Thursday, February 12, 2004

AIDS dissidents
Anthony Cox of Black Triangle has referred me to a fascinating article on AIDS dissidents, penned by Udo Schuklenk, formerly a dissident himself, and now a firm supporter of mainstream views on the causes of AIDS. The article is worth reading, not only for its account of the history of the dissident movement (I couldn't, by the way, help but notice how many of the early dissidents are now deceased on account of AIDS-related diseases) but for Schuklenk's discussion of the ethics of the dissident movement. Schuklenk makes the argument that the dissident movement acted unethically by taking views to the mass media that had been thoroughly discredited in peer-reviewed journals. This, he says, created the impression that a debate existed where there was in fact none at all, which was particularly irresponsible in a country such as South Africa where many are ill-educated. He concludes by arguing that holders of minority positions in science should voluntarily refrain from expressing their views through the media, and proposes that a set of guidelines should be drafted to this effect.

As I said, an interesting article. But I don't think that we should lose sight of the fact that, on this issue, the buck stops firmly with the South African government, and Mbeki in particular (which is not to say that Schuklenk exempts the government from his criticism). If Mbeki hadn't entertained the views of the dissidents, then they wouldn't have been accorded a platform by the press in the first place, and the ethical questions that Schuklenk discusses wouldn't have arisen. Instead, the dissidents would have remained where they belong -- in remote corners of the internet, frequented largely by cranks and conspiracy theorists.

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