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That’s not a deep philosophical or sociological question. It has
nothing to do with the machinations of politicians. And no, it isn’t a
set-up line for a joke about 25-year-old sons still living with their
It’s a very serious scientific question. We know this because it is
posed on the current cover of Discover, the always interesting,
accessible and serious science magazine published by Disney for readers
whose college degrees were earned at IUP, not MIT.
The article isn’t posted on
Discover’s website yet. And before we continue with our discussion of Discover’s astonishing and horrifying article about how “every living thing has at least one parasite that lives inside or on it,” WorldNetDaily’s crack legal counsel has insisted on the following warning:
Do not read “Do Parasites Rule the World?” six hours before, during or after breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The cover parasite alone will spook all but the least squeamish readers. That cute little bugger gracing the August issue is a common hookworm, magnified 500 times. About 1.3 billion of our fellow earthlings host hookworms, which like to sink their little teeth into the walls of intestines and suck human blood.
Hookworms and other equally hideous parasites are pictured inside Discover, in gruesome close-ups. There’s a photo of the clever crustacean that eats a fish’s tongue and replaces it with itself but doesn’t kill the fish.
Even more bizarre, there’s a photo spread showing how a microscopic creature invades the body of a crab, castrates it and fools the crab into thinking that its larvae are the crab’s own eggs. Disturbing as they are, the pictures can’t compare to the descriptions of parasites’ incredibly devious behavior.
According to writer Carl Zimmer, who has adapted the article from his coming book, “Parasite Rex,” parasites don’t just make up the majority of species on Earth. They are “remarkably sophisticated and tenacious and may be as important to ecosystems as the predators at the top of the food chain.
“Some castrate their hosts and take over their minds. Others completely shut down the immune system of their hosts. … They can change a host’s looks or scent to appeal to a predator. They can even alter its (host’s) behavior to force it into the next host’s path.”
The “parasitic voodoo” practiced by the lancet fluke during its cow-to-snail-to-ant-to-cow lifecycle, for instance, is so complicated it makes the star of “Alien” seem dumb as a moon rock.
It’s no wonder, Zimmer says, that some scientists “now think that parasites have been a dominant force, perhaps the dominant force, in the evolution of life.” He says every ecosystem on earth is so “rife with parasites” that “the study of life is, for the most part, parasitology.”
If you can finish Zimmer’s piece, you’ll have no trouble agreeing with his conclusion: “The notion that tiny creatures we’ve largely taken for granted are such a dominant force is immensely disturbing.”
It is even more worrisome, he says, when we remember that we exalted human life forms are just “a collection of cells that work together, kept harmonized by chemical signals. If an organism can control these signals — an organism like a parasite — then it can control us. And therein lies the peculiar and precise horror of parasites.”
Speaking of parasites, AIDS is back in the news, largely because of the politically incorrect thinking of South Africa’s maverick president, Thabo Mbeki.
The successor to Nelson Mandela, he is a leader long revered in the West for his intellectual sophistication, reasonableness and left-wing politics. But Mbeki became an embarrassment to the Clinton Administration and the world AIDS-treatment establishment earlier this year when he publicly questioned the official scientific “truth” that HIV unequivocally causes AIDS.
Mbeki has made the mistake of buying into “discredited theories about what causes AIDS,” as this week’s
Time puts it. The verboten ideas Mbeki is flirting with are chiefly those espoused by molecular biologist Peter
Duesberg of the University of California at Berkeley. He has long argued that proof that HIV causes AIDS is nonexistent and that severe poverty, deadly malnutrition and a dozen diseases like TB and malaria have killed 13 million Sub-Saharan Africans, not AIDS.
For a good introduction to the AIDS controversy and a sample of the arguments Mbeki found while surfing the Internet late one night, try the
Homepage. Duesberg’s controversial ideas, which
Time dismissed in an article
earlier this year, are apparently so discredited they are no longer worth describing.
Economist, which can usually be counted on to tack against the prevailing winds of political correctness, does no better. Its cover article on what needs to be done to slow or reverse the spread of AIDS in Africa also quickly dismisses Mbeki for “listening to a small band of scientists with eccentric and discredited opinions.”
You can read the
speech Mbeki gave in South Africa 10 days ago, when he hosted the 13th annual International AIDS Conference’s speech. It got him in more trouble with the world AIDS establishment, but it has got to be as reasonable and rational as anything said by an African leader in the last 50 years.
And for a biographical sketch that proves Mbeki is no dummy and no nut, you can check out David Plotz’s piece in
Slate. Plotz, however, is no supporter of Mbeki or anything close to an AIDS skeptic. The headline over his piece, “Thabo Mbeki: Why Has South Africa’s Excellent President Gone Loco?” gives away how he thinks.
A mere watcher of magazines can never hope to settle the question of what really causes AIDS. But it seems like some of our top publications have already made up their minds.