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The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back
     

The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back

by Nicoli Nattrass
 

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Since the early days of the AIDS epidemic, many bizarre and dangerous hypotheses have been advanced to explain the origins of the disease. In this compelling book, Nicoli Nattrass explores the social and political factors prolonging the erroneous belief that the American government manufactured the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to be used as a biological

Overview

Since the early days of the AIDS epidemic, many bizarre and dangerous hypotheses have been advanced to explain the origins of the disease. In this compelling book, Nicoli Nattrass explores the social and political factors prolonging the erroneous belief that the American government manufactured the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to be used as a biological weapon, as well as the myth's consequences for behavior, especially within African American and black South African communities.

Contemporary AIDS denialism, the belief that HIV is harmless and that antiretroviral drugs are the true cause of AIDS, is a more insidious AIDS conspiracy theory. Advocates of this position make a "conspiratorial move" against HIV science by implying its methods cannot be trusted and that untested, alternative therapies are safer than antiretrovirals. These claims are genuinely life-threatening, as tragically demonstrated in South Africa when the delay of antiretroviral treatment resulted in nearly 333,000 AIDS deaths and 180,000 HIV infections—a tragedy of stunning proportions.

Nattrass identifies four symbolically powerful figures ensuring the lifespan of AIDS denialism: the hero scientist (dissident scientists who lend credibility to the movement); the cultropreneur (alternative therapists who exploit the conspiratorial move as a marketing mechanism); the living icon (individuals who claim to be living proof of AIDS denialism's legitimacy); and the praise-singer (journalists who broadcast movement messages to the public). Nattrass also describes how pro-science activists have fought back by deploying empirical evidence and political credibility to resist AIDS conspiracy theories, which is part of the crucial project to defend evidence-based medicine.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this important book, Nattrass, an AIDS expert at Yale and Cape Town University, deftly examines widespread misconceptions about the origin, transmission, and health effects of AIDS. She compares the situation in South Africa, where AIDS denialism was institutionalized at the highest levels of government (leading to 333,000 unnecessary AIDS deaths), with a host of conspiracy theories circulating in the United States. Nattrass frames her thesis cogently: “The important issue here is not whether the ‘AIDS as genocidal bio-weapon’ claims are wrong (which they are), but rather why they were, and remain, thinkable for many people.” She asks the same question about other equally erroneous beliefs such as that HIV is harmless. Her analysis focuses on four symbolic figures responsible for promoting misinformation: the hero scientist (a dissident scientist taking on the medical establishment), the cultropreneur (someone hawking alternative and unproven therapies), the living icon (a person claiming to be living proof that AIDS cannot cause harm), and the praise-singer (a journalist who promotes the antiscientific view of the disease). The ways in which the scientific community has challenged each of these figures should help inform future scientific debates, such as the one over vaccines, which, as Nattrass so well demonstrates, is where the battle between science and myth is very similar. (Mar.)
Nature
The AIDS Conspiracy is essential reading for anyone who is curious about why some people will not accept scientific facts about the nature, origin and lethality of HIV.

— Robin A. Weiss

Lancet
a highly accessible, impeccably referenced, scholarly work, which should be essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the role of conspiracy theories in the social and political history of the AIDS epidemic.

— Neil Bennet

Seth C. Kalichman

Nicoli Nattrass does a wonderful job uncovering the dangerous consequences of following fringe ideas in health and medicine. Her new book puts medical myths and misinformation square in front of us, and she tells the story with such passion, we dare not look away.

Robert C. Gallo

Nicoli Nattrass's book is long overdue. She provides a comprehensive, definitive rebuttal to the genocide that AIDS denialism continues to propagate around the world. Nattrass succeeds in educating the public and arming them with truth based on proven science -- not pseudoscience. Nattrass should be widely commended for her work.

Jonny Steinberg

A rigorous and illuminating investigation into the anatomy of AIDS conspiracies, this book ought to be read by anybody interested in the relationship between science and ordinary people.

Paul A. Offit

A must read for anyone interested in confronting the anti-science backlash causing so many unnecessary deaths across the globe.

Nature - Robin A. Weiss
The AIDS Conspiracy is essential reading for anyone who is curious about why some people will not accept scientific facts about the nature, origin and lethality of HIV.
Lancet - Neil Bennet
a highly accessible, impeccably referenced, scholarly work, which should be essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the role of conspiracy theories in the social and political history of the AIDS epidemic.
Choice
Nattrass lucidly examines the social and scientific stresses that confound the public when confronted with pseudoscientifc propaganda in life-threatening scenarios. Highly recommended.
Library Journal
Nattrass (economics, Univ. of Cape Town) here exposes the antiscience consequences of AIDS denialism and AIDS conspiracy theories. By claiming that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, denialists undermine HIV prevention work and cause more infections among adherents by influencing them not to take precautions against HIV. Thousands died in South Africa when President Thabo Mbeki advised citizens not to take antiretroviral drugs. Nattrass describes the strong social components of AIDS denialism, which typically centers on four players: the hero scientist (e.g., denialist Peter Duesberg), the "cultropreneur" (e.g., those who exploit HIV patients by condemning antiretroviral medicine and selling herbal remedies instead), the living icon (HIV-positive people who offer themselves as proof that HIV doesn't cause AIDS), and the praise singer, such as those who produce films praising the denialism. VERDICT Focusing mostly on the United States and South Africa, this book is readable and compelling though written in a scholarly style. A remarkably well-argued case against unscientific approaches to AIDS and a brilliant defense of evidence-based medicine. A must-read for all who study AIDS history.—Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado at Denver Lib.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231149129
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
03/20/2012
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Jonny Steinberg
A rigorous and illuminating investigation into the anatomy of AIDS conspiracies, this book ought to be read by anybody interested in the relationship between science and ordinary people.

Robert C. Gallo
Nicoli Nattrass's book is long overdue. She provides a comprehensive, definitive rebuttal to the genocide that AIDS denialism continues to propagate around the world. Nattrass succeeds in educating the public and arming them with truth based on proven science—not pseudoscience. Nattrass should be widely commended for her work.

Paul A. Offit
A must read for anyone interested in confronting the anti-science backlash causing so many unnecessary deaths across the globe.

Seth C. Kalichman
Nicoli Nattrass does a wonderful job uncovering the dangerous consequences of following fringe ideas in health and medicine. Her new book puts medical myths and misinformation square in front of us, and she tells the story with such passion, we dare not look away.

Meet the Author

Nicoli Nattrass is director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and visiting professor at Yale University. She has a doctorate in economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She is a recognized expert on the political economy of antiretroviral treatment. Her research helped change South African AIDS policy, and her current work on AIDS denialism and conspiracy theories—both of which undermine scientific approaches to HIV prevention and treatment—have informed the work of AIDS scientists and activists across the globe.

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