Something fishy in the air from the Voice of America

OMG. Beware the fast AIDS! Oh, and Cuba!

Turns out there was an article in eBioMedicine, an Elsevier service, so legit as far as I can tell. The paper appears to be by a bunch of legitimate researchers. According to eBioMedicine, the article is in press, publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof. To wit, no publication date as of yet. So far, I’ll be damned if I can figure out when it was originally written. Just skimming the intro, it appears that the research started in earnest in 2007. In the Discussion section, the most recent reference date is 2013. Maybe there’s been no further publication/debate/controversy on the subject since then. Plausible.

This is hardly sensational news. But a hed caught my eye in Google News just a bit ago, and for the first time, at that. Consider, I check it several times daily. Aggressive form of HIV that quickly turns into full-blown AIDS found in Cuba
OMG. Beware the fast AIDS! Oh, and Cuba!
Actually, it wasn’t the hed so much as a combination of that and a prominent mention in the summary:
“An especially aggressive form of the HIV virus that can develop into AIDS within 3 years rather than the usual 5 to 10 years , has been found in Cuba, Voice of America reported over the weekend.”
Voice of America? Wait, what? One of our propaganda instruments reports, and this article reports on the reportage? Oh, wait. Never mind. Now I see. This news is from Fox News Latino.
Wait, what?
After poking around in various news searches, it looks like VoA “broke” the story 3 days ago. Here’s the news results for (without quotes) cuba hiv voice of america, in chronological order (just all the news results on the first page of results + first page of results under “Explore in Depth”:
VoA 2/13
RT 2/14 Erm, RT? Right after VOA?
Design and Trend 2/14 (Who??)
New York Daily News 2/15
UPI 2/15
FrontPage Mag 2/15 (Who? Right wing)
Yibada 2/15 (Who? China-related news for a global audience)
ModVive 2/15 (who?)
Medical Daily 2/15 15 hrs (In Italian)
Latino Post 15 hrs
Maine News 13 hrs
Fox News 10 hrs
Fox News Latino 8 hrs
Digital Journal (Who?) 6 hrs
RTT News 4 hrs
RedOrbit 3 hrs
All of the above at least mention Voice of America.
But what happens when I take [voice of america] out of the search terms? The results have a lot of repeats from above, which makes sense since [voice of america] is a more restrictive search. Other news sources start showing up without that restriction. Hit “Explore in Depth” and suddenly there’s 4 pages, which ends up being 3 at the end where Google eliminates more dupes.
Miami Herald 2/13 (No mention of VOA)
Prokerala 2/13 (South Indian state of Kerala)
Metro 2/13 (hosted on WP platform)
Headlines and Global News 2/14
Diabetes Insider 2/14
Press TV 2/14 (.ir, hosted in Iran)
iSchoolGuide 2/14
America Herald 2/14
SMN Weekly 2/14
Sputnik International 2/14
American Livewire 2/14
Seattle Times 2/15 (Miami Herald piece, no mention of VOA)
Daily News and Analysis 2/15
The Hoops News 2/15
The Inquisitr 2/15
Latin Post 2/15
Trinity News Daily 2/15
Youth Health Magazine 2/15
The Legacy 2/15
Times Gazette 2/15 ( – as far as I can tell, not actually a paper out of anwhere)
Diabetes Insider 2/15
Microcap Observer 2/15
Health Newstrack 2/15
The Westside Story 2/15
Tech Times 22 hrs
International Business Times 22 hrs
Breitbart News 22 hrs 21 hrs
Wall Street Hedge 21 hrs
Delhi Daily News 21 hrs
Capital OTC 20 hrs
News Every day 19 hrs
Pioneer News 18 hrs
Medical News Today 17 hrs
Portland Press Herald 17 hrs (Maine – no mention of VOA)
Firstpost 17 hrs
Health Aim 17 hrs
International Business Times UK 16 hrs
National Monitor 16 hrs
Nehanda Radio 16 hrs
Vaccine News Daily 15 hrs
New Hampshire Voice 15 hrs
New Medical-net 14 hrs
Maine News 14 hrs
Daily Mail 12 hrs (No mention of VOA)
International Business Times AU 11 hrs
I Know Today 11 hrs
Geek Infinite 10 hrs
Antillean Media Group 9 hrs
Consolidate Times 9 hrs
CBS News 8 hrs (No mention of VOA)
Examiner 7 hrs
KSBY San Luis Obispo 7 hrs
The Independent 6 hrs (No mention of VOA)
Time 6 hrs (No mention of VOA)
Opposing Views 5 hrs
Full-Time Whistle 5 hrs
WYNT 5 hrs (NBC – Albany, NY)
International Business Times – India 5 hrs – 4 hrs – 3hrs
WBXH 2 hrs (CBS – Hammond, LA)
Science Times 1 hr
Science World Report 1 hr 28 mins (NBC – Laredo, TX)
TravelersToday 17 mins
Immortal News 13 mins
So, as of 13 minutes ago, aside from affiliates, NBC isn’t reporting on it. ABC isn’t reporting on it. CNN isn’t reporting on it. A bunch of automated clickbait news aggregators and sites of otherwise mostly low-credibility are all over it. Oh, and international sites, most notably VoA’s brother by another mother, RT. A handful of papers, some network affiliates. So where’s the rest of the MSM? Are they missing the news? Or are they more cautious?  Or is a scary form of AIDS waiting for US visitors to bring it back not news? Does the whiff of VoA mitigate the value of the news?
On that latter point, I don’t think so. Just because VoA reports it doesn’t mean it’s not news. It’s just very carefully chosen news. Agenda setting at its finest. I suspect some savvy reporter, or intern, or secretary has a news feed with a great many search parameters plugged in. “Give me everything, every day, that mentions any of these countries we’re trying to influence, tar, or whitewash…them, and them, and them, and Cuba.” And hey, lookie here. Brand new, not even in print article hits. Cuba has the fast AIDS.
Now, what to make of that in the face of our recent (at least partial) normalization with Cuba? For that matter, how and why did the Miami Herald, home to a fair number of anti-Castro Cubans pick up on that story the same day VoA mentions it? Had to be a coincidence, right, especially since the Herald doesn’t mention VoA in their piece. It’s not like the Herald article is sensationalized at all, not with a hed like “Aggressive HIV strain identified in Cuba, research says” or a line like the following:
“More than 60 strains of HIV type 1 exist in the world because of mutations. But this one is in South Florida’s back yard.“The only thing now,” he [Hector Bolivar, a physician and infectious disease specialist with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine] said, “is that in Cuba, it is associated with rapid progression [of the disease]. It’s something that hasn’t been seen before that clearly.”

Yet, Dr. Bolivar doesn’t sound particularly alarmist. Yes, it’s a concern:

“We knew that sooner or later we were going to face this locally,’’ he said. “Cuba is local for Miami. We may see similar situations here in Miami in the future, and that’s something I’m concerned about.”

At the same time:

He also has misgivings about the way the study was conducted, he said, and whether other scientists will be able to reach similar conclusions.

For instance, he said, the sample size — 95 patients — is not large enough to extrapolate significant findings for the thousands of people in Cuba living with HIV.

It was also unclear precisely when the study’s subjects contracted the virus, Bolivar said, and he questioned the ethics of allowing patients with HIV to develop AIDS without treatment.

“It’s very difficult for us in the United States or Europe or many places where there are treatments [for HIV] to replicate these findings in the long term because it’s unethical to wait until someone progresses until they can no longer benefit from treatment,’’ he said.

Given that context, the fairly alarmist “but this one is in South Florida’s back yard” seems to be clearly the work of only the article’s authors, Chang and Torres. Okay, so a Miami paper might be making the wrong much of this story. Don’t calm nerves with Bolivar’s scientific dispassion. OMG, Cuba has the fast AIDS! So why is the Seattle Times picking this up so uncritically?

And Portland (Maine) Press Herald, what the hell? Fast-moving HIV strain now epidemic in Cuba. Epidemic? Where the hell did that come from? Oh, a news service. But when I search on Tribune News Service cuba hiv, I now find other sources that didn’t appear under Google News, even seemingly legitimate sources like the Chicago Tribune. Which turns out to be the Miami Herald piece. Portland apparently didn’t want to waste any pixels, however, and trimmed the story down to the bare bones, leaving out Dr. Bolivar’s caution and ethical concerns entirely. We’re just left with mutations, speed, and a sense of dread.

Apart from doing a generally more rigorous piece, Daily Mail still managed to skip mention of their convenient timing of 2 days ago. After VoA broke the story. It’s entirely possible they did come to it independently. Bolivar isn’t mentioned at all, and thus no ethical concerns are raised. So when they report, is it agenda setting in the same way? Or is it just convenient and maybe slightly scary science news?

CBS could also have encountered the journal publication independently. Their piece isn’t especially sensational, apart from the use of “aggressive.” And without Dr. Bolivar, those ethical concerns are absent again.

This is a game that could be played for hours. Try chasing down the rationale for the news that breaks and how it breaks. Conveniently forget that news can be picked up on independently, and that it will be spun differently for different audiences. But what to do when the chronology is as screwy as the one uncovered here? My gut suggests that we beware the propagandistic potential of this story to mutate aggressively.

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