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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Knowledge and Prevention 

HIV infection rates continue to grow, and everyone seems to have a slightly different view of how to slow that growth. A paper in the most recent PLoS Medicine models a number of approaches, predicting varying degrees of success. An editorial in the same issue calls for a more aggressive vaccine development plan: the current lets-try-and-find-one-when-we-can model is OK, the authors say, but having real concrete milestones and timeframe goals would be better. I'm inclined to agree there, for most of the same reasons - having a timeframe set in the future focuses people on the fact that the vaccine is far in the future, and we have to deal with HIV/AIDS now.

A major impediment to prevention in the US is the belief, particularly among African-Americans, that HIV/AIDS is a government-created conspiracy against the poor and against blacks. I've heard this idea espoused from a number of people - many of them otherwise sensible friends and co-workers - and it does not ever cease to piss me off. Not just because the first community really affected by HIV was gay men, about whom many of these conspiracy theorists seem all to happy to forget, but also because it's a bloody stupid thing to say. We *still* don't have the technology to create anything like HIV, to be sure we didn't have it in the 1970's. I could go on, but it's probably unnecessary.

One reason for the persistence of this conspiracy theory is that it wouldn't be the first time the US government had done something appalling to its citizens without telling them about it. And memory, as we know, is a powerful thing. Which is not a very good reason to believe things that simply aren't possible, but it is a weak segue into a fascinating overview of new research into the molecular basis of memory in yesterday's Scientific American.

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