Posts Tagged ‘Science’


American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh

Avijit Roy, whose Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog championed liberal secular writing in the Muslim-majority nation, attacked along with his wife in Dhaka

Avijit Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed Banna is carried on a stretcher after she was seriously injured by unidentified assailants. Roy, founded a blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim majority nation.
Avijit Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed Banna is carried on a stretcher after she was seriously injured by unidentified assailants. Roy, founded a blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim majority nation. Photograph: Rajib Dhar/AFP/Getty Images

 

A prominent American blogger of Bangladeshi origin was hacked to death with machetes by unidentified assailants in Dhaka, police said, with the atheist writer’s family claiming he had received numerous threats from Islamists.

The body of Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim-majority nation, was found covered in blood after the attack which also left his wife critically wounded.

“He died as he was brought to the hospital. His wife was also seriously wounded. She has lost a finger,” local police chief Sirajul Islam said.

The couple were on a bicycle rickshaw, returning from a book fair, when two assailants stopped and dragged them onto a sidewalk before striking them with machetes, local media reported citing witnesses.

Roy, said to be around 40, is the second Bangladeshi blogger to have been murdered in two years and the fourth writer to have been attacked since 2004.

Hardline Islamist groups have long demanded the public execution of atheist bloggers and sought new laws to combat writing critical of Islam.

“Roy suffered fatal wounds in the head and died from bleeding… after being brought to the hospital,” doctor Sohel Ahmed told reporters.

Police have launched a probe and recovered the machetes used in the attack but could not confirm whether Islamists were behind the incident.

But Roy’s father said the writer, a US citizen, had received a number of “threatening” emails and messages on social media from hardliners unhappy with his writing.

“He was a secular humanist and has written about ten books” including his most famous “Biswasher Virus” (Virus of Faith), his father Ajoy Roy told AFP.

The Center for Inquiry, a US-based charity promoting free thought, said it was “shocked and heartbroken” by the brutal murder of Roy.

“Dr Roy was a true ally, a courageous and eloquent defender of reason, science, and free expression, in a country where those values have been under heavy attack,” it said in a statement.

Roy’s killing also triggered strong condemnation from his fellow writers and publishers, who lamented the growing religious conservatism and intolerance in Bangladesh.

“The attack on Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed is outrageous. We strongly protest this attack and are deeply concerned about the safety of writers,” Imran H. Sarker, head of an association for bloggers in Bangladesh, told AFP.

Pinaki Bhattacharya, a fellow blogger and friend of Roy, claimed one of the country’s largest online book retailers was being openly threatened for selling Roy’s books.

“In Bangladesh the easiest target is an atheist. An atheist can be attacked and murdered,” he wrote on Facebook.

Atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death in 2013 by members of a little known Islamist militant group, triggering nationwide protests by tens of thousands of secular activists.

After Haider’s death, Bangladesh’s hardline Islamist groups started to protest against other campaigning bloggers, calling a series of nationwide strikes to demand their execution, accusing them of blasphemy.

The secular government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reacted by arresting some atheist bloggers.

The government also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the furore over blasphemy, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers.

Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-largest Muslim majority nation with Muslims making up some 90 per cent of the country’s 160 million people.

A tribunal has recently handed down a series of verdicts against leading Islamists and others for crimes committed during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.


science-vs-religion-walking

Right-Wing Christians’ Hostility to Science Destroys Lives

When a pilot program in Colorado offered teens state-of-the-art long acting contraceptives—IUD’s and implants—teen births plummeted by 40% [3], along with a drop in abortions [4]. The program saved the state 42.5 million dollars [5] in a single year, over five times what it cost. But rather than extending or expanding the program, some Colorado Republicans are trying to kill it—even if this stacks the odds against Colorado families. Why? Because they insist, wrongly, that IUD’s work by killing embryos, which they believe are sacred. This claim, which is based in bad faith and scientific ignorance, undermines fiscal prudence and flourishing families.

Excellent Family Planning Transforms Family Life

Research from around the world shows that children and families are more likely to thrive when women are able to delay, space, and limit childbearing. The benefits are enormous: healthier moms and babies, less infant mortality and special needs, more family prosperity, higher education, less domestic conflict and abuse—even lower crime rates. Whole communities gain as women (and men!) become more productive, creating a virtuous economic cycle. Public budgets become easier to balance, and more revenues can be invested into infrastructure instead of basic needs.

Despite mountains of evidence showing that family planning empowers family flourishing, early and unwanted pregnancy has been a tough pattern to change, even in the United States. Until very recently, half of U.S. pregnancies were unintended, with over a third of those ending in abortion. For single women under the age of 30, 70 percent of pregnancies are unintended. For teens that’s more than 80 percent. This pattern has many causes, but part of the problem is antiquated family planning technologies that are highly prone to human error. In any given year, 1 out of 11 [6] couples relying on the Pill will end up with a surprise pregnancy. For couples relying on condoms alone, this rises to 1 out of 6 [6]!

By contrast, state-of-the-art IUD’s and implants drop the pregnancy rate below 1 in 500 while allowing a prompt return to normal fertility when they are removed. With a modern IUD in place, a woman enjoys he same level of protection as with tubal sterilization. In other words, we now have the technology to make surprise pregnancy truly surprising. It is easy to understand why advocates for children like the American Academy of Pediatrics [7], and advocates for healthy families like the California Family Health Council [8] and CDC [9] are eager to see these top tier birth control methods become the new normal.

Ignorant Obstructionism

People who care about flourishing families, including those who see themselves compassionate conservatives, should be doing everything in their power to help facilitate a transition to these new technologies. Above all, compassion and prudence dictate that these tools should be available to young and poor women, who (along with their children) are most likely to be harmed by an unexpected pregnancy.

But opponents to modern contraception—led by conservative Catholics—are instead spreading misinformation, insisting that highly effective contraceptives are not actually contraceptives but instead are like “having an abortion mill in your body.” They further insist that each embryo is precious and merits the protections of “personhood.” Colorado has been a battleground in which fetal-rights advocates have repeatedly tried to pass legislation that gives legal standing to fertilized eggs and later embryonic stages of life.

Most recently these same conservative advocates and politicians have come out fighting against programs that would make IUD’s and implants available to young women, even those who already are teen moms, desperately trying to take care of the children they already have.

How Modern IUD’s Actually Work

In reality, all family planning methods [10] available in the U.S. today are true contraceptives: they prevent fertilization of an egg by a sperm.

Pregnancy can be stopped at four points: 1. preventing the production of gametes (eggs and sperm), 2. blocking fertilization (conception), 3. preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, or 4. aborting an implanted pregnancy. Modern IUD’s are designed to prevent fertilization:

§  A nonhormonal copper IUD releases copper ions that interfere with sperm motility. The presence of copper may also change the surface of the egg so that it is less easily penetrated by a sperm. In addition, inflammatory cells evoked in the uterine cavity in response to the IUD kill sperm before they can ascend to the fallopian tubes, where fertilization occurs. In this regard, one can view the copper IUD as in intrauterine spermicide.

§  A hormonal IUD releases a mostly local dose of Levonorgestrel, a hormone in many birth control pills. It causes the mucus at the opening to the cervix to thicken so that sperm can’t get through. Thus, this IUD can be considered a barrier contraceptive, like a cervical cap.

A modern IUD can be thought of as a drug delivery system which has the potential to deliver a variety of drugs to a small target: the cavity of the uterus. The primary and intended mechanism of existing copper and hormonal IUDs, by design, is to prevent conception, and that is what each of these does.

But What If . . . .

What if a sperm got past that mucus plug or despite the spermicidal effects of copper managed to swim up the fallopian tube? What if a sperm and egg did unite? Could the IUD interfere with implantation? Yes. However, since fertilization is rare with either modern IUD, a fertilized egg failing to implant and flushing out is also rare. By contrast, when a sexually active woman is not using contraception, she may flush out a fertilized egg most months until she gets pregnant. Best estimates suggest that 60-80 percent of fertilized eggs never become babies. All of this adds up to a counter-intuitive fact: women who are using contraceptives to prevent pregnancy kill fewer embryos than women who are trying to get pregnant, and the more effective the contraception is, the fewer embryos die.

Nature’s Reproductive Funnel

We now know that nature or nature’s god designed reproduction as a big funnel. More eggs and sperm get produced than will ever meet. More eggs get fertilized than will ever implant. More fertilized eggs implant than will be carried to term by a female body. Genetic recombination is a highly imperfect process, and nature compensates by rejecting most fertilized eggs.

In some animals, the mother’s body aborts or reabsorbs an embryo if her stress level is too high or her protein level is too low. Alternately, her body may hold the fertilized eggs in a sort of suspended animation until conditions improve. Human bodies also have several ways to reduce the number of unhealthy babies, by decreasing fertility and increasing spontaneous abortion under bad circumstances. But like genetic recombination, this process is imperfect. Perfectly healthy embryos flush out, while some with birth defects—even horrible defects—get through.

Since spontaneous abortion is a natural and common part of human reproduction—one could say that every fertile woman has an abortion mill in her body—contraceptives actually reduce the number of fertilized eggs that fail to become babies, and the more effective they are at preventing conception, the more embryonic death they prevent. IUD’s are some of the most effective contraceptives available, on par [11] with sterilization. A woman who believes that embryonic life is precious, either to her or to her god, should use the most effective contraceptive available.

Violating Their Own Values and Public Trust

Given these realities, Colorado politicians who undermine access to state of the art contraceptives are neither minimizing embryonic death nor promoting family values.

To reiterate, the research is global and clear: When women are forced to rely on less effective family planning methods, more spontaneous and therapeutic abortions result. So do more ill-timed and unhealthy births. More unhealthy infants suffer and die. A greater percent of children are born to single moms or unstable partnerships. Family conflict increases. More children suffer abuse or struggle with developmental disabilities. More families get mired in poverty. More youth engage in antisocial behavior, including early, indiscriminant childbearing. Public costs associated with teen pregnancy, maternal health, special education, poverty and criminal justice swell. State budgets become more difficult to balance.

This is what conservative Republicans who undermine family planning programs are putting in motion, despite the fact that all of these trends run directly counter to their expressed values.

Ins and Outs of Rabbit-Hole Reasoning

The upside-down priorities of some Colorado legislators illustrate how unquestionable, ideology-based beliefs coupled with motivated reasoning can lead even decent people to violate their own values, while still believing they are doing the right thing.

Republican legislators live in an information web that has been shaped by the Vatican’s opposition to family planning–now picked up and echoed by some conservative Protestant sects and repackaged as “religious freedom.” Another set of dogmas come from Neo-liberalism, for example the belief that the least government is the best government.

Once foundational assumptions like these take root, each acts as a filter, allowing in certain types of evidence and ideas, and excluding others. On Being Certain, by neurologist Robert Burton lays out this process in detail, and Michael Shermer’s book, Why Smart People Believe Weird Things,explains why intelligence provides painfully little protection against rabbit-hole reasoning.

All of us engage in processes known as confirmatory thinking and motivated reasoning to defend a priori positions. For true believers of any stripe, whether political or religious [12], contradictory information gets attacked by the ideology’s “immune system.” Social networks exaggerate this tendency by screening incoming information and identifying trusted messengers or sources, with any belief endorsed by a competing tribe automatically suspect. Oppositional thinking sets in: if my enemy thinks this is good; then it must be bad. And smart people caught in this spiral simply apply their intelligence to the task of defending what they already believe—or want to.

A Conservative Legislator Beats the Odds

Thanks to the power of ideology coupled with rabbit hole reasoning, the data about family planning and family flourishing create a huge challenge for some conservative legislators. Acknowledging that excellent family planning could help Colorado families to flourish (as it does everywhere else) puts an evidence-based Republican at odds with colleagues who are determined to shut down government programs or co-religionists who seek to prevent “artificial family planning.” By contrast, they may find themselves unexpectedly aligned with people they don’t much like. And so, instead of doing the hard work of questioning assumptions, some do the slightly less hard work of convincing themselves this isn’t necessary.

Fortunately, even tightly defended groups like fundamentalist sects or small countercultural cults or extreme political movements or ideologically motivated wings within political parties fail to completely close off inquiry, and individuals do buck the current. At the beginning of February, Colorado Representative Don Coram co-sponsored [13] a bill that would expand IUD access among low income women. Coram is fiscally conservative and opposed to abortion, and in public statements he cited both of these values in support of his bill. “If you are against abortions and you are a fiscal conservative, you better take a long hard look at this bill because that accomplishes both of those,” he said. Research with 10,000 women in St. Louis provides further confirmation [14] that he is right. Coram’s willingness to follow the evidence and buck party line for the sake of his constituents is something we could use more of on both sides of the aisle.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons [15]. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

 


‘This is just insanity’: four Nobel laureates let fly over Australian science funding

Four of the nation’s most-renowned scientists have spoken to The Australian Financial Review about their concerns for Australian science and our ability to compete as an innovation economy.

What Nobel prize winners Elizabeth Blackburn, Brian Schmidt, Peter Doherty and Barry Marshall had to say about innovation funding in a nation historically responsible for a range of world-beating scientific advancements was often scathing.

Each holds fears for Australia’s global competitiveness. As stated by the AFR’s Anne Hyland, “When it comes to investment in science, Australia is in reverse as other countries floor the accelerator.”

Here’s a selection of quotes from the Nobel laureates about Australia’s investment in science and our economic future. For the full story, read: How ignoring science damns our economy at the AFR.

ELIZABETH BLACKBURN (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2009)

Photo: Ken James

“How could Australia not think of investing heavily in science? This is just insanity. The fact that the natural resources boom is fading away – it’s foolishness.”

“I come back and have these marvellous science conversations and I talk to really, really bright people, but they’re under-used. They don’t groan. They just do the best they can.”

“Australia needs to invest in science. It’s a bigger picture than politics. Prime ministers come and go. National policies can be developed in a much less politicised way and be much more forward looking, whoever the prime minister happens to be.”

“There needs to be a very serious investment because you have all this scientific talent. If you look at the track record of countries that have invested in science, it’s obvious, it works.”

BRIAN SCHMIDT (joint Nobel prize in physics in 2011)

Photo: Rohan Thomson

“I’m scratching my head and losing sleep at night about that in a way that I haven’t before.”

“It’s unclear to me whether or not we will continue to be a great astronomy nation.”

“If we lose [our] advantage, are we going to replace that with something else? We damn well better be or we’re going backwards.”

“If we’re damaged it will take 20 years to fix ourselves. It only takes one year to cause 20 years of damage.”

PETER DOHERTY (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 1996)

Photo: Arsineh Houspian

“The celebration of science in Australia is pretty thin.”

“Basic science is done through public funding. It can’t be left up to the magic of the market. It doesn’t work in innovation.”

“We still have high quality universities. If we keep cutting back on that sector we’re going to lose it. It’s sad.”

“Australia, because of its location and the fact it’s an open Western country, really has tremendous potential to be an innovation hub.”

BARRY MARSHALL (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2005)

Photo: Philip Gostelow

“There’s a layer of administration and bureaucracy that sits on top of original scientific research that almost doubles the cost or more.”

“[There’s] not the priority given to academic and scientific pursuit in Australia by politicians and government”.

“We need to raise some political pressure and educate politicians.”

“[In Singapore] their resources are their people and they say: ‘What are they going to do? We want to give them something interesting to do and have them doing things that are going to be white-collar, high-value jobs with some product coming out of it.’ ”

Fairfax Media


Bill Nye: Creationism Is ‘Raising A Generation Of Young People Who Can’t Think’

The biggest danger creationism plays, according to Bill Nye the “Science Guy,” is that it is raising a generation of children who “can’t think” and who “will not be able to participate in the future in same way” as those who are taught evolution.

Speaking on MidPoint, Nye said he blames an older generation of evangelicals “who have very strong conservative views” and who are “reluctant to let kids learn about evolution.” Their presence on school boards leads to debates over curriculum, Nye argued, which further inhibits schools’ ability to teach facts.

“Religion is one thing. People get tremendous comfort and community with their religions,” Nye said. “But whatever you believe, whatever deity or higher power you might believe in, the Earth is not 6,000 years old.”

Nye, who has a new book out titled “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation,” recently participated in a debate with creationist Ken Ham, which some argued was a moment of embarrassment for the science community.

University of Chicago evolution professor Jerry A. Coyne called the debate “pointless and counterproductive.” The Guardian’s Pete Etchells wrote:

Scientific literacy is crucial for society to function effectively, which means that we can’t afford to be messing around with the way that it’s taught in the classroom or wasting our time with fruitless public debates.

Nye stood by the debate, however, saying he “stepped into the lion’s den” in order to spread awareness about the academic opportunities children are denied by being creationism.

“They will not have this fundamental idea that you can question things, that you can think critically, that you can use skeptical thought to learn about nature,” Nye told MidPoint. “These children have to suppress everything that they can see in nature to try to get a world view that’s compatible with the adults in who they trust and rely on for sustenance.”

H/T RawStory


Technobiophilia

We surf the net, stream our films and save stuff in the cloud. Can we get all the nature we need from the digital world?

by  Sue Thomas
Getting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by ReutersGetting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by Reuters

Sue Thomas is a writer and digital pioneer. Her latest book is Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace (2013).

There are fish in my phone. Some are pure orange with white fins; others have black mottled markings along their orange backs. They glide, twist and turn above a bed of flat pale sand fringed by rocks and the bright green leaves of something that looks like watercress. Sometimes they swim out of view, leaving me to gaze at the empty scene in the knowledge that they will soon reappear. When I gently press my finger against the screen, the water ripples and the fish swim away. Eventually, they cruise out from behind the Google widget, appear from underneath the Facebook icon, or sneak around the corner of Contacts. This is Koi Live Wallpaper, an app designed for smartphones. The idea of an aquarium inside my phone appeals to my sense of humour and makes me smile. But I suspect its true appeal is more complicated than that.

In 1984, the psychiatrist Aaron Katcher and his team at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment in the busy waiting room of a dentist’s office. On some days, before the surgery opened, the researchers installed an aquarium with tropical fish. On other days, they took it away. They measured the patients’ levels of anxiety in both environments, and the results were clear. On ‘aquarium days’, patients were less anxious and more compliant during the surgery. Katcher concluded that the presence of these colourful living creatures had a calming influence on people about to receive dental treatment. Then in 1990, Judith Heerwagen and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle found the same calming effect using a large nature mural instead of an aquarium in the waiting room of a specialist ‘dental fears’ clinic. A third experiment by the environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich and colleagues at Texas A&M University in 2003 found that stressed blood donors experienced lowered blood pressure and pulse rates while sitting in a room where a videotape of a nature scene was playing. The general conclusion was that visual exposure to nature not only diminished patient stress but also reduced physical pain. I’m not in pain when I look at my mobile, though I might well be stressed. Is that why I take time to gaze at my virtual aquarium?

A simple answer to this question is no. Katcher’s fish were real. Mine are animations. But there is increasing evidence that we respond very similarly to a ‘natural’ environment, whether it’s real or virtual, and research confirms that even simulated nature experiences can be remarkably powerful. In a 2008 study of Spanish energy consumers, the researchers Patrick Hartmann and Vanessa Apaolaza-Ibáñez at the University of the Basque Country examined responses to a new TV marketing campaign by one of the country’s leading energy brands, Iberdrola Energía Verde. The company was attempting to ‘green’ its image by evoking a virtual experience of nature through the use of pleasant imagery such as flying eagles, mountain scenery, and waterfalls. The intention was to evoke feelings of altruism and self-expression (‘Now, every time you switch on your light, you can feel good because you are helping nature’). The researchers found that consumers responded positively to the new branding, no matter whether they were already environmentally conscious or among the ‘non-concerned’. The ads brought the benefits of a ‘warm glow’ and a positive feeling of participating in the common good of the environment. The visual simulations were meeting a human desire to experience nature and reap its psychological benefits (pleasure, stress reduction, and so on). The research concluded that in societies where the experience of actual nature is becoming scarce, and life is increasingly virtual, the consumption of ‘green products’, especially those that evoke virtual contact with nature, can provide surrogate experiences.

The psychologist Deltcho Valtchanov at the University of Waterloo in Canada reached a similar conclusion in 2010 when he found that immersion in a computer-generated virtual reality nature space prompted an increase in positive feelings such as happiness, friendliness, affection and playfulness, and a decrease in negative feelings such as fear, anger and sadness. There were also significant decreases in levels of both perceived and physiological stress. Again, he and his colleagues concluded that encounters with nature in virtual reality have beneficial effects similar to encounters with real natural spaces. In other words, it seems that you can gain equal benefit from walking in a forest as from viewing an image of a forest or, as in my case, from watching virtual goldfish as opposed to real ones.

But what do we mean when we refer to ‘nature’? It’s a common term that seems to have an assumed collective meaning, often romanticised and sentimental. We speak of ‘getting back to nature’ as if there was once a prelapsarian baseline before we humans interfered and spoiled it. Gary Snyder, the American poet and environmentalist, offers alternative definitions from which we can choose. In The Practice of the Wild (1990), he distils down to two ways in which the term ‘nature’ is usually interpreted. One, he argues, is the outdoors: ‘the physical world, including all living things. Nature by this definition is a norm of the world that is apart from the features or products of civilisation and human will. The machine, the artefact, the devised, or the extraordinary (like a two-headed calf) is spoken of as “unnatural”.’

The other meaning is much broader, taking the first and adding to it all the products of human action and intention. Snyder calls it the material world and all its collective objects and phenomena. ‘Science and some sorts of mysticism rightly propose that everything is natural,’ he writes. In this sense, ‘there is nothing unnatural about New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy, and nothing — by definition — that we do or experience in life is “unnatural”.’ That, of course, includes the products of technology. This is Snyder’s preferred definition — and mine too. However, though it’s not always made clear, I’d venture a guess that environmental psychologists might have a preference for the former, human-free definition of nature.

Either way, it’s been claimed that the love of nature derives from ‘biophilia’, or the biophilic tendency. The term, coined in the 1960s by the German social psychologist Erich Fromm, was intended to denote a psychological orientation towards nature, but it became better known when popularised by the American biologist E O Wilson in Biophilia (1984) as an ‘innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’. Note that Wilson avoids the ‘n’ word, referring to ‘life’ instead. Of course, today the digerati are deeply engaged in conversations about what ‘life’ will mean in technologies of the future, a debate that will continue for a long time to come. More recently, the concept of biophilia has been celebrated by the Icelandic musician Björk in her 2011 album and musical project of the same name.

Perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being

The notion of biophilia draws upon a genetic attraction to an ancient natural world that evolved long before we did. It appears that our urge for contact with nature can, as shown in the experiments described, restore energy, alleviate mental fatigue, and enhance attention. It also appears to be surprisingly transferable to digital environments.

In 2004 I began collecting examples of metaphors and images of the natural world commonly found in computer culture — terms such as stream, cloud, virus, worm, surfing, field, and so on. I intended to find out what can be learnt from them about the intersections between human beings, cyberspace, and nature. I quickly amassed a long list of examples but found myself unable to suggest a reason for this phenomenon, until I came across Wilson’s theory. I realised that the story had been right in front of me all the time. It can be found in the images on our machines, in the spaces we cultivate in our online communities, and in the language we use every day of our digital lives. It began the moment we moved into the alien, shape-shifting territory of the internet and prompted a resurgence of that ancient call to life, biophilia.

Our attempts to place ourselves in this new world nourished the growth of a new spur, a hybrid through which nature and technology become symbionts, rather than opponents. I have coined the term ‘technobiophilia’ for this. It’s a clumsy word — probably not quite the right one — but for now it helps to spell out what is happening so that we can understand it better. Is there the possibility that perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being? How can we harness and develop our technobiophilic instincts in order to live well in the digital world?

One option would be that rather than keeping the virtual and the natural worlds separate — turning off our machines, taking e-sabbaticals, or undergoing digital detoxes, in order to connect with nature — we think about them all as integrated elements of a single life in a single world. There is already a growing sense in the wired community that connections with the natural world are vital to digital well-being, both now and in the future. This same community needs to pay attention to biophilia and to its implementation in biophilic design. With the help of biophilic insights, we can connect the planet beneath our feet with the planet inside our machines.

 


Perversions

Atheists and homosexuals were called perverts once. Why do we still see perversion where no harm is done?

by  Jesse Bering
Reclining Boy (1913) by Egon Schiele. Leopold Foundation, Vienna. Photo by CorbisReclining Boy (1913) by Egon Schiele. Leopold Foundation, Vienna. Photo by Corbis

Jesse Bering is a former academic in psychology whose writing has appeared in Scientific American, Slate and The Guardian, among others. His latest book is Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us (2013).

Perverts weren’t always the libidinous bogeymen we imagine when we think of the term today. Sexual mores have certainly shifted dramatically over the course of history and across societies, but the very word ‘pervert’ once literally meant something else entirely to what it does now. For example, the peculiar discovery that some peasant during the reign of Charles II used conch shells for anal gratification or inhaled a stolen batch of ladies’ corsets while touching himself in the town square would have been merely coincidental to any accusations of his being perverted (though it wouldn’t have helped his case). Seventeenth-century terms such as ‘skellum’ (scoundrel) or reference to his ‘mundungus’ (smelly entrails) might have applied, but calling this man a ‘pervert’ for his peccadilloes would have made little sense at the time.

Linguistically, the sexual connotation feels natural. The ring of it — purrrvert — is at once melodious and cloying, producing a noticeable snarl on the speaker’s face, while the image of a lecherous child molester, a trench-coated flasher in a park, a drooling pornographer, or perhaps a serial rapist pops into one’s head. Yet as Shakespeare might remind us, a pervert by any other name would smell as foul. For the longest time, in fact, to be a pervert wasn’t to be a sexual deviant; it was to be an atheist.

In 1656, the British lexicographer Thomas Blount included the following entry for the verb ‘pervert’ in his Glossographia (a book also known by the more cumbersome title A Dictionary Interpreting the Hard Words of Whatsoever Language Now Used in Our Refined English Tongue): ‘to turn upside down, to debauch, or seduce’. No doubt all of these activities occur in your typical suburban bedroom today. But it’s only by dint of our post-Victorian minds that we perceive these types of naughty winks in the definition of a term that was floating around the old English countryside. In Blount’s time, and for several hundred years after he was dead and buried, a pervert was simply a headstrong apostate who had turned his or her back on the draconian morality of the medieval Church, thereby ‘seducing’ others into a godless lifestyle.

If we applied this original definition to the present iconoclastic world of science, one of the most recognisable perverts in the world today would be the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. As the author of The God Delusion (2006) and an active proselytiser of atheism, Dawkins encourages his fellow rationalists to ‘turn away from’ canonical religious teachings. As I’ve written my own scientific atheistic screed, I’m not casting stones. I’m proudly in possession of a perverted nature that fits both the archaic use of the term, due to my atheism, and its more recent pejorative use, due to my homosexuality.

Only at the tail end of the 19th century did the word ‘pervert’ first leap from the histrionic sermons of fiery preachers into the heady, clinical discourses of stuffy European sexologists. Today, the term is more likely to be used less as a diagnosis and more as an insult, hurled at the likes of sex offenders. This gradual semantic migration of perverts, from the church pews to the psychiatric clinic to the online comments section of salacious news stories, hasn’t occurred without the clattering bones of medieval religious morality dragging behind. Notice that the suffix –vert means, generally, ‘to turn’: hence ‘to convert’ (to turn to another), ‘to revert’ (to return to a previous state), ‘to invert’ (to turn inside out), ‘to pervert’ (to turn away from the right course), and so on. Of those, ‘pervert’ alone has that devilishly malicious core ­— ‘a distinctive quality of obstinacy’, as the Australian psychoanalyst Jon Jureidini has called it in the paper ‘Perversion: An Erotic Form of Hatred or Exciting Avoidance of Reality?’(2001). He goes on: ‘petulance, peevishness … self-willed in a way that distinguishes it from more “innocent” deviations’.

A judge accusing someone of ‘perverting the course of justice’ is referring to a deliberate effort to thwart moral fairness. Similarly, since the modern noun form of ‘pervert’ is synonymous with ‘sex deviant’, the presumption is that the person thus described is a deviant by his (or her) own malicious design. In other words, he is presumed to have wilfully chosen to be sexually aberrant — that’s to say, to go against what is right.

It’s striking how such an emotionally loaded word, one that undergoes almost no change at all for the first 1,000 years of its use, can almost overnight come to mean something so very different, entirely eclipsing its original intent. Exactly how did this word ‘pervert’ go from being a perennial term for the ‘immoral religious heretic’ to referring to the ‘immoral sexual deviant’?

One key reason for this shift can be found in the work of the British scholar Havelock Ellis, who back in 1897 popularised the term ‘pervert’ in his descriptions of patients with atypical sexual desires. Earlier scholars, among them Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the Austro-German psychiatrist regarded by many as the father of studies in deviant sexuality, had already sexualised the term, but Ellis’s accessible writing found a wider general audience and ultimately led to this meaning of ‘pervert’ becoming solidified in the common vernacular.

The provenance of the term in Ellis’s work is still a little hard to follow, because he initially uses ‘perverts’ and ‘perversions’ in the sense of sexual deviancy in a book confusingly titled Sexual Inversion (1897). Co-authored with the gay literary critic John Addington Symonds and published after Symonds’s death, the book was a landmark treatise on the psychological basis of homosexuality. In the authors’ view, ‘sexual inversion’ reflected homosexuality as an inside-out form of the standard erotic pattern. That part is easy enough to understand. Where the language of Ellis and Symonds gets tricky, however, is in their broader use of ‘sexual perversions’ to refer to socially prohibited sexual behaviours, of which ‘sexual inversion’ (or homosexuality) was just one. Other classic types of perversions included polygamy, bestiality, and prostitution. The authors adopted this religious language not because they personally believed homosexuality to be abnormal and therefore wrong (quite the opposite, since their naturalistic approach was among the first to identify such behaviours in other animals) but only to note that it was salient among the categories of sexuality frequently depicted as ‘against what is right’ or sinful. Theirs was merely an observation about how gays and lesbians (‘inverts’) were seen by most of society.

Curiously enough, Ellis, the scientist of the pair, and the one usually credited with christening homosexuals as sex ‘perverts’, had his own unique predilection. Ellis’s urophilia — a strong sexual attraction to urine, or to people who are in the process of urinating — is documented in his various notes and letters. In correspondence with a close female acquaintance, Ellis chided the woman for forgetting her purse at his house, adding saucily: ‘I’ve no objection to your leaving liquid gold behind.’ He gave in to these desires openly and even fancied himself a connoisseur of pisseuses, writing in his autobiography: ‘I may be regarded as a pioneer in the recognition of the beauty of the natural act in women when carried out in the erect attitude.’ In his later years, this ‘divine stream’, as he called it, proved the cure for Ellis’s impotence: the image of an upright, urinating woman was the only thing that could turn him on. And he was entirely unashamed of this sexual quirk: ‘It was never to me vulgar, but, rather, an ideal interest, a part of the yet unrecognised loveliness of the world.’ On attempting to analyse his own case (he was a sexologist, after all), Ellis concluded: ‘[It’s] not extremely uncommon … it has been noted of men of high intellectual distinction.’ He was also convinced that men with high-pitched voices were generally more intelligent than baritones. That Ellis himself was a rare high tenor might have had something to do with that curious hypothesis as well.

Ellis was among a handful of pioneering sexologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had set out to tease apart the complicated strands of human sexuality. Other scholars, among them Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud, as well as Freud’s early follower, the Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel, were similarly committed to this newly objective, amoral empirical approach to sexual deviance. Their writings might seem tainted with bias to us today (and in fact they are) but they also display a genuine concern for those who found themselves, through no doing or choice of their own, feeling aroused in ways that posed major problems in the social conditions under which they lived.

With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex

The early sexologists found themselves confronted by angry purists who believed that their novel scientific endeavours would bring about the collapse of cherished institutions such as marriage, religion, and ‘the family’. Anxieties over such a ‘slippery slope effect’ have been around for a very long time and, in the eyes of these moralists, an objective approach to sexuality threatened all that was good and holy. Conservative scholars saw any neutral evaluation of sex deviants as dangerous, for it legitimised wicked things as ‘natural’ variants of behaviour and lead ‘normal’ people to embrace the unethical lifestyles of the degenerate. Merely giving ‘horrific’ tendencies such as same-sex desires their own proper scientific names made them that much more real to these moralists, and therefore much more threatening. To them, this was the reification of sexual evil. For instance, in 1897 William Noyes, a psychiatrist at the Boston Lunatic Hospital, wrote a scathing review of Ellis and Symonds’s Sexual Inversion in which he chastised the authors for ‘adding 300 more pages to a literature already too flourishing … Apart from its influence on the perverts [homosexuals] themselves no healthy person can read this literature without a lower opinion of human nature, and this result in itself should bid any writer pause.’

Looking back, it’s evident that Ellis and Symonds’s careful distinction between homosexual behaviour and homosexual orientation was an important step in the history of gay rights. It might seem like commonsense today, but these authors disentangled the two elements, which in turn informed our modern understanding of homosexuality as a psychosexual trait (or orientation), not just something that one ‘did’ with the same sex. Their contribution to the way psychiatrists’ think about homosexuality had long-lasting implications for gays and lesbians. On the positive side, homosexuals were no longer perceived (at least by experts) as fallen people who were simply so immoral and licentious that they’d even resort to doing that; instead, they were seen as having a psychological ‘nature’ that made them ‘naturally’ attracted to the same sex rather than to the opposite sex.

On the negative side, this newly recognised nature was also regarded as inherently abnormal or flawed. With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex. Whether or not they ever had homosexual sex, such individuals were now one of ‘those people’. Also, once homosexuality was understood to be an orientation and not just a criminal behaviour, it could be medicalised as a psychiatric condition. For almost a century afterwards, physicians saw gays and lesbians as quite obviously mentally ill. And just as one would treat the pathological symptoms of patients suffering from any mental illness, most clinicians believed that homosexuals should be treated for their unfortunate disorder. Needless to say, such ‘conversion’ treatments, in all their shameful forms, didn’t involve encouraging gays and lesbians to be themselves.

The die had also been cast for the disparaging term pervert and its enduring association with homosexuality. Not so long ago, some Neo-Freudian scholars were still interpreting anal sex among gay men as an unconscious desire in the recipient (or the ‘bottom’) to nip off the other’s penis with his tightened sphincter. ‘In this way, which is so characteristic of the pervert,’ mused the influential South African-born psychoanalyst Mervin Glasser in the paper ‘Identification and its Vicissitudes as Observed in the Perversions’ (1986), ‘he [is] trying to establish his father as an internal object with whom to identify, as an inner ally and bulwark against his powerful mother’. That might sound as scientific to us today as astrology or tarot cards, but considering that Glasser wrote this 13 years after the American Psychiatric Association formally removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, it shows how long the religious moral connotations stuck around, even in clinical circles. Glasser’s bizarre analysis of ‘perverts’ was the type of thing a gay man could expect to hear if he ever sought counselling for his inevitable woes from living in a world that couldn’t decide if he was sick or immoral, so simply saw him as both.

Today, the word pervert just sounds silly, or at least provincial, when used to refer to gays and lesbians. In a growing number of societies, homosexuals are slowly, begrudgingly, being allowed entry into the ranks of the culturally tolerated. But plenty of other sexual minorities remain firmly entrenched in the orientation blacklist. Although, happily, we’re increasingly using science to defend gays and lesbians, deep down most of us (religious or not) still appear to be suffering from the illusion of a creator who set moral limits on the acceptable sexual orientations. Our knee-jerk perception of individuals who similarly have no choice whatsoever over what arouses them sexually (be they paedophiles, exhibitionists, transvestites, or fetishists, to name but a few) is that they’ve wilfully, deliberately, and arrogantly strayed from the right course. In other words, we see them as ‘true perverts’. Whereas gays and lesbians are perceived by more and more people as ‘like normal heterosexuals’ because they didn’t choose to be the way they are, we assume that these others somehow did.

As a society we’ve become so focused on the question of whether a given sexual behaviour is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ that we’ve lost sight of the more important question: Is it harmful? In many ways, it’s an even more challenging question, because although naturalness can be assessed by relatively straightforward queries about statistical averages — for example, ‘How frequently does it appear in other species?’ and ‘In what percentage of the human population does it occur?’ — the experience of harm is largely subjective. As such, it defies direct analyses and requires definitions that resonate with people in vastly different ways.

When it comes to sexual harm in particular, what’s harmful to one person could be not only completely harmless to another but might even, believe it or not, be helpful or positive. A gay Muslim who dies only to find himself in an afterlife thronged with 72 beautiful female virgins, as the Koran promises its faithful, will be in hell, not in heaven. One man’s angels are another’s demons.

Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful

And it’s not just overtly physical sexual acts that can be experienced differently in terms of harm but also entirely ethereal sexual desires. For the religiously devout, this whole conversation is a lost cause. Yet once one abandons the notion that one can ‘commit’ a sin by thinking a thought, it becomes quite clear that sexual desires — no matter how deviant — are intrinsically harmless to the subject of a person’s lust, at least in the physical sense. Mental states are ‘a mere breath on the air’ as the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote. Sexual desires can, of course, be thought bubbles with thorns and wreak havoc on a person’s own well-being (especially when they occur in the heads of those convinced such thoughts come from the devil and yet they just can’t stop having them).

Still, it’s only when this ‘mere breath on the air’ is manifested in behaviour that harm to another person might or might not occur. Treating an individual as a pervert in essence, and hence with a purposefully immoral mind, because his or her brain conjures up atypical erotic ideas, or responds sexually to stimuli that others have deemed inappropriate objects of desire, then becomes medieval in both its stupidity and its cruelty. It’s also entirely counterproductive. For example, research in the 1980s on the ‘white bear effect’ by the social psychologist Daniel Wegner and colleagues at Trinity University in Texas has shown that forcing a person to suppress specific thoughts leads to those very thoughts invading the subject’s consciousness even more than they otherwise would. (Whatever you do, don’t — I repeat, do not — think about a white bear during the next 30 seconds.)

Our critical evaluations should fall upon harmful sexual actions with the heaviest of thuds, but not upon a pituitary excretion that happens to morph into an ethereal image in the private movie theatre of someone’s mind. Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful. If it’s not, and we reject the person anyway, then we’re not the good guys in this scenario: we’re the bad guys.

Excerpted from PERV: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering, to be published  October 8th by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Jesse Bering. All rights reserved.


Operation INFEKTION
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In 1992, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov admitted that the KGB was behind the Soviet newspaper articles claiming that AIDS was created by the US government.[1]

Operation: INFEKTION was a KGB disinformation campaign to spread information that the United States invented HIV/AIDS [2] as part of a biological weapons research project at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The Soviet Union used it to undermine the United States’ credibility, foster anti-Americanism, isolate America abroad, and create tensions between host countries and the U.S. over the presence of American military bases (which were often portrayed as the cause of AIDS outbreaks in local populations).[3]

According to U.S. State Department analysts, another reason the Soviet Union “promoted the AIDS disinformation may have been its attempt to distract international attention away from its own offensive biological warfare program, which [was monitored] for decades”–in addition to anthrax, the Soviets were believed to have developed tularemia, the plague, and cholera for biological warfare purposes, as well as botulinum toxin, enterotoxins, and mycotoxins.[4] An alternative explanation is that the operation may have been in retaliation for American accusations that the Soviets used chemical weapons in Southeast Asia, later dubbed the yellow rain incident.[2]

Story Genesis and Progression

The groundwork appeared in the pro-Soviet Indian newspaper Patriot which, according to a KGB defector named Ilya Dzerkvelov, was set up by the KGB in 1962 “in order to publish disinformation”.[5] An anonymous letter was sent to the editor in July 1983 from a ‘well-known American scientist and anthropologist’, stating that AIDS was manufactured at Fort Detrick by genetic engineers. The ‘scientist’ claimed that “that deadly mysterious disease was believed to be the results of the Pentagon’s experiments to develop new and dangerous biological weapons,” and implicated CDC scientists with being sent to Africa and Latin America to find dangerous viruses alien to Asia and Europe. These results were purportedly analyzed in Atlanta and Fort Detrick and thus the “most likely course of events” leading to the development of AIDS.[6]

The Segal Report

The campaign started in earnest in October 1985 after the story was ignored for two years, with the original article being published again by Literaturnaya Gazeta. To lend credence, the Soviet Union used a pseudo-scientific paper written in 1986 by a retired East German biophysicist named Dr. Jakob Segal, co-authored by his wife Dr. Lilli Segal and Dr. Ronald Dehmlow, at Humboldt University. The report was quoted heavily by Soviet propagandists, and the Segals were often said to be French researchers in order to hide their connections with communism. Dr. Segal postulated that the AIDS virus was synthesized by combining parts of two distantly related retroviruses: VISNA and HTLV-1. [7] An excerpt of the Segal report is as follows:

It is very easy using genetic technologies to unite two parts of completely independent viruses… but who would be interested in doing this? The military, of course… In 1977 a special top security lab… was set up…at the Pentagon’s central biological laboratory. One year after that… the first cases of AIDS occurred in the US, in New York City. How it occurred precisely at this moment and how the virus managed to get out of the secret, hush-hush laboratory is quite easy to understand. Everyone knows that prisoners are used for military experiments in the U.S. They are promised their freedom if they come out of the experiment alive.[8]

Elsewhere in the report, Segal said that his hypothesis was based purely on assumptions, extrapolations, and hearsay and not at all on direct scientific evidence.[9]

Dissemination methods

The AIDS story exploded across the world, and was repeated by Soviet newspapers, magazines, wire services, radio broadcasts, and T.V. It appeared forty times in Soviet media in 1987 alone. It received coverage in over eighty countries in more than thirty languages,[10] primarily in leftist and communist media publications, and was found in countries as wide spread as Bolivia, Grenada, Pakistan, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Malta. A few versions made their way into non-communist press in Indonesian and Philippine press. [11]

Dissemination was usually along a recognized pattern: propaganda and disinformation would first appear in a country outside of the USSR and only then be picked up by a Soviet news agency, which attributed it to others’ investigative journalism. That the story came from a foreign source (not widely known to be Soviet controlled or influenced) added credibility to the allegations, especially in impoverished and less educated countries which generally could not afford access to Western news satellite feeds. To aid in media placement, Soviet propaganda was provided free of charge, and many stories came with cash benefits.[11] This was particularly the case in India and Ghana, where the Soviet Union maintained a large propaganda and disinformation apparatus for covert media placement.[12]

Soviet narrative

To explain how AIDS outbreaks were simultaneously so prevalent in Africa, the Moscow World Service announced that Soviet correspondent Aleksandr Zhukov discovered that in the early 1970s, a Pentagon controlled West German lab in Zaire “succeeded in modifying the non-lethal Green Monkey virus into the deadly AIDS virus.” Radio Moscow also claimed that instead of testing a cholera vaccine, American scientists were actually infecting unwitting Zairians, thus spreading it throughout the continent. These scientists were unaware of the long period before symptom onset, and resumed experimentation on convicts upon return to the US, where it then spread when the prisoners escaped.[13]

Other disinformation campaigns running at the same time made the AIDS accusations more believable. In 1987, Professor Rychkov, the head of the human genetics lab at a Soviet genetics institute, claimed the United States was researching a DNA molecule capable of controlling people’s minds and behavior, and said it was a definitely a possibility that AIDS was made by the U.S. Other allegations were made that included the creation of an ‘ethnic bomb’ to destroy non-whites, and fine-tuning it to target specific age groups and genders. The U.S. was also said to have released killer mosquitoes into Pakistan, violating arms control agreements, trafficking in baby parts, and creating treatment resistant and ultra-deadly strains of dengue fever, malaria, and other tropical illnesses. [14]

Claims that the CIA had sent “AIDS-oiled condoms” to other countries sprang up independently in the African press, well after the operation was started.[2] In 1987, a book (“Once Again About the CIA”) was published by Novosti, with the quote:

The CIA Directorate of Science and Technology[15] is continuously modernizing its inventory of pathogenic preparations, bacteria and viruses and studying their effect on man in various parts of the world. To this end, the CIA uses American medical centers in foreign countries. A case in point was the Pakistani Medical Research Center in Lahore… set up in 1962 allegedly for combating malaria.

The resulting public backlash eventually closed down the legitimate medical research center. Soviet allegations declared the purpose of these research projects, to include that of AIDS, was to ‘enlarge the war arsenal.’[12]

Worldwide Response to AIDS Allegations

Ironically, many Soviet scientists were soliciting help from American researchers to help address the Soviet Union’s burgeoning AIDS problem, while stressing the virus’ natural origins. The U.S. politely refused to help as long as the disinformation campaign continued.[16] The Segal report and the plenitude of press articles were dismissed by both western and Soviet virologists as nonsense. [17]

Dr. Meinrad Koch, a West Berlin AIDS expert, stated in 1987 that the Segal report was ‘utter nonsense’ and called it an ‘evil pseudo-scientific political concoction.’ Other scientists also pointed out flaws and inaccuracies in the Segal report as well, including Dr. Viktor Zhdanov of the Ivanovsky Institute of Virology in Moscow, who was the top Soviet AIDS expert at the time. The president of the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences clearly stated that he believed the virus to be of natural origin. Other scientists and doctors from Paris, East and West Berlin, India, and Belgium called the AIDS rumors lies, scientifically unfounded, and otherwise impossible to seriously consider. [18] Although Segal himself never said ‘this is fact’ and was very careful to maintain this line throughout his report, “such technical qualifiers do not diminish the impact of the charges, however, because when they are replayed, such qualifiers are typically either omitted or overlooked by readers or listeners.”[19]

US Embassy officials wrote dozens of letters to various newspaper editors and journalists, and held meetings and press conferences to clarify matters. Many of their efforts resulted in newspapers printing retractions and apologies.[20] Rebuttals appeared in reports to Congress and from the State Department saying that it was impossible at the time to build a virus as complex as AIDS; medical research had only gotten so far as to clone simple viruses. Antibodies were found decades earlier than the reported research started, and the main academic source used for the story (Segal’s report) contained inaccuracies about even such basic things as American geography—Segal said that outbreaks appeared in New York City because it was the closest big city to Fort Detrick. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. are all closer, while New York is 250 miles away.[19]

The Gorbachev administration also responded indignantly and launched a defensive denial campaign “aimed at limiting the damage done to its credibility by U.S. efforts to raise world consciousness concerning the scope of Soviet disinformation activites”. [12] The Soviet Union interfered with general attempts by US Embassy officials to address misconceptions and expose the Soviet disinformation campaign, to include placing pressure on news agencies that recanted their position. For example, Literaturnaya Gazeta on December 3, 1986, castigated a Brazilian newspaper which earlier in the year had run a retraction following its publication of the AIDS disinformation story. In 1987 “Moscow’s Novosti news agency disseminated a report datelined Brazzaville (Congo), calling on the West to put an end to the ‘anti-African campaign’, and repeating the charges that the virus was created in US military laboratories” while in 1986 Literaturnaya Gazeta warned specifically against contact with Americans. [21]

In 1988, Sovetskaya Rossiya put out an article defending their right to report different views, and the chief of Novosti stated that it drew upon foreign sources for much of the AIDS coverage and the press was free under glasnost.[12] The Mitrokhin Archives reveal that

faced with American protests and the denunciation of the story by the international scientific community, however, Gorbachev and his advisors were clearly concerned that exposure of Soviet disinformation might damage the new Soviet image in the West. In 1987, US officials were told in Moscow that the AIDS story was officially disowned, Soviet press coverage of the story came to an almost complete halt.[22]

The campaign faded from most Soviet media outlets, but it occasionally resurfaced abroad in third world countries as late as 1988, usually via press placement agents.[23]

Aftermath

Fairly recent research shows the ongoing effect on the public mind.

In 1992, 15% of Americans considered it definitely or probably true that “the AIDS virus was created deliberately in a government laboratory.”[2] In 2005, a study by the RAND Corporation and Oregon State University revealed that nearly 50% of African Americans thought AIDS was man-made, over 25% believed AIDS was a product of a government laboratory, 12% believed it was created and spread by the CIA, and 15% believed that AIDS was a form of genocide against black people.[2] Other AIDS conspiracy theories have abounded, and have been discredited by the mainstream scientific community.

In 1992 Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov admitted that the KGB was behind the Soviet newspaper articles claiming that AIDS was created by the US government.[24] The book Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police [25] describes how the Stasi cooperated with the KGB to spread the story.[25]

See also

References

  1. Jump up ^ AIDS as a biological weapon. America.gov (2005)
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Operation INFEKTION – Soviet Bloc Intelligence and Its AIDS Disinformation Campaign. Thomas Boghardt. 2009
  3. Jump up ^ U.S. Department of State. Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87. Washington D.C.: Bureau of Public Affairs, August 1987., pg. 33
  4. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 45
  5. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 34, 44
  6. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 35
  7. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 34-36
  8. Jump up ^ U.S. Department of State. Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1987-1988. Washington D.C.: Bureau of Public Affairs, August 1989., pg. 3
  9. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 35
  10. Jump up ^ U.S. Information Agency. “Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost.” Report to Congress, Washington D.C., March 1988., pg. 10
  11. ^ Jump up to: a b Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 38
  12. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Soviet Influence Activities, 1987-1988., pg. 4
  13. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 3
  14. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 34-35, 39, 42
  15. Jump up ^ This is essentially like saying a hospital’s department of neurosurgery is researching how to give heart-worm medication to cats. The CIA’s Science and Technology department has virtually nothing to do with biological warfare research. See https://www.cia.gov/offices-of-cia/science-technology/index.html for a more accurate description.
  16. Jump up ^ “Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost”., pg. 3
  17. Jump up ^ Ibid., pg. 10
  18. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 36
  19. ^ Jump up to: a b “Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost”., pg. 10-11
  20. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 41-42
  21. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1986-1987., pg. 43, 49
  22. Jump up ^ Andrew and Mitrokhin, 2005., pg. 340
  23. Jump up ^ Soviet Influence Activities, 1987-1988., pg. 3-4
  24. Jump up ^ AIDS as a biological weapon. America.gov (2005)
  25. ^ Jump up to: a b Koehler, John O. (1999) Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police ISBN 0-8133-3409-8

External links