HIV/AIDS denialism is an umbrella term for the set of beliefs that HIV does not cause AIDS or HIV does not even exist and that antiretroviral treatment and other drugs cause AIDS as well as related beliefs. Not all HIV/AIDS denialists subscribe to all of these beliefs, but they are a general representation of beliefs in this movement. The Perth Group, for instance, believes that HIV does not even exist, whereas the father of the HIV/AIDS denialism movement, Peter Duesberg, accepts that HIV exists, but believes it is merely a harmless passenger virus and thus does not and cannot cause AIDS.
Proponents of the view that HIV does not cause AIDS prefer to call themselves HIV/AIDS skeptics or dissidents, but since discovery of HIV so much evidence has accumulated that it has become rationally untenable to reject the casual link between HIV and AIDS. Previously, there where scientists who where genuine dissidents of HIV as a causal agent for AIDS, but as evidence was discovered, they changed their minds. HIV/AIDS denialists, on the other hand, continued to resist the scientific conclusion and adopted classic methods of pseudoscience such as:
- quoting scientists out of context (also called quote-mining)
- confusing a scientific debate about how something is happening with the fake debate regarding if something is happening
- having absolute and unquestioning certainty that they are right
- believing there is a enormous conspiracy against them perpetrated by mainstream science
- picking and choosing what research results to accept while asserting that themselves are being censored when scientists are criticizing them
- engaging in irresponsible personal attacks against scientists and medical doctors
- focusing most or all effort at what is unknown, while completely ignoring areas where strong knowledge exists and rarely make definitive statements about their own position (sometimes called “just asking questions”)
- blowing errors made by scientists way out of proportion, asserting that a few honest mistakes implies that the entire research field can be rejected.
This is why these so called skeptics are really pseudoscientists hiding behind a veil of pretense and ignorance.
Henry Bauer, is a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Science Studies and Dean Emeritus of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He has never done any particular scientific research, but worked mostly in administration (Kalichman, 2009). Bauer has also been the chief editor of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, a journal that publishes papers on everything from UFOs to the Loch Ness monster. In fact, Bauer is an “expert” on the Loch Ness monster and has written several uncritical articles about it in said journal. Hardly impeccable qualifications to make radical statements about the cause of AIDS, but in the end, it is the arguments that settle the debate.
Let us look at one such argument, namely Bauer’s assertion that HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS because HIV has never been isolated. He claims that HIV has never been isolated in a pure form without cellular protein contaminants.
This argument reveals Bauer’s significant ignorance about the basic biology of viruses: viruses crucially depend on its host cell to make new virus particles. A retrovirus such as HIV is a single-stranded RNA virus with an envelope. A virus particle also contains reverse transcritase that converts the single stranded RNA to double-stranded DNA by making a complementary DNA strand, then denigrating the RNA strand, then making a complementary DNA strand. This DNA strand is integrated into the nuclear DNA of the cell by integrase, which was also contained in the virus when it entered the cell. After infection, two things can occur: the virus can become latent and the cell continues to live on, or the virus is activated and replicates itself by hijacking the replication system of the host cell and releases an enormous amount of new viral particles leading the the eventual death of the cell.
However, Bauer’s claims are even wronger than that: HIV tests such as the ELISA test do not detect viral proteins known as antigens, but rather the tests detect proteins known as antibodies that are produced by the immune system to react with the virus. If a person is not suffering from autoimmune disorder (where the immune system attacks the cells of the body), then the body does not tend to produce antibodies against its own proteins.
In fact, there are high resolution scanning electron microscope photographs of the HIV virus.
Image by CDC/ C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E. L. Palmer, W. R. McManus, but in public domain. HIV-1, budding from a lymphocyte that has been culture, can be seen in green. Colors have been added to highlight crucial features.
Most arguments put forward by HIV/AIDS denialists similarity lacks scientific quality. An excellent resources for debunking HIV/AIDS denialism is AIDSTruth.org: Debunking denialists myths.
References and Further Reading
Kalichman, Seth. 2009. Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy. New York: Springer.