Statement by Nathan Geffen on Complaint Against Peter Duesberg

Two media articles create the impression that I complained anonymously about Peter Duesberg to the University of California Berkeley. These are:

There was nothing anonymous about my complaint. I believe that Duesberg failed to declare a conflict of interests of one of his co-authors in an article published in a journal called Medical Hypotheses. I consequently lodged a complaint with the University. I believe high quality journals should hold the first author responsible for a failed declaration of conflict of interests by co-authors (unless the co-author hid the conflict from the first author which is definitely not the case here). Duesberg was the first author of this article. Admittedly, Medical Hypotheses is not a high quality journal.

On 9 April 2010 UCB emailed me asking if I was prepared to have my complaint given to Duesberg in full with my name on it. I unhesitatingly answered yes immediately upon receipt of the email. My complaint has never been anonymous.

The real issue here is that Medical Hypotheses published an article co-authored by David Rasnick who has been found in a court of law to have conducted an unlawful clinical trial.

People died as a consequence of this trial and Rasnick bears partial responsibility for their deaths. The company he worked for, the Rath Health Foundation owned by Matthias Rath, makes its money by selling vitamins as alternative cures for a range of diseases including AIDS. This is an unequivocal conflict of interests in an article whose implicit theme was that antiretrovirals are not an effective treatment for HIV, because Matthias Rath’s business model is based on promoting such nonsense.

My complaint is copied in full below. It is self-explanatory. I intended the UCB process to run its course without me commenting to the media, but Duesberg apparently had no such qualms, leaving me with no choice but to make this statement.

I am unfamiliar with UCB’s rules and therefore am not in a position to determine if Duesberg has breached their academic disciplinary code. However, to my mind a breach of ethics took place and it was therefore worthwhile lodging a complaint with Duesberg’s institution. It is up to UCB to determine what if any action should be taken against Duesberg.

Here is the text of the complaint:

28 August 2009

President Mark Yudof

Office of the President University of California

1111 Franklin Street Oakland, CA 94607-5200

[email protected]

Mary Croughan

Chair Universitywide Academic Senate University of California

1111 Franklin Street Oakland CA

[email protected]

Dear President Yudof and Chairperson Croughan

REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION INTO PROFESSOR PETER DUESBERG

I am writing to request an investigation into the conduct of Professor Peter Duesberg. I am concerned that he has possibly breached the ethics and practices of scientific publishing in relation to a paper that recently appeared in the journal ‘Medical Hypotheses’, of which he is the first and corresponding author. [1]

Since publication the paper has been withdrawn by the publisher. Elsevier, states, “… we have received serious expressions of concern about the quality of this article, which contains highly controversial opinions about the causes of AIDS, opinions that could potentially be damaging to global public health. Concern has also been expressed that the article contains potentially libelous material.” [2] Since the paper is withdrawn, I have attached the article as it was originally published before withdrawal.

My concern however regards Professor Duesberg’s failure to declare a relevant conflict of interest. In the paper, he states, “I and my co-authors have no commercial or other non-scientific conflicts of interest with our AIDS paper for Med. Hypotheses.”

This statement appears inaccurate to me. One of the central themes of the paper is an attack on the use of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection. As an example, the abstract states, “[W]e call into question the claim that HIV antibody-positives would benefit from anti-HIV drugs, because these drugs are inevitably toxic and because there is as yet no proof that HIV causes AIDS.”

Dr. David Rasnick is a co-author of the paper by Duesberg et al. Until recently, he worked as a researcher for a company, the Dr Rath Health Foundation Africa. This organization promoted and distributed (and in terms of South African law, sold) micronutrient products as alternatives to the use of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection in South Africa. The organisation, with Dr. Rasnick’s direct involvement, also conducted an unauthorized clinical trial to evaluate its products as alternatives to antiretroviral drugs for treatment of people with HIV infection. The company has never published the results of this trial in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but has instead published paid advertisements purporting to report the trial’s results, a practice that is considered unethical in medical research. Dr. Rasnick is described in these advertisements as one of the researchers who conducted the trial.

A case was brought by the Treatment Action Campaign and the South African Medical Association against the company’s owner, Matthias Rath, the Rath Health Foundation Africa, Dr. Rasnick and others in the Cape High Court. I deposed the founding affidavit. The court was requested to interdict the unauthorized trial from continuing. The court found in favour of the plaintiffs and ruled that the defendants, including Dr. Rasnick, had indeed conducted an unauthorized clinical trial [3]. Several deaths occurred on the trial [4]. Also of note is that Dr. Rasnick has previously misrepresented his affiliation with the University of California, Berkeley [5].

In summary, the facts are that Dr. Rasnick, a co-author of the paper by Duesberg et al., has worked to boost the sales of an alternative (but ineffective) way to treat HIV infection. His employer, the Dr. Rath Health Foundation Africa, has actively attacked the use of antiretrovirals (a proven, effective way to treat HIV infection) as part of its marketing campaign for its products. Dr. Rasnick has helped to promote these products in paid advertisements. A paper co-authored by Dr. Rasnick that attacks the use of antiretroviral drugs is therefore of commercial value to his former (and possibly current) employer, Matthias Rath.

The affiliation between Dr. Rasnick and Matthias Rath is therefore a material and relevant fact that should have been disclosed in the paper by Duesberg et al. As the responsibility for making such a disclosure is the corresponding author’s, it appears to me that Professor Duesberg has likely committed an ethical breach that should be investigated by the University of California, Berkeley.

Regards

Nathan Geffen

TREASURER, TREATMENT ACTION CAMPAIGN

References:

1. Duesberg, P.H., Nicholson, J.M., Rasnick, D., Fiala, C. & Bauer, H.H. HIV-AIDS hypothesis out of touch with South African AIDS – A new perspective. Med. Hypotheses (2009).doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.024http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19619953

2. Duesberg, P.H., Nicholson, J.M., Rasnick, D., Fiala, C. & Bauer, H.H. WITHDRAWN: HIV-AIDS hypothesis out of touch with South African AIDS – A new perspective.

3. Zondi J. Judgment in TAC and Others v. Matthias Rath and Others. 2008.

4. TAC. Analysis of deaths on Matthias Rath illegal clinical trial. 2005.

5. TAC. The Citizen’s publicity for AIDS denialists is irresponsible. 2006.