the AIDS Virus, Peter H. Duesberg
1996, 720 pages, ISBN 0-89526-470-6.
Some say Professor
Peter Duesberg, who came to Berkeley in 1964, was headed toward
a Nobel Prize for his ground-breaking work on retroviral cancer
genes. He was named California Scientist of the Year in 1971, given
an Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Institutes of
Health in 1985, and inducted into the prestigious National Academy
of Sciences in 1986.
But a funny
thing happened on the way to Stockholm. Peter Duesberg encountered
AIDS. In 1986, for an invited paper in Cancer Research, he read
all of the published research but could find little scientific reason
that HIV, a retrovirus--about which Duesberg knew as much as anyone
in the world--could be the cause of AIDS.
To state his
case and to answer his many critics, Duesberg has prepared three
books published this spring: Infectious AIDS: Have We Been Misled?
(North Atlantic Books), a collection of 13 of his scientific articles;
AIDS: Virus or Drug-Induced? (Kluwer), a book edited by Duesberg
containing essays by him and two dozen others; and Inventing the
AIDS Virus (Regnery), a book written by Duesberg for a general audience
and the focus of this article.
AIDS Virus is huge (722 pages) and sprawling, but its point is clear:
a virus-obsessed AIDS science has failed to save a single life because
it has come up with the wrong cause, HIV.
that the cause of immune suppression in the largest group of AIDS
patients in the West--drug abusers and gay men--is recreational
psychoactive drugs (heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and alkylnitrites,
or "poppers"). Repeated use of these drugs ravages the
body's immune system and opens it to the two dozen opportunistic
diseases we know and fear as AIDS. Drug use, he argues, accounts
for the "latency period" of AIDS victims: the higher and
longer the intake of drugs, the more likely that AIDS diseases will
follow. It's like cigarette smoking and lung cancer, he says, or
alcohol consumption and cirrhosis of the liver.
But, he says,
"the medical establishment turns a blind eye to drug toxicity
in its single-minded pursuit of HIV." Duesberg's own requests
for funding to test his drug-toxicity thesis have been turned down.
challenge to conventional thinking on AIDS is not a solitary quest.
More than 400 scientists and writers have formed the Group for the
Scientific Investigation of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis. Luc Montaigner,
the French scientist who first isolated HIV, now believes that HIV
alone cannot cause AIDS. The journal Science devoted eight pages
in December 1994 to what it called "the Duesberg phenomenon."
was not impressed. And Nature has both blasted Duesberg and refused
him the opportunity to respond. The editor of the Lancet calls Duesberg
"perhaps the most vilified scientist alive." Many of his
colleagues--at Berkeley and elsewhere--become apoplectic at the
mention of Peter Duesberg, seeing him as a scientist who once did
first-rate work but is now a third-rate publicity seeker. "I
will certainly not contribute to his further publicity," declared
Professor Randy Schekman, former head of the division of biochemistry
and molecular biology, in turning down a request to comment on Inventing
the AIDS Virus.
is right or wrong, he has paid a price for his stand. Since his
challenge to the HIV-AIDS hypothesis, Duesberg's promotions in pay
have been blocked, his teaching assignments have been restricted,
and, most damaging to a scientist, his federal funding has been
faculty members at Berkeley agreed to read and briefly comment on
Inventing the AIDS Virus. Their reflections follow.
This is an
important book. Peter Duesberg reaffirms his belief, fully documented
and referenced, that HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS. He also delivers
a withering indictment of the modus operandi of the modern biomedical
In the decade
following the announcement that AIDS is an infectious disease caused
by the retrovirus HIV, billions of dollars have been spent and hundreds
of thousands of papers have been published in an effort to prove
that what Duesberg thinks is fundamentally flawed. Meanwhile, confusion
reigns about the precise definition of AIDS, and the malady has
not moved out of the high-risk groups.
What is to
be done? Citizens and taxpayers should demand an investigation of
the federal AIDS program. At the state level, a probe is needed
of the extent to which private, profit-oriented industry has penetrated
and perverted our central mission--which should be the generation
of knowledge for its own sake. In this examination, Inventing the
AIDS Virus might be exhibit A.
professor emeritus of biochemistry, and an authority on microbial
who want to give Duesberg a fair trial, I have one piece of advice:
don't begin by asking if HIV is the cause of AIDS. That question
tends to mislead because the definition of "AIDS" is itself
an artifact of the HIV theory. Begin instead by asking how some
29 old diseases came to be treated as a single syndrome, and how
it can be that the same virus supposedly causes disease almost entirely
in males on one continent but afflicts men and women equally on
another. Ask why the total number of HIV-positive Americans hasn't
increased an iota since testing began, and why the government agencies
go to so much effort to convey a contrary impression. Follow the
history of the virus hunters--laid out here in the book's early
chapters--and see how their obsession led them to fix on a retrovirus
as the pathogen before the evidence was in.
If you read
this book with an open mind, you will be impressed and fascinated.
It is a splendid book not only because it tells so much truth about
AIDS, but because it is a classic contribution to the history and
sociology of science.
Johnson, Jefferson E. Peyser Professor of Law at Boalt Hall and
author of Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance.
to this book are frustration, sadness, and concern. Frustration
because after extensive dialogue, Duesberg doesn't seem to understand
many fundamental facts and principles of infectious disease epidemiology.
For example, in arguing on page 177 that "HIV is one of the
many harmless passenger viruses that cause no clinical symptoms
during the acute infection," he states that, among other common
infections, persons become "antibody positive" to "polio"
only after a clinical illness. However, it has been known for at
least 80 years that the vast majority, more than 90 percent, of
naturally acquired poliomyelitis infections are silent.
I am saddened
at the spectacle of a renowned scientist maintaining a stubborn
position despite the demonstrated weakness of his theory and the
overwhelming evidence in support of an alternative. Nevertheless,
Duesberg isn't alone in his unorthodoxy. Examples of eminent scientists
who were wrong on important public health issues include Max Pettenkofer,
who maintained that cholera was non-infectious for 20 years after
the demonstration of the infectious etiological agent, and R.A.
Fisher, who argued until his death that the data for a causal association
between cigarette smoking and lung cancer were spurious.
I am concerned
that some may eschew behaviors which reduce the risk of infection
by HIV on the basis of Duesberg's alternative theory of AIDS etiology.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the evidence that HIV
is causally associated with AIDS is overwhelming, that AIDS is highly
fatal, and that HIV infection is preventable.
professor emeritus of public health and founder of the San Francisco
Men's Health Study.
seven years ago, I first heard of Peter Duesberg's claims, I found
them indulgent and dangerous. Here was a Berkeley professor playing
with people's lives--and their heads--in the middle of an epidemic
in which their practices made a vital difference. Eventually, as
Duesberg's voice remained alive and as the epidemic continued, I
decided to go talk to him.
a controlled experiment on hemophiliacs and stated that he would
formally print a retraction of his views if someone could assemble
the facts to prove him wrong. As detailed in his new book, Duesberg's
main claim was that it was the foreign proteins in the blood-clotting
factor, factor VIII, that were causing immunosuppression, not HIV.
Patients taking purified, recombinant factor VIII would have a stronger
immune system and would consequently be healthier.
an acquaintance, a professor of biostatistics at Berkeley, and we
went looking for the data. We were neutral, simply eager to contribute
to settling this unsettling affair. We are still waiting. More accurately,
we have given up. We never were allowed access to taxpayer-funded
data. We waited in lunchrooms of prestigious hospitals before realizing
that our host was not going to appear with the data and was too
embarrassed to join us for lunch. Our phone calls were never answered.
After the passage
of more than 15 years and the expenditure of more than $30 billion,
surely we must establish whether the HIV hypothesis is true or false.
Duesberg has "put up." It's time for others to either
make him "shut up," through scientific evidence, or for
them to engage in the highest of scientific virtues: rethinking
their positions in the face of new evidence.
professor of anthropology, author most recently of Making PCR: A
Story of Biotechnology.
of Professor Duesberg's opposing hypothesis are tremendous. Virtually
all research (basic and clinical), treatment, activism, and funding
for research are based on the dominant theory that HIV causes AIDS.
This means that all activity is directed at preventing the spread
of HIV and eliminating or inactivating HIV. If Duesberg is correct,
all of this activity is useless and is costing enormous sums of
money and untold numbers of lives.
Can a few scientists
be right and the vast majority be wrong? In his book, Duesberg reviews
many episodes in science where this has occurred, but never on this
scale. He also points out that as "bigger science" develops
there is a larger economic and social incentive for investigators
and others to work only within a certain "accepted" framework.
supposed to be a collection of objective facts, but facts do not
turn into knowledge until they are interpreted by humans, each of
whom has a bias. Professor Duesberg presents little or no direct
experimental evidence to support his claims or to confirm his analyses
of existing data. Although he makes a persuasive argument, without
having conducted my own review of the enormous body of literature,
I cannot determine whether his hypothesis is right or wrong. However,
his attack on the dominant theory is logical and testable. If he
has indeed been prevented from testing his theory, this is truly
a tragic misuse of science and one which we must diligently try
Margen, M.D., professor emeritus of public health, chairman of the
editorial board of advisors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
medical research establishment has laid it down that the HIV virus
is the cause of AIDS. It seems virtually impossible, on Duesberg's
evidence, for HIV to do any such thing. Nevertheless, the definition
of AIDS is manipulated so that HIV antibodies are always found in
people diagnosed to have it.
ignorant of virology will have no trouble following Duesberg's exposure
of the circularity of the Centers for Disease Control's argument.
He shows that the number and nature of AIDS diseases have been changed
to save the doctrine; when too many people died of Kaposi's sarcoma
(once considered the typical AIDS disease) without carrying the
required antibodies, the CDC dropped it from the official AIDS list.
Probably the most vicious consequence of this vicious circle is
the feeding of AZT and other highly toxic chemicals to persons who
are HIV positive but who do not have symptoms of any AIDS disease.
considers that HIV, though necessary, may not be sufficient to cause
AIDS. A "co-factor" may be involved. Duesberg has discovered
this co-factor: it is the establishment itself. HIV, he says, causes
AIDS only under the influence of the National Institutes of Health,
the CDC, their corresponding agencies abroad, and interested drug
The major lesson
of Duesberg's book is that big science cannot be trusted to police
itself. Instead, the establishment has sought to suppress Duesberg
by the methods of the priests of old: censorship, ostracism, excommunication,
and refusal of sacraments--in this case, invitations to meetings,
outlets for publication, and money for research. A more effective
method would be to try to discredit him: support the research he
proposes and, if it proves him wrong, expose him.
'55, M.A. '58, Ph.D. '64, professor of history and history of science
and former vice chancellor of the Berkeley campus.
California Monthly June 1996