What happens when unsupported theories and ideas endanger lives? Should those who deny care, treatment, and medicine in spite of evidence be held responsible? Even criminally responsible?
These aren't just vague questions.
AIDS denialism in South Africa upped the death toll by over 300,000. That's 300,000 thousands deaths that could have been avoided. A random quack may only affect the lives of a small group of people. When a government makes bad decisions hundreds of thousands of people can be affected. The documentary The Price of Denial produced by the news agency Health-e gives the startling details of what happened.
The evidence for HIV and AIDS is immense. Yet sites like AIDSTruth.org have to have detailed counter evidence against denialist myths. And that long page is just a summary of the myths with links to more detailed information.
What's depressing is the amount of effort and energy required to fight these myths. If a fraction of the energy put forth by those spreading the myths and those countering them was put into prevention programs that work, into treatment projects with proven drugs and therapies, and into basic research we might be much closer to finding an effective way of dealing with AIDS. Maybe even finding a cure.
In case you think that medical science isn't trying new approaches and looking at radical (yet plausible, and testable) ways of dealing with AIDS then the article Can AIDS be Cured? is a wake up call. There are many different approaches being tried. Some are more promising than others. Keep in mind that as the article says:
There is no cure for polio, hepatitis B, measles, chicken pox, influenza, and a long list of other viruses. Though the immune system and drugs can ultimately defeat many viruses, they are notoriously difficult to stop before they cause damage--especially a virus that integrates itself into chromosomes and can lie dormant for years.Maybe there isn't a complete cure on the horizon in the short term. Maybe prevention of transmission and better treatment for those who are infected is the best plan for now. I'm just glad researchers are working on the problem from many different angles and with many different approaches. All without denying the underlying science.