Some time ago I had occasion to dissect an article by Nicoli Nattrass for its significant misunderstandings (HIV/AIDS vigilantes protest too much, 2011/07/09), including sociologist’s ignorance of Science & Technology Studies. Nattrass had argued that censoring the Duesberg article in Medical Hypotheses was an appropriate act of “boundary work” to keep unsound material out of the scientific literature; thereby she failed to understand that doing boundary work is not anything to be praised, it is an exercise in suppression, hardly something to be viewed favorably. The proper way to respond to false claims published in the scientific literature is to demonstrate the falsity by specifically answering the claims. Nattrass further displayed ignorance by asserting that peer review is necessary for something to be scientific.
I pointed out, too, that Nattrass (like many other vigilantes) criticizes such people as Duesberg and Mullis for writing about HIV/AIDS when they have not personally done research on it — while Nattrass herself is an economist, which scarcely qualifies her to critique work on HIV/AIDS, let alone to cross swords with distinguished actual biological scientists like Duesberg and Mullis.
These flaws and more are now on display in a book by Nattrass, The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, published (to its shame) by Columbia University Press in 2012.
I tried to do justice to the main deficiencies of this book in a 7-page review. Its main points are these:
Nattrass does not demonstrate a conspiracy, and makes up statements supposedly from us alleged conspirators, statements that are ludicrously untypical of AIDS Rethinking, e.g. that “the pharmaceutical industry invented AIDS as a means of selling toxic drugs”.
Nor is “science” fighting back, only a small group of HIV/AIDS scientists like J. P. Moore or Mark Wainberg together with a somewhat larger group of non-scientists like Nattrass, Kalichman, and often anonymous bloggers.
Rhetorical gambits are present in profusion, through use of scare quotes and choice of positive adjectives when citing mainstream material or people and applying negative ones to Rethinkers.
Plain errors of fact abound concerning: Christine Maggiore; the Duesberg article about AIDS deaths in South Africa; the finding that Gallo was guilty of scientific misconduct; why HIV tests are flawed; breastfeeding and HIV transmission; how Elsevier censored Medical Hypotheses; the use of orphanage children for drug trials; and that Duesberg was catapulted into the limelight by Celia Farber’s article — in 2006! By that year Duesberg had been routinely and frequently castigated as the chief “AIDS denialist” for nigh on 2 decades.
Praise of unqualified individuals like the anonymous blogger Snout and the irresponsible J. T. de Shong reaches a new (low) level as a whole chapter is devoted to a prisoner who “cofounded a peer AIDS education initiative”.
Nattrass is able to remain convinced of HIV/AIDS theory even as she admits that it remains a mystery, precisely how HIV could destroy the immune system. But such destruction is the founding tenet of HIV/AIDS theory.
The book is not short of sociologese, and Nattrass even invents stereotypes of Rethinkers: hero scientist; cultropreneur (promoter of alternative treatments); living icons (elite controllers, when cited by Rethinkers); praise-singers — a supposedly “sizable” [!] group of journalists sympathetic to Rethinking.
Comedians are sometimes unable to poke fun at politicians because simply citing what the pols say suffices to produce astonished laughter. So too there are many things wrong with this book that need no explanation beyond quoting them: for instance, an asserted similarity between Andrew Wakefield and Peter Duesberg, or that the term “wellness” is replacing “health” in sinister fashion, or that “alternative and complementary” (as in the title of an Office within the National Institutes of Health!) is synonymous with pseudo-science.
One cannot but wonder what review process Columbia University Press used in appraising this text, which also contains unseemly ad hominem remarks and strange neologisms like “heroizing” and “foistered”.