Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy

Seeking Stories of AIDS Denialism

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shooting a Moon at AIDS Denialism

Twenty-eight years after identifying the first cases of AIDS and 13 years since highly effective combinations of antiretroviral medications made HIV infection manageable, there are AIDS Deniers who actually believe HIV is a myth.

And 40 years since Neil Armstrong took man’s first step on the moon, there are people who still believe it was a hoax. AIDS Denial is just one of many types of denialism, all of which are bound together by mistrust and paranoia. Denialists universally expose cover ups and conspiracies in their effort to rewrite history. So here you go AIDS Denialists, meet your cousins the Lunar Landing Hoaxers.

Vocal Minority Insists It Was All Smoke and Mirrors
By JOHN SCHWARTZ, New York Times, July 13, 2009

They walk among us, seemingly little different from you or me. Most of the time, you would never know of their true nature — except that occasionally, they feel compelled to speak up.

Take an example from Lens, this newspaper’s photography blog. A recent feature, “Dateline: Space,” displayed stunning NASA photographs, including the iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin standing on the lunar surface

The second comment on the feature stated flatly, “Man never got to the moon.”

The author of the post, Nicolas Marino, went on to say, “I think media should stop publicizing something that was a complete sham once and for all and start documenting how they lied blatantly to the whole world.”

Forty years after men first touched the lifeless dirt of the Moon — and they did. Really. Honest. — polling consistently suggests that some 6 percent of Americans believe the landings were faked and could not have happened. The series of landings, one of the greatest gambles of the human race, was an elaborate hoax developed to raise national pride, many among them insist.

They examine photos from the missions for signs of studio fakery, and claim to be able to tell that the American flag was waving in what was supposed to be the vacuum of space. They overstate the health risks of traveling through the radiation belts that girdle our planet; they understate the technological prowess of the American space program; and they cry murder behind every death in the program, linking them to an overall conspiracy.

And while there is no credible evidence to support such views, and the sheer unlikelihood of being able to pull off such an immense plot and keep it secret for four decades staggers the imagination, the deniers continue to amass accusations to this day. They are bolstered by films like a documentary shown on Fox television in 2001 and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon” by Bart Sibrel, a filmmaker in Nashville.

“There are smart, normal people who buy into these conspiracy theories,” said Philip Plait, an astronomer and author who counters the conspiracy theorists point by point and at excruciating length at his “Bad Astronomy” Web site. He is one of many people who have joined the fight to affirm that It Happened. A group effort, at, debunks with gusto; its main author, Jay Windley, named the site for the Moon base in Arthur C. Clarke’s classic science fiction novel, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Even though the so-called evidence from the conspiracists can clearly be proved wrong, Mr. Plait said, understanding the proof can require a working knowledge of history and photography and of science and its methodology. “You’ve got to do the work; you’ve got to put the elbow grease to it,” he said, “and most people don’t do the work. So these things get traction.”

Mr. Marino, the author of the post on the Lens blog, is a 31-year-old architect born in Argentina. In an e-mail interview, he said that the political corruption during the years of dictatorship in his country shaped his thinking: “I started to realize how political corruption operates and how it is the interests of a few in power that really governs our world.”

As he traveled the world — he now lives and works in China — he picked up books contending that the landings were faked and saw documentaries including Mr. Sibrel’s, he said, which paints a dark portrait of political manipulation during the Nixon administration and somehow ties in the Vietnam War, the Titanic and the Tower of Babel before even getting to the supposed photographic evidence of lunar deception.

Mr. Sibrel, who sells his films online, has hounded Apollo astronauts with a Bible, insisting that they swear on camera they had walked on the Moon. He so annoyed Buzz Aldrin in 2002 — ambushing him with his Bible and calling him “a coward, and a liar, and a thief” — that Mr. Aldrin punched Mr. Sibrel in the face. Law enforcement officials refused to file charges against Mr. Aldrin, the second man on the Moon.

In an interview, Mr. Sibrel said that his efforts to prove that men never walked on the Moon has cost him dearly. “I have suffered only persecution and financial loss,” he said. “I’ve lost visitation with my son. I’ve been expelled from churches. All because I believe the Moon landings are fraudulent.”

Ted Goertzel, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has studied conspiracy theorists, said “there’s a similar kind of logic behind all of these groups, I think.” For the most part, he explained, “They don’t undertake to prove that their view is true” so much as to “find flaws in what the other side is saying.” And so, he said, argument is a matter of accumulation instead of persuasion. “They feel if they’ve got more facts than the other side, that proves they’re right.”

Mark Fenster, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law who has written extensively on conspiracy theories, said he sees similarities between people who argue that the Moon landings never happened and those who insist that the 9/11 attacks were planned by the government and that President Obama’s birth certificate is fake: at the core, he said, is a polarization so profound that people end up with an unshakable belief that those in power “simply can’t be trusted.”

The emergence of the Internet as a communications medium, he noted, makes it possible for once-scattered believers to find one another. “It allows the theory to continue to exist, to continue to be available — it’s not just some old dusty books on the half-price shelf.”

Adam Savage, the co-star of the television show “MythBusters,” spent an episode last year taking apart Moon hoax theories bit by bit, entertainingly and convincingly. The theorists, he noted, never give up. “They’ll say you have to keep an open mind,” he said, “but they reject every single piece of evidence that doesn’t adhere to their thesis.”

For those who actually went — and have I mentioned that we did land astronauts on the Moon? Six times? — the conspiracy theories are simply galling.

Harrison Schmitt, the pilot of the lunar lander during the last Apollo mission and later a United States senator, said in an interview that the poor state of the nation’s schools has had predictable results. “If people decide they’re going to deny the facts of history and the facts of science and technology, there’s not much you can do with them,” he said.

“For most of them, I just feel sorry that we failed in their education.”


  1. Seth,
    the similarities between Moon Landing Denialism and HIV Denialism are stronger than you imagined. One of my students recently wrote a bachelors thesis after thoroughly reviewing all official NASA publications. The conclusions were that NASA appears to be convinced that some or all of the moon landings were hoaxes.

    We've written this up as a paper "Moon Landing Denial at NASA" and have submitted it to "Medical Hypotheses". I submitted it at 11:55 Yesterday and after rigorous peer-review it was finally accepted at 11:57. You should be able to read it online soon or I can send you a preprint if you can't wait.

  2. Chris

    Elsevier is the biggest science journal publisher in the world. You will have page proofs in hours, probably 72-96 hours. Then your paper will appear online within a couple weeks. Look at Ruggiero…submitted June 3, Accepted June 3, on my Blog July 11.

    That is fast.

    And yet, I cannot wait.

    Please please please send to me!!!

    We are just getting started on our study of Holocaust Denial in the Israeli Knesset.

  3. Have you noticed that Sadun Kal has precipitated a major denialist meltdown? A war has erupted between Planet Perth and Death Star Duesbergia:'HIV'.htm

    It's Anthony Brink and Liam Schieff - those notorious innovators in the realm of the literary emetic - versus David Crowe and Rethinking AIDS.

  4. Extremely interesting. I can not wait until I am at a computer that has not been "blocked" by AME moderator, Brian Carter! (written with pride and a smile)
    It has been obvious to me for a while now that the main problem with believing the dissidents is this very reason. They all seem to have their own un~founded belief. Whether it be stress or malnutrition, or street drugs, or HIV drugs, or F. buskii, or the HIV Fairy! But none of their beliefs are upheld by any kind of research.
    When will they see that 25+ years of rigorous research by thousands of scientists all over the world have proven that which they refuse to accept? Obviously it is not the death of a small child or even their beloved leader!
    I do know that many dissidents turned away from the lies when they got sick. Unfortunately, it was too late for many of them like Rex Poindexter! But thankfully, for many of them it was not too late, like John Boucher!
    I hope and pray that others come to the truth before it is too late.

  5. [b]Have you noticed that Sadun Kal has precipitated a major denialist meltdown? A war has erupted between Planet Perth and Death Star Duesbergia:[/b]

    Apparently Brent Leung has started filming the sequel to "House of Numbers". He's pretending to be a HIV Denialist and getting candid interviews with Duesberg, Crowe, Bauer, Scheff, Brink etc where they completely contradict each other (and often themselves).

    Running titles include "House of Fools", "House of Numbnuts" etc

  6. Does anyone know who runs
    It might be worth noting that I wrote a very professional comment there responding to the Liam Scheff post where he points out one of the differences b/w the dissidence camps. It was moderated out, naturally.

  7. I really admire this, I mean it really looks interesting ! I really enjoyed reading this article...

  8. You Are Doing A Great Job Here With Your Blog. Keep It Up..

  9. The evidence that Apollo was a hoax is crushing. There's a discussion on government disinfo on Apollo going on on this forum thread below.
    www (dot) davidicke (dot) com/forum/showthread (dot) php?t=125628