Peter Duesberg is the among the forefathers of the HIV/AIDS denialist movement. They reject the notion that HIV causes AIDS, despite being contradicted by a massive amount of scientific evidence and has held on to this view for three decades.
Duesberg has recently got an article called “AIDS since 1984: No evidence for a new, viral epidemic – not even in Africa” published in the obscure Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology. This is after getting rejected from four other journals and having gotten a previous version of the article pulled from the journal Medical Hypotheses, itself a crank journal.
One of the co-authors is Henry Bauer. He is a homophobic professor emeritus in chemistry and science studies at Virgina Tech. He is also, apparently, a world-renowned proponent of the existence of the Loch Ness monster. I kid you not. He was also an editor of the woo-woo journal Journal of Scientific Exploration. All of these three journals mentioned have an impact factor well below 1, making them shoddy and unreliable at best.
The Duesberg et. al. (2011) paper itself is just a rehashing of the same old falsehoods that HIV/AIDS denialists have peddled for many decades, this time, yet again, published in an obscure and unimportant journal. Other commentators have already started picking the “paper” apart, but there are additional things that should be added, so the following is a combination of criticism so far, with my own contributions and expansions.
The Spread of Plague is not analogous to HIV/AIDS
–> Duesberg et. al. (2011) tries to compare the spread of infectious diseases such as plague caused by Y. pestis with HIV and concludes that since the spread of HIV and incidence of AIDS does not match that of the typical infectious diseases, this means that HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS or of an infectious epidemic. This is a flawed analogy, because unlike plague, HIV does not spread through casual, non-sexual contact as Y. pestis can and HIV/AIDS can take several years to be clinically obvious, rather than having an incubation time of a couple of days (Hoofnagle, 2011).
Data on population growth does not refute the severe impact of HIV/AIDS
–> Duesberg et. al. (2011) then claims that there cannot be an HIV/AIDS epidemic, since the population growth of the countries hit by HIV/AIDS the hardest, such as South Africa, is still positive.
–> Hoofnagle (2011) points out that even if we accept that, it does not necessarily support the conclusion made, since HIV/AIDS is attached to a strong social stigma, and South Africa use an entire government infested by HIV/AIDS denialism.
–> Also, population growth is not a good measure of the impact of HIV/AIDS, because the birth rates are quite high, thereby masking the effect. Kalichman (2009, pp. 77-78) points out that countries in southern Africa, including South Africa, have seen a massive decrease in life expectancy over the years that correspond to the occurrence of AIDS pandemic. He writes that: “Life expectancy in many countries that were improving during the post-colonial years of the 1960s and 1907s began to erode in the 1980s and 1990s, and life expectancy in many countries is now worse than even during the 1950s, the last full decade of colonialism. The reason why some countries afflicted by AIDS sustain positive population growth is simply due to high birth rates.” This shows the effects of the AIDS pandemic.
–> In a paper published in PNAS, Gregson et. al. (2007), the authors make a similar point about Zimbabwe.
–> Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health concludes in Chigwedere et. al. (2008) that over 330000 individuals with HIV/AIDS died earlier than needed because the previous President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, and his government refused to let his people have access to antiretrovirals. They believed that it was just a western pharmaceutical plot to destroy the future of the country and instead, he suggested garlic and lemon as treatment (Kalichman, 2009). We can easily see what horrible results that led to.
Duesberg false claims about antiretrovirals (ARVs)
–> Duesberg et. al. (2010) tries to use the Concorde Study (Concorde Coordinating Committee, 1994) to show that AZT is useless as treatment for HIV/AIDS. However, Hoofnagle (2011) convincingly demonstrate that Duesberg incorrectly characterize the paper by claiming that the study was about an experimental group and a placebo group, when in fact, it had two experimental groups, one before the onset of AIDS and the other after. All the subjects where treated with AZT. The study did not show that treatment was useless, only that there was no point in treating patients with a single drug before the condition had progressed to AIDS.
–> Duesberg does not seem to understand that because of the evolution of drug resistance, treatment with a single drug is no longer the standard of care for HIV/AIDS. The so called HAART treatment uses multiple combined drugs to reduce the risk of resistance, as even if some virus particles become resistant to one of the drugs, the other drugs in the regiment can destroy them and prevent the resistance from spreading. Duesberg therefore attacks a straw man.
–> Overall, Duesberg et. al. (2011) promotes an irrational analysis of risk, overemphasizing risks with treatments, while vastly underestimating the risk of not being treated. These, and other factors, must be viewed against each other. They even criticize the process of trying to prevent mother-to-child preventing in the same manner: overstating the risks, ignoring the benefits.
The Duesberg et. al. (2011) article makes the same flawed claims as HIV/AIDS denialists usually do and it is not worth taking any of them seriously. Not all infectious diseases are equivalent. It is more reasonable to look at life expectancy rather than population growth when trying to find the severe impact of HIV/AIDS on countries in Southern Africa, because a high birth rate masks changes in population. Duesberg incorrectly characterizes the research of other scientists in his attempt to make ARVs look like ineffective poisons and performs multiple, irrational analysis of risk when he ignores benefits and focus on risks instead.
It is not a scientific paper, just rehashing of the same old denialists falsehoods about HIV and AIDS that has been debunked over and over again many times before.
References and Further Reading:
Chigwedere, P., Seage, G.R., III, Gruskin, S., Lee, T.-H., and Essex, M. Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa. J. Acquir. Immune Defic. Syndr. 49:410–415 (2008).
Concorde Coordinating Committee. (1994) Concorde: MRC/ANRS randomised double-blind controlled trial of immediate and deferred zidovudine in symptom-free HIV infection. Concorde Coordinating Committee. Lancet. 343(8902):871-81.
Corbyn, Zoë. (2011). Paper denying HIV–AIDS link secures publication: Work by infamous AIDS contrarian passes peer review. Nature News. Accessed: 2010-01-06.
Gregson S; Nyamukapa C; Lopman B; Mushati P; Garnett G.P; Chandiwana S.K; Anderson R. M. (2007). Critique of early models of the demographic impact of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa based on contemporary empirical data from Zimbabwe. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 104:14586-14591.
Hoofnagle, M. (2011). Duesberg Strikes a blow for HIV/AIDS denialism. Denialism blog. Accessed: 2012-01-06.
Kalichman, S. (2009). Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience and Human Tragedy. New York: Copernicus Books.