Monthly Archives: January 2014

One more delusional williamsonist: Peter Duesberg and his theory of AIDS conspiracy

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.orgAs already alerted by Ted Goertzel (2010): “Conspiracy theories that target specific research can have serious consequences for public health and environmental policies”.

The above quote is in the article from 2010 published in EMBO reports by Ted Goertzel, “Conspiracy theories in science”, where he talks about the consequences of such ideas in the population.

Currently, several conspiracy theories have been appearing in natural sciences, including the ideas that global warming is a fraud or that vaccines and transgenic food are harmful. But here I am going to talk more specifically about other conspiracy theory that is as much or more dangerous that the ones cited above: the idea that AIDS is not caused by HIV.

The main defender of this irrational theory is Peter Duesberg, a professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1987 (i.e., almost 27 years ago!) he defends such and absurd idea that is rejected by the main research groups working on AIDS worldwide.

This is the guy. Stay alert!

This is the guy. Stay alert!

Duesberg acts mainly demanding answers from researchers, but without really showing any evidence that supports his idea. In my opinion, he could be classified as one more sufferer from Williamon’s Syndrome, just like Williamson himself and Retallack.

In 1995, Duesberg entered in a quarrel with Nature’s editor John Maddox concering this subject. Duesberg’s behavior, however, was so stupid that Maddox got tired of going on accepting to listen to him. In case of a question by Duesberg was left without answer, he immediately considered it a prove that the HIV virus is not the cause of AIDS. On the other hand, any evidence that refuted his devious view was completely ignored.

Anyway, Duesberg and his followers’ ideas are so absurdly ridiculous that the scientific community in general tends to simply ignore him; The problem happens when someone with such a view decides to express it in media for the non-scientific community.

Some time ago (in 2000, more precisely), a Brazilian magazine for “science communication”, Superinteressante, decided to make an interview with Duesberg. On that time, such interview was pratically ignored, but some weeks ago a Brazilian news website (or whatever it is), called “Vale Agora Web” (completly unknown to everybody) reposted that interview.

In an irresponsible way, the website published the interview with flashy and illusory titles, including even lies, such as the statement that Duesberg holds a Nobel prize, which a quick research reveals to be false.

Quickly the new started to get shared in social networks by several young people surprised by the “revelation”, apparently believing that what was written there was a “bombastic” revelation. It is sad to see how easily people are convinced by what the unskilled media communicates. The lack of knowledge in this field makes people to accept ideas without trying to analyze the sources and how reliable they are.

More than only lame, such a situation may become alarming, as it can lead to unwise behaviors and decrease the range of prevention campaigns, such as those which incentivate the use of condoms and clean needles.

AIDS researchers claim that Duesberg relies on selective reading of publications, ignoring those which may refute his idea and demanding impossible evidences from the research groups.

Publication policies nowadays alert that scientists with controversial findings need to take care in the communication of their ideas. It is necessary, in such situations, to communicate data which allow other groups to replicate the experiments and try to get to the same conclusions.

Current scientific publications are almost always submitted to a process of peer-reviewing by other researchers, in an anonymous way, as a guarantee that there will be no personal or professional influences while evaluating the work. Conspirationist, however, tend to attack such process with the idea that anonymity means that the reviewers “have something to hide”.

And that’s the way pseudoscientists are able to publish: by cheating the peer-reviewing process. In 1989, Duesberg published a paper in the journal PNAS without peer-review, something that seems to be possible for member of the National Academy of Sciences. A previous version of the paper had been submitted to three reviewers, all of which found a series of problems in the statement and discussion of facts, including a reviewer suggested by Duesberg himself! Anyway, helped by PNAS’s editor, the paper was published.

Now if we remember the case of Donald Willaimson, a similar situation happened. With a little help of Lynn Margulis, he was able to publish his paper about hybridogenesis, even though all scientific community finds the idea ridiculous.

In my article about Williamson’s dellusions, I also mentioned superficially that Lynn Margulis in her last years was defending the idea that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. Look at that!

I wrote this article very quickly and not aiming to go deep inside the subject or to present evidences that HIV really caused AIDS. There are thousands of available scientific papers about it. My intention was simply to present this situation and alert about the dangers of believing in any statement published by media. We need to be careful and reasonable. The scientific community as a whole still considers, with enough evidence, that HIV his indeed responsible for causing AIDS. Duesberg and his friends are only pseudoscientific rioters trying to spread conspiratory ideas.

Be smart and don’t get trapped in this pseudoscientific bullshit.

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Booth, W. 1989. AIDS Paper Raises Red Flag at PNAS. Science, 243 DOI: 10.1126/science.2916121

Cohen, J. 1994. The Duesberg Phenomenon Science, 266, 1642-1644 DOI: 10.1126/science.7992043

Dieguez, F. 2000. Peter Duesberg. Superinteressante, outubro de 2000. Available at: <>. Access on December 9, 2013.

Goertzel, T. 2010. Conspiracy Theorys in Sciences EMBO reports, 11, 493-4999 DOI: 10.1038/embor.2010.84

“Redação”. 2013. Bomba! “O HIV é um vírus inofensivo e não transmite a AIDS”, afirma ganhador do Nobel. Vale Agora Web. Available at: <>. Access on December 9, 2013.


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