Monday, July 21, 2014
I'm not there this year, and of course, neither is Joep Lange. The linked remembrance by Laurie Garrett explains why the International AIDS Conferences are really unique. There is a lot of science presented there -- you get the usual PowerPoint presentations with socially awkward biologists droning on about viral lineages and the blood-brain barrier, as well as social science and program evaluations and every other possibly relevant discipline.
But only about half the people there are researchers. The rest are activists and practitioners of one kind or another. And the presentations in the big hall sometimes feature science, (usually in a fairly popularized form), but are just as often political speeches, and even rallies and demonstrations.
Outside of the lecture halls and workshops, the corridors and exhibition halls are constantly enlivened with political theater, music and dance, and mobile polemical exhibitions. The conferences are an immersion into a special universe in which science, morality, and passion all collide, shattering and recombining unpredictably.
HIV is not like other diseases in being so freighted with culture, politics and morality. And Dr. Lange's career exemplifies that complexity. He was a scientist who was also compelled to be an activist and a campaigner. Of course his loss is no more egregious than the death of any other victim of war. As I said last time, I perhaps take it a bit more personally. But as a species, we just can't afford to keep fighting over tribalism. We have urgent work to do.