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The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back

Nicoli Nattrass

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Paper, 240 pages, 8 line drawings, 3 tables
ISBN: 978-0-231-14913-6
$25.00 / £17.50

March, 2012
Cloth, 240 pages, 8 line drawings, 3 tables
ISBN: 978-0-231-14912-9
$35.00 / £24.00

Since the early days of the AIDS epidemic, many bizarre and dangerous hypotheses have been advanced to explain the origins of the disease. In this compelling book, Nicoli Nattrass explores the social and political factors prolonging the erroneous belief that the American government manufactured the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to be used as a biological weapon, as well as the myth's consequences for behavior, especially within African American and black South African communities.

Contemporary AIDS denialism, the belief that HIV is harmless and that antiretroviral drugs are the true cause of AIDS, is a more insidious AIDS conspiracy theory. Advocates of this position make 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 the delay of antiretroviral treatment resulted in nearly 333,000 AIDS deaths and 180,000 HIV infections—a tragedy of stunning proportions.

Nattrass identifies four symbolically powerful figures ensuring the lifespan of AIDS denialism: the hero scientist (dissident scientists who lend 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 (journalists who broadcast movement messages to the public). Nattrass also describes how pro-science activists have fought back by deploying empirical evidence and political credibility to resist AIDS conspiracy theories, which is part of the crucial project to defend evidence-based medicine.

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About the Author

Nicoli Nattrass is director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and visiting professor at Yale University. She has a doctorate in economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She is a recognized expert on the political economy of antiretroviral treatment. Her research helped change South African AIDS policy, and her current work on AIDS denialism and conspiracy theories—both of which undermine scientific approaches to HIV prevention and treatment—have informed the work of AIDS scientists and activists across the globe.

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