Friday, July 23, 2004

Mythbuster Michael Fumento says :
Probably the most prestigious science journal in the world is the British magazine Nature. Nature's view of Myth ran quite early, something journals will do when they are making a conscious effort to affect how a book will be received. The reviewer was Duncan Campbell, who, among many other things, asserted:

Only a writer whose prejudices deny humanity could write in such bad taste as this:

"Although AIDS is no joke, there is good news and bad news about the length of HIV infectiousness ... the 'good news' is that the great majority, and perhaps almost all, of HIV-infected persons will develop debilitating symptoms or die."

In fact, what the book says is:

The "good news" here is actually terrible news for anyone infected: Originally, it was thought that only a small percentage of those infected with the virus would go on to develop the disease. While this was reassuring to infected persons, it made the long-term outlook for the spread of the disease look bad because it meant that large numbers of healthy persons would be spreading the virus to others indefinitely. But a consensus of opinion has now formed that the great majority, and perhaps almost all, of HIV-infected persons will develop debilitating symptoms or die.

How different, I wonder, is this from taking a statement like, "Judaism is not a gutter religion" and presenting it as "Judaism is . .. a gutter religion"?

Well, as far as I can see it's very different.

Campbell says Fumento says P(x)


P is "the good news is that"

x is "most people who are infected will die of Aids"

Whereas what in full Fumento says

P(x, x->y)

where y is "developing full blown symptoms will allow us to see symptoms and identify the infected earlier"

Fumentos analogy with changing from

z to not z is wrong

Is Campbell's assertion that Fumento is in "bad taste" wrong?

Personally, I don't think that bad taste is a problem in making scientific claims. (Witness a recent argument for scientific conjectures being independent of moral considerations.)

But it's perfectly possible on whatever criteria taste is decided that this is bad taste.

A more interesting question would be to ask whether, given the still fairly long time it takes for symptoms to express themselves, the benefit derived from sufferers dying and stopping more infections is realy very significant in reducing the spread of the disease.

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