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This Tumblr post, which has accumulated over 3,000 notes, claims:

During the 1980s, more gay men died in New York City during the AIDS crisis than all recorded deaths of American soldiers in Vietnam.

Wikipedia cites US News to say that the number of US military casualties in the Vietnam war is 58,318. However, I cannot find a number on the number of deaths from AIDS in NYC during the AIDS crisis.

Since it is probably impossible to filter the AIDS death count to only gay men, I believe that all AIDS deaths would help address the claim as best as possible.

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    The wording is "deaths during the AIDS crisis". Taken literally, that could include all deaths during that time period, whether due to AIDS or other causes. – Nate Eldredge Jun 17 '18 at 19:15
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    @NateEldredge I suppose so, though that's still almost certainly false. The death rate in NYC was pretty stable at ~1% during that decade. With approx. 2.5% of the population being gay males and less than 8m population, the predicted number of gay male deaths over that 10 year span would be around 20,000. Even combined with the total number of AIDs deaths from my post, that's still some 13k short of Vietnam. Though if NYC had a much higher gay population rate... – zibadawa timmy Jun 17 '18 at 19:36
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    @user5341 I see what you’re saying, but there’s a bit of a distinction. Prostate cancer is not really a political issue. This AIDS crisis, which disproportionately effected gay men, is. I’ve never seen someone who thought prostate cancer is a good thing, but I have seen people who believe that the AIDS crisis is god’s way of righteously destroying the gay population. – Phoenix Jun 18 '18 at 1:56
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    @user5341 That’s rather an unkind reading of that article. The writers do not denounce awareness of prostate cancer anywhere in the article; they’re just saying that Movember is a deeply flawed concept to use to raise such awareness (which is perfectly true). They also specifically say that charity is not a zero-sum game. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 18 '18 at 9:27
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    This is most definitely true, if you read it in a very specific way. Comparatively few American soldiers died in Vietnam during the 1980s. – pipe Jun 18 '18 at 11:23
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False (but it's still a lot)

Government archives also put the total number of US military fatalities in Vietnam at around 58,000.

The New York City Department of Health provides the statistics for AIDS cases and deaths in NYC from 1980 to ~2014. The second chart in that PDF has the following data in particular:


total aids deaths in NYC from 1980-1995


You can see that in the 1980s there were 19,482 cumulative deaths from AIDS in NYC, and the cumulative total did not exceed 58,000 until 1995. Moreover, this is all AIDS deaths, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, age, or source of infection.

In the following:

  • Joseph, Dr. Stephen C.; New York City Department of Health (19 October 1987). AIDS: A Tale of Two Cities: A Report to the Mayor (Memorandum). AIDS, subject files series 80049-5. New York, NY: LaGuardia Community College/CUNY: La Guardia and Wagner Archives, Edward I. Koch Collection, Koch Collection Subject Files.

Data indicates that about 65% of all AIDS cases in New York City involved transmission via homosexual intercourse (about 27% were from IV drug users). To achieve 58318 deaths at 65% of the population would put the total deaths at ~90,000, and the aforementioned statistics show this total was not achieved until 2004. And by that point the disease was no longer affecting the same demographics in the same ways it had during the 80's, so it was probably longer still until 58,000 gay men died of (or at least with) AIDS in NYC.

  • While that chart is an official source, it is still somewhat dubious. The first funny cases of pneumocystis carinii (not deaths!) were found in mid-1981 (in LA, not NY) without any idea what it might be. It wasn't until mid-'82 that a funny number of Kaposi incidents was noticed (of which 50% were homo men, in 5 cities including NY, but no deaths), again, without knowing what was going on. Only in the third quarter of '82, something like an infectous disease was assumed, and a year later HIV/AIDS was coined. Thus, death statistics can hardly reflect cases before or including 1982. – Damon Jun 18 '18 at 13:55
  • (To elaborate why: Death statistics are based on what the coroner or hospital doctor writes on the death certificate. Unless that's highly doubtful, this is not rarely "heart failure" in lack of something better, or out of laziness. Not knowing about any such thing as AIDS, and the name not having been coined yet, they can hardly have written that.) – Damon Jun 18 '18 at 13:59
  • @Damon Your timeline does not agree with the citations in the Wikipedia article. The name HIV was assigned in 1986. The term AIDS was first used in 1982. People were publishing articles about Kaposi's sarcoma in gay men in the autumn of 1981. What's your source for the assertion that "it wasn't until mid-'82 that a funny number of Kaposi incidents was noticed"? The statistics being cited might include death certificates mentioning GRID, the name that preceded AIDS, or those mentioning Kaposi's sarcoma, etc. – phoog Jun 18 '18 at 15:15
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    A scientist would say they're on the same order of magnitude and probably within experimental error. Not that i suggest running either experiment again... – corsiKa Jun 18 '18 at 20:42
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    @Damon One way or another your point concerns a few hundred deaths, at most, which has zero impact on the topic at hand. – zibadawa timmy Jun 19 '18 at 17:36
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The original Tumblr post has been edited to disavow the claim ("this post is from 2014 I have NO IDEA what statistic i could have possibly been referencing ... edit again: I think it was probably this") and link to http://www.amfar.org/thirty-years-of-hiv/aids-snapshots-of-an-epidemic/, which gives running totals of AIDS deaths for the entire USA for each year from 1981 through 2004. According to these numbers, AIDS deaths passed up the total number of US military personnel killed in Vietnam in 1988, with 61,816 deaths. 1988 is within the "AIDS crisis" period as I understand that term.

That many deaths in eight years for the entire USA, including all diagnosed cases (not just gay men), is a much more plausible claim on its face, and amfAR appears to be a credible source. I think it's likely that the original Tumblr poster was confused by the reference to New York City in the 1988 section of the amfAR article ("In New York City, new AIDS cases that result from shared needles exceed those attributable to sexual contact").

EDIT: It occurs to me that the comparison above is still not fair: if one side is "all deaths due to HIV/AIDS in the USA", then the other side ought to be "all deaths attributable to the Vietnam War", not just US military deaths. That is a controversial number, but even if we take the lower end of the range (1.5 million according to R. J. Rummel), Vietnam's death toll is still more than twice as high as AIDS-in-the-USA as of the end of 2017 (combining amfAR's numbers with more current stats from the CDC I get 550,000).

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    "One specific city and demographic" to "an entire nation and all demographics" is one hell of a backpedal, though. – zibadawa timmy Jun 18 '18 at 20:02
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    @zibadawatimmy Yeah, but it's an easy misreading if you've already got a specific city and demog in mind and are skimming an article looking for numbers. I actually got to the above by guessing that the claim would be plausible if the original numbers were for the entire nation, and then I was going to look for evidence for that, but didn't have to look very hard because of the backpedal. – zwol Jun 18 '18 at 20:20
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    But skimming around to find something to fit your preconceptions is not "just misunderstood" in my mind. "Just misunderstood" is a rather banal and minor gaffe to me, and half-minded cherry picking to satisfy an agenda fails to meet that, far as I'm concerned. But perhaps that's quibbling on phrasing. I had considered ways of "making" the statistic "true" by upping the scale as well (maybe include San Francisco, as SF and NYC were hardest hit), but felt it was best not to and to stick with the claim as it then was. – zibadawa timmy Jun 18 '18 at 21:21
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    Well, comparing deaths from a US epidemic to a US war actually seems like the more appropriate comparison (since the implicit claim is about how much attention or resources is appropriate for each one). – Obie 2.0 Jun 19 '18 at 10:31

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