Millions of people across the globe erroneously believe America manufactured the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to be used as a biological weapon. Ironically, the idea grew from a real conspiracy theory hatched by Russian and East German intelligence officers in the mid-1980s, in the hopes of spreading misinformation about the disease. Yet while the cold war is over, the biological weapons myth continues to resonate on both sides of the Atlantic. Nicoli Nattrass explores the social and political factors prolonging this fiction, especially within African American and black South African communities. AIDS denialism, the belief that HIV is harmless and that antiretroviral drugs are the true cause of AIDS, is another AIDS conspiracy theory. In fact, it makes a "conspiratorial move" against HIV science by implying its methods cannot be trusted, and that untested, alternative therapies are safer than antiretrovirals. These claims are genuinely life-threatening, as tragically demonstrated in South Africa, when President Thabo Mbeki backed AIDS denialists and discouraged thousands from seeking treatment. Nattrass revisits the South African example and identifies the four symbolically powerful figures ensuring the lifespan of AIDS denialism: the hero scientist (or dissident scientists who lend their credibility to the movement), the cultropreneur (alternative therapists who exploit the conspiratorial move as a marketing mechanism), the living icon (individuals who claim to be living proof of AIDS denialism's legitimacy), and the praise-singer (the journalist who broadcasts movement messages to the public). These figures are also common to anti-vaccine campaigns. Nattrass then describes how scientists and activists have deployed empirical evidence and political credibility to resist AIDS conspiracy theories, especially within the U.S., and she connects their work to the larger movement to defend evidence-based medicine.
- Publication Date:
- 21 / 02 / 2012