The National Press Foundation's Journalist to Journalist program is in Sydney, Australia at the 4th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention. We have brought 44 journalists from 30 countries here (bios here). We will post articles, blogs and other resources from the 4-day J2J program and then the 4-day IAS program below.
Last Thursday, we held a special Journalist to Journalist discussion entitled "AIDS Denialism: What it is, how to recoginize it, how to dispute it." The impassioned exchange among the journalists was led by three experts – journalist Ruth Pollard (pictured left) of The Sydney Morning Herald, Dr. John Kaldor (right) of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research and professor of epidemiology at the University of New South Wales and Dr. Mark Wainberg (center), director of the McGill University AIDS Centre and former president of the International AIDS Society.
Here's Anindita Ramaswamy, an independent journalist from India and J2J fellow , on AIDS denialism and the J2J discussion.
Bad Science. Good Journalism.
AIDS denialism has uneasily co-existed with HIV, almost throughout the history of the virus. An internationally growing, so-called "lunatic fringe" claims AIDS doesn't exist or is a global conspiracy perpetrated by powerful governments and big pharma.
But, the science is clear and unquestionable, the panelists said. "HIV has killed 25 million people, which is not a trivial number. This is not a debate that has two legitimate sides," according to Wainberg. AIDS denialism can kill, and has killed.
Continue reading for the full story and audio from the discussion.
So, in March 2006 a feisty website – AIDSTruth.org (http://aidstruth.org/) - started hitting back at the increasingly strident AIDS dissenters. The 11 AIDSTruth team members (among them Dr. John Moore of Cornell University and Gregg Gonsalves of AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa) found common cause after a Harper's Magazine feature by AIDS denialist Celia Farber. According to journalist Jon Cohen (http://aidstruth.org/web-site-takes-aim-at-denialists.php), the article 'Out of Control, AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science', was about Peter Duesberg, a cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who first questioned the HIV-AIDS link in 1987.
Journalists are supposed to tell all sides of the story, report objectively, maintain balance, aren't they? "Rubbish balances nothing," says Pollard. "Giving an equal platform to those people whose arguments lack any semblance of scientific credibility, who may stand to profit from their assertions, whose false beliefs tend towards the racist, homophobic and paternalistic creates one thing: false balance."
Yet it seems to be possible to achieve "true" balance, as Bruce Mirken did in this 1999 article: 'Holocaust Denial, SF Style: The "AIDS Dissidents" Are as Vocal as Their Science is Dubious' (http://www.aegis.com/topics/bmirken-holocaust.html).
Clearly, there's no wishing away or ignoring the AIDS denialists. As many journalists said, the trick lies in the telling of the story. Instead of stepping into the web spun by the denialists, good reporters write about them – and expose them for who they really are.
Mark Wainberg's remarks.
Dr. John Kaldor's remarks.
Ruth Pollard's remarks.
Q&A and discussion from the J2J Discussion on AIDS Denialism.