The Tragic Human Cost of Political Idiocy and AIDS Pseudoscience

In which Dr Aust ruminates somewhat unoriginally on the desperate consequences of delusional thinking about medicine… when the deluded are the people running the country.

Somewhat submerged under the media storm over the Bombay terrorist attacks, last month saw the publication of a sobering estimate of the true human cost of the Mbeki government’s decade of incomprehensible HIV denialism in South Africa. The Guardian covered the story here.

The basic history is no doubt well known to most readers in the Badscience blogosphere; as the millenium dawned, South Africa faced an unprecendented AIDS crisis, with 10% of the population infected with HIV. However, seemingly enchanted by the claims of maverick scientists like Peter Duesberg, President Thabo Mbeki and his government decided to pursue a policy based on the view that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. They therefore failed to implement programmes of treatment with antiretroviral drugs – the drugs that had transformed the prognosis of HIV-positive patients in other parts of the world in the late 90s.

They continued with this policy as yet more scientific evidence accumulated that HIV was the cause of AIDS.

They continued as HIV-positive people in many other countries had their death sentences stayed by antiretroviral therapy.

They continued even when the cost of the antiretroviral drugs tumbled, and when global schemes were set up to fund the treatment programmes.

They continued even though studies showed antiretroviral treatment was cost effective in South Africa.

And they continued even when South Africa’s poorer regional neighbours, like Botswana and Namibia, managed to implement treatment programmes.

The authors of the recent estimate summarise some of the timeline in a handy diagram:


To see the original,  go to the paper, click the “Full text” link, then “Fig. 1″, and finally click the figure itself to get an enlarged version – or, when you reach the full version of the paper, click “View full-size inline images”.

Among the things the Mbeki government failed to do was implement programmes to treat HIV-positive pregnant women. An untreated HIV-positive woman has around a 25% chance of passing HIV on to her child during childbirth. With antiretroviral therapy, that transmission risk can be reduced to around 10% in developing world settings with vaginal delivery, or even to only a few per cent in some recent studies (for a medical review of some recent trials see here, or the Cochrane summary here). This is not enough on its own, sadly, as breast feeding can also pass on the virus – but it is a start. Around half to two-thirds of children who acquire HIV from their mothers in the developing world do so during delivery.

Estimating the true cost in lives

The stories that appeared last month centred round a new analysis, by a group of workers from the Harvard School of Public Health, that estimated how many lives the Mbeki regime’s failure had cost. They did this by assuming that South Africa could have achieved something approaching the kind of treatment coverage and results that proved possible in neighbouring Botswana and Namibia, countries with similar social and infrastructure “contexts”.

The authors estimate – and they make clear that their estimates are “conservative”, so likely to be on the low side – that each year from 2000 to 2005, about 7000 HIV-positive babies were born in South Africa who could have been born virus-free had their mothers been treated.

They also estimate that around a third of a million people in all died unnecessarily over these five years. People who might have lived had they got timely treatment with antiretroviral medication.

The terrible effects of this death toll, of course, go beyond the lives of those lost. In the Introduction of their paper, the authors note that:

Approximately 1.2 million children [in South Africa] younger than 17 years have lost one or both parents due to the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic”.

So what caused the Mbeki Government’s disastrousfailure? The authors of the study discuss one salient issue, that of the cost of the antiretroviral drugs, and conclude that this cannot account for the South African government’s actions. They could have afforded the programme, as their poorer neighbours ultimately did. The cost of the drugs has dropped dramatically over the last decade, largely due to pressure on the pharmaceutical companies from activists and campaigners – the real heroes of the hour – as well as from governments, NGOs and charities. So cost alone was unlikely to have been the decisive issue.

The South African government also chose to convince itself that the scientific consensus that HIV caused AIDS was uncertain.

One vehicle for this was Mbeki’s notorious Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS in 2000. The Panel included Peter Duesberg and a bunch of other “HIV sceptics”, like Harvey Bialy and David Rasnick (the latter now seems to have fetched up working for the Dr Rath Health Foundation in South Africa).

As the British Medical Journal noted at the time:

“At least half of the Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS, as the group is now known, are scientists and doctors who have disputed the orthodox views on AIDS. Many of these do not believe HIV causes AIDS.”

Unsurprisingly, the Panel rapidly split into two distinct groups; those who believed HIV was the cause of AIDS, and recommended rapid institution of retroviral treatment programmes along with public health measures; and those, like Duesberg, who denounced the HIV hypothesis and recommended (largely) public health measures alone. The Panel’s report, which can still be found online in full here (warning! – 1 MB PDF), makes bizarre reading; it is really two reports in one.

What appears nowhere in the report is any hint that the HIV sceptics, who were well represented and even in a majority on the Panel, were representative of a tiny – if vocal – minority of the scientists and doctors studying AIDS worldwide.

In a recent editorial, entitled “The Cost of Silence?” Nature suggests that the mainstream scientists and doctors might have done better to have refused to serve on the Mbeki Advisory Panel at all. Their participation, Nature says, led to the appearance in the Panel’s deliberations that there was a real scientific issue to be argued. The Panel’s report, in turn, presented this “dichotomy of views” – when really there was a massive preponderance of evidence, and expert views, on one side, and a lot of evidence-free fringe theorizing on the other. This appearance of an undecided issue gave the Mbeki government the fig-leaf it needed to state that the issue was still contested, and to stall on antiretroviral therapy programmes. While Nature does not state outright that it thinks the South African government had already made up its mind when it set up the Panel, the implication is clear.

Reading the Advisory Panel report, one can perhaps catch glimpses of why the “HIV is not the cause” case might chime with the thinking of some populist politicians. Since they had decided HIV was not the agent causing the AIDS epidemic, the “HIV sceptics” could instead call for progress on a long list of the kinds of things dear to politicians’ hearts:


The recommendations listed below were proposed as necessary and sufficient to combat all the risk factors that are the real cause of AIDS:

1. Improving sanitation and public health measures to decrease water-borne diseases.

2. Strengthening health infrastructure.

3. Reduction of poverty and improving general nutrition and implementing nutritional education and supplements for the general population.

4. Improving screening for and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

5. Promoting sex education based on the premise that many sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies could be avoided.

6. Implementing public education campaigns to destigmatise AIDS and reduce public hysteria surrounding the disease.

9. Treating infections vigorously and timeously (sic – possibly meaning “in a timely fashion”).

10. Increased support for and promotion of research into the development of drugs against AIDS, its cofactors and risk factors.

12. Implementing aggressive programmes to empower women and change the power relations between men and women.

13. Reducing the vulnerability of communities by improving access to health care.

14. Improving literacy.

[Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel Report: March 2001: pp 86-87].


Now, none of these is a bad thing – far from it. Who could argue with any of it? All good stuff, and the “HIV causes AIDS” group on the panel said many of the same things in their recommendations.

But – and it is a very, VERY big “But”- these laudable measure were, sadly, just not what was needed as a first priority in the face of an unprecedented epidemic of a deadly but slow-acting viral disease. Or, at least, they were not enough, and never would be. They would do some good – but not nearly as much good as if they had been combined with an immediate and vigorous campaign of treatment with antiretroviral drugs.

There is also another side to the catastrophe, as noted by many commentators, including Bad Science’s own Ben Goldacre, and also the Harvard authors:

The South African government, through the Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, …continued… to divert attention from ARV drugs to non-tested alternative remedies, such as lemon juice, beetroot, and garlic, sometimes even promoted as better alternatives and not supplements for AIDS treatment

Tshabalala-Msimang scores high on the infamy scales for me because she is, almost unbelievably, a medical doctor who trained in obstetrics and gynecology and later in public health. I am truly dumbstruck that a person with her professional background could have participated in such an orgy of delusion. Though if some of the stuff that newspapers in South Africa have printed about her is true (see e.g. here and here) it is pretty scary that she was a Minister in the first place.

Anyway, the quackery was doubtless not just Tshablala-Msimang’s idea; the promotion of alternative therapies was prominent in the recommendations of the HIV denier half of the Advisory Panel. The keen-eyed reader will have noted the omission of several numbered points from the list above. The missing ones are as follows:


7. Investigating the use of immune-boosting medications, such as interferons, growth factors, B-complex vitamins and herbs (such as ginseng, Chinese cucumber, curcumin, aloe vera, garlic and echinacea).

8. Encouraging the detoxification of the body through several inexpensive interventions, such as massage therapy, music therapy, yoga, spiritual care, homeopathy, Indian ayurvedic medicine, light therapy and many other methods.

11. Encouraging the involvement of complementary medical and health practitioners, including indigenous healers, in research and clinical fields.

(Italics mine)


Following the embracing of this menu of delusion by the Mbeki government, Tshablala-Msmang enthusiastically promoted it – no doubt applauded by plausible nitwits, sorry, “Nutritionists”,  like Patrick Holford, and by the “Pope of Vitamins”, Dr med Matthias Rath. Both Holford and Rath have spent a lot of time in, and promotional effort on, South Africa these last eight years or so.

It does not take a genius to surmise that they would have seen a large market, full of often poorly-educated people, where their seductive nutritional remedies (“no nasty toxic drug side effects!”) would appear almost officially sanctioned.

Admittedly, the role of AIDS deniers, of alternative medicine idiots, and of vitamin pushers like Rath and Holford, are minor compared to the overwhelming responsibility of Mbeki, his Health Minister, and the rest of the President’s deluded inner cabal. But there is an obvious element of “toxic enabling” at work.Which suggests:


A BadScience Formula:

Self-deluding scientifically illiterate politicians

+ vocal “skeptics of the scientific orthodoxy”

+ “traditional healing practices” enthusiasts

+ vitamin salesmen and Nutritionistas

+ endless ill-informed media reportage, especially of the previous three groups

= possibly catastrophic consequences


Anyway, I would like to think that the next time dear old Patrick Holford says something mind-bogglingly dim like:

“[The retroviral drug] AZT is… proving less effective than vitamin C” [ in treating HIV]

- or the next time that Matthias Rath claims that modern medicine is a Pharma conspiracy to keep people sick – that someone will be there to remind them of just where their preferred nostrums and delusions can lead.

You might, for instance, like to ask Patrick:

“So can Vitamin C prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the way that anti-retrovirals do?”

I would love to know what his answer would be.

Getting back to the paper, the authors’ conclusion is chilling:

“Access to appropriate public health practice is often determined by a small number of political leaders. In the case of South Africa, many lives were lost because of a failure to accept the use of available [antiretrovirals] to prevent and treat HIV/Aids in a timely manner.”

One can only hope that political leaders elsewhere have proper scientific and medical advisers. And that they can keep their minds free of the soothing claptrap peddled by the fans of Alternative Reality.

Although looking at the way that politicians in the UK these days persist in regarding CAM as purely an issue of consumer choice, with no health implications… sometimes I am not so confident



This post is not very original, and obviously owes a lot to Ben Goldacre’s coverage of the issue. Talking of which, word in the bookosphere has it that the revised edition of Ben’s Bad Science book, due out next Spring, will have an extra chapter devoted to Herr Dr Med Matthias Rath, in which the learned Herr Doktor’s South African activities can presumably be expected to feature prominently.

Another good guide to the history of the South African HIV denialism catastrophe is the Skeptical Inquirer article by South African economics Professor Nicoli Natrass.

Finally, a longer and more scholarly article written earlier this year by Prof Nattrass for the journal African Affairs, can be found here. It includes an earlier estimate of the human cost of Mbeki’s policies, broadly similar to the Harvard study’s conclusions. This article also has a section (pp 169-171) dealing with Rath and other peddlers of “nutritional solutions”, and their relationships with Tshabalala-Msimang.


30 Responses to “The Tragic Human Cost of Political Idiocy and AIDS Pseudoscience”

  1. Seth Kalichman Says:

    Anyone interested in the psycho-basis for AIDS denialism should check out my new book coming out called Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy being published by Copernicus / Springer Books. This is the first psychological analysis of the AIDS denialist movement. It provides the inside scoop on the strange world of AIDS denialists and pseudoscientists and why they have attracted such a following. All of the royalties from sales of this book are being donated to purchase HIV treatments in Africa. Check it out.

  2. draust Says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Seth. Your new book sounds really interesting.

    Of all the various “Alt.Reality” folk I have debated around the blogosphere and in person, the HIV denialist people are, together with the anti-vaccine folk, the most wild-eyed crazy. The only time I got involved in a discussion of HIV denialism over at Tara Smith’s Aetiology blog, I was just amazed how rabid the “It’s not HIV!” people were.

    I guess part of their thing is that AIDS, HIV and the antiretrovirals seem to them to exemplify precisely their “medicine and pharma conspiracy” worldview, and on a vast scale, too. Of course, the whole saga is exemplary for me too, only for me it is of the dangers of getting caught up in conspiracy theories and special pleading for fringe science, and setting logic and evidence aside.

    Anyway, I will be passing recommendations for Prof Kalichman’s book, and for Nicoli Nattrass’ recent one, along to my University Library.

  3. dt Says:

    Good summing up Dr A…..
    I also recommend Steve Novella and Tara Smith’s article on AIDS denial:

  4. Martin Says:

    Who is Dr. Aust, if your going to write something, wouldnt it be useful to state WHO you are?

  5. Sceric Says:

    Hello Doctor A,

    Very good summary! Summaries like yours are of great help, if I need to convince somebody, who is not yet a “believer”, that they are probably on the wrong track and they provide ammunition for others around me, too. Like a month ago, when my lady was able to convince somebody to vaccinate their kid, despite what their “wet nurse” said.

    Thanks again.

  6. draust Says:

    Cheers, Eric and DT. And special thanks to DT for the link to the excellent Tara Smith and Steve Novella article in PloS Medicine.

    Martin, I’ve explained who I am elsewhere on the blog. Shorthand version, I am a 25-yr veteran professional scientist and University teacher (tenured academic Faculty member in US-speak). I am married to a general medicine (Internal Medicine in the US) doctor. I blog anonymously to avoid getting spammed and harrassed by trolls and Alt.Reality types.

  7. Kathy Sinnott, MEP, and alternative health eurosceptics still associating with Matthias Rath « gimpy’s blog Says:

    [...] neglected to mention in the text above this blogpost by Dr Aust that is a fine examination and condemnation of the actions of AIDS denialists, including Rath, in [...]

  8. John H Says:

    Excellent article Dr Aust.

    Very difficult for someone like me to lock horns with someone like Duesberg, who seems to have a fairly impeccable scientific background.

    The whole thing seems to have been a complete and unmitigated disaster and it almost appears as if woo nutters have taken over the asylum. I sort of guessed what the missing points 7, 8 and 11 might refer to. They are almost the CAM manifesto writ small.

    I could never understand how Mrs Shangalangadingdong (who seemed to be medically trained) could suggest beetroot might cure AIDS.

    However, being a cynical sort of person I wonder if I could apply my own version of Occams razor to this. Sometimes an obvious answer to a question suggests itself despite the fact that it might be repellent.

    Having read this (along with the Rath stuff written by BG etc etc) I am of the opinion that there is an element of genocide involved here. I believe that these policies were designed specifically to eradicate a problem which the government had no intention of solving. I think these policies were designed to eradicate the problem at source as a sort of “self limiting illness”. After all, white South Africans would be able to afford the drugs and would be pointed towards them by their doctors.

    I try not to invoke Godwins Law but Duesberg was born in Nazi Germany.

  9. jdc325 Says:

    Fine work Dr Aust. I think this is one of the most important (perhaps the most important) issues that badscience bloggers have tackled.

  10. Dr Aust Says:

    Hi John

    I tend to the view that Mbeki et al just desperately wanted to believe it wasn’t true, and talked themselves into it.

    Obviously having been running an undercover opposition and resistance movement all those years gave them an inbuilt suspicion of “1st world big business and politics” – especially in the context of “they want to tell us what to do here, in our country”. It also gave them a very, very close-knit inner group – the point is often made re. Mbeki and Thabalala-Msimang that they go back to their very early twenties, when they were both part of the ANC’s “gifted future leaders” cadre, sent abroad by the ANC to take graduate degrees and to be groomed for the top. So people like Mbeki and Tshaba-M had a nearly forty year history of being comrades and confidantes… in a setting where otherwise it was “trust no-one”.

    Unfortunately, once in government this kind of mindset breeds arrogance… or “conviction politics”, if you prefer. Plus, in such a closed circle, you are predisposed not to to take advice from medical and scientific experts who aren’t “one of us”…. you can see the potential for disaster.

    They were doubtless also cautious of the likely enormous costs to a precarious economy of large-scale antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programmes. If it was true that HIV caused AIDS, it would require a huge commitment to funding ARV drug programmes, which seemed likely to be cripplingly expensive and would throw out all their other budgeting calculations for decades to come. So much better if it weren’t needed…

    I suppose one must also ask, as you imply, whether the idea that this was (at flrst) seeming to be a disease of various marginal groups – the poor, drug users, sex workers, homosexuals and so on – made it less of a priority. If that were so, the history since – as the disease has decimated all strata of South African society – makes it a truly tragic mistake.

    My take, I guess, remains that they very much wanted it not to be true that HIV caused AIDS, and therefore not to be necessary to fund the ARV treatment programmes. So they seized on every piece of evidence, or every talking head, that would support that view, and tuned out everything else. And their mindset made them blind to the possibility that they were fooling themselves.

    Of course, one can see parallels here to things closer to home. WMD, anyone?

    Re. Peter Duesberg, I always think myself that the main relevance of his birthplace and background is that, in his head, he has himself firmly cast as a kind of version of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I would say that Duesberg believes with utter sincerity that he is right, and the lesson he takes from the early history he lived through is that a man of conviction must not allow himself to be silenced, or to be a “cog in the wheel” through conformity.

    What he has missed, of course, is the possibility that he might be wrong and the others – the “conformists” – might be right.

    As a scientist, you have to admit to the possibility that, while you might be “sure” you are right, it is actually always possible that you might be wrong, e.g. because there is some flaw in your reasoning, or your experiment, that you are not aware of – see Orac’s discussion here. You also have to accept that in the final analysis it is the scientific facts (or data, if you prefer) that decide, not the depth of your conviction. But as it has become clearer, and clearer, and clearer that Duesberg is wrong, and the others are right, about HIV and AIDS, he has been completely unable to recognize this.

    There is a quite illuminating extended piece about, and interview with, Duesberg here. Basically Duesberg is a brilliant, but flawed, scientist and man. But his greatest flaw is that he is wholly unaware that he might have flaws.

  11. John H Says:

    In that context Duesberg reflects the ideology he was born into.

    The most gripping thing I ever saw on TV was Jakob Bronowski standing in the mud outside Auschwitz with a handful of mud sliding through his fingers. He said that the mud contained the ashes of his family members.

    They were exteminated by the Nazis not for the sake of some perverted and malevolent political ideology but because the Nazis knew themselves to be absolutely and justifiably right and could brook no alternative to that rock solid conviction.

    It should be repeated once a week at prime time.

    As ever your response is perhaps more thoughful and considered than mine but still think that certain people regarded this as a cleansing of the body politic and engineered a response accordingly. Duesberg and his ilk were merely the pawns that made the policy acceptable.

  12. SubMoron Says:

    Re Duesberg etc (or usw if you prefer). John H, Yes I remember Bronowski at Auschwitz and it sprang to mind on “9/11″ as it did to many others. But growing up in Germany at that time is not sufficient explanation: my mother and many others went through that without being victims themselves yet were left with an abiding intolerance of intolerance.

    The victims of Rath and his fellows seem unlikely to get even posthumous justice yet this article and those of others like Goldacre remind us that we can and must do whatever we can to fight such wrongs and wilful ignorance.

  13. draust Says:

    Talking of which…

    …Heads of State, and those near to them, with deluded and blinkered views and an overwhelming sense of their own wisdom, are not found only in Africa.

  14. Rob A Says:

    On breastfeeding, just wanted to say that the WHO position is “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for HIV-infected women for the first 6 months of life unless replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe for them and their infants before that time.”

  15. John H Says:

    SubMoron – you are correct and I was probably being a bit harsh in painting Duesberg with that particluar brush. He was only nine when the war ended after all.

    Und so weiter is fine with me – I lived in Germany for five years.

    I wasn’t really trying to invoke Godwins Law nor even a version of it which cries racism (difficult really with so many of the wrongdoers being black).

    And I don’t really think it was just Duesberg – it was clearly a whole host of quacks and private agendas conspiring together. He is an important pawn though because his impeccable academic background gave a veneer of respectability to these policies.

    What I have extreme difficulty grasping is the underlying rationale for this unenlightened policy (or set of policies). I don’t think it was poverty as poorer neighbouring states managed to go with the global medical consensus. I don’t think it was ignorance, exactly because of that consensus.

    I am at a loss to find a logical reason so therefore turn to less wholesome reasons. On of these is a rather pious and puritan regime effectively purging an element it perceives to be an intractable problem. Of course HIV is class indifferent now but they probably associated with the gay, drug and promiscous subclass which they can well do without.

    Or maybe I am just an old cynic and no government would stoop to this sort of social cleansing, would they.

  16. draust Says:

    Hi Rob.

    The breastfeeding thing is the classic risk trade-off – the key line is:

    “unless replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe for [mothers] and their infants before that time.”

    This takes me back to my youth, a well known Swiss food company, and the scandal of promoting formula feeding in the developing world.

    Anyway, in places where there is no access to safe water, the serious risk to the newborn from things like water-borne (esp. diarrhoeal) disease w. bottle-feeding outweighs the risk of getting HIV from breastfeeding, at least under 6 months. There are other issues as well, of course – much more detail here, and also here.

    In countries like the UK, delivery by elective (planned) C-section (where the transmission risk is much less than in vaginal delivery) and safe bottle-feeding reduces the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to about 1%. When it does happen now in the UK, 2/3 of the (thankfully small) number of cases are due to the mother’s HIV infection not being diagnosed before the birth – one reason why maternal HIV tests are routinely encouraged in ante-natal clinics.

  17. Seth Kalichman Says:

    The response to my book Denying AIDS has been so lively (and the book is not out yet) I created a blog of my own. If you are interested in AIDS denialism, I invite you to stop by.

  18. SubMoron Says:

    John H – Thanks. “Why people believe weird things” is a fascinating subject and I greatly enjoyed Shermer’s book of that title and “How we know what isn’t so” by Gilovich. The human mind is just so vulnerable and so few of us seem to realise it.

  19. Sheila Casey Says:

    Dr. Peter Duesberg has offered to be injected with the HIV virus, he is that sure that it is a harmless passenger virus. But the virus can’t be located, only antibodies to the virus are found in human subjects.

    Also, check out how many people have died of syphilis since the advent of AIDS: a big fat zero. There’s a lot more money for AIDS than syphilis.
    Just a few clues on an interesting journey…

  20. soveda Says:

    the story of HIV in africa and South Africa in particular is tragic. Thank you for this summary.

  21. draust Says:

    Aha. Our first genuine AIDS denialist and all-around conspiracy theorist has shown up. For a sense of the belief set, check Sheila Casey’s website.

    Then you could read the front page post over at Seth Kalichman’s “Denying AIDS” blog”:

    “One feature of denialism is the tendency to think of the denialist position as beleaguered, and under attack and in a minority that has to stave off the assaults of the vast wrong-thinking majority. As a consequence, those involved in denialism often, in the other justifications for their position, declare their strong allegiance to the principle of free speech. Interestingly, then, denialists often set themselves up as plucky underdogs, battling for their right to speak the truth against a tide of misinformation and, as often as not, conspiracies aimed at keeping them silent…

    It is plain to see, however, that HIV/AIDS denialists represent just one variant of the broader phenomenon of denialism, sharing common characteristics with Holocaust Deniers, 9/11 Truthers, and others who refuse to accept an indisputable historical record. At the core of denialism is mistrust–in the case of HIV/AIDS, the mistrust is of science and medicine. Scholars have identified the characteristics of political extremists and fringe groups that promote Holocaust denialism. These same characteristics apply equally well to HIV/AIDS denialism.”

    Re Peter Duesberg specifically, I’m sure the offer (to have himself injected with HIV) is genuine. But his being convinced, as discussed in the comments above, is in no way indicative of whether he is correct. Suicide bombers, of course, are utterly convinced they are going straight to paradise.

  22. Seth Kalichman Says:

    Dr. Duesberg is perhaps among the more fascinating characters in the history biological science. In meeting him I found Duesberg interpersonally engaging despite what he is doing to harm people. I have posted some of my favorite pics of us on my blog

    Peter Duesberg surely refutes that HIV causes AIDS and he stands by his claim that the original studies and all the science built on them are a fraud. So why did he not sign the recent letter from the AIDS Rethinkers demanding Science to retract the original 1984 articles? (see AIDS denialist / pseudoscience website Could it be that Dr. Duesberg is backing off from AIDS in the hope of receiving NIH funding for his Aneuploidy work? Or perhaps he can longer stand being associated with the fringiest of the fringe in pseudoscience who did sign on, such as Henry Bauer the Lochness Monster scholar? With Peter Duesberg we will probably never know.

    Seth Kalichman

  23. dt Says:

    @Shiela Casey:
    Duesberg offered to be injected with HIV, but then reconsidered and insisted it had to be purified HIV without any posible contamination/impurities (rather difficult for a virus like HIV).
    Shylock’s pound of flesh springs to mind.
    The denialists talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk.

  24. Richard Lockwood Says:


    No deaths from syphilis? Are you sure?

    Syphilis death statistics for various regions worldwide:
    About 89,000 deaths from syphilis in Africa 2002 (The World Health Report, WHO, 2004)
    About 1,000 deaths from syphilis in The Americas 2002 (The World Health Report, WHO, 2004)
    About 43,000 deaths from syphilis in South East Asia 2002 (The World Health Report, WHO, 2004)
    About 21,000 deaths from syphilis in Eastern Mediterranean 2002 (The World Health Report, WHO, 2004)
    About 1,000 deaths from syphilis in Western Pacific 2002 (The World Health Report, WHO, 2004)


  25. Jeff Goldmeyer Says:

    As blog operator you’re responsible, regardless of authorship, for any harm that any text, graphics or audio files on the site may cause. Printing the insinuation [by John H.] that Peter Duesberg is a product of Nazism is one such example.

    Moreover, it informs readers that the author is too feeble to mount a logical challenge to Duesberg’s views. The reason no attempt has been made by this individual or anybody since 1987 is that no evidence has been found to falsify any part of Duesberg’s dissident argument.

    Pseudoscience is characterized by invented ‘factoids’ to support false claims. The purveyors of these fictions are noted for attacking the person or character of opponents.

    The Nazi insinuation is a factoid to attack the character and person of Duesberg, seemingly seconded by you, in lieu of reasoned rebuttal. That’s not science; nor is your blog.

    The other character Seth Kalichman is most unlike honest psychologists who study mental processes and behavior without bias. The character, allegedly believing “HIV causes AIDS” is an infallible truism without offering any proof and people like Duesberg are deluded, wants to work backwards from this dogma to buttress their accusations with factoids. What the Nazis did. Since unable to recognize how his statements undermine psychology and science, he sounds more like an entrepreneur than a devoted student of human mental processes and behavior.

  26. draust Says:

    Jeff Goldmeyer –

    Duesberg’s views on HIV and AIDS have been addressed, and debunked, ad nauseam, both in the academic literature, in books by virologists and other scientists, and on several excellent blogs (e.g. AIDS Truth). If you choose not to believe the detailed and point-bv-point deconstructions and refutations that have been printed, that is, I guess, your right. As a scientist I am convinced by the arguments from the overwhelming majority of other scientists that Duesberg and his followers are tragically deluded.

    John Hooper’s remarks that you take such issue with were addressed, as I read it, toward the Mbeki government. I suppose one can construe the implications of John’s last, throwaway, line as carrying a meaning offensive to Duesberg – though it is a somewhat oblique remark, and I note that the Professor has not been by to complain.

    If you read the whole comments thread, you will see that the remark was specifically addressed by me – not “seconded” – and that actually John moderated what he had said in a later comment. As I read it, the consensus reached was no more than that “what people live through leaves its mark on their character and attitudes”, a fairly neutral truism. In my own case it is being a child of the 60s and 70s, and the product of a liberal intellectual home. But that’s just me.

    Incidentally, to say I “seconded” John’s remark – implying I launched a Nazi slur at Duesberg – is surely exactly the kind of ad hominem attack you ostensibly claim to decry, as is the imputing of “Nazi-like reasoning” to Seth Kalichman. Of course, shouting loudly “this character assassination is what the other side do – suppressors of truth!” all while simultaneously throwing out the ad homs – “Fascists! Pharma shills!” – is one of the defining characteristics of denialist movements.

    Talking of Professor Kalichman, I only know him from his comments here but the magic of Google shows that he is a bona fide Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut – see his academic homepage here – and that his book is indeed due to be published soon. One can also find out that Kalichman is funded by the National Institutes of Health for his work on how peoples’ social context affects their access to and understanding of HIV treatment. So his peers seem to think he is a psychologist, even if you do not.

  27. Seth Kalichman Says:

    Christine Maggiore has died. Please see LA Time article,0,7407966.story

    Her tragic death should give everyone who is buying into AIDS denialism pause. It should make Peter Duesberg, the only credible scientist who influences AIDS denialism, back off from his destructive stance.

    AIDS denialism is killing people and it has to stop.

    For information on AIDS denialism visit and

  28. Medicines that contain no medicine and other follies Says:

    [...] is a relative newcomer. At their worst, they claim that Vitamin C can cure AIDS, and have been responsible for many deaths in Africa. There isn’t the slightest need for them since the nutrition area is already [...]

  29. Mothers, HIV tests, consent and choices « Dr Aust’s Spleen Says:

    [...] reason is that I have been writing recently about HIV, and the disastrous effects in South Africa of the Mbeki government’s AIDS denialism – [...]

  30. Junk Science? Number 62: Skeptic pawns of Big Pharma out to silence WDDTY @ Guy Chapman's Blahg Says:

    […] The correct response to this kind of criticism is to apologise and up your game. If you genuinely don’t believe that vitamin C cures AIDS, then you need to accept that your magazine gave the strong impression of endorsing exactly that claim. A claim that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, including babies. Yes really. […]

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