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Harper’s magazine publishes controversial AIDS

Harper’s magazine publishes controversial AIDS

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

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.

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