AIDS Denialists Galore

August 17th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in africa, bad science, references | 32 Comments »

Just for completeness sake, I was worried that some of you might have missed this absolute corker of a 15 page article in Harper’s (circ: 230,000) by AIDS-denialist Celia Farber, in which all kinds of entertaining claims get an airing. AIDS is actually a “chemical syndrome, caused by accumulated toxins from heavy drug use,” “many cases of AIDS are the consequence of heavy drug use, both recreational (poppers, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc.) and medical (AZT, etc.)”; “HIV is a harmless passenger virus that infects a small percentage of the population and is spread primarily from mother to child, though at a relatively low rate”; “75 percent of AIDS cases in the West can be attributed to drug toxicity. If toxic AIDS therapies were discontinued…thousands of lives could be saved virtually overnight.”

It’s the usual nonsense, but it’s fairly unusual to see it played out so uncritically, and in such a mainstream forum.

The original article is here:

www.harpers.org/OutOfControl.html

And best of all is the spectacular rebuttal by Prof Gallo (let’s just call him Mr. AIDS) et al is to be found over 36 pages of joy here:

www.tac.org.za/Documents/ErrorsInFarberArticle.pdf

And a rebuttal to the rebuttal is here:

rethinkingaids.com/GalloRebuttal/consolidated.html

More African AIDS action here:

www.badscience.net/?p=6


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32 Responses



  1. curlyfries said,

    August 17, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Did that rebuttal by Prof Gallo appear in the above form in Harpers? I can only hope that his published article was better written than that. He certainly supplies the facts, but he’s unlikely to appeal to many readers who don’t want to read through a dry shopping list of errors. Say what you want about Farber’s article, but it fairly well written.

  2. MJ Simpson said,

    August 17, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    “no one has ever demonstrated how a sexually transmitted virus can manage to restrict itself overwhelmingly to gay men and other AIDS risk groups instead of spreading randomly through the population”

    Hmm. It’s sexually transmitted. There is a high incidence among gay men. Let’s see, who do gay men generally have sex with…?

  3. coracle said,

    August 17, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    Wasn’t there a high profile scientist (a chap that got the nobel for PCR) that was also an AIDS denialist, at least in that HIV causes AIDS. Whatever happened to him?

  4. chloella said,

    August 17, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Years ago I got into a prolonged online argument with some “HIV deniers”, which came to an end when we couldn’t do any more than accuse each other of being murderers. There is bugger all point in arguing with these people. It is, however, spectacularly irresponsible of Harper’s to publish it. (I assume – I’m not reading it, I’m in a bad enough mood already).

    I thought this crap had died away but my mum earlier this year was earnestly told by a colleague of hers (social worker) that AIDS was caused by antiretroviral drugs. He knew all about this because he had DONE A PHD on the subject. I would love to know who the awarding body was, but my mum then retired and she wouldn’t introduce me to him anyway in case I hit him.

    Until recently I worked in East London, where quite a few of our patients were African and HIV+. Thanks to antiretrovirals most of them were well, with an undetectable viral load, and thanks to AZT were able to have kids without passing on HIV. The poor of Africa don’t get this choice. No antiretrovirals and they are dying in their millions. This whole subject makes me bloody furious and I am going to have to have a lie down now. Grrrrrrrrr.

    Chloella

  5. Art West said,

    August 17, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Coracle asked:
    “Wasn’t there a high profile scientist (a chap that got the nobel for PCR) that was also an AIDS denialist, at least in that HIV causes AIDS. Whatever happened to him? ”

    If you mean “Dr. Kary Mullis, PhD, Biochemist, Winner, 1993 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for inventing the polymerase chain reaction, the basis for the HIV viral load tests.” There are quotes from Dr Mullis and others on:

    rethinkaids.info/quotes/aidsquotes.htm

  6. coracle said,

    August 17, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Art West,

    That’s the one, did he ever recant or does he stick to his views?

  7. Art West said,

    August 17, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Coracle asked:
    “That’s the one [Dr. Kary Mullis], did he ever recant or does he stick to his views? ”

    He’s co-written a book to be published next month called “What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?” so I guess that probably answers the question.

  8. Koant said,

    August 17, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    aidstruth.org is dedicated to the debunking of denialists’ claims. I seem to remember that it was set up just after the Harper’s article was published.

  9. sockatume said,

    August 18, 2006 at 8:07 am

    People get AIDS from AIDS therapies? Should I even have to point out what’s wrong with that assertion?

  10. three tigers said,

    August 18, 2006 at 10:20 am

    Curleyfries,

    I couldn’t disagree more.

    Probably because I’m a scientist and used to reading well structured, ‘dry’ shopping lists of errors. I found the Faber article rambing, confused drivel and the Gallo rebuttal well reasoned and extremely well written.

    Reminds me of the clap-trap put about by the anti-MMR vaccine zealots.

  11. Gleamhound said,

    August 18, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    Is Duesberg still going? I thought he dropped out years ago.
    He’s an interesting character. despite his odd views on HIV and AIDS, he was more or less correct about the aetiology of Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

  12. Art West said,

    August 18, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Gleamhouse asked:

    “Is Duesberg still going? I thought he dropped out years ago.”

    Still going:
    www.duesberg.com/

  13. curlyfries said,

    August 18, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    three tigers,

    You’re confusing the ability to convey information to the reader with the ability to make reasoned arguments. Farber’s article said what she wanted to say to the reader fairly well, it’s just that what she wanted to say was badly reasoned, biased and propagandist.

    My point is that it’s possible to write in a way that a regular nonscientist guy/gal will enjoy the read and learn something without having the details dumbed down – this is what good science writing is all about.

    Do you really think that the average person would sit down and read Gallo’s shopping list of errors? The average person certainly would read Farber’s article, and that’s the problem. We should be trying to reach the average person with the truth, just as our friend Ben does so well in his column.

    I too, am a scientist and was personally quite happy to read Gallo’s rebuttal. But I’m not who the rebuttal should be trying to reach. The scientists are already convinced, if they are paying attention. It’s your typical Harpers reader who read Farber’s article and began to doubt that HIV causes AIDS that the rebuttal should have been aimed at. A good writer wouldn’t have to sacrifice the truth to write such an article.

  14. sockatume said,

    August 18, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    I dunno, if someone gave me a categorised list a few feet long listing the errors in something, I’d be less likely to believe it. It’s a far more convincing format for a rebuttal than longhand prose, which can quickly come across as a he says/she says. A list of mistakes comes across as a much more objective bombardment.

  15. Gleamhound said,

    August 18, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Is Andrew Neil editing Harpers now?

  16. ceec said,

    August 18, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    The rebuttal of the rebuttal makes more interesting reading if you can put up with the tedious writing style. They are quite adept at the neat sidestep.

  17. Art West said,

    August 18, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    sockatume said:

    “People get AIDS from AIDS therapies? Should I even have to point out what’s wrong with that assertion?”

    As I understand it, no-one is saying that all AIDS illnesses are caused by AIDS Therapies.
    e.g. “The Perth Group has argued: (…) That the pharmacological data prove AZT cannot kill “HIV” and AZT is toxic to all cells and may cause some cases of AIDS.”
    www.theperthgroup.com/whatargued.html

  18. homer said,

    August 19, 2006 at 1:06 am

    Real science should not involve the insults that are being hurled back and forth. Why not find a scientific article on the accuracy and precision of the latest HIV assays and discuss it? How far have they stretched the range of the assay from false negative to false positive? ELISA assays are simple things. They have nothing to do with our personal feeling towards Bob Gallo or Peter Duesburg.

  19. Art West said,

    August 20, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Homer said:

    “Real science should not involve the insults that are being hurled back and forth. ”

    I agree. One small step would be to stop using the word “denialist” which was originally coined in order to smear dissidents by equating them with Holocaust denialists.

  20. AJH said,

    August 20, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    While I admit I would prefer the English word “denier” as in “Holocaust denier” or one who denies the holocaust happened as history reports it, I’m less bothered by that than this “AIDS is overblown hype perpetuated by modern drugs” bollocks that gets credence where it should not. Christ, we have enough problems with the South African health minister suggesting garlic and apples are as good as antiretrovirals, without a mainstream Eurpoean publication muddying the waters here.

    Fume………..

  21. Art West said,

    August 20, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    AJH said:
    “this “AIDS is overblown hype perpetuated by modern drugs” bollocks…”

    Come on, it’s impossible to argue that there has been no “overblown hype” at all. Take a look at the projections over the years for the number of deaths there would be by now, especially those for non drug-taking heterosexuals.

    If the “tombstone” TV ads were run again now they would be laughed off the screen. It would be impossible now to run any sort of ad campaign claiming that non-junkie heterosexuals outside of Africa were at serious risk of dying of AIDS because “Wolf” was cried so often in the past.

  22. davehat said,

    August 21, 2006 at 6:10 am

    Come on, it’s impossible to argue that there has been no “overblown hype” at all.

    If we are looking at media projections of infection rates in heterosexual men in the west, I would agree. [sarcasm] Of course the flip side some might argue that such campaigns were so effective they helped to reduce the projected infection rates…[/sarcasm]

    When it comes to specific regions and specific communities, then I’m not sure I can agree what what was claimed would happen was “overblown hype”. My partner works in a hospital in an area where HIV prevalence is between 28-35% of the adult population. That is a staggeringly high figure, hype or no hype.

  23. Dr Aust said,

    August 22, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    Art West wrote:

    “Come on, it’s impossible to argue that there has been no “overblown hype” at all. Take a look at the projections over the years for the number of deaths there would be by now, especially those for non drug-taking heterosexuals.

    If the “tombstone” TV ads were run again now they would be laughed off the screen. It would be impossible now to run any sort of ad campaign claiming that non-junkie heterosexuals outside of Africa were at serious risk of dying of AIDS because “Wolf” was cried so often in the past.”

    ..But of course the fact that the predictions did NOT come true is largely down to the invention of HIV protease inhibitors, the discovery of triple therapy cocktail treatments, and people using condoms more because of the scares. Without these things (especially the drugs) we would be a lot closer to the sort of “Doomsday scenario” seen in sub-Saharan Africa and also in other places where access to treatment is poor, e.g. parts of the old USSR.

    Personally I think with HIV/AIDS any “hype” has been muted and largely vindicated by later events. If you want a human health scare ludicrous hype story I would suggest beef / BSE /new variant CJD, SARS, or even bird flu.

    Finally, a good bet for a future health scare (with some real possibilities) would be multi-drug resistant TB.

  24. Dr Aust said,

    August 22, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    Re. Art West’s post 7 on Kary Mullis (Nobelist for the PCR technique)… Kary Mullis is an interesting guy, but scientifically he is something of a professional iconoclast. His preferred spot is well outside the mainstream taking potshots, and he likes to be in the news.

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he AND Duesberg were co-authors of the book mentioned in the post.

    Mullis is also half famous for NOT being called as a witness in the OJ Simpson trial, even though the defence had listed him to appear. The story goes that the defence were going to call him to explain that PCR is an amplifying technique for DNA, and amplifies WHATEVER DNA is in the tube – the point being that if the samples were contaminated with OJ’s blood/DNA, either through sloppy lab procedures or due to tampering, then whatever was there would get amplified, including any contaminating DNA. “So even the INVENTOR of the method says it could give false-postives…. etc etc.”

    All perfectly reasonable. But then the prosecution indicated that if the defence put Mullis on the stand, they would have to initiate questioning “going to credibility”, rumoured to include questions about Mullis’ professed fondness for LSD and other psychedelic drugs (surfer… rebel… was young in the 60s…got a PhD from Berkeley… lives in SoCal… what did they expect??!) and the fact that he had once nearly been arrested by the cops after a spat with his then-wife. In the end the defence did not call Mullis.

    Mullis is certainly a far cry from the stereotypical inage of a rather unworldly lab-bound boffin. More about him on Wikipedia:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kary_Mullis

  25. Dr Aust said,

    August 23, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    From a cursory look at Duesberg’s website, and at an interview with Kary Mullis mentioned in the Wikipedia page on him (and which goes into his views on HIV / AIDS), it seems the Farber article is taking the Duesberg/Mullis line.

    My cynicism is such these days that I wonder whether Farber is also linked to the upcoming “AIDS dissident” book mentioned by Art West – “cross-plugging” is rife these days in the print media.

    Another thing to look out for in print media health stories is a little line at the bottom which tells you that the author of the article is the author of a book on the same topic. Not that that is exceptional/dodgy in itself, but the hidden catch is that the book’s publishers may well have PAID the newspaper/magazine to rub the article as a kind of “trailer” for the book – i.e. the whole article is an “advertorial”, though not billed as such.

  26. Art West said,

    August 24, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Dr Aust said (about AIDS not breaking out amongst heterosexual non-drug takers outside Africa):

    “..But of course the fact that the predictions did NOT come true is largely down to the invention of HIV protease inhibitors, the discovery of triple therapy cocktail treatments, and people using condoms more because of the scares. Without these things (especially the drugs) we would be a lot closer to the sort of “Doomsday scenario” seen in sub-Saharan Africa and also in other places where access to treatment is poor, e.g. parts of the old USSR. ”

    Leaving aside the African AIDS question, which dissidents would claim is a whole different matter, given that people in Africa are dying from the diseases they were dying from before AIDS and in any case are not being tested for HIV. (see more info on the sites mentioned below)

    I appreciate that you have not had much exposure to the arguments of dissidents and that it seems bizarre to question a thesis which is so entrenched.

    The number of people who are indisputably in the “heterosexual non-drug takers” (HNDT) group in the West who have “full blown-AIDS” is virtually zero. (Especially given that some ex-drug takers and some men who had sex with other men are going to lie about it.)

    HNDTs have not become sick (or been tested for HIV antibodies) so they have had no drug or any other treatment. So none of the factors you mention, except for condom use, can have inhibited the spread of AIDS amongst the HNDT population had it been introduced into that population. I think we can agree that condom use is a very long way from 100%, as evidenced by the figures for unwanted pregnancies and traditional STDs so the obvious conclusion is that whatever causes “full-blown AIDS” has not significantly touched HNDTs.

    Therefore, for the orthodox contention to be true, then AIDS must have been confined virtually 100% to gay men and drug takers in the West.

    For this to be the case, over the last few decades, there must have been:
    - virtually zero unprotected sex between gay men who were HIV+ (whether they knew it or not) and bisexual men who also had female partners.
    - virtually zero unprotected sex between male HIV+ (whether they knew it or not) drug-takers and female HNDT partners

    There must have been virtually zero transmission even in the days before anybody knew much about AIDS, started wearing condoms, or started drug treatment. I also doubt that intravenous drug addicts are 100% conscientious about condom use even now.

    The AIDS dissident projection has proved to be more accurate than the establishment projection. Doesn’t this merit any examination?

    See this page for figures on how infinitesimal are the chances of contracting HIV through heterosexual intercourse:
    members.aol.com/mpwright9/aids4.html
    See the same page for an account of how a “gay disease” became a “threat to us all” for reasons which had nothing to do with science.

    Alternatively, many HNDTs MIGHT test positive but in North America and Western Europe we are almost never tested. If HNDTs have been living with an HIV+ status for decades without “treatment” or becoming ill, it rather bolsters the case for HIV not being the cause of AIDS. Even the CDC has had to concede (quietly) that HIV cannot be the sole cause of AIDS by admitting that there are AIDS cases where the paatient is NOT HIV positive. This completely undermines the orthodox definition of AIDS ie HIV+ plus one of 30 or so conditions (all well known long before AIDS).

    DR Aust wrote:

    “From a cursory look at Duesberg’s website, and at an interview with Kary Mullis mentioned in the Wikipedia page on him (and which goes into his views on HIV / AIDS), it seems the Farber article is taking the Duesberg/Mullis line.”

    It is far from being only Duesberg, Farber and Mullis who hold similar views. For your information here are a few more people:

    rethinkaids.info/quotes/aidsquotes.htm
    www.virusmyth.net/aids/whistleblowers.htm
    members.aol.com/mpwright9/aids1.html
    healtoronto.com/index.html
    www.aliveandwell.org/

    Many scientists with doubts would not risk “coming out” because they are likely to lose grants (like Duesberg) and be compared to Holocaust denialists.
    There is not, as your mention of the books implies, any financial benefit in writing AIDS dissident books or articles. A writer, or scientist, who toes the consensus line will have a far more lucrative career.

    Regards
    Art

  27. MostlySunny said,

    August 25, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Ok Art

    If it is all rubbish – please explain to me – where in all these dissidents’ writings they give an explanation as to the death rate in South Africa.

    People are dying like flies man – spend one week in South Africa – you’ll see what I mean. People are dying earlier, quicker and of things that they would not normally die off. It’s not the “same diseases”…

    I T ‘ S A I D S !

    why would WE make it up?

  28. davehat said,

    August 25, 2006 at 10:49 am

    So Art, you’re argument boils down to something along the lines of:

    “the AIDS epidemic is overblown hype if you discount everyone except for Heterosexual Non-Drug takers in the West, especially Africans who were dying before AIDS came along anyway.”

    What should I say to my friend’s non-drug taking heterosexual 19 year old pregnant daughter who found out yesterday that she is HIV positive?

    …oh, hang on a minute, she’s an African! We can just just ignore her. I mean, she was going to die of something else anyway, right?

  29. MostlySunny said,

    August 25, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    yeah – these Aids “dissidents” have strong stomachs.

    It’s people like them that are actually keeping life saving treatment from millions…

    believe me – Africans were NOT dying in the massive numbers they are today 30 years ago.

  30. Michael Harman said,

    August 25, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Art West: – “HNDTs have not … been tested for HIV antibodies … so the obvious conclusion is that whatever causes “full-blown AIDS” has not significantly touched HNDTs.” Admittedly I’ve omitted some things in that quotation. But if you don’t test for something in a igven population group, that doesn’t usually prove that the something isn’t there.

  31. Dr Aust said,

    August 25, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    As I have written before in connection with the MMR threads, as a long-time professional scientist I find it hard to believe in these “giant conspiracy” constructs, whatever the imperatives (research money, reputation, etc.). In my experience a significant minority of scientists DO like to challenge paradigms… albeit they might do it on the sly, while simultaneously having a grant or two to do impeccably “pro-consensus” work, and only publish if they become convinced the paradigm is incorrect. But to imply that the broadly accepted views never get tested and re-tested… it runs counter to my experience. When the “counter-evidence” comes from just one lab or a small group of linked labs (cf. Wakefield and MMR), I tend to see “wishful thinking / delusion” there, rather than giant conspiracy everywhere else.

    There are no doubt unanswered questions in how the epidemiology of HIV /AIDS differs in different populations / countries, but I would be pretty sure people are looking into this as we speak. The differing social contexts, nutritional background, population genetics and “spectrum” of local diseases sound like good places to start. But the comparison between HNDTs (as Art refers to them) in (e.g.) the UK and Africa would not be a simple one.

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