House of Numbers: Anatomy of an Epidemic
House of Numbers: Anatomy of an Epidemic is a 2009 documentary film directed, produced, and hosted by Brent Leung and described by him as an objective examination of the idea that HIV causes AIDS. The film argues that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is harmless and does not cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), a position known as AIDS denialism. The film's claims of impartiality have been widely rejected by scientists, and the film's claims about HIV/AIDS have been dismissed as pseudoscience and conspiracy theory masquerading as even-handed examination.
A group of scientists interviewed for the film later complained that their comments had been misrepresented and taken out of context, and that the film promotes pseudoscience. The film also interviews Christine Maggiore, a prominent AIDS denialist who later died after suffering from AIDS-related conditions.
Production and content
Leung has declined to discuss funding for the film except to state that funders came from "all over the world". In the film, Leung interviews a range of scientists and AIDS denialists, most notably Christine Maggiore. At the time of filming, Maggiore was HIV-positive and appeared healthy, despite her refusal to take anti-retroviral medication, which mainstream medicine uses to slow down the rate at which HIV destroys CD4+ T-cells. As she said in the film, she refused to take the medication, and had not had her daughter, Eliza Jane Scovill, tested, or provided her with medication, because she believed HIV did not cause AIDS. Rather, she believed that the medication itself caused AIDS. Maggiore's relative health, despite years of infection, is used by the film to support the idea that anti-retrovirals are unnecessary to combat, and may themselves cause, AIDS.
Release and aftermath
The film was screened at the multiple small film festivals, including the London Raindance film festival A panel discussion of the film at a Boston film festival was disrupted by Leung and other AIDS denialists in the audience, who attempted to shout down members of the panel with whom they disagreed.
Both Maggiore and her daughter died of AIDS-related complications before the film's release, although their deaths are mentioned only in small print during the closing credits along with a claim that Maggiore's death was "unrelated to HIV." Maggiore's daughter died in September 2005 of AIDS-related infections, although Maggiore rejected the cause of death and argued that the coroner's report was politically motivated. Maggiore herself died in December 2008 from AIDS-related opportunistic infections.
Eighteen scientists interviewed in the film stated that their answers to Leung's questions were selectively edited to convey a false sense that the scientific community disagrees on basic facts about HIV/AIDS. Two interviewees, Neil Constantine and Robin Weiss, cite examples supporting the allegation that Leung misrepresented their words in a "surely intentional" manner. Brent Leung denied taking quotes out of context.
The film's promotion of AIDS denialism, a pseudoscientific movement implicated in thousands of deaths, drew criticism and anger. The New York Times characterized the film as "a weaselly support pamphlet for AIDS denialists", "willfully ignorant", and "a globe-trotting pseudo-investigation that should raise the hackles of anyone with even a glancing knowledge of the basic rules of reasoning." The Wall Street Journal cited the film as part of "this season's fashion in conspiracy theories." The Portland Oregonian criticized Leung for "not being entirely honest with viewers," and decried the film's reliance on "selective editing, anomalies and anecdotes, unsupported conclusions... and suppression of inconvenient facts."
Reaction from the scientific community was similarly negative. Lancet Infectious Diseases criticized the film's arguments, calling them a "toxic combination of misrepresentation and sophistry." AIDSTruth.org, a website created by HIV researchers to address AIDS denialism, criticized the film for concealing its "agenda behind a false veneer of honest inquiry", and published a rebuttal to some of the film's claims. Ben Goldacre, writing in The Guardian, described House of Numbers as "a dreary and pernicious piece of Aids denialist propaganda."
In February 2014 several people involved with the film filed DMCA notices against a YouTube science blogger named Myles Power, who had made a video series debunking claims made in the film. Power argued that the film was fair use as criticism and education. Several commentators described the notices as attempted censorship. The videos were restored several days later.
- Jacobs, Ethan (April 22, 2009). "Crazy 'House'". Bay Windows. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
- Specter, Michael (Oct 29, 2009). Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives. Penguin. ISBN 9780715639436. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- Goldacre, Ben (September 26, 2009). "House of Numbers". The Guardian. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
- Catsoulis, Jeanette (4 September 2009). "AIDS Seen From a Different Angle". New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Burki T (2009). "House of Numbers". Lancet Infect Dis. 9 (12): 735. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(09)70316-0.
- David Aaronovitch (2009-12-19). "A Conspiracy-Theory Theory. How to fend off the people who insist they know the 'real story' behind everything". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-12-21.
- "Christine Maggiore died of AIDS". AIDStruth.org. 2009-03-09. Retrieved 2011-02-01. Death certificate.
- Ridley, Jim (2009-05-07). "Controversy lingers after premiere of Nashville director's AIDS documentary". Nashville Scene. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
- Ornstein, Charles; Costello, Daniel (September 24, 2005). "A Mother's Denial, a Daughter's Death". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- "Did HIV-Positive Mom's Beliefs Put Her Children at Risk?". ABC News. December 8, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- "Christine Maggiore died of AIDS". AIDStruth.org. March 9, 2009. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- "Constantine and Weiss pinpoint misrepresentations". Aidstruth.org. November 26, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2009.
- Rivera, Jeff (August 28, 2009). "Filmmaker, Brent Leung Responds to Huffpo Blogger, Thomas DeLorenzo". Huffington Post.
- Boseley, Sarah (November 26, 2008). "Mbeki Aids denial 'caused 300,000 deaths'". The Guardian.
- Ridley, Jim (April 29, 2009). "For the Nashville Film Festival, there's clearly life after 40". Nashville Scene. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
- Hall, Stan (January 21, 2010). "'House of Numbers' blurs facts on HIV". Portland Oregonian. OregonLive.com. Retrieved May 10, 2010.
- Cohen J (2007). "HIV/AIDS. AIDSTruth.org Web site takes aim at 'denialists'". Science. 316 (5831): 1554. doi:10.1126/science.316.5831.1554. PMID 17569834.
- Bergman, Jeanne (September 10, 2009). "Real Answers to the Fake Questions in "House of Numbers"". Aidstruth.org. Retrieved September 22, 2009.
- Palmer, Ewan (February 17, 2014). "YouTube to Terminate Account of Scientist who Debunked Aids Denialist Movie". International Business Times. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- Geigner, Timothy (February 14, 2014). "AIDS Denial Crazies Go All DMCA On Videos Educating People Of Their Craziness". Techdirt. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- McSherry, Corynne (February 18, 2014). "New Entrants in the Takedown Hall of Shame: AIDS Deniers and Televangelists (Updated)". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- Kobie, Nicole (February 17, 2014). "Censorship by copyright: Myles Powers and abuse of DMCA takedowns". PC Pro. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- Palmer, Ewan (February 19, 2014). "Scientist's YouTube Account Remains Open Following Aids Denialist Censorship Claims". International Business Times. Retrieved April 17, 2015.