Rogue Science or Reality? Current Theory Holds That AIDS Is Caused by HIV. at Least One Scientist Calls This Crazy

By Goode, Stephen | Insight on the News, March 11, 1996 | Go to article overview

Rogue Science or Reality? Current Theory Holds That AIDS Is Caused by HIV. at Least One Scientist Calls This Crazy


Goode, Stephen, Insight on the News


To his friends, Peter H. Duesberg is a "prince of science" and he certainly possesses impressive credentials. A professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, Duesberg is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, whose associates are elected to the organization by the 1,600 fellow members. He is also a recipient of a seven-year Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, the federal government's premiere medical agency.

But to his detractors, who are legion, Duesberg is at best a maverick who refuses to accept facts held as dogma by his colleagues or at worst a kook who perversely refuses to submit to the obvious, perhaps out of a desire to grab headlines.

For the past decade, the 59-year-old Duesberg has been the nation's most outspoken opponent of the long-accepted-as-fact proposition that HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, causes AIDS, the well-known acronym for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. HIV destroys the body's natural immune system -- the incubation period can be 10 years or more -- leaving the body vulnerable to opportunistic diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and cancer, which kill the victim.

The persistent Duesberg recently renewed the battle with Inventing the AIDS Virus, a closely argued 711-page book in which the Berkeley professor (and pioneer researcher in retroviruses, the family of viruses to which HIV belongs) details his arguments and challenges fellow scientists to answer them -- a possibility he deems remote. -- Scientists,he tells Insight from his laboratory in Berkeley, "have sacrificed academic freedom and self-correcting debate to conformism."

Duesberg's beef with the HIV-AIDS hypothesis: It's "sloppy science." The claim that AIDS is caused by HIV was announced, suddenly, at a 1984 NIH press conference held by scientist Robert Gallo and Margaret Heckler, President Reagan's secretary of health and human services. The discovery was made public, Duesberg points out, without the standard scientific practice of peer review, whereby scientists who specialize in a given field evaluate the research of their colleagues.

Why did the scientific establishment rush to judgment? Groups such as NIH were under enormous pressure to find the answer to the growing number of AIDS cases in the early 1980s, Duesberg says. It then became impossible to admit there might be doubts about HIV and AIDS because billions of federal dollars were pouring into research establishing their connection. "The commercialization!" exclaims Duesberg. "Twenty years ago, it would have been regarded as an intolerable conflict -- a commercial interest in the science you're doing. But now laboratories cost a lot. Universities come surrounded with biotech companies like a metastasizing primary tumor. Professors are half-owners or hold consultantships amounting to half their income or more. Scientific independence has been sacrificed to federal money."

Had researchers examined Gallo's papers themselves, Duesberg writes in his book, "they might have objected that some of his AIDS patients had never been infected by the virus. They would have pointed out that no virus had been found in any Gallo's AIDS patients, but only antibodies against it." These objections are basic, Duesberg insists, because in both instances, AIDS researchers have discarded views long held by science concerning viruses and ignored traditional methods of scientific inquiry.

"Ever since Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccination, the presence of antibodies in a body has been a sign of defense against the disease," says Duesberg, In the case of AIDS, however, the presence of HIV antibodies (which is what the AIDS test uncovers) is taken as a sign that the virus still is potent. HIV-AIDS science thus ignores the first postulate of famed 19th-century scientist Robert Koch: To verify the causative agent of a disease, "the germ must be found growing abundantly in every patient and every diseased tissue. …

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