The Internet is serving as a fertile medium for "HIV denialists" to spread false ideas about HIV/AIDS, which could have terrible public health consequences, say scientists in a policy paper in PLoS Medicine.
"It may seem remarkable that, 23 years after the identification of HIV, there is still denial that the virus is the cause of AIDS," say Tara Smith (University of Iowa College of Public Health) and Steven Novella (Yale University School of Medicine). But with the arrival of the Internet, HIV denialist organizations such as "Reappraising AIDS" have reignited their campaign to spread misinformation.
There is a consensus in the scientific community that HIV is the cause of AIDS, based upon over two decades of robust research. Deniers must therefore reject this consensus, say Smith and Novella, "either by denigrating the notion of scientific authority in general, or by arguing that the mainstream HIV community is intellectually compromised."
It is therefore not surprising, they say, that much of the newer denial literature on the Internet reflects a basic distrust of authority and of the institutions of science and medicine. Distrusting mainstream medical practitioners, many HIV deniers turn to unproven "alternative" medicines in search of treatment.
Many members of the general public do not have the scientific background to critique the assertions put forth by these groups, say Smith and Novella. Those who believe the false information spread by HIV denialists could end up putting themselves at risk of HIV infection (e.g. by abandoning safe sex), while those who are already infected could end up seeking unproven, ineffective remedies.
"The effect of denial groups on public perception of HIV infection is an area ripe for careful research," they say "as this denial can have lethal consequences."
Citation: Smith TC, Novella SP (2007) HIV denial in the Internet era. PLoS Med 4(8): e256.
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