Researcher Backs Pope, Both Are Still Wrong

Not long after the Pope’s comments about how condoms “worsen” the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we have Dr. Edward Green backing up the Pope.

There are obvious problems with this article, the first being that the headline calls Green a “Harvard” researcher – as opposed to what, a Yale researcher? The fact that they’re using Harvard to indicate intelligence and reputability immediately elucidates the likelihood that the whole article is constructed as a puff piece to back up the Pope’s statement (not a surprise, though, as it is in the Catholic News Agency, after all).

Green is a reputable doctor, though, with over 30 years of experience in AIDS prevention research. He’s authored five books. What’s frustrating is that someone so reputable, who has clearly put significant time and effort into putting an end to a horrible epidemic, could be so misguided. His comments are even eerily conspiratorial:

Green recalls that when the AIDS epidemic hit Africa, the “Industry” began using AIDS as a “dual purpose” marketing strategy to get more funding for condom distribution. This, he claims, effectively took “something that was a 2nd or 3rd grade device for avoiding unwanted pregnancies” and turned it into the “best weapon we [had] against AIDS.”

But the crux of his argument hinges on risk compensation:

“[Risk compensation] is the idea that if somebody is using a certain technology to reduce risk, a phenomenon actually occurs where people are willing to take on greater risk. The idea can be related to someone that puts on sun block and is willing to stay out in the sun longer because they have added protection. In this case, however, the greater risk is sexual. Because people are willing take on more risk, they may ‘disproportionally erase’ the benefits of condom use.”

The article doesn’t provide any statistics to back up his statement, so it’s difficult to take him seriously. Arguing about risk compensation is tricky, too. Do people who purchase cars with safety features drive more recklessly? Do those who get flu shots put themselves in reckless situations, where they’re more likely to get the flu? If the answers to both of these questions are affirmative, should we then abandon our safety measures (seat belts and airbags in cars, flu shots) if they increase risky behavior? Are we better of in an accident with or without seatbelts?

Condom use is encouraged because people are engaging in risky behavior to begin with (just like they are by driving), and it’s the safest response to the risky behavior (like safety measures in a car). The doctor’s argument is, in a way, a fallacy. An increase in risky behavior caused by safety measures doesn’t necessarily mean we should abandon the measures that make the risky behaviors safer. The argument can spin your head around.

Uganda is commonly cited as an example of abstinence policies working to prevent AIDS (Green even uses it as an example), although condoms actually played an important part in the success there.

It’s frustrating that someone so experienced could let ideology guide them so. The facts about condom use clearly contradict what Green says.

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  • invalid-0

    Greene is the ideologue of the ideologues and did a stint during Bush’s reign on the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Referring to him as a “reputable doctor” is way too far a stretch. True, he once was someone who saw the evidence for what it is, but having drunk the Bush Administration’s kool-aid and thier in-kind elevation of him as a primary man of science for their cause, it is now time to let him fall back into the obscurity that is so well deserved…or better yet, let him go be a spokesperson for the Vatican.

  • invalid-0

    Abstinence will only work in a perfect world, asking people to not have sex is like telling someone with a computer not to go online because they might get a virus on their computer.

  • invalid-0

    about stats: just a little google search should bring you to the right places, where you can see straight connection between condom promotions and and increasing AIDS rate. not afrika, but very striking are the number if thailand and the philippines are compared.

  • invalid-0

    I see some interesting points, but the internet virus and flu shot examples above fall short when you consider the practice of isolation or quarantine by IT professionals or the Center for Disease Control when facing an eminent threat.

    I probably would have believed the vehement and illogical rebuttals of Edward Green’s study, had they not been prefaced by obvious bias against religion and the viability of abstinence. Obviously, the practice of abstinence always works against AIDS if and only if it utilized. However, the same cannot be said about condoms. A minor google search on “success of AIDS prevention Uganda” will confirm the validity and spirit with which Green published his observations.

    Truth that transforms ideological rhetoric is particularly uncomfortable to process. Likewise, Dr. Green’s research is, nevertheless, congruent with what has occurred in the country of Uganda for the past decade. After reading numerous articles about AIDS prevention around the world from Vietnam, Thailand, India, to Uganda, it appears that the latter’s national and comprehensive AIDS prevention program seems to be the least politically correct and yet refreshingly effective for a people group whose median age is 15. It is unfortunate that many who enjoy Western prosperity rarely understand third world countries. Unlike anything that we in the U.S. could ever promote in our tolerant but practically deadly society, Uganda’s success in preventing AIDS is difficult to refute (see link below):

    Benjamin Franklin was quoted as having coined the phrase “…definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

    Green’s research is not so much a threat to condom advocates as it is a wake up call for the world to stop the insanity, think and try other things. The Pope may have his own agenda, but those who want to live also have their own agenda that we often miss in the midst of our lofty debates.

    For those of you who are quick to discredit Green’s work, the following article at NPR( ) makes a salient point.

    Hope this helps. -jb

    D.C. HIV/AIDS Rate Higher Than West Africa

    Tell Me More, March 18, 2009 · According to a new report issued by Washington, D.C., officials, the HIV rate in the nation’s capital is the highest in the country. Nearly 3 percent of the city’s residents are living with HIV/AIDS, a rate higher than in West Africa. Cornelius Baker, formerly of Washington’s renowned Whitman-Walker clinic, and Patricia Nalls, of The Women’s Collective, discuss the epidemic.

  • invalid-0

    YOU are actually wrong – the pope said RISK. as a qualified actuary (which means i own u wen it comes to anything quantitative), i can tell u there is risk (of improving or worsening aids rates). there r numerous studies, incl by cambridge uni and uni of california, further supporting green and the pope’s comments:

    the pope has a right to discuss philosophy, which is something we all rely on ontologically and ethically to define our lives and decisions. a key reason for china defining human rights differently is due to different philosophies.

    u and others have chosen to demonstrate bias by persecuting him for discussing philosophy. he states a scientific fact (there is risk) and then discusses philosophy, and u attack him. u dont attack groups who only distribute condoms and ignore abstinence+faithfulness education.

    lynching mobs, witch hunters, communist hunters, racism… and then u.

  • invalid-0

    As a qualified actuary, you should be looking at all the facts. The fact is, abstinence is unrealistic in societies in which rape runs rampant, as in the civil wars we have seen over the past 20 years. Faithfulness goes only so far when a wife gets HIV from a husband who strays and sees prostitutes. Is it her punishment for being a woman, or for not picking (assuming she had an option) a better husband? Condoms should be used any time sex is not intended to produce pregnancy. They are the most effective weapon we *currently* have to reduce the risk of HIV infection. It would be nice if we could come up with a better, easier to use weapon. But right now, condoms are it.

    • invalid-0

      uve tried to rebuke my points by talking about a new & different topic. i stuck to the 2 issues – the pope’s scientific statement and right to discuss philosophy. by failing to stick to the topic and moving onto a new topic (abstinence/faithfulness as failed solutions and condoms as the solution) u r conceeding that i am right – ie the author of this article not only is wrong for saying the pope’s scientific risk statement is incorrect, but the author is also an intolerant, aggressive witch hunter.

      u have also failed to provide definitive scientific evidence that condoms r the ‘best’ current solution. the evidence in numerous papers (one of which i cited) is pointing towards abstinence and particularly faithfulness (non-concurrent sexual relations) as the two most effective solutions in isolation at a population level. The recommendation of Green and many are a package of those two items followed by condoms if necessary (ABC).

      Its quite remarkable how wilfully u write off abstinence and faithfulness as solutions noting outlying examples of rape and non-faithfulness proving that faithfulness doesnt work (??). but the mention of any criticism of the condoms solution and u r shooting missiles and shouting for heads to roll. some ppl struggle with objectivity. on a site that frames abortion as ‘reproductive health’, im not surprised

      notice how the pope never said that the ideal philosophy he talks about is a solution for those who will definitely choose to ignore it. thus, he is talking about philosophy (and how it relates to aids spreading), not about a comprehensive pragmatic solution for ppl who choose other philosophies. uve failed to differentiate between philosophy and cross-philosophical problem solving. in doing so, ur credibility has also failed because uve been reduced to an intolerant person who attacks and discriminates against other religions/philosophies.

  • invalid-0

    It is discrimination against other religions/philosophies-it is a different opinion and belief. Maybe we do not agree with your religion or philosophie,maybe we think you are interferring with science and progress. Maybe you dont see the “whole picture” either.

  • invalid-0

    Im going to have to agree with the doctor as usual. Who’s to say that we are right when it is not something we have delved into? 30 years experience in one field is a lot of exp and shouldnt be taken lightly, but the bottom line is that it may be true to use Harvard as some type of puppet to get a message across