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HIV denial in the Internet Age

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  • Message from Tara C Smith


Reference: Smith TC, Novella SP (2007) HIV Denial in the Internet Era [HIV Denial in the Internet Era]. PLoS Med 4 (8): e256. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pmed.0040256

Published: 21 August 2007

Copyright: © 2007 Smith and Novella. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction unrestrained in any vehicle transmitter, provided the original author and source are cited.

Funding: The University of Iowa awarded Tara C. Smith for funding start-up research, but there was no specific funding for this article.

Interests Competitors: The authors have declared that no competing interests.

It may seem remarkable that, 23 years after the identification of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), there is still denial that the virus is the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Year 2000, this denial was highlighted at the international level, when the South African President Thabo Mbeki convened a group of experts to discuss the cause of AIDS, recognizing that he was not convinced that HIV was the cause [1]. Their ideas, at least partly, been attributed to material he found on the Internet [2]. Although Mbeki agreed later in the same year, back in the debate [3] Subsequently he suggested a reanalysis of health spending with less emphasis on item HIV / AIDS [4].

HIV denial is rooted in the general population and has shown its potential to thwart public education efforts and adversely affect public funding for AIDS research and prevention programs. For example, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) for many years has been on the front lines of AIDS education and activism. But now the arm of the group in San Francisco has joined the negativist movement, stating on its Web site that "HIV does not cause AIDS ... HIV antibody testing is flawed and dangerous ... counter drugs AIDS is a poison "( In the year 2000, staff from this branch in San Francisco sent letters to each member of Congress requesting the termination of funding for HIV research [5]. The position adopted by ACT UP San Francisco has been condemned by other offices of ACT UP, such as Philadelphia and East Bay ( Rock stars have engaged in this matter. The members of the group "The Foo Fighters" provided the music for the soundtrack of the recent documentary "The Other Side of AIDS" - 'The Other Side of AIDS' (, Which questions whether HIV is the cause of AIDS. During the concerts, the band has spread their message that HIV does not cause AIDS [6], And mentions on its website the group of denial of HIV "Alive and Well" - 'With Life and Well' as a cause that has merits (

How these challenges to popularize these theories took place largely off the scientific literature, many doctors and researchers have had the luxury of ignoring them, treating them as marginal beliefs and therefore inconsequential. Indeed, the Internet has served as a fertile environment and without a moderator to spread these naysayers convictions. The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV / AIDS Hypothesis - 'Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the Hypothesis of HIV / AIDS' ("Reappraising AIDS" - 'Reassessing AIDS') mentioned: "Thanks to the dominance of the Internet, we now have the ability to reinvigorate our information campaign "[7]. The Internet is an effective tool to reach young people and to spread misinformation within a high risk group for HIV infection.

There are two pages on-line excellent prepared to oppose many of the arguments that are most commonly used to deny HIV as cause of AIDS [8,9]; but does not discuss in this article. Instead, review the strategies currently used by the intellectual movement of denial of HIV. Other forms of denial of science will not be specifically discussed, but the features described below apply to many other common forms of denial, including denial of evolution, mental illness and the Holocaust.

Three Prominent Deniers and Denial Groups

Currently, a prominent group of denial of HIV is "Alive and Well" - 'With Life and Well "Christine Maggiore (previously, the acronym was" HEAL, "Health Education AIDS Liaison -' Connection with the AIDS Education for Health ' ) ( The life story of Maggiore is at the center of this group. In 1992, she was diagnosed with HIV and claims that, since then, has lived the last 14 years without symptoms and without the use of antiretroviral drugs, including protease inhibitors [10]. In recent years, she was known, and is embroiled in controversy after giving birth and openly breastfeed their two sons, Charles and Eliza Jane. None of the children were tested for HIV, and the mother has not taken antiretroviral medication during periods of pregnancy or while breast-fed [11]. Eliza Jane died in September 2005 a pneumonia related to HIV [12]; however, Maggiore remains unconvinced that HIV has had anything to do with the death of his daughter [13], And continues preaching his message to other seropositive mothers.

Peter Duesberg started the movement of denial of HIV with a written 1987 article, in which he suggested that HIV does not cause AIDS [14]. He is no longer on the front line of this movement, but the arguments advanced by others track their publications.

Celia Farber is a journalist who spent most of his career covering topics on HIV. Farber is the author of a recent article published in Harper’s repeating the claims of Duesberg that HIV does not cause AIDS [15], And recently has authored a book about "the dark history of science Aids" [16].

There are serious inconsistencies within the broad movement of denial of HIV, and people mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. Groups of denial of HIV diverge even in the most basic tenet: HIV exists? Nevertheless, disagreements within the movement are neglected in favor of presenting a unified front.

Conspiracy Theories and Selective Distrust of Scientific Authority

HIV is the primary cause of AIDS is the consensus opinion firmly held by the scientific community, based on over two decades of robust research. However, the deniers have to reject this consensus, either denigrating the notion of scientific authority in general or arguing that the mainstream scientific community HIV is intellectually compromised. So is hardly surprising that much of the more recent oppositional literature reflects a basic distrust of the authorities and institutions of science and medicine. In his book, Christine Maggiore thanks his father Robert, "who taught me to question the authorities and defend what is right" [10]. . Similarly, Dr. Rebecca Culshaw, which is the mathematical modeling and other negating HIV, says: "As someone who was raised by parents who from an early age, taught me to never believe in anything simply because 'everyone else accept it as the truth, 'I can not just sit and do nothing, thus giving my contribution to this madness "[17].

Clinicians who disparage the mainstream, many HIV deniers are, turn to the "alternative" medicine for treatment. One of these clinicians, Dr. Mohammed Al-Bayati, suggests that "toxins" and drug use, rather than HIV, cause AIDS [18]. Dr Al-Bayati personally profits with their negative HIV: the cost of $ 100 per hour, Al-Bayati is a query "on issues related to AIDS, adverse reactions to vaccines and medications, exposure to chemicals at home the environment and the workplace "( Similarly, the supplier of vitamins and HIV denier, German Matthias Rath not only pushed their vitamins as a treatment against AIDS [19], As his spokesman refused to be interviewed by Nature Medicine about the case because he said the newspaper is "fully funded by money narcotráfego" [20].

Deniers argue that because scientists receive grants, fame and prestige as a result of their research, they have the greatest interest in maintaining the status quo [15]. This way of thinking is convenient for deniers, because it allows them to choose which to believe and which authorities will be repudiated, as part of a grand conspiracy. Besides being selective, their logic is also internally discrepant. For example, they disapprove studies support the hypothesis that HIV is the cause, saying it is biased because of money "narcotráfego" while accepting uncritically the testimony of HIV deniers who receive a hefty financial anchor of treatment modalities alternative.

Picturing Science How Faith and the General Review How Dogma

Whereas the ideas proposed by deniers do not meet rigorous scientific standards, they can not hope to compete against the mainstream theories. They can not raise the level of their beliefs up to the standards of leading scientific trend; then try to downgrade the status of science denied to the level of religious faith, characterizing scientific general opinion as a scientific dogma [21]. The way that an HIV denier quoted in Maggiore's book [10] Commented:

"There is a classical science, the way it is supposed to act, and there is religion. I regained my sanity when I realized that AIDS science was a religious discourse. And one thing that will go with me to my grave without my understanding is accepted by everyone as quickly as true everything that government officials said. Especially the central myth: the cause of AIDS is known. "

Others suggest that the full range of modern medicine is a religion [22].

Deniers also cover themselves with paints skeptics working to demolish a stray and deeply rooted conviction. They maintain that when scientists speak out against mainstream scientific "orthodoxy", they are persecuted and repudiated. For example, HIV deniers make noise about the end of the career of Peter Duesberg, recalling that when he began to speak against HIV as the cause of AIDS, he was "ignored and discredited" because of his dissent [23]. The South African President Mbeki went further, stating: "In an earlier period of human history, these [dissidents] would be heretics that would be burnt at the stake" [1].

HIV deniers accuse scientists to stifle dissent on the causes of AIDS, not allowing them to be heard the theories called "alternative". However, this claim could be applied to any well-established scientific theory that is being challenged by politically motivated pseudoscientific notions - for example, the creationist challenges to evolution. Moreover, as the denial of HIV can plausibly reduce submission to practice safe sex and anti-HIV drugs, which could potentially cost lives, it can motivate the scientific communities and of health care to come to exclude the denial of any public forum. (As an editorial put the title clearly, denial of HIV is "deadly quackery") [24]. Because denial of HIV is not scientifically legitimate, such exclusion is justified but provide fuel to the claims of deniers about oppression.

Technical and Scientific Promise of Acceptance opinion in Near Future

Although HIV deniers condemn scientific authority and the general opinion, they rolled up their sleeves to build their own lists of scientists and other professionals who support their ideas. As a result, the deniers claim that they are on the cusp of a very widely accepted by the scientific community and remain impaired due to "established orthodoxy" represented by scientists who believe that HIV causes AIDS.

In an effort to support his claim that a growing number of scientists do not believe that HIV causes AIDS, Reappraising AIDS published a list of signatories to accept the following statement:

"The general public widely believes that the retrovirus called HIV causes the group [of] disease called AIDS. Now, many biochemical question this hypothesis. We propose that a thorough reappraisal of the existing evidence for and against this hypothesis, conducted by an independent and adequate group is performed. Furthermore, we propose that critical epidemiological studies be planned and undertaken "[25].

However, these parties do not suggest who would integrate the group "adequate independent" because, presumably, many scientists have been "indoctrinated" to believe that HIV causes AIDS. (Actually, for many of the signatories of this declaration lacks any expertise in virology, epidemiology or even basic biology.) They also ignore thousands of epidemiological studies that have been published in the scientific literature. The signatories also do not provide a compelling case for which there is widespread acceptance in the scientific community for its marginal position.

However, Farber wrote in an article 1992 that "more and more scientists are beginning to question the assumption that the solitary-manipulated HIV wreaks havoc on the immune system which leads to AIDS" [26]. Similarly, an article by March 2006 appearing in AIDS denial site "New AIDS Review" said, referring to the theory that HIV causes AIDS, "... this theoretical fabric garment is worn to the point of disintegration "[27]. Scientists who follow the main trend of course they do not believe in the imminent collapse of the theory of HIV; instead, they continue performing modern research to prevent and treat HIV and publish thousands of documents every year on this subject.

In addition, the deniers exploit the sense of fairness of most scientists, and also present in the general public, especially in open and democratic societies. Calling for a fair discussion of divergent views, independent analysis of the evidence and openness to alternatives, is likely to gain support, regardless of context. However, is misleading to the movement of the HIV denial to suggest that there is any real doubt about the cause of AIDS.

Making Backward Targets

Of all the characteristics of deniers, repeatedly poking behind the goalposts - or the threshold of evidence required for acceptance of a theory - this is most revealing. The strategy behind the goal, which is floating, is simple: always demand more evidence than can actually be displayed. If proof is provided at a later date, simply change the demand to require more evidence, or refuse the type of evidence that is being presented.

In the decade of 1980, HIV deniers argued that AIDS drug therapy was ineffective, which does not significantly prolonged survival, and was in fact toxic and lesionava the immune system [28]. However, after the introduction of a cocktail with new and more effective agents in 1990 years, survival rates have increased impressively [29]. HIV deniers no longer accept this criterion as evidence for the effectiveness of drugs and, therefore, the theory of HIV to AIDS. Even piles of papers and books on the subject are not enough. Christine Maggiore wrote in his book; "Since 1984, over 100.000 papers were published about HIV. None of these, alone or collectively, demonstrated fairly or effectively proved that HIV can cause AIDS "[10].

HIV deniers also reject arbitrarily some categories of evidence, although they are generally accepted by the scientific disciplines. For example, they deny the evidence deduced that HIV causes AIDS, including data that have a very close relationship as examine the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in genomic and animal studies [30]. Also, they reject the correlation to be insufficient to establish the causal aspect [28]. Multiple independent correlations however, that point to the same cause - in this case HIV causes AIDS - is a legitimate form of epidemiological evidence and generally accepted, used to establish the cause. The same type of evidence, for example, has been used to establish that smoking causes certain types of lung cancer.

What Are the Alternatives Them?

After much criticism, the tax deniers, the prevailing theories, one might think they would have something to offer to replace the theory of HIV as the cause of AIDS. However, the alternatives they offer are much more speculative than the mainstream theories that they depreciate like lacked evidence. Furthermore, their arguments amount to little more than another logical fallacy, the false dichotomy: they assume that destroying the prevailing theory prove that their theory is correct, for lack of evidence.

It is interesting that alternative hypotheses for the causes of AIDS depend on where the patient lives. In Africa, HIV deniers attribute AIDS to a combination of malnutrition and poor sanitation, that is, they believe that AIDS is simply a new label for old diseases. In the USA and other rich countries, say that AIDS is caused by drug use and promiscuity. For a long time, Duesberg was an advocate of the idea that the use of "opiates" or amyl nitrite, gave cause AIDS in the gay community [31]. With the identification of AIDS in individuals who have never used opiates, this hypothesis was amplified by HIV deniers so as to involve several recreational drugs (cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine) as well as prescription drugs such as antibiotics and steroids in the etiology of AIDS. The deniers of HIV have criticized the idea that immunosuppression due to HIV infection could result in all of the various infections that characterize AIDS, and they also support the idea that opiates, or other drugs - including many that have not been shown to cause severe immunodeficiencies - could cause AIDS. In the last decade, the drugs used to treat HIV / AIDS have come under fire from HIV deniers, who suggested that the drugs themselves were the cause of AIDS (


Because of these claims rejection be made in books and on the Internet, rather than scientific literature, many scientists are unaware of the existence of organized groups of denial, or believe they can safely ignore them as discredited marginal comments. And, really, most of the arguments of the deniers of HIV was answered by scientists long ago. However, the general public does not have the scientific backing to criticize the statements thrown to the wind by these groups, and not only accepts them as still propagating them. A recent editorial in Nature Medicine [32] Emphasizes the need to counter the misinformation spread by the AIDS deniers.

While the descriptions above, denial of HIV refers to relatively arranged campaigns, there are other examples of such orchestrated least denial. For example, a recent study showed that a high percentage of African descent Americans suspicious of theories that follow the main trend Aids due to a general distrust of government authorities [33]. The arguments of denial groups may have influenced the formation of their opinions. Indeed, the effect of denial groups on public perception of HIV infection is a topic that is ripe for careful research, considering that this denial can have fatal consequences. In a recent study, stronger conspiracy beliefs were significantly associated with more negative attitudes toward condom use and their occasional use, independent of sociodemographic characteristics selected variables partners, history of sexually transmitted diseases, risk perception and psychosocial factors [33].

As this long denial is a failure of scientists and the media that AIDS originally proclaimed as a "death sentence" universal? Although this idea no longer appear in the scientific literature, remains a public perception of the disease. It is difficult to strike the right balance between providing information in communicating a hand disease severity, and other optimism about treatments and advances in understanding the pathogenesis of HIV (including research on people who can actually be a little resistant to the virus). The oversimplification of the science of AIDS to the public gives rise to exploitation by its deniers who remain "alive and well" years after diagnosis that are carriers of HIV. And these concerns must also be balanced with the desire to convey the severity of the situation and motivate those who know they are HIV positive to seek treatment: it is difficult walking on this tightrope.

In reality, this balancing act deserves the increasing attention of doctors in the Internet age and a vacuum that is widening between the practice of science and the public understanding of science. The education of successful public health requires the presentation of a clear and simple message supported by a solid consensus in the medical community. Although the reality behind the scenes is often quite different. Each medical specialty has its legitimate controversies and complexities, and the process of science is often confused. Groups of denial exploit the gap between public education and scientific reality.

Moreover, opposition to the misinformation of HIV deniers need to be administered in the broader context of society to counter the antiscience and pseudoscience. The strategies of HIV deniers, like many other movements of denial, seek erode the essence of the philosophy of science itself to distort the public's understanding of the scientific process, and sow distrust in scientific institutions. No scientific alternative medical modalities have made significant inroads in health institutions through political means, despite a continued lack of scientific legitimacy: Vaccines are characterized as dangerous instead of saving lives; psychiatry is mocked by celebrities and others in plain sight. Meanwhile, many leaders in science and business are concerned that the United States is losing its margin of superiority as a source of scientific influence.

It remains a profound problem of global scientific ignorance in this country (USA) and others, creating a fertile ground for those who wish to spread scientific misinformation [34]. The scientific community must collectively defend and promote the role of science in society, and to combat the growing problem of scientific illiteracy. We all have to strive to do our part to make science accessible to the general public, and explain the process by which scientific evidence is collected, analyzed and eventually accepted. Being that academic institutions should provide greater incentives for researchers expend their time and effort in so doing. A solid understanding of the scientific method can not eliminate the denial of science, but can function as a bumper against further expansion of such naysayers convictions.







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Example of a typical slogan of a group of HIV deniers

doi: 10.1371 / journal.pmed.0040256.g001


  1. Sidley P (2000) Mbeki appoints team to look at cause of AIDS. BMJ 320: 1291.

Translated and adapted to Portuguese of Brazil By Elizabeth Mattos <>

Of Soropositivo.Org Editor's note: The Denial of contemporary HIV is the beginning of my life with HIV and I was invited to participate in this chain. The explanations they gave me about the causes of AIDS sounded ridiculous to me, why is dark and female, in Africa, is good reason for having AIDS. ...

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