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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Friday, February 11, 2011

Montreal Gets a Crash Course in AIDS Denialism

HIV denialism has taken too many lives  

What if most everything you think you know about HIV and AIDS is wrong?" This, according to Terry Michael in his opinion piece "Junk science and AIDS" (Gazette, Feb. 5) is the question that HIV-positive boxer Tommy Morrison is asking Canadian officials in his plea to fight in Quebec on Feb. 25. Morrison has repeatedly tested positive for HIV and refuses to take an HIV test that is mandatory if he is to take part in the fight. The authorities require the test because, fairly or not, they do not want to risk Morrison's infecting his opponent or anyone else who comes into contact with his blood.

Rather than encourage Morrison to take the simple, routine HIV test, ending the speculation about his HIV status and clearing his way into the ring, Michael astonishingly states that HIV tests are not accurate and that HIV, the cause of AIDS, does not even exist.
The science is indisputable. HIV tests are among the most accurate tests for any medical condition. HIV/AIDS has caused tens of millions of deaths: men and women, old and young, gay and straight.

UPDATE: The Kansas City Star has printed a very sad account of Tommy Morrison's life in AIDS denial. Click here for that story.

Michael's article raises questions of responsibility and accountability. Is it acceptable when unsound information is printed in the pages of a major newspaper? AIDS denialism -the movement professing that HIV is harmless or nonexistent - has claimed several hundred thousand lives in South Africa alone. Presenting such views as if they were valid alternatives to scientific knowledge has the effect of legitimizing them and ensuring their continued spread.
A poignant illustration of the consequences of AIDS denialism is a woman named Christine Maggiore. Maggiore wrote the book that Michael co-opted in his article: "What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong?" Like Michael, Christine Maggiore was neither a doctor nor a scientist, yet when she discovered that she was HIV-positive, she bet her life on the lie that HIV, if it even exists, is harmless.

Maggiore accepted the unfounded views of fringe biologist Peter Duesberg. She listened to an Internet organization called Rethinking AIDS. As a result, her daughter was infected with HIV and died of AIDS at the age of 3. Unshaken by even this tragedy, Maggiore founded an organization to persuade HIV-positive mothers to do the same things that had led to her own child's death. In 2008, Maggiore herself died of AIDS, but not before ensuring that others would follow.

It is disturbingly ironic that Michael uses the late Maggiore's words in defence of Tommy Morrison. Let us hope that HIV-positive people who have been deceived by AIDS denialism -including Morrison, if he is indeed HIV-positive -will come to their senses and obtain sound medical advice.

We encourage the readers of The Gazette to beware medical myths that masquerade as scientific information.

Ken Witwer researches HIV and related viruses as a fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Seth Kalichman is a professor at the University of Connecticut and author of the book Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy.

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  1. Maggiore's question, "What if everything you you think you know about HIV and AIDS is wrong?" was rhetorical. Tragically, when the answer came to her and her daughter it was real and brutal. It is bizarre that Terry Michael would recycle her words as a hook for his incoherent nonsense, and even more bizarre that a supposedly serious newspaper would publish it.

    This is a well-written, succinct reply, Ken and Seth. I note that unlike Terry Michael's original article, both you and Mark Wainberg have provided a comments thread on the Montreal Gazette site for the denialists to rant away in. That's a good thing - most readers will never have come across the AIDS-denialist cult before, and it is always instructive to have a few specimens to truly appreciate the depths of their craziness.

  2. Tommy Morrison is just one more in the long line of Super Egos that permeates the few AIDS Denialists out there. It is very sad that his ego has manifested via his anger, bitterness and yes, selfishness. These despicable traits are overclouding the possibility that he is wrong, and if so, he could infect and potentially kill others. Your commparison to Maggiore was spot on. Her ego not only caused her own death, but that of her child.

    Boxing is a game; life is not. Let's hope he either submits to the test or does not get the opportunity to fight.

  3. The Kansas City Star is Jonathan Barnett's hometown paper...I bet he's passing a kidney stone the size of Kansas City!!
    G. Lizard


    Tommy Morrison arrested in Lyon County
    By Jeremy Shapiro
    Friday, February 18, 2011

  5. So how come the the hiv test kits "deny" testing for hiv then ya plonker.

  6. The Montreal Gazette has now quietly deleted Terry Michael's bizarre article from its website, along with both replies.

    All three articles can still be found in Google's cache.

  7. I don't think HIV tests are that accurate considering that there are a hundred conditions that can cause the test to be positive.
    SCIENTIFIC LAW: Once you have antibodies to a virus your safe.