Conspiracy theorists are both amusing and sad people. Michael Shermer writes a lot about the conspiracy theorist mentality in his book "Why People Believe Strange Things", which I'd suggest for a more comprehensive view on this topic.
I've noticed that when you keep pushing a conspiracy theorist to back up his or her claims about something, eventually you'll discover some underlying emotional cause that drives the whole belief in the first place. For example, the "vaccines cause autism" goons are typically parents who, like most parents, are completely paranoid about the health of their children. Holocaust "revisionists" are invariably anti-Semetic when you get right down to it. Lunar Hoax Advocates (people who believe that the moon landing was faked in a film studio) typically have a compulsive hatred and distrust of the US government. I've also noticed that if you don't take the same position as they do, then YOU'RE made out to sound like the irrational bad guy, as if there's no middle ground. ("What are you saying, that I shouldn't be concerned about my kid's health?!?", "Oh, well do you think Jews deserve a free pass when it comes to [this and that]?", "Oh, do you just blindly believe whatever the government tells you?")
Recently I saw a massively shared pic on Facebook (where else?) stating, "Although 25 million people have died from AIDS, and even more are living with HIV/AIDS, the US government patented a cure in 1996. US Patent 5,676,977".
Geez, where to begin?
- First, let's look at the implied message, and the reason why people share this pic on social networking sites. The message implied here is that a cure for AIDS has been known since at least 1996, that the US government knows about this and even found it themselves (they patented the idea, after all), but isn't letting people use it. Why? Well, I guess because the government is just evil and doesn't care.
- Like a lot of conspiracy theories, the underlying stories and motivations don't seem to be very consistent. Some claim that the government secretly create the disease in the first place, while others claim that the disease itself is just a myth and a scare tactic used by the government. Also, if the government is supposedly only out to control people and take their money, then why wouldn't they be employing this cure, and thus make billions of dollars on selling the treatment? For that matter, it's doubtful that nobody else in the medical industry has seen this patent in the 18 years of its existence, so why hasn't anybody else been getting use of the patent to make millions? I'm sure the conspiracy theorists can make up newer details of the conspiracy to rationalize these inconsistencies away.
- All a patent means is that somebody patened the idea. There are lots of silly patents to things that range from the ridiculous to the physically impossible, like time machines and several unworkable hydraulic machines, not to mention quack tonics circa 1900. Should we claim that the government is "hiding" these things from us too? Not to mention, doing a poor job at hiding them if any schmuck with an internet connection can find them within a few minutes?
- What do they mean by "the US government patented a cure"? Do they mean they "patented" it as in "they came up with the idea and filed for the patent", or "they received the patent application from somebody, and passed it"? If it's the latter, well, that's the job of the US Patent and Trademark Office anyway. But it seems like they're trying to imply that "the government" (naturally, they don't mention which official or department specificially) came up with the idea. The actual patent doesn't seem to imply this. And what does US Patent 5,676,977 say in the first place?
- Here's a link to the actual patent. If you read it, you'll see that it's a patent on a specific type of treatment for AIDS patients, namely "with tetrasilver tetroxide molecular crystal devices". The patent is owned by Marvis S. Antelman of Antelman Technologies Ltd. I've tried searching around for this Antelman Technologies group, and all I seem to get are conspiracy theory articles about this same patent. That makes me suspect that "Antelman Technologies Ltd." is a one-man show, but I digress; it's not "the government". You can see a scan of the original paper if you click on "images", then use the gold arrow buttons on the left to navigate through the 4 pages.
So is it a cure? Well, the paper seems to indicate that two groups of 5 people got single injections and were cured. Aside from one who died, that is. And 9 of them got liver inflamations. The paper says that there was a control group too, but the data for that doesn't seem to be listed. Also, " The rationale for selecting them was based on facts presented in an article by Peter H. Duesberg and Brian J. Ellison entitled "Is The AIDS Virus A Science Fiction?" (Policy Review, Summer 1990 pp. 40-51)", which sounds a little supicious to say the least. I'm no health expert, but at the very least it sounds like more trials than this one from 1996 would have to be done. Then again, maybe people have already done just that and found out that there really wasn't a cure in this at all. But it's so much easier to make up and believe in a fascinating government cover-up story.