Wednesday, November 21, 2007

AIDS and the global warming connection.

There is a connection between AIDS and global warming that many people don’t quite understand.

Recently the United Nations AIDS agency is planning a big announcement this week. Basically they are saying that the AIDS epidemic has slowed down much more than they expected. But they also appear ready to reduce the official statistics regarding the number of world AIDS cases.

Previously they were saying that new HIV infections were increasing by approximately 4 million per year. The new numbers indicate that 2.5 million new infections are taking place instead. That is a decrease of 40% from what they claimed last year.

A year ago they estimated that 40 million people were infected globally. By today their estimate would have had the number at 44 million if their previous projections were correct. They now say that the total infections are 33 million. But the Washington Post notes that the critics of UN claims on AIDS are still unhappy. They believe the numbers are still being exaggerated. The Post reports:
Having millions fewer people with a lethal contagious disease is good news. Some researchers, however, contend that persistent overestimates in the widely quoted U.N. reports have long skewed funding decisions and obscured potential lessons about how to slow the spread of HIV. Critics have also said that U.N. officials overstated the extent of the epidemic to help gather political and financial support for combating AIDS. "There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fund-raising agenda," said Helen Epstein, author of "The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS." "I hope these new numbers will help refocus the response in a more pragmatic way."
Officials at the UN not only continued this alarmist campaign but escalated it. Dr. Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS, just last year warned the world that “the pandemic and its toll are outstripping the worst predictions.” The Post says this was in spite of “several years' worth of newer, more accurate studies already offered substantial evidence that the agency's tools for measuring and predicting the course of the epidemic were flawed.”

The UN officials had models which they designed to predict the future course of the epidemic. But such models rarely reflect reality. The knowledge to create a decent model is diffused around the world with far too many factors to be considered. At best the modelers can hope that they create something that is merely a very rough approximate of reality.

James Chin, formerly of the World Health Organization, says the estimates based on these models are probably still way off. The hacking off of 25% of the numbers isn’t enough. He thinks it ought to be reduced a further 25%, down to 25 million world wide. Chin, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, explained the reason for this alarmism in an article he wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Without a constant flow of alarming news releases warning about HIV being on the brink of spreading into general populations, AIDS activists fear that the public and policy makers will not continue to give AIDS programs the highest priority -- hence these "glorious myths," lies told for a noble cause. This alarmism goes against all the evidence. Global and regional HIV rates have remained stable or have been decreasing during the past decade (except possibly among drug users in Eastern Europe). HIV has remained concentrated in groups with the riskiest behavior. Several decades of experience support the conclusion that HIV is incapable of epidemic spread among the vast majority of heterosexuals.
Chin believes the panic-mongering is distorting the response to AIDS and causing billions of dollars to be wasted in areas where it will have little impact. Only a realistic appraisal of the problem allows one to focus attention on the proper areas of concern. Chin says the numbers were inflated “in an effort to get more and more money.”

So why is this alarmism finally dying out? The AIDS numbers on the ground simply continue to fail to match the model. For a couple of decades the AIDS interest groups insisted the problem was far more pervasive and threatening than it really was. And they kept referring to their models and what they predicted would happen to scare up the resources they felt they needed to address the issue.

Having spent a large portion of the last few decades living in Africa I paid attention to the numbers and I could see problems. The population growth rates did not seem to reflect the death rates which we were supposed to be experiencing in Africa. That was something that I never saw addressed. There was also too much corruption of the local numbers. A batch of patients with TB were simply not as valuable to the government as if they were relabelled as AIDS patients. The amount of funds available to them to deal with AIDS was greater than the amount available for tuberculoses. Similarly I recently spoke to a friend in Africa who told of an orphanage that he knew of. They were having financial problems raising the funds necessary to care for the children they had. They allegedly changed their focus and told people they were helping “AIDS orphans” and found that the funds available to them increased dramatically.

There were just too many incentives in the political structure to label a death as AIDS related when it wasn’t. And that meant the models had been built on assumptions that were distorted by the incentives provided. Yet the modelers were attempting to do good. But one problem with focusing on problems is that by focusing on it you convince yourself that it is far worse than it really is. You read reports that verify what you already assume. And you write your report and throw it into the hopper with the others. Someone else comes along and analyzes the reports and announces that the consensus is that the world is facing an pandemic with mounting deaths. In fact AIDS deaths have been dropping and so have the infection rates. And it is only that reality that put the models into check.

Similar problems exist, I believe, with global warming theories. The assumed problems are based on projections from models, models that are flawed because no one on earth understands all the intricacies that create climate change. No model can accurately take these processes, be they anthropogenic or natural, in account.

The AIDS models were flawed and so were the numbers they produced. They had the material by which to prove them wrong -- that is they projected trends over the short term and the reality on the ground contradicted the trends they predicted. But this the problem with global warming models. They invariably predict the climate in a century. In other words it will take one hundreds years to prove them wrong. William Gray, Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, says of the global warming modelers:
...dare not make public short-period global temperature forecasts for next season, next year, or a few years hence. This is because they know they do not have short range forecast skill. They would lose credibility if they issue forecasts hat could actually be verified. These climate modelers live largely in a ‘virtual world’ of their own making where reality and model skill is determined largely by the modelers themselves.
There was a passionate, well-intentioned (for the most part) campaign to make people aware of the problems and dangers of AIDS. I too marched in AIDS candlelight vigils. I think now of some friends who died and others who are infected but apparently thriving. The AIDS quilt project had its offices between my home and my work and I would walk past it almost daily. AIDS was, and is, certainly real. That didn’t make the models about AIDS correct nor did it make the illness as threatening to the world as it was said to be. But it did threaten people and it still does. Only a realistic appraisal of the disease allows us to prevent it and alarmism is not conducive to clear thinking.

Global warming is intensely alarmist in nature. It has all the flaws that the AIDS alarmism had. And the short term data in recent years may be indicating that the models are wrong. My problem is that I have no confidence in the ability of fallible modelers to accumulate in one equation all the complex realities that determine climate trends. IPCC author Dr. John Christy explains it this way: “Mother Nature is incredibly complex, and to think we mortals are so clever and so perceptive that we can create computer code that accurately reproduces the millions of processes that determine climate is hubris (think of predicting the complexities of clouds).”

It was the discrepancy between the hard data and the models that were behind the revision of the alarmist statements about AIDS. I suspect that given enough time discrepancies between global warming models and hard data will do the same. I also think that those warming alarmists who are politically motivated know this. And that is one reason I suspect that they will get more extreme in their projections and hysteria. If they don’t scare the world into adopting their solutions now the data may finally put an end to their campaign. So I expect the shrill pronouncements to reach higher decibel levels the longer this discrepancy between data and projections continues.

What would seem persuasive to me, regarding such models, is models that are reasonably accurate over short and moderate periods of time. Surely these models can’t exist in a vacuum and have to be tested against the actual data. And if the data and the models don’t correspond it is the models that have to be thrown out -- and I dare say the policies that are built on those models as well.

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