Monday, March 06, 2006

“HIV/AIDS”: Faith-Based Science

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

It’s well known that on January 17, 1961 — just three days before his term was scheduled to end — President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a nationally televised farewell speech in which he warned against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” But right after that in the speech, he issued a less famous but equally prescient warning against a danger from another source:

“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

As someone who believes that the campaign against acquired immune deficiency syndrome — better known by those fearsome initials “AIDS” — has been mismanaged almost from the get-go, I would argue that the anti-AIDS campaign has fallen victim to both the dangers Eisenhower warned about in his speech. A scientific-technological elite of virologists who had spent 10 years researching retroviruses as potential causes of cancer — and who, in 1981, were worried that the newly elected Reagan administration was going to cut off the virus-cancer program and their funding for it — grabbed hold of AIDS research almost as soon as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced the syndrome’s existence that year. And they got away with it despite the sheer unlikelihood that a member of a class of viruses they’d spent 10 years researching as possible causes of cancer because they did not kill their host cells could be responsible for a disease triggered by a mass death of the CD4 T-helper cells the virus presumably infected.

Within three years, the cancer virologists-turned-AIDS virologists, led by Robert Gallo, Ph.D. — whose claim to have discovered the retrovirus now known as HIV turned out to be false — had lobbied then-U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler to hold a press conference at which she politically proclaimed it to be the cause of AIDS. From that moment on, freedom of scientific thought and research on the potential causes and treatments of AIDS ended. The U.S. government used its clout — specifically, its control of scientists’ purse strings — to issue marching orders that HIV was the cause of AIDS and no other possibilities were to be researched at all. Thus both dangers Eisenhower had feared were realized: a scientific-technological elite lobbied the government to impose their version of scientific “truth” as public policy before their papers were published — before other scientists had a chance to vet their work — and the U.S. government imposed HIV as the putative cause of AIDS as “truth” first on this nation’s scientists and then on the rest of the world’s.

On March 28, 1993, a short-lived ABC-TV newsmagazine show called Day One ran a 20-minute segment that gave many Americans their first hint that there was a different way of looking at AIDS. Over a film clip of Elizabeth Taylor at the inaugural dinner for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), host John Hockenberry said, “The AIDS establishment in the United States has stars to sell its gospel, scientists to write it, and the federal government to pay for it.” With only rare and sporadic exceptions, they’ve also had the media to proclaim it. Media AIDS stories generally follow one of a few tightly controlled scripts. Either they latch on to some new community supposedly being hit with the syndrome for the first time; or they focus on some older “at-risk” community — especially Gay men — and either give them points for being responsible and caring for each other, or attack them for refusing to restrict themselves to so-called “safer-sex” and essentially suggest that Gays are bringing AIDS upon themselves; or they spew forth horrific projections of tens of millions of people on other continents (at first Africa, increasingly Asia as well) being “HIV positive” and therefore doomed to die of AIDS. These stories are almost always based on numerical estimates from the United Nations AIDS Program (UNAIDS) derived from minuscule amounts of data and far-reaching assumptions but presented by journalists as if they were hard facts.

In late February 2006, three media stories on AIDS broke at about the same time. Two followed the usual scripts; one quite defiantly did not. The ones that did were a deliberately heart-rending report in the “Column One” front-page feature slot of the February 25 Los Angeles Times called “HIV’s Hidden Victims” — Latinos — and a cover story in the February 22 issue of the San Diego “alternative” weekly CityBeat called “Playing It Unsafe,” which alleged that young Gay men were suffering from so-called “prevention fatigue,” resuming “unsafe” sexual practices and thereby accelerating the spread of HIV through their community. The one that didn’t appeared in the March 2006 issue of Harper’s Magazine. It was called “Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science,” and its contents weren’t a surprise to readers familiar with the reputation of its author, Celia Farber, who in the late 1980’s had been one of the pioneers of alternative AIDS journalism. Along with John Lauritsen and Jon Rappoport of the U.S. and Joan Shenton and Jad Adams of Britain, Farber — working at first for an unlikely outlet, the music magazine Spin — alerted readers to the existence of scientists like Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis, David Rasnick, Charles Thomas, Gordon Stewart and others who poked the mainstream vision of HIV as the cause of AIDS so full of holes that a theory with less government, industry and activist support would have collapsed completely.

What was surprising is that Farber’s article appeared in Harper’s, a publication with a decidedly Left-of-center political slant. The same issue that featured her piece also contained an extended editorial by publisher Lewis H. Lapham calling for the impeachment of President Bush and an article by Georgetown University law professor David Luban criticizing both the Bush administration’s policy of torturing detainees in the so-called “war on terror” and the elaborate rationalizations other legal scholars had concocted to justify it. Almost never before had a progressive publication other than my own, Zenger’s Newsmagazine, run an article acknowledging that a scientific challenge to the HIV/AIDS model even existed, let alone presenting it sympathetically. While publications on the Right — particularly the Libertarian Right — had occasionally presented the case against HIV as the cause of AIDS (usually in the context of arguing that the government should stop funding scientific research and leave that task to the private sector), the Left had not only enthusiastically embraced HIV as the cause of AIDS but used loyalty to the mainstream view of AIDS as an index of one’s concern for Queers and people of color in both the developed and developing worlds.

A Lethal Drug Trial

Farber’s Harper’s article begins with the story of Joyce Ann Hafford, a woman from Memphis, Tennessee who, four months pregnant with her second child, accepted the advice of her obstetrician to take an HIV antibody test “even though she was healthy and had no reason to think she might be HIV positive.” When her test did come back positive, she was referred to another doctor, Edwin Thorpe, an “HIV specialist” who was also the principal investigator in a clinical trial of four anti-HIV medications — nevirapine, nelfinavir, AZT and Lamivudine — to see not only which combination of these drugs most effectively reduced the risk of HIV transmission from mother to child before or during birth but also how high the doses could be raised before the drugs started killing people or making them sick. Dr. Thorpe got Hafford into the trial, and within a month and a half of starting on the drugs her health had been decimated and she finally died just after giving birth by C-section.

Though Farber tells this story in her usual calm, dispassionate style, it’s an AIDS tearjerker — just as much as Anna Gorman’s L. A. Times tearjerker about innocent Latinas being infected with HIV by husbands or boyfriends who were either heavy-duty crystal users, male prostitutes or both. Only while the villains in Gorman’s account are HIV itself and the men these women were living with or dating, supposedly without any idea of their double lives of “Gay for pay” sex and drug abuse (which itself, frankly, strains credulity: in the real world, drug use tends to run in families and users are all too eager and happy to share their habits with those they “love”), the villains in Farber’s piece are the highly toxic chemotherapies routinely prescribed to those who test “HIV positive” and the doctors who prescribe them and insist their patients take them.

Farber doesn’t spell it out in so many words, but stories like Hafford’s are possible because of one of the most insidious parts of the HIV/AIDS myth: the idea that everyone who gets exposed to HIV will develop an active infection; everyone who develops an active infection will get AIDS symptoms; and everyone who gets AIDS symptoms will die prematurely from the condition. As Dr Joseph Sonnabend — a South African-born, New York-based physician who’s treated people with AIDS since 1980 and has tried to keep an open mind on HIV’s role in it — told me in an interview in the November 2001 Zenger’s, that’s quite the opposite from the way most infectious, pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes work. “Most people exposed to polio virus suffer no ill effects; that may well be true of HIV, too,” Dr. Sonnabend said. Therefore, he argued, anti-HIV drugs ought to be given only to patients in the very late stages of the syndrome, when they’re already in such dire straits health-wise that they’re likely to die immediately without treatment and therefore they have much less to lose from the potentially life-threatening toxicities of the drugs than an otherwise perfectly healthy “HIV positive” person like Hafford.

The idea that everyone who encounters HIV will get AIDS and die from it comes from an interesting source: the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), which despite its later name actually started in the late 1970’s and originally didn’t have anything to do with AIDS at all. At the time, the big health hysteria being pushed onto Gay men by the medical establishment was hepatitis B. The Queer community was being flooded with warnings telling Gay men they should get tested for hepatitis B and be vaccinated against it. A team of researchers centered in San Francisco decided to recruit Gay men there and in other large U.S. cities for a long-term study on the spread of hepatitis B in the Gay male community. So they naturally recruited the sorts of Gay men they figured would be most at risk of contracting hepatitis B: heavy users of recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, and people with multiple sex partners and long histories of infection with genuine sexually-transmitted diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea.

Over the years, these “cohorts” — research-speak for groups of people who are studied over an extended period of time — were pressed into service to study AIDS as well. They were given the standard HIV antibody tests and, sure enough, those who tested “HIV positive” were much more likely to get sick with AIDS symptoms and die young than those who tested “HIV negative.” MACS was therefore heralded as proof that HIV was the cause of AIDS, but there were two big catches in that argument. First, because the study subjects had been recruited to study hepatitis B and therefore been selected because they were considered particularly at risk for it, they were not only a generally unhealthy bunch to begin with, they had exactly the same risk factors — heavy drug use, frequent STD’s and frequent antibiotic treatments for their STD’s —scientists like Peter Duesberg, Mullis and Rasnick had identified as the principal causes of AIDS according to their alternative “risk-AIDS” hypothesis. This is the view (to which I subscribe) that AIDS is the result of a long-term breakdown of the immune system caused by multiple toxic and/or infectious factors rather than the result of an infection by HIV or any other single microbe.

The Problems with the Test

The other problem had to do with the nature of the so-called “HIV test” itself. In the early 1990’s, a lay researcher in L.A. named Christine Johnson did an exhaustive search through the medical literature and came up with a list of 64 possible causes for a false-positive result on the test. Her list, published in the September 1996 Zenger’s and in Christine Maggiore’s book What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?, included such common infections as tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, herpes and flu (also flu vaccination). It also included antibodies to hepatitis B — which offered a far likelier explanation than that of the conspiracy theorists in the Queer community (who thought HIV had been biologically engineered and introduced into Gay men via the hepatitis B vaccine) for the high correlation between having taken the vaccine and later testing “HIV positive.” Most relevant to Joyce Ann Hafford’s story, Johnson’s list also included pregnancy, especially in so-called “multiparous” women — that is, women who’d been pregnant before. While acknowledging that “just because something is on this list doesn’t mean that it will definitely, or even probably, cause a false-positive,” she said that what differentiated the populations considered most at risk for AIDS from the rest of us was that “they have been exposed to a plethora of foreign antigens and proteins.”

The reason that’s significant is that the so-called “HIV test” doesn’t test for HIV at all. I’ve generally called it an “HIV antibody test” but it isn’t really that, either. Instead it’s a test for antibody reactions to any or all of the nine proteins presumed to make up HIV. As Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and her colleagues in the so-called “Perth Group” (a team of alternative AIDS researchers from Perth, Australia) documented in their June 11, 1993 Bio/Technology article, “Is a Positive Western Blot Proof of HIV Infection?,” none of the nine proteins are unique to HIV. All can be found either internally, manufactured by the human body itself, or through infections from other diseases. Various tests are in common use — the ELISA, IFA and Western Blot — but their only difference is whether they measure the proteins together or separately. The idea that a Western Blot or an IFA can “confirm” the results of an ELISA is dubious because it’s still an antibody test — an indirect measure that can’t actually detect whether a person is actively infected with HIV — and an unreliable one at that because so many other factors besides HIV can trigger a “positive” reaction.

The real reason people who test “HIV positive” are more at risk for a number of diseases involving weakened immunity is not that the test is measuring exposure to a unique virus called “HIV” that is breaking down people’s immune systems and thereby allowing them to become sick. It’s that they are already likely to have come down with a number of conditions — toxic drugs, infectious diseases (including STD’s), and (especially in the less-developed countries of Africa and Asia) malnutrition, starvation, unclean water and lack of sanitation — that increase the chance that something in their blood will trigger a “positive” HIV antibody test result. That’s why I’ve sometimes argued, facetiously but with a grain of truth, that it is AIDS that causes HIV, not the other way around. Those 99-point-something figures we’ve seen ballyhooing the “accuracy” of the tests relate merely to their reproducibility — the likelihood that two tests run on the same blood sample will have the same result — and doesn’t have anything to do with whether the tests are actually measuring an active HIV infection.

Besides, the claim that an antibody response to HIV necessarily means an active infection itself flies in the face of 150 years’ worth of microbiology. For virtually all other infectious diseases, an antibody response is considered a good thing: a sign that one has become immune to the disease and therefore doesn’t have to worry about getting it anymore. Indeed, the whole idea of vaccination is based on triggering an immune response to something that’s close enough to the disease being vaccinated against so that if you encounter the germ that causes the disease, your immune system will have the tools to fight it off.

Some infectious diseases, notably tuberculosis and herpes, are partial exceptions to the rule that once your body develops an immune response to a microbe, you’re home free. In those cases, the immune system can control the disease but can’t eliminate it completely, and if something else weakens the body the disease can become symptomatic again. This is why people with herpes frequently report getting outbreaks just after losing a job, breaking up a romantic relationship, or suffering some other mental stress that seemingly has nothing to do with physical health but in fact weakens the immune system enough to allow the disease to break out and become active. But not until HIV was politically proclaimed to be the cause of AIDS was it ever argued that there was a disease in which an immune response invariably led to symptoms, let alone an early death.

From Camille to Philadelphia

Of course, none of this information intrudes itself into Anna Gorman’s Los Angeles Times piece, “HIV’s Hidden Victims,” or Kelly Davis’s CityBeat article, “Playing It Unsafe.” Indeed, I’m almost certain that neither Gorman nor Davis know any of the above-mentioned facts. They have evidently accepted the central dogma of the AIDS establishment not only that HIV causes AIDS, but than an “HIV positive” test result is a sort of biological mark of Cain, inevitably dooming its recipient to a plethora of horrible diseases and a painful early death. This scenario has been somewhat modified in the last 10 years as the AIDS establishment has proclaimed the anti-HIV chemotherapy regimens to be “life-saving” — which, as Celia Farber has pointed out in earlier articles, is impossible. No matter how well a drug works, it can’t keep anyone alive forever; the best you can say about any regimen is that it is life-prolonging, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that for many “HIV positives,” including Joyce Ann Hafford, the drugs have actually shortened their lives.

It’s the idea that HIV invariably leads not only to symptomatic AIDS but to early death that has enabled this health condition to capture the popular imagination the way tuberculosis did in the 19th century and polio (which didn’t invariably kill its victims but frequently left them picturesquely crippled) did in the first half of the 20th century. In popular entertainment — as well as in “news” stories like Gorman’s — one can see the formulaic plots of 19th-century TB-driven tearjerkers like Camille, Manon and La Bohème reproduced in AIDS stories like Longtime Companion, Philadelphia, The Hours and Rent. But this mainstream acceptance has come at a costly price for the Queer community. Whereas the literature on TB generally didn’t blame any of its victims — even the ones, like the heroine of Camille, with a history of “loose” morals and prostitution before she got sick — the AIDS literature makes quite a few hard and fast moral distinctions. Heterosexuals are routinely portrayed as “innocent” or “hidden” victims; homosexual men (including the so-called “men who have sex with men” but don’t self-identify as Gay or Bisexual) are generally cast as the villains.

Ironically, when Peter Duesberg first came out with his arguments against HIV as the cause of AIDS in 1987 he was almost immediately denounced as homophobic, partly because he used the word “homosexual” in his speeches (he claimed it was because it was a scientific term with which he felt more comfortable) and partly because he was accused of “blaming the victim” by suggesting that people’s lifestyle choices — particularly drug use — led to their getting AIDS. Beginning in the 1990’s, however, it was the AIDS establishment, particularly its “prevention” arm — itself largely made up of self-identified Gay men — that has played at blaming the victim. The argument goes that we Gay men know what we must do to keep ourselves from becoming “infected” with HIV — use condoms every single time we have anal or oral sex — and therefore, if we don’t and we become “HIV positive,” it’s our own damned fault for not following orders.

This oddly moralistic turn in the “HIV prevention” campaign was largely dictated from the top — specifically from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which when it began giving grants for “HIV prevention” in the late 1980’s insisted that the goal of such programs be not to change individual behavior, which had usually been the focus of STD prevention, but to “change community norms.” In practice, that meant creating a climate of guilt, fear and shame within the Gay male community, so Gay men would be too afraid of social ostracism to have sex in any ways other than those of which the authorities approved. Safer-sex rhetoric thus took on an ominous similarity to the anti-Gay rhetoric of the radical Right, with just one minor difference: whereas the radical Right argued that Gay male sex was inherently too unhealthy to be permitted at all, “HIV prevention” programs argued that Gay male sex was inherently too unhealthy to be permitted in its natural state. Only by swathing each other in latex “barriers” to prevent viral transmission could this inherently “dirty” act be cleaned up enough to be physically and morally permissible.

Kelly Davis’s CityBeat article is drenched in this unconsciously homophobic moralism. Her stated purpose is to warn against something called “prevention fatigue.” The protagonists of her story are Gay men around 30 years of age who had been (as one of them told her) “ridiculously, insanely” committed to condom use for the first decade or so of their sexual maturity — only to find themselves progressively more and more open to so-called “bareback” (condom-free) sex. The clear intent of her article is to warn straight people that more and more Gay men are giving each other HIV through “barebacking” — often through casual pickups they’ve made via the Internet (a subsidiary villain in this mainstream AIDS script) — and shame her Gay male readers back onto the safer-sex reservation.

But what her piece really does is vividly dramatize the sheer terror under which Gay men live if they believe in the HIV/AIDS model and accept the mainstream’s advice to take the HIV antibody test every six months. They have to approach every sexual experience in their lives with the perception of — as author and AIDS activist Larry Kramer once put it — “Is this the one that will kill me?” They have to accept the stress of a new virological verdict every six months that will tell them whether they’ve been sufficiently “responsible” sexually — or, if they haven’t, whether or not they’ve dodged the HIV bullet. Even if they test “negative,” they have to worry whether they might be carrying and spreading the virus after all, since supposedly it can take up to six months between “infection” and development of the antibodies the text actually measures. No wonder, as Davis herself concedes in her piece, Gay men frequently feel relieved when their test finally comes up “positive.” They can abandon the testing ritual and set about reconciling themselves to their new “status.”

One surprise in Davis’s “Playing It Unsafe” is that she seems unaware of the work of Berkeley psychotherapist Walt Odets — who accepts HIV as the cause of AIDS but shares many of my misgivings about “HIV prevention” campaigns (indeed, a lot of my criticism above is based on his work). Odets, a Gay man himself with a largely Gay male patient base, first noticed over a decade ago the same phenomenon Davis made it seem as if she’d just discovered in 2006: that many Gay men were relieved when they finally tested “HIV-positive.” But rather than blame the men themselves for suffering from so-called “prevention fatigue,” Odets said at least part of the problem was that safer-sex campaigns had made HIV seem far easier to get than even the mainstream claims it is, and had put so many sexual practices on the “risky” or “unsafe” lists that many Gay men decided that sooner or later, something they liked to do sexually was going to give them the virus. For all too many of Odets’ patients — and, he reasoned, for Gay men in general — the question had become not whether, but when, they would get HIV.

The concept of “prevention fatigue” has an irony of its own in that it wasn’t supposed to be that way. At the same April 23, 1984 press conference at which Margaret Heckler and Robert Gallo politically proclaimed HIV to be the cause of AIDS, they also confidently predicted that a vaccine against it would be available in two years. In the ranks of wrong-headed predictions by public officials, that ranks right up there with “the Iraqis will greet us as liberators.” But it enabled the early safer-sex campaigners to present the restrictions as a temporary measure to get us through a health emergency until high-tech scientists came to our rescue with a vaccine. The message of today’s “HIV prevention” educators — that all men who have sex with men will have to use condoms with all their sex partners until the day they die — is obviously far more psychologically burdensome in addition to being (ironically, given how often this word has been used incorrectly to condemn all homosexual sex) unnatural.

Besides, the very idea of an anti-HIV vaccine is one of the many lapses into illogic from the HIV/AIDS mainstream. A vaccine works by generating antibodies that create immunity — yet, according to the way the mainstream defines AIDS, antibodies to HIV don’t mean you’re immune, but quite the contrary: that you will get AIDS and die from it. And the idea that condoms protect against HIV infection is yet another lapse into illogic. During the early 1980’s, just before AIDS burst into the public consciousness, the great sexually transmitted scourge heterosexuals in particular were being warned against was herpes. One of the most emphatic messages from the health establishment was that condoms, though effective at blocking transmission of the bacteria that cause syphilis and gonorrhea, wouldn’t stop herpes because herpes viruses were so small they’d go right through the pores in a latex condom. Yet condoms are said to be effective at preventing HIV transmission even though HIV is smaller than a herpes virus. If there really is an inverse correlation between condom use and likelihood of testing “HIV positive” — and I don’t know whether there is or this is yet another thing “HIV/AIDS” scientists just assume is true — it’s more likely because, by blocking the transmission of bacterial STD’s, condoms reduce the risk of contracting antibodies that will trigger a false “HIV positive” result.

Moralism and the Fear Factor

The heavily moralistic strategy of the AIDS establishment works not only on the micro level — attempting to shame homosexually active males into condom use by manipulating them emotionally and inducing guilt and fear if they don’t — but, as Farber points out in her Harper’s piece, on the macro level as well. After taking her readers on a breathless tour of Alternative AIDS 101, from the death of Joyce Ann Hafford from nevirapine toxicity to the attack on government watchdog Dr. Jonathan Fishbein for pointing out the flagrant inaccuracies and abuses in a nevirapine trial in Uganda in 1997-99, the refusal of HIV drug researchers to use placebo controls — which means that highly toxic anti-HIV drugs are compared only to other highly toxic anti-HIV drugs and there’s no indication that people on any of the drugs actually live longer or have fewer symptoms than people taking no drugs at all — and the scientific challenge raised by Peter Duesberg and others to the HIV/AIDS model itself, Farber exposes the way the mainstream has generally answered its critics: not by responding to their arguments logically but by mounting a ferocious moral attack on their motives and, sometimes, their very sanity:

“Attempts to rigorously test the ruling medical hypothesis of the age are met not with reasoned debate but with the rhetoric of moral blackmail: Peter Duesberg has the blood of African AIDS babies on his hands. Duesberg is evil, a scientific psychopath. He should be imprisoned. Those who wish to engage the AIDS research establishment in the sort of causality debate that is carried on in most other branches of scientific endeavor are tarred as AIDS ‘denialists,’ as if skepticism about the pathogenicity [disease-causing ability] of a retrovirus were the moral equivalent of denying that the Nazis slaughtered six million Jews. Moral zeal rather than scientific skepticism defines the field.”

If the debate over evolution versus creationism or “intelligent design” as an explanation for the origin of life is a classic battle between scientific reason and religious faith, the debate — to the extent there has been allowed to be one — over HIV as the cause of AIDS is a potentially far more sinister phenomenon I call faith-based science. HIV/AIDS mainstreamers believe the virus exists even though it was never properly isolated according to either the classical rules of virology or the specific rules for retroviruses formulated at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, where Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barre-Sinoussi first claimed its discovery in 1983. They believe it’s the sole cause of AIDS even though it’s never been shown to meet Koch’s postulates, the classic rules for determining whether a particular microbe causes a particular disease. They believe the various chemotherapies approved as HIV “treatments” actually help “HIV-positive” people live longer and healthier lives even though only one anti-HIV drug, AZT, was ever tested against a placebo control — and the two best studies on it (the Hamilton/VA and Concorde trials in the early 1990’s) showed that the earlier “HIV positive” people started the drug, the shorter their lives were and the sicker they got. And they believe the so-called “HIV test” is a nearly infallible predictor of AIDS and premature death despite the list of at least 64 other conditions that can trigger an “HIV positive” test.

And, as Farber notes, when they’re challenged on their facts or their logic they resort to moralistic appeals. The mock quotes in italics in the passage from her article quoted above didn’t come from her imagination. They came from Mark Wainberg, AIDS researcher at McGill University in Canada and co-chair of the 2000 international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, who in April 2000 openly called for the imprisonment of anyone who publicly challenged the HIV/AIDS model and said that jailing a few of the so-called “HIV denialists” would shut down their movement quickly. Those of us who have worked this issue for any length of time — scientists and lay activists alike — have got used to being called “murderers” and accused of genocide. Especially when we’ve challenged the hype surrounding AIDS in Africa (where the horrific numbers of millions of “HIV positive” people are based on a handful of tests of pregnant women — many of them likely to be false-positives because women in Africa and other areas with high rates of infant mortality get pregnant more often than Western women do to make sure enough babies not only get born but survive to maintain their populations, and pregnancy in women who’ve been pregnant before is a big risk factor for false-positives), we’re often accused not only of being genocidal murderers but racists as well, wanting to see Black as well as Gay people fuck each other to death and eliminate themselves as populations. We’re also lumped in with flat-earth believers, Holocaust deniers and the like.

I got this treatment myself recently. A man from whom I’d requested a feature interview for Zenger’s on a topic entirely unrelated to AIDS — and who’d been sympathetic until he realized who I was and that my publication had long taken an editorial position opposed to the HIV/AIDS model and its stranglehold on scientific and popular thought — sent me a long e-mail saying he couldn’t in conscience agree to be interviewed for a paper he held responsible for killing several “HIV positive” friends of his who’d read our articles, gone off their medications and died. He said he himself had been on HIV drugs as soon as they came out and credited them with maintaining his own state of health. He called me a few nasty adjectives, said I should be ashamed of myself, and wondered why I continued to pursue this issue and wreak all this harm upon my readers when everything else in the paper seemed to indicate that I was a decent, compassionate person. Of course, he also said that he wouldn’t take any more of my phone calls or read any reply I might write to his e-mail, so his expression of curiosity as to my motives was obviously just a rhetorical one.

Nonetheless, those who do plow through this long article and get to the end of it can interpret it as my response to him. I continue to challenge the HIV/AIDS model and proudly proclaim my rejection of it because I’m convinced it’s the mainstreamers, not the alternative AIDS theorists, who are the flat-earthers of our time. I write this way because the idea that a single virus could possibly cause all the different health conditions lumped together under the “AIDS” definition is profoundly illogical and cannot be correct, and the scientists who challenge that idea are more in tune with how the real world of microbes, toxins and bodies actually works than those who promote it. I respect those who say they’ve benefited from anti-HIV medications (though I suspect the reason they’ve been helped by them is that these drugs are so indiscriminately toxic that in some people’s bodies they’re killing things other than HIV that otherwise would be making them sick) and would only hope and pray they would have the open-mindedness to consider changing their path if and when it no longer works for them — and the good fortune to have doctors willing to work with them in making a logical decision whether or not to stop the drugs instead of themselves being true believers and putting psychological pressure on their patients to stay with “treatments” that have started to sicken and possibly even kill them.

Along with those who are already sick from “AIDS,” whatever it is and whatever causes it, I write for the people in my Queer community and elsewhere who have been terrorized by 22 years of viral propaganda to hate and fear the natural expression of their own sexuality. I write for the people like Joyce Ann Hafford who were condemned as “HIV positive” by a wildly unselective test and psychologically intimidated into taking medications that killed them — and in the hope that otherwise totally healthy people who test “positive” will read my words and know there is another path they can choose. I write for the next generation of Gay and Bisexual men who need to know that they don’t have to live their sex lives under a reign of virological terror and have a right to be aware of the shakiness of the information and logic under which they’ve been told they do. And I write in hope that the scientific community will regain its own integrity on this issue and return to reason, logic and honest observation instead of clinging to the faith-based dogmas of “HIV/AIDS.”