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Associated Press photo by Troy Maben

Viral denial

Science | Rejection of HIV-AIDS link spurs controversy

Issue: "Medical care circus," Feb. 25, 2012

Bryan Fischer, Director of Issue Analysis at the American Family Association, rekindled last month an old dispute by denying that AIDS is caused by human immunodeficiency virus. "Funding HIV research to stop AIDS is foolish and misguided," he wrote on an AFA blog. "We could find a way to kill HIV and it would do absolutely nothing, zilch, zip, to stop the advance of AIDS."

Virologists chose HIV as a culprit for the debilitating symptoms of AIDS years ago, Fischer claimed, in order to keep "billions of dollars in research grants flowing into their labs and wallets." He laid true blame for AIDS on recreational drug use and homosexual behavior.

Fischer was advocating the views of Peter Duesberg, a University of California, Berkeley professor heralded in the 1970s for cancer research. Duesberg later questioned the HIV-AIDS link and garnered strong opposition from almost all scientists, but retains a small following through the organization Rethinking AIDS.

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When Duesberg and several Rethinking AIDS colleagues published a paper in the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology last December, one of the journal's board members resigned in protest. The paper, calling for a "reevaluation of the HIV-AIDS hypothesis," was a reworked version of another paper Duesberg and company had written in 2009: Medical Hypotheses published it without conducting a peer review, and then withdrew it in response to scientific criticism and an external review that unanimously rejected the authors' conclusions.

A dozen years ago Duesberg served on a panel advising South Africa's HIV policy. Some researchers blame the South African government's subsequent "hostility" toward antiretroviral drugs-the standard HIV treatment-for over 300,000 AIDS deaths there.

Although AIDS first emerged within homosexual populations in the 1980s, doctors have studied its relationship to HIV extensively in the years since. Their research produced the drugs lengthening the lives of millions of HIV patients today.

A few days following Fischer's comments, Saddleback Church founders Rick and Kay Warren issued a statement condemning Duesberg's "rejection of thousands of scientific trials and papers" as quack science: "It is frustrating-and frightening-for those of us in AIDS ministry to see someone like Dr. Duesberg play to people's bias and prejudices."

The Warrens didn't name Fischer, but as an AFA spokesman, his view carries weight. AFA didn't respond to my requests for comment, but this disclaimer follows each of Fischer's blog entries on the organization's website: "Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio."

Research roundup

Stem cells: California doctors who implanted cells derived from embryos under the retinas of two legally blind women last July report the patients' eyesight has improved. However, a placebo effect might be involved. If the apparent improvement is confirmed by additional results, it would be the first known benefit from a treatment involving embryonic stem cells (The Lancet).

Psychology: "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," Ephesians admonishes. In a new study, volunteers who viewed upsetting images twice within 12 hours had a stronger emotional reaction to the second viewing if they slept, rather than stayed awake, beforehand. It suggests sleep preserves emotional memories (The Journal of Neuroscience).

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and lives in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.


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