HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

“HIV/AIDS” “science” news unfit to print

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2011/05/06

Scientists understand what the purpose of publishing is: to make a name for oneself, to impress those who dole out research funds, to provide padding for one’s curriculum vitae.
Outsiders don’t always understand this, and journalists are among those outsiders, regrettably. As a result, the media are replete with announcements of scientific breakthroughs that are nothing of the sort. The overall damage may not be obvious, certainly not at once, but it is surely quite high.
For instance, how many women were misled into hope over the announcement, many years ago, that a gene responsible for breast cancer had been found (Elisa Segrave, “Still living in hope”, Sunday Times (UK), 9 July 1995, p. 7-5; review of Kevin Davies & Michael White, Breakthrough: The Quest to Isolate the Gene for Hereditary Breast Cancer, Macmillan)? How many women opted for prophylactic mastectomy because they had that gene?
The truth, of course, was that researchers had found an association, a correlation, between a certain gene mutation and about 5% of cases of breast cancer. Furthermore, by no means everyone with that mutation gets breast cancer. It is still not agreed what the odds are (though of course one can read all sorts of claims about it), and it is still not known  what the undoubtedly several others factors are — even in those women with that particular mutation — that also increase the odds that breast cancer will ensue. Consequently there is no rational way, no objective guidance, for a woman with that gene to estimate the benefit in risk reduction from a mastectomy as against the psychological cost.
The “news” about the discovery of that correlation was not fit to print, as was obvious even at that time since the observation of a mere correlation with a mere 5% of cases should have brought only yawns and an understanding that this sort of thing is suitable for publication in a research journal but not worth mentioning to the wider public. Yet it was ballyhooed all over the media. There are innumerable other such instances. The media, and especially television, need a continual supply of newsworthy material — which doesn’t exist when news is defined as startling as well as new; especially concerning science or medicine, since real science just isn’t news. To the general public “science” means reliable, certain, trustworthy, and nothing can be known to be that if it hasn’t been around long enough to be thoroughly tested under all sorts of conditions and by people with different scientific prejudices and beliefs.
One suspects that journalists are hesitant to apply common sense to matters that seem highly technical. If so, then that would reflect a high degree of ignorance, because the flaws in these “breakthrough” announcements are obvious on quite general grounds and without delving into the technicalities. For one thing, anyone “covering” anything about science or medicine ought to know that a single study, even if published in a peer-reviewed journal, cannot be taken as more than possibly suggestive, even if they have not learned from John Ziman (Reliable Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, 1978, p. 40)that even in physics about 90% of research articles, the “primary” scientific literature, turn out to be wrong in some way.

This general preamble was set off by the press release, picked up by several news media, that a presentation at a forthcoming conference would explain why black men are so much more likely than others to become “HIV-positive”:

“Higher HIV risk in black gay men linked to partner choice, risk perception”
03 May 2011
“[EMPHASES ADDED IN THE FOLLOWING] Young black men who have sex with men (MSM) get infected with HIV nearly five times more often than MSM from other races, even though they don’t have more unprotected sex.
The discrepancy has long mystified public health experts but a new study by investigators at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere now offers a possible explanation for it.
The study found that young black MSM — a group that includes openly gay and bisexual men, as well as those who have sex with men but do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual — select partners and judge these partners’ HIV status in a specific way. These men show a clear preference for masculine men, while also equating masculinity with lower HIV risk. This dynamic, the researchers say, can help explain why young black MSM contract HIV more often than their counterparts from other races.
The results are based on interviews with 35 black men ages 18 to 24 who have sex with men. The most notable findings include an overwhelming preference for masculine partners, accepting masculine partners as dominant in the sex act and leaving to them decisions about condom use, perceiving masculine men as low risk for HIV and feminine men as high risk.
“There may be no difference in HIV prevalence between masculine-looking and feminine-looking men, but because black MSM perceive masculine men as lower risk, their sexual encounters with such men may make HIV infection more likely,” said investigator Jonathan Ellen, M.D., a pediatrician and teen health expert at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
In other words, even though young black MSM have unprotected sex just as often as others, they may be having unprotected sex in riskier ways with partners whose HIV status they often miscalculate, the researchers explain.
The findings offer new insight into how black MSM judge risk based on perceptions of masculinity and can help inform public health campaigns to reduce new HIV infections in this disproportionately affected group. The findings, the researchers say, can also guide safe-sex conversations between primary care physicians and patients.
Errol Fields, M.D. Ph.D., currently a resident at Boston Children’s Hospital, was lead author on the research, which he conducted as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston and Emory University also participated in the study.
Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine”

This striving for public attention was a press release from Johns Hopkins, also featured on the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center site, and picked up by EurekaAlert  and ScienceDaily  among many other sites. Yet it’s garbage, and quite obviously so: anyone who disseminates in any media ought to understand the limitations of material collected by interview; and even a moment’s thought will make plain that information from 35 people hardly warrants extrapolation to everyone who is also black, male, gay (or MSM), and aged between 18 and 24.
Possibly a bit more subtle but still hardly recondite is the fact that if you claim to be comparing black men with others, you should actually do so; yet there is no mention of interviews with 18-24-year-olds of other races, to learn whether perhaps they too have the same preferences in sexual partners and (allegedly) mistaken inferences about the risks that those partners might be “HIV-positive”.
That there in fact “may be no difference in HIV prevalence between masculine-looking and feminine-looking men” is hardly a basis for alleging, as the “conclusions” of this “study” do, that there isn’t in fact any difference.
And of course it’s purely speculative that they “may be having unprotected sex in riskier ways with partners whose HIV status they often miscalculate”.
Anyone familiar with the epidemiology of “HIV” would also balk at the claim that black men are “nearly five times” more likely than those of other races to become “HIV-positive”: African-American men are about 7-8 times more likely than white American men, and about 10 times more likely than Asian American men, to be “HIV-positive”. That this “has long mystified public health experts” stems from the mistaken acceptance by those experts of HIV/AIDS theory; others have long offered explanations in terms of race-linked physiology, see several chapters in my book and sources cited there.
That this was work carried out by a graduate student, and that it was featured in a press release from Johns Hopkins, illustrates what I said at the outset about the purpose of “scientific” publication.

2 Responses to ““HIV/AIDS” “science” news unfit to print”

  1. mo79uk said

    Perhaps not the correct post to share this on, but this piece on BBC News was interesting:

    “Homosexual men are more likely to have had cancer than heterosexual men, a US study has suggested.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13295300

    “The authors speculate that the difference in the numbers of cancer survivors could be down to the higher rate of anal cancer in homosexual men or HIV infection, which has been linked to cancer.”

    If the Lance hypothesis is correct it’s not surprising that anal cancer is the most common cancer in gay men.

  2. Josh said

    Henry,

    From the honest horses mouth…

    NY Times Science writer Dennis Overbye:

    “The easiest way to manipulate the press is to embargo some result and then send a press release about it to a thousand different news organizations. They will cover it because they are afraid everyone else will cover it. It’s a kind of artificial competition that’s stirred up.”

    Also science journalist Michael Lemonick:

    “I’ll give you an example from medical research. There’s a study that comes out that they learned something about mice and Parkinson’s disease. It might have implications for humans, but the truth is that it probably won’t.

    But I can’t tell my editor the truth, which is that this research probably won’t have any implications for human health. Her response is going to be to tell me: that’s not interesting; I don’t want that. In order to make a story palatable to my editor I have to jazz it up and make it something it’s not. So when you’ve created that expectation that every story is a breakthrough. If you have a story that’s not a breakthrough, editors say they aren’t interested in that.

    Both are taken from the blog, Marketing for Scientists..

    http://marketingforscientists.tumblr.com/post/4083494129/an-interview-with-dennis-overbye

    http://marketingforscientists.tumblr.com/

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