Promises, promises…. “Possible cure for ‘HIV’”
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/06/23
One of the worst aspects of the media coverage of “science” is the explicit aim of bringing the latest and most exciting “news” from the realms of science. To disseminate what has just been announced by some scientist or laboratory or institution of science or medicine is to collaborate in an exercise in self-serving spin which, all too often, arouses totally unwarranted hopes.
An infamous and notorious instance was the “discovery” of “the” gene that “causes” breast cancer. Untold numbers of women will have expected genuine deliverance from having to worry about contracting breast cancer, only to be thoroughly disappointed; and some number of women continue to undergo “prophylactic” removal of the mammaries if they are told that they have that gene. The unwarranted hope and subsequent disappointment has been well described by Elisa Segrave (“Still living in hope”, Sunday Times [UK)], 9 July 1995, section 7, p. 5 — review of Kevin Davies & Michael White, Breakthrough: The Quest to Isolate the Gene for Hereditary Breast Cancer, Macmillan).
In general usage, “science” has the connotation of reliable. If you want to convince people, you don’t say, “It’s been proven”, you say, “It’s been scientifically proven”. If you want to demolish someone’s claim, you can’t be more emphatic than to say, “That’s not scientific”, or perhaps, “That’s not science, that’s pseudoscience”.
Nothing new in science is reliable. Nothing that’s “news” in science is reliable. Real science isn’t news.
The fact of the matter is that reliable “science” doesn’t emerge fully formed from some experiment or statistical survey. There’s all the difference in the world between science now being done, “frontier” science, and the stuff — “textbook science” — that’s been winnowed away from much chaff through running long gauntlets of being tested and critiqued.
So it strikes me as criminally irresponsible when the media propagate wild and wishful speculation by researchers who are anxious for the spotlight in order to impress their sponsors and potential funders, as when it has to do with a “possible cure for HIV”:
“Treatment of HIV ‘sanctuary’ cells creates path for possible cure: researchers (Amy Minsky, Canwest News Service 21 June 2009)
Scientists have found a new way to fight — and possibly eradicate — HIV, according to a study released Sunday by a team of Canadian and American researchers.”
No doubt in order to emphasize how truly scientific and reliable this news is, that “news” item includes an impressive photograph; whose content and credit line mark it as a “stock” photo having nothing to do specifically with the text of the article or the claim reported in it.
Treatment of HIV ‘sanctuary’ cells creates path for possible cure: researchers
Photograph by: Guang Niu, Getty Images
“’For 15 years we haven’t had a clue,’ said Dr. Rafick-Pierre Sekaly. ‘But now, we do’.”
What could sound more worthy of trust? Or more likely to arouse hope among “HIV-positive” people who believe the HIV/AIDS story?
“The new ‘weapon’ will combine antiretroviral therapy, which is the current treatment for HIV/AIDS, with a new one the researchers are calling an intelligent targeted chemotherapy.”
Wow! “Intelligent” targeting, no less! At last the jackpot has been sprung!
“A study will begin in September to test the validity of these results. If targeted chemotherapy successfully eliminates HIV, researchers say the feasibility of the treatment will be determined over the next two to three years, with medication becoming available a few years after that.”
So it’s going to another half-a-dozen years? So what, a real cure is worth waiting for, and we can hang on until then with the drugs which, after all, so we’re told, are getting better all the time and easier to tolerate.
Of course, there are some caveats that excited readers might miss or not fully appreciate:
“the new treatment’s success will be contingent on a patient’s positive response to antiretroviral therapy. . . . Some HIV-positive patients do not respond to antiretroviral therapy. For those patients, zapping the cell will not likely yield any significant results.”
And even when they do “respond” — i.e., when the meaningless viral-load test purports to show “control” of “the virus” — the side effects of the antiretroviral drugs hardly make this a promise of the sort of cure that ill people look for, namely, a return to genuinely trouble-free health.
ScienceDaily, “Your source for the latest research news”, seemingly presents itself as the place to get reliable information. It covers the same story in the same way:
“Approach For Possibly Eradicating HIV Infection Discovered”
and makes it seem properly trustworthy by mentioning that the relevant “discovery” is appearing in Nature Medicine online and later in the print journal.
No doubt the researchers see nothing wrong in releasing this “news” because of their care to point out that “this is a preliminary finding”; but that caveat loses its import under the weight of the immediately following “we are hopeful that this research discovery will guide us in eradicating HIV infection in the body”.
Voice of America did not hesitate to tell the world:
“HIV Hiding Places Found”, by Joe DeCapua —
“There’s been a breakthrough in AIDS research”.
Great! A breakthrough! That’s what we’ve all been waiting for, for about 3 decades now.
I commented in an earlier post on a similarly misguided arousing of hopes for an anti-“HIV” gene-therapy based on the claimed immunity conferred by the CCR5Δ32 gene, even though the actual geographic distributions of “HIV” and of CCR5Δ32 fail to support the notion that it confers immunity. That trial is still going ahead, of course.
This entry was posted on 2009/06/23 at 4:52 pm and is filed under antiretroviral drugs, clinical trials, experts, uncritical media. Tagged: Amy Minsky, Breakthrough: The Quest to Isolate the Gene for Hereditary Breast Cancer, breast cancer gene, CCR5Δ32 gene, Elisa Segrave, extravagant promises about HIV cures, frontier science is unreliable, gene therapy, Joe DeCapua, Kevin Davies, Michael White, Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, scientific illiteracy of media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.