Controversial HIV–AIDS paper published again, this time in peer reviewed journal

Here’s an important story we missed from last week.

Paper denying HIV–AIDS link secures publication : Nature News & Comment.

A controversial research paper that argued “there is as yet no proof that HIV causes AIDS” and met with a storm of protest when it was published in 2009, leading to its withdrawal, has been republished in a revised form, this time in the peer-reviewed literature.

The reworked version of the paper, led by Peter Duesberg of the University of California, Berkeley, who is well known for denying the link between HIV and AIDS, was published in the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology (IJAE) last month1.

“In my view this paper is scientific nonsense and should not have passed peer review. The thesis that HIV does not cause AIDS has no scientific credibility,” says Nathan Geffen of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, who previously raised concerns about the article.

“It is just so far out that it is hard to respond in an intelligent way,” says [AIDS epidemiologist Max] Essex, adding that it is “unfortunate” to see Duesberg continuing on a “dangerous track of distraction that has persuaded some people to avoid treatment or prevention of HIV infection”.

Credit: Ars Technica via The Skeptic’s Dictionary on Facebook

This article is multi-faceted, this is a complicated topic. Should you allow publication of such obviously contrarian views? The scientific ethos lends itself to skepticism but ideas must be out there to argue. Fine. But what happens instead is that contrarians ignore the comments and questions lodged against the paper and tout the fact that the paper has been “peer reviewed”, lending credibility to it that it may not deserve. Ultimately, it relies upon the reader carefully reviewing the entire story. That’s a bit scary.

This piece ends with an optimistic note: that the AIDS denialist idea may be on it’s last legs. The evidence has not been produced to support the contrarian idea which gained acceptance originally with the help of the political and cultural conditions in hard-hit South Africa. South African AIDS treatment has turned around thanks to grassroots activism to overturn the nonsense ideas about the causes of AIDS and anti-retroviral drugs. But there is still a ways to go.

Dr. Ben Goldacre has a commentary about the earlier version of Duesberg’s publication here.  Also, read his book, Bad Science.

  3 comments for “Controversial HIV–AIDS paper published again, this time in peer reviewed journal

  1. January 15, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    refer to “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”
    – Ben is certainly aware of this famous paper by John Ioannidis of University of Ioanninathe “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” (most downloaded technical paper from the journal PLoS Medicine)
    – The point is peer review is very important, but is only a starting step into science becoming verified & accepted.
    – yes I expect Duesberg’s paper is bunk, but I haven’t read it. One hopes own in the open the bad arguments can be logically debunked.

    PS I don’t think it’s professional to use the word “denier”
    The Guardian newspaper no longer uses it. Perhaps contrarian, controversial or contrary is better

  2. January 15, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    The point I’m making is .. it’s not like 90% of papers are true, so being published gives cranks credibility. No most published papers are false anyway.
    – Censoring which paper can be published and which can’t would essentially be a hidden peer review process anyway.
    – And in that case you run the risk of these hidden reviewers saying “This idiot claims ulcers are caused by bacteria when we all know it’s stress” and then no one gets to hear they’ve binned his paper

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