Saturday, October 27, 2007

An example of how AIDS denialists are their own worst enemies...

As many readers may already know, the BBC has issued an apology for the errors and bias in their story "Guinea Pig Kids", which was an AIDS-denialist inspired film detailing alleged abuses due to allowing foster kids into pediatric anti-HIV treatment studies. The facts were that the kids were faced with study medications (already proven safe and effective in adults) or nothing. These studies and others like them paved the way for current standard-of-care in treating pediatric HIV infection. No-one died as a result of the trials. A full investigation by the New York State department of health found issues only with incomplete documentation, and revealed that these were common at a national level. On that topic at least the program perhaps did a service, but that was hardly the point the denalists were trying to make.

The denialists would have you believe that not only are the meds too toxic to use (a commonly believed myth - also discussed here) but that the Incarnation Childrens Center forced the kids into "experimental" (implying "untried") treatment regimens, took kids away from their parents if they didn't comply with study requirements, and used inhumane procedures purely to enforced study drug compliance.

I was among several people who helped formulate a complaint to the BBC about this story, and I've been critical of the ringleader's "scientific journalism" for some time (a certain Liam Scheff, who is already whining about having had his masterpiece dismantled). If Liam were actually correct about any of the accusations he made he would stand to be held up an a hero. Instead he has succumbed to believing the same tired denialist lies and misrepresentations as the other dissident sheep, and thrown in a good handful of his own scientific errors for good measure, to further muddy the water of respectable scientific debate and public education.

Speaking as one from the inside, the most amusing thing is that the AIDS Denialists were to some extent their own worst enemy. After AIDSTruth complained to the BBC (and made it public they had done so) one of the core denialist groups posted a press release asking the BBC to reject the complaint! As it happens, the BBC was dragging its feet over the whole thing and we had to push to get the complaint moved up the management chain. One factor that was part of the slow move was making the point that the documentary was denialist-inspired and led. By issuing the press release ironically the denialist movement neatly proved this point for us :o)

The key points from the BBC's apology are:

  • Rasnick's discussion on AZT's toxicity was misleading, contrary to current medical opinion, and was not balanced by the programme makers.
  • The links made between loss of custody of kids (usually already in foster care) and enrollment in clinical research were unsubstantiated, in at least one case clearly false, and certainly misleading.
  • The claims made that antiretroviral therapy would adversely affect childrens' health were judged to be false.
  • The program was biased towards AIDS denialism.

Sadly they didn't uphold all complaints - specifically for me the issue where Vera Sherav asks "why didn't they provide the children with the current best treatment?". Honey, the "current best treatment" was nothing. The BBC lost the plot with that complaint, focusing instead on whether or not the children were taken advantage of due to their socially vulnerable status. In either case, their website and video clearly give the misleading impression that the studies did indeed target vulnerable children. "The experiments continue to be carried out on the poor children of New York City." ends one page. Disgusting. The BBC is supposed to be held up as an international standard of journalistic excellence and integrity - but when they do little to no fact-checking and resort to sensationalist stories for viewing figures they only serve as an example of how NOT to do good reporting.

The BBC is still arguing over what to do about this. Will heads roll? Will the video and websites finally get taken down? Discussions are ongoing "at the highest level". We'll see.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Giving journalists a bad name.

The linked article sums up typical AIDS denialist thinking. You leap all over a perceived failure of mainstream science (ignoring the fact that 80% of new drug discoveries fail), drag out disproven denialist claims, quote two well-known AIDS denialists and sit back looking smarmy.

Except that the author completely failed to understand the vaccine in question and how it worked, and why it was supposed to work, and therefore based the entire article (which was a diatribe on HIV antibodies) on a false premise. I am astounded. It took me less than 30 seconds of research (I googled the vaccine name) to find that the author has misunderstood the study. Or rather, Ms Maggiore had misunderstood the study perhaps and he had believed her. Whether he did so out of laziness or out of a personal belief in Ms Maggiore's cause I cannot say, but either way it's terrible journalism.

I wrote in, and just in case my comment gets rejected, here it is anyway to explain to the average reader why the author, Maggiore and Duesberg are completely off-track.

Err, since when have antibodies been a marker of immune success, and since when have antibodies been "the problem" of AIDS?

Neither Duesberg nor Maggiore knows what they're talking about.

And neither does the author of this article. The vaccine MrkAd5 HIV-1 is not supposed to produce anti-HIV antibodies, but instead produces anti-HIV T cell responses. The same kind of T cell responses that are shown to protect people against HIV infection and slow down progression to AIDS - as predicted by mainstream AIDS scientists but going against the theories of Duesberg, Maggoire and the like.

Please get your facts straight and stop pandering to pseudoscience for the sake of an "exciting" story. You give journalists a bad name.