Harper’s: HIV Doesn’t Cause AIDS, Drug Use Does

Richard Kim reports that,

The latest issue of Harper’s Magazine contains a stunning 15-page article by well-known AIDS denialist Celia Farber (formerly of Spin magazine) that extensively repeats UC Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg’s discredited theory that HIV does not cause AIDS.

Kim’s link goes to the cover and table of contents for the current print issue, which does not yet contain hyperlinks. (The online table of contents only goes up through the March issue but contains hyperlinks to its stories; presumably, then Harper’s will put the materials online eventually.) According to Kim, however, Farber recounts several dubious claims by Duesberg, including:

    “Many cases of AIDS are the consequence of heavy drug use, both recreational (poppers, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc.) and medical (AZT, etc.)”

    “HIV is a harmless passenger virus that infects a small percentage of the population and is spread primarily from mother to child, though at a relatively low rate.”

    “75 percent of AIDS cases in the West can be attributed to drug toxicity. If toxic AIDS therapies were discontinued…thousands of lives could be saved virtually overnight.”

    “AIDS in Africa is best understood as an umbrella term for a number of old diseases, formerly known by other names, that currently do not command high rates of international aid. The money spent on anti-retroviral drugs would be better spent on sanitation and improving access to safe drinking water.”

These claims obviously don’t pass the smell test even for those, like myself, who are not that grounded in the science of the issue. The last one, though, is a clever throw-in because it seemingly rebuts the obvious counterargument that Africa has an AIDS epidemic but virtually no use of the listed recreational drugs.

Kim adds that, “The best rebuttals to Duesberg’s hypothesis are here, here and here.”

It is quite bizarre for Harper’s to publish something like this. Highlighting that the debate exists is interesting and useful but, certainly, any such piece should either thoroughly reference the countervailing claims and rebut them or be featured alongside a comparable article presenting the conventional view.

Update: Dean Esmay dubs Kim’s post “hatemongering and irrational” and links to an article at LewRockwell.com by Rebecca V. Culshaw, a UT-Tyler math professor, explaining why she “Quit HIV” after doing years of research. The answer is complicated but this appears to be the key paragraph:

As it turns out, the reason there was no consensus mathematically as to how HIV killed T-cells was because there was no biological consensus. There still isn’t. HIV is possibly the most studied microbe in history — certainly it is the best-funded — yet there is still no agreed-upon mechanism of pathogenesis. Worse than that, there are no data to support the hypothesis that HIV kills T-cells at all. It doesn’t in the test tube. It mostly just sits there, as it does in people — if it can be found at all. In Robert Gallo’s seminal 1984 paper in which he claims “proof” that HIV causes AIDS, actual HIV could be found in only 26 out of 72 AIDS patients. To date, actual HIV remains an elusive target in those with AIDS or simply HIV-positive.

How this compares with other diseases is beyond my training. The fact that the overwhelming number of experts in the field disagree is enough for me to be skeptical, however.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Disappointing. I remember reading a lot of Farber’s articles in the 1990s and enjoying her work.

    Then again, people deny evolution, deny the Holocaust … why not deny that HIV causes AIDS? Being a moron is A-OK in America. Proves you’re not a liberal elitist.

  2. cirby says:

    On the other hand, there is some pretty strong evidence that the African AIDS epidemic is nowhere near as widespread as you often hear. There’s a bad tendency to look at some overly-skinny person and say, “Oh, yeah, AIDS,” when the real problem is lack of food or a combination of other diseases. They don’t have the resources to do actual HIV tests, so there’s a lot of “eyeball diagnosing” going on.

    That said, HIV is pretty damned common over there (compared to the rest of the world), and there’s not much of anything anyone can really do about it until there’s an actual cheap cure that’s easily administered outside of a complex medical sysem, instead of a drug therapy combination that merely holds the disease in check for the equivalent of a year’s local pay per week.

  3. Russell Hamilton says:

    Dean Esmay has be doing a sober analysis on this question for over a year.
    I believe that it is important to read the other side of the debate before just declaring that it is foolish.

  4. Anderson says:

    Like I said …

  5. m says:

    In Africa, the presence of HIV antibodies is not required to diagnose AIDS, only secondary symptoms (unexplained loss of weight, yada, yada, yada) thus a huge number of “AIDS” cases, which are politically fashionable. If we were serious about combatting AIDS, we would be instituting effective public health measures such as quarantine and contact tracing. Promiscuity and drug use are dangerous, and glamorizing them only adds to the victim count.

  6. Dean Esmay says:

    It’s interesting to see Professor Culshaw being dismissed as a “math professor.” Let’s be clear: her specialty is mathematical biology and her entire published career is on HIV analysis. Indeed, you can go to Medline and look up her papers on it.

    Almost everyone I’ve dealt with on this issue over the last year has been a PhD level biologist with multiple papers in the peer reviewed literature. The notion that they are simply crackpots is just foolish. Calling them “AIDS denialists,” intentionally invoking holocaust denialists, to imply that anyone’s denying that countless people have died horrible death is outright hatemongering.

    I’m not sure why Anderson is “disappointed” if he liked Celia Farber’s work in the 1990s, since this latest article isn’t particularly different from her earlier work–it just involves a great deal more evidence of despicable behavior by the AIDS bureacracy at the National Institutes of Health.

    I suggest at least picking up the Harper’s article and reading it.

    By the way, Kim doesn’t bother linking any of the rebuttals to those rebuttals. Unsurprising.

    Tell me though: why is it okay for everyday people to question whether the science is sound on, say, global warming, but not okay for them to question whether the science is sound on HIV? And why is it okay to call people “morons” without bothering first to look in depth at both their backgrounds and their arguments, at least well enough to understand them?

    I leave it to you to decide what to think. I do recommend the Harper’s piece.

  7. Dean Esmay says:

    Oh, and I might note, a very good source, with lots of data–including some primary source data that’s never been available to the public yet, can be found right here. It’s the single best and most up to date site on the issue.

    I don’t intend to carry on the debate here any further, just thought I’d leave the info for anyone who’s genuinely curious.

  8. James Joyner says:


    I didn’t mean the description “math professor” to be demeaning, just that she is a profesor in the math department. The articles linked on the department website are indeed all about HIV although, judging only from the titles, all in the HIV=AIDS conventional mode.