…And the Band Played On tells the story of the discovery and spread of AIDS in the 1980’s. While a biological agent caused AIDS; this film argues that the virus became an epidemic due to the incompetency of the medical community and public apathy towards the people initially affected.
This film focuses on the challenges and conflicts of interest scientists can encounter when dealing with politically sensitive information.
This movie is included in the Fiction movies for RCR education.
Key words: Conflict of Interest
Medium: YouTube (This link was last checked on 14-09-2016)
- Fragment 1 [53:20-55:00]
Internet Movie Database (IMDb) about this movie: IMDb
Drama / playing time: 141 min
Content And context
And the Band Played On tells the story of the discovery and spread of AIDS in de United States. While the first victim of AIDS was dated in 1979, it took the US government years to take the disease serious. People were dying, but almost all of these people were homosexuals, which gave rise to the popular conception of AIDS as a Gay Disease. The film argues that while a biological agent caused AIDS, it became an epidemic due to incompetency and apathy towards the people initially affected by the disease.
In a climate of fear, politics and prejudice, the medical community of the US faces difficulties to get funding for research on AIDS. This fragment pictures a centre for Disease conference in 1982. A team of researches gathered data that strongly suggest that AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, but their set of data is too small for scientific proof. Dr. Jim Curran (Saul Rubinek), the head of the research group, decides to present their findings to the media as premature, because he wants to avoid a national panic. His decision infuriates dr. Don Francis (Matthew Modine), the leading character of the film, because to devaluation of their findings will expose people to unnecessary risk and will help the disease to spread.
This fragment illustrates the challenges that scientists might encounter when science and politics become intertwined. Dr. Curran has to report on medical research that is politically sensitive -the world does not want to hear that AIDS is sexually transmittable and thereby not a Gay Disease- and he tries to argue his way out of it. He interestingly does so on the basis of an argument that he derives from what he calls ‚pure science’; as a scientist, he is right to say that their findings are inconclusive because the evidence they have is not yet proof. This fragment, however, shows that ‚pure science’ falls short as a moral compass when there is so much at stake. It suggests that an appeal to science can even be used by a scientist to avoid confrontations and deny responsibility scientist to avoid confrontations and deny responsibility can even use an appeal to science can become intertwined.
Suggested use for education
This fragment can be used as a point of departure for a discussion about science and responsibility. For example: can we hold dr. Curran responsible for the unnecessary spread of the disease? And if so, why? Was he not right, as a scientist, to say that their research was still inconclusive?
By the time AIDS was registered as a (sexually) transmitted disease, it had already reached the scale of a worldwide epidemic. And the Band Played On suggests that if the medical community had rung the alarm sooner, many people could have been saved.