Political science has been slow to address the political and policy issues of AIDS. It was not until 1987—six years after recognition of the epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control—that the American Political Science Association first sponsored a panel on AIDS policy at its annual convention. A second panel, on comparative public policy issues and AIDS, was not held until 1989, but that panel was sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Caucus for Political Science, not the APSA. A 1987 special issue on health policy of PS: Political Science & Politics contained not a single reference to AIDS. When it comes to using its accumulated wisdom to help society understand the phenomenon of AIDS, professional political science lags far behind psychology, anthropology, sociology, and other social science disciplines.
By downplaying AIDS, political science has not only acquiesced in trivializing this deadly disease and in marginalizing groups initially identified with it, but it also has squandered an important opportunity for itself. To what degree might the study of AIDS test the breadth of current explanatory theory? What testable hypotheses might be generated from studies of AIDS policies? What does AIDS tell us about processes of political mobilization, policy making, the creation of political networks or alternative power maps?