Respectful Insolence

A plethora of HIV straw men

It never ceases to amuse me when a blogger known for his embrace of bad science anxious to claim the mantle of “skeptic” falls flat on his face doing so. For an example of just such an occurrence, check out Skeptico’s latest post, A Straw Man Gets AIDS. In it, Skeptico systematically demolishes an AIDS/HIV “skeptic’s” attempt to list what he thinks are supposed “logical fallacies” used by those who argue for the conventionally held scientific consensus that HIV infection usually results in AIDS. Yes, it’s an old friend and occasional commenter, a tireless HIV/AIDS “dissident,” and Skeptico shows just how silly his appeal to logical fallacies is.

Watch Skeptico methodically demolish each and every one of Hank’ Barnes’ false “logical fallacies.” What Hank is so busily tearing down are his perceptions of what those supporting the HIV-AIDs link argue, not their real arguments, all leavened with a misunderstanding of what truly constitutes a logical fallacy. Skieptico demonstrates this quite when dealing with a supposed “appeal to authority”:

Appeal To False Authority:

The NIH has a great government website, which explains why HIV Causes AIDS

This is not an Appeal To Authority. If the claim was just “the NIH says HIV causes AIDS”, this might be an appeal to authority. But here’s the thing: the actual article Hank links to is a summary of the evidence that HIV causes AIDS, plus rebuttals to the many “HIV does not cause AIDS” myths. Someone could debate these evidences if they wanted to, but they can’t deny that the website does, in fact, list detailed evidence that HIV causes AIDS. Therefore, the website is not relying on the authority of the NIH but on the evidence it lists. Citing evidence is not an appeal to authority, and so citing this website is not fallacious.

This is a classic example of someone who has heard the term “Appeal To Authority”, but has not understood it. If an “authority” lists evidence, it is not fallacious to cite it.


Just to be clear on this Straw Man business – I’m not claiming that no one ever said anything like the things Hank is claiming; I’m saying these Straw Man arguments Hank is putting forward are not the main arguments put forward by the scientists who support the HIV theory.

Indeed they are not.

One fallacy in particular to which I’ll add my two cents to Skeptico’s:

Appeal to Fear:

Did you see what we did to Duesberg? If you don’t accept that HIV causes AIDS, we will strip away your funding and ostracize you. Now, get smart, will ya?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but did anyone actually “strip away” Peter Duesberg’s funding? I tend to doubt it. What almost certainly happened is that Duesberg’s pre-”dissident” funding expired and, since he has come to believe that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, he simply hasn’t been able to convince the NIH or other major funding agencies to fund grant proposals based on his idea. That’s a subtle but important difference. In any case, isn’t Duesberg still a tenured professor at Berkeley? He wasn’t kicked out of the National Academy of Sciences for his HIV “skepticism,” was he? He still publishes his aneuploidy-cancer research in peer-reviewed journals (which means he must have found funding for that project from somewhere), doesn’t he? Some of his HIV opinion pieces still occasionally show up in the peer-reviewed literature as well, don’t they? Duesberg’s failure to secure funding for his AIDS research after so long couldn’t possibly be–perish the thought!–maybe, just maybe because his research proposals were not good science, could it? Just a thought. (No doubt dissidents will say I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.) I’m sure it’s comforting to “dissidents” to imagine some grand conspiracy of “orthodox” scientists and big pharma (anxious to sell antiretrovirals, of course) keeping Duesberg (and, naturally, The Real Truth about AIDS) down, but after nearly 20 years of Duesberg’s “skepticism,” one has to wonder. The surest way to shut up critics in science is data supporting your hypothesis that is so overwhelming that even the critics can’t answer it well, and the 19 years since Duesberg first started publicly questioning the HIV-AIDS link is a lot of time to have to produce that preliminary evidence. So far, he hasn’t done it.

You can play the Galileo Gambit for just so long before you have to produce some positive evidence if you hope to convince the scientific community. Of course, it’s always possible that one day Duesberg may be vindicated. Stranger things have happened. However, I certainly wouldn’t bet money on it based on the paucity of evidence that he has marshalled so far compared the the mass of evidence supporting the HIV-AIDS link.


  1. #1 rrt
    September 12, 2006

    It’s mentioned briefly in the comments at Skeptico’s, and I’ve seen it elsewhere, but I’ve never seen a response from these guys to the predictable question: If HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, then why not volunteer to infect yourself with HIV to prove it?

    I’m sure there are some stock responses to this, I’ve seen it too often to think most deniers haven’t faced it frequently. I just don’t know what they are. I can even dream up a couple, such as “I’m only 95% certain it doesn’t, so you’re asking me to play Russian Roulette with a 20-chamber revolver” or “I never said HIV wasn’t capable of causing some nasty disease, just not HIV.” Is that basically how it goes?

  2. #2 Joe
    September 12, 2006

    Duesberg has said he would take the virus; but only if he prepared the virus sample personally. And, he isn’t interested in doing that. He thinks if someone else prepares the virus, it just might be contaminated with something that really causes AIDS. It reminds one of OJ Simpson’s search for the real killer …

  3. #3 spondee
    September 12, 2006

    There’s a group of HIV dissenters in SF called ACTUP that also has a medical marijuana business. The crap on their main page is textbook denier propaganda –

    The kicker is, several of the people who run the place are HIV+, and according to an article I read about them a few years ago, some have full blown AIDS – they just won’t admit it.

  4. #4 rrt
    September 12, 2006

    I would think Duesberg’s approach would be acceptable if the preparation was thoroughly supervised.

    But there is, of course, the obvious ethical ickiness of helping the guy inject himself with “high-quality” HIV. I suppose that’s a major achilles’ heel to any such challenge. You’d have to have an observer, and I just don’t think I could stand by and let it happen.

  5. #5 Chris Noble
    September 12, 2006

    In Duesberg’s FAQ he responds to a question about injecting himself with HIV.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    NEW: See Question and Answer #16

    Q1: You say that there is no real decrease in new Aids cases. On the contrary, every year their number is on the rise. How do you explain that the official statistics in Italy (as in other European countries) s ay that the new cases have diminished by 11.3 percent in 1996 and 29 percent in 1997?

    A1: Inventing the AIDS Virus (IAV) proposes that AIDS is caused by drugs. The decrease in new AIDS cases in the US in the last years confirms this proposal exactly, because thus decrease corresponds exactly to a steady decline in recreational drug consumption. For example, in the US spending for recreational drugs peaked at $91 billion in 1988 and steadily dropped to $53.7 billion in 1995.

    Likewise the rapid increase of AIDS in the 1980s corresponded to the emergence of the explosive epidemics of recreational drug use in the US and Europe in the 1980s (see IAV).

    (Where and when would I have said “there is no real decrease in new AIDS cases”???)

    Q2: You appear to think that Azt may be the cause of the disease in stead of a cure for it: how is that possible when the drug has been used since 1987 while the first cases of this strange immune syndrome were reported in 1981?

    A2: Between 1981 and 1984 the Centers of Disease Control in Atlanta and many independent American and English scientists have proposed that AIDS is a lifestyle disease caused by recreational drugs. See for example an editorial in the famous New England Journal of Medicine (vol. 305, p1465) by D. Durack proposing in 1981 that “recreational drugs [are] immunosuppressive”.

    Based on the lifestyle hypothesis of the early 1980s and my own research I have proposed in IAV that drugs cause AIDS. The drug hypothesis holds that AIDS is caused either by recreational drugs, or by DNA chain terminators such as AZT prescribed as anti-HIV drugs, or by a combination of both.

    Indeed, I have pointed out that DNA chain terminators like AZT are muchmore toxic than recreational drugs such as cocaine and heroin. This mayhave created the erroneous impression that the many anti-HIV drugslicensed since 1987 are the only cause of AIDS.

    Q3: If Azt is so toxic, how is it that the incidence of infected children has decreased from 25% to 8% (in Italy and in France) in babies born to mothers who had been treated with Azt during pregnancy?

    A3: Treatment of HIV-positive, pregnant women with the DNA chain terminators has reduced the incidence of HIV in their babies from 25% to 8% in France and Italy as well as in the US. This is to be expected from a drug that was designed to kill cells including those in which HIV replicates. AZT was developed over 30 years ago to kill cells for cancer chemotherapy.

    The first problem with this hypothetical triumph of anti-HIV treatment is that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. The second more serious problem that AZT induces abortion, and generates birth defects in humans and causes cancer in animals born to AZT-treated mothers. For example, a study published in 1994 found that among 104 AZT treated HIV positive women, 8 aborted spontaneously, 8 had to be aborted “therapeutically”, and 8 had babies with birth defects such as cavities in the chest, heart defects, extra fingers, misplaced ears, triangular faces, misformed spine, and albinism (Kumar et al., J. AIDS, vol. 7, p1034 (1994), cited in IAV).

    Q4: According to our leading experts the new cocktail (protease + transcriptase inhibitors) seems to work or at least to keep the disease at bay. How is that possible?

    A4: Contrary to the assertions of your “leading experts”, the anti-HIV drug cocktails are failing in the US. A front page article of the New York Times , showing dying AIDS patients, issued a first warning in August 1997: “Despite powerful new AIDS drugs many are still losing battle (NYT, August 22, 1997).

    By September 1997 the American press already reported that “AIDS drug cocktails fail 53%” (San Francisco Examiner, September 29, 1997). In view of this I wonder what your “leading experts” do to make the cocktails “work”. Where did they publish their success stories?

    Q5: Statistics in western countries show that there are fewer deaths among people with Aids. If it is not because of the new treatment, what are the reasons?

    A5: The reasons why the AIDS epidemic is declining were given in A1, the answer to Q1. Recreational drug consumption has recently declined and therefore AIDS.

    However, there is no evidence to support the claim that this is due to the new AIDS drug cocktails. Such evidence would have to show, that those who still get AIDS are not treated, and those who don’t get AIDS are treated. But this is not the case in the US. Practically all American AIDS patients are treated with the new drug cocktails, but they continue to die.

    Q6: In your book you envisage a possibile role of the ‘poppers’ as promoters of the syndrome because of their action on the immune system. In Italy, however, only ten percent of the gay community is estimated to use poppers. How do you explain then the Aids cases among the Italian gays?

    A6: Since I do not have documentation on drug use by Italian male homosexuals, I cannot answer this question directly. Please provide a reference for your assertion that only 10% use poppers.

    However, drug use by American, English, Dutch, Canadian and Australian male homosexuals has been reported in the scientific literature: They use batteries of recreational drugs as sexual stimulants, including poppers (nitrite inhalants), amphetamines, ethyl chloride, cocaine, speed, heroin, in addition to a “polypharmacy” of medical drugs. Many of these, and particularly combinations of these drugs cause AIDS defining diseases – regardless of the presence of HIV.

    Q7: You mention studies reporting that a Hiv-positive person needs an average of 1000 unprotected sexual intercourses to transmit the Hiv virus. How was it possible to establish such an average? Does that mean that condoms are useless to prevent the spreading of the disease?

    A7: The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta were the first to publish in 1989 in the New England Journal of Medicine (see IAV) that it takes about 1,000 unprotected sexual contacts with an HIV-positive person to become positive. The CDC’s numbers are based on thousands of “discordant” hemophilia couples, in which the husband was positive from a transfusion and some of their wives became positive over time. Recent studies on homosexual couples, other heterosexual couples and singles have confirmed the CDC’s original number (see IAV).

    With regard to your question about the usefulness of condoms in preventing AIDS my answer is twofold: (1) Since AIDS is caused by drugs, not by HIV, condoms do not prevent AIDS. (2) However, since many doctors prescribe DNA chain terminators such as AZT as anti-HIV drugs to healthy HIV-positives, and since DNA chain terminators cause AIDS – condoms are useful after all. They protect people who have an average of 1,000 sexual contacts with HIV-positives from infection, and thus from AIDS caused by anti-HIV medication.

    Q8: You state that any microbe that kills all his hosts would end up by committing suicide. So what? Do you believe in a ‘survival finalism’ in nature, in a sort of intelligence of the virus?

    A8: Life is comparable to the law: it is based on logic and precedent. There >>>>is neither a precedent for a virus that consistently kills it’s host, as is claimed for HIV, nor would it be logical for a virus to kill the host it needs for its survival.

    The “intelligence of a virus” killing consistently its host, would be the same as that of a car that consistently kills its drivers because it does not have brakes.

    Q9: The WHO estimates that there are 17 million healthy seropositives in the world. You say that many thousands are discovered every year in the American Army. ‘When’ and ‘how’ were they infected and ‘why’ most of them don’t get sick?

    A9: HIV, like all other retroviruses in animals and humans, is perinatally transmitted from mother to child. All viruses and microbes that are perinatally transmitted in nature are harmless for the reasons stated in A8. Thus those 17 million HIV positives who are healthy, are those who do not use recreational and/or anti-HIV drugs.

    Q10: The new tests (Pcr) can detect the virus not only its antibodies. How is it that many people die of Aids with no trace of Hiv in their blood? Is it hidden or non existent?

    A10: Contrary to your assertion, the new PCR test does not detect “the virus”. Instead it detects a piece of the viral RNA or DNA genome, but not even the complete genome. Typically any virus, whose RNA or DNA must be detected by this method, is neutralized by antibody and is thus latent, and not infectious. It is for this reason that this very expensive method was introduced to detect “the virus” in AIDS patients. It would be much cheaper, and biologically much more relevant if infectious HIV could be detected. The difficulty in detecting infectious virus was reason for the fraud charges of the Pasteur Institute against leading AIDS researchers in the US (Gallo) and the UK (Weiss).

    The PCR method was invented by Kary Mullis, who wrote the foreword for IAV, to detect a needle in a haystack. But a needle in a haystack does not cause a fatal disease. This is in fact one of the fatal flaws of the HIV-AIDS hypothesis.

    The reason why “many people die of AIDS with no trace of HIV” is simple. Since AIDS is caused by drugs, HIV must not be present in AIDS patients – this is the hallmark of a passenger virus.

    Q11: You say that 90% of Aids patients are still men. In Africa the ration between men and women is 1 to 1 and in Eastern Europe, i.e. Romania, is 6 to 4. Why this difference?

    A11: This misrepresents what I state in IAV. I have stated that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, almost 9 out of 10 AIDS patients in America and Western Europe are males.

    I did not say that they are “still men”, because I am not a prophet, I am just a scientist.

    A whole chapter of IAV explains why African AIDS is different. The African AIDS epidemic has only one thing in common with the American/European AIDS epidemic – the name. African AIDS is caused by malnutrition, parasitic infection and poor sanitation. There are no risk groups in Africa, like drug addicts and homosexuals. It is for this reason that African AIDS is equally distributed between the sexes. Moreover, practically no African AIDS patients have pneumocystis pneumonia, dementia or Kaposi’s sarcoma – the signal diseases of AIDS in the US and Europe. Above all, African AIDS is diagnosed without even attempting an HIV test, which is too expensive for Africa. Thus there is no scientific evidence for the correlation between HIV and African AIDS, only guesses.

    Q12: Has the blood screening reduced the number of infections among hemophiliacs?

    A12: This is a good question! I assume this would be so. But surprisingly neither the US nor Europe has published how HIV- screening of blood supplies has affected the incidence of HIV in the American and European hemophiliacs. Please let me know if you have such publications.

    Q13: You complain about the discrimination by the scientific community and about the grants denied by the NIH for your research on the long term effects of drugs. Has something changed after the publication of your book in the States?

    A13: The non-funding of non-conformists has not changed in the US. Iassume it would be fatal for the current AIDS establishment if they were proven wrong, and that is why it will not change soon.

    Q14: Is there any Italian scientist who agrees with your unorthodox views? And in Europe?

    A14: There are some Italian scientists who have the same questions about the unproductive HIV hypothesis as I do. For example Dr. Fabio Franchi in Trieste and Dr Raffaele Cascone in Morlupo. Others like Prof. Leonida Santamaria and Dr. Raul Vergini (Predappio) have organized conferences in 1993 in Pavia and in 1994 in Bologna that have openly questioned the HIV-AIDS hypothesis.

    Q15: Why did you write your book not in the first person but in the third one?

    A15: The third person was chosen, because the book was written as a documentary, rather than a biography or a novel.

    Q16: The best way I know to prove the HIV hypothesis wrong is to infect otherwise perfectly healthy people with HIV, don’t give them any treatment, and see what happens. I know this type of research has been done with animals. Since you can’t experiment on other people, why don’t you infect yourself? Maybe you can recruit some followers and have a “population” for a real experiment.

    A16: I have considered, even offered, this directly. Here are the problems:

    1) In the US, it is not possible to work with HIV without the approval of the National Institutes of Health and the university. Thus I would need an NIH peer-approved grant to do this. Without such a contract I would risk my lab and job.

    2) In addition, if 10 years after injecting myself I would still be without symptoms, the HIV-AIDS orthodoxy would call me a bluff unless I had had a grant that allowed for appropriate controls. I have submitted 9 grant applications to study AIDS, including doing the study you mention, but none was approved.

    3) In the US there are 1 million HIV-positive persons without any symptoms, and in the world there are an estimated 34 million. Monitoring a few hundred of these for AIDS and non-viral AIDS risks would be a statistically much more relevant experiment than if one person injected himself. But surprisingly such studies are not done. Why not? Guess!

    None of his excuses are persuasive.

    To number 2 the obvious solution is to find a statistically significant number of “rethinkers” that are HIV- and willing to be injected with a highly virulent isolate of HIV

  6. #6 Orac
    September 13, 2006

    In the US, it is not possible to work with HIV without the approval of the National Institutes of Health and the university. Thus I would need an NIH peer-approved grant to do this. Without such a contract I would risk my lab and job.

    Bullshit. You do need a properly certified facility to work with HIV, but you do not have to have an NIH grant. I’d ask him this: How is it that drug companies get permission to work with live HIV without government funding?

    Basically, he’s whining that, because he’s not NIH-funded at present, he can’t do any research involving using live HIV.

  7. #7 lost_erizo
    September 13, 2006

    Q8: You state that any microbe that kills all his hosts would end up by committing suicide. So what? Do you believe in a ‘survival finalism’ in nature, in a sort of intelligence of the virus?

    A8: Life is comparable to the law: it is based on logic and precedent. There >>>>is neither a precedent for a virus that consistently kills it’s host, as is claimed for HIV, nor would it be logical for a virus to kill the host it needs for its survival.

    The “intelligence of a virus” killing consistently its host, would be the same as that of a car that consistently kills its drivers because it does not have brakes.

    This is a fallacious evolutionary argument. Survivorship over sufficient time for all forms of life is 0. Fitness is survivorship x reproductive success. An infection which kills it’s host can have high fitness in an evolutionary sense as long as it replicates – ie infects new hosts. HIV, because it can have a long asymptomatic incubation period, is usually spread to new hosts long before it causes full blown AIDS.

    I saw a really interesting talk a few years ago on a study that indicated that the virulence of enteric viruses is positively correlated to bad sanitation – because when your sanitation is bad, a really sick person is likely to infect other people even if they are too sick to get out of bed (infected waste gets spread around regardless). Whereas when sanitation is good, making someone too sick to move actually reduces the opportunity for the infection to spread to new host. So while really virulent forms of a disease burn out, milder forms spread because the sick people are still well enough to move around and find new hosts.

    But HIV doesn’t work that way since it’s mode of transmission is not closely related to it’s symptoms. It’s more like cancer. Natural selection is not very effective at weeding most cancers (at least those that are partially heritable) out of the gene pool because the majority of people reproduce and pass those same genes on long before they die of the cancer.