Certainly dissenting voices spoke out, and more so in the gay and lesbian press than anywhere else. The Advocate , the most mainstream of the major news sources on AIDS, was the least critical of researchers. Nathan Fain, the magazine's health writer, considered the question of causality closed after the reports of the chimpanzee studies. "What all this means to the man and woman on the street," wrote Fain, "is that … convincing proof now exists that there is one virus that is the sole triggering mechanism of AIDS." Cofactors might also be necessary to cause the full syndrome, but—as the headline put it—"The Proof Is In on a Virus."
GCN , more inclined toward suspicion of experts and no friend of Robert Gallo's, took a more cautious position. Christine Guilfoy, one of the chief writers on the topic, referred to the causal claim in qualified terms throughout 1984 and 1985. A year after the Heckler press conference, in April 1985, Guilfoy wrote: "Although many believe HTLV-III plays a primary role in the development of AIDS, it is still unresolved how the virus works and what cofactors, if any, play a role." Particularly by the second half of 1985, however, writers in GCN tended to refer to HTLV-III without further explanation of its relationship to AIDS. It was simply assumed that the reader understood what this virus was and why it was being written about. Of course, referring to HTLV-III carried different implications than speaking of "the AIDS virus," as mainstream reporters were apt to do. Like the gay press generally, GCN avoided (and often criticized) the phrase "AIDS virus" for its implied conflation of two states: seropositivity and illness from AIDS.
GCN was also a place where alternative views could gain expression. In late 1986, John Lauritsen, a survey researcher and writer who had coauthored a pamphlet warning gay men about the dangers of poppers, raised the question of whether HIV had definitively been proven to cause AIDS: "Notwithstanding the thousands of assertions that have appeared in the popular media and in government press releases, the fact remains that medical science has a series of tests that any microbe must pass before it can be considered the cause of a particular disease. These tests are known as 'Koch's Postulates,' and the 'AIDS virus' has soundly flunked them." Concluding that HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS, Lauritsen reopened an old can of worms: "There must be something in the gay lifestyle that is causing gay men
to develop AIDS." Consistent with his earlier focus on poppers, Lauritsen targeted "the 'recreational drugs' … that became a prominent feature of the urban gay male lifestyle beginning in the early 1970s."
The true voice of dissent, however, was the New York Native , for which Lauritsen most regularly wrote. Indeed, the Native and its publisher Chuck Ortleb increasingly located themselves on the fringes of the emerging AIDS movement, precisely through their incessant skepticism (some would claim, paranoid doubt) about the HIV hypothesis. Writing in the Native in fall 1994, Joseph Sonnabend, proponent of the immune overload hypothesis, advised gay men not to read too much into the HTLV-III antibody test: "It should be emphasized at this point that the question of whether HTLV-III plays any role in the pathogenesis of AIDS must remain open." The following year, Sonnabend expanded on his views in an interview in the Native , speculating about the motivations and interests behind the emphasis on HTLV-III as the sole cause of AIDS and questioning the certainty of expert pronouncements: "Unlike what Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Robert Gallo tell us, we are very far from understanding this disease. Very little is known. The sort of smugness that emanates from the government scientists is offensive, considering what is at stake.…"
The Native treated Sonnabend respectfully as its resident authority, but when it was Gallo's turn to be interviewed, he had no such luck. In August 1984, James D'Eramo tried to corner Gallo on the question of whether HTLV-III had been proven to be the sole cause of AIDS:
[D'Eramo :] What about fulfilling Koch's postulates …?
[Gallo :] … Koch did not fulfill those postulates in much of the work he did. They're hardly ever fulfilled in viral and fungal diseases, and hardly ever in parasitic diseases.… What's the remaining part of Koch's postulate that is not fulfilled anyway?
[D'Eramo :] It's the animal model.
[Gallo :] … you don't need an animal model in immunological diseases. Those of us who know a little bit about retroviruses realize that in some retroviruses you can't go outside the species to reproduce the disease.
In frustration at D'Eramo's questioning of the causal claim, Gallo finally challenged him directly, asking, "Why does anyone resist this data?" Gallo continued: "All I can say is that they don't know the data, they don't understand it, or they may not know some of the data
that aren't published yet. Nobody at high levels in science is arguing about this data." Often outspoken, Gallo probably never considered the impact of his tone on readers of the Native or on its staff. Nothing could have been better calculated to offend the sensibilities of the Native and inflame its constituency than Gallo's implication that the scientific debates were over the heads of laypeople, who should rest content to leave it up to the experts.
Meanwhile, the Native committed itself to a range of rival theories about the causes of AIDS. The process had its origins back in 1983, when the newspaper began promoting the view that AIDS was linked to an epidemic disease in pigs, called swine fever. This hypothesis was first floated by a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, named Jane Teas. In a 1983 letter to Lancet , Teas proposed that AIDS might be caused by a variant of the African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV), which had never been known to infect humans. Teas had done no research on AIDS or swine fever, but she was struck by the apparent similarity in symptoms as well as by the Haitian connection: AIDS seemed to have appeared in Haiti in 1978 and swine fever in 1979. She speculated: "Perhaps an infected pig was killed and eaten either as uncooked or undercooked meat. One of the people eating the meat who was both immunocompromised and homosexual would be the pivotal point, allowing for the disease to spread to the vacationing 'gay' tourists in Haiti."
In 1983, at a time when the question of etiology was still open, Teas's letter prompted some response. Two groups of researchers, one Haitian, the other Belgian and Dutch, wrote letters to Lancet saying they had looked for antibodies to ASFV in small samples of AIDS patients but with negative results in all cases. Later the 1984 AMA review article on AIDS would acknowledge the swine fever hypothesis as one of many legitimate ideas that simply failed to pan out. Teas, however, felt that the responses to her hypothesis were inadequate, and she became convinced that the scientific establishment was shutting her out. She had written to both the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but received no "satisfactory" response from either organization. When Chuck Ortleb, the Native 's publisher, approached her, she was happy to promote her ideas and to voice concern about the "hostility" and closed-mindedness of government science.
Teas was the sort of person who would have minimal credibility in mainstream scientific circles—after all, she casually admitted that she
began "knowing nothing about AIDS" and that she taught herself about swine fever in an afternoon's reading. But to Ortleb, this kind of self-education by nonexperts epitomized the critical attitude toward scientific authority that he had been promoting in the pages of his newspaper. Through a series of articles, Ortleb pushed the swine fever angle, asking why government researchers were so slow to follow it up and insinuating that the government was acting at the behest of the pork industry.
In a striking demonstration of the perceived importance of the gay press in the eyes of the public health officialdom, James Mason, the conservative Mormon director of the CDC, flew to New York in early 1984 to try to reason with the Native 's publisher. Mason even gave Ortleb a scoop—two weeks before he spoke with the New York Times —about LAV being the probable cause of AIDS. But Ortleb became convinced that Mason was trying to divert his attention and "co-opt" him, and though the Native began reporting on LAV and HTLV-III, the newspaper also continued to promote Ortleb's pet theory.
Ortleb's single-handed campaign eventually succeeded in inducing New York State health authorities to search for ASFV in AIDS patients and in generating some coverage of the hypothesis in more mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times . But when further supportive evidence of a causal role for ASFV was not forthcoming, Ortleb was on to the next rival theory, and then the next—Lo's mycoplasma, Duesberg's heretical views, and in recent years the claim that AIDS and chronic fatigue syndrome are different forms of the same disease. Over time, the Native 's star began to fall, and Ortleb became an increasingly controversial figure within the AIDS movement. Cultural critic and AIDS activist Douglas Crimp complained in 1987: "Rather than performing a political analysis of the ideology of science, Ortleb merely touts the crackpot theory of the week, championing whoever is the latest outcast from the world of academic and government research."