Peter H. Duesberg, 'Inventing the AIDS Virus' Regnery
USA 1996, 720 pages, ISBN 0-89526-470-6.
BOOK REVIEW (CALIFORNIA MONTHTLY)
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
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
Inventing the 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.
Duesberg says 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.
Professor Duesberg's 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."
But Science 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.
Whether Duesberg 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 eliminated.
Six senior 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
J.B. Neilands, professor emeritus of biochemistry, and an authority
on microbial iron metabolism.
For readers 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
Phillip Johnson, Jefferson E. Peyser Professor of Law at Boalt Hall
and author of Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance.
My reactions 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.
Warren Winkelstein, professor emeritus of public health and founder
of the San Francisco Men's Health Study.
When, some 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.
Duesberg outlined 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.
I contacted 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.
Paul Rabinow, professor of anthropology, author most recently of
Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology.
The implications 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
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.
Science is 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 to remedy.
Sheldon Margen, M.D., professor emeritus of public health, chairman
of the editorial board of advisors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
The federal 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.
Even people 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.
The establishment 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 companies.
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.
John Heilbron '55, M.A. '58, Ph.D. '64, professor of history and
history of science and former vice chancellor of the Berkeley campus.
Review by: Russell Schoch
Source: California Monthly June 1996