HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Posts Tagged ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs’

Trying to think about the Unthinkable

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/01/02

“Unthinkable” connotes different things in different contexts; it’s often value-laden — “an unthinkable horror” — but I’m using it here in the most basic sense of “inconceivable, impossible to imagine, not possible — impossible to think about”.

I had ascribed to cognitive dissonance, my difficulty in seeing that mortality (rate of death) among PWAs has nothing to do with individual deaths (median age of death) among PWAs [Cognitive dissonance: a human condition, 26 December 2008]; but my difficulty stemmed not only from the human penchant for cognitive dissonance, it was also owing to the logical impossibility of making sense of things that make no sense, trying to think about things that are unthinkable because there’s nothing to think about. If you try, you tangle your mind into Gordian knots.

The specific trouble here is that “mortality” and “death”, in general, in ordinary circumstances, when applying both to the same population, go together; “rates of death” and “average age of death” obviously ought to be related in some way. So it’s understandable that one begins by assuming that they also go together when it comes to “HIV” and “AIDS”. But since the latter aren’t definitive “things”, the populations of people classed as having “HIV” or “AIDS” aren’t “natural kinds”. You might equally try to compare the mortality among Andaman Islanders with the average age of death among the Sami. Since the  normal connection between mortality and death for a definite population doesn’t apply with “HIV/AIDS”, trying to think about the data brings up only mind-bending conundrums; until one finally realizes that there’s nothing there to think about, because “HIV” has nothing to do with “AIDS”.

The mortality among people defined as “PWAs” has changed in a manner that shows there is no functional relationship between “being a PWA” and the individual risk of dying for a person classified as “PWA” (reflected in the average age at which “PWAs” are reported to die). Therefore the basis for classifying someone as “PWA”, namely, “risk of dying from HIV disease, a.k.a. AIDS”, is wrong. Being classed as “having AIDS” has no functional connection to “risk of dying from AIDS”. Seems crazy, makes no sense — until you thoroughly absorb the fact that “HIV”, the criterion for “at risk of dying from AIDS”, actually has nothing to do with “AIDS”.

But if you’re stuck in the belief that HIV=AIDS, you’re doomed to attempt impossible explanations and to make nonsensical statements. So I occasionally get comments like the following from the ilk of Köpek Burun, The Snout, pseudo “Hank Barnes” at, Chris Noble, etc:
“There is a difference between two things being unrelated and them being inconsistent or contradictory.”

That boggled my mind. Of course there’s a difference, but we’re not talking about the definition of words. The point is that mortality and age of death are unrelated among “PWAs”, which demonstrates that “risk of death from HIV disease”, the criterion for being in the group of PWAs, doesn’t equate with the actual “risk of death from HIV disease” as experienced by individual PWAs. So “HIV”, being unrelated to “AIDS”, cannot be the cause of “AIDS”. It’s then utterly meaningless to attempt to consider whether “HIV” is consistent with or contradictory of “AIDS”; they just have nothing to do with one another. That disproves HIV/AIDS theory. Case closed.

Then KP-ilk continued:
“There may be no functional relationship between the price of sardines and size of oranges but this does not logically correspond to them being inconsistent or contradictory.”
Exactly. It’s meaningless to attempt to consider whether (sardines-price)-“HIV” is consistent with or contradictory of (oranges-size)-“AIDS”; they just have nothing to do with one another. That disproves (sardines-price)-“HIV”/(oranges-size)-“AIDS” theory. Case closed.

But KP-ilk went yet further:
“If you are claiming that the median age at death data contradicts the mortality data then you are obliged to show us what the relationship should be.”
But I’m not saying the mortality and death data contradict one another, I’m pointing out that they are not related. That disproves HIV/AIDS theory. Case closed.
Beyond that, here KP-ilk asserts a generalization that’s empirically baseless and illogical to boot: that when two things are not related, and therefore one is not the cause of the other, that cannot be recognized without postulating what the relationship between them should be if they were related!

Continuing in that vein, KP-ilk concludes with a statement that, pace Wolfgang Pauli, is “not even wrong”:
“If you are claiming that the median age at death data are not simply and directly related to the mortality data then this is not a disproof of the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS.”
Except, of course, the lack of any functional relationship between “at risk of dying from HIV disease, a.k.a. AIDS” and “at risk of dying from HIV disease, a.k.a. AIDS” does disprove the assertion that being a PWA, i.e. suffering from “HIV disease”, puts one at risk of dying from “HIV disease a.k.a. AIDS”. If there could be a clearer disproof of the claim that HIV causes AIDS, I’d like to know what it could be.


This aspect of HIV/AIDS, trying to think the unthinkable, is yet another similarity between HIV/AIDS and subjects that are often called pseudo-science: typically one is looking for explanations for which no explanation seems available, at least one consistent with logic and contemporary knowledge.

The topic of this sort that I know most about concerns Loch Ness “monsters”, a.k.a. Nessies. There’s a film of unquestioned authenticity that shows a large animal swimming in the Loch. Innumerable sonar contacts have been recorded with large moving underwater objects. A few still photos of underwater objects are consistent with several thousand eyewitness reports. BUT there is no explanation so far offered that is consistent with contemporary knowledge within biology. The apparent shape of the animals is like nothing except species (plesiosaurs) extinct for tens of millions of years; which, moreover, were air-breathing and would be seen at the surface far more often than Nessies are. Perhaps that’s what makes the mystery so universally fascinating.

Parapsychology affords similar conundrums. If it’s possible to glimpse the future, then one could do something to change it, transgressing common sense; or, it would mean that we don’t have the free will that subjectively we are sure we do have. Or, if the claims of above-chance psychokinesis or precognition are warranted, even at only a few percent above chance, then it would be possible to break casinos and win the sums of money that parapsychologists claim to need to further their research, which hasn’t been done even by those who claim to have successfully made money by above-chance predictions; why ever did they stop?

However, with Nessies and psychic phenomena and UFOs and the like, there are many evident gaps in empirical knowledge, so there exists the possibility (somewhere in the “unknown unknown” *) that future observations could provide satisfactory understanding of the empirical data. As concerns extrasensory perception, there’s even a plausible analogy in the phenomenon of quantum entanglement at the sub-microscopic level. With HIV/AIDS, there’s no such hope, because data in hand have already disproved decisively the notion that HIV causes AIDS.


* for a discussion of the “unknown unknown”, see my book, Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press, 2001

Posted in HIV absurdities, HIV does not cause AIDS, HIV risk groups, HIV skepticism, HIV tests, HIV/AIDS numbers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

HIV/AIDS and parapsychology: science or pseudo-science?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/12/30

Burden of proof: on this point, “HIV/AIDS” fits a commonly postulated criterion for recognizing pseudo-science [“Science Studies 102: Burden of proof, HIV/AIDS ‘science’, pseudo-science”, 22 July 2008]: the proponents insist that there’s overwhelming evidence on their side while being unable to cite a manageable number of specific publications containing definitive proof; for example, publications that demonstrate that a positive “HIV”-test means that active virions of “HIV” are present in the patient (as opposed to taking cellular material from the patient, incubating it with a whole mess of pottage, and then finding miscellaneous proteins or bits of nucleic acid that are presumed to come from virions — something one could never know without having had in hand, at one time or another, some actual certifiable virions derived directly from an AIDS patient [what used to be called “isolation” — and still is, except by retrovirologists]).

There are a couple of related generalities that would also classify HIV/AIDS as pseudo-science: the significance of large amounts of claimed evidence, and the strength of evidence needed to establish a case. Defenders of HIV/AIDS theory — for example, several of the expert witnesses in the Parenzee case — assert incessantly that there are innumerable publications proving that “HIV” causes “AIDS”, while conceding that there is no single one that does so and while failing to cite even an exemplary handful. That’s reminiscent of arguments over parapsychology (the study of extrasensory perception or psychic phenomena).

Proponents of the value of parapsychological studies point to a vast literature reporting happenings that are explicable only by some mechanism that appears to work in a way not known to contemporary science: various forms of extrasensory perception such as remote viewing (clairvoyance, seeing things not in the range of sight), successful predictions or prophesies, psychokinesis (producing tangible physical effects simply by intending to), and more. The cited evidence includes not only anecdotes but a host of laboratory studies where the controls and statistical approaches are, in recent decades, as rigorous as in any social science. For example, a number of studies have concluded that “the sense (feeling, hunch) of being stared at” appears to be correct more often than chance would allow; and in so-called Ganzfeld experiments, the percipient attains information, again more often than chance would allow, while totally isolated from sensory input (blindfolded, ears muffled, in a separate room that’s often electromagnetically shielded). The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) group used computerized equipment with elaborate checking of base-lines, inerasable recording of results, etc., and still obtained above-chance results.

What have the skeptics had to say about all this?
First of all, that no individual study has proven to be fully reproducible at will. For instance, although PEAR almost always gets above-chance results, they are not always above chance to the same degree, and in independent multi-lab replications, different aspects of the data were above-chance in the various labs.

Well, how reproducible are HIV/AIDS experiments? No better than in parapsychology. Consider the matter of sexual transmission, where probabilities are often cited while one of the best studies found no transmission at all during the lifetime of the study [Padian et al., American Journal of Epidemiology 146 (1997) 350-7]. Consider the belief that “HIV” kills CD4 cells, the more so, the more “HIV” there is: yet Rodriguez et al., (JAMA 296 [2006] 1498-1506) found that the level of “viral load” didn’t predict the course of CD4 depletion; and many studies have found that “virologic failure” doesn’t go hand-in-hand with “immunological failure” and that neither goes reproducibly with clinical condition.

A standard explanation to which HIV/AIDS researchers take recourse for such problems is to remind us that “HIV” mutates at unprecedented speed, and is diabolically clever in other ways as well. Of course, there’s no independent evidence for those ad hoc explanations, any more than for the parapsychological excuse that, like all human abilities, extrasensory perception isn’t perfectly controllable.

Just as parapsychology points to a vast literature, albeit no single paper or handful of papers that gives uncontestable proof, so HIV/AIDS points to a vast literature, albeit no single paper or handful of papers that gives uncontestable proof. To parapsychology, skeptics like to respond that an overwhelming amount of poor evidence, lacking controls and the like, doesn’t add up to even a smidgeon of sound evidence, elaborate meta-analyses notwithstanding (and when proponents of parapsychology do suggest the most probative results, they fail to agree among themselves what those are [see discussions in Zetetic Scholar 6 & 11, available at]). Similarly, AIDS Rethinkers and HIV Skeptics say to HIV/AIDS proponents: stop talking about 120,000 articles, overwhelming evidence, and so on; just cite those specific publications that you believe establish the case.

When it comes to establishing such a case, a standard demand by critics of parapsychology (and UFOs, and the like) is that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” *. That’s perfectly applicable to HIV/AIDS, which makes truly extraordinary claims for the unique characteristics that it attributes to “HIV”: killing CD4 cells by some not-understood mechanism (it isn’t direct, we know that — perhaps it’s the same mechanism as in extrasensory perception or in psychokinesis?!); mutating incessantly, all the while remaining pathogenic; changing its preferred victims and preferred mode of transmission while remaining pathogenic and killing by (presumably) the same not-understood mechanism. The death rate attributed to “HIV” fell more than 5-fold in the United States from 1982 to 1996, before there was any really satisfactory treatment available; and then fell by only half from 1997 to 2004, when truly lifesaving treatment, HAART, had supposedly been available. And the median age at which people died of “HIV” disease increased by about 11% during the pre-HAART era, and by the same amount in the HAART period. Extraordinary indeed! To establish such claims, one might ask at the minimum to be given samples of actual particles of this miraculous agent; but they are as unavailable as the poltergeists and apparitions that constitute some of the more exotic claims made by some parapsychologists.

A related point about evidence and proof: There’s all the difference in the world between “this is consistent with theory Z” and “this proves theory Z”. The innumerable articles cited by HIV/AIDS proponents as “overwhelming evidence” for HIV = AIDS don’t PROVE it, they merely report things that might be interpreted as consistent with HIV/AIDS theory; even though in a number of cases, like the Padian and Rodriguez studies cited above, to interpret them as consistent with the theory is perverse (although the authors didn’t shy away from attempting to do so in the Parenzee case). By contrast, Rethinkers have offered a number of falsifications of HIV/AIDS theory: actual proofs that “HIV” isn’t infectious, that “HIV” doesn’t correlate with “AIDS”, and that mortality from “HIV disease” has varied in synch with changing definitions of “HIV/AIDS”, which is thereby seen to be an artefact.

So there’s quite a good case to be made for “HIV/AIDS” as a model example of pseudo-science: something that claims to be science but isn’t.


This saying is often attributed to Carl Sagan, though Marcello Truzzi said it earlier. As with so many aphorisms, it can be traced much further back. For a thorough tracing-back of sayings akin to, “If I’ve seen further than others, it’s because I’m a pygmy (or dwarf) standing on the shoulders of giants”, see Robert Merton, On the Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript (University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Posted in HIV absurdities, HIV does not cause AIDS, HIV skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »