The English author Richard Wilson and I have been chatting about the history and motivations of HIV/AIDS deniers, and he has been kind enough to donate this quick run-down of events (which I am posting below). Be sure to check out Richard’s blog and his new book “Don’t Get Fooled Again” (which, unfortunately, is only available through Amazon UK at the moment). I also invite any folks on the “other side” of this issue to send me their run-down of key events, and I will post it here as well.
Here is Richard’s perspective:
- The virologist Peter Duesberg is where a lot of it starts, back in 1987 – he’s the main theorist that comes up with the long words to make AIDS denialism sound like a genuine theory. I honestly don’t know what’s driving him but Science Magazine did a detailed investigation into his work some years ago which was quite interesting:http://www.sciencemag.org/feature/data/cohen/266-5191-1642a.pdf – and there’s a rather less flattering portrayal here: http://www.aidstruth.org/documents/Malignant-Narcissism.pdf
- Then there’s Caspar Schmidt (or at least there was). Even further back, in 1984, he proposes that AIDS doesn’t exist at all, and it’s actually an “epidemic of shame induced depression” brought on among the gay population by Reaganite conservatism (I kid you not: http://www.virusmyth.com/aids/hiv/csfantasy.htm). He gives us something of a clue as to the motivations of the denialists. Many of them are/were HIV positive, and were also diagnosed at a relatively early stage of the epidemic, when the treatments were practically useless and it was a virtual death sentence. Can’t face the fact that you’re v. likely to die within 5-10 years? Make up a theory that says it’s all a big delusion/conspiracy. Schmidt did OK on that — he finally died in the mid 1990s.
- Then we have the first big AIDS drug, AZT. But it doesn’t do much but delay the inevitable, and the side effects are often quite nasty. This is where it really gets evil. Duesberg claims that people are actually dying BECAUSE they are taking AZT, and claims that they’d otherwise be perfectly well, because HIV is in fact a harmless retrovirus.
- Then it gets complicated. Around the early-mid 1990s, all these anti-retroviral drugs start coming on stream that really seem to work. People who’d been sick with AIDS start getting better. But a lot of these HIV+ denialists (google Hugh Christie and Jody Wells) are so far down the road, and so caught up in their theories, that it’s very hard for them to pull back. So they deny that the drugs are actually curing people, and propose all these other “natural remedies” like homeopathy and nutritional supplements.
- Then it gets more complicated still. Around 1999/2000 President Thabo Mbeki gets wind of AIDS ‘scepticism’ and does a lot of googling. He reads all this eloquent and well argued, yet totally bogus and fraudulent stuff on virusmyth.net about aids drugs being poison, AIDS not really existing, HIV tests being circular or unreliable etc. and gets convinced that there’s a serious issue to be considered. So we have the South African “Presidential AIDS advisory panel” consisting of 50% scientists, and 50% radio-ga-ga nutjobs. And the denialists come up with another spin on AIDS which is that it’s a racist conspiracy by the West to demonise and subjigate black people and make loads of money.
- Then Matthias Rath steps into the mix. If I had to bet on it I’d say that he’s pretty much in sociopath territory and just sees this as a way to make money and gain power: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/sep/12/matthias.rath.aids.south.africa
- I think there may now be a bit of a cognitive dissonance thing going on — a bit like the famous UFO salvation cult that actually became more fanatical when the prophesised UFO appearance failed to materialise. These guys are under siege from the evidence, and more and more of them keep dying (see: http://www.aidstruth.org/new/denialism/dead_denialists).