Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nature vs. Mbeki

Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, has a freely available editorial this week on the cost of Thabo Mbeki's AIDS policies. An excerpt:

The needless deaths that occurred in South Africa prompt reflection on Mbeki's now infamous presidential AIDS advisory panel on the link between HIV and AIDS, the fate of which was chronicled in this journal in 2000–01. Its inconclusive report enabled Mbeki and his cabinet, who must bear collective responsibility, to portray this link as "deeply contested, and contestable", to quote Nattrass. Certainly, the AIDS dissidents (much criticized by Nature in the past) couldn't wait to participate in the panel. But should orthodox scientists have signed up?

Even in retrospect, this is a difficult question to answer. Once leading South African scientists, such as Malegapuru Makgoba, then president of the South African Medical Research Council and an outspoken critic of Mbeki, had agreed to do so, others were bound to follow suit in support. In turn, members from outside of the country in good faith believed that their colleagues deserved similar support, and so agreed to participate. Ultimately it became clear that these efforts were a waste of time, as there was no possibility of consensus being reached among the panel's two diametrically opposed camps.

The editorial also mentions that UCT economist Nicoli Nattrass (a previous lecturer of mine) made a very similar estimate of the lives lost to South Africa's idiotic policies in a study published earlier this year.

Thabo Mbeki is no doubt experiencing immense cognitive dissonance at the moment. I don't want to sound callous, but I hope he's not sleeping.

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