An article in the March Harper's finally clears up these puzzles. It turns out that when there is big money involved, science in America functions not so differently from our politics. There is scientific controversy about whether HIV actually causes AIDS, but the media has kept this from us. And according to the dissenting view, the standard therapy for HIV infection kills people who might be perfectly healthy, and the vast body of AIDS research and medicine has been one huge waste of resources.
The article is "Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science", by Celia Farber. It's a compelling read, and demolishes the AIDS establishment, the Center for Disease Control and all, as another American racket, akin to the war on drugs or the war on terror. She starts off with the story of how a young black woman who gets a false positive from an HIV test (no one tried to do the test over) gets coaxed into a clinical trial for a new AIDS drug, to die from liver damage from the drug not too long after. (Since being positive for HIV is taken to be a death sentence, the usual concerns about drug toxicity are waved away by researchers and pharmaceutical companies.) The middle part of the article discusses a clinical trial of a new drug in Africa didn't meet minimal scientific standards, and how this was covered up by the CDC, with the usual efforts made to get one administrator who would not play along fired. The last part discusses Duesberg's theory, along with how the academic establishment has cut off all funding to him and rejected articles by him in refereed journals, once he published his critique of the HIV=AIDS hypothesis. If you're interested in the article, it is summarized here. I won't say any more about it, and will instead try to get across the main thrust of Duesberg's ideas.
I don't know how many people here remember how AIDS first made its appearance. Doctors in San Francisco and elsewhere noticed that gay men started coming down with a rare form of cancer, Kaposi's sarcoma, in unusually high numbers. At the same time, it was found that the incidence of several diseases among IV drug users was on the increase. Initially, it was thought that that the incidence of these diseases was attributable to lifestyle. Many men use amyl nitrate upon their sexual encounters, which means they can use it thousands of times over the course of a few years. Amyl nitrate is a carcinogen. Similarly, sustained use of drugs like heroin or cocaine leads to malnutrition, which weakens the immune system. Thus, the increase in the incidence of these various diseases could be explained by a rise in drug abuse.
Although what one had was a rise in the incidence of several very different diseases, for whatever reason, the CDC decided to group them all together under the umbrella of "acquired immune deficiency", and announced the appearance of a new disease, AIDS. Several years earlier, retroviruses had been discovered. (Most viruses carry their genetic material in the form of DNA, which they inject into cells to take over the cells' molecular machinery. Retroviruses carry their genetic material in RNA, which is then reverse-transcribed into cells' own DNA.) Researchers in this field had been hoping to find retroviruses that produce cancer, but were not having much luck. When AIDS came on the scene, they started investigating whether they could find a retrovirus present in AIDS patients. In that they were successful; some of you might remember the nasty battle over scientific priority between Robert Gallo and a French scientist over the discovery of HIV. That AIDS is an infectious disease, and that HIV is the infectious agent, was announced by Joseph Gallo at a CDC news conference. In a matter of days, this was taken as an established truth by researchers in the field, and as a result of that, by the media.
Now, the first funny thing here is that this scientific "breakthrough" was announced at a press conference at a government agency. Usually, scientific discoveries are disseminated in scientific articles, which are vetted for valid reasoning and research technique by referees; in the case of a sufficiently important claimed discovery, people try to replicate the results, find supporting evidence, and so on. If some people find the claims of the article questionable, they will do their own experiments and research, and publish their contradictory results. Only after this period of debate is over will the new alleged knowledge be accepted as probably true and valid by scientists. This usual scientific process was not followed in the case of the HIV=AIDS hypothesis. In the US and Europe, as far as one can discern from published data, there appear to be virtually no cases of AIDS in which the patient took no drugs. But no study has ever been done to establish this conclusively one way or the other. If there is a history of drug use uniformly present in AIDS cases, then drug use would be an alternative explanation for AIDS. This is especially the case since after twenty years, no one has been able to explain how HIV destroys the immune system.
I am not an expert in molecular biology or virology, but I have published in philosophy of science. And the HIV=AIDS hypothesis has the tell-tale signs of bad science, such as paradoxes. For example, as Duesberg points out, it does not make sense that HIV would destroy T-cells (which is what it infects), since it needs the T-cells to replicate itself. And in any case, we know that infected T-cells do not die, since (immortal) lines of infected T-cells are used to produce HIV particles which are used to produce antibodies for HIV tests.
That brings me to another peculiarity of the HIV=AIDS dogma. What an HIV test tests for is antibodies. People who test positive for HIV can have no detectable HIV particles in them, only antibodies for HIV. (Or, more precisely, there may be HIV particles, but in such minute quantities that new laboratory techniques needed to be developed to detect them.) Now, antibodies for an infectious agent are what are left over when the organism has successfully put down the infection. Thus, Duesberg argues that HIV is what is called a "passenger" virus; it infects the body, but does no significant harm to it, and the body fights off the infection. (When I first read about HIV and AIDS, I remember how the story was that there is an "initial" period of infection of a few weeks, during which there will usually be a "low-grade fever". Then the infection goes into some kind of slow-acting mode (as opposed to disappearing), gradually wearing away at the immune system for an average period of ten years, until the (highly disperate) symptoms of AIDS appear. The mechanism by which the immune system is weakened over this period has still not been explained.)
If Duesberg is right, what the AIDS establishment has led to is an immense tragedy, and thousands of unnecessary deaths. The standard regimen today for someone who has tested HIV-positive—even if he or she is exhibiting no symptoms—is to be put on a "coctail" of anti-retroviral drugs. These drugs are highly toxic. AZT for example was originally tried as an agent for chemotherapy; chemotherapy works by killing cancer cells more quickly than it kills normal cells. Thus, according to Duesberg, giving anti-retroviral drugs to people who test positive for HIV is like putting people without cancer on chemo.
One final part of the puzzle: according to Duesberg, the cause of AIDS in Africa is different from that in the US and Europe. Whereas in the latter it is produced by drug abuse and the administration of anti-retroviral drugs, in the former it is the result of poverty and consequent malnutrition. All diseases that are classified as AIDS were present in Africa before AIDS was discovered; incidents of these diseases are now simply relabled as AIDS.
This is an important issue in itself, but I thought it would be of special interest to dKos readers, since it is one further example of how something that is such a large part of our lives may quite possibly turn out to be just another lie. I highly recommend Duesberg's papers, available on his Web site.
I got a big surprise from the volume and ferocity of comments and raitings that my diary generated. All I did is provide a paraphrase, from my own point of view, of an article that appeared in a leading left-wing magazine, one that has both published an article arguing that the 2004 election was stolen, and—in the same issue as the piece on AIDS—an extended editorial laying down reasons why Bush must be impeached. In response, I have been branded a murderer and—even worse—been subjected to an orgy of troll ratings. These troll raitings have caused at least five of my replies to other people's posts to go down the memory hole, so that people without trusted users' status cannot read them. (I cannot read them myself, since the troll raitings caused me to use my own trusted user status.) Thus we saw at dKos the troll-rating system used as a means of censorship, in the same way that the peer-review process has been used against Duesberg. (Even my one "retraction"—in which I defer to a poster's comment that asymptomatic HIV-positive people are not today uniformly placed on an anti-retroviral regimen—was deleted by means of troll raitings, in an effort I suppose to make me seem obsessively dogmatic.)
It was an interesting experience. I'm glad I had it, since it's given me a good lesson about the psychology of a lot of posters at dKos, something about which I have otherwise been unaware, since I have not followed many flame wars.
Perhaps the best way to characterize the general response to my diary is to quote from an interview of Celia Farber, the author of the Harper's piece, in response to a question about how she was treated as a result of her reporting:
I was attacked, of course. My motives were impugned, my character, morality. People have tried to have me fired. I've been sabotaged. All kinds of bizarre things. I have been guilt-tripped since day one: "You're homophobic!" "Spreading dangerous theories!" "Scaring people away from AZT!" "Murderer!" But in that atmosphere, I did learn a lot about my favorite subject: mass hysteria.
Frustration at the troll-rating that was done here caused me to post another diary, proposing that the troll-rating system be changed. In that diary, I got several posts from a biologist not working in the AIDS field saying that the grounds for the HIV=AIDS hypothesis are very solid. It sounds like he (or she) knows what he is talking about, so I have accepted his claim.
I now believe that I went overboard with my title that the Harper's article "explodes" HIV=AIDS. It appears that there is a lot of solid science behind this hypothesis. Thus, at our current state of knowledge, it is likely that HIV does produce AIDS, and that Duesberg is wrong.
That is not to say however that HIV=AIDS is an established fact, so that other explanations of AIDS should not be explored. Also, it is not at all to say that Harper's did not perform a very important service by publishing this article, and Celia Farber by researching and writing it and her many other articles on HIV/AIDS. Even if much or most of the science that gets done by the mainstream AIDS "community" turns out to be valid, there is so much money and particular agendas involved that this community can sure use some hard journalistic oversight.