Blogging and the AIDS debate

To learn more about blogging on science and tech, I frequently visit other science blogs to see how they do it. While visiting Aetiology, a site at ScienceBlogs hosted by Tara C. Smith, I got sucked into a debate regarding the connection between AIDS and HIV. My big mouth resulted in a somewhat heated exchange between me and Dr. Harvey Bialy. If you are at all curious to see what happens at an active blog, click on the debate link.

Dr. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. In the post referenced here, she took on a point-by-point critique of a chapter on AIDS in Tom Bethell’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. Bethell (and Dr. Bialy) both dissent from the widely accepted theory that HIV causes AIDS. Smith does an excellent job taking apart Bethell’s arguments, as she should, being an epidemiologist and all.

She quoted an excerpt from Bethell’s book that I found particularly offensive.

In tropical Africa, a deterioration of the physical infrastructure swiftly followed the end of colonial rule. Sewage and sanitation crumbled. The issue was too awkward to mention because it would strongly suggest that Africans were better off–or at least in better health–under colonial rule.

Since no one posting on her blog had yet responded to that part of Bethell’s argument, I did. Perhaps I should have waited until I was over the flu and my head was clearer, but my poor choice of words led to Dr. Bialy calling me a racist. You can read the outcome of that exchange at Aetiology. I think I vindicated myself.

The experience reminded me of other visits I have made recently, as a self described liberal, visiting self-described conservative blogs. Rather than debate the substance of an argument, the posters instead seize on peripheral issues and hammer them to the ground. I have posted on these things with the hope of engaging the blog owner in some kind of debate. Instead I get rants from the people who post and support the blogger. (I have decided to call these people the “acolytes.”) In the end, I gave up trying to reason with them. Some people are so set in their thinking that nothing short of an H-bomb will dissuade them.

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