HIV/AIDS as pseudo-science
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/03/15
A vast literature in science studies, philosophy of science, history of science, sociology of science, and a variety of popular media deals with “pseudo-science”; sometimes enumerating instances of pseudo-science, sometimes focusing on a single example (creationism, or UFOs, etc, etc.) and sometimes grappling with an issue over which no consensus has been achieved despite a century or more of discussion: How to define pseudo-science? How to distinguish pseudo-science from real science?
The simplest identification of pseudo-science, with which almost no one would disagree (“there’s always one ….”), is something totally incompetent but pretending to be properly scientific. Examples can rather easily be found in “HIV/AIDS research”, for instance that one person has staved off the disease since 1978, which is several years before AIDS had even been identified and half-a-dozen years before “HIV” had been suggested as its cause (Mainstream HIV PSEUDO-science).
A commonly advanced supposed criterion for pseudo-science, directed often particularly at parapsychology, is an inability to reproduce results exactly. By that standard, HIV/AIDS “science” again qualifies as pseudo-science (HIV/AIDS and parapsychology: science or pseudo-science?) — as of course does all of sociology and almost all of psychology.
My own empirically-based suggestion for when mainstream sources treat something as pseudo-science is if it differs from mainstream science in all the three aspects of established method, currently accepted fact, and standard theory. Once again, HIV/AIDS “science” qualified as pseudo-science (Defining pseudo-science: Three strikes against HIV/AIDS theory) — that is, before it came to be accepted as unassailable dogma, which it was for reasons of politics and social factors, not on scientific grounds.
Yet another common criterion for supposedly characterizing pseudo-science, again often directed at parapsychology, is that claimed phenomena or events are not accompanied by the offering of any reasonable mechanism that could possibly cause those events or phenomena; see, for instance, Erich Goode, “Paranormalism and pseudoscience as deviance”, chapter 8, pp. 145-164 in Philosophy of Pseudoscience, University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Once more, HIV/AIDS qualifies as pseudo-science under that criterion. For three decades suggestions have been put forward as to how the purported retrovirus “HIV” could act to destroy the immune system. First it was found that some sort of direct action on the supposedly most involved immune-system cells (CD4 T-cells) was not a viable explanation. Subsequently a variety of indirect or “bystander” mechanisms have been suggested, all of which are notably non-specific, mere names like “chronic inflammation” unaccompanied by specific mechanisms (The Pathogenesis of AIDS).
By every measure that has been suggested for distinguishing science from pseudo-science, HIV/AIDS qualifies as pseudo-science.
P.S., after a useful comment sent to me privately:
As always, my intent here has been to undermine the pretensions of HIV/AIDS theory.
However, I also have quarrels with the very use of the term “pseudo-science”, because of the lack of agreed substantive meeting for the term; it is in practice not an objective label but a term of abuse. I’ve written a great deal about improper labeling of a number of matters as pseudo-science, and the fact that what was once called pseudo-science has sometimes become accepted science, and vice versa (Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press, 2001).
That parapsychology in particular has been called pseudo-science under a couple of the above-mentioned criteria should not be taken to mean that I think it is pseudo-science. However, I do think HIV/AIDS theory is dead wrong and deserves all sorts of pejorative labels.