Friday, December 04, 2009

House of Numbers - First Impressions

Well, I've been busy of late, and quiet on the blogosphere, but what started out as a denialist deception has turned into a frightening assault on knowledge and public health.

I'm talking of course about the film "House of Numbers" by Brent Leung, a pretense of investigative journalism that is, in fact, a mish-mash of interview excerpts and misrepresentations that is out to promote the AIDS Denialist agenda.

Leung isn't doing this alone - a considerable amount of money is behind the effort, not only in the slick production graphics that appear in the movie, but to bankroll his travels across the globe to promote the film at festivals and universities, including my own Alma Mater, Cambridge.

And here is where it really gets me. You see, I got involved in combating AIDS denial because I frankly can't stand ignorance. If someone is wrong, I will point it out and teach them. To have someone deliberately seek out people who want to learn (i.e. students) and feed them dangerous bullshit is the epitome of evil.

A few prospective venues have stood up to Leung - who has pulled out when told he has to face reputable scientists on his panel "debate" that ubiquitously follows the showing, which actually consists of Brent saying his thing and taking questions. Journalists covering the story have apparently been asked to sign contracts to the effect that they will say that HoN is "potentially beneficial" in their article before being allowed to see the film for themselves.

Some have supported their decision to show the film based on the concept of 'freedom of speech' or a misguided attempt to 'present both sides'. However, this only holds true if there truly is more than one side, and just as Leung does indeed have freedom to tell whatever lies and misrepresentations he sees fit, the venues have their freedom not to show it.

Unfortunately we live in a media age, where spin is everywhere, and opinion outweighs fact (the popularity of stations such as Fox "News" is testament to this). We are used to interviews and cutaways that are supposed to be linked together in context, but of course the wonders of video editing mean that what we see doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how the footage was actually shot.

A case in point.

This is basically what Leung has done, although probably not to the extent of actually dubbing in additional footage. Maybe. I'm curious for example where he got the audio that accompanies the black-and-white footage where a nameless outraged man asks that the "...Press stop calling it GRID" - gay related immune deficiency. Presumably someone at the 1982 scientific conference in Washington saw fit to tape the event. In black and white. To be honest it looks more like archive footage of the League of Nations than any scientific meeting I've attended, but what do I know. Maybe I just shouldn't take that particular segment literally...but then what CAN I trust about this film?

The short answer is "not much after the first 5 minutes", judging from a preliminary viewing. One of his biggest cons is in splicing in well-known AIDS denialists between legitimate AIDS scientists as if their opinions are equally valid and all part of the same story. 17 of the scientists who were interviewed by Leung signed a letter stating that the film misrepresents their views, effectively undermining his entire premise that there is any form of internal debate about HIV and AIDS among the scientific community.

I will be addressing specific points about this film in the next few posts. I have a sincere belief that a small number of people will see this film, believe it, and acquire HIV or stop treating their infection as a result.

And it will be left to people like me to pick up the pieces.