HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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

Believing and disbelieving

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/07/03

(This is a long post. HERE is a pdf for those who prefer to read it that way).

“How could anyone believe that?” is a natural question whenever someone believes what is contrary to the conventional wisdom, say, that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or that Loch Ness monsters are real animals.

Since the role of unorthodox views in and out of science has been the focus of my academic interests for several decades, I had to think about that question in a variety of contexts. My conclusion long ago was that this is the wrong question, the very opposite of the right question, which is,

“How does anyone ever come to believe differently than others do?” (1)


It’s a widespread illusion that we believe things because they’re true. It’s an illusion that we all tend to harbor about ourselves. Of course I believe what’s true! My beliefs aren’t wrong! It’s the others who are wrong.

However, we don’t acquire beliefs because they’re true, we acquire them through being taught that they’re true. For the first half-a-dozen or a dozen years of our lives, before we have begun to learn how to think truly for ourselves, as babies and children we almost always believe what parents and teachers tell us. Surely that has helped the species to survive. But no matter what the reason might be, there’s ample empirical evidence for it. For instance, many people during their whole lifetime stick to the religion that they imbibed almost with mother’s milk; those who reject that religion do so at earliest in adolescence.

That habit of believing parents and teachers tends to become ingrained. Society’s “experts”  — scientists and doctors, surrogate parents and teachers — tend to be believed as a matter of habit.

So how do some people ever come to believe other than what they’ve been taught and what the experts say?


I was prompted to this train of thought by receiving yet again some comments intended for this blog and which were directed at minor details, from people whom I had asked, long ago, to cut through this underbrush and address the chief point at issue: “What is the proof that HIV causes AIDS?”

Whenever I’ve asked this of commentators like Fulano-etc.-de-Tal, or Chris Noble, or Snout, or others who want to argue incessantly about ancillary details, the exchange has come to an end. They’ve simply never addressed that central issue.

And it’s not only these camp followers. The same holds for the actual HIV/AIDS gurus, the Montagniers and Gallos and Faucis. Fauci threatens journalists who don’t toe the orthodox line. Gallo hangs up on Gary Null when asked for citations to the work that made him famous.

Why can’t these people cite the work on which their belief is supposedly based?

Finally it hit me: Because their belief wasn’t formed that way. They didn’t come to believe because of the evidence.
The Faucis and Gallos came to believe because they wanted to, because a virus-caused AIDS would be in their professional bailiwick, and they were more than happy to take an imperfect correlation as proof of causation.
The camp followers came to believe simply because they were happy to believe what the experts say and what “everyone else” believes. Who are they to question the authority of scientific experts and scientific institutions?


To question “what everyone knows”, there has to be some decisive incentive or some serendipitous conjunction. I’ll illustrate that by describing how I came to believe some things that “everyone else” believes and some things that “everyone else” does not believe.

The first unorthodox opinion I acquired was that Loch Ness monsters are probably real living animals of some unidentified species. How did I come to that conclusion?
Serendipity set the stage. Reading has been my lifelong pleasure. I used to browse in the local library among books that had just been returned and not yet reshelved, assuming that these would be the most interesting ones. Around 1961, I picked from that pile a book titled Loch Ness Monster, by Tim Dinsdale. I recall my mental sneer, for I knew like everyone else that this was a mythical creature and a tangible tourist attraction invented by those canny Scots. But I thumbed the pages, and saw a set of glossy photos: claimed stills from a film! If these were genuine . . . . So I borrowed the book. Having read it, I couldn’t make up my mind. The author seemed genuine, but also very naïve. Yet his film had been developed by Kodak and pronounced genuine. Could it be that Nessies are real?
I was unable to find a satisfactory discussion in the scientific literature. So I read whatever other books and articles I could find about it. I also became a member of the Loch Ness Investigation, a group that was exploring at Loch Ness during the summers, and I followed their work via their newsletters — I couldn’t participate personally since I then lived in Australia.
A dozen years later, on sabbatical leave in England, I took a vacation trip to Loch Ness. More serendipity: there I encountered Dinsdale. Later I arranged lecture tours for him in the USA (where I had migrated in 1965). Coming to know Dinsdale, coming to trust his integrity, seeing a 35mm copy of his film umpteen times during his talks, brought conviction.
It had taken me 12-15 years of looking at all the available evidence before I felt convinced.

The unorthodox view that underwrites this blog is that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. How did I come by that belief in something that “everyone else” does not believe?
More serendipity. Having concluded in the early 1970s that Nessies were probably real, I became curious why there hadn’t been proper scientific investigations despite the huge amount of publicity over several decades. That led eventually to my change of academic field from chemistry to science studies, with special interest in heterodoxies. So I was always on the lookout for scientific anomalies and heresies to study. In the mid-1990s, I came across the book by Ellison and Duesberg, Why We Will Never Win the War on AIDS (interesting info about this here ; other Ellison-Duesberg articles here).
Just as with Dinsdale’s book, I couldn’t make up my mind. The arguments seemed sound, but I didn’t feel competent to judge the technicalities. So, again, I looked for other HIV/AIDS-dissenting books, and wrote reviews of a number of them. Around 2005, that led me to read Harvey Bialy’s scientific autobiography of Duesberg. For months thereafter, I periodically reminded myself that I wanted to check a citation Bialy had given, for an assertion that obviously couldn’t be true, namely, that positive HIV-tests in the mid-1980s among teenage potential military recruits from all across the United States had come equally among the girls as among the boys. The consequences of checking that reference are described in The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory.
As with Nessie, it had taken me more than ten years of looking into the available evidence to become convinced of the correctness of something that “everyone else” does not believe.

So am I saying that I always sift evidence for a decade before making up my mind?
Of course not. I did that only on matters that were outside my professional expertise.

Studying chemistry, I didn’t question what the instructors and the textbooks had to say. I surely asked for explanations on some points, and might well have raised quibbles on details, but I didn’t question the periodic table or the theory of chemical bonding or the laws of thermodynamics or any other basic tenet.

That, I suggest, is quite typical. Those of us who go into research in a science don’t begin by questioning our field’s basic tenets. Furthermore, most of us never have occasion to question those tenets later on. Most scientific research is, in Kuhn’s words (2), puzzle-solving. In every field there are all sorts of little problems to be solved; not little in the sense of easy, but in the sense of not impinging on any basic theoretical issues. One can spend many lifetimes in chemical research without ever questioning the Second Law of thermodynamics, say, or quantum-mechanical calculations of electron energies, and so on and so forth.

So: Immunologists and virologists and pharmacologists and others who came to do research on HIV/AIDS from the mid-1980s onwards have been engaged in trying to solve all sorts of puzzles. They’ve had no reason to question the accepted view that HIV causes AIDS, because their work doesn’t raise that question in any obvious way; they’re working on very specialized, very detailed matters — designing new antiretroviral drugs, say; or trying to make sense of the infinite variety of “HIV” strains and permutations and recombinations; or looking for new strategies that might lead to a useful vaccine; and so on and so forth. Many tens of thousands of published articles illustrate that there are no end of mysterious puzzles about “HIV/AIDS” waiting to be solved.

The various people who became activist camp followers, like the non-scientist vigilantes among the AIDStruth gang, didn’t begin by trying to convince themselves, by looking into the primary evidence, that the mainstream view is correct: they simply believed it, jumped on the very visible bandwagon, took for granted that the conventional view promulgated by official scientific institutions is true.

It is perfectly natural, in other words, for scientists and non-scientists to believe without question that HIV causes AIDS even though they have never seen or looked for the proof.

What is not natural is to question that, and the relatively small number of individuals who became HIV/AIDS dissidents, AIDS Rethinkers, HIV Skeptics, did so because of idiosyncratic and specific reasons. Women like Christine Maggiore, Noreen Martin, Maria Papagiannidou, Karri Stokely, and others had the strongest personal reasons to wonder about what they were being told: since they had not put themselves at risk in the way “HIV” is supposedly acquired, and since they were finding the “side” effects of antiretroviral drugs intolerable, the incentive was strong to think for themselves and look at the evidence for themselves.
Many gay men have had similar reason to question the mainstream view, and some unknown but undoubtedly large number of gay men are living in a perpetual mental and emotional turmoil: on one hand much empirical evidence of what the antiretroviral drugs have done to their friends, on the other hand their own doctors expressing with apparent confidence the mainstream view. So only a visible minority of gay men have yet recognized the failings of HIV/AIDS theory.
One of the first to do so, John Lauritsen, was brought to question the mainstream view for the idiosyncratic personal reason that, as a survey research analyst, he could see that the CDC’s classification scheme was invalid.
Among scientists, Peter Duesberg recognized some of the errors of HIV/AIDS theory because he understood so much about retroviruses and because he had not himself been caught up in the feverish chase for an infectious cause of AIDS. Robert Root-Bernstein, too, with expertise in immunology , could recognize clearly from outside the HIV/AIDS-research establishment the fallacy of taking immunedeficiency as some new phenomenon. Other biologists, too, who were not involved in HIV/AIDS work, could see things wrong with HIV/AIDS theory: Charles A. Thomas, Jr., Harvey Bialy, Walter Gilbert, Kary Mullis, Harry Rubin, Gordon Stewart, Richard Strohman, and many others who have put their names to the letter asking for a reconsideration.


To summarize:

Mainstream researchers rarely if ever question the basis for the contemporary beliefs in their field. It’s not unique to HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS researchers and camp followers never cite the publications that are supposed to prove that HIV causes AIDS for the reason that they never looked for such proof, they simply took it for granted on the say-so of the press-conference announcement and subsequent “mainstream consensus”.

The people who did look for such proof, and realized that it doesn’t exist, were:
—  journalists covering “HIV/AIDS” stories (among those who wrote books about it are Jad Adams, Elinor Burkett, John Crewdson, Celia Farber, Neville Hodgkinson, Evan Lambrou, Michael Leitner, Joan Shenton);
—  directly affected, said-to-be-HIV-positive people, largely gay men and also women like those mentioned above;
—  individuals for a variety of individual reasons, as illustrated above for John Lauritsen and myself;
—  scientists in closely related fields who were not working directly on HIV/AIDS.

That last point is pertinent to the refrain from defenders of HIV/AIDS orthodoxy that highly qualified scientists like Duesberg or Mullis are not equipped to comment because they have never themselves done any research on HIV or AIDS. But that’s precisely why they were able to see that this HIV/AIDS Emperor has no clothes — scientists working directly on the many puzzles generated by this wrong theory have no incentive, no inclination, no reason to question the hypothesis; indeed, the psychological mechanism of cognitive dissonance makes it highly unlikely that scientists with careers vested in HIV/AIDS orthodoxy will be able to recognize the evidence against their belief.
More generally, this is the reason why the history of science contains so many cases of breakthroughs being made by outsiders to a particular specialty: coming to it afresh, they are not blinded by the insider dogmas.

So there is nothing unique about the fact that the failings of HIV/AIDS theory have been discerned by outsiders and not by insiders, and that the insiders are not even familiar with the supposed proofs underlying their belief. Nor is it unique that the dogma has many camp followers who never bothered to look for the supposed proofs of the mainstream belief. What is unique to HIV/AIDS theory is the enormous damage it has caused, by making ill or actually killing hundreds of thousands (at least). The annals of modern medicine have no precedent for this, which is another reason why thoughtless supporters of HIV/AIDS orthodoxy may feel comfortable with it despite never having sought evidence for it.

So here’s the question to put to everyone who insists that HIV causes AIDS:


(1) Henry H. Bauer, Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press, 1984; chapter 11, “Motives for believing”.
(2) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1970 (2nd ed., enlarged; 1st ed. 1962)

10 Responses to “Believing and disbelieving”

  1. Martin said

    Hi Dr. Bauer, These are the kind of thought experiments I like — and you do them so well. Kary Mullis was doing research on HIV when he (being a naturally curious person and the inventor and Nobel laureate for PCR) asked a colleague for a reference (while as a consultant setting up analytic routines for HIV). He was like many experts (Rebecca Culshaw included) who were working in the field who wanted to know more and started asking the wrong questions.

    I am a naturally curious person as well — as a kid I always liked to read encyclopedias. My father was a pharmacist and very practical. I worked for him at his drugstore as a kid and he questioned many of the doctors when he had to interpret their usually illegible handwriting on the prescriptions they had written. I also remember him telling me that taking vitamin pills was for all intents and purposes an unnecessary activity; that opinion was seconded by a sports-medicine doctor (Gabe Merkin) who said that athletes had the most expensive urine in the world. Also in my senior year in high school, I did my senior English term paper (part of the requirement for passing the course) on the subject of history of quackery in medicine. Being erotically attracted to the same sex, when the AIDS epidemc “struck”, I was very concerned, like most. I was living in NYC at the time and while I wasn’t that sexually active compared to some of my contemporaries, I had enough to be worried. But it was always in the back of my mind even though I was also a very healthy person — actively involved in cycling with the local bicycle clubs, I rarely got sick. The people who got sick were much more sexually active than I (who had never been to the baths and still haven’t). In college, I had an introductory course in psychological statistics where the teacher, Dr. Casey Hughes, who had her PhD in psychometrics, taught the class that correlation does not imply causation, and also taught intoductory psychology where the idea that homosexuality, broadly accepted by mainstream psychiatrists as a disease on the order of malaria, was questioned by people like her. Like most growing up in the fifties, homosexuality was a subject where you didn’t even mention its name since it was both a crime and a disease — as Dr. Thomas Szasz said: the perfect psychiatric scapegoat. My skepticism on things medical had been firmly established — if medicine was wrong about that (homosexuality), it was also wrong about a lot of other things as well. As I have said before, when the APA (American Psychiatric Association) dropped homosexuality (1973) as a disease from the DSM, it wasn’t because they had discovered something scientific about homosexuality that made it not a disease any more than they had any scientific reason to classify it as a disease in the first place. It was de-listed because it was causing psychiatry to lose credibility — after all, the Stonewall riot had recently taken place (1969). I believe AIDS is in a way just as badly classified — probably for expedience as a contagious disease. HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS, in fact it’s irrelevant — calling it (a retrovirus allegedly found by Luc Montaignier) HIV (a circular name if there ever was one) only served to obscure. Note, syphilis is not caused by “HSB” (Human Syphillis Bacteria) it was caused by spirochetes called Triponema Pallida. It was unnecessary to circularly name that bacterium because there is evidence that met Koch’s postulates that it was the cause of syphilis. No one not directly involved with the “original” AIDS research like Fauci, Gallo, Montagnier, questioned the declaration that HIV caused AIDS anymore than doctors now would question that Triponema Pallida caused syphilis.

    Those are my thoughts.

    • Henry Bauer said

      An infrequently mentioned cuplrit in the original AIDS mis-classification is Michael Gottlieb, who reported incorrectly that the first AIDS cases he saw were “previously healthy” men, and who had just started doing research on T-cells. Michelle Cochrane’s 2004 book, When AIDS began: San Francisco and the making
      of an epidemic
      , is very informative about those early days that set things off in a wrong direction.

  2. There is one hypothesis about why orthodox believers “came to believe”. It’s often pooh-poohed by a lot of people, but I think it deserves real consideration. This is the hypnotic effect of the enormous “educational” (propaganda) campaigns undertaken by governments and various organizations. This hypnotic effect was first mentioned in Schmidt’s 1984 “Group-Fantasy” paper, although this was before the coordinated propaganda campaigns.

    “Psychological warfare”, “psychological operations”, “perception management”, whatever you care to call it, is a well known technique employed by the US government against foreign adversaries. But it can also be used domestically, and not necessarily intentionally or with intended harm. There is no doubt in my mind that the “educational” campaigns of the mid-1980s to early 1990s were a form of psychological operations or perception management, which had a group hypnotic effect.

    It is difficult for many people who are not of my generation (now, roughly 30-40 years of age) to understand the immense scope and impact of this coordinated campaign in the public school system and popular culture. AIDS propaganda was virtually ubiquitous during these years. But it was its quality that was special. Michael Ellner described the “Living with HIV” campaign (for AZT) as:

    “[containing] classic elements of hypnosis … perceived authority, fixation, suggestion, repetition, confusion, relaxation, imagination, and post-hypnotic suggestion.”

    I remember vividly watching AIDS videos in high school and college, in particular, in sexual behavior class in college. I remember feeling, quite literally, as if I were in an altered state of mind while watching them. I can remember ALL the qualities Michael mentions, most especially perceived authority, fixation, repetition, and imagination. I have no doubt that years of exposure to these campaigns produced a quite real sustained hypnotic state in my generation in the United States.

    I also remember thinking, “a disease that has no specific symptoms, only causes 30 other different diseases indirectly … very strange”, but assumed there must have been some non-circular reasoning behind it. When I first learned that the connection between HIV and AIDS was based just on epidemiological correlations, I felt vindicated in my original suspicions.

    One thing Schmidt also mentioned in his paper rang true to me: “As with other epidemics which have a psychological component, there is a certain blindness to many aspects of the epidemic in one’s midst, due to the group trance.” I remember shortly after learning there were people who questioned HIV, that I was suddenly much more “aware” of the events of the past 15 years: the AIDS quilt, gay men in mourning, marches, ACT UP, the moral fights, the red ribbons, the sheer collective energy that had been spent already. It had all been under my nose, but seemingly justified psychologically since they were just epiphenomena of a physical disease. (In other words, the centrality of these events was psychologically submerged.)

    Again, I know this particular explanation of why people believe seems a bit of a stretch for many dissidents, but it’s all too real for those of a certain age and place.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Thanks for the cogent details.
      I hope you won’t regard it as uncalled-for quibbling if I remark that the main point is still that most people unthinkingly accept what they’re told by authoritative individuals and institutions.
      I do agree that the intensity of the public alarm over AIDS was exceptional, though. I know people of your generation who had no “risk factors” at all but got themselves “tested” before marrying, for example.

      • In a way, what I’m talking about is not essentially different from what you’re talking about. One of the elements described above was “perceived authority”, after all. Psy-ops relies heavily on perceived authority, among other things.

        We may be talking about different classes of people. Scientists and doctors, e.g. seem especially convinced by pronouncements, declarations and creeds issued from scientific and medical organizations, while the general public was convinced through a combination of tactics.

  3. Dear Dr. Bauer:
    Please, a little but important nuance:
    It is true that in his article published by MMWR June 5, 1981 / 30(21);1-3, Dr. Gottlieb stated that three of the five “young men, all active homosexuals” were “previously healthy” and one more “was well until January 1981”. But he also wrote that “All 5 patients had laboratory-confirmed previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and candidal mucosal infection”, that “All 5 reported using inhalant drugs, and 1 reported parenteral drug abuse”, and that “The patients did not know each other and had no known common contacts or knowledge of sexual partners who had had similar illnesses”.
    It was in the Editorial Note where it is written: “The occurrence of pneumocystosis in these 5 previously healthy individuals”, and twice later again “healthy homosexual males”. And it is stated with no basis that “The fact that these patients were all homosexuals suggests an association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact and Pneumocystis pneumonia in this population”. Why the Editorial Note insisted that “all 5 were previously healthy” and began to direct towards a “sexual disease”?
    So meanwhile Dr. Gottlieb spoke contradictorily on “previously healthy” homosexuals, the Editorial Note wrote much more consistently on “sexual disease transmitted between previously healthy homosexuals”. This orientation was kept since this the very first own Note by CDC, who is leading all the AIDS affaire until now.
    And this puts again the main question: What is AIDS?
    If we are agree that AIDS is NOT a disease, then what is actually AIDS?
    The 21 December 2008 you wrote an important Post on “The debilitating distraction ‘HIV’”.
    I consider that “AIDS is a disease” with “another cause that ‘HIV’” and with “alternative treatments other that ARV” are also “debilitating distractions”.
    If AIDS is NOT a disease, then AIDS only may be a construction, an invention. AIDS is not a morbid thing to treat but it is a machine to dismantle.
    And so the next key question is: Why was AIDS invented in USA in 1981 by the CDC?

    To clarify this approach will help to understand why most people is wishing to believe ‘HIV/AIDS’ and which minority is really interested in to reach conclusions as more close to truth as possible.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Many thanks for these additional details.
      Gottlieb’s own recollections (“Patient Zero, and AIDS, enter the history books”, Los Angeles Times,5 June 2006, B11) indicate that he jumped to a conclusion all too quickly:
      “My immediate suspicion was that he was immune deficient. . . . Using … then … new technology … we discovered that critical cells, … “T cells”, were missing”
      Note that since this was new technology, there was an inadequate background knowledge about normal levels of T-cells and their typical variations and whether measurements on blood say anything about the general state of the immune system.
      “…two more men were referred . . . with virtually identical symptoms. Like Michael, each said he had always been healthy and had no past history of difficulty fighting infections, suggesting that the immune deficiency was acquired”

  4. Philip said

    Dear Dr. Bauer,

    Congratulations on such a well thought out post. I am an MD who has since “crossed over” to what “they” call “alternative” medicine (Chinese medicine to be precise). My views on so many orthodox hypotheses about disease have since turned upside down by my own empirical observation coupled with an open mind.

    I would like to point out that this scamming of the general public also spills over to cardiovascular medications. I was taught in med school that once a patient is on cholesterol-lowering and/or anti-hypertensive drugs, the patient should be kept on them for life. From experience, drugs may be needed to initially lower the numbers, but later on lifestyle modifications alone can keep them low! Yet we are told to hammer the point home to patients that they have to take these meds for LIFE. Hmmm, sounds familiar…

    • Henry Bauer said

      Thank you. You confirm one of the conclusions I’ve been led to, namely, that practicing physicians are very badly served by medical researchers and authoritative institutions. That carries over, of course, to the general public.
      In my case, I accepted for half a century the view that chiropractic is quackery, until the advice of my evidence-minded and open-minded general practitioner sent me to a chiropractor he knew and trusted, who healed me within weeks and who prescribed exercises that have avoided a recurrence of agony for more than 8 years by now. More recently, a friend who happens to be president of a newly established school of osteopathic medicine caused me to try their approach to sinus problems, and once again manipulations have done better for me than medications; including self-manipulations that have now staved off migraine-type symptoms on half-a-dozen occasions, causing me to begin to believe that it is not coincidence even though it seems so miraculous.

      • Philip said

        Since we are on the topic of “alternative” (and I am forced to ask — alternative in whose view?) medicine, I must share the fact that, and actually reiterate, that these modalities don’t always work. This, in fact, SHOULD be proof that when they do work, they are the product of an actual healing process and not just placebo. Why? If placebo were indeed that powerful, then they should work almost all the time. The fact that it doesn’t work sometimes (just like so-called Western medicine), means that it’s more than just “in the head”. I think as a practitioner I can safely say that each modality has its strengths and weaknesses and it is imperative to be able to choose what is best for an individual patient.

        I would also like to point out that in general, physicians should not be blamed for not being aware of the benefits of alternative modalities or medical theories. As you pointed out, they were taught biomedicine, had biomedicine stuffed down their throat, and conditioned to think that biomedicine is the only norm and everything else is a deviation that, at best, must be “tolerated”. Again, we as a society can benefit from open mindeness and acceptance of the fact that what is “normal” to us may not be normal to others, and vice versa.

        Addendum: I also mentioned the cardiac drugs anecdote to draw a parallel between that paradigm and HIV-AIDS theory. I wanted to show that in general, it seems to me that it would be a very good business strategem to promote medicine usage that is built upon a “must take them for life or get sick” mentality. Sadly it is not only “orthodox” medicine that suffers from this. Some “natural” medical practitioners also seem to me to care more about selling products rather than lifestyle education. But I digress.

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