HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

HIV/AIDS exemplifies scientific illiteracy

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2011/11/13

HIV was never shown to have caused AIDS.
Nevertheless, during three decades huge arrays of people and organizations have become engaged in a variety of activities based on the mistaken belief that HIV is an infectious immune-system-killing virus that caused and continues to cause AIDS.
That such a mistake could metastasize so massively seems incredible to the conventional wisdom, which regards it as impossible that “science” could go so wrong — after all, this is a scientific age in which all manner of technological marvels are accomplished all the time; and science itself can’t go wrong because it uses the scientific method and is self-correcting.

The conventional wisdom can hardly accept that it’s wrong about HIV/AIDS so long as it doesn’t realize that it’s wrong about science. It needs to be understood that
1. Science is not self-correcting.
2. Science is not done by “the scientific method”.
3. Scientists are not the appropriate experts to explain science to policymakers, the public, or the media. On the whole*, scientists know only the technical intricacies of what they do; they don’t understand the epistemology and sociology of science and they are ignorant of or mistaken about the history of science.

Science is not unique in this respect. Quite generally, those who do things don’t necessarily understand what they’re doing.
That’s to say, they don’t necessarily understand how what they’re doing fits into the larger picture. Why are they’re doing it? Why does it exist to be done? Why has the wider society made it possible to do it? Does it connect with other aspects of human society? How? Are the connections beneficial — and if so, to whom? Is it worth doing, in other words, and if so, in whose opinion?
Practitioners are obsessed with the parts of a tree, and their view doesn’t extend to the surrounding forest, as the hoary old metaphor would put it.
Politicians, for example, may be extraordinarily adept at getting elected and working within their particular system; but if you want to understand what’s going on in political matters, politicians are not the people you want to consult; you can get better guidance from historians, political scientists, journalists, novelists.
Within the social sciences and the humanities, this is universally understood, at least implicitly. Critics explain the wider significance and value and meaning of novels, plays, poems; the novelists, playwrights, poets do their own things, but they don’t see those things in perspective.

What’s understood in and about the humanities and social sciences is not understood with respect to science and medicine. The experts consulted and cited about matters of science and medicine are scientists and doctors; they are supposed to explain to the rest of us what science and medicine are about, what they mean to our culture and our society, how we should use what they produce. Scientists and doctors represent Science and Medicine in the same way as priests represent Religion: as unquestionable authorities.
But scientists don’t understand science in the same sense that politicians don’t understand politics and novelists don’t understand literature, and doctors don’t understand medicine in the same sense that politicians don’t understand politics and novelists don’t understand literature. There’s the need for science critics and for medicine critics just as there’s the need for art critics, literature critics, music critics.
Above all, public policy should be informed by science critics and by medicine critics, not by scientists or doctors.

So far, science criticism has barely emerged, and insofar as it exists it has not emerged from the academy into public discourse, where it belongs.
Only within the last few decades has the intellectual basis for science criticism begun to form as philosophers, historians, sociologists, political scientists and others cooperated in ventures like programs in “Science and Society”, “Science Studies”, “Technology Studies”. This nascent interdisciplinary field does not yet even have an agreed nomenclature or canonical literature. Nevertheless, there is massive consensus on a few points like those above:
1. Science is not self-correcting.
2. Science is not done by “the scientific method”.
3. Scientists are not the appropriate experts to explain science to policymakers, the public, or the media.
And also:
4. Any distinction between “pure” and “applied” science has essentially dissipated.
5. The inputs and outputs of scientific research now depend as much on factors external to science as on internal matters: funding, political attitudes and controls, social acceptability, bureaucratic aspects and the like influence heavily what research is done, how results are disseminated or suppressed, how society benefits or suffers as a result of scientific research.

Once these points are established, everything about the HIV/AIDS mess becomes explicable, because the view that HIV causes AIDS became accepted as a consequence of social and political factors, not scientific ones:
The initiating event was not any scientific publication, it was the press conference on 23 April 1984 at which Margaret Heckler, then Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced the discovery of the “probable” cause of AIDS by Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute.
The National Institutes of Health, which is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, is the chief provider of public research funds to biologists and clinical researchers. The press conference served to alert them to the best approach for getting research funding: study the AIDS-causing virus.
And so it went. The history of HIV and of AIDS has been written about by many people from a variety of viewpoints. No matter the differences among these accounts, close reading of just about any of them will illustrate how social and political rather than scientific factors were influential; where technical matters are mentioned, keep in mind that force was given to those technical issues by the mainstream hegemony, which is viewed as authoritative in interpreting data. For example, Rethinkers, and fence-sitters or -jumpers like Root-Bernstein, have interpreted the evidence relating to HIV, AIDS, and hemophiliacs quite differently than the mainstream, but the latter carried the day so far as journalists and policy makers are concerned. Again, Rodney Richards has shown how the detection of “HIV antibodies” came to be taken as proof of infection without benefit of evidence, purely as a result of decisions within and statements from the bureaucracy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The science relating to HIV and to AIDS has never supported the mainstream assertions. Vested interests determined the course of events: careerism, political exigencies, empire-building in government agencies, financial benefits for companies and individuals. Once an activity commands billions of dollars of annual expenditure, mere scientific findings can exert little if any practical influence.

HIV/AIDS was not built out of science, and it will not be destroyed purely by science. The necessary science has been available for a long time. What’s needed is for the conventional wisdom to recognize that mainstream science and medicine are not necessarily right; and for that to happen, the conventional wisdom must abandon its misconceptions about science and medicine.

The conventional wisdom will not be changed directly by the growth of academic ventures in science and technology studies (STS). Possibly those who are educated in those fields may eventually exert an influence if they gain relevant positions in government or the media or foundations or think tanks. For the nonce, though, there remains a sad lack of sorely need science criticism: informed critiquing of very specific matters — not abstract wide-ranging criticism of “science” as a whole. or of “technology” as a whole, but criticism as practiced in the arts and humanities: criticism grounded in a passion for the general activity and seeking to explicate particular instances of it and their significance.
For lengthier discussions of this need, see
Maurice Goldsmith, The Science Critic : A Critical Analysis of the Popular Presentation of Science, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.
Eugene Garfield, “Science needs critics”, THE SCIENTIST, 12 January 1987.
Don Ihde, Why not science critics?  in Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science, Northwestern University Press, 1999.
Declan Fahy, “Skeptical of science”, 28 September 2011, The Observatory — Columbia Journalism Review.


* “On the whole”: Of course there are individual exceptions, as always. Those exceptions have no more influence on and significance for public policy than, for instance, AIDS Rethinkers have with respect to mainstream HIV/AIDS dogma.

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13 Responses to “HIV/AIDS exemplifies scientific illiteracy”

  1. realpc said

    One problem is that people are impressed with technology. They see modern science and technology as almost the same thing. If technology has made such great advances, they think, then science must be advancing the same way. Technology shows steady progress, and therefore it is assumed that science makes the same kind of steady forward progress.

    And therefore, whatever is proclaimed by mainstream science and medicine is taken as fact. The confusion may be deeper than you realize, and it might be almost impossible for science critics to clarify things for the public.

    Recent progress in medicine has been mostly technological, not scientific. There are better machines for diagnosis and surgery. But real scientific understanding of health and disease has made almost no progress since the discovery of germ theory and antibiotics and vaccines.

    Those of us who criticize and question are generally shouted down by the brainwashed majority. I don’t think we should give up, and it does seem that some people are losing faith in the drug industry.

    But, as I said, people are amazed and impressed by technology (and for good reasons), and they do not differentiate between technology and science.

    I think they are different things — technology is about making things, and science is about understanding things. There is overlap, but they are different. You can make amazing electronic things without knowing what electricity really is.

    As science advances, it keeps finding out things are more complicated than expected. As knowledge increases, the illusion of understanding decreases.

    • Henry Bauer said

      I agree fully, except
      1. The confusion couldn’t be deeper or worse than I fear it is
      2. Science and technology in their purest forms are distinguishable in the way you mention, but the interactions between them are nowadays so pervasive that ideal instance of either one have become rare. Academe has recognized that in making changes from “science studies” to “science and technology studies”, and talking about “technoscience”. But the separate entities continue to have their specialized devotees, so there’s “philosophy of technology” as a specialty relatively recently split off from philosophy of science.

  2. mo79uk said

    Someone’s blogged about this post:

    • Henry Bauer said

      Thanks (?!) for letting us know.
      Since that blogger is anonymous, there’s no way to discover whether he or she has any of the background called for if one wishes to be a pundit about scientific matters. Self-description as “surgeon/scientist” is not reassuring in this respect, since — as I pointed out — it is historians, philosophers, sociologists etc. of science and medicine who are the proper authorities about the significance of, for example, a “well-established, scientifically well-supported hypothesis”. As the real experts know, the histories of science and medicine are replete with instances of such hypotheses being found wanting, sooner or later.
      To compare the credentials of “Orac” to mine, have a look at my vita, at the books and articles I’ve written, and particularly the uniformly positive reviews of my books about science and pseudoscience.

    • My reply on that blog, which showed up in my Google Alert for Henry Bauer was:

      “HIV/AIDS denialists … have never been able to do that”

      Have you ever noticed that such negative claims are a bit hard to prove?

      You seem to believe that Bauer was aiming to prove every point he mentioned instead of merely referring to things that he had argued in previous writings. If you want his version of proof, then you might have a look at his book on the subject. Of course, you might need to understand a little about statistics to understand some of his arguments.

      You didn’t seem to notice that the 300,000 excess deaths was a completely unsupported “estimate” that you accept without question. We humans do seem to suffer from what they call “confirmation bias”. Me too.

  3. I have to admit I’m baffled. You are saying that in order to understand science and tell the world how science interacts with it you cannot be a scientist, am I right?

    However, that is quite a leap (say, discussing the sociological and political changes that science and technology have made on the world as a whole) to go from there to discussing how, say disease pathologies present, how comorbid illnesses might interact with each other, or how chemicals might interact, or how a drug interacts with the body to cure an illness.

    To do what you’re suggesting (say that medicine cannot prove that viruses actually cause illnesses but lay people can assure the world they can’t) is akin to a critic saying that writers need not write because critics can do it for them. You’re not assuming the role of a critic, but rather usurping the role that is criticized. That is a big difference.

    • Henry Bauer said

      No, I didn’t say it was necessary not to be a scientist: I said “ON THE WHOLE”… AND FOOTNOTED that as always there are exceptional cases.
      The point is that there’s nothing in the training and experience of scientists that qualifies them as authorities on the meaning of science as a human activity, or on the history or philosophy or sociology of science, or the value of science to the wider society, and other similar questions.
      I ALSO DID NOT SAY “that medicine cannot prove that viruses actually cause illnesses but lay people can assure the world they can’t”. What I DID AND DO say is that doctors and medical researchers are totally involved with the technicalities of their work and don’t know that others like them have in the past and in the present BEEN WRONG because of unsuspected flaws in their methods or prior assumptions or statistical mis-manipulations. Researchers are typically too sure of the validity of what they do. The history of science is one of PROGRESS: rejecting or superseding earlier beliefs. Read Kuhn’s THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS.
      What people like you, and typical doctors and scientists, don’t understand is that META-science and META-medicine are separate and distinct fields from science and medicine. Historians, philosophers, sociologists, and the like are as much expert in their fields as scientists and doctors are in theirs. It’s quite embarrassing when scientists or doctors blather about the scientific method, for instance, or falsifiability, because they are just parroting what philosophers of science were venturing many decades ago and what they found wanting, invalid, quite a few decades ago.
      When my SCIENTIFIC LITERACY AND THE MYTH OF THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD was accorded a lead review in SCIENCE magazine, the reviewer included a statement to the effect that it should be read by those who didn’t yet know that the method is mythical; the reviewer, David Goodstein, is one of those scientists (a physicist) who is an exception BECAUSE HE HAS ACTUALLY LEARNED ABOUT THE HISTORY, PHILOSOPHY, ETC. OF SCIENCE. Another is John Ziman. I spent two decades as a reasonably successful researcher and teacher of chemistry before spending three decades learning about science studies and publishing in it, including several well-received books. The SCIENTIFIC LITERACY one continues in print because it’s still used as a graduate text in a number of programs, and my metaphor of “knowledge filter” has been adopted by quite a few other authors.

  4. mo79uk said

    “…If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.” – Wilde.

    There seems to be a lot of people like Kalichmann who seem to overly revel in their qualifications – something you don’t do, but could get away with – and that suggests some sort of confidence issue. People who think they/consensus can’t be wrong because they have some letters after their name are a little bit scary.

  5. Francis said

    And Orac said:

    “Yes, you read that right. Bauer thinks that the well-established, scientifically well-supported hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS exemplifies “scientific illiteracy.”

    Perhaps it’s a Freudian slip to admit that after 30 years and countless billions the HIV/AIDS fiasco is after all a “Hypothesis”.

    I wouldn’t worry Henry, Orac is simply another of those no-name goons trolling the internet defending various orthodoxies under the cloud of dubious motivation. I am constantly amazed that apologists for mainstream dogmas feel the necessity to be anonymous when they allegedly represent the prevailing viewpoint. Where a larger proportion of dissidents place their actual names against their commentry.

    So who is actually sincere?

  6. Mr Bauer,

    I am not technically a scientist but I have read much literature on this subject in researching a novel (which I abandoned). Fortunately, unlike many laymen, I do have access to a number of Peer reviewed journals and I would like to think that I have, with a few exceptions, always been to understand and critically appraise what I read- although I grant you that I may well think that and still be mistaken.

    From what I have been able to understand there is much evidence that HIV causes AIDS. There are a number of epidemiological studies documenting the requirement for HIV infection for AIDS development.They seem to show that for every population group studied in the US and now in Central and Southern Africa that in the years following the introduction of HIV and subsequent seroconversion of that population, the characterics of progressive immunodeficiency appear in a predictable sequence and result in AIDS.Other epidemiological studies show that AIDS and HIV infection are found clustered in the same population groups and in geographic locations. Where there is no HIV there is no AIDS and the time of occurrence of AIDS in each country is correlated with the time of introduction of HIV into that country; first HIV is introduced, then AIDS appears.

    I have listed some references. I am sure you are familiar with most of them (especially the first!) and I offer them as EVIDENCE not proof. I am not out to have an argument but I am genuinely interested as to why your conclusions are so radically different to my own- and perhaps more importantly- and to the conclusions of virologists, Medical practitioners, researchers etc. I haven’t had time to read everything that you’ve written and referenced on your site yet. But I have bookmarked it and will try to read as much as possible. I am here to test my own conclusions and try to falsify them not to attack you.

    Kind Regards,


    R.C. Gallo and L. Montagnier, Nature 326, 435 (1987).
    Gallo RC. Virus hunting. New York: Basic Books, 1991

    J.W. Curran et al., Science 239, 610 (1988).

    P. Piot et al., ibid., p. 573.

    J.J. Goedert and W. Blattner, in AIDS: Etiology, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention, V.T. DeVita, S. A. Rosenberg, S. Hellman, Eds. (Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1988).

    T.A. Peterman, R.L. Stoneburner, J.R. Allen, H.W. Jaffe, J. W. Curran, J. Am. Med. Assoc. 259, 55 (1988).

    B.E. Novick and A. Rubinstein, AIDS 1, 3 (1987). However, siblings could be infected by transfusions and thus develop AIDS.

    J.W. Ward et al., N. Engl. J. Med. 318, 473 (1988).

    S.Z. Salahuddin et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 85, 5530 (1985). More sensitive isolation methods based on the use of monocytes increase the frequency of HIV isolation from AIDS patients.

    C.-Y. Ou et al., Science 239, 295 (1988).

    2Montagnier L. Virus. New York: Norton, 2000.

    • Henry Bauer said

      On my blog you’ll find several references to the chapter by Weiss & Cowan, eminently mainstream authors, who state quite plainly that positive HIV tests do not denote infection. The test kits themselves repeat that caveat. THEREFORE ALL EPIDEMIOLOGY BASED ON THE USE OF THOSE TESTS IS INVALID.
      My book collates ESSENTIALLY ALL THE RESULTS OF HIV TESTS IN THE USA in the first two decades and demonstrates that what “positive” “HIV” tests track is not an infectious agent.
      Before you pay any attention to anything written by Robert Gallo, read SCIENCE FICTIONS by John Crewdson. Gallo escaped being found guilty of scientific misconduct only on legal technicalities and bureaucratic weaknesses.
      Soon after the claimed discovery of HIV, the Centers for Disease Control DEFINED AIDS AS REQUIRING THE PRESENCE OF HIV, or rather of a positive “HIV” test; so PURELY BY DEFINITION, “Where there is no HIV there is no AIDS”. However, there were thousands of people diagnosed symptomatically as having AIDS who turned out not to be HIV-positive; which fact was evaded by inventing an entirely new disease, “idiopathic CD4-T-cell lymphopenia”.

      So please continue with your reading. I would recommend the book by Root-Bernstein, for example, and the less technical ones by journalists: Neville Hodgkinson’s, and Joan Shenton’s

  7. CFSBoston said

    AIDS patients are simply more CFS patients. And it already well-documented that HIV is not the cause of CFS/ME. The medical establishment will have you believe that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is some sort of ‘mysterious illness.’ It’s no mystery to me; CFS/ME leads to HIV-Negative AIDS, idiopathic CD lympocytopena (a clinical diagnosis that I possess). It horrifies me on a regular basis that the medical establishment, politicians, and media have not gotten around to reporting the fact that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. While millions of ailing CFS/ME patients get belittled and neglected, very healthy HIV+ people are convinced to take a bunch of expensive, toxic medication. It’s such a sham. I am living proof that CFS/ME patients are the real AIDS patients. The medical establishment simply has it all backwards. See how easy?

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