I would also like to point out that the majority of correspondence is positive, and that I do get mail from people asking legitimate questions, which I will begin to respond to in next week’s column.
Let’s tackle the first category that I mentioned above.
“You keep promoting your thinking that HIV does not cause AIDS or other opportunistic infections and you will be responsible for killing people who listen to your twisted logic and comments. You will be responsible for further enabling people to continue their denial and thus continue infecting others as a result of this denial.”
“You are an incredibly irresponsible person, I would even say evil. What would you do if you or a family member was diagnosed? Would you tell them not to take the drugs?”
I’d like to note that these comments are typical. Probably two-thirds of the negative mail I’ve received has said essentially this – my words and ideas are somehow going to kill people. While on some level I can understand that such emails are not rational, but rather knee-jerk emotional responses that are almost purely visceral, on another level I cannot understand the vitriol directed toward a theory, and toward me as a spokesperson for that theory.
To address the theme of my responsibility for people’s deaths, my reply is twofold. First, I don’t see how I can be held responsible for anything of the sort. I do not give medical advice as I am not licensed to do so. The most I can ever do is to tell people what I would do in their position. I would contend that it is actually irresponsible to deny people the full range of information that’s available. If an idea is junk, people will know it and discard it. Perhaps this is simply my naiveté, but I have faith that most people have the mental capacity to make their own informed decisions, as well as the intuition to sense what is right for them. I am merely a conduit; it’s only information.
But the second part of my reply is even more fundamental. What concerns me the most is that lives have been ruined or even ended by the blanket refusal to discuss alternatives, by the strange modern belief that the human body cannot heal itself. Somehow, it has become accepted that the only way to rebuild a damaged immune system, or to prevent that damage from occurring in the first place, is through the prescription of drugs documented to have numerous immune-suppressing effects. It has become normal to restrict or even remove rights from HIV-positive individuals that most of us take for granted. In some sense, the question of whether HIV causes AIDS pales in comparison with the need to return hope and normalcy to those from whom they have been taken.
In the wake of the CDC’s recommendation for universal HIV testing lies the specter of the profound effect a positive test result has on the life of the person receiving it. An HIV diagnosis is unlike any other. Few people, if any, have committed suicide over a high cholesterol level; no one has had medical insurance refused them because their liver enzymes were elevated; no one has had their children taken from them as a result of their being diabetic.
It is impossible to believe that most of my opponents are truly being compassionate when “drugs-into-bodies” is the answer for everything. It is highly doubtful that real concern is being shown when taking away basic human rights happens without any consideration whatsoever, despite the fact that some of these laws – such as that barring entry to the US for foreign HIV-positives – are archaic and result from assumptions of transmission probabilities that everyone agrees are outdated.
And to answer the second question – if a family member were diagnosed, I would do my best to ensure that all the information was available to them. I can’t tell anyone what medications to take – ultimately, the choice is up to them, and I want that choice to be as informed as possible.
“With all due respect, you’re out of your league. Your training is in math, and your beliefs are unscientific.”
“Overall I think [you are] a paranoid little mathematical ‘biologist’ who does not understand the justification for scientific research.”
This brings us to the second major theme running through the criticisms of me that I have received and that have appeared on several, reasonably, well-surfed blogs – I somehow “don’t understand how science works”. What seems oddest about these responses is that when criticizing my “lack of scientific understanding”, these writers feel compelled to use very unscientific language like, “paranoid little mathematical ‘biologist”.
It seems that there is a lack of understanding among the general population – including, evidently, those who refer to themselves as scientists – of what “science” really is. Science, I would contend, is about observing phenomena, formulating hypotheses to explain such phenomena, testing these hypotheses by using them to predict future observations, and reformulating as necessary. It does not seem out of line to suggest that if a hypothesis that we have doggedly held to for over twenty years consistently fails to explain much of what it was put forth for, and catastrophically fails in its predictive value, that it just might be time to consider that there are some serious flaws. But when it comes to HIV, the “scientific community” appears to be infected with a strange sort of moral absolutism that enables people to take a quasi-religious stance against any sort of dissent – no matter how overwhelming the evidence supporting the dissenters, or how flimsy the evidence propping up their own set of beliefs.
It’s nonsense to say that I don’t understand the justification for scientific research. I’m actually begging for more research to be done. As I have said time and time again, there are huge gaps in our knowledge when it comes to AIDS (among other things). Clearly, the current research is not producing the answers we had hoped it would. Science, of course, is meant to be self-correcting, but it seems to be endemic in HIV research that, rather than continually building on an accumulating body of secure knowledge with only occasional missteps, the bulk of the structure gets knocked down every three to four years, replaced by yet another hypothesis, standard of care, or definition of what, exactly, AIDS really is. This new structure eventually gets knocked down in the same fashion. How “scientific” is that?
I could continue citing nasty quotes, but I don’t see the purpose, as they are all basically the same. These types of responses sadden me, and they form the vast majority of the “hate mail” I receive. It is a strange world where one is castigated for having an opinion on a scientific matter that does not fall in line with the popular consensus. The measures being taken to undermine people’s basic rights are frightening and appear to be changing for the worse even in my lifetime. From my vantage point, I look upon this vast landscape of hatred and misunderstanding, and I wonder if our prejudices haven’t simply shifted perspective. My generation likes to think of ourselves as “enlightened” and “politically correct”, but all I can see are new ways of expressing old intolerances. Intellectual curiosity is discouraged, and postmodern “science” has become the new religion.
Rebecca V. Culshaw worked on mathematical models of HIV infection for almost ten
years. She received her Ph.D. in mathematics (with a specialization in
mathematical biology) from Dalhousie University in Canada in 2002 and
is currently an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Tyler. She is a celebrated internet author as a result of her writings on Lew Rockwell, and "Science Sold Out: Does HIV Really Cause AIDS?", a book based on those essays is due this December. [The miniature at the top left is Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415), famous as the first woman known to have made a substantial contribution to the development of mathematics.] (Hank)
Rebecca V. Culshaw worked on mathematical models of HIV infection for almost ten years. She received her Ph.D. in mathematics (with a specialization in mathematical biology) from Dalhousie University in Canada in 2002 and is currently an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Tyler. She is a celebrated internet author as a result of her writings on Lew Rockwell, and "Science Sold Out: Does HIV Really Cause AIDS?", a book based on those essays is due this December. [The miniature at the top left is Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415), famous as the first woman known to have made a substantial contribution to the development of mathematics.] (Hank)