Quite a few conspiracy theories surround HIV/AIDS. Most destructively there is the notion tragically adhered to by former South African president Thabo Mbeki that AIDS is not actually caused by HIV. There are also significant numbers who believe that it was created deliberately:
According to a 2005 survey of African Americans living in the US, almost 50% of the respondents believed that HIV was manufactured in a lab. Furthermore, over 25% believed that this was done by the government. A significant number also believed that it was created in order to control the population of black people/homosexuals.
In general I’m quite interested in conspiracy theories (or in their debunking at least) but this later idea was one I’d paid little attention to. The risks faced by the purported perpetrators and the degree of cruelty required of them seemed – even by the standards of conspiracy theories – outlandish. It’s also probably true that as a white graduate living in Berkshire I hear less about this theory than about say those around JFK or 9/11.
Therefore, it was not until I read this article on the origins of HIV at I Fucking Love Science that I came to appreciate quite how implausible it is:
Some of the earliest documented cases of HIV were in the late 1950s; it’s absurd to think that scientists would have had the knowledge or technology to create viruses back then. We only identified the structure of DNA in 1953. We’ve only just managed to create the first synthetic bacterial genome, let alone create a virus from scratch.
Creating a virus would require knowledge of genetic manipulation. We simply did not have the expertise to be able to achieve something like this at that time.
That puts this theory into its own league of detachment from reality. The CIA would at least theoretically have had the capacity to shoot JFK or hijack planes on 9/11, where as even that claim cannot be made for the supposed nefarious creators of HIV.
P.S. In case your interested the article winds up concluding that there “exists an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that HIV arose from cross-species transmission of closely related viruses that are found naturally in various primate hosts in Africa” and suggests this most likely occurred when these apes were hunted for bushmeat or kept as pets.