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Reviled, Yes. Genius? Not So Much.

19 October 2009

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Newsweek Exposes Duesberg’s Psychopathology

by Jeanne Bergman for

Peter Duesberg: Photo by Seth KalichmanPeter Duesberg:
Photo by Seth Kalichman

"The whole dissident idea attracts a lot of crazies. And then all of a sudden, without realizing it, you've become one of them."

—Peter Duesberg

Newsweek this week published a strange and very revealing profile of the HIV über-denialist Peter Duesberg by Jeneen Interlandi (“The World’s Most Reviled Genius: Can the Scientist Who Denies the Cause of AIDS Be Trusted to Cure Cancer?” Oct. 19, 2009, pp. 44-48). The article asks if Duesberg’s aneuploidy theory of cancer may have some real promise that is being ignored because he has completely destroyed any scientific credibility he ever had by refusing to acknowledge that he was wrong about HIV and AIDS. (The short answer to this question is simply: no. Aneuploidy isn’t being ignored, much better scientists than Duesberg are working on it, and it is unlikely to be the key to the cause or cure of cancers. [1]) More significantly, the piece reveals a lot about the character and pathology of the man behind the denialist movement.

Interlandi describes how Duesberg has “toiled in scientific purgatory” at Berkeley. An embarrassment to the University, he has been relegated to a crummy little lab in a shabby building, with no grant funding, no promising graduate students, and no respect from anyone—including other cancer researchers working on aneuploidy. He is no longer allowed to teach. Duesberg clearly understands that this follows from his failed theory that HIV is harmless. Interlandi identifies in him a core conflict between two equally disturbing character traits: “he craves a return to respectability, [and] he refuses to cede any ground to his adversaries.” (See AIDStruth’s article about his malignant narcissism.) But Duesberg seems unable to grasp that the contempt is the result of his refusal to accept the conclusive scientific evidence that HIV is the cause of AIDS, and of his persistent proselytizing of his disproven claims about HIV, AIDS and antiretrovirals, which has caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, particularly in South Africa.

The Newsweek profile touches on the formative impact of Nazism on Duesberg, who grew up a privileged Catholic in fascist Germany, and the resulting attitudes he holds toward people who aren’t heterosexual white men. He degrades women and developmentally disabled people (both lack “all the IQ genes,” he told Interlandi, “half joking”). He calls black people Schwartzes (the German N-word) and gays “homos,” and describes both as evolutionary failures. [2] His assistant calls these “gaffes,” and says of Duesberg: “He’s just from a different era, when people actually talked like that.” Actually, only Nazis and other racists, homophobes and eugenicists talked like that. Decent people of any age didn’t, and don’t.

In an extraordinary instance of projective inversion, Duesberg likens himself to the victims of Nazism rather than to the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Paraphrasing his reflection on his professional marginalization, Interlandi writes that for Duesberg “Being cast out of the mainstream… is like being herded onto a train by the Gestapo, never to be seen again.” Duesberg said this while relaxing at Caffe Strada, across the street from the great university that has tolerated both his professional failures and his hate speech. It’s appalling that the University of California allows this bigot to occupy space and draw a salary at the taxpayers’ expense.

Duesberg illustrated both his delusional feeling of victimization and his lack of ethics and judgment with a story about conducting secret tumor experiments on mice that he and his assistant bought in local pet shops. The article notes that this violated University policy concerning the pre-approval, housing, and treatment of lab animals. It might have also mentioned how stupid it is: results from those experiments would never be meaningful or publishable since they came from a small number of out-bred mice. U.C. learned of the project and, Interlandi writes, “Despite Duesberg's pleas to let them finish up, the mice were confiscated and killed. The data were lost. ‘We are the pauper scientists,’ he says, recalling the incident. ‘Always begging on our knees. Ever since HIV.’" Again, Duesberg can only see his imagined persecution, and not his abject failure as a scientist.

Newsweek did its best to find legitimate defenders of Duesberg. Interlandi writes: “Even some scientists who don't agree with Duesberg say that he has been treated unfairly,” and she quotes Lancet editor Richard Horton: "The ideological assassinations that he has undergone will remain an embarrassing testament to the reactionary tendencies of modern science.” But Horton wrote this in 1996, thirteen years ago, when antiretroviral drugs were just coming on the market. With their success, and in light of the unnecessary infections and deaths for which Duesberg is responsible, any illusions that criticism of Duesberg is based on ideology rather that evidence can no longer be sustained.

Peter Duesberg is shunned by his fellow scientists not because he is stubborn or obnoxious. He is shunned because he has been the driving force behind the AIDS denialist movement. He influenced the South African government, under former President Thabo Mbeki, to adopt an AIDS denialist position and delay the implementation of antiretroviral treatment access. This resulted in over 350,000 avoidable deaths. There is no possibility of professional reprieve for a
 scientist so consciously involved in such a grotesque outcome.


1. Is there any validity to the notion that Duesberg’s infamy has hindered exploration of a promising domain of cancer research? Not according to cancer research George Klein:

In some of the comments around the Newsweek article, and in similar Duesberg-contexts previously, I have noticed a slight hesitation by the virologists about the cancer-aneuploidy story, leaving open the possibility that this was a real contribution by Duesberg. It is not. Aneuploidy as an important factor in causing cancer was proposed 1910 by Boveri, as Duesberg correctly states. Later, it was not forgotten or ignored, as he claims, but was continuously on and off in the discourse. When he now proposes it as a major insight, reached by him, he is using exactly the same technique of distorting the facts and inflating himself, as he always does.

This is not a question of either oncogene mutations, or aneuploidy. Aneuploidy contributes to the malignization of the cells, by influencing the oncogenes and the suppressor genes. More variability is generated, and the cancer cell evolves more readily towards greater autonomy. But the rearrangement of the chromosomes does not alter the fact that it is the oncogenes and the suppressor genes that are the key players.

A correlation between the degree of aneuploidy and prognosis has been noticed by the German-Swedish pathologist Gert Auer and Duesberg may well have picked up the idea from him. Another German (German-American) cytogeneticist, Thomas Reed has similar ideas. In view of the fact that he invited Duesberg to speak at the NCI (according to him) he may be in support for Duesberg’s argument. But please notice that Duesberg’s input contributed is nothing but dialectics. I cannot see the slightest originality in his work or in his reasoning. The fact that he manages to make this appear as a new way of thinking that may advance the cancer problem, or, indeed, is more ingenious new thought contributed by a pariah (as Scientific American put it) or by a genius (Newsweek) is nothing but more Duesbergiana. It is amazing how well he plays this game and how he can find new consumers who have not yet realized that they are being misled.

George Klein MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Research Group Leader, Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center (MTC) Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. Personal communication, Oct. 12, 2009.

2. Duesberg frequently makes racist and sexism comments. In Nashville, TN, in April 2009, he referred to the impact of AIDS on “the populations of Africa, which”— snickering sarcastically—“we love so dearly,” It was clear that the prospect of millions of Africans dying didn’t bother him.


House of Numbers

An AIDS denialist film "House of Numbers" is doing the rounds at film festivals and is being promoted to college campuses and similar venues. AT has published several items about the misinformation contained in the film. For comprehensive information on the lies and distortions in the film, visit Inside House of Numbers.


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