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Critique of a critique: Myles Power’s Debunking the AIDS Denialist Movie House of Numbers

19/2/2014: The original post featured a statement that Liam Scheff misrepresented the Padian paper and that this was ‘a point of embarrassment’. However, I realise that it is I who should have been embarrassed as he did interpret the paper correctly. This has now been modified below. I apologise to Mr. Scheff.

It is a rare opportunity that one has to engage with orthodoxy viewpoints, usually because they do not wish to debate with us.

One current piece of pro-orthodoxy activism consists of a series of YouTube videos by Myles Power, titled Debunking the AIDS Denialist Movie House of Numbers. Judging that Power is competent and certainly has a good flair of design to capture audiences, I decided to have a look at his videos and found familiar disappointment.

The first problem is in the use of “denialist”, a term plastered on dissidents with no real approval. Those who follow the popular sceptical theories of Peter Duesberg and/or The Perth Group do not deny the illnesses defined as AIDS. They deny either the existence or the capability of HIV to cause those illnesses, hence ‘HIV scepticism’ is a more accurate term.

In the first 5 minutes of the first video, Power mocks Brent Leung’s choice of locations to deliver narrations, and this is preceded by Power self-applauding his choice of a graveyard as an introductory location for his film. Not only is this a detraction from the subject and a subtle way of having a dig at Leung’s film-making abilities, it is actually bizarre. Leung’s use of neutral locations or labs is not something the engrossed viewer will pay too much attention to. If I’m allowed to be pedantic, Power also mispronounces Christine Maggiore’s surname (Ma-joor-eh) as Mag-yoor. I would forgive this if someone wasn’t so cock-sure. Another cock-up that could’ve been remedied by editing is the grammatical error in video 1 in that “they don’t believe it doesn’t cause AIDS”, when in fact ‘we do believe that it doesn’t cause AIDS’

Power states that Maggiore’s insistence on breastfeeding her children was negligent given studies that show that breast milk can transmit HIV. However, the WHO now adopts a dissident position from new studies that show that breast milk can in fact prevent HIV transmission. Especially, bizarrely, if the breast milk is exclusive, i.e. without alternating with formula milk. So, are the WHO wrong now or before? Power also ignores the fact that her partner Robin Scovill appears to be HIV-negative (certainly he is in good health) and another child is negative too.

The “F*ck you guys” that Power directs at rock band The Foo Fighters for having supported Alive & Well might better have been internally directed at the AIDS orthodoxy.

The multiple DMCAs filed against Power (and wavered for those showing the original film as is because of the choice of the film-maker and participants) are also legitimate on the grounds that he uses vast segments of film, which anyone knows requires permission. In a printed book only short paragraphs for critical purposes are allowed without asking; else journalists could be giving away pretty much the whole work with the critical piece they produced. If Power wrote about the film or indeed used little or none of the original footage, perhaps even just referencing scenes of the film, he would not have to worry about being ‘silenced.’ (a feeling more familiar to dissenters!) This is an issue of asserted copyright, not free speech. Another example: an album of an artist remixed and put on-sale without permission may cause the artist more grievance than straight piracy because it represents their work in a light that they are legally allowed to object to (same as in altered book binding); this also applies to any interviewee who has dispute with the editing in HoN (and there are no legal disputes that I’m aware of).
But it is regrettable if some attack Power personally rather than his films, and his picking out of Maggiore’s test date discrepancies is interesting, if unimportant in the broader picture. For example, copies of all voiced results may not have been available and were purely zoomed in on result types for dramatic effect rather than accuracy; indeed, how can anyone verify any document in a film that is not publicly available? Instead of the allegation of cropping on one line of records, the film-makers and participants could’ve gone so far as buying a second-hand typewriter and brown paper to make records that match Christine’s words exactly. Maggiore is not alive to defend herself, and better sleuthing would be to find out where Maggiore had been tested and to see if her statements match. Even if, for argument purposes, the results are still not available, the fact that she died from an acute illness(es) rather than a long drawn-out one, typical of AIDS, is a dissident point in itself.

Liam Scheff’s reporting of zero transmission in the Padian paper remains correct despite Power’s assertion. Padian also still concedes that – believing HIV exists, whether or not it is pathogenic – HIV is very hard to transmit, which is contrary to the messages from campaigns that warn of the dangers of minute quantities of blood mixing from needle-stick injuries.

The remainder of the videos to date are merely interested in smear and ridicule (for example, the childish making fun of names, in fact even making fun of qualifications while, without irony, seeking validation about HIV tests from an end-of-life carer turned tester). No attempt is made to ponder if positive tests ever equate to active infection, if HIV exists and is pathogenic; or why indeed HIV/AIDS remains predominantly a black and MSM problem when other STDs are not. The big question of how HIV even causes AIDS is ignored, as well any distinction in views between Peter Duesberg and The Perth Group (Power seems to assume that dissidence is a totally united movement).

If any more videos appear, I will not waste my time on them. These are Ben Goldacre-lite musings. Power, like Goldacre, may indeed be right about so much else, but they cannot face the fact that HIV theory has significant fatal holes, and appearing pompous does not cover them.

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