Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy

Seeking Stories of AIDS Denialism

Have you or someone you know been harmed by AIDS Denialism? If you, or someone you care about, have been advised to stop taking HIV meds, ignore HIV test results, purchase a 'natural' cure etc., please email me.

All information will be kept confidential.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christine Maggiore, 1956-2008

Christine Maggiore, vocal skeptic of AIDS research, dies at 52. By Anna Gorman and Alexandra Zavis, The LA Times, 8:48 PM PST, Dec 29, 2008

Until the end, Christine Maggiore remained defiant.On national television and in a blistering book, she denounced research showing that HIV causes AIDS. She refused to take medications to treat her own virus. She gave birth to two children and breast fed them, denying any risk to their health. And when her 3-year-old child, Eliza Jane, died of what the coroner determined to be AIDS-related pneumonia, she protested the findings and sued the county.

On Saturday, Maggiore died at her Van Nuys home, leaving a husband, a son and many unanswered questions. She was 52.According to officials at the Los Angeles County coroner's office, she had been treated for pneumonia in the last six months. Because she had recently been under a doctor's care, no autopsy will be performed unless requested by the family, they said.

Her husband, Robin Scovill, could not be reached for comment. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician whom the family consulted when Eliza Jane was sick, said Monday that Maggiore's death was an "unmitigated tragedy."

"In the event that she died of AIDS-related complications, there are medications to prevent this," said Gordon, who disagrees with Maggiore's views and believes HIV causes AIDS. "There are medications that enable people who are HIV-positive to lead healthy, normal, long lives."Diagnosed with HIV in 1992, Maggiore plunged into AIDS volunteer work -- at AIDS Project Los Angeles, L.A. Shanti and Women at Risk. Her background commanded attention.

A well-spoken, middle-class woman, she was soon being asked to speak about the risks of HIV at local schools and health fairs. "At the time," Maggiore told The Times in 2005, "I felt like I was doing a good thing."All that changed in 1994, she said, when she spoke to UC Berkeley biology professor Peter Duesberg, whose well-publicized views on AIDS -- including assertions that its symptoms can be caused by recreational drug use and malnutrition -- place him well outside the scientific mainstream.Intrigued, Maggiore began scouring the literature about the underlying science of HIV. She came to believe that flu shots, pregnancy and common viral infections could lead to a positive test result. She later detailed those claims in her book, "What if Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?"

Maggiore started Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, a nonprofit that challenges "common assumptions" about AIDS. She also had a regular podcast about the topic.Her supporters expressed shock Monday over her death but were highly skeptical that it was caused by AIDS. And they said it would not stop them from questioning mainstream thinking."Why did she remain basically healthy from 1992 until just before her death?" asked David Crowe, who served with Maggiore for a number of years on the board of the nonprofit Rethinking AIDS. "I think it's certain that people who promote the establishment view of AIDS will declare that she died of AIDS and will attempt to use this to bring people back in line.

Christine Maggiore and the price of skepticism: Questioning theories is usually a healthy pursuit, but in some cases -- such as Christine Maggiore's HIV theories -- the risks outweigh criticisms. LA Times Editorial, January 3, 2009

Christine Maggiore, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992, waged a long, bitter campaign denouncing the prevailing scientific wisdom on the causes and treatment of AIDS. She fiercely contested the overwhelming consensus that the HIV virus causes AIDS, and that preventive approaches and antiretrovirals can help thwart the disease's spread and prolong the lives of those who suffer from it. Her campaign ended this week with her death at age 52. Her challenge, however, continues, as Maggiore's argument -- that scientific consensus, no matter how established, remains subject to objection -- runs through debates with profound public policy implications. Does smoking cause cancer? Do human activities contribute to climate change?It is admittedly difficult to spot the moment when a scientific theory becomes an accepted fact. It took hundreds of years for the Catholic Church to acknowledge the work of Galileo, and it still flinches at Darwin. Meanwhile, the rest of the sentient universe long ago accepted that the Earth orbits the sun, and all but the most determined creationists see the undeniable evidence of evolution at work. Still, science is a discipline of questions, and rarely is a fact established so firmly that it will silence all critics. At the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, the exhibit guides visitors "to the dawn of time" -- just 6,000 years ago. That makes for some startling conclusions, not the least of which is that dinosaurs and humans were created by God on the sixth day and lived side by side. Call it the Flinstones theory.

Of course, new questions inevitably emerge from new inquiry and new data. How, then, to judge when a theory becomes fact, when it slips beyond legitimate objection? The test lies in balance: A preponderance of evidence accumulates on one side or the other. Those who contest that evidence must demonstrate the plausibility of alternatives and produce evidence to support them. If the alternatives are implausible, they melt away. Eventually, there is nothing left to uphold the view that the sun is circling the Earth or that natural selection is a secular myth.In some instances, these debates are interesting but not terribly consequential. But sometimes they are of staggering significance. When the theory in question is about the cause of climate change or AIDS, misplaced skepticism, whether cynical or well-intentioned, can lead to grave results.

For years, the South African government joined with Maggiore in denying that HIV is responsible for AIDS and resisting antiretroviral treatment. According to a new analysis by a group of Harvard public health researchers, 330,000 people died as a consequence of the government's denial and 35,000 babies were born with the disease.

Determined to reject scientific wisdom, Maggiore breast-fed her daughter. Eliza Jane died in 2005, at the age of 3. The L.A. County coroner concluded that the cause of death was AIDS-related pneumonia. Maggiore refused to believe it.


  1. Even though you still abuse it to a degree and you're too eager to jump on to certain conclusions, thanks for limiting your rudeness in this case. And as you're aware, such incidences can't make essential scientific questions simply disappear, that's not how science works. In fact, you're probably too biased to notice but even you should be thankful to Christine for what she achieved in her life. Asking questions like she did is crucial for all sciences. She would've been welcomed by the scientific community if what's being pursued was only the truth and nothing else. A patient as courageous as she asking questions was labeled as "denialist" instead. What a shame for humanity that this woman's worth couldn't have been recognized by the "best minds"...

    I wish a lot of strength to everybody... including you Seth. You may not be aware but you need even more strength than those who really perceive her loss as an important loss for the entire humanity.

  2. Maggiore had the blood of thousands of South African kids on her hands after helping persuade Mbeki not to allow the use of Nevirapine to prevent HIV transmission from pregnant women to their children. She is also responsible for the premature death of her own daughter from AIDS. Allowing herself to die of AIDS-related pneumonia was unnecessary, but her culpability in the death of others is what she will be remembered for. Perhaps some of her friends will finally learn a lesson from what happened to her and cease their efforts to harm other people. But I doubt it, considering how crazy her fellow AIDS denialists are.

  3. I hope you two realise that you are doing nothing more than prophesying. All we know, you two included, is that she is dead of pneumonia.
    Christine was right when she said that as an HIV+ person no matter what you die of it will always be AIDS-related. HIV+ people can only die of that.

  4. Every death is tragic in its own unique way.

    My sympathies go out to her family, especially to her son who has lost his mother, and to her husband and personal friends. They have lost a human being they love, and who loved them.

    Because of the very public way she lived, Maggiore’s death will resonate with the experiences of many people. And for many different reasons.

    Whatever the consequences of her choices for herself and for others, there can be no genuine justice or triumphalism in her death for anyone.

    Only sadness.

  5. Christine's death isn't tragic, rather fortunate for HIV positives everywhere.

    Christine used her gift at cherry-picking science and verbal manipulation against the most vulnerable, those so desperate and fearful of HIV.

    South Africa has a few hundred thousand souls in graves thanks in great part to her relationship with Mbeki and the grains of truth she twisted into junk science for him to consume. Aside which, her own 3 year old daughter was a victim of her mother's intense hubris and willful neglect. Despite the child's life-threatening illness, Christine neglected to hospitalize her daughter until she'd finally stopped breathing.

    I imagine there was a difficult moment for Christine as she weakened from pneumonia herself that some things became clear to her. There is agony in a pneumonia death. But she couldn't "fix it" for herself. After all, how could she ever relent, take HAART, regain her health and life a normal life on therapy when she denied it for her daughter, who would never have that chance.

    For all the innocent souls who lost their lives thanks to Christine Maggiore, justice has arrived.

  6. One thing was always clear to me. When Christine Maggiore died, it would not matter what rare, lethal disease of the severely immune deficient she suffered from. The denialists would call it ANYTHING ELSE.

    One can't concede ANYONE has died of HIV/AIDS if they don't believe HIV causes AIDS.

  7. Denialism is a psychological trap, a cult.
    For many HIV positive denialists it takes actually getting ill and facing the real threat of imminent death to muster up the psychological strength to admit they have been wrong, and that they really need to rethink.
    Some don't face reality even then.

    Christine was ensnared in the denialist trap more horribly than most. Firstly, she had been set up as a spokesperson for the cause - thrust forward as the public face of many others who had an investment in making sure she never wavered. She carries responsibility for her choices there, but so do the people who set her up, and kept her locked in.

    But when EJ died, her chances of ever escaping denialism all but vanished, because in order to rethink her position she would have had to confront the fact that not only had she been so publicly wrong all this time, but that she carried responsibilty for the death of someone she cared deeply about. That's a predicament I would never wish on anyone, and I'm not surprised she was never able to productively ask herself, "What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong?" The answer, obvious to everyone outside denialism, would have been personally near-unbearable. That's the tragedy.

    While Maggiore made her own decisions and ultimately took her own role in the propagation of the denialist cult, I can't help feeling deeply sorry for her awful situation. It is the Duesbergs, the Bauers, the Al-Bayatis, the Perthians etc who spend their time constructing the denialist trap and keeping people stuck in it while never suffering its personal consequences - they're the ones that really make me fume.

  8. David Crowe has written...

    Christine Maggiore died unexpectedly on December 27, 2008, leaving behind her husband, Robin Scovill; their son, Charlie; and the memory of their daughter, Eliza Jane.

    Christine was a beacon of hope for many people whose lives, like her own, had been turned upside-down by an HIV-positive diagnosis. When she received this devastating label in 1992, Christine — in spite of predictions that she had five years to live — did not give up, but devoted her life to helping others. For several years she was a public speaker for AIDS Project Los Angeles and L.A. Shanti Foundation and was a founding board member of Women At Risk.

    It was in the process of trying to find a doctor that she felt comfortable dying with that Christine starting getting conflicting information from AIDS experts, particularly troubling in the search to save her own life. One doctor in particular suggested that Christine retest, and she finally did, testing HIV negative, positive and indeterminate over a dozen times in subsequent months. She was shocked. Christine took her questions and confusion to the very AIDS organizations that she was helping to build. Their unanimous dismissal of her inquiries forced her to look outward. This series of events profoundly shook her faith in mainstream AIDS beliefs and sent her down a rabbit hole of exploration that would challenge everything that she had been led to believe.

    In spite of Christine's strength, she was also under tremendous pressure and scrutiny. She often felt that she wasn't allowed to get sick like other people. After her daughter died in 2005 of an allergic reaction to an antibiotic for an ear infection, the L.A. County Coroner — ignoring evidence to the contrary — declared it a death from AIDS, and Christine's suffering increased horribly. She was vilified in the world media and harassed by outspoken opponents of her work, who openly gloated that this was her just comeuppance. She and her family endured a yearlong criminal investigation that not only terrorized them, but also robbed them of an opportunity to mourn the loss of their daughter. That loss was twisted into sensationalized and mean-spirited television episodes that portrayed Christine as a quack and a murderer and ultimately as dead. Christine never fully recovered from the unjust treatment that she received around the loss of Eliza Jane, and that treatment ultimately exhausted her.

    A week and a half ago, Christine was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and did not conjure the strength to overcome it. She died unexpectedly in her home with her husband and a dear friend. Christine Maggiore's death is a shock and devastating blow to her family and to the thousands of people around the world who loved and respected her.

    For anyone who lives in fear of an HIV or AIDS diagnosis, Christine's legacy will live on. She was committed to sharing vital facts and essential dialog that would give HIV-positive people everywhere the chance to consider a destiny that differs from the one of death and despair that they are taught to expect. For that she was loved.

  9. Whatever the proximate and ultimate causes of Maggiore's death, her earnest, sincere, heartfelt, compassion-driven crusade was simply wrong, and has contributed to suffering and death.

    Christine's good intentions neither validate nor excuse her willful ignorance and her immoral actions. One can be sincere, kind, intelligent and yet still be immoral in some of her actions. It is not moral to encourage people to ignore/reject the fruits of human knowledge in a way that will cause harm. Christine may not have been legally culpable (she was not, AFAIK, a licensed health care therapist), but she was ethically and morally responsible for causing great harm.

    Examples - not analogous, but instructive - include the many kindly, well-meaning folks who defended slavery with sincere, heartfelt arguments. I have met sweet people who encourage ex-gay "therapy". Neither their delusion nor their niceness forgive their actions, which cause clear harm.

    AIDS denialism, in its several forms, maims and kills people.

  10. There are people who claim Jim Jones' crusade was "earnest, sincere and heartfelt" but he still took a thousand people to their deaths and died along side them.

    And Jones pales by comparison to Christine, who is partially responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in South Africa and the Mbeki policy not to fund HIV care for pregnant woman.

    Her daughter Eliza Jane was only one needless death caused by Maggiore.

  11. sadunkal - Perhaps you need to take some time off your communication degree and spend some time in some science classes.

    "you should be thankful to Christine for what she achieved in her life." Yes murdering a 3 year old child is such an accomplishment. Misleading thousands possibly hundreds of thousands about HIV. Influencing public policy in SA. Causing directly and indirectly the deaths of many of those people.

    By your standards I suppose we should be thankful that Hitler held his mad beliefs and pursued them with such vigor.

    "Asking questions like she did is crucial for all sciences." Yes, but that is only half the story. Being objective about the results of tests and data is also crucial to science. And maggiore and her fellow cultists live in a world of denial and ignorance.

    She wasn't asking well founded scientific questions. She was looking for technicalities, as if she could argue with HIV like some defense lawyer looking for a dismissal. She was so wedded to her delusions that she allowed her child to DIE of HIV and then encouraged the deaths of others.

    No, her death is a gift to as all. One less sanctimonious fool blathering about HIV denialism.

    And one more denialist to add to the growing list who have since died of AIDs (google: Dead Denialists).

    "What a shame for humanity that this woman's worth couldn't have been recognized by the "best minds"..." The woman was worthless. Point blank. Good riddance to her.

    "who really perceive her loss as an important loss for the entire humanity." And quite frankly the people who believe her death is a loss to humanity are fools.

    The science is clear. HIV causes AIDs. If you have some groundshattering evidence to the contrary, then by all means submit it to a peer reviewed journal.

    But for pity's sake if you insist on being a fool, only kill yourself. Don't spread your lies and poisons to the people around you!

    maggiore's death is nothing short of cosmic karma. Justice. Good riddance to her.

  12. The CDC is funding social marketing communications through the internet, particularly blogs. So my question to this blog is how much does the CDC pay you for social marketing your views to the world?

  13. Valerie, the CDC is paying for marketing ideas on blogs?
    Can you prove that?
    Sounds like a conspiracy to me.
    I have no CDC funding of any kind. Nor have I ever taken money from Big Pharma. I have never met Bill Gates, but I do use Windows. I have no contacts with the CIA, except those secret ones. My research is funded by the NIH, but they have nothing to do with my blog. Aliens do not control my blog either. I also have no affiliation with the Loch Ness Monster, that would be Henry Bauer.

    A little suspicious are we?
    You can relax. There really is no conspiracy against Peter Duesberg's wacky ideas. He just has wacky ideas. And I know David Rasnick says the CIA is involved in covering up an AIDS blunder. Really.