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Archive for March, 2012

Friday, March 30th, 2012

University Press Roundup

Our semi-regular (though soon we may have to start calling it regular) roundup of recent blog posts and features from other university presses:

The University of Michigan Press and Beacon Press reflect on Adrienne Rich’s life and works after the sad news of her death.

Stanford University Press provides a helpful list of links to sites that explain different aspects of the healthcare system.

At Princeton University Press, journalist E.J. Dionne, Jr. takes a close look at Rick Santorum and the future of the Religious Right.

At Cambridge University Press, Shaheen Shariff and Courtney Retter examine the ethical and legal issues behind cyberbullying, in wake of the trial of Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student accused of spying on his roommate Tyler Clementi.

Harvard University Press discusses the new exhibition at the British museum, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam.

The University of Minnesota Press offers a video with good advice for prospective academic authors.

UNC Press offers responses by two historians to Trayvon Martin’s killing that approach the issue from very different standpoints.

On a lighter note, MIT press offers a sequence of posts detailing some of the best pranks in MIT history in preparation for April Fools’ Day.

The American Management Association Books Blog continues their very informative “Ask AMACOM” series with a new installment of “Ask a Business Book Publicist.”

At the OUPblog, Professor Jon Hanson gives a fascinating interview on the connections between law and mind sciences, while Caroline Relton explains connections between epidemiology and epigenetics (giving a shoutout to CUP’s new title, The Epigenetics Revolution, in the process!).

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Inderjeet Parmar on Foundations and the American Century, Part 2

Foundations of the American Century, Inderjeet Parmar

In the second part of his essay, Inderjeet Parmar, author of Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power, examines the role of U.S. foundations in the post-Cold War era. (To read part 1):

Since the end of the Cold War, however, U.S. foundations have continued to affect U.S. foreign policy and the development and direction of globalization. Foundation networks were central, for example, in elevating and refining what has become the central rationale of U.S. national-security strategy since the collapse of the Soviet threat—democratic peace theory (that democracies do not fight one another), as embodied in the Bush doctrine as well as in the policies of the Obama administration.

There’s been a great expansion in the number of U.S. foundations, the variety of grant-making activities, and total philanthropic assets. Since 1987 the number of foundations in the United States has grown from 28,000 to about 50,000, and these new foundations hold some of the enormous recent growth in American wealth. Their assets have expanded from $115 billion in 1987 to over $300 billion today. Their international giving also topped $3 billion in 2002. Record increases in international philanthropic giving have been recorded since the mid-1990s, prompted by a strong world economy and the rise of new fortunes, especially Bill Gates’s Microsoft Corporation and his accompanying foundation.


Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Noah Isenberg on Billy Wilder

On the tenth anniversary of Billy Wilder’s death, Noah Isenberg, author of Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era, has written a great review of the director’s life and career for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

In the essay entitled “Tales of Buffalo Billy” (Wilder was named after the famous Western hero by his America-infatuated mother), Isenberg recounts Wilder’s life from his early days in World War I Vienna to his success as an expatriate director in Hollywood. Along the way, Wilder lived in Berlin, where he got his start in the film industry and where he moved from to come to America, sensing the impending danger of Hitler.

Isenberg offers an appreciation of the many virtues of Wilder’s films. He was a director, who did not take himself too seriously, and a man of “uncommon wit and unforgiving sarcasm.” As Isenberg points out, one of the most enduring influences on Wilder’s work was fellow émigré director Ernst Lubitsch. In the following excerpt, Isenberg discusses how Wilder’s admiration of Lubitsch had an impact on his handling of eroticism in film:

Part of what Wilder admired most in Lubitsch was the handling of eroticism in his films, always suggestive rather than explicit. In 1975 Wilder said of Lubitsch, “he could do more with a closed door than most of today’s directors can do with an open fly.” Of course, Wilder proved to be the master of his own domain in moments such as the scene in Double Indemnity when Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) drops by the bachelor pad of hard-boiled insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) for an evening quickie; we observe Walter lying on the couch enjoying what appears to be an après l’amour cigarette while Phyllis touches up her makeup. Asked many years later whether the scene was to suggest, in a sly evasion of censorship, that Phyllis and Walter had just copulated, Wilder responded unambiguously: “Of course, and very good sex, or how could she persuade such a man to kill her husband? I learned from Lubitsch that the scene between two lovers the next morning tells you much more about their sexual behavior than actually showing them having sex.”

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Inderjeet Parmar on Foundations and the Creation of the American Empire

Inderjeet Parmar, Foundations of the American CenturyThe following is an essay by Inderjeet Parmar, author of Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power. This is part 1 of the essay and we will run part 2 tomorrow:

“Switzerland Exposed,” screamed the title of a book I happened to see recently, drawing a wry smile—and a feeling of “you can’t be serious!” And that’s the usual response when people hear about my book on American philanthropic foundations, which argues that they are not so “cuddly” a bunch as their image suggests. Although they do contribute to society in positive ways, the big U.S. foundations—Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie—made fundamental contributions to America’s rise to global leadership, a global imperium sometimes more benignly promoted as the “American century.”

This includes some of the darkest chapters in American foreign policy—hubristically guiding economic-development policies that exacerbated problems in the newly independent Nigeria and played a role in its slide into civil war; sponsoring and guiding opponents of the leftist Sukharno administration in Indonesia and contributing to the bloodshed that accompanied the rise of the right-wing militarist Suharto regime; and funding and training right-wing economists as well as their centrist and even leftist opponents in Chile as it careened into the bloody military coup of 1973.

Widely perceived as major sources of America’s power of attraction—its “soft power”—the foundations’ own records, open and broadly accessible to academic researchers, show in great detail that beneath a glossy, liberal, philanthropic exterior, the Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations had a far more sinister side, a fist in the velvet glove.


Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

New Book Tuesday: The New Ecology of Leadership, Addicted to Profit, and More

The New Ecology of LeadershipThe following books are now available:

The New Ecology of Leadership: Business Mastery in a Chaotic World
David K. Hurst

Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind
Dan Arnold

The Colonial Signs of International Relations
Himadeep Muppidi

Fragments of the Afghan Frontier
Magnus Marsden and Benjamin D. Hopkins

Heritage Film: Nation, Genre and Representation
Belén Vidal

Addicted to Profit: Reclaiming Our Lives from the Free-Market
Stuart Sim

Remembering China from Taiwan: Divided Families and Bittersweet Reunions After the Chinese Civil War
Mahlon David Meyer

Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue (Now available in paper)
William Logan


Monday, March 26th, 2012

Book Giveaway! Foundations of the American Century

This week our featured book is Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power, by Inderjeet Parmar.

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of the book and we are also offering a FREE copy of the book to one winner.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address (U.S. and Canadian mailing addresses only, unfortunately). We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

Praise for Foundations of the American Century:

“With Foundations of the American Century, Inderjeet Parmar has produced the most wide-ranging and sophisticated historical account of the international role of American philanthropic foundations to date. It will be of interest to … anyone interested in the nature of American power and liberal internationalism.” — Nicolas Guilhot, author of The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and the Politics of Global Order

Monday, March 26th, 2012

The Science of Cotton Candy and More from The Kitchen as Laboratory

Cotton Candy, The Kitchen as Laboratory

The editors of The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking have put together a great slide show on Huffington Post that underscore some of the aims of their book.

In the slideshow, the authors describe and depict how science reveals and describes such phenomenon as the crispiness of a french fry, how to make stretchy ice cream, how a dog brush can make for a perfectly crispy duck, and the science of cotton candy.


Friday, March 23rd, 2012

University Press Roundup

Our semi-regular roundup of recent blog posts and features from other university presses:

The Hurst Blog has reprinted an article detailing important new clues to the death of Dag Hammarskjold in 1961, written by Christopher Merrett. Working with Robin Barnes, a journalist in Ndola at the time of the famous plane crash, and Susan Williams, author of the Hurst/CUP book Who Killed Hammarskjold?, Merrett unearths new evidence in the death of the former Secretary-General of the United Nations.

NYU Press has a powerful piece on the recent death of Trayvon Martin, placing his killing in the context of extralegal racial violence throughout the history of the US, written by Kidada E. Williams.

The OUPblog features an examination of the Kony 2012 video by Adam Branch, a scholar studying and living in Uganda. According to Branch, he “wouldn’t have known about Kony 2012 if it hadn’t been for the emails I’ve been receiving from the US. And that, I think, is telling. Kony 2012 and the debate around it are not about Uganda, but about America.”

On a happier note, the McGill-Queen’s University Press Blog has a preview of Leave No Doubt, an inspirational book by Mike Babcock, current coach of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and coach of the 2010 Olympic Gold-winning Canadian hockey team.

The UNC Press Blog featured a guest post from Sarah S. Elkind on why we should view “the perpetual national chorus demanding a smaller, more efficient federal government” with suspicion.

Beacon Broadside and William Ayers take a detailed look at education and society in 21st century America. Ayers is worried by the focus on testing and instead supports a “pedagogy of questioning, an approach that opens rather than closes the process of thinking, comparing, reasoning, perspective-taking, and dialogue.”

The University of Illinois Press has a fascinating question-and-answer post with the authors of their new book, The Ecology of the Spoken Word, on an Amazonian tribe, the Napo Runa.

Cambridge University Press has a fun quiz that lets you learn with which great judge you have the most in common. And on the more serious side, they continue their “Women in Science” series in a conversation with three of their science editors.

Princeton University Press has a guest post from Andrew Gelman, an expert in election data, in which he breaks down voting patterns among white voters in America over the last few elections.

Texas A&M University Press has a brief interview with and sample poem from Athena Kashyap in which she discusses what it was like trying to find a place in America as an immigrant, similarities between borders of differet kinds, and losing yourself in the unknown.

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Mark C. Taylor on Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

We conclude our week-long feature on Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell and Goldsworthy, with an excerpt from Mark C. Taylor’s chapter on Andy Goldsworthy:

Goldsworthy’s preoccupation with place is often misunderstood. Some critics summarily dismiss him as a druidic figure devoted to Celtic paganism and occult mysticism. It is important to acknowledge that some of his comments tend to encourage this reading of his work. Goldsworthy often writes about a common energy that circulates through both nature and his art. Responding to criticisms of his art for being merely decorative, he leaves himself open to attack on other grounds. “Color for me,” he explains, “is not pretty or decorative—it is raw with energy. Nor does it rest on the surface. I explore the color within and around a rock—color is form and space. It does not lie passively or flat. At best it reaches deep into nature—drawing on the unseen—touching the living rock—revealing the energy inside.” The more carefully one studies Goldsworthy’s work, however, the clearer it becomes that his vision differs from New Age spirituality in important ways. While New Age believers preach a gospel of harmony and light, Goldsworthy acknowledges the violence and darkness of natural processes. He probes this darkness in a series of works that figure holes. “The hole,” he explains, “has become an important element. Looking into a deep hole unnerves me. My concept of stability is questioned and I am made aware of the potent energies within the earth. The black is that energy made visible.” Turrell might well have written these words. Over the course of his career Goldsworthy has explored holes in a variety of media—rocks, stones, sand, mud, flowers, leaves, twigs, snow, ice, frost, wool, feathers, even water


Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Mark C. Taylor on James Turrell and Roden Crater

James Turrell

“Roden Crater is the most ambitious work and might well turn out to be the most important artwork of our time. For pilgrims fortunate enough to journey into Turrell’s work, the world is, indeed, transformed.”—Mark C. Taylor

In his chapter on James Turrell in Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, Mark C. Taylor discusses Turrell’s extraordinary work at Roden Crater. He opens the chapter beginning by considering what it was that first drew him to Turrell:

The more I studied Turrell’s work, the richer it became and the more difficult it was to locate his work on traditional maps of art history. Turrell’s medium is light—he paints with and sculpts light. From one point of view, his work can be understood as a logical extension of impressionism. While impressionist canvases shift attention from illuminated objects to the experience of illumination, Turrell dematerializes the medium to create works of art as effervescent as the act of apprehension itself. From another point of view, his work resonates in certain ways with minimalists like Donald Judd, Richard Serra, and, most obviously, Robert Irwin. He shares Judd’s and Irwin’s interest in light and, like Serra, he has a long-standing interest in the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, which grows out of his concern with the act of perception more than the crafted object. Such similarities should not, however, obscure the very different motivation informing Turrell’s art. Having been raised a Quaker and having studied psychology at Pomona College, Turrell and his work cannot be understood simply in terms of art history. Turrell creates his art through a unique combination of painterly and sculptural strategies, scientific experiment, and, in ways that are not immediately obvious, religious myth and ritual. Like mystics ancient and modern, as well as Eastern and Western, Turrell is obsessed with vision. While mystics stage rituals to create visions they believe will transform consciousness, Turrell combines artistic practice and scientific experiment to create a transformative experience by turning vision back on itself in order to see seeing. To see seeing is to grasp the world as a work of art and to apprehend vision as a cosmogonic act once attributed to the gods.


Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Michael Mann Responds to the Wall Street Journal’s Review of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”

Michael Mann, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

“Our national dialogue about climate change remains broken. The Journal‘s decision to publish Ms. Jolis’s review has done nothing to repair it.”—Michael Mann

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal‘s review of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, by Michael Mann, was not entirely positive. The Journal did however give Michael Mann the opportunity to respond to Anne Jolis’s review.

As Mann explains in his response, the Journal‘s review exemplifies much of what has gone wrong in the discussion about climate science in the United States. Rather than being treated as scientific data, Michael Mann and other scientists’ research is being treated as a polemic. As Mann explains:

Every national academy of science in the world, including our own, agrees that climate change is due to increased fossil fuel use. Only politicians and ideologues want to argue about basic, established science.

Ms. Jolis repeats criticisms of research I conducted that showed modern-day temperatures are unusually high (“the hockey stick”). My book explains that research, its critics and independent studies that have since validated and extended its original findings. But Ms. Jolis tries to dismiss these scientific discussions as “score-settling” and “sound bites.”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Happy Birthday to Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek

Today, March 21, is the birthday of perhaps the most talked-about figure in academia today, Slavoj Žižek. Žižek, born in Slovenia and now a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana (among many other positions), is famous for his incisive and often biting cultural critiques as well as his rambling, insightful, endlessly entertaining writing and speaking style. Columbia University Press publishes the Insurrections series, which is edited by Žižek, along with Clayton Crockett, Creston Davis, and Jeffrey W. Robbins. On the occasion of Žižek’s birthday, we wanted to take a quick look at the questions of religion, politics, and culture that he has found so fascinating.

Žižek himself is known for his use of Lacan’s psychoanalysis in interpreting German idealism and Marxist political thought, and for his application of this interpretation to modern cultural phenomena. Of particular interest to him has been the role that religion plays in the private lives of individuals and the public sphere. Žižek has been one of the leading academic voices bringing attention to the ways in which ostensibly secular aspects of the modern world are incorporating religious ideas.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Is Matthew Barney the Most Religious Artist Working Today? — Mark C. Taylor Explains

Mark C. Taylor, Matthew Barney

As he explains in Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, Mark C. Taylor was initially skeptical of Matthew Barney. However, as he became more familiar with Barney’s work, his opinion changed. In the following excerpt he explains the religious nature of Barney’s work, particularly The Cremaster Cycle, and its similarities with Joseph Beuys.

Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, Matthew Barney is the most spiritual and perhaps even most religious artist working today. The roots of his artistic vision can be traced to ancient Greek philosophy—especially the pre-Socratics and Neoplatonists—as well as ancient pagan and Christian myths and rituals. This philosophia perennis rests on five fundamental principles:

1. Divine reality is not merely transcendent but is also immanent in the world.
2. The self is inseparably related to or even identical with divine reality.
3. This primal unity is lost when human beings fall into a condition of division and conflict.
4. The goal of human life, as well as the cosmos as a whole, is to return to this original unity.
5. The only way to achieve this goal is through the enlightenment brought by spiritual practice.


Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Interview with Nicoli Nattrass, author of “The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back”

Nicoli Nattrass, The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights BackThe following is an interview with Nicoli Nattrass, author of The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back

Question: What is AIDS conspiracy theory?

Nicoli Nattrass: The central AIDS conspiracy theory is that HIV was created in a laboratory (perhaps with the help of the CIA) to inflict harm. Ironically, the idea that U.S. scientists invented HIV was initially promoted by the Russian KGB and the East German Stasi in a genuine conspiracy to spread misinformation. There are now many local variants of AIDS conspiracy beliefs–for example, in South Africa a common story is that HIV was created by the apartheid government’s chemical warfare program, with assistance from the United States.

Q: Why does AIDS conspiracy theory matter?

NN: AIDS conspiracy beliefs matter because they reflect and reinforce broader suspicions toward medical science. AIDS conspiracy believers in the United States and South Africa are less likely to use condoms, less likely to test for HIV, and less likely to take antiretroviral treatment. Why did you write the book? I was concerned about the way that AIDS conspiracy theories had been promoted at the highest levels in South Africa, and continue to resonate today. The book is the product of my exploration of how these ideas travel and take root, why they resonate socially, and what can be done to fight them. (more…)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Mark C. Taylor on “Fat Chair” by Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys, Fat Chair

“It’s all about the fat.”—Mark C. Taylor on Fat Chair, by Joseph Beuys

In Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, Mark C. Taylor explores these four artists’, whose work, unlike that of Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, or Takashi Murakami, “makes absolutely no economic sense. Indeed, this work is designed not to be marketable.

In four separate chapters, Taylor discusses works by Beuys, Barney, Turrell, and Goldsworthy. In the opening to his chapter on Beuys, Taylor considers his Fat Chair. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s all about the fat: the way it looks, smells, feels—the way it oozes and seeps, jiggles and ripples, molds and melts—the way it is stored and burnt. During an era in which art was becoming ever more abstract and, thus, increasingly thin, Beuys made art fat. Real fat. Fat is one of the most unlikely materials with which to make art. Traditionally associated with excess and waste, fat is supposed to be slimmed, trimmed, and eliminated; it is unseemly, inelegant, and ugly. There is something gross, even grotesque about fat. Far from aesthetically appealing, fat is undeniably abject. Yet fat is vital to life: while too much fat can be fatal, bodies live by metabolizing fat to create the energy necessary for bodily functions. The transformational process through which material substance becomes the immaterial is the alchemy of life.


Monday, March 19th, 2012

New Book Tuesday: Animals, Cinema, and More

Humans and the Animal ImaginationAnimals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies
Edited by Aaron Gross and Anne Vallely

Critical Cinema
Edited by Clive Myer

Contextualising Jihadi Thought
Edited by Jeevan Deol and Zaheer Kazmi

Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geo-Televisual Aesthetic
Anustup Basu

Hatred and Forgiveness (Now available in paper)
Julia Kristeva; Translated by Jeanine Herman

Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties (Now available in paper)
Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli

Urban North-Eastern English: Tyneside to Teesside
Joan Beal, Lourdes Burbano-Elizondo, and Carmen Llamas

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Book Giveaway!: “Refiguring the Spiritual,” by Mark C. Taylor

This week our featured book is Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, by Mark C. Taylor. (To read chapter 6 Afterthougths.)

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of the book and we are also offering a FREE copy of the book to one winner.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address (U.S. and Canadian mailing addresses only, unfortunately). We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

Praise for Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy:

“In a climate in which the art market is continuing to break records without explanation, Mark C. Taylor offers a unique parallel between the workings of finance and the fine art arena. The initial pages of this book contain the clearest description I’ve read regarding the mechanics of finance in this new millennium. Moreover, Taylor’s appreciation of work by Jim Turrell and Andy Goldsworthy, two of my favorite artists, caught me completely off guard with his philosophic depth and aesthetic sensitivity, all from recounted personal experiences.” — Stephen Hannock, painter

Friday, March 16th, 2012

University Press Roundup

Our semi-regular roundup of recent blog posts and features from other university presses:

Just in time for March Madness, Princeton University Press provides an interview with Tim Chartier on how math can be used to predict the winners of “March Mathness.”

At the University of North Carolina Press blog, guest blogger Karen L. Cox is disgusted with how Republican candidates are approaching the south as well as how MSNBC is covering the campaigns.

MIT Press celebrates Brain Awareness week with an interview of Olaf Sporns, Head of the Computational Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Indiana University Bloomington.

Beware the Ides of March! The University of Chicago Press looks at Julius Caesar’s modern legacy. Meanwhile, Oxford University Press uses the occasion to discuss the enduring romance of prophecy.

The University of Georgia Press is doing a series of videos highlighting authors in their Early American Places series. The second of these videos features Michele Reid-Vazquez discussing her book, The Year of the Lash.

At the University of Michigan Press blog, guest blogger Dennis Wild discusses the sad saga of the double-crested cormorant in America.

Beacon Broadside’s blog features a religious defense of love, homosexual as well as heterosexual (despite what Kirk Cameron may think) by guest blogger Jay Michaelson.

Harvard University Press takes a look back at Carol Gilligan’s landmark book In a Different Voice, one of the most important social science works of the 20th century.

Yale University Press explains the experience of publishing books about the Arab Spring while the events in the Middle East were actually taking place.

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Nicoli Nattrass on Pro-Science Advocacy and Challenging AIDS Denialists

The AIDS Conspiracy, Nicoli Nattrass

We conclude our week-long feature on The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, by Nicoli Nattrass with an excerpt from her conclusion in which she considers the challenges in confronting AIDS denialists particularly in the Internet Age:

Will This Popular Enlightenment Project Work?

Defending science is a quintessentially enlightenment project. It assumes that progress is possible through reason and the accumulation of evidence, and that the scientific method is persuasive and can be made more so. Those who engage in the defense of science necessarily reject relativist approaches to the truth as unreasonable, defeatist, and dangerous….

Reasserting the enlightenment project of progress through reason and evidence is one thing. But whether such progress is possible remains an open question. How easy is it to persuade people through factual corrections of their misperceptions? The answer seems to depend a great deal on the individual. For example, AIDS denialists like [Christine] Maggiore are impervious to corrective evidence about HIV science because they are, as Kalichman observes, in a psychological state of encapsulated delusion. They are impossible to argue with, and indeed it may even be counterproductive to do so. According to recent research in political psychology, providing people who are ideologically committed to a particular view with “preference-incongruent information” can “backfire” by causing them to support their original argument even more strongly. This could be because they misread or reinterpret the information to support their original position, or because they “counterargue” the information in their minds, thereby increasing their intellectual commitment to it.


Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Nicoli Nattrass on the AIDS Conspiracy

Nicoli Nattrass, The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back

In the opening to her book The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back, Nicoli Nattrass discusses how she became interested in AIDS conspiracy theories.

The Conspiratorial Move Against HIV Science and Its Consequences

Most people do not believe conspiracy theories about the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). But suspicions that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have been created in a laboratory, and that the pharmaceutical industry invented AIDS as a means of selling toxic drugs, persist on both sides of the Atlantic. During the 2008 US presidential campaign, Barack Obama had to deal with politically embarrassing revelations that his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, believed the government had created HIV to harm blacks. Four years earlier, the Nobel Prize–winning Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai stunned the world with her casual observation that HIV had been “created by a scientist for biological warfare.” Most tragically, conspiracy theories about HIV were promoted in the early 2000s by then South African president Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang—with devastating consequences for AIDS policy.