Myles is a scientist and YouTube vlogger whose videos focus on having fun with science. He has also created several series debunking popular myths and conspiracy theories.
Now that he has finally fended off a band of litigious HIV conspiracy theorists and gotten a decent internet connection he came on the show to discuss why GMOs aren’t evil, why Prometheus sucked and how no-one ever gets DNA right on screen.
I have watched a lot of scientifically inaccurate documents in my time, and I have noticed that they all have one thing in common when it comes to trying to convince the viewer of the most ridiculous things. Rather than explaining their theories slowly and in-depth, they instead try and throw as much crap as they can at the screen in the hopes that you won’t see the holes in their arguments. These parts of the documentaries are also prime for quote mines, and often lack vital information required for the viewer to make an informed decision. There is no better example of this tactic being used than in the documentary ‘House of Numbers’ which tries to convince you that anti-retroviral medications are useless, and are actually the real cause of AIDS-like symptoms.
Around the 1 hour 10 minute mark, the movie begins to talk about HIV medication and, in particular, one called azidothymidine (AZT). The drug is a nucleoside analog reverse-transcriptase inhibitor and was the first U.S. government-approved treatment for HIV. It works by incorporating itself into the growing DNA strand synthesised by reverse transcriptase preventing further extension. Although AZT does have a high affinity for reverse transcriptase, it can also inhibit polyerase – leading to some particularly nasty side effects. Even though nowadays these side effects are well documented and understood, the documentary claims that it is in fact AZT that is responsible for AIDS-like symptoms. It even goes as far as to say that the majority of AIDS cases in the U.S. are caused by people reacting badly to the medication. This temporally makes no sense, as how can a people be suffering from a syndrome caused by a drug before the drug was prescribed for the virus causing the syndrome? The documentary tries to explain this by saying that originally people were suffering for AIDS related illnesses as a result of promiscuous gay sex and using the recreational drug Poppers. I guess it’s a massive coincidence that poppers, lots of gay sex, and ATZ all have the exact same side effects. The movie with it’s quick editing hopes that you don’t spend too much time thinking about this, and tries to pin the blame solely on HIV drugs (specifically AZT). Continue reading
Let’s once more delve into the bowels of the literary world and review another interesting chapter from Liam Scheff’s book Official Stories. This time I have decided to review the chapter about vaccinations, what Liam calls a “religious science”. In the past I have been very vocal about my views on the anti-vaccination movement and how I believe they are not only risking their own health and their children’s but the wider public’s health. I have been extremely critical of people who say that vaccinations cause autism and cite Andrew Wakefield’s (now retracted) paper as proof. I have also produced articles and videos talking about the properties of thimerosal and other organo-mercury compounds. As a reward for dedicating a large portion of my time to produce this body of work I am insulted, on a daily basis, by people who honestly believe I am being paid by a pharmaceutical company that want to poison their children. I have made no effort in hiding how I feel about these people; nor have they with me, but I believe we can both come together to agree that Liam’s views on vaccinations are comical, bordering on the deluded.
Before I start, I feel I have to point out that like all medical procedures, getting vaccinated does have potential health risks. Some people react badly to them and some have even died in the past. This is something that is openly admitted but it’s something that is also very unlikely to happen. One of the risks not associated with vaccinations is the development of autism. Even though this link has been thoroughly investigated and shown to be fabricated, it is still, to this day, pushed by people against vaccinations. This, for the vast majority, is the sole reason not to vaccinate. It’s not that vaccinations don’t work just that they have unreasonable side effects. They also dont claim that some of the illnesses prevented by vaccinations are imaginary and exist solely to sell more vaccinations. This however is what our friend Liam Scheff believes.
I am giving a talk on AIDS denialism, House of Numbers and the failure of the DMCA. It would be awesome if some of you were to come :)
Monday, April 21 2014 at 7:00PM
O’Connells Pub, 29-41 Bedford Street, Middlehaven, Middlesbrough, TS1 2LL
Teesside Skeptics in the Pub
On Monday, April 21st at 7:00PM I will be giving a talk on AIDS denialism, the documentry House of Numbers and the failure of the DMCA system at my local skeptics in the pub. The pub is called O’Connelss (29-41 Bedford street, Middlehaven, Middlesbrough, TS12LL) and it would be awsome to see some of you there. For more information click here.
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic many bizarre and dangerous ideas were advanced regarding the origin of the disease and its cause. Since the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) these conspiracy theories, which once filled the void left by the lack of information, have all but vanished. Over the past three decades HIV has been the subject of intense scientific research which has resulted in effective treatments, rapid HIV tests, and promising cures. Yet unbelievably there are a small number of people who are sceptical of the “official story”. Although these people are small in numbers they are extremely well funded and can pose a very real threat to public health. Many have chosen to spend their money on spreading their harmful theories, defend people who have irresponsibly infected their partners, and funded the documentary House of Numbers.
The documentary encourages people to come off their medication, tells them that HIV tests don’t work, and that anti-viral drugs such as AZT are the real cause of AIDS. To do this the makers of the documentary make liberal use of out-of-context quotations from scientists interviewed for the film, deceitful editing techniques, and flat out lies.
I dedicated a large amount of time to exposing some of the more insidious claims in the documentary. In response there have been multiple Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violation claims filed against me in an attempt to silence his criticism. In my talk I will discuss some examples of the dangerous assertions in the documentary and explain how they have led to the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. I will also talk about the failure of the DMCA and how it can be exploited by the proponents of pseudoscience.
I have previously bashed the AIDS denialist documentary ‘House of Numbers’ in the past for, among other things, it’s deceitful editing techniques. It quoted people out of context, chopped up dialogue to change the meaning of what is actually being said, and manipulated data. Even the foul-mouthed Liam Scheff who starred in the documentary admitted that he was unfavourably edited. So it will come as no surprise that I have yet another example of the director and star, Brent Leung, being deceitful in the editing room. This example however is a little different than others – where as before Brent was basically fabricating a narrative, here he has stumbled upon an actual real life conspiracy. It revolves around the very upsetting case of Joyce Ann Hafford which is also a perfect example of the potential dangers of some anti-retroviral medications. But rather than reporting about this now well-exposed story, Brent spins it into something quite different and rather confusing.
Joyce Ann Hafford was a 33-year-old single mother living in Memphis, Tennessee. She was pregnant with her second child when she tested positive for HIV. Worried that she would pass her infection to her unborn child she insisted in a clinical trial to try and prevent transmission. The drug being investigated was a non-nucleoside reverse transciptase inhibitor called Nevirapine. It works by binding to reverse transcriptase blocking the enzyme’s catalytic site preventing reverse transcription from occurring. This is something that was missed in the documentary that gives the impression that Joyce and all who are taking anti-retrovirals take the same standard HIV medication. This is not the case as Nevirapine, like all drugs is not suitable for everyone and some people should never use it because of the risk of adverse effects, unless the benefit clearly outweighs these risks. These risk factors are investigated in clinical trials like the one Joyce was on. Her trial was designed to compare the safety of Nelfinavir and Nevirapine based antiretroviral treatment in HIV-1 infected pregnant women. The results of this study are published in the paper ‘Maternal Toxicity With Continuous Nevirapine in Pregnancy: Results from PACTG 1022. Continue reading