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.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Justice After AIDS Denialism: Should There Be Prosecutions and Compensation?

By Nathan Geffen
published in Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes

Edward Mabunda died on April 9, 2003. At least another 600 people died of AIDS in South Africa that day.(1) Edward was just 36 years old. He left behind a wife and 3 children. He was also a leader in the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). He became an icon of the movement because of the fiery poetry that he recited to thousands of people. His poems urged former President Thabo Mbeki to make antiretrovirals (ARVs) available in South Africa’s public health system. He died because he could not obtain these life-saving medicines in time.(2)

From 1999 to 2007, Mbeki and his Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang obstructed and then undermined the implementation of highly active ARV treatment (HAART) and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the public health system. Two studies, conducted independently of each other, conservatively calculated that over 300,000 people died because of Mbeki’s AIDS denialist policies.(3–5) Edward Mabunda was one of them. These studies could not account for additional deaths due to the promotion of quackery, often with the health minister’s support. They also did not consider the number of infections that occurred because of the confusion generated by the insipid state-funded prevention campaign and the messages by some outspoken Mbeki supporters dismissing the link between sex and HIV infection.(6) The Mbeki era also fostered a profound mistrust of scientific medicine, the consequences of which also cannot be quantified.

What, if any, repercussions should be there for those responsible for this tragedy? The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which South Africa is a signatory, defines the ‘‘intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population’’ as a crime against humanity.(7) President Mbeki did not execute people with guns or bombs, but he did have the power and responsibility to prevent several hundred thousand deaths. Yet, he and his health minister chose to ignore the scientific consensus and the vociferous demands of South African civil society groups like the TAC. Questioning scientific consensus is the prerogative of a political leader, but in this case, the consensus was overwhelming. Furthermore, dissent from the consensus, that is, the arguments of AIDS denialists, had been shown to be ludicrous long before Mbeki became president,(8) and the consequences of that dissent were always likely to be disastrous. Therefore, Mbeki must surely be held responsible for the disastrous aftermath of his policy choices.

This raises the possibility that he and Tshabalala-Msimang should be prosecuted. In 2003, the TAC laid a complaint of culpable homicide with the police against Tshabalala- Msimang.(9) The organization provided a detailed ‘‘docket’’ describing the evidence against her. The complaint was largely symbolic and part of a civil disobedience campaign that would ultimately change government policy. But perhaps, it is time to go beyond symbolism.

I am unaware of any other case in the history of the modern democratic state in which so many have died because political leaders willfully contradicted scientific advice. However, there have been instances in which political leaders have been successfully prosecuted for negligent behavior with far greater extenuating circumstances. For example, Edmond Herve, the former French health minister, was convicted for his role in the contamination of his country’s blood supply with HIV in the 1980s. Mbeki’s folly is in danger of being repeated: political leaders who use pseudoscientific arguments to deny the reality of global warming are also at risk being culpable of many deaths. Setting a precedent that will make politicians think twice before making this kind of error is an important reason to prosecute Mbeki and his advisors.

What about those who aided or failed to stop his and Tshabalala-Msimang’s policies? Alec Erwin, the Minister of Trade and Industry at the time, failed to take any of the steps available to him to bring down ARV prices and was consequently named as Tshabalala-Msimang’s coaccused in the TAC docket. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health is responsible for oversight of the Health Department. Yet, its head, James Ngculu, failed to hold Tshabalala- Msimang to account for her actions. Only a handful of the hundreds of African National Congress Members of Parliament spoke out publicly against Mbeki’s policies. Only 1 provincial government, the Western Cape, implemented prevention of mother-to-child transmission and HAART programmes expeditiously. The premiers and health ministers of the other 8 provinces, for the most part, failed to do so.

Also, what about scientists like Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick who provided a veneer of scientific credibility for Mbeki’s views? Can Duesberg, the most prominent scientist to promote AIDS denialism, claim that the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression protect him from sanction? Or is his situation not analogous to a financial advisor who provides fraudulent information, except in Duesberg’s case, the misinformation is deadly? Rasnick is even more implicated. He was found by a South African court to have conducted an unlawful clinical trial when he teamed up with vitamin salesman Matthias Rath and others to provide multivitamin tablets as an alternative to HAART to people dying of AIDS.(10) He loudly supported and encouraged the South African government’s refusal to provide HAART. He usually signed his articles as a member of Mbeki’s notorious AIDS advisory panel that was convened in 2000 to create the impression that there was a genuine scientific controversy about the cause of AIDS.(11,12)

What about Matthias Rath himself or the hundreds of other charlatans who provided quack treatments for AIDS with impunity during Tshabalala-Msimang’s reign, despite legislation preventing the sale of unregistered medicines for viral infections? Hardly, any have been prosecuted. Rath, for example, has had a plethora of civil court rulings and regulatory body warnings and findings against him in Germany, the United Kingdom, United States, and South Africa.(13) But, despite breaching South Africa’s Medicines Act, for example, no criminal proceedings against him have been initiated.

There is also the question of compensation. Although it is too late for those who have died, surely their families are entitled to redress? Determining compensation would be extremely difficult of course. Over 2 million South Africans died of AIDS during Mbeki’s reign. It is impossible to determine precisely that 300,000 lives could have been saved. For 1 thing, many people died without ever being tested and their HIV statuses will never be known.
Nevertheless, at least some families would be able to make unequivocal claims that 1 or more of their members died directly as a consequence of the state’s failure to provide medicines.

Answering the above questions will be difficult and controversial. They raise profound legal and moral predicaments. Ideally, the South African government should establish an independent Commission of Inquiry whose purpose would be to provide recommendations on what, if any, action should be taken against those responsible for the country’s AIDS denialist policies. Former deputy-health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was fired by Mbeki arguably for her anti-denialist position, has already suggested this.(14) The commission should also consider the issue of compensation. South Africa’s new president, Jacob Zuma, has the power to institute it. This would be an excellent way for him to demonstrate that he is serious about accountability for the response to the HIV epidemic. Surely such a process is the minimum that the victims of AIDS denialism, their families and friends are entitled to? Edward Mabunda would have thought so.

1. Actuarial Society of South Africa. ASSA 2003 [Internet]. Available at: Accesed January 8, 2008.
2. TAC. TAC newsletter on the death of Edward Mabunda [Internet]. April 9, 2003. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at:
3. Chigwedere P, Seage G, Gruskin S, et al. Estimating the lost benefits of antiretroviral drug use in South Africa [Internet]. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2008. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.
4. Nattrass N. AIDS and the Scientific Governance of Medicine in Post-Apartheid South Africa [Internet]. African Affairs. 2008;107:157–176. [cited September 11, 2008]. Available at:
5. Bourne DE, Thompson M, Brody LL, et al. Emergence of a peak in early infant mortality due to HIV/AIDS in South Africa [Internet]. AIDS. 2009;23:101–106. [cited January 7, 2009]. Available at:
6. TAC. The Citizen’s publicity for AIDS denialists is irresponsible [Internet]. 2006. [cited January 12, 2009]. Available at:
7. International Criminal Court. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [Internet]. 2002 July 1. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at: http://
8. NIAID. The Relationship between the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome [Internet]. 1995 September. [cited February 6, 2009]. Available at:
9. TAC. TAC Civil Disobedience Campaign [Internet]. March 20, 2003. [cited January 5, 2009]. Available at: 2003/ns20_03_2003.htm#Docket.
10. Zondi J. Judgment in TAC and SAMAv. Rath and Others [Internet]. 2008. Available at:
11. Rapid Responses for Shelton et al. BMJ. 328:891–893 [Internet]. [cited January 14, 2009]. Available at: 7444/891.
12. Government of South Africa. Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel Report [Internet]. March 2001. [cited January 13, 2008]. Available at:
13. TAC. The Wrongs of Matthias Rath [Internet]. [cited January 7, 2009]. Available at:
14. Karrim Q. Calls for Aids TRC. Mail & Guardian. Available at: Accessed April 27,2009.
Correspondence to: Nathan Geffen, MSc, Treatment Action Campaign, 2nd Floor, Westminster House, Cape Town 8001, South Africa (e-mail:
Copyright _ 2009 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

AIDS denial: A lethal delusion

ON 27 December 2008, a well-heeled 52-year-old woman died in a Los Angeles hospital. Her death certificate describes a body riddled with opportunistic infections typical of the late stages of AIDS. Christine Maggiore had tested HIV positive 16 years earlier, but she had shunned ART, the antiretroviral therapy that stops HIV replicating and prevents AIDS.

This was not the first time a death in Maggiore's family had made headlines: five years earlier her 3-year-old daughter Eliza Jane had died. The autopsy described a chronically ill little girl who was underweight, under-height, and had encephalitis and pneumonia - all AIDS-related. When pregnant, Maggiore had again rejected ART and she had breastfed Eliza Jane, another way of transmitting the virus.

Why, in 21st-century California, would a middle-class woman and her young daughter die like this when there is tried-and-tested treatment for their illness? The answer lies in a bizarre medical conspiracy theory that says AIDS is not caused by HIV infection (see Five myths about HIV and AIDS).
[UPDATE: further discussion of the New Scientist artcle is posted at]
It is tempting to dismiss the so-called AIDS denialism movement out of hand, but it has a strong internet presence, with a plethora of websites and blogs that can mislead the unwary. While the movement has lately suffered some significant blows to its credibility, it has in the recent past wielded extraordinary influence, especially in southern Africa, the centre of the world's AIDS epidemic. "Denialism has been relegated to the fringes of the internet, but it isn't of no consequence," says John Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medical College, Ithaca, New York, and one of the world's foremost AIDS researchers. "It can still cost the lives of unsuspecting people."

The origins of the AIDS denialism movement can be traced back to 1987, four years after the discovery of HIV. Peter Duesberg was then a renowned researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who had shown that some cancers were triggered by retroviruses. In March that year, Duesberg performed an about-face, publishing an article in which he questioned his original finding that retroviruses caused cancer, and also whether HIV (another retrovirus, although not one that he had studied) caused AIDS.

At the time, HIV science was in its infancy, and Duesberg was not the only mainstream scientist to speculate whether AIDS was actually caused by lifestyle factors such as taking drugs, for example. Indeed, New Scientist published Duesberg's manifesto of dissent in 1988.

"Duesberg did get laypeople's attention, and they, in turn, got him scientific attention," says University of California sociologist, Steven Epstein, author of Impure Science, a book on AIDS research. "Credibility was cycled back and forth."

As the clinical and epidemiological evidence linking HIV with AIDS accrued, however, support for denialism among mainstream scientists fell away. In the mid-1990s came the clincher. Cocktails of ART were found to halt the replication of HIV and reverse and prevent the development of AIDS. By the end of 1996, doctors in the west were witnessing the "Lazarus effect": AIDS patients who had been mortally ill were rising from their beds, putting on jackets and ties, and reporting for work.

By rights the denialism movement should have died out there and then. Yet it persisted. Not one of the denialists was a researcher studying AIDS or HIV - they simply critiqued the work of those who did. Much of the movement's output has been journalistic rather than scientific, spawning numerous articles, books, films (often self-published or self-produced), and lately websites. Tellingly, most of the studies they cite are quite old, reflecting the fact that mainstream support has long since died out.

Ask what the denialists do believe, however, and there is no consensus (see Five myths about HIV and AIDS). Some hark back to the early idea that AIDS in gay men is caused by amyl nitrite use; others say the cause is ART itself - although no one can explain why AIDS arose before ART was developed.

Some denialists accept that HIV may be present in those with AIDS, but claim it is just another opportunistic infection, rather than the cause. Others say, incredibly, that HIV has never been proven to exist at all.

Perhaps the most staggering of their beliefs, though, is that everyone else has got it so wrong. Denialists claim the scientific community cannot afford to admit their error because too many reputations and too many research grants are now at stake. Once ART was developed, the multibillion-dollar drugs industry had a vast investment at stake too.

It is certainly true that the scientific peer-review process can slow down the acceptance of new theories. And pharmaceutical companies hardly have a spotless record either. Yet the clinical and epidemiological evidence for the viral cause of AIDS is overwhelming, from virologists who see HIV under their microscopes, to doctors the world over who witness AIDS patients begin ART and make dramatic recoveries.

Denialism in the west continued to limp along, attracting a following of conspiracy theorists, attention seekers, peddlers of pseudoscience and HIV patients in denial. The movement's leaders vary in their credibility. Duesberg's most vocal supporter is David Rasnick, a former biochemist who makes much of his research background, as he once studied a group of enzymes called proteases. HIV possesses a protease enzyme, and protease inhibitors represent a key class of ART drugs. However Rasnick only worked on rat proteases, never on HIV's.

Then there is Henry Bauer, a retired chemistry and life sciences professor at Virginia State University in Petersburg, who edits the Journal of Scientific Exploration. This publishes research on such topics as alien abductions and telepathy. Before dabbling in virology, Bauer was a leading authority on the existence of the Loch Ness monster.

Leading AIDS denialist Henry Bauer is a former expert on the Loch Ness monster


The effects of AIDS denialism in Africa are no joke, however. In 2000, as the movement was rapidly losing all credibility, South African president Thabo Mbeki asked some of the leading denialists to sit on an advisory council to guide his response to the epidemic. On their advice he did everything in his power to resist ART use in his country.

Mbeki felt the mainstream western view that AIDS was caused by a sexually transmitted infection reflected racist beliefs that Africans were promiscuous. Western science, Mbeki believed, was blind to an obvious cause of immune deficiency in Africa: poverty.

It wouldn't be the first time. A century ago TB became endemic among black, but not white, South Africans, leaving western scientists flummoxed. Some pondered a genetic explanation, while overlooking the obvious - in white-ruled cities black people lived in the crowded conditions that encourage the spread of TB. In other words, blacks were falling ill as a result of white domination. Mbeki argued that the same thing was happening again. AIDS was simply a name for the diseases of poverty that had been legion in Africa since the days of colonial rule.

Mbeki was forced out last year - although not because of his denialism - and South Africa's new president, Jacob Zuma, supports ART. But immense damage has already been done. Last year, a study found that if Mbeki's government had provided HIV treatment, there would have been 365,000 fewer premature deaths in South Africa (Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, vol 49, p 410). The legacy of Mbeki's denialism might still have an influence on the treatment decisions of many HIV-positive South Africans.

In Australia there is now the "Perth Group", led by Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos, whose science qualification is an undergraduate degree in nuclear physics. She appeared as an expert witness in 2006 for an Australian man appealing his conviction for failing to tell his sexual partners he was HIV-positive. Papadopulos-Eleopulos stood up in court and claimed that HIV does not exist. The man lost his case, however, with the judge noting that Papadopulos-Eleopulos had "no formal qualifications in medicine, virology, immunology, or any other medical disciplines... Her opinions lack any credibility."

Along with Christine Maggiore's death, you might think that these events would significantly weaken the denialists' case. Yet it would be premature to predict the movement's demise.

Consider that in the US, two small surveys have shown startlingly high numbers of people - around 1 in 4 - who question whether HIV causes AIDS. This probably reflects lack of education about the virus, rather than active denialism, since there is no evidence that people are seeking alternative AIDS treatment in large numbers. It does suggest, however, a troubling lack of communication between mainstream medicine and ordinary people. It is precisely such gaps in communication that internet quacks and conspiracy theorists can exploit.

Gaps in communication between mainstream medicine and ordinary people can be exploited by internet quacks and conspiracy theorists

Seth Kalichman, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, who carried out one of the surveys, has recently published Denying AIDS, a book about the movement. "My perception is that there is certainly a lot more mischief, like books and documentaries shown at film festivals," he says.

For some, no amount of evidence will overturn their entrenched beliefs. Maggiore blamed her daughter's death on an allergic reaction to antibiotics. For a long time she publicly cited her own good health as proof that HIV does not cause AIDS.

It is unpleasant to imagine what went through her mind last year as her own health worsened. She apparently continued to refuse the potentially lifesaving ART. Perhaps that is no surprise. To accept the drugs she had denied Eliza Jane would have been tantamount to accepting responsibility for her daughter's death.

To accept the drugs she had denied Eliza Jane would have meant taking responsibility for her child's death. And that's something that anyone would want to stay in denial about.

Note New Scientist article by Jonny Steinberg is the author of Three Letter Plague: A young man's journey through a great epidemic (Vintage), published in the US as Sizwe's Test

My year as an AIDS denialist

"For a year I had two lives," says Seth Kalichman, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and editor of the journal AIDS and Behavior. "It was pretty disturbing."

Kalichman was researching his book, Denying AIDS, which was published in the US earlier this year. The book charts the development of AIDS denialism into its current incarnation as a ragbag of eccentric scientists, crusading conspiracy theorists and HIV patients in denial.

Kalichman wanted to get close to the denialists - and that meant becoming one of them. "I knew that they would never talk to me as Seth Kalichman, the AIDS scientist," he says. So Kalichman became public health student "Joe" (a nickname he sometimes uses).

The denialist movement has a strong internet presence. As Joe, Kalichman started posting on websites and blogs. "I would pose questions, and they indoctrinated me into denialism," he recalls. "There were times when I felt I was being groomed."

His next step was to get Joe on an internet list of "AIDS dissidents". Denialists often cite this document, which currently has 2651 international signatories, as a list of scientists who dispute that HIV causes AIDS. In fact, only some of those listed are scientists, and even fewer are biologists - although alternative therapists often crop up.

As a budding denialist who was part of the medical establishment, Joe would no doubt have been seen as a great catch. Once he passed a brief email cross-examination, his name went up.

"That list is a roster of who can be trusted," Kalichman discovered. Joe now gained access to, and regularly chatted with, other prominent denialists, including the Canadian journalist David Crowe.

Kalichman began to find his double life surreal. "I was going to meetings at the National Institutes of Health during the day and in the evenings blogging with David Crowe," he recalls. But Kalichman wanted to meet denialists face to face. He heard that the movement's founder and star scientist Peter Duesberg was holding an invitation-only cancer conference.


Duesberg was once widely renowned for his discovery of the first cancer gene, but he is now derided for his eccentric views on HIV. He works in a small, privately funded laboratory where he researches his outlandish theories of cancer.

Joe's status as an AIDS dissident won him an invite. He felt nervous his subterfuge would be discovered, either by inadvertently using his real name or through his appearance. "I had been telling them I was a student, and I'm 48 years old," he says.

Still, Kalichman got through the door and talked to other attendees, including Duesberg's right-hand man David Rasnick. Rasnick seemed suspicious but did not get him thrown out.

Finally, Kalichman met Duesberg himself, and it made him revise some of his opinions about the man. Kalichman had previously wondered if Duesberg's stated views could be genuine. "He looked me dead in the eyes and said this is not an infectious disease," he says. "I have no question that he really believes this. He ignores the science to retain this belief."

Why? In Kalichman's opinion: "In that very small circle of AIDS denialism, he's a rock star. He was the focus of attention the whole time and he was very comfortable with that."

After the conference Kalichman abandoned his double life. He has no doubt that his time spent as Joe gave him unique insight into the denialists' world. "For Peter Duesberg, he's the big fish in the small pond. For people with HIV, denialism protects them from having to face that fact. Our beliefs are a substantial part of our psychological survival."

Note: Interview in New Scientist by Clare Wilson

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gary Null is still off the air

Vitamin entrepreneur, snake oil salesman, and AIDS Denialist Gary Null is void one media outlet. Thanks to the initiative of just a few people, Gary Null may not be broadcasting on New York’s WBAI radio again. Null has had access to a broad audience in the past and this effort helps constrict his reach. It is a great example of how informing reasonable people about the destructiveness of AIDS denialism can help rein them in.

Read below Null’s empty response. Plus an extra bonus – David Crowe’s attempt to rescue him.

For Moron Gary Null visit

UPDATE 6/17/2009: “Gary Null Calling”: That’s right, Gary Null is calling AIDS scientists asking for a debate on whether HIV causes AIDS. This is yet more evidence that toxic hair dyes cause D-SBD (denialism-specific brain damage).

Dear Distinguished Professors and Health Practitioners,

We are in receipt of correspondence sent to you by Dr. Seth Goldberg, a board member of WBAI in New York City, with respect to my return to that station. In response to the accusations raised by Aaron Boyle at Act UP and Dr. Goldberg, I am including at the end of this message a statement of referral for my return to WBAI by David Crowe, President of Rethinking AIDS in Canada, who eloquently outlines the scientific HIV/AIDS controversy.

My radio broadcasts, as well as my many award-winning documentary films, have strived to be open forums for constructive dialogue on the critical issues that affect our lives. To support my sincerity, on May 8, 2009, both Drs. Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier appeared together as guests on my program. The questions prepared were not my own but were submitted by leading scientists and dedicated scholars who you perhaps agree with Dr. Goldberg should be labeled as “Denialists.” In my opinion, and in the tradition of true scientific integrity, it is more accurate to perceive them as the “Denied.” They have been denied publication of their work in peer-reviewed medical journals. They have been denied participatory attendance at major scientific AIDS conferences. They have been consistently denied funding for their research. Some have been forced out of their teaching positions at their respective educational institutions or have been demoted to lesser roles within their departments, such as was the case with Prof. Peter Duesberg at University of California, Berkeley. Yet this is the very man who Dr. Gallo has publicly stated “knows more about retroviruses than any man alive” (Spin Magazine, 1992).

The huge amount of funding that goes into the pro-HIV/AIDS medical industry and research has, in my opinion, led to the creation of a rigid scientific arrogance now too self-righteous to accommodate dissenting opinions. During my interview with Dr. Gallo, he remarkably characterized this arrogance that now pervades many levels of the pro-HIV/AIDS community along with its strategy to simply remain silent and avoid those unanswered medical questions that challenge their pet views and personal agendas. Nevertheless, the sole purpose for inviting Drs. Gallo and Montagnier was to hear their responses to those same questions that a growing number of scientists find perplexing and unsatisfactorily answered. (You can listen to this interview under the May 8 date on our archives at

As physicians and researchers who signed Dr. Goldberg’s petition, I would like to invite you to be guests on one of my forthcoming broadcasts to address some of the questions about HIV and AIDS that have remained with us for a couple decades. Since Drs. Gallo and Montagnier generally avoided our questions, I would like to offer you the opportunity to share your insights and expertise about the same for my international audience without debate or interruption. Some of you do not list HIV/AIDS issues in your professional backgrounds that we have reviewed. Nevertheless, if you have solid scientific evidence, this will offer you an opportunity to share it with my audience. I host one of the few radio programs in America that accommodates leading scientists and researchers to present their points irrespective of how controversial they may be. Mainstream media has not been open to educating the public and allowing these types of debates and discussions to take place.

I wish for nothing more than to accommodate constructive scientific dialogue between the opposing views about whether or not HIV is the primary cause of AIDS and whether or not the dominant pharmaceutical drug protocol is the most advantageous means for tackling the problem if it is. I would also be pleased to forward you a copy of my award-winning documentary AIDS Inc. It will introduce you to the concerns being expressed by those who are “Denied” in addition to how they are being attacked by the inquisition of the AIDS industry. Yet these are but a sampling; since the documentary’s release I have heard many similar stories from other professors and scientists.

I do not arrive at my conclusions arbitrarily and hastily. Instead, I have taken a concerted and measured approach in reviewing the available medical, epistemological, and therapeutic literature. As an award-winning investigative journalist, I have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of medical professionals with impeccable scientific credentials and a deep commitment to rational, sound scientific standards. There are now well over 2500 professionals who all agree that the dogma surrounding HIV/AIDS deserves a new appraisal. That I can be held liable without the opportunity to dialogue and be slandered without the benefit to defend myself does not represent any kind of professionalism and proper behavior. If an individual feels they have the truth on their side, at the very least they should be permitted to engage in an open and non-confrontational discussion. There has been no open discussion. Inflammatory organizations, such as Act Up and its many supporters, have been completely insensitive to this dialogue. This is even more insidious because they have no expertise whatsoever in the medical science at the heart of the controversy. Nevertheless, they imagine themselves as the protectors of this very science. Any dissenting opinion is met with ridicule, dehumanization and vicious slander.

In the meantime my attorneys are actively pursuing my legal options, and we are heretofore placing you on notice about that.

I look forward to hearing back from you. If you would like to receive a copy of the AIDS Inc DVD, please include your mailing address and one will be sent to you.

Gary Null, PhD.

Dear Dr. Goldberg;

Why is it that 25 years after the world accepted that HIV was the cause of AIDS that many people, including highly credentialed scientists and academics, still question this? Why is it that those who ask questions are labelled with the hateful name "Denialist"? That scientists who question are cut off from research funding, publication and promotions? That journalists who question are banned?

When AIDS was first named (as GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency) at the start of the 1980s it was representatives of marginalized gay men who called for action on this new syndrome, although a syndrome can never really be new because it is just a name given to a collection of pre-existing diseases, in this case PCP pneumonia and the skin disorder Kaposi's Sarcoma. Putting these two diseases together under one umbrella only makes sense if there is a common cause. And there were two theories to explain this, use of drugs, especially "poppers" (nitrite inhalants), or a previously unknown virus. These people deserved support and action, but only support and actions that helped solve the health crisis that had been identified.

There was a lot going for the theory that AIDS could be caused by recreational drugs, as all the early cases were among poppers users -- the majority of gay men were unaffected. However, the virus theory won out and by the time Robert Gallo announced that he had discovered HTLV-III (HIV) at a press conference in 1984 (prior to any scientific publications, but after filing a patent), and called it the probable cause of AIDS, research on the drug theory by scientists like Harry Haverkos had been all but banned.

Leaders of the gay community essentially had a choice, they could recognize that some gay men, just like some heterosexuals, had a drug problem and help them deal with it. Or they could choose to believe that they were too promiscuous, and blame the problem on that. They chose the latter.

Financial considerations entered the picture early. Poppers manufacturers were big advertisers in gay publications (the drugs have long been marketed almost exclusively to gay men). The medical research establishment has always been biased towards germs (or occasionally genes) and away from chemical causes to illness, particularly in America where massive government funding allows much tighter coordination (and control) of medical research (including censorship of areas that might offend the chemical elite that is so powerful). And, finally, pharmaceutical companies, another huge source of funding, were only interested if there was a virus to kill, there was no role for them in getting people off drugs. There was an ironic twist too, because one of the big early manufacturers of amyl nitrite was Burroughs Wellcome which is now part of GlaxoSmithKline, the first and biggest AIDS drug manufacturer. They sold the compound in small glass vials that could be crushed and inhaled by angina patients to open the coronary arteries, hence the name "poppers".

Pharmaceutical companies have made it easy for AIDS organizations to secure funding. "The Body", for example, has credits at the bottom of their home page ( to major AIDS drug companies. On the day I wrote this the list included GlaxoSmithKline (AZT, Combivir, etc.), Bristol-Myers Squibb (Sustiva, Serit, Videx etc.), Gilead (Atripla, Emtricitabine, Tenofovir), Merck (Crixivan, Raltegravir etc.), Abbott Virology (HIV Testing plus Lopinavir, Norvir etc.) and Roche (Saquinavir etc.). There were no other sponsors listed.

This has created a massive conflict of interest for AIDS organizations. Life is comfortable if you promote drugs as the main solution for AIDS, but gets very lonely and unfunded if you decide that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, or even simply that AIDS drugs are too toxic or that alternative health remedies are safer and more effective than the high tech products of modern pharmacology.

All that is allowed is faux-criticism of the drug companies for not producing drugs cheaply enough. This promotes drugs as "life-saving" but too expensive, and suppresses criticism of the drugs as unsafe and ineffective.

The major questions about the HIV=AIDS theory are whether HIV is the only cause of AIDS, whether HIV infection always leads to AIDS and AIDS to death, whether HIV tests are unambiguous, whether CD4 counts and Viral Load are accurate indicators of future health, whether HIV can be transferred sexually and whether the AIDS drugs are truly "life-saving", as so often repeated.

I could go into a detailed analysis of why each of these points can legitimately be questioned, complete with citations from the mainstream literature (see for the level of detailed analysis that is possible) however that would be a book, rather than a short message.

Perhaps a shortcut is to realize that there are thousands of scientists, MDs, academics, journalist, lawyers and other educated and accomplished people who question the HIV=AIDS=Death dogma, see:

In closing I would like to address one specific point that ACT/UP made in their email, that rethinkers of the AIDS theory are genocidal, and have been the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths. This claim published in JAIDS in October 2008, despite coming from Harvard, is absurd. The study is based on assumptions that, not surprisingly, tautologically support the beliefs of the authors. It is not based on real deaths, and the mathematical model that it used to produce the numbers does not include a single death from adverse events associated with the use of AIDS drugs despite the scientific literature being replete with such reports, and despite the fact that the leading cause of death among people with AIDS in America is now reported to be liver disease, a common side effect of AIDS drugs, but something that has never been added to the list of AIDS defining diseases.

What we need now is more discussion, not less. I hope WBAI puts Gary Null back on the air.

David Crowe
President, Rethinking AIDS

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Holocaust Deniers, AIDS Denialists, and Other Conspiracy Theorists

Just a few days after President Obama renounced Holocaust Denial, 89 year old white supremacist James Von Brunn opened gun fire at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC killing at least one person. Von Brunn apparently had quite a following and some of his Holocaust Dinier fans are also rather active AIDS Denialists.

There is a long history of racist and homophobic undertones to AIDS denialism which I discuss in Denying AIDS. Perhaps even more disturbing are the recent homophobic remarks made by some of the more outspoken AIDS Denialist bloggers. has expressed concern about this trend with a post well worth reading. Of particular concern to all of us are comments posted online by AIDS Denialist Clark Baker regarding homosexual ‘lifestles’.

Members of Rethinking AIDS complain that they are mischaracterized as conspiracy theorists and are never happy when their parallels to Holocaust denial are pointed out. The evidence of course is in their rhetoric. (see post "What is HIV/AIDS Denialism")

If AIDS Rethinkers are not essentially a group of deconstructing conspiracy theorists, then why are they embraced by the most extreme of all conspiracy nut cases? There are several examples of extremists reaching out to Rethinking AIDS. For example, David Rasnick is well known among fellow conspiracy theorists. Rasnick’s theory “The AIDS Blunder” is singled out in discussions of 9/11 Truth Seeking, Secret Sterilizations, and CIA Mind Control Experiments. Rasnick is quoted by conspiracy theory extremist David Kay, where he discusses Rasnick’s views on “The AIDS-HIV Guinea Pig Kids” fiasco that baselessly caused the stop of pediatric HIV treatment trials in New York City.

Surprisingly even more repugnant is the link to Rethinking AIDS neo-Nazi hate group websites. First Light Forum has connected to Rethinking AIDS and AIDS denialist Janine Roberts’s homepage and her blog, by just clicking “The Great HIV/AIDS Hoax - reaping loot for Jew pharmaceutical cartels and killing Gentiles.” First Light Forum focuses on anything anti-Semitic and all conspiracy theories. You can read about the fabricated JFK assassination, the ‘Great Adolf Hitler”, refuting the Holocaust, how Jews brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11, and of course “ - HIV/AIDS Scam exposed”.

Are the AIDS denialists a hate group? No.

Are AIDS denialists neo-Nazis? No.

The point is not that AIDS Denialists are even like Neo-Nazis. The point is that AIDS denialists are like Holocaust Denialists. Just as they are similar to 9/11 Truth Seekers, Global Warming Denialists, Creationists, and Flat Earthers. What connects them all is a shared constellation of personality characteristics, including paranoia, anti-government passions, mis-representation of history, manipulation of facts, and attention seeking. The similarities are undeniable.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

"I have no patience for people who would deny history"

President Obama calls death camp 'ultimate rebuke' to Holocaust deniers

President Obama has already proven that he will not be making policy decisions based on denialism. He has appointed solid leaders to head up national and international AIDS policy. Unlike the previous Administration he has shown respet for science. It is not just that my politics are closer to his party. Objective observation tells us the Obama administration is public health minded.

The thing we are waiting for is The President to lift the federal ban on needle and syringe access. I thought this would have happened by now, but it has not. The political forces must be strong because the science is overwhelming. Perhaps it will be part of the national AIDS prevention strategy that the White House will release this year or perhaps part of health care reform. In the mean time, implementing a science-based intervention that we know saves lives is still being held up.
The President has taken a stand against Holocaust Denial. As we know, a stand against Holocaust Denial is a stand against AIDS Denial because they are peas in the same denialist pod. Read here the story on President Obama’s historic trip to the Nazi Concentration Camp Buchenwald and his rebuke of denialism.

From the Associated Press: President Barack Obama has arrived in Paris after meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany and touring the Buchenwald concentration camp, where tens of thousands of Jews perished during the Holocaust.

Obama is to meet Saturday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and help commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Allies' D-Day invasion in France.

Obama is also reuniting with his family in Paris. First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha flew to the City of Light on Friday to join him.

Obama witnessed the Nazi ovens of the Buchenwald concentration camp Friday, its clock tower frozen at the time of liberation, and said the leaders of today must not rest against the spread of evil.

The president called the camp where an estimated 56,000 people died the "ultimate rebuke" to Holocaust deniers and skeptics. And he bluntly challenged one of them, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, to visit Buchenwald.

"These sites have not lost their horror with the passage of time," Obama said after seeing crematory ovens, barbed-wire fences, guard towers and the clock set at 3:15, marking the camp's liberation in the afternoon of April 11, 1945. "More than half a century later, our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished.

Buchenwald "teaches us that we must be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others' suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests," Obama said.

He also said he saw, reflected in the horrors, Israel's capacity to empathize with the suffering of others, which he said gave him hope Israel and the Palestinians can achieving a lasting peace.

Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. It was, in part, a personal visit: His great-uncle helped liberate a nearby satellite camp, Ohrdruf, in early April 1945 just days before other U.S. Army units overran Buchenwald.

Earlier in Dresden alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama pressed for progress toward Mideast peace. The U.S. "can't force peace upon the parties," he said, but America has "at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart."

The president also announced he was dispatching special envoy George J. Mitchell back to the region next week to follow up on Obama's speech in Cairo a day earlier in which he called for both Israelis and Palestinians to make concessions in the standoff.

Fresh from visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Obama said that while regional and worldwide powers must help achieve peace, responsibility ultimately falls to Israelis and Palestinians to reach an accord.

He said Israel must live up to commitments it made under the so-called "Road Map" peace outline to stop constructing settlements, adding: "I recognize the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that done." He also said the Palestinians must control violence-inciting acts and statements, saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "has made progress on this issue, but not enough."

Merkel, for her part, promised to cooperate on the long-sought goal. She said the two leaders discussed a time frame for a peace process but did not elaborate.

"With the new American government and the president, there is a truly unique opportunity to revive this peace process or, let us put this very cautiously, this process of negotiations," Merkel said.

Elie Wiesel, a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, author and Holocaust survivor whose father died of starvation at Buchenwald three months before liberation, and Bertrand Herz, also a Buchenwald survivor; accompanied Obama and Merkel at the camp. Each laid a long-stemmed white rose at a memorial. They were later joined by Volkhard Knigge, head of the Buchenwald memorial.

"To this day, there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened," Obama said. "This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history."
It was a pointed message to Iran's Ahmadinejad, who has expressed doubts that 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis.

"He should make his own visit" to Buchenwald, Obama told NBC earlier Friday. He added: "I have no patience for people who would deny history."

Separately, the president told reporters: "The international community has an obligation, even when it's inconvenient, to act when genocide is occurring."

After the tour, Obama flew to Landstuhl, the U.S. military hospital for private visits with U.S. troops recovering from wounds sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan. He spent about two hours visiting the wounded.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hey Professor, ignoring the nut next door is not helping

Are academics complicit in the proliferation of conspiracy theories, not least through reluctance to tackle 'truthers' head on?

Times Higher Education, 4 June 2009
By Matthew Reisz

Nothing is ever just an accident. Could the European Union be a front to restore the Merovingian dynasty and the bloodline of Jesus? Did George W. Bush stand aside and allow 9/11 to happen - or even, as the more extreme "truthers" argue, make it happen? Did a dastardly Duke of Edinburgh spearhead a plot to kill the lovely Diana, Princess of Wales? And were the Apollo moon landings all faked by Nasa - as 6 per cent of the US population believe?

We live, it is often argued, in an era of conspiracy theories - many of them as daft as those just related. "Sometimes it appears as if Western societies have regressed," suggests Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, "and we are now adopting a medieval attitude towards calamitous acts." Whenever something goes wrong, "a simplistic, conspiratorial world view emerges to blame small cliques of evil people". Sarah Churchwell, senior lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia, agrees. Conspiracy theories provide "a belief system in an age of uncertainty and unfiltered information that destabilises knowledge with so many 'facts' and possible interpretations. Conspiracies attempt to make order out of chaos."Churchwell is the author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe (2004), which examines - and explodes - the myths that have grown up around the film star's life and death. "The conspiracies are completely ongoing; they build and build and keep on proliferating. There's never a story to which Marilyn can't be attached," she says.

There are also a number of prominent revisionist claims about significant issues - that climate change is a fiction, that HIV has no connection with Aids, that the scale of the Holocaust has been greatly exaggerated - that are almost invariably linked to the suggestion that mainstream scholarship is inherently suspect and corrupted by political or material interests. Self-styled maverick researchers portray themselves as victims, sidelined or silenced by the powers that be. Even the process of peer review can be presented as part of a conspiracy to shut out critical voices, to police knowledge and to protect received wisdom.

Perhaps it hardly matters if a Dan Brown fan laps up every word of The Da Vinci Code and then proclaims on television that it had made him realise there had long been a cover-up of the fact that Mary Magdalen could have been one of the Spice Girls. Yet many conspiracy theories are libellous, dangerous and ultimately corrosive of serious intellectual debate.

Fortunately, help is at hand - from the academy. Who better than a sober historian to pour the cold water of reason and evidence on overheated conspiracy claims? If we really want to know whether there's been a plot to conceal who discovered America, or if the Ancient Greeks stole their best ideas from Africa, there are people in universities who can tell us.

Kathryn Olmsted, professor of history at the University of California, Davis, recently published Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11. She believes that if conspiracy theories are the problem, most academics are part of the solution. "Almost by definition, conspiracy theories are simple ways of telling complicated stories, and academics are averse to oversimplifications. Historians have been especially active in knocking down conspiracy theories about the distant or relatively distant past" - such as the idea that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew about or provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

So far, so good. Academics undoubtedly can and do play such a salutary role. But is this the whole story? Are academics always on the side of the angels, rallying to the cause of truth - or can they sometimes be part of the problem?

Definitely the latter, says journalist David Aaronovitch, who has recently published Voodoo Histories, a book on conspiracy theories, as part of what he sees as a wider "war against stupidity, designed to establish evidence-based foundations for thinking". He also hopes to help people "distinguish between the scholarly and the slapdash, the committed researcher and the careless loudmouth, the scrupulous and the demagogic".

When it comes to gullibility, Aaronovitch suggests, neither the academy nor his own profession should feel too complacent. "We are used to seeing gross prejudices as the product of peasant credulity, lumpen ignorance or provincial small-mindedness. People like us, this implies, would not be fooled." But it just ain't so.

We may not be surprised that in Nazi Germany, academics, journalists and other educated professionals queued up to heap praise on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the ridiculous but lethal forgery said to demonstrate the existence of a global Jewish conspiracy. But there has also been an eloquent and highly visible, though obviously small, minority of British and American academics who have played a major role in promoting conspiracies about Roosevelt, President John F. Kennedy and the events of 9/11, not to mention the idea that Jesus made a botched attempt to fake his own crucifixion.

When it comes to spinning conspiracy theories, Aaronovitch claims provocatively: "Academics, students and journalists are the most innovative sector. You need a pretension to knowledge without real knowledge. What better than academics talking outside their field?"

People working in disciplines such as theology and peace studies are said to be particularly susceptible, whereas "historians have to have a sense of how things don't happen - which makes conspiratorial thinking implausible. Few experts on structural physics and engineering have signed up for 9/11 theories," he notes, referring to claims such as the one that the World Trade Centre's Tower Seven was destroyed by a controlled explosion.

Ronald Fritze, professor of history at Athens State University, Alabama, who recently published Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions, is also concerned about academics who stray off their home turf.

"Some are prominent Holocaust deniers," he says, "but they tend to have posts in engineering and business faculties that have nothing to do with their ideas about the Holocaust. Barry Fell (1917-94) believed that Europeans reached North America during the megalithic era. He is put forward as a Harvard professor to bolster his credibility, but the problem is that his expertise was in marine biology, not archaeology, prehistory or ancient Celtic languages."

In other areas of conspiracy theory, however, it is only experts who are likely to be listened to. Any pub bore can acquire the basic knowledge of ballistics and grassy knolls needed to "prove" that Lee Harvey Oswald could not have shot Kennedy. But there is no such thing as robust common sense about retroviruses. Here too, alas, it is often argued that the academic record is far from perfect.

Seth Kalichman is author of the recently published Denying Aids: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy. He is also professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, which makes him, as he notes in an amusing introductory declaimer, "an employee of The State". He has never, he assures us, "taken financial support from any pharmaceutical company, although he has accepted pens and key chains from Pfizer sales reps at conventions".

Despite his jokey tone, the stakes could hardly be higher. Kalichman carries out Aids research in South Africa, where denialism - the claims that "the HIV = Aids myth is the product of a government conspiracy in cahoots with a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical scam" and that antiretroviral medicines are toxic - has had a huge and disastrous impact on government policy. A prominent biologist, Kalichman argues, must take a significant share of the blame for this disaster.

"There are only a handful of academics who are involved in spreading conspiracy theories," says Kalichman, "but they are quite destructive. I am not one for placing any limits on free speech or academic freedom, but these characters help to make the case.

"Those who are tenured are unstoppable. Tenure committees have to be more critical than ever in their scrutinising of journals, because pseudoscience now has outlets that would typically appear legitimate.

"The most destructive people linked to conspiracy theories and denialism are those with academic appointments - and those who can manipulate their backgrounds to appear as if they have had academic appointments."

Because many conspiracy theories are pernicious as well as absurd, their promotion by fringe groups of academics claiming the prestige of their universities is a source of concern. But what can others do to fight back?

It isn't always easy. Genuine scholars can be at a disadvantage in formats such as television's battle of the soundbites. Conspiracy theorists can put forward a simple, sensationalist and emotionally satisfying thesis that can be demolished only painstakingly, brick by brick. Unless academics are exceptionally skilled and quick-witted debaters, they can easily come across as pedantic killjoys as they labour to unpick conspiratorial ideas while also countering attempts to impugn their motives.

Such hazards, Kalichman suggests, explain why "scientists and other genuine academics are reluctant to enter into a 'debate' with conspiracy theorists and denialists. It is easy to get caught in a trap. The denialists will often walk away looking like righteous heroes standing up against the corruption of government, industry and the Establishment."

Fritze takes a similar line. "Academics tend to avoid controversies concerning pseudohistory and pseudoscience because they can get roughed up and dragged into quagmires of circular debate."
Churchwell has no doubt where the more conspiratorial biographers of Marilyn go wrong. "The more you read about her, the more you realise how little we know. There are all sorts of legitimate questions that we don't know the answers to. But there are some things we do know. I can unpick the lies. I can demonstrate falsity.

"You need to think sceptically about the role of evidence. Lots of stuff one can point to has its origins in gossip or hearsay but is taken seriously because it's 'in the record'. A mix of commerce and laziness drives most of the theories."

But although Churchwell has taken part in myth-busting documentaries and hopes her book "has convinced some who were willing to be convinced", she also knows that "getting involved in public debates would be an exercise in futility, because conspiracy theorists are unscrupulous and abusive and come with their minds made up".

Fortunately, however, conspiracy theorists don't always get things their own way. Popular Mechanics magazine and a number of websites have systematically addressed the "suspicious anomalies" noted by the self-styled "9/11 truthers". Mohamed Al Fayed's determination to have his day in court led to a public discrediting of his claims about Prince Philip's role in Diana's death.

Something similar occurred when David Irving unsuccessfully sued the academic Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for libel in a UK court after she described him as "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial". This gave Richard Evans, now Regius professor of modern history at the University of Cambridge, the opportunity to submit a 700-page report that spelt out in detail the "knotted web of distortions, suppressions and manipulations ... the sheer depth of duplicity encountered in Irving's treatment of the historical sources".

Under cross-examination, Evans proved highly effective in dodging Irving's debating tricks and doggedly answering him point by minute factual point.

There was a moment when Irving asked Evans to clarify a comment in his report.

"Would you like to point me to the page?" Evans responded. "You see, I have a problem, Mr Irving, which is that, having been through your work, I cannot really accept your version of any document, including passages in my own report, without actually having it in front of me."

Perhaps a similarly robust approach is the best way of dealing with conspiracy theorists trying to prove that black is white.

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