Should I be flattered or insulted? 1

“The curious Wheatdogg” is how I am described by one Harvey Bialy in his reprise of a lengthy set of comments about HIV and AIDS at Aetiology. Now, “curious” can mean “inquisitive,” but it can also mean, “odd.” Well, I am inquisitive, a trait that I suppose led me into newspaper reporting and the study of science. Whether I am odd depends on one’s regard of science teachers. We do tend to be a bit nerdy, but I am not sure I am pleased with the characterization in this case.

Anyway, here’s some background behind my first degree of separation from Dr. Bialy. SEED Magazine hosts several science blogs, one of which is Aetiology, hosted by Tara Smith of the University of Iowa. Dr. Smith was reviewing the chapter on African AIDS included in Tom Bethell’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. She was less than complimentary.

Bethell contends that AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa does not result from a virus (HIV), but is a consequence of poor living conditions. Dr. Smith, arguing for the majority, contends that HIV does indeed cause AIDS; poor living conditions arguably exacerbate the spread of the syndrome.

Therein followed a long series of comments from both the minority opinion — including Dr. Bialy — and from the majority. Since I have lived in South Africa, where AIDS is both a serious and a controversial problem, I decided to weigh in with a comment of my own. It’s about a third of the way down the page, if you are reading Dr. Smith’s blog.

Dr. Bialy jumped on me for being racist, because of my tongue-in-cheek use of the word “even” in my comment. (Memo to self: Nuances of expression do not translate well into print.) I then defended myself, asked a few questions, which no one ever answered, and abandoned the fray. The discourse by that time had devolved into a university faculty version of a food fight.

Soon after, Dr. Smith closed the topic, and promised to re-open the debate at a later date. She has, with a review of a published study on the HIV/AIDS connection. She summarized the debate following the Bethell review before launching into a detailed critique of the study.

The very first comment is from none other than Dr. Bialy, who offered a “more instructive and readable” recounting of the Bethell fracas. The link to his version is here.

Bialy has reformatted the Bethell comments into several chapters. The first introduces the “book” by using a timeworn literary framing device of a manuscript falling into the hands of a “trans-temporal translator.” (See Cervantes’ prologue to Don Quijote de La Mancha for an earlier version of this framing device.) About halfway through the intro are these remarks:

… but I had “nooooo idea” what “blog” might meaningfully denote until I had made my way to a place in this long (not short, no way) scroll where someone named “Wheatdogg” arrived.

Until then the tedious and often tendentious “conversation”, as these
“bloggers” seem to like to call their “preserved” transformations of the utterly
ephemeral, had been almost mostly concerning a vicious, barely literate and
horribly logically flawed attack by this Asst. Professor, on (I could hardly
believe my eyes) a *book*, and worse than that, one that I discovered had been
authored by a thoughtful and quite skillful writer of the time, old enough to be
her father. But after the appearance of “Wheatdogg”, I understood. …


The next chapter is entitled, “The Arrival of the Curious Wheatdogg,” which leads with my comments, then proceeds with comments from the more biologically expert.

So, my question is, should I be flattered or offended by The Trans-Temporal Translator’s invocation of my on-line persona? If his “book” were as good a work as Quijote, I suppose I would be flattered. As it is, I believe TTTT has made off with my good name.


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One comment on “Should I be flattered or insulted?

  1. Reply FutureGeek Feb 28,2006 8:54 pm

    Creepy. I just read the TTTT and Mr. Bialy just sounds weird. Note the way he kept trying to make it personal with Tara, with not so subtle invites to telephone conversations… and just the whole weirdness of the TTTT is plain creepy.

    So what about the science? That’s the important issue. It took a long time for Bialy to ever produce any information supporting his ideas – and that seems to have been only one study, the Padian paper. Instead he just attacked people – calling you a racist instead of answering your questions. Hm.

    This is an interesting topic, worthy of further study. The overall freak – o – nicity of Mr. Bialy kind of throws a pall over anything serious he might have to say, though.

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