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.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Duesberg's Medical Hypotheses Article Makes the Case for Peer Review

Having just posted my simulated peer review of Peter Duesberg’s shameful and retracted article where he once again proclaims that HIV is harmless, I could not resist sharing this. The UK’s premiere debunker of medical fraud and Bad Science, Ben Goldacre, writes about Duesberg’s retracted article in his weekly Guardian column. Once again, Goldacre delivers a very insightful piece. By the way, if you have not read Ben’s book Bad Science get it now… The chapter on AIDS Denialism and Matthias Rath is a real gem. If you are ever in London and have a chance to hear Ben Goldacre lecture, don’t miss him. The guy is a genius.

UPDATE: New article on retracted paper at AIDS Beacon

Peer review is flawed but the best we've got
Ben Goldacre The Guardian, Saturday 12 September

This week the peer review system has been in the newspapers, after a survey of scientists suggested it had some problems. That is barely news. Peer review – where articles submitted to an academic journal are reviewed by other scientists from the same field for an opinion on their quality – has always been recognised as problematic. It is time-consuming, it could be open to corruption, and it cannot prevent fraud, plagiarism, or duplicate publication, although in a more obvious case it might. The problem with peer review is, it's hard to find anything better.

Here is one example of a failing alternative. This month, after a concerted campaign by academics aggregating around websites such as, academic publishers Elsevier have withdrawn two papers from a journal called Medical Hypotheses. This journal is a rarity: it does not have peer review, and instead, submissions are approved for publication by its one editor.

Articles from Medical Hypotheses have appeared in this column quite a lot. They carried one almost surreally crass paper in which two Italian doctors argued "mongoloid" really was an appropriate term for people with Down's syndrome after all, because they share many characteristics with oriental populations (including: sitting cross-legged; eating small amounts of lots of types of food with MSG in it; and an enjoyment of handicrafts). You might also remember two pieces discussing the benefits and side-effects of masturbation as a treatment for nasal congestion.

The papers withdrawn this month step into a new domain of foolishness. Both were from the community who characterise themselves as "Aids dissidents", and one was co-authored by their figureheads, Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick.

To say a peer reviewer might have spotted the flaws in their paper – which had already been rejected by the Journal of Aids – is an understatement. My favourite part is the whole page they devote to arguing that there cannot be lots of people dying of Aids in South Africa because the population of the country has grown in the past few years.

We might expect anyone to spot such poor reasoning but they also misrepresent landmark papers from the literature on Aids research. Rasnick and Duesberg discuss antiretroviral drugs that have side-effects but which have stopped Aids being a death sentence, and attack the notion their benefits outweigh the toxicity: "contrary to these claims", they say, "hundreds of American and British researchers jointly published a collaborative analysis in The Lancet in 2006, concluding treatment of Aids patients with anti-viral drugs has 'not translated into a decrease in mortality'."

That is a simple, flat, unambiguous misrepresentation of the Lancet paper to which they refer.

What does this tell us about peer review? The editor of Medical Hypotheses, Bruce Charlton, has repeatedly argued – very reasonably – that the academic world benefits from having journals with different editorial models, that peer review can censor provocative ideas, and that scientists should be free to pontificate in their internal professional literature.

But there are blogs where Aids dissidents, or anyone, can pontificate wildly and to their colleagues: from journals we expect a little more.


  1. That's a great article from Goldacre. Thanks for sharing it.
    I just glanced thru the comments, but it looks like no/few denialists are commenting, at least I did not recognize any of the common pseudonyms.
    It will be interesting to see if the denialists deluge the thread after your post here, Seth.

  2. JTD
    Ben Goldacre is an amazing guy. I got to spend a couple hours with him (hence the picture). None of the Denialist Propagandists would read his column. But if only those who are genuinely confused or questioning did read Goldacre…we would have a smaller AIDS Denial problem to content with.

  3. Fulano agrees with Ben that there is no point to non-peer reviewed journals other than to provide a false patina of credibility to work that has no credibility. And such journals inevitably become crank magnets. We have the internet for that, and it has the virtue of not providing the appearance of scientific credibility.

  4. Does anyone know if Bauer has made any reference to this debacle on his blog?

  5. Yet more denialism. Once again Iran's president uses his holocaust denial to try to defend his anti-Israeli ideas. It is truly sickening what happens when governments embrace such crap.

  6. Poodlestomper.. You beat me to it! I saw the continued Holocaust denial.. Same crap as AIDS Denial...Cole=Duesberg, Mbeki=Achmadaminimod...

  7. I truly love that Iranians are rioting and protesting this Jew~o~phobe, homophobe, douchebag, dirtbag!
    Does he not realise that such statements as "The Holocaust is a lie" is exactly why he is so hated not only by his very own people, but by the entire world? Not just for the hate and rage such a statement evokes, but also for the sheer stupid of it as well!

  8. An interesting tidbit I found in the Tennessean today stating that STDs are on the rise in Tn, particularly among african-american women. For chlamydia it stated:

    "Among chlamydia cases, there was a 67 percent in-crease, from 425 cases per every 100,000 women in 2002 to 633 in 2007. Cases among black women — already high — increased from 852 cases per 100,000 in 2002 to 2,032 in 2007."

    Apparently diseases can and do affect different groups of people disproportionately. I guess chlamydia is a myth as well (or at the very least, racist). *sarcasm*

  9. What a break through!

    If Chlamydia was truly an infectious disease it would be randomly distributed in a population. And who ever heard of an infectious disease only infecting some types of people and not others? Black women must have some genetic immune difference that results in those false positive cultures.

    See how much I learned from Professor Bauer when I was his student!

    By the way, why was Old Henry not featured in House of Numbers? He was not even mentioned in the Thank You list. I was also surprised that Brent Leung did not visit Loch Ness while doing his world tour. An interview with a Nessie would have fit in well.

  10. I would have to read the book in order to truly take a stand on the HIV topic, but at the same time, I am not surprised. With the "confusion" around Sodium Fluoride, the dangers of Aspertame, Methanol, Meritol, Saccharin, etc, we have to take it upon ourselves to research each disease and veer from the "Profit Sharks" with biased opinions. Its amazing how we can consider the Swine Flu a pandemic when it has not even killed 1/10th of the amount of people killed yearly by Influenza A and B. I realized a long time ago that you must participate highly in the treatment, diagnosis, and execution of your health care.

  11. Harmed by AIDS Denialism - Catch up boys, guys who live the gay lifestyle get AIDS. Guys who don't live the gay lifestyle don't get AIDS. This is easy, really.
    Africa - cure the TB and African guys who live the gay lifestyle get AIDS. African guys who don't ....... Not rocket science.