In April 1984, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler announced to the world at a press conference that an American government scientist had discovered the probable cause of AIDS. This claim, made in the absence of the usual scrutiny and debate that is provided by refereed publication, was nonetheless received as fact by the general scientific community, and without further investigation a vast research program was launched. Based on the proposition that the newly identified retrovirus, termed HIV, is responsible for the apparently irreversible destruction of T-helper cells characteristic of AIDS patients, this program has until now been unsuccessful at providing either a vaccine or a cure, and has resulted in public health policies that are of questionable value in preventing the spread of AIDS.