Document:Le Fanu reviews Adams
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The Sunday Telegraph
16 April 1989
There is a sad dearth of full-blooded acrimonious scientific controversies – so this book is particularly welcome. Its central theme is that HIV, or the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus is not, after all, the cause of Aids. It follows that the lavishly backed Aids industry, which spends tens of millions on research into vaccines, drugs, and prevention, is utterly misdirected.
This might sound like yet another crazy idea to add to the many already surrounding the disease. But the originator of the idea is Peter Duesberg, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of California; and in the world of viruses you don't get much more eminent than that.
Duesberg has spent a lifetime investigating the role of viruses in cancer. In 1986, like virtually every other Head of an academic department in the United States, he realised that enormous funds were rapidly becoming available for Aids research, so it was only natural to try and get a slice of the action. Before preparing a research proposal, he had to read all the relevant literature about the Aids virus; and he was astonished to find just how unconvincing was the evidence that it actually caused the disease.
HIV was certainly present in nearly all Aids victims, but in such low quantities that, he argues, they could not be killing off the body's immune system. Further, there seems to be a wide discrepancy between the large numbers of people who are tested and found to be HIV positive, and the much smaller number who actually get Aids. Duesberg thus concluded that the discoverers of HIV had not, as they thought, found the cause of Aids, but had stumbled on some innocent little virus, a passenger, which might indeed be transmitted by promiscuous sex or intravenous drug abuse, but was really only a marker for the real cause of the diseasse which remains unknown.
He published his observations in a very prestigious scientific journal, and appeared on American television claiming he would be quite happy to inject himself with a phial full of the virus. And nothing happened. None of the thousands of Aids experts throughout the world felt able to reply.
Robert Gallo, one of the co-discoverers of HIV, was finally cajoled into response by an investigative journalist. In Gallo's view, Duesberg "does not know what he talking about. Cock and horse shit. Baloney. He misinterprets the experiments we published." Thus did the scientific community reply to the charges laid against it. In Jad Adams's opinion, there has been a conspiracy by the Aids establishment to silence the dissenter in their ranks and thus salvage their own scientific reputations.
I don't agree with Duesberg because it seems inelegant to suggest that not just the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus but also another, the putative real cause, should both have arisen at the same time, and be transmitted in the same manner. I would rather think that HIV is the cause of Aids but along with other very many curious features of the illness it acts not by killing off the cells of the immune system but by disrupting them in some subtle and poorly understood way.
What I think, however, he has highlighted is that the HIV virus may not be sufficient by itself to cause Aids; that it has to be helped on its way by other co-factors such as recurrent exposure to other low grade infections.
If correct, this is obviously very good news for the many out there who are HIV positive and have not yet developed Aids. Perhaps they never will and it is not the death sentence that, pessimistically, it is seen to be.
© 1989 by James Le Fanu
Originally published in The Sunday Telegraph