Damned Heretics

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Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

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Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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How the Times ignores the most blatant discrepancy in the AIDS story

The Times front page story today (Thu Oct 13) on “FDA to Weigh At-Home Testing for AIDS Virus” reveals that the drug regulators may allow home testing because they are nowadays less afraid that people will “panic and commit suicide” because “improved medicines now mean that AIDS is a chronic disease that can often be managed for years.”

According to this thinking, those who test positive for HIV antibodies may instead decide to “change their behaviors and stop infecting others”. The reporter, Gardiner Harris, records that “40,000 people each year continue to be infected with the AIDS virus”, that “this rate has remained stubbornly high for years” and that Dr. Freya Spielberg, a researcher at the Center for AIDS Research in Washington and evidently his source on the matter, informs him that “nearly a million” people in the US have the “HIV virus in their blood.”

In other words, the idea is that the somewhat less than a million people in the US that are counted as harboring the “HIV virus in their blood” even though they are simply tested for HIV antibodies with an admittedly rather unreliable test are blamed for keeping up the number by transferring the virus to 40,000 new people every year through sex, and this figure more or less equals the number

of HIV positives that die each year.

Incautious sex, in other words, tops up the total so that it remains the same, as it has done for twenty years, at around a million or fewer people who test positive.

We wonder what Freya Spielberg would say about the more than twenty papers by mainstream AIDS researchers in mainstream periodicals that we have pointed to earlier, which state quite clearly that the chances of HIV transmission in a single bout of heterosexual sex in one in 1000. Presumably she would have to say that the sex she has in mind is gay.

Therefore the entire news report actually concerns gay men, one would conclude, though nowhere is this indicated. This raises the question whether the credibility of the HIV?AIDS narrative is artificially enhanced by the politically correct avoidance of this point by the New York Times, which seems fairly consistent. It is “people” that are referred to throughout such reports as this one, removing the perception that the supposed transmissability problem is confined to gay sex in the US.

Thus the sharp contrast with the story of “AIDS” in the rest of the world, which is supposedly exclusively heterosexual in transmission, is hidden from Times readers by quiet omission. To our knowledge, the specific topic of this contrast has not ever been addressed by Times reporters.

Yet is there a more glaring discrepancy in the global AIDS pandemic story than this? As the reviewers have pointed out in the scientific literature for many years, one of the giant mysteries of the HIV virus is its extraordinary ability to affect only gay men in the US and Europe, while impartially infecting the rest of the world.

This virus can not only tell the difference between gay and straight men, but it can tell where it is, geographically!

Presumably it has some kind of internal GPS which detects the earth’s magnetic field, or else the position of the sun, or somesuch. Added to this, the nine kilobase HIV also has some means of detecting the gayness or straightness of its human host, presumably through detecting a genetic difference which thus far has eluded science.

We suggest that an application for research funds be made to the NIH immediately to pursue this phenomenon, which is of great social interest. Perhaps, guided by HIV, we may end up finding out the genetic basis for homsexuality.

(show)

The New York Times

October 13, 2005

F.D.A. to Weigh At-Home Testing for AIDS Virus

By GARDINER HARRIS

Federal drug regulators have agreed to consider allowing a Pennsylvania company to sell the first rapid, at-home AIDS test that would make testing for the virus about as easy and accessible as a pregnancy screen. The move could put to rest 18 years of controversy.

Officials at the Food and Drug Administration and AIDS advocates long worried that people who got an AIDS diagnosis would panic and even consider suicide. So for years, the federal drug officials have insisted that counseling and professional support accompany AIDS tests. This requirement has complicated proposals for at-home tests.

But improved medicines now mean that AIDS is a chronic disease that can often be managed for years, so the fear that a diagnosis might lead to thoughts of suicide have subsided. Just as important, 40,000 people each year continue to be infected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This rate has remained stubbornly high for years. Having tried many other strategies, federal health officials are now increasingly open to the idea that an at-home AIDS test could finally lead thousands to change their behaviors and stop infecting others.

“If we’re going to win the war against AIDS, we need to make HIV testing as easy as pregnancy testing,” said Dr. Freya Spielberg, a researcher in the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Washington.

A federal advisory board will discuss the proposal for an at-home AIDS test on Nov. 3. After that, the test’s maker, OraSure Techologies, based in Bethlehem, Pa., said that it would likely apply formally to sell the device over-the-counter.

The test, called OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-½ Antibody Test, is presently sold only to doctors and clinics. It has already proven to be effective, safe and easy to use. So the remaining hurdles are decisions by the F.D.A. about whether approving such a device is a good idea and whether people can understand the product’s label well enough to administer it to themselves.

A 1987 application for an at-home AIDS test kit led to years of controversy. At the time, AIDS advocates and public health officials predicted that such a test would cause widespread suicides, panic and a rush to public health clinics.

At hearings, AIDS advocates handed out copies of an obituary of a San Francisco man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge after discovering that he was infected with HIV. An official for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the F.D.A. that such tests could lead to “a sudden increase in referrals to already overburdened health clinics,” according to an F.D.A. document.

Federal regulators stalled the application for nine years, and at-home AIDS testing never caught on.

Some AIDS advocates are now warily supportive of at-home testing.

“For people who don’t have access to a clinic or make a decision not to go to a clinic, this is better than nothing,” said Gregg Gonsalves of Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, which opposed at-home AIDS testing 18 years ago and offers testing and counseling itself. “But it’s not a magic bullet.”

The switch by advocates is important. Politics have long played a crucial role in many F.D.A. decisions, according to longtime agency observers and previous agency officials. Recently, the agency decided to delay a decision on whether to allow over-the-counter sales of an emergency contraceptive. The decision was seen by some inside and outside of the agency as politically driven, and it led a top agency official to resign in protest.

Dr. Spielberg said that about a quarter of the nearly million people in the United States who have the HIV virus in their blood do not know that they are infected. And somewhere between 40 percent and 45 percent of those who test positive for HIV do so less than a year before they are diagnosed with AIDS.

Since an HIV infection often takes a decade to develop into full-blown AIDS, “this suggests that people are living with HIV, and spreading HIV for many years before they are aware of their infection,” she said.

Many of these people avoid getting tested in clinics for a variety of reasons, including fear of discovery and convenience, studies show. And many hate having to wait more than a week for a lab result, surveys show.

Dr. Spielberg said that she surveyed 240 people infected with HIV and found that more than half said that they would have preferred to have found out about their infection with a rapid at-home test.

Having a rapid, over-the-counter test widely available, Dr. Spielberg said, “is the most powerful strategy we have to bring down HIV infections.” People who find out that they are infected with HIV often change their sexual behavior to reduce further infections, she said.

By contrast, OraQuick requires a person to simply swab their gums and then place the swab in a holder. Twenty minutes later, a strip displays one line for a negative result and two lines for a positive one.

The argument against at-home tests has long been that they failed to ensure that patients would get adequate counseling. Activists now acknowledge that many people who get HIV tests in doctors’ offices get little or no counseling anyway.

“The counseling that now occurs is very short or abrupt in many settings,” said Gene Copello, executive director of The AIDS Institute, a Washington-based policy group.

Doug Michels, president and chief executive of OraSure, said he plans to include advice about counseling on OraQuick’s label. “It could be a hotline number, a 24-hour manned counseling center, Web support or printed material that is included in the product,” he said.

The company said it would include whatever the advisory committee and the F.D.A. deems is necessary, he said. The company now sells the device for between $12 and $17, although the price of an over-the-counter version has yet to be decided, Mr. Michels said.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

2 Responses to “How the Times ignores the most blatant discrepancy in the AIDS story”

  1. Robert Houston Says:

    Truthseeker, your 3rd paragraph suggests that “40,000…more or less equals the number of HIV positives who die each year.” According to the CDC, that figure has remained at about 18,000 a year since 1999. (Click HERE for the CDC’s numbers.)

  2. Robert Houston Says:

    Your statement that I quoted above may well be correct, however, for you did not specify a disease. The CDC figure of 18,000 refers only to annual mortality from AIDS. HIV positives may well succumb to afflictions other than AIDS to total a higher figure, as you suggest. But this points to another major discrepancy in the AIDS situation.According to the CDC’s June 2005 update (at the link above), there are about 1.1 million Americans who are HIV positive (between 1 and 1.2 million). The 18,000 annual AIDS deaths would be only 1.6% of this population. This means an annual remainder of 98.4%. A simple calculation (.984^43=.50) shows that at this rate of attrition it would take about 43 years on average for the HIV positives to die from AIDS (i.e. for half of them to succumb to one of the 30 or so old diseases that are called AIDS if the patient is HIV positive). Over four decades!The median age of an initial HIV positive diagnosis is 37, based on the age distribution in the CDC data for 2003 (CDC, HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, 2003, Table 1, p. 10). This means that the average age of death from AIDS would be about 80 (37+43). But this is more than the average American lifespan! In other words, a diagnosis of HIV in America is compatible with a normal lifespan, assuming the patient isn’t an early victim of overly aggressive antiretroviral treatment.

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