Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Yorker Omits 
Scary HIV Ads Research Links

Michael Specter is the longtime science reporter for the New Yorker and he's friends with Larry Kramer, so it's not surprising he's written about Larry's latest rants lauding the controversial fear-driven creepy 30-second HIV prevention ad from the NYC Department of Health, and the piece is favorably biased toward Larry and his 1980s-era hysterics.

Picking up on that alarm, Specter also invokes bathhouses and the tired notion that shutting them equals good prevention.

Those biases aren't my main concern, though. Here's the big part irritating me:

Nasty messages are unpleasant and they don’t always work. But they do work sometimes, and there is research to suggest in cases like this, where it has become easy to shrug off the truth, harsh reminders are particularly effective. (You can find a series of exchanges that stakes out the positions of each side in great detail here.)

Ok, where are the links to the research showing that fear-driven HIV prevention social marketing campaigns targeting gay men are effective? How does Specter define effectiveness? Is it more HIV testing rates, increased condom usage, fewer HIV infections, other measurable outcomes?

These questions were posed to Specter in an email, but I've not heard back from him. Given the holiday season, he may not be checking email often, and if he eventually replies, I'll post his response.

My recent effort to persuade Project Inform's executive director Dana Van Gorder to produce studies he says exist proving deep loneliness among San Francisco gays, and his failure to make the research available, is related to the issues I'm having with the New Yorker and its writer.

Notice that Specter omits links to any research backing up the effectiveness claim, but he does link to a chat-board containing one Kramer email, a note from a gay doctor backing him up and a press release from GMHC/GLAAD. That link helps inform the debate about HIV prevention today, but there's no link to any of the research he says exists.

The public discussion over the alarmist NYC DOH ad is put at a great disadvantage with hard research omitted by Specter. I'm not saying a fear-driven campaign can't work. It might, but I would like the backers of such campaign to produce their evidence with links to studies.

Finally, allow me to say, as a 51-year-old gay man who has dealt with too many personal and political fears in my lifetime, especially in the past 29 years of the AIDS crisis and the fear of me as a fag with AIDS by many medical professionals, the effing last damn thing I want is for a discussion about gay health between poz and negative men is for it to be based on fear.

The New Yorker's headline, "When Fear is Good," is outrageous and no community - be it women, Latinos, blacks, immigrants - should ever be asked to accept fear as a healthy basis for the foundation to effective health care and sexual choices.

1 comment:

Ken Howard, LCSW said...

As a 20-year HIV survivor, HIV mental health expert, and activist, I am deeply offended by these BULLSHIT scare tactics that NO other minority community would ever tolerate!

I say rise, rise up, and condemn these "campaigns" for what they are: internalized homophobia and 1981-era HIV/AIDS phobia at its worst!