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.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Harvard Symposium on Denialism, Mistrust & Stigma

Death by denial:Symposium explores HIV denial, conspiracy theories

By Alvin Powell Harvard Gazette

People who deny that the HIV virus causes AIDS continue to persist in their beliefs despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, nurtured by the broad reach of the Internet and cherry-picked scientific claims, AIDS authorities said Monday.

Researchers from Harvard, elsewhere in the United States, and South Africa convened at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts to decry HIV “denialism,” saying that the continued questioning of HIV’s role in AIDS harms those infected with the virus by discouraging both testing and treatment.

According to the speakers, denialism takes two major forms. Some skeptics deny that HIV plays a role in AIDS, or that it even exists, while others believe in AIDS conspiracies, acknowledging that HIV causes AIDS but questioning HIV’s origins, saying it results from a government conspiracy, is intended as a genocide campaign against blacks, that it was created in CIA labs, or is of other sinister origin or purpose.

The event, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, was presented in conjunction with the Carpenter Center’s exhibit “ACT UP New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993.” The exhibit contains posters, T-shirts, fliers, and pamphlets from ACT UP’s AIDS activism campaigns which, through sometimes graphic and jarring messages, pushed government action against AIDS. The campaign argued that the government dragged its feet because of homophobia and racism aimed at two groups prone to the ailment: gay men and intravenous drug users, who are often minorities.
Laura Bogart, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, introduced the event, saying that denialism also includes odd beliefs, such as that drugs for HIV treatment actually cause AIDS. Denialism, she said, is gaining momentum because of the reach that its proponents have on the Internet, and it may have greater traction in communities that already mistrust the government because of past discrimination, revelations of secret medical experiments, and the like.

The symposium examined how denialism affects prevention and treatment, public policy, and human rights.

“Bad ideas have bad consequences,” Bogart said.

Kalichman, professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, said denialist beliefs are surprisingly widespread. He said most people’s attitude when hearing of HIV denial is, “Oh, those people are still around?” In the uncertain early years of the AIDS epidemic, Kalichman said, denialists were dissidents from the prevailing but still uncertain scientific views. As the body of evidence about the nature of HIV and AIDS grew, dissent turned into denial, wrapped in conspiracy theories. Now, Kalichman lumps HIV denialists with those who deny the Holocaust and global warming, and who believe 9/11 conspiracy theories. All use similar strategies, he said, including false experts, bad science, and selective use of valid scientific results.

Kalichman cited a 2007 report on 696 gay men in five U.S. cities that showed a surprisingly high acceptance of denialist beliefs. Forty-five percent, he said, agreed with the statement “HIV does not cause AIDS,” and 51 percent agreed with the statement “HIV drugs can harm you more than help you,” remarking that it would be troubling if even half those numbers believed such statements.

Kalichman said research shows that the Internet is a critical source of denialist information, and that people who hold denialist beliefs are more likely to have symptoms, less likely to adhere to drug regimens, and less likely to take treatment medication in the first place.

Denialism may have done its most damage in South Africa during the tenure of President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki, who endorsed denialist beliefs, delayed the beginning of large-scale AIDS drug treatment, which allowed the pandemic to grow unchecked.
Nicoli Nattrass, director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit and economics professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, presented preliminary results from a large-scale study of teenagers and young adults there. The results, which are still being analyzed, show that denialist beliefs are held disproportionately by black African men and are far more likely to be held by those supportive of Mbeki’s health minister, who has been replaced by the current administration.

Recent research showed how damaging denialist beliefs can be, concluding that Mbeki’s failure to roll out HIV drugs between 2000 and 2005 resulted in 330,000 unnecessary deaths and the infection of 3,500 infants with HIV


  1. Kalichman cited a 2007 report on 696 gay men in five U.S. cities that showed a surprisingly high acceptance of denialist beliefs. Forty-five percent, he said, agreed with the statement “HIV does not cause AIDS,” and 51 percent agreed with the statement “HIV drugs can harm you more than help you,”

    The former is somewhat surprising, but the latter surely is not. AIDS patients knowfrom personal experience know how toxic and deadly the ARV's are. Often they simply stop taking them or flush them down the toilet.

    As for the literature, the best paper on the subject is Reisler RB, et al, 2003. "Grade 4 events are as important as AIDS events in the era of HAART", J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2003 Dec 1;34(4):379-86.

    There, the authors reviewed about 3000 AIDS patients taking ARV's from 1996 - 2001, and found that 332 patients suffered a serious event stemming from the virus, while 675 patients suffered a Grade 4 event stemming from the drugs.

    So, twice as many people were hurt by the drugs, then the underlying disease.

    That's the data.

  2. Ghost of John LauritsenOctober 21, 2009 at 12:32 AM

    I was there at that Harvard Symposium.

    I let them know a thing or two.

    Sure, some will call it a rant. I know they thought I was crazy. But I got my point across!

    I let them know that AIDS is a lifestyle disease that gay men have brought among themselves. I screamed about the evils of AZT and called Kalichman A MURDERER. I told them about the pharmaceutical companies and how they are killing people. I also set the record straight on just what we dissidents stand for: Truth, free thought, liberty, and the right to pursue dumb ideas. I let everyone know they need to decide for themselves the truth about AIDS.

    Then I left. I had to get back for medication time.

  3. "...while 675 patients suffered a Grade 4 event stemming from the drugs."

    Did you actually read the study?

    "However, the cause of many serious or life-threatening events is multifactorial and clear attribution to the use of HAART, specific ARV drugs, HIV infection, or other factors is frequently not possible. Potential risk factors for the development of life-threatening clinical events among HIV-infected individuals on HAART include HIV virus-host interactions, 14-17 stage of HIV disease, 18-20 ARV drugs, 9,11-13 genetic predisposition, 21-25 age, 26 comorbid conditions, 27-35 coinfections (e.g., hepatitis B or hepatitis C), 36-44 concomitant medications, 43,45-49 nutritional status, 50-55 recreational drugs and alcohol, 56-58 other social behaviors and practices, 53,59-62 and physician experience. 63,64"

    What is is with you denialists and misrepresenting studies? Are you too lazy to read them, too stupid to understand them, or too dishonest to correctly represent them?

  4. Bill
    Please do not reply to Snout with more cherry picking and dumb interpretations of studies. Try to focus on the content of this post.

  5. Sorry about that, Seth, but sometimes I get infuriated by the shameless lies that denialists tell about HIV/AIDS science - whether it's Bill here blatantly lying about Reisler, or Duesberg lying about the ARV cohort collaboration, or numerous others lying about the work of Padian, Rodriguez, Gallo, Montagnier or any of their other favorite targets.

    To get back to the point of your post, the way it works is this: the main drivers of AIDS denialism are disaffected sociopaths who use ambiguous or often blatantly fabricated credentials to pose as "experts". They know damned well that no genuine working scientist or competent clinician would bother with them, so they deliberately target their blatant lies to the most vulnerable audiences they can find - people at risk of HIV/AIDS without the scientific know-how to immediately spot the bullshit. Henry Bauer is a prime example of this, and he is surprisingly candid about his reprehensible agenda. They make use of networking media like the internet to propagate their dishonesty.

    They are not only lazy, ignorant and stupid, but utterly unscrupulous.

    Genuine scientists and clinicians are accountable for the consequences of the advice they provide.

    Denialists, because they are not genuine scientists and clinicians, bypass formal and informal systems of accountability.

    This needs to change.

  6. Snout,
    You know Bill doesn't read any of the stuff he quotes. He simply copies and pastes from the RA site. The previous thread got a bit long but check out his cherry picking of Roederer. It wasn't even a study he was cherry picking but a News and Views section and the author was clearly not a denialist (when taken in context).

  7. Let me show Bill Cherry Picking to work against the denialists and see if he understands more clearly. From Snouts comments above:
    "However, the cause of many serious or life-threatening events is multifactorial and clear attribution to the use of HAART, specific ARV drugs, HIV infection, or other factors is frequently not possible."
    AH~HA!! That means that HIV Meds are NOT toxic by themselves at all and cause NO harm what~so~ever by themselves!! The ONLY time HIV meds are "life threatening" are when many other factors are involved!! Therefore, stay away from those other factors and just take your HIV meds and you will be just fine!!!
    See Bill? Now tell Karri Stokely to go back on her meds!

  8. It is definitely those other factors that are killing Kari. Other factors like David Crowe, David Rasnick, and overdosing on vitamins. Kari, stay away from those toxic poisons and take your HAART!!

  9. Seth is it true that John Lauristen showed up at this event? Did he behave or was he out of his skull? Did he comment on your saying he was an internalized homophobe in your book.
    Please tell!

  10. I'll take this one, Seth!
    Mr. Lauristen was OUTTA CONTROL! He was the second person to speak during the first Q&A portion. However, he did not seem to have a question. Not unless spewing spittle and phlegm while turning pale, then blue, then purple, then indigo then fire~engine red in his face, is "asking a question"!! The organizer, Laura Bogart, who is half his size and 1/2 his weight had to intervene trying to get Lauristen to actually ask a question! He was scary!

    Later, once he had re~taken his seat and his blood pressure had returned to normal, Lauristen had another outburst (and this was my favorite portion of the entire program) when he forcefully interrupted Seth while he was answering a question and accused Seth of "fillibustering"! I know Lauristen is about 3 Thousand years old, but I had no idea his vocabulary was still stuck in ye old century!

    Plane trip to Boston: $578.00
    3 night stay at Intercontinental Boston: $750.00
    Hearing Lauristen yell "Fillibuster": PRICELESS

  11. If Lauritsen is having blood pressure issues he should talk to Brent Leung's wife at Chandler Chicco agency, she's the contact for the Novartis-sponsored blood pressure screening campaign:

  12. Those going for a BP Screening from Leung's wife better watch out. If she is anything like her hubby all the patients will find that despite being 200 pounds overweight and having diabetes, that their BP is that of a 20 year old, seasoned athlete!
    OR, as one denialists once complained that nurses just wasted his time taking his pulse, temp and BP everytime he had a doctor's appointment. Yeah, there is no need to call those things VITAL SIGNS!!
    Vital for what?
    Vital for another insurance charge!!
    Those damned insurance companies and their superfluous charges!

  13. Pshaw! High blood pressure is just a BS diagnosis that covers old diseases! Doctors say high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks but people without high BP get them, too! Surely this must be yet another scam by big pharma to sell their toxic BP meds!

  14. Maybe his wife is working undercover on his next expose, the precedent is there.

  15. What's your take?... on

    In sorting out logical fallacies, how do you approach something like that?...

  16. Thanks Zak
    Interesting post you linked us to.
    Big issue.. serosorting and disclosure. The golden rule in HIV prevention is that people want to FEEL safe and NOT use condoms. There are lots of erroneous beliefs that can achieve that goal and can get people infected. People who are misinformed or misguided will usually take corrective action when educated about their risks. Not everyone does, and that is what this blog is about. It is an interesting discussion so thanks again for linking it here.

  17. Any comment on "Mr. Serosorting"!?... at

  18. Aids disidents are idots, proof on!