Document:Shindelman reviews Farber

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Review of Serious Adverse Events
by Rachel Shindelman

Time Out Chicago
27 July 2006


If Serious Adverse Events were a work of fiction, it would be a blockbuster: It has drama, death, disease, conspiracies, heroes, villains and martyrs. As a factual account of the history of AIDS, however, it’s going to cause a shitstorm.

In a work that encompasses more than 20 years of her reporting about the AIDS crisis, Farber has collected and added to her body of work interviewing – and compiling the findings of – scientists and doctors who dissent from the mainstream findings that HIV causes AIDS. And in doing so, she’s been pissing off important people in the field, including AIDS activists, people living with HIV and AIDS and a number of prominent scientists. Critics counter that even considering that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS not only places the blame for the virus on those infected, but also encourages thousands of people to stop practicing safe sex and leaves them open to infection.

In a letter in response to an article Farber wrote for Harper’s, Robert Gallo, head of the Institute for Human Virology, called Farber an “AIDS denialist” and equated her writing with denying the Holocaust. But it’s reactions like these that make Farber’s work so enticing. What exactly is it that makes this information so dangerous that adults can’t be trusted with reading and interpreting it? Although they’re an eccentric group whose opinions are disputed by a number of other established scientists, her sources are far from a bunch of yahoos. They include Peter Duesberg, a member of the National Academy of Sciences who is credited with discovering the first cancer gene, and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis.

In the end, Events raises intriguing questions about just how accurate the medical information we get from government sources is, and leaves the reader asking more informed questions. And in an age when new information and recommendations for treatments seem to come out every week, can one writer’s questions really be so dangerous?

© 2006 by Rachel Shindelman
Originally published in Time Out Chicago