Harper’s magazine publishes controversial AIDS story

AIDS activists slam Harper's for publishing story on researcher who denies HIV-AIDS link.

BY

March 14 2006 1:00 AM ET

Harper’s magazine is drawing the wrath of AIDS
researchers and activists for publishing a story in its
March edition that gives credence to the theories by
AIDS denialists that HIV does not cause AIDS. Much of
the 15-page article, titled “Out of Control: AIDS and
the Corruption of Medical Science,” focuses on a
recent clinical trial of the anti-HIV drug Viramune
among pregnant women in Uganda to prevent
mother-to-child HIV transmissions and criticisms that
arose after a participant died. But about one
third of the piece focuses on researcher Peter
Duesberg of the University of California, Berkeley, who
continues to claim that HIV does not cause AIDS,
contrary to the overwhelming opinion of the scientific
community.

The article also
includes insinuations by Duesberg that 75% of U.S. AIDS
cases are caused by antiretroviral drug toxicities and that
AIDS overseas is actually a collection of older
overlooked diseases.

Harper’s editor Roger Hodge, who edited the
article and is succeeding Lewis Lapham as the
magazine’s editor in chief next month, claims
the piece was thoroughly fact-checked. "We knew, of
course, that everyone would be upset," he told The New
York Times
of the story. "This is a very
contentious subject. We have gotten some very, very
thoughtful responses. But other pieces have generated
a lot more mail."

But AIDS
activists dismiss Hodge’s claims that the piece is
factually accurate, saying it is full of theories that
have long been proven false and relegated to crackpot
status by the scientific community. The Treatment
Action Campaign, a South African organization pushing for
more widespread anti-HIV treatment programs, posted a
37-page rebuttal to the article on its Web site.
Criticisms of the Harper
’s piece have also shown up on the
Web sites of numerous other publications, including The
Nation
and Poz magazine.

John Moore, a
professor at Weill Medical College at Cornell University,
told the Times he was shocked that
Harper’s was willing to “teach the
controversy” of Duesberg’s AIDS
denialist theories that he says were “resolved long
ago.” Both Moore and Benjamin Ryan, editor at large
for The Advocate’s sister publication HIV
Plus
magazine, told the Times they’ve lost
respect for Harper’s for publishing a story
that contains glaringly inaccurate information. Moore
says Harper’s has taken an “irreparable
hit” by publishing the story.

The writer of the
Harper’s story, Celia Farber, who
frequently writes about AIDS denialists, told the
Times that neither she nor Harper’s
endorse Duesberg’s theories. “People
can’t distinguish, it seems, between describing
dissent and being dissent,” she wrote in an
e-mail to the Times.

But some AIDS
activists say her article was disingenuous and simply
served to further her own controversial opinions about HIV.
“Farber is a well-known AIDS denialist, and
publishing her work is akin to giving the folks at the
Discovery Institute a place to expound upon the
‘science’ of intelligent design, Charles
Davenport a venue to educate us about the racial
inferiority of the Negro, or Lyndon LaRouche a platform to
warn us about aliens, bioduplication, and
nudity,” Gregg Gonsalves of Gay Men’s
Health Crisis told Columbia Journalism Review Daily.

Tags: Health

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