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Gay & Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, Vol. 5, No.

2, 2009



Kalichman, Seth. (2009). Denying AIDS: Con- destructive behaviour patterns such as engag-
spiracy theories, Pseudoscienceand Human ing in unprotected sex. Exposing the HIV
Tragedy. New York: Copernicus Books, seropositive person to more virulent strains of
Springer Science Imprint, pp.205, the virus and others to infection. Denialism
ISBN:9780387794754. promotes myths and such malignant misinfor-
mation as Virologist Peter Duesberg's refuted
Seth Kalichman's timely book exposes the de- daim that HIV is a "harmless" passenger virus
structive shadow of AIDS denialism in the which does not cause AIDS. Such denialism
manifest guises of pseudoscience and politics facilitates individual and collective defensive
with candour and ludicidity. The homophobia denial in vulnerable populations as do the
and racism implicit in such denialist positions spurious notions of AIDS causation associated
are unmasked in conjunction with obfuscation with Duesberg and former South African Presi-
of such distinctions as those between neces- dent Thabo Mbeki who was metaphorically
sary and sufficient conditions in determining seduced by the Berkeley virologist who, inci-
the causality of HIVjAIDS. Like holocaust den- dentally, had never conducted HIVjAIDS re-
iers, those who create doubt about whether search himself. These events, conspiracy
HIV causes AIDS can be held accountable for theories, pseudoscientific intrigue and the
much of the morbidity and mortality, espe- need to debunk AIDS myths are explored at
cially in the developing world. As an account length in the first three chapters of Ka-
of the history of the HIVjAIDS pandemic and lichman's book.
for consciousness raising, the book is an im-
portant contribution. Especially perhaps for These chapters may help to dispel the myth
those scientists and policy makers whose de- that empirical scientific inquiry is immune to
nial still results in the wish-fulfilling fantasy contamination by extra scientific influences,
that HIV as one of the fasting evolving of all induding those of an ideological and personal
organisms is no longer a globally salient nature as well as homophobia and racism in
threat. As Kalichman himself acknowledges in the HIVjAIDS field. Briefly put, two groups
his book, the adaptive mutation of HIV, to- became the proponents and opponents of the
gether with mutant strains of tuberculosis, is a Durban Dedaration published in the journal
menace to the lives of millions of people. The Nature in July 2000. This paper was a re-
analogy between holocaust and AIDS denial sponse to an argument originally published by
seems to me to be a particularly valid one. Peter Duesberg in Science twelve years ear-
lier, provocatively titled "HIV is Not the Cause
Kalichman dearly distinguishes between de- of AIDS". By the time of the XIII AIDS Confer-
fensive denial of traumatic realities such as ence in July 2000, South African President
HIV seropositive status and mortality which Mbeki had convened a panel induding many
can be construed as a short term coping strat- of the more prominent AIDS dissidents to fuel
egy which is maladaptive in the long run and the controversy with mass media coverage. In
denialisrn, As a psychological defence, denial an attempt to put down the revolt, 5,228 emi-
results in delay in seeking available treat- nent medical and scientific signatories
ments which are evidence based and other (induding a number of Nobel Laureates) to

ISSN 1833-4512 © 2009 Author/Gay & Lesbian Issues & Psychology Interest Group of the Australian Psychological Society

the Durban Declaration affirmed that on the enough to optimize statistical power. The si-
basis of "exhaustive and unambiguous evi- multaneous analysis of psychosocial factors,
dence, HIV is the cause of AIDS". Having biological mediators including neuroendocrine,
been virtually excommunicated by scientific cytokine and immune system variables and
orthodoxy, Duesberg eventually acknowl- HIV progression remains an important issue
edged that his hypotheses had neither been for future research. Far from being a harmless
empirically tested nor published in peer- passenger virus, HIV transforms CD4+ T cells
reviewed journals (Todd, 2007). Two of the into destructive, narcissistic clones of itself
criteria referred to by Kalichman as essential through reverse transcription
to scientific theories rather than pseudoscien-
tific notions masquerading as science. Dues- Author Note
berg's claims had not run Popper's "gauntlet
of scientific criticism" including the falsifiability Formerly research psychologist, School of Sur-
criterion. gery, UNSW, then Neuropsychiatric Institute,
Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney, then member,
As a professor of Psychology at the University Biopsychosocial AIDS Project, University of
of Connecticut, Kalichman has, I believe, California, San Francisco, USA, then Consult-
traced the origins and explored the perhaps ant, Department of Immunology, St. Vincent's
unintended consequences of AIDS Denialism Hospital, UNSW and Research Coordinator,
meticulously. He has also provided a valuable Albion Street AIDS Clinic, Sydney. Currently,
elucidation of the distinction between dissi- psychologist and psychotherapist in private
dence resulting in Kuhnian paradigm shifts or practice. Email:
scientific revolutions in explanatory theories
on the one hand and pseudoscientific obscur- References
antism on the other hand. This additional
piece of illuminating writing renders the book Todd, P.B. (2007).The neglected holocaust.
even more worth reading for philosophers of Griffith Review, 16, 195-202.
science and researchers alike. Todd, P.B. (2008). The psychoneuroimmu-
nological database for psychological inter-
However, one criticism of Kalichman's treat- ventions in HIV infection. Gay & Lesbian
ment of causality that I would offer is that it Issues and Psychology Review; 4, 141-
seems to lack any account of contemporary, 147.
multifactorial or biopsychosocial models of Todd, P.B. (2009). Unconscious mental fac-
disease. In particular research into psychoso- tors in HIV infection. Mind and Matte,", 6,
cial factors, induding denial of HIV seroposi- 193-206.
tive status, internalized homophobia, shame,
depression, guilt and self reproach as re-
sponses to bereavement, as predictors of be-
haviour relevant to the risk of HIV infection
and illness progression. Todd (2008, 2009)
has attempted to provide a comprehensive
account of relevant empirical research for so-
cial scientists, educators and health profes-
sionals working in the HIVjAIDS field. The
conclusions are that in such areas as psycho-
neuroimmunology, a need exists for further
prospective, longitudinal studies. Controlling
for such confounding variables as substance
misuse and stage of illness at the commence-
ment of research with sample sizes large