Meet the world’s most influential witchdoctor

18 03 2009

From The Guardian:

The Pope today reignited the controversy over the Catholic church’s stance on condom use as he made his first trip to Africa.

The pontiff said condoms were not the answer to the continent’s fight against HIV and Aids and could make the problem worse.

Benedict XVI made his comments as he flew to Cameroon for the first leg of a six-day trip that will also see him travelling to Angola.

The timing of his remarks outraged health agencies trying to halt the spread of HIV and Aids in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 22 million people are infected.

The Roman Catholic church encourages sexual abstinence and fidelity to prevent the disease from spreading, but it is a policy that has divided some clergy working with Aids patients.

The pontiff, speaking to journalists on his flight, said the condition was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.

Rebecca Hodes, of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, said that if the Pope was serious about preventing new HIV infections he would focus on promoting wider access to condoms and spreading information about how best to use them.

Hodes, the director of policy, communication and research for the campaign group, added: “Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans.”

Millions of lives are at stake owing to the sad fact that this man’s ill-informed and anti-scientific utterances are taken seriously. (That, compounded with the—hopefully diminishing—human desire to flush one’s brain down the toilet, ignore reality and prostrate oneself before dogma and self-appointed authority.)


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9 responses

8 04 2009
Glenn

Your response here seems rather automated, especially the rather knee jerk use of the term “anti-scientific.”

In this particular case, the science is against you and you’ve been caught uttering a bit o a mantra there.

In your eagerness to point out how the science is against me, you’ve forgotten to include a link.
— AV

8 04 2009
Bruce

The link doesn’t work, Glenn. At least not for me.

Any chance of the URL being posted in plain text, rather than a link?

8 04 2009
8 04 2009
arthurvandelay

. . . so let me help you. I think you may be referring to this Washington Post article by Edward C. Green of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Green gives qualified support to what he represents as the Pope’s position—that condoms are not helping, and may be contributing to the AIDS crisis in Africa. He cites several studies which have found no evidence of the effectiveness of condom use “as a primary intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa.” He emphasises that his comments are restricted to the use of condoms as a prevention strategy in Africa, and points out that in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, condom prevention has worked.

Green goes on to list some of the factors that he thinks might contribute to the ineffectiveness of condoms as a primary intervention in Africa: they might encourage individuals to engage in riskier sexual practices, and their use within steady relationships might imply a lack of trust. A third factor, Green suggests, is the trend among a significant proportion of the population in some African countries towards multiple concurrent sex partnerships. He notes that strategies aimed at the promotion of fidelity within monogamous or polygamous relationships have worked in the fight to stem AIDS in Africa.

However:

Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship. This was a key point in a 2004 “consensus statement” published and endorsed by some 150 global AIDS experts, including representatives the United Nations, World Health Organization and World Bank. These experts also affirmed that for sexually active adults, the first priority should be to promote mutual fidelity. Moreover, liberals and conservatives agree that condoms cannot address challenges that remain critical in Africa such as cross-generational sex, gender inequality and an end to domestic violence, rape and sexual coercion.

Sounds fair enough to me, and I’m not aware that I’ve said anything to the contrary.

Why do I call the Pope’s stance unscientific? Because it is not based on any scientific study—it emerges from a prior commitment to a religious doctrine. It would remain the same regardless of what the studies Green refers to actually say, unless one is seriously proposing that the Pope would endorse condom use in Thailand and Cambodia, where it has been effective.

8 04 2009
arthurvandelay

In short, I’m not sure exactly how “the science is against me.”

The medical journal the Lancet had this to say about the Pope’s remarks, which it described as “wildly inaccurate”:

By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/Aids, the pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine.

“Whether the pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear … When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/Aids worldwide.

10 04 2009
Bruce

Misinterpretation of Green. How did I know that was coming, lol?

Michael J. Bayly dealt with this set of cannards deftly in the comments here the other week.

In short, Green’s assertions don’t actually back up what the Pope is saying.

This kind of error is bound to pop up when people start sifting through scientific literature for confirmatory evidence, instead of taking the full body of disconfirmatory evidence into account – which has obviously in the case of Green, been left out by those citing him in support of the Pope. It’s called confirmation bias and it’s not scientific.

So no, Green’s science isn’t against AV.

10 04 2009
Glenn

Green (in the article that he personally wrote): The “empirical facts” support the Pope’s comments about Africa.

Me: According to Green, the “science” supports what the Pope said about Africa.

Bruce: “Misinterpretation of Green. How did I know that was coming, lol?”

Me: O… K….

10 04 2009
Glenn

Oh and Bruce, I didn’t forget the link. it just doesn’t work for some reason. Hover over it, you’ll see what I mean.

10 04 2009
Glenn

Why oh why can’t we edit posts that we have written?

I wanted to edit the above post to say: Whoops, not Bruce, the other guy.

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