Nicoli Nattrass on The Specter of Denialism

Nattrass, The AIDS Conspiracy

In a recent op-ed for The Scientist, Nicoli Nattrass, author of The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back , describes the harm that has been done by AIDS denialists in South Africa and elsewhere.

Nattrass argues that a small group of AIDS denialists have kept alive the myth that antiretroviral treatment (ART) is harmful and that HIV science has been corrupted by commercial interests. Even though these claims have been disproved by science, they have hindered the battle to stop and treat AIDS. South African President Thabo Mbeki, debated the issue of the effectiveness of ART, holding up treatment and leading to the unnecessary death of 330,000 South Africans.

Nattrass also discusses the contested work of University of California virologist Peter Duesberg, another Denialists as well as activist Christine Maggiore, seen as a key icon for the Denialist movement: “Maggiore campaigned against the use of ART to prevent mothers passing HIV to their babies, Despite her 3-year-old daughter’s succumbing to AIDS, Maggiore remained staunchly opposed to HIV science and ART. She opted for alternative therapies and died at the age of 52, from AIDS-related infections.”

In concluding the op-ed, Nattrass writes,

Scientists often have a tough time responding to antiscience conspiracy theories because their integrity is impugned by the conspiratorial moves made against them. But precisely because living icons like Maggiore lent credence to AIDS denialism by appearing to offer “living proof” that the science of HIV pathogenesis and treatment is wrong, pro-science activists maintain a list of denialists who have died of AIDS. The weapons of science and reason are still very much in contention, but the gloves have come off in a broader struggle over credibility.

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