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Archive for September 6th, 2008

Conspiracy classics part II – AIDS and the “medical-industrial complex”

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Few modern conspiracy theories seem as lurid and distasteful than the claim that AIDS is an invention of the ‘medical-industrial complex’, and that the symptoms associated with the disease are actually caused by the drugs used to treat HIV-positive patients. The “Aidstruth” website gives a long list of people with HIV who have been taken in by such ideas and have died as a result. More tragically still, the influence of such ideas over government health policy in South Africa is believed to have cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

The story of AIDS-denial in South Africa is a curious mix of cynical opportunism, politics and paranoia. Western cranks whose bogus ideas are sidelined and discredited in their home countries will often seek out poorer and less stable countries where social divisions can be more easily exploited. The Mbeki government’s dalliance with denialism has drawn all manner of such ‘crackpot colonialists’ to South Africa – none stranger than the German vitamin salesman Matthias Rath.

Rath claims that:

“Hundreds of millions of people have died unnecessarily from AIDS, cancer, heart disease and other preventable diseases and the only reason that these epidemics are still haunting mankind is that they are the multibillion-dollar marketplace for the pharmaceutical drug cartel.”

Rath has run newspaper adverts denouncing the “pharmaceutical drug cartel” and urging HIV sufferers to take vitamin pills instead of AIDS drugs.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 6, 2008 at 10:31 am

Bridle unbuttoned… Ofcom’s damning ruling against bogus expert who claimed white asbestos posed ‘no measurable risk to health’

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For a number of years, a businessman with links to the asbestos industry, calling himself “Professor” John Bridle has been trying to convince the world that white asbestos poses ‘no measurable risk to health’.

In October 2006, the BBC’s You and Yours programme ran an exposé of Bridle and his claims, accusing him of “lies”,”self-aggrandizement” and running unaccredited tests on asbestos samples on the basis of his purported expertise. Following a complaint by Bridle, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom carried out a detailed review of the programme’s claims. Their findings (see pp45-63 of this pdf), issued earlier this year, make for damning reading: 

This edition of “You and Yours” included a report on Professor John Bridle, who it introduced with the words: “the man behind Asbestos Watchdog who claims to have saved people millions of pounds, but the claims about himself are littered with lies”. The programme stated that Professor Bridle, an asbestos surveyor, portrayed himself as “the world’s foremost authority on asbestos science”. The programme claimed that Professor Bridle’s views on the safety of one type of asbestos were contrary to those held by the British Government, the Health and Safety Executive and the World Health Organisation, among others. The  programme also questioned Professor Bridle’s credentials and expertise in testing for the presence of asbestos.

Professor Bridle complained to Ofcom that he was treated unfairly in the programme as broadcast in that he was unfairly portrayed as a liar and charlatan; his expertise and qualifications were questioned along with his business credentials; it alleged, wrongly, that he carried out unauthorised white asbestos “testing” and that he had claimed that asbestos posed no measurable risk to health; and, it failed to include “evidence” provided by him that offset the criticisms made in the programme.

Ofcom found as follows:

Ofcom considered that the programme makers took reasonable care to satisfy themselves that the information presented in the programme relating to Professor Bridle’s expertise, qualifications, business practices and his claims about testing asbestos had not been presented in a way that was unfair to Professor Bridle. Nor had relevant information been omitted or ignored. Professor Bridle had been offered an opportunity to contribute. Ofcom therefore found no unfairness to Professor Bridle in the programme as broadcast.

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I take a close look at John Bridle’s claims, and at his success in persuading some parts of the media to take them seriously.