Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS denialism

Who Do ‘Rethinking AIDS’ Denialists Consider “Medical Professionals”?

Rethinking AIDS website

Within mainstream medicine, the causal connection between HIV and AIDS is one of the most well-studied connections between a pathogen and a clinical condition ever known. However, there are still those who think that HIV does not cause AIDS, or even more absurdly, that HIV does not even exist despite the fact that we have a massive amount of clinical, imaging and sequencing data from the virus.

One of the key organizations underlying modern HIV/AIDS denialism is called “Rethinking AIDS” and includes several of the most well-known HIV/AIDS denialists in history such as David Rasnick, David Crowe, Henry Bauer, Peter Duesberg and Marco Ruggiero. The pseudoscientific claims made by many of these individuals have been covered extensively on Debunking Denialism before. Recently, they posted a list of approved “medical professionals” that are “willing to work with HIV-positive people on their actual health problems and will not pressure their patients to take anti-retroviral medications”. Who are these alleged “medical professionals” and what makes them qualified to treat individuals with HIV/AIDS without antiretroviral medication?

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Regurgitated HIV/AIDS Denialism and Anti-Science Libertarianism

HIV/AIDS denialism at

There are few places more cognitively dangerous to a rational mind than the intersection of political ideology and pseudoscience. Libertarians are increasingly being associated with various anti-scientific beliefs, such as vaccine rejectionism and climate change denialism. This is harmful to traditional libertarian causes, such as curbing excessive bureaucracy and government intrusion into civil liberties because it allows critics to dismiss libertarians as denialist cranks without a second thought.

It is therefore disturbing that the libertarian website recently published a screed promoting HIV/AIDS denialism written by medical doctor Donald W. Miller Jr. Despite being an actual medical doctor, he repeats many of the same fallacies that HIV/AIDS denialists commonly deploy. In reality, antiretrovirals decrease progression to AIDS and death rates, HIV can be transmitted sexually and HIV testing is highly accurate.

The specter of “the government”

A common approach used by anti-science libertarians is to portray the mainstream scientific and medical consensus as “the government” or “the official story”. This is a common technique to marginalize their opponents by associating them with something they intensely dislike. However, mainstream scientific communities are not slaves to the government or to politicians. They can design and carry out scientific research and interpret their results on their own.

Initiating antiretroviral therapy regardless of CD4 count

Miller makes a big deal out of the fact that the newest guidelines for treatment of individuals with HIV/AIDS recommend that antiretroviral therapy is given to individuals who are HIV+ regardless of CD4+ count. Had he read the report he is referencing in detail, he would have understood that there is a clear medical reason for why this is done (HHS Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents, 2014):

The recommendation to initiate ART in individuals with high CD4 cell counts—whose short-term risk for death and development of AIDS-defining illness is low is based on growing evidence that untreated HIV infection or uncontrolled viremia is associated with development of non-AIDS-defining diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), kidney disease, liver disease, neurologic complications, and malignancies. Furthermore, newer ART regimens are more effective, more convenient, and better tolerated than regimens used in the past.

In other words, untreated HIV infection (even with a high CD4+ count) increases the risk for a number of diseases. To disable the emotional threat of “forced government medicine” or similar, it can be noted that the guidelines specifically states that the wishes of the individual should be taken into consideration, together with a large number of other factors:

Regardless of CD4 count, the decision to initiate ART should always include consideration of a patient’s comorbid conditions, his or her willingness and readiness to initiate therapy, and available resources.

It is both sad and entertaining to see that denialists rarely read the papers and reports that they themselves reference.

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CDC Fact Sheet Confuses HIV/AIDS Denialist Henry Bauer

Bauer, Ethnic group and HIV.

One of the more despicable tactics deployed by some HIV/AIDS denialists is to accuse mainstream medical science of being racist because socially underprivileged groups such as African-Americans have a higher HIV incidence. These HIV/AIDS denialists refuse to accept well-researched statistical and sociological explanations for this observation such as differences in infection base rates, prevalence of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that increases transmission probability, knowledge regarding HIV status, time at diagnosis and access to health care etc. Instead, they falsely portray mainstream medicine as racist and genetic determinist with regards to behavior. This goes to show that some HIV/AIDS denialists clearly stop at nothing in their desperate attempts to prop up their pseudoscientific delusions. One such example is that of Henry Bauer and his two recent posts on HIV and ethnic groups.

The pseudoscientific claims made by Henry Bauer has been discussed in great detail on this website. He does not seem to understand the basic biology of viruses or rational risk assessment of medication. He fails to grasp data on population growth and birth rates and does not seem to realize that there are scientific obstacles to developing an effective HIV vaccine. Despite his appeals to the toxin gambit, combined antiretroviral therapy does not increase the risk of death. Astonishingly, he even seems to thinks that HIV should not be able to spread via contaminated needles because needles do not have sex with each other.

Differences in HIV incidence does not mean that HIV tests are racist

People carrying black-African genes test “HIV-positive” at far greater rates than do people without that genetic ancestry. HIV/AIDS theory “explains” that by postulating greater rates of careless “not-safe-sex” promiscuity and infected-needle-sharing drug injection. Thereby HIV/AIDS theory postulates significant genetic determination of behavior, which in other contexts is dismissed as pseudo-science.

The primary reasons for why African-Americans have a higher incidence of HIV is not because of racist stereotypes concerning promiscuity and so on. It has nothing to do with genetic determinism. Rather, there are important statistical and sociological reasons for this difference that cannot be ignored.

These issues are discussed in additional details in various versions of a fact sheet on HIV and African-Americans available at the CDC website. Also note that 2014 PDF version unequivocal states that African-Americans have “levels of individual risk behaviors (e.g., sex without a condom, multiple partners) that are
comparable to other races/ethnicities”. Read more of this post

The Tainted Ignorance of HIV/AIDS Denialism

Related: The Breathtaking Inanity of Henry Bauer’s HIV/AIDS Denialist Balderdash.

HIV/AIDS denialist Henry Bauer

Despite being a emeritus professor in chemistry and science studies and a well-known critic of the pseudohistorical nonsense of Immanuel Velikovsky, Henry Bauer is a leading HIV/AIDS denialist and a passionate believer in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. His falsehoods about HIV/AIDS have been debunked many times before on this website and they seem to get more absurd as time goes by. He shows no signs of slowing down and continues to spew pseudoscientific claims about HIV/AIDS on his blog. Although, he calls himself a “skeptic”, he is a typical anti-science denialist who uses all of the common tricks.

Earlier in 2013, Bauer wrote a post on his denialist blog called Immaculate infection by HIV where he attempts to point to a dozen or so alleged facts that he thinks are fundamentally unexplainable from the perspective of modern medicine. He even goes so far as to claim that mainstream science should be tempted to consider the virus “supernatural” because of the alleged properties that Bauer puts forward. In reality, his post is filled with misguided half-truths and outright falsehoods. He complains that no vaccine or chemical microbicide is available, yet fails to understand the unique difficulties with HIV vaccine development and the trade-off related to chemical microbicide usage. He claims that HIV is difficult to transmit and thinks this is incompatible with the size of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, despite the fact that these rates are just averages that tell you nothing about the spread. He rejects the fact that HIV can be spread via contaminated needles, stating point-blank that needles do not have sex with each other. He calls HIV a “politically incorrect” virus, despite the fact that we know that differences in incidence are primarily due to a complex interaction of well-known epidemiological, social and economic factors. Bauer fails to understand many basic medical facts, including TB as an opportunistic infection for individuals with HIV/AIDS, that HIV leads to immune suppression which allows opportunistic infections to take root, that there are entire databases with HIV sequences, the consilience of multiple, independent lines of evidence and so on. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Recycled HIV/AIDS Denialism Garbage

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.

This time, the reader feedback comes from Paul and the topic is HIV/AIDS denialism.

For those new to this topic, HIV/AIDS denialism is a loosely organized movement of people who oppose mainstream medicine on the topic of HIV/AIDS. Depending on the specific subgroups, common beliefs are:

(1) that HIV does not exist despite the fact that many HIV strains has been isolated and sequences, that scientists have taken scanning electron micrographs of budding HIV and even three dimensional cryo-electron microscopy and tomography of the overall morphology, core, migration and budding sites of native HIV-1 virus particles (NIAID, 2010; HIV Sequence Database, 2010; Public Health Image Library, 2005; Carlson et al, 2010, de Marco et al, 2010, Zhao et al, 2013; Earl et al, 2013).

(2) that HIV does not cause AIDS despite the fact that HIV fulfills Koch’s postulates, is the single strong predictor of AIDS over different populations, that highly specific antiviral therapies against HIV drastically reduces the likelihood of developing AIDS and dying, HIV impairs and destroys CD4+ T cells in vivo and in vitro, leading to severe immune suppression and so on. Together with many other independent lines of evidence (NIAID, 2010), the conclusion that HIV causes AIDS is among the most evidence-based causal links between any pathogen and disease syndrome.

(3) that antiretroviral medication is the cause of HIV, despite the fact that many clinical trails have found huge improvements in delaying the onset of AIDS (two-drug combinations increased it by 50%, three-drug combinations increased it an additional 50-80%) and despite the sad fact that most people with HIV, especially in poorer countries in e. g. Africa, has never gotten antiretroviral medication and despite the fact that antiretrovirals (NIAID, 2010).

With that background information, let us turn to Paul and his comments. Read more of this post

No Sanctions for HIV/AIDS Denialist Marco Ruggiero

Previously, I have written about how the University of Florence has launched an inquiry into the activities of HIV/AIDS denialist Marco Ruggiero, a professor who held courses actively promoting that HIV is not the cause of AIDS at the university. He also promotes a pseudoscientific yogurt treatment of HIV/AIDS and supervised degree projects by students that also denied the link between HIV and AIDS that were clearly plagiarized.


Yesterday, an article about the decision written by science journalist Zoë Corbyn was posted on the Nature News Blog entitled “Greater oversight but no sanctions for Italian AIDS contrarian“. The general gist of the story is that no sanctions will be leveled at Ruggiero, that his future teachings will be supervised more strongly, that his clinical experiments with the yogurt treatment has been reported to the Italian medical board.

Ruggiero sees it as a victory for his position when he claims that “The University of [Florence] has demonstrated it is an institution where the freedom of research and teaching is guaranteed”. This is of course nonsense as university teachings in science should be based on evidence.

The HIV Forum, who notified the university about Ruggiero, also claims a modest victory because “Our target was not the career of someone, but the consistency of what is taught at the University of Florence with what thirty years of scientific research tells us about HIV,” and “[The result confirms] freedom of research and teaching must ‘move with the scientific method’.”

I think the special commission had a tight rope to talk on. Clearly, the university cannot go around teaching that HIV does not cause AIDS, but sanctions on Ruggiero could create another martyr and strengthen conspiracy theories. I will try to keep myself updated on the decision by the Italian medical board.

HIV/AIDS Denialist Marco Ruggiero under Investigation

In a previous entry about Ruggiero called takes on Italian HIV/AIDS denialist Marco Ruggiero, I explained how an Internet forum populated by HIV+ Italians and other individuals alerted me to the fact that Ruggiero, a professor at the University of Florence, not only where propagating an alternative medicine treatment for HIV/AIDS in the form a yogurt, but was also teaching elective courses containing parts that explicitly tried to teach that HIV was not the cause of AIDS.

Now, according to a Nature News article by Zoë Corbyn called Inquiry launched over AIDS contrarian’s teaching the University of Florence has launched an investigation into “the teaching activities of an academic who assisted on a course that denies the causal link between HIV and AIDS, and supervised students with dissertations on the same topic”.

I first found out about the dissertations by the students from reading the Reckless Endangerment blog written by Snout. I particularly found two articles, HIV/AIDS denialism at the University of Florence and More pseudoscholarship from the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology especially helpful and informative.

The Nature News article continues:

The Italian university’s internal ‘special commission’ will examine the “teaching behaviour and responsibility” of molecular biologist Marco Ruggiero, a university spokesman told Nature.

The move follows a letter to the institution’s rector, Alberto Tesi, by an Italian campaign group called the HIV Forum, which represents people infected with HIV and others concerned about the disease. It calls on him to disassociate the university from the “science and activities” of Ruggiero, who, the group says, is “internationally known” for denying the widely accepted link between HIV and AIDS, and promotes a potential cure for HIV involving an enriched probiotic yoghurt for which there is no proven evidence.

Tesi replied on 29 February to announce the special commission. This “will examine whether professor Ruggiero’s conduct complies with the institutional guidelines on teaching contents and adherence to the objectives of the official curriculum of biological sciences”, says university spokesman Duccio Di Bari, who adds that any misconduct would be dealt with internally.

This is also a great example of what Internet activism potentially can result in. Besides supervising dissertations promoting HIV/AIDS denialism and promoting a treatment lacking scientific evidence, the inquiry will focus on the elective courses he handled: Read more of this post takes on Italian HIV/AIDS denialist Marco Ruggiero

Marco Ruggiero is a professor of molecular biology at the University of Florence. He is also an HIV/AIDS denialist that promotes pro-biotic yogurt as a cure for AIDS. He is also a coauthor of the pseudoscientific junk paper published in an obscure Italian journal with an impact factor of below 0.5

A few days ago, I received a message from a user called Dora from the discussion forum Dora said that they had “sent a letter to the provost of the University of Florence, asking for an open dissociation of his Institution from denialist Professor Marco Ruggiero theories and practices” and that they sent “a similar letter […] to many Italian infectious diseases experts, to the scientific board of the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, who recently published a paper of Duesberg and Ruggiero denying HIV–AIDS link , to activists, politicians, media and institutional agencies”.

Dora asked me to link to the English version of the letter to maximize the circulation of their message. The ongoing forum conversation can be found here (it is in Italian, so use Google translate service).

The gist is that Ruggiero is attempting to teach a course at the University of Florence called “The revolution of immunotherapy: perspectives on cancer and AIDS cure”. According to screenshots taken of the course description, it will be taught that “the HIV role in AIDS pathogenesis; association but not causation” and that clinical trials have supposedly eliminated HIV infection. This would be enormously damaging and they contacted Professor Marco Linari, President of the undergraduate degree in Biological Science at the University of Florence and they have apparently got him on their side now.

I wish them good luck in their attempts to get him investigated and disciplined or ousted. Academic freedom is one thing, but trying to sneak in HIV/AIDS denialist junk into undergraduate biology classes, even if elective, is insane.

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