HIV/AIDS makes for happy work
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/08/03
On July 17 over eastern Ukraine, a missile shot down a Malaysian aeroplane carrying nearly 300 passengers, some of them in transit to Australia for the International AIDS Conference.
The Colbert Report (Comedy Channel TV) of July 21 quoted one of the organizers of that AIDS Conference: through the deaths of these people “the normally ‘cheerful mood’ at the AIDS Conferences will now be absent”.
Thus, commented Colbert, the Russian separatists who shot down that aeroplane have managed to make AIDS depressing (as it had not been earlier, presumably).
This gallows humor points to a significant aspect of contemporary research, very much including medical science: Researchers are far removed from the impact and wider significance of what they do.
Not that they are in a traditional Ivory Tower, because that imagined people driven by nothing but an interest in plain truth. Today’s researchers are just employees, hired hands, doing what they’re paid to do, “theirs not to reason why” *. Their “truth” is a very narrow one, restricted to what works in their test-tubes, even if that has no direct application outside those tubes and even if the results make no sense outside the tubes because the work is too oversimplified, not representative of the real-world issue to which it is supposed to apply. A drug might kill a pathogen very nicely in a tube, for example, but it might also have toxic “side” effects that make it useless in medical practice.
Today’s universal measure of value is not truth value but economic value.
Academic researchers are judged by their own university according to how much grant money they bring in.
Within drug companies, no one has the job of making overall judgments, whether aims and projects serve anything except the companies’ profitability. Technical staff and sales people do their jobs without concern for the wider or ultimate significance of what they do. CEOs are answerable only to their shareholders.
Drug companies are evaluated by how great their profits are. Hospitals are for-profit. Doctors are increasingly hired hands within clinics and large (and bureaucratic) “health-care organizations”.
There is no work done on vaccines against Ebola virus because there’s not enough potential profit in it.
National economic growth in the United States is welcomed universally as a good thing, even as a major part of it comes from health-care costs increasing at 4 times the rate for everything else for several decades without improvement in health outcomes compared to other countries.
People at International AIDS Conferences can have a grand old time, even while millions of people continue to be misled about what it means to be “HIV-positive” and to be consigned to toxic “treatment” by antiretroviral drugs.
* If you don’t recognize the phrase, please look up Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”