Americans, a health-obsessed folk, tend to be credulous of medical science and its magic. The trait can be self-defeating, as three otherwise unrelated articles suggest. They can be grouped under the heading "Never Mind."

The well-publicized perils of high blood pressure have driven Americans to visit their doctors, beg for medications and alter their diets -- needlessly, argues Thomas J. Moore in the August Washingtonian. Moore -- the author of last September's controversial "The Cholesterol Myth" in the Atlantic -- is a debunking specialist.

In his long excoriation of the "medical-industrial complex" that has turned millions of perfectly healthy people into hyper-tense no-salt fanatics, Moore sifts through reams of scientific evidence to try to understand how the valid diagnoses and treatment for a small group of high-risk patients has become a mindless and needless mass phenomenon. High blood pressure itself isn't well understood, he says, and its links to heart diseases and stroke are neither consistent nor causative.

In the August Atlantic, Stanton Peele offers a similar challenge to the widely accepted theory that alcoholism is an inherited disease. He laments that millions of Americans, persuaded that they are genetically prone to alcoholism, proceed to behave accordingly -- by drinking too much and behaving self-destructively.

"Alcoholism {is} independent of individual needs, options, and values," Peele concludes common-sensically. "Some people become compulsively enmeshed in destructive drinking as they pursue sensations that they are progressively less able to attain through any other means. And yet we cannot take the power and the seeming inevitability of this self-destructiveness for proof that it is written in the genes."

Although the AIDS virus, known as HIV, was by common agreement "identified" three years ago, a dissident minority of medical scientists and physicians has been persistently skeptical about its supposed role in transmitting the disease. Speaking for these largely silent doubters in the summer Policy Review, Peter H. Duesberg, a molecular and cell biologist at Berkeley, and his co-author, Bryan J. Ellison, have no compunction about assailing the prevailing theories.

In accessible terms, they review the spotty and inconclusive epidemiology of HIV, and in its stead propose a contrary "risk hypothesis." AIDS, they write, is "not a single infectious disease or syndrome," but a group of "entirely separate conditions caused by a variety of factors, most of which have in common only that they involve risk behavior" associated with the AIDS-prone population -- and not always tracking with the presence of HIV.

Duesberg and Ellison's conclusion, if correct, would obviate much of the HIV-testing hysteria, but it would also call into question the efficacy and the prudence of the drug AZT. It would also lay a greater burden of prevention on personal behavior, which may explain why their article appears in this conservative journal.

First Kiss

Boomers and their elders probably will remember the issue of Life 25 years ago that carried extraordinary photographs of human life glimpsed at its earliest stages -- 3 1/2 weeks through 28 weeks. These wondrous images, captured through a glass murkily but still vividly enough for a pang of recognition, were the work of celebrated Swedish science photographer Lennart Nilsson.

In the intervening years, he hasn't quit, and neither has the march of photographic technology. In the August issue of Life, he takes us back in time and to tinier dimensions still, to the moments of conception itself: One sperm from a school of swimmers snuggles its head under the soft blanket of a vast ovum, setting off the chain reaction that fuses and multiplies cells into creatures.

The photography is breathtaking. So closely can we eavesdrop on the early hours of life that we feel like voyeurs encroaching on a moment of exquisite privacy. The landscape of conception, with the embryo attaching itself like a lunar module on the uterine wall, is extraterrestrial. And then, as the days go by, the proto-person materializes, glowing in the dark: fingers, eyes, a brain.

Despite prodding from David van Biema in an accompanying interview, the photographer won't bite on the loaded question of when life begins, exactly. As his pictures might not necessarily imply, he is too much the philosopher, and the romantic. He says instead, "Maybe the first moment of life, it starts with a kiss."

Maybe They Can't Tell the Difference

One of the great conundrums of life inside the Beltway, as Norman J. Ornstein writes in a special summer congressional issue of the Public Interest, is why American voters in the postwar era "can opt enthusiastically and overwhelmingly for a Republican president -- who has campaigned by asking for a Congress he can work with -- and then turn around collectively and choose by an equally overwhelming margin a Congress run by precisely the people he has asked them to reject." Democrats, that is.

Ornstein, in this unconventionally wise essay, offers some compelling reasons why this is so, emphasizing the poor Republican track record in recruiting able congressional candidates. He offers as many compelling refutations of the accepted reasons -- such as the institutional advantages of incumbency, which supposedly favors the majority Democrats. The fact is Republicans aren't especially good at winning elections even for open congressional seats. Ornstein also delivers the statistical news (bad or good, depending) that, during the past 130 years, "the longer a party holds the White House, the worse it does in Congress."