This may be a bit of an obvious question, but is it possible to find out where the funding for the film came from? I assume people don’t make AIDS-denialist propaganda for the good of their health – I imagine that the real intention is to further the financial interests of their sponsors.

  11. gimpyblog said,

    September 26, 2009 at 8:57 am

    biggerpills, I think people make these films because they have a genuine commitment to their cause that blinds them to financial and critical realities. In their minds these films will change the world. That they don’t is probably more a tribute to human apathy than reason as this embarrassing slip up from a self proclaimed rationalist shows.
    Let’s be blunt. Mr Melville does not have the academic background to critically appraise ‘House of Numbers’ nor is he an autodidact in these matters. He can be rude about creationist propaganda because ‘everybody’ knows creationism is crap even if they can’t adequately explain the concept of modern evolutionary synthesis despite the sterling work of Dawkins et al., in writing clear descriptions of the evolutionary process for a lay audience. This is because to some extent most of us rely on the expert thoughts of others when forming our opinions on a subject, whether that be reading popular science books or considering an authors interpretation of their evidence in an academic paper. We can have confidence in this reliance on expertise if the author leaves a clear paper trail of the evidence inspiring their thought processes allowing us or others to check that their citations say what they say they say. This allows us to confidentally state that creationism is bunk, even if we don’t really understand evolution, because the weight of critical appraisal of evidence says it is. If we approach a resource in a subject unknown to us without being aware of critical opinion beforehand we can be led awry, like Mr Melville has.

    So this leads to the issue of whether propaganda such as this should be shown to lay audiences who may not be capable of determining fact from fiction nor unaware of any critiques to do this for them? Cambridge film festival should be seriously considering this question given that their cries for attention have smudged the repuation of an unfortunate innocent.

    Incidentally Ben, you should link to Melville’s blog posts on this. It’s only fair and it shows how informed criticism can change opinion of a subject in which a person has demonstrable ignorance.
    blog.newhumanist.org.uk/2009/09/was-i-conned-by-aids-denialists.html
    blog.newhumanist.org.uk/2009/09/week-of-humble-pie.html

  12. lozzy said,

    September 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Excuse me if I lose my thread a little, I went to a piss up in a brewery last night…

    Despite being a Cambridge resident i didn’t see this film, going for a cycle ride in the sun seemed a better use of my Sunday. I did, however, attend a ‘debate’ chaired by the editor of New Humanist after the film, with the title Science on Screen. The debate involved a panel including the young filmmaker who made house of numbers. Having not seen the film I went with the panel discussion to help me form my opinions on the film and the film maker. What struck me was how civil and measured and polite the criticisms of the film were, I was left feeling that the film was naive and biased but that this was the error of a young film maker. Then the film maker opened his mouth. The young guy (this is his first film out of film school I think) was infuriating and made me and the rest of the ‘debate’ audience, yet when we became vocal and tried to counter his points during his confused argument we were told we’d have our say at the audience participation section at the end. Fair enough, but we ended up with so little time to actually discuss the films that I left feeling short changed and incredibly depressed and frustrated. What upset me the most was the way that house of numbers was presented as serious and interesting documentarywhen the film maker himself made it obvious that he was wilfully trying to create a controversy whilst hiding behind an increasingly irritating tale of innocence. And that having accepted the invitation to the panel, refused to take criticism, suggestions and advice offered genuinely.

    I haven’t seen the film, nor expelled: no intellegence allowed, because I didn’t want to give the film makers my money and from the debate I attended I think I definitely made the right choice. I suspect that Cambridge film festival booked these films in order to create contoversy and press, but in a university town a debate about such films will be full of intelligent conversation and criticism. What struck me as unforgivable was to allow so little of it (scheduling and chair) and to become defensive and refuse to accept it or participate (the film maker).

  13. Bill Thompson said,

    September 26, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Ben, I’m the person at the Cambridge Film Festival who lies smugly behind our attention-seeking, as you know. And I know you think I’m a fool for having screened it, which saddens me as I value our friendship.

    We showed the film along with three others – THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE and CREATION – and then held the debate (supported by New Humanist, as you noted) in order to ask questions about the way science is represented on screen – HOUSE OF NUMBERS is an objectionable film, but it is also an example of a particular genre of deceptive film-making that I wanted to show and debunk.

    You don’t agree with that strategy – fine – but we weren’t being smug and we weren’t seeking attention, we were – and are – trying to show films that will challenge people.

    CoralBloom’s comment about ‘the cost of repeatedly explaining the science over and over again’ is a good one – but perhaps that is the price of dealing with these people And if ‘it takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort to deal with them. That time, effort and expense could be put to far more constructive use (like searching for vaccines, better treatments for the thousands of other illnesses facing mankind’ then those of us who are not working scientists but have a sc

    I don’t think these people will go away if you ignore them – I wish they would. I think they will go away if you expose them, which can be done by showing their propaganda in a place that does not support or endorse it, by challenging it before and afterwards, and by helping people become aware of the stakes.

    Brent Leung, the director of HOUSE OF NUMBERS, is well-funded and clearly dangerous. I’m glad to have met him and to get a sense of just how dangerous he is. And I feel better equipped to argue against him having seen the film – I hope that the others in the audience at Cambridge feel the same way, and that they will take time to read your cogent and well-argued dissection of the film’s many lies and deceits.

    Bill

  14. Bill Thompson said,

    September 26, 2009 at 9:43 am

    [last comment got truncated.. sorry... reposting full version]
    Ben, I’m the person at the Cambridge Film Festival who lies smugly behind our attention-seeking, as you know. And I know you think I’m a fool for having screened it, which saddens me as I value our friendship.

    We showed the film along with three others – EXPELLED, THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE and CREATION – and then held the debate (supported by New Humanist, as you noted) in order to ask questions about the way science is represented on screen – HOUSE OF NUMBERS is an objectionable film, but it is also an example of a particular genre of deceptive film-making that I wanted to show and debunk.

    You don’t agree with that strategy – fine – but we weren’t being smug and we weren’t seeking attention, we were – and are – trying to show films that will challenge people.

    CoralBloom’s comment about ‘the cost of repeatedly explaining the science over and over again’ is a good one – but perhaps that is the price of dealing with these people And if ‘it takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort to deal with them. That time, effort and expense could be put to far more constructive use (like searching for vaccines, better treatments for the thousands of other illnesses facing mankind’ then those of us who are not working scientists but have a science education can play our part.

    I don’t think these people will go away if you ignore them – I wish they would. I think they will go away if you expose them, which can be done by showing their propaganda in a place that does not support or endorse it, by challenging it before and afterwards, and by helping people become aware of the stakes.

    Brent Leung, the director of HOUSE OF NUMBERS, is well-funded and clearly dangerous. I’m glad to have met him and to get a sense of just how dangerous he is. And I feel better equipped to argue against him having seen the film – I hope that the others in the audience at Cambridge feel the same way, and that they will take time to read your cogent and well-argued dissection of the film’s many lies and deceits.

  15. danielrendall said,

    September 26, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Following up my previous comment, according to a piece about a panel discussion at the Boston International Film Festival (which descended into an attempt to shout down the panel – no prizes for guessing which side was doing the shouting):

    “One audience member asked Leung who funded the film, noting that Leung seemed to have a large budget for travel. Leung [Brent Leung, the director] declined to name the sources but described them as a group of “funders from all over the world.” When Bay Windows later asked him if most of his funders supported the viewpoint of AIDS denialists, Leung claimed that they did not.”

    Subsequently, Leung says:

    “I don’t feel strongly about getting their [the AIDS denialists] message out. I feel strongly about freedom of speech. As I’ve gone around the world interviewing these world scientists who set the foundation for everything we know about HIV and AIDS and continue to set the foundation in policies, I found that there’s a lot of disconnect between what they say, there’s a lot of contradiction, there’s a lot of confusion, and people are dying. So it doesn’t matter who says what, what arguments come from each side. We have to have an open dialogue. We need to know why people are dying.”

    Which sounds to me like the standard form of words for discrediting the current state of knowledge about something, while appearing to be reasonable and open-minded. Is there a name for this technique?

    Full report is tinyurl.com/ctznvz

  16. T said,

    September 26, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Devondozer said

    “Never argue with an idiot, because people watching lose track of which is which”.

    I’ve never heard that saying before, but its brill. So true.

    I’m gob smacked by the whole AIDS denial, I can not even begin to see why it is happening, or who is to benefit?Is this related to the vit C supplements?

    The only thing I know about AIDS is that most of the money available on spending to prevent/cure is funded in rich countries with low incidence rates, and the least cash spent is on the poor countries where it is rife.

    If I didnt pop into this website I wouldnt know this was even happening.

  17. T said,

    September 26, 2009 at 9:53 am

    another thought can we drop a load of condoms on the pope?

  18. gimpyblog said,

    September 26, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Bill Thompson,

    What is the difference between your arguments that you were “trying to show films that will challenge people.” and the standard creationist line of “teach the controversy”?

    Both it seems rely on the argument that lay people are smart enough to figure out it is nonsense by themselves. Mr Melville, or should I say Dr Melville, is clearly a very bright and talented man with a firm commitment to rationalism and reason, yet he was fooled. Lay people may be smart enough but this requires them to have access to appropriate resources, in the absence of this they will make mistakes.

    And with respect to Leung, you may be ‘glad to have met him and to get a sense of just how dangerous he is’, this seems to be on the verge of a fallacious argument from personal experience, you have met him, you therefore know his ideas are dangerous. What about the evidence?

  19. le canard noir said,

    September 26, 2009 at 10:16 am

    There is a very big difference between a challenging film and a misleading film.

  20. Neil said,

    September 26, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Banning films is a stupid idea.

  21. dadge said,

    September 26, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Although I understand the motivation of scientists who “dare to be different”, however misguided they may be, I’m having difficulty understanding why AIDS denialism has gained traction in the US. In other words, why have Duesberg an his ilk gained so many followers among the ordinary populace?

    Is it just that a lot of people are anti-pharma and are looking for an excuse not to use prescribed medicines? Or is it the stigma of AIDS? Or what? In order to argue with people, I need to know where they’re coming from.

  22. gimpyblog said,

    September 26, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Neil “Banning films is a stupid idea.”

    Who said anything about banning them, surely the question is over the wisdom of the Cambridge Film Festival in providing a platform for the film and the consequent debate?

    I wouldn’t ban Mein Kampf, but I wouldn’t have it on my bookshelf.

    dadge, it’s a position borne of ignorance for most people and reinforced by practitioners of alternative medicine who have an ideological objection to pharma. In the case of South Africa it was an ideological objection to ‘western’ medicine/pharma which Mbeki and others interpreted as a form of neo-colonialism. But really it was because they didn’t understand the science as they were quite willing to let the very western Duesberg guide them.

  23. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 26, 2009 at 10:56 am

    hi soz sprinting on phone, links missing from this version, will post all links later, adding them from phone = mission

  24. SteveGJ said,

    September 26, 2009 at 11:32 am

    @CoralBloom

    “Clockwork Orange was banned in this country for a reason. This film, should probably be banned too.”

    Firstly this is incorrect. Clockwork Orange was not banned in the UK; or at least there was no national ban by the censor (some local authorities took a different line). What happened was Stanley Kubrick was so affected by the criticism it received in public, that he refused to allow it to be released in the UK again in his lifetime. However, it has since been released – indeed it has been broadcast on public TV.

    However, on a more important point, whilst no doubt your intentions are good, the basic principle of banning anything, especially views and opinion, can surely only be justified under the most exacting of conditions. If it was considered to be acceptable for some official agency to censor views on the basis of what is considered to be harmful or otherwise we are on an extremely slippery slope indeed. Self censorship (as practised by Kubrick) is one thing, although in this case the reasons for doing so are not that healthy. State-imposed censorship is quite another.

    The right approach to such misinformed films (which are basically prompted by irrational faith) is to present evidence against them. It’s not going to change the mind of the faithful, but it is surely better than to drive this stuff underground and give it implied credibility.

    I must admit to being very queasy about the “ism” and “ist” additions to the debates on these subjects (as in “denialist”). I know those who promote such things can find some intellectual justification in associating this with evils such as racism or racist (which is the obvious intent). However, it is getting very close to an attempt to shut down debate. Where this really matters is when the science is by no means as certain as many opinion formers like to make out (at least in the details of predictions). It’s a particular problem where all sorts of apparently credible policies and claims get added onto things like the climate change debate, some of which do not stand up to rational analysis, although they gain some sort of unquestioned status through association.

    (Note, I’m not including HIV/AIDS in the uncertain science part – it is very robust, but I still hate the “ism” and “ist” suffix. What I am in favour of is any organisation or individual being held legally responsible for any direct damage they provably cause through reckless or misleading action.)

  25. Neil said,

    September 26, 2009 at 11:41 am

    CoralBloom (post 4): “Clockwork Orange was banned in this country for a reason. This film, should probably be banned too.”

  26. gimpyblog said,

    September 26, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Ahh missed that Neil. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ wasn’t banned, rather Kubrick withdrew it from distribution in the UK.

  27. Psychedelia Smith said,

    September 26, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    danielrendall: I’m not sure what the correct term is, but it’s certainly a variation of ‘teach the controversy'; ie, creating the appearance of a ‘debate’ when there is none.

    Good quote about not engaging in debate with an idiot – George Monbiot’s been having the same problem recently with global warming denialist Ian Plimer. It seems that House of Numbers is using the same tactic as PLimer – namely the ‘Gish Gallop’ – bombarding your audience with so many untruths that it takes, as Ben mentions, months of columns to refute every point (and by which time the audence have gone home thinking ‘Hmm, Plimer/Leung may have a point.’).

    www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/09/14/correspondence-with-the-spectator/

  28. pob said,

    September 26, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Shutting the door on debate is as foolhardy and simple-minded as those one would wish to confront.

    As for Mein Kampf, I have it on my bookshelf as I think it’s important to understand both your enemies and your friends. Certainly, I have examples of films and books in my possession that I do not agree with nor advocate.

    I appreciate Bill Thompson’s response in this post and I think it’s important for Ben Goldacre to take note of Bill’s motivations, which I have no issue with. He seems rational and balanced to me.

    As for advocating the film, does choosing to show films a, b or c mean that the cinema actively advocates the film as worthwhile? Are venues that show Michael Moore’s “Capitalism” inherently agreeing with its content? I beg to differ and I would point out that one of the few remaining tenets of the idea of British democracy is that views and ideas in all forms are permitted to be aired to foster discussion and debate and surely that’s one way in which we educate ourselves and others.

  29. Rose said,

    September 26, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    The argument that “lay” people should be protected from views they aren’t capable/educated enough to understand is terribly dangerous (and of course is exactly the rationale the Catholic church gave for persecuting heretics and refusing to use languages other than Latin.

    I’d like to see education specifically geared at enabling children to recognise bogus advocacy (aka nutters). It ought to be possible to get them to mentally flag up warning symptoms; obsessiveness, personal attacks, trawling here there and everywhere for relevant or irrelevant “facts”.

  30. Daibhid C said,

    September 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    …And yet, I think that if I were to make a “documentary” that examined the beliefs of Mr David Icke and concluded that maybe the man had a point, I would find very few cinemas prepared to show it. They would use phrases like “obvious nonsense”.

  31. Seth Kalichman said,

    September 26, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    This crockumentary pushes the boundaries of freedom of expression. I have now seen the film three times myself. It has played in several US Film Festivals before coming to the UK. The film exploits the words of scientists by taking them out of context to create the illusion of a scientific debate about whether HIV causes AIDS. There is no debate – HIV does cause AIDS. There are lots of other debates and disagreements among scientists about how HIV causes disease, whether there can be an effective vaccine, whether there will be a cure, etc.
    House of Numbers places scientist next to pseudoscientists, AIDS activists next to AIDS denialists. It gives false credibility to the likes of Peter Duesberg. The editing is as masterful as the deception perpetrated the Director. opefully only scientists and denialists will see this piece of crap so that it does not spread confusion on an epidemic that demands accurate information and the dispelling of myths.
    Thanks Ben for posting this excellent column!
    Seth Kalichman
    denyingaids.blogspot.com

  32. gimpyblog said,

    September 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    pob, do you really think there is a debate on the cause of AIDS on which to shut the door? This is not an issue of free speech but an issue of science communication and credibility. Neither is helped by providing a platform for a dangerous pseudoscience. This comes back to a point I made earlier, free speech /= teach the controversy.

  33. SteveGJ said,

    September 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    @gimpyblog

    Ok – so what’s your solution given that the film will inevitably get shown, unless you are going to lobby for it to be banned. Ignore it? If you don’t think this is an issue of free speech, but one of science, where does that get you? It’s not a action; it’s a statement of philosophy (and as they are not direct opposites, it’s hardly a statement of alternative options either). Freedom of speech will mean that individuals and organisations will spout rubbish, some of it potentially dangerous – what you need to consider is how you deal with that. You can seek to censor, whether through the law means or lobbying potential outlets (the latter will almost certainly fail), or you can deal with it through confronting it in in some way. I don’t think ignoring it, or just preaching to the converted will do the job either.

    “Free speech does not equal teach the controversy” is a slogan – not a plan of action. It is said that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Well there’s a price for free speech – despite the name, nothing comes free in this life.

  34. gimpyblog said,

    September 26, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    SteveGJ,there is a different between allowing people to spout rubbish and actively promoting them so they can spout rubbish to a wider audience. Cambridge Film Festival did the latter. It was irresponsible and has the potential to harm public healthcare efforts, if it can fool Caspar Melville, who else can it fool? Free speech doesn’t absolve you of the consequences of lending someone a megaphone to shout fire in a crowded theatre.

  35. SteveGJ said,

    September 26, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I’m not familiar with Caspar Melville, but I think that anybody who takes any film on its face value, without doing a bit of independent research, and then expresses an opinion on it is acting extremely foolishly. There are plenty of polemicists out there (right and left). Some, like Michael Moore, may be on the side of the angels, I’m not more inclined to believe everything he puts into a film just because of who he is.

    So you seem to have undermined your own argument by saying “if it can fool Caspar Melville, who else can it fool?” Well you might say that it fooled the Cambridge Film Festival people too. The correct approach here is surely to promote a more rational, skeptical approach on public statements by any opinion formers.

    Also note, that I am in no way promoting the teaching of pseudo-science in schools and the like. There is no case for teaching creationism for instance (there might be a case for a rational analysis of creation myths and scientific theory, but that’s a different thing). But there has to be a way of dealing with irrational rubbish – of course the very fact that the government is prepared to fund faith schools (who practive faith-based discrimination) means that this is hardly promising, but we can but try.

    The point comes back again – indeed to Ben’s point. What do you do about it. Hurling insults at the Cambridge Film Festival people by calling them smug is not likely to be very persuasive. It they aren’t open to rational argument, then that might just be the case, but it’s worth a try. In any case, the issue has to be dealt with. Well perhaps they are smug (although misguided might be better). The film has been shown – what do rationalists do about it (apart from trying not to appear idiots by falling for propaganda in the first place).

  36. T said,

    September 26, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    People are dying, this is so wrong, they should not have shown the film. Theres no such thing as free speech there never has been, everything is liable to intepretation depending on the view point of the listener.

  37. CoralBloom said,

    September 26, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Clockwork Orange – my mistake, and I stand corrected. It was ‘self-censored’.

    #6 grahamstorrs
    Agreed. IT is time people made good use of the libel laws. A bit of turning the table would be a good idea!

    #13 Bill Thompson
    If I stand in the centre of a very crowded room, say a cinema and shout fire when I know there is no fire, I risk a stampede with terrible consequences. I should be held accountable for that action and the terrible consequences that may result. Do we need to debate that? Do we need to spend any time attempting to understand that?

    We live with gravity every day. It isn’t difficult to explain why a ball falls down when you let it go. People can see it with their own eyes. We understand that heat can burn – you cook don’t you?

    On the other hand, walk out into the street and ask ordinary people what a virus is, and they will struggle beyond identifying a virus as something that makes you ill; I suspect you should find quite a few who know that antibiotics will help with a bacterial infection but not a viral one these days. To see bacteria and viruses requires a very powerful microscope.

    When it comes to HIV, the time-lag between infection and symptoms is huge. There is no simple association along the lines (the kids had a cold at the beginning of the week, and now I’ve got it). That time lag is where these people dig in, confusing people.

    What broadcaster would bother showing a serious documentary trying to refute gravity, or that heat will never lead to burns. So why show a HIV denial film? Because people will watch it and will not immediately be able to test the hypothesis. The broadcaster won’t look so foolish with the HIV film.

    People are using the time lag from HIV infection to seeing symptoms and confusing people with that lag. If they had a real concern that the science was wrong, then they would come up with the evidence following the scientific method, even educating themselves in as much science as they can in order to do so, if they feel that strongly about it. Where is the evidence that HIV is not responsible for AIDS? They have none.

    This is a tactic, that may even have successfully hood winked the film makers. This tactic is dangerous and will cost lives. Needlessly.

    I would also think that it is unrealistic to expect the general public to gain the level of understanding to defend themselves against this tactic. Am I expected to pick up a high degree of knowledge in the law? Surgery? Finance? No, I pay for those services from professionals, and I expect professional service in a manner I can easily understand. Life is too short, we are busy with our lives. I do not expect, nor would any of us tolerate any of these professionals providing inaccurate or shoddy services. Why do we exclude the media, including these film makers from the same standards? This movie is not claiming to be science fiction, is it?

    I think it is arrogant, highly arrogant to sit down to have a comfy chat while people are blindly being led off the edge of cliff. Ordinary people do not have that time. While you chat, they die. They will not get a another chance at life, armed with accurate information a second time around. We need information. Good, accurate information.

    Of course the filmmakers will get all hot and bothered, accusing society of all sorts of politically incorrect motives if we ban them. Fine. Let them throw their toys around. Better for the rest of us to stay calm and continually ask for the scientific evidence to justify their claims. If they can do that, then they can update the film and the ban can be lifted. I’d suggested the biggest problem with banning the film would be the gleeful reaction on some newspaper front pages.

    If you feel debate and understanding is the way forward, then once you have finished your nice wee fireside chat, take yourself off to sub-Saharan Africa find yourself an AIDS clinic and explain how beneficial that chat has been. Look into the faces of the people condemned by misinformation. Explain they should have armed themselves with the education they needed, that it is their fault they didn’t have the money for even secondary education they may have used to protect themselves. Or explain they should have simply refused blood transfusions when they were needed.

    I bet you don’t have the brass neck!

    You are playing with fire. With free speech comes a responsibility to refrain from abuse. Allow the abuse, and that free speech just may be withdrawn.

    In my gran’s day it was called Appeasement.

  38. MrNick said,

    September 27, 2009 at 2:49 am

    I find it depressing that crap films like this get made and then people actually go and see them at festivals.

    If Bill Thompson thought that the film was crap why did he put it on to “challenge” the audience. He could have put it on as an example of dangerous and misleading propaganda. But I suppose the director wouldn’t have liked that.

    “Never argue with an idiot, because people watching lose track of which is which”

    There is also:
    “Never argue with an idiot, they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience”

    Nick

  39. muscleman said,

    September 27, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Before we bemoan the parlous state of the modern world, remember please in the pantheon of bad science in film and book:

    Eric von Danniken with his ‘Chariots of the Gods’ etc.

    Thor Heyerdahl and his thinly disguised ‘white men created civilisation and spread it around the world to the darkies’ which was the basis of the Kon-Tiki that made his name, which is deep, very smelly mud in academic anthropology and archaeology. I have stood my duty in sci.archaeology fighting against the diffusionists who think Heyerdahl is the last word in paleoanthropology and damn the better science that says otherwise.

    IOW, ’twas ever thus and perhaps its getting better that these people don’t actually have the audience von Danniken and Heyerdahl got. My Engineer father was interested in both and I got taken to see Chariots of the Gods and we had Heyerdahl’s little adventure tale (they had to be towed out beyond the current that runs very strongly up the South American Coast and they were essentially shipwrecked when marine worms ate their reed raft from under them).

  40. calmooney said,

    September 27, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Bill Thompson,
    Given that there is no serious scientific debate about the link between HIV and AIDS (which is why it’s denialism, i.e. denying the established facts) and you accept that the film is full of lies and deceits then why give its “dangerous” author a platform after the film? Why not follow the film with a talk from an HIV specialist pointing out the film’s inaccuracies? Surely by giving him a platform you give the impression that there is a debate?
    Would you show a film that challenged people’s views about whether the holocaust happened?

  41. HIV is a Misdiagnosis said,

    September 27, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    What I saw in the House of numbers film is the fact that it takes three tests in Africa to make an assumption about diagnosis. Of course in the instances that tests are used at all for diagnosis. I lived in Africa for three years, and the images you see on the tv screen are very different. And when you see those images on the tv screen if you were aware of the conditions those people were living in, you would be absolutely appalled that we are doing nothing about those things whilst forcing poor governments into backruptcy or submission for toxic drugs.

    Those drugs are proven to be dangerous and toxic in hundreds of studies at the NIH… Both to adults, and to unborn children, so I really do not find that theory questionable. Mitochondrial DNA damage. Look it up and consider those implications and another illness they mirror… And if you look at the statistics more people died of AIDS annually when EVERYONE was being drugged at diagnosis. Isn’t it you guys that are always quoting the statistics? Well you obviously read selectively.

    I also saw that someone at the WHO, openly admitted that the numbers used for calculating the amount of infections were doctored, and that the calculations were not based on confirmed diagnosis. Not to mention the symptoms which defined diagnposis could fit a myriad of other health issues that have been common in Africa for centuries.

    I saw another person from the CDC, openly explain the state of affairs in the early 80’s and how the CDC “needed” an epidemic. Go look at History doesn’t sound like some far fetched theory, and hell who’s wants to argue with a source that was there and had a title in the organization.

    The dissidents had minor sound bites in this film compared to the long dialogues with the core people from the mainstream of this movement.

    I have to say the long dissertation by Luc Montagnier was compelling and mind blowing. I would not say he is not qualified to speak this perspective.

    The fact that JP Moore would say he was misquoted is absolutely Hilarious, considering he said nothing more than what we have all seen and heard him say for years. And if you are listening to his statements well… he is known to be suspect, and good at spreading rumors.

    I did not see a Dissident film. I saw a younger perspective of some very valuable questions and points that can be verified as good plausable questions… If you are a researcher like myself that verifies things in the mainstream before I believe them.

    And as for that younger perspective, watch out cause it isn’t going anywhere… and that voice is only going to get stronger… until one day… they are the very people in control.

    The youth of today are not stupid. They have music bands challenging the likes of flouride.(an entire album dedicated to flouride the poison) They have issues with these authoratative people that keep trying to tell them whats good for them while they stand by and see the harm for themselves. They don’t trust pharmacueticals, and they think doctors are aggressive and untrustworthy. Oh yes… I am loving the younger perspective. Talk to any young people lately. Oh yes there is hope.

  42. HIV is a Misdiagnosis said,

    September 27, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Also let me add… given that there has been no debate of the opposing theories I would say that somewhat implies guilt on the side (the mainstream) that refuses to participate.

    What is so “denialist” about groups of scientists who wish to lay it all on the table, debate, prove, and verify that the current theory is correct when seemingly the scientific process has been skirted around in this particular instance.

    I will repeat myself… the fact that the mainstream refuses to participate in such an endeavor to me only implies guilt and well somewhat makes them the one in denial… cause they are denying that their theory could be flawed… and believe me… Historically it is not the first time the human species has been subject to grave miscalculations.

    www.hivmisdiagnosis.com

  43. dadge said,

    September 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    1. If you’ve seen Michael Moore’s movies, you’ll know that (although I tend to agree with him) they are far from balanced. That’s what rhetoric is all about, and it’s ridiculous to insist that advocates of a particular position produce balanced films about their subjects, or that biased films be banned.

    2. Has a film been made about the controversial uses of mercury in fillings and vaccines? What would the panel think of such a movie, if it set out to scandalise the subject? I have amalgam fillings, and have been immunised, and there is very little evidence that such use of mercury is dangerous. In fact, one could say that our overwhelming experience is that its safety has been effectively proven.

  44. mikewhit said,

    September 27, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    It should be possible even at GCSE level to teach enough to be allow a child to see the flaws in the above film (and understand the evidence).
    Perhaps it could also be taken apart as an example of malicious deception, in a media studies A-level.

    The trouble is the GCSE science teachers need to know a lot more depth in their subjects to be able to answer any “off curriculum” followup questions from their pupils.

  45. elspeth2009 said,

    September 28, 2009 at 12:04 am

    It’s a film festival. They show obscure films. Obviously one which gave you enough to think about to write 1000 words about it. Did the film present it as medical, biology truth? Or was it more a social sciences style exploration? Social scientists can get away with anything because they think truth is subjective.

    I think they probably showed it because they judged it would not do significant harm to existing approaches to HIV.

    Also, how did your talk to people from other countries about Bad Science go? I’d be really interested in hearing about it if you have time.

  46. Epimer said,

    September 28, 2009 at 1:52 am

    Oh dear…

    www.facebook.com/pages/House-of-Numbers/40491054861#/pages/House-of-Numbers/40491054861?v=wall

    ” Joe: Who is the reviewer? My guess, although I could be wrong, is someone that found aidstruth.com after they watched it and parroted their propaganda in the review…

    Billie: This subject is too complicated for most film reviewers to write about with any accuracy.
    September 18 at 1:11pm…”

  47. Epimer said,

    September 28, 2009 at 1:57 am

    /\ I think “Joe” meant AIDSTruth.org

  48. maninalift said,

    September 28, 2009 at 10:48 am

    @HIV is a Misdiagnosis #41, #42

    Yes, antiretrovirals are not the most pleasant of drugs (though they are much better than they used to be) but there is absolutely no doubt that they work.

    “And if you look at the statistics… ” You are gibbering here, I don’t know what you are saying, if you told us exactly what you are talking about I’m sure someone will help you understand the figures. However, instead of looking at marginal issues, why don’t you look at the studies that initially demonstrated the link between HIV and AIDS and look at the huge increase in life-expectancy that have resulted from the development of antiretrovirals.

    As to the question of rhetorical films in general, I hate them all. I find them boring, because I know there is no point engaging my brain when there is . I can’t be bothered with Michael Moore, but I wouldn’t put him in the same category since it simply doesn’t require the same level of deceit to make an entirely one-sided argument for health reform in the US than it does to say HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.

  49. maninalift said,

    September 28, 2009 at 11:06 am

    That AIDStruth place is good. This article in particular give a clear analysis:

    aidstruth.org/features/2009/real-answers-fake-questions-%E2%80%9Chouse-numbers%E2%80%9D

  50. Thimble said,

    September 28, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    < pedantry >

    “Probability” or “chance” is marginally more correct than “likelihood” in para six, which begins “But people working on the front line….”

    < /pedantry >

  51. T.J. Crowder said,

    September 28, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Some observations:

    1 – There is no scientific controversy about whether HIV causes AIDS. There is, at most, a PR “controversy,” and we know how easy those are to create.

    2 – In my view, all of the energy one needs to spend denying this sort of denial is calling it what it is (without hyperbole) and pointing whomever one is speaking with about it to AIDSTruth.org, and in particular to their “Debunking denialist myths” page (aidstruth.org/denialism/myths). These are well-researched, well-referenced, calm, considered discussions of the myths (and before anyone screams “straw man” I point you at the comments on Dr. Melville’s blog, in which many of these very myths are purveyed as fact). None but the most truly exceptional among us will do a better job than that in a blog comment, and to make the effort is to lend currency to the mistaken idea that there is a controversy. My only complaint is their use of the term “denialist” which is unnecessarily emotive.

    3 – It’s useful to question our ideas and assumptions, even when (perhaps especially when) they’re well-established. And anyone reading AIDSTruth.org‘s excellent debunking FAQ with an open mind will see ideas being questioned in a thoughtful, responsible way. (Read their discussion of Myth #11, for instance.) Science is about questioning the status quo; but doing so with evidence and repeatable methodology.

    4 – Banning anything (books, movies, behavior) must be a last resort when all other courses have been exhausted.

    5 – The comparison of “denying” AIDS is caued by HIV and yelling “Fire!” in a crowded cinema is a frightening and dangerous one. Given the scale of harm this particular denial can cause (I’m thinking of those 385,000 people in South Africa) there may well be something in it, but even if there is, we need to be reluctant and unhappy to make such a comparison, not enthusiastic. And moreover, taking action on such a comparison (e.g., banning) may well cause, rather than prevent, further harm, which calls into question bothering to make the comparison at all.

  52. mrmuz said,

    September 28, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    What’s the Homeopathic cure for AIDS going to be then?
    The immune system is failing because lymphocytes aren’t being made. The body is alive but not working properly (and so, dying). So the opposite of that isssss….. something dead but otherwise working correctly.
    Extremely watered down pus?

  53. Petanque said,

    September 29, 2009 at 6:25 am

    A quick check on IMDB to look at the reviews of House of Numbers reveals some positive reviews, but none that reflect the response in this column.
    www.imdb.com/title/tt1311710/
    This looks like a situation to be remedied, but how do you get a review – or column such as this – quoted on IMDB? Maybe login and add something to the User Comments …

  54. SteveGJ said,

    September 29, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    @T.J. Crowder

    4 – Banning anything (books, movies, behavior) must be a last resort when all other courses have been exhausted.

    oh dear – banning things “when all other courses have been exhausted” is surely not the criterion for such an action. I’m a reluctant banner at the best of times, but surely the criterion must be more if the good thereby achieved is clearly, and vastly outweighed by the loss of freedom.

    As an obvious example, we have banned many drugs. It’s actually quite difficult to make a case that this has clearly gained us anything compared to other approaches, like legalisation and taxation. We could start pointing at smoking, or alcohol, or prostitution, or big Macs or any number of other perceived social evils, let alone banning films or books because “all else has failed”.

    Whilst the science for AIDs/HIV is very strong, we have to be very, very wary. Go back less than than three decades and the debate on the cause of gastric ulcers was considered signed and sealed. It took a maverick approach to prove that all completely wrong after the original paper was badly received (and there was evidence more than 30 years before that). In another area, that of continental drift, proper debate was closed down for more than a century by what amounted to ridicule and peer-reviewed censorship.

    Now 99% of science controversy will not be of that ilk – but who is to say when some orthodoxy will not be overturned. I also know this sounds like the classic argument of the charlatan (they laughed at Einstein etc.), but see where orthodoxies got us with teaching reading, the nature of dyslexia and a host of other things.

    Be very, very careful before you speak of banning anything, and making it sound like the action you take when you finally are unable to persuade everybody (which is what point 4 read like) it is the action of the exasperated.

  55. csrster said,

    September 30, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Presumably the homeopathic cure for AIDS is a really, really, small amount of unsafe sex and/or intravenous drug use.

  56. p said,

    September 30, 2009 at 10:05 am

    “In other words, why have Duesberg an his ilk gained so many followers among the ordinary populace?”

    because AIDS education is in shambles

  57. MedsVsTherapy said,

    September 30, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    “I don’t think these people will go away if you ignore them – I wish they would.”

    –I agree strongly. Best to air out these ideas in the light of day. A generation ago, NO ONE would question a physician. As they gave us thalidomide and HRT. Nowadays, maybe the population in general is a bit too skeptical of the Medical-Pharmaceutical Complex, etc., and far too trusting in the Woo-Magic Supplement Complex, but at least it presses those in the know to sharpen explanations and clarify beliefs.

    Plus, the old “give-them-enough-rope” argument. As the one commenter noted, the director came across very poorly at the post-viewing debate.

    Finally, I don’t know what relevance this has, but I have been a sentient adult before and throughout the entire history of the HIV issue, and have a hard time believing how anyone could see this as a manufactured “illness” to sell patented drugs. It stuns me that anyone could possibly entertain this thought for a minute. but possibly, this is only because I watched the issue appear and unfold. Man, I thought Shilt’s “And the Band Played On” was way late in the game, but Shilts has since died after enjoying years of recognition for this seminal work, and that chapter of the HIV issue has long passed, and new chapters continue to be written. 25+ years. Wow. I guess there are young adults out there who never knew a time without HIV as a public health issue.

    Banning things: While it might be good to ban things (addictive drugs, fireworks, etc.) or actions (murder, etc.), it just is not a good idea to BAN information. Nor to censor information. This is very fresh over here in the US, as those of us opposed to the vague national-health-care proposals fight to learn about details, only to be inappropriately branded as dangerous extremists for asking the govt pointed questions.

    Here, the current leadership is considering simultaneously propping up failing newspapers in order to continue their purveyance of favored views, and censoring the hugely successful talk radio in order to quash the purveyance of disfavored views.

    We need to be careful what we wish for, when considering censorship, becase eventually the “other party” will be makign the judgments regarding what is OK for our comrades to hear, and what us not OK. –BTW: on this side of the pond, I have loved following the FOI efforts in the UK! Keep it up!! “Information wants to be free.” Kraftwerk.

  58. skyesteve said,

    September 30, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Sorry, but Bill Thompson argument just doesn’t wash – unless of course he’s prepared to show a film which denies Nazi atrocities against Jews, homosexuals, the disabled, Russians, etc. Or perhaps one that says that Stalin was a lovely cuddly grand-dad that didn’t hurt a fly. Or maybe there’s scope for a documentary which shows that the abolition of slavery in the USA was a bad idea. Propaganda does what it says on the tin and has no place at a “serious” film festivalin Cambridge or anywhere else.
    Oh, and banning information is not the same as banning disinformation and out and out lies!
    P.S. the FOI Acxt in this country is rapidly becoming a joke!

  59. Staphylococcus said,

    October 1, 2009 at 3:55 am

    HIV is a Misdiagnosis said

    “Those drugs are proven to be dangerous and toxic in hundreds of studies at the NIH… Both to adults, and to unborn children, so I really do not find that theory questionable. Mitochondrial DNA damage. Look it up and consider those implications and another illness they mirror… And if you look at the statistics more people died of AIDS annually when EVERYONE was being drugged at diagnosis. Isn’t it you guys that are always quoting the statistics? Well you obviously read selectively.”

    No one denies that certain medications can have nasty side-effects. It’s always been a case of weighing up the whether you’d rather have a deadly disease instead. The funny thing about calling out on stats and evidence is that you really need to provide some. So go on.

    “I did not see a Dissident film. I saw a younger perspective of some very valuable questions and points that can be verified as good plausable questions… If you are a researcher like myself that verifies things in the mainstream before I believe them.”

    Oh I see, a “younger perspective”. I like the way you twist that, you should be in PR. In order to “verify” things, you need to think critically (and not just take to an idea because it’s of a different perspective that you happen to agree with).

    “The youth of today are not stupid. They have music bands challenging the likes of flouride.(an entire album dedicated to flouride the poison) They have issues with these authoratative people that keep trying to tell them whats good for them while they stand by and see the harm for themselves. They don’t trust pharmacueticals, and they think doctors are aggressive and untrustworthy. Oh yes… I am loving the younger perspective. Talk to any young people lately. Oh yes there is hope.”

    Bwahahaha don’t make me laugh bitterly. I’m glad I don’t know any of these young, misinformed fools you speak of. The people I know can actually think rather than automatically jumping on the “anit-establishment/authority” bandwagon no matter how moronic the idea.

    “Also let me add… given that there has been no debate of the opposing theories I would say that somewhat implies guilt on the side (the mainstream) that refuses to participate.”

    No, it means there’s nothing to debate. Don’t they teach basic reasoning skills any more? Would you have a serious debate with a flat-Earther? A gravity denier (intelligent falling is real lolz!!!1!)? There are kooks everywhere, it doesn’t mean you have to take them seriously.

    “What is so “denialist” about groups of scientists who wish to lay it all on the table, debate, prove, and verify that the current theory is correct when seemingly the scientific process has been skirted around in this particular instance.”

    If you even bothered to read the scientific literature on the issue, you would realise there is nothing to discuss except specifics. The issue has been settled for a long time.

    “I will repeat myself… the fact that the mainstream refuses to participate in such an endeavor to me only implies guilt and well somewhat makes them the one in denial… cause they are denying that their theory could be flawed… and believe me… Historically it is not the first time the human species has been subject to grave miscalculations.”

    Again, demonstrating you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Why don’t you go and actually read the experiments instead of denialist websites? You never know, you might actually learn something.

    What amuses me most about this crap is the fact that it’s so damn inconsistent. Microbiologists take the same theoretical framework to studying any pathogen and it works. But you don’t hear idiots denying the existance of herpes, hepatitis, tuberculosis, meningitis or any other infectious diseases. No, it’s always HIV (and not even any of the other viruses from the retroviridae family). It’s just beyond belief.

  60. matijs said,

    October 1, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Just so everyone knows, Casper Melville, has made an appology and has explained himself on the latest episode of Science Weekly, the Guardians science podcast. He also states he doesn’t value ‘House of Numbers’ as a serious documentary.

    I do not think we should blame Casper Melville too much. He is not the boogie-man in this story. After all he did do his research and appologised, albiet a bit late. He also made sure that after screening the film there was a discussion about the film, discussing and debunking some of the ‘facts’ stated in it.

    What I am more worried about is that this film is winning awards and is now officially selected by the Raindance film festival. Which is a lot more worying, seeing it won’t supply the viewers with an open discussion afterwards, and it will give more credence to the film as a serious documentary.

    On Facebook, the ‘Hous of Numbers’ fan-page has 1002 fans… and yesterday, while I was having my coffee in Soho I got a flyer on my table promoting the film, which will be shown at the Apollo Cinema.

    I am angry about this film, very much so… but Casper Melville Isn’t the one to blame here.

  61. HeXetic said,

    October 1, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Am I the only one put off by Ben’s capitalisation of HIV (an acronym) in this article where at the same time he spells AIDS (also an acronym) as “Aids”?

  62. henrywilton said,

    October 1, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    @HeXetic

    Am I the only one put off by Ben’s capitalisation of HIV (an acronym) in this article where at the same time he spells AIDS (also an acronym) as “Aids”?

    Sigh.

    Have a look at the Guardian style guide entry about this.

  63. HeXetic said,

    October 1, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    @henrywilton

    That explains it, though I still don’t like it. I prefer the Economist’s guidelines on acronyms:
    www.economist.com/research/styleGuide/index.cfm?page=673905

  64. henrywilton said,

    October 1, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    @HeXetic

    The Economist’s guidelines, and indeed its writing style, are more to my taste too. Perhaps Ben could start writing for the Economist?

  65. henrywilton said,

    October 1, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Also, if Ben adhered to the Economist’s guidelines, he wouldn’t have been allowed to write “HIV virus”.

  66. bse303 said,

    October 2, 2009 at 10:27 am

    @ Matijs

    Check out Elliot Grove of Raindance gushing about House of Numbness…

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gcCLBxHXUg&feature=player_embedded

    What a cock!

  67. matijs said,

    October 2, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Thanks Bse, but do I want to? I’ll just get really annoyed…

    Maybe, we should invite those deniers to prove there point by giving them HIV and not give them any medication. If hey really believe what they are saying…

  68. Robert Carnegie said,

    October 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I personally am puzzled why any literate non-specialists are vigorous HIV deniers, and in particular why this film was made. In some cases a secondary reason is that people will simply say anything for money, and may wish to advertise that to people who have money and who want something unpleasant said by proxies. Or perhaps in some it’s a sincere opinion on what is certainly an important issue. Or, media attacks on HIV and AIDS science and prevention and treatment will probably contribute to the spread of the disease. Who wants that to happen? There come to mind religious groups, who observe that HIV is commonly spread in the course of committing a sin – some religious groups count medical treatment, with or without maintenance of hygienic sterility, as a sin, including Joyce Grenfell’s Christian Scientists – and also people concerned about overpopulation which will probably be alleviated by HIV, or hoping to benefit economically from a lot of poor people dying, for instance the population of Africa. There are valuable natural resources there. And, of course, the medical companies themselves. The more people there are sick, the more customers there are for treatment. I’m not saying that the medical industry is going out and spreading AIDS, I’m just noting that the motive exists. When it happens, they benefit.

    As for objecting to films, since discussion is liable to be managed and curtailed, evidently the proper thing to do in a public showing is to shout at the movie while it is on. Comments should be apposite and brief, so as not to interfere unduly with the presentation whilst still pointing out its deficiencies, and it also may be desirable to exercise or rest your voice in advance, or both, if you aren’t accustomed to using it in that fashion. Standing up aids production, but increases the likelihood of being identified and thrown out, so judge whether it’s worth it. Ideally you could use a background-cancelling array microphone transmitting to the PA system, hide it in your popcorn, and possibly disguise your voice or accent. If you can do a good Tom Jones, that would be almost perfect.

  69. TeeD said,

    October 2, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    @bse303

    Grove is now being celebrated on the main denialist message board:

    forums.aidsmythexposed.com/main-forum/5567-house-numbers-most-important-film-our-time-15.html#post36358

    Perhaps he can sign up and join in the fun, offering alternative health tips to people with CMV colitis – after all, it’s tough to do worse than “a teaspoonful of raw coffee.”

    As you can probably tell, I’m unable to follow Grove’s sage advice to “just forget the topic for a minute.”

    It’s interesting that he says he hadn’t seen the film before – I wonder if anyone associated with the festival had actually seen it before accepting it for a showing?

  70. amanda0 said,

    October 4, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    The film hasn’t come around yet, but I recently read that one of the administrators of the Raindance festival received many letters and threats about the film – and so went through it, taking notes every 15 seconds, trying to note inaccuracies or bias. When he finished and said he didn’t find anything of note.

    This blog entry uses emotional language itself and is more on the propagandist side. Of course I’ve heard those arguing against AIDS use such language too. But hey, I look for a world where anyone can ask really serious questions without getting things blown up. It’s that emotional reaction that makes for bad science.

  71. Marcus said,

    October 6, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    The pattern of engaging and then disengaging with denialists out of sheer exasperation has played itself out countless times on the internet. I think denialists fall in love with the idea that they have uncovered some vast conspiracy and then interpret everything they see in terms of that framework. Any reasonable challenge to their world-view immediately becomes just another manifestation of the “deluded” mainstream.

    If they were interested in a reasoned debate they wouldn’t be denialists. An open mind and a few hours on PubMedd makes deanilism impossibility.

    As for demonstrably and purposefully misrepresenting sources, surely that should be enough to get a film banned.

  72. henrywilton said,

    October 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    @amanda0

    Eighteen of the (expert) interviewees complained that the film misrepresented them, whereas one (presumably inexpert) administrator couldn’t spot any inaccuracies. (Rather like Caspar Melville.) Well that’s all right then.

  73. Staphylococcus said,

    October 7, 2009 at 4:00 am

    @amanda0

    “It’s that emotional reaction that makes for bad science.”

    No, it’s an emotional reaction in the absence of any worthwhile evidence that makes for poor arguments. It’s a common theme amongst gay rights deniers, anti-vaxers, etc. Luckily for Ben, he has this:

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&cmd=search&term=HIV

    10166 articles and counting. Is it any wonder that with the thousands of hours that have gone into producing such great science – which is summarily dismissed in minutes by a surly crowd of closed-minded idiots hell-bent on some ridiculous “anti-conspiracy/establishment” presupposition – that people sometimes get a little upset?

  74. WebriQ said,

    October 8, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    This film is a valuable piece of information to each and everyone who care and fight for eradication of AIDS.

  75. Terry Collmann said,

    October 8, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    @HeXetic – HIV is an initialism, not an acronym, “a word formed from the initial letters of other words” (Oxford English Dictionary). Aids is an acronym, and should therefore be written like other words.

  76. talbot said,

    October 12, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    You may be interested to learn that “The Spectator” has organised what seems to be a denialist evening:

    www.spectator.co.uk/shop/events/5402473/spectator-debate-a-world-without-aids.thtml

    It entails a screening of “House of Numbers” followed by a panel discussion involving the film’s director alongside 3 scientists associated with the denialist movement. The panel does not include a scientist to refute the denialist message. Perhaps Ben should attend?

  77. HeXetic said,

    October 13, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    @Terry Collmann

    I hardly think the distinction is valid in this case, considering that AIDS is interchangeably expanded to Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, the second style being identical to the expansion of HIV (initial letters).

    Are there any scientific or medical publications which spell it “Aids”?

  78. Lisa Power said,

    October 14, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Unfortunately, this film is now being offered greater credibility as part of the Spectator’s Debate Series. From the publicity sent unsolicited by their marketing department:

    Spectator Series Debate ‘A world without Aids?’, which features the UK premiere and sole screening of House of Numbers Cards on Wednesday 28th October. This exclusive screening of the controversial new award-winning documentary House of Numbers will be followed by a panel discussion from leading authorities in their field:

    Professor Beverly Griffin, Imperial College London
    Dr Joe Sonnabend, founding editor of Aids Research
    Rt. Hon. Lord Norman Fowler, Former UK Secretary of State for Health
    Professor Charles Geshekter, The California State University
    Brent Leung, Director/Producer of House of Numbers

    The theme of the debate is that a generation had its attitudes towards sex coloured by the theory that HIV, a lethal new virus sweeping the world. The award-winning documentary argues that a world without HIV/Aids may be closer than we think. Many of the documentary conclusions are controversial, for example a research community in disarray, 90% of global HIV infection corresponding to areas of great poverty and squalor which may be the real enemy.
    For more background information visit www.spectator.co.uk/AidsDebate

    Tickets to this are £35. I suspect the Spectator think it’s all a jolly jape for poking liberals with, or at least making a few bob off us all turning up to complain. But I’m horrified they’re giving it credibility.

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  80. thatgingerscouser said,

    October 17, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Hey there… I’m in Tanzania, Africa at the moment having just visited 40 of the countries of this wonderful and infuriating continent (13 more to go…) as part of the Odyssey Expedition www.theodysseyexpedition.com.

    As a film maker and Bad Science fan, I’m seriously considering putting together a documentary set in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – a naïve journey by one young film maker to discover WHERE THE HELL EVERYONE OVER THE AGE OF FORTY HAS GONE.

    Seriously.

    This is no joke. The life expectancy in Zimbabwe has dropped from 60 to 40 in just a few years. A third of the population of Lesotho is living with HIV. There are now more people in SSA under the age of 18 than over. The sheer number of people dying here is just astronomical. Almost everyone I speak to has lost a friend or family member to AIDS.

    I would never lobby for a film to be banned. But I would welcome the makers of the film being taken to court and forced to defend what they are supporting by making this disgusting kind of propaganda: the death of a continent.

    Graham Hughes
    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  81. heavens said,

    October 22, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Ben, you should ask people seeking an HIV test about their risk factors because that information is necessary to figure out the likelihood of a false positive.

  82. tyrexden said,

    October 23, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    i’m amazed of all the people poo-pooing this film, when they haven’t seen it, and apparently are unaware of the issues at hand.

    Please realize, that dissidents to the flawed hiv=aidsd theories have no hidden agenda. They are not trying to sell vitamins. They are not making money off of this. They simply want the truth to come out.

    The majority of dissidents are people who are actually hiv+ (as determined by the hiv antibody test).

    Consider this… the main people trying to quash this film are Big Pharma, doctors who thrive on hiv business, and med-taking hiv+ people who were swindled into the whole dogma.

    The dissidents, on the other hand, are random doctors, viralogoists, mathematicians from random fields of study, and hiv+ people who do NOT take meds.

    Deny this film all you want, but the fact is, is that the med-taking poz people are all sick, and the non-med taking hiv+ population are well.

    If you are hiv negative, you likely haven’t studied either side of the issue, let alone one of the sides, so stop acting like you are in a position of knowledge.

    All dissidents have studied the current hiv=aids dogma, and guess what… they found it to be flawed. there is a reason for that. its not about money or fame…. Its about the needless suffering of millions who have been hoodwinked.

    hiv=aids is the bad science. don’t argue… study the topic for yourself.

  83. heavens said,

    October 29, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Tyrexden, you’re spreading wildly false generalizations. The “med-taking poz people” are not all sick, and the “non-med taking hiv+ population” are frequently quite ill after the usual asymptomatic phase. Some of the “dissidents” are IMO just looking for an excuse to not disclose their status to and be responsible about condom use with new partners. A remarkable number of “dissidents” change their minds the first time they get an opportunistic infection: suffering through MAC when you’re “sure” that HIV doesn’t harm the immune system is a real wake-up call.

    On average, those that refuse the meds die sooner. They may *look* healthy for up to about ten years — HIV takes a long time to destroy your immune system — but they don’t live normal lifespans, or anything even close to it. I’ve talked to a lot of HIV+ people on both sides of the fence, and I’ve spoken with exactly zero “dissidents” that have a confirmed infection dating back more than 20 years. They do exist, but they’re very, very rare. By contrast, I can name offhand quite a number of meds-taking HIV+ people that have exceeded the 20-year mark. They may not be perfectly healthy, and they frequently have firm opinions about specific side effects from the drugs — but they’re alive, and that’s more than the vast majority of committed dissidents can say.

  84. gezznz said,

    October 30, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    A lot of smug back-patting going on in these comments. How naive to assume that hiv=aids is God’s truth! It is only hypothesis! Most of medicine is hypothesis! It is well known in the field that these hypotheses are controversial; it is only the public that assume otherwise.

    A film like this is not the main danger to society. The danger is to believe the medical and pharma media unquestioningly. A tragic amount of damage has been done by this, as future history books (or websites) will reveal.

    A medical system that has an unholy relationship with commercial interests has been a recipe for disaster: the cancer and AIDS industries are prime examples of this relationship taken to extremes.

    No real solutions have been put forward by orthodoxy, while preventive strategies and non-toxic treatments have been repeatedly downplayed or rejected.This is the issue you should be using your intelligence to address.

  85. JustinSmith said,

    November 1, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Ben, since in your piece above you ask for advice about how to deal with these “idiots”, “denialists” making a “moronic film”, may I suggest that you direct your word count towards scientific analysis rather than such childish ranting. You list a few of the important questions being asked in the film but you offer no scientific answer to them – instead you chose to insult. The most dangerous propaganda is that which attempts to brand people who challenge a hypothesis as “denialists”. If I am correct (and please do correct me if I’m wrong) medical science has made mistakes in the past and large numbers of people have suffered. These mistakes came to light because of people constantly challenging a hypothesis. This is the scientific process, which is degraded by the use of the word denialist. The best way to silence these “idiots” is to answer their questions!

  86. elvisionary said,

    November 3, 2009 at 9:10 am

    tyrexden, you may not be able to see the irony in your statements:

    “Deny this film all you want, but the fact is, is that the med-taking poz people are all sick, and the non-med taking hiv+ population are well. If you are hiv negative, you likely haven’t studied either side of the issue, let alone one of the sides, so stop acting like you are in a position of knowledge.”

    So you, I take it, are in a “position of knowledge” to make such certain statements about whole groups of people? I’d be grateful if you could point us all to the source of this knowledge – presumably a large-scale controlled trial proving that HIV+ individuals live longer on average if not taking the meds than if they do. No? Can’t provide that? Is that because, perhaps, you’re not talking from a position of knowledge at all, but of ignorant presumption?

    I am not an expert in this subject myself – I have to rely on the research of others and evidence to form my opinions. I am open-minded about the possibility that the scientific establishment could ultimately be proved wrong in certain ways over this issue. But if they are proved wrong, it will be through science.

    In the meantime, heavens (above) has pointed to a very plausible reason why people who are HIV+ might be fooled into believing that they are better off without meds – in effect, they get none of the short-term side-effects, but that means they get none of the long-term benefits either. The emotional advantages of not accepting the link just add to the attractiveness of taking such a position (and you don’t need to believe that this is about giving people a licence to behave irresponsibly).

    Does this possibility not even make you pause to think?

  87. elvisionary said,

    November 3, 2009 at 9:18 am

    gezznz, I’d love to see you provide a bit of evidence for your claims – particularly about the “cancer industry” – we’re all familiar with the normal accusations on AIDS.

    As for your assertion that preventive strategies have been repeatedly downplayed or rejected, primarily about HIV/AIDS. Presumably you didn’t notice the vast global campaign, over 25 years, for the use of condoms (and in some places, abstinence). A massive preventive strategy happily supported by the scientific establishment for the very simple reason that it can be proved to be effective. It’s noticeable that those who have undermined this preventive strategy have been the very people you are seeking to defend – those who deny a link between HIV and AIDS.

  88. prezbucky said,

    November 7, 2009 at 5:49 am

    Concerning the acronym debate, my preference is for AIDS to be capitalized throughout.

    If you want an example of a really awful/logically absurd/invalid acronym, look no further than the popular “acronym” used to represent Obstetrics & Gynecology:

    OBGYN

    The letters are pronounced: O B G Y N

    What does that stand for, Old Bitches Giving You Nookie?

    The proper acronym would be OG, or it could be abbreviated, rendered as slang, as ob-gyn. The OBGYN fallacy is sofa king we Todd it. I laugh at it.

    As for claims that the AIDS scientists’ comments were pulled out of context, well, I don’t know how you can read anything else into their statements than that which they said. Were they drugged when they said those anti-AIDS-status-quo comments? Was Leung holding a gun to their heads? If not, why shouldn’t we take their statements at face value?

    As for why 18 of them are now wishing to retract their freely given testimony, it’s easy enough to surmise why:

    They’re feeling the heat from their bosses or (if their actions are no longer answerable to the AIDS Establishment) maybe they’re being threatened by other tactics. Maybe their families have been threatened. Who knows? But I can tell you this:

    When someone says “I like chicken” on camera, and weeks later revises — refuted — that statement, there are two possibilities:

    A) The person lied… he really doesn’t like chicken

    or

    B) The person was ordered/coerced to take back the statement.

    I’m guessing that in the cases of the 18 interviewees, the likely scenario is the latter.

    When they make statements which logically shake the foundation of HIV/AIDS knowledge as we previously knew it, that’s powerful. And I know Brent wasn’t holding a gun to their heads. They blew the lid off this themselves with what… they… willfully and in right mind… said. Give them all lie-detector tests.

  89. prezbucky said,

    November 7, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Anecdotally:

    I am Caucasian/white. I know fully that I am Caucasian/white. Nothing could convince me otherwise. If anyone asked me a question about my blood-line, my answers would reflect my personal knowledge that I am Caucasian/white, because I KNOW that I am. I am without doubt in the matter.

    The impact of the statements of these scientists — top HIV/AIDS scientists and administrators all — is huge, because those statements show an incontrovertible level of DOUBT of what HIV/AIDS is or if it even exists as we think (thought) it exists. I am white. I would never say to anyone, anywhere, that I am not white. These experts, who stand as godheads in the veritable AIDS pantheon, denied their whiteness, so to speak. Which leaves me to question:

    If they have such doubts, what should the rest of us believe?

    Thanks and take care,

    Tom

  90. kwilk said,

    November 24, 2009 at 6:36 am

    I recently attended a screening of House of Numbers and I thought, at the very least, it was a very interesting presentation.

    I am a student currently studying clinical laboratory science and minoring in philosophy and with the Q&A session following the film I have learned to really appreciate my philosophical studies.

    Following the film Leung faced wave after wave of scientific scrutiny by various members of the scientific community. He fell back repeatedly on the stance that he couldn’t necessarily argue against these indiv on the deeper concepts of science because he was just presenting the information he received from those scientists he interviewed.

    It is difficult to argue the adequacy of the film’s concepts unless we were able to see the interviews in their entirety. Yet, after viewing the film and listening to the discussions I think their may be something to what Leung is presenting. I felt that the Scientific community was making valid arguments but lacked the overall insight that the film was portraying.  It is dissatisfying that when scientists are presented with an argument that opposes their own that they automatically feel attacked.  I think that the purpose of the documentary was to present a side of AIDS/HIV that is not traditionally accepted or heard and to take it as only one side of the argument not the absolute truth. Philosophy has taught me to be a critical thinker and have an open mind.  This debate hit me from two stances, both my scientific self and philosophical self. Too often scientist relay on the scientific aspects of an issue and see it narrowly in that way alone. Consider acupuncture.

    Twenty to 30 years ago the majority of scientists and medical professionals thought that the use of medication was the only effective way to treat the problems of body and they ridiculed the practice of alternative “medicine.”  Because alternative medicine did not advocate to the concepts of science that was traditionally accepted it was not taken seriously, even if the alternative medicine practices worked in certain cases.  Nowadays, however, it is common to hear a physician advocate for acupuncture.  The importance here is that somewhere all the lines a shift in thought occurred that encompassed the practice of something outside of the traditional scientific boundaries.  The scientific community was able to think critically about the issue, learn to have an open mind, and accept a practice that went against traditionally dominated scientific practice.  This is what I think this film is attempting to portray, not an attack on the traditionally scientific practice and understanding of AIDS/HIV but the establishment of a separate idea that may have an impact on the disease and the need for open mindedness and critical thought about the issue.

  91. theopensource.tv said,

    February 28, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    I wouldnt be so quick to knock what they’re trying to uncover in the documentary, the truth is stranger than fiction.

    Check out these other very interesting documentaries on Health:

    The World According To Monsanto
    In Lies We Trust – Dr. Len Horowitz
    Nutricide – Codex Alimentarius – Dr. Rima Laibow
    The Brotherhood of Darkness – Dr. Stanley Monteith
    Colloidal Silver – Dr. Robert C. Beck
    Suppressed Medical Discovery – Dr. Robert C. Beck
    Shots In The Dark – Lina B Moreco
    Food Inc.
    Eating
    We Become Silent – The Last Days of Health Freedom
    Vaccination – The Hidden Truth

    You can watch all of these full documentaries at: www.theopensource.tv/browse-Health-videos-1-date.html

  92. theopensource.tv said,

    February 28, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    By the way, well said Quilk! Summed it up nicely, its very helpful to have a philosophical background when looking at this type of material :)

  93. Santos said,

    March 27, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    oh this documentary. Recently, I sat down with parents of one of my patients (Im an HIV/AIDS Case Manager) along with my patients doctor informing them that their son, no longer wants to continue taking medication. because after watching this documentary, he is convinced he does not have HIV. This patient is going into hospice in a matter of days.

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