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.