From Hampstead to Cape Town

August 26th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in africa, bad science, dangers, death, matthias rath, nutritionists, scare stories | 44 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday August 26th, 2006
The Guardian

What happens if you transplant western ideas like nutritionism, and anti-vaccination panics, into a developing world context? Unfortunately that’s not a thought experiment. Between 600 and 800 people die every day in South Africa from HIV/AIDS, and their government was roundly criticised at last weeks International AIDS conference in Toronto.

Everyone knows that the South African government is headed by a longstanding denialist of the link between HIV and AIDS, Thabo Mbeki, who held back anti-retroviral treatment for many years; but less well known is the fact that his health minster, Tshabalala-Msimang, is also a staunch advocate for weekend glossy magazine-style nutritionism, an ardent critic of medical drugs, and a close associate of a controversial vitamin salesman.

South Africa’s stand at the conference was described by delegates as the “salad stall”, and consisted of some garlic, some beetroot, the African potato, and other vegetable action. Some boxes of anti-retroviral drugs were added, but these were apparently borrowed, from conference delegates.

Interviewed on SABC about this, the health minister came out with exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear at any North London dinner party discussion on alternative therapies (only not in the context of one death every 2 minutes). First she was asked about work from the University of Stellenbosch, suggesting that African Potato might be positively dangerous for people on AIDS drugs.

Here’s some quick background to make the punchline funnier: one study had to be terminated prematurely, because most of the HIV positive patients who received the plant extract showed severe bone marrow suppression and a drop in their CD4 cell count (this is a bad thing) after 8 weeks. When African Potato extract was given to cats with the excellently uncuddly “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus”, they too succumbed to full blown Feline AIDS, faster than their non-treated controls.

But Tshabalala-Msimang disagreed: the researchers should go back to the drawing board, and investigate properly, she said. HIV positive people who used African potato had shown improvement, and they had said so themselves. Is this line of argument sounding familiar? Why, she demanded, if a person said he or she was feeling better, should this be disputed, merely because it had not been proved scientifically? “When a person says she or he is feeling better, I must say no, I don’t think you are feeling better? I must rather go and do science on you?” Asked whether there should be a scientific basis to her views, she replied: “Whose science?” Perhaps you have had similar arguments at parties yourself. I have, but I have never had them with a health minister.

Meanwhile polio, which has almost been completely eradicated – throughout the world – thanks to an inspiring vaccination program, is endemic in Nigeria. The reason for this is that in 2003, imams in the North of the country decided that polio vaccine was part of a US plot to spread AIDS and infertility in the Islamic world, and imposed a ban. (These beliefs will seem entirely reasonable to you if you live in North London and have children of the right age for MMR.) In 2005 there were unexpected new outbreaks of polio in Yemen and Indonesia: both were caused by poliovirus strains that originated in Nigeria.

And before you get too smug about being Western, let’s just remember that we all have our own weird cultural idiosyncracies that prevent us taking up sensible public health programs. There is a good evidence base to show that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV, for example: but you try telling that to the Americans, and they’ll “Just Say No!” With that cold, pious stare.

You couldn’t express it in less than a lecture series, but there’s something incredibly interesting and complicated going on here – something to do with religion, reactions against imperialism, cultural relativism, denial, decadence, exploitation, irrationality, and, somewhere, science. But as to what that something is, you’ll have to make your own mind up.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

44 Responses

  1. David Mingay said,

    August 26, 2006 at 2:39 am

    And in the West, not just Americans. Here’s something from Italy (quoted in The Guardian, October 9, 2003): ‘The president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, told the programme [Panorama]: “The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.”‘ Full article:,7369,1059068,00.html

  2. regordane said,

    August 26, 2006 at 11:41 am

    I’ve always been perplexed that no one ever gives that one the answer it deserves – which is to fill a condom with water or blow one up with air, and then point out how many zillion times smaller air and water molecules are than HIV virus particles.

  3. disgruntled commuter said,

    August 26, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    I have just read this article in the Guardian and (especially after having lived in Swaziland for two years) I want to cut it out and photocopy it and carry the copies around with me so that the next time somebody start yammering on about MMR or nutrition curing anything other than poor nutrition, I can just hand it to them and walk away. It will save a lot of time and unpleasantness all round.

  4. CDavis said,

    August 26, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    A hideous aspect is that South Africa used to have a shit-hot medical system – and probably still does, in pockets at hospitals and universities. The beneficiaries of this system were largely the white minority, of course – other ‘races’ had to make do with a much more impoverished and overcrowded arrangement. But the system for whites was good, charged according to means, and as high-tech as any in the West.

    The coming of democracy and the redistribution of wealth inevitably meant resources being stretched, but the current problem there goes much deeper, and is far more pernicious, than that: the topmost echelons of South African medicine, which used to be in the hands of respectable medics, is now controlled by pseudoscientists and ‘naturists’ who dictate the sort of crazed policy described above.

    It’s an appalling coincidence that democracy arrived in South Africa just as the AIDS epidemic began to gather pace in the country. Had the existing resources been focused on the problem, South Africa might have remained the area of low HIV incidence it was though the 80s. Instead, magical thinking at the top of the chain of command now presides over the ghastly death toll you describe. Apart from its direct horrors, the situation gives considerable comfort to those who predicted that black majority rule would be a disaster.


  5. Frank said,

    August 26, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    North Londoners the new Humanities grads!

  6. jimyojimbo said,

    August 26, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Possible good news:

    South Africa’s government says it needs to find new strategies for communicating its message on HIV/Aids.

    The announcement comes as activists called for a “day of action” to try to get the health minister to resign.

    UN envoy Stephen Lewis said at the International Aids Conference that South Africa promoted a “lunatic fringe” attitude to HIV/Aids, and described the government as “obtuse, dilatory and negligent about rolling out treatment”

    Hopefully UN and citizen pressure can get something done. Just goes to show there are funny types of woo, and then there are deeply disturbing, horrific types of woo.

  7. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 26, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    I would say, as the head of a state, that the most important problem you could possibly have to deal with is the one that is killing 600-800 of your people every day.

    Fucking that up through your own weird pseudoscientific values takes self indulgence to an entirely new level.

  8. JQH said,

    August 26, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    It is true that many cultures have their blind spots. The Daily Hate and MMR spring to mind as a local example. South Africa’s tragedy is that (judging by my experience) most of its citizens are more knowledgable than Tshabalala-Msimang. It’s as if the population of this country were clamouring for the MMR vaccine while the government insisted that fruit juice and vitamin supplements would stem the rising epidemic.

  9. jimyojimbo said,

    August 26, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Ha. There may be a certain amount of dark humour in imagining what would happen if Tom Cruise ever ran a country.

  10. superburger said,

    August 26, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    To a certain section of the ANC there must be some reminders of apartheid when the western (western is always code for white, cf urban = black) establishment is dictating how to run your lives.

    That’s not an excuse of course, if you’re seriously trying to run a country’s healthcare system.

    The tragedy is the SA is that, out of all Afrcian countries, it is the best one placed to tackle the Aids pandemic.

  11. David Mingay said,

    August 26, 2006 at 7:40 pm

    Re Comment no. 9: The bizarre thing is, Tom Cruise is right, but for completely the wrong reasons. Mary Boyle, on the other hand, is right for completely the right reasons. Here’s a review of her book on the subject: Not sure what any of this has to do with AIDS in South Africa though.

  12. terry hamblin said,

    August 26, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    I’ve just seen the movie “Shooting Dogs” about the Rwandan massacre. In it a BBC reporter refers to the slaughter as “just one more dead African”.

    I am afraid that we have that attitude in the West. Whether it AIDS in South Africa, polio in Nigeria or civil war in Congo and Somalia, it seems that African lives are expendible as if they were of less value than those in Islington.

    Suggestions please on how to stop these crazy governments from killing their people.

  13. jwicc said,

    August 26, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    If we want to answer a question of the sort ‘why do people ignore the science and adopt these insane unproven and clearly dangerous approaches – and what can we do about it’ I’d suggest the first thing is to realise that it isn’t just happening to science.

    My actual field of claimed expertise is Politics – and believe me when I say people take to being told about politics by an ‘expert’ even less than they like scientists telling them they really are ill.

    But a real problem faced by politics/government in many ‘advanced’ countries is the gulf between governments and their people – a gulf which is of course partly caused by politicians hiding behind spin, cheating and all that but is also caused by the voluntary withdrawal of people from any interest in politics. They just treat the whole sector as intrinsically wrong all the time, and take opinions of all shades as acceptable facts.

    I imagine that economists would say something similar (every economist knows that keeping your money in the bank and not investing it is a surefire loser finanically but they can’t convince people to invest in risky seeming shares).

    And probably other areas of knowledge might say it too. I imagine those in the humanities might mention, say, posters like Frank on – assuming that what the Humanities have to say must be dumb before giving it a chance and seeing how it works from the inside.

    In short this is a much bigger problem – and I suspect it is to do not so much with the list of things that Ben gives in the article as with the general specialisation of life meaning that people understand each other less, combined with the shorter amount of time we seem to have to spend understanding these things (there’s just so much to understand) and then the proliferation of voices and arguments.

    The most troublesome and intractable outcome of this has been that facts are no longer regarded as facts – they are treated as opinions. I am sure I am not the only one on this board who has had the experience of having a discussion/argument and being told that a fact one has stated is really only an opinion. Facts in this sense have themselves become politicised rather than the unchangeable counters that might be moved around in a political/social debate.

    I am happy for truths to be up for grabs in the political arena – but not the facts.

    You science guys have a place to go to for fixed incontrovertible standards of weights and measures etc. But it is impossible to imagine a neutral body to validate the facts we use in arguments. And that is because facts today are a business, a profitable one too.

    I think it was Thomas Hobbes who said somethign along the lines of – It cannot be doubted that men would happily deny that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees if they felt the fact would go against their commerical interest.

  14. coaltarproduct said,

    August 26, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    Iatrogenic death is BAD!
    Can illness caused by medical treatment result in death?
    Yes or No?
    What is so funny about access to clean water, food and shelter before drugs?
    Why is more money spent on drug research than providing clean water, pesticide and pollution free food?

  15. Janet W said,

    August 27, 2006 at 9:47 am

    coaltar, I’m sure we would all agree with you that clean water, hygienic surroundings and adequate nutrition have a tremendous impact on health. In fact, who knows, maybe we’ll get a future BS article on the impact of water availability on health, both in Africa and (on a less dramatic but still measurable scale) on post-privatisation Britain.

    Meanwhile, surely you cannot argue with the fact that HIV/Aids can only be combatted by robust awareness campaigns, support for women’s rights, better care for sufferers, and provision of ARVs.

  16. Janet W said,

    August 27, 2006 at 9:49 am

    Great quote from Melinda Gates:

    “If you oppose the distribution of condoms, something is more important to you than saving lives.”

  17. Dr Aust said,

    August 27, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    1. Melinda Gates: “If you oppose the distribution of condoms, something is more important to you than saving lives.”

    Sadly the Catholic Church is quite clear that taking a “moral position” on the need for people to remain free of the sin of having extramarital sex is just that – more important than saving lives. I keep meaning to find a devout Catholic doctor and ask them how they square the circle on that one.

    2. terry hamblin wrote:

    “I am afraid that we have that attitude in the West. Whether it is AIDS in South Africa, polio in Nigeria or civil war in Congo and Somalia, it seems that African lives are expendible as if they were of less value than those in Islington.”

    … see also the relative body counts for “us” and “them”, whether we are talking Vietnam or more recently Iraq or Southern Lebanon.

    Not a new thing, sadly. Lives of (especially) dark-skinned third worlders – ho hum. Lives of us – quite a different thing. Front page news.

    The old journalist’s line that encapsulated this view of what the man in the street did or didn’t want to hear about was the (probably apocryphal) headline:

    “Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead”.

    One interesting thing, though, is that sometimes popular opinion CAN be mobilized on humanitarian crises, and then one sees the popular sentiment well ahead of our political masters. Famine / Live Aid is one past example, the Asian Tsunami another. So if AIDS in Africa could capture the popular imagination…. I hope some of the Gates Foundation’s money is going into working out just how this could be done.

  18. CDavis said,

    August 27, 2006 at 9:46 pm

    ‘What is so funny about access to clean water, food and shelter before drugs?’

    Clean water, food and shelter will help healthy people stay healthy. They will do nothing significant to save the lives of HIV+ people, because they’re not a cure for HIV.

    ARVs without clean water, food and shelter will save more HIV+ lives than clean water, food and shelter without ARVs.


  19. kim said,

    August 28, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Ben, have always admired you for writing what I regard as “proper” journalism, ie well-researched, incisive, clearly-written and intelligent. So slightly disappointed to see you resorting to that lazy device of using the north London dinner party as a shorthand for a set of attitudes you disapprove of. Leave that to the Polly Fillers, please.

  20. lexmith said,

    August 28, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    I believe Ben’s “North London dinner party” comment is not as far from the truth as you suggest. It is not a Polly Fillerish fantasy that (some of) the strongest anti-MMR hysteria came from the Islington scene. Not every NL dinner party is like that, admittedly, and it is not exclusively the affluent london boroughs that have this fervour for CAM, but “NLDP” is a useful shorthand to describe the scene.

  21. Michael Harman said,

    August 28, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Pedants’ Corner

    “Small earthquake in Peru – not many dead” (not Chile) is alleged to have been composed by Cyril Connolly as the winner in a Times competition between the wars journalists for the most boring headline.

  22. Dr Aust said,

    August 28, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    “I believe Ben’s “North London dinner party” comment is not as far from the truth as you suggest. It is not a Polly Fillerish fantasy that (some of) the strongest anti-MMR hysteria came from the Islington scene”.

    Re. MMR specifically, studies show that the biggest relative DROP in MMR take-up in London has been in AFFLUENT boroughs, offering some concrete evidence for the “Islington dinner party effect”.

    The reference is in a post near the end of the last MMR thread.

    PS Thanks for the correction, MIchael. I thought I had heard it attributed somewhere to Claud Cockburn as well.

  23. Frank said,

    August 28, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    jwicc – I think you missed my humour. I’m far too obscure these days.

  24. Janet W said,

    August 28, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    Er.. isn’t it just that Ben lives in North London and is fortunate enough to be invited to lots of dinner parties (though possibly fewer than he used to be)?. Who are we to deny the validity of his experience?

  25. superburger said,

    August 28, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    North London Dinner Party is perhaps a cliche (cf Scientific Establishment) which may (or may not) have some truth to it.

    It’s a methaphor for seemingly well educated, reasonably affluent, ‘respectable’ middle class people who are believers in CAM / MMR-Autism / etc etc. Within a small, self-referencing clique these views can spread and survive in the absence of any conutering opinions.

    There are, I’m sure, “North Londoners” in every city and town in the UK……..

  26. three tigers said,

    August 28, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    How about getting someone to infect Tshabalala-Msimang and Thabo Mbeki with HIV? They can then try out the african potatoes for themselves and report the results personally as a case study to say…. The Lancet… if they live that long.

  27. katy said,

    August 28, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    “Controversial vitamin salesman”? Remarkably restrained language to describe Mattias Rath…. a quack of note who has the approval of the health minister, despite having been exposed as such in several developed countries. His pushing of megadose multivits and other nutritional strategies; and his insistence that ARV’s are from the devil have actively resulted in deaths of HIV pts. Is T- Msimang just reeeally gullible?

  28. AdamAnt said,

    August 29, 2006 at 7:15 am

    My memory is that last year Rath threatened to sue various groups in South Africa when they alleged that he was fixing his data. Basically he had paraded a small number of HIV positive patients in Cape Town who said that they were feeling a lot better after coming off anti-retrovirals and starting taking vitamins. When the Treatment Action Campaign followed this up a few months later they found that of this group several had died, and the ones who hadn’t, had not come off anti-retrovirals at all. When they publicised this Rath sued them, but then earlier this year had to withdraw this as it was, errr, all true.

  29. hyperdeath said,

    August 29, 2006 at 9:04 am

    “I’m sure we would all agree with you that clean water, hygienic surroundings and adequate nutrition have a tremendous impact on health.”

    Unfortunately, not all of the woo-woo brigade do agree on this statement. Some of them are opposed to water chlorination. This idiocy has been implicated in the 1991 cholera epidemic in Peru.

  30. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 29, 2006 at 11:20 am

    thats v interesting hyperdeath, especially enjoyed this bit:

    “Shortly after this directive was issued, I was surprised to learn that some local PAHO officials were encountering pockets of resistance to chlorination from a number of health officials, both in Peru and in other countries. I was specifically told that the reason was their concern for chlorination by-products, especially trihalomethanes. This concern had its origin in press releases and published scientific studies widely disseminated by environmental agencies in the developed countries. I traveled to Peru and other countries and personally met with the health officials and even heads of water agencies who expressed their concern directly to me; some even believed that they might be subjected to a lawsuit if they chlorinated or raised the level of chlorine in their water supplies. I also met other concerned health officials in various cholera workshops and symposiums sponsored by PAHO. Most surprising of all was the discovery that even officials in small towns were aware of disinfection by-products and their alleged negative health effects. It was pointed out to all that when the cholera pathogen is present in a water supply, the risk of contracting the disease is immediate, and that a resulting epidemic could cause thousands of deaths. In contrast, the hypothetical health risk posed by trihalomethanes in levels in excess of those recommended by WHO (and EPA) was one extra death per 100,000 persons exposed for a period of 70 years. Unfortunately, some of these well-meaning, but ill-informed officials had to experience the immense proportional difference in risk before accepting this reality.”

  31. Ben Goldacre said,

    August 29, 2006 at 11:23 am

    wow, and here’s a quote from the greenpeace report which looks at whether the discontinuation of chlorine caused the cholera outbreak:

    “In a study carried out by scientists from the Ministerio de Salud in Lima, cholera was associated with eating unwashed fruits and vegetables and drinking untreated water. However, a drink made from an abundant, inexpensive citrus fruit – toronja — protected against cholera.[4]”

  32. Martin said,

    August 29, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Oh wow! A chance to de-bunk Greenpeace on Bad Science; my dream come true.

    Greenpeace are a great band for raising public awareness of environmental issues, and in that I support them whole-heartedly. However, when it comes to the details their verve lets them down somewhat.

    Ben’s quote from their paper about a citrus drink ‘protecting’ against cholera is a good example. Always drinking a cheap citrus drink rather than free, cholera contaminated water may prevent you from contracting cholera, but the citrus drink, in itself, cannot ‘protect’ (ie, defend) the body against cholera. Greenpeace have a habit of misunderstanding this kind of detail.

    My favourite Greenpeace screw-up, though, has to be the Brent Spar debacle. Having wrongly calculated the quantity of oil remaining on the disused loading station, Greenpeace occupied the Brent Spar and demanded that it be towed to shore for decomissioning, rather than sinking it where it was to act as an artificial reef. There were three main problems:
    1. Greenpeace used more fuel in their boats protesting about Brent Spar than there was in the installation.
    2. Sinking Brent Spar would have protected the area from fishing. The fishermen wanted it removed as it would have snagged the nets.
    3. Greenpeace started a campaign to boycott Shell (Brent Spar’s operators) petrol stations, and suggested that people should use Esso instead. That’s Esso, who’s parent company, Exxon, was owner of the Exxon Valdes, and was also 50% owner of the Brent Spar.


  33. DeeTee said,

    August 29, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    Msimang and Mbeki have also been responsible for condemming hundreds of thousands of infants in South Africa to become HIV-infected, through denying their mothers the simple precaution of taking one of the HIV drugs (nevirapine) when they go into labour.
    This is estimated to cut the incidence of HIV in babies born to HIV-infected mums from around 25% to under 5%.
    40000 infants are infected with HIV each year in SA ; i.e. over 100 a day. All of them will die – some may take only a year or so before they succumb to a lingering, painful death – others are not nearly as lucky, and it will take them longer.
    To commit genocide against one’s population by shooting/gassing them quickly is indescribably evil, but to deliberately condemn children to the certainty of a protracted, miserable death is a far worse crime in my book.
    Will Msimang or Mbeki ever face justice – will they heck!

  34. rserra said,

    August 29, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Well, curiously enough, doing work as a vet in Botswana I encounter a completely different government mentality. Local people with HIV WILL resort to healers and natural (magic) products more commonly (try 9 out of 10) than traditional medicine. Botswana is a very rich country (diamonds), and they’ve been one of the first African govts to provide free ARV treatment to all people with CD4 counts below 200. People just won’t go to hospitals for treatment. They go to the healer.

    The same happens in SA. So it seems to me that the SA govt stance on ARVs is based in community beliefs and not against them, as suggested by other posters here. Obviously, the SA govt is wrong, but I believe that its position is shared by the community. Which is a huge problem.

  35. ceec said,

    August 29, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    By the way, if anyone is trying to track down the mysterious-sounding “citrus fruit – toronja” so useful for cholera, you may find it easier to ask for it by its North London name, which is “grapefruit”. Did they put “toronja” to make it sound like some kind of indigenous remedy? Maybe they just didn’t speak Spanish.

  36. superburger said,

    August 29, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    holy crap toronja does = grapefuit.

    Coming soon to waitrose

    “grapefruit 69p each”
    “toronja 1.99 each”

    You know it’s true…

  37. hyperdeath said,

    August 29, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    Wait a minute… are Greenpeace really suggesting that people completely abandon water consumption in favour of grapefruit juice? This makes their policies on GM crops and nuclear power seem logical and well thought out by comparison.

    Would grapefruit juice be used to wash kitchen utensils? Would it be used to mix up baby milk*? Also, I somehow doubt that any fruit, no matter how common, would remain inexpensive if the majority of a nation’s population started using it as their primary water source. Also, what would happen in the grapefruit crop failed?

    (* = Yes I know that selling baby milk to people without access to a clean water is generally a bad idea. However, in the real world, mothers sometimes don’t produce enough milk, and it becomes a nutritional necessity.)

  38. JQH said,

    August 30, 2006 at 8:16 am

    Never been to Botswana rserra but I have been to South Africa and Mrs H is South African. It is our experience that the people who rely on healers and snake oil peddlers do so in part because it is reccomended by the Health Ministry.

    As for “community beliefs”, the Treatment Action Campaign is vocal in campaigning for the Government to distribute ARVs. 44 of them were arrested at a recent protest against Tsabalala-Msimang’s barking mad policy.

  39. MostlySunny said,

    August 30, 2006 at 9:18 am

    I agree with you JQH – most traditional healers have no problem with conventional medicine in the same way that a priest or pastor would have no problem praying with a person for health while at the same time they were under a doctor’s care unless he was a Christian scientist would insist on a sick person obtaining proper medical treatment.

    Also in Rural areas – it’s less of a won’t and more of a can’t when it comes to getting medical treatment. Public transport is almost non-existent and when available very expensive. CAn you imagine walking 10k’s in the boiling African sun to obtain medical treatment for your extremed diaorhea?

    The problem is the same as in the west – the traditional healers make money out of these poor desperate people (and we’re not talking chump change – we are talking MILLIONS – eg one healer was selling special holy water for 25c a litre – it was just tap water that had had a prayer said over it – an the faithful had to bring their own bottles! A license to print money…

    Because of the religious link the traditional healing thing has always been a sensitve issue in south africa. THe government and certain unscrupulous “healers” are basically exploiting a terrified population desperate for salvation for their own ideological and (mostly) financial ends.

  40. DeeTee said,

    August 30, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    The AIDS conference had a satellite meeting about the journalistic response to AIDS issues, particularly looking at AIDS denialism, South Africa, Mbeki, Mathias Raath and the gang.

    Well worth a read of the transcript or look at the video…

  41. IanD said,

    August 30, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    Ben, I think you said it perfectly in the last paragraph. We can see this happening everywhere, and it seems like a complex mish-mash of cultural relativism gone mad, scientific ignorance, religious mumbo-jumbo, supernatural voodoo, nutritional fads, alternative medicine, shitty teachers, scientific apathy, political correctness and assorted magical and wishful thinking.

    Those in control of the media have made anti-science fashionable. It’s well past the time to call them out.

    It’s time to stop being so damned polite to the woo-woo crowd and just start speaking up. If you face someone making woo-woo noises, set them straight and challenge them.

  42. hatter said,

    September 2, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    My experience is that it is always people in the humanities, particularly social so-called science, that telling me that facts are just opinions. Sometimes they then proceed to use deliberately convoluted impenetrable language to explain why this is the case. Worse than lawyers when it comes to using intentionally opaque language.

  43. int. said,

    January 8, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    talking about opaque language:

    comment 18
    “Clean water, food and shelter will help healthy people stay healthy. They will do nothing significant to save the lives of HIV+ people, because they’re not a cure for HIV.
    ARVs without clean water, food and shelter will save more HIV+ lives than clean water, food and shelter without ARVs.”

    Just in case anyone has their heads screwed on wrong: there is NO cure to date for HIV/AIDS. There is no scientific evidence to think of ARVs as “life saving”. They are marginally “life-extending” at best.

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