Defending AIDS denialists

In early June of 1981 the CDC released a report of several cases that turned out to be what we now call AIDS. Since this June is the 25th anniversary of the first official notice of this horrible disease most of the media have made mention of it with the New York Times leading the pack. The Times has had multiple editorials about AIDS and HIV (the virus thought to cause AIDS), most simply reminding us of the fact that the disease has been around for 25 years and that, although the number of cases is declining in the US, it still remains a scourge worldwide. One of these editorials entitled ‘Deadly Quackery,’ however, was disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst. Let me explain.

Doctors started seeing more and more cases of AIDS after 1981 and scientists began searching for a cause. As more and more research money and attention was directed at the disease many researchers looked for some kind of infectious cause. In due course a retrovirus, the so-called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, was identified as being commonly found in victims of AIDS. Once fingered this virus became the focus of attention of almost everyone and the race was on to connect it indisputably with AIDS. As more an more work was done researchers began to cobble together the following mechanism: a person infected with HIV passes the virus to another person who becomes infected and will ultimately develop AIDS. Pretty much the entire viral research community jumped on this bandwagon and the search was on for a vaccine to prevent it and anti-viral drugs to treat it. This scenario sounds plausible and most everyone believes it represents the reality of the situation. But there is a fly in the ointment.

As more and more people became more and more convinced that the HIV was the cause of AIDS, the most respected retroviral researcher in the world believed differently. Peter Duesberg, a professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and is nothing more than an innocent ‘passenger’ virus that happens to be found in many people with the disease. Dr. Duesberg has been problematic for the HIV causes AIDS crowd because of his scientific pedigree: (from his website)

He isolated the first cancer gene through his work on retroviruses in 1970, and mapped the genetic structure of these viruses. This, and his subsequent work in the same field, resulted in his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986. He is also the recipient of a seven-year Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Institutes of Health.

On the basis of his experience with retroviruses, Duesberg has challenged the virus-AIDS hypothesis in the pages of such journals as Cancer Research, Lancet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, Nature, Journal of AIDS, AIDS Forschung, Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapeutics, New England Journal of Medicine and Research in Immunology.

What does Dr. Duesberg thinks causes AIDS:

He has instead proposed the hypothesis that the various American/European AIDS diseases are brought on by the long-term consumption of recreational drugs and/or AZT itself, which is prescribed to prevent or treat AIDS.

In addition to his large number of scientific publications, Dr. Duesberg has written a book for the layman laying out the evidence as he sees it as to the cause of AIDS. His book, Inventing the AIDS Virus, is masterfully argued and has the best description of the peer review process that I’ve ever read. I recommend it highly.

Now, you would think that when a highly respected researcher from a major institution argues that HIV doesn’t really cause AIDS researchers from the opposite persuasion would try to scientifically and objectively evaluate his opposing hypothesis. That’s what you would think, but it hasn’t worked that way. The scientific community has turned on Dr. Duesberg and instead of considering his hypothesis they have heaped scorn and ridicule on the man himself. Other people who consider Dr. Duesbergs hypothesis are called AIDS denialists with the same venom and disdain used in referring to those who, for whatever reason, don’t believe the Holocaust took place: Holocaust denialists. The one moniker can’t help but sully the other.

The New York Times editorial goes to great length in bashing AIDS deniers who, the writers claim, are standing in the way of AIDS research and funding. Their ideas (the AIDS deniers) are getting some traction in some places and as a result, according to the editorial, people, especially in third world countries, are dying en mass as a result.

The editorial starts out with a total untruth.

H.I.V. causes AIDS. This is not a controversial claim but an established fact, based on more than 20 years of solid science. It is as certain as the descent of humans from apes and the falling of dropped objects to the ground.

So why reiterate the obvious? Because lately, a bizarre theory has gained ground — one that claims that H.I.V. is harmless, and that the antiretroviral drugs that curb the growth of the virus cause rather than treat AIDS. Such talk sounds to most of us like quackery, but the theory has emerged as a genuine menace to public health in the United States and, particularly, in South Africa.

Why an untruth? Because Duesberg has been writing about this for at least 20 years, so it’s not ‘lately’ and it’s far from an ‘established fact.’ It is still controversial.

The editorial goes on to identify the people who are leading the AIDS-isn’t-caused-by-HIV campaign:

Roberto Giraldo, a New York hospital technologist who says AIDS is caused by deficiencies in the diet…

Another American AIDS denialist, David Rasnick, a regular letter-writer to South African newspapers, absurdly claims that H.I.V. cannot be transmitted between heterosexuals. Mr. Rasnick now works in South Africa for a multinational vitamin company, the Rath Foundation, conducting clinical trials in which AIDS patients are encouraged to take multivitamins instead of antiretrovirals.

Christine Maggiore, a Californian who campaigns against using antiretrovirals to prevent transmission of H.I.V. from mothers to children…

One would believe from reading this editorial that the only people supporting the HIV-doesn’t-cause-AIDS hypothesis are nuts, weirdos and opportunists. There is no mention whatsoever of the cadre of prestigious scientists who disagree with the editorialists.

The piece goes on to say that

The AIDS denialists use pseudoscience and non-peer-reviewed Internet postings to bolster their false claims about H.I.V.

Anyone reading this editorial and not knowing the situation would think that there is no valid, peer-reviewed material out there supporting the ‘AIDS denialist’ position. Readers would also believe that no one with any scientific credibility could possibly support such nonsense.

Well, Duesberg has published extensively in the most highly prestigious peer-reviewed journals and he’s not alone. Take a look at this list of physicians and scientists (including a couple of Nobel Laureates) who agree with Duesberg. This is the reason this editorial has gotten me so hot under the collar. It is totally dishonest in that it points out only people who appear fruit cakey and none of the dozens of other legitimate scientists that don’t support the HIV-causes-AIDS theory.

My position on the issue is that I don’t know. I’m not in a high-risk group, so my odds of getting AIDS are negligible, and I have more than I can say grace over in trying to keep up with the literature that is important to me, so I haven’t made (and probably won’t) a thorough study of the matter. I do know from first hand experience how well the low-carb diet works to treat diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and a host of other problems better than anything else out there, and I know from first hand experience what it feels like to be called a quack and an opportunist and someone who just wants to sell diet books by the mainstream medical and nutritional people. I know how wrong they can be.

Fortunately, all the new research that has been coming out over the past several years has vindicated me, but I still feel the outrage of knowing I was right and being marginalized as a nut. So, I feel a sort of kinship to Dr. Duesberg and others who don’t fall into step with the main stream.

The take home message is that even the venerable New York Times allows totally distorted editorial pieces to reach print. Don’t believe everything you read, even if it’s in one of the top newspapers in the world.

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12 thoughts on “Defending AIDS denialists

  1. I’m like you… after reading the research from each “side” I still don’t know what to make of it and I hardly have time to read outside my fields of interest. Although it’s not my field even I have friends that have spend a good number of years working on that. On a side note, a few years back I met one of the members of the team involved in the Gallo-Montagnier dispute on who isolated the virus first… what a mess that was!

    Anyway, back to your commentary, I still have one question that really bothers me sometimes… if the HIV virus does not cause AIDS, then how come that when the virus is injected in monkeys they show the same symptoms? That at least meets a couple of the Koch’s postulates.

    Similar to humans, monkeys quickly succumb to the viral infection, showing a swift decline in immune cell counts, a high virus count, and the development of disease associated with the infection, AIDS. There are no nutritional deficiencies in these monkeys as you could imagine, at least not in those kept in the laboratory (of that I can safely say so as our facilities met strict protocols for animal nutrition) so the only cause of their disease is actually the viral infection.

    I respect people that stand their ground with their evidence in hand, in this case people like Duesberg, because it takes a great deal of courage (and endurance) to keep going despite the ridicule from fellow peers. I have no respect for people that choose to ridicule instead of rebuttal, also with their evidence at hand. Having said that, I’ve learned over the years not to be overly impressed by the amount of papers published by someone in what we like to call ‘top’ or prestigious journals. I’ve seen too many examples that seem to confirm what Huxley once said ‘if 50,000 people believe something wrong, it’s still wrong…’ After all, some of the most notorious cases of misinterpretation, forgery, fabrication, etc., have been found in papers published by such journals. By that, of course, I’m not attempting to smear anybody’s character as fortunately for us, such cases are not the majority.

    I do agree that it is unfortunately that Editorials from prestigious (that word again) newspapers are so tainted with bias sometimes that is almost worthless to put much stock in what they say.

    I suppose the jury is still out on the HIV-AIDS issue… and because the disease can be induced in monkeys infected with HIV, that scores one in favor of the AIDS-is-caused-by-HIV team. Who knows, maybe both sides have part of the truth… maybe AIDS is caused by HIV, but HIV may not be the only cause of the disease.

    Hi Gabe–

    I have rescued your comment from the Junk Comments file, where it landed because you didn’t type the code word ‘lowcarb’ in at the bottom. Any comments that don’t have ‘lowcarb’ typed in go directly to the Junk file. I’ve got to do that due to the huge amount of spam I get through the comment portal.

    Thanks for the–as usual–thoughtful comment. A couple of things. First, as you know well, monkeys are not human, so we don’t know if what happens to them happens to us. Second, where did the people who injected the virus into monkeys get it? As I understand it, the HIV has never been isolated. In fact, there is a cash prize available for anyone who does isolate it. See: http://www.virusmyth.net/aids/award.htm

    Thanks for commenting.

    Best–

    MRE

  2. You have every right to be angry. They claim that Christine Maggiore’s child had HIV and died of AID’s, which is completely false. You should read the entire TRUE story here:

    http://www.lacitybeat.com/article.php?id=3887&IssueNum=157

    I was absolutely shocked when I read the article I just posted link to. Here is a quote:

    Maniotis said something that I have never heard noted before. ?They did a lymphocyte count on Eliza Jane when she was admitted to the hospital. Forget everything else. Her absolute lymphocyte count was 10,800 cells per milliliter. She was not immune suppressed. That?s all you?ve got to know. She could not have died from PCP and had 10,800 lymphocytes in her bloodstream at the time of death. No way. It just doesn?t happen. Nor could she have encephalitis. End of story, it?s that simple. 10,800 lymphocytes is very high, and the World Health Organization has said that it is a legitimate standard way of gauging the immune system, in the absence of testing for CD4/CD8 ratios. An AIDS patient has to have below 1,000 total lymphocyte counts. Normal is about 4,000 to 8,000. EJ?s was 10,800. Even according to the most strident HIV dogmatists, AIDS is still a disease of too few lymphocytes, not too many. All the pathologists I talk to find this logic hard to refute. She could not have had PCP, nor died of it.?

    This issue is a huge hot button, and this article shows just how bad it really is.

    Hi Dan–

    I have rescued your comment from the Junk Comments file, where it landed because you didn’t type the code word ‘lowcarb’ in at the bottom. Any comments that don’t have ‘lowcarb’ typed in go directly to the Junk file. I’ve got to do that due to the huge amount of spam I get through the comment portal.

    Thanks for the heads up on the Maggiore situation. The whole thing is out of hand.

    Best–

    MRE

  3. But if it were brought on by long-term drug use than how do people get it through blood transfusions? A guy spoke at my church once and his wife got it through a blood transfusion and gave it to him through marital sex. Neither of them does drugs or ever has.

    Hi Victoria–

    That is precisely Dr. Duesberg’s point. The HIV virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions, needles, and unprotected sex. But he doesn’t believe that HIV causes AIDS. Have either one of the people you mentioned every developed full-blown AIDS?

    MRE

  4. This situation sounds exactly like the one involving “global warming”. The major newpapers (esp. NYT) will just blast you if you have the audacity to take any other position than the current politically correct version. Here is a recent article commenting on this particular issue:

    http://www.canadafreepress.com/2006/harris061206.htm

    How are we supposed to tackle any problem these days when our (current) major sources of information dissemination are, for whatever reason, so entrenched in viewpoints tied to political ideologies? While my political views tend to lean towards the “right”, I can’t stand reading obviously slanted articles in either direction. It makes me feel like I’ve wasted my time, as I am unable to believe enough of what I read to feel like I was properly informed on the topic. Judging by the dropping circulation numbers of most major newpapers nationwide, lots of other people may be feeling the same way. What a shame.

    Hi Rick–

    I have rescued your comment from the Junk Comments file, where it landed because you didn’t type the code word ‘lowcarb’ in at the bottom. Any comments that don’t have ‘lowcarb’ typed in go directly to the Junk file. I’ve got to do that due to the huge amount of spam I get through the comment portal.

    I agree completely.

    Thanks for the link.

    Best–

    MRE

  5. Mike, I’m afraid there may be a glitch in your software or your new password-allowed post. I did type ‘lowcarb’ and I noticed that when I preview the post (something I always do before sending it in), the passcode box disappeared. I assumed that since I typed it once and I was just reviewing the post, it would go through the appropriate and allowed channels. So, I’m typing this post and I’m sending it without previewing. Bare with me if you find some typos ok?

    I need to address your comment in different parts. First, it’s true that monkeys (or more specifically chimpanzees) are not humans, and I would be the first one taking that position if our immune systems wouldn’t be more similar than we would like to accept. Just as it happens with mice, for example, mice are not humans when murine data from metabolic experiments are extrapolated to the ‘human model’. However, as you well explained and blogged in the past, mice are very similar to humans as far as their brains and responses to stress is concern (remember those studies on stress and comfort food done in mice?). Since obviously humans can’t use in the laboratory, the data from primates, specifically from chimpanzees has shed a lot of useful information with respect to HIV and the development of HIV therapy. I don’t think we can dismiss that so easily.

    Now, I can see your point about the origin of the infective strain of HIV used to infect animals for study. True, a number of articles only mention HIV-1 XXXX-YY-Z and add “laboratory strain” in parenthesis and probably that’s what disturb some people. One could argue that the “laboratory strain” is nothing but an artifact that just happens to behave like the real virus in humans. Therefore, it’s granted that the infective material should come from humans. So, if HIV is found in humans (let’s not get into if they have AIDS or not, at least not yet), then that infective material should be the one passed to the animals and observe if the disease develops. The only caveat is that the viruses are not free-living but hide inside various types of cells, including immune cells, mainly T-helper cells (specifically CD4+ cells and according to recent and not so recent studies, the virus also hides and replicates in cytotoxic T-cells or CD8+ cells). So the next best step is to isolate the virus from infected individuals, which indeed has been done. The isolation, although time consuming is not conceptually difficult to understand. Briefly, infective material from infected individuals (viral isolates that are generated from patients? peripheral blood mononuclear cells by short-term coculturing with uninfected peripheral blood mononuclear cells or CD4+ T cells) -there is an actual registry of such individuals that have been studied over the years- is obtained and used to infect CD4+ (or CD8+) cells from healthy donors. After a few days, if the virus is present in the cells from the infected individuals, then infection of the cells from the healthy donor should occur followed by replication. If that happens, then one takes the mix of cells and sorts them. There are a number of ways to make sure that there is HIV DNA and mRNA there. Such techniques were probably not available to Montagnier when he discovered the virus, otherwise, chances are he could’ve isolated it as well.

    The paper of Zerhouni et al (JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, Feb. 2004, p. 1243-1255) explains in more detail how all this is done and looking at their results, I would say that the 6 points mentioned in the VirusMyth Award website are pretty much met, except that nowadays there are other faster and more reliable techniques to isolate viruses other than ultracentrifugation. That paper, however, is not the first showing that viral particles can be isolated from infected cells (‘Culture of putatively infected tissue’ in this case, CD4+ cells). PCR and RT-PCR are now done to make sure there is both HIV DNA and mRNA present in the cultures and sequence analysis is done to make sure it is truly HIV and not something coming from the cells.

    Before continuing with the argument, I just want to make clear that I’m probably playing devil’s advocate here… if anything, it’s good food for thought isn’t it? As I wrote before, this is not my expertise and I doubt I’ll will make another change in my field to pursue this issue and take a side in the debate. My point is that what it’s been called a myth may not really be so and there is more to it than just taking sides without really reviewing the evidence available distancing ourselves from a sometimes emotional rather than objective point of view.

    So… where were we? Oh yes, it seems that it’s possible to isolate viral particles from infected tissues (in this case CD4+ and CD8+ cells). One could still argue that the viruses isolated from cells that were once ‘healthy’ until they came in contact (co-culture) with viral material from infected individuals are not really the original infective particles and something ‘magic’ happened during culture and what is isolated is nothing but something generated during the culture process. At least in the reference I provided, they were able to show that the sequence of the newly isolated particles is identical of the ‘parent’ material, so it’s not something that just happens during culture; is not an artifact, and it doesn’t come from healthy donors either.

    So, it would seem that it is not only possible to culture the putatively infected tissues but also infect healthy cells with a ‘bulk viral material’ from those putatively infected tissues. Moreover, it would seem possible to obtain new viral particles and by using amplification techniques, it would seem possible to generate enough material to be use to infect animals in the laboratory. Put into context, one can only imagine where we would be if these techniques were available 25 years ago.

    Or course, now people can use their own frames of mind and argue that the prize is still available because the newly isolated viral parts were obtained through newer, more effective techniques and not following the beauty of the hard-work-school but that is sand from another sac isn’t it?

    Now let’s hope this message won’t end up in the spam pile and let’s hope the spelling or grammar ‘horrors’ were kept at minimum!

    As always, thanks for the great discussion Mike!

    Gabe–

    Thanks for the informative comment. I’m sorry I took you to task for going into the junk pile when it was really a screw up in the program that, so far, we have tried to fix without much success.

    As far as all the viral stuff goes, you are obviously much, much more up to date on it than I, so I will defer to your judgement. I don’t really have a dog in the HIV-isn’t-the-cause-of-AIDS fight, so I don’t spend much time on it. I just got my hackles up over the slant of the NY Times editorial that implied that basically only half-brained nitwits could possibly believe differently than the editorialists when some pretty smart people (all of whom they failed to mention) are lined up on the other side.

    Thanks again for commenting.

    MRE

  6. I agree completely Mike. It’s sad that the media outlets that most people use to become ‘informed’ do advance a particular interest. The HIV debate is not the only example I’m afraid. ‘Global Warming’, which according to many researchers should be referred as ‘Global Climate Change’ because it’s not really warmer everywhere, is another example that is drawing a lot of attention in the media these days. I have to rely on people I know that are more authoritative in environmental research to really have the ‘cold’ facts (no pun intended!), not warmed up by some polarized opinion, and then try to sift what’s written with solid science and what’s not. Not being my field, that effort really takes a lot of time but I do want to really be informed and not necessarily by a politician that suddenly thinks knows what’s good science and what’s not with respect to the climate issue.

    More closer to our own field, aren’t there still people who talk about obesity as a disease? If that is so, where’s the causative agent? Maybe that should be the next million dollar price huh!!!

    Gabe–

    I agree with you completely, especially about the global warming. There have been more than a few careers cratered of academics who had the temerity to have other conflicting ideas.

    There is some evidence for and a number of proponents of the hypothesis that both viruses and bacteria could be the causative agents of obesity. Who knows how that will shake out in the long run? With the huge increases in the problem over the past couple of decades, it almost acts like an infectious disease.

    Best–

    Mike

  7. Drs. Eades,

    What is your take on the Gerson Method?

    Kurt

    Hi Kurt–

    I don’t really know much about the Gerson Method, but what I do know does not impress me. Were I to develop cancer, I certainly wouldn’t undertake such a therapy.

    Best–

    MRE

  8. I remember reading this debate well over a decade ago and it was quite obvious to me at that time that Koch’s postulates had not been near met and that the poo-poo-ing of the anti-HIV contingent was based on fluff.

    I haven’t followed the literature since and it sounds from the comments posted as if we’re a lot closer to meeting Koch’s postulates by now and this strengthens the HIV-contingent’s position considerably.

    It’s nice to see it being strengthened by research rather than by ridicule.

    Thanks for the original post and the comments; it’s interesting to know what has happened.

  9. Most interested in your discussion!
    I I think that you should be intersted in the presentation I made at the European Parliament, Brussels, Dec 8 2003, on “Problems with HIV isolation”;
    Please send me an email I can put it on.
    Thanks,
    Etienne de Harven, MD (President of Rethinkingaids.com)

    Hi Dr. de Harven–

    I’ll email you directly.  Would love to see the presentation.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  10. Hi, Dr. Eades — I’m one of these people supposedly causing mass deaths all over the world, though I cannot find a single dying person who is blaming me for their demise. I can honestly say that no one has ever told me that I have successfully stood between them and their AZT.

    I want to thank you for posting this thoughtful article on your Web site, and also to set the record straight on a few points.

    (1) The Duesberg definition of AIDS as caused by recreational drugs and toxic drugs is only partially right — and Duesberg himself might actually make the distinction — because the definition of AIDS has shifted since the early ’80s, when the “syndrome” among gay men was caused by a fast-track lifestyle. AIDS now includes, for instance, yeast infections in women. Think about it. You don’t have to do drugs, legal or illegal, to get that. But for it to be called “AIDS,” you have to test HIV-positive beforehand. Same yeast infection, different label (which Duesberg has also asserted). The Duesberg definition you cite is based in a point in time when AIDS was just a few things, and confined to certain people. It should not be used to discredit Dr. Duesberg for its being out of date.

    (2) No one I know who questions AIDS “believes” anything about HIV — we all look for the facts, and so far, the facts are pretty thin. The logic of the matter is, of course “HIV” causes the label “AIDS.” 100%. You don’t get “AIDS” without being called “HIV-positive” first. The problem with this logic is, it’s just a circular reasoning. AIDS is defined by the test result, so the test result equals AIDS. Whether or not it causes any physical condition, it causes the label.

    (2) The basic problem is not to ask if “HIV causes AIDS” but “What is AIDS?” Because of the shifting definitions, with some diseases included and others not, and the recent abandonment of the theory that HIV destroys T-cells, AIDS is anything we wish it to be — hence it could be many conditions, with many causes. So when you talk about this thing as a disease or a “scourge,” with all due respect, you have not defined that term. “AIDS” could be anything from malaria in Africa to cancer in America.

    (3) Dr. Roberto Geraldo is a specialist in Tropical Medicine, an M.D. Dr. David Rasnick is, I believe, a biochemist (if not a microbiologist). He has a Ph.D. and has worked at UC-Berkeley with Dr. Duesberg. Christine Maggiore campaigns not against antivirals but for full information about them and the freedom of mothers to choose. Believe it or not, mothers do not currently have this right. These people are not merely a medical technologist, a vitamin salesman, and a Californian.

    (4) Finally, I would like to assure anyone reading this that people like me are not “denying” the Holocaust, or the death of your friends, or the existence of serious diseases. We are terribly concerned about the injustices being done around the world, the needless deaths and illnesses (of our friends too), and the lack of access to information. It does NOT take a lot of time, checking out the literature, to understand “AIDS” — you just have to know some basic facts and apply logic to them. Most importantly, though, you have to deprogram yourself from all the fears and illogic. No one has the right to indoctrinate you and keep you from inquiring about this, not even in the name of noble concepts such as tolerance, freedom and gay rights. If Silence=Death, then listen to all points of view.

    Hi Elizabeth–

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    Best–

    MRE