March 2006



Dear Sam Stark, Lewis H. Lapham and Roger D. Hodge
CC: Publishers and all staff of Harper's

CC: Robert Gallo, Gregg Gonsalves Richard Jefferys, Daniel R. Kuritzkes, Bruce Mirken, John P. Moore, Jeffrey T. Safrit [co-authored response]

As promised, linked below is a document listing and describing in detail the errors in Celia Farber's March 2006 article in Harper's. My co-authors are copied on this email. Because of the rush to get this to you, we reserve the option to make modifications to it during the next week. We do however consider it a public document.

We have categorised the errors as follows:  25 are outright false. 16 are misleading. 10 are biased. 5 are unfair. (i.e. 56 errors)  These are underestimates, because in some cases we classified several errors as one. I have also not counted errors listed in table 2 Furthermore it would be unsurprising that if you properly fact-check the areas which we have not covered in detail (i.e. Farber's allegations against the NIH, Jonathan Fishbein, the Hafford case) more errors would come to light. Every one of the errors we list should have been caught by a fact-checking team with appropriate scientific expertise. Many did not even require scientific expertise and just amount to sloppy journalism.

The printing of Farber's error-filled piece by a prestigious magazine that has a fact-checking mechanism in place is scandalous. In contrast to the Stephen Glass case at New Republic, Farber's distortions should have been spotted easily by a competent editor because all sources demonstrating her errors are public domain. Admittedly, spotting many of her errors requires some scientific expertise in your fact-checking team. If Harper's does not have this scientific expertise then it is irresponsible to publish articles purporting to debunk the scientific consensus.

I note a number of disingenuous quotes attributed to Roger D. Hodge in Gay City News. In particular Hodge is quoted as stating “It was very, very thoroughly fact-checked over the course of three months,” and “A lot of what people are describing as errors are differences of opinion about the data.”

I sincerely hope these are misquotes. If they are not, it demonstrates that Mr. Hodge is unqualified to edit articles relevant to science and cannot differentiate between fact and opinion. To characterise research published in credible peer-reviewed scientific journals and the opinions of people with no track record of published AIDS research as differences of opinion is to have
a very flawed understanding of truth.  Farber's article was not simply provocative or controversial, it is factually incorrect and unfair.

Hodge is further quoted as claiming that the story was not about whether HIV is the cause of AIDS.
This is ridiculous.  The story contains numerous assertions related to HIV as the cause of AIDS. Hodge is quoted that the story is rather about the mismanagement of drug studies and the censoring of debate. While this is certainly part of the focus of Farber's story and an important topic to cover, Farber has covered this part of the story incompetently and unfairly.

To save its good reputation, Harper's should do the following:

* Withdraw editorial support for Farber's article and publish this withdrawal on the Harper's Magazine website.

* Publish a retraction in the April or May issue of Harper's Magazine and on the website immediately.

* Publish the list of errors and corrections in a prominent position on the website as soon as you have been able to fact-check it (the fact-checkers obviously should not include the individuals who "fact-checked" Ms. Farber's article, or any other individuals suggested to you by her, or them).

* Publish a general rebuttal of the Farber piece in the April or May issue of Harper's Magazine. One or more of the authors of the errors' document will prepare such a rebuttal once we hear from you that you will print it.

* Undertake to review Harper's fact-checking process, with special regard to articles on science (the common procedure of a writer suggesting fact-checkers for the article is seriously flawed).

      We expect a satisfactory response from Harper's by Monday evening.
     Regards, Nathan Geffen   

      download attachment: "Errors in Farber article in Harpers"  (pdf) (273 KB)


The following website presents the scientific evidence that HIV is the cause of AIDS and that benefits of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) outweigh the risks. The website was created by people engaged in the worldwide struggle against HIV/AIDS.

> from Tony Glover:

I must ask what is the motivation of Celia Farber in writing the article, "Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science," especially without revealing her own biases on the subject as a well-known HIV/AIDS denialist.

I happen to believe that those who believe in promoting the “AIDS Myth” are dangerous. Some, even, are racist in that, calculatedly, they spread the myth of the AIDS myth, predominantly, amongst people of color.

I have seen such intent amongst prominent HIV denialists—who do, almost exclusively, promote the myth of "The AIDS Myth" in and amongst Black communities.

My experience is that, to a large degree, HIV/AIDS denialists play a dangerous game of trying to convince people—predominantly people of color—that denial of HIV's role in causing AIDS makes good science. Questioning HIV's role in causing AIDS is, of course, a valid and necessary endeavor as a counterpoint to HIV scientists who, in my estimation, have excellent evidence as to HIV being a necessary component to the many components that lead to an AIDS diagnosis.

However, reckless denialist of the weight of evidence that leads to the reality of AIDS is irresponsible, and, racist, when people focus on spreading denial predominantly amongst people of color, especially on the continent of Africa.

Farber has written an article filled with misstatements, outright lies, and provides little opportunity for any science that speaks to the reality of HIV-AIDS amongst either amongst Africans or African Americans.

Today, HIV, and its associated disease AIDS, is a virus that wreaks disproportionate havoc on African-descendant communities (including Latino communities with African heritages) and Asian communities. While, it, of course, exists amongst Europeans, more and more, the disease is epidemic predominantly in and amongst people of color communities.

Fully aware that promoting denialist agendas in those communities has the consequence that millions, in ignorance, become infected and/or die from the disease, pseudo scientists and irresponsible journalists who promote denialist agendas via articles that repeatedly misstate facts (i.e., lie), who obscure the truth, and, who, generally, obfuscate, know exactly what they do. If Farber were credible in her approach, she would have balanced the views and reportage of HIV denialists with irrefutable evidence about the truth about HIV and AIDS—namely that people infected by HIV and show signs of deteriorating immune health who do not utilize anti-retroviral treatments die at rates far exceeding those who do.

When all is said and done, HIV denialists—by convincing people that HIV is not implicated in AIDS—help contribute, I believe, to the death and destruction that AIDS has meant for my relatives, my family, Black people, my own.

For me, biased by my own experiences with HIV and AIDS in African-descendant America, denialists are part of the problem, and they will never be part of my solution: a solution that begins with having Black people, particularly those in Africa and the Americas, embrace AIDS not as a myth but as a reality that has meant that in the late 1990s, over 50% of Black gay men who died before they were 40, died from this disease.

That is the reality of my circle of friends.

I must ask, provocatively, what is the reality of Ms. Farber? For, as a well-known HIV denialist, she, like so many, has her head buried in the sand. For what reason, or what motive, I do not know.

Simply, put such denial is not good science and is predicated on a number of falsehoods.


Firstly, the Myth of the AIDS Myth is, often, predicated on the fact that two of the tests used to identify people with HIV—the Western Blot and the ELISA test—are completed by scientists who test for antibodies to HIV. The argument goes something like this: Since scientists test only for the antibodies to HIV and not for the virus itself, HIV has not been proven to exist in the bodies of those who have been determined to have antibodies to the HIV retrovirus.

However, scientists can test today, and for years have been able to test, and, in fact do test, often for the HIV antigen—the HIV retrovirus itself.

Another argument is that because the processes of testing for HIV often involves looking for fragments of the RNA code that comprise HIV rather than for the entire virus itself, that these tests are somehow invalid.

However, those who question the process that identified HIV, refuse to question, also, the very same processes—PCR (polymerase chain reaction) that have correctly and accurately identified many other viruses or which, accurately, provide genetic identification in cases of rape or murder, or accurately, provide specific diagnoses in cases of pregnancy (many early pregnancy tests use the same technology).

Indeed, in terms of the specificity and accuracy of the tests used to identify HIV, it, truly, is impressive. NO—and I mean no scientific testing method is 100% accurate. In statistical theory (I am a biostatistician by profession), 100% accuracy is, theoretically possible, but practically never heard of.

Human beings are fallible, and so are their testing methods. This means that --assuming a two-test protocol that confirms the first test (which is customary for those who test positive)—an HIV test protocol that is 99% accurate, will, in 1,000,000 cases be wrong 100 times (for example, a false positive or false negative result). 1% of 1,000,000 if a test is done twice means the number of false positive or false negative tests would be 100. 1% of 1,000,000 is 10,000. Those 10,000 are re-tested to confirm the result and then 1% of that number is 100. It is amongst these 100 cases of false positives or false negatives that HIV denialists find their hope. Such grasping for straws would be funny, if the consequences were not so serious.

With a given that humans and their scientific methods can be fallible, denialists look to the fact that one half of one percent to one percent of those who test get inconclusive results, and, from that they discern that HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS. In the meantime, some of these same denialists believe in the existence of things that cannot be otherwise proven to exist, like God. It truly, for me, is the sublime bordering on the ridiculous.

In other words, from where I sit both as a scientist, and as someone who has buried or otherwise witnessed hundreds of people dead from HIV and AIDS, the evidence is overwhelming that those scientific processes used to identify HIV, accurately, identify not only retroviruses but also other human viruses .

Still, denialists seem content to question the science that has identified the virus and the treatments that have, clearly, prolonged the lives, thankfully, of hundreds of others I know who live with the disease.

I, as a writer, and a scientist, necessarily question the motives of HIV denialists.

Being so selective in where one questions the accuracy of the science behind HIV and AIDS is suspect; in my book, such selectivity breeds my mistrust and leads to my conclusion that such denialists are, simply put, just not credible.

Mostly, HIV denialists, have their father figure in one Dr. Peter H. Duesberg, whom I have interviewed. Dr. Duesberg considers himself to be a pioneer in retroviral research whose scientific work, he believes, was co-opted by Dr. Robert Gallo. Gallo, as you may know is a U.S.-based scientist, who, is said to have discovered HIV. Gallo is pre-dated by many scientists, like Duesberg, who researched the retrovirus class of viruses to which HIV belongs. To make a longer story, short, Duesberg has, for years now, had a vendetta against U.S. government researchers. Duesberg—forever and a day it seems—has staked his claim that he was the true discoverer of HIV and its associated class of virus, the retrovirus.

While Robert Gallo may not have discovered HIV, Duesberg has made a career of being Gallo’s thorn in the side. Spurned as the discoverer of HIV, Duesberg has made a life, a career even, out of discrediting the very real role HIV, as a retrovirus, plays in the syndrome—the collection of illnesses—most people have come to know as AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Duesberg has, effectively, been discredited, from my perspective, as a scientist with an ax to grind. This happened on a radio show I helped produce and co-host in New York City on 99.5FM WBAI. The show was entitled “AIDS is Over...Not!” and it included a debate by scientists and doctors on both sides of the issue.

In addition to producing this show, over the 25 years I have been an AIDS activist and human rights worker, I have read, so, so, so much about HIV and AIDS. My knowledge is not only scientific, but also comes as a human rights worker for the NYC Human Rights Commission’s AIDS Discrimination Division and as a cultural artist (a published nonfiction writer on HIV/AIDS).

Duesberg, pissed that he was not named a discoverer of HIV—and, thereby, made rich by having been so recognized—has, instead, made a career of being an HIV denialist.

I have come to distrust such scientists.

I have, in my journalistic and scientific career, had enough of bigoted scientists who, with their own axes to grind, push their own denialist agendas on people of color, many of whom wish not to confront the reality of AIDS in their communities.

Dr. Duesberg I believe is a bigot who is happy to see HIV and AIDS proliferate unchecked in African-descendant communities. And so it is that I call him out as a bigot. Regarding he and/or those who support his inane approach to the topic of whether HIV causes AIDS—I, comfortably, call their spade a spade.

They are bigots for the evidence is that such HIV denialist theorists tend to hawk their wares in people of color communities and third world nations, because, by and large, nations founded by Europeans have moved on to curtailing HIV and AIDS in predominantly white communities throughout the world.

Here's an example.

As he hawked his denialist writings, Duesberg’s theories found a ready reader in South African President Thabo Mbeki (President of South Africa after Nelson Mandela). Mbeki had already made clear, rabidly, his homophobic tendencies, for, he had seen AIDS as a disease associated with, predominantly, American and European homosexual men and with government scientists in the U.S. and Europe, whom he believed, “possibly,” had created the virus.

Mbeki, was, and is, one of many African leaders, who used, smartly, his own peoples’ willingness to view AIDS as something created by imperialists to destroy Africa. In other words, already wanting nothing to do with AIDS in Africa, he played a deadly game. He took the mistrust that Africans already had of whites— be they in Europe or America—and, knowing the consequences, he associated AIDS with white imperialists and said it, in effect, did not exist in Africa, and that Africans had been duped by American and European scientists.

Today, in sub-Saharan Africa, someone under 40 dies of AIDS every minute. Nearly 6.6 million in this nation of 45 million are infected.

The kicker is this: during the transformation of the government from apartheid to democracy, whereas his fellow comrades, including Mandela supported gay rights to be codified in a new constitution, at first Mbeki vehemently opposed it. Thankfully, however, Mbeki’s small-mindedness did not win out when it came to a new constitution in South Africa, and gay rights are codified in that new constitution.

However, Mbeki did win out when it came to HIV/AIDS. His denialist tendencies meant for years that South Africa, as a nation, would not allow HIV medications to be distributed under government authority and government financial support.

Mbeki, content to allow his own homophobia to color his view on AIDS, allowed that the denialist theories of Deusberg be given incredible weight even against the mounting stench of the corpses in his own nation.

Mbeki’s denial should be considered a crime against humanity, against his own people, for his willingness to institutionalize such denialist policies in the South African government’s response to deaths meant that he murdered his own people. Why do I say this? Was it not for his willful misleading of his own people, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Africans would be alive in his country today.

Today, denying the existence of AIDS has deadly consequences not for Europeans and white Americans, but for Asians, Africans and African-descendants throughout the world—like those living in America who are Black, like me.

Mbeki first became President of South Africa near the turn of the 21st century, in June 1999. Today, after years of refusal to allow AIDS medications in his nation -- a policy that has been reversed, thankfully, under the weight of the millions of corpses buried due to his ignorance -- South Africa has embarked on a new course, mostly due to the work of Nelson Mandela, who is not an AIDS denialist.

However, the damage had already been done, at least in South Africa.

HIV denialists, like Duesberg, hawked their pseudo science in South Africa and other nations -- predominantly in Africa and Asia. These were nations steeped in homophobia and AIDS phobia by presidents and dictators who did not want a disease associated with homosexuals to become associated with death and disease in their nations.

The historical record is clear on this. Many leaders in Africa and Asia, in particular, did not want to confront an AIDS crisis that had already killed millions and that was too closely aligned with those they deemed pariahs—gay men.

Thabo Mbeki and the lesson of denial in South Africa leading to the death— literally -- of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) who could have been saved is but one example of the legacy what HIV denialists have wrought.

In effect, Mbeki used the plausibility of HIV denialists and their scientific cheerleaders as a way to support what his bigotry had already determined. That AIDS was something that could be denied. Mbeki had already made up his mind that HIV could not be the cause of AIDS, and he did so because he was already in denial that AIDS could be behind the deaths of millions of his countrymen.

There are many more Mbekis in Africa and, unfortunately, in African-descendant communities in the United States of America. For example, where I live, in Harlem, such denialists abound.

However, they do not deny HIV’s existence for scientific reasons. They deny it, largely, because of their inability to embrace a disease so much still associated, in their minds, with homosexuals. The inertia represented by their inability to move past a paradigm that still has this disease associated with “faggots,” has meant that entire sub-populations in Harlem still die, so often, from AIDS.

That, however you parse it, is fact.

I have written about these bigots in African-descendant America. While many in African American communities (there are more than just one African American community in the United States) still do support such denialist theories, I refuse to be party to their denial. Why? Because of this fact: Africans and African Americans, ironically, are most susceptible to denialists’ mishigosh because of despicable reasons -- reasons that have much to do with their own homophobia and their willingness to deny compassion to Black gays living with the disease even as thousands more Black gays in the United States, in the nearly 30-years existence of this epidemic, have been buried in untold numbers.

So, I must ask Farber a question: Whom does she believe benefits from factually suspect, misleading articles such as the one she wrote? Who is hurt by spreading the gospel of HIV/AIDS denialists? She would claim to be only reporting a different point of view, but it is one which has largely proven to be a point of view that is steeped in misinformation. Why report what is obviously a lie? Whom, does she hope, hears this information, and what does she suspect will be their reactions?

I am an African American gay male who has buried relatives, friends, gay and straight.

I am also a research scientist who knows that HIV infection leads to AIDS, a disease which is decimating African and African-descendant communities throughout the world.

I am convinced that denialists are content to let this happen by spreading misinformation to communities still too content to have HIV and AIDS be the pink elephant in the room that everyone says exists but that few do anything to combat.

Sadly, Ms. Farber, a journalist who knows exactly how to balance a story and then refuses to do it, becomes part of the problem. She intently spreads misinformation. Her motivation, only she knows.

 more coming soon

see also Zap HIV Denialist GARY NULL


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