Letter to the Editor of BMJ

By Richard Strohman

BMJ 2 Nov. 1996

Stuart W G Derbyshire's review of Peter Duesberg's book Infectious AIDS: Have We Been Misled? is tendentious.(1) He says that all Duesberg's supporters contend that Duesberg's ideas "were wilfully suppressed by AIDS investigators for reasons associated with ideology and personal gain." Branding all supporters in this manner misses the point that many thoughtful scientists agree with Duesberg on many points while disagreeing on others. I wrote the preface to this book because I support openness in science and because I agree that "integrity" or rigour in AIDS science is wanting, beginning with the tautological definition of AIDS given by the United States Centers for Disease Control (no HIV = no AIDS). I, and many other supporters of Duesberg, should be identified with specific issues instead of being swept into a general category. For examples of specific support one can consult the jacket of this book, where Nobel prize winner Kary Mullis is quoted as saying, "We have not been able to discover any good reasons for why most people ... believe that AIDS is a disease caused by a virus."

Neither is a conscious conspiracy among scientists necessary for this lack of integrity and shutting out of minority opinion to take place. The pressures brought on basic scientists to follow consensus thinking, especially in times of scarce research funds, are much discussed, and it is clear that integrity and openness in science are doomed when consensus take over.

Derbyshire insists that "overwhelming evidence" exists for HIV as the cause of AIDS and cites haemophilia data that cannot establish correlation or cause. Duesberg has argued against these data and against mistaking correlation for causality,(2, 3) but this review fails to mention these arguments and makes no effort to convey the breadth and depth of the reviews collected in the book.

Finally, I agree with Derbyshire: Duesberg has been mistreated. What Peter Duesberg has been arguing for -- more research on substances known or suspected to be immunosuppressive -- should not be controversial, it should be welcomed. If true, then Duesberg should be taken seriously and not, as Derbyshire suggests, placed "peripheral to the mainstream AIDS debate... as a maverick rather than as a heretic." That debate would be impoverished or non-existent were it not for Duesberg's persistent scientific criticisms over 10 years. Derbyshire cannot have it both ways where a serious critic with something constructive to offer is also marginalised and mistreated by our AIDS leadership.

Richard Strohman is Emeritus professor Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley USA