Saturday, February 27, 2010

Grad Students Making a Difference

So it has been a long time since I last posted. Aside from being busy in the lab, I have been debating AIDS denialists or as they call themselves dissidents under the name Kevin Sullivan (not my real name). A few months ago I heard of a documentary called House of Numbers that was making the rounds at film festivals and stirring up controversy. House of Numbers is a documentary that advances an agenda of a small but quite vocal minority of people who deny the existence of HIV and therefore the existence of AIDS as well. One group in particular, the Perth Group has gone so far as to defend a man who knowingly infected others with HIV in a court of law by arguing the virus does not exist. Fortunately, they were defeated. When I hear things like this I normally just facepalm and try to ignore such arguments. A couple of weeks ago a friend linked me to an ongoing discussion, taking place on the House of Numbers facebook page. A grad student sent a letter to the producer of the movie trying to explain that advancing such an agenda is irresponsible and quite dangerous (grad students trying to change the world \m/). She offered to try her best to inform them of the mountains of scientific data arguing that HIV and AIDS are quite real and do kill people. The letter was posted on the facebook page and a long discussion ensued. The discussion was picked up by the Perth Group and they entered the discussion. Although she was outnumbered and not in the most friendly environment she did an awesome job of taking a high ground and treating her misguided attackers with respect. More importantly she did an equally awesome job of taking the scientific evidence and breaking it down so that non-scientists could understand it. I am sure she was aware that she was not going to change the minds of the film crew, the Perth Group, or the vocal supporters on the House of Numbers facebook page. That said, I think what she did do was appeal to the people who were on the fence reading the discussion but not posting. Lets face it, science is 99% failure and scientists rarely get to see their work make a real difference in anyone’s lives. Its not every day a grad student has the opportunity to make a difference in the world. If Silvia was able to convince one person to continue to practice safe sex or continue to take their life-extending medicines her efforts will have had more impact than many scientists experience in a lifetime. We need more people like her.

Her story has been picked up by other blogs like erv. Its really cool to see the scientific community coming out to support her.

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