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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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When Denialists Get Their Due, Do We All Pay?

When AIDS denialists are ignored they are of little consequence. Damage is done when the false hope of denialism captures the attention of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Denialism also offers a false debate that policy makers can use to evade caring for people affected by AIDS. Another price that society pays for denialism comes when denialist claims are taken seriously. Investigating the rantings of denialists is a distraction as well as a waste of precious resources.

One example is the notion that Africa’s AIDS epidemic is the result of HIV contaminated medical practices. The idea that HIV spread in Africa via contaminated medical instruments is derived from a theory of how AIDS originated in Africa in the first place. This theory states that African bush hunters became infected with a non-human primate virus, Simian Immune Deficiency Virus (SIV) which then mutated and was spread through reused vaccination syringes and other medical equipment.

David Gisselquist has used this theory to argue that the African AIDS crisis is the result of health care practices, not sexual transmission of the virus. Gisselquist has published several articles in the International Journal of STD and AIDS. Gisselquist has not done research of his own and selectively reviews past research to support his views. Why is his work on AIDS in Africa published mostly in this one journal? Were his papers peer reviewed? When I asked David Gisselquist whether the International Journal of STD and AIDS peer reviewed his papers his response was a simple smile. Gisselquist has said "For the last 15 years, the AIDS establishment somehow got on to the notion that we need to scare people about sex to prevent HIV transmission". The problem is not what Gisselquist says, but rather that policy makers have listened.

In response to Gisselquist’s proclamation that AIDS in Africa is the result of poor health care practices, the US Congress earmarked as much as $75 million of its Global AIDS Initiative toward "safe and appropriate" injections and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a multinational investigation into his claims. The WHO study was led by George Schmid and the findings were published in The Lancet. The results flat out refuted Gisselquist, finding “no compelling evidence that unsafe injections are a predominant mode of HIV-1 transmissions in sub-Saharan Africa”. The Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa also spent their limited resources to debunk Gisslequist’s notions.

David Gisselquist refuses to accept that sexual transmission is the source of Africa’s AIDS crisis. He maintains that he is right while the mountain of scientific evidence is wrong. He does not, however, identify himself as an AIDS denialist or AIDS rethinker. In fact, he was once listed by The Rethinking AIDS Society as an AIDS ‘dissident’ and asked to have his name removed from the list. Ironically, David Gisselquist recently published a paper in the International Journal of STD and AIDS, of course, saying that those who do not listen to him are denialists.

More time and money has been wasted chasing after denialist claims. In a particularly repugnant example, children were removed from HIV clinical trials after baseless statements by denialists that children were being harmed. As described in a recently completed investigative report, “In January 2004, an independent journalist named Liam Scheff published an article on the web site In his article, Scheff alleged that ‘black, Hispanic, and poor’ children in the care of Children’s Services had been enrolled without their knowledge and against the wishes of their parents or guardians in HIV/AIDS clinical trials that were ‘neither safe nor necessary.’ According to Liam Scheff, these trials involved antiretroviral drugs that were ‘known to cause disability and death.’ Liam Scheff reported that the trials took place at the Incarnation Children’s Center (ICC) in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood.” Liam Scheff’s Internet postings included a story he wrote for Hustler magazine titled Guinea Pig Kids. Ultimately, the BBC picked up the story and produced a documentary of the same title, only to later publicly retract and apologize.

A full-scale investigation into Scheff’s claims by the Vera Institute for Justice entitled “The Experiences of New York City Foster Children in HIV/AIDS Clinical Trials” was released in a 500 page report on January 28, 2009 and found that children were not harmed and that the allegations of minority children being selected as guinea pigs were untrue. Nevertheless, there has been a chilling effect on conducting HIV treatment trials with orphans and children in care of the state.

The same wasteful situations arise in response to medical hysteria. Parents refuse to vaccinate their children and women have had perfectly safe prosthetic devises dangerously removed from their bodies because of the fears caused by well-publicized unsubstantiated claims. Like medical hysterics, denialists are good at sounding alarms and drawing attention to their outlandish claims. The waste of using limited resources to put baseless ideas to rest is just another example of the social costs of AIDS denialism.
An entry by “Brangelina” (a junior blogger) at AIDS Myth Exposed posted some interesting suspicions:
“Seth Kalichman is at it again, denialism, that is. He writes an entire blog about 'denialism' and ends by saying that at the Incarnation orphanage "children were not harmed and that the allegations of minority children being selected as guinea pigs were untrue. Nevertheless, there has been a chilling effect on conducting HIV treatment trials with orphans and children in care of the state." Meanwhile the Vera Institute says that 96% of children were minorities, and that 80 children died and that more died after trials! Please help Seth Kalichman over his denialism by asking him how many children have to die on Aids drugs before he counts even ONE!!!!???Liam Scheff posted his own letter from the Vera Institute which says that no medical records were reviewed. Who is Seth Kalichman paid by? What does he care about? He can't even admit that children D-I-E-D DURING THE DRUG TRIALS!!!The Vera institute was such a cover up, imagine how the 'Truthers' would shred it to pieces if the dissidents put out such a hollow report, with no records and censored interviews with patients???!!! Where's the accountability???”
The question regarding the children who died at the Incarnation orphanage is asked and answered in the Comments below.
I understand why a conspiracy involving the pharmaceutical industry and the NIH, as well as a cover-up by the Vera Institute, explains why 25 children with AIDS died. When you are in AIDS denial, a conspiracy is the obvious explanation.


  1. Another great post, although I am sure there will be those who have a "differing" opinion. An opinion that will no doubt be based on an emotional response, rather than understanding and acceptance.
    I especially agree with the part regarding Liam Scheff. He has an entire blog dedicated to refuting the Vera Institute study (surprise, surprise!)
    I posted a few questions to Liar Scheff on the comments section, which, of course, he has moderated! So, I had no choice but to post it at my blog!
    J. Todd DeShong

  2. How many children died during the studies?

  3. Anonymous
    According to the independent report by Vera Institute of Justice, 80 of the 532 children who participated in research died while in foster care, 25 of them died while enrolled in a medication trial. The investigation found no evidence that clinic trials or medications directly caused any of the deaths. These were obviously sick children. In fact, only the sickest children would be eligible for many such trials.
    Perhaps you are asking the wrong the question. Why not ask “how many children lived longer and healthier lives because they did participate in the trials?” This of course can only be known from a completed randomized trial when the experimental group is compared to the comparison group. Too bad the false claims and hysterical actions of denialists caused the studies to be suspended. We can, however, look to the medical literature on HIV treatment in pediatric settings and see that children living with HIV/AID who receive antiretroviral medications live longer and healthier lives than those who do not receive treatment.

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