I was debating the motion that “Neurologists should engage with social networks to help prevent a further media farce as seen with CCSVI”; in this context social networks is referring to web-based social networking sites, for example Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Wikipedia, Wikis, Websites, etc. My opponent was Dr Colin Mumford from Edinburgh. Rather than focus on CCSVI I used the HIV/AIDS denialism as my main theme to illustrate the complex social aspects of how these anti-science movements start, propogate and cause so much damage. In South Africa, HIV denialism has resulted in over 300 million unnecessary deaths and countless HIV infections that could have been avoided. This is orders of magnitude greater than the morbidity and mortality that CCSVI has caused.
A particularly interesting reference I came across when preparing the debate was a new book “The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back” by Nicoli Nattrass from the University of Cape Town. Nicoli makes the point that there are four types of AIDS denialist:
1.The ‘dissident scientist’ who lends credibility
2.The ‘cultropreneur’ who peddles quack therapies
3.The ‘living icon’ or ‘long-term survivor’
4.The ‘praise-singer’ or ‘journalist’ or ‘politician’ who sows doubt about HIV causing AIDS
In addition to this there is the wider HIV/AIDS community with their activists, community organiser, easy access to the media and their use of conspiracy theories to attack the scientists. In relation to HIV/AIDS the conspiracy theory was targeted at Western governments, who were accused of creating the HIV virus to wipe our blacks, homosexuals and drug addicts.
If you are close to the CCSVI story you can appreciate the similarities, including the conspiracy theories.
To lighten the message and overall feel of the debate, which was quite serious, I made a short animation to illustrate some of the issues neurologists have with CCSVI and the frustrations of MS’ers with the current situation. This animation went down very well even to amusement of Professor Jeremy Hobart, who is the international leader in patient-related MS outcome measures, and Dr Colin Mumford my competitor. They have both given me verbal permission to upload the video onto YouTube.