Relativizing Relativism

This rather awkward expression is the half-joking designation that a colleague (Andre Luiz Mendonça) and I chose for our joint endeavour to explore the constructivist approach without losing sight of certain advances in science and technology that cannot simply be "deconstructed away". This means adopting a critical, but not denialist, view of science as a human enterprise, hence subject to all the contingencies of the human condition, but yet capable of providing trustworthy knowledge, especially in the specific field we’ve been working, that of health.

The best way to formalize this argument I’ve seen so far came from two sociologists of science and technology, who wrote in a book about medicine at large the following:

Science may be wrong (…) but this does not make the opposite view right. In the absence of careful research about the opposite view, science is probably the way to bet. This is even more likely to be the case if science is continually put under scrutiny
(Colins, H. & Pinch, T. Dr. Golem: how to think about medicine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005, pg. 205.)

Considering this, current established knowledge about HIV and aids, and the role of retrovirals in its treatment and prevention is something that I consider as solidly established as can be. No matter the known shenanigans of the pharmaceutic industry, the amount of available evidence is not something that can be dismissed by hand waving.

HIV denialism is a particularly harmful form of conspiracy theory, one that has claimed many lives, especially during the Mbeki presidency in South Africa for reasons widely known. This does not sways the denialists (I wonder if something would), who keep propagating their bogus claims.

One particular critic, with far more patience than me, took to task one such production, a movie, and posted his critique alongside excerpts from the movie on YouTube. Turns out the people behind said movie are using the creepy DCMA takedown strategy to silence the critic: AIDS deniers use bogus copyright claims to censor critical Youtube videos.

There are two separate, but interwoven issues here: one, the DCMA and assorted copyright legislations do not serve the interests of the people, or even of actual artists and other content producers, and can easily be recruited by shady organizations for whatever nefarious purposes they have; two, the naked cravenness of the denialists, who would be the first to cry about censorship if it were the other way round.

HIV/aids, climate change, evolution, vaccines, these are not areas that can be challenged lightly and naively. If you espouse denialism in any of these subjects, sorry to inform: you are deadly wrong.


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