13 February 2004
Postscript to Response to Rian Malan's Confusion about HIV/AIDS Statistics in Noseweek and The Spectator
Rian Malan has responded to my response to his articles in Noseweek and The Spectator (see the noseweek website).
This Postscript makes some comments on his response. It is written primarily to put the record straight on further deceptions by Malan and is only for the truly interested. However, for the less interested, it is worth noting that in my original response I wondered if Malan's errors were due to incompetence or lack of integrity. The balance of evidence now shows that Malan's errors were dishonest.
Firstly though, an important point about scientific debate. Martin Welz, the editor of Noseweek takes umbrage at my comment that Malan's articles contained hardly any verifiable references, were littered with serious errors, unattributed quotes, unnamed science journals, unnamed experts and misrepresentations. Welz points out that Malan's pieces were magazine articles, not publications in scientific journals. He asks "Why is it that so few people are able to conduct a civilised discussion about AIDS". However, the critical question is: How do we conduct a scientific discussion on AIDS? - not how to be nice to each other. A fair and proper scientific discussion can only take place if all parties agree to supply references, attribute quotes correctly, do their best not to misrepresent facts etc. And yes Malan's pieces were magazine articles, but they caused tremendous confusion and were scientifically flawed. There is a good reason that neither Malan nor the less sophisticated denialists (i.e. those that deny that HIV causes AIDS, as opposed to Malan, who denies that there's a massive epidemic) such as Anthony Brink, Anita Allen, Sam Mhlongo and David Rasnick can get their views published in reputable scientific journals and have to settle for the popular press: their arguments collapse under careful scientific scrutiny.
In his response Malan says "that Geffen actually agrees with me, at least on the big issues." So let's make it clear about which big issues we disagree on:
1. Malan contends that too much is being spent on the HIV epidemic at the expense of other diseases. My view is that much more money is needed to implement treatment and prevention programmes in order to save the lives of millions of people in the developing world. My view is also that the focus on the HIV epidemic is creating greater awareness of and political action on inequities between health care in rich and poor countries, as well as awareness of and better responses to other diseases primarily affecting the poor, such as TB and malaria. Of course I acknowledge that there are groups and individuals profiteering off the AIDS epidemic and wasting valuable resources, but the same goes for almost any high profile issue affecting human development.
2. Malan's articles clearly demonstrate that he doubts the scale and seriousness of the global HIV epidemic. But there is overwhelming evidence demonstrating the opposite.
3. Malan's articles argue that South African AIDS statistics are grossly exaggerated. In so doing he makes incorrect arguments that misrepresent both Stats SA and ASSA.
4. Malan suggests that AIDS demographers have deliberately exaggerated their estimates. Undoubtedly, as in every complex field of human endeavour, there are those that deliberately exaggerate, as well as those, like Malan, that deliberately understate. But his inclusion of the ASSA researchers in the category of deliberate fudgers is without evidence.
There are many lesser points of disagreement, already explained in my original res