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August 4, 2009

Debunking the “Beehive” of AIDS Denialism

"One of the “Most Talked About” stories recently on is a brief article on a new book titled Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience and Human Tragedy, originally from the June 2009 issue of POZ magazine. ...

"In the book you compare AIDS denialism to a beehive. Could you explain that?

"What I was trying to convey is that if you take a look at all the different denialist websites and the blogs and the magazine articles, a lot of it looks fairly chaotic from a distance. You’ve got people saying HIV doesn’t even exist and no one can prove it. Then you’ve got Peter Duesberg who’s saying HIV does exist but it’s harmless. Then you’ve got other people who say HIV isn’t harmless, but it’s not sexually transmitted. And from a distance it looks like it’s a very uncoordinated, sort of swarm. Like a beehive does from a distance. But as you get closer, you see that it’s very well organized. And actually there is a centralized group, and it is the Rethinking AIDS group. And there are three or four people who are very involved in that.

"To write this book I actually went undercover. I never misrepresented myself. I posed as a student of public health, which of course I am. But I had to be able to talk to these guys without barriers. I wanted to get to know what was really going on with them. And as I did that, I saw they’re very well connected with each other. In fact, there’s a vetting process that I went through to be listed as an AIDS dissident on the Rethinking AIDS website. Christine Maggiore herself vetted me, and I was posted. And once I was listed on there, the door was open to me. They would all talk to me. And it was actually very well organized. And, in that way, like a beehive.

"And the other part of the swarm thing is, I do expect to get stung by this. The hate mail has already started. The online assault has started—which I fully expect. For the book to be successful, they’ve got to come after me. If they don’t then I think the book was probably a waste of time.

"What do you hope readers take away from the book?

"I hope there’s a couple things that they take away. One thing I hope they take away is that they can’t believe everything they read online and in books. They really need to think critically about the information that they’re getting; they need to think hard about the doctor they are seeing and be really good consumers of health care. Not to be close-minded, but be critically thinking. If a new idea comes out or if they hear something different that their doctor didn’t tell them, they should listen and attend to it.

"One thing I really hope that folks with HIV will look at carefully is the credibility of who’s saying what they’re listening to. Not the credentials, but the credibility. You have professors saying HIV doesn’t cause AIDS and that you don’t have to worry about it. And those same professors say that the Loch Ness Monster exists. That should mean something.

"That’s something that I’d hope the readers of POZ walk away with. That they really have a role in combating this misinformation. They have a role to become informed and to not be silent when they see misinformation. If they see something on a blog that they know to be garbage, comment on it. People who are buying into it are very vocal and very visible. And everyone else is ignoring them. So it looks like everybody’s buying into this.

"All royalties from Denying AIDS will help the Family Treatment Fund provide antiretroviral medication for people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa."

Read more in POZ, August 3, 2009.