Who are the denialists? (Part I)

"It's just murder...It's really just that simple."
-Anthony Fauci on the HIV/AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg

I think that one of the clearest examples of denialism, and of the harm that anti-scientific attitudes can have, is in HIV/AIDS denialism. But who in this day and age can continue to promote such a thoroughly absurd idea that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, and worse yet, actively discourage those infected with the virus from pursuing treatments that have been proven to extend life?

I'll tell you who. The denialists.

Any discussion of HIV/AIDS denialists has to start with Peter Duesberg who has been the major source of denialism about the link between HIV and AIDS. In 1987 he wrote this paper in Cancer research and a subsequent paper in 1989 in PNAS suggesting that the cause of AIDS was due to more likely due to promiscuity and intravenous drug use than a virus. These papers have been the major sources of denialist selectivity for ignoring the evidence that HIV causes AIDS for the last two decades. While the science linking HIV and AIDS progressed to produce more and more evidence that AIDS had a viral cause, Duesberg did not relent. To this day, he still has defenders who insist that he was improperly victimized because he opposed scientific orthodoxy, but the fact of the matter is long after he was proven wrong on HIV and AIDS, he has been a source of misinformation on the causes of AIDS and as a result people have died. One glaring example is that of Christine Maggiore who Duesberg convinced that HIV was not a cause of AIDS and as a result her daughter died of AIDS-related pneumonia. Even worse, in South Africa, anti-retroviral medications were delayed for years because of the denialism of politicians such as Thabo Mbeki, who believe in conspiracies about the origin of AIDS and in quack remedies for its treatment.

In short, the continued denialism about HIV and its link to AIDS has led to death and denialists like Duesberg are to blame. Duesberg has been quiet lately on HIV and AIDS, preferring to publish about aneuploidy and cancer from a sadly black-and-white perspective. But many HIV/AIDS denialists carry the torch, continuing to spew disinformation based on the ignorance of decades of research demonstrating the link between HIV and AIDS, and, in our opinion, causing nothing but death and misery as a result.

Recently, HIV denialists suffered a major setback in a court case in Australia in which they attempted to defend a sociopath who infected women with HIV by trying to suggest the HIV virus doesn't exist (consistent with the tendency of cranks not caring about consistency). Again this shows how denialism can in some instances be deadly, and the purveyors of such psuedoscience deserve nothing but scorn.

We watch and track those who continue to promote HIV/AIDS denialism. The major players in this particularly despicable field of denialism include:

Peter Duesberg of course.
The Perth Group - who deny HIV exists.
Barnes World, the most active HIV/AIDS denialist blog
Deans World, a general conservative site run by Dean Esmay, who frequently promotes Duesberg in his endeavors.
Lew Rockwell another conservative site that features HIV/AIDS denialists articles.
Rethinking AIDS run by Etienne de Harven, an HIV/AIDS denialist crank.
Alive and Well the source of HIV/AIDS information for those like Christin Maggiore who want their kids to die unnecessarily.
AIDS myth exposed the message board for cranks who like to reassure themselves of their idiotic beliefs.
Virusmyth a crackpot resource site.
Heal AIDS, another source of deadly propaganda.
Reviewing AIDS, the AIDS denialist wiki.
New AIDS review, a crank blog.
Roberto Giraldo, a quack HIV/AIDS denialist.
Rebecca Culshaw author of Science Sold Out: Does HIV Really Cause AIDS? She uses the math to show HIV was never an epidemic therefore it doesn't exist or something. A thorough rebuttal (PDF), and a description of her plagiarism problems from AIDStruth. (Thanks ERV)
Gary Null a crank "Documentary filmmaker and health expert", conspiracy theorist and nutrition quack who uses his diploma mill degree to suggest he's a doctor when he's not being pursued for fraud by the FTC. (Thanks Edward)
David Crowe's Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society - more active than most sites.

And finally, the reason I'll never read Harper's magazine again, Celia Farber's disgusting denialist piece on HIV that shows how even insidious HIV/AIDS denialism can make it into mainstream publications. For a thorough refutation go here (PDF).

I'm happy to say since I've been tracking HIV/AIDS denialist sites, several have died, hopefully demonstrating how absurd it is to persist in such disgusting denialism in this day and age. But cranks are never truly convinced of their error, one can only wait for them to die or get bored of being internet cranks, and such patience in the face of murderous idiocy is difficult to maintain.

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If the Hoofnagels think that HIV/AIDS denial is dying, I would suggest a perusal of Tara Smiths' blog. Every time she brings up the subject of HIV/AIDS and says anything negative about Prof. Duesberg, the comments run into the hundreds, fed by the denialist whackjobs.

I don't think it's dying, in South Africa in particular it's seeing a resurgence. And cranks can't be turned, they're cranks for life.

I don't think it's dying, in South Africa in particular it's seeing a resurgence. And cranks can't be turned, they're cranks for life.

So there's a finality to being a crank? It is a destination in itself? Once the ass makes that imprint in the sofa it stays there?

Come on man, that's a copout. People take a path to get where they're going and those paths can usually be changed. If they're pathological (irrationally fixated in a clinical sense) it'll take some chemical or surgical help. If it's a POV, it can change given enough effort and time.

The key is effort and time. I can respect if your desire is not to expend effort on turning cranks (get it?) but to assign them a final destination is sort of, uh, flawed.

In 1987 he wrote this paper in Cancer Research and a subsequent paper in 1989 in PNAS suggesting that the cause of AIDS was more likely due to promiscuity and intravenous drug use than a virus.

The instant I heard that hypothesis, I wanted to ask Dr. D how he explains pediatric AIDS. Has he ever said anything on the subject?

It's the same as bigotry. Yes, we've all seen the made-for-TV movie in which grandpa learns not to hate black people anymore, but for the most part when people develop such overvalued ideas there just isn't anything you can do to fix them. The HIV/AIDS denialists are a very cranky lot, I doubt you'll ever see one turn. After all, Christine Maggiore had her daughter die from her crankery, did she change? Nope.

Everyone has that one relative that believes, well, not so polite things. It's futile to try and change them, and usually the family will just roll their eyes and say, well, that's just Uncle Zeke, and keep the kids away from him at family reunions. You just have to wait bigotry out, it's almost impossible to change.

Everyone has that one relative that believes, well, not so polite things. It's futile to try and change them, and usually the family will just roll their eyes and say, well, that's just Uncle Zeke, and keep the kids away from him at family reunions. You just have to wait bigotry out, it's almost impossible to change.

Sure -- I have one of those relatives.

I said to him, control yourself in front of the children and the outsiders or you won't be invited back. You don't have enough money to bend me to your will. You may be a product of your time, but now you're living in my time, so get with the program (keep going forward and get your ass out of those deep ass impressions on the sofa). I'd hate to have you committed or placed in a retirement community where no one visits because you're not mentally housebroken -- the kids would appreciate having you around for all the experience you provide, but I could justify your exile in about 2 minutes flat seeing that you're not making much of an effort to get along. I'm allowing that you could be hardheaded now and change your tune in 20 years when the loneliness sets in. I'd take you back in, but we'd have lost 20 years.

What's it going be dad?

convinced that HIV was not a cause of HIV

You sure that shouldn't read '... was not a cause of AIDS'?

- JS

I would add to this list Gary Null, a health guru who has a radio show on the Pacifica network and a book denying that HIV causes AIDS. I believe that when Thabo Mbeki was promoting the conspiracy theories about AIDS, he appealed to the fact that they were broadcast on a US network with strong credentials in the anti-Apartheid movement.

But how can you ommit Gambian President Yahya Jammeh? The president who claims he can cure AIDS. By a secret formula and magic ritual. And who has used his countries health service to ensure he is fed a constant stream of people to 'cure.'

To some degree I'm only going for the really active distributors of this crap. Kary Mullis would be an example of an omission, he's just a lone crank though that isn't particularly active. AIDStruth has another small list.

I'm really interested in those who are actively purveying denialism, like Bialey at Barnesworld etc., so I'll look into Gary Null. It's the intellectual sources of denialism that really need to be identified and debunked, not the individual cranks. But I'm more than happy to write about the African denialists with the hope that awareness of the problem might bring international pressure to change (as it did with Mbeki).

-JS- Fixed

Damn, your right, I forgot Culshaw. I'll add her in a bit, she has that terrible new book out where she disproves AIDS with teh maths.

Jeez, I looked at the Duesberg and at the Barnes site, and they used quotes from Einstein and Groucho Marx, two of my greatest heroes. I have tears in my eyes.

these felons choose their preys carefully. AIDS is not a disease that means an immediate and fearful threat to everyone. an average person can wave a hand to the whole topic, and live in a safe imaginary world, where AIDS is a disease of homosexuals and heroinists and africans only.

i really would like to see these cranks stating similar insanities about flu is not caused by a virus, and talk against vaccines, as they are only products of global healthcare conspiracy. then i'd like to see how unstoppable hordes of outraged people lynch them.

lesson number one: always choose a weak enemy.

By krisztian pinter (not verified) on 14 May 2007 #permalink

And let's not forget Phillip E. Johnson, "Godfather" of ID. Also an HIV/AIDS denier. (You can google for confirmation of this - I'm too lazy to post a link.)

By C. elegans (not verified) on 14 May 2007 #permalink

You might mention Lynn Margulis' views on HIV-AIDS and her promotion of Duesberg.

And what about those who deny that male circumcision reduces HIV transmission? (No, I wouldn't call them "denialists." But you may recall I don't like the use of term except for Holocaust deniers.)

The anti-circumcision people really just go crazy when you suggest the procedure as a way of preventing HIV and STD transmission which Tara has discussed at length. I don't think they deny the efficacy of the intervention, as much as the appropriateness of medical procedures on a sexual organ without consent in infants. The comparisons you see of circumcision to mastectomy or female genital mutilation are outrageous, and the advocates seem to have no sense of proportion, but I don't think they deny the science.

Lynn Margulis is a whackjob. Tara and others have also covered her, but she's not particularly active in spreading the BS so I'm ignoring her for now.

Colugo-- And what about those who deny that male circumcision reduces HIV transmission?

*sigh*

My problem with the HIV circumcision studies is that it appears the PIs have never done research in Africa before. I have no idea what the PIs do for a living, but it looks like MD research to me.

Heres the deal-- sterile conditions are hard to come by in Africa. Even in hospitals. Every ebola outbreak you read about on Google News? You can basically guarantee that its the result of a hospital not sterilizing its needles. A recent retrospective paper found that getting an injection in a hospital pre-seroconversion was a greater predictor of HIV status than 'risky' sexual behavior and such.

My question is: How are these circumcisions magically going to be done under sterile conditions, when its so much trouble with everything else? Whats going to happen when Western researchers arent there keeping an eye on things? Why does the CDC explicitly forbid female circumcision on the grounds it is rarely done under sterile circumstances and increases +HIV risk?

Its MD research. Short sighted. Ignores non-HIV research. Ignores cultural aspects of disease. Ugh.

Crap the PubMed link didnt link. Heres the paper title:

"Factors Associated with HIV Prevalence in a Pre-Partum Cohort of Zambian Women"

There are individuals who have changed their views, two prominent examples are Winstone Zulu (who is featured in Christine Maggiore's movie "The Other Side of AIDS") and Udo Schuklenck. There is an article about Winstone here, including this quote:

"What mattered to me as person living with HIV was to be told that HIV did not cause AIDS. That was nice. Of course, it was like printing money when the economy is not doing well. Or pissing in your pants when the weather is too cold. Comforting for a while but disastrous in the long run."

Udo Schuklenck's blog is here, he wrote a paper about his flirtation with denialism for the Journal of Medical Ethics.

By Richard Jefferys (not verified) on 15 May 2007 #permalink

Those are some interesting links Richard. Although at least in Winston Zulus case, it doesn't sound like he became a crank, so much as he was temporarily fooled by them.

Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute is also an HIV/AIDS denier.

Recently, HIV denialists suffered a major setback in a court case in Australia in which they attempted to defend a sociopath who infected women with HIV by trying to suggest the HIV virus doesn't exist (consistent with the tendency of cranks not caring about consistency).

I doubt that Parenzee is a sociopath. It appears that he was in denial with a small "d" about being infected with HIV. He was scared that the people around him would reject him if they found out that he was infected with HIV. Considering the stigma about HIV that is understandable. That doesn't mean that I condone his behaviour. I don't. His case highlights one of the causes of HIV denial.

He apparently only became aware of HIV Denial with a capital "D" after being found guilty and after a HIV Denialist approached his defense team. Again it is hard to condemn Parenzee for falling for their line.

The people that deserve condemnation in this case are the Perth Group who have used Parenzee to further their own agenda. It is hard to believe that the Perth Group were interested in parenzee's welfare at all. It has come to light that they refused to let Duesberg testify as an "expert" witness in the case even though Duesberg is the more credible (relatively speaking!) "expert". They have probably ensured that Parenzee stays behind bars for a long time.

By Chris Noble (not verified) on 15 May 2007 #permalink

It should also be pointed out that until recently Winstone Zulu was still being featured on the list of scientists that doubt the connection between HIV and AIDS.

The list:04/26/2006

They only removed his name a long time after they were aware that he had changed his views.

By Chris Noble (not verified) on 15 May 2007 #permalink

"Recently, HIV denialists suffered a major setback in a court case in Australia in which they attempted to defend a sociopath who infected women with HIV by trying to suggest the HIV virus doesn't exist (consistent with the tendency of cranks not caring about consistency). Again this shows how denialism can in some instances be deadly, and the purveyors of such psuedoscience deserve nothing but scorn."

Sadly, I live where this happened/is happening. Also referred to the murder capital of the world. (by head of population)

A number of years back we had a comedian and media saboteur called John Safran who, in his program "Music Jamboree" discovered that a certain popular musician from a certain popular band, was actively promoting a HIV/AIDS denialist agenda. In response, Safran dressed himself as that popular musician, and toting a leashed African aids infected monkey (A guy in a gorilla suit) visited bars and clubs asking patrons if they'd like to "have unprotected sex with him and his aids infected monkey." Not surprisingly, there wasn't a single person willing to take up his offer. Not even the occasional die-hard fan of that popular musician.

Up until that point I wasn't aware of anyone who could deny AIDS or HIV and keep a straight face. Until this post, I wasn't aware of how wide spread the disinformation actually was. After all, who in their right mind would take the word of a popular musician who probably doesn't have a degree in anything much less one remotely related to medicine? (note here that I AM such a musician myself but I figure I must have learnt far more than this guy, on the day I went to university.)

So I'm wondering how many of these denialists would consider putting their lives where their mouths are and getting infected with HIV? Instead of just allowing their sons and daughters to prove them wrong?

Be absolutely Icebox.

ERV, you should be careful or else you will find your way onto the list of scientists that doubt the connection between HIV and AIDS.

David Gisselquist was on the list until March 25 2006 because he attributed a large proportion of HIV infections in Africa to dirty needles. This was enough for the Denialists to claim him as one of their own.

I wonder what changed. Did Gisselquist ask to get his name taken off? It amkes me wonder how many other people would like to get their names off the list. For some it's too late - they died from AIDS.

By Chris Noble (not verified) on 15 May 2007 #permalink

It's Not surprising to see a bunch of so-called Neo Nazi"Credentials" runing around a message board whining about who's right and who's wrong and to the bimbo brunette "HIV GOON" SA Smith.. AKA (ERV) you are not Superior to Rebecca Culshaw! in 2003 you joined this marvelous and wonderous CULT the "Church of HIV" I am capable of performing an excorsism if you'd like? I was a member in 97 LOL! Demons and HIV Doctrines are for real.

As an AID$ Truther you ALL should at least act more on a Professional Level if as you say us "DENIALISTS" are cranks the least you could do is grow up and act your age. you are over 13 correct?

Anyone who dare read the AID$ TRUTH website can see just how DESPERATE you TRULY are $$$$$$$$$ of HIV $cience is what's really Scaring the Pants off you $cientific Religious HIV goons. gotta pay that High dollar Mortgage? and trip to Maui?

Your HIV god is no differnt than the Golden Calf displayed in the Bible Bunch of Rebellious Leunatics that will eventually send you all staright to hell...at least I hope.
depp=true
notiz=[Disemvowelled for stupidity/crankery]

On the issue of whether HIV causes AIDS, I think sufficient evidence exists that the virus DOES lead to AIDS, however, what many fail to analyse is that AIDS is an acronym for "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome", and it is quite clear that factors exist that can lead to an acquired immune deficiency syndrome, whether or not it is referred to as AIDS or not. For example, apart from an HIV antibody test, it is extremely difficult for one to distinguish a malnourished individual suffering from opportunistic infections in the late stages of wasting syndrome, from an HIV infected individual suffering from opportunistic infections and in the late stages of wasting syndrome. Therefore it is safe to say that in the absence of HIV, several countries will still have vast proportions o their populations suffering from "AIDS-like symptoms", simply due to the lack of basic human nutritional requirements. In light of this, I think government officials of countries who face these predicaments are well within their rights to be concerned about the amount of funds they allocate to HIV drugs, which could be of better use in improving the overall health of the people of that nation.

Because this site's sole focus is on attacking who its writers label denialists, there is no room here for any open dialogue on AIDS, causes and treatments.
For example, it is clearly known that nutritional status affects immunity. Nutritional status surely belongs in an open discussion of factors affecting AIDS. This study prepared for the military and published by the IOM covers the subject of vitamin A and immunity:
http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6450&page=279
Yet a search of this site on nutrition showed nothing of educational value for someone seeking information on AIDS, causes and treatments. If you were going to correct "myths" of the deniers where's the information on nutrition and AIDS? Where's the "correction" of what you decry as quackery?
Certainly there was nothing here that could be called "debate" on ANY aspect of the AIDS issue. So maybe this site is simply the country cousin to the deniers' sites regarding open discussion on AIDS.

By Zoe Langley (not verified) on 06 Sep 2007 #permalink

I'm wondering if this is another denialist tactic? "Yeah? Well, you're in denial, too!"

Nutrition can affect general immune response. In a compromised immune system (via HIV, anti-rejection drugs, etc.) no amount of nutrition will prevent secondary infections.

Also, this is not a site for "an open discussion of factors affecting AIDS." This is a site for the discussion of denialist tactics. There are several links on the left sidebar with more information on AIDS and HIV.

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