Nobel Laureates Sign `HIV Causes Aids' Declaration
Steve Connor Science Editor, The Independent (London, England)
NEARLY 5,000 scientists from 80 countries - including a dozen Nobel prizewinners - have signed an unprecedented declaration reaffirming their belief that Aids is caused by HIV.
The declaration, to be published next week in the scientific journal Nature, says that those who deny the cause of Aids are guilty of endangering the lives of tens of thousands of people who are at risk of being infected with the virus.
The move comes in the week that a panel of Aids experts, including so- called "dissidents" who deny that HIV causes Aids, meets in Durban at the behest of South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, who has questioned the role of the human immunodeficiency virus in the epidemic sweeping through southern Africa.
Mbeki invited the dissidents, led by Professor Peter Duesberg, from the University of California, Berkeley, because, he said, the unusual nature of the Aids epidemic in his country could not easily be explained by orthodox science.
However, the appointment of advisers to the Mbeki panel, whose fringe views are ridiculed by the majority of Aids researchers, has generated a wave of outraged disbelief, which has now culminated in the "Durban Declaration".
The impressive list of signatories includes Nobel laureates Aaron Klug, president of the Royal Society, Max Perutz, the father of molecular biology in Britain and James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix.
Other Nobel prizewinners include David Baltimore, president of the prestigious California Institute of Technology, Harold Varmus, a distinguished virologist and Rolf Zinkernagel, a renowned medical scientist at the University of Zurich.
Some of the most eminent medical scientists in Britain, such as David Weatherall, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and Michael Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, have also added their names to the declaration.
Simon Wain-Hobson, a British-born Aids researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said that Aids professionals were worried that the "dissidents" may rekindle a diversionary debate that was won by HIV virologists more than 10 years ago.
"It's a scientific travesty. Duesberg says it is not proven, but it is proven. He continues to say this, but he's just wrong," Dr Wain-Hobson said this weekend.
It is the third time that Duesberg has managed to gain widespread publicity for his views. The first was when he published a scientific paper in the late 1980s raising questions about the nature of HIV, which were subsequently answered by his critics. The second was in the early 1990s when Channel 4's Dispatches programme publicised his views, eagerly taken up by the Sunday Times. …