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Prominent scientist silenced for contending with HIV theory of AIDS
AIDS- WORDS FROM THE FRONT
by CELIA FARBER
(from SPIN, Vol. 6, No. 11, Feb. 1991; pp. 59-61)
...Let's begin at the end and work backward. On October 26, 1990, Peter
Duesberg was informed that his research grant will not be renewed when it
terminates two years from now.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded Duesberg for over 20
years. And in 1985, recognized as one of the nation's 23 most brilliant
scientists, he was solicited for the rare and prestigious Outstanding
Investigator Grant (OIG). Ironically, the $500,000 grant award specified that
he "venture into new territory," that he conduct "high-risk research" and
"ask creative questions." At the time, of course, the NIH was unaware that
their favorite scientist would proceed to saw off the very branch they sat on,
by disputing the role of HIV in AIDS and of cellular oncogenes in cancer.
The discontinuation of the grant means, in effect, the discontinuation
of Duesberg as a scientist, and thereby, to the great relief of the AIDS
research establishment, the end of the so-called HIV debate. Unless, that is,
Duesberg manages to secure funding from another source. Should he fail to do
this, he will remain a professor of Biology at U.C.-Berkeley, but he will be
unable to do lab work, publish impactive papers, or attend conferences. He
will be effectively silenced.
Duesberg, a pioneer in the field of retroviruses and cancer research,
shocked and infuriated the scientific world in 1987 by publishing an 18-page
study in the journal CANCER RESEARCH, detailing his wall-to-wall critique of
the government's theory that AIDS is caused by HIV. He has since published
several follow-up papers, despite strong resistance and requests forcountless
rewrites from journal editors. He was slammed repeatedly by the media, who,
never bothering to educate itself on his scientific background and stature,
reduced him to a kind of scientific freak show. When he said he was so sure
HIV was harmless he wouldn't mind being injected with it, the scientific and
media world shook their collective head in angry disbelief.
Robert Gallo, alleged co-discovererof HIV and Duesberg's most vociferous
opponent, has virtually his entire fame and fortune hinging on the crumbling
theory that HIV alone causes AIDS. Gallo has, over the years, responded to
Duesberg's criticisms in the most irrational, unscientific manner. In the
beginning, he refused several requests to appear in a public debate with
Duesberg, insisting that Duesberg's claims about HIV were so "ridiculous"
they didn't even merit a response. "HIV kills like a truck," he told SPIN in
a 1988 interview, claiming "Every thinking scientist in the world knows that."
Today, a decade into the epidemic, the unresolved gaping holes in the
HIV theory are getting bigger and more difficult to conceal. Over a million
HIV+ Americans are living year after year in perfect health, while others die
of AIDS with no trace of HIV in them.
Last year it was found that HIV does not cause one of the supposed major
AIDS diseases, Kaposi's Sarcoma. (Gallo had written numerous papers detailing
how HIV caused the cancer [KS] by some mysterious, hidden mechanism.) Then,
at last summer's Sixth International AIDS Conference in San Francisco, the
French scientist Luc Montagnier, believed to be the true discoverer of HIV,
announced that he believes HIV needs a cofactor to cause AIDS. The cofactor
he cited was not a virus but a mycoplasma, which seemed to be killing the
cells HIV has not been proven to kill. Adding fuel to the theory, the
mycoplasma, as first demonstrated by Dr. Shyh-Ching Lo of the Armed Forces
Institutes of Pathology, caused AIDS in animals.
Montagnier was attacked by his colleagues and returned to Paris early.
"In Europe, France especially, they are shifting ground on HIV," Univ.
of Michigan AIDS researcher and MacArthur grant-winner Robert Root-Bernstein
told SPIN. "They've always been more skeptical about whether HIV was the cause
than we have. From the beginning, they recognized that the data was very weak.
That's why when they isolated HIV, they didn't come out and declare it to be
Instead, Montagnier sent a sample of the virus he called LAV to Gallo,
asking for his input on whether it was significant. According to a book-length
expose published last year in the Chicago Tribune, Gallo then snatched the
samples and held the new virus up as his discovery- and as the cause of AIDS.
A federal investigation is examining the allegations of Gallo's fraud and
...The Special Review Committee (whose members include Gallo's close
associate and companion Flossie Wong Stahl, and Dani Bolognesi, who first
tested AZT on HIV for Burroughs-Wellcome), felt that although Duesberg was
once considered a brilliant, productive and invaluable scientist, "...more
recent years have been less productive, perhaps reflecting the dilution of his
efforts with nonscientific issues."
Duesberg has appealed the decision, charging conflicts of interest with
NIH research policies, and even commercial interestsof the SRC members
assigned by the NIH. Five of these members, he points out, have careers based
on the first theory he challenged, namely that cellular oncogenes cause
cancer. ...The remaining members have built at least the bulk of their careers
on the other dominant theory Duesberg is fighting: that AIDS is caused by HIV.
Some of the members have business involvments in HIV testing companies.
"Basically when you go against the medical establishment, you are
risking your career, and you have to be ready for that," said Dr. Root-
Bernstein, who has published four papers critiquing the HIV theory. "I know
I'm in for the same thing. I've warned my family.
It doesn't matter whether Duesberg is right or wrong. The point is, he's
the only one who's behaving like a scientist should, who's asking critical
questions. It's people like him who open up new fields in science. It takes
tremendous courage to do what Duesberg has done. I've heard many scientists
express doubt about HIV, but then they look at what happened to Duesberg, and
they say 'I'm not gonna do that.'"
"It's a tragic case," former Harvard biologist Charles Thomas told SPIN.
"Of course, he will be defeated. What is in jeopardy is the integrity of the
"They certainly don't agree with his point of view," sais Dr. Harry Rubin,
a senior colleague of Duesberg's at Berkeley., "but you can't go around and
accuse them of taking revenge on him. The problem with finding an objective
panel is that it's very difficult to find experts in his field who are not
opposed to his views."
Since the initiation of the NIH AIDS research program in 1984, almost $1
billion per year is spent on the still-unproven theory that AIDS is caused by
the retrovirus HIV. Despite this massive effort, Duesberg points out in his
appeal letter, "...the spread of AIDS has not been stopped, no vaccine has
been developed, and not a single life has been saved [combatting HIV].
"I have felt an obligation," Duesberg states, " both to the community and
to the NIH to assist in the fight against AIDS...On the basis of my
experience with retroviruses, and with the many studies published on HIV, I
have conccluded that the virus-AIDS hypothesis is flawed and have proposed
a testable alternative hypothesis."
In an attempt to gain some insight into the situation, SPIN called
Dr. Ellen Raizen, head of the Review Logistics Branch of the NIH. She refused
to comment. We then called Dr. John Cole, who wrote the fateful letter to
Duesberg. He too declined to comment specifically on Duesberg's case, apart
from confirming that another review panel is a possibility.
The night before Thanksgiving, SPIN reporter Anthony Liversidge called
up Gallo in his lab.
SPIN:Did you know that Peter Duesberg has lost his grant?
GALLO: No, I had no idea.
SPIN: They said he got sidetracked into nonscientific issues and wasn't
performing as well as before. Duesberg replied that at least nine
out of ten have a conflict of interest with him
GALLO: Probably the whole world (laughs). Tony, why do you worry so much
SPIN: Because I think he is a very principled guy and he shouldn't be
GALLO: He's not being repressed. That's the way of academic life. Everybody
has a chance and everybody takes their punches. Has he been productive
in the last 5-7 years in cancer research? I don't follow what Peter
does at all. But I'll tell you the opinion very, very widely is that he
hasn't been very productive. But certainly nobody wants to see Peter
not do very well...
SPIN: Right. So how are things going for you otherwise?
GALLO: Very good.
SPIN: This NIH investigation of yours? ...
GALLO: Yep. Going real well. You'll even get some surprising news in the end.
I always promise you surprises, don't I?
Since neither [Anthony or I] are scientists, we cannot possibly know
whether [Duesberg] is right or wrong. But we can insist on the right to
pursue the question.... "Let's call him up," Anthony says. "On Thanksgiving?"
Anthony is already dialing. I calculate that, even on the West Coast,
Thanksgiving dinner is well over.
...SPIN: We just spoke to Bob Gallo. He said he had no idea your grant had
DUESBERG: He knows it damn well.
SPIN: He said everybody has a chance and everybody takes their punches.
DUESBERG: Everybody takes their punches. Uh-huh.
SPIN: There's no doubt in your mind what's happened here?
DUESBERG: I think it's obvious. I wasn't just the court jester. I was more
like a Rambo in the court. I was in disagreement with all NIH
policies. A billion is spent on HIV, half a billion on oncogenes,
and I say neither field of research is going to make it. And that's
not what they had in mind when they gave me the Outstanding
Investigator Grant. An Outstanding Investigator is one who is going
to conform. I was wearing the right uniform, but marching in the
SPIN: In retrospect, do you wish you had never gotten involved in AIDS? That
you had just stuck to oncogenes?
DUESBERG: No, I had no choice about that. That's the way I am, I guess. I
can't compromise myself. I'm not going to study retroviruses for 25
years and then go ahead and pretend that HIV is doing all these
things that clearly it can't be doing.
SPIN: One of their critiques is that you never proved your critiques.
Duesberg: It is impossible to prove a negative. What kind of experiment could
prove that HIV does not cause AIDS. I've offered to have myself
injected with it, but they wouldn't go for that.I cannot design an
experiment testing the role of HIV in AIDS that I would deem
fundable- that would yield anything. I've reviewed the literaturre
extensively, and I cannot detect any plausible evidence to support
the hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS.
SPIN: How do you respond to the charge that you are not being productive
DUESBERG: My productivity hasn't changed at all in recent years. That's
ridiculous. Besides, how do you measure productivity? Is
productivity writing 600 papers on how HIV causes AIDS and not
proving it in a single one of them,as Gallo did? Or is productivity
like Watson and Crick, who wrote one paper showing that DNA is
double-stranded and is the genetic material of life? That's the
question isn't it? I've studied retroviruses for over 25 years. And
it doesn't take a genius to understand infectious disease. Right
now, retroviruses don't claim any lives and are not a significant
medical problem. SPIN: What does it say about the state of science today, that you can't seem
to get a fair hearing without bringing in a conflict of interest lawyer?
Duesberg: I think you know the answer to that as well as I do. What we have
now is a kind of totalitarian science. There are a few leading
policy makers that control everything. There's almost a phobia
aboutanyintellectual activities, critical thinking and questioning
of popular assumptions.
SPIN: You sound very discouraged.
DUESBERG:Well, I only have two years left to work, in effect. And that's the
way it's going to be, unless I convert. And I don't want to do that.
SPIN: Did you know that science was like this before you got involved in the
DUESBERG: Not at all. I never would have believed it. I was much more
romantic about it. More idealistic. Even a few months ago, I still
believed in the integrity of our science system. That the important
thing, as Einstein said, was to keep questioning.
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