A SAD ‘DAY’
Is World AIDS Day a Sorry Sham?
By Nicholas Regush
ABCNews.com 1 December 1999
This is a sad day. I’m writing this on World AIDS Day, and I think it’s very
sad that AIDS science has galloped out of control.
It’s also sad that this day is used to advance scientific self-interest
that will probably help no one except a long queue of mediocre scientists
with a high-cost load of bad theory and bad research. And this sad day will
also give a long line of unquestioning science reporters another opportunity
to suggest to the world that they really care about people who die from
Am I being extremely harsh? Yes, I am. It’s every bit deserved.
Same Old Stories, Every Year
Every year on World AIDS Day, all the bad news comes pouring out of the
World Health Organization: More AIDS cases; more HIV infections. News
headlines scream that the world is getting pulverized by the virus from
hell. More money is needed for HIV research. More attention should be given
to AIDS. And so on. And naturally many “leading” AIDS researchers — whatever
that means — are quoted in the papers or appearing on camera to suggest that
progress is being made and hope is just around the corner.
But I contend that World AIDS Day is nothing short of a propaganda tool
for scientists to reinforce an established model for how AIDS develops — an
established model that is short on scientific evidence, that often rings of
peculiar speculation, if not outright fantasy.
If the people involved in AIDS science really cared about those dying
of a still mysterious set of immune-related conditions, they would set aside
at least one day a year — let’s call it World AIDS Day — to discuss, in
conferences around the world, the state of the prevailing science and all
theories questioning that very science. (Isn’t this what science is supposed
to be — a questioning enterprise?)
Issues Really Worth Debating
For example, this issue could be put on the table for worldwide discussion:
Is there scientific evidence that HIV can kill cells in the human body?
Imagine open and extensive scrutiny of all the claims about this so-called
virus’ ability to kill cells that are key components of the immune system.
We could get a better view of what passes off for science and what is truly
speculative, based on theory and inference.
Here’s another topic: Is HIV a real virus, or are the gene sequences
attributed to HIV really genetic products of cell damage? And while
scientists debate that issue, they might also turn to the question of what
the so-called HIV antibody test is really picking up: Is it picking up
antibodies to a virus, or to byproducts of cell damaged from, perhaps,
drugs, other infections, and other toxic insults?
As for Africa, which is usually singled out by the World Health
Organization on World AIDS Day, debate could focus on what passes for a
diagnosis of AIDS, or what basis is used to proclaim someone HIV-positive.
There is a lot of shoddy data here requiring careful scrutiny and
Of course, the politics here, and elsewhere in the AIDS domain,
dominate and obfuscate. A discussion of the African AIDS plight would
probably have to run into at least a second or third day (or maybe a month)
before a clearer picture of AIDS emerges from the muck. And a discussion of
HIV in Africa would inevitably lead to the need to understand how a wide
array of intolerable human conditions produces disease, a fact overwhelmed
by such a powerful focus on HIV.
Why This Won’t Happen
I know none of this debate stuff is going to happen. If it did, it would
reveal a picture of AIDS quite different from the sorry, speculative one we
have now. It would reveal a science bordering on shortcuts and side cuts. It
would raise serious questions about whether the cause of AIDS is this deadly
bullet labeled HIV.
I know that I’m in the cross hairs myself when I write of such things.
I know that I will get a load of e-mail calling me every nasty name
imaginable — from nonscientists as well as scientists. Some will challenge
my reputation; others, including science writers, will write to friends at
ABCNEWS and suggest that they try to get me fired; still others, mostly
scientists, will go so far as to call me a ”murderer.” Well, so be it. Fire
away. Give me your best shots — preferably scientific ones. And if any of
the AIDS science big shots out there want to challenge my views in a
well-organized and well-publicized debate, I’d love to do it — I’ll eat them
alive. But I’m sure none of them have the guts to take me on; it would
reveal too clearly just how sad World AIDS Day really is.
Nicholas Regush produces medical features for ABCNEWS. In his weekly column, published Wednesdays, he looks at medical trouble spots, heralds innovative achievements and analyzes health trends that may greatly influence our lives. His latest book is The Breaking Point: Understanding Your Potential for Violence.