iB / CHRONICLESnstandard superstition of the late 20thncentury that the causes of events arenobscure and inscrutable — so complexn”we may never know what really happened.”nIn the course of the pastngeneration, concepts like “facts,” “evidence,”n”human nature,” “truth,” andn”reality” have fallen out of fashion andnout of use. In the social sciences innparticular, a scholarly line of reasoningnis no longer said to “prove” anything.nIt is at best “suggestive,” as if Sciencenwere an insincere suitor determined atnall costs to avoid intimacy with thenputative object of his efforts.nThe argument that things are inherentlynobscure itself becomes a newnform of obscurantism: importantnevents are so complex that only expertsncan even begin to grasp them. Too, thendefensive pettifogging such a notionnencourages is highly congenial to theninsecure personalities who notoriouslynflee to the protection of the academicngrove in disproportionate numbers.nThe cause of social reform and thenexclusivity of the guild are reinforced atnthe same time: What “progressive”nacademic could possibly resist?nThe only victim is public understanding.nBy refusing to diagnose thencauses of major phenomena, socialnscientists behave in the manner of ancoroner who, confronted with a corpsenshot through the chest, writes “Causenof Death: Unknown,” because he cannotnbe entirely sure whether deathnresulted from cardiac arrest, respiratorynfailure, or massive internal hemorrhaging.nMark Twain’s observation thatn”scholars have spread much darkness”nso that “soon we shall know nothing atnall” is singularly descriptive of the statenof social science in the late 20th century.nExcessive specialization artificiallynranks the small over the large, the partsnover the whole, and the obscure overnthe intelligible. As a result, modernnscholars are often unable to progressnbeyond the conceptions of the greatnfounders of modern history — Gibbon,nGuizot, Ranke — in light of the knowledgenthat has accumulated since. Likenmodern American literature, with itsnaddiction to the cult of the SignificantnDetail, modern history has long sincenlost sight of the wood for the trees.nIn the newly darkened universe ofnthought, scholars stumble about overnthe dim shapes of questions whosenanswers might once have been consid­nered obvious: the destruction of classicalncivilization by the uncheckedngrowth of the Roman state; the eliminationnof famine in 18th-century Europenby the lifting of feudal barriers tonfree commerce in grain; the apotheosisnof omnisexuality and the disintegrationnof the family. Cause and effect arensevered, and the only tie still bindingnAmerican academics is a limitless appetitenfor government funding. Those,nlike Allan Bloom, who expect modernncivilization to be redeemed from suchna corrupt source are in for an indefinitenwait.nNicholas Davidson is the author ofnThe Failure of Feminismn(Prometheus).nDISEASEnAIDing Societynby Wayne LuttonnPrivate Vice Versus Public Healthn”So the plague defied all medicines;nno cure, no help could benpossible^ nothing could follow butndeath. . . . The strange temper ofnthe people . . . contributed extremelynto their own destruction.”n— Daniel DefoenA Journal of the Plague Yearn(1721)nUntil recently, the United States hasnenjoyed unquestioned success in publicnhealth. Diseases once common have allnbut vanished with improvements in sanitationnand personal hygiene. Infectiousndiseases, especially where no cure isnavailable, have been controlled by thentried and true methods of: (1) findingnout who is infected; (2) tracing thosenpersons who have contacted the carriersnin a manner known to spread thendisease; (3) determining if carriers arenlikely to spread their infection; (4) quarantiningnof those individuals who refusento refrain from endangering the healthnof the as-yet uninfected; and (5) thenclosing of public places where diseasespreadingnactivity takes place. By suchnmeans have outbreaks of scarlet fever,nsmallpox, and typhoid been halted innnnthis century.nCalling AIDS (Acquired ImmunenDeficiency Syndrome) the “highestnpublic health priority,” President Reagannreleased his fiscal 1989 budget,nwhich includes $1.3 billion for AIDSnresearch and prevention. On April 28,n1988, the Senate approved the programnby a vote of 87-4. (Senator Jesse Helms,nthe principal opponent, pointed out thatnnothing in the spending package didnanything to protect the part of ournpopulation that has not been exposed tonthe disease.) The House was expectednto approve it as well. The National Gaynand Lesbian Task Force agreed that thisnfigure “represents a significant (38 percent)nincrease” over current AIDSnfunding and was praised by NGLTFndirector Jeffrey Levi as “an importantnstatement of policy and intent by thenFederal Government.”nLike President Reagan, U.S. SurgeonnGeneral C. Everett Koop hasnrepeatedly referred to AIDS as then”number one” menace to publicnhealth. Still, though AIDS is an alwaysfatalndisease, traditional public healthnpractices have yet to be implemented toncontain its spread.nHow it came to pass that this particularnvirus was granted an immunity fromnstandard methods of control is one ofnthe topics explored in Randy Shilts’sncompelling history of the early years ofnthe AIDS epidemic in America [Andnthe Band Played On: Politics, People,nand the AIDS Epidemic, St. Martin’snPress; 630 pp.; $24.95). Shilts is anhomosexual writer who, since 1982,nhas been reporting on AIDS full-timenfor the San Francisco Chronicle. Thenbook is organized chronologically andntakes us back and forth from SannFrancisco to New York, Atlanta, Washington,nDC, Central Africa, andnFrance. We meet homosexual activists,npoliticians, public health officials, medicalnresearchers, general practitioners,nand some of the first people to succumbnto the mysterious virus. Shilts’snstudy confirms what a number of studentsnof this epidemic had alreadynperceived, namely, that AIDS is thenfirst politically protected disease innmodern history.nEven before AIDS emerged, “outof-the-closet”nhomosexuals were beingn”washed by tide after tide of increasinglynserious infections.” By 1980,nsexually active homosexuals were aln