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Views, Reviews and Interviews By MATTpAI-ueursr

Looking BackIn Anger


An esteemed professorrightly takesAIDS denialiststo task,
but his aaluable history of the movementis at times a causticread.

Connecticut and the editor-in-chief of


the journal AIDS and Behaztior.He is
also the director of the SoutheastHfV/
AIDS Research & Education Project
in Atlanta, Ga., and Cape Town, South
Africa, which affords him an up-close
view of the impacts of state-sanctioned
AIDS skepticism.As Kalichman persua-
sively makes the case, "Denialism has
ACTUpSFmarches plagued South Africa nearly as badly as
to a dangerous the diseaseitself."The country's second
drummer, denying, electedpresident,Thabo Mbeki, rejects
againstthe vast the conventional thinking toward the
preponderance diseaseand especiallythe drugs to treat
of
scientific evidencg it. Kalichman points to one biography
that HfVcauses that states,"Mbeki believesthat South
AIDS.Above:A|DS Africans who espousethe orthodox view
denialist posters. that HfV causesAIDS, including Nelson
Mandela, the labor unions, as well as
N THE rrnsr page of causal relationship berween HIV and AIDS scientists,are financially beholden
t h e p r e f a c e t o h i s AIDS, and oppose the drugs used to to drug companies."Today, Kalichman
book, Denying AIDS: treat it - form such a small, but his- notes, an estimated 800 people die of
Conspiracy Theories, torically crucial, part of the tragic AIDS each day in South Africa, while
P s e u d o s c i e n c e .a n d tale of the disease,it's inevitable that another 1,000 contract HfV.
Human Tiagedy, Seth Kalichman de- someonewho has personally engaged But it is the history of AIDS in the
scribeshis initial encounter with an aca- with the movement would have to tell United States that composes much
demic colleaguewho had written a\$7eb- the story. At times the caustic tone of of the story of the "denialism" move-
published screed against the "AIDS Denying AIDS, understandable as it ment. This terminology is of course in-
m5rth.""I mean I was really angryr" he may be, obscuresthe cold, hard facts credibly loaded, as Kalichman admits:
writes, with a senseof frustrated dismay of the book's arguments. But there's Holocaust denialism is an explosive
that permeatesthe book. The dismay is no doubt that the supposed debate, and emotional idea, and 9/l I denial-
understandable; DerryingllDS is not still thriving on corners of the Internet ism is associatedwith a fringe Internet
merely a history of the movement skep- and well-chronicled in this book, has movement of extreme political views.
tical to widely acceptedmainstream sci- had sad and seriousconsequencesand "Stillr" Kalichman writes, "I defend
ence about the disease,but also a de- holds fascinating implications for other my use of the term becauseI believe it
tailed account of the author's personal so-called scientific debates, including best describesthe rejection ofobjective
journey, via lecture halls and message those surrounding climate change.
boards, into this world. Kalichman has a long and lauded Denying AIDS:ConspirocyTheorieg
The cadre of skeptics on the outer history of AIDS prevention work as a Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy
fringes of academia,activism and jour- widely published author, professor of By SethKalichman
nalism - who essentiallv doubt the social psychology at the University of Copernicus Book, 525,2009

76 MILLER-McCLINE / NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2009


reality to sustain a flawed, hurtfirl, and ral and other HfV-suppressing drugs. dosciencemovements.Factors both so-
ultimately dangerous belief system." And because ttre tragic story of AIDS cial and technologicalcontribute:Thke a
In the context of AIDS, Kalichman has also been shadowed by homopho- dash of Internet untruths, mix in some
also applies tlte term to several aca- bia, racism and social mores about irrational fearsabout Big Pharma or the
demics - although nearly all who promiscuous sex, several religious and government, and top it offwith growing
write about the topic do not do so in conservative political leaders through- complacency from educators and pub-
peer-reviewed journals. Henry Bauer, out the early and mid-1980s adopted lic healttr offrcials."Denialism is at least
for instance, is professor emeritus of skeptical stances against the emerging partly an outgrow*r of a more general
chemistry and sciencestudies and dean sciencethat explained the disease.The anti-science and anti-medicine move-
emeritus of arts and sciencesat the well- Reagan administration also infamous- mentr" he writes. "Every time there is a
regardedVirginia Polytechnic Institute ly bungled the early response to the recall of approved medications, as hap-
and State University, and he claims epidemic. The 1984 press conference pens all too often, public trust is eroded.
his research shows that HfV doesn't (which Kalichman sarcastically labels Campaigns against teaching evolution
causeAIDS. (He is also,as it happens, The Press Conference whenever he re- in favor of creationism' now referred to
a leading autlrority on the Loch Ness fers to it, in an example of his approach) as Intelligent Design, remain as com-
Monster.) Peter Duesberg, who has to announce the discovery of the virus monplace today as ever. Conservative
been on the faculty of the University that causesAIDS occurred before any political groups have called the peer-
of California, Berkeley,since 1964 and scientific journals had published ttre review process into question, further
is a full professor of molecular and cell research, providing skeptics with am- heightening suspicions toward science
biology, also falls into the "denialist" munition to this day,while the adminis- and medicine."
category. A pioneer in research inves- tration vowed, without any real basis,to Refreshingly, Kalichman also takes
tigating the genetic bases of cancer' find a vaccine within two years. his colleaguesto task for failing to com-
Duesberg was elected to the National Given the attention the diseasehas municate effectively with the public
Academy of Sciencesin 1986. received since, it must be curious for and making too many unfulfilled prom-
Around that time, however, some to learn that seemingly intelli- ises,pointing out *lat AIDS pseudosci-
Duesberg also made a radical shift in gent people still question the connec- entists, just as in the case of climate
his thinking on the causes of cancer tions between HIV and AIDS. After changer"have seizedon failed scientific
and the role retroviruses play, rejecting all, the fundamental scientific con- predictions in making their point that
much of his previous work and even- sensus,based on thousands of clini- scienceis a fraud."
tually losing his National Institutes of cal and laboratory studies since the It's interesting that Denying AIDS
Health funding. Becausethe retrovirus early 1980s,is that HIV causesAIDS' pointedly contains severalphotographs
HIV had been identified as leading to and as Kalichman points out, "over of the author posing with those on the
AIDS, Duesberg extended his ftinking. 130,000 research articles accessed other side of the debate, including
Did HIV target and destroyT:cells, ac- from the National Library of Medicine Duesberg, to emphasize the degree to
cording to the emerging and widely ac- describe the HIV process." And when which Kalichman has gone to under-
cepted view, or was the retrovirus mere- pseudoscienceabout AIDS seepsinto stand their viewpoint. But it's also
ly a harmless molecular tagalong? As the mainstream media - 4s 'ffss *1s clear,from evena casualperusalofthe
Kalichman writes: "The questions he case in 2006, when a HarPer'smaga- "blah blah blogsr" as Kalichman hap-
raised about whether retroviruses can zine article basedlargely on Duesberg's pens to call them, that the small' frac-
causeAIDS were crystallized as defini- research contained at least 50 errors tious communiry ofAIDS skepticssees
tive statementsin subsequentarticles in about HIV, according to Kalichman him squarely as the enemy and views
prestigious scientific journals, defining and fellow scientists who wrote in to his attacksas decidedlypersonal.Ifhe
Duesberg as the most visible dissident complain - peer-reviewed academics hasn't changed any minds, at least
AIDS scientist in the world, despite his have every right to be frustrated. "In Kalichman has provided a thorough
never actually having done any work on their mindsr" he fumesr "the propaga- chronicle of a fascinating chapter in a
HfV orAIDS." tion of the HIV = AIDS myth is the long, sad story of a terrible disease.In
Duesberg's highly alternative point product of a government conspiracy doing so,he notesr"I have also tried to
of view gradually gave credence to in cahoots with a multibillion-dollar avoid ad hominem attacks by focusing
fringe activist groups like the defunct pharmaceuticalscam." more on what the denialists are saying
ACTUP San Francisco, which loudly Indeed, Kalichman is at his best than who they are." And then he adds:
proclaimed the diseaseto be a "prod- when identifuing the loose strands that "But that was too diffrcult." EE
uct of government conspiracy against come together to form the various con-
the gay communityr" and just as loudly spiracy theories surrounding AIDS, Matt Palrnquist rt a Miller-McCune
advocated against the use of retrovi- many of which also apply to other pseu- contibuting editor.

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