Denying AIDS

Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy

Seth Kalichman


Reviewed by Mira de Vries

My favorite subject is: myself. So I was thrilled to discover that Kalichman has written a book all about me, an AIDS denialist. He has never met me but that doesn't matter because all of us denialists are the same anyhow.

I used to call myself an AIDS dissident because of my, as I learned from this book, "crusading religious and political overtones" and not as I thought previously, because this word means dissenting, having a different opinion from most people. Kalichman explains that what characterizes my opinions is not dissent but sameness. True, some denialists deny the existence of a disease called AIDS, some accept that AIDS exists but deny the existence of HIV, some accept that both AIDS and HIV exist but deny that HIV causes AIDS, some accept that HIV causes AIDS but deny that HIV is sexually transmittable, some deny only that the HIV test is reliable, and some don't deny any of these things but reject the drugs. All of us who hold such opinions are "'suspicious thinkers' prone to conspiracy theories and other wacky beliefs." We are no different from holocaust denialists like "Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Like them, I have "encapsulated delusions ... conspiracy-theory-prone personality style ... and ... tend to be overly independent in [my] thinking." Furthermore, I am "characterized by a fear of homosexuality, or even homophobia." It is understandable that Kalichman thinks this of me. I live in the Netherlands, where different-sex marriages are still legal, though who knows for how long. That's why my spouse (male) and I (female) grabbed our chance while we still could and married although we realized that by doing so we would arouse suspicion of being homophobes. What surprises me is that Kalichman seems to be saying the same thing about my dissi-- I mean denialist friends, some of whom are men married to men. Are they, too, homophobic? Perhaps they are closet heterosexuals who married only to deflect gossip?

In any case all of us denialists have "paranoiac personalities ... It is no wonder that a widespread sexually transmitted virus that is prevalent in gay communities would attract the interest of the paranoid personality." Some of us have "a form of mental illness" which is identifiable by the fact that we disagree with our doctors.

Kalichman even knows my political views. I am on "the extreme socially conservative right" and my favorite targets are "the most marginalized, including gay men, racial minorities, drug users, and the inner-city poor." I do wonder whether Kalichman has ever been to the Netherlands.

All this I read about myself in Chapter One. To my disappointment, Chapter Two is not about me but about denialist Dr. Peter Duesberg, an acclaimed scientist who is, however, a "contrarian" and likes to contradict all reputable scientists including himself. This "character flaw" is derived from his being German-born and his father having served as a doctor in the German army during WWII, explains Kalichman.

In Chapter Three the author restates denialist positions from the angle of different medical specialties, namely virology, immunology, pharmacology, and epidemiology. Chapter Four is about denialist journalism, "Bla-Blah-Bloggers" and the conspiracy theories our paranoid personalities conjure up. Thankfully there are also good scientists like Canada's AIDS campaigner Mark Wainberg who puts our wild fears of persecution to rest by stating "I think that people like Peter Duesberg belong in jail."

Chapter Five is again not about me but about presidents. "Ronald Reagan's silence about AIDS is shamefully legendary." What was the matter with Reagan, did he think a person's health is his own private business or something? President Bush who "intentionally appointed underqualified individuals to his AIDS Advisory Council" was no better. (Note that this overtly suspicious statement is quoting not the denialists but the mainstream Union of Concerned Scientists.) Clinton was just a little better, having vastly increased AIDS spending, but still not enough, of course. Furthermore Clinton did not repeal a federal ban on access to clean needles, not that any other president did. Worst of all, though, were Africa's presidents Mandela and Mbeki who felt their nation's money could be better spent on food, clean water, and housing than on USA-patented drugs.

In Chapter Six, the last one except for appendices, Kalichman states that his trust in mainstream medicine is based on "credibility, contemporaneousness, and common sense." As a paranoid denialist, I don't understand that. Credibility means choosing whom to believe. His choice is different from mine. So what? Contemporaneousness means according to him "if a scientific article was published before 2000, I would say it can be considered dated, perhaps even ignored." We might as well ignore all of the tens of thousands of articles that he claims support the existence of AIDS, because a decade after publication every one of them will be dated. As to sense, apparently mine is as common as his, because we both agree that "No one research finding ever proves anything" and "Do not purchase a medical treatment without digging deeper to learn more about it." Perhaps he himself is a closet denialist?

Too bad that Kalichman says he is not planning to write more about denialism, although he does maintain a blah-blah-blog of his own on this subject. The book does not answer all of my questions. How is it that I know people who tested positive for HIV in the late eighties and early nineties, who don't take antiviral drugs, and yet they are alive and well, though some are graying somewhat at the temples? In spite of low T-cell counts and soaring viral loads they are living active, productive lives. According to the Durban Declaration of 2000 they were destined to die within five to ten years of the test. Surely I'm not deluded that by being acquainted with me they have attained immortality, or even longevity? I know plenty of people who passed away young though most did not happen to be seropositive. Even Kalichman confesses that "Everybody dies eventually." How does he explain that these people haven't so far?

They can't be just visions or voices in my delusional mind. I shake their hands and sometimes even hug and kiss them. I was not born in Germany but in the Netherlands (admittedly not a big difference to some Americans). My father did not serve with the German army during WWII, he was on the other side. And what about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, being as delusional as I am, does he hug and kiss my relatives who were gassed and incinerated at Auschwitz and Sobibor? No? Then what about these long-term non-drug taking AIDS-test survivors? The reality of their existence, not the opinions of AIDS-denialists, exposes AIDS propaganda for the sham that it is.

Copyright © MeTZelf