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This Month in HIV: A Podcast of Critical News in HIV

This Month in HIV: The Truth About HIV/AIDS Denialism

An Interview With Clinical Psychologist Seth Kalichman, Ph.D.

June 2009

This podcast is a part of the series This Month in HIV. To subscribe to this series, click here.

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Welcome, Dr. Kalichman.

Hi, thank you for having me.

Thank you for joining us. So how did you get involved with the denialists?

I've been an AIDS behavioral researcher my entire career, dating back to 1989. I've dedicated all of my time to AIDS prevention and care related research. I've pretty much been absorbed in AIDS since that time. I knew about Peter Duesberg and I knew about people in the '80s, and maybe even in the early '90s, who said that HIV did not cause AIDS. It was clear to me that they were irrelevant and had gone away. I had not attended to them at all until a couple of years ago.


There were a few things that had happened at around the same time for me back then. One was that I had been doing research in South Africa and the South African president at the time (Thabo Mbeki) was well-known around the world for having surrounded himself with people who were saying such things.12 And they clearly had influenced policy in South Africa.

I was watching as antiretroviral therapies were being held back by the South African government and I got to know some people who were very actively involved as activists against the government and trying to move antiretrovirals forward.13

As I said, that was all a couple of years ago. At that same time, as the editor of a leading behavioral journal in the field of AIDS called AIDS and Behavior, I stumbled upon a person who I know to have been trained as a psychologist. I know that she had done good research early in her career and that she was trained by some of the best people in the country. I knew her to be a good scientist. In corresponding with her, she told me that she is basically an AIDS denialist and that she had recently written a book review of Peter Duesberg's ancient book, and she directed me to read that.

It was posted at a Web site that I had never seen before called Rethinking AIDS. At Rethinking AIDS, I read her book review of Peter Duesberg's book and I was amazed. I was absolutely dumbfounded that someone who I knew to be an intelligent person, who had been trained as a behavioral scientist, would actually believe this.

I corresponded with her some more to find out where this was coming from. She was just a very suspicious person. She was very skeptical. She said that she would have coffee with her friends and they would spend time -- as a hobby essentially -- deconstructing different theories and they saw political motivation in this instance. She said, "Don't you think that there's something strange about the first President George Bush and his warming up to the gay community and buying into this whole thing?" It sounded like conspiracy thinking to me. And that's what got me interested.

I thought that this was a real psychological phenomenon that warranted looking at. Connecting what she said to what I saw at Rethinking AIDS -- which is a very large Web site that is linked to numerous other Web sites all around the world -- it became apparent to me that this is a real phenomenon, a real problem.

"It's mind-boggling actually, to refute what is well-known in medicine and science for the sake of essentially a hobby. I think some of these people really don't know how destructive they're being."

The third thing that happened at that same time was that the International AIDS Society was paying attention to these people. In particular, Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. John Moore were writing quite a bit about the destructiveness of the AIDS denialists and what they have been saying and who has been listening to them.14

Those three things came together for me and got me very interested. I saw that no one had done any research on AIDS denialism, and there were no books at the time on AIDS denialism. That's when I decided to do something.

It's mind-boggling actually, to refute what is well-known in medicine and science for the sake of essentially a hobby. I think some of these people really don't know how destructive they're being. It's sort of fun and games for some of them. Some of them are profiteering and some of them just want attention. They want attention that they would have never been able to get as a journalist or as an academic. There are all kinds of people involved in this.

What makes AIDS denialism different from other types of denialism (like Holocaust denial, 9/11 truth-seeking and all these other conspiracy theories), and what is particularly destructive about AIDS denialism, is exactly what you said. Where we turn to now for information is on the Internet. The AIDS denialists are so prevalent on the Internet that the odds are that, if you search for "AIDS treatment," "AIDS cure" or "HIV/AIDS," the hits that you're going to get will be the National Institutes of Health [NIH] and Johns Hopkins University, and right under them is going to be Rethinking AIDS, the Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society and AIDS VirusMyth, the Web sites for AIDS denialists groups literally around the world.

How one can distinguish the science from the non-science is not obvious. They're very slick. They have created scientific-looking publications. They write books and self-publish them. To the average person, it's indistinguishable. What they have done is very successfully created confusion. As a result, people are following the denialists' train of thinking and are:

  • Not getting tested for HIV because they think the test is unreliable and invalid.
  • Ignoring their test result if they have tested positive because they think the test is unreliable and invalid and there's really no such thing as HIV.
  • Avoiding antiretroviral therapy if they have tested positive and want to treat their HIV because they believe it's toxic poison and instead turn to herbal remedies [which have never been proven to work against HIV].

So people are making misinformed decisions even though what we've worked so hard to do is provide good, solid information, so that people can make good, informed decisions. What the denialists are doing is confusing information with misinformation and that's resulting in misinformed decisions.

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Copyright © 2009 Body Health Resources Corporation. All rights reserved. Podcast disclaimer.

This podcast is a part of the series This Month in HIV. To subscribe to this series, click here.


This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication This Month in HIV.
See Also
More on AIDS Denialism


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