Booth, William. "A Rebel Without a Cause of AIDS," Science 239 (25 March 1988), pp.
Peter Duesberg of Stanford has attacked the AIDS establishment. He is a respected chemist who
did work in the '70s for NAS. He attacked Gallo and the others in the professional press, and
when they refused to respond to his criticisms, he went public. Gallo then responded in kind
when he gave an interview to Spin (published by the son of the publisher of Penthouse). The
AIDS establishment is making the dispute very public by using this magazine, its official forum,
for presentation of the arguments.
Duesberg is saying that AIDS is caused by a lifestyle of sexual excesses and drug use and is not
caused by the retrovirus identified by Gallo and Montagnier. This thinking is totally alien to The
Rockefeller Medicine Men who constitute the AIDS establishment. Those who argued that germs
were the result of disease rather than the cause of the disease lost that argument years ago,
although Pettenkoffer and others still carry weight in some circles. Duesberg goes further,
however, by specifying the improper acceptance methods used by Gallo. Gallo, he says, failed to
live up to the "Koch postulates" which specify how a disease causing organism can be identified.
Moreover, not only were Gallo and the others careless in abiding by the rules, they picked a
culprit, a retrovirus, in which they had a vested interest. Here they behaved as persons
professionally committed to a theory rather than as objective scientists: "They have their careers
and bank accounts on the line. How can they be objective?" (p. 1488) Duesberg suggests a
conspiracy to establish a fraudulent cause of the malady. Finally, he specifies that the virus
identified as the cause just does not seem to be actively destructive enough to do the work
attributed to it.
The establishment responds with big guns. There are photographs here of Gallo, David
Baltimore, and James Curran, Director of the AIDS program for CDC. The argument focuses on
the specifics of Duesberg's charges and he is rebutted point for point. Each side, as is customary
in scientific arguments, has its own data. In fact, each side is arguing about something which is
not discussed: namely, that the establishment is committed to the germ theory as its dominant
paradigm and this rebel - not even a biologist - is attacking the establishment. The argument boils
down not to the details of the controversy but to Duesberg's refusal to be reasonable. Gallo
claims that he cannot respond to Duesberg's arguments "without shrieking." Gallo, et al., claim
he is "ignorant. " They are not going to dignify his arguments, etc.
This is a good example of a professional response to critics: close ranks and display solidarity in
the face of the attack. Restate the paradigm and note the successes it has achieved in the past. If
an interloper suggests that we do not have all the evidence, admit it, saying that there are many
things we do not know and, humbly, speak of the great promises of the paradigm for the future.
In any case, snow the opposition with a display of muscle and do it in the best forum one can
locate. This, then, is an auto-da-fe for science and what is important are not the arguments but the
social positions on which the arguments are based.