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joan 1Joan Shenton, MA Oxon

Founder and administrator – Immunity Resource Foundation

Author – POSITIVELY FALSE – Exposing the myths around HIV and AIDS

Award winning television producer whose company Meditel Productions has specialized in science and medical programmes.

She has made over 150 programmes for network television.

In 1987 she produced the first documentary challenging the science behind the HIV/ AIDS hypothesis, AIDS – “The Unheard Voices” (Dispatches Ch4) which won the Royal Television Society Award for Journalism. There followed three further Dispatches documentaries on the subject, “The AIDS Catch”, AZT – “Cause for Concern” and “ AIDS and Africa”.

Sky News has broadcast “Diary of an AIDS Dissident”, “ AIDS Dissidents in Europe” and “AZT Babies”.

In 2000, she was granted an interview by the South African president Thabo Mbeki broadcast by M-Net South Africa – “Search for Solutions” – The Great AIDS Debate”.

Joan Shenton is currently compiling 15 years of archive material on the AIDS debate for the Immunity Resource Foundation website.

book 1POSITIVELY FALSEExposing the myths around HIV and AIDS.

Author: Joan Shenton

1998 – I.B.Tauris, London: St Martin’s Press,
New York

ISBN 1-86064-333-7


“The most formidable barrier to the advancement of science is the conventional wisdom of the dominant group.”

Waddington C.H, Geneticist 1905-1975

“It was plain that he ( Peter Duesberg) had a powerful scientific case to present. He is a very eminent scientist. And I was fascinated that the HIV establishment, as we call it now, absolutely refused to take it seriously. Their attitude was that we know that HIV causes AIDS. We decided that long ago. We settled it. Now we’re doing research on that basis and just don’t bother us. We don’t want to hear about this doubt about our basic premise.”

Philip E Johnson, Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley [1]

It was in 1981 that the first cluster of cases of what was eventually to be called AIDS, was identified in 5 young homosexual men in California.

They all had two medical conditions in common, a type of pneumonia called pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) and a form of blood vessel tumour called Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) causing internal and external lesions. They also had one other thing in common, they inhaled poppers – amyl and butyl nitrites. This drug was regularly used to enhance sexual pleasure and in particular to help dilate the anal orifice and allow “fisting” (brachioproctal intercourse) in the aggressively promiscuous life-style of these particular young men.

The new-found sexual freedom that followed the gay liberation movement of the 70s led some gay men into a fast track, high risk life-style, where drug-assisted sex became a necessary part of their daily life, and concomitant sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) were regarded as merely a recreational hazard easily put right with antibiotics.

It was in 1983 that ‘HIV’ was announced as “the probable cause of AIDS” at a Washington press conference before any peer-reviewed papers had been published in a scientific journal.

The discovery of HIV and the panic over AIDS has led to over 100,000 published papers on HIV and AIDS. 40 billion dollars of the US tax payers money and five hundred million pounds in the UK has been spent on AIDS prevention programmes directed at the entire community, and attempts to develop anti-HIV drug cocktails and vaccines. Yet in all this time not a single life has been saved, and despite their awareness of the need for “safer sex” young gay men are still developing the AIDS syndrome.

Why? Because the AIDS edifice is built upon a false hypothesis. Namely that the retrovirus HIV is the cause of AIDS and that AIDS is an infectious disease. In fact the AIDS syndrome has not behaved like an infectious disease would. It has remained restricted to certain high risk groups (which will be described later); groups that are already prone to severe immune suppression.

As long ago as 1986, Molecular Biologist, Professor Peter Duesberg of the University of California at Berkeley, began his assault on the AIDS orthodoxy by stating his reasons why HIV cannot kill cells and cannot therefore be pathogenic, or cause death. Just because HIV is said to present in most cases of AIDS does not mean it is the cause.

“Association does not prove causation,” says Duesberg.

AIDS, he says, is not an infectious disease. As a respected scientist he was listened to briefly at first and then quickly dismissed by his peers. The AIDS research roller-coaster was far too lucrative for it to be stopped in its tracks by a single dissenting voice, and plague terror had already gripped governments and people. Why was there only one voice, you may ask. Well, Copernicus, Galileo and Columbus stood alone in their beliefs – and were proved right in the end. (Although it took 350 years for Galileo’s heresy to be pardoned by the relevant Vatican committees!)

This book will chronicle our challenge over the last ten years to the firmly held belief that HIV causes AIDS, and the orthodoxy’s response to that challenge. It will describe the relationships between scientists like Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier, catapulted to fame and fortune by their AIDS research, and Peter Duesberg who dared to oppose them. The rivalries, jealousies and deceits woven into the Byzantine politics of the most highly financed laboratories in the world will be unravelled.

In 1987 we set out to tell the story of how Peter Duesberg, who had himself been the first scientist to map the genetic sequence of retroviruses, threw down the gauntlet to the AIDS establishment.

Not only does Duesberg maintain that HIV cannot cause AIDS, he puts forward the hypothesis that the breakdown of the immune system, described as the AIDS syndrome, is caused by long term recreational and intravenous drug use and certain clinical conditions requiring immune-suppressant blood transfusions or, as in haemophilia, anticoagulant blood clotting factors. The ensuing toxic overload allows opportunistic infections to take over the undefended body.

In the very early days of AIDS, the toxic hypothesis was thought to be an important causal factor. The first ‘cluster’ of gay men with ” AIDS” symptoms in California had all used poppers (amyl and butyl nitrite inhalants), to enhance sexual pleasure and assist anal intercourse. Their condition was originally described as GRID – Gay Related Immune Deficiency. But as soon as HIV appeared on the scene, the toxic hypothesis was dropped and the virus/ AIDS hypothesis was embraced with enthusiasm both by the medical orthodoxy and the gay community.

This book will dig into our extensive archive and record the triumphs and frustrations of those people, including other well known scientists, health professionals, people with AIDS, and many gay and straight men and women, who dared challenge this same AIDS establishment. It will describe the way our small independent television production company, Meditel, started out on its first documentary on the subject, confident that we could reshape people’s thinking about AIDS – not knowing then how the scientific establishment would close ranks against us. However, over a period of ten years we have been able to keep the subject alive with the help of David Lloyd, editor of the Dispatches series at Channel Four Television who commissioned four documentaries from us, and was later to develop a fifth; Joanne Sawicki, Features editor at Sky News who transmitted four shorter reports on the subject and Terrel Cass, head of the American PBS Channel WLIW New York who bought our footage and flew us over for a two hour discussion programme. The AIDS debate has taken over our lives and led us into one of the most exciting scientific debates of the century.

In the course of making our documentaries we travelled across the United States seven times on research and filming trips interviewing scores of both orthodox and dissident scientists as well as people with AIDS. We also filmed extensively in Europe and travelled through six countries in East and West Africa.

The book is structured around the making of those programmes between 1989 and 1997. The research surrounding them grew, as did the arguments between the key scientists, as we completed one programme and went on to the next.

What I have learned over these years is that the scientific community is no longer free. Today science can be bought, and the individual dissenting voice is able to be silenced and dismissed because of the enormous sums of money involved in protecting a prevailing hypothesis, however flawed it may be. Politics, power and money dominate the scientific research field to such an extent that it is now no longer possible to put a hypothesis that

has become dogma to the test. Scientific trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies often involve many different university faculties at one time and consequently tie up most of the expert voices. The dogma is written up in tablets of stone in medical text books and young science students swallow it without question. Those that are already in well paid jobs find it easier not to rock the boat. What would be the point? They would simply lose their jobs.

Duesberg has his own explanation on the puzzle as to why the dogma of the current AIDS hypothesis remains sacrosanct, “Why doesn’t a young ambitious scientist make a name for himself by questioning it? The answer lies in the strong conformist pressures on scientists, particularly young, untenured scientists, in the age of biotechnology. Their conceptual obedience to the establishment is maintained by controlled access to research grants, journals and positions, and rewarded by conference engagements, personal prizes, consultantships (sic), stocks and co-ownership in companies. A dissenter would have to be truly independent and prepared for a variety of sanctions.” [2]

The editors of the book Research Fraud In The Behavioural And Biomedical Sciences put it this way, “The commercialism of academia…and a market mentality to research has led to anti-intellectualism and dishonesty.” [3]

The HIV test kit patents, the profits from the so-called anti- AIDS drug AZT, and the flow of government funds made available for vaccine research and AIDS prevention have led to a consensus collusion surrounding AIDS that could take decades to dismantle. It may even need “dead men’s shoes” before the younger generation of scientists finds the courage and confidence to look into the last decade of bad science surrounding AIDS research. So bad has been the science that Dr Harvey Bialy, scientific editor of Bio/Technology (sister journal to Nature) and friend of Peter Duesberg has consistently refused to publish the majority of HIV related papers submitted to his journal.

The reactions to Duesberg’s publications and to our reflection of his work have been vicious. The orthodoxy decided to close ranks against Duesberg and his views are simply not discussed in the scientific journals.

The key justification from leading members of the orthodoxy for stamping on any challenge to the virus/AIDs hypothesis has been that if the HIV= AIDS=Death hypothesis is eventually proved correct, then lending a platform to the dissident view will have caused untold damage.

But herein lies the enormous culpability of an orthodoxy that attempts to stamp out dissent. For in the absence of reliable clinical evidence for the HIV= AIDS=Death hypothesis, it remains just that – a hypothesis. The advancement of science has always been based on postulating alternative hypotheses and then putting them to the test. By stifling dissenting views the orthodoxy can be held responsible for far greater damage, if those dissenting views are eventually proved to be right, because research will have been misdirected over a very long period of time and credibility in scientific method will have been totally undermined.

By definition no tenable hypothesis can be eliminated until scientific evidence establishes where the truth lies. Until that time tenable hypotheses should be able to compete with each other in an open field of intelligent and sensible discourse and debate.

By stifling discourse and debate on dissenting views the orthodoxy is engaged in the unpardonable scientific sin of blocking off legitimate inquiry into a hypothesis which may itself become the future orthodox view. In the meanwhile millions in research funding and energy will have been misdirected. So in a curious way the orthodox attempt at a moral argument against giving dissidents a platform for fear of distracting research, has its mirror image in the dissident view. If the orthodox hypothesis is proved wrong, by stifling the dissidents, the orthodoxy will become morally responsible for the damage caused by the misdirecting of research efforts in search of the right answer.

Although Duesberg’s first paper criticising the HIV= AIDS hypothesis was published in a major science journal, Cancer Research [4] and, with difficulty, a further paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) [5], journals like Nature have repeatedly turned down his papers. Its ex-editor Sir John Maddox has allowed only a few hundred word replies from Duesberg after publishing two thousand word articles attacking him both personally and professionally. The degree of censorship in the scientific and lay press has been astonishing and will be dealt with in these pages.

The Medical Research Council, the European Community, the World Health Organisation, the US National Institutes of Health and Centres for Disease Control, all locked into massive AIDS programmes, have allowed institutional money to be wasted in their stubborn adherence to the virus- AIDS hypothesis. They have created elite AIDS cadres wandering nomadically from one international AIDS conference to another, grazing on yet another set of incomprehensible statistics on the alleged spread of HIV.

Nobel prize-winner for chemistry in 1993 and inventor of a highly sensitive method used to identify HIV, Dr Kary Mullis, says, “I can’t find a single virologist who will give me references which show that HIV is the probable cause of AIDS. On an issue as important as this, there should be a set of scientific documents somewhere, research papers written by people who are accessible, demonstrating this. But they are not available. If you ask a virologist for that information you don’t get an answer, you get fury.” [6]

But it is not only virologists and government bodies who have perpetrated the myth of HIV. “Compassionate celebrity” as journalist Chris Dunkley described it, has had an enormous part to play, “with film stars and disc jockeys adopting deeply concerned expressions as they roll condoms on to their fingers,” [7]

This compassionate celebrity approach has never been better performed than by my childhood heroine, film star Elizabeth Taylor, at Wembley Stadium in her tribute to the rock star Freddie Mercury. It was common knowledge that Mercury had abused drugs heavily over many years, but so entrenched had the ‘infectious HIV virus’ hypothesis become with its alleged sexual path towards AIDS, that Taylor glossed over any drug risks. Addressing herself to “teenagers” and “young adults” she said. “You are the future of our world. You are the best and brightest. …Protect yourselves! Every time you have sex, use a condom. Every single time. Straight sex, gay sex, bisexual sex. Use a condom whoever you are. And if you use drugs, don’t share the needle. Protect yourself. Love yourself. Respect yourself. Because I will keep telling you until you do. And I won’t give in. Because the world needs you to live. We love you. We care.” [8]

“And if you use drugs, don’t share the needle”, Taylor had said. Apparently it was alright to pump yourself with drugs as long as you didn’t share the needles. It was the virus that caused AIDS so only the needles seemed to matter, not what went through them. Only the condoms were important, not the disease linked promiscuity that might go with them.


The Human Immunodeficiency Virus belongs to a comparatively recently identified group of viruses known as retroviruses, which are considered to be unique members of the virus family of pathogens (disease-causing agents).

All viruses are pirates. [9] They invade, pillage, destroy and sometimes take up residence in their target vessel. Viruses are pieces of genetic material wrapped up inside a protein coat. They are made of DNA or RNA. Most viruses are made of DNA (or deoxyribonucleic acid) which is a double stranded molecule containing, in a chemically coded form, all the information needed to build, control and maintain a living organism. DNA is, in fact, our genetic blueprint.

Some viruses are made of RNA. These are called retroviruses and HIV is one of them. Current orthodoxy maintains that retroviruses like HIV, made of RNA (or ribonucleic acid), are single stranded and when they enter a new cell, need the DNA of their host cell in order to survive. They can be described as cell dependent scavengers.

The more common DNA viruses are like handgrenades in a plastic pouch. Inside each handgrenade is a full set of instructions on how the virus can copy itself and, when it multiplies, how to pass the genetic information on to the new cells. So, when the handgrenade enters a cell, it makes copies of itself until the cell is ready to burst. The destroyed host cell then spills out all the perfectly formed new handgrenades, hungry to go off and infect other cells.

Retroviruses, on the other hand, need their host cell in order to stay alive. Their RNA has to knit itself into its host cell’s DNA by going through a chemical process, making use of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. The retrovirus can then knit its RNA into the DNA – the genetic heart – of the cell it is invading, quietly take up residence there and lie dormant. Once this has taken place, once the retrovirus has integrated itself with its host, it is called a “provirus”. Should that cell divide, it will carry its integrated passenger provirus with it and may shed some particles on the way.

These theories were widely believed in 1983 when HIV was first posited to be the cause of AIDS. HIV then acquired a malign, almost mystical talismanic quality. However it was soon pointed out that retroviruses are very common and indeed most cellular blueprints of mammals contain many different ones, sometimes running into hundreds, which apparently lie dormant like so many burnt out microchips.

So a retrovirus is much less active than an ordinary virus and will lie passively inside the nucleus of the host cell, appearing to do nothing. For this reason retroviruses have been described as gentle, lazy and benign, so much so that, that in the view of Peter Duesberg and now many other scientists, HIV cannot cause AIDS.

Today an even more radically heretical position about AIDS is being expressed by scientists in Perth – Western Australia, Germany and Switzerland. They maintain that HIV has never been isolated. It is usually identified through raised antibodies to a series of proteins said to be specific to HIV (ELISA test), or through finding the series of proteins themselves (Western blot test). However, these proteins are in all of us and our antibodies to them can become dramatically raised when the body is under severe immune stress. Other ways of identifying HIV involve amplifying the genetic content of the retrovirus through PCR (polymerase chain reaction). But, say these scientists, what is being found are genetic fragments or debris, not a whole virus capable of going on to infect another cell. This is what is mistakenly being called HIV they say. HIV itself does not exist.

It is always hard for new and controversial views to get an airing when the orthodoxy becomes entrenched, as is the case with AIDS. We shall see below how the peer review process exercised by science journals can effectively exclude competing hypotheses. This is where the London based journal Continuum has played in important role in publishing a steady stream of papers from the above scientists when they have been repeatedly rejected by orthodox journals. [10]

The theory that HIV has never been isolated and is being wrongly identified puts the whole of the HIV testing machinery into question. The test itself, say this group of scientists, is invalid because there is no gold standard (no actual virus) to measure against.

We have put this theory to the test for a Channel 4 Dispatches programme and have some sensational results. We have discovered inconsistencies between the different test kits on the market, and have found that individuals testing HIV positive one week have tested negative one month later. In addition, people with raised proteins in their blood from rheumatic or autoimmune conditions have tested HIV positive when they had no AIDS-defining diseases.

This is not the first time that medical science has got it wrong. Contagion mania – the desire to blame an exogenous infectious agent for a disease has led to some horrifying situations in the past. Take two examples, the Pellagra plague and SMON.


It took fifteen years for the lone voice of Dr Joseph Goldberger to be heeded about pellagra. Since the 18th century in Europe, this condition affected poor communities which suffered from a niacin (vitamin B) deficiency due to a corn based diet that almost completely excluded other vegetables.

Maize had been the staple diet in the Americas for millennia, and the pre-Columbian inhabitants did not contract pellagra, as they had learnt how to extract the essential vitamin B from the corn during its preparation. But this culinary art was lost to other civilisations.

Although pellagra did not spread beyond its risk groups, a classic indicator of a non-infectious disease, and never affected nursing staff, many doctors pronounced pellagra a contagious bacterial disease. Patients with the disease developed terrible skin lesions, nerve damage, dementia, diarrhoea, wasting syndrome and finally died. Sailors with symptoms of the condition were thrown off ships for fear that they would infect the rest of the crew, and when a huge outbreak occurred in poor farming communities in the southern states of America, patients were isolated in mental asylums and in prisons. By 1914 200,000 cases were reported. It was then that Dr Goldberger was brought in to head a special commission.

When Goldberger visited the South and ventured into the rural areas and insane asylums he noticed something that had avoided the microbe hunters, such was their frenzy to find an infectious agent. He noticed that none of the people closest to the Pellagra victims, their doctors and their nurses, had caught the disease. He also noticed that the two groups were eating entirely different diets. The health workers were eating fresh fruit and vegetables and the farmers their customary corn diet. [11]

Goldberger concluded that a nutritional deficiency was the cause of pellagra. In a striking parallel with the AIDS story, his findings were greeted with alarm and anger by those committed to the contagious hypothesis. Doctors joined together to criticise him and his theories were ridiculed. He became so exasperated that in a dramatic bid to prove that pellagra was not infectious he, his wife and fourteen co-workers injected

themselves with samples of blood, mucous and other bodily fluids from pellagra patients. None contracted the disease. Even this spectacular demonstration did not change the prevailing view, and people with pellagra continued to die. Niacin, the vitamin missing in the diet of people with pellagra was finally isolated in the mid 1930s, five years after Goldberger’s death. [12]

There are many other significant parallels that can be drawn from the above examples when it comes to the debate about HIV and AIDS.

An important factor to bear in mind is that the notion that HIV causes AIDS has never been anything more than an unproven hypothesis. The ultimate measure of the accuracy of any hypothesis is the fulfilment of predictions based upon it. Not one of the predictions for AIDS based on the spread of HIV has come true. In the United States, according to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) figures, the estimated figures for people with HIV has remained static over the last ten years at one million, and paradoxically even dropped to 800,000 more recently. Government predictions in America and the UK for the number of AIDS cases have been consistently wrong. There has, in fact been no epidemic – entirely the reverse. Figures for AIDS have been dropping but you wouldn’t know it because the CDC AIDS statistics are published cumulatively, dating back to the early eighties. What the public never knows is that the percentage of new AIDS cases has been decreasing steadily over the last few years, and that there has been no actual annual incremental increase in AIDS cases (comparing year with year) over the last ten years. But then, since when did shrinking figures for an alleged pandemic persuade government research funders to open up their coffers!

In fact, ‘HIV disease’ and AIDS as we know them have remained firmly locked into clearly defined high risk groups, namely homosexual men, long-term recreational drug users, intra-venous drug users, athletes and sportsmen using performance-enhancing drugs, and people in clinical risk groups like recipients of blood transfusions and haemophiliacs taking 99% impure clotting factor VIII. But political correctness has been a further obstacle in the path towards opening up the AIDS debate. Pointing a finger at the lifestyle of some gay men and drug users has raised sensitivities. Better to stick to the “virus from hell” hypothesis than to focus on a group that had suffered discrimination for so many years and was now emerging into a world of gay liberation. Any arguments that singled out these groups were immediately labelled as homophobic and belonging to the far right of the political spectrum.

Apart from the high risk groups mentioned above, all other reported cases of AIDS have to be seen in the light of the way AIDS is officially defined. From the first two defining diseases, Kaposi’s sarcoma and Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia, observed in the group of Californian men mentioned earlier, the basis for the diagnosis of AIDS has been stretched from year to year to include 29 widely differing defining illnesses from diarrhoea to dementia, culminating in pulmonary tuberculosis, which thereby includes most of sub-Saharan Africa, and cervical cancer, adding more women to the overall AIDS figures. When HIV is present, the diagnosis is AIDS and when HIV is absent, it’s simply the old disease. This periodic moving of the goal-posts offers free reign for extensive misdiagnosis, compounded by the fact that at least half of the reported cases of AIDS are based on a presumptive clinical diagnosis, not backed up by an HIV test.

Building upon a false hypothesis is like building a house on sand. It will stand up for a while and then break into pieces. The AIDS edifice is not only built on sand, it houses closed minds and has closed its doors to scrutiny. The inexorable death sentence – “you have ten years at most” pronounced by doctors on young men and women has led to some of the most intense human suffering imaginable. It has broken up families, alienated individuals from their communities and led to psychological death and suicide.

There is absolutely no doubt that the arguments put forward by those challenging the virus/ AIDS hypothesis have not been properly addressed. Blatant censorship has prevented any intelligent debate. The time has now come to open up that debate and to describe the making of what author John Lauritsen, who has emerged as one of the articulate spokesmen on the dissident view of AIDS, describes as “the most colossal blunder in medical history.”

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